Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Something has changed within me

So much has changed within me this past year that I think it's time to finally put that change into words.

I am 29 years old. I have a wonderful partner. I have two wonderful kitties. I have a great job. And I have a wonderful house. Because my life is so full it has allowed me to really focus on shaping myself.

One of the things I've learned this past year is how difficult I find myself sticking to a habit I want to develop in myself. There are so many things I want to do, but only so many hours to do them. That's why it's so important for me to plan my week of what I want to do. If I don't. I will procrastinate, put it off, and not achieve my goals.

Lately I have been spending my free time playing video games, watching TV, hanging out with Rahdne, or playing with the kitties. I probably spend 90% of my time doing those things, and I realize now that the video games and watching TV parts are preventing me from doing the things I really want to do.

What do I really want to do?

Exercise every day.
Learn Vietnamese.
Go on more adventures (learn more, explore more, discover more).
Read more books.

I also have professional goals:
Become a better decision-maker.
Learn how to be a better provider in bridging the gap of poverty.
Go to graduate school for Mental Health Counseling.

This list might seem small, but it will take a lot of time to achieve. Also, it took me a long time to even narrow down this list, because there are so many other things I would also like to do. However, I've learned that I need to focus on just a few things, or I'll bounce from one thing to another and not achieve anything.

Why do I have to achieve these things? I suppose I don't really, but it's just something I want to do. It's for me, but it's really not just for me. By being the person I want to be, I am better able to give the world all I can offer.

The most important thing I've decided was not to hold this off as a New Year's Resolution. Those never seem to last. These things are important for me, so I'm going to start doing them now. December is the new January. Who else is on board with me? :)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Deciding your Job / Class in FFXIV

If you're anything like me, choosing a class in an MMO can be really difficult, especially if you work a lot and have very little time to try out every class. Here are some ways to help you decide.

Please leave comments and feedback with what you ended up deciding and why. :)
*small note just for simplicity sake I'm using the job names and not the class names.
Gladiator=Paladin, Marauder=Warrior, Thaumaturge=Black Mage, Arcanist=Summoner or Scholar, Rogue=Ninja, Pugilist=Monk, Lancer=Dragoon, Archer=Bard, and Conjurer=White Mage.

1) Picking a class based on your personality:
This one is pretty simple. What do you want to be really good at?
  • Staying alive, killing enemies, or healing your allies
If you want to be really good at staying alive, you really only have two options
  • Paladin or Warrior 
And choosing between the two is even easier because you need to level both anyway to gain each other's cross skills. If you really want to decide now though, choose Paladin if you want to use a sword and shield and choose Warrior if you want to use a greataxe. Both can tank equally well, so in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter.

If you want to be really good at killing things you have way more options: 
  • Black Mage, Summoner, Ninja, Monk, Dragoon, or Bard
Choosing from these options is harder because they can all kill things well, but they all have different battle mechanics. Ask yourself: How do you want to do your damage?
  • By magic?
    • Black Mage (big damage, big aoes, standing still a lot)
    • Summoner (lots of dots, pets, more movement)
  • Up close and personal?
    • Ninja (melee damage with elemental attacks)
    • Monk (melee damage with constant movement between rear and flank and juggling dots and self-buffs)
    • Dragoon (similar to Monk but less movement)
      • I'd say choose Monk if you prefer difficulty and choose Dragoon if you prefer less difficulty.
      • In actuality you'll level both to get each other's cross class abilities so you can see which you prefer by playing.
  • At range but not with magic?
    • Bard
If you want to heal your allies you have two options: 
  • White Mage or Scholar
Same as Paladin/Warrior, you need to level both to gain each other's cross abilities, so you can see which you prefer more. If you really want to decide now though, choose White Mage if you don't want to have to manage a pet, and choose Scholar if you do. Just so you know, your Scholar pet is a *Spoilers* fairy, so if you really hate fairies, I guess you would want White Mage. :) Another note, if you choose Scholar the game won't let you queue as a healer in dungeons until level 30. Oh well!

2) Picking a class based on usefulness
If you just want to choose the class that is the most useful, you most definitely want to choose a tank or healer class. Not that DPS is useless, but there are just too fricking many of them.

Since each Tank and Healer class can tank and heal equally well, it doesn't really matter which you choose. Each one has their own abilities they bring to the table, which is carefully balanced by the developers.

If you really want to be a jack of all trades, level one class of each role (Tank, DPS, and Healer). This is super time consuming, however, especially since you need to level cross classes also to maximize your potential. The plus of doing this however, is you always have a way of helping a friend. Also, by recognizing how each class works, it actually helps you with your main class. For example, knowing how important boss positioning can be for melee DPS will allow you to better position a boss as a tank.

I mapped out two setups that helps fulfill the one of each job role while requiring the least amount of grinding. Of course you don't have to follow these set ups, but these are just basic suggestions.

Option 1

  • Your Main Tank: Paladin Lvl 50
  • Your Main DPS: Black Mage Lvl 50
  • Your Main Healer: White Mage Lvl 50
  • Also level Scholar to Lvl 34, Bard to level 34, and Warrior to level 26 to gain your main classes cross skills.

