Star Wars: Thoughts

After watching SW: Attack of the Clones the other night with our son, I was thinking about the different trilogies and side movies/series. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen most of the animated series (Rebels, Resistance, or the recently released Bad Batch), and haven’t seen Clone Wars in order (or perhaps even the complete series, I caught it sporadically when it first aired).

Although there is, obviously, a lot that has been said about all three trilogies, particularly negatives regarding the prequels and sequels, some of it warranted and some simply the whining of interweb trolls & (generally white male) “fans”, I think all three trilogies have their strong and weak points. So, just to throw out my own opinion on the strengths (with brief comments on the down sides):

First Trilogy (eps 4-6)

This trilogy gets “Best Overall” simply because of being the first, and childhood nostalgia. Was it the best written? No. Was it the best acted? Heck no (even Carrie Fisher mocked her “floating English accent” repeatedly). But, it was the first, without which the rest would not exist. And it did some clearly groundbreaking things for the late-70s and early-80s in sci-fi. In terms of filming, Lucas stitched together scenes from WWII movies and Kurosawa movies with filler, that somehow worked.

Prequel Trilogy (eps. 1-3)

This trilogy, I give “Best Choreography” and “Best Space Battles” . Let’s face it, the original trilogy lightsaber choreography was . . . not the best. It’s often pretty clear that Vader and Luke are swinging at each other’s swords, rather than at each other. For this trilogy, they had great choreographers and the SFX had reached a level for excellent space battles to be composed. This despite the lack of chemistry between Christensen and Portman, and the “Best Future Plotholes” award.

Sequel Trilogy (eps. 7-9)

“Best Character Deaths” for Han and Luke. Both were, I think, satisfying and fit both within the plot and the character growth. I’ll also add “Best Fanservice”, because there’s nothing especially wrong with giving fans what they want. These three, despite their flaws, did a good job evoking the feel and sense of the original trilogy and had enough back references to the original to give a strong “feel good” vibe. Frankly, no one goes to SW movies looking for deep meaning and high drama (deeper meaning can certainly be found, but that’s not generally the goal in going to see them).


Solo, Rogue One, and Mandalorean, I put down as “Best Writing” and “Best Acting”. As prequels in the first two cases, they had a difficult job in setting things up that already happened. In Rogue One‘s case, this was especially difficult, as we knew they would succeed in getting the plans (hence Ep. IV), but also that there was high likelihood of character demise (although not assured, since the team that got the plans is never mentioned in Ep. IV; the death of the Bothan team/s was getting Death Star II plans before Ep. VI). Mandalorean has done an excellent job as well, so far. Probably up there with Clone Wars on writing, and acting, in terms of character development, lore development, and clicking into the setting of the other movies/series.

There is a Doctor in the House

Dr. Jill Biden

Doctor Jill Biden

Yes, she needs to use her earned title. Because representation matters. Because the archaic views of misogynistic fossils need to be slain & buried. As do their paternalistic, denigrating, condescending tones and language (particularly when directed at women who are better educated & more accomplished than they are).

Checking In From . . .

. . . well, not the best place in the world.

Numbers of infections & deaths continue to rise here as so much of the world gets things under control. The one ray of light is that the current regime seems to be getting hit hard by their absolute failure to respond adequately to the pandemic. 45* has falling approval numbers, increasing disapproval, dismal turn out at events, and is getting beaten in campaign fund raising. So, we have hopeful signs he’ll be out in November, in a fair election (assuming little to no voter suppression, etc.).

In the meantime, my college is continuing online only or 90% online for the foreseeable future. But, of course, aikido is shut down indefinitely beyond what little home practice can be done (weapons kata and basic movements).

Writing continues. Putting the finishing touches on the magic book. That’s currently sitting at over 56,000 words and 191 pages. Probably start looking at publishers soon.

Also working on a multiverse world build for fun. About 14-15k into that so far. Mostly working on iPhone Notes app then transferring to Word, converting notes to paragraphs, then editing & expanding a hard copy.

