What kind of year it has been

The end of the year is a good time to reflect, and as I look over the year, these are the things I think of:

I moved back to the business world for employment after a couple of years hiding out in social services. Still a temp.
My on-line pal Bartcop finally lost his fight with cancer. I miss him a lot even after 10 months.
A family member passed around the same time
My two podcasts grew in popularity and I think we got better as the year went on. The one I do with Joe hit its 150th episode, which is pretty damn impressive. I calculate I generated about 100 hours of podcast content this year, which is something I am proud of.
2 XGFs came back into my life, surprisingly. One has already exited once I figured out what she wanted from me, the other constantly surprises me by how well she knows me and just wanted my friendship.
Learned I have no patience any more for people with an agenda if they don’t admit they have an agenda.
I made it down to visit my parents twice, once for their 50th wedding anniversary and once for Thanksgiving. It’s always good to see them, and I wish I could visit more often. Maybe the job situation will resolve this year (and I’m not a temp any more).
Had one of those birthdays that ends in a 0. Did some fun stuff that day and didn’t feel as bad about it as I have seen other people feel when they have the same thing happen.
Did not get to talk to my closest friend as much as I would like, but as she is travelling the world, doing incredible things and generally being awesome, I always enjoy when she catches me up on her travels.
My son lived with me the whole year for the first time since he was in high school. He’s grown up to be a decent, moral human being and that’s pretty damn cool.
A local friend who was big in the Twin Cities comics community passed away, and his loss was a big one.
A friend I hadn’t seen in over 12 years resurfaced and reconnected. And it was something that really touched me, as over time you forget how much you miss someone.
My blood pressure is still too high, but I’m working on bringing it down. Guess that’s my life now, right?
Read some great books, watched some great TV, saw some great movies, had great nights with friends and listening to some incredible podcasts and music.
Only had one time when my car broke down, giving me massive panic attacks. I have panic attacks when my car breaks down. Long story.
Nothing horrible happened over the Christmas season. That’s all I ask from it any more.
I entered NaNoWriMo this year, and did NOT complete for the first time ever. I don’t feel bad about it, and am slowly working on finishing the novel, but November was just too busy. What with two jobs, family visit and two podcasts….
Saw some forward momentum on my comic strip project (Hi, Dan!)
Started work on a third podcast that may see the light of day in 2015. Nothing like the two I do. That’s a teaser.
Reconnected with my gaming group, a good thing.
Worked during the daytime, which was good after two years of overnights.
Retained my title as The Best Dressed Man In Comics. Take That!
Laughed a lot.
Cried a lot.
Ate a bit too much, didn’t exercise enough and figured with all I am doing, that’s OK.
Got to today wiser, doing a bit better, missing some people more and still of the opinion that every day above ground is a good one.

My thought today (crosspost from tumblr)

One of the people I work with (not a staff) was unable to sleep last night. I checked on her a few times, and I asked if I could do anything every time I checked in. Around 4 in the morning, she said she couldn't sleep because she just kept thinking about what she had done the day before and felt so embarrassed about it. When I asked her to tell me about it, the story she told was all jumbled and out of order, missing parts, but what remained was that she felt bad about it.

I sat down next to her bed on a chair, and just listened. I didn't ask her any questions, I just let her tell her story.

Too often, when people are telling us their story, we want to jump in and add things. I could have said that she wasn't telling the story right, that she was leaving out what she had done, that she needed to apologize or how I felt.

I didn't.

I listened.

And when she was done she thanked me and I went back to my other duties.

My Big Revelation last year was a simple one: All of us want to know that someone loves us. It's why we do what we do, it's at the core of our being, and it drives us to do things that we wouldn't do otherwise.

Part of loving someone is shutting up and listening. Letting them tell their story in their way and not judging or adding to it. It's hard. We want to ask questions, get clarification, tell our own story or judge what they have said.

I'm going to work harder not to do that. I'm going to just listen and in listening show that I care.

(no subject)

People walk around today calling everyone their best friend. The term doesn't have any real meaning anymore. Mere acquaintances are lavished with hugs and kisses upon a second or at most third meeting, birthday cards get passed around offices so everybody can scribble a snippet of sentimentality for a colleague they barely met, and everyone just loves everyone. As a result when you tell somebody you love them today, it isn't much heard. - Boston Legal

Nanowrimo final assessment

I didn't post it here, but the novel is done. I got done a week early, about a thousand words over the 50k goal, and I think the last act, about 12k words, is plotted FAR better than the first two acts, so when I rewrite it, I'll be doing it with that in mind.

