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.

Yeah, that's right, that's
right, we bad. Uh huh.
Don't want no bullshit.
Cathy goes in for surgery at the beginning of November. On top of managing the day-to-day...challenges...of chemotherapy, such as spinning the Wheel of  Random Symptoms to see what we're going to be dealing with, personal energy drain that resembles those Samsung phones that were blowing up in people's pockets (she's fine, she's fine, she's fine, shesnotfine), the unpredictable daily mood swings, and now the "trying not to freak out about major surgery and failing at it miserably" planning that is happening in the Day-Finn Family Bunker has made things more tense than either of us would like.

We have our fifteenth anniversary coming up, and it's going to be a quick and dirty road trip. We agonized over what to do for our milestone day and ultimately decided it would be best if we both got out of the damn house for a couple of days. We're both going a little stir crazy. And before you ask, She's Richard Pryor, and I'm Gene Wilder. Duh.

After that, I've got a birthday coming up. I'll be, well, old as hell, but I have to tell you, I don't feel my age. Not the way our parents do. I still like all of the stuff I liked as a kid. I never had to give any of it up to "be a man" or "act like an adult." Well, I did have to do that, but it was always presented to me as a part to play, a dance to perform, rather than who I had to be.

Cathy's birthday is November 11th. She'll be out of the hospital and recovering at home by then. Once we're in Dallas, I'll post details on Facebook, so that those of you who know us can stay caught up. It's going to be stressful--it's going to be so stressful that it's going to make what we've been doing up until now look like Disney on Ice--but it's also the shortest part of the treatment process. We're just trying to take a few days off, to get out of our heads, before we have to tackle this next set of challenges.

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.

Colorado has a tax rate of over twenty percent on recreational marijuana. That’s high. Pun intended. But right now, it’s a license to print money, because we visited a number of dispensaries in two days, mostly to get the lay of the land and scope it all out, and I noticed a few things that they all had in common.

There was tight security at these shops, involving a doorman checking IDs of everyone entering, which was logged into a computer and returned with apologetic smiles and thanks. Once inside, the dispensaries were all decorated as some percentage of head shop and vape store, depending on the name of the place. Everything was clean and neat, and d├ęcor tended to run to the upscale and innocuous rather than counter-cultural. I didn’t see a single Bob Marley poster, nor an issue of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers anywhere. Having been in several head shops before, where these would have been signifiers that this was one of the good head shops, this was disconcerting. I was out of my element.

None of these guys were working at the shops. They were,
however, all in line waiting to buy stuff...
I was also used to a certain, shall we say, kind of person working in these establishments. And while every single employee I encountered over the weekend was indeed what the squares would call “alternative” in some way—white-guy dreads, aggressive tattoos, lip discs and spacers, or looking like an extra from the movie Dazed and Confused—they were all happy, friendly, knowledgeable, and patient with every customer. They were literally living their dream job, talking about the different kinds of strains and what the effects were. There was a lot of jargon and vocabulary, and I tried to absorb it, but the only thing that stuck was the term “flower,” which is what the dispensaries were calling the actual plant itself. In still illegal states, it’s called “bud.” When your state makes it alright, you get the vocabulary upgrade at no additional cost.

Everyone buying these products were happy. No one was in a bad mood. And there was a strange defiance in their eyes; all of them made eye contact for far longer than necessary. I suspect this is an over-reaction from years of having to skulk around. It’s almost as if, having legalized it, everyone stopped making a big deal about it.

Legal marijuana is still pretty expensive, and not just because of the high tax rate. The cheapest thing you could buy is pre-rolled joints, but most people were buying flowers or edibles. The gummies and the chocolates ran $20-$35 bucks each. Topical lotion was more. A full flower was over $100 after taxes. Compare that with, say, a six pack of Shiner Bock at $9.95 and you can see where the earning potential is.

I’m not a heavy drinker, and I can count the number of times I’ve done mushrooms and/or pot on one hand in forty-mumblemumble years. I’ve done it just enough times to know that it’s not my thing. Not really. In every prior instance, I didn’t have a lot of control over what was going on; nor did I really enjoy the effect it had on me. I’m just too uptight; or rather, if I’m going to be spontaneous, there’s a time and a place for that.

