Check-up twenty17: March

It is now officially the 1st of April, so I can evaluate my progress through March twenty17. If you’ve been following my writings this year, you know I am challenging myself to do a few things every month: #1: Writing, #2: Reading, #3: Building, #4: Art and #5: Activities. In January, I hadn’t yet decided on the last three of those, so that month I had an easy 5/5. February brought me a little lower with 2.5/5 due to not writing and not doing art. Now…March.

#1. Writing. I wrote twice, about the film Logan and about the passing of Carrie Fisher (click on March 2017 to the right of this post and you should see both posts listed for you). 5-5

#2. Reading. I did not finish a book this month, but I did make progress in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tales from the Perilous Realm. 0-5.

#3. Building. I rebuilt my LEGO Landspeeder and put together a MOC of the Anchorhead market on Tatooine. Both were formed from self-existing sets, so I don’t get full credit. 3.5-5.

#4. Art. I took an artistic picture of the second MOC, actually a recreation of a pic I saw on Instagram, so not completely original. But I did take a new LEGO portrait, so I’ll actually get bonus credit for this one. 8-5.

#5. Activities. I started attending a meeting at a local church about multi-ethnic conversations. This will be ongoing through April and May so I will get decreasing credit in those months for attendance, but for March I get full credit. 5-5.

So, all total, that is a final score of 24-25, grading on a curve with a retroactive 2.5-5 for #2 for actually reading some. 96% for March. For the year I get a total of 82%. Man, not writing in February and not finishing a book in March is killing my average. I need to get on both consistently. Still, I am doing fairly well at staying active and doing things and not just sleeping or playing on my iPhone.

I am excited for April as I have some things planned, but not much that satisfies my personal challenges. Therefore, the excitement of getting to create is high, but the anxiety of having no specifics is also high.

Finally, catch my Art pics on Flickr here and here and stay tuned for more from me, the Redbeard.

A preview:IMG_1269 - Pizza Aboard the Jolly Ole DS

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Princess, Sister, General

I could never figure it out, and it isn’t really stated anywhere, so as a kid I never knew. Was Leia the elder Skywalker, or was Luke? I know they were retconned to twins sometime after Star Wars and before Return of the Jedi, but still, logically, one is older. Who was it? I was one of three boys in my family, complete and whole, until my sister came along six years later to upset the established order and complete us all. It wasn’t really until I was six or seven that I began to religiously watch the Star Wars saga, so in my mind I became Luke Skywalker and my new baby sister was Princess Leia.

leia-suggested

My sister and I never played that way, that is, never acted out the Star Wars story together, but in my head I saw Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia as the twin sister I never had until I had a little sister, and then as my sister grew up to be a fierce, independent, wise, take-no-bullshit young woman she became Leia to my Luke.

We were raised differently, like Luke and Leia, as my parents doted on the only daughter, gave her her own room (where I had to share space with one or both of my brothers as conditions allowed), and in general lavished the favoritism upon her. I mean, of course my parents said they had no favorites, but really, three boys didn’t hold a candle my to parent’s little princess.

I never had my mind on where I was, or what I was doing, and was always craving excitement and adventure, like a certain young sand-locked farm boy, and my sister always knew what she wanted and how she wanted it and seemed to be driven in ways I wasn’t, like a certain young Senator from Alderaan.

I could stretch the metaphor and say that I like to wear black, and her white and interesting hair-dos but that would be stretching the truth as well. Suffice to say, we met late* in life and became a duo that learned to appreciate and love each other.

Now, as adults, past our “growing up” years, she is, as ever, driven, and I am wandering the galaxy in search of my own Force to guide me. She is the General: moving forward; I am the Jedi: mystically engaged with life’s triumphs and failures.

Given such a personal connection to the character of Leia Organa-Skywalker-Solo, I was deeply affected by the tragic death of Carrie Fisher last year. I had watched her all my life as she “grew up” as a character on Star Wars and I had followed her later life on social media. I always dreamed of going to a Star Wars celebration or ComicCon to meet her, and regret that I will now not have the chance to tell her what she meant to me. Like my sister, Fisher was feisty, funny, and familial. I am not the only one in the Star Wars community to view her as a surrogate-sister, and that was a role she embraced after a certain time. Certainly she was honest about her struggles with mental illness, substance abuse, and a dysfunctional family in a way that made me ok with my own depression and personal struggles.

