The Search For The Perfect Pen

When I first began writing, I used to do most of it by hand. There was always something special about the tactile feel of putting the words on to paper. Typing is always more efficient, but longhand is personal and unique. Everyone’s handwriting is different. While my handwriting is pretty messy, some people’s words can be downright artistic.

When my neck problems started, I began having issues with hand cramps and fatigue when I wrote for more than a few minutes. At first, I tried to deal with it, but the pain became unbearable. I stopped writing longhand unless I had to, and I felt my connection with writing start to wane. Writing my thoughts out free form helped me transfer ideas better than typing does, especially when taking notes. I accepted the fact that typing was going to be my main form of writing, but I still had a spot in my heart that dearly wanted to be able to be able to put ink to paper again.

When I began getting treatments for my back in the past few months, I started doing research in to how it could affect the nerves in my hand. The weakness and cramps were something that still bothered me, and I was hopeful that I could start writing by hand again. I was also looking for something to use to takes notes or write in, because I was beginning to have a lot of ideas and inspirations for stories, and I didn’t like taking notes on my phone. I decided to get a journal, and after much searching, I picked a journal from Earthworks Journals. Now, this wasn’t just a cheap journal, so I couldn’t use a regular pen. I began to look in to pens that were of a better quality, and it turns out that cheap pens can also contribute to hand cramps and fatigue. I started looking at pens that are best for people who have the same problems that I do, and the consensus answer was fountain pens.

Fountain pens have always interested me, but they have always seemed daunting. I always viewed them as potentially messy and a hassle to deal with. I really did not know much about them besides the fact that they were expensive. Boy, was I wrong about all of that. I started looking in to them seriously when I read that the major factor behind hand cramps and fatigue was the pressure you have push down with to use a ballpoint pen, and the grip you have to use to apply that pressure. A fountain pen can relieve that because the ink flows better, and does not require a hard grip if the pen is well balanced. I was sold on that part alone, but there were a lot of other things that make fountain pens appealing to everyday writers.

Fountain pens come in all shapes and sizes, and can range in price from a few bucks to ARE YOU F’N CRAZY?! If you aren’t sure if fountain pens are for you, there are disposable ones. Don’t like dealing with bottled ink? Most brands are capable of accepting ink cartridges. Most fountain pens are built to be low maintenance, and anyone can learn how to clean and repair their pen. You can also choose the nib or tip size to suit your needs, from extra fine, fine, medium, or broad. These pens aren’t just for the elite society or old world. They can be used in all parts of your daily life.

When I began searching for the right fountain pen, I ran through about 15 sites and at least 30 YouTube videos before I narrowed my choices to what I thought would suit me best. The site I chose was Goulet Pens, because they have the best selection and prices across the board. They also have in-depth knowledge that they share via their blog and YouTube videos. If you still have questions, their customer support teams will answer anything you need.

I waffled for two weeks between 3 pens, but I ultimately settled on the Lamy Al-Star Orange with a fine point nib. I could have debated for longer, but I knew this pen was the one I really wanted. I wasn’t sure about the nib size, but looking back, I am glad I chose fine over medium.

IMG_3441

This pen is awesome. I can write without my hand cramping or feeling tired. Normally I would have to shake out my hand or stop writing, but I don’t feel the need with this pen. I can write until my ideas or the pen dries up, which ever happens first. I went with cartridges at first, but I quickly switched to bottled ink and a converter. Bottled ink looks so much better, and the pen feels less scratchy. For anyone looking for good bottled ink, Noodler’s is the way to go. I am still waiting on my journal to arrive from England, but this pen makes writing a joy again.

Finding the perfect pen is a journey, and I feel like I will end up collecting more fountain pens. I am glad that I figured out that they are not as intimidating as they seemed. I have found that I enjoy tinkering with it, and I will become more and more comfortable with how a fountain pen works. If you suffer some of the same problems I do with your hand while writing, I urge you to explore fountain pens. They may help you out, and it may assist you in rediscovering an enjoyment in writing. Don’t take my word for it, though. Go explore for yourself, and you will see that fountain pens can be beautiful, useful, and can last a lifetime if you take care of them. Thanks for reading.

Get Your Priorities Straight America Pt. 1

Disclaimer: This post contains topics that may offend those with tender sensibilities. This is just fair warning. I am not responsible for hurt feelings, crying, or anything of that nature. I’m aiming to get people worked up and possibly pissed off. Continue if you dare.


 

Let’s talk priorities folks. This country seems to have a significant lack of any clue about what should or shouldn’t be our main concerns. I’m not talking about the government, because it is in my best interest to have no opinion on the state of affairs of our current government since I am a service member. (I will get to the upstanding individuals who are running for president in a later post.) I am talking about the general population of the United States as a whole, who apparently lacks any sense when it comes to knowing what should be at the top of the To Do list. As to not make this a massively long post, I am going to break this up in to several entries. I have much to say on this subject, and I will invite any guest authors, if they wish to pitch in their two cents. I am willing to publish any posts by a guest author who presents either a rational addition or opposition to this series.

Episode I: Morality

First, we will address the topics that have people up in arms for no reason at all. Seriously, if you have a problem with any of these, you should just keep it to yourself. You being a jackass about it doesn’t do any good. Some people believe they exist on some moral high ground that makes them capable of judging others. You are not better, so stop it. Ignorance isn’t an excuse anymore so don’t even try. So here we go with some of the moral issues that so frequently make me wonder what the hell is wrong with society these days.

