book review: aftermath: life debt by chuck wendig

Aftermath: Life Debt is a canon novel written by Chuck Wendig and published by Del Rey, that is set between Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Star WarsEpisode VII: The Force Awakens. It is the second book in The Aftermath Trilogy, which started with Aftermath, and was released on July 12, 2016.

Category:  Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Publisher’s Summary:  The galaxy is changing, and with peace now a possibility, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiees’ homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of rebels pursue Admiral Rae Sloane and the remaining Imperial leadership across the galaxy. Sloane, increasingly wary of the mysterious fleet admiral, desperately searches for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. Even as Imperial forces fight to regain lost ground, Princess Leia and the New Republic seek to broker a lasting peace.

But the rebel’s hunt for Admiral Sloane is cut short after the disappearance of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Desperate to save them, Leia conscripts Norra, Sinjir, Jas, and the rest of their team to find the missing smugglers and help them in their fight for freedom.

Review:  If you read my review of the first book in this trilogy, you know that I didn’t find Aftermath to be very exciting.  It didn’t feel like much of a Star Wars book, and that’s sort of the whole point of these books.  So going into this one, I was a little apprehensive about what I might find.  I didn’t want another book like the first one.

I didn’t get another book like the first one.

Aftermath: Life Debt is wonderful.  There is so much at work in this book, from the origins of why the planet of Jakku is important to an assassination attempt that I did not see coming at all to discovering just how far Han Solo will go to find Chewbacca.  There are more characters from the Original Trilogy in this book, chief among them being Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo.  The team from Aftermath is still here, and they’ve been joined by a relatively minor character from the first book, Jom Barell.  Their mission is to hunt down and capture Imperial fugitives, and their first attempted capture is very exciting.  When they return to Chandrila, Princess Leia gives them an undercover mission strictly for her: find her husband, Han Solo, who is missing after a failed attempt to liberate the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk.  And just like that, we’re off on our adventure.

A lot of time is also spent with Rae Sloane, now Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy and de facto leader of the Empire, but she is being controlled by the Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax, a man with a mysterious past that Sloane is desperate to uncover.  Rax puts together a Shadow Council to rule the Empire while allowing Sloane to remain its public face, and among the members of this council is Brendol Hux, father of General Hux, who is portrayed by Domnhall Gleeson in Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  This is the first time we learn of General Hux’s first name, Armitage, and that he is Brendol Hux’s bastard son.  Brendol doesn’t think very much of Armitage, but is determined that he’s going to make something of his weak-willed son.  Given what we saw in The Force Awakens, I’d say he succeeded.

One of my absolute favorite things about this book was the evolvement of the character of Sinjir Rath Velus, my favorite of the new characters introduced in the first book.  Wendig established in a rather nonchalant manner in the first book that Sinjir was homosexual, but in this book, he expands upon that, giving Sinjir a love story with a slicer named Conder Kyl.  I adored this relationship.   It’s not straightforward and it’s not simple, but it made Sinjir feel like a real person instead of just words on a page and I thoroughly appreciated that.

Princess Leia is pregnant in this book, and I really enjoyed all of the parts where she tuned into the Force and connected with her unborn son.  I always enjoy seeing Leia use the Force in any capacity, and reading about her using exercises that Luke had taught her on how to tap into the Force just made me smile.  There’s one scene in particular where Leia tries to reach out to a tree and ends up connected to her unborn son instead, and it’s just beautifully written.

The interludes that I thought were unnecessary in the first book are continued in this one, and I’m starting to see how they progress and connect, giving little pieces of life throughout the galaxy as this struggle between what’s left of the Empire and the fledgling New Republic goes on.  There is an ongoing one about a group called the Acolytes of the Beyond that is becoming interesting.  And the one about Jabba the Hutt’s beastmaster and his life after the death of both Jabba and his beloved rancor Pateesa was entertaining.

Recommendation:  This is a great improvement over the first book in the trilogy, and while it’s not up at the top of the list of all of the books I’ve read in the new Star Wars canon, it’s definitely a good book.  The mission of our main team is more interesting, the Imperial side of things is more intriguing, and the interludes begin to make sense.  Wendig’s writing style seems to have changed a bit from the first book, but it’s in a good way, because this book seemed like an easier read than the first book did.  Perhaps that’s just because I’m used to the new characters and I’m glad to see the characters we know from the Original Trilogy, but it was something I noticed.  I recommend this book to any Star Wars fans, but I am going to say that I think you should read Aftermath first.  Aftermath is not an easy read, but it will introduce you to our new characters, and I think that introduction is necessary for you to get the full emotional impact of Life Debt.

book review: aftermath by chuck wendig

Aftermath is a canon novel by Chuck Wendig and published by Del Rey, that is set between Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The novel is the first in The Aftermath Trilogy and is part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens publishing project.  It was released on September 4, 2015. 

