Monday, December 30, 2019

End-of-Year Wrap-Up

In a few short hours it will be the Roarin' Twenties.  As usual I'd like to discuss both my accomplishments from the previous year and my goals for the coming one, in a lazy clip show-style format that draws heavily from previous posts.

I have long been looking forward to 2020, because of the auspicious symmetry of the numerical value, as well as the release of Umbrella Academy, Season 2.  Not to mention the assumed re-emergence of zoot suits, fringed dresses, feather headbands, bob haircuts, and Gatsby-style extravagance.



But before we can delve back into the jazz era, let's take a look back at how 2019 treated us.

2019 ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND HIGHLIGHTS


What a year, what a year.  In terms of personal development, I went back to school for journalism.  I am now two classes away from graduation, and currently hold straight As.  (The loosely-structured program is designed to be completed in two years; I attempted to get it done in one, since I didn't want to be in school after the baby arrived.  I was two classes shy, but two classes is no big deal.)  I also got an internship during autumn, which allowed me to beef up my writing portfolio a little.

Over-achieving feels so good.

In the meantime, I got a new job as a server / bartender, which added some much-needed social stability to my life.

Speaking of my social life, I finished off my title year as L.A. pup, competing in the International title in July and coming in 6th or 7th place out of 16.  During my title year, I raised over $900 for the ASPCA, Planned Parenthood, and the Los Angeles Gender Center.

Mid-year, I took a vacation to Ireland with Andrew, Andrew, Nate, and my mom.

In sad news, we lost Winnibelle and have been watching Carlisle sundown.  This might be his last Christmas, but we're keeping him comfortable and enjoying the time we have with him.


The silver lining to losing Winnibelle, of course, is that it freed up the rabbit room to make room for the baby we conceived back in March.  We have spent the last year getting our finances and house in order and it's never been cleaner.  This December we welcomed Calvin into our lives and he's settled in nicely. 

 "Helloooo, world!"

If you clicked the last link, you'll see one oft my current projects has also been writing a prequel to The Umbrella Academy, my latest and greatest obsession, which came just in the knick of time to replace Iron Man.
 

Now that my blog is finally updated (yay!), I plan to finish off this little personal enterprise within the next month or two.  And in related comic book-y news, I got a thoroughly satisfying end to the third phase of Marvel's cinematic universe with Avengers: Endgame, and got to enjoy another fantastic Comic Con.

So my overall impression of 2019?  It was a fucking fantastic year.


2020 RESOLUTIONS


I'm not huge on resolutions, but I do try to generally better myself.  One thing I always try to do is to realize a resolution with January 1st acting as a "due date" rather than a "start date."  This year's pre-resolution was to make a habit of flossing regularly.  I did this largely to spite my dentist, who informed me that most people's dental hygiene tanks in the year following the birth of a baby.  As a fairly rebellious person who also has a tendency to desperately require validation from authority figures (see "straight As," above), I took the dentist's passing comment as a challenge, and since October or November have been flossing daily before bed as part of my routine.  It's now an established habit and I'm confident that my gums will impress next time I'm in for a cleaning.

My goals for the coming year including finishing my journalism program (graduation is in June!), finishing my Umbrella Academy project before the second season drops, and losing the baby weight and getting in shape again.  (I don't actually have too much weight to lose and I've done the whole weight loss journey thing before so this is an imminently achievable goal.)

I haven't made as many goals as I usually would because the truth is, I feel like this year, like the last, is going to surprise us with a whirlwind of amazing things.  I'm poised in a great place, and even if 2020 isn't as exciting as 2019, I think it's going to be wonderful.  As Gatsby himself said, "My life has got to be like this.  It has to keep going up." 

Monday, December 23, 2019

First Week of Being a Parent, and Obligatory Baby Photo Dump

Today's entry is a short little photo dump and a series of quick impressions I want to commit to the written word before they vanish as memories.  I'm a little tired from the baby-having and baby-rearing, so please excuse me as I dump a bunch of baby photos into this post and then call it a day.  I don't ever expect this blog to become a "baby blog," but considering I've spent the first week concerning myself with getting plant-based, decomposable asswipes and arguing with Andrew about the merits of the book "The Digging-est Dog," I feel that I am well within my rights to write a shorter entry this week and call it a day.

 Personal stance: "The Digging-est Dog" is a literary masterpiece.

While we were expecting, we experienced a certain conversation over and over.  We'd say we felt relatively prepared, as prepared as anyone can really be for something as big as welcoming a baby into one's home for the first time.  And then others would laugh at us and say that nothing can prepare you.  Nothing.  That however hard you think it is, it's ten times harder then you could possibly realize and boy, oh boy, are you in for a trip.

I'm happy to report that those people are wrong.

Does this look hard to you?

We took Calvin home from the hospital after about 48 hours, and he has settled in like a champ.  Maybe it's still too early, but after the first week, I can say this: we were prepared, after all.  And we are having a damn good time.

 
Calvin with his grandma.

