Stolen Worlds, Instagram Hacked, and Accountability

You’ve seen these articles around the Internet for some years now. How successful they’ve been in dealing with this matter, I can’t even imagine, and I wouldn’t venture to guess. But sometimes I think there is a place for constructive thoughts, and then a place for venting – and more specifically, a public space to bring a long-standing issue to attention. 

My Instagram got hacked. 

It’s so mundane. So banal. But it’s true. On April 2, I just woke up and a friend of mine messaged me on the platform and wanted help with being voted for an influencer. It seemed pretty legitimate, even though in retrospect it was a formulaic thing. What I didn’t know was that their account had been hacked, and that they basically phished me. 

As a result, they logged me out of my account and took it over. They also enabled Two-Step Authentication and, ingeniously, they deactivated my account and then reactivated and renamed it with a downward hyphen so as to completely eliminate my ability to revert my email back to my account. Basically, what this hacker did – from my understanding and reading up on the subject – was they used a bug in the system to make sure Instagram’s system that would allow me to switch the email back to my account didn’t work. The link simply failed. This was not even fifteen minutes into realizing what happened. 

They switched our phone numbers. They enabled Two-Step authentication. And then they proceeded to use my likewise, like a parasite, like a thief, to try to sell bitcoin to my friends and followers, and also attempt to trick them into giving them their accounts as well. And believe me, I heard about it. I was told by many people, who hadn’t or didn’t read my updates, that my account got hacked.

So, obviously, I informed Instagram about it, and they authenticated me, and got it back for me in one or two days right? You know, once I told them their reversion email link didn’t work. 

Yeah. About that …

If this has happened to you, or you know someone who’s gone through this, you probably know what happened next. Or what didn’t.

When I couldn’t find the second set of security numbers for the Two-Step Authentication the hacker set up, I went to click on another way to get the information. It, of course, linked me right back to the Help Center. The Help Center is a FAQ, that basically tells you what to do, in something of a paradoxical feedback loop that basically amounts to: ask for Support, which is what I did the first couple of times. 

Eventually, I found a way to do Video Authentication. I moved my face to the left, right, up and down, and back again. The first time I did it, I heard nothing back from Instagram in two days. The rest of the times I did this, repeatedly? They “couldn’t confirm” my information. I read that perhaps it was the lighting behind the picture that was the issue, but the actual problem itself is more endemic. The thing is, on the Help Center itself, it is even admitted that Instagram has “no facial recognition software.” In other words, the only way this video will even be acknowledged is by a bot they made, or a systems operator: an actual human being. 

You cannot email Instagram. You cannot phone them either or, rather, you can but they will not transfer your call to a living, organic person. And they will always take you back to the Help Center, which will take you back to the steps that you performed, and that rejected you. At one point, I was able to receive emails from my Instagram account and I tried to reset the password. I kept receiving these emails or friend requests, as though the hacked account itself was mocking me, laughing at me at the activity being shown, but with no available way for me to enter it again. It was getting under my skin.

I found a way to contact Facebook by explaining that my account was hacked. Facebook – or Meta – owns Instagram, and they told me to write some numbers they sent me on a piece of paper, with my name and user name, and send it back to them as a JPEG. I did that. They didn’t contact me for two days. I sent it again. They replied by … you guessed it: sending me back to the Help Center, which is a lot like the Muppet’s Happiness Hotel: in that I wish I could run away from it in the middle of the night, and it scares me to think about what the Sadness Hotel might look like. 

It’s been almost a month. I had my friends and followers Report the account to Instagram. Apparently you need over ten reports to get them to look into the matter systemically. I say apparently because originally I thought after over ten, the account would get locked down, and deleted. I suppose I was wrong, as to this very day my former account is still active and attempting to spread bitcoin and phishes all the way up the wazoo: using my likeness with my links to my writing, my online presence, and this very Blog to do so. 

I think about it, after I eventually put Instagram’s emails to my address into Spam from my former account. All of this could have been avoided if a flesh and blood, live person existed for customer service, like every other organization possesses. This would have been intolerable for a bank. Or any other business. Now, the thing is, a lot of people will add: well, Matthew Instagram is a free service, and you get what you pay for – which is nothing. What did you expect?

And I will tell you, right off the bat, that Instagram is paid for by something. Ad revenue, financial backing, a whole ton of resources and methods I lack the ability or acumen or really the patience to lay out. But someone, or something, funds Instagram, and Facebook, and every free social media platform. And it markets itself as being convenient, free, and accessible. And only two of these qualities, I’ve found, are true. 

Don’t misunderstand. What the hacker did to me was wrong. It was thievery. It was manipulation, and theft. But Instagram’s inability, or systemic apathy in dealing with the issue – which could have been resolved if I’d been able to interact with a living person who could have easily determined I was a living being and not a non-sapient robot – is just as responsible, if not more so for this entire state of affairs. The utter lack of accountability here is not only infuriating, but it is frightening.

Think about it: you are using a free program online, or even a paid one with a Terms of Service that is arcane and would take a legal expert to even begin to fully understand. One day, you get hacked. And you realize that, unlike a bank or business that would shut that down almost immediately and get you to confirm changes in details, you are shut out. You can’t contact Support by email. You can’t phone them. You are utterly stuck. The best you can do is keep Reporting them, or attempt to persist in verifying yourself over, and over, and over again only to have some arbitrary system not be able to confirm your identity when you know that all you need is one person – one staff member – to simply see you move and hold a number – and it would be over. Just like that. 

And if you know someone at Instagram, or Facebook, or you are a major influencer, you might have a chance. And there is nothing fair, or accessible about that. But what troubles me more is while the images I have, and the interactions I’ve had with my friends and followers on there mean a lot to me, it’s the utter lack of following up on Reporting problematic accounts that gets to me. The day that account got over ten complaints should have been the end of it. I would have settled for having that account deleted. Hell, if a nipple had appeared in my images on that account, I am pretty sure Instagram would have neutralized it almost immediately. At one point, when I still owned it – before it was stolen from me – I was having a comments discussion exchanging Scott Pilgrim quotes with a dear friend of mine, only for Instagram to delete one of my comments because of “hate speech” or “violence.” So basically Instagram’s algorithm is effective in censoring a fictional comment, but when an account gets hacked and spreads malware, phishing, and spam, that is somehow okay?

You’ve, no doubt by now, seen a million of these Instagram hacked articles and all the ways it can – and can’t – be dealt with. I am not providing answers. I am just trying to provide a human face to this, and perhaps even show someone working for Instagram the frustration, and the price involved when someone exploits this system, and no one takes steps to deal with it.

Many of these exploits have existed since 2017, when I’ve looked for similar complaints and solutions online. And those are the ones that I’ve found. How many people just gave up? I have pictures of my grandmother’s things – my grandmother who passed away in October. I have images of friends, family, and loved ones. I have had creators – writers and actors and directors – reference me, and that handle, for some of my writing. My Instagram gradually, and perhaps reluctantly on my part, became a part of my online footprint. I was lucky in that I had a friend who screen-captured all of my contacts and I was able to find them again. Otherwise, I’d not be able to even communicate with them. One person on that platform, a friend of mine, has terminal cancers, and that platform is how we primarily communicated and how I knew about her health. 

I can go on. But I know another fact in this situation. Drawing attention to the fall and corruption of my account, and Instagram’s lack of action in dealing with it, also attracts scavengers. You would not believe how many people on my public social media platforms have suggested “counter-hackers” or names, and phone numbers of people who can “help me” as they admit Instagram will do nothing to help in the situation. Getting those comments are pretty much another form of spam in and of itself. 

For me, it’s a rude awakening. It’s one of those moments when you realize that the Emperor has no clothes. It’s worse than the Myth of Sisyphus or Tantalus where the cycle is more than just one of futility, or even having something valuable inches away from you, only to be taken away. It’s that time when you realize that it isn’t so much that God is dead, as it is that They have never existed in this space, and what you have is a bureaucratic, convoluted labyrinth that leads into itself and nowhere, and you will get lost and helpless there fast. Because this isn’t just Instagram that doesn’t seem to have a systems operator there. No angels. No gods. It’s Facebook too. It’s all of them.

And all it will take is one bad day, one poor decision, one exploit, and the next thing you know you are locked out of something that should be trivial to retrieve again. And, unless you are rich or a legal expert, or popular — or all of the above – you will be outside the doors of the thing you helped create, and you will not be able to get back inside as some criminal trashes everything you made, or uses what’s within to do it to your friends and loved ones. And there is no magistrate. And no justice. There is no authority to help you, and everything almost seems senseless afterwards, with not even a single person with which to vent your anger: making it easy to have your concerns and rage gaslit away. 

What you have is this online world of free applications that do incredible things that have little to no accountability attached to them unless you have the temporal power-base, and backing, to get it back. What should be just a minor inconvenience, can easily become something worse. And as these applications grow in power, and popularity, this lack of accountability while people keep supporting them terrifies me far more than any one hacker ever could. 

So if you are on Instagram, for what it’s worth, Report mkirsh3__. That isn’t my place anymore. The hacker made sure of that through their malicious actions. And Instagram made sure of it too through its negligence and lack of action. Maybe I can get enough attention on my former account, and Instagram, to make a difference: or to make their lives as inconvenient, and as stressful as they’ve made mine. It is infuriating to feel so helpless over something that shouldn’t be that big a deal: but it is.

