The Day I Was Afraid of Judy Dench

Philomena is not a scary movie. It’s a heart-warming tale about a woman discovering what may have happened to the son that was taken away from her in Ireland. I wanted to see it as Steve Coogan is one of my favorites. And my mom wanted to go.

I rarely go to the movies with my mom, so this was going to be a fun outing. She had nothing to do and my dad was at a fishing show. She was going to go to my Aunt and Uncle’s house afterwards where she would meet up with my dad, so I could just drop her off and then she didn’t have to drive by herself home.

We headed out to Barrington and got our tickets. I’ve been to the theater many times. It’s a big theater, but a lot of these art house movies will play there for a while due to the 30 screens.

When we walked into Theater 12, there was a man standing at the end of the long hallway that led from the door into the auditorium and he had a backpack on a seat in the front section. My mom and I passed him and sat down near the top of the theater. I figured he was waiting for someone.

But for over ten minutes, he paced back and forth and kept touching his bag and then returning to leaning against the wall at the end of the hallway or block the entrance so people had to go around him to get to their own seats. As more people came in, he continued just to lean against the wall and I became very anxious.

The lights went down and the previews were going to start. It always reminds you to put your cell phone away as to not bother anyone and then AMC reminds you that if you see anything suspicious, let someone know. Those words rung in my ears as the man continued to lean against the wall and then look at his bag.

I told my mom that I was going to go say something to the people at the front and asked if she wanted to come with me. I said I’m sure it is nothing but I was not comfortable. I told my mom to just keep an eye on him and then I walked down the stairs right past him as I tried not to make eye contact.

I ran to the front after exiting the theater and while stuttering mentioned to the young woman who took our tickets that there is a man leaning against the wall and that I assume it is nothing but it is making me anxious. She said she would send a manager to check in and I went back to the auditorium.

I came back into the theater and he was still there. He looked right at me as I returned to my seat next to my mom as the previews were running. I whispered to her that a manager was coming and she said that was good.

A few minutes later, the manager walked in and began talking to the man. After the conversation, the man grabbed his bag and left with the manager. But then a few minutes later, he returned and sat in the row behind us.

I had to assume the manager checked everything out and he was harmless but the rest of the movie, he would get up, make noises, and rustle in his bag. I kept one eye behind me for the entire movie and we left as soon as the credits began.

I hated that I had to sit in a theater and be scared of what the other people around me may do, but that is the society we now live in. For some reason, people believe if we all live in fear, that is better than a life where we trusted one another. There has to be a warning at the beginning of a movie to ask you to be suspicious of your fellow movie-goers.

This is the hardest part for me to comprehend and truly what I believe the NRA is designed to do. It is not about gun ownership in a responsible manner. It is about scaring people that they are going to be hurt and need a defense tool. It is about scaring people that someone is going to take their gun and therefore they need more guns to protect their other gun. It is about fear and making money off of that fear. And as much as people say that we lived in a better time before, it is because we had a sense of community where we were not scared of our neighbors. There were horrible people then and there are horrible people now. That never changes. But how we react to these horrible people is the problem.

So instead of enjoying a movie with my mom, I have to be afraid of a random man who may have just had leg issues or diabetes because I have no idea who is armed or when someone who had easy access to a weapon will decide to use it.

Two innocent people trying to watch a funny movie were gunned down last night because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We know the reactions we will hear: they should have been armed; crazy people do crazy things; it’s not the gun that killed them, it’s the person who killed them.

Nothing will come of this. More people will be afraid to go to the movies. More people will be afraid of people in their community. More people will assume the worst of their common man.

That’s why I don’t think I can ever see Philomena again.

A Wall

Bill needed a walk. The wet spring breeze that entered his car as he drove home did not provide enough clarity. He needed a lighter air to encompass him.

Without even stepping foot inside his parents’ home, he started down the street. A few neighbors were outside but none of them were familiar. He waved nonetheless.

Standing on the corner, he saw a face in a car stopped at a four-way intersection. His eyes quickly moved down so that the top of his head could be visible. The cars wheels moved past through the top of his vision. His head returned to its upright position with a deep breathe.

Even though they had not spoken for ten years, Bill recognized Harris. They spent too many days together for him not to.  But the only thing left from high school was a few books he didn’t return to the library.

Bill turned around and headed back to his house. The neighbors were still outside and he could see his mother in the doorway.

When he got within earshot, she said, “I thought I heard your car but I couldn’t find you.”

“I needed to stretch my legs.”

“Good to be home?”

“I suppose so.”

Stranger Danger

I went for a walk this afternoon. I enjoy fall days and for the last few weeks, I have went out to the Des Plaines River Trails and walked at least seven miles. Since I don’t have the ability to run that far anymore (yet), walking that far is all I have. I put on my headphones, grab a bottle of water, and just walk. I have a whole list of podcasts that I need to catch up on so I can stay up to date with the political, scientific, and just fun news. Two hours of walking works perfectly for that.

My mind wanders as I walk through the brown leaves. I think about work; I think about life; I worry about things; and I listen to the stories in my ears. I find it incredibly relaxing, but also enjoyable. There is something perfect about walking alone with a slight chill in the air and nothing to stop you.