It helps that Cal is a good baby.  He doesn't cry much and he's on a fairly regular newborn schedule of two hours.  He sleeps, he wakes, he fusses, he eats, he poops, and he goes back to sleep.  This is the envious life of a newborn.  He is not very loud and also aggressively cute, and with myself, Andrew, and my mom present to care for him, everyone is a lot more well-rested than I was led to believe we would be.  Having two partners means we're doing just fine.  We're definitely a little tired, since we're up every few hours, but these interrupts are brief, spanning only 30 minutes or so, the length of time required to feed and re-diaper the baby.  On Day 2, we had a 90ish-minute crying session at 3 a.m. that wouldn't stop, but so far, over the whole week, that has been the only "bad baby" moment.  Generally Calvin is a reasonable baby who only fusses when he needs something.

 

If anything, we're having an almost-vacation.  The house is surprisingly clean and I've gotten a fair bit of work done in terms of catching up on various projects (blog included).

 
Calvin helping!

In terms of how you feel after giving birth, physically, for the first two days there's a full-body soreness and delicacy, but a week post-partum, I actually feel great.  I'm still bleeding, which is normal.  As far as I can tell, after giving birth, you bleed for roughly the rest of your natural life and possibly into the next one.  I was told to call the doctor if I had any clots the size of an orange or bigger.  In other words, unless your uterus falls out, incessant bleeding is considered normal.

The biggest fly in the ointment has been Seamus the dog, who does not like the baby.  Seamus has been walking around the house with his head down and his tail between his legs, making soft whining noises and periodically jumping on the baby.  Is he trying to protect it?  Respond to its crying?  I have no idea.  He's mellowed out a little with CBD treats, but he's still clearly on edge and having a harder time adjusting than anyone else.  I feel bad for him.

 Meeting the baby when we brought him home.

Possibly Seamus is jumping on the baby because the baby often represents a delicious burrito.

Our plans for Christmas and New Year's are non-existent.  The world stands still a little when you have a baby and you find yourself on your own, baby-centric planet that concerns itself with cleaning out breast pump attachments and locating where pacifiers have gone after being dropped.  I was hoping to get his picture taken with Santa, but since he's so new to the world and lacking in an immune system, and mall Santas are probably Germsville USA, we decided not to in the end.  We took a picture of Calvin in a Santa hat and called it a day.

 

On Planet Baby, my biggest complaint is the way time moves.  It's all at once sluggish and also far too fast.  Every moment you're mired in is boring.  The baby sleeps a lot and everything you do is done according to the baby's schedule, so "you time" is taken in two-hour blocks of slightly sleep-deprived distraction, with the awareness that you might have to drop everything to go to the baby if necessary.  Yet despite feeling a little stagnant and cooped up with the baby, both physically and temporally, you blink and you've moved forward to the next day, the next week.


We have been relying heavily on planners and to-do lists to ensure we maintain some semblance of structure.  It's easy, on Planet Baby, to fall behind.

Speaking of falling, my first panicked parent moment came on Day 5, when Calvin's cord fell off.

We had gone to see the pediatrician on Day 4, and he told us everything was looking good and normal, but I was still wholly unprepared to suddenly see it gone, and it scared me a bit.  The pediatrician also said, and I quote, "This is an excellent baby."  So there you have it, folks.  It came from the mouth of a professional.  Also, not to brag, but our baby only lost 2 ounces following his birth.  (Most babies lose a lot more.)

Overall impression of Planet Baby?  It's a nice planet.  One that's not nearly as hard as everyone told us it would be, and worth every second of sleep deprivation.

Parenting!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Welcome to the World, Cal

[Warning: some minor medical descriptions of labor and delivery.]

When Calvin was born, his eyes were open, and he was five-and-a-half pounds.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.


This all began on Sunday morning.  I woke at 6 a.m., which is apparently a time that exists.  I was having pains not unlike cramps; I got up and made a pot of coffee.  Andrew got up shortly thereafter.  We had plans to go have brunch with one of his friends.

My original plan had been to quit work about two weeks before the baby's due date, to go up to Canada and have the baby there.  Unfortunately, Carlisle threw a wrench into our plans by getting very sick but not actually dying. 

This animal is actually still alive somehow.

I still wanted to quit work about two weeks beforehand, just because of mobility issues and general discomfort.  But I'm terrible at saying no and have a deep fear of disappointing my incredibly nice boss, and I had somehow ended up scheduled through the 15th.  I had worked Thursday, December 12th, and regretfully informed Chris that there was no way I could work my last scheduled day, December 15th, because I was having difficulty being on my feet for 6-hour stretches, and didn't think I was providing very good service.  Chris was, as usual, understanding, and said it was fine for me to take off that day.

So we had brunch plans, but as Andrew was preparing to go, I told him I was feeling pretty shitty because of what I assumed were Braxton-Hicks contractions, and to go to brunch without me.  I asked him to bring me back a burrito and a vanilla milkshake.


I actually posted this.

Around noon I went to the bathroom and, lo and behold, my mucus plug had come out.  For those not in the know, the mucus plug is what keeps the baby and the amniotic fluid sterile during pregnancy; it jams up the cervix and separates the uterus from the vagina.  I called Andrew to let him know, and then checked online, discovering that you can lose it anytime from 36 weeks onward, and it may not necessarily be a big deal.