Breastfeeding in public: I am starting of with this one for a number of reasons, but the main one is that a kid has to eat. I’m not going to go hide in a booth somewhere every time I want to eat, so why should we force women to hide when they have to feed their kid? If she is comfortable enough to pop her boob out in public, then she is probably comfortable enough to cuss you out for that dirty look you are giving her for nourishing her child. Of all the things she could be doing, sustaining the life force of her offspring shouldn’t bear the brunt of your condescension. In addition, if you have a problem with a woman discreetly having her breast out to feed her child, but aren’t going to bitch about how women are generally objectified, you are a fucking hypocrite. Leave the lady in peace, and mind your own business.

Gay marriage: I know that there are the homophobes and religious types who are against this, but this country was founded with two principles that I would be remiss to not point out. The first of these is the freedom of religion, as a part of the First Amendment. This allows people to freely practice any religion they wish, or abstain from practicing one at all. What does this mean exactly? It means your religious opinion doesn’t matter. It’s yours, not theirs. As George Carlin said, “Keep thy religion to thy self”. This brings us to the second principle, which is the separation of Church and State. I know the lines on this are blurred and hotly debated, but the truth of the matter is that the church has no place in the governing of a country supposedly founded on religious freedom. So, with both points in mind, there are no reasons why gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed by the federal or state governments based on these guidelines. If you think the institution of marriage is sullied by the fact that two men or two women can get married, but not by the fact that you can get married by Elvis or in a drive thru, YOU ARE A HYPOCRITE. On a related topic, I think same sex couples should be able to adopt too.

There are so many more issues that are like the two listed above. I ask that if anyone has any inputs on subjects, please let me know. I will either add them, or I will post anything you write.

***

The last section below is a little bit different. This is something that pisses me off. The sheer stupidity of the following section aggravates me to no end.

Reality TV: What is wrong with humanity? Are we so morally bankrupt that we have to waste our lives watching spoiled, vapid, soulless people waste their lives doing pointless things and making ridiculous amounts of money for doing it? Do you understand how much money the Kardashians make? I simply cannot wrap my mind around the craze of follow the empty lives of these people and perpetuating the cycle of feeding their greed, while our educators and innovators starve and try to exist on next to nothing. The people we should be paying attention to are not these fake manufactured creatures. They aren’t even humans anymore. Their whole lives are scripted for TV and for the “entertainment” of sheep. How fucked up do you have to be as a person to have your mother not only involved in the making of your “personal sex tape”, but then she makes you go back and do it over because it wasn’t good enough? These are the people we idolize? Then the father…. oh where do I begin… first off, good for her. (I’m not sure I can say her, honestly. She says she identifies as a woman, but she is still technically a man. He still has the man parts… whatever… not my battle to fight.) I will admit that it takes courage to make that kind of decision, but I do not, and I repeat DO NOT think it merits being awarded the Courage Award at the ESPYs. I think there were far more deserving people than Caitlyn Jenner, but clearly that is my opinion. It’s a media circus, and while some of the intentions on her part are good, they are still self-serving. The whole reality TV trend is disturbing, and it is reaching a level of moral depravity because of society’s obsession with fame. It goes to show that my previous section’s points on our moral “standing” aren’t really that firm. Let’s say hello to our old friend hypocrisy.

***

So, to wrap up this first edition of my look into the messed up priorities of America, I want to leave you with a few last thoughts. I think that most Americans are generally good people. I don’t think they are morally devoid, soulless hell beasts that are going to destroy the world. This is an overall look at how I perceive America’s general priorities. I also want to help those in my life who I feel are being treated disrespectfully because of their decisions or lifestyle. This is just my take. I am open to replies, additions, and differing viewpoints. I will gladly post these on my blog, but I do reserve the right to refrain from doing so if I feel it is inappropriate. I hope this post has made you think a little bit, and I hope the rest of this series does as well. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Open Literary Universes

Has anyone noticed the recent trend of remakes, sequels, prequels, and anthologies flooding the market? How often have you sat and thought something up, and then realized someone already beat you to it? It seems like there is no original thought these days. Creativity can be stifled, because people feel like they can’t be innovative. We are trapped because we get told no, or know someone will say no. Every day, you can find a story of someone or some company claiming that someone else stole his or her idea. Sometimes, they are absolutely right, however, there are times when people just have the same great idea and are a bit slower on the draw.

Now, I’m not here to talk about all the instances of this. I am here to talk about the world of fiction, and an idea I have that really isn’t a new one. In fact, this idea has been around for quite a while. Comic books began the idea of a universe in which many storytellers could weave the tales of different characters. This allowed the creativity of different people to shine in their own way, and could tell different stories. They could be explained as alternate realities, and to this day, comic books are the largest example of fictional literary universes. The stories have branched in to radio, books, TV shows, movies, and games. The possibilities for the universes they created are endless because it is an open field. Larry Niven allowed his Known Space universe to be utilized by other authors, but he began the process of building a strict timeline. As each book was written, it had to be in line with the previous novels. Star Wars mostly followed this pattern as well, but there were some issues that arose with the creation of the prequels and now with the sequels. There is some question as to how the universe will be handled now, but as it stands, there is the pre-Disney universe and the Disney universe. Star Trek follows more of the comic book approach of having an open playing field. Many popular TV shows have serial novels written, which has created an alternate literary universe to fill the gaps from the shows. There are several more examples I could use, but you can see that a literary universe is an outlet for someone to express themselves within an existing story, but with their own twist.

