Angel‘s “The House Always Wins” and Pissing It All Away

Angel, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as so many other good shows throughout television history, still occasionally suffered from the odd episode that was clearly filler and failed to really connect with fans.  “The House Always Wins,” the third episode of season 4, was one such installment, but it has one particular plot device that still speaks to me today, which I feel somewhat redeems what is generally regarded as an uneven, bland episode.

The Spin-and-Win, a gambling wheel rigged by the episode’s villain, the casino owner Lee DeMarco, is only accessible by guests chosen by the casino.  DeMarco uses Lorne’s ability to read people’s auras and see their futures, and with this information, chooses the ones with the most profitable destinies.  They are given a special gambling chip to play the Spin-and-Win, with a million-dollar prize as the lure.  When his mark takes the chip, it is imprinted with that person’s future destiny, and when they inevitably lose, they are left virtually mindless, their destiny taken away along with their ambition, and they spend the rest of their lives in a dull haze, listlessly spinning away quarters in the casino’s slot machine.

Most fans feel this is a pretty heavy handed attempt to equate gambling with throwing away one’s future, and while that’s not a completely off-kilter supposition, it’s one I never really connected with gambling in spite of the context.  The Spin-and-Win, along with its devious ‘destiny chip’ component, may have existed in a casino, and been in the purview of gamblers and those who loved games of chance, but to me the symbolism went a lot deeper.  The trap that the Spin-and-Win represented could take any form, and entrap just about anyone, as long as they obsessed enough about it.

Yesterday I wrote about creation vs. consumption, and how Stephen King’s It both represented that struggle and how it’s helped inspire me to throw off (at least for now) the trappings of consumption so I can create.  The image of this thing, the Spin-and-Win, from this episode of Angel, was another of the primary motivators that came to my mind’s eye as I came to this realization.  The Spin-and-Win, in my estimation, could be anything to anyone, much like It could take on the form of anything that its victims feared.  It wasn’t just about gambling, although I suppose my vice of gaming could easily be argued to have many parallels to that pastime.

For me, the Spin-and-Win represents video games. For someone who loves food too much, the Spin-and-Win represents food.  For others, it could be sex, alcohol, television, movies, music.  More broadly, the Spin-and-Win represent excess, the overindulgence of an otherwise harmless vice that creeps into your life and steals from you.  Time, energy, devotion to otherwise creative or self-improving pursuits.  It’s an easy retreat into something that’s comforting, but otherwise and ultimately, pointless.

I admit, “The House Always Wins” is not a great episode of Angel, though I still enjoyed it just fine.  But the idea of someone throwing away their destiny because they see an easy (but rigged and unattainable) win in front of them is a powerful one that has stuck with me through the years.  It’s always been there, in the back of my thoughts, and I’ve at times wondered why that particular form of that vice stuck when there have certainly been others that may have been more apt.

Now I know why, and I’m sending up that image to pull free of my own tendency to put of creating–writing–with something easy to consume–in this case, video games.

It may not be the prettiest or most eloquent way to break free, but so far it seems to be working out well for me.

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Happy New Year–Now Let’s Get This Ball Rolling

I need to see how possible it is to crop GIFs while retaining the motion, if only so I can clean up this post’s featured image some day.  Never forget, people: Google is your friend, at least if you can’t take multimedia classes.  I’ve learned a lot of DIY skills through Google (and YouTube, for that matter), and while I’m no expert, I’m smarter than before I started searching.

maxresdefaultAt any rate, as the doubtless imaginative title of this post suggests, I’m all full of New Year cheer, and eager to get underway with my resolutions.  All the more remarkable about it is the fact that, by and large, I don’t formally make resolutions, at least not during New Year season, as I find them arbitrary, trite setups for failure that can really be made at any point during a given year with equal importance.  And I’d say that’s still a relevant attitude I sport towards them in general, so it’s fair to say that I’m not going to be making any new resolutions for the coming year.

