Friday, August 11, 2017

What We Leave Behind

Most of you should probably have heard this. If not, you may need to sit down.

My family is--FINALLY--moving to Taylor, Arizona.

So, for anyone in my family or who’s a friend/associate of ours from the Grand Canyon state, yay, it’s good news. If you live in Utah you’ll probably be seeing more of us (I know I’ll enjoy having them close enough to take an occasional weekend trip). And I’m relieved that Dad decided to do this before the Second Coming.

But for our friends back in Texas, it’s kind of a bittersweet moment. Dad moved out to a little town east of San Antonio called Seguin (SEH-geen) to work at the Motorola plant not quite thirty years ago. Motorola has come and gone, but Dad brought Mom to live there and they raised five of us down in a little house right off of 1-10. We went to church in Seguin and school in Marion and although we didn’t have all the cool toys or watch all the popular TV shows we had books and friends and cats and that was enough. I don’t think the people we’ve known and loved in the area can imagine what the world is going to be like without us. I know I can’t.

View out my dad's office window. Notice the goats--
this was obviously a very long time ago

I don’t miss Texas a lot. I had bad experiences at school--some of them, yes, featured me getting bullied. Right up through Senior year. I don’t miss having to drive everywhere to get to a store or to church or to town, half the reason I never moved back. I don’t miss the humidity. Or the bugs--especially the spiders. I won’t miss the floods, and chances are where we’re going we won’t see so many of them. I won’t miss the rattlesnakes we’d occasionally get in our barn, but where we’re going there might still, sadly, be rattlesnakes, probably a different subspecies but still.

I’ll tell you what I DO miss--what I AM going to miss now that my family isn’t there anymore.

I’m going to miss our little house in the country that had grass just soft enough to walk on in the yard. We have like five pecan trees that give us nuts in the fall and in winter we crack them and give them away by the pound to friends and neighbors and ship them to far-off relatives. We have a field that we just let hay grow in and when I was younger dad would build us forts in the barn. Dad has tried getting into raising different kinds of animals--sheep, goats, rabbits pigeons, we were somewhat successful with chickens and ducks. The only critters that really flourished were the cats. We had a garden in the backyard and a little playground that got turned into a treehouse and then a fort that pretty much only the cats used. Part of the reason I turned out an introvert was because I lived too far away from friends to really hang out with them a lot. So that meant I could spend hours walking around in circles around the house and the field and daydream or just go back inside to draw or to read or to watch movies.

Guadalupe River crossing at US 90.

I'm going to miss the hills. Out where I lived there were just low rolling ones everywhere. If you're from Utah, it can seem kind of flat, but compared to, say, Lubbock, it's actually interesting terrain. I thought it was beautiful--it was the most beauty I got to see from day-to-day. And then every so often, my family would drive out into the Hill Country just a little to the west. Big, steep hills covered with brambly forests, a lot less civilized. Definitely a wild place.

I’m going to miss the rolling fields of wheat and corn that line the roads, the pastures full of horses and cattle, the ruined barns and houses that dot the landscape, the thickets of live oak and mesquite that grow here and there. We are out in the boonies enough to still have that small-town/country feel with the authentic drawls and cowboy boots and hats, but close enough to civilization that we feel, well, civilized. Mom and Dad were never really part of that culture anyway--Mom’s from (urban) Utah and my dad’s from Arizona. I built up a tolerance for country music. Enough to say that I like Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood and to relate to the lyrics of a few popular singles that I can’t name the artists or titles to.

I might miss Marion, a little, actually. Runs to Dollar General, driving in early on 78 from early morning seminary in Seguin. A small school that doesn’t have a lot of electives but a staff of teachers that was so supportive and wonderful to me and my four siblings. And there was nothing quite like homecoming day when all the girls who were passionate about it wore those frilly, tinkling mums of green and white ribbons.

Pape's Pecan House, Seguin, TX

I’m going to miss Seguin. Driving over the Guadalupe River every time we’d go to town and savoring the view. The Victorian houses. Just driving down College street. The old-town feeling of Court Street, the square behind the courthouse with the fountain and the statue of Juan Seguin that I regret not visiting nearly enough. Don’t get me wrong, the little Mormon meetinghouse on King and College streets is pretty. But the other religious organizations in Seguin have some fine churches too. Driving into town from you can see all the steeples as you come down the hill, and you glimpse them close-up when you drive through town. And then there’s the stores where we’d do our grocery shopping and the old library and just the landmarks you’d learn from driving back and forth a million times. Lazy afternoons at Starke Park. A lot of it has changed, over the years--the old HEB is gone and they built a bigger one. Blockbuster is gone, of course--it got divided into a liquor store and a dental office. And there’s a big, brand new city library downtown.

I’m going to miss the nearby town of New Braunfels. Landa Park. Playing church basketball with the girls over there. Hobby Lobby and Target and all of the best shopping! The hotbed of local German culture and the Edelweiss Inn that was oddly enough featured in a movie I saw at BYU International Cinema. Clear they make onion rings like that anywhere else?

I’m going to miss the creeks and the little places for camping in and around Seguin and then the state parks up in the Hill Country (fall is the best time of year for camping in Texas, fall being November). The Hill Country, beautiful and remote and covered with wild forests. Wildflowers, every spring: bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, Indian blankets, primroses. Spring is my favorite time of year in Texas. It’s the best place in the world to be in springtime.

