Episode 126: Recuerdos Escolares

One week ago was the 10 year high school class reunion. It was an interesting experience which evoked feelings of nostalgia and “damn, I’m old.” It was a lot of fun and I wanted to do something that showed how much we as class had accomplished and how this was just a first step in our lives. Dream Gabe (what I call the subconscious version of myself) did a minor speech and it sounded fairly cool so I decided to actually say it. In retrospect, it came out well (about a 17 at a perform oratory, though since I consider myself a bard it could have been better). Someone took video but I hate the sound of my voice so I decided to type out a version for my classmates who did hear me and want to revisit the message and for those who couldn’t be there so that they could listen/read it as well. I obviously edited a few things from memory and added a few parts for clarity.

Be warned, this is entirely in Spanish from hereon out. Use google translate to figure out what I’m trying to say at your own peril. Also, this is the song I had going on in the background of my head while giving the speech and it might work as interesting background music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q81hD9wwzZU

Damas y caballeros, amigos y amigas, compañeros Lancelots, mi gente:

Hace mucho que no hemos estado juntos. Esta noche veo caras que no he visto en diez años y sus rostros evocan muchos recuerdos de nuestro tiempo juntos. Nosotros quienes nos robamos el show en cada Talent Show. Los que ganamos todo Field Day, los que obtuvimos victoria en “A Toda Máquina”. Nuestra clase que rompió records al tener siete personas en el Hall of Fame, cuatro Valedictorians, más de la mitad de la clase graduarse con honores y que a nadie se le olvide que fuimos seniors por dos años. Pero con todos esas memorias yo vine a hablarle de todo lo que hemos logrados en esta última década y más que nada sobre todo lo que nos falta. Ya sea por conversaciones o por Facebook he sido testigo de muchas cosas que se deben mencionar esta noche.

Yo he visto como de nuestra clase han salido científicos, doctors, abogados, e ingenieros. Aquellos que están redefiniendo el mundo que nos rodea. La medicina, las ciencias, las leyes y la tecnología se desarrolan en parte gracias a estos pioneros. Pero con todos los conocimientos que están a punto de cambiar pienso en todo lo que nos falta por alcanzar.

Soy testigo de aquellos que somos maestros, músicos, escritores, pintores, chefs, y hasta aquellos que trabajan en la televisión. Los artistas que crean algo que hace que la vida valga la pena para seguir viviéndola. Los que crean tanto lo abstracto como lo concreto que sigue existiendo y se incorpora al mundo. Mas con todo aquello que inspirará el mundo me concentro en todo lo que nos falta por hacer.

Aunque estemos junto aqui hoy hay muchos que no lo están y nosotros no neceseriamente nos hemos quedado en el mismo sitio a través de los años. Hay gente que ha estado en diversos rincones de la isla, los que han salido a tierras frías, a países extranjeros en diferentes continentes y hasta desiertos en el Medio Oriente. Ya sea por nuestros estudios, nuestras pasiones o nuestros deberes hemos viajado el mundo y servido como embajadores boricuas y Lancelots donde sea que estemos. Pero no importa cuan cerca nos hemos quedado o cuan lejos hemos llegado, pienso en los horizontes que nos faltan por alcanzar.

Veo como la familia de nuestra clase crecido. Como el amor les ha traído novios, novias, esposos y esposas que ahora son parte Lancelots. Y que el fruto de ese amor ya está empezando a formar una nueva generación que tal vez siga nuestros pasos, que aprendan como acentuar con Pardo y que nos pregunten cuánto tiempo lleva Latoni dando clases. Y a pensar en todo lo que le falta a ese amor por conseguir.

Más importante que todo esto yo he visto las dificultades por la que cada uno ha pasado. Nuestras cruces individuales nos han llevado a pasar dolor, enfermedad y hasta la tragedia. Los malos ratos nos han dejado cicatrizes que  escondemos porque no queremos la gente nos vean las grietas y que crean que somos frágiles. Pero esas no son las marcas de la derrota, son la evidencia de nuestra sobrevivencia. Por todo lo que hemos pasado y lo que nos falta  demuestra una fuerza interior increíble.

