Birthdays and Buffets

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Add this one to the ever-growing list of strange but not necessarily unpleasant birthday stories—

This year I’m turning 25. A quarter of a century.

In the same year that I was born, way back in 1988, the Winter Olympics were held in Canada (which likely explains at least part of my affection for all things Canadian, eh?). The first McDonalds to ever open in a Communist country opened in Yugoslavia. And Mehran Karimi Nasseri began his 17 year long stay in Charles du Galle Airport in Paris.

I’ve noticed that one of those cliched truths that your parents espouse about growing up is, shockingly, true. They said that family will always be the most important thing in my life. They said to always stick together. They said be nicer to my brother. All these things they said, which were easily dismissed when I was 16-21 and happy to be doing my own thing, were completely true as I move further and further into “real” adulthood.

I have a huge, hilarious group of siblings. I refer to them at work and outside the family circle as “my clan of siblings,” because there’s 5 of them (and there’ll officially be 6 once my sister gets married, because my pending brother-in-law has been around so long that he’s practically got tenure) and that’s not counting boyfriends/girlfriends/significant others, current or future.

So my birthday is August 3rd and my future brother-in-law’s is July 31. We’re both rabid fans of the Barona Resort & Casino buffet and me, being the brilliant guy I am, suggests that me, him, and my sister truck out there for a delicious, if extremely fattening, birthday buffet night. See, I can share like a good boy…

While we’re discussing this my other sister asks if she can come too, a little indignantly, because there we were planning this elaborate dinner scheme in front of her without inviting her. Poor form on our part, I confess, but two sisters and one fiancé are on board with the Birthday Buffet at this point so attendance is shaping up nicely. I call my brother and ask if wants to come too. Brother says no, he has work, and I don’t really push it and leave it at that because I was a poor college student once too.

This morning, I’m at work, and my phone angrily explodes with activity. I’ve missed three texts and one call from my youngest sister—who’s pissy because I didn’t invite her on the Birthday Buffet excursion. I cover my ass by saying that I thought she was out of town (that’s what my parents told me) and, of course, invite her along too. The more the merrier, right? She not-so-suavely fishes for an invitation for her boyfriend, which I don’t have a problem with, and they’re set.

So at this point I’m up three sisters, one boyfriend, and one future brother-in-law that I’m sharing this Birthday Buffet with, so this is a pretty good group already.

Sometime after lunch my phone goes off again. It’s my brother asking if we can go somewhere else because Barona is expensive. I offer to pay for him because I’m nothing if not my siblings’ piggy bank and he, unsurprisingly, is in. 6:30 pm rolls around and I’m done at work—I call my sister because they’re all meeting in San Diego and leaving from there while I drive down from Carlsbad. My sister answers and promptly informs me that we’ve also picked up my youngest brother, who is 8 and the life of any party, and that he will be accompanying us to the Birthday Buffet Extravaganza.

If you’re having trouble keeping count, here’s the final tally: three sisters, one boyfriend, one future-brother-in-law (who I’m sharing this Birthday Buffet Extravaganza with, mind you), and two brothers (one of whom is 8 and, I’m not ashamed to admit this, is totally my favorite).

If there is a God, then I’m pretty sure that he’s ashamed by the things we did at that buffet. I mean we were just indecent at certain points. Maybe it was the gluttony? I had two entrees and three deserts. Maybe it was using the Lord’s name in vain? My sister shouted “Walk with Jesus!” at me as I headed for the desert stand. Maybe it was lust? Our waitress actually trotted out a pitcher of Diet Coke for us.

In the end, we won’t know for sure exactly how disappointed God was this evening until we die—which could very well be tonight, given how clogged our arteries must be. I don’t regret a minute of it and, for what started out as a three person excursion that expanded into a group of my favorite people on Earth, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Happy Birthday…to me…and also to Steven, I guess…

Taylor and Steven, David, Alex, Amanda and Daniel, and Logan…you’re my favorite human beings in the history of my life. Thanks for a great 25th birthday!

