A Search for Meaning

It always starts the same way.

My old family home, in California, in the dream sense of it both is and is not exactly the same home I grew up in. I’m always paired up with some childhood friend or another, always looking for a member of my family gone missing.

The scene changes, shifts and morphs from my childhood home (either interior or exterior) to the very different façade of either an impossibly large department store (think a Wal-Mart the size of an airplane hanger), or a strange amalgam of every single mall I have ever visited in my life. Suddenly, though, the mood and indeed “plot” of the scenario shifts as well. While gone is the thread of trying to track down a lost family member, replaced instead with being chased through a monument to consumerism by an unknown force, the very intense feeling of desperation remains. Where once I was hunting down a lost loved one, now I was being hunted by something sinister and unknown.

Old friend is no longer beside me, but instead frustratingly far either ahead of behind me, while I struggle to outpace whatever unseen terror follows close at my heels. Added to the heightened sense of dread and panic, is the fact that movement within this twisted realm is also very different. Rather than being able to simply outrun my stalker, I instead can only move by way of swimming through the air. Common strokes have very little effect on my propulsion, so I must rely on the thrust granted by pushing myself violently off of whatever surface I can get my feet on to.

It always ends differently.

Sometimes I win. I make it out of whatever mirror horrorverse version of Target I find myself in, air swimming my way to safety and prosperity elsewhere.

Sometimes I lose. Whatever unseen horror lurks behind me catches some tragic combination of myself, my dear friend, or both of us.

In either ending, either resolution to this imaginary problem, I awake under less than ideal circumstances. When I win, I wake up feeling exhausted and confused. When I lose, I jerk awake in the middle of a full blown panic attack and spend as many as thirty minutes calming myself down. Either way, I’m drenched with sweat and usually end up crying for a good long while until I catch my breath.

I realize fully that there are several recognizable and telling signs mixed into this terrible dream I’ve been having lately. Childhood home, the presence of an old friend I haven’t seen in far too long, the searching for a loved one, the being chased, not being able to run normally. I’ve investigated the possible meanings of all of these things individually, but when strung together they make no sense to me.

Is there anyone else out there who might be better versed in “dream speak” who can help translate what these dreams are trying to tell me? I’m open to explanations from backgrounds in both science and spirituality. I just feel like, be it the spirits beyond or just my own subconscious, someone is trying to tell me something and I should probably try to listen.

Day One

They say life is just a series of moments, compounded on top of each other, and smooshed together in one long (if you’re lucky) montage of good and bad decisions. They also say that your life is your story, that you choose how to write your own chapter in this crazy intergalactic social experiment. Whichever socio-philosophical theory you subscribe to, an undeniable truth is that every so often we all need a hard reset. We all need to restart at the beginning from time to time.

My love of comic books started early, when I was first exposed to the 1978 Christopher Reeve led film adaptation of Superman. That was when I became obsessed with the very concept of superheroes, and realistically who best to start with than the Man of Tomorrow himself? This event triggered my journey into, not only superheroes and comic book collecting, but also storytelling itself. The impact of seeing an outsider, not completely unlike myself, who also faced feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, at times even low self esteem, but still somehow found the strength inside himself to try and help and heal others, to not give in to the darkness but rather to be a source of light that others can cling to from within their own private shadows, resonated with me in a way that honestly set the standard for my world view to this very day.

The mental image of four year old Rob(by), with signature Clark Kent hair curl and red super cape (read: faded magenta bath towel) hanging from his back, flying around the back yard looking for crimes to fight and wrongs to right, is one that I have honestly fought very hard to keep in the back of my mind over the years. I’ve always tried to hold on to that sense of duty to do what’s right, the desire to help others in some way. Like the old Fred Rogers quote: “Look for the helpers.” Well, I always wanted to be a helper. Thus in nearly every friend group or social circle to which I have ever belonged, I have played the role of therapist. I’m the one people naturally vent to. I’m the one people naturally feel comfortable talking to, ever the open ear and heart, in hopes of maybe presenting a solution to their problem. I may not often present sound solutions to these problems, but one thing I can easily offer is a shoulder on which to cry and joke to (hopefully) bring laughter back to someone’s day.

I suppose the point of this post could be easily described as “comic books offer valuable life lessons!”, but if you’ll indulge a deeper dive into that it would reveal the real point of this post: The value of self reinvention. We all do it, we all try and fail at an assortment of resolutions for personal betterment every single January 1st. But it’s not just the annual list of hopes and dreams, it’s not just the promise of a fresh 365 days to reach your personal goals. It’s more than that. There are moments in life, and these moments do not care how close to the beginning of January it may be, where one finds it necessary to start over.

