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18 June 2015 @ 06:55 am
I have a character flaw. Well, yeah, obviously I have more than one, but I'm only thinking of one right now. Specifically I'm talking about the inverse relationship between my intelligence and negative emotions. In other words, when I get upset I get stupid.

I can feel it happening like a fog rolling in, and sometimes it's just as difficult to hold back as a fog. It's why I try to avoid arguments; they won't go in my favor, ever. And when I try to force my calm I tend to just come across as patronizing which certainly doesn't help much either. Of course anger isn't the only thing because frustration, fear, and anxiety all have similar effects. In fact, they tend to all feed each other. The general state of anxiety I find myself in lately leaves me low on patience and easily frustrated so I'm operating at a reduced state all the time. It means things that should be easy to understand, or at least theoretically possible to figure out, are opaque mysteries of esoteric arcana. Any slightest difficulty leaves me too frustrated and unintelligent to progress. Thus my computer and phone are pending obsolescence as dealing with upgrading them fills me with such anxiety that I freeze up. It means scheduling car maintenance is a task I put off week after week, so my car has had a broken side mirror for months and my a/c doesn't work. And people! Almost all my recent interactions with people leave me feeling disconnected and like I should constantly have a label that says "it's me, not you."

I've been feeling uncomfortable almost everywhere. There are a couple of different organizations of which I'm a member, and for while I felt like I belonged. Belonging is an uncommon feeling for me. But currently I'm struggling to get to them. I'm feeling so out of place. There are some legitimate reasons for feeling like I can't trust people with certain aspects of myself. Not everybody will appreciate all of me. That's fine. I think everyone has some parts of themselves that they keep for only the closest of friends. And some people and groups are more acceptive of difference. But I don't know. Nowhere feels comfortable right now, nowhere feels safe, and I can't determine how much of that is just in my head and how much is just that I thought some things were different and they just aren't.

I guess I've digressed from the thesis of this entry. That happens. I can't really talk about everything here. The point is that my brain isn't working. I feel it not working. I am going through life feeling impaired and being painfully, depressingly cognizant of it. Whether it's my ability to manage my schedule, talk to people, or figure out how to beat a level of Halo that I've played through before, I'm feeling pretty incompetent at this thing called life. So if I come off even more weird than usual, or distant and dispassionate, just know that it's me, not you.
I don't think that I'm not racist. I don't think that I'm not sexist. I don't think that I'm not judgmental. I just try to be better.

I think a lot of people define themselves as the above because they know those things are bad. But they don't actually think about it. They don't actually consider what those ideas mean. And so when they are faced with the fact that, yeah, those things are actually a part of who they are then they don't take it well.

Say I jump to a conclusion about a neighborhood because of the ethnicity of the populace. Maybe I'll stop a moment and realize that's some passive racism born of my exposure to media images as well as a lack of personal experience. If I defined my identity as not-racist then I'd be in a quandary. I'd have to resolve this cognitive dissonance between how I define myself and the thought that I had. Most likely I'd justify it by saying my judgement was based on yadda yadda yadda, that they asked for it, that they'd clean it up better if it was a good neighborhood, that I don't need to actually know real crime statistics because my mind was already made up, and that's that. And that would be racist. In my desire to prove to myself that my passive racism wasn't really racism I'd employ logical hurdles that were ACTIVELY racist. But if I'm just a person trying to be better, then if I jump to a conclusion I can stop and try to make it a learning experience for myself. Truth be told my neighborhood is probably more dangerous than the one I was thinking about.

