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Uncle Josh and Kylo Ren

After two viewings of The Last Jedi and trying to place it in the Star Wars mythos as I understand it and several attempts to explore the meaning of Star Wars in my life and especially after hearing the many mixed reviews and great trollings on internet essays, I feel I am ready to write about Kylo Ren.
(Spoilers, naturally.)
My first reaction to Kylo Ren after The Force Awakens was pure anger. He killed his father. That’s unforgivable. He’s not coming back from that. The previews for The Last Jedi made it look like he also killed his own Mother, but that was a trailer and as an art form to themselves, they are good at lying to the audience. I’ve no beef with the preview. Kylo went from impressive Vaderesque (stopping a blaster bolt in mid-air is so much cooler than Vader’s letting it bounce harmlessly off the palm) to whining brat who lost his temper over and over and even the stormtroopers just walked away instead of dealing with him mid-tantrum.
After The Last Jedi, I like Kylo Ren as a character a hell of a lot more. He is defined by inner conflict, and I believe this inner conflict is the key to the whole sequel trilogy and the saga itself. He killed his father to try to solve the conflict, but it didn’t work. In The Last Jedi, early on, he resolves one of his basic conflicts, and I’m not sure it was one he expected was even there. We see his take on his inner conflict as the Light vs the Dark, and after Snoke criticizes him for being a boy cosplaying his own grandfather, he realizes that it is the past vs the future. By destroying the mask, Kylo accepts and attempts to embody the idea of Kill the Past to Be Who You Are Meant to Be. This is so deep within him that Snoke doesn’t even see it. Kylo’s past is his enemy, and Snoke and Skywalker are part of his past, so he must Kill them. He sees his future with Rey, the balance, his counterpoint, his circuit breaker, even. He takes out Snoke and tries to convince Rey to join him, but it doesn’t work out for him.
I, too, tried to kill my past. I tried to walk away from Sparks Nevada and my high school and my church and everyone I knew and it didn’t solve anything. It left me stranded when my first marriage failed. I had a few good friends who saw me through the dark times of my twenties and I found a new church and Stephanie*, so those things worked out. I made the mistake of thinking that killing my past would allow me to start over and be someone new. Of course nobody can do that. I doubt even amnesiacs can do that. The patterns of who we are get shaped by the people around us as we grow up. We don’t get to start over every day, even when we need to.
And there are days when we need to start over every day. I’ve heard of this idea that if you do something for 30 days straight, you will ingrain a new habit and always do it. Nope. Doesn’t work for me. Write every day for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and one day off and it’s all over. Same thing with stretching, exercising, playing the guitar, reading, cooking at home, or any other life-fixing things I’ve tried over the years. There are things that come naturally to me, and things I have to treat as Day One Every Day to make work for any length of time.
The most recent intrusion to this failure of mine to Kill the Past** came on the second day of Christmas when I learned that Fr. Paul Towner, the rector of my church until I walked out at age 19, passed away on Christmas Day. He was in the last stages of his life, as I understand, and his passing was one of those that was a relief more than anything else. Every death is sad, but it is harder when a death drags on for months. Paul Towner trained me to be a chorister and an acolyte in the church. I had a hard time watching acolytes even in my own parish because of how I was trained and drilled. (Yes, drilled and paced through the nave on a Saturday morning lifting the cross and carrying the torches just so and balancing the flags.) I’ve loosened up a lot in that regard, because a number of our acolytes are younger folk (at St. Pauls at that time the acolytes were high school boys and college freshmen who were local) and they are kids. I gave up on the quality of shoes arguments years ago, but I also decided that I wasn’t going to dress up on Sunday mornings for church. I go as I am. I don’t need to dress up to be professional.
I have yet to give up on the quality of music in church. Fortunately I have a good choir and good leadership to back me up on that.
Back to Kylo Ren. Even had he successfully killed his mother, it wouldn’t allow him to start fresh. His tragedy in TLJ is he finally gets to a point where be believes his mother is dead, Snoke is dead, and his future is fighting alongside him. He is exactly where he wants to be. And his offer is rejected.
He flounders because he hasn’t fully seen his errors. He tries to kill Luke and he can’t do it, namely because Luke isn’t really there but he’s not ready yet. He’s off kilter and doesn’t have a center. He is truly lost in misery and unfortunately has the ability to force choke people into submission and body slam them against walls with a flick of his wrist. He can rule by fear and we all know that that never works out.
Before that ultimate failing, though, Kylo becomes a better character and puts down his boyhood dreams and begins to think of himself as an adult. He still can’t imagine killing the past as a metaphor. In one sense, I killed my past when I moved out of my parents’ house against their objections and I managed to never move back, but I did end up needing them to pay my rent for many years in college. What I needed to get away from was the feeling of living under other people’s rules, and while I didn’t get that until I was a bachelor, I found what I was looking for: Independence. I still could not get through Christmas without putting up a creche and for many years I tried to keep the traditions of my past, because no matter what lies I tell myself, it is impossible to kill the past.
But back to Kylo Ren. The middle part of TLJ has him in what has been dubbed “ForceTime” with Rey, and they can communicate without knowing where the other one is. They try to communicate over each other. How many relationships are created and maintained between people who have never met? How many people do I consider friends when I’ve only ever known their handle?***
Kylo tries to reach out, to be understood, to make a connection. Yes, he still thinks Rey will be a helper and not an equal, but he becomes for a while a mature person, because in a way Rey is the only person who takes him seriously. She doesn’t like him. She calls him a monster and he agrees with her. He has is reasons, but Rey never tries to manipulate him. She tries to understand him. She is foolish to think he is telling her the truth about Luke’s temple, but he has never presented himself as a liar to her, and never out of control. Maybe she has reason to think he’s being truthful.
It is also telling how she calls him by his given name. I tried wearing a false identity and a few people in high school called me Jason because I really didn’t like my name. Wearing masks and pretending to be other people is part of growing up. Kylo sheds some of that with the destroyed helmet. He may never accept Ben Solo in his life again, but Kylo Ren has the potential to be someone new, and someone greater.
So I like Kylo Ren. I don’t think he’ll survive the saga, though. I’m okay with that.
* In chronological order, not order of magnitude of importance.
** I am in the process of accepting this failure as a good thing, but failure and I have a strong bond that’s hard to break.
*** Yeah, I’m old enough to remember using that term on bulletin boards that we dialed into using 2400 baud modems so GET OFF MY LAWN!

