The Fast and the Furious

Fast Five, FF6, Furious 7, and The Fate of the Furious rank among the best movies that have ever been made.  Nowadays, the common move in Hollywood is to lean on superhero properties (Marvel and DC) or remake children’s book with giant established followings into big budget film franchises (Harry Potter, Maze Runner, Hunger Games, etc) that make gangbusters at the box office.  That is why when the first FF film hit the screens in 2001 and then just kept spawning sequels, it was such a pleasant surprise and rarity.  I have personally seen all of the films and have been a loyal fan since the very beginning.  But most people consider the franchise truly hitting its stride with Fast Five in 2011 when Universal really opened its wallets and let Justin Lin and the crew run roughshod in Rio de Janeiro.  Also:  They brought in The Rock as Diplomatic Security Service agent, Luke Hobbs, who chases Brian and Dom.  What a great movie.

I’ve written before about how the great Wesley Morris calls FF “the most progressive force in American cinema” and “incredibly important” but today I really want to dissect what it is about these films that tickle my fancy so much.  In a nutshell, I think FF hits my kitsch button which is the main reason I enjoy these films so much.  Consider, for instance, this clip of The Rock single-handedly redirecting the torpedo from the nuclear submarine towards the Chechen separatist bad guy truck that is out to get them:


Or this one where Dom jumps (in his car) over a highway chasm to save Letty from imminent demise:


Or this one where we are shown the value of teamwork:


How can one watch these scenes and not be enamored with the FF film franchise? I humbly submit that it is simply not possible. What I really appreciate though, about the franchise, is that since Fast Five, there has been a very self-aware attempt with the series towards “one-upmanship” with every subsequent installment. In Fast Five you got Brian and Dom pulling the bank vault in two Subaru WRXs through the streets of Rio, FF6 introduced the world’s longest airport runway (somewhere in Chechnya, I think?), and Furious 7 gave us several magnificent set pieces: Cars parachuting out of a jumbo airliner transport, cars taking on a Predator Drone, and cars building-jumping through the Etihad Towers in Abu Dubai.

And then, of course, Fate of the Furious gave us: Cars vs Nuclear Submarine:


Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes occupies rarified air in my brain.  Running from 1985-1996, Bill Watterson’s eleven years of illustrated adventures featured six-year old Calvin (whose wisdom far exceeded his years) and his tiger friend, Hobbes, and captured millions of imaginations around the world, from those of youngsters to fully-grown adults.  The legacy of Calvin and Hobbes lives on to this day, and I suspect, forever.  One day people will forget about Shakespeare and won’t be able to tell you a thing about James Joyce (I doubt, actually, the average person off the street today could tell you a single thing about Joyce) but I’m pretty sure Calvin and Hobbes is going to endure.

To me, Watterson’s genius lied not in the gorgeous art or the sparkling characters and dialogue –though those are all superlative, to be sure– but in the sheer, unbridled imagination and creativity of the work.  Calvin had alter-egos like Stupendous Man and Spaceman Spiff, built mind-boggling inventions like the Transmorgifier, Duplicator, and Time Machine (all cardboard boxes in different horizontal orientations), founded games like Calvinball and foundational clubs like G.R.O.S.S. (with First Tiger Hobbes).  He maintained a lifelong rivalry with Susie Derkins, the girl somewhere in his neighborhood, an antagonistic relationship with Mrs. Wormwood and Rosalyn, and created snowmen masterpieces that, if there were any justice in the world, would find homes in the Louvre and Met.

In his eleven years, Calvin never grew a single day older.  And yet, he possessed more wisdom than just about all of us.  What’s funny is that as a child, I often skipped the long, wordy strips when Calvin and Hobbes rode their toboggan or red wagon through the woods.  There were just so many words.   But as an adult, years later, when I revisited the strip, those cartons –long winding contemplations about culture, media, and the tenuousness of existence– are among my favorites.  Calvin and Hobbes was so far ahead of its time and Watterson really pushed the envelope and, I would argue, redefined the entire genre in showing the world that cartoons were a serious medium with serious things to say.

