A Quiet Place (2018)

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★★★★½

I love a good monster movie, and while I tend to like them rubber, make-up, and with gooey effects, this movie’s heart is more than enough to make up for the chi monsters.

John Krasinksi is a new comer to the horror genre, but he is clearly a quick study as he manages to nail a great, fun, tense romp. Set in a world in which aliens incredibly sensitive to sound begin hunting down and slaughtering anything above a soft whisper, we follow a family’s struggle to survive. I’m a sucker for fantasy/sci-fi movies where the creators have clearly put thought into their world, and Krasinksi clearly has. The lengths the family goes spans from the obvious to the ingenius.

The story itself doesn’t hit any surprising beats–i had this movie’s number from the jump–but it does it very well, and I don’t think it’s trying to surprise you. It’s trying to make you care.

All in all, highly recommended, and a special shout out to Millicent Simmonds, who turned in a wonderful performance, and I hope she continues to see success.

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The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

houses october built 2 poster

 Watched 25 Mar, 2018

I quite like the first Houses October Built. It was problematic, but a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the sequel tosses out the uniqueness and ingenuity, then takes all of the problematic elements and doubles down on them. Characters that were somewhat insensitive or occasionally crass have become full-blown monsters. It’s hard to believe that these people are friends given how manipulative, duplicitous, and selfish they are.

The five friends somehow survived the events of the first movie, and exactly how is left vague for most of the runtime. It’s actually a spoiler, but the mystery is so distracting, it effectively kills the setup of this film from the jump. Based on what we know, based on how the last movie left off, none of the actions of the four male friends make any sense.

They’re once again exploring haunted houses, and given that previously doing this nearly cost them their lives, it doesn’t make sense that they would jump right back in only a year later. This time, it’s not even for a documentary. They’ve become famous for having survived Blue Skeleton, and video of them, or rather Brandy, went viral. Now everyone wants her stamp of approval to certify that their haunted houses are the real deal. The guys want to exploit this for money, but Brandy is traumatized, and rightfully so. She refuses to join them at first, but Mikey, the bearded friend, somehow convinces her to join them later. How he does this is not shown, and one of the characters even wonders about it aloud, which I suppose is good because I wondered the same thing.

There’s strange attention paid to establishing a therapist that specializes in fear and overcoming trauma that gets hired to help Brandy while she’s on the road with them, but it goes nowhere. If there’s meant to be some sort of revelation about her identity or motives, it never happens.

I was mildly irritated during the first half of this movie. It’s boring, repeating the same plot points as the first, but without the built-in concept of the documentary. There’s really no reason for them to be filming this, except, I suppose, as advertisements so they can show that Brandy approves of the attractions? But that’s not really made clear. It’s just sort of accepted that they’re filming it.

The first film was certainly a slow-burn. We’re introduced to who will eventually become the villains relatively early on, but we’re not aware that they will become villains. The slow reveal as they pop up again and again, escalating their interactions each time, is very effective in building tension. Instead, this time we keep cutting to someone from Blue skeleton filming them…and that’s it. For most of the runtime. It’s extended sequences of them exploring haunted houses, no interviews because there is no pretense of a documentary, then random shots of Blue Skeleton filming them. There is no escalation, there is no building of tension, it’s just haunted house, shot of blue skeleton filming them, haunted house, shot of blue skeleton filming them, rinse, repeat.

If this were an unnecessary retread of the first film, I wouldn’t have given it such a low score. Not that it would have a high score, but unnecessary sequels happen all the time. This film pulls some nonsensical turns that piss all over the first film, its plot, and its characters. We guessed the final revelations pretty early on, but couldn’t believe it to be the case because it was too stupid and repugnant.

Do yourself a favor, pull up the Wikipedia article and read the spoilers if you’re curious. If you like the first one, just pretend this one doesn’t exist. For two-thirds to three-quarters of the movie, this is a boring, needless rehash of the first. The last act is a bizarre takedown of the original. It’s not only bad as an ending to this film, since it raises a lot of questions and makes certain scenes nonsensical and confusing, it also ruins the first movie, and I don’t say that lightly.

The Houses October Built (2014)

houses october built poster

★★★★

I watched this movie last year in October on Netflix as part of my Halloween horror watch-fest. It had some flaws that occasionally grated on me, but I was struck by its unique concept and surprisingly effective use of found footage.

Found-footage movies have a central flaw in that, without a traditional camera, characters must pick up the slack, absurdly filming events far past believability. The best found-footage movies work around this in some way. This movie is less innovative than some, but it its making-of style feels less forced than usual, and I think that’s helped by its slower pacing.

The plot mostly focuses on a group of friends investigating various haunted houses for their documentary, following up on rumors of haunted houses becoming more and more extreme to cater to modern audiences. Although the editing can be sporadic and choppy at times, this feels like an intentional decision to keep the audience off balance and uneasy, much in the same way that the haunted houses they feature do. Its narrative strength comes from their previously completed real documentary about haunted houses that they used as a foundation on which to build this movie. However, that does leave the ending feeling a tad rushed.

