A New Day Will Come

On my desk at work, I have a hand crocheted figure from my wife. One she hasn’t shared on her blog. The pattern can’t be found online. It is mine alone, and it means a lot to me that it is only mine. The figure is Samwise Gamgee, one of my favorite characters in all of literature and film and stories in general. There is just something sweet and pure about him that I love, and I love looking at they little figure on my work desk and remembering him and what he means to me. 

My hand-crocheted Samwise from my amazing wife.

Sam means hope, to me. He is so full of hopefulness and optimism, even in the very dark trials and times he goes through. He never gives up, and it’s a big reason Frodo even makes it to the end with the ring and is able, eventually, to let it go. Sam is who I want to be as I face different trials and dark times, either in my personal life, or in a global situation like we find ourselves in now. I find myself turning to and leaning on his example, among others, to get me through. One of the most powerful speeches in the whole trilogy, is the one he gives toward the end of The Two Towers:

Frodo: I can’t do this Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because, how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding onto something. 

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

There is so much to unpack in this speech, and it is something that has stayed with me over this year. There is a lot of darkness in this world right now. A lot of fear and a lot of suffering. A lot of fighting and division. It is hard to see how any of this will end happily. And there is no way the world is going to go back to the way it was. In these stories, though, the ones that mattered, I suppose, the world doesn’t go back to the way it was. And it shouldn’t. 

I, like Sam, believe there is a lot of good in this world, and I do believe it is worth fighting for. I see it all around me, though sometimes it can be hard to find. But I am hanging on for that new day that he talks about, when the sun will shine all the clearer. That’s the day I am holding out for. Things will get better. We will make it through this. And on the days when I forget that, I look at my Sam, and it helps me remember.

The Two Towers may be my favorite of the three Lord of the Rings movies. The world is plunged into more and more darkness, but there is so much hope in this film. The people of Rohan at Helm’s Deep, Gandalf arriving at dawn, the Ents marching on Isengard, all of these things represent hope for the people of Middle Earth. And of course, at the end of the whole story, the happy ending, Sauron is defeated, Aragorn is king, the hobbits return home and begin their lives, but nothing goes back to the way it was. These stories never end with things going back to the way they were. 

It doesn’t work that way in the real world either. So many instances of hardship and trial, and it has ended happily, but it was a new world. Looking back on the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, all of these conflicts that were huge trials and burdens with much suffering, they all ended happily, but the world had changed. Hopefully for the better. 

I believe we are in one of those times now. The world will never return to what it was pre-2020. Too much has happened and too much has changed. We are going into the dusk of the old day and into the night, but the sun is going to rise on a new day. It will shine all the clearer. I don’t know what the rest of 2020 or 2021 has in store for us, and I don’t know how long the night will last, by I do know it is a passing shadow. Even this darkness must end. And I can’t wait to see what the new day will be like.

So, when I find myself feeling lost in all of this, I look at my Sam. I think of him and this speech. I think of him rationing out the food so they would have enough for the return journey. I think of him carrying Frodo the rest of the way up the mountain. And I think of him returning home and marrying the girl of his dreams and starting his family. I think of Sam, and I think of hope. Of all the languages and histories and mythologies and everything else Professor Tolkien created, Sam was his greatest creation, because Sam was a never ending source of hope and optimism that has helped to carry more that just Frodo through Mordor. He’s carried all of us at one point too. Maybe that’s a bit much, but I know he has helped cary me through some rough times.

When I look at the characters in Lord of the Rings, I often see Aragorn being similar to Jesus Christ, being a king, having that noble birthright, literally saving mankind. Aragorn in many ways could be like the Savior. Sam, though, to me represents the relationship on a personal level, that I want with the Savior. That friend that is always there to lift me up and carry me at times. Not in an overly simplified way like the Footprints poem. But in a real, constant way. Yes, at the very end, Sam literally picks up Frodo and carries him the rest of the way, but the reality is, he was a support to Frodo every step of the way. And I love him for that. And that is the very real and personal relationship I want with the Lord. 

So, today, as I thought about what I wanted to write, I looked at my Sam, and I knew. I needed to write about Samwise the Brave. Because like Frodo, I couldn’t have gone far without Sam.

This is the Way

The 2020 Emmy award nominations came out today. I am not a huge awards show junky or anything like that, but I am always excited when I see a show or a movie or a song I like get nominated for a big award, and even more excited when that show or movie or song wins a major award. This means I was thrilled to see The Mandalorian get nominated for best dramatic series., because I loved this show, and I cannot wait for season two in just a few months. Why do I like this show so much? For many fans of the show, the answer to that question is pretty self explanatory. It wasn’t for me, though. I mean self explanatory. Let me share with you what I mean.

