Looking Back/ New Year’s 2015

The other night my friend and I did our usual New Year’s tradition of exchanging resolutions and checking our previous year’s accomplishments. I did pretty good managing to complete 6 of the 10 resolutions I set out for myself. I suppose this is always a time for reflection and possibility, so why shouldn’t I do the same?

I was looking back yesterday and trying to figure out what I had accomplished in the last 365 days. There are some things I managed to do. Many more I did not manage to get to. And even more ideas and plans that were not attempted for one reason or another. Still taking everything into account, I think I had a pretty good year overall.

Work: I got a job at the beginning of the year and managed to not fuck it up or get fired. This employment is guaranteed, assuming I don’t do anything stupid, at least till August. It’s not the job/career I want but it pays the bills and I am kind of good at it. As well, the hours allow for some side work and hobbies. I hope to change paths in the coming year into something I can see myself doing more long term.

Home: My living situation is not ideal for many reasons, but there is a roof over my head and food to eat so I cannot complain too much. I hope to finally move away from where I currently am and not come back for awhile, or at least not unless it is my specific choice too.

Reading: I read 27 books this year. I kept a running list on my phone and that is the number I ended up with. I wanted to read more than that, but it is not a bad record for a year. As well, this does not include the numerous articles (printed and digital), comics, graphic novels, and random short stories that I also read. I guess that is a pretty big haul in the end. Every thing I read was illuminating, entertaining, and educating to some extent. I also really enjoyed every piece.

Writing: I wrote a freaking book! I finally won NaNoWriMo and am planning to edit in January and February. Add the 124 blog posts of various lengths from this site, the 3,000+ tweets, the Facebook posts/rants, and the odd, random articles I wrote on other sites and I managed a decent amount of writing.

Media: I probably spent too much time watching television & movies, playing video games (though not as much as I would have liked), and spending time on social media. However, I did incorporate this somewhat into my writing and I find hours of entertainment and inspiration from the media I engaged with, so not a total loss. I also found so many interesting, creative people through my endless exploration of media that I hope continue to make awesome shit in the coming year.

Health: Lost a bit of weight and managed to keep some of it off. “Ran” two 5k’s which if you know me understand how that was an accomplishment. Actually got into exercise again and enjoyed the strength and flexibility my body adapted to.

Friends: Reconnected with a few old friends and kept in contact with those that I love and consider true amigos.

Self: Learned a lot about myself this year and came to a few more concrete conclusions. Some I will probably discuss in the coming year and some I’ll keep to myself until I am more sure of what I believe.

Looking back at these last twelve months, I have accomplished some things. I am still not where I want to be in life, but for the first time in a long time, I think I have a better idea of how to get there and what I should be doing. It won’t be easy and I know I will most likely have to go through some shit to get where I want to be. However, I look forward to the new year and beyond.

I have a few ideas and projects brewing and a game plan. So, bring it on Universe because I got shit I got to do!

As a final note, thank you to all the people who subscribed, read, like, commented on, spread, or engaged in any way with the writings on this blog. Thank all 150+ you (yes, even the bots) for taking the time out of your day to do so. You will probably never know how much it meant to me and I hope to make it worth your efforts even more in the next year.

See you all on the other side.

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Lessons From…Legend of Korra Finale

I have written on Legend of Korra before, but considering the amazing final season, and the last few episodes in particular, I felt it only right to speak on it again. Obviously there will be some SPOILERS as I will be referring to events in the final episode, so you have been warned.

Yup, it's back mofos!!

Yup, it’s back mofos!!

So, first off the last scene, or really few minutes of the episode, has been discussed, dissected, and analyzed by many others, some more qualified than I to speak on media, so I will not be focusing any of my efforts on it. I will say that it was impressive on Nickelodeon’s part, and I fully understand why it chose not to go further than what was shown. As well, it was a logical and organic development. That’s all I have to say on the ending scene and I will also leave this along.

Still say Kami or Asorra is a better name than Korrasami.

Still say Kami or Asorra is a better name than Korrasami.

As one of the linked articles mentioned, both Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender had massive appeal with, and beyond, the intended children audience of Nickelodeon. I was watching the finale and thinking this is what this show has been building toward. After the less than stellar (being nice) first season, Korra has been on a steady rise and this finale was the culmination of said work.