The biggest flaw lies in the characters. They’re not the worst I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, but like many before, the men are portayed as horny, sex obsessed, and immature. Sometimes the presence of their sole woman lead, Brandy, feels like a way to have their cake and eat it, too. They can include things like going to a zombie strip club and use her irritation as a shield. “See? We’re commenting on the guys’ behavior. We know it’s not okay.” Thankfully, as the plot begins to unfold, they tone a lot of that down and the characters become a bit more sympathetic. I just wish they had used Brandy more effectively rather than for cheap tension building, such as being cornered in the bathroom by a group of gropey hillbillies.

With 5 main characters, it’s easy for one or two to be under served by the narrative, and this is far from the only horror movie to indulge in this type of writing, but it was disappointing to see nonetheless.

The climax and final sequence are really well done and very effective as the group finds themselves in over their heads. While not one of my favorite movies, it’s enjoyable and unique and a fun one to pop in around Halloween. The ending, in particular, is chilling and probably why I favor this movie in spite of its flaws.

Unsane (2018)

unsane poster

★★★★

This movie is an intense ride. It doesn’t necessarily throw in a bunch of plot twists to surprise you, but it does what it sets out to do very well. The initial setup is strikingly similar to Victor Lavalle’s book THE DEVIL IN SILVER, which, if you haven’t read it, is highly recommended. Thankfully, this movie eventually goes off in its own direction.

We have had some issues medically in the past, and this movie at times rang very true to chilling effect. Medicine is one of those things that is great for horror. It takes a colossal amount of money and education to understand it well enough to make actually informed decisions, so we’re forced to take the word of experts whom we trust not to lead us astray. Everyone gets sick, and everyone eventually has to deal with doctors, which means surrendering some of our control of our lives over to someone else. That is where this movie succeeds, by revelling and taunting us with our hopeless lack of control in the face of experts telling us what to do.

Aesthetically, this almost feels like a 70s exploitation film at times. Part of that is due to it being shot entirely on an iPhone. It gives the film a cheap, almost grainy quality, like an old sleazy VHS tape.

The iPhone makes the aspect ratio a little off–not quite as wide as the typical movie, which leads to the sides of the frame looking cropped. Often there’s a warping effect to shots that distort the picture, and create a bubbling similar to that of a 360 degree camera. This bothered me at first, but it puts the beginning in a much more voyeuristic frame. Typically, even though we are watching movies, we expect to slot into the main character’s perspective and assume their POV. Instead, this film is shot in a way to keep us distant from the main character, to make us feel like we’re spying on her, which is a great effect considering the character’s history.

This is a cheap, dirty movie, and while not necessarily mold-breaking, is very effective and creepy.

Thoroughbreds (2017)

thoroughbreds poster

★★★★½

I’ve seen this movie compared to American Psycho, and I see the comparison–the tone is darkly humorous and offbeat–but unlike AP, we don’t get a lot of internal insight into the girls like we do Patrick Bateman. Instead, the movie takes an objective POV, only showing you what’s on screen and letting you make your own conclusions. A quiet, quick little movie that says a lot about what we value in people and who we consider monsters. Both lead actresses are wonderful, and I can’t wait for more from them.

This is also Anton Yelchin’s last movie, so a special shoutout to him–he’s a lot of fun playing a washed up nobody with big dreams and no ambition.

I’m glad I went into this with very little info. There’s not much plot in the traditional sense, but I’m grateful the trailer I saw gave me a vague sense of the tone and not much else. It was fun to just experience this movie on its terms.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more impressed I am and the more I like it. Characters are not necessarily what they appear and you’ll leave with a lot to chew over. I feel like this one will stand up well to repeat viewings.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

the strangers prey at night poster

★★★½ 

10 years ago, I watched the first movie, and I was struck by the bleak, unflinching way Bertino dealt with violence. It wasn’t a fun movie like Friday the 13th or Saw, where the violence is spectacle. The original was somber.

This movie is…strange.

On the one hand, it makes sense to push the aesthetic to more of an 80s slasher vibe. The original evoked 70s exploitation, so a decade later, this one evokes 80s slashers–in all the ways you might expect.

I’m curious how the writing was changed between the original draft by Bertino and the subsequent draft. In some ways, this is almost the exact same movie as the first one, but with a higher body count. At times, the way the movie will hang on someone suffering for several minutes is very in line with the original, and it tries, at times, to recall the nihilistic themes of the first. (In fact, there is one plot point that I’m 90% sure was going to cpmpletely copy the first, but either got changed in reshoots or changed in a later draft.) But, in the last act, it pivots from basically the same as the first to deploying 80s slasher tropes so fast and heavy, it’s like they had a list and were checking boxes to fit them all in before the credits rolled.

This was more fun to me than the first, but that’s almost part of the problem. As a sequel to a movie that seemed to be making a point on how unpleasant and senseless violence is, this movie eventually revels in it, each plot twist upping the ante, stacking crazy on crazy until I was howling in the theater.

This one finishes like a rollercoaster. Not an original one, but a sort of fun one. However, it’s odd for a sequel, and seems to contradict it’s predecessor, and itself.

The Strangers (2008)

the strangers poster

★★★½ 

When this movie came out, I remember being horrified by it in a way that a lot of horror movies hadn’t. It unsettled me, shook me. I hated it. It wasn’t very gorey. It wasn’t as violent as the Saw movies. In fact, the plot of this movie could really be described as “Liv Tyler screams for 80 minutes.” So why was this so affecting?

