Pop Culture Crisis

In reviewing my feeds this afternoon, I saw a headline that caught my eye: “Kevin Feige Finally Responds to Martin Scorsese”.

I must admit I rolled my eyes and sighed.

I’ve been meaning to write about pop culture and fandom and loving things for awhile now, and I guess there is no better time.

Scorsese has crafted many highly acclaimed films. Feige has helped to craft a universe of films that is only growing bigger. Scorsese criticized Feige’s films and thus we are here, inciting discussion and vitriol the world over.

The issue is larger than two filmmakers having words about the cinematic merit of the films they have had a part in bringing to the world.

This goes back to 2017 as many fans were incredibly vocal about their dislike of The Last Jedi. This itself was shades of 1999 when millions of fans were loudly disappointed in The Phantom Menace, the first Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi.

Perhaps this is much older than that. However, rather than divert into the history of culture critique, I’d rather make a simple point:

You are allowed, when it comes to pop culture, to love what you love and not love what you do not love.

Another person who isn’t into what you love does not threaten your enjoyment.

My words are not all that matter here, so I’d like to quote a few others that have insight into this discussion.

“I always tell people that conventions are so wonderful, because you’ll be surrounded by people who love the same things you love, the way you love them. But that’s not entirely correct. You’re also surrounded by people who love things you don’t even know about, but you love your respective things in the same way, so you get to love your thing enthusiastically, completely, unironically, without fear of judgement.

It’s not about what you love. it’s about how you love it.

There’s going to be a thing in your life that you love, and I don’t know what it’s going to be… It doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love it, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd being awesome.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that that thing that you love, is a thing that you can’t love.

You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.” – Wil Wheaton Star Trek

We all are going to love different things. We are different people, and what appeals to you may not appeal to me. I love Star Wars. I don’t really care for Final Fantasy. I love baseball. Basketball? Not so much.

“I personally think that everyone is a nerd. That’s kind of one of the things we’ve been trying to do…to me, “nerd” really just means passionate. You can be a sports nerd. You can be super into basketball. Well, guess what? You’re nerdy about basketball. You can be nerdy about cars. You can be nerdy about design. You can be nerdy about all kinds of different things.” – Zachary Levi Chuck, Shazam

Levi is right on. We are all nerdy about something. Doctor Who, engines, sports, Star Wars, crochet…whatever. That isn’t the important thing. What’s important is how you love it: with passion!

“Friendly reminder: we’re all here to have fun and talk about the stuff we love. Tempers can run high when we get passionate, but let’s all remember that at the end of the day, even when we disagree, we love stuff. That’s what makes us fans. Let’s try to be kind to one another.” – @letstalkgrayson on Twitter

We love stuff. We all do. So why not encourage each other in our lives, even if the what is different. I can encourage you to love basketball because I love baseball. I understand what it means to cheer on a team, to wear a jersey, to live and die by the scoreboard.

I can be excited hearing about how you enjoy Harry Potter and what House you are in, not because I am into Harry Potter, but because I know all about Star Wars and the Empire, the Jedi, the Wookiees and on and on.

And while we are here, it must be said: you do not own what you love. The creators do not owe you what you love. You can be disappointed in a thing you love, but don’t exercise that disappointment against those that create the thing.

That way leads to toxic fandom, in which some spew hate and negativity instead of encouragement and love. In which some seek to destroy what they loved and hinder others in their love. And that isn’t good for anyone.

Creators are simply doing their best to create what they would love to see in the world. Rian Johnson did not set out to create a controversial Star Wars film. Kevin Feige did not set out to create the best cinema of all time. They seek to entertain, to create, to play in a particular universe and add to it in a positive and unique way.

And that is ok.

I didn’t care for Spider-Man: Far From Home. I didn’t think it was perfect. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be.

“Stop expecting movies/TV to be perfect. Yes, sometimes you see a thing that checks all the boxes. But stop requiring that. Entertainment is meant to be entertaining, not solve all your issues.” – David Blue Stargate: Universe

When I go to see the latest Marvel film, or whatever, in my heart I simply want to be entertained. I want to escape my world and live in another for as long as it lasts. That is why I love pop culture to begin with. It gives me great stories to escape into. Anything else is just icing on the cake, and that is no lie.

Love what you love. Encourage others to enjoy what they enjoy. And don’t let it damage your calm if someone else has different tastes. It’s love that brings us together. Focus on that love.

And maybe, just maybe, we can make this a better world for all who live in it. This is our shared universe, so let’s make it the best we can.

So say we all!

Telling Stories

All my life I’ve been telling stories.

