On The Art of Overextending Oneself

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My accumulation of Social Media pages is more cluttered than my actual life…if that’s even possible. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Part two in my two-part series on Social Media in my life, which originally ran in GeekMom May 28, 2016. Read Part one here.

A while back I purchased a generic book at the local Barnes & Noble called 500 Drawing Prompts. It had no publisher listed. I just found it among those impulse book buys often seen in the store entry.

Drawing is one of my earliest joys, and I had been wanting to do more for fun and peace of mind. This book consisted of blank pages, some divided into two or more sections, with a brief drawing prompt: “bowl of soup,” “vampire,” “sun,” “alien spacecraft.” I thought this was a fantastic idea, and I would do one prompt a day for 500 days to keep my mind and creativity challenged.

I’m officially 197 days behind schedule.

This is typical of my thinking. I can’t just purchase something and think “this would be fun to have.” I have to turn it into an over-the-top goal to add it to a daily, weekly, or monthly regime. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing anything? Right?

I’m also behind on translating a screenplay-cum-book outline into prose. The story and plot are finished, I just need to translate the format. I promised myself one chapter a day, but this soon crumbled into one chapter every three weeks. Not good.

I maintain a stack of books, comics, and magazines to be read. Behind on that, too. My friends and family have purchased me some of the trendy adult color books “in case I’m ever bored.” Hahahahahahaha. Sorry, couldn’t help it. Sad thing is they’re pretty cool. I’ve got the Doctor Who and Sherlock books, one of the Harry Potters, and one I purchased for myself that’s an extreme mystery color-by-number. Of course, I’m working on a DIY for GeekMom later utilizing these books. I can’t just enjoy coloring for no reason, now can I?

I’ve mentioned this “buzzing bee” tendency briefly in my James May post, but since then the clutter has continued to accumulate. Not in a “hoarder” way, I promise. I try to maintain a tidy home: another distraction. I have to make sure I go through one room each month and purge, dust, straighten, and organize. I just can’t calm it down, which is why social media has not only become an outlet for me but a bit of a curse.

See, I work out of the house. This is a situation ideal for me right now because I get to be available for my family when they need me. It’s also bad because people assume that means I’m primarily a stay-at-home mom. I respect these parents greatly because I know how much work is involved, but I also have to make sure I keep up with my actual paying job as news (calendar) editor for a monthly local arts and entertainment guide. Most months, I actually have to work nearly all night for several nights in a row come deadline. I’ve been an insomniac for ages, so this fits fine, except for the occasional “wall hitting” emotional and physical crashes.

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I have so many things I want to make, read and enjoy…but I need to simply my schedule.

For years, the only “social media” I had was email. I checked before work in the morning and before bed. Less than an hour a day. About the time my second daughter was born, six years ago, we joined this thing called Facebook “just for family.” I only spend about a half hour a day tops on that, despite the fact I somehow have 370 friends. (I don’t know that many people, do I?)

I soon started writing some posts for a site called “IHOGeek” and started my own blogsite, both on WordPress, to keep all my posts together in one place. In about a year, I had built up several stories and started checking my “stats” (story hits) several times a day, a bit obsessively.

Next came Pinterest. I started it just to share my stories and projects. I only planned on having three boards. That’s morphed into 139 boards, 98.4 thousand pins, and 13.1 thousand followers. I’m really not sure how this one got so out of hand, but I look at the most of the time I do my late night work.

When I got picked up by GeekMom, I quit working with IHOGeek just to keep my schedule under control. Around the same time, my husband wanted to start a family site we called MinionFeeding101. I did three posts a week for the family site, of which I was getting pretty proud. Unfortunately, my husband’s schedule wasn’t conducive, so after two years of trying to build it up, he called it quits. The site is now dormant until I can get him back on board.

Still avoided Twitter. “Nope. Not doing it,” I thought. I heard comedian Ricky Gervais compare it once to the world’s largest bathroom wall, and every time I’d seen it I tended to agree. My husband was using Twitter for our MinionFeeding101 images, as well as Instagram, so I felt I didn’t need even mess with those. If I need to share an Instagram photo for GeekMom, which I haven’t done in awhile, I’ll do it through there.

I kept building up the sites. I joined DeviantArt because you can’t just draw for yourself anymore, and I share everything from GeekMom and DeviantArt on my Pinterest boards–and sometimes on Facebook. I started a Tumblr site and found I don’t like Tumblr at all. It’s the moronic slacker roommate of Social Media sites. It’s just a series of fan gifs and the occasional “I hate you if you don’t agree with my social view” memes.

I started to share my older movie-related posts on a site MoviePilot but found it similar to Tumblr in intelligence. I eventually got rid of my pages, but the process of getting my work OFF MoviePilot was an ordeal in itself.

Not long after, the wonderful uniting of the GeekMoms and GeekDads to create an even more diverse group of geeky parents occurred, and I made sure I joined them on the collaborative message board site, Slack. With so many great writers having so much to say, following that can be a little daunting. I keep up, though, even if I don’t often reply. It’s like the message board equivalent of being in a big room full of people of all walks of life having interesting conversations. You just don’t know where to jump in, or if you’re even invited into that particular circle right now.

That should be plenty to keep anyone busy and well linked (oh yeah, I joined LinkedIn primarily for my “day job” contacts). Honestly, I don’t like it. You’re not going to see me doing much on that.

And then I gave in and reluctantly joined Twitter last September.

I’ve pretty much concentrated on this one to share my work and build a reputation for sharing others’ creative achievements. I’ve amassed a few great artists and writers following me, and keep this on most of the time I’m working as well.

