The Tiniest of Victories

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I spent the holiday weekend mostly driving around the state of Maryland. Each car trip was intended to be demonstration of support or appreciation for a different valued friend or family member. Each trip was just under an hour in one direction. The net result was that I spent a lot of time in the car, but still not enough time to complain to my coworkers who spent their weekends on real road trips covering thousands of miles. And that’s the truth, of course, that sometimes the smaller injuries hurt more because we aren’t justified in our frustration, because we judge even our failings on some sort of imaginary scale.

Not only do I need to be the best, I need my worst to be the worst. That type of thinking makes perfect sense to the version of my brain that lives in a black and white world. I’m trying to see that part of my brain less.

Anyway, when I wasn’t driving, I made time for a very special errand. I finally fixed the buttons on my red wool coat.

I walked to the nearest Joann Fabric store. Yes, I walked. Yes, the only stop I needed to make to complete this errand was within walking distance from my apartment for more than a year. Also, I drive past a Michael’s craft store once a week. I walked there in a bright summer afternoon, with a red button in my pocket, for reference. I kept touching the button because I was afraid I would lose it. I stepped around the sewer grate just in case there was a button monster living under the parking lot.

It took me longer than I expected to find the buttons. My mistake was looking for a large aisle of buttons. The store in upstate New York where my mother bought her sewing supplies and the fabric for all of my dance costumes was crowded, darker, with fabric stacked to the ceiling, and it smelled like old lady. There was a huge lane of buttons in that store. The puffy paints were on an endcap next to  the buttons, if I recall correctly.

The larger store I visited this weekend had half of one aisle devoted to buttons. Nearly half of the buttons offered were assortments of crafting buttons, like what you might glue to paper or use for decorating a lampshade. There was a very limited selection of actual buttons. In the tradition of even the simplest errands being more difficult and time consuming than expected, I spent at least 20 minutes just checking every button and trying to remember how many buttons were on the coat total and trying to imagine how long it would take to replace all of the buttons with new ones so they would match perfectly… and after my mid store melt down I had to wait in the check out line for another 20 minutes. Because nothing is easy.

But I made it home. I added the new buttons and tightened a few of the loose ones. I didn’t worry about getting them sewn on perfectly, I’m certain that some of them will loosen again and I endure these button trials again.

The driving was all worth it, by the way. I might have preferred to have had the trips spread out a little bit, but it was honestly worth the small inconvenience to see support some people I care about.

Reasons Why I Procrastinate

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So I have a long to-do list. Infinitely long. One of the reasons that I sometimes postpone working on any of my tasks is that I don’t believe I actually have the time to accomplish the task. In the case of habitual chores, that’s generally the case. It never takes as long to wash the dishes as I expect it will; I tell myself that five minutes isn’t long enough to wash the dishes, so they sit in the sink for another night. In the case of almost every other errand, I am generally wrong and I tend to understate my time estimates.

I tried to close a bank account recently. Last summer, someone stole mail from my office building and washed any personal checks he found. After discovering that I had been a victim, I moved all of my money to a new account at a different bank. I planned to leave the original account open, with the minimum balance for a few months to make sure that there were no automatic payments I had forgotten to cancel, and to confirm that there was no more fraudulent activity.

I put off finally closing the old account for about 3 months longer than I had intended. I felt silly because I was fairly certain that this would be 2 minutes of waiting on hold followed by a 30 second conversation with a customer service rep. Maybe a full minute if they tried to give me the hard sell on leaving their bank.

No. It took me an hour on the website just to find a number I could call that got me in touch with real human customer service. I was disconnected twice. I was told conflicting information by each representative. Overall, it took me a week from start to finish, just to be satisfied that the account was actually closed, and followed by another two weeks for a confirmation notice in the mail. That sort of inefficiency makes me so angry I want to stop breathing.

I have so many examples of trying to do the right thing, trying to plan ahead, and then having my efforts backfire. I know intellectually that it’s irrational for me to expect everything to go wrong every time I try. Even if my experiences support such a pessimistic conclusion, I would still prefer to base my expectations on a more positive philosophy.

To help myself, I’m trying to explicitly think of counterexamples, a story about a time where my planning actually got me ahead. I know that these positive experiences must exist, I just don’t have them filed correctly in my mental library. I think that I’m drawing on a bastardized understanding of schematic processing here. I’m not certain if having a name for it will help me change how I’m thinking, but it certainly makes me feel less alone for having an awkward brain.

