Why We All Need More Red Ink

"Concentrated" by Andreh Santos, used under Creative CommonsYou remember what it was like, right? Those high school English classes? The days on which the papers that you had submitted the week before were returned to you, and you found them full of red ink conveying comments and criticisms, some of which just stung, along with the circled grade at the top?

The red ink phenomenon became worse, or course, in college, when professors, as we humorously turned the phrase, “bled all over” our papers. The comments and criticisms became more helpful, and more full of sting.

As I moved from writing papers to writing articles and op-ed pieces, the red ink from my professors paled in comparison to the red ink from my editors. Although the red markings had become digital by grad school, the sting had increased exponentially. In every case, though, the sting was a good thing, because, when heeded, it made me a better writer, a better thinker.

In the interest of putting what you’ve learned into practice, I gave my share of red ink, as well. Classmates frequently asked me to edit their papers before submitting them, and this even became a service that I offered as a freelancer for a while. The comment markup in the word processing document was not ink, but it was still red. Well, sort of. Something for which I was notoriously picky was grammar.

Rightfully so, of course. Submit a paper in grad school with grammatical errors, and your grade will suffer a harsh fate. This mentality, I think, is justified at this level of academic work. The care with which you craft the language of your argument is indicative of the care with which you pursue your discipline.While everyone is only human and prone to mistakes, typos just simply shouldn’t make it “into the wild” beyond a certain level.

So, what, I wonder, is that level?

I read a lot of blogs. Over the last three days, I’ve counted no less than four posts…one of which was about writing good web copy…that contained painfully obvious typographical errors and mis-spellings. Egregious oversights, such as missing articles and incorrect tense, peppered across posts that were on their way to making good points otherwise. These sorts of errors are severely distracting to me, to the level that I find it difficult to stay on track with the thesis of the post. I find myself distrustful of the writer’s competency in the subject matter, their reputation failing in my mind. After all, if one’s educational level is such as to permit such careless handling of the language in which one writes, how competent can one be in any chosen field? This isn’t some kind of advanced philosophy…this is basic language arts.

However, while I’ve witnessed first-hand how aggressively reading and writing skills are tossed aside in the public education system, I don’t think that my admittedly (and unfortunately) snobbish knee-jerk reaction is accurate in most cases (I’m working on the snobbish part). I think that, more often than not, what I’m seeing is the result of a lack of time.

To pay attention to these sorts of things, time, quiet, and presence in what you’re doing are all required to focus. That time is so fleeting to us now, flies so quickly from our grasp as we struggle to divide our attentions in so many different directions. Add to this what studies have suggested…that time to let the imagination meander with no external stimuli demanding action is necessary for the creative process…and the pressure to keep an editorial calendar full of content for blogs and other digital media easily becomes counter-intuitive for the writer. When we rush a process, the point of diminished returns makes itself apparent even more quickly, and the quality of everything suffers.

The result is that these sorts of simple typographical mistakes are either accepted as commonplace, or, even more frightening, not even noticed by most readers.

Even more frightening than that is the idea that most editors miss them. If those tasked with distributing the red ink are too rushed to do so well, how do any of us get any better?

Slowing down makes every project better, and time without producing anything is of insurmountable importance to the creative person. I’m really concerned that we’ve lost sight of both of these truths as we’ve succumbed to the lie that time is money.

As much as it stings…I think that we could all use a bit more red ink in our lives.

Image attribution: Andreh Santos under Creative Commons.

Rock N’ Roll Dreams

Music in the message. A photo of the Hard Rock Cafe that I took in Washington, D.C.One Friday night a couple of years ago, Karen and I were sitting in a restaurant, and there was a family behind us. They had a daughter…I’m not sure how old she was, but I’d guess around 15. The daughter was talking about music, and she specifically mentioned the band Skid Row.

Have you ever had one phrase stop all the other sounds around you, so that you could only hear the person who said it? That’s how oddly impactful that name was to me.

