Thursday, January 10, 2019

Here We Keep Going Again: Mamma Mia and Us

The other night, we were flipping through the channels with much disappointment. Every one of our go-to cable distractions was a miss. There was nothing left on the PVR for us to burn through. We were lost. I excused myself to the restoom, and while I was in there, I heard from the other room the voice of one Christine Baranski softly crooning "Chiquitita" to Meryl Streep. I smirked - as is bound to happen from time to time, my fiancee had found Mamma Mia on TV somewhere.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Caging a Panther: Michael Finkel's Stranger in the Woods

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,   
has grown so weary that it cannot hold 
anything else. It seems to him there are 
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world. 

- Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Panther" (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Beginning in the late 1980's, 20-year-old Maine resident Christopher Knight did something unthinkable - both because of how inconceivable and difficult it was, and how bananas-illegal. Knight drove into the Maine wilderness and left society completely - well, mostly - behind. Spending the next 25 years in a small encampment in the Maine woods, Knight survived not by hunting or farming but by pilfering supplies from a nearby summer camp and surrounding community. He was seen by only a handful of people during that time, although the "Hermit" became the stuff of local legend. His own family had no idea where he was or if he was even still alive. He's the subject of Michael Finkel's 2017 nonfiction book Stranger in the Woods, which took me almost 18 months to get around to reading, and several months since I finished to write about. ("Better Late Than Never" is a title I take to heart.)

Why'd I Nuke My Archive?

Astute longtime readers - of whom I assume/hope there are none - will note that I have been running for a lot longer than the 8 months or so the archives go back - intermittently, but certainly I've written more than the half-dozen or so musings that you can find on this blog.

It's true. I began this particular manifestation of my online presence in late 2013 after spending a few years writing exclusively about music, because I wanted to write about a comic once, maybe sometimes a movie or TV show. Who could forget my epic takedown of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which was so effective they never made another Man of Steel II.

Then after a while I decided I really didn't have that much to say about a wide variety of topics, and got back into music-blogging, which otherwise would have swallowed this blog whole. I had a whole concept, and for a year and change it was a pretty fruitful project. I liked it, I had fun.

I flipped back in late 2016 and managed to squink out a few more thoughts on poorly-executed comic book movies, but as I was ramping up my coverage of Old X-Men Comics elsewhere, it wasn't long before this URL went fallow again.

I came back again again last summer when ideas for dumb little observations, far too long for a Twitter Thread, kept occurring to me. I had a new idea how to use this space, which has only partially come to pass. By that time, the archive seemed like an anchor. How can you make a fresh start when you have all this old shit hanging around, reminding people you only post super-sporadically? Even if some of it was worth reading.

Ironically, I wanted to reinvigorate this blog as a place where I wrote about myself, told my story as well as recounting things I have consumed, but no longer wanted to sign my name to a bunch of old shit I wrote. But it was the truth - I flipped all the old posts on this blog to Drafts, because that's what they were. Every day of your life is just a rough draft of the next one. Get that tattooed on your neck.

We're all changing, every day - hopefully for the better. I spend a lot of time revisiting old things I've written through the magic of Timehop or being overly interested in my archives, but there's no reason to think that intererst is widespread. What I've found is, there's a pretty consistent throughline of self there - I'm the same person, with new versions of the same opinions. Some things I'm more adamant about than I used to be, some things I'm more relaxed. And that's cool, and sometimes I got it more right back then than I would now. And sometimes I just have no idea what I'm talking about -- there are already posts on this blog I think I should revert so I can do them again better later.

Someday, if I deem it necessary, I'll go back and repost some of the good stuff. But I found it just as easy, for my purposes, to KonMari the whole lot of it and start fresh.

You know, like I already have with three or four other blogs.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Into the Truth Booth: MTV's 'Are You The One?' and me

If your perfect match was standing right in front of you, would you even know?

