Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Redux


What an odd year. With all of its twists and turns, I’m not sure anyone could have scripted quite a year.

It began simply enough with the most joyous occasion possible: a wedding. I will forever remember this as the year I got married to the love of my life. That day is seared into my memory. The fates conspired to provide perfect weather on a Friday in February. My wife looked like something from another world because it seems impossible that so much beauty could take shape in one person. But she’s real and I’m lucky. It was a day full of love and joy. One of the greatest feelings of my life.



Unfortunately after that the year seemed to take a turn. As we were coasting along, mid-year I experienced two events that would upend everything I knew. One was the most agonizing heartbreak at the hand of a lifelong best friend, someone I considered family. In most years this would take the cake. But 2016 is resilient and wouldn’t let us off the hook so easily. Soon after my mother was diagnosed with her second bout of cancer. This was absolutely devastating.

My world still isn’t right side up, some five months later. But I believe she will win the battle. And all the heartbreak lead me to something I never would have believed I could prosper in: mindfulness. Buddhism saved me. Daily Dharma pulls me out of the deep end. I have now meditated for over a hundred and ten days consecutively and don’t plan on stopping, ever.

In 2016, I learned to let go. It hasn't always been perfect and I’ve had to remind myself that after ecstasy then comes the laundry but I’m in a better head space now than ever before. Everything is temporary.

The end of the year brought more challenges, some large and some small. The election of the single most unfit (and corrupt) candidate to ever run for the highest office in all of the land. The death of one of my greatest idols. A stomach flu that left me sicker than I have ever been. A panic attack that landed me in the ER. All of these challenges failed to squash my spirit, however. This December the latest Star Wars movie was released, Rogue One. The final word of the movie resonates as we move into the new year: Hope.



2016 hasn’t broken me, we shall all come out on the other side. I’m blessed with a caring beautiful wife, a strong family, everlasting friendships, and a fortunate life. This year may have been terrible in many ways but we can stand taller knowing we made it through.

The journey is not about going into the light. The forces of our human history and entanglement are tenacious and powerful. The path to inner freedom requires passing through them.” — Jack Kornfield

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Green Pool

   Enduring heat from dawn to dusk. Only stifling heat in the darkness of night. Skin coated in a thin layer of perspiration clinging to even the smallest articles of clothing. Baked concrete frying the tough skin at home on the bottom of relentless feet, rendering them useless without proper footwear. Pink to red flesh that needed re-apply with a thick slathering of alabaster sun tan lotion hours ago. Ebony leather car seats affixed to thighs with searing temperatures. Florida summer had arrived in full force with its endless misadventures of the heat index. This summer would last in eternal dissidence, however. It would shine as an utter protest against the fabrics of everything she understood to be the truth. The adulthood that she had hidden from took giant leaps towards forcing her hand. An assault had begun on the most stable of aspects of her life.

   ‘What a joke…’ Her mind was spitting venom as she paced the crudely laid wooden flooring. She had peered out the window, admiring the way the sun evaporated the unattended to pool that had grown green and chunky; congealed with leaves, perished insects, and pine needles pushed in by the elements over the months of neglect. Her synapses firing as she replaced the walls in front of her with nostalgic snapshots of what her and the man who owned the residence were before it all turned. For fifteen years there had been a steady balance between them. They were as unalterable as the tides for as long as she could recall. What started as a sibling-like bond over video games morphed into a respected partnership as the years went by. He had been her rock, she always liked to think she was that for him too. Going on family vacations, having late night adventures to take photographs in distant cities, concerts filled with awkward swaying, jokes committed to for decades, hours of playing catch in her parents’ backyard, and all the tiny moments that come in between. This was once her house not all that long ago. Years of companionship, of moving from apartment to apartment before finally settling down. A small part of her felt like she had earned this house, but at the very least she felt a small tick of ownership based on the fact that she’d been paying part of the mortgage for about ten months. Yet here she was walking the chestnut floors as a stranger. Her shoes left a hollow click in the air. The house, that was once a home, had become foreign to her. New wall hangings and furniture slowly trickled in over time. Where once there was comfort, now there was the gnawing feeling that she had become a guest. While balmy outside, the inside of the domicile was frigid with contempt.

   The truism ‘if these walls could talk’ felt applicable to the moment. Imagine what they would say. There’d be happy moments shared between family and friends. Like the night they moved in, exhausted but so pleased. Or the pool parties for birthdays filled with laughter. The tears shared after saying goodbye to a beloved dog, sharing a hurt only the three of us could understand. But the majority would be all the unseemly things said behind closed doors in the recent weeks. The baby blue walls wouldn’t have had much on her until the last month or so. She had finally been broken at some point during that stretch. The proverbial shit certainly hit the fan. She’d been chewing on some things. How does someone you know so well turn into a stranger before your very eyes? The answer was hard to pinpoint. The pressure placed on relationships with other people is too great. Expectations are a poison. It is nearly impossible to think they won’t fail. Everyone has one person in mind: themselves. The greatest person is still as self-serving as the next. If these walls could talk they would tell a tale of best friends who were always on the same page. Or so she thought. That is what she’d told herself over and over.