At this point I still suspected I was "only" having Braxton-Hicks contractions.  My reasoning was as follows:
  1. Everyone told me that you'll know the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real labor.  Also, I was told that Braxton-Hicks contractions start in the front and real contractions originate from the back.
  2. The due date was December 21st, a full six days away, and I still had shit to do before the baby's arrival.  Also, current statistics suggest that first-time babies tend to reach term and be more likely to arrive late than early.
  3. My mother's babies all came late, and the best prediction for a baby's delivery is how the delivery of the generation before was.
  4. My water hadn't broken.
I called my mom, who advised me to go to the hospital.  I ignored this.  Andrew brought home a burrito, which was terrible, and a horchata, which was the closest thing to a vanilla milkshake the restaurant served.  I laid around waiting for the pain to stop.  It didn't.

My mom called around four to see if we were at the hospital yet.  We weren't, but by that point, we were considering it strongly.  Andrew had downloaded a labor tracking app and by his estimation, my contractions were spaced evenly apart. We decided we should at least pack a bag.

Around six p.m., we threw in the towel and drove to the hospital.  My contractions were five minutes apart and, although they still felt to me like they were coming from the front, they were undeniably severe.  We parked and I had two on the walk in to the hospital; during the second, I felt a warm stream down my leg.

About the water breaking: it's not actually clear when it does.  I had Googled it before we left for the hospital and discovered two troubling facts.  First of all, it may or may not break during labor.  The water breaking does not signify the beginning of labor, as you might think; in fact, the water can break at any time during the labor and in some cases never breaks at all.  (My mother's water apparently never broke and had to be manually "popped.")  Second, when it breaks, it may not be obvious.  In movies, when the water breaks, it's always shown as follows: a woman screams, doubles over, and proceeds to spill about 15 gallons of water all over the floor.  In real life, sometimes, the water breaking looks more like a trickle, and people think they've peed themselves.

Alarmed that I was most definitely in labor, we waddled into the hospital, took the elevator up to the maternity ward (stopping to buy a diet Dr. Pepper), and informed them that I was having a baby.

Andrew took this picture in the elevator for posterity.

They gave me forms.

I scribbled out some shaky information on the forms between contractions and was taken to an admitting room, when they gowned me up and did a cervical check.  For those who don't know what this is, it basically involves shoving a few fingers up your yoo-hoo and feeling for how dilated you are.  And I'll say this right now: it was literally the most painful part of the whole ordeal for me, hands-down.

The nurse informed me I was "only" two centimeters dilated.  I said that could not be correct.  She said that patients are only admitted under three conditions:
  1. They are more than four centimeters dilated.
  2. They would like to be administered an epidural for pain management.
  3. Their water had broken.
I was still unclear on whether or not my water had, in fact, broken.  I mean, I was pretty sure, but couldn't tell.  Maybe?  Or maybe I'd actually peed myself.  I was feeling fairly unsure of things, considering I'd already spent 12 hours having "Braxton-Hicks contractions" that turned out to be real labor.  Also, by this time, my contractions were two to five minutes apart, and it was hard to focus on what was happening because they were distractingly painful.  I knew I didn't want an epidural, and I was certain I was more than four centimeters dilated, but the only way to tell was with a cervical check, and I was adamantly against that.  They wanted to get a speculum (which is basically a salad tong-looking thing they shove into you to open you up) and do a swab to see if my water was broken, and/or to check the cervix again, and I was basically stalling because I didn't want that but also saw no recourse.  I certainly had no intention of walking off without being admitted, because it was clear, by that time, that I was absolutely going to have a baby.


Thirty minutes of hemming and hawing, with the nurses asking me what I wanted to do, paid off, when my water finally broke for real.

Remember how I said in movies, it's always a very dramatic gush with a ton of fluid, and how real life isn't like that?  Well, mine was movie-style, with a very distinctive "pop" feeling and the cinematic 15 gallons of fluid all over me, the gurney, the floor, and the nurse's shoes.

With barely concealed annoyance, she stripped off her gloves and said, "Okay, you're admitted."

Huzzah!

There was mild concern because the "water" (actually amniotic fluid) contained meconium, which is newborn baby poo.  My apparently very advanced child had pooped before he was even born; there is a small risk of complication because babies can end up aspirating the meconium during birth, which is bad.  I was wheeled into a birthing suite (the biggest hospital room you ever saw!) and strapped with a baby monitor on my stomach, which did not want to stay on, because I was thrashing and screeching like I was at Ozzfest.  The monitor could tell when contractions were; they came in "waves" but at that point I couldn't very well distinguish them from one another.  I was informed the doctor might not make it in time for the birth and that I should just do what my body felt like doing.

  Responding to this news.

This was counter to what I'd read online, which said you'll feel the urge to push but should wait a bit because premature pushing can lead to tearing.  But apparently, the nurses said, I was "more dilated than we initially thought."


Dr. Quimby arrived around 10 p.m.  At this point I had been in labor for about 16 hours, four of them "active" labor, which is the part where you're panting and contracting really hard and no longer confused about what a Braxton-Hicks contraction feels like.  She wasted absolutely zero time; she sat on a stool between my legs, braced my feet against my shoulders, and informed me it was time to push.

 I won't show pictures of this part but just imagine it being really loud and bloody.

I was in too much pain to communicate my total terror.  For as long as I can remember, giving birth has been my single greatest fear.  This had not abated during pregnancy, because they had given me lots of informational pamphlets that gave horrifyingly calm descriptions of "routine" procedures like episiotomies.  I did not want an episiotomy, which has largely gone out of vogue.  Dr. Quimby had reassured me that they don't usually do those anymore.  But all bets are off in the birthing suite; I had already disproven the "don't-worry-you'll-know-labor-when-it's-time" myth, as well as the "most-water-breakages-aren't-dramatic-gushes" one.

