About This Blog

As time permits, in-depth musings on myriad subjects will be posted. Abbreviated adages will be announced via Twitter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Nonfiction used to be my least favorite literary genre. Then I began teaching Capote’s In Cold Blood and saw the genre from a different point of view and truly appreciated what it had to offer. Now, it seems like all I read is nonfiction--Rothfuss & Cline notwithstanding. However, one can take only so much nonfiction in literature or in life before some means of escape is desired and deemed necessary to save one’s sanity. 

Such was the case for me whilst poring through The Witches: Salem, 1692 and related searches on documents related to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. While a fascinating read, I found myself too engrossed and unsettled by the parallels of then and now. As a nation, we’ve obviously not learned from the past and are erroneously repeating it with consequences likely to stretch to the seventh generation.

To turn my back on realities past and present, I flocked to comics. The print kind; the celluloid incarnations to which I’d been taking in unhealthy amounts via multiplex and Netflix alike just weren’t cutting it. At the top of my list was the latest incarnation of Black Panther by acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. I had the impression going into it that the writing would be among the greatest possible in any universe, and I was not incorrect. But I was incorrect in thinking it would take me away from the world that was and the world that is.

Ingrained in the dialogue and narration of Black Panther #1 are obvious parallels to the world we know and live--obvious to me, anyway, as no one in my circles has taken me up on offers to peruse the comic, let alone engage in thoughtful discussion of its contents. I’ll not entertain any speculation or conjecture as to why because of the very reason that it would be speculation or conjecture. Still, given the popularity of Marvel’s screen presence, I have to say: I expected more from many of my peers. And better. But I (sort of) digress.

So I carry on in the notion that Coates is using his present station to illustrate parallels in the struggles of both the imaginary Wakandans and the very real residents of the region where Wakanda sits on the African continent, as well as those on the other side of the Atlantic. (Semi-intended pun.)

But I’m left wondering if Coates’s subtext may be easily missed, somewhat masked beneath the beautiful illustrations by Brian Stelfreeze and colorings by Laura Martin. As Samuel L. Jackson’s comic book-obsessed (spoiler alert!) villainous character Elijah laments in 2000’s Unbreakable: 

I believe that comics, just at their core now... have a truth. They are depicting what someone, somewhere felt or experienced. Then of course that core got chewed up in the commercial machine and gets jazzed up, made titillating -- cartooned for the sale rack.

The intended message may get lost in translation--or worst, in the editing process. Granted, such garbling of a message may enable a comic to appeal to a broader audience, bringing in bigger bank, but at what cost? 

Jackson’s character raised some very valid points a decade and a half ago in advocating for the need to take comics seriously--which made casting Jackson and his distinguished vocal talents so choice. A thing should not be judged as “childish”and unworthy of attention just because it is rendered in pictorial form.

Similarly, comics and the motion-based media comics inspire are not necessarily ideal for children. While visually appealing, the message (written and illustrated alike) can be easily lost on any lacking the mental maturity to appropriately absorb and process what is seen, what is read. Coates’s Black Panther, indeed, is visually appealing but offers so much more beneath the outer mask of marvelous illustrations. While Black Panther #1 did provide me the means of temporary escape from the realities of nonfiction, the themes and issues addressed in the comic’s roughly two dozen pages connect to a reality experienced by so many, connected to us all. May we have the wisdom to recognize it and the maturity to deal with it responsibly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


In 1989, The Cure released the best album ever, Disintegration. I, along with many of my friends became immediate converts to what some would describe as “whiny British music.” Fast forward to 1992 and the release of Wish, the non-remixed follow-up to Disintegration which, well, didn’t quite live up to what I was expecting. Wish wasn’t more of the same but more of a different side of The Cure and what they had to offer not pop music but music. Similarly, the recently-released follow-up to the 2011 smash hit Ready Player One has left many reviewers feeling disappointed that Armada didn’t deliver the freshly original futuristic environment that RPO did and that the plot line was lifted directly from The Last Starfighter. Personally, I found it more akin to Iron Eagle—to which Cline also referred throughout Armada, but that’s not the point of this. Rather, I’m just curious if reviewers are actually reading the books they’re expected—and paid—to review.

Added among the things I would really rather not do is go up against Ernest Cline in a pop culture trivia challenge. Reading through both RPO and Armada brought back many memories of films, shows, and music enjoyed throughout my childhood, though there were a few references in Armada that I didn’t know (I’m one of a very few my age who have never seen neither The Goonies nor Say Anything); it’s clear Cline really knows his stuff. But the pop culture kitsch serves merely as garnish to stories unintended to replicate one another.