Category:  Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Publisher’s Summary:  The second Death Star has been destroyed, the Emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down-—devastating blows against the Empire, with major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but is taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former Rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

Review:  This book starts with a group of people trying to topple the statue of Emperor Palpatine on Coruscant, and when they do, a group of Imperial policemen show up and start firing into the crowd.  Two the characters we’re following in the scene pick up rocks to start throwing at the officers, realizing that the war is far from over.  It’s a good way to start the book, in my opinion, because it shows that while the emperor might be dead, it doesn’t mean that everything just immediately changes overnight.  This scene is there to set the tone, and I think it does a good job.

I knew going into this from talking with people that had already read it that this wasn’t going to be just a continuation of Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, so I wasn’t disappointed about the lack of characters from the Original Trilogy in this book.  Instead, we’re introduced to a new group of characters on a new planet, and I really appreciated that.  I’m always interested in expanding the Star Wars universe, and I was glad to see the new characters and a new planet.

We do have two characters that have been previously known:  Wedge Antilles is obviously well known from the feature films, and Rae Sloane is a character from the previously published canon novel A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller.  Antilles doesn’t play that much of a part, though he is the catalyst for our band of heroes to make their assault on the remnants of the Empire that are on Akiva, while Sloane plays a large part in the story and I really enjoyed Wendig’s take on her character.  Sloane is a badass female character to add to the ever-growing list of badass female characters in the Star Wars universe.  My favorite of the new characters is Sinjir Rath Velus, a former Imperial Loyalty officer who abandoned the Imperial forces after the Battle of Endor.  Before he joins the adventure our heroes are on, he is doing nothing but sitting in bars drinking all day.  Once he learned of the Imperial blockade, he bargains with a local crime lord for safe passage off the planet but instead gets himself imprisoned.  With the help of bounty hunter Jas Emari, he frees himself and ends up joining our ragtag group of heroes.  Another character in here, Temmin Wexley, is portrayed as an adult by Greg Grunberg in the 2015 film Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

The mission the characters go on is not very interesting and exciting.  There were some moments that made me cheer and made me gasp, but they were few and far between.  The interludes were okay.  Sometimes I thought they were very unnecessary, but I’m guessing they play a larger part in the trilogy as a whole.  It was very obvious that this was the first part of a trilogy because of the way certain things played out, but there was enough there to make me somewhat okay with how this story wrapped up.  The characters are really the best thing about this book to me.  I wanted to spend more time with them but on a different mission.

Recommendation:  Overall, this book is kinda meh as a standalone story, but if you look at it as the first part of a trilogy, then it might be an okay first installment.  I’m hoping that all of this will have greater context by the time I’m done with the trilogy as a whole, and it’s making me glad that I’m reading these books after the entire trilogy has been released.  The main thing for me is that it feels more like a fantasy/sci-fi book than a Star Wars book, and I really wanted a Star Wars book.  If you’re interested in reading the entire trilogy, then I suggest you read it.  But if not, then this might be one that you might want to skip.

book review: shockaholic by carrie fisher

Shockaholic is an autobiographical humor book by American actress and author Carrie Fisher, published by Simon & Schuster in 2011.  It is Fisher’s second memoir.

Category:  Autobiography/Memoir

Publisher’s Summary:  Infused with Carrie Fisher’s trademark incisive wit and on the heels of Wishful Drinking’s instant New York Times bestselling success, Shockaholic takes readers on another rollicking ride into her crazy life.

There is no shortage of people flocking to hear what Princess Leia has to say. Her previous hardcover, Wishful Drinking, was an instant New York Times bestseller and Carrie was featured everywhere on broadcast media and received rave reviews from coast to coast, including People (4 stars; one of their top 10 books of the year), Entertainment Weekly, New York Times, and scores of others.

