Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Book "Review": Rebel Heart

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading a book called "Rebel Heart", written by Graham Bradley. (When searching for the book I highly recommend searching for the author's name. You have been warned!)

The book is based on a simple premise: What if the British Empire had used magic to expand it's borders?  Basically, the British empire sent over mages, wielding powerful magic, to suppress and control their colonies.  Because of that, the American colonies never successfully one their war of independence.  George Washington was killed and the colonies were still under the rule of the British Empire.  Despite them British wielding a superior force, the Americans found a way to fought back.  A secret underground movement works to fight back against the British.  Armed with technology, these 'technomancers' wage war against the mages.

The book follows the story of a young man who works with his parents on a farm.  He is young, brash, yet still very brave.  On an impulse, he embarrasses the local mages and attracts the attention of the technomancers.  The story really picks up from there.

Overall, the book is really fast paced.  The dialog and the plot are both easy to follow and it is relatively light on the descriptions.  The writing style made me think about a comic book, but with explanations of what the characters were doing rather than pictures showing what they were doing.  I found the writing style to be refreshing compared to the book I was reading at the time (a Wheel of Time book).  I would have preferred to see a little bit more character development (there was a smattering here and there).

Overall, I really enjoyed the book.  I would highly recommend reading  it.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Let me take a poll, who out there is perfect? Your options are "I am" or "I am not." And the "I" in these options is not for me, T.J., but for each reader individually.

Now, for anyone who says (and absolutely believes) "I am", let me direct you to: 2 Nephi 9:34.

A while back, I wrote a post about the topic of perfection. I gave permission (psh, like it's mine to give) to everyone to not be perfect.

But this topic is back on my mind again.

Now, let's adjust my original: Who do you know that is perfect? Your options are "He is", "She is", "They are", "You are", and "No one currently on this planet."

And let's go with what the results are supposed to be: 100% of the answers better be "No one currently on this planet" or, well, everyone not saying that is just wrong. Especially if anyone said "You are" which refers to me. (Psh, you obviously don't know me.)

LDS Hymn number 220 is "Lord, I Would Follow Thee". I have always been fond of the second verse which reads:

Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can't see.
Who am I to judge another?

I love all the words in this. There are those of us who judge others as being worse. But funny enough, there are those of us who judge others as better than we are. The 3rd and 4th line to this verse is something we all would do well to repeat. "In the quiet heart is hidden/Sorrow that the eye can't see."

We have no idea the sorrows and worries and concerns that befall someone. Whether that be our bishop, or our next door neighbor, or someone we see for five seconds and think, "That person just seems so perfect." Honestly, there is no doubt in my mind that we don't know the whole story.

That's why it's unhealthy to judge someone, whether we see them as better or worse than we are. Honestly, there's a whole lot we don't know. And even if we do know them, that doesn't give us a right to judge them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew 7: 1-2)

Sure, we can gauge how vulnerable we are with a person. Our trust is important to us. I try to use the Spirit to guide who I trust and to what extent. That doesn't mean I'm never wrong. But really, in my opinion, judging goes to labels and how we label someone.

Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Ditz. Lame. Dumb. Lazy. Goody-two-shoes. Perfect. Better than me. Holy. Infallible. Accomplished. Rich. These are all judgments. And all words to avoid. Not just because it's unfair to the other person, but honestly, it's unfair to us.

Final words: judging others positively puts them on an unwanted pedestal. Judging others negatively puts us on an undeserving one.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Facing Faith: Lessons from the other Slayer

You know what's great about Amazon Prime?  It's only $40 for students for a full year. You get free shipping on certain products and can watch Amazon Prime Watch Instantly for free. I've been watching Buffy: the Vampire Slayer over again and I'm currently in the third season. I really like the world building that Joss Whedon has done with this show. The third season introduces a very complicated character named Faith (played by the absolutely gorgeous Eliza Dushku), another slayer who comes to Sunnydale to replace another one that died.

Her hard exterior hides emotional pain.
Buffy occasionally runs into other slayers and it is interesting to see how different they are from her. Faith is no different. Buffy plans when in combat whereas Faith improvises. Faith is a bit of a wild girl whereas Buffy is a bit more responsible. Faith, for all of her flaws, proves to be a welcomed addition to the team and actually, a great partner for Buffy. Buffy learns to be more imaginative and resourceful with Faith. At least, things go well at first.

Buffy starts to take on too many of Faith's flaws. Eventually they both get in trouble with the law and accidentally kill a human instead of a vampire. Both the girls are in shock over their mistake. Buffy feels awful for what has happened. Faith feels nothing. Or, more accurately, shows that she feels nothing and suppresses any feelings that she may have.

