Posts Tagged ‘Personal’

Quality Control

April 19, 2019

Nearly ten years ago, I worked in live theater. I worked at a small regional theater in upstate New Jersey for five long years. When I left the theater, I had worked my way up from board technician to Assistant Technical Director to Technical Director. That title basically made me in charge of almost everything besides the acting. As a carpenter, I helped build the sets. As an electrician, I hung and focused the lights and did all of the wiring. As sound board operator, I played music and sound effects in time with the show. I was also a professional designer. I did the lighting design which meant that I picked colors and helped shape the look of the show. However, my all-time favorite job was as a sound designer. That meant that I spent long hours listening to music and sound effects, trying to figure out what would add to the soundscape of the show without taking away from it.


This is here because my teacher was a roadie for Steely Dan (among other bands)

To get to that position, I actually majored in theater. I majored in Stage Management at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. For those who can do the math, that means I spent nearly a decade living in New Jersey away from my beloved Maryland. When I got out of school, I decided I did not really want to be a stage manager. It had been all I wanted when I entered college but, as with most people, going off to university had changed me. It all came from taking Sound Design 101 early in my time there. I started to hang around the designers more and especially with the sound crew. I sat under the learning tree with the sound teacher, an old ex-roadie who was not technically a professor because he never got the appropriate degrees. When I got out, I wanted to create. I wanted to use my hands.

That teacher taught me a lot about music in ways that I never thought about it before. We sat and listened to records which is something I had rarely done before. With that crew, I did it almost every day. More than listening to music, we talked a lot about music and how we listen to it. This is when I truly learned how subjective music is. My teacher, my sensei, my mentor, he hated ABBA with a passion. I am not a huge fan but I like some of their upbeat tunes. He had a cleansing ceremony that had to be done to speakers that had played Abba. We listened to cheesy, goofy music and laughed our butts off. Our favorites were a recording of a kazoo orchestra and the legendary album Golden Throats. I actually later used Golden Throats as pre-show music to torture the audience. I got a compliment on it. I shuddered. Music truly is subjective.

But on to the story that I actually originally wanted to write about since everything above is a prelude to. When you do sound design, the most boring thing you have to do is quality control. It is tedious because it takes time and you really want to get the fun parts of adjusting levels and mixing sound and music. Now I understand that quality control is the most zen part of the job. To explain, quality control means listening to every sound effect and music track all the way through in order to make sure there is nothing in there that will be embarrassing later. My teacher called it “Checking for Sheep”. The story he told us to express the importance of this activity was interesting. He had once done a show with a long scene in the rain and so he had found the perfect ambient track of rain noises. Except he did not check the whole thing. So late in that scene, there was suddenly the plaintive cries of a herd of sheep standing in the rain. He was embarrassed.

So, remember to take your time. Remember to check your work because you do not want to blow it down the line. It may be tedious and it may be boring but it can save you. Also, in those zen moments of just sitting and taking things in, inspiration might strike. You may come up with brand new ideas to add to what you are doing. Patience is key.

(Written on 4/15/19)

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Interview Questions 17

March 25, 2019

What do you like to wear when you go to work?

I used to wear whatever I wanted to work. I would wear t-shirts and jeans and when it was cold, I would throw on a hooded sweatshirt. I wore sneakers until they would be falling apart and then I would keep wearing them. My clothes often had holes in them. When I first got an office job, I was frustrated that I would have to wear button up shirts and ties. I had never really been a tie guy. As soon as I felt I was able to get away with it, I stopped wearing a tie to work. I was not very invested in that job as it was just something to do to pay the bills. When I went back to school to become a paralegal, a change came over me. When I got my first job after school, I gladly put on a tie. Throwing on a buttoned shirt, slacks, nice shoes, and a tie puts me into work mode. When I don that combo, I feel professional and I think that is reflected in my work ethic. Besides, it is expected by clients and other professionals that I appear dressed like a proper assistant. Sure, there are some days I would rather not wear a tie but most days it is easy enough to wear one. Part of that is that I have shirts that fit my neck size and I learned that you do not have to cinch a tie to the hilt. It is not that hard to be comfortable and well-dressed.

If you could be Batman or Robin, which one would you be?

I have been a huge fan of Batman in many forms since I can remember. Batman was way better than Superman or any other hero out there because he was more or less an ordinary guy who did ordinary things. He used intelligence more than he used actual power to save the day. I truly fell in love with Batman in 1989 which was arguably Batman’s second movie outing but the first in theaters. Through all of the stories through all of the years, the comics have stressed how much pressure Batman is under. He has to make the tough choices and he has to make the plan. Honestly, I always liked being in a support role. Every job I have ever had has been in a support role. Robin is right there by Batman’s side, helping him save the day but following his mentor’s lead. Robin also makes Batman better by occasionally challenging him when Batman goes off the rails a bit or when Batman is otherwise incapacitated. Actually, although it was not a choice, I would love to be Oracle. Oracle was the former Batgirl who became Oracle after an injury left her wheelchair-bound. She used a vast network of computers and contacts to help Batman, his allies, and other heroes around the world. That seems like it is right up my alley.

Do you prefer cats or dogs?

