Dave + Mary


A little over a month ago I had the opportunity to get together with one of my best friends and his best friend to share an afternoon commemorating (if belatedly and unofficially) the fact that he had asked her to marry him — and she had said yes. The first time I met Mary, incidentally, was mere hours after Dave had proposed. “Hi, I’m Mary…” she beamed, and as I reached to shake her hand, she showed me the other one, one finger brightly ringed, adding, “…Dave’s fiancée.”

Time passed, and as the wedding plans fell together Dave asked if I wouldn’t mind breaking my de facto retirement and taking some pre-wedding pictures of the two of them. Weather threatened to upset us, as did my being under the weather, but our last chance finally came and wouldn’t you know, it was a pretty beautiful afternoon. Windy as all get-out, and cloudy at times (which played havoc with my rusty ISO-adjusting skills), but beautiful nonetheless. And so we set out down the abandoned train tracks behind the Lates home, my hands occupied with my camera bag, their hands occupied with each others’.


We decided early on to avoid, as much as possible, being terribly cliché. There were some things which just wouldn’t work with these two, you know?



I made it clear up front: I don’t really know what I’m doing. If I try to manufacture anything it’ll look forced. Just act like I’m not here. Easier said than done, of course. But so it went, and I’d like to think they’ll be happy with at least a few of ’em. We tried a variety of locations, and the common theme seemed to be trees:


…trees standing over lakes…


…trees on their sides…


…trees turned to railroad ties.


There was a little obligatory ring-gazing…


…but only a little.

IMG_6595 IMG_6599

Over the course of the “shoot,” if you can call it that, we put together a couple brief narratives through sequential shots.

The first was the closest I came to trying to make something metaphorical of our environment. Stumbling through life, most of us wish we had a helping hand, a little stability to help us when balancing everything becomes tricky. Support:

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Of course, like I said, we were out on abandoned train tracks. Somewhere along the tracks an impotent sign ordered us away, leaving its jurisdiction and enforceability to the imagination. And to think, had we listened, none of these pictures would exist. Dave & Mary showed the sign what they thought of being told No Trespassing:

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At some point I jokingly reminded them to act naturally. “I mean, honestly, if I weren’t here, would you really spend half the time just silently staring lovingly into one another’s eyes?”


“Actually, yes.”

And that was the truth of it. Uninterrupted by my suggestions and occasional directions, they spent a lot of time just looking really happy to be together. And it was beautiful. Humbling. I know I’m sort of expected to say it was an honor to be invited to be part of this, to be asked to, but I say that — that it was an honor — not out of a sense of obligation but rather unbridled honesty. Dave, Mary: thank you. I’m truly honored to have been asked along to share in your afternoon.

(now go check out all the pictures here ^_^)

June 28, 2013

It has been a long time since I wrote something.

Well, something here, anyway. I tried once or twice, but those drafts remain unpublished. In the interim I’ve felt a great deal of Ecclesiastes 1:2.

You know. Meaningless.

A brief glance at the last several months shows me engaged primarily in fighting things I hate, ideas with which I disagree. It shows me arguing with enemies far more frequently than laughing and learning with friends. It shows me depressed and neglecting both responsibilities and pleasures which ought to have had my attention, which would have made those days fuller and more worthy of having been through.

I am moving from New York in exactly five weeks. Sure, I’m moving to somewhere — Columbus, Ohio, to be precise — but what hits me is that I’m leaving New York. I am, for the foreseeable future (if not forever), leaving the place which has always been my home. And while the change will be gradual, and while the official move will probably not happen until early next year, the fact remains that I’m about to not have an address in New York, a bedroom in New York, a bank account in New York, or any of the other things which might signify that one is a New Yorker.

And with that fundamental change in my identity come others. In five weeks I will no longer be unemployed. I will no longer be a basement-dweller. I will no longer be merely a student, but a researcher. I will no longer be just a gamer, but a games scholar. These are the changes I can’t help making. These are changes which occur whether I want them to or not. They are the new status quo.

