Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

I’m off work this week because it is my son Jack’s March break from school, and he is here to visit for some of it. Unfortunately he has come down with a 24-hour flu that has about 6 hours left, so he’s prone on the new couch binge-watching The Last Ship. It’s good to see him in any case.

My wife hosted an Oscar party last night and we were all like zombies this morning due to the lack of sleep. I sat in a corner, facing away from the TV, snarking at the many things I hate about the Oscars, and I fear I overdid it. Snark is, I think, like wasabi. Best in small strategic doses, not an Axe body spray of sourness.

I also recorded the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 yesterday, and I had some things to say about the Oscars, including:

What a perfect summary it is of Hollywood that on the same weekend they meet to hand out gold statues and jerk each other off, they release a remake of Death Wish, an NRA member’s wet dream, about a good man with a gun who decides to take his country back from the lowlifes. I don’t care how many gay films or black films or women’s films they greenlight to make themselves feel better; as long as they keep greenlighting shit like Death Wish, because they know it’s a sure sale in red states, Hollywood is complicit in the suffering of hate crime victims.

And for that matter, as much as I respect the #timesup movement and the many actors who have come forward to tell their story of being abused by powerful men, there is a giant gap in that story as long as no one is talking about the “Church” of Scientology, which enslaves its members, threatens them, sexually abuses them, and who knows what else. If anyone’s time should be up, it is Scientology.

But by all means, Hollywood, enjoy your annual celebration of yourself.

Jeez, chill, past-me.

I’m actually starting to think about how much “knee-jerk negativity just never got me through,” like the Psychedelic Furs said once. The snark, the anger, the little splashes of jealousy; I think I need to get my nose closer to the grindstone of my Buddhism. Concentrate, in other words, on what I say and do so as to avoid wearing a trench of negativity in my brain.

I’ve been a Buddhist for about 20 years now, and while I would never claim to even have my shit together, never mind be enlightened, I feel like I am managing my dosage better than I did in my initial fervor. My poor friends back then, listening to me jabber on about the dharma and the noble eightfold path. These days it’s more like a radio station that plays in the background of my thoughts, and it’s time for me to turn it up a little.

Lately one of those things I have been thinking about working harder on is the concept of “right speech” from the Noble Eightfold. It doesn’t mean conservatism, or censorship, or being “politically correct”, or any such thing. It simply applies mindfulness to how you interact with others, be it in person or online.

I think the fastest way to fill in that trench in the mind that we make from knee-jerk snark or negativity is to be the opposite. To love everything, at least insofar as that is possible. Do I really need to angrily retweet shit about the current “President” several times a day? Could I be encouraging or supporting someone else in that same amount of time? Can I take my brain out of the bath of bad news and unhappy social media shares where it normally swims?

Again, this doesn’t mean ignoring the bad shit or pretending that everything is great. It’s more a matter of letting go of the small stuff, and concentrating on a better balance of information coming in. It’s just another expression of one of the core concepts of Buddhism, which is to see the world as it is, without the filter of a largely imaginary self-image, cultural baggage, and other obstacles. It’s similar to what I try to do with my spare time, which is divide it equally between creative work and relaxing.

For those of you who follow The Insult, I’m a few comics behind but I plan to catch up on that and some other things after I take the boy home. And hopefully, by next weekend if not this one, I will slap together the first episode of a new podcast that I’ve been ever so slowly working on.


And A Dollar Short

Because I’m posting this a day later than I intended to. You know?

Last week was busy, but good. It was a long weekend so I drove to Saint John, hung out with my son, watched Black Panther, checked out a boardgame cafe, ate a donair. Pretty typical trip. That was followed by a fun recording session at the Central Library back in Halifax with my friend Alison, for a second podcast project. The remaining weekdays were spent sketching a new mini-comic and scanning the results.

Saturday was full of errands, and one of them took me to Clayton Park, where I visited the vintage game store. My son has my copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the PS3, so when I noticed a copy for $5 I had to pick it up. I spent the rest of my Saturday screwing with AI cops, riding the back of a flatbed train car and shooting down their helicopters.

