Saturday, July 19, 2008

It Takes a Child to Change the Village: Life after Isabella & Manuela - Windows and Mirrors

Greetings, as always, to my friends, readers, and bloggers around the world. It's time for Gonzo 2.0 - In case you're still wondering what this Gonzo 2.0 means, well, it's my little tribute to the great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, father of Gonzo journalism and to some (including myself), the original blogger before blogs existed. So here's to you HST, we'll keep Gonzo alive while you keep writing Fear and Loathing in Heaven and Hell!

Before I go onto the main event, an update on my previous blog: Last night I went to see The Dark Knight. I won't disclose any details; well, it doesn't matter. Even if I did, this movie is like The Usual Suspects: No matter how much I tell you, I won't make a coherent summary and you're better off watching it yourself. But, here are some highlights in the aftermath:
1. Tom Cruise must be REALLY pissed off. Conspiracy theorists around the world: All bets are off on this one!
2. Jack: You put the JOKE in Joker! Heath is the real goods here. Would somebody please just hand in the Golden Globe and the Oscar already?
3. From now on, I will only count the existence of two Batman flicks: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The previous flicks are apocryphal and I'll leave to revisionist historians to obliterate all records of the existence of such travesties to the Caped Crusader. And yes, Mr. Clooney, the world is still waiting for your apology letter, thank you!
4. We need to reclassify the list of the baddest of the bad guys. Here's my top 3 as of last night: Darth Vader, The Joker (H. Ledger's version), Hannibal Lecter (A. Hopkins version).
5. I think this one will be a tough act to follow. It's probably one of the best adaptations of comic book films ever.
6. As a follow up to last week's blog... Is there any way Batman can make Superman look any less vanilla than he's already making him look? Right now, Superman is as multidimensional as a folded piece of paper!

Okay, now on to the main event...

It Takes a Child to Change the Village:
A look back at my life after Isabella and Manuela

Tomorrow, July 20, it's the second birthday of my twin nieces. I've literally had to follow their lives through the proverbial looking glass, in some ways literally - the first time I saw them was at the NICU through the window and through some pictures I took in my cell phone. I guess you've all heard the expression, "It takes a village to raise a child." I always thought there was a sense of hyperbole in that saying. Then I realized that though this holds true, a child does change the village in more ways than one.

One of the first things I learned is that children in your family, even if they aren't yours, change the dynamics of life as you know it. I know my life changed the day my sister called me and told me she was pregnant. No, I'm not claiming that "I'm gonna be an uncle" is as transcendental as "I'm gonna be a dad." Claiming so would be pretentious of me. After all, some of the parental woes are things I can live vicariously and be fine about it. But, life does change in little ways:

Before: My trips to the mall included stops at Macy's, the Gap, American Eagle, the caps store,etc. I would make the occasional stop at the pet store, thinking how much I would like to own a puppy.
Now: I still stop at the Gap... Baby Gap that is! American Eagle is out, Gymboree (a local store for infant/toddler clothing) is in; I still go to the pet stop, thinking how much they would like to own a puppy!
Before: My dad's DVD wish list: The Godfather, Michael Jackson's best videos (please DON'T ASK!), westerns, etc.
Before: I would get stuffed animals for my sister and maybe my significant other.
Now: Sorry, ladies, you'll have to wait some... there's only room for two teddy bears and those are for the twin babies!
Before: "Mom, how are you and dad doing? And how's my sister, by the way?"
Now: "Mom, how are the girls? (long pause) oh yes, and how's dad? and how's the girl's mom... I mean, how's my sister?"

These are just mundane examples of how life changed for me after the twins were born. Yes, I still oppose with every inch of my will to buying that Barney paraphernalia, but that'll be the first thing I'll pack if and when I go home to visit... I know my parents won't look at me funny if I don't bring them a present, but I'll have to carry my passport all day long because my family will send me on a guilt trip for the ages if I forget that Barney stuff. But, again, this is just the simple stuff...

