Commentary · Story & Characters

“And Be a Villain” – What it Takes to Be Bad

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain – Shakespeare’s Hamlet

When it comes to characters, one particular figure who can either make or break a story for me is the villain. As stated in my Top Five Favorite Villains post, I would go so far as to say that a story is only as good as its villain, who serves as the chief threat for the hero. If the villain is weak, then the story suffers. But if the villain is strong and a nearly equal match for the hero, then the story should be rife with necessary drama and tension.

In terms of the type of villain I enjoy, love a good, compelling villain who is on equal footing with and makes for a suitable challenge to the hero. A stupid or lazy villain provides little to no challenge, and a villain who is too smart or too powerful ensures no victory for the hero. So a happy medium is best. However, as much as I love rotten to the core villains (like Harry Potter‘s Lord Voldemort), nothing beats a baddie who isn’t all bad and who might even redeem himself in some fashion in the end.


What Makes a Villain?

Not just any villain will do. Some bad guys/gals are as flat as a cardboard cutout while others are vibrantly three-dimensional. Granted, there is a time and place for one-dimensional villains, particularly in children’s literature. Because young children do not yet fully understand the concept of moral right and wrong, it makes sense to not over-develop a villain for them as, in their minds, heroes are 100% good and villains are 100% evil. Thus, it’s best if stories for children stick to that equation. However, that formula doesn’t work in stories for adults who are better able to understand moral conundrums. Thus, older readers need and deserve complex villains.

So what are some traits that such villains should possess?

Compelling Backstory. A villain’s backstory can be tragic, ordinary, or fantastic, but there has to be something that makes the character feel like a real person. It’s fine if not everything from the character’s background is spelled out in the story itself because sometimes it’s fun to muse over who this person was before he/she turned bad. But if a villain is inserted just to fulfill the role of being the story’s antagonist with no glimpse into who they were before the story’s timeline, then the character runs the risk of becoming a stock figure. A complex villain requires a workable history, even if not all of it gets revealed in the story, as the background is there for the writer to steep his/her character in. A good, solid backstory really shows through fully fleshed out characters.

Logical Motivations. Villains need to be motivated but their motivations need to make sense within the story’s world and in relation to the villain as a person. For instance, Queen Levana, the principle villain in the Lunar Chronicles series, wants to have absolute power by holding onto the Lunar throne and gaining control of Earth. This desire for control and worship from her subjects makes sense in light of the overall story and makes sense in light of who she is as a person, especially her desire to be in control and be deemed as beautiful as, in her backstory, she was deprived of both things during her youth. Hence, villains can be motivated to do bad deeds for any number of reasons provided those reasons make sense with who they are, what they ultimately want, and the story’s world.

Moral Codes and Quirks. By giving a villain moral grey areas, personal quirks, and/or distinguishing characteristics, you can take a standard baddie and turn him/her into a multi-faceted person. Along these lines, villains also need to possess some sort of moral code. This can be (and probably will be) the complete opposite of the code the heroes adhere to or it can allow for the villain to waiver between doing what’s right and doing what’s wrong. This, too, makes characters seem more realistic as moral choices sometimes aren’t so clear cut, not even in real life.

Power and Intimidation. Power comes in a variety of ways, from military might, to physical prowess, to  magical or supernatural abilities. Regardless of the villain’s power source, he/she needs to have some degree of control or authority in order to pose as a credible threat to the story’s heroes, which also ties into how intimidating they are. A villain’s intimidation factor makes that character seem like someone the story’s heroes – and the readers – need to take seriously. Intimidation, like power, comes in different forms but usually ties in to the villain’s power as the more powerful they are, the higher the intimidation factor, and the more intimidating they are, the more power they wield.

Sympathy Factor. One thing that can turn a mediocre villain into a great villain is something in their background or personality that elicits sympathy. I don’t mean they should become pathetic or dopey; instead, a sympathetic attribute humanizes them as they possess something that causes readers to feel sorry for them, even if just for a spell. This could be anything from a rough childhood, to a personal tragedy, to even a physical weakness. Not only does this ground the villain, making them realistic, but it also might provide a chink in their armor that the heroes can use to defeat them later on or that the villain comes to grips with and eventually turns from his/her wicked ways.

Tailor-made. Villains should be tailored for their audience. As stated earlier, one-note villains work best in stories for children but not so much for adults. In a child’s eyes, a bad character is only capable of doing bad deeds rather than being capable of doing good deeds he or she doesn’t intend to do or having complicated motives. For adults, a complex or conflicted villain captures realistic moral dilemmas. Keep in mind that all villains had to make a choice – either on-page or off – to get where they ultimately end up, reflecting the law of cause and effect. Sometimes its this series of choices that elicits sympathy as readers understand what it’s like to be caught in a bad situation or make tough choices, only the unspoken message is that we should strive to take the moral high ground, something the villain at some point obviously failed to do.