Does this social media attraction, sometimes distraction, sometimes borderline addiction, affect my everyday work? Most definitely! All these little social media pages and projects often weave themselves into my day, particularly when I’m bogged down with the mindless calendar duties. I need to have something on another screen in order to feel my mind is getting some stimulation. Yes, I have multiple monitors, just like the Batcave.

Without social media, my “need to keep busy” nature would fill in those gaps with more work. I tell myself that would be a good thing because that extra work would actually be productive rather than time wasting. I still have my projects lined up, and if I find myself at a time when I can just relax, I get a little jittery. I walk around the house thinking “what do I need to do; there must be something?”

I don’t have a smartphone, so I’m able to ignore this lure when I’m not working online. That’s a good thing, at least. I can walk the dog, wait for appointments, and sit at a restaurant without staring at a little flat rectangle (unless books count), but I’m not any better than anyone else here.

I check it often while I work on the computer. Who read my articles? Who liked my crafts and DIYs? Who put my artwork under their “favorites?”

Not only that but everything I do I wonder, “will this make a story?” “Do I share this one on Facebook or Twitter… or both?”

Oh sweet Mother Mary, what the heck is wrong with me?

I have to ask myself: why do I need that many people connecting with me via cyberspace, and why can’t I do anything without wondering if it needs to be swept out of my real-life world and into that social media web?

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Talent and good intentions don’t fill pages, sitting down and actually working on a project will.

I worry at times we’re all turning into the Wall-E scenario where we live vicariously through experiences on or screens. A 2015 CNN story stated teens and tweens spent around 9 hours a day checking their social media sites, and a 2016 report from Pew Research Center said 62 percent get their news via social media.

I do tend read news sites online more, but thankfully my teen doesn’t have a cell phone. Her social media (only Pinterest and e-mail allowed right now), is an after homework activity she spends about two hours on, at the most, on a little laptop computer she uses at her desk. She often gets bored with that and reads her fantasy and manga books. At least she’s bucking the trend.

I mentioned last week in my first half of my Social Media series, ‘Grand Tour’, DriveTribe, and The Social Media Fan Frenzy, people have this “big bowl of M&Ms” access to their favorite celebrities, via social media.

As far a maintaining our own sites, and sharing our own work, it’s more like a huge, fancy, decadent buffet. There’s so much we want to try, so we’ll just try a little of everything. This is especially true if you’re a creative type. Artists, writers, photographers, and musicians find social media outlets essential for sharing their work.

Unfortunately, like a buffet, it’s really easy to pile up the samples, until you’re plate if so full you can’t possibly consume it all and not be sick.

And, I’m absolutely stuffed.

So what do I do? What can we all do? We’ll, I believe the key to maintaining a healthy diet is moderation. Don’t eliminate, but cut back what we don’t need.

This should extend to my social media use. I get art and story ideas from Pinterest and DeviantArt. I’ll keep it. Tumblr is empty calories. I’m getting rid of that one soon.

If I’m not doing my actual editing or working on a story, there’s really no need to be on these sites. I’ll continue to keep only Twitter going while I’m editing, but everything else should return to the “once in a morning and once before bed routine.”

That way, I can get on top of my reading, my DIY projects, my workouts, my book, and that continually lurking sketchbook. I think I’ll get on that book right now and fill a few pages.

But first, I need to check Twitter to see who those 12 notifications and one DM are from.

Image: GrammarlyQuotes.

The Social Media Fan Frenzy: Case in Point “The Grand Tour”

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When the show formerly known as the Amazon Prime Motoring Show is officially became The Grand Tour, the hosts’ legions of social media fans are made sure everyone knew it.

Part one in my two-part series on Social Media in my life, which originally ran in GeekMom on May 12 2016.

After months of speculation, my boys of W. Chump & Sons, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, have finally settled on a real bonafide, official name for their new Amazon Prime Motoring Show, The Grand Tour.

But what I was most interested in as a result was this question: this trio knows how to amass fans on social media, but how much access to our favorite celebrities to we really need?

To provide the background:

Clarkson, May and Hammond’s announcement came at a good time, with BBC’s new Chris Evans-led Top Gear cranking up the trailers for their premiere on May 29.

Their simple name, Grand Tour, (which is perfect for their new “no studio tent tour format”) has been met with, as expected, a flood of social media hits, especially they are looking for more stops on their “grand tour,” an announcement made via their individual twitter accounts and the newly-created show’s Facebook page.

“So, the Grand Tour (GT for short) will come from a tent, which we will put up in a different location every week,” Clarkson announced on his Twitter page. “Your town?”

Within three hours of posting this, Clarkson got more than two thousand “likes,” and nearly 500 responses from “please come see us,” fans worldwide. Both May and Hammond had similar responses. Yes, I told them to come to Texas, but hey, I always need story material, and I’ll let them drive my dad’s Mustang GT, a family heirloom of 50 years.

Of course, they’ve also been staking their social media deck in other ways. All three individual hosts announced their own official Facebook pages within the past month and those now join several already-popular “former Top Gear hosts” fan sites.

My muse James May’s official page is listed as a “Health and Beauty” site, and has already gained more than 1.5 million followers, including many of the more than 2 million followers he pulled from Twitter.  Clarkson, listed under “scientist” and Hammond, listed as ‘Pet,” have amassed several thousand on their sites (although Clarkson leads the trio’s Twitter following with more than 6 million followers). Hammond, however, added an Instagram page recently and he’s moving up in followers.
Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.

Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.

But wait, there’s more. On almost the same day this trioannounced their Facebook pages, they announced their longtime collaborator, television Executive Director Andy Wilman, first official partnership with the “ambitious new digital media platform that will connect global audiences with motoring content,” DriveTribe.

The concept of the site is to structure car enthusiasts into “tribes,” depending on their own unique personalities and characteristics.

