Sunday’s Wisdom #348: Adversity, Blood, and Choice

“Whether or not you had parents, or a home, or any creature comforts, you had the blood of Zeus running through your veins. You could have done anything with your lives. Adversity is a tool. Push against it. Rise above it. You stooped beneath it.”
– Helen Atreidei, Tribe, by Jeremy Robinson

When Helen says this, she is speaking to one of the main protagonists of the story. He grew up on the streets, abandoned, unloved, and never properly understood. It was a rough, hard, lonely life, to be certain, where very little good happened for him. But he never did anything constructive about it. Quite the contrary, he was walking the road towards criminality, and all the devastating consequences that follow. Now he’s learned that it was possible, he could have had a different life. Someone, namely Helen, could have come swooping in and saved him, raised him up from squalor to the heights of wealth, where he’d never have to worry about the bare necessities. In the face of that, he’s a bit angry, but Helen points out that he had all the potential he needed to turn his life around himself, if only he had chosen to do so.

Now, in a story about demigods and such, Helen points to their divine, ancestral parent, Zeus. That is something which I both dislike and appreciate as I think about it.

On the one hand, most of us do not have literal gods in our mortal lineage. Indeed, most of us don’t know our ancestry very well to start with. That said, we might be surprised by our respective pedigrees. Sure, we’re normal, everyday people, but I imagine an astonishing number of us has the blood of kings and generals and heroes and all the other icons of our history, the movers and shakers who did great, notable things. It might not be Zeus, but it’s still amazing, everything we have to live up to.

On the other hand, I somewhat despise the entire notion that we need to have such royal blood in our veins in order to have the potential for great accomplishments. One may inherit legacies and gain the strength of purpose from one’s heritage, but one does not need to already have great things in one’s bloodline in order to do them. I mean, a noble house might be six centuries old, but that just means that it has a beginning, someone who was raised up from a more humble origin. Put another way, not everyone has noble blood in them, but even the greatest of kings is descended from cavemen who hunted and gathered their food. Clearly someone, somewhere along the line, did something greater than their ancestors had already done.

Martin Luther King Jr. learned of faith, leading, and loving from his father, but, Thomas Edison was not the son of inventors, nor was Albert Einstein the son of scientists.

Still, whether we have some sort of noble blood or not, it is among my dearest beliefs that we are all children of God. Each and every one of us has infinite potential, both for good and for evil.

But setting aside the matter of our parentage and how much of a role our DNA has in our potential, it remains incontrovertible that no one who ever did anything great did so easily. Accomplishment has always been preceded by the sweat, blood, and tears of hard work, sacrifice, and loss, but most of all, of perseverance. Bloodlines may be used by humans to try and create free passes, but they can never make one truly exempt from reality.

Hardship does not prevent accomplishment, it is the payment for such.

So, you have a young man who, as a child, was abandoned and unloved, locked in a fight for his survival against the entire world. …so what?

That young man could still, by his own choices, become a fine, upstanding man in his community. He could become a protector, a teacher, or a healer. He could become an artist, a storyteller, or a musician. He could become a builder of homes or of skyscrapers, a shepherd or a farmer, a manager or a corporate leader. Or he could become a liar, a thief, a murderer. It all depends on how he answers the hardships of his life.

He could be a descendant of kings or gods, the people we venerate for the great things they did, or he could be the latest son of a family that never rose above the dirt… and therefore is well-acquainted with enduring such.

Either way.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #347: What to Not Care About

“Don’t matter what you look like
Don’t matter what you wear
How many rings you got on your finger
We don’t care, no, we don’t care!”
– from “Dig a Little Deeper,” from The Princess and the Frog

The story of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is largely about telling the difference between what you want and what you need. As the protagonists find a wise woman in the swamps, she tells them how their priorities have been a bit skewed towards pursuing the things of the world instead of things which are more meaningful, like love and family. It’s true, the prince of the story has been trying to fill his life with luxury, music, parties, and girls, telling himself that it makes him happy, but the princess has been making a similar mistake, albeit in a different way. She’s been working herself to the bone trying to get enough money to open a restaurant, and what a magnificent, beautiful restaurant it would be! The crown jewel of the city, in fact, very much fulfilling her daddy’s dream. It’s not a bad thing, wanting to bring people together to enjoy good food, but she learns that the opulent establishment she has in mind is, ultimately, meaningless in the face of what she truly needs, what her hard-working daddy truly needed, and had: a life filled with love, most especially his family.

