My Thoughts on Star Wars (Part 1/2)

I have complex feelings about Star Wars. It is impossible to grow up any time past the seventies without knowing about Star Wars. Even if you’ve never watched the films, you do have some basic understanding: Jedi are good guys, they have laser swords called lightsabers, R2D2 and C-3PO are silly robots, Darth Vader is the most evil man in the galaxy, Princess Leia has funny hair, Han Solo is a scoundrel and Chewbacca makes funny noises. Star Wars is so ubiquitous that it’s possibly the most recognizable adventure series in the world.

And I have never really liked it.

As a kid, I had an older cousin who introduced me to most of the things I would fall in love with: video games, adventure series, fantasy worlds, and Final Fantasy in particular. I tended to assume his judgement was good on what media one should consume, so when he borrowed the three-tape box set of the original Star Wars trilogy (yes, I was a child in an era before the prequels even existed, for the first decade of my life anyway) I tried to watch it with him.

It bored me to tears. I fell asleep. He spent maybe an entire day watching all three movies from beginning to end, and I left the room because I wasn’t remotely interested. There’s a certain quality about old movies that’s always repelled me, I think it’s something to do with the sound editing. Everyone sounds like they’re speaking through a grainy filter and there are huge pauses in between dialogue where you can hear the static of the tape. Some people find that really romantic, I’ve always found it dull and detrimental to the experience. I was also never a big fan of the music, it’s always sounded very same-y to me, and it still does, it’s a lot of stacatto horns shouting wildly into the night or slow emotional string crescendos. Those things are good, but there aren’t many discernable melodies, apart from the few big and well-known ones. I was not enchanted by the alien designs, which all have a kind of batrachian  monster-of-the-deep feel to them; every non-human in the galaxy seems to be leaking mucus from every orifice and they all look really wet and shiny. There’s something really gross about the aliens in Star Wars.

I wasn’t impressed with the characters either. I always found Leia somewhat interesting but she’s hardly involved for a lot of the movie, or appears in scenes where everyone talks over her. Han was never charming to me, and Luke has always seemed uninteresting too. The whole original Star Wars trilogy is so old-hat: the forces of evil can be beaten by the power of love and friendship. The Light Side is good and the Dark Side is bad. The Jedi are the good guys and Emperor Palpatine is so cartoonishly evil he’s like a pantomime villain. There was no nuance or greyness, nothing to grab hold of, just a standard “you are the chosen one” narrative.

Now granted, these things have partly become cliche because of Star Wars itself, which is something TV Tropes tells me is called “the Seinfeld effect,” in which a work of fiction creates so many memes and trends that it eventually comes to seem dull and derivative, despite the fact that it pioneered the very things we yawn and wave our hands at. I get that, but on the other hand very little about the essential story of Star Wars was new, it was the spectacle and the imagination that made it different. There weren’t space battles or TIE fighters or lightsabers before Star Wars, and it created a fantasy world that used the terminology of science-fiction, leading some to label it “science fantasy,” a term which I hate because if there is one thing Star Wars is utterly divorced from, it’s science or any semblance of forethought about whether or not something would seem realistic. I mean the galaxy seems so small and trivial; space is treated like a highway between planets which essentially act as towns and only seem to have one feature. You’ve got your desert planets, your ice planets, your planets covered by one giant city, planets that are just one big forest or garden, I mean surely some of these planets might have diverse environments rather than just serving one single purpose?

But I digress. Suffice it to say, I was never enchanted by the original Star Wars films. When the prequel trilogy came along, I was a little more interested, though only a little. I never watched episodes I or II until the third installment came out and I saw it in theaters. I remember liking it and finding it fun and interesting, and it has been my favorite of the series ever since. I went back and watched Episode I, and honestly I’ve never understood the hatred the prequel trilogy gets. I mean yeah, it has a lot of weaknesses, but it’s exactly the same weaknesses the original series had. Peoples central complaint about the prequels seemed to be that it took the established Star Wars universe and ruined the magic by trying to explain too much.

Well if you have a fantasy universe that is so vaguely-defined that the slightest bit of detail ruins the magic, you have a very poorly built world. If the Star Wars universe loses it’s appeal the moment you start to dig deeper than the surface, then it’s just badly written, and yes, I do believe it is badly written. All of them, the originals and the prequels.

The prequels, for me as a viewer, seemed to play up the original trilogies strengths (Jedi, force powers, lightsaber battles) while ditching it’s weaknesses (focuses on slummy cantinas, bland environments, and one-dimensional characters). The prequel trilogy is the story of Anakin becoming Darth Vader, and what drives him to it. What the prequel trilogies show is that the Jedi are not at all what we thought they were: when the Jedi were in power, they were a terrible organization. They paradoxically encouraged detachment from love or relationships, but also expected Jedi to fight USING their feelings. They saw attachment as a path to the dark side, but there is a happy middle between a Bhuddist sense of detachment and an impassioned anger that leads to genocide. It’s possible to be passionate about justice, but how can a Jedi be passionate about justice if passion itself is forbidden? They forbid their members from experiencing natural landmarks of happiness like love or affection, they’re just begging for people to turn away from the Jedi and become Sith because the Jedi and Sith have established a false dichotomy: there is a middle ground between a detached and uncompassionate Jedi and a passionate, murderous Sith.