I passed about ten people all morning. Most people walked in pairs, some with dogs. Some rode bikes. And one man was running. There was nothing unique about the path or anything interesting besides a large number of deer running around. Overall, it was uneventful.

But as I got closer to my car, I saw a father walking with his son. They were walking towards me and I smiled. The father’s immediate response was to put his hand on his son’s back and move forward. It was a very defensive gesture and when I was about one-hundred feet away, I turned around and noticed that the hand was no longer there.

I probably shouldn’t read too much into things like that but it always troubles me when people just assume a stranger is a danger. Of course there are bad people out there and I would be lying if I didn’t think at least a few times on my walk that someone could be in the woods, grab me, and I would never be heard from again. But there are also casual interactions with people that I will never understand why we become defensive.

If we were at a mall, the father would not do that. If we were at a Chipotle, he would not do that. But in an open forest preserve, people assume that there is a likelihood, this person I don’t know will steal my child or try to hurt one of us. I have experienced the same gestures in parks.

Maybe it is because I don’t have a child of my own that I don’t understand this reaction. I would like to believe that I would not have that knee-jerk reaction to someone I don’t know and honestly, I don’t think I would as I like to assume that another person is naturally good unless shown otherwise.

We all experience strange behavior based on who we are. One reason I don’t like giving away candy on Halloween, for example, is that I have gotten strange looks from parents in the past, as if I am some sort of leech. Or some sort of Boo Radley.

I wish we didn’t live in a world where a father would see a random person just minding their own business and smiling and didn’t think that this person could come after my child. I wish I understood why people always jump to the conclusion that a solitary person is trouble.

As strange as it seems, for over two hours, I was in a peaceful and pleasant piece of mind, but the minute that happened, it ruined it for me. I felt bad. I felt bad for this father for being so untrustworthy. I felt bad for me because as a childless, unmarried man in my thirties, people make assumptions. And I feel bad for our society where we fear everyone until they have convinced us that they are okay.

We don’t talk to each other on buses or trains. We don’t make conversation when we walk or run by ourselves. And maybe it was the headphones – I know those things are a menace to social interactions.

Brian always smiles when I wave at someone on the street when we walk somewhere even when I don’t know them or how I say hello to anyone we pass. I try to smile at strangers because I like to smile. And in return, we always seem to meet interesting people who like to talk to us. We talked to a couple as we ferried across Lake Champlain. Some old ladies showed us all their favorite spots of a toy train showcase in Madison. We met a woman from St. Louis who traveled by herself to Salem, MA to relive her youth. And each of these encounters enhanced our experiences. We may not stay in touch with any of these people but they added something to my life for a few minutes and will always be in my head as people I have met. I have lots of stories of people doing this and making conversation with me and maybe it is because I try to be open to that possibility by not showing defensive maneuvers.

I guess I just wish more people would try that. Most people are good. And you never know what you may find out about someone. It could give you a whole new perspective on life.

So, though, this hurt me, I know it won’t change me. There are too many interesting people out there for me to change how I act based on people who live every day in fear. I hope others move past fear as well.

2014 Midterm Election

Vote-CountsBecause I occasionally opine on politics on this blog, I feel it prudent to display my affiliations and for whom I voted. With the election only a few days away, here is how I plan on voting. Things can change between now and then but I will outline why I am voting for the individuals below. If you are currently researching candidates, google “Sample Ballot”, type in your address, and get all the major races. In addition, look up the judges on the ballot and go here. I won’t discuss uncontested races – unless I’m not voting for anyone.

U.S. Senate – Richard Durbin (D)

There are few politicians who I believe honestly stand for something and work to get things done. You may disagree with his politics, but Sen. Durbin does his job. He has been elevated through the Senate to the whip position, which is incredibly important for a party, especially for one with divergent views. He was instrumental in getting the Affordable Care Act passed. He has spent his career in Washington fighting for issues that I believe in. There is no reason to kick Sen. Durbin from his position.

U.S. Representative – Janice Schakowsky (D)

Unlike Sen. Durbin, I believe Rep. Schakowsky is too partisan and a bit disconnected. She definitely fights for what she believes in but I am not a huge fan. There are a few things recently that I have liked that Rep. Schakowsky does. She has reached out to my community and meets with constituents each Wednesday at the public library. Mt. Prospect is notoriously conservative and I give her credit for making these appearances. I just wish she would use her seniority to push issues a little more and try to reach across the aisle a little better. Her opponent, Susanne Atanus, is unqualified for office and even if I didn’t agree with Rep. Schakowsky, I would be completely disavowing my patriotism to support her. I do hope that another Democrat runs for this seat to challenge Rep. Schakowsky in the next election though.

