Sunday, February 20, 2022

Genesis and all that baggage...

It's impossible to read anything without having your interpretation of it affected by your own biases, prejudices, and life experiences. Oftentimes, our personal spin is pretty trivial. Sometimes we change the meaning completely. 

But sometimes we miss the point entirely.

And I don't know of anything that gives a better example of that than the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. One of the biggest problems is the insistence on taking the story literally. This can, ironically enough, come from both the fundamentalist and skeptical points of view. In the case of the fundamentalists, that relies on completely ignoring any contradictions and what we have learned about the natural world over the past few thousand years. In the case of the skeptics, that view relies on the notion that the author(s) must have been of low intelligence and unable to see any of the contradictions within the text or with the natural world.

Setting all of that aside, we have the problem of the Christian tradition and dogma, which affects the understanding of both believers and nonbelievers alike. And whether they take the story literally or not, they seem to leave out some pretty important details when it comes to considering what the story means.

Generally speaking, the Christian tradition holds it that the significance of the story is man's disobedience, as Adam and Eve took from the one tree that was forbidden from them (after some prompting from a serpent). This sets us up as a species with original sin and the need for redemption, which comes in the form of Jesus Christ. In other words, the story sets up the rest of The Bible.

Here are just a few problems with that:

1. The Bible is not *a* book. It's a collection of books from various authors. Some of the books have multiple authors as well (like Genesis, where the Adam and Eve story can be found). Not only that, but some of the books are separated by centuries. 

2. The story stood on its own for centuries before there was any kind of interpretation about how it was all setting up the arrival of Jesus. The Jewish tradition still doesn't view it that way, for obvious reasons. 

3. The text doesn't say that the serpent was Satan/the devil. It's a serpent, and a serpent gets punished. When God tells him that he'll have to crawl on his belly, he doesn't say, "Oh, Satan, you old rapscallion you! Disguising yourself as one of my creations! Why, I oughtta..." (And I'm pretty sure that Jewish tradition does not associate the serpent with their concept of Satan - which is a very different concept than what Christians have.) I know that there are references in the New Testament that connects the serpent to Satan, but again, that didn't come around for several centuries later.

4. It's not just a forbidden tree. It's the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That's a pretty important detail.

5. There is another significant tree - the Tree of Life. This always gets left out, and in my mind, it's a pretty big deal to just ignore.

So, what exactly is going on here with the Adam and Eve story? I'm not going to be so foolish as to say that I have THE interpretation. Just like pretty much every story, there's a lot going on here, and it's easy to be reductive. What I have here is A thing that is happening in the story, which I think gets overlooked by those who want to take it literally and/or retcon it into Christian theology.

The story of Adam and Eve explains why human beings are different from the animals but still lower than God. Here's my case for this interpretation:

1. The first thing that Adam and Eve notice once they take from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is that they're naked, so they cover up. (I love it when God asks them, "Who told you that you were naked?" This sounds funny out of context, but it also shows that the God of Genesis isn't the omnipresent, omniscient being that people describe today. What, he doesn't know what just happened? Was he taking a nap?) 

So, they get some knowledge and suddenly realize that their bits are just flinging in the breeze. Do you know what goes around naked all the time and doesn't notice a problem with it? Animals. In other words, Adam and Eve were just a slight step above all of the other animals until they took that fruit. Then they realized what shameless exhibitionists they had been this whole time.

2. The serpent represents death, among other things. This is the thing with this story. If the two contradictory orders of creation don't signal "THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY" then a talking snake is slapping you across the face for your ridiculous insistence on textual literalism. 

Generally speaking, people don't like snakes. Our prehistoric ancestors learned not to get too close to them, because by the time you figured out whether it was harmless or not, you'd get bitten and be on the road to death. This is why they are such a common symbol in mythology, often representing death and destruction.

It's probably not a coincidence that in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the thing that robs Gilgamesh of the plant that would give him eternal life is a serpent. (It's not a coincidence because that story obviously shares a common ancestor with the narrative found in Genesis.)

3. What is God's big concern that makes him toss those two leaf-wearing doofuses out of the Garden? "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever..."

Let's set aside the "us" (Who is he talking to?) for today and realize that man has become like God (or the gods even) in the sense that he has knowledge that he did not have before and which the animals do not. But God doesn't want them joining some kind of Hebrew pantheon (maybe Zeus with all of his travails advised him about this) so he kicks them outta town before they can get from the Tree of Life.

