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On Whovian Blasphemy March 19, 2015

“Death in Heaven” was an interesting end to a season that I believe was the best of the new series. A typical Moffat two-parter, it started strong and petered out a bit by the end… the end… the end.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain that the episode was going to end. I counted three, possibly four good places for the episode to conclude, but it seemed that Moffat just wanted to keep going. And going. And going. Like the energizer bunny of the sci-fi genre.

I’ll admit that I didn’t think any of the endings were particularly bad. (Though none of the additional material really seemed to contribute to the story line.) That is, none of them until the last when Santa stepped aboard the TARDIS. At that moment, my heart filled with fear.

The thing about Moffat’s writing is that it can be hard to tell whether he’s about to do something completely rational (providing that rational is truly possible in a program about a time-travelling alien) or to take the show into the realms of the ridiculous. I now had weeks to wonder whether we were about to discover “horror of all horrors” that Santa Claus is a Time Lord.

It wasn’t the idea in and of itself that was particularly difficult to comprehend. He does manage to deliver toys to the entire world in a single night and his bag is definitely bigger on the inside. It was that the idea required the introduction of a fictional character into the world of “Doctor Who”.

Much to my delight, I discovered that I was not the only fan harboring this fear. Much to my dismay, I discovered that most of my non-Whovian friends simply didn’t understand. We all know, after all, that “Doctor Who” is a fictional series. It stars fictional characters who live in a (mostly) fictional universe. Or do we?

While I try to maintain the pretense of being a “reasonable” person, I have to confess that I have occasionally found listening for the wheezing of that big blue box. A part of me longs to escape with the Doctor (or at least my idea of the Doctor) and explore the universe. To look at everything with the awe of a child encountering the world for the first time. To see sights others have never seen and to have the kind of adventures that no one else believes are possible.
I want to face the type of problems that force me to “think outside of the box”. I want to make the hard decisions. To stand up for what I believe. And to see everything turn out alright in the end. It is because of this and, despite what I know, I could never utter the Whovian equivalent of blasphemy, “The Doctor isn’t real.”

Christmas came and went and, to my delight, the show retained its integrity. I could hear Whovians everywhere letting out a long sigh of relief. Whatever they may have thought of the episode (I confess I rather enjoyed it), one thing was still certain: Santa isn’t real. The Doctor is. And that’s a world with which I can live.


1, 3, 12: The Journey of a Whovian March 12, 2015

There’s a maxim that it’s possible to love the Doctor for the man, himself, but still favor certain incarnations. Watching forums, it quickly became evident that a failure to love the same regenerated forms as everyone else can be dangerous business. In fact, even my fiancé has expressed some concern at my lack of affection for David Tennant.

That said, my love of traditional sci-fi in the fashion of the old “Flash Gordon” serials left me more deeply attached to the classic Doctors. But even there, my favorites seem to differ from the mainstream. Yes, I like Tom Baker (I’ve met very few Whovians who don’t), but I can’t honestly say that I like him as much as Hartnell or Pertwee.

Older Doctors (not necessarily classic ones) have a unique repartee with their companions. Fathers and grandfathers, rather than lovers, they evoke a certain mystery. Like bottomless fonts of wisdom, teachers with but a few pupils. The affection they express for their companions is the same I would hope to receive were I fortunate enough to travel on the TARDIS – enough to know they care, but no so much that they become a threat to a regular romantic relationship.

This is important since, to be honest, I think my fiancé has been a little concerned that he might just end up getting left behind if a blue box suddenly materialized in front of me. A few too many episodes of Matt Smith’s Doctor (for whom I do feel some affection) have left him in a position where he can confidently cast himself in the role of Rory. Fortunately, as much as I appreciate the energy and wide-eyed-wonder of Smith’s character, he isn’t the one with whom I’d be most willing to travel. So I stick to my guns. I’m a first/third Doctor girl. Or at least I was.

I have to admit that I was quite curious when I noticed that the distinctly not-young Peter Capaldi had been cast in the role. While fans of the new series threw fits over the injustice of choosing a man old enough to be their father, I watched with ever deepening curiosity. And found myself slowly becoming a twelfth Doctor girl.

I can’t, of course, give Capaldi all the credit. While he plays the Doctor, he wasn’t the one responsible for all the throwbacks to classic “Who” that marvelously appeared throughout the eighth season. (I confess that I appreciated the bits of nostalgia scattered throughout.) But the slightly grumpy, distinctly charming incarnation grew on me with each episode.

Then “Dark Water” happened. I admit that I’m not easily spoiled, so the accuracy of the speculation about Missy did nothing to ruin the episode for me. I absolutely loved the Cybermen (and the fact that the Doctor missed something so incredibly obvious). But what I loved most was the opening sequence… the bit where Clara decides to get her due.
Despite the seemingly universal hatred for Clara, she is one of my favorites among the newer companions. (I admit to rather having liked Donna, too.) There is something about her innocence and strong will that harkens back to earlier companions like Sarah Jane. And I particularly love the strictly platonic relationship she has with the Twelfth Doctor. The result was that I felt the full impact of her betrayal in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.

I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat. Waiting. Waiting to see if the Doctor would do what most people would have done or whether he would prove himself the hero I hoped he was. I bit my lip as he responded to Clara’s question regarding the future of their friendship. And I slid to the edge of the couch as the Doctor replied, “Do you really think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

It didn’t really matter how the series ended. It didn’t matter that I thought the Cyber Brig was a bit of an overkill or that I thought the Danny/Clara sequences went on a bit too long. I simply didn’t care. From that line on, I was a 12th Doctor girl. If I were going to travel with just one of them – Capaldi’s Doctor would be my first choice.


The Accidental Whovian March 5, 2015

I didn’t mean to become a Whovian. In fact, if you’d asked my opinion of “Doctor Who” a few months ago, I’d have shrugged my shoulders apologetically. I’d have listened politely as you recounted the wonders of travel through time and space. Then I’d have walked away leaving you to question why, with my clear penchant for science fiction, I didn’t love the Doctor.

To be honest, much of my apathy was the result of a poorly-timed introduction to the show. Having heard my friends rave about the creativity of the writers, I’d decided to tuck in at what I mistakenly believed to be the beginning. In an episode entitled “Rose”, I met the Doctor, his not-yet-companion, and a few zillion plastic mannequins hell-bent on destroying modern day London. So much for time and space! It wasn’t very different from the average British sit-com… just significantly weirder. I hung in for as long as I could, but about fifteen minutes in, I simply gave up. Give me “Star Trek” any day.

At the same time, I couldn’t help wondering why so many of my friends were so passionate about the program. Most of the time, their taste was spot-on. So why this? And more importantly, how had they converted my fiancé into a hard-core Whovian? Was there voodoo involved?

“You just need to get past the first couple of episodes,” he reassured me. And to prove his point, he made me sack out on the couch with him and watch a few. To my surprise, the show did get better. And while it didn’t peak my own interest, it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t indulge my sweetie’s new passion. So we watched together until Eccleston regenerated into Tennant. Then, my fiancé went home for the semester and I conveniently forgot about the show.

To be honest, I’m not sure what caused my renewed interest in the program. The semester had been fairly boring for me and, looking for something interesting to “take me away”, I decided to take a shot at the Classic “Doctor Who” episodes offered on Netflix.

I selected an episode entitled “The Aztecs” and hit “play”. There, in all his glory, was William Hartnell – the First Doctor. I watched as great acting mixed with terrible props and sets worthy of the old “Flash Gordon” serials I remember watching with my dad. And I was hooked.

Over the next few months, I watched every episode I could get my hands on. I decided that my favorite Doctors were 1,3,7 and 11. I conned my fiancé into buying me a stuffed Dalek who I christened “Dave”. I bought “Dr. Who” novels and perused “Dr. Who” comic books. I bought a “Dr. Who” belt and followed “Dr. Who” fan-groups on Facebook and through my iPod. I subscribed to “Dr. Who” podcasts. I waited, along with the rest of the world, for the premier of “Deep Breath” and delighted in each wonderful, confusing moment of the two-hour special.

It had all happened without my knowing what was going on. I had accidentally become a Whovian.


Things Cyclists Wish Motorists Knew February 26, 2015

I watched as the truck came to a screeching halt and stared at me. I had the right of way, but it was clear he hadn’t seen me. It was also clear that he was more upset about not having seen me than I was about not being seen. (I had seen him and was able to stop well in advance of our anticipated collision.)

As I continued my ride, I began to contemplate the many things that I wish motorists knew about cyclists. (Like that we don’t all get angry just because you didn’t see us. After all, sometimes we don’t see you, either!) With that in mind, here are the top entrants on my personal “wish you knew” list:

1. Just because I’m small, doesn’t mean that I can’t (or don’t) move very quickly. I’ve been riding for a while and can easily keep pace with most residential traffic. The result is that if you suddenly pull out in front of me, you’ll be risking a collision. It may take a cyclist less time to reduce their speed than is required for the driver of an SUV, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take time. The faster I’m moving, the more time it takes.

2. My skill level is not evidenced by the clothes I wear. I’ve seen some amazing cyclists who wear street clothes and a backpack and some incredibly inept bikers who wear a full riding kit. Don’t presume that just because someone is on a road bike and wearing a jersey that they have the skill to stop or reroute themselves without getting hurt or hurting someone else.

3. Cycling laws don’t always mirror traffic laws. That means (at least in my State), that I get to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights like stop signs. It also means that I can ride on the road or the sidewalk. If you see me hopping onto a sidewalk, to avoid falling prey to a light or claiming a lane to preserve my safety, it isn’t necessarily because I’m a dangerous or impulsive rider.

4. Sometimes traffic laws are in conflict and it leads to conflict between those using the road. We’ve both dealt with the turn signal that goes green at the same time the crosswalk sign lights up. The pedestrian has the right to cross the very lane that the driver also has a legal right to cross. It isn’t your fault because you’re a motorist. It isn’t my fault because I’m a cyclist. It just is what it is.

5. There are good cyclists and bad cyclists… and sometimes good cyclists do bad things. Just as with motorists, our differing skill levels, degree of fatigue, and whether or not we had a good day at the office can influence our alertness and ability to react. While many of us are good at following the law, that doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally “run a red”. Show us grace when we do.

6. Sometimes I don’t see you. You may be bigger. You may be louder. But that doesn’t always mean that I know you’re coming. Just like motorists don’t always expect to see me on the sidewalk, I don’t always expect to see you dashing between those two oncoming vehicles.

7. I don’t ride to thumb my nose at people who drive. Yes, I like to ride because it provides me with exercise, saves me money, and helps to preserve the environment. But I’ll tell you a secret: I also own a pickup truck. I recognize that just as I have reasons for two wheels, you have reasons to get around on four. My choice of transport isn’t a judgment against those who choose another form.

So there’s my short list. To sum it up: mutual respect and a measure of grace can go a long way – regardless of the size of our vehicles!


Eccentricity, the Ant Farm, and a Jar of Spiders February 19, 2015

Filed under: Ants,Pets — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I have long held to the view that the difference between eccentrics and ordinary people is not their activities, but the mindset that leads to them. Where ordinary people get overloaded and have mental breakdowns, eccentrics have reserved the right to determine for themselves where, when, and how they will lose their marbles. Eccentricity is the ultimate declaration of independence. It states in clear terms that while circumstances may be beyond my control, my reaction to them is not.

So when things get stressful, I go fly a kite. I don my Slytherin robes and watch an episode of “Dr. Who”. I pull out my Star Wars coloring book and a box of crayons. I try brewing a new beverage in my carboy or growing mushrooms in the storage closet. I buy an ant farm for my desk.

I’ll admit that the latter activity did raise some eyebrows. It wasn’t that our staff hadn’t brought pets to work before or even that some of those pets weren’t unusual. It was just that only two of us had ever selected insects… and both of us selected our particular pet at nearly the same time.

Mine was, in my opinion, the most rational. I had an ant farm growing up and remembered how relaxing it was watching the little creatures dig their tunnels through the sand. Each day, I would carefully tap the plastic to knock all of the ants of the lid, then open up the tiny container to add some flake food and a drop or two of sugar water.

Ant farms have, of course, advanced since then. The only option (which I located only after some seriously hard looking), was the Illuminated Ant Farm Gel Colony by Uncle Milton. Moist and filled with nutrients, it eliminated the need to provide my new pets with food or water. It also had a somewhat alien appearance which was enhanced by a small light at the bottom of the farm. But it worked… and it bothered my colleagues far less than the pet being kept by my coworker in the office next door.

The only thing endangered by an unanticipated escape of my pets was the rotting fruit that my office mate insisted upon storing beneath his desk. My coworker’s pet, on the other hand, had the ability to kill us all. It had come in on a plant shipment and, despite its clearly non-native status, had readily been adopted. (Most of us think it was an act of sympathy towards the egg-sack it was protecting.) Carefully tapped into a mason jar retrofitted with air holes, the large black widow had become a permanent fixture on the book cases. What would happen when the eggs hatched was anybody’s guess.

Over the next few weeks, both pet “projects” progressed. Occasionally, my ant colony required supplementation (a task made easy by the native colony raiding my officemate’s food supply). Her black widow required its own supplements: a diet consisting primarily of moths who had the misfortune of blundering into the greenhouse. But while my pets merely sustained themselves, hers grew.

Then, one morning, it happened. We walked into the office to find her jar swarming with newly-hatched black widowlets, many of which were tiny enough to escape through the make-shift air holes. It was quite clear to everyone that if something weren’t done, we were all going to die.

Reluctantly, my coworker removed the jar and took it outside. She was gone for a while and when she returned she explained that she hadn’t actually thought through what she would do when the babies hatched. When we asked about her solution she replied quite simply that in her panic over the grossness of the jar’s contents, she had done the only rational thing she could think of; she had dug a hole and buried it.

My ant colony fared much better, surviving well into the winter. They dug their winding way through the gel until, un-sustained by a queen, the last of my industrious workers bid us adieu. With sadness, I packed the farm away, nestling it in a drawer from which it would emerge the following spring.

True eccentricity is marked by a curious ability to see a pending disaster and reroute it before it can do any harm. It is a safety valve which helps to preserve one’s health, career, and relationships wholly intact. I am and always will be a proud eccentric. My coworker, on the other hand… well, she was just plain crazy.


Humor and the Unexpected: Relaxing Your Audience and Yourself February 12, 2015

It was an impromptu presentation. Sixty seconds before presenting, each participant was assigned a topic. The time was insufficient to do much more than draw a deep breath before stepping to the front of the class. I did, however, have a trick up my sleeve – a brief, well-prepared introduction entirely unrelated to the subject.

Gazing out across the room, I smiled and began. “I had hoped that I’d be asked to speak about the dissolution of the Thai parliament and its economic impact upon APEC. Instead, it appears that I’ll be sharing a bit about goldfish.” The entire room burst into laughter and I launched into a three minute discussion on fancy goldfish and their superiority over other forms of aquatic life.

A few weeks later, I was called upon to speak again. This time, I began my presentation with a more foreign flavor. “Ahlan, SabaaH al-khayr. Ismi Anna.” I bowed my head ever so slightly to my audience, then turned to my instructor, who was smiling to himself, clearly doing his best to ignore the exhibition. “I’m sorry,” I apologized. “Did you want the presentation in English?” He nodded and the room burst into laughter. I then proceeded with a presentation entirely unrelated to my ability to introduce myself (rather badly) in Arabic.

The truth is that humor is a highly useful presentation technique, even for those of us who lack an inclination towards the lifestyle of a standup comedian. Brief, witty, and unexpected, it can serve to set both the audience and the presenter at ease. It breaks down barriers and builds a sense of camaraderie (even when it’s clear that the presenter understands something that the audience doesn’t). What follows are a few tips for using humor to introduce a presentation:

  1. Make sure you understand what you’re saying. No matter how hard we try, most of us are incapable of hiding the body language that accompanies discomfort with our subject. Be familiar with the topic of your humorous introduction before you share it with an audience.
  2. Listen to your vocal tones. Our voices, like our bodies, can betray our ignorance. Make certain that your tones reflect confidence.
  3. Practice your timing. Getting our timing right can be a challenge for those of us who are of a less humorous nature. Make sure that you’ve practiced your delivery before you go on stage.
  4. Keep it brief. People can tell when someone who isn’t funny is trying to be funny. A short humorous remark at the beginning to relieve tension and relax your audience… if you aren’t a natural comedian, leave it at that.
  5. Let the laughter sink in. Once your audience is laughing, you have their attention… but that doesn’t mean you need to plunge right into the presentation. Enjoy the moment, then plunge right in.

Humor can, of course, play a more significant role in presentation style, but since I’m not much of a comedian, I’ll leave it at that. Go out, give it a try, and see whether it works for you. And whatever your results, be sure to stop back by and share them with our other readers!


Social Media: An Invitation to Community February 5, 2015

Filed under: Social Issues,Social Media — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: ,

I admit to loving technology. Anything with an “i” in front of it excites me and social media gets me kind of jazzed. It isn’t that I can’t live without these things (I did for the entirety of my youth and for most of my young adult life), it’s just that they make connecting so much more convenient. They allow me to connect in ways that would otherwise be impossible given the pace of our modern society. (After all, how many of us really have time to have a face-to-face dialogue with most of our friends on a regular basis?)

Recently, however, I found a new use for this technology. For weeks, many of us had watched the final stages of our friend’s journey through life. In the end, it was through his Facebook page that his family notified us of his departure. And it was through his Facebook page that many of us who had never met, had the opportunity to share in the memory of a singularly extraordinary life.

There was something cathartic in the experience as individuals scattered across the country began to post their memories. Pictures, stories, and comments on each other’s reminiscences drew us together. In a sense, the page became a portrait of my friend’s life, a testament to an impact which I’m not sure he realized he’d had while he was still with us. Each “friend” shared the tale of a life changed because of his presence. And we found a sense of community as we grieved his loss together.

For some, this modern form of connecting via social media is a tragedy. It is viewed as a substitute for substantial and meaningful relationships. It is a medium through which anger, hate, and ignorance are too easily channeled. It is a place to express the narcissism and emptiness which are so common in our world today.

For others, however, social media is an invitation to community. It is an opportunity to play a significant role in the lives of others with whom our paths rarely (if ever) cross otherwise. It is a chance to build up, encourage, and support those around us as they share the joys and tragedies which so often go unmentioned in normal social settings.

Which is true? I would argue both. Social media in and of itself is neutral. Like time, money, or an education, it can be used for evil or for good. It can destroy or build up, bring doubt or faith, portray ignorance or knowledge, deepen the sense of isolation or create a connected community. Which of these it does is entirely up to us. And I choose the latter.


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