My idea would be to have more of these literary universes. There are hugely popular fictional worlds out there that people would love to add their own ideas to. I once contacted an author about doing a story set in the world of his book series, but would not be related to his story or his timeline, and I got shut down hard by his agent. I was very put off by this, but I understood that he didn’t want anyone tinkering around in his world or causing any possible copyright issues. If more authors allowed their fictional worlds to be an open, I think they could really add some depth to their creations. If you, as an author, aren’t done with the series, you could limit the interaction by other writers to certain time periods, and ask that certain things be included. You wouldn’t be hamstringing them, and you also wouldn’t be closing yourself off. Personally, I feel like I would love to see another writer’s take on a world I create. I think that it would be a good collaboration.

Now, I know that this idea is a bit of a tough thing to pull off. Each author is different, and some of them are very defensive about their work. I am not saying that every world can be open, but I’m saying that it would be nice if there were more willingness by authors to let others work in their universes. It works for comic books and many others. I think it could give some novice writers the courage they need to start on ideas of their own. Sometimes you need a starting point, and being a part of an existing universe can be a big help. I get stifled sometimes because I feel like I can’t come up with anything new, but if I was allowed to give it a go in the world of some of my favorite authors, I might be able to really get going. You would learn from an experience like that, and it would help you learn the processes of being a new author, and then all you have to do is fill in the blanks the next time you write. More open literary universes could be advantageous to young aspiring authors, and I would love to see it happen. What about you?

MLK

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King

Today, we all celebrate the birth of a truly inspirational man. He fought for something he believed in, and he did much for a cause that was truly just. What he stood for was equality, which I think is something that should be the standard. I am a humanist, and I believe that every person should be judged based on his or her own merit and actions. I think that race, gender, religion, and any other dividing trait are excuses that people use to advance themselves above others. We are all humans, and therefore all equal. Dr. King dreamed of a world where men, women, boys, and girls of all colors could stand together united as one.

“I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Dr. King was not a perfect man, and he was not treated fairly. He was persecuted and he was accused. People sought to ruin his reputation and slander is image, but they could not tarnish his message. The world lost a great man because of our inability to be good to our fellow humans.

“We must all learn to live together as brothers — or we will all perish together as fools.”

This past year has been rife with horrible incidents, and the worst part is the backlash and aftermath has caused so much more outward violence. As the quote at the top of the post says, we cannot cure the darkness with more darkness. We have to come together and stop this endless cycle of violence.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Let this past year be a lesson going in to 2016. Remember the messages given to us by Dr. King and, as Americans, let us work together to make this country united. We have the ability to be understanding, compassionate, and strong together, but we have to be willing to do it. Dr. King was truly a special man, who can never be replaced. He was taken from this world too soon, but we must remember his words and honor his memory. Let us do him a service and start working towards making his dream truly a reality. Equality is achievable, but we have to work for it.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Rest In Peace Dr. King.

Sunday Insights 1-17-2016

I briefly mentioned in my previous post that I am an avid reader, which led to my proclivity for writing. I started reading at a very young age, and I remember having quite a large collection of books. I loved taking trips to the bookstores, and the best places were always the used bookstores. I could spend hours in the stacks of a used bookshop, and some of my favorite books could only be found there. Of course, now you can find anything online, but in the late 90s, the used bookstore was a bibliophile’s hunting ground.

As I began exploring my own tastes in books, I gravitated towards science fiction and fantasy. There is something about those invented worlds always appealed to me. I think the beauty is that these worlds are a place that the author builds, but the reader must create their own interpretation. Sometimes the author can incorporate the real world with science fiction or fantasy, which gives you a distorted view of reality. I have always loved the flexibility, because the possibilities are endless.  I am not saying that other genres are handicapped by limits, but with a completely open universe in which to work, science fiction and fantasy can boldly go where no other genre has gone before (bonus points for those who get the reference).

I have branched out and read from many other genres, and mysteries and thrillers are probably my second favorite genre group. I think that every genre has their strengths, and everyone has their preferences when it comes to what they read. Many people find that they enjoy non-fiction more than anything else. The wonderful things about books are that there is a book out there for everyone. Reading is something that everyone should do, and they should come to enjoy it. I think that many people don’t like reading because they don’t get to read things that they might enjoy. Much of what is provided in public education is not suited for everyone. It is my belief that if guidelines were set in place where each student had to select a book of a certain size and depth that interested them, they would be more encouraged reading. My point isn’t to preach or get off on a tangent, but I do have to say that I think we need to get students engaged in reading. My wife and I are both big readers and we have very opposite tastes, so our daughter (and future offspring) will have an eclectic set of options to read from. Hopefully, they can also develop their own tastes and will enjoy reading as much as we do.

When I decided to start putting all the ideas that had been running around in my head on paper, they mainly fell in the science fiction and fantasy categories (shocking, I know). The problem is that having an idea is only the first step. I started putting things down on paper, and typing things out without any plan or structure, and quickly found myself with nowhere to go. While I was still putting any ideas I had down, they were unorganized, and needed to have some sense of structure. I went in search of guidance.

There is a wealth of knowledge out there for novice writers. I felt like a kid again searching through those bookstores, except I did it from my computer. Amazon has an enormous repository of helpful works on writing, and I recommend checking them out if you have an interest. Another great resource is the knowledge provided on writer’s websites or blogs. I highly recommend http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/ if you have any interest in learning how to become an author. K.M. Weiland offers an absolute ton of insight and other help to anyone who wants to learn. Even if you don’t want to be a novelist, there are resources out there to show you how you could be successful writer in any field. There is no shame in seeking out assistance or insight from others. You are foolish if you don’t use the resources that are freely available to you. After waiting as long as I did to realize that writing was something that could really hold a future for me, I know that the only thing that really can hold you back is you.