When the next contraction hit, I pushed.  Nothing happened.  I was told to wait as the contraction passed; when the second one came, I was told to push again, like I was pooping.  (Note: I was hyper-aware of the burrito I had had earlier and did not want to poop on the baby, something that happens semi-regularly, apparently.)  Again, nothing happened.  The third contraction came and I strained; nothing happened.  I was informed that they could see the baby's head, which was past the cervix and in the vaginal canal, but from my perspective, that wasn't really progress.  Dr. Quimby had been doing some aggressive rubbing down there that hurt, but everything hurt, and I was convinced they were seconds away from cutting me open.  (Somewhere in the background, Andrew was informing me that the baby was crowning and I was super, super close, but there was roughly a stadium's worth of people there at this point, so his voice was lost in the general hub-bub.)

Dr. Quimby turned to a nurse.  "Get me my--" she began.

Oh God.  This is it.  She's getting the scalpel, I thought.

"--mineral oil," she finished.

They dumped mineral oil on, in, and around me, and told me to push.  I did; the baby slithered out.  If I had to describe this indescribable feeling, I would say it is most similar to taking a five-pound shit.  There is an immense sense of relief.  What's more, it was not the most painful thing I've ever experienced; it was in the top three, certainly, but it was so weird and foreign and alien that a lot of the actual "pain" was lost to the general bizarreness of it all.

I first realized he was out because he cried.  He was born with his eyes and mouth open, shouting and squirming with a shocking amount of strength.  They put him on my chest, still crying and still tethered to me; he settled down and we stared at each other with equal expressions of utter shock.

 Calvin at five minutes old and then at about two hours old.

A moment later they pulled out the placenta, which was as large as the baby was and looked like a deflated cow heart.  They held it up for me to see.  (I requested this because I was curious.)

Dr. Quimby said I had torn just a little and needed one stitch; everything from my navel to my knees felt so strange that I barely felt it.  After the baby was checked over (Apgar score: 8 at one minute, 9 at five minutes), we two were wheeled into a post-delivery recovery room together, which is where we are currently.


Calvin was five-and-a-half pounds, seventeen inches, and was born with his eyes open.  He came at 10:37 p.m. and he was perfect.  Small, but fierce, not unlike his parents.  I didn't sleep all night, watching him in his bassinet beside my bed; every hour, it seemed, someone came in to peek at him.  The consensus was the same: he is an objectively cute infant.  Most newborns look like turnips; mine came out baby-like, his head a perfectly round melon, his skin unblemished, his mouth a perfect Cupid's bow that figured out how to latch onto a nipple within hours.

I hadn't given much thought to what it would be like after he was born and I've been pleasantly surprised by the aftermath.  My body is sore, similar to what it felt like the day after running a marathon, but I can walk fairly well, and I'm bleeding, but not nearly as much as I expected.  Calvin is bright-eyed and alert, and not at all fussy.  My mom, who had planned to come in before the delivery on Wednesday, flew in early to meet him.

It was, overall, a very standard and surprisingly easy birth.  It was also perfectly cinematic; the water breaking was comedically timed and dramatic, and the baby's appearance was actually baby-like.  After nine months of shitty pregnancy, the payoff is this: I have a son, and he's perfect; his eyes were open and he was five-and-a-half pounds.

Above and below: Calvin at 24 hours.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Frozen II Review: Spoiler Central

One of the guilty pleasures I've enjoyed in the later stages of pregnancy has been going to see movies alone in the middle of a weekday.  Theaters are typically empty, and the darkness allows me to consume an ungodly amount of Raisenets without anyone casting a judgemental look in my direction.  For example, I went and saw Lion King, the new live-action remake, which mostly made me think to myself, "Gee, I wish I were watching the original."  Also I got really sick and dizzy during the hyena scene and had to lie down.  Let me tell you, you have never felt nausea until you've felt the kind that prompts you to lie down on the sticky floor of a public movie theater.

Lilo: the most relatable of the Disney princesses.
 Yes, I know she's not a princess, but screw you.  She is a goddamn treasure.

With the end of the school quarter and no more content to dump in place of making a "real" blog post, I decided to phone it in this week and write a review of a movie I recently saw.  I have plenty to choose from.  2019 was a fantastic year for movies.  It gave us Shazam, the best DC movie next to Wonder Women; Shazam was a solid, fun origin story with a color palette that contained more than "broody Batman black."  It gave us Spider-man: Far From Home, another fun superhero movie in which Tom Holland collects yet another Zaddy while flinging some impressively intricate FX at us.

 Leave some for the rest of us, Tom.  

It gave us Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, an over-the-top violent alternative history whose ending is a punchline perfectly matching the title and whose tiny details (like the opening of a can of dogfood) walk a perfect tightrope between disturbing and amusing.  And, oh my God, Jojo Rabbit... a movie that defies any categorization into a genre, a comedy/drama that is poignant and perfectly culturally relevant, which had at least one audible audience gasp in the middle and more than a couple scenes that evoked tears.  If you see no other movie this year, make sure you see Avengers: Endgame Jojo Rabbit.

