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Film, Thoughts, Writing

LOGAN Seven Point Plot Structure Breakdown

I loved this film. It might even be the second-best superhero movie of all time (the first being The Dark Knight, you spoon). It might, after I rewatch it, have taken the top spot of Best X-Men Movie from X-Men: First Class. It was filmed in New Mexico and my desert-rat heart leapt for joy. It was brutal, sad, uncompromising, and ultimately altruistic — just the way I like it. It was heavily focussed on character, each so rich by the time I left the theater, I felt I’d actually met them.

But you know what? I’m gonna talk shit about it. Because, in the words of a screenwriter I greatly admire, Allen Palmer, it wasn’t a transcendent story. There was no ecstatic agony. And I got a high-ass perfectionist quality standard. Logan was a great film — but not as great as it could’ve been.

LET’S BREAK IT DOWN

****SPOILERS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT’ READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE****

Start with the Resolution, (or as Dan Well calls it, the seventh plot point). Also known as the ending. I’m using the synopsis on IMDb to support memory.

  1. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Logan had nothing to do with the final climactic moment, that release of tension when the bad guy dies. Laura takes action, ridding our protagonist, Logan, of his agency right at the crucial moment.

Also, where was the devilishly difficult, character-driven choice for him to make? Before this, the last choice Logan made was to ignore that one kid’s warning and shoot all that green stuff up at once. No crucial choice there that pitted want against need. What about after that, when he gets sassy with Doctor Rice and then shoots him in the face? Definitely not a difficult choice, not crucial, no poignant want vs need — just a good laugh.

(Maybe you could argue here that when he shot up the green stuff, he was choosing between his want — being healthy and not dying — and his need — caring about those kids and saving them. But was his want really to be healthy and not die? I got the sense he was just looking for a good reason to end it all. The whole movie was basically: Logan really wants to die, so when we kill him later, you’ll feel like it was a kindness and not be upset with us.)

It isn’t enough that Logan sacrifices himself. Give him a devilishly difficult choice that reveals character and forces him to choose between what he wants, and what he needs — then give Logan, not Laura, the action at the climax! All Logan does at the climax is get impaled on a tree.

“Logan, this doesn’t feel like a transcendent climax!” “No, but it’s sad and brutal, and that’s mostly what we were going for.”

(There is another argument: maybe Laura was Logan shooting the gun in some way, a sort of proxy choice. This would mean that because Laura learned how to kill X-24 from Logan, and Logan gave her the adamantium bullet, Laura killing X-24 was actually Logan’s skill/ability. This is still a weak justification for removing agency and not including a devilishly difficult choice for Logan at the climax. Laura shooting X-24 was just a basic relief. I wasn’t crying like ‘oh the humanity!’)

Now let’s jump back to the Hook, point one. How the protagonist (Logan) started. This should be the opposite of how he ends (point seven).

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.

Now let’s do the Midpoint, point four. There are a lot of different definitions and schools of thought on how exactly the Midpoint should go, but I think it’s when the character is confronted with their fundamental flaw, and then forced, kicking and screaming, to admit it. This changes a person. For the rest of the story, the protagonist goes on having gained something, which they are threatened with losing later at the climax. It’s also when the true nature of the conflict is revealed. Midpoints are super important.

There are a few options:

  1. Midpoint Option A: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24. 

Here, Logan’s flaw is his rage, and his arc is about him dealing with the shit he’s done, the people he’s killed. Aka: Logan rages out too much.

  1. Midpoint Option B: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”

This means that Logan’s flaw and character arc is about him being emotionally numb and refusing love.

Let’s think about Plot Point 2 and different Resolution moments to figure the Midpoint out.

Plot Point 2 is the sixth point and the crazy-hot friend of Plot Point 1. PP2 is where we get the last bit of setup we need to lay out the final conflict, and where the protagonist chooses to move forward into Act 3. It’s the trickiest plot point to nail down. There are two options here too. Maybe we’re getting into separate-but-interwoven character and action plots?? I told you it was a good damn movie!