My favorite flower, Indian Paint Brush, along with Texas Blue Bonnets
More or less what our highways look like in the springtime, in a good year (Pinterest)

I never went to Austin very much--well, except their airport, but that is a small airport that tbh I am glad to see the last of for now. But everyone in that part of Texas knows that Downtown Austin is a place to be avoided at rush hour. The few times I have driven through downtown Austin, though, I loved it. We would combine with the stakes in Austin for Youth Conferences, and let me tell you Austin is where the cool (Mormon) kids are from. A lot of those cool kids are here in Provo.

When people ask me what part of Texas I’m from I say San Antonio. Because it IS the best part. Marion is close enough to the Alamo and the downtown museums that we took epic field trips in elementary school. My parents, they’re from out of state, and they’re...tourists, so they like taking us to the tourist magnet, the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio, but it’s a beautiful place with bridges and boat rides and the best of local culture on display. Better than Venice. The zoo is...mediocre but the last time I went was over ten years ago. The Japanese Tea Gardens at Brackenridge park are spectacular.  I went on field trips to the auditorium at Trinity University to see plays based on classic short stories when I was in middle school. And then I graduated from high school in that auditorium.

Downtowm SA

San Antonio also has the best freaking NBA team. I am a Spurs fan for life.

The Church built a temple in San Antonio. It has beautiful stained-glass windows and in one of the ordinance rooms a mural of the Hill Country with wildflowers painted by a lady from my home ward, the late Ardyth Haecker. It was completed in 2005 and the night before the dedication I was part of an enormous cultural celebration in the Alamodome. The temple is on Stone Oak parkway, overlooking Loop 1604 (another place to avoid during rush hour), right on top of a hill at the edge of the Hill Country.

Corpus Christi is where my family would go to the beach. And it's getting its own post.

Gosh, I love Texas history. I grew up right in the middle of where some of the more significant events happened, so I’m biased. But we had our own war of Independence from Mexico. We had an epic last stand at the Alamo. I read a biography of Sam Houston a few years ago and let me tell you, we need more people like him in today’s government. He may have been from a pro-slavery state but he was vehemently against the other southern states’ wanting to break with the Union right up until the Civil War, at least that’s what I gathered.

And NO state has state pride like Texas. I may live anywhere else in the world, but I will always own my Texas pride.

I like to think that the Texas flag is made out of part of the US flag.

Edit of a personal photo of the Alamo

I’m going to miss the culture. There’s the cowboy/folk/country element, for sure. My brother David spent several years growing up playing fiddle at the local oprys and I went to a few of his shows--lemme tell ya. But there is also a strong Latino heritage in the area, lots of Spanish place names and architecture and glorious, glorious mariachi music.
Also, the FOOD. Food is very important in south-central-whatever-Texas. Everybody (except me) loves spicy food. My home ward would do a chili cookoff nearly every year. My mother is going to miss the tamales. I’m going to miss the breakfast tacos made on homemade flour tortillas, wrapped in tinfoil, stuffed with cheese, egg, potato sausage, bacon, onions, refried beans, and other fillings and toppings to taste.

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arielle clementine
My mom served her mission in Houston, Spanish-speaking. We almost never went to Houston (but before the temple in San Antonio was built the adults in my ward would go to the temple there every so often, and let me tell you the Houston Temple is beautiful). But my mom learned to make somewhat authentic Mexican food--enchiladas, fajitas. We’re taking that with us. To this day a quesadilla is a staple of my diet.

I’m going to miss driving through West Texas. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt, but I learned to enjoy the ride, especially when every landmark we passed would mean we were that much closer to that somewhere else we wanted to be. You go into the Hill Country, and then pass through lots of plateaus and buttes right up until you reach Fort Stockton, and then after that you’re in a desert and it’s so barren that you can feel the moisture coming off your skin, but at least there’s mountains. And then, after like six hours and six hundred miles, you’re in El Paso.

Butte visible from Interstate 10 just outside of Fort Stockton

It’s not just saying goodbye to all of these places, though. Moving means saying goodbye to all of the people that my family has spent the last twenty-odd years building relationships with. Each ward unit in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is supposed to be like a family, but no ward IS a family more than the Seguin Ward of the Kyle Texas Stake. When my dad moved there, it was just a branch. There was a Spanish branch there for a little while, but we’ve been a ward since I was a kid. Dad got to be bishop for a little while, even. There weren’t a lot of girls in my young women’s group, but they were some of my best friends growing up. Our chapel has hymnals in both English and Spanish.

There’s a handful of families that have been there as long as Dad has, if not longer. And there are families that come and go that you never forget. Some of them are transplants from Utah/Idaho/Arizona, like my folks. Some of them are local. A lot of them are converts. We have dinners parties like no one’s business--Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, boy scout fundraisers, that sort of thing. Back in the day when General Conference was only broadcast to the chapels we would have pot-lucks in between the Sunday sessions.  And yes, we take turns feeding the missionaries.

LDS Chapel, Seguin

On the Stake level, we’ve made a lot of unforgettable friends too. Up until 2008, we were part of the San Antonio East Stake. Then we got put into the Kyle stake. Our stake center in Kyle is a 45-minute drive from my house and it made no sense for my family to attend functions there. But we stuck it out. We made it work. We have friends clear up and down I-35 from the east side of San Antonio to New Braunfels to Buda, friends with whom we share a common faith. After Dad got released from being bishop he served off and on in the high councils of both stakes. Since he and mom both speak fluent Spanish they have usually been assigned to work with the Spanish-speaking members on ward and stake levels.