One character comes from the upper crust, and one comes from the bottom. Both have misplaced their priorities, albeit in different ways, on wealth and shiny things and all the stuff that the world praises. Both come to remember what is really valuable, and adjust their lives accordingly, because, whatever their differences in class and background, they both need the same thing.

Everyone needs the same thing, and it’s not money or status. Those are useful things, yes, but having them does not make one wiser, kinder, or happier.

Of course, I hasten to add, lacking them does not make one wiser, kinder, or happier either!

My point is how irrelevant the things of the world are to one’s character, disposition, and worth.

You can wear a ring on every finger, or no rings at all, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change who you are, it doesn’t make you better or worse, it has no bearing on what kind of human being you are. People forget that, a lot, as rich and poor alike look down on each other with haughty pride.

We need to see past what people have, past the rings, the furs, the mansions, the expensive cars and private jets, all the honors of men and glories of the world, or the lack thereof, we need to see past what people don’t have, too. We need to be able to look at each other and see people, regardless of our differences.

In short… we need to just not care about it.

That holds true for class, color, age, religion, nationality, and a hundred other factors over which we divide ourselves.

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Where Did All the Disney Villains Go?

Disney villain.

Two words which require no explanation whatsoever. We all know what it means to be a Disney villain, because we all grew up with them.

The first one I really remember, I think, is Ursula, the sea-witch of Little Mermaid fame, the film which kicked off Disney’s Renaissance when I was just a little kid. Soon enough, though, she was joined by the likes of Maleficent, Lady Tremaine, the Evil Queen, Captain Hook, Gaston, Jafar, Scar, and so many more, including the devil creature that ruled Bald Mountain (highlight of Disney’s Halloween Treat!). There was just something so perfect about these villains, in all their glorious, colorful evil, that just stayed with us. The heroes were great, but they needed these spectacular villains in order to truly shine.

Things would have just been… incomplete… without them, I think.

Oh, not to say, of course, that every single story must have such a villain in them. No, certainly not. These were, after all, stories meant for the entire family to enjoy. But, that said, the charm and forceful personalities of Disney’s villains would at least make them memorable enough to a child that they could begin to understand something important: there are very bad people in the world.

On that note, one might argue that these movies teach children to paint in very wide brushes regarding how to judge others as either good or evil, and there is a flaw to that. However, learning about the subtleties of good and evil involves first learning what they are, and learning to acknowledge that both exist. It even means accepting that, yes, sometimes things really can be that clear cut and simple. And, above all, the fate of the classic Disney villain teaches precisely the same lesson as every old fairy tale: bad guys get their comeuppance. So don’t be bad.

That is why I am a little worried by something I noticed recently:

Disney isn’t producing villains like they used to.

I don’t just mean that they’ve changed, though that is certainly true. I mean that the house of mouse has apparently all but ceased to create new villains at all. I mean, who was the last real Disney villain that they made? Can you name them?

Here they are. Or, rather, here they WERE.

In Raya and the Last Dragon, the great threat of the story was this formless, shapeless force that just turned people to statues, while the girl who was really villainous, the one who betrayed Raya and directly caused the trauma of her past, got some cheap, hackneyed “redemption,” in a story that basically tells children to trust everyone, including the people who hurt you most terribly.

In Moana, there was the crab, Tamatoa, who had an entire song to sing, but had only one scene (two, if you count the one after the credits) and was there and gone. The true threat of the movie was caused by Maui, the trickster and hero, as his actions had dire consequences for the entire world. And the looming antagonist, Te Ka, was just the malformed and raging form of the goddess of life after she had been deeply wronged. No real villain there. (of course, there were also the Kakamori, who were a minor threat that was dealt with easily)

Wreck-It-Ralph had the Lucifer-like figure of Turbo, disguised as King Candy, and the danger of those alien bug creatures, but the sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, had no real villain at all, just Ralph having to learn to deal with his issues.

Frozen and Frozen II did much the same, with a despicable, if also somewhat lackluster, villain in the first movie, hiding in plain sight, being revealed in the eleventh hour, while the sequel had no active villain anywhere in sight. There were dangers, yes, and there had been a villain in the past, but there wasn’t anyone evil in the story itself, opposing the heroes.

