Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Humor Column That Time Forgot!




So I’m job hunting. Those hapless employers who have seen my résumé know by now that, while in college, I was both a reporter and a humor columnist for our school paper.

Yes, I am an English Major and a reporter. As an English Major, I am devoted to the Oxford Comma. As a reporter, I had to begrudgingly deny its existence to learn the AP Style of writing. It hurt so much, yet somehow I am still alive.

As a humor columnist, though…

I’m glad our paper’s general editor saw value in 500 words of utter nonsense taking up space somewhere in the inside fold. For me, it was a great creative writing exercise because—unlike my work as a reporter—I got to make things up. Readers of the paper seemed to appreciate my un-contributive contribution as well; fellow students I didn’t recognize would, on occasion, stop me to tell me how much they liked my latest piece in the paper.

“Which piece?” I would ask. Nobody ever replied “That news story.” They often didn’t know that I wrote news stories as well. Sign of the times, maybe.

Anyway, I had a nice long (well, one-year) career making fun of campus things, such as Homecoming, statuary, and the campus dating scene. I even wrote a piece about fitness and my FitBit, entitled “The Fit Ness Monster”, and d*** if that isn’t one of the best headlines I’ve ever written. But I did have plenty of other column candidates that were never used in our paper, probably for good reason. Well, this is my blog, and I hold sovereignty here. Today, I share with everyone a never-seen-before installation of my humor column, written at the beginning of the 2017 Fall Semester, talking about a subject familiar to the souls and stomachs of students and scriveners alike: procrastination.

Everything you read in here is, sadly, true. Enjoy!

#

Procrazzztination


Let’s talk about procrastination.

*pause*

Here’s how dedicated I am to this topic; in between that last sentence and this one I’m writing now, I played a long computer game, packed for college, went to Mass, slept, loaded up the car and drove to college, unpacked in my apartment, hung out, and slept again, plus all the necessary meals in between. Having established I’m an expert in industrious procrastination, let’s talk about it. I’ll be back in a minute (hey, you try doing anything useful on Eclipse Day).

*pause*

The Caf breakfast was alright. I still think there’s some residual summer goofing-off I need to manage, so if you’ll excuse me…

*pause*

Should I really goof off right now? Eh, why not. I blame the muggy weather.

*continued pause*

You know what? I’m going to go off and write a wholly separate article while another idea I just had is still fresh. Don’t let me forget about this one.

*pause*

There, the first draft of that other column is complete. I don’t like first drafts, though. Too disorderly. A proofread and review is in order.

*pause*

*pause*

*more pause*

A lot more than just proofreading occurred there. Let’s just say that classes began since the last time I worked on this piece. I’m waiting for one of those classes to begin right now, so let’s talk about procrastination in the meantime. Now where was I…wait, the class is beginning already? Gotta go—and I won’t be back in an hour, since there’s another class I have after this one and the buildings are far enough apart to merit a taxi service.

*pause*

Okay, the classes are done, but now I have homework. No no, stop rolling your eyes; I know you’re expecting me to type in
*pause*
but I assure you, no
*pause*
is actually occurring. See, this is the perfect time to bring up what I call the “Procrastination Continuum”, a term I made up just now. In order to explain this concept, I need a little while to organize my thoughts.

*actual pause*

That took a couple of days and a few classes; that’s about how organized my thoughts are. The Procrastination Continuum is simply the scale on which a person’s tasks are arranged. The placement of the task on the scale determines how fast it gets done. For instance, I could consider this particular topic as lower on my continuum than a completely different article I hypothetically want to write, and it wouldn’t get done as soon.

*pause to work on other article*

There are many factors to consider in a single task’s placement on this scale, but if I take a second to compile them you might never see me again. A few off the top of my head, then, include length of the project (the longer, the more put-off), real-life importance (the more important, the more put-off), and whether or not you were the one who thought of it (if you didn’t think of it, well, it’s never gonna happen). Gender is also a significant factor—which is one of the reasons why it had better be an emergency of serious, potentially interdimensional proportions before you even consider using a guy’s bathroom. That hovel is a monument to procrastination; monumental in the sense that it will never move without divine interference.

I’d love to keep talking about this, but I have homework to do.

