Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I'm alive!

I was in the ER twice this month with a migraine, and after the last one I couldn't be on the computer for a week. Now I am frantically trying to meet a writing deadline, so that's where all my keyboard typing time is going. Eeek! But I'll be back blogging in January.

My husband and I did start a new humor instagram account as something fun to help us cope with how intense and anxious the last few weeks have been. If you're a Lego fan or geek of any kind, you may get a kick out of it. https://www.instagram.com/built2laugh/

Happy Holidays and wishing you a wonderful New Year!

Friday, December 11, 2015

How to (not) End a Show in December

(This post contains some spoilers for DOCTOR WHO, ARROW, AGENTS of SHIELD, and ONCE UPON A TIME and Downton Abbey Season 3.- I tried to keep things cryptic, but if you're smart you'll probably figure stuff out. )

I am very annoyed by TV shows that leave their last December episode on a horribly sad note. Mid-season finale in November? Sure, kill someone off. Mid-season finale in December? HOLD OFF ON THE TEARS UNTIL JANUARY, DUDES! LET US HAVE A NICE CHRISTMAS! Or, you know, have the tragic thing happen in the penultimate episode and give us another episode to decompress before the holidays. (Like Agents of SHIELD. That wasn't a pivotal death, but it was super emotional and unexpected and I was pretty mad for the week when I thought that was the finale until Tuesday rolled around and we got another episode. Joke was on me.)

Okay, OUAT gets a pass because it is so obvious the character is coming back next season (and he's the showrunner's special snowflake). I was more upset about the last scene character destruction than the actual death.

Doctor Who, of course, contained an actual death but ended up being the best character exit on New Who - almost, I must admit, better than Martha's. (I love Martha, but not everyone appreciates her the way I do. *sigh*)

Arrow, on the other hand, was horrible. Like, they wrote a list of "how can we best spoil Christmas" and ticked off a bunch of boxes so that for the rest of my life I will probably burst out bawling whenever "The Little Drummer Boy" plays. What's ironic about that one is that the character in question might actually end up being alive!  (no, the grave is still four months away and X is alive in the promos for January) But it had all the emotional punch of a death and it was so explicitly tied into Christmas that I just want to punch things.

So far everything else is giving me happy feels, but Arrow was so awful, I'm still bummed about it today.

No, a TV show isn't going to ruin my Christmas. But man, it can leave a sad taste in the mouth for a bit. I mean, that one Downton Abbey Christmas special still holds all the awards for worst timing ever, but some other shows are definitely trying to steal the trophy.

Seriously,  I'd far rather get a cliffhanger season finale in May and have to wait three months to see it resolved than have someone die (or appear dead) right before Christmas.

BTW - if you mention the ending on any episode for any show that has aired in the past few weeks, please tag your spoilers for the sake of other commentators. Thanks! 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Gospel and the Deaf, or Videos in Church

Note: This is a post about accessibility in the Church, particularly as relates to the growing trend of showing videos during services. This is not meant to attack anyone, but rather to raise awareness and provide some tools. It is directed towards the Evangelical Christian Church, and deals with deafness as the disability because those are the situations I dealt with and feel equipped to talk about. I would be happy to share posts about dealing with disabilities in any non-government regulated context – please link to them in the comments or send me an e-mail.

One of the things I find most puzzling as a deaf women, is that it is the Christian videos that are always least accessible to me. I cannot count the number of times someone has wanted to watch some indie Christian film and I’ve had to veto it because it wasn’t close-captioned. And I finally stopped going to my childhood church in part because they would show videos pretty much every time I visited and never captioned them. Every time another video without visual words appeared, I felt like the church was saying “we don’t care about you.”

Here’s the thing. That isn’t true. The church where I grew up is a tremendously welcoming place full of great people who really shaped my life. They just didn’t know that there was a problem.

Unfortunately, this is true of most American churches. Unlike a business corporation, there aren’t diversity seminars (I have never even heard a sermon about disabilities), and unlike the internet, there aren’t accessibility laws. Churches might be wheelchair accessible because of the law, but there is no law governing making videos played live captioned, and there shouldn’t have to be.

Contrary to common assumption, lips in videos are not the same as real life. I can lipread pretty well in real life (although I’m exhausted after a 40 min sermon, so there’s a cap on how long of a service we can commit to), but I cannot lipread a video. No matter how big or how loud, it still is a flat surface, often with lips not visible.