Watching ST: Discovery season 2. We’re down to the last couple episodes. I think the plan is to subscribe to Disney+ at that point. Continuing Mythbusters with the kid and introduced him to ST:ToS.

Also added some Discworld art from the Discworld Emporium in the UK.

Mucking About

An unfortunate side effect of writing extended works of non-fiction (e.g. books), I’ve found, is that my subconscious keeps picking out things and making them into ideas for worldbuilding and fiction.

To that end, I’ve been mucking about with some concepts of magic (and non-humans) and idly playing with them, creating writing doodles, and abandoning the doodles. Still haven’t figured out what I want to do with the concepts. Even though I’ve put conscious development on hold (due to grading, family stuff, side jobs, and book work [start editing 47,000 words Monday!]), little flashes keep bursting.

Long story short, the doodles will start appearing here on Monday. Other things may follow, time and figuring out something solid depending.

Imposter Syndrome

Looking at my life, I am: an Eagle Scout, a PhD, a published author, and a 2nd kyu aikidoka (who has helped many who have bypassed me in rank, up to nidan). I have completed three “50 Miler” trips in Scouting—two in canoes, one on foot. I have traveled to four countries on three continents. I have presented papers to some praise at more than a few conferences.

Still, I feel like I have no clue what I am doing in teaching, writing, tutoring, and aikido (and life in general). Even when I say, or more commonly write, “I’m damn good at my job”, it feels like bravado in some ways. Secretly hollow. Like someday, someone will figure out I have no idea what I’m doing and all the above accomplishments will be empty.

It is always a strange feeling when someone “likes” something I’ve written. Or cites something I published. Or says I have been a great tutor-instructor-mentor.

I always wonder if they mean it, or if they just don’t know I’m winging it.

I’ve never done well with praise, usually deflecting or minimizing it. I was praised a reasonable amount by family, mentors, and grad school advisors, but not overly so, I think. I don’t think it’s overpraise or under-praise.

So, I’ve wondered off and on for years about Imposter Syndrome and its causes.

My first thought is that it may be an introvert-dominant thing. I say “introvert-dominant” because I don’t think anyone is 100% intro-/extrovert, rather that we’re all a mix of both. Most, if not all, of the imposter syndrome sufferers I know are introvert-dominant. But, that could also be an effect of my population sample (mostly English PhDs/MAs, with a couple in other fields, but all with advanced degrees in arts, humanities, and social sciences).

The degree thing could be an element too, I think. At the Masters level and above, I’ve found people become acutely aware of how little they actually know. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn out there. Yet, in grad school we’re taught (directly & indirectly) to project confidence, particularly those of us who taught or presented at conferences. Maybe knowing that confidence is a facade, an act, contributes to the sense of being an imposter.

The knowledge and learning side, I think, enhance a nagging feeling that we could be doing things better. There’s that constant, conscious or subconscious, knowledge that there is always room for improvement. There’s always more to learn, more to know.

For myself, there is also knowing that even as I exceeded quantitative measures at work (ex. library shelving quantity & accuracy, inventory control objectives, also quantity & accuracy), I have always held back. Even holding back and not being my most efficient and effective, I have always exceeded the expectations and metrics set by supervisors. That may also factor into a bit of my own imposter syndrome.

I’m not sure if any of this helps me deal with the issue myself. But, writing always helps get thoughts out of my head and organized. So, there’s that at least.

Wearing Many Hats

In A Slip of the Keyboard, Terry Pratchett discusses his hats in one short piece. He talks about his, almost, trademark Louisiana hat and its many cousins that were part of his collection.

This got me thinking about my own hats, both literal and figurative, those I’ve owned/worn and those I’ve considered and rejected.

On the literal level, unlike Pratchett, I have been partial to ball caps for most of my life. My current rotation are a comfortable Hogwarts cap with the school crest on the front and a worn and faded Origins Game Fair cap that’s more than a few years old. The last one is a bit sentimental in that I got it in the last year that Origins sold them.

