30 January 2015

Late To the Party #2: Dark Horse Comics

I'm on a really big Star Wars kick right now. The whole thing started with someone posting the news on Facebook that with Lucasfilm being sold to Disney, they had rescinded the license that had belonged to Dark Horse Comics to give to Marvel. As a result, after the end of 2014, the comic books that Dark Horse had previously published would no longer be available (at least in digital format). I took the opportunity to purchase three digital comic series.

WARNING: SPOILERS

*If you plan on reading any of the following comics and want to be surprised, do not read any further.
(Dark EmpireTales of the Jedi: Volume One or TwoThe Jedi Academy Trilogy, or I, Jedi)




The first was the series called Dark Empire. The basic gist of this one is that the Emperor has a secret stronghold and clone facility where he keeps extra clones of himself (the reason being, the Dark Side of the Force corrupts his body at an accelerated rate, so he needs new ones). Luke senses that there is something amiss and is lead by the Force to an unknown world steeped in the Dark Side. There he finds the Emperor reborn. Luke chooses to become the Emperor's new apprentice to undermine his efforts and learn how to defeat him. He does succumb to the Dark Side's lure and in the end is brought back by Leia. I had always wanted to read this story, because it contains information that is recalled in another favorite book I, Jedi and the three-book Jedi Academy series. I will admit, I was not terribly impressed with this one. It certainly wasn't bad, but it was not a great first impression. The next two were decidedly better...





The next two digital comic books that I bought were compilations of comics set about 4,000 years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY). They are stories set in a time when the Sith and the Jedi were legion and focuses on a handful of stories from that era. It tells about the Sith and their home- and tomb-world of Korriban. As with other things in this era, I am intrigued to watch how the Jedi and the Sith take very different approaches to how they interact and work with the Force. Some of the things that the Sith do are so depraved. But, as Yoda once said, its allure is in the fact that it is "...quicker, easier, more seductive." (Empire Strikes Back) I find it interesting that two of the most destructive Sith from these stories (Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma) were lured to it by a combination of arrogance and thinking that they could use the Dark Side to more quickly achieve the goals they were striving for. The last portion of the stories I read was actually the completion of the tale of Ulic Qel-Droma. Exar Kun escaped and was stopped as he managed to seal his spirit in one of his temples on Yavin 4. He would survive there until after the Galactic Civil War (the original Star Wars trilogy) when Luke would try to establish his Jedi academy on Yavin 4. He and his students would then confront and defeat the spirit of the ancient Sith Lord. Ulic, on the other hand, had his connection to the Force severed by his old friend Nomi Sunrider. She had fallen in love with him and because she could not bring herself to end his life, did this to prevent him from doing any more harm to others. The final comic book in Tales of the Jedi: Volume Two, Ulic is actually brought back to the Light Side by Nomi's daughter. She insists that Ulic train her to become a Jedi. Even though he is still blind to the Force, he teaches her how to sense and use the Force. He teaches her how to construct a lightsaber and even trains her in its use. Through this, his heart is changed and he atones for his deeds done while in the grasp of the Dark Side. The end is bittersweet. Ulic is gunned down by a space pilot out to make a name for himself by killing one of the most destructive men to still alive. Ulic becomes one with the Force, an indication that he had truly returned to the Light Side of the Force. A sad ending, but still uplifting.

...This was not the direction I was originally planning to take this. But, that's okay. My topic has definitely changed and I actually have an okay post. I guess at this point, I'll just say a big THANK YOU! to Dark Horse Comics for a good many years of quality material. I have only looked at a scant few of the comics they have published, but I have definitely enjoyed them. I'll likely now be looking for others at libraries and possibly at card shops and comic book stores to see if I can find a few more. Wish I'd gotten on this one a lot sooner!

(I know this is the first post I've made in a while. Yeah, it's mostly just my ramblings, but hey, hopefully, it's a start.)