If you have the passion to learn and expand your horizons, then dive in to the world of literature. If you have a head full of ideas or an imaginary world you want to share with others, then find a way to get them out there. If you have the love for reading, and the will to pursue writing, then follow your heart. I hope to share my passion for reading and my thoughts and stories with the world. It will be a long and interesting road, but I’m going to enjoy it. I can’t wait to learn and grow from the experiences along the way.

Why I Write

I want to share something with you today. It is something very close to my heart, and it’s very meaningful to me. I’ve had a dream of being a writer, of one kind or another, since I was in the last few years of college. Before then, writing was just something I did. It wasn’t a passion, just a simple hobby that I had a proficiency at. I was such an avid reader that my imagination could not help but be vivid in translation to writing. I wasn’t trained or skilled, and it was often haphazard and always unfinished. I really regret that I didn’t apply myself to writing back then. I would come up with some crazy idea, and then it would float away on the wind, because I didn’t write it down. I can hear those lost ideas as echoes in my memories. They are the empty sounds of thoughts unrealized, and I wish I had written them down. So, let me tell you about how I did come to realize that writing is a part of who I am. There were two instances where I found outlets for my writing, and they really ignited my passion for it.

When I went to college, I really had no idea what to do with myself. I was basically focused on playing football, and making good enough grades to be eligible. I chose criminal justice, because it seemed like the most interesting thing to me. A year and a half later, and I switched to education. I thought that maybe teaching or coaching might be better for me. I stuck with that for a year before they dropped the secondary education program. I had no interest in teaching below high school, so I started looking for another major. Again. At the time, I was in an English class taught by the Journalism advisor, and she was always asking me to join the school newspaper. I was really noncommittal on it, so I didn’t join. Enter Vince Davis, one of my best friends from college. He, as a newly converted journalism major, talked me in to it. I fell in love with writing for the newspaper. I felt at home with it. When my football career ended, writing gave me hope for a future. Vince and I took over that newspaper. Hell, we even talked the local newspaper, The Muskogee Phoenix, into paying us to take a trip to Dallas to cover the college baseball team. It was a great time, and I found something I really enjoyed. I started working part time at the Phoenix as a sports writer/photographer. I had several pieces featured on the front page of the sports section, and I even got to be the official Bacone College correspondent. It wasn’t paying much, but it was an experience. Eventually, reality handed me a check saying I needed to either start working four jobs instead of three, or I needed to swing by the military recruiting stations. Obviously, I chose the latter since I am serving in the Navy nowadays. I will never forget when I discovered that writing is something that makes me feel empowered, and when I realized that eventually I wanted to do it for a living.

Growing up, I didn’t really know my sister, Christel, very well. We shared the same father, but she lived with her mom, and she was nine years my senior (SHE’S 40! SHE’S GOING TO KILL ME WHEN SHE READS THIS!). I saw her a few times in my youth, and while we did have things in common, we didn’t keep in touch very well. I won’t go in to details, but eventually we realized that we needed to get to know each other, and so we did. We would talk more often, and one day, she mentioned this thing called a blog. So I looked in to this mysterious invention, and realize that I needed one. Not only did I realize I needed one, I realized that my sister had the same sort of connection with writing as I did. I came to realize that Townsends can be quite eloquent when we want to be. I started small, and my blogs came and went over time. I don’t think I was really ready to be a dedicated blogger at that point in my life. Things were always transitional, and I never felt very comfortable sharing with the world. I think I felt like I would never live up to the way that Christel was able to blog so confidently, which was stupid, of course. Blogging is not a competition, but it is a personal journey that you choose to share with the world, and if you don’t feel confident, you won’t be able to be consistent. So, ten years after my first attempt at blogging, I am finally ready to be a grown up blogger. I think. Well, I’m ready to give it a shot.

So, why am I blogging again? What has brought me back to writing, and sharing with the world?

I miss it. I miss being able to write and put my ideas out. I feel like I made a lot of excuses along the way to not write, and it is either now or never to get the ball rolling. The past year or so, I have been trying to pull story ideas out of my head for novels. They are mostly of the fantasy fiction genre, but lately, I have been focusing on simply pulling everything out that I can. I get stuck sometimes, but that is where blogging has helped, and I am also going to get in to journaling as well. Sometimes you just need good old-fashioned pen and paper. I want to realize the dream of writing for a living. I don’t want to do the military thing forever, and I don’t want to work in a job where I won’t be happy. I want to pursue something that will give me satisfaction and I will feel accomplished. This is my dream. I want to be a writer, and this blog is where it starts.

So, if you want to help me out, tell your friends to come check out the blog. Leave comments and ideas. I love reaching out to new people, and I love knowing that they are reading my thoughts and stories. I want to keep this blog growing, and I want to stick with it long term. I want to keep writing as much as possible, and to keep building to the point where I can really support my family with it. I want to write novels and stories, and be able to share the incredible ideas I have running around in my head with the world. One person that I really have to thank for inspiration is my wife, Emily. She is currently chasing her dream of being a professional violist, and I’ve taken so much joy in watching her work so hard for that. It made me realize that I needed to find my dream again and pursue it as well. I thank everyone who has helped me along the way, and I hope I have a lot more people to thank in the future.

