A rare opportunity presented itself this past weekend. Some close friends of more than 25 years got in touch to let me know that they were headed to the movies that very night, for a late (late by my standards these days) screening of Shazam! at 9:40. Was I interested?
By that time, the kids would be asleep. Meg was fine whether I went or stayed, with no plans on our end either way. So, in a rare (these days) display of socialization, I left the house after 9 and headed to the multiplex (do they call them multiplexes still? Is that a dated reference?)
So you went to the movies, you’re saying. What is so weird about that?
I’ll offer you the small bit of perspective that makes this very rare in our personal case: the last time Meg and I went to the movies together was to see Toy Story 3 in 2010. Since then, I went to the movies in Christmas 2017 to see The Last Jedi with my brother-in-law, and when Meg and I (and gramma) took the kids to see Mary Poppins Returns this winter. Those are any movie-going ventures of the last decade. So a cinematic commitment like this was a personal big deal.
And I was excited. I’ve always enjoyed the Captain Marvel / Shazam characters and story about a boy and his friends gaining adulthood and super powers when they say a magic word. It’s the ultimate in childhood wish fulfillment.
Admittedly, I haven’t read a Shazam comic since Jerry Ordway’s masterpiece of a series Power of Shazam in the 90s (it hasn’t been collected, which is a crime to comics, so if you find issues of the series, pick them up), so I was going in with no contemporary knowledge of the character.
With that said, I loved this movie. Loved it!
It was a superhero movie full of heart and an emphasis on family. The entire cast is dynamite. Zachary Levi, who I loved watching on Chuck back in its day on NBC, was better than I could have imagined as the child in the adult body of a superhero, while Mark Strong made Dr. Thaddeus Sivana more terrifying than I ever would have thought from the comic pages I remember. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Grace Fulton as Mary…the list goes on and on, but every single one of them brought an earnestness to the screen that was an absolute delight.
As I say, there was a lot to this version of the character I was unfamiliar with (but am told can be found in more contemporary comics, which I’ll have to now check out), but none of that mattered as I sat there in the movie theatre. I was in awe. I smiled, I laughed, I got excited every time I heard that magic word and lightning struck, causing the transformation from boy to hero and back again, and me as audience viewer into a kid all over again too.
Far too often I hear cries for realism in comic books and their movie counterparts, especially when it comes to super heroes. But super heroes in and of themselves are, you know what? Not that realistic. So if we’re skewing reality anyway, why not make them fun, and maybe even uplifting? It’s what Christopher Reeve’s Superman did, and Shazam does in spades thanks to its stellar cast, sharp script courtesy of Henry Gayden and keen direction of David Sandberg, not to mention the countless other crew and cast members that make a film possible.
It was a delight.
Sure, there were a few “sh!$s” and middle fingers that didn’t bother me but would prevent it from being accessible to younger audiences or a full family with little ones (along with the scariness of the Seven Deadly Sins personified). However, even with that said, it certainly is something I plan to add to my rarely expanding DVD collection for future viewing.
This was hands down the best superhero feature film effort I’ve seen from Warner Bros / DC Comics in the past decade or so and should be the tonal template by which other superhero movies follow.
And as I try to avoid any and all spoilers, please, stay for the credits. As if the film itself didn’t carry enough easter eggs for fans of the Big Red Cheese, the mid-credits scene brought in one of my all-time favorite villains and sets up a potential plot for another installment.
“More ways than a mind can imagine,” indeed.
If this is what lies ahead, sign me up now.
Bring on the sequel.
Posted by thedorkydaddy in Cartoons, Comics, Socializing Tags: Captain Marvel, comic books, Dr Sivana, friends, Jerry Ordway, movies, Mr Mind, nights with friends, Power of Shazam, Shazam, Zachary Levi
A comic about how things change.
A toddler goes running through the room, a kindergartner close behind, if not passing her from room to room. Calls to cut it out fall upon tiny, deaf ears. An infant now awake and needing to be held. Laundry piling, baths to be given, meals to be made and eaten. Work. The baby’s crying again. Bills. Holidays. Yard work. The kindergartner just got his toddler sister upset and she’s screaming. Transportation. School. Groceries. Now it’s the other way around and the kindergartner is crying.
Life…can be and has been a bit of a challenge as of late. At times, it’s downright overwhelming.
