Viewer Fatigue

During fall quarter of my freshman year in college, I watched the soap opera, All My Children, with my friends at my dorm. Yeah, I really did. In a later quarter, I grew to resent the intrusion of an econ class that kept me from watching TV at noon. How dare the school schedule classes that cut into my soap opera viewing!

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Many years later, I find myself resenting TV for cutting into my life. How ironic for a person who usually spent her downtime in front of the tube.

Though I watched and enjoyed the two-hour season finale of Agents of Shield last week, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to watch it this week. I had spent the season having to play catch-up when a friend and I got together other every Tuesday—the night Agents appeared on TV. With that relief came another realization: I’m a bit weary of the continuing storylines of many TV dramas.

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Remember the days when TV episodes were more self-contained—a different problem or villain each week? You could elect to skip a show one week and not feel that you had to catch up on the episode you missed. Nowadays, with continuing storylines or multiple-episode arcs featuring a slow reveal of key information, if you miss a show, you’re lost the next week. You have to keep watching to get the whole picture. I watched shows like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 with strong arcs that meant you had to watch the episodes in order.

For those in charge of television programming, this is a good strategy for keeping viewers engaged. Obviously, this strategy of linking episodes worked for soap operas for so many decades.

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Over the years and even recently, friends and family highly recommended shows like Daredevil, Game of Thrones, Arrow, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Downton Abbey, Scandal, and many other critically acclaimed, entertaining shows that I have yet to watch though they have huge fan bases. Believe me, I’m not doubting the quality of these shows or anyone’s right to watch them. It’s just that now I’m tired of tuning in.

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I need a viewer vacation this summer. If I watch anything, it has to be a one-shot deal—something that begins, then ends with no messy arcs to follow.

I might binge on Downton Abbey, Flash, and Arrow at some point in life. (Thank you, Netflix!) But for now, I’m reluctant to invest more weekly time in someone else’s televised world, especially if I neglect my own fictional world.

In the coming days, I’ll work on my book. When I take a break from that, I’ll seek inspiration from reading or hanging out with people or walking in nature. I desperately need to fill my senses with the sights of the great outdoors.

Today (Monday), I’m having lunch with a friend and dinner with another group of friends. On Tuesday, I’ll probably hang out with another friend. I’m not sure what the rest of the week will look like. But I plan to take this advice.

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What about you? How do you feel about shows with continuing storylines? Love them? Deplore them? Feel comforted by them?

Television from sewarental.wordpress.com. All My Children logo from blog.chron.com. The Flash logo from lyricis.fr. Scandal logo from abcallaccess.com. Agents of Shield logo hihimag.com. Daredevil logo flickeringmyth.com. Think logo from irregulartimes.com.

Suspending a Character’s Disbelief and Ours

I’ve got book winners to announce, but that will be at the end of this post. Mwahahahaha! So grab a donut and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea while I talk at you for a minute.

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Ever read a book where a character is handed a truth that would require a major paradigm shift for him or her to accept? For example, the character suddenly learns that magic or monsters really exist.

We’ve all read stories of characters who stubbornly cling to disbelief in the face of tons of evidence to the contrary. They insist that they’re dreaming or “this isn’t really happening” until they reach a plot point (at least halfway through the book) that pushes them toward belief. Or we’ve read stories where a character instantly accepts a completely world-changing viewpoint without a struggle. There are also stories where the character seems to ignore what would be totally obvious to a seven-year-old. I think of that as the Lois-Lane-can’t-see-Superman-behind-Clark-Kent’s-glasses perspective. That’s why we don’t necessarily suspend our disbelief as we read. (Or sometimes we go along for the ride because the characters are so beloved or iconic.)

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Lois, have you noticed anything unusual about Clark? No? Some reporter you are.

Here is where foreshadowing can be an author’s BFF. An author can hint at the possibility that something major is going to happen at a future point. Foreshadowing also is a reminder that things are not always what they appear to be. It provides a solid base to make a character’s suspension of disbelief seem inevitable.

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Prince Zuko of the Avatar animated series and Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Sometimes though, a rip-off-the-bandage approach works to move a story along. I can’t help thinking of two episodes of Doctor Who, series 4 (2008), starring David Tennant as the Doctor (BBC/BBC America).

