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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chris Knight... Musician?

So today I began taking dulcimer lessons.

How it came to be that I'm learning to play dulcimer, is a long story. But I think that I'm going to enjoy this.

And if y'all are good, I might eventually post video of me playing it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dear God:

Are You hearing me?

Do You care at all about us, about any of us?

I think about people who believe in You worldwide, who are even today being persecuted and tortured and killed because of their belief in You. What has it gotten them? Have You heard their cries?

If You aren't listening to them, why should I expect You to listen to me?

Why is it that every time You have blessed me with something, You yank it away like a cruel bully? That's what I'm starting to see You as: a cruel bully like the kind who used to torment me on the playground.

Do my prayers ever move You at all?

How can I believe You to hear my prayers about my needs? Scripture tells us to bring everything to you. I have done what I can to do that in a thankful and believing spirit... so where is Your listening ear?

How can I trust You, period?

Are we just playthings to You?

Are there some people You favor over others? If so then I just happen to be one of those on your %$*@ list. That's what it feels like to me.

How can I know anymore that You are good?

How can I trust You?

How can I know that my faith in You hasn't been wasted?

How can I know You are really there? Because more and more, I'm beginning to doubt and I really don't want to go there. But if You are there, You are giving me precious little to go on so far as Your being good goes.

Why should anyone here on this Earth believe in You when all they get are frustration, broken prayers, and answers from a book which they otherwise have no reason to believe in?

What are we to You?

How are we to know that you hear our prayers for salvation?

Do they matter to You at all?

Please talk to me.  Answer my questions.  Show me how to trust in You again.  Show me how to not to ever question my faith, for as long as I live.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I finally watched Season 4 of THE WALKING DEAD

From the very beginning of its fourth season this past October, The Walking Dead has been sitting unplayed on my DVR, taking up a sizable amount of real estate.  I've been wondering what to do about it: either finally sit down and go through the season, or delete it altogether.

This past weekend I decided it was time to face some things, and let The Walking Dead stop haunting me (I know that won't make sense to most readers, just trust me).  I suppose I should admit at least a little curiosity at how this season would go, after Season 3 ended with the survivors of Woodbury coming to the prison and the Governor going Lord-knew-where into the Georgia wilderness.

I'm glad that I did choose to watch, because The Walking Dead's fourth season turned out to be some of the most powerful storytelling that I've ever seen from the television medium.

The season unfolded across three arcs, each well-contained without feeling especially episodic.  The sickness brought the first serious trial to face Rick and his community, and also some of the show's most gruesome moments in its entire run.  And then the Governor returned: psychotic as ever.  If there is one thing that could have been better with this season, I would have much enjoyed it if the Governor received an extra episode or two: let him really build up his army and get re-established as the biggest villain of the series so far.  But when at last he launched his assault on the prison, you just know that AMC nearly busted its budget to make that scene happen.  It was stuff you'd expect from a high-dollar Hollywood blockbuster, not network television.

And then came the road to Terminus.  Watching the survivors, now split up, keep going and trying to fight the odds against the dead and the living.  And struggling against their own inner turmoils.

You know what I'm talking about, if you've watched this season.  I posted on Facebook as I let the series unspool and some friends told me that there was worse... much heartbreaking worse... that was still to come after the prison assault.  That I had not seen how bad it gets and that one episode especially was going to bring the tears.

Yeah, you know it all right.  It was the episode titled "The Grove".  I watched it last night.  And I had to stop right there, because nothing I had seen on television ever before left me so numbstruck with horror and shock and disbelief.

It got to "that scene" and all I could think of was, "No, they aren't going there.  AMC is NOT going to do this.  Carol is NOT about to do Of Mice and Men on that little girl."

Was she right?  A friend and I were discussing it today.  He asked me what I would have done in that situation.  I had actually thought about that after watching "The Grove".  And I think... I think... that if it were me, I would have waited until Lizzie was asleep, and then leave with the baby and everyone else.  Let Lizzie wake up the next morning to find everyone gone but be left with a pistol and several rounds of ammo.  Give her at least a chance to live!  And that way she would not be a threat to the group anymore.  I thought that would be the best for everyone.