25 October 2012

Willing to Learn

Here's another thought from As A Man Thinketh:
"A strong man cannot help a weaker unless that weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself; he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition."  (As A Man Thinketh p. 51)
This reminds me of the old adage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." But it is also insightful to recognize that the weaker person can only be helped or lifted up if that is what they desire. If they don't care, then there is nothing that can be done to help that person. I began to learn this on one level when I did my student teaching. I taught German in a high school and quickly learned that I could only help or teach those students who really wanted to get something out of my class. Those that were there to be entertained or just to put in their time got out of the class precisely what they were willing to put into it. And as much as I tried to remind myself that I couldn't force the students to learn and I can only do so much, I still wished that there was something more that I could do. I wanted them to get the concepts that I was trying to give them. I wanted them to succeed. Some believed that it was possible and they wanted to learn. They would make mistakes, but they wouldn't see that as proof that they couldn't learn or speak German, rather, they took their mistakes and learned from them, making them stronger and better. The students that hurt the most to watch were the students that had made up their minds that learning German was something that they could not do. Because they had the attitude that this was something beyond their capabilities, they had created a self-fulfilling prophecy and no matter what successes they made, their mistakes always hung heavier on them and convinced them further that this was something they could not do.

In my seminar, when I first came to the class, one of the first things I learned about was my personal filter. Every day I collect proof and evidence that supports or undermines beliefs I have about myself. Some of my beliefs are positive and build me up. Others are negative and hold me back. One of the most potent tools I have been given is something called a Choice Process. With this process, I examine things that I would like to change in my life. As I continue to look at this thing with this process, I am eventually able to trace the results back to the negative belief (or thought) where everything began. Armed with this knowledge, I am able to look at and change this belief to something positive and uplifting. I am able to remove the filter that allows negative confirmations through and instead filter out the negative and allow the positives through to reinforce the positive things about myself.

I have learned that, in some things, I act just like some of my students. Personally, I don't like to make mistakes. (I know. Hard to believe.) I have things that I am good at and (inadvertently) had begun to limit myself to those things. Yes, I try a few new things, but as soon as I meet some resistance, unless I am very determined, I take this as proof that I can't do it and immediately return to things that I am comfortable with. I noticed this again in an activity that we did last night. As I mentioned about some of my students, the same is true of myself: If I turn mistakes into an opportunity to learn and improve, I will become stronger and more capable and will, in fact, be able to grow both from success and from mistakes.

A quote that is often used at my seminar is this:
"Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you." -Byron Katie
If we all were to live with this attitude, I think we would look at life in a much more positive light. We could even turn our shortfalls and mistakes into opportunities to learn and become better. I know, easier said than done. ...But not impossible.

Seasons

I seem to be constantly debating with myself over which of the four seasons is my favorite. ...Well, I suppose I'm not considering all of them options.

Summer ends up being the first season that I write off. I don't care for the heat and the general lack of change. Though I have to admit that I do enjoy the blue, occasionally cloudy skies, and I love the fact that the nights become a wonderful, cool temperature and, if I get far enough away from the city, I can enjoy the stars. 

Winter (which I'm sure everyone here will agree with me) ends up taking up at least 1/3 of the year if not more (When you end up with snow during the spring semester's finals week, I think I'm justified in my assessment). I like the snow, but only within a certain time period. ...And that time period does not include any time before November or any time after March. Now, on the plus side, I do enjoy the visual splendor of a winter's morning and the image of trees, barns, buildings, and fields dusted with fresh snow and a grey overcast sky. I also enjoy the pleasure of a storm going outside and my wife and I not having to be anywhere and being able to enjoy the warmth both of home and a cup of hot chocolate.

The two seasons that I am constantly trying to decide on as being my favorite are spring and fall. I love the transition seasons, the changing seasons.