That's right. Fruit of Knowledge + The Fruit of Life = godhood.

We've got one of them, which puts us in a different category from the animals. We didn't get the other, which makes us lesser than deities.

I always say that myths are true stories of things that didn't happen. One of the profound things going on with this story is humanity's struggle to make sense of their place in this world. They had their gods in the sky that had human personalities but were somehow not subject to the same problems that we are. There were the animals who are alike us in so many ways, yet there is so much that sets us apart. This story is the way that some ancient people made sense of that.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

An atheist family goes to Praise in the Park

Yesterday I went with my wife and son to Praise in the Park in Todos Santos Plaza in our hometown of Concord, CA. It's a festival of Christian music, so if you know me, you might wonder why I'd go there willingly.

We went for a few reasons. For starters, it's always nice to see some live music, and I have no problem admitting that I like plenty of religious songs. Is a lot of it cheesy? Sure. But that's true for a lot of music in general. However, I'm not going to knock an entire genre which would technically include many songs from U2, Al Green, and Johnny Cash.

The second reason is that my friend, Justin McRoberts was performing, and it's always good to support a friend.

The third reason is that my son gets pretty much no religious exposure. Sure, much of that is by design. However, he lives in a world where most people have spiritual beliefs, and Christianity is still the predominant religion in our area. Seems to me like a good opportunity to expose him to a lot of good people who are deep down just like us but have a different way of seeing the world.

I have my opinions about faith and religion, but I try to keep most of them to myself around my son. I'll tell him what my beliefs are, but when we discuss the subject, I try to just listen to him and talk through what his feelings are. (No surprise here - he doesn't believe in a god. Kids tend to believe what their parents believe.)

My goal during the show was to also keep my thoughts to myself and let him form his own opinions. The only strong opinions I gave out loud was when I thought that the music was good or there was a good message that could appeal to nonbelievers as easily as believers. (Ideas about accepting others and realizing our own limitations are pretty universal.)

I should point out that we were only there for about an hour and a half. We caught the tail end of one band, saw a rapper, then saw Justin's solo set, and then stuck around for the first three songs when Justin played with a band.

Let me start off with the good stuff and warn you when I let loose with all the things I wanted to say out loud. That way, you can skip the negative/critical if you want.

The band that was playing when we came in was pretty good. It was your standard prayer-in-a-song, but the band was on point and so were the singers. No doubt the crowd there was pleased, and I liked the melody.

Next came a rapper. I'll save my comments for later, but my son liked it and even shook his booty a bit. A funny thing happened when the rapper said something along the lines of, "Have you ever had Satan just mess up things for you?" to which my son responded, "No." I was tempted to hush him, but it was an honest response. Satan's just not a thing that's a factor in his life.

Justin did a really great job. It was very centered on praising and worshipping Jesus, which shouldn't be surprising. What I really liked was how he incorporated video of Martin Luther King, Jr. and talked about (gasp!) social justice. Justin even gave a shoutout to gay people in his message of inclusiveness. In my area, that's probably not too far out of line from how the Christians here feel. Honestly, I don't think that I know any local Christians who are lousy to gay people. (But I should probably admit that I'm probably not the best person to analyze this issue.)

So, Justin was good, and it's really cool to see this guy I knew back in middle school progress as much as he did and really find a unique voice in a potentially limiting genre.

But as much as I liked him, the band was even better. My son liked it so much that he took out his phone and recorded some of the performance. They were definitely a bunch of musicians who are dedicated to their craft and sounded as tight as any top-tier act that I've seen. You don't have to believe in Jesus to feel the sincerity and power in what they were expressing.

So, I liked what I saw, and I'd probably go again. Not sure that I'd want to spend all day there, but there are very few things in this world where there are that many people that I'd want to stick around for all day. (Maybe a comic book convention.)

Okay, all that said - here were the things that I was keeping to myself:

I'm not going to go into an overview of why I don't believe in Christianity and all of my problems with it. I suppose that if you scroll through my blog from several years ago, you'll find what you need to find. I might have a few things left to say that are waiting for their own blog posts, but I'll save that for another time.

