Thursday, July 14, 2016

Golden AUs*

Some things are storytelling tools rather than stories themselves...

How can they make a Minecraft movie? The thought popped into my mind one afternoon as I scrolled through blog feeds from a few gaming news sources. The Minecraft movie is a definite, real project and is currently expected to come out in 2019. The whole idea of a Minecraft movie is as puzzling to me as the story mode that came out recently. I was entirely unused to the idea of having named characters with their own motives and personalities in the Minecraft world. Why the disconnect?

In short, Minecraft is not conducive to set storylines; it’s a storytelling tool. In a world where gamers have taken over the likes of Team Fortress 2, hacked Mario and Sonic games, and a multitude of skins and mods to make games their own, something like Minecraft clearly exists as a place to project stories onto rather than something to talk back. When I was younger, I had a fair number of dolls. Barbies, off-brand barbies, even Bratz dolls. They interacted with action figures, stuffed animals, and weird yarn-and-paper creations to have their own stories. Something like a Bratz movie or a Barbie movie seemed unthinkable to me; these dolls were mine, damn it, why would I want to listen to someone else’s story when I can craft one of my own?

That’s the puzzle of a Minecraft movie, an echo of the distaste I had with the Lego movie. The entire point of these environments is to be a sandbox. The person gets to take these blocks and stack them as they will, regardless of anyone else’s ideas about what makes a good story. The whole idea lead me to a further digression on stories and story-telling tools. I came upon two fandoms, if it were, usually similar in their Anglophilic devotion but diametrically different in their role in stories.

So...fanfiction, right? If the term is new to one’s perspective, that is easily remedied. Fanficton exists to explain, fill holes in, extend, or entire diverge from a completed story. It’s been around since stories have been around, especially since before copyright determined legal ramifications for taking characters from, let’s say, Wuthering Heights and putting them on a space station in the year 3714. While the most-written-on properties vary depending on popularity and access to internet environments these days, two have been fairly persistent: Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes. Both are British male characters, both from very well-established times and places and situations. Both, however, offer different storytelling tools to fans.

Harry Potter offers a universe, a Wizarding World. Take any beloved characters or even entirely new characters in any situation, and they can be squarely put into the Wizarding world. There are particular rules to Harry-Potter-esque magic, there is a Wizading society, education and history is established. There are set ideas of morals, set illnesses and conditions and dangers, set creatures, set wars and timelines. It is comfortable yet inherently magical for anyone reading it. I could stop right now and ask the reader to look up a handful of well-known characters (Spock and Kirk, the Avengers, characters from Game of Thrones) and odds are someone has figured out their Hogwarts house, Patronus, animagus. While the characters, somewhat unfortunately, have very clear stories already done, the entire world is a playground. This aligns the universe closer to that of Minecraft. Sure, we could hear about Harry’s children or the past of the Marauders, but the true freedom just lies within the grounds of Hogwarts itself. The possibilities are near endless.

The second fandom, far older and more scholarly, is that of Sherlock Holmes. While their original setting, Victorian London, is oft-explored in fiction, the real beauty of Sherlockian possibilities lie in the characters. Take Dr. John Watson and detective Sherlock Holmes and plop them down anywhere, in any time or place or situation, and there bubbles a story in the making. Unlike the fairly set timeline of Harry Potter characters, Holmes and Watson are perpetually dancing around each other and their enemies and always a dynamic duo. Their shadows lie in stories already. Dr. House and Dr. Wilson. The analysts in Lie to Me. Spock, Kirk, and Bones to a degree. There is always a brooding and somewhat dangerous genius and a stable, war-worn doctor type. And it’s always 1895.

So to the original question, how can there be a Minecraft movie? There can be one because of money, exploitation, the ease of pumping out computer-animated movies. But don’t be annoyed if a beloved universe is tarnished with generic characters and weak plot filler; that’s what the fanfiction is for.


