A lot has happened in the brief two months since my last post.
The weather has begun its shift from icy winds licking at your skin and the skies tearing open to blanket the world in fresh snow, to assorted peeks at the tans and muted greens of what was once and will again be grass. Shorts, t-shirts, ice cream cones. Signs of Spring show themselves, reminding us that things move forward. Time marches on, ever and ever and without you, whether you wish it to or not.
Over the course of a single week in January, the following events transpired. In order:
1: My father entered hospice care.
2: My grandfather was hospitalized, a total of two times.
3: My grandfather entered hospice care.
And 4: On January 25th, my grandfather, Charles Gustav Kaas, passed away at the age of 96.
It has all felt like a whirlwind from hell and it has all weighed on my soul in ways I never knew were possible.
My father’s health has continued to deteriorate and now we’re simply being told no one knows how much longer he’ll be here.
Through the kindness of both loved ones and people I barely know, Danielle and I are able to fly out to California. This will not be a fun-filled vacation, it will not be catching up and reminiscing with old faces or partying at the old stomping grounds.
This trip, put as simply as I can put it, will be me saying goodbye to my father.
We leave in a few days. This weekend will be devoted to housecleaning and preparing for the trip. We want to make sure Ben is comfortable while he graciously plays housesitter for us. We’ll return one week later and will have a day to process and decompress, both physically and, I’m sure, emotionally. Then it’s a return for what has passed for normalcy in recent time, which disguises itself as my spending afternoons making pizzas.
My grandfather and I had a strained relationship for many years, the reasons for which I will not divulge here. But when I was a very young boy, my grandfather was my best friend. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve spending time with my grandparents. We’d hop into my grandpa’s maroon Oldsmobile and go up to the corner Thrifty drug store to buy scratch-off lottery tickets (I’d pick them out and if he or I won on any of them, I’d get to keep some of the money) and pineapple ice cream cones. We’d watch boxing until it was time to pick up my grandmother from bingo. It really is the simplest things that stand out.
A lot changed in our relationship between those days and where he left us, but I’ve never forgotten how close we were. I’ll never forget pineapple ice cream and scratch-off lottery tickets.
I turned 32 three days ago.
The world is an upside down place that makes little sense.
Well, here it is. The obligatory first blog entry of the new year. 2015 came crashing down around me in spectacular fashion and now 2016 lay, all shiny and new, at my feet. Full of fresh starts and brimming with potential. Will this year be better than the last? Will I be happier and healthier and more at peace with the world?
Right now, I can’t be certain.
So much happened in 2015, but the problem is too much of it felt as though it all happened to me. 2015 attacked me, tore at my heart in ways I’ve never experienced before, and even as I type this I feel a sense of waning numbness.
The biggest attack, the one that has cut me the deepest and wet its claws in almost every aspect of my life, is that my father is not getting better. I might write a post about it, go into it at greater length, when I am able to tackle the situation without it crippling me. Maybe I won’t. Maybe this will be my only mention of it on this blog from here on out. I have a feeling I won’t have any choice but to write about it, in one form or another, for any of it to make something resembling sense.
I don’t want to continue to bring this up, as I don’t want to burden those reading this with the heaviness of the situation, the heaviness I feel inside every time I think of it.
I am here for my mother, as she is understandably closest to ground zero of the slowly burning disaster that is currently at the forefront of the collective mind of my family. I am here for my sister, who is handling all of this as well as one might expect; bravely, compassionately, and with healthy fear and frustration. I love them both and am happy to be their sounding board, their crying shoulder, their helping hand, in all of this going forward.
But one thing must be understood: I am not okay. I’m sure that, with time, I will be. But for now, though I am here, though I am smiling and laughing and putting on my best face for the crowd… I am not okay.
There it is, the line has been reached. Quite enough of such sadness in this post, one that started with such hope and promise. Let us hope the new year in question is not a reflection of how this post has gone so far.
Star Wars. That’s a good thing that happened in 2015, a new Star Wars movie happened and most people agree it was pretty good.
I’m very tired. I think I’ll go get some sleep. A longer, perhaps happier, post will come soon.
Current Proof of Life:
Post office, bills to pay. Bought lunch. Sun was shining, but the humidity had finally broke. All was well.
