Potential Criticism: Reviews for Creatives

Instead of reviewing or discussing a specific piece of entertainment this week, I’m going to talk about an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while. As a lifelong aspiring writer, I’ve always taken a different approach to critiquing books, movies, and anything else with a story than most people I know. I’m sure any creative can relate: even if all you want to do is sit down and enjoy a fun movie, you can’t help but listen to that voice in the back of your mind asking “If I wrote this story, what would I have done differently?” or “What can I learn from the triumphs and failures of this work that I can apply to my own creations?”

Rough sketch of flowers
At least I have potential, right? Right?

Whether you are a creative or not, the books or movies that frustrate you the most are usually the ones with the most potential. Nobody gets upset about how bad The Room or Saw 12 is. The movies that really get under your skin are either the ones that you went into with high expectations and came out of disappointed, or the ones that could have been extraordinary with a few minor tweaks.

Just reading about the subject, you’re probably already reliving your anger with the last book or show that let you down. The fact that we can get so upset over bad entertainment is a telling sign of how truly pampered we are in our first-world bubble – as Tyler Durden would say, we have no Great War, no Great Depression, only Greatly Disappointing X-Men movies. But that’s not the point.

The point is I don’t think watching a movie that fails to live up to its potential has to be a negative experience, at least not for us lucky enough to be cursed with a creative spirit. I have friends who walked out of Logan saying “That could have been a lot better” but I walked out saying “How could that have been better?” I have no doubt that the next story I write will be a tiny bit better than it would have been if I had not seen Logan and reflected on its strengths and weaknesses. In keeping with the positive, improvement-oriented mission statement of Desdenada, I would like to introduce Potential Criticism.

Reviewing Better, Creating Better

Garrosh Hellscream wielding Gorehowl, from World of Warcraft
He means well. Ish. Art credit: TamplierPainter on DeviantArt (http://tamplierpainter.deviantart.com/art/Garrosh-Hellscream-201494004)

I have long been in love with World of Warcraft and its expansive lore, but I’m not about to argue that any of the storylines in the game or its companion novels constitute great literature. Not that Blizzard ever set out to write Shakespearean tragedies. Instead, they created a truly enormous world, populated with archetypes and familiar tropes. Many of the characters and plots of the Warcraft universe feel familiar, and that’s okay, because the game’s best stories have always been the ones you and your friends create.

But every now and then I’ll stumble across a spark of real promise. My favorite example would have to be Garrosh Hellscream. I’ll never forget my first encounter with this troubled young orc: he was the son of a legendary hero and his people expected great things of him, but you find him brooding and dejected, staring into a bonfire with tears in his eyes. There’s a whole quest line where you reveal to him that his father, who Garrosh sees as a monster, redeemed himself and died a hero in the end.

With his faith restored, Garrosh takes a more active role in the leadership of his people – with mixed results. His heart is in the right place, but he was raised with a different ideology than the other leaders and he is haunted by his father’s name and his own insecurities. It’s a tumultuous journey: at one point a disagreement with the current Warchief of his faction, the Horde, gets so heated it actually erupts into physical violence; later, that same Warchief steps down and names Garrosh as his successor.

At this point in the game, not only were in-game characters split about his leadership, but so were the players themselves. The majority of players hated him, but I and a few other holdouts still empathized with the character.

Then, as Warcraft characters often do, he kind of went off the deep end for no reason. Garrosh was always aggressive and warlike, but he believed strongly in honor and at one point executed an underling who went too far and started attacking civilians. Later on, he changed his mind without explanation and bombed a whole city full of civilians. Like many characters who start off with interestingly gray moralities, he was ultimately corrupted by cosmic forces of evil and became a cartoon villain with no other motivation besides doing bad stuff for the sake of doing bad stuff.

I was frustrated, to say the least, by the ultimate handling of what was possibly my favorite character. In retrospect, I can see that this anger was pointless and misplaced. The conclusion of his story is a letdown, but it does not erase the story beats I found appealing in the first place. As a writer, I have a unique opportunity to recreate my own version of his story arc. An abandoned son who is unsure if his father was a hero or a monster, and in trying to live up to the family name must himself walk the line between hero and monster – now that’s a concept I can use. The best part is, I’m free to write whatever ending I want, using the poor conclusion of Garrosh’s story to avoid making the same mistakes myself.

