Looking Backward, Looking Forward

On the eve of 2012, I’m naturally looking back on the past year and looking forward to the next. (Truthfully, I’m frequently looking backwards while also looking forward. But today seems like a good time to write about it.)

I started 2011 with the intention of writing more and being more creative. I did that, but not to the extent that I originally wanted. But the year was sort of hijacked by a lot of residual anxiety and depression, as well as junk caused by anxiety and depression. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my habits because of this, and all in all, I’d say this year has been a very good one in terms of growth.

Going into 2012, I find myself making…well, not New Year’s resolutions so much a life resolutions for myself. I’m planning on exercising more, making changes to my diet to eat better overall, writing and creating more, getting more organized, getting my finances and spending under control and just generally taking more control of my life, my anxieties and my fears. I feel like I’ve spent a long time developing bad habits to work with my anxiety and depression, habits that have given me an excuse for being disorganized and unproductive. I’m tired of living that way. I’ve already started working on getting more organized, more productive, less timid and self-sabotaging, and 2012 will be the year I kick all of that into high gear. In many ways, I feel as if my life is just getting really good, I’m starting on all of the good stuff. Just in time for Timewave Zero!

Buckle up, friends! This is going to be an exciting ride!


Project 365 2: Electric Boogaloo

I’ve got one day left of my “365 Days of Neff” project, my daily self-portrait thingamajig. After thinking about it and asking for input, I’ve decided that for 2012, I’m going to write a poem a day, at least one page in length. I’ll be handwriting them in a notebook (I hate writing prose by hand, but I can’t write poetry any other way) and either transcribing them and posting them here or taking pictures of the pages and posting them to my Flickr account (I haven’t decided which yet).

I’m jazzed about this because writing poetry uses different parts of my brain than writing prose fiction or writing blog posts. I want to get back in touch with those parts of my brain and push myself to try new things in terms of poetry. We’ll see how it goes.

Get ready for “365 Days of Neff Poetry”!

O Doctor! My Doctor!

Yesterday on io9, Alasdair Wilkins posted a terrific piece on his inexplicable love for classic Doctor Who. He really nails a lot of what’s bad about the classic series while expressing a delightful obsession with the show. I completely understand where he’s coming from.

When I was in middle school, one of my best friends tried to get me into Doctor Who by inviting me over to watch Tom Baker episodes that were shown on our local PBS station on Saturday nights. The show just didn’t grab me at all, though. (To this day, the Fourth Doctor is my least favorite Doctor, even though his run had some brilliant stories and one of my favorite companions.) But a little bit later, my mother and my brother started taking karate lessons on Saturday nights, leaving me home alone. I was flipping channels one night and landed on PBS. The announcer spoke of a new Doctor Who “movie” (they would combine all of the episodes of one serialized story into one big episode and show that) called “Kinda.” The name intrigued me, so I stayed to see what was up. The Fifth Doctor’s “star field” opening immediately grabbed me, and while I didn’t really understand who any of the characters were or what the premise of the show was, the story (still one of my favorites today) blew my mind. I was instantly, fundamentally hooked. I became a diehard Doctor Who fan pretty much overnight. I’ve watched as many episodes of the classic series as I can, I’ve read novelizations of early episodes now lost. I love the show…well, in a way that’s difficult to explain.

Now, I love the new series. LOVE. IT. I think Christopher Eccleston was really good as the Doctor. David Tennant was my ideal Doctor in appearance and behavior. And then Matt Smith came along, and I think I like him even more than I liked David Tennant. I think the stories are tighter and more provoking than the classic series, the scripts have much better dialogue, the acting is better, the cinematography is better, and the special effects are clearly miles beyond what the classic series was able to do. In every way, the new show is a gazillion times better than the classic series. And yet, for all that, I still love the classic series more. And like Alasdair Wilkins, I’m hard-pressed to express or explain why.

Yes, there are scenes, there are episodes–hell, there are whole stories that are so bad, they’re painful to watch. Yes, the special effects are generally laughable. Yes, the sets are creaky, it’s frighteningly obvious when they switch from video to film (interior to exterior shooting) and the pacing of the show can be excruciatingly slow. I can completely understand how someone could not like the classic series. But for me, it’s divine! With all that’s wrong about the show, there’s so much that just feels right! In fact, I’d say that one of the big reasons why I love the show so much is because it gets so much right despite the limitations of a shoestring budget, erratic writing and its place as a “children’s show.” Add the “Little Engine That Could” can-do attitude to stories that pretty much define “high-level imagination” and you have a show that has captured my heart and my dreams. There’s nothing else like it. And while the new series thrills and delights me, it will never replace the classic series in my heart.

I think classic Doctor Who is like jazz or musical theater. You either get it or you don’t. I don’t expect anyone else to love it like I do, and when I meet others who do, I’m thrilled. But this love of mine still remains intensely personal for the most part. And I’m good with that.

My Caped Crusader

After my previous post about Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, I’ve been thinking about how I would do a Batman movie (or series of movies). Buckle up, here we go…

First of all, the movies would look very much like a German Expressionist movie, with long shadows and twisted, creepy sets. Gotham City would be heavily stylized, very Art Deco and Bauhaus. At the same time, the actors would play everything straight, not campy. This is a world that believes its own internal logic. It doesn’t need to wink at the audience or play up that it’s unrealistic. It simply is what it is.

