Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Vampire Diaries

This is going to sound pretty juvenile, but I love The Vampire Diaries. I watch it on Netflix and can basically watch an entire season in one go if I have the time. I started off just watching clips on youtube, but watching the whole show has given me a fresh appreciation for character development. It goes to show that a script or a book don’t have to be written by a Pulitzer prize winner to have decent characters. I mean, I’ve admitted before, I like Twilight (the books, not the movies, ugh), but in a similar fashion to the way I enjoy Fifty Shades of Grey and other ‘trashy’ or ‘popular’ books, it’s just one character that really catches my interest.

 

Damon. Damon Salvatore.

 

Now, even the name is hot. And I do have massive emotional investment in another character from another book series who shares at least the first name, but I was prepared to really dislike the character. His broodiness and eternal damnation bullshit was getting on my nerves. Stefan wasn’t as annoying; he had a sort of ‘this life is shit, this life is shit, ooh look, Elena’ vibe about him and he seemed to be doing things to the best of his ability. Damon just seemed petty. Sure, he was smart about it, and he was very very good at it but the whole thing about making Stefan’s life a living hell was a bit cliche and I was almost ready to just give up on having emotional investment in his character.

 

But he proved pretty quickly that he had good reason to hate his brother. He also proved that he was capable of respect. He proved he could be unfalteringly loyal and above all, he was the quintessential big brother. The scene with Elena, a couple of seasons in, in which she asks him why he is the way he is, is one of the most heartbreaking I think I watched. And there are a lot of good contenders for the heartbreak-throne of VD.

 

He tells her that if he doesn’t behave a certain way, people will have no expectations. Then they aren’t disappointed.

 

After that he and Elena make out, blah blah blah, and the story progresses.

 

I’m not usually a ‘shipping’ kind of person but Damon and Elena are way better together than Elena and Stefan ever were. Stefan is ashamed of what he is. Stefan tells lies. Damon only lies when absolutely necessary and he doesn’t usually do it to spare people’s feelings. When he takes Jeremy’s memories away as a favor to Elena he takes away Jeremy’s suffering. He goes above and beyond. The look on his face when he does this is powerful. I don’t know if it’s got to do with his own messed up relationship with his little brother or maybe it’s just Elena, but it’s a powerful moment.

 

Moving on from my little TV crush; I know exactly why he’s appealing. Not only is he attractive, but he’s literally flypaper to girls. He’s a bad boy that the female lead transforms into this loving and devoted partner. In terms of romance, he has everything.

 

There are certain traits we all look for in a person. Some people like nice hair or the whole tall, dark, and handsome trope. I’ll admit; if there had to be three things I had to use to pick an ideal mate, it would be eyes, hands, shoulders. Ian Somerhalder has amazing eyes. They glow when he smiles and when he focuses on the camera they are soul piercing. He also has nice hands and wide shoulders.

 

I digress. I wanted to be at least a little academic about the reasons I like VD and while Damon is  a massive part of them I don’t want to get hung up on him.

 

I like fantasy. True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all that. Fantasy is always better than reality. Fantasy has demons and evil and angels and light; there’s always a cosmic reason for existence and when a character has an existential crisis they always have someone around who understands. The teenage angst would have been undeniably easier to get through if there was someone I could talk to that totally understood; like the very demon that was causing the problem. Or, say, his brother. Or if I could physically beat the crap out of that demon. That would be good too.

 

That might be why these kinds of shows have their appeal to me. I won’t lie, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I like them (mostly because they’re targeted at teenage girls and I want to believe I’m more emotionally mature than that), and while I can’t find a completely mature reason, I feel like I have enough of a reason to be able to continue watching them.

 

Well played Damon. Well played.

Jodie Whittaker

You’ve probably heard by now, if you’ve been on facebook and have even a friend of a friend who is a Whovian, that the new Doctor has been cast. Doctor number 13 will be played by Jodie Whittaker, a talented BBC actress who by all accounts blew the audition straight out of the water and left it flopping on the beach.

 

I’ve never been someone who has screamed in protest every time they announce the next doctor. My favourite has been Tennant and I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay that way, but everyone has their own opinions.

 

Last time there was a big call to make the Doctor a woman and I remember thinking that it was a stupid-ass idea. Just like affirmative action everywhere, up until that point, the Doctor had always been male. Putting a woman in that role just because people wanted a woman, and not because she was the right person, could have ruined everything.

 

We knew that Time Lords could regenerate into different genders; this was established a while ago. No one batted an eyelid when the Master turned up as a woman. So why all the fuss now?