You see, I went through my metal phase in high school, and Skid Row was one of my favorites during that rebellious period. I can still scream out the chorus to “Youth Gone Wild” with little thought involved. It was just funny to me that someone of that age would be conversant with 80’s metal (although I think Skid Row released a new album within the last couple of years).

A few days later, I saw a boy, younger than 15 by my best guess, wearing a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt, the one that corresponded to their Appetite For Destruction album. I’m so clearly able to recall the edgy intro to “Welcome To The Jungle,” or the seducing guitar line to “Sweet Child Of Mine.” Again, I was struck by how…out of place…this seemed.

Also, I’m a little disturbed that oldies music for them is what I grew up on. Geez, this smells like a mid-life crisis.

I’ve seen music from that era used with some frequency in video games (relatively) recently, but some of this is a bit of niche in which to be interested in these days, confined, perhaps, to a random Pandora station listened to during commutes by…well, by someone like myself, I suppose. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a snob in my assumptions that today’s pop music will never manage a resurrection like that, but will only fade into obscurity as music with poetry and emotion continues to take its place in…video games…

Please don’t disabuse me of that notion.

Seriously, though. Isn’t that funny?

A Shiny New Look

This is the promised test post to make certain that everything is working as it should. If anyone notices issues with subscriptions or feeds, please let me know so that I can look into it (and feel free to comment if everything is working smoothly for you, as well).

I hope you like the shiny new look! In addition to a platform that gave me more control and flexibility, I wanted a more minimalist and less cluttered look to the site…a focus more on the words. Let me know what you think, and I should be back to regular posting in the next few days.

Moving Day. Almost.

In the next couple of days, the blog will be moving.

I’ve been promising a facelift for this blog for nearly two years now, but I’m finally making good on that promise. In addition to a spiffy new design, I’m moving the blog away from Blogger and into a new platform altogether. Because this has become the repository of my life and thoughts over the last decade or so, I’ve decided to host it myself so that I have possession of these important words instead trusting them to a cloud platform.

So, at some point in the next three to four days (I’m still finalizing a couple of odds and ends), you’ll see a spiffy new blog here.

Here’s the housekeeping stuff:

The URL will remain the same. I’m keeping the legacy Feedburner feed that I set up years ago, because a good number of you still get my posts that way. That should transition smoothly. In case you want to subscribe in a different way, or in case the Feedburner feed doesn’t transition smoothly for some reason, the new RSS feed for the blog will be this (that link won’t work until the transition is finished).

Those of you subscribing in Feedly: your subscription will likely stop working after the transfer, and you’ll need to re-subscribe (this will depend on how smoothly the Feedburner switch goes). There will be a Feedly link after each post on the new site, and a general RSS subscription link in the footer (which is the same as the link above).

And, of course, all of the posts will still go out on social media channels as they always have.

I’ll put up a test post after the transition is complete to make sure everything is working, and please make sure to let me know if it’s not.

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’ve been spending that time getting the new site ready. I’m excited about the new look, and I’m very excited to get back to writing here on a regular basis. Thank you sincerely for reading.


A Review of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

I’ll confess, I’ve been shameless about my anticipation for this movie. I’ve pounced on each clip and feature video as they have been released over the previous months (unfortunately, as it turned out, giving away bits of some of the best scenes), gulped at the first appearance of Ultron on my monitor, and allowed possibilities to play out in my head as I’ve pieced together different glimpses of some of my favorite comic book heroes brought to life on the screen. Going to the theatre on opening weekend wasn’t even a question…it had to be done. Tickets were ordered ahead, plans were made, and I settled in to see what Whedon had brought for us this time.

As with the first Avengers film, this fulfilled my expectations.


First, let me say what’s obvious. If you’re going into this film expecting nothing more than fantastic action and super-heroic sequences with a bit of Hulk-buster armor thrown in, then you won’t be disappointed. This film is large (literally dizzying in my first few moments in the theatre), superbly paced and, while a bit predictable, still keeps you on the edge of your seat. For those of us a with a history, though…those of us invested in the stories of these characters (and I would point out that, if you haven’t kept up with the rest of Marvel’s cinematic canon thusfar, then Age of Ultron will be a bit less effective as a standalone film), we’re not going for only that. We want to see the heroes’ struggles, the epic good vs. evil conflicts that take place internally as well as externally. And, if Age of Ultron has a weakness that I can point to, it’s that Whedon handles the internal conflicts so well, that the external conflicts become more slight.

