Avengers was probably one of the best movies I have ever seen. It was a crowning jewel of Marvel’s cinematic renaissance, which has made the company a powerhouse over the past few years. It is hard to believe that Marvel went from almost disappearing, back in the 90s, to accompany that can make a superhero movie that is not only accessible, but also mind blowing, to geeks and mainstream audiences alike.
Usually, when you watch a movie based on a popular franchise you hear from purists complaining about their beloved characters being modified in order to fit a director’s perception of what the mainstream will embrace. Invariably this type of storytelling leads to bland and boring moviemaking. Just think about this about the betrayal most fans experienced when it was announced that the Ninja Turtles were actually going to be aliens, rather than mutants. Avengers succeeded because Marvel had the guts to trust that a good story combined with their characters would be enough to please the audience. They were right. Shortly after the movie I received a text message from a friend whom I don’t think has ever read comic books as habitually as I do. The message read: “Amazing!” And I knew that he was talking about Avengers.
Finally Marvel has done what me and my friends, back when we are 13 years old, only dreamt about, but never thought would be possible: A movie combining all of our favorite superheroes in the kind of extravaganza that only a genius or a 10-year-old dressed up in a superhero costume can dream about.
While I haven’t enjoyed everything Joss Whedon has ever made, but the guy knows how to tell a story. Just ask the thousands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans who followed the show in rapture until it ended. Mr. Wheaton took the by now trite alien invasion ploy and turned it into a multilayered drama that contained just enough romance, political intrigue, corrected development, and action to appeal to almost anyone who loves a good story. The timing in the movie was impeccable, and every actor, from the superhero team to the lowly waitress who gets interviewed at the end had enough presence to carry themselves next to each other.
To be honest, I thought that Chris Evans was not going to be able to pull off the role of Capt. America. I thought that Robert Downey Junior’s magnetic personality would overshadow his role, but he actually pulled it off. He comes across as a somewhat older, extremely idealistic, but gifted leader who knows how to take control of the situation and direct his team towards victory. My concern for Mr. Evans’ ability to pull off the role of Capt. America stemmed from Tobey Maguire’s rendition of Spider–Man. He was a great young Peter Parker, but when it came time for him to turn into smart the Alec personality of Spiderman, he felt a little bit short. Chris Evans was a great young Captain America, but did not lose track of the character when it was time for him to be the older version of the icon we’ve all come to love and trust.
As I said before, every other actor surpassed my expectations. Scarlett Johansson was unbelievable as the Black Widow, and everyone got enough screen time for the story to feel tight and organized. While I usually never watch movies more than once, this one will make its way into my collection as soon as it becomes available. Seeing the movie’s incredible success overseas makes me hope that producers and decision-makers in big media companies will see that it is quality storytelling, well-developed characters, and attention to detail that make a great movie experience. I am hoping that the incredible amounts of money the Avengers will generate will have a positive impact in the movie industry. Of course, some producers are just as likely to try and imitate the movie’s success by dissecting it and by trying to copy the elements that made it successful. The problem is that you cannot copy good storytelling. It has to come from a place of authenticity, not from focus groups only.
I can wholeheartedly recommend the Avengers to anyone who wants a good yarn. And yes, you should stay after the credits.
After looking over my last entry, I realized that I might have come across as pretentious. I mean, who wants to hear about another nerd turning his life around through exercise? I can almost hear condescending Wonka saying something along the lines of “so, you’re running a half marathon… Please tell me about how special and challenging it is so that I can aggregate it to the other 3000 posts from everyone running in it.” Okay, I am pretty sure that condescending Wonka could come up with something a little bit more clever, but that is exactly the point: the fact that I will be running for 13.1 miles shouldn’t be all that special. It seems to me like exercise and movement should be a natural part of everyone’s life. There is nothing extraordinary about my undertaking. What attracted me to it is that it feels natural, like something that should have been doing along time ago.