Now say someone critiques something I enjoy, movie or game or comic, saying that it's sexist or even misogynistic. If I define myself as not-sexist without thinking about it then I believe, based on how we see things go on the internet, that my thought process would be the following - "I'm not sexist. They said this thing I like is sexist. That means they think I am sexist. I'm totally not sexist, how dare they call me sexist! What do they know about sexism anyway? They're just some feminist chick that doesn't want me to have any fun. Let's see how much fun she has after an escalating campaign of hateful threats." I mean, that really seems to be how this goes from my perspective. And, no, I don't know how "I'm not sexist" leads to thinking it's OK to threaten sexual violence but damn if that isn't how it progresses. On the other hand, if I define myself as someone trying to be better, and see other people as being similarly flawed and trying to be better, then if someone points out that something is problematic then I won't take it as a personal attack. I can separate myself from what I enjoy and admit that not everything is perfect. Yes, there are things that I enjoy that are most decidedly problematic. There are typically redeeming values that I weigh against it to decide if I still enjoy that thing. Sometimes I can find enough to still enjoy something despite its flaws. Sometimes once it's been pointed out and I see it form another perspective I lose my enjoyment. If I no longer enjoy something once I learn its flaws then I didn't really love it and it wasn't that important. Yes, I realize that while Empowered by Adam Warren is satirizing the stories that use gratuitous amounts of T&A and bondage at the detriment of characterization and storytelling, it is unquestionably itself employing a gratuitous amount of T&A and bondage, but the characterization and storytelling are so damn phenomenal that it still works. On the other hand, after stepping back and re-examining The Big Bang Theory I was left decidedly uncomfortable and, no sir, I no longer like it. I don't feel the need to convert others to my lack of enjoyment, but I'm totally done with it. For realsies. Sorry, folks.

That brings us to being judgmental. The thing is we are all judgmental. We just are. We just judge people on different criteria. I think that most people who say they aren't judgmental mean they don't judge about race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or all those other things the liberal minded people are trying to get better about. But maybe they still judge people on if they litter, or just if people are cruel. That's judgement. I cannot say that I never judge people since I do think that some actions are wrong. And I'll let you in on something stupid about myself - I judge people by how they park. Yeah, it's pointless and unfair. And I certainly don't park perfectly every singe time. But it's there, every time I see a poorly parked car there's a flash of judgment in my mind. I try to squish it and remember that maybe there was someone else parked poorly that caused them to park misaligned, or maybe they had an emergency and couldn't take the time to straighten up, or maybe they have a legitimate reason for backing into the parking space even though they obviously don't have the skill to do so. All that's to say that I cannot ever in good conscious say that I'm not judgmental because I know for a fact that I am, but I'm trying to be better. Again, the problem if I defined myself as non-judgmental is that when called out on it I would get defensive because someone was attacking my identity, and that will lead to me making judgments about them and how they are judging me, and that will just prove that the accusation was most likely valid.

To err is human and, despite how I feel most of the time, I am actually human. I try to be better, but I'll always be making mistakes. And I guess that's OK.
We chose titanium for our wedding bands, it was very appropriate.

I find the metaphor of “the old ball and chain” to be sad as hell. To liken one's partner to being shackled to a burdensome weight is just depressing. And it's a disturbingly common phrase, even showing up in children's cartoons. That's scary, before people even really understand relationships they are being shown that wives equate to imprisonment because the stories are so predominantly shown from a hetero-normative male perspective. While it seems most people that actually say it these days are doing it as a joke the facts are that it's not funny (even when being used in an “ironic” way since it's done by people that don't understand irony or humor), and the attitude that gave rise to it is all too real. At its heart is a negative view regarding the responsibility and consideration necessary in healthy relationships.

If I was going to say that some equivalent sort of inanimate object symbolized Becca it would be a life jacket. She has kept me afloat when I was too exhausted to tread water. But really I tend to think of her as a star. She shines brightly, gives off warmth, is very attractive, and is the source of my life.

So what does this have to do with our titanium rings? Is it just that they are non-traditional? Ask to see them the next time you are hanging out with us. They are very strong yet amazingly light, and that's what our relationship feels like.
Say you were never good enough for your parents. Say that even when you did good and followed the rules they treated you distrustfully. More than that, say they punished you without cause because they simply assumed, without evidence, that you had done wrong. Say their punishments went above and beyond what they themselves would tell others was appropriate for the transgressions, which, again, you hadn't even actually done. And lastly say that when you tried to get help from people they just told you to behave and not talk back.