Option 2

  • Your Main Tank: Warrior Lvl 50
  • Your Main DPS: Monk Lvl 50
  • Your Main Healer: Scholar Lvl 50
  • Also level Dragoon to Lvl 34, White Mage to Lvl 34, and Black Mage to Lvl 26.

3) Picking a class based on looks
Some may argue this is a more superficial reason to pick a class, but hey! Who am I to knock this one down? I'd say most people want a character that looks super cool in their eyes.

If you want to go this route, I recommending checking out the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn 'Job Actions Trailer'.

Another option is to look at the different jobs' Tier 1 armor and weapon and see if there is one that you're leaning towards more. You can see them in my Let's Play Final Fantasy XIV: A Ream Reborn. 001: Tails of the City video. You can skip ahead to 2:52.

4) Picking a class based on randomness
This might seem really strange to you, but it's a decision making tool I've used in the past that I've become more and more interested in. This is a really good option if you really can't decide. Maybe you're the type of person that has a really hard time deciding on something. You end up having 100 alts. You spend hours and hours simply designing how your character looks, and in the end, you're never completely satisfied with your character even though you spent hours deciding.

Here are a few options: Simply roll the dice with a random number generator. Not sure what race to choose? Roll 1-5 and assign each race to a different number. Not sure what class to choose initially? Roll 1-9 and assign each starter class to a different number.

The perks to this is you don't have to feel bad making the wrong decision because you can choose to simply accept what fate has bestowed upon you. Maybe fate decided you will be a Lalafell Archer. Instead of questioning this decision, simply accept it and just focus on being the best damn Lalafell Archer you can possibly be. :)

I also used this method for choosing the look of my main character, which you'll see in my videos. I just knew I wanted to be a Male Mi'qote, and I just closed my eyes, clicked random, and that's what I got. No more spending hours deciding. You can also get some fun, creative looks. I don't think I ever would have chosen a pink tattoo on my character's nose, but I've grown to quite like it. :)

I've also come up with a more interesting method in choosing a class based on the month you were born. In Final Fantasy XIV there are 12 main gods and goddesses, each relating to a different month. Each god and goddess has their own depiction, element, symbol, etc. that can lead you to a certain class. It works out really well, and if you're into this sort of thing you can really feel like your class belongs to you. It's like fate, but a more personal fate than simply rolling a number.

Here's a breakdown of the different months, their qualities, and the class it most leans towards. Find your month in the list and see what class you get.

January - Halone - A warrioress armed with a bronze greatshield. Paladin and Armorer. Paladins wield shields and Armorers can make them.

February - Menphina - A maid carrying a round skillet. Also goddess of the moon. Ninja and Culinarian. Ninja because they stalk around in the darkness and Culinarian because of the skillet.

March - Thaliak - A scholar holding an ashen staff. Scholar and Alchemist. Scholar because the god is a scholar and Alchemist because Thaliek is god of knowledge which comes from books, which Alchemists craft.

April - Nymeia - A weaver wearing a white silken veil. White Mage and Weaver. White Mage from the white veil, and weaver because Nymeia is a weaver.

May - Llymlaen - A fisherwoman yielding a long harpoon. Dragoon and Fisher. Dragoon because they can wield harpoons, and fisher because Llymlaen is a fisherwoman.

June - Oschon - A ranger holding a yew bow. Bard and Carpenter. Bard because they use bows and Carpenter because they can make them.

July - Byregot - An ardent smith with a two headed hammer. Monk and Miner. Monk because they do hand-to-hand combat and Byregot's symbol is a hand. Blacksmith because they use hammers and are also a smith.

August - Rhalgr - A magus carrying a bronze staff. Black Mage and Goldsmith. Black Mage because Rhalgr is god of destruction and Goldsmith because they can make mage staves.

September - Azeyma - A noble lady holding a golden fan. Paladin and Goldsmith. Paladin because they follow the Light and Azeyma is goddess of the sun. Goldsmith because of the golden fan.

October - Nald'thal - A merchant holding a balance. Black Mage and Goldsmith. Black Mage because their guild worships Nald'thal, god of the underworld. Goldsmith because it's the most tied to currency. This might later be Agent (if that is the mystery class in the next expansion). Agent because because currency reminds me of casinos and James Bond is an Agent who likes to hang out in casinos.

November - Nophica - A farmer holding a steel scythe. White Mage and Botany. White Mage because they control the earth and Nophica is goddess of the earth. Botany because they use scythes. *Once Dark Knights are released, I would say they fit more because Dark Knights can wield scythes in Final Fantasy XI.

December - Althyk - An emperor wielding a mythril greataxe. Warrior and Blacksmith. Warrior because they wield greataxes and Blacksmith because they can make them.

So yeah, whatever month you were born in, you can choose the corresponding class. It's not coincidental that I was born in August and I am playing a Black Mage and Goldsmith. If you really can't decide, why not decide by your birth month? If you do choose by your birth month, let me know how it turns out in the comments below. :) I'm curious how others feel about choosing based on your patron god or goddess.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Travel Behavior Change and New Social Justice Issues

I just participated in a super interesting webconference: Travel Behavior Change and New Social Justice Issues

Daniel Kaempff spoke on the history and change in Portland, OR. Portland like most US cities in the early 20th century, took down a lot of historic buildings, with amazing architecture, to place parking lots in its downtown corridor to help with the influx of suburban dwellers get to their large department stores. Such a shame, but Portland now, has recognized the importance of having a vibrant community based on walkability and biking.