Classes of Baddies
Not all antagonists or villains are created equal. There are some classes that villains and other neer-do-wells can be sorted into:


Antagonizers
– These are characters who aren’t necessarily evil or even bad but who serve the role of the proverbial thorn in the hero’s side. Two characters who fit this mold would be Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series and Eddie Haskell from the TV sitcom, Leave it to Beaver. Draco is never the primary villain and I’d make the case that he’s not an evil person. However, he does bully Harry during his time at Hogwarts. The same applies to Eddie Haskell, who, while not a villain or even a bad person, still functioned as an antagonizer to his friend, Wally Cleaver, and Wally’s younger brother, Beaver. Eddie would typically either talk Wally or Beaver into doing the wrong thing or would resort to teasing Beaver. However, while Eddie liked to antagonize, he wasn’t a bad kid as, at times, even he was capable of doing the right thing.


Henchmen and Minions
– These are villain figures who assist a primary villain but who aren’t a primary villain in and of themselves. Some of my favorite henchmen/minions would be the Ten Men in Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy. Seeing as they don’t function as the primary villain as they assist the main villain, Ledropatha Curtain, with his nefarious schemes, the Ten Men operate as henchmen. But rather than serve as trope goofball, goof up bad guys, the Ten Men are clever, ruthless, and cunning, which gives them a sinister quality that, in some respects, is more frightening than Mr. Curtain since they pose more of an overt, physical danger to the lead characters.


Career Criminals
– These villains make badness their business, whether it’s a hitman who makes a living taking lives or crime bosses overseeing vice operations. What makes these villains different is that there is some form of a code or business ethos dictating their decisions. Perhaps it’s a hitman like Suicide Squad‘s Deadshot who won’t kill women or children or mob bosses who think certain actions are bad for business (and there is a whole slew of gangster films that portray this). Whatever this code happens to be, it dictates the character’s decisions albeit not all of them. One such villain in this class is the Batman villain Penguin (aka Oswald Cobblepot). What sets him apart from the likes of other Batman baddies such as the Joker or the Riddler is that he approaches his line of villainy as a form of business. There are certain lines he won’t cross, such as senseless bloodshed for bloodshed’s sake, and others he will, such as thievery. Not to mention Penguin sometimes has done good that he didn’t intend, such as ratting out a rival to Batman and/or the police. Granted, it’s to protect his own interests but, by proxy, it keeps innocent people safe. Therefore, some of his actions and aspects of his personal business ethos do serve a good purpose.


Ultimate Evils
– These are villains who have no ultimate redemption. They are pure evil and even their positive attributes and talents are used for nefarious means. These are the type of baddies you love to hate and hope they get their just desserts. However, it takes a fine hand on the author’s part to insure that such villains don’t become cliches. My favorite ultimate evil villain is Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Voldemort is just bad. Granted, Rowling keeps him out of trope territory by giving him a sympathetic, tragic backstory that lets you feel sorry for him for just a bit. However, he made wrong choices as a youth to do evil and abuse others, which carried over into his adult life. Voldemort is the type of villain you want to see defeated because there is no good left in him: he is so consumed with evil and there is nothing left to redeem because he doesn’t want to change.


Morally Grey – Such villains waiver between doing right and doing wrong; however, they steer clear of being antiheroes because they veer a little too far to the wrong. A variation of this would be a villain who waivers between good and bad yet tries to justify to himself that the “bad” they do is somehow good. C.S. Lewis once observed: “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.” Thus, morally grey villains know they’re not good people yet are still capable of doing the right thing or semi-right thing at times. For these characters, redemption is possible thanks to the fact that their sense of right and wrong might be in tatters but is still intact. Negan from The Walking Dead certainly belongs in this category. He ultimately acts out of his own self-interests, feels little remorse or guilt, displays violent behavior, and often plays mind games and manipulates others. However, Negan doesn’t always do the wrong thing: he believes that “rules keep [people] safe,” he might give someone a stay of execution, apologize for his crass behavior, feel a degree of responsibility towards people under his leadership, or agree to fight common enemies in the effort to keep other people safe. Thus, there is a strand of good inside of Negan as he exists in a grey area where sometimes his actions and reasoning are morally muddled but not morally incapacitated.