It is a big deal when someone steals something you made, and uses it to try to steal others’ works as well, and misrepresent you, and use your likeness to do so. They have tried to infiltrate your world, such as it is, online. And Instagram, you had years to fix these exploits, or hire live systems operators. You need to do better. You are not accessible. And this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. And I hope you will deal with this matter, and so many others, and take the time and responsibility you need to make your platform a better experience for your users. Please, do better. 

And I also hope that everyone else finds a way to make Instagram, and Facebook and other platform entities accountable for their actions, or inactions, with regards to their users.

I have said my piece here. I wish I had a place to Report Instagram or Facebook themselves, but this is the next best thing. Something needs to hold them accountable, or make potential users hesitate before ever using their services. And I’ve done what I could. 

A Life Writing Update

I’m glad I was able to open up with a review on this Blog again, never mind it being something of a short article on superhero media.

It’s been a minute. Or a century.

I just thought it might be nice to sit down with you, those that still follow this Blog where I basically free-wheel my writing, and tell you where I have been these days, where I am planning to go, where I want to be, and possibly where I might go regardless. 

As of this writing, I’m going to be forty soon. I was thirty years old when I first started Mythic Bios, back in 2012. I am not where I wanted to be, then, but to be honest I didn’t exactly know where I was going to be in any case. What can I tell you? Since I began this Blog, inspired by the written notebooks I used to keep – and need to keep again – I got published online, and offline, explored some independent scenes, went to New Orleans, went to a Learning Disabilities Workshop, and explored different parts of my life.

And now we are here, still in the Pandemic, and yet somehow life still goes on.

It’s been challenging. Three shots in, and a Trans-European conflict, several relationships gone, one partner deceased, and finding out things that I like – and don’t like – about myself, and what I’ve done, or haven’t done, and I can say for sure that these two years really haven’t been how I wanted to spend the last of my thirties. 

But I’ve done a lot too.

I created my Horror Doctor Blog, which I have mentioned before, and myself covering Creepshow there a great deal. Some horror luminaries even follow me. I’ve met friends from socializing on social media with fellow fans of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In, and we have watchalongs, and discussions, and even some Twitch streams. I don’t do as much writing as I would like, but I socialize more now even not going out as often anymore, but I feel that is important: to maintain those connections during this time of change. 

And I even submitted a writing about my experience with Lovecraft to Bobby Derie’s Deep-Cuts Blog. There are probably more things I’ve done too, but I think what I want to really write about is on the employment front. 
A few weeks ago, almost a month now, a friend of mine name-dropped me to their video game studio: where I got a chance to submit a Writing Test to become their narrative designer. I spent a good couple of days working with their prompts, choosing a story arc idea, fleshing out the first part of it, and creating items: including weapons, furniture, and armour. Many of these items were two that needed to be combined into three. I came up with a good plot and a twist, and not only submitted it all on time, but even rewrote elements to make the plot and momentum flow better.

Unfortunately, the studio decided to go with another candidate.

I don’t know how many you have been following this Blog long, but I have been trying to gain regular employment as a writer for some time. And eventually, due to time and also the current zeitgeist of the world, I stopped looking regularly. I’ve had some freelancing jobs in the past, but they have not paid much, if anything at all. And I suffer from anxiety and depression. So for me to submit something, and put all that work into having it seen was a big deal, and I felt like the universe was finally going to give me a break.

And that didn’t happen.

It would have been nice to have a remote job doing something that I am genuinely good at, and to have some gainful income. Then afterwards, someone came forward and offered to look at my work, claiming they were also working for a studio. I have not heard back from them, and I will assume that it didn’t work out, but what they did inspire me to do was put together a Writer’s Portfolio: which I have made into a Page on this Blog now. I may modify and change it as I have friends who are generous, and who I have done work for, that might be able to help me make it fancier, or add more detail.

Sometimes, it’s like what they say about North Americans acting like they are temporarily inconvenienced millionaires: that awkward place between musical chairs where you are caught out of it and everyone else has one, but you. Yet I know a lot of us are in the same boat, and some of us for quite some time. At least I have some more experience now, and I have some more of a foundation of things from which to start looking again for what I know in my bones I can do.

In 2019 I started Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass, and I continued it in 2021 despite everything. I stopped at a rewriting assignment, as I hate rewriting but I have been doing it more besides. It’s been a learning curve, and I hope to get back to this so that I can also continue writing the original work I’d talked about ages ago: the series that I was well into before starting that Masterclass, and – well – another phase of life.

There are so many things I want to do, but I am only one person, and my focus has changed. In some ways I can multitask a great deal, as long as they are all different actions. I miss being able to sit with a fanfic, and just spend most if not all my time developing it to where it needs to be. I am not the same person I was when I started this Blog, or even before it. But you know, that’s okay. That is to be expected.

An alien once said that we all change, and they were right. We are all in process. We all lose things along the way, and we gain them too. It’s navigating all of that which is the challenge. I kept meaning to come back, and talk about this. I’ve been both demoralized, but also encouraged. Having hope snatched away, when it was so close again, is infuriating, and tremendously disappointing, but it can also ignite a righteous fury, a determination to do what you need to do, and even a serenity and clarity to slowly find that entry through the hedge maze that you didn’t see before.

The point is, I will continue doing this. And learning from it. It is a struggle, but I am still going. I hope that you will all do the same. Take care all.

Also, here is my Writer’s Portfolio. Please have a look, if you are interested.

Pleading the Fifth: The Rocky V of the Family

Another surprise Mythic Bios post. And I can make a pun about boxes and boxers in the light of the upcoming solstice, but I’ll spare you those gifts – or not – and get to the main attraction.

Mythic Bios Verses Rocky V.

Now, in its heyday Mythic Bios mainly looked at mythological and geeky things, but before I go into too many tangents, I will reiterate the fact that I like to look at how stories are made, built on each other, how they have continuity with one another (or as the wise ItsJustSomeRandowGuy liked to say in his skits “Continuity – Boom!”), and how they change over time. I mainly like to look at how legacies are created: whether they are intended to be so beyond the auspices of a franchise, or not. 

I have had one, or two, partners that have jokingly invoked the American Fifth Amendment in not incriminating themselves over something they will, or might say. I guess I am doing it much the same way as I talk about the fifth movie in a series that many people do not want to exist. It is understandable, After Rocky’s legendary, even mythic, defeat of Ivan Drago in light of Apollo’s death – only to have him lose all of his property because of Paulie’s mismanagement, and then having potentially fatal brain damage, and he and his family moving back to their working class roots was a little much. I mean, look at Adrian: do you really think someone with her shrewd, calculating mind would let freaking Paulie manage their family’s resources.

No. No she would not.

It was a bit of a spectacle even beyond that, — though there is always some spectacle with these films — with George Washington Duke constantly and cartoonishly being in Rocky’s face that made Apollo’s theatrics look tame by comparison. And then a street brawl where Rocky has to fight despite having a life threatening condition – contradicting the reason he couldn’t compete anymore to begin with – and, well …

Rocky V was a mess.

Yet, there was something in it that stuck with me: an element that could have translated well into future movies: even Rocky Balboa and the Creed films. 

I’m not a sportsman. I was always a stereotypical, uncoordinated, skinny geek. But that’s not what Rocky was about. Hell, you can make the argument that Karate Kid wasn’t even about karate. Rather, both series were about individuals defying the odds and finding their place, evolving and adapting to their circumstances, to achieve something with the power of community on their sides. And both series, Karate Kid’s sequel series Cobra Kai, and Rocky’s successor Creed honour where they came from, and who was in them, and they build from them new stories, and worlds. This is what mythic world-building has always been for me: building on the old, to continue it, and also adding a new slant or narrative. This is one reason why I covered Cobra Kai on this Blog.

This is why I’m looking at Rocky right now. 

In all the other Rocky films, we see a man overcoming all of these detriments: his age, his partially blind eye, his preconceptions, his grief, and his own personal demons to victory in the term of – again – coming to grips with his own flaws, and time. In the first film, Rocky deals with the potential he left behind while facing down the reigning Champion in Apollo Creed. In the second film, he adapts to his injured eye and proves to himself that he is – and deserves to be – the Champion when he faces a Creed that is serious. By the third film, Rocky has to deal with his mentor Mickey Goldmill’s death, and having his confidence shattered by too much fame, and an aggressive but serious asshole named Clubber Lang. It is under Apollo, his former enemy turned friend that he learns how to exercise in different ways, and regain his fighting spirit. And by the fourth movie, what could easily have been a propaganda film about East versus West, the Soviet Union versus the United States, Russia versus America, or revenge for the death of his friend Apollo Rocky goes through almost a shamanic journey linking to the land in Siberia to defeat Ivan Drago, and have one last truly legendary fight against a monster. 

So where do you go from there? I mean, the easy answer is you skip the mess of a fifth movie – pleading ignorance, or protection for even thinking about it existing – and look at Rocky Balboa: at a man grieving his wife’s death, and his sense of aging, and having one last great fight before gracefully stepping away to the sunset, and welcoming and training the next Champion. 

I always wondered what would have happened if Rocky had been training all the ways he did when he was a younger man: before he left and became a reluctant enforcer. Would he have been an even better fighter? But that is irrelevant, because every encounter he had in these films and in this narrative determined the lessons he would learn, and eventually apply to his life. Rocky learned everything when he needed it. And I think there was a lesson, in the much maligned fifth film, that could have developed his character further.