But new resolutions aren’t a requirement these days, as I have plenty of old ones I’ve either failed at or left behind, as well as existing ones that, while I haven’t failed, might do with a new twist.  Those are the resolutions I’m happy to focus on for the coming year. Here are some ideas

  1. Get healthy–or at least, heathier. Always easily said, I’ve had my ups and downs when it comes to getting fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. On the down side, I was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic last year, but as a result, I’ve implemented at least a basic exercise regiment that has stuck pretty well these last few months. My biggest enemy here tends to be stress, as it makes me go to comfort food whenever things get tough.  There are a few ways I can continue to improve and uphold this goal:
    1. Take up a more intense form of exercise, such as martial arts.
    2. Get better at avoiding sugars, such as sodas and desserts.
    3. Eat less in general, while doing more.
  2. Continue to write, and write more.  I once wrote in a blog every day for six straight months, and this was back when I had a full-time job, so I know I can do more writing than I recently have been.  I profess to want to write, and yet I way too often find myself wasting time on video games, Youtube, and other idle pursuits.  Stress, again, tends to be the enemy here, so I should probably look into ways to manage it.  Specific to writing, a few possible goals are spinning in my head, among them:
    1. Resurrecting 187,500.  This is a 500-words per day mandate, at the end of the year of which I should have 187,500 words written.  I’ll detail the rules of this self-created goal some other time, but it’s significant that each year I’ve tried to accomplish it, I’ve failed.
    2. Creating themed day posts for my blog. Madcap Mondays, Terrible Tuesdays, things like that.  We’ll see.
    3. Find a writing exercise every day, and do them.
    4. Work on my novel(s).
    5. Write X number of {short stories, articles, novel excerpts, etc.} per Y unit of time.  Taking suggestions on how much of what in what amounts of time.
  3. Work towards a writing career.  Similar to the previous resolution, it’s more focused on publication and earning income.  Some possibilities:
    1. Finish a novel manuscript and start shopping it around.
    2. Enter x number of writing contests this year.
    3. Find websites and magazines that pay for writing, and start submitting applications.
  4. Make things.  So many possibilities with this one.  Writing is technically included, I suppose, but I’m thinking in a more broad sense.  Some examples:
    1. Learn to play an instrument (make music).
    2. Create superhero costume parts/pieces (make cosplay).
    3. Raspberry pi/arduino projects (make fun and useful technology).
  5. Read more–or at least, consume more audiobooks and podcasts.  Aside from graphic novels, which I love, I just haven’t found much time to actually sit down and read.  I’ve found that audiobooks and podcasts have been much more conducive for when I’m doing things like exercise, driving across town, or simply working on chores, writing, or other tasks.  Some things I’ve considered:
    1. Ask friends for podcast recommendations.  Try out a new podcast every week, and expand my current base of podcasts.
    2. Listen to both fiction and nonfiction in audiobook form.  I’m loving The Dresden Files so far (James Marsters reads them!), and am almost done with Stephen King’s On Writing, which he narrates.
    3. Where possible, listen to these things for free.  Library cards are your friends in this endeavor.
  6. Educate and teach others.  I do this more or less every day as a librarian (case in point: want to learn how to use your tablet or smartphone to access your library’s e-books and e-audiobooks? I and other librarians can help you!), but I’m hoping to do so this year in a more formalized sense.  Some ideas:
    1. Host a program or programs at work on a topic I’m knowledgeable in.
    2. Participate on a panel at a conference or convention on a topic I’m good at.

Quite the list there, eh?  I’ve been working on a lot of these for a long time, and hopefully can just build on them as the years go on.  There may be more new ones as the year continues, and I reserve the right to modify or abandon these as I choose (at my own risk, of course–I’m sure if I eat too many more chocolates, I’ll go into a diabetic coma), but this is a good base from which to work as I try to make 2017 as good a year as I can.  It is my hope that each and every one of you can achieve the goals and dreams you set for yourself this year.

75cfb75b958e159f647988b804a4ce36aa1d2ace5be9328ddb1eaf505ec4e1e1Happy 2017, and may it be a great year for us all!  Now, let’s get this ball rolling, and knock it out of the park as best we can.