Conflict of Interest These villains, under different circumstances, might not have been villains at all and are only deemed as such due to their alignment against the story’s heroes, thus creating a moral conflict of interest. Star Wars‘ Grand Admiral Thrawn fits perfectly inside this category. Thrawn possesses many positive traits such as a high level of intelligence, incredible foresight, astute military tactics and strategies, a distaste of brutality for brutality’s sake, an ability to command respect, and a curious mind that appreciates and analyzes art. Thus, what makes him a villain at all is that he serves the Empire rather than the Rebels’ cause. Despite this, Thrawn harbors personal reasons for joining the Empire’s service, namely the ability to gather intelligence on potential threats and an opportunity to combat said threats should they pose as dangers to his own people, the Chiss. While this isn’t a motivation Thrawn lets known to too many people, it’s an inherent drive that urges him to do what he does in terms of big picture decisions. He isn’t an evil or even a bad person: he’s simply chosen the wrong side in a conflict but has made this choice for, what he believes, is the good of his fellow Chiss.

The Rogues’ Gallery
Part of what makes villains appealing is that they reflect some of the worst parts or tendencies of ourselves. Naturally, it’s a gross exaggeration, but I believe that even in a bad guy/gal’s worst traits, we can see a tiny aspect of our less-than-admirable sides or our own personal struggles over making good, moral choices. Through this cathartic experience, we can realize what these less desirable attributes are and strive for a change of heart and moral direction. Just as sometimes even a villain can turn good, that gives us hope that we, too can change.

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Commentary · Publications

“Escaping the Grip of Grooming” – New Two-Part Article on Rivulet Collective

I recently penned an article for Rivulet Collective, an online Christian “magazine.” Below is a brief excerpt from each part (as this is a two-part article) followed by a link to each full article:

Part One:

George* was an unassuming, 40-something divorcé who worked from home and had a teenage daughter. He enjoyed reading and writing, he seemed friendly and polite, and he claimed to be a Christian. I was nearing 30 at the time and I too loved to read and write. So when George and I met in a creative writing class I led, I was enamored, despite the age gap.

Ours remained a casual friendship for nearly two years. We met nearly every Saturday for lunch at a restaurant to talk and share our writings and were also involved in a book club and writers’ group. Red flags slowly emerged, but initially I chose to ignore or make excuses for them.

Then one day during lunch, George started quizzing me about sex. That’s when I knew.

I was being groomed….

To read the rest of part one, go to: https://www.rivuletcollective.com/rivulet/escaping-the-grip-of-grooming-part-1

Part Two:

[T]he abuser’s goal is to take advantage of you and have you become desensitized to sexual conversation and normalize bad behavior. This starts in small ways, such as jokes or passing remarks. It may move on to getting you interested in pornography or initiating physical advances. Desensitization is a diminished emotional response to negative stimuli – the more an abuser exposes you to sexual content, the more you become numb to it. This may lead to normalization, which is when you begin to see things originally believed to be disagreeable, even morally wrong, as now acceptable….

To read the rest of part one, go to: https://www.rivuletcollective.com/rivulet/escaping-the-grip-of-grooming-part-2

Commentary · Media

Musical Musings – Gorillaz


Aside from being a writer, I’m also an avid music listener. However, I’m just as picky about my music as I am with my books! I still buy CDs but only if they’re from a favorite artist, and my list of favorites is small (for now, it consists of only five: Blur, Paramore, Coldplay, Florence + the Machine, and the band I’m going to discuss at length below) though I download quite a bit of music from iTunes.

However, it seems to me like the quality of popular music is declining as it’s less concerned about creativity and more focused on cookie cutter arrangements and vocals. I’m not here to hate on pop music nor am I a crusty old soul who can’t stand what “the kids these days” are listening to. However, I will always gravitate towards musicians and bands who take the time to create art instead of just generating the next big thing.

Gorillaz is one such band.

Despite being entirely fictional. But I’ll get to that in a moment. 😉

Seeing as Gorillaz recently released their latest full-length project, The Now Now, the time is right to dish on my favorite band.

I was first introduced to Gorillaz unawares back in 2000. I was watching “BattleBots” on Comedy Central and saw an ad for what was their debut, self-titled album. The ad featured snippets from the music video for “Clint Eastwood,” but at the time, I had no idea what I was watching. I just thought it was a commercial for a new mature cartoon show until I realized it was for a CD. It was weird. It was dark. And I all but completely forgot about it.

Until 2005.

