Monday, May 20, 2019

Cancer: IN REMISSION

We got the news last week and we've been sitting on it, because, well, we're still processing it, but the doctor has officially pronounced Cathy In Remission. This mean that she is currently cancer-free. It does not mean we are off the hook. The next year to two years will be regular blood labs and follow-up appointments. Type 3 Ovarian cancer has a middling-high chance of recurrence, though that is mitigated by a number of factors, including how well the patient responded to chemotherapy. Cathy responded very well to the chemo, so well, in fact, that in the event of a recurrence, chemotherapy as an option is still on the table.

These are all good things, and we are grateful in our profound relief, exhausted in our awareness of how lucky we got. Right now, Cathy is focusing on getting back on her feet. There's something about aggressive cancer treatment, surgery, and pneumonia that really takes it out of a person, you know?

I'm healing, too. Slowly. Oh. So. Slooooooowly. But I am healing.

We are currently bracing for bad weather and trying to figure out what the rest of our life looks like. For now, the good news is enough.

Thanks for taking this journey with us. You are a big part of the reason why we got through it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Five Things That Are Ruining Movies


1. The misuse and over-application of the word “trope.”
2. The misuse and over-application of the concept of a “plot hole.”
3. Deeply unqualified people telling me why the movie sucked.
4. Catastrophically angry people excoriating directors, producers, and writers for not doing enough.
5. Eagle-eyed detail-oriented people ticking off all of the mistakes a movie made, implying that the film would otherwise be a cinematic gem if X hadn’t gotten in the shot or if the scrambled eggs didn’t stop moving around on the plate in that one scene.

There’s an old saying that Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth. Well, movies are a collaborative effort between the actors and around seventy or eighty cooks. Mistakes get made. Movies aren’t a perfect story-telling medium and never have been. What they can do, they do very well, and more effortlessly than ever these days, thanks to ginormous budgets and super sophisticated computers. But “perfect” or “nearly perfect” movies are so rare, and I can’t think of a single one made after 2001.

Websites like CinemaSins, TVTropes, and the “Goofs” section of IMDB, the comments section on every single YouTube video ever, the bloggers who are so ignorant and obtuse who write click-bait headlines and get their articles passed around with inane comments attached to every iteration—hell, even respected writers from legitimate newspapers who do the same thing…it’s all formed a culture of toxic meta-criticism where people are more interested in gleefully shredding than in making cogent observations.

Of course, this isn’t anything new. Here’s a Simpsons clip from 1997, which for some people will be akin to When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth.


The thing is this; over time, and with the sheer weight of repetition, in general, movie making has improved dramatically over the years. As tools have developed, and as practices have evolved, movies look better, sound better, are better acted and directed, and offer more to the audience. Even movies that you may hate for one reason or another still look like better movies than the ones you hated in the 1980s or 1990s. We no longer get Robot Monster, though we do sometimes get Plan 9 From Outer Space; however, I contend that those movies (mostly) don't show up in cinemas, but rather on SciFi, Netflix, and the like. Even movies that are universally considered bad are proficient enough to look, sound, and feel like better films, and that may be why they are doubly-damned. You spent all of that money on space ship design but you couldn't get a script that makes sense? 

I think a lot of modern criticism is simply counting digital coup for the sake of negging. It makes a person seem edgy or provocative or even astute by ticking off all of the things the movie got wrong, or why that particular plot line is bullshit, or how the whole genre has become tired and needs a break. This is doubly damning because there are a few times that such criticisms are valid. Romantic Comedies DO need to be re-invented; they have hit a same-ness bordering on the near-universal, and all of the above critical devices are excellent ways to point this out.

But using such precise tools on giant spectacular blockbuster movies to take them apart and “analyze” them by cataloging their myriad faults does no one any good. If you have points to make, that’s okay. I’d much rather listen to someone with a degree in film studies or writing and storytelling experience talk to me about the efficacy of how a story was developed, or why this worked or didn’t work. And a bean counter in a basement, producing a ledger sheet listing all of the movie’s failures under an arbitrary set of criteria ain’t helpful.