Batman, I feel, has had too much emphasis put on “rich guy with gadgets” and not nearly enough on “world’s greatest detective and martial artist.” Batman wouldn’t wear body armor or a heavy, rubber outfit. Batman’s costume would be tight, but flexible, allowing him to do lots of acrobatics and martial arts moves. Does this make Batman more vulnerable in fights? Realistically, yes. But again, this world believe its own internal logic, where a man can dress in a spooky bat costume and fight crime without getting crippled or killed. The story itself would revolve around Batman using his incredible detective skills to solve a real mystery and to plot and plan against his opponents. Think Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes mixed with Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro and Jet Li as…well, whoever Jet Li plays.

Yes, Batman would be pretty grim and humorless (although he’d be the opposite as Bruce Wayne). But he wouldn’t be completely obsessed with eliminating crime–that is, he’d also be looking out for ordinary citizens, especially children threatened by crime or random bad circumstances. He’s the Dark Knight, but I see that as an honorable, caring knight who dresses in dark colors and lurks in the shadows. He’s not morally grey, he’s simply chosen to appear spooky to scare the bejeezus out of criminals.

The villains (the Scarecrow, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman and, yes, the Joker would all be my top picks) would be flamboyant, but not campy. (Well, the Joker’s pretty inherently camp.) They’d be sinister and villainous, colorful and surreal, the flip side of Batman, who would be dark and mysterious but heroic.

And that, my friends, is how I would do Batman movies.

The Dark, Dark Knight

The trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, the final movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, is out. Having watched it, my response is…meh.

I saw Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the theater. I remember enjoying both movies, but if I’m being completely honest, the only good thing from either movie that has stuck with me is Heath Ledger’s brilliant (and tragic) performance in The Dark Knight. I’ve never really had a desire to watch either movie again, except to see if my lasting impressions are wrong and I really do like them. But here’s what I remember about the movies: I didn’t like Batman’s costume; I hated the husky, shouty voice Christian Bale used as Batman; I hated the ATV Batmobile; I thought the choice of having Liam Neeson play Ra’s al Ghul only made sense to trick the audience into thinking Ra’s al Ghul was someone else (but made so sense for the character or the story); I found the movies to be uncomfortably “realistic” and dark.

I’ll admit, Batman’s not my favorite superhero, but there are a hell of a lot of Batman comics I’ve enjoyed. I’m not a fan of grim, dark, pseudo-realistic superheroes. I generally prefer my superhero stories to be colorful, fantastic, uplifting and inspiring. And yes, I think it’s possible for a good Batman story to be like that. (My pal Gregg Winsor just said to me, “Nolan’s Batman isn’t a superhero, and the movies aren’t ‘superhero’ movies.” Which I think nails why I haven’t gotten much lasting enjoyment from them. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they fail to meet my expectations and my wants.)

As a long-time comics geek, I feel weird admitting that Nolan’s Batman movies aren’t my cup of tea. I can proudly admit that I find Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies, universally reviled as they are, to be camp crap. But to admit that Nolan’s acclaimed Batman movies rub me the wrong way? It’s like admitting some dark, terrible secret. But I’m putting it out there, for all to see. Pelt me with tomatoes and cabbages, if you must.

Who Am I?

At the risk of being incredibly egocentric, I’d like to ask people to post a comment below, answering this question: how would you describe me to someone who didn’t know me?

I’ve been going through a period of intense self-reflection and therapy. I’m coming to a better understanding of why my faults are my faults and how I do (and don’t) deal with them. I’m also getting a better understanding of what my good qualities are. But because I’m doing a lot of self-reflection, and because I spend a lot of time in my head in general, it’s difficult for me to see myself as others see me. So I’m asking for some feedback.

I’m not looking for unbridled ego-stroking, but I’m also not looking for any “hard truths” about my faults. I know what my faults are, thank you very much. I’m really just curious to know how you would describe me to someone who doesn’t know me.

Everything’s Gonna Be All Right

In a dream the other night, I ran into Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant of Echo & the Bunnymen, and we got to talking. I told them I was very jealous of their lives. They’d started their band when they were teens and have continued to do what they love all their lives. Mac and Will asked how that was any different than how I’ve lived my life. “Well,” I said, “I haven’t been writing since I was a teen, growing and learning and getting better.”

“Haven’t you?” they asked.

“No,” I said. “I mean, I’ve written poetry off and on since I was in high school. I’ve written one very rough draft of a novel and started a few more. I’ve started some short stories and finished one or two. But nothing has been published.”

“Sounds like you’ve written more than you think you have,” they argued calmly. “Never mind being published. Don’t worry about what other people think. Even if you haven’t finished a lot of things you’ve started, haven’t you been writing a lot since you were a teen–and before that?”

I thought about it for a minute or two before deciding they were right. “Even if I haven’t polished off a final draft of a story or been published, I’ve have been writing pretty constantly since I was a teen, and I’ve definitely done a whole lot of writing that I considered practice, exercises to improve my writing skills. I’ve pushed myself in writing poetry and prose, experimenting, trying to hone my skills. I’ve never really looked at it that way, but I’ve written a lot more than I give myself credit for.”

“You’re on the right path,” they told me, “and you’re doing just fine.”

I woke up feeling really happy and pleased with myself. Thanks, dream Mac and dream Will!