Thursday, May 21, 2015

Young bucks

We are going away this weekend, to visit my Little Bro and his fam, and this will be the first long multi-state roadtrip we have taken since the bino turned two. It is in fact probably the first long multi-state roadtrip we've taken since the bino was just shy of one and a half, and back then we could more or less count on him being amused for long stretches of time by chunky board books with textured patches on each page, and/or him taking naps while being lulled by the rocking movement of the suspension cruising the highway.

Anyway, in our family two years old is the threshold age for being allowed to watch movies in the car, so the bino is now eligible. This is a good thing, as my wife and I are big fans of the peace and quiet afforded by letting the younguns just movie marathon their way through an arduous trek along the interstate system. The logistical challenge arises in the fact that our current setup is a dual-screen portable DVD player, and now we need a third screen. For a child who sits in the middle row of the family SUV, while the older sibs sit in the back row.

Luckily we had a fairly ready solution for this. We finally joined the modern era and began using the digital copy codes included in various DVDs to download movies onto our iPad. So now the bino can hold the iPad and watch whatever he wants, while the older two can watch what they want together independent of their baby brother. Marvelous.

Of course this required not just downloading content but installing a Disney-branded app as well, and because I was taking care of this techno-chore on a weekend afternoon, the kids got curious and started looking over my shoulder and the next thing I know we're just going through the hundreds of previews the Disney app provides access to. Man do my kids love watching previews. I mean, granted, so do I, so they come by it honestly, but they have brazenly nondiscriminating tastes, as well. They have no idea what's good and what's mediocre and what's a cynical cash grab that no one in the right mind is supposed to condone the existence of by expressing any interest in whatsoever. You know, crap like Bambi II.

Which I am not making up! My wife and I decided a while ago that Bambi is one of those "classic" movies our kids can safely skip, so I have no idea why they would be intrigued enough by the cover/poster art to demand to watch the trailer for a sequel I had no idea existed. Actually, it's worse than a sequel or even a prequel, it's the dreaded midquel, the kind of movie that dares to ask the question "What, exactly, took place in between a scene in the original movie and the following scene where it was obvious significant time had passed, meaning significant in quantity not in importance or else the original movie wouldn't have skipped right past it?"

Bambi II covers the time between Bambi's mother dying (whoops, spoiler) and Bambi becoming a full grown deer. Apparently, since he is the young heir to the mantle of prince of the forest, he needed to spend that time hanging out with the buck who sired him and who is the current prince of the forest. And Disney actually got Sir Patrick Stewart to do the voice of Bambi's father! Also of note to trivia buffs: Bambi II was the last Disney movie to be released on VHS, and holds the record for amount of time elapsed between an original movie and its Part II (64 years).

It all leaves me wondering who these movies are for, though, especially in light of my thoughts on completism lately. I don't consider myself a Disney superfan, although I do like the vast majority of Disney stuff. I have met people who are Disney superfans (including a delivery nurse when our daughter was born who I remember had a Tinkerbell tattoo and talked about her family's vacations to Disneyworld in a very matter of fact way, that whenever they took a family vacation it was ALWAYS to Disneyworld, which I thought was ... odd) but I can't imagine they are the target audience for these direct-to-video inessentials that, despite being produced by Disney manage to feel like cheap knock-offs. I would in fact imagine the superfans would find these brand-driven monetizations a bit tawdry, a poor reflection on their undying love for all things House of Mouse.

So, who then? People whose kids watch so much tv and so many movies that they get bored with the mainstream canon of Disney movies but refuse to watch anything other than Disney movies but are ok with things that barely feel like Disney movies because they're the dregs of the Disney output? Do those people really exist? It's a strange world after all, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Case in point

I've written more than once before about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the myriad ways in which it fascinates me on a purely structural level. The interconnectedness of the movies has progressed from a risky move (both as a narrative exercise and a business model) to something which has been heralded as an unqualified smash hit (again on both the levels it needed to be), so much so that other major studios have started playing catch-up trying to launch their own hyper-franchise-of-franchises. Meanwhile the MCU has gone even further and branched out into television. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has fleshed out the world the heroes live in and given some story opportunities to minor players who couldn't carry their own blockbuster films. Agent Carter fills in some of the gaps in the fictional history of the MCU, since the first Captain America movie post-dates the origin back to World War Two but everything else takes place in the 21st century, leaving whole decades to explore.

