Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Specialness of Firsts: Human Touch and Lucky Town at 30

You never forget your firsts. First day of school, first kiss, first breakup, first job, first child. You also never forget the first time you bought a new album by a new-to-you musician. Human Touch and Lucky Town are those albums for me, and it was when I officially joined the ranks of Bruce Springsteen's fans.


In 1984, at the height of the Born in the USA frenzy, I flat out didn't like Springsteen. That was the only album I knew of him, and then, only the radio songs. But those tunes were everywhere, yet I hadn't figured out Bruce, who he was or what he was trying to say. Dancing in the Dark was okay, but that title track, with the bizarre decision to overlay the studio song on the music video from his live performances (thus, making them out of sync), was a song I enjoyed hating and mocking. Yet I never bothered to read the lyrics.

Cut to 1987 when I discovered Stephen King, starting with Pet Semetary. This was the spring, my senior year in high school, and college life beckoned. Many times, King quoted Springsteen's lyrics. Seeing the words in text without Bruce's singing, I took a new interest in them. Not the music, mind you, but the lyrics.

When Bruce's 1987 album Tunnel of Love came out, lead single "Brilliant Disguise" turned out to be...not bad. In fact, I kind of liked it. Then, a friend gave me a cassette copy of that album (it was one of those 12-albums-for-a-penny things from Columbia House). I listened, and I liked. With open eyes and a more mature sense of music, I circled back to Born in the USA.

Whoa. This is actually pretty good, lyrics and music combined. Sure, Born in the USA was still a fun song to mock, but I slowly worked my way through the back catalog, mostly in reverse order. I quite liked The River, especially the live version with that extended introductory story Bruce relates on the box set. Took some time to get used to Nebraska, and I think I stopped at Born to Run, letting those first two Springsteen albums be that last old ones I discovered. And just like that, I was a Springsteen fan.

The Spring of 1992

It took me five years to get through college (by choice; double major) so by the spring of 1992, my eyes were focused on grad school, ideally at a university in close proximity to where my then-girlfriend would be attending medical school. I had already dipped my toe in the wonder of all those non-album tracks. I stumbled onto his song from the We Are the World album because I had already bought it for the non-album song by Chicago. My one and only time I ever called a radio station and asked about a song was when KLBJ, the local rock station in Austin, Texas, played "Roulette" and I simply had to know the song title and then go buy the CD single of the then-current song "One Step Up" to get it.

When you're graduating from college, one phase of your life is ending. Granted, I'd spend the next six years in grad school but I didn't know that in the spring of 1992. I was growing up. I was in my early twenties. My entire life was before me and I was ready for it.

Turned out, Springsteen himself was entering a new phase of his life as well. After the much-publicized marriage and divorce to Julianne Phillips, Bruce had fallen in love with Patti Scailfa, a singer in his band. I barely knew about this having never seen him live at that point and, well, no internet. Be that as it may, his new love and new status as a father permeated all the new songs he wrote during the time after Tunnel of Love. Finally, when the news broke that there was going to be new Springsteen music released, imagine my overwhelming joy to learn there would be not one album, but two.

The Albums

Two albums of material. Twenty-four songs: fourteen on Human Touch and ten on Lucky Town. On that bright spring morning thirty years ago, I woke, drove to the record store, bought the CDs, and quickly returned to my apartment. I saw in front of the stereo and just listened.

The cool sounds of Human Touch washed over me. Frankly, the title track sounded like he had not missed a beat from the sonic tapestry of Tunnel of Love. The second track, "Soul Driver," seemed to be a kindred spirit from "Cover Me." "57 Channels" was interesting, to be sure, and has reached ironic status in the age of multiple streaming channels here in 2022. "With Every Wish," with it's muted, soaring trumpet, and evocative, storytelling lyrics, has always been a favorite, and the theme of the song-With every wish, there comes a curse-is always good to keep in mind. "Roll of the Dice" and its glockenspiel is the first old-school Springsteen song of the entire record. And "I Wish I Were Blind" is a gorgeous ballad tinged with the anguish we all feel when we see an ex with someone else. If Springsteen ever records an album with an orchestra, I hope this one is in the setlist.

Human Touch is not without its weak songs. I rarely listen to album closer "Pony Boy." While "Real Man" may not be his best song, the pure joy in his words and voice is palpable. I appreciated it at the time, and very much appreciate it now.

