Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Best Books of 2015... That I Read

I set a goal to read 36 books this year, which is 12 more than I read last year. I have read 35 of them, but I figured I'd get a head start on end of year type things and also maybe help you out with your holiday shopping.

Here are my 5 favorite books of 2015. Not all of these books came out this year, but this is the year in which I read them:

Uprooted by Naomi Naovik

When you do these year-end list things, you're supposed to save the best thing for last. Well screw that! The best thing I read this year was "Uprooted" by Naomi Naovik.

"Uprooted" is a thrilling adventure story, contains elements of romance (though that romance is not what defines the endlessly compelling protagonist, Agnieszka), creates an incredible fantasy version of Poland (for all the world-building types out there), tells a tale of friendship, shows the horrors of war... I could go on and on about everything that makes this book successful.

Oh, and there's an evil malevolent forest. 

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Did you think I only read epic fantasy? YOU'RE WRONG! Sometimes I read businessy books and sometimes I read businessy books that aren't terrible. "Creativity, Inc.," written by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, is all about running a creative business. Catmull goes through the highs and lows of Pixar and how the things they've learned can apply to running any creative enterprise.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

I don't only read epic fantasy, but I do read a ton of epic fantasy. "The Fifth Season" is another must-read epic fantasy from NK Jemisin who has, over the years, been cranking out great fantasy novel after great fantasy novel. Imagine a fantasy world that is routinely destroyed by natural disasters, has crazy earth wizards, and giant obelisk things floating in the sky. Then, throw in some cool narrative tricks for good measure. That's "The Fifth Season."

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

"Welcome to Night Vale" is already one of the best podcasts out there, and now it's one of the best books too. For Night Vale neophytes, WtNV is a story of a small desert town where every conspiracy theory you've ever heard is occurring at the same time. The podcast is framed as a local radio show. With this book, Fink and Cranor are able to explore the world outside of their radio show, and in fact, outside of the town of Night Vale. Their use of language is particularly neat.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Here's the one that will be on everyone's "best of 2015" list. And it should be. Coates writes a book that is personal, a story of his life, and also a story about America and race. Every good thing you have heard about this book is true and you should read it.

And BONUS! One book I thought was kind of lousy.

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan

A book about knights riding dinosaurs should be fun and amazing. It's not. It's boring, tedious, and often sexist. Skip it.

There you go! Five books to get for everyone on your Christmas list. I know it's only December 1st, and I promise if I read a better book than these five between now and 12/31, I will let you all know.

Monday, November 16, 2015

That One Time My Anxiety Gave Me Superpowers

This is a story with two important characters.

The first character is my anxiety. Now, everyone has at least a little anxiety. A little anxiety is healthy. A little anxiety is what makes you prepare adequately for a job interview. A little anxiety keeps you from going too fast when you are driving down the highway. A little anxiety keeps you from punching a stranger when they’re leaning against a hand-pole on the El. I don’t have a little anxiety. I have a lot of anxiety. My anxiety makes me show up to work an hour early because what if the bus I take the work catches fire and I have to walk a couple of miles? I wouldn’t want to be late and I definitely read a story about a bus that caught on fire one time three years ago. My anxiety means that when I was 17 and first got my driver’s license, I drove in the slowest lane on the highway and never went over the speed limit… unless my anxiety made me think I was running late for something. My anxiety makes me panic when I hear a phone ring. My anxiety makes me avoid people I know on the street instead of saying hello. My anxiety has me convinced that after the Presidential election next year, the U.S. is going to turn into a Handsmaid’s Tale style dystopia. My anxiety makes me constantly imagine worst case scenarios.

Generally speaking, I have a lot of anxiety and it’s usually not a good thing.

The other character in this story is my wife Chelsea. Chelsea, if you haven’t met her, is a badass. Chelsea is kind, wickedly intelligent, and figuratively and literally strong. She will feed you, house you, and lend you her ear when you are in need, and then go to the gym and deadlift 250 pounds. Chelsea is also a huge nerd who loves Harry Potter so much that she cried when we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter earlier this year. Chelsea is a badass. A nerdy, nerdy badass. She’s also pregnant with our child who for the time being we are calling “Stormageddon, the dark lady of all.”

So about two weeks ago, Chelsea and I were getting ready for work in the morning the same as we do every morning. I had taken a shower,  gotten dressed, and started to make coffee and breakfast. Chelsea was in the bathroom getting ready to shower. From the bathroom, she said “Sean, I think I have a bloody nose.” This is not a regular part of our morning routine. I opened the door to the bathroom thinking I’d see my wife with a little trickle of blood on her face. Instead, Chelsea was covered in her own blood. It was actually starting to pool on the bathroom floor.

I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing that would worry anyone, but as a person whose life is ruled by anxiety, I have to tell you, my first thought was “My baby is dead.” Fortunately, I ignored this thought, checked with Chelsea and said “are you okay.” She replied “I don’t know.” I went to turn off the stove, and came back to find her crumpled up on the floor, unconscious.

This was when my anxiety really kicked in. However, this is also when my anxiety gave me superpowers. It was like a switch went off in my head. I spend every waking moment of my life imagining worst case scenarios, and for once, a worst case scenario had happened and I was very, very prepared.

I called 9-1-1. I described what had happened and they sent an ambulance to my apartment. While we waited, I managed to get Chelsea into the shower (she had regained consciousness but was still very woozy) and washed the blood off. We put her in some pajamas, and then got her on the couch. The EMTs arrived and checked her out. She was still very out of it. They told us we should get her to an emergency room ASAP. They brought her down to the ambulance and set her up. While they attached bags of fluid and whatnot, I emailed my boss and her boss to let them know what was going on. Or most of what was going on, anyway, since we didn’t even really know what was going on. I got in the ambulance and we went to the ER.

When we got there, the doctors, nurses, and residents gave Chelsea cold packs for her face. It turned out she had passed out twice and landed on her face both times, smashing her nose and her mouth. This was a weird relief because it meant she hadn’t landed on the baby. They determined she was dehydrated, this is what had made her pass out, so they hooked up some IV bags and started pumping her full of fluid. We waited as they did EKGs and blood tests and whatnot. They did an ultrasound.

Stormageddon was fine (she even started kicking a little). Chelsea was fine too. After 4 hours in the ER, we were discharged. We stopped at Jewel to get gatorade and headed home. Chelsea set up on the couch while I washed the now dried blood off of the bathroom floor. I went to work.

I walked into the office and my boss said “What the hell are you doing here.” It was at about this moment that that anxious part of my brain turned off just a little and I thought “what am I doing here?” I’d been running in worst case scenario mode all day. Somehow, I’d felt a need to get to work because if I didn’t wouldn’t they fire me?

I went home and spent the rest of the day with Chelsea.

The thing I want to emphasize here is that anxiety sucks all of the time but it isn’t all bad. I’m a writer and being overly analytical makes me really good at that. It makes me good at comedy too, which is my other big passion. It also turns out that it makes me exactly the guy you want around when a worst case scenario actually happens. When you pass out and smash your face on the ground, I’m the guy with the super power you need.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Moment" or "Being Young and on Fire"

Over the weekend, Chelsea and I headed to NerdCon: Stories. NerdCon was (and will continue to be) a convention for Storytellers. It was organized by Hank and John Green, the Vlogbrothers who are famous for... vlogging (also about a million other things including writing best-selling YA novels and running massive annual charity events and writing Harry Potter-themed punk rock songs) and Patrick Rothfuss who wrote "The Name of the Wind" which is one of the biggest and biggest-selling fantasy novels ever. I went to NerdCon because the guest list was loaded with people whose work I admire from best-selling authors to vloggers to comedic musicians to podcasters. I thought I might have fun (I did) and I thought I might learn some things to make my own work (writing, podcasting, performing, humaning) better (I did.)