And then there's the Defenders.

Disney owns Marvel, Disney owns ABC, hence the first MCU forays into broadcast television were primetime dramas for ABC, and thus reasonably family-friendly fare. Between the PG-13 mega-budget silver screen adventures of the marquee heroes and the more PG weekly serials for the supporting players, the MCU could cover a lot of territory. Still, there's always new frontiers to conquer, and apparently someone decided that they should mix together some of the mid-level Marvel characters, the superheroes with a pre-existing and potentially passionate fanbase but not quite the same name-recognition as an Iron Man or a Thor, with the darker, more violent subject matter leeway afforded to a subscription-based audience that could be reached through Netflix. So eventually we will get Power Man, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones, and further down the road those individual series will beget the Defenders, much as the first few MCU films begat the Avengers. And kicking it all off was Daredevil.

I don't know that I've ever brought these threads together explicitly before, but I know I've at least referred to the component ideas in passing; either way please forgive me for the extent to which I repeat myself. One of the things I've always loved about the Big Two superhero comic book universes is the way that they reward both deep and broad familiarity. If you have read every issue of Spider-Man for the past few years (depth), then chances are you will get a little more out of the current storylines, which inevitably build on the foundations of the past. If you have read a lot of Spider-Man and also a lot of other Marvel comics (breadth), then you will get a little more out of the storylines where Spider-Man teams up with, say, Silver Sable, because you know something about her past independent of Spider-Man. But at the time that I was most heavily into comics, in the sweet spot between understanding that it was one enormous macro-story tapestry and not yet having any real responsibilities that would prevent me from those deep and broad surveys, the industry itself was churning out so much content that it was unthinkable to consume it all. It would have been prohibitively expensive and exhaustingly time-consuming to read every issue one publisher put out (let along keeping tabs on both of them). It struck me as something that would have been fun and awesome to attempt, but it was an impossible dream. And that was fine, because it's not as though every single comic book ever published is a vital piece of a tightly unified single story. Much of it was always superfluous and forgettable.

But that was part of the appeal, too, I think, and the thrill of the hunt. You never knew when some random bit from last year's Doctor Strange annual might turn out to provide a critical piece of context for this year's X-Men stories (because really it all came down to the whim of the individual writers and how they chose to exploit and incorporate the existing history of the fictional universe they were adding to the collective development of). Even for a natural-born completist like me, it was absurd to contemplate being so unwaveringly dedicated to the point of reading every Marvel comic every week (and that doesn't even take into account the idea of going back to 1961 and trying to tackle every Marvel comic ever). But there was a numbers game I was playing; I couldn't read it all, but I could read a lot, and the more I managed to read, the better my odds of encountering those moments of deeper understanding and broader perspective on the big picture moments.

Which brings us right back to my fascination with the MCU, where I can, in theory, be a fully invested completist. There have been 11 movies so far and I have seen 9 of them. (The other two are on my list to check off as soon as I can, maybe this summer.) There have been two full seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I've seen one and a half of them, with the remainder of season two sitting on my DVR at home. I DVR'ed Agent Carter as well. So I'm close, is my point, and there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to catch up now as more and more tv shows are going on summer hiatus. By the time Ant-Man hits theaters this fall, if anyone asks me "Why are you going to see that?" I'll be able to truthfully say "Because that's what I do."

Well, except for Daredevil, which managed to pass me by. Largely for technological reasons, since it was available through Netflix streaming and I remain devoted to physical DVD's I can watch on my non-WiFi commuter train. It's not that I had a bias steering me away from checking out Daredevil. It's not that I was oblivious to the many, many people posting online about binge-watching the whole series. I even got cc'ed on an email thread between my Little Bro and Very Little Bro in which they both extolled the virtues of the show. It's totally on my radar! (Rimshot)

But I can't solely blame the fact that I'm waiting for Netflix to burn it to discs and make it available to dinosaurs like me. I said yesterday that there haven't been major upheavals in life lately (knock wood) and that's true enough, but I do feel like I have a bit less to write about on the blog at least in part because I have less throughput in my brain from the popcult spheres. I feel busier and busier, and whether or not that's objectively true, the subjective can certainly have an outsize influence on my written reflections (or lack thereof). Again, it's not that anything is wrong or I'm complaining. It's simply life going on, always evolving and giving new shapes to what becomes the present-day version of normal. In the past few months we've dealt with the kids getting bigger and their needs changing, the bino in particular, and one way that manifests is that it seems to take longer and longer to get the kids to bed each evening. That in turn leaves less and less time for my wife and I to decompress together before we're desperate to get some shuteye. And we keep up with Community and Game of Thrones as best we can in between dealing with other demands on our attention. I used to read and watch DVDs, including tv shows like Smallville, on the train, and then surf the web during my downtime at work. Now I write as much as I can during that work downtime, and so I surf the web on the train (while the LTE signal lasts), and movies and cult tv shows fall off the bottom of the to-do list, and the days turn into weeks, and so it goes and goes.

