Originally written in March 2011

I’m sitting here, trying to think of something to write, and I can’t. Or, I can think of lots of things to write, but whenever I start typing, I get stuck after a sentence or two. I freeze up, stare at the screen and erase whatever it is I just wrote. Writing is hard. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.

I used to think I had things to say, stories to tell, but now … now I’m not so sure. Now, all I have in my head is a jumbled mass of half-baked ideas cribbed from whatever popular culture I’ve been engrossed in most recently. I think about crime stories, lone wolf hitmen or thieves, stuck in an endless cycle of crime that’s destroying their souls one job at a time.

I think of familial dramas, families torn asunder by drugs or alcohol, or just because they’re only human, with human foibles and frailties. No one is perfect, after all. But when I start to type, all I can think of is trying to make it perfect the first time out. I hate re-writing. I hate editing. When it comes to my own work, anyway. I think I’m a half-decent editor of other peoples’ work. Like when I read one of Kevin’s scripts. I try to envision what I’m reading up on the big screen, as if I were in the movie theater watching it in the dark with an audience. I like to think I know what works in movies and what doesn’t. I’ve started to think I’d make a better editor or producer than a writer.

Of course, to be a writer one has to actually write something. Tons of people sit in coffee shops and call themselves writers, and some of them are, I’m sure, but the rest are probably like me. Calling themselves a writer, pretending they’re hammering away at some great novel or screenplay, but really they’re checking their email and chatting on Facebook. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to be sitting here, typing this on a computer connected to the Internet and to not check my email, to not lose myself in the morass of the World Wide Web. Seems that’s all I do anymore, lose myself online in meaningless, trivial things. Wasting time.

Feels like my whole life has been a waste of time, really. I’m sure that’s just the depression talking, but sometimes I can’t help but feel that way. I look at my brother and sister, their lives and families. I look at my friends who are my age, with their families. I have married friends, divorced friends, friends with kids. Not that I necessarily want kids right now. God knows I’m not in a good place mentally or physically to deal with something like that. I wish I was. But I don’t know how to get to there from here anymore.

I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, besides going through the motions. I don’t care about anything right now, which, again, is probably just the depression talking, but knowing that doesn’t make anything any easier. I’m sitting here worried more about my parents’ plans to come to graduation than I am about actually graduating. I don’t care about graduating right now. I don’t care about the work. I don’t see a future for myself in anything I’ve done so far in my life. What skills have I cultivated that will give me any sort of job prosperity? Or job security, for that matter. The way the job market is right now for writers, it seems to be freelance or bust. And the way I’m cracking up now, I’m pretty sure life as a freelancer would kill me or send me into psychiatric care. Whichever might be worse.

I’ve been speaking with a counselor, Liz, over at the school’s Health & Wellness center since, say, early December. She’s nice. She listens. I don’t know what, if anything, is going to come of all this. Anything productive, anyway. It was her idea to start writing again. Writing like this, no real rhyme or reason, but just to sit here and type whatever comes. It’s not like I haven’t thought about writing like this before. It’s what my blog used to be, after all, lo those many years ago. But that’s all I’ve really done lately, aside from schoolwork - thought about writing. Which is decidedly different from actually writing something. And maybe it’s working? I haven’t written this much solely for myself for a long time. I guess I had that dopey blog post about Charlie Brown kicking the football a few months ago. And before that, I had written that post about Alexa, before I went off to New York for the summer.

Oh, Alexa. There is nothing more I would rather do than to be able to stop thinking about her. Except, of course, for spending time with her. And those two diametrically opposed thoughts have been playing tug-o-war with my head for four or five months now. I feel nothing but jubilation and excitement every time I spend time with her. Real time, not just small talk in the office. That I’ve been able to handle just fine. But out of the office, when it’s just the two of us, nothing in the world could possibly make me happier. And at the same time, nothing has been able to hurt me this much for a long time.

I fell in love with a girl, which is the story of my life, and I can’t think of any more song lyrics right now. I fall in love, she doesn’t feel the same way, we either remain friends or I explode the relationship like I did with Charlene. Like I tried to do with Alexa, back in October/November. I suppose it took me a while to able to be friends with Alissa, back in the day, after all that ridiculous high school melodrama. And Charlene was a different situation, too, wasn’t she? She liked me. Maybe even loved me. We were good together, except I was always looking over my shoulder or out the corner of my eye for other girls. I don’t know why. Here I had this great girl who liked being with me and I treated her like crap. Not all the time, of course. But in the end, for sure.

Her birthday was just a couple days ago.

So it begs the question, why do I sabotage the good relationships and chase after the bad? And if I had an answer for that … then what? I’d still have this fucked up head of mine. Even if I figured out my relationship issues, that’s not the reason for my depression. Not the only reason, not the real reason. And the real reason might be nothing more than the ubiquitous chemical imbalance that affects millions of people. But if that’s the case, and more and more I’m beginning to think it is, that means I should probably be on meds, right? And the thought of that scares me more than staring at the blank screen of a word processor.