So the big closing event for NerdCon was a performance of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" by some of New York's  Neo-Futurists (they started in Chicago and there's a group San Francisco too), all of whom have also been involved in various ways with the podcast "Welcome to Night Vale." If you've never seen TMLMtBGB, it's a 60 minute performance in which the actors attempt to perform 30 small plays. The energy of the show is frenetic, the pieces are often raw, and emotional, or absurdist, and funny or... about a hundred different other things depending on when you see it. It's a great show, and if you get the chance, you should check it out.

This is a show that's normally performed in small to medium theaters to relatively intimate audiences. At NerdCon, I'd say there were probably around 1500-2000 people in the crowd. And that crowd loved the show. Like, full on, standing-ovation loved the show. My guess from looking around is that a huge chunk of the audience were teens and twenty-somethings involved in the arts, and that for a lot of them, this was "the moment."

Here's how the moment works. You're a youngish person and you have a vague notion that you want to do something artsy with your life. Maybe you'll get an English degree and become a teacher who does poetry jams on the weekend. Maybe you'll get a communications degree and become a copywriter who also does small community productions of Shakespeare. You know you want some art in your life but you don't know exactly what.

The moment is when you see something that crystallizes in your mind exactly what it is you want to do with your life. You see something that inspires you so much, that seems so amazing, that you think you're seeing a real life magic trick. Days after you see it, you can't stop thinking about it, and eventually, you become SO obsessed with that magic trick that you just HAVE to learn how to do it yourself. You drop all of your other possibly practical plans and you set yourself along the path to become a magician.

What I'm saying is, I think a lot of those kids are going to move to New York or Chicago to try to learn to do what the Neo-Futurists did in Minneapolis last Saturday night.

It was sort of neat to be a now 33 year old in that auditorium watching these teens and twenty somethings having their moment and remembering my own (seeing Carl and the Passions do an incredible Harold at the old ImprovOlympic back in 2003) and remembering what that felt like. It's exhilarating. It feels like your mind is on fire in the best way possible. If I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I'd be a billionaire.

It's also weird to sort of juxtapose that feeling with how I feel now watching a show like that. Because I did have my "moment" and I did walk down that path to become a performer. When I see a really, really good show now, I enjoy it in a different way. I get how the magic trick works now, so my feeling is less one of wonder and more one of enjoying good craftsmanship. Oh, look how they did that. That's smart. I wouldn't have thought to do that. That's good. I would do this slightly differently. I know a guy who does that exact thing. I've never seen someone do x so well!, etc. etc.Young artists are inspired by great work. Older artists deconstruct it in their heads. They are two different, but equally good ways to enjoy a thing.

There are times when I miss being that young, and having that feeling. I sort of have to remind myself that in addition to those feelings of clarity and purpose I was also depressed and anxious all of the time. I have to remember that my life now is so, so much better than it was then. It's more stable. I'm more capable. I'm happier.

But every once in awhile, when I can see someone having that moment? God, I miss it like crazy.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Words as Weapons

The other day, I got into an argument with some people on a comments thread.

Which... my bad. I ignored the golden rule of the internet.

"Don't read the comments." -Golden Rule of the Internet

The problem is I sort of can't stop thinking about this argument because it was about words.

See, I'm sort of obsessed with words. I have to be. I'm a writer, and a reader, and an actor, and a podcaster, and all of those things involve words.

If you read a lot of fantasy novels (and you should read a lot of fantasy novels), magic systems frequently involve words. "Harry Potter" for instance has magic words like "expecto patronum" or "wingardium leviosa" (which makes this former student of Latin's heart flutter a bit). Ursula LeGuin's "Wizard of Earthsea" has a magic system that works by knowing something or someone's true name. The idea is that everything has a secret name and knowing that name gives you power over that thing.

To me, both of those are pretty cool. We use words to define reality. Naming something, having a word for something, allows us to communicate with each other about that thing and understand said thing better. So it makes sense to apply that principle to magic too. 

Back to words. We have words for lots of things. We have nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns, gerunds, prepositions. We have words for colors, animals, plants, buildings, planets, and people.

We use words to describe and define people. You have a name which defines you as an individual. You also have other words that describe groups you belong to like male, female, black, white, Irish, Polynesian, actor, lawyer, etc.

This is where words can get tricky. The words we have for people are very powerful because they form the basis of their identities- how we think of ourselves. I am a white, straight, cisgendered male from Massachusetts who lives in Chicago. I am a writer and a husband and a soon-to-be father. I am strong, smart, creative, kind, and funny.

I use all of those words to give my life structure and myself power. That's what these words are for. This is sort of the... light side of the force when it comes to words. 

However, there's a dark side of the force when it comes to words too. Words can be weaponized. They can be used to insult individuals, to harm them. They can be used to support and enforce institutional oppression. They can be used to stifle dissent.

This is why I got into an internet fight. I was writing about Frank Miller's "All-Star Batman," and I referred to an infamous scene from that comic that I found (and find) objectionable. In talking about said scene I used the term "the r-word" instead of using the word itself. 

It was like I lit the beacons of Minas Tirith and internet trolls answered.

"Ugh, I hate censorship."
"Just say the word."
"It's not offensive if you don't mean it to be. It's the intention that matters."
"Everyone is too sensitive these days! You can't say anything without offending people." 

Most of these comments are pretty dumb. Like, Censorship Guy was clearly of the school of thought that me saying "I don't like it when people use that word" qualifies as censorship as compared to like, actual censorship when books get burned and people get thrown into prison for expressing their opinions. For that guy, censorship is anytime a person uses their own free speech to criticize him or people he likes.

Everyone is Too Sensitive Guy is probably someone who's never been made to feel subhuman over time by a thousand societal slights large and small. That word is offensive. It's meant to offend. That is what the word is for- offending. Sorry, Everyone is Too Sensitive Guy.

Just say the word guy? I don't even know where to start with that guy.

But Intention Guy. Let's talk about Intention Guy, because there are tons of people out there who think like that guy, that meanings of words are... meaningless. It's a seductive argument. 

Let's dismantle it.

Think about when you say a word to a person. There are a few things that make up that word:

1. Your intent (Good job, Intention Guy!)
2. The actual meaning of that word (Sorry, Intention Guy! Word meanings do actually matter.)
3. The context of your immediate situation
4. The broader cultural context.

There are bad words. There are weaponized words. They are words that were created to do harm.  I don't use the r-word because that word is a loaded gun. It was designed to hurt individuals, and also a whole group of people. That whole group of people- people with special needs- are a group that's generally been treated very, very poorly by society. When you say that word (and I have to be honest, when I was younger, and dumber I did use that word- often) you are contributing to the systemic oppression of a whole group of people.

The purpose of a gun is to kill. Guns were created to kill people or animals. That is the meaning of a gun. You can certainly use a gun for other things. Guns can be paperweights, I guess. They can be props or decorations. But their purpose is to kill. If you wave a gun around in a room, even if you have no plans to pull the trigger, or the gun has no ammo in it, it's still an instrument of death. You don't get to say "oh this gun isn't a gun. It's actually a potted plant. That's what I intend it to be." You might still elicit reactions of fear, or anger. Your intent matters, but the meaning of the gun matters too, as well as the broader context of guns as part of our culture.