Still, when in Rome...

That’s how we ended up sitting in the hotel room, eating paleo-friendly tortilla chips and guacamole and watching Bridesmaids, while pleasantly relaxed and not at all freaking out. I slept like a hibernating grizzly bear that night. You couldn’t have woken me up with dynamite. The gummies Cathy bought certainly helped her with her nausea. It was a nice mental vacation, as well a physical vacation. Not really viable for the long-term, since there’s sixteen hours’ worth of driving just to buy the stuff. But it wasn’t the freakout experience I’m used to. More like what it feels like to drink one more than your usual amount at the bar.

There was a side-effect that no one has mentioned in any of the think-pieces I’ve seen. There was a killer-diller Classic Rock Station in Pueblo, the likes of which I’ve not heard since first moving to Austin, Texas, in 1990. It was a great mix of prog rock, proto-metal like Zeppelin, and some of the fake-punk crunchy stuff from the early 1980s. I was jamming out everywhere we went. I’m certain that station exists solely to serve the Green Nation of Pueblo, Colorado.

Colorado was great. I’m no skier, but Cathy and I are making plans again to find a place to hole up in Manitou Springs for a few days and just drift away. She will be finished with Chemo at the end of September. We may be able to make it an anniversary trip. Cross your fingers.

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.

We discussed wigs briefly. The actress side of Cathy toyed with the idea of getting several, one for each mood she might be in. But the economic impracticality soon shot that idea down. She hasn’t entirely given up on the idea that she might want a purple wig. You know, just ‘cause. But she settled pretty quickly on the idea of various hats and scarves and turbans. I told her, if she wanted to, we could go full-on Eryka Badu. She hasn’t said no to that idea, either.

Badu's turban-fu is extraordinary. 
I am certainly sympathetic; as someone who had thinning hair so bad that, by the time I
was twenty-three, I was clipping my hair in what Bruce Willis called “the nineties combover,” I know how that feels. I also know this, intellectually and otherwise: it grows back. In the case of chemotherapy, the prevailing wisdom is that her hair will grow back thicker and fuller and maybe even curly. I’m sure there’s reasons for this, but I don’t feel like googling them at the moment.

Cathy understands all of that. But it did not lessen the impact of her running her hand over her hair to get it out of her eyes and catching a tuft in her fingers. It’s scary; one more reminder that her body, the thing she’s tried so hard to take care of all these years, is in open revolt, and the medicine she’s taking is designed to kill part of it off. That’s terrifying if you let it bounce around in your head like pachinko balls. And Cathy is a champion and playing pachinko.

She told me she wanted me to shave her head three days ago, but she said it in passing, like how you’d have someone put eggs and milk on the grocery list. She asked me about the plastic blade guards that go on clippers to make the hair a uniform length. She asked me if shaving my head hurt. She went and found my bag of clipper accessories and asked me which one was the shortest one. She sidled up to the idea gradually, until I could see it was freaking her out to keep talking about it.

“Get a towel,” I said. “We’re doing this.”

She seemed relieved that I made the call. I told her what I was going to do. I even showed her on my own hair. I was very gentle and checked in on her often to make sure she was okay. As soon as it was done, she hopped up and went to the mirror. She opted for really short instead of stubbly. She couldn’t go that far, and my suggestion to match her in a gesture of solidarity did not amuse as intended.

Little Steven, of the E Street Band.
I tried my best to be as gentle and upbeat as I could be while pushing down the idea that I never thought in a million years I’d be doing this for my wife.

As soon as I was finished, she jumped up and ran for the mirror. “It feels so much better,” she said. She spent the rest of the night trying on her various wraps and scarves and turbans. I was proud of how brave she was being. It bothered her to have it cut, but it bothered her more to have it falling out. This way, she kept a little control over her appearance, even if it’s temporary.

Now she’s digging the turban/scarf combos. A couple of them make her look like Lawrence of Arabia. Or Little Steven Van Zandt. I’m still holding out that she’ll want a big-ass purple turban or something.

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.

