Nerd vs. Activist: The Battle of the Century!

My friend Gareth Skarka recently wrote about why he won’t go see the forthcoming movie The Avengers, despite being a big, old-school superhero comics geek. He makes what is, for me, a very compelling argument. Both major comics companies, Marvel and DC, have treated so many artists and writers as cogs in the machine (at best) and screwed over creators in ways that I find utterly reprehensible and indefensible. After reading Gareth’s blog post, I decided that I would also boycott the Avengers movie, even though Joss Whedon, one of my favorites, is behind it and my inner comics nerd is dying to see it.

And then along comes John Carter, another soon-to-be-released movie. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the source material for the movie, is one of my all-time favorite novels, and the movie looks to be exactly the kind of high-imagination spectacle I love to see on screen. My inner nerd is again dying to see this. ButJohn Carter is a Disney production. Disney owns Marvel. Disney is also, on its own, one of the most litigious companies around. Disney will send a crack squad of high-paid lawyers against anyone, no matter how small, who they see as a threat to the “intellectual property.” Disney is one of the big reasons copyright law is so screwy in the US.

My inner nerd argues: “You’ve been waiting for movies like this all of your life! You’ve known for a long time what money-hungry, power-mad corporations make these movies and you haven’t let that stop you before! Why now? You know you’ll be sad to miss these movies! And neither company will really suffer if they don’t get your money. Just go see them!”

My inner activist counters: “It’s about time you started facing up to how shitty these companies are! Of course your dollars are just drops in the ocean to them, but it’s still important to vote with your dollars, which is all they understand, if for no other reason than to keep your hands clean and your conscience clear. You have to stand up for your principles! Who cares if The Avengers and John Carter are good? Isn’t it better to support new stories, independent, creator-owned stories?”

I’ll be honest, both voices are loud in my head. I haven’t really decided which voice I’m going to listen to.

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We’re Here to Go

Listen up, because this is important.

I have no interest in being Who I Was. I’m only interested in being Who I Am, which is changing and growing every year, every day, every minute. I’ve wallowed in the mud of self-doubt and fear and resistance for far too long. I’m going to fall back into the mud again from time to time, but I realize now just how important it is to move forward. To always move forward. We’re here to go.

So if you’re heavily invested in Who I Was, if you want me to be Who You Think I Am, if you’re afraid that I’ll change to the point where you won’t recognize me and I won’t want to associate with you anymore, if you’re afraid of losing me…then let go of me and get the fuck out of my way. You’ve already lost me. I’m here to go.

The time is Right Now. I am Who I Am. Let’s go!

Open Source Angst

As many of you may already know, I use Ubuntu as my primary operating system. I’ve been using it for about 6 and a half years, and I’ve been using other Linux operating systems since 2002. Linux, being a free, open source solution for computers, fits with my philosophy of technology and software. I also like the way Ubuntu works and the way Gnome looks and feels. I love how I can customize my computer to a really fine degree in so many ways.

But there’s a flip side to using Linux. Desktops and laptops are not generally manufactured for Linux use, so not all of the hardware will always work quite right with it. (The sound on my laptop has vanished, reappeared and vanished again with the regular Ubuntu updates. I’ve no idea why.) It’s easy to ask questions on various internet forums to get answers, but those answers are not always easy to implement if you’re not at least a semi-serious coder. And sometimes, there are no good answers to be found. (When the sound on my laptop first disappeared, I posted on the Ubuntu forums for help. No one was able to figure out why my sound wasn’t working and no offered solutions fixed the problem.) There are a number of free, open source games available for Linux, but playing the commercially available games my friends are often playing is generally problematic. There are other software programs and apps that I would love to use which aren’t available for or usable with Linux.

As much as I love using Linux, I’m starting to think that a more commercial OS would actually suit my purposes a bit more. It makes me sad to think that. I feel like I’m betraying my own principles. And I know there’s no OS that doesn’t have problems and frustrations. But I’m not willing to put in all of the work needed to keep Ubuntu running smoothly on my laptop and I’m tired of missing out on some of the games and apps I can’t use on my laptop.

I’m not completely sure if I’ll go over to the commercial OS dark side…but I’m thinking pretty seriously about it.