So if you use the r-word, or a sexist slur or a slur for minorities- even if you have no intention of insulting those groups of people, you're still waving a gun around. You are still hurting people by creating a situation where the oppression of an entire group of people has been woven into language- and woven so deeply that you don't even think about it most of the time. 

I don't use the r-word because I don't want to contribute to a world where some people are treated as second class citizens. I want the language that I use to lift people up, and empower them the way that it's lifted me up and empowered me. I want my words to be tools, and if I'm going to use words as weapons, those weapons will be aimed at destroying oppressive systems and not reinforcing them. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

All of the Times Brad Bird Has Made Me Cry

I'm a weeper. I'm a bawler. I'm a crier.

I cry... a lot. I cry at weddings. I cry at funerals. I cry when I think about how much I love my wife. I cry when I think about the 2004 Boston Red Sox (as "At Last" by Etta James plays in my head.) I once started weeping in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto apropos of pretty much nothing. I cry during movies. Oh gods above and below do I cry at movies. And no one's movies have made me cry more than Brad Bird.

Who is Brad Bird? He's a director. He's directed some live action films (Tomorrowland. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) but mostly he's directed animated movies. I have cried during every single animated movie that Brad Bird has ever made. Here are the three Brad Bird animated movie moments that made me cry the most:

The Iron Giant- "You are who you choose to be."

"The Iron Giant" is the best animated movie that you've never seen. It came out in 1999 and it tells the tale of a boy named Hogarth and a giant alien death robot, the titular Iron Giant. In the film, the Iron Giant struggles with what it's been built to do, namely to be a weapon and to kill, and the values that Hogarth tries to instill in it: to protect and to love. The theme of the film is that you are who you choose to be, and in a society that values violence ("When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail",) you can choose another way. In the climactic scene from the film, the Giant sacrifices himself to save Hogarth, and the small town Hogarth lives in to protect it from a nuclear missile that has been fired at him, choosing to be Superman, instead of a gun.

The Incredibles- "I'm not strong enough."

In Bird's first Pixar film, "The Incredibles," superheroes have been driven underground by the government. When a new threat arises (Syndrome, a former wannabe sidekick turned archvillain), Mr. Incredible returns to action. After getting captured by Syndrome, Mr. Incredible is saved by his wife, Elastigirl, and his children, Dash and Violet. In the climactic scene of the film, Mr. Incredible begs his family to stay hidden, because even though he has super strength, Mr. Incredible acknowledges that he lacks to strength to deal with the pain of losing his family. Elastigirl tells Mr. Incredible that they are stronger together, as a husband and wife, and as a family. When the Incredibles act as a team for the first time ever, they are able to overcome Syndrome's evil robot (Bird does seem to really like classic, 50's style scifi robots.)

Ratatouille- "Discovery and defense of the new."

"Ratatouille" is a film about rats and cooking... it's also about art and artists. The movie is summed up in an emotionally powerful review of the restaurant in the film, Gusteau's, by the dreaded critic, Anton Ego. After eating food (cooked by a rat) that recalled his childhood, Ego delivers a powerful review in which he champions something different... something new.

Friday, July 31, 2015

"In Which I Try to Convince You to Watch a Children's Cartoon Show" or "Watch Steven Universe"

I'm a 33 year old married man with no kids who likes to read comic books, read fantasy novels, and watch movies where giant robots fight monsters from other dimensions.

What I'm saying is you really shouldn't be surprised by the blog you're about to read in which I try to convince you to watch a children's cartoon.

So why should you watch "Steven Universe?"

1. It's a great homage to stuff you probably already like. Are you like me? Did you grow up watching poorly translated Japanese cartoons like "Voltron" or "Sailor Moon?" Did middle school you think "The Simpsons" was the funniest thing in the history of things? Well, then you might like "Steven Universe" which is both a parody, and a loving homage of things that kids who grew up in the late eighties through the nineties really loved.

2. Do you think traditional gender roles are sort of bullshit? You do? Well so does "Steven Universe." Steven Universe is a young boy who is half human and half gem. "Gems" are badass alien fighters with cool weapons, and superpowers who fights monsters. Oh, and gems are all female except for Steven (on account of him being half-human.) All of the "action" characters in this show are women. Oh, and in addition, there are all kinds of female characters on this show. Pearl is disciplined and controlled. Amethyst is wild and loves to party. Garnet is cool, and also built like a brick shit house. On the flip side of the coin, many of the shows male characters are emotionally available, and nurturing- roles men aren't always allowed to play in society or in entertainment. Steven himself loves and looks up to the Crystal Gems (his warrior caretakers), but also spends most of his time... caring for people- trying to make sure their needs are met. The show also features characters who are gay, straight, black, white, and everything else. It's like if "Sense8" was a kids' show.

3. The songs.  Good lord, the songs! There's a song every third or fourth episode and I love them all. Here's one of my favorites: "Giant Woman" in which Steven sings about how he wants Pearl and Amethyst to merge into a larger, more powerful  gem.
Catchy as hell right?

4. It revels in its weirdness. This is a weird show. The gems are literally sentient stones who project holographic bodies. On one episode, they fight an evil breakfast. On another, they fight a possessed mascot for a french fry restaurant. The show knows it's weird. There's an even a character named Ronaldo who runs a blog called "Keep Beach City Weird," chronicling all of the weird stuff that happens in Beach City (where the show takes place.) Oh, and Steven's mother, a gem, had to die to give birth to Steven because she became Steven. Is that confusing as hell? Will it make sense to you after you watch the show? Maybe?

5. All of the characters are deeply, profoundly flawed. Even though they're often weird aliens, every single character on the show is flawed in a very profound way. They make mistakes, often bad ones. The whole second season of the show has featured one character slowly breaking down as she admits her own emotional trauma before trying to build herself back up again. The characters don't always get along with, or like each other. But "Steven Universe" uses its characters flaws, and mistakes, so, so well, and it's so much more satisfying when the characters come together and triumph because it feels like they overcame something real, learned lessons- just like actual people.

6. It's action-packed. Between "Avatar: the Last Airbender" and "Steven Universe," I have to say that most of the best action sequences I've seen in the last few years or so were on kids' cartoons. The action scenes in "Steven Universe" are just off-the-wall, clawing the edge-of-your seat awesome.

7. It's funny. Remember when I compared the show to "The Simpsons?" The humor reminds me a lot of that show. Or, it reminds me of "The Simpsons" back when Homer and the gang were in their heyday. It's really, really funny.

So, there are seven good reasons to watch "Steven Universe." Give it a try.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I'd Rather Watch Ant-Man Than the Transporter

Chelsea is out of town on a girl's trip and I had nothing to do last night. I decided to go to the theater to see "Ant-Man." As I sat at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square, a trailer for the next sequel to "The Transporter" came on.

Now as I watched this trailer, I suddenly had a sort of random thought:

I would much rather watch Ant-Man- a heist movie about a guy who shrinks and talks to ants- than a heist movie about a guy who drives cars.

I mean, of course I would. I'm a comic book guy. I have a bust of Cyclops, a Green Lantern ring, and a Captain America mask on my desk at work. Superheroes are my jam. But clearly they're lots of other people's jams too. "Ant-Man," a movie about a guy whose superpower is the ability to shrink and talk to ants, made $58 million in domestic box office last weekend.

