Jack Irons Issue 2: Things Get Weird in the Best Way

If issue one built the stage for the series, Jack Irons Issue 2 begins to fill that stage. And it does it with aplomb. This issue is a history lesson, which is to say it is expository. It informs us of important events that have transpired in the history of humanity, while depicting how those events have shaped the current world of the comic. It’s a heady issue that does a lot of heavy lifting. And you know what? It nails it.

The image shows the cover of Jack Irons Issue 2. The four horsemen are in the background, Jack is in the foreground.

Issues or chapters such as this can be tricky to pull off. You run the risk of boring your reader with info dumping. And a bored reader is an unhappy one. Thankfully, Jack Irons issue 2 never bores. It does, however, often delight.

How does it accomplish this task, exactly? Well, for one, the creative team throws the reader right into the thick of things. The world has been taken over by the Four Horsemen, humanity slaughtered and nearly extinguished. However, due to our unique nature, we resist and begin rebuilding. I have a few things to say about the Horsemen and humanity’s resilience.

First, writer Cody Fernandez presents the apocalyptic harbingers in a unique fashion. Not only in terms of how they look, but also their purpose. I don’t want to spoil too much so I will only say that I fucking love the Horsemen in Jack Irons issue 2.

And concerning humanity’s resilience: this is a classic trope in space science fiction. I can’t say that it is one of my favorites, maybe because it’s been overdone. Or maybe because it’s hard to think that other more advanced species wouldn’t be as resilient. Having said all that, though, I will say I didn’t mind it much here.

In Jack Irons Issue 2 Hope and Hate Have an All Out Brawl

Maybe the reason I didn’t mind how humanity’s persistence works in this comic is because there is a somewhat fresh spin to it. The resiliency of humanity fosters their hope, which is their only true weapon against the Horsemen. That is a good thought. It might be along the lines of faith in good vs faith in evil, but it’s different. Here, hope is enough. No religion needed.

It’s this battle between hate and hope that drives the story in this chapter of the comic, and that’s a strong concept. In fact, it’s a strong enough concept to keep the story kinetic in an expository story. Of course it helps that the layouts, art design, line work, coloring, and inking are excellent. Take this page, for example:

The image shows a page from Jack Irons issue two. The top is a saloon, the middle shows a man giving a speech, the bottom shows the White house exploding in orange.
Click image to enlarge

This is How to Write Visually for the Reader

This is high quality storytelling, and a stupendous example of an easy to read page. The top tier shows a single image: Cody’s, Jack’s drinking establishment. The panel itself is square and clean. However, the art within the panel is sloping and uneven. The slope of the hill on the reader’s left side pushed the eye from the upper left caption box to the lower right. Words and pictures working together to provide a sense of movement and momentum, even when there isn’t any.

The second tier uses this trick as well, only it’s even more powerful. The captions and the dialog bubbles help our eyes march across the page, but allow us to linger on the man in the middle. He’s so big and larger than life he’s bursting from the two panels behind him. And the bottom panel is all warm colors as we see the White House go up in flames. Again, the caption boxes guide our eye perfectly.

Comics is a vast and wild medium, and people can tell stories how they want. With that, though, comes the need to teach your readers how to read the comic. Jack Irons issue 2 does that with ease from the first page to the last.

Aside from providing a visual feast for the reader, this installment also gives us more about Jack. Not a whole lot, mind you, but we do have a better sense of who he is. I still want to know more, though, which is why I backed issue 3. And I loved this fucking issue, as well as the one before.

You can too by following this link. I encourage you to do so. Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them in the comments section.

Invisible Man Review Unseen Chills and Creeps

For the wary, this Invisible Man review will be spoiler-free. Or at least as spoiler free as possible. Nothing like having someone ruin the movie before you even get a chance to see it, right? And trust me, if you like thrills and chills, you’ll want to see this movie.

I’ve heard several people talk about how the trailer showed the whole movie. Now, I will admit the second trailer definitely shows a lot of the film. However, I wouldn’t say these things ruin the film or the suspense. But, I can definitely see why someone would think they do. To that I say, see the movie anyway. There’s enough good stuff that you don’t see in the trailer to make it worthwhile

The image shows the poster of the Invisible Man, which is the subject of this review. The poster is black with a little bit of Elisabeth Moss's face on the edge.

Good, now that bit of business is out of the way, we can move full onto the Invisible Man review. First, I liked this movie a lot. It’s a quiet movie about trauma and gaslighting and disbelief. Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) leaves her controlling fiance and tries to start a new life. This proves to be difficult, though, as her fear and paranoia of him continue to run her life.

