Transformations and Ponies

My Little Pony has gone through many transformations since it began

Our daughter has recently developed an affinity for My Little Pony. Which was sort of cool the first thousand times she watched it. Now, I tend to experience some neurosis whenever I hear the theme, but…such is parenthood.

I’ve met a lot of people who are into the My Little Pony culture, or Brony culture, as the case may be. It’s really interesting to hear them talk about this show that they love, a sort of specialized genre of geek…and I’m all about anything that’s geek (going through a bit of culture shock about the lack of it in the South, but that’s another post).
Whenever our daughter shows interest in watching something, Karen and I do our research. We’re very choosy about her screen time, and there’s a high bar of standards that something must pass to end up on her to-watch list (five programs have made it so far). So, we did our research into My Little Pony, also, because, while it’s been really cool to listen to people I’ve known discuss the show and it’s fan culture…there’s still those standards.
So, to the Interwebs we went.
I’m far from an expert, and I defer to anyone who is, but it’s really interesting to watch how the characters that comprise My Little Pony have changed in the years since they first released. In fact, the show as it exists today is quite different than it was at it’s debut, as is the toy line. The version that our daughter enjoys is not the most recent, which has a more anime flavor to it’s appearance and is still a bit frightening for a toddler, but rather a previous version with softer, friendlier ponies and very little-girl-friendly story lines about special wishes and dancing in the clouds. I love hearing her imagination run wild and watching her spin new tales based upon what she’s seen.

The Transformers have gone through many evolutions since they began

When I watched the first Transformers movie, I had a bit of an issue with Barricade, the Decepticon who assumes the guise of a police cruiser. My issue was that he hadn’t existed prior to this film incarnation. It’s no secret that I’m a purist, but my issue with Barricade was a knee-jerk reaction that I quickly released. I don’t hold the Transformers to the same standards that I do many other science fiction characters. The reason is that there was no canonical literature at their inception. They were a toy line first, and their literary and film history spun off of that. Many incarnations of the Transformers have existed (some less intriguing than others), and the evolution happens much more fluidly because all of the literature is adaptive. The same is true for My Little Pony. Partly due to licensing issues with the original copyright holders, and partly due to the natural fluidity as the creators allow conceptualized characters, rather than fully realized characters, to develop in front of us, the process in much less finalized. And, for perhaps exactly that reason, the process doesn’t really annoy purist geeks such as myself.

The process actually smacks quite a bit of improvisational theatre to me. I never really excelled at that particular discipline (I liked to be well-rehearsed), but I certainly appreciated it. And, while I don’t have the history with My Little Pony to appreciate it’s characters’ development, I’m sure that, as our daughter gets older, I will have.

I just hope that I can get that theme song out of my head…

Photo Attribution (in order): 

Joriel Jiminez under Creative Commons

Trains and Wonder Women

Batgirl Extreme by JD Hancock, used under Creative Commons

Our daughter’s obsession for about the last year has been Thomas and Friends. We allow a very rationed amount of screen time each day, and are quite picky about what constitutes that screen time. Thomas has impressed us, because each story is a morality tale. She’s receiving good lessons along with entertainment.

As a result of this, Karen and I know essentially every single character involved in the Thomas series. We’ve started a collection for our daughter, gifting a train to her on special occasions. At Christmas, we gave her Emily, one of the few “lead” female characters in the series. We like Emily because she’s smart and bold. We want our daughter to see smart and bold female characters.

Sadly, the Emily that we purchased at Christmas was broken when we opened her, and had to be returned. That particular figure is apparently rare, and we hadn’t found a replacement since. Randomly, last weekend, I took our daughter into a store specifically to check the Thomas collection. She always finds several that she wants to take home, to be followed by a discussion of how that can’t happen at the moment due to budget. At first glance, I found nothing. I dug. I persevered. Finally, at the very back of one of the racks…an Emily! We had been waiting for that since Christmas! Budget went out the window, and I snatched it up.

And our daughter has been ecstatic ever since.

She now has all three of the female trains that are available in the line. That’s really cool. It’s sort of sad, though, too, because there are only three main female characters in the entire line. All those characters…three girls.

Until having a daughter was the best chaos that ever happened to me, I appreciated the importance of strong female characters in any story at an artistic level, and I thought that I understood it at a social level. Now, though, trying to see the world through her eyes…I really want her to have strong female role models. It’s taken on a different level of importance to me.

