Give Them Something to Vote For

Here it is, my once-a-year unabashedly political blog post. It should have something for everyone, but not enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone. I’m nothing if not an equal opportunity disappointer. I’m going to be generalizing a bit in this post, so I beg your forgiveness. Generalizing is a good way to talk about ideas abstractly, but a terrible way to talk about people. So, I’ll try to stick mostly to ideas, but I’m sure I’ll end up offending someone if not everyone.

 

Hang on. Let me gear up first.

 

Midterms are upon us! Are you ready to vote? Are you ready to get ten others to vote? No? Well, what the hell is wrong with you? Why do you hate freedom?

These are the messages that are currently flooding the intertubes by well-meaning “get out the vote (and vote Democrat)” types. That’s right. Apparently the only way to defeat Trumpism is to VOTE (Democrat). The assumption here, like it was during the presidential election, is that the vast majority of uncast ballots are clearly anti-Trump.

I don’t know why this myth persists. The “Not-Trump” strategy failed the first time, why would it succeed now? Democrats and their staunch supporters see themselves as the answer to authoritarianism, but they still refuse to see that Trump rose to power because many (if not most) of Americans do not care about democracy, the republic or the institutions that safeguard liberty. I don’t know that they ever did. Here’s a generalization for you, but have you ever seen a Trump supporter circulating a picture with the tag line “Look what they’ve sacrificed so YOU can be free” depicting a suffragette or an ACLU lawyer or Martin Luther King? No, right? It’s always a veteran. The message is still just as laudable, but the emphases is quite a bit different, yes? If the only sacrifice being respected here is the military kind, then it seems questionable whether liberty is at all valued.

 

Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed when Ohio National Guard troops fired at some 600 anti-war demonstrators. A cropped version of this image won the Pulitzer Prize.

This person also sacrificed so you can be free.

 

Look, I’ll be voting Republicans out wherever I can this year, because I’m horrified at how they can support a president calling the media (and Democrats) “Enemies of the People.” I mean, I can also name a half-dozen policies and public platforms of theirs I disagree with, but forget that. We’re way past that. You can’t name your political critics and opponents Public Enemies. Not here. Not in this country. That’s some third world junta shit right there. We’ve already seen violence and death as a result and it’s only likely to get worse. But most people who voted for Trump don’t seem to share my concerns. Those things just aren’t a big deal to them. What they do care about is vision. A plan. A way forward.

The people who voted for Trump (and the people who didn’t vote at all) may be mistaken in believing Trump’s plan for America is anything but reactionary and based on a mistaken belief in a mythological time of perfection in America that never existed (e.g. “Make America Great Again”) but it is undeniably a VISION.

And what have the Democrats offered in response? “Well, clearly the facts point to Trump’s ideas as wrong and so therefore people will vote for anything but that. Surely, if we present our data correctly, everyone will see how Trump and the Republican leadership are fools and morons.”

 

Pictured: Democratic leadership is hopeful about the test scores of this year’s body politic.

 

It didn’t work before. It still won’t work. Many if not most Americans believe the system needs to keep breaking and burning until the country returns to some fictional past of perfection. They don’t care about Trump being a wanna-be Mussolini or about how tearing everything down will only make things worse for everyone, because they have VISION.

Where is the Democratic Party’s VISION? Who is the one standing up and saying “Make America Greater” or “Make America a World Leader Again” or some such thing? All I’m hearing is “Make America Trump-less.”

And the media isn’t helping either. Instead of reporting on the continuing impact of Trump’s policies, we hear about how he praised Robert E. Lee as “a great general” and this is somehow indicative of our president putting his foot in his mouth again. This isn’t news! The guy has no tact! Can we move on from this please and talk about how tariffs are promoting certain industries at the expense of others and what that means for America’s economic future? Can we do some stories on immigrant families getting torn apart? How about buisnesses that are suffering because the immigrants who were doing the jobs white people don’t want to do are shrinking because of lack of labor? Can we for the first time in perhaps ever have an honest discussion about why we need immigration laws and quotas at all? If people want to come here and work and pay taxes, then why not let them?!?!?! I work with plenty of immigrants. Some are great, some are not-so-great and most are just fine. Just like everybody else. And none of them can understand where this supposed free hand-out is located, because they sure as hell haven’t found it.

And for what it’s worth, Lee was a great general. He was one of the best generals of his time. Acknowledging this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a white supremacist. If I said Lee was a great man, then I’m saying something highly questionable since he was guilty of supporting the institution of slavery and taking up arms against his government. So, I’d likely only call him a great man if he had sided with the Union. But even still, I might not, because I don’t know maybe he liked to kick cats or something. And in my book, intentional and repeated cat-kicking is a big disqualifier. I mean sure, we’ve all aggressively repositioned a feline using naught but the bridge of our foot, but you don’t go making a habit out of it. Now, I’m not saying Lee did like to kick cats, but I wasn’t there. I don’t know for a fact that he didn’t. So, in the absence of information, I can’t feel comfortable calling him a “great man” even if he had sided with the Union. But though he didn’t, I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting he knew his way around a battlefield.

 

 

Perhaps I’m being a little cavalier about that topic, but I firmly believe the emphasis needs to start shifting away from reacting to Trump’s verbal flatulence and toward the forming of a new progressive agenda. We need a new vision for the United States. Obama tried to give us one, but he failed. I was really rooting for him, but he just couldn’t get enough lawmakers on board and so not enough policy got passed to achieve his vision. But you know what he did do? Even when he was in the middle of underwhelming everyone, he still got a lot of people to vote for him, because he could sell his vision to the voters.

That’s what we need. Because Anti-Trump will not work. Mark my words. It WILL NOT WORK. If your main argument for it is that most people must see how destructive and terrible Trump is, my answer to you is that yes, they see… but it happens to be exactly what they wanted. I don’t think most of them want racism or hardship, but if they don’t see it in front of them then it doesn’t matter to them. Or it’s considered an acceptable loss. They have a vision for America. And the only way to get them to vote away from the GOP and Trump is to give them a better vision. Preferably, one with less Nazis.

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Five Year Progress Report

Yes! Today marks my (unofficial) Official Five Year Writing Anniversary. It’s also my birthday. There’s no coincidence there.

 

Like this, but not so much with the stabby-stabby.

 

But why is it the unofficial Official anniversary, you may ask?

The actual official start of my I’m-Going-To-Seriously-Like-For-Realsies-Be-A-Writer journey actually started in 2013, in the late morning of March… errrmmm… uhhhh… Well. Isn’t that funny? I honestly cannot remember the date on which I got fired from my last real “career.” I had it as a Monday and also the 13th, but according to Google the 13th of March in 2013 was a Wednesday. And only partly cloudy. I definitely remember it was snowing, but none of the Mondays in March show any record of precipitation, except the first one, but then only in the evening.

Oh well. Lost to history. It was some day in the first half of March. Many moons before my birthday. It was on that day I decided to stop wasting any more time and get busy writing. Screw having a career. Screw having any sort of plan. Just put it all behind me and go write a book.

And I did. By the time my birthday rolled around that October, I had about half of Spy for a Dead Empire written, but I wasn’t being at all disciplined about forcing myself to write consistently. I knew I’d finish the book, but I perhaps had fooled myself into thinking I’d do it “someday.” And someday, when it was finished, it would be awesome and perfect and entirely made of gold, somehow. Yeah… someday.

 

Pictured: Someday.

 

On my 40th birthday my brother told me I should do something special. After all, it’s the last of the meaningful birthdays before 50 and who knows if you’ll even get another one after that. He didn’t really say that last part, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Or terrible? Terrible is what it actually sounds like, right? Well, too bad. It’s my blog and I’m keeping it.

Anyway, I thought about his suggestion and I agreed. I told him I would finish the book. I think he had something like travelling to some exotic locale in mind, but with no job and dwindling resources, I opted for actually trying to take myself seriously instead of giving myself a break, which I’m given to understand is what most people do at 40.

I’m not propping myself up here. I’m just saying my entire life up to that point involved me taking my foot off the pedal when I should have been pressing it down harder.

So, October 25th, 2013 is what I call the “Official” start of my writing career, because it was when I set my first deadline. I was determined that I would finish writing and revising it before my next birthday. I did that. And then I went and did it again with Spy for a Troubled King. I wrote and self-published not just one, but two books by the time I turned 41.

Then I ran out of money. But I didn’t let that stop me! Over the winter of 2014-2015 I took out some small loans to keep myself warm and fed while I wrote and by the spring finished and published Spy for a Wayward Daughter.

And then I was REALLY out of money. So, I got my first pizza delivery gig and began to balance working and writing. It was also around about that time (I think) that I determined that I was going to see the Grant Scotland series grow to at least six books in five years (five years from October 25, 2013). Writing became a little harder with a full-time job, but I still made steady progress on Spy for a Greedy Villain and released it in the fall of 2016.

