Monday, December 10, 2018

Health Update: Pneumonia Sucks

I will keep this short.

Cathy got out of the house today, for the first time since coming home from the hospital. With her portable oxygen tank strapped to her back, we made it down the stairs, to the hospital for a chest X-ray, and then over to our primary care physician for a check up, in just under two hours. Considering that all of the above locations are a five minute drive from the theater, you can be assured that yes, it took a long time.

That's what pneumonia does, apparently. In blocking your airway, it starves your body and your blood of oxygen. I mean, we're looking at a four-to-six week recovery time...and we caught it early. I shudder to think what would have happened if we had waited a couple of days. Cathy would probably still be in the hospital.

Still, she is feeling better. She's out of the hospital, at home, in her own clothes, and dealing with me, playing the role of Patch Adams. Here's a free life lesson for you: when someone you know is on home oxygen, connected to about fifty feet of tubing, and trying to cross a room, moving very slowly, you may be tempted to make space-walk astronaut noises, and imitate the radio crackle of Neil Armstrong talking from the surface of the moon. My advice to you is this: the person will not find it funny, no matter how dead-on accurate your Neil Armstrong impression is.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Health Update: Home

Cathy in repose. Taken during her last night in the hospital.
Part of my journey into wellness (and I know how fruit-loop that sounds, okay?) involves taking my negative emotions, my dark thoughts, my little grievances that crop up every day, and instead of tamping them down into my stomach like an emotionally-stunted garbage compactor, I process those emotions and thoughts and, well, expel them. Yeah, that's a word that doesn't sound like poop, sure. And I have been doing pretty good with that strategy, writing a lot more on this blog and turning my family's struggles into something less than poignant and a little more than maudlin.

Even so, I was not prepared for Cathy's stay in the hospital. Not at all. It was a clothesline maneuver from the get-go. We walked in to get blood work done, and then she got an oxygen tube in her nose, and then they ordered a chest X-ray, and then here comes a second doctor, and suddenly, they are admitting her for pneumonia. Onetwothree like that. Oh, and in the midst of her dealing with pneumonia, here comes this whack-a-do muscle spasm that is locking her body up like a rictus, shooting agonizing pain through her with every breath, every sneeze, and oh, hello there, pneumonia, every single cough.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Cancer: Pain Management

Cathy, under the blanket her sister knitted for her. The damn
thing weighs twenty five pounds, I kid you not. It's like a
Thunder Shirt for grown-ups. Cathy loves it. 
I should have known better. It was going so well. In every movie, every comic book, every aspect of cliched storytelling the world over, it's the guy in the war movie who stands up and says, "I can't wait to get home tomorrow to see my baby girl!" that gets taken out by a sniper.

The "we've got a handle on this pneumonia" post must have felt a lot like bragging, because the Stage Three Ovarian Cancer Sniper was quick to remind us that he's still out there, and he's an asshole.

Ever since her diagnosis, and a little before, Cathy has complained of intense, localized lower back pain--think a charlie horse, but up in the middle of your back. We have examined, poked, prodded, massaged and kneaded the area, to no avail. Muscle relaxers? Tried 'em. Yoga? You betcha. Nothing worked. The thing was this: it didn't feel like a back muscle spasm. No knots, no bulges, no tightness, nothing I could feel. The muscles in her back were fine, even in the midst of a 'spasm.'

With her cancer diagnosis, Cathy was quick to report the problem to her oncologist, who confirmed what we knew: not only was there no muscular problems, there was no cancer, either. Not there, anyway. The cancer and its accompanying physiological problems could still be the culprit, however. Neurological pain is complicated, and without being able to isolate something, there could be any number of things pressing down on somewhere else, and the pain receptor in her back is going haywire.

Yeah. This sucks, all right.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Health: Cathy Update

Dateline: Sunday December 2

One of the things that they tell you look out for when you start taking chemotherapy is "flu-like symptoms." They are serious about it; emphatic. The doctors tell you. The nurses tell you. The guy making the sandwiches tells  you. "Hey...no screwing around, now. You get to feeling sick? You call in and let us know immediately."

And it makes perfect sense, right? I mean, after all, the chemotherapy messes with your immune system. Your white blood cells, etc. It's part of what makes the chemotherapy work, and also part of what everyone dreads about it. I've written before about some of the symptoms that Cathy has endured in these past six months, and while I've tried to be as whimsical about it as I can, it's still a problem, especially since Cathy has an ever-rotating palette of symptoms and side-effects that present themselves, at different times, dependent on where we are in her chemotherapy cycle. It's a lot like living with a werewolf.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Health Update: Well, Shit.

It's been a difficult month. I've been prepping for surgery for the last two and a half weeks. Lots of logistical loose ends to tie up, everything from assigning various theater duties to minions and/or training them, to dealing with insurance companies and the vast sums of money that prop up the medical health profession, not to mention my own normal fears about doctors, needles, surgery, and body invasion that have been hounding me for as long as I've been aware that I will need surgery.

I've done my best to embrace the change: "This is a good thing," I told myself, over and over again, usually whilst rocking in a a near-fetal position with a glass of bourbon. "These are necessary for your ongoing health, wellness, and recovery." I've used every moment of physical discomfort or an inability to lift something as a way of reinforcing the idea that soon, this will be addressed, and then you'll have some mobility back as well as a quality of life that you haven't had in years.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee (1922 - 2018)

This is my enduring image of Stan, and from
the time when I was most enamored of him.

What the hell do you even say? Where do you even start? Ninety-five years. A long life—a charmed, stone-cold lucky, twice over, fairy tale roller coaster of a life—a living reward for a body of creative work that is worth billions today. He died knowing he was beloved, lionized, and canonized the world over. We should all be so lucky.

Stan Lee’s career spans the whole of the comic book industry from its modest origins to the mega-billion dollar Marvel franchise he helped to create. I can’t parse this. It feels like the end of something. Earlier this year when Steve Ditko passed, I knew that there was one shoe left to drop. It doesn’t seem fair to this Spider-Man fan to have to mourn both of his creators in the same year. But Stan Lee was not just Spider-Man’s creator, although if that were all he ever did, it would certainly be enough. Stan was an architect of Cool, the self-styled "Homor of the Comics," the kind of creator that contained multitudes. There's a lot to unpack. Please be patient with me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Health: Nobody Vomits Gracefully

Watch out for this guy. He'll kill ya.

Food poisoning is one of the great equalizers; everyone has at least one instance where they ate something and not long after, it sent their body into open revolt. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and I’d like to think that my recent experiences taught me a thing or two. One seldom expects to encounter life wisdom while poised over a toilet, and yet, beggars can’t be choosers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Those of you not from Texas probably know all about the storied tourist trap called the Big Texan; it’s been featured in many TV shows and stands as a living, throbbing testament to Texas Excess and all that comes with it. This is one of the many roadside attractions that memorialize the passing of Route 66, an intentional call-back to a bygone era. Their well-publicized signature dish is a 72-ounce sirloin steak and all of the trimmings. If you can finish the entire meal in an hour, it’s on the house.