I’ve never liked the thought of mind-altering drugs, legal or otherwise. Most of my friends smoked weed in high school; some still do. Which is fine. I’ve tried never to judge anyone for that. When Alissa was getting into harder drugs, sure, that was a problem, but weed? Eh. It’s like alcohol. It can be abused like anything else, but if you don’t overdo it, I couldn’t care less what you do. But for myself, I’ve never wanted to not be in control of my faculties. I’ve never wanted my mind altered like that, however temporary the effects.

Or have I just been scared of what it’d feel like? Scared of getting in trouble when I was younger, sure, but that never stopped me from doing other stuff. Staying out late, sneaking out of the house, silly stuff like that. But I never smoked pot or tried anything harder. Maybe I’m drawn to alcohol more because it’s a downer, and since I’m already down anyway … oh, fuck if I know.

But prescribed drugs, happy pills, Prozac or whatever … my father has been on so many different prescriptions over the years, different combinations of pills, different doses. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell if it’s making a difference. And he knows it, too. There are days when his temper gets the better of him, or his depression, and everyone knows it’s just best to leave him alone for a few hours or a couple days. He and I have gotten into ridiculous arguments where we haven’t spoken for weeks, probably because our depressions were butting up against each other.

For the most part, I’m OK with who I am. I like my interests, I like my friends. But I have no ambition, no drive. And I don’t know if that’s something meds would help with. And I’m probably afraid of who I’d become on meds. I’m worried I’d be a different person, which, honestly, wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. So why am I so scared of them? The pills?

Maybe I’m more afraid that they won’t do anything, that this is just who I’m always gonna be, and if I never take the pills, I’ll still have that hope out there that maybe I can be different, instead of taking them and finding out that this is it. And isn’t that a depressing thought.

I don’t know if typing any of this has been helpful. I spend so long trying to get out of my head, distracting myself with video games and comics and books. Actually spending time thinking about this stuff, not coming up with any answers … and it’s not like I haven’t thought of all this before. Seems like whenever I’m alone with my thoughts I’m thinking about this stuff. Which is why I try to distract myself with the video games, comics, etc. I can’t shut it off, all this constant second-guessing, all this awful introspection. I wish I could. I wish I could turn it off, put it to the side and just focus on what matters right now, namely, school. But I can’t.

As the saying goes, no matter where you go, there you are. Running away to California and Boston didn’t help me. Running off to Portland won’t either. All this stupid baggage is going to be with me no matter where I am. So why be anywhere.


More Like A Sucker's Bet

There is probably nothing new I can add to the discussion about Sucker Punch that A.O. Scott, Annalee Newitz and Andrew O'Hehir haven't already said. But I've never allowed that to stop me before, and why start now?

My expectations going into this movie were pretty low. I am not what one might call a Zack Snyder aficionado. His films are all style, no substance, and nothing I had seen or read about Sucker Punch did anything to alter my perception.

So it would be unfair to say I was disappointed in Snyder's latest offering. It was, in fact, exactly what I knew it was going to be. Vapid and emotionless, but damn pretty to look at.

I believe all three reviews linked to above compare many aspects of Sucker Punch to video games, and while that is not an entirely inappropriate comparison, it is also somewhat insulting to video games. I was playing video games 15 years ago that had more compelling characterization and plot than this insanely expensive trifle of a movie, to say nothing of the current generation of games with even more complex gameplay and storytelling.

Yes, there are moments during Sucker Punch where you just want to grab control of the gamepad and start button-mashing. Numerous moments, in fact. Who wouldn't want to take control of a scantily-clad schoolgirl armed with a ninja sword and hack-n-slash your way through hordes of WWI German zombie soldiers or battle a dragon in air-to-air combat while piloting a gunship?

But the really good games provide some sort of context through which you grow to care about your characters, but Sucker Punch can't even be bothered to try to make us care.

Our protagonists (to call them heroines would be inaccurate) all have ridiculous code names like "Baby Doll" and "Sweet Pea." They have no personalities, or they all share the same one: scared, sniveling little girls in one reality and hardcore monster killers in another. They're interchangeable, like most eye candy is in Hollywood these days.

Speaking of realities, and not that it matters so much, because, really, no one is going to see this movie for its plot, but the vast majority of this movie doesn't matter at all. Because none of it is real (within the confines of what the film establishes as "reality" in the beginning). (Also, I suppose, *Spoiler Alert*, but, again, no one cares.)

Baby Doll's mother dies, ostensibly murdered by the wicked stepfather who wants her fortune, but the sneaky minx went and left all her money to her daughters instead, darn it all to heck. So the stepfather figures the girls have to die, too, right? Only Baby Doll tries to fight back. And fails. Her sister is killed, and the stepfather blames it on her. He then commits her to an asylum for the criminally insane. Apparently no one bothered to ask Baby Doll what happened or gave her a psych evaluation. Nope, off to the looney bin she goes, with a lobotomy waiting for her. (Do they even still do lobotomies anymore?)

