490. TMTF’s Top Ten Ways Autumn Isn’t Horrible

I don’t like the fall season. It’s cold, dark, and flavored like pumpkin spice. Leaves fall. Flowers die. Everything turns brown. Worst of all, here in the American Midwest, autumn happens every single year. It just ain’t fair.

However, autumn isn’t all bad—mostly bad, yes, but not quite all bad. It has its charms. Here are ten reasons why the fall season isn’t totally awful.

Bundle up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Ways Autumn Isn’t Horrible!

10. Daylight Saving Time Ends

On the first Sunday in November, the time is set back one hour at two o’clock in the morning. In practical terms, I gain an hour, provided I remember to set back my clocks. An extra hour of sleep? Yes please.

I happen to be a big fan of sleep.

Of course, the time is set forward one hour when Daylight Saving Time begins in spring, costing me a precious hour of sleep, but I’ll not worry about that until March!

9. Snowfalls Are Gentle, Gorgeous, and Mercifully Brief

Snow is beautiful when it’s falling or freshly fallen. It softens everything and gleams with an infinity of tiny sparkles. Then it quickly becomes a nuisance. Heavy snow becomes slushy, crusty, or muddy, and always wet and cold. Autumn sometimes brings light snowfalls, but they never overstay their welcome. They last just long enough to be pretty, and no longer.

8. Winter Blockbusters Begin to Arrive in Movie Theaters

After the October wave of horror films, end-of-year blockbusters start to trickle into movie theaters.

Aw, yeah.

We have Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Disney’s Moana this fall. Last autumn brought The Peanuts Movie, which surpassed my cynical expectations, and the one before gave us Disney’s Big Hero 6. I may not like the fall season, but it brings some great movies.

7. Triple-A Video Games Are Released

The final months of each year often bring not only good movies, but also great video games.

Aw, yeah.

Triple-A is the classification given to games with big budgets, which is often (but not always) an indication of high quality. Game developers often save their triple-A releases for the holiday season. I play mostly older games these days, but still enjoy watching trailers and reading reviews for brand new ones.

6. Leaves Turn Bright, Beautiful Colors

As summer fades, leaves change from green to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Clusters of leaves become clouds of fire.

Colors like these are the only warm things about autumn, I’m afraid.

Apart from the trees, autumn is a season of drab grays and murky browns, so the fiery colors of leaves are a welcome change… until they die, turn brown, and fall to the ground, of course. Ah, well. Beauty is often a fleeting and fragile thing.

5. Thanksgiving Day Arrives

I poke fun at the Thanksgiving holiday, but it’s actually one of my favorites. I love the idea of setting aside a day for family, food, fellowship, and… well… thanksgiving. Unlike Halloween or Christmas, Thanksgiving demands no elaborate customs or decorations: no costumes, no trick-or-treating, no carols, no presents. It represents not the busyness of Martha, but the peace of Mary. (It’s just a shame about Black Friday.)

4. The Christmas Season Approaches

It’s against my religion to listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. (It isn’t really, but seriously, guys, wait until after Thanksgiving Day.)

Christmas is coming!

I’m a little cynical about the Christmas season, but only a little, and colder weather is a reminder that Christmas is coming. Autumn is a dreary season, but it promises brighter things. I appreciate that.

3. Fresh Apple Cider Becomes Available for Purchase

I like apples. really like apples.

How ’bout them apples?

For just a few glorious weeks every year, a local Amish market sells fresh apple cider: unpasteurized, unadulterated, with no preservatives or additional ingredients of any kind. It is glorious, and available only in early autumn.

2. Colder Weather Enhances Enjoyment of Warm Things

I hate cold weather, but appreciate how it increases my enjoyment of warmth. Hot food warms as well as satisfies. My sleeping bag becomes a haven of perfect warmth and comfort. (I don’t own a bed, because beds are for sensible, well-adjusted people.) However deeply the cold may settle in my bones, a hot shower always drives it out. Coffee, which is a refuge and strength at all times, keeps away the cold. Heck, even washing dishes becomes kind of a treat.

1. Autumn Brings Duster Weather

I actually like cool weather; it reminds me of Quito, where I was born, and where I spent many years. Even when the air turns painfully cold, I don’t despair, for lo! I have a duster overcoat.

