Why I blog

It’s funny to think that I’ve been blogging for years but, in all that time, I’ve never once sat down and wrote out why I’m doing this. I mean, if you’re here then you can probably guess the first reason: I like to write. I don’t know of a single author that doesn’t. And – surprise, surprise – even I don’t want to scribble down notes about fantastical worlds all the time, so blogging provides a refreshing alternative.

But it’s more than that. Blogging is a very public form of record keeping. If I just wanted to record private thoughts, I’d stick to my diary (which I update very infrequently these days). Instead, I publicly share thoughts, opinions, and stories with family, friends, and strangers.

Why?

Well – it’s definitely not because I think I have anything truly special to say. My opinions, even my controversial ones, are far from unique. And I’m far from the most eloquent person on the planet – but I guess that’s part of it.

Writing Practice

I was taught that writers had to do two things: read and write. I work very hard to keep up with both of these demands. Blogging serves to satisfy the latter requirement. Novel writing is fun but tiring. Since I write in fantasy, I always have to be careful to keep my worlds straight. The last thing I want to do is defy history or leave a logic gap that doesn’t make sense with my characters.

It’s intense, and it’s a long process. The Dreamcatchers took years from its first scribbles to final publication, and Monsters Among Us and The Night Terrors still have a ways to go before they’re ready to be read. I don’t believe I’m the first author to be occasionally demoralized by the sheer scope of it all.

blogging writer's block
Blog writing can be a good way to dodge my inevitable writer’s block.

Writing a blog allows me to keep strengthening my “muscles” while enjoying a rapid success. I spend an hour instead of a year and immediately get the satisfying reward of publicly publishing something.

It’s helps me to feel a sense of accomplishment in that long period between publications. And it lets me feel a little better about myself during those weeks when I don’t make the progress I would like. Blog writing is like doing leg stretches when you’re supposed to be training for a marathon. It’s not the most productive thing I could be doing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Working on Critical Thinking

A lot of the blogs I write are opinion posts, and there’s a reason for this. I have found that writing down an opinion greatly helps me get my thoughts in order. Almost everyone can say whether they liked something or not – it’s an emotional reaction we have. I’ve found, however, that fewer people can articulate their exact reasons. For a lot of people – including some of my friends – something is either “awesome” or “terrible” and that’s about it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this. Honestly, sometimes I envy it. I doubt they’ve ever woken up at 3 AM and then stayed awake because they couldn’t stop thinking about how bad Alien: Covenant was (such a waste of potential!!). What I do definitely feels obsessive on at least one level.

But it’s helpful. When I watch a movie, read a book, or play a game – I always try to think about the storytelling structure. More than that, I usually try to identify what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what I would do to improve. I’ve found this exercise helpful when it comes to my own writing.

Godzilla vs. Megalon critical thinking
Most people probably don’t think critically about the storytelling in Godzilla vs. Megalon. In this regard, I am not like most people.

Blog writing is the final reinforcement. It’s like when I went to college – I’d remember the general idea of something if I just listened to the professor but, if I really wanted to memorize specifics, writing it down made it clearer.

I know art is subjective, but I try to write as objectively as possible (most of the time) to improve my critical thinking skills. Time will tell how helpful it is.

Charting Personal Growth

I am human. I will never claim otherwise. This means that I am a flawed individual. I make mistakes, do dumb things, write dumb articles – I’m far from perfect. If I were to list every blog post that I have had second thoughts about, this article would be either a short novella or a long short story.

That said, I find an advantage to recording my thoughts at the time. I feel that some people today have wrong expectations – they demand perfection from themselves and everyone else all the time. I don’t believe this should be our goal as a species. While it’s important to always try to do the right thing, it is just as important (in my view) to be constantly learning.

Personal growth through blogging
One of my favorite quotes: These are words I try to live by.

I have learned so much since I started writing this blog. I hope that I have been growing in a positive way that will make me a more mature, compassionate, and well-rounded individual. I’m not sure – but I’m doing my best. Going forward, I plan to write more explicitly about my growth and about how I’m still dealing with some of the more complex issues in today’s society.

I mean, all this is great but I still haven’t answered my main question: Why a public blog? Why do I put all this out there for the judgment of other people?

It’s who I am. I’m a writer – my job is to entertain and enlighten. Hopefully, at the end of my life, I will be able to look back and say I did both of these things. That or got filthy rich and made a real life Jurassic Park…one of the two.

 

What I learned from Hosting a Panel at G-Fest

If you’ve ever been to a convention, you may have gone to a panel. Panels are, as their name suggests, collections of individuals lecturing an audience on a topic. What the panel entails typically relates to what the conference is about. For instance, you are far more likely to hear a panel discussing the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Conan-Con than an expo on marine biology.