Noir means black in French, but in the US, it conjures up images of Bogart in a trench coat, solving a mystery...but that's what what I wrote. I wrote a crime novel. The lead character commits a crime, and through his decisions, makes it worse for himself, until the bleak ending. The idea came to me about 5 or so years ago and I made a start at it about four years ago, and it sputtered and faded before I could finish the first act. At first, I thought it had to be because it was a poor idea, but in time, going over it in my head, I put the pieces together and got what I wanted to do with the story.

However, as I wrote it, I spent a lot of time inside the lead character's head. How he justified his actions, how he saw himself as the good guy as he did horrible things and how his decision making kept getting more compromised as the story went on. This may not have been one of my better decisions for my own mental well-being, seeing as how I had to see some terrible things from the point of view of someone who justified them.

Cognitive dissonance sucks, yo.

It probably also didn't help that someone I thought I was quite close to and had spent a lot of time with, just dropped me from their life. Just like that. No explanation, no reason, and the last thing she said was that she missed me “already” and would be contacting me in a day or so.

Then, radio silence. I found out through second hand means that she pretty much decided to get back together with her XBF, and just kind of left me in the lurch, thinking I'd be “on hold” while she saw if that relationship worked out this time. Kind of thinking I deserve it, but that's because I have self esteem lower than can be calculated by modern mathematics. Still...makes me feel like a complete fool, and makes me want to curl up into a ball and just not do anything but work, watch TV and read. Maybe that's the best course for this go-round.

The plan with the novel now it to let it rest, maybe go back and toy with my two detective novels for a couple of months, then do the big rewrite on this thing when my head is screwed on a little straighter. The plan for my life is...well, just keep working, keep looking for a decent job and keep to myself..and hopefully *I* won't fuck me over.

NaNoWriMo Day 16: Word count 33489

One of the things they talk about in NaNoWriMo circle is that during the second week, people can hit a wall. I don't know if I have hit that wall before, but I do know that on one of my novels, I realized during the second week that the whole damn thing was a mess, and while I walked it through to the ending, I have placed it in a file and have not looked at it since. I was trying to do something new and realized during the second week that it was flaming out.

Now, it's officially the third week, but tonight, I got that “oh my ghods, I have wasted my time. This thing needs to be completely ripped up and rewritten” feeling.

Not good when you are at 33,000 words.

I trudged through the word count for tonight, put two characters in a room and had them talk. As I wrapped up, I was feeling nothing but frustration about it, and was considering just jumping ahead to act 3 and being done with it, and then doing a massive rewrite in January.

As I closed the file, I thought about my old rule. I don't know if it is anyone else's rule for writing, or if I heard it somewhere or I just picked it up in bits and pieces and put all of the pieces together.

Know what your character is most afraid of. Then, do it.

In my third zombie novel, I focused on a female character who had always depended on other people her whole life. She was most afraid of being alone. So, everyone around her died and she had to deal with that. In my second, the lead's fear was getting so hurt he couldn't go on. So I did it.

And now, in this one, my lead character's fear is that someone will know everything he has done. So, tomorrow, I start doing that to him.

The other trick, and why I felt I was going down the wrong path, is that to get good drama, you put two people in a room and have them talk to each other. My lead has not had anyone to talk to about what he has done. That changes tomorrow as well.

Wish me luck. If these things don't work, the novel will collapse, and I'll be posting “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” all day.

NaNoWriMo day 15

The thing about a noir novel is that I feel compelled to avoid the cliches, but they are so ingrained in the genre that the plot wants to drift toward them. The dark rainy streets, the femme fatale, the private eye.

I have worked pretty hard to avoid them. The novel is mostly set in a rural halfway house, the first main female character was a well-meaning therapist who works at the halfway house, and the other main female character is the wife of the protagonist. Maybe I am overly sensitive, but I worry a lot when I write female characters now. I read a lot of criticism about female characters, about how they can’t be too dependent upon male characters and all of the other issues people have.