Illinois Governor/Lieutenant Governot – Pat Quinn and Paul Vallas (D)

GOV. QUINN
Governor Pat Quinn

Like Rep. Schakowsky, Governor Quinn is not on my list of favorite politicians. I don’t believe he has a back bone or that he can stand up for anything. I also would like to support his opponent, Bruce Rauner, but I cannot for three reasons: the recent Sun-Times story, personality, and guns. First, the recent story that a Sun-Times reporter was put on leave when he wrote a negative story about Rauner prior to the newspaper reversing a recent decision not to endorse political candidates to endorse Rauner makes me question the ethics of Rauner. If this story is even slightly true, we have had enough egomaniacs in the Governor’s mansion. The reporter has hired a respected former prosecutor as his attorney in this case and I have to believe this attorney would not take the case if there wasn’t at least a decent amount of support. This moves in with the personality aspect. Rauner seems to fit in with Governors Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Paul LePage, and Chris Christie as strong-willed Republicans who don’t care what you think as long as they get their way. I don’t go for that Machiavellian approach to government, especially in a state where we already have a megalomaniac running the state house. I don’t like his answers to questions regarding what he will do or his themes. I have read his issue pages on his website and besides getting rid of the tax increases and hoping for increased productivity, he doesn’t have a plan. And the plans he does have, haven’t worked anywhere else. No one likes tax increases, but this state has no revenue currently and the lowest income tax rate in the area. If the income tax was better structured, the other taxes could be modified to encourage businesses and homeowners to stay in Illinois. Last, I believe that the states are the best arena to honestly enact rational gun control. I want an assault weapon ban and a high capacity clip ban. Rauner supports neither of these and Quinn does. My vote is mainly against Rauner instead of for Quinn. In the last two elections, I voted for the Green candidate, but this year the Greens didn’t put anyone on the ballot – and I’m not voting for the libertarian when even the Chicago Tribune said not to waste a vote on them.

Attorney General – Lisa Madigan (D)

Not my favorite family, but she has done nothing to warrant an expulsion from her position. This will be a common theme in the next few.

Secretary of State – Jesse White (D)

Including with his tumblers, Secretary White appears to do a good job. There is no reason to change this politician.

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Judy Baar Topinka

Comptroller – Judy Baar Topinka (R)

She seems to have done a good job and though Sheila Simon seems like a good person, I don’t see a reason why Topinka should not be re-elected. I also saved her from hurting herself at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee back in 2006 when she tripped on a stair.

Treasurer – Tom Cross (R)

This is an open seat because current Treasurer Dan Rutherford tried to run for Governor, lost the primary, and had some weird sexual harassment allegations brought against him. This is the race I have done the most research on because both candidates seem very qualified. This is also the only race where my vote may change in the closing days. Both want to close the office of treasurer and merge it with the Comptroller, which I believe to be important. I watched the forum. And it is close. I like both of them, but I think Cross has a bit more experience in Springfield, and I believe that to be a bonus. I hope Mr. Frerichs runs for another statewide office soon. He seems very bright and I would support him in my other roles, but unfortunately for him, I have to support his opponent. If Cross does not work to eliminate his office in these four years, he will be out of a job.

State Senator – No vote

Although Sen. Matt Murphy is running unopposed, I am not voting for him for one main reason. I wrote a very personal letter to him regarding marriage equality asking him to consider his vote carefully. I did not expect him to change his vote but I expected a response. I have written letters to many politicians, most recently: Sen. Kirk, Sen. Durbin, President Obama, and Rep. Peter Roskam. I voted for three out of the four of these people when they first ran, but after Rep. Roskam responded to my letter, even though we disagree on just about everything, I believed he, at least, tried to response to his constituents, no matter what they believed. I respect that. I have no respect for Sen. Murphy.

State Representative – No vote

Similary, I wrote a letter to Rep. Harris, who is also running unopposed, regarding marriage equality. I also received no response. I have no respect for Rep. David Harris and hope that someone runs against him and Sen. Murphy in the next election.

Assessor – No vote

Joe Berrios is everything that is wrong with Chicago politics and Illinois politics, I have never voted for him and even though I don’t live in the district, gave money to the opponent running for a state house seat against his daughter. The opponent won – I was happy. I will never vote for a Berrios.

Commisioner, 9th District – Peter Silvestri (R)

Commissioner Silvestri appears to be a good person to have on the board. He knows the county well and though I may not agree with him on everything, it is good to have divergent voices on the county board. I see no reason not to re-elect him.

Commissioner, Water Reclamation Districts – Avila (D), Santos (D), Schumann (R)

This is always just a crap shoot. I usually look at endorsements and any questionnaires that candidates filled out. One rule I have: I never vote for anyone who doesn’t fill out the questionnaire. So though the Tribune endorsed Tim Bradford, he didn’t respond to the Daily Herald’s questions, so he’s out. Otherwise, it looks like Santos, Avila, and Schumann are the endorsements in the papers and all three seem like fine water people.

Judge, 12th Subcircuit – James Kaplan (D)

According to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, James Pieczonka (though I have seen lots of yard signs) is not qualified. His opponent is qualified. Seems simple.

voteJudge Retention – Cook County

I use voteforjudges.org.