This has driven me to be even more irritated with both DC and Marvel studios for their lack of effort in giving a strong female superhero her own film. It’s not like they don’t have a lot to choose from. To Marvel’s credit, they have given the Black Widow increasing amounts of screen time, and she played an extremely important role in the Avengers, as well as taking the ultimate heroic action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Joss Whedon, of course, appreciates strong female characters.

The Black Widow, after all, has held excellent readership in her own limited series time and again in print comics. Hopefully, Lucy (assuming the film is what it promises to be) will prove that audiences will respond well to female heroes.

DC has even less excuse, and more of which to be ashamed. For all of their excellent print titles, they have yet to place Wonder Woman on the screen, although she apparently will have a small role in the upcoming Batman/Superman film.

Wonder Woman. A small role.

I really hope that our daughter grows up to love the superhero genre. Perhaps, though, she’ll take after her mom and love the fantasy genre. Whatever genre she loves, I want her to see strong female role models in the books she reads and the movies she watches. She is blessed to have a strong female role model already: her mother.

I can’t wait to see the woman that our daughter grows into.

I really hope that she gets to see and read cool characters along the way.

Photo Attribution: JD Hancock under Creative Commons

Brick by Brick

Brick building

The trendy thing to do in Southern New Hampshire at the moment is to renovate old mill buildings and re-purpose them for homes and offices. Mill buildings are turned into apartments in the town where Karen and I live, and the largest city in the state has a riverfront of old mill buildings that have become university campuses, sport bars, shops, and offices of various shapes and colors. My day job is in one of these buildings, a cool, creative loft-space that offers a really nice view of the city. Construction is still ongoing in the adjacent building, and my lunch conversation with a colleague this week centered around watching the workers one floor below and one building over. Bricks were being chiseled out and hauled away by the dumpster full, and mention was made of the worth of those bricks in monetary terms.

I think there’s more worth to them than that. Something that you notice quickly if you transplant to New England is the age of the buildings. Things have been around a lot longer up here. That initially brings some headaches if you’re not accustomed to the differences in architecture (getting a bed frame up a flight of the notoriously narrow staircases of many homes here is a challenge of occasionally epic proportions), but it’s a good thing overall. There’s more character here. When I watched those workers haul bricks away by the wheel-barrow load to place onto a front-loader, I thought of the hands that would have initially carried those bricks, and carefully placed them together to form the building in which we stood, so many years later.

Brick by brick.

I grew up with a father who worked in a technological field, but whose love was crafting things from wood. He kept a fully-equipped workshop in a detached building, and escaped to it whenever he could. He carved shapes and built small structures, many with surprising usefulness, others for simple aesthetics, but all with the best craftsmanship of which he was capable. There are other woodworkers out there of much more skill, certainly, but he was quite good himself, and with no formal instruction. My father loved handling the wood. He enjoyed the feel of it. Watching his creative synergy happen with the shapes that he carved was inspiring.

My grandmother created with needle and thread. Quilting is an art that borders on extinction, and she left a legacy behind her that has helped others to know her. My father will leave his creations behind, as well, one day. My mother was a ceramic potter of sorts, and has gifted things to me that she has made. I sincerely hope that the words I’ve penned will be left for our daughter, because that’s something that she will be able to hold onto, something tangible that I created, as my father’s wooden sculptures and my grandmother’s quilts are to me.

As I’ve watched the workers carry away those bricks this week, I think of the history left behind by the workers who originally built the structures. It’s important to do good work, because the work we do is a gift, a legacy, to the culture as a whole. I doubt that the workers who built the building that houses my office originally were all happy about their labor. I also doubt that they could foresee the future of their labor. And, so it is with all of us, because all of us create in some capacity.

Whatever your craft, know that it carries a legacy, that it will be something that you leave behind for others as you practice it. Respect that.

And do good work.

Photo Attribution: Ryan M under Creative Commons

Acting In

Girl in theatrical makeup

One of my theatre professors in college talked a lot about how going out for coffee after seeing a show to discuss what you had just seen was an essential part of the experience. The audience is, after all, a part of the story, just as much as the actors on stage are, but are unique in the sense that they didn’t really know what to expect at all (it’s always in flux, but the actors have at least some idea). Talking after a show is really about de-briefing as much as anything else.

Part of the beauty of a theatrical performance is that it never really ends up the same way twice. That inconsistency is a beautiful thing, and a provocative thing. A huge part of the reason that it’s never the same performance two nights in a row is that the audience is completely different, and their reactions alter the performances of the actors on stage. Theatre isn’t so much a performing art as it is an interactive art, which is why it has become a lens for understanding communities, minorities, oppressed people groups, and theologies.