Darth Vader wasn’t created by Emperor Palpatine, he was created by the Jedi order that ripped him away from his mother and allowed her to be kept in slavery; remember that the Jedi are more than happy to intrude and shove their moral directives down other people’s throats when it suits them, but they didn’t see fit to save Anakin’s mother at any time, specifically because they wanted him to remain detached in order to suit their own ends and use him as a pawn in their prophecy to “bring balance to the force,” a phrase which is so ill-defined that it doesn’t seem to really mean much of anything. And Luke’s saga didn’t bring balance to the force either: the Light side won over the Dark side, that’s hardly balance. The Jedi claim to embrace balance, but they don’t, they embrace the Light side, or rather their perverse interpretation of the Light side, which doesn’t involve love, or passion, or family.

It seemed to me that the only sensible character in the prequel trilogy was Palpatine, but only when he was in his “normal” disguise. He was reasonable, articulate, and convincing. I never understood why he had such a cartoonishly evil alter-ego, because when he was Darth Sidious, he seemed to just want “power,” but even that was vague, all he wanted was to rule the galaxy and then he did, so… what now? His motivations were kind of dropped once the focus became on Anakin finally transforming into Vader.

And now I come to three important points about Star Wars.

So it may seem to you that I had plenty of gripes with the prequels, and I did. But now I’m going to come to three important points about Star Wars. The first this: despite the problems I have with them, I still think, and prepare yourself for this because it’s lost me a few friends, that THE PREQUELS ARE BETTER THAN THE ORIGINALS.

Horrified gasps from the audience, women fainting, the men ruffle their mustaches in anger, “What is that you say? The prequels, better than the originals? THIS IS BLASPHEMY, BURN THE WITCH!”

Yeah yeah, whatever. I do think they’re better, but they’re still weak movies, and that brings me to my second point: I don’t think Star Wars is very good. In fact, I think they’re all pretty terrible films. The originals were all over the place and couldn’t decide on a tone or direction, and the prequels seemed to be mostly about milking nostalgia out of the older viewers, but of course they failed, because as we’ve learned, and this is my third point: STAR WARS FANS CANNOT BE PLEASED.

What do we want? POLYGONS! When do we want ’em? NOW!

No, really. The Star Wars fandom reminds me a lot of the Final Fantasy fandom. The Final Fantasy fandom has spent the better part of two decades just endlessly crying out “More Final Fantasy VII, we want more Final Fantasy VII, give us Cloud, give us Sephiroth!” And then of course, they did. Final Fantasy VII got a sequel, two prequels, a movie, a slightly retooled version of the movie, two short anime films, guest appearances in the Kingdom Hearts series, and now an upcoming remake.

And what did the fans say? “NO! NOT LIKE THAT! Don’t give us Final Fantasy VII like THAT! We want the OLD Final Fantasy VII! We want the EXACT SAME THING we had before, only prettier and dressed up for modern audiences!”

“But, but…” Square Enix stammers, “You already HAVE the original! If we’re going to make more Final Fantasy VII media, shouldn’t it have something new and different that separates it from the original, something that improves on the originals weaknesses while holding up it’s strengths, something that sheds new light and deepens the world?”

And the resounding response from the fans is, “NO! We want THE SAME THING FOREVER!”

Change is hard, I get it. But the thing is, you just aren’t going to please Star Wars fans. Look at the outrage over Jar Jar Binks. I’m not talking about him being a racist caricature because that’s a pretty legitimate complaint, I’m talking about the fact that people seemed to hate him so much because he was annoying and silly and served only as bad comic relief. But the original series did the exact same thing with Chewbacca. I’ve always found Chewbacca annoying, I don’t like his weird sad gargling voice, the fact that the characters can understand him but we as the audience can’t makes him feel totally pointless. I mean, I could see why people were annoyed by Jar Jar, but he’s no better or worse than anything else in the film. It’s not like I particularly missed him in the second two prequels where he had a minor role, but it seemed silly to me that they caved to pressure to lessen his role in the movies.

If anything, I would have complained about the fact that Star Wars seems to turn out bad performances from every actor it touches, even the good ones: Hayden Christenson, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are all good actors, but their performances were robotic and lifeless, even in scenes where the characters are crying or screaming, they speak with no emotion. Ewan McGregor comes the closest to overcoming this, having some genuinely emotional moments, but for the most part, Star Wars kind of destroys everything it touches. And as Family Guy pointed out in it’s Star Wars parodies, Harrison Ford was the only actor whose career wasn’t completely halted by the original Star Wars films.

Suffice it to say, I have become so exasperated with the series over time, and a lot of this has to do with it’s fans. It’s weird to me that the people who seem to hate Star Wars the most are Star Wars fans. Star Wars fans almost unanimously agree that the prequel films are awful and should be wiped from official canon, while the originals are the paragons of all that is just and good in cinema, and should never be touched, particularly not by George Lucas who apparently likes to go back and re-edit for continuity. I kind of agree with them about George Lucas mucking up the originals by re-editing them, but I strongly disagree with the idea that the prequels are terrible. I mean, if they ARE terrible, then they’re certainly no less terrible than the original films.

I am also aware that a part of why the original films don’t excite me so much is because I’m a child of a later age who is not impressed by their effects, and Star Wars is after all mostly about spectacle. And that is sad, because I’m sure if I’d been born in the seventies, I would have been blown away by the original films too.