Uncle Josh and Kylo Ren was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

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Uncle Josh Checks in with the Alternates

When GMail went live on April 1 2004 I snagged what I thought was the best email to get for myself: jenglish _at_ gmail.com. I beat my brother to it and apparently I beat about 500 other people who continue to use it for various purposes. I get a lot of regular spam, although this is a GMail account so that’s handled nicely. These are things that people do and use my email for.

I haven’t checked in with Alternate Josh for a while so here’s what they are up to:

  • My children Jack and Sophie are costing my $362AU at the Wahroonga After School Care Centre in Mount Colah New South Wales. I’ve been getting these bills since May 2017.
  • I am getting health and death notices for the Capuchin Franciscans in the Province of St. Mary. Clearing these dropped over 500 emails from my inbox.
  • I am receiving invoices for VAT charges from Euolink Motorway Operations. Presumably I’ve been driving somewhere in Ireland.
  • A CEA from Vencore or Mantech wants me to print monogrammed grocery bags.
  • I hope my wife believes me when I tell her that I have not been having an affair with a 53-year old in Barnstaple, Devon, or any number of women (Anna, Shirly, Mary, Nipples (I swear I am not making up these names!), Jess, etc.) that are contacting me.
  • My financial planner from Aiken Kennedy Financial Planning wants to set up a meeting, I think. She’s in Ireland, so I think I’l pass.Maybe they’re a travel agency. They also booked a vacation and a flight from Belfast to Majorca right around my birthday.
  • One of my civics students sent me a late assignment: a short essay on Cambodia. It’s not a good essay but I don’t know how old this student is so maybe it’s appropriate for the learning objectives. There are several messages from other students with various assignments and issues. One was at least kind enough to point out that she is in my “period six and homeroom” and in the 6th grade. (That was sent on September 8, so maybe they’ve figured it out by now.)
  • Someone is trying to log in to my second Facebook account that I created to play social games several years ago.
  • Apparently I’m also signed up for a second online adult dating service in the UK. This one specializes in the 50+ market.
  • Someone in the UK is moving back to Toronto and wants to rent my Toronto house. Again.
  • I went through chemo in October and someone wants to know how I’m doing.
  • I think I have a kid in the Jefferson County Traditional Middle School in Kentucky. I’m getting curriculum information, anyway.
  • I went to Bali in March. As Joan English. I didn’t think I liked to travel that much.
  • I am invited to place a reservation for lasagna in Chile. (I think it’s lasagna….)
  • I attended an architecture school in the ’70’s. In Baltimore Maryland.
  • My Aunt Molly and Uncle Joe (who ARE these people?) want to wish Steve and Janna a happy anniversary in October.
  • I can participate in a “Spring Extravaganza” on 3 September 2017 for only R200pp in Durban North. Not sure what country that is, but the holistic Mind Body Energise claims to have “Internationally Recognized Hypnotherape Qualifications” and a B.Sc. in Computer Science and mathematics.
  • I missed a family reunion in NC when one of our patriarchs passed away
  • I had a reservation for the Nevada Beach Campground in Carson City Nevada (or thereabouts)
  • Someone used this email address for Linked In. I can’t imagine why they would do that. Unless, of course, they weren’t being professional.