When they announced the series for Disney+, I really wanted to be excited. The idea of a new live action Star Wars series sounded amazing to me, but I was also hesitant. There were a couple of reasons why I felt that way. Number one was the state of the Star Wars fandom. It was in bad shape, and honestly, it still is. It seems that anything new Disney tries with Star Wars just seems to make the divide worse, even though I think some of what they have done is awesome. The second reason I was hesitant to get too excited was that I just wasn’t thrilled at the idea of a series that centered on a Mandalorian bounty hunter. Basically Boba Fett who wasn’t Boba Fett. I am usually not a fan of the bad guys in a series or movie. Even if the bad guys are the protagonists of the story. For example, I had no desire to see the Joker movie. Just none. So the idea of following the adventures of this bounty hunter just wasn’t appealing to me. I like good guys. Always have.

I was not prepared for what we actually got with the Mandalorian. Not prepared at all. Mando is not the scum of the earth type bounty hunter. His adventures aren’t taking him from one hellhole to another. We aren’t meeting the worst people in the galaxy, and I’m ok with that. I wasn’t sure what I would think of this main character, but I can tell you now that he may be one of my favorite Star Wars characters in the franchise. On top of that, the series looked amazing. The special effects we’re perfect, the cinematography was incredible, the look and feel was comforting- this was Star Wars as it should be. Plus, I loved the weekly release of episodes, building the story over time with anticipation was something I have come to miss in the binge centric world we now live in. All of this was fantastic.

None of it compared to the biggest surprise of all, the thing none of us knew we needed in our lives, but we know it now. Of course, I mean the bounty, the asset, the unnamed Child. Star Wars has a history of trying to throw in kid friendly cute creatures or characters. From Jar Jar to Ewoks to Porgs, we have seen this time and time again. None of them compare to the Child, and I don’t just mean in cuteness. Everything about this character worked for me. Yes, he was adorable beyond compare, and he was funny, and lovable and all of this stuff, but there was morer. This worked on a different level because he mattered. He wasn’t just there for the cuteness factor. He was absolutely centric to the story. Completely necessary. He wasn’t just there to see toys (although, he is supper effective at that too). This character mattered, to the point that I was tweeting at Jon Favreau half way through the season that I was going to have his head if anything happened to the Child. Wisely, Jon chose to pretend like he didn’t see my tweets, and luckily for him, nothing bad happened to the Child.

Another thing I was amazed at with this series was how it all fit together, despite having a different director for each episode. I mean, to be fair, they had some amazing directors, and they all seemed to have a handle on this whole Star Wars universe, but having different directors usually doesn’t work out, and with an overarching story like this show had, it could spell disaster. Most television series have a group of directors they rotate through for their episodes, and sometimes an episode just falls flat, depending on who is at the helm. There wasn’t one bad episode in the whole lot for season one, though. And each episode fit so well together. It was pretty amazing. I just want more. Is it fall yet? These last four months have been the longest ten years of my life.

Like I said, with everything Star Wars being what it was, I wanted to be excited for The Mandalorian, but I was hesitant. Now, I am obsessed. Yes, the Child sucked me in, but Mando got me to stay. He is really one of my favorite characters. He is the reluctant, protective father that the Child deserves. I am excited to see how their story progresses and what dangers they will face in season two. I think Favreau and company have earned my trust, even though I am beginning to worry they may throw in too much with some of the characters that will be popping up. No, I’m not going to be super negative. I trust these guys. They gave us one of the most perfect first seasons I have ever seen- maybe even better than Firefly- Iandf I firmly believe they will deliver in season two. In the mean time, I hope they do well at the Emmys in September. I hope they bring home all the prizes. In my book they deserve them. Maybe even the Nobel Peace Prize for somehow bringing Star Wars fans back together again. A few years ago, I would have thought that wads impossible, but here we are. And it’s all thanks to the Mandalorian. I have spoken.

Nobody Ever Accomplishes Anything Great Alone

Nobody ever accomplishes anything great alone. Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to participate in a presentation at the Utah Podcast summit. The topic of the presentation was how to build a great team, or the benefit of building a great team. The host from the summit introduced as and mentioned something along the lines of nobody ever accomplishes anything great alone, and I have been thinking about that a lot since then. Like, I really can’t stop thinking about it, and it seems to be a theme that has repeated itself in the things I have binged and watched since then. This whole idea won’t leave me alone. Which I guess is good, because if I want to accomplish anything great, I can’t b e alone.

Let me give you an example. After the summit, I watched, binge watched really, all of Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time. And this concept stood out to me. Hang was the Avatar- he was supposed to bring balance back to the nations, and help bring down the Fire Nation and all of that. That’s a lot of pressure for what was basically a kid. And he was untrained. And had no experience or confidence. The only thing he had going for him was that he was the Avatar. Which ain’t nothin’. But he wouldn’t have gotten very far without his friends. They help him all along the way, and each one was important for his success- either training him in bending the other elements, or standing by him as he battled the Fire Nation. Aang was a hero, but he accomplished what he did only because he was not alone. Even when he was alone against the Fire Lord, he wasn’t alone. Nobody accomplishes anything great alone.

As I have been spending more time at home, as I think most of us have been, I have been trying to read more. One of the series I have wanted to read is The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. I have read the series a few times before, and I love it. I love the films. I love Middle Earth. Period. End of story. But as I have been reading the series, again this whole idea of not accomplishing anything great alone has been slapping me in the face. The Fellowship needed each other, Aragorn couldn’t return as the king without help, Rohan helping Gondor, and of course where would Frodo be without Sam. I don’t think he would have made it all the way. He needed Sam to make it and to destroy the ring. Nobody accomplishes anything great alone.