   He was older, by a lot, but they worked. They worked for a very long time. Through her shitty relationships and then her eventual fateful marriage, they stayed strong. Through illnesses, deaths, nieces and nephews; they never once wavered. Until one day a girl came along for him. And instead of the harmony that her wife had provided, the pages were erased before being ripped out all together. With an air of manipulation, things went from unbelievably good to indescribably horrible in a matter of months. And just like that, she thought as she sat in the spot that was once her’s at the dinner table, she became rendered obsolete. Not long ago, the dinner table was their home base. They’d sit there with their laptops reading each other stupid things they found on the internet, playing tunes and singing along, and watching baseball on the television across the room playfully roasting each other about their favorite players or analyzing what was happening in the games they watched. Her head shook savagely in hopes of knocking out the sentimentality. Those moments felt like a lifetime ago now.

   She fought back tears in this place. It was all a sham because inside she was screaming. “How could you do this to us? How can you throw away family?” She wanted to say, grabbing him by the arms and shaking him violently. He was once considered the best person she’d ever known, he had to wake up. But no words could wake him, he was gone now. Now they lived apart in this small home. Now they saw one another infrequently. She wondered if he missed their bond. A sigh escaped from her lips so immense it filled the entire room.

   “Probably not.” She broke the suffocating silence to speak to her loneliness. For the most part the sad woman had put on a brave face, trying to pretend that it wasn’t eating away at her. This all had felt like the final push into the world of hopeless adulthood. There were no illusions anymore. The front door across from where she was sat slowly opened.

   “Ready to go?” Her dad asked with a smile that was equal parts sad and strong. He didn’t want to show that he knew her pain but of course he did.

   “Sure,” she sighed with her glossy eyes studying the table in front of her. She knocked its cedar top once with her knuckles as a hopeless goodbye.

   Exiting the front door, she left in her wake the remnants of a friendship that mirrored the pool in the backyard: once a point of happiness left neglected.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Star Wars - Mindfulness


Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Star Wars - This series of posts are all about the lessons I have learned from Star Wars through the years, from childhood to now.

Anyone who is a devoted Star Wars fan, who studies the church of the Force, picks up valuable lessons from it. Thank the maker, George Lucas created his space opera by mixing mythology with philosophy. Star Wars isn't your run of the mill science fiction or fantasy franchise, it is a multilayered guide book to life. There is always something new to explore and learn. This post will revolve around a lesson learned in the beginning moments of Episode I The Phantom Menace.




First, some background information...

When the Phantom Menace was released I was just over a month short of my eighth birthday. In the eight years of my young life to that point, my dad raised me on the original trilogy.  I can't imagine my life without Star Wars, so to him for that I'm forever grateful. I spent many nights in front of the TV watching it with him while he worked on things for work. It was something we shared just the two of us. A quote I read from Pablo Hidalgo speaks to me and these memories: 
"But the funny thing is, it came out when I was so young, and it was such an integral part of your childhood, that it’s really hard to distinguish when it was I first saw it because it was just a solid stream of Star Wars growing up...  It was just always there." 
That is how it was for me. My dad and I recently were trying to determine when he first showed me the original trilogy and failed miserably to pin point an age. It was always something I was into. But one memory that always sticks out to me was seeing the Phantom Menace for the first time in theaters. No matter your opinion on Episode I or the prequels, the hype leading up to it was undeniable and utter pandemonium! 



As a child, I was profoundly affected by the Phantom Menace. As mentioned above, it was released just short of my eighth birthday. My dad took the day off of work and held me out of school so we could go see the first showing at our local theater. Up until this point, the richest memory I had of Star Wars involved summers and a church.

My mom worked for ten years at the Methodist Church they attend. During those years I was making my way through elementary school, so summers I would spend toiling the halls of the church's administration building. The youth pastor had a VHS box set that I used to steal every day. Back in those days they still had the giant tube TVs up on carts like you'd see in the school cafeteria, well this one was in the fellowship hall (that's church speak for cafeteria.) I'd roll it in front of one of the tables, make some pink lemonade, and spend all day laying on table tops watching these three brilliant movies and daydreaming about swinging a lightsaber and blowing up the Death Star in my X-wing in a galaxy far, far away.

The release of the Phantom Menace took it to a whole new level though. After seeing it in theaters, you could not find me without some type of TPM toy. I had the communicator, a Naboo starfighter pool float, numerous action figures, lightsabers, and so much more. I wore an embarrassing Jedi braid (from the Jedi gear set pictured) constantly. When it came out on VHS I wore that tape out in a hurry. The prequels have their obvious flaws, but now looking back on them as a twenty five year old, I fail to be objective through the coating of nostalgia over my eyes and heart. It was my childhood.


