Out Of The Box – 299

Out of the Box 299 Why So Somber

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The Final Human, My First Short Story

The Final Human by Mark Mushakia short story cover

Well, folks… this has been a stinkin’ long time coming, so allow me to take a moment and boogie a little in the middle of my room in celebration.

Okay, that’s done with.

So, why am I gettin’ jiggy?  Well, I just published my first short story, titled The Final Human.  Now, let’s not get TOO excited… it’s only a self-publication.  If you want to be excited for me on purely creative terms, though, please do🙂.  This is the same story that I wrote about here years ago, when the original screenplay was being produced by my friend Korkie, but after that project turned out not-so-great, I deemed it important — if only to myself — to share this story in a way that others could enjoy and which served the material justice.

So I transformed the tight 15-page screenplay into a 10,000+ word short story over the course of about a year, and now here I am, some time later, with a readable version that I am proud of and feel expresses everything I wanted to express with this story.

This was also a great first venture into self-publication — learning a lot about digital reader formats, realizing that I need to do things a heck of a lot different when creating my next short story (to avoid a slight reformatting nightmare I’ve been dealing with for months), but ultimately ending with a heck of a lot more victories than failures.  Even at the eleventh hour, just as I had wrapped things up and was ready to publish, my formatting program decided to randomly erase a number of the changes I had made.  This made me very unhappy, as a couple of friends were lucky enough to hear about😉.

Coming up to this date hasn’t been easy, not just on the technical side, but personally as well.  This is the first creative storytelling that I have put out into the world as a polished and complete element — which is nerve-wracking in that art without an audience is mostly useless, but also because this means that it’s done.  This story is now complete, and I have to give that very personal experience up and let others do with it as they please.  I have nothing left to dwell on or add, in regards this particular tale, so I have no other choice but to move on to the next one… which is maybe even a little bit scarier😯.

I am very proud to have finally put something out into the world that I can say is both fully mine and fully formed, and I hope you enjoy reading my little short story.  The Final Human is not a supremely pleasant tale, so I’ll be happy to move on to a cheerier narrative for the next story I write (already have it in-progress, but don’t hold your breath for its release), but it’s very Mark, so I’ve made peace with its less-than-happy tone.  While this story is in its finalized creative form, if you discover any grammatical mistakes, have technical issues with the downloads, or have a publication format you’d prefer for this or future releases, please do let me know!

If you’re so inclined, go ahead give The Final Human a read… and if you like it, sharing it with a friend (or enemy, if you hate it) would certainly be appreciated🙂.  Now, I’m off to dream of a happier story-world and see where it takes my writing next…

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Out Of The Box – 298

Out of the Box weekly stick figure web comic 298 Ctrl-B

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The Variety Of Athletic Physique

OIympian body variety

When someone says, “I want to get in shape,” it’s usually either for visual or practical reasons.  I usually assume that the individual wants to lose some excess fat and add muscle tone (visual) and/or increase their cardiovascular endurance and strength (practical), but I dare say that most I know tend to lean towards simply wanting to look better.  Even then, though, what sort of aesthetic are these individuals looking for?  It’s easy to just say that one wants to “be healthy” or “look better” or “get super-sexy-buff,” but when that person goes to the gym or tries the latest diet fad, they may not be sure what it is they really want.  Usually, people tend to look to others for physical inspiration, but even that can get really tricky because there is a huge variety in what it means to be and look “in shape.”

There are two factors that determine what that phrase means, I think: purpose and genetics.  With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway, I was inspired to write this by taking in the large number of different body types these different athletes have.  While few would argue that each of these fantastic competitors is not in peak shape, they’re also in peak shape for their particular field!  These individuals train with specific purpose.  If we were to dump Simone Biles into the swimming pool and let Katie Ledecky hang from the uneven bars, I doubt either one would be coming home with all of the gold medals that they are.  One is a tiny gymnast, the other a tall swimmer.  Each one trains for her specific sport, and while both are in great shape, their athleticism is specified.  Congruent with that is the fact that it’s much more difficult to be a tall gymnast or a short swimmer, simply because of the physics involved with each sport.

What does this look like, though, since most folks just want a hot bod?  Well, let’s take a look.  I exercise, myself, and since I’m a fella, I’ll be using other fellas as examples.  Besides, my most regular readers are all female, so… why not give them a little somethin’ somethin’ to look at, eh?😉

Strongman competitor Bruce KillahI used to watch strongman competitions when I was young, simply because it was so much darn fun.  These huge mountainous men threw trees and flipped tires and expressed insane feats of strength like they were superheroes.  Fellas in these competitions are rarely lean — this is actually one of the leaner strongmen I’ve seen — but that’s because their goal is high-level strength, and with greater mass comes greater strength potential.  That is their purpose.  Genetically, of course, these men also tend to be a bit bigger than yours truly.  Due to my smaller frame and shorter stature, it’d simply require a LOT of effort to pack on as much mass as would be required for a sport of this nature… and even then, I’d likely be at a disadvantage compared to someone who is naturally larger.

