Saturday, October 13, 2012

Never Grow Up?

I've seen quite a few inspirational posters over time that say "Never Grow Up", and I get it, I mean I really do.

I'm the guy who has a bookshelf filled with Muppet toys, and comic books in the bathroom. I recently bought a Lord of the Rings Lego set...just because it's my money and I can, okay! And my principle hobby/passion is playing pretend on stage.

Yeah, like I said, I get it.

But you do need to grow up. At some point in your life, you need to accept responsibility for yourself, and for the people around you. You need to be polite, you need to pay your bills on time, you need to save money, you need to help folks who aren't as lucky as you, you need to do your homework, you need to think before you act, you need to work hard, etc. You HAVE to do all of those things. If you don't, the world will eat you alive.

However... there are things we forget about from childhood, that we lose, that we shouldn't. Kids are passionate. They love the things they love. They want to watch the Lion King 50 times in a row. They will jump up and down and scream with joy because they got what they wanted for Christmas. They will tell you they love you and mean it, 100 percent.

Kids imagine, and play, and dance, and sing, and do all of these things without a filter. They don't care that they won't fit in, or that their clothes don't match or whatever. They just do things because those things are fun and awesome. The most creative people I know are mostly children.

So, I guess that's my thought for the day. DO grow up. But maintain the passion and imagination that you had as a child as you do so.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Wedding Anniversary

A year ago today, Chelsea and I got married.

To celebrate, here is a link to the video save the date we made with our friends from Very Clever Media:


Kelley & Ives: Save The Date from very clever media on Vimeo.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

8 Simple Rules for Talking About Politics

I have a confession to make.

My politics are left of center. Socially, I'm as liberal as the day is long. Economically, I like when the government invests in infrastructure, healthcare, science, and education, but I also like free trade agreements, and think that we probably regulate businesses a tad too much. I tend to think of myself as a Clinton Democrat.

Phew. Glad I got that out of the way.

So that's my politics.

Here's the thing. I don't really like talking about politics because people have a tendency to get...heated....when discussing political matters. It kind of blows me away that you can have a friend or family member who you get along with great most of the time, who you can have sane conversations with about TV, sports, money, or whatever, but the second you say "I think I might vote for Barack Obama/Mitt Romney/Jean Luc Picard", all hell breaks loose. In my experience, people tend not to talk about politics so much as they shout at each other about it. At least when it comes to people who disagree with THEIR politics.

Religion is basically the same way, but that's a topic for another time.

Because I hate shouting, I tend not to talk about politics all that much. If I DO get into a political discussion, I have eight rules that I try to conduct myself by. They are as follows:

1. Assume the person you are talking to is not an idiot. I get...irritated when someone says "Well, that guy is an idiot because he doesn't believe in climate change." I always assume (at least at first) that the person I'm talking to is at least as smart as I am, if not smarter and that if they have come to a different conclusion than I have on a particular topic they probably have a perfectly intelligent reason for coming to that conclusion. If over the course of conversation, I realize that a person's opinions are un-informed, I will STILL treat them as if they are the most intelligent person on the planet.

2. Do your research. It's probably not a good idea to get into a heated debate about a topic you aren't overly familiar with. Like, my general feeling is that we should probably be getting more energy from renewable sources, but to be honest, I'm not super-familiar with the issues surrounding energy policy. So, if I do decide that I want to have a lengthy heart-to-heart about solar panels and fracking, I'll make sure that I do a whole bunch of research first.

3. Assume the person you are talking to is not evil. Have you ever heard of Godwin's Law? It basically says that the second you compare someone you disagree with to Nazis or Hitler, you've lost the argument. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law. People have different opinions. Having an opinion different than your own doesn't make someone else evil. It makes them different. Unless they disagree that Coca Cola is better than Pepsi. Pepsi is Nazi cola.

4. Try to understand opinions that are different than yours. There's that old chestnut that you should "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" before you judge them. I don't like all old sayings, but that's a good one. If someone you are having a political discussion with believes that we should, for instance, allow all Americans to own automatic weapons, and you don't (or vice versa), try to understand why they have that opinion, and don't just assume that their reason for holding that opinion isn't as valid as your reason for holding yours.

5. Be willing to change your mind. This is a tough one. People tend to have political convictions more than they have political opinions. But, if you're talking to someone about politics (or anything) and they present a really, really compelling case for their point, and you realize that their evidence/information trumps yours, and that you might be wrong? Be willing to admit that you might be wrong. It's okay to be wrong, as long as you realize you are wrong, and are willing to change your mind.

6. This is the big one for me. Always- ALWAYS follow the rules of logic before emotion. Carl Sagan had this great quote- "I don't want to believe. I want to know." That's a quote about religion, but I think it's a good one to apply to politics too. I think some people believe things for emotional reasons, and not reasons based on cold logic. I try, as best I can, to follow logic as much as possible in thinking about, and expressing my opinions on politics.

7. Don't change the subject because you don't have a good answer to someone's point. You know what drives me crazy? When you're watching a politician being interviewed and they get asked a question they have no answer to, and they immediately change the subject. If you don't know what you're talking about just admit it and move on.

8. "Don't be a dick". Yes, I apply Wheaton's Law to political discussions. Be nice to people. Even people you disagree with- ESPECIALLY people you disagree with. It's what Jesus would have done. Buddha too. And Captain Picard.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jurassic Park: The Definitive Movie of My Childhood

I was thinking recently about what it would be like if I could take a time machine back to 1993 and have a conversation with my 11 year old self. What would we talk about? Star Trek, almost definitely (The end of Star Trek: TNG is going to blow your mind, little Me). Girls (you are going to get SUPER into girls). School (ummm, high school is going to suck almost as much as Middle School). And probably movies.

I assume you have a list of favorite movies. We all do, right? If I had to put together a top 5, it would probably look something like this:

-Lord of the Rings (I consider the whole Trilogy to be one movie)
-Ratatouille
-The Royal Tennenbaums
-the Avengers
-Who Framed Roger Rabbit

This list changes at least once a week, by the way. Right now, my logic is that these are the movies I re-watch (or would re-watch if they were out on DVD/streaming) the most.

My 11 year old self's list would look very different. It would probably look something like this:

-Hook
-Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
-Aladdin
-Who Framed Roger Rabbit
-Jurassic Park

That last one is probably the most important one. I remember Jurassic Park the way I think kids of a previous generation remember Star Wars, and/or Indiana Jones. It was- without a doubt- the definitive film of my childhood. I was OBSESSED with Jurassic Park. I read the book, I had some action figures (even though I was kind of too old for them at that point), I read every magazine article I could get my grubby paws on about the movie.

True story- as an incredibly uncreative 11 year old, I created my own version of Jurassic Park called Cretaceous Park (after the Cretaceous era when most of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park ACTUALLY lived) wherein I was one of the people working at my Jurassic Park analogue and I had to round up dinosaurs, and whatnot. I would draw pictures of myself riding stegosauruses and fighting pteranadons.

Why did I like Jurassic Park so much? Why did every eleven year old in America love Jurassic Park so much?

Well, first and foremost, it's legitimately a great movie. Go back and watch it again. It holds up. Of the five movies I have listed as my 11 year old self's favorites, the only one that holds up better is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" because it's actually a really smart film that you can probably appreciate MORE as an adult than you did as a kid. But it's an awesome movie.

On top of that, it's a visual spectacle. One of the coolest experiences you can have at the movies is seeing something you have never seen before. At the time it came out, no one had ever made film dinosaurs that looked as real as the dinos in Jurassic Park. When you watched that film, you really believed that the T-Rex was a real, breathing creature. When the brachiosaurus stood up when Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and co. show up at the park, you could almost see that beautiful sauropod walking across the plains.

Plus, um, dinosaurs. Who doesn't love dinosaurs? I mean, other than Young Earth Creationists who think that God hid dinosaur bones in the Earth to test their faith? I was OBSESSED with dinosaurs as a kid.