Even if they didn’t have a steak the size of a hubcap for people to gleefully masticate, the place would still be on the map as the Official Cultural Graveyard of Texas. This is where tourism goes to die. Anything that can hold an image of the Texas flag or any of its composite or ancillary components (a single star, or the distinctive outline of the state, for example) is replicated on a bewildering array of merchandise which is then jacked up to three to five times the normal price, because, you see, everything is bigger in Texas, including con jobs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Witch Movies


Movies about witches and witchcraft are perennially popular, but that’s mostly because they are the same story, often played for laughs, as these women with magical powers help the men in their lives either thwart evil or perpetrate it, by degrees. It’s peculiar to me how many witchcraft movies are some iteration of that basic premise. Lots of things happen in schools, by the way. I’m sure there’s a message in there, somewhere.

When movies about witchcraft are scary, they are pretty terrifying. The alternative is something usually between Bewitched and the Witches of Eastwick. Fun movies, by the way, and certainly, witches usually come down on the Most Fun Classic Monster side of the aisle. However, I like my witches mysterious and weird and scary and Not Right. These are my top 5 favorite Witch movies in that specific vein.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Vincent Price Movies


Vincent Leonard Price Jr. (1911-1993) was an American actor who made over a hundred feature films in a variety of genres, including historical drama, mystery, film noir, and even comedy, but he is best known for his roles in horror films. A graduate of Yale with a degree in art history, he later studied abroad in London, where he kindled his love of theater and later performed onstage opposed Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. This led to a five-play contract with Orson Welles Mercury Theatre. Eventually he was put on contract at Universal as a character actor, playing romantic leads and scoundrels in equal measure. But he never abandoned the stage, returning to it every chance he got.

In fact, it was during his performance in the 1941 play Angel Street (the American version of Gaslight) playing the cruel Jack Manningham, pushing his wife Helen into madness, that he found his true calling playing villains. Speaking about that role, Price told one interviewer “…I came out for my curtain call and the audience just hissed. I knew I'd found my niche.” He secured a few more villain roles and turns in minor horror movies. Later, in the early 1950s, Price would become wildly successful in the genre, leading to some of his most memorable roles and performances for the next twenty-odd years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Cancer: A Setback

The girls, chillaxing, taken a few years ago.
There is that old expression, "God doesn't give us more than we can deal with." I saw the following on a T-Shirt, years ago, and I've never forgotten it. "Lord, I know you don't give me more than I can handle. I just wish you didn't have so much confidence in my abilities."

We hit a snag. Cathy didn't get chemo yesterday, because her white blood cell count was too low. Not a biggie, but while Cathy was at the clinic, she complained about her leg being swollen. They sent her to get an ultrasound, and the results were immediate and serious: she has a blood clot in her artery.

She's probably had it for some time, but it could very well have developed from the Skittles-like array of drugs and chemicals she has been swallowing for months, now. There is a drug she can take that will thin the clot down and dissolve it safely. That's good. The drug works over a three to six month period. See if you can guess where this is going.

Cathy's surgery has been postponed until her clot is gone. They can't risk that clot breaking free while they are operating on her. It would kill her. So, until such time as we can be sure the clot won't be a problem during surgery, she's going to take even more medicine and keep taking weekly chemo treatments.

We are disheartened, frustrated, and confused. That's putting it mildly. More than anything I'm frustrated for Cathy, because I know this treatment is working, but it's doing a number on her. We may not be able to go out of town for our anniversary. She's got to stay mobile on the leg while she's taking the meds. A six hour car ride isn't what she needs right now.

More on this later. I'm tired and irritated. I hate this. I just hate it.

Top 5 Favorite Long Form TV Series


This is a new category, brought on by the fact that we are certainly in the midst of a Television Renaissance as the medium has grown and expanded to now include shows that are longer than a mini-series but still have an ending, however nebulous it may be. These “Netflix” shows are really just the next phase of what cable networks like HBO and Showtime have been doing for twenty years now. The difference is that, instead of willingly placing oneself apart from the rest of the content providers (“It’s not TV…it’s HBO”) now everyone is on a level playing field thanks to a more egalitarian distribution system. This competition has been the best thing for show creators, the networks, and the fans, as amazing shows with oddball premises that wouldn’t have found a voice in 1998 are now among the most eagerly anticipated events of 2018. And a lot of these shows are horror and fantasy and science fiction and sometimes a mix of all that and more.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Cancer: Gearing Up for Phase 2

This is an old picture of Cathy's Wall of Strength. It's got
a lot more on it now. And she's still got more cards to add. 
On Tuesday Cathy will have her last chemo treatment before surgery. To say that we are both thrilled about that would be an understatement of gross proportions. Lots of you have been asking how it's been going, and I've been just a little bit too busy to update like I'd want to, and I'm sorry about that.

As Cathy's needs have intensified in the midst of her treatments, my own mental health took a dip and it took me a couple of weeks to recognize it. I'm making corrections and adjustments now, and as a result, I feel better and more alert, so here you go.

The change in the weather has helped, too. Autumn in October? In TEXAS? Pinch me, I'm dreaming. We haven't had actual Fall weather in the Fall for years. I'm so excited.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In Defense of Bad Movies Part 2: FLAAAASSSHH!

Check out the muscles
on Blonde Conan!
In Part 1 of  In Defense of Bad Movies, I outlined the disconnect between film critics and the general public. If you want to read it, you can certainly do that. Now that I have made this particular bed, I’m going to lie in it by taking a pipe wrench to the skull of a film most beloved and personal to the Geek Nation. Let’s all watch some people’s heads explode. Fun!

Since I mentioned Flash Gordon (1980) in Part 1 as an example of a bad movie, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain why I think this is so. Before you start typing your hate mail, there's some objective criteria below that you ought to look at. I put pictures in the post, so you wouldn't have to just take my word for it. If you make it all the way to the end and still feel triggered, just follow this link over to my Facebook page and let fly with your invective. I'm bracing myself for impact. Okay, enough of that; let's go tip some sacred cows!