We’re adjusting to life from two to three, doing so on very little sleep, and just trying to keep the household functioning on even the most basic level. What used to be divide and conquer is now one handles the baby while the other manages the two eldest. Or, in some scenarios, all three if one is not available (I’m thinking of a recent nighttime appointment I had where Meg was left with all three kids on her own).
Why am I telling you this? What purpose does it serve?
It’s because I’m being honest with you. I’m letting you know that life, for all its joyous feelings, of all the warmth of a growing family we wouldn’t change or give up for the world, it, yes, can be a challenge or just plain overwhelming.
I say this honestly because it is easy to get down on oneself when we live amid what often seems like a perfect world, always outside of our own, whomever we are, when we glimpse the lives of others through the lens of social media. Most of what we see is not honesty. Maybe it’s partially true, but it’s cherry-picked. It’s a best-of reel, hand selected to present an image and persona of perfection. But it’s not. They’re just crafted to make you think they are.
We hear a lot about it when it comes to teens, growing up in a digital world that many of us only walked into when we were in college or adults. But these days, between a plethora of social media networks, the same desire for acceptance, for validation, has crossed the age threshold into many adults who litter their online presence with only the moments of perfection. But life isn’t perfect, for anyone. It can be fun. It can be crazy. It can be full of love. But life is also full of flaws, of failures, of tripping up and learning. Life gets messy, but somehow so many feel it a taboo topic to talk about let alone show.
Instead, people try to gloss over the imperfections of life that shape us for a shiny veneer that looks great from the outside.
So, please, remember that the next time you start doubting yourself, your own life, because of what you see on social media. You’re doing great. And if you don’t need to litter social media with curated images that reflect a life unlike the one you’re living, then you know what? You’re doing even better.
Posted by thedorkydaddy in Baby Prep, Family, Socializing, Uncategorized Tags: don't believe what you see online, family chaos, fear of missing out, fomo, grass is greener, honesty, judging yourself, life isn't perfect, overwhelmed, parenthood, social media, technology, you're doing great
Like much of America on Monday, I was awash in a world that was talking about the solar eclipse, as the moon stepped in front of the sun like a rude person at the checkout line who either doesn’t see you or doesn’t care.
That was a pretty cynical comparison, right? We all slip into it now and then…cynicism, I mean. What is happening to this world? What is going on with people? Things are just awful!
We all have days where we doubt humanity. If you don’t, bravo. I want to be more like you. I try very hard to be, but I’m not fully there yet, I admit.
But sometimes just a tiny little thing can turn that around.
There were lots of fun moments to be had as I saw people’s jokes and funny satire on social media, but I had no intention of actually watching the event itself. Stores, library, and the like were all out of the special glasses, I was working, and there wasn’t even a box around to make a pinhole viewer if I wanted to. Unprepared was I.
But once the eclipse began, I decided to go for a little walk out of my work office. I couldn’t look up to the sky (unless I wanted to burn my retinas), but maybe I’d be able to see if the light outside had changed. Would it look like evening or nighttime?
Where we are, it didn’t get much darker. At best it looked a few hours ahead of what it really was. That late afternoon/early evening light of summer, I suppose. A moment or two later, a young woman from another office on the university campus walked by, asking if I had taken a look and pulled out a pair of special eclipse glasses that she purchased online. She then let me have a look as well.
There it was, well, partial for us, anyway…as the shadow of the moon covered part of the sun.
I thanked her for the chance to take a look, and a few moments later, she shared them with one of the university police officers, who came out to look. Moments later, another officer came by to take a look. Within just a few minutes, a crowd of people from various offices had just sort of congregated at this crossroads we were at, each taking turns to get a glimpse.
When a group of students came by, the glasses were passed to them as this impromptu viewing party grew bigger and bigger.
It didn’t really hit me until I saw the crowds of college students, each one passing the glasses on to the next, looking up to the sky, their faces lighting up with smiles, then talking with each other about what they saw.
Dozens of people who just happened through the same spot, all smiling, all happy, all having a wonderful moment of a community together – thanks to the sun, the moon, and a spirit of generosity that started with one person and spread like the sun’s rays.
We recently had a birthday party for our little guy. It was the first time we ever actually had it at our house. Usually we relied on the kindness of grandparents on both sides to get us through over the years, as our house had long been too small to have anyone over beyond a group of 2 or 4.
With our new digs, though, we figured it was finally time to give it a try, and try we did, not only with family, but this time inviting some of his friends from pre-k to come as well. And was it ever worth it to see the look on his face when he was surprised by the arrival of each of these friends.