I would have to say that I prefer cats. Dogs are great, though. Dogs are big bundles of energy and all of that seems to be focused into love and excitement. They are always happy to see you and happy to see everyone they ever see. In my experience, most dogs immediately run and jump all over everyone who comes in the door even if it is their owner who they have seen thousands of times. As a natural introvert and somebody who likes to actually do stuff in their house, this sounds tiring to me. I would kind of like to watch television without having to deal with the barking. I know that means that I am missing out on the love and affection of a lot of good boys and girls but I just cannot deal with it. Also, people with dogs never seem to be able to go anywhere. They always have to be back to walk the dog. By the way, walking the dog is the one part I did not have a problem with. Cats, on the other hand, are largely low maintenance. They handle a lot of their business on their own and only bother you when it is time to eat (which is all the time but that can be managed). Cats seem to know when you want to be alone and when you want company. They are more like roommates than pets sometimes.

Comics DNA

March 4, 2019

There has been a meme going around where people post four comic books that helped form their “Comics DNA”. I thought I would try and tackle that challenge even though there was so much to choose from. Since reading the following comics, my tastes have continued to grow and expand and I regularly consume all sorts of comics media. Comic books have become so entwined in how I think about fiction and probably are one of the bigger influences on how I write and visualize my own art. I have been lucky to meet some of my comic book heroes and I hope that I continue to find more heroes and more inspiration each year. Anyway, let’s take a look at a few big winners.


Giant-Size X-Men

This was the first comic that I really remember impacting me. I was later shown comics starring the original X-Men but this was, pardon the pun, larger than life and so exciting. The idea of recruiting a new, international version of the X-Men to rescue the original X-Men was so fun. Apparently, the white guys (and girl) could not handle the job so they send in a more diverse team to save the day. This was the first time I saw Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Colossus, Sunfire, Banshee, and Thunderbird. Sure writers had a long way to go when it came to writing people of color but this was a great start. The powers and abilities of the new X-Men seemed way flashier than those of the original X-Men and I was excited to learn more. This comic came out 7 years before I was born but when I was allowed to read it, it definitely sparked a love for comics that has never died. The X-Men became an integral part of my Comics DNA and I frequently sprang for their titles when I was spending my allowance. Later this love spread to the Pryde of the X-Men, the X-Men cartoon in the nineties, and the X-Men film franchise and spinoffs.


Batman: The Long Halloween

Batman became an obsession of mine when the 1989 movie blew my tiny mind and introduced me to a version that was both entertaining and serious. I scooped up a lot of Batman comics over the years (along with Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman). This is the one that really stuck with me over all the rest. The story takes place in the Batman Year One continuity, a kind of stand-alone set of stories that tried to re-explore Batman’s early years. Batman tries to track down a new villain on the scene who goes by the name Holiday and kills on each month’s big holiday. Thus, each of the issues revolves around a potential murder on a holiday. The story explores the relationship between the old school villains (the Mafia) and the new school villains (Batman’s Rogues Gallery). Batman is used to dealing with the mob and traditional crime. Now he has to shift his thinking to deal with Catwoman, Joker, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter, and Solomon Grundy. The series is a real mystery and a real love letter to my favorite parts of the Batman mythos. All of the characters are written as their best versions, nothing fancy but definitely engrossing. In addition to all of that, the art is fantastic.


The Sensational Spider-Man

I was also a huge fan of Spider-Man. At its heart, it was a series about a boy (and later a man) just trying to do his best in the face of difficult odds. The series has always thrived when it has followed that formula. In the late nineties, they briefly replaced the original Spider-Man with Ben Reilly, a guy just trying to get his life back together. The new take felt fresh to me and I was excited to see where they could take it. The art was one of the first things that did it for me. Everything was so crisp and clean and the action was dynamic. Characters came alive with their facial expressions and their smooth coloring. After that, it was the writing. At the time, Peter Parker was living the good life thanks to his supermodel wife and his own photojournalism career. It was nice to see a hero who was struggling financially and had a supporting cast of people I could actually meet in my city. It was a better solution than the later One Day More storyline for sure. It also gave them an excuse to jazz up Spidey’s arsenal a bit as Ben had had time to come up with a few new tricks. He got impact webbing which was basically a spider web grenade and he got spider stingers which were tranquilizing darts. He was a lot of fun and allowed us to take a bit of a break from the long history of Peter Parker for a little while. They would use this idea later to create such characters as Miles Morales.


Sandman Mystery Theater

Sure, I did not actually get to this title until college but still, it changed the way I looked at comic books. Sandman Mystery Theater follows the character of Wesley Dodds who was a character during the golden age of comics and a founding member of the Justice Society of Comics. Except these new stories predated his adventures among the superheroes. There was nothing super about Dodds. These stories were in a film noir detective style as Dodds used intelligence to track down brutal murderers. The only nod to the supernatural was that he had dreams which gave him vague clues to the murders and drove him toward solving the cases. He used a gas gun (full of sleeping gas or some sort of truth gas) which allowed him to sneak around. He wore a suit, trenchcoat, and World War I gas mask. The artwork is intentionally ugly as it shows a lot of the seedy underbelly of society. It approached topics such as abortion, racism, antisemitism and the rise of the Nazis. It also included a female heroine, Dian Belmont, a former flapper who was every bit a detective as Wesley was. This was the first real non-superhero comic I became a fan of. It led the way for Sandman, Hellblazer, Hellboy, Pretty Deadly and many more heroes who did not fit the traditional mold.

