thinkery

Forget Regret?

Watch 1994 Madison Scouts in Music  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

That right there? That video was the first exposure I ever had to Drum Corps. Some Friday night in October '95 I was sitting in the high school band room. (Go Ben Davis Marching Giants! Animals Forever!) Anyway, twas the night before State Finals and the drumline was busy changing out drum heads, wrapping sticks with tape, tuning the drums, making them sparkle and shine for the big show the following night. Someone put on a video of Drum Corps International finals from the previous year and that served as background noise to our regular chatter and the thumping/hacking of high school drummers.

I didn't notice anything on the tv until ^THAT^ appeared on screen. If you watch the above video, you might understand why at 3:20 the entire room back in '95 stopped what it was doing and stared. It's been a long time since that night. I've seen and done a lot of things in the last 18 years (dear gods, 18 years?!), but I remember the electric awe of that moment. Cymbals, snares and holy god! My jaw was on the floor, and it certainly wasn't the only one. We begged our band directors, our percussion instructor... we hounded them. Please can we do that? Teach us. Can we do it? Please!! 

I said to my percussion instructor, "I want to do that!" "You and everyone else," he slurred. "No, not just the stunts, but THAT. What is that?" "Drum Corps. That's the Madison Scouts." "I want to do that. I want to be in that group." "You can't," he said. "You're a girl. They don't let girls into the Scouts. Men only." "Are there Drums Corps that let girls in?" I asked. "I want to do it!"

He never responded.

I never did Drum Corps.

You know how people always say, "If I knew then what I know now?" or they talk about the one that got away? Drum Corps is my white whale. For years I thought it was something I couldn't have. A teacher told me I couldn't. By the time I realized he was wrong--that I was wrong--and learned how to audition, and had the confidence to do it... I was too old. There's an age limit and I'd exceeded it. I'd waited too long to even try.

I learned from that mistake. This might be why I look fear square in the yellow eyes and say, "Fuck off, I'm doing this!" I don't want to run out of time waiting to be better, stronger, the stars to align or other such rot. I take the shots I'm given even if it's foolish to do so.

If I knew then, though... I totally would've done it. I would've auditioned for every corps I could find.

But I didn't.

I can't tell you how many speed limits I broke listening to that show (particularly with the soul-piercing trumpet at 10:53. Gah! Love it!!) I know that it's been a long time and people have improved upon drill and stunts and all sorts of other things that make this video chump change to some people. But for me, when I see it or hear it, I'm still 15 and wrapping my bass drum mallets with tape...my jaw on the floor.

Damn I love that show.

Nerdscape: An Evolution

So, fellow Arizona author Kevin Hearne is hosting a photo contest for a worthy Nerdscape. A nerdscape, as Hearne puts it, is a place for you to let your geek flag fly. I took a picture, thinking that would be the end of it, however, as I was soon to find out, capturing one's Nerdscape can often become a sojourn into one's self... So my desk in its natural state is its own altar to geekdom. I didn't have to do much at all in the way of meeting Hearne's criteria for a Nerdscape. One of the qualifications is "junk food". I sent him a quick tweet to be certain that booze was not considered "junk food". (Kevin says that booze, like coffee, is a vital fluid and therefore cannot be considered "junk".) So, I added a bag of Dove chocolates to my desk, artfully arranged a couple of books and took the first picture. Again, other than the chocolates and the positioning of the books, this is my desk in (pretty much) its natural state.

Represented above you will find 4 moai, the sunflower from Plants vs Zombies, a poker chip, a random duck, a d20, Dianna Wynne Jones's "Castle in the Air", Batman EGO, "Little Richard" from the webco
mic "Looking For Group" (wearing Tigger ears from Disney World, I might add), the above mentioned chocolate, a red frog, my extra monitor, external speakers, slave drive and laptop sporting the Dr. Who/Pulp Fiction mash-up as a desktop, and my framed reminder to Keep Calm and Carry On. (It sparkles!)
Now, I looked at this and thought, "Well hell, you can't tell there's a Doctor Who reference on the computer with that...maybe I should condense things and get a closer shot."  I did... but you still couldn't tell the desktop was Whovian. So I switched to a desktop of multiple TARDISES (TARDISII?) and this was the result:
I looked at this one, prepared to fire it off to Kevin, when I realized that something was missing. What about my love of Firefly? So, I thought I should dig into my box of joy that I keep beneath my desk and pull out the Firefly sticker. Whilst going through that box, I found a few other things... and so, here is my Nerdscape.
Includes all of the above as well as one of my many Timmy (Think Geek) stickers, my Firefly sticker, my Volunteer badge from Phoenix Comic Con and a miniature Cthulhu.
I won't call it finished, because it never is, is it? This is so not comprehensive. Even now I'm thinking, "DUDE! I should've gotten my daughter's Ocarina Of Time to put in that pic!" But no, if I keep going it will just snowball into an obsession. I have enough of those. Clearly.