In that case, what would you think of rules? What would you think of authority? What would you think of your parents? And what would you think of the institutions that claim they are there to help?

I know how I'd feel. If I was going to be punished and abused and tortured and killed anyway then I'd just say fuck it all. Rules are a joke. Authority is a sadism license. And my parents are straight up evil. Yeah, I'd fucking burn the world down too. Because what point is life if you live it with a boot on your throat?
23 March 2015 @ 12:11 pm
"Death is a release from and an end of all pains: beyond it our sufferings cannot extend: it restores us to the peaceful rest in which we lay before we were born. If anyone pities the dead, he ought also to pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor a bad thing, for that alone which is something can be a good or a bad thing: but that which is nothing, and reduces all things to nothing, does not hand us over to either fortune, because good and bad require some material to work upon. Fortune cannot take ahold of that which Nature has let go, nor can a man be unhappy if he is nothing."
- Seneca

Mourning is not only the act of saying goodbye, but also forgiving myself for the things I didn't do. I've never been good at that part, at forgiving myself. I know for a fact that I could have done better, I'll never believe otherwise. I know people are trying to help when they say I did all that I could. I just have to accept the reality.

Times like this make me envy religious and spiritual people. It would be nice to take comfort in some after-existence, but death is an ending. It just is. Those that die only live on in the thoughts and memories of the survivors. We honor them by being better for our time with them.

And I just keep thinking about friends that have lost children, and am impressed by their strength. I couldn't handle that.

(Photo by Becca)

I was around six when Star Wars: Return of the Jedi came out, but it was certainly memorable. I had already seen the other movies so I was going into it already loving the main characters, and that included Princess Leia. She was a strong, competent leader. Even when she needed help it wasn’t owing to weakness on her part; they were simply situations where anyone would need help. Her famous plea to Obi-Wan that he was her only hope wasn’t for herself. No, it was for the entire Rebellion.

The scenes of Leia dressed in the now famous “Slave Leia” costume didn’t fill me with lust because I was too young to think of it sexually. Instead I saw it as being similar to how Jabba the Hutt was treating Han Solo. Like Han, she was being put on display so Jabba could demonstrate his power. He was being cruel and disrespectful towards her, which were ways to demonstrate his villainy. He was trying to break her spirit but was using different methods than Darth Vader had used. And none of it worked.

But all this did was show her strength. Her spirit was not broken. She didn’t retreat into fear or shame. And she didn’t just sit passively waiting for rescue. When opportunity arose she took it, and she dealt with her captor in a direct and deserved manner. Then she got up and joined the fight. She was not a slave, not to Jabba and not to anyone else.

But here we are over 30 years later and many people don’t seem to get it. Fan art and cosplayers often portray “Slave Leia” as being very passive. Heck, even officially licensed art plays in this arena. The cover to the Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga video game has her in the slave costume winking playfully as she leans against a downed Clone Trooper. Leia never played the “look at how cute I am” game. She could be friendly, even flirty, but that presentation of her displaying herself, especially on something directed at kids, shows how completely the point has been missed.

The point is that Princess Leia is strong, intelligent, competent, compassionate, and a royal bad-ass. Demean her, and she will choke you to death. You should respect her no matter what she is wearing, and that goes for everybody else too.
20 January 2015 @ 05:32 pm
I always feel guarded around heterosexual cis men. As soon as I find out that someone is gay, bi, trans, or in some other way queer then I relax a bit. One of the reasons that the Ice Balls essay on The Tusk resonated with me is that men do have it rough too, but you shouldn’t pity them because they are the ones that are making it difficult on each other. Men are the source of the problems, the expectations, and the values with which men find themselves burdened. (Women, on the other hand, get policed on how they fit gender roles by both men and women, so it is even more difficult on them.) (And while men are sometimes policed by women, well, where do you think the women got those ideas about gender roles?)