It was the first episode where I felt like I was watching the continuation of the original Avatar series. Not to say that Korra was bad; simply it was something different and at times seemingly unclear as to what kind of show it was trying to be. However, throughout the series, there was the underlying potential and glimpses of what could be. Of course, as I continued to watch and rewatch the series, I began to wonder why this show so popular, moving, and effective. Why did I, and the audience, care about this world and these characters?

This thought kept bumbling around in my head for several days until I arrived at a Eureka moment, at least for me. The show is extraordinary because of its ensemble and the fact that it is actually treated like an ensemble. Hear me out before you leave.

In both series, the main conflicts revolve around the main characters Aang and Korra in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra respectively. However, the rest of the casts are fully developed three dimensional characters with their own agendas, desires, and plans. At times, they conflict with the main characters and at other times they aid them, but it is always clear that there are different voices and “actors” being presented.

What is illuminating is that the narrative does not suffer or try too push toward one particular direction. Every person gets their own time and story and purpose beyond ‘keep the hero on track’. This is apparent in the final seasons and finales of both shows. Each character of the “Avatar Team” got what they really wanted and desired be it purpose, redemption, victory, peace, or something more tangible. Hell, even a few of the villains got their heart’s desire along with the heroes though not as clean cut or easily.

The characters were flawed and made huge mistakes at times as people do. Even better, there were no easy fixes. Each character struggled to be better than they were even the heroes. Frankly, both shows were the best written, acted, and had some of the best characters ever seen on television. I strongly believe that had to do with the writers treating each character like a character and not a trope or plot device to further a story.

So, how does this semi-long rant and expulsion of words lead to a lesson? Well put simply, in order to make something great everyone gets a turn and serves a purpose. Both in fiction and real life, everyone has a story and goal. Some will be great while others will just be a chapter in the overall story, but every person, place, and thing has some significance. It is something to keep in mind and really take to heart in the coming year.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

On Relationships in Fiction

So, the title may be a little misleading since the focus of this post is more on romantic relationships than all types of unions. Not to suggest that romantic relationships take some sort of precedence over others, but honestly that would be a natural assumption to make based on the media and fiction we produce and consume.

Seriously, so much of the media we engage with has a romantic quest/plot device/narrative as either the key focus or at the very least one of the major subplots. Personally, I don’t really have a problem with this simply because I do genuinely believe that romantic relationships are an important aspect of people’s lives. Would I prefer there to be a better represented balance of other types of relationships like platonic, friendly, etc.? Yeah, particularly because those are just as significant and for most people they will be more common in scope and number. As well, I would love to see more deviation from the standard couple representation of two pretty white heterosexual people getting it on. And to be fair, there has been some better showings in media, but that can always be improved.

However, my major gripe with romantic relationships in fiction and media is the focus on the lead up. Honestly, most relationships seen in media show everything but the actual relationship. Think about your favorite romantic comedies or dramas. The stories about couples in those tend to be about them meeting and the friction they overcome to start dating, but the actual relationship is hardly ever shown. And those few examples that do have relationships past the “dating/courting phase” (this looks weird, but appropriate?) usually are filled with over the top drama and insane problems that are barely normal for the fictional universe created in the show/film/web series/etc.

Now, obviously part of this is the need to entertain audiences with exciting and dramatic stories. Even so, why do writers/artists/creators have such a seemingly difficult time with romantic relationships past the initial phase? Do they just see couples as boring or uninteresting writing material? If so, why? Are audiences just uninterested in seeing functional couples on television?

I don’t have an answer to this and I don’t think I am alone in seeing this theme across media. Hopefully, some of you might have some thoughts that you would like to share in the comments below.

(One last thought: surprisingly, the most healthy and functional relationships of all types tend to be on half hour comedies. Really. Take a look at Scrubs. Had all types of working relationships with ups and downs without ever getting boring or too ridiculous)

Lessons From…Nick Offerman’s American Ham

I love Nick Offerman. I don’t mean that I love his character, Ron Swanson, from Parks and Recreation though Ron is an awesome badass and I am not 100% sure where Nick ends and Ron begins. I mean that I unabashedly love Nick Offerman.

Look at that beautiful, beefy, American bastard.

Look at that beautiful, beefy, American bastard.