I couldn’t find a photo of myself wearing my duster—selfies, like Christmas music before Thanksgiving, are against my religion—but my overcoat looks just a bit like the Tenth Doctor’s, minus the sparkles.

Since it appeared mysteriously in my closet a few years ago, I’ve taken a geeky satisfaction in wearing it when the autumn air turns chilly. My duster makes me look a bit like a khaki canvas tent, but it makes me feel awesome, and also warm.

What do you like most about the final months of the year? Let us know in the comments!

471. TMTF Reviews: Something’s Rotten

An embarrassingly long time ago, I received an invitation from a band called the PDX Broadsides to share my thoughts on their latest album: Something’s Rotten.


This happened shortly before I attended a writing conference and then took a vacation. As I traveled, connecting to the Internet only briefly and infrequently, I regrettably let the PDX Broadsides and their invitation slip through the cracks.

Only a few days ago did I finally listen to Something’s Rotten in its entirety. It’s geeky; it’s folksy; it’s definitely an album worth reviewing—and by gosh, I’m going to review it. (Yeah, I know TMTF doesn’t review stuff anymore, but I’ll make an exception for today’s post.) I don’t know the first thing about music, but I am totally a geek, so I consider myself at least slightly qualified to review this album. Besides, my last music review didn’t cause The End of Civilization as We Know It, so what’s the harm in one more?

The PDX Broadsides are an acoustic-folk-geek trio. I wasn’t familiar with them prior to their invitation, and I haven’t the faintest idea why they invited me to share my opinion, but I’m glad they did.

Here we go, with due apologies for the late review.

The PDX Broadsides seem disappointed in me—just look at those disapproving faces. I’M SORRY FOR TAKING SO LONG TO REVIEW YOUR ALBUM. Geez, guys.

Something’s Rotten is an acoustic guitar-driven album of geeky music, with a folksy vibe and plenty of vocal harmonies. This style reminded me repeatedly of Peter, Paul and Mary, whose music I adore. (I’m pretty sure I’m the only person of my generation who listens to Peter, Paul and Mary, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them.) As a geek who likes folk music, I really dig Something’s Rotten.

The album begins with “The Girl Who Couldn’t Even,” which I can only describe as the ballad of the stereotypical white American young woman. It matches her humorous overreactions to a melody that sounds like something straight out of the Old West. This intersection of tense music to a frivolous subject is pretty funny.

“Something’s Rotten: Hamlet’s Lament” is a musical soliloquy from Shakespeare’s most famous character—and let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot more amusing than any of the soliloquies the Bard himself wrote for Hamlet. I enjoyed the offhanded way the song’s lyrics reference the events of the play.

“Catatonic” is the sad, slow lament of a fan whose mind goes blank every time she meets her favorite TV actor. I’m guessing this one was written from experience, because its authenticity strikes a chord with me. I’m easily overawed by brilliant creative people. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of my own creative heroes, and I’ve gone a bit catatonic myself.

“Hey, that’s Grey DeLisle! In person! How exciting! Wait a second. OH GOSH. SHE’S HUGGING ME. PLAY IT COOL, ADAM. PLAY IT COOL.”

“Meant to Be” is a love song, but not a typical one. Love doesn’t just happen. Love takes work. This is a song about rebuilding love. There’s a tired determination in the refrain: “I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried.”

By the time I reached “Astronaut’s Hymn,” I was already thinking of Peter, Paul and Mary, but this was the song that really clinched it. This is basically a sadder version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” except the singer is leaving on a spaceship instead of an airplane, and may possibly not come home. Heavy stuff.

“Far Away and Distant One” seemed at first like an unremarkable ballad of unrequited love, but after listening carefully to the lyrics, I can’t shake the conviction they must refer to a Dalek—the pepper shaker-shaped death machine from Doctor Who.

How… romantic?

I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure lyrics like “you blew my world away” and “you hide behind your armor” are meant literally here, not figuratively. The repeated use of the word exterminated can’t be coincidence!

“The Ultimate Riot” tells, to a tune of almost sickening cheerfulness, the story of a riot started at a convention by a guest speaker who butchered his allusions to geeky media. This was my least favorite song on the album; I found the melody grating.

