Saturday, March 08, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 18

The last couple of chapters, with their depressing, horrific rape trauma, were real bummers. They were depressing and hard to get through, and doing this turned into something less fun and more like being forced to witness violations. So it's kind of a relief that most of this chapter is just fucking. Boring, badly written fucking.

Before that, though, one Dr. Greene examines Ana and puts her on birth control mini-pills, which is kind of pointless to dramatize, except that EL James dramatizes everything that happens to these two. Ana tells us that the woman is another one of Hitchcock's ice blondes, like the women who work in his office, and once again Ana is real condescending about it. Dr. Greene advises Christian to "Look after her; she's a beautiful, bright young woman." It speaks volumes about EL James that both Ana and Christian are taken aback, and Ana characterizes this minor compliment as "an inappropriate thing for a doctor to say."

It also speaks volumes that Dr. Greene is just the next in a long line of women that Ana is condescending towards, because other women only exist to be fascinated by the amazing mystery that is Christian Grey, a secret that only Ana and, like, 20 other people know. Ana has a narcissistic tendency to act like this not only makes her more interesting than other women, but just generally a better human being. It's getting close to that thing I see all the time on Tumblr, where girls think famous people are just somehow better than everyone else.

:: There's a dinner scene that's everything that's wrong with James' writing. She can't write cute conversations. It's annoying watching Ana muse on and on about how sexy and mysterious Christian is. They eat chicken caesar salad and somehow it turns them on, despite being one of the most unerotic meals I can think of. And then they're all over each other and, yeesh, not with your chicken caesar breath, please. These kids are just so horny they can't stop themselves from giving each other passionate, parmesan-and-anchovy-flavored kisses. Keep that in mind through this chapter.

:: Also, keep in mind that Ana still hasn't signed the contract. She even brings it up.

:: Look, in most of this chapter, it's just a little light bondage in the Red Room of Pain, as she keeps calling it, so mainly I'm just going to pick apart some of the bad writing/phrasing and talk about why Christian Grey isn't even a good Dom.

:: "One of the reasons people like me do this is because we either like to give or receive pain. It's very simple." What's very simple is this explanation. Overly so. There is a control issue here. It's about control, and pain can only be a part of that control. Did you know that you can dominate another person during BDSM without inflicting any pain at all? EL James doesn't.

:: "He wants to hurt me… how do I deal with this? I can’t hide the horror on my face."  Dude, not the response you want from your partner. You can't just convince her she's into pain if she's not.

:: "My blood is running heated and scared through my system – adrenaline mixed with lust and longing. It’s a heady, potent cocktail." "Lust" and "longing" mean the same thing in this context.

:: "Christian's stance has changed completely, subtly altered, harder and meaner." He completely subtly changed?

:: "It's the same, the smell of leather, citrus-scented polish, and dark wood, all very sensual." Well, if you say so. I mean, why describe what's so sensual about it when you can just say it is?

:: Christian disrobing Ana is very boring. Everything is so clinical and detached. That's a big problem with EL James: the detachment. She doesn't really commit to it, to this experience that she's imagining, because she keeps interjecting stupid phrases like "beyond erotic" and "Holy Moses" that make her sound like a Midwest spinster, or just terrible attempts to be flowery like "at a most unhurried pace," which are just stupid. Why do idiots get so faux-flowery when they're describing sex, like it's this mystical thing? Can't you just relate to it like a human being? But the detachment those phrases indicate is really telling. She's not in this experience, she's observing this experience and trying to describe it back like an alien intern on her first day at the nature observatory. It's not at all erotic, is what I'm saying. Even the sex in this book is boring as shit. Penthouse Letters is hotter than this garbage.

:: Christian wants Ana to always have her hair braided in the Room. She doesn't know why. Um, so he can pull you, like he just did a second ago, use your powers of observation.

:: "He smells of body wash and Christian, an inebriating mix, and that drags me back into the now." EL James always loves to talk about how he smells. My wife says Christian probably smells like sweat and Old Spice, which, yeah, come on.

:: "And suddenly he's back--and all at once I'm calmer and more excited in the same breath. Could I be more excited?" Did you hear that in Chandler Bing's voice, too?

:: What's happening now is that Christian has stripped her down to her panties and she's on her knees. He's got a riding crop out and he's teasing her with it with some light smacks.

Before we go on, I'm going to interject with some of the stuff Christian is doing wrong as a Dom. This is all courtesy of my wife, so here is Becca's Bondage School Guide to Everything Christian Is Doing Wrong, Part One:

* Don't say 'You can sit back on your heels' like she has a choice in the matter. Be firm.
* Don't say 'Look down at the floor.' Direct her. Tell her 'Don't look at me.'
* Don't ask her 'Will you remember this position, Anastasia?' It's not her choice. Order her to remember it. You're a Dom--dominate.
* Why the fuck did you change into ratty old jeans? That doesn't fit the Dominant character you're trying to affect. This isn't Casual Sunday. Take this seriously.
* Don't tell her you're going to chain her up, just do it. She's your sub, treat her like one.
* Don't tell her what you're going to do to her at all or how, just tell her to do it or just do it. This is not D/s. He doesn't understand that the element of fear and the loss of control is a very important part of this. She should have faith that he won't go too far, and he should have faith that she'll stop him if he does. It's about control, not making sure that she knows what's happening every step of the way. I know Ana's not a real sub, but a real sub would know this going in and would be very impatient that he's stopping before each step to explain what's going to happen. It totally takes away some of the elements essential to it.