If you assume that "Born to Run" is the best song Springsteen ever wrote, then Lucky Town opens with what has become my favorite song: "Better Days." Its exuberant optimism in where he finds himself is tempered only by the scars it took to get there. This song is one I have never forgotten, and turned to its lyrics over the years as my own life has gone through its ups and downs. In fact, verse 3 contains some of my favorite poetry Springsteen has ever penned, especially that last couplet.

Now a life of leisure and a pirate's treasure
Don't make much for tragedy
But it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin
And can't stand the company
Every fool's got a reason for feelin' sorry for himself
And turning his heart to stone
Tonight this fool's halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell
And I feel like I'm comin' home

The words of "If I Should Fall Behind" resonate constantly, especially in the shows from this century when all band members take a turn at singing various lines. "Leap of Faith" is a great song anyone pondering big life decisions when dealing with a potential spouse and those wondering thoughts of whether or not you're making the right decision ring in your head. Ditto for parenthood in the lyrics of "Living Proof" and the realization that so many of the things that hold us back are self-inflicted.

You do some sad sad things, baby
When it's you you're tryin' to lose
You do some sad and hurtful things
I've seen living proof

But he returns in the very next verse to show a way out:

You shot through my anger and rage
To show me my prison was just an open cage
There were no keys, no guards
Just one frightened man and some old shadows for bars

What also runs through both of these albums is the redemptive power of love and music. I'm no deep Springsteen scholar but I think it's with these two albums that the spiritual language Springsteen now uses to great effect started. "The Rising" carries it forward (that's my third favorite song of his) and it keeps going through the Pete Seeger album, Western Stars, and Letter to You.

What the Albums and Era Mean to Me

I listened to those albums constantly back in 1992 and the years after. While I was driving by myself on the highways of central Texas, visiting potential schools to start my graduate studies in history, it was these twenty-four songs I blasted from my car, windows down, hair blowing in the wind. These songs had me constantly looking to a bright future, but they also foretold the inevitable: life is never straight with zero potholes. It is a jagged road, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It is fraught with everything you might imagine-and some you couldn't.

In the past thirty years, these albums have fallen out of favor by Springsteen fans and Springsteen himself. Famously, he lamented that when he tried to write happy songs, it didn't go over well, which always struck me as odd. Don't we want our musical heroes to be happy and write songs in that vein? In fact, "Happy," a song from the Lucky Town sessions that didn't make the album, has also become one of my favorites, even making its way onto the playlist of songs at my wedding reception.

But Human Touch and Lucky Town have never lost their luster with me. I'll admit that had Springsteen whittled down the twenty-four songs to a single, albeit long, album, the result might've been stronger. But I didn't care then and, frankly, don't really care now. I gravitate to Lucky Town a tad more, but I always bring in more than half of Human Touch's songs into various playlists over the years.

It's not lost on me the place Human Touch and Lucky Town have in my Springsteen fandom. I'm the oddball. When I witnessed my first Springsteen show in December 1992 in Dallas with a couple of fellow grad students, they told tall tales about the 1984 and 1987 concerts. All those stories sounded great-and I've since discovered them and have come to enjoy those shows-but the Human Touch/Lucky Town Era is special. It's where I officially joined the entourage of Bruce's loyal fanbase. I've stayed with him ever since.

Sure, there are albums I rarely listen to-The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust-but I bought them on day one and spun them. I was ecstatic when 1998's Tracks came out and I had four new-to-me Springsteen albums to hear. And I finally got what it was like to have the E Street Band backing him with all the hoopla surrounding The Rising when Bruce was everywhere on TV. We got the sublime Western Stars and the poignant Letter to You and, with Springsteen, you know there will likely be a new album, maybe even this year.

But on the thirtieth anniversary of Human Touch and Lucky Town, I think back to the young man I used to be, hearing these songs for the first time, and the middle-aged man I am today, when these songs have embedded themselves in the fabric of my being. Both versions of myself love and appreciate these two albums, but for different reasons. The younger me found himself inundated with joyous songs of love and redemption, with his life unfolding before him, little knowing it was about to change. The middle-aged me, the me who is about a decade older than Springsteen was when he wrote these songs, the me who is a father and husband, feels these songs differently. He's lived them, through thick and thin, and come out okay.

With lifespans being what they are, I'm more than halfway to heaven. But the music of Bruce Springsteen, and specifically Human Touch and Lucky Town, have been with me for thirty years now, and I'm so thankful for their companionship.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Lightning Rod by Brad Meltzer

If it’s spring, then it’s time for another Brad Meltzer book.