This is why I write, and this is what is going to keep me going. As long as I am inspired, I am going to keep working, and I will keep putting it out there for the world to see. Thanks for reading. Stop by anytime.

~Ian

Thoughts For Today: Tuesday January 12, 2016

Does anyone think it is too off base to consider that maybe we, as Americans, should focus on our troubles here at home, instead of spending so much time being involved in foreign affairs? I get that we have to keep some sort of global presence, but we can’t go around fixing everyone else’s problems when we are rotting from the inside. Every day, we see local stories of the awful things Americans do to each other. We see the squalor that some Americans live in, and the countless homeless that roam our streets. (Side note: I will refrain from saying more than this about the awful state of affairs that exist with our homeless veterans. Any man or woman who serves this country honorably should never find himself without a home or help. I will rant further about this another day.) Our whole economy is based off of customer services. We aren’t even making anything of value anymore. We’ve outsourced ourselves in to a corner folks. I don’t want to even get started on the messes that our education and health care systems are.

We are a society in need of leaders who want to really get to work on taking care of home. You can argue the Democrat/Republican bullshit until you are blue in the face, but in the end it doesn’t matter what party it is. If you have a strong president who is willing to really work with the Congress and Senate instead of picking fights with them and vice versa, then things can get done. We need a united government who is really about changing the failing systems we have in place, and not just using them as a garbage campaign slogan. We need to start looking at our leaders as the right leaders, not the popular or progressive ones. We have to stop making things a damn popularity contest. This isn’t Miss USA. This is about the leaders of our fucking country. Stop listening to people who have no clue what they are talking about (actors/musicians/athletes) and figure it out for yourself. The debates are nothing but pageants without swimsuits (THANK GOD). If you really want to know about a candidate, then do your research. Don’t just watch TV, listen to the radio, or nonsense like that. Dig in to their political history, and find out. Does this country need a career politician, a lawyer, or a businessman? That is for you to figure out. What is said at debates is all garbage. The talking heads on TV support who ever their company supports. Think for yourself. If anyone wants to argue with me that the presidency isn’t a popularity contest, I will simply use the example of McCain’s reply to facing Obama: Sarah Palin. I rest my case. Moving on.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that things are a monumental dumpster fire right now (or couch fire for some of y’all). We have got to start waking up. We have a lot of things to fix in this country, and we will never get them done if we let things keep going like they are. I love being an American. I’m proud to serve this country as a U.S. Navy Sailor. I want to be able to look at my country and see a strong nation, united as one. I think we have the power to make that happen, but we need to start making ourselves heard. We have to be willing to stand together. We have to stop allowing ourselves to be divided by all the bullshit and rhetoric. We need to be strong, and our leaders, whomever they may be in the near future, need to be strong too. They need to be the right leaders to bring us together and make us better. We need to heal this country. If you want a place in doing that, then I say you need to do something about it. Start making a change, instead of waiting for one.

Also, being in the military, I will refrain from speaking too much on military affairs. There are some subjects I will broach at a later point in time, but not tonight. Thanks for reading.

That’s all I have for today. I hope that this stirred a little thinking in you. Comment if you want to share.

Don’t Believe Everything You See In The Media

I, like most of the Netflix bingers, was riveted by the documentary “Making a Murderer”. From the very beginning, it pissed me off. The reason it did, was because the guy got a bad hand dealt to him from the start, and he was always behind the 8-ball. What is truly horrifying to me is how badly things were handled throughout the entire process of all of his legal proceedings in both cases. Here’s this guy, who was a mostly stand up guy, that is just getting railroaded by people who are using their power incorrectly. But was that what was really happening? Or were there things going on that they didn’t show us?  This is just a microcosm of what a viewpoint can do to skew your outlook on a situation. Now, I will go in to detail about the documentary series. If you haven’t watched it, don’t read any further. Go watch it!

I am not one of those people who think that Steven Avery is a blessed angel from above that is innocent of everything. I understand that the documentary comes from a biased point of view that depicted things to make viewers be more invested in Avery’s innocence. I get that, and I don’t wholly disagree with it. Most people who watch these understand that these films/series have to fall on one side or the other, and you can usually tell by who is interviewed and who declines to be included. I’ve done further research in to the trials and found that a lot of things were left out. The district attorney from the murder case (who, of course, doesn’t have a leg to stand on anymore, morally speaking) is running his own smear campaign against the documentary, but no one is really listening. This does bring the point home that there are two sides to every tale. What went on in Manitowoc, WI is beyond tragic, and there is no doubt about that. It disturbs me that so many awful mistakes and obvious oversights could be made, not to mention the deliberate illegal acts committed by the lawyers, investigators and other law enforcement officials involved in the cases. Again, I am not saying that Steven Avery is innocent. He may have killed that woman. The problem is we will never really know. Things were so badly handled from start to finish that there may be irreparable damage done to his case for innocence. I hope that some day, maybe soon, a court will be willing to hear his case again. I hope that some lawyer, and hopefully the four men who helped him so much before, will help him fight again. The biggest problem is the case is radioactive. No judge wants to touch it. It is easier to say no, then to say that not only is there is a possibility that two law enforcement officials, along with several others framed Steven Avery, but that they may have killed Teresa Halbach (theoretically).