  1. PP2 Option A: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.

Main conflict: Bad guys attacking kids (we don’t know that shooting up is going to wear off super quick and fuck Logan up, so choosing to use all of it doesn’t do much to indicate conflict; important set-up though).

  1. PP2 Option B: Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.

Main conflict: Logan refusing love, estranging himself from his daughter.

We’ve got two pretty distinct plots going on here. Let’s list them out now we’ve got so many points ready (and I’ll just fill in the rest real quick).

Plot A

In a nutshell.

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.
  2. PP1: Laura shows up after Logan finds Gabriela dead at the hotel.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24.
  5. Pinch 2: They bury Charles. Logan rages out.
  6. PP2: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.
  7. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Plot B

  1. Hook: Logan is rough and distant to Charles, an old friend physically unable to give Logan love (which Logan would probably reject anyway).
  2. PP1: Logan tries to leave Laura behind but it doesn’t work out.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”
  5. Pinch 2: Charles dies.
  6. Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.
  7. Laura saves Logan, but it’s too late. She calls Logan, “Daddy.” Logan feels love. He’s happy to have a daughter. He dies.

I both think these plots are valid (as in, they’re clearly in the film), and that they both suffer from the same weak character choices. Logan is such a strong character and the dialogue and acting were so good, so realistic, it’s almost difficult to see the flaws in the story. But in both plots, what dilemma does Logan struggle with? What does he choose between? If it was supposed to be a big deal that he decided to go save the kids from a bunch of armed men intent on enslaving them as child-solider-lab-rats… come on. Not a big deal. Did anyone actually worry he might decide to leave them behind? No difficult choices in this film, except maybe when Charles pressured Logan into staying with the nice ranch family, but Logan gave in super easily and not at all like he actually cared very much.

One more thing. We were haunted by the Westchester incident with Charles the whole movie — then he just remembers it suddenly while sleeping, pretty much out of nowhere, promptly has a realization about himself and Logan, and dies. The realization itself was powerful, but it was too left field. In the original Logan script, they were planning to shoot the Westchester incident as a prologue scene, but took it out because it made the movie too much about the death of the mutants and not enough about Logan. I agree the as-is opening is great, but they shouldn’t have deleted the Westchester scene entirely — they should’ve moved it!

Imagine we are with Charles as he remembers. We live through the panic with him, see the friends he just murdered, see Logan horrified at being the only survivor. We wake up with him back in the present, experience this realization about Logan as Charles does, then — HOLY FUCK! He dies. My chest is tightening just thinking about it. I would’ve sobbed like a little baby. As it was, it was still awful, shocking, the worst… but I wasn’t moved as other films have moved me. I didn’t cry.

Do you agree with my analysis? Did I miss something? Tell me what you think! Discussing movies and books like this is basically my all-time favorite thing to talk about, so let’s go!

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Film, Thoughts

‘Split’ Review

I joke that a big reason why I wanted to move to the Netherlands was for a Pathé Unlimited card, but like, for real, that is not a joke. When I was a kid I was both homeschooled and basically blind, but no one knew that, they just thought I had a preternatural distaste for looking out the window on long drives or short drives or any length of drive whatsoever. The homeschooling meant going to the movies was something I seriously looked forward to and thought about all week. The seeing issues meant that the only time I got to see the world as everyone else did was when it was blown up on a 50-foot screen in HD. We went nearly every weekend, and I just kept on like that after I grew up and moved out, until I landed in Germany where things were different af.

They don’t like playing movies in English in Germany, but they love Hollywood, so they take American films and re-dub all the dialogue in German. It’s like live-action anime. If you are even the tiniest bit able to read lips, too bad my man, that is going to distract the shit out of you right in the middle of the emotional climax. We were forced to go only to small, artsy independent theaters, which, while nice, don’t really scratch the Rogue-One-in-IMAX-3D itch. They’re also about $10 a ticket, which I thought until this moment was outrageous, but now that I think about it, Naz and I did just spend almost $50 on two 3D IMAX tickets in New York City.