On Sunday I went to see Annihilation, which is trippy as hell but also a really smart SF concept once they explain what is going on with “the shimmer”.  The visuals and the score are amazing. In that regard it reminds me of the Soderbergh remake of Solaris, which is in my top 10 of films, so yeah, I liked it.

The new couch is finally being delivered tomorrow morning apparently, and we can finish with moving our shit around and upsetting the cats. Except that Jack is visiting next week during his March break, but they’ll like that. And I am taking the week off, so I will probably spend some of that time catching up on creative projects and trying to put together the first episode of the aforementioned second podcast.

With the Olympics on television it seems like the main American cable networks ran as little new content as possible, so it gave me a chance to catch up on some things, like the last few episodes of The Walking Dead and Star Trek: Discovery. The first has been a well-oiled machine that I continue to watch, gratefully accepting its peculiar zen nutrients. The latter is like a drunken Viking, staggering around wrecking the place and creating a scene that no one will forget. I love it. It’s the best Trek to date, so far anyway.

All of this unusual activity put me “behind schedule” for the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast, but the latest episode is up now for your enjoyment. I will also post my vocal warmup to my Patreon and I plan on posting a bunch of stuff there in March after a relatively quiet February. February is always so quick, isn’t it? 2-3 days less than the others doesn’t seem like it should feel like much of a difference, but it does.

Anyway. I won’t take any more of your time. But thanks for spending a little of it here. I appreciate it. Have a great week.

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.


Jack Kirby, Goals, and Fear(lessness)

I had hoped to update this blog weekly for a while but it looks like I let things slide since November. Will things improve in 2018? Let’s find out.

It has been a pretty mild winter overall, apparently the least amount of snow here in Halifax in a long time. Nicole and I made it to Saint John for just under a week’s worth of holidays, with requisite (but too short) visits with friends and family.

I find myself testing the limits of my ability to process new levels of stress lately. Mostly with success. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to dust off my Buddhism, and refresh the principles that I am supposed to be using as a foundation for how I interact with the world. (That sounds grander than it actually is. For me, it’s just the importance of keeping things in perspective, and especially resisting knee-jerk fear reactions to things.)

Anyway. Stress. I feel like I am doing a decent job of going with the flow, which is a goal for me, and not getting anxious about deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. That said, I have also attempted to organize my many projects for this year so that I can jump from one to another, from relatively simple things that I can crank out frequently to more complicated things that will be one-offs. (I apologize for saying “crank out frequently,” it won’t happen again.)

Over the holidays I randomly caught an episode of the series Electric Dreams, based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and it made me think about his pink beam of alien(?) light, and how the world since he died feels increasingly like something he might have dreamed up. Sometimes I feel like I should go back and reread Phil’s books, and maybe one day I will. At this point I would rather catch up on the many unread books I have accumulated, plus my ever-growing list of library holds.

Speaking of books, I bought myself a bit of a present after Christmas – the omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which reprints all of his series of The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. I used to have all of the original issues of them except for Olsen but I sold them at one point years ago when I needed money. The new volume is pricey, but not compared to trying to collect the originals again, or even compared to buying trade collections. It is quite a trip to go through those stories again in linear order.

Part of the reason for that is the way that those old stories- clunky as they often are in their vernacular- are like a pair of heart paddles for someone at my age, who loves both Kirby and comics. Their energy, their imagination, and the way that they distill the man’s feelings about the art form, about young people, about war, and hope. The Anti-Life Equation that Darkeid sought could have been many things, but I always think of it in relation to fear. Kirby was fearless, and driven to keep making art that both brought him commercial success so he could take care of his family, but also pushed the boundaries of the art form where he had already tirelessly innovated by 1970.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. Fear of failure, fear of change, even fear of success. You would think that an old Buddhist would recognize the dangers of it more readily, but I still have to remind myself, and I still have to push myself to do some things that other people don’t even have to think about, like interacting with strangers. So, apart from the creative goals I have this year, my main personal goal is to stop allowing fear from playing a role in my day to day life. Easier said than done, of course, but I think it is achievable eventually.


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.