Going forward, I’m going to do my best not to get angry or upset about entertainment that lets me down. There’s an ugly tendency these days to see creators as the enemy, as if they are maliciously sabotaging their own art just to make us suffer.

I prefer to think that we are all in this together. Creators do their best to make something we can enjoy. Sometimes they fail. As fellow creators, we can learn from their mistakes to better ourselves. As consumers, we can give them honest but fair feedback, so that they can learn and serve us better going forward.

There is so much potential beauty in this world, so why put effort into creating ugliness? With a little optimism and a little empathy, we can all contribute to the creative process in our own way.

That’s my thinking, at least. What’s your strategy for criticizing entertainment?

Exploring Azeroth Episode 0 Live Now!

We are very excited to announce the launch of Desdenada’s first gaming series, Exploring Azeroth! I have discussed before how World of Warcraft has impacted my personal life philosophy, and now I hope to share that with Venezia – and, of course, with you.

New characters in World of Warcraft
Introducing Mr. and Mrs. Malo #couplegoals

Episode 0: Character Creation

In this preview episode, I give Venezia a rundown of the character options and the basic story of the world. Then she makes her first ever Warcraft character. If you are familiar with the game already you can probably skip this one, although you may be surprised how seeing a new player experience it for the first time can make the whole game feel fresh again.

Confidence and Competence: Charisma and Skill Points

When people talk about gamification, they’re usually thinking about video games, but the movement undoubtedly has its roots in pen-and-paper roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. I might just be biased because I grew up on pen-and-paper roleplaying games, namely Dungeons and Dragons, but the whole “quantified self” movement is a natural progression from the concept of the character sheet.

Dungeons and Dragons and Self-Confidence

Notebook with schedule, budget, and Dungeons and Dragons dice
If I roll high enough can I skip work today?

For those of you who were popular in high school, every game of D&D begins with the players creating their characters, filling in details and descriptions on their character sheet, which in the old days was nothing more than a sheet of ruled paper. The people who live in a D&D campaign are truly quantified, with attributes such as strength or intelligence represented by concrete numbers on their character sheets.

To oversimplify what is probably the most complicated board game ever, you do things in D&D by rolling dice. Whether I want to hit a goblin with a flail or perform a sweet lute solo for a crown in the local tavern, I roll the dice. If the number is high enough, I succeed. If I have good scores in the relevant stats – such as a high strength score in the case of hitting the goblin – I won’t have to roll as high of a number to succeed. In other words, whether a veteran knight or a scrawny farm boy is swinging the flail, luck will be a factor, but the odds are a lot better for the knight.

I credit D&D, and this mechanic specifically, with teaching me two important things about life. First, the Universe is a cold, random, uncaring place where most things happen for no reason. That’s not really relevant here, but has certainly informed my life philosophy. More importantly, it taught me that the outcome of a given scenario has nothing to do with who you are as a person. A legendary knight might fail to strike a puny goblin, but that doesn’t mean his strength has suddenly diminished. If I was roleplaying as the knight, I would not suddenly lose confidence in my character’s strength and retreat. Seeing my exceptional strength score on the character sheet in front of me, I would write the event off as a fluke and attack again.

Confidence vs. Competence

In the real world, we do not have the privilege of character sheets. We are not always clear on our own attributes. In fact, the only way we have of measuring them is by testing them. Let’s say my D&D character has 10 points in the Perform (lute) skill. I get up in front of a tavern crowd, start to play, and roll a 2 on my skill check. I suck and get booed off stage. Not exactly a triumph, but nothing to worry about in the long run. My sheet still says I have 10 points in Perform (lute). I am objectively an exceptional lute player. Maybe it was a tough crowd, or the tavern had poor acoustics, or I just drank too much and struck a bad chord. If I perform for another crowd tomorrow night, chances are they’ll love me.

If that happened to me in real life, though, I would come to a different conclusion. Maybe it was a tough crowd, or maybe I don’t have as many points in the Perform (lute) skill as I thought. After all, tests like this are my only way of measuring my skill, and the results of this test were very negative.