I was in college, listening to my car radio on the way home from classes, when I heard the most intriguing song I had heard in the longest time. In terms of my musical tastes up to that point, I mainly listened to music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s and contemporary Christian music. Throughout the 90s, I listened to Christian music almost exclusively because there was a lot to choose from genre-wise. Some of my favorite artists were dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Plumb, and the Newsboys. However, over the years, a lot of the artists I listened to either went on hiatus or ceased to do music altogether, so I felt like I was running out of new music to explore. As the 2000s approached, the wide range of Christian rock, alternative, pop, and rap that I enjoyed was slowly replaced by generic praise and worship songs that, while usually lyrically passable, lacked the sense of creativity and lyrical depth I was craving.

(I want to add that I don’t hate Christian music. I am a Christian myself and I still listen to artists I enjoyed back when I was a teen. Those songs spoke to me then and still speak to me today. So this isn’t a story about how I “graduated” from Christian music to “secular” music. I listen to and love music across a spectrum of musicians, genres, and time periods. I also believe that all truth is ultimately God’s truth, whether it’s sung by an openly Christian artist, an artist with no religious affiliation, or even a virtual band!)

Seeking more variety in my music, I turned to the radio. For years, I mainly listened to a local oldies station and a Christian station that eventually became just a talk show line up. But when I went to college and commuted, I decided to explore other stations. I first tried another local Christian station, but it was dominated by worship music that all sounded alike to me after a while. So I switched to a local pop station and discovered the likes of Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, Pink, Linkin Park, Lenny Kravitz, Evanescence, and Avril Lavigne. While I won’t say everything they put out was/is good, some of their songs were interesting and, at the very least, catchy. I also discovered Coldplay and instantly fell in love their sound and lyrics, and I’m a big fan to this day.

But there was one band that stood head and shoulders above the rest.

So in the fall of 2005, I heard a song that was unlike anything else on the radio. My local pop station played a wide variety of genres at the time (as opposed to the pre-fab pop and rap they spin now), but even then this track stood out. The music was truly undefined as it bore hallmarks of pop, alternative, hip-hop/rap, and electronic. It was a cool fusion of styles that blended harmoniously and made it distinctive. Similarly, the song had interesting lyrics that allowed the listener to derive their own meaning from the curious word play and pictures:


Windmill, windmill for the land.

Turn forever hand in hand
Take it all in on your stride
It is sinking, falling down
Love forever, love is free
Let’s turn forever, you and me
Windmill, windmill for the land
Is everybody in?

I kept listening, hoping to find out who the artist was. Finally, at the end of the song, the DJ announced, “That was ‘Feel Good Inc.’ by Gorillaz.”

Gorillaz. The name sounded familiar but at the time I couldn’t place it. All I knew was I had to look this group up and check out more of their music.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was the same band I had seen the commercial for years ago. But now I was intrigued. I snatched up their newest album at the time, Demon Days, and listened to it from beginning to end without stopping. I felt like I was immersed in a musical experience as opposed to just listening to a batch of songs. The album was like a novel put to music where each song was a chapter and told a story. It quickly became a favorite and much-played album of mine and still is to this day.

Naturally, I went on the hunt to obtain the rest of the Gorillaz discography as well as learn more about this strange little band, which technically is a virtual band (read: animated) consisting of vocalist 2D, lead guitarist Noodle, drummer Russel Hobbs, and bass guitarist Murdoc Niccals. But while these characters don’t exist in real life, the musicians and collaborators behind them are real.


Gorillaz is the brainchild of Blur front man Damon Albarn and “Tank Girl” comic creator Jamie Hewlett. These two masterminds started work on their virtual creation back in 1998 and did so partly to poke fun at the state of pop music. It’s no surprise that I’m also a huge Blur fan and I own all of their major albums and then some. I don’t agree with Albarn on his political views, but I admire him as a consummate performer, musician, and songwriter. Just as Blur doesn’t offer mindless fluffy pop songs but presents meat on their musical bones, so Gorillaz delivers the same through a myriad of genres. Gorillaz maintains a mixture of dark humor and dingy tones buried beneath a cheeky exterior, and this style can be evidenced not only in their music and lyrics but also in their videos.

I delved into the band’s history, both the real-life background of their creation and the biographies of the various members (and I’m a proud owner of their fictional autobiography, Rise of the Ogre). I found it all to be a fascinating musical and cultural experiment that has obviously proven successful. The basic premise of Gorillaz is that it ridicules how music is fabricated while, in turn, serving as the ultimate fabrication. Many musical acts seem pre-packaged, ready to consume without much thought. Gorillaz takes this one step further by being entirely concocted yet offering thought-provoking lyrics that encourage analysis.