Here’s the thing. It’s not just a deaf girl like me who needs those captions. It is also the older people who are losing their hearing, and either don’t know it, or are far too shy to ever speak up. They will miss the words of that video you are using to speak about Jesus, and they will never tell you because they think that would be rude. What a shame if a family finally manages to get anti-Church grandpa to Christmas Eve service, but he misses a message that would have really spoken to his heart because they used a video rather than a speaker?

It’s also those who don’t have English as a first language. If they are going to an English-speaking church, they probably understand English pretty well, but I have to think that they too will get far more out of a video if they have the English words to look at in addition to listening what the people said.

And the kicker is this – if a video is captioned, it will be more accessible to all of these people than a regular speaker. Instead of your message being lost to part of the congregation, it will be amplified!
I did quite a bit with film over the years, and I know full well how powerful a short film can be, and why it has been so embraced by the Evangelical Church. But I really don’t think Jesus would be too keen about us using a form of communication that is clearly not accessible to everyone listening to him, particularly when there are some pretty simple fixes.

So let’s talk about how you can still have those videos, and let their truths speak to everyone this holiday season.

#1 – it may seem easiest to pick a video without spoken words. Silent films are powerful, and can draw a viewer in even more than one with narration or dialogue. The problem with this method is that it flips the accessibility problem over to the blind community. While you might know for certain that you don’t have a blind member in your church, you can’t know that one won’t come as a guest.

#2 – only use videos that are already captioned, and have enough narration that blind congregants can also follow along.

#3 – if there is a video you really want to use that isn’t captioned, consider captioning it yourself! Captioning a 5 minute video is pretty simple, and you can probably find a kid in the youth group who would be happy to do the technical bit. (Before doing this, I would suggest asking the original video creator if a) they would do the captions themselves, or b) if you do it, if they creator would like a copy to offer to anyone else in need of captions).

#4 – if you absolutely cannot caption the video, offer a transcript at the door. (This is the solution my old church finally adopted). I strongly suggest having a sign for this right away at the entrance, and have the ushers with the bulletins holding the transcripts right there, because some people (especially the elderly who are newly hearing impaired) may be too self-conscious to get back up from their seat and go over and get a transcript.

#5 – if you create internet videos to draw people closer to Jesus, please, at a minimum, offer English captions. (No, the youtube auto-captions are horrible. Try them sometime and laugh at the ridiculous, then cry for those who have no other choice but to use them). Having English captions available will make it easier if someone ever wants to do Spanish/French/Arabic/etc captions.  Make a call for translations part of your intro text. If you have different versions available for churches/missionaries to use, make that clear and encourage people to ask for them!

#6 – encourage any congregants with disabilities to be open about them. Occasionally make announcements and designate a contact person for them. Churches are so willing to pray for physical healing, but they don’t seem to know what to do beyond this for the disabled body of Christ. Open dialogue and earnest searching is the only way to overcome this.

(A Facebook commentator pointed out that I didn't address ASL in this post. It doesn't work very well for videos due to lighting/positioning, but it's worth talking about ASL and the Church and acknowledging that accommodation in this post, so I'm hoping to do a follow-up post talking about that briefly and will link to it here when it's done. If any of you out there are a Deaf ASL church-goer, I would LOVE to talk to you about your experiences for this follow-up post. Thanks!)

One final thought. Some of you may be wondering why I left my childhood church rather than advocate for the changes I’m talking about in this post. It is very true that those of us with disabilities need to speak up and educate others about our issues. I have always regularly communicated my needs, and that was part of the problem – it was exhausting. I felt that if there was any place that should be ahead of the curve on being accessible, it should be the body of Christ. On top of some other issues I had with the place, it was just too much for me to handle at that point in my life. So I left. But this is part of why I am writing this post, to have something prepared to bring to any new churches I visit, once my health gets better. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll walk into a church that will already have the accommodations I need. That would be the best gift ever.

As stated above, although this post is about a specific circumstance in a specific location, I would like to raise awareness about all disabilities in non-government regulated capacities. Please feel free to share good links with me, and if I think they are constructive to the discussion, I’ll add them to this list.