Interview Questions 16

February 25, 2019

You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people. Who would you choose and why?

Alive

Mick Foley

I had been a fan of his through the years through his relationship with the World Wrestling Federation. When he sailed off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage, I knew that I would always remember him. When I read his autobiographies, I learned what a kind and intelligent man he was. He was such an engaging storyteller and he was so passionate about his art but also the truly important things in life. When I was down and lonely up in New Jersey, battling against depression, I picked up that first autobiography again and I wore it to pieces re-reading it in my car. In the years that have followed, I have come to appreciate his passion and goofy sense of humor and I think he would be really fun to talk to. I could listen to him tell stories for days and I feel like he would be interested in what I have to say too. I feel like there are few celebrities who actually give a damn about the common man but Foley always felt grounded.

Aubrey Plaza

I was first introduced to Aubrey Plaza when my brothers convinced me to watch some Parks and Recreation episodes. I was instantly interested in her as she played a quasi-goth, sarcastic crazy person on the show. As the show continued, the character evolved and so did Aubrey Plaza’s career. However, she has spent a lot of time playing weirdos and psychos on screen. Even when she is at her worst, she still had a magnetic charisma and it was impossible not to like her. Then, for the first time, I saw her get interviewed on Conan. She was so loveably awkward that I instantly felt like I had found a kindred spirit. She may be an actress but she also projects a shyness and she often sounds like I feel like I sound like when speaking in public. She has the craziest stories and gets up to some serious hijinx with her friends so I would love to hear all about it. I also think that she is pretty laid back and would be fun to hang with.


Neil Gaiman

I learned about Neil Gaiman far too late. I mean, it’s never too late to find an author you love but I feel like I would have loved to read his stuff when I was younger. Still, my first real introduction to Gaiman was reading The Graveyard Book and I was instantly hooked. His aesthetic mixes the dark and the light together like some of my favorite pieces of fiction such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Addams Family, and so many others. I started to consume anything I could get my hands on. I watched the Coraline movie, read the book, and then moved on. I started to read Sandman which I had previously passed up because I did not really get it. Now I get it. I really get it. I read American Gods and I had not realized how much deeper I could fall in love with Gaiman’s writing. I feel like I could talk to Gaiman for hours about our favorite bits of folklore, mythology, and legends. We could also talk about the craft of writing and fun stories about Americana and fun stories from his homeland. He is a great writer but does not come off as arrogant and seems like he would actually be interested in what I have to say.

Dead

Harpo Marx

When I discovered the Marx Brothers, I felt like I found something that was tailor made for me a lifetime before I was born. The clever wordplay, the slapstick humor, and the visual gags were relentless and I fell in love. Harpo Marx (real name Arthur Marx) was the quiet one, relying on prop humor and mime to tell his jokes on stage and screen. Even so, he won people over with his winning smile, his contagious exuberance, his zany sense of humor, and his unexpected skills as a harpist. Still, Groucho got all my love as the quick-tongued rascal who always had the best comebacks. Much like Mick Foley, that all changed when I read Harpo’s biography. He had so many crazy stories. He gave incredible insight into vaudeville, Broadway, and early Hollywood. He explained so much about his brothers and how much of that came from his parents who were characters as well. He dropped out of school in the second grade and yet he ended up in the legendary “Vicious Circle”, the Algonquin Round Table which was one of the greatest collections of literary minds at the time. He was such a surprisingly wise man but was also a good listener and I feel a great kinship with him.

Carrie Fisher

I cannot count how many friends that I have had through the years who were wisecracking women. Carrie Fisher is legendary for her insightful yet funny quotes about her life and her career. She became famous for playing Princess Leia in Star Wars but she was way more amazing than that. She was an advocate for mental health issues, having been through her own struggles which included depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction. She fought through the stigma and sought to help others with their demons. She was also a prolific writer not only writing books about her life but also punching up endless Hollywood scripts for little to no credit. On top of that, she saw so much in her life. She married Paul Simon and had Harrison Ford as a lover. She is so intensely interesting that she would be such a perfect dinner guest. Her unbridled enthusiasm and cutting sarcasm would be a lot of fun to have around in a quiet setting.

Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers was one of the kindest men in the history of our world. From all reports, he did not have a single mean bone in his body. When he was a small child, he was very sick and spent a lot of time alone in bed. It was here that he learned the power of his imagination. He created whole worlds in his head and entertained himself without the aid of television. He was religious without being pushy about it. He embraced the kindness of Christianity rather than the endless contradictory texts that others get hung up on. He suffered from imposter syndrome and constantly questioned himself and ended up stronger because of it. He was not afraid to broach difficult topics and he got deep and made it fun instead of scary. He was also a proponent of puppetry and make-believe. I think I would love to talk to somebody so intelligent, insightful, and beautiful. I do not think there is a single topic we could not discuss honestly and intelligently and still have a lot of fun together.

DnD 30 Day Challenge Pt. 6

January 12, 2019

27 – What lore in Dungeons and Dragons are you most fascinated by lately?