And before you hit reply, let me state this very clearly: Fans, have at it. Go nuts. This isn’t about you. If you watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine and were mad because you didn’t get a wise-cracking Deadpool in the movie, let your voice be heard. I have had, very publicly, strong opinions about Emmerich and Devlin’s Godzilla movie, about Shumacher’s Batman and Robin, about the Doc Savage movie, about Flash Gordon, Reign of Fire, The Phantom Menace, and many others. This isn’t about waiting anxiously for something that you expect to love and are subsequently disappointed in. I’m talking about destruction for the sake of keeping your hipster cred, or bolstering your status, or simply pissing on everyone else.

If you’re going to wax intellectual (or passionate, or erudite, or what have you), I have a few tips that will help you, and also the rest of us, from early onset heart disease and brain aneurysms. You are under no obligation to follow these guidelines, but I really wish you would.

1. Define your criteria going in
Tell me you’re going to catalog all of the technical errors, and stick to that criteria. If the cigarette keeps changing lengths in one scene, so much so that it pulls focus, that’s legit. “And another thing, Bogey’s character would never say…” is NOT legit. If you’re critiquing from a writing standpoint, hit me up, yo. But you’d better know your shit.

2. Stay in your weight class
Stop misusing the word “trope.” That’s a literary term that got appropriated by TVtropes.com and has since morphed into a catch-all for a half-dozen dissimilar things. Stop using technical and academic jargon if you don’t understand it, and especially if you’re not writing for film geeks and film rhetoric classes. It’s possible to over-think a movie, and it’s inevitable that you can view it through a specific lens that speaks to a narrow point of view and find most movies wanting.

3. Consider the intention of what you’re critiquing
Not all movies are Citizen Kane, and aren’t trying to be. Not all movies are Jurassic Park and aren’t trying to be. The reasons why people make movies has everything to do with the story they are trying to tell. That may not be a story you want to experience, and that’s fine, as long as you realize that. However, being promised one kind of story and being given another is a separate issue. Know the difference.

4. If you’re serious about being a critic, read criticism
At least figure out how and why other people are writing what they write. It helps if you have a specific point of view. In fact, that consistency makes you a better critic; if I know that you are ashamed of being a geek and routinely diss all science fiction movies, I know that I can add 1 star to your review scale whenever you go to a pew-pew movie. That’s helpful to me, especially if you are otherwise consistent with your criticism. Two of my favorite film critics, Roger Ebert and Marc Savlov, had specific weak spots in their criteria and I looked to them constantly for feedback, especially on the movies I wanted to see.

5. If all else fails, be like Joe Bob Briggs
That’s kind of impossible, because not only was Joe Bob an entertaining writer in his character of  “the drive-in movie critic of Grapevine, Texas” but he also has a deep, deep knowledge of cinema and the history of films and is capable of seeing trends and patterns and drawing conclusions based on that deep, deep knowledge. His books of criticism and his lectures are not to be missed if you’re a serious fan of the movies. Now, we can’t all be like Joe Bob, because there’s only one Joe Bob, but if you read some of his drive-in movie reviews, you’ll undoubtedly see what I’m talking about. He pre-supposed that the Internet would become a snarky, sarcastic space long before anyone knew what the Internet was. Tone and point-of-view can make even a bad review worth reading. If your goal is nothing more than eyeballs and clicks, well, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do even that.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Health Update: A Mixed Bag of Nuts

I'm sorry it's been a while since I let you nice people know what's going on in our Saga of Middle-Aged Wellness. It's kind of been a "no news is good news" sort of thing, wherein Cathy was back on chemotherapy, and it was doing a number on her, but it wasn't anything we hadn't dealt with before--just maybe a little more severe, but we were really close to being done with it, so let's just power through to the end and celebrate, right?

Right. Well, sure, if that were all that was going on.

Cathy finished her chemotherapy last week. It was awesome, in that it was a real relief to be out of those woods, but unfortunately, she was too weak to even celebrate properly. However, we did ring the bell at the treatment center. It's a rite of passage, not unlike when you leave Long John Silver's and you're pretty sure you didn't get a food-borne parasite from eating at LJS. Only this is better because you didn't have to eat at LJS to ring the bell.

Next week, Cathy gets a CT scan, and if it's clear, then we are officially Done With Treatment and go into maintenance mode. This means getting blood work done every three months, for at least one or two years. They are very vigilant because of the change of a re-occurrence. Aside from that, we get to go rejoin the adult world.