Scraps of a Life

The other day I was wandering through my local used bookstore when I found scraps of someone's life stuffed between pages 14 and 15 of Neil Gaiman's STARDUST. Four yellow post-it notes smooshed together, each with a different fragment of someone's existence...

I'm guessing by the flourish of the letters and by some of the sentiments, that the author is a woman. Right or wrong, though, the author is She to me, and so she will be She as I write about Her for you.

Post-it #1: "empty. unmotivated. just there.   reinvent. rejuvenate." At first I wondered if She was writing definitions of words she hadn't grokked when reading. That was just from a cursory glance when the post-its fell out of the book. Later, though, when I really read the words, I wanted to hug her. The first three are statements of presumed fact. Status indicators. The last two are requests and wishes scrawled onto paper.

Post-it #2: "The world is going to end soon. I want you!"

I love this one. It's rich and full of potential. Did She leave it on her lover's desk? Is it something She wrote, intending to give it to someone she's pined for over the years, but then failed to out of fear? There are so many stories buried in this one little post-it that I salivate to hear them all. Curiosity makes me stare at it, as if I can look deep into the fibers of the paper and watch the ink spin into some portent, as if I can divine what happened.

Post-it #3: "I want to write. I want to feel inspired again. Where is THE MYSTERY!!!!"

Oh, preach it, sister! I've been there. Haven't we all been there? Who hasn't punched the steering wheel or just let out a growl of frustration that has nothing to do with traffic because life just seems flat and dull? We want to be quickened, we want to be pushed and moved and find something in life worth the wonder.

Post-it #4 (front:): "be interested in movies as much as i am. same taste in movies/music. optimistic. slightly morbid. wear sweater vests. argile socks. still manly. golf hats. drinks tea."

A description of a character in a book? Of someone She knows? Or a wish list for someone She has yet to meet? This one, I think, is the one that truly sets the tone of the post-its... they're all wishes. They're all pleas to the universe. She wants her world to thrive and bloom, she seeks a companion to share it... She wants. She needs. There is desperation and need in every stroke of her pen. When I shared this note with my mother, she said, "I hope She found him."  Meanwhile, my husband's reaction was, "She probably met someone who made her toes curl...but he was nothing like that."

Post-it #4 (back): "pay off car care one (for saturn). pay off old navy. phone. insurance. student loan." And then, the wishes are over. We have practical goals. Money worries. Ducks are being put into neat little rows. This one makes me saddest of all. Flip over your dreams, your soul's own desires, and get back to the "real world" and focus on what's important.

And then, She stuffed the notes into a book. Or maybe the notes and the book shared a bag for a while and one thing led to the other... and then the book ended up at a used bookstore for trade credit or a bit of cash to pay off that Old Navy card.

I wonder if She got what she needed. Did She meet Mr. Sweater Vest and sip tea with him, making new stories and memories that shift her soul? Did she give up the book with its packet of wishes because they all came true? Or does she still wait for a reply?

Either way, it's the perfect book in which to send your dreams sailing. Here's hoping this star was lucky for her.

He's Just a Boy

So, after the episode of Romper Room Presidential debate last night, my friend started channel surfing and came across one of the two Batman movies that I've tried to pretend never existed. You know, the one where Tommy Lee Jones is grossly underused as some watered-down bullshit version of a cool villain and Jim Carrey makes Frank Gorshin spin in his grave. Anyway, we came in right on the scene between Bruce Wayne and his shrink/love interest (because everyone should sleep with their shrink or use sexual relationships to mop out the guano-soaked caves they call a psyche) and my friend said, "At least in this movie someone asked if Bruce had ever had therapy!" (I should note that this friend is his own Comic Wikipedia. It's scary sometimes.)

