“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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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.


Day 188: Get a life coach.

What the hell does a life coach do?

According to the Wikipedia — or, more specifically, to a Wikipedia article with “multiple issues” — really, the thing is pretty unreadable, but you get that sometimes when anybody can edit a thing —— anyway, “life coaching is a practice that helps people identify and achieve personal goals,” and life coaches do this “using a variety of tools and techniques.”

Well, glad we cleared that up.

Life coaches aren’t therapists, they aren’t counselors, they aren’t psychologists or psychiatrists or psychoanalysts: they don’t bother with the past, apparently, only with the future — though how that’s possible I don’t know, since dealing with goals for the future has to take into account where one is in the present, and an (honest) assessment of one’s present has to involve looking at how one arrived where one is, which involves dealing with the fucking past.

Life coaches are bullshit artists, then: con men and snake oil salesmen, whose goal is to make people feel good about themselves without actually changing their lives — because actual change in the sucker’s client’s life might make the life coach obsolete — so that the people give the life coaches money.

Of course, I’m basing this less-than-flattering assessment on one section of a poorly-written Wikipedia article. Maybe I should see what some actual, professional life coaches have to say.

LifeCoach.com bills itself as “the way to effortless success” — and, as anyone who’s ever done anything worth doing knows, “effortless success” does not exist.

Bill Blalock promises an “ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives” (emphasis his) — that’s a sentence that doesn’t really say anything. He does acknowledge that the coaching process might initially be “discomforting and even painful,” and that it can be “difficult” to talk about one’s “issues.” On the other hand, before becoming a life coach, he “held management positions at Frito Lay, Inc., Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc, Ernst & Young LLP and Cadbury Schweppes” — and one should never trust middle management.

I cruised Tina Ferguson’s site for a few minutes — it’s pinker than I like — but I have no snarky comments to make, because I can’t make sense of anything she’s saying. Alright, I do have one snarky comment: what kind of successful life coach asks her readers to send her money to blow at Starbucks? I mean, if any of you want to send me money to spend on beer coffee, that would be awesome — but if I was already charging people to spout bullshit at them, asking for tips for the bullshit I gave away for free would be tacky.

So, I think I stand by my initial assessment. Life coaches: people who take your money and make you do stupid things that aren’t really going to do you any good.

Why would I want one? Isn’t that why I have this stupid Book?


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 170: Sell something you have made.

My mother has been pestering encouraging me for years to write a novel, something in a genre that sells: romance, mystery, paranormal romance, mystery romance, paranormal mystery romance. I’ve mostly ignored her, because I don’t have much free time in which to write a novel, and the free time I do have I prefer to spend drinking and sitting around, instead of doing something productive.

A few days ago, she sent me a link to an NYT article about Amanda Hocking, who has self-published ten novels (and counting) as e-books on sites like Amazon, and who has made enough money at it that she can buy a replica of Han Solo in carbonite on a whim.

It’s just a coincidence, of course, but I’m going to run with it. I don’t have anything I’ve made for sale today, but I’m going to pledge to have a novel available for sale by the end of the year. Because why the fuck not?

Way the hell back on day six, I wrote this, as the opening sentence of my début novel:

One morning, Eusebius Jones woke up, brushed his teeth, had a piss, wandered into the kitchen, ate breakfast – two grapefruit and three cups of strong coffee – and then sat at his kitchen table, staring at nothing, trying to decide what he was going to do with the bodies in the trunk of his car.

That’s the opening sentence I’m going to run with. Who is this dude? Why does he have bodies — plural bodies! — in the trunk of his car? What is he going to do with them? What does he have for breakfast when grapefruit is not in season?

I have no idea. I hope the answers are interesting, and I hope I can get a novel out of answering them, either way, and I hope I sell enough copies that I can buy this with the proceeds (one of these would be nice, also).

I am totally serious about this, and I expect all of you who read this to shame me eternally if I don’t have a self-published paranormal-murder-mystery-bodice-ripping-trash-noir novel actually available for purchase by the end of the year.

I won’t, and I won’t be able to handle the shame, so I’ll drink myself to death in 2012. Should be a good year.


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.


Day 132: Your lucky number is 12.

I was twelve years old when I left home.

It wasn’t a great place to grow up: my mom had been shacked up with this short, hairy, greedy little bastard for as long as I could remember. Never knew who my father was. This dude my mom had hooked up with was the closest to a father-figure I had, I guess, but he did a shitty job; he treated my mom like a live-in maid, and me like an unwanted burden. He ran an auto repair shop, and put me to work almost as soon as I could walk. I think he had something shady going on, on the side – a back-room gambling operation, something like that.

When I was twelve, these two dudes came through town – had a hot, probably-not-quite-legal chick with them – man, did I have crush on her –– anyway, their rig had broken down, they needed some parts, brought it to the shop. The older dude took an interest in me right away – said I had ‘special talents’, something like that, and dropped hints that I should come with them. I was more than happy to get the fuck out of there, so when they left, I went with them.

They turned out to be drifters of some sort, and I think members of some sort of cult. They kept talking about how they were ‘protecting’ the ‘queen’ they had with them.

Shit got pretty out of hand a few weeks after I took up with them: the dudes ran into some dude from, I don’t know, a rival cult? Things turned violent really quickly, the old dude died, then the young dude killed the other dude. He dropped the ‘queen’ shortly thereafter, and he and I toured the country for a while. It was pretty cool, despite being pretty fucked-up – not that I had a good frame of reference, anyway. Dude was like the older brother I never had, and we got along pretty well, for a while.

Eventually, when I was, I don’t know, 19 or so, I decided to track down my mother. Went back to the shop I grew up in, found the short hairy bastard – told me he’d ditched my mom years ago, and she’d married some other dude. When I tracked him down, he told me my mom had been kidnapped by sand people about a month before.

I found her, she died in my arms, and I sort of lost my shit. Killed the whole tribe. Since then, Obi-Wan and I haven’t been getting along as well.

(Inspired by flossdaily and ruinmaker.)