But along with the inevitable changes I find myself wondering just how boldly I can reinvent myself in the coming months. If the recent past is filled with triviality, irresponsibility, lost productivity, and negativity, then what if those, too, are identities I can change? If I could be half as thoughtful as I am stubborn; half as compassionate as I am selfish; half as industrious as I’ve been lazy; half as…well, half as heavy as I’ve been. Would I be twice as happy? Make others that much happier?

Truth be told in the past several weeks I’ve had my eyes opened to just how much of a burden I am to other people. Moreover, how much of a burden my life has become to me. And I don’t say that in an emo or frightening way, but as a simple, accurate gauge of reality: I bring myself and others down far more frequently than not. I don’t really like me much and I give others few reasons to do so either. The ones who do often find themselves regretting it. I’ve seen it in their eyes: the wish that they hadn’t bothered to strike up a conversation with me because now they feel trapped in something that’s making them uncomfortable. If people are supposed to leave your presence happier than they were when they entered it, I’ve certainly been doing it wrong.

The funny thing is, when I sat down to write something today, it’s because I realized I really want to learn Japanese. And somehow, starting out by pointing out what I don’t want in my life, I was going to work my way around to what I do want. A sort of wishlist for the future. I don’t really know that I can just jump into that now. Seems the tone’s wrong. But there you have it: Japanese. And Russian. Why?

Well, I…

Their cultures have so many things in them which I find beautiful, which speak to me, often in ways I’ve never felt from English-speaking cultures. Their art, their stories, their way of life, all bound up in characters I can’t read, can’t penetrate, can’t fathom. I suppose that’s true of any culture but for me, those are the ones I lament being locked out of.

So I sit here and I consider what it means, to want to change, to improve, to learn, and the steps one actually has to take to make those changes, to achieve the improvement, to gain the knowledge lacked. And I think back on all the times I’ve wanted to change but have been found wanting in change, and I wonder whether this will be all that again, or whether this will truly be a watershed in the life I lead, and whether all those mandatory changes will facilitate the others, the ones which would make the changes matter.

Que sera, sera; mais, moi?
Je dois être le changement
Que je veux voir.

Game On.

Note: I’ve written several things since it, but consider this blog a direct follow-up to Game Over.

I hate hypocrisy. I suppose that’s nothing original to me, but it bears mentioning, because it’s one of the most consistent and important parts of my life. And since what I’m about to say may be construed by some as hypocritical, I’ve taken a lot of time to figure out how to say it, and while I might not have nailed it, hopefully I’ll have done at least my best to convey why I don’t see myself as a hypocrite — that the possibility of me being called one weighed into my decision to say it anyway.

If I ever pursue a course of action which is inconsistent with something I’ve said (particularly something I’ve published), I strive to make sure that it’s a matter of progress rather than regress, that where I’m going is a step forward from where I’ve been rather than a setback to a prior position.

Over the last few days I have had some very choice words to say about Marvel. Actually, I’ve had such words for them for a long time, but those words in particular were a bit more concrete. Their implications, resounding. And they weren’t, as I recently pointed out, the first of even their kind; I’d approached swearing off Marvel before on abuse terms and then promptly regretted it.

This time, I’d like to say the difference was my fervor, but it wasn’t. No, the real difference was audience, and in particular solidarity: my post accomplished more than establishing my ire with the company; it established the commonality of the brutal Marvel experience. In the mouth of a guy who has barely been reading comics for four months, folks who’ve spent their whole lives reading comics found their own feelings put into words.

I suppose one might argue that in a way, me choosing to read Marvel comics after all — and especially any time soon — would undermine all that. But I think the opposite may be true. I think by uncovering how widespread this issue is, and getting so many people to say “good point, you’re right,” I discovered something which legitimately needs to be addressed and resolved, something which could only ever be changed from within, with a strong voice that is informed enough to know what it’s talking about, with firsthand knowledge to lend specificity to its claims.

