Infinity War and a Problem with Moral Idealism

Or, I want Smarter Heroes.

Aaah, I return to the topic of space-rasslin’.

I feel it’s been long enough that I can talk about Avengers: Infinity War without SPOILERS-upsetting too many people who have not seen it. First off, the movie just surpassed Dark Knight in theater sales *golf clap*. This is both a great thing and a terrible thing (tongue-in-cheek See Zero-Sum below), partially because I loved watching Infinity War, and because I love Dark Knight so much more than Infinity War. Second off, Infinity War continues the long-running Marvel strategy of creating strong-looking characters with weak philosophical motivations. I’ll touch on the philosophical (now, with definition links!), but my focus wasn’t on the Trolley Problem.


This post is about the phrase, “We don’t trade in lives,” and the plot-devicification of the Trolley “Problem,” and how in utilizing this decision over and over in the same movie creates a perceived (or realized) weakness in our Flag Five. Yes, I did just plug The Tick in a vague parallel between the Avengers and the lampooning super.

Note: I put the word problem in quotes because it’s more of a dilemma with two outcomes (or if you read Reddit, many speculative iterations and outcomes). While I hope nobody has to make such a decision in their lives, I often see this dilemma show up in action/thriller/superhero movies.

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How the Dinotopia Fantasy Book Series Saved Me

Breathe Deep, Seek Peace.

I know. I know. It isn’t Harry Potter, or Wheel of Time, or the Lord of the Rings, or the Dresden Files. It’s… dare I say… better?*

This post comes on the coattails of a delightful tweet where a class of students is reading Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, and one student’s reaction to an important part of the book. It warmed my heart so much to watch, and I immediately remembered when I was that age, or younger, and the series of books that hit me in the emotional space.

James Gurney - Design Heard 6

The book series was called Dinotopia, written in 1992 by James Gurney, surrounding a fictional island in the 1800’s where intelligent dinosaurs and people coexisted peacefully. The series began with three books that artfully depicted delicious, crisp scenes reminiscent of 1950’s art, da Vinci-esque machinery, and vibrant clothes, all surrounding a cast that felt almost small-town in nature; salt-of-the-earth folks. The colorful books won Hugo awards, and were apparently super successful.

And, I didn’t own either of the three of them. I read the first two, piecemeal, at Waldenbooks (rest its soul) because they were too expensive for me to buy. I randomly came across them at friends’ houses, but was too uncomfortable mentioning it because it was fantasy, and fantasy was fake.

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Should We Give Our (book) Babies Away For Free?


OldbooksHey everybody. A few months ago, while I worked with a SLPA (St. Louis Publishing Association)-affiliated editor–and by “working with,” I mean trying to establish how much it’d cost me to get Of Salt and Wine edited professionally–I was informed about his thoughts on how I’d get off the ground as a first-time, self-published writer. He informed me, under no uncertain terms, that I should publish and distribute my first novel entirely for free, to generate interest in my writing “brand.”

This came as no huge surprise for me, and since I didn’t have the $ available to actually seal the editing deal, I stepped away from the negotiation. There’s been enough time between our conversation and now, and enough Twitter conversation from established writers, to give me a pause. Should we, as self-publishers, give away our hard-earned first novels in order to create a base?

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On Black Panther and Symbols


M’Baku. My favorite character.


Warning: there are a few spoilers ahead. Marked out for your easy identification.

Black Panther, as the rest of the world already knows, was brilliant. I had the good fortune of seeing it in the theater last night, and while it wasn’t a perfect movie (does every superhero movie require a BvS-style “Martha” moment? T’challa could have just said, Nope. I don’t recognize Killmonger as having a stake to the throne. Lock him up as an outsider.), it had so much awesome going for it, I’ll put it in my top two Marvel superhero movies EVER, and within the top five superhero movies ever (Behind Dark Knight, Batman v Superman, Blade, and Hellboy).

I feel a portion of what made Black Panther so successful was the importance of symbol-use, symbol-sets, and individual identity, and I’m going to talk a little about that in this post. Also, Claw had one of the greatest laugh moments in super villain history, and it was perfect.