I'm also not going to make fun of the rapper, but let's just say that he was a white guy, and the thing that you think about white guy rappers who aren't Eminem probably applies to him. I'm not going to get too into it, although he did a bit where he got the crowd to chant, "Go Jesus, go Jesus, go Jesus, go!" which is basically what Vanilla Ice did in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze only replace "Jesus" with "Ninja". Like I said, my son liked him, and a lot of kids were up there dancing. Nothing wrong with dancing, unless you're Amish.

He talked about how messed up his life was until he turned it all around when he found Jesus. I always wonder what they make of people who go through life just fine without Jesus? Obviously, everybody has some room for improvement, but even Christians will admit that doesn't stop with a conversion. I mean, there are people who have relatively happy, productive lives and Jesus just isn't a factor in it.

I reckon that they probably don't think about that too much. I dunno. Maybe they do.

That's all fine though. It's his experience, and I have no reason to doubt him. I do take issue with his messages of "purity" and how he'd never touch any woman that wasn't his "wifey". Now, if it was a message of being loyal to your significant other, then I'd be fine with it. However, unless you just got back from the moons of Jupiter, you know that "purity" is about not having sex with anyone until marriage, which is a toxic ideology that ultimately makes kids wind up feeling bad about themselves. Being a virgin should not be considered a virtue (just as losing one's virginity shouldn't be considered as important as other segments of our society make it out to be.)

So, yeah, purity culture is one of those things that we know causes harm, so why are they still pushing it? Maybe for the same reason we pushed failed anti-drug policies for so long - people don't like admitting that they were wrong about something.

Anyway, beyond that, I'm not going to complain about people praying to God and praising God when that's the whole point of the event. Might as well go to the Taco festival and whine that there are too many places selling tacos.

I guess the other thing I want to write isn't necessarily a criticism. In one of the songs where Justin was playing with the band, there was a line that expressed how they were "more than just flesh and blood". That one really struck me, as it's just not something that I think about anymore, but I have long since come to peace with the idea that I'm just flesh and blood.

Part of me wonders what they're so scared of? I mean, is it REALLY so bad if everything about you ends when you shuffle the mortal coil? I don't see how having another life after this one adds any meaning. If anything, I'm feeling really fortunate that I even got to live as long as I did.

I'm sure that a person of faith doesn't want to hear this, so you believers out there might want to stop right here. However, it just strikes me now as being somewhat childish. It's like my son and Santa Claus. I'm pretty sure that he's bright enough to figure out that Santa isn't real. However, he still talks about Santa as though he is real, likely because he's afraid that Christmas will be different if he voices his nonbelief. The thing is, there simply is no good reason to think that you're going to live on beyond your flesh and blood.

No doubt some of you are thinking that you have a good reason that you're just dying to tell me. Maybe just trust me that by this point in my life, and as a former believer myself, I'm not likely to hear something new. Just go ahead and think that I'm closed-minded or lost or whatever makes it easier for you to deal with that thought.

Or maybe ask yourself a question - do you believe in an afterlife because you find that reason so convincing? Or do you find the reason convincing because you want to believe in an afterlife?

You might not have an answer to that right away.

But it's worth thinking about.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The All Mayonnaise Diet!

I'm on the all ice cream diet.
There’s nothing worse than somebody who loses a lot of weight and then acts like they’re an expert on weight loss. Even if they’ve managed to lose a lot of weight, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve done it in a healthy way. It also doesn’t mean that it’s a good method for everybody to lose weight.

That’s why I’ve been somewhat hesitant to write this blog about how I lost weight. I’ve made a few posts on Facebook about what’s been going on with me, but I try to focus on how I’m feeling and results like my blood pressure (going down!) and my long bike rides. (I remember when I first made it to ten miles and that seemed like a big deal. My current record is just over 50 miles.) I also haven’t ever divulged how much I weigh or used to weigh. I’ll just point out that I had to buy new pants and my XXL shirts are just way too baggy for me now. (Even my XL shirts are a bit baggy, but comfortably so.)

Let’s face it - diet culture is toxic. The reason why I don’t go into my exact weight is because that’s too much of a focus. I once lost twenty pounds, for instance. I did that by contracting Hepatitis A. Certainly not a healthy method. When we focus too much on weight, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Let me put it this way - I weighed about 30 pounds more than I do now, and I was taking lengthy bike rides. There is no doubt in my mind that there are people who are far slimmer than I was then who couldn’t keep up with me. Who’s healthier? If you looked at me, you’d probably go with the slimmer fella. But when the zombies come and you need a guy to get past them for a supply run, I would be your guy, 30 extra pounds and all.