And then…

Well…

See…

What had happened was…

Writing a series is tough. Forget that. WRITING is tough. But writing a series has its own peculiar challenges. The biggest of these (for me anyway) is burn out. For the past five years, I have been writing Grant Scotland. I’ve put about half a million words into him (including outlines, notes, scrapped scenes and chapters) and I’m honestly spent. I need a break. I should have taken a break when I finished the first draft of book five last winter.

But I didn’t, because I am dumb. But also because although I am a middle-aged man, I am a painfully young author. And so I make painful young author mistakes.

I feared that if I took a break from Grant Scotland, I would never return to finish the series. But when I look around at the writers I respect and admire, I see they are not writing one series at a time, but rather they write one book at a time. They finish one project and then they go and start another. And sometimes they write more than one thing at a time!

I’ve written some short stories while writing Grant Scotland, but I’ve never tried to write an entirely different book. But after almost completely rewriting book five, I now realize that’s what I have to do. I just finished the final rewrites and I’m glad I shaped book five into something I’m happy with, but I need to put it in a drawer and not look at or think about Grant Scotland for a little while. It still needs a few revisions before I publish it, but I can’t even contemplate those without feeling a palpable sense of ennui descend, so out of sight and mind it goes.

For the nonce.

But let’s take a look at what I’ve done over the past five years. I wrote and published four out of the six Grant Scotland novels I intended and wrote and submitted for publication three short stories. Not bad. Not great for five years of work, but not bad. And if you count the current draft of book five and all the chapters of the original book five I ripped out and will probably use for book six, the actual content is closer to five and a half out of six. I’ll take it.

And now to come up with a new five-year plan. I should never have set a goal to write six books in the same series in five years. That was stupid. But, as I said, I was young. Series burn-out is a thing and it’s no joke. So, for my next five-year goal I’ll set the goal posts wider instead of taller, if that makes any sense.

 

There’s nothing so sweet as adding an applicable meme.

 

Resolution time. Are you ready? I’m not. But what the hell. Here goes:

 

By April 25th, 2019: one non-Grant Scotland book written

By October 25th, 2019: Book five of Grant Scotland revised and published

By October 25th, 2020: one non-Grant Scotland book written

By October 25th, 2021: one of EITHER Grant Scotland or non-Grant Scotland written

By October 25th, 2022: one of EITHER Grant Scotland or non-Grant Scotland written

By October 25th, 2023: one of EITHER Grant Scotland or non-Grant Scotland written

 

Another six-books-in-five-years goal, but this time with more wiggle room and more definite milestones. The non-Grant Scotland books currently exist only as rough ideas and very, very sketchy outlines. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be kicking some of these ideas around and picking one to develop into a full-length novel. If I think it’s good enough when it’s finished, I’ll try to find an agent and get it published. Self-publishing has been a fun and educational experience, but it became clear a couple years ago that blending self and traditional publishing is probably the smartest way to go. So, finding an agent is also on the to-do list, but it’s silly to put that down as a deliverable item. I can’t control it. Same with actually getting a publisher to publish a book of mine. The decision simply isn’t mine to make. I’ll be putting in the effort with letters of inquiry, but the result is in the hands of other people.

Grant Scotland will stay self-published and I’ll absolutely make sure book five is out next year (like for real for real this time) but the break to write something new comes first.

And I’ll also be writing short stories, but adding them to the five year plan seems arbitrary. Short stories get written and revised pretty quickly and are fairly easy to do alongside novel writing, so they seem to get done as a matter of course. I’m still trying to get one published, but I’ve been getting some encouraging feedback, so hopefully not much longer until my wordstuffs grace the pages of a magazine soon!

Well, that’s all for now. I’m actually excited to start a fresh project, which is something I haven’t honestly been able to say for a while now.

Here’s to another birthday and another anniversary and a brand new set of deadlines!

Start the clock!

To the Wasteland and Back: The Adventures of Gardner Barnes

I love fan theories. I could waste an entire evening just hearing about how all Schwarzenegger movies take place in the terminator universe or reading about how the Harry Potter books are about a delusional child being sent to an institution for the mentally ill. Fascinating and sometimes disturbing, fan theories are great examples of how art is a shared experience. An author sits down and writes a book and intends for it to be one thing, but the reader will almost always see it as slightly different. And when two or more people discuss the book? Very often it transforms into something more different still.

But fan theories take this shared experience to another level. A good fan theory can sometimes seem like an entirely new art form. Lately, I stumbled on a fan theory of my own. It was while I was reading David Brin’s post-apocalyptic book The Postman. I remembered Kevin Costner had made a film based on the book. I hadn’t seen it, but I started to think about his other films. And just like that three unrelated movies from his career suddenly fit into a trilogy.

This is how a writer’s mind works, by the way. You’re reading something or watching something or eating something and the next thing you know you’ve created an entire imaginary world in your head and it’s dark outside and everyone has gone to sleep and you don’t recall the last three pages you read even though you’ve read them fourteen times and there are crumbs everywhere. Just everywhere. The only decision you have to make is – do I write or do I vacuum? There is no correct answer. That’s life. That’s a writer’s life right there.

Ahem.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. I was going to tell you about my Grand Unifying Theory of Kevin Costner… or something like that.

Now, this theory doesn’t exactly fit the movies like a glove and I absolutely do not think any trilogy was ever intended by the creators of the movies, but the character arc of the protagonist of all three films seems to fit together so seamlessly that I think it’s fun to imagine they’re all the same guy. The movies, in order, are Fandango (a 1985 film taking place in 1971), Revenge (1990 film taking place in … well, they don’t say, so we’ll assume 1990) and The Postman (a 1997 film taking place in 2013.) Gardner Barnes is played by Kevin Costner in Fandango and although his name changes in Revenge and The Postman (I told you it didn’t fit like a glove) his heroic journey seems to extend over the course of the three films. In both Fandango and Revenge, although he experiences personal growth he is frustrated and distracted from completing his quest. But in The Postman, he finally gets what his character has been looking for over the course of all three movies.

 

You should see this movie and if you don’t love it, you should watch it again until you do.

 

Fandango is my favorite film of all time. I could write an entire blog post about it alone (and I might rabbit, I might) but for our purposes here I’ll just give you the brief run down. The movie is about four (technically five) friends celebrating their college graduation and taking their last road trip before splitting up to pursue grown-up stuff like military service, marriage, the priesthood and business. Every character is ready to get all grown up, except one: our Mr. Gardner Barnes, played by Kevin Costner. Gardner is the charismatic leader of these “Groovers” but he isn’t ready to admit his days of irresponsible youth are behind him. Instead, he fully intends to dodge the draft, run from his ex-girlfriend and flee the country.

But our Gardner is a more complicated soul than he would let us believe. By the end of the movie we come to understand that he isn’t running from his ex-girlfriend Debbie because she’s pursuing him, he’s running because he knows he’s fallen in love with her and is terrified by it. But more than that, his friend Wagner is engaged to be married to her. His irresponsible run for the border is dragging Wagner with him and ruining the man’s chances for marrying her. Finally, Gardner puts away his selfish hope that he can lead his Groovers into a life of extended youth and helps reunite Wagner and Debbie. The last scene where they are all together shows Gardner sharing a last dance, a fandango, with Debbie at their wedding. You can skip to about the 3:00 minute mark, but note the bandana. It’s significant.

 

 

So, Gardner loses his love, but perhaps gains a measure of maturity. We don’t see him again until the closing credits, toasting his friends from afar before presumably taking off for Mexico.

Which brings us to our next movie, Revenge. Revenge is the toughest part of this fan theory. It doesn’t quite fit, so it requires a bit of squinting and looking sideways. Barnes, we presume after leaving his friends at the end of Fandango, goes to Mexico. The backstory of the character Costner plays in this movie (Michael J Cochran) is only barely sketched in and we are invited to interpret it. So, some of this is directly referenced in the film and some of it is filled in by me.

In Mexico, Barnes/Cochran meets a man named Tiburon Mendez, an adventuresome and mysterious man of nefarious ambitions. The two stir up some trouble together and they form a friendship after Cochran (I’m just going to refer to him as Gardner Barnes from now on to avoid confusion) saves his life during a hunting trip. Mendez tries to get Barnes to stay and be his partner-in-crime, but Gardner realizes after his flight to Mexico and the experience of saving another man’s life, he has finally put away the irresponsible child and is ready to grow up. Even as he enjoys the company of his new friend, he remembers the friends he left behind and regrets it. He goes back to the U.S. and volunteers for the air force under an assumed identity – Michael J. Cochran. Who knows, perhaps the name of Gardner Barnes had become odious and legally cumbersome or maybe Barnes just needed a clean break from his past?

Squint. Tilt head sideways.

Anyway, he finishes flight school just in time to fly missions in the waning days of the Vietnam War. He never finds his friends again, but he realizes that what he truly wanted was to find a home anyway. The Groovers had been that for him and so he had returned to find them, but while at the Air Force, the military became his new home. He served for many years after the war, achieving many distinctions as a great pilot and natural leader. But the dream of Mexico and the companionship of the one remaining friend of his youth, Tiburon, never left him. When the movie begins, he retires from the service after sixteen years and returns to Mexico and visits with his friend, only to find that instead of reuniting with an old companion, he must fight the oldest of his demons – falling in love.