It’s not too hard to determine that the Gorillaz themselves (the virtual band members, that is) are intended to be caricatures. Murdoc is the egotistical, narcissistic, womanizing rock god; Noodle is the child prodigy; Russel is the low-key, tormented old soul; and 2D is the pretty boy talented singer with a tragic past. I imagine it would have been tempting to make these characters cartoony and kid-friendly. Instead, each one has an elaborately bizarre backstory, making them unique and decidedly mature.


Out of the line up, I like Murdoc the best because he’s the epitome of the ultimate rock star/god in caricature form. He’s christened himself the leader of Gorillaz (as he, technically, is the founder). He believes he’s the most talented musician of the lot despite only playing the bass. He’s touted that he’s a better singer than 2D (Murdoc is tone deaf at least when it comes to singing). He’s a megalomaniac Svengali (so it makes sense that he’s a Satanist) with a razor sharp wit. And he firmly believes he’s desirable to all women despite being less than handsome. Thus, Murdoc represents everything the general public believes about alpha male rock musicians though he is grossly exaggerated for comedic effect, the humor being that despite his grand claims, it’s obvious that Murdoc is no where near being as marvelous as he makes himself sound.

For the record, while Gorillaz doesn’t create offensive music, their image is steeped in dark humor and some of their songs tout a profanity here and there and can touch on saturnine themes, from drug abuse (“Sleeping Powder”), to violence in popular media (“Kids with Guns”), to loneliness (“El Manana” and “On Melancholy Hill”), to even imperialism as a metaphor (“Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head”). Hence, there is more to their songs than meets the ear, which is something I deeply appreciate. Gorillaz’s music is adult but not dirty, poetic but not pretentious, introspective but not mopey or depressing. Nearly every song gives the listener something to consider or imagine, and I love music you have to think about as opposed to earworm-inducing tunes. It’s obvious Albarn and the other Gorillaz song writers take time to make musical art when it comes to Gorillaz.

Jamie Hewlett, too, obviously cares enough about these characters to not present boiler plate animated figures. Much like their sound, Gorillaz retains a mature, darkly comical look rather than be a cast of bright, shiny, colorful cartoons. Hewlett doesn’t try to realistically capture his characters or their surroundings but that’s okay. His renderings mirror the underlying irony of Gorillaz – these characters live in a world that’s not as pretty as it seems despite the seemingly colorful, superficial charm.

Another facet that makes Gorillaz unique is the level of interactivity fans have with the band through various media platforms. Their website (when it showcased the now defunct Kong Studios) was fully interactive, allowing fans to navigate the studio level by level, room by room, complete with videos to watch, tracks to listen to, games to play, and a plethora of strange sights to explore, from the murky kitchen to Murdoc’s crusty Winnebago. The website even earned a Webby Award for its design and interactive content that perfectly represented and encapsulated the Gorillaz brand. Likewise, the band members all have social media accounts (the most “vocal” of whom is – no surprise – Murdoc, who has an active Twitter account). All of this adds to the sense of realism the band’s creators strive to generate around their characters.

Likewise, each major album marks a new “phase” for the band, and, as such, the band’s members change just like real people. Each of the Gorillaz’s members has a birthday and are allowed to age accordingly. At the time of the debut album’s release, 2D was 23 years old, Murdoc was 35, Noodle was 11, and Russel was 26. While their principal designs don’t change much, they’re drawn to reflect their chronological age as time goes on as you can see below through the different phases’ artwork:

Phrase One: Gorillaz (2001)

Phase Two: Demon Days (2005)

Phase Three: Plastic Beach (2010)

Phase Four: Humanz (2017)

Phase Five: The Now Now (2018)

(*Note: Murdoc is noticeably absent from the band’s line up here as, according to the character’s current backstory, he’s serving time in prison. In his place as bassist is Ace, a character borrowed from The Powerpuff Girls.)

Therefore, if you do the math, the band members have aged about 17 years: 2D is now 40 years old, Murdoc is 52, Noodle is 28, and Russel is 43. This adds a layer of attention and creativity that shows that Albarn, Hewlett, and Co. care about making not only good music and visuals but also compelling characters and stories. It would have been easy to create stock characters and give them unchanging designs and a simple backstory. But rather than keep the members of Gorillaz static or condensed, the band’s creators let them age, evolve, adopt their own senses of style, and make their own choices so they seem like real people.

My musical musings wouldn’t be complete without ranking Gorillaz’s major albums and compilations. So here they are below:


8. Laika Comes Home (2002) – This is a rare album and I was shocked I found it at my small local music store. While not my favorite (I’ve only ever listened to this once), it is an interesting musical experiment where the entire Gorillaz debut album is remixed and re-imagined as reggae tracks.