So maybe even being an MCU completist is trending towards grail quest territory. If anybody had the motivation and desire to be one, it would be me, and I'm struggling and steadily losing ground purely based on time management. Maybe it's a young (unmarried, unemployed) man's pursuit. It's good to have goals, though, and I'll keep taking a shot at it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fine

I told the story in passing about a year ago about how I once put my foot in mouth by describing the entire process of labor by means of which my amazing wife brought our beautiful youngest child into the world as "fine". Not that a monosyllable counts as much of a description, and in fact it's much closer to a dismissal, something akin to "this isn't important enough to get into in any detail". I was implicitly chastened at the time, and it comes up as a running joke between my wife and me now, just another example of my capacity for the occasional poor choice of words.

In context, of course, when I made that particular choice there were numerous contributing factors. I was telling the story about picking the bino's name, which was something my wife and I talked about before she went into labor and after the delivery room was cleared, but not during labor, ergo, labor had nothing to do with the story. It was not as though in the 32nd hour of labor my wife had a pain-and-hormone induced vision of Saint Gotthard of Hildesheim, or she ended up needing an emergency C-section and I found myself beseeching my dear departed grandmother to rally the guardian angels, and we ultimately namesaked the baby accordingly. The name selection conversation more or less picked up right where it had left off before they hooked my wife up to the IV's and monitors. And on another level, maybe I was even secondhand humblebragging a little bit. My wife had an attempted epidural when the little guy was born, something she hadn't wanted but freaked out and agreed to when offered in the throes of transition, all for naught because the anesthesiologist somehow botched it and only numbed the outside of her leg. After that she never really deviated from her natural delivery birthplans for the little girl and the bino, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't exceedingly proud of her for that. If I shrug off labor as no biggie it is only because that's how my wife makes it look, because she is a rock star.

I bring all this up because it parallels the ways in which I've been thinking about re-approaching this blog lately. I know, you probably thought I hadn't spared a thought to my lack of regular posting in weeks, but the truth is I think about it every day. Sometimes only fleetingly, but it's there. The problem for me is finding an entrypoint, which is difficult to do when lately the vast majority of everything strikes me as ... fine.

Which is not the same as bad! Or unimportant, or boring, or any other pejorative qualifier. Perhaps a simple lack of urgency is the best elaboration of the idea, and even then it's only in the very specific context of urgently demanding I find the time to type out 500 words or more as part of my overall mental response. More and more lately that has become a high bar to clear, and that in turn becomes a vicious cycle ratcheting the bar up higher and higher; if I haven't posted in a week, what's a big enough deal for me to break the silence? What if I haven't posted in two weeks, three, more, &c. &c.?

I've already acknowledged that with the status quo perpetuating resolution of our contract drama at work, things have settled back into their customary holding patterns, which I would sum up as ... fine. (95 days 'til I blow out of the office for a week's vacation at the beach!) I've already made my sorry-not-sorry explanations about how once upon a time the blog was my way of making myself write every day, and I've shifted a ton of that zero-sum energy into actually writing fiction every day, some of which flames out after scratching a mental itch, some of which gets finished and shopped around from rejection to rejection, and some of which I'll have more announcements about the potential publication of soon (I hope), all of which make sme feel like the writing as a whole is going ... fine. My wife and I are fine, the kids are fine, the house is fine and the yard is fine. I went and saw Avengers 2 last week and it was ... fine? I liked it a lot and may very well go see it again, but it didn't inspire a 2K word geeked-out treatise, obviously.