No sooner does Baby Doll get locked up that she withdraws inside her own mind, where instead of a psych hospital, she's trapped in a whorehouse, because that's somehow worse. Or better. Or something.

And all the whores learn ballet. They're taught to dance for their clients. But we never actually see any of the girls dance. We only hear about it. Because as soon as Baby Doll starts her apparently hypnotic gyrating, we're sucked into yet another imaginary world, one filled with the aforementioned zombie soldiers and dragons.

See, to escape the insane asylum, Baby Doll makes up a whorehouse to hide in, and then to escape the whorehouse, she makes up these other worlds where she and the other girls are scantily-clad ass-kicking super soldiers. Or something. Why she didn't go straight from the nuthouse to the ass-kicking, I don't know. There doesn't seem to really be a point to the whorehouse. Or any of it, really.

For a film that is probably supposed to be some kind of feminist, empowering, pro-women fable, I don't understand why Baby Doll is imagining herself and the other girls wearing ultra-short skirts and tiny, cleavage-baring tops. I guess she's trying to "own" her sexuality? But it really just comes off as kind of creepy. It's like Zack Snyder made a masturbatory pseudo-feminist fantasy for guys.

Or I could be wrong. Do women fantasize about killing robots while wearing tiny schoolgirl outfits?

I mean, if the movie at least tried to play up the camp, if there was the occasional wink at the audience, that'd be one thing, but it's played completely straight throughout the entire ridiculous movie. You cannot make a movie like this without knowing how silly it is, and to not play up the silliness is perhaps the film's biggest flaw.

But definitely not its only flaw.


Oscars 2011

It's been a while since I've blogged anything, or felt I had something worth saying that would take more than 140 characters at a time. Not that this is necessarily worth saying, but for the first time in a long time, I've actually seen the vast majority of films that have been nominated for the Academy Awards. Nine out of the 10 Best Picture nominees, to be exact. So I figured, hey, I vaguely know what I'm talking about here.

First, a few general thoughts about the nominations as a whole.

There were no real surprises in this year's crop of nominees, aside from the utter whiteness of every category, which isn't so much of a surprise as a disappointment. (Although, off the top of my head, I can't think of a single nomination I would change, so maybe it was just a banner year for honky Hollywood.)

I was immensely pleased to see Winter's Bone receive so many nominations. It was a small, quiet film, but had some wonderful performances, especially John Hawkes, who I most distinctly remember as Sol the Jew on Deadwood.

I was also glad to see Animal Kingdom, a brutal Aussie crime drama, receive recognition in the form of an acting nomination for Jacki Weaver, who brilliantly played the cold, vicious matriarch of a struggling Australian crime family.

I'm still trying to figure out why Hailee Steinfeld, who played Mattie Ross in True Grit and was in virtually every scene, received a supporting actress nomination rather than a best actress nod. It was suggested to me that it was because it would give her a better chance to win, a reason I admit has some merit, given how this is Natalie Portman's year, but I have doubts about her chances in the supporting actress category, too, and I think her role and performance deserved to be honored for what it was, which is lead actress who went toe-to-toe with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.

I really did enjoy every film on this list of nominees that I saw. This was a great year for movies, both big and small, and all are deserving of the praise that's been heaped upon them.

Anyway, enough of that. Here are (most of) the nominees and my picks (in bold) for this year's Academy Awards ...

Best Motion Picture of the Year

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

I saw every film in this category except for Toy Story 3 (I know, I know, so sue me; I never saw the first two either), and while I immensely enjoyed the taut, wince-inducing claustrophobia of 127 Hours and the psycho-thriller, acid-trip insanity of Black Swan, this category really came down to only two films: The King's Speech and The Social Network. And it was a difficult call to make, almost a toss-up, save for a few key points that went in "the Facebook movie's" favor.

The King's Speech is remarkably well-crafted and delightfully entertaining, and much more hilarious than I was expecting, but while I didn't know the specifics of the story, I knew exactly what its particular beats were going to be. I've seen this movie before. We've all seen this movie before - A feel-good, triumph of the spirit, overcoming personal adversity to achieve greatness, etc.

Which is not to say The King's Speech is not a great, highly enjoyable film, because it is. But it's not The Social Network, a movie that takes rote themes of brotherhood and betrayal and thrusts them into the digital age of the 21st century. For a movie light on likable characters, The Social Network captures what the idea of friendship has morphed into over the past decade, thanks to the Internet, email, texting and, yes, Facebook.

Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, two names I never thought would work well together, what with Fincher's wildly ambitious visual style and Sorkin's rat-a-tat-tat, rapid-fire dialogue, crafted a Cain and Abel fable for a new generation, weaving contradictory points of view into a compelling Rashomon-style narrative, with the truth always just ever so slightly out of focus.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Immediately after I saw 127 Hours, I knew James Franco was a lock for an Oscar nomination. He created a character we immediately liked and bonded with, a character full of such wonder and joy, so that when he became trapped, and we were stuck with him in that crevasse for almost a week, we felt everything right along with him. We cared what happened to him. And we were never bored in spending that time with him. It's an amazingly intimate performance.