Interestingly, Portland attempted positive change in a neighborhood, which received some backlash. Apparently, it was a neighborhood in North Portland that was historically black in the 1960s, about 65% of residents were black. 30% white. Currently those numbers are flipped. 65% white, and 30% black due to many African American residents being forced out of their own neighborhoods due to increasing property prices. So when this project came underway to help improve the neighborhood, it made sense that the African American community was a little peeved that this change was happening now. Why weren't there any efforts to better that community 30 years ago? It was a community that had been ignored by those outside the community for much too long, why is money being put in it now that it has become a much wealthier neighborhood?

So the lesson learned, is when projects of community development occur, one really has to look at the historical implications of this change. And not just look to the future moving forward, but being able to look at the past, and respect and recognize that past, while you're moving forward. So the project really had to open it's eyes, and get the community more involved, especially in the African American community. The product was a development that didn't just focus on better air quality, and better health for the community, etc. it also focused on equity, which is so very important for a healthy community.

The second presentations was by Emma R. Pachuta, who discussed a neighborhood program in St. Paul, Minnesota called Smart Trips. The program focused on the Frogtown neighborhood, which is predominantly a refugee/immigrant population. Their program did a marvelous thing right off the bat getting involved with the community to identify if they would be interested in the Smart Trips program, and what would be needed to implement it. What was discovered was the community didn't want this program to come to dictate to them. They wanted the program to come for the community to be involved.

Having affluent government types coming in to encourage bicycling, walking, and public transit wasn't going to work. Instead, they had youths from the Frogtown community become trained and carry out the program. Interestingly 30% of Frogtown is under the age of 21. That's huge! Think of the impact that was made by simply getting youths involved. The youths even designed the program's logo and designed the door hangers for marketing outreach. The youths went door to door knocking, they told their friends, they got the community involved. They also hosted 9 neighborhood block club parties, where there was food, demonstrations, transportation information, and free bike repair stations. It ended up being a real success. What better way to get your community excited about Transportation change than to be right there in the community throwing a block club party?

All in all, I really liked the presentations. They emphasized the importance of Equity and Community Involvement. Too many times programs such as these make minimal outreach to the community. Some even try to keep the community at arms length in the program planning process, which is kind of silly to think about because it doesn't really encourage trust, and it doesn't really give the community what they want. And who better that knows the community than the community itself?

So yeah, if you're into community outreach, I hope you some of what I wrote spoke to you. I know the presentations spoke to me. If you're not into community outreach, maybe think about it...How involved are you with your community? Do you care what happens to your community and why? If so, are you willing to take part in helping your community? Where do you want to see your community? And ask yourself what you can do to help.

There's lots of good stuff happening all over the country, but there's so much more that can be done. I think that we as a people are waking up. We've been asleep for way too long. We know there is a better future for us, and we just need to keep working hard to get there. :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Lesson from the I Ching: What is the most important lesson for the world right now?

These past few weeks have felt disconcerting for me. With the Boston Marathon bombing and the explosion in Waco, TX, the bombings in Iraq and the non-passing of a ban on assault rifles in the United States, I've been feeling disappointed in the year 2013. 2012 was a crazy year with the shootings in Aurora and Newtown, the presidential election, and the fear and craziness concerning the Mayan Apocalypse. Once 2013 hit, I was so relieved because I thought this would be the year we can finally leave all that turmoil behind us and start afresh. That does not seem to be the case at all though unfortunately.

So thinking about all this, I decided to ask the I Ching what is going on in the world right now. Specifically, I asked it What is the most important lesson for the world right now? In other words, what should we, the people of this planet, realize is going on so that we can help make it better in some way. It's a tough question, but the I Ching has never failed me in the past; it has always blessed me with truthful insight.
In case you don't know what the I Ching is an old Chinese book said to be written over 4000 years ago. Basically, it's like a book of fortunes. There are 64 hexagrams written in the book, each representing a different aspect of life and often symbolized by natural elements such as water or thunder. You start off by asking a question. I suppose you don't have to ask a question, but generally there is something you want to find out when you are turning towards the book. Next you either use coins or yarrow stalks to determine which of the 64 hexagrams is the answer to your question. If you're curious how that works, Wikipedia explains it pretty nicely. Once you have the Hexagram, you can look up the answer in the book, and then you simply read and interpret what it means and how it applies to your question.  
Anyway, what's remarkable about the I Ching is its uncanny ability to foretell events or provide insight to a present or past event. I believe the hexagrams that appear are not random because when I read the answer it gives you, it is always spot-on. As soon as I open the book and find out what it says, I just go, Wow! That makes so much sense. It's tough at first, when you are getting used to the book. It was written thousands of years ago, so the text can be hard to discern, but honestly, it can be very worth it, and I often turn to the I Ching when I feel lost and need guidance. It can illuminate an issue one feels unsure about, and this can save the person from a lot of headache in the long run, assuming they follow the books advice.
Hexagram 12

Anyway, sorry for the necessary sidetrack, but here's what I found. The answer I found was Hexagram 12, which looks like three solid lines on top and three broken lines on the bottom. It stands for Stagnation, which can be one of the worst things to be in. Life is about change, and things are supposed to be free-moving and given room for growth. When things are stagnant, it's like being trapped in a swamp.