Hm, hiding villains to reveal near the end seems to be a recurring thing lately, including Big Hero Six and Zootopia.

Basically, it’s been a decade since Disney Animation Studios last gave us a villain in the same vein as Hades and Frollo, and even then, we didn’t really know Dr. Facilier’s name until the end of The Princess and the Frog, and Mother Gothel from Tangled is… well, she’s no Maleficent, I’ll put it that way.

Neither is this at all limited only to Disney Animation. Pixar, it can be argued, has done quite well in their storytelling, whether or not they had actual villains. Ratatouille, Inside Out, Cars, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, all very well done. But they also produced Sid, Prospector, and that fuzzy bear in the Toy Story saga, Hopper in A Bug’s Life, and the more monstrous monsters in Monsters Inc. So they have something of a more balanced record, generally lacking in villains, but producing pretty darn good ones when they do.

So perhaps it’s not really all that distinguishable when the last four movies Pixar has published – Luca, Onward, Soul, and Toy Story 4 – are all lacking very much in villains. Though I understand Luca has some sort of bully who threatens the protagonists and is generally hostile to everyone around them, that seems a little lukewarm when compared to Syndrome of The Incredibles.

Still, two of the biggest branches of Disney’s corporate superstructure are producing fairly few villains within the last decade or more, and those they do produce are much more lackluster than their predecessors. One begins to detect a rising pattern of behavior.

The pattern forms fully with example number three: the live-action movies.

Was there a villain in Togo?

Despicable? Yes. Particularly memorable? No.

How were the villains in Mary Poppins Returns, Tomorrowland, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales?

The original Pete’s Dragon had multiple villains, including Doc Terminus and the Gogans, but what did the remake do? The antagonist was a guy trying to get rich and make ends meet, yet he did his best to protect children who were in harm’s way, and he even ran straight into an unfolding disaster to save others. I’m just going to say: not a villain.

For that matter, the deplorable quality of the “live-action remakes” has done pretty poorly with the villains. Lady Tremaine and Sher Khan were every bit as villainous as before, if not more so, but Mulan and Aladdin both tripped all over themselves, with their villains being counted among the casualties. Heck, I recall once hearing a criticism of Jafar and Frollo for their… creepy advances towards the heroines of their respective stories, but did they miss the part where these men are villains? As in eeeevil? The freaking villains are allowed to be evil! They’re supposed to be evil! Creepy advances on heroines included! So why, why, why, out of all things they might have done, WHY did they edit THAT out of Jafar’s live-action behavior? Did they not want to show children anymore that when grown ups behave like that, it means they’re not good?

On a related note, I am troubled yet again by Disney’s apparent move towards making their classic villains somehow “less evil.” One need look no further than Maleficent for that, wherein the evil fairy was somehow transformed into a heroic defended of the very same princess she herself cursed, whilst King Stephen is transformed… into a lackluster villain, because “man, bad.”

I know it’s a trope these days, courtesy of the likes of Wicked, to tell very differing stories from the villain’s perspective, but I’d say cursing a baby to die crosses a rather significant line. As does murdering puppies for a coat, which, I haven’t seen Cruella as of yet, but I rather dread learning… is she still a proper villain?

And I suppose that’s about as proper a segue as I could ask for as I examine a pattern which still continues in what is arguably Disney’s biggest and most successful branch today, their new flagship: Marvel Studios.

One word: Loki.

“What did you expect?”

It was riveting to watch the trickster god slowly become redeemed, such that he, one of our favorite villains, became an antihero, or antivillain or whatever the term is now. It felt earned and played out properly, and it was genuinely sad to see him die, truly and for all, in Infinity War. Then we got Endgame and the villain-Loki escaped, right after the devastation of New York, creating a variant timeline. Now, I have no idea what on Earth they could possibly be planning to do, but it is clear: he is neither strictly hero nor villain anymore. Odin help us.

And Loki is the third of Marvel’s shows for Disney Plus shows in a row to do this.

WandaVision had a corrupt government director doing many shady things, and he wanted to kill Wanda to cover it up, but he was little more than a sideshow. Agatha Harkness was a vulture of the highest (or lowest) caliber, swooping in to stir things up and try to seize more power for herself, but she did nothing whatsoever to actually cause the crisis she walked into, she was merely meddling in it. And Wanda… oh, Wanda. Entire discussions can be (and have been) had about how villainous she herself was in Westview. Ultimately, I believe she wasn’t, but she may well become a villain, or a villainous figure, almost like Loki. And yet, none of these three is “the villain,” and certainly not the sort that Disney is most famous for.