The Lesson: Mindfulness.

This exchange between Master and Padawan is one of my favorites in all of the Star Wars movies. It quickly establishes so much about both characters. Qui-Gon Jinn is all about the moment, the living Force, and mindfulness. Obi-Wan Kenobi looks to the future and keeps in mind what he has been taught by both Qui-Gon and Yoda. Ever the student trying to learn and grow.

Obi-Wan's first words in the prequels are "I have a bad feeling about this." The line is famous in Star Wars, it is said many times throughout the series (a supercut can be found here.) Perhaps it is foreshadowing into his roll in the prequels, as he goes on in the other movies to witness the demise of his padawan and friend. His master Qui-Gon answers with "I don't sense anything." A trend that continues in the prequels as well, older masters failing to sense what is happening right under their noses. Yoda even admits to this later in the mvoie when he says "hard to see, the dark side is." Obi-Wan's pondering continues: "It's not about the mission, Master, it's something elsewhere, elusive." This is where our lesson comes into play as Qui-Gon answers "don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs." The lesson is not just for young Obi-Wan, but for us all. Obi-Wan is far from the wise old Jedi he will become when we see him some decades later in A New Hope. This is a great insight into how he becomes that man.

I ponder this moment often. In times that are overwhelming, it often pops into my head. It is a great reminder to take a moment to breathe, to not worry about your anxiety, to simply be present.

As a Buddhist, this part in the early moments of the Phantom Menace speaks to me. Master Qui-Gon is teaching mindfulness to his Padawan Obi-Wan. Mindfulness is a lesson that can be found at the core of Buddhism. Matthew Bortolin, the author of the Dharma of Star Wars, covers this at length in the first chapter of the book. (You can read the chapter in this preview here.) The Jedi Order is a hybrid of many great philosophies and religions but the influence of Buddhism is obvious. They practice Zen, not allowing their emotions to get the best of them. As Yoda says later on in the Phantom Menace: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Suffering and the secession of it is the core of Buddhist teaching, the subject of the Four Noble Truths.

Mindfulness is an extremely valuable lesson. When we are present, it releases stress. Imagine you're sitting in traffic, as we all have. We have somewhere to be, we're fearful that we're going to be late. We drum the steering wheel or honk at people to go faster or move up, weaving in and out of lanes of traffic. But what good does all of this do? It only adds unnecessary stress. Beating the steering wheel will not make the cars vanish. It is better to take a deep breath (imagine Rey in the Force Awakens battling Kylo Ren) and be present. As Qui-Gon said, 'don't center on your anxieties.' Granted, it is easier said than done. But it is something to keep in mind next time you find yourself annoyed by something.



The Phantom Menace has a ton of moments I want to explore in the coming posts. Make sure you keep eye here for the continuation of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Star Wars as I work my way through the seven movies and two television series. As always comments, questions, thoughts, and shenanigans are always welcomed in the comment section! Or tweet me @kaityballgame!

Until next time... May the Force be with you!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

My Closing Argument - 2016 Election

I love Election Day. It's imperfect but it is where we make a decision. It's like the Super Bowl for political nerds like myself. It makes me emotional. After months upon months of crunching numbers, it is game time. Sure, I'm going to feel nauseated all day with anxiety through the roof... But it is the culmination of eighteen months of work by people all over our beautiful country. Beyond that, it is the most practical illustration of our democracy in action!

A lot of people have been disenfranchised by this election. I get it. Personally, I love Hillary Clinton and I'm excited that I got to cast my vote for her. I've seen Senator Kaine, President Obama, and President Clinton all at events this election. The vibe is so exciting. You can feel everyone pulling in the same direction. The direction that leads to change.

That being said, I'm well aware that plenty do not. Plenty of people wish there were other options. But to me, it can be as simple as voting for an issue. Oprah made the argument recently that you don't have to love Hillary Clinton, you just have to believe that she's going to work towards the goals that are important to you. “You don’t have to like her. Do you like this country? Do you like this country? You better get out there and vote. Do you like the country? Do you like freedom and liberty? Do you like this country? OK. Do you like democracy or do you want a demagogue?”  This is a little stronger than I'd push, but I think she makes an important point to consider here.

Ideally, we'd like all of our Presidents to inspire like JFK, Obama, Reagan, etc. That isn't always the case. Something happened around the time of President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. It became, can you imagine yourself having a beer with this guy? It wasn't always this way. President H.W. Bush was not really that guy but he was a strong leader. The same goes for President Truman.

