“The Force is strong with this one.”

I grew up with Star Wars. That’s not saying much: a whole lot of white American dudes who are my age, ±10 years, also grew up with Star Wars. It’s a cultural touchstone.

There are degrees of “growing up with Star Wars,” though. For me, Star Wars was just the original trilogy. I was aware of the novelizations of the films—but I’ve never seen the point of reading a book based on a movie—and of the Expanded Universe. I played Shadows of the Empire on the N64—but I think we’d rented it, and it didn’t really make sense to me as Star Wars. I never read any of the novels or comic books, though—which is a bit odd, because I read at least a few Star Trek novels (Dark MirrorImzadiFederation, some others the titles of which escape me). Maybe it’s not that odd: Star Trek was episodic (even the original crew’s films are episodic), and so the standalone stories of the novels were just other ‘episodes’ in the narrative of the EnterpriseStar Wars—the original trilogy—was a self-contained narrative arc: it didn’t need extra stuff. More than that: the extra stuff detracted from the unity of the trilogy. (I’m writing in the past tense because I’m trying to recreate the reasoning of my 13-year-old self—I don’t know if it’s working.)

Jack is also growing up with Star Wars, but his experience is entirely different. The EU wasn’t really a thing until the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the original trilogy was already cemented in my mind as the totality of Star Wars. Jack’s first exposure to Star Wars—at not quite three years old—was a Youtube clip of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting Darth Maul at the end of The Phantom Menace. He wanted to watch sword fights, and the duel at the beginning of The Princess Bride didn’t hold his attention long (the banter was over his head, I guess). We moved from there to other lightsaber duels, in clip form, removed from context—and pretty soon, all he wanted to watch was the battle sequence from the end of Attack of the Clones. We finally let him watch the movies—and we started with the prequel trilogy, and if that’s a problem, fuck you—when he was sick with a stomach bug after Christmas 2010, when he was three years and a few months old (it’s possible I have this wrong—it might have been 2009). Then there were Star Wars LEGOs. For his fourth birthday, he got the first season of the Clone Wars series, and seasons two and three for Christmas, and that’s where we are.

I have a point, I think. Several points, maybe. The first is that, for Jack, the EU is a given, and the original trilogy is not a self-contained narratively-unified entity. He’s got a decent collection of Star Wars LEGOs (which I’ve written about before), and his play with them is pretty fluid: characters and events from the entirety of the Star Wars universe (or the parts of it he knows) are fair game, and he has no respect for canon or continuity (hell, sometimes Gandalf shows up). He’s writing fan-fiction, basically, and I hope he continues to do so as he gets older. That’s the first point.

The second point: I think a lot of dudes (of both sexes) of roughly my age try to recreate their own experience of Star Wars for their children, and—an much as I enjoyed reading this account of such a re-creation—maybe such a project is misguided. Our kids are not us, and they should have their own experience. We can guide, but that guidance should be minimal and unobtrusive: and not just with Star Wars, but with life in general. Let kids explore, experiment, &c. I’m sure there’s a name (or several names) for this parenting philosophy. Montessori parenting: that’s a thing, right? Close enough.

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Day 220: Live this day as if it were your last.

There are a lot of asinine proverbs out there, and “Live every day as if it were your last” is one of them. It can’t be done. You know why? This is why:

Damn, Bill Murray.

Of course, the Book doesn’t want me to live every day like I’m going to be dead tomorrow—just one. It even provides me a handy hypothetical scenario—a meteorite is about to obliterate the planet, and only I know!—so that I’m healthy and there are no consequences, for me or anyone else. I’m Phil Connors for a day, I guess.

What would I do with a day like that? Have a ridiculous breakfast, yes—but I’d be drinking champagne from the bottle, and not coffee from the carafe. I’d be drinking all day, in fact. I’d play with my kids, I’d take my wife on a date (for lunch, before I got too drunk), I’d ignore the stacks of work that I’m mostly ignoring anyway. I might pick a fight with my asshole neighbor. No, no, I wouldn’t do that: I’d just burn his house down. No consequences, right?

Living a “last day” that’s radically different from all your other days seems, I don’t know, wrong somehow? I mean, I wouldn’t go to work if I knew I was going to be dead in twenty-four hours—but I also wouldn’t walk through a parking lot smashing car windows, or hire a van-ful of prostitutes, or gorge myself on french fries and doughnuts and cupcakes. I wouldn’t do any of those things anyway: why would I do them just because I was going to be dead soon?