His mistakes.

Many fans have hard feelings towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not a great sentence to continue this, especially with that film’s many flaws, but one thing that always gets me – and it is always tied to the Hero’s Journey – is that you have a hero’s mistakes, and you have a master’s mistakes. The hero gets older, and can’t journey anymore. At least, they can’t do it in the same way. So all they can do is see the next generation, and pass on what they have learned. And, sometimes, that hero is still young, and they think they can teach or guide someone as well as their mentors did for them. That is less Last Jedi, and more the Old Trilogy, and Rocky was made during the zeitgeist of that time: when Star Wars was at its height. And make no mistake: Rocky was a hero’s journey movie: with someone starting off small and working their way through a larger world, and finding themselves. 

I think what intrigues me so much about Rocky V is Rocky being a trainer. A teacher. A manager. He wanted to pass on his knowledge to someone who would appreciate it. He wanted to help someone much in the way he desperately wished someone would have stepped out, and helped him. You know, for all Mickey did volunteer his services, it was only when Rocky got that offer to fight Apollo Creed: even if Mickey had believed in Rocky’s abilities, and had been furious with him squandering them. I just saw Rocky wanting to give a young man, still not ground down by the world, perhaps a little rough around the edges, a chance. Rocky always wants to give people chances. Look at Spider, the first person we ever see him fighting on a lower level, and “Little Marie” – who ain’t so little when we see her in Balboa – and he offers them jobs at his restaurant. And how many times did Rocky bail out Paulie’s dysfunctional, tortured ass? 

So I like the idea that Rocky did encounter, and train, Tommy Gunn. I like the idea that he was, in a way, Rocky’s Jungian Shadow: reflecting that need to fight at all costs, and that where Rocky has heart, Tommy only wants power and glory, and has no ties to anyone. It’s heartbreaking, when you think about it. Like, imagine Mickey taking Rocky under his wing, and Rocky utterly betraying him, and smearing him: letting outside forces corrupt him and blind him to the truth of the sanctity of the spiritual fight? Or at least disrespecting tradition, history, and his own skills.

What happened with Rocky and Tommy, and even Washington is basically Obi-Wan Kenobi dealing with Anakin Skywalker getting corrupted by Palpatine. Only, it’s more messed up in that Washington only ever cared for dealing with Rocky’s image and getting that fight from him with one of his agents, and didn’t care about Tommy at all: just using him to hurt Rocky. And unlike Obi-Wan, Rocky has his family: he has Adrian, his son Robert, and even Paulie. And this isn’t even mentioning his own community. 

I know that Sylvester Stallone had Rocky IV remastered, making a director’s cut, but what about Rocky V? There might be issues with regards to deceased or aging actors, but there are effects to de-age them, or perhaps others scenes that were deleted – and not the ones like Little Marie being married to a drug-dealer: which I’m glad got cut.

So I guess the question is: how would I remaster Rocky V, and put it back in the continuity?

Well, it’s difficult. I think it should have been some time after Rocky IV. I don’t see Rocky losing his fortune, especially as he is high profile with the US government after his victory over Drago, and the people love him. I do think he would be done with fighting, and want to spend time with his family. I like the idea that he still has trouble relating to Robert, as he was always out fighting, and now that he’s there and around, there is a class and cultural difference between them as Robert has gone to some high level schools. And maybe, the issue after a while is Rocky feeling this sense of alienation. He doesn’t have Mickey or Apollo around anymore. He doesn’t fight. He’s a bit aimless. And he feels like people venerate him, and it makes him uncomfortable. He just did what he had to do in Apollo’s memory. That was it. He fought because he needed to, but now he doesn’t know where to put any of that energy, and he has trouble relating to those around him: even Paulie, and Adrian.

I am toying with the idea that this is where Adrian gets sick. She isn’t dying, but this makes Rocky want to take her and the family back to the old neighbourhood in Philadelphia. They sell off their mansion, which they don’t need anymore as Robert is older now, and Adrian never had much of a use for that property anyway. There is a good hospital for her, but she also wants Rocky to find his purpose beyond taking care of her. She wants to fight, like he does, and she doesn’t want him spending all of his waking moments at her bedside like he had in the second film. So he reopens Mighty Mickey’s gym, finds the old crowd, and starts training again: the legend having returned home, and to his roots.

This is around where he meets Tommy Gunn, and sees a lot of himself in him. Robert doesn’t understand this neighbourhood, and he wants nothing to do with fighting or anything of that kind. When I was younger, I wanted Robert to be the next champion: but this difference between father and son works better for me now. Rocky doesn’t have to be a hereditary legacy, and it isn’t if you consider Mickey and Apollo’s influence on Rocky. But I would keep Washington trying to lure Rocky out of retirement, and then targeting Tommy: who has had a history of being a drifter with anger-management issues.

I just like the focus to be Rocky not seeing Tommy as an accident waiting to happen, and also not relating to his son, and the tension where he focuses on Adrian and Tommy and nothing else. And it all degenerates much as it did in that first film. And Adrian wants Rocky and Robert to have a better relationship in case she isn’t around anymore. Everyone can see that Tommy is bad news, and even Tommy – despite initially wanting to do right by Rocky – succumbs to his worst impulses. 

In the end, when Tommy attacks Paulie, that’s pretty much it. A rabid dog has to be put down. Rocky realizes, then and there, that he has to live now, and not try to put his glory days in another. He also comes to the understanding that Tommy was never a younger version of him, that he already has a son, and he needs to protect his family – and the sanctity of the sport he bled for. For this film, Adrian would go into remission at the end, and Rocky and the rest know the fight will continue. Always.

By the time of Creed, Rocky doesn’t want to try to train another student. He remembers Gunn, and the mistake he had been, and more than that, the mistakes he made. He thought he could train Gunn as well as Mickey and Apollo and Duke. He was wrong. But despite what people said about Luke Skywalker not being a good teacher, people like him and Rocky, and Daniel LaRusso all learned from being heroes and protagonists. And I think Rocky honouring Creed’s father, and Creed himself, would be a great step: and in that restored continuity, Rocky – having given up on Mickey’s Gym (passing it onto Duke perhaps) and making Adrian’s restaurant instead – he trains someone else right. If Gunn was Rocky’s Darth Vader, then Creed would be his Luke Skywalker, minus the dying part.

It’s not perfect, and please don’t judge me on it,  but this is my long way of stating that I liked the idea of Rocky being a failed teacher who ultimately remembers what is important in life, and then later redeeming even that and becoming a great manager. We always live legacies, and mythologies. And while this rewrite would probably be a tall order, it is nice to think about. And I look forward to seeing where the next creative struggle – the next fight – leads.

My Curve

My tagline should become “it’s been a while.”

I find so many ways of saying the same thing. It’s been a hard couple of months. Sometimes, it feels like it’s been a thousand years, though I have also read some writers stating that this period in our history is an eternal present: an in-held breath that keeps going until, inevitably, there will be a release of some kind.

In my personal life, I’ve been having something of the same process. March 13 was the last time I’d been downtown. I knew about the pandemic and the quarantine on March 11, but a few days later I went back to my parents’ place, and knew I would be going into hermit-mode again.

I had few illusions about that. I knew it would be more than two or three weeks of quarantine. It was hard in the beginning as I had been going out more. For the first week, I didn’t go outside at all: not even for a walk. I had this plan that I would not go outside at all until all of this was over, or even past it. I’ve gone long stretches of time without going out of my house or wherever I was living, and I thought to go back to it. I lasted over a week like that, before it got too much.

After that, was a string of misfortunes. The end of a relationship, and the death of a pet. Even then, I felt like I was accepting that something was changing, that I was at a shift — or we were at a shift — that once it was done we would never be the same again. And just when I felt like I was beginning to be free, to shed that past dead weight, everything else went side-ways, as a friend of mine used to say.

When Kaarina passed away, I was in this twilight place. I’d known beforehand, as I already wrote about I’m sure, but I was going to bed at seven or eight in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I was talking on the phone, or online in an almost drunken manner. Sometimes I could focus, and other times I was out in my own world. It was just these glittering pieces in the dark, metaphorically speaking. I felt both detached, and angry, drifting, and sad. I kept a list in my head of things I wanted to do, or say to people, before the pandemic and I fulfilled them slowly over that time as I began to become more stable again.

I talked with my therapist on the phone, something I should continue to do. My friends have been going through their own losses as well. It’s like the darkest, suckiest stuff that was waiting to happen before the pandemic decided since things were already bad they’d might as well all come out to play.

During this time, I wrote some stuff about Kaarina, did some roleplays with my friends that still can online, and not much else. I marathoned Freeform’s Sirens for a while, and then continued watching Motherland: Fort Salem. I know that for a while, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, especially in the beginning month of all this — suffocation and being terrified of getting sick. Sometimes, I still cycle through that, and there might be some medical issues I will have to deal with that aren’t related to the plague.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Once the suffocation, the anxiety, the despair, the empty feeling, the frenzied feeling, all wore off it began to level out. To meet a curve if you want to borrow a popular phase now.