On the following Monday, football practice starts. Two-a-Days. The next weekend, it’s tax free weekend, and people drive one to three hours out of town to save 8.25% on clothes for the kids. It’s a zero-sum event when you factor in gas, food, and travel time, but that’s irrelevant because it’s a good excuse for folks to leave town. The week after that, band practice starts. And the last week in August is the final stretch as everyone hunkers down for school. It’s a busy time for everyone, except us. Our attendance drops 75-85%. We don’t just hit the brakes. We hit the embankment and jackknife.

In the past, this is the time of year where people see a lot of just me and Cathy, because we can’t afford to pay anyone else. These last few years, it’s been all Cathy, as I drive to Dallas to moonlight at Heritage Auctions. This has kept us afloat for the past few years. Until this year. I can’t leave Cathy alone, especially during the days following her chemo treatments; namely the weekdays. Never mind the surgery that will follow in October or November.

I’ve gotten offers from a lot of people who have volunteered to work for us during this time. And it’s appreciated, but frankly, I don’t know where to begin or how to even start bringing folks in. Everyone has said to me, “I can pop popcorn. I can make drinks.” And that’s because that is all that they see. There’s obviously more to it than that, and it’s the hours of work beforehand that make those two hours we’re open, selling tickets and concessions, look so easy by comparison. Most adults have jobs and are busy during the weekdays with their own lives. The last thing anyone wants to do is come clean this place for two hours and then hang for another two to three with four in the audience watching two movies, as is so often the case in August and September.

What makes it worse is that I can’t even really talk about it in town. They will turn it into “Mark hates high school football! He said so!” About seven years ago at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, I brought up the idea that not every business benefits from Summer’s Last Blast—us, for instance, and it would be great if we could get some actual data on the economic impact of the event. All anyone heard at that meeting was, “Summer’s Last Blast is bad for Vernon.” The guys at the car club still don’t talk to me, to this very day. It’s not enough to simply mishear a statement; you’ve also got to mishear it in the most horrible and negative way possible.

Every year, since we’ve been open, at least three times in a calendar year, someone will come up to me in public and say, “I heard a rumor that y’all were closing.” I always ask, “Who did you hear that from?” They never can tell me, or won’t. I think it’s probably just one person (the same person every time) who doesn’t like us because I told them to hang up their cell phone during Spider-Man 3 ten years ago.

It’s sure not the vibe we’re putting out. I always tell people, “we’re hanging in there.” I don’t want folks to think we’re going out of business, but I don’t want them to think we’re doing spectacularly, either. Vernon hates winners almost as much as Vernon hates losers. I have tried to indicate, through my verbal inferences over the years, that we really need the community’s help if we’re going to be successful. This is both 100% true, and also designed to keep the gawkers from playing a game of telephone with any statements I may make that end up ballooning into, “Someone told me that y’all was going to turn the theater into school for the gifted and such.”

“No, what I said was, ‘We’re showing the new X-Men movie next week.’”

They look puzzled. “That’s not what they told me at all.”

Well, who’s right? Some guy you were talking to at the Wal-Mart who works in Bait and Tackle, or the person who actually owns the movie theater?

During the Summer and Winter, I shrug it all off. Everyone’s out of school, in a good mood, and the movies are big and flashy and dumb and bright and make you feel good. During the Fall and Spring, Cathy and I have learned over the years not to take it personally. Football is stronger than the Baptist church in Texas, and especially here.

It was easier when there was two of us. We could, at least, weather high school football together. I have no idea what we’re going to do this year.

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!”

We get all of this to draw us into the story, and by the end of it, when House or whomever gives the patient, now wrapped like a mummy and suspended from wires to keep from bursting into flame, jams a hypodermic into their arm and injects them with Plot Device Cure #23, and the symptoms immediately go away, and the young teacher opens her eyes and asks if her students passed the midterm test, we all breathe a sigh of relief and then we change the channel.

Yeah, none of that happens in real life.

I always feel like I'm doing it wrong. Thankfully, we
haven't run into Nurse Ratchet...yet...
Someone walks into the room, usually a nurse, and starts speaking in media res, “ you’re going to want to wear gloves and socks with grips on the bottom, since you’re going to be so woozy. You may lose your balance. Also: do you have band-aids?”