Before those two was the worn, khaki International Snow Leopard Trust hat that I once wore daily and now keep for sweaty yard work. And the, now battered, Trinity College hat from our last trip to Ireland, years ago. Before that, the black COW hat, which I hold for sentimental reasons, as it came from my undergrad alma mater (the College of Wooster, or COW). The maroon Union Street hat is still around to remind me of our year in Pennsylvania, and the time I worked food service at Penn State University. It’s a good reminder never to go back.

In various boxes or closets, I find others. The decrepit Cubs hat with the broken strap that went canoeing in Canada and hiking in Virginia with me, over 50 miles each on three trips, back in my Scouting days. The red beret from high school marching band, and all the memories of friends, teenage crushes, and halftime shows it brings to mind. The black Ren faire beret that I wore at our wedding, which calls to mind my best man’s hat that was passed around the dance floor during the wedding party & families dance. And the big feather hat that replaced the beret for faire trips.

Then there are the figurative hats. At work, the teacher, tutor, and mentor hats come out. Difficult hats, those. They need a balance of approachability and professionalism, openness and distance. Most of all, they require adaptability.

I find those three more interesting in comparison to my “play” hats: as a student and mentor in aikido. I hope that my role as student in that venue influences my work hats at least to some degree. Under those, adaptability is still an important key.

That adaptability rears its head under the parent and spouse hats, even if there is a lot of similarity to the days in both cases. Still, things happen, as the unexpected always does and personalities do their thing.

Then there are the hats that I often feel are imaginary, or pretend: writer and author. It’s always strange to realize that people read things I write, whether here on this blog or in published articles and book. It’s even stranger when they quote things I wrote. Somehow it doesn’t entirely feel right, no, wrong word. It feels odd.

The hat that I’ve had the least experience with is brother. I’ve had that one for 31 years now. But, due to age gaps, I moved out of the house when my siblings were 7 and 8. And we’ve lived in different cities for 30 of the intervening years. So, it’s a figurative hat that doesn’t quite fit right, always feels a little off.

Anyway, if anyone read through all of thus, I’m sorry but you brought that on yourself. You had the chance to stop a couple hundred words back. Please try not to make any other bad decisions today. 😁

And Now For Something Completely Different

A couple weeks ago, just before my anniversary, a younger co-worker asked a few relationship related questions.  In effect, she was asking for relationship advice, in a broad, non-specific context.  The incident got me thinking about relationships and relationship advice in general.  Thus, this post.

I don’t like giving relationship advice.  I’m not comfortable being asked for relationship advice.  And I’m not going to give any here.

I’ll explain why.

Ultimately, almost all relationship advice—particularly that found in magazines, advice columns, and relationship sites—is generally useless.

I say this with some caveats, notably the “If you see these signs, then you’re probably in an abusive relationship and should run very fast” advice.

But, I think most relationship advice is useless because all romantic relationships are different.  Regardless of the issue, we like to believe there is one “fix-it” solution, whether we’re talking about romantic relationships, writing papers, or economics.  But, there is no single, perfect solution to any issue, just like there is no one perfect formula for writing an A paper in university.  Every romantic relationship is different, what works for me and my spouse probably won’t work for another couple, or the third couple across the way.  There are so many variables in play in any couple—from personal history to philosophies, education levels to family relations—that affect a romantic relationship that it’s impossible to generalize with any given couple.

In the end, though, I think romantic relationships are built on three things: friendship, attraction, and shared interests.  And the first two of those are great examples of the differences that mark romantic relationships.

Most of us have a variety of friends.  And we don’t interact the same way with all of them.  For instance, I have a couple friends with whom I went to primary school (and later secondary school), who know me in different ways than the friends I first met in secondary school or university (ex. they’ve known me since I was 6 or 7 years old).  I also have friends whom I first met in graduate school (at 24 years old), and we have a different relationship than I do with my friends from secondary school.  Then there are the friends I’ve made in the last ten years, mostly through aikido training.  Because we know each other from a martial arts practice, and generally see each other a couple times a week, often less depending on schedules, we have a rather different relationship.  There are things that we talk about that we wouldn’t, necessarily, with friends we’ve known through other venues, or people who are mutual friends with our spouses.