In spectacularly nerdy fashion, “Nopetopus” alludes to the Internet meme of an octopus fleeing the scene, and praises the example of that cautious creature.


We’ve all found ourselves in awkward social situations. The thought of fleeing like the Nopetopus, “flailing like Kermit the Frog,” is certainly a pleasant one. Equally pleasant are the vocal harmonies toward the end of the song, and its chorus of “nope nope nope.” Even the wary Nopetopus has nothing to fear from this song.

“Something’s Rotten: Ophelia’s Retort” is Ophelia’s response to Hamlet’s earlier lament. It lends a nice bit of continuity to the album, and turns Hamlet’s soliloquy into a duet. The lyrics continue to amuse: Hamlet, who early in Shakespeare’s play is confronted by the ghost of his late father, mourns, “Parental expectations never die.”

“I Ship It” is an overenthusiastic ode to shipping: the tendency of fans to support or wish for romantic relationships between fictional characters (or occasionally actual people). I regard shipping with wary amusement, and this song with the same.

“Eureka!” is a chipper ode to some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. As with a number of the songs in this album, I’m amused to hear a folksy melody and arrangement matched with something nerdy. In this case, it’s SCIENCE!

Despite some humorous lyrics, “Smile!” makes a serious point. The song is a woman’s annoyed response to a stranger asking her to smile. As well-intentioned as it may seem, asking someone to look happy isn’t courteous. It may be irritating, creepy, or sexist, depending on the situation. A woman who looks unhappy probably isn’t waiting for a Prince Charming to offer flirtatious encouragements. She’s probably, y’know, genuinely unhappy. Her face is her own, and she has a right to whatever expression she chooses. Beneath the humor and upbeat melody of “Smile!” is a serious message, and it’s worth considering.

By contrast, the album’s final song isn’t even slightly serious. “Nathan Fillion (Please Take Off Your Pants)” is exactly what its title suggests: an earnest plea for actor Nathan Fillion to remove his pants and share his manly buttocks with the world. Fillion’s character loses his clothes in a memorable episode of Firefly, exposing his chiseled cheeks, and the writer of this song approves. Can I say this is my favorite song in the album? This is my favorite song in the album. It’s unbelievably catchy, and the absurdity of its premise is glorious. Think about it. Here, in our very universe, a song exists about Nathan Fillion’s bottom. Isn’t that bonkers? Besides, the thought of Mr. Fillion doing a little dance sans trousers is perfectly delightful.


This is a photo of Nathan Fillion wearing pants.

As I conclude this music review, I realize my conclusion is exactly the same as in the last oneIf you’re a geek, this album is absolutely worth checking out. If you’re not a geek, don’t feel guilty giving it a miss. It’s steeped in nerd culture, and its jokes and references are bound to go over the heads of listeners not in the know.

For those able to appreciate its geekiness, Something’s Rotten is a clever, well-written album of acoustic folk music. There’s a bit of bawdy humor, especially in that last track, and a few swearwords, but the album is fairly tame. Something’s Rotten is on the short side, but at ten dollars (or thirteen for a physical disc) for thirteen songs, it’s a good value.

Anyone interested in Something’s Rotten can listen to its tracks and/or purchase the album here.

Gritty or Glittery?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of gritty media: books, films, and video games characterized by darkness, angst, violence, and square-jawed men brooding over inner conflicts. From Wolverine to Walter White, we’ve seen plenty of angsty characters on the large and small screens. Books—even young adult literature—feature people killing (and dying!) in all sorts of creative ways. The video game industry continues making games with guns, gore, and roughly one in every five words of dialogue being the f-bomb.

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Why is gritty media popular? That’s a tough question to answer. I suppose there’s some truth to the darkness and violence in these media, and it resonates with people. We all feel sadness, discouragement, and anger. Some face depression, abuse, self-destructive impulses, or equally “gritty” problems.

Finally, gritty media often seems mature, sophisticated, or “grown-up.” All of this begs the question: Is it?

While gritty media has become more popular in past years, there are still plenty of lighthearted books, films, and video games: “glittery” media, so to speak.

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Throughout history, comedy has nearly always taken a backseat to tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous plays are his tragedies; Mark Twain’s cynical Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is celebrated over his cheerfuller books; P.G. Wodehouse’s clever comedies are largely eclipsed by the gloomy writings of his contemporaries. It seems humor and optimism can’t be taken seriously.