I have had a few of these moments in my life. The biggest and most impactful of these moments being my decision to move from sunny picturesque California to the meteorologically confusing lands of Minnesota, in order to be with my beautiful wife. This has been one of the few decisions in my life about which I have zero regrets. However, there is one decision that has been a struggle and that is the decision to be well. I have struggled with this decision because of years of self sabotage and low self esteem. It’s a record on repeat, a story with no end, a forever war with myself. But I have a feeling, and a hope, that this time I’m going to win.

This past year has been a difficult one, for everyone of course, but I faced not only the pandemic and financial destitution that has caused so much strife for so many, but also an injury with potentially lifelong side effects. The one year anniversary of my comminuted fracture of the spine just recently came and went, to no fanfare of mine, and it has got me thinking. A recent doctor appointment ended with my doctor (one of the good ones), telling me that a key cause of the pain I find myself in, also the yardstick by which we can gauge and treat this pain, is my weight. In this past year, I have fluctuated between weights (up to and including the heaviest I have ever been), and this has been a factor in not only my physical pain, but my mental and emotional stress as well.

When I say “the decision to be well”, I don’t just mean choosing a salad over a burger. It goes well beyond the physical, well beyond simply being in good physical health. I long to be a better person, inside and out, to quell the demons within constantly telling me I’m not good enough. I want a better temperament, I want a calm soul and open mind. It’s time to make a choice. At the above mentioned medical appointment, I learned that I had lost almost twenty pounds since the previous appointment (only a little less than a month prior). I went from 440lbs. to 422lbs. Since this appointment (a little over two weeks ago), I’ve lost another ten pounds (bringing me to 412lbs.) and I already feel the difference.

Pain is still there. Pain will be a close acquaintance for years to come, I’m already aware, but it has certainly lessened since I’ve dropped the weight I have so far. I’m less winded when climbing stairs, able to move better while at work, able to spend more time doing housework per day than before the weight loss. I’m also happier.

Depression is still there. Anxiety is still there. Both are still brewing inside my head like a storm cloud, just waiting for the moment to strike lightning and begin to pour. Neither will ever fully leave me, neither will ever be completely eradicated. The fight continues, but I might stand a better chance if I’m closer to fighting shape. I’ve taken to meditation when alone, whispering various mantras or “words of power” (scoff as you might) when around others. I’ve taken to stepping back from situations and scenarios to which I would normally respond with anger or frustration and trying to see it from a perspective with which I can better cope. Struggles still happen, bad days are still bad days, bad moods are still bad moods, but while one day may see my mood nosediving from the moment I slide out of bed, the next may bring nothing but laughter and warmth. It is because of this, because of the ongoing cyclical nature of life in general, that I have adopted the deceptively simple philosophy of One Day at a Time.

Every time I open my eyes in the morning, it’s a restart. It’s a fresh beginning and a new chance to push forward. If today is a bad day, no worries, another one is coming tomorrow. If I decide I don’t have the mental or emotional fortitude to focus too hard on my food intake for the day, I take the time to treat myself with kindness and try to remember that tomorrow is another day to fight. Since I have adopted this outlook, the decrease in frequency and severity of my panic attacks has been remarkable. I find I’m able to get more done than before, getting out of bed and breaking the cycle of downward spirals has become much easier. Clearing away the funk, made a simpler task than I ever thought possible.

Some of you might read this and think “well yeah, that’s just called life” but this is a new and untested area for me. The thought of not viewing every single day as make or break for my sanity is one I find foreign and terrifying, definitely far beyond my comfort zone. But I’m pressing forward. I’m hitting reset. I’m taking it one step at a time.

Today is day one. Tomorrow will also be day one. From this point forward, my life will be a series of day ones.

I leave you with what I feel is the most apt and fitting quote I can think of regarding this new mind frame, courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

HBO Max | 2021
NOW STREAMING

2021 is already shaping up to be a very odd year. Entering the second year of a global pandemic that has had an enormous financial impact on literally every area of the world, it’s an unprecedented time to be alive and consuming media. Warner Bros. made the shocking announcement last year that all of their major theatrical releases would be simultaneously streamed on the HBO Max platform.

For a full list of those titles, to give you some idea of what that means in terms of content, click here.