Lately, I feel like I am most fascinated by the lore in Sigil since it is so mysterious to me. I feel like not a lot of people focus on Sigil since it is potentially incredibly dangerous and very abstract. Sigil basically feels like Wackyland felt in Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies. It has a loose structure and a caste system but almost anything can happen there. It exists outside of the material plane, the inner planes, and the outer planes. It is its own thing and sort of a nexus of reality. Known as the city of doors, any door in the city can double as a portal to anywhere else. These portals need to be activated by a key but that key does not even have to be a physical object, it can be a word, a feeling, a spell, etc. Denizens of most any realm can randomly show up at any time either on purpose or completely by accident. I am still figuring out the society there as I have heard different podcasts approach it a little differently. It is at once wondrous and brutal as the diversity and exotic parts are beautiful but anything can kill you. There are also swarms of rats with psychic powers. At one point I was absolutely fascinated by the Lady of Pain. She is a masked god-like entity that protects and controls Sigil mostly through extreme violence and fear. Anybody who says her name or tries to worship her is horribly and painfully slaughtered by her. The idea of a goddess who kills any of her own worshippers is fascinating to me. She also never talks so people just had to figure all of this out through her violent actions and just hope that they did not somehow piss her off.

28 – What was the first time that you heard Dungeons and Dragons was ‘evil’?

Long before I actually played Dungeons and Dragons, I listened to a lot of comedy clips and watched a lot of comedy videos on the Ancient Internet. I was hanging out with a lot of older friends (as I do now) and they clued me into Dr. Demento, a radio personality who curated a large collection of weird comedy audio clips, most of which were songs. He was the guy who first discovered Weird Al Yankovic and helped him break into the business by sharing his early music. He also aired comedy sketches and one of them I stumbled upon was by a group called the Dead Alewives. Unbeknownst to me, I would later become a big fan of one of their members Dan Harmon who went on to create Community and co-create Rick and Morty. Anyway, they did a Dungeons and Dragons skit that parodied the idea that Dungeons and Dragons was somehow a dangerous activity for kids. The kids in the skit were just big dorks eating snacks and drinking Mountain Dew and making fun of each other. The point was that the game was far from the satanic recruitment device that people thought it was. This confused me. How could any game played with pen and paper be dangerous? It was theater of the mind and when the game ended, all of it faded away and people went back to being regular people. The idea that Dungeons and Dragons was dangerous was laughable to me and it continues to be laughable.

29 – First movie that comes to mind that you associate with Dungeons and Dragons?

Believe it or not, the first movie that comes to mind is something like Fast and Furious 7 or the Fate of the Furious. While the movies do not fit the setting of any Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I have ever seen, the tone definitely fits. A lot of Dungeons and Dragons is over the top with people doing ridiculous things all of the time. Dominic Toretto and his gang are like any good Dungeons and Dragons party. Each member has different backstories, different specialties, and personalities. As members of the party die or change alignment, they are replaced by new characters. For a group of people who were at one point thrown together, they have a lot of intertwining backstories. The tasks that the party has to complete get harder and harder each movie as their skills and equipment also improve. It really feels like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign where the players are constantly rolling high and the Dungeon Master is rolling poorly. Still, they keep coming up with new amazing spectacles peppered with witty dialogue. On top of all of that, Vin Diesel is a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan and still plays now and then.

30 – What’s the single most important thing you have learned while playing Dungeons and Dragons?

I would say confidence. When I started playing tabletop roleplaying games, I was very skittish about it and shy. I stammered and froze up while I tried to translate my great ideas into actions and words that came from my character. More than that, the fear made it so my brain would often just not work and I would try to get enough out to make the Game Master move onto the next person. Still, somehow I found enjoyment from it. As I continued to play, I became more comfortable with myself and confident that my ideas were not horrible and that the people around me did not hate me. In fact, they are now my closest friends. I started to get more aggresive at the table and more likely to share my ideas and speak up. I also was comfortable enough to really “drop in” to my character. Instead of relaying what I thought my character might do or say, I was able to channel my character more directly. Recently, when I started to take new anxiety medication, I made even more progress. I feel more at ease throwing things out there and seeing where they lead. I am also braver about making the hard choices and shooting from the hip when I need to. Afterall, it is just a game and overthinking things leads to unhappiness for everyone at the table. I look forward to gaining even more confidence as I have now really adjusted to my medication and I feel more at peace with my surroundings.

Sorry

December 27, 2018

So, as you might expect, this past week was pretty intense. After the emotional blow of losing my friend Joe, I headed back to my mother’s place in West Virginia. I drove through a horrendous thunderstorm to get there. So, after a funeral and a stressful drive, I crashed hard. The next morning I was back at work wrapping Christmas presents both for myself and for other people in the family. That night the rest of the family arrived and suddenly there was controlled chaos. That chaos lasted from the 22nd to the 26th. Even with my anxiety meds, an introvert such as me was often overwhelmed. Still, it was much better than it has been in a long time. I worked my butt off washing dishes, helping people locate things in the house, and making sure Christmas went off without a hitch. I do love Christmas (not as much as Halloween) and I wanted everybody else to love it too. The good news is that it definitely went smoothly and everybody was happy.