From James Legge's translation of the I Ching, Hexagram 12 also represents a rift between two classes of people. I suppose one can see this in the solid strong lines being on the top, while the three broken lines are on the bottom. What this is supposed to represent, is the strong lines rise upwards, and the broken lines sink downward, signifying a rift between the two. I suppose it's somewhat like how the rich in the world appear to become richer and the poor tend to become poorer, and that could be one way of reading the hexagram.

What comes to my mind, however, is the huge division between people's beliefs on all sorts of issues from Gun Control to Gay Marriage. The I Ching is also saying the major cause to this division is due to a lack of understanding. It doesn't matter how strongly or logically one side can argue, no good can come from it. No matter how hard you can try to get the other to understand you, no change comes about because of this concept of 'stagnation': This resistance to change.

What's unfortunate of these circumstances is that something needs to be done. Things need to be changed. We can't just sit in this swamp for all of eternity; however, right now...the world is stuck in the swamp. To be honest, the I Ching is saying that change currently is not possible, which causes evil things to begin to come out of the swamp.
The next part of the I Ching reading consists of these small little excerpts that say things like "Six at the beginning" or "Nine at the fourth place." It all seems very confusing to those unfamiliar with the I Ching, but basically when you are throwing your coins or dividing your yarrow stalks, you get either a regular line or a changing line. So if the first line changes, you would read the portion of the text that says, "Six at the beginning," and so forth an so on.
Anyway, in my reading the first (bottom most), second, fourth, and sixth lines change.

The first line describes the image of pulling up grass, and how when you pull it up, you gather a clump because all the roots are connected. I believe what this is saying is when you're pulling out what is wrong in the world, you can't just pick at the pieces, you have to dig and pull up the whole root of the issue. Only then will what you are trying to get to come out, and in it all the other issues come out with it.

The second line describes how we should behave. In a nutshell, the I Ching is telling us to be patient and obedient, and to conduct ourselves in a way that promotes harmony. This is probably tough to want to do. Dealing with the world can be so frustrating, that it is tough to be patient. We want change now. However, like was said before, due to a lack of understanding between two classes of people, this sort of change is not easy. That is why we must not lose our cool. We must be patient, and by 'obedient' I take that to mean to trust in the Universe, and not lose hope. By simply doing what is right, by conducting ourselves in such a way that promotes harmony, we will see change occur, however slowly that may be.

The fourth line seems to mimic the second line. It tells us that the path we must follow is to harmonize with the Universe. It's telling us we should learn to accept the reality of the Universe. That is how we can find happiness. Instead of fighting with the world, we should simply do what is right, and by doing so we will gather friends, and they will share in our happiness.

The sixth line...Wow! This is truly something quite marvelous. It tells of and I quote, "the overthrow (and removal of) the condition of distress and obstruction. Before this there was that condition. Hereafter there will be joy." I don't know if the I Ching can say it any plainer. Provided stronger negative forces don't prevent what is natural from occurring  this year is going to see change be made. Almost like magic we will see the root of our suffering remove itself. Perhaps people will open their eyes and hear the Truth. Some sort of awakening will happen in the people. I have a feeling it has to do with the roots, going back to the first line because that's where it starts. Someone is going to pull up at the roots, which reminds me of grassroots campaigns, and it will be their actions that will plant the seeds of peace and progress, which will naturally take root and grow, but only because the world will try to promote peace and harmony. If we don't do that as a planet, the seeds won't grow. It still counts on us to do what is right, and treat others fairly, for change to occur.

What's interesting about the I Ching is that it not only tells us all of this, it gives a final intriguing glimpse into the future. Once we look at all the lines, we can see a new Hexagram. Simply by switching up the solid lines with broken lines, for the special lines in our reading first, second, fourth, and sixth we get the following Hexagram.

Hexagram 60

Hexagram 60 is the image of water in a lake, and represents the idea of limitation. How water and lake represent limitation seems somewhat strange, but I think the best illustration of this is to think of a glass of water. Water must take the form of whatever container it is in, and it is limited in growth to the size of that container. In other words, there is a limit to the water, and it is limited to the glass. So apply that image to that of a lake, and we receive limitation.

The I Ching is pointing this out, I believe because it's telling the lawmakers of the world that whatever change must be made, that the change be limited in its severity and difficulty. Regulations must be proper and in accordance with the needs of the people. If the regulations are too strict, they will not last. We want lasting change, so we must go far enough, but not so far that it passes the limits of what is necessary.

Applying this, think of gun safety laws. These laws that are created must be made because obviously something is not right with the current laws of today. However, the laws, in order to go into effect, they must not be so severe that they are overly regulating more than is necessary.

It seems this is more of a side note to our question, but it is still an important illustration of what should be thought upon as we are trying to make our world a better place. All in all, we can all agree that change must be won. Things have been stagnant for way too long, and we're feeling it, and thousands, if not millions are suffering from it. Most importantly however, we must always do what's right, and we must be patient for the time being. These things are more important than arguing with others and trying to change people's political persuasions. Simply do what is good and right for the world, and the change will come on its own accord. I suppose what else is necessary is for us to remain faithful that the Universe will take care of us, and things will change as long as we keep believing that change is possible.