I guess that’s one rather big disclaimer when I could have just said this: I am only going to talk about what I did. It’s not health advice for you. I can say that it worked for me, and I have not been gaining it back. (I was putting on some weight when the summer started, but with a few slight adjustments, I was able to get back down again.) I should also point out that I’m still technically “overweight”. I have a definite “dad bod” and nobody’s going to be asking me to pose shirtless anytime soon.

Before we go into what I did - let’s talk about what my biggest problem was before I started to turn things around. It’s not much of a riddle. I always got in a decent amount of exercise (about an hour long walk every evening). I ate a pretty good variety of foods, being sure to get in my vegetables. I also didn’t drink too much - averaging about one to two beers a day.

The problem wasn’t what I consumed. It was the amount I consumed. I didn’t just like to be satisfied. I liked to be stuffed. I also liked to munch in between meals. (And I’ll be honest, my in between snacks were high-calorie, low nutrition.) I didn’t really count them up, but I think it’s safe to say that I would go well over 3000 calories a day on average. (A guy my size who gets the amount of exercise I do needs about 2400 a day - but again, don’t take that as medical advice. That’s what my doctor told me, and it matches other things that I’ve read.)

As for what turned things around, it all began when I bought myself a bicycle. I actually bought one for my wife first, but then I got myself one so I could go out riding with her. I wound up riding a lot more often, and I found myself enjoying the cycling trails around me. (Iron Horse and Contra Costa Canal for those who live in my area.) I remember when a five mile ride would wear me out, but I slowly started working my way up to 10, 20, and eventually 30 miles. It got to the point after a few years where I invested in a lighter (read: more expensive) bike, and reached the aforementioned 50 mile record.

Turns out that all of that bike riding burns some belly fat. 

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t the type to weigh myself. I didn’t even own a scale for some time. However, people were pointing out to me that I had lost some weight, and I noticed that my shirts were a bit more roomy. A trip to the doctor’s office confirmed that I had lost about 20 pounds.

Unfortunately, another trip to the doctor’s office revealed that my A1C is right in the “pre-diabetes” zone. My son has type 1 diabetes, so I know a bit about what that can entail (although they’re really two different diseases with different causes but similar symptoms and treatments). That put a scare into me.

I remember talking to my doctor about it. She assured me that it didn’t mean that I had diabetes or that I even needed to go on medication just yet, but I needed to keep my eye on that number and make some changes. I told her that I thought that I could do it. Sure, I’ve said that sort of a thing before, but this time it was going to be different. This time, I was going to be real about it and have a plan.

And that plan? The Paleo Diet!

No, wait, not that.



Blood Type Diet? Keto? Gluten Free? Eating clean? Nothing but Mayonnaise?

No, no, no, not sure what that even means,

I also didn’t opt for vegetarianism or veganism, but I didn’t want to lump those legitimate lifestyle choices with fad diets.

I didn’t go for any of those because I know myself too well. They’re all too extreme, and from my understanding, a lot of people can indeed lose weight that way, but they tend to be unsustainable and lead to an eventual return to point A.

(Again, I am not a health expert. If one of those diets worked for you, your doctor is cool with it, and you’re feeling good - go have fun with it.)

I wasn’t willing to sacrifice anything (especially sweets - my Achilles heel). I just had to scale things back a bit. And the way to do it was by tracking my calories and exercise on my phone. (I used the Samsung Health app.) This forced me to be a bit more mindful about what I was eating. I still enjoyed everything that I had before, from burgers to hot dogs to you name it. I also allowed myself one sweet thing per day. I like to save it for the end of the day, so I tend to turn down cookies, cake, etc. during the day because while I will allow myself those things, having one in the middle of the day means that I don’t get one at the end of that day. I realize that to some people that seems a bit obsessive, but I know myself. If I don’t put this “rule” on myself, I will easily consume an extra 600 calories a day just in sweets alone.

One thing that it has also done is made me consider what gives me the most “bang for my buck”. In other words, I try to get the most filling food for the fewest calories. I have a big breakfast that consists of eggs with kale/spinach, herring, oatmeal, and a banana (not all mixed together). That’s about 600 calories, and it nicely carries me through to lunchtime with the help of an apple at around 9:30. Compare this to what I once did - a big bowl of cereal, which consisted of far more calories, and I was starving by 9:00. Basically, whole grains and protein-rich foods tend to take a bit longer to digest.