We have friends outside of the church, too. My mom says that her co-workers at the Seguin hospital are like family to her, and she will miss them. I didn’t have a lot of friends at school--I had social problems. The few I did have were priceless. I sadly didn’t realize it until my last couple years of high school. But I did learn. No one can ever take their place.

Texas was never home for my mom and dad. Other people who live there, they have their parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins living close by, they get together every so often. We have to travel out of state to see our extended family. But now Dad is moving back to his hometown, we’re renting a house from his aunt right next door to a place where one of my cousins is living and a couple of doors down from a few other cousins. It takes two minutes to drive to his mom’s house, but if there’s good weather and you feel up to it you can walk.  Mom can take weekend trips up to Utah to see her family. That’s their idea of being home. So I’m happy for them. And I’m happy for my younger siblings who get to have that experience.

Winter Sunset, I-10 West of Seguin

That little house in Texas is home to me in the sense that it’s where my story began. It’s the place that, after much trial and adversity, I was able to get away from in order to accomplish Great Things™. It’s enough of a home that I have a few ideas for potential fantasy novels set in that region, so if I want to take a trip back I can definitely call it “book research”. If I’m ever successful as an author, I will come back for book tours and give inspirational speeches to kids telling them that they should read books and go places in life. Yes, Texas is home, but there is so much more to the world.

So the Cole family is leaving Texas. We're going to be closer to our extended family. But we will miss the family that we had here. We will remember it as a place of the world that we made a little brighter. That is reason enough to say we’re happy that we were there.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Lunartic Lizy

Brace yourselves: I’ve found a new fandom.

It’s called the Lunar Chronicles. It’s set in a high-tech, quasi-dystopian future, a conflict between Earth and the Moon. The heroines are Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. The villain is an evil queen who eats all other Evil Queens™ for breakfast. And I am going to cosplay all of them. ALL OF THEM.
the main girls from the lunar chronicles by marissa meyer // drawing by

Seriously, the characters in this series are great. Queen Leavana is ambitous and evil and beautiful and yet I have genuine sympathy for her loss of beauty and love. I’m currently about halfway through Fairest. The supporting villain I enjoyed the most was Head Thaumaturge Sybil Mira. She’s the perfect sycophant to Lavana, and she’s also a boss in her own right. And did I mention that I really want a Thaumaturge coat?

The futuristic setting of Earth and Luna is spectacular and dazzling and, of course, lightyears ahead of our society. If I’m not such a huge fan of the science in science fiction, how did I take this setting?  Spaceships, satellites, flying cars? Cool enough. Androids? Awesome. Implanted ID trackers on every Earthen? Borderline disturbing. Suspended animation tanks, cyborgs, transformations into mutant monsters--that made me shudder. Just enough. And the fighting gets really bloody as the series goes on. Bloody without being overly descriptive.

I first picked up Cinder in January on the recommendation of a couple of friends. The further I got in Cinder, the harder it got to put it down. Linh Cinder is everything I am and aspire to be. I don’t know that I relate to her much as a cyborg (although I do have an occasionally photographic memory), but she does have this sense that she is broken and incomplete, that she’s not like everyone else. And she has to deal with it every day. She’s unsure of herself, but she wants to do the right thing. I love that she’s a mechanic. She’s independent, strong, courageous, talented, smart, and, she is kind to people who need kindness, but she takes zero crap from anyone who wants to give her a hard time. I never thought I could like a Cinderella as much as I like Cinder.

Woaw! This is the first time I see this fan art is one of the most great of cinder.

If I can’t be Scarlet, then she’s the kind of person that at least I want to be friends with.  She’s the sterotypical fiery French girl and redhead but without being a sterotype. When she wants something, she gets it.

Cress is kind of a pushover at times, and she doesn’t do much for me. In fact she kind of reminds me of my gullible side--more than I am comfortable to admit. But she has her moments. Moments when she really comes through for the team.

I relate to Winter’s...lack of sanity. Scarlet and Winter are my BrOTP. They don’t really like each other--well, Scarlet doesn’t really like Winter--but they rely on each other to survive and kind of develop an interesting chemistry.
Also, Ryu :'(

The Lunar Chronicles also features several intertwined love stories. I’m not a huge fan of romance, but set against the background of a high-stakes space battle, these love stories were quite enjoyable.  Now, for Cress and Thorne, it took a while for me to be convinced that Thorne actually liked her, and I’m not sure Cress is more than just infatuated by the end. But there’s room for this ship to grow on me...if the Tangled crossover fanart doesn't do me in first.

Cresswell x Tangled by Tara's Art
See what I mean? (Pinterest)

Thorne is kind of a jerk, but he comes to feel responsible for Cress. Thorne has never been able to get anything easily in life, even though he’s the kind of guy who wants to have everything easy. But he is a good companion for Cinder. And I think he has a great bromance going with Kai.

Kai and Cinder are the purest ship in this series, one of the purest ships ever. My favorite scene is at the end of Cress when Cinder finally gets a chance to explain to Kai what’s going on and that she’s the lost Lunar princess. More than that, she finally gets to be open with him about her struggles and her being a cyborg. And he just accepts her.
-The Lunar Chronicles- : Photo

Kai is perfect. I don’t blame Iko for idolizing him. But it’s not just because of his looks. He’s willing to do everything for his country. (the Eastern Commonwealth, which is a big conglomeration of China, India, and most of Asia--seriously the way the Earthen Union is cut up you would think it was Risk.)  Anyway, Kai: he’s almost too self-sacrificing, but then again he gets put under a LOT of duress. But he’s willing to stake the safety of the planet Earth on the legend of a lost Princess and his love for a cyborg girl--who happen to be the same person. I just can’t even with Kai.
The ending was kind of less than satisfying. But for crying out loud Cinder is still a teenager--yes, give her a few years to grow up and find herself.