Well, that's it for the night. All in all, I am pretty proud of my question. I think it's an important one to ask, and I like the I Ching's answer personally. Maybe because I'm the one who interpreted it, it makes much sense. Hopefully, however, some of you have something to gain from the reading. Perhaps my writing is one of the seeds that needed to be planted to effect change in the world. I'm not sure how many people read my blog. Not many I'd assume, but if at least a few of you out there read this and gained something for it, I feel satisfaction in that alone. The I Ching really is a blessing, and I'm glad for it. It's nice to know there is something reliable out there, that is wise and all knowing that can help us find our way to the light. There is so much truth in this one book, and I believe that's why so many people turn to it, and it has been passed on for so many thousands of years.

Anyway, I should call it a wrap. This is Xavier signing out. Adieu everybody. :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

I May Have Saved a Woman's Life

I may have helped take part in saving a woman's life. That seems like a very strange thing to say. How often is it that we save someone from Death? And to post about it immediately after for all my friends and social network buddies to see, is that bragging? Is it that I'm proud of potentially saving someone's life and I want the whole world to know how wonderful I am? No, that's not the case at all. I'm just amazed at what happened, stupified really, because it's hard to put the whole experience into words. I'm just so amazed by what just happened tonight that I have to share it with you all.

I suppose I should start with the story, but where to begin? I suppose I should start from where I left before the woman almost died.

I was leaving work. It was a little after 5. I usually hop on the bus to go home, but I wanted to stop by my partner's work to give him and his coworkers a pasticiotti. They are these amazing Italian pastries that you can get at a small restaurant on the corner of Delaware and Allen called Panaro's. Panaro's is a hidden gem in Buffalo. It's a place I know exists, I've been there plenty of times, but since it is hidden on the corner of Delaware, a street with almost no restaurants, I almost always forget that it exists. For some reason, I thought of it today. I think it was the pasticiotti. They are so delicious. I wanted to get one for my coworkers and one for my partner and his. Thinking about it now, it seems kind of fitting that such a wonderful restaurant could potentially be the start of saving this woman's life.

I could have hopped on the bus in front of our office. It would have been faster. Everything at the time was saying I should have. It's cold right now in Buffalo. It's January 14th and it's 29 degrees. 29 degrees is actually not that cold for January, but this last weekend it was 60 degrees, maybe thanks to global warming, so the 29 degrees of today seems a tad bit colder than usual. It's also flu season, so I should be staying out of the cold, but for some reason, I wanted to walk down Elmwood all the way home. My coworkers actually thought I was crazy when I told them I was walking. It's a 3 mile walk home, and in the cold it could feel like 6, but something was telling me to walk, and so I did.

I walked down Allen over to Elmwood, and I was going to follow Elmwood all the way down to where I would cut over to my house on Hoyt. Secretly, however, I was going to hop on a bus the first chance I got if one ever did head my way down Elmwood. I knew, a bus would come, because I made this trip before after work, and one usually comes when I'm almost there. So I'm walking, and I'm peaking behind me from time to time. Then finally, one actually did come, but it snuck up behind me. You know, where you pass a bus stop and you look and see nothing, so you cross the street and keep on going. Then suddenly you look again, and a bus comes passing you by. That's what happened, and I could have waved at the bus driver to stop, and he would have because the bus drivers in Buffalo are hella nice. I'm not even kidding. In San Francisco, if you wave at a bus driver to stop, they'll either laugh at you and keep on going, or just shake their head no and think you're crazy. This is totally going by my experience, and maybe you are a bus driver in San Francisco and you're really nice and stop if you see someone in need, but the 3 years I was there, this was not the case that I've seen.

So, living in San Francisco and seeing bus drivers flying by without stopping even though it is obvious you are running and waving for them to stop, I simply learned to stop trying to hail them down. It's the compounding effect of negative reinforcement, so when that bus did come by, I didn't wave. What I did do, however, is run, and luckily when it comes to chasing after public transportation, I am a fast runner. I suppose it comes from being perpetually in the state of lateness, that I'm used to having to make up for lost time. Luckily the bus stopped at a red light, giving me time to run the length of the entire block, and a long block mind you, and of course the bus driver saw me running so he decided to wait the 5 seconds for me. This may seem like a common courtesy for you, but for a bus driver to wait 5 seconds for you in San Francisco, it's like coming across a saint.

I got on the bus, and swiped my card. I thanked the bus driver profusely because I do not take for granted how nice they are in Buffalo. Although his reaction to me was not what I expected. He was perplexed why I didn't wave him down when I saw him coming to begin with. He wanted to know why I ran that entire block. I had to only smile and keep walking because I didn't know how to explain the dozens and dozens of times bus drivers gave me dirty looks for expecting them to stop mid-block for me, and that's where it may have begun, even though I didn't know it at the time. That may have been the 5 seconds it took to save a woman's life.