Finally, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier pretty much does away with the entire concept of evil villains. The Flag Smashers are anarchists fighting for their lives and loved ones and a better world, while John Walker is both a murderer and a hero who casts vengeance aside to save innocent lives. The UN officials are responsible for a great deal of suffering but aren’t bad guys, just very limited, whilst Baron Zemo, the man who broke the Avengers in Civil War, is humanized and turned into an unusual ally. The most villainous one of them all, Sharon Carter, barely gets set up as a villain at all before the show ends, spending most of her time pretending to still be a hero.

And still, still, the pattern does not stop here. Most paradoxical of all, for an entire franchise that is built on comic book superheroes and their foes – aka, “comic book villains” – even Marvel’s movies aren’t producing proper villains these days.

“Really?”

Oh, there was the Red Skull, the Abomination, Loki, Thanos, Killmonger, Mysterio, and so on. My favorite movie is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and that can be largely credited to the how brilliantly they pulled off the collective evil of Hydra alongside the individual villainy of Alexander Pierce, Arnim Zola, Sitwell, Rumlow, and others, and especially the threat of the titular Winter Soldier himself. Ah, those were the days!

But what has happened since?

Captain Marvel fell flat with its villains, including both that central intelligence entity – which seemed to try to be some Disney villain-esque figure towards the end – and Carol’s Kree mentor, whose name I don’t even remember. You know, the one who saved her, gave her his blood, trained her, put up with her, and, in the end, was actually proud of her. How villainous is that, really? Not to mention how they turned the Skrulls, an alien race that is classically an antagonist to the various heroes in the comics, into a group of misunderstood, noble refugees who only wanted to live in peace. My, how villainous.

Then there’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. The FBI agents, of course, weren’t evil, though they were an obstacle. The Ghost was the overwhelming threat, but she was a more tragic figure, short-sighted and selfish in her desperation, and certainly frightening, but not evil. She even became an unusual friend by the end, to those who forgave and helped her. Heck, the crime lord fellow was more evil than her, and he served mostly as an ankle-biting distraction than a real villain.

Loki and Zemo have both been redeemed, in different ways. Thanos believed himself to be a hero. Even the Vulture had a sense of honor.

And now we’re about to get Black Widow.

I am going to predict that Taskmaster, a formidable enemy, turns out to be fairly lackluster in most other ways. I also predict, based on what I know of stories in general, that the black-haired widow, whatever her name is, is a traitor and a villain, revealed in the latter part of the movie. But that’s mostly just a feeling. It’ll be interesting to see if I’m right.

Finally, the cherry to top all of this off with… I have mention Disney’s animated movies, and their live-action movies, and Pixar, and Marvel. You know what’s left after that?

Star Wars.

Quick! Name the lamest one shown! …wait, is that even a contest?

The original trilogy had Darth Vader, and eventually Emperor Palpatine, with a few  others tossed in to fill things out like Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett, and Grand Moff Tarkan. They were all fairly excellent, all intimidating and formidable in their own way.

The prequel trilogy had Palpatine, and and eventually Darth Vader, with a few Sith like Maul and Count Dooku tossed in alongside Jango Fett and General Grievous, to have enough moving parts to keep Palpatine shrouded by his pawns. This was hit-and-miss, but they weren’t terrible, and they weren’t whiny, spineless idiots most of the time.

The sequel trilogy had…

Kylo Ren: who tries to be bad, and who is impure even as he turns on his master(s), but who is redeemed and sides with Rey, and dies.

Snoke: who gets little time in Force Awakens, and just enough time in Last Jedi for it to be significant when Kylo Ren betrays and kills him.

General Hux: who is so thoroughly neutered that they had to make him a double agent who gets killed by a generic imperial officer.

Generic Imperial Officer: who is there for a few minutes and dies.

And eventually the Emperor, recycling the old villain with zero explanation and killing him permanently this time, in a way that is both epic and lackluster at the same time. (I rather like this idea)

I haven’t seen much of The Mandalorian, so I have to ask, did they do any sort of proper villain there?