The Long and Short of It

Late last night, I caught a couple of episodes of the 1990’s X-Men animated series on TV. The dialogue and animation were just as rough as I remember them being, but just watching those two episodes was more enjoyable than watching either of Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies. (There’s really no point in mentioning Brett Ratner’s X-Men movie, is there? Right, pretend I didn’t mention it.) I tweeted about it and have since been thinking about why they’re more enjoyable, even if the animated series lacks such terrific actors as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and (not a knight) Hugh Jackman. I’ve got a theory (and it isn’t bunnies).

The X-Men really gained popularity as a comic when Chris Claremont was writing the “All New! All Different!” Uncanny X-Men. One of the hallmarks of Claremont’s writing, and one of the reasons I believe the series became so popular, was a really good handling of soap opera-esque plotting. It wasn’t just the characters that people liked or Claremont’s melodramatic but engaging dialogue, it was the way he (and John Byrne, when they co-plotted the series) wove storylines involving the Sentinels, Magneto, the Savage Land, the Shi’ar Empire, the Hellfire Club, Alpha Flight, Doctor Doom, the Morlocks and especially the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” And if you go back to the original X-Men team, the best stories are just as drawn out and soap opera-esque.

Soap opera storylines are pretty much impossible to do in movies; the dramatic structures of serialized comics and feature films are just too dissimilar. I love the way the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies have all led up to the forthcoming Avengers movie. And Marvel Comics has been doing extended, twisty, soap opera plotting in all of their superhero comics since the ’60s. But it’s such a part of what makes the X-Men in particular a comic I keep going back to–I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read the original and “new” X-Men comics–I have a hard time imagining an X-Men movie that will ever be as enjoyable to me as the animated X-Men series of the ’90s.

Burning Brightly

I’m noticing a pattern in my woolgathering and writing. It goes like this:

Day 1 — I get a flash of an idea for a story (or series of stories). The idea is very vague, but I’m fairly excited about it and write it down.

Day 2 — I get more ideas that build on the original idea, writing them down. I’m even more excited about the story.

Day 3-4 — I can’t stop thinking about these story ideas. I want to spend every waking hour on them, but I can’t, so I spend what time I can adding more ideas, fleshing some things out and generally getting more and more excited.

Day 5 — I don’t have any more ideas, but as I look over my notes, I’m still very excited about the story. I can’t wait to get some time to actually start writing, because this is clearly going to be an amazing story!

Day 6 — I look over my notes again and start getting more ideas, but these ideas are starting to calcify the energy and enthusiasm I’ve been feeling. I start to question everything about the ideas. Are the characters likable and believable? Does the setting even make sense? Do I even have the ability to pull this story off? Doubt begins to overshadow everything about the story.

Day 7 — I put the notes aside and shelve the story away as “something I might write someday.”

(Have I mentioned I have a short attention span?)

So I should clearly not wait more than four days before I start the actual writing. Definitely don’t wait a week or more. I should ride that wave of enthusiasm, rather than letting it die down. Run wild over the self-doubt, trampling it underfoot. Because I’m tired of letting my fires dim.

Love, Peace and Soul

Today is the first day of African-American History Month. It’s also the day the world learned that Don Cornelius, the creator and most famous host of Soul Train, committed suicide.

I hadn’t thought about Cornelius in ages, but Soul Train was huge for us kids of the ’70s and ’80s. I’m about as Caucasian as they come, and my parents’ tastes in music have never been…funky. Soul Train was my primary introduction to Afro-American music and, more importantly, culture. Soul Train was a direct result of ┬áthe Civil Rights Movement and “Black is Beautiful.” It didn’t just showcase Black music and Black dancing, it showed African-Americans proudly being themselves. They had big afros. They wore stylish clothes (that would probably be called “urban” today) and African-influenced fashions. They were proudly and joyously not trying to fit in to “mainstream” White culture. (As I remember it, Soul Train was also free of a lot of the clownish caricatures of African-Americans that sadly dominated much of American TV and movies of the time.) Soul Train was unapologetically in your face without being confrontational and angry. Soul Train was Black Pride while also being inclusive and multi-cultural. Soul Train was the embodiment of Emma Goldman’s “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Damn, it was cool and funky and beautiful!

I’m sad and sorry you felt you had to leave us, Don Cornelius. But your legacy lives on. I wish all of you love, peace…and soul.