What Joy?

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A few days ago, I watched the first three or four episodes of AMC’s Into the Badlands–yes, I know I’m late to the party and that the show premiered in 2015. I’m uncool. Bear with me.

Into the Badlands, a modern take on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, seemed right up my alley: A cross between post-apocalyptic survival, martial arts, and political intrigue among the feudal barons with a strong aesthetic that manages to combine elements of kung-fu cinema, Westerns, and even a 1930s/1940s vibe. Sign me up!

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Daniel Wu as Sunny.

Except . . . besides being visually stunning–which it is–the show is unremittingly dreary and depressing.

It’s another one of those TV shows where everyone is serious all the time (the acting is pretty stiff, actually), the world is run by the ruthless and the power-mad who will kill anyone who gets in their way, the rank-and-file seem hopeless and similarly bash each other senseless in order to curry what little favor they can, and save for one subplot there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as romantic love.

No thanks.

I know that these are standard tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre, and that nihilism is a hallmark–see, there’s not always hope! Maybe lots of people like this. To me, however, this trend has gotten really old and really flat. In short, it’s kinda beige.

We are what we consume. I’d rather not consume hopelessness, thanks.  Continue reading “What Joy?”

Better Late Than Never

My family was late to church this past Sunday. Not so late as to miss communion, but we cut it close.

There are several reasons for this. Illness, for one. Second, we were all dragging, perhaps due to the dreary weather and unseasonable chill. Third, there was a family event following immediately after the service at a location just far enough away to be a pain to get to. Maybe we should just bag it, despite having woken up more than early enough to be ready on time if we tried?

Indecision lay over the house for the better part of the morning, And then, a half an hour before the service was supposed to begin, my wife and I looked at each other and decided, Yeah, let’s get ready.

The lesson here isn’t necessarily that it’s good to go to church, even if you’re late (which it is), but that it’s always good to show up.

Jesus discusses this concept himself in the parable of the vineyard workers: “So the last will be the first, and the first will be the last.” This is not to say that you should show up late to work all the time and expect to earn the same trust, accolades, responsibility, and yes, money, from your manager or your customers–punctuality is important! But taken as a general principle, there are two important things at play here:

  1. It’s good to show up late as opposed to not at all. While still embarrassing (usually), it at least demonstrates that you care enough to risk shame by taking the effort to show up.
  2. It’s good to be in the habit of getting ready and going somewhere and doing something on a consistent basis. This might be what some mean when they use the term “grind.”

You might not succeed at your given thing 100% of the time, but by being consistent, you’ll succeed far more often than you’ll fail. And even if you fail, you’ll be able to get right back on your feet again.

Here’s an easy example of this philosophy in action: Working out. How many times do you just not feel like going to the gym or doing whatever physical activity it is that you do, only that when you don’t go, you feel guilty as though you let yourself down? On the flip side, when you do drag yourself out of your state of inertia to do the thing, you’ll feel better even though–and here’s the key–you might not have done as good and hard a workout as you would have preferred.

The important thing is that you were there. Continue reading “Better Late Than Never”

Book Review: Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard

My foray into the works of the early pulp masters continues with my first brush with a Conan story, Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard. Having recently read and deeply enjoying some Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was eager to sink my teeth into Conan.

Metaphorically, you understand.

Howard is best known for creating the enduringly popular Cimmerian, as well as Solomon Kane, among other characters in his 30 short years of life. Although first appearing in the pages of Weird Tales in 1932 in a story called The Phoenix on the Sword, I decided to first read Queen of the Black Coast because I found it on Gutenberg.org and I liked the title.

Robert E. Howard

Queen of the Black Coast was published in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It tells the tale of Conan, on the run from soldiers in the port city of Argos, taking passage on a south-bound trading vessel called the Argus bearing goods to trade with the kingdom of Kush.

It only takes a few sentences for Howard to suck the reader in:

Hoofs drummed down the street that slopes to the wharfs. The folk that yelled and scattered had only a fleeting glimpse of a mailed figure on a black stallion, a wide scarlet cloak flowing out on the wind.

Reading that, and the images it conjured in my mind, I was hooked.