Except that Scott (my friend) raised a very valid point: that how were we to know that Lizzie wouldn't join up with another group of survivors, and be a threat to them?

I can see that.  And one also must be reminded that Lizzie was very, very far gone.  It went way more than simple denial about the walkers, about how the world had become.  There was going to be no reaching her.  No therapy for her.  No medication.  She was pitiful, she was helpless.  But she was also too weak in all of the wrong ways.  And after she killed her sister (and was poised to murder Judith), her weakness crossed the line into a very dark place in terms of what was right for the group.  Because how could the group possibly trust Lizzie?  How could anyone?

There was no clean way out of it.  I think Carol knew it.  And she knew that every day for the rest of her life it was going to haunt her.

I wish now that I had watched this season during its first run, because the discussion of "The Grove" alone was no doubt fascinating reading.  How many other television series leave the viewer questioning his or her sense of morality?  Too few, in this  blogger's opinion.

Looking forward to catching Season 5 when it airs.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review of GODZILLA (2014)

The last time I saw a movie called Godzilla on a big screen it was 1998, the evening before its official release date.  Two hours later I asked Chuck Buckley, my fellow columnist at Elon's newspaper The Pendulum, what he thought of it.

"I thought it sucked!", Chuck replied.

I had to concur.  That night sticks out in memory as one of the worst experiences I've had at a movie theater (though incredibly I didn't walk out: Star Trek Nemesis would be the first to get that dubious honor... and the nice ladies at the theater had let me watch that one for free!).  Godzilla 1998 was a travesty of celluloid: bad plot, bad dialogue, bad direction, bad best boying, bad catering...

...and the worst Godzilla ever.  No, nevermind.  That wasn't Godzilla.  I don't know what that was.  It was G.I.N.O: Godzilla In Name Only.  That slithering sacrilege bore no resemblance whatsoever to the classic Toho's Toast of Tokyo.  If only Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (who had previously given us Independence Day) had called their creature something other than Godzilla, I would have probably been forgiving and accepted it for what it was: a giant monster movie.  But noooooooo... they promised us Godzilla, and instead we got a Fraud-zilla.

I'm a huge fan of the original Godzilla, the original 1954 movie initially released as Gojira (absent the scenes with Raymond Burr) in Japan.  To me Godzilla was never a giant monster movie.  The original movie was meant to be a dead-serious film about nuclear warfare in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Godzilla was the result of man's incapacity to grasp the darker science he had unleashed upon the world.  He was never meant to be "cute" or "cuddly" and he certainly isn't supposed to be an anthropomorphic "father figure" type (yeah I'm looking at you Minilla).  Godzilla, to me, is not a character.  He is a force of nature: the biblical Leviathan, fury personified.  An entity beyond the means and devices of man.  Godzilla, when he is best handled, simply is.  And to date only two movies have given Godzilla the treatment he deserves: 1954's Godzilla and Godzilla 1985 (a film rife with problems but otherwise a fitting proper sequel to the original).  And for as long as I can remember I've wondered if an American studio could produce a Godzilla motion picture that went back to the roots of what Godzilla is, and tap into that and give the King of the Monsters the appreciation and respect he demands.

Well folks, I just came back from seeing Godzilla, the 2014 film and good googely moogely, they did it.  They nailed it.  This is at long last the modern take on Godzilla that I've wanted to behold for way too long.  This is how you do Godzilla, people!  By making him a force of nature as unstoppable as an earthquake or a hurricane.  And the more I think about it, the more I'm growing in the opinion that this Godzilla movie is in many ways better than the very first Gojira (a film that will forever be among my favorites).  It occurred to me that in the original movie Godzilla very nearly destroys Tokyo completely... but we're never given an explanation why he's doing it.

That is not the case with Godzilla 2014.  In this movie Godzilla destroys a lot more real estate, stretching all the way across the Pacific basin.  And there is a very plausible and believable purpose behind his rampaging.  It has to do with the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) which have come out of hibernation, and which themselves are some of the gnarliest designs for giant monsters ever put on film.