It's just a fun, awesome movie. It's Steven Spielberg at the peak of his powers. When I go to the movies, when I shell out $10 plus (or the equivalent of $10 in 1993 dollars) I want to see something big, and over the top that I have never seen before. That's what Jurassic Park is/was.

I was talking to my brother (Tommy) on the phone recently, and I said "I think I had more fun watching the Avengers than I have had watching any movie since Jurassic Park" and I realized as I said those words that they were 100 percent, totally true. Jurassic Park was/is awesome. And more importantly, whenever I think about it, that warm, nostalgic memory of childhood just washes all over me.






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Promote My Friends' Creative Projects Wednesday

I really like Twitter. It is- far and away- my favorite social media thingy. I heard a great quote, and I don't remember who said it but it basically goes "Facebook makes me hate people I know, and Twitter makes me love people I've never met". I use twitter as a news aggregater, a way to keep up with friends, a place to read funny jokes, a place to share information, and a place to post funny bits of my own.

I can be found on twitter at twitter.com/seanofkelley
Chelsea is on twitter at twitter.com/chelseaofkelley

Yes, we have matching twitters. Yes, it is gross.

I also tweet for work at twitter.com/worldbookinc, and for Improvised Star Trek at twitter.com/improvstartrek.

Anyway. One of the cool things that happens on Twitter is "Follow Friday". On "Follow Friday" people recommend other twitterers whom they think you should follow. I love @drunkhulk, so I think you should, to use Twitter terminology #ff him. I'll tweet that at you, @drunkhulk will get a new follower, and the world will be a better place. We're building community worldwide one tweet at a time.

In the spirit of "Follow Friday", last week, I started a new thing called "Promote My Friends' Creative Projects Wednesday". I know, I know. It's not as catchy as "Follow Friday". I'll work on the title. I need to come up with a cool hashtag.

Basically, I have alot of friends who are doing alot of cool, creative things. I want to help you, person who lives on the internet, learn about those things. So every Wednesday, I am going to use my limited social media powers to highlight three friends' projects. In addition to tweets, I will also post about those projects here at Frakking Shiny.

Since I started last week, I'll post six projects here this week, this will include last week's creative projects, and this week's.

15 Minutes to Obscurity:

My friend Irene from Improvised Star Trek directed this video:


Hold:

Nick Wagner from Improvised Star Trek, and his roommate Dan Granata made this great video for a short film contest:

http://vimeo.com/46943550

Gambit:

James Asmus, whom was once a member of the illustrious improv team The Washington Generals with me, is now writing comic books- specifically, he is currently writing "Gambit". Here is a commentary track he did for the first issue with Comic Book Resources:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=40390

Mindsilt:

Jeff Ford, formerly of the Playground supergroup Space Robbers, writes a very funny blog called Mindsilt. He talks about being a performer, and a Dad, and watching reality TV. Check it out here:

http://www.mindsilt.com

The Craft Store:

Rachel Lewis, another old Washington General, is in a new web series called "the Craft Store":


Saturday/Saturday:

Jason Chin, the creator/director of "Our Feature Presentation", and "Whirled News Tonight", along with about a million other improv shows, is directing/hosting/producing a new variety show at iO Chicago called Saturday/Saturday. You can learn more about that show here:

http://ioimprov.com/chicago/io/shows/saturday-saturday

Klout:

And finally, Jon Dick, an old friend from UMass Amherst, Mission Improvable (my college improv group) and life in general, is now working for Klout. Klout is a web site that measures your social media influence. It can be found at http://www.klout.com

So, why promote friends' creative projects? Well, because these are humans whom I really like. Most of them are really smart, and funny, and they're doing some really neat stuff. If any of these things looks interesting to you, check it out. I hope you enjoy. There will be many more "Promote My Friends' Creative Projects" Wednesdays to come.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Superhero on Superhero Violence, or My Thoughts on Avengers vs. X-Men

Do you remember "Kingdom Come"? The comic book mini-series by Mark Waid and Alex Ross from the 90's? If you haven't read it, you really should it's excellent.

Here's the premise of the story- a few decades in the future, most of the old school superheroes, Superman, Batman, the Green Lantern, etc. have retired or cut back on superheroics as a new generation of much more violent superheroes has risen. These new superheroes have killed off most of the world's supervillain's, and spend most of their time fighting each other.

The whole series was a critique of the comics of the 90's, in particular, the comics that Image was putting out (Spawn, WildCATS, etc.) which featured heroes with giant muscles and giant guns who had no issues with taking out bad guys with EXTREME PREJUDICE! But, it was just as much a celebration of old school, aspirational superhero comics as it was a critique of the EXTREMENESS of the 90's.

What does this have to do with Avengers vs. X-Men?

Well, the future of "Kingdom Come", where superheroes spend most of their time fighting each other rather than assisting their fellow man, reminds me alot of the current Marvel Universe.

Let's look back on some of Marvel's biggest events over the course of the last decade or so:

-Avengers Disassembled featured the Avengers fighting the Scarlet Witch- who was/is a superhero (I realize this has been retconned so the whole thing is now Dr. Doom's fault. I 110% support this retcon).

-In House of M, we discovered that the real villain of the story was Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch's brother, and also- a superhero.

-Civil War- this is kind of the biggest example of superhero on superhero violence in that half of the good guys in the Marvel Universe fought half of the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe over the issue of government superhero registration. Captain America vs. Iron Man! For all of the marbles.

-World War Hulk- the Hulk takes on all of the other superheroes in the Marvel U!

-X-Men Schism- clearly the X-Men were feeling left out after a few years of watching the Avengers fighting each other, and in Schism they got in on the fighting each other act. Cyclops and Wolverine beat each other up!

-Which brings us to Avengers vs. X-Men wherein the Avengers and the X-Men come to blows over control of Hope Summers (aka Jean Grey, Jr.)

Basically, for the last ten years or so, the Marvel Universe has looked like the future shown in Kingdom Come. I should actually specify that Marvel MOSTLY looks like this in their event comics- the individual titles tend to be refreshingly...superhero-y? Iron Man is currently taking on the Mandarin, Ed Brubaker's Captain America has featured Cap taking on just about every great villain he's ever had- the list goes on.

But in the big events? It's all superheroes fighting other superheroes.

And....I'm weary of it. I have major event fatigue in general. These big crossovers/mini-series that Marvel (and DC for that matter) does every year all kind of blur together and start to feel the same after awhile. If that were the only problem I had with them, the solution would be easy. I don't HAVE to read event comics. No one is holding a gun to my head and MAKING read Avengers vs. X-Men.

Here's the thing- I really like the characters in many of these events. I've been reading X-Men comics since 1991, and Avengers comics since 1997. I'm emotionally invested in these characters. I know it's stupid, but I care about them. I want to read comics that feature those characters.

I also want to read about those characters being superheroes. Superheroes inspire me. They're aspirational. They show (me, you, whoever) that the world can be a better place and that we need to use our talents and abilities to make it a better place.

Avengers vs. X-Men is fun at points. I mean, watching the Thing and Namor or Cyclops and Captain America slug it out is fun. It's nerd porn. We talk about this shit all of the time. "Who would win in a fight, Storm, or Thor?"

The problem (for me) is that to get the characters to a place where they are in a position to make the decision to fight each they have to act less than superheroic. The story only happens because Captain America, a superhero, and Cyclops, another superhero, do some fairly unheroic things. Instead of trying to have a conversation with Cap over custody of Hope, Cyclops blasts him in the face. When Cyclops sets about (and succeeding in) making the world a better place, Captain America breaks into his house and tries to kidnap Hope. To boil it down, in order to get superheroes to the point where they would fight each other, they all need to act like assholes to each other.

The other big problem I have with these superhero slobberknockers is that as much as the writers try to make both sides come off well, one side always ends up looking like the bad guy more than the other. For the first few issues of AvX, I actually thought things seemed fairly balanced. And then (Spoilers) five of the X-Men were endowed with the godlike power of the Phoenix Force. They have since- taken over the planet, imprisoned most of the Avengers in a hell-like pocket dimension, and destroyed the nation of Wakanda, amongst other actions. It's hard to read that stuff, and not decide that the X-Men are the villains of the story.

