Return / Updates

I was accidentally away from the blog for a while. On return, I decided to make a couple changes.

First, I’ve changed the WordPress template I’m using to hopefully make things more streamlined. Now there’s a greater emphasis on text, which is after all the primary format of this blog. I think images still look fine with the changes. And the stream of past blog posts feels less overwhelming to me now. I genuinely liked the walls of images until I didn’t anymore. (There are some other minor tweaks, like the addition of displayed archives.)

Also, I created a Facebook page for this blog. If you like the blog, I’d be flattered by a like of the page, but it’s basically just there to make it easier to publish new posts to Facebook now.

If you like (or dislike) the changes, feel free to let me know.

I think I’ll be back to regular posts now. It’s funny–I’ll schedule stuff through holidays, but then it’s after the holidays that I get behind.

(Header: Oil painting by Samantha Melvin, 2016.)

Self-Promotion Sunday

Today I just wanted to make an announcement: Eleven-ThirtyEight, the fantastic Star Wars fan site known for its thoughtful essays produced regularly by its staff writers and occasionally by guest writers, has published an essay of mine: “Droids, Sex, and Consent: Should It ‘Work’?” I’m a fan of the site and its creative team (I guess that makes me a fan of fans), and it was really cool to be able to contribute something and see it published.

Mike Cooper, the editor-in-chief of the site, provided what was, in my limited experience, excellent editorial support. He was restrained in suggesting changes, and the changes he did suggest all improved the work (of course, to the extent that there are any remaining problems with the piece, in craft, perspective, argument, or otherwise, the fault lies with me).

While I certainly hope you’ll check out my essay, I’d like to also suggest that if you haven’t read anything else on Eleven-ThirtyEight, you should definitely peruse past works by its staff writers. They’re an excellent team of creative and critical thinker/writers, and I look forward to reading each new thing to come out of there.

Pictures from Park & Street

I have a random collection of pictures for today. Some are from a trip to Eagle Creek Park from the end of April, and I’ll start with those.

My wife and I were joined for an afternoon of walking the park trails by a couple of friends, one of whom I would describe as a formerly avid birder. This birder friend really improved the experience, calling out birds I definitely would have otherwise missed and identifying many birds I didn’t recognize (and even helping to confirm a few that I did recognize). Unfortunately, while we could see far through the forest with mostly barren tree limbs, the tangle of limbs also meant that I took far fewer bird pictures than I would have liked (without even attempting to capture the tiny gnatcatchers and titmice and the like that we saw), and most of the photographs I took were really bad bird pictures (as usual, I guess).

Here’s a silhouette of a brown-headed cowbird (it was a lot more obvious in person, especially with its plop-plip call):

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And here’s a blurry pileated woodpecker against a tree:

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Here are some cute coots:

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And worst of all, here’s a bunch of trees (we saw a beautiful bald eagle fly so close overhead–it was amazing, and I was in awe, and by the time I thought to take a picture, he was swooping out of sight; if he’s in the shot at all, it’s behind the many tree branches):

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It’s not a bird, but I would also like to call special attention to this half-sunken treasure chest, lodged against a raft of driftwood, that obviously has some sweet loot:

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Outside of the park trip, there’s not really a consistent theme to everything. I have just one other bird picture–if I recall, it was a red-winged blackbird, but the photo’s just another bird silhouette (it’s at least an intriguing silhouette, I think).

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There are, of course, the usual combination of trees and water features that I like:

Finally, some animal friends near my work:

I know it’s pretty self-indulgent to share these pictures, and I recognize that I don’t have any talent, but it’s still fun to share some of the things I see! If you looked through the photos, I hope you saw something that you liked.

Spring Pictures

This is one of my picture posts, so if you’re into that, great, and if not, then I guess I’ll see you later.

I’ll start with a usual theme: birds. I’ve seen a lot of robins, of course, as well as red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, European starlings and grackles, sparrows, mourning doves, at least one swallow, and the ever-present Mallard ducks and Canadian geese. I’ve even seen a red-tailed hawk! As usual, most of my pictures suck. Worse than usual, even the decent ones are only decent when grading on a curve. But still, here are a few:

I also have a couple landscape shots that I thought were pretty enough:

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Lastly, I’ve got some zoo pictures to share:

I love the second orangutan shot not because of the quality of the picture (it’s dreadful, I know!) but because of the dude’s incredibly contented face.

That’s it! I hope more pictures will be coming soon as I get out walking more–it looks like it might finally start feeling like spring!

Living in the franchise flow

My last post might have ended up sounding shockingly bitter or defeatist. Maybe it sounds like I’m engaging in an activity that I don’t even like anymore? But that’s simply not true.

I suppose pop culture fandom is a bit like an addiction. You could definitely keep consuming past the point of enjoyment. You might take deep reward from fandom, or you might merely remember at one point feeling a sense of reward, and after all you’re so invested that there’s no reason to quit.

But I could quit if I wanted! I say this jokingly, of course; that phrase is the recognizable cliche of any addict ever. Yet there’s truth to it. I bashed pretty hard on Marvel films last night, but I don’t have the history with Marvel to feel any sense of personal identity bound up in its IP. I could walk away and never look back. But they’re still fun films!

Rather than a true addiction, it’s maybe more appropriate to look at my franchise fandoms as junk food. It’s way too easy to take in way too much of it, to keep consuming beyond any possible benefit. And just like junk food companies, these big studios are always trying to sell you on way more than you need, way more than you would otherwise want, way more than you should have. It all feels good–until you’re way past the point you should’ve stopped, and you feel a little bit sick. The metaphor is definitely not original to me, nor is the recommended treatment: moderation. Limit the junk food, and try to mostly eat healthy.