I grew up knowing that women could be strong, resilient, heroic, steadfast, worthy, sexy, beautiful leaders and sisters and women all at the same time and that was because Carrie Fisher embodied that so well on screen and on the internet, and my sister was all those things and more in what I saw as a little mirror of Fisher.

It seemed at first a strange thing to be so sad at the death of a celebrity I had never met and who inhabited my star-struck fascination with Star Wars, but having come to this realization of what Carrie Fisher truly meant to me in such personal terms, it doesn’t seem strange at all anymore.

As I enter a world now robbed of Fisher, I embrace my sister all the more tightly and thank the Force that I was given such a wonderful gift and example of womanhood at such a young age, that despite not being twins, we grew to be very close, a closeness we share today.

Fisher is now one with the Force, and I have my sister to guide me always. I look forward to the next chapter in our Saga…

 

*If by being introduced when I was just 6 can be called “late” in life.

 

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Logan

There are some films that you watch and when the credits roll, you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck of emotions and you cannot move from your seat. Logan was such a film for me. Here follows my spoiler review of the most emotional, best superhero film I’ve seen since they’ve been making superhero films.

logan-film-header-front-main-stage

From the moment drunk Logan a.k.a. the Wolverine, stumbles out of his limo to confront some would-be rim thieves, you know this isn’t the 2000 X-Men film that launched a franchise. Well, Logan has always been a bit of a drunk, but never to this extent. You figure a man who has lived 150-200 years and fought in every single hellish war available during that time has to find some way to cope with the horrors he has seen and perpetrated, and especially now, in the 2030’s when (almost) all of his fellow mutants are dead and he yet remains. And then when Logan’s claws extend between his fingers and begin to be shoved through eye sockets and through kneecaps, this definitely isn’t any of the previous X-Men films. For one thing, this one is rated R, and it earns that rating within minutes.

Eventually it is revealed that Logan is making a living as a limo driver while taking care of a mentally ill Professor Xavier and living with another mutant who managed to survive into this post-mutant apocalypse. It is also evident that something extraordinary is happening to Logan as his famous healing factor has slowed significantly, and he is covered with the scars of past battles. It is a bleak, hopeless picture of enduring pain.

Things don’t get any better for Logan as he is approached by a mysterious Latino woman seeking passage to Canada, and a mercenary who is seeking what the Latino woman is protecting. That protectorate is soon revealed to be a young girl, a young girl with a healing factor and claws. Eventually Logan learns that this girl his genetic daughter, born in a lab and raised to be a soldier.

Reluctantly he begins to protect her from the corporation that designed her and wants her back and takes the girl to Canada, with the ailing Professor X in tow. What follows is a dramatic-road-trip-running-battle that eventually leads to the death of Logan, Professor X, and most of the mercenaries that were foolish enough to cross the Wolverine’s (and his daughter, X-23’s) path.

This film is bleak, tragic, stark, and occasionally humorous. Logan learns a little bit what being a parent is like, buries his last dear friend, and finally realizes the peace of death and the love of (a highly dysfunctional) family. Hugh Jackman is excellent in the role he has played for 17 years – the world weary mutant Wolverine – and Patrick Stewart delivers in spades as old Professor Xavier. The rest of the supporting cast is led by 12 year old Dafne Keen who is spectacular as Logan’s daughter Laura, the mutant known as X-23. From there, the characters range from Caliban, the mutant friend of Logan, and What’shisface, the main mercenary tracking them and Doctor What’shisface the guy who created X-23 and her fellow mutants. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that there are about 23 other mutants that were created by the Doctor What’shisface, mostly children, who are also seeking asylum in Canada. I am being facetious, but I don’t really remember much about the other children or the antagonists because they aren’t really important to the story except to foil Logan or add to the emotional stakes.

I would say this is one of the central flaws of the film, that most of the mercenaries exist to die, and Head Mercenary Guy is there to die a little bit harder, so why should they get story arcs? Similarly, the other mutant children are only glimpsed in context to X-23. I found myself wanting to know why the mercenaries were so against the mutants and what the other mutant children wanted to achieve. You get the feeling, through little story touches like the fact that the X-men had their own in universe comic book series, that they were somewhat accepted and were heroes of a sort, so what happened? The back story to this particular adventure is also scarcely filled in, as it, like most X-men films, only follows a rather loose chronology so you can’t even depend on the previous X-men films for context.

With that being said, Logan is an exceptional film, from beginning to end, and even if the story is a bit vague on the how, it is full of the why, and it tends to hit you, repeatedly, right in the feels.

I don’t know that I want to see it again right away. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but Logan is like a war film for me: it can be exceptional, but it isn’t particularly enjoyable to watch multiple times and feel good and happy after each viewing. There is no shawarma at the end, just blood and death.

In closing, I hear a black and white version is in the works. I think, after my unlimited enjoyment of Mad Max: Fury Road in B&W, I will similarly enjoy a desaturated Logan. I think that would only add to the already rich story and visuals.

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Check-up twenty17: Jan and Feb

January came and went, and with it blustery winds and driving snow. Well, not here in Texas, but I am sure somewhere that was true. Anyhow, along the way I made a few non-resolutions, and one of them was that in twenty17 I would write more. I want to regularly assess how I am doing and introduce a few new non-resolutions into the mix. Here goes…

January twenty17

Ok, first, writing more. How am I doing? Well, I wrote four blog posts in January, so for that I will give myself a 5 out of 5. Great!  Second, reading more. How did I do? I read a book, The God Who Is There by Francis A. Schaeffer. And that was all I resolved publicly at that point, so for all of January I get a 10 out of 10 and for the year a 100%. Not bad so far.

February twenty 17

Writing…well, sad to say I didn’t write anything in February. I am forced to give myself a 0 out of 5. I did read a short book of mostly pictures, Myth and Magic: The Art of John Howe, and I finished The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien so I will give myself a 5-5.  For February a total of 50%. For the year that puts me at 75%. Not terrible, but I need to write more.

Looking ahead twenty17

Here is where we introduce more opportunities for points. So far I have #1: Writing. I will introduce #2: Reading, #3: Building, #4: Art and #5: Activities. A précis of each will follow, a standard set of guidelines by which to judge myself and my progress, and then I will re-do February and look ahead to March.

#1: Writing – I will write at least twice on the blog, about anything, any time.

#2: Reading – I will finish at least one book per month. Any length, any genre.

#3: Building – I will build at least one LEGO My Own Creation (MOC) per month. Any size.

#4: Art – (here things get interesting) I will create one piece of art each month. This includes photography of LEGO or stormtroopers, or painting, or building of a physical piece of art. Anything artistic, any size, any media.

#5: Activities – I will get out of the apartment for at least one activity each month that does not include my parents or siblings.

I will grade on a bit of curve to begin, to give myself a chance at building a feeling of success, but will lessen the curve as I go on to be realistic. Ok. Let’s look back at February.

February twenty17

#1: Writing – I didn’t write. 0-5
#2 Reading – I finished reading two books. 5-5
#3 Building – I built a MOC of a rally sport dune buggy (pic to follow). 5-5
#4 Art – I didn’t make any art (I didn’t take the pictures of my MOC until March). 0-5
#5 Activities – I met with a friend to chat. 5-5

Total = 70%, grading on a curve I gave myself a retroactive 2.5-5 for #4 since that wasn’t technically a requirement in February.

For the year I get an overall score of 85%. Yeah!

I am looking forward to see how March works out. I will have written at least once on the blog (you’re reading it!) and I have made some art, did an activity or two, and am reading, so here’s hoping I finish well.

Now, for the promised shot of my LEGO rally sport dune buggy:

rally sport

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A Haiku and Other Poems

Here follows a few poems I wrote over the summer, just for fun.

The first two poems I wrote while in traffic on my way to my summer job. I composed them in my head from a few images that came to me as I merged my way to my exit and wrote them down once I had safely parked. Of those two, the first is about a supercar in traffic, a concept I find endlessly amusing and a little bit sad, like a caged animal that deserves to be running free. I give you

Pent Up Rage

TwelV horses
Nowhere to race
Supercar in traffic

The second is a proper haiku about brake lights. For your consideration

Brakelite Haiku

Blinky red asses
Off and on the grey freeway
Little metal ‘flys

Next comes a poem that I wrote while in a local coffee shop called The White Rhino. I was struck by the seeming hipster-ness of it all, and was also contemplating the social justice warrior movement. Included herein are a play-on-lyrics, a reference to a video game, and well, here is

SJWs

The White Rhino watches
Over mocha choca lattes
And lonely hipsters who first
Saw the waves breaking over Dawn
Rifles clutched tightly
Ready to battle the better beasts
Of industry and backward progress
As if they themselves had come
From another era, man buns
Wound tight to ward off the right
A new wave
Of social justice warriors

And last, but not least, a baseball poem based on a William Carlos Williams poem about some rainwater, chickens, and a red wheelbarrow. There is, above the infield, a

Pop up

So much depends upon a white baseball
In the blue, blue sky
Plopping into
brown

leather

So there you have a few poems. I love them, like fragile little butterfly children that I release into the harsh winter air. Be kind to them.

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The Hope

I just left my local cinema, having seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the second time and I loved it just as much the second viewing. This was the first Star Wars film not to be an official episode, that is, an installment in the saga of the Skywalker family, and thus is a stand-alone film, however, it flows into Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope so well it may as well be an extended prologue to that legacy film. If you wish to avoid spoilers, you can stop reading now. Otherwise…venture once again into that galaxy far, far away…

rogueone-banner

Rogue One begins without an opening crawl, which is a bit jarring, since that is the Star Wars to which we have grown accustomed. However, the beautiful shots of space and Director Krennic’s shuttle quickly take hold and the film is begun and it hardly seems to matter. Small title screens give the location at which each bit of action takes place, so the viewer is never lost in space, however, just a little context would have been welcome to begin the film. I admit that this is a small criticism.

The film follows the journey of young Jyn Erso, left abandoned by her family at a young age and raised by a Rebel zealot. She eventually becomes useful to the larger Rebel Alliance, and is asked to make contact with her surrogate father in order to authenticate a message from her real father. That message is true, and it seems the Empire has built a super weapon, code name: Death Star, that can destroy entire planets, however the elder Erso, a secret Rebel, built within it a fatal flaw that only a thorough examination of the technical plans will reveal. Those plans must be stolen from an Imperial archive at all costs to prevent the reign of terror the Emperor is eager to unleash.

The characters in this Star Wars story are compelling, real, and interesting, from Captain Andor, his sassy K-2S0 droid, and a rag-tag group of Rebel agents that include a semi-Force aware Guardian of the Whills. So diverse and different is this group that it is amazing that they even work together, much less pull off the greatest heist in the history of the Star Wars galaxy, but succeed they do. Sort of. I mean, they win the day, but they all die. Every last one of them.

That is part of what makes this film special. Not a single one of these characters is to be heard from again, so their fate is ambiguous from the very beginning. Darth Vader makes an off-hand remark as to their deaths in the Star Wars novelization, but in the films proper there is no mention as to the brave Rebels who stole the Death Star plans, just that they were “provided by Princess Leia” which is at once true and inaccurate. Therefore, the tension mounts for each and every one as their deaths are perhaps certain, but not predictable. How they die is as important as how they live, and is a culmination of their own personal journeys.

Darth Vader appears, as do several characters from A New Hope, and none unnecessarily. Half recast (James Earl Jones again provides the voice of Vader) the Sith Lord intimidates Krennic at a crucial point, also motivating him to fulfill his villainous role in the film. Vader also reappears at the end to mop up the Rebel fleet and almost reclaim the Death Star plans before a brave Rebel soldier is there to stop him from doing so. Much less than the absurd Yoda fight in Attack of the Clones, Vader here does fight, but in a controlled and subdued manner that doesn’t conflict with anything he is shown doing in the original trilogy in tone or manner. He is devastating and unstoppable both with lightsaber and the Force.

The other characters from A New Home are Red and Gold Leaders, resurrected via found film footage cleverly spliced into the Rogue One footage, and Governor Tarkin and Princess Leia herself.* Tarkin is brought to life via body-double CGI and while the uncanny valley is alive and well, the effect is successful as a cold and calculating villain to Director Krennic and the Rebel beyond. Leia appears in less than 30 seconds or so at the end in the same way, and as such is much less jarring. Only because we see Tarkin walk and talk and intimidate are we able to see through the digital facade and realize that what we are seeing isn’t real.

I appreciated the level of detail that was brought to this film, through hair and makeup, wardrobe and costuming, and set design to emulate the look of the original trilogy and the time period in which it was created. 70’s styling and color pallets are evident, as is practical effects work and location scouting to match or even duplicate locations from the first film. So many little details are there to be found and enjoyed, but my favorite is two ill-fated stormtroopers on Scarif talking about a new model of speeder that was released, nearly identical dialogue to two troopers on the Death Star when Kenobi is tinkering with the tractor beam that holds the Millennium Falcon hostage. At once a call-back, foreshadowing, and a simply fantastic bit of universe appropriate dialogue. (Those must have been some exciting speeders to get multiple troops excited.)

Lastly, the music is majestic, being the first score not composed by John Williams (done instead by Michael Giacchino) but quoting and referencing Williams’ scores when thematically necessary and sonically appropriate.

I completely enjoyed the spectacle that is a Star Wars space opera, a heist film, a war picture, and a hero’s journey all rolled into one. Existing as it does apart from and kin to the first ever Star Wars film makes Rogue One no less compelling or able to stand on its own.

 

*Two other characters from A New Hope appear, via creature makeup, and that is the twisted human and unintelligible alien that accost Luke Skywalker in a cantina on Tatooine only to be mutilated by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Fan service much? While Tarkin, Rebel pilots, and even Leia are important to the plot, these two are pure cameo. Nice, but why those two? It cracked me up, but also took me out of the story for a minute. Ultimate reaction: a shrug and a smile.

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A Tale of Two Parts

Part the First

This is difficult for me to write. Yesterday, January 3rd, would have been my seventh wedding anniversary had I not been divorced. Unlike a spouse who died and is no longer upon the planet Earth, I am dealing with a different kind of loneliness. It is the loneliness of no longer being wanted. I know, approximately, where my ex-wife is, and approximately, what she is doing. And that hurts, because she isn’t here, and she isn’t with me. Once upon a fairy tale time, she was right by my side doing what I was doing, or I was by her side, doing what she was doing. We were together. But now she is beside someone else, and they are doing things together. And that hurts spectacularly.

I don’t know what the time period is supposed to be for getting over a spousal rejection, but I am apparently not there yet as I still memorialize a coupling that has uncoupled. I am sure I will get there at some point, but in the meantime, I am stumped by a simple question: now that she has moved on and put me behind her and someone else beside her, I am a free man. I am as if I was never married. That thought gives me some release, some comfort, but what do I do now to anchor that thought in reality? Do I burn all her love letters in a massive bonfire of dead desire? Do I delete all our pictures and digital memories as if scorching cyberspace? Do I forget her name and erase her influence from my life? Is such a thing even possible? I signed up for eternity. I was hers forever…until I wasn’t. I don’t know what to do.

Except, maybe I do know. I will do what I have done since the first noniversary rolled around: keep moving forward.

Part the Second

It is a brand new year, an entity I am calling twenty17. Thus far in my life I have mostly eschewed this whole idea of “New Year’s Resolutions” in which one is hereby resolved by the arbitrary Gregorian calendar to radically change one’s life in some way. It has seemed like so much hokum to think that just because some number has rolled over on a time keeping device, one is now able to change their life. In my nearly 30 years of experience, I haven’t seen that to be particularly possible. But here I am, about to resolve something on so public a forum as to not be ignored.

I resolve two things, first: to read more. I was a voracious reader in my youth. You would often find me curled up on the couch, or stretched out on a bed with book in hand, eagerly flipping pages, absorbing content like the proverbial sponge absorbs water. In the last few years, my reading has slackened pace to have almost stopped completely. The only reading ritual that continues is my annual reading of the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion. Even that reading has become less a pleasure and more a chore. But I want to regain the magic of reading, and that means actually reading again. Part and parcel with my goal of reading more is to actually find a local library and get a library card so that I might read to my heart’s contentment.

Secondly may it be resolved: to write more. I used to be a prolific writer, at least one who wrote semi often about current events or currently occurring thoughts. However, as can be seen from a perusal of the right hand column on this blog labeled “archives”, there is a gap from 2015 to 2017 in which I didn’t write anything. This I want to remedy. I won’t resolve to write every day, or even every week, but I do promise to write at least once a month. So far, I am doing spectacularly as this will be my second long form essay in this month alone. Go me!

Part the Epilogue

Hereby it can be seen that these two parts join together. In leaving behind one form of life, I pick up another, and move forward. And that perhaps is the answer. Hannah, I sincerely hope, will live a long and happy life, and thus we may even cross paths again in the future. The only way I live life with that knowledge and survive that eventuality with any semblance of me is to create a once and future life that is again mine own.

Excelsior!

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