Before I go on, I should probably say that Cyclops is my all time favorite superhero. It made me so happy when Joss Whedon wrote Astonishing X-Men because he really treated the character as a superhero, and a bad ass superhero at that. Since then, he has been written as a character who had to make increasingly morally-compromising decisions to save Marvel's mutants, and now, in AvX, he basically comes off as a new Magneto (the old Magneto is even working under him). I miss reading stories where my favorite superhero acts like a superhero. So, part of my issue with the story is personal. MY favorite character is the one who comes off as the bad guy here. That's my bias.

You know what was great in the Avengers movie? The Hulk, after years of being portrayed less as a superhero, and more as a monster, was finally, for the first time in decades, shown as a hero again, to use a phrase I've used a bunch, he was portrayed as an aspirational character. The Hulk was inspiring in that movie. All of the heroes were- that's partly why it was such a great film.

I get it- shades of grey make stories more interesting. When superheroes do things that are less than superheroic, it makes them seem like more fully developed, more human characters. That's part of what makes Marvel great. I mean, Spider-Man is awesome in part because Peter Parker is  a colossal fuck up sometimes. Wolverine and the Hulk are great because they have to overcome their own violent natures in order to be heroic. I don't mind showing that superheroes have their dark sides, but it's gotten to the point where these event books almost exclusively focus on superheroes worst qualities. And I'm just bored with it. I get it. It sells books. It's just...not for me, I guess.

It does look like Marvel's new...rebranding, MarvelNOW is going to focus on superheroes being superheroes, so I do have that to look forward to. I just hope that after AvX ends, it's a few years before Marvel does another big Superhero vs. Superhero crossover. Maybe the good guys can just fight the bad guys for a few years?

I'm also sick of major characters getting killed off in events, but that's a whole other blog.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cutting the Cable

                                         (Pictured- prominent 1990's superhero, Cable)

When I was a wee Sean, I lived in South Hampton, New Hampshire which is a town of about 800ish people right on the border with Massachusetts. By "right on the border' I mean "If I walked south for 3 minutes I was in Massachusetts".

South Hampton is a small town, and it's fairly rural. For the first few years that we lived there, you could not get cable television. Until I was in the third grade, I lived in a world with roughly five TV stations, one of which was a French station. Cable was something that existed mostly at my grandmother's house in Newburyport, MA.

But, when I was in the third grade, cable television came to South Hampton. My father never really wanted it (he is very, very frugal- real quote from my dad "Never pay for water, parking, or dirt.") but my mom convinced him to get it, and we did. I had Cable for the rest of my childhood.

And I LOVED Cable. I used to watch Cartoon Express on USA, old Hanna Barbera cartoons on Cartoon network, and movies like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Hook, and Return to Oz on HBO. Where prior to Cable my TV watching had been limited to weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings, Cable had children's programming 24/7. As I moved into my teens, I started watching Comedy Central, VH1, and pro-wrestling on USA (again) and TNT.

When I moved to Chicago in 2003, my roommates and I, of course, sprung for Cable. I watched Food Network voraciously- especially Good Eats with Alton Brown which basically taught me to cook real adult food myself. I also watched anime late at night on Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network kind of grew up with me, which was neat) and whatever was on Comedy Central (South Park, SNL reruns, etc.)

So, for a long time I had a pretty good relationship with Cable. It was as an adult though that I came to a pretty horrible realization- Cable is really, really expensive. Most Cable packages (as near as I can tell) which include internet start with an introductory price in the neighborhood of $100 per month. That gets you a crappy internet connection, and basic cable. Oh, and since that's an introductory price, it only lasts for about a year. So, at the end of a year, your price goes up $20-40 a month. If you want premium channels (HBO, Skinemax, Showtime, etc.), HD-DVR and faster internet, it costs even more.

For 8 years, I was able to keep my costs down, and get a relatively decent level of cable and internet service by negotiating my price. By "negotiating my price" I mean, "we have multiple cable providers in Chicago, and if you threaten to leave yours for the other one, they'll usually give you a better rate". Even WITH that negotiation, as of June, I was paying $160 a month for cable and internet.

WHY does cable cost so much? Well, in part, it's because the content providers- cable channel owners like Viacom, and Disney charge the Cable companies huge amounts of money for marquee channels like ESPN and Comedy Central. That cost trickles down from the cable company to you (or me), the consumer.

But also, people will pay for it. People love Cable TV. People like HBO, and ESPN, and Comedy Central. Right now, when you buy a Cable subscription, you get all of these channels (and like, 500 other channels) bundled together at one big cost. In an ideal world, cable companies would give you the option to buy individual channel subscriptions- to build your own bundle- for a lower rate. I mean, even when I was watching the most TV, I really only watched about 5-7 channels. Wouldn't it be great, if I could pay $35, or even $50 a month for the channels I want, rather than $120 a month for those channels, plus 500 other channels that I will NEVER watch? Cable companies are not going to offer an a la carte option like that any time soon, because they know that most consumers will continue to shell out more money for the bundles, and they have profit margins to think about. If they gave people less expensive a la carte options, people might actually buy them.

You know what would be even better than that? Well, what if you could watch any TV show, sporting event, or movie you wanted, at any time? Wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't you pay a reasonable amount of money for that? I know I sure would.

Wait a minute...

We've had a Netflix subscription for years now. When Netflix first started streaming movies and TV (in supplement to their DVD in the mail service) it literally changed the way Chelsea and I watched TV. We are very busy. It is not easy for us to be home regularly enough to watch a TV show as it's aired on a network. With Netflix (and similar services like HuluPlus, and even iTunes) we can watch our shows whenever we want. AND we can watch multiple episodes of a show in one sitting. As time went along, we watched more and more TV through Netflix, and less and less through our Cable subscription.

So, cable was very expensive AND not as convenient as watching TV through a streaming service. Streaming services do not yet have as much NEW content as Cable, but they do have TONS AND TONS of content.

We moved recently, and with the move, we made a pretty momentous decision- we cut cable. We got rid of it. For the reasons stated above. We are now 3 weeks into not having Cable. We have a Netflix subscription, we have HuluPlus, and this weekend I'm buying an AppleTV box that will let us stream content from our iPad, iphones, and MacBook directly onto the TV. We are saving $80 a month, and we have not lacked for stuff to watch. Right now, we have no sports stuff, but we really only watch baseball, and hockey anyway, and you can get the NHL package, and the MLB package through AppleTV. So assuming the NHL doesn't go on strike this year, we will probably get that.

Basically, you don't need Cable. You don't. You can watch TV over the internet. It's less expensive. It's more convenient- especially if you have a busy schedule. And it's just generally better. I'm done with Cable TV, probably forever.





Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dear Funny Guy

Dear Funniest Guy Amongst His Group of Friends at the Random Bachelor Party that was across the room at the restaurant Chelsea and I ate at last Friday night,

Hey, Brohammer. What's up? I couldn't help but notice you at the table across the way in the little Argentinian steakhouse that my wife (the lovely Mrs. Chelsea Kelley) and I were enjoying dinner at last Friday night. I mean, that group of dudes you were with (clearly a bachelor party based on all of the jokes about balls and chains and what not) was HUGE! You took up like half of the restaurant! And even though your group of friends was large, and lively, I couldn't help but notice you in particular.

Correct me if I'm wrong, Broseph, but every group of dudes has a funny friend, right? That was clearly you. I could tell you were the funny friend right away when you made a big show of unbuttoning a few extra buttons on your pink dress shirt when you showed up at the restaurant. I mean, you didn't just unbutton your shirt, you danced around, made huge facial gestures, and then pointed to your pecs. Everyone laughed. A good time was had by all.

So, Bro-time, I wanted to talk to you a little bit. You don't know me, and I don't know you, but I think I can help you out a little.