This is all from my GMail Inbox, not the Social tab or Promotions tab. A scan there shows I own at least one Porsche in Plano TX.

“J” is a good initial. People mistake me for Jean, JoAnn, Jazmin, Juan, and John.

I’m betting my real brother is really glad he didn’t get this email address.

Uncle Josh Checks in with the Alternates was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Coming in September: Gernsback’s Fables

I am an infrequent combatant/contributor on the NanoLand Facebook group, where Elliot Schmidt posted a question or a comment about misreading Aesop’s Fables as “Asimov’s Fables” and that sparked something silly in my head.

Asimov, though, I see as more exclusive to science fiction, so I decided to call this series Gernsback’s Fables. This is probably not as good as just calling it Asimov’s Fables, but there it is.

So, as an exercise and constant prompt and as a way to clear out some of the small ideas that come to writers and can clog the creative flow, I’m publishing one fable a day, borrowing from Science Fiction and Fantasy, telling fables about semi-sentient vacuums and Master Accounts and even a wizard’s apprentice or two.

Fables, at least in the editions of Aesop that I’ve read, were meant to be life lessons for little ones, snippets with morals that would help some sprog get through those difficult phases of life (i.e. birth to paying off graduate school), and I have tried to do the same here, even when the setup and the moral seem uncomfortable. I don’t want to dwell too deep into the sociological and political, especially in these trying times, but that will probably come out in the end anyway.

Coming in September: Gernsback’s Fables was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Scatalogical Utterance v 1.0: Role Playing Rules for Pessimists

Scatological Utterance version 1.0

A Role Playing Game for Pessimists

SU is a paper and pencil RPG, designed for campaigns that could last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. A play session longer than that could be very bad for your soul, unless you have a truly twisted sense of humor, in which case: Game On!
SU is not restricted to any genre of game. In any game session the DM (DeMotivator) and the Players could be in high fantasy, gothic romance, science fiction, weird west, bustlepunk, horror, you name it. As long as the genre is agreed upon: Game On!

Character Generation

Characters in normal RPGs have attributes like strength and dexterity and durability. This is SU. Players have the following attributes:

Oafishness. The chance that the character will unintentionally break something.
Butterfingers. The inability to hold onto weapons or tools in dramatic moments.
Jinx. Despite the character’s best efforts, things still go wrong.
Lethonomia. Failure to think of the right word when you need it.
Boorishness. Failure to keep others interested in the character or any interesting fact or bluff they are trying to pull off.

When creating a character, after determining the genre of the game, the players should agree on the number of dice for each attribute. There should be two, three, or four dice used. Roll that number of dice once for each attribute and distribute those numbers as you see fit. Match your mood. Feel like lifting a great log so you party can crawl underneath it just to have it snap in your arms and possibly kill them? Put your highest attribute in Oafishness. Want to throw knives behind you into the wizard instead of at the ogre rushing the party? Go high in Butterfingers. Want to bore the guard with your daring tales of designing PowerPoint presentations? Pick up your Boorishness trait. Of course, if you just want your bowstring to snap, go with a solid Jinx score.