Of course, the Argus doesn’t have an easy trip to Kush. In fact, it never makes, being waylaid by the fearsome pirate woman Bêlit as it hits the coast. The Argus‘ captain is killed, and Conan boards the pirate ship Tigress intending to take as many of Bêlit’s strong, black warriors down with him, but he and Bêlit soon fall for each other, and Conan joins their crew, ravaging the Coast.

Eventually, they journey to the mystical and cursed ruined jungle kingdom up the river Zarkheba in search of more treasure. And that’s where things get really freaky.

I was impressed with Howard’s writing. You won’t find deep characterization, internal conflict, or excursions into socio-political issues. This is pulp, baby!

What you get is a story and prose that grabs you by the gut. Conan’s world is brutal, like the man himself. But this world also has a savage beauty that Howard conveys in his descriptions of the jungle and the spoiled grandeur of the ruined city.

Oh, and also the monsters. You didn’t think Conan was getting out of this without tussling with some freaky monsters, did you?

I shall say no more about the plot save that Queen of the Black Coast is fast-paced without feeling rushed, and short enough to be read in one sitting.

It’s fortuitous that I picked this story, as I just finished playing an old computer game called Quest for Glory III: Wages of War for a chronogaming blog I occasionally contribute to. Quest for Glory III takes place in a jungle realm based on both Egyptian society and more traditional sub-Saharan African cultures, and has an incredibly pulpy vibe, complete with lost cities, romance, demons, and a sense of the eerie and mysterious.

That’s what I appreciated the most from Howard’s writing–the way he was so economically able to put you in his world, feeling the unsettling ancient horrors facing Conan.

The jungle was a black colossus that locked the ruin-littered glade in ebony arms. The moon had not risen; the stars were flecks of hot amber in a breathless sky that reeked of death.

Is it a little over-wrought? Maybe. But to hell with what creative writing professors think; this is effective. Continue reading “Book Review: Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard”

Keeping Your Job in a Knee-Jerk World

I laugh at the idea that we as a species are more empirical, less prone to believe in mystical voodoo, and use logic over emotion.

I mean, getting rid of this pesky “morality” thing was supposed to liberate us from the shackles of superstition, freeing us from our past so we can progress into a glorious future. Instead we–America but the world broadly–really seem to enjoy tearing each other apart over the stupidest things imaginable: prom dresses, what movies we life, being tall.

 

Seriously, this is a thing. And no, I’m not going to link to it. You know how to use the Internet: find it yourself.

I have written before about preferring to focus on things that bring people together as opposed to dividing us. That’s right, I’m wandering off the standard “our strength lies in our differences!” (and who the hell put us there, anyway?) because it is clearly and demonstrably a lie.

What does this have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. Look at your on-line world. Now look at your real-world job. You probably keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself a lot more in real life than you do on Twitter or Facebook or whatever other websites you frequent. Why is that?

You don’t want to be rude, sure. Most of us are decent and good-hearted. You can’t be anonymous in real life. But the real reason is much more basic: You can’t afford to lose your job.

And your opinions will cost you your job.There is a legion of screeching howler monkeys shaped like human beings ready to be unleashed on you for a wrong opinion or an inappropriate joke on-line. And it’s always one-sided. You are always on the chopping block, but they are not.

So what do you do? How do you balance professionalism with the ugly reality of America as we stumble majestically into the third decade of this God-forsaken century?

I’m glad you asked. For a guy who wrote “I hate bullet points” and “I hate lists” only one-and-a-half short years ago, here’s a bullet-pointed list! Continue reading “Keeping Your Job in a Knee-Jerk World”

Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a hot commodity these days: people think he’s everything from a savior to, uh, a secret neo-Nazi anti-Semite white supremacist.

No, seriously.

Who he is is a Canadian practitioner of clinical psychology and a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in myth and symbol and what many call “self-help.” He got famous some eighteen months ago for openly refusing to comply with a proposed Canadian law making it a violation of the law to use the wrong pronoun (“he” when a biological male wishes to be referred to as “she” and that sort of thing). Since then, he’s become lauded by many right-leaning people and loathed by many left-leaning people, mostly for reasons that have little to do with what he actually says or believes.