Because my life is sad and miserable, and I need the extraordinary circumstance of my impending death to enable me to do what I’ve secretly desired to do all my life, the things that will finally make me happy, finally make my life worth living, when it’s finally too late——that, at least, is what the Book assumes. Stupid fucking book.


LEGO is not evil.

I read this blog post the other day—go read it, I’ll wait——and my immediate response was: bullshit.

After some consideration, I will admit that he makes a few good points early on about the boy-oriented “spaceships-n-guns” formula of most current sets. And, yes, Lego now makes a lot of “movie-tie-in model sets”—with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit sets coming in 2012!—but there’s nothing wrong with that, despite Mr Sinker’s insinuation that there is.

The place his post goes off the rails is his discussion of the Lego Millenium Falcon his son is getting for Christmas—and Jack’s getting one, too, and I’m really really excited about it, and about Ella’s Hogwarts set——and Mr Sinker says: “…it’s a model kit. We will put it together once and we will play with it a lot and that will be that. It won’t get remixed, won’t get hacked. Eventually it’ll come apart and be put away and not rebuilt because 1000 pieces is a pain in the ass.”

Bullshit.

As counter-evidence, here’s Jack’s Lego box:

That box contains—in addition to a basic starter set, a few pick-a-brick buckets, and two City fire trucks—Luke’s landspeeder (from A New Hope), the Wampa cave (from Empire Strikes Back), an Imperial V-Wing, Anakin’s snow speeder, Master Plo’s starfighter, and an Anakin-versus-the-Sith set (those last three all from The Clone Wars). Oh, and various minifig battle packs.

You’ll notice that none of those sets are still put together. They all were, once: I built most of them, and Lorna built some (with Jack’s help), and we had fun doing it. But sooner or later, all of them get taken apart—mostly sooner.

The fire trucks—Jack’s first Lego sets—stayed built the longest, because I would diligently repair any damage done after Jack finished playing with them. His first Star Wars Lego sets were the battle packs—the stormtroopers and rebels from Empire Strikes Back—and I would put the minifigs back together after he was done taking them apart. After a few weeks, though, I realized it was futile—and, more importantly, that I was doing something stupid. So I stopped, and Jack comes up with all sorts of crazy shit now, and it’s awesome.

The point of Legos is that you can take them apart, ‘hack’ them and ‘remix’ them: and the toys are designed in a way that encourages that sort of play, whether the set is a bucket of bricks or the motherfucking Death Star. Kids who build a set once and never create something new——

Well, I won’t make sweeping generalizations about kids and parents I don’t know. My only point is that my four-year-old doesn’t give a shit about keeping his “models” together, he “just make[s] stuff” out of the pieces and has his own adventures. As does my nine-year-old daughter, who recently chose the blue bucket of bricks when I was willing to buy her the T-6 Shuttle. She chose well, and I was proud.

Maybe the marketing department at Lego is evil—but marketing departments are evil everywhere, and the toys themselves still inspire creativity and imaginative play.


“The Chore Wars”

This is an exercise I did with my students early-ish in the semester: our first foray into visual rhetoric and reading images.

Take a few minutes to study the image below. Keep in mind that a photographer (perhaps in consultation with someone else) set up this photograph, arranged its elements in a certain way—and that at least one editor approved it for the cover. In short: it’s not accidental, but intentional. Think for a moment about what those intentions might be, about what’s going on in the photograph. Not to pose a leading question, but: what’s wrong with it?

Let’s start with the weapons, shall we? He’s holding a gun, she’s holding a spear—he’s a James-Bond type (it’s the retro-50s clothing that does it), she’s an Amazon, primitive and aggressive. The mop-spear is also a phallus—where is the base of it? in her crotch—and there are a variety of reasons she might be holding a phallus. We’ll come back to that. The difference in weaponry—a handgun, modern and Western, and a spear, primitive and savage—establishes a power differential: the male, with the more advanced weapon, is dominant.

Notice that he’s also taller than she is. If she stood up, she might be of more-or-less equal height—but she’s not standing up, she’s crouched down (with her legs apart, and her skirt open at the back in a subtly provocative way—but more on the clothes in a moment). Even the baby is taller than she is—and my impulse is to say that it’s a male baby, but the ruffles on the sleeves look a bit feminine. Hard to tell with babies, anyway.