I point this out because there's a certain type of person who complains about superhero film fatigue. "There are too many superhero movies!" says this person "And they are all the same thing!" they says. "Superhero movies infantilize the people watching them!" So does watching football and drinking cherry soda. "I want to see more movies about people sitting around eating crackers and talking about the pointlessness of existence!" Me too, certain type of person. But you know what I also want to see?

Frakking Ant-Man.

Here's why I don't think superhero film fatigue has set in yet.

As I watched the trailer for "The Transporter," it looked... boring. Guy drives a car and explosions happen. It doesn't really tickle the imagination-centered parts of the brain very much. Now imagine if that trailer was "tiny guy rides an army of  ants and explosions happen." That's... weird and sort of crazy and it makes that imagination-centered part of your brain perk up a little more. I think that's why superhero films have supplanted traditional action films somewhat. They're more fun and more creative (for the most part.) A superhero movie can be a ton of different things too. It can be big and over the top and crazy like "Guardians of the Galaxy" or it can be dark and gritty like "The Dark Knight." Traditional action films just don't have that much range.

I do think superhero film fatigue will probably set in for real eventually. Westerns dominated the box office for decades and now... maybe one decent western comes out each year? But I think when they go away, they probably won't be supplanted by a return to traditional, groundedish action movies. It'll probably be something bigger and crazier like epic fantasy films or space opera or something like that. Okay, that might be wishful thinking on my part. Still.

Action movies are nice. They're fun. Sometimes they're even smart and challenging. But superheroes do everything a traditional action movie does- they just also have shrinking guys and talking raccoons and capes and a sense of child-like wonder and I believe they'll stick around for awhile for those reasons.

Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Things I Want in a New Batman Movie

So I'm not excited about Superman v. Batman: The Dawn of Grittiness, like, at all.

After this weekend, however, I am potentially excited about the next Batman movie.


Well, Ben Affleck is directing it, and while he's a mediocre actor at best, the last few years have shown that he's actually a pretty good director.

Also, Geoff Johns is writing it. Yup- the same guy who made the Justice Society a thing again and wrote my all-time favorite run (ha) on the Flash is writing a Batman movie.

What I'm saying is this movie might be good. I know, I know. There have been too many Batman movies. Do we really need to see another movie where Batman mopes around and then punches the Joker or Two-Face a few times before retreating to the Bat Cave to glower some more? Well, probably not. Here's the thing though: Batman has been around since 1939. There have been dozens of different, really neat takes on the character. The movies, on the other hand, have almost all been slight variations on Frank Miller's version of the character.

What I'm getting at here is if they play their cards right, we might get a really neat movie with a really fresh take on Batman. Here are 10 things I'd like to see in an Affleck/Johns Batman joint.

1. Detective Work. If you're a fan of the comics and not the movies, you might not know that one of Batman's nicknames is "the world's greatest detective." Batman is an expert martial artist, an inventor, and a master of criminal psychology, but his best skill is his deeply analytical mind. In (many) of his comics and on shows like Batman the Animated Series and even Adam West's Batman to an extent, Batman is portrayed as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. I'd love to see a movie where Batman needs to use his detective skills to solve a problem. I'd love it even more if that was the central focus of the whole movie.

2. No origin story. Batman Begins is probably going to end up as the definitive take on Batman's origin story. Christopher Nolan took half the film to show how Batman went from a rich kid whose parents got shot in an alley to a terrifying symbol of vigilante justice. We don't need to see that again because A) Batman Begins and B) everybody knows that story. Everybody knows Batman's origin. We don't need it rehashed in a movie for the umptee-bajillionth time. Just get on with the action/mystery.

3. Bruce Wayne: Superhero. Speaking of great takes on Batman that we seldom see in films- from time to time comic book writers (like Grant Morrison in the brilliant "Batman Inc.) remember that "crime is caused by systemic disenfranchisement and poverty and lack of access to job opportunities." What Batman does as a vigilante is essentially a bandaid on the issue of crime. What Bruce Wayne CAN do is use his billions to create industry in Gotham to provide jobs, donate to charities that help the poor, and help develop the sort of urban infrastructure that makes the lives of regular people better- stopping crime before it happens. Let's see THAT Bruce Wayne instead of the "pretend idiot playboy" that the movies normally give us.

4. Barbara Gordon. Barbara Gordon is the single most awesome, most important character in the bat-mythos who has barely been in the movies. What's that? Alicia Silverstone? From Clueless? I don't know what you're talking about. I want to see the goddamned Batgirl. We know Affleck is playing an older Batman which means it makes sense that he's had time to assemble some partners-in-crime-fighting and whether she appears as Batgirl or Oracle, Barbara Gordon would be a welcome addition to any bat-film.

5. Superpowers. One of the neat things about the DC movie-verse version of Batman- this is a guy who exists in the same world as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. This means that you can forgo the street-level, real worldish Bat-world that Christopher Nolan used and do a bunch of crazy comic book shit. Batman can fight robots! Batman can encounter space aliens! Batman can fight dark gods from the other side of the galaxy! Or you know, Batman could fight super-powered villains from his own Rogues Gallery like Mr. Freeze or Clayface.

6. Batboat. Batspaceship. Bat shark repellent. So speaking of different takes on Batman, Batman hasn't always been a guy who just relied on batarangs and the Batmobile. We know from the film trailers that Batman wears some crazy souped up armor in Batman v. Superman to fight the Man of Steel. This means that, potentially, this is a Batman who has all kinds of crazy cool scifi gadgets. I want to see crazy Batman vehicles! Like a submarine! Or a spaceship! I want cool bat-gadgets like a bola launcher or bat shark repellent! Batman is supposed to be an ingenious guy with a limitless budget who is more than a little crazy. Let's see that guy and all of his wonderful toys. 

7. Other Superheroes. The neat thing about a shared superhero universe is that other superheroes might show up, even in solo superhero films. Like, how fun was it in "Captain America the Winter Soldier" to see Black Widow and Falcon along with Cap? I'll answer that question: it was the most fun. Let's see Batman team up with Wonder Woman. Or Hawkman. Or even a Batman/Vibe film team up. And no, I am not kidding about that last one. 

8. Ace the Bat-Hound. I'm a sucker for superhero pets. Let's see Batman's loyal dog Ace guarding the Bat Cave. 

9. Prometheus.  So most of these have been "things that I think would make a great Batman movie that everyone could enjoy." This one is just for me. My all time favorite DC Comics villain is Prometheus, who's essentially the anti-Batman. Prometheus's parents were Bonnie and Clyde style bank robbers who were killed by the police. Prometheus responded by swearing to fight justice wherever he found it. That's right, Prometheus is the anti-Batman. In addition to that, he has a headquarters (the Crooked House) that exists in another dimension, and he can download skills directly into his brain like Neo from the Matrix. Prometheus is not a universally loved villain like the Joker. But he is loved by me. So put him in the movie, Affleck because Batman versus an antiBatman would be a frakking awesome movie (for me.)