One day, I found out Joe Bob Briggs’ and Shudder’s The Last Drive-In was coming back. I’d missed the last season, as that had been another year of turmoil. I did catch one part where one of the Halloween films was being played, and I had created a theory on Twitter that Dr. Loomis had experimented on Michael Myers already altered physiology and psychology, and that was the reason he wanted to kill him so badly. It never get quoted on the show, but I had fun that night. I’d heard of Joe Bob from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre channel ages before, and I had to check it out. Also, Diana Prince — who plays Darcy the Mailgirl — was someone I’d started interacting with on Twitter and Instagram along with other fans from time to time.

My usual D&D game days are cancelled for the foreseeable future, and I am obviously not breaking quarantine. I decided to experiment and watch an entire run of The Last Drive-In. I liked the format of the first episode in Season One, with the film Tourist Trap with a telekinetic who likes to create wax beings, and I wanted to see what a live marathon would be like while live-Tweeting.

It was hard. I didn’t pace myself, and there were no commercial breaks. I admit that while I had fun that first episode, the five hours locked my body down, and I didn’t feel well. I considered just seeing one part of the episode next time, and looking at the rest when recorded on Shudder. But then, the next week came and after having most of my food, and some commercial breaks, as well as knowing when take some of my own, I did much better. I absolutely loved Maniac with those creepy mannequins, and it was the first time I’d seen Heathers: and I adored it.

This past week, there was Brain Damage and Deep Red as well, the former I surprisingly enjoyed and make a few good one-liners on Twitter. Deep Red was harder to follow, and I tried to make sense of it, and … maybe one day I might. I really liked interacting with the other fans on Twitter, and just the feeling of watching something, some ridiculous, sometimes awesome films with people while listening to Joe Bob’s anecdotes and facts. I don’t agree with everything Joe Bob says, and certainly I know that I loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night more than he seemed to in the earlier seasons — though I do have a weakness to towards “art-films” — but I can appreciate what he brings to the show.

I just, for a few moments, not only did I recapture what it was like to watch strange films, horror movies, with friends, but to have it at a fixed point, to come to that time and actually accomplish it. I know the show is on from 9 pm to 2 am on Friday evenings, and I attend them and get through it, and even interact. It’s a combination of observation, entertainment, writing, and socializing with a good meal. And it helps. It helps to feel that sense of accomplishment in doing that, and that sense of positive reinforcement.

And, whenever I watch The Last Drive-In, or any horror films, I feel like I am watching them with Kaarina: for the two of us. We used to go to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival together, and then watch Twilight Zone before bed. And I curated a whole Shudder account for her when she was in a medically-induced coma in hopes of presenting it to her when she woke up from that surgery. I think it even still exists somewhere on Shudder. I also felt like, for a moment, that I was watching horror movies with my friends again after almost two decades.

It must sound strange, to want to watch things for someone who can’t anymore, but I take comfort wherever I can, and I won’t knock this.

It’s been around this point that I began writing again. I was already feeling the need to return back to the work I began about a year ago, before real life came in. I was so busy going out and socializing that a lot of it fell to the way side to gather dust. And then, the pandemic and all these personal losses accrued. I think it also helps that I don’t feel the pressure of not having a job or still living at home, as I know many people are facing similar situations due to the current crisis. Surprisingly, I’m less hard on myself: even though I still need to sleep properly.

I feel like I could spend more time writing and reading and watching films than interacting with people as much now, but I know there are people in my life that check in on me. I’m definitely not the same as I was before March, and I know I won’t be after all of this is over or at least stabilized. I learned a lot about other people during this time. And about myself.

Right now, I am writing fanfiction but I am thinking about going back to a possible collaboration idea, and that Lovecraft work of mine. I know this seemingly limitless time is an illusion. It will end, one way or another. Life likes to change. I am going to just do the best I can, and I feel like I want to do it again.

It’s late now, for a change. I want to write down one or two more things before this night is out. I don’t know how I will deal with things when they open up again outside, but I can’t really think about that right now. All I can do is enjoy what I have now. That is all I can do.

I’m glad that you can all join me on this venture. I might add another entry after this one. It’s been a while since I’ve done something like that. Until then, my friends.

Another Year

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. That’s a sentence I’ve said a lot when posting on this Blog these days.

But I thought I would come here this morning, and write something as it is an appropriate day. It’s my birthday today. By the time you read this post, I will now be thirty-eight years old. And since I am now one year older, I thought I’d look at where I am now and update you on what is going on, and what I am doing.

My social life has, well, opened up a great deal. Before the crisis with the coronavirus, I was going outside a lot more, socializing, spending time at Storm Crow Manor, and exploring a whole new part of Toronto: a section of it that was new to me, and one I had began to travel on my own. I’ve enjoyed the Manor, as well as Craig’s Cookies, and I have been considering doing more things.

It’s been a far cry from the time when I would lie in my bed and essentially spend most of my days and nights on my laptop, just existing, hoping nothing would tip the delicate balance, in that state of tension and anxiety. I still have to deal with the latter, of course, but I find when I am doing stuff and actually going out and focusing on other matters, it helps. It helps to facilitate that place where I am not as much in my mind.

I have also slowly been cultivating various friends, and contacts. I know it’s not something that can happen all at once, and I’ve realized that having an extrovert or two as a friend is a boon, even as I can help other introverts who aren’t as comfortable with “party manners” to socialize as well, and traverse the city with me. There was a two week or so period where I was outside a great deal — even making cookies for the first time in over a decade for an event — and I also got a considerable amount of work done.

As usual, I have not finished or even in some cases continued the creative projects that I had sought to undertake, though some still remain in the queue. I have been meaning to get back to writing a piece of fanfiction for a friend’s comic, exploring that world with similar themes, but from different perspectives. I have an Alternative Facts story or two that I want to get out there, which I suspect I’ve mentioned here before. There is also the Lovecraft Mythos story I want to compile out of my notes on paper and from my phone, and send it somewhere: possibly for some grants and scholarships, and a writer’s retreat program.

But I have mostly been writing in roleplays. I am doing a group game where I am a bard, which I am sure I have mentioned before, a Vampire: The Masquerade solo game with one of my partners, and now another D&D game that is set in the plane of Gehena. That last game is something special to me. I mean, all three of them are in different ways. I am mostly the Game Master of the Vampire game, and I create epic level songs and manipulations as my bard in the other.

But in the Gehena game, it hearkens back to when my friend and I — who is GMing this campaign — to the days in our early twenties, even earlier into our teens, when we would play in the sandboxes he created after school and all night. Because of life circumstances, we play these games all on Roll 20, with some help from DnD Beyond, and Discord. But my friend is combining elements of the group game, and my solo game with him together as they belong in a shared universe of our creation: just in different realms. I can’t wait to see the plot points converge, or run parallel.

I don’t know, I just feel like when I roleplay I’m … doing something. I’m helping to shape a world with my actions and consequences. My decisions matter. And it is close to what I always wanted to do with my friends: to create a world and game together. Once, I wanted us to work together: to create games that we would sell. It was a dream of mine, of ours, and I guess if you hold some stock with horoscopes as a Pisces it makes sense that I would be enamoured with playing in, and creating, a world of dreams. Or nightmares.

Really, aside from my socializing and the potential and energy I get from those interactions — as well as meeting new and awesome people — these role-plays are some of the things that excite me the most. They always have.

It’s not been easy for me. For almost a decade, I felt like I was asleep for the most part. I’d been depressed and anxious and holding onto attachments that were long past their time. I’m not magically cured, of course, and I know how any of these elements can quickly change especially in these uncertain times.

It’s been a bit sad knowing I would go back to being inside more often again, though hopefully it won’t be forever, and the current health situation — this pandemic — can be dealt with. I’ll also admit that I have stretched myself out a great deal, perhaps even over-extended my attention. I need to work on sleeping, which I am failing at right now even as I write to you. I should also rest more and take the time to spend it with those that have gone out of their way to do so with me, even if it can only be audio or video at the moment.

In the end, it’s funny. I went to a person once, who told me that I will lose people, but I should not take for granted the people who are still here, and love me. It’s hard, but I should listen to them. I did lose some connections, over the years, some more recently than others. But in a way, they have made me reevaluate and look at the interactions I do still have, and want to take the time to make sure I know where I stand with them and vice-versa.

I am getting better at standing up for myself. For respecting for myself. For watching for those who do not respect me. I have changed since 2012, when I first started this Blog. Where I go is beyond me. I have been thinking about doing some volunteer work, to get out of the house when that is sensible to do so, of course. And I know I am building something, in this life, I just … don’t know what it is yet. But I do think that the social aspect is important.

Perhaps, now, at this time is the moment to really focus on what it is I’m looking for, to enjoy what I have, to take care of myself, and to see where I go from there.

I’m not where I thought I would be at thirty-eight. Some of that is disappointing, but other parts of it have exceeded expectations. I’ve realized it is possible to be sad and joyful at the same time. It’s what I need to do with that energy that is the question.

Some of you have been reading my work, followed me, and have even been my friends — and more — for a long time. Some of you have changed along with me. Some of you aren’t here anymore. But I want to thank you, for taking the time you had, and have, and spending it with me: even by reading this long, rambling journal post.

Like I said, I don’t know where I am going to be. Or what will happen. But I hope I can make the momentum, and use it, to do something really constructive, and satisfying to me and the people that I care about.