For the past few years, a new Meltzer book—either fiction or non-fiction—is published. After a two-book non-fiction detour—The First Conspiracy (about George Washington) and The Lincoln Conspiracy—Meltzer returns to the heroes from The Escape Artist.

In the intervening years, Meltzer allowed both Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a mortician who left his job at Dover Air Force Base, and Nola Brown, the US Army’s painter-in-residence, to age and move froward after the events from that previous book. Zig is now in a private mortuary, mostly happy to have left his old life behind. That is, until he receives word that “one of our own,” Archie Mint, has been murdered in his car, parked in his own driveway.

Now, we readers know what happened because Meltzer showed us in the opening scene. But there is more than meets the eye. In fact, by the time you reach the end of the book, you might be compelled to re-read chapter 1. I’m just saying.

Nola, meanwhile, has gone off the grid. She, too, is pulled into the case of the death of Mint, but for different reasons. Because everything is not like it appears (natch: it’s a thriller). Mint has been hiding things, things that his family discovered after his death.

To make matters even more interesting, Nola’s long lost brother is now looking for her. Graduates of the foster program, they were separated in their early teen years and now Roddy wants to reconnect. But for good, or for ill?

All of these elements—and an interesting sub-plot for Zig—are thrown together on a roller coaster and Meltzer sends the reader careening.

Now, as with all Meltzer books I’ve consumed, I listened to the audiobook by Narrator Supreme, Scott Brick. And, as always, I love his narration style, the way he can make the most basic of descriptions sound even more interesting than Meltzer’s actual words. He always puts just the right amount of sarcasm, shock, boredom, or whatever kind of emotion the character is feeling or saying. Scott Brick could read the phone book and I’d probably buy a copy and listen.

The construction of this book is Thriller 101. I don’t mean than in a bad way at all. Seltzer is an accomplished commercial writer and he knows how to craft and pace a modern thriller. Just because I could see all the architecture of the story detracted not at all from its enjoyment.

And that sub-plot Meltzer throws at Zig? I think it’s a great example of how the smallest, most human of feelings can rise up whenever and wreck havoc on a person’s life, even when that person is in the middle of an exciting investigation.

I could use some sort of hyperbolic imperative to compel you to read this book, but I don’t really have to. It’s a Brad Meltzer thriller, narrated by Scott Brick. It’s a win-win. That’s all you need to know.  

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Do Not Waste Time

Four simple words. That’s all they are, but they carry so much.

If you’ve been following my post over the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling a bit. Most of us creatives struggle from time to time, and this was my latest. The good news is that, as of last week, I was out of the funk, with a new plan to write, publish, and, most of all, have fun. What I didn’t do is dwell on on the lost years in which I could have been publishing my stories. That’s water under the bridge, and dwelling on that only leads to more depression, something no one needs.

Then the other news struck. Twice. And the perspective grew sharper.

A week ago, a friend of mine sent a text to a group chat. He was blunt: he has cancer. Shocked, I was five words into a text response when I figuratively slapped myself and picked up the phone. We had a nice conversation. His type of cancer is treatable, but he’d never be free from it. A Christian, my friend is actually calm about the entire situation. I admire his fortitude and his faith. Needless to say, for me, the news was a shocker.

Then, not three days later, my mom called. My dad’s longest friend passed away. The friend was in his car, about to go to work, and just died. My dad’s friend had moved away from Texas nearly fifty years ago so it wasn’t like there would be a number of events and gatherings that would suddenly have an empty chair, but my dad and his friend talked frequently and kept up with each other.

Those two things are much more significant that my creative output and happiness, but it got me to thinking. Sure, I had piddled away numerous opportunities to write and publish my stories, but for whatever reason, I haven’t.

While I had already determined a nice, reasonable publication schedule, the twin doses of bad news sharpened my focus. No one person knows how many days he or she has in this life, and it’s best to make the most of each day. I make that a habit, thanking God every day for the gift of life.

But on the creative side of things, it got me thinking about the stories I’ve already written and the ones yet to come. I want to share them, preferably on this side of life. And, to date, the only thing holding me back…is me.

I have, undeniably, wasted months and years of my creative life when I could have be sharing my stories these past number of years. I missed those opportunities, but I will strive not to miss the future ones. I will not waste time.