10. Bat-smiles. Bat-hugs. Look, we all know that Batman is a super-serious, grim and gritty character who eats nighttime for breakfast and shits out controlled anger. We see that guy all the time. But you know what else Batman is? He's a guy who's sworn never to use lethal force. He's a guy who's more than a little obsessed with taking care of kids. He's a guy who can smile, and laugh, and enjoy himself. He's defined by his personal tragedy, but he's not JUST defined by his personal tragedy. I want to see Batman smile. I want to see him hug people he cares about. Remember that beneath the facade, Batman is a human being. This may actually be the thing I want to see most in a Batman movie. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why I Curate Content on the Improvised Star Trek Facebook Page

The other night I was at a party and got into a discussion with a local small business owner about Facebook. This fellow was lamenting that the organic reach for posts on his business's Facebook page had been getting smaller and smaller. He told me that he's begun to question whether or not it's worth it for his business to be on Facebook at all.

I was four hard ciders deep and so I drunkenly tried to explain to him some simple things that I thought he could do to improve his overall reach. One of those things was curating more content on his Facebook page. He was sort of taken back. Why should he use valuable post space on links to content that he doesn't own and that doesn't directly further his business goals?

Here's why:

This is a screen cap from the Insights section of the Improvised Star Trek Facebook page, showing our three most recent posts. That orange-y bar shows overall impressions (how many people saw the post.) The blue bar shows post clicks (how many people were interested enough in the post to actually click on it) and that red bar is "likes, clicks, and shares" which marketers refer to as "social engagement." In my line of work, that red bar is the most valuable thing on the screen because it shows you people who care enough about your brand to interact with you.

Overall, I should let you know that I'm really proud of all of the numbers on that page. Compared to other podcasts and improv groups with similar followings on Facebook, our impressions and engagement numbers are pretty awesome. We even beat many groups with bigger followings than us in terms of impressions, and engagement.

But a sort of interesting thing to unpack on this screen grab: two of the posts- the ones dated 6/28 and 6/27- are posts that lead to Improvised Star Trek branded content. The third, dated 6/29, leads to a Hollywood Reporter article about "Star Trek: The Next Generation." As you can see, the numbers, particularly the impressions numbers, are way better for the link to the third party site. Why is that?

Well, when you have a page for your thing on Facebook, you're at the mercy of Facebook's algorithms. Facebook, like many social media sites, uses algorithms to determine who sees what content. In the last few years, Facebook has used these algorithms to limit the organic reach of branded content. What this means is that if I post something that links back to the IST website, or has a big old IST logo on it, only a select number of our followers will see it. Facebook does this because they want you to pay to boost your posts. Businesses have moaned and complained about this, but if you're Facebook it makes sense for two reasons:

1. FB is a business and wants to make money.
2. FB users would get pretty pissed off if their feeds were overly full of content from brands.

People don't go on Facebook to interact with brands- sorry, brands. People go on Facebook to look at puppy pictures, post funny videos of their babies, and generally, hang out with their friends and family. Nobody wants to spend all of their time looking at ads for Coke, McDonalds, or even your improv show/podcast/play.

And that last reason is why I curate content on the Improvised Star Trek Facebook page: because IST does better on Facebook when we treat our fans like they are our friends and family. This is one of those situations (that are not as rare as you might think) where altruism and marketing goals align. I shared that Hollywood Reporter article because I knew that our fans- geeks who like Star Trek- would like it. And guess what? Our fans liked it, commented on it, and shared it. This strengthens our bond with them, and when they do share it, there's a chance that THEIR friends will see "Shared from Improvised Star Trek" on the page and we might pick up a few new likes in the process. I decide what to share on our Facebook page the same way I decide what to share on my personal page: "Is this something my friends and family might also find interesting?"

As an added bonus, this helps me get past the FB algorithms that bop you for sharing your own branded content because... well... it's not branded content.

Now that's not to say I never share IST branded content- clearly from the screen cap I do. That's just to say that I try to post one piece of unbranded content for each promotional piece I share. So far, this seems to have worked out for us.

Your other option here is to post more branded content, and pay to boost it. Most businesses on Facebook do this because they can afford to. But if you're a small business, and you're trying to extend your reach a little and engage your fans a lot, curating content can go a long way toward getting you there.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Weightlifting as Medication

Despite dealing with depression and anxiety in some form for pretty much my whole life, I've never taken actual medication for it. Before we go any further, let's get this out of the way: I have 0 problems with people who take medication for depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health issues. Mental health illnesses are diseases just like physical illnesses are diseases and sometimes when you get sick you need to take medicine. I admire people who are brave enough to overcome social stigmas about talking about and treating mental illness, and do something about it. They are brave in ways that I am not.

I don't take medication to treat myself. I lift weights.

I think the experience of lifting weights is different for everyone who does it. If you go to a powerlifting meet, or even just to a gym, you see a full range of... styles I guess. You see dudebros who hang out on a bench for 15 minutes chatting with one another before cranking out one set of benchpresses. You see giant monsters who lurk around the gym quietly before SCREAMING as they go for a PR on a heavy deadlift. And you see everything in between. There are as many mental approaches and personal ticks in weightlifting as there are weightlifters. Everybody is different.

Weightlifting is very meditative for me. In fact, it's pretty much the only thing I've ever done in my life that allows me to successfully clear my mind for any period of time. If you see me walking around during the day, I'm probably thinking about five thousand different things. Chances are, that 4,000 of those things are worst-case-scenarios. I often can't sleep at night because I'm up late worrying about whether I'll get food poisoning from the cheeseburger I had for dinner and whether or not we'll ever be able to tackle climate change in a meaningful way when half of the US population doesn't even believe it's a thing. Here are 10 other dumb things that give me anxiety, in case you're curious.  I'm fortunate in that my anxiety is (usually) not crippling. I'm aware of it. I know it's there. And most of the time I can go on with life in a mostly normal way.

In fact, sometimes I actually think my anxiety is good in that it allows me to see the world in a way that not everyone gets to see it. That's probably a whole other blog, "The Silver Linings of Living with Anxiety." Some other time, maybe.

When I go to the gym though, and I'm deadlifting/squatting/benching/cleaning/jerking/snatching/etc., all of that anxiety goes away. When I touch the bar, and focus on my form, and the weight, and the simple action of moving the weight from point A to point B, all of those worries big and small flow out of me, and into the bar. As I move the weight, it's like I'm also moving my anxiety and my depression. They diminish. They grow smaller. They disappear. Just for a little while, the world goes away. When I lift weights, I'm quiet. My mind and my body are connected. As much as I ever feel... one with the universe, I guess, it's at the time I'm weightlifting. It's basically the only time I ever feel calm.

There are other anxiety and depression fighting benefits that come from lifting weights too, beyond that simple sort of meditation that happens during the actual act:

  1. We live in a society that tells you that your body is primarily valuable for the way it looks. As your body grows stronger, you learn to value it for what it can do, rather than what it looks like.
  2. With that said, if you lift weights enough, your body will start to look better. As you grow stronger, your body literally grows bigger. That can be a powerful confidence builder if you let it be.
  3. Weightlifting is something controllable and quantifiable. When life feels like it's spun out of control- work is crazy, your family life is nuts, everything on the news is bleak- weightlifting is often the only thing in life that you have power over.
  4. It's hard. Weightlifting is hard. If it wasn't hard, as they say, everyone would do it. But doing something hard on a regular basis- making yourself do it, and going in each and everyday- you see results. It teaches you discipline, and it shows you that discipline gets results. It helps you develop habits that you can apply to the other parts of your life and can make a real, positive, and lasting change on them.
  5. Friendships. I've met so many wonderful people through weightlifting at my gym, Crossfit Defined. I'm thankful everyday for them. 
I sort of wish that weightlifting wasn't so strongly associated with hyper-aggressive douchebags. Because it doesn't have to be that- it doesn't have to be about dudebros attempting to assert their dominance (or what they believe to be dominance) over the world and the people in it. It can be about meditation, and personal improvement, and friendship. It can be a powerful medication for those of us who struggle with mental illness- a welcome oasis in a desert of worst-case scenarios.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

10 Dumb Things That Give Me Anxiety

Like all humans, I suffer from anxiety. Like a smaller subset of humans, I often suffer from crippling anxiety. Sometimes, these bouts of extreme anxiety are brought on by serious things like when I was 24 and I was laid off from my first post-college-adult-type job. Sometimes, they're brought on by really stupid things like the sound of a phone ringing. So just for fun, here is a list of 10 things that tend to trigger my anxiety.