Anyway, this got me to thinking about the Dark Knight's origin and comparing him to other characters in comic mythos, pondering the variations of this particular hero through the decades and it led me to this question:

Has anyone ever explored the idea that everything Batman comes from the psyche of a traumatized child rather than a functional-yet-brooding adult?  Meet me after the jump and we'll talk....

Humble Beginnings Okay, I admit that I am by all accounts a Marvel girl. Most of my in-depth knowledge is in the X-Men Phoenix 'verse (up through Endsong...everything after that is non-canon in my opinion, but that's another blog), and my DC is shaky at best. What I know of Batman comes from reading Frank Miller's Year One, watching all of the movies except the newest Nolan installment and discussions with friends. So I'm not able to spout of issue numbers passage and verse, but I know enough about the character to know that Batman was born of a double homicide. Hell the Amish probably know this part of the Batman mythos! However, in case there is a recently thawed caveman reading this, I'll go into it...

...at its barest bones, Batman is a story about a man seeking to right the wrong done to him when his parents were murdered in front of him. This has been tweaked, embellished and exaggerated to fit various incarnations, however this is the root. A child witnessed the senseless killing of his mother and father.

Now, as the years have gone on, we've seen how this single event pushed Bruce Wayne to become a vigilante. He's super rich, so he has had the time and resources to put together his arsenal of wonderful toys. He's well-educated and in various incarnations skilled at physical combat thanks to martial vision quests in the east. However, all of those portrayals make the assumption that the Goddamn Batman comes from the mind of a grown man.

Knowing what we do about psychology, though, I want to posit that no, all of these things we see Bruce Wayne doing as the spirit of vengeance come not from the rational standpoint of an adult but that child who is still screaming over the corpses of his parents.

A Bit of Reality Let's think for just a moment about what we know. Mom and Pop Wayne choked on bullets when Bruce was somewhen in the 6-10 year age range. For a moment let's forget the trauma and focus on this little tidbit.  Bruce was in grade school at the time. Sure, it was probably a prep school where he's learning to dissect griffins whilst eating foie gras to the sound of Stephen Fry lecturing on the merits of Balzac, but at the end of the day, he's a six year old boy. A kid more comfortable with Captain Underpants than cap-and-trade no matter how affluent the Waynes may have been. Take away the butler and the mansion and the Romney-esque silver spoon and you're dealing with this:

One night, he goes to the movies--yay!--and his parents are shot. The rock of his world is shattered. Think about what that scene must have been like. We see it in movies or comics as this silent, swift death. Mother's pearls spilling over a frozen sidewalk. Father's blood splattered on roses. A child kneeling between them as their killer runs away.

That imagery is powerful, but it's probably not what happened. Gunshots--especially those fired quickly and carelessly like those from a mugger--tend to be wild. They don't always hit in a way that kills instantly. Therefore, it's safe to say that Bruce watched his parents bleed out. He had no knowledge of what to do, no cell phone to call 911, and no earthly clue how to help his parents. Can you imagine what sorts of things Father Wayne tried to intone to his son with his last breaths? Did his mother try to hold him one last time? It's even more heartwrenching to consider this aspect of Batman's story, but (in my limited experience) it's glossed over. There's story gold to be mined here! It's drama. It's gut-twisting horror! And it's happening to a kid!

The adults had knowledge of their situation. If they tried to get Bruce to go for help, though, it never came. Why? Because he was just a child. Paralyzed with fear and helplessness because he's a boy.

And, since I'm guessing Alfred's first task after his employers snuffed it was not "Get Bruce to therapy", the kid had to deal with this and process it on his own. I don't care how brilliant the kiddo was, his world was shattered and he didn't have the innate tools to deal with the guilt and rage that followed the collapse. If you think that I can't know this, that this is blind supposition, it's not. My evidence is that we have a comic book at all to talk about. Batman is the result. He IS the rage personified. Every night he gets the shit kicked out of him to assuage the guilt over what happened when he was still in training wheels.

Bruce Wayne--gagillionaire playboy tech mogul--has untreated PTSD. Which means, the guy with all those gadgets swinging around the city? Yeah...

Imp-lications 

If we think of Batman as a kid in a Halloween costume, we can easily explain some of the quirks that should leave people going, "Dude, where's your sanity?"