Recently, I stumbled over a write-up Maria Popova did on Watterson’s 1990s commencement address which he gave at Kenyon College that May. It’s filled with many gems of great advice and insight but these two quotes most stood out to me (emphasis, mine):

We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.



I tell you all this because it’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.

I still haven’t drawn the strip as long as it took me to get the job. To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work.


“Most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive” and “loving the work” is what matters. If we truly love what we do then there is no obstacle too great or setback too severe that will deter us. Watterson famously never authorized McMeel, his publisher, to merchandise Calvin and Hobbes. It was a bitter, long-drawn dispute but Watterson prevailed in the end; he’d felt that such a commercial move would compromise the artistic integrity and authenticity of the cartoon. It is rare that you hear about someone turning down tens of millions of essentially free money based solely on principle. Bill Watterson, thank you for giving us your genius and creativity. The world is better off for it; you are truly a shining star to us all.

Bruce Wayne: The Batman – The Epitome of the Human Struggle

Bruce Wayne: Epitome of the Human Struggle

Bruce Wayne was one of my all-time heroes growing up.  I remember as a kid, I absolutely worshiped the Batman.  To the 11-year-old me, there was something magnetic about Batman, an attractiveness that none of the other characters or superheroes possessed.  What set Batman a step above, in my preadolescent brain at the time, was the simple fact that he was a superhero despite having no superpowers.  He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider or from an alien super planet that gave him super-strength and super-speed.  Instead, he was just a regular guy.  And that’s what made Bruce Wayne fascinating to young-me: Despite being so insanely rich, Bruce Wayne still chose a life of fighting crime under the guise of a secret identity.  For whatever reason, this nobility and dedication just absolutely blew me away.  Here was a guy so obscenely wealthy that he could buy his own island nation state to live on for the rest of his years.  But instead, Bruce Wayne chose to run around in a cowl and cape, catching bad guys at night as the masked, vigilante caped crusader.  As a child, I’d just found this on an indescribable level of awesome. 

It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years did I come to realize how demented and deranged that Bruce Wayne must be to exist as a character.  Traumatized by his parents’ gruesome murder, the man’s only friend is his manservant, Alfred.  He lives alone with no wife or family.  Instead, he just pours all of his free time into tinkering with his gizmos and gadgets in the bat cave, in his underground lair.

As I grow older, I find the fixtures of my youth quite strange and bewildering.  Why did I admire what and whom I’d admired?  Those values and lifestyles, at one point in my life did seem desirable and cool.  But now, as an adult, just seem sad, juvenile, and wholly out of touch with reality.  Actually, it’s even worse than that– in Batman’s case, I now see his specific lifestyle for what it truly is: Enormously unhealthy and downright awful.

Though, in the case of the Zack Snyder movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I can firmly say that movie is still one of my all-time favorites.  The cinematography is all-out gorgeous.  But even more than that, I really appreciate Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne training like crazy (like pushing that resistance sled and doing all of those pullups) in preparation of fighting Superman, a supreme being so mighty that he’s essentially an alien god.  There is something about the complete and utter futility of that matchup:  Middle-aged, rich white guy vs all-powerful supreme deity who shoots laser beams from his eyeballs which captures the essence of the human struggle and what it means to be alive and exist in the world as a Homo sapien.  Snyder really knocked it out of the park with this one.

Lev Grossman: A Beacon of Light and Hope for Aspiring Writers Everywhere

Lev Grossman is one of my favorite writers.  I don’t remember exactly where I’d read it (it may have been on his blog?), but Grossman once recommended a way of writing long-form fiction that has really stuck with me:  Create two new Word documents.  In the first document, list all of the mechanical events that you want/need to happen in your story.  For example:  Alice meets Bob, Alice wins the World Cup, Bob’s dog dies, etc.  And then in the second Word document, list all of the feelings that you wish for your reader to experience when reading your story.  For example, a feeling may be “grief and loss” or “victory and triumph.”  After you have finished both Word documents, now see how many events you can pair from Document A with feelings from Document B.  Eg. “Alice wins the World Cup” could be paired with “victory and triumph” and “Bob’s dog dies” could be paired with “grief and loss.”  Also, multiple feelings can be associated with the same event.  It’s a fun and informative exercise which also then serves as a good kinda roadmap for your long-fiction writing!