1. Telephones. True story- I once broke down and cried in my room when I was in the eighth grade because I needed to call another kid to cover my shift at my job at our Church Rectory. I still get a massive rush of adrenaline whenever I hear a phone ring.

2. Ladders. Good lord I hate climbing ladders. If I have to go up a ladder, I will spend the whole time imagining myself falling and breaking my neck.

3. Talking to Strangers at Parties. Scarier than telephones- actually talking to strangers in person. Small talk? No, and thank you. Here's my preferred way to spend a party:

4. Going on Vacation. I went to Florida recently to visit some friends and Harry Potter. Here are some actual thoughts I had while basking in the Florida sun, hanging by the pool, riding Pirates of the Caribbean, and walking through Diagon Alley:

  • What if something happens while I'm on this vacation and I get fired from my job?
  • What if my apartment burns down?
  • What if something bad happens to my cats and I'm not there to help them?
  • What if all of reality is just a complex simulation and my real life is just as artificial as these fake trees and castles that fill the Magic Kingdom?
5. Asking for Help at a Store. You know how sometimes you go out to buy a pair of pants? And they don't have any pants in your size? So you have to ask a clerk if they could check in the back to see if they have any 32x32 pants? Stretchy ones because you have big thighs? You know how that's their job and there are no other customers at the store, so it shouldn't be a big deal? Have you ever started freaking out because you had to do this? Well I certainly have.

6. Waiting in Line. Holy crap I can't deal with lines. I just can't. For some reason my body interprets "you need to wait while other people conduct business with the bank teller" as "YOU ARE IN EXTREME DANGER AND YOU MUST FLEE!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!! No wait... you can't run... you need to deposit this cash... BUT YOU NEED TO RUN UNLESS YOU DIE HERE IN THIS LINE... but seriously this is like, $230 in cash....DEATH DANGER DEATH" It's frustrating.

7. Work. Probably nothing makes me more anxious than work and money. I constantly worry about not having enough money, not advancing fast enough in my career, not keeping up with my peers, and I'm basically convinced at all times that I will lose my job. This has actually gotten worse since I started a job I really like that pays me a decent amount of money. I constantly worry that it will just vanish- like this is all just some dream and it could all disappear any second.

8. My Favorite Superheroes Dying. True story. I once sent a panicked email to comic book/novel writer Brad Metzler begging him not to kill Green Lantern Kyle Rayner in DC Comics "Identity Crisis" storyline. I was 22 years old and after seeing some previews, I was thoroughly convinced that my 3rd favorite superhero was going to bite it. He didn't, thank the old gods and new.

10. Crowds. How did I get all the way to 10 without mentioning crowds? My personal idea of hell is Lollapalooza. Thousands of people all smooshed together in the sweltering heat while loud noises play? Nopity nopity no. In a crowd, you are both physically trapped AND mentally trapped by the theoretical judgement of the people around you. I can't deal with it. Some day, I'll write a blog about the time I forced myself to stay in a crowd while watching Weezer at RiotFest even though I think I was having a panic attack the whole time.

BONUS: Weirdly enough, there are also things that make other people anxious that don't bother me at all. Here are a few:
  • Performing or speaking in front of a crowd or group of people
  • Spiders
  • Snakes
  • Flying
  • Doing my taxes (which I find strangely relaxing)
  • Death (Mostly. Unless I'm in a line or a crowd.)
In closing, I will say this. I make light of anxiety, but it really has caused me some problems over time. I have learned how to live with it, and succeed in spite of it. Basically, I've learned that (for me) the only way to deal with anxiety is to just eliminate or avoid the source of whatever is making me anxious. Crowds make me anxious, so I don't go to parades. Talking to store clerks makes me anxious so I do most of my shopping online. Work makes me anxious so I go in, and work my ass off to make sure that there are as few things looming over my head to create potential stress as possible. I'm not sure if that's helpful to other anxiety-sufferers, but it's what works for me. I hope you found this blog entry useful, or at the very least, it made you realize that you aren't the only one who freaked the fuck out when you thought DC Comics was going to kill Kyle Rayner off back in 2004.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Me at my last powerlifting meet.

So yesterday, my friend Kate Herold posted a very nice thing about me on her fitness inspiration (fitspo!) Instagram account.

She wrote:

"Today's #mcm is my friend @seanofkelley. In the improv/comedy scene there's no small amount of suspicion and derision of dudes who lift -- like anyone who is fit is an idiot jock and can't possibly be funny. But Sean is a smart and hilarious improviser and comic book nerd as well as an amazing cook and #crossfit badass.
Thanks, Sean, for being an inspiration in both comedy and crushing it in the gym!#mcm #gymcrushguy #fitfriend #badass #mondaymotivation #getafterit"

All of that is very, very flattering. 

But reading these very kind words got me thinking about something:

Talking about fitness in an inspirational way makes me feel weird. 

I mean, I've written about Crossfit and Powerlifting and how great and empowering both things have been for me. I should also let you know that I follow a ton of fitness oriented accounts on Social Media. Actually, I'm on Tumblr and Instagram and probably 80% of the accounts I follow on those services are either weightlifting or Crossfit related. So it's not like this is stuff that I never talk about in my public life. And it's not like I think fitness inspiration is dumb. I LOVE seeing people's before and after pictures from their fitness journeys. I think it's cool to see peoples' healthy eating recipes. It's amazing to me to read a blog entry by a woman about the day a light went off in her head and she realized she wanted to be strong more than she wanted to fit into a size 2 dress. It's inspiring to read about a guy who's in his first year of weight training as he hits PR after PR. It's thrilling to see a picture someone posted of visible bicep definition that didn't exist a month prior. When I read fitspo content, it inspires me to get into the gym.

So why don't I talk about my own journey more often? Why don't I post more pictures of my body as it's grown stronger, or more videos of myself when I hit a PR? Here are a few reasons:

1. Per Kate's post, I also do comedy. Comedians, for the most part, are hyper aware of both the world and of themselves. They (we, me) are also mostly hypercritical of it. That's how comedy works. Very few comedians are Ellen Degeneres or the Muppets- spinning comedy gold out of joy. Comedians hold up a mirror to society to point out what's sad, frustrating, or ridiculous, then process it into a joke to make it more palatable to everyone else. Inspirational content is almost diametrically opposed to (most) good comedy. Or it seems to be to someone who spends most of their time marinating in comedy. On top of that, some of the fitspo content you see really is worthy of derision. Some of it is selfish in that it puts people down more than it builds them up. Whenever I see a post that says something like "Do tigers lose sleep over the opinions of sheep?" or something like that, I think "I don't want to be associated with that kind of thing." Some fitspo content is actually unhealthy. Quotes like "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" encourage poor health and also make me want to run as far away from it as possible. Even more likely- it makes me want to write a satirical blog entry lampooning it. To sum this up- my hypercritical comedian's brain often makes me go "don't post this thing- it's not inspiring. It's ridiculous." I tend to think that a picture of me in my underwear would just look ridiculous as hell.