“Gamers have got Twitch, travelers have got TripAdvisor and fashion fans have got, oh, something or other too. But people who are into cars have got nowhere,” Hammond said in the site’s official press release. “There’s no grand-scale online motoring community where people can meet and share video, comments, information and opinion. DriveTribe will change that. And then some.”

They won’t be running the site themselves, as it will be under the leadership of tech savvy mavericks Ernesto Schmitt (founder and CEO of Beamly), and Jonathan Morris (previous CTO of Financial Times online). This news didn’t matter to fans. They are already vigorously glomming onto the site, which officially launches this fall, just like the newly christened Grand Tour.

Whether you love or hate these three, you have to admit, they are covering a lot of social media ground. Having followed this saga, I’ve begun to realize how much social media has become the quickest, most efficient, and sometimes most disturbing way of celebrities connecting with the public.

When I was a young teen, the information about a favorite actor or musician was limited to whatever read in magazines, saw on the television or movie screen, or heard on the radio. I kept my favorite station on all afternoon to hear the news of the latest single coming out. We didn’t have cable, so I found my music video fix weekly via Friday Night Videos, or when I visited friend’s house who had MTV. MTV, when you think of it, was kind a precursor to Twitter. We really didn’t want to watch anything, but that awesome video might come up next. Better keep tuned in just in case.

Today, with YouTube, we can see our favorite video anytime (and again and again, if we wish), be it music video, movie trailer or clip, or recent interview. This, in addition to a celebrity idol’s (or their “personal assistantsP) “insta-posts” on social media, make it way, way too easy to keep up with those famous folk who at one time in our world seemed so much further away.

This is the type of easy-access information current I like to refer to as the “big bowl of M&Ms” communication method (no product endorsement intended). These fingertip means of finding about — and reacting to another person — are just so tempting. You’re not really hungry, and these little tidbits of fun aren’t particularly good for you in large doses, but what’s one little handful here and there? We just want to see what our favorite celeb is up to. We’re not obsessed. Right?

We just check a Twitter feed in the morning, a Facebook exchange a little later on. Have they posted anything on Instagram? We take one “small handful” after another, and next thing we know the bowl is near empty, (along with the time we’ve had allotted for actually productivity), and we’ve successfully (albeit unintentionally) cyber-stalked a few high-profile strangers.

Now, before I sound like I’m wagging a judgmental finger at fellow computer-users, I need to point out I dip into that bowl often, as well. I’m an avid follower of this threesome. I’m also a writer and editor working from my home in my “day job,” which means that big, nummy colorful bowl of chocolatey candy-coated information is constantly right in front of me…and it is near impossible to ignore. I’ve had plenty of handfuls, believe me.

I follow all three of these men, and respond often, but I don’t expect a response. I do however, expect something else: I want people to read my work and make my little projects. I do this by constantly reposting my favorite posts. I don’t feel bad about doing this, since I’ve seen fellow writers and artists do similar. As a writer for GeekMom, I especially like to write about my geeky passions that I hope resonate with others of similar fandoms.

There are some great things about being able to connect with celebrities via social media:

• It is easier to get updates on the someone’s latest project, for example, we all now know about Grand Tour. Celebrities pushing a project don’t have to rely on the network or movie company to get the word out anymore. Sometimes, a simple “Watch for me tonight on BBC-Four” is all they need, and fans tune in. Often times, the fanbase becomes the best form as information sharing, since one good comment or interview will get retweeted, and shared countless times. Heck, I know what’s going on with people I don’t follow, because so many others retweet something. Twitter is the world’s largest informational ripple effect.

• It creates a “community” in a seemingly more isolated society. We read again and again about how people are plunging more into their own little isolated, narcissistic online worlds while becoming detached to those around them. I often worry about this. However, I’ve noticed a flip side to this issue. People who might otherwise have nothing in common are connecting via a similar “fandom” (often a person) via social media. I’ve made some “acquaintances” from all over the world, just because clicked “follow” on @MrJamesMay. Some people consider social media friends as one step away from “imaginary friends,” but really I’ve discovered it’s like having pen pals (which I did have as a kid, and no one said I was delusional). One “Twitter friend” direct messaged me about writing tips, and another read a Tweet about an online course I was taking, and offered to send me a book that might help. I will never meet these people in person, but it certainly is a treat to have them in my life. That’s pretty cool.

• It makes celebrities seem more like the humans they are. My mother used to lament that celebrities used to be “larger than life,” and had a mystique to them. I’ll admit some celebrities should take a lesson in decorum and poise from the past, but I do like the fact we can catch them “off the red carpet” sans make up and glamour. This is by their own accord, too, not through the lens of some paparazzi. They tweet pictures of their food, pets and family gatherings, which in reality are no more interesting then those of non-celebrities. Of course, like other human beings, people tweet or share Facebook posts to brag about something, and their “hey look where I am” tweets can be a little annoying to those of us with little disposable income. I’ve written before how I refuse to call myself a “fan” of any one person (I still do), because I don’t think people who opted to work in a pharmaceutical lab or run a family restaurant should ever consider themselves of lesser valuable than those who chose a career in front of a camera. Social media sites are pretty good levelers. A celebrity might photograph their feet overlooking the edge of their yacht, but their nappy toes are as ugly as everyone else’s.

However, there are also many problems with this quick-and-easy celebrity access as well:

• It’s a bit voyeuristic. There’s no “out of sight, out of mind” element, anymore. If a benefit of Twitter and Facebook feeds is making celebrities seem more, “human,” the dark side is they are inviting people too much into their lives. Is this a bad thing? Well, it is a little in the realm of “too much information.” Do I really need to see a crumb-covered lap, or every single view from a jet plane (often clouds)? No, but many of us feel we need to, and comment away. I even used Twitter to voice this concern in regards to one celebrity (okay, James May, dammit) who got more than three thousand likes for showing a picture of a half-eaten boxed dessert, and inquiring who took the other half.

