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One thing I find frustrating is adults who feel the need to apologize for their reading habits, whatever those habits are. Nearly everyone does it. “I don’t read as much as I should.” “I don’t read very fast.” “I don’t read anything important.” “I read too much.” My question is: who set these rules? Is there some reading authority out there telling people that reading is a competition? One must read the right books at the right speed in the proper amount. Is there an award for the person who most meets these guidelines? Are the judges secret so one might be talking to a judge at any time? Must we be ready at all times to give the proper answer or face serious consequences?

I think the way we teach reading is making us all so neurotic about it that we can’t focus on the actual reading. Once upon a time when I was going to be a teacher (which I bailed out of when I saw into the yawning chasm of how much more college it would cost me) I learned something important. Books are chosen by teachers or school boards (or the government . . .) not because they are by some metric the great works™ of literature but because they make it easy to teach things from. You can teach symbolism using The Great Gatsby because Fitzgerald thought glowing billboards are subtle. The Scarlet Letter teaches “those nasty teenagers to quit treating each other so poorly.” When you look at “the cannon” you start to realize that most of them contemporary with each other were buddies. Strange that the great works of a given era all come from the same circle of friends, huh. The reality is that what stories survive through the generations are the ones people love. I don’t use “people” in the general sense here. I mean specific real people who held on to the books they loved and shared them (often by educatorial fiat) with other people. Now I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball, as Rip Torn famously said in a movie I can’t recommend. If you can figure out Shakespeare you can figure out Javascript.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that english teachers aren’t the owners of your reading soul. They aren’t the arbiters of your worthyness once you leave class. All they can do is make a mark in a card that you will eventually throw away. You don’t have to answer to them if some random person wants to talk books with you. Generally speaking, most people don’t have time to judge your lives. We’re all too selfish to think of the whole ramifications of someone else only reading two books a month. (Or year, or decade.) When people want to talk books, despite their own insecurities about it, they actually want to talk books. Lets work on not waste those moments on the confessional box.
I want to make a living at writing so I look at the market with all kinds of trepidation. We are competing with videogames, tv/movies, youtube, friendship simulators, arguing with strangers, etc . . . some of which are designed specifically to be addictive. There is no real cure for the Skinner box. Reading books is such a rare thing now. (Although people read much more now than they ever did, the trouble is they are reading regurgitated clickbait.) It’s tough enough out there for a book nerd that we shouldn’t be holding each other or ourselves to these ridiculous guidelines (yes, you must imagine me doing a Captain Barbossa eyeroll here.) Read what you want, at the pace you want, for whatever reason you want, and never apologize for it. (Except for [insert controversial book here], you must totally apologize for that one.)

Through the Desert

I have been reading Gustav Janouch’s Conversations with Kafka. Janouch’s father worked in the same building as Kafka and would find reasons to go talk to him. On one of these occasions Janouch found Kafka drawing, he asked to see the drawing and Kafka swiftly destroyed the paper. This happened a few times before Kafka relented and showed Janouch his scribbles, and they were scribbles. Janouch asked him if he had ever taken any classes and Kafka said no. Kafka had wanted to find his own way of rendering things. He used the metaphor of the Exodus saying that he was still in Egyptian bondage and had yet to cross the Red sea. Janouch responded that after the Red sea is the desert and Kafka said, “Yes, in the Bible and everywhere else.”
I love this metaphor especially in regards to creative work. I’ve watched so many people who wanted to be some sort of creative abandon it because of that desert. Okay, backstory for those who haven’t seen The Ten Commandments: Moses secures the Jews’ freedom from Egypt and parts the Red sea so they can cross to the promised land. Unfortunately there is forty years of desert on the other side. It was a long movie. The important take away here is that they do finally make it to the promised land, it just takes way more work than they thought it would. There is plenty of thought that it would have been better just to stay in Egypt.
For a creative just starting out things are nice. They are in a world of enthusiasm and promise. Whatever the goal is, whether monetary success or critical accolade or even just satisfying a personal need, at this point it seems closer than ever. If they can just get over that sea, by some Moses-sized miracle, then they can make it. So they put in the work with confidence and learn what they need to learn then find themselves with that miracle (this being that they are actually any good at it) and find only forty years of work ahead of them with no clue that the promise will be fulfilled.
The old joke is that it takes ten years to become an overnight success. And for artists who want that overnight success, those ten years can be incredibly daunting. Who knows, if Kafka had not died so young perhaps we would have been talking about his paintings and considered The Trial and The Metamorphosis to be footnotes of his career.
When they say one must suffer for their art, I think this is what they really mean. I don’t think you have to go without meals, although that may be a byproduct of spending so much work with little return for so long, or have awful relationships (unless you are Taylor Swift) you just have to spend forty years in the desert of your art.