*ten-second pause*

But first, let’s talk about the more recreational forms of procrastination…




Friday, June 1, 2018

Star Wars vs. Infinity War: Why One Worked, and the Other Didn't




It’s only fair to warn you: this post contains Infinity Wars spoilers. It’s also fair to warn you that some Star Wars: The Last Jedi spoilers are in here too, but I think we’re past the statute of limitations on that one.

But let’s get to the point here.

I don’t know about you, but it always intrigues me when something works in one movie / book / TV series / puppet show, and then proves ineffective in another equally meritorious media. It’s even more perplexing when the first attempt doesn’t work, but the second attempt wins praise in a different forum.

This is the situation in which I find myself when comparing Lucasfilm’s Star Wars VIII and Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. From my eagle’s-nest perspective, the Star Wars and MCU franchises have a lot of similarities between them. Both have a long-standing legacy behind them and a dedicated fan base. Both have a multitude of entwining, complex story offshoots in print and film. Both are now part of Disney’s grand scheme of worldwide conquest through market saturation, hypnosis, and ideological programming (oh, tell me I’m wrong).

Then comes Star Wars VIII and Infinity War; at a passing glance, they look completely different. But from my layman’s perspective, they have one core element in common:

Heroes who lose.

Let’s do a comparison of certain plot chunks of these movies side-by-side, shall we?

·         Star Wars: Problem: The last of the Rebel – I mean, the Resistance fleet is about to get crushed like ants under the heel of the Empire – I mean, First Order.
·         Infinity Wars: Problem: The titan Thanos is about to wipe out half of the universe with a magical MacGuffin collector’s item, the Infinity Gauntlet.

·         Star Wars: Finn and Rose (pretty sure that’s her name), in cahoots with Poe Dameron (pretty sure that’s his last name), launch a harebrained scheme to find some advanced hacker and use him to disable the First Order’s own magical MacGuffin, the hyperspace tracking device.
·         Infinity Wars: There are many harebrained schemes I could choose here, but I’m going with this one: Ironman, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the remnants of the Guardians of the Galaxy team up to confront Thanos on his home planet to steal the Infinity Gauntlet.

·         Star Wars: Their plan doesn’t work: while our heroes get close to succeeding, the hacker turns out to be a traitor. He turns Finn and Rose in to the First Order, and the hyperspace tracking device remains intact.
·         Infinity Wars: Their plan doesn’t work: while this detachment of the Avengers gets close to succeeding, Thanos overpowers them all and stomps off to Earth, leaving the team more or less stranded on that…other planet. Whatever it was called. It wasn’t called Titan too, was it?

I hope it’s pretty clear that, at heart, these movies have a little more in common than you thought they did about five minutes ago. So why did one (Infinity War) get all the praise, while the other (Star Wars VIII) create such fanatical love it / hate it camps? Well, after considering this issue for a long time (TEN WHOLE MINUTES), I think I have the answer:

We the People, the human race, the average moviegoer, LOVES a good harebrained scheme—whether or not it succeeds.

It’s why we go to the movies in the first place, for pity’s sake. If I wanted to see a reasonably planned out, no-risks film, I’d watch an assembly line in a canning facility. But deep down we all want to see the wheels spinning on the Crazy Plan Train—sometimes it makes us feel good about the risks that we would like to take. Pulling off an odds-against-you, there’s-no-way-this-could-work scheme is part of the human condition, dare I say it. It’s why we even begin to consider space travel, make friends, create new inventions, and dream of one day going to heaven.

Think about Star Trek, another successful space-based sci-fi storyline (Alliteration! Yeah!). It could easily be retitled “Harebrained Schemes Inc. – Space Division”, and we love it. We’ve loved it for generations. On the website Imgur, there is a chain of posts called “The United Federation of ‘hold my beer, I got this’” that talks about this Star Trek motif [PARENTAL ADVISORY: even though all its contributors were posting in a good-humored manner, cuss words and F-Bombs get dropped a lot]. Here is what one of the posts had to say about this whole harebrained-human element that is ever so prevalent:



And again…



I think it’s safe to say that Star Trek is one long celebration of mankind’s tendency to shoot a bullet with another bullet, blindfolded, while riding a horse.

Both Star Wars VIII and Infinity Wars employ the harebrained scheme to the utmost, but they differ on how they treat this plot element. This is what distinguishes them, and is the reason why, in my opinion, one flew while the other flopped.