Invisible Man Review Social Commentary and Believing Women

What I found interesting about this aspect of the movie is that we don’t see Adrian, the boyfriend, as being controlling. By that I mean we don’t see him do it on the screen. We only hear her telling it. Whether this is a purposeful decision by the filmmakers, or happy accident I don’t know. I do know that it works, though. It helps establish Cecilia as possibly being unreliable. And it further adds to the social commentary the film offers. We should of course believe women when they come to us with tales of abuse. But if we don’t see that abuse, it might be difficult for us to trust or believe. As the movie continues, this trust issue comes up time and time again.

This is a fairly uncomfortable movie to watch. Not because there’s a lot of gore and violence, but rather due to the psychological torture Cecilia suffers. It’s highly reminsent of Sleeping With the Enemy. Plus, I mean invisible people are just fucking creepy anyway. You don’t know if they’re there. How could you? And the quietness of this movie really adds to that paranoia.

The Soundtrack Adds to the Suspense

I know I’ve said the movie is quiet a few times, and it is. But I feel I should clarify and say by quiet I mean there isn’t a lot of explosions and gunfire. The soundtrack, though, is quite loud, oppressive, and quite effective in setting and maintaining the tone. Elisabeth Moss puts in a masterful performance, as do the few supporting characters. But this is her movie, and she carries it with ease.

This isn’t a movie you must see in the theater, but I think seeing it in the cinema adds to the experience. At home you feel maybe a little safer, so you might not be watching the shadows as intently. In the cinema, though you are in unfamiliar surroundings, and someone might be in those shadows, or in that empty seat next to you. It adds a layer of fear to an already creepy situation.

So there’s my review of the Invisible Man. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I hope you see the movie. If you want to talk about it, hit me up in the comments.

Jack Irons Issue 1: A Space Western With Teeth

Jack Irons the Steel Cowboy Issue 1 is a treat to read. For an independent comic book, it has high quality production, excellent writing, art, coloring, and more. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was a product of one of the big three. Image, DC, or Marvel. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

The image shows Jack Irons the Steel Cowboy fighting a robot at the end of issue 1.

I dig everything about this page. The action is kinetic, but easy to read. The page has a good flow thanks to Maximiliano Dall’d’s clean line work and page layout. The colors, by Matias Laborde enhance the affair as well. It starts of hot with Jack’s foot klanging against the robot’s head and the colors are all orange and yellow. This heat continues to the next panel. Then, the insert of the crowd is a nice touch too as it provides an in issue reaction to the violence. By the end of the page things have cooled down, as we can see by the fight ending and the switch from hotter colors to the cooler blue tones. The battle is over, the hero has won, but this is just the beginning of things.

The thing I appreciated most about Jack Irons issue 1, I think, is the economy of storytelling. Writer Cody Fernandez presents the story of Jack, and immortal man who is millennia old, as one of strife, violence, and death. See, Jack dies, and comes back, and dies again, and then comes back. Like the history of humanity, his history is one of blood and violence, and he cannot escape it. Mystery surrounds the titular character, and it is definitely a mystery I want to know more about.

Jack Irons Issue 1 Is A Near Perfect First Issue

The image shows the cover of Jack Irons the Steel Cowboy issue 1. Jack holds a bottle of whisky and stands behind busted swinging saloon doors.

This is a great first issue. It sets the stage for what is to come by giving enough backstory to inspire speculation about what comes next. It doesn’t waste the reader’s time, and it looks lovely. Furthermore, it seems to offer a different take on the space western, mainly because Jack is a different kind of character.

If you’ve been looking for a good #indiecomic to check out, then this one might be it. Especially if you enjoy westerns and science fiction. However, if you are looking for the next Star Wars or Firefly, this doesn’t seem to be those. Did they inspire it? Maybe, but I can’t say how much. Still, this is only the first issue, so there’s no telling what comes next.

If you want to check this out, they are currently running a campaign for issue 3 on indiegogo. As a bonus, you can also get Jack Irons issue 1 and 2 if you choose the complete package option. You might also check out their publisher’s website.

So, there’s my thoughts on Jack Irons the Steel Cowboy Issue 1.

Birds of Prey and Harley Wrestle With Their Past

First I want to say that I greatly enjoyed Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. I also want to say that this review will be as spoiler free as possible. I might let a detail slip here or there, but I have no interest in ruining anyone’s fun. What I will talk about is the movie making, and the themes of the film. Beyond woman power (which is something I wrote about here), there is heavy focus on the personal histories of the characters. Birds of Prey and Harley is about many things, and has a lot of good action, but at it’s heart it is about the characters wrestling with their past.

The picture shows a poster for Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.

Harley’s past is most on display, which makes sense. She’s the biggest character in the film, and she is the POV character. And then of course there is the whole Joker thing. Here’s a mild spoiler: Joker is not in this film, and he and Ms. Quinn are no longer an item. It’s this breakup that sets things in motion, and also establishes the need for Harley to reflect on her actions. She is a product of her past actions, as we all are, and she needs to come to terms with that. As we all do. Here’s another mild spoiler: if you’re worried this means Harley grows up and gains a heart and all that, don’t be.