I have to admit that when I decided to do this I thought I was doing something pretty major. After all, I only know a few people who run regularly, but after watching a few documentaries about the process, and after looking at pictures of the marathon itself I can see that there are plenty other people out there who can do at least twice of what I am attempting to do, and they do it much, much faster. I am not writing this to trivialize the actor running, and please, if you’ve been working hard to achieve what may now seem like an impossible goal, do not take this the wrong way. What I’m actually trying to say is that when we run, move, and exercise, we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Although it hasn’t happened many times yet, sometimes, when I’m on the treadmill or the road I disappear, and I feel an amazing sense of unity with the rest of the universe. It is almost as if I was carrying on with the task that was begun by the first bacterium capable of locomotion. It is difficult to articulate this vision, but it would seem that they runner’s high might have evolved for an essential reason.
In this article, scientists wonder about the causes behind the powerful endogenic reaction to running humans experience, and about why it is so remarkably pleasurable when the extraneous activity is both dangerous, and costly. Why do humans, as well as apparently dogs, enjoy it so much?
Although it is only speculation, Christopher McDougall, provides what, to me, seems like a valid explanation for the evolutionary development of this trait. He argues that our need to run in packs might have had something to do with it being rewarded by the bounty of protein calories provided by hunting. MacDougall believes that humans learned to outlast even the fastest animals by developing the ability to run incredible distances. Although not perfect, by any means, his explanation seemed to make sense, and provided me with a nice origin myth about why we run. Enjoy the video!
McDougall’s explanation propelled my imagination as I moved though my workouts. I imagine a vast savanna and a tribe of hunters chasing after a few tired antelopes. The mention of dogs in the other article makes me wonder if hunting in packs was something that made the ancestors of dogs and humans become enamored with each other to the point where it’s almost impossible to think of a stereotypical human American family without thinking about a dog.
I wonder if the ritual of putting on our flip-flops, and bath robes on in order to sleepily take our useless, but nevertheless lovable, Chihuahuas, and Pomeranians out for a walk originates deep within our genetic memory. I wonder if, just like us, small dogs running through urban parks, and avenues feel that twinge of ancient power course through their veins as they forget about their small doggie issues. Is that why we run also? It is true that we no longer have to worry about capturing the fleeting calories cohabitating with us in a dangerous environment. We rarely have to worry about mountain lions, and Tigers chasing after us, but we stillrun. We put on our soft and comfortable, sweat absorbent clothing, and carry small water bottles attached were belts, as we listen to music.
Many people run, bike, walk, swim, and move for exercise. We do it because that’s what makes us feel like a part of our ecosystem. It is as natural to us as telling stories, and while I might agree that I am one of thousands of people doing what everyone else is doing, I can say, that without the shadow of a doubt it is a privilege, and in honor to run with the human pack as we make our way through the history of this small but beautiful world.
“…And perhaps, until we are tested, we don’t know what we’re made of…”
I am ashamed to admit that it has been quite a while since I’ve pushed my body far enough to feel like an athlete. Over the past year I’ve been making small changes to make sure that I can get back on track when it comes to physical fitness. I am not a big fan of extreme training programs, or quick solutions, so I decided that I’m going to run a half marathon on September 16, 2012 in Philadelphia. Although I’ve been training since the beginning of the year, it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I formally began to put myself through a 13 week walk–run beginners program designed to facilitate the transformation I am hoping to achieve. I am supplementing my training sessions, which I’m supposed to undertake three times a week, with yoga, which is also a new discipline to me.
So far, there are four main personal motivators, and one spiritual, and I use the term spiritual loosely, that I hope will keep me going through the months leading to The Rock ’n Roll Marathon. Here’s a list:
- I’m running with my wife. We are not proud of it, but we both have been leaning towards the potato side of the couch for a few years now, and we decided to end that cycle back in January. We see the half marathon as an opportunity to change our life, and to prove to ourselves that we have it in us to stick to a new lifestyle. Although we’re still finding out about it, we want to run for science education, or health education. We feel like both are worthwhile causes that can make a huge difference in the world. Please let us know if you have any suggestions.
- I have told somebody I deeply respect and admire about my commitment to run this marathon. This person is also a runner, and agreed to keep me accountable as I find my way into this brave new world.
