Archive for the Entertainment Category

“O Captain! my Captain!…”

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2016 by Mike

Yesterday, Marvel’s “Steve Rogers: Captain America” #1 arrived at shops.  This is an issue I had been eagerly looking forward to for months, ever since it was first announced, as by anyone’s definition I’m a Captain America super-fan and reading about an aged Steve Rogers who had lost the Super-Soldier serum (a 90+ year old who commands other superheroes?) and former-Falcon Sam Wilson as the new Captain America just was not working for me (I had the same opinion when Bucky took on the mantle a few years ago). It just wasn’t the same.

So I was thrilled to hear that the rejuvenated Steve Rogers was coming back, and when he was restored in the pages of “Captain America: Sam Wilson” #7 all was right in the Marvel Universe for me.

Cap is Back

No kidding!

But then yesterday came, and while at work I saw a headline posted on comicbookmovies.com: “Today’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1 Features A Shocking Twist Marvel Knows You’ll Hate.”  So, yeah, out of curiosity I clicked on the article, thinking that there’s nothing that the writers could do to NOT make me get the issue.

And then I saw the panel:

CA_SR_1_panel_2

If you haven’t heard about it by now, the powers-that-be at Marvel are running with a story line that establishes Cap as a double-agent for HYDRA, the organization that has its roots in Nazism and has been Cap’s main nemesis for…well, forever. And to clarify that this isn’t misdirection or some simple trick, the writer (Nick Spencer) spoke to Entertainment Weekly: “This is not a clone, not an impostor, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.”

Forget “a slap in the face” as Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort suggested the reaction would be – the news broke my heart.

Cap, for me, has always been a representation of how truly noble and good a person can and should be.  I don’t look at him as a representation of the United States, but the ideals that represent the best of what humanity should be (but in reality often falls all too short of): liberty and equality for all; an indomitable spirit in the face of fascism and injustice. The image that introduced him to the world was him punching Hitler in the face, for God’s sake, conceived and created by two Jewish kids who recognized a need for America to DO SOMETHING in the face of evil.

And now Marvel is telling me he has his roots in HYDRA?

It’s insulting and stomach-turning.

Look, I understand how comics work – I’ve been reading them since 1983 – this first issue obviously doesn’t tell the entire story. But no matter how this story line plays out, no matter how it’s explained, to associate Cap with the organization that is the ANTITHESIS to what Cap has symbolized and fought against for 75 years is wrong-headed and a betrayal to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and a betrayal to who Captain America is and always has been.

I said the news broke my heart. It did. I loved superheroes because of Captain America.

But after reading that article,  I went to my comic book shop that afternoon and ended my pull-lists. I left the store comic-less, something that hasn’t happened in 15 years, and I won’t be going back.

There’s no real reason for me anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading nerds: The Literature Draft

Posted in Entertainment, Novels, teaching, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2014 by Mike

A few weeks ago I was watching the NFL draft waiting to see where Johnny Football would be drafted when I started thinking (it’s a problem – it usually leads to all sorts of work for me). My initial thought was what a literature draft would look like; that is, if a group of people were drafting works of literature, who would pick what first, and how would those choices be justified? I mean, James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered by many to be the single most important work of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t take it in a draft because it’s nigh-unreadable (I tried once). Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair to Joyce, but there are other novels higher on my list.

It was this thought that led me to, on a whim, post to my “Books” Facebook group (a cadre of English teachers who post about what they’ve been reading) the following:

Silly idea: let’s have a novel draft. We could use, say, Time’s Top 100 list (or something better) and compile our own squad of books, then read them (if we haven’t already).

This might have been the end of it, as it got only 4 “likes”, but then eLaffint commented with

Yes let’s do that. But please explain more.

So eLaffint forced me to think about this some more, and closer to the end of the school year I woke up one morning with the following rules in my head:

1) There’s a $10 entry fee – this will be important later.

2) We will each choose 4 works from one of two lists: either the AP title list or the “Top 100 Works in World Literature” (http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0934958.html).

3) The four works must include a) an American author b) a female author c) an author whose original language is not English and d) a play. None of the choices may be a work taught at the school or something you have already read (you’re on your honor).

4) The draft will be done by email – the order will be pre-determined and everyone in the group will “reply all” when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter what order you “draft” your works, but no repeats are allowed.

5) Once your list (“team”) is complete, you have pretty much the rest of the year to read them.

6) Once finished, you must write a brief essay (3-5 pages) that reflects on what you’ve read. 10 point font, Times New Roman, double spaced.

7) These essays are due to me by December 12, 2014.

8) An independent panel of three judges (three people not in the draft) will read these essays and determine the winner. All essays will be published to this site, as well as to any blogs the participants might have, with the “winning” essay designated as such.

9) The winning essay’s writer will receive all the money collected from the entry fees. There is no second place. If we have 10 people enter, the winner will receive $100.

A couple notes: I decided on the AP list because it’s quality literature and diverse.  Selecting from that list could also benefit teachers who are looking for literature for their class libraries and want to branch out from young adult fiction and the more common works that most high schools already have on their reading lists (I’m looking at you, Gatsby).  Plus, it’s a pleasure to read. [bonus points for identifying the allusion]. The other list I found through Google, and thought it might help find works that help fulfill requirement “c” on number 3.

The essay requirement was a bit of a worry as I thought that might turn off possible participants, but I wanted something more to happen than “I read it, and it was _____” posts on Facebook. The opportunity to reflect on what you’ve read is an important part of the reading process, and I wanted to give everyone a chance to demonstrate their writing chops.  Hell, it’s something we ask of our students all the time, so, physician, heal thyself, IMO. Let’s put ourselves in our students’ shoes a bit, but also show off what we can do. We’re English teachers for a reason (okay, one of our group is not, but J-ROY’s a reader).