Due to where I was when I got on the bus, I only had to go 3 more blocks. I actually felt kind of bad at the time, making him wait for me as I ran when I only had to go 3 blocks further, so when he pulled up to my stop, I quickly slunk away to be the first to get off. I was actually that embarrassed, and then I paused to the side of the bus to take a breath and come out of my embarrassment. That's when I noticed a man running towards the bus. He needed to get on too, and he was racing to catch it. I noticed another woman notice him too, and so she and I paused to the side of the bus as he got on, and that was when the light turned red.

When a light turns red, that's when you cross. Nobody in Buffalo waits for the cross walk man to turn green because they don't work half the time, so you'd think she would have just stepped into the road. However, due to whatever collaboration of events, she didn't step into the road as the light turned red. It was a good second after the light turned red, that she did, and as soon as she stepped into the road in front of the bus, the two of us suddenly heard a car whiz right past the bus at 40 miles per hour.

When a bus is up to the crosswalk, you can't see behind it. That's why so many people get hit by cars as they're getting off a bus. With a red light, one would think no one would whip past a bus, but then again this is Buffalo, and I'm sorry to say, but the drivers in this town are terrible. They really are. We had about a dozen pedestrians who were struck and killed by cars last year, and you know what the really tragic thing is? None of those killers ended up in jail even the ones who were drunk. I don't know if you heard of the doctor who struck and killed a girl while he was driving home drunk. Yeah, he was acquitted, and yeah, that happened in Buffalo.

So, seriously, everyday, every single day, I see cars blow through red lights time and time again. It's almost like clockwork. I see a red light, and of course one or two cars go through it. So it's possible the woman would have stopped at the bus, and peeked around the corner to make sure a person wasn't going through a red light. However, it was the end of a day on a Monday, and Monday's are always the most tiring of days, so it's possible that she wouldn't have thought to do that. She was seconds away from being in front of that car going 40 miles per hour. She would have died, and you know what she did? She peeked around the bus to make sure a second car was coming, and then she saw me peeking too and she laughed, and then she commented to me that she was thankful she didn't get hit. And then I laughed, and quickly blurted out, "Yeah, you would have been dead," and I said so in a joking mood, but that's when I killed the laughter because her smile dropped immediately, and just as immediately I realized what I said wasn't funny at all, and neither was the situation, so I quickly tried to save myself by expressing a sense of gravity. "But that's not funny at all," I said. Then she looked at me with a sense of a deeply rooted connection, like two people who have been brought together due to a crisis and only the two of them can understand each other. "No, it's not," she said, and she turned and walked away as the grave sense of mortality slowly seeped in.

I thought about that moment as I walked towards the credit union where my partner works. I actually felt kind of bad for bringing up how she would have died. It seemed kind of insensitive of me, but then I thought that I was just saying the truth. She would have died. That car was going so fast, it would have been a miracle if she survived. It was hard for me to shake that feeling out of me, but I went into my partner's work to deliver their paniciotti. They liked it, which made me glad.

When I made my way home, I started to think again about what happened. It dawned on me then that she was only seconds from death. 2, 3, 4, maybe 5 seconds from being in front of that car. The bus waited 5 seconds for me, but then it could have been that guy getting on the bus at the stop. She and I must have waited at least a second or two for him, and she was only 2 seconds from getting hit. I don't know if I had anything to do with her not dying, but I couldn't help think that it might have been. Had I not decided to walk home tonight, what would have happened? Would she have been hit by a man going through a red light. Most definitely he would not have gone to jail. What happened instead was she was saved, and she even got to laugh about it. It's amazing. I wonder if she's still thinking about it now. I wonder if she's thinking about what it was that saved her.

Maybe she would have looked. Maybe it wasn't me making the bus wait that saved her at all, and that guy running towards the bus would have stopped her, but then again, maybe it was me and had I not delayed the bus 5 seconds, she would have been in front of that reckless driver when the light turned red. I don't know, but it really is an incredible story, and I can't help but see how important each and every decision of our lives are. Every decision we make puts into effect a whole new chain of events. It's just we don't have an inkling of where those chain of events may lead. It's only moments like that moment in front of the bus that we catch a glimpse of possible multiple events occurring at the same time, different dimensions of possibilities stacked on top of each other. What if this happened? What if I had done this? I can only stop and be in awe at how it all comes together. Everything happens for a reason, and when you follow your heart, good things come from it, like when it's telling you to walk home despite all other things telling you otherwise. You just gotta do it. You gotta follow your heart and trust in the Universe that it's all leading to some place good. There's no other way around it. Follow your heart and good things will come.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blown away by Skyfall

What do you get when you gather 15 gay guys to see Skyfall? A fantastic night out with a fantastic film. I participated in my first Gays at the Movies, an event my friend hosts once a month with his large network of gay friends. I wouldn't have seen this movie in theaters otherwise due to being severely disappointed with the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace, so I have my dear friend to thank for hosting yesterday's wonderful night out.

Skyfall captured me immediately. The initial scene couldn't have been better chosen with its hustling and bustling exotic locale of the Sarojini Nagar district of New Delhi. Perhaps because I'm a fan of suspenseful chase scenes, but the motorcycle chase on the rooftops of the Indian marketplace kept me at the edge of my seat -- literally! My butt was literally sitting on the edge of my seat as I was craning my neck to get my face as close to the screen as possible because I was so completely immersed in the film.