All of the positive qualities of manliness that I can think of are just simply positive qualities for ANY human being. Gender isn’t a factor. That’s why I have no desire to be considered “a good man.” Instead I want to be thought of as “a good person.” Likewise I don’t care about accusations that I’m not “a real man.” (I acknowledge I have it easy as I present as acceptably masculine and am rarely challenged on it.)

The qualities that are most exclusive to men, to being a so-called “real man,” are wrapped up in machismo. Machismo is, at its most crass and obvious, frat-boy culture: the condescension, the hazing, and the perpetual (to the point of pathological) need to test others and one’s own “manliness.” It can be more subtle, but basically it’s the reaffirmation of classic gender roles and that shit is not good for any of us.

And of course this is where the logical fallacies of the Scott Aaronsons (*see below) of the world fall apart. As self-identified “sensitive nerds” that are beset by the “jocks” and “Neanderthals,” they are being victimized by the agents of machismo, of the patriarchy. But instead of directing their anger at the establishment that creates the expectation that they enjoy sports, don’t show emotion, and are dominant, they become resentful that women don’t do what they want them to do. Just where is the empathy in their self-identified sensitivity? This is why nobody respects the “Nice Guy” - he’s a clueless tool, just as much a user of machismo and perpetuator of the patriarchy as he is a victim of it.



But anyway, yeah, dudes. I just don’t fit in with those guys and find it really weird when they consider me one of them.
It seems that every day brings another group of people offended by something. Well, this is the internet, and expressing displeasure about something is one of the primary purposes of it, eh?

Before wading into one of those discussions and proclaiming how you aren’t offended and they shouldn’t be either stop and ask yourself if you are actually a member of the targeted group. Because let me tell you, a guy not being offended by sexualized or marginalizing depictions of women isn’t shocking. A white person not being offended by the treatment of a minority group isn’t headline news (unless it’s The Onion). And a straight cis individual not offended by something directed towards the LGBTQIA community isn’t even the slightest bit world shattering. At best if you are an outsider saying how you don’t think the thing is offensive then you just look uneducated and/or unempathetic. Yeah, that’s the best you can come off looking.

Alright, take for example if you don't know how an internal combustion engine works. You know gasoline goes in, a little somethin'-somethin' goes on, and then the car goes. Are you seriously going to get in an argument with a thirty year veteran auto mechanic about their opinion on a style of carburetor? If you are, is your reason for thinking your opinion should trump theirs because -
A) you are male and they are female?
B) you are white and they are non-white?
C) you are a brilliant and beautiful snowflake who is a gift unto the world?
If you choose A then you're sexist. If you chose B then you're racist. If you chose C then either you're lying about A or B, or you're just too stupid to live.

For real, one of the most important things to learn is the limit of your understanding. One of the saddest things I've come to know is that educated people often come across as less confident because they know that they do not and simply cannot know everything, but the arrogantly uneducated can come across as supremely confident because they are too stupid to realize how stupid they actually are. Back on point, if a man thinks he can know what it's like to live the life of a woman more than a woman knows, then that man is either sexist (feeling his opinion is always superior to a woman's) or he's too stupid to know that he can't know it. If a white person in America, especially a Christian white person, thinks they know what it's like to be a minority and persecuted more than, say, people that actually are minorities and persecuted, then seriously die right the fuck now you stupid fucking fuckwit fuck, with a fucking cherry on fucking top because you truly are too damn fucking stupid to live.

You want to know what the most offensive thing in the world is? To be told that your feelings aren't valid by someone who has no understanding or respect for your life experience. That is the single most offensive thing in the world.

And while I'm saying this I have to admit I really TRULY dislike boiling everything down to "us versus them" or "insiders versus outsiders." It just feels like lazy oversimplification to me. But the fact of the matter is that we as human beings, all of us, have limitations on what we can understand, and the more you think you know EXACTLY what it's like for people outside your circle then the less you probably actually know.