7. The Fall
(2010) – Again, this one isn’t a favorite, but I respect its composition process as it was recorded entirely on an iPad app. There are no vocal tracks (otherwise it would have ranked higher), but it’s still a fun listening experience.


6. G Sides (2002) and D-Sides (2007)
– I decided to combine these two compilation albums. Noteworthy tracks and remixes include “19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)” and “Faust” (from G-Sides) and “Dirty Harry (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix)” (“Dirty Harry” sung entirely in Chinese!), “People” (which eventually became “Dare”), and “68 State” (from D-Sides).


5. Gorillaz (2001)
– Their debut album is chocked full of memorable tracks that present a good range of the styles the band has tackled, from alternative, to pop, to hip hop, to electronic. Standout tracks include “Clint Eastwood,” “19-2000,” and “Tomorrow Comes Today.”


4. Humanz (2017)
– This album is a bit darker in tone (redolent of the Demon Days era only with less cheekiness at times) when compared to its predecessor, Plastic Beach, as well as its bubbly follow up, The Now Now. Not to mention it’s filled to the brim with collaborators, which exemplifies Gorillaz’s noteworthy genre fluidity. Standout tracks include the eerie lead single “Saturn Barz,” the infectiously catchy “Strobelight,” and the somber “Busted and Blue.”


3. The Now Now (2018) – Gorillaz’s latest full-length album is a brighter, more upbeat and scaled back (in terms of collaborations) offering than Humanz. Similarly, this album serves as more of a collection of songs rather than possessing an overall concept, thus serving as a fun call-back to their debut album in this regard. Standout tracks would be “Humility,” “Tranz,” “Sorcererz,” and “Idaho.”


2. Plastic Beach (2010)
– This album retained the album-as-story vibe akin to Demon Days as it’s more of a concept album than a collection of songs. Its prevailing themes are isolation and conservation of one’s external and internal environment, and most of the songs approach these topics in a variety of ways, from somber introspectivity (“On Melancholy Hill”) to cheeky sarcasm (“Superfast Jellyfish”). Standout tracks include “Rhinestone Eyes,” “Stylo,” “Empire Ants,” “On Melancholy Hill,” and “Broken.”


1. Demon Days (2005) – This remains my all-time favorite album and has yet to be unseated. This album, much like Plastic Beach, is a concept album rather than a random mix of songs. Here, the overall themes are change, loneliness, and isolation that ultimately end on a positive note. Much like trying to navigate through a dense fog, the final track, “Demon Days,” brings you into the light of day as it encourages listeners to Pick yourself up/it’s a brand new day/so turn yourself ’round…into the sun. Hence, the album comes full circle, opening with the morose “Last Living Souls” that wonders if there’s any hope left for mankind and ends on an uplifting note. It’s a musical masterpiece and I love it! Standout tracks certainly include “Feel Good Inc.,” “Dare,” “El Manana,” “Every Planet We Reach is Dead,” “Demon Days,” “November Has Come,” and “Dirty Harry.”

In closing, it’s rare for me to become a fan of really anything, from movies to television and books to music. But when it comes to Gorillaz, I make it a point to buy every album, download every remix and single, watch every video, and check out any related media. So, yes, it’s safe to call me a die-hard fan and I won’t mind a bit! 😀 But their music and level of artistry – even if it is all done behind the scenes by real-life artists and musicians – certainly deserves the attention

So if you’re starving for some music that’s more than just catchy hooks and mindless lyrics, then give Gorillaz a try. There’s something for everyone and you just might find yourself a new favorite band, too.

It’s just a shame Gorillaz don’t exist as real people.

Though if they actually did exist, they’d be some very strange folks indeed!

 

Commentary · Publications

“Reflections on a ‘Miracurl'” – New Article on Rivulet Collective

I recently penned an article for Rivulet Collective, an online Christian “magazine.” Below is a brief excerpt followed by a link to the full article:

Most people love an underdog story, and one such story emerged recently from a rather unassuming event during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Curling, which tends to be unfairly mocked in the American public eye, actually made headlines as the USA men’s team won gold for the very first time, marking only the second time the United States has ever medaled in the sport. Seeing as the men’s team defeated some highly favored teams, namely Canada (not once but twice) and Sweden by a large, nearly impossible margin in the gold medal game, the USA men’s victory became widely known as the “miracurl on ice.”

Avid curling fan that I am, I followed the USA men’s team from their rocky start during the round robin games all the way to their golden finish. Aside from making for some very exciting television (and, yes, curling can be exciting!), I found myself gleaning a few life lessons along the way—namely the importance of perseverance, proper handling of criticism, and the quiet strength of humility.