One last example. I just finished watching The Last Dance on Netflix. It was a sweet trip down memory lane. Michael Jordan was the NBA when I was a kid. The Bulls dominated the 90s, and Jordan was obviously a central reason why. The Bulls would not have won a championship with Jordan, but Jordan also wouldn’t have won a championship without the Bulls. And here it was, this whole idea smacking me upside the head one more time. Jordan was amazing, incredible, the greatest of all time.The GOAT. Don’t come around my house with any of that LeBron James stuff. It’s not happening here. But as incredible as Jordan was, he didn’t win a championship until Phil Jackson helped him realize how he could work with the rest of his team. Once he learned how to elevate his game by elevating those around him, he , and the Bulls were unstoppable. That’s not opinion, that’s fact. And that’s painful to say as a lifelong Jazz fan. Nobody ever accomplishes anything great alone.

So why am I so fixated on this right now? And why am I sharing it with you, dear reader? Those are both very good questions. I think for me personally, I have been thinking a lot about where I am in life, and where I want to be. Someone I follow on Twitter asked the question- if you could go back in time and meet your 10 year old self, what would he or she think of you? Something along those lines. My response was pretty short and sweet. I basically said Huge disappointment. I would never want my 10 year old self to meet me right now. This sounds super harsh and negative. Here’s the thing though, my 10 year old self had dreams of me being a WWE Champ, or maybe a football player or something crazy like that. He also wanted to be a writer. I have always loved stories, and at some point, I found out I was pretty ok at putting words together. My dream has always been to be a writer. Instead, I am a customer service manager who sometimes feels like kind of a big deal on my podcasts. It’s kind of sad really. Again, though, please understand, I don’t regret my job choices, because somewhere along the way I had new dreams- I wanted to be a husband and a father, and I have accomplished those things, and the work I have done has helped me to do that.

And, I haven’t given up my dreams to be a writer. I am going to write a book. I am going to get it published. I am not giving up on that stuff, even though I haven’t accomplished it yet. And who knows, maybe someday my podcasting will pay off, or my blog or whatever. All of these things are possible, but I won’t be able to accomplish any of these great things alone. I need to surround myself with my Katarra and Sokka. Even a Zuko who challenges me to bring out my best. I need to find my Legolas and Gimli, Merry and Pippin, and especially my Sam (probably have that already in my wife). I need to surround myself with a mentor like Phil Jackson, a sidekick like Pippen or other player like Paxson, Rodman, or Kerr. I need my Bulls. And I look around and I think some of them are there, but some aren’t.

And I guess I am sharing all of this with you, dear reader, to encourage you to go out and assemble your squad. Whatever your goals in life are, find the squad to support those goals. That should be your squad goals- to find the people you can support and who can support you. You will accomplish great things. You were put on this earth to accomplish great things, so find your team, find your family and do those things. Because nobody ever accomplishes anything great alone.

Iroh and Zuko

In February of 2005, a new animated series debuted on the kids’ network, Nickelodeon, called Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was something totally new for the network that had been all about cheesy kids drama and over the top comedies, and their Nicktoons, which were funny, but totally unlike Avatar. I’ll be honest here, I didn’t catch this show the first time around. I was busy being a young single guy, and this was a time in my life where I was distancing myself from a lot of “nerdy” stuff. I didn’t think the girls I wanted to date would find it too appealing. That is all very shallow and dumb, and I know that now, but I didn’t then because I was a lot younger and stupid. In any case, I missed the Last Airbender train at that time, and didn’t really know much about the series.

Fast forward to now, 2020, and the series is available in its entirety on Netflix. Again, honesty here, as I tell you that I still didn’t know much about the series when I started watching it, except that everyone I know who had seen it, loves it. Like a lot. So I only really knew that it was pretty good and had a strong fan base. So I decided to give it a try. Best decision I ever made, because I love this show. It is probably top three for animated series for me. The animation is clean and crisp. The voice acting is solid, and the storytelling is fantastic. It made me sad that I wasted 15 years not loving this show. 

One of the parts of the show that I love is the evolution of the characters and their relationships. Especially the characters we meet at the beginning of the series, and see throughout the show and see their growth. None of them are the same and their growth and development feels natural, and not forced, and I love that. It makes sense. None of them, though, touch me or mean as much to me as the fire prince Zuko. He is one bad dude at the beginning of the series, and in the end he becomes one of Aang’s close friends. How does this happen? Well, I would argue he wasn’t all that terrible to begin with- his motives were not bad. He was hunting the Avatar to restore his honor, and gain the respect of his dad. That is something I can relate to. There has been a lot in my life that I have done to earn my dad’s respect. In a lot of ways, I’m still trying, and feel like I have fallen way short.