*AU: Alternate reality from the original story. For example, a James Bond story set in the Star Wars universe or a reality in which a character did not die.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Beyond Bookshelves: Punk Stuff #3

How to Be Idle

By Tom Hodgkinson

Hodgkinson’s first book in this series of sorts, How to Be Idle follows the average day hour by hour through its chapters. It starts by discussing how people all around the world wake up on a daily basis, immediately bashing the ideas of alarm clocks and calling upon men of letter to expound the horrors of being forced to wake up early in the morning. The rest of the book follows suit.

How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto is exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s brilliant. Hodgkinson uses classic British literary references, early modern history, and call-backs to pre-Industrial Britain to explain why idleness is actually ideal. This book and the others in the series follow along the central idea that being perky, wage-driven drones is playing into the hands of our capitalist overlords. The meshing of rising early and moral rectitude, the admonishing of employees who “have time to lean and time to clean” in minimum-wage jobs, and replacing religion with materialism and competition are all key themes.

Recommended for:
People who idealize medieval peasants, people who can’t wake up before 10am for the life of them, people who are sick of capitalism, people who look at rush hour traffic and see a hoard of mindless drones, people who want a list of classic books to read after reading a book that references all of them

The Freedom Manifesto

By Tom Hodgkinson

Despite acting as a sequel to How to Be Idle, The Freedom Manifesto (also known as How to Be Free) was the first Tom Hodgkinson book I came across.

This book follows in a similar vein of How to Be Idle, organized around maxims about Housework, Fear, and Competition instead of around the hours of the day. Hodgkinson uses the initial argument against corporate strain to suggest a return to a simpler way of life in which people only use technology for communication and only work to better themselves. Much like the last book, this manifesto encapsulates the anarchist ideals of punk without suggesting a violent revolt or specifically aligning with the “big names” of anarchist philosophy. Because the book covers so much, it’s easiest to understand (as I originally did) from it’s list of mottos behind the first page:

Death to the Supermarkets
Bake Bread
Play the Ukulele
Open the Village Hall
Action is Futile
Quit Moaning
Make Music
Stop Consuming
Start Producing
Back to the Land
Smash Usury
Embrace Beauty
Embrace Poverty

And so on until we reach the last three, my favorite:

Life is Absurd
We are Free
Be Merry

Recommended for:
Wandering mistrels, back-to-the-land punks, anyone who needs a cheery productive mood boost that isn’t grating, hopeful anarchists

The Idler’s Companion: An Anthology of Lazy Literature

Edited by Tom Hodgkinson and Matthew De Abaitua

Not merely content to refer to the great minds of several generations in his other books, Hodgkinson also offers an extensive anthology lovingly organized around the values of daydreaming, sloth, and idealistic lollygagging. This book is a chance to expand on the lovingly sprinkled quotations from the first two books. Even though it’s an anthology of collected materials, the organization and thought put into the collection are just as motivating as How to Be Idle and How to Be Free.

I mean, who can feel bad about being lazy when it’s validated by famous authors, politicians, and artists?

Recommended for:
Literary anthology lovers, people who love good quotations, anyone who wants solid proof that great writers are on their side

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Beyond Bookshelves: Punk Stuff #2

Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution

By Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan

Super quick story time: When I was fourteen, I took a trip to California with my high school chorus. Our travel package included breakfast at the hotel every morning and dinner at a different mid-grade restaurant every night. I brought along a pre-loaded debit card for drinks, snacks, lunch, and souvenirs. I should preface this by saying that I am/was very responsible with money and saved up thousands of dollars in high school from part-time waitressing.


The second day/first full day of the trip we were around Los Angeles and got dumped out of our bus at a pretty impressive mall to wander about before our next stop. My friends and I were immediately drawn to a three-story Borders bookstore, something we had never encountered in our small area of Florida. We all left with books, but I left with books and…no food money left for the rest of the trip. I bought a language book and two books on this list at their full MSRP and even got talked into a rewards cards despite the lack of Borders in central Florida. That's how important these two books are to me.

First, Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution. In my defense, this book had been on my nascent Amazon wish list for at least a year before I set eyes on it for the first time in real life in that California Borders. It’s a fantastic coffee table book of original photos and writings of the heyday of '70s punk, primarily focused on the London/King’s Road scene that led to Sex Pistols and The Clash. It talks fashion, politics, scenes, court decisions, record labels, and the strange changemaster who is Pistols’ former manager Malcolm McLauren.

Highlights include proto-punk backstory of the Stooges and MC5, a full story on the fashion side of UK punk featuring Vivienne Westwood, and so so many interviews from just about everyone who was around at the time.

I adore this book. It’s one of those books that has somehow become a part of my personal psyche, like the movie Clue or Beatles music. Even after losing my first copy (which is ridiculous because it’s a pretty big book), I just had to rebuy it on Amazon to experience it all over again.

Recommended for:
Fans of British punk music, people who say punk began in the UK, history fans, photography people, people who really like Sid Vicious, artsy and fashion people, people who do not mind having a book that includes graphic imagery on their coffee table

Turning Points in Rock and Roll

By Hank Bordowitz

This was the second book for which I willingly spent five days’ worth of lunch money while visiting the price-inflated land of Los Angeles. I read the entire thing on the two plane rides home and have never once regretted the decision.

While this book isn’t specifically about punk, it is another key book in understanding the history and evolution of music from the rhythm and blues that predated rock all the way to the grunge movement. Each chapter marks a specific “turning point.” For example, the movie Blackboard Jungle coming out in 1954, Beatlemania, or MTV’s original launch. Each point in time does something to change and propel the popularity of rock music.

Punk gets its own chapter mostly centered on the US tour of Sex Pistols in 1977. This “turning point” after the metaphorical death of the 1960’s ideal at Altamont transitions rock from the twenty-minute keyboard solos of arena and prog rock back to the basics of the three-piece band and three-minute song. For the book, it also straddles the line from live music to the MTV era of music videos and graphics competing for attention. Despite only committing ten pages specifically to punk music, Turning Points in Rock and Roll helps to put the explosion of ’76-’77 punk into a larger musical and cultural context. After reading from cover to cover, one can really pinpoint the influence of Robert Johnson’s blues, Les Paul’s solid-body guitar, the death of Buddy Holly, and even the influx of rock journalism in punk culture as a whole.

Recommended for:
Music history buffs, people who may not understand how punk is/was important to the story of music, people who want to read random chapters of a book without committing to the entire read, people who would gladly put aside a few hours to read a great book cover to cover

Stay tuned for more book reviews concerning the philosophy and politics of punk culture.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Beyond Bookshelves: Punk Stuff #1

Today at Beyond Voracious, let’s take a peek at some solid reads for persons interested in punk music, style, philosophy, history, and overall culture.

I’ve been researching various aspects of punk rock since middle school, and over time I’ve accumulated some books that seems to survive every bookshelf purge I go through. They capture some key tenants of DIY ethos and the core of what I feel is the punk attitude. Check out the mini-reviews starting below for some highly recommended reading.

Punk Rock Aerobics: 50 Punk Classics and 25 Reasons to Get Off Your Ass and Exercise

By Maura Jasper and Hilken Mancini

The first book in this series is, funnily enough, the most commercial. An unorthodox health and exercise book, Punk Rock Aerobics starts off with the story of its co-writers peeling themselves off of the couch one day to stumble over empty beer cans and decide that they needed to get into shape in order to keep enjoying themselves at basement punk shows. After going through the approved venues to get certified as aerobic instructors, Maura Jasper and Hilken Mancini opened up a class to people of all abilities. Using bricks as weights and pogo dancing to the Ramones, it’s a pretty fun and irreverent read.

The book’s design purposely calls to mind a cut-and-paste zine of black-and-white pictures with pops of red. Look for interviews about fitness and punk music from the likes of Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Hugo Burnham (Gang of Four), and Peter Prescott (Mission of Burma) in between the pages of distinctly un-model-y fitness models grimacing through exercises.

