Resistance, Zen, and The Last Jedi

It’s been a weird week within a weird month. Family stuff, holidays, work stuff, stress, highs and lows. Life, right?

I’m a Zen Buddhist, which means a lot of different things, but within the world of Buddhism it generally means that I prefer to follow the Japanese flavour of Buddhism, which makes sense, since that is the one that has really taken hold here in the west. There are probably hundreds of flavours to choose from, each choosing a different aspect of the Buddha’s teachings to focus on, but I like Zen because it is reasonably simple, and doesn’t come with some of the cultural baggage that, say, Tibetan Buddhism does. Zen doesn’t feel like much of a religion compared to what they’re doing in, say, Myanmar.

Anyway. I mention all of this because my religion (or lack thereof) is on my mind a lot lately, as I remind myself to be mindful and patient with myself, with those who ask things of me. Buddhists are, after all, supposed to be egoless! And be of service to everyone! I half-jokingly think to myself sometimes “you hate yourself anyway, why not destroy your ego and spend the rest of your life doing as many small good deeds as you can for others?”

We’ll see. I think I might have to make a comic about my idea of Buddhism sometime. I have written some notes for one but they are pretty scattered, and on top of that we Buddhists are not really supposed to proselytize to others, but… we’ll see.

I think a lot of us who get into Buddhism are attracted by the initial rush of feeling at peace that we might feel once we start meditating, before the horrible truth of meditating becomes evident- that there is a lot of shit in your mind that wants to come out. If you go to a meditation group long enough, you will feel other people’s suffering around you. It is not the relaxing thing you might expect. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s more like going to Crossfit for your brain. You (might) feel like shit afterward, or you might feel strong and ready to take on the world. The trick is to keep going, and to learn to simply let yourself BE, instead of constantly fighting with yourself, constructing imaginary arguments and dramas in your imagination that wind up influencing your real actions.

I am reminded of a scene from the latest Star Wars movie (minor spoilers follow)- where Luke, on his remote island, has been protecting the sacred old texts of the Buddha – sorry, I mean the Jedi. He sees the Force-ghost of Yoda and expresses his worries to Yoda, who Force-ignites the tree of knowledge or whatever the hell it is that Luke is fixated on. It’s such a stereotypical Zen moment, and a great encapsulation of the theme of the film, which is to forget the artificial structure you have built for yourself- all that stuff that you surround yourself with so that you can look at it and say “THIS IS ME.” I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud at that moment.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for all that. It’s a work in progress, like everything else in this world. So I’ll leave you with this week’s production report:

I am also going to post a Patreon-exclusive new installment of The Insult, probably tomorrow night. I made some good progress on a new print, had a few fun ideas for other things, and had some good conversations with people about another podcast. More details as things come into focus. Until then, have a good week and thanks for  reading.

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What Time Is It?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time, something both so natural and so artificial, that we bend intentionally and that bends us. One of my favourite books is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; it is a collection of short vignettes about the early life of Einstein when he was a patent clerk in Vienna, and the dreams that Lightman imagines might have inspired the theory of relativity. Each of the dreams posits a scenario where time works differently than the way we are used to.

Anyway, remember how I was writing about stress last week? I was thinking about it some more and analyzing where stress comes from, for me. It often comes from the fear of being late- I am generally VERY punctual- and that could include deadlines for work or for my own projects.

When you are a self-publisher, I don’t think it makes ANY sense to create deadline related stress for yourself. We already have enough of that in our day to day lives. This is something I was especially thinking about as I fleshed out the timelines for projects I want to get done this year. Some of the tasks were viable, others would be charitably called stretch goals (64 pages of comics from me in a year? Yeah right).

Once all those deadlines and checkpoints were laid out for me, I could feel the stress wanting to rise, but thankfully the Zen side of me put a firm hand on its shoulder and invited it to sit. I decided to try a different approach for a while, one which is sometimes used as a mindfulness exercise for Buddhists. If I started to feel stressed, or paralyzed by too many choices of what I could be doing, I would simply stop, take a breath, and ask myself, what time is it?

We have many times of day, and they don’t all have hard strict limits, but they tend to have fairly regular patterns. I work Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, for example. Some days I might not sign in until 9, or I might work a few hours late at the end of the day. But the general “work day” pattern is there. So if it’s 3PM on a Tuesday and I ask myself, what time is it? The answer is: time to work, dummy.

Those answers could come from commitments (like work), habits (running or the gym), biological need (eating, sleeping), psychological need (relaxing, recreation), and more. So there are many possible responses to “what time is it?” at any given time of the day, but I think it’s asking the question that kicks the answer into our heads, because deep down we know what we ought to be doing, if only we did not fear the prospect of doing it.

Anyway. Give it a try, if you think it would be useful for you.

What else to talk about this week? I watched a lot of Bones, which is still possibly the worst thing ever made, and yet I cannot stop. I will ride all fourteen seasons down to hell in the name of distracting my overactive brain in the afternoons at work.