Even if I wasn't a fan of HRC, I'd vote for her. There are many reasons but mostly it has to do with the progress that is on the ballot. Equality for all races, sexes, and everything in between. Saving our planet from climate change. Better and more affordable education for all. Healthcare options for all. I couldn't vote for someone who brags about sexual assault, mocks those with disabilities, makes blanket insults about people of color, doesn't value our veterans, and insults every other type of group you can. A ticket who think that homosexuals should be put through classes to try and turn them straight. I do not want any of that. I want to continue the legacy of President Obama.


You may not agree with everything I stand for. You may not agree with everything Hillary Clinton stands for. You may not agree with everything the Democratic Party stands for. But there are levels and levels of issues that come with the other ticket. I honestly believe this is the most important election of my lifetime. The direction that we would head in if the opposition wins is terrifying to me. It is an attack on both our domestic and foreign politics and our country as a whole. This is how I feel.

Make no mistake about it, the opposition wants to suppress democratic turn out. They particularly want to suppress the vote from women and people of color. They've said it themselves! Your vote is the only firewall keeping hatred from going mainstream. Your vote is what keeps a candidate who was endorsed by the KKK out of the White House. Particularly young people, it comes down to you! If you support Bernie, look no further than the sheer amount of rallies he has done for Hillary. He knows that this election is important. He knows that he moved her to the left and has made the most progressive agenda he can. They're stronger together.

Election day is when we all make a decision. So on Tuesday, as President Obama has said multiple times, Choose Hope. Choose Hope. Don't give up. Don't set us back decades. Let's continue to progress.

I believe Secretary Clinton said it best:

"Starting right now, let's come together. Let's work together. And let's be hopeful and optimistic and unified in the face of division and hate. Bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect to solve shared challenges. Let's have each other’s backs, lift each other up, not tear each other down."

You will be asked where you stood. You will be asked what you did to stop it. I'll be able to stand proud because I know I fought my heart out. Where will you stand? Let's elect the first female President. Like she said, "when there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit."

That is my closing argument... Choose Hope.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being is Always Becoming


I never quite understood why people are so quick to want to tell their religious testimony. I have never been a heavily religious person. I've never felt like I needed to put my neck out on the line for anything. Then something happened.

I've read about Buddhism on and off for the better part of the last eight years or so. Never devoting too much time or power to it, but reading books and educating myself. This changed around July when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's my mom's second go-round with cancer, the first being colon cancer roughly six years ago. Back then I did some reading, I got a mala. I tried to center myself. At 19-20 years old, it is hard to devote yourself to anything. Fast forward these six years and I was ready for a change. Beyond my mother's sickness, I had been dealing with an immense amount of struggles in my life. I felt lost. I felt depressed. I felt hopeless. That's when I found my old mala and started to delve in.

What I love about Buddhism isn't that it isn't exclusive. It is for everyone. It can be a religion, it can be a philosophy. It is whatever you want it to be. Buddha wasn't a higher power, he was an enlightened man who wanted to share his peace with everyone.
What is there to disagree with about that? Isn't that what we are all searching for in every religion or philosophy, inner peace?

So I started reading, studying, and meditating. Every day. For the last few months, I've devoted small to large chunks of my day to dharma. What is so great about it, what I find so interesting, is that it is always changing. Meditation is never the same twice. Some days I feel so centered, other days my mind is racing. What they teach you in Zen Buddhism is don't be mad at your thoughts, don't be upset that you can't clear your mind. Acknowledge each thought, let them have their moment, and release. As someone who is known to have a propensity of overthinking things, to dwell, this was enlightening to me. These thoughts are there for a reason. In Buddhism, I've found a peace that I never thought would exist for me. Through my years struggling with depression and anxiety I never thought this was attainable.

Four Noble Truths & Eightfold Path 
It is all about the Four Noble Truths: there is suffering, suffering has an origin, suffering can cease, there is a path out of suffering. Let go or be dragged. The world cannot be controlled by you or anyone. Acknowledge that there is natural suffering, recognize where it comes from, find a way to stop it, and leave it behind by practicing mindfulness and compassion. The path is broken into eight parts. While it may seem like a fundamental simplification of larger and more difficult concepts, there is something to exploring them.

I see a change in myself, my wife sees it too. My anger, my disappointment, my irritation. These things don't disappear but they don't control me. Now I know why they're there. I acknowledge them and find a way to move on. I realize that expectations set by myself or by others ruin everything, we've been letting expectations rule our lives. If you are mindful you can have control of your mind. Calm yourself and no storm can affect you.

There are many misconceptions about Buddhism. One doesn't have to shave their head, wear robes, and become a monk to practice mindfulness. The more I study, the more you realize that dharma is everything. Looking at one of my favorite things ever, Star Wars, Buddha has his fingerprints all over it. Yoda, for one, is a pop culture Bodhisattva. The Force is mindfulness. "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship." That right there is certainly in line with Buddhism.