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In Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, an extremely chilling 2009 Hugo award-nominated two-episode arc written by Steven Moffat, we see a little girl talking to a psychiatrist, while her anxious dad hovers in the background. Such an innocuous scene. The little girl has told the doctor—Dr. Moon—about her dreams.

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Doctor Moon (played by Colin Salmon) and the little girl (played by Eve Newton)

In her dreams, she goes to a library—a place where she feels safe. But as we watch the episodes, we realize that all is not what it seems. Later in the first episode, because of a dangerous development, Doctor Moon has to share a shocking truth with the little girl, a truth that would require a paradigm shift for her to accept. (Quote below from IMDb. **SLIGHT SPOILER.**)

Dr. Moon: What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there. People who need to be saved. The shadows are moving again. Those people are depending on you. Only you can save them. Only you.

**END SPOILER.** You can read this Wikipedia article if you want to know the plot. Or, I would suggest watching the episodes. They are extremely good.

Another example of a character having to shift from disbelief to belief comes from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone (the title depends on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on), Hagrid tells Harry the truth about Harry’s extraordinary life in this scene from the first Harry Potter movie, directed by Christopher Columbus (2001).

Rowling set the stage earlier by having weird things happen that Harry witnessed, but couldn’t explain. So when the big reveal comes, his struggle for acceptance doesn’t feel contrived.

I’m facing a similar issue in my middle grade book—a character struggling to believe something extraordinary about herself. I’ll ask you the same questions I had to answer for the character: If you were told that magic really exists, what’s the first thing you would do? What would you say or ask?

While you think about those questions, I’ll move on to the book giveaway. Thanks for you patience. If you recall, last week I had mentioned two great books: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio and Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue by Charles Yallowitz. You can find those posts here and here. Jordie and Hello Kitty wanted to be in on the reveal. You might have to enlarge the photos below if you have trouble reading the names.

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The winner of None of the Above is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

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The winner of Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

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Congratulations Jill! Congrats, Professor! Please comment below to confirm.

Now I will leave you with a photo I am calling, “The Five Geese of the Apocalypse.” For some reason, they were just standing there on the ledge looking out. Surveying their domain perhaps?

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Doctor Moon and the little girl from stevegoble.blogspot.com. Doctor Who, series 4, DVD cover from Wikipedia. Lois Lane and Clark Kent from goodgirlsinc.wordpress.com. Coffee and donut from wisdomwoman.com. Zuko from glogster.com. Anakin/Darth Vader from tvtropes.org.

Am I Desensitized?

Recently, I watched a bunch of movies where many people were shot or killed in some other way or beaten severely. I also finished reading an urban fantasy novel in which a reluctant werewolf was tasked with hunting and dispatching several vampires who slaughtered multiple people. Very gritty. But when I sat down to watch an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma (1996), the other night, I couldn’t get into at first. Now, I love this movie. But switching gears mentally to watch it took time. After a few tries, I was able to watch the whole movie without twitching.

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Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse with Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley

doctor_who___2005_teaser_by_mrtardis-d34dd4oWondering why? I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me preface by explaining that I once went five years without watching much television at all—only special news broadcasts (like the 9/11 coverage) and Doctor Who, a BBC show geared toward families. So its violence quotient was low. And I watched Doctor Who on DVD after the whole season was released, rather than each week. This was prior to the start of the first season of Heroes on NBC in 2006. Actually, Heroes was the first network show I watched when I decided to return to network TV watching. I binged on the first season online, having missed the shows when they first aired.

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Though I really enjoyed the show, I was shocked at the violence and gore. If you’ve seen the first season of Heroes, maybe it seems a bit tame compared to shows on HBO or Netflix. But having given up TV for years, I hadn’t realized how programming had evolved.

The fact that I was shocked may seem ironic to you when I clue you in on my history. I grew up in an area of Chicago that many deem unsafe due to gang violence. I heard gunshots many times, sometimes on holidays when people would fire guns as part of their celebration. My family wound up moving due to drive-by shootings that happened on our block.

During a visit to an aunt’s house one evening in a south suburb when I was a kid, the sound of gunfire shattered the night. My father ordered us to stay inside while he and my uncle went to investigate. Turns out a man down the street had made a serious attempt to kill his entire family. One child miraculously escaped. The police arrived along with ambulances. My family went to the hospital with the surviving child who had been grazed by a bullet.