It makes me wish I had my own Uncle Iroh, because Uncle Iroh is the greatest uncle/mentor that exists in pop culture. His relationship is the reason why Zuko comes around and ends up helping the Avatar in the end. And Uncle Iroh is the guy I want to be when I grow up. He is constantly trying to help Zuko see there is more to life than honor and fighting. He teaches him about destiny and love finding ways to have your life wherever you are. Life happens where you are is such an awesome concept about making the most and best of where you are, instead of wishing you were somewhere else.

What I love about these two, is how Zuko responds to his uncle, and how Iroh responds to his nephew. In the beginning, Zuko can’t stand his uncle, who is basically babysitting him as he hunts the Avatar. He thinks Iroh is weird, and old and weak, and honestly in the beginning he seems that way. Maybe quirky is a better word than weird. He basically responds like any teenage boy would He is too cool for his uncle. He knows better than him and doesn’t need him. As they get stuck in the Earth Kingdom, he comes to appreciate his uncle more, but it’s out of comfort and really despair. Then, when they return to the Fire Kingdom, he doesn’t need his uncle anymore and turns his back on him.

Until he realizes he does need his uncle. He realizes his uncle was the only family, besides his mother, who loved Zuko. Who saw what Zuko could be, and what destiny he could write for himself. And he fears he won’t ever see his uncle again and ask for his forgiveness and let him know how much he loves him. All of this seems natural. All of it is in line with Zuko’s character and his development. None of this feels forced in the story, and as I was watching, I wanted him to find Iroh again. I hoped Iroh would forgive him.

Here’s the thing, Iroh had lost everything. His standing in the Fire Kingdom, a throne which should have been his, his own son. He lost all of it, but somewhere along the way he realized he didn’t need all of that. It didn’t define honor, and it wasn’t his destiny. He saw something special in his nephew, and took the opportunity away from the Fire Kingdom to try to teach his nephew what was really important, and what it meant to find your destiny. Iroh becomes so endearing throughout the series. I always found him quirky, but as it went on, I really legitimately loved him. 

There is one moment, one moment in the series that just made the whole show for me. It was the moment when Zuko finally finds his uncle in the Order of the White Lotus. He goes into his tent, unsure of whether his uncle would forgive him, and take him back. And I was nervous he might not. Maybe Zuko had pushed him too far. I wasn’t totally sure. I should have been, but I wasn’t. But that moment, when before Zuko can say anything, Iroh takes him and embraces him- it broke me. My heart just melted. Iroh in that moment showed me what a parent should feel for their child. The love that know no boundary, no end. He just took Zuko in and just forgave him and loved him.

It reminded me of the parable of the prodigal son. It was just portrayed so beautifully. And it made me think of the love my Heavenly Father has for me. The times when I have been far away from him. When I didn’t think I needed him. The times when I ran from my own destiny. And it reminded me of the love he has for each of us. The love that knows no end. It was a beautiful moment for me, and it makes me smile whenever I think of it. 

That moment alone may be the top reason why I love this show.

If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, I highly recommend it. It is on Netflix right now, available for your streaming pleasure.

Jake Goes to the Movies

What an interesting world we live in that something like going to the movies is worth writing a blog post about. I mean, going to the movies was never really a big deal before, and like so many other things, it was something we took for granted. But, like so many other things, movie theaters throughout the country are starting to open up and show films again. Many studios are making some of their classic films available to show in theaters again, since there isn’t a lot of new stuff coming out yet. So, there are a lot of really great classic films you can go see right now. Locally, Megaplex opened toward the end of June, and my wife suggested I take some time to go see a movie since it has been a while, and things have been stressful. Trying to decide what to see was tough. There were quite a few movies that I have seen dozens and dozens of times, but never on the big screen. So how did I decide? And what was the experience like? Well I am going to tell you.

I picked The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. I know, that might be surprising that I picked that one. I love Lord of the Rings, and I saw Two Towers and Return of the King multiple times in theaters while they were there the first time around. Fellowship came out while I was on my mission, so I missed the theatrical run completely. The first time I saw it was on a DVD on a small TV. This was before HD was really a thing. Since then, I have watched it on Blu ray and 4K digital streaming on much bigger televisions, but it still doesn’t compare to the big screen. So when I thought about going back to the movies, this title was appealing to me. 

About a week later, I went back to Megaplex- a different location- and saw Ghostbusters, another classic I have never seen on the big screen-but I have always wanted to. So, since it is the 35th anniversary of the film, and because this version was supposed to have 8 or 9 minutes of bonus footage, it sounded cool, so I went to that one. So now I have been to two different movies in the post COVID19 world. And how was the experience?

Let’s talk about the facilities first. From everything I saw and encountered, it seems like Megaplex is doing everything they can to keep their guests safe. The two locations I attended were the District in South Jordan and Valley Fair in West Valley. Both seemed very clean when I walked in, I could smell the cleaner at the District. Neither was crowded. This will probably change over time and is probably a combination of people not going out as much and there not being anything new in the theater. There were hand sanitizing stations throughout both locations. At the end of all the concession stands, there was an automated dispenser, and just past both ticket podiums there was another station. At the District, there seemed to be a table set up with hand sanitizer outside each auditorium. At Valley Fair, it seemed to be fewer- maybe every other one. Either way, there was plenty to go around.All of the employees were wearing face coverings, and the concession employees were wearing gloves. I was pretty impressed all the way around.