Rain the day before and morning of forced us to change up plans a bit, moving from the backyard to the garage. Well, after it was emptied and cleaned out, of course. Then with two pop-up tents from parents placed outside the garage door, and tables and chairs inside, we were good to go as family and friends arrived for this gathering of little heroes.
The theme was his choice (Superheroes), brilliantly executed by Meg with foods that added a heroic flavor such as Captain America Shields (circle pretzels with white chocolate and a red, white or blue M&M in the middle), kryptonite bars (rice krispies treats with drizzled white chocolate and glowy green sprinkles), and some foods that gained their super powers through some signs I made using the PicMonkey app on my phone and a variety of superhero images.
We transformed regular sheet pizza into Plastic Man’s Power Pizza, a vegetable tray into Poison Ivy’s Veggie Platter, and drinks stations became Joker Juice or for the adults, Chief O’Hara’s Adult Beverages (Begorrah!).
Meg also took giant cardboard boxes leftover from a swing set we assembled the week prior and created a backdrop of buildings for little superheroes to have their picture taken by.
The kids crowded around a table to color super hero print outs, ran around wearing paper super hero masks from Party City and even enjoyed the arrival of a little sunshine just long enough to dry out parts (emphasis on parts…watch your step unless you like mud) to get some time in running through the backyard.
Oh, and never underestimate, much like the crayons and coloring pages, how something as simple as a worm coming out of the ground can create a fascination in a group of children that can be hard to pull them away from.
It felt just plain wonderful.
And when it came time to open gifts and he had oohed and awed over various toys, Legos, and books, I gave him a gift I had spent the past several months putting together for him.
You see, back at Halloween, he designed his own costume, which Meg made come to life – a superhero version of himself.
But post-Halloween, something wonderful happened. He kept the character going, imagining new adventure after new adventure, as well as a rogues gallery of villains that he was going up against with each backyard or bedroom crime fighting spree. I did my best to covertly take notes of the superpowers, the villain, and turned it into a script for a short comic book story.
I then dusted off my drawing pencils and illustrated the story, handing it over to my good friend and collaborator on two indie comic book series, who graced it with his inks, colors and lettering skills. From there, I sent it out to a comic printer, and upon return, had a limited edition comic book of my son in his super hero persona, solving a mystery, overcoming the very villains he’s created as he plays, and making it to his birthday party to find family and friends waiting.
The shock on his face “Wait…what…how did…how did you get a comic book of…me?” when he opened it was everything. The fact that he asked me to read it for him four separate times that afternoon and again before bed was everything else.
With each passing day, he grows a little more, shows me more of the world and myself than I thought possible, and though not every day is perfect for us, every day he becomes more and more my real-life superhero.
Posted by thedorkydaddy in Books and Reading, Cartoons, Comics, Family, Food, Home, Silliness, Socializing, Time Tags: birthday, birthday party, comic books, comics, homemade birthday party, superhero party, Superheroes
Like a breeze it arrived, swift and sweeping (in emotion).
It seemed like only a few weeks ago I was dropping out little guy off for his first-ever day of pre-k and yet, inexplicably, ten months passed in the blink of an eye and there we were, sitting in the seats as he and his classmates, received a certificate that said they were kindergarten-bound.
I was a barrel of mixed emotions. Proud of the little guy who sat before the crowd, coming into a classroom where he knew not a single adult or child last fall, with no anxiety, no fear, only enthusiasm to make friends, explore, and learn. In fact, the only anxiety I can recall from him was not about going to school, but about when having to leave when it was time to come home. Our first few months were a bit painful at pick-up time, as he was enjoying everything far too much and didn’t want to leave it behind for the day. I only hope he maintains that enthusiasm for learning as the years go on.
But back to the present.
Against a backdrop of superhero-themed backgrounds, the little guy and his classmates, dressed in custom-decorated capes and masks, performed some songs, some dance, and eventually were told they were walking off the stage, out of preschool and onward to kindergarten and elementary school.
It was bittersweet, not just for us adults, realizing how swiftly the sands of time pass for us all, but for him too. A week later it’s finally dawned on him that he’s not going back to school on a regular basis and with tear in his eyes he tells us how much he misses it, and his friends.
Added to that, his young world and expectations were thrown for a loop when we told him the weekend following his moving-up ceremony that he would be attending a different school than the one we were planning, the one he had attended multiple orientation nights for, where several of his friends from Pre-k were headed.