As for myself, I tried to keep up my usual Christmas traditions. On Christmas Eve, I did my annual viewing of A Nightmare Before Christmas. As years go by, I appreciate that movie more and more. I definitely appreciated the Making Christmas song all the more after having a big hand in making Christmas for my family. Tonight (Wednesday the 26th) I traded presents privately with one of my brothers, my mother, and my stepfather. I like giving gifts face to face so I can get the full gift-giving high and we can both be happy together. I like to give gifts without lists so I can surprise people and I have a pretty good track record. I have had no complaints in the past ten years or so.

I am saying all of this because I am just a wee bit burnt out. So, there will be no Media Update this week. I have two rationalizations for this: 1) The aforementioned post-Holiday exhaustion and 2) it is my birthday in two days and it is a gift to myself. I have not skipped an edition of Media Update for years and I would love to continue the streak but I just will not force myself to do it. I am watching plenty of stuff, though, and I will tell you all about it soon. In the meantime, I will spend some quiet time with close family and relax a bit before Saturday’s post which will be the last one of 2018.

On a related note, thank you to everyone who read even a single post of this blog this past year. It was the biggest year for the blog yet and made posting my crazy ramblings even more fun. I hope to continue the fun next year and keep playing with words. Here’s to 2019 being a brighter year all around!

Would You Eat At This Restaurant?

December 8, 2018

My folks live out in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and that area is very different from the city I grew up in. I was raised in Baltimore which has an inordinate percentage of black people living in it so I grew up thinking nothing of being among people of different races. It is why my theory is that exposure to other people and other cultures makes it easier to leech racism out of the population. Still, my family is originally from further south and we still bristle at the sight of a Confederate flag. In my mind, the Confederate flag means racism. People often talk about “history” and “state’s rights” but when my mom was growing up, the people who sported those flags hated black people and were to be avoided. So, it was with some surprise that I was informed locally that this tavern had some of the best burgers around. My first thought was to avoid the place but as Clerks 2 attempted to say “you can’t taste racism”. I guess it only leaves a figurative bad taste in my mouth.

I have been struggling with these thoughts lately. Not this restaurant in particular, as there are many others even in that area of Western Maryland. When do I continue to consume something that I find objectionable or comes from a tainted source? For example, I think most would agree that Kevin Spacey is a great actor but (allegedly) he is a sexual predator. As soon as I heard, I stopped watching House of Cards. I no longer listen to Michael Jackson music because of his pedophilic past. I do not count myself worse off for either of those things. However, what do I do when something truly fantastic is produced by horrible people? Also, where is my line? When do I choose to give up somebody and move on from them forever?

Pedophilia is definitely over the line for me. Harming children is something I will not and cannot stand for. Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Halloween and I watch a lot of horror movies each year. You would think that most people who create these movies have disturbed minds but most of them are just fun, creative people. However, two huge classic movies that I have never seen are Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. The second one is often lauded as one of the very best psychological horror movies in history. Repulsion is a more obscure horror movie that makes it on a lot of best of horror lists. Both are directed by Roman Polanski, a man who has been wanted by authorities for statutory rape since before I was born. I will not honor his name by watching and reporting on his movies. I believe that such men deserve to be forgotten.

General sexual abusers definitely trouble me. I was sick to my stomach when I watched and blogged about Bright before finding out that writer Max Landis was a serial abuser. I had already watched several of his movies but I had been eyeing Chronicle as a rare found footage movie I might enjoy. Now, I will probably never watch it. I get a bad feeling when I see how many of the movies in my collection come from The Weinstein Company, knowing what a horrible man he was. However, I comfort myself by remembering that he was not directly involved in their making and should not profit off of them. There are many I do not mourn no longer being able to watch but some really hurt to get rid of. Bill Cosby was somebody I listened to endlessly, laughing at his take on urban childhood. However, now he is erased from my life. I was a big fan of Chris Hardwick until I found out how abusive and manipulative he is.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that people can change and some transgressions are forgivable with time and penance. When somebody dug up writer/director James Gunn’s tweets from ten years ago that included dark “rape humor”, I was hurt. However, I also recognized that this came from a young troublemaker who wanted to shock the system. He has since grown out of this and has produced mature, heartwarming movies since. Even his own brother admitted that Gunn was an asshole in the past but that he had grown out of that and had repented. Now, they are doing the same thing to Kevin Hart who made a lot of questionable jokes years ago but has since been on his best behavior. Neither of these two is somebody that I would abandon.

I think Sarah Silverman put it well when she discussed the issue in light of Louis CK being accused. She talked about removing problematic people from your life as “cutting out tumors”. Those people did horrible things but hid in plain sight. They endeared themselves to us, worming their way into our good graces and then their rotten natures were revealed. Their pop culture contributions became a part of me so now I have to cut pieces from myself. Their crimes deny me of something I once enjoyed freely and that just makes it hurt worse. For the sake of their victims and for the sake of my sense self-worth I cannot deal with them anymore. It is a difficult process deciding who stays and who goes, though.

RIP Stan Lee

November 17, 2018

I was rocked when I heard that Stan Lee died four days ago on November 12, 2018. I had to spend a bit of time getting my thoughts together so that I could do this right. I could not let a great man pass without saying a little something. So here are the thoughts that have passed through my head in the past few days.