:: "He steps back and gazes at me, his expression hooded, salacious, carnal [...]" Salacious is a terrible word for this. It's just an attempt to sound fancy, like a fancy word for lecherous, because she probably feels she's used lustful too many times already in this chapter. It doesn't make you sound clever, and there's a sort of connotation to the word salacious--at least in my opinion--that makes him sound sleazier. I'm picturing Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave right now, which is probably not what you should be making me think of.

Also, she keeps using this word hooded to describe his expressions, and I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. Hooded like a cobra? Or just leering down and shadowy, like a villain on a movie poster?

:: "Not taking his eyes off mine, he scrunches my panties in his hand, holds them up to his nose, and inhales deeply. Holy fuck. Did he just do that? He grins wickedly at me and tucks them into the pocket of his jeans."

You know, some things that turn you on in the moment don't really make sense to other people when you try to describe it. They don't have to. I have no idea why panty-sniffing would be so utterly captivating, and "Holy fuck" doesn't really do it for me. People do lots of weird shit when they're fucking, but that doesn't mean it's all a rich tapestry to hear about. You don't have to react to everything for our benefit.

Also, this shit where he's always grinning at her when he does stupid shit like that... stop it. It's like a child. A very stupid, cruel child. You know how a child will knock something over on purpose, just to see what it's like, and then they grin at you with that moron grin that says "Isn't what I just did very cute and very clever?" It's like that. I cannot take this kid seriously. He's just written like this overgrown child, and it just sort of makes me queasy. Again, not erotic. Nothing erotic about this novel.

:: "The shock runs through me, and it's the sweetest, strangest, hedonistic feeling." Incorrect usage. Hedonistic is not descriptive of feelings. Hedonism is a philosophy; it's an ethical doctrine about behavior. You do not feel like a hedonist just because you enjoyed getting smacked in the pussy with a riding crop. Hedonism is a lifestyle, not a feeling. Would you say that being very prudent and moderating your pleasure gave you an Epicurean feeling? Probably not.

:: Bonus hilarity for referring to your vagina as "my sex," like this is some Victorian porn novel.

:: "My nipples harden and elongate from the assault [...]" Like snakes, I guess. Seriously, just say your nipples got hard and stiff, but don't use the word elongate, that is an incredibly unsexy word. Also stop using the word buttocks. She uses it a LOT. Picture a man or a woman whispering in your eye "I'm going to spank your buttocks" and tell me it's not giggle-worthy.

::  Becca's Bondage School Guide to Everything Christian Is Doing Wrong, Part Two:

* Don't ask her if something feels good, assume it does if she doesn't tell you otherwise. Stop with the constant reassurance, you're doing it wrong.
* Don't kiss her! You're making her feel safe, when the excitement of being a sub is the thrill of being on a roller coaster--you know in the back of your mind you're safe, but the thrill is going right up to that limit.
* Don't ask her if she wants to come, make her come!
* Don't ask her if it hurts, let it hurt. She'll use her safeword if it hurts too much.
* Don't show her that you have scissors to cut the zip tie around her wrists; she has a safeword for this. Stop reassuring her! She should be afraid! You're so bad at this!
* Don't tell her you want more--take it!
* Don't tell her you'll make this quick. You're removing the essential emotional intensity of the whole thing.
* 'After this, I'll let you sleep.' What is this, a reward system?
* Quit being so gentle.
* Don't tell her what you'd like to do to her. She's yours! Just do it!
* Don't call her by her name, ever. Not in session.
* AND QUIT CALLING HER 'BABY,' IT'S CREEPY AND CLASSLESS AND INSINCERE.

:: It's hilarious that the zip tie he uses to clasp her hands together is--he points out, grinning his idiot child grin--one of the ones he bought from her way back at Clayton's, where she used to work. It's another of James' ridiculous Shucks, ain't I cute? moments. She thinks it's so dark and romantic or whatever her fucking psychosis is, but it's just really, really dumb. Hee hee, so naughty. Ugh. Barf.

:: "Jeez, it's deep this way." Painting a picture with words, this one. Always committing to those serious, erotic moods.

:: It's funny how the sex is always supposed to be such a big deal, but the actual sex itself is always over in a quick, single paragraph. It's so arbitrary, like EL James doesn't really want to talk about it too much.

:: There's some aftercare here, which is an important component of D/s relationships, and he's rambling about how great it is when she giggles. "'Tis a wonder and joy to behold," he says in a way that makes me want to take EL James' laptop away from her.

He's also all about convincing Ana how wrong she is to have reservations about his surprisingly boring BDSM lifestyle that he thinks he has, and he's basically belittling her right to chose.

:: Ana notices "a few random and faint small, round scars dotted around his chest," which I guess is supposed to be another hint at Christian's traumatic childhood which apparently justifies what a fucking asshole he is as an adult. Except it doesn't. At all. I'm sick of this shit.

:: Christian hands Ana a waffle robe. What the fuck is a waffle robe? I know it's not a robe made of waffles, because that would be too beautiful for this world.

The chapter ends with Christian and Anastasia going to sleep together, which... what the fuck? I thought he didn't "do" just sleeping with a woman, but he's done this with her constantly. Seriously, make your mind up about this guy. Don't tell me he doesn't like to just sleep with a woman, and then have him doing nothing but that. Also, I thought he didn't do romantic sex, but they've done that a lot, too. You can't start with romantic sex and then build up to a kinky business transaction.

This is all just supposed to be about how he's falling in love with her and her love is saving him from his dark trauma with an added side of, Hey, ladies, if a guy is controlling and shows up at your house and beats you and rapes you, it's just because he really loves you and doesn't know how to show it yet, because of some childhood thing that makes him think the only way you can love someone is to sign them to a contract that says you own them.