Any judge that has any NO, I vote no. If any group believes that an individual is not qualified, I don’t want that person as a judge. So I will will vote no on:

Thomas E. Flanagan

Themis N. Karnezis

James L. Rhodes

Laura Marie Sullivan

Joan E. Powell

Pamela Elizabeth Loza

Annie O’Donnell

But I Got New Glasses

I wanted to get moisturizer, not new glasses. I had dry skin over my left eye, which by the end of the morning became the least concerning part about my left eye. While at Walgreens, I also picked up a birthday card for my cousin and a tea I like. I still need to mail the birthday card. And I feel pretty lucky that I get that opportunity.

I usually am incredibly cautious because people drive too fast. I sometimes turn right instead of turning left. But I didn’t on Thursday. And I was never more scared in all my life. I remember seeing the car right before impact and it did look just like it does in the movies. I remember screaming but I have no idea if I blacked out for a period of time.

I remember seeing a woman in my doorway with a second person behind her and a man sitting in my passenger seat. All three were yelling at me to not move. They told me I was in a really bad accident and the other guy was going really fast. But that the police and the ambulance were on their way. I could hear the sirens, so I knew they were telling the truth. It all went by very quickly.

I couldn’t see.

I wanted to call my parents, I wanted to call Brian, and I ended up calling work to tell them I wasn’t coming in. I remember saying, “I need to hang up – the police are yelling at me.”

I had a neck brace on and was carried out of my car. I had no idea what it looked like. I just knew that the car I bought fourteen months ago may not live to see another birthday, but that it allowed me one. I cried a lot. I was incredibly scared. I am still incredibly scared.

I’m still here. I’m okay. A few bruises.

And new glasses where I look like Woody Allen in Annie Hall and the tall guy Nelson mocks in an episode of The Simpsons. My new glasses keep my identity as Superman a secret. I cannot play the guitar like Buddy Holly because of the new glasses.

 

I’m having a rough time with all of this still, which is why I’m typing this. My biggest concern is that I never, ever get into another car accident. If you are driving behind me and you are wishing I would go, just slow down. You have nowhere to be. No one cares if you’re a few minutes late. Second, I need to focus on the things I enjoy doing and actually work on my novel. Third, continue to put the things that are actually important ahead of those things that are not. Fourth, stop making excuses. Fifth, be really really careful in a car.

Thank you to all my friends and family that sent messages, called me, or gave me thoughtful presents.

I hopefully will be putting more on this. See you here – with my new glasses.

 

 

 

Game of Thrones – Swords and Sandals Soap

I have not watched all of Game of Thrones. In fact, I end up falling asleep during most episodes due to its pacing. But when I do stay awake, I notice a similar set of beats. Brian wasn’t happy to hear it but I compared Game of Thrones to All My Children and other daytime soaps. The biggest difference is the language, nudity, violence, and the setting. But though they seem like big differences, they are not.

Let’s start with All My Children or As The World Turns, which are the two soaps I watched before they got cancelled. They have similar set-ups. There are groups of powerful families that are in powerful positions or run portions of the town. The Martin family in Pine Valley runs the hospital. You had the Chandlers, who were led by the patriarch Adam, an entrepreneur who had more money than he could do with but the sexual appetite of a 19 year old boy up until the end. You had the Kanes, which had a tie to acting and Hollywood, but over the years, Erica became the matriarch who wooed just about every person in town and married about half of the powerful men. But the marriages were not always about love. They generally revolved around revenge and power and intrigue. Because that is what people like to watch. Think of any soap opera you want whether it be primetime or daytime. Dallas had family fighting. Dynasty had family fighting. All for power. For control over something that really doesn’t make any sense except to the characters in the piece. Don’t get me wrong. This is drama generally. Shakespeare used all the same tropes, so I can’t just say family power struggles and end the argument.

My next point is more storytelling focused. Soap operas have to run five days a week, so they have large casts and multiple storylines. Usually in one episode, three or four storylines will get screen time cut into two or three minute segments and then the next day, one or two of those storylines may take a day off while we check in with other characters. Game of Thrones must hire all of England to be on the show. There are so many characters. Unlike soaps, it only has thirteen episodes each year so you would think with such a broad cast that they would be giving short shrift to characters (and they do). In the episode I watched last night, there was about six storylines, half of them basically got one or two short scenes with the other three getting the remainder of the episode, as if to remind you that these characters exist. There was brooding and sex and blood and more brooding. Lots of whispers that entailed blackmail. Lots of anger towards other characters. But I think the biggest fault of the show is that they rely on you to do some research and get outside knowledge. There are reasons that some of these characters are acting in certain ways and I can’t tell you what they are. I can assume the books, which are about 1,000 pages each, help with that. But the motivations sometimes feel petty – which is how all motivations seem on soaps.