So, today, hug every member of your family, tell them you love them, and pick up the phone and make a call to that person you haven’t spoken to in a while. You will be so glad you did.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Thoughts and Inspiration from Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller

The urge came out of nowhere. Somehow, last year, I had the overwhelming desire to buy the new Foo Fighters album, Medicine at Midnight. That was odd considering I’d never purchased any of their albums up to that time. Heck, I knew only a handful of their songs and one main video, but buy the record I did and it became my favorite album of the year.

So when Dave Grohl, the founder and front man of the band, published his memoirs, The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, in the fall of 2021, I was primed and ready for it.

But I wasn’t ready for what it did to me.

A Parallel Life

With my newfound interest in all things Foo and Grohl, I learned Dave was only five weeks younger than I was. Back in 1991, when Nirvana released their seminal album “Nevermind” and set a dividing line in the history of rock music—there was a Before Nevermind and an After Nevermind—I probably knew that the trio were my age, but it didn’t register. Bands who made records I could buy were always older than me, right? Turns out, Dave was the youngest. He was like the younger brother of one of the two other guys in the band, brought along on account of his ferocious drumming style. I think we all know that Dave was at the right place at the right time, just before Nirvana blew away the general public with their sound.

But Dave was already a veteran of that scene. He had been intoxicated with the punk rock sound of Washington DC even though he was a suburban kid from Virginia. Even without a proper drum kit (he used pillows), the music flowed through him and he practiced and practiced the drums and well as strumming and picking out songs on his guitar.

Good fortune, luck, whatever you want to call it arrived one day when Dave, the seventeen-year-old struggling high school student, was given the chance to audition for the punk rock band Scream. He nailed the audition and, when invited to join the band, lead singer Peter Stahl finally thought to ask the young man his age. Naturally, Dave lied. “Twenty-one.” Peter and the other members of Virginia-based Scream accepted Dave’s word and Scream had a new drummer.

But Dave had one crucial thing to do, and even as I listened to Dave recount the story via the audiobook, fully knowing how it would turn out, it was a tense moment. Dave had to talk with his mother, a public school teacher, and convince her to let him drop out of school and tour with the band. Her words were surprising: “You’d better be good.”

As a listener to Dave’s journey, I found myself joining in his long days of traveling the country in a van, stretching out pennies per day on food, sleeping like sardines in said van, only to explode for an hour a day on stage. As a parent myself, however, I found Virginia Grohl’s faith in her son heart-warming yet also inspirational. The main job of a parent is to raise our children to be good, functioning, adults capable of holding down a job and making it on their own. She must have recognized that Dave was not going to be a typical nine-to-five kind of person and let him go. Even though my son is now twenty, I think back to when he was seventeen and ask myself if I could have let him go.

Turning it back on myself, however, I thought back to when I was seventeen. I was a junior in high school, just like Dave was. Could I have left the comfort of my suburban Houston home to tour with a rock band? Would my parents have let me? The answer to both is no.

That Guy From Nirvana

The four-year stretch when Dave toured America and Europe with Scream on less than a shoe-string budget helped forge his character into what he would become. His frugality he learned from his single mother, who raised Dave and his sister via her public school job and other jobs she took to make ends meet. He learned to make do with less and be happy about it. I found it telling that when he received his first check after joining Nirvana—an astounding-for-him $400—he blew it on a Nintendo and other assorted things he didn’t really need. Soon, he was back to scraping by, barely choking down the three-for-a-dollar corn dogs from a gas station. Still, he learned his lesson.

It’s common knowledge that Dave auditioned for Nirvana at a time when Scream was a slowly sinking ship. He joined the band with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic and set to work on Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind. It was great to hear Dave’s thoughts and memories about Kurt, especially how unprepared the trio was for the instant international fame they garnered with that fall 1991 album and, most importantly, the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. Soon, the very people who poked fun of Dave in high school were now attending Nirvana shows. The alternative, punk rock mentality in which Dave and Kurt and Krist thrived was being co-opted by the mainstream. Dave struggled with it, but he managed to get through the deluge while Kurt did not.

I made the choice to listen to this book because Dave narrates his own story, and it is exactly the way to consume this book. You get Dave’s snide tonal shifts depending on if he’s talking about a funny memory, but you can also hear his somber voice as he talks about how Kurt’s death affected him. In interviews about this book, Dave mentioned he wrote the passages about Kurt last. I wonder if he recorded them last as well.

