On Outside Influence

So I recently wrote on my interest and appreciation of Salem and why I enjoyed the series. While I like show in general, there was something that kept bugging me as I was seeing it. It took awhile but I finally figured out what rubbed me the wrong way about the show; the witches. Or more specifically the witches’ power and control without hindrance.

Seriously, they can manipulate circumstances, harm people, and utterly control others through their magic and there is not really any defense against their powers. It is basically an embodiment of powerlessness. Everyone else in Salem is at the mercy and whims of a select few who have supernatural abilities. They are killed, suffer weird curses, and lose loved ones and property because of the machinations of the coven of witches in Salem.

I was trying to figure out why this bugged me so much and I finally realized that it is because it is a little too real and honest. No, really. As much as we want to envision our lives as strict results of our actions and choices, in reality so much of our life is determined by forces we have little to no control over. In this country, our laws are created and voted on by a fraction of the population that really is not a fair sampling of the country. Most of the economy is dictated and governed by a select few corporations and individuals.

Of course, in this case we are supposed to be rooting for the witches since they have been hunted and oppressed, but to me, there really are not any “good” guys on this particular show. Which can work in a lot of cases and, to be fair, Salem is still entertaining even without obvious heroes. Still, am I wrong for being a little irritated by the reminder that powerful people and forces govern aspects of my life without any real recourse against them? Or am I just reading way too much into a simple television show? (I have been accused of such a thing before)

Lessons From…Salem

While catching up on backlogs of work, I “binge watched” (kind of fucking hate that term) the first season of Salem on Netflix. I have had it on my queue for a while now, but never seemed to get to it for some reason or another. I decided to finally watch it after hearing interviews of the shows stars on the Nerdist podcast, and it sounded like a program worth watching.

I was pleasantly surprised by this program and am eagerly awaiting for more episodes. C’mon, Netflix! Get your shit together. After finishing the first season, I came to a few realizations and of course had to explore them further. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Will never not be amusing.

Will never not be amusing.

So, if you are not familiar with American history, the television program is a highly dramatized telling of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in the 17th century with much a lot of attractive people being suggestively naked and having simulated sex because it is on extended, not premium, cable. Yeah, that kind of sounds like a crap show, but it is actually pretty good. The major narrative revolves around a few central characters and their relationships and goals, specifically Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery), John Alden (Shane West), Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel), and a few others. Basically, at least in the first season, Mary is trying to bring about a great plague to the Puritans as retribution for the crimes they have committed against witches, Natives, and others. Most everyone else who is not a witch is trying to stop her. A few more events occur but I’ll let you watch the show to catch the full nuances.

The entire first season has a running theme of choice and consequence. Every character at some point is faced with a major decision and moment that has extreme consequences for either themselves, others, or both. Mary’s choices will negatively impact everyone in Salem, John’s choices will either condemn or save various people. Cotton’s choices, particularly those concerning his father, will have immediate dire consequences. Yet, the show never really makes judgments on the choices made by the characters. In fact, many times the audience is made to sympathize and understand why they perform the actions they do which is really the first lesson present; We make choices in life and must live with the results regardless of our foreknowledge of said consequences. This is most apparent in Mary’s story arc as she loses control of her circumstances and must live with the fallout of her actions; like a plague and power hungry, tyrannical rival.

Although sometimes there can be sexy consequences.

Although sometimes there can be sexy consequences.

Interestingly, while the show does force characters to own their choices, it also makes a point to note how the characters are also the products of others’ machinations. John Alden commits treason and murder during his service in war, but he was only there because of George Sibley’s distaste of him and forced military enlistment. Mary Sibley is literally a creation of the coven in order to bring about a terrible plague. Essentially, many times we are the result of other’s interests and actions no matter how much we may not desire it or fight against them. This is best seen in the character of Anne Hale. Her entire life she tried to live righteously and help those in need purely out of the goodness of her heart only to find that she is actually a witch because of the actions and machinations of her father; a powerful elder witch in the Salem coven. The first season ends with her turning and killing her father so she should be an interesting character in season two.

What does it say about me that even demon eyed and bloody, still think she is hot?

What does it say about me that even demon eyed and bloody, still think she is hot?

Ultimately, the first season of Salem boils down to individuals and groups vying for power and control. Witches versus Puritans, John versus Salem/Mary, Mary versus men in Salem/her coven, Anne versus nearly everyone, Cotton versus his father, etc,; whichever conflict or relationship you examine in Salem, it simply is about control and power. Yet, the great truth, and laughable lie, that the show demonstrates is how much bullshit the concepts of power and control really are. Every character, or characters, who believe they are in charge are almost immediately knocked off their pedestal by other characters. And even when they are on top of the hierarchical food chain, they have to make various back handed deals and plays to keep even the facade of power and control which is the final lesson; Power and control are the illusions and stories those in charge use to keep up the appearance of power and control because in truth they have only what others allow them.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

On Inspiration and Goals

So I have been in a bit of a spiral lately, and a lot of my creative output has suffered because of it. I have posted less on here than I would like or normally do. I haven’t touched the novel I have been working on for two months. The short stories have stalled. Even my interest in and consumption of reading has slowed down considerably from this time last year.