Game of Thrones Cast
Game of Thrones

My next point is strange character developments and reveals. Maybe it is because I have watched so many soap opera episodes, but every time they introduce a new character on Game of Thrones, I try to figure out who they are related to. All My Children would try to introduce characters who were not family members but they rarely stuck around. But if you brought in a mysterious character who turned out to be someone’s son! Jackpot! For example, back in the 1970s, Erica Kane had an abortion. This was a huge deal at the time because abortion was not a television topic. So, what do they do? In the early 2000s, they introduce a dark brooding man and his father, who is the doctor who performed Erica’s abortion. And low and behold, despite science not making this make any sense at all, the dark brooding man was actually Erica’s son. The child was not aborted! Make any sense? Of course not. But you didn’t see that coming! And you were able to tie that person to the history of the show. In the episode of Game of Thrones I watched with Brian last night, there were two characters who were revealed to be related to other characters. There were more characters trying to make sexual advancements that involved siblings. Mind you, there was a little weirdness between Erica’s newly found son and her newly found daughter (the child of when Erica was raped that she gave away for adoption but who came back) that seemed a bit incestual but that all went away once they knew they shared blood. But incest is basically one of three types of relationships on Games of Thrones.

I will call this a digression…And with that, let’s talk about rape. Soap operas love rape storylines. No idea why. Very few characters seem to not be raped on soap operas, so when I saw headlines a few weeks ago about how a character could never be redeemed because they raped someone on Game of Thrones, it tied to this piece very easily. Rape also is popular amongst comic book writers. And it is all disgusting. I have no idea why any writer wants to use this trope so often but they do. There are very few things as brutal on television as rape. Even death can be taken back on television. Murder can be taken back on television. But rape cannot. Downtown Abbey did rape this year – another soap that parades as high drama. So, besides the fact that here is another similarity – can we move past rape storylines or at least use them to teach a lesson and not just shock? Back on topic…

But in conclusion, since I have not seen all of the show, here is a list of soap opera tropes that are very familiar to me. Help me figure out if they are all used on Game of Thrones or add more tropes if you can think of them.

  • Amnesia
  • Evil twin
  • Dead but not dead
  • Coma
  • Wrecked weddings
  • Fake pregnancies
  • If you’re shown in a car, you’re wrecking said car.
  • Blackmail
  • In love with your partner’s sibling
  • But I’m your son/daughter!
  • Murder mysteries
  • Underbelly crime syndicates
  • Horrible natural disasters that affect parties

None of this is to judge the quality of the show. I love soap operas and wish All My Children was still on TV. In this article from Wired, they looked at demographics of Game of Thrones. It has a sizable female audience, with a 50/50 split in regards to social media presence. Yes, it is violent, but it hits a nerve in regards to emotion and drama and intrigue that soap operas and melodrama has used for a very long time. So, there is something about the structure of this show that appeals to men and women. People have always loved melodrama. And it is really interesting that Game of Thrones looks and feels like a soap opera. It actually makes me more interested and maybe less likely to fall asleep…just try to get Susan Lucci to guest star.

Check out the DVD opening versus the opening to All My Children. It’s pretty funny how similar they are: turn, stare, stand, walk, leaf, background, wealth.

Spring Cleaning and All-New Invaders #2

It seems like every April I begin my organization of my comics. Maybe it is my version of spring cleaning or because my parents host Easter, but it always makes me look around my room and it’s incredible amount of comic books. I love comics. I started reading them when I was 15 and have fallen in love with the medium. There is something about the way the images flow with the words that has captured my attention. Now, it just seems like a bit much though.

Spring CleaningI take the same photo almost every year of the comics yet to be sorted and stacked and it gets more and more of a tight quarters each year.

One thing I am hoping to get better at this year is writing about comics. I think I have a pretty good vision of what a good comic is and where stories sometimes falter. The hardest part of criticism is to not come across whiny or like a troublemaker but to actually appreciate the art and show where it could improve. Maybe sometimes that is impossible, but I’m hoping to do that.

Other times, it seems like there is nothing to write and that the minute I finish reading it, it just disappears from my head. The All-New Invaders by James Robinson and Steve Pugh is one of those books. I just finished the second issue and read the first one just a couple of days ago. I have a general memory of the story and I remember a very clean looking book, but nothing stood out. I don’t fault the creators because I think they both did admirable jobs on the story, but I wonder if I’m just burnt out by the piles and piles of superhero fare that I have read in the past 17 years. How many times can I read a story about a former team coming back together because of a forgotten mystery? Maybe it’s a sign that I’m moving past superhero comics right now.

Sometimes, I just want action. I don’t like action movies, but a fight in a comic always entertains me. I try to read into the choreography of the scene and see how the artist is using the space and what is being portrayed on the page.  The best page in All-New Invaders #2 is right in the middle of the book when the big Kree woman is fighting Cap, Bucky, and the Original Human Torch.

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Spring Cleaning Break – All-New Invaders #2 Mini-Review

You have a set of framing panels between Tanalth and Jim Hammond that looks like a Super Nintendo fighting game opening screen. You have Tanalth holding the hammer towards the reading with a spare Bucky-shot hitting her thigh. On the other side, you have Hammond just standing. She is ready for a fight and he has trepidation. The way her panel bleeds onto his page shows this dilemma. And right in the middle is all of the action that takes place while Hammond decides to “Burn”, which is what happens on the next page. It’s all set-up for their fight as Cap and Bucky are just brutalized. It’s a really well-crafted page in the middle of the book. It is probably the best colored portion of the book as well. The earlier and darker parts were a bit muddied and then the sky just takes over in the last half. As with anything there can be a few qualms, like what is happening to Bucky’s face in the bottom panel of the middle of the pages. But overall, this is why I read superhero comics.