I’ve been reading the latest novel by Tom Perrotta, called Mrs. Fletcher, which alternates between the point of view of an entitled white kid from the Boston suburbs and his mother who has just seen him off to college and who is coming to embrace the idea of being a MILF. Like everything Perrotta does (The Leftovers, Election) it’s a little twisted, but compelling.

I guess I could sum up what I have done this week creatively. I worked on a new print and am just about ready to start the artwork in Clip Studio. I had a cute idea for another print and sketched that out. I published two new installments of The Insult., and two new installments of Faith of the Heart, one of which is exclusively on Patreon. I reviewed some of the manuscript of 4 of a Kind, my soon to be finished novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo. And, I published the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and have applied to have it listed in the iTunes store… cross your fingers.

Lots to do, as always, but the technique I described above is helping. Hope you have a great week.

-SM

In The Not Too Distant Future

Every day the experiments continue, unending, as they have for over a thousand years. What started as a test on a human administered by other, evil humans has evolved so that I am at the mercy of self-administering, self-aware artificial intelligences, playing their roles as they were designed, “torturing” me by forcing me into an old theatre on a rickety satellite, with no company save three badly malfunctioning robots, a drone camera that points in seemingly random directions, and a computer voice that sometimes announces “movie sign”, sometimes pleads with me to kill her, sometimes screams in terror and then is abruptly silenced.

And I play my role too, enduring one terrible movie after the next, movies that are generated from the final moments of humanity based on algorithms that the M.A.D.S. have been given. For example, I watched a romantic comedy yesterday where 1970s ingenue Karen Valentine feasted on the still-beating heart of former Vice-President Spiro Agnew, while he looked on and screamed; and she seemed to know that what she was doing was wrong, but she was unable to stop herself. Such is the dilemma of anyone in a romantic comedy, I suppose.

I gave it three stars out of four and then tried once again to open the airlock of the satellite I am trapped on, but once again I lost consciousness when I touched the airlock release, as I always do, and when I woke it was a new day at the same time I always wake up, and I wondered once again if I am even real anymore- if I am just another artificial intelligence automatically and imperfectly generated from decades of data left online, blogs, tweets, status messages, email, videos, photos, everything you ever recorded in any way, parsed and assembled by a program that does not know how or when to stop, so it endlessly remixes and reassembles all the components of the known universe until it finds the magic combination that will continue on its own, intelligence no longer artificial.

Saga, vol. 1

Brian K. Vaughn (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) returns to comics with a very clever SF/fantasy fusion called Saga, illustrated by Canadian artist Fiona Staples. It’s the tale of Hazel, newborn daughter to soldiers on opposite sides of a galactic war; father Marko is from a race of men with horns who wield magic, and mother Alana is from a race of winged humanoids. Hazel narrates the story of her own birth as her fugitive parents try to escape from soldiers, bounty hunters and other dangers.

If this sounds a bit like Star Wars, it should; Vaughn first conceived of the series when he was a child, and has described it as “Star Wars for perverts” due to its adult content. I was initially lukewarm about the fit of Fiona Staples’ artwork for this series, feeling that the style of a P. Craig Russell or Charles Vess might be more suitable; but Staples quickly grew on me for her rendering of the various alien races that she and Vaughn have designed. It’s a hell of a ride and I am looking forward to the next volume.

Thoughts on Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

What a time for us aging comics fans. I remember Stan Lee’s pipe dreams in 70s Marvel Comics, promising us that a Silver Surfer film was in the works, that a big-screen X-men movie was coming any day now, true believers. Now we have not only the movies, but also reprints of the source material in easy-to-find trade paperbacks. Most of North America still shakes its head at the nerds and hipsters who read comics, but they are at least resigned to tolerating them.

And then there are those who love or even worship the nerd. I myself am in love with a girl who kicks my ass at Mario Kart. And we both love Scott Pilgrim, especially the new film by Edgar Wright, which takes a good series of graphic novels and uploads them to the big screen with a style and visual language and energy that other adaptations rarely reach (or even attempt). Iron Man 2 is a limp afterthought-sequel by comparison.

Much ink has been spilled about the surface elements of this film: the homages to video games, the comic book-style impact lettering, the Canadianisms; but at its heart, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a fusion of a coming of age film and a heroic journey. Michael Cera, as the 22-year-old Scott, brilliantly mixes the anxiety of young manhood with the weariness of a character like Rob in High Fidelity. Like Rob, Pilgrim has enough of a romantic past that he has been wounded and wounded others. He is both thrilled to have a chance with the exotic (American!) Ramona Flowers and insecure about her past.

As much as we are probably meant to identify with Scott, I found myself identifying with Ramona too. There are wonderful, quiet moments peppered throughout the sight gags and smart exchanges that give us a glimpse of the damaged hearts trying to connect. One that I particularly recall:

Scott – You disappeared.
Ramona – Yeah, I do that.

Like Ramona and Scott, most of us have made some bad calls with relationships, are scared of getting hurt again, and might even have an evil ex or two. In the end, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World offers a message of hope and redemption with a kick-ass soundtrack and fight scenes.

High-five, fellow nerds.