However, when I write, I forget those things. I make my female characters the same way I make my male characters. I decide what their part is int he story, build in my mind how they got there and who they are, and then see how they react to what is happening, usually in surprising ways.

The Wife didn’t play much of a part in the novel when I started. She was there to show that the protagonist had gotten his shit together during the two year gap at the beginning of the story. She would have a few scenes, but she wouldn’t be much more than “What he could lose.”

Then, last night, a plot twist showed up that I wasn’t expecting, and it ratcheted up the danger and gave the protagonist a new choice. As I was writing, I realized that I wanted him to talk over the choice with someone, and the wife needed to become more of a realized character, but I wanted to avoid the cliches. She ha her own life, since they married later in life. She’s her own person, and they are together because their lives intersected in the right way for it to work. So, now I have to puzzle out, how will she react to what she’s told? What are HER choices? What brought her here.

And, as I started writing her, I realized that she is MUCH smarter than my protagonist. She’s not a femme fatale, but she does have a big part to play, so tomorrow, I need to write more about her.

I’m letting the characters run things. It’s the only way I know how to do it.

A return

I might as well crosspost what I've been writing on Tumblr here. I see a few people remain, so...

I took today off from writing the novel. I hit 25,000 words yesterday and was needed a break. I have to regroup a bit, figure out what the second half will be and how to move forward with it…the protagonist needs someone to interact with, but plot-wise, I don’t think I can allow that, so…I’ll beat my head against that wall tomorrow night.

Instead, I watched Before Midnight, the third of the “Before” movies by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I loved the first two movies, and at times can actually call Before Sunrise my favorite movie. It was born of that wonderful period int he early 90’s when indy films exploded and movies about people talking could actually be released in theaters and make enough money that they would release more of them.

I’m sure other people will focus on other aspects of the movie, but with my particular circumstances and relationship history, there was a particular sequence and theme that hammered home to me.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke’s character) talks about how he can only give Unconditional Love to Celine.

It’s a hard concept, unconditional love. I have known a lot of people who claim that they love unconditionally, but most of the time, there are conditions, just not so present.

I love you because you are pretty
I love you because you are a kind person
I love you because you care so much about me
I love you because you are family
I love you because you are such a good mother/father
I love you….


If there is a because, it’s not unconditional.

And the corollary of that is: I love you Until. We all have known someone who turns out not to be what they appeared, or made choices that make ti impossible to be around them.

What if that person changes? People can get ground down by life, physically, emotionally, intellectually or many other ways. That statistics around people staying together are devastating. Half of all marriages end in divorce, and what people people who choose not to get married? Do we even know those statistics? Couples who go through certain events have even higher rates of splitting up, such as a child dying, a long illness, mental illness, and the like make it harder.

I was in a relationship a while back, and one of my friends asked if I loved this woman, who was pretty, smart, artistic and fascinating if I loved her unconditionally. I thought about it for a while and finally had to say “No.”

Why? Because, there were conditions. That we stay together, that her tendency to be casually cruel no be turned on me, that she not give in to her dark cynicism.

Does that make me a horrible person?

Don’t know.

It is a struggle, even now to live up to the phrase “unconditional love.”

I try. When I decide that I do love someone, not just romantic love, but familial love, love of a treasured friendship, and so many others, I work to make it unconditional. To understand that people are complex, that they have faults, or that things change.

I also don’t say “I love you” as much as I used to. I’m much more guarded. I hold it because I can’t say it unless it is unconditional. And, I struggle with that. I struggle because unconditional love is risky. You can get hurt. Sometimes hurt so bad it knocks you to the ground and you struggle to give enough of a damn to get up.

So, I’m more careful.

But, when I love, I try, so very, very hard, to be unconditional about it.

No strings attached.

My thoughts on Kirby's work today

One of the phrases I've heard a lot lately is that “Nostalgia is a longing for the past, almost a form of melancholy.”

I am the first to admit that I find myself in melancholy more often than not. The last 5 or so years have been pretty hard, and they aren't getting much easier. Thankfully, the issues with my son are over, an he's doing well on his own, but with job losses come money trouble, and with money trouble comes less ability to go out and do things, and to be honest, I'm at the age when most people don't make a lot of new social contacts...and working overnights has pretty much made it impossible to keep up on much of anything in the way of a social life.