Mostly sleep. Started watching Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. I’m four episodes into the eight episode season and loving every minute. Entire cast firing on all comedic cylinders. Now watching anime with Danielle. Shielding self from heat outside by remaining inside air conditioned house.
Plans include grocery shopping, more anime, more Wet Hot American Summer, more sleep.
Risk. Not the strategy board game that made your cousin cry that one time, but real risk. It’s something that I feel isn’t seen much in the mainstream comic book landscape. Even some of what could be seen as the biggest risks taken by the big comic book publishers in recent years feel too carefully calculated. Like they boiled their risky idea down to a series of charts and graphs and then ran those through a few too many focus groups before deciding it was just risky enough to capture the imagination of their audience. One company who was built on risk taking is Image Comics. I have to say that a lot of my favorite comics in recent years, not all, but a lot, have been Image books. I’m not saying that charts and graphs and focus groups aren’t a part of their process, because it probably is. The creation of comic books is still a business, after all. But when the origin of your company, the very genesis of your entire business model, came from ditching the mainstream and focusing on giving true control of the art back to the artists, you kind of gain a certain level of street cred. Even when the company you created to rival “The Big Two” becomes one of “The Big Three”.
There are a lot of truly interesting things out there, if you look hard enough, great stories and some fantastic art. The independent comics scene has flourished in the digital age, even if the term “underground comics” doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did. In a world where more and more people are reading their comics on screens rather than on the page, and whether you view that as a good or bad direction is another discussion for another time, it’s obvious that what is considered “mainstream” isn’t what it once was. While Marvel, DC, and Image Comics continue to split a majority of the business in the comics industry, the little guy/girl isn’t as little as he/she once was, either. A good social media presence can make that number of followers translate to a number of paying readers, no matter what your clout in the industry is. Whether you work in the Marvel Bullpen, or you’re just someone with artistic talent and a regularly updated webcomic on Patreon, you can find yourself on almost equal footing in readership. Which is why the big publishers can be seen, in recent years, as less of an endgame for creators and more of another showcase for their work. One that can serve a much larger audience than they might be used to.
Image Comics can hardly be considered an independent publisher anymore, but they still have much of that independent spirit that made them such trailblazers in the early 90’s. And even though they might now be seen as part of the big comics machine, chugging away, they always strive to showcase talent and know when to take risks.
Island #1 feels very much like one of those risks for a couple of reasons. First of which, the $7.99 price tag might be enough to make casual readers and those of us who have a limited monthly comics budget keep walking. That risk pays off, however, when one realizes that they receive 112 pages of comic goodness for their money. The second risk is that not a lot of publishers make comic anthologies anymore. I’m not talking about trade paperbacks collecting story arcs, but anthologies that exist with the purpose of showcasing several different stories all beholden to a specific theme or even similar vibe. Heavy Metal is, of course, one of the first that comes to mind. A few others. But in terms of print anthology comic book magazines, the the field isn’t exactly cluttered.
As far as anthologies go, Island handles the format perfectly. Each of the five entries in this issue are great for different reasons, and their creators really let their creative juices flow.
I.D., as written and drawn by Emma Rios (who serves as co-editor with Brandon Graham), is a unique and captivating look at the concepts of identity and body image. The art is stunning, the story is a fresh look at important issues, though the dialogue stands out as the only real weak point of the piece. The imagery is what shines in this first (damn those “To Be Continued…”‘s!) installment of I.D.
Kelly Sue DeConnick contributes not a comic but an illustrated essay entitled Railbirds and it serves as a beautiful tribute to the late poet and author Maggie Estep. DeConnick draws on her personal experiences with addiction and self-doubt to encapsulate how deeply Estep touched her life and the effect her friendship had on her own personality and world/self view. It’s beautiful and stays with you long after you finish it.
Brandon Graham, the creative co-mastermind of this whole affair, delivers a visually amazing comic entitled “Multiple Warheads 2: Ghosttown“. As the title would suggest, this is a part of a larger story told elsewhere, so it can be a bit hard to follow at times, but the beauty of Graham’s art is enough for anyone to enjoy taking their time with.