In the case of attraction, we all find ourselves attracted to a variety of individuals.  And the reasons for attraction are often not the same.  For instance, a person may find Chris Evans, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman attractive, or Julia Roberts, Alyssa Milano, and Jennifer Lawrence.  Different things draw the person to each of those individuals (and, yes, I know I’ve “dated” myself a bit with my choices there, I’m cool with that).  What attracts the individual is not the same in each case, just like no two romantic relationships are the same.

For me, this sense of differences, uniqueness even, is why being asked for relationship advice is a tricky situation.  I find myself thinking: what kind of personality types are involved, what shared interests are there, what attracts these two to each other . . . there are too many factors that differentiate the questioner’s experience and relationship from my own.

In a way,  I suppose this is something for writers and readers to consider as well, for character development, as every character is going to be, or has been, involved in family, friendship, professional, and romantic relationships.

Stereotypes & Assumptions

I’m not a deep thinker or writer, despite my background, education, and training.  This may seem odd from someone with a PhD in an arts/humanities field given the reputations of said fields.  We’re expected to be thinking and writing deep, meaningful, philosophical things.

That’s not me.

Maybe that comes from being the grandkid of working class families.  Maybe it comes from my Polish lineage (though we have Copernicus and John Paul II, so maybe not entirely).

I think this is the big reason I rejected doing literary theory in grad school.  Most of the things we read and discussed were doing pure theory, theory for the sake of theory.  People like Roland Barthes, Toril Moi, and Stanley Fish who were totally divorced from texts, just developing theory to further theory drove me crazy.  Meanwhile, I embraced, halfheartedly because theory was required, New Historicism, in short studying a text’s historical context or the historical context in which it was and is received.  It seemed, and still does, the most practical of the theories out there.

I remember being in a graduate level Shakespeare course, during my MA.  We were reading Othello and a fellow student asked, “Why is Othello so obsessed with his reputation?”  As I recall, a few theories were posited, some “I don’t knows” floated around.  Then I spoke up (and I usually didn’t talk much in class), saying, “Othello’s a mercenary, the commander of a company of mercenaries.  His reputation is literally his life.  It’s how he gets jobs for himself and his men.  That would be important enough, but he’s also a Moor, a Black Muslim, working in Catholic Italy.  That makes his reputation at least twice as important as it is for other mercenary captains.”  To me, this seemed obvious.  From the looks I got, it seemed to be a revelation to many others in the class.  It’s not a deep, philosophical interpretation, but a practical, historically important one, I think.

During a decade as a student in higher ed, I concluded that  students sometimes forget about the practical side of critical thinking and get too caught up in some skewed sense of how they think they should be responding and thinking, trying to “sound college”.  The problem is that “sounding college” is built on a stereotype, maybe an idealization, possibly fueled by pop culture (especially movies), in which the faculty are almost invariably the enemy who need to be appeased and outwitted (often by presenting convoluted responses, answers, and thoughts that really make no sense in the light of day).  Often, we just want a straight response that seems likely (at least I do).

Was Shakespeare using Othello as a commentary on hyper-masculinity?  I don’t know.  Possibly.  It’s perfectly valid for modern audiences to read the character that way.  But, I think, for an audience that was being reminded of the War of the Roses, had survived the Spanish Armada, was dealing with the Succession Question, and had the Vatican & Papists fomenting insurrection . . . I suspect they’d understand Othello’s obsession with reputation as part and parcel of being a mercenary captain and an outsider by faith and appearance.

Maybe that all means I’m not a deep enough or philosophical enough thinker for this field or academia.  I don’t know.  Maybe the stereotype & expectation are just false.