I remember when I was a little kid, playing with LEGO. I didn’t even own any proper minifigures yet, so I made my own. Being a huge fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, I built my own X-Wing and bridge of the USS Enterprise. I then populated them with my brick-built people.

I didn’t build the ships to have the ships, I built the ships for my LEGO people. I built so that they would be able to travel on adventures. I built to tell the story of those adventures.

These days, all grown old, it is no different. I have all the LEGO I can build with, and many minifigures. But I still am trying to tell the story of each tiny character.

I started to collect 3.75″ Star Wars action figures about 10 years ago. Using primarily two stormtroopers, I took well over 100 photos telling the stories of Kyle and his brother Kyyle.

Today I have several Black Series 6″ troopers and want to once again embark on adventures with them and tell the stories of these new troopers.

My next foray into the world of telling stories is with puppetry.

Once, again, as a child, I was part of a puppet team. I had a wonderful crocodile puppet and did several shows with him. I even wrote, produced, and performed my own puppet show with a monkey puppet that I got for a birthday one year. (I still have that puppet in a closet somewhere.)

Those were simple hand puppets, and made for children. Now I want to get into full size hand puppets, the kind with rods controlling the arms. Eventually I would like to build my own puppet. Until I am able to do that, I thought I would buy one, so that I could learn the craft.

Regardless if LEGO, action figures, or puppets, I just want to tell stories. I have written many short stories, and will continue to do so as inspiration strikes, but I also love real live performance with gesticulating fur and ping pong ball eyes. Something about bringing that to life excites me in a way that LEGO and stormtroopers do not.

For now, though, that remains a dream until I can save enough money to buy my first large size puppet. I have picked one out on Amazon that I would like. I just need to be able to afford him. (If you would like to help with that, you can send me an email to see how.)

No matter what, I will be telling stories. But I cannot wait until I can use a puppet! I even have a name all picked out…

By the Wayside

I am writing this using the WordPress app for iOS. I want to see what the experience is like versus writing on my laptop. Any difficulties should be attributed to that, if you please.

I haven’t written here since March, aside from the two poems I just published. My blog is titled “down the dusty road” but it seems to have fallen by the wayside.

I used to write a lot, as you can see if you explore my archives. Lately, at least for the few years since I was regularly writing, I’ve been in a funk. I think that no one cares what I have to say; I think that no one is listening.

For me, that can be a creativity killer.

To break out of the funk is simple: write. That’s why I am trying out the iOS app. To see if I can make it simpler for me to send my thoughts into the world. Welcome to my experiment.

I am a huge fan of Adam Savage, the maker and former Mythbuster. He is constantly talking about making, about adding something where nothing was yet. My writing is like that: I am crafting content where none was before.

And I’ve missed it greatly. I know that something has been lacking in my life. Depression sometimes knocks me down; life gets busy (I got married this summer!); and days slip by. But here is my promise to myself: I will keep going. I will write. I will create. I cannot control who, if anyone, stops by, but it must be for me that I make. To fill my creative voids. To fulfill my urge to make.

My part is simple: make. Your part is simple: read or don’t. Ignore or engage. Appreciate or not. I hope you read, engage, and appreciate. I hope I can add positively to your experience. But that is not in my power to control, nor should it be. All I have to decide is what to do with the whatever I’ve been given, to quote Gandalf.

So no more creativity killer.

No more wondering if anyone is listening or that no one cares. I make to make. I write to write. If you read, then great!

Thank you.

If you do read my blog, if you do find this in the wilds of cyberspace, leave a comment or email me and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

**(by the way, the experiment was a success! Typing long form on the iOS app is damn easy and satisfying. Knowing that I can take this anywhere and write anytime is a huge boost. Here’s to ya, WordPress app developers! And thanks.)

a dusty road, indeed

The door creaks open, and the light behind me breaks into broken shafts illuminating the darkness ahead. Swirls of this and bits of that dance in to and out of those bright beams. A thick layer of dust lays upon the floor, undisturbed and thick, like the blankets of cosmic clutter that litter the moon.

The room? This blog. Unkempt, silent, waiting. Quietness now shattered by paragraph and thought. Life, depression, business and busyness – all, inch by inch, closed this door and locked it tight.

Wetness coalesces in my eye’s corner until critical mass ensures a well that breaks the dam releasing an ocean in a tear, crawling down freckle and into beard.

I miss this room, this blog. A space of my own, to write and reflect, and send little nascent parts of myself whirling across the hyperspace of cyberspace. I miss these little bits of me, scattered behind doors my psyche has locked and left bolted around me. Some, I’ll never access again, their treasures hidden for an eternity in my mind, never to be discovered by another. Intense Sadness sits there, her hand caressing each door in turn. A tactile love you are not forgotten she whispers. She looks at me with my eyes, and I turn from my stare, unable to bear the fact that some part of me locked these doors and threw away each key, leaving me to comfort my own fadingness with just a soft touch upon rough wood and flaking paint.