The horror of that experience stayed with me for a long time. I couldn’t help thinking about it two months ago. While visiting my family in the Houston area, the breaking news story was the extradition of a young man accused of murdering his entire family, one of which was a five-year-old. You can find that story here. Interestingly enough, several years ago, I had heard this young man’s father, an Episcopal priest, preach at a church. Now he’d been murdered.

Psychology-Today-logoI was horrified, but the horror faded quicker than it did when I was a kid. And with my recent diet of violent movies, I have to wonder if I’ve become desensitized. The answer, according to psychological studies quoted here, here, and in an article at the Psychology Today website, is yes. You can find that 2013 article here. The study discusses the effects of violent media on the brain. The article describes this finding:

There was a significant decrease in the activation of prefrontal portions of the brain and a greater activation of the amygdala.

The amygdala is where emotions come from while the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps us concentrate. This is why I had trouble adjusting to the slower pace of Emma at first. Want to see another study on the subject? Click here for one at the Mount Sinai Hospital website.

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Please keep in mind that I am pointing the finger at myself and no one else. I know when my attitude shifts after a steady diet of one form of media. Maybe you can handle it, but I can’t after awhile. And yes, I know the difference between real-life violence and the Hollywood version of it.

Giving up TV in the early part of the century helped me get a lot of writing done. You know what? I didn’t really miss watching TV during those years. It’s funny what you get used to when you break a habit.

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Though I’m looking forward to seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I think I’ll cut back on the violent media until then. I need a dip in calmer waters.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley from Pinterest.com. Heroes cast from insidetv.ew.com. Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor from mrtardis.deviantart.com. Television clip art from clker.com. Psychology Today logo from eileenkennedymoore.com. Brain image from ladyatheist.blogspot.com.

The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk

Just to give you a head’s up: I’m postponing my third giveaway until next week. (Sorry. I won’t tell you ahead of time what this giveaway involves. Mwwwhahaha!) Since this post is already long, I’ll post again this weekend to let you know who won the gift card and a preorder of Kate Sparkes’s book, Torn. Now, on with our regularly scheduled broadcast. . . .

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The other day, my friend Sharon told me about a TED Talk by writer/director Andrew Stanton. Since I was familiar with his Pixar movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3; A Bug’s Life; Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and others), I was eager to hear what tips he had for telling great stories. (I didn’t see John Carter, the sci-fi film he co-wrote and directed [2012], though I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

The TED Talk in question is below. There is, however, a small amount of graphic language early on. Just want to warn anyone who might be offended.

Because of its rich tapestry of information, this is one of my favorite talks. Here are some of the storytelling tips Stanton mentioned that really resonated with me:

• Make me care.
• Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.
• Invoke wonder.
• Capture a truth from your experience.

There were many other points. Because of that inspiring talk, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the points Stanton discussed. I’m calling this series the Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. I’m excited to have such a stellar line up of bloggers and authors coming to the blog in the next few weeks to share their thoughts. From time to time, however, I will break away from the series with a post or two about a giveaway. But don’t worry. I’ll get right back to the series.

Today, I’m leading off with Stanton’s first point—make me care. It captured my attention, because it is the number one reason why I usually stop reading a book or watching a film—I simply didn’t care enough.

Make me care. In grad school, my advisors told me the same thing over and over and over again: “You have to make me care about this story.” Yet forging a heart connection with a reader is tricky to do. Tricky, but not impossible. Think of the last story you really connected with. We connect when we can relate to a character’s struggles or hopes.

If you watched Stanton’s TED Talk, you saw a scene from Finding Nemo that absolutely tugs at the heartstrings. The scene below is the beginning of that scene.

We connect as we think about the losses in our own lives. Though Stanton made a different point when showing the scene, I can’t help thinking of how the filmmakers caused me to care without making me feel manipulated.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverI also think of a book I’ve read twice now: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. In the opener, Black describes a glass coffin that is pivotal to the main character’s story. (You learn that fact on the book jacket.)

It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up. (1)

Black made me care, because the unusual image of a boy in a glass coffin stirred my curiosity and reminded me of fairy tales I love. But most of all, I cared because Black showed me what Hazel was interested in right off the bat. I cared, because Hazel cared.