I don’t know the exact reason or reasons why I am in this funk. I can hazard a few guesses, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What does is actually changing something, getting over it, and moving forward. Unfortunately, it is hardly ever that simple. However, this week I was listening to a few podcasts and videos on the way to work and was struck by a few notable things.

While listening to this week’s episode of Indoor Kids, I had the pleasure of hearing Kumail Nanjiani speak about his appearance on the upcoming reboot season of the X-Files television series. As well, I listened to Chris Hardwick discuss his past experience of moderating the Star Wars panel at SDCC. To top off the trifecta, I watched Felicia Day read an excerpt from her book that basically describes her rise from being on the sidewalk outside of SDCC to sharing an entire stadium of fans and followers.

What do the previous three stories have to do with each other? Well, they are all tales of setbacks, insecurities, lack of clarity and/or direction leading to eventual, massive success. Now, I don’t know how any of them did it and I have no clue how I can begin to replicate a fraction of what they have accomplished. Oddly though, it is slightly encouraging to see others actually manage to achieve something similar to what I want.

I know I will have to make some tough decisions very soon and that there will be an immense amount of challenges before hand, but if others were able to do it with not much more than I have (and in one mentioned case even less) maybe my dumb dreams are not so far fetched. Maybe that blind optimism will be enough to make the next step.

On Confusion and Distress…Sort Of

I have a few friends who are relatively successful in their chosen fields. Others are at least attempting to progress or make moves to try to do what they want with their lives. I see many more random strangers attempt to do the same through the lens of social media into their lives. I witness this and wonder how the fuck they manage to make any progress in their lives.

No, seriously, I have no clue how they do it. I genuinely want to peek into their brains and figure out where this motivation and drive and purpose comes from. If I could also figure out a way to somehow bottle whatever I find into a dispensable form for later use, it would not be objectionable.

What motivates people? And before the standard answers of self, money, sex, dreams, and other bullshit come through, it is not that simple. After all, if the promise of a better result or conclusion was all it took, there would be a metric shit ton of more people accomplishing a lot more in their lives. So how do people get off their ass and make shit happen?

Personally, I am baffled by the sheer scope of experience, work, time, etc. that stands between myself and where/who I want to be. Hell, the gap between me now and even just the next step seems daunting.

I am beginning to wonder if perhaps I am meant to be one of those individuals who simply had big dreams but accomplished none of them. Frankly, it happens. There are thousands upon thousands of people who had a similar fate. It seems arrogant to think yourself above this level. Is that what is missing? Is a sense of arrogance that I am deserving of what I desire needed to finally succeed? No, seriously I am asking because I am kind of spiraling right now and unsure of what to do.

The most basic advice I keep seeing and hearing is to just keep working at it, but there has to be more to it than just hard work, right? When is it enough and time to call it in?

I need to do something and soon; I just have no clue what. Any ideas? I kind of need some help.

Lessons From…Satoru Iwata

If you have not heard, Satoru Iwata, the current President and CEO of Nintendo Corp., died on July 11, 2015 in Kyoto, Japan due to medical complications from a tumor in his bile duct. The next day, word spread of the tragic loss and gamers and game enthusiasts the world over mourned the loss to the industry and the spirit of Iwata and what he represented, not only for Nintendo, but for the entire games industry.

For all the criticisms and complaints lauded at Nintendo over the last few years, it is still an influential force in video games and without the company, it is very likely that the industry would not be the powerhouse of entertainment that it is. While he may not have been there since its inception, Iwata was the man in charge for the last 15 years and responsible for Nintendo’s direction, both good and bad.

He understood this and never faltered under the pressure or attention his actions and decisions would receive. He was an anomaly as far as the concept of CEO’s goes, at least in the U.S. When his company’s projections were low, he took a massive pay cut instead of letting hundreds of employees go. He kept developing and programming even after he became the CEO of Nintendo. And he was always engaging with the fans and audience because he still, after rising so high and so many years, saw himself as simply a gamer.

There is much to learn from this man’s incredible life and mind and it is probably best left up to him to impart his knowledge. So, in this case, I’ll leave you with a collection of this man’s wisdom. And a short tribute:

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Women’s World Cup Final 2015

Did you watch the incredible FIFA Women’s World Cup final match between USA and Japan? If not, what the hell were you doing with your Sunday afternoon? Seriously? Just check out the highlights:

It really was just a great game even if it was a bit one sided. Even so, the game had a few interesting tidbits of knowledge to pass on. The SPOILERS warning seems redundant if you saw the clip above, but I would recommend watching the game in its entirety whenever you have the chance.