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Comic Con 2013: It’s Like A Bad Relationship

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luck

(noun)

1 San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS Oakland, Dallas, Tallahassee, Oakland.

2 To currently live in San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS currently living anywhere BUT San Diego, CA.

When I think of the annual popular arts phenomenon that sweeps into the heart of Downtown San Diego, CA every year in late July I often experience an absolute bevy of emotions. That’s right, you heard me—a bevy. Going to Comic Con (for us ritualists who defy the odds and manage get in every freaking year) is a breathtaking, nerve-wracking, oft infuriating event that, despite the abuse it heaps upon us, leaves us wanting for more. After discussing it with a friend, we concluded that being a regular Comic Con attendee is like being a bad relationship of hopeless, and utter, dependence. Conversations about the lines (and the infamous Hall H ‘eyeball + pencil = tragedy’ event that was 2011) and subpar programming are rife and oppressive, but I’ll try to be level-headed in my reflection.

Which, incidentally, is remarkably positive this year. Looking back, I went into this year very excited but also reserved; the sheer hassle of the event had stripped it of its appeal in recent years. I should also note that going into Comic Con 2013 I was one very sick boy and, incidentally, that forced me to really conserve strength and to leave when I started to feel exhausted and not three or four hours after the fatigue set in. That prevented burn-out in the first two days which, in the long run, helped me enjoy the event that much more. So let’s talk Con!

Wednesday July 17

Preview night was straightforward but, oh Dear Sweet God, was traffic a nightmare. Ultimately, I only spent about an hour and a half at Preview Night because the 8 and the 5 freeways were such awful messes. Still, it was nice to think that I was cruising the floor on the emptiest possible night but it felt like there were WAY more people at Preview Night 2013 than in previous years. I honestly think they’re selling more 4 Day + Preview night badges now than they ever have in the past because that’s what it looked like on the ground. But, as is the case with most things, I can’t know for sure.

Thursday July 18

I didn’t do anything on Thursday. None of the programming struck me as particularly fascinating so I got there around 1pm and left around 3pm or so because, again, I was not feeling well. I credit Thursday with really forcing me to rest and recover because on Friday…

Friday July 19

…I totally overslept. I mean, I only overslept by like a half hour but that meant leaving at 7:30 which put me at the convention center by 9:00 and at that point the line for the panel that I wanted to get into with a passion—THE LEGEND OF KORRA—was crazy long. I gave up hope of getting in and walked the line, just to see how long it was when a friend from work flagged me down and singlehandedly salvaged my day. KORRA is Nickelodeon’s sequel to it’s animated smash hit AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, but KORRA wrapped up season one before last year’s Comic Con—which meant that I, as a fan, had been deprived of Korra for more than a year! During the cast and crew Q&A panel the show-runners  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino showed us an awesome trailer for Book Two: Spirits.

…and then they aired the whole premier.

At which point I promptly pooped my pants.

So the actual panel was relatively brief, having ceded nearly all their time to the premier, which was indescribably awesome.

Skipping past the BONES panel (which didn’t interest me at all) we came to the next big event Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD. Now, I’ve been broadly following the development of this show and, as a big fan of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS I was excited to see Joss Whedon promote the new television show, since his TV chops are well-establish by now after BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY, and DOLLHOUSE.

Whedon trots the whole cast out, everyone (me, too) freaks the eff out for Clark Gregg (#coulsonlives) and then they start taking questions. Second question is a lady who asks about seeing a clip or a trailer. Whedon sagely blames Disney, saying that the lawyers won’t let them show a clip or even a trailer. Everyone boos because, if there’s one thing we nerds understand, it is the indomitable evil that is the Walt Disney Company. Backpedaling, Whedon clarifies, “We can’t show you a clip. So we’re gonna show the whole premier.”