Accessibility at Geek Conventions  (Ironically, the MN convention, CONvergence, was one of the most accessible experiences in my life!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

OUAT 5.11 - "Swan Song"

y'know the drill. SPOILERS.

Okay guys. Let's be honest. While there were some great moments in the episode, it wasn't quite as climatic as most OUAT mid-season finales are. In fact, I thought the flash back scenes with Hook's father were actually kind of a let down (except the finale one, of course). Hook's sacrifice was not at all a surprise... and not nearly as sad as it should have been, given that anyone who reads the internet probably already knew they were going to the underworld in 5b so of course Hook is coming back. Which is sad, because the actors did a great job with the scene.

(Speaking of Hook's father, I totally thought his half-brother was going to be Robin Hood. Someone on tumblr theorized that Liam = William = Will Scarlet, which I think would be interesting although I'm not sure if the timelines work for that).

What WAS shocking was Rumple's reversion to being the Dark One, out of choice. I did NOT see that coming, and this is probably the maddest I have been about anything on OUAT since they made Captain Hook a hot hero. I've been a Rumbelle fan since day 1, and this is my breaking point. I cannot trust Rumple after this. I truly thought that removing the darkness was going to let him be good at last and he and Belle would get to be happy for more than a single night but NOOOOO.

Listen, I can deal with a lot of the show's twists and turns. I'm not a fan who gets mad at every little thing. But this is pretty big, and feels like a real blow in the face to the fans who have been cheering for Rumbelle for 4 years now. *sigh* Yeah. I'm ready to have Belle really and truly get over Rumple and fall for someone else. Except, of course, now actress Emilie de Ravin is pregnant, so there's a decent chance a little baby Gold is heading this way next season.

Now, in regards to babies. poor baby Hood and baby Neal! And Roland! I sort of can't believe that ALL the parents just marched off to the Underworld. And baby Hood doesn't even have a name! We have to wait until March to know her name? Tragedies!!!

The 5a story arc has been quite good, which is why this lukewarm mid-season finale is puzzling. After several years of very disconnected A and B season parts, this seems to be a much more integrated storyline, so perhaps that is a factor.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

OUAT 5.10 "Broken Heart"

I haven't been great about keeping up with writing reviews lately, but, eh, health issues. That's how it goes. Still, I have been enjoying the recent twists and turns on "Once Upon a Time."


Seriously, though, the moment I gave into "oh, Hook is cool, I guess I ship him and Emma" they have him turn evil again. HAHAHAHAHAHA. That was hilarious timing.

But it is fascinating, after Sunday's episode, to see the contrast between Emma's pretend (but not real) Dark Oneness, and Hook's immediate and complete capitulation to villainy. After spending the whole season going "Emma's evil!" to "Is Emma really evil?" to "Wait I think she has a plan and is not actually evil..." to "SHE IS TOTALLY NOT EVIL well except that thing with the girls heart but okay" ... and then Hook is just... BAM. MOST EVIL PIRATE. (A very funny evil pirate, though.)


But really, OUAT gets plenty of criticism, but there have been some intriguing new things happening this season that I think they should get kudos for. Getting to see Rumple finally turn GOOD, completely, and see him and Hook face off again was immensely satisfying. I'm not 100% convinced that was Belle at the end there. I mean, it seemed like exactly the sort of thing Hook might do to mess with Rumple, and a few lines rang less than true to Belle's character. Who wants to guess that he's actually holding her prisoner somewhere?

Zelena confuses my emotions. She's an awful, vile person - but she is so entertaining to watch. It was heartbreaking to see her with her baby (still nameless - who laughed at the "Baby Hood" namecard?)... yet I still have to wonder at Robin and Regina's sanity because what on earth was preventing Lady Green from poofing off with baby and disappearing forever??? We'll see, I guess. I'm guessing Zelena either begins reforming or dies by the end of this season.

Now the whole "ALL THE DARK ONES" thing was a bit overkill. Rather than one big villain, we get two dozen black riders running around? Hmmm... seems like a good way for our heroes to get even less screen time. But I guess it'll all lead into the Underworld plot for 5b, so we'll see...

...the good news, however, is that it means Merlin is very likely coming back at some point. So for everyone who cried out when Hook crushed his heart... stay positive! His face is probably not gone for good yet!