Romance!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #111

"Fighting to the Death with Asbestos Man!" by Ernie Hart & Dick Ayers
(August 1963)

This month's villain is Professor Orson Kasloff, a scientist who feels that "a man of my scientific achievements and ability should be treated like a king! I should be rich as Croesus! But I'm not!" I feel like we're seeing a lot of these guys lately: jealous scientists motivated solely by greed. He's created a new solvent that can melt iron and steel on contact, and figures the best application for this amazing invention is to rob banks.

His problem? He's afraid of getting caught and needs to find criminals to do the physical work for him. But how do you contact the underworld? Well, as Kasloff ably demonstrates, certainly not by walking around dives asking people if they're members of the underworld. No, instead, like the Wizard before him, Kasloff thinks the thing to do is defeat the Human Torch. Then "I'll make the underworld come to me!"

Kasloff buys a castle on the outskirts of town. I'm genuinely interested: are there a lot of castles on Long Island? I only ask because (a) I really don't know and (b) this is the second one we've seen. Or it's still the first one, and it's on the market since the Sorcerer went to prison after his Pandora's Box crime spree. He makes himself a suit of asbestos, grabs a helmet and shield, and fashions a net of "skin-covered nitrogen strands," and is born as... THE ASBESTOS MAN! (Later, I presume, he'll be the Tragically Died of Cancer Complications Man.)

Asbestos Man actually sends the Human Torch a challenge in a letter that he mails to Johnny's house. If there's one thing we know from this series that Johnny can't stomach, it's being called a coward. He always has to rise to that challenge, even when the rest of the Fantastic Four tells him to ignore it and not go running after every crank. Johnny tries to burn the letter angrily, but it won't burn because it's made of asbestos. This thing is a miracle cloth; everything Johnny owns is already made of it.

The Asbestos Man, however, will not be ignored. Mere minutes after Johnny's started to calm down, Kasloff actually phones Johnny at home and challenges and taunts him further. So, despite the Asbestos Man not having committed any crimes, the Human Torch flies off to his castle to meet him, there's a brief fight, and the Asbestos Man drops him into the moat--in front of the press, no less!--and Johnny, humiliated, rushes back home.

He even lays down in bed and cries. Poor Johnny! (Dick Ayers' sad Johnny is right up there with Kirby's sad Ben.)

Well, the rest of the story unfolds according to the usual Human Torch formula. A gangster does come to team up with the Asbestos Man, Johnny broods, then Sue gives him a pep talk, and he rushes back to face the Asbestos Man (while Popeye music plays in the background, I always imagine) to reclaim his manhood. He uses his flame more creatively, trapping the Asbestos Man and cutting off his oxygen, and captures the guy and that's the end.

Stray observations:

:: "Fire!... The basic element! Yes, I can see where the underworld would fear the Human Torch! Their weapons would be powerless against him!" Someone could try a hose and a rifle shot a second later, but no one ever does.

:: Kasloff also dreams up ideas for an electronic pen that can perfectly reproduce signatures and a machine that would chemically produce the exact paper and ink needed to counterfeit money. He goes to an imaginary crime operation in seconds.

:: Ernie Hart's FF banter is much better than Robert Bernstein's. Although Reed's excuse to leave is pricelessly dorky: "Well, we're going to work on our income tax report."

:: Johnny looks up asbestos in his chemistry textbook (despite every cloth in his home being made of asbestos as per this diagram).

A little educational content for the kids.

:: I still love Sue's hair.

I love that, ever since she had her hair done a couple of months ago, it's been in that style. It's a little detail, but that kind of attention does go a long way in creating consistency. (Also, I think Ayers draws the hairstyle better than Kirby.)

It's actually an enjoyable story, it's just that the Torch's stories have gotten a little bit formulaic. Next month, we're getting two Torch stories by two different writers.

But now let's turn our attention to...

"Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

For the second Dr. Strange story, Stan and Steve introduce Strange's arch-villain, Baron Mordo, a former student of the Master's. Mordo wants the Master's most closely guarded secrets of black magic--the ones he's never told anyone else--so he astral projects himself to the Master's Tibetan castle and hypnotizes a servant into poisoning the Master's food. Mordo demands to know these last secrets, or else he will let the Master die from the slow-moving poison.

Dr. Strange, meanwhile, is performing black magic experiments (just go with it) and tries to contact the Master through his amulet. When the Master doesn't answer, Strange astral projects himself to the Master and sees Mordo there, hovering over the Master's dying body. Strange and Mordo fight, but Strange is able to use his amulet even in his astral form, so he heals the Master and then tricks Mordo into going back to his own body, ending the fight.

There's not much to this one as a narrative, but it's exciting and new. Baron Mordo is a villain with as much power as Dr. Strange, making him a formidable nemesis. This story and the last one are a great introduction to the concept and world of Dr. Strange, and now Stan Lee's going to sit back and see if the character takes off and the readers demand more. Due to the lag between press time and when letters start coming in, the next two issues of Strange Tales won't feature the character, so we'll check up on him again in Strange Tales #114. (It's worth the wait.)

Other observations:

:: Once again, I have to praise Steve Ditko's art. He does a lot over just five pages, conveying the story beats while making sure the action is precise and clear. The man's a master.

:: According to this story, if Dr. Strange is killed in his astral form, his physical body will also die. That makes last issue's appearance by Nightmare even scarier.

In the next Marvels: Iron Man's inevitable time travel story.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #95

"The Demon Duplicators!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(August 1963)

Oh, this period in Thor's history... the Robert Bernstein period is one we just need to put our heads down and get through. This is the kind of silly nonsense that gives comics their reputation as silly nonsense. There are a lot of outlandish things going on here, even for a comic about a guy who can change into a Norse god.