Grossman also occupies a special place in my brain because he is one of the few authors I have actually ever met in person.  I have two signed books!  The first was when I met him in 2011 at the Barnes & Noble on 86th and Broadway when he was promoting The Magician King (at that signing, a fan had asked, “Mr. Grossman– did you ever think about titling TMK another name?  To which LG had replied:  “Well, I actually felt like calling it, The Magician Queen.  But that was only after seeing an advert for TMK in the Times.”)  The second was at the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2015 when he once did an event.  I still vividly remember these two encounters.  When I’d met him at B&N, I’d asked what advice he had for an aspiring writer.  And his response was:  “Read as much as you humanly can.  Always be reading.” and “Never, never, ever give up.”  He mentioned that it took him 17 years of writing other stuff before he finally wrote The Magicians at the age of 40. (And at the BHS, he signed my tattered copy of Warp!)

Oh!  One more memory:  No signed book at this one, but I also once saw the leverus in Portland at Leakycon in 2013.  I don’t remember the exact details, but for some reason, he (and several other authors) were in heated competition and his task was to extract as many red-colored balls from a source basket full of yellow-colored balls to put into a target basket in 60 seconds.  Haha, until the end of my days, I will always remember the MC (Maureen Johnson, I think?) in the background commentating, “And now here’s Mr. Grossman– demonstrating the Harvard vs Yale technique for colored-ball extraction.”  I’m probably misremembering at least part of that but in the final ten seconds, Grossman just took the source basket and dumped the entirety of its contents into the target basket.  Clever!  All that Ivy League education turned out useful after all!

My final thought on LG appreciation –aside from just the way I love how he writes and speaks (an unholy concoction of “highbrow meets lowbrow” is really the only way I know how to describe it)– is how open he’s been in print and online with his struggles against depression, especially after his divorce from his first marriage.  I just saw him at Muskogee MiniCon this afternoon (go, Thunder! ⚡✊) where he was virtua-touring The Silver Arrow and the man looked, more than anything else, content.  He’s married again now with two smaller children in his new marriage and happily living in Brooklyn.  Good for you, Mr. Grossman, and truly, thank you.  I’m so happy to see you make it to the other side.

“I don’t believe in magic, [but] books are very, very close. They’re the closest thing we have.”

Lev Grossman (August 5, 2014)


Kitsch is honestly the best. I am such a huge sucker for kitsch. It’ll get me every time. This morning, I wanted to examine it, this strange fascination of mine. Why am I so drawn to the gaudy and flamboyantly terrible? What exactly is it about poor taste that I find so undeniably attractive?

Several years ago, in the Before Times, Bagel and I visited South Dakota.  Of course, we visited Mount Rushmore.  Bagel enjoyed seeing how that was built and I do truly marvel at the remarkable feat of engineering that Gutzon Borglum achieved.  Genuinely extraordinary, especially with the downright rudimentary tools he had at the time.  (Though I suppose you can say that of every generation.  One day, I’m sure future human beings will look back on our time now and wonder how on earth Musk launched (and landed) reusable rockets into and from space.  It’s inevitable.) 