Detective Renee Montoya is another character in the Birds of Prey and Harley show who is trying to reconcile her present with her past. However, instead of an ex-lover screwing her over, it was her ex-partner. Now, she’s older and gets no respect from anyone. She’s good at her job, but that doesn’t matter. After all, she’s past her prime and an alcoholic.

Birds of Prey and Harley Kick Ass and Forget the Past

The next character to discuss from Birds of Prey and Harley is Black Canary. Here is a woman with a mysterious and violent past. We don’t know much about her, except that she’s suffering. She’s made some poor choices and is now reckoning with them. This connects her to the rest of the characters, but Canary’s story is a little different. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t say how it’s different. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

Finally, Huntress. Her whole arc is predicated on a horrific event in her past. She’s not trying to overcome it or process it. No, she desires vengeance.

Even Black Mask, the villain, is defined by his past. He grew up rich, traveled the world. Then his parents cut him off and he made himself a fortune. All of these characters are connected thematically because their actions are made in response to historic moments in their lives. This is the stuff of superheroes and superhero comics. Additionally, it adds dimension to these characters who don’t always feel fully realized on the screen.

Privilege Comes in Many Forms

In a subtle bit of commentary, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn addresses privilege. The first stop is again with Harley. As Joker’s gal, she can pretty much do whatever she wants. This is privilege gained through association and fear but it’s still privilege. In fact, it’s white privilege. Now, the movie doesn’t put it in these terms, but that’s what subtext is for. Furthermore, this idea becomes one of the many plot threads that run through the movie. Harley is positioned as powerful, not because of what she can do, but because of who she knows. Yet another obstacle for her to overcome.

Black Mask is uber-privileged as well. He’s a rich kid turned gangster. He has money and control. Again, his power comes from fear, but a whole lot of cash money doesn’t hurt either. In Black Mask we see white male privilege. He sees something he wants and takes it. If he can’t have something he wants, he throws a fit and kills people. Oh my god, he’s Donald Trump!

Interestingly, Renee Montoya is a victim of privilege as well. Her ex-partner, a man, stole her glory. Now, her partner was black, so this isn’t white privilege. But, he is a man, so this is male privilege.

All of this portrayal of privilege embiggens the story, and helps make the movie feel a little important. Granted, there’s not a deep dive into these issues, but they’re there. And I think Birds of Prey and Harley is better for the inclusion.

The Review Type Stuff

The Good: he performances. Yes, we all knew Margot Robbie could play Harley Quinn, but the rest of the Birds of Prey were great, too. Rosie Perez as Montoya was fun. Jurnee Smollet-Bell was a breath of fresh air as Black Canary. Mary Elizabeth Winestead was a great Huntress, even if she had a diminished role.

But the real scene stealer was Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. He was at turns funny, smooth, manic, and always terrifying. McGregor brought menace to the role that really made the character feel scary and gross. Because Black Mask is scary and gross. McGregor was an inspired choice here.

Beyond the performances, the character interactions were amazing. Everyone had excellent chemistry with one another, which made the movie a joy to watch.

Speaking of joy, the action was fun as hell. There’s lots of punching and kicking and other martial art moves. And it’s all well choreographed, easy to see, and fun to watch. If you like to see sexy women beat the hell out of sexy and unsexy men, then this movie is for you.

Also, the whole look of the film from the lighting, the costumes, and everything else pleased me. I loved the look. I understand it may not be for everyone, but it was definitely for this kid.

The Bad: While I did like this movie a lot, there were some things that bugged me. Mostly, the parts that didn’t make a lot of sense. There was one scene near the end that was especially egregious. I have an issue with nonsensical things in movies because they can so easily break the illusion. And that’s what happened in the scene I’m talking about. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it did sour me for a minute.

Harley Gets Development but the Other Birds Of Prey Feel Lacking Sometimes

I know I said I liked the characters, and this whole post has been about how the filmmakers fleshed them out. However, I still take some issue with everyone not named Harley Quinn or Black Mask. These two get the most screen time and the biggest character arcs. That’s understandable as they are protagonist and antagonist. However, Canary, and Huntress especially get the short shrift. As does Montoya, but her character is so familiar to viewers that we don’t require much development of her character.

Some might say that the shortened running time is responsible for the lack of depth in some of the characters. However, I don’t know if that’s it. I think the movie used the characters how they wanted, and would have probably done the same even if they had more time. The lack of depth in some of the characters was not a deal breaker for me, but I did notice it.