What I realized, in a roundabout way, is that Marvel fans needed a voice like mine speaking out on their behalf more than they need me to boycott the books — books which, ironically, many who agreed with and supported my own declaration still plan to buy and read themselves. If they can agree with what I said and still justify buying Marvel comics, why can’t I?

I knew going back to Marvel was a possibility for me. And that is why I left a very clear backdoor within the words of my declaration: the countdown/continue analogy was more than mere metaphor; it was the acknowledgement that I hadn’t committed permanently to the end of this “game.”

Who among us has not said, in various ways, “I hate this game,” “screw this, I’m done,” “this game sucks,” when confronting a difficult or unfair opponent, only to a moment later overcome the challenge after trying again in spite of ourselves, and perhaps even recommend the game to a friend? It happens in games. It happens throughout life. As one commenter noted, doing things which piss us off is hardly unique to the process of selecting comics. Why should coping with that be okay everywhere else, but not here?

I have allowed myself to be an emotional victim in my relationship with Marvel pretty much since the beginning. And the thing I finally realized is, if I’m going to be miserable pining after the books I’m not reading, then my boycott hasn’t changed anything for me, because Marvel still has the power to make me feel unhappy, even when I’m ostensibly asserting myself. And that is just stupid.

So today, I’m putting in my final two quarters. I’ve read the strategy guides, and I have a better idea of the trials and tricks this particular game involves. I think I may be able to beat this game, but as with anything in comics, that’s a long-haul proposition, because it’s going to take a lot of time, and it’s going to take a lot of support. But I think if there really are people out there who are tired of being abused by Marvel, and still love Marvel characters, they can be rallied together. Their voice can be heard. They can make companies like this (I haven’t forgotten my DC friends) listen, but it won’t happen through individual boycotts or laughably-unsupported petitions.

I’m not saying I’m a leader. I’m still quite wet behind the ears. But clearly I’m onto something which people can get behind. And none of us want Marvel to die. We just want Marvel to be better, to lead better. They depend on their fans for survival. I say it’s about time those fans began discussing a way to exploit that and make something happen. And I want to be part of that. Which means I want to be able to be, and stay, a fan, throwing full weight behind the good Marvel does and turning my rants up to eleven when discussing the bad Marvel does.

So many people claim to have been inspired by comics, to be better people because of them and their community. If today’s comics are failing to provide that kind of inspiration or hope, we shouldn’t quietly cancel our pull lists or curse about it to ourselves on message boards and irrelevant blogs. We should find more effective channels to amplify our opinions and DEMAND something better.

As Dan Slott, the man who continues to find new ways to kill Peter Parker, boldly declares all over his social media, “haters gonna hate.” If that’s all we can do — be predictably angry, but little else — then maybe his smugness is justified. But even if a guy like Dennis Hopeless mocks it, we do have power. Fan outrage DID get Gail Simone her job back. But only because that outrage gained traction, and made itself indisputably known.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know what sort of channels I expect to find, or how much support I can actually rally. I don’t know if I can convince people to drop books they might enjoy for a greater good — though that hasn’t stopped me from trying before. I don’t know what “winning” looks like because, like I said, I’m new to this — but the fact that I’m new and said something right away and had old-timers respond “finally, someone gets this” suggests that my newness isn’t going to preclude doing something useful.

If nothing else, I have never felt so strongly about something and then just let it go away. I will find a way to win this “game” if such a way exists. And if one doesn’t, and I find myself beaten back down to the Game Over screen?

Well, like I said, I’m using my last quarters. There’s no back door this time.

Thanks to everyone who has responded to me in the last week, regardless of what side of the aisle you were on. I hope those who supported me are able to still do so; if not, I understand. Meantime?

Game on.

Marvel NO: Redux…Two?

