My dad passed away at 1:40am. I’ll probably have a lot to say about the last week and his passing at a later date. All that I’ve got to say, at this point, is that my dad was awesome. I would say more about how amazing he was, but it would most likely cause many people to have feelings of inadequacy about their own fathers.
The other day, I wrote that I was going to put my blogging on hold while I dealt with us having to call in hospice for my dad. A couple of good friends encouraged me to continue to write, as it makes for a good outlet for processing grief. At first, I was going to blow it off, but since I’ve had enough Pastoral Care and Counseling classes to know that they are right, I thought that I might defer to their wisdom in this trying time.
In case you missed it; I wrote a piece about my dad when we first started talking about hospice and palliative care in the fall of 2013. I like to go back and look at it on occasion because I think that it perfectly sums up how I felt on the day that I wrote it.
Today is one of those days where I definitely need to document how I feel about Dad.
My dad grew up fairly poor. I would like to offer exhibit A:This is a picture of my dad in front of my Papaw’s old house. Those are not bricks. That is some sort of tar-based siding which is similar to roll roofing but stamped to look like bricks. You might take note of the ripped jacket which Dad is wearing. Sometimes you have to wear a ripped jacket when it is cold and you are poor. (I mean, not today, of course. Today, homeless people have cell phones.)
My dad used to tell me about how he would hitch up the horses and plow other people’s fields for money. When I was a kid, we still plowed certain things with a horse-draw plow and I learned how to hitch up the horse, so I know that this is something that he wasn’t making up. In fact, Dad would often just hitch up the horse because he felt that it was too much trouble to get the tractor out. Let that one sink in for just a moment.
My dad went from this to owning 3 auto parts stores and an interest in an office supply company. He did this by working hard every day and not complaining. My dad never, ever complained. Dad had some strokes in the early 90’s which left him with some issues. He worked through them with no complaining. He didn’t complain when he lost his business to a real deadbeat who cost him well over half a million dollars 1999 money. He eventually forgave the guy, which I still have trouble doing. He didn’t complain when we had to sell the farm to pay for the outstanding business debt when his last store failed as a result of the 2004 flood. He never complained and he always did his best to keep a positive attitude.
Unfortunately, I think that I had my last real conversation with Dad earlier today. After that, he took a nap and had a rather serious stroke. When he woke up, he could no longer speak and it was clear that we could no longer take care of him at home.
Today, I had to help decide to move my father into a hospice facility rather than keeping him at home, even though he had wanted to remain at home until he passed. Today, I probably had the last good conversation that I will ever have with my father. Today sucked.
It looks like I am going to have to put that goal of writing every day for a year on the back burner for a bit. My dad’s health is declining rapidly and we had to call in hospice, yesterday. In fact, it looks like a lot of things are going to be moving to the back burner.
There was a time when I consumed a lot of science fiction, which was composed of equal parts of books, comics, and movies. I spent untold hours plowing through the material, and as a result, I developed a great appreciation for the genre. Science fiction has a rich history, even though it is largely a product of mankind’s fears as a result of industrialization and later, the advent of the atomic age. Truly, a great deal of science fiction is born out of man’s apprehensions about the inventions that he has wrought upon this earth. However, the most amazing thing about the genre is how right many of these works have proven to be in modern America.
I suppose that the easiest place to start is with Orwell. His vision of the future in 1984 doesn’t seem so fantastic in light of the Edward Snowden revelations. When Snowden leaked information about the NSA spying on American citizens and collecting colossal amounts of data, there were a lot of “tinfoil hat” types who felt supremely vindicated. After all, you aren’t really paranoid if the government is actually listening to everything that you are saying, are you? If one stops to consider the government intrusion alongside the fact that almost all electronic devices are now sold with a camera which faces the consumer, an omni-directional microphone, and an ability to connect with internet and share everything that has been recorded; Orwell easily comes out looking more like a prophet than an artist.