Star Wars VIII, in an unexpected fashion, scolded its crazy co-conspirators for attempting such a risky venture that yielded next-to-no rewards. “Why didn’t you trust the leaders of the Resistance?” the story asks. “I mean, the leaders didn’t tell anyone their real plan for salvation, and the version they told their underlings was basically begging someone to try a last-ditch crazy scheme, but why would anyone take such a risk?” In the end, Finn and Rose’s little side quest makes no difference to the movie at all; take out those characters and their chunk of the film, and the plot isn’t affected—if anything, it gets more streamlined.

One could argue that the Dr. Strange + Ironman part of the story, when removed from Infinity War, also does not affect the plot; Thanos still gets his Infinity Stone and heads Earthwards for the last one. But at least Infinity Wars does not dump all over its heroes for trying to succeed. The Avengers get some time to practice teamwork, weave interesting character dynamics, and ultimately build up some real stakes for the final act’s consequences. There is no reward for the heroes’ actions, but it still feels like the resistance they mounted meant something. They even earned the respect of the villain in their creative efforts to stop him. In Star Wars VIII, Finn’s side quest doesn’t mean jack; if anything, he is even more useless in Episode VIII than he was in Episode VII.

Some have commended Star Wars VIII for its edgy move in criticizing the human tendency towards the harebrained—but to me, that comes across as someone taking off and burning a bulletproof jacket that has already saved his live sixty different times. The best stories are built around the desperate situation and the even more desperate shot at fixing it; we read and watch them over and over again to feel the characters’ thrill of unexpected victory—or crushing defeat. When steering the plot towards defeat, though, the story must give the characters and the audience something to make all their efforts worthwhile. Star Wars VIII chose not to do that.




Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Grad-ical!



I'll make this update quick--because odds are I'm currently job hunting.

As of this past weekend, I have graduated college with my English major! I'll likely post which college it was someday, but I'm a little busy at the moment, so that may have to wait.

On a more somber note, I have--for now--discontinued my webcomic Lab Rules. It's going to be hard letting them fall to the side, but there are more than a few hundred comics in their archives that you can read, and who knows? Maybe with enough support, ideas, and time, the laboratory suicide squad will make a comeback.

See you again soon! Thanks for your support.



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Short Story Short Story




Weird things keep happening when my short stories get published.

So last weekend Daily Science Fiction published the second short story they’ve accepted from me:  “The DSF Rejection Ceremony”. The origins of this story and its process unto acceptance were strange enough; I’ve written about it here already.

(That’s a lot of links for an opening paragraph. Let’s see if I can’t tone it down a little.)

Maybe a strange environment is just the natural state in which my short stories are published. Now that I think about it, that was the theme for my previous full post.

(OK, there went another link. I’ve got to knock it off now.)

Heck, when my last DSF story got published, it happened when I was studying abroad in Europe.

(NO. STOPPIT.)

It doesn’t help that DSF does not tell its accepted contributors when their stories will be published. After we sign our contracts, there’s not much else to do but wait and keep an eye on our email inbox. I do not criticize DSF for this informational gap—as long as there’s a good reason for it, such as shuffling schedules or something like that. At any rate, the point of all this is to say that I had no idea that “The DSF Rejection Ceremony” was coming out last weekend, which made things that much more interesting.

On that Friday morning, the first issue was that I needed more sleep.

I’m graduating college this month (yay), so as a decently-performing member of higher education my sleep schedule naturally gets pretty wacked out. I thought I was in for a treat when I woke up, looked at my watch, and saw that it was only 6:30 a.m. My first class on MWF starts at 9 a.m. “Great,” I thought. “I can get some more sleep.” So I did.

Then at 7:30 I figured, as long as the spring hours were brightening up my room this early, I might as well get up and get stuff done. Breakfast and Viking literature sounded pretty good. Rolling over, I looked at another clock in the room.

Which read 8:30.

Huh.

I double-checked my watch. After a moment’s observation and reflection, I began to regret three things: one, that I use my watch’s stopwatch function to time how long I need to brush my teeth before I go to bed; two, that my absent-mindedness sometimes forgets to turn off that stopwatch after I’m done brushing; and three, that my watch’s stopwatch looks way too much like my regular time display.

There would have been much more swearing if this had happened any earlier in the morning, I tell you.

After some quick prayers, I launched myself from my bed to my phone…where I noticed there was a little more activity than usual. The urgent folder of my email had two messages instead of one. One was the normal DSF story, and the second was that same story again—only forwarded to me by my older brother (also a writer). He’d attached a message to that email too. One word.