First off, the gadgets. Seriously, Bruce has all that money and he makes some killer toys. All of them with bats on them, by the way. Helloooooo fixation! He's the kid that got the keys to the coolest candy shop ever and now he has real rocket launchers that make explosions and boomerangs and a wicked awesome car. Kick ass!

Also, everyone always tries to play the "Batman and Robin are gay" card, but psychologically there may be a better explanation for Dick Grayson's appearance. Robin isn't a sidekick, a ward of Mr. Wayne's estate and therefore a tax write-off... he's a playmate. He's another kid. Another orphaned kid. Sure, adult Bruce has his reasons for taking in Young Master Dick, but for the Bruce that is clearly still in control of the show, Dick is a kindred spirit. He's a buddy that gets to come into the treehouse and be part of the creepy nighttime shenanigans.

Then there's Selena Kyle. Okay, so her skin-tight vinyl and whip-work may have more to do with Grown-Up-Bruce's proclivities than I'd care to delve into, however, Mr. Wayne's inability to have a functional relationship could be rooted in the fact that he's running at an emotional level where girls still have cooties.

Think about it. When you imagine that Bruce Wayne's actions (and therefore Batman's) are being controlled by a terrified kid, so much becomes clear.

And Now We Exploit It...

If you think I'm going to talk about how we should get this poor child the psychological counseling he so desperately needs, you'd be wrong. Fuck that, that's not good story. No, we exploit the shit out of this and go to town tormenting the adult he has become.

If you play Batman as some PTSD-stricken rage monster with bottomless pockets, you've got yourself something way more interesting than a dark-and-brooding Christian Bale. It has worked before. No, not with Batman, but with someone from the other side...

In Thor, everything Loki does is motivated by childhood hurts and jealousies. He is a child seeking Daddy's love and trying to push his brother to the side for one moment in the spotlight. Everything he does is to meet that child's needs. And it's written superbly. (And Tom Hiddleston plays it to the hilt so beautifully I can't stop geeking about it.) By the time Loki shows up in Avengers, however, we see a hungry adult who has accepted his role in life as a force of chaos, disorder and dishonor. We see someone comfortable in that shadow. It's a lovely arc and thus shows that taking such an angle with a character can work.

How could you use it in Batman? What are the terrible things that could befall him and what are the angles you could play with if you take off the restrictions that come from functional adulthood? One could argue that you'd simply get The Joker with a different outfit, but I think you get something darker.

And it's something I'd love to see those with a deeper knowledge of the character play with.

It gets even more fun if you throw in that some of the Rogues Gallery know Batman's true identity and then dig in their claws. In this situation I think Hugo Strange becomes one of the top choices for villain. Catwoman's involvement as love interest dies down and we can see her more for her brains and skill than for her propensity for broken zippers. And I think it would put Batman on more of an even keel with the Joker than it does already. Fuck, the story might even put them together on the same side.

I would love to see DC fingerpaint with this for a while. How much fun would it be to take a tortured hero and give him that little push that leads into madness?

Violence in Stories

Something like 10 years ago I wrote a paper for a college exam that compared and contrasted Jesus Christ with Superman. It wasn't tongue-in-cheek or trying to be subversive. Well, to be fair, I might have been giggling to myself because I'd had a similar argument with the guy sitting next to me in that class and it got under his skin, BUT, the point is that I did this as a serious topic. It was actually one of the better essays I wrote at that time. The teacher gave me an A+ and left smileys in the margins. Like many things from that time in my life, the original essay was lost in a flood.

I bring this up because I was thinking about storytelling as a psycho-social vehicle, and a few lines from that essay floated up in memory.

The day of the Aurora shooting, I got into a civil discussion with someone who thought that perhaps the incident should be blamed on the glorification of violence in movies, television and video games. My personal feeling can best be summed up as, "No. Rational, sane people know the difference between fiction and the real world, they know acceptable social limits and will not run out to shoot someone because they play a first-person-shooter video game."

There is a lot of violence portrayed in the media. Sometimes I agree that said media is oversaturated with death, gore, shootings and other things that remove us from the realities of such things. However, most of us do not go out and repeat what we see on television because we are able to discern the crucial differences between right, wrong, art/bullshit and life.