What's amazing about Buddhism, and particularly Zen Buddhism, is that once you start practicing it overwhelms your life in the most positive way possible. In moments before when I'd just be sitting somewhere it'd be a dull moment, but now I feel a calmness and mindfulness. Truly zen. It's beautiful. Nothing is ordinary. Making a cup of coffee or doing dishes while practicing mindfulness make the ordinary become extraordinary. Being present, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, is freeing.

It may sound hokey to some but I know what I feel. It has transformed my life. I'm not perfect. I'm not always calm. But within my anger I now see a light at the end of the tunnel that was not there before. Amidst my feelings, my mind reminds me of what I'm capable of. That's what it provides me. It champions all the feelings I have inside. It legitimizes my soul. I feel purpose. I acknowledge the suffering but I can see beyond it. I can't imagine my life without Buddhism now.


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No one can be enlightened for others. Dana prajna paramita, give wisdom to cross over. If you're at all interested in learning about Buddhism, drop me a line. Buddhism works with all religions or philosophies. You can love Christ and practice mindfulness. Feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @kaityballgame. If you're too shy and just want to read more, here are some resources:

Finally, this is one of my favorite videos about Buddhism. A former Marine who converted to be a Buddhist monk, but not quite what you might have envisioned:




Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Election Season Nostalgia

I'm hearing a lot of "this election is the lowest of low" or "this election has made me depressed." That is fair. What I've never been able to stand for is "I hate politics." Especially as if this year is how it always is. It isn't.

America politics has major flaws, don't get me wrong.  As Winston Churchill said, "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise." The most obvious flaw being the power hungry tendency of the people who run for office. That is fine and I'll acknowledge it. But in my mind, the positives outweigh the negatives. I've spent the better part of my young adult life studying our Presidents. The lot of them are heavily flawed but endlessly spectacular. It takes a certain kind of person, willing to put the weight of a nation on their shoulder. At the end of the day, there was always a sense of respect on both sides. Everyone acknowledged that the men running believed they could do right by the country that they love so dearly. After the first debate, I watched the outstanding Netflix documentary, 'Mitt.' It follows Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney on his quest to achieve the highest office in the land. I've never been a huge Romney fan, I voted for President Obama. This documentary sheds a new light on the man. It showed his family fighting tooth and nail for him. It showed his patriotism.

That feeling is one absent from this election on one side. As unimaginable as it seems now, this used to be American politics. We can still have this, it's still out there. It isn't far from our grasp. I read this letter than President George H.W. Bush wrote to President Clinton and I feel a sense of hope. One that tells me that we can get back to this.


There is something beautiful about watching a documentary that shifts the way you view a public figure. Like with 'Mitt,' 'Journeys with George' did a similar thing. While it doesn't quite show his passion or concentrated battling, it shows the guy behind the seal. This documentary follows President George W. Bush as he ran for President, made by Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Alexandria. If you haven't watched it, please do. Even if you hate Bush 43, it is a great inside view into campaigns and what the media goes through covering a campaign.



I don't have all the answers or any answers on why politics can be so hard to stomach at times. I can't answer what inside of me makes me want to devour the information and history. What I do know is that educating yourself on the history of our great country and the men who have sat behind a big desk in the Oval Office is so insanely important. It gives you a different perspective of what goes into all of it. Some may not want to see the laws and sausages side of it but don't forget the consequences of being misinformed. As FDR said, Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Last Lunch

The lunch President Richard Nixon ate on 8/8/1974 before going on television to announce his resignation that would be affective the next day.

The silver plater. Silverware on a finely folded napkin. Beige plate. Presidential seal. A humble scoop of bright cottage cheese on top of pineapple slices. A glass of milk. The meal of a powerful man before he meets exile.

What would it be like to strive for something for so long, achieve it, and then have it destroyed by your own doing? That is the main story of President Richard Milhous Nixon. From poor beginnings, he worked harder than most and achieved the goals he set in his sights. But power comes at a cost when you are as paranoid and insecure as he was. His covering up of the Watergate Scandal cast a shade over the outstanding work he did during his 2027 days in the White House.


"I would have preferred to carry through to the finish whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and my family unanimously urged me to do so. But the interest of the Nation must always come before any personal considerations."
 
Despite the calm behavior before the broadcast, doing this was eating him alive. If Nixon fought for anything, it was to win. The days leading up to his resignation were pretty hard on him, with some aides worrying he may even do harm to himself. You can read an excellent piece by Anthony Bergen about that here. (Anthony runs the outstanding blog Dead Presidents. It is a long time obsessive read of mine. Check it out!) He told his aides Alexander Haig and Ron Ziegler, “Well, I screwed it up good, real good, didn’t I?”