While there are certainly good things to say for gritty narratives, I don’t believe grittier is necessarily better. A purpose of art is to reflect or represent truth; the truth is that life isn’t always gloomy. A Farewell to Arms or The Things They Carried may be brilliant depictions of the horrors of war, but peace is no less real than violence. I think it’s absurd to suppose, say, Anne of Green Gables is necessarily an inferior book because it reflects joy and sentiment instead of pain and despair.

In the end, it’s a mistake to judge the quality of a thing by whether it’s gritty or glittery, tragic or comic, cynical or optimistic. That said, I would love to see people take glittery media more seriously. Can we study humorists like P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber more widely in schools? I’m sure students wouldn’t mind putting down The Lord of the Flies. Can we have fewer gritty superhero movies and have more like Marvel’s quirky Guardians of the Galaxy? We could use a break from gloom and doom.

The world is an awfully dark place, but there’s a little light left. Some stories remember that, and I think they’re worth taking seriously.

This post was originally published on October 24, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

465. The Five-Step Writing Conference

I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.

1. Early Misgivings

I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.


Artist interpretation of writing conference weather.

I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.

The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….

2. Crushing Despair

As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.

This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.

The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.

Depressed Adam

Artist interpretation of depressed Adam. (In case you were wondering, I didn’t actually make faces like this at the writing conference… I don’t think.)

I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.

In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.

3. Redeeming Peace

As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.

Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.

I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.

4. Shower Misadventures

The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.

I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.

My old enemy

We meet again.

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.

I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.

5. Caffeinated Resignation

I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.

In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.

The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!


When in doubt, quote Tolkien or Doctor Who.

A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.

Either way, it’s nice to know.

I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.

448. Neckties Are Evil

I’m currently gathering questions for a blog Q&A next week. If you’ve ever wanted to ask me anything about my life, blog, book project, or anything else, ask away!

Neckties are awful, and the person who invented them should have been hanged. It would have been poetic justice. A necktie is basically a decorative noose, after all. It’s rather morbid if you think about it.


One of these things is exactly like the others.

Who decided that a limp strip of cloth, dangling sadly from the throat, should be a formal men’s accessory? Unlike most garments, the necktie doesn’t conform to the shapes and contours of the human body. It just… hangs there.

I can’t tie a necktie to save my life. (I suppose this means I lack any sort of class or social graces, which is fine with me.) A couple of years ago, I turned to YouTube, that inexhaustible fount of knowledge, in search of tutorials. I found many, but none of them helped. My fingers, so agile when tapping away at a computer or video game controller, are rubbish when it comes to tying knots.

Donkey Kong's necktie

A necktie is unnecessary even if its wearer is wearing nothing else.

Fortunately, none of the jobs I’ve worked have demanded I wear a necktie, so I’ve kept my head out of the noose. Only once that I recall was I ever required to wear a tie.

In the early aughts, I was part of the worship team at my church in Quito. (I banged a pair of bongos; what I lacked in skill, I made up in enthusiasm.) The pastor decided one day that everyone on the worship team should wear a necktie. On the following Sunday, with groans that words cannot express, we showed up wearing neckties.

One young man, whom I’ll call Socrates, rebelled against the pastor’s edict. He wore a necktie knotted neatly around his head like a headband. The pastor was so amused that he allowed Socrates to play with the worship team… but after that Sunday, the pastor was quick to clarify how neckties were supposed to be worn.

I’ll be the first to admit that neckties sometimes look nice—on other people, of course. They add a touch of sophistication when matched with a suit or vest. Alternatively, a mismatched tie gives an untucked shirt a bit of casual, carefree charm. Neckties may be a traditionally masculine accessory, but they can look really cute on ladies.

My favorite kind of necktie, i.e. the kind of necktie I hate the least, is the bow tie. In Doctor Who, the Eleventh Doctor repeatedly insists, “Bow ties are cool,” and I have to agree.

Bow ties are cool


He really rocks the look. Bill Nye also looks good in a bow tie.