I have to admit a certain fondness for the MTV "dating" show Are You The One, whose finale is currently sitting on my DVR, waiting for a night when I can stand to get good and upset at my tv.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Stranger Than Fiction: My Grant Morrison Writer Magic Moment

A funny thing happened to me just after I wrote my last post, reminscing, almost completely unprompted and with no point except perhaps a lightly antifascist conclusion at the end, about one very specific mostly irrelevant class I took in high school. Not ha ha funny, more Alanis Morissette "Ironic" funny (but definitely funnier than a 90s comic dunking on the lyrics to "Ironic.") I ran into somebody I knew from back then.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Stuff I Did: "Entrepreneurial Studies"

When I was in Grade 11, which is what Canadians call the eleventh grade, I was at the point in High School where they really let you start determining your path by choosing various electives that might prepare you for the real world, or prepare you for something that might prepare you for the real world. I was a bright young man seemingly with a great future ahead of me, so I did what anyone would do in my situation: I chose a path that offered almost no challenges and little of value. Ancient Civilizations? Philosophy? Drama?? I was clearly just picking classes I thought would be fun, and to be honest, they were, and as a result it only took me an extra decade to get my first job with a desk.

For whatever reason, I ended up taking a class on Entrepreneurial studies. At the time, I didn't foresee myself working for "the man." I envisioned going into business for myself, monetizing my passion for self-produced comics and becoming the iconoclastic creative genius I always assumed I really was.  Actually, I can only assume this was the thought process in selecting this class, because it may or may not have seemed like a validation of my concept of myself as a future struggling, starving, self-employed creative writer scrounging from job to job. It's not like I figured I would open a muffler shop.

The class ended up being one of the most frustrating courses I ever took in school. The daily course mostly involved watching a series of videos called "Entrepreneurship For Canadians" hosted by a sketch comic named Peter Wildman, who was part of a now-ancient and forgotten Canadian troupe called The Frantics. I remember zero-all about the content of these videos, which mostly profiled small business owners and probably highlighted legal and bureaucratic matters they faced, except for the creeping realization that Wildman had performed the voice of the villainous Mojo in the 1990's X-Men cartoon.

Pictured: Entrepreneurship, actually

A lot of my friends were in the class and once it became clear that the teacher, an aged biddy named Ms. Irvine, had little interest in actually performing the act of education more than once or twice a month, we gave up whatever hope we had of learning anything about becoming successful entrepreneurs and goofed off, slagging out of class to execute raids on the third-floor supply office to steal pens.

The final presentation was to create a mock business-plan. Irvine had alerted us that we could pick any business we wanted, but strongly advised against picking a restaurant because they had too many extra moving parts. My friend Doug, then an aspiring actor, who was my partner for this project, had his heart set on owning a little nightclub that featured standup comedy. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it wasn't real, and went along. We barely passed with a 55. Maybe someone could have overcome the prohibitive logistics of owning a restaurant - people actually do that, you know - but not someone who spent the entire semester yukking it up about Peter Wildman's dad jeans.

Between videos, Irvine often presented us with clippings from the business section that were vaguely pertinent to businesses and business owners, but again, reeked of just scrambling to fill time. It was there that I learned that Justin Timberlake had signed on to be the face of McDonald's' new advertising campaign, "I'm Lovin' It," for which he had composed the signature song - a catchphrase which has somehow managed to survive for a decade and a half!

It was also in Entrepreneurial Studies that I first encountered, in a seemingly completely innocuous way, one of the great evils of our times. It was during this time that renowned owner of businesses Donald Trump had signed a deal to produce, and star in, a reality TV competition show that involved him picking a potential new employee for one of his businesses. At the time I was only vaguely aware that Donald Trump was a rich person, well known for being rich, and that had something to do with real estate, or some shit. I had no idea that fifteen years later he would have the entire world in his withering, orange talon, all because he got extra-famous on TV for yelling at people, which made certain people see qualities of leadership and moral guidance in him, somehow.

There's a lesson in here, somewhere, about the importance of education... not necessarily for yourself, but for the world at large. You know, I don't regret the shit I went to school for and tried to learn. I don't regret that it didn't lead directly to me being gainfully employed and enjoying a meteoric success, or that I never started my own business, whose pitfalls I was able to navigate thanks to my deft studying of Entrepreneurship in high school. None of it kept me from landing in a modest occupation on the wrong side of the publishing industry I dreamed of contributing to. But I don't regret any of it because any education I received, at any level, in ant institution or on my own time, has been in the service of making me a compassionate, curious individual who values only what's best for our world and the people who live on it - and that I fucking hate Nazis.