To read the rest of the article, go to https://www.rivuletcollective.com/rivulet/reflections-on-a-miracurl

Commentary · Publications

“Stranger In a Strange Land” – New Article on Rivulet Collective

I recently penned an article for Rivulet Collective, an online Christian “magazine.” Below is a brief excerpt followed by a link to the full article:

Being an older Christian single can make one feel like a stranger in a strange land. I wish I could say I can’t relate but, unfortunately, I can.

Comfort can be hard to come by for 30-something single ladies like me—who desire marriage while that dream seems to indefinitely remain out of reach. Yet when despondency gets a bit much to bear, I often turn to Scripture for encouragement from some of the women for whom God did the impossible. Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth all had an impossible dream to become mothers, and Ruth was a foreign widow in a foreign land with no prospects. While each of these women were strangers navigating the strange lands of childlessness and singlehood, respectively, their stories possess a similar thread—God does the impossible when all seems barren and lost.

To read the rest of the article, go to https://www.rivuletcollective.com/rivulet/stranger-in-a-strange-land

Books & Reading · Commentary

How (Not) to Haul and How to Avoid Hype


Hauls – gotta love ’em…or not.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with making large purchases, it can be tempting to go overboard and purchase books you wouldn’t ordinarily buy or spend beyond what is considered prudent. It can also be tempting to join in, especially when you see reviewers on social media platforms show off their new reading materials. Within social media in general there is the prevailing philosophy of FOMO or the “fear of missing out” where the perception, at least regarding books (as that’s the topic of discussion here), is that if you aren’t keeping up with all of the latest releases, then you’re not hip to the current book scene.

Recently, I read this article on Temptalia, a makeup review site, and I found it rather informative. While it gives advice on how to avoid going overboard with cosmetic purchases, I think its underlying principles apply to managing book buying habits, too. (Note: Text in italics are direct quotes from the original article.)

To start, the article remarks that to be successful at reducing purchases…think more critically about your purchasing habits and what purchases you actually make and why. It affirms that impulse buying isn’t a good habit to develop and encourages readers to be smart consumers, making purchases that fit within personal shopping guidelines and ultimately be things you will use and enjoy. In relation to books, while it can be tempting to buy every new release under the sun, can you honestly say that you’re going to read all of those books? And if so, will you re-read them or will they eventually collect dust on your shelf?

In order to develop personalized shopping guidelines, the article gives the acronym READY, which I have tailored to pertain to book buying:
R = Research: Read reviews about a book – don’t buy it “just because.”

E = Explain: Why do you want the book? Will you actually read it? Will you re-read it? Why do you want to buy it now?

A = Apply: How does this book fit into your personal shopping plan? Will it derail your progress? How does it fit in with your existing bookshelf? How soon will you read it or even re-read it?

D = Dupes: Do you have similar books? If so, how often do you read those? Do you like them? If not, why do you think you’ll like the book you want to buy?

Y = You: Will buying this book make you feel happy or guilty? Will happiness come from simply buying the book or from reading and enjoying the story?

So here are twelve ways to better manage your book purchases:

1. Unsubscribe from blogs, vlogs, and/or social media accounts that emphasize book hauls or hype around new releases. For example, if watching a YA fantasy YouTube channel makes you feel bad that you’re not keeping up with all the latest YA fantasy releases, it might be a good idea to unsubscribe for a time. Or if following a certain GoodReads “friend” who rhapsodizes over every new release makes you feel like you’re missing out, consider unfollowing the person’s reviews.

2. Keep in mind that most haul/hype reviewers intentionally make time to post their plethora of reviews, which is something most folks can’t do. This could be for any number of reasons, but it’s been my observation that most such haul/hype reviewers tend to be college age persons who have more flexible schedules. Secondly, many such reviewers receive free ARCs (advanced reading copies) from publishers in the hopes of garnering reviews as a means of promotion. But in the end, it all comes down to time management. While it might be fun to get new books all of the time, it’s not practical for the majority of readers; so don’t feel pressured to compete when your life situation is probably vastly different from the life of your favorite book blogger.

3. Inventory the books you currently own and make note of which ones you re-read and which ones you haven’t read in a while. This is helpful in seeing not only what books you currently own in general but also which ones you gravitate towards and which ones you don’t seem overly fond of. Determining how often you read certain books, as well as how many books you own, can help you set spending limits.