NaNoWriMo, and the Benefits of Failure

It’s been about a month since I’ve posted anything here, and a lot has happened in that time.  Holiday stuff, family stuff, personal stuff, all kinds of stuff that has–of course–affected my ability to keep my nose to the proverbial grindstone where writing has been concerned.  With that said, I’m hopefully back to blogging regularly, and writing more consistently even when I’m not blogging.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, and managed to get a large chunk written of a novel that I’ve been spinning around in my head for years.  In terms of the stated victory conditions for NaNoWriMo–50,000 words of a novel written during the month of November–I technically did not win; my novel has come in at just under 40,000 words, and it’s not complete.  However, I’m not sure my failure this year is as complete as one might initially believe, even when one factors in the excellent pace I was maintaining at the beginning of the month, and the sudden drop-off at the end.

A number of factors have led me to consider that this failure might be one of the better things to happen to me, from the standpoint of one who aspires to write for a living.  Consider the following:

  1. The story that I’ve told this year is far more complete–or, at least closer to being completed–than the partial novel I wrote 3 years ago, when I “won” NaNoWriMo by getting 50,000 words pounded out.  That story, which still remains badly unfinished, was only to about the halfway point of the plot before I hit the word count minimum, and I haven’t had the gumption to go back and finish it.  This story, I’ve basically finished: there’s a beginning, middle, and clear end, and could probably work as it stands with a little bit of editing, polish, and a little more content.  I feel much better about this unfinished novel than the technical winner I wrote in 2013.
  2. I tried a new approach to this story that I hadn’t with the others–I wrote it in first person.  Typically, I’ve gone for the third person omniscient point of view, and even though I’ve gotten used to writing that way, I’m not sure it’s helped me over the years.  First person has allowed me to get into the head of my protagonist–no, it’s allowed me to express things through my protagonist’s viewpoint in a way that has just come off as more natural and relevant to the story I’m trying to tell.  It probably means I’ll be rewriting a lot of previously written stories, but I simply can’t get over how right it feels.
  3. My characters were talking to me.  This had previously only happened once previously, in a scene that still strikes me as one of the best character moments I’ve ever written.  It came about in that feeling of not actually having written it, but merely serving as the mouthpiece, or recorder, of your character’s words and actions.  That happened again during this story, and it resulted in some long-standing questions finally getting answered about several characters and their motivations.  It enabled me to get my characters to the final conflict, and has had significant bearing on the aftermath.  As I work to finish out the piece entirely, I look forward to hearing more from them.

I think the most significant indicator of this failure being in name only is that I’m still working to flesh this story out and finish it.  Consider it one of my New Year’s resolutions, but if I can get this story finished by the end of the month, I’ll think of this year’s NaNoWriMo as one of my most successful ever, regardless of whether or not I actually “won” or not.

The Dark Allure of the Two-Sentence Horror Story

So, the month of October is finally upon us, and for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I was pondering the possibility of writing a two-sentence horror story for every day of the month, up to and including Halloween.  So, now that the month has started and I’m already a story behind, I’ll have to do two of them today.

As previous posts have indicated, I’m something of an enthusiast when it comes to the creepy, the macabre, and the spooky.  It started with scary stories as a kid, and continued with horror movies and some games, both of the video and the board varieties.  Today, the trend goes strong with more online, social media equivalents like creepypastas and certain Youtube channels that talk about them.

two-sentence-horror-stories-13Another one of those scary iterations is the two-sentence horror story.  The two-sentence story seems to be a relatively new phenomenon in general–there are other kinds, like comedy, romance, and two-sentence stories for kids.  They seem to mostly be an exercise in condensing a writer’s storytelling abilities into a brief, hopefully powerful and effective storytelling experience that leaves an impression with the reader.

Nowhere has this phenomenon flourished more than with two-sentence horror stories.