The Indie Spirit of Foo Fighters

In the immediate aftermath of Kurt’s death, Dave left music. He didn’t even listen to the radio. The very thing that pumped in his veins, that compelled him to become a high-school dropout was now the same thing he couldn’t endure. He wanted to distance himself from Nirvana, from Kurt, and, as he came to realize, from himself. After nearly picking up a hitchhiker in Ireland—the young man was wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt, the sight of which caused Dave to duck his head and pass by—Dave knew he must return to music.

As an indie author, I enjoy performing all aspects of writing and publishing myself. True, some tasks are more mundane than others, but that is the price I’m willing to pay. I knew about Foo Fighters back in 1995 but never bought the debut record. What I truly never understood, however, was that, save for a single guitar part in one song, Dave wrote and performed every bit of that twelve-song debut. And he did it all in six days in the studio. That astounded me, but what I really latched onto was how that creativity in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide was Dave’s road out of his depression.

You see, I’ve been struggling with my own career as a writer, wondering if it is all worth it or if I should just hang it up. Why bother, I’d tell myself. No one cares if I write or don’t. In fact, those thoughts have so permeated my thinking that I actually have stopped. It’s been a month since I last wrote new words on anything other than blog posts.

But I have spent countless words on examining myself, and in this time of re-examining what kind of fiction writing career I want, I listened to Dave’s book. I hear him talk about his own struggles, his own doubts and fears, how he, even to this day, still struggles and wonders if he’s good enough.

Dave is a wonderful storyteller, weaving in and out of various tales from the road. All are remarkable and all had me questioning myself and my creative life choices. Late in the book, he described the feeling of being invited to perform—solo—at the Oscars. And it was the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” So, no pressure, right? He was scared, so scared that he nearly declined. But he and his daughter, Violet, had recently performed the song at her school talent show and she encouraged him to do the song. You see, she was scared to perform but she overcame her fears and knocked it out of the park. The child served as inspiration for the father.

In concluding this story, Dave wrote the following:

"Courage is the defining factor in the life of any artist. The courage to bare your innermost feelings, to reveal your true voice, or to stand in front of an audience and lay it all out there for the world to see. The emotional vulnerability that is often necessary to summon a great song can also work against you when you’re sharing your song for the world to hear. This is the paralyzing conflict of any sensitive artist, a feeling I’ve experienced with every lyric I’ve sung to someone other than myself. Will they like it? Am I good enough? It is the courage to be yourself that bridges those opposing emotions, and when it does, magic can happen."

Dave’s book arrived at the perfect time in my life and the inspirational journey he went on and continues to undertake hit me in the exact place I needed it: my creative spirit. It needed a jolt to get me out of the doldrums. My spirit needed to come around and be reminded that every single creative person—whether an indie writer, a rock star, or anyone in between—has moments of doubt. But if we just keep going and keep making our art, magic can happen.

It is remarkable to get an inside look at an established and famous rock star who is my age. The bass player, Nate Mendel, is four days older than me so I should have been a Foo Fighters fans from the jump. But I wasn’t. Instead, it took me twenty-seven years to come around.

Now, I’m there and not only am I on YouTube watching tons of videos but I’m rummaging through my wife’s CD collection and pulling every Foo Fighters album she has. The music is fantastic, but Dave Grohl’s message is even better.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Impressions of The Batman

As I will do for every Batman movie ever made, I saw the new Batman movie on opening day. Lifelong fan of the character than I am, I have thoughts.

There will be spoilers.

Thirty-three years ago, we got a dark and brooding Batman in the form of Michael Keaton. Turns out, it wasn’t so dark, but holy cow was it at the time. Then after a more bright series in the 1990s, we got a darker, broodier Batman in Christian Bale. Then we got Ben Affleck who was dark and broody.

And now we have Robert Pattinson who is uber-broody. Like others have said, he's Emo Batman. And you know what? I'm fine with it. I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit, all three hours of it. And my middle-aged bladder was able to make it through the entire film without compelling me to run to the bathroom. Why? Because I didn't drink a lot of water. But mostly because the movie was rather compelling.

The Voice - Kevin Conroy is all but the definitive Batman for me when it comes to how he does the voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bale's gruff growl became distracting and I particularly appreciated Affleck's voice modulator. Pattinson's low, non-gruff voice worked for me.