Testing Attributes.

No adventure is complete without a challenge. The DeMotivator will decide if a task is easy (1), run-of-the-mill (2), hard (3), or stupid (4). They will roll the indicated number of six-sided dice from a common pool of five dice. The player will roll the remaining dice and add that to their inability. Low score wins.

Example. Lorto the Inelegant is a 3-dice character who wants to use his body as a brace between two slabs of stone closing off the corridor in the deathtrap designed by Mock the Magnificent to protect his genuine diamelle collection.

The DM decides this would be a stupid test of oafishness, and grabs four dice and rolls an 18. Lorto’s rolls the remaining die and gets a 5, which he adds to his oafishness score of 8 for a total of 13, which is less than the DM’s 18, so the test is a success. This interferes with the first unwritten rule of Scatalogical Utterance: there are no successes in Scatelogical Utterance!

Lorto may be able to keep the stone slabs from squashing him like a bug for a while, so the DM declares that the first person to scramble through his legs needs pass an Stupid test against Jinx to make it through. After all, isn’t crawling through the unwashed legs of an Oaf to progress through one death trap a really stupid thing to do?

Cyrano the Cyclopedia goes first, (ask him about insects. Any insect. We dare you) and rolls one die, gets a 2, adds his 10 Jinx for a total of 12. The DM rolls 15, and Cyrano gets through.

Eddie is next. The Demotivator decides that, emboldened by the walls being held and Cyrano making it through, the challenge is downgraded to Hard. He rolls three dice and gets 12. Eddie rolls a 10, adds it to his Jinx score of 9, and as an end result forgets to remove his backpack before crawling through the hairy arches and smashes Lorto right in the soprano makers. The walls may now close in on the pair for fun and games.

Health and Combat

Unlike the disability scores, a character’s health is measured on a scale:

Zippity-Doo-Dah: The player is feeling good and optimistic.
Feeling Groovy: The player is not so hot, but holding on to a positive world view.
Meh: The player could call it quits anytime now
Yesterday: The player has regrets
Smile: Short for “Please Don’t Ask Me to Smile”
Plate Mail: Short for “donning plate mail, going to the top of the mountain in the storm, and blaspheming the local thunder gods”.
Dead: When all else fails, the only option is to go through the character’s pockets and look for loose change.

Combat is meant to be fast and flexible, so SU does away with all “to-hit” checks or rolling up points or any of that recordkeeping nonsense. Characters who attack with brute force should check against their Oafishness to see if they break their weapon or not (any residual energy could, in theory, be applied to to downgrading their opponents health label). Characters who want to fire a gun or a bow or throw something check against Butterfingers or Jinx, depending on the circumstances. Naturally, a spell thrower or esper would have to remember the inflection tone for fireball is almost, but not quite, the same as the chirp that turns themselves into a parakeet. Bard types, when not being strung up by their party for the obvious reasons, need to check against Boorishness to ensure they don’t sing their tank to sleep instead of the thing the tank is fighting.

Demotivator’s Guide

Your job is simple: entertain the players and challenge them in ways that get them to plate mail as soon as possible. Killing characters is generally discouraged unless the party goes into the game planning for multiple personalities, in which case the game session should feel less like The Lord of the Rings and more like Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The players should, despite the many ways these should go wrong, at all times embrace the attitude of Joel and the Bots (or Mike, or Jonah, if you prefer): This is gonna suck, may as well get in a few snarks before we die.

Scatalogical Utterance v 1.0: Role Playing Rules for Pessimists was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh thinks about John the Baptist

Today’s Gospel is Matthew 11:2-11. This is the story of John in prison sending his disciples to Jesus to ask “are you, like, the Dude, or what?” [Obvious paraphrase from The Bible for the Laid Back]. Jesus says a lot of things about the blind seeing and the deaf hearing and lame walking and the poor having good news for a change, but in paraphrase:

Jesus waved his arms to those around him and said, “dudes…”

But the second time I heard this story, I kept thinking that this was a really dumb question for John to ask in the first place. He was Jesus’ cousin. He knew who Jesus was (Matthew 3:14-15). He knew who Jesus was in the womb (The BLB skims the birth narratives, but more reliable translations do not).