He meets and quickly falls for Tiburon’s wife, Miryea. They have a brief, passionate affair. The Gardner Barnes character would have loved her and left her, but the Cochran man he had become decides to stay, even though it is exactly the “wife of my best friend” scenario he had dreaded before. But he’s determined to not spurn love this time around, so he stays when he knows he should leave. But instead of taking responsibility and confronting his friend and trying to figure out some kind of realistic future with Miryea, he tries to keep the affair secret. Of course, they are inevitably discovered and Tiburon’s reaction to the betrayal of wife and friend is brutal and deeply disturbing. Gardner is beaten to a bloody pulp and left for dead in the desert and poor Miryea is slashed across the face and sent to serve in a common whorehouse. Barnes gets found and nursed back to health by a man who finds him – a man who apparaently is not unused to finding the bodies of victims of Mendez’s wrath near his place. Miryea, meanwhile, kind of gets the fuzzy end of the lollypop as she is used and abused and ultimately gets “sick” (read AIDS) by sharing a needle (she gets addicted to drugs as the only way to deal with her new life of constant rape and brutalization) with a heroin user.

Yeah, we can stop for a minute here and reflect how common this sort of thing was in cinema even just thirty years ago. If a guy cheated on his wife, he suffered some consequences, but otherwise survived and even came out a better character by the end of a film. If a woman cheated? She gets a fate worse than death. I sometimes look back on the films I grew up with and wonder if my relationships with women over time would have been easier or at least healthier if I had seen them portrayed by Hollywood as human beings instead of object lessons. Probably? Let’s go with probably.

 

Not that I am one to turn my nose up at a good rabbit stew, mind you!

 

But getting back to our story, Barnes heals up and then, with the help of Miguel Ferrar (who wears his sunglasses at night) and John Leguizamo (who does not) goes to rescue Miryea. Along the way, he kills some of Tiburon’s henchmen and eventually confronts the man himself. What happens to Tiburon we never find out, but out of respect for the friendship he and Tiburon once had Gardner asks forgiveness for sleeping with his wife and then leaves and finds Miryea just in time to tell her that he loves her before she dies. Throughout her ordeal she never let go of one of Gardner’s dog tags, a touching memento reminiscent of the meaningfulness of the bandana for Debbie.

Yeah, it was kind of a downer movie. I guess I wanted Revenge to fit into this fan theory because of the compelling parallels between Cochran and Barnes when it comes to relationships – specifically, intimate ones. Barnes fled to Mexico in part because he didn’t want to admit he had fallen in love with Debbie. Such a thing would have required that he grow up and try to figure out how adult relationships work. He found the thought terrifying, so he fled. On the flip side, Cochran also flees from relationships (he reveals at one point he had been married and divorced once before, but he admits he was “more in love with jets”) and finally decides to stick around for this one. And what happens? Some pretty bad stuff.

So, the character arc of our hero seems aborted in both movies doesn’t it? In each one, he is forced to sacrifice what he truly desires because he is not quite ready to assume responsibility for it. But the hero in Revenge is much closer to doing it than the hero of Fandango. And now we come to The Postman, a movie (and book) that is dominated by the central question of “Who will take responsibility?”

The Postman’s protagonist has no actual name (it’s Gordon Krantz in the book, which almost seems like a mishmash of Gardner Barnes and Michael J Cochran if you shout both quickly over the sounds of heavy construction) and is delivered to us in the movie with no backstory at all. He has one in the book, but we’ll confine our discussion to the movie. So, we get to fill the blanks ourselves. Fun!

Gardner/Cochran/Postman leaves behind the wreckage of his life and his love affair in Mexico. He wanders the land, crossing from that country back into the United States, just in time for World War III to break out. His training in the Air Force and his experiences in Mexico allow him to survive the devastation as he goes from place to place, scavenging and avoiding gangs of gun-toting survivalists. His knack for making “stone soup” like he did for his friend’s wedding many years ago gets him into the walled-off settlements that arise as civilians and ex-military people slowly rebuild their shattered towns. His natural charisma and his college education also come in handy as he provides people with something they cannot scavenge or grow – entertainment.

 

… sort of.

 

He is a nobody – a drifter. The life he had fantasized about when he was younger is finally his, but it’s a brutal and nightmarish imitation of what he had dreamt it could be. He is conscripted by Holnists (read White Supremacists) and made to serve briefly in their army of post-apocalyptical survivalists, but escapes as soon as he can. He finds an old postal carrier’s jeep and exchanges uniforms with the long-dead postman. Thus, dressed as a U.S. postal carrier, he cons his way into the next town – looking for food and a warm place to rest for a while.

The town is so excited to see a representative of a government they thought long gone that they throw a party for him. When he meets Abby, a woman who brazenly propostions him for sex so she can use him as a sperm donor (a “body father”) so she and her beloved but sterile husband can have a baby, he is so spooked by the invitation to intimacy that he tries to flee. Of course, now that the town expects him to deliver mail for them, he can’t leave right away. Abby tries a more direct approach later in the night and of course gets her way because the poor man is not made of stone after all.

And I’ll do a quick aside here to note how the character of Abby is handled in this movie. Whereas Miryea was given a fate worse than death, Abby fares quite a bit better. Not only does she survive the movie, she thrives. True, she loses her husband (but not due to jealousy – the guy is a saint – but rather because he develops a fatal case of sword-through-the-stomach) but almost all of her on-screen time is taken up with displays of strength, practicality and independence. We see she is a woman who can take care of herself, whether it be by finding food and shelter or killing bad guys, but who also would really rather someone else do it. Coincidentally, this makes her exactly like Gardner. Double coincidentally, it’s exactly like everyone everywhere. I believe the scenes in the winter cabin are the best in the movie and serve to elevate what is otherwise a disappointing film.

Really, it’s just not a very good movie. Just how many scenes of Kevin Costner begrudgingly accepting envelopes from people do I need to see, exactly? According to the movie the answer is all of them.

But for my money, Abby comes across as a much more effective and inspiring feminist icon than any Wonder Woman type, because her character is treated with an equal amount of respect as the protagonist and is revealed on-screen as having as much dignity, strength and depth while being portrayed as an equal member of society and not some kind of super hero. I can’t imagine that’s an easy thing to do when you have a movie that is not an ensemble and I have to applaud Costner and Williams for making it happen. I just wish the rest of the movie had been nearly as interesting and full of their incredibly watchable push-pull dynamic.

But by the end of the film Abby is reduced to being more-or-less just Gardner’s love interest. Although I wanted more from her, it’s the love interest of the main character and the choices he is forced to make regarding her where the connection between all three of these movies comes through. Early in The Postman, when Abby departs in the morning after her conceiving a child with Gardner, she leaves a red ribbon from her hair. Gardner takes it with him and almost fetishizes it. Symbolically, this is interesting, because the bandana and the dog tag occupy the same roles in the other two movies. It’s like no matter where Gardner goes he can’t help finding a memento to lead him back towards love and family. The ties that he once shunned as a kid and dangerously played with as an adult now serve to draw him toward his own salvation as a man of middle-years. It’s like in this movie Barnes/Cochran/Postman finally understands that to earn both love and a place to call home, you have to stop running, accept your place in the community and your responsibility as a member – or even a leader.

And there is one scene in the Postman which seems to mirror directly the dance scene in Fandango. You can skip to about 1:35. It’s not a fandango, but I don’t know. I see a bookend there.

 

 

Again, there’s a lot of squinting and staring sideways at these movies to see the connections, but I think it’s there if only in the grand character arc of the protagonist. I admit it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine Gardner Barnes joining the Air Force. And the birth year given to the hero in the Postman makes him far younger than either Barnes or Cochran. But it’s also not hard to see how a young man like Gardner could easily and rapidly change his mind and his priorities and it’s certainly not beyond reason that after a nuclear war people’s recollection of accurate dates and times get confused.

But even these are just set-dressing details. The strongest through-line that connects all three movies is how the protagonist of each movie handles a love affair. Gardner Barnes refuses the love that is offered to him and runs from it, only to realize too late that it was the wrong decision. Cochran refuses the responsibility of the love that is offered to him but also doesn’t run from it and realizes too late that it also was the wrong decision. The Postman does not refuse the love that is offered and also decides to stop running and even (although not at first) decides to change himself into the kind of man worthy of love and ready for the responsibility.

The journey of all three characters describe the perfect arc of emotional maturity for one protagonist. At the end of The Postman our hero gets not only a chance to enjoy a healthy and lasting love but also a family and a place to call home, the kind of thing one imagines he had wanted in Fandango and sought in Revenge, but had been too afraid to let himself have until the world blew up and it was nearly too late.