I admittedly don’t mostly eat healthy. Figuratively, or, uh, literally. But I try–both in the metaphor of media consumption and in my real-life dietary habits.

My big franchise fandom is, of course, Star Wars. But I’m more broadly a fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And this of course means that there are plenty of original works out there without the burden of franchise. In the past few years, I’ve read plenty of Star Wars and revisited writers like Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft and George R.R. Martin, but I’m very glad to say that I’ve also read works from writers I hadn’t before, like Molly Glass and Victor Milan and Marie Brennan and Naomi Mitchison and Octavia Butler and even Carrie Fisher. I’ve also kept a steady stream of nonfiction works in my reading rotation, including a couple histories of Indiana, a few books on the paranormal, and a recent streak of true-crime books. I similarly try to keep my mix of films and games a combination of franchise favorites and new material.

I’m actually not trying to be prescriptive or judgmental. My own frustrations with franchise juggernauts, and my own efforts to counter my overexposure to the biggest commercial cash cows, are merely my own. I’m not an expert in, say, media studies or psychology. If you think that there could always be more Marvel movies, and you could never have enough, I’m not here to say that you’re wrong! It’s just my subjective experience.

What I’m trying to get at is that I get frustrated with my fandoms, and I recognize that these franchises are not healthy as one’s sole source of entertainment. But I still get a lot of enjoyment and engagement out of them, and I sometimes get a lot of inspiration or insight too. It’s just important to splice that with more enriching material. At least, it is for me.

Things I’m Into Right Now

For this evening’s post, a short recap of Things I’m Into Right Now.

First, I’m still playing Skyward Sword. I’ve held Arena on pause for a while now, but I feel more like I owe something to finishing up that game. I don’t really feel like I owe anything to Skyward Sword. Visuals are sometimes pretty, and sometimes fall short. Game’s quirky, though sometimes the characters are more annoying than silly. Plot’s falling into some generic Legendary Hero bullshit, which I guess it has to as a Zelda game, but it’s not anything to keep me around. Game path still feels really railroaded, and while it seems there are a lot of things I could be doing, a lot of arbitrary Secret Places in each zone and a lot of dumb item collection things like bug catching, very little actually seems interesting or fun to do. And oh my god, the motion controls are killing me. Things that should be intuitive are difficult to replicate. Trying to get my sword to arc a repetitive circle is a nightmare that usually translates to Link spastically jerking about–and that’s a required task to get through several sealed doors. I’m now through the Faron region and, having held off the demon Lord Ghirahim, I’ve finished my first true dungeon in the game.

Second, I’ve intermittently been playing Sonic Mania. It’s another game I don’t feel driven to complete, but it’s a fun diversion at times. You can play it a lot or a little. It feels like the original side-scrolling Sonic titles in the best possible way. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s challenging–sometimes, for me, very challenging–yet seldom frustrating. Bright colors, imaginative reinterpretations of old levels, and a sense of smooth direction over the course of every level to keep encouraging just one more level of play make for good times.

While it’s not really a Thing I’m Into Right Now, I’ve been excited to see the return of many songbirds this week, especially several red-winged blackbirds. Robins come so early, but it really feels like spring when I start to see (and hear) those red-winged blackbirds! And we still have two days until the spring equinox. On the subject of birds, anyone have any idea as to an identification of the birds up-top? Larger version of the image below:

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Also, I’m on a bit of a 1930’s true crime kick right now. I recently finished John Toland’s The Dillinger Days, which was fascinating mostly because I’d known very little at all about those 1930’s bank-robbing and kidnapping gangs. Toland’s book is well-researched, and it was written in the 1960’s so benefited from interviews with many of the surviving actors. Apparently some of the information’s now viewed as inaccurate, but I enjoyed the book. Toland did a good job of keeping criminals and cops alike as human, resisting the impulse to romanticize or villainize anyone (it’s hard to say I really liked anyone, though, what with the criminals murdering innocents and kidnapping people and often being sort of stupid and cruel, while the cops were often willing to shoot first and ask questions later and seemed a little too zealous in stopping the Bad Guys without due process concerns, except for a few who were often just outright corrupt).

Relatedly, I’m reading Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend by Deirdre Bair. I’d never read a biography of Capone before, and this was a very interesting one to start with. Bair has extensively interviewed family members and shares a more personal, intimate take on the famed gangster, often relating family stories and breaking down which ones are false and which ones have grains of truth. She also references other existent biographies. If you wanted a just-the-facts narrative focusing on Capone’s criminal operations and efforts to take him down, it seems like you might want another biography. But this one is beautifully written and thoughtful and engaging–the writing alone truly makes this book worth it.

Finally, I watched the 2011 biopic J. Edgar earlier today (directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Dustin Lance Black, who’s credited with writing a few other biopics; and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, and Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, with an excellent supporting cast including a single-scene appearance by Adam Driver as an overly earnest gas station attendant). The original FBI director is such a ridiculous, legally empowered super-villain, and yet the film managed to portray him sympathetically by (1) presenting him as a true-believer law enforcement reformer who bought into his own myth, and by (2) spending significant screen time carefully building up the allegedly romantic relationship between Hoover and Tolson. Hoover’s fear of his own sexuality and his deep (yet apparently platonic) love for Tolson are elements that may or may not be true, but without them it would be hard to salvage a likeable man out of this. Tolson also conveniently serves as a very soft conscience, who challenges Hoover at his most disgusting and grandiose, though he unfortunately always backs down to the director. We are left without hard answers about who Hoover was–just one particularly artful interpretation. Aside from the pretty bad Old Person makeup for later-in-life Hoover and Tolson, this film was quite good.

And now, sadly, it’s time for my weekend to end.