I think this movie showed violence in a senseless, nihilistic way that I hadn’t seen before. It was bleak, and it’s a movie that doesn’t glamorize the violence or make the killers into joking cartoons, superpowered behemoths, or even surprise plot twists that reveal Jigsaw-esque master-planning. It’s just a quick, ugly movie, albeit with very nice cinematography that somehow feels very of its time while also calling back to 70s exploitation films.

Seeing it again 10 years later, there was something enjoyable about the bleak, frank message that I couldn’t stomach when I was a 19 year old pup. It was slow, deliberately paced, and a little quaint given jow much the horror genre changed over time.

Not a fun movie, not something I’ll own or watch often, but it was okay.

 

My Comics Project Update: June – December 2017

Jan2018 DC Comics.jpg

Hey, folks. It’s been a minute since I’ve done one of these. Money and time got in the way, but this is the perfect opportunity to finish up my updates for 2017.

First, if you’re new to these parts, here’s the backstory to these weird little posts: a while back I was trying to find a good Superman run to start collecting because the Snyderverse Superman bummed me out. I settled on Kurt Busiek’s run because I’d read good things about it online. Busiek’s run was part of DC’s “One Year Later” initiative where all of their titles jumped forward a year after the events of Infinite Crisis. That inspired me to create a spreadsheet placing the trades I owned in chronological order.

Over the next several weeks, I kept adding to the list, starting with the books in my Amazon wishlists, then cribbing from other lists I found online. My goal with the list became to create a reading list where one could start at the beginning of the DC timeline and read their way through to present day in roughly chronological order. The focus here is on readability over chronology, however, so I try to keep as many books in a run together as possible, doubling back if multiple books cover the same time span from different perspectives. The exceptions to that are typically if something big happens–like someone dying or a new character being introduced.

I came up with the order of my trade timeline from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this reading order list for Batman. Where the lists didn’t have information, I judged for myself based on the release dates of the original issues and the storyline descriptions.

Below you’ll see the list of all canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month. The ones underlined and in italics are big events that drastically altered the timeline and/or the universe in some way (usually a reboot).

  1. Blue Beetle: The Charlton Files
  2. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  3. Batman: Dark Victory
  4. Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  6. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  7. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  8. Justice League International, Vol. 4
  9. The Death of Superman
  10. Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 1
  11. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  12. Justice League: A League of One
  13. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  14. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  15. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  16. Birds of Prey, Vol. 2: Sensei & Student
  17. Birds of Prey, Vol. 3: Between Dark & Dawn
  18. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  19. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  20. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  21. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid’s Game
  22. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  23. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  24. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  25. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  26. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  27. Secret Six Vol. 1: Villains United
  28. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  29. Infinite Crisis
  30. Teen Titans Vol. 5: Life and Death
  31. Supergirl Vol. 1
  32. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  33. Teen Titans, Vol. 6: Titans Around the World
  34. Teen Titans, Vol. 7: Titans East
  35. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  36. Superman: Back in Action
  37. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  38. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  39. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  40. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  41. Superman: Redemption
  42. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  43. Superman: Shadows Linger
  44. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  45. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  46. Blue Beetle (Book 3): Reach for the Stars
  47. Teen Titans, Vol. 8: Titans of Tomorrow
  48. Blue Beetle (Book 4): Endgame
  49. Blue Beetle (Book 5): Boundaries
  50. Blue Beetle (Book 6): Black and Blue
  51. Batman: Batman and Son
  52. Batman: The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul
  53. Batman R.I.P.
  54. Final Crisis (New Edition)
  55. Batman: Battle for the Cowl
  56. Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds
  57. Teen Titans, Vol. 9: On the Clock
  58. Teen Titans Spotlight: Raven
  59. Wonder Woman: The Circle
  60. Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth
  61. Batman: Time and the Batman
  62. Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Batman Reborn
  63. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  64. Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Endrun
  65. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  66. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  67. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  68. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  69. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  70. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  71. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  72. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey
  73. Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters
  74. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  75. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  76. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  77. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  78. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  79. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  80. Justice League United Vol. 1: Justice League Canada
  81. Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga
  82. Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted (The New 52)
  83. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  84. Bizarro
  85. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged
  86. Midnighter Vol 1: Out
  87. Midnighter Vol 2: Hard
  88. Wonder Woman Vol. 1 (Rebirth): The Lies
  89. Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Path Of Doom (Rebirth)
  90. Trinity Vol. 1: Better Together (Rebirth) * 
  91. Superman Vol. 1 (Rebirth): Son of Superman
  92. Superman: Action Comics Vol. 2: Welcome to the Planet (Rebirth)
  93. Superman Vol. 2: Trials of the Super Son (Rebirth)
  94. Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel (Rebirth)
  95. Superman Vol. 3: Multiplicity
  96. Superman Reborn
  97. Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (Rebirth)
  98. Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham (Rebirth)
  99. Batman: Night of the Monster Men
  100. Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate (Rebirth)
  101. Batman Vol. 2: I Am Suicide (Rebirth)

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As I said in my last update, I’m keen to explore more comics about gay men, so I bought the two available trades of Midnighter. At first I was reluctant because the way I kept seeing the book pitched online was “a more violent Batman that’s gay,” which is a terrible pitch. Batman can already be gross and overly violent when written by the wrong writers, so the last thing I wanted was something even worse.