Told with the same intimate style, brutal honesty, and uproarious wisdom that placed Wishful Drinking on the New York Times bestseller list for months, Shockaholic is the juicy account of Carrie Fisher’s life, focusing more on the Star Wars years and dishing about the various Hollywood relationships she’s formed since she was chosen to play Princess Leia at only nineteen years old. Fisher delves into the gritty details that made the movie—and herself—such a phenomenal success, admitting, “It isn’t all sweetness and light sabers.”

Review:  After hearing the story of her waking up next to a dead friend in Wishful Drinking, we hear more of the emotional and mental aftermath in Shockaholic.  The trauma of the situation led Fisher to renew her drug habit, and while I haven’t had substance abuse problems like she has nor have I woken up next to a dead friend, I can relate to the mental health side of things, which makes her emotional processes here very relatable to me.  Her constant thoughts about the impact of her behavior on her daughter Billie were both touching and heartbreaking, and I am glad that she was so open and honest about the electroconvulsive therapy and what it has done for her.  The more people with mental health struggles speak out about their diagnoses, treatments, situations, and circumstances, the more we may be able to break the stigma that surrounds mental illness in this country.

There are plenty of great stories in here.  From Bob Dylan calling her to ask her what would be good names for cologne to Elizabeth Taylor shoving her into a pool, Fisher shares these anecdotes in a funny, refreshing way that is uniquely her own.   There are more profound moments as well, such as Fisher sharing her thoughts and memories on Michael Jackson and the situations and circumstances that surrounded him while framing it with the story of spending his last Christmas Eve together with him and his children.  Her stories of Paul Simon and their relationship were witty, the ones of her stepfather Harry were quite funny, and the tale of her dinner with Chris Dodd, Ted Kennedy, and a few others was absolutely fantastic to read.

The story that got to me the most though was the theme that ran throughout the book, and that was Fisher’s relationship with her father, Eddie Fisher.  From not liking him very much to becoming drug buddies to their relationship during the final months of his life, Fisher gives an emotional yet honest take on growing up with a father who had left before she was the age of three and sort of floated around the peripheral of her existence for years afterward.  It’s a difficult to understand relationship while at the same time being a sign of how people grow emotionally as they grow older.  And Fisher’s final reflections on her now deceased father are touching and poignant.

And the Star Wars stories.  Who doesn’t love Star Wars stories?

Recommendation: I miss Carrie Fisher so much.  Her brutal honesty and insightful wisdom and tremendous wit are on display here once again, and while Wishful Drinking was perhaps funnier overall, there are moments in this book that had me laughing hysterically (see: her fake commercial for a fake psych drug).  She also speaks more about her experiences with electroconvulsive therapy and what led her to the decision to have it, and to the mental health struggles and substance abuse problems that she’d struggled with for the majority of her adult life.  Because of all of these reasons, to me, Shockaholic is an essential read.

book review: wishful drinking by carrie fisher

Wishful Drinking is an autobiographical humor book by American actress and author Carrie Fisher, published by Simon & Schuster in 2008. Fisher’s book was based on her one-woman stage show, which she developed with writer/director Joshua Ravetch.

Category:  Autobiography/Memoir

Publisher’s Summary:  In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. Born to celebrity parents, she was picked to play a princess in a little movie called Star Wars when only 19 years old. “But it isn’t all sweetness and light sabers.” Alas, aside from a demanding career and her role as a single mother (not to mention the hyperspace hairdo), Carrie also spends her free time battling addiction, weathering the wild ride of manic depression and lounging around various mental institutions. It’s an incredible tale – from having Elizabeth Taylor as a stepmother, to marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon, from having the father of her daughter leave her for a man, to ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

Review:  Carrie Fisher is a mother f’ing goddess.  She’s so refreshing and every word I read made me more sad about the fact that she’s gone.  As someone who struggles with mental illness, her candid take on what she’s been through and her open admission to undergoing electroconvulsive therapy made me feel more accepted, more welcome in the world.  I haven’t undergone that particular treatment but I think the more people who are open about their mental health struggles and what they do to help them, the better it is when it comes to fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness as a whole.

I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Carrie’s family and her life growing up.  As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she grew up in a world that few people can imagine, and the little insights she gives into it were interesting.  Particular highlights are her describing what she and her brother used to do when playing in her mother’s closet, the story of when her brother accidentally shot himself in the leg, or the story of when her mother came up with the idea for her to have her stepfather’s child because it would have nice eyes.

And all of the Star Wars stories, oh, all of the Star Wars stories.  She tells the best Star Wars stories, like the story of the famous hairstyle or the various merchandise that she became or how George Lucas told her she couldn’t wear a bra under the white dress she wore in the first movie because there’s no underwear in space.