“I can’t get enough people to read my stories, and this guy gets thousands of responses for bitching about a @#% pastry,” I wrote. I got a few likes, while that half-eaten pastry gained several more comments, not to mention a few invites from people willing to bring him a new one. Awww.

Also, it’s always nice to see people’s friends and families online, but I worry about too many people see what someone’s kids look like. This is the protective parent in me. I do include photos of my own children in my work, but they don’t get nearly the views a celebrity gets. I think if I were pretty well known, I would lay off the online reality show, and just post my silly projects for a while. I don’t always trust the cyber world.

• It creates a pied piper effect. Some celebrities are pounced on anything and everything they tweet or post. Sometimes, they even pose a question to their followers, and “Ping!” “Plunck!” “Tweet!” the responses pop up like magic. They dangle those quips, and the followers are there and ready.

I really don’t like it when celebrities use their fan influence to promote a political candidate or stance, but I won’t get into that issue, especially in this weird year in both the United States and United Kingdom.

I will include the names of bands, actors, artists, authors and more in my own posts, mostly in regards to something I’ve written or to promote something creative I think others would love to learn about.  I usually hashtag things with #MakeThings and #Draw for visual arts, #Write to help introduce people to my favorite writers, including comic book authors, and #WeAreTheMusicMakers for all things music related. I’m not afraid to admit James May has influenced my #MakeThings hashtag, but some people base their entire twitter names on the fact they are someone’s fan.

I’ll post about someone, but not directly to them, if it isn’t an actual reply. At least I try not to.

This leads to my final thought:

• Social Media can lead to a fandom run amok, and create obsessive addiction. This is something I’ve noticed following my former Top Gear hosts and other celebrity types that is kind of scary. There are fans who wake up every morning, and immediately direct a “good morning” post to their celebrity idol. I’ve also seen a few who do what I like to call “Twitter-baiting,” not just on occasion, but several times a day. I have to add, I do genuinely like many of these people, so I’m not giving any specifics or real tweets. These are typical of the comments:

“Hey @celebrityperson, what do you think of this picture?”

“I had a bacon sandwich today, I bet you would love this @favoriteactor. What do you have to say about that?”

“You’ve talked to me before, @personIlove, why won’t you respond again? Don’t you care anymore?”

Many people do this, and I’m not saying those who do are lesser people. Some of them are pretty funny and intelligent, but honestly too much of this practice creeps me out a little. I’ve seen one person whose happiness was based on the fact one celebrity responded to his Tweet. He spent a considerable amount of time trying to get him to do this again, with increasingly depressing and self-deprecating comments.

Please people, we’re better than this.

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Questions, photos and snarky comments: what else could a fan want? I bet Rainn Wilson has sold a few more books, thanks to his buddy Nathan Fillion. Images via Nathan Fillion official Facebook and Twitter, Mark Hamill official Twitter and Chris Pratt official Instagram.

Send  amusing anecdotes to celebrities sparingly. I’ve done this just for chuckles. Don’t, however, hang all your hopes upon hearing from them. I can’t stress this enough: celebrities don’t know us. We know who they are, quite a bit about them thanks to their own over-sharing, but we don’t know them, either.

I love James May’s style, on air persona and writings, but I don’t love him. This is because I don’t know him. Haven’t and never will meet him. I do, however, truly adore my husband and kids with all my heart. I love my pets and my friends and family, not always in that order. They are my reality.

When it all comes down to it, the responsibility of controlling our online relationship with celebrities lies with us, the information consumer.

I really can’t blame the “celebrities,” as much as I’d like to bust their egos at times, but their image is their product. Even on social media, I think they are in some way sharing an amplified version of themselves to help gain followers and fans, and, in the long run, sell records, movie tickets, books or whatever they’re pushing. In short, their outreach to their public is nothing personal. It’s business, and I don’t blame them. I would do it, too.

Sure, we could argue there have always been obsessive fans who buy every album, watch (and now purchase or download) every movie or show, and fill their shelves with every book, but it used to be our fandoms were limited to the stage, screen and red carpet. Now, we have access that goes far beyond this, awaiting every breath a celebrity takes, waiting for them to mention their breakfast so we can pounce upon his or her tweet with our own replies.

If we “respond” just as a way to be part of a silly chain of people creating a progressing story started by a celebrity comment, or mention that celebrity as a way to share our interests with others, that’s fine.

Just as long as our lives don’t hang in the balance of hoping that stranger on the other end of the cyber connection gives that all-important “like,” or moreover an actual comment.

Yes, I’ll be taking The Grand Tour along with Clarkson, Hammond and May, but if it doesn’t stop my way, I won’t be lying in a fetal position devastated that three strangers who make me laugh aren’t looking in my direction. I worry many other followers of celebrities (any celebrity) do invest too much in the approval of those in the public eye.

What we need to realize more than anything, is even when we do take part in this social media celebrity watching, it should be for one reason and one reason only: to have fun.

One of the best and cutest examples of this was a Tweet I saw from a dad with a young son a few months ago concerning another well-followed celebrity, actor Chris Pratt.

“My 5-year-old son just informed me he will direct the next Jurassic World film. How’s your schedule looking next month @prattprattpratt?”

I don’t know if Chris Pratt ever responded to this, but in this case, I sure hope he did.

Batmobile Dreamin’

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This New Mexico-based Batmobile replica was pretty darn close to the real thing. Image: Rick Tate.

Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 21, 2016.

James Bond and Batman.

These two names are answers to many questions that have been posed to me, but mostly “whose fictional cars would you most like to have?”