The understanding of interactivity, though, often stops with the question, what did the audience take away? The story being performed, after all, is ultimately being performed for the audience.

I’ve been involved in a lot of performances in a lot of different venues. I’ve done shows in huge auditoriums with state-of-the-art lighting equipment and elaborate sets, and I’ve done it on the street for community outreach projects with no sets or even costumes. What’s consistent is that the audience is always impacted.

What’s also consistent, though, is that the cast and crew are just as deeply impacted. And it’s not always through the performance.

I’ve learned a great deal about myself through the performances with which I’ve been involved. I’ve learned a great deal about others. I’ve learned a great deal about my faith. Theatre, in it’s capacity as a performing art, is a uniquely collaborative art. Many artists from different disciplines come together to form a production. Especially when you’ve been involved in several productions with the same group of people, you find that you’ve had a “foxhole” experience of sorts.

So, the experience for the audience is a huge part of theatre. Audience members going for coffee and discussing the show is a huge part of realizing what new things you know and appreciate about what it is to be human after a show. The cast and crew going for drinks after the curtain call is much the same. Theatre, being uniquely collaborative, is uniquely geared to delve into the experience of being human. So, whether you’re in the show or seeing the show, you’re having a deep experience with the person or people with whom you’re experiencing the show.

I just wish that the two sides…the actors and the audience…would connect and talk about what they’ve experienced more.

Have you seen a show lately? You should go do that…

Image credit: Alastair Barnsley  under Creative Commons

Taking Care of the Instrument

Something that Karen had done a lot of before we were married, but that she’s had very little opportunity to do since we’ve been married, is sing. Which is really a shame, because her voice is angelic. And, while I know I’m biased, my opinion is reinforced by the observations of many other neutral parties.

Karen has most often practiced her gifts within a faith community, and, as we were previously heavily involved in theatrical endeavors in the community that we attended before moving to New England, she just simply couldn’t make the scheduling commitments of both work out. Recently, however, she was asked to join the musicians that play for the Saturday night “unplugged” worship service that we attend in our new town. She’s come alive lending her voice to these events. I’ve seen something in my wife that I haven’t seen before, something amazing, something carefree and in love. It’s been amazing to witness.

While I was out at work this Saturday afternoon, Karen told me that she was trying to take a nap while our daughter took hers (the only time that this is possible, as any parent will attest). Her rest was disrupted, she said, by a guy cleaning his car in the parking with screamer music pounding out of his speakers while he worked. That doesn’t make for good resting conditions.

Rock history, as you may know, is a bit of a hobby of mine. I’ve never been particularly attracted to what is alternatively and most commonly referred to a screamer or hardcore music. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it. Music expresses the feelings of it’s era, and this genre contains a (quite literal) scream of angst and frustration, a rage against the machine, if you will, at the injustice that is so commonplace around us, the system that fails everyone, and generally being sick of the pain.

There are a handful of hardcore songs that I like, but they are rare. I respect the genre, and what it says about our cultural landscape…it’s just not really my taste. Karen’s opinion of it is slightly stronger.

In her recollection of a nap disrupted tonight, she reasoned out why she dislikes this music. She feels that, despite the urban legend that the screaming vocalists are using “a different part of their voice” and know how to scream without detrimental effect, any of us who have taken vocal lessons know that these vocalists are risking the long-term of effect of destroying their voice. The reason that this bothers Karen, she expressed, is that the musicians are thus not respecting their instrument, and, by extension, are interested only in doing what is popular, not in making true art.

(Umbrella of mercy…I’m summarizing someone else’s thoughts, and likely horribly over-simplifying. It sounded so much more logical when she said it…)

Not certain where I land on this issue. I agree that serious artists respect their instruments. I don’t for a moment buy the myth that these vocalists have learned to scream in a way that isn’t damaging to their voices. I also don’t buy the stereotype of all of these bands…their are hardcore musicians out there doing serious work and saying serious things. The sound is part of the musical landscape, and it says something about our history.

I also think that there are others that capture the angst and the edge with instruments other than their voices.

There’s also something to be said for sacrificing for the art, perhaps. I’m caught in the tension. The message of the sound is important, it says something, it’s an historical marker. The method producing the sound smacks of the amateur sound technician that thinks the way to make the band sound better is by turning everything up. There’s a way to accomplish what’s needed and remain true to one’s art. Sometimes, that’s not at all an easy balance to strike.