So the point, if I have one (which is by no means guaranteed in the EULA), is I'm realizing that if I sit around waiting for earth-shattering developments before I update the blog, those updates will be few and far between and the blog will fall into serious disuse. So consider this a bit of preamble throat-clearing to maybe trying to get two or three posts a week going, even if they wind up being short and random as a reflection of how much brainspace the blog has been relegated to. We shall see how it goes.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lessons I Have Learned

So did I tell you guys that I joined an online writing workshop this year? I did. I'm still giving a lot of attention to my fiction writing and then some additional attention to trying to get that writing out there into the world and published in paying markets, but the latter part remains a challenge. Of course it's a challenge for everyone pursuing the same goal, the whole point is that markets that pay for fiction are competitive (and also cruelly fickle), but particularly challenging for me is trying to parse the inevitable rejections, particularly when they are of a boilerplate nature. Was the story I submitted seriously flawed, inherently unmarketable? Or was it a good story that just, as it happened, didn't tickle the fancy of the editor whose desk it came across? If it's the first scenario I might as well either dump it in the failed experiment file or tear it apart for scrap. If it's the second, then I just need to shrug off the rejection and submit it somewhere else, again and again until it catches someone's eye.

But I don't feel like I'm particularly good at differentiating between the two possibilities when it comes to my own output. I'm too close to have any proper perspective. So the workshop is helpful in that regard because I get strangers to read my stuff and tell me very specifically what (if anything) they like about it and what they don't. Once I've addressed those concerns, I can feel a little more confident that subsequent market rejections are due to intangible editorial moods and keep reloading. I'm not saying having a story workshopped guarantees that it is objectively good, but I'm optimistic that it increases the odds.

So I've been doing the workshop basically since the beginning of the year and it entails selecting one story each week to read and critique, out of about two dozen, with that slate turning over every Wednesday. In return for doing that on my end, I get about a dozen critiques on the stories I submit - three, so far. It's been interesting and occasionally intense and so far overall worthwhile, I'd say.

One of the unexpected bright spots I discovered was that almost everyone in the workshop is exceedingly gracious. I was anticipating that a hefty percentage of people would do the bare minimum in terms of critiquing other people's stories while waiting for everyone to hurry up and get to their story. But that really hasn't been the case, and people seem pretty generous with their time in terms of providing thorough feedback. And after I sent in my first few critiques, I started getting notes back from the authors thanking me for my thoughts, which I soon realized was more or less the norm. So I started writing back "you're welcome!" to these thank you notes, and in a couple of cases the correspondence went another round or two batting around some general thoughts about the workshop as a whole and whatnot. Good stuff.

So as my stories have gone through the process, I've tried to individually thank everyone who took the time to do a critique, including when my most recent story was up. One critic in particular, in the course of leaning towards the positive side of the feedback (which, to be fair, the entire workshop is set up to promote and encourage people to do) mentioned that she'd be interested in seeing the main character of my story appear again in other stories. When I wrote to thank her, I indicated that she was in luck because I did in fact plan to return the character in the future. Even better, there was already another story featuring the character out there, because what I was workshopping was a sequel of sorts to my tale from the PulpWork Christmas Special 2014.

One of the recurring motifs I've picked up on since intensifying my focus on writing and selling stories is this idea that the upstart independent author should basically be in self-promotion mode all the time, so I was certainly happy to take the opening my fellow workshopper had given me and lob a softball through it. She asked where she could get a hold of the story, although she did also add that if I could just send it straight to her, that would be great. As much as flattery usually works pretty well on me, especially along the lines of "I love what you wrote, show me more!", I had to content myself with sending her the Amazon link and explaining that it really wasn't my call to give away contents of a published anthology for free, because it simply wouldn't be fair to the other authors in the collection, since we all benefit equally from sales of the book.

I did, however, point out to my fellow workshopper that the Kindle version was cheaper than the paperback version, and for that matter, if she happened to have a Kindle Unlimited subscription then the e-book would be accessible through that service for free. At which point I was no longer really sure if I was shilling for my own writing or shilling for Amazon (which, full disclosure, I do own a tiny bit of stock in) but so it goes in this crazy modern world of ours I suppose.

As it turns out you can get a free introductory trial of Kindle Unlimited, which the workshopper had been thinking about, and she decided to go ahead and start the trial so she could get the e-book I had been talking up. I guess all in all I'd call that a win-win, because the more eyeballs I get my work in front of the better for my writing rep, and the more subscribers Amazon has, the better for my portfolio. I'm still undecided as to how distressed I should feel by the fact that I apparently consider my efforts as an amateur author and my efforts as an amateur investor about on par with one another, but I'm sure I'll sort that out later.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Not to the Max

So my wife and I have been watching season six of Community, and we've been enjoying it. We've got a pretty good system going where we watch an episode or two on Saturday nights, which is Movie Night for the kids. We set them all up in the den, or if they can't agree on what they want to watch we set some up in the den and others in the master bedroom. Then my wife and I sit in the front room and pull up Yahoo Screen on the iPad. Everybody wins.