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On Being “Authentic”

…as understood through Netflix and cooking.

This post is long.

Before I start, a quick note: this post isn’t intended to answer questions, but to continue a dialogue. I don’t have any answers, but I found value in what I learned and wanted to share.

The Genesis of This Blog Post: Hanger

I’m not usually a big Netflix watcher, but as the previous post and this one will show, I’ve been watching more of it lately. Besides Jessica Jones, I recently got involved with Ugly Delicious, a food series helmed by David Chang, a Korean-American chef who has met a lot of success with his cooking. Somewhere early in the series, perhaps the first episode (the Pizza Episode if anyone is interested), he discusses the idea of “authenticity” in cooking. The pretext is there’s only one way to make a proper Brooklyn style pizza, or Neapolitan pizza–as dictated by rules published by one specific group–is the only true pizza. Chang says it’s bullshit. If you call your food Authentic, he’s going the other direction, because to paraphrase and translate a little, it’s a form of gatekeeping that’s holding good, creative, evolving food creation at a minimum. And it stifles creativity.

At the beginning of this blog post’s journey, I thought the idea of Authenticity was true in almost every aspect of creation, be it art, or writing, or parkour. But my understanding shifted a lot while I wrote. I’ll try to explain how I came to my understanding, and how Authenticity-as-bad translates into storytelling. Continue reading

On Jessica Jones Seasons 1 and 2 (Spoilers)


The intro is super sexy. Now Streaming on Netflix!


Hey everyone.

I jumped on here to discuss Season 2 of JJ, and realized I never wrote about S1. I finished the first season directly before watching the second, but the time between the the first ten episodes and the last three might be around two years. So S1 will be short and to the point.

Besides Heath Ledger’s Joker performance, David Tennant’s Kilgrave was easily the most unsettling and complex character I have ever seen. He commanded the story, and sold me in his manipulation. Everyone, especially JJ, had every right to be terrified, and this elevated JJ’s performance in a way that I fell in love with. It was so unsettling I couldn’t watch the rest of it for two years. Season 1 was beautiful in its gritty trauma, in its cast, in everything. It was so, so good. At least the last three episodes.

In my defense, this post really wasn’t going to be about S1; it’s about how S2 wrote itself into corners, and how it shifted the characters’ actions and personalities to fit plot, instead of the other way around. Continue reading

Two thoughts on Poetry

I like poetry. For me it is the art of putting broken words together, fixed. Kintsugi for the jumbled thoughts that exist without rule or border, where people try, fight, celebrate, and debase themselves to make sense. I don’t like a lot of poetry, despite my Twitter account constantly liking things I read. I moreso like the act of trying to create; I read words sometimes, and see the process the writer went through to make it just so. Poetry is an extreme example, and not a monolithic “one example,” as it is myriad.

Most poets I read try and put a puzzle together, where the process is clear they see the work as a puzzle: how do I make this impactful? Drawing up all the possibilities, all the -sauri meowling around in their heads like living creatures, conjuring words that yes, yes fit. In seeing the work as a puzzle, as a here fits there fits this word isn’t working, the writer is removed of a certain pace, or rhythm, or movement. A professor’s words come to mind when I write this: “Never use the word ‘Flow’ when critiquing another’s work! There’s no such thing as flow!” I laughed so hard.

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A Capsule Update

I’ve been sick for a while. I’m talking about this to everyone and anyone who will listen. Ask my gf. Ask my brother. Ask last semester’s classmates. It’s a sickness that effects my brain. Where I have good days of minimal pain, and bad days of near complete forgetfulness, where I’m fighting to focus and get anything done. And those days where I have near complete forgetfulness are the ones where I’m congested, with a little cold, and my whole head seems to shut down. Just a simple, stupid cold makes me nearly incapable of basic function.

I had a great introduction laid out for my book, where I’d talk about real life complications while writing it; how, in the book, the story starts with a broken tooth and ends with a wooden one. Just like in real life, where my book began with a tooth operation (the reason for my initial tooth writing in the first chapter), and ends with the removal of the tooth and a long line of suffering. It would have been a great full-circle thing, a great anecdote to the complexities of how real life spatters into fantasy and science fiction. If my sickness had ended with the removal of that tooth, it would’ve been perfect.