If you've seen the previews you would then know that Bond is shot by his own agent and left for dead as he creates his own skyfall and plummet to his supposed death. If it couldn't get any better than that, they then play the title song by one of the best performers of this generation, Adele, paralleling that with a marvelous delight of an intro, where Bond falls into a magical scene of water as he sinks to his own death, and then is pitched forward into the flames of Hell. Why is he in Hell? Perhaps this is payment for his sins of all those he killed in his lifetime? Keep in mind that Sin and Hell are thematic links in this film. Finally, we have Chinese dragons flying menacingly around the screen, which couldn't have been better timed considering that 2012 is also the Year of the Dragon, but of course it also foreshadows China being an important locale in the film.

Afterwards, much to the delight of all the gay men in the audience, there are a series of shirtless scenes of a rugged James Bond. This is not the shirtless beach Bond of Casino Royale. This is the shot and battered body of Bond after he has resurrected from his death. In a way, I feel like this Bond is almost an anti-James Bond. In this film, 007 is hardly the well-groomed gentleman who keeps a level-head during conflict. This 007 is one who is reckless, taking risks with seemingly no care for his own life (perhaps because he has already died once so dying again would be of no consequence) and the movie plays off this idea by making Bond weaker and a poor marksman and an alcoholic. Superman has lost his power, so we have a much more interesting, flawed character, which for me, kept me in suspense. Why would I feel suspense when the main character always hits his target and always catches the bad guy? With this Bond, we as an audience are unsure of his skills, especially after he failed all the MI6 tests, deeming him inept as an agent, and so I as a viewer was constantly kept in suspense as I wondered whether he would fail or succeed.

After those initial scenes we really get to know Judi Dench's character M. She is the MI6 commander, the one that sits behind the desk making all the tough calls. The major theme of her character is she is being ousted from her seat for making a series of incorrect calls, one of which almost costs Bond his life, and later in which ends up costing the lives of several MI6 agents. With the tragedy in Benghazi the MI6's field debacle feels very relevant to today. M stands trial to Parliament for her series of blunders that has caused people to question the legitimacy of what is considered an old, failed, and outdated administration. Similarly, we have Congress questioning the aptitude of the President and the CIA in relation to the 9/11 tragedy in Benghazi.

What's interesting is the woman interrogating M goes on a political tirade to derail M and the MI6 and state how tired the country is with their series of failures. Importantly, the interrogator shows zero attempt at actually wanting to hear M give her defense, nor does she show any interest at trying to understand the chain of events that caused these terrible mishaps to occur. Queue Benghazi, America similarly has politicians questioning the erred decisions of President Obama and the CIA, and this is why this film is so relevant. Politicians want answer. They decry the aptitude of our military government. However, when the administration gives briefings containing new information concerning Benghazi, do they listen or care? No. They like to shame others by pointing out their failures, but they don't actually want to understand. We see this in the fact that 5 our of 8 Republicans actually skip the Benghazi hearings: Foreign Policy Article - "Republicans skip Benghazi hearing; complain about lack of information on Benghazi". Despite being filmed much before Benghazi, I feel like the film is making a jab at politicians and people who cry foul on a government without actually trying to understand the truth of these events and stop to listen to what took place.

Back to Skyfall, what did happen was M made a series of gutsy calls that she had to make given the circumstances surrounding the complex situation. Truth be told, M made the decisions she had to, and this is partly why M shows no regret for the almost death of 007. This in its own light makes M seem like a heartless bitch, but if one looks closer, one can see in M's face, underneath that cold exterior, a sense of loss and a definite affinity towards Bond. I feel like M looks at 007 as a son, which makes sense because he calls her Mum as a code name of sorts. Occasionally one sees this softer side in her. It's there, but it's hidden behind a heartless scowl because she has a heavily stressful and complex military operation to run. All of this emotion and inner conflict we see in M is thanks to Dench's performance. She plays remarkably well, and without her, the film seriously wouldn't have been the same.

Another character I am fond of is Q, but only because he is played by the handsome Ben Wishaw, who also plays the gay composer in the fabulous Cloud Atlas (which by the way, if you haven't seen that film yet, you must!), but I digress. Ben Wishaw is a charming actor and he made my day simply for gracing the screen. :)

Finally, we have the arch villain of the film, Silva, who we don't even see until halfway through the film. I actually greatly enjoy the secretive aspect to his persona. It's symbolic really of the idea of today's warfare. With modern-day terrorism, we don't know where our enemies lie. Back in the day, it was obvious. We were at war with a country, and in the movies they are trying to steal our sensitive information, and so we need to stop them. Now, the henchmen are unknown. They are unseen terrorists that walk among us. In a way they are like ghosts, which is an apt metaphor as this film is so much about life after death.