About the baby: why is he holding it? We’re meant to assume, of course, that this is a family unit: father, mother, baby. Fathers hold babies, sure—though maybe less so in the 1950s, which the clothing is meant to evoke, especially the woman’s pleated skirt and “housework heels” and hairstyle—who mops dressed up like that, and with (muted) red lipstick?——at any rate, why is he holding the baby? There are two possibilities, I think: either to protect it from the Amazon Woman, or to hold it hostage. I find the latter more convincing—the baby-prison is on his side of the room, after all—but the baby’s neutral (indeed, resigned and somewhat disconcerting) facial expression makes it hard to decide.

Let’s come back to the phallus. By the way, I’m using “phallus” instead of “penis” because a phallus is a symbol, and a penis is an organ. They’re intricately related, of course, but she’s not holding an actual penis, just the symbol of one—a symbol of power and generative capacity and perhaps the capacity for violence (and, according to the psychoanalytic theorists, a symbol for the symbolic). Why is she holding it? Has she stolen it from the man, or—since, according to the logic of 1950s division of domestic labor, the mop is properly the woman’s—has she discovered that she also possesses a phallus with which to challenge the man’s phallus? And he’s not even holding a phallic gun, not a shotgun or an assault rifle or even a big fucking Dirty Harry .44 Magnum—he’s holding a tiny little Beretta .22 short-barreled pistol, and he looks nervous, like he’s never actually fired it before, and maybe it doesn’t even have live ammo in it, maybe it’s shooting blanks—does that kid really look like him, after all? (I didn’t go down this road in class—I asked my students why she was holding a phallus, and let them make suggestions, none of which involved the male’s tiny gun.)

Now for the mop as mop, and not spear or phallus. Where is the mop water? In the bucket? No, on the floor. Spilled, by the looks of it, and it’s also excessively clean—so she hasn’t actually been mopping yet—and who mops by dumping water on the floor, anyway? People who don’t know how to mop, that’s who. I’m trying to suggest that the image is suggesting that she’s not very good as a housekeeper, but that might be a stretch.

But there is water all over the floor. Where is it? Under the woman. What do women’s bodies do? They leak. (This gets a reaction from my students, even—especially?—the female ones.) What color is the bucket? Red. So: not water, menstrual blood. (Another reaction from the students, and maybe from you, too.) Why is there menstrual blood all over the floor? I don’t know. Nothing good, probably.

In class, one of my students pointed out the white suds on the bucket—but here, I’ll have to do it. White substance, vessel containing menstrual fluid… well, you can figure it out.


Day 198: Have a good cry.

Originally scheduled for Sunday, July 17.

There are people that enjoy “having a good cry” on occasion: I am not one of those people. Never have been.

I don’t cry at movies. I don’t cry at weddings. I don’t even cry at funerals.

I cried when my children were born. Each time, it was a spontaneous losing of my shit. I though I was prepared the second time around, but no, I wasn’t — I cried more than either of the kids did, and they were the ones transitioning from the comforts of the womb (I guess wombs are comfortable?) to the harsh reality of being alive.

Other than that, I don’t cry. I mean, I’m sure I’ve cried in moments of extreme stress a few times in my adult life, but those were brief moments, and I have no desire to repeat them. I don’t find crying cathartic. Maybe that’s a sign that I should do it more often? How would that work? Have a few drinks, watch a sad movie — but which one? Steel Magnolias? — and maybe drop a hammer on my foot for good measure: that might do it, but only the “have a few drinks” part sounds remotely appealing.

Also, there was that one time that I cried in the shower — but if you haven’t heard that story, you’re out of luck, because it’s not getting told here.


Day 182: Return to childhood.

Let me tell you what I was like as a child: I was a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, and misanthropic crotchety old man who read too much and played with Legos. That is: exactly the same as I am now.

Done and done: time for a drink.

No, not really. Not really done, I mean — it’s always time for a drink.