But the movie I want to talk about is Frozen II.  Frozen II is not an origin story but a sequel, and it lacks zaddies, over-the-top violence, and Taika Waititi playing Hitler.  I debated whether or not to write a review, but I have a lot of thoughts, and since I pitched my own idea for the sequel last year, I feel like I should follow up with my thoughts on the sequel they actually made.

OBVIOUS SPOILER WARNING: read past this point at your own peril.

So, first of all, here are my general impressions.  Frozen II is visually stunning.  I felt the same way about Frozen II as I felt about the live-action Lion King; every second I was watching, I was impressed with the visual artistry.  I alternated between going "wow" and saying, "Huh.  This is... not the original."  I was hyper-aware that this was not the original.

Frozen II is gorgeous to look at but it misses its mark.  First of all, the songs.  The songs were good.  But when I left the theater, I found myself humming "Let It Go."  A good metric for a Disney musical is that it should have at least 2-3 songs you remember and hum on the way out.  For example, the original Frozen had "Let It Go," and "Love Is An Open Door," and "Do You Want To Build a Snowman."  I can sing all of these songs at the drop of a hat.  Guess how many songs I remember from Frozen II?  None of them.  I can recall the sequences.  There was one about autumn in the beginning and one where Kristoff is singing like he's in a boy band that was funny, I guess, although it went on for roughly twice as long as the run time of the movie itself.  But I can't sing a single song from that movie.  The main number was one about Elsa going to find the source of her powers but the main lyric was "ahh-ahh, ahh ahhhh!"  That was the only memorable tune and it was wordless.  I bet parents loved hearing the four-ahhed chorus of that little ditty over and over and over when they got home.


This brings me to my next complaint.  As I mentioned, the central plot is Elsa searching for the source of her powers.  Her motivation is schizophrenia.  Seriously, that's it.  She hears voices and spends the rest of the movie running around chasing said voices.  There's no stakes.  She isn't having any problems with her powers or anything like that.  She just decides to go on a grand adventure for the heck of it.  It's actually infuriating how totally lacking in any real motivation she is; she puts herself in mortal peril over and over for no reason, and implies there's some sort of "mystery" without ever having found a mysterious scroll or having any disruption whatsoever to her life.  Throughout the whole movie I felt confused about the mission they were on, because it lacked any real linch pin to have set it off in the first place.

Frozen III: The Search for God

On their pointlessly unmotivated adventure, our heroes encounter new characters, which fit neatly into two categories: characters with zero personality and characters who will make good, overpriced stuffed toys in the Disney Store in time for Christmas.

There are two characters with zero personality.  One is called Honeydew or Honeymaven or something, and she's a girl and I think she builds a fire.  Her purpose is... she has no purpose.  She has a brother who is supposed to be a foil for Kristoff, who is a reindeer-lover like Kristoff.  His name is I don't remember because he's even more lacking in personality or purpose than Honeymuffin.

Pictured: Honeysweetie McDarlinghoof's original concept art.

Then there's Bruno, who is an adorable lizard whose purpose seems to be to be cute and sell merchandise.  As Elsa journeys into the magical land of Somewhere North, she encounters various Elemental forces, including Bruno or Bruni or something, who represents fire.  Bruno is annoyingly, sickening cute.  I liked him because he demands to be liked, but I felt that he was emotionally manipulating me into liking him and that he was going to be the hot new toy of 2020.


This brings me to my next complaint, which is that Bruno represented the general feel of the whole movie.  Elsa and Anna go through several costume changes and all I could think of was that this was an intentional ploy to sell little girls dresses.  Elsa has a truly magical moment with a water horse but, again, all I could think of was, "Mein Gott, Disney is gonna make a mint."  So many parts of this movie felt contrived.  Elsa's motivations, the songs, the characters, the outfits... all of it felt tangibly like someone, somewhere, asked how to maximize merchandising opportunities.

The "twist" that Elsa's mother was from the Somewhere North kingdom was painfully obvious and expected.  Literally while someone was telling Elsa the story about how her father was saved as a boy by a mysterious figure, I was like, ah-ha, it's Elsa's mom.  Case closed.  It totally lacked the impact of the first movie's twist.  Elsa's mortal peril near the climax, when she gets trapped in an ice cave, felt contrived and pointless... especially since, again, why the hell she was even there or what she was hoping to discover seemed to be without any clear-cut motivation in the first place.


I had to see this while searching for Frozen memes, so you do too now.

During the "ahh-ahh, ahh ahh" musical number, Elsa danced on a black screen with swirling geometric shapes.  It was lovely.  But it also represented the movie as a whole, in that, while visually delightful, it didn't really fit into the plot or have any sort of character development or narrative value.  You watched, you enjoyed, and you forgot.  The movie lacked the spirit of the first one.  Speaking of which, the movie really undermined its whole "you can't marry the first man you meet" narrative by having Kristoff and Anna get engaged.  Isn't Anna like, only eighteen in this movie?  Maybe nineteen?  Would it have killed Disney to nix the engagement subplot?  Or, even better, to have had Kristoff propose, and have Anna say, "No."  Then, when Kristoff looks shocked and hurt, she can explain, "Kristoff, our relationship is perfect like it is and I want to enjoy it for a while longer before we take it to the next step.  Ask me again in five years.  I'll be ready then."  And then she could wrap his hand around the ring and tell him to hang on to it, and Kristoff could smile and re-pocket it and they could kiss.  Boom!  Cinematic magic.