Keep on Rockin'

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Why Is It Always Comics & Wrestling?

A weird thing about me is that although I am ostensibly a functional, capable, mature 30-year-old man, I spend a lot of my mental energy thinking about two things that a lot of the other functional, capable, mature grown people around me probably couldn't possibly care about: the worlds of comic books, and of pro wrestling.

In both cases, my interests were sparked as a kid, as they would have to be, and have fluctuated as I've grown. I had to stop keeping current on both about a year or so ago due to what I term "lifestyle changes." At that time I was starting a new job and my amount of "free time" to pursue these hobbies dwindled. I had to stop visiting my local comic shop on a weekly basis, and I couldn't find three hours during the week to watch WWE programming. Anyway by this time I was two years deep into my current relationship and it becomes less and less tenable to spend time away from your girlfriend so you can watch grown men grapple each other. It didn't hurt that, thinking about the state of those entertainment forms at the time, I was exhausted and unimpressed with what I was being offered and took the opportunity just to say "You know what, maybe we should take a break."

And yet, I still am consuming these media, in my own way. Just before I got that job I launched Uncanny X-Cerpts, which I have been able to work on thanks to Marvel Unlimited, a paid service that provides access to a thorough - albeit far from complete - archive of Marvel Comics for an annual fee that is a fraction of what I was spending annually on comics to keep current. Similarly, the WWE Network enables me to browse through their broad video library and experience their glory years at my convenience, and more importantly, is home to their key monthly events and the most consistently watchable promotion in the English-speaking world, NXT. I don't take advantage of either as much as I might - again, it all comes down to time, but it's still on my mind.

Both are seen as silly, shallow niche interests - kid stuff that appeals to base instincts. Not necessarily rightly of course - there's an entirely separate article to be written about how great pro wrestling storytelling can be when it is actually great. At their best (and I stress, like anything, these media are often not at their best,) both offer insight, drama, compelling stories, unreal feats and flights of fancy, and invite a shockingly great amount of analysis.

That last one is probably the true why I haven't, why I could never, actually "quit" either. There's too much to think about.

People love to overthink things. They love to find passions and delve into them. And for me, both have proven endlessly durable. For one thing, they are always on. Unlike sports, or TV shows, or blockbuster movies or book series, they don't operate seasonally, so every single week of your life there is new content to take in and analyze. Last November, I signed up for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, after reading my brother's copies for years, which provides weekly news updates and analysis for every major promotion worldwide every week, and is home to a plethora of podcasts. At the same time, I follow numerous insightful and astute comics commentators on Twitter - for about a year while I was winding down my weekly comic shop visits, I relied on the sadly now departed ComicsAlliance website. So even though I'm not experiencing either of these media in real time, I still feel very up to date on both.

And then, if you ever get tired of picking apart the current scenes, there is always the old stuff to rehash, reminisce, and reconsider.

Most beautifully, I think is that both media represent a great deal of possibility. Both are dominated by clumsy mainstream brands that have a hard time pivoting in a changing marketplace, but are orbited by agile young upstart creators and performers who represent the future. Both are at a crossroads of incorporating inclusivity and progressivism in their largely masculinized and formerly exclusionary purviews. Both forever have the potential to be more cutting edge in attitude and politics than bigger media like movies and TV, just based on the kind of outsider weirdoes who are now attracted to working in, and consuming them. In both cases you can find a lot of great people online eager to discuss these things (and some rotten people, of course.)

I do go through fits where I am embarrassed to invest so much in either of them, to spend so much breath online about them, but lately I am of the mind that if you like something, and you've curated an online space, there's no reason not to share whatever thoughts you have there, and the people who are into it will be there.

Then I think about all the pleasure that thinking about, analyzing, and ingesting these media have given me, and will continue to give me for years since in both cases, for the most part, when they have you once, they have you forever. They make up a shocking amount of my sense of self, and it's not always healthy to suppress that.

I only hope that all the people who may be second-hand embarrassed for all the time I spend on twitter and in life talking about these things have their own things that give them that. Just uh, maybe make sure you're not ruining a relationship over it.