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The Reduced Drink Experience: Day Five

Bow howdy but keeping track of one’s dietary intake can be an annoying pain in the arse experience. I can’t say I enjoy it. And part of me feels a little demeaned by it. But it’s becoming a necessary evil in my life. If ‘evil’ is even the right word to use…

Had a bit of a boy’s day out with some friends – it’s something we do about once a month. And based on the conversations we had (a fair few of which circulated around health), I let myself indulge a bit. And they said it was okay, given the long-term goals I was applying.

Ordered a beer-battered fish with salad upon arriving at the pub, with a cider to boot. Met up with some friends who arrived, and then, upon finishing lunch, ordered myself, in the following order, over the next six hours:

  1. A tall gin and soda with lime;
  2. pint of Hills apple cider;
  3. A schooner of New England Pale Ale; and
  4. A schooner of Fat Yak.

All in all, not too much, considering it was over the course of six hours. And I had it made clear to me that burning fat will require reducing sugars, alcohol, and working out more often. Come one month from now, I should start to see positive end-results.

Hell, I’m already seeing positive results now: our recycling bins are still relatively empty! There aren’t any empty cider bottles in them! That’s already made Jade happy, which makes me happy (yeah yeah, I know – I’m a sappy guy).

 

 

 

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The Journey of an Arrow

My first recollection of comic books came from a store in a small town outside of Boston. Aisles of rectangular white boxes, chock a block with plastic folds arcing like a cascading wave effect, suggestive of an inward flow, singing mermaids by the rocks, if you will, beckoning to readers (and of course, their wallets).

That was the early 1980s, when the internet, BBS, modems, webpages, were all in their infancy.

Yet even then I was hooked, and found this to be my gateway to books, people, and material that would inform my world view, underline the metaphors I used to understand this new world I had come to from the Soviet Union. America, with all its different interpretations, visions, and mythologies – new and old.

Comic books have, I suspect, for some, become in some perhaps not fully realised way, a new kind of mythology. Constantly being reinterpreted, analysed, and shifting, for each generation. Helping each generation make sense of the world, their place in it, and providing a new set of hopes and dreams.

A Soviet refugee of 6, 7 years of age, being raised by Soviet parents in the Land of the Free picks up these books. Sees new names, new worlds. Batman and his rogues gallery. Spider-Man and Mary Jane. Superman and his pantheon of heroes in the Justice League. The X-Men. Worlds filled with metaphors. Some obvious. Some not so obvious.

Marvellous, colourful, dark, mysterious, shadowy, cosmic worlds.

It lights up a young child’s imagination. Somewhere in the brain, fires begin burning. Fires that nearly thirty years later still have not gone out. Fires that have only grown larger.

Fast forward, to 2016. That same child has travelled, journeyed, across the globe, landing unexpectedly in Australia, and finds friends who, like him, had a disposition for the larger than life, the grandiose, the marvellous.

All of them coming of age at a time when technology was able to visually realise the imagined landscapes of comic books, fantasy novels, science fiction epics.

There they were. Captain America. Spider-Man.

And to this one reader, most importantly, most incredibly: The Flash!

A previous attempt to adapt the complex mythology of The Flash, ten or more years ago, starring John Wesley Shipp, had never quite matched the heights of the source material.

But in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, The Flash arrived.

And with The Flash. And The Green Arrow.

And they soared.

All those panels. Those colours. The crackling dialogue. There it was.

It was all there. Oliver Queen, the man who killed finally stopped Hal Jordan in Zero Hour: there he was! And Flash, and Kid Flash! And Iris West! Now, three seasons in, this writer still eagerly awaits the arrival of Impulse.

Someone out there, there were creators fuelled by the same material as us. Their imaginations met the nearly limitless boundaries of modern computing and filming technology – and finally, The Flash could hurl with lightning bolt urgency across Central City.

And in Starling City: Oliver Queen returned home.

And though it was not necessarily the same Oliver as witnessed and developed over the years by Mike Grell or Dennis O’Neil, the essence of the character, as an urban, street-based fighter, the man who fought for those without a voice – he had arrived.

For two very nail-biting seasons, Queen and his family encountered the likes of Amanda Waller, the Suicide Squad, Death Stroke, Malcolm Merlyn, and it was glorious. The dramatic journey of each rogue found itself mirroring a portion of Oliver Queen’s time away from home, on the island of Lian Yu.