I admit that neckties can look all right. That said, I blame cultural conditioning for fooling me into thinking that way. Neckties are uncomfortable, useless, and empirically evil. If you’re going to wear a noose, at least keep your neck warm with a scarf!

443. Good Things, Bad Things

While this blog was on break, I went to a wedding. It was splendid. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys weddings, but this one was all right.

The tables at which the wedding guests were seated were named after fantasy lands, from Hyrule to Narnia to Middle-earth. I sat at the Redwall table, drinking coffee and stacking the paper cups like a conqueror piling up the skulls of his vanquished foes. I chatted with relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.

The whole stacking-empty-cups-like-skulls-of-slain-enemies thing is a habit of mine.

All around me rang the joyous hubbub of dozens and dozens of people, all gathered to celebrate the union of a man and a woman who really love each other. I may not care much for weddings, but heck, I’m not made of stone. It was a lovely evening made special by lovely people, and also by cake and coffee.

For a few months, I’ve struggled more often with depression, but on that evening, it all seemed very far away.

I love road trips. A good road trip is a breath of fresh air—no, a blast of fresh air. It blows away the dust and cobwebs of tired routines and lingering anxieties, making even familiar things seem new again.

My younger brother and I took a road trip to attend that wedding. (Due to scheduling difficulties, we had to miss another wedding last week, which is too bad.) We followed back roads through woods and meadows, along rivers, and past quaint little towns. An iron sky stretched over us. Rain spattered the windshield, but we were wrapped in warm clothes, with coffee drinks at our elbows, comfortably braced for our travels.


There’s nothing like a road trip on a wet day.

At one point, as I lounged in the passenger seat, I spread out my duster overcoat like a blanket. “If you need me,” I told my brother, “I’ll be in my duster cave.” With that, I dove into warm darkness, where I spent a few cozy minutes thinking of nothing in particular.

After the wedding, as we drove homeward in deepening gloom, I made up for lost time by thinking hard about my plans for my book project, the Lance Eliot saga. I bounced some ideas off my bro, who listened patiently and made encouraging noises.

After years of feeling stressed and guilty about my book project, I felt something different. I felt optimistic. I felt excited. “Lance Eliot’s story is going to be so much better this time,” I told myself, “assuming I ever get around to writing the damned thing.”

I don’t know whether I’ll ever finish Lance Eliot’s story, but after that trip, I felt eager to try.

Those days of rest and travel were like a strong wind, blowing away the dust, and breathing hope into my life. I appreciated the break from blogging. It was good to spend a few hours on the road, and great to spend time with family. I’m encouraged and refreshed.

However, a cynical part of me can’t help but wonder: How long before the dust settles again? In the past few days, familiar shadows of gloom and anxiety have crept up on me at odd moments. Has anything really changed? What happens when my hopefulness wears off?

I don’t know.

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.

Blogging pro tip: When in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis. Works every time.

My hope and courage are more dependent on my moods than I feel comfortable admitting. When times are good, I tend to assume they’ll stay that way. When times are bad, I lose hope of ever seeing better ones. I get so caught up in the moment that I can hardly imagine the future being any different than the here and now.

TMTF returns today after a two-week break. I took that break because of some bad days, and during those two weeks I had some really good ones.

Life is full of good and bad things. I once wrote of a lesson from Doctor Who, in which the good Doctor says,

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

I tend to let these good and bad things dictate my moods, and thus, much of my life. I’m trying to learn to enjoy good things without becoming overoptimistic, and to endure bad ones without losing hope. As it is written, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

God is there, in the good times and the bad. So are many of the people whom I love most, and that’s a comfort.

In other news, TMTF is back to updating regularly. We apologize for the inconvenience.

413. Reacting to Stuff on the Internet

The Internet is a weird, wonderful wilderness. (In fact, the www in web addresses stands for the phrase Weird, Wonderful Wilderness, not World Wide Web as widely believed.*) The Internet is packed with stuff. Some of it is good. Some is bad. A lot of it is cats.

Some of the stuff on the Internet demands strong reactions, whether positive or negative. Words alone are not always enough to convey these reactions. Some feelings are too deep for words.

This, you see, is why we have images, videos, and GIFs.

Yawning cat

I told you there are a lot of cats on the Internet.

(For my readers who aren’t Internet nerds: A GIF is a low-quality video file whose footage loops with no audio. GIFs are basically moving pictures.)