 

 

3 Things Everyone Is Wrong About

Hello and welcome to my rant! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, mostly because I haven’t really had much to say. Summer continues to be hot, pizza delivery continues to be profitable and I continue to struggle to put words together in coherent sentences. But I think it’s important to keep the blog going, even if I don’t have much to say, so I decided to reach into my “Ideas for Blog” goody bag and pull out some random half-chewed scraps of posts I’ve started and discarded and mash them into one delicious meatloaf-like meal for you to enjoy or stare at suspiciously.

 

It’s got raisins in it. You like raisins.

 

So, without further ado, here’s a list of things you’re wrong about. You’re welcome.

 

Dogs are not, in fact, infallible judges of character.

I don’t know where this myth got started, but I imagine it must have been around some campfire by the side of a road used by caravan merchants in the ancient or classical eras. Dogs were great companions on the road, helping to keep at bay dangerous wildlife and serve to warn against creeping invaders in the night. So, if a dog barked its head off at you when you approached an encamped caravan in the middle of the night, the caravaners assumed you were up to no good – and in those days they would have been right way more often than wrong.

Thus, dog goes “bork, bork, bork” at you became synonymous with “you must be a scumbag.” No one ever bothered to realize that dogs always go bork, bork, bork. That’s their job. They aren’t paid to make value judgements. They can’t sniff out the quality of your moral compass at 100 paces or some shit like that. They just know you aren’t with the pack, and until proven otherwise, that makes you suspect.

I’m not saying dogs are dumb. They’re not. They just aren’t exactly wise and we should stop believing they have better access to psychological and behavioral evaluation tools than we do. On more than one occasion I have walked down the sidewalk only to have a dog come charging out of a backyard somewhere and try to take a bite out of me. When the owner eventually comes out to coral the crazed canine, guess who she thinks is the bad guy?

 

“Good little Fifi. Did the bad man scare you?”

 

Cats are better judges of character. If you’re a stranger, they make no assumptions about you, they just go hide under the bed. It may not be the perfect way to treat people they just met, but there’s respect there at least.

 

Getting a great bargain does not mean you spent your money wisely

Frugality is a thing. Quality is another thing. Both are considered good things, but are rarely if ever found together. That is, you can’t get quality without spending a lot of money and you can’t spend a lot of money and be frugal. However, we always seem to think we can outsmart this truism if we find just the right bargain by doing a little digging and possibly legwork. You see this a lot with groceries. People seem to think if they drive to seven different grocery stores to find just the right sale price on yams, they’ve somehow hit some tuber jackpot. But in reality, the money they saved they wound up spending on gas, not to mention the lost productivity or recreation from the time investment.

And then, there’s the people who “got a guy” who can fix their car and save them a few hundred bucks by avoiding going to an actual auto repair shop. In my nearly thirty years of driving, I don’t believe I’ve ever known someone who had “a buddy” fix their car for them who didn’t then need it fixed again a month or so later.

 

“The YouTube how-to doesn’t say anything about a flux capacitor. Who’d you say you got this Delorean from?”

 

Well, some people I’m sure have better luck with this than others. But my point is that it sort of fits the theme. You want to just get your car running again – then do it yourself and go cheap. If you want to add years of life to your car, don’t be afraid to spend some money and let the professionals do their jobs.

 

“Motorcycles are everywhere! Look twice! Save a life!” is a bunch of entitled nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong. You should always look twice! Everywhere! At everything! Driving is not a joke. It is not a leisure time activity. This goes for everyone in every kind of motorized transport, not just passenger cars. You should be looking at road traffic, pedestrian traffic, curb traffic and bicycle traffic. I see no reason why motorcycles should deserve special attention.

Except I do see it. Daily. Motorcyclists flit between cars and weave through traffic as if the concept of lanes doesn’t apply to them. Maybe according to the laws of any given state it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe driving. Add on top of that, a motorcyclist sits about a foot and half higher than your average sedan driver. A motorcyclist has a better vantage point to see the road and has unobstructed vision. When I’m in my little pizza wagon, no matter which way I turn my head or how many times I turn it, I have to deal with a handful of blind spots, not to mention having my view obstructed by other vehicles, yet somehow I’m supposed to be the one looking out for them?

Sitting higher above the road and having a less obstructed view tends to lead to a sense of entitlement. It’s understandable and motorcyclists aren’t alone in it. You can also see it in people who drive those ridiculously oversized pick-ups that you need a step ladder to get into. They can’t understand why this piece of shit Camry just cut into their lane without yielding. They could see the Toyota from 50 yards away. The Toyota couldn’t see them? Are you BLIND!?!?!

 

Seriously, I can’t imagine trying to get into this thing without setting up a base camp first.

 

Happens all the time. And it’s wrong. And you’re wrong and you should feel bad about being wrong.

 

I’m just kidding, dear readers. You certainly don’t hold these erroneous beliefs. You’re far too worldly, wise and attractive to have much truck with that type of nonsense.

 

 

I Heart Hawkeye

I saw Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, I loved it. It was huge. It was operatic. It did everything I wanted it to do and more.

But it had no Hawkeye.

This isn’t a review of Infinity War. At this point, I think it would be unfair to review the movie. As great as it was, it pretty clearly is part one of two, no matter what the creators say. I could evaluate the movie on its own merits, but Chuck Wendig did such a marvelous (get it?) job of dissecting it that I don’t feel I can add anything more to his analysis. Suffice it to say, go see the movie and then think about the things Wendig is talking about. For you writerly types, there’s some juicy tidbits about narrative structure and how maybe the movie is challenging us about the accepted norms of protagonist/antagonist and good/evil. And for you non-writerly types, Wendig’s blog is just a damn good read.

But still, the movie had no Hawkeye.

And this upsets me.

Let me tell you a little something about Dan when he was just a young Tone of Voice.

Nah, never mind. I can’t really remember.

I honestly don’t recall how I found Hawkeye. Maybe it was after my parents bought me a bow and arrow set and I played with it in the backyard and then sometime later I found him in a comic book store? Or maybe the reverse of that? Memories suck. They always lie, except when they don’t.

I had been reading comics for a while, I know that. GI-Joe, X-men, Conan… errrr.. other stuff? I didn’t really know the Avengers. Hawkeye was my introduction to them. And after exploring them for a bit, I realized that even though Iron Man, Cap and Thor were more powerful and popular and more dramatic characters, Hawkeye was my man. Why?

Well, okay… true talk here? At first maybe because he had one hell of a dame as a girlfriend (and later wife). Mockingbird was smart, sassy, independent, driven and gorgeous. I think I probably fell in love with her before I understood why I loved Hawkeye. To this very day she still owns my favorite line delivered by any character in any comic book I’ve ever read.

Hawkeye: Listen, uh– Thanks for your–

Mockingbird: Forget it, Hawk. We’re even here– Better put this on. Half-naked men with guns make it hard for me to concentrate.

Goddamn if one of the two Hepburns never uttered that line, they should’ve. Very femme fatale – my type of gal, what can I say? Anyway, after Clint screwed that up I understood how human he was. And that’s when I started to understand it was his human foibles that made him my favorite.

 

I mean, come on, Hawkeye. Get your damn head straight for once in your life.

 

Because he wasn’t the most powerful. Because he wasn’t the most popular. Because he wasn’t the most dramatic. He could never defeat an army. He could never summon the Power Cosmic. He couldn’t go to the moon to brood on destiny and fate. And he could never even stand a feather’s chance on a breezy day against a monster like Thanos.

Don’t get me wrong. I deeply respect the types of characters who can. There is much to be said and thought about the Superman type and the choices that sort of person must make and live with. Entire volumes have been written about it since the dawn of time.

But Hawkeye is just a man. Yes, a man who is superlative in his ability at one particular thing, but still just a man. A man who decided to use his one gift to fight to protect those who either won’t or can’t fight for themselves. He’s enormously limited in his capabilities. He is very often out-gunned, out-numbered and out-classed. He gets his ass kicked repeatedly, but he keeps getting back up, dusting himself off, reloading his quiver and getting back into the fray.

Even though he knows he can’t win.

Why?

Because winning isn’t the point. This is something that he knows better than any of his super-powered friends. They think they can change the world with their strength. Maybe they can. But to Hawkeye, this is not the reason to struggle. The reason to struggle is because no matter what you do the struggle will always go on, but can you live with not being a part of it? The end is immaterial. The fight is all.

This scene comes closest to explaining my Hawkeye:

 

 

It’s your fault. It’s everyone’s fault. Who cares?

Did you catch that? That’s the embrace of the struggle. What comes next?

Walk out that door... This is why Avengers 2 is my favorite so far, because I believe it most accurately captures who Hawkeye is to me. I confess I wanted to cry at that scene. I didn’t because it’s not a particularly heart-wrenching scene, but I wanted to because it perfectly captured my Hawkeye. None of this makes any sense… but you have to decide if you will fight or if you won’t.

The end is immaterial. The fight is all. Are you an Avenger or aren’t you? No judgements either way, but you have to decide.

And this is what bothers me about Avengers 3. Hawkeye has decided. And yet no Hawkeye?

No.

No way my Hawkeye bows out of that fight. No way. I was alright with him taking a break with his family in Captain America: Civil War and then coming late to lend a hand when needed. That’s okay. But to be completely absent during a cataclysmic battle?