I have to admit, I’ve been extremely encouraged over the last couple weeks by the responses I’ve received from people on a variety of the things I’ve written. I never really know for sure where the line between “sobering observation” and “eye-rolling emo pity party” is, and I know I’ve danced on and over it before. So whenever I post something negative, and receive feedback from people which says, in effect “thank you for putting into words the things I’ve been feeling for a while,” it serves as a sort of justification that I’m not just moping for the sake of it in my own subjectively awful haze. Sometimes things actually do suck, and sometimes I identify them accurately. That’s pretty nifty.

On the other hand, it does make attempting a change of heart or finding a middle ground rather difficult, because people who stand by you and cheer you on for taking a difficult stance may feel betrayed if you ever take a less extreme stance down the road. Words like backpedaling and compromise become loaded with a stigma, which is unfortunate because it should be praiseworthy for a person to admit they went a little too far. The alternative is being goaded into a corner and making indefensible statements that you don’t even personally believe in, maybe never did.

I wrote “Uncanny Marvel NO.” in a fit of passion, incensed at the notion that…well, I think it’s fairly blatant what had angered me to anyone who read it. It served a purpose. It spoke my mind and it said a lot of things I consider very true. And because it was a response to someone else, it was timely, and I can’t know for sure what waiting a few days would have done to my clarity or my arguments.

Still, I do wish I’d gone back and read the previous “Marvel No” entry first.

Because I would have discovered a shocking parallel between the events that led to yesterday’s blog and the events that led to the Redux one. In both I noted the cyclical, abusive nature of my relationship with Marvel. But whereas Uncanny Marvel NO encapsulated my resolve not to let myself remain a victim no matter how much I want to keep reading Marvel books, Marvel NO: Redux encapsulated the weakness that follows the declaration, and the very crawling back I called inevitable in Uncanny. It encapsulates precisely how I feel today, seeing people talk about how fantastic today’s new issue of All-New X-Men is, being reminded that that awesome all-female X-Men book comes out in a few weeks, and wanting almost desperately to just say “screw it” and go ahead and end my little “boycott” before I’ve even begun.

I’m actually a bit terrified at my own self-awareness. I wrote this the first week of January, but I may as well have written it this morning:

Here I am, having teetered on the edge of actual — that is, clinical (and I know the signs, because I’ve been there before) — depression because of what Marvel is doing. I’ve had, comparatively, the highest-profile split I could have. And yet rather than saying “good riddance” and moving along, I find myself actually wishing I’d said nothing, glancing through the proverbial store window at the latest Spider-Man or Deadpool stories, and knowing deep down that I’ve already given up. Everything I said last week was true, and that’s not enough to keep me caring.

So what, right? This is no great moral victory or loss. I think we can all roll our eyes a bit and say, “well, that just happened,” and then a month from now I’ll be talking about this great thing Chris Yost is doing in Scarlet Spider, and none of us will think twice about it.

Yes. This is precisely how I feel. “Everything I said…was true, and that’s not enough to keep me caring.”

No one was watching when I wrote those words in January. A lot more people were watching yesterday. Many of them voiced their support and solidarity.

And as I sat there today, wanting to renege, I started to ask myself some questions. “No great moral victory or loss,” I said in January. As I mull it over, I ask myself: so if, after all this ranting and discussion, I were to just give up right now and continue reading Marvel comics as if nothing had happened, what exactly would that mean? Would it make me a hypocrite? Or is there a line between hypocrisy and a changed mind? Or has my mind not changed at all, just my resolve — and if that’s the case, is weakness the same as hypocrisy if it entails not being able to follow through with what you planned to?

Furthermore, whom would I be letting down? Myself? The people who stood up for me and agreed with me? Both? Neither? And if I’m hurting myself, why is it that I don’t care nearly as much about that as I do about looking like a liar? If people supported me because they wanted to see me do what made me happy, then wouldn’t they support me regardless of my decision? Or was my abuse parallel so shockingly accurate that I only think reneging will make me happy, but in fact I really am setting myself up to be abused for years to come?