Other complaints.  Olaf's "death" lacked any sort of real impact, at least for me.  It was far too obvious that he'd be back within ten minutes, and he was.  The attempted themes of maturity were heavy-handed but also never quite hit their mark; they felt like they were pandering to the teenage audience without delivering any real message.  Like, what was my takeaway from this movie?  It had so many "messages" and quotable moments, but I can't quite place my finger on what the most important one was.  Finally, Anna forgiving Elsa for pushing her away was so immediate that it really felt like Elsa was given a full pardon despite breaking her promise to Anna about allowing Anna to help.  I understand that Anna loves her sister, but damn, she lets Elsa get away with a lot in this movie.

Remember how I said that I saw this movie in the middle of a weekday?  Well, it's a kids' movie, so naturally there were three families with kids there.  And at about the 2/3rd mark, while Elsa was doing some visually stunning ice magic, I heard one of the kids, about four or five years old, say, "Can we go home?"  Really, that summed up the whole experience for me.  It failed to capture my imagination or engage me.

 When will we get the sequel we deserve?

Frozen II did plenty of stuff right.  Like I said, every second of the visual experience was remarkable.  It was a lovely movie.  It's worth seeing just for the visuals.  But as far as story-telling goes, it's lacking.  It's too scattered and not cohesive enough.  This was a movie that felt like it was written by a committee; it has moments, but none quite fit together, and you get the impression that it went through a ton of drafts.  The character development and motivations are only hinted at and never fully realized; I think a lot of plot was sacrificed for dramatic, big-screen moments.  Disney has never been fantastic at sequels to its animated features, and as far as Disney sequels go, Frozen II was one of the better ones.  Would I recommend it?  Not if the same theater was playing Jojo Rabbit.  But if you can get past the lack of character motivation and shaky ground that the plot sits on, it's a gorgeous, spectacular optical feast.  Just don't expect much from the writers.  This movie was carried by the animators, and luckily, they were talented enough to pick up the slack created by the loose storyline.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Journalism Update - Content Dump

[Note: this post was completed Dec. 14 and backdated to Dec. 2.]

As we enter December, I'm happy to report it's been another academic quarter of frantic over-achieving.  My neurotic need for validation tends to pay off in the form of straight As, the adult equivalent of a gold star sticker.


I have only two classes left, which is both a relief and an anxiety, as once I've completed the program, I have one less reason to stall monetizing my writing.  According to Andrew, this program is, for me, 30% networking, 30% confidence-building, and 40% stalling.  He's probably right.

With the arrival of our son looming, I've been churning out content like crazy and trying to wrap things up neatly to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.  The problem is, my brain has already turned to pudding and I've lost, by my estimation, about 30 IQ points.

Nonetheless, I've written a fair bit (while neglecting my own blog, as usual), and today I'd like to throw up some articles I've written for school, mostly for posterity.

This quarter was an interesting mixture of classes: entertainment journalism, media law, sociology of communication, and, finally, an internship with the Santa Monica Daily Press newspaper.

I was not expecting to like entertainment journalism as much as I did, but I failed to appreciate that superhero stuff is now part of popular culture.  The class was a series of lectures by big-wigs in the 'biz, including writers and reporters from such media outlets as The Hollywood Reporter and E!.  I don't know if there's an entertainment "nerd" beat but I feel like entertainment journalism is something I could get into.  It's not just Kardashians.

This is truly the dankest timeline. 

On the flip side, my other two classes I did not enjoy despite having high expectations.  The media law class was only six weeks long.  Six lectures is not nearly enough time to go over the legal history of media law, not even with the world's best professor.  And we did not have the world's best professor.  He was a reporter, not a lawyer, and he seemed as lost as the rest of us were as we waded through case study after case study: Tinker v. Des Moines, Whitney v. California, The New York Times v. Sullivan.  It was a brutal gauntlet of memorization that didn't seem to have much real-world applicability, and the short duration of the course meant not much of it stuck longer than it took for me to ace each test.

The other class, sociology, was a massive let-down.  The professor had, to use Andrew's expression, "calcified within her own thought bubble."  Basically the whole class was a giant indoctrination; the instructor was ultra anti-technology and super left-wing and presented all of her incredibly biased opinions as fact for the entire course. The thesis of my final paper was that the class is a perfect demonstration of how an autocracy flourishes through thought control and by quashing dissenting opinions, and that she is herself "The Man." Also, technology is not so bad.