That’s not my Hawkeye. My Hawkeye doesn’t spoil for a fight. He’s not like that. My Hawkeye just recognizes the fight goes on whether he wants it to or not. And he would never abide not being part of it. A series of Hawkeye comic books that came out after the first Avengers movie backs me up on this – Thank you Mr. Fraction. I understand, his stuff isn’t part of the Cinematic Universe, but it’s the same Hawkeye in spirit.

He fights even if it kicks his ass. Even if it is a fight with no hope and no end in sight. Even if it is an infinite war. Because war is infinite. The struggle to achieve and to hope and to dream and to even survive – it never ends.

 

[OKAY MINOR SPOILER ALERT. Like really small. Like, if you haven’t figured this one spoiler out yet, you probably haven’t even seen any of these movies. No judgement. That’s fine. We’re cool. Just skip this last part and imagine a world with more Hawkeye. Got it? Now hold that thought. It’s pretty great, right?)

 

Seriously, if Hawkeye doesn’t somehow emerge in Avengers 4 to confront Thanos with a futile engagement to prove to him that the struggle of life versus its limitations is the only thing that truly matters in the universe – the struggle that never ends, even the struggle that is defined as Thanos’ bugaboo of overpopulation – then I will be disappointed. To me, Hawkeye is the only hero so far who can nail that message home. And Thanos seems like he wouldn’t be far from being able to see it, given what transpired. Probably too obvious and trite, but…

But I’m a Hawkeye fan-boy. I suppose I’ll be happy just to see him sling some arrows around again and quip some chirpy dialog. I’ll take what I can get. He’ll never stop meaning what he means to me regardless.

Welcome! Lock the door behind you.

 

What if magic is real and we just don’t know about it? This is the question we are given in many fantasy books set in modern-day Earth. Wizards and demons and other creatures of supernatural or paranormal origin do battle right in front of us, but somehow out of sight. I don’t really understand that. I mean, I get that in order for you the reader to believe you’re reading about modern day Earth, magic can’t be readily accessible or visible, but so far as I’ve seen the authors who work in this field show a startling lack of concern over why all this mystical activity needs to be constantly hushed-up.

Is it like Bilderberg? Are all the wizards and witches keeping an exclusive and secret club just simply because they can? Or maybe magic is like corruption? Does magic shrivel up and die under the harsh light of journalistic investigation for some reason?

Rowling’s Harry Potter series at least had a semi-plausible explanation for it. I confess I only read the first book (liked it, but felt as a reader that I had already traversed the ground Rowling was covering) but I got the impression that Hogwarts, in cooperation with other magical schools, worked to stay secret to avoid persecution from the Muggles. It wasn’t so much that they feared the Muggles (although they were greatly out-numbered, the wizards had indisputably the greater firepower) but it was the fact that they couldn’t afford to fight Muggles while also fighting the evil-that-dare-not-be-named. Okay. I get it, but it seems to me the amount of effort they put into remaining undetected could instead be better channeled into fostering a relationship of mutual understanding and defense with the Muggles against Volde-face. But I admit I’m being a little nitpicky.

 

You’re a UN Special Envoy, Harry.

 

The Harry Potter books were followed by a rash of entries into this whole “magic exists in the real world, BUT NO ONE CAN KNOW” fantasy sub-genre, but even the more notable entries have had less than satisfactory explanations as to why this sort of condition exists. Butcher’s Dresden Files, for instance, tells us that magic and magical creatures exist openly, it’s just that most people are too closed-minded to acknowledge it. Their primitive minds just can’t handle the truth! Okay… It’s a little thin, but at least it has a foundation in the philosophical school of thought that supposes perception is reality. Maybe “normal people” perceive reality the same as wizards, they just perceive less of it, like color-blind people with colors or Trump with decency and humanity.

But then there’s Lev Grossman’s Magicians. He doesn’t even bother to give an explanation. These kids get invited to this exclusive school and go through years of magical training without ever asking why they need to be so secretive or what exactly they’re learning all this magic for anyhow. What? Is Microsoft hiring wizards now? Is the Defense Department looking to use some fireball-hurling “contractors” in Afghanistan? Seriously, what’s the future for these kids if they’re learning skills that they can’t ever tell anyone about?

 

“My greatest strength? Ummm… Magic Missile? No, sorry. That’s stupid. Everyone must say that. Ummm… Tenser’s Floating Disk? I guess?”

 

These are the smartest kids in the world and over the course of years of education not one of them thinks to ask what’s it all for? Hell, when I was in college even I had at least some vague notion that I’d try to earn a living as a writer (still trying) but these brainiacs who can memorize a near infinite amount of thaumaturgical minutiae can’t be arsed to spare a single minute to ponder their own futures? I’d blame the author for being lazy, but honestly it seems the sub-genre itself is at fault. I’m not knocking on Grossman. My problems with the basic premise aside, the book is an entertaining read (in fact, the chapter where we’re shown the terrifying risks of spellcasting is one of the most chilling I’ve read in a fantasy story), but this whole “WE HAVE AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB THAT SERVES NO USEFUL PURPOSE TO SOCIETY AND NO ONE ELSE CAN COME IN” trope is getting out of hand. It’s blatant rich-kid escapist fantasy.

I was born to this. I only associate with other people who were also born to this. We are entitled to power.

Sound familiar? It’s called an aristocracy. Maybe it’s just my American blood boiling up, but we fought a war about this stuff, so pardon me if I don’t want to root for a protaganist-who-has-everything as he goes out and attempts to get even more of everything! That’s dumb and dull and irritating. But people go for this crap, apparently. People also like hearing about what the British royalty is wearing to high tea. I swear, if I see one more goddamn picture of Meghan Fucking Markle giggling like the prettiest girl in school, I’m flipping tables.

I don’t know. I don’t get it. Fuck your club.

 

 

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“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally.” – David Gaider

 

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Further Confessions of a Delivery Guy

Or, what to expect when you’re expecting someone to deliver your food.

I’ve been doing pizza delivery for almost three years now and I’ve come to the conclusion that many people have no idea why it should take 45 or more minutes for the food they ordered to show up at their house. I say “house” and not “apartment” because this does seem to be one of those fault-of-privilege type of phenomenon. Most apartment-dwellers don’t seem much fazed by having to wait an additional thirty or forty minutes for their food. But not to worry, my bourgeois friends! I am here to enlighten you, if you will permit, as to why the filthy and uneducated workers at these take-out joints are so seemingly lazy and disrespectful.

 

“Proceed, sirrah.”

 

Everybody eats at the same time.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but for many it is. The majority of people in this country eat dinner between the hours of five and eight o’clock. If you order food during this three-hour block, chances are you’re not the only one. And, if you order between 5:30 and 6:30, you can just abandon all hope that your order will get to you in anything less than 60 minutes. Your food isn’t just competing for space in my car with other deliveries, it’s also competing for priority on the pizza bench against pick-up and take-out orders. And, not to dishearten you my prospective and hopefully loyal customers, but the manager always prioritizes pick-ups and take-outs. It’s an old adage in the service sector – in a pinch, always please the customer in your face, not the one on the phone. There just aren’t enough people working in the restaurant to do both. Which brings us to…

A take-out joint is a near-run thing.

For my money, these places are (or should be) among the finest examples of capitalism working the way it’s supposed to that you can find. Everyone, from delivery driver up to manager, is involved with day-to-day operations and the pay gap is small (compared to white-collar company payrolls) and the effort-to-reward ratio is (or again, should be) evident and immediate. Some day I’ll get on my soap-box about how idiotic it is that some places prefer to use threats and intimidation to motivate employees rather than performance-based incentives, but I’ll leave it alone for today.

But where was I? Oh yes. The restaurants never seem to have as many people working to cook and clean as is wanted, and very often less than what is needed. Why? Well, the people who own the store can tell you about operational cost vs daily sales and I’m sure that all makes sense on some spreadsheet somewhere, but I’ll tell you why these stores always struggle to stay fully staffed. First, no one wants these jobs. The pay sucks and the work is thankless and messy. These jobs are a dime a dozen and if you slack your way to being fired from this one, you can walk next door and get hired same-day. Consequently, people call out “sick” on an almost daily basis, because they just don’t take the job seriously. And since no one wants to come in to cover a shift on their day off, this means on any given day the restaurant is short-staffed.

Second, the people who do take the job seriously never last. Either they work too hard, get burned out and decide to find a job that’s more rewarding or they get fast tracked to promotion (if we’re talking about a chain) and often get sent to become a manager of some store that’s in even worse shape than the one you’re ordering from. Now, that’s all fine and good for those people, but it isn’t helping you get your food any faster, is it? What would help you get your food faster? Well…

More people should work delivery.