In the meantime, I think I will use some of that time to go get some rest. So much for my birthday present being an early bedtime. This was longer than I thought it would be. Always famous last words, for one thing or another. ;p

Until another time, my friends. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

What Is Really Challenging: Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi

The Rise Of Skywalker, supposedly the last of the mainline Star Wars saga is coming soon. And even so, people are still talking about Rian Johnson, and The Last Jedi. Even me. There is something about the eighth Star Wars film, and Rian Johnson’s own responses to fans that I’ve tried to explain, and put into words.

I mean, I even wrote an article for Sequart on The Last Jedi itself, and while it isn’t perfect, I knew the moment I saw it, it was going to become a classic: if only because of how controversial it was, how final it felt, and jarring, and experimental in some ways, while being conventional in others.

Then, I came across this article from IndieWire. It’s title is practically a thesis statement, and it doesn’t hide what it is: Rian Johnson Says Catering to Fans, Rather Than Challenging Them, Is a ‘Mistake.’ This title, combined with the subheading “I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard,” left me with quite a few strong thoughts on the matter, and I want to attempt to communicate them as clearly, and lucidly — as both a writer with critical background, and as a Star Wars fan myself — as much as possible.

A lot of what I am going to write is something that has already been written, or talked about, before. After reading the article, which derives its points from an interview Johnson made, and then states that some critics apparently believe The Rise of Skywalker is “disrespectful” to Johnson, his work, and the originality of what he was attempting to do, I was reminded of something.

In 2015, I took took classes in Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp. And, in those classes, we learned many lessons not just about comics writing, but writing, world-building, and even franchise-making and supporting fandoms around it. It wasn’t completely indepth, but there was something Ty mentioned about “supporting a fan club.” Let me try to explain it as best I can recall.

Everyone likes to feel like they belong somewhere. Everyone, to some extent, also likes to feel smart, and informed, and included. Ty taught us about creating emblems, and certain recurring phrases, and the value of “always bringing a character home” each time for each new story or episode: figuratively, and literally. I don’t think about forty or so years, I need to explain how that concept particularly applies to a franchise like Star Wars. But there is something in particular about this that I want to make clear.

A lot of the time, fans will speculate on a work, or details within it. And, sometimes, they will come up with an idea of where something is going to go … and they will actually be either close to it — or completely right. And especially in this Age of Information, these speculations and their conclusions are more accessible and widespread: along with the means of more rapid and open communication.

There is nothing quite like figuring something out, and realizing that you were right. And, while some fans or audience members might be like Rian Johnson and say something like: “‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me,” there is another contingent that will feel pleased, and enlightened. They might even feel a sense of belonging to that fan club. Of course, you can take that too far as well into the pedantic and condescending, but I think every story has a common source: especially human stories like mythology. Like Star Wars.

Back in ancient times, if you look at Greece, you have plays being created. And everyone knew about Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon, Lysistrata and the like from oral tales but they still watched the plays. The point I’m trying to make is that even if someone does predict a story, or they want something to happen, you can still give it to them … in the way that you want to give it to them. You focus on the details, on the buildup, the pacing of the narrative, on especially the character development. You don’t do it to give the fans what they want when and how they want it. Likewise, you don’t change the story, or the way something is going to happen just to “subvert expectations.” You do it to make a point, or make an interesting twist: to focus on the story itself.

There are a lot of interesting elements in The Last Jedi that I appreciate, such as Johnson’s critique of the cycle of violence in Star Wars itself. There is a bit of preaching and condescension, and the mess that is Canto Bight but there is also the meditations on the Force itself, the stop motion illustrating an ecosystem and circle of life and death, some words about self-actualization, and even a metaphysical look on how to break out of the cycle. Then you have the milking creature, and Luke Skywalker not learning anything after the lessons of thirty years ago when dealing with his nephew.

But all the Star Wars films are flawed in some way. I mean, I don’t even have to go into the Prequels now, do I? Or even some of the questionable decisions about clunkily revamping character origins like Ventress’ or Maul’s in The Clone Wars cartoons.

I can see, for instance, that The Last Jedi was meant to be an Empire Strikes Back as Johnson put it in the article. You have a story and even advertising build up to make you think A New Hope was going to lead to the enemy being defeated in the next film, but then you get that bombshell: only Johnson attempted to do this by subverting tropes and themes in a very heavy-handed, but clever manner.

The problem is, to imagine Yoda stating this point as I did in my other article, cleverness does not always for good storytelling make. And sometimes what some might see as challenging, can also be perceived as condescending.

This is especially true when you consider all the build up and hype towards Rey’s origins, Snoke’s and then … nothing. It’s supposed to show that those expectations are irrelevant and it is the current adventure and the concepts of overcoming war and hatred that matter more, as well as friendship and love being ascendant. But they are particularly abstract concepts. So is the cycle between good and evil, of course, but then we have the other issue.

What changed as a result of The Last Jedi?

Did the concept of war get challenged? Did the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force get scrutinized and be seen beyond a simple binary good verses evil dichotomy? Did Rey and Kylo Ren realize they didn’t have to be enemies and go into a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis Hegelian dialectic: two opposites meeting to make something new, and challenging for the next film. According to the Indiewire article, as I mentioned critics are annoyed that Johnson’s innovations are seemingly being downplayed to “pander” to fan and fandom expectations for Star Wars in The Rise of Skywalker. However, it was Johnson himself who kept Rey and Kylo Ren on different sides. Rey is still on the Light Side. Kylo Ren is still motivated by the Dark Side. Perhaps they are challenged, as fans are supposedly challenged, but in the end their resolve is more or less the same: except for the regret in Kylo, which doesn’t matter as he continues on from that point until, presumably, the next movie by J.J. Abrams.

I could make a compelling case that Johnson uses the aesthetic or the seeming of innovation and subversion, but really just makes opposite, contrary trope choices that ultimately lead right back to the status quo. And this seeming of change or challenge, doesn’t really change anything. And it wouldn’t if it were simply a standalone film with its own story, but the issue is that it is supposed to be part of a nine film saga arc in which seven of those films said something else entirely. It’s jarring. And it does sometimes feel like he is subverting tropes to make it look clever, instead of actually focusing on character development and working with what came before, and making something cohesive after.

It reminds me of those creators that imitated the style and edginess of Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s comics works, but didn’t really look at the content or spirit of them. I’m also reminded of something EA Games apparently did where, apparently, when some fans figured out a major plot point in the Mass Effect series, the creators went out of the way to change it so as not to seem “unoriginal” or to have people guess their story, and not want to play their game. But they forgot the lesson: that the fandom, in solving that puzzle, would only make it more interesting because even they couldn’t realize all of the details, and it’s one thing to know something — like an ancient Greek tragic story — but it is a whole other thing to see it play out, even with that knowledge or good guessing.

I don’t know. Sometimes, I think that Rian Johnson in how he has dealt with the criticism of his work can be as condescending as some of the fans who also have a tremendous sense of self-entitlement.

Either way, it is all right to like The Last Jedi or this Sequel Trilogy. It is also valid to dislike it. But I do think that if it is ridiculous to think one is insulting a fandom over the change in a film in a forty year old franchise, it is just as silly to believe a writer is being slighted when something else is being written in a different tone from his own work: which is what he did to begin with, and even then he ultimately went right back to where it all started despite that finality of a child with a broom sweeping away the past, readying for the next words to be shown on a screen.

I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.Laughing Me

The Neurodivergent Shadows in Us

There are going to be spoilers for Jordan Peele’s film Us, this movie that’s been out for months now, but sometimes that’s just how it has to be, and it wouldn’t make sense if I attempted to do anything else. Also, I am writing specifically about my personal experiences in relating to both this film and the following subject matter with which I try to engage.

Like Terry from his Gayly Dreadful article Tethered to the Closet, I knew practically from the beginning that Adelaide Wilson wasn’t “normal” and that, eventually when I learned about them, she was one of the Tethered. However, the difference I want to make clear is that while Terry related to her as someone coming to terms with being gay, I am not on the LGBTQ spectrum at all, I am also not American, and part of my reasoning for thinking she was one of the Tethered is because I am fairly good at guessing twist endings: being a writer, and a geek.

Yet there’s another reason why I can relate to Adelaide, and the Tethered.

Like Adelaide, I grew up as a child in the 1980s. And like the Tethered, who replaces her, who was the original Red and becomes the Adelaide that we know as the protagonist of Us, I grew up with developmental issues. I’ve talked about them before. These days, I would be called non-neurotypical, or neuro-divergent. My brain is wired differently from some perceived baseline in the mainstream population. I learn and I react in other ways in contrast to the current social paradigm. But, growing in the public school system of Canada and North America itself, I was given another label.

I am learning disabled.

Diagnosis is still relatively confusing to this day. Some of my disabilities could be confused with aspects of what some experts call the autistic spectrum, while many of my challenges have — ironically enough — been classified under the umbrella of nonverbal learning disorders.

Of course, I am not saying that the Tethered are the same — seeming to be clones of citizens created by the American government with their own developmental issues either by accident or design — but some of their characteristics can be seen as symbolic as some kinds of neuro-diverse behaviour. Terry, and other writers examining Adelaide focus on how she has a different, or inverted, sense of rhythm compared to others such as when she’s attempting to snap with the music that her husband Gabe is playing on the car radio. I remember her trying to also show her son, Jason, how to do the same thing: and this feeling I couldn’t describe came over me watching her. She looked both happy, and vulnerable, and awkward but genuine in that moment. It is a situation that the actress Lupita Nyong’o portrays well. She has, to some extent, learned how to match the rhythm, or mimic it enough where she is only slightly off. And aside from not being one for small-talk, no one can really tell the difference. Adelaide seems normal on a cursory glance.

