Familiarity Breeds…Great Trailers

Familiarity breeds contempt. A tried and true cliché. Just like absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. Or something like that. But when it comes to movie trailers (or posters), there are things you can only do when you already have an established audience that’s familiar with your characters and work.

That’s the trailer for the new Avengers movie. (Well, there’s another one HERE, too.) The beginning is virtually identical to the beginning of the first trailer for the first Avengers movie:

The big difference here is that the original movie required a certain amount of explanation about who these people are. The movies leading up to The Avengers minimized the amount of character introduction necessary in the preview, but they still had to explain the basic premise. In Age of Ultron, there was no need for this. They were able to make the preview more of a work of art. They could focus on the feel.

Same thing happened here, where they focused on the plot instead of the character, because they assumed the viewers were already familiar with the character:

Speaking of being familiar with a character, this movie poster says a lot with a little:

Anakin

Capture the Moment

At its most literal, writing is about selecting and sequencing words. It’s a damn simple thing. At its core, writing is about communicating ideas, feelings, or whatever else. It’s about having a thought, recording that thought, and getting that thought into other people’s heads when they read or hear your words.

Thoughts and ideas aren’t food, though “food for thought” is a popular saying. So we shouldn’t expect them to be perishable, like milk or a soufflé. But I find that any given thought often has a window of opportunity to be optimally recorded.

That window doesn’t always open right when the thought arises. Sometimes, rumination is required. Incubation after inception. Other times, it’s best to put fingers to keyboard, pen to paper, chalk to chalkboard.

Earlier today, I had the inspiration to write about the voices I hear in my head and how they’re probably my best shot at fame and fortune. That all sounds pretty crazy right here, but there’s a point. Unfortunately, life got in the way of my window to best express that thought. There was Gotham to watch, flights to book, laundry to fold.

Life is a good thing. I think it beats the alternative. But while it’s the source for writing inspiration, it can also be the enemy of the writing process. So strike while the iron’s hot and all that. There’s never a better time than now, except maybe later. Or before.

Master Procrastinator

I started NaNoWriMo yesterday. (Gosh, that CamelCase looks awful, huh?) The title of the novel that I’m going to fail to write this month is Master Procrastinator.

“How can you be so sure that you’ll fail to write this novel this month?” you may ask. Well, first of all, the narrator is a major procrastinator. He’s a master procrastinator, in fact. So he’s unlikely to get around to telling me the story any time soon.

Secondly, this character is based on my own mastery of procrastination. I’ve got all sorts of useful things I can do to successfully avoid writing this completely un-outlined novel. In fact, the only way I’ll get this novel finished is by using it as a tool to procrastinate that other useful stuff.

Finally, this would be my third consecutive National Novel Writing Month completed without writing a novel. I kinda want to keep that streak alive, you know?

Dear Readers

As those of you who follow my blog have noticed, I write in fits and starts. A few entries on consecutive days, followed by months of inactivity. Maybe this is just the nature of my muse, but it seems unfair to you and unproductive for me.

I would like to be a writer you can count on. I would like to write something every day.

When I don’t post anything for a month, a part of me assumes that no one is reading this. But it turns out that I had over 200 visitors in October without making a single post. That’s not traffic to brag about, but it is six or seven times per day that someone visits my site and has nothing to read from the last month.

That makes me a little sad. But I don’t feel like being sad today. So I’ll just decide to be happy and tell myself that I can write something for you all. Every week. Maybe even several times a week. For a change I will try to under-promise and over-deliver.

Critical Concepts Is Featured On Leanpub

If you visit Leanpub.com today, you’ll notice something awesome. Yeah, I kind of gave it away with the title, huh? Well, I am excited. My latest book with Dusty Schmidt, Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts, is featured on the front page of Leanpub.

This is the first book we’ve done with Leanpub, the leader in lean publishing. While some formatting options are limited with Leanpub, their workforce makes it tremendously easy to get started on a project.

If you visit my author page, you’ll see that I’ve got a ton of half-finished projects to go along with the seven booklets and one complete book of Critical Concepts. I plan to work on finishing several of them by the end of this year, and I’m sure I’ll think up a few new ideas over the next two months.

Hoppe Copy

Let this serve as notice to the several readers of this blog that I have fashioned myself into a professional copywriter. I write websites and brochures and books and blogs and other assorted various whatnots. In fact, I just wrote my own website, hoppecopy.com.

If you or someone you know needs professional help (of the written variety – I can’t prescribe drugs), please send them my way. Shares, tweets, links, and likes would also be extraordinarily helpful. Thanks!

copy_banner_black (1)

What’s Wrong With David Wright?