You can also drink as much beer as you want in the theater.

Okay fine, it’s not that bad. However, there aren’t as many movies available, and there was only one tiny theater we could go to for showings in English. We just wanted escalators in our theater like civilized people.

In Amsterdam, we have that and more.

We have four main Pathé theaters to choose from, the fanciest being Tuschinsky, which is in like this 20s art deco, phoenix psychedelic style. It’s stunning. It’s actually art deco, everything super old and custom made and from the same parallel reality as American Horror Story Hotel. It’s a national historic building. It’s the best.

AMSTERDAM HOT TIP: Go see a movie in Tuschinsky grote Zaal in 4K. We saw Allied there and I felt like an actual 40s aristocrat.

AMSTERDAM HOT TIP: Go see a movie in Tuschinsky grote Zaal in 4K. We saw Allied there and I felt like an actual 40s aristocrat.

There’s also a big, shiny, escalator-filled theater around the corner, a cool lounge-vibey one downtown, and an IMAX out by the arena. The Pathé Unlimited card gets you into all that PLUS UNLIMITED MOVIES FOR 18€ A MONTH! You both can still drink as much beer as you want in the theater, and get a 10% discount on concessions — which isn’t that great, but let’s be real, I’ll take what I can get.

All that was to get around to saying this: I got that Pathé Unlimited card baby and I’m finally back to going to the movies regularly. As I am excited about it and have a film degree, I feel physically, nay, spiritually compelled to write reviews.

And without further ado…

What I Thought About Split

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I am a long time M. Night Shyamalan fan. I like sort of moody, affected, unabashedly tragic-but-ultimately-optimistic art, like Stephen King or Lana del Rey, and Shyamalan gets that. The Sixth Sense was heart-swooping. Signs was creepy as balls. The Village was twisted and an interesting idea and I don’t know why people care so much it was in a park, I mean, it’s Mr. Shyamalanalanalan — what did you expect? Lady In the Water was THE BEST, I don’t care, I loved it. When we find out he’s the Healer = goosebumps and/or tears. I fell asleep for like a minute watching Unbreakable but I was also seven, so it’s fair.

The Happening was embarrassing. I hid my face in my hands out of overwhelming fremdschämen. The Last Airbender was pathetic. I wasn’t even embarrassed, I was mad, like a disappointed father.

Split made up for all that. It’s the best film he’s ever made. Yes, better than The Sixth Sense. That’s right. I said it.

***THERE ARE PROBABLY GOING TO BE SPOILERS NOW***

Shyamalan has finally discovered the difference between a twist, and a reveal. Every moment which would have been an ah-ha! in an earlier film was here a poignant character reveal. We were discovering answers to how they became who they were, to better appreciate how they changed throughout the story. This made every pinch and plot point more impactful. Even the more minor characters like Claire and Marcia still had unique, interesting personalities given enough air time for us to care about them.

The acting was phenomenal, all the way through, from everyone (except for Shyamalan himself in his traditional cameo, but he wasn’t too bad, he was just surrounded by people so much better at it). James McAvoy was just a real person with 24 personalities. I forgot to notice how great he was acting, I was too busy convinced it was all real — and that is the mark of a good fucking actor! Let’s not forget the minor characters too, from Haley Lu Richardson (Claire) and Jessica Sula (Marcia), to Sebastian Arcelus, who played their dad and only had two minutes of screen time but was a real-enough person for me that I was super relieved he didn’t end up dead. I was with Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey) all the way, and I’m happy to see such a deep, subtle female protagonist in a supernatural thriller (or anything else, for that matter).

And she’s the protagonist, not McAvoy — you can be sure by who resolves the tension through a difficult choice. McAvoy was the antagonist. He didn’t make so many choices there at the end — we realized together that he shouldn’t kill her, but this choice was based on his principles, and there was nothing difficult about it for either of them. The difficult choice was Casey sitting in the police car, finally ready to stand up to her murderer-rapist uncle. Her arc was the most compelling. She had a goal, she tried hard, and though she failed (she never escaped, did she?), she learned something more valuable — to pull the trigger when she has to, and that she hasn’t suffered for nothing.