Friday, October 12, 2018

In Defense of Bad Movies Part 1: Somewhere Between High Art and Cult Classic

I’m writing a lot about old movies at the moment on both of my current blogs. Finn’s Top 5 is happening over at the Finn’s Wake blog, and my biased look back at the fantasy films of the 1980s that informed our Dungeons and Dragons games is happening over at Confessions of a Reformed RPGer. I like writing about film; I have been a professional reviewer and critic for many years now, and I’ve been named one of the top movie reviewers in Texas by the Associated Press Managing Editors several times. You may also know that I am co-owner of a movie theater in North Texas that plays first-run movies on two screens, which is kind of like a unicorn in today’s market.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Stephen King Movies


It really says a lot about a person when they are their own genre of storytelling. Think about that: Stephen King is one of those very rare—as in, maybe four or five authors, tops—who have such consistent draw that they are household names. Not just any household, either, but every household. Try this: next time you’re at your grandparents’ house and they are regaling you with the saga of the latest bunion on their foot, wait for them to finish and then say, “Jeez, Grams, that was more horrifying than a Stephen King story,” and see if they don’t immediately know what you mean by that.

King’s prodigious output also accounts for a list of movies nearly as long, and while the quality of the aforementioned movies and books varies greatly, both subjectively and objectively, there are a number of great Stephen King movies that have been accidentally made out of their literary counterparts. Granted, there are also some god-awful ones, too, but we’re not here to talk about Maximum Overdrive…or Firestarter…or The Tommyknockers…or…you get the idea. For the purposes of this list, we’ll focus on the ones that cleaved most closely to the books and were also scary or horrific in some way. That’s why you won’t see Stand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption on this list, as great as they are.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Kaiju Movies


Kaiju is one of those terms that has been around for years, used primarily for fans of Japanese pop culture to sound smarter than the rest of us when they wanted to talk about big honking monsters. Unfortunately, thanks to three decades’ worth of importing their TV to jaded American audiences, “kaiju” has entered the pop culture lexicon. It’s a word of Japanese origin, that, loosely translated, means “big honking monsters.” Way to move the discussion forward, folks.

Specifically, the term as it applies to movies is considered a genre, though what monsters are considered kaiju are hotly debated. For the purposes of our discussion, I’m going to break it down like this: King Kong (1933) is not a kaiju movie. King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) is. Simple, right? Also, I’m going to give it my best effort to pick the scariest kaiju movies I can, knowing full well that these movies aren’t anything like what’s on the other Top 5 lists. However, I am a Monster Kid, so neener-neener, we’re doing this anyway.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Cancer: Surgery is Nigh

Cathy at chemotherapy, doing her best
to distract herself from the process. 
We were summoned to the Metroplex last week for a consult with the surgeon that is going to operate on Cathy's ladybusiness. He confirmed the initial results that the cancer was responding to the chemotherapy and everything was going according to plan. However, due to his crazy schedule, he wouldn't be able to get to Cathy's surgery until the end of the month at the earliest. So he ordered one more round of chemotherapy and we penciled in a date for surgery on November 2nd.

Independently of that, I've also got a tentative schedule for my surgical procedures, and that is December 3rd. There will undoubtedly be some overlap for our recovery, and Oh Brother, won't THAT be fun. All kidding aside, it's actually a relief for both of us to know that these things are going to happen. They are on schedule and real to us now, instead of some nebulous "down the road" kind of thing.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Return of Finn's Top 5 Lists

You asked for it! You demanded it! You threatened my dog If you didn't get it!

Okay, none of that really happened. But it might've. You don't know for sure, do you?

Over the years, I've done a lot of Top 5 Movie Lists for various horror films, usually around October. It's been a while since I did them, and I decided to go back to some fun stuff here on this blog since lately it's all been real life and seriousness. We need some fun.

So, for October, I'm dropping five new Finn's Top 5 Movie lists! They will be added to the already illustrious pedigree you see splayed out below.

And just because I wanted to, I went back through all of the lists below and updated them, adding new movies and eliminating redundancies, as was my original intention in breaking out all of the sub-categories, anyway. I also eliminated all of the bonus movies and either worked them into the existing list, or shunted them off into another list completely. Again, now there's more movies that before, each one occupying a single list. Am I thinking about this waaaaaay too much? You bet! But who benefits? You, the faithful reader and horror movie fan. After all, more movies listed is more movies to complain about, or wonder aloud why it's on the list so high, or point out that it really belongs on another list...

If you're new to this blog, or these lists, here's the complete run-down to date. And if you're interested in fantasy films, I'm doing a smaller series of reviews over on the sister blog, Confessions of a Reformed RPGer. Part 1 of the series, "The Movies of Dungeons & Dragons," can be found here.

My Top Five Science Run Amok Movies
My Top Five Horror-Comedy Movies
My Top 5 Creature on the Loose Movies  
My Top 5 When Animals Attack Movies
My Top 5 Mummy Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Frankenstein Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Horrors from the Deep Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Killer Doll Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Horror Anthology movies
My Top 5 Favorite Dracula Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Lovecraftian Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Haunted House Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Movie Maniac Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Killer/Creepy Kid Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Devils and Demons Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Ghost Story Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Monster From the Void of Space Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Zombie Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Vampire Movies
My Top 5 Favorite Werewolf Movies

Monday, September 24, 2018

Friday Night Flight or Fight

Some people have a monkey on their back. I also have
a monkey on my front. Basically, I'm all monkeyed up.

I know I’m not the only person that struggles with anger management, depression, and anxiety. Many of you have shared with me your own stories, either recently or throughout the course of our friendships, and I confess, I haven’t always completely understood your struggle. I have sympathized, of course, but it was difficult for me to really empathize with what happens in your brain until I found myself on the other side of it.

I had a meltdown recently. It came quickly in a barrage of incidents that piled up too fast for me to deploy any of my practical tactics. I wanted to share what happened so that those of you who maybe don’t quite understand yourself can sneak a peek behind the mask and get an idea of how things can quickly escalate.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bullet Journaling is Saving My Ass

This could also be my Trapper
notebook from 1984 to 1988. 

One of the ways that I’ve been dealing with the last few months is with measured distraction. I started drawing again, after a decade or more of inactivity, and that's been very pleasant.Of course, I’ve also been blogging like a helicopter mom in an unfamiliar school district. I even started a second blog for discussing my lifelong relationship with tabletop gaming, if you haven't seen me mention it yet.

But I started doing something else that I have been reading about for a while called Bullet Journaling, ostensibly to help me keep track of all the appointments and scheduling we needed to do. However, I found out that there’s a lot more I can do with bullet journaling, and quite frankly, it has saved my ass.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Cancer: Some Good News


Last week, out of the blue, Cathy’s Oncologist sprang a CT scan on her. This was a surprise because we thought she had two more weeks to go before they would take a picture and look at stuff.

Cathy was, understandably, shaken and excited and nervous and all of that. There were a lot of ways that the results could go, such as “Well, the tumors don’t seem to be responding to the treatment,” or “there’s not much change, I’m afraid.” Or it could be the answer we actually got:

The tumors are shrinking. Every one of them. Her blood counts are good, the markers for tumors in her blood are down by two-thirds. Other spots way down or gone. It’s good news.