He was resilient and a real son of a bitch, but that was in part what made him so successful. It is hard to feel sympathy for a man who authored his own demise, but when I look at his final meal it causes a pang in my heart. Cottage cheese (sometimes with ketchup, which is disgusting) was one of his favorite meals. One can only imagine the thoughts racing through his head as he ate something as he did regularly, this was no regular day.

In his final address to the White House staff (one of my favorite speeches in all of American history, which I'll write a post on soon) he spoke of the downfalls of men: Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself." It doesn't get much more self aware.



Monday, August 22, 2016

President Nixon and Pat


Going to be doing some posts about my favorite Presidents in the weeks leading up to the election! To start we will cover the 37th President. Welcome to Nixon week!

Within the small fraternity of United States Presidents, he is high on the list of most interesting. Many things drove him to be as competitive and resilient as any politician history has ever seen. He was a brilliant man, though deeply flawed. His downfall was of his own doing. Among the many things I enjoy about President Nixon, his love for his wife Pat ranks right up there. He told her he would marry her on their first date. Despite her stating that politics "was not a life I would have chosen" she supported her husband every step of the way. Many times in the face of the hardships that came along with Nixon's political career (losing to JFK, Watergate) she could be found misty eyed but right by his side. President Nixon was considered 'unabashedly sentimental' with her. Their love was something that inspires me.



This quote from a letter he penned to her reminds me of my sweet wife:

 "Every day and every night I want to see you and be with you. Yet I have no feeling of selfish ownership or jealousy. In fact I should always want you to live just as you wanted -- because if you didn't you would change and wouldn't be you. Let's go for a long ride Sundays; let's go to the mountains weekends; let's read books in front of fires; most of all, let's really grow together and find the happiness we know is ours."



Friday, July 29, 2016

History

Last night my dad settled in next to me to watch Hillary Clinton accept the democratic nominee for president, the first female to do so. He said "here you go, sister" knowing my excitement in this moment. As a father of three girls, this night was significant for him too. I was never raised to think I couldn't be president, him and my mom made sure to encourage me to do whatever won my heart. After watching Chelsea Clinton's speech introducing her mother last night, I know she raised her daughter to feel the same way.
Last night we all witnessed history. Many may not be able to appreciate it based on their opinions and party lines, similar to President Barack Obama's historic run missed by many. But the history is not lost on me. I'll remember this night forever. This is only the first step though.
I'm grateful that I have the parents I have. They taught me to fight hard, work even harder, never give up, and believe in myself. My parents and HRC have that in common. That's why I'm with her and so are they. Last night meant a lot to me, more than words can say.

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Eight years ago she suffered defeat in the face of once-in-a-lifetime candidate Barack Obama. Many would quit, many do quit. But she didn't rest. She got back up because her passion is public service. Her job wasn't done. Last night she accepted the democratic nominee. The first woman to do so. We witnessed history. Thank you for fighting, HRC. You're a hero to many, myself included. 




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This was a perfect moment of rhetoric. The passing of the torch. Everything that President Obama has crafted these (nearly) eight years needs to continue. I believe it with everything inside of me. Secretary Clinton is the right person to carry on his legacy and craft her own. I look forward to the next chapter. 





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Thank you, Mr President. You've inspired me more than I'll ever be able to express. You gave me hope that there was a place for me in this nation. You taught me that I'm not defined by who I love but by the content of my character. You taught me that championing our ideals is as important as anything you can do. As a country, we hold each other up and we work towards the union we've always wanted. I will miss you. Your legacy is not lost on me. Thank you for being a leader and an inspiration. I may not have been alive for JFK but I voted for President Barack Obama. I can't wait to be able to tell my children that one day.
---
"I feel so strongly about my mom now particularly because I am a mom. I mean, I didn't know I could love and admire and respect my mom more until I became a mom. And couldn't believe any more in her as the right leader for the country I want my daughter to grow up in but I do. Because she has been working to ensure that every woman should get the chance to grow up and be you [Ellen] or be the next Hillary Clinton. That every little girl should have the opportunity to pursue her dreams. And so when I see her be attacked, I just have even more respect that she keeps fighting. Because I think she could have stopped a long time ago, she would have accomplished a lot in life. But she keeps going because there is so much unfinished business to ensure that every little girl and every little boy has the chance to live up to their God-given potential."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tiny Ripple of Hope

I've tried to stay fairly quiet on facebook and other forms of social media about this election cycle. Sure, I'll share speeches I enjoy or pictures showing that I support Hillary. I believe in her and her vision. But at this moment is so much more about keeping Donald Trump out of the White House.

I always feel like Trump can't get any worse. He always finds a way. It can't get worse than being a sexist pig, a bigot, a person who mocks the disabled and accuses entire races of being rapists. But he keeps building on it every day. Today Trump is now openly calling for foreign intervention in our election process in order to help him win. Saying he hopes that Russian hackers go after emails from our former Secretary of State. That is so much more serious than can even be fathomed. That is the Republican Nominee calling upon others to commit acts of harm against our National security. He lies about never having met Putin when just last year he said they know each other.