Each film is only being shows maybe once or twice a day. This gives the employees quite a bit of time to thoroughly clean each auditorium, which is good. When I walked into each auditorium, it smelled like it had been cleaned pretty deeply. It was strangely comforting. In addition to fewer show times, they only sell seats on every other row, with a max of 50 people in each theater. There is also a requirement that there are at least three seats between each group. They have their online ticket purchasing set up to account for this. And I totally recommend purchasing online. The ticket then gets emailed to you, and then I added it to my digital wallet on my phone, and they just scan you through instead of needing any kind of a paper ticket.

When I walked into the Valley Fair location, they had a sign saying that face coverings were required. I didn’t notice the same sign when I went to the District, but when I went there it was before the county order requiring face coverings in public, and my trip to Valley Fair was after the order went into effect, so I imagine that is why there was a difference. I don’t know how well they are enforcing it. I wore a mask in, so I don’t know what they would have said if I hadn’t had one. Overall, I felt comfortable going to the theater, and I was excited to do it.

How was the experience, though? This is a little harder to describe. I was very excited to get out of the house, and to be going to see a movie. I know there are a lot of people who don’t want to go out for something as small as a movie- and I get that. I also know there are many that think I shouldn’t go out, and I understand that as well, but I also feel like I try to go out responsibly. And I also believe that if we go out and socially distance and wear face covering, we can open up safely and get to a new normal more quickly. As I was saying, I was very excited to go out and see a movie. I was excited about the popcorn and I was excited for the trailers and for the whole experience. 

As I went, though, something was lacking. It was more noticeable at Ghostbusters than Fellowship. I was there in the theater. The lights went down, the movie started, and then it just almost felt right. The problem? The lack of a crowd. Especially for a movie like Ghostbusters. I didn’t realize how much I would miss being with a crowd at a movies. Ghostbusters had been scheduled to have a limited run in theaters before COVID19 hit for the 35th anniversary. So, I thought about what it would have been different if the theater had been packed with long time Ghostbusters fans, it would have been much more enjoyable- laughing together, cheering together, just experiencing it together. Movies in the theater are better experienced in a big crowd. Unfortunately, we can’t do that right now, and I am ion board with that. In the mean time, I will probably go again, and long for the days when we can all be together again and experience these kinds of things together.

Hamilton on Disney+: A Review

Hamilton is officially streaming now on Disney+, and the world is falling in love with this musical all over again. And even more people have access to this production than ever before. It has been a long three or so months, and we needed some kind of pick me up. New movies aren’t coming to theaters, and production on a lot of our favorite shows has had to stop and there’s really no sports going on. We needed something, and once again, Disney+ delivers. 

I don’t remember when the first time was that I actually listened to the music from Hamilton. It was probably a couple of years ago, and everyone was talking about this incredible musical. I had to check it out. I consider myself a history lover, and sometimes I enjoy musical theatre. Sometimes I hate it. It really depends on the show. Because of the subject matter, this show piqued my interest. The music was pretty brilliant, but I had a hard time following because I had never seen the actual show. 

When I heard that Disney+ was going to start streaming this last holiday weekend, I could barely contain my excitement. I was also somewhat hesitant., Stage productions don’t always translate well to the big screen. I was glad that this was a filmed performance, and not an actual film, I felt like that was a step in the right direction. There was still the possibility that it wouldn’t translate well, similar to the Newsies Broadway show that you can also watch on Disney+. It just isn’t that great. So I approached this last weekend with cautious optimism.

And Hamilton delivered. From start to finish, there isn’t really a point I did not enjoy this show. This was a performance from the original cast that was recorded with an audience, mostly, and it is just very good. The music is catchy, the performances are amazing, and the story is fantastic. It is well worth the time if you have Disney+. And if you don’t, it is well worth getting Disney+ for this. 

If you don’t know what Hamilton is, then let me explain. It is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. You can find a picture of him on a $10 bill. He was one of our Founding Fathers, wrote many of the Federalist Papers in defense of the Constitution, was the first secretary of the treasury, and basically established our banking system. Oh, and as every 90s kid learned from a “got milk?” Commercial, he was shot by Aaron Burr.

All of this is in the musical. Obviously, the creators of the show, primarily Lin-Manuel Miranda, took a few artistic liberties- like any show or movie based on a true story. Some things are left out, because it is covering a man’s life, and it just over 2 hours long. That being said, Miranda has said that he felt a lot of responsibility to get it as accurate as possible,  The material is based primarily on the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. This is a pretty exhaustive biography of our ten dollar founding father, and is worth checking out. One of the biggest changes was the casting for this musical. It is a diverse cast, which was done on purpose. There are many African-American and Latinx performers in the named roles. This was done by design, and honestly, the meaning of the story still comes through with no issues.

Obviously, I loved this show, and would recommend it, but before I get into that too deeply, I want to talk about some of my favorite performances. Some of the highlights, if you will. The two leads- Hamilton and Burr, played by Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr., respectively, are incredible, for sure. And really, there are no bad performances. There were a couple of performances, though, for me, that stole the show.