Know how I said the pay sucks and the job is thankless and messy? Yeah, I wasn’t actually referring to the duties of a delivery driver. Sure, I help out in the store, but mostly I’m expected to be out on the road, dropping off food and collecting money and signatures. And tips. Sweet, sweet tips. On a good five or six hour night-delivery shift, I’ll often make more than the manager made all day. And when I work a full shift on a weekend day? Fuggetaboutit. And Patriots games? Baby, if you’re not working a delivery shift during a Patriots game, then you don’t like money.

And yet, stores struggle to keep enough delivery drivers on staff. It is the one “Help Wanted” sign I see most often placed in the window. Why? I honestly have no idea. Sure, it’s true that driving delivery is hell on a car, but even factoring in increased maintenance costs (and be sure not to scrimp on this!) you’re still coming out well ahead. And most delivery drivers are part-timers, which means the wear and tear for them is much less. If every take-out joint had an additional two or three part-time drivers each doing one or two four-hour shifts a week, everyone would get their food faster. And why is this? Because…

Teleportation is not a thing.

Many stores deliver food to not just the town they operate in, but to at least parts of the neighboring towns as well. This is okay if you have more than one driver working at a time, but it’s terrible if you only have one. Why? It’s not just a question of volume of deliveries, but more a question of the location of those deliveries. One person cannot be in several places at the same time. But two people very nearly can. For example, if a store receives four delivery orders in a ten-minute span (a common occurrence during lunch or dinner) the people taking the orders very often will quote the same delivery time to each order. There’s simply no way for them to adequately keep track of orders in real-time, so they don’t know other orders are/were taken. I’m hoping that one day there will be, but let’s continue.

So, each of these orders was given a quote of forty minutes. Even if all four orders are made within ten minutes, that leaves only a half-hour to drop off four deliveries. This is actually doable, but you have to be lucky. All four orders need to be on the same side of town – not necessarily close to each other, just in generally the same compass direction away from the store. As you can imagine, this hardly ever happens. If a driver has to criss-cross the town, then forget it. At least one of those orders will be late. And if we’re talking rush-hour? At least two will be late and one of those is likely to be very late.

But with two drivers, there is a world of difference. Two drivers can split the load and divide them based on geography. If you have two good drivers working you’ve got an excellent shot at getting your delivery in under an hour even during peak volume. But if the place you ordered from has just one driver working and that guy’s trying his best to concentrate on his driving and not letting his mind wander to whatever Grant Scotland might be up to… well, just try to cut him some slack.

 

Yeah, I know. One day I’ll be replaced by a drone that can fly over traffic, but I’d like to see how that drone gets you to your front door when you won’t answer your phone and your doorbell doesn’t work.

 

AND WHAT IS GRANT SCOTLAND UP TO?

Oh, boy…

The amount of revising I need to do in order to make AOGS5 a publishable book are truly staggering. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me when I finished the first draft, but now that I’ve made one revision pass on it I realize just how monumentally screwed I am. Every chapter needs extensive revision and almost half the chapters need complete rewrites. As it stands right now, this book makes no sense whatsoever and is, quite frankly, an affront to God and Man. The Geneva Convention has banned the use of this book in times of peace or war. The CDC has warned that exposure to this book is likely to cause insomnia, vomiting and anal leakage. The CIA has announced that the use of this piece of literature as an instrument of “enhanced interrogation” is both unethical and illegal  That’s right, waterboarding someone is more humane than forcing them to look at this nonsensical accumulation of word-sores.

So, you see I have some work to do.

 

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“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite” – John Kenneth Galbraith

 

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Me and Tom Brady

I’ve been watching the Tom Vs Time Facebook Watch series. I hadn’t planned on doing it. I passed it off as Tom finally allowing himself to enjoy his celebrity status a bit and also to lay a groundwork for the marketing of his TB12 business, which I’m sure he wishes to make a nationwide phenomenon at some point. Maybe it already is, but with the number of Patriot haters out there, (oh, by the way – your team cheats, too) I’m sure he feels his branding could use some improvement. Simply winning more Super Bowls obviously isn’t going to do it.

I don’t know what made me finally click the play button and start watching. Maybe it was just the need to watch some Patriots Porn and revel in the shared glory of my favorite team. Maybe it was the Alex Reimer controversy. I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I’m sad Reimer said what he said. I actually quite liked him as an up-and-coming sports talk radio host. He was fresh and funny and his sports takes were insightful and never seemed to dally too long on “hot takes.” But then he made a stupid comment about Tom’s daughter that I’m sure he thought was glibly funny. But as with so many things that emerge from all of our mouths, I bet he wishes he could take it back. Or maybe not. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he lacks empathy and remorse. If they ever let him back on the air I guess we’ll see.

But I was curious about this Tom vs.Time thing for one main reason above all else. I want to know what makes Tom Brady as driven as he is. I remember the first game I saw him play. It was, of course, that now famous game where Drew Bledsoe was injured and Tom, the undervalued and unknown backup, donned helmet and took the field. I loved Drew. I collected nearly all of his rookie cards and will forever be thankful for the work he and Bill Parcells did to lift the Patriots out of the depths of “cute little team that sometimes resembles an NFL franchise” and into the refreshing air of “respected competitors.”

But Drew was getting older and it was increasingly obvious he was not the championship quarterback the team needed. He was close, but he had developed happy feet in the pocket and held onto the ball too long, probably as a result of being the single biggest weapon on our offense (if not the whole team) and therefore being expected to take brutal hits and still deliver devastating downfield strikes. This he could do to the very end of his career, but as all Patriots fans have found out in the Brady-Belichick era, it takes something more than that to win Super Bowls.

When Tom came into that game, I saw right away that he had… something more. Or at least something different. I’m not going to say I saw the future. No, not at all. Truth be told, I was a bigger Bruschi fan than a Brady fan for the first three Super Bowls. But I did see something. When he went under center for the first time, I didn’t see a wide-eyed kid hoping he wasn’t going to screw up. I saw a man look dispassionately out over the opposing defense and calculate their every strength and weakness. Seriously, go back and look at that first game if you can find it. Yeah, I know they lost, but look at what his eyes are doing and look at the way he looks at the defense. Actually, never mind that game, he still has that look even today. If that’s not the look of a man who’s about to dissect and destroy the obstacle in front of him, I don’t know what is.

I called it “the eyes of the assassin” because I was young and loved to engage in cliche and hyperbole. But I doubt my description was too far astray from the truth. He saw obstacles to eliminate the same way I imagine an assassin sees human targets as simply objects. This look wasn’t in his eyes on the sideline or in interviews, mind you. This was his game face and it looked to me as terrifying as Ray Lewis’s game face – and that dude was fucking frightening. I didn’t know how many games he was going to win or how many touchdowns he was going to throw or any of it. But I knew I was going to see something different from him than I’d seen from any other quarterback. What that thing was? That’s what I want to find out. That’s what made me want to watch his series.

I’ve watched the first four episodes and I still don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far has reinforced what I’ve long suspected about the reasons for the Patriot’s incredible success over the past 18 years. It’s simply this: Hard work and dedication to one goal are essential to achieving it. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. I’m not a Tony Robbins disciple. They’re not the only things. There’s only so much the awakened giant within you can accomplish on its own. There are so many crucial factors that go into it (and here let’s not forget about Robert Kraft’s prodigious capabilities as owner and visionary for the team). But without a willingness to work hard and dedicate most if not all of yourself to your goal, Tom (and every other Patriot) may as well just be playing a game. And as I’m fond of saying – Tom Brady doesn’t play games, Tom Brady wins games.

So the episodes I watched proved to me that this man was someone so dedicated to his purpose that he basically subsumed his identity to that of the purpose itself. That’s a scary thing to contemplate when evaluating the worth and breadth of a human’s existence. Must we be so single-minded to grasp our dreams? I suppose it depends on the dream. Tom’s seems to be unfathomable to me. He is already widely if not universally regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time. What more does he want?

That’s for him to say and although I am curious about it, the thing that most interests me is not a thing of the present, but of the past. I want to know what made Brady decide after the first Super Bowl that he wanted more. Certainly he was young and ambitious and wanted to match or exceed his personal hero Joe Montana. But there was a year between the first Super Bowl and the the next two – a year where he seemed to not diminish, but stagnate. A sophomore slump, if you will. What made him break out of that? What made him dedicate himself not just to being an effective QB, but to being a team leader, a devourer of everything related to his trade, a pursuer of infinite success?

Because that’s where I am. Or at least I feel like that. No, I’m not Tom Brady. I’ll pause here for a bit to let that shocking revelation pass over you. Don’t worry. Most people aren’t Tom Brady. Like, a lot of people. It’s actually way more likely you aren’t Tom Brady than you are. And if you are Tom Brady then … ummmm… Hi. Big fan. Good luck on Sunday.

 

“Luck is for rabbits.”

 

No, I haven’t won a Super Bowl, but in one regard I feel a slight kinship to him. A few years ago I decided to stop pretending to be anything other than myself and began to write. I wrote books and I published them and I’ve put myself out there for the world to see. I imagine Tom did a similar mental transformation at some point. Probably some of it was when he was a kid but I bet most of it came at some point after that first Super Bowl. I wish I had done the same sort of thing in 2002 as well. I probably would be much more successful in my endeavor at this point.