Eight of us decided to give this a shot.  We held our draft on Saturday, and, after a bit of delay due to J-ROY’s travelling, we each have our four works selected:

READER AMERICAN WOMAN NON-ENGLISH DRAMA
RAINY Invisible Man The Color Purple In the Time of Butterflies Glass Menagerie
E-E-RON House Made of Dawn When the Emperor was Divine History (Elsa Morante) Zoot Suit
JAX A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Handmaid’s Tale Purple Hibiscus Trifles
DEE-DEE Love Medicine Alias Grace A Thousand Splendid Suns Hamlet
eLaffint Cat on A Hot Tin Roof Wide Sargasso Sea Lysistrata Equus
J-ROY All the Pretty Horses Cat’s Eye The Trial Mother Courage and Her Children
BRP In the Lake of the Woods Member of the Wedding Gargantua and Pantagruel No Exit
ME Old School – Wolff God of Small Things Blindness Doctor Faustus

I think we’re all looking forward to reading our selections, but I’m particularly anxious to read their essays.

I’ll periodically post on my progress here.

My top five formative albums

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by Mike

The internet’s full of top-whatever-number greatest albums lists, most of which I disagree with.  I mean, Sgt. Pepper‘s is a great album and all, but it’s not one that would crack my top 10. “Well, yeah,” you might say, “but you listen to mostly heavy metal” (I’m assuming you know me a bit). Sure, but then there are also lists devoted to strictly metal albums, and I have to tell you, I don’t care too much about Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.  Again, some awesome songs on both (“Aces High” is on my workout music playlist) and influential to the genre, but they’re not albums that have any distinct resonance with me.

And I suppose that’s why those top-whatever ratings get argued over so often – musical taste is subjective and what blows your skirt up might not even…well, whatever the male equivalent of that previous expression is for me. Those putting together these kinds of lists try to avoid that by looking at the albums’ perceived quality, originality, and influence, and that’s why Sgt. Pepper‘s and Revolver end up being in every top 10 list out there. Meh.

Now, I’m not “meh”-ing The Beatles, so much as I am the nature of these lists. Look, no shit, the Beatles are one of the most, if not the most, influential rock bands ever, and to suggest otherwise illustrates some sort of petty bias against those boys from Liverpool.  It’s ignorant.  If you want to hate on a band, direct it toward the Black-Eyed Peas – they’re the ones ruining music. Usually, though, those lists tend to get those objective qualities meted out in the right order, unless they’re purposely trying to annoy people (Kanye West at number 9, Adele at 17, while Led Zeppelin IV is at 79 – are your editors collectively stupid, Entertainment Weekly?).

But more to the point, while those lists are good for message-board fights and blog posts, the magazine’s/website’s selections shouldn’t mean much to readers. I know I’m not terribly interested in listening to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul or The Clash’s London Calling just because Rolling Stone deemed them top 10 albums, but I can appreciate reading the justification RS writes up. The list sells the magazine, and will be modestly adjusted the next time the next-big-thing hits (though, if you look at RS‘s list, you’d have to go all the way to #17 to find a post-1970’s album : Nirvana’s Nevermind, which, while definitely an “important” album for what it meant for American rock, can it honestly be said that it should be ranked higher than EVERY Led Zeppelin album?).

Rock attained perfection...

“Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”

So I’m not interested in message board debates about these kinds of lists. What I’d be more interested in, though, is an individual’s list of his/her top 5 albums that had a lasting impact on his/her musical tastes.  In other words, albums that are responsible for what you listen to today.  I don’t necessarily believe that these are albums made by your favorite artists, otherwise I’d list off 4 Anthrax albums and something by Ian Moore for variety’s sake. Nor do I think it’s as easy as saying, “When I first heard Led Zeppelin/The Beatles/Nirvana/[insert ‘important’ band here] it showed me everything I listened to previously was crap.” Bullshit. If you LIKE a band’s music, then what other bands have done either before or after shouldn’t matter. We’re talking about art and emotional response, not compare/contrast.  Certainly albums by those ‘important’ bands could be on someone’s list, but there’s nothing wrong with declaring “Gypsy Road” has more importance to you than “Penny Lane.”   Illustrating this a bit,  Chuck Klosterman,  in one section of his “holy-crap-why-didn’t-I-write-this-book?” Fargo Rock City, lists out his top-whatever albums and the amount of money it would take for him to never listen to the albums again (apparently there’s not enough money for him to never again  listen to Appetite for Destruction).  His reasoning is both hilarious and intensely personal,  the latter of which makes it such a great read for anyone who grew up listening to hair metal in the 80’s, and anyone else who didn’t but loves reading about music (seriously, he’s exactly one day younger than me; that book might as well be entitled DeSoto Rock City).

So these kinds of thoughts have led me to think about my top 5 formative albums – these albums are my best guess as to why I have the taste in music I do. These are not my top 5 of all time – that’s a different thing and I’m pretty sure none of the following would be on that list. But these albums can probably be blamed for the presets on my car stereo…

Pyromania

Pyromania is the first rock album that I remember owning. Think about all the singles off this album – songs that are now staples/classics of 80’s rock: “Foolin'”; “Photograph” (can you hear that one guitar note that begins the song and NOT listen to the rest?); “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”; “Too Late for Love”; and, of course, “Rock of Ages”.  In 6th grade some friends and I auditioned for a talent show doing an air guitar rendition of “Rock of Ages” (the school had a loose definition of “talent”, I guess). Every other group of kids auditioning “performed” Van Halen’s “Jump” – we were the only ones to get in (we had practiced our moves/lip-synching quite a bit, admittedly). This album was a gateway album to A LOT of late 80’s hair bands for me. Motley Crue, Warrant, Skid Row, Cinderella, Tesla, Extreme, hell, even the Sleeze Beez (/shudder) – I bought all those albums and memorized their lyrics because Def Leppard’s album showed me how awesome rock was.

Hooked on Classics

I’m not all about the metal these days (Sirius Pops is one of my presets), and I probably owe my taste in classical music at least in part to this damn album (Looney Tunes cartoons deserve some credit as well). I don’t know how well it holds up today, as the disco rhythm that’s tacked on to the classical music makes it sound a bit cheesy, but I know I couldn’t wait for it to get to the William Tell Overture (i.e., the “Lone Ranger” theme). You know what? Screw that – this album’s still great.