Whatever. I’m here to talk about his second book, 12 Rules for Life, because that’s what I read. I’m not going to get into the extracurricular stuff except as it relates to this book. Because Peterson has become something of a father figure for a generation of young men, so the story goes, precisely because he doesn’t hate masculinity and doesn’t think it’s toxic. While his message is universal, it resonates with men because he offers a perspective that 60 years ago would’ve been common knowledge, but since the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s have been seemingly rejected by Western society.

You know, stuff like “Speak the truth,” “Stand up straight,” and what has become kind of a catchphrase for him, “Clean your room.”

There’s more to it than that, as we’ll see.

To say the man has become a phenomenon is an understatement. Peterson is everywhere these days, which might explain some of the backlash.

Jordan B. Peterson

I like him well enough. He’s an engaging and folksy speaker–and writer–who tends to ramble, but somehow manages to come back to his main point. It can be a bit annoying at times, more so in print than in person. And while I enjoy his lectures and interviews, I have to say that much of what he says is pretty basic. He just says it very clearly.

Maybe I’m not as impressed as others by 12 Rules for Life because I have a fantastic father. Maybe I’m not that impressed because in a lot of ways Peterson and what he says reminds me of my dad. Maybe I’m just not really the intended audience for this book.

In any event, I enjoyed the book well enough, some sections especially. And while I can’t say I agree with Peterson’s take on everything, or buy all of his arguments, there’s some good stuff in here that offers an interesting way of looking at things, particularly when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

That’s right: Peterson is huge into the Bible. For a non-Christian (I can’t tell if he’s an atheist, agnostic, or whatever else), Peterson sure loves his Jesus. Like, a lot. It’s interesting.

So what is 12 Rules for Life? It’s a self-help book with 12 rules Peterson thinks anybody can use to navigate the chaos of life. I won’t go rule-by-rule, since your mileage may vary on all of them, and I also don’t want to just rehash the book here. Instead, I’ll give you a few points I disagreed with or found goofy, alternated with a few points I found interesting or helpful–dare I call it wise. Here goes: Continue reading “Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson”

Surface-Level Fun

Writing styles matter, and change depending on medium. A blog post isn’t a romance novel isn’t an action blockbuster script isn’t a legal memo isn’t a blog, and so on.

If you’re writing for an on-line audience, it’s all about being pithy and visually appealing. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be, few read long-form pieces on-line, and there’s something about a screen that actively discourages long reads, whereas a physical copy of a book or magazine almost demands you take the time to focus.

I think it’s a fascinating that people take this personally. No, the written word isn’t dead. You just need to know your audience. Continue reading “Surface-Level Fun”

Hail Action!

I ran a poll recently. It was arguably the most important poll in the history of Western Civilization:

Bloodsport vs. Road House vs. Point Break vs. Commando. Who ya got?

Commando won, but each movie got some love. I also got a lot of great reactions about all four films.

In short, these four mainstays of the 1980s/early 1990s action movie genre remain memorable despite of–or maybe because of–their alleged “cheesiness.”

Maybe they’re cheesy. All I know is that I, along with millions of others, love these four films to death.

I have written about Road House before, and Patrick Swayze’s character Dalton’s recommendation to “I want you to be nice . . . until it’s time to not be nice. He also say stuff like “Pain don’t hurt” and “You’re too stupid to have a good time.”

Lines like these are other reasons why the four movies I polled people on remain popular. I mean, Commando is pretty much one big one-liner. Even Point Break has some classics, with “Vaya con dios,” and “Utah! Get me two!”

Bloodsport is a little light on the one-liners, but I still chuckle whenever Ray Jackson, played by Donald Gibb, tells the Federal agent–played by Forrest Whitaker!–“I ain’t your pal, dickface.

Yeah, I’m mature.

But the one-liners aren’t the only reason these movies remain so beloved, or watchable.

Scratch that. They’re not just watchable, they’re re-watchable. Is it because they’re “so bad they’re good”? Kind of. I think it’s deeper than that. I think they are actually well-made movies that do what they set out to do: entertain.

Movies–how do they work? Continue reading “Hail Action!”