There’s an ongoing joke among D&D players about the attribute known as Charisma. Pretty much since the creation of the game up until the present day, it has been considered an exceedingly useless stat and the one you assign your lowest score to by default (when I play I always make Charisma my highest stat, but the reasoning behind that is a discussion for another day). The reason is that Charisma measures something that is exceedingly difficult to translate into game mechanics.

Contrary to popular belief, Charisma is not a measure of attractiveness or even social skill. It is essentially your strength of character, your belief in yourself, your very will to live. People with high Charisma usually are attractive, but only because confidence and self-assurance tend to be attractive features. One minor quirk I’ve always loved about d&d is that demons in the game, often outwardly hideous, possess superhumanly high Charisma scores. How could they not? They are cosmic forces of nature, almost physically incapable of believing anything they do is wrong.

The problem with Charisma is that the attributes it is supposed to define are left up to how a player roleplays a character. A character with a Charisma of 3 probably wouldn’t be able to work up the confidence or motivation to even go adventuring in the first place – but if the Dungeon Master told the player “You can’t go on this adventure because your character doesn’t believe in herself” it wouldn’t be a very fun game, would it?

In real life, Charisma is strictly enforced. My objective competence with the lute (skill points in game terms) might be very high, but my confidence with the lute (Charisma) might be low enough after one humiliating failure that I give up and never touch the lute again.

What Game Are We Playing, Anyway?

In Dungeons and Dragons, a bard character with 10 points in Perform (lute) is a very impressive lute player – if she’s a level one character. If she’s level 20, then hopefully she specializes in a different instrument and the lute is just a hobby, because that’s just embarrassing.

Another downside of not having character sheets in real life is that we have no idea what level we are and thus it is tricky to know how far in life we are supposed to be. People come up with all sorts of fixes to this problem, most of which have to do with comparing ourselves to other people. As an aspiring author, I think it’s perfectly acceptable that I have not published a bestselling novel by the age of 22. None of my friends have either, after all. Conversely, someone who shall remain nameless but also happens to be my girlfriend and Desdenada co-founder Venezia, also 22, considers herself a failure because Mary Shelley published her first novel, Frankenstein (you may have heard of it) at the age of 21. I don’t think that’s a fair comparison, though, because Mary Shelley had the luxury of being a noblewoman who did not have a job or any responsibilities at all really. Also, she had the help of her husband, the already-successful Percy Shelley.

Then again, it’s hard to find any valid comparisons to measure your progress with. Most people compare themselves with a peer group by default, such as their graduating class. If everyone you went to school with has a better job than you now, you must be a failure, right? Unless they came from stronger financial backgrounds, or you suffer from a mental illness, or you simply have different priorities than they do. If they’re all playing backgammon and you’re playing Chinese checkers, how are you supposed to figure out who’s winning?

I’ve talked before about my guiding life philosophy, influenced heavily by Nietzsche and a little-known philosophy professor by the name of Luke Cuddy, that life is a game in which you have to make your own rules and win conditions. By the same token, you’re in charge of measuring your own progress.

I won’t lie, that’s tricky. If you make the game too hard, your confidence and self-esteem suffer and you feel miserable. If it’s too easy, every victory feels hollow and you are dissatisfied knowing you are capable of more. I’ve spent most of my life grappling with this problem and coming up empty. It’s certainly a topic I want to discuss a lot more in the future, and something I would love to hear your thoughts on, as well. No, seriously, somebody help me out here, because I don’t have the answers.

Anyway. The major takeaway is that it’s impossible to know your true competence in any skill and thus it would ridiculous to base your confidence or self-worth on your perceived competence in any skill. Maybe I’m the best writer. Maybe I’m the worst writer. It’s impossible to know for sure. What I am absolutely confident of, though, is the fact that I can write, and the fact that I want to write. I’m going to keep doing the thing that makes me happiest, and try to stop worrying about whether I’m good at it, because that’s a question that can never be answered.

What about you?

 

A Day in Mexico

I just passed my 22nd birthday and am coming up on the three-month anniversary of my arrival in Mexico. It’s still a lot to adjust to and a lot of things are still up in the air, but for the most part I’ve gotten settled and adopted something of a routine. So what is a typical day like for a gringo in Mexico City?