Remember how I said that Skyfall is almost like an anti-Bond film? It's because this film flips many of the traditional aspects of spy films upside down. Think of a torture scene...perhaps of Bond being whipped and beaten? That is not how it is in Skyfall. Silva has Bond tied to a chair, so what could he do to torture him? Electrocution? No. Silva unbuttons Bond's shirt and caresses his chest. In that instance, he also looks at Bond's bullet wound to the chest and he sees something that reminds him of himself. In this moment, he sees Bond as his brother and his ally, yet Silva takes it farther by caressing Bond's thigh. It's funny. There were some straight guys seated behind us, and I could hear their groans of discomfort during that scene. Interestingly, watching Bond be sexually caressed by a creepy male villain was more torturous for them to watch than if he were being, say, electrocuted.

Some gay people may be offended by Silva. Here we have a gay sexual deviant characterizing a murderous villain. For me, personally, however, I find his character utterly intriguing. He is actually my most favorite character in the film.

Silva is basically Frankenstein's Monster. Through a clever turning of the screw as information is slowly unveiled, we learn that Silva was an MI6 agent who was caught by the Chinese. Instead of rescuing him from the confines of capture, M actually strikes a deal by giving up Silva in exchange for six other MI6 agents. At a short glance, the decision is a semi-win. She loses one but she gains six; however, she also gains something else. She gains the sin of her actions, and Silva lives to see she pays him back in full, by revealing the identities of several MI6 agents on Youtube, which compromises their security and leaves them dead. He is a maniac, but his torturous past gives us a more sympathetic view of his behavior.

Although it's not stated specifically, one gets the sense that Silva was placed in solitary confinement after he was captured, which eventually turns him mad. He didn't know of his betrayal at the time, and so he keeps his secrets of MI6 hidden from his captors, as he was trained to do. He then decides it would be better to end his life in prison, so he bites down on a cyanide pill, which would burn apart his insides and thus kill him. Miraculously, however, he survives, despite the incredible pain. Like Bond experiences Hell in the opening credits, Silva experiences Hell in solitary confinement.

Interestingly, I'm currently reading James Joyce, who writes much of God and Hell in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the book it is described that those chosen by God to be sent to Hell are forced to experience the most horrifying, excruciating pain known to mankind for all of eternity, and so millions of tortured souls cry out in malice against God for being so unusually cruel in His punishment. Similarly, Silva is chosen by M to be sent to suffer, and so it seems obvious that as he is trapped in his Hell he would then turn against M for her cruel betrayal. His captive prison is Hell indeed, especially when one takes into account the cyanide pill, which was, in a way, placed there by M to cause his suffering. The pill inflicts upon him a hell-like fiery pain that eats away at his face, which in turn leaves him with a monstrous facial deformity. In the film he hides this feature of himself with a facial prosthetic, but at one point in the film he reveals his true face to M. At this point we see Silva really is Frankenstein's monster, and M would be his creator and cause of his monstrosity. Just as God sends those to the pits of Hell, M too is like God by sending Silva to his Hell. All of this is such an apt metaphor because Dr. Frankenstein too acts as God. Also, it's not coincidental that M is called Mummy by Silva, just as Frankenstein's monster saw the doctor as his father.

We actually don't know if M is Silva's real mother. We get a sense that this may be the case, but M never admits to Bond if this is true. We could only imagine that she is hiding this truth about Silva because she cannot face the truth herself. Also, this would not be the first time that M has kept secrets from Bond when she lied to him saying he passed all his tests. This idea of Silva being her son adds a whole new dimension to the film, especially since M looks at Bond as a son, and so Silva and Bond are like brothers, which alludes back to the scene where Bond was tied to the chair. When we see Bond and Silva are like brothers, this idea is reinforced by the fact that they both wear scars that were given to them by M. There is the bullet-hole in Bond's chest and the facial deformity of Silva by the cyanide pill. M may not have given these scars to them directly, but M may have well pulled the trigger.

It is important to note, however, that M never pulls the trigger as a given choice. A choice would infer some sort of alternative, but M does what she must given the horrendous circumstances of the situation. As M is forced to hold the trigger given her role in MI6, is not coincidental, then, that M is forced to hold the trigger against herself and Silva towards the end of the film. This is the moment where she could redeem herself for her sins by killing both herself and Silva. Luckily, 007 redeems her from this bondage by freeing her from having to make that fateful choice. I'm sure some may even see a Christ-like aspect in 007 when he acts as her savior. This metaphor seems slightly silly, however, and quite a bit of a stretch because Christ would hardly wield a knife and assault rifle, but the idea of this can hardly be ignored when one takes into account 007's Death and Resurrection.

Thinking about all of these thematic links, Skyfall truly is a remarkable film. It holds a story that is much deeper and cohesive than any other Bond film I've seen. Not to mention the advances in camera technology make this film one of the most beautiful and crisply shot films of the series. One of my friends had his breath taken away by the foggy scene in Scotland, and he confessed that Scotland would have to be his next vacation spot. I also liked how this Bond film differed so much from the other ones. Sure, it held a lot of similar themes (shaken not stirred), but the crux of the plot of how Bond dies and is reborn forms in our mind the image of a new, hardened Bond. He is a resurrected Bond, who is not stronger or faster, in actuality he's quite the reverse, so we receive a much more interesting, flawed Bond. He is flawed in his physical skills and also in his physical being, which is shown in his scars. Skyfall may be the best Bond film to date. If you beg to differ, please enlighten me, I'd be more than glad to watch more Bond films. To be brutally honest I've only seen 4 of the 23 Bond films to date.