Another way Black made me care is through her obvious concern for her characters—good, bad, or in between. She cared enough to show them at their strongest or most vulnerable without making a judgment call either way. I can’t help contrasting her efforts to the number of times I’ve heard an author admit to disliking a certain character in his/her own book—usually the antagonist. An author’s dislike of his/her character is always a red flag for me. I need to care even about the most morally repugnant individual in a story. If I don’t, I’ll head for the exit quickly.

If you saw the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon, you’re familiar with this dude:

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Prince Zuko

Avatar-Episodes-Book-1-Water-300x300Slight spoilers in this paragraph to follow. (Be warned.) Throughout the first book of the series—Water—Zuko is clearly working against the heroes. Though he has his own agenda, I couldn’t help caring about him, because the writers (including series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) made him a well-rounded character. They showed the physical and emotional wounds motivating his actions. They also gave him an antagonist. I cared, because they cared.

If we want to make readers care about our work, we need to love our characters. We don’t have to approve of their actions, particularly the bone-headed ones. But we definitely need to understand why they do what they do. Caring about them is what makes a story great.

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Andrew Stanton from zimbio. Zuko from earnthis.net. Avatar book 1 DVD cover from avatarthelastairbenderonline.com.

Two Years, One Post, and One Ring to Rule Them All

67524Today is my two-year blogoversary. If only print could convey my amazement. Two years. When I began posting exactly two years to the day, I wasn’t sure I’d last two months, let alone two years. But here I am!

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My amazement is sorta like this.

I won’t take up too much of your time today, however. Anniversaries are all about celebrating and giving presents. So this post is to announce a blogoversary giveaway: a $25 Amazon card (or some equivalent at Amazon.uk) to one reader. Woot! A winner will be announced sometime next week. (I have another giveaway to coordinate first.)

This giveaway is my way of saying thanks to all who welcomed me as a new blogger or to those who continue reading my posts even when I talk about books or magazines I read in the bathroom. Please comment below to be entered in the drawing. If you feel like mentioning what you’d get at Amazon, that would be lovely. Don’t feel obligated though. You could instead tell me about the weather in your neck of the woods (it’s freeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzing here), your favorite movie, or about an epiphany you had recently. Two years ago, I talked about a movie I enjoyed, so sharing your favorite movie would be very fitting. 🙂

While I wait for you to respond, I’ll continue mainlining Skinny Pop Popcorn and Reese’s. (Does one cancel out the other?)

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By the way, thanks for all of the memories we’ve shared over the years. (I can say that now. Years.) There have been many that still make me smile, especially as I think about your comments—the best part of having a blog. But reminiscing would only make me cry, and I’ve had enough of that recently, thanks to The Legend of Korra, Book Three: Change. (That’s not a spoiler by the way. I cry easily, at happy or sad moments.) So while you think of how you want to spend that gift card, I’ll go back to my popcorn and the series finale of The Legend of Korra, Book Four: Balance. (I’m bingeing on both seasons.)

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Thanks again for visiting my little space.

P. S. If you’re wondering where the “one ring to rule them all” fits in, you can stop wondering. It doesn’t. I just threw that in.

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Jordie and Kitty have put aside their differences to celebrate this blogoversary. Each, however, has decided to look for the one ring to rule the other.

Skinny Pop from the Skinny Pop website. Legend of Korra, Book Three from animationmagazine.net. Legend of Korra, Book Four from ign.com. Cupcake with candle from go4costumes.com. Macaulay Culkin from musiceyz.co.uk.

Unconventional Love

Hope you had a pleasant Valentine’s Day. Now, don’t groan at me for mentioning the day. I spent part of it not in the conventional, eating-in-a-restaurant-while-gazing-into-my-date’s-eyes way, but eating chocolate and watching Justice League Unlimited episodes from 2004–2005. (It’s okay if you run away in horror. There will be slight spoilers soon, so go if you must.)

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Since it was Valentine’s Day, an episode called “Double Date” (written by Gail Simone) seemed very appropriate and helped me realize something else later. The episode involved these members of the Justice League:

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Huntress and the Question

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Black Canary and Green Arrow

It’s okay. You don’t have to care who they are. (Click here if you want to find out more about the members of the Justice League.) The episode wasn’t a conventional double date, since Huntress and the Question weren’t a couple (at least not right away) and all four were on a stakeout for various reasons. Black Canary and Green Arrow, however, were a couple. I grew up reading comic books in which their relationship was mentioned. Though they’re superheroes, they’re more conventional. I mean look at them. Both are pretty. And we like looking at pretty people, don’t we? Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Better still, I’ll let these images speak for me.