To return to my earlier comparison with Final Fantasy VII, time has been just as unkind to Final Fantasy VII as it has to the original Star Wars films. Looking back on Final Fantasy VII now, if I were a brand new player I would probably not find it terribly interesting. I remember a time when the presentation of Final Fantasy VII was unmatched, when it’s story, music, dialogue and scenery were breathtaking, and I’m still able to get a little lump in my throat when controlling Cloud, standing out at the peak of a cliffside and looking over a vista of grasslands and the sparkling ocean in the background, while the main theme swells on the world map. But a newcomer wouldn’t see it that way at all. They would, understandably, see terribly modeled polygonal characters on a world made up of cones and squares covered by a thin varnish of scenery that look like something mocked up in a paint program, with music that, even though it’s brilliantly-composed, comes through on mid-90’s MIDI keyboard synths. A newcomer would not be blown away by Final Fantasy VII, and I as a child of the nineties was not blown away by the original Star Wars, because if Star Wars’ main strength is spectacle, I’ve seen bigger spectacles.

I certainly don’t think that the strength of Star Wars has ever been in it’s story or dialogue. There is a certain timeless feel to the heroes journey, or to the chosen-one narrative that wasn’t quite so overdone and played out back when Star Wars was a new property. It’s also impossible not to go into Star Wars somewhat jaded by it’s commercial aspect having spent your entire life surrounded by lightsaber toys, Darth Vader masks, endless quotations in every television show and movie, people pretending to do Darth Vader’s breathing sound and muttering in a gravelly voice, “Luke, I AM your father.” That does make it a little harder to enjoy those things when seeing them. The twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is a very good one, and as a writer it’s unfortunate that it’s now become cliche, because it means I have to rethink a lot of potential twists when writing to avoid an “I am your father” moment and have people roll their eyes and say “Well I could have seen that coming a mile away.” Yeah, but only because Darth Vader already did it.

And that’s really all I have to say about Star Wars episodes I-VI. Come back for part two when I’ll talk about my experience of seeing Episode VIII: The Last Jedi in theaters tonight.

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You Bustin’ Up My Rhythm!

Final Fantasy VII: Remake Recommendations

So I’ve been playing Final Fantasy VII for the trillionth time because I bought it on the Playstation Network store and now I have it for PSP, which is literally the realization of a childhood dream for me, having this game on a handheld device, but I’ve already talked about that previously. But as I’ve been playing through this game, I am well aware of it’s faults, and with that long-fabled Final Fantasy VII remake for the Playstation 5 or something drawing ever closer (I’m thinking twentieth anniversary, because the game is already on it’s seventeeth. I know, it’s crazy for me to realize that too), at least in the imaginations of the fan community, I’ve been noticing a few glaring issues that should definitely be adressed if ever a remake does genuinely happen (or the sequel that they’ve set up with the return of Genesis and just kind of left hanging in the air).

"Ain't no gettin' offa dis' train we on!"

“Ain’t no gettin’ offa dis’ train we on!”

Recommendation 1: Ditch Barrett’s Street Persona

Yeah, I know, it was the 90’s, even white people thought that they were black, and we all thought that being thug gangster was cool and rap was actually a decent genre. It’s okay, Squaresoft, I can forgive you because I was there too, even if I was seven years old. But it’s time to grow up. As this game has aged, it’s become considerably more apparent just how racist the game’s depiction of Barrett really was. Just because he’s a burly black man does not mean he has to be “street,” which he very much is, and as the 90’s have passed us by and saying “Yo” at the beginning of every sentence is no longer cool, I think I speak for all of us when I say it’s time for Barret to be depicted better.

Barrett is actually one of the game’s more complex characters. It’s difficult to know just how to feel about Barrett. He is literally en eco terrorist who kills hundreds of innocent civilians in the pursuit of stopping Shinra. At the beginning of the game his brash nature and nonchalance about blowing up entire metropolitan areas really show how far gone he is to listen to reason, but as the game progresses it’s revealed why Barrett hates Shinra so much, his history of losing his entire family when his hometown was burned to the ground by Shinra troops, and how he lost his best friend and his right arm trying to run from Shinra. He comes to accept how wrong his actions were, and to regret killing innocent people, but still, there’s the fact that he did do it, and those people are still dead, and it’s hard to know if it’s okay to forgive a character like that.

Barrett has enough depth of character that he doesn’t need a street thug gimmick to make him interesting, he’s interesting enough already. When he’s been shown in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, he still has his thug appearance, complete with corn rows and a huge puffy sleeveless vest, but his street talk has been toned down considerably. Now he seems like more of a hothead than a racist 90’s depiction of black culture, but still, it sounds like his voice actor was trying to go for that original street voice and failed. There’s really no reason why Barrett can’t just speak like any other character, without some street accent. He’s clearly intelligent enough if he can put together a resistance movement, hijack multiple trains and blow up two reactors, even if he is so hell-bent on getting revenge that he doesn’t think about the lives he destroys. And if it’s possible, can we please never hear any character in any game ever speak the words, “You bustin’ up my rhythm!” again?

Stats Screen

Recommendation 2: Give the Characters Stats!

Final Fantasy has grown up a lot since the days when Speed was called Dexterity and Defense was called Vitality, but at the time of Final Fantasy VII’s release, characters were mostly still blank slates with little variation among them in stats. Because of this, you can literally use any character in Final Fantasy VII and it will most likely have little to no effect on battles, because they pretty much all have the same stats. Now, I understand that Materia is supposed to be the deciding factor on whether or not someone has a high stat, but even so, Materia usually only changes stats by 1% or so at a time. It’s mentioned in the booklet’s mini-guide that Cloud is a physical attacker and not to load him down with magic materia, but honestly you would need to have 16 slots filled with mastered magic materia to really notice a drastic change in anyone’s stats.