2. It feels selfish. While I haven't practiced in over a decade, I was raised Catholic. Growing up Catholic, going to church, going to Catholic school, we were taught the importance of service to others. You are less important than everyone else, and it is your responsibility, rather than drawing attention to yourself, to serve the less fortunate. Interestingly enough, this is also one of the central tenets of the teaching philosophy of iO Chicago- as an improvisor, it's your responsibility to make your scene partner look good, not yourself. To quote Del Close, "this journey isn't about you, it's about everyone around you." When you've lived the better part of 3 decades having that philosophy drilled into your head, it feels a little weird to talk about your own accomplishments or to post shirtless pictures of yourself that display the progress you've made over time. It feels like you're making the journey about yourself, and that's never really been my thing.

2A. It feels vain. Vanity is another one of those sins that a childhood spent in Catholic School sort of beats out of you (or tries to). Vanity is it's own form of selfishness which is why I have it listed as thing 2A here.

3. Who gives a shit? I kind of feel like the fitspo content I might post that didn't feel selfish would also feel incredibly mundane. Do you really want to see the picture of the pork tenderloin, rice, and broccoli I had for dinner last night? Do you really care about the number of squat reps I did and at what weight on a given Monday night? Do you care about my particular feelings on the rule at most powerlifting meets that dictates that all athletes must wear singlets (spoiler: I don't get it)? My assumption is that most people don't.

4. I'm not that inspiring. Finally- I'm not a big guy. I'm 5'7". I weighed 135 pounds from the time I was 15 to the time I was 25. I got teased mercilessly for being small as a kid. I've grown up and I've changed, but I don't think that feeling of smallness will ever leave me completely. I think if I weighed 250 pounds and could deadlift a half a ton I'd still think of myself as that small, anxious kid in some of the more important parts of my mind. I don't really think I'm that inspiring. I think I'm small.

Oh, and I also don't want to be one of those people who talks about Crossfit all of the time.

But you know what? All of that stuff is ridiculous. It's mostly untrue. Oh, there's a nugget of a true thing to every single one of those points but that doesn't make them right. That little voice inside of my head is completely wrong. Completely and totally wrong.  I believe that people like Kate, or my wife Chelsea who have documented their fitness journeys in public for all to see are very, very brave. Why? Because they probably have thoughts similar to these, and they share them anyway. The content that they post isn't just helpful to them- it's helpful to everyone who sees it too. It's inspiring.

In a way, as I write this, I realize that NOT SHARING my own stories is selfish in its own way. When someone shares their trials and their triumphs on the path to becoming healthier, it might just inspire someone else to take their own health more seriously. It might make it easier for someone who's started down that path to stay on it. People bemoan the inherent selfishness that they see as an intrinsic part of social media but often, social media gives us the tools to be a more supportive, more effective community that can make a real, positive impact on the lives of its members. By not... sharing more I've essentially been negligent of my end of that social contract- I allow myself to be inspired by others without even trying to inspire them. Which... I know it's kind of roundabout logic, but that's also selfish in a way.

So what am I going to do? Well, I'm going to try a little harder to share- I'll try harder to share when working out is hard and when I fail, and I'll try a little harder to talk about feeling successful.

Here goes, a first attempt.

These are my legs. I'm very proud of them. I can squat 380 pounds and deadlift 435. I have a hard time finding pants that fit because my legs are thick but my waist is not. I think that's kind of awesome. If I can't fit into a pair of pants anymore, it means I have outgrown them physically and also metaphorically. I'm proud when my clothes rip. Building leg strength is hard. It has required countless hours in the gym, and even more time making sure that I've eaten enough of the right things. That's worth more than all the pants in the world.

Also... just FYI- I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt in this picture. I've just cropped them out.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

America, the Next Great Fantasy Epic, Part 1: Chicago

So I really love epic fantasy novels. One of my favorite fantasy tropes is long-winded descriptions of fantasy cities. Want to know about the salty smell of the harbor where dwarven stevedores hustle to remove exotic spices and leathers from docked cogs? Or read about the winding alleys that filled Moth's Corner, where the city's poorest gathered in rundown taverns to drink watered down grog called "the king's spit?" Then read a fantasy novel. Do it!

Anyway. I started thinking about what it would be like if American cities existed in epic fantasy novels, and how one might describe them. To that end, here on Frakking Shiny, I am beginning a new series entitled:

AMERICA, the Next Great Fantasy Epic, in which I will create descriptions of major American cities in an epic fantasy style. Up first, my current hometown, Chicago.


Lying upon the shores of Lake Mich'gan like a crow riding on the back of a timberwolf, the city of Chicago, known as the White City, towered over fields of amber corn. Chicago was the capitol of America's Winter Kingdoms, and was a crossroads between the ancients cities of the east, and the gleaming Western Coast. By land, the City was accessible only by a series of gates, known as the Brown Gate, the Purple Gate (which was only open during the waking hours of the work-week), the Orange Gate, the Blue Gate (known to the common people as the Sky Gate), the Metro Gate, The Dan Ryan Gate, the Pink Gate, the Yellow Gate, the Green Gate, and most famous of them all, the Red Gate, which opened upon the red road, the city's main artery. By water, the city was protected by a mighty wall erected in the lake by ancient forces before the first settlers came to the land. Incoming cogs could only access the city through the Navy's Pier, an enormous fortified dock.

The city proper was divided into four sections:

In the Northern District, wealthy elf-lords lived in luxury. Homes carved from red stone and enchanted green maples lined the streets. During the week, the elf-lords followed the red road to the Palace Loop to conduct their business, returning each night to their homes and families. On the weekend, they amused themselves by drinking golden shandies while watching dragons devour bearlings at the Wrig'l'Ey Field. The city's lord, known only as Rahm the Ruthless, called the North his home.

Much of Chicago's industry laid in the west: her manufactories, her slaughterhouses, and the great skyport from whence trained griffins carried the rich and the poor to other parts of the kingdom. 

The Southern District, known as South Side to it's residents, was home to much of the Chicago's working poor. The people of South Side were known for their white socks, their work ethic, and their loyalty to the city's former lords, the D'al'ey wizards. Tensions between the South Siders and the Elf-Lords of the north were a constant source of strife within Chicago.

In the midst of it all was the Palace Loop. The Loop was filled with gleaming towers of glass and stone wherein the elf-lords and their clerks toiled day and night. Hundreds of years before, the city had been burned by demon-fire when the arch-devil O'Leary unleashed her fury upon the city. The fire left very little of old Chicago, but the hard-working Chicagoans swore they'd rebuild, and they did, constructing a series of buildings that seemed to scrape the very sky. 

Rising above the rest of the city, the black tower of Willis rose like a crack in the firmament. The ebon spire was erected by the dark wizard D'al'ey, first of his name as a sign of his power over all who dwelt in the White City. There were whispers saying the tower had once had another name- a secret name that had been stricken from the world's memory by the very sorcery that had created it. Many said that if the name was spoken, Rahm's rule could be broken, and the D'al'eys would rise once more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Promote Your Friends' Shit

I haven't made a real New Year's resolution for a few years, but I do try, each year to be a... little bit better about something. Last year I decided I was going to try to be a little more outwardly positive (how'd I do?). This year, I have one big commitment I've decided to undertake:

I'm going to help promote my friends' shit.