I would go hunting, fishing, and any combination of other outdoor activities with him while consuming fine spirits in large quantities. I would learn the ways of woodworking and crafting from his experienced hands and mind. I would learn the fine art of sensual pleasure from this man and learn them well whether through simple observation or practical application and first hand experience is of no concern. Although to be fair, I would prefer one over the other but whatever Nick is comfortable with is fine by me. I mean, have you seen his wife? Obviously, the man knows what he is doing when it comes to the love making.

Normally, I dissect the piece of media in question and mine it for usable wisdom and lessons, but Offerman already did a genius job of this on his own. His comedy special, American Ham, is broken up into a format of 10 life lessons in which some are expanded on and further discussed for the sake of comedy and entertainment. However, each lesson is succinct and frankly rather applicable to everyday life that I feel it would be a grave injustice to the work to alter its form.

I highly recommend watching this special in its entirety, particularly since it is already streaming on Netflix and just a few clicks away on your viewing device of choice. You will not regret this choice as you will laugh and learn. For those of you still on the fence, here is but a morsel of the exquisite meal that awaits you:

So go forth and enjoy Nick Offerman’s musings on life and learn from the great man himself.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

On Timeliness

Earlier this week I blogged about a video and how there appeared to be a level of timing around said media. The full post can be found here but the topic was only partially discussed. Obviously, it is still bugging me to an uncertain extent.

Basically the root of my problem or question is simply what makes a piece of art, in whatever medium, a timeless classic instead of a work of its time? I am not referring to what differentiates between a “good” or “bad” piece of media. That is far too subjective that there is disagreement among the experts whose profession it is to decide such things. No, I mean what is the difference between a song like “Hey Jude” and “La Macarena”? After all, one is considered a timeless piece that many still look to test themselves and enjoy and the other was a flash in the pan that was immensely popular for a brief moment in time.

Same thing for paintings, portraits, movies, television, an so on and so forth. So why are some going to stand the test of time and others relegated to the status of one hit wonders? Is it the quality? Popularity? Personal choice? Are there current pieces of art that we think people will engage with 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now?

I don’t really have any answers for this. I was kind of hoping y’all might. So denizens of the Internet/Wordpress what makes a work of art a potential timeless classic? Please, post below; I want to read what you think.

Lessons From…Too Many Cooks

So I had been meaning to watch this video ever since seeing the first inklings of its popularity and cultural penetration amid the populace of Twitter. Virtually every comedian, writer, artist, and creator who I followed mentioned and linked Too Many Cooks within minutes of it airing. Naturally, it snowballed into mass viewing, and I knew I had to watch whatever this was. And I did, and I definitely had a reaction though perhaps not the intended one. Of course, I noticed a few things from this whole experience that I wish to dissect and discuss more thoroughly. But first, for your viewing pleasure:

Yeah, that happened. Not sure if there was some sort of meta-commentary going on or just pure, unbridled insanity, but it was an entertaining production. Considering you probably just watched the whole thing (if you didn’t, just watch it above. It’s only a few minutes long), I won’t warn of SPOILERS this time around and move on right to the actual analysis.

No point this time but don't care.

No point this time but don’t care.

First thing I noticed after watching this video was that it was good, but I could not understand the mass virality of the piece. I mean I am the exact target audience of this kind of shit. I grew up watching television shows of the 80’s/90’s and occasionally catching reruns of the 70’s classics. I love weird, parody humor. Anything that puts bad sci-fi, puppets, or psychos in its production will undoubtedly get my view, if not my money. So, I should have immediately lost my shit and become some sort of devout convert after seeing this, right? Yet, I saw it and just thought it was okay but nothing extraordinary.

That's right Underwhelmed Panda. You drink that martini.

That’s right, Underwhelmed Panda., you drink that martini.

Obviously, this is just my opinion and I could be utterly wrong and this video is actually fucking hilarious, but I think my reaction has more to do with watching it after it had its limelight moment. Basically, kind of like seeing a movie or television show after everyone has seen it and talked it up. Thus, the lesson is hype and exigency are a double edged sword. Hype only really works with speed. Because once something has been hyped past a certain point, it can never live up to the expectations. Hence, why certain pieces of media, regardless of what your stoner friends “in the know” say, cannot stand the test of time and will only be great for a specific point in time. Now, again I could be wrong and Too Many Cooks could actually be a timeless classic, but let’s be honest and appreciate that certain (i.e. most) movies, songs, shows, etc. will have an expiration date.