Granted, we haven’t heard from the doctor who will perform the surgery, and he’ll be the final arbiter of what constitutes an acceptable amount of shrinkage. It’s almost certain that Cathy has another round or two of chemo while they hem and haw over her CT scans.

But any way you look at it, it’s a win. Cathy got actual confirmation that all of the hell she’s been putting her body through has paid off. The meds are working. The treatment is working. She’s not just spinning her wheels.

We’re going to take a brief pause as we gird our loins for the second leg of the World’s Crappiest Triathlon—the surgery phase. All of that is still up in the air, but it’s a profound relief to know that we are on the other side of the chemo and almost through with this part of the treatment.

Have I mentioned yet how grateful we are? We are. There were a few days where the only thing that kept us going was a card in the mail, or a funny text message or something like that. It only takes a few seconds to be kind, but those few seconds can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for someone. We thank you all, for every second. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Cancer & Obesity: an Up and Down Update

We are casting for the part of Zu-Zu.
Must love dogs.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of it, I want to take a minute to recognize all of you who reached out to me with your own stories, your own struggles, and offers for advice and more information. Also, the sheer volume of unflagging support for both of us continues to give us whiplash. I say that in the best possible way. Thank you all for being in our corner. It's Bedford Falls every day around here.

Okay, it's been a rough week, and we're in the middle of it, but I wanted to update everyone on what's going on. Read on, if you dare.

Monday, August 27, 2018

It Never Rains, But It Pours...

For those of you keeping up: thank you for your interest and your support in helping us navigate Cathy's cancer diagnosis. This post is not about that. She's hanging in there, and we're just working toward getting her chemo done so we can do a scan and see how much the tumors have shrunk. It's a waiting game, and we both suck at it.

This post is about me, and a recent diagnosis I received, because, apparently, Cathy's cancer was not enough drama and excitement for us. I wanted to talk about what has been going on with me since October of last year for a while, and was planning on doing so, but Cathy's diagnosis has taken priority for obvious reasons. I can't do that any longer, as my situation has come to something of a head.

What follows is personal and dark and kinda gross. If you bail out right now, you won't have to read it and I'll completely understand. This is deep dive stuff and it may be more than you want to absorb. We're living in weird times right now. You do what works best for you.

If you're still with me, read on. It's a little longer than I've been posting lately, but I wanted to get it all out in one fell swoop.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Cancer: Cannabis

On the Road Again. 

Pueblo, Colorado, was certainly putting its marijuana money to good use, upgrading their roads and bridges and trying to economically develop their abandoned industrial areas. I wish them well, because it’ll take at least a decade to get the city not looking like a cut scene from Fallout 4. After that, the artists and the creatives will get pushed back out as the speculators and investors pour back in and jack up the real estate and the cycle of boom and bust begins anew.

All thanks to marijuana. Pretty interesting when you see it with your own eyes. I don’t know where you come down on the issue, but I’m ready to legalize it and tax the hell out of it and make a zillion dollars with it. Also, it’ll cut out a lot of the violence and crime at the border. Finally, it’ll help people. It might negatively impact some other industries, such as For-Profit Prisons, but I have to say, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We need less prisons, and less people in them. There’s my politics on the subject. Moving on.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Cancer: Colorado


Visit Colorado! Now with Scenery! Also: Weather!
I’ve never been to Colorado before. I’ve been through it several times; the Denver airport is a lovely stopover to points west and is remarkably uncomplicated to navigate. That’s all I know about Denver. Cathy, on the other hand, nearly moved to Colorado, having been there several times as a teenager. She loves it. We’d been planning a trip there for four or more years; a return to our road trips of yore, where we would find a nice bed and breakfast and hole up for a few days, and maybe sightsee. We even had our spot for Colorado all picked out: Manitou Springs, at the base of Pike’s Peak. Lots of little shops, cafes, and so forth to serve the tourist trade. Or if you want, you can just stare at the mountains. Or both.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cancer: Pear-Shaped Day

Between pictures, the photographer told us to just
"Be Ourselves" for a minute. This is what we did.

I’ve been mindful of my new agency in Cathy’s life as not only a caregiver but also as a cheerleader, emotional coach, court jester, and intellectual backup. It’s not that those things haven’t been part of the deal in the implicit marriage contract to begin with, but now they are up front, twenty-four seven. And I’ve also been reminded, encouraged, and flat-out told that I have to take care of myself, as well. I’m no good to Cathy if I’m short circuiting, myself.

And yet, we still have shit to do. A business to run. Day-to-day activities to attend to. I recently turned to bullet journaling, with better results than I anticipated. It’s helping me keep up with the day-to-day so that I can handle the unexpected things that crop up. Or so I thought.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Cancer: Hair


The other night, I used clippers to cut my wife’s hair.

Hair! What a crappy movie.
Like so many women past, present, and future, Cathy places a lot of encoded meaning on her appearance. She’s not traditional in the sense of always needing to wear make-up and a pressed frock to do the chores, but she takes rigorous care of her skin, is very particular about what kinds of make-ups and soaps she uses, and so forth. This includes her shampoo. She’s got a delicate ecosystem going on, and is a lifetime user of moisturizer and other similar salves and unguents, all of which has managed to delay her aging process by five to ten years. Of course, she’s colored her hair for as long as I’ve known her.

Now it’s falling out, and she’s really upset about it. She’s intellectually aware that this is a temporary thing and for the past few weeks, she’s been gradually working up to the idea that at some point, her hair was going to fall out. With that would be the need to either cut it or shave it down to the scalp, and of course, what to do about covering it, because society can’t stand the idea of a bald-headed woman for any reason whatsoever.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Cancer: Overwhelmed


Running the theater is hard enough, when we have to deal with the vagaries of the market, seasonal fluctuations, the indifference of our consumer base, and keeping the lights on in a depressed economy. Then you add a debilitating illness on top of it, the treatment for which is to make the person sicker and more debilitated, and suddenly, things look grimmer and grimmer.

Every August for the past eleven years, we’ve watched as everyone in Vernon turns out for the big weekend car cruising event, Summer’s Last Blast. Cookouts abound, as do adult beverages, and fleets of classic and muscle cars and trucks (and a few oddballs) cruise up and down the main thoroughfare. Vernon, for one weekend, returns to its former glory and the scene is like something out of American Graffiti, which is exactly the point.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cancer: Bedside Manner


We saw two oncologists, a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and seven or eight nurses of various levels of competency since the diagnosis. Not counting the local doc and his nurse who first put us on this path.

House and Wilson. Whatever you do, DO NOT
Google their fanfic. Trust me on this. 
We have also watched 8 seasons of House, starring Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard as Gregory House and his oncologist colleague, James Wilson. Here’s what our take-away is: the pretend doctors, even the made-up, grouchy-pants ones that are written so as to be assholes, still have better bedside manners than most real doctors.