You see, I'm kind of funny too! You were in Wrigleyville, so maybe you've heard of iO Chicago? It's that comedy club on Clark and Addison where they do improv. No, that isn't like stand-up, but I can see how you would make that mistake. Anyway, I perform there! That's right, people pay to see me do comedy! I'm also part of a comedy podcast (the Improvised Star Trek which you can download from iTunes!). We crossed the 50,000 download mark last month!

So, now you know a little bit about my humble comedy background. I'm no comedy celebrity by any stretch, but I've been around the funny block a few times.

Like I said, I wanted to be helpful to you. As a fellow funny person, I have some notes for you so that the next time you are part of a bachelor party, or other large group of people, you can elicit even MORE laughs from your friends, loved ones, and even enemies. Ready? Here we go:

1. Pop culture references- I know bro-J Simpson, Family Guy is the funniest. And Old School? I mean "You're my boy, Blue!" Right? Hilarious. The funniest. It makes sense that you would make reference to works of comedic pop culture amongst your friends. It's easy to pull out references to popular culture and get laughs because- A) most people who have seen those TV shows/movies will get the joke, and B) it's pretty easy to just mention something funny that someone else did. But you know what's even better? Doing your own bits. Like, making up your own jokes and bits based on your own life that have nothing to do with a funny TV Show. I know it isn't as easy as talking about something funny Quagmire did on "Family Guy" last week. But it isn't THAT hard. Use the shared experiences that you and your friends have, your jobs, road trips, sports teams you all like, the situation you find yourself in now, and build dialogue and characters around those. I promise you will get more laughs, and your friends will think way more of you. And you can still sprinkle SOME pop culture references in there. But only as an accent, a spice if you will, to the larger comedic world that you create.

2. Steamrolling- This is a big one, Bro'nuff. You were kind of steamrolling all of your friends. I get it. YOU'RE the funny one. YOU have a joke that YOU'RE dying to get out, but you know as well as I do that there is no I in team (Yes, there is an I in win. I've heard that one). You were just trampling everyone. Whenever one of your friends would try to make a joke of their own, you would interrupt them. It was kind of rude, and deep down, I'm sure those friends probably resent you a little for stepping on their comedic toes. Here's the thing, Brocala, you will have more success being funny if you work WITH your friends, and not against, or on top of them. Through dialogue based on your relationships, you and your friends can build scenes over the long-term that end up in huge laughs at the end. Here's an example- have you ever seen Ghostbusters? That movie is full of great comedians. Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Rick Moranis...the list goes on. But in the movie, none of their characters exists in a vacuum. They're funniest when they interact with each other. By interacting with your friends, by accepting the gifts of their jokes, you will find that your own jokes will actually get funnier.

3. Make fun of the right people- Last tip, broletariat- make fun of the right people for the right reasons. When you make fun of minorities, or the poor, or any other group of people who isn't really in power, and is possibly persecuted, it's really not that funny. Comedy works best when it's used to make intelligent comments about society and human nature. Comedy is at it's worst when people make jokes about the mentally handicapped. Making fun of people in power, like politicians, millionaires, or actors is totally fair game because comedy is a great tool to make comments on injustices committed by those people against their fellow humans. But making fun of someone who doesn't have power doesn't really work. Plus, it just isn't very nice to use comedy as a tool of oppression.

That's it bro, that's what I've got. I hope it's useful to you. As an improv coach/teacher, I will say that I do ascribe to the "spoonful of sugar" to make the medicine go down approach. So here's the sugar for the medicine- you have an infectious personality, and natural stage presence. You sell everything you do all the way, and honestly that's about 75 percent of being successful in comedy. You're almost on your way to being a truly great funny friend. I know it will probably take awhile to really get these things down. If you find you are having trouble, I can recommend some improv theaters with great classes to help you along.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Million Little Things

Yeesh. We're bad bloggers. It's been more than a month since Chelsea or I posted anything. So, I figured I should put something on here. This will be kind of a small collection of somethings. Here goes:

-We went to Winnemac Park last night to celebrate the Fourth of July (that's Independence Day in the USofA to all of you out-of-countriers). It was- without a doubt- the best Fourth of July celebration I've ever been to. Basically, a few dozen people bring illegal fireworks to the park, and light them off in the baseball diamonds whilst a few hundred folks watch. You are right next to fireworks being lit off by total amateurs. You can feel the boom when a firework goes off, and there are so many people lighting off fireworks, that there is literally something cool to see wherever you turn.

-I am completely obsessed with Neil DeGrasse Tyson right now. There are a ton of cool videos of him speaking on youtube. This one is my favorite. "The Most Astounding Fact"

-Crossfit is going well. I really can't emphasize enough how much I love it. I remember when I started doing theater, I really liked it, but I always felt like something was missing. Then I found improv, and a light went off in my head. It was...more cerebral. Geekier. More challenging than regular theater. And the people I met in improv were...more like me than the people I did theater with. I felt at home.

Crossfit is a little like that. I'd been working out for a long time before we started in the Fall, but just lifting weights and using the elliptical machine...it always felt like something was lacking. Starting to do Crossfit was another light going off in my head moment. I love Crossfit. I love how challenging it is. I love how it's changed me physically and mentally.

And you know who is awesome at Crossfit? My lovely wife Chelsea. Watching her plow through workouts is breathtaking. Chelsea NEVER liked to workout. Chelsea loves Crossfit.

-We're in the middle of a heat wave in Chicago and I hate it. The temperature is supposed to hit 100 degrees today. I hate, hate, hate how hot it is. I'm sure this is how most people feel when it's 0 degrees outside in January and the wind is howling. I can deal with that. I can put another coat on. I only have so many clothes I can take off.  Supposedly, the heat is supposed to break on Saturday. Thank Zod.

-I bought tickets to a music festival! Specifically, I bought tickets to RiotFest. Normally, I hate music festivals. Why? The crowds! There is something about large, unruly crowds that makes me incredibly irritable. So, in order for me to want to go to a music festival, there has to be a really compelling reason. Riotfest actually features several bands/musicians I love. Elvis Costello, the Dropkick Murphys, Iggy and the Stooges...that's just the tip of the iceberg. Honestly, they're a Bruce Springsteen and a Johnny Cash from being my dream concert line up.

-I still wish that Firefly hadn't been cancelled after one season.

-We're moving! In like two weeks! Chelsea and I got a new apartment. It's right around the corner from our current place, but it's much nicer. It's also farther away from Wrigley Field so the rate of drunk guys throwing up on my front steps should drop dramatically.

-I'm reading "Reamde" by Neal Stephenson. Actually, I'm almost done reading it. "Reamde" is basically an action thriller that happens to involve a massively multiplaying role playing game as a central plot point. It's funny because Stephenson is generally known for writing sci-fi, so even though the book isn't sci-fi at all, that's where bookstores are putting it. Contrast this with when a non-genre writer like Cormac McCarthy dabbles in genre ("the Road" for instance) and the book gets placed in Fiction. It's just...it's funny to me. The idea that sci-fi and fantasy and horror somehow belong outside of regular fiction, that they aren't on the same level somehow as "real" fiction, unless an established writer with a ton of awards writes a sci-fi book, seems silly to me.


Anyway. There's some stuff. Save travels, everyone.

Monday, May 21, 2012

X-Men: Revisited

Roughly two weeks ago, I saw the feature film version of Marvel's Avengers.

What did I think? Well the short version is that I loved it. I think it might actually be my favorite superhero movie ever. Right now, my top 10 superhero movies of all time looks something like this:

1. Avengers
2. Dark Knight
3. The Incredibles
4. Iron Man
5. Spider Man 2
6. X-Men 2
7. Hellboy 2 (why are the second films in superhero franchises usually so much better than the first?)
8. Batman Begins
9. X-Men First Class
10T. Hellboy
10T. Spider Man

You may have noticed the the original X-Men is no longer on this list. It's basically been knocked off by the Avengers. Which is fitting in some ways because Avengers did one huge thing better than X-Men. That thing is this: Every single member of the Avengers was given a chance to shine, where X-Men featured Wolverine as the primary character and used the other X-Men primarily as one-dimensional foils for ol' Canucklehead.