By the time of Final Fantasy IX and X, Squaresoft had gotten pretty good as diferrentiating magical attackers from physical attackers, with characters like Garnet and Lulu being completely useless as physical attackers, but having some of the highest magic stats available. Even so there was room for customization, and there’s no reason why Tifa, for instance, can’t begin with a very high strength stat and low HP, both of which grow stronger, or change according to what Materia you have equipped. Basically the threshhold at which stats are differentiated among characters, or at which Materia changes those stats, needs to be a lot higher.

The only character in the game who I’ve seen to have legitimately lower or higher stats than anyone else is Aerith, who remains a weak physical attacker and powerful magical attacker from the time she joins the party, though I’m sure this could easily be changed with Materia since her stats aren’t really all that different from everyone else’s, just slightly more so.

Steal Materia

Recommendation 3: Make Steal Work

Stealing is fun. Zidane taught us this, and it has remained an effective way to get some of the best items and equipment throughout the series. This holds true in Final Fantasy VII as well, with someone weapons being steal-only, and certain armor and weapons becoming available much earlier if you steal from the right enemies. The biggest problem with stealing, though, is that is has a very low chance of working when it’s used. I’ve probably spent hours of my life just waiting for Tifa to steal the Hardedge from the SOLDIER’s in the Shinra building or the Shinra Beta from the troops in the cargo ship. Stealing is a great way to get rare items (like Speed Sources from the thieves in the slums; you’re welcome), but it needs to work! It really takes all the fun out of stealing when you have to wait ten minutes to steal one thing, especially when you don’t know beforehand what you might be stealing, and it only turns out to be a Hi-Potion. Also if I could make a request, could Steal evolve into Mug a little bit sooner? I usually don’t even get the ability to Mug until near the end of the game, or if I’m really concentrating on leveling up my materia, the second disc.

I’m sure as I continue to play through the game I’ll probably come up with some more ideas, and all of these recommendations are things that other players have been saying for years, but I just thought I would state my opinions on the matter. Let’s mosey!

The Benefits of Traveling With A Shapeshifting Sharpshooter

Okay, we have a lot to cover today. First, we have some Lady Gaga news. A few months ago, The Remix, an EP of remixes of various Gaga songs including all of the singles up to that point, was released. The international version was released first, this contained remixes of all of her radio singles, two or three each, more for the newer songs, presumably because the newer remixes are just better in general. The cover art was one of Gaga’s shots from her David LaChapelle photo shoot, where she’s completely naked, but covered in scraps of paper with words written on them.

The Remix was then released in the UK with an alternate cover featuring Gaga in a nice white-and-pink lace outfit (these two covers are two of my favorite Gaga pictures) and a new tracklisting, containing some songs that weren’t singles, and some that weren’t yet singles (a remix of The Fame from the first album, and Alejandro and Dance in the Dark, neither of which were released as singles yet, and the latter of which is considered to be the next single from the Fame Monster. I think Alejandro should have been Monster or even So Happy I Could Die, but that’s just my two cents). Well, The Remix is now set for a US release date, which I’m surprised I didn’t anticipate, I guess I just assumed it was an international thing. The US cover art will be the same as the UK, pink-and-white Gaga, which I personally like more at the moment.

At any rate! The US release has notably the shortest tracklisting so far, and unlike the previous two releases, contains one remix of each song. I’m now going to give you the tracklisting and some of my thoughts.

One night, Gaga sat idly at the dinner table, looking for inspiration, when she thought she'd try putting the doily on her head. The results were fantastic.

1. Just Dance (Richard Vision Remix)
2. Poker Face (LLG vs GLG Mix Remix)
3. Lovegame (Chew Fu  Ghettohouse fix featuring Marilyn Manson)
4. Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say) (Frankmuzik Remix)
5.  Paparazzi (Stuart Price Remix)
6. The Fame (Glam As You Remix)
7. Bad Romance (Starsmith Remix)
8. Telephone (Passion Pit Remix)
9. Alejandro (Sound of Arrows Remix)
10. Dance in the Dark (Monarchy `Stylites Remix)

I don’t really like remixes in general, but for every single, Gaga releases some kind of remix EP. They tend to get better as they go along. For instance, I hardly like any of the Just Dance remixes, the Richard Vission mix is the one included here, and from what I can remember of it I’d prefer the original. They went with the obvious Poker Face remix, the LLG vs GLG mix, and no, I have no idea what that stands for, but this mix is very similar to the original. My favorite Poker Face remix is the Jody Dean Broeder mix.

An unlikely pair, or a perfect match? You decide.

Next we have the Ghettohouse Fix featuring Marilyn Manson for Lovegame. If you haven’t heard this mix, you should, it’s a more fast-paced version of the original but musically not too different, and it actually features guest vocals from Marilyn Manson (he screams “Fame!” in the background and sings the second chorus alone). Eh, Eh is next, and this is my least favorite Lady Gaga song. I seem to get the idea that I’m not alone in that opinion, I find Eh Eh to be annoying for the most part, it sounds like aggravating 80’s glam-pop palm tree music to me. I’ve heard her do a live version with the piano that’s much better, but anyway, addressing the remix, I haven’t heard this one, but most remixes of Eh, Eh are pretty much as undesirable for the original in my opinion, but you decide for yourself. Hey, I can’t be expected to like every single song.