But, unfortunately for Franco, this is shaping up to be Colin Firth's year. And while I may be rooting for this year's Oscars co-host to win, I'm pretty sure the award is going to the King.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Easiest award to pick. No hesitation. No second-guessing. Which is not meant to take away from any of the other actors in this category, but the physical and mental strain both Portman and her character underwent to make this film are both impressive and insane. Much like the following award's Christian Bale, what Natalie Portman put herself through, and the way she so completely embraced her character, is a wonder to behold. To watch her fragile, delicate Nina slowly, gradually warm under the spotlight until she shatters is to watch a true master of her craft.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

To see Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight practically destroy his body, to see him morph into this jagged-edge of a man, this jittery meth-head, is to sit in awe of Christian Bale. I don't remember when last I saw an actor so utterly recognizable and yet ... not. Probably the last time Bale did this to his body, in 2004's The Machinist.

Bale so personified Dicky Eklund, there was not a trace of himself left behind. Sure, Bale was manic and over-the-top, but have you ever seen a jonsing meth addict?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

This is always a tough category to choose from. Each of these actresses delivered great performances of such disparate women. Part of me wants to see Jacki Weaver win, but she's not well-known enough and no one saw Animal Kingdom. I'd love to see Hailee Steinfeld win, but, assuming she keeps her head on straight, she'll have plenty more opportunities.

The more I think about it, the more I think Melissa Leo might take home this award, for her role as Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund's gaudy, overbearing mother in The Fighter. Leo has come a long way since solving murders in Baltimore in TV's Homicide almost 20 years ago. I almost feel a kind of pride at her nomination. I just like the idea of Detective Sergeant Kay Howard, Oscar winner.

Best Achievement in Directing

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

David Fincher took what could have been a very boring story, about a bunch of geeks arguing over who created a website, and turned it into a visual feast. Fincher is a meticulous director, often asking for 50 or 100 takes, because he wants/needs to get it just right, and I think that attention to detail, that striving for excellence, comes through in every frame of The Social Network.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Another Year, by Mike Leigh
The Fighter, by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
Inception, by Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right, by Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech, by David Seidler

I'd really like to give this award to the wonderfully imaginative Inception, and the Academy might do so, to make up for Nolan not receiving a directing nomination. (Honestly, Nolan deserved a directing nomination much more than Tom Hooper. The King's Speech is a very nicely made movie, but what Nolan did in Inception is oftentimes mindblowing.)

But I think 73-year-old David Seidler is taking home this Oscar, and he's certainly more than deserving of it. The King's Speech veers between almost slapstick comedy to a sort of maudlin melodrama, but it never tips too far one way or the other. Seidler's script keeps on a very even keel, bridging the moments of great levity with the looming shadow of the Second World War.

But despite the seriousness of the world's situation, Seidler never lets you forget that this is a deeply personal, intimate story of one man's attempt to overcome a lifelong disability, and his friend who helped him through it.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

127 Hours, by Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network, by Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3, by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
True Grit, by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone, by Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

I love A Few Good Men. I love The West Wing. And Sports Night. And even the short-lived Studio 60 on Sunset Strip. And the singular thing all these films and TV shows have in common is Aaron Sorkin. I'm a sucker for his dialogue, I readily and openly admit it. And if that makes me biasd, then so be it.

But when I read the script for The Social Network, those first eight or 10 pages of dialogue just blew me away. I was immediately and completely engrossed in the story from page one. Not many scripts can do that, and Sorkin did it, and does it frequently, with dialogue and dialogue alone. That's a rare feat. There's just something about the rhythm of his words and the beats of his scripts that, it's almost like it's music. The work of David Mamet hits me the same way.

When it's done well, there's just nothing better than listening to a great actor perform a Sorkin script.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

127 Hours, A.R. Rahman
How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell
Inception, Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech, Alexandre Desplat
The Social Network, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

The 15-year-old inside me just wants Trent Reznor to win an Oscar award.

And it's a really great score.

Best Documentary, Features

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

I only saw two of these nominated documentaries (and why was Waiting for 'Superman' left off this list?), both of which I enjoyed immensely, but for different reasons.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is about street artists, graffiti artists, and the power of that medium. (Part of me still thinks is all just a big prank perpetrated by Banksy and Shepard Fairey, but they both swear it's 100 percent real, so I'll just have to take them at their word.) Regardless of its truthfulness, Gift Shop is just entertaining. It's funny and thought-provoking and I highly encourage everyone to watch it, even if you have no idea who Banksy or Shepard Fairey are.