Still, he’s one of the few gay men in cape comics with his own series, so I sampled the book at Barnes and Noble before buying it. The opening fight was confusing and didn’t do a good job establishing who Midnighter was or what his powers were, and I don’t know if it was more violent than Batman as much as Midnighter takes perverse pleasure in beating someone’s face in. However, early in the first volume, Midnighter goes on a date with some guy and ends up beating the fuck out of some Russian homophobe before taking his date back to his place.

He was surprisingly charming. He didn’t bother with a secret identity. He literally uses his identity as Midnighter to pick up men in bars. Imagine Bruce going to bars and using that he’s Batman to pick up women. Plus, in the quiet moments when he wasn’t gleefully pounding a bad guy’s face in, he was very sweet. I was quickly won over by him. Where Batman uses his caping as a smokescreen, Midnighter uses it as a frame. He knows he’s damaged, and he thinks he doesn’t deserve good things because of that damage.

After that first confusing issue, things really do improve, and I highly recommend picking up the first two volumes. Plus there’s a crossover in one of the volumes between Midnighter and Grayson that was sexy as fuck and made me want to pick up the trades of Grayson when I’ve never really been interested in that character before–as a secret agent or as Nightwing. And, of course, I plan to pick up Midnighter and Apollo (the sorta third volume, sorta spin-off) as soon as our money stuff settles down a little.

Besides Midnighter, I decided to focus on collecting Rebirth the rest of the year. I couldn’t help myself–I wanted to read the Superman stuff, and people kept raving about Tom King’s Batman. I did grab a couple more volumes of Grant Morrison’s Batman run, and I always get some of Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman when I can find them cheap.

I haven’t had the chance to dig into King’s Batman, but I did read the Rebirth Superman and it’s actually really good. I prefer Superman to Action Comics so far. Tomasi has a way with writing the Dad of Steel that really understands the family dynamic of Superman. Action Comics is more, just…punching. It’s fine, and there’s some decent stuff in those volumes about Superman coming to terms with the possibility that Lex appears genuinely want to do good. That said, Jonathan is awful in Action Comics, although he does become much more tolerable in the second and third volumes.

Superman Vol. 2 stands out as a highlight because it features a team up between Batman and Superman…and Damian and Jonathan. Damian came across as insufferable as always, but Tomasi was able to draw some sympathy out of him that reminded me why I like the character even if he can be a huge pain in the ass sometimes.

Superman Reborn was okay for what it was–a zany, Silver Age inspired Superman story. I don’t mind those, but I don’t feel like it meshed with the tones setup in the preceding volumes. The ultimate resolution for there having been two Loises and two Supermen works okay, but the mystery behind the unpowered Clark Kent was a pretty big let down, and overall the antagonist didn’t jive with what had already been set up. It wasn’t properly set up, so it’s a twist that’s sort of meaningless.

Want to discuss books I’ve recently purchased or read? Any suggestions for books not on the list? Questions about the order of books? If you have any thoughts about this project at all, please drop me a line in the comments. I’d love to geek out about comics with you some more. Just please, no spoilers.

Happy reading!

2018 Goals

2017 was a rocky year. Jeez, I feel like I say that every year now, but it’s nevertheless true again. This past year, we had some financial issues that knocked us on our asses and had me working two jobs at one point (three if you count that I also participated in NaNoWriMo). Thankfully, we’re starting to pull out of that financial tailspin a little, and we could be doing really well by early 2018 if a couple sets of promising news pay off.  All this has me feeling really optimistic for the first time in a long while. These goals were made with the hope that we continue on our current financial trajectory.

Health

2017 was a fitness journey. I started focusing on fitness around April or May. I decided that I would start running again and counting calories. Both were terrible ideas. I hate running on a molecular level, and counting calories wasn’t helping me make good choices. It was just causing me to binge on garbage food any time it was around.

After a couple months of that, I decided to switch things up a bit. I wanted a diet plan where I didn’t feel hungry all the time, where any math needed was easy to track in my head without having to be super precise, and I wanted something I could adopt easily without much disruption in the way I cook or eat.

I did some research, and decided on a low carb diet. I wanted to keep it simple, so this is what I decided on:

  1. Cut out as much sugar as possible.
    • This wasn’t super difficult. I’d already replaced my sodas with diet sodas several years ago, and then replaced those with Splenda sweetened tea that I brew myself.
    • I don’t bake much, so that wasn’t much of a temptation.
    • Some things that seemed healthy didn’t fit my diet. I had to be choosier about fruits. I couldn’t really drink juice or smoothies. And breakfast cereals were basically off limits.
    • The hardest was cutting out candy, especially as the holiday seasons ramped up.
  2. Stick to between 100 and 150 carbs per day.
    • Much simpler math than trying to track how many calories in a serving. These are small numbers I can add in my head, and as far as I know you don’t burn carbs when you work out.
    • As long as you’re not snacking on junk, it’s easy to keep track of your total, and you don’t have to be super precise as long as you’re making mindful choices and buying things that are lower carb anyway.
    • It’s not about total carbs, but net carbs. Take total carbs and subtract dietary fiber and sugar alcohol. Make sure, especially with bread, that you read the label. Just because it says “whole grain” or “whole wheat” or “great source of fiber” doesn’t mean it’s actually high fiber.
    • The only cereal I’ve found that was high enough in fiber to balance the carbs was Fiber One–not the kind with the flakes, the kind that looks like rabbit food. It was too bland and mushy on its own, so I bought a small bag of shredded coconut and mixed about two teaspoons in to give it more texture and flavor.
  3. Don’t worry about calories
    • Meat is higher in calories, but there are virtually no carbs in it. I’m not a huge red meat eater–mostly we buy chicken or ground turkey. I wound up eating a ton of eggs and bacon for breakfast, and eating fish for lunch–usually tilapia or salmon.
    • You can eat all the veggies you want. My lunch usually consisted of an entire 12 ounce bag of steamed veggies and a fillet or two of fish. I ate a fuck ton of broccoli and cauliflower, plus carrots, green beans, and brussel sprouts. It was a low carb lunch with a ton of food and kept me full all day.
  4. Cut out higher carb foods.
    • This meant no breads, no pastas, no rices, no potatoes. You might think, “Well, shit…isn’t that basically everything?” Yeah, kinda. I had to look for alternatives or substitutes wherever possible.
    • Cauliflower isn’t a miracle food, but it is a surprisingly versatile veggie. Riced cauliflower works pretty well as a rice substitute, especially in fried rice, and while mashed cauliflower can’t pretend to be mashed potatoes, with some sour cream and bacon, it’s super tasty on its own.
    • Low carb tortillas are a goddamned life saver. Tacos are low carb as long as you swap out the rice, and they can be used for tortilla chips in a pinch.
    • Spaghetti squash only takes an hour to roast in the oven, and you get a shit load of noodles. It obviously isn’t spaghetti, but it works great in traditional meat sauces, and it worked phenomenally in chicken noodle soup.

Doing all of this, I wound up losing almost 40 pounds. Weight loss wasn’t my goal, necessarily. I wanted to make healthier choices. I found myself more alert and energetic, eating less, and staying fuller for longer. The holidays–Halloween, then Thanksgiving and Christmas, torpedoed my efforts, I plan to get back on track in January. I thought it’d be hard to go back, but I’m actually looking forward to it. I find myself feeling sick after eating sweets now, so I think I’ll be way more moderate in the future.

My health goals for 2018:

  • Resume my low carb diet–eating between 100-150 carbs per day.
  • Get down to about 200 lbs by the end of the year–this is a weight I know is healthy for me.
  • Possibly do the 100 pushups a day for 30 days challenge in February or March–paired with my diet, I think it could yield interesting results.
  • I may also try going back to the gym a few times a week, depending on how my January schedule looks.

Writing

I’m actually proud of the amount of writing I’ve done the past couple years. I wrote around 75,000 words in 2016 over the course of two months–admittedly on a novel that fizzled and died due to poor planning and the election, but still. And I successfully won NaNoWriMo for the first time ever in 2017. I meant to finish that novel in December after taking a week off, but financial issues and the holidays messed all that up.

This is the third or fourth attempt at this book, and I want to finish it once and for all and move on to something else. I have 50,000 words written, and I’m guessing I’ll need about 50,000 more to finish the book. So here are my goals:

  • Finish my rough draft of my current WIP novel and put it away for a good long while.
    • I don’t have a fixed schedule or a hard deadline yet. I originally wanted to finish my WIP by the end of January, but I think work may take up a lot of my time in the coming year. I’m playing it by ear, but saying by the end of  February or March for now.
    • I want to write more regularly. NaNo showed me I can write every day and get my words in, so I want to stick to a writing schedule, but not a daily one so I have time to do other things. I’m thinking maybe 2000 words 3 times a week.
  • Complete 6 short stories and submit them to short story markets.
  • Begin work on my next novel, which is in a completely different genre. I’m chomping at the bit to work on this one.
  • Write a blog post a week. I miss blogging–this place is after all just an excuse to talk about whatever I’ve been obsessing over to give my poor wife a break.
  • I’m also toying with the idea of branching out creatively and trying other things.
    • I might try to make a video game for fun–something like Dream Daddy’s interface–or maybe an RPG like Pokemon.
    • I’ve also been thinking about writing and recording some short horror radio dramas in the vein of old radio shows–organ music, sound effects, cheesy, over-the-top dialog and delivery.

I’m excited to get back to writing. Part of that stems from having won NaNo–even though I haven’t completed a novel yet, I feel like I’ve really leveled up as a writer, and I’m excited to push myself even more.

Another part stems from trying out this software called Dabble. It’s like a simplified Scrivener or yWriter. It’s app or browser based, backs up to the crowd, lets you break your book down into chapters and scenes, let you create scene cards to outline your book, and even has sections for worldbuilding and story notes for things like characters. It looks slick and seems extremely easy to use.