Today I’ll show you a few of my favorite reactions to stuff on the World Wide Web. Here we go.

Shock or Surprise

Reaction intensifies (GIF)

This flabbergasted-bordering-on-traumatized kitty comes from The GaMERCaT, a webcomic about games and cats. (Yep, more cats. Welcome to the Internet.)

Refusal or Disagreement

Nothing says “Nope” quite like the martians from Sesame Street. When a simple “No” won’t suffice, the martians’ “Nope nope nope nope nope” does the trick. This is educational television at its finest.

Sadness or Loneliness

Raining on the Tenth Doctor

There is only one thing sadder than a person standing alone at night in the rain, and it’s David Tennant standing alone at night in the rain.

Joy or Nostalgia

Even Studio Ghibli’s most emotionless character is overwhelmed by waves of emotion, which may have just been waves of water before some Internet person edited in the feels.

What are you go-to response to stuff on the Internet? Let us know in the comments!

*I made this up.

Doctors Who

Doctor Who, the British television program about an eccentric time-traveling alien, has been around for more than fifty years. That’s a long time for a TV show to exist. The sci-fi shenanigans of Doctor Who have delighted audiences (and occasionally caused them to hide behind the sofa) for five decades. For perspective: Star Wars, another enduring classic of science fiction, hasn’t even hit the forty-year mark.

When a series becomes as old as Doctor Who, it runs into the problem of its actors aging. Actors are only human, after all. They sometimes tire of roles, get sick, move to faraway places, retire from acting, or simply expire.

Most long-running film or television series find ways around this problem. Some, like many James Bond films, cast new actors as the same character, ignoring changes of appearance. Some series retire old characters to make way for new ones. Many series are rebooted, telling updated versions of their stories with new actors in familiar roles.

Then there’s Doctor Who. Its hero, the eponymous Doctor, has been portrayed by more than a dozen actors. The show never pretends not to notice the Doctor’s changing face, but instead offers a suitably ridiculous explanation: the Doctor is a space alien, and changing his appearance every so often is part of his life cycle.

This silly explanation become a brilliant and integral part of the show’s story. Every time he changes his face, or “regenerates,” the Doctor’s personality changes, but he retains his values, knowledge, memories, and sense of self. This storytelling trick allows the role to be passed from actor to actor, and keeps the character from becoming stale.

Which Doctor is the best? This is the sort of Kirk-versus-Picard question that fans never tire of arguing. In the end, like so many petty conflicts between fans, it doesn’t really matter. Every version of the Doctor has strengths and weaknesses, and is valuable in his own way.

That said, the Tenth Doctor is the best.

400. The Five Stages of Blogging, and Other TMTF Trivia

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, during which it shall republish old posts on its usual schedule. The blog shall return with new content on November 30!

Today we celebrate four hundred posts on TMTF with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the Five Stages of Blogging.

These describe the creative process experienced by people who write blogs. (They are unrelated to the Kübler-Ross model and its five stages of grief.) Of course, some bloggers may experience more than five stages. Some may experience fewer. The stages may vary from person to person. After all, every blogger is unique!

In writing posts for this blog, I have experienced five distinct stages. The easiest posts took only one or two, whereas the most difficult ones demanded all five.

In this extra-long and extra-special blog post, we’ll take a quick look at the Five Stages of Blogging. (This post took me through all of them.) Then I’ll share a few bits of TMTF trivia before concluding with grateful acknowledgements and a couple of announcements.

Here we go!

Blogging Stage One: Optimism

Blogging Stage 1, OptimismI enjoy thinking of ideas for new blog posts. It’s the effortless part of blogging: the deceptively easy warm-up to sitting down and, y’know, actually writing something.

Blogging Stage Two: Annoyance

Blogging Stage 2, AnnoyanceAt some point, I struggle to translate the exciting ideas in my head to words on a computer screen. Ideas are elusive. They don’t like to be pinned down. Sometimes, when written down, ideas change and grow in alarming ways. This is sometimes an amazing thing to see—except that by “sometimes” I mean “roughly 0.086% of the time.” It’s usually just annoying.