Overall Verdict: I liked this movie. It’s not the best movie ever, but it was quite enjoyable. It’s got action, humor, drama, and more. A note on the humor: there’s lots of jokes, but they don’t often undercut the dramatic tension. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they enhance it. It’s really a well-made film.

If you liked Robbie as Harley in Suicide Squad, see this movie. If you love the Birds of Prey comic, see this movie. It’s true the versions of the characters are different, but they are worthy. Does the idea of watching good looking women beat up on people and form a bond of friendship appeal to you? See this movie.

Have you seen Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Gretel & Hansel Power of Women

I first became aware of the new film Gretel and Hansel in the pages of Fangoria. Yes, I live under a rock and don’t always know what’s new and cool. Anyway, the discussion in the interview between star Sophia Lillis (Gretel) and director Oz Perkins intrigued me enough that I wanted to see the film upon release. I was especially interested in the idea of presenting the power of women through Hansel and Gretel. To be fair, the Fangoria conversation only contained a few snippets of ideas concerning gender roles in the movie.

The image shows a photo of Fangoria where I first heard of Gretel & Hansel and the power of women theme the movie has

Of course, it’s not surprising that the power of women would be a focus in this update of the classic story, and even the title Gretel and Hansel indicate that. Gretel’s name comes first, positioning her as the most important character. This aspect plays out from the very beginning. Gretel is older, and her parents expect her to always look after her brother. In many ways, this is the fairy tale in all its glory. In the story, Gretel does the saving, and the hard work. Why would it be any different in the film?

To get even more explicit about the gifts women wield in this movie, there is a fairy tale within the fairy tale. The inner one, the girl with the pink hat, tells of a little girl who could see the future, and who the villagers loved. This story is Gretel’s favorite. There are probably several reasons for this, but the main one is empathy. Gretel feels she too has special powers, and finds comfort in the tale of the girl with the pink hat.

Gretel & Hansel Power of Women is Awareness

Yes, there is a witch in this movie. And yes, Alice Krige plays her superbly. Of course, it is rare to find a Krige performance that isn’t superb. However, even without the witches, power in this movie exists. It exists in Gretel’s determination and level headed-ness. She is a practical girl, and steadfast, which she demonstrates early in the film. In that instance, she may not have been even keeled, but she was steadfast. These two character traits define her, and set up the central conflict.

The image shows the poster for Gretel & Hansel and only has the witch and gretel to showcase the power of women
Not a Hansel in sight

There can be no discussion of power without conflict. If there was no conflict, there’d be no need for power. It’s quite simple, really. Gretel and Hansel plays with the idea of power, women, and the multitude of possible conflicts in an interesting way. The witch and Gretel are in a struggle, as are Hansel and Gretel, and finally, Hansel and the witch. It’s not as twisty as I’m making it sound, but it all intertwines heavily.

In addition to innate power of women, Gretel & Hansel also explores the forces at work against them. In Gretel’s case there are her parents, her brother, and the attitude about girls in general. The Huntsman sums it up best when he says something like, “They’ll put you to work rather than use you for more obvious purposes.” It’s a grimy line, but it hits hard.

And the witch tells Gretel that Hansel has poisoned her and will continue to do so as long as he’s around. This is another good example of the challenges women face, specifically men. There are men who will hurt and use you, and there are men who will hold you back. Sometimes, they are one in the same. Most times, in fact.

What’s the Verdict? Is It Any Good?

While I really enjoyed the tension between Gretel, Hansel, and the witch, as well as the exploration of the power of women, I can’t say if this was a good film. Did I enjoy it? I think so. It has good cinematography that helps tell the story. The performances are excellent, an important aspect considering the minimal amount of characters.

However, there’s not a lot of story there. Yes, the filmmakers do a fantastic job with what they have, but it feels padded at times. Maybe padded is the wrong word; maybe wandering is better And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, the movie is all about quiet introspection. It’s not a modern day special effects extravaganza. Hell, the whole budget was 5 million dollars. A fair representation would be that this feels very much like a theatrical play put into movie form. That is not a criticism, merely an observation.

Final Thoughts

So, while I cannot say if I liked it or if it was a good movie, I can say I am glad I watched it. It’s a small movie, and it will get small audiences. There were three people in my theater. Yes, it was at 1 pm on a weekday, but it was also discount Tuesdays. That mean’s you get matinee prices all day! But, small movies need support. They need to earn back what they spent. If they can do that, then studios can make more of them. Talk about the power of the consumer vs the power of THE MAN!

If you’re looking for a different take on the classic fairy tale, Gretel & Hansel is a good one because of how it presents and explores the idea of the power of women. Beyond that, it’s a nice change from superheroes, explosions, and snarky quips.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Comment below.