Two things that are the bane of melodrama are “show, don’t tell and the good ‘ol “cut in late, leave early.” Split had both in abundance. Casey’s choice in the police car is a great example. There were for-sure other great examples, but I can’t remember any right now. Maybe I’ll edit this post later when I think of something.

It was also super intense, like the ideal adaptation of the best Dean Koontz novels.

A seriously weird coincidence is that I saw another film about the value of suffering last week called To Stay Alive: A Method. It’s quirky, slow, and beautiful, stars Iggy Pop, and is mostly in French, which we did not know when we bought tickets, and severely limited our comprehension of the film — however, I did get that it was all about suffering being necessary for art, and that if you suffer, you must create art or go mad. I agree. It’s a nice simple way of stating a serious truth with serious consequences. This theme of suffering and its consequences, both good and bad, was the most meaningful and memorable part of Split for me.

Some things I didn’t like:

  1. What was that ending music? I know it was the Unbreakable theme, but why not just like, the Unbreakable theme, and not a weird Enya version of the Unbreakable theme?
  2. McAvoy in the mirror saying, “You are what you believe you are.” Remember that thing I said earlier about how subtle and non-melodramatic the rest had been because of all that great “show-don’t-tell” thing? Well, he lost it for a second and stated the obvious in the most melodramatic way possible. Meh.

Let’s talk about James McAvoy’s acting for another minute. He had characters so distinct that I could tell the difference between normal Barry, and Dennis pretending to be Barry! He had conversations with himself and I believed there was a group of people talking instead of one. I was a little hung up on the kid’s lisp, but he won me over with the dancing and the meanness eventually.

Betty Buckley’s character too, Dr. Karen Fletcher. She was fantastic. I believed in her and sympathized with her, though the weakest part of the story was when she, after realizing he was bat shit crazy and having an opportunity to leave and, oh I don’t know, call the cops, decided to just wander off down the hall in search of captives. Lazy storytelling there. Her character and acting were still great though, and represented a kind of woman I know, but haven’t seen on screen — dignified, intelligent, tough and no-nonsense with more energy than half her grandkids combined. I can see my Grandma Dougherty doing the same, except she’d definitely have brought a gun.

Last thing: Did the end have a little US-political commentary going on, or am I imagining things?

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Family, Film, Inspiration, Thoughts

The Lacy Klan – The Pecos Wilderness

For those of you who haven’t read my past post (http://wp.me/p4WLbG-1u), the Lacy Klan is the term I use to describe the sprawling, varied, and extraordinarily enthusiastic mass of madness that is my extended family. My grandparents on my mom’s side had eight children – six boys and two girls. They’ve since grown and many have had children of their own, and some of their children have children now as well. The Klan grows, but despite the large cast of characters, we have made an effort to stay close and connected.

There are two main phases to Lacy Klan festivities – summer and winter. If you remember our winter traditions of blowing up zombie and/or Sasquatch effigies and sliding down the pristine dunes of White Sands National Park, and you think you understand, to some degree, our general fun-level, you might be wrong. Because for Summer we are more likely to go outside and we aren’t constrained by the more ridged and well-established rituals of Christmas and Thanksgiving. During the Summer, we just do whatever we want.

Thus, the Lacy Klan backpacking trips were born.

Nearly every Summer a great troupe of the Klan saddles themselves with heavy backpacks and charges off into the wilderness of northern New Mexico. Most years our goal is the Gila Hot Springs, a magic place of cliffs and serpentine rivers and clear pools of naturally hot water set into the bedrock. 