The plots did not exist for the sake of the plots. Rather – they emerged directly from the character drama. Actions made sense. Had consequences. Lessons were learned. People were hurt. Mistakes were made. It was the stuff of captivating, riveting, if infrequently vexatious drama. But perhaps by maintaining an air of verisimilitude, it remained engaging and relentlessly watchable.

Given the obvious and evident success of the now-monikered ‘Arrowverse’, as witnessed with the launch of a spin-off (‘The Flash’ – and later ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ and ‘Supergirl’), it came as no surprise that with success came the freedom to experiment.

Ra’s al Ghul. Damien Darhk. The League of Assassins. The Lazarus Pit!

For Batman aficionados: exciting names!

With the experiment, however novel, however comic, came diminished dramatic results.

Characterisation, for reasons unclear, became inconsistent, actions and decisions – uncharacteristic. Characters reacted to Plot Events, instead of producing them as a result of their interactions. To perhaps more naïve eyes, it could be suggested that having established each character, the focus could now turn to putting them to use fighting external threats, one that would open up the larger world in which the Arrowverse existed.

Perhaps so.

And yet.

Watching, this afternoon, the finale to season 4, ‘Schism’, I found myself wondering:

Four seasons. An ever-expanding cast of primary and secondary characters, including super-powered metahumans. Too busy to help stop 15,000 nukes, were they?

Of course, the nukes were averted. Of course. Redirected to explode in space by skilled hackers. Nuclear Armageddon averted. A sign of relief was had by all. No Fallout 4 sequel here, folks!

Yet.

Aside from stopping said nukes: what meaningful, dramatic consequences are presented for our plucky band of heroes?

As with season 3’s end-goal of destroying Starling City as a ritualistic passing of the mantle to the new and presumed Demon’s Head, Oliver Queen…aside from preventing the destruction of the city: what value does this exercise in action excess provide our characters and viewers alike?

A well-known theory of storytelling suggests conflict flows from drama and drama flows from character interactions.

But if we have no means by which to sympathise with a character; if they exist merely to serve the plot: how are we to then establish emotional ties with them?

Damien Darhk sought to burn the world. A quizzical viewer would surely ask: “uhm….why?”

No answer of any serious depth is ever provided. Throw-away references to humanity having failed are made by actor Neal McDonough (who clearly had a delightful time in his role). What made Darhk that disillusioned? What drove him to such madness? Likewise, with his wife: how did she arrive at the exact same precipice of madness as he?

It would have been nice to know.

Yet.

When juxtapositioned with Malcolm Merlyn’s burning rage for the loss of his wife or Slade Wilson’s grief for having lost Shado in seasons 1 and 2, respectively, seasons 3 and 4 leave a hollow, unsatisfying aftertaste. The question of “and what was the point of all that?” lingers in the air.

Yes. There are heroes, and they save us.

But upping the narrative stakes is not equivocal with tightening the dramatic noose.

Stakes have to be meaningful. They have to have value. They have to have meaningful dramatic value to viewers and characters alike.

The early seasons of Arrow understood this.

Perhaps, now that the Arrowverse is built, a renewed focus can be had on the denizens of Starling City (or Star City, as it was renamed in season 3). Let’s leave saving the world to The Legends of Tomorrow.

 

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Residual Digital Self

​I’ve been thinking lately about the whole concept of ‘personal branding’ – a, to my mind, unfortunate but real aspect of our increasingly digitised lives. 

People use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Etsy, Livejournal, Blogger, Instagram, Reddit, Steam, etc., to communicate as well as buid social and professional ties. 

And it all makes me wonder how much work (or not) should we put into ‘curating’ ourselves. Some people, for example, have a predilection towards avoiding images of themselves (for example, my preferred avatar at all times has been Sly Boots, from Anachronox). 

Others have a picture, for example, of a tea cup, and a collection of shared images that consist mostly of silverware, food, and food or craft-relates imagery.

How much of that is intentional? Are there those who simply want to place a wall between themselves and their digital ‘selves’ to ensure a sense of (perhaps) privacy, or authenticity out of a scepticism towards being able to convey authenticity in a digital medium? 