Honestly though, I try to have a nourishing breakfast and lunch and then eat whatever the hell I want for dinner.

I should add a bit of a disclaimer though that I have drastically reduced my alcohol intake. While I was never a big drinker in the first place (1-2 beers a day) I am now down to 1-2 beers a month. Essentially it just kept coming down to whether I wanted to have ice cream/chocolate at the end of the day or a beer.

Chocolate wins. Your mileage may vary.

Over the course of several months, I dropped about another 30 pounds. It’s funny how it happens because the pattern was that I’d gain some weight as I added muscle (mostly to my legs - I’m not big on upper-body workouts) and then see a drop as I lost more fat. I think that I averaged about 1-2 pounds per week.

This said, I really wonder how weird it must feel when people drop that much weight in a short amount of time. I noticed little changes that came along bit by bit. I could lie on my stomach while I slept again! I could peddle my bike while raising myself up off the seat! I could suck in my gut!

At this point, I’m still doing the same thing but I’m not dropping any more pounds. It’s okay. I feel good, and while my A1C hasn’t gone down, I have confidence that I can, at the very least, keep it where it is. As for all of my other health indicators like cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. they all look better than they ever have and are within the “healthy” range. I think it’s safe to say that I’m probably healthier than I have ever been in my adult life. 

So, that’s what I did. Like I said from the start, that’s just my story and it no doubt has some flaws and might not work for you. 

Who should you listen to? Actual dieticians. (What about nutritionists? That’s not a legally protected term like “dietician” is.) I really like Abby Langer. She’s a great rational, skeptical voice who cuts through a lot of the bullshit and toxic culture that lurks in the “health” industry.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Bill Maher and the low art of comics

Anybody who's a comic book fan has probably read what Bill Maher has had to say about Stan Lee. Apparently, Maher doesn't see what the big deal is, and he thinks that comic books can't be sophisticated because they contain pictures. I'm not going to go too into Bill Maher here. I lean pretty left, so I appreciate when he criticizes conservatives and Trump. However, he's a tremendous hypocrite for calling out the right for its climate change science denial while espousing scientific illiteracy when it comes to vaccines and GMOs. (And even though he's an atheist like myself, his movie Religulous contained a lot of really bad arguments.)

Anyway, Neil Gaiman said it best with his tweet: "More people cared about Stan Lee’s death than care about Bill Maher alive."

With that said, I wish that people would get over the whole thing with mixing words and pictures. Literature can be high art, correct? So can drawings, right? Why is it bad when you put them together, either in a comic book or a picture book? Most people can't draw much of anything, much less draw well. Artists, including comic book artists, take years and years to develop their skills. When it comes to comic book artists, they not only need to know how to draw, they need to know how to tell a story with pictures. Ever look at a comic and get confused as to what order you should look at things? While the problem might be with you, chances are also good that the artist doesn't know how to construct a page just right so your eye flows naturally from one panel to the next.

I realize that lots of people are already citing works like Maus and Watchmen as examples of the genre achieving high-art status. That's worth mentioning, but even if we didn't have these ready examples, the very notion of panning an entire art form is just ridiculous.

Think of it this way: if the problem with comic books is that they require pictures and can't just use words, then what does that say about every other form of art?

Music? No thank you. I'll just read books of poetry because I don't need somebody to sing it to me! Some of those songs don't even have words!

Those folks who see live productions of Shakespeare? What, they need a bunch of actors to perform the play for them? Why can't they just read it? It's all published in books!

Ever go to an art museum? Why? Don't you know how to read?

The irony of it all is that the basis of Maher's criticism is one that can be leveled much more effectively at the way he makes his living - television. What, that's high art all of a sudden? (I believe that it can be, but if only comics or television can be on the list of high art, I'll put comics first.)

I reckon that Maher probably hasn't looked at a comic book since he was a kid, and he figures that they're all the same as they were back then. (But I also hate the idea of disparaging entertainment made for kids. That can be just as great as anything else.)