I'm the Man

I would love to be able to say that Among the Living is what turned me onto my favorite band. I can’t. Instead, I first heard Anthrax in my friend Mike’s garage when someone put on the I’m the Man EP.  I was laughing all damn night. One, the title song’s hilarious, and illustrates a sense of humor that really no other metal band cared to exhibit at the time (Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth: SERIOUS AND ANGRY – they wore all black.  Anthrax band members wore Jams on stage). Two, holy crap, “Caught in a Mosh” is fast and live (and recorded in Dallas!). Three, they wrote a song about a comic book character (Judge Dredd) and Danny Spitz’s guitar had the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it.  Then, come to find out, the band members were reading the same books I was (Stephen King’s The Stand, “Apt Pupil”, and Misery all inspired songs).  I have to say that the “I’m the Man” lyrics “They cut their crack, they offer joints, We don’t do drugs, do you get our meaning? [POINT]” also drew my attention/appreciation [side note: years later Scott Ian would say that he had tried marijuana and had an allergic reaction to it.  I don’t know…then there was Charlie Benante’s point about buying toys rather than drugs]. It was the perfect storm of music and personality, and if it was Pyromania that led me to more hair metal, it was I’m the Man that opened up Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, etc. to me, which would later lead to Pantera and Machine Head and so on.

Graceland

I remember when my parents forced this album on me and my brothers – they were playing the cassette constantly: when they picked us up from school; when we went to the store; when we were being driven to a  friend’s house; when we took vacations.  All the time – at least that’s how I remember it.  But the album grew on me, more so than on my brothers, I think, for whatever reason. Paul Simon is a hell of a musician (my Dad holds the not-so-uncommon opinion that Art Garfunkel was lucky to have known Simon), and the songs on this record are surprisingly catchy, especially for a 15 year old kid who was into rock and metal exclusively. Then there was the song/video for “You Can Call Me Al” – Chevy Chase was still a bankable star at that time and the interaction between Simon and Chase was fun to watch. My favorite song ended up being “I Know What I Know“, though. The use of South African musicians/music also demonstrated a social conscience as apartheid was still in effect (many felt, though, that Simon had broken a boycott toward S. Africa by doing so). So maybe I attribute to this album the reminder that good music is good music, no matter the genre. I ended up buying the CD, and was still listening to it right up until 2000 when it disappeared along with my stereo when my car was broken into out in Phoenix. Maybe the album had the same effect on the thief.  : /

Licensed to Ill

Any rap I’ve ever listened to can be attributed to this album.  Yes, I agree, it’s an extraordinary shame that I trace my appreciation for a musical genre that was created by urban blacks back to three Jews from New York, but, damn, this album is extraordinarily fun and stands the test of time.  Just try NOT listening to “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” or “Paul Revere“. Of course, it’s got “You’ve Got to Fight, etc..”, which I’ve always considered more rock than anything else, but above all this album was accessible (it didn’t hurt that Slayer’s Kerry King made an appearance). This album led me to, among others, Run-DMC and, later, Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster (no kidding!), along with Del the Funky Homosapien, Jurassic-5, and, of course, Eminem. Rap/Hip-hop’s never been a genre I’ve listened to consistently, but it was Licensed to Ill that opened that door.

Some random thoughts about a Demi Lovato song…

Posted in Entertainment with tags , , on November 27, 2012 by Mike

First, a preface, because I have two brothers (and, hell, BRP will jump in, too) who are going to rag on me mercilessly for this post: I don’t normally listen to pop music, but with two little girls, one ten and the other six, it’s at times difficult to get away from the Disney Channel on Sirius. No, I’m more of  a classic rock guy (who has a tendency to listen to very loud metal) and I’ve got the hardware to prove it.

Anyway, Demi Lovato’s (I looked up the spelling) song “Give Your Heart a Break” has been in heavy rotation since, well, forever, it seems. Admittedly, it’s a catchy song – and there’s where I catch hell from my brothers – but I listen to and value lyrics more than I probably should. It’s why I can’t stand what Metallica has been churning out the past two decades (OHMYGOD, HAS IT BEEN THAT LONG SINCE “…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL”? WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JAMES HETFIELD?) – I mean, have you LISTENED to “My Apocalypse”? “The Day that Never Comes”? Friggin’ “Frantic”?! They’re crap! My God, James, get back on the cocaine and write another “Blackened”!…

Uh, pardon me.

OK, back to Lovato’s song. The lyrics, as sung by Ms. Lovato, tell the story of a girl who is trying to coax a guy into loving her, but the guy is hesitant because his heart has been broken once too often. And every guy who read that last sentence just rolled their eyes.  And that’s my point.

This song was not meant to be sung by a female.

This is not to knock Ms. Lovato’s rendition, because she does have an amazing voice, but the male this song is supposed to center around would have to be the most effeminate man on earth, and this type of man does not attract pop-star divas. For instance:

The day I first met you
You told me you’d never fall in love
But now that I get you
I know fear is what it really was

OK – a GUY is AFRAID of falling in love, and it’s not suggested at all that it involves a fear of losing his man cave with beer tap and 60″ LG?  Right. But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt here.  Moving on to the chorus:

Don’t wanna break your heart
Wanna give your heart a break
I know you’re scared it’s wrong
Like you might make a mistake

There it is again – the fear – and the girl is the one who’s trying to reassure him that he’s not making a mistake.  At this point this guy’s got some serious esteem issues, or is a bit of a milquetoast. And the kicker comes in the next verse:

On Sunday you went home alone
There were tears in your eyes
I called your cell phone, my love
But you did not reply

Come on, people! He left with tears in his eyes, and his favorite team didn’t just lose the national championship game? I’m sorry, I just can’t suspend my disbelief that much.  Despite the popularity of Lovato’s song, despite its catchiness, despite the fact that  it just makes you feel like singing along when taking your younger daughter to school (erm, so I’ve heard), the song, when sung by a female, is fairly nonsensical.

Oh, and there’s the fact that it was written by two men.

Major Tom (A Thanksgiving Tale of Heroes)

Posted in Entertainment on November 21, 2012 by Mike

One mid-November day, on Farmer Magrill’s farm, Tom Turkey stood by himself behind the barn, nervous.  Thanksgiving Day was close, Tom knew, and he also knew that around Thanksgiving Day, everyone likes a turkey (though not in a way that was particularly pleasing to Tom Turkey). Tom was, if you’ll excuse the expression, hatching a plan to make sure he was around for Christmas (when the Magrills seemed to like goose, but that was Gully Goose’s problem).

“I’ve got to figure out a way to avoid being recognized!” said Tom to no one in particular, as all the other animals figured Tom needed his space around this time of year. But what could he do?  He was, after all, a turkey, and a dashing one at that (if he did think so himself), and it was a bit too late to go on a diet.