So first things first: I'm friends with a lot of creative people. Painters, improvisors, small business owners, musicians, podcasters, people who make boardgames, etc. All of these people do things that require promotion or marketing. I think most creative people feel a little gross about marketing what they do. They want people to appreciate and hopefully pay for what they do, but going on Facebook and posting about their stuff feels gross, or putting up posters with a picture of your face on it can feel selfish, but they do it anyway, because they have a passion for a thing. Also, creative people want to create. They don't want to familiarize themselves with Facebook Power Editor best practices.

In addition to that, lots of creative people aren't really good at marketing. They didn't study marketing. They don't work in marketing. Marketing their thing almost feels like trying to speak a language they've only heard about on TV.

So marketing feels selfish and foreign for individuals. Keep that in mind the next time you feel annoyed that your Facebook feed is filled with posts asking you to come to an improv show. Try not to dismiss those posts indifferently. I know that's hard because you're inundated with them.

This is why creative people need help promoting their shit. They need my help, and they need your help. When you promote your friend's thing, you're helping them struggle with that weird marketing language they don't speak. You probably don't speak it either, but now there are two of you trying to communicate, upping your chances of success. You're doing something selfless for them, and so that also takes the burden off of them for feeling weird about their own selfishness.

And this is important: helping your friends promote their shit can make a real positive impact in their lives.

Here's a story:

I have a friend (who will remain nameless) who is married with a very young kid. My friend manages a store. A few weeks ago, my friends' wife posted a message to Facebook that basically said:

"Nameless never asks for anything, and never promotes anything he does. Well this month he's trying to hit a very ambitious sales goal at his store, so please if you could, go to his store and spend a little money."

Chelsea and I, seeing this message, went to the store, bought some stuff, and talked to Nameless. We asked him about the sales goal and he said "Well, if we do $X in sales this month, I get a bonus and we can afford a higher tier of daycare which means I don't have to work Sundays and I get that day back with my family."

I immediately went home and used every social media channel at my disposal to try to get people into my friend's store. Because I realized that promoting his shit would have a real, positive effect on his life, and his family's life. Going in person to a friend's show, or buying their product is essential too, but we need to be champions for the cool things our friends make.

So if I retweet the post you wrote about your podcast, or share your Facebook event, or email some friends about your art show, that's why. Because I know first-hand how difficult and awkward and gross marketing  and promotion feel. That's what I'm doing this year. We are all in this together, and when we help each other, we can help affect real, positive change in the lives of the people we care about.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Completely 110% Real New England Facts

So I know you know that I don't care for football (handegg) with its caught-in-traffic style stops and starts and I've written and talked about that ad nauseam.

But who cares! It's Big Game Season! No, not the Pro-Bowl! The other Big Game! No, not Puppy Bowl! The other Big Game!

That's right. The Super Bowl.

In this year's Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks are playing the New England Patriots, and from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I have determined that a lot of you non-New Englanders have had it up to here with New England's smugness about winning so many championships in all non-soccer sports (sorry, New England Revolution) over the course of the last decade.

I have to tell you- your anti-New England smack talk? It could use some work. Fortunately, I lived in New England for 21 years, and I am here to help! Here, for your use in all anti-Patriots smack-talk, are some true facts about New Englanders that NEW ENGLANDERS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!

1. Every single house in New England is haunted. Okay, so this is embarrassing. New England was first colonized by Europeans in the 17th century and in the last 395 years, lots of people have died there. I mean, the whole region was basically built on an Indian burial ground. They named a town, and two colleges after Jeffrey Amherst whose main life accomplishment was killing off a ton of Native Americans with smallpox laden blankets. Add a Revolutionary War, a Civil War, a great Molasses Spill, and a tendency towards emotional repression that can ONLY lead to alcohol abuse and you have New England- a commonwealth of ghosts. Every house has at least one ghost, and not the fun Casper kind. Oh no. These are like full on make-the-walls-bleed-speak-in-dead-languages-through-a-newborn-horror-movie ghosts. Want to talk smack to a New Englander? Say something like "Well at least I can go to sleep without my bed being levitated by the restless spirit of Jack Kerouac every night."

2. Fenway Park only appears during the summer and is only visible to the pure of heart. When Manny Ramirez left Boston, he cursed the city so that only those whose hearts were pure would ever be able see the Red Sox play a home game again. Manny's curse can only be broken if Red Sox owner John Henry finds true love before the last petal of the rose that sits atop Pesky's Pole falls to the ground.

3. Lobsters are sea-bugs whose diets mostly consist of garbage and other shit from the ocean floor. Mmm, lobster rolls.

4. There is actually only one Kennedy. JFK, John John, Robert, Ted, Jackie O.- all are merely aspects of the one-Kennedy. Understanding of each facet of the Kennedy will one day allow us to attain true higher-consciousness and understand the secrets of the universe.

5. There is no such thing as a Boston accent. Whenever someone from the Greater Boston area talks to someone from outside the area, they put on a fake accent where they drop their r's and say wicked before every third word in each sentence. This is done to lure unsuspecting out-of-towners into a false sense of security. "Oh listen to the dumb Bostonians and their silly accents." Well, underestimate New Englanders at your own peril because with one of the world's best education systems, healthcare systems, tech sectors, and a robust literary tradition, New Englanders secretly run nearly every aspect of your life while you're making fun of the way they say "park your car."

6. We just made up Rhode Island. You thought there was really a place called Rhode Island? With a capitol called "Providence?" That sounded plausible to you? Yeesh, a sucker is born everyday.

7. Texas is secretly part of New England. In 1953, Tip O'Neill from Massachusetts and Sam Rayburn of Texas met late one warm July evening under the Capitol Rotunda to sign the NewTexEnglandas Treaty, secretly making Texas the 7th New England State. Should New England ever enter into war with New York (WHICH WILL HAPPEN SOME DAY) Texas is sworn to reveal its true colors and come to the defense of their Northern brothers and sisters.

8. Everyone in New England plays all sports with deflated balls or pucks. It's a tradition that dates back to when John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams invented football in the early 19th century in Braintree, MA. They deflated the ball as a way to screw with Jacksonian Democrats.

9. In New England, if you bring a tomato within 100 feet of a clam, the penalty is death. While Massachusetts doesn't have the death penalty for murder, it DOES have the death penalty for preparing or eating Manhattan Clam Chowder. Anyone caught making or eating "Wrong Chowder" as it's called in the suburbs of Boston will be drowned in a tub of rum.

10. The Seattle Seahawks are actually the New England Patriots from an alternate timeline where the Nazis won World War II. In 1974, researchers at MIT tore a hole between our world, and a grim, alternate timeline where FDR and Churchill were never born and the Nazis won World War II, leading to an alternate world where Boston was called "Seattle" and its football team was called "The Seahawks." In closing the portal to this awful hellscape, the scientists accidentally pulled Seattle into our world. They attempted to isolate it from the rest of the world by placing it on America's desolate western coast, but in the 90's, Seattle emerged as a cultural powerhouse through the use of coffee and grunge music. And now, the Patriots of Earth II are playing our Patriots in the Super Bowl.

So there you go. Now that you know all this, smack talk to your heart's content.