That's a problem for me. Wolverine is on the X-Men, but he isn't the only character on the X-Men. Did you know that the X-Men were created in 1963 and Wolverine wasn't even added to the team until 1975? It's true!

Now, I understand why the director, Bryan Singer, made the choice to focus so much on Wolverine. For one, he probably thought that the movie would be messy and hard to follow if he tried to focus on 5-7 characters and give them all equal screen time. Also, while there have literally been hundreds of X-Men over the years, Wolverine is far and away the most popular character in the book's history.

And...I always kind of agreed with that directorial decision until I saw the Avengers. And they did focus on 5-7 characters, and it was awesome. It was more awesome than that first X-Men film.

With that thought in mind, I've decided to list off some other general problems I had with the first X-Men film. Keep in mind, I still really like the movie. I think they nailed Wolverine. I think the action was great. I loved the special effects. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen put on an acting workshop. The story is sad and compelling. But you can like something and still have issues with it. Here are some of mine.

1. It looks like the Matrix. In the late nineties, the Matrix came out, and made an absolutely insane amount of money. It also had a very cool look- lots of leather and sunglasses and trenchcoats. For the next 6 or 7 years, nearly every action movie that came out tried to copy this look. X-Men was one of these Matrix copycat films. Instead of brightly colored superhero costumes, the X-Men wore outfits that looked like a cross between flight suits, and something you would see at an S+M convention. Now, I understand that this was kind of a result of the time the movie was released, but I would really like to see an X-Men movie that featured movie versions of the X-Men's costumes from the comics rather than drab leather faux Matrix suits.

2. Cyclops is a weenie. This is actually my biggest issue with the X-Men films. Cyclops is my favorite superhero ever. When I was 10, I wanted to be Cyclops. In the comics, he is the leader of the X-Men. He is a brilliant tactician. He can blow a hole in the side of a mountain by opening his eyes and looking at it. In the X-Men films, and especially in the first film, he comes off as kind of a wimpy jerk. And that's all there is to him. He's basically there to make Wolverine look even cooler by contrast. There are alot of characters who the movies get wrong- Storm, Rogue, Sabretooth- but Cyclops is the guy who is most egregiously mis-characterized.

3. Magneto's plan doesn't make any sense. In the movie, Magneto builds a machine that turns regular people into mutants. It's kind of a throwback of a plan- very Silver Age-y. Bad guy builds a machine that does something kind of silly. But here's the thing- a mutant in the world of the X-Men is someone who is born with super powers. You can't turn someone who isn't a mutant into a mutant. Is Spider Man a mutant because he got bitten by a radioactive spider? No. He wasn't born with his powers- he got them through artificial means. Magneto believes in the inherent superiority of the mutant race. First, he wouldn't turn humans into mutants because he believes that people who aren't born with super powers are inherently inferior. Next, he wouldn't turn humans into mutants because to him, they wouldn't REALLY be mutants.

4. Anna Paquin is really bad in X-Men. As good as Captain Picard, Gandalf, and Wolverine are in the movie, Anna Paquin is bad.

5. Wolverine is too handsome. Oh, and he's too tall. In the comics, Wolverine is 5'3" and is kind of...busted. In the movie, he's 6'3" and looks he belongs in a Harlequin romance novel. This isn't as big of a problem as the others, and Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine, but really there aren't that many less than attractive superheroes, and Wolverine is one of them. It would have been nice if they'd let him be an angry looking short guy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Truth of the Matter in Getting the Bod You Want (and Deserving It)

Almost 8 months ago I started Crossfit.  I drank the healthy cult juice and I am hooked. It's annoying to those around me that couldn't care less.  But beyond Crossfit, I've learned something and now I'll pass on that something to you:

The hardest thing about trying to achieve the body you want is accepting the fact that you have to change your lifestyle.  Many people, myself included, have tried to just adjust their habits a smidgen and expect awesome results. Sadly, folks, this is not possible.  In order to have a "rockin' bod," you have to change the way you live your life.  Daily...forever. Working out has to be a routine, like going to work or taking a shower.  At least five days a week of 30 min to 1 hour of sweating your ass off. Not giving into your brain's "I can't do this" or  simply, "no." No excuses, ever. Spending the time buying and preparing good food. Experimenting with different flavors, techniques and combinations to see what's palatable to you (side note: thank goodness for Sean or I'd be eating Ramen for dinner EVERY NIGHT).  Never give in, never surrender your body to what is easy.  Make goals for yourself: I'm going to lift this or be able to do this in X amount of time.  Cheer yourself on (in your head, otherwise, it's weird). Read about success stories; There are SO many inspiring stories out there on the interwebs.  Read them.  People who started in a much tougher spot than you are ROCKING THE SOCKS OFF OF LIFE and that means you totally can too. And in the end, it's not only the accomplishment in the mirror.  It's that you've proven to yourself that you can do it. You can eat right and enjoy it. You can lift things that you couldn't lift before and that makes you giddy.  And, sure, you can rock that outfit you've always wanted to rock.  But mentally and physically, you've won and you continue to win.  And you'll find out the amazing things that your body was meant to do.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Frakking Shiny Goes to the Movies- Cabin the Woods


Have you seen "Cabin the Woods" yet?

No? Then stop reading this right now. Because I am going to spoil the shit out of "Cabin in the Woods".

Still with me? You say you don't want to see "Cabin in the Woods"? Well you should. It's great. And seriously, we are going to talk about this movie in 5..4....3..2...1


Here goes:

I don't particularly care for horror as a genre.

I mean, I like the idea of horror movies. I love monsters. I love suspense. I love watching people solve puzzles (like, how do we get rid of this ghost that's killing all of the teenagers in this camp?).

But the execution of horror movies? I don't care for it, most of the time.

Why? Well nearly every horror movie you watch is exactly the same. A bunch of dumb kids do something stupid, wake up some kind of monster or serial killer, then proceed to make a series of stupid decisions that get nearly all of them killed. Then, the two or three characters who live overlook some very important factor in defeating their particular monster/serial killer allowing that monster/serial killer to come back in subsequent films. So there's that. I hate watching stupid characters being stupid.

Also, most of those stupid characters tend to be flat, boring, stereotypes. The dumb jock. The bimbo. The virgin. The funny guy. The goth. You get the idea. These aren't people- they're cartoon characters. And not cool cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny or the Animaniacs. These are really boring, mostly unbelievable cartoon characters. Oh, and have I mentioned how stupid they usually are?

Finally, the third thing I hate in horror movies is massive, totally unnecessary amounts of gore. I hate torture porn. I hate the "Saw" movies. I hated "Descent." Why? Because somewhere, somehow, someone decided that "violent" and "scary" are the same thing. They aren't. I mean, a little gore can be scary. But what's really scary is tension, suspense, and the breaking of that tension with something unexpected (interestingly enough, comedy works in basically the same way). Throwing buckets of blood and entrails around isn't the same thing. There is no tension, and no subtlety in most modern horror movies. To me, they're violent to the point that they actually seem kind of silly.

I mean, it would be one thing if there were just a few movies populated by dumb stereotypes who get violently murdered by crazy monsters, but there are tons of them. And they're inexpensive to make, and provide a pretty good return on investment, so I understand why Hollywood keeps churning the damned things out. But I wish Hollywood would say to itself "You know Hollywood? We make alot of money on these dumb movies, but we could do alot better."

Enter "Cabin in the Woods".

First and foremost, "Cabin in the Woods" isn't REALLY a horror movie so much as it's a movie about horror movies. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have produced a film that pays homage to what's great about the horror genre while tearing down what sucks about it. They have made a fun, funny movie that makes kind of a statement.