Estas reflecciones del pasado nos ayudan a ver un futuro que no sorprende a nadie. Porque no solo soñamos lo imposible pero trabajamos duro para alcanzar estas metas. Que no importa cuan difícil se ponga la vida o lo malo que sigan las cosas en la isla, nos esforzamos para mejorarnos y superarnos sin importar las circunstancias. Por lo que sea que estén pasando yo tengo una confianza increíble en cada uno de ustedes y yo sé que no soy el único.

Así que levanten sus vasos, sus latas, sus botellas, sus manos y sus ánimos y brindemos por todas las metas que hemos alcanzado y por todas los que nos faltan por lograr.

Lancelots ahí ahí!

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Episode 125: Villainous Serialization

     A recent Internet conversation led to some thinking about some interesting aspects about serialization. A vast majority of my analysis on characters on a story that can span into multiple years is centered on the hero. The spotlight is focused on this guy/girl with a certain set of skills and weaknesses. The challenge in writing for said character revolves around introducing curious tests that work to individual strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you can do the same thing but slightly different and it works amazing. Take MacGuyver for example. You know he is going to be in a situation where he needs to use a tool to solve a problem but he doesn’t have it so he has to improvise. Old school detective/lawyer shows were more a matter of how Matlock or whoever would get the bad guy, not if. Superman has a ton of powers and a few crippling weaknesses (kryptonite obviously but magic and lightning work pretty well alongside red sun light) but his challenges turn into a borefest easily of him going really fast and punching stuff. Batman can do the same thing but he rarely gets that kind of criticism. But that’s for heroes, what about villains?

     The antagonists have a curious challenge for storytellers, especially when serializing. They should be a threat to the hero but the protagonist can’t fail. Bad guys rarely get straight up victories even as they often times have better resources and less scruples. For example, Spiderman needs to find where Carnage is and make sure he doesn’t maim or killing the man behind the symbiote. Carnage on the other hand can do whatever he wants and just straight up murder everybody. Superman needs to get evidence to prove Lex Luthor is guilty. The owner of LexCorps has plausible deniability, billions of dollars of good publicity, and a small army of lawyers. However, the villains need to be actual threats, an intent which is often undermined by the fact that they always lose at their main objectives. Given enough time, the heroes should beat them easily. Consider Bane, his first appearance is in Knightfall and he straight up breaks Batman’s back after an amazing plan. Years later he can be a cunning tactician, a boisterous bruiser or whatever but the Caped Crusader usually just dodges a few punches and then severs the hose to his steroid serum. Problem solved.

     Ultimately the villain becomes boring because they can’t really lose or because they lose all the time. I can’t take Rita Repulsa or other Power Rangers villains when the only threat is a few cardboard empty buildings exploding. Only a few times does something happens that merit a legitimate fear of losing for the heroes and that is usually resolved in five episodes tops. Of course, these villains had distance between them and the heroes and still had an almost infinite supply of Monsters of the Week so the protagonists where left to deal with the symptoms, not the disease of the source of their problems. The space is ultimately what keeps a believability that the heroes can’t just go on the offensive, even if this would violate their personal ethos. If you save the actual confrontation between protagonist and antagonist until the season finale or its equivalent you build some narrative tension which hopefully gets resolved in an interesting way for the readers.

     The other thing that happens with villains far too often is that further explanation of backstories leads to potential sympathy. This makes for a complex character but makes it harder to connect with the hero. This particular trope was codified by Rich Burlew with the prequel book for OOTS titled Start of Darkness. He took explicit care to complicate the character of the villainous Xykon without demystifying just how horrible a person/lich he actually is. What ends up happening with a lot of these backstories is that the antagonist needs to actively look back and say “I regret nothing” or do something that effectively eschews their humanity and turns him/her into an often literal monster. See more examples here.