The other documentary I saw was Restrepo, and while I don't want to pick a winner from a category in which I've only see two-fifths of the films, if you pressed me, I'd give the Oscar to this war journal about a 15-month deployment at one of the most violent and remote U.S. military outposts in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley. The final few minutes really illustrates just how utterly pointless the war is, and how utterly in vain the sacrifices truly are. After spending 15 months with these soldiers and getting to know them, I almost felt sick to my stomach over what they were put through for no good reason.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Yeah, I didn't see any of these films. But I'd like to. They're all supposed to be wonderful. I thought about leaving this category off my list here, because I have no opinion and am not going to make a pick, but I like animated films and wanted to give a little spotlight to this year's nominees, which I all hope to see soon.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

In a Better World
Outside the Law

And the same as with the animated films, I didn't see any of these foreign language movies either. But they were nominated for the Academy Award, so they must be good, right? Again, I just wanted to shine a light on them. I'm sure I'll see them, or at least some of them, eventually. Just as soon as they show up streaming on Netflix.

And those are my picks. The main picks, anyway. I left out stuff like cinematography and editing and art direction, because, hey, this post is already too long and I doubt you even made it this far. But if you did, you have my thanks. And I hope you enjoy the Oscars, airing Sunday, February 27 on ABC.


The Perpetual Pursuit of Persistence

Sometimes I feel like I am Charlie Brown in his hopeless, never ending quest to kick the football Lucy holds for him, which she inevitably yanks away just before he makes contact. We all know what's going to happen, despite Lucy's promises that this time will be different, that she won't pull the football away. But she always does.

Lucy never has any intention of letting Charlie Brown kick that football. But somehow she always manages to talk him into trying. And Charlie Brown winds up flat on his back, the breath evacuated from his lungs from the effort, berating himself for falling for Lucy's trick once again. But no matter how much Charlie Brown hurts, no matter how many times Lucy yanks the rug out from under him, he knows, and we know, that the next time Lucy dangles that thread in front of him, Charlie Brown will once again talk himself into the attempt, vowing (pleading?) this time will be different.

Why, after all those years and all that time on his back, the wind knocked out of him, does Charlie Brown persist? Is he delusional? Does he honestly think the next time will be different, despite all evidence to the contrary? Does he forget how it felt the last time, and the time before that, putting all his effort into one mighty swing of the leg, only to wind up the victim once more of Lucy's prank?

Perhaps Charlie Brown is a masochist. Perhaps he knows how futile his efforts are, but he goes along with Lucy's game anyway, because, hey, at least someone is paying attention to him.

Is it the exhilaration Charlie Brown feels as he psyches himself up for each new, doomed attempt what keeps him coming back for more? Deep down he knows he's going to fail, but he needs to make the effort anyway, to at least feel something, anything. The agony of defeat is no less potent than the thrill of victory. It's a rush, racing through the yard, fallen leaves crunching beneath his shoes, and even though he knows what the result is going to be, those few, fleeting moments as he races toward the ball are worth it.

Because it's better to make the attempt and fail than to not make the attempt at all.


Or does Charlie Brown have such a deep reservoir of hope? Does Charlie Brown believe that what's past is past and the future isn't set in stone? Yes, Lucy may have yanked the football away 100 times, 1,000 times before, but that was before. That's not this time. This time will be different. This time, he thinks, I'm going to kick that football. Because this time is not last time.

And yet, this time is exactly like last time. Lucy pulls the ball away and Charlie Brown finds himself lying in the dirt, wondering why he fell for her prank once more. And it hurts. Physically, yes, but also mentally. It's exhausting, the rush of adrenaline, his heart pounding in his chest as he runs toward the football. And Charlie Brown vows to never again fall for it.

But he does.

Every time.

And so the question remains: Why?

Why does Charlie Brown persist?

Because to not attempt to kick the football is to give up. If Charlie Brown doesn't try to kick that football, he might as well curl up in his bed, turn out the lights and wait for death to claim him. Because there is no life in giving up. It is the attempt that matters, not the result. It is the attempt that gives Charlie Brown a reason to wake up every morning. It is his persistence of belief that this time is not the last time, that this time could be different, that this time will be different, that drives him.

If not this time, then next time, Charlie Brown says. And if not next time, then the time after that. Or the time after that. Or the time after that.

Because if Charlie Brown gives up, if Charlie Brown says no, I won't try to kick that football, not this time, then what does he have left to live for?


No Sleep 'til (or in) Brooklyn

On Friday I drove from Boston to Brooklyn, approximately 220 miles, in about four hours. I would have made it in less time, but, you know, traffic. If you don't count pulling a car out of a parking spot a month or two back, Friday was the first time I drove since January when I was visiting folks back in Omaha. Cold, snowy, icy January. If memory serves, I think I only left the house once by myself. The rest of the time someone else drove me around. What I'm trying to say is, I hadn't driven in a car for a while. And it made me slightly nervous to be behind the wheel again. But, as the old saying goes, driving a car is like falling off a bike, you never forget how.

I'm sitting in the living room of my summer apartment at a makeshift desk that was put together by my roommate's former roommate, drinking cranberry juice and eating Mike and Ike's while watching the Angels/Cardinals game on MLB.TV. My roommate, Vanessa, is sitting at her desk across the room, working, which is pretty much the only position I've seen her in since I got here. I think she's behind on deadlines. (She retouches Japanese manga for American publication.)