So why would John question this? It is possible that he heard the stories of a new prophet running around while he was sitting in a rock room with stale hay for a bed. Maybe he didn’t know if the stories were about Jesus or someone else. The jews were on the lookout for a messiah to save them  from the occupation, after all. So one solution is that John sent his disciples to find out if this was Jesus, and those desciples should have known better, too, if they had witnessed the baptism of Jesus.

But instead, I think John heard those stories and knew who it was and what it was all about and thought “finally that lathe-turning waffler is getting busy.” (It may not be fair to think of our Lord and Savior in these terms, but a cousin is a cousin.) But John’s disciples come to him and talk about this interloper, preaching about the Kingdom of God and getting it wrong, ignoring the fact that John was pretty deliberate about the “one who comes next” was going to be different. Of course the one John foretold was going to be different that John.

So my question was this: Why would John surround himself with dimwits.

A better question came to mind: Why would Jesus surround himself with dimwits? The Apostles just don’t get it. Jesus is always correcting them when they tell him to send away the poor and sick, or when they ask if they should send lightning to smite people who doubt Jesus, or when they get scared when a wave rocks their boat. (Fishermen!)

Then I came up with a theory: Jesus surrounded himself with these dimwits to serve as an attitude check. Jesus was fully human. To say He didn’t have human desires is to deny something fundamental about being human. He knew temptation, he got tired, he got cranky. I’m willing to bet that when he went out to the desert and Satan said “rock the world, little dude, but worship me instead and I’ll grease the wheels” Jesus thought about it. Jesus didn’t just say “thanks but no bro” but gave it thought.

Jesus knows that Easy doesn’t work. Hard works. Satan offered Easy Mode and Jesus said:

“Dude, I got this,” and dope-slapped Satan on the back of his head.

When I was in tech support hell, working in a cube farm and tethered to a phone dealing with people who didn’t have an upper-left-hand-corner of their screen or broke their computer’s drink holder or couldn’t double click an icon without moving it around the screen, I got frustrated. This is understandable and a hazard of the job.

I was at my most patient with the people who got a full ten minutes into the call before admitting their power was out which is why they called on their cell phone when I was sitting over the half wall from someone who constantly lost his cool. Every call was followed by a litany of insults about the lack of common sense or evolutionary progress of his latest caller. Every time he went off, muting his phone mid call to utter a stream of profanity into his headset, I found myself getting more patient with my callers. I am impatient, but next to a truly unhinged impatient cube-dweller, I am Job.

I think Jesus was like that, too. He surrounded himself with dimwits who overreacted to the littlest thing to remind himself of what he shouldn’t be like. When the apostles said “if you dine with one more tax collector I’m out of here” Jesus doubled his resolve to find a tax collector and be nice to them.

John sent his dimwits to see Jesus for themselves.

Surrounding Himself with extreme examples of his own human faults, Jesus knew how to avoid them.

So must we, as Christians, practice good responses to a frustrating and frightening world. We must push ourselves to respond with Love to Hate, Peace to War, Hope to Anger. Let the evils of the world fertilize our love and strength to make the world a better place.

You know, like Jesus told us to when he said,

“Never say ‘sucks to be you,’ because that’s just not cool with God, all right? You wanna live in a bette world? Do better by it.”

Uncle Josh thinks about John the Baptist was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Lets Go of the Trapeze

Technically, Friday was my last day at my job. I am going in for a few hours on Monday for reasons I cannot rightly express.

The important things in work is knowing you are doing a good job. knowing you are being productive, and getting along with people. There were multiple points of failure in this job, which I’ve had for almost five years now.

I know who I am, and who I want to be, and those people didn’t fit with the culture of that place at this time.

So, as my friend Day Tooley said, I’m letting go of the trapeze and flying on faith. I have no unemployment benefits, and no jobs lined up, but I do have some interviews already, so hopefully I can find temp work and full time employment soon.

Uncle Josh Lets Go of the Trapeze was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Shills Himself

Every writer has one zombie story in them, and mine is in an anthology called “Zombiefied III: Hazardous Materials” edited by Carol Hightshoe and publish by Sky Warrior Books. There’s lots of good stuff in here.

Uncle Josh Shills Himself was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much