Following the end of the 2012 season, the New York Mets signed David Wright to an 8-year, $138 million contract. This was a legacy deal, intended to keep the Metropolitans’ all-time most productive homegrown player in New York for the balance of his career. The deal was viewed as both team-friendly and a significant risk. The absolute dollars were probably a discount relative to what Wright might fetch if he waited for free agency after the 2013 season, but the deal that was previously the largest the Mets had given out, Johan Santana’s $137M, didn’t work out so well.

David was coming off a stellar rebound in his 2012 campaign, after disappointing performances in 2009 through 2011, the first three years of Citi Field. It appeared that he was back to his 2005-2008 levels of performance.  Sure, the power wasn’t the same – just 21 home runs – but power and offense are down across the league. His wRC+ of 141 in 2012 was right in line with his former awesome self.

Fans often worry that a player will become complacent and struggle to perform after signing a long-term deal. Wright dispelled those notions by posting a 156 wRC+, the best of his career, in 2013. Despite playing in only 112 games, he managed to produce 6 wins above replacement level. That’s an elite level of production in a season cut short by a hamstring injury. More on those 112 games later.

It would be easy to say that Wright has sucked in 2014. He hasn’t sucked. He’s been mediocre. His 97 wRC+ is almost exactly league average. (wRC+ uses 100 as a baseline for league average and compares a player’s results to this baseline.) His defensive value has been slightly above average. His 1.8 wins above replacement represents an average starter over 5 months of baseball. There’s a huge problem with David Wright being an average major leaguer.

His salary.

The Mets are not paying David Wright to be average. They didn’t make him the captain and lock him up for the rest of his career so that he could produce at an average level. They need him to be a star. They need him to be the elite hitter he was from 2005-2008 and 2012-2013. But instead, they’re getting the worst year of his career.

This begs the question: What’s wrong with Wright?

I’ve heard a lot of opinions on why David is failing to perform.

  • He’s pressing. Trying too hard to carry the team.
  • He’s slacking. Not trying hard enough because he’s already guaranteed his payday.
  • He’s hurt. Playing through pain is one thing. Playing through debilitating injury is another.
  • He lacks protection in the lineup.
  • Citi Field is in his head. He can’t hit there.

At least one of these things is definitely true. He’s had shoulder and neck injuries this season. While Wright claims the injuries are not causing his struggles, we don’t have to take his word on that. It’s almost inconceivable that shoulder and neck injuries would not have at least some negative effect on his swing. But we also don’t have to believe that’s the primary cause.

When it comes to how hard he’s trying, I find it much more likely he’s pressing than slacking. But he’s actually had good lineup protection with Lucas Duda’s breakout season. So he has less reason to press this year than he did last year or the year before.

If Citi Field is in his head, why did he perform so well in 2012 and 2013? I don’t think the ballpark is the problem, but I do think the answer is in his head. Rather, the answer is in his getting hit in the head.

When he returned to the lineup near the end of the 2013 season, he got beaned in the head by a Johnny Hellweg pitch. Back in 2009, Wright got beaned by Matt Cain. The result was a 2+ year lull in Wright’s offensive production. Coincidence? Perhaps. But probably not.

After getting beaned in 2000, Mike Piazza, greatest offensive catcher of all time, was never the same player. Roger Clemens (deliberately?) hit him in the head and promptly ended Piazza’s prime.

I’ve espoused this theory on a Mets forum and some people have agreed, but I haven’t seen a single article mention it. The guy’s bailing out on pitches that are nowhere near him. Something’s going on in his head.

On July 4, 1996, I was in a car on 6th Avenue that went 55 to 0 in .1 second. For the next year or two, I would flinch every time I was in a moving vehicle. Collisions can stay with a person, especially if they involve contact to the head. I’m not saying that 100% of David Wright’s struggles are due to receiving a baseball to the dome, but I do believe it’s a significant factor. Perhaps it’s the largest factor.

What does that mean for his future? Hell if I know. Piazza never fully recovered, but he was a catcher already approaching the point of decline. The beaning just accelerated the process. Wright seemed to be in the late prime of his career when he got injured in 2013. Third basemen typically age better than catchers. But there is still cause for concern. Hopefully he’ll rest up over the offseason, shake it off, and perform at a level befitting his Hall of Fame talent.

Say Something. Anything.

Is that the secret to writing a successful blog? Do it every day? Or every weekday or every Wednesday? I think so. But following a schedule is something I’ve always had trouble with.