After arriving Friday afternoon, I unloaded my stuff from the rental car and ventured into southern Manhattan to return the car, which only further enhanced my desire to never drive in this city. The interstate is wonderful, I can drive on the open road for hours on end, and I have, but there's just something about this city, and Boston, that makes me cringe and shy away from a steering wheel. I didn't have this problem in L.A. Of course, in L.A. you have to drive everywhere, there's no getting around it. Out here, between Boston's T, New York's subway and the buses, driving is an unnecessary luxury, like Botox and adopting African babies.

I won't say I got lost on my way to Battery Park City to return the car, which doesn't mean it didn't happen, just that I won't say it. Turned around is a better term. I would've been fine if not for all the construction near the rental place. And all the other drivers. They didn't help either. But, after a few U-turns and a spin on FDR Drive, I managed to drop the car off, after which I found my way to the subway, which will be an entirely different matter.

L.A.'s subway is a joke, and Boston's T is pretty simple to navigate. New York, though, is an entirely different animal. Here is a map of the city's subway system. Compare with Boston's. No contest.

I did manage to make it back to the apartment just fine, no frantic phone calls needed. It was just a minor adventure of my own making, one that I had hoped to avoid, and should be able to in the future. Tomorrow morning, I know exactly how to get to the Marvel offices. Whether I actually make it in time is another matter, but at least I know where I'm going.

What I'll be doing once I get there, well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see, won't we? Marvel's internship coordinator had to fill out some paperwork for Emerson so I'd be able to receive credit for the internship (to paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, "In Russia, you pay job!"), and under the section titled "Job responsibilities," she wrote:

  • Researching information about our comics, movies, etc. to be used in creating content for our website
  • Writing news stories & possibly interviewing Marvel writers & artists
  • Assisting with some HTML work & light graphic design
  • Creating stories in our content management system

Sounds right up my alley, doesn't it? Again, I ask, who could possibly be better qualified for this job than me?

I'm living in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is the southwestern-ist part of the borough. I am literally a block from the ocean. Seems like a nice, relatively diverse neighborhood. Lots of shops and restaurants. Found the nearby grocery store and a Walgreens. A branch of my bank is a block away. The subway is just a block further than that. I'm told I'll have a 45 minute to an hour commute from here to Marvel, which doesn't seem too bad to me at all. In Boston, it was easily 45 minutes from my apartment to campus, and when I was interning for BOOM! in L.A., it routinely took me an hour to drive a measly 10 miles. Commutes don't bother me anymore.

There's really not much more going on. Right now I'm just biding my time 'til the morning, 'til I start working at Marvel. By now I'm less freaked out and excited than I am anxious to just get started. I want to get right to it, jump in with both feet and impress the hell out of them so a job will be waiting for me either when the internship is over or after I finish my Master's.

Operation Dave Needs A Job begins tomorrow. Fingers crossed!


The Marvelous Internship

I wrote the following article as my final project for the magazine writing class I took this past semester:

The elevator door slides apart and I step through. The only thing that tells me I've come to the right place is the large cardboard standee for "Iron Man 2" sitting in the corner of the otherwise sparse lobby. There are glass double-doors in front of me. I walk up to the door and pull the handle. It doesn't open. I notice the receptionist sitting at her desk on the other side of the door. She waves me back. I release my grip on the handle and the receptionist reaches underneath the desk. I hear a 'click,’ pull open the door and step through.

I’m in New York City, my first time, standing in the 11th floor offices of Marvel Comics, which are located in an unassuming building on 5th Avenue, a few blocks from Times Square. From the outside, the building looks like any other that lines this stretch of Manhattan. I probably would have walked right past it had my cousin Adam not been with me. Adam has lived in New York for about 10 years now, and without his guidance I would have been lost as soon as I stepped off the Peter Pan bus at the Port Authority bus terminal.

I’ve come to New York, to Marvel, to interview for a summer internship position, which was the furthest thing from my mind when I applied to go to graduate school at Emerson College in Boston. Hell, it was the furthest thing from my mind up until a few months ago, when I started following one of Marvel’s editors on Twitter.

Her name is Jennifer Grünwald (@jengrunwald) and she’s worked at Marvel since 2002. She was having an “open-question-ask-me-anything” day, and I asked her how a person goes about getting a job at one of the two big comic book companies (the other being DC Comics). Within minutes, she replied, “@oyboy Well, aside from applying as one would do for any job, there's always an internship. (Which is how I got hired!).”

I hadn’t thought about interning at a comic book company while in grad school. As much as I love comic books, and I’ve collected them for about 20 years, it didn’t seem to be a realistic possibility. I had interned at a comic book company once already, in Los Angeles, while an undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It was a small company called BOOM! Studios, and I drove across the country to work there during the summer of 2007. It was an enjoyable and educational experience. I had never seen the industry from the publishing perspective before. I was even offered a job, but I had a year left before I received my bachelor’s degree, and that was more important to me at the time.