So yes, Jasper and Mancini own a legit aerobics business and published a book and are certified by The System to teach fitness classes. Don’t let the establishment-led path of this book hamper its fun and friendly tone. After all, what’s more punk than increasing cardio levels to play longer sets with the band?

Recommended for:
People who want a good inspiration story, older punks who need some health inspiration, anyone who wants to get fit but is revolted by the idea of a shiny gym full of shiny people

Making Stuff and Doing Things: A Collection of DIY Guides to Doing Just About Everything

By Kyle Bravo

DIY, at least for me, is the unreachable molten core of punk rock. If punk is about authenticity and anti-consumerism, locality and earnestness, then knowing how to make and do yourself is essential. This collection of guides from Microcosm Publishing (whose zine department has since broken off into Pioneers Press) has it all. Want to know how to make a quill pen? Compost a garden? Bind a book? Make a spray paint stencil or wheat paste? Identify wild food for foraging? It’s all here.

This book hearkens from my early teenage days when I was convinced that I would run off to join an anarchist commune on the West Coast somewhere. The hand-drawn illustrations and varied writing styles show that a number of skilled writers went in to creating this book, lending it an air of integrity that a lot of general how-to books severely lack. This book is real about taking care of yourself from your head to your toes, from clothes to furniture to house to garden, from friends to pets to farm animals. All essential anarchist day-dreaming or practical homesteading advice. Bonus: there’s a section about surviving going on tour as a band on a shoestring budget.

Recommended for:
Pretty much anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money, people who have recently left the family home willing or unwilling and have little to their name, new DIY-enthusiasts, environmentalists, people who want to live off the grid, appreciators of zines

Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY ZINE RESOURCE 3rd Ed.

By Alex Wrekk

Zine: a small, often handmade magazine or other publication distributed locally or regionally and showcasing an individual’s or group’s passions.

Sniffin’ Glue stands out as the first well-known punk zine. As a fan zine, it called out names of upcoming '70s punk bands to as many readers  as possible that could get their hands on the photocopied and stapled pages.

Stolen Sharpie Revolution is a palm-sized handbook of everything that everyone needs to start their own zine. It’s another gem from Microcosm Publishing, its third edition showing the tiny book's popularity as a serious resource. The whole idea of the stolen sharpie comes from the notion that sharpie markers should be an organic part of the human environment. When one needs a marker, a sharpie will inevitably appear through search or friends or luck. A solid black marker and some paper is all one needs to make a zine.

Some of the most valuable advice concerns zine formatting, backgrounds, and distribution. For someone making a handmade zine with no computer to collate pages, the diagram of page numbers is invaluable. Every page offers some inspiration in the form of drawings and repeated background designs, some even coming from the patterns on security envelopes. Zine distribution changes depending on the changing times and different regions, but Stolen Sharpie Revolution still offers some timeless tips for getting a zine spread to more than, say, five people. Bonus: see the back pages for a healthy list of zine distros, libraries, and stores in North America.

Recommended for:
Writers, independent publishers, kids interested in publishing, artists, comic/graphic novelists, DIY enthusiasts, graphic designers

Stay tuned for even more punk book reviews and a full video tour of the "punk stuff" section of my shelves.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Surviving Winter: Staying Warm in Places That Rarely Get Cold

This winter season couldn't make up its mind; Christmas was unseasonably warm, New York was warmer than LA at the end of December, and now there's a blizzard causing Snowpocalypse 2016. I'm in Florida, where we are getting down to just above freezing every night. For a lot of people, this is not unmanageable. For Floridians, this is a small crisis.

Keep a few things in mind for the average person who has lived in Florida their entire life:

  • Standard footwear year-round involves sandals 
  • Stores start putting out athletic gear this time of year and start putting away the sweaters and coats and heavy layers
  • Dressing for extreme humidity, heat-stroke prevention, and intense heat is the norm
  • Weather under fifty degrees only comes around for 1-2 months out of the year, leading to...
    • Most people own maybe one decent "coat" that isn't a hoodie, sweatshirt, or cardigan
    • Some people live in SHORTS  year-round (especially masculine-type people) and own about 2 pairs of jeans, max
    • An abundance of sandals, sneakers, and slip-on shoes means people don't have to think about keeping their feet warm on a normal basis
    • Many people, including me, have gone over a year before turning on central heating in their homes
So what's a surprised temperate-to-tropical-dweller to do? Inspired by my own tendency to be cold all of the time, I've compiled a few tips to make the most of a non-cold-friendly wardrobe and housing situation. 

