Puff the Magic Dragon

PUFFOkay, I know I’ve got some friends who know how to art. Anybody want to art this for me?

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Hurdles

About a year ago or so, it occurred to me that I could, not unreasonably, chart my emotional state by looking at the frequency with which I updated this blog.  More updates meant I felt good, less updates meant I felt bad.  I didn’t tell anyone because I’d discovered this at a point in time when I wasn’t updating it so much, and I didn’t want people to worry.  I did, however, think that this was a pretty clever tool for my own uses.

In a mistaken assumption of causality, I put in extra effort into posting here, though I still didn’t quite get to a pace I’d call “regular.”  Then, in late January, I left the army and a series of events unfolded that made my “how often do I post” metric irrelevant.  Something far stranger had happened: for a period of time, I stopped reading webcomics.

Now, webcomics are about the most consistent thing in my life.  I found my first one when I was 15, and since then I’ve always had a weekly schedule of at least a dozen (usually around two dozen) webcomics that I check on an update-to-update basis.  When I was an undergrad I never had my class schedule fully memorized, which was about ten weekly timeslots at most.  On the other hand, I not only knew my webcomics’ listed update schedules by rote, I also knew which ones updated in which time zones, and I knew which ones were likely to update late, or even to skip updates.  At one point I was up to thirty or so  regularly updating comics, some having seven-day weekly schedules, some having five-day weekly schedules, some having three-day weekly schedules, and some even having two-day weekly schedules, some updating at midnight EST and others updating at midnight PST, and some just updating at some point or another during the day.  And I could keep all of that straight in my head.

Webcomics have helped me through difficult times.  They’ve moderated my lows and elevated my highs.  Archive binges are therapeutic, regular updates keep me grounded, and I certainly wouldn’t be the writer I am today if webcomics weren’t such a consistent part of my reading regimen.

So my not reading webcomics, even for a short period of time, is both an indication that something has gone wrong, and a forewarning that things will get worse.  I’m still not quite ready to talk about the events of this past Spring on this particular forum, but going back to using this blog as an indicator: I only made six posts here between mid-April and mid-June, and three of them were really depressing.

I don’t quite remember how the process went, but at some point I started reading comics again.  I dropped a few, and there were some that I came back to faster than others, but the fact that I was reading comics on a daily basis again was progress.  Eventually, some time in mid-Summer, I got myself back up to 17 comics, an anemic but acceptable schedule, but there was still one very noticeable exception.  Or two, depending on how you count.

For whatever reason, for several months, I couldn’t get myself to read the work of John Troutman.  I’ve explained in fairly significant detail why webcomics in and of themselves are a big deal, so I’ll be more brief in explaining why this particular author is a big deal: John Troutman’s “Lit Brick” was key, more than any other comic, in keeping me sane during my time in the army.  

Somehow, like the dog that won’t go near his favorite toy, I’d developed a mental block.  Though I wasn’t reading it, I hadn’t dropped “Lit Brick,” or Troutman’s other comic, “Mary Elizabeth’s Sock.”  A comic that I drop just leaves my mental sphere entirely, but with “Lit Brick,” there was always a hole in my update schedule, always a moment where I’d read the comic that should come just before it in my schedule and consciously think “Lit Brick should go here” before I navigate to a different comic instead.  There are plenty of psychological conclusions to draw from this, and I’ve certainly done my share of self-analysis, but in the end I decided that whatever the reasons were, they were a symptom of the problems in the rest of my life, and that I wouldn’t solve this one until I’d sufficiently solved the rest.

One Summer of slow mental rehabilitation later, and I’m back.  Yesterday I had to restart Chrome, and so all my tabs loaded up again (sans flash player, for some reason), and as I sorted through them I found that I’d never closed my “Classic Sporkman” tab (that’s another comic of Troutman’s).  So I started there, read all the remastered comics from the beginning, along with the new ones once I ran out of remastereds, and moved on to the first comic of Mary Elizabeth’s Sock.  I feel like once I get to the most recent comic there, then binge through the Lit Brick archives, I’ll have reached some sort of end-point.  A place where I can say “alright, I’m no longer recovering, I’m now officially doing okay.”