Basically, to spoil everything, a bunch of college kids go out to a cabin in the woods for a fun weekend, and they (mostly) get killed by some redneck zombies. Sort of. In reality, a large organization in some undisclosed location has been tasked with setting up human sacrifices to please some sort of Lovecraftian "old gods." These old gods demand their sacrifices follow a very specific set of rules. Specifically, they follow the rules of a typical horror film. So the kids are really part of a ritual sacrifice being orchestrated by a shadowy organization that is forcing them to (without their knowledge) play out the tropes of a typical Hollywood horror film.

Here is how Whedon and Goddard have addressed each of my three criticisms of modern horror:

1. The Stupids- In "Cabin in the Woods" the characters are actually pretty smart. They're college educated, and when confronted with a difficult situation (zombies) they actually make some pretty smart decisions- like sticking together instead of splitting up. The movie actually calls this out when the workers at the sacrifice factory start to freak out because the kids are making themselves tougher to kill. We then see those workers take a series of steps to actually make the kids dumber. They squirt Chris Hemsworth with a pheremone that makes him dumber. They poison the Stoner's pot to make him oblivious to the world around him. They put something in one girl's hair dye to make her act more like a bimbo (more on this in a minute). This is basically the filmmakers calling out how dumb teens act in most scary movies. The kids in "Cabin in the Woods" aren't dumb at all- they're just drugged. And in the end, one of them (the "Stoner") realizes that nothing that's going on makes sense, figures out what's going on saves the day (kind of).

2. The Stereotypes- No one in "Cabin in the Woods" is one dimensional, really. There is a bimbo, but as mentioned above, she's been drugged (basically). There is a dumb jock, but he's actually a merit scholar who is only acting dumb because he has also been drugged. Oh, and the Stoner saves the day (kind of).

3. Torture Porn- There is a ton of gore in "Cabin" but it's SO over the top and SO ridiculous. Have you ever wanted to see a guy get impaled by a unicorn? Then this is the movie for you. The violence here isn't meant to scare you, or gross you out, it's meant to show you how silly it is when horror movies try to use over the top gore to accomplish the goal of frightening an audience.

So there it is. As a statement about modern horror films, I loved "Cabin in the Woods." I also loved it just as a fun movie. The dialogue is great, the characters are believable, and the movie is, at points, laugh out loud funny. Go check it out if you get the chance.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

10 Things I Learned in New Zealand

Our honeymoon in New Zealand was incredible.  It's the farthest I've ever traveled and I must say that of all the places I've travelled (England, Wales, Germany, Denmark, France), New Zealand takes the cupcake (cupcakes are more in than cakes, right?).

So, without further adieu, here are ten things I learned in New Zealand:

1. First and foremost, Kiwis (New Zealanders) are some of the most friendly and engaging humans on the planet.  They not only want to chat with you, but they want to learn something from you and interact with you on a personal level as well. The whole experience was so sincere and friendly.  It was quite refreshing.   Sweet As!

2. Caves are some of the coolest pieces of mother nature's handiwork ever.  In one cave we saw stalactites covered in moss that were being pulled towards the sun by the moss, rounded rocks, glow worms (!) and so many other things.  Our guide, Dion, was another example of kiwi awesomeness too.
 (Honeymooners in one of the Waitomo caves)

3. Driving on the right-hand side is MUCH easier to get used to than one would think.  Honestly, the harder part was being a passenger because you kept grabbing for the invisible steering wheel!
(Look mom, no hands!)

4. Hobbiton smells like fresh cut grass & sheep.
(The view up to Bag End from the orchards)


5. Frodo could step out his front door, look down the hill to the left and see Sam's house. I like to think of the two of them, outside, smoking a pipe to wind down for the day and giving each other a little wave.
(Samwise's house as seen from Bag End)

6. There are California Red Woods in Rotorua, New Zealand. A long time ago, botonists attempted to plant a ton of different types of trees where the Whakarewarewa Forest now stands. One of the trees to survive and thrive? California Red Woods:
(Why, hello, Mr. Redwood! It seems you're far from home!)

7.  This is so, totally fun:
(Chelsea Thrillseeker on the Kaituna River Rapids, ladies n' gents.)

8. Restaurant service in New Zealand is very different and inconsistent.  There really isn't a standard order to things. Some restaurants have you order & pay for your food and THEN sit down and be served.  Others will bring you a bill at the end of the meal.  And still others will require you to walk up to some cashier to check out after all is said and done.  Nothing is posted and no one tells you how it works.  It must be so they can laugh at the confused Americans.  We had a very kind waitress at the Fox and Ferret in Christchurch take pity on us and explain this.  And, for the record, this is the size of a true pint glass. Not the slimmer versions elsewhere:
(mmmm, cider)

9. Earthquakes suck:

(What remained of Christchurch's beautiful cathedral)
BUT as with any large tragedy, people do amazing things in spite of their wreckage.  Behold, the Re:START zone in Christchurch, New Zealand:


10. Trying things outside of your comfort zone makes you feel more alive.  I was terrified of many of the things I did in New Zealand (specifically white water kayaking), but in the spirit of honeymooning, I decided not to be a chickenpoop about anything. And I will never, EVER regret it.
(Abseiling. See the tiny white dot down below? That's a person's helmet)
(Sean attacks the Kaituna River Falls)
(Glacier Cave!)


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tips- For Life

I know, I know. We've been negligent bloggers this year. We've been busy!

Anyway. There are more New Zealand posts coming, as well as some other cool stuff. So stay tuned!

In the mean time, here are some tips for your life:

1. If you're like 19 years old, don't get a ton of piercings and tattoos. I mean, it's cool if you want to get some piercings and some tattoos, but don't go crazy. Like, don't get a big tattoo on your throat, or pierce your septum or whatever. Why? Well, you probably think I'm going to say something about getting a job, and while that's a valid point, I think what you really need to consider is that your sense of what looks cool is going to be totally different by the time you turn 26. Like, you're 19, and maybe you're really into Che Guevara and you love "The Motorcycle Diaries" and you think you're a really rebellious socialist, so you get a big Che Guevara tattoo on your back that says something like "DAMN THE MAN". But then you get out of school, and you realize that you actually like making money, and that most of those Communist countries had really oppressive governments and now that big ol' Che tattoo looks pretty stupid. Anyway. My point isn't political. My point is that people's tastes change.

2. Don't eat food if you don't recognize the name of an ingredient listed on the label, like "Maltodextrin". Do you want to know how to eat healthy? It's pretty simple- eat real food. A Twinkie is not real food. Oranges are real food. Doritos are not real food. Salmon is real food. "But I LOVE Twinkies" you says. "No you don't" says I. You've developed food Stockholm Syndrome. You've been eating those damned things for so long that you've really convinced yourself in the back of your head that you love them. You don't. Now go eat a bunch of figs.

3. Do things that are outside of your comfort zone. Have you never been to an opera? Go to one. Never ridden on a motorcycle? Ride one. Are you afraid of sharks? Go check out the shark exhibit at the aquarium. You only get so much life to live. Experience as many things as you can while you can. You will be AMAZED how much you can learn about the world, other people, and yourself by stepping outside of your regular daily life box.

4. Don't assume that someone is dumb or bad just because their opinions and beliefs are different than yours. If people only had one opinion on any given topic, the world would be a pretty boring place.

5. Help people. Help strangers. Help people you know. Help people you don't like. You reap what you sow.

6. If you get a job, and you go to get a cup of coffee, and you drain the pot, MAKE MORE COFFEE! DON'T LEAVE THE POT EMPTY! And if you do leave the pot empty, AT LEAST turn the burner off. If you leave an empty glass pot on a burner that is turned on, it will break into a million pieces.

7. At some point, go to a sporting event that you like between two teams you don't care about. Like, I love baseball, and I love going to see the Red Sox (my most favorite team) but I get really stressed out watching the Red Sox because I love them, and I want them to succeed, and it makes me sad when they don't. In contrast, if I go see...let's say the Cubs play the Nationals? I can just relax, eat hot dogs, get a sun burn, and enjoy the game for what it is- a game.