The biggest issue with this documentary is that it doesn’t really explore Steven Avery beyond him as a victim of the system. It makes light mention of him doing some minor things before his first jail term, but nothing substantial. It doesn’t bring to light any negative viewpoints on him at all, besides some substantiating thrown in comments. If you didn’t know any better, you would think this guy has the worst luck ever. You would think his family is upstanding, hard working, and close knit. You would view the town and the officials as being callous, vengeful, and disdainful of their simple nature. The fact is that none of that is really true. The way that media works does not allow for a truthful observance of events. The person creating the piece skews every viewpoint. Whether it is written, filmed, or recorded, the aspect of the media is to express the view and opinion of the presenter. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did when it came to how many people jumped to Steven Avery’s defense. Everywhere, people were petitioning for a retrial, demanding President Obama overturn his conviction, etc. I am not talking small amounts of people. Hundreds of thousands of people were demanding these things based on the documentary. I agree that there needs to be a new trial, but I cannot agree that he is innocent.  This is what people are seeing from the documentary. They are not seeing that there is a doubt, but that he is completely innocent, and ignoring the fact that the documentary is skewed to fit the viewpoint of an innocent Steven Avery.

People take things at face value, and that is a dangerous way to live. If we have learned anything from the past year, it should be this: do your research. Do not be content to see something once and accept it as is. We saw so many things that were beyond the scope of tragic and the repercussions that followed were ten times worse because all that was seen was the face value of the event. People focus on either the broad picture or they focus on one defining detail and miss all the rest. I understand that we all have our quick fire reaction to a situation, but we need to start thinking before acting. Every day we are presented with opportunities to act in a responsible manner, and analyze a situation before we jump to a conclusion. It is time we start doing that, and stop failing prey to the slanted viewpoints of media that is presented with an agenda. While I applaud the work that many of these people do, getting the stories out there, they don’t do the correct justice sometimes. While highlighting a highly unfair situation, and shining a light on something that does need to be seen, they do it with a filtered light. We see only what they want us to see. What is in the shadows are the things that could potentially make us think twice. I know why they do it, and it makes sense. It falls on us, the consumer, to look beyond what is presented.

In this day of instant gratification, social media, Internet everything, and millisecond attention spans, we have to realize that there is more to what we see at first glance. Don’t let the viewpoint of another person be your guiding light. Be your own person, and seek out your own truth. I love digging in to the truth of things, and it is gratifying to go beyond the simplistic view and see things from the unbiased side. Don’t be apathetic, and spout biased viewpoints. Every story is deep and the average media viewpoints won’t give you more than a shallow skim across that. Be courageous and look for yourself. You might find some really interesting things. It might make you change your mind about a few things. It might make this world a little bit more knowledgeable and a little bit wiser. Couldn’t hurt right?

 

Living With Chronic Back Pain

(This is a public service announcement. Chronic back pain is no joke. I’m not talking minor aches and pains. I’m talking every day is a struggle to do the most basic things. Don’t be stubborn. It isn’t worth it.)

Almost everyone, at some point in their life, has to deal with back pain. All kinds of things can bring on those nagging aches and pains that can go away with a little rest, ice/heat, or a visit to a chiropractor. Back injuries are becoming a very common issue, so that is why you see commercials for different remedies, and that is why you see heavy objects that have lifting techniques printed on their box. I won’t go in to the semantics or anything of it. I am here to talk about my personal journey with the awful and crippling pain that comes with a chronic back injury.

My back issues started in college. I played football, and I was reckless with my body. All in all, I blew out my knee, had 4 concussions that I know about, hurt my lower back lifting weights, damaged the nerves and vertebrae in my neck/upper back (which ended my career), and a litany of other injuries. For 15 years, I put my body through punishment, but I wouldn’t change that. I would have been more conscious of taking care of my body, but I would not have given up playing. I love football, and I wish I could have kept playing. I played for a small, underfunded college that did not have the advantages that bigger programs did. I don’t want to get too far off subject, so I won’t go off on a rant about the perceptions of football. I will save that for another post. So my first back/neck injury occurred in 2003 in combination with a concussion. I went through several weeks of treatment until I was symptom free. No lingering issues occurred besides minor head and neck aches over the next year, until I got another two concussions the following season.

After my second major neck injury and fourth concussion(2006), I went to a chiropractor who helped me work through most of my pain. I again had nerve and vertebrae damage. I was told to stop playing football. There was no “maybe” involved, either. It was a definite STOP PLAYING. So I gave up football. I didn’t want to, but I figured that I had punished my body enough. Everything was manageable at that point, so over the next few years it wasn’t an issue. I joined the Navy, and began working on helicopters (rather large ones) and that began to take a toll on my body. Combine that with the long runs they like to make us take, and my back started giving me issues again. This was also about the time that I realized that I couldn’t write longhand very long anymore due to severe hand cramps. I saw the Navy doctors, and they didn’t do much for me. I learned to deal with the nagging pain. It wasn’t crippling, but it was beginning to become a constant thing. The pain was mostly in my neck and upper back, but it was starting to occur in my lower back as well. I make it through my time working on helicopters, and move to a shore duty command. I think that maybe this will be easier on my back, so my pain might ease up. Oh, how wrong I was.

Let me tell you some of the side effects I experienced as a part of my back injuries. I damaged my neck when I got my concussions, but I had two incidents that I did diagnosed nerve damage on the right side of my neck. This caused a severe burning pain to go down my spine next to my shoulder blade. It felt like a really bad muscle cramp combined with someone sticking a hot poker in my back. Along with this, I would also get numbness in my right hand. This also contributed to the hand cramps I mentioned earlier. These effects would come and go. Some days were awful, and some days were pain free. Eventually, the left side of my neck and upper back started to mirror the pain from the right side. I don’t have the hand cramps or numbness, but the pain is as significant. The pain get to be so bad, that it triggers migraines. I also get tension migraines. My back has become a mass of knots and stiffness due to the fact that my spine has lost stability. Every once in a while, I would get lower back pains that would cause shooting pains down my legs (sciatica). All of these effects usually didn’t happen together, but individually, they were usually manageable.