Reading

I’m not putting a lot of numbers or structure to these goals as they’re more general Things I’m Trying rather than hard or fast goals. That said, my goals for 2018 are:

  • Read 25 books
    • Every year, I have the goal to read 25 books, and every year I fall short. I did better this year than last year–15 books this year versus nine books the year before–but quite a bit worse than the last few years. I would like to at least hit 20, but I’m keeping the goal at 25.
  • Read more books by people of color and queer authors–both fiction and nonfiction.
    • I have been doing a decent job in my ongoing goal to read more books outside of my experience. Of those 15 books, 10 were by women, four were by people of color, and five were by queer authors.
    • That’s not bad, although it’s notable that Ania Ahlborn, Mur Lafferty, and Victoria Schwab each appear on the list twice, which means that six of the books were not only by white women, but the same white women. This isn’t overall bad, but I feel like I need to push myself even further and read more books by authors of color in various genres.
  • Related, I’m going to actively seek out more books about gay men (and by gay men if at all possible), as I continue working through my sexuality and what it means for me.
  • I would like to purchase at least a book a month this year to consume, preferably new releases if possible.
    • I follow a lot of authors, and yet I don’t read their works when they’re out, new, and actually add usefully to the author’s figures. I would like to change that.
  • Read more prints books.
    • A lot of the books I’ve consumed the past few years were actually audiobooks. I’m not sure how that will shake out in 2018–I have some work stuff pending that might mean I don’t sit and listen to audio stuff as much. Even if I do, I want to get back to actually reading more–I love audiobooks, but the way I consume those is different than the way I consume a print book, or even an ebook.
  • Read more non-DC/Marvel comics.
    • I love Marvel and DC, but they dominate my reading, and while there is great stuff coming out of there, there’s also a glut of great stuff coming from other publishing houses–Archie comics, Boombox, Image, Oni. And I read almost none of them. I’ve read a volume or two of Sex Criminals, a volume of Bitch Planet, Locke and Key, and Saga, but I really want to branch out and read more. I want to read more varied indie series, and I’m really interested in reading some non-DC and non-Marvel superheroes. I’ve been very interested in Faith, and I want to check out The Shield from Dark Circle.

Other

Assuming that our finances continue to improve, there are some Life Things that I want to do. Some are big things, some are small things, but all of them would be amazing.

  • Contribute to Patreons.
    • I used to donate monthly to Pseudopod back when my wife and I had a decent income, and I would love to get back to that. There are several Patreons I want to contribute to that I haven’t been. I’d also love to find more things to contribute to–whether it’s buying someone’s book or donating to their kickstarter. Giving back is something I very much want to do.
  • Move to a bigger place.
    • When we had to sell our house a couple years ago, it meant downsizing in a massive way. We’ve been living in a pretty small apartment for a while, and we’re getting crowded out with stuff. This year, I want to upgrade to a bigger place. There’s some townhouses nearby that look perfect and are in our price range. They’re pretty much a dream come true, assuming we can move there.
  • Get a deep freeze
    • This is silly, and it depends on if we get the place we’re looking at, but I want to get a deep freeze so we can store meats or bulk items more easily without crowding out the rest of our food.
  • Get a washer/dryer
    • Our washer and dryer in our apartment are crap. The high shrinks my clothes, but the low takes something like 8 hours to fully dry a load. We never had this problem with our washer and dryer we owned before we sold our house. Getting something so I don’t have to hang up most of my clothes in the shower and turn a fan on to dry them would be amazing.
  • Continue working on my Spanish.
    • I started learning Spanish through DuoLingo back in September and October, but it got abandoned due to life and financial stresses. I want to get back to that and keep up my practice

Some of these goals are silly little things. Some are dependent on other things. But 2018 feels like the year to hope for silly things and then work as hard as you can to make them a reality. Some may be things I try and abandon. Maybe that’ll be the case for everything on this list. But a New Year is a fresh start to wipe away the failures of the previous year and begin again.

I hope that 2018, regardless of whether these goals get abandoned, rewritten, or accomplished, brings some much needed improvement in our lives after several years of stress and strain. And just as importantly, I hope that it brings you what you need as well.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

2017: A Look Back

2017 has been a doozy of a year, that is for damn sure. I remember this time last year people were eager for 2016 to end because it had been a festering, pus-encrusted sore of a year–between the never-ending nightmare of the election season, the nuclear-like fallout of that very election, and the endless parade of beloved celebrity deaths, we were glad to see 2016 go.

And then 2017 happened. It has been an exhausting year. To paraphrase a popular joke on Twitter, “What a decade this year has been.”

I really don’t want to be overly negative–God knows we get enough of that daily–but I want to write an honest look back on this year in particular just to take stock, and a lot of this year has, unfortunately, been negative. That said, there’s been some positive, too. In order to avoid being nothing but rage-fueled ranting, I’m breaking this post into categories.

The Bad

The President

Let’s just get this out of the way.

When we were all laughing about how terrible 2017 was, I remember saying, “You know 2017 will be worse, right? With 45 in office? It’s impossible it won’t be worse.” And while most of my friends agreed with me, I still saw people say, “Give him a chance. It’ll be fine. Give him a chance.”

I never did, but I hope this year has shaken them of their delusions that 45 is anything but a rolling dumpster fire intent on spreading his chaos everywhere he can. He is a plague monkey wiping his diseased feces on every surface he can.