Dagger Proof Mummy, by Ludroe, is just a blast. It’s fun and frenetic and really makes you want to ride a skateboard.
The issue wraps up with Polaris 1, in which Brandon Graham addresses us, the readers, and gives us an inside perspective into his process.
Image Comics has a very special thing on their hands with Island. After receiving my copy, I immediately checked to see if pre-order was available for any further issues. Island #2 through #5 are already spoken for and will arrive in my mailbox as they’re released, and I can honestly say that I’m very much looking forward to watching this project grow.
Even at $7.99, and even though it’s by no means flawless, Island #1 definitely offers a return on your investment. I highly recommend you take a risk of your own and check this out.
If you’re interested in seeing more from the creators of Island, check out:
There’s also this great interview over at AV Club.
Just a friendly reminder that no matter how badly your day has gone (today has not been a good one for me) so far, just another twirl around of this tiny rock, and a new day will dawn. Fresh beginnings, every twenty-four hours.
We sit upon a rock, within a bubble of air and gas, in the middle of an endless sea of black, which itself is peppered with tiny specks of light. Some of those countless specks of light have rocks of their own, circling and circling. On and on this all goes, forever and ever into eternity. Ever expanding, ever growing. We are so small and it is easy to feel an overwhelming sense of insignificance when faced with this knowledge.
But we are made of the same materials as the rest of the universe. We are stardust and the infinite cosmos and we are all in this together.
Don’t forget. We are nothing, yet we are all.
Tomorrow will be better.
While Ant-Man himself is one of the original Avengers, it took fifteen years and eleven other films before he would finally be granted his silver screen debut.
Marvel Studios’ latest film and the true end of “Phase Two”, the overlying arc spanning six films (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and finally Ant-Man) has had a rocky go of it from the get-go. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish were tapped to write the script, with Wright set to direct. This made a number of fans very happy, as his quirky style of writing and unique approach to film making seemed a perfect fit for what is such an arguably odd story. Wright and Cornish had been involved in the development of an Ant-Man script since as early as 2003, with them being officially brought on to the project in 2006. Development continued through the entirety of Phase One, as Ant-Man wasn’t considered a “tent-pole” character. Months after turning in the fifth draft of their script, however, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish left the project, citing “differences in their vision of the film”.
The story doesn’t end there, thankfully.
Filmmaker Adam McKay entered negotiations to replace Wright as director, though ended up backing out a day later. Marvel Studios would soon after name Peyton Reed as Wright’s replacement, with McKay contributing to the script. It was revealed that Paul Rudd, after being cast as lead character Scott Lang, would also lend a hand with the script. So, we have a movie that went from being written exclusively by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, to a movie that has four screenplay credits altogether. This was troubling to many, and it could be said a stigma was added to the film after that. Many doubted Ant-Man would meet the standards of quality set by the Marvel Studios films that preceded it.
Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Evangeline Lily as Hope Van Dyne
Michael Douglas as Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket
When career criminal Scott Lang is released from San Quentin, he vows to turn his life around. He’s given a very clear set of goals by his ex-wife: Get a job, get an apartment, pay his child support. Only then will he be able to spend time with his young daughter, Cassie. Walking the straight and narrow doesn’t pan out for Lang, and when his friend and former heist partner Luis (Michael Peña) offers him “the perfect job”, he decides to take his chances.
The perfect job ends up being more than Lang bargained for, though, when he crosses paths with Dr. Hank Pym. This mysterious older scientist inserts himself into Scott Lang’s life and makes him an offer of his own. One that takes Lang on a wild ride to redemption as he struggles to win back his daughter and, oh yeah, save the world.
I will preface this by saying that there has not been a single Marvel Studios movie that I have disliked. There have been some that I truly loved (Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy) and some that I enjoyed but could have been much better (Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron). Even the ones that have been heavily flawed, have had some redeeming quality for me.
Now, to Ant-Man.
I’ve seen reviews comparing Ant-Man to heist movies like Oceans 11, and I could not agree more. At its core, this is two movies in one. A tale of redemptions and the story of a daring heist. The combination of these elements, along with the heart and charm of Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, are what really hold this movie together.