The fact that I’m now studying writing is definitely going to cut into my ability to maintain this blog, so the “posts to this space” metric is no longer relevant by any measure, but aside from that, it means that I’ve got some interesting things planned for the future.  It’s good to know I’ve gotten past this particular hurdle in time to execute them.

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Why I Write

Yesterday was my first class of the first seminar for the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University.

I’ve been meaning to make it “public” that I was accepted into the program a while ago, I just somehow never got around to it.  So I guess that’s done now.

As it was the first day of the program, there were some basic introductory exercises, the main focus of the first half of the session being “why do you write?”  When asked orally, I answered something along the lines of “because I have weird ideas that I don’t think anyone else has, and I want to get those out.”  When we were told to write an answer to that question continuously without stopping to think or plan, I said, more or less, that I write for selfish reasons.

Everyone who volunteered their answers gave interesting ones, but they were fairly on the spot.  I don’t think any of us really delved too deeply into our prime motivators.  Or maybe other people did, and I’m just projecting my own feeling of having given a shallow answer on to my classmates.

But after that class, I saw the tail end of a news report about the recent escalation in talk about an Israeli strike on Iran that left me with the feeling of “what if there really was a war between Israel and Iran?  What would I do?”

The immediate answer, clearly, is that I’d stay in the country.  I wouldn’t try to leave or evacuate.  I don’t know what help I would be in such a theoretical confrontation, but whatever my role is I’m determined to fill it.

But, with the knowledge that I would stay in a situation that may lead to my death, what would I then do?  Once I figured out what my contribution would be, I would find time to go through my whole hard drive, and any memory device I think may contain something I’ve written, and upload them as attachments to emails I send myself, and organize those emails into a specific folder.  Then I’d prepare an email draft with my gmail and wordpress passwords and instructions to post everything from that specific folder, absolutely everything, to this blog.  Things I finished, things I didn’t.  Things that may already be up here in some form, things I don’t ever intend to actually show anybody.  Things I’m proud of, things I’m embarrassed about.  Everything I’ve written that I still have, from poems to academic papers, would be public and out there where bombs can’t reach them.  And if the time came where my death seemed imminent, I would send that email to someone I trust overseas.

And, more than anything else I said or wrote yesterday, that is really why I write.  Because I want people to know who I am, know that I was here, have some idea of what I’ve done even after I’m gone.  I think that someone in the future will ask themselves “what was it like to live in Israel around the turn of the millennium,” and I hope that my words can provide some insight into that question, whether that insight be from my opinions, my general musings, or my dumb little stories.

And on the off-chance there isn’t a war and I don’t die, that someone from the future will most certainly be me.

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WEDAF #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I mentioned on this blog that I don’t really know as much about historical Disney films as a person who enjoys children’s animation as much as I do should.  So I figured I should watch, and write my thoughts about, every Disney animated feature, starting with Snow White and ending with, well, whatever’s in theaters when I finish this series.  Then I figured I’d call it “Watching Every Disney Animated Feature.”  Now, I’m not enough of an expert to review or write any meaningful historical context for these movies, so this series is really just going to be my first-gloss thoughts after watching the respective film.  Any research done is basic, and at my whim.  Things I write in these posts can be incorrect.  Don’t take anything written here as fact (unless explicitly stated), just as observations.

Watching Every Disney Animated Feature #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Let’s start with the mildly sacrilegious: I didn’t particularly like this movie as a kid.  I think I only saw it once in full, at a matinee at the dollar theater, with the babysitter that stole stuff from my mom.

There are good reasons for my not really liking the film as a kid.  Even as an adult, I kind of have to remind myself every so often, “this movie was historic, it deserves your goddamn respect.”

And it does.  It changed the art of animation in its entirety.  Which is why the beginning feels a bit odd.  It starts with… live-action.  A physical storybook was filmed, with the words of the introduction calligraphied onto the pages.  Cell animation appears shortly enough, but I think it’s interesting that the world of animated films begins with a bit of live-action.  After that, there’s the famous “mirror-mirror” scene, and then we have the title character singing a very forgettable song.  This is where this post stops being a recap of the film, because I really just wanted to note said song and the scene that contains it for their dichotomies.