Daily Living in Mexico

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Not a stock photo – this is a picture I took of the house I live in

Casa Hemingway

Rented room in a house in Mexico City
The floor is concrete, but the bed is warm

I rent a room in a large old house with a handful of fellow tenants. The landlady also lives here. Between her family coming and going, the maid, and all my housemates, the place is always lively and bustling. I love the feeling of activity and community. There is always someone to talk to while I cook or eat, even if the conversations are mostly in Spanglish. At least I’m learning.

I had a couple room options when I moved in, and the other ones were more “normal”, but as soon as I saw this one I had to have it. It’s cozy and a little removed from the rest of the house, and there’s something almost…frontier about it. Venezia and I dubbed it Casa Hemingway because we agreed it was the room Hemingway would have picked. Moving here was the adventure of a lifetime, and now I live in what feel’s like an adventurer’s home.

A Run in the Parque

Plaza in Parque de los Venados
This horse is stone, but people ride real horses and donkeys around the park every day

In the mornings before work I’ll sometimes go for a 5K jog in Parque de los Venados, a beautiful park a couple minutes’ walk from my house. There’s a surprising amount of wildlife there for a park in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, including many kinds of birds and squirrels. There’s also vendors hawking their churros and cheeses, young couples canoodling in the grass, and men and women shooting hoops in the nearby courts. As often as not, I share the paths with donkeys and horses.

Beneath the Jacaranda Trees

Patio of a house in Mexico City
I was on facebook when I took this, but I do actual work too, I promise

I work as a content writer. Basically, clients tell me what they want me to write about and how many words they want me to write, and I write it. My dream job is writing novels and I might not be quite there yet, but at the very least I can call myself a professional writer now. Besides, look at my office. I spend my 9-5 in the brilliant Mexican sun beneath the flowering boughs of the jacaranda trees that grow beside the house. Tiny birds sing all around me, and across the street there’s usually a group of construction workers joking and listening to Mariachi or Reggaeton. I’d take my office over a cubicle any day.

Tacos al Whatever

Tacos with chorizo and lime
Not really sure what I was going for, but chorizo is delicious no matter what you do to it

During my lunch break, or just whenever I get hungry, I step into the kitchen and whip up some tacos. I’m still learning when it comes to Mexican cuisine, and I wouldn’t call my tacos authentic, but with a fridge full of traditional ingredients anything I make ends up being delicious. I have the privilege of working with tropical fruits, veggies, and herbs fresher than any you could get north of the border, and meats that are delicious even if I add nothing to them – arrachera, cecina, chorizo, the list goes on. Not to mention tortillas that don’t taste like cardboard.

The Coolest Library in the World

Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City
Yes, there’s a whale skeleton hanging in the middle of the library

When I need a change of scenery, sometimes I’ll bring my work to a local cafe (if there’s one thing Mexicans know, it’s coffee) or else Biblioteca Vasconcelos. There’s an outside chance you’ve heard of this place before – it shows up all over the internet in lists of “Coolest Libraries” or even “Coolest Buildings”. I swear half the pictures on Pinterest under the category Books are just pictures of this library. That said, photos don’t do it justice. When you’re inside, it feels like being in some sort of futuristic space station.

A World of Exploration

Chapultepec castle in Mexico City
What do you get when you cross Spanish, French, and Aztec?

When Venezia and I get off work, the real fun begins. I may have been here for nearly three months, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the amazing things to do in Mexico City, let alone the rest of the country. From Bosque de Chapultepec, where you can find the only genuine castle in North America, to Teotihuacan, where you can climb massive pyramids built by an unknowable civilization that was ancient when the Aztecs were young, to Centro Historico, where you can walk the very same streets where Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez once walked alongside Aztec Empire Moctezuma, as these unlikely allies struggled to hold on to a crumbling empire, there is enough to see and do in this city alone to keep me busy for a hundred lifetimes.

So here’s to another three months in this beautiful country, and then another three years after that. The odds may be against me, but I hope to explore and learn as much as humanly possible in the time I spend here, and I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

Self-Creation and Fantasy: Gamify Your Life

Self-creation through hiking: gamify your life by challenging yourself
One thing’s for sure: I was not high enough level for this adventure.