 

Everyone complains when something changes. No one likes anything. I’ve seen some truly shocking comments (especially on facebook) calling this new season the ‘abortion’ of the show. No one wanted Capaldi – he was too old. Matt Smith was too young. For some reason people skip Eccleston… I don’t know why but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, he was FANTASTIC.

 

And every time we get a new companion, someone has something to moan about. Honestly if everyone would just reserve judgement until like the third episode of the new season, that would be grand. Because come on guys, give her a fucking chance.

 

And to those who staunchly deny that the Doctor can be female, or for some reason claim that it’s not possible or blah blah blah… It’s a TV show. What’s more, it’s science fiction. Also, the main character is not human. It’s not like we’re gender-swapping Edward and Bella (don’t get me started!). You can do whatever you like in science fiction. That’s the beauty of it.

 

I noticed few complaints, if any, when there was a romantic interest between the 10th Doctor and a tree-lady on a spaceship watching the Earth explode. Double standards maybe?

 

Buffy Summers and Hannah Baker

Hands down, two of the best TV shows to watch if you’re a teenager are Buffy the Vampire Slayer and 13 Reasons Why. Well, a teenage girl mainly I suppose, though I think there is a lot everyone can learn about life from watching them.

 

They take very different lines, and look at issues that seem to be separate, but I think they compliment each other nicely. Both are about people who have problems. Let’s call them demons.

 

Hannah is mentally ill; her demons arise from being treated poorly and not having the resources to manage her problems. She doesn’t know how to reach out. She doesn’t know who to reach out to. I have had very intense conversations about Hannah and her tapes with my partner, who has been suicidal several times in his life. He does not understand what Clay did wrong. He is angry at Hannah for being angry at Clay. Funnily enough, I don’t have to have that discussion with female friends of mine. We get it. It’s almost impossible to articulate but while it’s not fair, he has to have his own tape.

 

Buffy is strong. Physically. Her demons are both literal and figurative (though there are clear parallels between the two) and she has the resources to fight one kind and not the other. Unlike Hannah, Buffy develops a close knit group of friends that support her, even though they can’t fight her demons themselves. Buffy commits suicide on a couple of occasions, once going into a situation she knows for certain will kill her but she has to anyway, once to save her sister, and when she does this the audience sees it as a moment of strength. Buffy Summers saved the world.

 

This is where the metaphor starts to get a bit clunky. Buffy is a fantasy character, a walking metaphor for all the struggles of growing up. Hannah is so real you know her. But so is Buffy. It’s complicated I guess, but both young women show us what is important.

 

I, out of sheer force of will, identify with Buffy. I don’t want to identify with Hannah as deeply as I do because I can’t make the same choices she did. I don’t have that option.

 

I’m not saving THE world, I’m saving MY world. Every single day. Every time I do something to try and just keep afloat, I’m balancing my entire world on my shoulders, kicking hard against the current.

 

That’s the thing though; other people can help you save YOUR world. Even if it’s just by giving you a hug, or continuing a friendship. Clay was afraid to love Hannah, confused by her reaction to him. The counsellor didn’t want to talk about sexual assault. Hannah could tell and the shitty attempt at a lie was worse than admitting the truth. Nobody saw Hannah drowning.

 

After Buffy dies the first time, she pushes people away. She becomes withdrawn and this is to the detriment of the health and well being of those around her. But they help her get through it. The ‘getting through it’ part was of course helped by Buffy being able to smash the bones of the man that killed her into a fine powder, but again, metaphors. She worked through her emotions.

 

Everything the two girls go through is unique, and yet, we all go through it at some time or another. Me? When people pointed or whispered or laughed I closed my eyes and kept walking, greeting teachers and then hiding in the library. That’s how I got through it. I don’t know if that was denial or the instinct to not give bullies what they want, but eventually the whispers moved on. Someone else was getting whispered about.

 

Hannah doesn’t have the resources to help others. She barely has the resources to help herself. When there were whispers and fingers pointed and photos and lists shared, she had no bodyguard, no greater purpose. The people she was friends with did those things to her and they crushed her spirit, little by little, selfish, wound up in their own worlds and their own problems. Some of them acted vindictively. Some of them just didn’t think. Didn’t empathize. Hannah’s actions and the actions of others broke her world apart until nothing really mattered. I’ve been there. But I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. I wasn’t passionate enough to do what Hannah chose to do. I think I could have done it the way Buffy did though; and I think that thought is a bit scary. Because the actions, metaphorically, are the same.