Yet with all of those cinematic heavy hitters on deck, one of the most hotly anticipated titles coming to the platform was always going to be DC Comics’ JUSTICE LEAGUE, the 2017 outing given new life thanks to an extensive recut by director Zack Snyder. Lovingly dubbed the SNYDER CUT by fans and media alike, the film clocks in at a meaty four hours and two minutes.

To say this film has been divisive would be an understatement, as even the very concept of the Snyder Cut’s existence is seen by some as a ridiculous example of self aggrandization on the part of Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. both. While some certainly feel this way, others argue that the tragic circumstances surrounding Snyder’s initial departure of the film would more than justify his being given a chance to tell the story as he originally intended.

Where ever your opinion falls on this spectrum is irrelevant, as at the end of the day, the film was finished and released to the fanfare of a global advertising campaign and the deafening internet cheers of Snyder’s fanbase.

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My opinion of the original release version of JUSTICE LEAGUE was that it was an awful movie with a lot of heart and some very fun summer blockbuster action. Fun to watch, but really dumb. When faced with the question “Do I want to see a much longer version of this film?”, I was hard-pressed to find a reason to say yes. But this film was always going to be a defining moment of pop culture, an example of the fans getting exactly what they wanted (whether or not that’s a good thing in the long run remains to be seen). It was always going to be plastered on billboards, it was always going to be discussed in YouTube breakdown videos and blog reviews (oops sorry).

Those who know me well, know that I would not necessarily categorize myself as a Zack Snyder fan. MAN OF STEEL may have been a fun science fiction action film with a wonderful cast, but it was a terrible Superman film. I count myself among the masses who believe Zack Snyder fails, on a fundamental level, to properly understand the character of Superman. His failings, in my opinion, are primarily as a storyteller. However, I am not saying the man does not know how to make a visually stunning film.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE remains the single most insulting translations of comic book characters to film. A jumbled mess in story and character development, there was so much wrong with this movie that it made me irrationally angry.

All of that said, I count myself as a fan of Snyder’s 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Plus, in terms of theatrical length adaptations, I still feel Snyder’s take on Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN is as close as we can get to a perfect translation from page to screen. I also genuinely love his adaptation of Frank Miller’s epic 300 graphic novel, with a level of cheeky irony.

So, while I am not a fan of Snyder’s work in general, I am far from one who would judge his work unfairly. Some of his films were genuinely enjoyable for me (WATCHMEN, DAWN OF THE DEAD), while some will forever represent hours of my life I will never get back (SUCKER PUNCH, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE).

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ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE is a story of many parts sewn together just poorly enough that every stitch, in this case represented by minutes, is felt and acknowledged. Every bit of the four hour and two minutes long running time is present and accounted for in extended slow motion takes of scenes that had no business being so painfully long. The briefest of moments on screen stretched to fit an ever present soundtrack of various operatic and classical music pieces added to give a depth that these scenes simply do not deserve. Moments that, in the previous cut of the film had a lighthearted tone and may have even been funny, were now reduced to pretentious showcases of Zack Snyder’s favorite editing toy: the slow motion button.

While some of the additions to this film are baffling, others enhance the previous film in such a way that makes one wonder what kind of film we may have gotten if given the chance to see a compromise between Snyder and Warner Bros., a JUSTICE LEAGUE film that Snyder could be happy with that still falls within the parameters of a “normal” running time.

The most obvious addition that falls into this category is, of course, the character of Darkseid. The addition of arguably the JLA’s most well known foe also adds a level of stakes that wasn’t present in the previous cut of the film, and with those stakes come a sense of dread and turmoil, making this a welcome change. The interactions between Darkseid and Steppenwolf alone are wonderful and add a depth to Steppenwolf’s actions that was missing before, though Darkseid coming face to face with the JLA standing over a defeated Steppenwolf was one of the coolest moments I’ve seen in recent comic book films.

Also the addition of the Martian Manhunter was a brilliant choice, as J’onn J’onzz so regularly represents the heart of the Justice League and heart is exactly what is missing from this version of the film. I only wish there were more scenes with Martian Manhunter and I weep knowing we’ll never get closure to his story in a later installment. Yes, you read that correctly: Martian Manhunter is the only reason I would actually want a follow up to this cut of the film.

The expansion of Cyborg’s story and the further development of his character in the Snyder Cut is so wonderful and welcome, as Ray Fisher is given a chance to shine in this role and show a more complex performance of Cyborg than before. Similarly, the choice to give a truly film stealing moment at the end of the film to Barry Allen, making perhaps the most unlikely savior out of The Flash, is also a nice surprise.

