Movies, Mahnke, & Money

If you order DVDs through Netflix, old school style, they are delivered in fancy red envelopes. Open it up, watch the movie, insert back into the envelope, and return through mail. Fairly simple. Inside the envelopes, they promote various contests or upcoming events, usually seasonally related. However, the most current contest confused my oldest child.

"This doesn't make any sense." Christian said. I asked him what he meant and he explained, "Why would you bring movies with you if you were going to be stranded on a deserted island? Wouldn't you rather bring some survival supplies? If I was stranded on an island, I'd be more focused on living and getting back home than watching my favorite movies. Besides, what are you going to watch them on? Your laptop? And how long do you expect your battery to last? It's not like there's a TV there. Or electricity. Unless there are other people on the island and they have a TV you can use. But then you wouldn't be stranded. This is ridiculous."

I want to say he was overthinking things. Taking it too literally. After all, it is only a silly contest. But he does have a good point.

One of my current favorite podcasts is called Lore. Hosted by novelist Aaron Mahnke, Lore dives into the true origins behind ghost stories, monsters of legend, and modern mythology. I crave a good story and Lore is overflowing with greatness. The show is fascinating, and Mahnke's voice is near hypnotic. My off-kilter timbre landing somewhere on the spectrum between Mickey Mouse and Eeyore is jealous. Beyond his podcast, Mahnke is also an entertaining personality to follow on Twitter. He is witty, intelligent, and articulate. His bias is clear but not in a way to elevate himself as better than anyone else.

Last week, Mahnke went on a tweet spree. This series of tweets cemented his place on my list of people I want to meet some day. Note: this was all in response to people complaining he was "too political."

Reading through his rant, I wanted to jump up and down, throw my fists in the air, and shout, "Me too!" Check out Mahnke on Twitter and do yourself a favor, listen to Lore.

Whoever thought that chipped debit cards was a good idea should be fired from their job. Then rehired so they can be fired again. And they should be banned from working in research and development at any company - especially banks. Some people have good ideas. That person is not one of them.

I'd rather swipe my card. I hate those chip readers. Loathe them. They've made spending money more complicated than it needs to be. But this is the world we live in now. Yay for progress.

This is how a real transaction transpires:
"Please swipe or insert card." *swipes card*
"Chip enabled, please insert card." *inserts card*
"Do not remove card"
"Do you want cash back?" *no*
"Please enter your PIN number" *enters PIN*
"Do not remove card"
"Do not remove card"
"Do not remove card"
"Please remove your card now." *removes card and machine beeps*
"Thank you for shopping with us, have a nice day.

This is how every transaction feels:
"Please swipe or insert card." *swipes card*
"Swiping not available. Ha ha. Fooled you. Insert card." *inserts card*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"No, seriously, don't remove your card." *waits*
"Don't even think about removing your card." *waits*
"Don't do it, bad stuff will happen." *waits*
"Do you want cash back?" *no*
"You're thinking about removing your card, aren't you?" *no*
"If you do it, I will break you."
"Please enter your PIN number" *enters PIN*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"Because if you do, it will disrupt the process." *waits*
"Do you want to start this process over? DO YOU???" *no*
"Then don't remove your card." *waits*
"Remove your card. DO IT NOW! Hurry up. What is wrong with you?" *panics, grabs receipt instead of card*
"What are you doing?" *removes card as an air raid siren starts whirring*
"It's about time. Thank you, come again."


Didn't see it coming ...

Disclaimer. The following contains some strong and possibly probably offensive words. When it comes to topics like addiction, depression, and suicide, I tend to speak the language of the broken and the hurting. There are certain elements of the human existence which escape the normal realms of my linguistic abilities. There are maladies in our lost world that do not deserve my politeness or my eloquence. Consider yourself warned.

Today is a day that Linkin Park fans should have seen coming. Or at least we can make that determination in hindsight. Still, the headlines were shocking. To lose Chester Bennington so suddenly and without any hint this would (or could) happen.

image courtesy of the indie spiritualist

Yes, he struggled with addiction and alcoholism. Yes, he fought his demons to get clean and sober. Yes, he had a rocky relationship with his fame. Yes, he had a painful childhood and years of pent up anger. All signs pointed to someone who battled depression and anxiety. After all, Linkin Park’s breakthrough single found Chester singing the opening lyrics, “I cannot take this anymore.”