 

I think young people everywhere should watch both these TV shows. Learn what Hannah and Buffy did right; learn what they did wrong. Look at Clay and think about the people around you, think about whether or not you are somebody’s Clay. Think about Willow and Xander and Giles and Spike and Angel and wonder if you could surround yourself with people like that. Be stronger. Be braver. Know that you can do it, not because some girl on a screen can but because nothing is pure fiction. No one can write a strong female character without there being strong females around. I don’t believe it’s truly possible to synthesize original concepts, not really. Find the Hannah in you and let your inner Buffy help her. This goes for the guys too, obviously. Because never forget, everything that happened in those shows could happen to a guy. Be brave. Be strong. Save your world.

Writing Abel’s Legacy

Abel’s Legacy was an intensely personal thing to write down. I don’t know when I made the conscious decision to put the story into words, but I know when it came to me. It was a story I needed to tell.

 

When I started to put it into words, at first, the right words wouldn’t come out. I imagine this is a problem a lot of writers have. You know what you want to say, you know how you want it to sounds, but somehow your vocabulary descends to a Trump-esque circle of hell and all you can do is scribbles lists of names on a sheet of paper and mix and match them until you find the names that will suit your characters. For some reason, I struggled through the first chapter or so before realising that the main character, the drive for the entire storyline, actually needed to have a name. I took a friday off work and while staying in an empty house I began thinking about names. I thought about the kind of person this character was; what he wanted to do, what story he could tell, and most importantly, what would be his true and self defined purpose.

 

Abel. The name came to me like a flash of lightning. For some reason, just naming him gave the rest of the story life. My vocabulary expanded to its former size and I started writing. Apart from the first two chapters, I wrote the remainder of Abel’s Legacy in three long days.

 

It’s not a long book; I’ve since made revisions of course (no first draft, no matter how inspired, is ever perfect) but the story hasn’t fundamentally changed. Some of the characters got tweaked, others had the edges smoothed or roughened, while whole scenarios were re-written to suit the alterations of basic character flaws.

 

Of course, my lovely beta readers helped me with that part, providing an outsider view on what are essentially parts of myself. Because each character is some aspect of myself or my behaviour (and I’m less than proud of some for the decisions they made, it felt odd altering them to someone else’s design. I stood firm on some things, but others I admitted were a little hard to relate to if you weren’t me, so I made some compromises.

 

The one character I couldn’t compromise, obviously, was Abel himself. He had to be steadfast and – I’ll give him credit – he held his footing and held his values, just as I’d written them long before the book started to take shape.  

 

He was and is truly his own person and I hope he makes both those around him and me better people. And maybe a few readers will learn a thing or two along the way.

Wonder Woman: A Review

First of all. 5 Stars. I will see it again, probably in the cinema, and I have already pre-ordered it on iTunes.

 

Before anyone gets at me and tells me how stupid it is to buy it from Apple, blah blah blah I’m not listening this isn’t the point of this post.

 

Reviews occasionally have spoilers; I’m going to avoid them as much as possible and I’m going to stick mainly to my opinions of characters. I don’t normally like DC movies; even with a fascinating set of characters to choose from they often seem to pick the most boring of them to make movies about or they manage to make what should have been a great movie boring. Just my opinion. I’m hoping Justice League changes that, I really really am.

 

Back to Wonder Woman. I don’t want to get into a debate about feminism here; I have seen some very strange and somewhat illogical posts talking about because she clings to the first man she sees and follows him everywhere and falls in love with him it somehow undermines the whole ‘girl power’ trip women were hoping for. That’s bullshit. But, I will restrain myself, give a review of the movie, and then afterwards I may have a nice long rant about that. I’ll warn you when the rant is starting so you can read something else if you prefer.

 

The movie hinges on the development and evolution of the character Princess Diana. She’s the princess of the Amazons and she’s amazing. She’s cast well, she’s gorgeous, she has muscles and curves and she’s not strutting around in a metal bikini, so her armour is actually very practical, considering the fighting style of the Amazons as a race. Not only is she cast well, but so is everyone else. Most of the weaponry/equipment/etc is era appropriate, and the focus really is on her. The men around her are educational tools, not just for her, but for the viewers as well. This isn’t a story about a woman saving the world. This is about a man saving the day so a woman can save the world.

 

And now I’m going to rant a little bit.

 

During one of my many anthropology courses at university we covered Wonder Woman as a phenomenon in World War II. She was created to tell women they could be as strong as men. They could do anything men could do. She was all about truth and freedom and the ability to kick butt. She changed the concept of beauty, encouraging women to start exercise regimes that made them curvy, strong, and gave them the ability to do ‘men’s work’. That was why she was created. She was a feminist’s wet dream.