“Nice.”

Then I began to realize why Twitter and Facebook notifications were popping up.

But Our Hero had no time to meditate on—or even read—all of his phone’s activity. He had to book it up the hill to a journalism class, which he did just in time. Breakfast got postponed a little, and before I got any Viking Lit reading done I responded to the kind messages I’d received from readers. There were some good ones too. Here are a few examples:



And finally, one of the highest pieces of writing praise I’ve ever received…


Overall, in spite of the weird start…Friday was a pretty good day.

Thanks for reading!



Friday, April 27, 2018

Hello!

My story "The DSF Rejection Ceremony" just got published by Daily Science Fiction this morning! If you are a visitor from DSF, welcome to this page--I hope you enjoyed the story!

- Ben




Monday, April 16, 2018

New Stories Are Out!




So, if you visit my Published Works page, you may notice that it has expanded a little recently. That’s because my college’s annual arts magazine and Sonder Midwest’s first-ever issue have published, combined, THREE of my short stories! Sonder published “Important Transmission” (probably my most comical presentation of a sci-fi concept to date), while the arts magazine took “Plumber” and “To Write a Story”. I thought I’d discuss those latter two stories here, though, because…the circumstances of their publication were rather interesting.

Here are three of those peculiarities.

First, the fact that my college’s arts magazine took two of my stories is new on me. Normally they only take one—but last year I did get one story and one photo accepted. Other than that, it’s just been one story at a time. I hope this is a good sign for my writing skills and not a bad sign for submission quantity, but whatever the case may be, it’s rather flattering.

…Except that I submitted three stories, and to be honest, the one that didn’t get published was probably my favorite. Oh well. That means I’ll feel better when I submit it elsewhere.

Second, one of the published short stories, specifically “To Write a Story”, won for me my third Short Fiction Award. I didn’t think that was allowed. I’d won it before with “URCARU” in 2015 and “The Longest Three Days” last year, so I was expecting—and OK with—not acquiring it this year. But I guess it is possible. So to all those who may be attending any academic institution with such an arts award (I’ll tell you my college someday, probably after I’ve graduated), I offer this advice: shoot for the fiction award every single year. Don’t expect it every year maybe, but trying for it will at least get you some good stories in your stories folder.

The weirdest detail, though, is probably Detail Number Three.

Third, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but this semester I’m also a reporter for the college newspaper (but you may never see those articles in “Published Works”—believe it or not, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t writing fiction). I was attending the arts magazine not only to see if any of my stories had made it in, but also to cover the story of the magazine’s release. It was a pretty big anniversary edition, and I volunteered to take the story because I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting an award.

And then I did. Which was awesome, make no mistake. But what am I supposed to write for my article? I’ll probably have to close it out something like this:

“Even though this reporter won the Short Fiction Award, he would like to reassure you that everything in this article is absolutely true and he didn’t make up any of this.”



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Subscriptions and Scientists



Hello, loyal and disloyal readers! Happy Easter, Happy April, Happy whatever-you-happen-to-be-celebrating-at-this-moment (maybe the arrival of this blog post, I don't know). Anyway, I thought I'd kick off this month with a few updates.
First is this font size. I think it's more readable, but as I'm writing this it's causing me some formatting headaches. We'll see if it works.
Second, off to the left of this page, you may have noticed a couple of extra features on the “SIDEBAR OF MANY THINGS.” That’s right; after nearly TWO YEARS of blog authorship, I have finally added a “Blog Search” gadget and—probably more importantly—a Subscribe-By-Email gadget. Now you can receive blog update notifications directly to your email address, and in return I promise to spam your account. Again, these posts are published merely twice a month, and I tend to hold all important news until those posts come out.
Third, according to sources I found after a brief Google search, April is the National Month of Inventors, Humor, and Pets. What better way to celebrate that than with Lab Rules, my Monday-Wednesday-Friday cartoon blog that features inventors, humor, and…sort-of pets? Plus, I’m looking into finally installing a “Subscribe” gadget on there as well (and that blog has been online for nearly SIX years). Bit of an oversight on the part of my editor.
Also, as long as you’re checking out Lab Rules, be sure to admire the new poster I’ve put on my blog’s page. Its predecessor was getting kind of old.
That’s all I have for now. Tune in next time for…well, I don’t know really. We’ll find out. You will definitely find out if you subscribe.