There’s a reason for this: in fiction (or more specifically in this case, in TV shows and movies), it’s necessary for the audience to understand what the plucky schoolteacher or the recently widowed father of a really bright little girl is going to have to face in fighting this terrible disease. So the pretend doctor outlines in very simple language what’s going to happen in act two (and maybe act three or act four, depending on the narrative structure). This is also done to introduce conflict and tension into the story, which will be ratcheted up, stair-step style, as the story progresses. We get the blow by blow from one or more of the supporting characters; “She’s having a seizure! That can only mean... it’s spread to her brain!”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cancer: The Fog of War


Chemo-Head is not the name of a super hero, either intentionally- or ironically-named. It’s the condition one develops from having your body go from a regimen of no pharmaceutical drugs in your body to weekly bags of poison designed to target and kill aberrant cells in your body, chased with a handful of daily drugs to keep you from throwing up the poison, and ending with drugs to offset those drugs. That shit messes with your head, and renders you largely insensible. This is made all the worse if your default setting was “Slighty Goofy” to begin with.

I am one of those people that, if you tell me your nose itches, I’ll scratch mine. When I live with you, we sync up. And if I’m married to you, well, your problems become my problems. They tell cancer patients to avoid driving and operating heavy machinery, but what about the spouses?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Cancer: A Slight Hiccup


Cathy started chemo last week, and it was as weird and off-putting and uncomfortable as everyone said it would be. It would appear that the number one concern for our clutch of Doctors and Nurses is the fear that Cathy might become nauseous.

We grew up with stories of people undergoing chemotherapy and throwing up and being sick all the time. It was part of the drill that came with fighting cancer. But apparently in the last decade or so a side industry has emerged to attempt to pharmacologically deal with every symptom you might experience while in the midst of chemotherapy.

They gave her four medicines and a regimen for dealing with chemo: one pill in the morning, two at night. In between, if she has any nausea for any reason—if she even thinks about throwing up—here’s a third pill to take. It will give you a headache, sure, but it beats throwing up. Only, if the headache persists, let them know. They have a pill for that. Okay, so, after taking the third pill, it should kick in within fifteen minutes and be good for six hours. After that, if the nausea comes back, you can take it again, but if it ever doesn’t work---if you take it and still want to throw up, then there is a fourth pill you can take. It’ll make you sleepy, but it’ll work for 8 hours. If THAT pill doesn’t work, call them. They have a fifth pill they can give her.

Any other symptoms? Let them know. They have a pill for that. I think if I called the Nurse and said, “Cathy’s head just fell off, and is rolling around on the floor like a spaghetti squash,” the Nurse would say to me, “Okay, that’s a really rare side effect, but we do have a pill for that. I’ll write you a prescription.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cancer: Platitudes


As much as I am a social creature, I have a love-hate relationship with platitudes. Most people don’t realize that the question “How are you doing today?” isn’t really a question so much as it’s an acknowledgement; i.e. “I see you and recognize your presence. Let us now conduct our transaction.”

George Carlin used to riff on the word “fine” and out people would sort of bleat it out when they say it, suggesting they are anything but. Now, I know Carlin was doing a bit and it was funny, but those platitudes “How are you?” and “Fine, thanks,” are actually a kind of social armor, as well. It’s that verbal handshake that keeps you from really getting an earful: “Oh, let me tell you, my corns are killing me,” or “It’s so hot I’ve got jock itch,” or “my wife has cancer, you bastard, stop smiling at me!”

Monday, July 23, 2018

Cancer: Dark Thoughts

At the hospital, waiting to be called. It was 5:30 AM.
We were both drunk on no-sleep and fear.

I used to think I had a dark sense of humor. But there is nothing in the world like a potentially terminal cancer diagnosis to send you rocketing into the basement of your brain, in the darkness, where you think you’re at your most grim, and then a firepole opens up underneath you and sends you into the earth’s core and you realize you’ve not been all that dark, after all.

It was a month between us being told “We’re pretty sure it’s cancer,” and being told definitively “It’s cancer, ovarian. Stage 3.” I wouldn’t wish that month on anyone else in the world. There may be nothing worse than being told you might have something that will kill you, but before we can tell you that, you gotta go jump through these hoops and make these calls and drive to these appointments, and then, only then, four weeks later, will we let the other shoe drop.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

...In Sickness and in Health...

Us, about four weeks ago, trying not to think
about what was going on. I almost managed.
I apologize for the seemingly distant and impersonal announcement, but I honestly don't know of another way to do this without a freak out or a melt down. Sometimes distance is better. So, here we go.

About four weeks ago, Cathy went to the doctor complaining of abdominal pains. They took some scans and promptly freaked out. They took more scans and then sent them to a specialist in Wichita Falls. To make a long story short, they quickly determined that she had cancer. It was somewhere in the reproductive system and it was big enough to send us to an oncologist. We spent a month imagining the worst, but we finally have a diagnosis: ovarian cancer, stage 3.

This is both good news and bad news. Ovarian cancer is one of the silent killers, in that it's not detected until it's stage 4 and metastasized. Sometimes it's caught at stage 1, and the doctors perform a hysterectomy and that's it. They either literally nip it in the bud, or they tell you to make a bucket list. In our case, we lucked out, in that stage 3 ovarian cancer is treatable, if we hurry. But the treatment will have to be extensive, involving chemotherapy, and then surgery, and then follow up chemotherapy. And here's the best part: even after all of that, there's still a 40-50% chance it will come back.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Remembering Harlan (1934-2018)

It's appropriate that people don't have any words to eulogize Harlan Ellison's passing. How do you sum up a life so marbled and striated and so deeply influential in a few sentences? And as someone else already pointed out, he used up all of the good words long before us.

Nevertheless, I hope you'll indulge me as I try to bring some understanding for myself on the death of one of my literary inspirations. I can't call him a mentor, because it wasn't an active relationship--or otherwise, he was a mentor to all of us--but he did teach me a few things, even if he never knew it.

It was my old friend Billy Haney who turned me on to Ellison at the age of seventeen. I'm not going to say "It's Billy's fault," because that is a hoary cliche and moreover, I don't blame him for it. We were both writers, and he was the first person I could talk craft with and not get a deer in the headlights look. Instead, I'll say Thank You, Billy, because reading Ellison as an angry young man absolutely changed my life. It got me through high school. I am not kidding about that.

At the time, me and my friends all had front row seats for the giant falling out between Ellison and Gary Groth over remarks he'd made in a lengthy interview about Michael Fleischer in The Comics Journal, which was our New Yorker at the time. The incident turned into a lawsuit that cost everyone a chunk of cash and turned their friendship into an acrimonious sideshow that lasted, presumably, to the end of his life. Billy was the one who articulated to me why this was a big deal, and that alone sent me scouring after his books.