“Confound Farmer Magrill’s extra portions he gave me this past month!” Tom thought ruefully.  “I have no willpower!”

Just at that moment, inspiration struck like an axe to the neck (if you’ll excuse the expression).

“Power! That’s it!”, and Tom Turkey ran, as well as turkeys can run, to Mrs. Magrill’s clothesline across the yard. There, he pulled down with his beak a pair of little Johnny’s overalls and a red bonnet that Mrs. Magrill kept there for particularly sunny afternoons.  Tom Turkey dragged the items back to his spot behind the barn and began pecking and biting and scratching furiously at them.

“Tom Turkey, what are you doing?” called Henny Hen from across the yard. Not much escaped Henny Hen’s notice.

“Never you mind,” replied Tom Turkey, as he turned his attention, and his beak, to the bonnet. “Merely exercising!”

“Should have thought about that three weeks ago,” muttered Rory Rooster, as he ambled by, barely taking notice of Tom Turkey.  Rory Rooster knew no one liked rooster as much as they did turkey, or goose.

Tom Turkey ignored Rory, and, soon stepped back to admire his work.

There before him, albeit in rather rough condition, lay his plan to avoid recognition. Little Johnny’s overalls had been scratched into a body suit suitable for a broad-bodied turkey (as Tom preferred to refer to himself) with a large “H” scratched into the chest.  The bonnet, or at least what was left of it, now took the shape of a mask that would cover Tom’s head with small holes for his very small eyes.

“There!” thought Tom. “No one will recognize me in this costume, as my identity will be hidden by the mask, and the “H” will serve to announce me as a HERO, and everyone loves a hero!”

Tom Turkey crawled under the barn with his outfit in his beak, away from prying eyes. There he dressed himself in his hero outfit, tying the mask around his skinny neck (never you mind how!) and emerging to the world a new turkey: Major Tom!

Major Tom did indeed cut a dashing, if slightly portly, figure in his new getup. Of course, all the other animals recognized him immediately (he was the only turkey on the farm), and stared as he strutted across the yard.

“Good farm-folk!” Major Tom called out. “I am Major Tom, here to protect and serve you! I am your new hero!”

“I think you’ll be the one being served, shortly,” replied Rory Rooster.  Some of the meaner animals laughed.

Major Tom tried to ignore them, but sweat started running down the red wattle underneath his mask. His voice cracked a bit as he said, “Never fear, fellow-fowl! I—“

Major Tom was interrupted by a cackling commotion among the hens. Tom looked to where they had been – I say ‘had been’ because now the hens were rushing back to their coop in a flurry of feathers and dust—only to see a lean red fox attempting to chase down Henny Hen (who was rather plump and, resultantly, slower) along the fence.  Rory Rooster was atop the coop, cowering in roosterly fear.

Tom’s first instinct was to run. Foxes have sharp teeth and claws and don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to eat a turkey, you see.  He turned and looked at his own coop, but something stopped him. Maybe it was the outfit, or maybe it was the Henny’s panicked cries, but from somewhere deep inside his gullet, courage came.

Tom turned back and ran with the speed of a very fast turkey toward the vile fox, puffing his chest out and spreading his wings to make himself appear very large, indeed. The fox, about to sink those very sharp teeth into the back of the unfortunate hen, turned at the sound of Major Tom’s “GOBBLE-GOBBLE-GOBBLE!” and yelped. Major Tom jumped at the vicious vulpine, the sharp spurs of his leathery feet aimed right at the fox’s snout.  The fox jumped away and, confused by a bird wearing human clothing, sprinted away over the fence and back into the nearby woods, never to be seen again.

“Hurrah! Hurrah!” The barnyard exploded in cheers (in all their various forms) for Major Tom. The horses stamped their hooves in approval, and the pigs oinked noisily.  The goats in the pen bleated and jumped, while the sheep ran around their paddock baa-baaing until they winded themselves (sheep have no stamina). The hens gathered around him, clucking in admiration. Henny placed her head upon Tom’s full chest and sighed, making Tom a bit uncomfortable.

He gazed around the yard, taking in the scene. He WAS a hero. Everyone loved him. “Let Thanksgiving come,” Tom thought. ”A well-loved hero has nothing to fear.”

 ***

Three days after Thanksgiving, Farmer Magrill came in from the field and sat down for lunch. Mrs. Magrill had prepared sandwiches with all the fixings.

As Farmer Magrill took a slice of the tender white meat from the plate in front of him, placing it on the roll and piling on lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and cheese, he smiled as he thought to himself, “I surely do love a hero.”

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

The New Adolescent Threat…

Posted in Entertainment, teaching on February 12, 2012 by Mike

As a teacher I’ve been trained to be on the look-out for risky student behavior; as school administration and staff are legally considered in loco parentis (“crazy parents”) by the state, it is incumbent upon us to be aware of dangerous trends our students might be engaging in and, as Marv Albert might say, nip it in the butt. Or at least adopt them as our own hobbies to appear youthful and hip, “with it”cool, krunk,  relevant.

It is this training (a five minute talk given to us by one of our new young counselors right before we left for lunch) that allowed us as a staff to recognize several new fads among our student population and ensure we had proper policies in place to maintain safety and proper decorum.  Last year we recognized the Twilight series was inspiring a number of teens to decorate their skin with glitter, and, after an unfortunate incident in the cafeteria involving a wooden stake, we adopted new policies forbidding both glitter AND stakes. 2010 saw a spike in certain subsets of our male population joining local gangs, so each of our male teachers (90 out of 210 total teachers) was asked to volunteer as “sponsors” to our at-risk youth. I’m currently sponsoring Ramón, a clean-cut young man who actually has taken the time to introduce me to his “posse”.  Nice guys.  Hey, Ramón, if you’re reading this – LATIN KINGS SIEMPRE! ; D.

Unfortunately, we acted too late on guys wearing skinny jeans, but now there’s the latest fashion trend of low-cut, v-neck t-shirts being worn by the girls, and, in a 120 to 90 vote, the staff decided to include the shirts on the list of prohibited attire for next year.