     Speaking of backstories, the original idea for this post came from a discussion of the upcoming show FOX show Gotham which serves as an introduction to how the villains and heroes of the eponymous city came to be. Popular villains like Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin have shown up since the beginning. The notable absence of the most famous Batman villain was recently explained here. The TL;DR version goes as follows: “”every episode in the first season will introduce a character that might be a future Joker, each emphasizing aspects of the character’s iconography, a card sharp, a flower seller, a clown, or just a guy with a very big grin.” What followed was an interesting debate as to whether this was a good or bad idea. This is my final point of the conversation where I defended the choice and speculate way too much.

     The problem with writing Joker is pretty much the same issue that comes with any kind of villain for anything serialized: how can they stay a threat for a season or longer while still leaving a level of fear of what could happen. Mr. J is insane and for good reason but even at his best longform story arc (in the 90s cartoon voiced by Mark Hammill for my standards) he was more comic relief than deadly.

     In this way we see that much like how anyone could be Batman if given the right circumstances anyone could be the Joker for any myriad of reasons. Bruce’s eventual paranoia gets reflected unto the viewer as anyone could be a villain in the making. Season 1 from what I’ve seen is about the rise of the Penguin to power and how the corruption of the city seems to be siphoned and focused unto these villains. GOrdon and other detective are the forebringers of vigilante justice that both saves and dooms Gotham. The old power dynamics are radically altered as the mob bosses are replaced with the strange and uncanny rogues gallery. Season 1 is about that transition of who reigns over the city. As Bruce channels his emotions into becoming the dark knight we get a glimpse of a potential Joker anywhere. Batman doesn’t turn a regular man into the clown of death, the city does.

     Season 2 now becomes a further metamorphosis of how the new supposed light and hope of the city has made its most powerful shadows. As Bruce descends into Darkness Joker comes into the light. He will be erratic and destroy almost at random, which will turn the detectives to realize that no amount of clues or mental gymnastics can predict his next move because he doesn’t know it just yet.

As the Joker said in The Killing Joke, “if I’m to have a past why not make it multiple choice.”

G

Episode 124: Leveling Up

The concept of leveling up has always been an interesting one. To have a significant change occur at a noticeable point is quite interesting. Life provides experiences which will inevitably change a person’s outlooks on life and learning various skills. But the differences are subtle almost unnoticeable. When you go up in level in a game there is a distinct minor evolution. It not only becomes a player’s growth through understanding of the game and better use of strategy but that the avatar that you control becomes better. For a lot of games, it’s hard to distinguish between getting better items and just being better at what you do. The Megaman series makes for an interesting example, especially once the X subdivision comes out because you start out with little health but along the way you get power ups like the armor and dash boots alongside heart containers that really emphasizes that your character is stronger, regardless of having the right weapon from a previous boss.

Now with Role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons on tabletop or any Final Fantasy game, leveling up means that your stats go up. The very characteristics that represent who you are go up, to the point that a high level white mage could have a higher strength stat than a rookie fighter, at least in FF1.  D&D works on a different mechanic in that your base stats only rarely get boosted while hit points, base attack bonuses, skill points, and saving throw bonuses keep increasing very steadily based on your class/job. In this way the beefed up first level fighter will be stronger but as combat experienced as say an old epic level wizard and if for some reason they got in a fist fight for some reason with no spells, I’m thinking the mage can win just from BAB. However, since most of your experience points come from succeeding in combat then it’s better to loot a nearby dungeon than to go to the library when it comes to studying for a test. Wish I could take credit for that joke but that’s all Rich Burlew in one of the prequel books to OOTS.

With real life people, the concept of leveling up becomes more complex. From a chronological perspective, you are always gaining new experiences but we ascribe a meaningful change to someone on the anniversary of their birth. This is why instead of wishing you a happy birthday I say congratulate you on leveling up. And outside of a few select years where you can now legally do something age is a number. In terms of skills it tends to become a bit more straightforward but you only get recognized upon crossing a certain threshold. You can study medicine for years but you only officially become a doctor once you graduate and get licensed. The amount of knowledge you had previous to a graduation and afterwards is not altered drastically upon switching the tassel from one side to another of your cap and yet this symbolic moment represents a change in who you are. I once had a discussion with some friends a while back as to what makes a person be of a certain level (kkep in mind we were thinking in terms of D&D 3.5) and we came up with the following:

Graduate from college- level 1 expert with full ranks and skill focus on knowledge/Profession (Your major)

Get a masters or advanced degree- become level 2 expert, add a skill trick that makes you way better at your job.