I was a huge fan of comic books growing up. I loved them so much that I walked three miles to a comic book store and blew my allowance on a small stack of them. I bought both Marvel and DC (while some of my friends preferred Image). However, when I read them, I did not often think about who was making them. All I thought about was who was selling them and how I could get them. So I really did not know who Stan Lee was. I would have been impressed had I known his name because he created a lot of the characters I liked and was one of the godfathers of the modern age of comics that I enjoyed so much. Little did I know but he was a fixture on the letters page at the back of most comics but I usually skipped that while I grabbed another story to absorb. When I got a bit older, I started to read those pages and learned about Stan’s infamous No-Prize. It was the prize he (and the Marvel editors) gave out to fans who spotted continuity errors in Marvel comic book fans. A little fun smartassery pointed toward the nitpickier side of fandom. It was also a reminder that comics are just supposed to be fun and not taken so seriously.

However, the first time I really started to become aware of Stan Lee was watching a little VHS called Pryde of the X-Men. It was an animated television pilot released in 1989 (a magic year for me) for an X-Men cartoon show that never materialized. I thought it was awesome but it only spawned the one double episode pilot and the famous X-Men arcade game. (Fun Fact: Wolverine was given an Australian accent in the pilot which is a bit eerie now). I remember well how Stan narrated that first episode. That was the first time that I heard him use the phrase “true believer” and it really resonated with me. As somebody with a vivid imagination and a strong suspension of disbelief, that was a great description of what I am. He brought me right into the story and his voice could barely contain the excitement he had for the story that was about to unfold. Of course, 1989 Stan Lee probably had no idea how many shows and movies would feature he and his friends’ creations. He had to have been excited to see the X-Men clash with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in animated form.

So, years after Pryde of the X-Men, in the 1990s, I started to become more aware of authorship as I started to create my own worlds in my head and on the page. I became more curious about behind the scenes of comic books. I bought books to try and learn how to draw them but I just never took to visual art as much as the written word. I ended up collaborating with my friends on comic books since one of my best friends could draw and loved to do so. As I said, I started to look at the letters page. I also started to look at who was drawing the comics I liked and who was writing them. I started to look for them at the stores like I looked for directors and movie stars at the Blockbuster Video. As I got older, I became better at picking comics that I really liked, not just what was hot at the moment. As a result, I became a bigger fan of comics creators. When I saw interviews with a lot of these creators, they mentioned Stan Lee as their inspiration. He was the grandfather. He was one of the sources on high. He and Jack Kirby practically created Marvel with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Now, the first time I saw Stan Lee was when I watched the movie Mallrats made by Kevin Smith. In the movie, he has his first live-action cameo, giving advice to a lovelorn and desperate comic book fan. In that cameo, he describes the characters he created being a reflection of what he felt inside at the time, a mirror to his emotions. Of course, later he did cameos in live action movies of his properties. One of the first cameos was actually my favorite since it was so pure. He appeared in Spider-Man (2002) as a man in the crowd. In a scene where Spider-Man is fighting against Green Goblin, he saves a little girl from being crushed by debris. The man who became famous for writing heroes finally got to act out being a hero. It was such a great moment to see a writer get to actually be in his own work. This sparked a chain of cameos in live-action movies leading more casual fans to lean over in theaters and ask “who is that?” which allowed fans to explain and spread his legend.

Of course, getting to be a hero in the movie was probably a thrill but Stan did not just write heroes, he was a hero. It is obvious from the outpouring of grief and respect following his death that he touched so many lives. He was one of many who inspired me at a young age to not only read but to write as well. His affable nature made comic books more accessible and fun, knowing that the people who made them did not take themselves too seriously. His legacy will continue and it is as unlikely that he will be forgotten as Shakespeare, Stephen King, or Jim Henson will be forgotten. He left an indelible mark on history and fiction that will stand as a monument to him. He also left marks on the psyches of those who consumed his stories and carried them in their hearts. Count me among them. He lived to the ripe old age of 95 so I will not see Stan Lee cameos and feel sad. I will smile and remember what he gave me and what he gave the world.

Disney March Madness 7: The Semi-Finals and Finals

August 25, 2018

Bracket

We have come down to the wire so this entry is going to be more about the impressions I got from the final four films both initially and over time. As we get into the nitty-gritty, I am going to drop a spoiler warning here just in case.

Moana vs. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Moana was a revelation for me when it was released. It continued the evolution of Disney Animation Studios that Frozen had started. It took lessons learned in movies like Frozen and The Frog Princess and took them further. Moana was just such an interesting character. I could feel her frustration at not being able to satisfy her curiosity and her wanderlust. Having dreams but never getting to realize them is a very human experience. She also felt like I did as a teenager. You are tired of listening to your parents but you know they are both right and wrong about everything. Last time I did not talk alot about the grandmother character but she was so important. Most of us have that family member (or more than one) who wink at us and agree that our parents are full of crap. They encourage us by treating us like a human being rather than a child. Their behavior toward us is not as colored by fear for us and the other biases that a parent has. Moana is also about our internal compasses. There is that moment in our development where we stop using the compass that our parents and loved ones provided for us. We start to make decisions on our own. Sure that leads to us making a few mistakes but it is important to make our decisions and plot our own courses.