The main thrust of the issue is that Donald Blake has invented an android and arranged for it to be demonstrated by a colleague, Professor Zaxton. That way he can show up as Thor and show the android's resilience and strength, but when Professor Zaxton short circuits the android by accidentally pressing all of the android's controls at once, it's lucky Thor is on hand to use his hammer to throw the android far into the sky where he explodes without harming anyone. (Bonus: it's always hilarious seeing Thor tie someone or something to his hammer and just hurl it away.)

When Dr. Blake returns to his office, he finds Zaxton already waiting for him. Zaxton demonstrates a duplication machine he's made, and which he wants to use to create duplicate people. When Blake refuses to help, Zaxton says he's kidnapped Jane Foster. Donald Blake briefly considers turning into Thor, but apparently that would violate his code of never harming another person except in self-defense, though I don't really see how... and anyway, after the machine is actually finished, Blake does turn into Thor in order to stop Zaxton. But now that Zaxton can duplicate people, he duplicates Thor and the two Thors fight. He even duplicates Thor's hammer to give Duplicate Thor a second hammer.

Oh, and also, when the machine duplicates someone, it gives them the opposite personality to the original, so that's why they're immediately fighting. Oy, this story.

The big action climax is that Duplicate Thor's hammers don't have any effect on Thor. He throws them both at Thor, who has braced himself for the impact, and the hammers just bounce of off him. I thought the story would take the out and say that Zaxton couldn't duplicate the enchantment, but apparently he can. This machine is revolutionary! The reason the duplicate hammers don't work is that Duplicate Thor, being evil, is not worthy of the power of Thor, as per Odin's inscription. So... he can swing, throw, lift the hammers, and even use them to fly after Thor, but... I don't know, this whole thing's a mess, guys. Thor realizes that and turns his attentions to Professor Zaxton.

(The Duplicate Thor? Never mentioned again. Doesn't appear on panel. No reference is made. It's like he never existed.)

Thor heads for Zaxton, who makes a duplicate of himself to confuse Thor, and then falls over a railing and off a bridge, smashing his machine and himself. Thor feels a little bad about it, but decides that we can all just pretend that Duplicate Zaxton--who is "good," because the duplicating machine reverses the original's nature--is the real Zaxton and we won't mention this ever again.

Except there's a duplicate Thor who is MIA. Oh, and also Zaxton duplicated an airliner "dozens" of times to impede Thor, and there's no mention about all of the extra planes and, presumably, the dozens of duplicates of all the people on board those planes. Those never get mentioned at all. Just like the time Thor nuked China, this an implication we're just never going to deal with or mention ever again.

This story, guys. This stupid story.

Other mentions:

:: Jane Foster doesn't appear in this story. She didn't appear in the previous story, either, and in fact Robert Bernstein hasn't really used her very much since he started writing the series (off of Stan Lee's plots) back in Journey Into Mystery #92. There's only one more Bernstein story before Stan takes over writing duties, but the whole time Bernstein's been scripting he's pretty much sidelined Jane. It's a shame because Jane's personality really needs to be developed, and Larry Lieber made sure that we knew that one of Thor's dilemma's is that he loves Jane but can't be with her.

Also, it's weird that even though the plot sort of hinges on Jane being a prisoner, we don't see her at all. She gets one panel of Thor rescuing her and telling her Zaxton's reawwy sowwy and to let it go.

:: This story's framing device has Thor returning to Asgard to make rain for the crops. Apparently, Asgard has droughts. I never thought about that. This is really the first time I've gotten the sense that visiting Asgard isn't just a giant chore for the God of Thunder, but this also the first time we've really seen him there where it wasn't all about chasing down Loki. "If I were not so used to mankind, I would gladly dwell in this dimension forever!" On behalf of mankind, thank you for describing us as part of the daily routine you've resigned yourself to! I'm going to use that on my anniversary this year. "Darling wife, I've gotten so used to you..."

:: Dr. Blake's android isn't really very good. Professor Zaxton says they could make an army of invincible androids, since it withstood a blow from Thor's magic hammer, but then the thing can be easily short-circuited by its own remote control panel? Back to the drawing board, you two. Also, the key to genius is apparently just programming an android with a pre-set IQ of 375. You can program a machine to learn, but just setting the IQ level where you want it is new to me. Ah, Marvel science. Honestly, though, it's too bad about the short circuit, because I'd love to see this self-aware, talking, super smart android (who needs to be controlled by a handheld panel) just start solving complex equations and fighting Doctor Doom. I guess he kind of prefigures the Vision (he's even colored green!). Still, Zaxton and Blake taking something with that much potential and deciding to just make soldiers out of it is depressing.

I forgot to mention, if it weren't obvious: Zaxton overloaded the android on purpose, out of--his word--jealousy.

:: Joe Sinnott is drawing Thor's hammer with a very long handle in this story. I would estimate the handle here at something like two feet in length.

:: "I thought you were an honorable man, Zaxton! But now I see there's a strain of evil in you!" Zaxton's motivation? He wants "total, absolute power!"

:: At one point during the fight, Zaxton duplicates an office building to impede Thor's path. The Odinson smacks headfirst into it.

It's not supposed to be, but it's hilarious.

:: By the way, Thor is clearly flying in this issue. He might as well be Superman. It's already been established that he doesn't fly, he hurls the hammer and it drags him behind it.

A long post for a filler story, but there was just so much to mention in this one. Bernstein's Thor is just not good. I can't wait for things to pick up. Or at least for the "Tales of Asgard" feature to start.

Next time: the Human Torch faces a walking carcinogen and the first appearance of Baron Mordo.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

H Is for Hyperventilating

Here's another fun part of having panic disorder: hyperventilation syndrome.