One of the first serious stories I ever wrote was about the first of these trips that involved the kids, who at that time only consisted of myself and my two cousins. It was called Keeping Up With Uncle Steve, and it detailed the entire adventure there and back again, including that one time we almost got caught in a flash flood, and the time my Uncle Richard told his son Zach to not move with such ferocity that Zach bolted into the woods and nearly got a fish hook stuck in him, and that one time a huge boulder cracked and fell off of the cliff we were camped below and we all ran screaming into the woods, in the middle of the night.

Needless to say it was a great time, a true Lacy Klan legend and a particularly strong memory of my childhood, and there is a long-forgotten (but hopefully not lost!) video made of that trip as well. It’s 40 minutes long, and my first real attempt at editing.

Since those days the ‘kid’ bracket of the Lacy Klan has grown considerably, and our Summer Backpacking Trip has become something of a rite of passage. There’s a lot of talk about whether the kids are ‘tough enough’ or ‘strong enough’ to handle the strenuous hike. This is done mostly in front of them, so when it comes time to prove themselves the kids all understand the grave nature of the tradition they are entering into. I’m proud to say that the kids have shown an enormous amount of maturity and determination, and most are old hands at hiking already.

In the Summer of 2012 the Klan embarked on a new journey. We couldn’t go through the Gila as we’d always done because it was literally on fire. Instead we decided to go to the Pecos Wilderness, which is much higher and colder, and hike to a secret mountain lake. No one had ever been there before but we were confident we could handle it.

It was considerably more difficult than we anticipated. It wasn’t very far, but it was way more vertical than we’d expected it to be. The youngest member of the Klan for this trip was little Hannah, who I am proud to say walked the whole way on her own, carried her own backpack for most of the hike, and was not the first to have a total emotional meltdown.

The saga of that particular trip is told with pretty music and pretty pictures in the video at the bottom of the page.

I’ve only missed one trip, and I hope to never miss one again. I was in Germany at the time and thus missed the first trip for a good handful of the kids.

It was strange for me to imagine them, a small group of almost-teens, walking the same path with the same people I had when I was their age – while I walked alone through the cobbled streets of some German town, thousands of miles away.

Today is Thanksgiving. I write this on my lunch break at my desk at work, surrounded by people who have heard of Thanksgiving but don’t really know it’s today and don’t really understand what it means. To me, it means the beginning of the best part of the year is finally here, because the Lacy Klan is coming together again. To me, it means green chile enchiladas and pecan pie. It means a whole day spent wandering from the front yard, to the back yard, to the hammock, to the trampoline. It means laughter from all sides and the well-known, friendly faces of family at every turn.

This Thanksgiving I will stay at this desk until the sun goes down, until the wind and bitter cold entrench themselves. Then I will walk to the train, ride the train for awhile, then walk over cobble-stoned streets to the front door of my apartment building. Then I will have some delicious soup the boyfriend has made for me, and I will Skype a segment of the far-away Lacy Klan. I cannot find the words to describe what this, and all of that, means to me. That I can be so far and still be so close. I have been blessed, and I am so, so grateful.

To the Lacy Klan: I can’t wait to be with you again, and I am especially excited for the next chapter of our Backpacking Trip adventures. I will do all I can to make that possible.

Also: COME VISIT ME. During the Summer the days are fifteen hours long, and you can drink the best beer in the world, in the streets, any time you want, legally. (I’m looking at you Mike.) (Well, and Steve.) (And Richard, and Doug.) (Hell, the whole lot of you. The beer here is as good as they say. Easily worth the price of a plane ticket.)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwmIk7kl-mM]

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Family, Film

The Lacy Klan

I grew up in a place of harsh, deadly beauty. It is the allure of the distant and forbidden – one glimpsed, but not studied; visited, but not lived in – except for a unique and often gleefully destructive breed of human, the desert-dweller. This includes my sprawling family, which was born in the desert and returns to it as often as possible, their visits brightening my life twice a year for as long as I can remember.

There is undoubtedly Viking blood in the Lacy Klan – the men are huge, with blonde shaggy manes and beards and a great fondness for fire and beer. The women raise hoards of monster-children, sacrifice chickens to the gods, and drink mead.