Get a PhD or super specialty- level 3 expert with another feat that gives you a bonus to your field.

Complete basic training in armed forces or police academy- level 1 fighter/soldier. Few skill points, ton of proficiencies though.

Go through special training/get to a high rank: Level 2

Get to be a general: Level 3 and get minor leadership.

Be a second degree black belt or something ridiculous like that: Level 1 monk

And from there on out it keeps going. The key thing to remember was that levels didn’t stack like they did in D&D. Being a kung fu lawyer lieutenant wouldn’t give you access to ridiculous feats and very rarely do the other jobs count toward the new one when it came to skills. It’s a very simplistic view and obviously there are a lot of problems with the formula but it shows something interesting. You don’t really become someone until after achieving a life step. Until then you are basically a commoner (the NPC class not the aristocratic put down). Obviously you a full important person throughout your entire life and there a ton of high school students out there that can beat at a bunch of stuff so don’t start declaring that I’m hating on people under a certain prescriptive educational model.

Speaking of growing up and changing, allow me to delve into some stalker friendly territory of my own backstory. About ten years ago I went through two pretty significant experiences. First off, the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation is coming up and a reunion of my class is coming up soon. Hard to believe that I get to chance to meet up with the 50+ students that survived high school with me and how far we’ve come since the days where a five page paper was the hardest thing ever. There are those that I have stayed close too in this temporal gap but there are others I have barely kept up with via social media. There are people that I did a silly group project with that are now doctors, lawyers, parents, and all these other adult capacities of identity. In terms of my previous description, from bland no name NPCs we are two or three levels higher. If I shave and get my hair right then I look almost identical to my teenage self so I’m pretty sure I’ll be easily recognizable, much to the chagrin of my ninja instincts.

The other landmark event from a decade ago was a trip I took with my dad. I had recently declared that I wanted to be an English major and my parents were ultra supportive. So you can imagine my surprise that even as they were backing me, my father says that as a senior trip he is taking me with him to a conference he was heading. But first we had a layover in England where we would spend a week between Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of level 5 bard William Shakespeare, and London. It was a literary pilgrimage to which many of my current PhD cohorts and colleagues are jealous. It was an amazing experience that even with my decision to not go into Shakesperean studies still inspired me.

Oh and the conference was in South Africa, the most geographically appropriately named country in the world. We were there for over two weeks and it is one of the most mind boggling experiences I’ve ever had. If you’ve seen the movie Blended then you get a glimpse of what I got to witness first hand. The places, the people, the food (if you get the chance, eat an ostrich steak medium well with a hint of bbq sauce. You’re welcome.) But beyond that, the highlight of the trip was bonding with my dad. Before that I always felt that we weren’t really close. Sure we hung out sometimes we never really clicked until then. The first half of the trip it was just the two of us exploring a strange new world and learning about the cradles of modern literature and humanity in England and Africa respectively. The second half had an interesting turn since my dad was one of the head honchos of the conference. Everyone looked to his guidance as the final word of sorts for many dimensions. It was a new perspective on the man I had looked up to my entire life but had never truly seen outside of the paternal role. Just goes to show that familiarity (especially within one’s own family) can be a blinder that never really lets you see the entirety of a person.

For that part of my journey I wasn’t just some kid, I was my father’s son and everyone knew me as such. At one point during the festivities, the organizers had gotten the band that was performing to take a moment from their set to wish me a happy birthday/leveling up day and they even sang in Swahili. It was insane and really opened my eyes to a world I never knew and one that had been and still is part of who I am. So in a sense this serves as a belated happy father’s day too.

The one thing about that trip that we didn’t like was that at some point afterwards we lost the pictures. This was pre digital camera availability so the rolls of film might appear one day and we can have some hard evidence of our awesome adventures. Then again, not having the pictures makes the trip even more special because those memories are just between us. So no matter how much you level up or change, take the time to look back and show your appreciation to those people and moments that helped shape who you are today.

For what has been and all that is left,

G