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Overall, ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE delivers exactly what it claims to: A chance to peek inside the mind of Zack Snyder to see the story of Justice League the way he envisioned it, as well as an unabashed love letter to Snyder’s loyal fanbase. It was that rabid fanbase that petitioned Warner Bros. so aggressively in so many online campaigns, with the hashtag #RELEASETHESNYDERCUT, that the movement itself has become bigger than the film in which it resulted.

While I can not, in good conscious, say the ridiculous running time is justified by the additions padding it out to that length in the first place, it is extremely interesting from the standpoint of it being a time capsule for this moment in time.

With Warner Bros. recently confirming there are no plans for further Snyderverse films, one thing is undeniable: We are currently living in a post-Snyder Cut world.

Whether or not you view that as a good thing, is objective.

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2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

WOULD I RECCOMEND IT:

If you count yourself among the masses of diehard Snyder fans in the world, this movie is definitely up your alley. If you had no real issues standing in the way of your enjoyment of the original theatrical cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE, seeing this is unnecessary, however there are some additional materials that you would definitely be missing out on enjoying.

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POST SCRIPT:

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the name of the filmmaker brought in to finish Snyder’s work on the previous theatrical cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE. This was a conscious decision on my part after the realization that I have lauded and defended that name quite enough in my life. Events being recently brought to light have made it impossible for me to consider myself a fan of his anymore. While I do believe in a separation of art from artist, and while I will forever be a fan of his television work, as well as specific areas of his theatrical filmography, I no longer have the capacity to promote any of his future work moving forward.

Believe the victims.

Thank you.

Artifacts Of My Past

in 1988, Burger King had a promotional crossover with DC Comics and their Super Powers toy line. You might think this would primarily involve the addition of DC toys in their kid’s meals, but what it actually meant was something every child of every decade loved and had an intense passion for: Cups and character cupholders.

Whether or not that’s true, who knows, but they did it. Tiny plastic cups being held by your favorite DC Comics characters (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and even the villainous Darkseid). My parents, knowing full well that little four year old Rob K loved Superman with enough passion to hang a red towel from his back and run around the house pretending to be the last son of Krypton, keep a Betamax compilation of old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons on repeat in his room, and yes, actually give a shit about a DC Comics character cupholder, decided one fateful day to buy one for me. That Superman cupholder became my de facto Superman action figure and proceeded to follow me just about everywhere.

All of this, by the way, I had completely forgotten about until about a week ago when a random advertisement for an item on Facebook Marketplace unlocked a hidden area of my brain and brought long forgotten childhood memories flooding back to my now thirty-seven year old brain.

There he was, in all his plastic glory. Superman, arms outstretched and waiting for his plastic cup (not included in this version), was being sold on Facebook Marketplace for around seven dollars (plus S&H). I couldn’t believe it!

So, of course, I ordered it immediately and it just arrived two days ago. I’ve held it in my hands, now much larger than they once were, and stared at it with the same tinge of wide eyed wonderment as I did thirty-three years ago. If I’m being completely honest, it almost brought me to tears.

Memories and nostalgia are weird things. I can’t explain why this tiny item, this totem of my childhood, this artifact of my past, brings me such joy as a grown man. But it certainly does.

Do you have any similar items from your past? Any childhood mementos, gone to the wayside over the years, that you’d like to reclaim as an adult? Did you know cupholders could be so cool?

State of the Soul

2020 is behind us and while 2021 has not yet done much in way of proving itself any different than the preceding year, I do believe a fair bit of optimism is in order moving forward.

Times have been tough for us all. We’ve all had our own private struggles, to go along with a worldwide pandemic that has touched all of our lives in different, some tragic, ways. My woes are not far in comparison to everyone else’s currently. I miss my friends, I miss my family, my finances are in the garbage and the bills (and thus stress) keep piling up. To say I have had a bleak mindset in recent months would be an embarrassing understatement.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have severe depression and anxiety. I suffer from bouts of deep sadness and manic panic attacks, am besieged by frequent “major depressive episodes” and have contemplated suicide countless times in my life. Attempted it at least a couple, as well. It was really bad in my teenage years, but figured at the time that it was only hormones and testosterone and that every other teenager was going through the same thing and really what was so damn special about me anyway. Through the love and compassion of a small group of wonderful people I’ve met in my life, acquaintances who became friends, friends who became family, I was able to “survive” those years and was able to push that shadow back into the inner recesses of my mind. Kept it at bay.