Ah, now we get to a good one. This is in my opinion possibly the best remix to a Lady Gaga song, and it really takes the cake as remixes go: the Stuart Price mix of Paparazzi. I love this version, it actually made me tear up a bit when I first heard it, it just has such a tragic and beautiful feel to it, it’s one of the remixes that shows off how dark Gaga’s songs actually are musically, but you usually can’t tell beneath the pop effects and instrumentation. This remix is a must-hear. Go listen to it on YouTube right now. Or maybe when you’re done reading this.

There’s a remix of The Fame, which in general is not my favorite song. We now move into songs from The Fame Monster, and at this point you may share my opinion (especially after just listening to The Fame) that The Fame Monster is so much better than it’s predecessor that it’s ridiculous. It’s like Gaga’s ability got ten times better over the course of one album. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that she was able to work with bigger and better producers on this album, but nontheless, a direct comparison between The Fame and Bad Romance absolutely cements my point. Well, at least to myself. A lot of the songs on The Fame (The Fame for instance, Money Honey, and Summerboy to name a few) felt like filler.

But as I was saying, Bad Romance is our next track. My personal favorite mixes of Bad Romance are the Skrillex mix, and the Bimbo Jones Remix, but after giving the Starsmith remix a listen I actually enjoy it too. It has a very fashion show feel to it. Kind of like all the music in The Devil Wears Prada. Did anyone else notice that all the songs in that movie were very relaxing fashion pop? I find them relaxing anyway. They opt for the Passion Pit remix of Telephone, a very lengthy but very pretty remix with a lot of slow instrumental sections. I haven’t heard either of the final two remixes; Alejandro finally grew on me after a bit, it was my least favorite song of the album for a while though. I’m ready for Dance in the Dark to be released for radio, both because I’m tired of hearing “Ale-ale-jandro Ale-ale-jand-a-ro!” and because Gaga will have reached her 4-single minimum, and maybe we can get the new album sooner.

Did I mention she’s completed her third album? She’s just waiting to release it now. If The Fame Monster is any indication, her albums are growing quite exponentially better. I probably would have preferred that The Fame be as brief of an album as The Fame Monster, some tracks (like The Fame, oddly enough, Money Honey, and Summerboy) just felt like filler, and weren’t very interesting. The Fame Monster is so much more engaging of an album.

So there you have it. Let’s review. The Remix will be released in the US, white cover, ten tracks, one remix each. The Fame Monster’s fourth single should be Dance in the Dark from what I understand, and I think the public will react well to that one, and besides I’d like to see a video for that song. Hopefully it will contain less cutscenes. Short films are good and all, but maybe we should keep it down to a shout, Gaga. Finally, the third album, currently untiltled from what I understand, is complete and just waiting to be released. It has been mentioned that it won’t be out by Christmas though, so it’s most likely going to be a 2011 release. Somehow, though, I just don’t think that makes much sense, unless they’re planning five singles for The Fame Monster or something.

Anyone bored from all my overly detailed statistics yet?

I got a new book! Since I plan on focusing on music and literature when I go to college, I do want to be somewhat well read, and besides that I just enjoy reading “the classics.” For one, because I enjoy a good book, and I’m tired of looking in the teen fiction section for something good, because there’s very little there that’s truly gripping. And besides, I’ve been though the Twilight series, and I’m not going back.

I have read at least one staple of classic literature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I bought it when I was still in my vampire phase, but didn’t actually read it completely until later. It was a surprisingly witty and romantic book, I really enjoyed the dialogue. Everyone was so polite and corteous, and it wasn’t boring or dry, it was in fact very engrossing. Most of the book centers around the two female characters, each of whom are preyed upon by Dracula, and after the first few chapters of the book, Dracula himself only makes about two or three appearances before the end of the story. I have to admit I found the ending a little anticlimactic, but altogether it was a very interesting book, I very much enjoyed the characters, and especially the good English spoken amongst them. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent a good deal of time in teen fiction novels, most of which are written with a lot of slang, and that tends to annoy me after a while.

This version is zombie free.

Apart from Dracula, I’ve also gotten ahold of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It seems to be a pretty quick read, but I haven’t finished it. I’ve read the first couple of chapters and found them very interesting and easy to follow. And so now I have added one more volume to my collection of classic literature, a quaint little paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve gathered that many Austen readers prefer Emma, but I’ve been told that you can’t really appreciate the novels humor if you’re not already familiar with Jane Austen’s style.

I was honeslty hooked from the first sentence. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but I think it’s going to be a great novel. The characters seem to be very witty, and it feels like a very fun book. I would like to venture into Dickens eventually, and perhaps try my hand at the Divine Comedy, which of course our society of dark, vampire-loving youth have grappled on to, but it might be like Dracula, and turn out to be fantastic. Good literature is good literature, a fan base doesn’t change it’s power. There was an episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart where the guest was promoting a book about Heaven, and society’s various perceptions of it. She said that her personal favorite interpretation of Heaven was Dante’s, in which the main aspect was that there was a brilliant light through which everyone was intimately connected with God. I’m probably not phrasing it as well as she did, but what she described did sound very beautiful, and I’m sure the Divine Comedy is an inspiring piece of literature. I’ve only glanced over it, and from what I can tell it seems to be written in verses. I have a feeling that might cause me a bit of aggravation, but I’m sure I’ll get over it if I ever read it.