Her reflection on her substance abuse and drug addiction problems was poignant and honest, and I appreciated that so much.  I have never suffered from these issues, but the psychological issues that go along with them are things that I have faced and again, hearing someone who has faced the same things talk about them is just so important to me.  Her descriptions of how she processes things is just so similar to mine that it’s almost frightening, but hearing them is almost validation of my processes, and validation is kind of a thing I search for.

Recommendation:  Carrie Fisher is a tremendous writer, and this book is full of wit, wisdom, and honesty.  Her candid talk about her mental illness and struggles means the world to me as someone who has a mental illness, and I relate to her more than I can say.  It’s a wonderful read that makes me miss her more than I have in months.  I highly recommend this.

book review: phasma by delilah s. dawson

Phasma is a novel written by Delilah S. Dawson which was released on September 1, 2017, as a part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi marketing campaign. The novel centers around Resistance spy Vi Moradi and First Order captain Cardinal, and it reveals the origins and motivations of Captain Phasma.

Category:  Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Publisher’s Summary:  Discover Captain Phasma’s mysterious history in this “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi” novel.

One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favor of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression on her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins—and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters.

Deep inside the Battlecruiser Absolution, a captured Resistance spy endures brutal interrogation at the hands of a crimson-armored stormtrooper—Cardinal. But the information he desires has nothing to do with the Resistance or its covert operations against the First Order.

What the mysterious stormtrooper wants is Phasma’s past—and with it whatever long-buried scandal, treachery, or private demons he can wield against the hated rival who threatens his own power and privilege in the ranks of the First Order. His prisoner has what Cardinal so desperately seeks, but she won’t surrender it easily. As she wages a painstaking war of wills with her captor, bargaining for her life in exchange for every precious revelation, the spellbinding chronicle of the inscrutable Phasma unfolds. But this knowledge may prove more than just dangerous once Cardinal possesses it—and once his adversary unleashes the full measure of her fury.

Review:  This book was not what I was expecting.  I thought that it would be told from Phasma’s point of view, and instead, it is told from the point of view of Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy, and Cardinal, a First Order stormtrooper.  Through Vi’s storytelling, we get the point of view of Siv, one of Phasma’s fellow members of a band called the Scyre on the planet of Parnassos.  (And when I say band I don’t mean like a musical band.  It’s like a tribe.)

Siv’s and Cardinal’s points of view are thoroughly interesting, while Vi’s point of view is not as chocked full of information about her or the Resistance as much as it is about her storytelling giving us Siv’s point of view.  We learn that Vi has a brother and that she reports directly to General Leia Organa, but we don’t learn much else besides that when it comes to her role in the Resistance.  She is obviously very well informed about the subject of her mission, talking about video footage from First Order ships that she shouldn’t have seen and knowing details about the way the First Order does things that surprises Cardinal.

Cardinal, meanwhile, gives us a lot of personal information, particularly when it comes to his feelings towards Phasma and her place in the First Order, and his desperation to find some sort of information to bring her down.  He’s not above torturing Vi to get what he wants, but he comes to realize that he’ll get more information out of her if he doesn’t, and as the stories are revealed, his facade as an emotionless stormtrooper goes away and a real person emerges.  You begin to really feel for Cardinal, and when the confrontation with Phasma happens at the end, you are really invested in how Cardinal is going to come out of it.

But the most interesting point of view is Siv’s.  Of course, this is the storytelling that Vi does, and it does include comments from her every once and a while, but Siv is the narrator of these stories, and through her, a picture of Phasma begins to be woven.  Phasma was the most fearsome warrior of the Scyre, and Siv was one of her fellow warriors.  When the ship of Brendol Hux, father of General Armitage Hux (who is portrayed by Domnhall Gleeson in the Star Wars feature films)crashes to the surface of Parnassos, his coming is seen by Phasma to be the saving grace of her people, who barely survive on rock spires with little water and food.  This thought is opposed by her brother Keldo, Phasma’s fellow leader of the Scyre, and it tears the two apart.  Phasma and her warriors leave with Brendol and his stormtroopers to find his ship and leave Parnassos for a better life in the stars, and the journey they go on is filled with moments of peril, action, excitement, despair, and you begin to see Phasma grow into the cold, calculating Phasma that I found her to be in Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens and some of the subsequent canon material.  But I also cared for Siv and for many other members of the warriors that traveled with Phasma, and the end of Siv’s story was both sad and poignant and yet there was a tiny bit of hope.