Grünwald encouraged me to apply for an internship and see how it went from there. So I did. That was on March 18, a Thursday. I filled out the internship application over the weekend and submitted it. On Tuesday, March 23, I sent a tweet out into the ether: “Registered for the fall. Spring might be tough, but the fall should be a breeze. Still hoping for the summer internship. C'mon, @Marvel!”

Someone at Marvel was listening.

Less than an hour after sending that tweet, I received the following response from Ryan Penagos (@Agent_M), Marvel’s website editor: “@oyboy You're a Journalism student? What department did you apply to? I need a good journalism intern for Marvel.com.”

Now, I’ve had an email address for almost 20 years. I’ve been online in some form or another for more than half my life. I’m comfortable with technology in a way that used to worry my parents (especially after my father would receive a $300 bill from AOL). But even I was amazed by the rapidity of Twitter.

I quickly tapped out a response to Ryan on my phone: “@Agent_M I had applied for editorial, but I'm really open for anything. I have a big interest in the industry in general.”

From Ryan, an hour later: “@oyboy Yup, saw your application. We'll see what happens.”

Two days later, on March 25, I received an email from Sara Del Greco, Marvel’s internship coordinator. She asked me when I would be able to schedule an interview.

I was flabbergasted, nearly speechless. In the span of a week I had applied for an internship at Marvel and been asked to come in for an interview. Perhaps not all thanks to Twitter, but I know it helped. My immediate thought was, This wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. Maybe not even two years ago.

My email back to Del Greco basically consisted of, “Whenever you want me to come in for an interview, I’ll be there.” This was Marvel. The big time. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a class schedule or the 200 miles between Boston and New York get in my way.

The first comics I read as a child were published by Marvel, though I was ignorant of the fact at the time. I was unaware of things like publishing companies and writers and artists. All I knew was the four-color images that popped off the page dazzled me. I just liked the stories. Later, when I realized this was a job, that people sat around writing these stories and drawing these pictures, I hooked. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write. And I wanted to write comics.

I’ve never been able to pinpoint what it is about comics that has fascinated me for so many years. It long ago stopped being about the requisite superhero characters. Spider-Man, Superman and Batman were fun when I was younger, but as I got older I didn’t care so much about the characters I was reading as I did about who was writing them. I became enthralled by the process and sought out examples of comic book scripts wherever I could find them. Some I found online, and later a company called Titan Books published two volumes of “Writers on Comic Scriptwriting,” featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, along with examples of their scripts. Those books became bibles to me, so much so that the spine is cracked on Volume 1 and pages have started falling out of Volume 2.

I learned that some writers write very intricate, detailed scripts, wherein they describe everything from the characters’ facial expressions to the pattern on the wallpaper. Most comic books are 22 pages. One writer, Alan Moore, often wrote 100 pages of script for every 22-page comic book. Other writers are very sparse in their descriptions, sometimes only a paragraph or two per page, entrusting the artist to lay out the pages to best tell the story. It was the process of taking pages of dialogue and description and turning them into coherent, monthly serials that enchanted me, and I wanted in on the magic.

I’ve gone to a number of universities and colleges, lived all over the country, from Los Angeles to Boston, and the one constant throughout all those years has been comic books. I’ve lugged my collection back and forth more times than I care to remember. If there was one opportunity I was going to drop everything for and jump at, it was working at Marvel or DC Comics.

And here I am, April 2, slightly more than two weeks since I first inquired through Twitter about working at Marvel, waiting for an interview. The kid I used to be, the one who sat on his bedroom floor surrounded by stacks of comic books, all perfectly enshrined in their plastic bags and cardboard backings, flipping through stories he’d read countless times before and would read countless times since, he was crazed with excitement, bouncing off the walls inside my chest.

I calmly sit in the waiting area, across from a wall display filled with new comics, the way a doctor’s office has copies of Sports Illustrated and People, and fill out the internship application paperwork. I fight to stifle a grin every time I look up and see the life-size Hulk statue glowering at me from just inside the entrance to the offices.


In less than two weeks I'll be living in Brooklyn and interning at Marvel Comics. I have been attempting to not let either of these things freak me out. I have been failing in that attempt.

Once I get to New York, once I get settled at the apartment I'm staying at, once the internship actually starts, I know I'm going to be just fine. I mean, seriously, who else do you know who's more prepared for a job at Marvel?

It's the anticipation that's killing me. First I applied for the internship, which led to a crazy afternoon merry-go-round of tweets between myself and my soon-to-be boss, followed by my getting called in for an interview the following week, which led to my frantic pursuit of a button-down dress shirt and tie, and a train ticket, which became a bus ticket because the tracks were washed out due to torrential rain in Rhode Island.

After the interviews, it was another two weeks before I heard anything. Finally, on April 20, less than a month after I applied for the internship, I received the phone call: not only did Marvel want me to intern for them, two different departments wanted me. And it was up to me to choose which one.

It's been difficult to concentrate on much of anything since I got that phone call. The last few weeks of the semester seemed to crawl by. My head was absolutely not in the game. It's a wonder I managed to finish any of my final projects at all. But I did. And the semester finally ended last week and I've been sitting here, spinning my wheels, waiting for the internship to start.