OK, sure, Armada was really riddled with almost gratuitous pop culture references (such as the combination to the safe) but just because Armada didn’t reinvent the world with its contemporary setting is no reason to dismiss the novel as unoriginal or disappointing. Even the static nature of most of the characters or the somewhat predictable story arc of Cline’s work (lone, pop culture-obsessed dude goes on an eye-opening adventure, finding love with a woman who happens to be into the same stuff he is, and getting “saved” by someone of significant status at the zero hour in order to clear the level by seeing a movie before it’s released, winning the game/contest, or literally saving the world) fail to serve as sufficient reasons to think less of Cline or (worse) not read what he’s written. Cline is hardly the first to find something that works and serve it up.

At the risk of offending the literati, consider the follow-up (of sorts) from another author whose first novel defined her as a writer and became what any future novels would be compared to. Unlike Armada, though, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman not only used several of the same characters from To Kill a Mockingbird but it was also apparently written beforehand. All the same, some have been purportedly unwilling to accept the novel, unable to get past the implication that their childhood hero is a racist. Well, from a certain point of view. So they pretend the novel doesn’t exist, and their childhood memories remain intact. Easy enough when the author has but two published novels. But when discussing Shakespeare, things get a tad more complicated.

One running joke amongst those in my former circle of high school English teachers (yes, high school English teachers have a sense of humor) is that Shakespeare wrote two plays: Everyone dies in one and the two most antithetical characters get married in the other. In spite of this, Shakespeare wrote some three dozen plays, most of which had predictable settings and story arcs allowing audiences of varying levels of education and/or social status to relate to them in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through today.

This is not to say that Ernie Cline is today’s Shakespeare. No, that honor would be conferred by me to Joss Whedon in that Whedon is what I consider to be the most talented storyteller in contemporary times—even if so many of his stories have echoes of one another (the series Agents of Shield is actually Firefly which is actually Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although The Dollhouse references in Agents of Shield were great), including making the same film twice in one year. (You did know that the first Avengers film was actually Much Ado About Nothing, only with more elaborate CGI. Right?)

Unlike Whedon’s double dipping from Shakespeare and The Avengers/Much Ado About Nothing (the latter of which I found to be a far more enjoyable film, making one of Shakespeare’s comedies actually tolerable), Ernie Cline did not double-dip or otherwise gyp his readers by writing the same story twice (or thrice, if including Fanboys), nor did he fail readers by not creating another fantastical futuristic world the likes of which had never been seen for Armada. (Honestly, the most striking part of RPO for me was his vision of the future of school in the OASIS. Something along those lines was what I had imagined for the focus of my graduate research project of the classroom of the future; participants in my research study had a serious lack of vision, Cline’s or otherwise.) Instead, Cline took his readers to the world of their very own doorstep and had them question themselves and what they might do if encountering something akin to alien life. 

Sadly, to some critics, Cline’s intent with Armada appears to have across as alien, not unlike the swastika on the surface of Europa. Seeing something so seemingly familiar, conclusions were leapt to and mistakes were made by dismissing Cline’s sophomore effort as simply more of the same pop culture allusions and storyline straight from 80s, unworthy of succeeding his debut. How literally superficial.

It’s been 23 years since the release of The Cure’s Wish, the studio follow-up to Disintegration. I somehow doubt there will be a multi-disc re-release of Wish in the same manner there was of Disintegration, complete with unreleased tracks and other B sides from the quartet of successful singles the album spawned. That said, in the time since first hearing the opening distorted chords of the aptly titled “Open” and wondering if I’d just wasted twenty dollars, an appreciation of Wish has grown—by listening to the whole album. A lot. Even though I’ve listened to Disintegration more. There’s no harm in preferring an original to a follow-up, but there is harm in providing an opinion on something when the opinion is formulated with inadequate information in order to rush to judgement. And press.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016


This past December, the City of Schertz began construction of sidewalks lining both sides of the roughly 3.1 miles of Roy Richard Drive, known to me as FM 3009. The presence of sidewalks will hopefully encourage more folk to take to foot and traipse about all or a part of those sidewalks as a means of visiting friends, neighbors, and shops dotting the main corridor cutting through Schertz. Additionally, sidewalks will open up an additional avenue for family fitness, especially for running. But adding in pedestrians where there have traditionally been none may pose problems for those afoot and those in-car alike. As a lifetime Schertz resident and longtime runner and cyclist, I felt bringing up some helpful reminders to ensure safe use and sharing of Three Dub by us all would be a good idea now, before the sidewalks are free for use.