A repeated refrain echoes in this room, as I look over posts from ago, sitting now piled in corners like old cardboard boxes, their sharpie labels faded: “I stare down the barrel of my own mortality….” It’s my voice, a line I wrote once upon another age, perhaps in misery or mired in depression’s mysts. I believe it still. I stand now on the cusp of 32, wishing it were 22 again, feeling old without right, used without purpose, and so terribly tired. Weary. Worn. Done. Not from age, but from life. A life I never wanted, still do not understand, and yet that stretches out before me. I have decades yet to see, but not the passion to walk the road that binds them.

All I want to do now is reforge keys and throw open each locked barrier and spill my creativity in a loud, glittery, cacophony of me. I fear I never will. Even were I to be able to live an eternity, I don’t know this soul could endure it. I don’t know this soul will endure another night, interminably alone, let alone a year or more. Arms to hold me tight, lips to whisper love and plant love, and eyes to look into my wounded heart and pour healing…those would get me through, spark me into a burning ember that might outlast the fusing sun. Without? I am the moon. Dusty. Cold. Forgotten, without light of its own.

I hope this blog, this room, remains open to me. All the old familiar places… I’m leaving sooner than I want to, but these little sylabs I’ve strewn across the dust are all I have, right now. They sit, impossibly shiny, in the weathered ageness, hoping they, too, will not become relics to comfort spiders who sit in webs and grow old from hunger.

I step away, a fading footfall down a desaturated hallway, where at the end, a door remains a crevice into a further universe of possibility.

Brick by Brick: 60 Years in the Building

red-brick--201606--gl--footerThis year is the 60th anniversary of the LEGO brick. As any of you know who know me, I love LEGO. I find it interesting that I have been around for half the life of the LEGO brick given how much joy and entertainment LEGO has brought to me, personally. My love of LEGO really took off when it bought the license from Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars LEGO, though I had been building X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon long before. Suddenly my two favorite things coincided and I was in geek heaven.

For nearly 31 years I have built, photographed, bought and sold, and enjoyed LEGO in many different ways. This year, for their anniversary, LEGO has produced several new sets, each with a different theme, to return to their roots of unlimited imagination and creative building. Sure, constructing an X-Wing according to the directions is fun, and you end up with a cool (dis)play model, but sometimes just staring at a pile of bricks and putting two and more together until you create something unexpected is even more fun.

To that end, and to foster a new era of LEGO building and photography for myself, I bought one of the smaller 60th anniversary sets. To commemorate LEGO, and challenge myself to be creative throughout the month(s), I want to use the set to construct a random creation and photograph it. Given the 60th anniversary, I want to create 6 unique builds from this one set, one build per month for each decade of LEGO, debuting at the end of the month. For the other three weeks of the next six months, I want to continue to photograph my minifigures in unique ways. When I finish, I should have built and documented six builds and eighteen minifigures.

This sounds like fun! And, I will start building today! Follow my instagram @philredbeard to see iterations of my builds, but for each final model and minifigure photo, I will post them here on my blog.

Perhaps join me on the journey, #60brickbybrick and if you do, contact me on social media and let me see your creations!

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Self-Improvement

It is the quiet of morning and I am listening to one of my favorite film scores (Pirates of the Caribbean) and am contemplating life.

Last week, I was challenged on Twitter* to examine my life and discuss the intentional and permanent changes I had made in myself. Few things are permanent in this life, but some of the decisions we make can be. My father tells me of a time of in his life where, as a child, he decided to react a certain way to a situation, and that decision has stayed with him his entire life.

Intrigued I thought about it, and shot off a tweet, but want to examine my choices a little more here.

The most obvious permanent change I have made in my life are my tattoos. Barring painful and expensive reversals, they will be with me until the day I die. I have two of them, one on the underside of each forearm. The first one that I got, on the left, I lifted from the pages of a favorite book, the Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien. It says in the Elvish “aurë entuluva” and means “day shall come again”. The passage it is taken from tells the terrible tale of Hurin, warrior among men, who is fighting in rage-filled desperation against the forces of the Dark Lord Melkor. He is slowly being overwhelmed by the Dark Lord’s army, and with each smoking stroke of his sword Hurin cries out “Aurë entuluva – day shall come again!!” A battle cry that even should he die, the Dark Lord will not win forever.