The first Ellison book I got was Strange Wine, a collection that sold me right away on who this Ellison cat is and why he's called a writer. I'd watched his Star Trek episode, like any good nerd, but I was fascinated to know that they changed his script and he flipped out and walked out when they did. But I'd never read Ellison in his pure, uncut form before. I opened the book up to Ellison's introduction, Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don't Look So Terrific Yourself, and that was it for me. This cat had some fire. And I got a little obsessive looking for Ellison books after that.

It was probably six months after reading Strange Wine that this guy walked into the comic and book store where I was working and--my hand to God--he brought a sack of books to sell. Along with some of the usual used fantasy and science fiction titles (did everyone read Stephen Donaldson in the 1980's?) was a cache of twelve Ellison paperbacks. I will explain to you Internet users why that's a big deal.

Before everything from pistachios to porn was three mouse clicks away, if you wanted to read a book, you had to go actually find that book. You had to drive to a used bookstore (because there was no Ellison in print at that time--he sold out quickly) and you had to scour their stock, and then, sheepishly, or in desperation, you had to walk up to the register monkey and ask, "Do you have any Ellison?" and then you had to take it when they gave you a sympathetic shake of their head or worse, a derisive sneer, and they almost always said the same thing. "He sells when we get him." Yeah, no shit he sells. I can't find his stuff anywhere.

That's what it used to be like, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Victoria Vetri was the queen of us all. Collecting books took years. Finding authors whose work you enjoyed was akin to archeology. You bragged to your friends about what you found on your trips.

So, when twelve Ellison books showed up, in my store, in front of me, I bought them. I paid the guy half of what I was going to buy them for, and he left happy. I never saw him again. But I stared at those twelve books: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Deathbird Stories, The Glass Teat, The Other Glass Teat, Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the WorldDangerous Visions, Ellison Wonderland, Spider Kiss, and the rest, and I felt like the book-nerd version of Indiana Jones staring at the Ark of the Covenant.

I read those books, nearly straight through, for the next two or three years. Here is a short list of just some of the things I pulled from the pile of books, aside from a mass of thoughtful and intelligent prose, sometimes poetic and sometimes distractingly baroque and dated:

It was in The Glass Teat that I read Ellison talking--as a TV and cultural critic--about the effect that television was having on the American public. Of particular interest to Ellison was the cognitive distortions he witnessed that were occurring to us as a people. An alarmist screed, 90% of which either came true or is still relevant to this day.

It was in Deathbird Stories that I first read"The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," a story Ellison wrote in a blind anger about the murder of Kitty Genovese, was one of those watershed moments for me as a fledgling writer.

It was in Spider Kiss that I realized you could write about someone or something very real without using their name, i.e. Elvis. Ellison had some things to say about the seduction of celebrity and he wanted to use Elvis as a metaphor for that, even as Elvis was still very much alive at the time the novel was written. After reading Spider Kiss, and decoding it as an allegory, I started seeing it everywhere.

Reading the Ellison-edited anthology Dangerous Visions was the first time I'd encountered the work of Carol Emshwiller ("Sex and/or Mr. Morrison), whom I'd never heard of, Samuel Delany ("Aye, and Gomorrah"), who I had heard of, but never read before, and Theodore Sturgeon ("If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?"), who I realized I'd been reading for years in other anthologies and loved him.

In The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, I first read "Along the Scenic Route," about a man on the highway, his car armed to the teeth, that decides to fight back against his unnamed tormentor with a fusillade of machine gun fire. The short story was one of the inspirations for the game Car Wars and probably also Deathrace 2000. My first car, a 1971 Volkswagon Beetle, had a toggle switch on the dash that was labeled "Missile Launcher."

 There are more, but you get the idea. Ellison shaped my tastes and influenced my writing, so early, and so much, that it's difficult to say where, exactly, but I can point to one thing that jump-started what eventually became my "voice": Anger.

Ellison was angry, a lot. Many of his best stories and essays have the white-hot intensity of someone who is righteously indignant about something, and in Ellison's case, it could be anything: creative theft, social injustice, gross stupidity, corporate greed, professional greed, personal greed, pride, avarice, lust, war--pretty much any combination of the seven deadly sins of man--betrayal, mediocrity, and a horde of enemies, a legion of lickspittles and toadies that all conspired to bring us as a people down into the muck, a backslide into barbarism. Ellison hated all of that shit, and he punched back as often and as hard as he could, for as long as he could.

His anger made it all right for me to be angry, and moreover to express my anger. Venting my spleen was good for me. It let me articulate, sometimes better, and sometime worse, what bothered me. It made me choose my words carefully. It sharpened my wit, if not my wits.  It honed my voice. He made me a better writer by his example. I've been thinking about my anger a lot for the past six months and I've spent years strangling it off, bit by bit. I'm not going to do that anymore. I don't know if I'll ever be as pissed off as I was in my twenties, but I've stopped censoring myself. Anything less would be a betrayal of me as a writer, and that's something I took straight from Harlan Ellison's own playbook.

I got to meet him, twice, and the meetings where, thankfully, free of drama. By the end of the 20th century, he'd become something akin to the barker at his own sideshow. He'd been "the angry guy" for so long that people expected it. And many people goaded him, like it was a party trick, to blow up and do his little song and dance. I saw that in action at a San Diego, where a fan in front of me asked, grinning like an idiot, "I wonder if you'd seen the latest editorial that Gary Groth wrote in The Comics Journal where he mentioned you by name?"

By the mid-90s, Ellison and Groth hadn't spoken in years. The lawsuits had poisoned their relationship and they were not in contact. Anyone else would have slapped a smile on their face and said, "No, I haven't. We don't communicate anymore." Or something to that effect. But Ellison woke up like the chicken at the state fair that plays Tic-Tac-Toe and said, "Gary Groth?! Don't ever mention his name to me again or I'll drive to your house and kill your mother!" He vented for another fifteen seconds, and the fan basked in it, like it was a refreshing shower. He walked off. He'd gotten his Ellison story. "Harlan blew up at me for mentioning Gary Groth in a conversation." It was bullshit, and I felt sorry that Ellison felt like he had to play along.

The second time I met him was at an AggieCon in 2000, along with the other members of Clockwork Storybook. We were selling chapbooks and we gave one of each to Ellison. He made a point of looking through them and complimenting us on our attention to detail in the creation of the books. Later, he actually called Chris Roberson to talk to him about things he'd written--and at the time, I was glad he hadn't called me, because Ellison could be just as effusive with his scorn as his praise. Now I wish he had. I would have taken Ellison's abuse and thanked him for it.

I wish I'd thanked him earlier.