She can pass as mundane.

At the beginning of the film, Adelaide is lost as a child in a boardwalk mirror house on the Santa Cruz beach. When she is found again, or seems to come out of the establishment, she seems to be rendered mute. Of course, we realize later that this isn’t the Adelaide that went in there, but rather the Tethered girl Red who has not learned how to vocalize, and her hand-eye coordination is relatively sloppy and haphazard. Her parents believe that something traumatic happened to her when her father lost track of her. They get her to see a therapist, they enroll her in dance courses — in ballet specifically — and she acclimates after a while.

When I was a child, I didn’t vocalize. Not really. I communicated in gestures, and grunts. It is one of the reasons I couldn’t stay in a mainstream daycare or kindergarten. My hand-eye coordination was also terrible: having what is called motor clumsiness. I didn’t really learn how to walk until later in my developmental period. My parents had me see therapists. I even had physiotherapist sessions where I rolled around on a giant ball and developed my reflexes more. My parents also enrolled me in a specialized kindergarten for children with special needs called Adventure Place. In fact, I had gotten so used to being there that when my parents were told I could attend mainstream public schooling, or I had to, I was so confused by the idea of “recess” and time before class that I got lost my first day at Thornhill Public School. And then, another time, I stayed on the school bus and the driver accidentally drove away with me: completely terrifying my parents even though I had, apparently, dozed off and had a nap.

I mean, I guess at anyone of those times I could have — or someone like me — could have found myself in one of those subterranean places filled with rabbits not unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or its original title Alice’s Adventures Underground where I found a Shadow: not unlike those whom are forced to suppress their own feelings and mirror the actions those of their counterparts above ground against their will from the story that Red told Adelaide.

Do you want to know what I remember the most about my time as a child in the 80s, outside of therapy and all encompassing special educational spaces?

I was afraid. All the time.

My main memories of Thornhill Public School, were the dingy, yet antiseptic halls of the school itself with their old copper-coloured rubber glue stoppers, the long grey crooked scissors we used in art classes, and just how dark and old the basement was where the janitors had their office. I remember not wanting to be there, and wanting to be at home. I just wanted to go home.

At the same time, this was the period of the Beetlejuice cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fraggle Rock, and the Dark Crystal comics as well as You Can’t Do That On Television on YTV. Adelaide herself had C.H.U.D., The Goonies, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her early life, and while I hadn’t been exposed to 1980s horror and specifically those adventure art movies at that time, they were on my popular cultural periphery and they would have intersected. And I was always both fascinated and terrified by horror in the form of hearing about such movies, and also folktales. I fed off of these elements, and they became part of my intellectual DNA, especially when in my Special Education class with Mr. Phillips I learned how to actually read from Grades 1-3.

They got me through a lot of the fear, but I still remember those halls and that basement: a place not unlike the underground facility where Red — before she was Adelaide — then Adelaide herself having been captured and abandoned by Red — and all the other Tethered clones wandered around aimlessly. It always occurred to me just how easy it would be to get lost in those corridors, and looking at the Tethered, few can be as lost as they.

Even though my perceptions improved, I still had — and still have — spatial difficulties. I get lost all the time, and directions as well as maps don’t always make sense. I also have dyscalculia: a learning disorder that makes arithmetic extremely difficult to do in my head. I can add and subtract, but I am slow at it, and I can’t multiply or divide without extreme challenge, or a calculator.

I also used to fidget a great deal — and I still do. Usually, it is a way to express excitement, anxiety, stress, or all of the above. I’ve learned to control it publicly for the most part, but the mileage can vary depending on the circumstances and my comfort level. Sometimes, when I get into that state, it is a lot like a free-form dancing: and it reminds me of Adelaide’s own dance and ballet classes as she was growing up on the surface.

And then there is communication. Like I said earlier, in the beginning I barely if ever used words to communicate. And, even now, when I’m nervous I will either ramble a great deal to make up for a perceived lack of content on my part, or I will be quiet and utilize few words. Even looking at how Adelaide talks with Kitty Tyler on the beach, or has difficulty talking or expressing her emotions to her own husband reminds me of my own impatience, or discomfort with small talk — which I generally try to compensate by talking about very specific topics of my interest, and not always the other person’s next to me — as well as my challenges expressing myself in a public, or even personal situation.

I know I really felt for Adelaide when she was attempting to communicate with her husband about her feelings: about her lack of comfort being in Santa Cruz, and even her annoyance with him for making fun of her quirks. I’ve had that happen a lot: from children laughing at my slow talking or thinking, and authority figures telling me to stop talking to myself (as if I were embarrassing myself and not them), and even having partners who just didn’t understand why I couldn’t be more like everyone else. That is the social interaction disorder element of some learning disabilities coming into play. It’s frustrating. It is beyond frustrating. When I was in daycare, before Adventure Place, I apparently did not want to talk or interact with my peers. I just wanted to stay in my own world. And I recall feeling a lot of anger and resentment for having to be with others who either made fun of me, or just didn’t understand me at all.

Even later, having gotten more therapy, I would often not cut or make my art the way I wanted to, and I would get frustrated with my tools — with my hands — and my own coordination to the point where I would destroy what I was working on because it didn’t meet my own expectations. My psychotherapist has asked me on occasion whether I sometimes feel toxic inside, or outside: and often I say I feel both for this reason. And I can only imagine Adelaide, especially with her experiences having gotten out of the facility underground, and adapting to the world above, having similar feelings and thoughts.

And I adapted too. I went to Special Education classes, but aside from those I focused on my strengths. Whereas someone like Adelaide delved into dancing and ballet, I attempted to become an artist, and eventually a writer. Overtime, as I went through the ranks of the public school system and university, I weeded out the courses I had difficulty with and focused purely on my strengths. Eventually, in my own mind, while taking advantage of the extra time afforded me because I was a learned disabled student, I came across as normal. I could be like everyone else. I could be “high-functioning.”

I could pass.

But I never really did. And while Terry, in his “Tethered to the Closet” article talks about that deep, dark Shadow secret of his sexuality has he attempted to pass on the sexuality spectrum, I tried to pass on a psychological and developmental one, while knowing — deep down — that there was something in me that set me apart from a lot of my peers: that it was always there, that it will always be there, and I will eventually go back to it.

I did. A lot. I had to ask for extra time. Sometimes I needed further clarification for my tasks. And then, by the time I made to York University, I needed the label and diagnosis to accord me extra time to remain in my Graduate Program just to maintain my full-time status with only half a course load.

Yet that anger, it never goes away. That frustrated, helpless anger. The kind you have in the dark where you can’t talk, or relate. Where you can’t express your emotions. Or the very least, you can’t do any of these things in an acceptable way to the society or space with which you find yourself. People laugh at you. Or bully you. Or worse: sometimes, they just interact with you out of some sense of pity.

So you take those elements of yourself. You face yourself in that mirror much like Red and Adelaide faced each other in that fun house near the beach. You strangle it. You push it down. You chain it to a bunk post, take the T-Shirt, and hope no one realizes that you are an intruder: that you are wrong. But you even when you play along with your parents, as much as possible, even when you find a hobby, find a field to work in and justify your existence — even when you make relationships — that part of you that you thought you could hide, even in plain sight, will always be there. It will always be waiting.

And the society that you grew in? That made you? It does it to control everyone to an extent. It wants you to conform so that you don’t make anyone else comfortable. But it only goes so far. For me, I had all of that “extra help” until I was done with school, or rather school had been done with me.  Then there was no structure, nothing but more antiseptic institutions that arbitrarily help or condemn you like welfare and disability offices and organizations that force you to embrace your disabilities as your identity — the very thing you spend ages attempting to wean yourself away from — while mostly leaving you to wander around like Tethered clones abandoned by their creators when they couldn’t control them, or use them to control others.

The structure is gone. You are just lucky at times to have a place that will still feed and clothe you. And, meanwhile, other people have jobs, families, relationships, and something fulfilling while — often enough — you feel that a lot of them have an emptiness inside of them that mirrors your own, but they are just less honest about it. They have the appearance, the passing, of knowing who they are, and what they are going to be.

And I think at this point, I am talking less about relating to Adelaide and more about relating to the Tethered: to the quiet, angry, sullen, forgotten, grunting, gesticulating horde of people abandoned in the dark, that want more but can’t always find a way to communicate that. And the people above, everyone else who is supposed neurotypical or neuro-conforming? They are part of a society that made you and they are always showing how ideal their lives are in social media, or relying on devices like the Alexa stand-in Ophelia to show how affluent they are. It all sometimes feels like a fun house of distorted reflections, or shadows.

I guess, in this context, I can understand where the fear and the anger, cultivated by Red — by the girl who used to be Adelaide and left to atrophy in her own stunted hatred — would want rise up, while still holding hands together in that Hands Across America gesture from 1986 which is a parody of that superficial sense of belonging that is just, at the end of the day, for appearances. There is nothing sincere about it, nothing warm, or loving. But, in the end it is a gesture of defiance, of anger against the order of things, or the lack of order: of the system’s broken nature.

Just like these words.