Apologies in advance. This is going to be a post modeled after the rambling path this zen madman follows. Or blazes. Either way.

Work has been weird lately. I took some time away from poker to focus on my writing career. That’s going okay. I’ll write something more concrete about writing later. That’s how we procrastinators roll.

I got this job doing event lighting. What do I know about event lighting? Next to nothing, but a lot more than what I knew when I started doing it earlier this month. It’s fun and boring and tiring and my back hurts.

Just this week, I returned to playing online poker. Played some hands on the not-so-fantastic New Jersey sites. I started one odd job and was offered another, odder one. Then I thought about building a new taekwondo school. Put a lot of thought into that, actually. And then it was live poker, driving to Atlantic City every week. But I don’t drive. So maybe I’d play in the city. And now I’m back to square one, or is it four? Writing.

Just another week in the life of a manic depressive zen madman on the rambling path to who knows where. I’d send you a postcard, but I probably won’t. I always say I’ll write, and then I don’t.

Postcard

 

Travis d’Arnaud, Taylor Teagarden, and The Hangover III, Part 2

In the prequel to this article, I wrote about Travis d’Arnaud’s demotion from the New York Mets to the Las Vegas 51s. He had been hitting like a butterfly in the majors, while Taylor Teagarden had been mashing the ball in the minors. I speculated that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but then Taylor Teagarden made me look foolish by poking an opposite field grand slam in his first start with the Mets.

d’Arnaud went on to murder the ball in Las Vegas, hitting 6 home runs, 8 doubles, and 10 singles in just 59 plate appearances. That’s 24 hits in 15 games. To put that in perspective, d’Arnaud has 24 hits in 40 games with the Mets this season. And he hit with much more power in Vegas than he’s shown at the major league level. Much more power. All told, his stint in the minors produced a ridiculous 1.384 OPS.

So Teagarden mashed in Vegas, then hit a home run in his first game in New York. Travis d’Arnaud mashed in Vegas, then returned to the majors last night, and guess what? He hit a home run! This wasn’t a little opposite-field poke like Teagarden’s home run. This ball was pulled and crushed. So maybe what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas after all. Maybe these guys stop off at the airport gift shop and grab a bag of that dry Vegas air to take with them. Then again, maybe not.

After that big moment in his first game with the Mets, Teagarden cooled off. He became more of an iced-Teagarden. Through 9 games and 30 plate appearances, Teagarden posted an OPS of .450. Yes, it’s a hilariously small sample. It’s also a hilariously bad stretch. OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging. d’Arnaud had a higher on-base percentage than Teagarden’s on-base plus slugging. Whatever.

The question we’re naturally left with is, “What does all of this mean?” Well, pretty much nothing. Nothing conclusive, anyway. These guys can hit home runs in Vegas, and they can hit them in New York. But they’re not going to hit as many in New York because the competition is tougher and the stadiums are bigger. There’s really no way to know whether the stint in Vegas “fixed” Travis d’Arnaud, or whether it simply gave him enough confidence to swing the bat well until his next 0-for-10 stretch. Time will tell. Or it won’t.

If d’Arnaud goes on to have a successful major league career, we won’t know whether it’s because he had a stint in Vegas at the right time, despite his stint in Vegas, or whether the whole thing was completely irrelevant. Cause and effect is a tricky thing to suss out. The good news is that it sounds like Travis made some actual adjustments while he was down there.

Per Wally Backman: “[We] moved his back foot closer to the plate. He was having a hard time hitting the pitch away, but now he can cover the whole plate. If it was that simple all the time, it’d be great. That’s one of the things he wasn’t doing in the big leagues. He needed to clear his head a little bit, come down here, have some success and get some confidence built back up.”

Per Travis: “It was all mental. [I’m] just focusing in on every at-bat like it’s my last at-bat. Not thinking about a hundred different things. Just focusing on one thing and keeping a solid approach on each and every pitch. I kind of went away from that [in the majors]. I feel like my concentration is up and I’m able to focus in easier. I feel good. I’m in a good place.”

 A week ago, that place was Vegas. Now it’s New York. They’re two places with a lot in common at night, but a lot of differences on the baseball field. Hopefully for the Mets and d’Arnaud, what happened in Vegas stays with Travis.

Male and Pale

I was born male and pale. This is not a privilege. My skin burns in the sun and my body is incapable of turning a single cell into a viable human life. If the 15-to-35-year-old me were given the choice, I might have been born female, in the Gina Carano or Venus Williams vein, with a diverse genetic makeup and cool name like Moon Bloodgood. Having said this, if the 15-to-35-year-old female version of me were given the choice, perhaps I would have been born male. I guess the concrete is always greyer on our side of the street.