Faith's emotional constipation proves to be a bigger problem than any sort of solution. She becomes a dangerous loose cannon and can't be reasoned with. Faith even violently attempts to take sexual advantage of Xander when he tries to reach out to her. Seriously, Faith could really use a 12 step group. Buffy and friends try to reach out to her only to keep hitting emotional walls and sarcastic remarks.

Faith is eventually betrayed by her watcher and escapes to try to run away. Buffy tries to reason with her only to be interrupted by vampires. Despite being overrun, Faith kills most of them and saves Buffy's life. Buffy sees that Faith still cares for her despite her wounded soul and sanity. Unfortunately, Faith chooses a villainous path (eventually finding redemption in later seasons.)

Watching Faith's story made me think about the times that I have been like Faith and when my friends have been like Faith. The thing is, I'm actually really in touch with my emotions. I can't play it cool like her and usually have to feel painful stuff 100 percent. (It's both a blessing and a curse.) Buffy and Giles want to help Faith and do so cautiously. The wrong words or wrong move will cause Faith to do what she's always done--run away.

For me, I've gotten frustrated with this because I'm not good at it. I can support a friend that comes to me who knows what they're feeling or at least knows something is up. With Faith, she has suppressed her feelings to a point of ignorance or apathy. When I've tried to show love and support to friends like this, it usually ends up becoming an argument or fight.  Thankfully, Buffy and her friends show a good example of how to be a friend that someone like Faith needs.

Lessons from Xander

In a previous episode of Buffy, before Faith accidentally kills a human being, Xander helps Faith fight a demon and they have sex. For Faith, she just wanted to have some fun. Xander comes to think that there's an emotional connection he shares with Faith only to find nothing is there and hurt from it too. When Xander reaches out to Faith he is only hurt emotionally and physically.

When people we care about are emotionally shut off from us, we need to be in a place of confidence. As much as we may want validation from them, we won't be able to get it. We have to have... faith (pun intended) that they do care about us. We need to see their unkind and insensitive words and actions come from a place of hurt and fear. It may hurt us but we have to show them that we're safe even if they are not.

Lessons from Angel

Xander is saved from Faith's abusive behavior by Angel. Angel knocks her out and she wakes up to see that she's locked up. Angel tries to reach out in empathy and understanding and Faith responds by making sexual advances trying to avoid talking about her feelings. He expresses that, no, he doesn't trust Faith but they aren't all that different.
"You and me, Faith, we're a lot alike. Time was, I thought humans existed just to hurt each other. But then I came here. And I found out that there are other types of people. People who genuinely wanted to do right. And they make mistakes. And they fall down. You know, but they keep caring. Keep trying. If you can trust us, Faith, this can all change. You don't have to disappear into the darkness." Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After not getting anywhere Angel retreats to Buffy and reports, "It's like talking to a wall. Only you get more from a wall."

Sometimes we can lose our trust in people--even our friends and allies. It can feel like we aren't getting anywhere with them and not connecting to them at all. To me, Angel does it right. He doesn't take Faith's bull crap but still reaches out in empathy and understanding. Faith has to learn to trust her friends if she's to put her unacknowledged guilt and shame behind her.

Lessons from Buffy

Faith keeps up her sarcasm even when confronted by Buffy. She even bids her to fight to try to get Buffy admit her own bloodlust. Buffy denies it and reaffirms her choice despite lashing out on Faith in a moment of weakness. Giles asks Buffy if she thinks Faith will ever turn her life around. Buffy believes that she will. Giles then believes as well but not because of Faith but because of the true friend she has in Buffy.

A true friend won't always be able to be able to save their friends from themselves. They can be an anchor or a lighthouse to them but the real saving has to come from within. When we've done all we can for friends who are hurting and numbing themselves, the only thing we can do is to continue to believe in them. We may need to take distance to take better care of ourselves. They may walk out on us. We can come to a place where it is painful and hard to love them. The people that are the hardest to love are the ones that need our love the most.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The End of the Useless Dad?

Okay, before we go on, I need you to watch this video real fast...

Done? Okay.

Media has a mixed history with fatherhood, you ever noticed that?

It tends to be the case in most media, especially the mainstream sitcoms of the 80's and 90's. Dads are usually overweight, out of touch with their children, just wanting to go home and sit in their favorite recliner and have a beer. Usually when referring to their children they're hesitant at best and completely useless at worst, needing the mother to swoop in and explain to the child that "Father means well" and to father "at least you tried".