Then five years ago, my grandfather and father passed away within months of each other.

It was like a door was unlocked, a gate unhinged and blown off of a wall, that darkness was back in a big way. I struggled for so very long before finally seeking help and being put on an antidepressant for the first time in my life, though that should have probably happened much earlier. I’ve had varying levels of success with the various pills I have been on in recent years, but with the fifth anniversary of my grandfather’s passing having just happened and the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing looming on the horizon, coupled with the aforementioned universal issues of money/loneliness/plague, I have been very unwell lately.

I spoke with my doctor, a lovely man by the name of Dr. Shelstead, and he switched me from Citalopram (on which I have been for at least a year now) to Effexor. We’ll see how this works, if I’m able to reclaim some sense of normalcy or stability in coming weeks. Today is only my second dose and so far, aside from mild nausea and a headache which may or may not have been related, so good.

I am also coming up on a full year since I fell and fractured my back. Pain is still a daily hurdle to clear, still easing back into a normal work routine. When I finally returned to work, it was under the orders of three hours a day for three days a week, but now I have the green light to work six hours a day, three days a week. It is not much, but it close to doubles my current paycheck, which will be a huge help with bills. I explained to Dr. Shelstead that I was afraid people would think I was making up my pain, in order to attain sympathy and an easy work schedule. He said he believed me, as I hadn’t been requesting hard pain relievers, just that I want the pain to stop.

I was doing so very well with my weight loss, having lost almost fifty pounds total, but given the gravity of things and old habits having a tendency to die hard, I was saddened at the clinic to learn I had gained almost all of it back.

I’m not sharing any of the above information in a cry for help or a grab for attention/pity, but rather to highlight the fact that we are not alone in any of this. I have been much better recently in reaching out to those around me for help when I feel like it’s all getting too much. I have been making every attempt possible to ignore the lies depression and anxiety are wont to tell. That I am a burden to those around me, that no one really loves me and I’m seen as a joke or a one dimensional presence in peoples lives. That I truly have no friends and no one wants to hear me complain about my life.

These are the thoughts and feelings that have almost cost me my life. If not for those select few in my life that I know I can speak to and who care about me, I probably would not be here.

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With the addition of Effexor to my daily round of medications and with the promise of a vaccine (I’m on the list now, as is Danielle) and loosening public restrictions around the corner, as well as the welcome shift to warmer weather, I am hopeful that the rest of my year will be better. Dr. Shelstead and I discussed my joining a weight loss program they offer at the local clinic, but I told him to give me a month. In starting the Effexor, he wants to see me in one month to check in and see how its working anyway. Plus, with the Effexor having side effects that are beneficial to weight loss, and a renewed drive to get the number on that scale even lower than it was before, I think I can get into a much better place physically by that point. It’s really just finding a bit of calm mentally that worries me.

Nicer weather and no ice on the ground mean I can start my daily walks again. I’ve been eating a much higher volume of fruits and veggies, been watching my sodium intake and protein consumption, and have been doing my physical therapy exercises daily.

I’ll definitely post my progress here.

United State of Confusion

Yesterday marked the latest in the string of days making up the last four years that I have felt actively embarrassed to be called an American citizen. Looking around at my fellow countrymen and being disgusted and disappointed by what I have seen is an all too common thing these days, a practice I sincerely hope will be quelled with the incoming president and administration.

We as a nation witnessed an attempted coup by way of an armed insurrection in order to keep current sitting president (as I type this, may these words be taken in good humor in later retrospect) Donald J. Trump in a position of power. I honestly can’t believe I have just typed that sentence in a piece that is in no way or shade a satirical post. This happened. This happened and it is so much worse than I can word it.

A dagger has been plunged into the heart of our democracy and the handle is coated in cheeto dust and sticky with mountain dew. A group of people parading around under the false guise of patriotism invaded our nation’s capitol and made a mockery of one of our most important political processes. These people made it as far as they did, accomplished as much as they did, simply because they were white. Full stop. No hyperbole, no exaggeration. Make no mistake. If the majority of these insurrectionists, these thugs and lowlifes, these clowns, had been of any skin color other than white, yesterday would have been one of the bloodiest days in our nation’s history.