Like I’d mentioned, my interest was much further piqued during the stops we made the following days after visiting Rushmore, at Wall Drug (Wall, South Dakota) and –my favorite!– The Corn Palace (Mitchell, South Dakota).  Is it the aesthetic that pleases me?  I guess, kinda?  That’s certainly part of it.  But I think partially why I like kitsch so much owes to the same reason I worship at the altar of Michael Bay and think the man’s the greatest film director ever. (Again, I remind everyone– Bay has not one, but two, movies in The Criterion Collection. Right up there next to Kurosawa where the man belongs!) More fundamentally though, on some level, I’m annoyed with entire hierarchy and dichotomy of “high-brow” vs “low-brow.”  Like, it genuinely irritates me that some people are so snobbish and hoity-toity about art.  If the entire enterprise is all subjective anyway, then how come a bunch of experts can get together and praise a Van Gough or Rembrandt to high heaven while condemning, I dunno, Penny Arcade or Mega Tokyo?  It’s all subjective!  Why do people get to be snooty about art and fashion at all?

Thus, I consider it my solemn duty to be a rebel and stick it to the man!  I enjoy and celebrate kitsch because, in part, I am philosophically aligned with the principle.  Praising kitsch is a reminder to us all that we really shouldn’t take ourselves (or anything, really) too seriously.  Life’s a transient journey, lived a quarter-mile at a time.  May as well enjoy the ride.


Joker was one my favorite films in 2019.  My first thought after finishing the movie was I couldn’t believe that it was directed by Todd Philips, the same guy who brought you The Hangover Trilogy and Road Trip (2000).  Actually, come to think of it, the first Hangover movie is actually an impressive work of staggering genius.  I learned from one of the Bill Simmons Rewatchables podcasts that Philips famously chose to take a smaller advance on the movie in return for a larger cut of royalties for each subsequent unit (DVDs, streaming sales) sold on the backend.  That business decision has most definitely yielded bank; Philips really hit the jackpot with that one!

Last October, I saw Joker with Talia at the theater downtown, nearly a year ago now.  It’s strange to think of last year– it just feels so long ago.  After we finished the movie, we walked around downtown for a bit and talked.  It was super nice out with orange leaves everywhere and autumn in full ascent.  Good times.  Talia felt the movie irresponsible; to her it felt like Joker was celebrating anarchy.  Gotham had degenerated into such disrepair that the rich (like Thomas and Martha Wayne) had everything while the poor and impoverished Author Flecks of the world were left with scraps.  The system had failed and the situation on the ground increasingly ominous and portentous.  Whiffs of French Revolution were in the air; no one was in the mood to eat cake.

I agreed with Talia’s read on the movie but I felt Philips was actually being responsible.  By showing us, in a fictional movie, a possible timeline of where extreme wealth inequality could lead, my take was that Philips was trying to give the world’s elite and ultrarich a “shot across the bow.”  (Conveniently packaged in an entertaining two-hour parcel, steeped in comicdom’s most iconic lore, even.)  To me though, Joker was a warning that if the wealth gap continued to widen, a bourgeois overthrow was not out of the question and not farfetched at all.

America currently finds itself in late-stage capitalism.  It’s anyone’s guess where the country goes from here but I do think this year, 2020, we’ve seen some other canaries dying in the coalmine.  Between BLM, Portland, and Seattle, take your pick.  Maybe this cries of the proletariat have always existed but I can’t help but feel they’re a tad louder this year.  Just in 2016, we were celebrating Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton— evidence, at the time, we’d finally put racism behind us!  Good lord, that feels like eons ago.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter shaped my entire generation.  It is literally no exaggeration to say that.  When I was growing up, the book releases were, I kid you not, actual events.  Our local Barnes & Noble in town would decorate its interior and then at midnight, once the release embargo lifted, dozens of us Potterheads would stream into the store to buy the new book.  Kids were dressed like witches and wizards with the robes, scarfs, and everything.  It was truly a sight to behold.  This day and age, I can’t conceive of a book, any book, inspiring such a turnout.