2013 began the combination effects. I started to get migraines more frequently. My neck and upper back began to be in a state of constant pain and stiffness. I saw the doctor repeatedly, and they gave me muscle relaxers and Motrin (I LOVE Navy medicine…). After several rounds of this, they finally sent me to physical therapy (early 2014). After 4 sessions, the physical therapist sent me back to the doctor because I wasn’t getting any better. If anything, I was getting worse. You would think, X-rays would be next, but instead it was time for an MRI of my neck and upper back. The results showed some bone spurring, and several bulging discs (surprise!). I saw a chiropractor while visiting the in-laws in Charleston, and I was sent to an Air Force chiropractor (April 2015), who worked with me for several months. Though his adjustments did help, I was still experiencing migraines other effects I listed before. I began having headaches and migraines constantly, which led me to seeing a neurologist. After being put on two different medications, I was finally headache free. By now it is late summer, and I feel like everything is starting to finally calm down. I feel like everything is getting to a state of equilibrium, and several months pass with little to no trouble. This is when My lower back begins to start acting up. It started out as just a little soreness. It was very minor, and I hardly noticed it until it didn’t go away. Over several days it got much worse. The pain began branching down my legs and across my whole lower back. Even the simplest things became miserable. I suffered for a few days before I returned to the ever helpful Navy medical facility. More muscle relaxers and Motrin later, and I was off to the chiropractor. This is where things actually got interesting. After 8 months of seeing him, he said that I needed to see someone else. He believed that there was something else going on with my back, and I needed a pain specialist to look at it.

Let’s recap: I have seen 7 different doctors (3 Navy, 4 civilian), had an upper back/neck MRI, full back x-rays ordered by the chiropractor, went through physical therapy, and have has back problems for 12 years. This is the first time that someone has suggested I see someone who deals directly with nerve pain, which is clearly something I was dealing with. So I see the specialist, and he orders an MRI for my lower back. I get that done, and we review the results. I have several instances of facet joint arthropathy, which is where the bony joint on the vertebrae in your lower back pinches the nerves because of the degeneration of the disc between the vertebrae. I also had several cases of disc degeneration (duh) and also a herniated disc. So, as you can see, I had quite extensive damage to my back. The doctor, who was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, decided that we needed to start with a series of injections. The first is called a Nerve Branch Block (NBB), and are used to help determine if the nerve is the root of the pain. A numbing medication and a steroid is injected in to the root of the nerve, and if it give you relief, then the next set of injections are a viable option. I got the first set of NBB injections on Tuesday, and they worked. So this week we move on to Radiofrequency Ablation injections. This is where they use a radio frequency to basically cauterize the nerve at its root. It sounds horrifying, but the nerve will regrow in 9-12 months. Once it does, there is a possibility that you won’t have to get shots again, but if the pain does return, you can get the RFA shots as many times as needed. Some people eventually opt for surgery, which may be where I go down the road. For now, This is where the Navy will let me go, so I’ll take it. It is something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life.

So, to wrap this all up, I leave you with this: don’t let back injuries get out of hand. If something is going on with your back, get it checked out. Don’t end up like me. I’m 31 years old with the back of a 50 year old. Take care of yourself, and be conscious of what you do to your body. I don’t advocate never doing anything that might get you hurt, because that’s no fun at all. All I am saying is be smart, especially when it comes to your head and back. You can’t replace your brain, and a messed up back will keep you from being able to enjoy a lot of things in life. I will keep y’all updated on the progress of my treatments and hopefully here in a few months I’ll be mostly pain free! Here’s to hoping!

My View On Star Wars Episode VII

The Force Awakens (or possibly, now that it is domestically the highest grossing movie in history after on 21 days, Disney’s Golden Vaults Awaken) has finally brought Star Wars back. FINALLY. For every kid who grew up on it as I did, this was a wondrous moment. Love Disney or not, but they granted our wishes. No matter which decade you were a part of, we had our brush with the galaxy far, far away. This is my take on the newest addition to Star Wars. This isn’t just a casual take, either. This is a life long fan’s look at the redemption of a franchise that could have been left to die slowly if not for the Mouse.

As I said, I have a life long history with Star Wars. I was raised on the original trilogy, being a child of 1984. I watched those movies on VHS so many times that we had to buy them multiple times due to the tapes wearing out. To fill the gaps, I would read the books that told the many stories of the extended Star Wars Universe (SWU). As many kids did, I thought that the trilogy was the end for the movies. I thought the mythos of Star Wars would always continue on in books or later in video games. Then came the the remastering of the trilogy. I was in awe of being able to experience the movies in the theater. This, of course, came with the news that George Lucas was going to make the prequels. So we all waited, like kids outside a candy store for them to arrive. When they did, we were in awe. We took them in, and for most of us, we enjoyed them because we were young enough to appreciate them for being of the Star Wars legend. We didn’t pay much mind to the glaring flaws or frighteningly bad acting. We were just enthralled with the fact that Star Wars was again in theaters. As that trilogy ended, the bad aftertaste settled in. We realized that the prequels did not sate our hunger for Star Wars. For some people, it soured them completely. For as grand as Mr. Lucas’s effects were, it did little to hide the truth of his inability to properly manage a storyline. It was widely considered that the two best Star Wars movies were Episodes V and VI, which he did not direct. His love of spectacle and grand sweeping visual effects seemed to sap his attention from the importance of the plot and acting, which is terrible to think about, considering the actors and actresses he had to work with. So those of us who still loved Star Wars, soldiered on, accepting these new additions grudgingly. I continued reading the books, playing the games, and even watched the Clone Wars cartoons. Again, things looked bleak for the return to theaters for the maligned SWU. In rides Disney, fresh off saving Marvel! Mr. Lucas finally relents and sells the rights to the franchise, and the ball begins rolling that leads us to today. Here we are folks. $760 million plus domestically in 21 days and still rolling. So let’s talk about the movie, now that I’ve talked your face off about all the back nonsense.

