Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #7 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

When I was nine years old, I started a comic.

Cover of "The 'L' Gang"I laid on my bedroom’s tan carpet, carefully drawing and coloring each panel, a plastic tub of colored pencils beside me. When I finished a page, I’d run downstairs to the kitchen, where a pot of spaghetti sauce was simmering on the stove, and interrupt my mom’s cooking to show off my latest work.

I don’t remember exactly how long The “L” Gang took to complete, but when I finished its seven pages and had written “THE END!” in rainbow letters on the last page, it was time to publish. Gathering a spare three-ring binder and some sheet protectors, I carefully slid each page into its plastic sheath, which I then hooked over the binder’s silver rings. When I was done, I held it in my hands. Here was a real comic. I could turn the pages, it had a cover–this was the real deal.

A few years later, when I was thirteen, I started another comic.

Eighths vs. Sevvies #1
Let’s look past the really weak, problematic punchline here.

This time, there was no binder, no sheet protectors. Although I asked my dad to print one copy for posterity, I didn’t rely on the comic’s tangibility to consider it published. Instead, I got near-instant gratification by uploading it to my deviantART account.

Eighths vs. Sevvies continued for five strips. Over the course of those five strips, I developed a digital coloring technique, practiced drawing and pacing comics, and even had a thoroughly developed plot laid out (although I’ve forgotten almost all of it today). One day, I’ll probably write a blog post about the series. But today, I want to look at something else that Eighths vs. Sevvies represents: the significance of art-sharing sites on my creativity as a kid. Continue reading

Traveling Without a Map

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #6 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

The other night,  after cleaning up the dinner dishes, R and I went to the ale house around the corner for a beer. The evening air was gentle, a welcome change from Walla Walla’s oppressive summer heat, so we took our beers out to the patio and sat.

“What will it take,” R asked me teasingly, “to convince you to go live with me in another country for a year?” Continue reading

The Inevitable Book

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #5 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

There aren’t many things in life I’m sure of, and about my future, even fewer. I lack a developed sense of ambition or faith; when faced with the daunting unknown, I’m far more likely to cautiously inspect it and slowly sketch a map than confidently plunge ahead into uncharted territory. Until very recently, if you asked me, a college graduate, what I wanted to do with my life, I would have shrugged, listed a few half-baked ideas, and ultimately iterated that I just didn’t know.[ref]Even now that I have some idea of a career I want to pursue, I’m still don’t have many powerful aspirations for other parts of my life. Like I said, ambition’s not my thing.[/ref] But despite my general milquetoastiness about the future, there’s on thing that I’ve simply accepted as a matter of fact:

One day, I’ll write a book. Continue reading

X-ray specs

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #3 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

After five or six months of living in Japan, I came down with an overwhelming case of nostalgia. Seemingly out of the blue, I developed a powerful urge to dust off my old Gameboy Color, slot in a cartridge… and play Pokémon.

I ended up sating my desire by buying a used Nintendo DS and a copy of Pokémon White. Though the graphics on the new system left my childhood copy of Yellow in the dust, my sweaty palms and rapt attention confirmed what I had hoped. Pokémon was still as fun to play as ever, and I still wanted to be a Pokémon Master.

Shortly after springboarding off of my nostalgia and diving back into this world, however, I realized something. When I was a kid, Pokémon was about finding a bunch of cool monsters, leveling them up to do lots of damage, and fighting away. At that point in my life, I didn’t see the systems beneath the game. Traits like attack, defense, and accuracy were all just meaningless numbers that popped up every time my Snorlax[ref]who, I believe, was named “THE WALL” and knew Surf[/ref] gained a level. But when I came back to the game at 21, I suddenly saw just how much depth there was. I pored over move lists and team rosters on Smogon University, a site dedicated to competitive Pokémon strategy. I considered the role of each Pokémon on my team and the significance of every stat. Not only did playing Pokémon as a twenty-something allow me to experience the familiarity of an old favorite, it opened up worlds of complexity I’d never noticed as a kid.

This isn’t the only childhood favorite that I’ve developed newfound appreciation for upon revisiting as an adult. Last year, I reread the Series of Unfortunate Events books, by Lemony Snicket, and the first two books in the His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman. Both of these series were at the top of my favorites list as a kid, but I appreciated them for their surface-level details. I loved the plot of ASOUE, loved Snicket’s voice, loved imagining the secret society of V. F. D. with all its codes and ciphers. His Dark Materials gripped me with its plot as well and tickled my imagination with its depictions of dimension-splitting blades and the truth-telling golden compass. But upon rereading them, I was struck–struck by how, for instance, the world of the Baudelaire orphans becomes less black-and-white as the books progress and the children age; or the theological intricacy of the plot of Pullman’s novels. Like I did with Pokémon, I gained a deeper appreciation for these books, seeing beyond the surface and engaging with them on an intellectual as well as emotional level.

One more example. Rachel and I just finished rewatching Star Wars, which I hadn’t seen since I was 14, sitting in the dusty cinemas of Oak Grove 8 with my family and watching Episode III. When I was a kid, Star Wars was about good and bad. I couldn’t explain why, but I just knew that the Rebels were good, the Empire was bad, and there was going to be a lot of lasers and explosions as the good guys tried to win. But having now rewatched the series at 23, I’m amazed how much I missed. More than the lasers and the explosions, I’m fascinated today by the politics and the character arcs. How did the Galactic Republic become the Galactic Empire? Who is Palpatine, and how does corrupting Anakin and Luke play into his schemes? And, heck, how does Star Wars play with common storytelling tropes and monomyths? Asking questions like this makes the series far more than six five[ref]We refused to watch Episode I, and nothing of value was lost.[/ref] movies about lightsaber battles.