In summary:

I have just toured pretty much the entirety of Disney’s kingdom as it currently stands and, in the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, I am noticing something that isn’t there to be noticed. In fact, what isn’t there is standing out like a sore thumb now.

The Disney villain seems to have vanished from Disney. They are gone, and what’s left of them seems to be dwindling.

And that… that is a shame.

“We rule for a reason!”

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Laughing at a House-Hunting Dragon

How many anime and manga these days have freakishly long titles that tell you exactly what the premise of the show is, and what happens, and what it’s about, or at least try to accomplish some combination of such?

That is one way, already, in which A Dragon Goes House-Hunting is a breath of fresh air: it conveys the information and doesn’t need twenty syllables to do it. Besides that, it is a pleasant, wholesome comedy that is absolutely delightful to watch.

The plot (obviously) follows the titular character, a red dragon named Letty. He is not, by any stretch, the stereotypical dragon, a figure of lethal majesty and terrifying power. No, he is a timid little scaredy-cat by comparison, easily frightened, hardly ever dignified, and he can’t even fly or breathe fire, despite having all the anatomical parts necessary for such. Even the way he walks looks awkward, and his voice (in the original Japanese dub, at least) is soft and weak.

Alongside this excitable, but very weak, dragon is the unflappable Dearia, a most handsome, intelligent elf. He is, as it happens, a real estate agent of the very highest caliber… and the Demon Lord of the monsters. Exactly the sort of person that Letty needs as he strives to find a new home in a world full of dangers, perils, and heroes wanting to slay the red dragon, rumors of whom have him as some sort of mighty, evil destroyer bent on world domination. (as if!)

With merely a dozen episodes to work with, the story follows Letty and Dearia as they travel far and wide, experimenting with various types of fantasy-world residences. They encounter a most colorful cast of characters, including goblins and harpies in the forest, yeti in the arctic, tiiiiny people who live under mushrooms, Davy Jones as he lives inside a whale, the gladiators in a coliseum that is much friendlier than one might expect, the undead residents of a haunted land, and still more. With so much that comes and goes, the main characters become that constant touchstone, the eyes through which we see even as they themselves change.

Letty, especially, begins to mature with the inadvertent acquisition of an egg, which he protects at a critical moment. When the tiny, adorable Pyp hatches from said egg, this newborn ice eagle chick quite naturally insists on Letty as his father. It is a responsibility which drives Letty to grow up a little, to provide for and protect this little creature which trusts and depends on him so much.

But the cast isn’t complete until near the end, with the introduction of a princess who, spoiled as she is, ran away from home and was promptly kidnapped. Letty and Dearia rescue her, quite inadvertently, but they do not abandon her, and she brings a certain liveliness as she interacts with Letty much like bleach and ammonia, or ammonia and baking soda, or Mentos and soda. (I googled chemicals that explode when combined)

Even without the princess, though, the show is, from start to finish, a hysterical satire that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a satire, it’s able to poke some fun, in a meta sort of way, at our fantasy tropes and preconceptions, like what makes all the chosen heroes actual heroes, and how we build dungeons in our games, and so on. Most of all, it humanizes monsters and heroes alike, as we get to laugh at both. There is a subtle point that there are good and bad apples among both, and misunderstandings abound.

All of this is done, to hilarious effect, with beautiful artwork, animation, character design, and I especially love the music, particularly the opening theme. There aren’t many opening songs that I never skipped past, and this is one of them. It just pushes all the right buttons for me, and I love it!

All in all, this is simply a funny, witty show, with clever insights and endearing characters. It has not much of a plot, but it has all the plot it actually needs. It is, in short, a beautiful work of art, both hilarious and heart-warming.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #346: Hang Together

“There’s no backing out now, for if we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
– Benjamin Frankling, 1776

Coming towards the end of this classic musical, Franklin is offering a darkly humorous remark on how they need to remain true to each other, and to the commitment they are making. It’s a moment of levity which is very much needed for the members of the Continental Congress as they step up and commit high treason against the King of England by declaring themselves to be free and independent, with a formal declaration of such that lists the reasons why they are, and why they must, do this, signing it with their names as they mutually pledge to each their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. One does not simply come back from that.

Indeed, in the true history of my nation’s birth, several of the Founding Fathers paid heavily for their sacred pledge. At least two were captured and suffered ignominious fates at the hands of their former rulers, and others lost fortunes and family members alike, including their own offspring. The price of freedom is high, and such an expenditure can only be sustained through the unity of many people dedicated to the cause of liberty.