Cue the explosive applause, which sounded much more like a bomb going off, and then they showed the whole 40 minute first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD. I thought it was brilliant—I recommend that you check it out when it hits Sept 24 on ABC. Of course, we went bananas for it and subsequently showered our adoration upon Whedon and the cast but that, for me at least, wrapped up Friday.

Saturday July 21

Oh, boy. By Saturday I was feeling great and I chose to celebrate my renewed health in the most sane way possible: by leaving home at 4am with the foolish notion of getting into the Hall H line for the Marvel panel at the end of the day. I was at the Convention Center by 5:20am but the line, if you’re familiar with the area, wrapped behind the convention center and went as far as the marina. That, in the vernacular, meant that I was not getting in. Knowing that, I jumped ship to the Ballroom 20 line where I perched myself expectantly.

The morning’s first panel was ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, a spin-off of the wildly popular ONCE UPON A TIME that debuted in 2011. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the creators and runners of both shows, mentioned that what they eventually showed to us of WONDERLAND was a rough cut but—and I preface this with an acknowledgment of slackened expectations—it wasn’t really all that good. None of the characters were particularly well-acted and the CG seemed over the top and this is tough for me to say, since I’m a fan of the original ONCE UPON A TIME.

Afterwards was the panel for the original ONCE UPON A TIME, a tactic intended to market the new show to us veteran fans of the first one. ONCE UPON A TIME had an incredibly strong debut in its first season but has really floundered in season 2, eventually straggling along for a stronger ending. With season 3 less than two months away, they had an uphill battle to prove to us that the excursion to Wonderland to save Henry will be worth our time. Kitsis and Horowtiz made mention that filming started this week, and that when the show debuts it will air 10 episodes without interruption in the fall with the remaining episodes airing uninterrupted in the spring. LOST, a show that Kitsis and Horowitz both worked on and that continues to exert massive influence over their newest creations, experimented with a similar concept by airing seasons 4, 5, and 6 uninterrupted in their respective Spring time-slots.

Afterwards, we transitioned to the FUTURAMA panel. Futurama was cancelled by Comedy Central—something that I’m incredibly sore about. THE SIMPSONS is 25 seasons old, not super funny, and yet still on the air. Futurama is ending its 9th and final season, still funny and relevant, but getting canned. Still, the show’s runners David X. Cohen and Matt Groening poked good fun and made it a panel to remember with drawing contests and airing part of the series finale: Fry is falling to his death, and has a time-reverse button that takes him exactly 10 seconds into the past—right after he made the fateful jump. Brilliant, poignant, and hilarious; exactly how FUTURAMA should end.

Then there was THE SIMPSONS panel immediately after; none of the voice actors showed because, let’s face it, the show is 25 years old and they don’t have to try anymore. Groening was up there with Al Jean and confirmed a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover among other things.

Skipping ahead to the FAMILY GUY panel, which is always good fun—Seth MacFarlane was off filming his new movie but most of the cast (sans Mila Kunis) was there. What’s always hilarious about this panel is that Alex Borstein and Seth Green, who are fully aware each year that there’s a sign-language translator in the Accessibility area of the crowd, persisted to spew out the most disgusting terms in an effort to fluster the translators. It’s hilarious but not something I can really repeat here, but, you know, YouTube it.

Succeeding the FAMILY GUY panel was the AMERICAN DAD panel which was less of an affair than its big brother panel given what I assume is the state of tumult the show is in. AMERICAN DAD was quietly cancelled by FOX and will finish the already completed tenth season on FOX but, and this struck me as bizarre, it has been picked up by TBS. Movements of this kind usually indicate that a show is in its death throes, and I hope this isn’t the case because I LOVE American Dad and find it superior to FAMILY GUY in every way, but I’m worried for the show’s future. THE CLEVELAND SHOW was also quietly cancelled but its lukewarm  performance and reception has kept it dead.