This seems so ridiculously unimportant because it is, at the end of the day, a matter of whether some random guy living in a suburb decides to buy a couple comic books or not. This isn’t the same as domestic abuse. But from a psychological perspective I can’t help but wonder how different it actually is. Confronted with the reality of my situation and the duplicity of my desires, it’s still taken everything in me today not to give in. I’ve even spent some time trying to reinforce my decision by making it clear in various contexts that Marvel is no longer in the picture for me. But tonight, sitting here, I wonder if that was all just a hideous case of denial, and before I knew it I was looking through Facebook pictures of my ex through rose-tinted glasses. Maybe it’s because of that tint that I can’t see the bruises that are still on my arms from yesterday’s fight.

I’m at the point where I legitimately don’t know if I want resolve to go through with my boycott or an okay to surrender and run backwards on my own word. The only thing scarier than that reality is the fact that my acute awareness of it doesn’t make it any less of a reality. And suddenly I realize that an abuse victim isn’t a victim because they don’t know they’re being abused, but because they don’t have the strength to get out of the situation. Recognizing that kind of weakness is hard, and it’s a vulnerability — particularly because it involves the tractability of my word — which is honestly very difficult to own up to.

The excuses I made for myself a few months ago still sound incredibly attractive, maybe even flat-out true. Acknowledging the ultimate futility of one person boycotting a company as large as Marvel, I suggested pursuing creators whom I respected regardless of the books they were writing or the companies they were working for. One easily produces a ridiculous hypothetical situation for making that sound easy: if my best friend were to start writing X-Men, would I really refuse to read it because it was a Marvel property?

That’s not going to happen, but the principle remains intact: supporting the person who’s producing the work and trying to remain blind to the entity which ultimately has the power to make them stop or change what they’re working on with impunity.

So I return to the spirit of the protest. With Arena it was to try to pressure Marvel into changing its course. But this is more like an addict trying to wean himself off of a life-controlling substance. The thing itself may not be innately harmful, but overexposure or dependence definitely is. So if my boycott isn’t a moral one so much as an endeavor to protect myself from harm I could have avoided by not growing too attached, then it would not be unreasonable to permit myself “safe” stories — contained arcs, for example, or maybe even stories with characters who are already dead and thus I don’t have to worry about them being ruined just after I’ve come to love them.

Or if I could simply cauterize my emotional connection a bit — get myself to the point where I, like the many who have either ridiculed or simply been disappointed by me, could appreciate a story without caring so much when things went badly. In the abusive relationship analogy, it’s a matter of either walking out, or (if I am capable) refusing to let myself be a victim — asserting myself, becoming stronger, and not letting Marvel have all the power over how I feel at any given time. If I can stay happy in spite of the bad, or stay angry (when it’s useful) in spite of the good, then a life-long cold turkey diet is hardly necessary. I don’t know. I really don’t.

I know most people don’t care but out in deference to those who did speak up on my behalf I feel compelled to let people in on my (long-winded and scattered) thought processes and at least acknowledge that I feel more conflicted about it than my original words might have let on. And I guess to some extent it’s also a cry for help, a petition for advice. I have no way of knowing just how much stock anyone out there put in what I said. Maybe no one really cares. But I’d hate to look like a turncoat to someone who just got really excited to finally have someone fighting on their side. And I’d hate to make a decision which ultimately allows me to get more hurt down the road, and look back, and know that I could have prevented it.

I said yesterday that this was probably my last chance, and that if I got over it “Marvel would own me for life.” So I guess the question is, was I right? Is it possible for me to assert myself here and maintain some form of relationship? Or will I doom myself to submission by lessening the hardline nature of my originally-proposed stance?

I’m serious. I honestly do not know.