At this point, for me at least, Community is definitely a hangout show more than anything else. I enjoy catching up with the Greendale crew* and spending time with them, but they don't really surprise me any more. It's rare that I am uproariously shocked into laughter by any given joke this season, and by rare I mean I'm pretty sure it hasn't happened. On the one hand, that's not terribly surprising, because for crying out loud it's the sixth season and any show under any circumstances would be hard-pressed to continue being radically innovative. On the other hand, in the past when I would absolutely lose my mind over Community it was usually about (or during) the really high-concept episodes where they went all out on alternate sets and costumes and special effects and so forth. In the new Yahoo era, they haven't really gone there, with the arguable exception of the extended Karate Kid bit. I suspect this has a bit to do with budgetary concerns, and I get it, really. Then again, it may be that they are biding their time and slowly building up to that kind of old-school extravaganza; I may even be speaking contrary to fact right now, since we are about two episodes behind at this point.

But since we've seen five out of seven episodes, there is one thing that is really blowing my mind in its absence, and it's not the lack of paintballs or the Dreamatorium. But to explain, let me back up:

- So it's season six, right? For years now Community fans have been rallying behind the #sixseasonsandamovie hashtag and its implication that if the show was about to be cancelled, it would be too soon. I've heard some crazy rumors that there might even be a movie, too, at some point. But the point is, we made it to season six, woohoo!

- Why six seasons, as opposed to seven, and why a movie? Because "six seasons and a movie" is an Abed quote from back in season 3. That season was when NBC premiered a new original superhero drama called The Cape, and Abed was into it. Jeff tried to tell Abed that the Cape wouldn't last three weeks, and Abed retorted his own prediction as to how long The Cape would last. So that's the in-universe antecedent, as it were.

- I admit that I, myself, never got into The Cape. You'd think it would be right up my alley, since I love not just specific superheroes but all the trappings and tropes of the superhero concept, and that's exactly what The Cape was riffing on, right off the bat with the title. It also was about circuses and sideshow performers including a strongman midget, and had Summer Glau (River from Firefly) as an uber-hacker with a ridiculously literary handle of "Orwell" and just in general was bonkers in the best possible ways. The thing is, even back in 2011 I only had but so much free time and I had already adopted a wait-and-see attitude about trying new pop culture things. If The Cape had become an institution and I had heard lots of good things about it, I might have gone back to the beginning via Netflix or something and taken it all in. But as it turned out, Jeff's prediction was far more accurate than Abed's. The Cape only filmed 13 episodes and NBC only aired 10. Which is why I'm explaining all this stuff in so much detail, because I assume few to none of you all remember the short-lived show in question.

- But guess who was on The Cape, as a cast regular named Max Malini, serving as a mentor to the eponymous superhero? Keith David.

- I asterisked "Greendale crew" up above because of course it's not really the same core group that we all knew and love din the early seasons. Chevy Chase's Pierce, Donald Glover's Troy and Yvette Brown's Shirley are no longer attending Greendale in season six, so there have been some replacements brought in. The Dean and Chang get more time in the study room around Table Mark II, and Paget Brewster joined the cast as Frankie Dart. Another addition is eccentric RV-dwelling virtual reality expert and cranky old IT guy Elroy Patashnik, played by ... Keith David.

So a one-off gag about The Cape became the encapsulation of the fans' desire to see the show keep going and going, which it improbably enough has done. At the same time, an actor who used to be on The Cape has now, in the same season explicitly referenced by the hashtag, joined the cast of Community. And how many jokes have there been about The Cape this season? NONE. OK, maybe The Cape is an NBC/Universal property and now that Yahoo is producing Community they can't just make NBC/Universal references willy-nilly. But how many tv bloggers have made any reference to the Keith David Cape/Community connection? NONE! None that I've seen anyway. I don't know, maybe it's too obvious, maybe there's nothing really to say beyond what I just dragged out over an excessive number of bullet points. Still, I'm gonna keep hoping for an episode somewhere down the line where Abed reprises his Christian-Bale-as-Batman impression and Elroy looks at him and says something like "Nice cape."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Side effects