But you don't want to know about them as much as you do about the star of the show.  This is Godzilla folks, in every conceivable aspect.  But along with much of the rest of the movie, you shouldn't hear it all from me.  Better to go in cold and behold Godzilla with your own eyes and take in what can only be described as the magnificence of this colossal beast.

Effects wise, this could be described as practically a perfect movie.  The effects blend in seamlessly with the characters and the story, without ever being overwhelming.  The battles between Godzilla and the MUTOs are perhaps the biggest and most destructive ever depicted in a motion picture (and you thought that the fight between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel last year was something.  Ooh-bruddah...).  And just wait'll you see the HALO jump into the city.  If you think you could jump from 30,000 feet into the midst of a ruined city being thrashed to pieces by monsters the size of ten city blocks, you are a better person than I.

But all of this is for naught without a very human tale being told, as we watch all of these people caught up in the wrath of the titan.  Ken Watanabe, always a great actor to watch, has a prominent part as a Japanese scientist named Serizawa (a nice homage to the 1954 original film).  The main story focuses on Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a U.S. Navy ordnance disposal officer trying to return to his family and see them to safety.  But for me the standout performance belongs to Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, Ford's father.  In flashback we watch Joe lose his wife in a horrific accident: something which sends him into an obsessive spiral, incapable of moving forward with life.  Cranston pours a heap of passion into the role and it makes a significant contribution to one of Godzilla 2014's biggest strengths: these are people, and we genuinely come to care for them.

As I was entering the theater a man was exiting, talking on his cell phone and I overheard him say "it was the best Godzilla ever and I've been a Godzilla fan all my life".  Leaving Godzilla 2014, I would have to say the very same thing.  It is absolutely the best Godzilla film yet brought to the screen in the entire sixty years of the franchise, and director Gareth Edwards and his crew deserve the highest accolades for giving the big green guy the respect due him.  I'm looking forward to seeing it again with friends this coming week: not just to enjoy it once more but to see the looks of awe, shock and delight on their faces.

Godzilla 2014 gets this blogger's highest recommendation.  It's absolutely worth catching in first run (and I'm looking forward to watching it in IMAX soon).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Happy Birthday to George Lucas

The Knight Shift wishes George Lucas all the best - and a lot of appreciation - on this, the occasion of his 70th birthday!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lithium, Part 3

I need to write more.

Let me restate that.  I need to write more here, on this blog.  Because if I write more here, maybe it will help me as I write more elsewhere.

First, an update on the lithium.  I visited my psychiatrist a few days ago (funny how I can say the word "psychiatrist" in reference to my own situation and not feel ashamed or embarrassed about it, when once upon a time I could not possibly do such a thing) and it was the first time I've been back since going on the lithium carbonate.  We agreed to the lesser dosage that I've been on the past two or so weeks.  The original - taken three times per day - was giving me a seriously funky comprehension of the world around me.  Downright overwhelming, even.  I had to lower it in order to function and be able to concentrate on my writing, both for my book and my work.

But now I'm in another bout with severe depression.  And despite doing my best to work through it, well... yesterday and today have especially been hell.

The lithium makes bearing through it easier.  And I can go up on it if I need to.  If I need to.  But it comes at a cost: lithium, I have found, takes a toll on my creativity.

I can either be stable (more or less) and lose touch with much of my imagination, or I can be operating on all cylinders and tempt the edge of madness.

There is a demonstrable correlation between extreme creativity and mental illness.  This is what that looks like in my own personal case.  I am bipolar and bifurcated.  Regardless of which side the coin lands upon, I am both blessed and cursed.

My depression is compounded with regret.  There were too many yesterday.  Mom has been gone for more than two years and... I'm trying, I'm really trying, to move past not just her passing but also things left unsaid between us.  I have tried avoiding them as best I can these past few years but now they hit hard, harder than ever.