This past July, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to lead my own panel at G-Fest, a three-day event centered around the king of the monsters himself, Godzilla. While G-Fest isn’t for everyone, it’s probably my favorite convention among the limited few that I have been to. Events like PAX East and E3 are a little crowded for my taste, even if they do offer the ability to network with some cool people. And, in my opinion, the Montreal Comic-Con was better when it was smaller.

G-Fest is a small, targeted convention focusing on Godzilla’s films, messages, and the kaiju (giant monster) culture at large. Yeah I didn’t have an audience of thousands but that didn’t matter – it was still a blast to put on. As with everything in life, it was a learning experience. So, here is what I learned as I prepared to (then did) host my panel: “Objectively the Best Godzilla Movie EVER. Period.”

G-Fan G-Fest
G-Fest is an extension of G-Fan, the nation’s best Godzilla-related publication (in this author’s opinion).

 

The Work

For any out there considering hosting a panel, you will need to do work. Whether it’s interview prep or a slideshow presentation, preparing for a panel starts before the event.

In my case, this meant accomplishing a few tasks. First, I had to assemble my fellow panelists. I had no desire for it to just be me sitting up there pontificating about how great my opinion is. Luckily, G-Fest has an event coordinator who helped me get in touch with everyone else who had expressed interest in hosting/speaking on a panel. I didn’t have to do much to gain my three fantastic panel co-hosts.

My second task was communication. Since my panel was going to proceed along a very guided conversation, my fellow panelists and I needed to know how the event was going to go before it began. What was the greatest Godzilla movie? To start, I made this:

Godzilla movie bracket

Just kidding. I made something a lot uglier and simpler. Getting to work was the most important thing in my mind, so I created a working bracket and emailed my fellow panelists.

Over the next few weeks/months, I would reach out to all of them periodically. Since this was democratic panel, we had to go collectively one round at a time. Some responded right away, others…well, life is full and people can get busy. Let me say this: If you’re going to host a panel, you have to be okay with bugging people.

I don’t mean “be a jerk” (don’t be a jerk) but just be prepared to firmly and consistently remind your fellow panelists to help you out. It can be easy to put con prep on the backburner several months away from the event but, as it draws closer, people tend to get busy.

Anyway – while my fellow panelists were hard at work voting on their favorite Godzilla movies, I had to design a PowerPoint. A visual aid can be essential to help generate interesting discussion and I wanted my team engaged, not just with ourselves but with our audience members.

The PowerPoint didn’t take too long – maybe six hours altogether. I think it helped that I spread out its creation. Since I began so far before the event, I had plenty of time to sketch out an initial layout and flush everything out with the right photos and fonts.

Here is my PowerPoint for any who are interested:

Objectively the Best Godzilla Movie EVER

The Fun

Before I knew it, the month was July and I was Chicago-bound for my third G-Fest. The work was done, my panelists were assembled. Now all that I had to do was wait my turn. As a first timer, my panel was on the last day. This was a mixed blessing as it allowed me to focus on the con and gave me a smaller day (Sunday typically has less attendees than Saturday) but, well – I had three days to think about it and imagine all the things that could go wrong.

And there was a complication! No sooner had I stepped up onto that stage than it was discovered the HDMI cable had broken. Luckily, G-Fest also has an IT guy and we were able to solve the problem. I had brought my laptop and a USB key (both with the presentation on them) so we were good to go.

I may be biased but I thought it was a blast. I felt we had the right mix of prepared remarks and impromptu discussion. I was able to poll the audience after several scenarios and – best of all – we didn’t run out of time! After the panel had ended, several audience members came forward to tell me how great they had found everything to be.

As far as learning experiences went, this one definitely ranks in the positive category. I can’t wait to host another panel next year!

G-Fest panel
From left to right: Jessica, Kym, myself, and John all celebrating the successful conclusion of our panel.

My Recommendations

If you’re out there thinking, “I could do this,” then please give it a try! Doesn’t have to be at G-Fest – with geek culture in the spotlight there is no shortage of panels and conventions where you can nerd out about your passion. But if you are going to host a panel, I do have some parting suggestions:

  • Plan ahead
  • Involve the audience
  • Expect a problem
  • Just relax

And there you have it. Panels aren’t major life events like marriages or moving days, so you don’t need to revolve your life around them. The most important thing in any convention is to have fun – otherwise, what’s the point?

Why I Support Universal Healthcare

I feel like there’s two types of Americans when it comes to current system of healthcare: Those who believe in it and those who have actually had to use it. I believe its failings stem from an inherent problem in its design. When most people think healthcare, they think doctors and healing. After all, isn’t that what healthcare is designed to do – to keep the population healthy.

Not in America. In the U.S.A., this is a secondary goal. The main objective of the current U.S. healthcare system is to make money. If you cannot pay, you cannot have service. It’s that simple.