She asked, then, if someone has influence and a mouthpiece to reach such a broad audience, why fill it with violence? Why fill one's head with that kind of "drivel"? My answer wasn't about social structure or broadcast standards, but about storytelling.

What is Best in life?

Storytelling, at its roots, is a place for a society to keep and hone its identity. All the way back to cave paintings, stories talk about our lives, what we experience every day, what we exalt and what we fear. For every protagonist there is an antagonist. For every deity there is a divine opposite. Without bringing morality into anything, there is always a dark to go along with a light. Stories define a particular culture's version of what is good and what is evil. Stories are the hope chests of their tellers. Our epic heroes--Jesus, Gilgamesh, Odysseus and Superman--represent what we believe is the best of us.

Yes, I just went there. Superman is an epic hero. Comics are the epic poetry of the 21st century. The spandex and super powers aside, these characters shine lights on what we--as a culture--value. Superman doesn't lie. He has empathy for a race as flawed as ours and fights for goodness. He defends us when we can't defend ourselves.

Bruce Wayne is rich, brilliant and uses his resources to fight the bad guys with his clever wit and gadgets.

Peter Parker's exploits remind us that with Great Power comes Great Responsibility.

We've enhanced them and given them a large scale for their problems. It's how we can distance ourselves and remain entertained but still get some message. (It's a whole new argument about why we've decided that Superman, the best of us, has to come from another planet and hide his true self.)

The Other

With all superheroes, there are super villains. Conflict in stories is necessary. Without conflict you have no story. Superman woke up one day, brushed his teeth, had a fabulous day and went to bed, that's it. Not entertaining. Not a story. Unless Superman is fighting against something, he is nothing more than a man. He's normal. There is now nothing noteworthy about this person, and thus, we don't need to waste ink or breath talking about him.

But, when we give him a Lex Luthor, a Brainiac--hell, give the man a kryptonite hangnail!--we give him a purpose. We give him a chance to define himself and be more than he might be. Bruce Wayne is just an eccentric, lunatic billionaire with grief issues if we don't give him a Joker or Riddler to match wits with. Our Avengers need Loki.

So, can we agree that a story needs a conflict? Awesome.

That conflict can come in many different ways. The classics are Man vs. Nature (The Perfect Storm), Man vs. God (The Odyssey) and Man vs. Man/Himself (The Dark Knight). Now, not all of these require violence. You can have a legal thriller or a mind-bending psycho-drama that never spills a drop of blood. You can have comedies where people are falling over themselves and messing up their own lives through situational gaffes.

So, if a society as a whole shuns the idea of casual, gratuitous violence and mass murder, why portray it in stories?

Because that's the other side of storytelling. We, as tellers of tales, don't just dip into the golden pool of what is best in life, we have to swim in the muck of what is worst about our reality. Stories aren't just about what we are, but what we may be. They are hopes and warnings.

Now, there's a whole slew of rants I could go on about splatter-horror flicks and fiction that insists every woman needs to be raped to be a "strong female character", but this is not where I will make those observations. Violence in fiction (television, movie, video game and literature alike), is there for a purpose. It is in our lives. It's a part of our collective self that we do not understand. Why do people do things like this? Why does mass genocide happen? Why do people go on shooting sprees or eat their neighbors? We don't understand. We can't wrap our heads around those kinds of atrocities because they are (thankfully) abnormal.

Brain Candy Stories are there to help us cope. They serve as a knot we can untangle safely, a way to come to grips with things we don't understand. If it can work out and end well in a comic book where aliens have landed and destroyed most of New York City, then maybe it will end well for us after some deranged soul opens fire on a theater full of geeks. If this character can find love and live again after tragic loss, maybe I can, too.

Stories are where we plant what is, contemplate what might be, and try to understand what is. Part of "what is" right now, sadly, is violence. Mass killings, war, random acts of chaos. You can have the chicken and egg argument--are we this way because of the media's glorification/desensitizing to violence, or is that in the media because we are violent--but in the end, it's part of our story.

I think it was Ari Marmell who said it, but what happened in Aurora, CO would be a hero origin story in any comic. It's from these tragedies that our heroes are born. Good people are forged and galvanized from such horrors.

And that is why our stories are important.

For all that they are, flaws and gore and truth, our stories tell us who we were, question and define who we are and determine who we will be.