You are free to argue that fact elsewhere, I will accept no disagreement here on this topic. If you are to defend the actions seen on live television yesterday, in any regard, you may leave as I have no interest in debating these facts. This is no longer a matter of differing political opinions, this is a clash between people who truly love this country and those who are, in the best of scenarios, an apologist for a group of people who would watch our democracy burn at the rambling of a mad dictator terrified of losing power. The line in the sand has been drawn.

And if you are a Trump supporter or apologist reading this, tell me, please dear god shed some light on this for me: Where is your anger? Where is the same level of outrage I saw in so many of your posts when video of people of color were rioting in a Target? Are you all so quiet now because these people are white? Or do you value the sanctity of Target more than the capitol at the very heart of this country?

If you were writing Facebook op-eds about the thugs and criminals being shot or locked away forever for peacefully protesting in a city street, but have since remained silent about small armed militia breaking windows and trespassing on the sacred land of our constitution, then you are one hundred percent the problem with this country.

The footage yesterday was heartbreaking. We saw a sitting American president incite an armed attack on American soil. We are living in unprecedented times.

For those of us hoping 2021 would bring peace and understanding, I feel we’re in for a dark and bumpy ride.

Seasonal Tidings and Words of Reflection

Much happened on the day of the winter solstice in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty. We witnessed the great conjunction of planets on the cosmic stage, a sight not seen in 800 years. And on the infinitely smaller stage of the scenery outside my window, the wind blew so harshly that all the swings were sideways, as were the trees, and as were the traffic signs, and as were all the garbage cans as well. A very busy day all around.

There have been too many funerals of late. I have become far too familiar with the sight of the local hearse in the past few weeks for my liking. Grim tidings, signs of the time.

So desperately have I grasped to love this year, especially this year in fact, and so generously have I been rewarded in such, that it makes this holiday season bittersweet at best. We miss our loved ones, both those beyond our state borders and those beyond the veil of life, and deep down we wonder if holidays will ever be the same again. Will this time of year return to familiarity and tradition of a sense of normalcy? If so, when? Next year? The year after? The fear of the unknown sets in quick when family becomes the subject at hand.

The holidays are hard for us all. After the stress and turmoil of this of all years passing by so slowly, barely at a crawl, it’s both nice to feel the warmth of the season through the limited interaction with loved ones, and pained by how fleeting our time feels. For as slowly as 2020 has dragged itself across the landscape of our lives, all the quicker this pleasant season of love and camaraderie seems to pass us by.

As dire in so many ways that this year has been, in a general sense, it has been transformative in a more personal sense. I will never forget the outpouring of love and support from friends and family, old and new, that I have received. Both emotional and financial, I have been lifted up by the people in my life who love me and have very clearly shown it. Through my back injury and subsequent hardships, through my ongoing battle with my own inner demons, to striving to maintain a feeling of connection via video chats and text chains, my rock solid circle of friends have really become a family this year.

Words can not express my gratitude to everyone who has cemented themselves as, I stress this again, my family.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. You have truly saved my life in so many, some literal, ways.

Happy holidays. I love you all.

On the Magic of Fleetwood Mac

It is one hundred percent entirely possible that Stevie Nicks was my very first celebrity crush. If you’re wondering why, watch the clip from Fleetwood Mac’s 1997 reunion concert special, The Dance.

Growing up, my parents played a variety of fantastic music. Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, and most importantly, The Beatles. For my father, The Beatles were like a religion. Pope John Lennon the First and all that. So, naturally, the brilliance of their genius soaked into my tiny, still forming brain and they became my favorite band by proxy. Certain Beatles songs are written into my DNA.

Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be about Fleetwood Mac?

It is, I promise.

Fleetwood Mac was the first non-Beatles related band that I genuinely loved. The first time I heard Rumours, it blew my poor little adolescent mind and hooked me, deep. Rumours is a perfect album, whatever your opinion of Fleetwood Mac may be. There’s simply no room in that album for failure. The Chain, Go Your Own Way, Dreams. Every song a hit, every song a memory.

The very first cassette tape (dating myself a bit there) that I ever bought with my own saved up cash was the Fleetwood Mac live album, The Dance. I remember tuning into my local PBS station at the time and recording the televised concert on VHS and being hooked. Stevie Nicks was a dark vision of witchy beauty, Lindsay Buckingham a guitar god, Mick Fleetwood going full wild man on the drums, while John McVie drops sick bass lines, and Christine McVie tickled the ivories. Rock and roll royalty on display. I’ve been smitten ever since.