This s a phenomenal read if you’re a Star Wars fan.  It is extremely well written, and vivid as well, the descriptions Delilah S. Dawson used bringing up imagery in my head to accompany the scenes.  The story weaved together beautifully, Dawson titling each chapter with where it was taking place in the timeline, either in the present on the Star Destroyer Absolution or ten years previous on Parnassos, so I was never confused about where I was in the storyline.

Recommendation:  Highly recommended, particularly if you’re interested in Captain Phasma as a character.  She was so mysterious coming into and out of The Force Awakens, and this book answers the question of who she was and how she became who she is.  The story will keep you interested from the beginning until the end, and it’s a very easy read.

book review: leia, princess of alderaan by claudia gray

Leia, Princess of Alderaan is a young-adult novel written by Claudia Gray and published by Disney–Lucasfilm Press. It was released on September 1, 2017, as part of Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a series of books leading up to the release of the feature film Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Category:  Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Publisher’s Summary:  It is Leia Organa’s sixteenth birthday and she participates in the traditional ceremony where she declares her intention to one day take the throne of Alderaan. But she’s much more concerned about the way her parents are acting lately: lots of meetings and late dinners and not talking to her as much as they used to. Eventually, she discovers the reason for their secrecy: their involvement in the increasingly organized rebellion. When Leia decides to become involved herself in the fight against the Empire, whether her parents approve or not, she will have to prove to them that she is a valuable asset who must be allowed to take a stand, regardless of the risk to herself. Her stand will also put her at odds with a pacifist young Alderaanian man who gives Leia her first kiss…and her first real loss.

Review:  Claudia Gray is my favorite Star Wars author in the new canon.  Lost Stars is amazing, Bloodline blew me away, and now this book has come out and once again, Claudia hits it out of the park.  Leia, Princess of Alderaan is a fantastic book that details our favorite princess as a sixteen-year-old who is making the transition from child to adult in the midst of a growing rebellion, and I cannot imagine it being written any better than Claudia has here.

There are lovely tie-ins to the rest of the Star Wars universe, especially as this is in the leadup to Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.  We spend a lot of time on Alderaan in this story, and I will never look at the scene in A New Hope where the Empire destroys Alderaan the same way again.  Alderaan is described as a beautiful, vibrant place and the idea of it being destroyed so soon after the events of this book makes me so sad to think about.

We also spend a good bit of time with Leia’s parents, Breha Organa, Queen of Alderaan, and Bail Organa, Senator and Viceroy of Alderaan.  I was particularly happy to spend time with Breha because she is never depicted in other materials, only mentioned.  Breha is a great character with a great love for her daughter and a loving relationship with her husband, though that relationship is put to the test by the growing rebellion.  And Bail is shown to be struggling with what the rebellion must become, not wanting to go to war and refusing to admit that it was the only way.  The conflict is played out in such a natural and organic way that it didn’t feel forced, and Leia’s part in the growing rebellion and Bail’s reactions to it made perfect sense.  The way that Bail and Breha try so desperately to keep Leia from becoming a part of the rebellion showed a great deal of love for their daughter, even if I felt as much frustration at their latest block of her offer to help as I’m sure Leia did.

Leia also meets a group of people around her age during a pathfinding class that her mother arranges for her.  One of those people is Amilyn Holdo, a human female from Gatalenta and member of the Apprentice Legislature, who at first Leia finds a bit odd but eventually becomes a good friend.  Holdo will be portrayed by Laura Dern in the upcoming film The Last Jedi.  She also meets Kier Domadi, a fellow Alderaanian, and member of the Apprentice Legislature, who will become the man in Leia’s first relationship.  The relationship plays out slowly and naturally, never forced, and you believe every second of it, right till the very end of the novel.  I really enjoyed that portion of the story, and once again, Claudia nails a romance in one of these books set in the Star Wars universe, just like she did in Lost Stars.  Claudia Gray is three for three so far in her forays into the Star Wars universe and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

There’s so much more I want to say but I don’t want to spoil anything beyond what I might have already.  It’s just a phenomenally written book by a fantastic author who you can tell loves Star Wars so much.  Every page is seeped in the universe and sometimes the tie-ins are so subtle yet make you so happy once you read them.