It is increasingly common to come across books talking about self-creation or apps to help you gamify your life. As an avid gamer and self-improvement junkie, I could not be happier. I always found it odd that gamers are stereotyped as lazy or unsuccessful, since the act of playing a game seems like the ultimate productivity training. In any case, psychologists have confirmed what my 10-year-old self highly suspected: you can get more done by turning everything into a game.

From a psychological angle it makes sense. When you “win” or “progress” in a game, even an arbitrary one such as when a clever parent awards a child points for cleaning their room, the brain gets a dopamine hit. The main consequence of getting a dopamine hit is wanting more dopamine hits, so you can trick yourself into getting chemically addicted to productivity. I’ve always been more interested in gamification from a philosophical angle, though.

In my first post I talked about a life philosophy, based on the teachings of Nietzsche and lessons learned from World of Warcraft, that views life as a game. You are not only the player, but also the one who defines the rules. In time I want to get into the nitty gritty of applying gamification to your own life, but for now I want to explore it in broader and significantly less helpful terms.

The Fantasy of Self-Creation

I believe there are three kinds of people who emphasize fantasy in their lives. I do not mean the genre but rather any form of art or entertainment that allows them to leave this world and explore a new one. I tend to think of video games, books, and movies, but there are others. All three categories have a dark side, but each also has positive potential.

The Escapist

Now like I said, none of these categories are inherently good or bad. Observant readers, or, you know, readers with eyes will have noticed that I have plastered the phrase “a rejection of escapism” all over this site and all the social media used to promote this site. That said, I think the majority of Escapists do not have anything to worry about. I just have personally known many people – myself included – who tend toward the dark side of this category.

For a lot of people, fantasy is just a way to kill time or blow off stream here and there. After a long day of work you just want to lose yourself in a steamy romance novel or jump into a first-person shooter and murder your friends. This is normal and healthy. The problem is when escaping becomes the main focus of your life. When you have no real life goals or passions outside of your fantasy of choice. In my experience, Escapists who toward this extreme do not lack other interests, but merely believe themselves incapable of achieving their dreams in the real world. If these limiting beliefs are broken, it is astounding how quickly these people can turn into happy, successful forces of self-creation.

The Professional

While the Escapist divides life between time spent productively and time spent escaping into fantasy, the Professional makes fantasy productive. The author who spends a lot of time reading so that they can write better falls into this category. So does the Hearthstone player who pays rent by streaming on Twitch. In general, there is nothing negative about this. It is a job like any other, and if the Professional likes what they do and can pay their bills then they will probably live a good life.

The dark side of this category is that a lot of people see these jobs with rose-colored glasses. We all know a thousand people who are writing the next great novel and have been as long as we can remember. It sounds easy and fun to be a writer or a professional gamer, but the truth is being successful at either of these careers is usually harder and more painful than following a more traditional path. Putting in a solid eight hours of high-level content creation every day is one thing, but wasting your time on video games while insisting that one day you’ll make a career out of it is another.

The Seeker

Again, I feel the need to emphasize that none of these categories are inherently good or bad. Desdenada was specifically built to cater to people in this group, and for better or worse I consider myself a part of it, but that’s not a measure of quality. It just happens to be where my interests lie, and I feel like it’s a group that is underrepresented.

On a good day, the Seeker reads books or plays games as part of a quest for meaning and inspiration. They learn lessons and explore worlds, but always with end goal of leaving the fantasy behind and returning to the real world better and stronger for it. I don’t know if I ever would have taken a spontaneous solo pilgrimage to the enchanted wilderness of Bella Coola or dropped everything to move to Mexico if I hadn’t spent so much time with World of Warcraft, falling in love with the idea of adventuring in strange and exotic lands. Meanwhile, Venezia studied Microbiology due to her formative experience with Jurassic Park.

The dark side of the Seeker is truly dark. I spent a lot of my life in this category, and not in a good way. The same way the Professional might spend a lot of time hanging out at Starbucks talking about their book without ever actually writing about it, the Seeker can spend all day playing World of Warcraft and making plans to go on real-life adventures without ever actually following through.