This brings me to my main point. I think that if we look at the Terminator series, along with the Matrix series, that we will see some cautionary tales that we would do well to embrace. Although I don’t feel like we will be running from robots disguised in human flesh or finding ourselves plugged into a giant human electrical farm any time in the near future, I do feel like I am seeing elements of both franchises come true on a daily basis.
In the Terminator series, mankind was almost driven to extinction at the hand of the machines. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be happening, but we are seeing technology emerging that makes the idea of unmanned machinery oppressing humankind sound a little less crazy. When we first saw the unmanned Hunter-Killer Drones in Terminator, we thought that it was the technology of the future. Now, we are seeing unmanned drones being used by the military to conduct operations and eliminate targets around the globe. With that in mind, it isn’t too much of a stretch to point out that with the right combination of GPS, satellite imagery, and artificial intelligence, a computer in Utah could easily have the ability to wipe out human beings at any location on the planet. Scary.
Next, we have the Matrix series, with mankind being subjugated and pacified by machines that use them as a power source. While mankind is certainly still the primary power consumer on this planet and most would argue that the machines are serving us, I would ask this twofold question: Are the machines really serving us or have we abdicated our lives to them?
Think about how we’ve structured our lives. How many of us have a television running every morning while we are getting ready and during meals with our families? How many of us are slaves to our phones; unable to even have a meal in a restaurant without slavishly staring at the screen of our devices? Are we really free or are we slaves to the machines that we have built?
Look around. Are you reading this while looking at your phone instead of your spouse? When is that last time that you ate with your family without a screened device present? When is that last time that you went a whole day without watching your television? When is the last time that you went a whole day without your phone? When was the last time that you took the time to call and actually speak with someone instead of shooting the a text message?
Let’s face it. The machines have risen.
When is a single picture enough to break the interwebs?
This is the first table read with the cast of the new Star Wars movie. The image broke the StarWars.com website. Here is a list of the people in the photo from TheHollywoodReporter.com:
1. J.J. Abrams, director-writer
2. R2D2: R2-series astromech droid
3. Harrison Ford, actor – Reprising his role as Han Solo.
4. Daisy Ridley, actress
5. Carrie Fisher, actress – Reprising her role as Leia.
6. Peter Mayhew, actor – Reprising his role as Chewbacca.
7. Bryan Burk, producer
8. Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm president
9. Domhnall Gleeson, actor
10. Anthony Daniels, actor – Reprising his role as C-3PO.
11. Mark Hamill, actor – Reprising his role as Luke Skywalker.
12. Andy Serkis, actor
13. Oscar Isaac, actor
14. John Boyega, actor
15. Adam Driver, actor
16. Lawrence Kasdan, writer
Tonight I will be able to go to bed knowing that I will be able to take my kids to see the first legitimate Star Wars movie since 1983 on the big screen. Thank you, J.J. Abrams and Disney for rescuing my childhood from that bad man and giving us something that I can get excited to take my kids to see.
This is my uncle Albert. He was born in 1925 and died today, at the age of 88. He is the reason that I read and that I have an urge to learn how things work. I was fortunate enough to spend all of my formative years with him on the farm, as he had retired from the National Weather Service and was around a lot.
I hope that I never forget the lessons that he taught me or how to be as resilient as he was. I know that I’ll never forget the day he came to the back door after cutting off part of one of his fingers while trying to start the hay baler. Cool as a cucumber, he told me to go get my mother. Then, he took the time to answer some childish questions, made some small talk, and finally reminded me to go get my mother; albeit in a sterner tone.
He was awesome. I’ll miss him forever.
It happened again, last night. Jessica and I sat in our living room with bewildered looks upon our faces, as we watched the series finale of one of our favorite shows. We had just witnessed the emotional ending that left us sad, dismayed, and somewhat angry. We had been following How I Met Your Mother since we got married, six years ago, and because of that long-term commitment, we had a reaction that was the strongest since we were forced to witness this:
Fortunately, I wasn’t left with the same feelings, as when Dexter ended in a way that left me questioning the basic competence of its writers and yelling at the television about the complete disaster of an ending with which we were left. I mean, does it really make sense to justify the complete devastation of the lives of the central characters, all while leaving no resolution to the major themes and questions from throughout series, by stating that there had to be some sort of negative consequence for Dexter’s actions? Isn’t it a little late to take the “moral high ground” in your finale when your show is about a serial killer? Alas…I digress…and we need to return to last night.