A while back I think I mentioned around here that there was a game my wife and I played, seeing how many "looks like you got your hands full!"s we could collect whenever one of us went out in public solely responsible for all three kids. (Ah yes, here it is, most of the way down the post after all the Buzz Lightyear drama.) The game had actually fallen by the wayside recently, apparently as a function of the kids' ages. The bino is no longer a wee thing in a bucket carseat propped across the handle of the shopping cart, but rather a feisty toddler who points at things on the shelves and shouts out their names, while the little guy and little girl carry on conversations of their own. At best nowadays I might get some variation on "Oh, you've got lots of helpers today!" when the four of us were at Costco, and really that sentiment is kind of the exact opposite of "got your hands full." Not a complaint, exactly, just an observation.

I did get my first "got your hands full" in a long while yesterday, though. My wife was at work and I was home with all three kids. The little girl had been running a fever for a few days and couldn't go to daycare, not to mention not sleeping well at night and being generally listless during the day. The little guy had recently been on antibiotics for strep and on about day 7 (this Monday) had broken out in hives so bad that the elementary school called my wife to come pick him up. He was back in school on Tuesday because the hives had cleared up, but they re-emerged Tuesday night and were still there Wednesday morning. And the bino was fine as froghair, but it seemed pointless to drop him off at daycare (where, let's be honest, the odds of him catching some new random ailment would be pretty high) when I was going to be home, if not actively annoying because at some point in the afternoon or evening I'd have to run the two older siblings back over to daycare to pick him up. So all three kids got a day home with daddy, including an 11 a.m. visit to the pediatrician to see if the cause of the little girl's fever could be determined and if the little guy's rash was an allergic reaction or viral or what.

The nurse practitioner deemed it prudent to test both the little guy and little girl for strep; the little guy because we had discontinued the antibiotics without finishing the course once he got the hives, and the little girl because even though she didn't really have a sore throat or nausea you never know and better safe than sorry. Couldn't hurt, right? Except that my kids HATE the strep test. And I don't really blame them, because having someone swab the back of your throat is no one's idea of a good time, plus the kids have fairly sensitive gag reflexes (so do I, come to that) and it's just a traumatic experience which they react exceedingly poorly to, freaking out and fighting it and all that. As it happened, the little girl was already sitting on my lap when it came time to obtain the sample, and I managed to immobilize her while the nurse swabbed, and I was still trying to comfort her and calm her down afterwards when it was the little guy's turn, and he went full-on crazy trying to resist, so I was trying to wrestle him into submission with one hand while balancing the little girl on the opposite knee with my other hand. The bino was just running around the exam room amusing himself at this point, but it added a certain chaotic spice to the overall proceedings. Hence the nurse's "you've got your hands full today, huh?" I didn't argue the point.

The quick test was negative for strep for both kids, for what it's worth.

The rest of the day was much more low-key, except for a slight freakout reprise in the evening when the little girl discovered that she hated the taste of the antibiotic she was prescribed (turned out she had an ear infection). That must have used up a lot of her energy, because she climbed into my bed while I was overseeing her big brother's shower and her little brother's bath, and when it was her turn she was out cold. I transferred her to her bed, where she slept in her clothes, but she's four and her usual outfit of leggings and t-shirt is almost indistinguishable from pajamas anyway. I'm pretty sure one morning my wife got the little girl out of the pajamas she had slept in, got her into underwear and a different pair of pajama pants, and sent her off to daycare, and the operative phrase there is "ONE morning" because if I were responsible for getting the kids to daycare in the mornings I'm sure the little girl would have gone in pajama bottoms at least a half a dozen times.

The nice thing was that I was able to get the little girl into her own bed and leave her in relative peace because her bed is now located in her very own room. While I've been slacking off on the blog lately, on the homefront we did manage to pull off the Great Room Switch which involved repainting both of the kids' bedrooms, moving all of the little guy's stuff into the bigger room with the bino, and moving all of the little girl's stuff into the smaller room where she can have a little privacy for however much longer we live in this house (I give it about three years). There had been some building tension with the little girl and the bino sharing a room ever since the bino started protesting going to bed at the same time as his siblings, which would result in him crying or outright tantruming and keeping his sister/roommate unhappily awake. We were hoping that putting the boys together would be a win-win, because the little girl could go to sleep without a crying toddler across the room, and actually the toddler might not cry that much at all anymore, because he could talk (or babble) with his big brother, whom he gets along with a tiny bit better. Heck, we wouldn't have minded if the boys snuck out of their beds to the middle of the floor to play in the glow of the nightlight, or if the bino crawled into bed with the little guy, as long as whatever they did they were reasonably quiet about it and fell asleep eventually.