Tip 1. Get Smart with Layers

As previously mentioned, most people in this situation own maybe one decent coat. I own exactly one leather jacket that works as a solid outer layer. I've also owned it since middle school. Since parkas aren't a feasible option, the next best thing will be thin, breathable layers. A lot of them. 

Here are a few examples:
  • Tank tops or camisoles under shirts
  • Wear shirts and other layers both under and over dresses (ex. camisole, long-sleeve shirt, tank-top sundress, sweater, jacket, coat)
  • Thin long-sleeve shirts* (especially UnderArmor-style shirts, even thin pyjama shirts) under short-sleeve or sleeveless shirts
  • Arm gauntlets* (fingerless gloves that reach to the elbows, for those who DIDN'T dress pop-punk/scene/emo in high school) worn under a longer sleeve to avoid wrist drafts
  • Layer scarves, especially with open-front sweaters. Combine fuzzy scarves with silky scarves and fleecy scarves to essentially make a festive chest blanket. Stuff some scarf tails under a jacket and let the rest hang out of the front
  • Wear leggings under pants, jeans, dresses, anything
Tip 2. Don't Forget the Tops and Toes!

Hats are a very easy, quick, and messy-hair-covering way to gain a good ten degrees of body warmth. I've got a faux-furry trapper hat with ear flaps from several years ago that is guaranteed to warm me up no matter how cold it is. Even beanies, baseball caps, and scarves pinned or tied about the head can help with warmth.

Socks and footwear are also something that go by the wayside in places like Florida. Layering socks with leggings, doubling up thin socks, and generally remembering to wear socks or slippers at home instead of going barefoot helps trap more heat.

Tip 3. Cozi-fy the House

Story time: When I first moved to Tampa to attend USF, I lived in an apartment complex from the 1970s that...wasn't the greatest at upgrading appliances. It finally got cold there late in winter and I, having only lived in a nice house before that time, turned on the heater. The intense burnin smell and inconsistent heating over the next few days scared me into turning it right back off. I had to make a plan B for not freezing inside of my house.

Here is an article from Buzzfeed all about taking a blank, cold apartment and making it more cozy. I especially like the suggestion of gathering a collection of candles in one place and lighting them all, which is definitely something I've done before in my search for winter warmth

I also like to layer blankets on my bed because I can't fall asleep if I'm still cold. Fleece blanket can go for $5-$7 at many stores. The size doesn't matter, but the coverage and layering do. I'd do a bed-sized blanket or quilt with a smaller blanket toward the feet and and another small blanket I can pull up over my face and shoulders. This is on top of a standard top sheet (or two) and comforter.

I also highly recommend making the bed every day when it's cold; the cold air settles into exposed sheets pretty seriously.


Crop top tutorials like this are great for a summer (or spring or fall, in Florida) when one is fine with exposing some skin. It can also work in advantage for extreme winter. Recycle old leggings (or buy an extra pair of cheap ones when layering anyway) and cut out a hole between the legs to create a collar. Insert head, pull arms thtough the leg holes, pull the waist down over the chest and - BAM - an UnderArmor style layering tool to wear over or under a tank top or under a shirt with not-so-great sleeve coverage. The long sleeves are also great for cutting thumbholes to make built-in arm gauntlets! 