Like the song itself, so forgettable that I’ve already forgotten it, it struck me that Snow White’s voice actress sounded pretty much like any standard 1930’s-1940’s chorus girl.  It makes sense: nobody could have a career in movie voice acting before movies need voice actors.  There’s no art for it, no industry for it.  Obviously the first voice actress lead would have a background doing something else.  Some wiki-ing afterwards showed me that, yes, Adriana Caselotti (Snow White’s voice), had been a chorus girl before being hired by Disney, and basically didn’t do anything after Snow White.

But, on the other hand, the visual effects of that scene are incredible.  Many had me thinking “nobody today would put in the effort needed to get that much detail,” and one even had me thinking “that shouldn’t be possible with 1930’s technology.”

So on the one hand you’ve got something that doesn’t quite know what it is, but on the other hand you’ve got something that is clearly very good.  I can relate, in a way.  As an aspiring writer I have to learn by experimentation, and sometimes that means simply ignoring one artistic goal in order to ensure that I achieve a different one.

I think this next bit is going to be a recurring theme for the first decade or so of films, a sort of slow development as animators and directors discovered what this new animal they had created was actually capable of.  My main impression of Snow White, from an adult’s perspective, from an artist’s perspective, was that it wasn’t a complete film.  Again, no disrespect intended: for the time it was an incredible achievement.  But instead of being a full story from beginning to end, it felt more like a primary story arc that was intermittently interrupted by scenes that could have easily been theatrical shorts on the same level as the Mickey Mouse or Felix the Cat shorts that preceded it, if taken out of the context of the film. Primarily, these would be almost any scenes focusing on the titular Dwarfs.

It makes sense.  Even today, a full animated feature is a tremendous undertaking done my multiple teams.  Back at the dawn of the art form, they had to figure out how to get different animators’ works to look good together without clashing thematically.  And so you had clearly defined scenes that were tentatively related to one another through the main plot, but didn’t require the rest of the film to be understandable.

My guess (which I’ll comment on more in later posts) is that all the films until Cinderella will fall either into the category of trying to blend these individual scenes together so that they didn’t *feel* like individual scenes (your Pinocchios and your Bambis), or the category of embracing a fractured structure for a film (your Fantasias and your Saludos Amigoses).  All of these movies acting as experiments, the animators trying to perfect the craft that they had only just invented.

And it starts with Snow White, an perfect example of imperfection.

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I Need to Get More Readers

Ho-kay, so how am I going to do this?  Err…

Go-go Gadget Readers!

Did that work?  No?  Hrm.

By the power of WordPress, I have the readers!

Still nothing.  Damn.

Reader.  Reader.  Reader.  Readercats, ho!

Wait, I think that may have even pushed my readership levels negative.  This doesn’t seem to be having the effect I’d generally have liked.  What can I do here?  Maybe the 80’s isn’t the right decade.  Let’s try for some 90’s

Keyboard!  Fingers!  Text!  Monitor!  Heart!  Go readers!  By your powers combined, I am Captain Readership!  Captain Readership, he’s a hero, gonna take illiteracy down to zero.  He’s our powers magnified, and he’s fighting on, uh… he’s fighting on reading my blog’s side?

Okay, clearly that’s not working either.  What if I’m going the wrong direction, chronologically speaking.  Maybe the 80’s weren’t too early, but rather too late.

The secret compartment of my ring I fill with a WordPress super readership pill!

Nope, don’t think that helped at all.  What if cartoons are the wrong medium for this?  If I’m trying to encourage activity in one print medium, maybe I need to use something from another print medium to do so.

In brightest day, in blackest night, no readers shall escape this site.  May those who read from left to right, come to my blog, or maybe not!

Ow, and he doesn’t stick the landing.  That one was looking so promising too.

What should I do?  None of these seem to be working at all.  I’m stumped.

(Write more) 

Huh?  What was that?

Write more.

Do you guys hear that too?  What could it be?

WRITE MORE.

What’s that, Lassie?  Timmy’s stuck in the well?

WRITE MORE!

Oh.  Hey, that’s not a bad idea.  I guess I could do that.

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Possible Idea for Future Project

“The Fox and the Hound” is on TV right now.  It’s one of those Disney classics that I just never saw as a kid, or (up until this point) even as an adult.  With the insight and perspective of a person who knows a thing or two about Disney history, it occurs to me that this movie is likely the highpoint of the era that got stuck between your classic Golden Age Disney and your 1990’s Renaissance age.