When I reflect on HP and what it made it so special to me (it was literally released right when I was in junior high school so I was smack middle in its intended audience), I have to point to its worldbuilding more than anything else.  In an interview, Rowling once remarked that she felt “the foremost responsibility of an author is to give the reader a full security and confidence that someone’s hand is unwaveringly at the rudder.”  This quote has always stuck with me.  When you read HP, it always felt like there was a firm hand at the rudder, effortlessly guiding the ship. The world was so rich and fully realized that it felt real.  Not only to middle-graders, but to adults too.  Rowling had a talent for moving the action at a good clip while including just enough mise en scène to make the whole enterprise believable.  It was a tremendous accomplishment.

I have found writers to generally fall into three camps:  “Character-driven” (RCW’s Spin); “Plot-driven” (Da Vinci Code); or “Worldbuilding-driven” (HP).  Personally, I don’t really read for characters.  I like Plot and Worldbuilding.  To me, characters are largely a vehicle for the worldbuilding and whatever “message” or “experience” the author is trying to impart.  For instance, in HP, Harry’s essentially a vessel.  Sure, he experiences pangs of lust for Cho Chang, affections for his friends and family, and ambition for Quidditch, etc.  But the guy doesn’t really have a personality.  He’s a cardboard cutout– the generic middle-schooler that turns into a high-schooler.  There are set pieces like The Big Sports Tournament (The Tri-Wizard Cup) and The Big Dance (The Yule Ball), but mostly –to me at least– Harry’s a paint-by-numbers kinda character.  Which I think is Rowling’s intention.  Because what is fascinating about the HP books is the worldbuilding.  You’ve got Hogwarts and Diagon Ally, the Wizarding High Court, minister, government, and currency.  Etc, etc.  Harry’s just basically there to be an empty seat to take you to Gringotts and everything else.

Harry Potter possesses a kinda bland universality.  Meaning, I don’t really know where Harry would stand on policies like universal basic income, abortion, or reparations.  Again, I think this is Rowling’s intention; that is, Harry doesn’t have very specific politics (other than general banalities like “believing in courage and loyalty”) so he doesn’t run the risk of alienating any potential readers (or their parents!) who may not share his values. It’s a good strategy to sell as many books as possible!

Understand Your Own Flow States

Flow states are critical in harnessing your full potential.  This is self-knowledge I first discovered in college and have been exploiting and refining ever since.  Paul Ford once insightfully remarked that “intelligence is not evenly distributed” when you talk about the workday or workweek.  Sometimes you’re deep in the weeds and really need to rev up those RPMs in order to debug a tricky coding problem or reason through a piece of logic.  Other times, you’re in cruise-control mode and barely mentally there.  Your body may physically be at the office for the sake of appearances but you’re really a thousand miles away on Cloud 9 daydreaming about that long-lost girlfriend, getting that last donut, or otherwise just entirely mentally blank, from brain exhaustion or something else.  And then other times, you’re somewhere in the middle– the tank’s about half-full.  You recognize you’re sufficiently fatigued that you’re definitely not at your best.  But also that you’ve got a little bit more inside that you can give before you conk out for the day.

Obviously, flow states are a kinda spectrum.  But in my own life, I’ve found that there are broadly four different demarcation points on the gauge that are significant.  The first level, 100%-Awesome, is my first 90 minutes of every morning.  I wake up, make my coffee, and all of neurons are refreshed and rearing to go.  This is definitely when I do my most creative work.  Sometimes, I’m so taken with an idea I don’t even brush my teeth immediately after I wake.  I keep a cot next to my computer setup and I literally just roll straight out of bed to my computer and begin writing.  (Sometimes coding, but usually writing.)

After 100%-Awesome, I usually brush my teeth.

The second level, for me, is somewhere around 70-80%.  At this level, I can do some coding.  Writing is kinda shot.  But there are large parts of coding that is honestly mechanical and blue-collar-esque.  Eg. I need to write mock stubs for the database or need to write a new REST API call.  I know exactly what I need to do.  But I just need to do it.  I can usually give about two hours here in this zone.

Somewhere between Level 3 and Level 2, I try to exercise.  Exercising actually requires surmounting a “hump of inertia” first so if I deplete my energies too much, I’ve found I actually can’t rouse myself to exercise. The trick is starting your exercise routine at the very tail end of Level 2 before you’ve dropped too far into Level 3 territory.