I love spring because everything is coming back to life! I love the vibrant and new greens. I am always looking forward to that one day, sometime in spring, when it seems that EVERY tree in the valley opens their leaves and it's as if spring finally says, "I'm here!" New flowers begin to sprout and the beautiful colors dot gardens and mountain paths again. The temperature can range from pleasant to cold and sometimes even warm, and I'm okay with this. The major drawback with spring, for me, is that it is hayfever season. For that reason alone, I believe that the winner of this contest does end up being:

FALL!
I had my 'appreciating my surroundings' moment on Monday. We hadn't yet gotten the snow from Tuesday morning and the clouds were both dark and grey, and bright and white from the sunlight that was trying to make its way through the cloud cover. The valley was beautiful and splashed with the remaining colors in the trees and it was not yet cold. Just slightly chilled. Yellow and other colors speckle the ground in the form of leaves, but there are still enough on the trees that they don't look bare and dead. And then there's always the memory of my first fall in Germany that comes to mind at this time of year. Golds, reds, and oranges paint the trees that line the cobblestone streets in Berlin. A chill (not cold) breeze that pulls lightly at your coat and hair. ...Truly one of my most treasured memories from my time in Germany... One of the most treasured memories of my life.

Here is one great example of what Berlin looks like at this time of year. :) I really miss the cobblestone walkways.

Just look at all of the beautiful colors!
(These images were used with permission from Angel of Berlin. They are found on her blog here:
http://angel-of-berlin.blogspot.de/2012/10/autumn-colours.html)

24 October 2012

As A Man Thinketh

I've read the book As A Man Thinketh before. I think it should be one that I make a point to read every year. I'm just intrigued as I have read it this time how much it relates to the seminar that I am currently involved with. As I read the book, I could see how the principles that Mr. Allen is teaching are also being taught in my Power of Choice and Power 90 seminars. 
"Law, not confusion, is the dominating principle in the universe; justice, not injustice, is the soul and substance of life; and righteousness, not corruption, is the moulding and moving force in the spiritual government of the world. This being so, a man has but to right himself to find that the universe is right; and during the process of putting himself right, he will find that as he alters his thoughts towards things and other people, things and other people will alter towards him.
"The proof of this truth is in every person, and it therefore admits of easy investigation by systematic introspection and self-analysis. Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life." (As A Man Thinketh, p. 33-34)
As I have participated in my seminar, they have taught us skills and given us tools to apply the principle that Mr. Allen talks about here. I have been learning how to investigate and examine my thoughts and then to change the ones that are binding me, that are holding me back or down. I am seeing a difference in myself and I'm confident that I will begin to see differences in the world around me as I continue to apply these principles and practices. I am learning that as I learn to control and master my thoughts, because deeds and actions are the fruit or harvest of my thoughts (which in this instance stand in as the seeds), I in turn become the master of myself and my destiny.

22 October 2012

Murder, Mystery, and All Sorts of Trouble

In 2010 I was introduced to my current favorite TV show. I was tempted to title this as my second "Late to the Party" post, but it was only the second season that was run. I consider that getting in early enough. What's the show? Check this out.


Richard Castle is the main character in the show with his name. As you saw (because you clearly checked out the link I posted, right?), Castle is about a murder mystery writer who is tagging along on cases with a detective as he tries to get ideas for his books. Sounds pretty dry on the surface, but is so much better. In the first episode, we learn that Castle has recently killed off his "golden goose", Derrick Storm, because he was bored with the character. He knew exactly how things would go and he was tired of him. While he is at a party unveiling the last book of his series, he is approached by a detective (Kate Beckett) who has some questions to ask him because of a murder scene that looked (almost) exactly like a murder scene that he had described in one of his books. Castle is interested in Kate and figures out a way that he might be able to follow her around: She will be the inspiration for the main character in his new series! He offers his assistance in solving this initial crime and, because of his pull with the mayor, is able to continue following around on other cases.

I LOVE this show! I've always enjoyed murder mysteries and this takes that and rolls it with an awesome dose of humor that has me rolling with laughter in so many of the episodes. I love the character of Rick Castle. I know that this is a Hollywoodized portrayal of an author, but I love it all the same. And I really enjoy the fact that, while he is portrayed as "A nine-year-old on a sugar rush, totally incapable of taking anything seriously" (to quote Beckett), he is also shown as a loving and caring father to his daughter Alexis, who more often than not is the one person in the show who can put him in his place. ...Not to mention the fact that I have enjoyed pretty much everything that I have seen (or heard) Nathan Fillion in.