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson. Diggs, along with a few others, actually plays a couple of roles in the play. Pre-intermission, he plays Hamilton’s friend Marquis de Lafayette, and he is great in this role, no doubt. He stands out and is funny and just great. However, when he shows up as Thomas Jefferson post-intermission, returning from France, it is just special. His first big number is about what he missed while he was gone is just incredible. And he is a great antagonist to Hamilton for the remainder of the show. 

Jonathan Groff as King George. I can’t really explain why, but every time King George is on the stage and sings his poppy tunes, I just giggle. There is something so subtly done by Groff that allows the humor to get through. King George is the big baddy, obviously, but you still love him, almost as much as he loves himself. And Groff is perfect in this role. It’s strange, because his Lost in the Woods song is one of my favorites on Frozen 2. He just does musical humor right, I guess. 

Pillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton. Eliza is the heart of this show. There is just something pure and lovable about her character. Your heart breaks for her multiple times in the show, but in the end, I found my heart soaring for her after hearing all she accomplished. Soo brings the heart to this character, and has some of the best musical moments of the show. Of the three sisters, she stands out for sure. In my opinion, she is the real hero of the show. 

Hamilton is a great story, in my opinion. Alexander Hamilton himself was not without faults, and they show this in the movie. IN the end he is a victim of his own pride and unfettered ambition. He accomplished many things, but he was not ever satisfied, and as a result, like Angelica says, he flew too close to the sun. At the same time you have Burr, who has similar ambitions, but with no apparent convictions. There is something to be said for knowing when to be quiet, and not make waves, but at some point, you have to stand for something. You just have to. So, what do you stand for? 

(Go watch Hamilton right now, if you haven’t watched it already.) 

In These United States

This last weekend was the 4th of July. This is a day normally spent with family and friends and maybe large crowds watching spectacular firework shows. But this Independence Day, like everything else this year was different. Or maybe it wasn’t. It really depends on how you are approaching this whole global pandemic thing. For us, it was different. Not just because we are trying to socially distance ourselves and keep our family safe in a state and area where cases are surging, but also because it’s hard this year, at least for me, to want to celebrate our great country.

Now, here is where I need to stop for a minute, and just say, I am sure there are going to be people who are going to be offended by this post, and I’m sorry. This blog is becoming more and more of a personal outlet for me, and the problem with something like that is that I might feel differently about something than you do. This doesn’t mean I am trying to convince you of anything, I am just sharing y thoughts. Feel free to comment whatever you want, in support of or against my post, I am fine with it either way.

So back to the topic. I really truly believe that this country is great. Some have called it a great experiment. The documents upon which our nation our founded, I truly believe they were inspired of God. These include the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. When these documents were created, there was nothing like them in the world. And the country our forefathers founded was unlike any other in the world. I really believe that. At the center of our nation are the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life and liberty seem to be the two most centric themes to everything we believe our country stands for. 

As a result of this new infant nation, founded with these ideals in mind, many other nations would come forward with similar documents and similar ideals. Now the world is filled with numerous nation states that believe in life and liberty, following our lead. It’s awesome. We have been this beacon of hope and freedom and liberty for nearly 250 years.But how are we doing in our own country? That’s a loaded question, and I don’t have all the answers, so I’m not pretending to. But I think I would look around and say we have some problems. Some issues. Some areas where we could improve. That’s said with all the patriotic love in my heart. And I have a lot.

That’s part of the problem, though, as I see it. Somehow, if I say something critical about the United States, or if I write about something we could do better, then I hate this country. I am ungrateful for my freedoms here, and maybe I should move somewhere else. Which blows me away. As a parent, I love my kids, but it doesn’t mean that I turn a blind eye to any areas where I can help them to grow and improve. In fact, I want my kids to hit their potential, so sometimes I have to have tough conversations about issues they are having, and then we work together to figure them out and help them improve. 

That’s love. What we seem to be talking about with love of country is more like infatuation or having a crush. We are supposed to put our country on this pedestal and blindly love it. That doesn’t work. That’s not love. I love this country. I truly believe that this country has the foundation to be the greatest country in the world. But we aren’t there yet. And when I look around at social media and news sites, and especially in an election year, it is hard not to feel like we are far from it. But, we can get there. 

We need to have real and frank conversations about race, about poverty, about health and well being, about violence, crime, drugs, etc. And we need to break ourselves from the plague of bipartisanship. Having competing parties, I think, is fine, but we are more loyal to our political party affiliation more than anything else. This has been apparent in the last few elections we have had. We stop judging candidates on their moral character, and instead simply vote for the one who has the right letter after their name.

The whole point of this post, believe it or not, wasn’t to complain. I am an optimist. I think that right now, it is easy to look around and see how everything feels like it’s all falling apart, but if we take a moment to listen to those we disagree with, if we take a step back and understand that most people want things to get better for everyone, if we can understand that and talk to each other instead of at each other- that would be amazing. America would be great again. America would shine even brighter in the darkness. And I think we can get there. I know we can.