4. De-clutter your shelves by identifying which books you love, which ones you like, and which ones you don’t read anymore or may never read again. You’ve already spent money on them (excluding those given as gifts) and might have already spent time reading them; so why let books you don’t plan on re-reading take up shelf space? Instead, gather them up and give them to a friend, donate them, or sell them using a merchant platform like eBay or Amazon Marketplace. This way, you can give the gift of reading to someone who might better appreciate books you didn’t care for, and if you sell them, you can make some extra money, too.

5. Save a prospective purchase for later. Keep a list of titles you’re interested in but let them sit for a bit to see if you really want them, if you’re only mildly interested in them, or you want them simply because “everybody else” is reading them. Books you want simply because they’re popular are likely to wane in interest as time passes. As hype dies down, so does the desire to want to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.

6.
Avoid emotional shopping as, like the article states, you aren’t in the right headspace to do so thoughtfully. The rush of buying a new book only lasts until you bring it home, so looking for happiness from buying books – or anything else – is a temporary fix and will only instigate a cycle that, if not curbed, will be harder to break the longer it continues. When you’re feeling down and you know you tend to buy books to pick yourself up, stay away from the bookstore or online retailers. You’ll be surprised at how much less you spend when your head is making purchasing decisions rather than your heart.

7. Read reviews to consider if a book sounds like something you’re going to enjoy in the long run. Personally, I seek out reviews that try to examine a book’s strong and weak points in equal measure. Reviews that regurgitate hype gloss over issues that might be present, and ranting negative reviews usually omit any positive points. So reviews that assume a more balanced approach are usually the most informative for me. This is also a good way to sift through hype reviews that gush and squeal (OH MY GOSH – MUST READ!!!) and reviews that are more even-tempered and honest about a book.

8. Accept your weaknesses and don’t be embarrassed to take steps to curb your habits. If this means staying away from the bookstore until you can crack down on impulse buying, then do so. If online shopping is a temptation, then give book retailer sites a break for a while. One thing I like to do while shopping online (as I don’t live near a bookstore) is to put books in a save-for-later cart or wish list rather than a shopping cart, then go back a few weeks later and decide whether I really want those books or not. Many times I end up not buying them because my interest has cooled off or I no longer have the time to read them.

9. Read excerpts of books you’re interested in and try to read more than just a few pages (though sometimes that can’t be helped). Likewise, at least for me personally, regardless how much hype a book is getting, if it’s not something I’m interested in reading before, I’m not going to show interest in it now. For instance, I don’t care for Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter novels; so regardless how much hype a new book of hers might muster, I have never cared for any previous books, so I’m not going to invest time, money, or interest into a new book.

10. Set guidelines for yourself in terms of how many books you’ll buy in a single shopping outing. Some of these can be:
Replacement: If and when you give away, donate, sell, or discard one book, then you can purchase another book. This helps you de-clutter and keep tabs on what you currently read or don’t read.

– One-in, one-out: If and when you finish a new book, then you can purchase another one. However, don’t simply acquire new books for the sake of buying new books – read what you have first.

– Fill in the Blanks: Regarding book series, when you finish one book in a series, then purchase the next book. Try to avoid buying an entire series from the start because you may only like a few books. This cuts down on clutter as you’re not acquiring books you don’t really want for the sake of owning a compete series. Remember, there’s no rule that says you must own every book in a series – it’s okay to only own the first two books or so and nothing more.

– Set budget: Determine the amount of money you will spend within a given time frame (per week, month, and/or year) and whether or not you decide to roll over unused money. When you go to the bookstore, leave the credit card or debit card behind and bring cash. By paying with cash, you force yourself to limit how much you spend; so if, for example, you only take $30, then $30 is all you can spend. For online shopping, have a credit card with a low credit limit that is designated specifically for online shopping. This cuts down on wasteful spending and makes it easier to pay off purchases in full and on time.

– Planned Purchases: Make a list of books ahead of time that you wish to buy either in person or online and stick to your list, thereby curbing impulse buys. While browsing is fine and a good way to check out new books, just make note of any titles that interest you, take it home and research them, then plan on buying them later provided your interest remains.

11. Keep yourself on track by retaining a running total of how much you spent on books prior to starting your spending plan (if possible) and what you’ve spent or even saved after adopting your plan. Doing so enables you to reflect on the progress made toward a goal [as it] is useful and can make a goal seem a lot more tangible and doable. Likewise, tell friends and/or family about your goals and ask for their support, especially if you’re having a hard time kicking certain habits. Having like-minded people you can be held accountable to makes a big difference.

12. Lastly, forgive yourself: If you purchase something that wasn’t part of your plan, don’t give up….[think] about what happened, what you can learn from it, whether there should be adjustments made to your guidelines/plan/goals, and how to do better in the future.