The end of the FAMILY GUY panel also meant a big break in my day. From there on out I was free to wander the floor of the convention hall, and below are an assortment of photos.

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The floor was packed; simply pulsing with humanity.

IMG_2293They reduced the number of independent artists this year, and decreased the amount of novelty booths. The wooden mustache booth was gone!

Also present were neat products and models.

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A large model of the USS VENGEANCE from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

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The POWER RANGERS franchise is celebrating 20 years of childhood amazingness.

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A model of DEATHWING from WORLD OF WARCRAFT.

At 7:30, as something of a Comic Con tradition, I closed out my Con weekend by attending Kevin Smith‘s panel in Hall H. Smith is a strikingly genuine filmmaker who has devoted a better part of the last few years to advocating and supporting new and upcoming filmmakers. Always uproarious and often pensive, Kevin does a great job of balancing humor with real-world experiences. Beyond that, I can’t remember much because I was…so…very…tired… Nevertheless, he’s a brilliant guy and the crowd for his panel seemed noticeably healthier this year than in years passed.

Afterwards, I made the victorious journey home. Comic Con 2013 was an success! Great shows, great panels, great sneak peeks at the upcoming television season! This event really shines when it honors the nerds, the geeks, and the hopeless many who congregate and preach their favorite popular arts phenomenons—and that is exactly what happened this year.

I’m ready to start planning for the Con 2014—if I can get tickets, that is.

— Brendan

TED Talks Redux

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A few days ago I gave an extremely impromptu talk about my passion for writing to an audience that deserve a better speaker. After graduation, a promotion, and a flurry of family-related activities the talk was the furthest thing from my mind. I got up in front of 40ish people and rambled, though I’m told I ramble well. What I found as I spoke and answered questions was that three themes emerged. Now that I’ve had some time to think back on these themes I’ve compiled a better examination of them. If I’d prepared for the talk I gave about a week ago, this is what I would’ve said:

Contemplate Your Mortality

Mortality is a subject that I think every writer becomes obsessed with in one way or another. Two years ago my mother spent nearly two months in the hospital and has periodically returned there. A few months later my grandfather passed from complications related to surgery. Last December my 13-year old cousin Ian also passed away unexpectedly. These events have had a transformative effect on my writing and my outlook on life. I try to think that the changes have been for the better but there’re times when I wonder who I’m kidding.

When I was a senior in high school my English teacher, Mr. Caughey, once told me “If you ever really want to freak yourself out at night, just think about how you’re absolutely going to die. It’s a trip.” In the past few months this has become an unescapable nightly ritual for me. In those moments between the waking world and the ethereal realm of sleep I consider how much closer I am to the end. Life is spent preparing for death, though we hardly realize that. We grown, love, and lose—with increasing rapidity as we accelerate into adulthood.

It’s become something of a crutch that I use to remind myself that I’m still alive; that there’s so little time but, infuriatingly enough, so many opportunities. While many famous writers throughout history writers have allowed their mortality to drag them down to the bottom of booze bottles and cigarette cartons (here’s to looking at you, Joyce!), I’ve spun something of an optimistic approach on it all. And also I just don’t have the funds that constant drinking and smoking require. I equate mortality with scarcity; there’s not enough of it, and it can so suddenly disappear anyways, that it has become the spine of my motivation. I’m going to spend my life working. I’m going to spend my life writing.

I had a discussion with a mentor of mine the other day at dinner. She shared with me her growing desire to retire from teaching after decades of work in high school classrooms reminding America’s youth of this country’s checkered history. It was then that I admitted that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to retire. I can’t help but think that I’m going to be one of the poor fools who works until he dies. What’s the point of retirement? What’s the point of admitting that you’re coasting until you die? I know that just about any retired person would argue me on this. Time for travel, time to relax, time for family. But if you’ve spent your whole life putting those things off until the tail end of it; that you’ve boxed your desires into a twenty year span at the end of your life, how do you deserve them? How can you expect that you’ll accomplish them?