This passage inspires me in my struggle against my own Dark Lord: Depression. No matter how dark and terrible the battle, day shall come again. Depression does not win! To companion the first tattoo, I delved into the Elvish and wrote a corresponding phrase “auta i kelomiâ” which means “night/darkness/the abyss is passing away”. Again, it is a battle cry for me against depression. On the one arm, striking a blow, “day shall come again!” and the other, following the blow with one of it’s own, “night is passing away!” For me, a powerful two-punch combo.

But what are the less obvious changes?

I guess second to my obsession with all things Tolkien, which inspired the first permanent change in my life, the next has been a life long tango, that is, my dance with organized faith. Early in life, even before I was born, I was involved in a Christian church of varying types. After I was born, my parents insisted on taking me to church every time they went. This was a life long choice that was made for me, and as soon as I could make the choice for myself, I didn’t go back for about seven years.

Recently I started attending church again. I still do not know what exactly I believe for myself, and how much I believe it. People around me talk of love for God, or Jesus, or whatever you want to call the divine being, and that for me remains a mystery, but I understand a great deal about Christianity’s holy book, The Bible. Thus I have begun teaching small parts of it that I do understand, at least a little, and live the questions for the rest. I don’t know what my future with religion looks like, and whether this second trial will be any more long lived or permanent than the first, but despite that I think my life will always be entangled with the Christian faith. I cannot seem to escape it. It makes up a significant portion of how I think and my moral compass and predates a lot of the morals I have decided to hold that are similar to Christian principles.

Third permanent change I made in my life was finally getting treatment for depression, and learning to deal with the ongoing effects of my mental illness. Yes, I am not well, and this is rarely obvious. My sickness is one of the mind and not body. It effects me in various ways, and I have written about that throughout the years on this blog that you can find, but it is a Very Bad Thing and it keeps me from enjoying many of the things in life that others take for granted, such as the ability to enjoy things in life. I am much better off now than I was many years ago at the height of my suffering, when my wife divorced me and left me to crumble under it’s weight, but I will never be healed. Full recovery I understand to be impossible. My brain is broken in ways that can only be patched, not perfected. Each night it passes away as day comes again, but it always returns.

I don’t know what the fourth change means, and I don’t remember precisely when I made it, but it was long ago in my teenage years perhaps, but I stopped writing in lowercase, or cursive, and began to write exclusively in print capital letters. At the time I think my handwriting was becoming more and more illegible, and I wanted to make not only stylistic changes, but make it readable. Since then, I have tweaked how I write certain letters (depending on where they fall in the sentence or word) and have developed a consistent font that is all my own. Someday when I can get an iPad and an Apple Pencil, I will digitize my handwriting into a font. That would be fun. But it qualifies as a permanent change I have made in my life that was intentional.

Beyond that, I don’t know. Do learning skills count? Perhaps, if they are unique? What about changeable decisions that are made continually? I have learned skills, and I usually make the decision to color my hair, or get tattoos (and I will again in the future). What about life goals, do they count? I have decided to not accept the status quo and fight for justice and freedom to think, learn, grow, and exist as you are and wish to be. This drives a great many of things I say and do and how I interact with others.

I don’t know.

But that is enough for now, I suppose, to give you more than a tweet to understand the permanent changes I have made in life. Perhaps that gives you more of an insight into the complex individual that is me. You’re welcome.

*(@philredbeard warning: I earn my M for Mature rating)

To Thank

Today is that day on which American’s stop, eat more food than they should, watch a damagingly physical game that bewilders the rest of the world, and give thanks for things they possess and events in their life.

As traditions go, it isn’t a bad one. I’ve enjoyed it every year of my life so far and this year is no different.

I sit here typing over a belly too full of turkey and fixings, watching a team called the chargers play some guys in stripes while some guys called the cowboys watch an oblong brown ball fly around, and think about that for which I am thankful. The list is long and distinguished and in no particular order.

I am thankful for family. They sit around me, and though the small humans are a bit too loud sometimes, I love them all. They are flawed, full of snot apparently, and of various sizes, and the kids aren’t too nice either, but then, neither am I, most of the time. We are human and wonderful.

I am thankful for my mind and my health. I have suffered from depression for a long time, but lately have been on the upper side of things a majority of the time. I still have days where I lose to the depression, but they are far between.

My car starts, my computer works, my Apple watch amuses me, I have two good jobs that I actually don’t mind working. I have favorite t-shirts and the luxury of my choice of shoes. I have a roof over my head, and floor beneath my feet, and four walls.

In all, life is good, and I am thankful for each and every part, no matter how I may complain on any regular day, or groan about work in the morning, or wonder if I will ever achieve my dreams.

I have much, and for that I am thankful.

What are you thankful for?