Rest in Peace, Harlan. If anyone earned it, it's you.
It's difficult to measure his influence on speculative fiction, a term he used to describe fantasy and science fiction because he thought the genres needed elevating. I certainly took more from him regarding my non-fiction writing, and also a lot of how to conduct business as a writer. He walked away from a lot of jobs, and picked fights and even lawsuits with many others, over the treatment of himself and his work. He made it clear that writers--all artists--have value and should be treated fairly and with dignity. Also, he made it clear that writers were under no obligation to write happy stories. He said it best himself:

I don't know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyes water.

In the next few days, I'm sure that there will be a slew of counter-eulogies, describing what a misogynist prick Ellison was, or how he was an asshole and shouldn't be lionized. They will all be within their rights to offer up such a course of action. And they will be wrong. Now about him being an asshole, but over his canonization. Whatever problems Old Ellison had in the digital age, Young, Fresh, Blood-in-his-eyes Ellison set the pace for generations of writers and artists. He deserves his place at the table, and don't think for a minute he doesn't.

Polemic. Irascible. Curmudgeonly. Alarmist. Controversial. Brilliant. Born out of time and indelibly of his time. There will never be another Harlan Ellison. How could there be?



Monday, June 4, 2018

Intellectual Property Homesick Blues, Part 3: You Kids Get Your Banthas Off My Lawn

Now this tag line is actually
truthful. It was forever ago.
Part One is Here: Rocky and Bullwinkle
Part Two is Here: Solo

Solo came out last week, and it landed like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl as the intelligencia—ahem, excuse me—I mean fandom—savaged the movie for not being necessary, and also not being what they wanted it to be, a state of being that can only exist in the intellectual miasma of the Internet. I’m speaking, of course, about the vocal minority, out in force, clutching their lightsabers and calling for the resignation of Kathleen Kennedy for “ruining Star Wars.”

Mind you, I’m not talking about people with legitimate problems with the movie. If you don’t like the lack of tension, the uneven pacing, the need to self-reference other movies in ham-fisted ways, I’ve got no problem with that, because while I just don’t particularly care about those concerns, I freely acknowledge that they are there and you are right.

No, I’m talking about these guys here, the Poisonous Minority that seems to be infecting all levels and areas of popular culture these days.  I find this unfathomable in the extreme, and if you’re one of the people who have been arguing for this, sit back, because you need to hear what I have to say. Everyone comfortable? Got your fingers poised over the keys, ready to ragequit? Okay, here it goes:

You’re now officially too old for Star Wars. There. I said it.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Intellectual Property Homesick Blues, Part 2: Solo


I will be the first one to admit that I was one of the people who wondered, aloud, why we were getting a Young Han Solo movie, wherein we see how in one five-minute train ride sequence he picked up all of his quirks, habits, and signature moves, and then he goes and rescues his father from the Nazis.

Then I watched Solo and when it was revealed that they were going to rob a train, I laughed out loud. There is nothing more epochal, more character building, apparently, than running along the top of a moving train. Who knew?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Intellectual Property Homesick Blues, Part 1: Rocky and Bullwinkle


In a quiet moment of intersectionality, I watched the re-imagining of the legendary Rocky and Bullwinkle series on Amazon Prime just prior to the opening of Solo. And I realized something about not just the venerable Star Wars franchise, but also the even more venerable Rocky and Bullwinkle franchise; in a world where intellectual property is, essentially, immortal, it’s completely unrealistic to expect that these properties would remain timeless (as opposed to timely). By extension, there are a lot of people complaining about the movie (or the TV show) that they didn’t get and wondering implicitly (and explicitly) why things can’t be like they always have been.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Children of Generation X, Part 5: Avengers: Infinity War Does Not Owe You a Hug


Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.

With a full week of cash, insane press junkets, and stunned golf claps under its belt, Avengers: Infinity War has shattered box office records and fan's expectations alike. Most people, including the critics, have correctly focused on the sheer logistics of pulling off a movie that runs two-and-a-half hours and feels like half that time. From a technical standpoint, as well as the deep level of satisfaction (and a lot of other emotions) that this movie generated, it deserves everything it gets.

Along with that came the click bait stories, the bottom feeding websites, and the cascade of fan theories. Oh, God, give me strength. The obligatory Easter Eggs lists have swollen like poisonous mushrooms in slime, and proliferate in much the same way. Some of these digital remoras have a really loose definition of what constitutes an Easter Egg. Many of these guys are just listing things in the hopes that you notice how much they know about comic books. It's embarrassing.

The fan theories on how this is all going to be resolved are worse, much worse. By my estimate, there are at least six possible loopholes and handholds that COULD be used, if one were so inclined, in the next movie. But let me be clear about this: no one is under any obligation to use anything I noticed as an audience member. In fact, there is a really good chance that the plot points on which the next movie rests will have little or nothing to do with how the gang gets out of this mess.

This is a real problem in our New Digital Age; we are all so interested in "calling it," to prove how media-savvy we are, and since we're all just one screenplay away from immortality anyway, why not be continually auditioning for the job with every word we write or speak? Here's why not.

1. It's annoying as hell. We get it. You're very clever. Now shut up. No one likes the person that guesses the mystery before anyone else. Even professional writers like to turn their brain off whenever they can. Be like them.

2. Why are you spending so much time trying to figure this out? It's a movie. You're not Jack Bauer. There is no life or death struggle going on, here. Not everything has to be a battle of wits. Especially this.

3. When you're wrong, you tend to get a little...what's the word? Unhinged. Don't look at me like that. You know what I'm talking about. *Cough*StarWars*Cough*LastJedi*Cough* Lots of people have lost their mind lately because some movies didn't meet their expectations, and by that I mean, they didn't conform to any extant fan-theories about who so-and-so was or what so-and-so would do. As a result of all the pissing and moaning, you poisoned the experience for a lot of people. And it comes off as being extremely entitled.

In short, don't be that person, okay? I know you care. We all care. We care deeply. But this is entertainment, and it's supposed to be fun. Idle speculation is great, but when you lock in your answers and start trying to prove your thesis with video clips and badly formed leaps in logic, then let me suggest that you've gone too far.

I can hear some of you starting in with, "But Mark, you don't get to tell me how to interact with media! That's my fandom!" Pfft, whatever. I disagree that being a public nuisance constitutes "fan activity," but okay, let me offer you a compromise, one that you can still put on YouTube or your personal platform, that will get you just as many clicks, and seem even more impressive when you pull it off. If you're committed to pre-ruining the movie for yourself and others by hammering down whatever whackadoo theories you might have that will wind up as plot points in Untitled Avengers Movie 4, then do it this way: start your camera rolling and talk briefly about your intention to Kreskin the movie. Write your predictions down on a piece of paper, fold it and seal it in an envelope. Then mail that envelope to yourself so that there is a legible day and date in the cancellation. Leave the envelope sealed until next May. Then you can open the letter up on camera and read or show your predictions to an amazed audience, who will praise you for your clearly brilliant thinking, and then someone in the audience will offer you a scriptwriting job at Marvel Studios. Because everyone knows, that's how it works.