It didn’t end. In fact, removing the tooth sent a whole new wave of bacteria into my system, punching forgetfulness and memory issues back to full throttle–something I had on lockdown since the beginning of November. Strange how you think you have a handle on something, in fact are nearly certain the issue is understood and workable, and then–nope. It isn’t the tooth anymore. It’s the bone, or the sinus cavity, or an abscess that isn’t draining. Or something even deeper: autoimmune, immunodeficiency, viral meningitis.

Yesterday was a nightmare. I woke up at 11:00 after having watched too much television the night before, took my diabetes medication, drank kefir and had a green drink for breakfast, checked my blood sugar: 195. Strange, given I had a salad for dinner the night before, hummus and broccoli and carrots for lunch, and a donut and coffee for breakfast. This meant I was fighting an infection. Again. Maybe the same infection.

Classes have started; day one was Tuesday, and I blankly stared at the syllabus on Wednesday, trying to understand what was expected of me for the semester. Hell, trying to understand the assignment for homework, due Thursday (today). I tried to read a short story, finished, realized I remembered nothing about it except it was by Octavia Butler (because I had been given that information when I was in a more receptive state), and that it was uploaded in an easy-to-convert-to-sound format and sometimes the fonts were shifted, the spaces between words longer than one. And the rims of my vision sometimes pulsed with my heartbeat because pus is putting pressure on your brain, on your eyes, the doctor said. Sometimes I can not see much at all, sometimes pictures move when in periphery, or seem to, because of the shifting sphere shape of my eyes. Straight up terrifying. What do I do? The low-grade migraine that flowed from the back to the front of my head, coupled by the pain in my jaw that I thought was an infected tooth now radiating from an empty socket, sending me into agony while trying to stare at a computer screen.

I readied a dose of $4,000/mo potassium powder, drank maybe .50 of product, felt better. Wanted to write. Wanted to do homework. Needed to get work done. I don’t have time for this, I thought, fell into the couch and watched some escapist scifi on Amazon Prime. Tried to have conversations with my brother online, slurred words coming from someone sober for months, my own damn mouth, wondering again what the hell is wrong with me, again, expunging that wonder in words to silence from the other side. Realizing, again, six doctors, two EarNoseThroat specialists said this is likely stress-related, and then some small-town allergist decided to give my face an x-ray to maybe see if something was going on up there. Yes, something is going on up there.

They’re calling it chronic sinusitis, or sinusitis that continues after four weeks. It’s been in my head for nearly a year now, perhaps two. My nasal cavity is clear as a whistle, always, but when I get congestion I fall to pieces. Sometimes something drains and my eyes roll in the back of my head from the sensation, like springing a leak where water shouldn’t go. Nurses tell stories of sepsis, people dying from sinusitis of late without really knowing why, “feeling” good one day, dead the next. I have a tremor in my neck, my hands that won’t go away. My ears sing like crickets some days, or cicadas the next, or a tintinning ocean tide. This is an orchestra of sick, perhaps of death, a death bloom of infection that grows and grows. I begin my third bout of antibiotics tomorrow.

Yet, this is another journey for my book to explain. Another parallel degradation of myself, burned into my main character as he trods toward the climax. This is a climax that may never happen, where my journey disrupts the flow of words by ending before the book does. Last semester I worried I won’t finish my finals if I can’t get this under control. This semester I worry I won’t see July.

What is July but a marker of time? I joked to a friend that I lived longer than Jesus, that this was my Jesus year of 33, and at least I have that accomplishment. Perhaps only just. Perhaps not. And what are accomplishments but markers of time spent?

And even this, this post, this discussion, is my strange way of pushing forward. I only realize that now, subconsciously everything planned out before I realize: one class requires short stories, and last night I worried I’d have nothing to write. Nothing at all. And I worried I’d sit for days in front of a computer screen and write nothing, all stopped up like a wine cork pushed too far in the bottleneck. This is not nothing. It’s about nothing. The fear of nothing. The fear of whole, abstract existence. The fear of not finishing. But why? But why is a good question.