One of the other things I did as a child was watch movies: I probably saw the original Star Wars trilogy several hundred times before I was ten (and I’m on the way to seeing it a hundred more times before my son is ten). The difference is that suspension of disbelief used to be par for the course for me when watching a movie. If, as a child, I ever stopped to think how absolutely ridiculous it was for a giant worm — with teeth! — to be living in an asteroid, let alone how absurd it was for there to have been enough of an atmosphere in its intestine for Han and Leia to walk around in street clothes outside the Millennium Falcon —— I say, if such things occurred to me, I ignored them and went back to enjoying the movie. I tried to return to that — that simple, unquestioning, naive engagement with a film — as today’s task.

I went to see Cars 2.

You need to understand that I love Pixar’s movies, all of them — this could be a very long digression, but I’ll just say that I can’t watch the last twenty minutes of Toy Story 3 without someone chopping up onions — also I should say that I have crush on Mrs. Incredible — and Flik’s “I know it’s a rock! I’ve spent a lot of time around rocks!” line is funnier than it should be — you know, if I only had Pixar’s filmography and the films of the Coen brothers to watch, I’d be a happy man ——— anyway, I was saying that I love all of Pixar’s movies, except Cars.

Don’t get me wrong: Cars is better than a lot of other animated films, most of which are nothing more than dog shit run through a projector, but it’s still just okay in terms of the rest of Pixar’s canon. I also cannot — absolutely can not — suspend disbelief while watching it. The reasons why are numerous, but they boil down to cars don’t have opposable thumbs, for fuck’s sake.

And since sequels are usually worse than the films that spawned them — with notable exceptions, of course — I was anticipating having trouble with this task, especially since I’d been informed that Cars 2 was running 34% at Rotten Tomatoes.

I was pleasantly surprised. No, scratch that: I loved it. It’s visually stunning, which we expect — the fly-over shots of London were breathtakingly realistic, though — and Michael Caine was phenomenal, but what sold me was the fact that it’s a spoof of spy movies (just like Burn After Reading, another movie that I love but nobody else does). I’m sure it won’t hold up to repeated viewings, but it might surprise me, and it’ll definitely always be better than the first one — but I had fun, at a movie, which hasn’t happened since…

…well, since last November — since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.

No, wait, I saw Super 8 last week, and it was fantastic. Fun, even, despite the fact that I wasn’t trying not to think about it.

I’m not sure where that leaves us. I guess movies are just more fun the first time, on a giant screen, and so loud we should all be wearing earplugs?

Probably so, yes. I guess I should go to the movies more often.


Day 139: Bleed here [so you can be cloned later].

I have no desire to be cloned.

A clone of me would not be me, any more than identical twins are the same person. If there was (is?) already a clone of me out there – one that I didn’t know about, for some reason – and we met on the street, we would be total strangers. Strangers who looked extremely similar, yes, but still strangers. Doppelgängers. It would probably be an unpleasant meeting…

What do I gain by being cloned at some future point, after I’m dead? Nothing. I don’t lose anything, either: it’s happening after I’m dead, and the clone is – not to beat a dead horse – a totally different person. A clone of me a few hundred years hence will mean nothing more to me – and I nothing more to him – than my great-great-great-grandchildren will: to wit, nothing.

If someone clones me while I’m alive, that might be an issue: what if my clone tries to kill me and take over my life? Or: What if I’m the clone, and I’ve killed myself and taken over my life? OR: What if I’m merely one in an endless sequence of clones? What if none of this is real? Any of these scenarios is less than ideal. On the other hand, if my clone just wanted to be his own dude, and have his own life and job and name and car and et cetera, that would be totally fine. It might even be cool to have a beer with myself occasionally, under those circumstances.

People who want to be cloned after death are seeking some odd sort of vicarious immortality: they’re living forever, somehow, because their genetic material has been reconstituted and is walking around and talking and eating and shitting and doing whatever people will be doing for entertainment in the future.

There’s a better and more efficient way to have your genetic material walking around hundreds of years in the future: have children, and lots of them. Of course, this is only more efficient if you don’t raise the children yourself – because actually raising them is a lot more labor-intensive than just producing them, especially for the father – and so this strategy really only works for men (sorry, ladies). For men, though, it’s just a matter of impregnating as many women as possible – and in these days of paternity tests and child support and whatnot, as anonymously as possible – scattering children across the country (or the world?), in order to ensure that a reasonable number of one’s ‘illegitimate’ offspring survive to reproduce as well, thus propagating your genetic material downstream in the gene, uh, pool.

It’s what your genes want, after all.