Gronk! FCBD 2015

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Despite being a little saccharine for my personal tastes, this year, my favorite book was Gronk (published by Action Lab). What I appreciated most about this story was that writer/artist Katie Cook managed to squeeze a real beginning, middle, and end into the short format without making the layouts too busy or complicated. Her skill in this regard may come from regularly working with these characters in a webcomic format. I also have to give Cook a nod for sneaking a ‘your Mom’ joke into an all ages comic. Heather Breckel layered on very fun, super saturated colors, which kept the pages looking nice and clear. Overall, it was the best quality of all the free samples I got this weekend and now I’m planning on check the webcomic version regularly.

FCBD 2015

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Free Comic Book Day is supposed to be like Christmas and Halloween combined and celebrated on the day with the nicest weather of the entire year. There are new comics to sample, there are huge sales, there is usually movie to be excited about, and there are fun crowds at the store, plus you can dress up! This should be the most wonderful day of the year. Unfortunately, each year I over anticipate and I generally come out feeling a little disappointed.

We arrived at The Senator Theater in the Belvedere Square neighborhood of Baltimore at 9am for a special free screening of The Lego Movie. The event was a fundraiser for the GEDCO CARES Food Pantry which serves the immediate neighborhood around the theater. The staff were in costume, handing out FCBD books that were provided by The Amazing Spiral and Collectors Corner. Before the movie started, the staff blasted themes from superhero movie soundtracks and encouraged all of the children in costume to play on the stage. The most popular costume of the day was actually Princess Elsa, so Marvel better get to work on those Frozen/Wolverine all ages crossover comics, ASAP. Once the movie got out, we went across the street to The Amazing Spiral where I used to “work.” I nabbed a few more FCBD books and then hit the tpb sale racks. It was exciting to be back in my old LCS, but it was too crowded and busy to catch up with my friends.

When we made it back to our new hometown, I stopped by another local comic book store. I’m not going to use names or anything, but it was a pretty bad experience. This store is generally smaller inventory and and spacewise; it’s also an awkward place to just hang around. Here I saw people taking a very efficient approach, spending very little time in the store before leaving with only their FCBD books.

I’m afraid that as the notoriety of the holiday has grown, the commercialism of the crowd has grown as well. This year, I found many of the people in the crowds I saw at both stores were focusing on the free stuff. I overheard complaints about the free stuff sucked or the free stuff isn’t as good as the normal ones. No shit. Most people seemed focused on getting in and out of the stores as quickly as possible, and I saw parents repeatedly distracting their kids from merchandise that had to be paid for.

I feel like the sales I found this year were not keeping in the spirit of the ‘holiday’ either. I believe that FCDB should be about trying new things, and sales that encourage that attitude usually revolve around the recent backstock bin. In previous years, my favorite sales backstock bag sales, where after paying $20, you could fill up a shopping bag with $1 bin backstock comics. This year, I was treated to 25% of trade paperbacks, which was great for filling out my collection, but not helpful for finding new books to try. Even at 25% off I’m not going to try only the volume 4 trade of a series I’ve never heard about, but I might spend the equivalent cash on a grab bag of random floppies.

I’m sure that in another week, I will be awash in the afterglow of having read my new comic books and will forget about my frustrations. Next year, I will try to modify my expectations accordingly, but don’t be surprised if 12 months from now I’m writing another story about chasing the comic-dragon high.

East of West but North of Nothing

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After an intense binge reread a few weeks ago, I’m finally completely up to date on the epic East of West and more in love than ever before. There is something delightfully satisfying about any media that can be consumed multiple times, where each experience actually unveils more details and connections. After my disappointing Saga reread, this was just an amazing surprise.

When the books first dropped, I would have described them primarily as ‘overwhelming’ because the reader is dropped into the middle of a world and a story already in motion. I reread that first half dozen issues dozens of times each, pouring over the pages for any possible detail that could unlock the mystery of Death and the Apocalyptic Horsemen. I’m a smart person, but I will readily admit that a lot of it didn’t really make sense.

Going back now, I understand almost every single word, I know exactly what’s going on and I can see that there was foreshadowing in almost every word. Knowing what will happen doesn’t spoil the story, somehow, it makes entrapment in the web more enjoyable.

I would say that the part which hit me the hardest on this reread was the gruesome fate of the cleric. On the first read through, I don’t think I quite made the connection between the flashbacks and his treatment and sacrifice in the present day. Also, yikes, that is gross.