In his first week, he tried to ban travel from Muslim majority countries, which got overturned twice that I know of. In the first two months, he claimed that Obama had wiretapped his tower for reasons. Sean Spicer was fired, Anthony Moochi was hired and fired within a week, and then now Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is doing that job even though that’s not actually her title?

We have a president that bald-faced lied about the side of his inauguration crowd. Who slashed budgets for education, who has taken every step possible to undo anything with Obama’s name on it, from repeatedly trying to dismantle Obamacare, to undoing the act that protects Bald Eagles, to ending the Dream Act.

He’s also attempted to ban transgender people from serving in the military, claimed that the unprecedented protests against him are all paid protesters, refused to denounce Nazis killing in his name, and called football players quietly kneeling to protest police brutality “sons of bitches.”

We are living in a dark, dark timeline, and every single day, things get worse and worse in this country.

The Republicans

It’s not just 45. The Republicans realize that our president is a gibbering, easily-fluffed dumb-dumb at best, and are using this as their opportunity to loot and pillage everything they possibly can–cramming every single unpopular bill they’ve tried to introduce for the past 30 years through Congress while they hold a monopoly hold on every branch of government. They finally passed a tax bill that managed to both tries to relitigate Roe v. Wade, but they also included aspects that gutted Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and significant portions of Obamacare while making sure to add a tax write-off provision for owning your own private jet.

We saw Republicans rally in support of Roy Moore who has had so many claims of sexual assault–particularly against minors–that he was banned from his local mall. And we had them support him anyway. They didn’t even question it.

The Rest of the Nation

We saw several large Nazi gatherings for the first time in decades on our soil. A Nazi killed a woman by driving through a crowd. And while the Internet did its best to razz on these pathetic excuses of invertebrates, it’s still haunting to see the rise of this hate. Hate crimes are on the rise, emboldened by 45 and his white-supremacist ideals and supporters.

We’re already seeing the beginnings of LGBT rights being rolled back. It’s in small doses right now–starting with trans folks because they’re the most vulnerable, but a lot of job protections are being rolled back in places. We’re seeing new stories relitigating whether businesses can have “No Queers” signs.

In this year, we saw one of the best presidents of my lifetime leave office, and one of the worst presidents of my lifetime take over. It’ll take us decades to undo all of this damage. It’s been a disheartening, frustrating, dismaying year.

The Good

Entertainment

Things haven’t been all bad, though. We have a woman superhero headlining her own movie for the first time in a long, long time. Wonder Woman isn’t the first movie starring a woman superhero. We’ve had a few of those: Superwoman, Elektra, Catwoman…I’m sure there’s another… probably? But none of those were like this. Wonder Woman was a goddamned vision.

Star Wars continues to be a glimmer of grim hope in a dark world, and The Last Jedi may be the best thing Star Wars has ever done–a series that seems very deliberate in its message that Star Wars is expanding to include other people now, and the rest of us (namely, white men who have had it too good for too long), need to be okay with that.

I saw the first movie I think I’ve ever seen about a polyamorous relationship–and if you haven’t seen Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women, you absolutely should.

We have seen small but meaningful gains in diversity of entertainment both in front of and behind the camera: Get Out, I Am Not Your Negro, The Big Sick, Thor Ragnarok, The Girl With All the Gifts, even the incidental diversity of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Ice Man came out in the comics. America had her own comic. Ms. Marvel continues to be a beautiful, geeky, bright spot in the world. Black Panther had a couple of series, all written by people of color. In spite of some extremely stupid things (*cough Nazi Cap cough*), it’s been a very good year for entertainment.

Next politics, but the bright side.

Protests

There seems, for the moment at least, to be a steady tide of seats flipping from red to blue in places where that was basically unheard of before. In spite of the Republicans embarrassing our country in front of the entire world by endorsing a suspected pedophile, we elected a Democrat in a long red state.

Additionally, we saw one of, if not the biggest, protest in the history of the world after 45’s inauguration. He was protested GLOBALLY–on EVERY continent. I have attended several protests this year–protests to save our healthcare system such as it is, protests against Nazis, protests against our president, protests against police violence. People are angry, and they’re speaking out, even in my very red state. I imagine 2018 will shape up to be a very interesting election season.

Personal

The Bad

2017 was a shit year on a national level. It was also a shit year on a personal level. Financially, this has been one of the roughest years I’ve ever lived through. While 2015 saw us selling our since since we could no longer afford it, I found myself this year getting a second job just to keep up with the bills. We winnowed our expenses down to the bone and had to borrow money more than once to make it.

My wife’s health has not been great, and has continued to deteriorate. Her disability has gotten worse and she now experiences tremors related to her nerve damage at least a dozen times a day, if not more. Our dog had to have surgery because he cracked a tooth, which got infected. My grandfather had a heart attack, had a multi-bypass surgery, and then fell of his porch a few weeks later and broke basically all of his ribs on one side, sending him back to the hospital for a few weeks. My mom has had to deal with the financial burden of taking care of all of that.

This progressively have gotten worse throughout this year, rounding the year out with one of the worst Novembers I’ve ever lived through, discounting maybe last November, but also maybe they’re tied.

However, I don’t want to say that 2017 has been all bad. There have been some amazing things that have happened this year.

