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.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Lately I've been sleeping a little fitfully, so I saw this tweet early this morning at 4:30 AM. Although I don't always feel compelled to look at my phone, I do often find it calms my mind down to have some #content to #consume.

My response was that I couldn't tweet mine, per se, because in my delirious state, having had it jarred from the recess of my mind, I thought maybe I had made a breakthrough that would crack this thing wide open just yet, and I supposed that the thread would imply that the ideas we have when we're teenagers are juvenile and that mostly respondents would have given up on them by now. (A sampling of the responses to these novels were actually quite supportive.)

Although I've always wanted to be a writer, I never had an idea for a novel until I was in my last year of high school. By that time I had written a fair amount of output: beyond school assignments like drama presentations and the 30-minute short film I did for CommTech, I had written a one-act play for the school's Fringe Festival, a feature-length screenplay that I sold to an aspiring filmmaker friend, and co-written and drawn 12 issues of my own webcomic. Some of this was very good for a 17-year-old, some not so much. My point is that I had output.

The idea struck me in the middle of a Writer's Craft class presentation on allegory. I started to envision "the saddest girl in the world" leaving her hometown and searching for her long-lost brother. Eventually she uncovers a scheme to control minds with pharmaceuticals. There are a few other key bits of quirk I am omitting here for succinctness and because, as I said, I haven't let go of it yet. But the idea that a 17-year-old could accurately and bitingly diagnose and resolve all of society's ills is something only that 17-year-old could think.

Like many of the responses to that tweet, this was to be my first NaNoWriMo attempt, and despite being in my first year of a college course in Journalism by that time (or perhaps because it was only my first year, in a college journalism course,) I did in fact reach the goal of 50,000 words, coming within maybe 10,000 words of an organic ending to the story.

Time passed, my computer crashed, all that work was lost, although I could recount virtually the entire plot outline I had set out when I was 17-18. Every once in a while, when I felt I had leveled up in prose, I would take a stab at my dream opening chapters, where we meet the narrator - not the "saddest girl in the world," whose name was Melancholy (again, I was 17,) Mel for short, but her male friend Eli, to whom she relates her adventures. My premise was that I could never actually get inside Mel's mind, and somedegree of distance was needed. Plus for all that quirk I planned on including, I could put in a sort of "Big Fish" device where you're never quite sure if what Mel had told Eli is the literal truth.

Earlier in this decade I made a very brave stab at trying this again and to a point I was pleased with the results. I got to maybe 35,000 or 40,000 words over the course of a year or two (no more NaNoWriMos for me, life always gets in the way) when the ending that I had envisioned started coming unglued because while I could get from point A to point B to point C - the parts that I had long envisioned and ruminated on from my teen years - points X, Y and Z were a little more of a stretch. The concept of medications brainwashing people felt more rancid as I learned ore and more about the stigma of seeking help for one's mental illnesses, and the theme was transmuted more into TeleComm, somewhat awkwardly. Moreover, I had invented some new ideas to play with that turned Mel into a secondary character in her own story.

In the time since I last put it down, I actually started dating a woman named Mel, which makes it a little awkward to use that as the name of my character - but as a writer you tend to get attached to things like these, so she continues to live in my mind as Mel(ancholy.)

In the light of day, my "breakthrough," feels less like a breakthrough, but just something to play with. I have spent a lot of time grappling with not only my intended Mind-Blowing Social Commentary (I'd settle for a making a few noteworthy observations, but it's hard to tamp down that teenage ambition) but also pondering whatever right I have to slip into the skin of a female character and push my intended "the princess saves herself in this one" narrative, and what responsibilities I have in doing so. As a dude writer, in 2018, you have to be aware of how much your natural inclinations may reinforce played-out tropes, and whether you are up to doing the extra legwork to avert or subvert them should you decide to do so.

I want this to be a smart, funny, surprising book, in the event that I ever finally finish writing it.
 I want it to live up to the potential of being a story about a smart, unique young lady coming to terms with her flaws and meeting her potential, all on her own, without necessarily defining success as "winning a guy." If she is indeed to be the "saddest girl in the world" (a premise I have played down as I've matured) I want to end by determining what place that sadness holds in our life - that it can liberate us as well as hurt us, as long as we are not controlled by it.

I may not have time in the near future to revisit the world I had created for her, but Mel, or whatever name she has in the future, continues to live in my mind, as real as any actual person I know. Realer than most, honestly.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Literally just the lyrics to "Underwhelmed" by Sloan (1993)

She was underwhelmed, if that's a word
I know it's not, 'cause I looked it up
That's one of those skills that I learned in my school
I was overwhelmed, and I'm sure of that one
'cause I learned it back in grade school
When I was young
She said, "You is funny"
I said, "You are funny"
She said, "Thank you"
and I said, "Nevermind"
She rolled her eyes
Her beautiful eyes
The point is not the grammar
It's the feeling
That is certainly in my heart
But not in hers

But not in hers
But not in hers
But not in hers
But not in hers
We were talkin' about people that eat meat
I felt like an ass 'cause I was one
She said, "It's okay," but I felt like
I just ate my young
She is obviously a person with a cause
I told her that I don't smoke or drink
She told me to loosen up on her way to the L.C.
She skips her classes and gets good grades
I go to my courses rain or shine
She's passin' her classes while I attend mine
While I attend mine
While I attend mine
While I attend mine
While I attend

She wrote out a story about her life
I think it included something about me
I'm not sure of that but I'm sure of one thing
Her spelling's atrocious
She told me to read between the lines
And tell her exactly what I got out of it
I told her affection had two F's
Especially when you're dealing with me
I usually notice all the little things
One time I was proud of it, she says it's annoying
She cursed me up and down and rolled her R's, her beautiful R's
She says I'm caught up in triviality
All I really wanna know is what she thinks of me
I think my love for her makes me miss the point
I miss the point, I miss the point
I miss the point, I miss the point
I miss the point, I miss the point
I miss the point, Hey mister


Written by Chris Murphy