Right now, I’m most curious about the implied ten year gap between the incident with Death’s family and when the horseman came back. I want to know what killed the Horsemen and how Death avoided his rebirth.

Also more Wolf and Crow. Want to see Wolf face off with the Prince.

craigslist experiment

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It doesn’t make me unique or special, but I have a few unexpected interests. Meaning, I have a few hobbies that, on a superficial level, don’t seem consistent with me personality. A good example would be knitting, which seems surprisingly domestic for a woman who is working in male dominated fields. For the record, I enjoy the simple geometry of the task, I like working on a simple project where I can watch myself make progress, and I find that knitting is a good way to come to terms with perfectionism. When you drop a stitch or something, sometimes you can unravel everything to go back and fix it, but sometimes you can just leave the error and it’s not the end of the world. I need more of those examples in my life. Knitting is good.

Really, the personal confession I make that surprises people is the Craigslist one.

The “for sale” section of Craigslist is like a virtual garage sale. At some level I like browsing this section so I can rummage through the junk people believe is still worth money. Occasionally, I actually find something I want, for example that little black leather jacket I bought for $20.

I was surprised to observed that there are a disproportionate number of women trying to sell wedding dresses on Craigslist. Many of these women either ended up buying a different dress, inherited the dress from a relative, or gained/lost weight and can’t wear the dress anymore.

When I started this game though, it seemed like there were a lot of women trying to dump dresses from canceled weddings. Simultaneously, there were a lot of men in the jewelry section trying to ditch wedding rings. You can see where I’m going with this right? You try to use the details in the different ads, to match up the couples because in these cases, they always have to slip in at least one sentence about that ass hole who canceled the wedding at the last minute.

Really though, it’s all about the MISSED CONNECTIONS. When I confess to checking the missed connections, people always giggle and wonder if it ever works. I have to say that, yes, it does work. I once saw a missed connection for myself, I responded, and I ended up as friends with the guy for a few months while he got set up at law school.It was not remotely sketchy or weird.

We were in line at a Starbucks. I said I liked his sunglasses and he let me try them on. We chatted for a few minutes and then went on our ways. He posted a missed connection where he included a sentence describing himself, a sentence describing me, a sentence explaining the day/time/location, and a title that said ‘You were trying on my sunglasses in line at Starbucks.” He invited me to meet him there a week later. He used complete sentences, appropriate punctuation and case, like a literate adult. Seriously, it was easy. So that’s my story.

Checking the missed connections is a habit I enjoy on multiple levels, aside from always secretly looking for myself.

First, these ads are always hilarious. The content, the grammar errors, and the blind optimism are all usually ridiculous. I think that my case with the law student was sort of an exception because most people are terribly deluded about their relative importance in the world.

The person writing the ad frequently assumes that chance meeting was significant in the life of the person his is seeking out. “Our eyes met in the parking lot and it was magical.”

The person writing the ad sometimes just describes themselves in (flattering terms). I think that this is maybe just a fishing strategy. Somewhere their mind is plotting, “Well, I know I looked hot today, I bet someone checked me out somewhere. I’ll just be vague so that this ad could be for anyone.”

The person writing the ad usually expects the target to include some detail in the response. “Tell me what type of shoes you were wearing so I know it’s you.”

I also love when the ad includes a good reason why he never approached the target. “You had a wedding ring and you were cramming your 4 children into a minivan, but DAMN I need to see your butt in yoga pants again, so I thought I would try a stupid ad.”

On another level though, there is useful information to be extracted from the missed connections. In aggregate, missed connections tell you something about the area where you’re living. The ads frequently include the popular places for locals to spend time; the best restaurants, the Sheetz gas station with the lowest prices, the trendy coffee shop where the cute art students hang out. This is all crucial information for someone new to the area.

So I played a game on there recently. I posted a generic missed connection for no one and waited to see what types of responses I might get. The message was partly inspired by frustrations with an old friend of mine, but it was really just the most generic teenage drama soap opera-y thing I could think of.

I wish that I could have a simple conversation with you.

No matter how I preface my words, you will read into everything I say too much.

You will especially read into the words I don’t say, and you will see whatever you want in the infinite unspoken possibilities.

That is the real reason that we’re never going to speak again, because you never listen.

I got about three dozen responses (so far, it’s been about a month and I’m still getting emails). I wish that I had kept some of messages, but I deleted them all almost immediately so that I wouldn’t be tempted to respond to the worst of them.