The Suit - A fully functional, bulletproof body armor bat suit. I loved the collar. The cowl was also well done, showing all the scrapes he's endured. And I liked that they acknowledged he wears black makeup around the eyes. I loved the gauntlets that could be deployed at a moment's notice. And the use of the taser. The bionic contact lens was a nice touch.

Jeffrey Wright - Can we just get a TV show with him as Gordon? Really, really liked how he stood up for Batman from the jump. We even got a few of the bewildered Gordon moments like when he looks back and Batman's gone.

The Police - Really liked how the cops go from disliking Batman to grudging acceptance. And that scene when Batman and Gordon walk Falcone out and they see all the good cops? Wonderful.

Colin Farrell/The Penguin - Completely could not see Farrell in the makeup. But I really liked his ferocity with the character. Sure, it's a little on the Deniro side of things but Oz is a crime lieutenant. It's was fun.

Zoe Kravitz/Selina Kyle - Her action scenes were fantastic with her multiple kicks per strike. I liked her one-track mind to help find then avenge her friend. And she had some of the few funny parts in the movie.

Paul Dano/The Riddler - Going into the theater, I could not have picked Dano out of a lineup. And I so liked that his visual style was basically a geek. A genius geek, but just a normal guy on whom the world had shat on for years. His monologue in the jail cell was pretty darn fun.

The Riddler's Big Plan - I so love movies when the villain is 25 steps ahead of the hero, and this movie had that in spades.

Batman as Detective - Very, very nice to have a movie like this. Yeah, we've had the big explosion version of the character so why not basically have a PI solving riddles and crimes who just happens to wear a bat-suit rather than a trench coat and fedora. T'was nifty that Alfred helped out with that.

The Fight in the Dark - Maybe 30 seconds, but holy cow, was that sequence awesome. One of the best in all of Bat-movie history. I'd bet money that director/writer Matt Reeves was inspired by the hallway sequence with Darth Vader in Rogue One.

The Finale/Mist Scene - As soon as Batman exploded that fire extinguisher and created a cloud of mist, I knew he was going to jump out of it. Fantastic visual.

And a child shall lead - When Batman, with red flare in hand, goes to help the mayor-elect and others get out of the flooded arena, I so loved that it was the young boy who was the first to take Batman's offer of help. The boy recognized the hero that Batman was and showed the way.

The Ending Speech - I appreciated the mirror version of Gordon's closing speech in 2008's The Dark Knight. This Batman, for all his mopiness, recognizes the need for hope in Gotham. That is an intriguing plot thread to open.

The Mood - I'll admit I was a tad leery of yet another brooding Batman movie, but I was sucked in almost instantly. It was a slow burn movie, punctuated with intense fighting sequences, but I really liked it.

The Music - John Williams's theme to Superman is arguably the greatest super-hero theme every written. Well, not arguably to me. But Danny Elfman's Batman theme is definitely second. When I saw that Michael Giacchino as the composer, I was excited. But a theme like from Williams or Elfman would not have worked in a movie like this. The slow, downbeat score, with the new Batman theme scattered throughout the movie, worked really well. Of particular note was the harp-and-cello piece when Bruce Wayne went into his parents' room.

The Verdict

Up until 2022, there has only been one live-action Batman at a time. That changes this year. Later, when we get The Flash movie, veteran Batman Michael Keaton returns and we'll a second live-action Batman, even if it is a return of an old favorite. That's a good thing, because if you don't like the mopey Batman, just wait. Or watch other versions.

Here's the thing: in the summer of 2008, we got one of the best Batman movies ever in The Dark Knight. Later that fall, we got the equally fun and light-hearted animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Boy did I love that series. And I also liked that year's epic Batman movie. I can appreciate both of them because there is room for Batman to be interpreted in different ways.

This is Matt Reeves's interpretation of 80 years of Bat-stories and the character and situations. As much as I love the brightness of the Marvel movies, Batman works well in this kind of story. Like I mentioned at the top of this post, I was a little leery/weary of broody Batman.

But Reeves's story, direction, and cinematography as well as Pattinson's performance won me over. It did for my wife as well. (Note: she is not a super-hero film fan but loved Bale's Batman, especially The Dark Knight, perhaps the only super-hero movie that she'll start to watch if she runs across it on TV.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and look forward to seeing it again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Writer, Know Thyself AKA Don’t Fight Who You Are

The year 2022 has been rather productive even if that productivity hasn’t always generated new words. It has, apparently, yielded greater clarity as to the type of writer I am. It also meant I had to struggle through some thoughts that really got me down.