Create Your Fantasy

In conclusion, I’m speaking to the Seekers. There aren’t a whole lot of you, but I know you’re out there. You who see fantasy as a tool of self-creation. You who hear “gamify your life” and do not think “maximize your productivity” but think instead “define your own reality”. There may not be a lot of your, but one thing is certain: you sure stand out in a crowd. Augmented reality, gamification, quantification of self, and the culture of self-actualization are on the rise. This is our time, and while others might see it as a time of turbulence and negativity, we know that life is nothing more than what you make it.

As usual, Nietzsche said it best: “One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”

 

Logan Review: Darker and Edgier and Mostly the Same

When I started writing this blog, I decided I would write on the broad topic of entertainment every Friday. Today is Saturday, because I don’t have my life together, but anyway, here’s my first impressions of the second most popular R-rated dark gritty Q1 Marvel superhero movie to date.

Logan

SPOILERS for Logan. The whole thing. All of it.

Right out the gate, my experience watching Logan was probably different than almost every other viewer’s. Being a gringo watching the movie in a theater in Mexico while sitting beside my Mexican girlfriend somewhat colored my reaction to the very first scene, which featured a gringo heroically tearing a bunch of Mexicans to shreds because – and I’m not making this up – the Mexicans tried to steal his tires. Admittedly, my reaction was still at least 50% “Woah sweet claws”, but the rest of me was thinking what my girlfriend was saying out loud: “Well, this is unfortunate.” Venezia and I are going to do a more comprehensive video review of Logan at some point and the film’s handling of Mexico will doubtless be a major talking point, so I won’t get into it too much here. Suffice it to say that the Mexicans I’ve spoken to would probably have a higher opinion of Logan if it hadn’t involved Mexico at all.

With that out of the way, there was a lot I loved about the movie. The R-rating wasn’t just marketing hype. The film was dark, and gritty, and brutal in just the right way. It wasn’t that the violence was excessive or gratuitous. It was that you really felt the impact every time Wolverine drove his claws through someone’s head. Action in superhero movies, even Deadpool, always feels so soft to me, so this alone was enough to make Logan my favorite superhero movie of all time. This isn’t saying a whole lot since I don’t love superhero movies in general, but Logan showed me what a superhero movie could be, and I loved it. The whole antihero trope is hugely popular these days, but even movies that star antiheroes are afraid to actually have the hero do anything questionable and risk alienating the audience. As a result, these characters tend to be snarky and loudly protest doing anything heroic while still actively being heroic and going above and beyond the call of duty at every turn. Early on in Logan, on the other hand, Wolverine tries to abandon a little girl to her death to save himself and his friends. Not as in he thinks really hard about abandoning her but comes back at the last second because he secretly has a heart of gold. He literally makes every effort to leave her behind, and only doesn’t because he proves physically incapable of escaping himself. His alcohol problem is not just a character trait, but an actual problem. Xavier is motivated by equal parts altruism and a selfish desire to still matter. His deteriorating mental state has not only robbed him of his powers, but also caused him to inadvertently murder, like, a lot of innocent people. Main characters die, and they don’t come back. These are all things I haven’t seen in a comic book movie before, and I look forward to seeing more of going forward.

That said, my feelings are decidedly mixed. All these new, daring, gritty decisions are exciting, but they’re pretty much sprayed on top of the most basic Marvel formula. Take way that gritty coat of paint, and this is how the plot shakes out:

  • Hero is lying low and just wants to be left alone
  • Damsel in distress asks hero to do hero stuff, but hero is reluctant
  • Person hero cares about is threatened, forcing hero to do hero stuff
  • Faceless corporate villain pursues hero
    • Pursuit is headed by smarmy faux-affable henchman and misguided affable scientist
    • Each time hero thinks he’s safe, faceless corporate villain appears out of nowhere
  • Hero fights evil version of himself and seemingly wins but doesn’t bother to make sure
  • Hero decides he has done a sufficient level of hero stuff and tries to leave before the plot is resolved
  • The plot gets catty and threatens someone he cares about again
  • In a throwaway line that seems totally out of place, smarmy faux-affable henchman mentions that GMOs are the root of all evil
    • Everyone immediately forgets he said this and it is never brought up again
  • Hero defeats evil version of himself with the help of new allies, but doesn’t bother to make sure he’s really dead
  • Hero fights evil version of himself again, sacrificing everything to save someone he cares about
  • Evil version of hero is ultimately killed by MacGuffin which could have been used at any time, rendering most of the plot, as well as the death of the hero and countless innocents, pretty much pointless
  • The plot resolves in a fashion that sets up not only a sequal, but potentially an entire franchise

Okay, so my plot breakdown was a little snarkier than it needed to be, but at the end of the day the structure of Logan is pretty identical to the first Captain America or Ant Man or even Deadpool for that matter.