That’s really all that I have to mention today, I had some other things I thought I might share my opinions on, but I’m not exactly in an articulate mood, I’ve been staring at television and computer screens for the better part of the last couple of days, and my head is a little to swimmy for me to put together any good reviews on anything.

Warning: the next couple of paragraphs deal exclusively with Final Fantasy VII. If you haven’t played the game, you probably will be lost and bored.

Random information! I’ve restarted my file on Final Fantasy VII. Why? A few reasons. First, because I was adventurous this time, and didn’t use any of my normal characters (my favorite party tends to be Cloud, Vincent, and Cid); I went with Tifa and Nanaki. Both are characters I like and who I’ve never completed the game with, but altogether, though I do enjoy Nanaki, I found him to be a little anticlimactic. His weapons are few and far between, his double materia growth weapons are all found nearer to the beginning of the game and don’t have a lot of power, and his Limit Breaks, while not bad, just weren’t satisfying enough for me. Tifa’s limit breaks are really cool, she’s the only character in the game who uses every limit ability consecutively, and she wasn’t a bad character, I may use her again but I have a feeling I’m going to revert to my classic party this time; she may travel with me for a while until then, I’m not sure yet.

Aside from that, I used Materia that I never normally used this time. I’ve always been very focused on magic materia, and rarely ever used the character’s physical attacks. This time I minimized magic usage, for the most part I didn’t own more than one piece of each magic materia (previously, I’ve always gotten two or three Lightnings, Ices, and Fires). I also equipped things I normally don’t, like Cover and Sense, just for the fun of it and so that my stats wouldn’t be beaten up by all of the magic materia. Once you start getting the powerful magics and summons, they really starting draining your attack power. Another reason I want to restart is because I failed to get the Huge Materia from outer space, which means that if I wanted to master all of the assist materia and fuse them, I wouldn’t be able to, and I also didn’t get Bahamut ZERO. I tried twice, and it was very aggravating both times. Next time, I’m just going to look up the combination to get the Huge Materia out on Game FAQs or something, Cid was a real pain.

Oh yes, there’s another reason I want to restart: I didn’t use Cid. Upon the party’s first meeting with Cid, he’s a mysogonist pig and a cruel bastard. But I can’t help it, I just like Cid. I usually even think that cigarette in his mouth at all times is gross, but I don’t care, I just like Cid. Besides, he’s one of the only characters with a weapon that has triple materia growth, so when it comes time to level up materia, you really need to include him in your party whether you’ve been using him or not. Besides, he is one of the character’s you’ll be controlling for a little while, and I’ve found that having Cid on your party and not including Tifa is much easier than the other way around.

Because who else in your party transforms into a minotaur or the Frankenstein monster when they get mad?

I do like controlling Tifa though, and using her in the chocobo races, but I think I’m going to stick with my classic party of Vinent and Cid. Vinent just looks cooler than everyone else in all of the cutscenes; he has a cape on for crying out loud! Just look at his sprite: fully covered in a cool red getup, cape following him at all times, lots of gymnastic moves, and his Limit Breaks are one of the game’s most unique sets. I can’t help it, I felt weird not using Vincent or Cid. Although, I have been giving thought to including Cait Sith in the party, but I think if that were to happen it would just be temporarily; for instance, until I get Vincent and Cid, I might just use Yuffie (I like her sprite too) and… well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go crazy and actually use Barret for once! But probably not. He’s an eco-terrorist for crying out loud! Besides, his racist stereotype antic are kind of annoying.

And those are today’s thoughts. Perhaps I get a little to engrossed in details, but I enjoy my details, I have to be knowledgable about something, it might as well be the things I’m interested in. My reading list is getting larger and I still have hardly finished any of the many books I own, if I count all of my books that I’ve begun and need to finish, the list is: The Rivers of Zadaa, Animal Farm, The Looking Glass Wars, Vampire Hunter D, The Vampire Lestat (stopped reading that one a long time ago), Memoirs of a Geisha (looking forward to that one), and Redwall. There are certain books I want to finish (The Looking Glass wars, for instance) just to have them finished, so I can tuck them onto a shelf and be done with them. I did it with The Innocent Mage, didn’t I?

In Which Some Things Are Talked About

Warning! This blog entry is a bit of a downer. However it was unbelievably stimulating to my mood, so it was quite necessary. So, if you'd like to learn a little more about my personal issues, read on. If you'd like chipper thoughts on upcoming blog entries, refer to the last few paragaphs.

Nothing new here.

Nope, nothing.

Okay, well maybe there is one, eency weency thing.

I seem to have recovered, but I think mentally I just completely fell apart over the last couple of weeks. The good news is, I think I’m better now. Here’s basically what happened, along with the backstory so you’ll understand it:

The day was Monday. I work for my mother, who has a house-cleaning business. So we headed to our usual Monday house. The night before, I hadn’t gotten much sleep, and what was about to happen has always been worse when I don’t get enough sleep. We got to the house and we couldn’t get in; the key wasn’t working. So she let the owner know about our situation, and while we were waiting for an answer, we were outside in the afternoon heat.