Recommendation:  If you’re a Star Wars fan, if you love Princess Leia, you really should pick up this book.  I did the audiobook version of it, and Star Wars audiobooks are always fantastic because they’re like radio plays with sound effects and music and all of that.  But whatever medium you choose, this is a fast, fun, easy read.  I finished it in a day.  It really is fantastic, and I hope that you give it a chance.

i’ve learned. – a poem

I’ve learned.

I’ve learned –
that you cannot make someone love you.
All you can do is
be someone who can be loved.
The rest is up to them.

I’ve learned –
that no matter how much I care
some people just don’t care back.

I’ve learned –
that it takes years to build up trust
and only seconds to destroy it.

I’ve learned –
that you can get by on charm
for about fifteen minutes.
After that, you better know something.

I’ve learned –
that you shouldn’t compare
yourself to the best others can do
but to the best you can do

I’ve learned –
that it’s not what happens to people
that’s important.
It’s what they do about it.

I’ve learned –
that you can do something in an instant
that will give you heartache for a lifetime.

I’ve learned –
that no matter how thin you slice it,
there’s always two sides.
That doesn’t mean that they’re both
right.

I’ve learned –
that it’s taking me a long time
to become the person I want to be.

I’ve learned –
that it’s a lot easier
to react than it is to think.

I’ve learned –
that you should always leave
loved ones with words of love.
It may be the last time you see them.

I’ve learned –
that you can keep going
long after you think you can’t.

I’ve learned –
that we are responsible for what we do
no matter how we feel.

I’ve learned –
that either you control your attitude
or it controls you.

I’ve learned –
that heroes are the people
who do what needs to be done
when it needs to be done
regardless of the consequences.

I’ve learned –
that learning to forgive
takes practice.

I’ve learned –
that there are people who love you dearly
but just don’t know how to show it.

I’ve learned –
that money is a lousy way
of keeping score.

I’ve learned –
that my best friends and I
can do anything or nothing
and have the best time.

I’ve learned –
that sometimes the people who you expect
to kick you while you’re down
are the ones who will help you get back up.

I’ve learned –
that sometimes when I’m angry,
I have the right to be angry,
but that doesn’t give me the right to be cruel.

I’ve learned –
that true friendship continues to grow
even over the longest distance.

I’ve learned –
that just because someone doesn’t love you
the way you want them to doesn’t mean
they don’t love you with all they have.

I’ve learned –
that maturity has more to do with
what types of experiences you’ve had
and what you’ve learned from them
and less to do with how many
candles are on your birthday cake.

I’ve learned –
that you should never tell a child
their dreams are unlikely or outlandish.
Few things are more humiliating,
and what a tragedy it would be
if they believed it.

I’ve learned –
that your family won’t always be there for you.
It may seem funny, but people you aren’t related to
can take care of you and love you
and teach you to trust people again.
Families aren’t always biological.

I’ve learned –
that no matter how good a friend is
they’re going to hurt you
every once and awhile
and you must forgive them for that.

I’ve learned –
that it isn’t always enough
to be forgiven by others.
Sometimes you have to learn
to forgive yourself.

mental health minute: on happiness and wholeness

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that – I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep,” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is. — Hugh Mackay

I feel as though I’ve never been truly happy.  Sure, I often say things make me happy but do they really?  The feeling is so fleeting and never has much depth to it that I don’t believe it’s ever been genuine happiness.  It’s hard to calculate whether or not it truly has been, so to pivot away from happiness and onto something else like wholeness is a great relief, because if those fleeting, shallow moments are what I’m supposed to be striving for, then no thank you, I’ll stick to my depression.

Ever since I started seeing my current therapist, we started talking about peace, and one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is recognize when I feel at peace.  To be honest, it’s not often.  It’s hard for me to recognize that feeling as well.  I think the closest I come to it is when I’m writing something that I really like, even if that something is never going to see the light of day.  But still, peace is something that I don’t understand, mainly because to me peace is a calm, relaxed state and I’m never at that.  My mind is constantly going ten billion miles an hour.  I have more thoughts and ideas in a minute than some people I know probably have in an hour.  And it’s just the struggle of understanding peace that has been so frustrating, because how can I seek out something that I cannot seem to ever get a grip on?