But now I’ve noticed an even more disturbing trend among my students in my classroom, and in conversations with other teachers I’ve discovered it’s quite widespread. I call it “crotch-watching”: during class, often times during lecture, I will notice students at their desks,  staring down at their laps, utterly absorbed by what they’re looking at. One or both of their hands are also in their laps, but nothing untoward is occurring based on the fact that the students sitting around them do not react at all to this behavior. The students afflicted by this behavior just sit, chin at their chest, and stare. The posture can last anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes, and when I ask them what they’re doing, all they say is “nothing”, their hands immediately coming up from their laps.  Usually they won’t go back to their crotch-watching for the rest of the class after I’ve shown some concern, which is good, because I want my students to know I care (and Ramón is always telling me to keep an eye out for new blood prospectives).

I thought at first that these students might be having some self-esteem issues, as they are avoiding eye contact and personal interaction with their peers while they navel-gaze, but typically these crotch-watchers are the more extroverted students – they always seem to have a lot of friends and constantly know what each other is up to.  Just the other day, for instance, I had a student ask to go to the restroom and, as he left my room, I noticed that his girlfriend from the class right down the hall had been let out of class, too.  One of the assistant principals was patrolling the hallway so he made sure they didn’t waste any time getting back to their classrooms. Fortunate, because we were discussing carpe diem poetry that day, including Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Robert Herrick’s “To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time”. Fantastic poems – both present such strong messages to young people.

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out the next step to take to try and curb this alarming trend among our students.  Some teachers might argue it’s a lost cause; there are reports that this kind of behavior is now being seen in the middle schools, though of course not as commonly as it is here at the high school.  I also hear that “crotch-watching” is widespread on our local college campuses, though interestingly enough students who bring laptops to class are seemingly immune to this scourge – they’re obviously too busy taking notes on their machines of modern convenience.  But perhaps that’s the solution – maybe the district needs to assign laptops to students  so that they will have something to keep them preoccupied during class and not fall victim to the empty pursuit of crotch-watching.  We all know how teens love technology.

I’ll be sure to suggest this at the next faculty meeting.  Tonight, though, Ramón tells me we’re going to be playing tag, although he called it “tagging”.  He asked me to buy some spray paint, since he’s not 18 yet, to help mark “boundaries.”  Funny, though, I would’ve expected him to have outgrown that game at his age. Maybe it’s a cultural thing – but it’s another way I’m staying relevant to today’s teens.

Captain America: The First Avenger – Thoughts (yeah, I loved it)

Posted in Comics, Entertainment, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2011 by Mike

[note: no real spoilers here at all]

When I came out of the theater after seeing Thor I immediately posted to a couple sites that Marvel nailed the hero and had made a fantastic movie – it was fun, spirited, and really established a hero that I didn’t know how well would translate into the universe that the Iron Man and Hulk movies had been creating for the past few years.

Now Captain America: The First Avenger has been released, and in interest of full disclosure I have to admit that Cap’s my favorite superhero – always has been and always will.  But after walking out of the midnight showing, I didn’t post anything to facebook or other sites as I had done with Thor, nor could I really respond very well to what seemed to be a legion of  my former students when they asked what I thought of the movie.  Walking back to my car and driving home (at 2:30 A.M),  and even as I was trying to fall asleep, I was trying to evaluate what I had seen fairly, and not allow my fanboy attitude about Cap to unduly influence my reaction. I mean, anyone who knows me would expect me to declare it the best superhero movie of all time, but it’s not.

It is, however, a near-perfect Captain America film. And I loved it.

The thing about Captain America that needs to be understood above all is that the character’s origin is utterly dependent on the setting, and this makes Cap unique among superheroes.  Without the backdrop of WWII, there is no Captain America.  Without the evils of Nazism and Hitler, and the patriotic fervor of America and our desire to end Germany’s quest for world domination, Joe Simon does not sketch out the star-spangled hero punching Hitler in the mouth.

No better first issue cover picture exists in comics.

With every other superhero, the setting doesn’t matter.  Gotham is not inherent to Batman’s origin – the murder of his parents is the key. Krypton is obviously fictional – the importance of Superman’s origin is that his home planet has been destroyed, and any Midwest small town (“Smallville”) could serve Siegel and Shuster’s purposes in creating their uber-man. Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider in a lab. Bruce Banner was bombarded by gamma rays – it doesn’t matter where it happened, or when. And so on.

But where and when, particularly when, is essential to Captain America – he could only have his origins in 1940s America. And that’s what director Joe Johnston clearly understands about the character and it’s the 1940s setting that makes The First Avenger so unique among superhero movies. Sure, you could raise the point about X-Men: First Class being set during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, but that was an artificial backdrop used merely to fit it in to the timeline established by the first two X-Men films. The 1960s were not necessary to the origin of the animosity between Xavier and Magneto (sure, the Civil Rights comparison is there, but the mutant conceit works for any minority that faces prejudice).

And as a result of the setting, there’s a different tone to Captain America than in other superhero movies.  Steve Rogers ends up being a superhero because he loves America and what it stands for, and that’s a far different reason than any other hero – hell, he wears the American flag as a uniform.  It could have easily descended into camp or hokey patriotism, but there’s an earnestness to Evans’ portrayal of Cap (and the film) that keeps it from doing so.  Cap is  a tough character to portray, I imagine, but I bought into it easily.  Chris Evans is now Captain America.

***

I think it’s unfair of reviewers to call this merely a set-up for The Avengers movie next year. There’s a lot of story in this film, and Johnston and crew spent a lot of time developing the characters.  It’s a shame, though, that this film couldn’t get into the Rogers as a “man out of time” story line which would add for more emotional impact – this film only provides the briefest of glimpses of that idea.  As far as the origin story, it nails it. Perfect, really. There are no questions about who Steve Rogers is or what his motivations are, and I’d argue that The First Avenger excels Thor and the Hulk (equal to Iron Man, though) in explaining its main character.