 

The Diana seen in this movie is the same powerful Princess. She’s just earlier on. This is her origin, which most people won’t be familiar with because that’s something no one focuses on when they think about her. I can’t comment on how accurate it is regarding the comics and stuff like that but as far as origin stories go, I really liked this one.

There may be some spoilers if you continue. You have been warned.

 

To the people who complain that she falls in love with ‘the first man she sees’, get over it. He is, a) literally the first man she’s ever seen in the flesh and b) she doesn’t fall in love with him straight away. She’s fascinated, like if you saw a unicorn or mermaid, but she’s not head over heels in love with him the instant they meet. It takes a while, and for him to prove to her that he understands the complexities of the war better than she does, for her to start to fall for him, and by then she’s met plenty of other men too. I notice no one got angry when Peggy fell for Captain America, or for that matter when Captain America fell for Peggy. Everyone needs to get over themselves and appreciate that the actors had great chemistry and it was so far from the main plot point that it’s barely worth mentioning. The end, where she finds the strength to become who she really is, and to remain true to her values, yes, that is brought about by words said to her by said love interest, but it’s not a labored point. It makes sense. It re-humanizes her.

 

And another thing. She clings to the first man she meets because he then introduces her to a world she didn’t even know existed, took her to a country she’d never been to, had to keep her from being impolite in a culture she’d never even dreamed of experiencing and then, to cap it all off, she is one of the most stubborn and task oriented mules on the planet. She kick butt (even when not entirely necessary) and does things the men around her are not prepared to do. And there’s no stupid cliched lines like “No man can do it” “But I’m not a man” (though I love that line in LoTR, don’t get me wrong), because it’s not appropriate. Diana doesn’t think she’s stronger because she’s female. She knows she can do this. It’s not about her gender or the fact that she’s a bit more than human. Even if she couldn’t do it (physically) she still probably would. Her zeal is powered by naivety, and it makes her very strong.

 

But that naivety changes over time. Her beliefs don’t undergo a radical shift, just a small one, but with information and perspective those naive beliefs turn into a powerful world view that tells her she really can do this, and that humans really are worth protecting.

 

So to anyone who thinks that somehow Princess Diana’s femininity or strength or whatever they want to call it is dampened, weakened or diluted in any way by the men she surrounds herself with, you’re not fully understanding what’s going on. Her origin story, Just like Captain America’s, is a coming of age. Even when she encounters the sniper who can’t shoot, or tries to soothe him when he has PTSD induced nightmares, or learns that Aries isn’t actually the root of all evil, she keeps going. She grows up and learns about real war, not the war she was told about by her mother. She learns about the fact that people can’t be all one thing. The people she works with are honorable, despite being spies, thieves, and smugglers.

 

Go on, shoot that one down.

Sugar, not fat, is the enemy

Get ready for some science!

 

Don’t be nervous about the ‘S’ word; I’m not talking quantum mechanics here, the science of why you should worry more about sugars than fats is pretty darn simple. I don’t want to go deep into molecular anything. I want to use very basic facts to set a few misconceptions straight.

 

Misconception #1

Eating fat means storing fat

I know I know; “but it will go straight to my hips”. But it won’t.

 

Misconception #2

Fat reduced foods are better for you.

Spoiler alert; they’re not.

 

I’m going to go back a few millennia quickly and give you a rundown of exactly why foods with high fat content taste so good. Things tasting good or not is obviously subjective, but a lot of it and the cravings we get, are driven by evolution (the big ‘E’ word).

 

We have big brains compared to the size of our bodies, and brains need a lot of energy just to run simple functions. Just like a bigger computer uses more energy just to perform simple tasks, a big brain is less efficient. In order to not have to spend twenty-eight hours a day grazing and eating leaves, our ancestors started eating things richer in calories – principally fats and sugars, but also proteins. The proteins served other functions as well, giving us the building blocks for amino acids and allowing us to easily build muscle bulk. Muscle bulk helps keep us warm, but it, again, take a lot of energy to maintain. Just sitting still, people with huge muscles burn far more calories than the obese or the slight of build.

 

Taking muscles out of the equation, and just focussing on maintaining brain activity and body temperature, we have to take into consideration that every cell in our bodies need simple carbohydrates to function. Our body runs on sugar (that’s a gigantic over-simplification, but for the sake of this it will work).

 

Let’s address Misconception #1. If our entire body runs on sugar, what do we do with fat? We consume it every day. It’s very calorie rich. It’s built on the same basic building blocks as sugars. So do we send it straight into storage? Of course not. That would be stupid, and evolution may not be intelligent or conscious in any way but even it isn’t that stupid.