Or so we thought.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Greg Berlanti, the DC TV Universe and Warner Brothers’ Critical Misunderstanding of their Intellectual Property, Part 2: How Titans Bloodied Up

Part 1 is here.

One of DC’s greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness in a twenty-first century media-saturated America. The biggest of the big DC heroes—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—are routinely compared with and likened to mythological gods and heroes. It’s been the subject of no telling how many master’s theses, stacks of pop culture non-fiction publishing, and long boxes full of comics, all written by the flavor of the month, eager to dazzle us all with “their take” on fill-in-the-blank character that’s been around for fifty or more years.

DC even floated a separate line for these “imaginary stories,” called “Elseworlds,” which has been and continues to be extremely popular. After all, myths are made to be interpreted and re-interpreted, right? So, the idea of setting Batman in, say, 19th Century London fighting Jack the Ripper (Gotham by Gaslight) sounds frankly awesome, doesn’t it? And in The Nail, the Justice League are outlaws in a topsy-turvy world, made very different when the rocket ship discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent ends up in a another family's back yard (with artwork by Alan Davis and Paul Neary, easily two of the best working comic book artists to this day). Sounds cool, right? Oh, and let’s not forget the most famous Elseworlds of all—the one that arguably spawned the need for an Elseworlds bullet in the first place—Batman: The Dark Knight, by Frank Miller.

How can you not love that?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Greg Berlanti, the DC TV Universe and Warner Brothers’ Critical Misunderstanding of their Intellectual Property, Part 1

As a lifelong comic book reader, I love me some Doom Patrol, both the silver age wackiness and the Grant Morrison drug-fueled fever dreaminess. So when I saw that the DC Universe app was going to have its own Doom Patrol show, I broke down and sprang for a subscription.

There’s not much else on the App right now, but their schedule for shows premiering in 2019 is ambitious to say the least. Aside from watching Doom Patrol, the thing I was most excited about was the old Spirit pilot starring Sam Jones as Denny Colt. I hadn’t seen it since 1987 and I’m looking forward to revisiting it. I made the decision to wait, not immediately watch it, because I might need a palate cleanser.

Turns out, it was a good call. Seeing that Doom Patrol was going to be a weekly show, and only two episodes were online, I figured I’d be more frustrated than gratified. With nothing left to lose, I decided to try out Titans

I’m also a fan, unsurprisingly, of the New Teen Titans from the 1980s, the now-classic Wolfman-Perez team-up that was one of the most popular comics of its time. I liked, too, the older Teen Titans stories from the 1970s and 1960s, too. It was a neat idea; the teen sidekicks of the famous DC heroes got together to form their own group, consisting of Robin, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, and Speedy—and later, of course, a lot more characters in the teenage demographic, like Hawk and Dove.

Most people now know of the Teen Titans from the ridiculously and incredibly popular animated series, Teen Titans Go! Or whatever it’s called. You know what I mean. Shows that were made to appeal to the younger, anime-watching crowd that also managed to cover a lot of the original story material from the comics, as well, thus placating the fifty-year-old men who were hate-watching the show in case they “messed anything up.”

When this live-action series first put cast photos of the actors online, the aforementioned fifty-year-old men and an assortment of other curmudgeons lost their shit and complained so much about how stupid the characters looked, in particular, Starfire, that the social media blitz clammed up and decided to let the show speak for itself.

It spoke, all right, but what exactly did it say? It said, “Fuck Batman.” In the trailer, no less. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Health update: Here We Go Again...

In all of the excitement about my harrowing incident, I forgot to mention that Cathy started chemotherapy again yesterday.

This was expected, part of the overall treatment plan: Chemo, Surgery, and more Chemo. We knew this was coming, and we knew it would be part of the overall plan. Cathy, bless her heart, is weathering it as best as she can. I am holding up less well. But we are united in our fervent desire for this to be over and done with so we can get on with being real people again.

Cathy has a minimum of three cycles of chemotherapy, which is three weeks' worth of treatments at a time. After three cycles, they will take a ct scan and maybe even a biopsy to see how everything is clearing up. If she's not clear, she gets another cycle, up to a maximum of six cycles. If she is clear, then we go into defensive mode, wherein we have a check-up every three months to see how the markers look. That will last up to five years before they pronounce her as "in remission."