China Trouble Coronavirus Visa and More

As most of you know, I have been working in China for the past 18 months or so, and now I am having some trouble with the Coronavirus and my visa. To be fair, there were difficulties even before the growing epidemic struck.

First, I intended to return to the States for the winter holiday on Jan 6 and return on Feb 3rd. Well, there was a problem on my employer’s end, so I had to visit the States on Jan 1st. I was still set to return on the 3rd of February, assuming I had a new visa, but then China trouble struck in the terms of the coronavirus. So now, I am waiting news of when and if I get to return to the country I have called home for the past year and a half or so.

On one hand, this is bothersome. It bothers me that my life is essentially in limbo right now. And, it bothers me that I have no real idea of when it will end. Furthermore, I left a bunch of stuff there, and a messy kitchen, and want it back. I don’t know if I will get it. I could do without cleaning the kitchen; necessary evil, I suppose.

On the other hand, my issues are not terrible. Sure, they seem awful to me, but then I’m living them. They pale in comparison to what the people of Wuhan and the people of China are large are going through. Spare a thought for them if you can. And also, please refrain from racist jokes about them and their dietary habits.

What do this China trouble with coronavirus and visa mean? That my future is uncertain. But then, aren’t they all?

Beating China Trouble Coronavirus and visa

So what am I doing now in the States. Well, aside from indulging too much in too much booze and food, I am writing. I know, you wouldn’t think it if you’ve been checking on this blog. I haven’t written here for over a month, and for that I apologize. The thing is, since returning to the States, I’ve been tired, and creating. And it’s hard to create while tired. Hell, it’s hard to do anything when you’re tired. That’s why sleep is so important.

What have I been creating to keep my mind off of China trouble, coronavirus, and visa issues? I’m glad you asked.

The biggest thing I’ve created this year (2020) was finishing a short story for a competition. I’m certain I won’t win, but I am proud of myself nonetheless. G I Joe taught us that knowing is half the battle. Well, here’s that in action: I know my works won’t find publication if I don’t finish them. Besides, completing a short story, or illustration, or any other work of art is fantastic. It grows confidence and reminds us that yes we can do this. I don’t make new year resolutions, but I do resolve to finish more projects this year. Even if the end result stinks.

Other creations include a comic story I’m working on. I just started thinking about it a few days ago, but I have notes and ideas to spare. I’ll be using the Comic Experience Guide to Writing Comics as a guide, appropriately, in this endeavor.

The image shows Comics Experience guide to writing comics, the book I am using to write a comic book to withstand China trouble, coronavirus, and visa
One of my comic book writing resources

I’ve been doing some reading and watching some movies, but otherwise life has been mostly relaxing during this time, despite the trouble I’ve been having with my China visa and the effect of the Coronavirus on world travel.

Thanks for reading. Comment below.

Adventures in Chinese Banking: It Stinks

I’ve written about my adventures in Chinese banking before, and now I have another story. Yesterday, I took a bunch of RMB to a bank in order to exchange it for USD. I am going home in January, and would like to have some money. Or rather, I would like to have some money I can actually spend. Now, you might think it would be easy to accomplish this goal. After all, one only needs to take the cash to the bank, hand over the money for exchange, and get the dollar bills back.

The image shows some Chinese RMB that I wanted to exchange for USD in my newest Adventures in Chinese Banking.

And in a sane world and a sane system, you’d be correct. However, Chinese banking is not sane, as my adventures in it have shown. I did some research before heading to the bank because I know the system here will screw you any chance it gets. (Also, the info I found turned out not to apply to those working in China.) Sadly, I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot, but I knew that I needed a Chinese citizen with me. Thankfully, the university has a foreign liaison this semester, and she was willing to accompany me. So, we made plans to have lunch and then head to the bank.

The first bank we went to didn’t have the USD on hand because we didn’t call first. Okay, there’s something good to know: call the bank first if you want to exchange money. We then called another branch, but they also didn’t have enough USD on hand. Finally, we decided to call China National Bank: the big bank of China. It was our last hope. They had the cash on hand. We were feeling good about things.

Adventures in Chinese Banking: Even Citizens Jump Through Hoops

Well, we felt good about things, until we actually got to the bank. Unrelated, but an indication of how things would go: the parking attendant was rude to us. When we asked him how to get out of the parking garage on foot, he just shrugged and said walk around. Super helpful.

So, we get into the bank and find someone to help us. After a long discussion between my liaison and the bank worker, we ended up nowhere. See, the problem is I can’t just go in and exchange the money. I need a copy of my contract and my tax information, neither of which I have. Well, I have a copy of my contract, but I didn’t have it with me. I don’t have a copy of my tax information because my company takes care of my taxes.

The next thought was to have the liaison just exchange the cash for me. After all, she’s Chinese, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Again, in a sane world and sane system, you’d be right. But this is not a sane world or system. They told her that she could exchange the cash, but if she didn’t go to the US soon, she could get into trouble.

