The Nature of a Hero, Part V

This hero thing just won’t let me go, it seems. What’s more, it keeps popping up in unexpected places, and forcing me to add to my list. Recently, Karen was doing her periodic exploration of new shows to watch and ended up with a program called Eli Stone. The show really didn’t interest me that much, although the premise is, I admit, catchy: an attorney develops a brain aneurysm like what his father had experienced before him, which gifts him with a form of precognition. He realizes that he must use his gift for good, and begins turning from the type of attorney he was in order to help others around him.

Where this becomes interesting is season 2, episode 8, in part of a story arc where Eli chooses to utilize his ability, against the advice of his mentor, to see his own future. He does so because he wants to know what will happen to him, but he deceives himself by saying that he wants to protect his brother. The consequences prove to be dire. At the conclusion of this story arc, Eli says something interesting. He says that the gift he has received (his precognition) is not his own, but belongs to the people around him. That is, the gift is entrusted to him to exercise, but he has recognized that he cannot exercise it for his own good, but must rather place the good of others above himself.

This is a program that is layered with really interesting theological content, and I think that Eli is a hero. The episode I mention here presents what I think is another element of the nature of a hero: the acceptance of the fact that the gifts and abilities of the hero are not given to that person for his/her own use, but for the good of those around him. This is why heroes become self-sacrificial; because they see that, not only are their abilities not for their own good, but that using them for the good of others can easily lead to the risk of the hero’s own life, a risk that the hero accepts. This is why the hero is the hero. The villain and even the antihero make different choices, utilizing their abilities for more selfish purposes.

What’s great about the fact that I found this element in a character such as Eli Stone is that he is an everyman character, and that he does not wear the guise of a hero at all overtly. This proves that those displaying the nature of a hero must not be costumed adventurers, but that all of us can choose to heroically deal with the evils around us. This is what makes the mythology…and the theology…of heroism so important, is because it is so inspirational.

Photo Attribution: Thomas R. Stegelmann under Creative Commons 

A Review of “Alphas,” Season 1

Super-hero science fiction isn’t as common on television as the big screen, and I’m not sure why. The genre lends itself to serial writing…after all, that’s what comic books are: serial story arcs. I haven’t seen a good super-hero story on television, though, since Heroes, a program that began near perfection but didn’t survive the writer’s strike.  So, when I saw the first trailer for Alphas, I was excited, because I was hoping for a positive and deep re-visiting of the genre for the small screen.

And, overall, the Alphas kept me watching (I borrowed a play from Karen’s book, and binged on an entire season in a couple of days). The story centers around the discovery of individuals all over the world developing super-human abilities, and how the world’s governments deal with this phenomenon. The super-humans, called Alphas, are feared and hated by the general public, and factions from both sides are convinced that normal humans and Alphas can never co-exist and that war between the two is inevitable, while others remain passionate about co-existence between the two. This latter position is led by Dr. Rosen, who has formed a secret team of Alphas who use their abilities to search out and help new Alphas who are discovering their abilities and are uncertain in what to do with them.

Sound familiar? It should. Stan Lee pioneered this concept a long time ago with a fictional team that you may have heard of called the X-Men. I was struck within the first episode that Alphas is essentially a re-imagining of the X-Men mythology with some notable changes. Dr. Rosen is a Professor X character, but is not an Alpha himself (although his daughter, we discover, is). The team comes complete with a Jean Grey equivalent, as well, in the character of Rachel. The notable twist on the concept in the Alphas is that this team is not a team of outlaws or vigilantes, but rather an official (if secret) investigative arm of the U.S. government. The team learns to live together in their diversity (again, this should sound familiar) as they learn to became secret, super-powered law enforcement agents.

That major twist is just enough to keep the viewer returning to the Alphas, because they use it to raise and explore very interesting issues. Evil Alphas, for example, are whisked off by the government to a secret hospital where they are warehoused and treated as less than human in order to protect society. Dr. Rosen wrestles daily with the moral and ethical implications of this. How much can our government be trusted to protect us? Who watches the watchmen? These are all the sorts of questions explored by the Alphas.

The explorations, though, don’t go nearly as deep as one would like in any given episode, and I would expect a better treatment of them, as thorough as I would expect in a comic book. The pacing feels strange at times, and occasional breaks in continuity between episodes (a character has a heart attack at the end of one episode and is up and running at the beginning of the next) make a suspension of disbelief challenging at times. The character ideas are more realistic than the X-Men, but the writing feels clumsy and awkward at times.

That said, this was the first season, and many programs don’t come into their own until the second. The cliffhanger certainly kept me anticipating season 2, which I suppose is a good marker for success. If you’re a fan of the super-hero genre, Alphas is a worthwhile program to explore. Don’t compare it to Heroes, because anything set up against the first season of Heroes will fall short. Accept it as what it is, and I think you’ll appreciate it. Not the best I’ve seen in the genre, but certainly a show that holds its own.