***

Hydra ends up taking the place of Nazis in the movie, by and large, and I wish that we got to see more Nazi-killing. It doesn’t mean that Nazis aren’t present, but it’s made clear that Hydra’s goals go far beyond Nazism and that’s actually in line with the comics. Still, Hydra soldiers in this film are Nazis, so I suppose that will have to suffice. The advanced weaponry seen in the film remind viewers that this is a comic book movie, not history, and I couldn’t help but want to see a little more “realistic” warfare (as seen in the concept art for the movie):

***

Cap in action on the screen might as well have been ripped from the pages of the comics. He punches Hydra goons, they go flying. Remember, the Super Soldier serum transformed him into a physically perfect human specimen, capable of some pretty outstanding feats (the wiki says he can bench press 1200 pounds, i.e., if  he hits/throws a regular person, that person will go flying). I wonder if The Avengers and future Cap movies will allow him to keep his pistol.  I don’t think he needs it, though in wartime it would be expected.  And his use of his iconic shield was perfect – never to the point of eye-rolling, for me.

***

Bottom line, though, is that I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. As a friend and I were saying as we were waiting in line, this was one we were waiting all our lives for. Now that it’s here, it’s everything a Captain America film needed to be. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

It’s the Revolutionary War all over again – Whose Side Are You On?

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , , on July 14, 2011 by Mike

Tonight marks the opening night of the last chapter (part II) of Harry Potter.  You know, the movie based on the British author J.K Rowling’s books about British kids who find out they’re British wizards and go to Hogwarts, a British school of magic Rowling  modeled after the British school system.

Did I mention that they’re all British? (Okay, Rowling throws in some Scots and some French, too.  Same difference).

This movie is expected to shatter all records for opening weekends; tonight’s midnight showings – where attendees will dress in black robes, sacrifice black cats and summon Satan to enjoy some popcorn and Dots (so I’ve heard) – are sold out all across the nation in order that viewers can brag about being the first to see the finale of a film series they already know the  end to. It is also expected to be the top-grossing film of the year, and perhaps of all time.

This cannot stand.

Now, far be it from me to take away from the public’s apparent enjoyment of Anglophilic witchcraft, and I admit I will enjoy seeing Transformers 3′s opening weekend record be wiped from the books, but, dammit, we live in America, and this summer’s records should be held by an American film. No, not Michael Bay’s “movie” – America’s not about giant space robots who allow thousands of Americans to die to prove a point.  And America’s not about a Viking space alien, either, nor is it about a guy who gets his power from a green ring (do you see green on our flag?) or talking animals.

No, America’s about freedom. It’s  about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, individual achievement and responsibility to your fellow man.  It’s about sacrifice and it’s about loyalty to something greater than yourself. And it’s definitely not about witches. And there’s one movie out this summer that epitomizes America:

It's about America.

Captain America: The First Avenger is set during a time when the world faced the threat of an ego-maniacal genocidal madman bent on ruling the world.  If that sounds familiar, Potter fans, you’re right – Rowling plagiarized American history with her invention of Voldemort. Rowling, however, employs a bit of revisionism in her last novel by allowing the Brits to defeat their “Hitler” with no American support at all.  In fact, in Rowling’s fantasy world, America might as well not even exist (Rowling probably was worried American wizards would crowd out Harry). But Captain America might have actually happened: he’s fighting Nazis and Hitler, along with the forces of Hydra and the Red Skull. The movie’s practically a history lesson – I can envision high school coaches showing it to their American History classes in future years.

In fact, I think it could be proven that Rowling wanted Harry Potter to be the British Captain America. Think about it: both stories involve young men who come from humble beginnings and, because of who they are, are blessed with certain abilities and become heroes to all who meet them, all the while taking on the great evil of their time.  It’s a timeless story – I’m surprised Rowling was the first to crib it from Cap.

Look, I know that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is going to have a most impressive showing at the box office this weekend. Hell, I’m going to be seeing it too – after all the losers who are going to dress up as Harry or Hermione or Snape have seen it their five times. But I think we would be remiss as a nation not to show the same…no, MORE support for a movie that celebrates the American spirit through such an iconic superhero.  So go see Harry Potter this weekend, but make plans to see The First Avenger next weekend (twice, even!), too, and help keep the box-office records attached to an American movie. It’s your patriotic duty.

I’ll be first in line in the Cap costume.

I don't think I'll take the shield to the theater.

So I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series…

Posted in Entertainment with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by Mike

and have just finished the fourth book, A Feast For Crows.

Damn.

I hadn’t heard of this series until HBO’s Game of Thrones started getting some publicity during its production. After the first episode aired I went out and bought the first book and haven’t read anything not dealing with Westeros since.  And now the fifth book in the series is out (A Dance With Dragons), so if I break down and buy this one in hardcover (all the others are paperbacks) it’ll practically guarantee I won’t be getting to anything else on my bookshelf this summer.  Not that Martin’s books are hard to read, but every one of them is a TOME.  It takes time to get through them, even though I feel like I’ve flown through them this past month.

I’ve read my share of fantasy epics.  I cut my teeth on Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series back in fifth or six grade – I remember completing a book report on The High King for Mrs. England’s class. I made a posterboard cut-out of Taran and was particularly pleased with his sword which was covered in aluminum foil.  I would later move on to the Dragonlance novels (authored by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis) – I remember being in a bookstore and seeing War of the Twins on the counter, and, being a twin myself, picked it up and ended up devouring that entire series over the next few years. Damn, there were a lot of books.

And of course there was Tolkien.  The Hobbit was required reading for seniors, as I remember, but that might have been either for “0n-level” seniors or discontinued by the time I got into senior AP English as I never read it for class.  When Peter Jackson’s movies came out I reread the trilogy and was surprised just how much Jackson was able to include (and though I understand why Tom Bombadil might not have worked for some audiences, I was really hoping the extended versions of the films would include him). I tried to read The Silmarillion but, forgive me, that thing’s nigh-unreadable.  A number of years later I started reading Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden novels but grew disenchanted with them as Salvatore never seemed to want to kill off any of his heroes. I hear that’s changed recently.

However, Martin’s series is so drastically different from these other epics that I hesitate to compare them. Martin is writing something other than fantasy – there’s no black and white/good vs. evil conflict here.  Sure, there are characters you hate (Cersei is a capital-B Bitch), but all of his characters are complex creations that have a variety of motivations (and not just sex, though that’s a popular one).  There’s no Aragorn in this series,  and there’s no Sauron. Being a rotten-to-the-core bastard in Westeros can lead to death, but it can also lead to being crowned king. On the other side of the coin, being utterly noble more often than not leads to a bad end. Martin turns tried-and-true conventions of fantasy on their head, and the result, for me, at least, is something more affecting than any of the other fantasy series I’ve read, including Tolkien’s.  In The Lord of the Rings, I knew Sauron would be defeated, that the ring would be destroyed. In “A Song of Ice and Fire”,  I want to see Cersei receive her comeuppance, but I’m not sure that’ll happen.  And that uncertainty is  really one of the chief pleasures in reading this series.

