Tuesday, 23 August 2011

John Irving & the Worst-Case Scenario

John Irving has, over the last couple of years, worked his way up the heap to become one of my all-time favourite authors.  What started with a casual interest in reading "Cider House Rules" after seeing the movie has bloomed into a quest to read all of Irving's novels.  I want to devour every last word the man has written.

However, one has to be careful about over-exposure when perusing the works of Mr. Irving.  Although brilliant, he tends to write some very bleak, heart-rending literature.  Don't get me wrong, he's wickedly funny at times, but what sticks with me the longest after reading one of his novels is the overwhelming tragedy that stalks his characters throughout.   For that reason, I only tend to choose John Irving for every fourth or fifth book that I read.    If I read too much all at once I get, shall we say, moody....

I recently finished Irving's latest novel, "Last Night in Twisted River".  (Incidentally, you can peruse a micro-review along with reviews of some other novels at Fruitless Pursuits, HERE).  At the end of this novel, both within the plot and through an afterword, Mr. Irving reveals some of his writing process.  Two things really captured my imagination.  First, Irving writes his novels backwards!  He writes the last sentence first and works his way backwards to the first sentence. This fascinated me as it would never occur to me to write this way.  Now that it's been suggested though, I kind of want to try it.  Maybe one day...

Secondly, and more importantly for our purposes, Irving thinks about his characters' situations and comes up with the worst-case scenario for those characters that still allows them to fulfill their role in the plot.  Since he's writing backwards, he already knows the final destinies of his characters and what they need to accomplish.  All he needs to do now is make them suffer for it.

Well, this interests me because I relate to it.  Both in my writing and in my actual life.  I frequently picture the worst-case scenario for any situation.  That's not to say that these scenarios come to pass or that I pessimistically expect them to.  Quite the contrary, I've been described in my life as "stupidly optimistic," believing things will work out even when confronted with a real life worst-case scenario.  I generally imagine what horrible things could happen, or even are likely to happen, but then do whatever it is I have planned anyway, regardless of any potential consequences.   

So why do I bother even imagining the worst-case scenario if it isn't going to alter my behaviour?  John Irving says that he does it to sort of ward off these terrible things in real life.  Here's a brief quote from the novel's afterword:

"What I did not give Danny was my life, which has been largely happy and very lucky.  I gave Daniel Baciagalupo the unluckiest life I could imagine.  I gave Danny the life I am afraid of having - the life I hope I never have.  Maybe that's autobiographical, too - in a deeper, more meaningful, certainly more psychological way.  (When you write about what you fear, about what you hope never happens to you - or to anyone you love - surely that's a little autobiographical.)"

I don't know if I imagine my own worst-case scenarios for the same reasons, although his reasons certainly strike a chord with me.  In the end, I guess I think of these things for the same reason I write in the first place -  because I can't help myself.  My mind, when left idle, just starts pumping out a lot of potential "what-ifs."  A lot of them are incredibly dark.  Why?  I do not know.  I guess it's just the way I am.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


There are too many people in this world who will tell you what you should or should not be.  Don't be this, don't do that, don't say those things or use that language.  You must act a certain way...behave yourself!  Why can't you be more like __________?!?

Parents, family, schools, churches, workplaces, spouses, government, even complete strangers off the street all have an opinion on who you should be and how you should act...even thinking they should have a say in how you choose to think.  Everyone wants to control you.
I call bullshit.

As I've gotten older and gained a little more experience with life, I've seen the toll that it takes on a person's soul to act in a way that attempts to please others at the cost of oneself.  No true happiness or understanding can occur when you relinquish your thoughts, feelings or ideas for the sake of another, be they person, organization or whatever.

If I could go back and teach myself one lesson in life it would be this:  Just be who you are and give no thought to what anyone else thinks about it.

Only now in my thirties have I finally begun to truly manage this task.  We as humans are so conditioned to behave a certain way, from such a young age,  that even now so many of us are scared to be ourselves.  Intimidated to speak our own minds.  Frightened to show our true feelings or passions, in case we may be embarrassed or rejected. 

This is pointless and ridiculous.  Of course, we all have to play the game sometimes...I get up in the morning, don my uniform and become Mr. Train Driver...it's not who I really am.  We all have to follow society's rules to some extent or be threatened with joblessness, homelessness, even the fires of Hell!  We humans love our foolish games...

Sadly, this means that none of us are truly free, excepting perhaps the very rich and the very poor.  It's a shame and I believe an obstacle to human evolution as a civilization.  However, we can at least claim a sort of part-time freedom.  When we don't absolutely have to conform, why should we?  As long as we live up to our responsibilities and refrain from hurting each other, why not be ourselves?  unashamed, uncowed and unapologetic!  You are the author of your own being.  Let none take that away.  Be exactly who you want to be whenever possible.  I assure you, although you may initially alienate certain people, you will eventually find like-minded company.  None of us are as alone as we sometimes feel.  Just figure out who you are, be that person, and be free.  At least during evenings and weekends...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Fruitless Pursuits (is there any other kind??)

If you're anything like me, you're well aware that there's an infinity of content on the Internet to peruse at your leisure.  You probably also tend to visit the same 4 or 5 websites daily, even hourly, despite this fact.  It's the curse and the comfort of routine.  Good news everyone!!  Today I've found another site to add to this daily routine!

There's a new mega-geek pop culture website in town.  If you have any interest in ANYthing made of plastic or ever put on film or in writing, visit Fruitless Pursuits.  Chock full o' witty, knowledgeable, creative people who also happen to be total geeks.  They asked me to contribute.  How could I say no?  If the mothership calls you home, you can't ask them to come back next week!