So, even when I get a bit down and think there isn’t much left and that maybe this spring cleaning will involved an end to some comic purchases, I grab a book and I remember the love. Spring cleaning isn’t all that happens in the spring: it’s a time of rebirth of why you like things and people fall in love with others and ideas and life.

Why I Like to Write

My favorite writer.
Sinclair Lewis

I write poems. I write short stories. I write personal stories. I have written short little stories for as long as I could remember. I would write these little plays about animals and their friendships when I was a small kid. I created a comic strip with a friend where she would draw it and I would write the word balloons as we said in this pile of tires that for some reason was considered part of a playground in 1992. Writing gave me an outlet that language never did.

I am not a talker, sometimes. I can talk a lot. You ask me an opinion on politics or a recent issue of a comic book or the work of Jack Kirby, and I am off to the races. But I have never been good at talking about how I feel or what I’m thinking. It’s one reason why I like going to a therapist. I know that whatever I say, it won’t leave that room.

I write a lot about what I’m feeling or thinking. It’s fun to create characters of people I wish I knew or whom I wanted to be. It’s fun to imagine a world that is like the one I live in but that is completely different. I try to put Dan-like characters in all of them. Generally, I create a Dan I wish would exist. A Dan that could do small talk without getting short of breathe and the sweats. A Dan who had his own apartment and a group of friends who lived next door. A Dan who actually was a dog.

But more importantly, I write because there is nothing that relaxes me or lets my mind flow more than typing words or writing something on paper. I feel freer than I ever could in any other medium. I used to feel that way sometimes when I would run. But even on my favorite runs, I was creating stories in my head. There is something that makes me feel good. And sometimes there is something about it that makes me just feel.

I wish I did it more, but when I write anything, I’m happy for the rest of the day. I’m lucky to have something like that in my life and I hope to continue writing more often in the days to come.

How I Met The Finale

John Mulaney, a great stand up comedian, says in a routine he does about getting a Xanax prescription, “Part of me was like…whatever…you know, you know those days when you’re like…well, this might as well happen…adult life is already so goddamn weird.” I have many days where I go to bed just contemplating how anything that happened today actually happened. The joys and the sorrows that follow you through a day that sometimes just seems weird. I remember just thinking there was a camera that followed me around because nothing that happened made any sense at all and someone must be watching and enjoying this because I am not.

<Spoilers if you haven’t watched How I Met Your Mother’s finale>

I remember when I first saw promos for How I Met Your Mother nine years ago. I remember being so excited and watching that pilot and having the same starstruck feeling that Ted portrayed. Many of my friends were getting married or at least were in relationships. The closest thing I had to a relationship was my addiction to All My Children and now figuring out how to tape How I Met Your Mother using a VCR and digital cable. The answer was buying an antenna as well. Oh 2004, you were a different time.

How I Met Your MotherTonight, How I Met Your Mother ended and I am still a bit stunned by it. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening with the mother based on a few lines in previous episodes. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the theme as time moved quickly for the entire hour. The entire episode is about aging and changing expectations. The whole show seems to be about aging. I’m a couple of years younger than the characters in the show but there is no time like your late twenties and early thirties where you are just utterly confused by life. You think you have things figured out and you pretend you do. You go out of your way to make sure everyone else knows that you seem to have things put together. I think this is why so many people get married and have kids. It allows you to move past the concerns you have about the direction of your life because you have just added someone else into the equation. How I Met Your Mother looked at this problem of aging and drifting from many angles.

You had Barney. He’s the life of the party and just is going to enjoy himself. Psychologically, I’m sure you would refer to him as the id. He’s always chasing a woman or two. He does what he likes to do and does it well. Over the course of the show, it seemed like the writers enjoyed writing his character but felt he needed a character path that deviated from his core. The finale touched on this problem right off the bat. You could tell his marriage to Robin didn’t make sense. They said it often. But it seemed like the only direction to go with them as they were so similar, but we will get there in a second.

Next, you have the happy couple. My parents met in college (not on their first day mind you). And they never really understood what it is like to be single and not in a closed campus of other hormonal people who just want to meet their soul mate. Lily and Marshall were that couple. They lucked out. They knew it but it is hard to be on the outside of that. They have some sort of magnetism that holds them together. When Lily left after season one in a very Robin-like way, she was miserable and had to return to Marshall. She was not a rolling stone. She had her moss-mallow (see what I did there, cause she called him her Marsh-mallow and a rolling stone has no moss). Marshall was a little more selfish in his wants and dreams throughout most of the show. His career took many paths but he gave Lily what she wanted and tried to consider her feelings until the last season. For example, they moved to the suburbs and hated it, but he did take the judgeship without asking. It all worked out as it always did for that couple. They were born under the right sign. But in the end, they had to figure out how to live together and be happy. Yet, they never imagined it without the other. In the finale, there isn’t a crack in their armor as time passes. All of the other characters have crises that hurt their relationships – but not Lily and Marshall. They are upset by the distance that is being created between their friends. Lily cannot seem to comprehend not having that closeness that they once had. I have that feeling often. I don’t have a large circle of friends but I miss having that closeness and wish it could be like it was. But that is probably the hardest part of your twenties and thirties – it will never be like it was and nor should it. As you get older, your life changes. Your friends change but it doesn’t change what you had with people before. People move and grow apart. People just find other things to fill their time with and you don’t share an apartment or live in the same hallway anymore. You can’t go to the same restaurant or bar or wherever because it is too far away. And as you grow older, you dream of those simpler times when things made more sense.