On the other hand, he was a man who was loved by his family and his bandmates. He was a man respected throughout the industry. He was a man who inspired and encouraged a legion of fans.

As is often the case, the smile he wore disguised a darkness in side. It was a mask to cover the fragile real person inside who was on the verge of collapse. He managed to channel his rage through his songs where he’d sing and scream and emote as if performing with his band was a cathartic counselling session. For those of us who found his music at the right stage of our lives, Linkin Park was a form of therapy for us too. We found solace and solidarity in these songs.

After the suicide of yet another of our musical heroes, we engage in the only form of grieving we have available. We return to their songs and mourn the loss of someone we never met. While we didn't know them personally, they helped us get to know ourselves better. So that is how I spent my evening: listened to Linkin Park and cried. And in the middle of all of it, I could see a pattern I had not noticed before. Their music continually evolved, but if you pay attention, Chester’s pain is woven into their lyrics throughout their history.

Sixteen years ago, they released the single ‘In the End’ where Chester sang “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”

A year and a half later, the first single on their second album contained the chorus, “I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real, I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long, I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real, I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along, Somewhere I belong.” I listened to this song in tears today realizing that he never healed. He couldn’t let go of the pain. He never found that thing he wanted.

In 2010, the song ‘Waiting for the End’ came out, containing lyrics from Chester, “All I want to do is trade this life for something new, Holding on to what I haven't got.” Fifty-one days after Linkin Park released this single, my grandfather passed away. This song helped me cope and grieve, and even now I am crying as I type. I will always think of Grandpa Casey when I hear this song.

Four years ago, LP collaborated with Steve Aoki for their twenty-fifth single, ‘A Light that Never Comes.’ As that song played this evening, I broke down. Chester’s limited contribution to this song found him “Waiting for a light that never comes.” And I couldn’t escape the thought that the light never came.

I’m at a loss for words. Another headline of another dead rock star in another tragedy that could have been avoided. I am sick of this shit. We, as the human race can do better. Depression does not have to be a terminal disease. Drugs and alcohol do not need to be life sentences. We need to address the mental health crisis in our nation with serious and deliberate efforts. Because depression and suicide is not just something for the wealthy and famous. It affects us all. I’ve lost good friends to suicide and I don’t want to see it happen again.

So I have a message for death: fuck you. And suicide? Fuck you. Depression and addiction, I love my friends too much for you to take them from me so fuck you too.

We are all flesh and bone, damaged and weary. Yet I hold on to hope in this beautiful messed up world. There's a Linkin Park lyric that says, “This is not the end.” And I believe that. If you’re feeling like you’re waiting for a light that never comes, please don’t go. There is help. If you are in pain, you're not alone. If nobody else is listening, come find me. I’ll be here.


Status Check: Tidbits

You might see a bit of a slow down in the number of my blog posts over the next couple months. For a multitude of reasons.

1. It's summer and the kids are keeping me busy. They're spending most of their time at a day camp while I'm at the office. After I pick them up, the activity continues. JJ is playing baseball again this summer. I'm spending some quality time with each of them. And I am still trying to make Saturdays our adventure day. Most nights, by the time we get home, we cook dinner and start bed time routines.

2. I'm busy trying to get school done. It is more work than I anticipated, but it is the good kind of work. One recent class required the weekly assignments to be written as blog entries which was easy for me to figure out since that's what I do. In case you missed them, you can find those posts here, here, here, here, and here.

3. I've also written a couple articles for the parenting site They Call Me Dad. My second contribution was posted today and you should go read it. The first was published in April; you should read it too.

4. Speaking of writing, I am hustling to complete the first draft of my book. There is a lot of research going on and I want to have something that I can begin to share by the end of the year. In order for that to happen, I have to work my butt off. I'm roughly 20% through the project and I am more excited about it than anything I've ever written.

My temporary work-space. Note: Wendy's is not paying me to promote them, but I wouldn't object if they did.