So, here am I. Less than two weeks before my inner 10-year-old officially freaks the fuck out. And I can't stop thinking about how incredible this opportunity is, and how I've always seemed to screw up previous incredible opportunities. Granted, I don't think I've ever before had an opportunity that even comes close to this one. And I tell myself, and my friends tell me, I'm a different person now. I'm not the screw up who wasted the first half of his 20s. I busted my ass to finally finish undergrad. And while I seem to have worked significantly less hard here in Boston, I've finished two semesters of grad school with three A's and two A-minuses. The guy I was wouldn't have done so well, would have pissed it all away the first chance he got.

Despite my incessant, groundless fears about working at Marvel, I honestly cannot imagine being in a better place right now, physically and mentally. Emotionally, well, I'll always be a wreck in that department, so I'm trying to just not think too much about it.

But, if I really think about it, I'm actually doing pretty well there, too, in spite of the occasional bout of depression. So I'm in no position to complain.

But I do anyway.

Coming to Boston, to grad school, to this particular grad school, has probably been the best thing I've done for myself in a very long time, probably since deciding to finally finish that undergrad degree in the first place, which was, what, five years ago now?

Wow. Five years. It feels like a lifetime ago. It kind of was, I guess. Another life. My timeline is split now, between pre- and post-California. Who I was vs. who I am. And I know I whine and complain all the time, and my pessimism is unyielding, but if you were to catch me in an unguarded moment, I might actually admit to feeling pretty damn good about who I am and where I'm going. You'd probably have to ply me with alcohol first, though.

Seriously. Less than two weeks and I'll be at Marvel.



No Fate But What We Make For Ourselves

I don't believe in fate. I think I used to, years ago, when I was younger and full of romantic notions of "true love" and "destiny," back when I would listen to sad, angry, angst-fueled music on repeat for days on end and read depressing poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, pretending to understand it while drinking whiskey straight from the bottle.

No, I stopped believing in fate a long time ago, after my heart got the better of my head for the umpteenth time and once more shattered into dust.

As strange as it may sound, I think I did this willingly, expectantly. Sharing my heart, I mean, when my head knew better. I wanted the pain. Needed it, maybe. Thought I deserved it, though for the life of me I cannot fathom why I felt this way. I imagine there must have been a cause, a trigger, to make me purposefully seek out, to paraphrase one of those sad, angry, angsty songs, something which I knew I could never have.

Indeed, something which was never real to begin with.

No, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. That's a quote, a partial quote, anyway, a line from "The Terminator." (Yes, I'm a geek, get over it.) But just because it's a line from a pop culture popcorn flick doesn't make it any less true. Life is about choices, not fate or destiny or whatever else you want to call it. Choices and statistical probabilities and a lot of math I'll never come close to understanding.

The point is, fate had nothing to do with putting me where I am today. It was all me. The choices I've made, both good and bad, over the course of the past, oh, let's say 13 years, led me here. Now. To Boston. And soon, to New York City, to a job (OK, an internship) I would have never thought possible 13 years ago.

I had a choice between going to grad school back in Los Angeles, to USC, or coming here to Boston. I chose Boston, obviously, for a variety of reasons. I've lived in L.A. before, and while I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to try something different. I visited Boston years ago, to visit an old friend, and I liked what I saw of the city, and Emerson was a school I looked at coming out of high school, back when my grades were awful and I had no chance of actually getting in. (I chose not to bother applying.)

Because of the choice I made, to come to Boston, I've ... I've met some pretty wonderful people. Some of the faculty, sure, but I'm mainly speaking about my classmates, those who have become my core group of friends here. I mean, because I chose to come to Boston, I'm going to officiate the wedding of one of these friends next year. How cool is that? Choosing to come to Boston set into motion other choices that led to me interning at Marvel this summer. My inner 10-year-old is doing back flips in my chest (which is really something, considering the outer me at 10 had no chance in hell of doing a back flip. Or a front flip, for that matter. Though I could do a mean somersault.)

Choices. Not fate.

I don't believe in fate.

You'll forgive me if I have to keep telling myself that. My faith in a world without fate has come under siege of late and I'm doing everything in my power to resist the pull, the temptation, to allow myself to get sucked back into that insidious cycle I fought so hard to escape once before.

I can feel it starting to happen. My heart wants it to happen. I suppose it has been a while since I felt that dull ache in my chest and the pit of anguish in my stomach. My subconscious must miss it. My regular conscious, however, wants nothing more to do with it. Ever.

And so I make choices. Choices that sadden me for the moment, perhaps, but choices nevertheless. Choices that, in the long run, ensure protection. My head has to look out for my heart, because who else will?

Some would say there's cowardice in this choice, and I wouldn't argue. I am fully aware of who and what I am. I tell myself no tales, I see no illusions (or self-delusions). But it is a choice. One that I make willingly. I refuse to succumb to the thrall of fate again.

Life is about choices. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

And my fate lies in New York City this summer. Not here with her.