The Force Awakens was a good movie. I would rank it easily in the top 3, after only seeing it once, and not really being able to truly analyze it with a substantial number of viewings as I have the other six. I went in to the movie knowing more than I wanted to about the storyline because people can’t keep their mouths shut, which really disappoints me. That being said, I will be posting no spoilers here. I tried to avoid everything I could about any major plot lines or spoilers, but people have to ruin things for everyone else. Anyways, I still went in and appreciated the movie for what it was. It was the first time in uncharted territory for a director and having to really work from scratch, besides having a storyline 30 years old to work with. I give major amounts of praise to J.J. Abrams for having the courage to do this, and for being able to pull it off. He could have taken the easy route, or let another director handle it. He chose to do it in a very classic sense with more practical effects, and he did the most with what he could. He had a double edged sword of having to stuff 30 years of storyline in to 2 hours and 19 minutes, and having to try and make is somewhat sensible. He wasn’t going to please everyone. I’ve read some rather scathing reviews, which I find unfair on a ridiculous number of levels. Then again, I will point to the money that this movie has made, and say that far outweighs anything negative that has been said.

Ok, I would like to share some of my personal pros and cons for this movie. This is me just being nitpicky. As a whole, the movie was great, but there are a few things I would like to point out as a little sketchy, and some things I would like to applaud.

I will start with the cons. They could have spent just a little more time telling some back story. While they did get a good amount of back fill in, there are still major MAJOR gaps. I am assuming that those will be filled in as the next Episodes and the one offs come along, but I still feel like people without a decent knowledge of the original six movies would be really lost during this movie. I spent a lot of time explaining things in the SWU to my wife while she got caught up on the movies and the things surrounding the stories. I shudder to think how someone would feel without any prior knowledge would be going in to that movie. The screenwriters also borrowed HEAVILY from from the original trilogy. In an odd sort of way, it was like seeing a weird, shifted remake. I get the need to lean on previous ideas because of Disney’s decision to not use any of the existing stories out in the SWU (now the alternate SWU?), but it was pretty blatant at times, and almost off putting. I also think that J.J. Abrams brought a little goofball humor into the movie, which prior to this, wasn’t really done in such an overt way. It really wasn’t a detraction, but it was unexpected and it felt out of place. Oh and Finn is a little bit Jar Jar to me. I am truly sorry if this ruins your view point of him, but he just has this awkwardness about him that screamed JAR JAR BINKS at me. My last complaint is that because the extreme amount of things that had to be packed in to this movie, so many things had to be truncated. I feel like there were points that didn’t get wrapped up or explained very well within the scope of the movie. I hope that they do an extended version of the movie so that maybe they can rectify that.

So I want to finish up on the good points. I am so happy that they picked a woman to be a true central character in this movie. Let us not get things confused with the six other movies. Leia and Padme played major roles, but they were always second behind the males. This is the first time where I feel like a female is a true lead character, and Daisy Ridley’s Rey is awesome. Yes, they screwed the pooch on the whole Monopoly game mess, but that was just bad planning. I really look forward to seeing how her character grows in the upcoming movies. As I stated before, Disney chose to not use the existing stories already out in the SWU, but I did notice that they did pull some general ideas, which I thought was incredibly smart. I hope that they don’t ignore the existing Young Han Solo Trilogy books if they pursue making any movies based off of a young Han Solo. If Disney has learned anything from their partnership with Marvel, it should be to use the resources that are readily available (Captain America: Civil War for one). The last good point I wish to highlight is the fact that this movie does a fantastic job highlighting the new characters. It does not rely too heavily on the original cast, but uses them to enhance and support the new characters. Some directors and screen writers would have used the old cast to carry the movie because it would have been easier, but the Force Awakens team did a wonderful job taking Star Wars in a new direction which I truly applaud.

All in all, I think The Force Awakens was a great way to bring the Star Wars Thematic Universe back to life. It wasn’t going to please everyone, but it was going to please a hell of a lot more people than it didn’t. For what they had to work with, and the huge time gap, they did a pretty good job giving us a true Star Wars movie. People will grumble, question, rip and tear this movie apart because everyone with an internet connection and social media believes that their opinion is the right one. George Lucas took his own shot at it as well, which I think was a little low brow. Based on the consensus viewpoints of his films, I’d say that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I liked the movie, and overall I think that most people will too. Judging by the fact that it surpassed $760 million in 21 days, when it took the one other movie (Avatar) two releases and seven months to do so, means that people are more than happy with what they have brought to us. Be a prick and disparage the movie if you like, but you would miss the biggest point that the movie intended to make: Star Wars is back, and Disney is going to ride this X-wing for all it’s worth. I’m going along for that ride. Are you?