It’s really no contest. DeLoreans seem sleazy to me (sorry, Doc Brown), and I never saw an episode of Knight Rider. Scooby Doo’s Mystery Mobile might smell a little gamey, and I’m afraid the transformer Bumblebee just might try to kill me. Han Solo’s and Wonder Woman’s rides don’t count since those are both aircraft.

I do think Bond’s sleek Aston Martin is exquisite, and who doesn’t want to feel a little swanky every now and then? The Batmobile, however, is the car I want to drive. Yes, that wonderfully cheesy black (and sometimes very very dark grey) machine that has been everything from a modified Ford to a custom-made military-grade fighting machine is on my radar the most.

Yes, more than any car, I want to drive the Batmobile.

I’ve mentioned in a past story, Batman is my earliest “fandom” to memory, and he’s still my favorite superhero. I would be happy tooling around in any incarnation of his vehicle, and being able to do so consistently teeters near the top of my bucket list. I still have a little circa 1967 Corgi Batmobile that I “liberated” from my older brother when I was a kid, and it is still a prized possession, despite showing its use. Yes, he knows I have it.

I remember getting excited seeing a static, non-functioning version of the original Tim Burton-era vehicle at one of the Six Flags theme parks. I also dragged my entire family across town to a Wal-Mart parking lot just to get our picture with the actual Tumbler and Bat Pod leading from The Dark Knight Rises, which was traveling around the country as part of a promotional Tumbler Tour in the summer of 2012.

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We got to visit the Tumbler and Bat Pod from The Dark Knight Rises, back in 2012, but there were strict “no touch” rules. Images: Rick Tate.

I was also doing a story on comic-con etiquette and spoke with a man named Jim Johnson. He served as the official “Transportation Manager for Wayne Enterprises” for the tour. He told me most people were very appreciative of getting a chance to encounter these gas-powered movie stars.

“Most people are really good around the car,” he said and added people all seem to realize the one main rule was “no touching” and respected that.

 If we weren’t allowed to touch the car that meant no entering the car, much less driving it.

Step away from the Batmobile, Citizen of Gotham.

Even so, Johnson did fire up the Tumbler and, although still idling, spectators heard the force of its engine. I’m not going to lie. That was a thrill.

So, when the opportunity arose to see a working reproduction of the original, old school Batmobile at El Paso Comic Con, I couldn’t pass that up.

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Regional cosplayers and artists never fail to impress me. Hearing the creative origins of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from creator Kevin Eastman at our local con (bottom right) was also a treat. Images: Rick Tate.

El Paso Comic Con (EPCON) returned to El Paso Convention Center this past April this year under “new management,” and featured all the trappings of a worthy con: an extensive expo, celebrity photo ops, panels, a zombie escape experience, an abundant number of local and visiting artists, charity auction, cosplay aplenty, live entertainment, and even a preview night “Nerd Rave” dance party.

This first time out of the chute wasn’t perfect. The program lacked that ever-important floor plan map, and the expo entry fee may have been a little high for the average family. Nevertheless, it had some fantastic elements to it, particularly its lineup of geeky star cars, which hearkened me back to my childhood when my dad would take me to the Darryl Starbird Custom Car Show. These “celebrity cars” included the Breaking Bad RV, a custom-made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle van created by former Power Rangers cast member and stuntman Jason Ybarra, a Jeep Wrangler from Jurassic Park, a custom creation by the local charity-minded fan group El Paso Ghostbusters… and a 1966 era Batmobile.

Most of these were great photo ops (we forewent the Breaking Bad interior tour since it just didn’t seem right to take our daughters into a “meth lab”), but we donated our ten bucks to sit in that Batmobile.

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Other featured star cars included the TNMT van, Jurassic Park jeep, Breaking Bad RV, and locally grown Ghostbusters mobile. All images: Rick Tate.

The replica, known as the Albuquerque Batmobile, is part of the New Mexico Chapter of Star Car Central, whose nationwide inventory of geeky vehicles includes everything from the A-Team van to the xXx GTO. They help support groups like American Cancer Society, Paw and Stripes, and Make-A-Wish. This particular Batmobile-for-hire has made several convention and charitable appearances and is even available to pick up soldiers returning home from the airport, and to give rides to children in need. That alone makes the vehicle an actual superhero.

This car chassis is a 1972 Lincoln Continental, which matches the 1955 Lincoln Futura first used in the television show. Its owners, Mike and Khristine Esch, created the replica with functional TV FX and gadgets, as well body details nearly identical to the original.

The original Batmobile, by the way, was built in 1965 for $15,000, and sold to a private collector in 2013 for $4.6 million.

For me, being able to interact with a full-size Batmobile was the most fulfilling of experiences, above the appearances at the con of my first Batman and Robin, retro television icons Adam West and Burt Ward. I love West, but the idea of spending nearly $100 to meet another human being surrounded by “you’re not worthy” handlers and guards didn’t appeal to me. Besides, as cool as Mr. West is, he really isn’t Batman. Plus, I certainly wouldn’t ask an octogenarian to undergo the indignity of wearing his old costume to an autograph session. There were plenty of great Batman-centric cosplayers at the event to satisfy those goofy photo ops.

As for that Batmobile? Reproduction not, it was still really a Batmobile, and when I sat in it, I was Batman. Or Batgirl. Or Robin. It really didn’t matter which representative of the Bat universe I was, all I knew was I was in the driver’s seat, and The Joker better watch his back. Even my six-year-old, who took a picture sitting in my lap, had that unmistakable gleam in her eye when she put her hands on the Batmobile steering wheel and picked up the bright red Batphone.

“Will this really go?” she asked anxiously.

Ah, yes. She gets it now, too.

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From the interior to parachute packs, I felt like the pride of Gotham City, circa 1966. All images: Rick Tate.