I did not react as others did to this video probably in large part because of my late viewing, but even so I still found the video to be entertaining and interesting. The truth is that this was still good due to the effort put into the video. It was not a simple one shot or production that usually accompanies a viral video. In fact, writing, casting, filming, production, and post production took several months, nearly a year actually. Every shot, every scene, every joke and punchline were carefully crafted after hundreds of hours of work. As much as seemingly random and unwarranted artists and projects seem to pop up and be made, there still appears to be a case for quality. This brings us to the next lesson: quality, time, and effort create longevity and quality while “virality” is a flash in the pan. If I am ever lucky enough to make a living off my creative efforts, I will always prefer a steady career filled with growth, obstacles, and projects I am proud to put my name on over any amount of popularity or finance. It sounds like a cliche, but sometimes a classic is the only way to go.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Oculus

Alright back to regular blogging after a long November session of NaNoWriMo. I won by the way. Last statement was not a humblebrag or anything because screw humility! Winning NaNo was hard and I did it! Anyhow back to the regularly scheduled blogging.

I love a good horror film. There is just something about the sensation of fear and terror in the comfort and safety of your own home. The problem is that most horror films fail to deliver. True horror is hard and few films can really bring the sense of dread that is needed.

Because of this, I did not have high hopes for OculusHonestly, I decided to watch it mostly because it starred Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff.

I mean can you blame me?

I mean can you blame me?

So I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually rather good. Now, to be fair, the film does have some flaws, like any movie, but overall the suspense is present and rises at the right moments. And the ending is rather satisfying for a horror film. Don’t worry as always I’ll try not to ruin anything to major, but beware of SPOILERS.

I missed this image.

I missed this image.

The movie takes place during two connected time periods with the central characters, a brother and sister (played by Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan respectively), being the anchor of both timelines. The audience experiences the events of both these timelines through this brother and sister duo.

In the past timeline, they are children who have just moved into a new home with their mother and father. They are the standard, generic, loving middle class white family. That is until the father acquires an antique mirror and weird stuff starts happening. Small things at first that grow into larger, more terrifying events that eventually culminate in the deaths of the mother and father.

In the present timeline, the brother and sister are adults and have returned to their childhood home with the mirror in tow. They know that this object is somehow responsible for the horrors they witnessed and they have vowed to destroy the evil that lives within the glass.

mirror

I mean look at that thing. It’s fucking terrifying.

Of course, this is a horror film, so all their plans about how to defeat this thing and finally avenge their family goes to shit. Seriously, watch the film just for the ending and you’ll understand why the best horror films have the protagonist lose their battles.

Which brings us to two lessons to take from this film: 1. Incomprehensible evil exists and it sometimes wins. Yeah, I know. It sucks but it is true. There are some acts and people and events that devastate us and make us lose just a little bit of faith in humanity. We try to explain these occurrences with science, religion, ideology, or whatever mantra we hold fast to. Sometimes they work, but many times we are just left more confused than before. The fact of the matter is that horrible things have always happened and will continue to happen. The most we can hope for is that these acts do not destroy us and that perhaps we  learn and grow from them.

2. Sometimes we should simply forget the past and move on because there is no going back. The crux of the film, and its conclusion, revolves around the promise Kaylie and Tim (the sister and brother duo) made to each other. They cannot let go of the past and what happened to them. They vowed to fight back and beat the monster in the mirror. However, by the time they get their chance to do so, both are living pretty good lives. They have grown up and have managed to grow to some extent, but they revert back to their mission once the opportunity strikes. The mirror has not really caused much, if any, harm since their family, and it is actually their obsession with it that restarts its dark power.

Had they left the mirror alone and legitimately tried to move on with their lives, both characters would have fruitful and fulfilling lives instead of how they end up by the film’s conclusion. Many times it is not our past that impedes our progress but our obsession with our past and unwillingness to let it go (DO NOT MAKE A FROZEN REFERENCE!). Usually our inability to move on is what causes our downfall. Forget what happened or who hurt you, take what you can from it, and grow stronger, smarter, and better from it.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.