I’ve only been watching a few minutes, but I’m already getting hints of themes and styles reminiscent of older Disney movies like “Bambi” or “101 Dalmatians” at the same time as the animation, scripting, and overall production are a clear step up from those movies.  It’s an interesting little nexus between the older style and the newer one.

Anyway, the thought occurred to me that I could do a review series of all the Disney animated features in order, from “Snow White” to… well, by the time I get to that point certainly “Wreck-it Ralph” and maybe even “Frozen.”  

This isn’t a very meaningful post, more just thinking out loud.  If anyone has a lot of early Disney movies and wants to help out with this, let me know.

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Ancient History

Many years ago, practically a lifetime ago, I was introduced to a blog.  “I am a Japanese Schoolteacher,” it was called.  It was the personal experiences of an American guy, calling himself “Azrael” online, who’d joined a program to teach English in Japan.  The thing was fairly popular way back around 2005-2006.  If you were on the internet back then, you probably at least heard about it: this is the blog that introduced the terms “kancho” and “gaijin smash” into the lexicon of your average netizen.  It came up in conversation with my sister the other day, who is only recently old enough for me to introduce her to things like this.  It’s a fairly uncensored version of the guy’s experiences in Japan, after all.  So I showed it to her.

The original website returns a “bandwidth exceeded” error, but I found a mirror of it that works.  My sister, who definitely enjoys and appreciates Japanese culture more than your average French Canadian beekeeper, thought the first few posts were hilarious and decided to read through the whole thing.  So I figured “hey, I enjoyed it the first time around, and I’m pretty sure I lost track of it before it ended, so why don’t I read through all of it as well?”

His posts range in topic, some funny and silly and some serious and insightful.  There were a few that I remembered fairly distinctly.  There were others that I only recalled as I read them.

Then there was this one post.  As I read through the archive it was sitting in the periphery of my recollections.   I didn’t quite actively look forward to or expect to read it, but something in me knew it was coming eventually.  Because more than any other post the guy made, this one actually affected me really strongly and influenced how I dealt with some real-life situations.

I don’t remember the exact timeline.  Things that happen a lifetime ago often take up fuzzy places in the memory.  I remember reading the post, and then I remember the event it informed.  It might have been a day before, it might have been six months.

I should review a bit.  The period of 2005-2006 was a fairly tumultuous for me.  Moved out of my parent’s place.  Moved across the planet.  Started college.   And then I got hit with a rather heavy bludgeon when, a few months later, my best friend from back home passed away.  There are quite a few things I read or saw from that time period that affected me probably more than they would otherwise.

Like I said, I don’t quite remember how the series of events flowed, but I do remember thinking heavily about a post titled A Death in the Family about the passing of one of the guy’s students when, two weeks after I returned to Israel from Steven’s funeral, I learned that a classmate of mine at university had passed as well.  Completely unexpected, cause unknown, she just went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up the next day.

I didn’t know her.  We’d studied almost a whole semester together, in a class of about 100 students, and I had no idea who she was.  I’d been dealing with roommate issues, dealing with school, trying to adjust to the country, and I just didn’t know all 100 classmates, and she was one that I’d missed.

There were two major takeaways that I had from Azrael’s post: 1) the phrase “it’s much better to see their smiling faces,” which a teacher had applied to the students after they’d been successfully distracted from their grief by a simple classroom game, and 2) he’d asked to see the boy’s picture.  It’s a small thing, but it’s important.  He wasn’t sure which student it was, didn’t know the kid too well, and wanted to have a face to attach to what was going on around him.

I asked around for a few days, but I never was able to find Eva’s picture.  To this day, I have no idea who she was.  I know she was German, I know she was a Zionist, I know her life’s path intersected with mine for a few months.  And I know that, near the main entrance to the IDC in Herzliya, there is a rock with a plaque on it in her honor.

Reading Azrael’s post again brought back waves of memories, waves of regret.  Things I’d almost forgotten about that were just hanging around on the periphery of my mind waiting for a trigger.

It was around seven years ago when I first read this particular comic strip from David Willis, asserting that “On average everyone may seem like a completely different person every seven years.”  It’s strange to be able to consciously look back on things that were going on in my life almost seven years ago, to have such clear memories of them, even though they happened so long ago.

Practically a lifetime ago.

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