These are but a few of the thoughts bouncing around in my mind, for some reason, as I approach my final few weeks of employment at ANZ.

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Wakening the Laughing Man

I’ve been thinking a lot about fashion lately. It’s not a place I ever thought my pretend-adult brain would ever march towards. Historically, fashion has not been something that I’d associate with ‘ooh shiny!’.

Yet here we are.

Here’s the thing: corporate wear is awful. Not a little awful. It’s abysmally awful. The kind of awful that I associate with being devoured by a dray of squirrels. Or being forced to reread The Scarlet Letter.

Despite being a heavily hirsute kidult, I’ve never taken to this whole slacks and dress-shirt nonsense. A pair of form-fitting jeans, sneakers, and a funny t-shirt are preferred any day of the week.

And before the temptation of saying “oh grow up” overtakes you like the blob on a rampage, try and respect that different things matter to different people, and being comfortable is paramount to me. Comfortable and feeling like, well…myself.

Remember that scene in The Matrix when Neo is plugged into the construct? When he appears as his residual self-image? It’s a little like that.

You still with me?

It’s a bit like that. The way I see or envision myself and the expectations of my employer don’t exactly have Legos that click with each other. I’m all about casual clothing, funny t-shirts, flat caps, and regrettably expensive (but comfortable!) sneakers.

Doesn’t quite jibe with the buttoned-down, dick-of-Satan-sucking corporate look, does it? In the three years I’ve been in my most recent place of employment, I’ve gone from (initially) wearing a suit to radiate that whole “oh yeah totally game, motherfuckers!” vibe to grey dress pants, barely ironed shirt, black Adidas I wear whenever no one’s looking, a hipster-as-it-gets beard, and a desk with a Doctor Who figurine, an XKCD comic taped to my monitor, and assorted little figurines scattered about my desk, like an invasion of ephemeral plastic and wooden figurines from the days of yore.

And usually, a door-stopper fantasy novel that I’ll casually read during the moments I’ve downtime and absolutely nothing to do. Occasionally, this can be helpful. I once read a whole Star Wars novel in one day at work, it was that quiet. But that day was a complete and total aberration.

Nevertheless, the corporate non-chic just doesn’t rustle my jimmies. The spectrum of acceptable colours? Shirts seem to get one set of rules, and pants and shoes – not so much. Shirts can apparently be the colour of ten-day old sushi left to shrivel up into itself in the Australian sun, provided that slacks are either grey or black, and shoes are either brown or black.

Bland doesn’t seem a sufficiently expressive word. We need something bolder, something that conveys the horrendous monotony of bleach bypassed polyester and cotton wankwear.

And the shoes aren’t much better. I’ve yet to find a company that can produce leather shoes as comfortable as my Adidas. At present, I’ve been faking the adult shtick by wearing a pair of Hush Puppies that are meant to have some kind of pressure or pump system. In theory, the company could offer to propel my hairy Russian arse to the moon and I wouldn’t care a whit provided that my feet didn’t feel like they were under assault by angry ninja lemmings within minutes of putting them on to please my skip manager.

Someone in the fashion industry needs to take action to make Corporate Wankwear more comfortable, wrinkle-resistant, and more playful.

Oh, and get rid of ties. They really do cross the line between functionality and aesthetic appeal into some new territory of complete uselessness. We’re not using them as napkins anymore, they get in our way when we try to eat, and more often than not give every indication of being little more than mobile arrows colourfully pointing at our death stars.

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A sense of accomplishment

A sense of accomplishment.

That’s what I’m feeling right now.

A real, honest to the flippin’ gods sense of accomplishment.

This hasn’t been the kind of year that’s given me much to feel proud of, to feel, hell, a remote sense of achievement.

Today’s a bit different; it’s high-fived the two challenges I set out for myself this year.

Why only two? Because it’s about all I had the energy, both mental and physical, to muster.

An early afternoon adventure to visit my barber for my first proper beard trim in nearly five months resulted in an excellent and carefully sculpted end-result that’s worth being proud of, and will allow me to continue growing an excellent and thick beard.

Then.

This evening, feet firmly and comfortably propped up on my desk, I finished off my thirtieth book for this year. A thirtieth book which I could happily log in Goodreads. That’s five more books than I set out for myself at the start of the year. And nearly as many books as I read per year during my undergraduate days at Concordia University.