You see, the plan all along had been for him to head to work with mommy in the fall at the elementary school she’s been working at this past year. However, about a week or so before his Pre-k ended, my wife’s superintendent informed her they were moving her to an area high school. It meant no school with mommy as planned, and we could either continue to send him there, or send him to the school just minutes from our house.
Sometimes kids take such changes in stride with an admirable adaptability, and other times it’s a slow simmer of sadness as we work our way through the changes to our lives and days. In this case, it seem it’s currently the slow simmer of emotion and change that we’ll have to work through.
And I’m confident we will, but I don’t kid myself that it will take time. Heck, we moved to our new house seven months ago and we still have to have periodic conversations about change not always being bad and to look for the good when a teary eyed, head hanging low little boy starts to bring up why he misses his old house.
So change is not always the adaptable, easygoing “get over it” that so many folks think is a default for all kids. It will take time. Time, time, time. You are a tricky thing. Filled with good, filled with bad, but most of all, filled with change that keeps our worlds from ever getting boring, and teaching us to learn as we go and figure out how to change with you (even if it takes some of us a little longer to accept) at the risk of being left behind.
Change is the only constant, and I’m constantly astounded by just how quickly it all comes. From the hospital nursery to running through the yard, to Pre-k and now across the stage, cape billowing as a young super hero sets out, up, up and away toward the the next chapter of childhood.
He’s growing up.
This past week, my wife and I sat in the doctor’s office, staring at a black and white image on the screen. The grainy images of an arm, a foot, and eventually a profile of a head filled us with smiles inside and out as we finally put a somewhat-face to the growing little person that will be joining the ranks of our growing family. It was an odd moment. One might think it might feel routine at this point. This’ll be our third child, after all. We’ve been through this all before.
But, this time, staring at that screen, we felt…connected. To the baby, to each other, to the moment right then and there.
It’s something that, perhaps, we didn’t allow ourselves with our first two children. It’s not meant with any disrespect or disregard for either our son or daughter. It’s just that we now realize how much of their pre-arrivals were spent worrying so much about the future, planning what was to come, what had to be done, how would we handle things, that we failed to be in the moment, living in the present as we should have been and would have liked to be.
Sitting in the waiting room between sonogram and the appointment with the doctor, we were both on our phones, taking pictures of the sonogram and sending it to family members.
In the course of any given day, I check my smart phone device constantly, scrolling through Twitter and thinking if I have anything funny to say, checking email to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about the house we’re selling or one of the myriad of book queries I’ve put out there, checking in with the virtual beings whose lives I lord over in Sims Freeplay, or checking my Google Keep app for the numerous to-do lists it allows me to make, organize, add to, and check off as I complete things in the never-ending, always growing list of tasks for work, home, creative pursuits, etc. It’s constantly ongoing, and I keep it that way. I constantly think of things that need to get done and add it to the list. Or I check to see what i can cross off. Some are more pressing than others. Others aren’t necessary at all. But I check obsessively regardless. It’s as fruitless as trying to keep up with email.
“Looked at in terms of flowing and static information, the email inbox is one, big, unfinishable loop,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. “It is not a book or document that can be successfully completed. It is a flow. Sure, we can mark or move emails that are important, create priorities and sorting routines. But the initial choice to have email at all is to open a loop.”
I put off taking risks, following pursuits or making changes in life because I’m constantly waiting until something else is done. (I.e. In a year I should have my master’s done, so I’ll wait to search out other jobs until that’s done; I have 24 more payments left on both my student loans, which is two years, so if I can just hold off until that’s paid off in that time, THEN I’ll give dream/risk/pursuit xyz a try.) Always looking ahead, planning, sometimes to the point of excuses, rather than living in the present.
I think of not too long ago, the guilt I felt when my son asked me to play and I was too busy looking at something unimportant on my phone that I told him I couldn’t at the moment, only to find a few minutes later that he had moved on, leaving the lyrics of “Cats in the Cradle” running through my head and a desire to try and not allow myself to follow down that path due to such easy distractions.
As we talked later that morning, holding pictures of our soon to be third child, my wife and I both acknowledged how rare it is to feel like that, to truly feel present like we did in that room.
We’re not alone.