He really is Groot.

They said they were crazy. They said it was a waste of all the goodwill and capital they gained with the Avengers movies. They said a lot of things in between the time they announced Guardians of the Galaxy at SDCC and now when we can actually see it. I think they are saying different things now

.Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014

I usually write spoilery reviews but since it just opened I’ll save my deeper analysis for later.

I had never heard of them before that announcement. Although I did encounter Rocket Racoon and Groot earlier. I did a little research and I thought either this was gonna be the weirdest movie or the best. It’s both. They had a large sandbox to play in, and with such a small pre-movie fanbase they had freedom to utilize that to make something that is art today. It’s not a callback to stuff that everyone has known for fifty plus years. It’s a callback to stuff that only the hipsters of Marvel fandom knew about before it was cool. Now it’s cool. The coolest thing there is today. (Today being August 1st 2014.)

Howard Tayler said he wants to see it again with a notebook to figure out how they did it. I kinda want to too. There is so much packed into the movie. You’re crying two minutes in, then laughing at five, then cool tech squee at eight, then danger and action and horror and kinda romance and scenery and set pieces and plot and exposition delivered cleanly, quickly, and hilariously, and they keep cycling and rolling and pushing you through things you’ve never seen which suddenly become important, not just to the movie but to you. They give us the familiar using the 70s music Peter Quill brought with him and other call backs to previous movies.

I’m still in the afterglow but I declare that it is the best Marvel has produced. I need to revise my head list of the best SuperHero (joint trademark Marvel and DC) movies because it’s there. I need to revise to see what other movies actually still belong on that list. The art has been raised I think. The same way SpiderMan and The Dark Night raised the art at their times.

After Daredevil Stan Lee (who has his all important cameo in GotG) wrote an article about what Comic movies should be. He said, “Think, a party.” And that is the party.

I though about writing the characters for you so you’ll know who’s who, but the movie does that so well that despite the fun it will provide for me it isn’t needed.

It’s a movie, go see it.

Oh and stay for the very last moment, it is the most worth it of any after credits scene.

I’ve been mulling over the question of whether Mormons are Christians lately. Nothing really sparked it, just all part of my random access memory. I’ve read and been present for plenty of arguments about it. Some of these were between scholars, church officials, laypeople and even full on trolls. They all tend to end in a sort of, “We’ll see.” The mistake many of these arguments fall into is zooming in on details if the proverb is to be believed then that’s where the devil is. When two people are looking at each other to prove whether they are the same or not the closer they get the more they find different. I wonder if all the Christians in the twenty centuries, and beyond as far back in time as it goes, lined up and compared beliefs how much similarity there would be?

I don’t intend to change that with this argument, but here is where my understanding is right now:

Is there an unforgivable sin? Many preachers of Christ will say no, you can’t sin beyond Christ’s forgiveness. I agree, all of my study and personal revelation tells me this. Christ forgives sin categorically and personally. But then how are people damned? It is because they don’t accept that forgiveness. They refuse the gift. Christ will not force it on them because Heaven cannot be a prison. So the sin isn’t unforgiven but it is unforgivable because the person will not take the forgiveness and set it in the place the sin used to be.

Given that definition, I ask how do Mormons not accept the forgiveness of Christ? I know there are answers to that. 
There are some who say that we act like we can earn it ourselves as if it is our effort alone that will save us. All I can answer to that is that we believe faith is a verb not an emotion. Picture two players on a basketball team. They both say they have faith in their coach. The first one at a pivotal moment when the coach tells them to pass shoots. The second, when the coach yells pass they pass. Which of these have faith? No, I don’t believe discipleship is a rejection of forgiveness or an attempt to supplant the grace of Christ. Anyone who thinks they can achieve exaltation by their own effort is building a tower of Babel and have greatly underestimated the distance to Heaven. The only difference between the worker who started earlier in the day than later is they had a better day.
There are those who object to our view of God which admittedly is different than other branches of Christianity. Would the god who forgave those who tortured and executed him, who innocently suffered for the world’s sins and still forgave, damn people for having an imperfect understanding of him? Even if we are totally wrong about that is that enough to disqualify us from the eternal grace of God? Is there a threshold of understanding of Christ that one must reach before their prayers are heard? Picture yourself standing before Christ, nevermind how you got there, and he isn’t exactly how you thought he’d be, does that make you an unbeliever? Does that make you reject him? And what if someone you were sure wasn’t going to be there was standing right next to you?