C'mon, I couldn't resist using this.

C’mon, I couldn’t resist using this.

Lesson one: sometimes Revenge is more satisfying and worthwhile than Redemption. While this lesson might be petty and small minded, it doesn’t make it any less true. Four years ago, the U.S. Women’s National team lost to the Japanese Women’s National team in penalty shots to lose the World Cup title. It was a devastating loss that every single player on the U.S. team remembered. Coming in to final match in Montreal was their chance to right a wrong that stung for years and right it they did. From the onset, the players were out for blood and demonstrated their resolve with every single possession.

Their performance wasn’t about redemption; it was a clear message to every single country and player of the unquestionable dominance of the U.S. team. They wanted an absolute victory and to make Japan hurt a little. They did that and then some while also managing to break and set several records in the process. So, yeah sportsmanship and plans and good games, but every once in awhile it really pays to just go all out and try to destroy your opponent.

These are the faces of shock, awe, and devastation.

These are the faces of shock, awe, and devastation.

If you have kept up with the Women’s National team this World Cup, undoubtedly you have heard of Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and Sydney Leroux. They are among the stars of the team and, in many ways, the entire women’s league. However, looking at the final match, you’ll notice their names do not appear on the scoreboard or rarely at all during the entire series. Make no mistake; they really are, unquestionably, among the best players currently playing the sport. Everyone else on the pitch knows this so whenever they got the ball, they were swarmed to ensure they could not make the most of the opportunity. This focus on these few players allowed for the rest of the team, amazing athletes in their own right, to score. Great players, like any great individuals, focus on the good of the group and the eventual outcome and not their own glory. It’s like the old sports adage “Stars win games. Teams win championships.”

While most fans, and opponents, were looking to Alex Morgan to lead this team, another player decided to turn in a record shattering performance. Carli Lloyd managed a hat trick (scoring 3 goals) in roughly 14 minutes of playtime. If that sounds like gibberish to you, basically she decided to go into beast mode, break a FIFA record, and obliterate the Japanese defense. She single-handedly delivered a victory for the U.S. against Japan’s two goals; granted Lauren Holliday and Tobin Heath helped ensure a win, but even without them, U.S. would have won solely on the feet of Lloyd. Which brings us to the last lesson: when someone steps up and performs. you put aside ego and desire and back their play. In sports talk, this is known as playing to the hot hand. In more layman’s terms, if someone is having their “one good day” then you step aside, support them, and let them make the score, the play, or the win. Doing anything else is essentially selfish foolery.

This is what beast mode looks like.

This is what beast mode looks like.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

Lessons From…The Drop

Finally saw a film I had been wanting to watch for some time this weekend; The Drop. Any movie with Tom Hardy or Noomi Rapace is going to peak my interest. Both of them together and I am pretty much guaranteed to watch it. I mean just watch this trailer.

Seriously, how could you not want to see that? Of course, I found a few points worthy of discussion during my viewing. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Okay there might be one spoiler ahead...

Okay there might be one spoiler ahead…

Alright, so just to get this out of the way, the dog/puppy lives. I know. I was worried about the dog’s fate initially since most media has taught me to fear happiness particularly when cute animals are concerned. Now, with that out of the way on to the major points of the film.

That's right boy, you live!

That’s right boy, you live!

The movie revolves around a bar that serves as a drop off for an organized crime family. Everything runs smoothly until the bar is robbed, and the two proprietors are told to find the stolen money. This is the major conflict of the film as both individuals are holding secrets from one another about their pasts and their ties to the robbery that has them on the line to a violent crime boss. The tension between the two primary characters, Bob and Cousin Marv, played by Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini respectively, is the driving force of the film as they want two distinct and opposing things.

Cousin Marv used to be a big player in his hometown of Boston, or so he thinks, until the Chechens take over. He then is relegated to nothing more than a middle man. Marv is very unhappy with these circumstances and is desperately trying to find some method of regaining prestige and favor whatever the consequences. Bob, on the other hand, merely wants to run a bar and keep his hands clean from the nastier, dirtier side of the business. He wants to live a simple, quiet life away from the necessity of violence of his past.

Two roads and souls diverged...

Two roads and souls diverged…

Unfortunately, Marv decides to rob his own bar, and the Chechens, to set himself up for the future. Bob suspects this and confronts Marv about his suspicions. Undeterred, Marv continues with his plan and everything is set. Marv is assassinated and Bob becomes indebted to the Chechens. Yet, both their conclusions seemed essentially fated due to their demeanor and personalities. One wanted to be known, feared, respected and the other wanted to be left alone. Sadly, neither individual was suited for their desires. Marv was never going to be a big shot and Bob was not meant to be a quiet bartender which is the ultimate moral and lesson of the film. As hard as they may try and fight no one can ever escape who they really are. Marv was a pathetic wannabe trying to rise far above his station and Bob could not suppress the intellect, strength, and beast that was buried within him.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.