Throughout, I’ll be referring to the Texas Transportation Code, which is available to read in its entirety at www.statues.legis.state.tx.us/?link=TN. It’s a ridiculously huge document, though, so we’ll just be focusing on sections 541 (definitions), 544 (vehicles), and 552 (pedestrians).

Because of sheer volume, size, and speed, I’m going to start with motor vehicles. Here, I’ll generically refer to motor vehicles as cars, but a vehicle includes cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, buses, and any other form of motorized transportation traversing 3009 covered in Section 541.201; bicycles will be addressed in greater detail some other time–-but just be aware that bicycles are classified as vehicles in the state (Sec. 541.201.2) and enjoy the same rules and protections as any other vehicle, which includes riding on the road itself and not on sidewalks. But enough about bikes. Let’s get back to cars. 

Gary Numan once waxed about how, in his car, he felt “safest of all,” which is not a far cry from how most of us feel when we’re behind the wheel of our multi-ton modes of transport. Because we tend to be seated comfortable with so many variables at our control: Speed, climate, audio, and even who is sharing the experience with us. However, our feeling of safety and comfort tends to remove us from the world beyond power windows and bucket seats. It’s too easy to forget about everyone else having their own experience in concert with our own. It’s too easy to forget to share the road.

If turning onto a side street or business of 3009 from the main roadway, it will likely be pretty easy to spot a pedestrian or two or six. This is made easier if scanning the sidewalks before and after the side street and not just the street itself. Coming out from the side streets or businesses and onto the main roadway of 3009, though, is where things can get tricky. 

Each intersection of roadway and sidewalk should have a marked, designated crosswalk. These are the large, white rectangles painted on the road surface where many may stop before making their turn, oftentimes with the whole front end of the car occupying the whole of the crosswalk.This is not only not cool but also not legal as it blocks the right of way given to pedestrians outlined in Section 552.003. Vehicles are to “stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection” (Sec. 544.007.d & 544.010.c). If the car’s seat is adjusted properly, it is perfectly possible to be able to make the requisite left, right, left again visual sweep of the roadway—and sidewalks—before executing a turn. Sure, we may have to lean forward a bit, but a moment’s discomfort far outweighs the risk of running into or over someone, regardless of who’s “right.” 

A pedestrian is defined by the TTC  as “a person on foot” (Sec 541.001.4)—regardless of how fast they are moving, running or walking or anything in between. The TTC generally grants pedestrians the right of way when it comes to sidewalks, regardless of if a crossing signal is present. That said, this “right of way” does not give us as pedestrians a free pass to act without regard to the safety of ourselves or other users of the sidewalk or roadway, including motorists. It is critical—literally a possible matter of life or death—to be aware of everyone and everything around us at all times. Consequently, the use of headphones (or earbuds, or anything else that might fit in or over your ears that blocks or overrides external sound) should not be practiced in high-traffic areas like 3009. Being able to hear approaching vehicles by the pitch and volume of a vehicle’s tire rotation can clue you in as to how close that vehicle is, as well as how fast it’s moving—or if it’s slowing down in order to make a turn.

It’s been said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, so use these gateways to safeguard soul and survival. At every intersection, look in every direction, every time—and not just a cursory glance, either. Visually sweep as broad of a field as possible. Make and lock eye contact with vehicle operators (see Sec 541.001.1) and even use hand gestures to ensure they know that not only you are there but also what your intentions are: Are you letting them go first? Are you making a break for it? Are you turning one way or another? Make yourself predictable and make your intentions known. And also make yourself visible by coordinating clothing and accessories to light levels. (Hint: Bright, flashing LEDs are your friends.)

It may be that, when the sidewalks open later this year, there will be absolutely no incidents involving vehicle operator and pedestrian. However, based on the numerous near run-ins I’ve experienced with vehicles just on Schertz Parkway (which boasts a lower speed limit and lower volume of traffic), the statistics just do not look favorable for anyone. The odds are further compounded if, as a vehicle operator, you’re opting to ignore the cell phone ordinance passed and put into effect back in October. (Oh, and pedestrians: Safe use of your cell phone is also incumbent upon you; don’t plan to walk & text/tweet/what-have-you with your face glued to the screen without consequence.) As pedestrian or vehicle operator, we all need to be aware and considerate of one another, sharing the resources that allow us to freely move up and down 3009.