Monday, March 31, 2014

Heroes and Villains

Note: Spoilers on Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame ahead. But seriously, if you haven't seen it by now, do yourself a favor and Netflix it and then come back.

My favorite Disney movie used to be The Little Mermaid. I knew all the songs and dialogue and I could name every single character. When I went back to college, every once in awhile they would have me dissect a movie in an essay. I think I exclusively stuck to Disney movies. Why? Because they are a great study of setting up characters quickly and of nonverbal communication but also because a lot of their more complex aspects tend to be a lot more accesible than in other movies. Plus, I find I pay attention to them more than live action movies. I used Little Mermaid for quickly setting up characters and Tangled for nonverbal communication. In psychology I had to dissect a movie for shadow and cognitive dissonance. The first that came to mind was Hunchback of Notre Dame. I'd watched it many times before, but had never considered it a contender for being one of my favorites. And then I really watched it.

I've been coming to the realization that, over time, it has managed to push aside Little Mermaid to become my favorite. And the reason? Because it changed with me. When I was a kid a lot of the stuff with Frollo made me really uncomfortable but then the gargoyles were there to put me back at ease. He was a great villian, but the levels of villainy was a little deep for me but now I can see what a great villain he is. I liked the gargoyles when I was a kid, but I'm no longer as fond of them. I've grown out of them; they were never made for me now, they were made for me back then. Little Mermaid never changed for me, it never changed with me. It remains a nostalgic piece that always takes me back to the moment I was sitting next to my mom at the theatre and we were both crying because all hope was lost. Hunchback has taken more, and more persistent, holds in my memories. 

One of the reasons I think Hunchback may be one of the best Disney movies is because of it's main villain. In almost all Disney animated films, the villain is what make the most impact. The hero can only be as good as its villain. Why did Pocahontas and Tarzan not have that much impact on me? They had a poorly done villain. Here's a little secret: I prefer the direct-to-video Pocahontas sequel to the original. In the original, Pocahontus wasn't a very good heroine because she didn't have a good foil. Governor Ratcliffe was just greedy in the first one and he really didn't have much impact. He had little to no direct interaction with the main character. In the second one, they were on his turf. He had power, he had the home advantage, he had direct interaction with the main protagonist and the movie was better because of it. 

Probably won't believe it, but this guy is the villain
Frollo was unlike many of the Disney villains I've seen before or since. He was an evil man, he did deplorable things, but he never saw himself as evil. To the contrary, he saw himself as a good and righteous man fighting the evil surrounding him. He didn't revel in his evilocitude like Ursula or Jafar. He is someone who is relatable because we can easily see people like that around us. Though most of us would prefer not to admit it or do not see it, we may have those traits in ourselves. That is a very scary but relatable thing and it can be very uncomfortable to have those thoughts. If you speak to most people, you will find out they see themselves as the hero and those around them are the villains, but there's a good chance they are the villain in someone else's story. Very few people think they are the persecutor, it's the world and everything else that is against them. They couldn't possibly the one doing anything wrong. 

While it is easy to tell in Hunchback who the heroes and villains are, but in life it's a lot harder to tell who are villains and who are the heroes. This is probably because we are neither and both. Unless you come with the best song (such as Hellfire), then you are most definitely the villain.

Currently, Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame is on Netflix. It is definitely worth another viewing and it has a great soundtrack. And when you watch a "kids" movie, don't be dismissive and think it has nothing to offer you on the basis of it being animated because it just may surprise you.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wait For It...Procrastination

I was lamenting to a coworker that I have a lot of projects but I procrastinate a lot. He found this hard to believe based on how I am at work, but I am a different person at home than I am at work. At home I procrastinate all the time, have horrible time management skills, and I am indecisive. In work and school, I am the opposite of all that.

I am getting frustrated with myself.

I currently have:
  • 5 plays in various states of doneness
  • 3 stories including one with an entire outline and ending
  • a video project that I've already outlined
  • several pet/organization projects
  • a bunch of online classes/ tutorials I want to take 
  • Plus need to send in my application for the Amtrak Residency due on March 30
I keep adding more projects and when I get home, I am either too tired from work or I can't decide between projects. I get so caught up in my indecision that I don't get anything done. This needs to change. I've said this before and I have tried making plans and even sticking to them for a short time before I get lax again. This is the first time I'm putting this in writing and dissecting the tactics that work for me in work and school in order to apply it to my personal projects. With this, I am holding myself accountable.