I started to panic. No real reason, other than I knew, “This would be a bad time to panic.” That’s usually how it happens. You see, I have panic attacks. I suppose a panic attack can vary in severity, and I don’t want to say I have anything that I don’t, but I at very least have episodes that feel a hell of a lot like I think a panic attack would feel. There are multiple things that trigger it: lack of food, lack of sleep, heat, any reason that I would be dizzy or lightheaded, etc. etc. The number one thing that causes it, however, is the belief that any of those things can induce it. While it’s true that they do, what causes me to panic is when I think to myself, “I haven’t slept enough, I’m going to panic. I haven’t eaten enough, I’m going to panic. It’s hot outside, I’m lightheaded, I’m going to panic.” The symptoms are as follows: I become dizzy and lightheaded, my vision gets a little blurry (I already need glasses, so the fact that my vision is blurry during it’s best moments doesn’t help), there’s an immense heaviness and heat in my chest, along with a general feeling of “Oh shit get me out of here! I’m in a confined space and I want to go home, NOW!” There’s also a burning feeling in my head like the one in my chest, and all of this just grows larger and larger.

The way I overcome this is with breathing. It’s what I’ve been taught to do. The recommendations vary, but in general I’m told to take a deep breath, hold it in, and slowly exhale, and repeat this as many times as I need to until I feel calm. Usually what happens is that the worst of the feelings will pass, but the fear that the panic attack will come again often causes it to slowly resurface in weaker forms throughout the day until I get back to my comfort zone, which is usually home.

Apart from these things, there are also physical side-effects that I don’t think are normal. When I begin to panic, before the panic attack even begins, the entire left side of my body, from the tip of the left side of my head to the very bottom of my left foot begins to feel uneasy, and eventually numb to some degree. Sometimes there is a feeling in my left arm like a tight pinching, and this feeling sometimes occurs around my heart too.

Even now I need to stop and calm down because talking about this is kind of hard, and makes me feel some of the symptoms. But this problem has been following me for years now, everywhere I go and especially in public. So, my biggest problem is stress/anxiety/panic. Along with that are various physical problems, some of which make the anxiety worse and some of which could be completely unrelated.

To begin with, throughout my life I’ve had a random shooting pain in the veins on my wrist. I can’t remember if it’s my left or right wrist, but there it is. I don’t know what it means, and it usually only lasts a little while, seconds to minutes. I don’t know what it means but it’s always been there.

Also, I’m just generally out of shape. I was a skinny kid, and at about 10 I started overeating, mostly out of sheer bordom. I got pretty fat and since then I’ve had a thin build but some definite extra weight. When I hit my growth spurt and started getting taller, the weight distributed and I was close to bein thin for a while, but eventually I just got fat again. Now it comes with stretch marks. Yep, I’m 20, and I have stretch marks. I’m not even morbidly obsese, I think I’m actually only between 10 and 20 pounds overweight, but I have stretch marks, on my arms, my sides, and my butt (you really wanted to know that, didn’t you?). It makes me feel ugly and unnatractive. Sometimes I feel the only real attractiveness I have is in my face, which hasn’t been clear of redness or acne since I was 12.

Let’s continue with the strange health problems, shall we? I don’t know how to eat healthy. I honeslty wish I knew people who had all the information I want. I’d have such a healthier life if only I knew how to do it. I hate soda, and I love water. Yet I drink soda constantly. I hate hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak, yet I eat them. It’s not because I specifically want to, it’s because I don’t know where to begin looking for information on what else to eat. My mom claims to want to eat healthy, but she thinks that just means buying some fruits and lettuce along with the ice cream and processed meat.

Everything about modern food is really so disgusting and unhealthy when you look at it in the broad scope of history. Our food comes in CANS, for crying out loud. Cans of meat, “soup,” vegetables, and anything else you can think of that has been so altered that it scarcely resembles it’s original form. Basically, on the whole, Americans eat lumps of chemicals and preservatives that have been prepared for them. Then you have fast food. It’s not an exaggeration when people say that McDonalds is so unhealthy it’s deadly. It’s barely anything close to resembling a meat patty on bread. All fast food is like that. It’s sickening stuff, and it’s also incredibly bad for you in every way. You’re probably better off taking a vitamin and eating some grass than you are eating fast food.

But back to my point. When I eat things like salt and peppered (I admit I have a problem with salt and pepper, it just makes everything taste better) Hot Pockets, fast food, or anything of the like, my chest hurts. And it’s always the area of my chest where my heart is. I have a lot of pain around the area where my heart is. The problem is, even mentioning it now gets me stressed and makes my heart hurt. It’s a pretty vicious cycle.

Some other problems are of the digestive nature. I have acid reflux, and I stopped taking medicine both because I’m forgetful about medicine and because my refills ran out, as did my Medicade when I turned 18. If I drink soda (especially “green” or “white” sodas, like Mountain Dew, Mello Yello, Sierra Mist, Sprite) it’s much worse than if I drink “dark” sodas, but it happens nontheless. Interestingly enough, you’d think the answer would be to drink water, but water, especially when I haven’t eaten anything, makes it happen worse than anything else! So, if I want to avoid acid reflux, I know I shouldn’t drink soda or water. What does that leave?

Milk? Well, I’m also, to some degree, lactose intolerant. This appeared when I was about 15. I ate some high fiber cereal, not knowing what fiber does, and you know what happened afterward. Now, you think “Oh, it was just the cereal itself that did it to you, not the milk,” but this is probably the earliest memory I have of any and all cereals doing this to me. Especially if I eat a lot of it. If you’re still lost, I’ll make it clear: milk gives me diharrea. Along with other issues in that region, so let’s just say you don’t want to be hanging out with me on the couch if I’ve drank milk.