More listening, more studying, more understanding, and more learning. Less shouting, less assuming, less apathy, and less ignorance. This is the only country in the world where to be “American” is not determined by where your family came from or the color of your skin or your religion or anything else. And it is only through embracing this diversity that America truly reaches its potential. Then- then we are unstoppable. Then we conquer the evils that are holding us back. But we can only do it together. Until that day comes, until we rely so much on the divisiveness that is so prevalent, we won’t get there. But I think we can. I hope we can, and I am trying to do what I can to get there. 

So, happy belated Independence Day. I hope you were able to celebrate responsibly and safely wand remember with gratitude those who have gone before, and consider what you can do, what we all can do to move us forward in greatness.

Five Faves: Favorite X-Men

Welcome to our second edition of Fave Fives. It won’t always be a list of characters from a film series or comic book series or whatever we are talking about. But this week, like last time, it is a list of characters. It’s one of the reasons people love the X-men- at least one of the reasons I love the X-Men- the diversity and range of characters. There are so many to choose from after nearly 60 years of publications. So this is my list of top five. It is probably different than yours, but I would love to know and see yours, so be sure to put it in the comments either here or on Facebook, so I can know who your favorites are.

So who did I pick? These are characters that for whatever reason have resonated with me over the years, the ones I love to see popping up in a story, or have an interesting back story or a cool power, or sometimes all three. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about why I picked each one, because the post will get really long, and this is supposed to mostly be a list with as little reading as possible- it’s Friday after all- I didn’t want to make you the reader work too hard. So maybe I won’t even list them here, but just put their pictures down below. You’ll notice the list is not numbered. This isn’t a ranking of these characters- just a list. Honestly, at any given time any one of these characters could be my number one, so it would be hard for me to rank them definitively. I just can’t do it. Don’t make me do it. So, just know that neither the first character listed or the last is my number one favorite. Or maybe it is, but I’m not saying it is. 

So, here’s the list:


Jean Grey



Kitty Pryde

So that’s my list for this week. If you want more X-Men content, check out my post from Monday and from yesterday.

If you want to see the first Fave Five list about the characters from the Last Jedi, then click here.

The X-Men and Understanding Others

I grew up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in  Salt Lake City area of Utah. I was white and surrounded by a lot of people who were mostly like me. I didn’t experience a lot of diversity ion my life when I was a kid. The most I remember from my early childhood was that many members of my extended family were not members of the same church. And, I remember thinking I was weird because my grandparents smoked and drank coffee. This was the closest thing I had to experiencing anything different from em in my early childhood. 

Then, around the time I was 11 years old, my parents divorced, and I kind of stopped going to church for a while. Honestly, in the little suburb of Murray, Utah, at the time, I felt like a freak when I went to school. I felt like a freak and weirdo around the other kids in the neighborhood. I felt like an outsider. And it was around this time that I really  got heavily into comics, and especially the X-Men. The X-Men were freaks and weirdos too. They were outsiders just like me, and I loved reading about them. I felt like I could identify with them. I felt like they were me.

This was how my 11 year old little mind with little life experience saw the X-Men. As I got older, I began to realize that the X-Men were something else entirely, and something much deeper. I began to understand that there were a lot of similarities with the X-Men and groups I was learning about in school. The X-Men were marginalized and discounted by the main population in the Marvel universe, like so many minorities in the United States. I began to see similarities in the hate groups in the cartoons and comics like the Friends of Humanity, and hate groups in the United States. I began to understand that the X-Men, and reading the X-Men was helping me to understand something else. 

My time as an “outsider” was so small and insignificant compared to what a lot of other people had experienced in history. People who were hated because of the color of their skin, or where they were born. Our country’s history is steeped in prejudice and bias and hate of those people who are different, or who we deem different. And to be clear, different than WASP. The people we see as not fitting in with the norm, suffer from this prejudice and hate. The X-Men exposed me to these ideas at an early age, and as I got older and began to see these parallels, it helped me to appreciate and try to understand better those who are hated.

Now, I’m not trying to say I’m an expert on race relations or racism in this country. I’m not. But I am grateful to the X-Men because from reading these stories growing up, it helped me to understand others who are different than me. Why? Because reading the X-Men books made me want to understand others and appreciate them, and not fear them. And dwelling on fear of something or someone can and often does lead to hate. It starts as discomfort but evolves on its own to something else. I think a natural thing, meaning human nature, is a feeling a discomfort around people or situations that are different from what we know. And when we experience that, how we proceed will determine whether we end up avoiding ands possibility hating what is different, or trying to understand and then appreciate. 

Reading the X-Men for me, helped me to try to understand those who were different, and it is something I am grateful for. My wife and I have six kids. Three of them are deaf. When we found out, we had some decisions to make about what we were going to do. We decided to learn American Sign Language and to teach our kids American Sign Language. This has meant that our kids are part of the deaf community and participate quite a bit in the deaf community. A community that at the time I was completely uncomfortable because I had no idea about this culture and this world. Today, after years of interacting with individuals who are deaf, I feel more comfortable. But it took time and understanding.