People, Point of View, and Tenses, Oh My

Due to a side editing project that I was doing, before determining that the project was not ready for outside editing, I’ve been considering point of view, tense, and person.

 As I said last week, I’ve discovered that I really hate third person present.

 It’s jarring and painful.

 So, let’s break this down:

 1st Person — A useful narrative mode, it can feel like the narrator is sitting down speaking with the audience. I’ve found this perspective commonly used in paranormal romance (Allyson James), urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher), and a fair bit of YA novels (Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins).

 2nd Person — A strange narrative mode, but one people have tried with varying degrees of success or failure to employ. The few examples I’ve glanced at seem to be a mix of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person rather than being entirely 2nd person. It’s always seemed better, to me, when limited to directions or helping people remember things.

 3rd Person — Probably the most common written narrative form that’s been used for millennia. It’s a good, solid form, and easily my favorite to write fiction in. For non-fiction, it helps preserve a degree of objectivity and formality for the writer.

 Past — Probably the most common verb tense for narratives, and one that’s been used for millennia. All the events already happened, nice and easy. Past also allows for use of all other tenses as needed for thoughts, dialogue, and other purposes.

 Present — I’ve seen various takes on use of present tense. Some say that it is increasingly common, others that it is rare. Finding consensus is probably impossible and likely depends on what genre(s) the individual is most familiar with. It can certainly make the action more immediate and reduces the variety of tenses available. However, it restricts time manipulation, diminishes suspense, can make it more difficult to create complex characters, and encourages use of trivial events. Veronica Roth (Divergent), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games), and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) are good examples of first person present.

 Future — I’ve never actually seen or heard of any fiction written entirely in future tense. I imagine it would be extremely difficult, at least in English, to get something like that to sound decent and to justify it.

 Omniscient — An interesting perspective that can be pulled off, when done well. Basically allows the reader to get the thoughts, feelings, and perspective of every character (or, more commonly, all the protagonists). I think this works best with a limited cast, as too many characters and perspectives tends to lead to nothing more than a jumbled mess of confusion and frustration for the reader. Obviously, it also needs to be handled just right or it becomes a complete clusterf—-.

 Limited — All the thoughts, feelings, and point of view come from one character. Probably the most common method anymore, although it can be adapted. For instance, George R.R. Martin and Rick Riordan change the perspective for every chapter, but each chapter is limited—ex. Chapter One is from Character A limited (say, Cersei or Percy Jackson, Chapter Two is Character B limited (Ned Stark or Annabeth Chase), etc.

Defining Literature

I was thinking about “literature” again today, in reference to a discussion elsewhere.  Obviously, after 17 years studying the subject, I think about it a fair amount.  To date, I’ve found “literature” is a term that becomes more difficult to define the more I study it.  Every definition I’ve tried out to date has had significant exceptions.  In some ways, I guess, defining literature is like defining art or pornography (“I can’t say what it is, but I know it when I see it”).

So far, the best I’ve come up with is: literature has layers of meaning and the potential for longevity (or already has longevity).

To rephrase in Jungian terms:
Literature draws on the collective unconscious (the source of myths and legends; e.g. the things that affect us on a very deep level regardless of culture, era, etc.).

Non-Literature draws on the collective conscious (the source of fads and cults; e.g. the passing fancies that die out after a short life).

I tend to reject the idea that “literature” must be boring or pretentious.  For example, I consider Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Lois Lowry, Harper Lee, Terry Pratchett, and C.S. Lewis to be literary (and certainly not boring or pretentious).  I defy anyone to call Shakespeare or Chaucer pretentious (the former filling his plays with bodily functions and innuendo for humor, the latter making judicious use of fart jokes), the same for E.A. Poe.

On the other hand, Stephanie Meyer, Danielle Steele, William Shatner . . . none will be remembered for their fiction 30-40 years from now, I think.

On another hand, it’s been my experience that many who set out out be “literary” come off as pretentious.

But, then again, I just don’t see why some “literary” authors out there are considered “great” (ex. Fitzgerald, Melville, Faulkner).