Unfortunately, this car was landlocked on the expo grounds for photo ops only. No starting up the engine, much less taking it out for a spin. Of course, I didn’t expect to be able to actually drive this vehicle, but just knowing someone else did produced a pang of envy. It was still a worthwhile experience, and since I learned in the car’s “Bat Fact” sheet that it averages a supersonic seven miles per gallon (I’m assuming on a convention hall floor), I was saving some fuel.

I might never get that opportunity to take the wheel and take one of these cars around the block, but I’ll keep seeking opportunities to experience it.

Judging from the line of Batfans in logo tees and cosplay waiting to get their pictures in the car, I know I’m not the only one who wants a chance to sit in the driver’s seat of the Caped Crusader’s wheels. Ward himself even got his picture in “Robin’s” passenger seat.

Author Mark Cotta Vaz explained the timeless nature of this car in his book Batmobile: The Complete History.

“The Batmobile is not just a crime-fighting car — it’s the ultimate vehicle of the imagination,” he writes of the car that made its comic debut in 1939. “And the Batmobile is still speeding forward, all these decades later.”

I still think of the horrendous line from 1997 franchise-destroying film Batman and Robin, when Robin (Chris O’Donnell) uttered “chicks dig the car.”

Yes, I do dig the car, Boy Wonder, but you better hand over the keys. I’m driving!

El Paso Comic Con’s sister event, Las Cruces Comic Con, is planned for Sept. 9-11, in Las Cruces, N.M.

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Of all my Batmobiles that old, beat-up Corgi model is still my prized possession.

Classical Music for Science Lovers

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Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 16, 2016:

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Albert Einstein and Alexander Borodin knew the importance of being inspired by both music and science. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

In 1991, I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in Animal Science, and was cleaning out stalls for an area veterinarian in the mornings, waiting tables at a comedy club most nights, and working as an overnight disc jockey on the odd weekend.

I hadn’t yet decided to go on to graduate school, and was, at least for that summer and one semester to follow, lacking a “calling.”

I only knew I wanted to continue with a higher “fallback” degree in some type of animal or biology-related science, but try to pursue a career in the arts or journalism. When I continued with my Master of Science, I joined the campus radio station, newspaper, dabbled in radio theatre, and even joined the local “contemporary stage band” my final semester. I loved the sciences, but was more in tune to the arts. The disciplines of science and music, in my mind, worked well together.

Of course, this lofty and slightly off-center opinion was met with equal sneers from my fellow science majors and extracurricular arts participants, but is it really such a weird marriage?

Think about it. The innovation of various sciences can be a beautiful art form, and there is an almost mathematical science to composing a musical masterpiece.

I was really thinking about this in 1991, when I ran across a CD by a classical pianist named Richard Kastle. He played straightforward classical standards, but his gimmick was his Harley-riding punker look.

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Present day composer Richard Kastle was inspired by an image from the news, but he isn’t the first to create music based on the animal world.

The label bore the warning: “Parental Advisory: This album contains classical music, no lyrics whatsoever.” I liked that, and I purchased the CD.

This punk-meets-classical angle gained him some good attention over the next few months, and while some found him original and refreshing, others found him to be a hack. I’ll leave that decision to the individual listener, but there was one thing about Kastle’s CD, Streetwise, that I really found intriguing: an original piano piece called “Batcave at Dusk.”

In his liner notes, Kastle explained Nineteenth Century composers often wrote music inspired by paintings, a practice called “impressionism.” “Batcave at Dusk” was inspired by a news story, in what Kastle called “video impressionism.”

“I saw a news program in which the reporter interviewed a guest who had taken a video camera into a batcave in South America,” Kastle wrote. “The footage inspired me to compose a piece about bats in their environment.”

This stuck with me, because it combined my own fascination with animals with my life-long love of music.

If I had heard this song when I was a kid, I might have been more serious about my musical training, and be more of a refined guitar player rather than the mediocre enthusiast I am today. However, this classical soundtrack helped me remain in the animal-related science towards an advanced degree. In short, it worked. Science and music worked together to helped me towards a goal.

I’ve since learned this mix of science and classical music is nothing new. Many of the great composers were influenced by the sciences, and some of the world’s greatest scientific minds were influenced by classical music.

In order to help young scientific (or musically) inclined minds blend these two worlds, I’ve “curated” a very basic and short classical music soundtrack for both young scientists and budding audiophiles.

Physics:Sonata for violin and piano in G major, K.301” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1778)

The world’s most famous theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, was a music lover and amateur musician. He traveled everywhere with his violin (he called “Lina”), and even performed some benefit concerts. Reviews of his musical talent were mixed at best, but he often cited Mozart as an influence and inspiration, his musical harmony mirroring Einstein’s own work in understanding the physical nature of reality.

“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” Einstein once said, according to an article in the educational site Open Culture. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.”

He loved violin sonatas, and admired Beethoven and Bach, in addition to Mozart. Apparently, however, he wasn’t too crazy about Debussy or Wagner.

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“The Planets” by Gustav Holst looked more at the emotional appeal of planets than their physical properties, but that doesn’t mean this work can’t inspire budding astronomers to look towards the skies.

Astrophysics: “The Planets” by Gustav Holst (1914-1916)

In “Los Planetas,” Holst explored seven extraterrestrial planets of the Solar System–before Pluto was discovered, then demoted–and gave each planet it’s own movement and personality. Mars was the warrior, and Venus the peacemaker. Mercury was the winged messenger, Uranus a magician, and so on. Holst wanted to convey each planet’s emotional appeal, rather than just the Roman deities for which they were named. Holst’s work was influenced more on astrology that actual astronomy, and but that doesn’t make the allure of wanting to travel beyond the stars, and learning more about them, any less powerful.