8. Don't watch "The Big Bang Theory" it's terrible. Also, if you meet me, don't say something to me like "You're funny, and you're a nerd, you must love the Big Bang Theory!" because I don't. I hate it.

9. Don't pay for things you don't use. Did you sign up for a gym membership in January, go for two weeks and then stop? Do you subscribe to a Cable service provider even though you mostly watch TV shows through Netflix and Hulu? Stop. Stop doing that. Stop paying for things that you don't use. It's a waste of money that you could be spending on things you DO use.

10. And here it is, my number one tip for life: Doing something the easy way is NEVER worth it. Ever. If you eat food, cook that food yourself- it will taste better, and probably be better for you. If you own a house, and something breaks, spend the money to fix that thing properly rather than paying just a little money to put a band-aid on it. If you have a job, work your butt off at that job rather than just showing up, collecting a paycheck, and going home. Taking the time, and putting in the effort to do things the right way will improve your life exponentially.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NZ Honeymoon Prologue: Shadows of the Past

Recently, Chelsea and I finally got around to going on our Honeymoon. A VERRRRRY long time ago, we decided that when the day came, we would go to New Zealand for said honeymoon. When I tell folks where we went, I get one of two replies:

"Cool!"

or

"Why New Zealand?"

To answer that question, there are a few reasons. One is that New Zealand is gorgeous. Another is that we wanted to take an active vacation (the idea of laying out on a beach and doing nothing for a week is pretty close to my own personal idea of hell) and there are lots of adventures to be had in NZ, and the final and most important reason? Well, there's a story there.

In September of 2002, Chelsea and I started dating at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. I wasn't really looking for any sort of serious relationship as I knew that in September of 2003, I was going to move to Chicago, Illinois to pursue improv comedy. Over the course of the next two months we dated, and we fell in love. But, as this wasn't supposed to be a serious relationship, and as it was a relatively NEW relationship, I was hesitant to say "Chelsea, I love you".

In November, I went out and bought the DVD boxed set of the extended version of "The Fellowship of the Ring" because I loved the movie so much, and because I wanted to get ready for the sequel "The Two Towers" which was coming out at the end of the month.

One fateful night, Chelsea came up to my dorm room, which was on top of a hill with a stunning view of campus, and the rest of the Pioneer Valley, to watch, not the film itself but the appendices on the DVDs.

The appendices were all of the extra stuff- making of stuff, interviews with the directors, etc.

Maybe it was the Moon (which was full), but that night we both declared our love for one another, and for the first time, we decided that some day, we would journey to New Zealand- the filming location of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when we had the money to do so.

After nearly 10 years of waiting, and saving, it seemed an appropriate way to celebrate our relationship.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Letter to Seventh Grade Sean



I watched this yesterday, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't stop myself from tearing up. Okay, tearing up is kind of an understatement. I wept.

I have...a hard time reading or hearing stories about kids being bullied. And to just cut to the chase it's because I was bullied too.

Hearing the kid in the trailer talk about being called a "geek" and getting beat up, having his things stolen, and basically being treated like a walking piece of human garbage brings up alot of bad memories for me.

I was a small, athletically ungifted child who cried alot. Oh, and I was smart. For some reason that was also considered a bad thing when I was a kid. I get the impression from watching this that it still is.

I'm going to have to watch this movie. I hope that other people do and folks get some education about bullied kids- what they go through, and how to help them out. In the meantime, here is my own little message for bullied kids. I'm stealing this a little bit from "It Gets Better"and various "Dear Me" blogs, but here goes.

Dear Seventh Grade Sean,

Hey, how is it going? It's me, you from 2012, just writing to let you know a few things, and to give you some sagely 30 year-old-you-type advice. First and foremost, stop being ashamed of who you are and liking the things that you like. It may not seem it now, but the things that make you different will be the things that, someday, make you strong. You like comic books- that is awesome. You like Star Trek- that is awesome. You draw constantly, and read voraciously, and spend half your time dreaming up fictional worlds and characters and all of that is AMAZING. As you get older, your creative pursuits are going to be what drives you. People in your class use the words "Geek" and "nerd" like slurs when they talk about you. You will wear those two badges with so much pride some day.

You will get into theater, and through that improv. Improv will be the single most rewarding activity you participate in in your life. Some day, people will pay money to watch you and your friends play pretend onstage. I know that sounds unlikely, but it's true. Some day, people all around the world will download improvised Star Trek podcasts (those are like internet radio shows) that you and your friends record.

Speaking of friends, I know you feel like you don't have any now except for your brother, but you will have SO MANY GREAT friends some day. Theater and improv are going to be huge gateways for you to meet people, and to meet people who are weird and smart and creative like you. When you're 20, you're going to have a really incredible improv show, and a girl is going to approach you at the after show party, and want to make out with you. Totally make out with her! 9 years after that you will marry her. Actually, it's going to be weird because a few girls will approach you at that party. Only make out with the one named Chelsea. She is just as geeky, and smart, and weird as you. Oh and she is really, really hot. You will marry her on an island surrounded by friends. The meal will be fried chicken, and the party will be Steampunk themed (incidentally, you're going to discover and get into Steampunk in about 2 years).

You know how you read the World Book Encyclopedia cover to cover? Like it's a novel? Yeah guess what? Some day, you're going to work for World Book Encyclopedia. You will be a Digital Marketing Specialist. That's a totally awesome job that will exist in the future.

Look, I'm not going to lie, the next few years will be tough. You will never be tall. I know, I know, everyone keeps telling you stories about people they knew who sprouted up a foot when they hit puberty. That will not happen to you. You will go from being an abnormally short child to a slightly shorter than average adult. You will never really be any good at sports (though you will do something called Crossfit someday and you will be decent at that).

You will also have a hard time with girls. Through most of high school, dating is going to suck for you. Don't dwell on it. Try to have fun with dates. Don't be so hung up on falling in love. Like I said though, if you hold out, you are going to marry someone awesome.

People will continue to make fun of you. You're pretty much past the "Getting beat up daily" portion of your life. That ended in the sixth grade. But you are different. And some people hate that. You will continue to get picked on for being smart, and strange, and small. You will continue to be depressed, and angry, and lonely until you get to college. I swear to you though- if you develop a thick skin, and tough it out, everything will get better when you turn 18.

Just to recap- when you are 30, you will be married to a beautiful, funny, intelligent woman. You will have a cool job. People will pay to see you perform. You will have a bunch of awesome friends.

So, don't ever let anyone make you feel small. Don't let anyone make you feel like you are worth less than anyone else. Yes you are different, but your different is what will make you great some day. Stay weird. Stay smart. Work hard.

Love,

30 year old Sean

Monday, January 30, 2012

Talkin' Football

I was born and raised in Massachusetts.  Because of that, I've been getting this alot lately:

"So, you must be excited about the Patriots getting to the Super Bowl, huh?"

My general response has been something like this:

"Ummm....Sure....I guess...."

You see, I don't really follow football. In fact, I don't even really like football. I think it's kind of boring. Actually, I think it's VERY boring.  To me, watching a football game feels alot like being stuck in traffic- all kinds of crazy stuff happens for like, 30 seconds- then you sit and do nothing while all of the cars (players) re-align themselves for three minutes before repeating the cycle again.

I don't begrudge anyone their love of football. I mean, I love lots of stuff that the general public probably finds boring (Star Trek, 1,500 page fantasy novels, CSPAN, spreadsheets). What is annoying is that many people A) assume that everyone likes football and B) get weirdly mad when you say that you don't. Actually, people get like this about all sports which makes life hard for many nerds. While there are plenty of nerds who like sports (I for one, love ice hockey, baseball, and the Olympics), many do not.