Despite all the strangeness of this sickness, my conscious self and subconscious self are so in tandem I find joy in the simple understanding that still, I create.

Corpus Paradisum: Excerpt



Art by Anselm Kiefer, German painter.

Plugging away at my book today (because class for this evening was canceled), I found I really liked what I wrote a few days ago (while re-reading), so I decided to drop the snippet here. Quick backstory: post apocalyptic scenario where flu kills most of the population of the world. .001% of population becomes creative-obsessive zombies until they die. Antagonist and Man of Questionable Motives, Marlin, runs a town of survivors, but collects zombie work. MC Susursal peruses the gallery with the Met twins. (Note: Paragraph break mid-sentence in the excerpt was intentional)

“Marlin calls this one The Scented, because of the smell,” Metempsychosis said in a whisper so loud it echoed the halls with lingering sss-sounds. Susursal closed his eyes and sought a fleeting scent through olfactory, through cilia-tastes. He found hickory smoke: everything was hickory smoke. Leaning farther in, he smelled coriander. Leaning farther, he smelled apple sweet. Nose almost touching the canvas, delicacies swirled around in his head: a muskful phantasm of unplaceable smells, gilded in motor oil or cat dander or a freshly shampooed shag carpet. The scent of pure clean, not cotton, not lemon, only identifiable by what it wasn’t. Like ionized air, or charcoal filtered water taste. Here, curled dragon teeth char-dripped in sycamore saliva. There, stained-glass crabapples ringed in a very specific caulk, soaked in paper pulp and corded hemp oil.

It looked like myriad mold rings and discolorations.

“And this one,” Metempsychosis’s voice shook through Susursal’s inhalations, “Is The Rain.” A whole forest arun to the base of the canvas, pooling colors from the same three mixed colors: moss, gray47, and aegean. And trailing flowers of vibrant purple wisteria. Mixed with lingering scents from The Scented, Susursal caught himself shuddering against a saltblue stairway of seawaves built by blackening truffle, oak barrel, and olive pits churned with grape leaves. And yet he stared at a forest, faded colors dripping behind wisteria as if the artist returned with a second decision, as if this weren’t a Creative’s work at all, but a master painter. He’d worked at a Lowes when he was young, too young to finish school, and had memorized all the color names from palettes present in the paint shop. “The blue was mixed with the artist’s blood to make the flowers,” Metempsychosis whispered, ripping Susursal from his thought for a second time.

“Should be called Morbid,” Metamorphosis said, his voice disturbing austerity. His mouth rolled around morbid as if he sired the word with the action of eating a pear. Scented continued to have an affect on Susursal: the word pear split into a tortilla tan flower, seeds and all, and gossamer dragonflies traded stance upon the juicy petals. “Do you like Meta talking so much? She’s an extrovert. She’s not for everyone.”

“I’m not for everyone. Hi. I like your shirt.”

Metamorphosis slurped water from an aging energy drink can, silver separated by reflective blues and reds, a brazen bull across the front. “Water is better in cans.”

Metempsychosis slinked to the next canvas. “Yeah. Adds minerals. Energy minerals.”

Metamorphosis slurped a second time, and with the same mouth movement he made for morbid, he said, “Oil. Oil.”

“Have a heart.” Glowing-eyes, and crystal, unstonelike in any way, Metampsychosis flashed laughter toward Susursal.

Perhaps still the magic of these canvases pervaded, but Susursal shuttered his mind’s eye from that wanful hurricane. Lo, she shone violent sun.

Dusty backcountry roads in a pickuptruck, guest in the country, soybean and corn husky and broken, runoff from tiny rockfetishing, she the flannel-wearing cousin he wished he’d known, tiny waist with smooth and worn carpenter jeans against single-straightacross seat, 1985 Ford F150 restored with red-and-white stripes, careening across field and a flurry of stark, slake-less sun. She the brownhaired skycloud against cloudless sky, framed against windowless door, cracked windshield and everything, a cloud, a layer, a thick impenetrable thing of corndust. Corndusk. Engine roaring blissful, frightening, she the masthead. Metempsychosis languid like underwater kelpbeds bouncing in the rolling current; behind her, reaching from the wall, an arch of amalgamous stuffs in gruesome gothic fashion; and she said, “Here is The Knifeguardian.”