Well, not really. But we could. And we do raise chickens. And I don’t know how to make mead, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out one or two of my uncles do.

My matriarchal grandmother had six sons and two daughters. Most of them had children, and some of their children have had children. New Mexico is our personal Mecca, and once or twice a year we all gather together and have the most epic, adventurous party-time imaginable. We don’t fight with each other – we’re one of those families whose gatherings are always memorable and always too short.

What makes the LK so great above all is a collective open-mindedness to collaborate, create, and work hard in the pursuit of fun and supporting each other.

(I originally had a graphic made of the phases of the LK and their subsequent child-producing waves, but it got way too complex too fast. I’ll suffice it to say that there are a ton of them, not including family friends and fellow adventurers, and that we can’t fit a quarter of them in the house, which is why all our gatherings either happen outside, or in a Mexican restaurant.)

The cast of characters is vast and immensely interesting – and we all make an effort to stay connected and carry out our random traditions. One of the largest of these is the New Year’s Eve party, which has been happening in my parent’s backyard since Y2K. It was never meant to grow into what it did, but in an intense pot-luck way, it took life of its own. 

Everyone contributes something. One year my dad and an uncle got together and built a 20 foot tall trebuchet out of old tractor parts and painted it lime green. The kids and a selection of uncles film family space operas and westerns during the summer, and then premiere them at New Year’s, at which is a huge bonfire and a stage, on which my cousins and I have performed one way or another for as long as I can remember.

It’s all very complex fun.

Last year we decided to have a Sasquatch-themed party because, um, Sasquatch-themed party. One of my uncles, who both takes Sasquatch very seriously and also has serious wire-forming skills (he was very adamant about calling it a Neanderthal, as apposed to a Cro Magnon, and used a picture of an actual Neanderthal skull as a guide), created a 20 foot-tall Burning-Man style Sasquatch out of wire mesh, with details like toes and fingers and a spear, then filled it with fireworks and then covered it with pieces of bark and paper so it looked like it had hair and was wearing a loincloth.

It was, quite simply, redonk’.

If that wasn’t enough, in the days leading up to the party at one of our (also traditional) green chile slathered beer drinking Mexican restaurant evenings, someone said,

“How about… instead of just setting the Sasquatch on fire, we have a fire-ball-asteroid that flies over our heads and slams into it?”

So, yeah. That happened. 

The actual asteroid was on a zip line with fireworks placed like rockets at the back so, when lit, it would shoot down the zip line and slam into the Sasquatch. But the way it was hanging it was able to swivel, and instead of going forward it just spun furiously at 500000 mph, and my dad had to go into the sparks and poke it forward with a giant pole and try not to get set on fire.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S61kiP1-V80]

One of the many things we do is to go to White Sand’s, the 144,000 square-acre graveyard of a pre-historic sea, now endless shifting dunes of gypsum. We’re also a group of more-or-less talented photographers, ranging from a professional film maker and a master-level space photographer to a very excited dad who takes literally thousands of pictures with his Canon Rebel. Putting all these pictures together into something beautiful is my contribution to the growing body of LK heirlooms.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCfXpR3dx9g]

I’ve been thinking a lot about home, family, and the nature of wanderlust. Settling into a foreign country means daily adventures, diving into the complexities of a new kind of people, true autonomy and the fear and thrill of being 6000 miles away from the nearest support net – and it means being far, far away from family.

This is the second time my entire life I won’t be in New Mexico for New Year’s. I don’t know when I’ll be there for that again, not to mention Christmas and the Gila Hike. It’s sort of a deep, resigned sort of sadness. I chose this, and it’s the nature of growing up that you leave to create a new home of your own, but living through it is more difficult than I imagined. And it’s only September! I’m sure it’ll be way worse on Christmas Eve.

I guess my goal here isn’t to feel sorry for myself, but to celebrate the awesomeness that is my family on the other side of the world, and to say this:

Family is the only constant, and thus, of utmost importance. Treat it that way.

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