Blogging Stage Three: Frustration

Blogging Stage 3, FrustrationAt some point, annoyance escalates to frustration. I scowl at my laptop, mutter under my breath, brew another pot of coffee, and wish I had chosen a better hobby than blogging. I could have been a cyclist or amateur voice actor, after all. TMTF was an awful idea. At any rate, whatever post I’m trying to write is clearly a stinker. I should really just give it up.

Blogging Stage Four: Depression

Blogging Stage 4, DepressionFrustration darkens to depression, anguish, and bitter regret.

“I just… I just wanted to have a blog, y’know? I didn’t ask for this. This is impossible. I’ve put so much time and stuff, y’know, into this post, this one flipping post, man, and it’s a mess. It’s such a mess.

“Even if I fix it, and I’m not sure I can, it’ll take hours. Hours wasted, man, for one flipping blog post. Then I’ll write another post, and another post, and another flipping post. It never ends. Nothing new under the sun. It’s like that poem, y’know, about the mariner and the albatross. ‘Day after day, day after day, we stuck, no breath nor motion, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.’ I’m stuck, man. This blog is my albatross.”

Then I stare into my empty coffee cup, crying on the inside.

Blogging Stage Five: Talking to Plush Toys

Blogging Stage 5, Talking to Plush ToysI can’t afford counseling. Don’t judge me.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About TMTF (but Were Afraid to Ask)

Moving on, here are a few pieces of TMTF trivia in celebration of four hundred posts.

  • This blog was inspired by Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like. His blog used humor to say meaningful things about culture, religion, and side hugs. I wanted to do the same kind of thing as Acuff, but with less hugging and more coffee jokes. I also wanted to build an audience (or as the publishing biz calls it, a platform) for my novel. Although the novel bombed, TMTF has stuck around.
  • At first, I treated blogging the way I treated creative writing. I constantly fussed and tweaked and revised, going so far as to edit old posts long after their release. It took me time to realize that a blog isn’t really a work of art, but a journey. Blog posts are footsteps. They represent a writer’s changing experiences, moods, beliefs, and opinions. Instead of worrying about the past, a blogger should keep moving forward.
  • For every hundred posts on this blog—not counting Geeky Wednesdays and creative writing—I try to do something extra-special. The hundredth post coincided with the release of my ill-fated novel. For the two hundredth post, I collaborated with Kevin McCreary (video and podcast producer) on an EPIC RAP BATTLE. (I had never rapped before, and it was a learning experience.) The three hundredth post featured an original animation by Crowne Prince (self-described rogue animator and antagonist) in which I sought counseling from DRWolf (YouTube personality and literal wolf) for my blogging problems. (The good doctor was a much better counselor than any of my plush toys.) I had planned something more ambitious for today in celebration of four hundred posts, but as Robert Burns reminds us, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” (Translation: Stuff happens.)

I love collaborating with creative people!

  • The format of this blog has changed gradually over time. (I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive about it, actually.) In a recent experiment, I’ve put key points in bold type in an attempt to make this blog more accessible. The idea is to let readers skim through blog posts, reading only the bold text and getting abbreviated versions. I’m honestly not sure how well this is working, and I could really use some feedback. Does the bold text help? Is it annoying? Distracting? Let me know in the comments!
  • My jokes about typewriter monkeys, as well as the name Typewriter Monkey Task Force, began on September 10, 2010 in an email to my family. My monkeys quickly became a running joke. When I decided to start a blog, I settled on typewriter monkeys as a consistent motif. It’s nice to have someone to blame when things go wrong.
TMTF clean (paper)

My dad, God bless him, handles most of the original art for this blog—monkeys and all.

Grateful Acknowledgements and Obligatory Threats

Speaking of typewriter monkeys, I have a few words for my blogging assistants, who have just set fire to a corner of my desk. These words aren’t appropriate for this blog, however, so I’ll have to settle for threats: If you monkeys don’t start behaving and put out that fire right this instant, I will end your employment and donate you to the zoo. I mean it this time.

Besides my usual threats, I guess I owe my dirty dozen a reluctant thank-you. Here’s to you, Sophia, Socrates, Plato, Hera, Penelope, Aristotle, Apollo, Euripides, Icarus, Athena, Phoebe, and Aquila. Thanks for working on my blog. I love you guys. At any rate, I’m trying.