Last summer, I went through several weeks where I thought I was becoming diabetic. I didn't mention it because it kind of scared the hell out of me, and rather than fret about it, I wanted to make sure to get regular exercise and eat better, just in case.

I started having chest pains and paresthesia--that tingling sensation you get in your fingertips. I was really worried that I was going to go into shock or have a heart attack or something. This is when I was still uninsured and reluctant to go to the emergency room or see my doctor, which is a whole other blog post in itself. But it turns out that worry was actually making the symptoms much worse, because what was really happening was hyperventilation syndrome.

It's something that can happen to people who have panic disorder. Back when I was first diagnosed with panic disorder, I was stunned; in the weeks following, I began to really, truly think about it, and I realized that I was panicked most of the time. And it wasn't just the big things, like the way snow can trigger panic in me, or loneliness, or frustration. But even the thought of having to leave the house or whether I had forgotten to pay a bill or whether there was anything to eat in the house caused mass waves of panic to flow through my body. I was always panicking, I'd just gotten so used to it that I stopped being aware of it and started letting it dictate my behavior.

Now, added to all of that is my weight problem and my sleep apnea. I sleep with a CPAP machine that keeps me from choking to death in the middle of the night. At some point, however, stress and panic started making me hyperventilate, so I sometimes have this problem where I'll wake up and immediately be anxious and start hyperventilating. The key to this is to find ways to deliberately slow down your breathing, but it's hard to slow down your breathing when you're wearing a mask that is shooting a steady stream of air up your nose so that your throat doesn't close in the middle of the night and suffocate you. Usually I just end up getting out of bed early and exercising (to get out the anxious energy) and trying to control my breathing.

What happens when you're experiencing hyperventilation syndrome is that you feel like you're not getting enough air and you start to breathe heavier and more rapidly. But you're still not getting enough air, because actually your blood oxygenation is normal, but your blood vessels are constricting because you're not getting enough carbon dioxide--which reduces the effective delivery of oxygen to your vital organs--because you're breathing too rapidly. It feels like you're drowning. So you breathe more rapidly, and then you can start to raise the blood pH, which makes the symptoms worse, which makes you breathe more rapidly, and then on and on. And that seems like it would cause a panic attack, except in my case it's already happening because of a panic attack, which just makes every part of it seem more desperate and hopeless.

It's not a heart attack, except it feels like one and, ironically, could actually give you a heart attack. It can also cause dizziness (check), fainting (not yet), perception problems (check; my eyes hurt a lot sometimes and my vision gets very blurry), and even disruptions or permanent changes in your nervous system.

And it happens all the time. Even right now, as I sit here writing this, I'm feeling a few of the symptoms and my head is hurting.

So, how do you treat it? No one really knows. SSRIs can apparently reduce their severity and frequency; there are other drugs that can apparently help your body's response to panic. I am, as ever, reluctant to take drugs like that, especially considering my last two antidepressant experiences, both of which led to a dramatic raising of my already-high blood pressure and compulsive thoughts of suicide.

A lot of it still comes down to breath control. You have to use a method to slow your breathing down; counting usually works for me, breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 2, and exhaling for 6. Often, it calms me down but it makes me very sleepy.

That thing in my mouth in the picture is something I made to help with my breathing. Another way I can slow my breathing is to simply take in less air, so I rolled up a receipt, taped it together, and I breathe through it like a little straw.

I wish that panic disorder was as simple as just being really scared sometimes. That's bad enough, but the physiological responses to it can be baffling, confusing, scary, and hard to deal with. Too often people dismiss it as mere overreacting; how many of you with real anxiety problems have been told you're just "too sensitive"?

In reality, a person with panic disorder can experience severe behavioral changes for a month or more, often exacerbated by worrying about the implications of panic attacks and the fear of having another one. They can't be predicted, and that alone is enough to cause anxiety when you know how severe panic attacks can be. I spoke weeks ago about about having an anxiety attack so severe that I couldn't eat for 24 hours and was constantly suffering extreme gastrointestinal issues. It was most severe in the first day, but the effects continued for several more, and some of the effects still haven't gone away. That's what your body can do to you. Panic disorder and anxiety can make you feel like you have no control over the way your body responds, and that only creates more panic and anxiety, and sometimes people just give up.

Here's a fun example of what anxiety does for you: I once woke up during an operation when I was 8 years old, because the epinephrine in the anesthesia created an adrenalin rush that woke me up and caused a panic attack. Nothing like being an 8 year-old and getting yelled at by your dentist for freaking out while he cuts into your gums to pull down a permanent tooth that wasn't breaking through. If you have a child, please, please don't ever yell at them or make them feel ashamed of being afraid. They're not doing it to make you angry.

That's another part of the fun of all this: being able to remember, more clearly than anything else that's ever happened, every moment in my life when I was panicked and made to feel ashamed or ridiculous or like I was just "too sensitive," and how being made to feel those things built the operating schema that I was a failure at everything and where that's gotten me in life, because until I started therapy, I didn't even know consciously what it was that was holding me back. And I'm worried that I'm going to spend so much of the rest of my life attempting to get control of it.

ABC Wednesday

Also, the Muppets Are Advertising Lipton Tea

The Muppets are still out in force to promote their new movie, Muppets Most Wanted (16 days left!), and in addition to talk show appearances, now they've got some great ads for Lipton.

This one, with a New York City full of Animals, is magnificent.

And here's one with just Kermit, strumming the banjo and singing a cute, old timey style song.


And heck, here's a link to the page on Tough Pigs that features a lot of short, 10-second spots for Lipton featuring the Muppets, many of which were specific to getting ready for the Oscars. I didn't watch the ceremony, but clearly the best dressed was Miss Piggy in her Vivienne Westwood creation.