Now, I didn’t want that to happen so I told her not to worry about it, and that we’d figure something else out. As we were leaving the bank, she decided to call the first bank we visited to ask the person there if they would have the USD by Monday. I leave on Tuesday. He told her they wouldn’t but that they had the same policy. He also told her that she could always change her mind about traveling once she changed the money.

The System Almost Won

Armed with this knowledge, and her willingness to take a chance, my liaison returned to the bank and exchanged the money. My nerves were on fire as I waited in the lobby for her to completer the transaction. We’d just been in there trying to do what we were now doing. Would they let us? Was trouble in the cards for one or both of us?

After the exchange, we left the bank. I worried the security guard would stop us and take my money and send us to speak to the police. Not really, but that’s the thing about places like this. You just never know what will happen. We hadn’t broken any laws, but then that doesn’t always matter.

So, that’s the latest of my adventures in Chinese banking. Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a little about what my life here is like.

Suicidal Ideation: Thinking About Killing Yourself

A few weeks ago, I read an article that got me thinking about suicidal ideation. It’s a really good article, and you should click on the link and read it. Put simply, in that article, Anna Borges describes suicidal ideation as treading water in the middle of the ocean. And that, my friends, is a damn fine description.

You may wonder why I am talking about this now. That’s a valid question. First, I don’t want you to worry. I don’t have any plans to hurt or kill myself right now. But then, that’s kind of the point concerning this condition. SI is a passive form of suicide. It allows for thoughts of self harm to live in the mind, whether or not active plans are present. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life. I have never gone on medication, mainly because I’m scared. I’m scared of what the medication might do to me, and how it will change me.

I don’t define myself by my depression and thoughts of suicide, but they are a part of me. Sure, they’re an unhealthy part that hold hold me back, but there they are. Does it seem silly to worry about how feeling better will change me? Of course it does, but that doesn’t change my feelings. I often think that I should just go for it, but I always stop myself.

Anyway, back to why I am bringing this up at the moment. One, it’s the holiday season and that is a difficult time for many people. Though, according to this healthline article, suicide rates actually drop during the holidays and increase in Spring. This is interesting, considering the standard myth of most suicides occur during the holidays.

Suicidal Ideation is a State of Being

However, just because most suicides don’t happen during the holiday season, doesn’t mean those thoughts aren’t there. In fact, (again according to the healthline article) those thoughts probably are there. However, many people can ignore the thoughts because of interactions with others. Holiday parties, family gathering, and seasonal cheer might stave off suicidal action. Also, there is the idea that we don’t want to ruin the season for others. Suicide is already often considered a selfish act by many, and the holidays are for giving.

Second, and this goes back to the article by Anna Borges, we need to talk about suicidal ideation. The mystery and complex feeling surrounding suicide makes it difficult to talk about. If we tell our friends or family, there’s no telling how they will react. Some of them might get angry. Others might get scared. Most likely, there will be a combination of emotions. And I understand that. Listening to someone tell you they feel like hurting themselves or killing themselves is hard. It’s scary, and anxiety inducing, and can leave you feeling helpless.

Our friends and family care about us, and to that end they might want to solve what they see as the problem of our contemplation. The trouble with that, though, is they may not be able to solve it. In fact, they probably won’t be. And then they might get mad at their failure. Or, we will let them think that everything is okay while we suffer. Why would we do that? Because we care about them as much as they care about us and we don’t want them to worry.

And that’s the crux, isn’t it? We don’t want our loved ones to worry. So we remain silent.

Silence is Harmful and Unhelpful

But staying silent does more harm than good. It closes people off from us, and creates feelings of isolation. It also prevents us from working through our emotions. I’ve rarely expressed my suicidal ideation to my friends and family, but when I have, I’ve been lucky. No one has freaked out or gotten angry with me for expressing these thoughts. But, I still felt fear when doing so. Just as I feel fear now, writing this post.

But I am doing it because Anna Borges inspired me to be a bit more vocal about my feelings. I am not asking for help, advice, or sympathy. I am just asking anyone reading this to understand that many people have these thoughts. In fact, you, dear reader, may be feeling something similar at this moment. And that’s okay.

It’s okay to have these feelings. And it’s okay to not feel okay. Furthermore, it’s even okay to not want to share these feelings with others. But you know what else is okay? Wanting to and needing to share these feelings. Humans are social creatures. We need people we can trust in our lives, and we need to express ourselves. There is no shame in sharing your dark thoughts.

If you don’t think you have someone you can talk to about this, there are plenty of online resources. One example is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Phone number: 1-800-273-8255.

You can also comment here, and I will listen. Though, I understand if you don’t want to.