By the end of the series, I’m convinced that Scarlet/Wolf are more Beauty and the Beast than Red Riding Hood/Creeper. It follows a classic trope pretty closely but in a way that’s as refreshing tomatoes? I don’t even like tomatoes that much. I’m really upset that Wolf ended up having the full mutant treatment, but if Scarlet’s okay with it then I can try to be okay with it. Honestly it’s not very fair and I think Wolf deserved better, but that’s just me. But Scarlet is 18: she can do what she wants. Wolf is a pretty typical struggling/suffering character. He’s insecure, he loses EVERYTHING, Scarlet is literally the one thing going for him.

by himramw << FINALLY. That's quite exactly how I imagined Wolf.
well, maybe he doesn't look so bad in this illustration

Jacin and Winter are sort of upstaged by the time we get to their part of the story. But what’s interesting about Jacin is that Winter is his motivation for everything. And he’s willing to play both sides--play along with Cinder’s conspiracy to overthrow Leavana and then sell out the Rampion crew--to protect her.

The supporting cast--golly, I love these people. Dmitri Erland is a “good guy” who acts an awful lot like a bad guy. He kills lots--I mean LOTS of cyborgs just to find Selene. And he traffics Lunar Shells just to find his long-lost daughter. Eat your heart out, Severus Snape.

Kai’s adviser Konn Torin is the dad of the series without actually being anyone’s dad. He’s able to see both sides of the issues he and Kai faced, and he lowkey encourages Kai to join Cinder’s rebellion. He’s just so steady and steadfast. Everyone else runs around like crazy, and Torin keeps everything together.
by meabhd | This is definitely my favourite piece of Iko fan art

Iko is awesome. She’s basically Cinder’s actual Mom figure. And Cinder loves her back a lot. And I love her journey from robot to ship’s computer to escort android that’s not afraid to kick butt. It's cool to see her getting a lot of love on Pinterest.

I love the burst of new enthusiasm and energy that comes from discovering a new story. I am going to enjoy being a part of this fandom, rereading the books, collecting fan art and headcanons, meeting other fans, and I hope, contributing to the story. If you are a Lunar Chronicles fan, come and find me and tell me what you love about it. Here’s to new frontiers of the imagination!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Finding Gratitude

There's a million things I haven't done. And not having done them drives me crazy.

Some of you may or may not be aware of this, but for the last few months my depression has been worse than usual. My parents and other responsible adult figures have encouraged me to make going to work at my job my number one priority. Which means no taking time off of work for cosplay (no Saturday events) or for family (second year in a row I've missed the Fourth of July in Arizona). 

This year in general has been rough. The few cosplay events I have been to have usually been accompanied by some degree of anxiety, so I haven't really been able to enjoy them as much as I would have wanted. 

Photo from this spring

The stuff I usually agonize about is, with all this on top, harder to manage. I just want so many things that time and money prevent me from having. When I don't have them, when I have to wait longer for the money to buy that new costume or order that new t-shirt, I get frustrated. When I get home from work, I'm tired and I don't feel like working on costumes or writing, let alone put in the effort to work on actually finding a real job. So the things I want to have get delayed...and delayed...and delayed. I pass the time at work gathering wool about what to put into my stories, but I get home and I am too eager to find an excuse to not spin it. I don't get to eat out every weekend. I don't have a lot of food in my fridge, and I don't feel like cooking much. I'm stuck at a job that I don't want, I don't have money to buy everything I need or want, I'm not going to the places or doing the things that I want to do. And worst of all, I never get to spend time with the people I want to see the most.

I never get what I want, right when I want it, as much as I want it. 

All I focus is on what I want.That just makes me more miserable.

This morning, I had a moment of inspiration. Instead of thinking about what I don't have and haven't achieved yet, I could instead feel gratitude for the things that I do have. The things that I have done. What I HAVE accomplished.

Last September, right before Comic Con, I was having a really bad time. All I could focus on were the areas where I was failing. But during a phone call with my mom, she reminded me of the things that I have achieved and the things that I had to look forward to that very weekend. Her sharing that with me was a reminder that I am worth something. That I am capable of doing things--good things, great things, difficult things.  

You know, I could use the same kind of perspective right now. 

I don't get to see my cosplay friends a lot. But we have shared a lot of good experiences. Why be sad about the fun I could be having, when I can look back and remember the good times? 

There are a lot of costumes I want to build or I am somewhere in the stages of building. I don't have time/resources to allocate to creating one-hundred-percent-screen-accurate-costumes right now. But I have already created outfits for a lot of my favorite characters. I've sewn a few of them myself, even. I'm not the best at crafting things by hand, but the stuff I do put together looks good, and it tells a story. People recognize these characters and appreciate me for bringing them out. And I've been able to create some beautiful art through cosplay.

I don't have time to be a full-time writer/author right now. It makes me sick sometimes, to think of all the story ideas that I have that I don't have time to sit down and write, even in my spare time. Guys, being a writer is hard work!

But I do have these stories to tell. I have places to go in my head and my heart. I have stories that I can plan out in my mind. When I get the chance, I can sit down and chip away at them, a little bit at a time. Even though I can't share them all right now, the ones I have created have given me a place to go where I can be happy and safe, and where I can find a different way to analyze my fears. 