Recently, a man named Nathan Apodaca uploaded the following to TikTok:

I mean, wow. That is definitely what the kids would call a “whole ass mood”. Say what you will about Nathan’s video, but the truth is it has resonated with people in a huge way. With the heaping amount of stress that everyone is currently experiencing, it does the heart good to see someone living so much in the moment. Skateboarding to work with nary a care in the world, just a man and his cranberry juice and some Fleetwood Mac. Living the dream(s).

Mick Fleetwood himself even joined TikTok just to post his own version:

Because of Nathan’s video, download sales for the Fleetwood Mac classic Dreams were boosted a whopping 374%. Ocean Spray even gifted Nathan with a brand new truck, complete with a year’s supply of cranberry juice.

He seems like a genuinely chill dude. The fact that he’s brought fresh eyes and ears to one of my favorite bands, truly introducing a new generation of teens on TikTok to Fleetwood Mac for the first time, warms my heart.

I leave you with my favorite version of my favorite Fleetwood Mac song, The Chain:

Of Horror and Childhood

Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf, when the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.

When I was very young, my father made the decision to let me watch horror movies with him. This was an idea my mother would disagree with, vehemently, but in the end, my father got his way.

This was how I was first introduced to the Universal Monster catalog; Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and my favorite, The Wolf Man.  This was also the impetus of a life long love of horror, be it films or literature.

One of my favorite aspects of the horror film genre is the many facets of entertainment one can derive from films. Horror remains, in my opinion, the only genre of film that adheres to the  pizza/sex theory of even when it’s bad, it’s still kinda good.

If a comedy film fails, it means it’s not funny. If an action film fails, it means it’s boring. But if a horror film fails, yes it means it’s not scary, but often times the film is so far from scary or indeed even remotely good, it can still be quite entertaining.

There are many horror movies that fall into this “so bad it’s good” gray area. Too many to list, some would argue. Then again, the presence of arguments and disagreements would already be assured, given the topic. Art of all kinds is, at its core, subjective. A film that Person A absolutely hated, could have utterly and positively changed the life of Person B forever. We just never know for sure.

The history of horror gives us so many psychological parallels, often manifesting physically in the form of terrible and vicious monsters, to spend hours of ones life dissecting. We simply must understand why we all tend to form a sincere bond to at least one of these examples.

Zombies

Let’s start with the one that actually scares me the most. Yes, I love zombie movies. I love how mainstream pop culture zombies have become. But just the general idea of zombies terrifies me. Slow walking Romero zombies, sprinting/climbing/wall building zombies of World War Z, it makes no difference.

What it boils down to for me is this: of all the terrible and unspeakable ways one can die (burning alive, drowning, being crushed, etc.), none strikes more fear into me than being eaten alive. The notion of watching something (wolf, bear, shark, or in this case, zombie) tear you apart and eat you while you’re still alive to see it and feel it, has given me repeated nightmares in my life.

Couple that with the concept of your loved ones dying and then the empty shell of what they once were trying to kill and eat you, and you have the absolute worst possible scenario for me. The only way that could be worse is if they were half zombie, half spider. Good god.

Werewolves

Going now to my favorite movie monster of all time, the werewolf. Of course, werewolves also fall into the category of large angry thing with big teeth and sharp claws that would very much like to eat you alive, but the notion of a werewolf is so deliciously complex and yet so deceptively simple,  that I can’t help but grant it a pass.

Of course, one cannot talk of werewolves without also talking about the great duality of humanity. Inside every one of us, there sleeps a savage remnant of our primordial beginnings. This little shadow of rage makes itself known in situations like someone cutting you off on the freeway, or stating an incorrect opinion on the internet.

There’s a running joke between my wife and I that states if I should ever cross paths with a werewolf, I would attempt to facilitate a little bite so that I, too, would be a werewolf. I’m not sure how accurate the version of me in that joke is, to be honest. I believe the aforementioned deep rooted fear of general mauling would prevent me from such risks.

Vampires

Arguably the most romantic of the monstrous movie creatures, the vampire has been expertly portrayed as a multifaceted being by a number of talented filmmakers. Whether you prefer the ramped up sex appeal of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire, or the visceral blood beasts of Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night or Chuck Hogan/Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, there are endless different takes on vampire lore, in both the realms of prose and film/TV.

So many wonderful vampire movies, so many awful vampire movies. So much memorable literature, so much forgettable drivel. Pop culture powerhouses like Twilight or Buffy the Vampire Slayer have branched out into the lives of tweens and teens. Forever linked to the concept of romance and sex appeal, the sense of sexual tension, the ancient balance of our fiery passions as human beings. Blood and sex and living the life eternal.