But I am not a success. I haven’t reached my goal and I struggle to see how I will. Brady must have struggled with the same. He must have recognized “well, here I am a starting QB – good enough?” And then said no. There’s more and it has to be achieved. At some point (and again, I’m betting it was somewhere in 02 or 03) he decided the dedication he had to his craft that was good enough to get him to where he was, was not good enough for him, because after that he just kept getting better. There have certainly been years where he and the team were not as good as they could be, but it always seemed to me he was painfully aware of that. He never made excuses. He just tried harder.

I make excuses for myself. I tell myself that I’ve done well when I write a thousand or so words, outline some plots, make notes for revisions, etc. And then I put the writing down and rest and read and play games or whatever. But I know I could do more. I feel it when I’m writing. I sense that I’m at the door of true success, but something in me always makes me hesitate and delay and dither. It’s easy to call it “fear of success” but it’s not so easy to overcome.

Tom Brady overcame it. Perhaps it’s a thing he overcomes every day. But there must have been a point when he recognized it as the thing that blocked the threshold of the doorway and then found a way past it.

For myself, my only current solution to the blockade is “just keep writing” and I know this is perhaps the most important part. But there has to be more to it and i doubt that it’s complicated, but I still don’t know what it is. Like Brady, I feel age creeping up on me. Not nearly as important for writers as for quarterbacks, but as the days and weeks and months and years pass and I am no closer to my goals than when I started, I wonder and lament at time wasted. I’ll keep writing for the rest of my life, but I am somewhat tortured by the thought that there is something I could be doing RIGHT NOW that could make my goals achievable.

I think he knows what it is, but I doubt he could tell me. It’s probably specific to every individual. And besides that, I’d hate it if he told me to drink 26 glasses of water a day and stay away from mushrooms. Probably good advice for quarterbacks, but it’s of dubious merit to writers.

Anyway, good luck to Tom and the Patriots on Sunday. And good luck to all of you, my dear readers, who struggle every day with success and failure. And if you haven’t watched the Tom vs. Time series, I recommend it. It’s motivational and moving, even if you’re not a fan of football or Tom or the Patriots. If Tom Brady is pursuing some Platonic idea of QB perfection, then he can be considered the modern day equivalent of the demi-god heroes of ancient Greece. Figuratively speaking, of course. I mean that I believe we can safely regard him as someone who is extraordinary and can (and should) examine him in that light. If you’re curious about what a man who rises to his level is like, the episodes come across as very honest and compelling glimpses of his character and dedication.

And if you figure out what makes his motivation click into overdrive, let me know.

 

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“I think that at the start of a game, you’re always playing to win, and then maybe if you’re ahead late in the game, you start playing not to lose. The true competitors, though, are the ones who always play to win.” – Tom Brady

 

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The New Year and All That

Just a quick update to let you know I’ve finally (finally!) finished the first draft of AoGS 5. Zoinks but that took way too long. I’m not at all pleased by the diminished productivity in my writing, but I’m sort of happy to note that while I’m disappointed with myself that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to write or submit stories to magazines. I’m clearly at a point in my life where I need to figure out how to throw my writing career into a higher gear, but there is never a single thought about just shelving the whole thing.

In 2017, I wrote three short stories and one draft of a novel. Not too good, but not terrible either. In 2018, I’d like to revise and self-publish Book 5, write at least the first draft of Book 6 and one more short story. That should be doable, especially if I can get myself committed to writing during what I call my “spare change” hours and not just on my off days. Like right now, I’m writing this blog post in the couple of hours I have before going in to work a six or seven hour shift doing delivery. That’s more the exception than the rule for me. It’s hard to get my thoughts to line up and march onto the page when I keep glancing at the clock and measuring how much time I have before I need to start getting ready. Or should I eat something before work? Or maybe get in a quick jog?

 

“Is that clock atomic or digital? Is it calibrated correctly? Do clocks get calibrated? Where did the word calibrate come from…”

 

You know, it’s like that. It’s much easier for me to sit down and pump out one to two thousand words on a day where I have no obligations. I know every other writer deals with this stuff (most of us have “day jobs” after all) but I think I deal with it worse than most. That’s part of the reason why I switched from having a career to working a delivery job. It’s much less demanding on my time and higher faculties. I figured I needed more of the former since I’ve never had a lot of the latter.

Smiley-winky-facey-thingy.

Actually, my biggest problem has always been discipline. I’ve got just enough of it to get by in life but not enough of it to be as successful as I’d wish. I’ve got some further thoughts on that I’ll share with you in a later post, but for now I’ll just say that although I see a lot of work ahead of me, I’m still enjoying every minute of it.

And congratulations to you all on surviving the first year of Trump’s presidency without completely losing your minds or your faith in our democratic institutions. Keep doing what you’re doing. You look great!

I’ll speak at you again soon!

 

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” ‘Feeling successful’ – well, that’s something you have to work out for yourself, what it means to you, how important it is. You’re quite right that very good and highly celebrated writers may not feel ‘successful.’ Maybe they have unhappy natures, and the Nobel Prize would just depress them. Or maybe they aren’t fully satisfied with what they’ve done so far, don’t feel they’ve yet written the best book they could write. But they have the commitment that keeps them trying to do it.

Hang in there. And don’t push it. No hurry! Writing is a lifetime job.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

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Review: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

WARNING: As was true of my review of Force Awakens, the first part of this review will be spoiler-free and the second part – the part overflowing with juicy spoiler fruit – will be clearly labelled with some obvious alert. Maybe I’ll use a big warning sticker or a string of garbled text or some sort of pornographic picture. But where will I find pornography on the internet?

THE VANILLA REVIEW (NO SPOILERS):

When Force Awakens came out, I had waited a month or so before before going to see it, but I have been looking forward to The Last Jedi so much that I couldn’t wait that long. It’s rare that I’m motivated to actually see a movie in a movie theater, let alone within days of it’s premier, where it’s certain that I will be forced to rub elbows with random strangers who likewise can’t wait until the madding crowds dissipate. But the trailers did their job, especially the ones featuring a very moody and tormented Luke Skywalker, and so I attended the first matinee I could.

And the trailers didn’t lie. There’s A LOT of moodiness in this film. Be prepared for many scenes of characters audibly grappling with their emotions. This is a departure from previous Star Wars movies, where emotion-grappling dialog was mostly reserved for force-users. In Last Jedi, everybody (with a few exceptions) gets a chance to emote. Honestly, I thought it was a bit much, but there were certainly scenes where it was necessary and handled well.

 

“There but for the grace of God, go I…”

 

Consequently, the movie is noticeably more cerebral than Force Awakens, but that doesn’t mean it lacks action. Indeed, there are plenty of scenes of breathless chases and teeth-rattling explosions. However, the movie inexpertly combines the slow scenes and the fast scenes simply by making the movie looooong. Two and a half hours long. Too long, in my opinion.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie, but I did. Everything that a Star Wars fan wants is here. Our heroes are scrappy and undisciplined, like Star Wars heroes should be. Our villains are over-the-top and pointlessly cruel, like Star Wars villains should be. Space ships duel and blasters blast and lightsabers… well they do the impractical things they do, often in delightfully inventive ways.

But I will admit the movie did not meet expectations for me, but mostly because of the many hopes I had pinned on it from writing my Force Awakens review. More on that in the spoiler section. But aside from that there was needless repetition and some distracting plot holes. Nothing big enough to sink the movie, but I just think the script needed some significant tightening up.

I can’t guarantee you’ll love it, but I can guarantee you’ll have a good time. The plot is mostly a departure from the Star Wars mold, which I feel is a good thing and necessary in order for the franchise to stay healthy, but in its execution it stumbled a bit. There is one entire subplot I thought the movie could have done without, but by the end the film emerges as an authentic Star Wars experience, which means it’s worth the watch.

 

 

THE DARK CHOCOLATE REVIEW (WITH CREAMY SPOILER FILLING):

It’s true that I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t lie about that. Even at two and a half hours, I wanted it to go on, regardless of its faults. There’s some compelling stuff that kept me going throughout. I’ll come back to this by the end, but for now I have some grievances, which I shall air now.

I so much wanted this movie to be Luke and Leia’s swan song. I wanted to see Luke grapple with his failures, give the lightsaber back to Rey and tell her where to shove it and then reluctantly, but awesomely, resolve to take one last adventure to keep hope alive. These things he did, so I can’t complain on that front. Unfortunately, Leia did little more than sleepwalk (almost literally in one scene) through this movie. And now that Carrie Fischer is dead, I’m disappointed that we’ll never see the full tragic arc of her character’s life. As I had observed in the prior review, Leia had given every full measure but the last to her cause.