Mind you, those are maximums and worst case scenarios. Given that she has responded very well to the chemo drugs she is on, this could be over sooner. We are hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. If this whole thing has taught us anything, it's taught us that.

The worst of the symptoms for Cathy is the neropathy. Her feet have gone partially numb at the soles and toes and when it flares up, it makes walking very hard for her. This puts the kibosh on the exercise they say she needs to have in order to keep up her strength. She did some yoga at the start of her chemo and I suspect she'll take it up again.

My infusions continue apace. I've got three more weeks of them, and I'm already getting grumpy about the daily visit to the hospital. Not their fault, by the way; they've been nothing but pleasant. I just hate that I have to do it.

I will be done in April, hopefully with all of it. Cathy's got a little farther to go, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Cathy's GoFundMe page has officially become our communal GoFundMe page. I'm hate asking, especially since so many of you have given so generously, but for those of you that haven't and can spare just $10, it would mean the world to both of us. At this rate, I'm sending the wedding comic pdf out to everyone who gives anything. Just follow this link. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Spiritual Gift of Sarcasm

All was not gloom and doom at the hospital.

Yeah, okay, I'm not buying it, either. For most of the stay, I vacillated back and forth between various states of fear and boredom. That's a screwed up Venn Diagram, let me tell you. Every single doctor who visited me had a different diagnosis and worse, a suspected prognosis. It was frustrating, to say the least. One doctor comes in and says, "We don't know what you have, or how long you're going to be here." The next day, the surgeon comes in and says, "This wound site looks fine. I don't think you'll need a PICC line or a port. You may be able to go home today." Then the infectious disease specialist visits the day after and says, "You will need constant care for a minimum of four weeks." This multiple choice kind of diagnosis always happened before noon, insuring that I'd have the rest of the day to ponder every decision that may have led to my groin exploding in a fountain of goo.

On the other hand, I did have a captive audience by way of the nurses. None of them had heard any of my scrotal edema jokes, so I got a tight five minute set out of every new nurse that came to visit. After a while, they were just sending new nurses in from other floors. That kept me busy for about two days. After that, I started eyeing the window for a quick exit.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Six Days Closer to Death

Well. That was fun.


For those of you just joining us from another station, I've been recovering from a surgical procedure I had at the end of last year, literally on the 31st of December. It involved removing part of my lower abdominal pannus, which is that thing that hangs down over your belt. In my case, it had developed into panniculitis, which is when the fatty tissue hardens and in my case, blocked my lymph nodes, was pushing my legs apart, had gotten infected, etc. A real mess. And if I was to get healthy, as is my continued intention, it had to go first, so that I could, you know, walk more than ten yards without feeling like my hips were displacing.

The panniculitis got cut off  (in a panniculectomy) and the bottom of my abdomen was stitched back to my stomach and, well, aside from some scrotal edema (about which you probably know way too much), I was more or less okay. Turned out, it was less. A lot less.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Valentine's Day Update, and a Top Ten List

On Our Way to the Hospital with Matching Haircuts.
Let's get to the good stuff first; Cathy is home, and resting. Surgery went very well, better than expected. They did a full hysterectomy, which is standard procedure for ovarian cancer, and that went by the book. When the doctor starting looking at the scans to "de-bulk the tumors" (which is fancy medical-speak for 'cut those suckers out') he found only scar tissue, which he described as a gritty-textured thing.

No tumors to cut out.

He biopsied all of the areas, and we'll get those results in two weeks, but the upshot was this: the surgery was way less invasive, since there was nothing for him to "de-bulk." All of that extra chemotherapy did the trick, it would seem.

We know there will be some follow up chemo, and it'll likely depend on how the biopsies turn out as to how much chemo there will be. No more than three rounds. We're hoping it's less.

Just some of Cathy's family that showed up during our vigil.
That follow-up chemo will be the last of Cathy's treatment for Ovarian Cancer, Stage 3. After that, it's routine check-ups every six months, for a minimum of five years. We should probably be getting bi-annual check-ups anyway, so no big deal, more or less. My mood is cautiously optimistic, until we get those test results back and figure out how much more chemo Cathy will need. It ain't over 'til it's over.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry with relief when the doctor told me about the tumors turning into scar tissue. I couldn't believe it; for once on the balance sheet, it looked like everything Cathy had been through--the blood clot, the surgical delays, the extra rounds of chemo--it seemed as though everything balanced out in the end.