The cast is great and each member plays off one another very well. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas have an undeniable chemistry when on screen together. Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne is believably at odds with her father, Douglas’ Hank Pym. Michael Peña steals every single scene he’s in as Luis. Going in, I thought for sure that Rudd was going to get the biggest laughs, but Peña nails it every single time.
Even actors in smaller roles, like David Dastmalchian and rapper-turned-actor T.I., or character actress Judy Greer and Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale, shine during their brief moments on screen.
Corey Stoll, who can be seen on The Strain on FX, does a fine job as the villainous Darren Cross, though there was something about his performance that didn’t sit right with me.
I’m still blown away that Michael Douglas was in this film. Between Douglas being in Ant-Man, and Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s truly astonishing to see the caliber of actor being drawn to Marvel Studios.
Edgar Wright’s influence is still very much felt throughout the movie and I can’t help but wonder how much of his original script made it to shoot. I also can’t help but wonder what the finished product would have been if Wright had remained signed on as director. All of that said, between Wright and Cornish, and Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, all having their hands in the screenplay, the pace of the story is very smooth.
I go back to the combination of heart and humor that made me enjoy this movie as much as I did. While I would not rank Ant-Man with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s a solid heist movie and just a lot of fun all around. It’s certainly a better movie than you might expect considering it’s a movie about Ant-Man.
Both the mid-credits scene, which sets up some exciting opportunities for Phase Three and beyond, and the post-credits scene, which does a fine job of leading into next summer’s hotly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, are a blast to see.
Overall, I would say Ant-Man does a great job of being a fun summer popcorn flick and fits in to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe in subtle but promising ways. I absolutely recommend seeing it, if you’ve enjoyed the Marvel Studios films as a whole so far.
Current Proof of Life:
Another thing that happened is my mother was admitted to the hospital.
This all started back in September. Feeling nauseated/vomiting, diarrhea, close to fainting. Into the hospital she went and after observation, the doctors were stumped. Her white blood cell count was through the roof, but even after a battery of tests they had no idea why. They put her on some antibiotics and sent her home.
The end of December, it all happened again. Another trip to the emergency room, another round of tests, another string of doctors scratching their heads. All things seemed well enough until last week, when my sister (who was visiting) noticed my mother seemed pale. Complaints about nausea and sweatiness followed, then she went into the bathroom, where after getting sick, she essentially collapsed. My sister was there to help her to the floor, as per the instructions of 911, where she was told she may need to start chest compressions. During all of this, my mother was barely responsive. The ambulance picked her up and rushed her to the hospital.
All of that happened in the span of roughly thirty minutes. She went from feeling completely normal, to barely being there at all.
My father’s health has been in decline since roughly the same time all of this started with my mother. In fact, that seems to be a popular theory as to what could be causing all of this, the stress and strain of caring for my father and watching what he’s going through. He stopped taking his required medication, stopped taking his insulin, refused going to the doctor for any sort of follow-up appointment. He’d given up. This has taken its toll on us all.
There may be a sliver of hope, however, as today my sister and mother convinced my father to attend a doctor’s appointment. At this appointment, he agreed to restart his medication routine, agreed to return for a follow-up appointment. He’s agreed to fight back, in a way, and that has us all feeling very good. Cautiously optimistic, but good. My mother has an appointment on Monday, to seek answers as to her mystery illness. A good friend of mine has brought up the possibility of Lupus, given a similar situation with his own mother a few years back. I’ve told my sister and now my mother, so that test may still be in the cards if no other answers are to be found.
I have not coped well with my father’s decline in health. This whole business with my mother has only added to what was already a heavy weight on my heart. I am focusing on the positive. I am keeping myself busy between friends, family, and work. But still it lingers, like a tiny flame in the back of my mind.
And so Monday is now the focus of my attention and worry. My plans for the weekend include getting caught up on comic books and listening to very loud rock music, all in an attempt to take my mind from it. This weekend is about unwinding, about having fun and focusing on enjoying myself.
Outside, the trees are bended by the force of 70mph winds and my windows are being pelted by hail. The clouds flicker with lightning and I can feel the roar of thunder rumbling in my chest. I’m reminded that storms come and storms pass. They hit you with everything they’ve got and leave you feeling drenched and beaten, but the sun will show itself again.
A fitting end to this post, I think.