So, yeah, maybe you're tired about hearing how one group is offended by a t-shirt sold at Wal-Mart, and another group is offended by some sports teams' mascots, and yet some other group is offended by something else you think is equally sillypants. But just step away and squelch your desire to say something snarky or proclaim how since it doesn't personally offend you it shouldn't be an issue. You know, unless you really want to demonstrate what a stupid and/or shitty person you are.
I’ve got an embarrassing admission to make. I didn’t like Jack Kirby’s art when I first saw it. I started reading comics in 1990, and in comparison to the “hot” artists of the time his work looked downright crude. But I was a Marvel fan, and the bedrock of Marvel rests on the backs of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. What that meant is I didn’t really have a choice, and I was going to have to “put up with” Kirby’s art if I wanted to really get into the heart of Marvel. (I wasn’t a fan of Ditko’s art at first either, but now my dog is named after him. That’s another discussion though.)

So I respected Kirby’s creativity and what he had brought to Marvel. Over time I grew to appreciate his art. I figured out the visual shorthand he was using, and I saw just how much of his storytelling techniques were being employed by, well, EVERYBODY. Much of Kirby’s work I came to in order to see the original version, after having read later creators versions of the characters. But eventually I reached the point where I was actively looking for his work, driven not by having enjoyed others’ stories but for the sake of seeing his. The Eternals was the first that I can think of. What I’d seen of The Eternals by other people was never all that interesting to me, but there was an issue of it in a volume of Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby and it was just spectacular. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. After Eternals I sought out other things, I didn’t have to be familiar with it, Jack’s name was good enough for me.

But it was within the pages of his Fourth World Saga that I fell in love with Kirby. I’d seen reference to the Anti-Life Equation in various other creators’ tales but nothing really said what it did, or if they did I missed it. I just assumed that the opposite of life was death. Everybody knows that, right? Not Jack Kirby. No, to him the opposite of life was something else. It was mind control. It was fascism. The idea that to live is to think for oneself, and to “die” was to be controlled is just one of the most beautiful sentiments I’ve ever heard. When I read that, when it hit me, I literally stopped for a couple of minutes to process it. And, damn, I just wanted to give that man a giant hug. But I can’t. I can’t even tell him that even thinking about it later brings tears to my eyes.

Jack Kirby is most often thought of for his cosmic creativity and limitless imagination, but his humanity and compassion are the things that made him truly stellar.

Shine on, Jack, shine on.
(Disclaimer – I typically try to avoid succumbing to “nerd-rage” and focus more on the things I enjoy, but this time I couldn’t hold back.)

Q: So, what did you think of the Guardians of the Galaxy film?

A: I enjoyed it a great deal. It was a lot of fun. Not perfect, not original, but still enjoyable. It does fall into many of the failings that blockbuster, special-effects laden movies do, such as a dearth of female characters that are actually given any development. But overall it actually had more genuine heart to it than expected.

Q: So was it true to the comics by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning then?

A: Yes and no. A number of characters have been significantly changed; others that were prominent in the comics are missing or relegated to the briefest of cameos. But I didn't really mind those changes because I liked what they did. The scale of the conflict, that blend of personal and galactic, definitely held true though. And the tone that can make you cheer or laugh at one moment and then come around and hit you in the feels in the next was also there. I love that.

Q: Wouldn’t you say that on the surface it seems a lot like the GotG series currently being written by Brian Michael Bendis?

A: On the surface, yes. But you’re also very, very wrong. The film gets a pass on the changes because while inspired by the Abnett & Lanning series it does not say that stuff happened. This is a fresh version, and therefore it is free to make changes. The Bendis book does directly follow the events of the older comic, it explicitly follows some of the plots, but lazily does not bother following the characterization and growth that they had. It is instead dumbing it down and simplifying everyone to a very two-dimensional degree. It’s telling that after almost a decade writing the Avengers the first thing Bendis did after leaving them was bring over an Avenger, Iron Man, to his new project. And it quickly and sadly became a buddy tale of the two white male humans while all the aliens were left in the background. I dropped it a while back, bringing in Angela was the last straw (don't get me started on that), but since then two more Avengers have joined the team! What the hell, dude? You’re off the Avengers, let it go. Meanwhile, the aliens were just as strongly featured as the human characters not only in the Abnett & Lanning series but even in the film as well. Rocket is just as awesome, and just as much a real character, as we all wanted him to be. Even Drax came across much better than I expected.