Mind you, I'm not saying to be uncritical of a movie just because it's got super heroes in it. After 19 great Marvel films and, well, a handful of pretty good DC movies, and with all of that baggage in the rear view mirror, the bar has certainly been raised. These resolutions have to make sense within their created worlds. If the resolution to the massive cliffhanger isn't sufficiently satisfying, by all means, have a go at it. But if any of your sentences are some variation of, "Well, I didn't like it because X solution would have been better," then that's not valid criticism.

It's time for everyone to take a deep breath and a step back and realize that these movies, designed to entertain, aren't created for one person. They are created for a wide audience, and sometimes, your personal pet peeves may be triggered because the Russo Brothers don't know what bothers you, and I suspect, don't care, either. Their yardstick for success is not your yardstick of quality. Your only obligation to any media presented is whether or not to watch it and evaluate it fairly. Pro-tip: comparing it to the movie in your head is not a fair comparison.

So if you're going to be unfair and biased, say that right up front. Don't presume to speak for anyone other than yourself. And if you intend to say something more interesting about the movie than, "I liked the special effects," then you have to leave statements like "What they SHOULD have done" out of the discussion. If you're really so media-savvy, prove it by not having a nuclear meltdown next year because "they got something wrong."

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Children of Generation X, Part 4: A Spoilers-Laden Look at Avengers: Infinity War

Just in case the title didn't clue you in, this review contains massive honking spoilers and should not be read until you've seen Avenger: Infinity War. Or, unless Jeff from the office blabbed everything on social media and you've thrown up your hands in disgust. This, by the way, is why you don't get invited to Trivia Night, Jeff. You've got no filter. You can't keep your mouth shut. Why do you do that, Jeff? Why?

Okay, given the large amounts of words spent last week on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seemed weird to not discuss part one of its ten-year culmination. I outlined my thesis in Part 1, talked about what I liked about the MCU in Part 2, and threw some non-critical caveats around in Part 3. How does it all stack up against this movie?

Spoilers ahead!




Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Children of Generation X, Part 3: How to Get Along with Your New Step-Dad



Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.

So, here we are, on the eve of Avenger: Infinity War. The culmination of the entire MCU to date. Except, it really isn’t it. It’s the first half of the culmination, right? The movie is a two-parter, with a minimum of two guaranteed cliffhangers in the middle, and potentially two or three more. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) online with any kind of media presence or any kind of click-bait site is wildly speculating about who is going to live, and who is going to die, and what it all means, and will they, and won’t they, or what they have already gotten wrong, or what they likely will get wrong, and blah blah blah blah blah. It's tempting to start clicking and reading, but please don't. Not until you hear me out. I don't know much, but I know these things to be true, and they will help you with your tossing and turning at night. Here’s what you all need to know before you get your knickers in a twist: 

The deal with Fox isn’t done, yet. They have a lot to work out and it may not all go through. It may be only partially go through. But we don’t really know (and won’t know) until 2019 when the courts decide how much of Fox’s Intellectual Property Disney gets to acquire. That will affect a lot of things, such as how much more money they can dangle in front of Downey, Jr., Evans, and Hemsworth to stay on for one more movie. Everyone has a boat payment to make. Everyone is for sale.

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. With apologies to Yogi Berra, this movie is only the first half of the film. We have to wait a whole year to really see the entire 5-hour megamovie. And while I’m very excited to see what they came up with, I also know it’s going to end just when things are at their most bleak. So, there’s no way I’m pinning all of my hopes and dreams on this movie—and neither should you.

The Infinity Gauntlet Reshapes Reality. In other words, not only does this first movie not really matter (because whatever gets done can get undone later), but whoever puts on the gauntlet gets to reset the clock and dial it all back to zero. Or not. Or somewhere in-between. We won’t know how the MCU shakes out until 2019. A year away. Why do you think they’ve been so tight-lipped about what movies come next? It’s because they don’t know.

Until the suits sit down in a boardroom with a bunch of lawyers, and all of the contracts are negotiated, there is zero point in speculating about what comes next, who lives, who dies, and how it all ends up. Anything can happen. But it’ll happen legally first, and then get handed down by the studio: “This is what you have to work with. Make it work.” And I’m sure Feige will do what he did the first time around. He’ll make lemonade out of lemons if he has to. At best, I’m betting he’s got a few contingency plans mapped out. But they don’t get to pick them until the courts sign off on Disney’s acquisition. Fan-Nattering online is just that. Just say no to the clickbait speculation sites. 

This isn’t about comics anymore. When you kvetch, write a letter, or even tweet your displeasure, you’re not talking to an editor and a creative team. You’re talking to a cavalcade of accountants and lawyers in suits, all of whom do not care about this material in the slightest beyond what its earning potential is for the company. Always remember that, and you’ll see how meaningless the online chatter really is.

As much as no one is talking about it, this franchise does not exist creatively any more. It exists as intellectual property belonging to a megalithic corporation specializing in global entertainment, brand name recognition, and the most savvy and targeted marketing strategies in the world. That’s Disney. That’s who they are. And what comes later in Phase 4 and Phase 5 and on down the road will be negotiated by lawyers in suits, with contracts, and licensing. It’s just how it is, now. I don’t want to think about it, but the best part of the MCU may well be over and done with. I hope not, but I’m not na├»ve, and you shouldn't be, either.


I’m going to watch Avengers: Infinity War for the spectacle it surely will be. I’m going to appreciate all these great actors in roles I’ve come to love interacting and bouncing off of one another. That’s going to be a lot of fun. And I’m bracing myself for when the movie goes dark, because that’s surely coming, too.

Remember: There's always
Ant-Man and the Wasp!
We cannot judge the movie on its own merits because it’s like turning Casablanca off in the middle of the film and surmising how it’s all going to end. “Oh, looks like Rick and Elsa get back together again! Awesome!” You wouldn’t do that, and you can’t do that. Certainly not to Casablanca, but also to any story. And I don’t think it’ll be possible to evaluate this film until 2019, when we can see it all together in one giant five-hour butt-numbing binge.

Going into the weekend, please take all of this into consideration. Don’t click on every negative review you read. In fact, you can skip the gushing ones, too. You can’t possibly be on the fence about the movie. You’re either going to watch it, or you’re not. Just temper your own expectations down and you’ll be fine. It’ll be worth the price of admission just to see if they can pull off something of this logistical complexity. Given Marvel’s track record, my feeling is that they will.