Here's a list of complaints I have about the class:
  • It began with a reading assignment.  Huxley's "Brave New World."  A work of young adult fiction that seemed deep back when we were, oh, about 14 years old.  You've got to be kidding me; Huxley is a lazy, shallow hack whose hypothetical ideas appeal to juveniles.
  • It ended with a "write a letter to a loved one" assignment.  The assignment was to describe the three most important things we learned in the class.  Felt sort of like the instructor was fishing for compliments.  Also, speaking of juvenile appeal, aren't we a bit old for a "write a letter" assignment?
  • The assignment asked us to choose from 20 or so pre-approved things we had "learned."  
  • One of those things was "how moral progress and technological progress are inverses of each other."  This statement isn't based on any evidence or reasoning, unless you count Jerry Mander's argument from the 1970s that television is evil.
  • "Moral progress" was never actually defined.  Also this isn't a goddamn ethics class.  Also if it were you should be teaching us the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, or something else relevant to journalism, since this class is, you know, part of a journalism program, not a philosophy program.
  • The previous assignment had asked us what the relationship between moral and technological progress was.  I found it offensive that she asked subjective questions like this while actively searching for a "right" answer.  
  • A minor complaint, but the sheer volume of (very outdated) material we were given each week was entirely unreasonable.  One week asked us to watch a three-hour documentary at least three times.  Yes, seriously.
  • The materials we were given were insanely partisan.  For the unit that covered "alternative" media (a term she used interchangeably with "advocate" media, or media for activism) we were given a list of over two dozen publications, but they were all extreme left-leaning.  (I want to emphasize that I don't have an issue with her politics, but with her teaching style.  Extremism and partisanship can be dangerous regardless of what side of the spectrum you side on.)

My final paper was basically "OK, Boomer" with 38 footnotes.

You'd better believe I left a hell of a review when it came time for our course evaluation.  I tried to make my criticism constructive; for example, I suggested she update her materials, most of which hailed from the 1970s and concerned broadcast television, which, in this social media age where no one even owns a television set anymore, seems like it has little relevance on modern journalism.  Also, she needs to ask how any of this shit is relevant.  If she thinks Big Media is controlling our minds and "socializing" us in a Huxlian nightmare dystopia, then my question, as someone who is pursuing a career in journalism, is how to get hired by Big Media.  Which shadowy figure should I contact to submit my resume?  How do I get an interview with Big Media, exactly?

These questions were perhaps better asked of my internship with Big Media.  In this case, it was the Santa Monica Daily Press, a daily print newspaper based in Santa Monica, as the name would suggest. 

My last day was Thursday.  Over the last 11 or 12 weeks, I was able to write 14 stories for the Santa Monica Daily Press.  Ultimately I met the five central goals I outlined to my program director: to have published bylines, to work within deadlines and word counts, to practice interviews and research, to network with seasoned reporters, and to experience the physical environment of a newsroom.  Of the 14 stories I wrote, I had four published in the paper and four published online, which was exciting.  (You can read two of them here and two of them here in their original format.  They are a bit dull: a holiday tree lighting event, a museum exhibit, and some musings on Small Business Saturday and seasonal employment.  Andrew says that the SMDP is basically a periodical of events to attend with your grandkids while day drinking, and he's not wrong.) 
Pictured: the subscribers of the SMDP.
I definitely think my stories got better over time.  Here is the final one I wrote, about the unveiling of a new app.  I received some valuable feedback on writing things AP style from one of the other staff writers.  (I am still in the habit of double-spacing between sentences, which is now an archaic and unused practice.)  As far as practicing writing local news, news on a deadline, and news for a traditional paper, this internship provided excellent experience.

A few drawbacks.  First of all, I learned that this type of writing is not for me.  That's fine; there is value in knowing what you don't want to do. I found this type of writing constraining and a bit of a slog. It's not something I would be interested in doing as a career. The stifling of personal style and tone in newspaper writing just isn't me. That being said, I knew going into this that I was getting out of my wheelhouse, and that was very much intentional, because I like to think that having a broad spectrum of experiences helps me flex my writing muscles as a whole, and makes me better at what I'm doing.


Speaking of what I'm doing, here's my final paper from Entertainment Journalism, below.


Harmontown Podcast Is Ending on a High Note

After seven years of almost-weekly recording, the podcast Harmontown is coming to a close, but it’s ending on a high note. Or at least, it’s trying to - high notes are hard to hit, and despite the name “Harmontown,” the cast of the show is not good at harmonizing.

The fourth of November was the fifth-to-last installment of the seven-year series. All remaining show recordings have been sold out as super-fans try to experience the show’s intimate, improvisational live sessions. Harmontown has never been scripted, and it showed in the bizarre turns taken in the making of the episode “MC Live.” The 356th episode began inauspiciously, with host Dan Harmon getting stuck in an Uber and arriving over a half-hour late, leaving the other cast members (Rob Schrab, Jeff Davis, and Spencer Crittenden) with an impatient, fidgeting audience.

Harmon finally emerged to a thunderous applause and a generic rap instrumental. Egged on by Davis and Schrab, he immediately began trying to rap to the beat… poorly. The strange, impromptu musical intro ended up being the perfect foreshadowing for things to come. Settling in after a stage hand brought a plastic cup and a bottle of vodka on ice for him (to the cheers of the enthusiastic audience), Harmon went on to give his thoughts about tax and estate preparation, and a news story about a cat on a football field.

Despite being recorded at its home base, Dynasty Typewriter - a theater with less than 200 seats on a length of Wilshire that manages to simultaneously smell like fresh laundry and stale urine - the show was sold out, with audience members from Montana, New Jersey, and Australia. In lieu of a celebrity guest, Harmon instead decided to call an audience member up on stage, selecting a 23-yr-old woman from Cambridge, England with a shock of short, bright blue hair. The show didn’t truly find its footing until about 30 minutes (or two plastic cupfuls of vodka) in, which is when Harmon invited the fifth person onstage.