Excuse me? Do you have the right room? We tell her we don’t know what she’s talking about. The nurse looks confused. “Haven’t they gone over the protocol with you?”

“No. We just found out it’s some sort of cancer in the ladybusiness.”

The nurse scowls. “They were supposed to go over this with you. Have you been scheduled for chemo yet?”

“No, again, we just found out today. Like, fifteen minutes ago. The doctor is making phone calls.”

Now the doctor comes in and tells the nurse in the room to make the calls he was going to make when he left. He turns to us and says, “Okay, so we’re going to do 9 to 12 weeks of chemo, followed by surgery, and then more chemo as a follow up. Sound good?”

What? Do we have a choice? And why are you speaking as if we’ve been having this conversation for weeks?

I am only exaggerating a little. Mostly. I’m not unsympathetic to their side of things. After all, we are just one patient among the ten thousand they have to deal with. And cancer treatment is so documented, so regimented, so “by the numbers” now that it’s like stepping on a conveyor belt. So, when you want to get off of the belt and ask where the machine is taking us, they get confused, and a little put-out. After all, they’ve done this a ba-jillion times before. I joked with more than one nurse, “Please forgive us if we are asking a lot of questions. It’s our first cancer.”

They don’t laugh. They never laugh.

This admittedly impressive and exceedingly professional machine needs one extra cog in the mix: someone to sit us down in a room and say, “Okay, what do you want to know?” Our final doctor, the gyno-oncologist, did that, but everyone else has acted like Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. And I felt a lot like Vincent Vega (do I even have to say this is NSFW?):

Time is of the essence, and the sooner the better. But we needed thirty minutes to an hour to just sit with this and think about questions and ask for timelines and basically get our heads around our lives now being centered on these weekly treatments. Oh, and paying for all of it, too. This isn’t cheap. The first part of this three-step plan has blown through our deductible, but we’re on the hook for a few grand. All before the surgery. You’d think they would want us calm and collected when they hand this dump truck of information over.

I wonder if it’s too late to ask for Dr. House and Dr. Wilson?

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?

I am walking around like a corn-fed moron, trying to figure out what happened to my pants and my shoes, and Cathy’s in the bedroom going, “She’s not in the Marines, but she may have been in the Navy,” and that cuts right across my bow, because (A) I didn’t know I was having a conversation with Cathy, and (B) I have no idea what my role in the conversation is.

So I say, from the other room, “What’s that? Do you need help?”

And she replies, “Noooo.”

I say, “Then who’s in the Navy?”


“Who’s in the Navy? ‘She’s not in the marines?’”

Cathy comes tottering out of the bedroom. “What are you saying to me?”

I stop looking for my shoes. “I thought you were talking to me?”

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

I throw up my hands. “Then who were you talking to? The dog?”

Cathy hears the tone in my voice and is now on the defensive. “I might have been.”

“About joining the Navy?” I’m not even attempting to be understanding. I just want to get out of this conversation.

“Well, I don’t know. If she wants to join, we’re not going to hold her back!” Cathy snaps.

I throw up my hands in surrender. “Okay, never mind, I’m sorry. She can sign up if she wants to.”

“And do what? Sniff bombs? Why would you send our precious baby off to war?” Cathy asks, and then she stops and looks me up and down and says, “Do you need help finding your pants? We’ve got to go or we’ll be late.”

This is who we are, now. Two confused, shambling people that meander around the house. She’s groaning with each third step and I walk into every room and ask myself, “Okay, what did I come in here for?” We have conversations with ourselves because we don’t understand what the other person is saying.

Ten Weeks to go. This part of the treatment can’t be over soon enough.

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.”

So far, we’ve only had to enact the DefCon 4 Protocol as a precaution; it's shaking, but holding. Cathy’s taking enough pills to make Elvis jealous, but she has not thrown up. I was a little worried when she started hiccupping, though.