Seriously, it’s a form that’s completely dominated by the horror genre.  A Google search for “two sentence story” will contain links to at least 80% horror content, and while sites and pages for other types of two sentence stories do exist, there seems to be a particular allure that horror fans find in it.  It makes a certain amount of sense: the power of horror can be efficiently, effectively conveyed in a short form like the two-sentence story because our imaginations can so brilliantly fill in the blanks that are left after the story is finished.

There are pages galore that will contain lists and lists of the best, most effective, and bone-chilling two-sentence horror stories you can find on the web.  Their existence means two things for me as I embark on this month-long exercise in the macabre.  First, two-sentence horror stories are really popular, and will probably continue to be for some time.  Second, it’s going to be hard to tell a good, memorable, original two-sentence horror story that isn’t either very similar, or just hasn’t already been done by another creepy, imaginative writer.

two-sentence-horror-stories-19In any case, this is yet another of my writing goals for the rest of this year, since I was unable to accomplish one of them in a timely fashion (didn’t participate in 24-hour comic day over the weekend).  Hopefully, as I accomplish each of these little micro-goals in a day-in, day-out fashion, I’ll get better at doing them, as well as get better at getting into the habit of doing them.

Have a fun, spook-filled October, and enjoy these tasty little tidbits of horror and creep factors that I come up with.  They’ll each have their own posts, and perhaps at the end of the month I’ll compile them all into one long, October 2016-esque style post.  But for now, they’ll have to be enjoyed individually.

Happy reading!

Disclaimer: the two two-sentence stories pictured here in this post are not my own, and are from another list page. Hopefully my own future stories will be just as effective and unsettling.

The Rogue Triumphant: Self Care vs Self Indulgence

The rogues I tend to envision myself as in any RPG-style situation are usually more thief-bard-scout hybrids than the more cutthroat assassin-types that seem to be so popular in games like World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed.  Don’t get me wrong, I see the use for those kinds of rogues, but they just don’t hold any kind of appeal for me personally.  I’m not the kind of person who will casually decide to end someone’s life in any situation, even a fictitious one, though I will readily pick someone’s pockets if I feel they’re a jerk who deserves to get taken down a peg.

5c3aceff2142026f41dcace98fa51b0aRogues are often considered a cowardly lot, the kinds of people who take the easy way out, who would rather backstab than fight hand to hand in a fair fight, and who would just as soon avoid a fight altogether if they can still make off with the prize.  It’s the whole “easy way out” aspect to the rogue persona that probably dominates the one who collides with my inner paladin so regularly.  You saw in my previous post how the rogue tried to influence me to keep a library item when I shouldn’t have done so.  He wasn’t advocating that I directly harm anyone–I don’t think I could keep the counsel or company of anyone who did, real or otherwise–just that I benefit myself for a little while longer, and flout those silly rules for a bit.  That’s all.

And the thing is, I often wonder if the rogue has been the guiding light for the larger part of my adult life so far.  He’s been pretty damn persuasive over the years, in quite a few ways:

  • He’s convinced me to sleep in rather than get up early and eat breakfast before I begin my regular days;
  • He’s persuaded me to continue to eat foods and indulge in habits that have likely been detrimental to my health over time; and
  • He’s even gotten me to back out of commitments I’d previously made (to go across town and hang out with a friend or friends), even if I hadn’t originally wanted to do them, simply by reminding me how little I’d enjoy myself if I followed through.

bhgl2wvcmaacpooIt’s been easy for me to listen to the rogue, because for the most part I’ve had little fallout from taking his advice.  I’m graced with a thin-wiry build that hasn’t really changed (much) over the years, despite what I may choose to eat; I’ve never felt significantly bad when I skipped breakfast; and my friends have always been understanding when I’ve asked to bail on them once in a while.  I’ve been able to glide through a lot of these things, and the rogue has blithely enabled this.  Hell, he even tried to get me not to write this post just now, suggesting I just play video games to unwind.

The thing is, time has passed, and that tends to make fools of us all.