Two weeks... I am on pins and needles the way I haven't been for a movie since--what else?--The Muppets.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968)
It's certainly pretty in its composition (love the split screens and the art direction), and that song's good, but otherwise, there's not much going on. Cute movie, but lighter than air. **1/2

WOULD YOU RATHER (2012)
Bizarre horror flick with people in need playing a rich psychopath's deadly version of Would You Rather. I think the ending undercuts everything in a not very clever way. Incredibly intense movie, but not completely successful; it splits the difference between torture porn and actually making some interesting points about class and need. I bumped it up an extra half-star because Jeffrey Combs, as the rich psychopath, is so wonderfully Jeffrey Combs. ***

LA PISCINE (1969)
Excellent French film about jealousy, possessiveness, and how we are willing to act when our pride is at stake. Alain Delon and Romy Schneider are a couple on vacation who are visited by her ex-lover (Maurice Ronet) and his sexy teenage daughter (Jane Birkin). It's sensuous, but not prurient, as Delon and Ronet, old friends with tensions neither one will just address, try to humiliate one another through their loved ones. Director Jacques Deray uses a deft hand here, not hiding the emotional brutality but also presenting it in a measured way, through lingering looks and subtle phrases. Another movie from that time when audiences actually liked sex and considered it worthy of dramatic emphasis. ****

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013)
One of those controversial movies that's really only controversial because it presents sex in a very frank way. (I'm of course speaking of the content of the film, not the actual controversy surrounding the production.) The story is about Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), a student who is exploring relationships. She meets and is immediately attracted to a college student (Lea Seydoux), and the two women become a couple. The film simply follows their relationship through the early stages, where passion is strong and constant, to later times when loneliness and routine and second thoughts come creeping in. Both actresses are excellent. The film's a great love story, but there is so much more in here. Adele's journey is represented in parallels of dinner scenes and political protests and fluid relationship dynamics. There are scenes in here about the importance and place of art in a world dominated by commerce, and individual freedom (and how that freedom can come at the cost of alienation). The art direction is gorgeous, with the symbolic color blue representing at various times curiosity, love, and sadness--the meaning changes as Adele's life changes. It's a beautiful, masterful film, in my opinion the best of last year. **** (It's on Netflix right now, I really recommend seeing it.)

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)
I found this film uplifting, but mainly because it opened by playing on one of my deepest fears: that I'll go to a doctor and find out that I have something terminal, but that it's too late to do anything about it. (This fear was greatly exacerbated by spending so many years uninsured and the many deaths in my family that occurred between 2000 and 2007.) This is a character study about a man determined not to die from AIDS. The parts that resonated the most for me were the character's battles with the FDA and the medical industry over research into effective medication... this world is very, very frustrating and progress can be very slow, especially where money's involved. Matthew McConaughey is excellent in the lead. I was a little less impressed with Jared Leto; he was sympathetic but not entirely believable, and I found his performance a little more caricature than character. They couldn't have hired Laverne Cox? Still, ****

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
Having seen Steve McQueen's films Shame and Hunger, I knew this was going to be intense. But I still wasn't prepared for how intense it really was, both emotionally and in its portrayal of human brutality. I think it's important that the film didn't shy away from its depiction--Steve McQueen likes to hold scenes for a long time, past the point of discomfort--but it's so hard to watch. It's fascinating, really, because this film could easily have come across as crass and exploitative; it reminded me of films like Mandingo. The reason it works is that Steve McQueen didn't direct it in a schlocky, trashy way, and the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free man who is kidnapped and illegally sold into slavery never loses its essential humanity. It's a stark, brutal film. I found the cinematography especially fascinating; such beautiful shots of the countryside, which only serve to make the human ugliness occurring in that vast scope seem even more abominable. One of the most powerful films I've ever seen. ****

NEBRASKA (2013)
Enjoyable film starring Bruce Dern as a man who thinks he's won a million dollars in a publisher's sweepstakes, and is determined to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to get it. His family--who insist he's being taken in--think he's losing it and it's probably time to put him in a home, but his son (Will Forte) decides to humor the old man and take him to Lincoln. What ends up being the heart of the film is a side trip to Dern's boyhood home town, and the the exploration of family dynamics and our relationships with our own pasts in a wry, bittersweet way. It's a funny movie, recognizably funny in a way that understands the Midwest. A lot of characters reminded me of members of my extended family. I've definitely been in that quiet room watching the football game, and I've had alcoholic family members tell me, in a surprisingly angry way, "Beer ain't drinkin'." It's quietly observant of human nature and very, very likable. ****

(One interesting thing I noted was that director Alexander Payne read the screenplay and wanted to direct it as far back as 2004, but didn't want to follow up one road trip movie--Sideways, the only film of his I don't really care a great deal for--with another. I think that's kind of interesting because I would say the last four movies he's made--About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska--are four road trip movies. Nothing wrong with that, just interesting.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Post-Olympics TV Report

Almost everything I watch came back strong last week, so I thought I'd put up some more of my subjective thoughts on what I'm enjoying right now.

:: In earlier days, when I posted even more than I do now, I would've been talking a LOT about how great True Detective is. We're just a few days away from the finale now, and I can't believe it will have ended up being only 8 episodes. This is a full, fantastic show; each episode feels like it must be feature length, only because so much happens in each episode. That's one of the main things about it that impresses me: how well it uses its time to build character, weave a mystery, and parcel information. A lesser series might have built 13 episodes around just what happens in True Detective's first four, and fretted about keeping a mystery going for years. Since True Detective is apparently going to be an anthology series, they're unraveling this byzantine conspiracy in just eight episodes, and it's the best thing I'm going to see on TV in 2014.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are excellent on this show. This is miles away from when they were both in EdTV. Apparently we're having a "McCaughnaissance" right now, according to some thing on my TiVo. I've always liked the guy, and I always felt he was wasting his talent in romantic comedies and attempted franchises, and I'm glad that feeling is being rewarded now. It's like he had to destroy his acting career with total shit in order to save it and rise again with a healthy bank account. I can respect that.