And on the surface that sounds fair. After all, those working in healthcare must earn a living. They have bills to pay too. Yet healthcare cannot be treated like an average commodity because it is essential. When Wonder Woman came out on blu ray, nobody had to own it. They could buy it if they wished. Most people don’t want to have surgery. They have it only because they need it.

This makes healthcare an essential service, much like the police and fire department. These are not people you call upon on a whim. They are called to provide a crucial service that preserves your quality of life. Supply & demand breaks down and always skews in favor of the seller when everyone has to demand the product or put themselves at serious risk.

Let me put it another way: imagine we’re standing together on a hot summer day and I offer you a bottle of water for a dollar. You turn me down because – hey it’s not that hot and you’re not really thirsty. I nod and proceed to set you on fire. That bottle of water now costs $1,000 and you’re going to need more than one. Pay or die. It’s no longer capitalism, it’s cruelty.

And to give full perspective on the current American system – yes, there are other people offering to sell you water, but $1,000 is now the lowest available price being offered to you – since you have a job. If you were/are unemployed, that water bottle now costs at least $2,000. No one is offering the water bottle at a reasonable price because we know that you need to pay us in order to live.

drugpices
Greed has taken “making a living” and turned it into “the search for higher profits.” We should not have to pay more for the exact same medicinal care.

To return to the comparison of fire departments for one second. Fun fact: they were not always a public service.

The point being is that we have a broken system that only really works for the people who manage to stay healthy (who are not unexpectedly set on fire). Once anything serious happens to you, you’re at the mercy of a system that will gladly help, but only so long as you keep handing over your hard earned money.

“Ah,” you say, “But I have insurance!”

“Cool,” I respond, “so you’ll only have to pay hundreds instead of thousands when you need an ambulance ride. That is – so long as everything is covered in your plan.”

So I believe there is a better way. More than believe it – I’ve seen it. In my lifetime, I have been fortunate to live abroad. My host country was Canada – Quebec to be more specific. In Canada, healthcare is a government service. Every citizen pays taxes so every citizen is covered.

Simple.

Having had lived in both systems, I can honestly say which one I believe works better. I say this as someone who is a citizen of the United States but not of Canada. This means that, while I “enjoy” the best of American healthcare, I “suffered” the worst of the Canadian system.

Addressing Healthcare Fears
Yes, Canadian emergency rooms still have long lines but – just like America – this is based on need. If you’re dying or need immediate care, you’ll be seen quickly. I say this as someone who has spent time in both. The biggest difference is the bill (or lack thereof) at the end.

And Canada still has a better approach to the problem. Not a perfect approach but a better one. One that, should we as Americans devote ourselves to it, we can improve upon.

In my opinion this is our greatest strength as Americans: our ability to examine ideas, in our states and abroad, and select the best ones to incorporate for ourselves. We did not invent democracy but we adapted it and used its principles to write arguably the greatest doctrine on protected rights that the world has ever seen.

We can do something similar regarding healthcare. Canada’s system was better but far from perfect. For one thing, many of its treatments and services seemed more reactive than preventative – which is always ultimately more costly. I also personally think we should endeavor to include dental and mental healthcare as well.

Yes, it will be harder and yes, it will be more expensive, but these are costs we already pay. Americans have a broken conversation on taxes, one that is dictated by the question “Aren’t you paying too much!?!” rather than “What would you like your government to do for you?” One of these questions provokes much more thoughtful conversation than the other.

Truthfully, I would rather pay an additional % in taxes and be done with it than have hundreds out of my paycheck every week to cover healthcare – healthcare that I can lose with the loss of a job. By tying healthcare to employment, we cripple our fellow Americans who wish to take risks. I can only wonder how many people have been trapped into employment they hate by the fear of losing their ability to pay medical bills.

I also believe that this will help small businesses grow as employers will no longer have to pay thousands just to cover the few employees they have. This is not an employer responsibility – this is a citizen’s responsibility.

We are caring people as Americans but strangely heartless. We are far too inclined to view our fellow citizens as leeches. However, most of us do not view ourselves this way, even when we need help. Regarding healthcare, we all will need help at some point.

Other countries – similar countries – are doing this and I believe we can improve upon it. We can create a system that does not destroy the privatized healthcare industry (keep your private insurance only if you want to) but removes its fangs. A comprehensive coverage system that renders dramas like Breaking Bad pure fantasy. A system that empowers the American spirit to better pursue dreams and happiness.

MKybStQ

I support a system like the one proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders and I encourage you to do so as well. Yes, this challenge is hard – but that is why we must do it. We’re Americans, we’re not known for backing down from fights. We must win the war for healthcare so that we may devote more time to tackling the zounds of other important issues on this planet.

At least, this is what I believe. Healthcare should be about healing, not about profits. Period. We can make this work guys – if we all put in together.

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