- I’ve had a couple of health scares over the past months, and feel like I need to take ownership of my fitness, and physical my body. There are many health issues that are preventable simply by eating a better diet, learning to manage stress, and exercising. Additionally, exercise can help to make you smarter, more responsible, and better looking. If you want to learn about the effects of exercise and the brain check out this book, which was instrumental in motivating my nerdy self to exercise.
- I have discovered that running has become a little bit of a spiritual practice. Although I do not believe in the supernatural, I feel like there is some kind of evolutionary connection to my ancestors whenever I push myself on the treadmill, or make my way to the hiking trails around my house. I am probably going to be writing a lot about this particular topic as I delved deeper into it through personal experience.
I am, of course, taking my training slowly since injury is not something I want to have to deal with. I am sure that I will be filling my blog with posts about this particular subject. It is not my intention to push anyone else into running, but rather to inspire people to exercise regardless of their situation, and fitness level. To do that, I’m going to share something that I have never shared in a blog post before. I haven’t mentioned it because it hasn’t been important, considering the kind of stuff that I usually write about, but it may be relevant now that I am talking about physical exercise. Although what I am about to mention is obvious to anybody who knows me in person, it is actually impossible to figure it out just for my writing. Okay, so here it goes: I am missing my forearm right below the elbow.
Although not having a body part has never been an issue for me, or for anybody I care about, and it has certainly very little effect on my running ability, I do require some adaptation in my newly discovered yoga practice. I do not necessarily think that my disability qualifies me as inspirational. There are people out there who have done greater things while facing much greater challenges, or opportunities, depending on how you look at them.
So far, I given four personal reasons for running, and one that, I hope, is bigger than myself. I want to show you that there is something in you that has the ability to turn an otherwise drab story into a journey. I understand that comparing life to a heroic quest can be considered, by many, to be an overused simile, but the truth is that life is all we have. I am going to drink in the savage beauty of the world, and I want to share it with you, not because of some self important compulsion to document all but I do, but rather because it is my hope that we can walk along the path together, even if we are not in the same location. Will you join me?
Today is the day of the Rapture. Nothing is going to happen, but a very large group of people will be disappointed. They will be made fun of, and ridiculed by the media. They will get a lot of attention, and may become more proselytizing than before, or may move on, who knows? Although it s tempting the poke fun at them, I don’t believe that this is an appropriate reaction. Many of us hold unexamined beliefs that have derailed our lives at one time or another. Those of you who know me will know that I’ve had more than my share of weird ideas.
Today, I think, should be a day for the rest of us to think about or or unexamined beliefs. I used to think, for example, that a good use of my time off was to rest and for the next day. Experimental evidence, however, has shown that people tend to feel better when they spend their days doing something useful, or productive. After spending more of my time doing things that I want to do, rather than passively absorbing media, I feel better for it. After examining the evidence, I actually went back to college to begin working on my Masters degree. Again, an unexamined belief was keeping me from fully appreciating my life. If it is true that it is judgement day, let us judge our own thought processes instead of pointing and making fun, because no one has a perfect model of reality built in to their brain. Of course, the idea that we should face the world with out denial may also be wrong.
Do hold any unexamined beliefs? If so, how can you test them? What would be the benefit of abandoning them, if any, at all? It may be a good idea to talk to people you trust about those ideas. Fresh perspectives seem to help a lot. Please feel free to share some of your own experiences on this topic.