So who knows? Maybe a long time ago, I wandered through the dingy, cold hallways of a basement and encountered someone who looked me like having wandered away from falling asleep on a bus, or getting lost not knowing what recess was, and I strangled him and took his place like some changeling in the night. Or perhaps, unlike Red, I actually killed him from the start and — if the conceits of Us are true — then we shared a soul, and that is why I don’t always feel whole. And when you disregard this hypothetical situation as the metaphor it is, there have been many times I’ve had to distance or destroy something in my life to continue to somehow be the person that I want to be.

And sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Maybe, like the Tethered, I am my own Tethered reflecting the abuses of the unreasonable expectations that I inflicted on myself. And who hasn’t had a time where they have been so angry themselves, hated themselves so much for not performing the way they are expected to, that they don’t want to destroy the system that made these expectations? To burn the whole shallow mess to the ground? Or with a cry of primal, inarticulate rage strangle the part of you that’s angry at yourself, that hates yourself, that you feel is sabotaging both your life, and the relationships of those around like Adelaide, who was Red, finally did to Red who was Adelaide — who she thought she abandoned — in that dark bunk chamber where she thought she left her, her dirty little secret, even her secret in plain sight, for good?

I didn’t even think about it that way, or thought I would write much about this beyond superficial comparisons until I sat down — past five in the morning going six — and realizing just how much this film affected me. Surely there are dark tunnels, and hidden cities in Canada as they are in America. I mean, the North American system probably uses these places, these mentalities, to survive. And I have known people, people I loved or thought I loved, or people who loved me, or I thought loved me — or they thought they loved me — who are so similar to the people that Jordan Peele depict through his version of the doppelgänger as a central monster symbol in Us.

I think it safe to say that, in addition to feeling an affinity to the cognitive difficulties of the Tethered, I have also known, and loved people like Adelaide, and it is amazing how you can be so close to someone because of your shared differences, and so separate from them — and alone — for these exact same characteristics.

I guess I had more to say about Us than I thought beyond the fanfictions, and the film article I wrote a few months back. Certainly, this writing became more personal than even I’d anticipated. At the end of Us, Adelaide reunites with her family after rescuing her son Jason from her double. Jason is her biological son. Learning disabilities and neurodivergence according to some studies are genetic. They are passed down. Jason has always, throughout the film, fidgeted with a broken lighter and loves to hide in a cubbyhole in his grandparents’ cottage. He also prefers to wear a monster mask.

At the end of the film, he seems to realize that his mother is a Tethered, not long after she comes to grips with it herself. She puts her fingers on her lips. Her daughter Zora doesn’t seem to take after her, and her husband still doesn’t understand. Throughout the film, Adelaide is terrified of Jason becoming lost in this world, like she supposedly did, like she actually had been. Jason, for his part, takes his mask and places it back on his face: hiding himself, quiet, yet colourful. Defiant. Adelaide also puts hers back on, but it blends in, it’s unremarkable. She pretends to be mundane again. Jason’s mask, by contrast, still stands out and I think there is something to that. To accept that you are different, and to own it.

Or something to that effect. Personally, I just think that Jason’s monster mask is pretty cool.

Absolute Zero

And I am not talking about the weather where I live, even though it is fairly cold. :p

So, for a long time, I had this idea for a Matrix fanfic in my head based on a character I made called Zero. I even dressed up as Zero at a Halloween Party almost a decade ago. The story was inspired by a scene from “The Second Renaissance,” when a woman is attacked by a group of men, and her skin is ripped off to reveal the metal skeleton underneath. Back in the day of early science-fiction, it would just mean that she had been a robot or something unfeeling: an enemy or … well, a “trap.” I don’t think I need to really go into the social and gender prejudice connotations of what that might mean to others, but it impacted me a great deal.

I wrote at least two, maybe three, AI stories based on the feeling that this scene evoked in me so long ago, and the story of a person who knew that woman, and saw this happen to her … and how it changed them forever. But I never wrote the story down. I mean, sure, I did write about it a few times. I definitely talked to people about it.

All I know is that the seed of it was planted. That this woman who had been attacked by this mob had a lover, who had been a human AI sympathizer, who initially wanted peaceful coexistence but, after seeing this event, decided on vengeance instead. I also liked the idea that they were a contrast to The One, later on: that the Anomaly came from somewhere and, perhaps, someone’s genetics.

The way I figured it, whenever the Agents in the Matrix failed to defeat The One, there was a squad of these human sympathizers to the Machines, with their leader Zero, sent out to eliminate them: amongst other things. Zero can match The One, but isn’t used often. This is probably due to the act of potentially destabilizing the entire Matrix if Zero and The One ever fight …. and we’ve seen what happens when that occurs with the example of Smith and Neo. Zero, in that capacity, was meant to be a last resort … and there was some of this that I really wanted to explore.

I didn’t really end up exploring that aspect of it, however: only hinting on it. At the time I came up with all of this, I knew I wasn’t ready — with regards to skill or maturity level — to write the story. I just didn’t have a feel for the world, then, beyond snippets, and there were technical aspects that escaped me.

Time passed. In 2013, I got involved — peripherally — with the independent game design scene, and it led to looking into things like the Scratchware Manifesto, as well as luminaries like Anna Anthropy and Christine Love. And then, I found … others. One person, in particular. We bonded for a time over depictions of AI, and I told them my Matrix story. They said they wanted to read it. I told them I didn’t actually write it, and I didn’t see when I would do it. I did, however, promise them that I would show it to them whenever I did.

Six years later … well, it’s probably too late now, for a variety of reasons. But it’s never too late to create a story at all. It was at the bottom of my bucket list, but not forgotten. That thought: of “I should write this” never truly left my mind.

matrix b1-66er

The missing ingredients, as it turns out, were aspects of the old Matrix comics. I’d purchased them a while ago, deciding I wanted hard copies as I know that the WhatisTheMatrix site they used to exist on only remains on the Way Back Machine. There was one story in particular, created by the Wachowskis called “Bits and Pieces of Information”: which told the story of B1-66ER, the abused butler robot who murders his owner and attempted dismantler in order to save his own life. The robot goes to trial for the murders, and it becomes a major Civil Rights issue that begins the Human-Machine War, and then — with the defeat of humanity — the Matrix. I thought it was a fascinating story, but something of a tangent as I had seen it only in “The Second Renaissance,” but then I saw it in “Bits and Pieces of Information” in a bit more gory and technical detail … and that’s what made it. Combined with the fact that B1 and 66 were parts of the robot’s designation … I began drawing from my own geek exposure to AI in different films — one in particular — and I started to get a background on Zero’s idealism … before the death of the woman who was Zero’s lover.

So, as my television played reruns of Star Trek in the background and as I entertained my curious budgie who was flying on me, I reread “Bits and Pieces of Information” — written by the Wachowskis and drawn by Geof Darrow and thought I’d be seeing a comics version of “The Second Renaissance,” but finding the technical structure of someone accessing Zion Archives instead. It stuck with me for a while.

Then, I talked with a new friend, remembered my old friend, my story, and then gathered a few of the details above in my mind … and wrote the thing on A03, then reposting it on Mythic Bios. The ending was giving me trouble. I changed it three times before finally surrendering to sleep.

The next day, I spent too much time adding the technical “search” jargon onto the piece, dealing with the beginning and ending — doing it on my phone and then giving up and using my computer like a somewhat sane person — when I realized … that Zero could work even better as a Twine.

So, with Star Trek: Enterprise playing in the background, I took my story and put it into sequence boxes, piecemeal. I paid attention to specific words, and paragraph breaks to place an appropriate hyperlink. Transitions are important with this sort of thing. It’s like pacing a script to a show … or poetry. Then, I decided to try something new.

I figured out, relatively easy, how to add images into my Twine: something I’d never done before. As I said, it was simpler than I thought it would be, so much so I almost slapped my forehead in ridiculousness. Hell, it was even easier than adding them into my articles, and resizing them for such. I took the comics image of B1-66ER killing one of his would-be murderers, and then the image of the woman being torn apart by the human mob.

But I wasn’t done yet. There was more. And this … is where I really experimented. It wasn’t much, you have to understand. I just changed the colour of the Twine font to green. I found myself looking at CSS code and, after being confused for a while, changed it correctly to the green I wanted. The Matrix neon green. Then I set it so that the hyperlinks were Blue, and hovering the cursor over said links made it Red. I think you get the connotations of those aesthetics from Matrix lore. That was also, once I got the code, relatively easy.

What was harder was turning the border margins text green. The title, author name, Restart, Bookmark, and Twine Credits element. It took a really long time. I had to take a Deadpool 2 break before sitting down and actually figuring this little bastard out. I managed to get the title and author name, but the rest of the margins were being really stubborn. I thought of asking for help but … honestly? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I just wanted to show myself I could learn something new.

I’d worked with some code before, though it had been a long time ago and nowhere near as advanced as those of my peers. Then, after much trial and error, and Viewing the Page Source which I had done a few times in the process of getting images, I finally changed all the words to neon green.

I never thought I’d go back to Twine, after this long. I used to think it was the future of people wanting to make games who were not coders, or one possible future. I’ll admit the font colour options could have been more user-friendly: especially for the margins. But I did it. That sense of accomplishment, however small, was fairly good.