And yet, with all these personal sacrifices before her, she seemed only shaken by the loss of a few bomber pilots. This is my biggest grief with this movie. This woman should have at least one scene where she grapples with the cost or doubts her convictions. She’s lost everyone close to her in this struggle, not to mention her entire home planet, and the war only seems to go on. Can we get at least some sort of “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” soliloquy for this poor woman? When Luke finally showed up and he and Leia are on screen together, I was hoping for some sort of brief exchange where they finally admit to each other their darkest fears that maybe the whole struggle hasn’t been worth it at all. And then they look at each other and decide to give a Beckett-like “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” shrug and decide to keep fighting.

But instead we were given “Sorry your kid is a dick. Imma go kill him/No problem” bullshit. But then later on my hopes were raised again that Leia could do or say something a little more meaningful than what she was given. It was when Luke was confronting Kylo and the resistance people went to look for an exit. I was expecting Leia to say “You guys go ahead, imma stay and watch my brother do his thing”, having a moment to understand his sacrifice – understanding all the sacrifices – and then either escape or bring the damn mountain down on Kylo’s head, like a super-powered mother giving her misguided savant of a son a time-out of mythological proportions.

But most importantly, I never got to see her acknowledge just how much this war has costed the galaxy and everyone in it – whether it’s worth it and whether the rebellion, like the Jedi Order, should just get flushed or WHAT.

And I’m pissed.

Because I know that shit was coming. Fischer wanted it. That’s documented. Maybe not the soliloquy thing, but at least the swan song. They did it for Han and they did it for Luke and knowing J.J. Abrams, a proven stalwart advocate of powerful female characters, the next movie was going to give it to her. She wanted a big send off and now we’ll never get it. I’m sure they’ll kill her character in some decently meaningful and not too CGI’d way, but we’ll never really get Fischer/Leia’s voice howling at the void of space about the cruelty of fate, the heavy mountain of duty and the fear that all has been futile, but regardless she resolves to fight on into death because it is all she has ever known and she cannot escape how it has defined her very existence.

 

“I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars.” – T.E. Lawrence

 

No, we’ll never get that. I’m pissed. And I miss Carrie Fischer.

But that’s not entirely the movie’s fault. Life is very often far shorter than any of us would like. I’m sure no one in production wanted anything but to make Leia the very embodiment of the themes of liberty and resistance to oppression. But the script is partly to blame, because as much as I like how the plot structure tries to depart from typical “rebels have to destroy an even bigger gun” Star Wars, this movie could have been so much more.

First of all, this movie suffered from not having a Poe/Finn/Rey adventure. If these three are our new trio of heroes, they need to have at least one movie where they’re together. And at the end of this movie, we still haven’t had that. And now we have this Rose character. Why? Did we need her? I understand she introduces and reinforces the reasons of why the rebellion is still fighting this losing war, but did we really need that? Couldn’t that have been Leia’s cross to bear? Shouldn’t it have been?

Still pissed.

Basically, I think the whole casino planet side-plot was a useless waste of time. Benicio Del Toro’s character (loved him) could have easily been found in the doomed Mon Calamari cruiser’s brig. Maybe he was there because he was caught double-selling weapons to both sides and Leia took exception to it. Or maybe he was selling rebel secrets to the empire. The entire excursion to the casino planet was a waste of time – time that extended the movie beyond a reasonable point. This is not a Tolkien epic adventure! This is Star Wars! Keep it simple and quick and episodic, please.

And why couldn’t the reason the First Order had the ability to track the rebels have been the beacon on Leia’s wrist? I was honestly surprised that it wasn’t. It seemed to make perfect sense to me. She gave one to Rey. She probably had given one to Kylo at some point when he was with Luke at the doomed Jedi Academy. After killing his father, he could have reverse engineered the thing to track down his mom. There was no need for this stupid casino planet excursion!

Do I need to write these scripts myself? God damn it, Hollywood! Don’t make me come out there!

And why did Laura Dern’s character (loved her) withhold the plan to flee to the abandoned base from Poe? There was no need at all. Everyone else on the bridge, and obviously all the transport pilots, seemed to be aware of it so it clearly wasn’t a secret. The whole thing came across as being clearly set up by the writers to make the casino planet side plot necessary, but why?!!?!? We as an audience gained nothing from that whole series of scenes!

 

I… I stand corrected.

 

And then when we see the escape plan start to unfold, it gets spoiled anyway by Del Toro. I actually like the feints the movie throws at us like this. We get set up to expect a Star Wars-like desperate escape or brave raid and then get an equally Star Wars-like “Nah, but no.” I give the movie full marks for those kinds of twists.

But still, we didn’t need the casino planet as a venue for any of those. And we didn’t need the Ben-Hur races to let us know that the First Order is corrupt.

Speaking of the First Order, why is it named that? Who is Snoke? How did he get to be a force user? Oh, wait. He’s dead? Never mind, I guess. I mean, I love the scene with Snoke and Rey and Kylo. The resolution is basically what I wanted to see from my review of Force Awakens, but with the crazy lightsaber tricks it was even better than I was expecting. However, I was hoping for more on Snoke before he bought it. Guess we’ll never get that now.

And how did Snoke connect Rey and Kylo? He had never met Rey, so bridging their minds didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also, if he could touch her mind like that, couldn’t he sense where she was? Why was Skywalker’s location a mystery to him at that point? Maybe that’s nit-picky, but if I had more on Snoke I could’ve made all sorts of excuses for it in my mind.

Adam Driver was great again and I’m thankful he got rid of the mask. His face is capable of carrying the meaning of an entire scene. He was a little over-the-top at times, but he committed to his character’s motivation of “burn the past” in a very convincing way. Of all the characters, his was the most believable, even when he was doing his best “fire everything!” impersonation.

Daisy Ridley delivered a good performance, but I often felt confused about Rey’s motivation. It seemed unclear for most of the movie, almost like the writers couldn’t decide what Rey really wants to get out of Skywalker, so they just let Snoke manipulate her. I felt she was a little shackled in this film. The scenes with her and Luke should have been much more powerful. When Luke asked her why she was there, she answered with a disappointing “I’ve always felt something inside of me…” Why no mention of the visions she had when she found his lightsaber? To the audience those were compelling visions. The movie seemed to gloss over the whole thing with her saying “sometimes I see things.”

Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies. It’s tempting to want another Skywalker, but if you want the franchise to move forward it needs to step away from the established lineages at some point, so this was a welcome revelation. If that’s what it was. Kylo could have been lying after all. The push and pull between those two is something I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to more. There’s all sorts of tension there and the scenes Driver and Ridley share are riveting. Sparks will fly!

 

Get it? But seriously, these kids are cute together. They should buy a moisture farm somewhere and settle down.

 

But Luke… Growing up, I was always a bigger Luke fan than a Han fan. Maybe because I usually like to buck the trend, but also because I have a soft-spot for characters who have a difficult time with expectations. Han could always be Han and everyone loved him for it. Luke, however, had to be the Guy Who Does The Thing. He never wanted it. Never asked for it. And finally when he did ask for it, by trying to restart a new Jedi Order, it blew up in his face. I loved every minute of Mark Hamill’s performance and although Luke died almost exactly as I thought he would (although the astral projection trick was delightfully unexpected) I’m sad he won’t be there in body anymore. I wanted the last Skywalker’s death to mean a little more than buying time for a rebel escape. Of course, Leia is still alive, but Carrie Fischer is not, so I’m worried the Skywalkers go out with a whisper instead of a bang. After all, Luke Did The Thing by redeeming Anakin, but that doesn’t seem like anything now. Leia should have been the one that toppled/redeemed Kylo or at least lured him to a place where Rey could do it. Maybe there’s still room in a draft of Episode IX to make that happen without too much CGI work. We’ll see.

Not as pissed now.

As for the rest of the crew… Finn was boring. It’s not his fault. The writers threw him into a stupid side adventure that had an impact on his character’s development that seems of dubious worth to the story. I mean, he already learned how to be personally brave in Force Awakens and now in Last Jedi he learns how to be cautiously courageous? Was this something anyone was asking for? And the fight he had with Phasma seemed tacked on and uninspired. I hope Phasma survived. I want her to come back and kill Hux (because he’s become too ridiculous) and take his place. Then Finn can fight/confront her one last time while Rey is fighting/confronting Kylo.

Okay, I’m setting up expectations again. Sorry. But still…

Poe was entertaining. He had plenty of action and Isaac brought great energy to the screen. His character was involved in a head-scratching series of events revolving around the stupid casino-planet plot, but that’s not his fault.

The droids were furniture. Okay, BB-8 was a little more interesting than that, but I don’t know… I might be getting tired of the whole “super-droid saves the day” thing.

And for the love of Jumanji, is there a single Disney movie that DOESN’T have a scene with a small herd of animals breaking tables?!?!?!?

I know the balance of what I’ve written makes it seem like I hated the movie, but I’ll repeat what I said earlier to be clear: My main problems with the movie had to do with it not being the movie I wanted it to be. Although I’m disappointed by that, I can honestly say I had a good time enjoying an authentic Star Wars adventure and I’m looking forward to the next one – just this time with less detailed expectations. I’ve learned my lesson.

 

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Happy Holidays, everyone!

“I don’t want my life to imitate art. I want my life to be art.” – Carrie Fischer
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