The Good

It’s a small thing, but I spent the first half of this year collecting a lot of great comics. I managed to get my hands on the entirety of the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash run, and all of the classic Dang Garrett Blue Beetle. I got a big chunk of the Jaime Reyes pre-Nu52 Blue Beetle run, I got a couple volumes of Gail Simone’s phenomenal Wonder Woman run, and about 2/3rds of the Geoff Johns/Scott McKeever Teen Titans run. And I got to read a series in which a gay man got to be a badass in Midnighter.

This may seem like a small thing, but comics have been one of those things I’ve been able to escape into when things were bad. Collecting these books has sometimes made all the difference. It sucked that I could keep up the habit into the latter half of the year, but it was still a bright spot.

Writing wise, I won NaNoWriMo FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER! I hit 50,000 words in a month. I fell behind pretty early on and spent the rest of the month was spent trying to catch up. I wound up writing more than 3000 words a day the last two weeks or so to catch up, but by golly I did it. I was only planning on taking a week off after that and then jumping back in, but a week turned into a month pretty quickly. Since it’s December, I’m not too mad about it, but I do need to jump back in so I can finish the book up. It’s really not good at all, but it’ll at least be finished, and that’s something. I’m sad I won’t get to finish it before the year is up, but I have a lot of momentum to carry me into 2018.

Health-wise, I’ve actually lost 40 pounds this year. I reached a new level of fitness I didn’t think I could anymore. It’s not just about losing weight, but eating healthier and making better choices. I found a diet that worked for me–and that’s diet in the “daily consumption of food” usage, not the usual usage. I cut out most sugars, a lot of my bread consumption, and some dairy, and upped my veggie eating, and I have felt better than I have in a long time.

I should add a caveat that December meant I dove headfirst into eating like trash because Christmas cookies, and pies, and stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and pasta, and candy, and eggnog, and booze–YUM. But I now know that I can do this, and once the new year has begun, it’ll be back to cutting all that out and eating healthy again. I’m actually looking forward to it. Eating like crap the past few weeks has made me feel like crap, ha ha. (Also, my wife will be joining me, which is great! I think both of us eating well means we can encourage each other.)

I shaved my head. This may seems like a silly thing to include, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time–I started noticeably balding by age 20, so it’s honestly well overdue. I tried to mitigate it as long as I could, but there was just no way around it. And I like my look much better bald, to be honest. It’s made me feel more confident, and paired with how much better I’ve felt with my new diet, I’ve been trying on new clothes, buying hats, and liking myself physically for the first time in years.

Coming Out

Also, I came out as bisexual this year. This has been something that’s been very strange to grapple with because it’s changed everything and nothing. I came out to my wife, to my friends, to (some of) my family, and online, but I didn’t come out at work, and since I’m married, it hasn’t really changed my day-to-day life. I’m not going out and meeting men, but I can finally acknowledge that part of me without feeling ashamed.

That said, I have family that I haven’t explicitly told. I know they know. I posted about it on Facebook and changed my Facebook picture to me wearing a shirt declaring I’m bisexual, so they definitely know. I suppose it’s cowardly to not just come out and tell them, but I’ve spent my entire adult life arguing with them about gay rights and what being gay means (before I’d even admitted my sexuality to myself). One of them stopped buying a certain brand of beer when they found out they supported gay marriage. I know where they stand, and I didn’t want to have that conversation with them. I couldn’t deal with hearing what they really think about me.

Still, I’m happy I came out, and I hope that as I grow more comfortable with myself that I’m able to feel easier about who I am and let myself be more free. Goals for 2018, I suppose.

The Hopeful Future

On a professional front, I received some bad news earlier this year. I was rejected for a position that I by all rights should have gotten. This isn’t a question of pride–I was literally already doing the job. It would have been essentially a promotion. However, I didn’t get it due to a bunch of work politics. That hurt me, and it sent me emotionally reeling. Before I could begin to recover, we got hit with a whole mess of additional financial issues as well, which only served to highlight just how crap it was I didn’t get the position and how much better things would have been financially if I had gotten it.

I hit a dark place emotionally. I was starting to feel buried and helpless. NaNoWriMo actually helped me quite a lot in that regard–it gave me something I could focus on besides the creeping feeling of sand spilling in around me, slowly but steadily rising above my head.

When I wasn’t working on NaNo, I dove into programming. I’ve been working on expanding my programming skills off and on for a couple of years, but it’s been in fits and starts. Being rejected for that position lit a fire under my ass, and I went hard into working on my Python, C#, and .Net. I’m proud to say that my hard work has paid off. I managed to get an entry level programming position and should be starting that sometime in January. This is great not only because it’s what I want to do professionally, but it’s also a MASSIVE, literally life-changing financial improvement. When I found out, my wife and I cried on the phone because it was the first glimmer of hope we’d felt in months.

Wrapping Up

On the whole, 2017 has been a bag of crap, and I’m glad to put it in the rearview mirror. That said, there have been some good things to come from it all, and I feel like I’m stronger coming out the other end. I’ll make a proper 2018 resolutions and goals post later, but I’ll just say that things, on the personal front at least, are looking up. I’m coming out of 2017 tired, but invigorated and ready to dive in and get to work. I hope that you feel the same.

I’ll see you in 2018, folks. Let’s make it good. Together, I believe we can.