I care less where we get sorted in the catalogues and censuses of the world than where we get sorted at the judgment bar of God. I can’t say for certain how it will work out for everyone. I do believe it will have more to do with each person’s personal relationship to God than what box they checked on the survey. I do believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints is the true church. I believe that God still talks to the world through his prophets and that He still talks to his children through the Holy Spirit. I believe that God has laid down a plan of happiness and happiness can be found by following it. I believe that there is no name or path to salvation that isn’t Jesus Christ.

 

Image

I’m going to be spoilery so go see Amazing SpiderMan 2. I personally forbid you from reading any further if you haven’t seen it. Not that I have any power over that. At the end of the day you have to make your own decisions. Just in case you don’t want spoilers but are one of those people who can’t control themselves and feel compelled to read past warnings I’m going to ramble a bit before I get to any real spoilers. Also I’m a rambler, do with that what you must.

It’s too much to ask that a story be the same when it is told in a different medium. It is even too much to ask that a story is the same when told in the same medium to different people. Even the same person approaching the story at different times will see it differently. It isn’t too much to ask that the spirit of the story remains across mediums. Yes, spirit is hard to codify. Impossible to universalize. Difficult to understand and reproduce. We can tell when they don’t even try though. (Cough Shamelion’s Last Airbender movie cough hack.) Adaptation is a form of scholarship, when you make a movie about something you are also making a statement about it. The whole point is to show the initiated a new side to it we haven’t seen and to advertise the rest of the story to those new to it. Also the point is to make money, don’t forget the money.

Now, SpiderMan is huge, it’s a concept and a story that has more words and pictures about it than most other things. When you go and make a SpiderMan something you are adding to an already large body of work. It is multi-faceted and has had many authors. The only reason we can say it is the same thing is it shares the title. I find it funny when people talk about cannon as if it were a real thing when it comes to things like this. There is no one real SpiderMan. Different versions hold different treasures for different people.

ASM 2 is the most SpiderMan movie ever made. The scholarship into the earliest issues of ASM shows. They hit on all the points that made SpideMan a top tier hero from the earliest days of Marvel. He’s not just strong he’s a scientist. He’s not just a nerd but he’s also good with women. (That was a part sorely lacking from the Maguire movies.) He climbs walls and builds gadgets. His fighting style is half psychological half tactical. He has to save the world and struggle to pay the bills. He’s both warrior and detective. Andrew Garfield’s interpretation is spot on for the SpiderMan who lives in my head.

Jamie Foxx gives a whole new angle to Max Dillon. It’s great that he was already fixated on SpiderMan before gaining powers. The original Max Dillon was a jerk of a lineman who wouldn’t climb a power pole to save a man’s life till they paid him to. Then after gaining powers decides to rob banks, because why not? I love that this interpretation is a terminally lonely dude who is so lonely that he doesn’t know how to interact with people anymore. I feel for him because I’m much the same way. A good villain is a tragedy.

It did disappoint me that what put him over the edge was a sniper with an itchy trigger finger. Those don’t really come in that variety. Snipers are the most disciplined shooters in the world. It’s a terribly overused trope. I’d rather have had SpiderMan make the mistake, being caught in a lie or making an ill timed aggressive move. It would have been better for the hero/villain symmetry.

A major issue the movie has which didn’t bother me in the least is the fifth act tacked on to a four act structure. The movie really ends when Electro is defeated. That’s the yay moment where we can all go home happy. For many kids the movie Bambi ends with Mom hitting the eject button at a certain happy point. The second the screen turns green is when the setup for the Sinister Six movie starts. I don’t blame them for doing it this way, it gets some major plot points out of the way so they can hit the ground running next time. I think this will be less of an issue when a person can sit down and watch them together. (Unless they screw up the Sinister Six which is going to be tricky considering Too Many Villains Disease.)

Also I don’t think this particular movie suffers from TMVD as I have read from other sources. It has two villains and a bunch of henchmen. The Rhino is just a henchman and was there in the end to show us that SpiderMan got his groove back.

Gwen Stacy didn’t have to die.