All of the characters have their moments to share their sharp wit and there are a plethora of great lines from the show. Here's one from the first episode:
Beckett: Half of the guys are waiting for prints. You don't just jump the line.
Castle: Oh, I think somebody feels threatened.
Beckett: I'm not threatened.
Castle: No, no, I get it. I can call the mayor and you can't.
Beckett: We have procedure. Protocol.
Castle: Yeah, and you always come to a complete stop at a red light and you never fudge your taxes. Tell me something: Do you ever have any fun? Let your hair down? Drop your top? A little "cops gone wild"?
Beckett: You do know that I'm wearing a gun?
I'll grant you that I'm biased, but take a look at some of the episodes. I don't think you'll regret it.

09 October 2012

Late to the Party #1: Avatar: The Last Airbender

I've noticed something that I seem to keep letting happen to me. Very often, when it comes to the newest and greatest things that seem to be happening, I always seem to end up being "late to the party". What do I mean when I say that I am "late to the party"? I will illustrate:

Imagine you are in a conversation with a good friend and whatever you have been discussing brings to your friend's mind an example or just reminds them about any possible number of other thoughts from a movie that they may have seen. They try to tell you about it or make some witty quote from said movie, and you are left grasping for straws as you inform them that you have no idea what they're talking about. They then proceed to look at you as if you were from another planet... because there is no possible way you could be from this one and NOT have seen this!
Examples may vary. I'm sure that I've looked agast at people when I discover that they have not seen Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (I try not to. I realize it's not everyone's thing.) But, I really have no room to judge. I've been the guilty party of this "crime" on a number of occasions. I have my reasons, most of the time, but the thing that I continue to be amazed at is the fact that so often, I wish that I'd found whatever it is sooner. The most recent example of this was discovered this last summer:



Avatar: The Last Airbender

All I knew about this show was that it had been recently made into a movie (which almost everyone I have talked with did not like). I watched the last about third of this movie when my wife watched it with my brother- and sister-in-law. Needless to say, I really had no clue what was going on, but the effects seemed really cool. I figured that I just needed to watch it (the live-action movie) from the beginning and it would make more sense. ...Well, I'm sure that it would have made a little more sense, but it would not have done justice to it.

I never ended up watching the movie again*, but I did (finally) get around to watching the first animated season after much encouragement and other general harassment from a good friend of mine. ...And the second season... ...And the third season. Within about a month, or so, I had watched the entire three seasons. I finished the first season in about two days! (I grant you this isn't hard. They are only half-hour episodes, but I usually don't burn through stuff like this!) I couldn't stop watching them! They were so well done! And they only got better as they went!

I loved the story. Yes, the story and the show is written for kids, but it's done so that anyone can appreciate and enjoy the storyline. The whole thing is epic. It's your classic good versus evil. And it's just plain FUN! You learn to love most of the characters. Each one of them has depth. All of your main characters (and even most of the one-episode characters) have something that is driving them. There are reasons that they do the things that they do.

Everyone that has seen these has their favorite character or characters. I will pick my top three:


3) Avatar Aang and Prince Zuko

I know. I shouldn't pick two, but I did anyway. (I did keep it to one for the first-place spot, so quit your complaining!) These two are THE main characters. Aang is the last airbender and the whole story happens because of him, but one of the things that I love about this series is that it's not just a story about what happens to Aang. All of the other characters have their own story to tell as well.

I'll admit, I wasn't really that impressed with Aang at the beginning, but he definitely grew on me. He has a very fun side to him, loves to play games, and enjoys being with and around his friends. He is incredibly loyal and takes the fact that he is the Avatar very seriously. One of my favorite parts with Aang comes at the end, when must face the Fire Lord and make a decision of how to deal with him. He takes the advice of many, but in the end, he makes a decision that really is his own.