A little background. I have always been a little bad about my indecisiveness but it has been coming out more and more as I've gotten older. This may have to do with having less free time or because I keep adding projects without finishing other ones or it might have to do with realizing my own mortality. It could be a combination of all of these. I used to work on 3 projects at a time. Sometimes more, but usually I'd keep it at 3 and when I finished one, I'd replace it with the next one on my list. I would flit between the 3 projects depending on my mood. I would usually have a comedy and something a little darker for certain moods and an organization project for when I needed to channel and control my neuroticism. (Note: this may be why I've been a little more noticably neurotic lately) This 3-project system worked well for me in the past, but I seem to be having trouble narrowing it down into 3 projects. 
The biggest motivators for me in both work and school are deadlines and being counted on. I hate the thought of letting peopole down because I didn't hold up my end of the work. Deadlines always help me understand the end point. I've heard many people say you shouldn't put deadlines on creative people (though I've also heard the latter) but I tend to not agree. I feel they do tend to help more than hinder, but I also think some people (Me) who make an art out of procastinating need deadlines or we just don't get anything done. Nobody is really counting on me, but I can make deadlines work for me.

Another thing that helped me, especially when I was a payroll specialist, was making lists. I'd have one week that was only for payroll and whatever came up and then I would have an off week. When I finished running payroll, I'd compile my list of tasks for my off-week and I'd color code them based on priority. Whenever something came up, I'd add it to the list and color-code it accordingly. If there was a lot (and there usually was) I'd number within each of the color coded sections.  It took a few minutes to compile but save me a lot of time and kept me focused. It also came in handy when my supervisor exasperatedly exclaimed: "I don't even know what you do all day!" and I handed her the list leaving her speechless.

One of the most important things I learned through my courses was scope. How big is your project? What does it entail? This is probably one of the most oft overlooked concepts even though it was consistently drummed into us. It's taking your project and seeing how big it is and making it manageable with your resources. If you have 3 days you can't write your big space epic, but you should be able to write a pretty good short story. It is basically looking at what you want to do and what your resources (including time) are and aligning them. What do you need, what can you cut? What are the most important aspects and what are the things that would be nice to have but are not necesssary?
I think I can find a way to stop wallowing in my indecisive Libra ways and stop procrastinating if I can combine the methods that have worked in the past.

-   Look at the scope of each project 
-   Determine which projects go with which mood
-   List them by priority in category of mood
-   Give myself milestones/deadlines 

By going through this process, I am hoping to work through my paralyzing indecisveness and work on my projects. Working on projects helps keep me a bit more balanced. When I don't have them I tend to get more neurotic and indecisive along with some other stuff. This is an effort to get myself back to a more balanced state.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Becoming MacGyver

Last Saturday, I got a chance to feel like MacGyver. You know, the guy who could blow open a door with some gum and a paperclip.
Yeah, this guy. Source.
My friend, Jen, and her boyfriend were giving a class on how to cheaply and easily make some pretty useful item. The class was mostly centered on making things out of cans, with one exception.

The exception was a Paracord bracelet. This was the first thing we made and was fairly easy to make. The idea of it is to pack in as much Paracord into the bracelet as possible. Paracord is actually pretty useful, especially when camping, hiking, or for survival purposes. You can use it for lacing up your shoes to using it as a tourniquet to unraveling the inner stings and using them as emergency stitches.

We made or were shown how to make a good number of items, but for me the Paracord bracelet and one other item stood out the most. Probably one of the most awesome things we made was a SuperCat stove. Again, it is something that is pretty easy to make and requires only a few materials. It required an empty, clean cat food can and a hole puncher to make. If you want a hotter fire, you punch in more holes. If you want the fire to burn longer but with less heat, you put in fewer holes. To make the fire, you just put in a little alcohol and light it on fire. It’s an incredibly lightweight stove that won’t take up much room in your backpack and costs a lot less to make than pretty much anything you’ll find on the market. We were able to boil a full pot of water over two of them and have tea at the end of class.

This was kind of a preview class and I was fortunate to be invited so I could learn the sorts of things they were teaching and give my opinions. Overall, the class was pretty good. This was a very basic class to figure out flow and the sorts of things that work and getting used to the space, but it was well done and I came home with some pretty nifty things that I got to make.

This is a popcorn maker
I’m excited to see what they are going to do for future classes and, from talking to them, am pretty excited for the other things they want to teach. They are currently working on a website for the MacGyver classes and I will update when it is up. In the meantime, if you would like to contact Jen about future classes, email her at