So if I drink milk, I get stomach problems, and if I drink soda or water, I have acid reflux. If I eat too much I have chest pains, and if I eat too little I’m weak and thus panic attacks are induced much easier. When a panic attack is happening, I’m lightheaded, so taking a lot of deep breaths to slow my breathing just makes me more lightheaded, while on the other hand if I don’t take deep breaths the panic gets worse. In all these situations, I’m pretty much screwed if I do and screwed if I don’t. The digestive ones I can handle, because none of them involve me throwing up, and throwing up is really the only digestive thing I just can’t stand. Diharrea doesn’t bother me because it gives me plenty of time to think/read/play GameBoy, any of the other fun things you can do in the bathroom.

Oh, I forgot this one, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I honestly don’t want to get into what this one does, because it’s just altogether incredibly weird, but suffice it to say the main symptom of this one is that I constantly mumble things under my breath. It’s not as bad as it was when I was a kid, where I had to do things in even or odd incraments, or when I had to compulsively blink, crack my jaw, or any of the other behaviors. Now the obsessive behaviors are mostly of the mental kind, and I have for years included certain key words at the end of my sentences under my breath, and those key words have changed. If you’re still confused, I don’t blame you, but for example, after every sentence I used to mumble “One might have said.” That became, “or one might have said,” for some grammatically inexplicable reason. Now it’s usually, “or stop it hush Jesse.” Yeah, they usually begin with “or,” I don’t know why.

 Also, another weird mental thing I think is caused by the OCD is that because I have a fear of having no control over my life, I fear death immensely, and especially the death of those close to me, so when I’m feeling scared or vulnerable, it’s almost as if mentally I feel that that “death energy” is radiating from me, and if I touch the person I care about, I could cause them to die. It’s very weird, I know, but there it is. I’m a pretty messed up guy.

 So, those are my issues. But that’s only one element. We’ve covered mental and physical, but we still have emotional. Due to some weird stuff that happened to me when I was a child, I’ve got quite a few emotional issues. I have problems with control in my own life, and as such I’ve sought solace in many a fantasy world, primarily the reason why I was interested in Final Fantasy as a child and a teenager. I live in the real world now, and losing myself in a fantasy world isn’t as tempting as it used to be, I feel I’m mature enough to appreciate the borders of fantasy and reality now. Regardless, I tend to create comfort zones to stay in: the computer, listening to music and hunting through iTunes, playing video games and listening to TV audio in the PIP window. I always need a ritual to keep myself calm.

Oh that’s right, I was going to tell you about the past couple of weeks.

So, it began when I started panicking that Monday. Throughout the day, I had little panic episodes, but I assume I was fine when I got home. Every time I went out during that week, I got scared of having another panic-filled day, and because I was scared of panicking, I of course panicked. It got so bad that on Thursday I refused to go with my mother to help her, and as a result I was fired (along with being “grounded” from the phone and the internet like a juvenile). Oddly enough, that day we went to the bookstore (I managed to do pretty well there, I ran into some people and actually talked to them a bit about what was going on with me and my anxiety), and the manager basically offered me a job, and told me to put in an application and call him. Of course this would be during the week when I started regressing so far that going out in public was horrifying for me.

To make a lengthy story somewhat less lengthy, during a visit to the mall on that same day a friend jokingly said to me over the phone that I had agoraphobia. I looked it up and apparently I actually have all the symptoms of agoraphobia exactly. Now, I’m not saying I have it or diagnosing myself with it, but this entry is to get all this off of my chest, so I’m mentioning it. So I convinced myself I was scared to go out in public, and guess what, I’ve been scared to go out in public. I really think part of it is just that I psyched myself out, but it has been really scary. July 4th was horrible, not only because of the fireworks but because I rode along for a 15 minute trip to check on someone’s house who’s out of town, and the whole time I was freaking out and wanting to get back home.

At this moment, I feel alright, especially getting all of this off of my chest. I’m sorry to dump so much drama on you but hey, it’s my blog, right? I’ve never kept a journal for nearly as long as this before. I could continue about how my father called me this morning and made several possible references to a scathing Facebook message I sent him about how he fucked me up as a child, but I just don’t have the energy right now to go into all of that and I’m finally feeling positive. I think we’ve had a sufficient amount of drama, I feel like I’ve got more in me to dump out, but hey, there’s always next time, right?

I think it might be time for another fun blog. Maybe about Final Fantasy VII! I ordered a PS1 memory card a couple weeks ago and I’ve been playing nonstop since it arrived, it’s really a fun game! I might do a “Jesse’s thoughts, tips, and precautions on Final Fantasy VII” type thing. I’ve been wanting to do reviews for a while now, I just never really finish anything. I want to do a review on Boys For Pele, when I feel I’ve sufficiently sucked what juice out of it I need for a review. Right now I’m moslty in video game mode though.

So! I think it might be time to start doing reviews. After slowly making my way through it for almost a year, I finished a book called The Innocent Mage. It was really stupid. The plot didn’t even thicken until about 100 pages before the ending, and the book is 500 pages long. But I’ll have to tell you about it some other time. The one thing I did like about it is that it ended on a cliffhanger. I like cliffhangers; I like staying hooked. That’s what makes True Blood a good show. Anyway, it might be time for a review on that one soon.

Until next time.  And remember: there ain’t no gettin’ off o’ this train we’re on! This train we’re on don’t make no stops!

Barret reference anyone?

Wow, what a dramatic change in mood I’ve had since getting all that weight off my chest. This blog, mentally healthy? I think so.