As always, I owe my readers many thanks for their support and encouragement. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, liking posts here or on Facebook, writing guest posts, taking part in Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day, and generally being wonderful. I appreciate every one of you.

You are awesomeSpecial thanks to my parents for their support over the years. My dad deserves an extra round of thanks for all the kind emails and monkey pictures. Thank you, old man. Special thanks also to JK Riki for being the most thoughtful and supportive reader in the history of people who read things. Seriously, JK, thank you.

As always, as I write about Disney villains, chain mail bikinis, and other nonsense, soli Deo gloria—to God be glory.

What Next?

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, during which I will republish old posts on its usual schedule. The blog shall return with new content on November 30!

In other news, TMTF will sponsor a Christmas fundraiser this December for charity! I’m still working on the details, but it will be very similar to last year’s fundraiser, with donor rewards and whatnot. I’m open to suggestions for rewards and fundraising, so feel free to share ideas via Twitter or the Contact page. I’ll release more information about the Christmas fundraiser at the end of this month.

We’ll be back!

393. About Storytelling: Magic, Destiny, and Nanomachines

Here’s a question for you: What do fate, magic, nanomachines, and sonic screwdrivers have in common?

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been playing a video game called Metal Gear Solid 4. Its blend of military intrigue, science fiction, and social commentary is kinda bonkers, but the story’s strangest turns always have an explanation—or, to be more honest, an excuse. That excuse is nanomachines. These microscopic robots are injected into the bloodstream of many characters in the game, giving them superpowers (or super-weaknesses) that defy all other explanations.

How does a character in the game survive being shot in the head and stabbed through the abdomen? Nanomachines. How are entire armies instantly disarmed, disabled, and defeated? Nanomachines. How is a long-dead character revived in a stunning twist? That’s right—flipping nanomachinesEvery impossible twist in the story is explained by these hard-working little bots.

The answer is nanomachines.

The answer is nanomachines. It’s always nanomachines.

In the end, throughout the Metal Gear Solid series, nanomachines are generally the catch-all explanation for things that otherwise make no sense. The audience never learns exactly how they cause immortality, raise the dead, regulate firearms, or do any of the other crazy things they do. Nanomachines are a vague, easy solution to plot holes that can’t otherwise be filled.

Let’s not cast all the blame upon nanomachines, though. Consider how often, especially in fantasy stories, magic is used to explain away things that make no sense. Science fiction often uses technology in exactly the same way. As Arthur C. Clark reminds us, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Marvel’s Thor movie openly acknowledges this when its eponymous superhero tells an ordinary human, “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.” Thor’s hammer makes no sense. Most of the stuff in Marvel’s movies makes no sense. The easiest solution is to claim that it’s incomprehensible technology and call it a day.

Witness the power of... um... technology?

Witness the power of… science?

Fate and destiny can work the same way. In dramas and romances, these vague cosmic forces offer an excuse for crazy coincidences and irrational behavior.

Then there’s Doctor Who. Flipping heck, is there ever Doctor Who. Besides the good Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, which does anything the plot needs it to do, the show’s many plot holes are waved away by the concept of “wibbly-wobbley, timey-wimey… stuff.”

Do you remember the concept of deus ex machina? It’s when a specific problem in a story is resolved by some contrived or impossible solution. This is the same idea, but bigger and more pervasive. It’s when a deus ex machina, instead of resolving a single problem, becomes the storyteller’s go-to resolution for all of the problems.

As cheap or lazy as this sounds, it doesn’t have to be so bad. It all depends on how it’s used. Some stories don’t need to be burdened by a lot of complicated explanations. If media like Doctor Who or Metal Gear Solid 4 obsessed over details, or else cut out everything that lacked a rational explanation, they would be a heck of a lot less fun. If the audience is willing to swallow a vague explanation, and it enables a better, tighter story, then it becomes a good thing.

Used badly, narrative tricks like magic and nanomachines make a story contrived and unbelievable. Used well, they prevent a story from becoming bogged down in details and explanations, and allow storytellers to focus on other areas of storytelling.

I would call my typewriter monkeys my blog’s version of this trick—a vague explanation for the complicated process of how TMTF is kept up and running—except for one thing. My monkeys don’t resolve problems. They cause them!