That is why those who seek to undermine my nation are calling upon one of the oldest tactics in the world: divide and conquer.

We are divided by strife over wealth and class, over race and color, over ideas and ideology, over faith and religion… heck, we seem to be divided over fandoms and fashions! We tear into each other over movies, music, sports, clothes, and other such tiny trivialities! And then, when it comes to things we genuinely think are moral issues, like the environment, or racism, or various inequalities, we pounce without mercy and refuse to bend, refuse to listen, which all comes out to refusing to think.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Freedom, true freedom, is the unleashing of the individual, not its submission. To that end, we cannot, must not, and will not ever become identical to one another, not in our possessions, our appearance, our way of thinking, or our forms of expression. And that is the real strength of unity. It’s not turning us all into the same person, it’s bringing all the differences together to form something far more powerful than any one person could ever hope to be.

The Founding Fathers fought each other over the idea of independence. They fought with their words, and they literally fought each other with their canes on the floor of the Continental Congress. But somewhere out of all that combating with one another arose a loyalty to each other, as each one brought what they had to the table and offered the whole of it to their shared cause. Something very similar happened later on, with the creation of what became the Constitution of the United States of America. Once again, men gathered, bringing all of their passions and prejudices and flaws and strengths, and together they hammered all of their wills into one great endeavor.

Americans have fought each other a number of times since, in the ending of slavery, in the ending of Jim Crow, in the building of a mighty economy, in the recovery from devastating depression, in the advancement of women’s rights, in the invention of new and competing technologies… we never really have been “at peace” with each other. But for all our squabbling, we have consistently united in the face of all kinds of ordeals, including famine, disease, disaster, war, and all the evils of the world. We have watched each others’ backs and trusted each other when it counted. We have fought constantly, but we have also listened to each other, and slowly changed when we found ourselves to be in the wrong. And that has made us mighty.

We need to be mighty again.

We need to stop tearing into each other and start listening to each other again.

We need to stop dividing ourselves over everything and start looking out for each other again, including the people we disagree with.

We need to unite. We need to hang together. Or we may well hang separately, alongside our cause.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #345: Make It Up

“Here’s what we’ve seen people make up: Skyscrapers. Countries. Cures. Ships that fly to the moon. It took a dream to make the first house. The first language. Made-up things make the world.”
– The cloud shepherd, The Memory Thief
Thirteen Witches
, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

The cloud shepherds are a people who watch over all the world from the skies above, and they remember everything. Usually, they do not interfere, but this time, some of them stepped in to assist a young girl, Rosie Oakes, as she was threatened by an evil witch, against which she was helpless, despite her best efforts. Now they are giving her what guidance they can, to help her gain the means to protect herself. But the enemy, the witch, is an ancient spirit of greedy, malevolent darkness and terrifying power. Against that, Rosie doesn’t know what she can possibly do. All she’s ever been good at is making up stuff, little nonsense stories that seem so very trite and useless now.

That’s when the cloud shepherd tells her this.

And it’s not just a pep talk, to lift her spirits with little platitudes. What he’s really saying is not simply that she is more powerful than she realizes, but that she already has exactly what she needs. She just needs to find a way to channel it. See, the witches are entities which spread darkness of every kind across the world. They are such darkness, and darkness is not repelled with martial strength, and it is not dispelled with clever stratagems.

Darkness is expelled by light.

In other words, all we need to do to fight the darkness of the world is to add light into the world.

That is done through acts of kindness, through determination and long-suffering, and most of all by the act of unselfish creation. Love and imagination go hand in hand, and so to create is to add light to the darkened world. To imagine, to create, and to love what we make, this is powerful in a way many do not understand.

To build cities and towers of invention, to forge countries and communities through shared values and new ideas, to craft cures to diseases of body and mind and soul, to fly to the moon and beyond even as we explore the depths of our own consciousness, to build homes and fill them with families, to bridge the wills of untold billions with everlasting words… it is the passion and power of the living human soul which accomplishes all of this and so much more.

It is the power of stories, of knowledge, of art, of devoted labor given in the hopes of making things just a little bit better in our own way.