I know I haven't posted as much in my blogs as I've wanted to so far this year. But looking back, I have actually written a lot of posts over the last two years, and some of them are actually great.

I don't get to travel a lot. I haven't been outside of Utah since Christmas. I haven't been able to travel anywhere new lately. The only time I ever left the country was when I was three, and that was for a wedding in Mexico I don't even remember. I did get to go to Nauvoo and Florida when I was little, but I feel like it doesn't count. I haven't really BEEN anywhere cool since becoming an adult. And I've been telling myself for years that I was going to save up money and travel. 

But I have been to fantastic places. Right here in the West. I see these places sometimes every summer. I know where they are. I can always go back to them in my mind.

There are friends I don't see in person a lot. But I post things on social media to make them laugh. I still know them. They still know me.

I haven't been able to go out much this summer. But I have made it to four wedding receptions in the last three months--that's actually kind of a record. And I have also been doing a lot of reading--more on that coming next week.

Some of you know, I have invested a lot of my soul in Salt Lake Comic Con in the last few years. Salt Lake Comic Con regularly has a high turnout of big-name celebrities. But I have never had the money to get photo ops or autographs with any of them--except for Carrie Fisher and John Rhys-Davies. Those were two experiences that I will never forget. I also met Ray Park and Daniel Logan in passing. And LeVar Burton. I may want their autographs but I HAVE met them and that's saying something. I may not have gotten their autographs but it was still just as cool to meet them. I've meet some of my favorite authors as well, and been able to meet up with my friends in the professional geeking world. 

And as for the other celebrity guests--Mark Hamill, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Daniels--I've been able to go to their Q&A panels. I've been in the same room as them, and been entertained by them with thousands of other fans. I saw and heard them in person. Some of the things they've done at Salt Lake Comic Con have gone viral over the internet, and I am able to say that I WAS THERE. And there are guests that I want to come or to come back very badly to upcoming conventions. But if I complain about them too much, I'll forget the good times we HAVE had with the people who HAVE been. And when looking back, I shouldn't listen to the snarly voice in my head that says "You should be grateful for what you already got and stop asking for more." No. Just be grateful. Just feel it.

Image result for salt lake comic con 2015 anthony mackie

I don't live in a penthouse. I don't have an apartment all to myself. I'm still living in the Provo "bubble." But I do have a nice place to live. And I can decorate it however I want. I'm walking distance from BYU campus and some good shopping areas, fast food, and I can get to a bus stop easily. (Plus I haven't misplaced my UTA farepay card for the last several months. There's something to be said for that).  

I'm not a perfect person. I'm not a flawless Molly Mormon. I don't go to the temple EVERY week. I don't make it to church sometimes because I sleep in. Sometimes I only read my scriptures for five minutes instead of fifteen. I haven't done any visiting teaching this summer. And I get angry. A lot. Over stupid little things.  But I am striving to be a good person. I do things that invite the Holy Ghost in my life. I'm trying to socialize more with my ward. I go to the temple when I have the time and energy, and I've been doing better the last couple of weeks. I've started reading through conference talks with my scripture study. 

I have my temptations and weaknesses. But I don't let them define who I am or who I want to be.

I don't have a car, but walking everywhere keeps me in somewhat good shape. My job requires physical activity as well. I'm actually pretty tough physically. And even if my mental health is a mess my physical health problems aren't usually worse than the occasional cold. 

Join ,my free Gratitude Challenge + Gratitude Journal + Gratefulness + Gratitude…

Remember that meditation I posted last year, Your Focus Determines Your Reality? If all I do is focus on how badly I want something, then the negative feelings will harm me. If I focus on everything that is going wrong, then my life is, indeed, a disaster.

If I take time to look back and think about the things that I do have--a place to live, food to eat, a decent job with reasonable hours, lots of costumes, lots of memories, lots of friends both near and far away--then I realize that I not only have a lot, but I AM a lot. 

What I have may not be the same as what the more-accomplished-adult in the Ritz has, but I shouldn't give in to the trap of thinking that what I have isn't "real" or as important. 

This line of thought inspired me to re-read a talk that President Uchtdorf gave in conference a few years ago, "Grateful in Any Circumstances." It's humbling that I've finally figured out what that talk was about and that I have a reason to apply it. Gratitude isn't so much counting off your specific blessings as it is having the capacity to appreciate those things--the capacity to feel that these things are gifts from God. Especially when times are hard. Seeing the good in the world, in your life, requires faith.

I know my posterity may not be satisfied that I have not kept very consistent personal records over the last several years. But I hope that when they read these blog posts, they will be able to see how I was able to find the positive in difficult circumstances. That's all I want for anyone who reads this next week to get from it, too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Do Droids Have Souls?

Some of the most beloved and iconic characters in the Star Wars universe are droids: R2-D2, C-3P0 are the first two that come to mind. If you’re a fan of the prequels/Clone Wars, you might also get excited about Trade Federation battle droids. Since Lucasfilm was bought out by Disney we’ve been introduced to a new generation of droids: Chopper on Rebels, BB-8, and K-2S0.

To most sentients in the Star Wars universe, however, droids aren’t really all that special: they’re just there to keep things running.

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Mad About Movies

Your average droid doesn’t do more than general maintenance, piloting cleaning, cooking, wait staff, information storage, cannon fodder, etc. They are metal shells for computer programs designed to carry out certain functions. They’re just objects. Machines. And some people in the Star Wars universe have disdain for droids, even--you remember the cantina in Mos Eisley? They have patrons of every species imaginable, but the droids get asked to leave. “We don’t serve their kind here.”