After a few false starts in April, spring is finally here. Every year, since I moved to the East Coast I cannot help but be reminded of the story of Persephone and the pomegranates. As the tale goes Persephone was kidnapped by the God of the underworld. Her mother Demeter, the mother Goddess, could not bear to be separated from her daughter, and so she quit doing whatever it is that goddesses do to bring life, and abundance to Earth. After a while, some of the other gods began to worry that humanity would perish if they didn’t do something about it, so Zeus–who witnessed the whole kidnapping thing–told Demeter about that Hades did it, but the God of the underworld refused to let Persephone out of his realm. Eventually, when Persephone was allowed to leave, she ate a pomegranate seed, and, of course, anybody who eats anything from the underworld has to stay there for eternity, however, being that Demeter had some influence with Mount Olympus, her daughter was allowedto leave for the first half of the year, which is why we have spring and summer, but also have to put up with fall, and winter.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I miss Persephone when she is not around. Having lived the first part of my life in Mexico City, and the second one in California, I found it difficult to adapt to the winters of the East Coast. I actually had never seen snow before, so seasonal affective disorder had a blast in my brain. This was the first year I actually managed to deal. It wasn’t that I was happy without Persephone, but I didn’t miss her as much. I discovered that a healthy dose of exercise, friendships, books, green tea, and the occasional glass of red wine made the season a little more enjoyable. Of course not having her around always made me idealize her. I thought about her warmth, and the way in which the soft winds of spring surrounded me, as I hiked through the many public parks in my area. She became like the goddess that is her mother.
Needless to say, when she returns I’m all smiles, and lay outside surrounded by her warm embrace. I look forward to her reign, as if it was the return of a long, lost lover. At first things are great! But towards the middle of the summer, she starts to annoy me. The constant heat and humidity surround me and make me wish that it was winter again. When she leaves again I am almost grateful.
In the story, when Demeter is at her darkest and about to give up on the search for her daughter, a Greek maiden with a sense of humor, makes a joke that brings laughter to the goddess, and it is through her laughter that she manages to free herself from the depression that has almost made her give up. I suppose that the irony of the seasons kept me together this time around. I found comfort in friendship, and books, and exercise, and tea, and family. Like many myths, this story is not just about the changing of the seasons, but about the changing of the heart, and about how we must learn to deal with life regardless of what it brings, because we get easily used to things. Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter, we all must learn to find comfort in what we have, because if we learn to remain constant, diligent and aligned to our principles when things are good, maybe we will have the flexibility to sustain the when they are not so good. Let’s face it, we all lose our way, sometimes. We all bemoan the tragedy of our lives when things are good, so maybe we can learn from the myth, and laugh a little when things are bad. The things that matter are important regardless of seasonality.
Lately, I have been reading a lot of books about economics. I know that reading a lot about something doesn’t make me an expert, but I’ve really been wondering about the value of things, and sometimes, I wonder if spending a certain amount of money on entertainment would be worth the amount of joy I’d derive from it, so the other day I came up with a formula to figure it out. Just for fun, I decided to take a stab at quantifying the whole thing, though I do not believe that it is a good idea to put numbers on everything. I did ejoy trying to think like an amateur economist though. Here is the result:
First, take your hourly wage, and figure out what percentage of it you would be willing to spend on entertainment. For example, if you made minimum wage, and you were willing to spend 10% of your income on entertainment, you would take $7.25, and multiply it by 0.1 (to figure 10%). You would get about $.72, then you would multiply that amount by the number of hours that you plan on spending with the book. If you were thinking about one of Brandon Sanderson’s books, you could look forward to about 20 hours of unadulterated, epic fantasy and joy, so you would multiply $.72 times 20. You should be willing to pay about $14.40 for the book. A variable on the formula allows you to multiply the ideal price of the book, by the number of people who are going to read it, so if your roommate, Joey, is going to read it, then you could pay $28.80 for the privilege of owning the material in question–assuming you like Joey.
This formula varies widely, specially when related to disposable income. Some people may make more money, but be unwilling to spend a lot of it on entertainment, others may make less, but be able to spend it more freely.
The other factor is that this works only for books you read for fun. Text books, or self-development books may be worth more for some people.
Here is the formula (I’m not a mathematician, so correct me if I expressed it wrong, and feel free to send the right one):
((HW*X) FT)) P=IP
HW = Hourly wage.
X = The percentage (in decimals) you are willing to spend on entertainment.
FT = Fun time the ride from the book.
P = the number of people, you like, who will have access to the book.
IP=Ideal price of item
What do you think?
I got the image from the Wikipedia and it is in the public domain.