I like doing it in a basic black and using it with pyjamas for extra warmth as well. In the summer it just goes back into crop top mode. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I'm not sure how long the current weather will last. Hopefully, with just a few tips and tricks, even cold-weather-newbs like me can survive it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Life Cleanse: Unfollowing Toxicity in 2016

We're a month into 2016 and the bombardment of "new year, new you" targeted advertising. From Buzzfeed to tv to the "seasonal" section of stores focusing entirely on athletic apparel and storage bins, the pressure is on to completely transform oneself in the middle of winter. I tend to succumb to the fashion of the times only to wake up miserable sometime in February to see myself on the same track as last year. So, to liven things up, I'm recommending a different strategy: the Life Cleanse.

"What's a Life Cleanse? It sounds intimidating! I don't have to drink a bunch of kale juice, do I?"

Fear not, Anonymous mid-post commenter. The Life Cleanse is about scrubbing those corners of life that often go unnoticed with typical New Year's resolutions. The ideas can help one think a little more positively for the new year without getting caught up in a hate spiral of deprivation and self-hatred.

Ways to Cleanse:

  • Unfollow (but maybe don't Unfriend) all of those estranged people you only friended out of a sense of duty to past high school relationships, former work associations, or distant familial connections. You know, the ones you either cringe at or hate-follow to make fun of their political views and sad attempts at Minion memes
  • Unsubscribe to about 95% of the stuff in your email inbox. All of the grocery stores, pizza, places, web stores, etc. Missing news of a sale just means missing a fake opportunity to spend money that probably shouldn't be spent in the first place
  • Stop ordering delivery. This is a very optional tip, but also a very easy step to kill a pizza-and-Chinese takeout habit. If you can't be bothered to go and pick up the food from the place, maybe you just don't really need it? Keep frozen pizzas for emergencies; they're cheaper anyway.
  • Use things up. This one dawned on me when I got even more lotion and body wash stuff for Christmas when I already have a ton; I realized that I rarely even used lotion. Now I'm determined to moisturize every day to use things up. This also goes for random canned food, makeup that never gets worn, stickers that seem too precious for commitment, "pretty" notebooks that defy disfigurement with bad handwriting, half-used planners, anything. Just use it! Using up things that aren't super-great is taking up the same amount of life space as storing and grousing over having stuff that never gets used. Just. Use. It. Clean our your life, your choices.
  • Get rid of things that will never get used. It is 100% A-OK to toss, donate, and re-gift things that you've bought or received if you know you will never use them. I promise. Your aunt isn't going to walk into the same thrift store where you donated the hideous-but-well-meant sweater she gave you. If it will never be worn or used at all, toss it.
Those were just a few tips to get 2016 going right. We're already at the point when people start to fall off track for the sudden lifestyle changes that most resolutions call for. Why not go for a gentler method?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts: Celebrating September 1st

Whether you're starting a semester of college, slogging through high school, or (gulp) teaching, the back-to-school season will be shoved handily into the faces of summer-loving individuals each year. Some people may have back-to-school parties or prepare to "buckle down" for the next 10 months, but pretending you're going back to the best Wizarding school in the world* is clearly the best option.

So, how to do it?

  • Marathon the movies
If you're lucky enough to own the Hogwarts collection, go ahead and dive into the deliciously remastered extended editions on Blu-Ray with included behind-the-scenes documentaries. If not, there's always ABC Family (minus Goblet of Fire thanks to HBO right now) or digital rentals.

  • Work on your own House (or Faculty) scarf
Start knitting now and you might have it done by the time it gets cold out. Or go the easy route with striped fleece/sewn versions. Find tutorials here and here.

  • Start up a series re-read
Well...maybe just Sorcerer's Stone. Or maybe just read through the brief but full Hogwarts library set. After all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a year or so away!

  • Reset your school year (or just your week) with Wizardly supplies
Perhaps a Divination planner to see into your future? A quill just to sit on your desk? A darling owl phone case? A sick Gryffindor backpack? Who wouldn't rather pack a steamer trunk for the Hogwarts Express instead of a messy messenger bag for a three-hour seminar course?

*Okay, so the Defense Against the Dark Arts position might be cursed and exams are cancelled too much, but Hogwarts is the only school we have seven books about. I'll be in the corner waiting for Rowling to start on Emile Aubertin and the Lost Passage of Beauxbatons