Q: Wow, really anti-Bendis, eh?

A: No, actually I’m not. I thought his Daredevil run was fantastic. Ultimate Spider-Man ranged from pretty-good to great. His pre-Marvel stuff is all solid. Alias and The Pulse were good steps outside of the typical superhero genre. And his legendarily prolific run on Avengers was mostly enjoyable. (I collected it off and on as it did drag on sometimes.) But I never really identified with the complaints that all the characters sound the same until he started writing X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, characters I’m much more familiar with. Then, yeah, totally, they all are a bunch of interchangeable puppets. Really sad. Add to that problem his penchant for frustratingly glacial pacing and complete lack of direction or purpose for both the characters and the books themselves. So, yep, I‘m done with all that. At this point I will be exceedingly hesitant to pick up anything by him again.

Q: Ok, ok. But now I’m curious about the Drax series written by Keith Giffen, the one that led into the Annihilation crossover which was the origin for the Abnett & Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy series. That Drax series significantly changed the character without any explanation, why does that one get a pass?

A: Because it was good. Seriously, if you’re going to make changes, then at least make them be good. And let’s be honest, the change to Drax essentially just made him into Riddick so it wasn’t exactly original, but it was a hell of a lot more interesting than the big, dumb, child-like brute he’d been portrayed as prior to that. That version had a few highlights, but was overall so underwhelming that making the character a clichéd rip-off tough-guy comes across as pure genius.

Q: Sorry to sideline, but what about the live-action Transformers films? Those aren’t pretending that the previous versions happened so why don’t they get a pass for making changes?

A: Are you fucking shitting me? I just said that changes should be good! Not a single change in the Transformers movies was actually good in any way. They were produced with the most superficial understanding of the property. Look, Transformers hasn’t endured for 30 years because it’s about big robots that change form and beat the crap out of each other. Tons of other things that did the same have come and gone. The Transformers have stayed strong because of compelling characters, those are what drive long-term fans, characters that you actually fucking care about. The movies had no characters, they had special effects and set pieces. Optimus Prime, who is defined by his compassion so much so that IT'S EXPLICITLY STATED THAT HIS GREATEST WEAKNESS IS THAT HE CARES TOO MUCH, is instead portrayed in the films as a brutal warrior that executes defeated opponents. That’s horrible in numerous ways, chief among them the glorification of violence. But, come on, it's like having Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr going around beating homeless people to death with baseball bats. While wearing coats made out of puppies! Not cool, Michael Bay, totally mother-fucking not cool. So that’s just another element on top of being incomprehensible messes of action and so-called “plot” that fail on any objective storytelling scale! Fuck!! Are you trying to give me an aneurism?

Q: …?

A: That’s what I thought.

Q: So… back to Guardians of the Galaxy?

A: Totally go see it. Sure, it doesn’t redefine anything, but a heavy duty sci-fi injection into the super-hero genre is never a bad thing in my eyes. It’s not original, and it could have been a whole lot better, but what it does it does very, very well. Drax, Groot, and of course Rocket are stars, but they aren’t the only ones. The casting was brilliant all around, and so many of the characters were elevated by the actors portraying them. I'm looking at you John C Reilly! And Glenn Close was criminally underused, I hope she returns in a more prominent role if they do a Nova movie. And while Chris Pratt's portrayal of Star-Lord does totally dude-bro all over the place, I'm holding out hope that there will be an overall arc where he grows the fuck up. It's no coincidence that the character's first and last names, Peter Quill, are both euphemisms for dick. In his original appearance he was a real bastard, created to evolve over time into a true hero. And that's exactly what happened with him over the years, that is until Bendis started writing him.
But when all is said and done it's probably going to end up being my favorite Marvel movie so far. I'm looking forward to seeing it again sooner rather than later.