In direct opposition to the Moana, let us take a look at the love story in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Whereas a lot of previous Disney films had romance as their main plot, it is a subplot in this movie. Jack is not looking for romance like many Disney Princes or Princesses. He is looking for something that is missing from his life but it has to do with lacking a feeling of fulfillment in his life. As expressed, it is mostly focused on something lacking professionally. For Jack, the love story is treated as a bonus. It is something that he did not need but he allows himself to have in the end. Also, Sally is not your usual female in a disney animated film. She is not a damsel in distress and in fact she spends the whole movie trying to save Jack in somewhat of a reversal. As a literal captive, Sally wants a new life just as much as Jack does. On top of that, she repeatedly forgets about her own plight when she sees him hurting. She feels bad for her friend and wants to see him happy again. In turn, Jack sees her as a good friend but he loses sight of that due to depression and then excitement. When they come together at the end it is two friends who realize they fit together. They love each other and they are ready to start again at a new level.

Main Character: Both main characters are relatable to me but Jack edges ahead by being more universally relatable.

Supporting Characters: Nightmare has a lot more supporting characters than Moana. One of Moana’s is The Rock but each character in Nightmare is given a lot to do and a lot more personality.

Villain: The main villain of Moana has no lines while Oogie Boogie is one of the most dynamic villains in animation history.

Music: This is tough. I would actually say that Moana’s Lin-Manuel Miranda just barely beats Danny Elfman’s music.

Story: For me, the story of overcoming depression is more impactful than a journey to fix the world and find your place in it. It just felt more real.

Animation: While Moana’s animation is smooth and beautiful, there is something about the novelty of good stop-motion animation that just feels better to me.

Winner: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Coco vs. Inside Out

In Coco, Miguel is forbidden to play music and, possibly because of that, he is drawn into it further. He slowly develops a love for music and he seeks to achieve his dream of becoming a musician like his ancestor. I know a little bit about that. When I was in high school, I wanted to study theater in college. I was told that I should minor in theater so that I had a back-up plan. To me, that felt bad (though in hindsight it was spot on). When my folks told me that I could apply to major in theater, it was such a validation of my feelings and my dreams. In Coco, Miguel gets to have that same feeling. His living family tells him that he cannot pursue music. He travels to the underworld and his family there also tells him no and he is given the choice between music and life and he still finds that choice difficult. In the afterlife, he finally gets to perform in front of a crowd for the first time and he loves it. When he plays a second time, he finally gets that validation from a family member and it gives him even more courage. He is eventually able to convince his entire family, living and dead, to let him give music a try. In life, true validation comes from inside. Miguel knew he wanted to be a musician and when it starts to work out, he is sure of it. However, getting the blessing of his family is a welcome confirmation and it makes it easier to be happy and successful.

In Inside Out, Joy and Sadness are separated from mission control and are therefore unable to exert their influence on Riley. While this happens because of an accident (in Riley’s brain) it actually ends up illustrating a key point of emotional and neurological processes. Riley has been forced to move to a new city and she has to leave her comfortable routine and her friends behind. That is difficult enough for anybody but Riley is a young teenager and she has difficulty processing the feelings that come from that change. When Joy and Sadness are misplaced, it is exactly like depression. She does not feel sad but she definitely does not feel happy. She feels very close to nothing. That is what depression is. You just do not feel a lot of feelings and it takes a while for those feelings to return. One of the other key themes of the movie is growing up. While Joy and Sadness are separated from mission control, they are constantly in danger as the worlds inside Riley’s mind are literally ripped apart and new worlds start to be created. These worlds represent Riley’s interests and parts of her personality. As she loses interest in something, that world is destroyed and new interests create new worlds. Again, we see the effect of depression as the un-feeling starts to destroy any interest she has in anything and the worlds inside her mind start to crumble. That is also what depression is when you have no interest in doing anything.

Main Character: Miguel is a more rounded main character than Joy and Sadness who are fun but only aspects of personality.

Supporting Characters: Miguel’s family is a lot more varied and fun than

Villain: Inside Out does not really have a villain but Coco’s villain would win anyway.

Music: This is no contest as the Mexican guitar stylings far outweigh the more orchestral Inside Out.

Story: The supernatural journey that ends in a very grounded way beats a teenager’s emotional self-discovery.

Animation: The animation in the two is comparable but the art direction in Coco is so much better.

Winner: Coco

Coco vs. The Nightmare Before Christmas

I could go on and on about how I love the Day of the Dead but that is not the main reason that I love this movie so much. My grandmother had several strokes during her old age and those strokes and heart problems contributed to dementia. It started slow. She started to forget a few things here and there. Pretty soon after that, she was caught wandering the streets and had to be brought back home. Eventually, you could come into the room and remind her who you were, leave the room, reenter, and she would have already forgotten you. Eventually, she forgot everything. At its roots, Coco is about memory. Miguel does not know who his great, great grandfather is. He does not know because most of his family never met him. His great-grandmother is suffering from memory loss and has been slowly forgetting her father. At the end of the movie, we get to see the scene above. Miguel sings in a house without music for the first time and he sings a song that his great, great grandfather wrote for his daughter. We see that song stir her memories and that allows her to experience the joy of the memory of her father once again. It is a beautiful moment both because it is full of pure emotion and also because it is supported by the supernatural adventure that happens before.