Dear readers, please take away this if you take nothing else from me writing right now: don't leave things unsaid between you and the people you care about.  Leave no stone unturned.  If there is something between you and someone else, go to them and make things right.  Don't let pride come in the way of that.  Pride is the destroyer of relationships.  It works like a cancer to eat away at all love, and joy, and hope.  Pride keeps us from doing that which we know is right.  Pride shuts our hearts and stops our minds from comprehending things we do which we will... we will... come to regret, if not now then certainly years down the road.  And by then it will be too late.

At least once in my life, I have been shut out and away because of pride.  More times than that, I have been the one who has shut others aside because of my own pride.  And every single one of those times, I have come away with hurt that I will carry for the rest of my life.

I've hurt others because of my pride.  And I've also been hurt because of the pride of others.

There is no hurt like there is to have mental illness, and to be ignored and shunned and put aside by people you care about.  It means to be exiled from the community of friends and family you have built around you.  To be made to know in no uncertain terms "you aren't good enough.  You aren't worthy.  You don't belong with us."

It's not all because of mental illness, I know.  Losing the genetic lottery isn't the entire reason.  There are also the behaviors themselves stemming from mental illness.  It's a funny thing though: those behaviors are much the same as those of someone who acts irrationally because of drink or drugs.

I don't drink.  I don't do drugs.  And neither do a lot of people who have mental illness, be it bipolar disorder or whatever.

Maybe having a condition like that makes it easier to not forgive a person than it would if someone didn't have bipolar disorder.  No matter how much sincere regret, how much we beg forgiveness for the pain and grief we cause... the pain and grief that I have caused... by merit of having such a condition we are to be disregarded.

To long for, to cry out even for forgiveness and yet to never know it.

There is a word for that: "Hell".

I have written before that mental illness is Hell.  And that is the worst part of it.  It seriously, truly does feel at times like utter abandonment, with nothing but regret surrounding me.  Being abandoned by everyone, and at times that means sensing the vacuous absence of God Himself.

Mental illness has taught me a lot about pride.  It has taught me how pride has led me to hurt, and it has taught me how pride has led to being hurt by others.

I wish there had been no pride, on either Mom's part or my own.  And now that's all gone.  There is no hope for clearing away everything between us on this side of Heaven.

Did she have mental illness?  In retrospect... I think so.  She did some very horrible things.  Things that no loving mother should ever put her children through.  And I struggle with forgiving her for them.  I struggle because if she had mental illness, I need to forgive her just as I long for forgiveness.  From people who I have known and loved, and many of them are no longer in my life.

I long for forgiveness from others, though I wrestle to forgive one of the closest people in my life.

You can call me a hypocrite.  I know that's what I am.

Don't let the sun go down on your anger.  Don't let pride destroy the most precious thing we have in this world:

Love for one another.

So, I'm wrestling with deep depression, and still trying to achieve balance between the black dog (as Winston Churchill called his) of bipolar and the roaring engine of creativity.  Work on my book stalled out during the past several days because of the depression: it is a horrible thing to want to engage one's mind when it refuses to be interested in anything whatsoever.  However I am praying that passion will persist, and that perseverance will prevail and perceptively percolate as some profound product.

Incidentally, I have begun to take up painting.  And I am soon to start taking dulcimer lessons.  Maybe the lithium is having a more beneficial impact on my mind than I had anticipated.

Even so, I need to write more.  For my personal reflection and sharing what it is like to go through an especially rough period of bipolar depression (and a tad bit of mania) and also to keep my skills sharp.  If I can write here and elsewhere, then perhaps that will lend itself to writing my book.  Which has 14 chapters planned out so far, including one that will raise everybody's eyebrows.

(It's the chapter on sex.  Consider yourself warned.)

Two books which I have read recently which I must highly recommend to those with bipolar and/or depression, and to those people such as these in their lives: An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison (who is herself a person with manic-depression disorder, aka bipolar) and Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch.  The latter was recommended to me by a dear friend, who I cannot thank enough for pointing me to this resource. Welch writes from a Christian perspective and his book has become a tremendous encouragement in regard to depression.