Level 3 is around 40-60%.  Alrighty, at this level, motivation is definitely starting to wane.  The neurons are basically tired for the day and many have checked out entirely.  When I get to Level 3, especially the tail-end of Level 3, I reach for the “cruise-control tasks.”  Unloading and loading the dishwasher or spending time with Bagel like going grocery shopping together.  Usually, Bagel likes to eat together and watch a TV show too.  Well, watching TV is literally among the most braindead activities that exist in modern human life.  So when I’m at Level 3, I can dutifully contribute my daily Bagel Time that she requires in order to maintain our relationship, without wasting any of my high-performance cycles.

Level 4 is somewhere around 10-20%.  At this point, we’ve hit the iceberg for a good solid two hours already and most of the compartments are flooded.  At this point, nothing is going to get done.  Literally, nothing.  I’m in a vegetative state and usually can’t even summon the wherewithal to brush my teeth and shower.  But I have a super-picky OCD-habit where I literally can’t get into bed until I’ve showered.  So if I’ve mismanaged by day for some reason, and get stuck in purgatory, I will literally just lie down on the floor on my back.  The key is starting the daily shutdown subroutine with enough juice left in the tank to actually finish shutting down.  Else, I just get stuck in the middle of shutting down for the day.  Once I’ve sufficiently “recharged,” I then climb up, off the floor (a herculean effort sometimes, truly), and finish the routine– brushing my teeth, showering, and going to bed.

And that’s a typical Wobble day!  The next morning, we do it all over again!

2016: A Harbinger of 2020?

FiveThirtyEight, the data journalism site built by the Oracle of Michigan, the esteemed Nate Silver, only gave Donald Trump a 28.6% chance of winning in 2016.  Additionally, Silver also thought that Trump would win only 235 electoral college votes (and Clinton 302).  Yet, when the results were finally tallied and all the dust had settled, it turned out that Silver had gotten it backwards!  It was Trump who walked away with 306 electoral votes as well as the 45th Presidency.  Here’s how 2016 ultimately shook out:

But the polling!  All of the social media sentiment!  How?  Last week I saw this real gem that Athena Scalzi had posted on the Whatever blog:

Scalzi is young (still college-age) so I can totally understand her post.  Once, many eons ago, I too was in college; we’ve all been there.  But this general breathless sentiment which the left moves to condemn Trump is, IMHO, most definitely counterproductive.  In her post, Scalzi declares that “supporting Trump will embarrass your bloodline for generations.”  When I see stuff like this, I just shake my head.  I guess, part of me wonders– what is Scalzi’s motivation/intention when she declares a promulgation like this?

If I’m a Trump supporter and I see Scalzi’s comment, am I honestly going to reflect upon the error of my misguided ways?  “Oh, thank god– here is college-aged Athena Scalzi, swooping in from on high, reminding me how moronic I am and that my future generations will consider me a great stain upon the filial lineage.  Time to change my vote in November!  Good thing I saw her post!”  Hooray, American democracy is saved!

If I am someone in the middle, just the fact I am somehow, at this point, still in the middle is, a) A small miracle; and b) Likely means I’m going to be quite unpersuaded.  I consider myself rather centrist and when I see these kinda holier-than-thou, sweeping condemnations of Trump, it honestly just turns me off.  Scalzi’s post comes across as haughty and totally devoid of empathy.  With many liberals –not all! But many— I have observed (especially among younger folk) that there exists a genuinely ironic illiberalism and smugness that’s annoying as hell.  Like, if we don’t all eat organic or drive electric cars, we’re spawns of Satan and are going to the ninth circle.  It’s annoying.  And especially when I (someone, admittedly older) get this kinda scolding from people significantly younger –people who haven’t yet even worked years in real-world soul-crushing jobs or have otherwise accrued very little general life experience like traveling and living in different parts of the world for years on end– it’s a little irritating.  To be sure, as I’ve grown older, I’ve simply detached.  There are tons of ways I can be annoyed– using the internet isn’t going to be one of them.