I love having these critical lenses. Engaging with works on multiple levels allows me to appreciate–and critique–their content from a variety of perspectives. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I’m glad I see things with these “X-ray specs”.

But every once in a while, I wish with all my heart I could take them off and return to the simplicity of childhood.

My generation is a nostalgic one, as I’m sure some New York Times trend piece has triumphantly reported. We love the culture of the late 80’s and 90’s, and are regularly looking for ways to return. Look at the recent Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, or the surging trend of indie video games with 8- or 16-bit graphics. I’m sure this is in part because of what I’ve discovered myself–that revisiting childhood favorites as an adult is often a doubly satisfying experience–but I suspect it also has to do with a return to those simpler times.

After all, we were in high school or college when the Great Recession began. After 10 or so years of being told we ought to go to college, we were strapping on our shoes and preparing to do so–or working on our degrees–when the economy began decaying. We inhabit an increasingly corporate world and a country with a withering middle class. My generation watched the promises of a charismatic, visionary young politician turn to campaign trail litter; we saw the specter of “terrorism” used to erode our constitutional rights. The economic and political power of massive corporations is at an all-time high. The threat of climate change hangs over every thought of our future lives. And that’s to say nothing of the forms of oppression like racism or sexism that permeate our culture.

This is our shit. We see the complex systems at play in the world, but knowledge isn’t power to us. After all, what more can we do to stop the forces of a power-hungry surveillance state? What more can we do to arrest corporate control of our government? It’s not that we’re ignorant of these problems, it’s that we see the distant limits of their shadows and realize we’re facing juggernaut behemoths.

For us, knowledge isn’t power. It’s a reminder of our own powerlessness.[ref]Self-aware footnote here: I actually don’t think we’re all as habitually downtrodden as I make us out to be in this post. I think it’s less of a “God, everything in the world is awful” conscious thought, and far more of a nagging, persistent tune that erodes your fundamental faith in the world. Y’know, like elevator music.[/ref]

So if by slotting in that cartridge and flicking the switch, or by checking out books from the library’s kids’ section, we can return, even temporarily, to a world less complicated, where we don’t see the various interlocking systems and can instead enjoy the simple thrills… I think it’s no surprise that so many of us seek that link to our simpler pasts.

Pondering the colors of Magic

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #2 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

write one on what parts of the color pie your personality represents, including a comprehensive walkthrough of each color’s ideals/traits.

Kevin Dyer

Strap on your nerd helmets.[ref]I expect that a “nerd helmet” looks something like this.[/ref] I’m going all-in. Continue reading

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #1 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

I figured the right way to start this blogathon was by blogging about blogging, so I sat down and pulled up the post editor.

“Blogging,” I said, placing my fingers on the keyboard. “Right then.”

Curiously, a fully-formed blog post didn’t flow from my fingertips, so I started poking around in search of inspiration. I checked out my archives, and realized that my first blog was in 2004, a solid decade ago.

Whoa. I’ve been doing this blogging thing a long freaking time. Continue reading

Five in the morning is in that span of time I typically think of as “oh fuck no it’s early,” yet this morning, against all odds, I started stirring around 5:10. Rachel had a flight to catch, and was going to be waking up and getting out of bed in five minutes, but for those five minutes, I was awake by myself, in the stillness of the morning.

I love summer mornings. Summer nights are hot and muggy, leading you to throw windows open and blankets off, but at five in the morning, the air breezing through your window is refreshingly brisk. The oppressive heat pauses, and the whole world takes a breath. Though the window’s open, there’s hardly any sound of traffic or human activity, just the songs of waking birds far in the distance.
Continue reading

My mind is burning

I’ve decided that this summer, it’s time to stop being ignorant. I’ve had the privilege, as a white, straight, middle-class American male, to live a life fairly unburdened by worries of social inequality or injustice, but it’s time that I stepped outside that privilege and learned something.

I’ve hardly even begun thinking about making a reading list for the summer, and already, it feels like my head is on fire with all of it. Racism. Sexism. Capitalism.

It feels right now like the world is fucked up in so many ways. I recognize that might be a bit of an overreaction, but I also can predict I’ll be going further into a slump of that hopelessness the more I research and learn, until I can accept it and start figuring out what the hell to do about it.

Learning about this isn’t going to be easy. It’ll be tempting to just back out and retreat to my privileged position, where I don’t have to deal with the painful reality of what’s going on.

It’ll be my challenge to stick with it and make a worthwhile change in my life.

It’s going to be an interesting summer, that’s for damn sure.

Header image: “Sparks” by Daniel Dionne (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Exclamation point

Stale Content Alert!

This post was written a long time ago, and my views have almost certainly evolved since then. Please keep that in mind while reading, commenting, or sharing.

There have been a number of minor thoughts buzzing around my head like gnats lately. They are bothersome and they take up otherwise useful space in my brain, so as an attempt to reclaim some territory, here are some minor thoughts from my head, in no particular order:

Continue reading