My numbers from my doctor have steadily worsened over the years.  I’ve noticed I’m nowhere near as firm as I used to be, and I’ve even gained a little weight, even if my overall frame hasn’t changed.  I’m hovering at alarming numbers for cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels, and was recently diagnosed as being pre-diabetic.  And I’ve come to realize that when I don’t see my friends for long enough, those relationships can wither away and die.

Never fear.  I’ve taken steps to correct these things, but it’s a daily struggle.  The rogue continues to hold sway, suggesting I occasionally take the day off from my exercise regiment, or to maybe nibble on that delicious looking donut just this once.  Nowadays I can resist him and do, but sometimes I still succumb to his clarion call.

chewie-hanBecause at the end of the day, the rogue isn’t a bad persona.  He bends or ignores the rules because sometimes, the rules are stupid.  And what he’s advocating for is for me to enjoy life to the fullest extent possible, which I’m sure is a thing we as people can always get behind.  Sometimes the rogue has gotten me to ignore the rules about print card procedures at the library, and just print a page (or three) for free for an individual who just needs the print, now, so they can get to a job interview on time.  Sometimes my paladin-esque instincts have gotten in the way of this, and sometimes I want to kick myself for it.  That’s where the rogue’s strengths shine.

He is noble, in his own way.  Which is why, even if his influence is waning these days, he’ll never fully go away.  He understands life, and living, and the people who do it way more than the paladin who believes in rules, and service to a higher purpose.  That’s why they’ll both always be here.

And that’s why, at least once in a while, the rogue will get the win.

When the Paladin Wins Out: A Library Tale

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a paladin and a rogue vying for influence over my actions.  Sometimes paladin wins out, sometimes the rogue does.

This story is one in which my inner paladin demonstrates why being the goody-goody sometimes works out for the better.

In spending time with one of my friends a few months ago, we ended up talking about Frank Abagnale, Jr., who is the basis for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the movie Catch Me If You Can.  I had neither seen the movie nor read the autobiographical book after which it was named, but Mr. Abagnale’s life was so fascinating that I soon ended up seeing the movie after that conversation (it’s GREAT!  If you haven’t seen it yet, do so).  I knew I had to read the biography next.

old-libraryI’m a librarian by profession, so I had easy access to the means to acquire it.  I put a hold on the book, got it a few days later, and started reading.  It was a fascinating book, but as many of you know, life often gets in the way of your leisure reading time.  I was only about 100 pages into the book when it came due, so I went to renew it–and found that another library customer already had a hold on it.

Now, when a customer has a hold on a book or other library item you have checked out, that means you need to return it by the date it was due when you checked it out.  You can’t renew or extend the due date on that item, as you’ve had the length of the loan period–usually 2 or 3 weeks–to read, watch, or listen to the item in question.  If you don’t return the item by its due date, you are penalized with a daily fine.  Many library customers are familiar with all of this.

Since I was a library employee, though, I had a privilege that our other customers didn’t.  I wasn’t fined for items that were overdue (at least not at first–you could be charged for the replacement of the item if it wasn’t returned by a certain point).  It was at this point where the rogue and the paladin started to pull me in different directions.

ultimate-spider-man-angel-and-devil_9444The rogue whispered in my ear to finish Catch Me If You Can.  I could have kept the book, which I was really enjoying and really did want to read.  I could delay for however long it took me to read the book, which wouldn’t have been that long, right?  What harm could really come of it?

But the paladin had words for me, too.  Words of honor, and integrity, and the idea that library rules existed for a reason.  Would not I be undermining the system by which our taxpayers are supposed to be guaranteed free, equitable access to library items if I selfishly kept them when I shouldn’t?  How could I call myself a good librarian if I didn’t support it?

The paladin won out that day.  As a library manager, it was up to me to set a good example for my co-workers and not abuse my privileges.  Besides which, I’d seen cases of staff abuse of their privileges that had resulted in people losing their jobs and/or being disciplined because of it.  I didn’t want to go down that path, or even start to.

So, with a heavy heart, I played by the rules, checked in the book that was due, and put it in transit to the next customer, forlornly wondering if I would be able to continue reading Catch Me If You Can anytime soon.