People vote for a president for a hundred different reasons.  I would encourage Scalzi to try to exercise some imagination as to why tens of millions of Americans will undoubtedly vote for Trump this November.  Is it possible that they’re all bigoted, uneducated idiots/racists?  Every single one of them?  Also, some of Trump’s most ardent supporters live in states that have benefited the most from Obamacare and the other kinds of policies that Trump is trying to repeal.  Here, we have tens of millions –people in lower SES– actively voting against their own self-interest, at least for healthcare. We should all take a beat to ponder why?

My two cents on Scalzi’s piece is that it was performative and one of self-expression.  I am pretty confident she felt good writing that post.  Like, it was a genuine act that gave her great joy.  Which is great!  She’s not looking to convince anyone– it’s more like she found a hilarious $50 banner in Ohio which was so ludicrous she wanted to share.  (And I confess, it is motivating! One wants to share it! Omg, that image of Trump standing on the tank with “YOU’RE FIRED!” on the barrel… Jesus, Ohio– you are seriously the best.)  I’ve been writing a lot recently and self-expression is a huge part of it.  But I’m also a complete nobody on the internet who has zero platform.  If she does continue writing, I think, at some point, it’d behoove Scalzi to reflect on why she’s writing a particular piece and her intention/goal when doing so.  Because when I saw that image, look– Real Talk:  Seeing that hyperbolic/patriotic tank poster, and seeing the disbelief it generated among the liberals in the comment section, all of that encouraged me to vote for Trump.  I’m not going to do that because I’m not insane.  But I understand the compulsion and psychological impulse.  The Trump campaign knows exactly what it’s doing and I suggest that the Democrats take him seriously.  Else, it’s going to be another long four years.

The Jewish Way

“Yes, and…” is the single most powerful vernacular I’ve learned this past decade.  When I was a younger man, still guileless and unknowledgeable about how the world worked, my default response to just about everything was “Yes, but…”  In part, it was my contrarian nature (“Thanks, Mom!”) but also, when I now reflect on those long ago, bygone days of naivete, I think there were two more components to it:  First, it made me feel smart and clever.  I genuinely enjoyed finding holes in other people’s arguments/belief systems/most cherished core values and dismantling them.  Like, it gave me a kind of (perverse?) joy that hardly anything else did.  Of course, occasionally, I’d meet someone who could hold their own (Bagel!) and then that’d be an even greater delight– being able to go “toe-to-toe” in an “epic meeting of the minds,” or at least that’s my hoity-toity narrative that I often entertained in my own imagination.

What’s interesting to me is that I never once held a shred or iota of sympathy for people (“debate counterparties,” in my mind) who I completely wrecked.  It was their own damned fault they couldn’t defend their thoughts and positions!  I was simply doing them a favor. Yes, I was just helping them see the error of their misguided ways, that’s right… it’s like Jeff Daniels’s “Mission to Civilize” in The Newsroom.  That’s what I’d always thought I was doing.

Second, and more importantly:  I always felt deeply unsettled when people seemed extremely confident or convinced about a position.  Like, it genuinely annoyed me how certain people could be about unfalsifiable claims or opinions (which by my lights) they hadn’t appeared to have really thought through.  And thus:  I always felt I was dutifully doing what was necessary by “filling in the gaps” and providing a more wholistic picture.  Again, I was helping!

Anyway, I stumbled upon the synagogue and Saturday Torah Study late in life, but the one life lesson I’ve learned from Judaism, at least as championed by my congregation and rabbi, is to simply change, “Yes, but…” to “Yes, and…”  Everything else can literally stay the same.  I kid you not– just change the “but” to an “and.”

And it’s worked!  People are now more receptive to my opinions!  They feel less threatened!  I’ve made more friends!  People think I’m less of a jerk and haughty, arrogant prick now.  Honest to God, this simple lexicon change has made all the difference.