“But Ilya, you get paid to read at work, so surely that counts?”

It doesn’t. It’s work, and I’m editing that stuff fast and heavy every damn day.

But it’s not really reading, not to me. It’s work. And it’s not something that’s exactly catalogued by Goodreads – thus making it somewhat difficult to qualify, particularly given that I probably read and edit over two-hundred reports a year.

Tangent aside, it’s an important milestone; indicative of an increase in energy, patience, possibly even time, to read more. Certainly it’s indicative of a desire to find a better work-life balance – a balance that will be made easier once I wrap up in my current role in the end of January 2017.

But still: 30 books in one year!

An important milestone for me.

goodreads-2016

 

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“They call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy”.

It’s as though this movie was built around my offbeat sensibilities. And that brings me tremendous joy.

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On the Comprehension of Marriage

Two friends of mine married each other this weekend. It was a lovely ceremony, seamlessly integrating traditional wedding rites and rituals with the couples’ own unique twists and interpretations. Nerf guns were of course included. This couple has been together for ages. In my mind they had already been married for years, and had simply forgotten to mention it to anyone. (It probably helps that when I’d met them, they had already been together for several years.)

After the ceremony and group photo, I found myself stepping away from the garden in which they were married. I’m agoraphobic, and needed to get away from the crowds. I’d also wanted to reflect upon the wedding. You see, for many years, I have been incapable of understanding how two people can come together, become a “couple”, and (inevitably) marry. Perhaps due to my one ill-fated experience of being engaged to another, I’d become too cynical towards this mysterious thing that is a relationship. The honeymoon period of a relationship, the desire to share one’s inner-most thoughts, feelings, worries, concerns – all that relationship “stuff”  – it elicits nightmarish sensations and imagined narratives with unhappy endings. And as everyone was busy getting photographed under a sun that was determined to melt absolutely every single last person present, it seemed an ideal moment to “get some air”, as the saying goes.

 As I stepped away, one of my friends decided to join me. We found ourselves alongside a sun-spattered duck-pond surrounded by pudgy Morton Bay figs. As she is a married woman, I asked her why she would wish to come home to the same person each day, and what pleasure there was in doing so, as I struggle to understand how others can be willing to surrender themselves, their freedom, and individualism to the will of another. Oh, and personal space. Big on that one, I am. As I value her insight and opinions, I was interested in understanding how good relationships (such as hers) work.  She stated that she and her husband are a team, and everything is better with him around. And each helps keep the other sane. And to date, both parties have been very good at doing just that. Especially when kilts are involved.

 Her comments echoed the observations I’d made over the duration of the last few years, in that the healthiest relationships I’ve encountered were the ones in which both parties expressed an innate, selfless desire to take care of each other and communicated as openly and trustingly as only best friends can. They were willing to less go of their ego and a portion of their independence for some unquantifiable greater good. Or, restated in a more comical – and slightly crude – manner:  “Love is when you can go full retard with each other”.

 I thought back to the wedding ceremony. The bride and groom both admitted that the other person was the only person on the planet who could possibly tolerate them. Their words spoke about the promises and obligations of marriage with sense and reason. And then the pair tied the knot. Literally! There was string! And knots! It was clear, however, that this couple understands how a good marriage works.

 Yet it seems to me that the vast majority of contemporary society doesn’t comprehend marriage correctly at all. I have written of two couples who clearly comprehend it correctly. But for all the couples that do, far too many do not. Some equate an inability to marry with personal failure. Others treat it as a necessary stepping-stone in life, akin to some sort of promotion at work. And there is of course the scary contingent whose entire world-view is framed and coloured in Disneyfied shades of black and white, full of pre-packed rules, rituals, and narratives that cannot and must not be violated under any circumstance.

 I have seen unhealthy relationships which imploded, withered, and fell apart beyond repair because one or both parties unwaveringly obeyed the toxic, unwritten rules and impossible narratives hidden in plain sight beneath the surface of our culture. Some were desperate, others were indifferent, and some were even scared, and married the first willing person they could find. And like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I came and saw, and beheld a broken horse, and the name it said on the horse was “Misery”.

 If only more people could take some notes from my friends. They can borrow my notebook; I’ve been writing in it for years.

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