As it turned out, it was very soon.

Not five minutes later, I was at the desk, and looking for items to shelve.  A customer came in, returned some items and left before I could issue them a receipt.  Imagine my delighted surprise when I got to the audiobook they’d returned, which happened to be the book I had been reading, Catch Me If You Can.  And, as a bonus, it had no existing holds on it.

dstfpI didn’t actually let out a whoop and jump for joy, but I did do a small arm pump and grin big as I checked the audiobook out.  I actually really enjoy audiobooks, and spent enough time in my car that I would easily finish this one within two week.  I decided to start listening to it from the beginning, and ended up loving the whole thing.

And I could swear the paladin was smiling down at me, and at the rogue, who was rolling his eyes dismissively.  His words to both, “You see?  Even when you can’t always see it, there is always a way to do right and still be victorious.”

Touché, Mr. Paladin.  Touché.

Rogue vs Paladin: Two Sides of My Nature, Perpetually Struggling

Everyone has that struggle within them: the better part of their natures versus the more selfish, baser part.  Some of us see it in black and white terms: good against evil, the angel on your shoulder versus the devil.  It all boils down to our choices, and asks the same basic questions of all of us: what kind of person am I, when it comes down to it?  Am I a noble, self-sacrificing soul, or am I self-absorbed and out for only myself?

I take a somewhat less conventional–and infinitely more geeky–approach to this question.  For me, it comes down to the struggle between two D&D archetypes that seem to encompass my personality and mindsets pretty well: the paladin vs. the rogue.  Tending towards the side of angels, we have the paladin, the lawful good, the person who plays by the rules, works tirelessly for the good of others, and who will sacrifice when it comes down to it.  A little less angelic, there is the rogue, the chaotic neutral.  The rogue is more self-serving, greedy, and at times downright lazy or cowardly.

They are both archetypes I identify with.

The attraction for this dichotomy, for me, is the imperfection inherent in the assumed natures of the characters.  Sure, paladin’s can be noble and holy and selfless, but they’ve also been highly destructive and myopic in their vows to “serve a higher cause.”  Likewise, while rogues are presumably less noble and more selfish, they’re also often portrayed as being more grounded in human nature than paladins, and often able to sympathize with others in closer ways.  We all know the trope of the jerk with a heart of gold.  More often than not, that jerk tends to fit the rogue archetype (Han Solo, anyone?  Mal Reynolds?  Strider, aka Aragorn?).

paladin-1484133I’ve often been called to task by others for my tendency to both know and follow the rules, or at least my perception of them.  For the most part, for example, I don’t lie on insurance forms; I report bank errors that occur in my favor; and I don’t exploit flaws or bugs in video games, especially if I feel they give an unfair advantage over others.  My rigidity on these things has often been met with mild annoyance, or amusement, and at one time I was referred to as being “lawful good” on certain matters such as this.  I therefore tend to think of this as the paladin portion of my persona.

halflingOn the other hand, I’ve committed the occasional selfish action, usually if I feel it doesn’t really hurt anyone and that doing the nobler thing would be far outweighed by the sheer inconvenience, pain, or potential harm I would have to endure.  I’ve been lazy when meaning to be productive; I’ve strayed from or flat-out ignored diets and/or exercising; and I’ve occasionally ignored whimpering pets clawing at my door so I could sleep a little bit longer.  This hedonistic, rationalizing rascal is the rogue portion of my persona and temperament.

These two characters battle for control of my actions all the time, and each side scores victories to varying degrees regularly.  And again, while one may seem better, or higher than the other, it’s actually a lot more complicated that you might initially think.  Often times, I’ll roll up a happy-go-lucky rogue when I’m playing Dungeons & Dragons or some similar type of roleplaying game (tabletop OR video), but often my play style ends up being that of the goody-two-greaves paladin.

I’ll go more into how they influence me and how I view them later, but for now, I like to think it’s these two archetypes that exist on my shoulder rather than the angel and the devil.