The part of The Nightmare Before Christmas that I love the most is actually about depression. It resonated with me a lot more later in life. Jack has been the King of Halloween for a long time. He has gotten so good at it that he has started to get bored and that has led to him falling into a deep depression. When I worked at a theater up in New Jersey, I eventually reached the same place. A lot of shows felt the same as the last and I got bored and tired. I eventually decided that I did not want to go back and I returned to Baltimore to start again. I got another job and I worked hard for years and then I got bored again and depressed again. Jack happens upon Christmastown and suddenly his life has a new purpose. He is excited by having this new thing in his life even if he does not fully understand it. However, even that does not last for long and once again he finds himself depressed again. In the song above, he pities himself but then he has a revelation and he realizes that he is what he is and he embraces that. Similarly, a year ago I realized something. My job cannot make me happy. My family cannot make me happy. Things cannot make me happy. Only I can decide to be happy and my life has been more positive ever since. Jack and I had that same revelation where he decides to find the happiness in what we do and who we are with instead of letting doubt consume us. It is the only way to live, even if you are an undead skeletion.

Winner: The Nightmare Before Christmas

High Anxiety

July 14, 2018

I have started to examine my anxiety more and more. In the past, my anxiety was something that I accepted as gospel and I tried not to think too much about it so I did not trigger anything. Thinking about being in crowds, public speaking, or meeting new people made me almost as scared as actually doing those things. Now that I am on my new medication, I have started to have random thoughts about how I dealt before. More specifically, I have thought about how I did not deal with it. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and also specific social anxiety which was something I kind of knew about growing up but never really got around to dealing with. Like most undiagnosed or unmedicated individuals, I developed coping mechanisms to get me through my life. I got really good at coping mechanisms. The key coping mechanism became my philosophy of “Just Do It” in where I sucked it up and just went into those situations that made me uncomfortable.

I was reminded of this philosophy when I recently discovered a song by Icon for Hire called Theatre. The lyric that has caught in my head over and over is. “I’m gonna burn this theater down and pray to God for the strength to face the crowd.” Sometimes that was what it felt like to walk into a party or step into a mall. I felt like I had left all of my defenses behind and I was out there on my own. Every bad social situation like this was like a ride on a rollercoaster and I hate rollercoasters. Obviously, the more intense rides were things like speaking in public or being at a party. This was the philosophy behind my ill-fated flirtation with being an actor. I auditioned the one time and I shook so hard that the director thankfully did not pick me. However, at the time I also joined the drama club. In it, I joined several other people in reading plays. This was fine. However, then we started to rehearse them in order to perform them in front of little kids. They were really good plays, kind of fascinating. However, I vividly remember stepping out on stage, blacking out, and then stepping off stage and wondering what happened. While I have talked to other actors who have had the same experience, it was not fun to me. It was not something I remotely enjoyed doing.

However, I realized that one of the big triggers of my anger problem was this social anxiety. When I was out in public, it drained me. It made me more prone to being irritable. About two years ago, my mother agreed to have her house used for a big fundraiser for cancer awareness in West Virginia called Identity Crisis. Every year they have a themed party where people show up in costume. At the time, I was staying there while I was taking summer classes at community college. The thought of the upcoming party rattled me. When I stepped into the party, my fear turned to anger. I snapped at people for being overly familiar and using the house as their own. It was wrong. After a confrontation or two, I retreated to my room and hid for the remainder of the party. I just could not handle it. I have had a similar experience in airports and in malls. As I get tired, I am more susceptible to my more primal emotions. Combine that with getting hungry and my hangriness can get downright terrible. It is an issue that I am working on. The medication has helped immensely with that and so has exercise and my more positive outlook.

There was also a situation that I just remembered in the past week that kind of scared me. On another occasion while I was visiting my mother, she and my stepfather were having guests over. The thought of having to deal with these unknown quantities got me nervous. In addition,we were eating dinner outside which is something I absolutely hate doing in the summer because I hate the heat. I generally do not drink because I am always either working the next day or driving later that night. That night, neither were true so I said yes to wine. I almost never say yes to wine. I am a total lightweight and two glasses later and I was totally drunk which scared me. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been drunk. I slipped away to do dishes so I could get away from the table while people talked. Except, there I was trying to do dishes while dizzy and lightheaded. It turned out fine but looking back I was absolutely self-medicating. I never attempted that method again, thankfully.

So the point of this is what? Basically, I want to tell everybody who is reading this that help is out there. You can only help yourself for so long. Coping mechanisms only get you so far and these coping mechanisms are also really tiring to deal with. You do not have to do this alone. Tell your friends and family what is going on. Talk to a professional and get to the root of what might be wrong. It is very possible that your brain chemistry may be irregular and there may be a medication that can help you feel more normal. I am only on one part of the road to being normal as I start to unlearn the habits of a semi-hermit. I will keep trying to help myself but also I will continue getting help. Hang in there. You can do this.


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