Tyrion Lannister is another. But you need to read the series to see that.

My writing contest submission…

Posted in Entertainment on July 13, 2011 by Mike

A while back I posted about a writing contest I entered through Wizards of the Coast (read that here, if you haven’t already). I ended that post playing around with the idea of putting the sample here.   So, a year later, here it is…

 

Daenos Karanok led the bound and gagged elf toward the execution dais centered in the large, stone-walled chamber.   The white robes Daenos wore marked the solemnity of the event about to transpire, and the congregation gathered in the great hall beneath the Karanok mansion maintained an almost unnatural silence as the procession made its way through the chamber.  He stopped at the steps leading up to the pyre, the doomed elf behind him.  Daenos noted that Jaerios Karanok, ruler of Luthcheq and Daenos’ great uncle, smiled slightly at their approach, but Daenos knew the grin was one of anticipation rather than familial pride.  Jaerios never missed an execution.

From the base of the steps, Daenos glanced up at his distant cousin Kaestra, a dark-haired woman, pale and unattractive, who stood and surveyed the assembly and the prisoner below.  Her green eyes shone with what the Karanok family deemed the fervor of her faith, though others outside the family secretly believed it to be proof of her utter madness.  For a brief moment, the only sound within the chamber came from the sputtering torches which illuminated the chamber’s sole embellishment: a broad white tapestry decorated with a lone black circle, representing the sable orb located in the chamber above to which this ceremony was dedicated.  Kaestra’s voice broke the silence.

“The Great Nothing, look down upon your faithful and accept this sacrifice as a sign of our adoration and fealty.”

“Entropy hear us,” came the rejoinder.

“For in His wisdom, The Great Nothing has revealed to us the path by which we will achieve all.”

“Entropy hear us.”

“And in His name, we destroy those who disgrace Faerûn with the deceit of the arcane and those who would protect them.”

“Entropy hear us.”

“Bring forth the wizard.”

Daenos pushed his prisoner up the steps and toward the pyre.  He could see the elf’s arms straining against the bindings that kept them behind his back, despite the pain it must have caused – it was now common practice to break the fingers of wizards before their execution.  This practice had been suggested by Naeros, Jaerios’ son, whose treatment of wizards was legendary, even as far away as the city ofSaerloonfrom which Daenos had come.  “Take away their hands, and we limit what the filthy animals can do,” Naeros had explained. “I have often argued that we should cut out their tongues as well, but my father rather enjoys listening to their screams when they burn.”  Daenos had grinned at this and nodded.

Daenos fought off another smile now.  He had been sent by his father, Povros, to the port of Luthcheq to be trained to more thoroughly attune himself to Entropy, and thus to the five daughters the god had spawned, one of which could be found beneath his father’s mansion.  The decision to train Daenos had been made out of necessity.  Samil, the family’s former entropist, as the specialized priests had taken to call themselves, had been executed by Povros for drunkenly boasting of his position to a whore in a Saerloon tavern.  Fortunately, the now long-dead cleric had not revealed his employer, as the Karanok family name would most assuredly invite the wrath of the large enclave of Red Wizards located in Saerloon.  To this day, or so Daenos heard, children were still finding pieces of him throughout the city.  Because Samil had not been family, but a member of a lesser house of the city ofLuthcheq, Povros decreed all further entropists in his house were strictly to be Karanoks.

Daenos had been the obvious heir to the position.  His early clerical training identified him as one particularly favored by Entropy; his prayers and meditation awoke such insight within him as to the desires of their god that Povros’s most trusted advisors often consulted Daenos before meeting with his father.  All inhabiting the house considered Daenos’s gifts a blessing from the Great Nothing for Povros’s piety, which went so far as to preclude Povros from using any item he believed to be created by wizards.  Daenos’s predecessor, after observing him telepathically control the daughter of Entropy with no formal training, suggested to Povros that Daenos be sent to Luthcheq to be more thoroughly educated by Jaerios and Kaestra.  Initially loath to send away his first-born son and heir, Povros interpreted Samil’s death as a sign from his deity to reconsider.

Thus, for the past year, Daenos resided in Luthcheq, observing those who had already harnessed the god’s power, learning what wondrous abilities their god could grant.  His exceptional abilities quickly drew the attention of Kaestra, the most powerful cleric in the Karanok family, who took it upon herself to challenge Daenos in his training, at times cruelly.  This ceremony marked the culmination of those months of intense study, and signaled Daenos’ entrance into what he knew to be a level of prestige more suitable to one of his talents.  Soon, he knew, he would return to Saerloon, and continue the family’s efforts to rid Faerûn of wizardry, perhaps now a little less subtly.  The Great Nothing, Daenos thought, had illuminated within him a myriad of possibilities.

He was thinking of these possibilities now, as the elf’s hands were freed from their bonds and quickly moved toward the chains hanging above the kindling.  The elf had been captured two weeks earlier a short distance outside the city gates.  The apprehension had not been easy.  Not only was this elf a particularly powerful mage, one of the strongest Daenos had encountered, but he had been accompanied by three others, a trio of talented warriors.  Sheer numbers, as well as a bit of luck, Daenos admitted to himself, finally overwhelmed the group, who were subdued and arrested as hired mercenaries from the city ofCimbar.  Cimbar was a known ally of the city ofAkanax, which Daenos was aware had been at war with Luthcheq for close to eight years. The others’ heads had been sent back to Cimbar in baskets, with a letter of warning for those who would attempt to undermine the Karanoks and the city ofLuthcheq.  Captured wizards were always burned alive.

The sudden movement of the elf surprised Daenos and the clerics who were attempting to chain the mage’s hands.  As the assembly watched, the elf ripped himself away from the two clerics and, pulling off his gag with one broken hand, lunged toward Kaestra, possibly viewing her as a weaker target because of her sex and priestly garments.  Daenos made no immediate attempt to come to her aid, knowing the elf would pay dearly for this misjudgment.