Boston, Here We Come

In the interest of keeping in check with the goals that I set in my obligatory New Year’s goals post, I am  about to make a carefully calculated, really big, and more-than-a-little scary dive into changing careers for my day job. I’ve made my living in various aspects of behavioral health for the last eleven years, with some writing and other projects thrown in to keep life interesting. While I’ve worked very hard to incorporate creative elements (mostly theatre) into my work, I need something that will allow me to be more creative during the day, in order to keep the creative juices flowing at night for my writing. Also, health care is becoming a difficult arena to navigate, and I’m essentially being forced out slowly due to credentialing requirements with which I no longer have the motivation to keep in step.

So, the career change is about to happen, by way of a few months of very specific skill training. I’m about to turn my geek-self from being a hobby to being a living in the realm of web development. In order to acquire that training, we’re re-locating to the Boston area next month.

This is exciting and scary, because the financial investment is not a small one, but Karen and I both love Boston. This will be a good move, I’m convinced, and now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and I can stop dropping cryptic hints in my posts.

I don’t plan for this to change the topics that I write about here, except that I will now have a whole new spectrum of inspiration from which to draw.

So, the next few months are going to be really interesting! The next phase in the adventure begins in August!

A Theatre of Memory

A few years ago, Karen and I were on vacation, and she took me on a tour of her alma mater. I remember that being the most special of times, because seeing where she had studied and grown as a woman during those formative years helped me to know her better. I loved hearing her adventures and tales of that time of her life.

This past weekend, we were visiting family out of town, and I decided spontaneously, as our anniversary fell on the weekend and because we were in easy driving distance to my own alma mater, to return the favor. Off we went for the quick tour.

Oh, how that campus had changed! I have read about various changes in the alumni magazine, of course, but to see the changes for myself…which were so drastic that I had difficulty navigating around the campus in the car…was simultaneously wonderful and disquieting. New buildings existed, and locations that I thought that I remembered (like the student center) had been re-located to the new buildings. Streets had been turned to sidewalks, and hillsides to streets. Then, however, I found our way back to the fine arts building…the building in which I essentially lived for most of my four-year education. The fine arts building was notoriously confusing, and we used to joke that one would occasionally find the skeleton of a freshman that never made it out. All that said, though, I found my way around it with ease. And, while were on an unofficial visit and thus couldn’t get access to the main theatre stage on which so many of my designs came to fruition, or to the studio theatre where I directed my first scene, the memories of that building were overwhelming. I learned theatre there, as I learned other disciplines.

Moreover, I learned life there.

Beyond the blissful nostalgia, though, is a forward-looking effect of considering where our daughter might go to school one day, what disciplines she will study, and what career(s) she will choose. This is so important to think about, because my four years at that school shaped my perspectives and my life in so many ways, just as Karen’s four years at hers shaped her…and yours shaped you.

One of the major changes that have occurred at my alma mater is that the technology building adjacent to the fine arts building has received a complete make-over. I love that the two have always been connected, there…literally connected, as in a hallway from one building opens into the other. Many of my fellow theatre students (mostly scenic design students) would migrate over periodically to take architectural design courses. I love how the arts and technology meld together…you know, interdisciplinary studies again. This is really important to me now, because it is shaping an upcoming move and career change, as well as future research interests.

I want our daughter to have a lucid connection between things in this way, to see life holistically, not in compartmentalized fragments…something I have learned to do myself all too recently, and that I wish that I had done all along.

Being a father has taken my looks backward at life, and pointed them forward in an odd and interconnected way. It’s still sort of strange, honestly, but I’m loving every moment of it.


Every now and again, someone brings up my actual age and I become a bit surprised. I think that this is mostly because I don’t feel nearly as old as I am. It’s not even that I’m old, per se, just…well, a bit more chronologically advanced than you would imagine at first blush.

Normally, the fact that I don’t perceive myself as being as old as I am is a good thing. There are times when I should be more conservative with things than I am because of my age, but in general my self-perception treats me well. Where I actually feel my age, more often than not, is in the fact that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon at times.

Well, let’s just be honest: I can be cranky.

Of course, I’ve given up negativity for Lent for two consecutive years now, and that has helped a great deal. Karen even acknowledges that I am much more intentional about being positive about things. She points out, though, that if certain hopeful events that are drawing near on the horizon were removed, I would be back to being cranky again.

Of course, if you remove our hope, anyone can become irritable. You know…in my defense…

The reason that this is ricocheting about in my brain is because I often catch myself considering topics to write about here, and one of two things happen: either the topics are something that frustrate me or that I want to disprove, or else it’s a more neutral topic that I have difficulty writing about without sounding negative.

In short, I don’t want to sound or be negative in my writing all the time, because I’m really not such a negative guy. Well, at least not in my own self-perception.

About two years ago, I tweeted about how excited I was about something. A close friend replied with a remark indicating how happy she was to see a positive tweet…the unwritten message being that this apparently didn’t happen very often. I took that to heart. I cut back on my news reading, because it tended to make me frustrated. I tried in general to distance myself from things about which I have difficulty being positive.

That’s a trend that is continuing, and a move that will be happening very soon will assist me in that process. In the meantime, I’m going to keep trying to not be so negative. Because, being curmudgeonly is fun and all…but people tend to not want to hang around you for long.