Even as I wrote this blog post, I found my hand casually moving over to the mouse and bringing up tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and before I knew it, sucked down the rabbit hole of online interaction. Though I wasn’t interacting. I was just scrolling. Scrolling through like a mindless motor function without any true purpose. Was there anything pressing I needed? Was there information I had to have that very moment that I took myself away from the focus of writing – something that I struggle to re-focus on and get back to once I’ve been pulled away. No. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I had nothing to say. I’ve just in many ways become conditioned to get distracted. It’s something I admit I desperately want to stop doing.
“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday,” Rushkoff says. “The value was in the now – which at this point is really just a then.”
I have come to feel that I often spend so much time worrying about and trying to plan for the future and various ways in which it may occur, that I’m rarely ever actually living in the present anymore. The moments pass with no appreciation as I’m constantly looking for how to take care of what comes next, or what will or could come next.
It’s not surprising that it’s a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety, and causes me to spend way too much time on my devices that I could be spending living in the moment with my friends and family. It’s why the founders of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or various apps that eat up all our time, are as successful as they are. It may not be a sinister intention, but it takes aim at our internal longing to escape but feel a part of something bigger, a community, or simply to be more relevant, and exploits it for gain.
Meanwhile, so many of us are ever living outside of our lives and constantly chasing digital nostalgia (remember, nostalgia doesn’t always refer to the past. It’s a combination of Latin words meaning “longing for home.” And home can mean comfort.)
“Another definition of unhealthy escapism—escapism gone too far—is the effects it has on the essential fabric of living,” psychologist Andrew Evans writes in This Virtual Life, as noted by the February 2015 article in The Atlantic titled The Good and The Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality. “The individual in the context of family, friends, and social commitments.”
Evans connects his definition, the article states, to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranking love and a sense of belonging just after basic physiological and safety needs.
Then I think of the calm, the peace, the feeling of being in the now, in the present that I felt looking at the baby’s form on that monitor. It may sound silly, but it was almost akin to the feeling of being present I experience when I’m sitting alone looking at nature, whether it’s a walk through a nature trail and admiring the plants and trees, or sitting quietly in our backyard, sans digital devices, getting lost in the greenery, trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and wildlife going about their day.
In Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, the author suggests using natural systems to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual life of humans.
“Whereas technology immersion results in walls that become screens, and machines that enter our bodies, more nature in our lives offers us homes and workplaces and natural communities that produce human energy…[and] products and environments that make life more comfortable for people.”
Clinical Psychologist, Consultant, and Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, in her book The Big Disconnect, notes that our reliance on technology can often be an attempt to fill voids that we’re not getting from the physical world around us.
“Simply put, we are more sociable when we are connected to nature, and without nature we manifest antisocial behavior more regularly and rely on technological substitutes more.”
In a March 2011 TEDx Talk, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses the ways in which technology connects us, yet disconnects from the people and physically around us.
“Children talk about that moment of coming out of school, looking for eye contact and instead of that moment with a parent, that parent is looking at the smart phone,” Turkle says.
A generation has grown up with technology as the competition for their parents time and attention and now that generation is older and has their own turn to live in the culture of distraction.
Turkle had been present when computers were first being implemented into home use and recalls when designers/programmers were having trouble finding ideas to keep the computer busy (calendars, contact list, etc, were some early ideas for home use). As she says, it didn’t matter in the end, because now they are what keeps us busy.
“What I didn’t see coming…and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices, always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able to basically bail out of the physically real at any time,” she says. “To go to the other spaces we have available to us and that we would want to.”
She refers to this departure from multi-tasking as multi-lifing, and that escapism, that distraction, that other life that technology offers us is seductive, hitting us in some of the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is, she surmises, what has led so much of our culture to become one that would rather text or send an email than pick up the phone and talk. The technology has allowed us to dial down our own human contact.
As these bits of our humanity are chipped away, it will become even more crucial to find a way, amid a world where this technology is not going away, to revisit, revive, and instill our own humanity into future generations, for fear that they could lose it completely.
“If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will always be lonely.”
Like many addictions, it becomes a vicious cycle. We escape to online, we become distracted from the physical world around us, and as we cut out the real world, we more and more seek out the illusion of friendship and community without the companionship in the digital world of technology. It feeds our loneliness which just keeps us perpetually alone. But we continue to seek it out, and the media texts that it provides, out of this sense of longing for comfort, and media companies will continue to exploit with the latest social platforms, digital shows, films, apps, or games as long as we keep needing a digital place to seek out and fulfill that need of nostalgia, of longing.