There was a lot of anger. There was a lot of irony, in responses that ignored the content of the post. There were a few thoughtful challenges.

“How can someone read into your words without hearing them?” I really like that thought, because I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how to be a better listener. This question helped me come up the following theory.

Theory on Listening Listening to another human is a lot like being a scientist who ‘listens to the universe.’ In both cases, the point, the underlying purpose, is to uncover some truth that allows you make predictions about the future. When you listen to someone, the best way to prove that you have understood his words is to make a prediction, by saying or doing something, with the information that has been provided. If your prediction is correct, then he will be pleased with the outcome and your hypothesis will be confirmed.

So when I say that someone can read into words too deeply, what I really mean is that it’s possible to draw the wrong conclusion from the available information and to then ignore all feedback that the hypothesis was incorrect.

Stupid example. You tell a story about your DVD player breaking while you’re trying to watch your favorite movie. You complain about needing to buy a new DVD player. Your friend decides to buy you a new copy of your favorite movie. That’s really sweet and unexpected, and it proves that he heard part of the conversation, but what you really needed was a new DVD player. You explain this, but a few days later he asks if you have watched the movie yet. When you say “No I still need to get a new DVD player,” he says “I’m sorry, I thought for some reason, you really liked that movie.” Obviously, someone is hearing the words, but not listening.

Anyways, if I get anymore particularly thoughtful responses that don’t involve the c-word I might post them, but until then I’m considering my curiosity sated.

Saga #26 : ‘But Really’

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For my favorite comics that are ongoing, I usually read the last few floppies before indulging in the most recent issue. So a few nights ago, I finally rounded up the 6 most recent floppies of Saga and treated myself to a trade’s worth of reading before bed. Six monthly issues is normally a lot to read in a single sitting, but I felt like I was several issues behind. I don’t think I’ve read Saga at all this YEAR, I told my boyfriend.

I was wrong. I was completely up to date, but had forgotten which developments unfolded in each issue. My mind had compressed all of the plot from the previous year into one or two issues, assuming that there were new pieces of the story that I hadn’t seen yet. Wishful thinking.

There is some truth to the idea that you should keep an audience wanting more. BKV is doing this in Saga by giving very little at a time. I’d like to point out that East of West accomplishes the same thing with the opposite strategy. By moving very very quickly, Hickman creates longing for more information about the world. Unlike Saga, each issue of East of West includes a lot of plot so the readers might stay more satisfied. Story density also allows for a lot of re-readability in East of West.

What does comprise the plot of Saga now feels overwrought and soap opera-y with more and more characters being jammed in and little hints of new characters being blown out of proportion. I feel like this character bloat may be a symptom of the slow moving plot. Oh! People like the little seal shepherd? Yeah, let’s totally make him an ongoing character. If the series weren’t moving so slowly, I might believe that BKV was planning this out, but the slow pace of the series makes me feel like he could be adapting to feedback and losing control.

So for a lot of comics, it’s difficult to describe the premise without sounding like a lunatic. That’s generally a given law of the genre. It normally goes something like, oh well it starts out being like a crazy crime procedural thing with weird supernatural stuff happening and there’s like a government conspiracy. But really it’s about a complicated relationship between these incredibly compelling characters.

This is a crucial point though, no matter how crazy the story, there must be a ‘But Really’ moment in your explanation. Saga doesn’t have a ‘But Really’ yet. It’s still all feels like preface, it’s still all just running from different bad guys. It’s got the crazy premise down really well, but I’m not sure what it’s really about yet, and that’s partially because nothing ever happens.

Even worse than not knowing what the story is about, is that we already know some of the ending parts of Saga. Hazel keeps destroying whatever suspense we have, by chiming in with observations like ‘this is how my parents started to break up’ and ‘I’m not a savior or anything.’ Of course, I have no idea if we’re supposed to trust her as a narrator, but she’s turning into sort of a jerk about spoilers. ‘I didn’t see my Dad again for a few years.’ Great, now there’s no tension for the current storyline, maybe just a little curiosity about what happens instead. I mean, maybe this book is just a giant writing exercise by BKV, some kind of perverse dare.

I wonder which parts of a graphic novel are really important. If there is stellar artwork and character design, and the writer keeps jerking the readers around using every trick possible, how long will the audience keep reading before realizing that there is no story? Will it matter? Just keep using those cliffhanger splashes and the adulation will never stop, I guess.

FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU…..

This must be what it’s like to read a typical super hero ongoing. blahrgh.