As for me, I’ve been feeling blue, so I bought myself a new pillow. It’s a silly thing and it won’t stop my suicidal ideation, but I needed one. And sometimes getting things that we need and want can help keep the darkness at bay.

The image shows my new pillow, something I bought for myself to stay happy and prevent suicidal ideation.

Listen and Be There Without Judgement

If someone comes to you with feelings of darkness, be kind. Understand it took a lot for them to open up. You can experience anxiety and anger and fear, but later. Let them tell their story. Open your ears and your heart. Close your mouth and your rational mind. There will be time for all of that later. But listening is so important. Many people don’t feel heard, and that adds to the pain. When we don’t feel heard, we don’t feel valued. And when we don’t feel valued by others, we often have difficulty valuing ourselves.

I’m not saying we need others to validate us before we can validate ourselves. However, I know when I feel down and worthless, it is nice to hear others express their feelings of love for me. It feels good to be valued by others. Additionally, by listening to your friend who is going through a rough patch without judging them or giving them advice, you show them that they aren’t a burden.

This is important because so many people don’t share for fear of burdening the listener. And yeah, it can be hard work listening to someone talk about suicide. It can also feel burdensome if your friend keeps telling you the same thing without changing. At that point, it sounds like complaining. But, remember, this is a process. It’s okay as the listener to feel like you can’t take it all. You don’t have to be there all the time, but be there when you can. Help when and how you can. It matters more than you think.

Thank you for reading. I love you, even if I don’t know you.

Three Versions of Stagger Lee: Waits, Cave, Hurt

When I taught Czech university students I played them three versions of Stagger Lee. And, since it was a conversation class, I had them discus the similarities and differences before telling them my thoughts. As an ESL teacher, it’s important to avoid injecting your own bias as much as possible. I’m not always successful, but I try.

The first of the three versions of Stagger Lee I played was Mississipi John Hurt’s (Stack O’ Lee). Many consider this version the definitive story of Stagger and William DeLyons. And that makes sense. It did come out in 1928, after all. Things of note in this version: Stack strikes fear in the community. He’s a cruel man and a bad man, and the cops can’t, don’t, or won’t arrest him. The myth of Stack or Stag as pure evil is on full display here. Also notable, Billy steals Stack’s stetson hat, and Stack kills him for it. Keep this detail in mind for later. Also of note, Stack uses a .44 to kill Billy. Something else to keep in mind. Finally, in this version, the law hangs Stack, and everyone is happy.

So, to recap, this first version of the story is the oldest and sets the template. All other tellings of this story owe it. At some point, though no mention of it occurs in this telling, the story evolves into a gambling disagreement. In some of those variations, Billy cheats Stagger Lee, and Stag kills him for it. Still, no matter how you slice it, the core of the story is that Stack/Stag is a menace to his community. People fear him and the police are powerless. He’s the Boogeyman, only real. In his telling, Nick Cave takes this theme to the extreme.

Three Versions of Stagger Lee: Nick Cave Gets Explicit

If Mississippi John Hurt gives us the menace that is Stack O Lee, Nick Cave gives us the terror of that man. Hurt’s version is subtle and understated. Cave’s version is everything but that. Stagger Lee, as interpreted by Cave is a brash and vile murderer. He’s also making a name for himself as evidenced by him having to tell the bartender who he is.

He’s a killer and a rapist. He is as immoral as they come, but still somehow cool. If Tarantino wrote songs, he would share co-writing credit with Cave.

It was interesting playing this second of the three versions of Stagger Lee to my class because it is so different. They were college students, and I warned them of the explicit nature. Still, I did worry that I was crossing the line of good taste. Of course, Nick Cave and good taste don’t go hand in hand. Thankfully, my students didn’t report me to the bosses.

And, they drew the obvious connections: Pork pie hat, bad man. But they also noticed the differences: in Cave’s rendition, Stag is much sexier (explicit). Seriously, listen to that groove, and tell me it doesn’t ooze sex. You can’t.

Another difference between this telling and Hurt’s is that Stag gets away with it. The song ends with Stagger forcing Billy to perform fellatio and then killing him. In an extended version, which I didn’t play for my students, Stagger is worse. He rapes the devil if you can believe it.

Nearly a century passed between Hurt’s version and Cave’s version, which accounts for the visceral difference. Of course, others were playing around with the legend of Stagger Lee in between, and that leads me to Waits’ Small Change.

Tom Waits’ Small Change Is A Different Telling of the Same Story

Now, in all my admittedly limited, research, I’ve yet to find anyone else connecting Small Change to Stagger Lee. But I stand by the connection. Both Stack O Lee by MJH and Stagger Lee by NC tell the story of a bad man with a hat and a gun. Sure, this isn’t much to go on, but the similarities to Small change are too close to deny. All three versions of Stagger Lee mention a hat, a gun, and the general fear of the community. The big difference is Hurt and Cave concern themselves with how nasty the titular character is.