It is the human ability to make things up, and it is wonderful.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #344: My Father’s Influence

“Daddies have more influence over their children than they’ll ever know.”
– Julie Shackleford-Pitt, Monster Hunter Guardian
Monster Hunters
series, by Larry Correia

When Julie says this, she is ruminating on how her own father influenced her, and how the things he taught her are still useful to her every day of her life. In particular, she’s meeting and shaking the hand of a man who may be able to assist her in a time of need. She shakes his hand firmly, strongly, in a way that inspires confidence, the way her father taught her. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s part of how she interacts with others, how she carries herself, and how she gains the help and loyalty of the people around her. It works.

A single lesson from her father, probably repeated many times, helped a little girl turn into a strong, capable, formidable woman.

That’s the sort of effect which fathers have on their children.

My dad has never been a perfect person, but he has always been a good man. He made mistakes, but he never mistreated me, or my sisters, or our mother. He never abused us, and never neglected us. On the contrary, he worked his butt off to provide us with very comfortable lives, including all the things I always took for granted. He has always lived the best he knows how, and he taught us by example. I regret that we did not always listen to him, but he certainly helped to shape us into fully functioning adults.

One of the many lessons my father taught me is the value of hard work, of truly earning an honest living. Naturally, as a spoiled child in a largely-prosperous society, I was pretty unwilling to learn that lesson, preferring to spend all my time reading, writing, playing games, or watching something on a screen. But he kept at it, and, in time, I learned. I learned by doing, and by watching him.

I often credit my mother for my love of mythology and the fantasy genre, as she introduced me to the myths my Viking ancestors believed at a very young age, but my love of storytelling and dramatic flair, I inherited from my father. He told us stories almost every night, including the adventures and misadventures of his youth, reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to us, and others. There was one story he told us which I don’t remember much of, but I remember this moment where he dramatized how these men were sharpening their knives with a motion of his hands and saying, “ssssnik-ssssnik!” And people comment on my theatrical nature. 🙂

My father also taught me, by example, the value of integrity at all times and at every level of one’s life. He taught me how you endure terribly difficult times: by getting up each morning and going to work, doing what you know you need to in order to get by, and doing your best at it. He taught me that sometimes you have to get through the pains of life simply by enduring it, by moving forward without letting anything stop you, until you can get yourself to a better place. And he taught me that sometimes you just need to tell someone you love them, even if you’re not very good at it.

I love you, Dad.

Thank you for everything you have taught me, and tried to teach me.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #343: Forgetting Responsibility

“Sometimes it’s easier to forget what we are responsible for and what we are supposed to do. Remembering means choosing.”
– The Moon Goddess, The Memory Thief
Thirteen Witches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

As this quote comes near the end of the book, under circumstances which are a bit complex and filled with spoilers, I shall simply say that a young girl in need is getting some counsel from a divine being at an hour when she stands at the crossroads of her life. The choice she has to make is simple enough: now that she understands the evil of the world and the responsibility to stand against it, she can either forget it all and live a life as happy and peaceful as she might, or she can do something about it, accepting all the risks and sacrifices that come with the doing.

There is something very profound in that choice, something that rings deeply true and simple.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how there are many people who don’t really remember the significance of some of our holidays. Memorial Day is just another day off, I don’t recall at the moment if we even get Veterans’ Day off, Thanksgiving is crushed in the rush of Black Friday, Christmas and Halloween are severely commercialized… the list goes on. The meaning of these, the reminders they are meant to be of what matters and what we are supposed to do, is being buried and forgotten.

That seems to be a trend these days. The lessons of history are being lost, or rewritten. The past may never have been perfect, but it carried forth the values which helped previous generations make the world a better place around them. Now, those values are trampled under, and with them the virtues that encouraged people to act like human beings, to be upstanding individuals within their communities. Good and evil, and truth itself, are becoming fluid and unstable in the eyes of many, causing many to drown in the morass of the world, with no sure footing to stand on.

Because it’s easier to drift and to drown than it is to stand against the torrent.

Standing takes effort, as does the act of supporting others who also stand, to find sure footing, and whether endless buffetings.

It is easier to be selfish and lazy, to not remember, to use and cast people aside, to be carried along any and every little current, to judge quickly and never ask questions, never learn more, never think for oneself, to feel no love or connection with our fellow creatures.

It is far easier to forget ourselves and forget the world entirely, rather than to take the world onto one’s shoulders, which is what responsibility is.

It is sadly common for many people to do what is easier.