Okay, worried is the wrong word. I think I was more delighted. Overjoyed. See, Cathy hiccups in a sequence of three. The first hiccup is a normal “whiccu” sound, like anyone would make. It’s almost a burp, but it’s more musical. You know what I mean.

The second in the sequence is the silent speed bump, always in the middle of whatever sentence Cathy’s desperately trying to get out before the next hiccup happens. She sounds exactly like Foster Brooks. I try so hard not to laugh, but it takes me right back to every single Foster Brooks moment stored in my brain. This is when she looks at me and plaintively cries, “It’s not funny! I have the hiccups!”

I will start to apologize and that’s when phase three hits: a powerful, full-volume eructation that’s part honk, part yelp. It sounds an awful lot like one of our dog’s squeaker toys when you step on it. This third one always makes the dog look up and cock her head at Cathy, as if to say, “Are you chewing on my toy?” At this point, I have to be helped back into my chair, as I have fallen out of it. Then the cycle starts over again.

It started on Monday night, after the first treatment. When it carried over into Tuesday, my pop culture-addled cranium instantly sprang to one of the funniest things I ever saw on The Simpsons, made funnier by my friends’ ability to leverage it into real-life situations.  My explanation of this joke, weirdly, did not help Cathy to feel any better about herself or her plight. We agreed to disagree.

Eventually, in an unrelated call, Cathy asked the Nurse about her hiccups and was told, “Oh, that’s a side effect. We have a pill for that. I’ll write you a prescription.”

On the one hand, I’m grateful that Cathy’s discomfort has been alleviated. On the other hand, what the hell, Big Pharma? Part of the fun of hiccups is watching people do the Stupid Human Tricks like drinking water with a spoon in their mouth or scaring the shit out of them as they come out of the bathroom. That’s how you deal with hiccups. Not with a pill. You stand on your head and hold your breath and recite the alphabet backwards, as God intended. We have truly become a nation of snowflakes.

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.

We are, understandably, in shock. And because the cancer is where it is and is where it's at, the doctors have been moving fast and talking even faster, which is freaking us out even more. We finally got a gyno-oncologist that could calmly give us the info we needed. Not that it helped, not really. We're still looking at each other and wondering what the rest of the year is going to look like. What next year is going to look like. We don't know much of anything right now. It's all day-to-day appointments and stuff to deal with. These last four weeks have been rough. One minute we're laughing at some really dark, black humor and the next minute we're sobbing in each other's arms. It's emotional whiplash.

Backstage at the Backdoor
Theatre, during the run of
Sexy Laundry. We played
a married couple. It was
a stretch.
I'll tell you what it's going to look like. The next three months is going to look like a donnybrook as we knuckle up and gird our respective loins to fight this. And we will fight it, but it means that, among other things, the rest of my life is going to take a backseat to Cathy's--and by extension, my--health. I may be out of pocket, or completely unavailable, for days at a time. I'm going to try to keep the people that want to stay informed as up-to-date on things as possible. I'm also going to want to take a break from cancer and talk about movies and comics and goofy stuff.  This blog is going to get really weird for a while. Fair warning.

I will attempt to mark future entries with a notation in the title, for those of you would like to skip the cancer bulletins, or for those of you who'd like to read them, whichever. I urge you to subscribe if you want to keep up, as I may not be making Facebook posts about what's going on personally. I also completely understand if you want to step away for a while. You do you.

I want to talk about this. I need a place to put my dark and off-kilter thoughts. I can't give that energy to Cathy. She needs love and peace and laughter and good vibrations and all of that stuff. If you're friends with her on Facebook, feel free to send good thoughts and funny cards and messages of encouragement to her.

As for me, I will be okay. I am in a pretty good place, mentally speaking, and I'm ready to support her in whatever she needs. I've been doing some work, getting healthier both mentally and physically. It's still a work in progress, but it is progress and you can see it. Now we're going to put it to the test. Oh, yes we are.

October will be our fifteenth wedding anniversary. You know, when you say those vows, there are a few of them that you mouth out of tradition, not imagining in a million years that one day, that check will come due and you've got to reach for your wallet. With some care, and a little luck, and a lot of drive, we will come out of this stronger. We've got to. She's just got to.

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.