As I hinted above, I really knew my life changed after that call in December, 2005. The minute it dawned on me, "I'm going to be an uncle" (and yes, I'm that oddball uncle by defaut, and I can live with that!), my outlook on life changed. It is weird, really. I know they're my sister's kids, but they're somehow mine too. I can't help talking about them every other sentence. Even my older blogs had that little "gratuitous twin nieces update" section. There's a sense of transcendence in knowing your family has extended. I know that something clicked the first time I saw those tiny little ones through the window, lying on their incubators. Call me silly if you may, but I could feel they knew exactly who I was. When my sister approached them for me to look at them the day before I returned to Champaign, that saying, "blood is thicker than water," seemed to make a lot more sense. Right now, they do know exactly who I am, and I have to thank my sister and my mom for making my presence in those girls' lives be active. They recognize my pictures and they address me by the title that thus far makes me the proudest: Tío Raúl (Sure, Dr. Mora is gonna look pretty fancy, but this one takes the cake for now!!!!). Knowing that they will recognize me when I get off the plane is a really big deal for me.

I've also noticed that sense of transcendence I was talking about in the way I approach things: I know that what I'm doing here affects them. I'm sacrificing being with them to pursue my degree and something tells me I owe it to them not to do anything but my very best every single day. I teach my early childhood class with a sense that I need to learn as much as my students because my sister will need all the help she can get to ensure the best education for those tinies. I feel a larger responsibility to live my life as a righteous person, educator, and citizen because I need to lead by example and because they will eventually hold me accountable for my actions and how they'll affect them. Call me idealist, but if they decide to come to the U of I one day, I want them to know that I worked my butt off every single day to leave a good impression here.

I can also see my past and my future in them. It's interesting: the first time I saw Isabella (and others have corroborated this), I could see my sister's mirror image right there. She looks just like her mom. What happened when people saw Manuela, on the other hand, was intense: They said she looked like ME! Knowing that someone looks like you, for real, is flattering and challenging. It also makes me wonder about what my own life will look like and whether at some point my sister's and my roles will switch (as in, her being the aunt and my being the parent... the jury's still out on that one!). There are a lot of questions and a lot of challenges. I just know that they're here to stay and their welfare has become one of my priorities now.

My life changed the day Isabella and Manuela appeared. I embrace their existence as a big part of myself. Through major and minor changes, they've affected my outlook in life, they've given me a lot of reasons to do the things I do. In fact, they actually contributed to the very first thing you'll read on my dissertation after you move past the cover page:

They've contributed the Dedication Page!

It was two years since I got that phone call from dad announcing the good news that I was officially an uncle. Their presence reminds me of that metaphor of "windows and mirrors." I've seen most of their lives through windows because that's how our relationship started and how it's been, living their childhood vicariously. But, they've also offered me a mirror to see where I want my life to go. These have been two fantastic years for me, with some ups and downs, with some good breaks and some not as good, but always with the notion that I am truly here for something larger than myself. Maybe one day I may have children, and then Gonzo 2.0 will change forever. Until then, these two are a big ray of light in my daily woes and my grad student life.

For all, that, all I can say today is:

Thank you girls! and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU BOTH!!!! I'll be celebrating right here but right next to you in heart and spirit!!! Lots of love to you two, my girls!!!!

That's it for now. Till my next blog, THEY bid farewell!

The Blogger, the Thinker, the Provocateur...
Raúl A. (El Patrón)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Superman or Batman? The Choice is Yours!

Greetings to all my fellow friends, bloggers, and readers around the world. First things first, bat-knowledgements to some of my friends:

First, to Mr. B-Hernz, Esq. for his admission to U of I Law
School. St. Funs still lives on in Chambana! Second, let me send props to the loveliest, most amazing woman... my girlfriend! Finally, I;ll start promoting my friends' blogs when I know about them. Here's the first ad for my friend Yupin: If you have a blog and would like the provocateur himself to advertise it, just drop me a line!

No update on the twins this week either. Next week's blog is all about them!

So now, on to the main event!

Superman or Batman? Choose Wisely, for Ye Shalt be Judged upon Thy Choice!

Well, the Blog Knight, the Caped Blogger, the World's Greatest Blogger is back upon us! (by now, we already established I'm geeked about the new Batman flick, right!) This blog is partly about Batman, partly about the kind of person you are. Your choice of comics will say a lot!

This discussion is actually inspired by Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. In one of the conversations between Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Mia asks Vincent whether he is an Elvis guy or a Beatles guy. That's where this Superman or Batman discussion stems from. Granted, in most of my thoughts I don't believe in binary oppositions (hence my conceptual disagreements with French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure), but I'll make allowance here since the binary opposition more than serves my purpose. Choosing between Superman and Batman is one of the big dilemmas of some hardcore and less fervient fans.

The question, then is, why Batman and not Superman? Here are my two reasons:

1. Superman is actually a condescending prick!

Here allow me to quote directly on a man whose persona of Kwai Chang Caine is a lot wiser than me, David Carradine as Bill. From Kill Bill 2:

"As you know, l'm quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology... The mythology is not only great, it's unique. Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there's the superhero and there's the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he's Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."


I agree with this. Whereas Batman represents a man's resilience in overcoming his fears (to the dark, to bats, etc.) and using them to fuel his cause for justice, Superman believes he is inherently better than us and therefore needs to make fun of our fears since we wouldn't be able to overcome them without his almighty self. Pompous SOB, I say!

2. Batman is a self-made superhero.

To the best of my knowledge, and I kindly ask comic book buffs to throw me a bone here, I can only recall three superheroes that made themselves as such in a combination of technology, resources (as in a crapload of money in Mr. Wayne's and Mr. Stark's cases!), skill, training, and sheer human ingenuity: Iron Man (aka Tony Stark), The Punisher (aka Frank Castle) and the aforementioned Caped Crusader. What about the others? Well, here's a brief summary: (Note: This is extracted and edited from a Skype conversation between my girlfriend and me... and then you wonder why I love this woman?)

Superman came from another planet and had his strength increased by the yellow sun;Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Thor are demigod-like characters born with their powers; Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider, which gave him superhuman strength (but, duly noted, not the ability to shoot spider webs); Green Lantern was given his powers by an alien police force who bestowed upon him a super ring; Flash, The Fantastic Four, and the Incredible Hulk, obtained his superpowers from an experiment gone awry; the X-Men were born with mutant superpowers; Hawkman and Martian Manhunter are superpowered soldiers from another planet; Hellboy was the son of the Prince of Darkness himself; Spawn was a former special ops whose powers were given, again, by the Prince of Darkness himself;... and those are the ones off the top of my head...

Now, let's look at Batman (and the other two I mentioned)...

True, Bruce Wayne is
the son of a billionaire, but the death of his parents pushed him to the edge of vengeance first and justice later. After getting extensive physical and tactical training, he used his resources to create gadgets and devices that would aid him in his quest. The Punisher was a former agent whose family was killed. So, he starts chasing bad guys, using his training in weapons, fighting, and counter terrorism to defeat them. Iron Man is the creation of yet another billionaire. Tony Stark, after getting captured after an explosion creates an armor to escape and with all the resources available to him, creates a super-armor fueled by the electromagnet on his chest which was devised to prevent the shrapnel from the explosion of which he was a victim to puncture his heart.

As you can see, Batman is the example of how people use their ingenuity and resilience to overcome obstacles. Batman doesn't have any special built-in powers. His strength? Let's just say that Batman is the original Mixed Martial Artist. His weapons? Created by himself or a decent team of engineers who gave him the famous utility belt. No crazy DNA, weird science or voodoo stuff here, folks! That's why Batman is the real goods!

So there you have it! Who will you ultimately be rooting for? Some dude from outer space with the perfect hair who thinks he's much better than us, lives in a vanilla city like Metropolis, and is overly condescending upon us? Or an Earth dude who is an example of intelligence, resources, and motivation to save Gotham, a city as light and dark as our actual cities? It's up to you... Me, I already gave my endorsement to Batman as Head Superhero in Charge!

That's it for now. Till my next blog, I bid farewell!

The Blogger, the Thinker, the Provocateur...
Raúl A. (El Patrón)