It didn't exactly work out that smoothly. The bino does indeed love invading his brother's bed, but he then proceeds to annoy his brother by taking up the middle of the mattress, messing with his brother's hair, yakking to himself after the little guy begs him to be quiet and go to sleep, &c. Not ideal since the little guy is the one child who not only has to get up five mornings a week at a certain time, but is also expected to have good behavior and attentive learning habits primed and ready to go each morning. It's been a bit of a learning curve figuring out how to make the new arrangement work for the boys. Funny enough, the little guy recently getting strep proved to be a weird blessing in itself. My wife and I decided, one of those first nights of the illness, to let the little guy fall asleep in our bed, while the bino went to sleep in his own bed. And lo and behold, turns out if the bino is all alone in the room he can fall asleep in his own bed just fine. An hour or so later, when both bino and little guy are sound asleep, we transfer the little guy from our bed to his own and the roomies sleep through the night. (More or less. Usually.) It's been a couple weeks and the little guy is feeling better and no longer really needs the isolation ward treatment, but we seem to have adopted this strategy as a semi-permanent solution. Maybe in a few weeks we will try to reintroduce the idea of them both going to sleep at the same time in their respective beds, once we've re-ingrained the habit for the littlest one. Then again, maybe one of them will catch some other new and interesting sniffle. Advanced planning is near enough to an exercise in futility at this point, really.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Serious consideration

Since it’s Social Media Tuesday (he said, just la-la-la-ing along as if he’s been posting to the blog regularly and adhering closely to the established Days of the Week model) I wanted to share something that I saw on an acquaintance’s wall:

My initial interpretation of this went somewhere along these lines: OK, right, I think I get it. We live in somewhat strange times, in terms of our pop entertainment and especially the epic spectacles of our blockbuster sagas. For the past couple of decades we’ve experienced the steady rise of the anti-hero as well as the complicated, flawed hero and the morally compromised hero and the hero who does whatever it takes to win the larger war even if it means getting his hands dirty in a battle. (I feel like that last possessive pronoun should have been “his or her” but as you can see all nine characters in the image are male and breaking down the archetypes of anti-heroines and flawed heroines would be a whole ‘nother post.) For a long time in heroic literature there was elevated importance of the code of honor and the idea of a hero as someone who does not kill, ever, but that gave way to a more complicated and nuanced consideration of life-or-death struggles, and then that gave way to something like an expectation that of course the protagonist would end up killing the antagonist, or anyone else that got in his way, because that’s the only way to resolve things with cathartic finality, plus it’s totally badass. So now that we’ve made the transit from “heroes never take a life” to “heroes maybe might take a life” to “heroes embody the kill-or-be-killed mentality” it’s possible to reach down into the zeitgeist and pull out a nearly random handful of “good guys” and find that two out of every three are actually more likely to kill you than protect you, as demonstrated by the grid above.

So the implied question is, can you still tell the difference, between a badass protagonist with little to no regard for life and the actual heroes who take the high road? It seems like everything in our modern mythmaking has blurred together into one big action-adventure killfest, but there are still lines that can be drawn, if you think about it. So I thought about it and I acknowledged that Captain America, Thor and Spider-Man would be on the “protect” side and all the rest would be on the “kill” side. Some of the killers were easier for me to make a determination on than others. I admit I’m not terribly familiar with Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes or anything to do with Doctor Who (which is not a condemnation of those franchises, just the reality of the number of hours in a day that I can give to keeping up with various series). I confess I don’t especially like Holmes as a character, who seems to derive a lot of his popularity by appealing to people who are predisposed to root for sociopaths because they enjoy a good hyper-competent a-hole who gets away with being abrasively rude because his skills are indispensable. To a lesser extent, The Doctor seems to fit in that broad category, at the very least making decisions of such cosmic scale that individual human lives might not even register. But for the characters I’m well-acquainted with, Wolverine has a well-documented history as a living weapon, and the Winter Soldier might be a relatively recent comics creation only featuring in the second Captain America film, but he was clearly the unstoppable assassin baddie for much of that movie. Anakin Skywalker winds up slaughtering younglings and becoming Darth Vader, so that’s another gimme. Superman … well, “Superman” as portrayed in the Man of Steel flick (because, I think it’s important to note, these are all photos of actors from movies, so we’re talking about specific interpretations of various archetypes) is the epitome of the modern “don’t suffer the villain to live” ethos, plus he shows a callous and blatant disregard for human life as his battle with Zod essentially razes Metropolis.