I don't expect everybody to have the same depth of knowledge about comics history that I do, but I wonder if Maher would be surprised if he found out that his attitude is rooted in one that was spearheaded by puritanical religious zealots who sought to ban comic books in the 1950s. The medium has been getting more and more respectable over the years, attracting a more diverse audience. I've been reading them for over 30 years, and I used to hear people say stuff like what Maher did all the time. I guess it just kinda shocked me that a guy who did a cameo in Iron Man 3 would be so totally clueless. Surely he knows and interacts with some pretty intelligent comic book readers?

Lastly, he tries to draw a link between the fact that we take comic books seriously in this country and we elected Donald Trump to the presidency. I guess Maher also doesn't know how much more respected comic books are in Europe and Japan.

Whatever. The man likes to feel like he's better than all the rubes out there, but somebody needs to tell him that you need to choose between being condescending and being full of shit. You don't get to do both.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Excelsior to the Man

It's rare that I get sad or even shed a tear when it comes to a celebrity death. Today is different though because Stan Lee has passed away. It's not like this was sudden and unexpected. The man made it to 95, and his ailing health has been in the news. It still hits me hard though because I feel like it's the end of something more than just one of my favorite creators.

I don't know how old I was when I first became aware of Stan Lee. I remember that he narrated Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, so I must have been around seven or eight. I remember that my sister had to correct me, as I thought he kept saying "This is Stanley" as opposed to "Stan Lee".

I've met him four times in my life. I remember the first time, when I was probably twelve or thirteen, I told him that I had been a fan of Spider-Man my whole life. I'm not sure what he said in reply, but it was a witty/funny/heartfelt response.

The second time, when I got him to sign the first issue of the Silver Surfer story that he did with Moebius, I told him that my mother had also read and enjoyed that particular comic. He responded with "Tell your mother I said hello."

I honestly don't remember the third time, but I have the autograph from 1991 to prove it.

The fourth time was just a few years ago when he did a signing at my local comic book shop, Flying Colors Comics. My wife wanted to be there, but she had jury duty. My son was only four years old, and wouldn't understand why we were waiting in line. I wanted them to be a part of it though, so I got Stan to hold up a picture of my wife and son for the photo I got. He seemed to get a genuine kick out of it. When I thanked him for coming out to do the signing, he replied, "Yeah, that was awfully nice of me to do that."

It's hard for me to convey just how much Stan Lee means to me. If you scroll through my blog, you'll see that I write a lot about comics. While comics would certainly exist without him, I'm not sure that I even would have gotten hooked if it had not been for him. While I read all sorts of stuff now, it was Marvel Comics that sparked my imagination initially. And while it's true that creators like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby did not receive their fair share of credit and attention, Marvel would not be Marvel if it wasn't for Stan Lee.

When my son was really little, I read to him some of those old Lee/Ditko Spider-Man issues. While Ditko's art is something that I have grown to appreciate over time, I always enjoyed Lee's dialogue, and reading it out loud made me realize how much of the very character of Marvel Comics is due to his way with words.

Stan Lee always managed to balance fun and gravitas at the same time. The titles of the stories set the reader up for this unique mix of storytelling: "When Falls the Meteor!", "Where Flies the Beetle!", and "If This Be My Destiny!" This is some serious stuff, dammit! But you're going to enjoy every second of it, double dammit! And even if your first Marvel Comic wasn't written by him, his style continued to permeate throughout the books long after he stopped writing them on a regular basis.

I think that this is one of the reason why I love the Marvel movies so much. Is there anything more fun than watching Thor and Rocket Raccoon have a heart-to-heart talk over the fact that Thor no longer has anything left to lose in his life? But at the same time, it's all taken very seriously, and you can feel empathy for both a talking raccoon and the god of thunder. That's some Stan Lee influence right there, and I think the movie makers, from the producer to the director to the actors, would be the first ones to admit that.

Speaking of the movies, one thing that's great to know is that Stan finally got to see all of those characters finally get the respect they deserve from Hollywood. I remember when I saw him for the first time at a convention, he was talking about the inevitable release of all kinds of movies based on Marvel characters. I remember telling my uncle all about that, and he had to break it to me that Stan had been hyping all kinds of projects ever since he moved out to Hollywood, and most of these projects never saw the light of day, and those that did were major clunkers (see Dolph Lundgren in The Punisher).