Witches

I have been truly blessed in that every encounter with someone who has identified as a witch I have ever had, has been one of warm tidings. Some of the very best people I have ever met identify as witches.

But the witches in horror films are not the nice variety of witch. These witches are often lighting black candles and kidnapping small children for use in horrible satanic rituals. These are the cartoon villain version of a very real community of people who have feelings and happen to identify as witches. Whether or not you believe in their gifts, they often mean you no harm, unless you cross a loved one.

The scary lesson we get from the horror movie witch, comes in the form of a single question: If you had infinite power and got a taste for the dark side, how would you handle it? Not unlike the question:  If you woke up tomorrow with super powers, would you use them for good or evil? How does one truly cope with the sudden acquisition of real power?

Ghosts/Haunted House/Demonic Possession

The wonderful thing about ghost stories is that everyone has one. Every single person, believer of the paranormal or not, has a story from some point in their life about some odd occurrences they couldn’t explain. Doors opening or closing on their own, chairs skidding across the kitchen floor unprompted, channels changing on your television until you politely asked that they please stop doing that (this happened to me as a child).

I am a firm believer that bad energies do find their way to latch onto people, places, and things. I’ve been to places that suck the soul from your body and make you hate the world. I’ve met people so miserable that it simply had to be supernaturally sourced in some capacity. So these kinds of haunted house/cursed people stories will often put me on edge.

Being raised in a mostly Irish Catholic house as a child, the fear of demons is pretty deep rooted in me to this day. The thought of losing control of your mind and body, or seeing something evil wearing the face of someone you know and love, chills me to the bone.

There are, of course, countless other movie monsters that I’m missing here.

Name a genre with that range, with that sort of bang for your buck, the only one that comes close is science fiction, but there you have so many areas of the venn diagram filling in, as so often the genres of horror and science fiction are intertwined with one another.

Horror in general has become a happy place for me, over the years. Both due to my connection with my father, and now my connection with my wife. Horror has become one of the things we share with each other, many cozy evenings snuggling on the couch watching horror movies. Horror can help form that kind of strong bond.

As we begin October, viewed by many as literally an entire month of Halloween, my eye turns once more to the spooky and the macabre, the dark and the twisted. I’ll be talking more about horror movies, in specifics, all month long. I’ll delve a little deeper into horror and its effects on pop culture.

Dear Dad

I don’t even know where to start.

So much has changed since you left, dad. But too much is exactly the same. I still listen to Here Comes the Sun exclusively twice a year; once to honor when you came into the world, and once to mourn when you left it. I cry each time.

I keep waiting for it to get easier. I keep waiting for the day I stop reaching for the phone to call you. I keep waiting for any of it to make sense.

I’ve tried so hard to make you proud, dad. I hope you felt pride for me while you were still here. I like to think you did. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, been through some pretty dark shit, but I’ve always come out of it trying to live by your example.

I’ve been at the same job for twelve years now. I learned that from you. Been with Danielle for over fifteen years. I learned that from you, too.

I’m trying to better myself every day. Losing weight, meditation, etc. I’m trying to be as positive about the world in general as I possibly can. All of this has been difficult, but I’m still trying.

The main thing I can say I’m very proud of is I haven’t lost my sense of humor. I still find joy through laughter, both my own and that of others, and I often find that laughter through memories of you. Things you have said or done, all to make me laugh and bring me happiness, stay with me. One of the few shining lights in the darkness is my ability to laugh and to love. Meeting everything with a chuckle is a wonderful way to live in this world.

I’m sorry if I’ve failed you. I’m sorry if you ever felt anything but love and fierce admiration from me, if you had ever felt the sting of betrayal as a result of my actions. I know I was a difficult teen, as so many are, but if you know only one thing, please let it be that you were and are my hero.

Tomorrow is another day without you, another moment in time I wish I could pick up the phone and hear your voice, to say happy birthday with a joke and a belly laugh. But I can’t and I don’t know how to deal with that knowledge yet, it feels too complex for my brain to process, like an optical illusion.

Wherever you are, I hope you still see me, dad. I hope you know I think of you every day, that I still say good night to your photo every night and I hope you’re somewhere saying it back.

I’m gonna say it now, since I won’t be saying much tomorrow. Happy Birthday, dad. I love you and I miss you.

Love,

Robby