But finding this quote has changed the shape of the narrative.  Maybe it’s not peace that I should be striving for but wholeness.  I feel like my life, since the day I was born, has never been whole.  I have always been the odd man out among my family and friends.  I think differently, I feel differently, I act differently, I am just different.  And to me, that’s always translated as damaged.  But maybe the damage hasn’t been a bad thing.  Maybe I wouldn’t be this person with this creative drive if I hadn’t been damaged.  I fell in love with books and writing because they were an escape from the world that I was living in.  If I hadn’t been living in that world, would I have done that?  It’s hard to say.

Writing is part of what makes me whole.  I wouldn’t know how to live without it.  My family also makes me feel whole.  They provide the love and support that I need.  I cannot imagine where I would be now if it weren’t for them.  But what else makes me whole?  I have no idea.  It’s hard for me to pick the things that make up who I am out in such a detailed way, but I’m going to figure it out someday.  I’m going to figure out what I need in order to be whole.

Maybe along the way I’ll figure out what it means to be happy too. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I’m going to try. But I know that’s not what I’m striving for. Happiness will come if wholeness comes first. Now if I can just figure this wholeness part out.

Chester Bennington (1976-2017)

Celebrity deaths can often times be shocking, but this one hit me out of the blue with a sucker punch.  Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington was one of those people who affected my life in ways that he couldn’t possibly have ever known, but I will always remember.  The lyrics that he helped to craft and then eventually sang reached a part of me deep inside that I didn’t know at times could be reached, and the songs he created with his bandmates have been part of the voice of my subconscious since their debut album, Hybrid Theory, came out in October 2000.

I really don’t have the words to describe the shock and sadness and utter loss I feel right now, so I’m just going to post some of my favorite Linkin Park songs.  Thoughts and love to Chester’s family, bandmates, and friends.  Rest in peace, you talented, talented man.

film mini-review: spider-man homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming was directed by Jon Watts and stars Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/Vulture, Jacob Batalon as Ned, Zendaya as Michelle, Laura Harrier as Liz, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

This was a film that I didn’t see coming.  Having been influenced by Sony’s five previous attempts at making a Spider-Man film, Spider-Man was a character that I simply didn’t care about.  I understood that he was beloved by comic book readers around the world, and that those who liked or loved the previous films were in the same boat, but I had pretty much decided that Spider-Man was just a comic book character that I wasn’t going to relate to.  The biographies of the character that I had read online never seemed to match up to what I watched, and since the visual media was not providing me with the Peter Parker I wanted to see (and it was really the Peter Parker aspect that was lacking for me, the Spider-Man stuff was just fine), I’d given up.

Then came Sony’s financial troubles, the leaked emails showing discussions with Marvel about a collaborative effort with the character in an attempt to earn some cash, and the eventual announcement that Spider-Man was coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I was very skeptical about this whole idea based upon my previous attempts with the character, but I was surrounded by people who were thrilled with this, so I decided to go into it with an open mind and see what happened.

What happened was a first appearance by Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and I had the biggest grin on my face during the couple of scenes he was in.  It wasn’t much of a sample size, but it looked like they might have finally gotten the Peter Parker I wanted to see right.  He was an awkward, anxious fifteen-year-old kid who was so nervous in Tony Stark’s presence, especially when he started to realize that Stark knew that he was Spider-Man.  It was a nice teaser for his own solo film, and I looked forward to that film greatly, despite the fact that I was worried about the collaboration between Marvel and Sony.

I didn’t need to be worried.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fantastic film filled with humor and heart and great action and a wonderful twist I didn’t see coming and, most importantly, the Peter Parker I’ve always wanted to see on screen.  This fifteen-year-old kid who is struggling with going back to being a high school student after going on a mission with Tony Stark and fighting alongside the Avengers has a great story arc.  Even though the trailers that Sony put out gave away far too much of the film, leading me to know what was going to happen more often than not, there were still plenty of moments that surprised me.  The characters were superb.  Peter’s best friend Ned was a particular highlight, as was the girl with no friends Michelle, and I even liked their interpretation of Flash Thompson.  (“Penis” Parker, anyone?)  I loved that the group of kids were all a bunch of math and science fanatics and that a large plot point centered around an academic decathlon team that they were all on.  And the main villain, Adrian Toomes/Vulture as portrayed by Michael Keaton, was a memorable villain who made an impact on the film in many different ways.  You understood his motivations, you understood why he acted the way he did in certain situations, and when Toomes and Peter finally come face to face, it’s in a truly memorable way.  There is very little about this film that I didn’t like, and I was not expecting that.

Score: 9.5/10