My actual skin color and gender are accidents of birth. Due to these circumstances, over which I had no control, society has conferred upon me what is called privilege. It is definitely a thing, though I don’t agree that it’s exactly what most people say it is. For the moment, I’m going to ignore the roots of this privilege and focus on exactly what it is.

I can think of two major ways in which we can be privileged.

We can be granted a right which some people are denied.

There are some privileges which we can earn. A driver’s manual tells us that driving is not a right, it’s a privilege. I don’t legally have this privilege because I’ve never taken a road test. Cool. No Problem. That makes sense. If that’s important enough to me, I can take a road test and earn the right to drive. Similarly, I can study for my state’s bar exam and earn the privilege to practice law.

There are other privileges which we do not earn, like walking down the street without being harassed or threatened because of our appearance. I have been threatened because of my skin color on three occasions. I’ve had catcalls aggressively directed at me once or twice. These are small numbers. I can only imagine what it’s like to experience this on a weekly, daily, or constant basis. Freedom from this experience is not a privilege. It’s a right that we all should have. My life is not made better by the fact that someone else’s life is made worse. It’s my opinion that we all suffer for this, though we do not suffer equally.

We can be granted preference over people who are different from us.

I get asked for directions everywhere I go. In Germany they ask in German, in Montreal they ask in French, in Costa Rica they ask in Spanish, and in Sweden they ask in English. I’d like to think that people pick me to ask because of my confident bearing, ability to look at ease in unfamiliar territory, and outstanding memory and spatial awareness. Those could be factors. But the primary reason I get picked is probably because I have pale skin, grey-brown hair, and above-average height.

Getting asked for directions isn’t exactly a big-time privilege. But the same (perhaps subconscious) prejudices that lead people to pick me when asking for directions can also lead them to pick me for more significant things, like a job, a relationship, or president. Life can be a zero-sum game in these situations. While I do not gain anything when someone else is harassed on the street, I do receive material benefit when I get a job after a more-qualified applicant is passed over because of a third person’s prejudice.

It’s essential that I recognize that this is a real thing. It happens. It can go both ways. I’ve been treated as a less authentic taekwondo teacher because I’m not Korean; my acceptance as a yoga teacher has been questioned because I’m male; and I was denied acceptance to one private school because they wanted to reserve their financial aid for “inner city” kids, ignoring the fact that I grew up in a single-parent home in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. Ultimately, none of these incidents had a significant negative impact on my life. Also, these are three instances across 36 years. It’s easy for me to recall them because there have been so few. In the vast majority of cases, things have swung the other way. I have “benefited” from other people’s prejudice much more than I have suffered from it.

Why do I put “benefited” in quotes? Because, while I 100% accept that I have received undue preference due to prejudice, it’s not something I’ve ever asked for. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted. It does not fill me with joy. It makes me angry. It makes me ask myself, “What can I do about this? How can I get it off of me?” I can literally feel my heart beating with rage as I write this paragraph. Literally! And then I tell myself to breathe. And think. What can I do?

Since I was 9 years old, I’ve wanted to be famous. I never wanted to be like Paris Hilton. Famous for an accident of birth. I never wanted to be a prince. I wanted to be like Doc Gooden. Famous for being awesome. I wanted to be awesome. Just like an objectified actress who wants to be known for her talent rather than her looks, I feel degraded by getting chosen because of my physical appearance. It’s dehumanizing.

This is where we stumble upon the problem of the white dude painting himself as the victim. The problem rests upon the choice of article: definite (the) or indefinite (a). No, I do not think I am the victim. I am a victim. We are all victims of a society where people make important decisions based on unimportant data. Mental checkboxes. Male/female. White/Black/Asian/Latino/Other. Seriously, other? The need for a box marked “other” should tell you that the other boxes are irrelevant. They’re contrived.

Society is fractured by this othering. For people, it always seems to be about us and them. But there is no them. Only us. We are all of us, us. We all lose something when someone is chosen based on something other than their merits. It’s just that some of us lose a lot more. And others of us gain something dirty. Something tainted.

No, I don’t consider this a privilege. It’s a tactical advantage that I do not want.  Short of going all Robert Downey Jr in Tropical Thunder, it’s not something I can just shake off. All I can think to do is be honest that it exists, continue ignoring irrelevant data, and try to avoid things which I do not deserve. I’m open to suggestions.

You can call it privilege. I’ll call it materially-beneficial prejudice. The important thing is that we talk about it.