Sususral stopped before the stop, a cut drywall wall of intricacies, fifty feet high, a dazzling window installed behind the wall opposite the hall to let sun fleck in, a crushed thousand skulls in the shape of a larger-than-life skull, a god. This, a god, Susursal thought, studying blurred lines depicting arms attached to shoulders askew like some Hindu relief sporting shades of reflective shimmering silver, bones delineating to antler handle, delineating to blade. A halo of blade: swords and bootknives and switchblades and filet and sabre and broadswords three behind and above burgeoning halo smeared murky yellow across drywall, wide-spread and glistening silver polished sharp, splits of blood, dabs of blood, either stainless steel or blued steel or titanium reflecting blood—waterproofed against the saltsea self—a wild, carnage-wrestled visage,

half-finished, skull sunken in on the right, of form like an oversized vole—large, open left eye socket, protruding and curve canine bone-teeth polished like ivory—candle-wax burned and dripping a long, sloppy waxy grey tear stalagctite overflowing from the crushed socket, long femurs of dog, horse, deer, antlers blooming like trees from its unfinished head hung tiny napkin silver rings a pagan Christmas decoration. Ten total. Yes, this half-realized god, unfinished before terminal creativity took the creator. Reflecthing, it should be named.

Susural bled tears: they came with a cut feeling, held back with all dedication and presence of mind, yet the muscles tore from around his eyes and he weeped. Milk from a fig, he weeped.

Over the hall, fastened by tape and glue and blood-smeared, bones jagged wired together with antlers wired together with knives, like bladed scales, a single seven-fingered hand opened, hovering, hale and harkening to any what passed beneath. A candle holder secured beneath, fastened to the underpalm, purple glass decorated by tiny, tiny animal bones, and teeth, candle long burned away. Susursal shuddered.

Undaunted from tethered memory or his many turbid thoughts, Metempsychosis traveled under the arching hand, finger-blades tiny and seemingly articulated reaching toward, she did not shiver nor stoop. Did not steel herself against the possible drop or scrape of candle-prison. She the guide, Metamorphosis behind sucking slow water from his brazen bull, Susursal followed in procession.

Virgil-like through this circle of personal hells made beautiful, Metempsychosis. Chiron-like, Metamorphosis supported from behind.

This, the frightening meter set. This, the lucid and elucidating prison of thought, released in rays of the psychic and balled about the halls in sacred silence, near-sleep of silence, sacral enlivened silence and, like calming whispers, Lalatu her long night breath, crept warm silk about his shoulders, cradling his skull, dropping her proud mantle about his neck and cascading long ribbons down his back. “And here,” Metempsychosis said, “is Pantheon of an Eastern Memory.”

The Avenging Angel Motif in Writing


Yeah. Totally new topic. This hasn’t been discussed for, like, six thousand years already.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
Revenge is sweet.
Living well is the best revenge.

None of these are always the case. And none of these directly deal with what I’m writing about.

There is a difference between Revenge and Avenge.

Avenge is a word broadly concerned with inflicting a punishment or penalty in the pursuit of justice.

Revenge is a word broadly concerned with inflicting harm or punishment for personal retaliation.

There is an overlap, but one is not always the other, and the other is not always one. Avenge is usually the elevated purpose–placing importance on an ideal or perspective–which is why “Angel” is attached to it for my blog purpose, while Revenge is considered far more animalistic–placing importance on the self, and selfish goals–and therefore considered base and self-destructive. Identifying this difference is very important. For example, Akira was vengeful. Not avenging. And he burned himself out.

I’m sure there’s a revenging demon motif. Not sure about other overlaps; revenging angel? Avenging demon? Who knows. I don’t know why I’m using so much Christian vocabulary.

We’re all in love with superheroes. The X-Men and Wonder Woman. Watchmen and Batman and Nicholas Cage in The Rock and Pacific Rim. They wake a little secret part of ourselves that have been around for a long time, perhaps part of a shared childhood ideal of swooping in and handling a situation with your own two hands.

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