It's even worse when we hit Disney. Going through Disney's filmography we notice a disturbing trend. Usually the father is perfect but dead (Mufasa, Cinderella's father, Snow White's father), wise but completely out of touch with their children (Chief Powatan, Fa Zhou, King Triton), or what I think is worst, tiny useless man-children (the Sultan, Morise, and Professor Porter). It's hard to find a father who starts and ends the story in a good place with regards to their children in Disney.

Fictional films I feel are the worst culprit of all, replacing the man-children in the Disney formula with turned evil, the best example of course being Ol' Shiny Head, Darth Vader. Most of the time in film the fathers aren't even mentioned unless they've turned evil or the child is avenging their deaths for one reason or another.

So why do fathers get so much grief?

Really sad to say but that's just what people can relate to most. I want you to try something: Picture all the divorced people you've ever met and tell me how many fathers were granted full-time custody of their kids. I bet that number is pretty low. Now I want you to go through all the married couples you know where the mother goes out to work and the father stays home and takes care of the children. I bet that number is even lower yet.

What we have here is that children get to see their fathers as tired from a long day at work and not wanting to interact, or father barely if present in their lives at all due to the complications of divorce. Writers, who grew up in the same environments we all did, take these life experiences and translate them into their writing, so thus we get a majority of fathers who are absent from their children's lives, or who must be rebelled against or defeated entirely.

This is why I like the video.

I am going to say that not ALL fictional dads are hopeless. In recent years positive father role models have been popping up in fiction. They're small and kept mostly in the background but they exist.

Sitcoms have given us Kurt's father from Glee (Look I don't watch this show that much). His son is gay, and instead of having to do an episode where the homophobic dad learns a lesson, the dad already knows and just wants his son to be happy. He even goes as far as to defend his son against a boy who in some TV shows would've probably been the man's son, an athletic tall straight young man. This is a father who loves his son, not in spite of or because of any socio-cultural factors, but because Kurt's his son.

I can't talk about fathers without bringing up Legend of Korra's Tenzin, the son of Aang. Tenzin has four beautiful children, three of them airbenders, and he not only loves but trusts them implicitly. He trusts them to teach the new airbenders that cropped up this last season. He spends time with his children, including training them in the Air Nomad ways and teaching his son how to train flying lemurs. Tenzin is the son of a man we all knew would make a great father, and has passed that love down to his children.

Disney's even got a good father, in the form of Pacha from Emperor's New Groove. Pacha is fighting tooth and nail to defend his home, not because it's his or because of some property law, but because his family lives there. We sadly don't see much of him with his kids, but what we do see are kids excited to see him and he's just as happy to hear about their days. Plus any family who can defeat an evil sorceress without powers and a bun in the oven has to have a good dad in the mix somewhere.

Last but not least is film. It took me some time to find a father who didn't have to go through a story arc to be a good dad but I found one, though sadly it cracks my rule because the guy ends up dead: Thomas Wayne from Batman Begins. Thomas doesn't judge his son for falling, but teaches him to get back up. He also doesn't judge or shame his son for his fears, but instead shows him compassion. In all the stories written about Batman we almost never get as clear of a glimpse at the Waynes before they die as we do in Batman Begins, and what we do get finally gives us what we need to understand Bruce. He didn't just lose his father, Bruce Wayne lost his dad.

So I am very excited for this Cheerio's commercial, if for nothing else than because it gives us a celebration of fatherhood, and dads everywhere.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Podcast Episode 06: WIlly Wonka and the Seven Deadly Sins

You have the awesome opportunity to listen to me talk about one of my favorite movies of all time and its interesting connection to the general Christian concept of the seven deadly sins/vices.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Salt Lake Comic Con responds to San Diego's demands

Well it was bound to happen. Salt Lake Comic Con's been such a hit long enough a drama was going to pop up eventually, and here it is.

A few weeks ago San Diego Comic Con issued a cease and desist order over the use of the phrase "comic con". Salt Lake had till the 6th of August to respond.

And here's their response.

In a nutshell, Salt Lake isn't going to change anything because San Diego is jealous
, and that's pretty much where it all comes from. Salt Lake Comic Con is the new kid on the block with new toys and an interesting way to do things, and San Diego isn't the coolest kid on the block, so they're going to throw rocks at them.

Sad, really.

Check out the video, you'll be glad you did.


Monday, August 4, 2014

T.J.'s Top 10 Favorite Books

I'm a writer. Well, I try.

Anyway, as a writer, a lot of people say "oh, you must read a lot." It goes well with Stephen King's advice of read what you want to write. Not only that, I have a lot of author friends (and non-author friends) who read a lot of books. Guess what, I don't read that much. Here are a few reasons: 

First, I am a slow reader. I try to speed read. But I can't. My slow reading, though, is actually not a problem to me. I like to savor as I read. I imagine what is going on quite well. And taking my time through the story is always awesome.

Second, I can't be interrupted whilst reading. Otherwise, I just can't concentrate. Some noise is okay. But with three children, "some noise" isn't usually what I get.

Well, today I want to share with you my 10 favorite novels.

10.  The Discovery by Dan Walsh
      I'm not sure what category of fiction this falls under other than "General Fiction." This was the first I read by him, which is a common bias. The bias being "The first book you read by (author who writes stand alone novels) is most likely going to be your favorite." Part of it is, though, that the main character is an aspiring writer who is trying to make it on his own as the grandson of a well-known author. This story goes back and forth between present-day concerning Michael Warner and reading his grandfather Gerard Warner's journal. And even though it's not the world's greatest story, it's still got good themes in personal growth.

9. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
   Remember my statement earlier about the stand alone author bias? Yeah, this one does NOT work. The Street Lawyer was the 4th Grisham novel I read. I think the reason I like this book so much is placed in someone ruining his dreams over the idea of what is moral. Michael Brock doesn't give up his place in his firm easily and is afraid of the men he's going against. But I always love seeing an underdog win.

8. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
    This isn't a creepy book. Not at all. (insert "Sarcasm" sign.) However, it was an excellent story at an alternate history. It gives a unique thought process on Lincoln's rise to becoming the president. It also shows the passion he had for protecting human life. I also really liked the theme of "some people are just too interesting to die."

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
    I know a lot of people who hate this book in the HP series. And then these same people love the 4th. First of all, the fourth has the biggest plothole centered on a key plot element (the portkeys). The 4th is a huge book that needed to lose about 200 pages to be worth reading again. However, book 3 gives insight into Harry's dad, his friends, and the great lengths they go to protect Harry. Also, a lot of people point to #3 as to having nothing to do with 7-book plot. But there's one thing those people miss: #3 is the calm before the storm.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
   I used to call this "The Not-so-great Gatsby" because I had to read it in high school. But with the recent film (that I've still not seen), I realized it was the only book from those 4 years that I was interested in ever reading again. And this year, I did. This time, I loved it. The style of Nick's bromance with Gatsby is so well written. You can see that Nick truly cared about Gatsby, but just wasn't the kind of friend to put up his hand and say "Dude, you're an idiot and need to stop before someone shoots you for something you didn't do." (What? Nick couldn't predict the future?)

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
   You may notice that 40% of the books on this list are over 50 years old. An adaptation of the old adage would be "they don't write 'em like they used to." The Hobbit is one of those classics that I think everyone should read. It's a feel good story of not letting one's desire for complacent safety get in the way of extending one's possibilities.

4. I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
   Dan Wells is freaking scary. Okay, not really. I've met him a few times in the last 4+ years, he's actually pretty awesome. But it's his style of telling a story that can be mentally disturbing, yet mentally challenging that makes this one of my favorite books. It's not just the plot, it's the style, the theme, the characterization. I think the lessons that John Cleaver learns about "being oneself" in this series (and this book) are pretty applicable everywhere as well.

3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: It is not coincidental that The Muppets Christmas carol is one of my top 3 favorite movies and that this book is one of my top 3 favorite books. The classic story of a Victorian miser dealing with a set of ghosts as they try to teach him the true meaning to life. You thought I was gonna say Christmas, didn't you? Yeah, he did learn the true meaning of Christmas, fine. But really, it's not like he changed his life around one day a year. He changed his life around because he understood that money only led so far.  

2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is the ultimate geekdom book for 80's babies. Also, it's written in an awesome dystopic future that gives a virtual reality more investment than the destroyed world people live in. As we follow Wade through a puzzling quest that impacts both the real and virtual world, he teaches us that we can learn to interact in virtual reality all we want, it just comes at a price of having real connections in the real world.

1. And Then There Were None.. by Agatha Christie. Kudos if you know this books original title. FYI, it's not Ten Little Indians. I don't mind calling it "And Then There Were None..." simply because of the finality of that statement. For me, this is a sheer classic and one of the best mysteries written of all time. (No offense to people I know personally who've published mystery.) Agatha Christie places clues that people may or may not catch onto as to the killer's identity. The thing about this book is I've read it a few times, know who the killer is, and can still read it to find little Easter Eggs left by the author. The thing that makes this book most disturbing is you can translate it to today and still see the same result.

Thanks for reading and stay-tuned for me flying solo on the podcast concerning Willy Wonka and the Seven Deadly Sins (or rather six, but still).

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.