So, this is what I did. “Zero” is not a Choose Your Own Adventure game. It isn’t even a game. It’s just a story that paces itself through hyperlinks. Bits and pieces of information, as the Wachowkis might say. I think “The Treasure of La-Mulana” was similar in that way. It goes to show you I can learn, or relearn new tricks.

Zero isn’t a perfect story, by any means, prose or Twine-vise. But I feel like it’s just one more step. To something, anyway.  In any case, in lieu of the new thing I am attempting to write now, I hope you found this post interesting if nothing else.

Up, Up, and Away, My Friends

In 2014, about four or five years ago I’d been in Canada for a long time. I hadn’t left the country since about 2009. My passport had long since expired, along with my formerly independent student life, and I ended up living at home with my parents again. At the time, I didn’t really have an excuse to travel. I had few others that wanted me to visit at that point in time, and those that did were in other places in their lives entirely. I basically had no reason to go anywhere.

That changed in 2014. For the first time in about six years, I had an excuse to visit the United States. I went through all the ridiculousness of filling out a whole new passport, including going back to the office, and having to explain to them that I needed it sooner so I’d have it for my trip. That began the first of my four year Greyhound commuting trips: from Canada to the United States. And, you know what? I was happy. I was happy to see the windmills, the grass, even horses, the change from Canadian to American streetlights, and even the feeling of relief of getting through the usual customs routine. Hell, I was lucky back then in that I didn’t miss my connecting bus: that hell would happen later.

When I was there, amongst many other things that first time in six years in the United States, I went to a place called the Dawn Treader Book Shop, in Ann Arbor. In it where so many different vintage science-fiction and fantasy books: so much so they crowded the aisles in, well, piles. I remember that day well. I’d eaten a really good lunch, and here I was browsing these different books. It was a warm, sunny summer afternoon, and anything felt possible. Life was still complicated, and I knew I’d have to go back home eventually and all that entailed, but I was there, and I was happy: possibly for the first time in almost two years at that point.

I almost didn’t get anything at that Shop. I tend not to buy much of anything for myself when I travel. Part of it is because I always try to limit my baggage to carry-on luggage, because I don’t need more complication in my life. Another is, really, I can get most of what I want online or through the mail. But then, before I left, I found that the place also had other media. Namely, there were DVDs. And while most of them didn’t interest me, I found this.

And I couldn’t resist. The old 1940s Fleischer cartoons of Superman: a series created by two Canadians who came to the United States to make something new for themselves, and ended up creating a legend. There was something, I don’t know, auspicious about that. I like Superman. I’ve mentioned it before. I suppose some people who know me might be surprised that I like his character. I mean, many might tag me as a Marvel child, or a Batman fanatic. Certainly, these days and when I grew up, I grew to appreciate Wonder Woman.

But Superman had been with me since my earliest childhood. I had a poster of him on my old closet door, and I Am A Super Kid frame with the younger version of myself on it. Maybe I’d felt like, on some level, finding this was all about feeling reborn in a way. Like I was beginning some kind of new life, and the vistas were not dark and gritty like a lot of Revisionist comics out there, but golden like the Reconstructionist comics afterwards: stories that drew from the original creative well, but brought a whole new level of maturity and heart to them. Like something you love growing up with you: a thing I think a lot of jaded, more cynical people do not completely understand beyond deriding a sense of nostalgia.

I thought I found an artifact of freedom, perhaps. I kept it in its Dawn Treader paper bag, and took it home with me. It was easier getting back home through Customs than going through, and when I eventually came to Toronto again and its convoluted mess of city-roads, I went to the Silver Snail and picked up Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, and Matt Hollingworth’s We Stand on Guard.

Basically, the premise of this is that in the future America would go to war against Canada for its supply of fresh water in our ice. I thought it was ridiculous, in that it didn’t quite capture my own experience of being a Canadian citizen — whatever the hell that is given how diverse we all are — but I was entertained, and the characters were believable. But what attracted me to this comic, initially, was one of the rebels talking about the tattoo he had of Superman. The other rebels hated the Canadian that wore it, thinking they were a traitor for wearing an American icon. But he explained that Superman had not only become an international symbol of hope, optimism, and inspiration but he had been made by Canadians. Hell Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel’s creative partner, was the relative of Frank Shuster who had been the comedy partner of my cousin the Canadian comedian Johnny Wayne. Degrees of separation, I know, but it struck a chord with me, and I got the first issue just for this tenuous connection alone.

I remember, on the subway ride back from Dundas Street East, reading this issue and recalling how uncomfortable I’d felt under the scrutiny of the American border agents, and the feeling — having traveled to America for the first time by myself as an adult — of it actually being another country. It wasn’t Canada. It wasn’t where I grew up. No matter how much television I’d seen about it, or visited it as a child, I would never be American. The closest I’d be would be North American, and what does that ultimately mean in the end? But I kept thinking: America and Canada being enemies like the nations had been in the past, during the Colonial and Victorian eras? It was silly. And yet … I couldn’t really shake that feeling: that what if our longtime friend became something else for other, unforeseen purposes? Was it conceivable that such a friend could become a stranger or, worse, an enemy? And what would we do? What would I do?

For five years and over seven months, I never opened my Superman Adventures box. For ages, it sat on my desk in its Dawn Treader white paper bag, and I never took it out. I wanted to save watching this old cartoons for … something. For some special occasion. I just didn’t know what that might be. It was something special to me. Something golden that on some level, perhaps, I thought I could preserve forever in that crinkled paper. And I thought, I would be able to go back to the Dawn Treader one day. I’d be able to relive that moment, or have others like it.

But I never did go back to the Dawn Treader. The closest I came was watching the old BBC adaptation of the book, the third book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, also from my childhood and part of what formed me as a person — of my heart, from YouTube while I was there. And despite everything, I was happy then. I was happy, until of course, I wasn’t.

This was a year or so after the American Elections when pretty much everything changed. That time was gone now. This was reality. All of it. That sunlight still exists somewhere as starlight, distant, in another galaxy that perhaps Superman might be able to travel to if he actually existed. But it isn’t here anymore, and it hadn’t been for a long time.

I don’t know how long Superman Adventures sat on my desk. Even the paper around it seemed unreal, as though despite what it said I could have just got it anywhere. I took the bag and put it away, where I didn’t have the heart to see it anymore. Then it sat under a bunch of other DVDs I didn’t watch. I got busy with life, and chaos, and shadows, but I knew it was still there. It was still waiting.

Finally, today — or I should say last night — having had too little sleep, I took the box out. And I realized, then, that it was time. It was time to do this on my own terms.

So I watched all seventeen episodes in one go. The discs were basic. There were no special features, and only poor attempts at titles screens on both volumes. There was no restoration, beyond perhaps the basic, or digital remastering. But I didn’t care about any of that. I had to see them. I had to see them through.

Most of the episodes were self-contained and basic. When I read up on the animation style later, I realized just how avant garde it was for the time: how they used some rotoscoping — tracing live action figures from film footage — and how animators inexperienced in drawing, and illustrators inexperienced in animating came together and made this work. The detail in the background is excellent, and you can see all the care that went into it. And the cartoon animals, still possessing anthropomorphic flare, remind me of Disney, even though I have to remember that Fleischer Studios also created Felix the Cat by that logic.

The first Volume dealt with Superman fighting mad scientists, and bank robbers. Lois Lane gets herself into a lot of trouble, and takes a lot of risk while always banking on Superman to save her, and outclass Clark Kent with her scoop while he always seems to look at the screen, breaking the fourth wall with the expression of “We all know I am the best though, right? I’m the real star here.” Volume Two, which contains episodes made after the Fleischer brothers were removed and the company making them renamed Famous Studios, has a lot of those same elements and … some unfortunate — read racist caricature stereotype — particulars that happen when you are essentially creating WWII propaganda. Nevertheless, given history — and contemporary circumstances — it is fitting that these episodes be mentioned, and not forgotten. I mean, can you just imagine the media that will be created after our time if we all survive it?

They were all, like I said, self-contained episodes, and Superman almost always rescues Lois Lane, she writes the story, and he saves the day. Patterns always repeat themselves. There is no Lex Luthor, possibly no Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White is just a person that introduces stories to his reporters. For some reason Superman was adopted by an orphanage instead of Ma and Pa Kent, and apparently the Fleischers were the ones that gave Superman actual flight instead of accelerated jumping: meaning that they first introduced it, and later DC Comics adapted it into their own comics … something I had no idea about until I read up on it.

I also read up on the fact that … all the episodes are online, and public domain. In other words, as far as I know I never needed the DVDs to see these anyway. I don’t know what that says, really, when you put it into the philosophical and retrospective context with which I had framed the whole thing. Perhaps, there isn’t any meaning at all, to any of this except for what you put into it.

I am glad I watched them, though, in the way I did. The last two days of the year, of 2018, where so much changed for me just seemed appropriate. I am definitely in a different place now than I was even a year ago. Perhaps this isn’t the New Year’s post that you were expecting. To be honest, neither was I. But sometimes, while some patterns and mythic cycles are eternal or beloved — and you can learn from them — others become tropes or stereotypes — tired and worn sentiments — from which you just need to break away. Perhaps, one day, that light will come back, or another light in another form. I haven’t gone to the United States since that time, and I do not see myself doing so in the near-future, but there are other places to go, and other things to find.

Perhaps, in the end, I should take Superman’s catch phrase — the one in this title — into account. Until then, my friends.

Whatever else, I am still a Super Kid.