Overall, I relate to Ted. I wanted to find my soul mate. I wanted to get married. I just never had that group of friends to push me out of my shell. I didn’t have a group of five people to hang out with at a bar. I barely had people who asked me if I was having a good day. A lot of that was my own fault because I just don’t know how to do it. But I wanted to be Ted so badly.

Ted is that person you know who seems to have things together but is an absolute mess. He is a dreamer who can’t land on the ground. But he is a charming cloud jumper. You root for him because he is friendly and kind and really does seem to want to find love.

In the pilot, you watch him lose it when he sees the woman who may be the woman of his dreams. You find out right away that she isn’t. But she is central to the story. Robin is the lynch pin. She is the one that has to realize what it means to be loved and to love. She has a rough through line. You find out about a pretty rough relationship with her dad. You find out that she has self-esteem issues that make she not trust herself. You find out she is a rolling stone because she really doesn’t know anything else. Eventually, she dates Ted and breaks up with Ted, she dates Barney and breaks up with Barney, and dates a whole bunch of other guys along the way. You find out she can’t have children. And you think that she may be the one that can settle Barney down and that he may settle her down. There are two entire seasons dedicated to a long con to get her to marry him because she is his world and then an entire season of just their wedding. But the long con is actually not if she can settle Barney down but if Barney can settle her down and the answer is no. She doesn’t want that. She seems to treat Barney really terribly as she travels the world. She then treats her friends terribly because she just doesn’t feel connected anymore. But she has this halo around her that was there in the pilot when the camera had a soap opera haze to it. The minute she returns, it’s as if she never left. Marshall’s joke about the yeti is over.

Robin was the career woman who wanted to achieve. She wanted success and wanted to travel the world doing what she loved – journalism. It is what broke up Robin and Ted after season two and it was always at the edge of her mind. She wasn’t happy with her job and wanted to move on. She is the rolling stone. And again, the writers felt they needed a character path that settled her down. Because that is what we are all told we are supposed to do. But there is no sign that she does until the last scene.

The show had to end this way. And you know the writers planned it this way because they filmed that piece with Ted’s kids a long time ago as they are nine years older now. It makes sense but it isn’t satisfying.  It turned out to be a story about two women: the mother and Robin. And I guess the most unsatisfying part is that the actual changes in both of these two women are done off screen. Robin obviously wasn’t ready to marry and still had too much to do, but why did she return to New York City and get a bunch of dogs. Why did Ted and the Mother not get married for so long after everything Ted says about marriage the entire time? It seems out of character for all of the talk of fate and magic of love for him to wait seven years to actually marry her and for then Robyn to show up again. It is almost like the line that Stella says way back when: you never want an ex at your wedding. Why did Lily say this time was different if the whole story is about Robin? I suppose it doesn’t matter.

The hardest part of being a young adult is the uncertainty. You are trying to create a career and a family and have a social network that doesn’t exist only online. The days of your youth are slowly drifting away. You have to pay bills and start saving for houses, cars, kids, colleges, and just about everything else. And you change at a rapid pace. You shift from someone who has no cares in the world to having to take care of the world. And like Ted, I wanted to find someone to share that with.

Photo Oct 18, 11 02 33 PMI think this last year has been my awakening, which is why some of the plotting and out-of-character actions in the finale don’t bother me. I lived through a lot of things that didn’t really fit into the plot I had written or the actions I thought would happen. A relationship that couldn’t go any further didn’t. But it opened my eyes to what I want out of life. Everything was building up to something. It makes things a little brighter and better because I was able to survive all of the hard things as I aged. All of the dilemmas and heartbreaks that were with joys of being with close friends and acquaintances all began to make sense almost a year ago today. I cherish what I have now because of what my life has been.

I suppose that is why I love How I Met Your Mother and why the finale has made me sit down and write all of this. We have a path in our life and it is a jagged messy one. We don’t have a through-line that always makes sense. Sometimes, we are shifted to fit a role that we think is better at the time, like Barney and Robin. Sometimes the rolling stone rests before starting out on another path. Sometimes the playboy finds that thing that makes him really understand what love is. Sometimes that happy couple looks around and wonders why no one else has what they have. And sometimes, it all works out. But sometimes, it doesn’t.

Love is a really powerful emotion. It generally hurts. There is nothing worse than hearing from someone you love bad news. There is nothing better than hearing good news. Yet both produce tears.