I doubt that I'm going to be the only one writing a tribute to Stan who touches on the fact that his biggest talent was as a master of hype. Yeah, he could write a good story, and he changed the way superhero comics were done, but his biggest skill was getting people excited. That was right there on the page, but it also would come through in that unmistakable, charismatic voice of his. (He doesn't just get all of those cameos because of his creator credits!)

Anyway, this one is hard on me because it feels like something bigger has come to an end. Stan was around during the Golden Age of Comics. He changed the way things were done during what he (of course) dubbed The Marvel Age of Comics. While he may not have been doing regular monthly books by the time I started reading in the 1980s, his presence was always there. My son, who only takes a passing interest in superhero comics, knows who he is. My wife knows who he is. Shoot, pretty much everyone knows who he is.

I often share obituaries of important comic book creators on Facebook. I usually only get a few people who like/comment, as not many people know who they are.

Everybody knows Stan Lee though. I don't think that there's another comic book creator where I can say the same.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Smash diabetes!

Sometimes, in order to save my seven year old son's life, I give him gummy bears. A friend of mine once helped me out by giving him Cheetos. I've also given him cake frosting, which I had to do the last time we took a bike ride. I just told him to open his mouth as I squeezed it right out of the tube.

Before you think to yourself, "Gummy bears? Cheetos? Cake frosting? What kind of wonderful disease is this and how do I catch it?" I've gotta break the bad news to you. For starters, it's type one diabetes, and that also means getting a lot of shots and needing insulin in order to properly digest food. If you still want it despite all of that, sorry, but you can't catch diabetes. Basically, your immune system needs to attack your own body. (That's type one diabetes anyway. Type two is another story, and you can look into that for yourself.)

It's been about a year now since my son was diagnosed. I can laugh about it and see the humor now, but I certainly couldn't then. I remember while my son was in the hospital, I was having dinner with my in-laws at a restaurant right next door. I had to get up and leave during my meal so I could just sit outside the place and cry. No doubt lots of people who were walking and driving by saw me, but I didn't care because there was just so much pain that I had to get out.

Diabetes didn't happen to me. It's my son who's going to have to live with it and deal with it for the rest of his life. But most of you parents know that a child is a piece of yourself that you let go into the world. Not only that, but it's the most vulnerable part. It's the part where you'd sacrifice the rest of you to save. I wrote some time ago about how my great-grandfather died while saving one of his children, but unfortunately there are no horses that I can jump in front of in order to save my son from diabetes.

Want to know what's really horrible? If you have kids, you no doubt know how much they don't like shots. Imagine telling your kid that there's not just another shot coming up later that day but that shots are going to be a regular thing for him several times a day for what's probably going to be the rest of his life. I'll never forget the look on his face, and I'll never forget how I felt.

Another thing that I remember shortly after coming home is that I watched the horror film It Follows. I don't want to get too bogged down into the plot right now, but ultimately it's about a monster (that takes the form of a person) that will continuously hunt down its victim. There are all kinds of things that the victim can do to temporarily get away and/or delay its inevitable arrival. Strangely enough, I found this film to be not just a great horror film but strangely cathartic. This is essentially what diabetes is. It's a death sentence. My son can stop that rise in blood sugar with insulin, but eventually he's going to have to take insulin again with his next meal. I guess the film held a mirror up to reality and helped me to deal with it.

Another pretty bad thing was when I was taking care of him a couple of days after he came back from the hospital. We were trying to do the finger prick so he could find out his blood sugar level. For some reason, the device wasn't set to the right level, and there wasn't enough blood coming out to get a proper reading. I made the poor guy poke himself again and again, and the whole time he just wanted to eat some lunch. I pretty much freaked the hell out by cursing and shouting and banging my fists on the table. (In full disclosure, I was also pretty hungry, which no doubt made me think less clearly. Parents! Take care of yourselves if you want to take care of your kids!)

One of the worst things, which fills me with guilt, is a picture of my son that was taken shortly before his diagnosis. He looks so gaunt in that picture. I ask myself how I didn't notice. Why didn't I insist on taking him to the hospital sooner? Why was I in such denial and figure that he'd snap out of it just like I pretty much always do when something's wrong with me?

Of course, I know it's hard to tell in the moment because he didn't go from healthy-looking to sickly overnight. Plus, I need to take comfort in the fact that my wife and I have been taking good care of him (and even he does his part) so that he looks really strong and healthy now.