That’s the lynchpin of my argument, here, really. The memespeak on the image doesn’t refer to enemies or antagonists, it’s talking to you about you. This millennium has seen an explosion in popularity of straight superhero adaptations and other takes on that tradition, and superheroes in their purest, early forms might have been the last gasp of the whole “the hero does not kill” credo. Things have evolved, and now we let it pass without comment when a superhero finds himself forced to take a life, to choose between the lesser of two evils and whatnot. But however you might be able to rationalize killing the evil opponent, whatever you think the appropriate costs of a crusade against crime or a war on terror should be, it might be instructive to stop for a moment and consider the collateral damage, to innocent bystanders, to people like you. Maybe Superman can still be considered a hero if he snaps Zod’s neck, but can he also be considered a hero if he is so completely consumed with defeating his adversary that the very concept of protecting people, saving them, sheltering them from harm (especially harm he himself caused) just falls by the wayside?

Obviously I would answer that in the negative, which is one of the reasons I loathed Man of Steel so much. And although we are officially close enough to the premiere date for Avengers: Age of Ultron that I am on personal blackout on media coverage in order to experience the flick with the freshest possible eyes, I did glimpse a headline or two recently that suggested Avengers:AoU handles the ideas of urban destruction and innocent bystanders better than Man of Steel. (I of course believe this implicitly, because that’s such an extremely low bar to clear.) So this idea of what it means for a superhero to be a true hero, with regard to me the (hypothetical) man on the (fictional) street, has been banging around in my brain recently, too.

Cap, Thor, Spider-Man, those are the superheroes I count on to act like heroes within their respective narratives. In the movies, Cap’s whole philosophy is encapsulated in his line “I just hate bullies.” He looks out for the little guy. Spider-Man might not be able to save everybody, but he lost one person because he didn’t even try and he will spend the rest of his life atoning for it by never not trying. Even Thor gets the arc of being humbled and then redeemed and learning the value of self-sacrifice. These are, without question, the good guys.

(Yes, it also just so happens that all three of those characters are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now that the Spider-Man rights have been handed over, and I am a huge fan of the MCU. But this is not a partisan Marvel-movies-versus-DC-movies thing. Winter Soldier is also an MCU character and you don’t hear me arguing it should have been “4 will protect you, 5 will try to kill you”. Wolverine is a Marvel comics character who appears in Fox films, and I enjoy those films a lot, too. Superman’s the only DC movies character in the grid, even though they could have included Christian Bale’s Batman, or Ben Affleck’s for that matter. I don’t root against DC movies succeeding. I hope the Wonder Woman movie is great, and I hope the Shazam movie with The Rock is great, and I hope there are lots more projects to come based on DC’s superheroes. But I probably won’t waste any more time on DC superhero movies specifically written by Goyer and/or directed by Snyder, because they lost me with Man of Steel. I’m aware there’s been a bit of hoopla around the leaking of the Batman V. Superman Dawn of Justice trailer, but I stone cold don’t care.)

ANYWAY. So I went through most if not all of the above mental gymnastics in about 0.7 seconds, and then I started reading the comments under my acquaintance’s post. And apparently I completely misread the point of the image. It’s a parlor game, according to everyone else in the world but me. Who do you think could beat who in fight outnumbered 2-to-1? If you had to choose three of those nine characters to be your personal bodyguards while the other six team up as the squad coming to get you, who would you choose and why? Nothing to do with the characters’ pre-existing morality or philosophy, just playing the odds based on their powers and abilities (at least until someone insists on picking Cumberbatch as one of their three because that way if they die at least the last thing they hear can be his beautiful English accent).

Well, shoot. If it’s not a stem-twister of an observation, but a question, then it’s a no-brainer. Thor and Superman and The Doctor. In the unlikely event that anybody gets past the thunder god or the last son of Krypton, The Doctor can just go back in time for a do-over. (That’s basically how Doctor Who, works, right?)