I contemplate my mortality as a motivational tool, not a tactic of self-inflicted depression. I think that if more people were mindful of their impending deaths then we might, as a race, be happier with ourselves. Whole swaths of us might change professions. Might be more confident. It may be a rose outlook but it’s an outlook nonetheless. My advice is to think about it. To remember it. To accept that one day “you too shall grow old.”

The big question there, though, is how will you reflect on your life looking back?

Do What You’re Meant To Do.

I am lucky.

There’s no easier way to say it than that. I am lucky to have found my passion when I was fifteen years old. I’m lucky to have written something everyday since then, to have practiced and honed my craft to the point that I’m comfortable talking about and sharing my writing with others. I was stunned, during the presentations of the other artists last week, to see the sheer magnitude of passion evinced by other human beings.

Humans are a colorful, passionate race of contradictions and complexity. We aren’t meant to spend our lives doing things that make us miserable. When I think about my job I know I’m thinking about something that I’m good it. Working 9-5 is what I want to do. What I need to do in order to survive. Writing my books, staying up late and outlining the next chapter or story—that’s what I’m meant to do.

Not enough people discern this and spend lives laboring to be productive and fruitful, ultimately falling short of some grand goal. They realize they’ve spent years in the shadow of their one true passion. Coincidentally, our true passions are often the most useless things we’ve ever encountered. Painting doesn’t make the world a safer place. Taking photos doesn’t make it any more or less wretched. Writing doesn’t physically change a damned thing.

At my graduation ceremony retiring Professor Gerald Butler asked why the world questions and devalues the arts when it needs it most. He postulated that the act of sharing is what enriches the human experience, that the creative urges of mankind are what help us escape the eras of dark pragmatism and cruel budget cuts.

I agree. When things get tough humanity switches into survivalist mode. But this isn’t the preindustrial age anymore. We have our civilization, or so we’re taught, and with it we’re meant to achieve great things. Think about Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Boticelli—artists whose works continue to shine hundreds of years after their deaths. Each of them contributing to the legacy of humanity. At a certain point we need to back away from survivalism and reevaluate the inherent value of creative wealth we can generate.

We spend so much time doing what we’re told to do that we ignore the desire to discover and do what we’re meant to. I’m lucky to have discovered that I’m meant to be a writer. I’m meant to write my books and read unholy amounts of novels and lead a generally introverted lifestyle. The sooner that we each tap into that realization then the sooner we’ll each feel more fulfilled.

Respect Your Voice

The other night I said “to tamper with your voice is a crime.” That’s a position I maintain because of its authenticity. If you’re doing what you love to do and you tamper with your style then you’re only hurting yourself. I gladly accept edits and comments on my work but at the end of the day I alone decide whether or not to care, or even read, said feedback.

So there is an element of arrogance at work in how you treat your creative pursuits. You have to be arrogant enough to know when something will hurt your work rather than better it. You need to learn to see if you’re asking for feedback because you’re being polite or because you truly desire it.

At the end of the day, nobody gets to be renowned for bending to the desires of other. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead was famously rejected twelve times before it was published and became a staple book of high school literature. J.K. Rowling’s The Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected eight times before it was published.

Not another living soul will defend your voice for you, because we’ve all seen how lonely and antagonistic the world can be when it sets itself against you. I assume, daily, that the only person who finds my writing any good is me. And, therefore, I alone retain absolute control over what stays and what goes—because I am, and was, my first fan.

I wished that I had prepare this that Sunday night instead of the dribble that I offered to such a polite crowd. What it boils down to is that your creative pursuits are the chance to set the tone for your life and your life’s work. Don’t neglect it, don’t put it off and expect it to disappear. Each wasted day is a wasted opportunity. In parting, I offer the following quote from Maurice Sendak:

“I’m clearing the decks for a simple death. You’re done with your work. You’re done with your life. And your life was your work.”