Not to worry, I'll still be posting here as well....I'm just going to have to come up with 2 things (or more) a week to discuss!  Time to get my geek on!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

And Speaking of Transformers...

At TFCon last week the Hasbro rep mentioned a new line they are releasing of Transformer-themed, Lego-like building blocks called Kre-o.  When I saw some at Toys R Us the other day I figured I'd give them a shot, so I picked up Starscream.  

Tremble before the might of STARSCREAM!!!!
The blocks themselves are nearly indistinguishable from standard Lego blocks and obviously would work well with them.  They aren't doing anything too fancy.  Of course, robot hands and heads are not too standard, but otherwise there are no big surprises here.

Actually, there was ONE big surprise.  I had assumed that once I built  Starscream he would be transformable from jet to robot.  This was not the case.  As a matter of fact, you have to COMPLETELY disassemble one mode to build the other, and both modes leave left-over pieces.  A little disappointing, however I can understand that the two modes are actually better this way, since they don't have to incorporate a transformation. 

Jet mode with the left-over pieces
So Starscream's jet mode is actually pretty cool.  He looks fairly F-15 like, I suppose.  I'm not a jet enthusiast but he looks "Starscreamy" enough for me.  Best part of the jet mode is that the landing gear folds up into the jet in a clever way that pleases me.  Worst part is trying not to lose the nosecone piece, which only barely stays attached.
More jet mode pics

Starscream rides himself!  Sounds dangerous...
Robot mode Starscream....hmmmm.  Well, he was a lot of fun to build but the final product is sadly lacking.  The arms barely make sense and the torso suffers from not tapering to a natural waist.  I tried to reinvent both arms and torso using the leftover pieces since robot mode leaves a lot of pieces behind, however, I couldn't satisfactorily make much with the blocks at my disposal.  Perhaps someone with a bigger Lego collection could.  On the plus side he has ball-joint articulation for his head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles and he has wrist swivels and posable wings and engine block, so there's lots to do with him.
He's definitely BIG

Fist Bump!
Die, Autobot!!!!
All the pieces you need for the jet but not the robot...
The best thing about this set is that it includes two minifigs, what Hasbro are calling "Kreons".  The pilot figure is not much to look at, but the included Starscream "Kreon" is adorable.  Mine came with a little paint scratch on his chest but I still think he's awesome.
Someday I, Starscream, will be the adorable leader of the Decepticons!!!

Overall, I don't expect I'll buy more of these.  The toy was MUCH cheaper than Lego but at the end of the day the only thing I see myself keeping around is the Kreon Starscream.  If Hasbro decides to release just these tiny figures, maybe in blind packaging, I'll be hooked.  I'd also be interested in base (Ark Playset, maybe?) or vehicle playsets for the little guys.  Or forget Transformers and start making G.I. Joe Kre-o.  Vehicle with a little dude.  I'd be much more interested in something like that.  Still, it was a fun afternoon of building for a fairly reasonable price, so I can't complain.  Too much.  I mildly recommend these to Transformers fans, unless you're a Lego junkie as well and then I'll just flat-out recommend them.  Have fun!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

More Than Meets the Eye!

This past weekend was one I look forward to throughout the year....the weekend of the annual Transformers convention in Toronto, TFCon!!  I didn't take a lot of pictures but here's a few!

 Ok well I guess I only took pictures for a few minutes while waiting to get into the dealer room.  The above are the two movie cars, Bumblebee and Barricade.  After we were allowed to shop I proceeded to forget all about the camera.  Luckily there are pictures all over the internet for curious parties who know how to use Google.  

Highlights of the convention this year included panels with Paul Eiding, who voiced Perceptor in the original Transformers cartoon and movie, Simon Furman, G1 Comic book writer extraordinaire and my personal favourite, Mr. Gary Chalk!  He was the voice of Optimus Primal in the shows Beast Wars and Beast Machines.  He also did the voice of Prime for all those crappy Japanese overdub shows (of which he complains greatly, so please don't judge his talents by that performance.)    Let's not forget that he played a few characters on another show I love, ReBoot!!!  Of course he's done a billion things besides that, but those are the ones I know and love...

Here's some video someone took of him at the con...

Personally I never wait in line for an autograph from anyone.  However, I happened to just be walking around at the convention and spotted Gary out of the corner of my eye before anyone else had noticed him.  No line up at all yet so I chatted with him for a few moments and got him to sign a picture of Optimus Primal playing an acoustic guitar (Mr. Chalk is also a blues musician...busy guy!)
Well.  That's just Prime...
Just listening to this guy speak takes me back in a big bad way.  Totally worth the $20.00 admission fee.

Of course, I didn't just spend 20 bucks!  I bought a ton of toys...Pictures say it all...

Everything I bought!
Heroic Autobots (plus Spike and Sparkplug!)...
...Evil Decepticons (and Cobra Commander!)
 All in all it was a long but very fun day.  Can't wait for next year!  Oh the winner of coolest thing I bought award definitely goes to the little reflector toy made by third-party company Perfect Effect.  They are really tiny BUT super awesome.  Well worth the cash.

In other news....fellow geek and blogger, not to mention toy designing legend and all around good guy Mr. Ken Lilly needs your help!  He's started a temporary charity program to try and help some disadvantaged kids get some iPads.  There's a whole long back story to this which he tells FAR better than I, so please check out his new website at Mission iPossible

 If you can help financially and perhaps even more importantly by spreading awareness for his cause, it would really be great!  Ken's got a really excellent cause going here.  Read his story and you'll see what I mean.  Thanks!