Again, we have a more extensive video review in the works so if this seems a little offhand or flippant, stay tuned. Unlike me, Venezia has been watching Hugh Jackman star in Wolverine movies pretty much since she was born, so her take on Logan is probably a bit more fair. In any case, this is my first impression: Logan breaks a lot of new ground and does a lot of stuff that is just plain awesome, but at its heart it is a formulaic story that Marvel has told a thousand times.

If you have your own take on the movie, we’d love to hear from you! Even if you just want to tell me how wrong I am. Especially if you just want to tell me how wrong I am. Hit me with your best adamantium-clad shot.

Chasing Butterflies in Michoacan

Each Wednesday, I will bring you a post chronicling my experiences as a gringo in Mexico. Last weekend, Venezia and I headed out to the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan, and while we are working on producing a video to cover the experience in full, here are a few of my personal observations.

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My first thought as we set out for Michoacan was that I honestly had no idea what to expect. Even as a gringo, I have a vague idea of what many of the states are known for. Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan centers on Earth. Oaxaca is a lush rain forest. The Yucatan is known for its beach resorts. Guadalajara is where the Virgin Mary keeps her summer home. But Michoacan? I checked with Venezia and several others and discovered that not even most Mexicans know what the deal is with Michoacan.

I did some research and I discovered that this might not be an accident. It turns out Michoacan is one of the most naturally beautiful states in all of Mexico, yet its people have actively resisted becoming a developed tourist destination like Cancun and other resorts. This attitude means that in addition to its rolling hills and ancient forests, Michoacan also retains a rich cultural diversity and traditions that go back thousands of years.

Michoacan was the ancient seat of the Purepecha Empire, which rivaled the Aztec Empire at the time of the Spanish conquest. The state’s name means “Place of the Fishermen” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and other ancient civilizations. the name is as apt today as ever, as most of Michoacan’s population still engage in traditional industries such as fishing and agriculture. There is still a significant native population within the state as well, including Purepecha, Otomi, and Nahua peoples. There is also a sizable Afro-Mexican population.

Knowing all this, I wish that we had been able to spend more time in Michoacan, discovering the ancient cultures and traditions that live on to this day. Still, seeing the butterflies at El Rosario was and experience all its own. After climbing a steep trail to the observation point which stands at 10,000 feet above sea level, we were treated to the sight of tens of millions of butterflies wintering in the alpine forest.

I have a personal connection to the monarch butterfly which made this experience all the more valuable to me. I spent the first half of my childhood in Santa Cruz, California, where many monarchs lay their eggs during the summer months before migrating to Canada. Incidentally, Canada is where I spent the second half of my childhood, although I grew up in Western Canada while the butterflies prefer the Eastern side.

Now, having followed the butterflies across the continent, making a journey in a fraction of a lifetime that takes five generations of butterflies to complete, I find myself reflecting on what it means to be a visitor in this country. In the current political climate, immigration and international travel are rather heated topics. As an American, I am fortunate to be able to enter Mexico far more easily than a Mexican could enter America, but even so I am learning how difficult it can be to adapt to a new culture and it will be years before I can even begin the process of requesting a citizenship.

And so it was with some jealousy in my heart that I watched the butterflies, who know no borders, who are citizens of a nation far older than the young lands of America, Canada, or Mexico, older even than the ancient empires of the Purepecha and the Aztecs. I find myself thinking about so many people I have met in my life who have never ventured beyond the borders of their home country, never even lived outside the city of their birth. I can’t help but wonder: if more people followed the path of the butterfly, how might the world be different? How would we feel about notions such as borders and citizenship if more of us knew what it is to live in a place 3,000 miles from where we were born, and to call that place home?

Then I remember that the peoples of two of the nations I have lived in have no idea what miles even are, and I feel very American indeed.