5. Not everything in my life is about kids and work. I have been spending a lot of time with a wonderful woman and on Sunday we will be celebrating a year together. Thankfully, she supports my ambitions and encourages me to write, which makes everything else I talked about in this post so much easier.

That should summarize the state of life at The Faithful Geek. A five-for-Friday post on a Monday. As I start my 13th year of blogging, I am so grateful for those of you who regularly read along, for those of you who geek out with me, and for the few of you who periodically disagree with what I have to say. You have made it possible for me to enjoy something that I never imagined doing: to call myself a writer.

Thank you for sticking around. When my fingertips are not busy plucking out words and sentences and paragraphs for school, guest posts, or my work in progress, you will continue to find my thoughts about what it is like to be a Christian, a dad, and a nerd in this bizarre and beautiful world. Until then, do me a favor and click on an ad or two. It will make my oldest son happy.


Spider-Man: An Adequate Homecoming

What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe work is how they are more than just comic book movies. The MCU blends a host of genres into their films - all retold from a superhero perspective. The Iron Man trilogy covered terrorism, scientific ethics, and corporate espionage. Captain America provided a historical war drama in The First Avenger and a political thriller in The Winter Soldier. Thor was a redemption story framed in high fantasy. Ant-Man was a heist movie. Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies were space operas. And now, there is a coming of age story: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

image courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, & Sony Pictures

My first impression of Homecoming is overwhelmingly neutral. Bright and colorful, humorous and entertaining. It didn't feel overly long despite the 133-minute run-time. Yet, I walked out of the theater filled with competing emotions: satisfaction and disappointment. I enjoyed the movie, but I'm conflicted.

Tom Holland embraces the geeky awkwardness of Toby Maguire's Peter Parker and the jovial quips of Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Spidey. Additionally, Holland has a youthful charm not possessed by either of his predecessors and Homecoming benefits from his ability to fit the role of an angsty teenager. Homecoming picks up in the aftermath of Civil War where Peter Parker had his first taste of official superhero work. He is eager to get out and do it again.

The villain is perfectly cast by Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. Toomes starts off as a contractor managing waste disposal after the Battle of New York (the climatic third act of The Avengers). His contract is terminated, leaving him and his crew unemployed. They are replaced by Tony Stark’s newly created US Department of Damage Control. One of Toomes' employees (The Tinkerer) discovers some of the alien technology still in their possession can be used to create useful tools. Toomes begins a new criminal career stealing alien tech and Stark hardware from USDOC. They repurpose these scraps into weapons to be sold on the black market.

Several familiar faces reprise their MCU roles. Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May. Robert Downey Jr plays the mentor and father figure Tony Stark/Iron Man. Jon Favreau plays Stark's bodyguard and best friend Happy Hogan. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a surprise appearance as Pepper Potts, Stark's girlfriend. And Chris Evans filmed a series of PSAs as Captain America.

Despite the basic formula of good guy stopping bad guy from villainy, Homecoming is essentially a movie about a high school kid in the midst of high school drama. The cast is filled with teachers and students that make up the world of Parker's daily life. Kenneth Choi is the school principle and Hannibal Burress coaches the academic decathlon team. Parker's best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the wingman. Liz (Laura Harrier) is most popular girl in school. Tony Revolori plays Flash - breaking the stereotype of the jocks being a bully. Instead, Flash is just a normal kid who is also an obnoxious jerk.

Aside from the heroics, Parker wrestles with typical teenaged struggles. He is the smartest kid in school but has trouble applying himself, has a crush on the cutest girl in school, is constantly picked on by the bully, and experiences apathy toward all the things he once enjoyed. He is the kid who wants to grow up too fast. After helping team Iron Man in Germany, school is suddenly boring. He would rather be on missions with The Avengers, saving the world – abandoning education for adventure.

Homecoming succeeds by skipping the origin story. Peter Parker was a kid when the chitauri invaded Manhattan; it is the most significant event of his childhood. He grew up in a world where superheroes were known and their exploits were newsworthy. By the time Spider-Man appeared in Civil War, we knew he was doing superheroey activities and posting videos of his antics to YouTube. That's how Tony Stark found him. We don't need to revisit the spider bite that gave Parker his powers or the death of his uncle and the "great power/great responsibility" speech. We don't need those key moments in Spider-Man's origins because they have been told many times before.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie. I enjoyed it. The casting is excellent, the costume design is impressive. The script is concise. The story line is engaging even if predictable. Some of the best moments of the movie are the most human interactions - especially a tense moment between Parker and Toomes, neither character dressed like their hero/villain alter-egos. My favorite scenes were musical montages: the first set to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones and the second to The English Beat's Sooner or Later.

I give you a glowing review. An appealing summertime blockbuster. But somehow, I'm unimpressed and feel a little let down. Homecoming is part of the MCU, has the Marvel feel, and would not have been possible without the inclusion of Iron Man. However, it didn't have the same weight or impact as much of Marvel's expanding library of films. No big social issues. No deep philosophical meaning or moral lesson. I have no desire to go see it again like I have with several of the previous MCU movies.

It is only a story of a kid learning how to be a better superhero. It isn't a great movie, it's just OK. It is better than bad but falls short of amazing. It saved the franchise after the mess that was Spider-Man 3 and the two Amazing Spider-Mans, but did little to stand out among the crowded superhero genre. It's good enough to make me want to see where these characters go next but not so good that I'd call it a must-see movie. If you like comic books, you will probably enjoy it. If comic books aren't your thing, you're not missing much. Homecoming accomplished what it set out to do. Nothing more, nothing less. In other words, it is an adequate movie.


Doing Something Right: Summertime Edition

Summer has arrived in full force. A little belated but North Idaho has seen gradual warming since Father's Day and last Friday was the first time we reached 100 degrees this year. The sun is out and will be lingering for a while. For some people, summertime weather means beaches and boats, hiking the mountains or floating the river, sunburns and tan lines, summer camps, bonfires, volleyball, frisbee golf, cliff diving, baseball games, and backyard barbecues.

Not me, though.

Sure, my family participates in many of those typical summer activities. My oldest has earned himself sunburns on two consecutive Fridays and is slowly learning the value of sunscreen. My youngest has played his first two baseball games of the season and I took the kids out to watch the Spokane Indians last week. We will partake in opportunities for swimming and hiking and grilled foods. However, those activities and experiences don't make my summer summer.

For me, there is only one thing that makes this season feel truly summer-like. A soundtrack.

There are certain songs that should only be played between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is music that makes you feel like you belong where the waves crash along the shore. There is a particular collection of tunes that dance and in hand with inflatable pool toys and roasted marshmallows. Whole genres that beg to be played during the summer months. Reggae. Ska. Salsa.

Or maybe I am just weird. Which is always a possibility. However, summer just isn't summer until I hear a couple specific songs.

This year, with a new car (I named it Emrys, BTW) that has an excellent sound system, I needed some cruising music. So, I did what I have enjoyed doing since I was a teen growing up in the 90's. I did what I was once paid to do in my former job as a DJ. I created a mix of songs for the occasion. It has been playing in my car for the last three weeks with a few breaks to listen to Spanish lessons with the kids.

My munchkins are growing more familiar with the music I selected. After listening through the full playlist a couple times, each of my three kids have picked out the songs they like best. One day, about an hour into the mix, Zu had a question for me.

"Where's the Fresh Prince?" She asked.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's classic summer jam 'Summertime' is the second track in my playlist. It is one of those songs that I must hear before I can accept that this hot weather is valid and acceptable. It is one of those songs I believe is best played while driving around with the windows down and volume up. And that song is the one my daughter wants to hear the most.

This is how I know I'm doing something right. My daughter, like most girls her age, wants to listen to Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande or Shawn Mendes. Yet she has an appreciation for old-school Will Smith. She will belt out the lyrics when Corinne Bailey Rae plays. I will catch her singing along with some obscure artists like Ozomatli or The Sundays, bands I know she would never be exposed to without having a father like me. It makes me smile every time.

Because serious musical conversations with others is one of my favorite things, I'm sharing my summer playlist with you. These are the songs that define summer for me. Enjoy.


A New Dream

I've always been a dreamer to one extent or another. As a ten year old, after watching Back to the Future Part II, I dreamed of one day riding an actual hoverboard. In high school, I had dreams of becoming a songwriter or a radio DJ with my own morning show.

Now, the grown up me dreams of being a good dad and seeing my kids make world-changing contributions to society when they grow up. I dream of having a book published. I dream of losing weight. My insatiable and unrequited wanderlust dreams of travels to see destinations from New Zealand's Hobbiton to the remaining Tatooine sets in Tunisia. I long to climb to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and attend a church service at Paisley Abbey in Scotland - with a small detour to see Loch Ness. My inner dork wants to own a Mini Cooper and a Cadillac Escalade XL, and have those two vehicles parked side-by-side in my driveway.

It's good to dream. Of course, we should set goals and work towards achievements. But there is something special about having dreams, especially when you have someone with whom you can share those dreams. Even if it is an unachievable vision or silly daydream, imagining the possibilities of where your life could go builds feelings of hope and optimism. Looking at the state of the world today, we could all use a little more hope and optimism.

These days, I'm starting to see a new dream. One that is shared. One that the more I think about it the more it sounds appealing.

Life on a farm or ranch.

I know what you're thinking. You want to know what logic I have dreaming a rural lifestyle. Me, the person who has spent his entire life in the suburbs. Me, the kid who grew up in the shadow of Seattle, shunning country music for the grunge and punk rock that hit peak popularity as I came of age. Me, the geek, video gamer, and cinephile; the urbanite who finds comfort in the sound of traffic, the feel of large crowds, and the sight of city skylines lit up at night.

And you might be right. Despite attending a high school nicknamed Cow-Pie High, I am the last person you'd expect to enjoy the day to day life with livestock and acreage. My exposure to ranches is limited to guided horseback trail rides at summer camp. My experience with farms is nothing more than the smell of bovine manure wafting over the fence during football home games in the MPHS stadium. I enjoy my five minute commute to work. I appreciate having a Subway, a Jack-In-The-Box, and a MOD Pizza within walking distance of my apartment.

Yet I have a new dream. Weekend before last, my girlfriend invited me out to see her horses. They're boarded with a friend of hers who has a barn and large pastures and the space to train horses. We hung out with her and a few others that also have horses staying there. Porch lights shone instead of streetlights. Traffic noises were replaced with chirping crickets, honking geese, and clucking chickens. I watched the sun set with nothing but trees lining the horizon. I rode a horse in an open pasture late into the night. While there, a thought crossed my mind: I could get used to this.

I pictured the kids playing in the fields - chasing grasshoppers in summer and snowball fights in winter. I envisioned warm nights sipping on a mojito and lounging in a hammock next to a campfire without worry of neighbors interrupting my chillaxation. I could see myself saddling up on a horse for recreation on a regular basis.

This isn't a random hypothetical thought experiment born after a single night socializing in a rural environment and spending a couple hours on horseback. I wouldn't be having these thoughts if it were not for several conversations I have had with my girlfriend over the last year. Then my oldest son admitted that he doesn't want neighbors.

Some background: my girlfriend wants to find property in the middle of nowhere that is big enough for her family and her horses. She wants goats and chickens. She wants fruit trees and a garden. She will ask me random questions out of the blue like "If I got a pig, would you help raise it?" Or "Could you eat the meat of an animal that you helped raise?" When she asked me if I would enjoy living out in the middle of the woods, I told her I could live anywhere as long as I have wifi.

If things work out between us, the chance of me following my girlfriend into the country isn’t just a possibility, but an inevitability. I don't find this proposition intimidating, but alluring.

This is where my new dream begins. In this vision, I would contribute to the chores of feeding and caring for animals. My breakfast would be made with fresh picked cherries and recently laid eggs. While the kids are at their mom's house, I could work a part time job or volunteer somewhere. And days when the kids are staying with me, I could drive into town, drop them off at school, then take my laptop to Starbucks to spend the day working on my next book until school is out and we all return home.

Obviously, we can't do this right now. This is a dream about how the future could look. If I want it to be a reality, I need to get a publishing contract. If I want to get a contract, I need to have a book. Which means I need to finish my manuscript. Which means I need to hustle. Because when it comes to a ranch life, I could get used to it.