The fat is converted into sugars (again, different kinds of fats do different things, cholesterol has good and bad kinds, etc, I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, I’m trying to be very very simple) and then the body uses it as energy. If it has any energy left over, the body has to convert the sugars BACK into fats, a process which by itself takes energy. The conversion of anything to anything takes energy so when the body converts fat to sugar to fat again it’s using energy at every transition plus in the middle when it’s a sugar. Sugars even get stored in muscle fibres, so not all excess sugars get pushed into your love handles.

 

Because of this, fat is actually a survival technique. It’s a rich source of calories, and therefore it tastes good because our ancestors might have to go a day or two at a time with no food.

 

Sugar has the same devious pathway in our brain; it tastes good because sweet things are usually safe to eat (GENERALISATION) and are rich in energy. Just like other flavours that we naturally dislike can be linked to molecules we associate with food being ‘off’ or ‘dangerous’.

 

Obviously, eating too much of anything isn’t good, especially when a lack of exercise is a factor, but we have to cater to our need for fuel. Just like a car, when our fuel runs out, bad things happen. Our bodies have some advantages cars’ don’t; for instance, if we are running very very low on fuel our body will commence breaking down excess muscle and fat tissues to sustain vital functions. We basically self-cannibalize and pray we have enough reserves to last until we next get food. Being too skinny is bad. Being too fat is bad. Anyway, let’s do Misconception #2 now.

 

When you take fat out of foods, you take out one of the four essential building blocks of what food is actually able to be made of. Water, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Because you only have four things edibles can be made of, when you take one of them out, your edible is going to get smaller. When you take out one of the two that create appealing flavour (sugar or fat) then you have to replace it otherwise your edible won’t taste so edible anymore. Here we get into a pesky subject: salt. Salt makes things taste good. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is a salt and IS naturally occurring. MSG is not any worse for you than regular salt (though some people are allergic to the synthesized version) but it’s added to things to make them taste better. Watch out there.

 

I don’t want to talk about salt. That’s another issue. I want to talk about taste. When I was doing Human Biology at university, we had a module on nutrition. The lecturer was very against what he liked to call ‘food-like substances’. He maintained that these were foods that had had a major constituent of their makeup removed or replaced. He didn’t mind enriched foods, but it was things like ‘95% fat free cream’ that truly infuriated him. Cream is mostly fat. That’s why it tastes really good. Just like milk, cheese and almost all other dairy products, fat is a given. It’s one of the reasons we domesticated cattle. If you take almost all of it out however, you’re either going to be left with a small amount of watery cream, or, you have to plump it back up again with carbohydrates. Like sugar. Because while there ARE proteins in dairy products, they are not necessarily a delicious part of the gastronomical experience. Similar problems can happen with ‘salt reduced’ foods (salt tastes good, if you take it out it has to be replaced, etc) but again, I don’t want to talk about salt.

 

I hope this clarified some of the issues. If it didn’t let me know.

Catch 22

Joseph Heller is a hero of mine. His novel, Catch 22, changed the way I looked at the world. If you’ve read the book, you’ll probably know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should.

 

The Catch 22 is a fictional rule in the US armed forces; it’s the motivation of the main character of the book and I think it is such a brilliantly devised and yet simple plot that despite the fact it is not always easy to follow what is going on – and I think Heller does that intentionally – it is one of those must-read books. I’m not going to call it a Classic. I hate it when people tell me I need to read something because ‘it’s a Classic’. That’s not a reason. That’s like saying something is valuable because it’s old.

 

The Catch 22 is that to leave the army, you have to ask to leave. However, to be allowed out of the army, you have to be crazy. BUT the only people who would ask to leave the army are sane people. So no one leaves. Get it?

It’s brilliant, and completely evil. The other snag the main character keeps running into is that the top brass keep elevating the number of missions a soldier has to complete before he can go home. Everytime someone gets close to the number, they just make it go up. Again. No one gets to leave.

 

It gets to a point where the soldiers don’t care anymore. They don’t care where their bombs land, they don’t care about anything at all. Well. One soldier. The main character spends as much time as he can in the infirmary, because he’s convinced people are trying to kill him; this doesn’t make him crazy obviously. He’s in a war. He doesn’t who they are or they want him dead but they shoot at him everytime he gets in his plane so they must want to kill him.

 

The books is such a beautiful read I’ve recently started ‘reading it’ again by buying an audiobook and listening to it at the gym. Boy, I must have a stupid look on my face sometimes while I’m on that treadmill. The chapter about the alfalfa gets me every single time.