Waits, on the other hand, acknowledges he’s nasty, but adds some optimism to the story. In Small Change, the communal menace gets killed on the street. And the killer uses his own gun, a .38. Here’s something interesting, in Hurt’s version it’s a .44. In Cave’s version it’s a .45. The caliber of the weapon grows in accordance with the menace. Yeah, Hurt’s version is a bad and cruel man, but he is only a simple murderer. Cave’s .45 wielding maniac is a rapist, a terror, and larger than life. Of course he wields the biggest weapon of the three versions of Stagger Lee I am discussing.

Small Change is Billy, Not Stagger Lee

That was the argument made by a student when I played these three songs. She argued that Small Change was Billy. Her reasons: the name, the hat, and the gun. Basically, Small Change, with his .38 is the odd man out. Not only is his name not Stagger or Stack, he’s got a pea shooter. Yes, Small Change terrorizes the neighborhood, but he’s fallible. It’s not the police who capture him, and he doesn’t live. In fact, his killer remains unknown. “Someone will head south until this whole thing cools off.” He doesn’t exude the overall menace of the other two. I am [paraphrasing because it’s been years, but that’s the gist.

On one hand, I can see this. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can see it. More importantly, I appreciated this amount of thought and consideration from my student, and she made a logical and compelling argument. It happens to be one I think doesn’t hold up, but one I still think about nearly 10 years later.

Small Change is a Version of Stagger Lee

While I respect my student’s idea about this, I disagree. For one, in Small Change people are happy to see him die, just as they are in the other songs. In none of these three versions are people happy at Billy’s death.

Two, his death offers a chance at a better life: “The dreams aren’t broken now, they’re waling with a limp. Now that Small Change got rained on with his own .38.” Billy’s death would do no such thing.

Third, the newsboy steal the hat. If Stagger Lee were alive, that newsboy would be dead.

So, there you have my thoughts on three different versions of Stagger Lee as filtered through a teaching experience I once had. I hope you enjoyed reading this long diatribe.

The image shows the cover of a Stagger Lee comic, which is a fourth version of the three Stagger Lee stories in this post
Order the book and learn more. I don’t get any money if you purchase through that link. I’m not an affiliate.

Rise of Skywalker Review: Overstuffed With Fun

So, I saw Rise of Skywalker and here is my review. Overall, I enjoyed this movie, but that isn’t to say it didn’t have its problems. In fact, it had tons of problems. However, I felt they were fun problems to have, rather than dumb or uninteresting ones. I do think, though, that the ideas presented in The Last Jedi were more interesting in total, but that’s okay. This is a different movie.

For the curious, I will try to keep my Rise of Skywalker review as spoiler free as possible. If you’re reading this its presumably because you want to see the movie. To that end, I don’t want to spoil things for you.

I will say that the movie starts off in frantic fashion and never really slows down. Director JJ Abrams has a lot of ground to cover, and it shows. The first quarter of the movie just feels like a bunch of jump cuts and table setting. Not that there aren’t some cool things there: good action, humor, exotic locales.

Unfortunately all of this kinetic screen time kept me from investing in the film. At least right away. While the pace doesn’t really slow down much, it does offer a few points to catch your breath. And those are important beats. Star Wars, at its core, has always been about character and heart. Sure, epic space battles and laser swords are great, but it’s character that matters. This movie seems to forget that at first, but remembers in time. Or at least, it remembers enough in time.

Rise of Skywalker Review: Not Quite a Nostalgia Factory

Surprisingly, this is not the nostalgia engine I expected it to be. Yes, it has a lot of nostalgic elements in it. And yes, it makes callbacks to itself, to other movies in this trilogy, and to the other movies in the saga. However, I rarely felt annoyed by the callbacks. That might change after subsequent viewings, but this time all was good.

The image shows a First Order Stormtrooper, the bad guys in Rise of Skywalker, which this blog post offers review of
First Order Stormtrooper Statue in the theater here in China

Aside from the pacing, I have a few other complaints, but they verge on spoiler territory, so I won’t mention them.

I will mention, that John Williams’ score was fantastic, as always. And there were a few twists and turns I enjoyed. I think the main conceit of the movie is a little silly, but that’s okay. Star Wars has always been a little silly, so it’s only fitting that the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga follows suit.

While this isn’t my favorite Star Wars movie of the new ones (hello Rogue One), I did like it. There are some things I wish hadn’t happened. And there are some pacing issues. Still, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and that’s a argument for it.

Your mileage may vary, but if you check it out, I hope you like it. And let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading my Rise of Skywalker review.