Kay er scotus.” A black haze immediately surrounded Kaestra’s right hand as she brought it forward as if to motion the elf to stop.  The elf’s momentum, however, carried him into her so that his chest landed squarely on her outstretched hand.  He screamed and fell to his knees, clutching his chest with one hand.  Kaestra stood over the kneeling elf, as he looked up into the eyes of his tormentor.

The elf grinned.

Kaestra leveled her right hand across the elf’s chin, knocking him onto his side.  He attempted to push himself up, but after the blow his strength failed him, and he lay on his side as a small puddle of blood formed beneath his jaw.  Kaestra motioned for the assisting clerics to continue the ceremony.  As they pulled the semi-conscious elf to his feet and resumed the process of chaining him to the pyre, a hushed murmur moved through the assembly at the unexpected display of their god’s strength.   Kaestra, her hand still enveloped in the shimmering mist, addressed Daenos.

“Your last step is complete, initiate,” Kaestra declared. “With the death of the mage, you will be designated as a god-touched, and serve as a link between our priests and the Great Nothing.  Serve him, and us, well.”

Daenos moved toward the pyre as his deity’s power began to manifest itself within.  Ten feet away from the pile of brush and wood, he stopped and stared at the doomed elf, whose head was now bent toward his chest in apparent resignation.  Daenos smiled, his focus now moving to the base of the pyre.  While it was a minor spell, Daenos always delighted in the familiar warmth that came with the power at his control.  This warmth transferred itself to the pyre, and the brush soon began to smolder, then burn.

As Daenos’s spell ignited the pyre, the worshippers discarded their solemnity and broke into raucous shouting and laughter, mocking the wizard as the flames grew more intense.  The elf’s robes smoldered and blackened, and a sickening scent of burning flesh began to waft through the hall, overwhelming the smell of the witchweed that had been placed among the wood.  The witchweed, always placed in the pyre as a precaution against mages with extraordinary willpower, burned with a light smoke that could break even the strongest mage’s concentration.

Because of this, the elf’s chant came as a surprise to those who expected only cries for mercy.  It began slowly, spoken through clenched teeth and streams of tears; but as the flames began to destroy the nerve functions, it became almost song-like in its intensity and pitch.

Daenos, hearing the elvish language, strode toward the elf, pulling from beneath his robes an ebony mace, a gift from his father.  The head was a solid black sphere, in honor of their god, though it had been created by a high-ranking cleric of another deity in Saerloon.  It could, once a day, simultaneously summon a cloud of darkness and grant its wielder the ability to see through the blackness.  The weapon’s victims learned quickly why its creator had named the mace Dark Herald, for its plain appearance masked a weapon that struck with unexpected force.  Quickly calling on Entropy for a minor protection spell from the flames, he swung the weapon at the elf’s head, breaking the skull with a sickening crunch that echoed throughout the hall.  The elf’s body went limp, and the worshippers who had not immediately run for the nearest door cheered their approval.

“What was the elf saying?” came a voice from the back.
“Was it a spell?  Is it possible?  Did not the witchweed disrupt him?”
“It was a prayer.” All attention turned to the new entropist, who stared at the now partially blackened figure. “He was praying,” Daenos said.

“To whom?” asked a small man, whom Daenos recognized as a member of another noble house.

“A goddess — Loviatar.”

“What did he say?”

“Something inconsequential,” responded Kaestra.  “She holds no sway here in the presence of the Great Nothing.  Let the mage’s body burn until the morning; such is the power of his bitch goddess.”

The worshippers lingered in the hall until Jaerios left, knowing the awaiting feast celebrating the death of another mage would only begin after he reported the news of the successful execution to Maelos, his father.  Too old and senile now to attend the burnings, he remained in the northern wing of the Karanok mansion, locked away in his bedroom, and rarely spoken of by the rest of the family.  Jaerios made these reports out of duty and tradition, though Daenos had quickly learned that Jaerios’s sense of duty did not prohibit him from openly desiring the natural end to Maelos’s life.

Daenos remained behind as the others retired from the worship hall, considering what he had witnessed.  Before the elf succumbed to the flames, Daenos had noted the trance-like expression on the mage’s face, and, even more puzzling, the prayer’s words:

The Maiden of Pain grants me peace.  Peace through pain, pain without fear. I have received this promise from her: life follows the death of the devout.  A vision attends my death:  the deception will end.  I see pain without end.   I see death reflected here a thousand times, but with no life to follow.

* * *

            The woman awoke, a burning elf the final image of the dream that had accompanied her night’s sleep.  It had been a chaotic jumble of such images, and she struggled to remind herself of all that she had seen.  Two cityscapes entered her mind: one whose gothic architecture she immediately recognized as Saerloon, and another whose only distinctive trait had been accompanying images of a swamp.  A number of colorful, lizard-like creatures were also seen, as were six black circles, one larger than the other five.  Connecting each of these images, she remembered, and emphasizing this as more than a mere dream, was something with which Fyrra Klen was intimately familiar: a nine-tailed whip, symbol of Loviatar.

Fyrra rose from the bed, and walked nude to the small window of the room she had purchased for the night.  She did not fear being seen, as outside the streets of Pyarados were still dark with night.  And even if seen, Fyrra thought, the painful lust she knew her body could awaken in most men’s hearts (and some women’s, for that matter) only served her goddess more.  The Thayan city was quiet, almost peaceful, though Fyrra knew the rising sun would soon awaken it to another day of inevitable pain and suffering.  “Such is the reason,” Fyrra reflected, “that we pray to Loviatar in the morning: to give thanks for the opportunity to take a part in it.”

She knelt down in front of the window, awaiting the morning.  As the sun began to appear over the mountains to the east, Fyrra took up the small ceremonial lash that lay beside her and began to strike herself across her back.  Red lines, then welts, and then bleeding slashes appeared on her shoulders, joining the small, thin scars already present from previous rituals.  She stopped when the sun cleared the mountain range, and commenced to pray for her regular complement of spells, as well as further guidance in the interpretation of the night’s dream.  She smiled, feeling the chill of her deity’s caress as the incantations returned to her.  She opened her eyes and looked upon the streets, now illuminated with the dawn.  Loviatar had spoken to her.

“We must go to Saerloon,” she said to herself. “But first we must prepare.”

Fyrra Klen, priestess of Loviatar, the Maiden of Pain, smiled at the new day’s possibilities.