A fun video interpretation of this piece was done by children’s show hosts Dick and Dom of CBBC fame for the U.K. educational music program, Ten Pieces. A link the video can be found on my GeekMom post about Ten Pieces and its secondary grade counterpart, Ten Pieces II.

Ecology: Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig Van Beethoven (1808)

Beethoven lived in the “big city” of Vienna, but often got away from it all by taking countryside strolls and retreating to rural workspaces. He loved the natural world around him, from the meadows and streams to the changing of the weather and the time of day. This was his inspiration of his Symphony No. 6, more commonly known as the “Pastorale,” the Pastoral Symphony. Consisting of five movements, this piece travels through a day in the country, starting with an Awakening of early morning, a Scene by the brook, and a happy gathering of country people. It later takes a darker tone as a thunderstorm rolls in, but concludes with the peaceful “after the storm” feeling and Shepherd’s Song. Not only did Beethoven use instruments to depict natural sounds of water, rain, and wind (or “storm instruments”), but also for regional animals, especially birds.

Now, here’s the test for true music and nature lovers: try to listen to this piece without picturing Walt Disney’s mythical interpretation from his 1939 film, Fantasia.

Pathology:Grande Messe Des Morts (Requiem)” Op.5 by Hector Berlioz (1837)

This piece was commissioned by the Minister of the Interior of France to remember soldiers of the Revolution of July 1830, but it wasn’t completed for seven more years. Sure, many composers have a Requiem to their credit, but there’s one thing about Berlioz’s piece young medical minds might find interesting, including those wanting to be part of the world of forensic pathology. Berlioz studied medicine. Well, at least for a short time. Despite writing small musical pieces as early as 12, his parents sent him to Paris after high school to begin his studies in medicine. He had no interest in practicing it and was disgusted by human corpses, much less having to see them dissected. Three years later, he went against his parents’ wishes and concentrated on music. His Requiem is one of his most famous works, despite his distaste in the subject of corpses, and he even revised it two times, the second only a couple of years before his own death. I guess that’s what we call ironic.

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Berlioz didn’t like to deal with cadavers. Even so, one of his most famous pieces is a Death-Mass.

Zoology: “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camile Saint-Saëns (1886)

This is the most obvious of selections, but would be a shame to leave it out. Animals and nature influenced so many writers, artists, and composers (and still do today), but there is no piece so perfect for animal lovers of all ages than a 25-minute work that incorporates and entire zoo’s worth of animals, from mammals (wild asses, lions, elephants, and kangaroos), reptiles such as tortoises, an aquarium’s worth of fish, and fowl swans, hens and roosters, cuckoos, and an aviary, not to mention pianists. There was also a movement on fossils that could easily make paleontologists happy. Saint-Saëns wrote this piece after a less-than-successful concert tour, and had so much fun doing it he put off working on his Third Symphony. He gave a couple of private performances of the work, but he made sure it wasn’t published until after his death, so he could maintain a reputation of a “serious composer.” He died in 1921, and first public performance of the piece was in 1922. Serious composer or not, “Carnival of the Animals” is one of it’s one of Saint-Saëns most famous pieces, and music teachers–and kids–love it.

Meteorology:The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi (1725) This is four-part violin

This four-part violin concerti is known as a “le quattro stagioni.” Each of the four parts, of course, represents a different season of the year, and is actually associated with a larger work called “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.” I debated choosing a less obvious selection for this field. Charles Giffes’s “Clouds” is also a good choice for weather-related music. However, “The Four Seasons” is a more complete all-weather, year-round piece. Plus, there’s an amazing variation on it, the “New Four Seasons,” by another punk-meets-classical performer, violinist and violist Nigel Kennedy. This one definitely worth picking up.

Chemistry:Polovtsian Dances” by Alexander Borodin (1890)

At first glance, one would think I chose this selection because it is part of the opera Prince Igor, which immediately conjures images of a mad scientist’s in the lab. Not even close. I chose a piece by the Russian composer Borodin because Borodin was a chemist and a doctor. Despite being known for his symphonies, operas, and other works, including the popular “In The Steppes of Central Asia,” music was only his secondary career. He was first and foremost a chemist and physician. He is credited as one of the discoverers of the Aldol reaction, he spent a year as a surgeon in a military hospital, and lectured extensively. As an advocate for women’s rights, he helped establish medical courses for women in the 1870s in St. Petersburg.

Unfortunately, his own knowledge in medicine couldn’t help him, as he died of a heart attack at age 53 while attending a ball. Even so, Borodin is a true example that one can become proficient in both science and music.

I hope this list will encourage others to look for new ways to combine musical note-making with scientific note-taking, because there is one beautiful thing the marriage of these two disciplines will always spawn: imagination.

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Natural elements and phenomena have always inspired composers, including Beethoven and Vivaldi.

Cooking with the Kitchen Overlord: A Parent/Kid Whovian Food Review

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Originally ran May 30, 2015:

Images: Lisa Kay Tate

I recently had the privilege of talking with Kitchen Overload creator Chris-Rachael Oseland about her work on a “Regenerated” edition of her popular Dining with the Doctor unofficial Doctor Who cookbook for GeekMom.

The book, funded with the help of a Kickstarter campaign through June 2, will offer more than 140 Whovian recipes, including 60 from the original cookbook and more than 60 new recipes, high-quality photography, interior artwork by Tom Gordon (illustrator for Oseland’s Kitchen Overlord’s Illustrated Geek Cookbook), bonus chapters for cocktails and Fish Fingers and Custard, and an updated index with dietary restrictions.

“Dining With the Doctor: Regenerated is going to be a brick of a book because I’m including a recipe and mini recap for every episode of series 1-8. So if you’re into NuWho (the 2005 reboot onwards) I’ve totally got you covered,” Oseland said.