Do droids really have the same value as sentients? Can they be considered “alive” and independent beings? In my Biology 100 class at BYU, my professor defined life as being able to 1) reproduce and 2) respond to stimuli. There isn’t much evidence for droids making other droids in the Star Wars universe. But droids certainly respond to their environments. And they need to do that in order to carry out their functions.

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But who programmed K-2S0 to do that? (Tumblr)

You could argue, well, that’s just how they’re built to act. A droid that doesn’t turn and run when it sees hostiles approaching it with blasters is not good for much besides spare parts. And droids do need to be able to communicate with sentients and other droids. One could argue that their “behaviors” are “encoded” into their “programming”, so they’re not really “alive.” That’s just what they’re made to be like. So are they no more than the sum of what someone else made them to be? Just a bunch of computer algorithms running a system of mechanized parts?

According to that line of thinking, are sentient beings no more than the sum of their parts, neural systems operating organic tissues in response to stimuli?

I should think not.

The Worth of a Droid

One thing I think people take for granted about the Star Wars universe is that the droids are supposed to be their own class of beings that sentients can interact with normally. That is what George Lucas intended. That is what the people in that galaxy far, far away expect of them. That IS how they’re built. Sentients don’t have time to do more than occasional repairs on these machine-people that are supposed to do the menial work of the galaxy. Otherwise their interactions need to be automatic and natural and not take up time. Star Wars is more fantasy than fiction in the sense that we have a plethora of beings for the heroes to interact with, but instead of fairies and talking animals we have droids and wookiees and what have you.

Me with R2-D2 at SLCC FanX 2015

The funny thing about humans--particularly Earthlings, i can’t speak for other planets--is that we assign meaning to EVERYTHING. We want to personify our trees and our dogs and the rats living in the basement. Some people talk to their cars the way they would talk to their annoying neighbors. Humans love the idea of the “other” having thoughts and feelings, of being our sentient equal or near-equal. We relate to the other by pretending that it is another human. Earthling technology is starting to catch up with our favorite sci-fi universes, with the development of smartphones, voice commands, Siri and Cortana, computers built into cars and appliances, and so forth. Computers can analyze things in detail in seconds, using mathematical processes that it takes years for humans to learn and hours to compute. But I have yet to see artificial intelligence that will not only deliver your breakfast in bed but stay to chat with you about the weather, much less have an opinion on their favorite day of the week.

In the Star Wars universe itself, a droid’s personality depends a lot on its function and its experience. There is a continuum for droid sentience (does it have something clever to say to you?) and independence (is it controlled by an external computer? Are its actions a result of someone manipulating controls directly?).

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There’s a scene in Attack of the Clones that might illustrate how droids are supposed to function in their society. Obi-wan Kenobi brings Jango Fett’s dart to his friend Dex because the analysis droids at the Jedi temple could not identify it. Obi-wan kind of makes an offhand comment, “Well, if droids could think, there wouldn’t be any of us here?” In the context of that conversation, Obi-wan’s point is that sentients do have a more specific memory for some things, even if they can’t remember everything at once, so for once an organic lifeform has some kind of advantage over a droid. But let’s think about that quote for a minute. People in this galaxy want the droids to work for them, and do their jobs efficiently. But they don’t want their droids to be so independent that they decide their human masters are useless and not work for them anymore. That kind of defeats the point of their existence--droids are machines that people build to help them. Droids have to have their programming limited so they can do what they’re supposed to. Droids can’t really exist without the society they live in, and the society cannot function without the droids. It’s a relationship of interdependence. Droids are extensions of self. Droids aren’t really shown as doing things on their own without working for someone (well, except for that one bounty hunter IG-88, but that’s another story).

I think we’re biased towards the droids that hang out with our lead characters because we see them a lot more. And our lead characters care about them, a lot. It’s not surprising, in a sense, because sentients need these droids to do technical stuff for them--practically think for them, or at least store information. The droids at the very least recognize that making their owners happy can be of mutual benefit. Even Chopper from Star Wars Rebels, savage as he is, does like the other crew members of the Ghost to some level.

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It’s my headcanon that the Star Wars universe has advanced enough artificial intelligence technology that, given the right mix of experience and memory storage, a personality will naturally work its way into a droid’s programming, just a pattern of tics and thoughts and expressions. It’s kind of the same rule with people: what you learn from and go through can affect what you are. You get out what you put in. Regular maintenance droids that get wiped regularly? Not much going on. But droids that people keep around, that collect information and experience? They’re definitely alive.

Droid Heroes: R2-D2 and C-3P0

Let’s talk about C-3P0 and R2-D2 first. R2-D2 started out as a regular maintenance astromech for the Queen of Naboo. He saved Queen Amidala’s ship from being blown up and was given special recognition by the queen for his service. Qui-gon Jinn brought him to Mos Espa to assist him in buying a new hyperdrive, and he helped Anakin set up for the podrace. Then during the battle of Naboo, R2 accompanied and protected Anakin Skywalker on his trip to the Trade Federation battle station.

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Padme Amidala must have kept a close eye on R2-D2 during the rest of her terms as queen of Naboo, considering how much help he had been during her planet’s time of crisis. And she keeps him on as senator. At the start of Attack of the Clones, R2 accompanies Padme in her starfighter while her decoy flies in the senator’s barge. R2 goes with Anakin and Padme to Naboo and later Tatooine and Geonosis. It’s thanks to R2 that Padme escapes from being killed in the droid factory, and 3P0 gets his parts back together after the battle.

During the Clone Wars, R2 goes to work for Anakin and the Jedi order. Anakin Skywalker, it is important to remind you, is a technological genius. So of course, during the Clone Wars, as Anakin spends more time with R2, he would obviously want to make modifications to the droid just to tweak him, see what he can do to upgrade his capabilities and make him more useful.
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And There Came a Day

Anakin is also the mastermind behind C-3P0. Anakin and C-3P0 couldn’t be more different personality-wise--C-3P0 is a lot more vocal about his anxieties while Anakin has to do the Jedi thing and repress them. But Anakin built C-3P0 to help out his mom and later put him to work for Padme during the Clone Wars, and I wouldn’t put it past him to tweak C-3P0’s programming a bit in his free time. I’m telling you this because Anakin’s personal touch would have made a difference for these droids: he was attached to them, so they would have been even more advanced--sentient--because of Anakin.

When Anakin says goodbye to C-3P0 in Phantom Menace, 3P0 laments that Anakin has to leave before he can get his coverings. Anthony Daniels has mentioned a deleted scene between C-3P0 and Padme in Attack of the Clones. I can only guess that instead of the gray suit he had in that film he was supposed to still be “naked.” In this scene, at the Lars’ homestead while Anakin has gone to look for his mother, Padme asks 3P0 if he is happy--a really interesting moment, a human asking after the welfare of their droid. C-3P0’s reply is that he wishes he had proper coverings. Padme is able to put the coverings on 3P0 right before Anakin’s return. What made this deleted scene stand out to Daniels and to myself is that it demonstrates that droids do have feelings. C-3P0 kind of bases his self-worth early in his existence on how completed he is. And he wants to feel useful to the people he works for. (Video: go to 35 min.)


C-3P0 has a sense of what he is supposed to be--that is, a protocol droid. A butler. Yet he is a butler who always ends up in the wrong situation.

C-3P0 and R2 have some experiences in the Clone Wars TV series that broaden our understanding of droids a little further. There is an episode in season 3 when R2 and 3P0 go run an errand for Padme on Coruscant. 3P0 gets captured and tortured for information by the bounty hunter Cad Bane. Meanwhile, R2-D2 is distracted by an offer to spend a day at a droid spa. If R2-D2 is only supposed to function based on his programming, why is he distracted from his assignment? Well, the fact that the droid spa even exist points to the fact that droids have a sense of personal comfort--they like being cleaned, tuned up, functioning, and so forth. They like to take breaks and relax from their routine. They have a sense of what does and doesn’t benefit their well-being--or, functions, if you rather.

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Other than a couple of diplomatic missions for the Republic, C-3P0 stays with Padme for most of the Clone Wars. Being the servant of a galactic senator is finally allowing him to live up to his calling.

During Season 4, R2 is captured with Ahsoka Tano and Lux Bonteri by the Death Watch. In his captivity, he finds a group of broken, dismantled, damaged droids that the Death Watch were using for target and battle practice. “Please, help us,” one of them pleads to R2. Droids base their personal happiness on their ability to do what they’re built to do--and being able to function in one piece goes a long way towards that.

At the start of Clone Wars Season 5, R2-D2 goes on a top-secret assignment with a group of droids. Anakin gives R2 an affectionate pat on the dome when he says goodbye.

ebnycupcake (tumblr)

At the end of the arc, the other droids return in one piece but when R2 is reported missing Anakin is distressed. He goes back to the ruins of the spaceship that the droids destroyed and goes looking for whatever’s left of R2, and he does everything he can to fix R2 until he’s functional again.

No human cares about droids the way Anakin Skywalker cares about R2-D2. ANAKIN. FREAKING. LOVES. THAT. FREAKING. DROID.
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Even without the context of the Clone Wars tv show, it’s a sad moment when Anakin, having turned to the dark side, asks R2 to stay behind with his starfighter on Mustafar. R2 is used to going into danger with Anakin. That’s what he does. That’s the thing with joining the Dark Side, though: you eventually shut out even the people you thought you cared about.

R2 doesn’t get to see what Anakin became. But it’s heartbreaking news for him. And even more heartbreaking to watch Padme die.

(What was R2 doing while Anakin was on Mustafar? I need answers).

Obi-wan leaves the droids in the care of Bail Organa. Bail gives the droids to Captain Antilles. He orders Antilles to have 3P0’s memory wiped. But just because 3P0 doesn’t remember doesn’t mean that Bail doesn’t know what that droid is capable of--he knows that droid has been working for Padme for years. Bail puts 3P0 and R2 to use for the Rebel Alliance. Leia probably knew them, too.

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Undercover work might be difficult at times for C-3P0, bu R2-D2 is always up for a fight. And through it all, R2 always has 3P0's back. And in spite of how vexing R2 can be at times, 3P0 appreciates the astromech's company.

I do not doubt that R2-D2 knows Leia’s backstory, even if he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I like to imagine them meeting occasionally and becoming friends. I think Leia knew what she was doing when she asked R2 to take the Death Star plans to Kenobi.

“Are you sure you don’t want a different droid, sir?” the attendant asks Luke Skywalker as R2-D2 is loaded into his x-wing for the Battle of Yavin..“He looks a little beat up.”

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Luke declines. “Not on your life. That little droid and I have been through a lot together.” They’ve only known each other for a little while, but R2 and Luke are already tight.

I remember once when I was watching A New Hope with my family that my mom said, “he also saved your parents’ necks a few times, boy” at that moment.

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"Never tell me the odds." Rebloggy

C-3P0 goes with Han and Leia while R2 goes with Luke to Dagobah. 3P0 is able to help Han with fixing the Millennium Falcon but boy does he get into a lot of life-threatening situations.  And he has to put up with Han and Leia sniping at each other, and venting their spleen on him. C-3P0 is anxious because the people he’s looking out for get into dangerous situations, and he’s usually in the mix with them.

C-3P0 spends the years leading up to The Force Awakens working for Leia and the Resistance, and if you want more C-3P0 in action I highly recommend (for the millionth time) Bloodline by Claudia Gray.
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R2-D2 also saves everyone’s butts multiple times in the original trilogy. He gets hurt a lot, but it doesn’t slow him down. We only understand most of his comments in translation, but we know enough from his beeps, yells, and movements to see that he is sly and resourceful.

I’m kind of sad how R2 got shafted in The Force Awakens, but I guess it goes to show how deep his bond was with Luke (and especially if he remembers Anakin leaving...brb I need to cry). And we know from Rey’s vision that he was there when the First Order destroyed Luke’s other Jedi students. R2-D2 has been through a lot of trauma. I hope he gets more screentime in The Last Jedi.

New Droids on the Block

However, the droid I’m looking forward to seeing the most in The Last Jedi is BB-8. BB-8 is a little rolling ball of loooooove. I heard somewhere that humans are more likely to identify things as cute that resemble babies. BB-8 is round, small, makes cute chirping sounds, and has a big eye.
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BB-8 is characterized in The Force Awakens as younger and a bit more innocent than R2 and 3P0. He’s a lot more passionate in how he expresses his emotions--electrocuting Finn when he sees him wearing Poe’s jacket, rolling up to Poe at the Resistance base, the blowtorch thumbs-up. Droids generally care about the people who care for them, and BB-8 cares a lot about Poe. When Finn and Rey decide to take him to the Resistance, it’s only natural that he makes them a part of his family, too.
I’ve heard BB-8 described as the kind of droid who rolls out space cookie dough. Chopper from Rebels, on the other hand, has no reservations about murder. Imperial droid on the Ghost? Chopper chucks him into the sky. Someone on the Ghost team wants to give him a command? He talks back, beeps grumpily, probably curses a lot except thank goodness it’s bleeped out. Strange droid in the way? ....that was gruesome.

And then in Rogue One we had K-2S0. K-2S0 is a reprogrammed imperial droid attitude problem.

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Cassian Andor explains that the personality issue is a product of the reprogramming. K-2S0’s job is strategic analysis. K2 delivers with a side of sass. He’ll tell you the odds of the criminal that the Rebel Alliance picked up using that gun to shoot you whether or not you want to hear them. He thinks you need to know that he’s not going to die if the rest of you float forever in the cold empty vacuum of space. Also, he’s noticed that you kind of hate him, Jyn.  He has no tact whatsoever--if he sees something negative, he will point it out.
And yet K-2S0’s death is the hardest to watch. Because he was working so hard to help Jyn and Cassian to complete their mission, even though he knows very well that they will most likely die before it’s over, which they do. Just, no. By that point in the film, he was as valuable a member of the team as the other five. Because you see the light in his eyes go out and it gets you right HERE.

In Star Wars, we are also duly entertained by background droids. None are more entertaining, of course, than the droids in the Clone Wars series. B1 Battle Droids are just cannon fodder for the clones, but they enjoy doing their job, and when left to their own devices they can certainly be opinionated.

I don’t like B2 super battle droids as much, but I will never forget that one droid in S1. Ep.1 that Yoda turned to fire on its comrades. Battle droids are very easily confused.
I like the mouse droid in A New Hope. Definitely a droid I would love to have.
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The Movie and the Muse
And don’t forget the pit droids in The Phantom Menace. #SpiritAnimal
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The Harold B. Lee Library Science Reference Desk at BYU has a cardboard pit droid. I’ll have to post a photo sometime because I have to go through years and years of pictures to find it right now.

So in summary:
Droids can feel fear.
Droids can feel sadness.
Droids can feel happy.
Droids can feel angry.
Droids can be brave.
Droids can make sacrifices.
Droids can love.

Droids are computers but they are also quasi-sentient, and depending on how they’re treated they can develop sentient-like personalities.

Do you think droids have souls?

Do you think they don’t?

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The Hollywood Gossip
Do you think that I don’t think droids have souls after growing up watching R2-D2 over and over again demonstrate his loyalty and devotion to the Skywalker clan and their friends? Or C-3P0?
Do you think I don’t think that after watching Chopper and K-2S0 work to make a difference for the Rebels?
Do you think I don’t think that after seeing BB-8’s tender affection for Finn, Rey, and Poe?
There is a story I heard once from a BYU professor of mine about Saint Teresa of Avila. A group of Spanish explorers were sailing off the coast of South America when they saw a large number of black and white creatures standing by the shore. At first glance, the Spaniards believed them to be nuns, and the priests blessed them. Then as the ship grew closer, they realized that the “nuns” were actually penguins. Mortified, the Spaniards reported their mistake to Saint Teresa. Certainly they would be cursed for accidentally blessing animals, since, according to their belief, animals don’t have souls.
Saint Teresa’s response was simply: “Give them souls--but little ones.”
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There is nothing wrong with a being that isn’t human having a soul.