But still, that guilt monster comes crawling back at me just when I think I've defeated it. (I guess that movie works on a few levels for me. Funny how it's really more of an obvious metaphor for STDs, but as I always tell my students, sometimes a deeper level to a story comes more from what the audience gets out of it than what the storyteller intended.)

I originally wrote a longer post where I detailed what happened when he was diagnosed, while also going into my own struggle with anxiety and depression that I was battling right before then. Maybe I'll get to those at another time. Right now, I needed to get some of this stuff off my chest. This was too hard for me to write about until just recently. Not too long ago, it seemed like I couldn't even look at my son without feeling sorrow for the fact that he had this disease. When I would see pictures of him when he was younger, I could only think about how that was before his diagnosis and everything was so much easier then.

Like I said, I can laugh at some of the absurdities of it all now. Perhaps it's because shots aren't that big a deal for him to get or for me to give. He's always willing to take another if he's hungry enough for another slice of pizza or more fried chicken. I've also discovered how brave of a kid that I have. It's a hell of a way to find out, but I'm pretty confident in saying that he is brave because I've seen him put it into action.

And while it's true that he's been handed a death sentence, haven't we all? It's all just more immediate for him, and while I always worry about the future, there was never any guarantee that everything would be okay. Now I just don't get to pretend anymore.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Read These Comics! - The Silver Surfer: Parable

If you would have asked me a week ago how many Stan Lee signatures I had in my comics collection, I would have told you three. The first time was in 1987, the second time in 1989, and the third time in 2014. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to re-read The Silver Surfer: Parable to find that he not only signed the first issue (as I remembered from '89) but the second issue in 1991. And as an added bonus, he signed the backboard and wrote "Excelsior!" Geez, how did I forget about that? I'm not even 100% sure what convention that was.

Anyway, since this series first came out in 1988, that places me at about thirteen years old when I first read it. I'm sure that I read it a few times after that, but adulthood brings fewer rereadings of comics, and it's safe to say that I haven't read these comics in over twenty years.

How does it hold up? Pretty well.

It's a solid story, and it doesn't read like what Stan did back in the 1960s. Even if you don't like the story, it's pretty clear that we have a master of the art form. He knows when to just let the pictures tell the story, and unlike some of the comics from the Silver Age, he doesn't bog it down in a lot of redundant exposition.

I should also say something about Jean "Moebius" Giraud. For those who don't know, he's a French artist, and this is one of the few American comics that he's done. I've read some of his other works, including the Western Blueberry, and some of The Incal. While I appreciated the art, I just couldn't get into them. Don't get me wrong, this is not me telling you to avoid them. By all means, check them out, because he has a lot of fans and is well-respected all over the world. The problem might be me.

My only complaint about the art is that this series wasn't printed on higher quality paper like it deserved. (There have been reprints that have rectified this.) Still, even that doesn't hurt it. While I complimented Lee on knowing when to let the pictures tell the story, he wouldn't have been able to do so if the artist didn't know how to tell a story.

Any story that features the world-devouring Galactus needs to make him look not just like a giant, but downright god-like. That's exactly what you get from this. It's especially important because in this out-of-continuity story, Galactus essentially comes down as just that - a god. Moebius really sells it, and the reader can really feel the terrifying grandeur of the character on each page.

When Galactus first arrives, he just stands there in the middle of the city. He doesn't break out his machines in order to devour the planet. He's like an old-time religious idol, and he's worshiped as one. This is exactly his plan, as he knows that the presence of a god will lead to chaos and the destruction of humanity, as nothing inspires people to kill like doing the will of a god. He doesn't even make any commandments, as he (rightfully) figures that some human will claim to speak for him soon enough. It's not until the Silver Surfer blasphemes this god that Galactus begins to move and shows what he truly is - a force of destruction. I don't want to say anything else about the story, as I hope that you're able to read it for yourself.

After reading a few interviews with Stan Lee, it's safe to say that he lies somewhere on the agnostic-atheist side of things when it comes to belief in God. But just like a lot of us nonbelievers, he's clearly interested in the subject and explores it here. As I said before, I was just a kid when I read this. It really stuck with me though, and I remember that this was an example of why I'd insist to adults that comics were not just for little kids. While I wouldn't tell you that it's like reading a book by a religious philosopher, it does throw out enough interesting ideas to get you thinking. This was certainly the case when I was 13, but even at 44 I'm finding that I can't get it off my mind.