Sports come up in conversation for the same reasons and with the same frequency as discussions about the weather. When you see someone with whom you are only casually acquainted, you bring up the weather because you know it is something universal. Everyone knows about the weather. Everyone is affected by the weather. The weather (unlike say, politics, religion, or the Star Wars prequels) is a completely inoffensive topic. "Boy, it's sure cold outside!" Yes, random person who I kind of know. It sure is.

Many people think about sports in the same way. Everyone follows sports, everyone knows about sports, and unless you are a fan of a team that is an enemy of the team being discussed, sports are a fairly inoffensive topic "Hey, did you hear that the Patriots are in the Super Bowl?" The answer to this question is supposed to be yes. But if you say "No" or "Yes, but I'm really more excited about the Puppy Bowl this year" peoples' heads explode.

"You don't like....football, but...why? It's amazing? I don't....I just....error....error....Danger Will Robinson" EXPLODE!

See here is the thing about sports. They are NOT like the weather. Not everyone follows them. Or enjoys them. And that's fine. As my Dad always says "It takes all kinds of people to make the world go 'round." It's just kind of silly to act like they are something universal, and even sillier to get upset with someone for admitting that they don't like sports.

What can you do? Well, I don't think I'm going to convince anyone not to bring football up in conversation. I wouldn't even try. But the next time someone says "I don't really follow football" instead of acting like they just made a really witty, stinging joke about your mother, just say "Oh, that's fine. Boy, it's sure cold outside!"

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Lessons of Winter






"Winter is Coming"- The Words of House Stark

It's been a mild winter. In fact, it's mid-January, and here in Chicago and we JUST had our first real snow a few days ago. Normally, Chicago feels like the tundra at this time of the year. Walking outside last week I saw a girl wearing a shortsleeve shirt and looking very comfortable and happy because it was 55 degrees out. I was wearing my winter coat and I was very uncomfortable and annoyed. I could feel the warm sun on the back of my neck.

I hated it.

I know I'm in the vast minority here, but I kind of like Winter. I know, I know. Cold sucks. Shoveling snow sucks. Frozen pipes really suck. Lack of sunlight sucks. I get it. Winter can really, really suck. I mean, once upon a time surviving through the Winter was a legitimate concern.

But I like Winter.

When I was a small Sean, I participated in ice hockey, an awesome, super-fun sport that requires frozen water to be played. Every year, my youth hockey teams would have fund-raisers where we would stand outside of local businesses with our jerseys on  and ask patrons of those businesses if they would like to donate some money to our team. I remember complaining about it to my dad. "It's too cold!" I yelped.

 To which my father replied "Quiet. Cold builds character."

"Cold builds character" belongs in the great pantheon of things my dad said along with "Celtics play hurt" and "Never pay for dirt".

As an adult, as stated above, I've learned to like Winter. In fact, I think Winter has taught me some really good lessons. Here they are:

1. Over prepare for everything- Some winter mornings you wake up, and check the forecast and see that it's going to be 20 degrees out. You dress appropriately wearing a warm coat, a hat, maybe some boots. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, an arctic front moves in that the local meteorologist wasn't expecting for a few more days. All of a sudden it's windy, and snowing, and it feels like -15 degrees outside.

This is why I overdress when I go out in the Winter time. I wear a thick coat, a cowl, gloves, winter hat, and LL Bean boots that I'm pretty sure I could trudge through the Arctic with if I wanted to. In the Winter, you learn to over-prepare.

2. Snow is awesome- Is it a pain to shovel snow? Yes. Does it look really gross after it's been on the ground for a few days and few hundred dogs have used it as a bathroom? Definitely. Is it the funnest? Yes. Skiing, snowboarding, snowball fights, sledding, sleighing, singing sleighing songs, building snow forts- these are all things that require snow. There is so much joy to be found in the desolation of Winter, and playing in the snow is one of the purest joys you will find in all of life.

3. Ice hockey is awesome-  It requires ice. Right, Milan Lucic?


4. Cold really does build character- I thought my dad was full of it when I was a kid but he's right: Cold does build character. You need to hustle to get by in the Winter time. Hustling makes you a stronger, hardier, better person.

5. Winter food tastes amazing- soups and stews, roasts, hot chocolate- hearty food that warms your insides. Winter food is the greatest.

6. Finally? Winter makes you appreciate the Spring. And the Summer. When you've gone through a long hard Winter, that first nice day in late March or early April feels extra special. And when it's 95 degrees in the Summer time, you won't complain as much because you remember January when it was -15 degrees out. How can you learn to appreciate nice weather if you've never experienced crummy weather?

And that's it. Winter is great. Winter is hard, but it can be beautiful, and fun.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Strong Is My New Skinny: My Journey to Kickass

I've never been fat.  I figure I should say that right off the bat before some reader thinks I'm making false claims.  When I was a child, I was painfully skinny.  I actually grew to hate the word skinny because I thought it was a synonym for weak, frail, breakable and insignificant. No matter how much I ate (and I ate alot), I could not put meat on my bones.  I looked sick all the time, I got dizzy when I stood up and I couldn't sit on people's laps because my bony butt would put their legs to sleep.  I know there were people who hadn't seen me eat and were sure I was anorexic.  Exhibit A: Prom:

I was also super active with 2-3 different dance classes a week, musicals and field hockey.  But I always just looked like a stiff breeze would knock me over.  It got a little better in college. I put on enough meat to look like a girl instead of a skinny boy.  I was still super thin, but I didn't look sick. 

When I moved to Chicago, I got curvy-er.  I now have a tendency towards a more solid lower half and definitely have a butt.  Without really acknowledging it, I spent most of the last 6 odd years trying to get back to where I was when I was 22. BUT, like a frighteningly large portion of the population, I wasn't really interested in working that hard to get there.  I wanted to eat what I wanted and maybe grace the elliptical machine with my presence for less than an hour a week. I'd make the trek with Sean to the gym and while he was downstairs with the huge, scary dudes lifting weights, I'd do a pretty half-assed job of "working out" upstairs.  It wasn't really working.  I saw little-to-no change in my body.  So I began reading female fitness droll like Self magazine and eating half a grapefruit for breakfast, a salad the size of my fist for lunch and a regular Sean-cooked meal for dinner.  I even, eventually,  picked up the brightly colored weights designated for my gender with the intention of toning.  I got close to my 22 year-old weight, but it looked completely different on me than it had.  My skin wasn't hugging my nonexistent muscles.  It looked weird.  

And I wasn't having fun. I was constantly hungry and always whining about going to the gym.  I made the terrifying decision to move downstairs with Sean to where the huge, scary dudes were lifting weights.  I began seeing more satisfying changes.  But I still whined about it.  My heart wasn't in it.  

Then I began taking group classes at lunch on workdays.  And interest began stirring.  I found that I liked working out with a group of people instead of on my own.  I liked sharing the experience with other people. I liked having someone else lay out a workout for me and that those workouts varied.  They stayed interesting.  But planning a wedding put an end to these classes.  I had too many things to get done in that lunch hour and the responsibility to cut out excess spending.  

We got married.  It was awesome. And Sean decided that it was time for a new physical adventure.

Enter CrossFit.  I was skeptical. I actually told a friend that I was going to try it out only because Sean wanted me to, but that I was sure I was going to hate it.  We visited our local "box" to check it out and I was TERRIFIED.  There were guys and gals grunting, thrusting heavy weights above their heads and then dropping them with a loud clang.  But...there were also cheers of "Come on, so-n-so! You've got this! One more!"  And so, with great trepidation, I took the leap...

And I love it.  LOVE IT.  We're nearing month 4 of our CrossFit experience and I can't stop talking about it. I'm sure it's annoying.  But I love it, so who the frak cares. I love the ever-changing WODs (workouts of the day), the milestones, the times/reps to beat. I love cheering others on and being part of a group of people who love what they're doing. And everyone wants you to succeed.  Everyone wants to help you succeed. It's awesome.  And my body?  It's on its way to kick ass.  I'm beginning to look like an athlete.  And that skinny girl up at the top of the page?  She's not my ideal anymore.  This girl wants to be strong, not skinny: