Watch Out — There’s Girls Driving


We’re in the supermarket. It’s a weekday evening, and I dunno about you, but where I live, that means the grocery store is absolutely idiotic. Overcrowded, understaffed. People stalking you in their cars in hopes of a good parking spot, even though there are perfectly good spots at the end of the lot, which, if they’d just suck it up, park out there, and walk, would get them into the store and on with their idiotic days sooner. This one person — I swear to goodness — gets a cart in the front vestibule, moves through the doorway at an angle, then stops — blocking the entire entry/exit door — to root in her purse for something. It’s as if people have radar for the most inconvenient things they could possibly do, and then they do them, for the sheer hedonistic joy of blissful oblivion. Maybe they subconsciously feed on the pissoffs they’re sowing in the people all around them. (Man, that’s a good story idea. A semi-sentient lifeform who derives life energy, not from consuming or harming, but from irritating other creatures.)

Where was I? Right, the supermarket. On a weekday. *involuntary shudder*

We’re weaving our way through the aisles. Both of our kids are in the buggy, in that little plastic car thing that they bolt on to a normal shopping cart to give the kids the illusion of driving. My son is really too big for the cart, but that doesn’t matter — with the store as crowded as it is, letting the munchkins run free only makes us part of the problem, and we try whenever possible not to be part of the problem. Anyway, my kids are seated side-by-side in the pretend car, not screaming at each other (for once!).

We take the corner and almost mow down a kid who looks to be about three (plenty small enough to be in the cart, you know, NOT being part of the problem), with an open bag of goldfish in his grubby fingers and stains all over his shirt.

I don’t begrudge the stained shirt or the bag of goldfish straight off the shelf. I’m a parent too; I get it. But I heartily begrudge the kid running free and making me feel like a jerk for nearly running down a kid next to the canned corn. That’s on mom.

The kid stomps and stumbles to a halt as I put the brakes on the cart. The kid dashes around us as mom calls out, “careful kiddo, there’s girls driving!”

I had to stop breathing to stop my natural reaction. I dead-eyed and white-knuckled it down a couple of aisles before I started venting at my wife. Let’s just say you were dangerously close to reading about this incident on the police blotter instead of my humble internet abode.

“Careful. There’s girls driving.”

Where to begin?

First of all, she obviously mistook my son for a girl, which is, well, special. Usually it’s my daughter getting mistaken for a boy. Or maybe she mistook me for a girl — you know, my bald-on-top-hairy-everywhere-else self.

But more importantly, we’re just gonna go ahead and make the horrible joke that girls are bad drivers — even here when the girl is just pretend driving the car. Okay, that’s great.

And finally — she’s a woman. Making the no-thought-required, loaded-on-the-tip-of-the-tongue automatic joke that women can’t drive. To her son. Who is just on the threshold of understanding language itself. Sure, let’s go ahead and start filling his head with tired old stereotypes that will form the basis of his understanding of the world and the people in it. And just cap that with the mind-boggle that his own mother is debasing her own gender. In public. To strangers.

Just one more reason we usually shop on Sunday morning at eight AM.

Because everybody else is either at home or at church, and I can grab some cornflakes in peace.

 


Terrible Reviews: A Dog’s Purpose (or, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying)


No, that’s not rain outside your window. My wife and I are just watching A Dog’s Purpose, and, well, let’s just say Noah didn’t see my flood of tears coming.

I haven’t wept like this since I first grasped mortality at the age of six.

Normally, I’d write a lot more, but we’ve been packing for three days straight; I’m exhausted and ninety percent brain dead. Verdict on the movie? If you want to walk around red-eyed and snot-nosed for the weekend, you know, maybe check it out.

Watch your step on the way out. My wife walked through bawling and I haven’t had the chance to get the mop. Mostly because I’m bawling myself.

This mini-post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Never Go Back to Your Alma Mater


My sister-in-law has followed in the footsteps of my wife and myself and chosen to go to the University of Georgia. She enrolls in the fall, which means that the summer is orientation season — and that means that my wife and I got the chance to go back to our old Alma Mater to stomp the grounds a bit and reminisce.

(Actually, the wife and I were never enrolled at UGA at the same time. Just another quirk of our relationship.)

And it was great! Just being in the place where I spent so many years, the memories came rushing back like a lost puppy seeing home. The Fine Arts building where I stumbled across the stage. Sanford drive, where I was nearly mowed down by cars daily.

But I kind of wish I hadn’t gone.

Going back to your Alma Mater is a little bit like looking up an ex. You do it out of pure curiosity, with the purest of intentions. Just want to see what they’re up to, what they’ve got going on. But it can only end in depression.

First of all, the college is seeing all kinds of new people, all of them young and beautiful and reminding you just how old and decrepit you’ve become. But you expected that. You were prepared.

What you maybe weren’t prepared for is just how far the college has come since you’ve been gone. There are shiny new buildings all over the place, and the old eyesores have been torn down or renovated. The football stadium has had a sprucing up. Hell, even the buses are so clean and sparkly you just can’t help but wonder what a ride would be like.

But these things are not for you. They’re for a new generation of students: your time — you old codger — is past. Your old flame went and hit the gym and sexified itself and now you’re like, damn, I’m missing out on all this? What about the good times? Don’t they mean anything? Can I just sit in on a class or two?

And you leave eaten up with jealousy and frustration that you can no longer have this thing.

Or — worse! — maybe the gloss isn’t so pervasive and all your eye is drawn to, instead, are the old and busted parts. After fifteen years (help!) it’s the same sad old hill leading up to the dingy science buildings. Same old vomit smell one street up from the main street from downtown — the whole street. Same old not-exactly-operating-on-a-timetable-compliant-with-the-real-world bus system that makes you feel like you have to walk everywhere, paired with the murderous hills and lung-gumming humidity that make you break into a sweat if you so much as look outdoors.

Outside of the surface stuff, not much has changed. And was it really so great? And, holy cow, I spent four (okay, fine, FIVE) years of my life with this college thinking times were grand?

Don’t get me wrong; the visit was lovely (outside, of course, of the fact that our daughter, as expected, wouldn’t allow my wife a moment’s peace, let alone a night’s worth of sleep). But we look back on the past with rose-colored glasses for a reason. Going back messes with all that. Maybe you come away with some perspective, but sometimes, perspective is the last thing you want.


Magic Signs (Are BS)


The stream of consciousness prompt for the week is “sign.” And when it comes to signs, my brain only really goes to one place, and I was all set to write, but I went and clicked on Linda’s post. And I think that’s kind of beautiful.

Creative types tend to be superstitious types, don’t they?

I mean, we kind of have to be, right? This thing we do — creating sparkly new things out of nothing — it’s a kind of magic, innit? Scratch that — it’s not kind of magic; it is magic. An idea germinates in my head over here. I nurture that idea, shape it, water it, and finally put it in words. Those words, like spores on the wind, float into your eyeholes or earholes or whatever and bloom there, erupting like fungus to paint the picture in your mind. And the messed up part is: the picture in your head is almost, but not quite, exactly like the picture in my head. And the picture in the next guy’s head is almost, but not quite, exactly like the picture in your head.

It’s this cascading wave of creation, interpretation and invention, unfolding like evolution at an accelerated pace. Creating art is magic.

And in a world where magic exists, how can we not be superstitious?

Which is why you get authors going on about inspiration and muses and writer’s block and “looking for signs”. And that’s all well and good when the fire is burning and the muse is perched on your shoulder, force-feeding you caffeine and brilliant ideas and you feel the urge to write (or paint or compose or whatever) like you feel the urge to breathe — so strong and involuntary you couldn’t not do it if you tried. Problem is — in my experience at least — creating doesn’t work like that all the time. Or even half the time. Or a quarter. Not even ten percent. Maybe one day out of twenty I get the urge to create like that, where the words flow like a river overflowing its banks. The rest of the days? The muse needs coaxing. The inspiration needs a push-start. And I don’t get signs that I should be writing so much as signs that I need to rethink my major life choices.

Hell, for years I had the inkling that I should be a writer. I need to be telling stories. I feel that creative urge. But I wasn’t sure what. So I kicked back and sat around watching for the sign. And waiting. And watching. And waiting. Watch. Wait.

And the paint started to peel and the kudzu began to reclaim the yard and before I knew it, years had passed and I was no closer to writing a damn thing.

But the signs, man! When the time is right, won’t I see the signs?

No.

Signs are bullsharknado.

There’s no such thing as a “sign” that it’s time to write that novel. We like to think there might be, but that’s because we rightly believe in the magic that makes our craft possible. But signs are a form of communication. A sign means somebody, somewhere, is sending you a message, and I hate to break it to you, but if you’re going to be writing, the only real person you’ll be having meaningful conversations with about your work most of the time is yourself.

If you do see a sign, it’s because your subconscious brain is tired of sitting around waiting for your conscious brain to get in gear and do the thing you’re sitting around waiting for a sign to tell you to do. In other words: if you see a “sign” it’s because you want to see a sign.

Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that if you don’t see a sign, you don’t want to see a sign. The brain isn’t that simple. But your own brain isn’t going to hit you over the head, either. (That’s not good for the brain, incidentally.) But to return to a theme I occasionally espouse here at the blarg, things don’t always mean things.

A “sign” is a sign if you think it’s a sign. Otherwise it’s just a thing.

Which is a little bit pessimistic, but there you are. Of course, the other thing that means is that, literally, anything can be a sign — if you’re ready to see it as such.

I’m rambling now. Time to reduce this grumpy word soup down.

There’s no such thing as a “sign” that it’s time to start that project. The “sign” is that tiny voice in your head that says hey, maybe I should do that thing. The moment you hear that voice? Jump on it. Do the thing.

Don’t waste time looking for signs. If you’re doing it right, you’ll soon be ignoring all the signs anyway.

Except for this one.

blue-1845901_1280

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Pareidolia, Foie Gras, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2: A (sort of) Terrible Review


Have you ever been in the midst of a dream, and then realized that you were dreaming? You’re there, and you’re standing naked in front of the class, or you’re taking the stage and you’ve forgotten your lines, or you’re soaring in the sky with psychedelic dolphins or whatever, and it clicks: this isn’t real. It can’t be real. The world doesn’t work this way.

Suddenly, the dream is a lot less convincing. Probably you wake up. Or maybe you turn into Neo and you’re able to change the dream to suit your whims or something. Either way, it’s like one of those pareidolia images of faces in everyday objects: once you see it, there’s no unseeing it. You can’t ignore it and go back to believing that the dream was real.

pew-pew-pew

What’s all this about, then? Well, the wife and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last night. And about halfway through the film, like Neo in The Matrix, I woke up. Not that I had fallen asleep — no, as is Marvel’s wont, the action is cranked to eleven in this offering. Rather, I looked around. Noticed the seams on the walls, the jagged edges at the periphery, the hidden patterns in the carpet. And the spell was broken. I wasn’t just watching a movie anymore, I was in a world that I knew had been crafted deliberately, created to work surreptitiously on my subconscious.

(Spoiler note: This isn’t exactly a review, and there’s nothing explicitly spoiler-ific here. But if you’re planning on seeing it, and want to be able to immerse yourself fully, you might want to don your peril-sensitive sunglasses now.)

Now, sure, movies are designed to do this to you anyway. Hell, so are stories. Creators craft these things to manipulate your brain from top to bottom: telegraphing some story elements to invite you to make predictions. Playing to well-known tropes to help you find your footing in a strange world.

And GotG2 does that. But this isn’t that. I wasn’t discerning the hand of the creator in the brush strokes. Rather, I was discerning the hands of the studio execs molding the story externally as it was crafted. A whole new matrix within the matrix.

Here’s what I mean: Marvel’s using a pretty simple formula these days. Stories get bigger and bigger. Crazier, wilder villains (see: Doctor Strange doing battle with a god). Savvier, snarkier self-satirizing heroes (see: the entirety of Deadpool). And a sequel is always measured against the yardstick of the original.

And how do you make a sequel better than the original? Easy, you take the same characers, craft an entirely new storyline that plays to their developing relationships and strengths that tests them in all new ways, encouraging more growth, more development, more feels from the audience. Right? HA HA HA no. The way you make a sequel that plays as well as an original is you take everything the original does well and you do it more.

Don’t sweat the storyline so much: you’ve already got viewers baked-in. Just ratchet up the things they loved about the first movie. Give the funny characters more funny. Make the romantic tension a little more taut. Make the explosions even more explodey.

What made GotG1 so much fun — what audiences loved about it — were a few things. The old-school music soundtrack laid over a futuristic world. The irreverence. The niche-ifying of every character (there’s the snarky central guy, the badass no-nonsense chick, the brick-joke, doesn’t understand sarcasm or interactions in general dude, the jerk-store a-hole raccoon, the mute monster with a heart of gold. See also: Five-Man Band.)

And about halfway through the film, I realized that this film wasn’t actually doing what a sequel should do. There was very little new development. Not much added to the larger universe of which this story is a part. Instead, this movie was focus-grouped to make me want to watch it by giving me more of what I liked about the first one.

Let me not drive this into the ground: a few examples will prove the point.

Musclebound Drax, whose brick humor was the cornerstone of his character development (what, again, does he actually contribute to the team?) is tossing out even more deadpan sarcasm-proof jokes here, at what felt like a ratio of twelve-to-one over the original.

Angry little ball of sentient fur Rocket, in GotG1, made his place by throwing out sarcasm and lashing out when people called him a raccoon and just general dickery. His character development here: he’s a total a-hole to everybody, with at least two characters specifically pointing the fact out to him along the way.

And of course, the soundtrack is just as jarring in its strange setting, but there feels like even more of it, and it even becomes a focal point of the story itself: the central villain spins one of the songs into a metaphor for his own development. It’s well done, mind you. What at first seems like this big, romantic yen about wanderlust morphs into a twisted, sociopathic rejection of humanity (and all lifeforms in the galaxy, actually — readers of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will hear echoes of the denizens of Krikkit in the villain’s desire to wipe out everything in the universe that isn’t him).

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above. But once you hear the voice in your head — the voice that says “OH YOU ENJOYED THIS THING ABOUT THE ORIGINAL MOVIE? HERE HAVE MORE OF THAT THING” — you see it everywhere in this movie. Douglas Adams wrote brilliantly about humor that what makes it so lovely is its rarity. In the midst of a hot summer, you run out into a surprise thundershower for the joy of splashing around in the puddles, for the sprinkle of the rain on your face, because these things are rare and not happening every day. But when humor is everywhere — when it’s been raining for weeks and weeks, each day like the last, with no hint of the sun — the rain is a little less magical. GotG2 is like that: it’s a week-long deluge when what I really want is the surprise afternoon shower.

Put another way: they make foie gras by force-feeding geese until their stomachs explode. Having watched GotG2, it feels that I’ve been force-fed in the single aim of extracting more dollars from my wallet. And my stomach is near to bursting.

I say all that to say this: GotG2 is good fun. It’s perfect summer fare — lighthearted, action-packed. If you liked the first one, well, you’ll probably like the second one; not least of which for the reasons I’m talking about here. But if you miss the movie? Well, you’re not missing much.


%d bloggers like this: