Thursday, December 06, 2012

Just sleep more, it's easy!

So, for the last three or four days, I've had this really annoying twitch in my right eye. It comes and goes, nothing too bad, just annoying.

I was trying to figure out if there was something I could do about it. Can a warm or cold compress help, would any kind of OTC medication do any good, that kind of thing. Because I can tell it isn't anything problematic, and I'm almost certain it's just from looking at the computer too much because I've been working a lot.

I know that looking up medical advice online is a dangerous thing anyway. But you can usually separate a lot of the junk from the real knowledge relatively easily.

In this case, there were basically only two pieces of advice on every single site I checked: reduce stress and sleep more.

I had another medical issue earlier in the month, and the three different doctors during the course of the day told me I should try to reduce my stress (they didn't mention sleep, I don't think they heard me when I said I'd only slept a couple hours, there were other things on their minds).

It's made me start thinking about it, and how often in my life I've had doctors just tell me to be less stressed out and to sleep more. How often we're told that, repeatedly.

Sure, it's sound advice. We probably all need less stress and more sleep.

But it's nonsensical in a lot of ways, because at the end of the day stress and sleep schedules are widely outside of our control. There are some things we can do, but it only is so much.

Stress often comes from jobs or money, things that we can't just cut out or change or fix easily. At the moment a lot of mine comes from health care and health insurance. But all of the issues with that are pretty much out of my control. Literally an Act of Congress can't manage to take care of most of it.

In the past few months, a significant number of my friends have had problems with their living situations and had to move on short notice. Who knows how many people are currently fighting to deal with their underwater mortgages and foreclosures.

All of this unavoidable stress that so many people are under is of course causing them to have insomnia. Or they're working long hours at multiple jobs so that they can pay for things and don't have time to sleep. Not to mention that Americans all have this cult of exhaustion going on. Have you ever heard two people at a job trying to one up each other with how little sleep they've gotten or how many coffees they've had to drink to be awake. Heck, even the show I'm watching just had a joke about how "we can sleep when we're dead."

Not to mention, how many of us have had bosses that expect long hours and even extra work once you come home? We live in a society that wants us to sacrifice everything, including sleep, to get ahead. And if you don't want to make that sacrifice then you're not just punished, you're shamed and insulted. I once had a job where I had to argue with them repeatedly that it didn't matter if they offered me extra hours or overtime pay, I had other things I was doing (I was a grad student at the time, and I'm married) and that no amount of money was worth my little spare time.

If we're supposed to reduce our stress and sleep better to help our health, then maybe we need to start looking at larger problems in our society and how they're affecting us in both large and small ways.

Castle: Season One

I had put off watching Castle for a long time, for a lot of reasons. I worried that it was only popular because of Nathan Fillion, because sometimes super fans don't always have the best record and are very forgiving of things if their favorite actor is involved (I'm guilty of this too). Also, because I watch way too many murder mysteries. It's one of my favorite genres, but I've felt a little burnt out on them.

I started watching a different police procedural type show recently, and I only got a few episodes in before I just gave up because it felt like more of the same. There was nothing to draw me in, I was just bored with how predictable they've all gotten. And none of the characters really interested me either. I was really afraid that was going to happen with Castle too.
It only took ten minutes of the first episode to change my mind. All I needed was to meet the main characters and I was sold and ready to give this more time.

The thing about mysteries, both novels and shows, is that they are a well worn genre. There are certain character archetypes, relationships, red herrings. The problem is, that for mystery fans, you can't leave these things out. It's a danger with any kind of genre work, you have to be part of the genre but you don't want to be the exact same as everything that came before.

The problem is, that a lot of shows try to circumvent this by doing the whole "but that's in books/on tv/in movies, this is real life!" argument. Don't get me wrong, Castle goes into this too, but they do it in a way that I love. Instead of the skeptical character going "this is real life!" you have Castle spinning his crazy stories and Beckett saying that this is police work, not a novel, and they need evidence. And on top of that: Castle's theories are usually wrong.

The show is just so creative. They're able to give the characters so much backstory, without it feeling forced or inconsistent. Even if the writers don't have the entire long story mapped out, they're very good at staying on track with their characters. Normally the first season of a show is where the characters are figuring out who they are, and the actors are trying to find themselves in the role. But Castle didn't feel that way.

Every single actor on the show is pulling their weight, and they're all amazing. Every character that could be a cardboard stereotype, especially Castle's family, isn't. There isn't a single recurring character that isn't layered, interesting, and awesome in some way.

Even the "Moonlighting" style relationship between Castle and Beckett doesn't feel tiresome and played out, but like two people genuinely getting to know each other and having a relationship build from begrudging co-workers to friends to possibly more.

I haven't really gotten into the specifics of season one, I know. But that's because the specific episodes almost aren't even the point of the show. Yes, the murders are all a little weird but the resolution of them is actually my kind of mystery. They keep me guessing, and with one notable exception, I almost always am following the same dead end trail as the detectives until they prove it wrong. It's the first time in a very long time that I've been excited to not know what's happening, and to have no desire to look up spoilers and know things ahead of time.

Also, unlike some shows on television (some of which Castle calls out without naming and those jokes are hilarious) they actually follow police procedure that seems realistic. Plus, so far I haven't seen them break any laws or violate anybody's civil rights to get the bad guy like some other shows I could name. Beckett actually delegates responsibilities to other departments and members of her team in a realistic way, rather than having some lab tech question suspects or a showing a beat cop running forensic tests or something.

The first season of Castle is only ten episodes, and I can see how it might have been a hard sell to the network in the first place so they only ordered a short season. But it finds it's groove so quickly that I'm still terrified it can't stay this good for that long. But then the season finale ends not on a physical cliffhanger (somebody held at gunpoint, somebody kidnapped, whatever) but on a very strong emotional one. You have to watch the next episode, not to find out what happens (though that's part of it) but to find out how they FEEL about what happened.

And that, my friends, is the mark of good television.

Book Review - Battle Royale

I reviewed the film Battle Royale a while back, and after I watched it I really wanted to read the original novel. I had an eBook version, so a lot of my criticisms I had to pull back because I don't know if the formatting was messed up. I don't know what it is about eBooks but even ones I've bought recently have had some really screwed up formatting going on.

There's also a challenge in reading a book that was originally written in another language. You can never tell if the problem you have is actually in the text or in the translation. Now, this is far from the first time I've read a translated book. The Ring cycle by Koji Suzuki are some of my favorite books. But it doesn't seem like Viz really spent a lot of time on the translation of Battle Royale.

There are plenty of pros to the book version over the manga or the film. There's a lot more story so that it's easier to actually believe the character development and the time frame for everything. Some of the characters are better established and more interesting. Especially when it comes to the main three characters.

The problem is that the characterizations of the villains and their motivations are very, very weak. Both of those villains were better fleshed out or treated in more interesting ways through other iterations of the story.

But the problem was that the writing style was very pulp, which is what lead me to wonder about the translation. It just felt unrefined and a little weak. I know that the original novel wasn't really fancy literature, but this felt even a little more unrefined than I expected. The reading level was just a little low, and that made it less fun to read. Not that it's a particularly fun to read a story about the brutal murder of teenagers by their classmates, but you get my point.

The other problem was that the story was very basic when it came to talking about the characters, or their motivations, or even feelings. But whenever there was a gun involved, it suddenly got very detailed and started sounding like a manual. It's one thing to be concerned about getting the details right but this is over the top.

Overall, I've already talked about the story itself and what I think of it, and it still holds up in the novel. But of the three versions of the story, I'm not sure it's the strongest. Despite the excessive gore and disturbing nature of it, I'd say the manga is probably the strongest version, but the movie and book would be up to personal opinion.