There we were, trying to make some sense of an ending that seemed too tragic for a television show of that nature. We were restless and uncomfortable and angry and dissatisfied, but then I slept on it and I realized that maybe that was not only an okay place to be, but also a very beneficial place to end up. After all, it turns out that the creators of the show actually wrote and shot some of the ending nine years ago, just after they shot the pilot episode. This, I think, is perhaps an excellent example of Stephen Covey’s principle of “beginning with the end in mind.”
It must have been some sort of modern feat for those creators to sell the idea of a serialized sitcom/drama to a network and finish their pitch by stating that they already had the ending written. Think about it. Most television shows are designed and promoted to continue for as long as possible because a long-running show with a loyal audience is akin to the goose that laid the golden egg. No one wants to kill that goose while it is producing. It was after realizing this that I found my avenue to make peace with all of my television shows. I am simply going to have to view them as a came to view comics.
You see, comic books contain characters that I love…and yet I have learned not to get too attached because DC and Marvel own the rights to their characters, not the men who created them. In fact, the stories of my favorite characters have been handled by many authors and artists through the years. Occasionally, one gets lucky and his or her favorite characters fall under the care of an amazing writer like Frank Miller and you get absolute gold. (For you non-comic folks, anything that you’ve seen on the screen with Batman since Batman Begins has Miller’s fingerprints all over it.) Other times…well us comic geeks don’t like to talk about those other times.
Those other times are driven by an axiom which was clearly explained to me by D.W. Howard during my formative teenage years. “Comics are sold to make money.” While that may have been hard to hear, it is absolutely the truth. Comic book characters are serialized characters that make money through the regular release of episodic content. Simply put, there are going to be several Spider-Man and Batman comics produced every month whether there is enough creative story to support them or not. In fact, if not enough books are selling, then they will pull some publicity stunt like a cross-over with another character or killing the main character altogether. (Both Captain America and Superman have died since I left high school and both of them seem to be doing fine to me.) The bottom line is that comic characters are used to produce profit, regardless of how it may affect their overall story.
This brings us full-circle to television shows. These shows are being produced to make money for the networks, and a network can tout how funny or dramatic or artistic its shows are, but at the end of the day, there is someone at that same network who is checking a balance sheet. That guy is ultimately who determines the direction and viability of a show. Actually, there seems to be a guy like that everywhere, from television to movie studios, pulling the strings.
There are, however, instances where the direction of serialized characters isn’t determined by maintaining the long-term profitability of a property. In those instances, characters are respected and artistic integrity is maintained, but even then there are times when fans aren’t totally on-board with the story or the outcomes. This happened in comics with a guy named Dave Sim, who wrote a six thousand page work in serialization called Cerebus.
Cerebus is about an aardvark named Cerebus and moves from a Conan-styled parody into a work examining politics, religion, feminism, and metaphysics. The story ran for three hundred issues and ends with the death of the title character. As you may imagine with that description, fans had a hard time getting a grasp on the entirety of that work.
I know that many of you are asking yourself why I would reference such an obscure work by an author who is virtually unknown outside of comics to make my point. Why? Because Dave Sim and Cerebus are the polar opposite end of the spectrum from mainstream, publisher-owned material…and yet they sometimes have the exact same result.
Whether I like it or not, I don’t own Batman or Superman or Captain America or Cerebus or the characters in Dexter or How I Met Your Mother or Lost. There is always going to be someone else who controls the destiny of these characters and I am just along for the ride…no matter how much time I have invested in their stories.
In the end, it is kind of like the famous professional wrestler Ric Flair has repeatedly stated: “Whether you like it or whether you don’t like it, you had better learn to love it!” As corny as that sounds, therein lies the secret to making peace with the sometimes unfavorable ends of our favorite fictional characters. We don’t control their outcomes, but at least we get to journey with them for a while.