Umnia Neil introduced herself as a long-time fan: “This podcast has been a part of my life since it started. I came specifically [to the United States] for this. I became a fan of the podcast from the moment it started. I go to sleep to this podcast every night. ...It’s a para-social thing. I know you guys, even though I don’t know you guys,” said Neil.

Neil remained onstage for the remaining ninety minutes of the show, which was largely focused on music. Neil, an aspiring musician with a podcast called Nerd U, discussed the difficulty of breaking into “the industry” with Harmon, and her own experiences with running a podcast, producing music, and monetizing online with platforms like YouTube and Spotify.

Her mother joined at the halfway point of the show. Sarah Neil wore a puffy iridescent coat. A jazz singer and pediatric doctor, she and her daughter sang Dinah Washington songs in harmony, to the delight of Harmon, who tried to harmonize with them - with disastrous results. The other cast members chimed in, earning cheers from the audience when Spencer Critterden, who has been seated silently on stage for the entirety of the recording, began intoning his own name in a drawn-out baritone.

Later, Harmon tried to engage with Sarah Neil in a rap battle. Neither is a rapper, and the stumbling, childish ineptitude of both parties had the audience roaring with laughter.

The show ended with a story about Kanye West. Harmon has been teasing since May, that West might be getting his own episode of Rick and Morty in the upcoming season. This was the first time he’s discussed meeting with West about the fabled episode. He relayed to the audience how, in a private meeting in the writer’s room, West professed his love of hoodies as the greatest clothing item of all time, a “great uniter” of socioeconomic class, then went on to borrow Scrab’s thin H&M hoodie and throw it into the trash. “Like it was a dirty Kleenex,” joked Schrab.

Audience members in attendance overall gave the episode positive reviews. “I think the podcast used to be more about the audience and I missed that about it in the past couple years. It was the best episode I’ve heard in a long while. It made my heart full,” said fan Brandon Chilcoat.

But reviews to the release of the podcast online were mixed.

“We’re down to the last handful of episodes and there’s zero prep and effort going into this. Let’s just have some random audience person up for 40 minutes and try to launch her YouTube career. Dan isn’t about to start actually trying to help people. He’s winging it with the absolute minimum amount of work. The raps were great but, man, [I’m] disappointed to see so much of the last bit squandered,” said Christian Pally on Reddit.

Another fan, Andrew Katz, said, “It’s not personal in any way. She was interesting to listen to for about five minutes, but then I was like ‘OK, I’m here for Dan Harmon and friends, not this random lady who showed up to the show.’”

Kyle Alexander had a different take on his disappointment with the episode: “I wasn’t that into it, but I’m man enough to admit that I’m probably just jealous.”

Although the primary focus of the episode was music, with Harmon and the Neils trying to harmonize and rap with each other, the show’s upcoming ending hung heavy over the entire show and was frequently mentioned. This lent itself to occasional moments of surprising insight between the “yo’ mama” jokes and the sips of vodka.

“You don't know how lost I feel sometimes,” confessed Harmon. “I act like 46 and I don’t suck my thumb about it anymore, that’s part of my struggle, too. I’m like, ‘Dad, you’re 46, you’re not allowed to suck your thumb.’ I’m not allowed to be a baby anymore. That’s not inspiring.”

Davis asked if that was part of the reason for the podcast ending, and Harmon immediately responded, “Yes. Because I don’t think that it’s appropriate to go, ‘nyehh nyehh, it’s hard to be me.’ I don’t find that-- it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, objectively. That’s not valuable. I don’t feel right doing that anymore. I don’t like it.”

Umnia suggested that Harmon might be too hard on himself, to which Harmon responded: “I think we’re too hard on each other.” (And to which Schrab responded, “I think it’s fair to say that Dan paid Umnia to come tonight.”)

The podcast’s roots were visible in this episode. Originally, the show had started with the idea of Harmon examining social issues and addressing them in an attempt to create a hypothetical Utopia. (This is where the show gets its name, “Harmontown.”) However, its focus has since shifted, and Davis has since described it as “live therapy sessions” for Harmon, who he has called “self-destructive.”

Addressing Harmon’s self-critical attitude, Umnia said, “When you’re talking about these issues, you’re worried about how moral you are, or how woke you are. And I think sometimes you worry too much.” Her gentleness toward Harmon was supported with long, loud applause breaks from the audience.

As for what comes next, Harmon has no answer. “I need to hit the bench and think about it,” he said. But he and the rest of the show’s guests are optimistic about their ability to find material wherever it may come, and their familiar, easy riffing with Umnia and Sarah Neil demonstrated this ability to find comedy and wisdom from any source.

“Nothing has to last forever,” said Davis as the show drew to a close. “Whatever comes after [Harmontown] is going to be amazing.”

Although Harmon shrugged off most of Umnia’s praise and appeals to be less self-critical, he did speak to how he feels that he’s grown in the last seven years, since the show’s creation. “This podcast was founded-- I don’t want to be that guy. I started this podcast from a standpoint of like, the joy of going, I’m a baby, I’m crying out. And the world shifted under my feet. It’s not right and it’s not charismatic to be the baby that I was five years ago,” he said. “And that is a credit to the world that we live in. An absolute credit.”