The one thing I think of the most about True Detective is its dreamlike quality. I can't quite figure out how it happens. I don't know if it's because the show holds these soft conversations that become enthralling, but in some passages, it becomes so soft and dreamlike that I just start drifting. I don't really like that word, because it implies that my attention is drifting because of boredom, but that's not it. There's some quality that comes out that makes me feel like I'm having some kind of dream, and so I don't always catch the subtle clues. I don't always catch which pieces of information are important right away. I like that, though, because then when something that was seemingly a throwaway becomes important later, you realize you--and the characters--were looking in the wrong place.

That's my favorite aspect of the show: the viewer is an active viewer. You don't have any information before the characters themselves have it. You're not smarter than they are and waiting for them to figure it out. My favorite shows are like that, where you can actively engage them because you're trying to figure it out at the same time the characters are. That's what Broadchurch did last year, and that was a magnificent series.

I love True Detective. I can't wait to see how it ends. I hope it really pulls something off.

:: Girls is at its best this season. I've been thinking about Girls and what it is about it that makes people hate it so much (other than misogyny, though there's certainly a lot of that in the criticism of the show). I could write a long, rambling explanation of what I've been thinking of here, but what it really just comes down to is this: the show itself accepts that flaws, failings, obnoxiousness, hypocrisy, selfishness, and bad judgment are part of human nature, and it accepts that about people and observes them instead of making narrative judgments about them. And I think there are people who respond badly to that, because they see people they don't like and are angered that they're being asked to watch them do anything. They want Lena Dunham to stop accepting her body for what it is and being comfortable with it and walking around naked; how can this woman who isn't model-skinny not feel bad about it? It's a show about acceptance, a lot of the time, and I think there are viewers who don't understand why the show isn't taking their side and laughing at these assholes and making them feel shame so they become better people. Life isn't like that, but a lot of TV is.

Girls is an exceptional show, but it's not for everyone. I just think this show--still! in it's third season!--has a far-too-high proportion of vocal critics who don't watch it, but are always angry about it.

:: The best thing all season happened on How I Met Your Mother last night: there was a promo reminding us that there's only 3 episodes left. Thank Christ! Oh, and Lucy Hale was on, which is nice, because she's such a cutie. One of the weird things this season is watching the show remember all of the things it's never revisited, like the fact that Robin had a little sister that showed up for one episode and then disappeared forever. That's the kind of thing I sort of hate about long-running sitcoms, especially ones that become continuity-dependent like this one, and especially in a season that has become dependent on two joyless elements: the Mother being oh-so-magical-and-perfect rather than organically introduced (which may have been more painful, given all the chemistry she and Ted don't have) and endless fan service callbacks to gags and bits in much funnier episodes.

Ashley Benson played Barney's half-sister a while back. They should get her on with Lucy Hale. Which reminds me, Pretty Little Liars is on tonight. That makes me happy.

:: Hey, guess what I don't care about? Whether Caroline sleeps with the married guy on 2 Broke Girls! Did we FINALLY resolve that stupid plotline last night? Ugh. No more, please. I literally can not care about that. In fact, let's get rid of the married guy. Also, let's get rid of Caroline. Is she that likable or integral to the whole thing? The whole thing is really just Kat Dennings. I could watch her do anything. In my show, she opens up her cupcake shop and ditches the diner and that whole setting. And Caroline. And then Eric Andre is on every episode. And Garret Morris works there and makes wisecracks. And everything else on the show? Gone. Caroline's only going to interest me if Ryan Hansen comes back, because I really liked him. How about Ryan Hansen comes back and he gets with Kat Dennings? They had far better chemistry, anyway. Kat and Ryan and Eric Andre get married in a three way ceremony, open a cupcake and candy store, and Garret Morris sits around reading the paper, drinking coffee, and cracking wise. I would actually watch that. Yes. Yes, I would. I need to stop talking about this, because I just started envisioning what kind of soul music would be on the soundtrack, and it's time to move on.

:: Speaking of Ryan Hansen, dug his cameo on House of Lies. One step closer to my real Veronica Mars OTP: Veronica and Dick.

:: Still interested in Mom but not sure if I'm enjoying it. It's just more recognizably about being poor than I expected, so I find it easy to relate to, but it's inevitably getting cartoonier. (It was nice seeing Brian Stepanek on this week's episode, though, because it's always great seeing Brian Stepanek.)

:: Yay, RuPaul's Drag Race is back! Boo, two-episode premiere that splits the queens in half and cuts down on the excellent chaos you expect in the premiere! Still, Drag Race is back and I couldn't be happier! So far, BenDeLaCreme is my early favorite, but almost everyone impressed me last night. I'm particularly interested to see how Milk does, since her thing seems to be artistic creepiness rather than out and out camp. (Also, Milk is hella hot out of drag.) (Also: make Khloe Kardashian a permanent judge, please.)

:: So glad that Kelly is gone on Dance Moms. Christi next, please. So sick of the mean bitching.

:: Pretty Little Liars started off this segment of its season with some of the weakest episodes, but it suddenly snapped back and now it's riveting. This is one of those riveting trash shows that I guess you'd call a guilty pleasure, except I don't feel ashamed of liking it. Take your joy in life where you can, folks.