However, as I am reading older comics on my overnights, I'm feeling nostalgia, and I don't think it's a bad thing. For example, I'm reading Jack Kirby's late 70's series of 2001: A Space Odyssey. When I read it as a kid, all I thought was “COOL! New Kirby Comics at Marvel!!!” and now when I read it, all I can think is “Who in the flaming blue hell thought they could get a comic book series out of that movie?”

One of my overnight co-workers (the smart one) talked about how he watched the movie in his early teens and then went on a quest to try to understand what the movie was about and what happened in it. I had the same reaction when I watched it...what did the opening sequence have to do with the outer space stuff? What was the monolith? Why did HAL go crazy? What the hell happened in the ending?

Like him, I read the novel, but then I was able to read Kirby's comics, and Kirby had definite ideas about all of it. At the time That Was What It Meant, but now I see that Kirby had brought in his own innate belief that humanity would triumph over its baser urges and become like until the mythic gods of old. Now, I see it as an alien intelligence that was looking to plant seeds in a primitive creature and then came back to see if those seeds had borne fruit.

Kirby and I have diverged. He grew up in the depression and while things got bad, they got better. I grew up in the recession of the 70's and saw things get progressively worse. The rich have figured out how to hollow out the middle class and turn the whole of the US into a company store, like the robber barons had done in old factory towns. The workers who united and worked together in Kirby's day can't wait to sell each other out for a slight chance of maybe making it one step up and getting a few more months of security.

He saw humanity getting better and joining the forces that sent the monolith. I see humanity as a toy for the monolith.

Different worldviews.

Different times.

Back to the comics, Kirby's art is still amazing, and when I look at it next to the comics that were more popular and “relevant” at the time...let's just say I can still read and enjoy Kirby's stories of cavemen learning to use tools, men fighting against their darker instincts and the big themes and ideas being poured onto the pages, while the more “cool” comics of the time read like bad pulp fiction, filled with purple prose and endless formula.

Kirby drew BIG. He drew BIG double page spreads. He drew BIG characters who did larger than life things. He showed how the wheel was invented, the first tools and spacestatiosn that were pounded to oblivion by massive meteor showers. All of it done in a way that you can't turn the page fast enough to get to the rest of the story.

Nostalgia. Comics that rocked my brain when I was 13, and still hold ideas that keep me thinking when I'm in my 40's.

Not all nostalgia is melancholy. Some of it is there to remind you that you can still reset yourself and go back to thinking that may have escaped your for a while.

Kirby Komix 1

I have recently read the first four issues of Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and am really impressed with what Kirby was doing with the book. Let's face it, after Kirby adapted the movie in a Treasury edition, the idea of a comic book series based on the movie seems like a REALLY odd choice. However, Kirby dived in, and as he did it, it played into his ideas about space gods, as well as humanity growing beyond its violent and destructive roots.

The first issue sets the tone as he mirrors the structure of the movie (in a 17 page comic!). We first meet a caveman who is a small step above his bestial companions, and in meeting the monolith, learns to create the first edged weapon. We switch to the future where his supposed descendent is trapped on the moon... Issue two follows the same structure with a female protagonist. The highlight of these two issues is getting a Kirby story of ancient man, and then followed up by Kirby's version of the Kubrich future. His art is powerful, and while I'm not the biggest fan of Royer's inks (I feel he followed Kirby's pencils a little TOO slavishly, rather than bringing his own influence to them like a Joe Sinnott or Joe Simon did), Kirby's art is strong, filled with action and does an incredible job of leading the reader from panel to panel.

Issues three and four are a leap forward as he leaves behind the format's structure and tells the story of Barak who uses the knowledge from the monolith to create the world's first army. Kirby is at a peak here with some incredible two page battle sequences, wonderful end of page reveals and excellent pacing. We also go from fearing Barak's barbarianism to understanding his shift from brutal leader to a man who is bringing humanity forward in his own drive for both conquest and love. It shows that Kirby really enjoyed the fantasy/prehistoric style adventure he did in Kamandi, and his...well...quirky dialogue works perfectly in this type of story (as it did in The New Gods).

It was not a huge hit at the time, and I see it as some of Kirby's most under-rated work.