Emma Stone has the speed and delivery to keep up with Garfield which was important in their exposition scenes. I want more of her being Gwen. I want more Gwen running around being smarter than SpiderMan keeping him grounded in reality.

People who love the early SpiderMan comics have a Gwen shaped hole in their hearts. Now hopefully they pulled it off well enough in these movies that people who loves these movies will have a similar one. Not because I think it is good to have holes in your heart, but no I do think it is good to have holes in your heart. Good holes I mean, not the surgery-needing kind, metaphorical ones make you a person who cares about things and people.

Anyways, ASM 2 is my favorite movie so far this year and I foresee it being one of my favorites in the future. 2 has turned out to be a good number for Spidey. You have to understand that I’m a hardcore SpiderFan. “With great power comes great responsibility” is in my code of honor. Know that I am seeing this through the eyes of love, and love forgives.

Okay, so sometimes my brain just refuses to write things that other people tell me to. This is the main reason I’m so tired of school. The hard assignments I can do. They are fun and exciting. The easy ones, writing a one page review of any documentary when I’ve watched three in the past few days should be easy, are so hard because it’s too easy. It’s kinda like that guy in the bible who has leprosy and he asks the prophet how to heal it. The prophet says, “Take a bath in that river over there.” and He’s like, “No, I want something hard like climbing a mountain carrying three purple goats.” Then the prophet says, “Oh so it’s too easy for you?” and the guy is like, “Yeah, it should be something difficult.” The the prophet says, “Okay take the hard way then, which is dying from leprosy.” Long story short the guy went and bathed in the river and was cured. The moral of the horribly paraphrased story is that I really shouldn’t chain sleep deprivation with blog posting/bible quoting. Anyway when my brain is in rebellion mode it wants to write really weird things. So here is a story I wrote that is almost as much words as the easy ones I should have written so I can go back to sleep.

Actually
By Vernon Ray Jackson

That homeless person you passed on the street is actually really nice once you get to know them and give them a bunch of money.

That girl who wears the same outfit everyday so people think she’s poor actually has OCD and more money than you’ll see in a lifetime.

That boy who is picked last for every sport actually is a great athlete, he’s just lazy.

The cheerleader who everyone thinks is the most popular is actually very lonely because her family moved away without her.

The boy you wave hello to everyday but don’t know his name actually knows your name, and phone number, and address, and passwords.

That girl being bullied for having pigtails actually has a few extra vertebrae coming out of the end of her spine.

The boy you don’t want to talk to because he can’t speak English very well actually speaks perfect English he just thinks you’re a jerk.

The girl you said had a dumb lunchbox actually had a dumb lunchbox but she was carrying it ironically so it’s okay.

The quiet kid in the back of the class was once a loud kid, till they silenced him for good.

The girl nobody talks to isn’t actually there, you are hallucinating.

That boy you think is a drug dealer is actually diabetic, he just tells customers that the insulin is heroin.

That kid who gets picked on for being the shortest will grow up to be the world’s tallest man, if his plan works anyway.

The girl you stood up on that date was actually a demon planning on a good game of Monopoly.

That boy who threw up on the bus and you told him you never wanted to sit next to him again, he was actually a soviet spy trying to steal secrets from your scientist father.

The girl you teased because you have a secret crush on her had killed three people and would kill four more before dying in a five hour gunfight with police.

That boy you made fun of for having weird skin was actually an alien trying to destroy the world.

That person you see in the mirror isn’t actually you, it is the creature you stole this body from.

With Art

by Vernon Ray Jackson

 

Approach it first with new eyes.

As a virgin, paying sharp attention

without full understanding.

Take in each new detail

and be honest in your reaction.

Take what you have already

and mix it with the new intelligence.

Acknowledge that that you miss much

and misunderstand more.

 

Initiated, approach again.

Use your new understanding

to sense what you could not before.

Honor your previous view

even if you dispute it.

Look deeper than you could before,

notice its spirit.

By now you realize that there is still more

that you can’t yet access.

 

Once a connoisseur approach again.

Resist the urge to tear at the flaws

you’ve been trained to spot.

Forgive them, and your past self.

Your purpose isn’t to destroy.

It is embodied for you now.

Teach others how to know its layers.

 

Finally approach it as an artist.

Abandon understanding for utility,

enjoyment for growth.

See it at the level of its creator.

Be its creator yourself.

Take what lessons it has for you

and discard those not for you.

Don’t spend any more time

with it than serves you.

Art decays and must be constantly remade.

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