There is no lesser of two evils. You can stay home and not vote but you have to realize what you're costing this nation. You can vote to prove a point, vote third party and throw a small whisper into a vacuum. As said in this Huffington Post article, 'The genuine growth of a third party will be based on actually winning elections at the lower levels and building a base of support locally. Random performance in presidential elections is not the crux of the effort.' Or you can vote to keep a bigot and fear monger out of the White House. If you want a better future for yourself, for your kids, for your grandkids, then you will get out and vote. And if you truly care about this great nation then you'll vote for Hillary Clinton.
A vote for Trump is a vote for hate. This isn't lesser of two evils. While one candidate may not be ideal to your feelings and ideas, she is not in the same league as Trump. He is a bigot, he is an opportunistic business man, he mocks the disabled, he implies he'd sleep with his daughter if they weren't related, he is an accused rapist, he incites violence and spreads hate. He is a terrible man.
I didn't want to have to do this but to quote Bobby Kennedy:
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
This is my tiny ripple of hope.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Star Wars Celebration Europe (Day 2)

Wowwwwww, day 2 of Star Wars Celebration did not disappoint!

While Anthony Daniels' panel was charming, it is hard to care for something outside of the Star Wars Rebels panel! Holy cow, it was jammed packed with cool stuff. Dave Filoni, Sam Witwer, and Tiya Sircar sat down with Warwick Davis to discuss the upcoming season 3 of Rebels. A few clips were shown, but the ultimate reveal came within the trailer. Maul is back, Ezra is studying a Sith holocron, Sabine is getting even further into her Mandalorian roots, and Kanan has a beard! That is all that was revealed right? Nothing else significant happened...


Okay, so many were blown away by the fact that Grand Admiral Thrawn, of Thrawn Trilogy fame, will be joining the cast. Filoni expressed how important it was to them to incorporate him, "we knew you wanted it and we wanted it too. Thrawn is back!" Many of the more uh intense(?) SW fans out there have been throwing fits for awhile now about the EU being renamed Legends, I've never really cared. The stories are still there and it only means we'll get even more Star Wars content. I trust them, Dave reminded everyone why they should too: "we got your back at Lucasfilm!" The news was accompanied with a video from Timothy Zahn himself. In it he gave his blessing, said he loved what they were doing with the character, and announced that he's hard at work on a new Thrawn book! Hello, big reveals!

I'm really excited for the new season. The work that Filoni and the gang are doing with this show is pretty incredible. It is certainly some of the best content coming out in the Star Wars Universe right now. Filoni said they're working closer towards A New Hope and Rogue One, even hinting at tie ins with the latter. My big gasp moment, before the reveal of Thrawn, was the inclusion of Wedge! Watch the trailer here!




There were clips of the Trials of Tatooine VR experience and hints towards the future including a Vader experience. As for EA, they showed a trailer of the new Death Star expansion that is coming soon. My favorite announcement was that they will have a Rogue One component coming out around the release of the film! My excitement level for Rogue One right now is through the roof! 




The amount of content rolling out is insane right now. Check out Star Wars YouTube Channel for more panels, trailers, and interviews. You won't be disappointed! Check out tomorrow's stream schedule here and read my thoughts from yesterday, Day One of Star Wars Celebration Europe!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Star Wars Celebration Europe (Day 1)

Disclaimer: I'm not there.

Man, do I wish I was, though!

This is purely just a reactionary post based on the excellent content revealed on day one of  Star Wars Celebration. I had my day all planned to get up at 5:55am so I could watch the live stream the moment it started. Imagine my surprise when my phone had updated over the night and I woke up with my wife's alarm at 7:32am. In a panic, I grabbed my iPad and went to the stream just in time to catch the last moments of Mark Hamill's panel. (I have since watched it, you can too, but at the time I was bummed.) I was glad to see the crew of the Star Wars Show holding down the fort and interviewing some folks.



The good news is that I didn't miss the Ahsoka's Untold Tales panel! That was one of the ones I've wanted to see most because Ahsoka, and Ashley Eckstein who portrays her, is the best. It was a pretty eye-opening panel. Pablo Hidalgo, Dave Filoni, and Ahsoka Tano herself Ashley Eckstein were present to discuss what happened to Lady Tano after she walked away from the Jedi Order during the Clone Wars. More of her story was left untold, as Clone Wars ended. The panel provided many sketches they did and work that had not been seen before.