I may well be jinxing it, but I know there's one more shoe yet to drop. That's in the future. Right now, the plan is simple: rest and heal. She needs to heal and I need to heal. And speaking of that...

I know, I know, I said last time that it would be my final post about the ol' scrotal edema. However, new information has come to light. Specifically, the light of the full length mirror in the hotel room.

You see, prior to last week, my relationship to my junk was not unlike that of three blind men describing an elephant--you know, each of them is touching a different part of the animal, and based on their limited input, describe three very different animals. Well, in my case, I was three blind men touching my hoo-ha. I could see it, peripherally, when I was laying down, and I could feel it (boy, could I ever!) when I walked, sat, or drove. And I could sense it when I used the bathroom. I had a tactile picture, but not an optical picture.

That changed when I got out of the shower last Wednesday. I rounded the corner heading for pants, and that's when I saw it. I stopped and stared...just stared. And it stared right back at me, with binocular vision, like an apex predator. I had not seen it--truly seen it--until now.

Yeah. Something like this. 
Two thoughts hit me in the brain pan at the same time.

Thought number 1: "Well, now I know why the nurses were all so damn amused."

And Thought number 2: "My God...it looks like..." and my writer's brain took over. Perhaps as a defense mechanism. I had to make sense of what I was seeing, and I've always done that with words. I waddled to the desk, took out my notebook, and filled a page with "what it looks like" until I could do no more. Over the next few days, as new ones occurred to me, I would write them down, as well.

I have since winnowed the list down to the old reliable--a Top Ten List. We're going old school for this, Letterman style. And now that you know what's coming, let me stress to those of you with delicate sensibilities, what follows is Not Suitable for Work. It's Not Suitable for School. It's Not Suitable for Life. It's basically just not suitable. Please, for the sake of our relationship, eject now.

But for those of you who have tittered, guffawed, and even chuckled at the saga of my Hindenbergian Tallywhacker, then this list is humbly and respectfully dedicated to you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Last Word About my Tumescent Scrotum

I know, I know, how many times on the Internet have we seen this promise made, only to be broken the very next day? But in my case, I assure you, it's true; this is my final post about the scrotal edema that has besieged my nether regions these past four and a half weeks, with no relief in sight anytime soon.  It's just not healing up as quickly as I'd like. Everyone keeps telling me to be patient, and on one hand, I hear them, and I'm trying. On the other hand, "AAAAARGH! MY DICK IS A GRAPEFRUIT!"

So, you can see my problem.

Read on, if you dare. Or, if you think this will embarrass you, please don't. You have been warned.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Health Update: Cathy First, and then Quasimodo

It's been a while since we had an official update, mostly because I've been in and out of consciousness like Robert Di Nero in Sleepers. But while I am "sitting," and before the pills crowd me out, I want to report that Cathy will be going in for surgery on February 7th. We expect to be out of pocket for a week or so. There's a lot of logistical things to work out while we set all of this up, but we are excited to be moving forward with her treatment plan. It's the shortest part of the process, if you don't count the recovery time, but it's certainly the most nerve-wracking. I will keep everyone posted if things change.

I will now give you an update on my condition, so for those of you who do NOT want to read about scrotal edema, please veer off.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I'm in Waste Management

Warning: this post contains language that people may well find offensive, especially since we're talking about body parts that are considered naughty. Please don't read this if you are decent, church-going folk. The less you are exposed to stuff like this, the better.

I've been quiet after my surgery on December 31st, for a number of reasons. I'm uncomfortable--the surgeon pac-manned me open like Toshiro Mifune in a Kurasawa flick and then stapled it all shut again. This uncomfortable sensation has led to me needing to take pain killers, which make me sleepy, because I have zero tolerance for pharmaceuticals, and those pain killers put me right to sleep. So I'm not using my time very well. Mostly, when I'm awake, I have three things on my mind: peeing, pooping, and my two drain tubes, sewn in to either side of my groin. I've been telling people I'm in waste management, a la Tony Soprano, but that's not really what's bothering me.