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Prince Zuko from Avatar and Stephen Bishop from Being Mary Jane

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Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers and Chris Evans as Captain America

Getting back to the Justice League, I have to admit that the Huntress and the Question were more interesting to me than Black Canary and Green Arrow, because H and Q were labeled as “unstable” by their colleagues. Toward the end of the episode, Huntress asked the Question why he agreed to help her in her vendetta against the man who killed her father. When he finally gave his reason—“I like you” (as in “I like like you”)—I melted faster than chocolate in a microwave. And though the action in the picture below (top right) caused Black Canary to say, “I’m sorry, but ewww,” I was totally down for it. They were broken people who found a connection.

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So, what did I learn? (See the first paragraph, where I mentioned that I learned something.) I learned that I love characters with baggage. Not the psychotic serial killer baggage, but emotional scars nonetheless. I can relate to them because of my own issues. A character can be as pretty as a picture. But to really get my attention, that character has to have a wound of some kind.

28da5770f2c53556e75b4356fde68ebaThat’s why I still love Moonstruck, a 1987 movie written by John Patrick Shanley and starring Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri (photo at right). Everyone in the movie has baggage. One of my favorite quotes related to baggage was spoken by Ronny. I’m sure I’ve used it before in a post. Here it is again:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

“Love the wrong people”? Been there, done that! “The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us!” Truer words were never spoken.

Which character(s), if any, really resonated with you recently? Why?

Huntress and the Question from pinterest.com. Black Canary and Green Arrow from caballerodecastilla.blogs. Prince Zuko from twitter. Stephen Bishop from cocoafab.com. Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier from movie.anonforge.com. Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers from pinterest.com. Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri from pinterest.com. Valentine from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com.

My Kind of R and R

When you’re in need of some R and R, and you conside watching a TV show or a movie to help you chill, what would you watch? After an exhausting week involving cooking for a birthday lunch for one friend and an emotionally draining visit to the emergency room with another, all while attempting to meet my curriculum deadline (and failing to write a word of fiction during all of this), my go-to for relaxation was . . .

Drum roll please . . .

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series . . .

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. . . and anything Batman related

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Perhaps my choices seem surprising. They were to me. I would have thought something soft and feminine like a Hallmark movie would suit me like an angora sweater. Well, at certain times of the year (Christmas), I’m all over those movies. But lately, nothing relaxes me like men and women leaping about with lightsabers, clones steering sleek starships out in space, or a tortured man running about dressed like a bat.

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Clone pilots are the new angora. . . .

While some aspects of characterization on Clone Wars are grating, I still watch the episodes. I wish I totally understood why I feel so relaxed, especially when every episode is about an aspect of war. But having grown up with the Star Wars movies, I have to say I find George Lucas’s incredibly realized world very inspiring.

And then there is Batman, whose film noir life has some unsettling aspects. Yet watching many of the DC direct-to-DVD releases are as restful as a mug of warm cocoa. I don’t mean they put me to sleep. I just find them almost as comforting as the chapters in Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits, after being terrified by Old Man Willow in the old forest, find safety in the house of Tom Bombadil. (Another comforting chapter is a one in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame where Mole and Rat find safety in Mr. Badger’s house after a frightening trip through the woods. But I digress. . . .)

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I’ve seen many episodes of The Clone Wars and the Batman animated shows and movies at least ten times a piece. They’re great background for my crocheting projects. And I’ve got ten hats to crochet in the next few weeks.

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Jordie is killing time watching The Clone Wars, Season 5. It was either that or Video Game High School on YouTube.

Perhaps some of the relaxation stems from my love for cartoons, which dates back to my watching Saturday morning cartoons with my brothers. They had bunk beds, so we’d climb to the top bunk and watch the TV in their room. We called this gathering our weekly bed club. Ah, such bliss.

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Watching criminals trying to shoot Batman or General Grievous fight Obi-Wan Kenobi is a far cry from the cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. But after a trying week, they offer the kind of rest I need.

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Here’s lookin’ at you, Obi-Wan!

Batman animated image from power-animals.com. Angora from nancyelizabethdesigns.com. Top Cat from gifsoup.com. Bunk beds from beds2udirect.com. Obi Wan Kenobi from simplywallpaper.net.