Zuko is the banished prince of the Fire Nation. The only hope he has been given to restore his honor and be allowed to return is if he can find and capture the Avatar. For most of the first two seasons, Zuko is unrelenting in his pursuit of Aang. After he thinks that he has killed Aang, he returns to the Fire Nation with his honor restored, but he is still not happy. All this time, he has been seeking his father's approval, but once he has it, he realizes that in order to get it, he has had to make choices that are contrary to who he is, or wants to be. In his exile, he is accompanied by his uncle, Iroh (Uncle). Uncle has always seen the potential of his nephew, even if he is brash and lacking both patience and experience. He tirelessly tries to impart the wisdom that he has accumulated over the years through his experiences to Zuko. Unlike the Fire Lord, Uncle truly cares about his nephew and wants to see him rise above the trials and obstacles that have been put in his way. In the end, Zuko finally finds peace within himself and is at peace with who he is. He becomes a strong character and truly a person who knows exactly where he stands.


2) Avatar Roku

I have always loved the mentor characters in movies and books. I think it's because I hope to be like these characters someday. But none of even these characters got to where they are without going through the process of obtaining wisdom. The same is true of Avatar Roku. He got to where he is by the hard process of life's experiences. In the beginning, he was taught by many different instructors and masters. He learned by practice and repetition. He also learned by and from his experiences. Trial and error is a hard school of learning, but as long as he (or any of us, for that matter) learned from his errors, he grew and gained in wisdom. This is not seen until almost mid-way through the third season, but in it, one can see that, just like the Avatars before him, Roku had to learn all of the bending arts and along the way had to learn how to render judgement, how to be a leader, and how to live with the responsibility that became his as he became the Avatar. He readily admits to Aang that he made mistakes. One in particular he views as the reason that Fire Lord Sozin was able to begin his conquest of the world. Avatar Roku gives instruction to Aang at a few very crucial moments in the series, and even though he has his regrets, he still seems at peace with himself, even if he is very concerned for Aang's well being and that Aang is able to stop the Fire Lord.



1) Uncle Iroh

If you've seen the Avatar series and can't at least say that you enjoyed the character of Uncle, I am tempted to say that there is something wrong with you.

Again, here we have another mentor character. But Uncle is ... just that character that you almost don't know what to expect from him next! In the beginning, he seems like an eccentric old man who loves his tea and is not really taking the task that Zuko is trying to accomplish very seriously. To begin with, he doesn't really think that the Avatar can be found. In spite of this, he is tutoring his nephew and trying to help him believe in himself. He knows that Zuko wants to restore his honor, but as time goes on, Uncle is trying to help Zuko restore his honor to himself. It is not the Fire Lord (Zuko's father) that can restore the feeling of honor that Zuko desires. Uncle knows for himself that you always have honor if you live up to your true self. It's almost as if he is telling him to learn all that you can and live according to what your heart tells you is true and right. If you do this, then you will be at peace with yourself and you will be able to live with your own honor. Uncle Iroh has lived this way (it seems to me) for a long time. The change happened sometime between losing his son and when he began to mentor Zuko. He didn't seem to care what others may have thought of him. He lived up to his own code of honor and was always able to stand tall knowing that he had been true to himself and was able to be at peace with himself.

Such an awesome series! Definitely one that I wish I had discovered earlier, but glad that I have now.

*(I still have not yet tried watching the movie that they made from the Avatar series, but I can understand how it didn't really work out well. There was a lot of material to be covered. Trying to cram a whole season into one movie could not have been an easy thing to do and was inevitably going to leave some things out that people wouldn't like.)

08 October 2012

A Second Blog

This last weekend was the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I very much enjoyed this conference and the opportunity that I was able to take to spend time with both of my families. (Mine and my wife's)

I have been toying with an idea that I have wanted to do for a while now and have decided that I would start a second blog. This one will be for any and all posts that have to do with my faith. There is a link up at the top of this page and it will take you there. I don't know how often I will post to it, but I like the idea of being able to have a separate place to post things about my faith.