 

Her

I use my cell phone almost all day. I am constantly reading, searching, texting, communicating, and playing with it. I try to dedicate at least an hour a day where I am not within five feet of it. And that is hard. I want to play music out of it or do something at all times. I find it to be the most important gadget I have ever owned. The only thing that I don’t do on it is write. I go to my desktop computer for that as I find the keyboard and the large monitor refreshing.

I wake up with the phone feet from my face. I shower, watch WGN Morning News, and jump into my car where it speaks to my phone through Bluetooth technology to let me listen to a podcast or Pandora. When I get to work, I may text on occasion, but my eyes are glued on my two screen setup, unless I have to write on paper or I’m in a meeting. I jump back into the car where it resumes playing whatever I was listening to 8 hours earlier. I get home and turn my desktop computer on or the television on and have my phone in my hands or within a few feet of my fingers. And when I go to bed, I set my sleep app to track my movements. It’s a totalitarian device – from cradle to grave. Yet five years ago, I did not even have a Smartphone. Today, it is the thing I grab if I have a minute of downtime.

HerHer plays on this phenomenon. Within a course of a generation, we went from dial-up connections and chat rooms to constant Wi-Fi and apps. Spike Jonze envisions a world where we have a “friend.” The extent of that friend seems to depend on the needs of the individual and the person sets the limits. But as you see people walk around, everyone is talking to themselves. There is not a group of people who travel together in the entire movie. There are couples but they seem strange in the world. They are almost unsettling.

I posit that that is the point of the movie. Personal relationships are unsettling and we fear that reality in an age where we don’t have to interact that way. We can telecommute to the office, ask Siri questions, be rejected by a potential suitor with a computer screen between you, and IM/text all night long. If we didn’t have physical needs, I wonder how many people would explore the world.

We have all had the experience where we are at a restaurant and we notice a child playing with a device and someone will comment on how bad it is for the child. We have all had the experience where a group of people will sit down and immediately start playing with their devices instead of interacting with each other. We have all seen two people walk by us in what seems like a pairing but they are talking to two separate individuals through their phones or listening to separate music. Her shows us why we are uncomfortable with all of this when we see it but we don’t notice it when we live it. It is an uncomfortable movie, but within minutes of it ending, I saw three people turn their phones on.

Joaquin Phoenix’s character longs for his soon-to-be ex-wife and the past they shared, but at the same time, he has changed his entire perspective on what he needs based on this devastating event. He writes letters for other people for a living because everyone has disconnected from their feelings. He dreams of his wife but stays in his home playing video games, talking to strangers through his computer, and eventually falling in love with his OS. No matter how much you may have liked Windows XP, I will assume you didn’t have sexual feelings about it.

Hotter OnlineWhen I began dating, I used online programs and the first thing I noticed was that the same people seemed to have joined all of them. They seemed to not even want to move past the stage of chatting in emails. They would flirt with me and put butterflies in my belly but then disappear. A few months later, they may return. In some instances, they remembered talking to you but I assume that was because they didn’t delete their chat history. They lived online and continually looked for something more because the Internet provides you with a cornucopia of options. In theory, there is no end to what you can get or expect to get. There is always something coming around the corner. And perfection exists – and we must find it.

There is a subculture of digital personalities so we create our own image of perfection. We craft a persona on Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, and other online arenas. Many of us like to put positive feelings out there about our lives, children, houses, and jobs. We express all of the best of our lives. Others love to dwell on the negatives and use Facebook and Twitter as a release. But we craft what we want to say very carefully. We respond to certain people but not others. I think we love having such control in the image we put forward. We love having a group of people to commiserate with and to join in our joys.

Her gives us our own individual promise of what we perceive Facebook to give us. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) gave Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) someone he felt he could trust unconditionally though he had no reason to believe that. She was created based on his desires and conditions. She was created for him just like we create our online persona for ourselves. I believe that is why Amy (Amy Adams) has an OS who is a best friend for her and someone that she was left by her husband who left her for a simpler life.

I love the Internet. I love that I have a place to post what I write. I love that I can then post this to Facebook. I know I am walking into a trap though. I know what is new and exciting today will be useless tomorrow. One day, Facebook will be a deserted island with all of these pictures and posts looking like the remnants of the Minoan culture. And I will want to write and be apart of the next thing. I would buy an OS to be my friend. I just hope I don’t lose sight of my real friends. I just hope I don’t lose sight in the reality of life and not the perfection that we have come to expect from the Internet and our online personas. Because even what you think is perfect today may not be tomorrow. And shockingly, there is nothing wrong with that flux.

Horrible things happen to people and they can happen to them without 100 people seeing the melancholy and expecting cheering up. Great things will happen to you in your life where there will be no one to celebrate or “like” it. You will fall in love. You will lose love. You will regain love. But most of all you will grow. You will fail and you will be hurt by people.

But if you want to live in a world where no one is hurt, then online is perfect for you because you can choose to ignore the hurt and the loneliness. You can try to find a little perfect corner where you will succeed – but it isn’t real. It isn’t life and it will never be perfect. It will shift and it will change. And you will need to know how to honestly react to it. It won’t just be logging off.