That’s what the X-Men are about, for me, on some level. Yes, I love the sci-fi feel of the comics and the movies, and I love the characters and the stories, but this idea of understanding others, accepting those who are different are at the core of who and what the X-Men are. They live in a world that hates and fears them simply because of a label. Simply because they are born different. People in their world feel threatened by the mutants because  they don’t understand. They buy into the fear that their society has sold them. The idea that all mutants are dangerous simply because of who they are. In their world, there are two sets of standards for super powered beings. Humans and aliens like Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man and others are loved by the masses (Spider-Man by most, jut not J. Jonah Jameson). They have super powers and wear costumes, and people love them. The X-Men are very similar- they have powers and wear costumes, and they are hated. It is a clear double standard.

Simply because they are not “human,” simply because they are born different. If this is not a parallel to the racism and prejudice that exists in our world, if you can’t see that, then I’m not sure how to help you to recognize it. And if you are turning a blind eye to what is happening right now in our world and our country, then you are like the mutant haters in the comics. To hate and fear simply because something is different, to make people less than human because they are different than you, it’s not acceptable. I would say it is evil and wrong. And we can do better. We need to do better. The X-Men helped me to see that when I was younger, and I understand that more now that I am older. 

This week is all about X-Men on the blog. Check out the post on Monday for more X-goodness. Click here to view it.

Why I Love the X-Men

I can’t remember the first time I saw an X-Men cartoon, or read an X-Men comic. I’m sure it was my pre-teens/early teens. I think one of the first things I remember about anything X-Men related was playing the X-Men arcade game at the now defunct 49th Street Galleria in Murray, Utah. Maybe it was when my dad bought me a Wolverine action figure from the store when I was pretty young. The grocery store we went to at the time carried these Marvel action figures, and I remember when my parents would go shopping my dad would buy me one. I had Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc. For some reason, Wolverine’s always stood out to me. When I saw the game at the Galleria (as we called it back then), I only wanted to be Wolverine, because he was the only one I really knew.

As I got older, and started buying more comics, I bought some of my first X-Men comics. Mostly, I stuck to Superman and Justice League, and for various reasons I had the odd Spider-Man issue. But one time, at a Costco of all places, they had this package of Marvel comics you could buy. It had like 20 random issues in it. One of the issues was the iconic X-Men #1, with art by Jim Lee and story by the iconic Chris Claremont- so I was at least 9 years old. That particular comic really stood out to me for a couple of reasons. One reason was because it was a number one. I didn’t know much about comics at the time, but I was already a sucker for number ones. I mean, I even bought Super Pro #1 because I was that big a sucker. Another reason that issue stood out to me over the other issues in the pack was what it was. 

I have always been into superheroes, but the X-Men felt different. They didn’t have the super flashy costumes that the Justice League had, and their secret identities weren’t really that secret. And they weren’t overly powerful. And they fought a different fight. Superman, for example was beloved by the people he helped. He was like a celebrity in the DC Universe. He was trusted and respected. The X-Men weren’t. It was kind of the opposite. They were hated by regular people. They were feared. No one trusted them. The reasons for that and why that mattered is something I am going to discuss in my post for Wednesday, so I won’t dig deeper into that here. Suffice it to say- the X-Men were different, and for me and my pre-teen little self, they were the right kind of different.

As the 90s rolled on, I clung to the X-Men. I have always considered myself a DC guy when it came to comics and superheroes, but the one major exception to that was the X-Men. As I have gotten older, I also love a lot of other characters and stories in the Marvel universe, but the X-Men were the first characters to draw me over to Marvel, and I am drawn to them still today. I just think there is so much to love about them. I think the number one thing, though, that draws me to them over and over is that I have always felt like an outsider. I think everyone does as a teenager or beyond. I think everyone does regardless of age at certain points in their lives. I was never the popular kid in school. I have never been the guy with a bunch of friends. Mostly that’s my fault, but that’s a different post for a different time.

The X-Men became my best friends in my middle school years. And more secretly all through high school. And less secretly now. I was so excited when the first X-Men movies was released. I couldn’t wait to go see it. I didn’t have any friends who wanted to go with me, so I went by myself opening weekend It was awesome. And very lonely. But mostly awesome. These were characters I have grown to love and appreciate, and I learned a lot about what it means to accept “the other” (again, more on that later). This team of misfits and outcasts got me through my formative years. I loved the comics, the films (the first two anyway, and now the newer ones), I loved the cartoon series, and the comics. There was just a lot to love. And in the 90s, Marvel was all about the X-Men.

It’s hard, because I obsess about a lot of different things, so sometimes it feels like I forget about some of the things I have obsessed about. Then something happens that helps me rediscover one of those obsessions. I have definitely had times where I didn’t focus so much on the X-Men, but whenever I remember my obsession, these old friends are always waiting for me. These heroes, who are fighting a very different battle are always there.  I am excited to talk about the X-Men with you all this week. I think it is important to talk about the X-Men right now, and talk about the lessons they teach us. Now, maybe more than ever, it is important to talk about “the other” and how we can understand them more. Maybe not more than ever. It’s probably something that has always been this important. In any case, the X-Men have helped me understand it more, and I think that is crucial right now.