Michael Bay

Bad Boys II (2003) – Will Smith and Martin Lawrence go to town!

Ku Klux Klan members get a shellacking in this 2003 cinematic masterpiece by Michael Bay. I say with the utmost absolute sincerity possible that I am confident, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no other human being on planet earth has informed my own value system and moral foundation as much as has Michael Bay. Growing up in the nineties, Bay was everywhere. And ever since, to this day, he continues to be a constant fixture in my thought space, a cornerstone of my belief system and personal identity.

I missed the first Bad Boys (1995) and The Rock (1996) but every single Bay film since, starting with Armageddon in 1998, I’ve been there on opening weekend at the theater. I dragged my entire family to see Pearl Harbor in 2001, and was there for Bad Boys II in 2003. Yes, I even saw The Island (2005). In college, that summer I was staying in midtown New York with my buddies all working Wall Street internships; that’s right– we all went to Transformers (2007). I personally went twice.

When you watch a Michael Bay film, especially those early ones when Bruckheimer was still keeping him reined in, those movies represented everything I genuinely believed being a man meant. The difference between right and wrong. The humor and masculinity, the dedication and camaraderie, the spirit of sacrifice. Good lord, the sheer American patriotism. I dare you to find another film director who is as virtuosic as Bay is at putting on the big screen what it means to be an American. Oh, right. You can’t. That director doesn’t exist.

In today’s entry, I tip my hat to Michael Bay. Mr. Michael Benjamin Bay, I salute you. Everything I am today, my very moral and ethical foundations, I owe to you. Thank you.

Memories – Part I

Have never seen this version but its poster is so awesome I couldn’t resist.

Jane Austen (1775–1817) is responsible for two of my fondest memories in this long life I’ve led so far. The first memory, over a decade-old at this point, is when I lived in New York. Back then, I was in my twenties, single, making good money, and didn’t have a care in the world. Life was good. When I reflect on those years, that version of me definitely feels foreign, as if he was a completely different Wobble who I wouldn’t recognize today. Heck, I don’t even know if I’d befriend that person nowadays. That Wobble was conceited as hell and had enough confidence to power a medium-sized rocket ship. 🚀🚀🚀

Anyway, I was twenty-something and totally free on the weekends with no obligations whatsoever. No girlfriend (or even friends, really), no family, nothing. So I often spent my free time on weekends just wandering alone around New York City, roaming the streets. It was a blast and totally deserves its own post that I’ll probably write one day.

That particular weekend, I found my way to the The Morgan Library Museum on Madison Ave between East 36th and 37th St. There was a collection of Jane Austen’s letters that was on special exhibit which I wanted to check out! Since I worked at the bank back then, all employees got free passes to all of the major museums in the city. So entry was free, though I do remember getting the ol’ stink eye from the woman behind the counter when I presented my bank badge for my free ticket– we were then in the throes of the financial crisis and had just gotten bailed out by American taxpayers while everyone else on Main Street was losing their homes. Zuccotti Park had become ground zero for civil unrest. Ah, the memories…

Anyhow, I happily spent that entire afternoon reading Austen’s old letters. I honestly don’t remember much about the letters now, thinking back on the memory. But in my mind’s eye, when I think back on that afternoon (and maybe I’m inventing this, I have no way of knowing) but I remember some of the letters possessing a constant undercurrent of anxiety. Austen wrote about feeling alone and uncertain if her stories were any good. And wandered aloud if anyone else would ever think anything of them. Many of the letters, especially those to her sister, Cassandra, were just pedestrian though. Mundane, everyday affairs.

I wonder if one day archaeologists/anthropologists from the future will find this blog buried on some USB stick or server rack somewhere in a mountainside. Ha, that’s funny to think about. I was about to cue up Memory #2 but see that I’ve actually reached my word count for the day! So Memory #2 will need to wait for another 26 days. Tune in next time! That one’s definitely one of my favorites. 🙂