On New Year’s Day, I had the idea that I wanted to write every single day in 2022. That lasted 41 days, longer than some folks do with their resolutions but it still stopped. Part of the reason was that I was a bit haphazard in what I was writing, but I think I learned something about myself in the process.

I thought it would be fun to write some short stories. I also thought I could write 1,000 words per day. I busted out the first one in only three days. Then I jumped on a second one, knocking it out in about seven or so days. Then a third. I then shifted to writing chapter 29 of my current WIP and finished up that chapter. But I wasn’t sure where to go next with the story. With the 1,000-word-per-day goal hanging over my head—when I really wanted to stop, re-read the WIP, and determine where to take chapter 30–I left the WIP and started a fourth short story. The thing was it wasn’t as good as I thought it could be. I was literally stringing words along just to get to 1,000, and I wasn’t writing what I truly wanted to write (the novel).

Dissatisfied with my output, I ended the 1,000-word streak. Then I ended the writing streak. And, to date, haven’t started it back up. Why?

Well, because of burnout, I'm guessing. I looked back on my 2017 writing calendar. I wrote three Calvin Carter novels in three months. Each time, I finished the books with days in the month to spare and I took a break. In January, I had about 5 days. In February, it was only two. I finished the March book on 28 March, giving me a three-day break. As you can see, I built in breaks. They were my rewards for a completed novel.

Then, in April 2017, I quit Calvin Carter Book 4 on Day 15. Back in 2019, when I was using NaNoWriMo to write a different novel, I ended up coming to a dead end—no, not a dead end; a 'which way to go?'—and I never got back on track. But that was in early December, after I’d successfully reached the NaNoWriMo threshold in November of writing 50,000+ words in that month.

All this is to say that it looks like I'm the type of writer who needs to have breaks built into my schedule. All the more power to those old pulp writers and modern ones like James Reasoner who can just keep writing, but it appears that's not me. Which is kinda sad because I'd like to be that kind of writer, but I guess I'll have to fall back on the mantra of Writer, Know Thyself.

When I stopped my 2022 writing streak back on 10 February, my failure really got me down. Why bother writing? was a common thought that ran through my mind. Why indeed? One more voice in the cacophony of writers and all the other content vying for people’s attention. I started to write down my thoughts and instead of zeroing in on all the bad stuff, I turned it around and started to count my blessings.

I am in the enviable position where I have a day job that provides me and my family with monetary income, health benefits, and stability. That affords me the ability to write what I truly want to write and make it the best I possibly can. You know, as opposed to having to write something simply to put food on the table and keeping the roof over our heads even if those subjects are less than exciting. Again, major props to those pulp writers of all the decades who really did have to churn out the words in order to provide for their families, even if it was the fifty-eighth Shadow novel or sixty-fourth Doc Savage book or even the two hundred and sixteenth novel in the Longarm series. (Or Destroyer. Or Executioner. Or Trailsman.)

By slowing the pace down to a steady constant rather than the frenetic pace I was keeping earlier this year, I should be able to be like the tortoise in the old rabbit vs. tortoise fairy tale. Yeah, I’ll get to the finish line with the content I have the time to write. Yeah, other writers will do better [Pick your metaphor: they’ll reach more finish lines than I will or they’ll reach the finish lines with more books] but I can’t control them. They have different environments and situations (and genres?) than I do.

Which means what I do will be more difficult. Yay. It means I might not have the success of others. Sure. But it also means I’ll be able to carve out my own path that is uniquely my own. And that is good. Again, with a foundation of having a day job to provide stability, I can keep going at my own pace.

I still have the goal of completing twelve short stories by year’s end. I’m a quarter to that goal already. And I have my three novel WIPs that’ll keep me going. But I’ll build in breaks. Evidently, that’s the kind of writer I am. Better to acknowledge it and run with it as opposed to fighting it and getting depressed I’m not a different kind of writer.

I’m back on the writing wagon as of today. It’s a new month. I’ll move forward, finish the next project, and then set everything aside. The break probably won’t be the two weeks I’ve given myself in February, but it will be a break.

So, fellow writers, have you had a heart-to-heart with yourself to help you realize who you are as a writer? What steps did you take? I’d love to know as writing—and all creative outputs—are a constant work in progress.