Oseland also shared a few favorite Whovian recipes for myself and my family to try out, and the Minion Feeding 101 clan was more than anxious get started.

We had been familiar with Kitchen Overlord for sometime, and even used The Doctor’s Yorkshire Pudding recipe during Christmas dinner. This was the first time, however, the girls took on the task of creating a recipe themselves.

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Five-year-old Erin took her job of creating Zygon French Bread Pizza Heads very seriously. That didn’t mean she couldn’t sneak a few mini-pepperonis.

The first recipe we attempted was the Zygon French Bread Pizza Heads. This was the easiest of the three, and the best suited for my youngest daughter, Erin, a recent Kindergarten “graduate.” My only part in the process was slicing the bread and peppers, and adding the “nostrils” afterwards. Erin adeptly arranged the Zygon heads, and followed the recipe perfectly with the cheese, pepperoni and roasted pepper placement. She was extremely thrilled at these coming out looking close to the ones in the official recipe, and couldn’t have been happier if she’d made a perfect soufflé.

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My awkward little eggs, compared to the official image from Oseland’s beautifully crafted recipe. They were, however, still extremely nummy.

I tried the Deviled Ood With Horseradish and Bacon myself, primarily because it allowed me to face long-time culinary fear — hard boiling eggs. I’ve been able to get away with shoddy boiling jobs during the annual Easter egg hunts, but I really wanted to get this one right. The filler mix was easy enough, and temptingly good. If I didn’t want to go Whovian, I would have just mixed the egg whites, bacon, cucumber and basil in with it to make a sandwich spread…which I may do in the future, because it IS that good.

Now here’s the embarrassing part….of the three recipes Oseland suggested, it was the “grown up” who messed hers up the most. Despite thinking I have followed every “how to boil an egg” instruction to the letter, my poor Oods’ heads looked like they were still waiting for their skin to clear up after those awkward teen years.

I also didn’t realize until after they were half-consumed how squishy I had their heads, so they weren’t only battling a skin condition, they were getting over that adolescent Ood baby fat. Poor things. Despite this, they were still presentable, and very edible.

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Molly, now 14, spent her last day as a 12-year-old perfecting the art of dough-making…with a little help from official “glaze-master” and companion, Erin.

My oldest daughter, Molly, wanted to do the Pull Apart Bow Tie Rolls, because the little scientist in her wanted to see the process of making dough from scratch. She also confirmed, of course, that “bow ties are cool.” I was at first worried about her attention span in making the bread, but creating dough by scratch worked perfect for the tween. She got to take an hour break, to play on her “three Ps,” Pinterest, Polyvore, and Pottermore,” before getting to punch a big wad of dough. The assembling of the bow ties was also great fun for her, and they looked really good.

They turned out really nice, and the consistency and taste of the bread was wonderful. We saved them, and had them for her birthday breakfast with tea the next morning. And, she made them, all by herself…almost. Little sister insisted on helping so much, we designated her official glaze-master. She handled the task like a true companion. Better, actually (we don’t always have the highest confidence in the Doctor’s people collection).

This one turned out to be our favorite recipe of the three, and we plan on making this one again soon.

Once we successfully created all three recipes, my girls offered their official on-the-record opinions:

“The recipe was fun to make, and it was really, really easy. I thought the dough would be hard to make, but it wasn’t at all. I was very happy with the way they came out. It was delicious. My favorite thing about making it was eating it!”

— Molly, age 12

“I thought these pizzas were really tasty. I really liked putting the cheese on them the most, but I also liked eating the pepperoni when we were putting them on the heads.”

— Erin, age 5 (who I estimate consumed a good two Zygons worth of mini-pepperoni pieces)

The final consensus from all of us was the recipes were simple, but not “simplistic.” There was actually something to them, not just a configuration of prepackaged foods made to resemble a pop culture character. The only one to actually come close to this description was the pizza bread, but that was a perfect fit for the busy hands and easily-distracted mind of an active five-year-old.

As for my older daughter, the bow ties were easy enough to not get discouraged, but involved enough to not be bored. Plus, you can never go wrong with “The Doctor” in our household. Most importantly, though, everything we made was genuinely yummy. Everyone in the family enjoyed all three recipes. Cooking and baking are fun, but what good is a recipe if you can’t have just as much fun consuming it?

Other books by Chris-Rachael Oseland we recommend. These aren’t “kids” cookbooks either, but recipes that are just fun to make and eat for geeks of all fandoms.

Other books by Chris-Rachael Oseland we recommend. These aren’t “kids” cookbooks either, but recipes that are just fun to make and eat for geeks of all fandoms.

The entire Minion Feeding 101 wholeheartedly recommends cooks of all ages and levels check out Oseland’s books and website to find a fandom befitting their culinary and pop culture tastes.

We’re looking forward to picking up a copy of her “Dining With the Doctor: Regenerated Edition” next year, as well as “going on an adventure” with another favorite of ours, Bilbo Baggins and crew with An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery.

One of the best ways to maximize that important dinner-table family time is to get my girls in the kitchen beforehand taking part of the process. These were a perfect excuse to get them laughing together, talking about their day, arguing over who the best “Doctor,” is and just enjoying each others’ company. This isn’t easy with two strong-willed kids separated by seven years.

Being able to compare the results of their labor, and be proud of learning something new  and showing it off to Dad, Mom and Grandpa was a positive as well. Plus, this gave them a huge pool of ideas for parties, summer projects and other boredom killers.

When else can you get to hear at the dinner table, “can I have another Zygon?”

Find more great recipe, tips and product reviews on Oseland’s Kitchen Overlord website, or pick up her books online at Amazon.

Read the entire interview with Oseland at GeekMom.

— Lisa Kay Tate