However, there are also many who make the hero’s choice, the harder choice: to remember, to take responsibility, and do what they know they should do.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #342: The Dawn is Promised

“The night is long
And the path is dark
Look to the sky
For one day soon
The dawn will come”
– from “The Dawn Will Come,” from Dragon Age: Inquisition

This is the refrain of a song that sings of having hope when things seem hopeless, having faith when it is easy to give in to despair, and standing with courage even when fear and terror are gripping at our hearts. It is the promise of day and night, the most natural, inevitable thing in the world:

Night will always end and dawn will always come.

Even the deepest, most terrible, and enduring darkness must pass.

Most people might think the lyrics about “one day soon” makes it quite obvious that dawn comes, but I grew up in Alaska, and I can promise you, dawn does not come every single day. You go far enough north or far enough south, far enough away from the central regions of the planet’s surface, and you will experience months of winter where the sun does not rise. However, on the flip side, you will also experience months of summer wherein the sun does not set.

There is something to learn from that. No night is eternal. Day and night, light and dark, good and evil… they have their time, their season, in every corner of the world, and sometimes they last quite a bit longer than usual. Still, even at their most fleeting, it can be very easy for us to think that whichever one we are going through right now is how things always were and how they will always be. We despair in our dark times, and we grow complacent in the light. But just as every golden age on Earth is doomed to end, so is every long night of agony.

I find myself lately much preoccupied with the darkness of the world, and how it is quite obviously on the rise in many ways. I most especially seem to be burning with a desire to roar at the darkness, as if the volume of my voice might make manifest my will and save all that is good and right and innocent from the evils of the world. But while my courage (such that I can claim) and love of goodness is… well, good, I am forced to admit, upon honest introspection, that there is more than a nugget of my own darkness in my would-be defiance. There is fear for my loved ones, sorrow for suffering and loss of liberty, and anger – no, worse, hatred – towards those who inflict such agony on their fellow man. In short, despite my faith, my zeal is fueled partially by my despair.

But when I hear the words of this song, and other such inspiring material, I ask myself: why do I despair? It reminds me: goodness has endured terrible ages of darkness, and light, also, is on the rise, as surely as is evil.

Ok, so the times ahead will not be easy. They will try us incredibly. So what? I am not a god, to try and keep the night from falling. I am a human, and I can trust in the promise of the dawn.

The night is dark, but I have the moon.
And if I even if I don’t, I have the stars.
And even if I don’t, I have a torch in hand.
And even if I don’t, I have the torches of my fellows.
And even if I don’t, I have the sun, which will rise again!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #341: Honoring the Fallen

“The world bemoans the lifeless hands
The dwarves who died to keep their lands
The valiant souls of Hammerdeep
Shall echo in eternal sleep.”
– from “The Song of Hammerdeep,” by Clamavi de Profundis

I really enjoy a good song. Who doesn’t? This one was written about dwarves in a fantasy world, talks about their strength and nobility and such, and how fiercely they will fight for their homes. This particular stanza, of course, is about the ones who die in battle, and are mourned, their loss felt, their sacrifice remembered.

It seems fitting to share these words when my country is remembering its fallen soldiers. Or, at least, taking an extra day off work in their honor. As with most holidays these days, most people forget what it’s about and just enjoy themselves instead.

In a way, there’s nothing really wrong with that. The men and women who died in service to our country probably did so for our freedom, so we could enjoy ourselves as human beings. They didn’t do it so other people would remember them. That is our own choice, the choice of the living to remember the dead and what they died for. So, it’s not a bad thing to enjoy the holiday. It’s just better, I think, to keep in mind what the day is really for.

There are a number of ways to honor the dead. Going to their graves, tending them, leaving flowers, saying a few words, those are all good. There’s also having a party, a feast, a day of relaxation and recreation, to enjoy the peace and freedom that they died to give us, complete with a toast to the fallen, and thanks given together. There’s quiet study and contemplation, remembering our history, honest conversations, and a personal pledge to support the principles these soldiers died for, and to support the country and soldiers which still defend us. There’s showing some respect, every day, for the flag, and for the surviving veterans.

And there’s simply saying… thank you.

Thank you, brave soldiers, countrymen of generations past and present, for everything you endured, and everything you gave, that we might be free.

I pray that your sacrifices may never be in vain.

May you rest in peace.

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