:: I find Lifetime's Kim of Queens lovely, actually. It's on after Dance Moms. Isn't it kind of horrible that it seems fresh to me because it's about building people up, being supportive, and giving them opportunities to succeed rather than screaming at them and watching them fail? Sad that that reads as unusual today.

:: Can't wait for the return of Agents of SHIELD.

:: Boy, that About a Boy pilot got it all wrong. I'm not sure this is a show that should be a sitcom. Is Will going to have to learn to be a better person every single week? Because if they're resetting him after every half-hour, that's going to get tedious. Also: the guy's too young, it makes him seem more motivated than he should be if he wrote the popular Christmas song and not his dead dad, and taking him from selfish loafer to charming cad undercuts the change, anyway. Oh, and changing the kid's mother from suicidal to just kind of sad and frustrated sometimes undercuts her, too. It's like NBC demanded all of the edge be sanded down, so what's the point? I want to give this show a chance because it was developed by Jason Katims, but it's got to be a lot better than that pilot was.

Nice to see Leslie Bibb, though. I was a Popular fan. Screw Glee.

:: Modern Family... I don't know, when it's good it's really good, when it's coasting on cuteness it's easy to ignore, and it's never really worth talking about. That sounds like I don't like it, but I do. I just don't find it remarkable 9 times out of 10. Sometimes there's a truly great episode, but usually only three or so times a season now. It's gotten it's routine down.

:: Vikings is back. I'm doing what I did last time and saving it all up for a binge watch. I love the show, but find it most compelling in one long stretch.

:: Yay, The Americans is back!

:: I still love Nashville. I'm really impressed with the direction they've taken Juliette. She was so lost last season, and this season she's really finding herself and finding that she can accept her life and be happy. Obviously, with the emotional situation I'm in, this is a big deal to me, to see characters find that. Yeah, it's a somewhat trashy soap opera, but it's compelling and fun, which is all I ask and more than I usually get.

:: So glad to see Parenthood back with a strong episode. I still can't quite believe that Julia's divorce is really happening--or that the show made it so organic after such a ham-handed start to that storyline--but it's hitting me where I live. Today I realized that Julia is the same age that my mother was when she started separating from my Dad, so that's... that's something I'm going to be thinking about on this show.

:: Still loving Parks and Recreation. I hear Sam Elliott is going to appear again, which is awesome. How about more Kristen Bell? Just asking.

:: Still watching The Big Bang Theory, possibly because of inertia.

:: The season premiere of Hannibal was really compelling. That's another show that has a real dreamlike quality that I like. I think a big part of the reason I love this show so much is that I was starting therapy at the same time the first season started, so I was finding out things about myself at the same time Will Graham was. Not that we're similar at all (though I think a lot of people, being diagnosed for the first time, have this fear that that's what they could become, TV exaggeration or not, in no small part because of the stigma associated with it when I was growing up), but it added a layer to how compelling I found it.

I like how over-the-top the show can be. When I say that, I mean over-the-top compared to your average TV procedural drama. In the show's self-contained world, all of the Grand Guignol works and makes sense. It's operatic in its visions and in its reach. I'm saying this because I've seen about seven people this week complaining that the show is unrealistic, with serial killers turning up around every corner and no sense of a larger media presence, etc, but that sounds like complaining that Hannibal isn't just another CSI. Maybe it's just because I'm not into shows like that. But I like the surreal, self-contained, unrealistic weirdness of Hannibal. It's one of my favorite shows right now.

:: Wow, Space Dandy is great! I'm always reluctant to start watching an anime, because I don't have a lot of great experiences with it and I've encountered too many fans who are just weirdly aggressive about it. Still, to this day. I thought that would eventually go away, but it hasn't for about two decades now.

Space Dandy is like the rockabilly and jiggle humor that my wife loves combined with the Heavy Metal skiffy weirdness and surf stuff that I love. It's kind of the perfect show for us, and not only is it funny as hell, it can have real emotional depth. The episode they did about Laika moved me to tears. They did a zombie episode that took something I've found beyond played out for a dozen years or so and not only made a real social point, but a touching one. It's an amazing series and I am so, so, so glad I took a chance on it.

:: And then there's Saturday Night Live. Coming back with the worst episode of the season so far. Well, you can't win 'em all, SNL. Or even most of them, really. But at least we now know for sure that Jim Parsons has an extremely limited range. Eh.

Oh, and Colin Jost? No thank you. Cecily Strong may not be, er, strong in the anchor's chair yet, but sticking her with the only person on this week's episode with less charisma and ability to deliver lines in an interesting way than Jim Parsons seemed rather ignoble. Is SNL just terrified of allowing a woman to do the news alone? How about we get someone in the Update chair who isn't just trying and failing to mimic Jon Stewart? If Cecily needs a partner, can it be Jay Pharaoh so he has more to do? But hey, at least SNL's track record of hiring bland, indistinguishable white guys continues unabated, so... something sarcastic here. It's a show that's remarkably out of touch, and an episode that was remarkably out of touch and missed--or, more likely, actively avoided--some real opportunities to twist the satirical knife in favor of sketches about cowboy birthdays and executive pants-shitting. That was an embarrassing episode to watch.

Next week is Lena Dunham... you know I like Lena Dunham, but I don't see this going well, either.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Song of the Week: "The Moon Song"

Even though I've liked a lot more of the movies nominated this year than in the last few, I'm going to continue my new tradition of not bothering to watch the Oscars. Besides, True Detective is on tonight. I have no stake in the Oscars, but for the hell of it, here's the song from Her which... is nominated, maybe? I think? I don't know, but I found this song pretty and haunting and hard to forget.