Filoni, the creator of the character and supervising director of the series, chronicled how if Clone Wars hadn't ended that she would've been off in the depths of Coruscant, level 1313. She makes friends (and maybe more?) with a young scoundrel of a man, Nix. She goes out on her own and tries to survive in the underworld, becoming a vigilante with a moral center. Eventually, she comes back to visit the order and see Anakin and Obi-Wan, as she still cares for and trusts them. She still wants to help, which isn't surprising. This provided a little bit of closure before the events in her return to Rebels. (#AhsokaLives, by the way.) She is promoted to general and takes the clones, including Rex, to battle Maul. This is why Maul approaches Ahsoka as if they already know one another in Rebels.

Poor Ashley got extremely emotional. To see her return with Anakin and to see Rex once again, it is a beautiful finish to an unfinished tale. She is the surrogate for all of our feelings in that moment. I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley (and her husband who is one of my all-time favorite baseball players) awhile back. Talk about the sweetest individual. We're truly lucky to have her in Star Wars.


He also told tales of Ahsoka discovering that the Jedi Temple was on top of an ancient Sith temple. Ahsoka would have had a minor confrontation with Sidious, guarding holocrons. These were the kind of plot lines they had in mind for Ahsoka Tano going forward.


The world of Ahsoka isn't over with the ambiguity from the Rebels season 2 finale, it is only the beginning! Coming down the line is a new book, the cover being revealed during the panel. The writer, E.K. Johnson, worked with Dave and Pablo to reference where she has been and where she is headed. I'm extremely excited for this book! Though not mentioned, I hold out hope that she returns to Rebels in the future. And for the collectors, an Ahsoka Tano Funko will be released in the fall... Take my money!



Following the Ahsoka's Untold Tales panel was the ILM Presents: Star Wars Archeology panel. This was about the various effects ILM created and used over the decades they've been making Star Wars films. I really enjoyed the in-depth portrait of their work. I particularly enjoyed the segment about the prequels. Resident bad ass artist Doug Chiang showed many behind the scenes images of all of the practical effects, miniatures, and models used during that era. There is a common misconception that it was all green screen. While it was utilized immensely, so was the standard techniques they used for the original trilogy as well. 



After the ILM panel came the big ticket item of the day, the Rogue One Panel! You may recall my post in April about the Rogue One teaser, which you can read here. I've been feeling a fair amount excitement about Rogue One that has grown with each new bit of content released; today was no exception. The "Sizzle" Reel (their words) was nothing short of jaw-dropping. I had chills and a few tears throughout the (nearly) three minutes. "May the Force be with us" caused a particular yelp from me!

But the reel was only a small piece of an exciting puzzle that unfolded today. The cast and crew of Rogue One truly seem like a great bunch. It seems to me that Rogue One is a bit more of an intellectual's Star Wars war film. I can't think of anything more appealing to me. They shared that George Lucas visited the set. Gareth Edwards, the director of the film, is so genuine. Listening to him speak about the film and his love for the franchise was refreshing in a way that didn't feel bottle fed at all. I love JJ but at times, before the Force Awakens, it felt a bit like he was feeding us lines. This didn't feel like that at all to me. We learned a lot about these characters, my favorite being that Donnie Yen's character is a Force-wielder, it seems. I can't wait to see how this film turns out.

They also released the poster, which is stunning:




The Mark Hamill panel was just him talking and answering questions for an hour. It's pretty excellent. He gives a lot of insight into being Luke Skywalker, the Joker, and more. My favorite moment came in around 54 minutes, he said he thought his intro was going to be when Kylo can't Force grab the lightsaber in the snowy forest on Starkiller Base. He exclaims "Rey caught it!? She hasn't even been to Dagobah for training!! What's the deal!?" Hilarious. What a tremendous fellow. You can tell he loves what he does. I can't imagine a better usher for young fans and old alike to appreciate the Star Wars Universe.

"You are more like family than fans."



Many pictures began to pop up on Twitter of numerous displays and exhibits. One of them being the Rogue One costumes and models, etc. The one that struck me most was the TIE Striker. It is a cool looking ship but what caught my eye was how much it reminded me of Anakin Skywalker's Eta-2 Actis-class interceptor from Revenge of the Sith. I know they based many of the prequel ships, especially in Episode II and III after the original ships to show continuation. I'm glad to see that style has continued. Rogue One lies in between Revenge and ANH, so it works. Stylistically, Star Wars is like no other.



Watching day one unfold was a blast. I wish I was there but there is an excitement inside of me knowing that next year I will be! 275 days can't pass fast enough. It may not seem like much to some but to me, it'll be a dream come true. 

The stream schedule for the rest of the weekend can be found here. Some highlights I can't wait to catch being Keeping Up with the Fetts, Rebels, Carrie Fisher, the Art of Storytelling, and the Future of Films (the last which won't be streamed but I hope to see clips of!) Keep an eye out on Star Wars' official YouTube channel for clips and entire segments from the day!

Hope you all have a great weekend! May the Force be with you!