Captain America, as he assumes the mantle of leadership with the Avengers that he took during the Winter Soldier, encapsulates the through-line of the movie best with a single statement: “This is about whether we’re heroes or monsters.” Our heroes struggle with their own self-perceptions on this continuum, and the world sees them on both ends. Does the world want to be saved by the Avengers in every case? Who can protect the world if the Avengers (read: the Hulk) lose control or go rogue?

And, perhaps more to the point, what happens when the best of intentions, the purest of motivations, bring about a result that is terribly wrong?

This film walks an interesting line between a character-driven piece (we get to know Banner, Romanoff and Barton so much better in these two and a half hours) and a plot-driven piece. The most rewarding surprise of Age of Ultron to me was that Whedon accomplished so much with the minor characters. Hawkeye, specifically, is allowed to shine here, and it is his line that summarizes the choice to act as a hero, the intentional decision that must be made, when he tells the Scarlet Witch that, if she wants to hide until the battle is over, he will send for her at the end. But, he emphasizes:

“If you step out that door…you’re an Avenger.”

That was the line that gave me chills in it’s purity, and yes, it’s in the trailer, but it carries so much more weight when in context.

Whedon is making clear here that heroism is marked by a choice, even when that choice doesn’t always succeed. While that choice can take the form of entering the fray to protect innocents despite your fear, it can also take the form of fleeing the person you love in order to protect them. While the Scarlet Witch displays her heroism by leaping into the battle, Banner displays his, paradoxically, by fleeing a different entanglement in the end. Two sides of the same impulse, both equally right, we feel…this is what Whedon does so well.

And speaking of the Scarlet Witch, Marvel seems to be winning me over. Due to legal nonsense between studios, you see, Marvel is not permitted to cast the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as mutants, and so their origins are explained differently, here. I anticipated having big issues with this, as it’s very non-canonical, but Olsen’s performance was actually so impressive that I found myself not thinking about it until I had left the film. Perhaps I’m getting soft, or perhaps this a case of an actor adeptly handling a superb script. I’ll go with the latter.

Because the inner conflicts of the heroes are so pronounced, what suffers is the villain. In fact, the most serious flaw of the movie that results from the internal/external imbalance is that Ultron is cheated. Every time this character appears in the comics, he is terrifying. He’s nearly indestructible, he’s capable of so much evil. When the Avengers face Ultron, they’re never really certain if they’ll walk away. Here, his dialogue seems out of character frequently (I’ve never read Ultron as being in any way comedic), his dangerous visage dismantled on a regular basis. I’ll agree with Forbes that Ultron, despite his depictions in the excellent trailers preceding this film, is hardly terrifying. He is, in fact, so easily dispatched by the Vision in the end that the act feels cheapened and cartoonish.

The continuity is handled well, as lead-ins to the Civil War and continuation of the Infinity War story arcs are there for anyone who wants to see them, and feel consistent and well-explained. Whedon intersperses a smattering of religious metaphors, here, as well, but they never quite become fully cohesive, unless the point is a theology of evolution beyond ourselves. The Vision certainly has moments of appearing as a Christological metaphor in both dialogue and appearance, but I don’t think that Whedon is going for something that overt or…and I shudder to use this term here…simplistic.

When saving the population of a city from death by ushering them aboard the SHIELD helicarrier, Quicksilver remarks, “This is SHIELD?” Captain America’s reply is, “It’s what SHIELD is supposed to be.” And, while we feel the weight of the Winter Soldier’s events in those words, and see foreshadowing of the Civil War to come, we also understand that the purest of motivations, when misled, can lead to the most catastrophic of consequences.

Perhaps what most differentiates the heroes from the monsters lies in how those consequences are handled.

If you haven’t seen Age of Ultron yet, make certain that you do.