Arnold bodybuilder wine glass beach
While seemingly similar to a strongman physique in size, bodybuilders are less focused on strength and more so on appearance.  For a bodybuilder, the goal is to sculpt one’s body into its “perfect” form, so a lot of time and effort is placed on exercising individual muscles, as opposed to a strongman who would benefit more from simply lifting heavy things.  Notice Arnold’s waist compared to the strongman above.  One is sculpted into a leaner v-shape, to be more aesthetically pleasing, while the other is simply a tree-trunk of mass, in order to afford more stabilizing power.  Also note the larger size of Arnold’s biceps, which are a very “showy” muscle, compared to the strongman’s larger triceps, which offer more strength-capability.  Since bodybuilding is purely visual, this is a field which I, with my smaller frame, could more easily enter than a strongman competition… not that I really want to😉.

Yordan Yovtchev gymnast on ringsAh, gymnasts.  If there was an athletic physique with which I could most easily identify, it would be this.  Not that I actually look like this guy at all… yet😉.  Of course there are exceptions in all fields, but the best gymnasts tend to be shorter simply because it’s easier to maneuver a smaller, more compact package of human than a longer, heavier one.  It’s physics!  Shoulder and arm strength is exceptionally important for these athletes, as is having a strong grip.  While the bodybuilder spends hours in the gym crafting each muscle into its most ideal shape by weightlifting, many gymnasts rarely, if ever, lift weights.. and if they do, it’s generally more for their lower body.  This isn’t a case of one being better than other, simply a matter of different purposes accepting different methods of strength-training.

Manteo Mitchell sprinter London OlympicsAs it should be of no surprise to anybody, while a gymnast’s upper body is in fantastic condition because they spend so much time hanging from their arms, a sprinter’s strength is all in their lower body.  Massive upper legs and a strong ol’ butt are the goal if one wants to run faster than all, because that’s where the power comes from.  As sprinting is an anaerobic exercise (consider it like using “muscle strength” compared to “lung capacity”), sprinters are hardly thin and without development in their upper body, though, but certainly their goal is to strengthen their legs above all else.

Hollywood Stars
Brad Pitt shirtless beachI dare say that most of our ideal bodies come from the entertainment and modeling world.  We’ve taken a recent cultural shift towards a focus on more practical athleticism as a physical ideal, but still… the hottest actors are more than just their in-shape bodies, and I think that carries a lot of influence with it.  What makes Brad above so darn dreamy is his coy smile and mischievous smile, and add on top of that a well-toned body and BAM… sexiness to the max.  Since folks in the entertainment business are the ones that most of us drool over on a more regular basis, it goes to follow that they would also be the most common bodies to aspire to, as well.  As with bodybuilding, this goal is without practical purpose and is simply aesthetic.


Michael Phelps has extraordinarily strong back muscles and a very slim waist, with a lung capacity that I can currently only dream of.  The gold-medal-winning power-lifters will have an exceptionally strong back and legs.  These individuals are not only genetically gifted to a certain capacity, but they also train very hard to obtain the best abilities in their field — and with that comes a very wide variety of physiques.  That follows into the world of us average Joe’s, where the desire to get into shape really depends on what one wants to be able to do better.  A mechanic who’s worked with his hands his whole life is likely going to have some fantastic grip strength.  A young mom who focuses on the flexibility and core strength of yoga is going to have a different set of skills than her friend who spends most of her exercise time jogging.

Additionally, all of our bodies are shaped quite differently, and I don’t just mean in the sense of body size.  Brad Pitt and I could follow the same exact workout routine and eat the same foods, but our muscles are shaped differently and attached to our bones in slightly individual ways, so our bodies would never look exactly the same.  Cast in point, his visible ab muscles are very flat, while mine tend to be smaller but more round.  So, even if one’s interest in getting into shape is purely cosmetic, there is still a lot of variability to consider.

Personally, I think most of us should simply strive for an overall daily-life level of health — to improve and maintain our bodies in such a way that it benefits the lives we lead and gives us the best chance at living longer and mostly injury free.  What that means for you will likely be a little different from what it means for me.

But, then again, if you want to get all ripped and muscley, I won’t stop ya… you just have to figure out what kind of muscles you want to have🙂.

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Digital Painting – Perseid

digital painting stars perseid meteor shower

deviantART – Perseid

Friday evening, after a lovely free concert in the park, my group of friends took an impromptu trek about an hour east to escape the city lights and take in the Perseid meteor shower.  The road was a little winding, and those of us in the back seat of the car were ready for it to be over by the time we reached a little turnout and parked, but it was ultimately very worth it.

The moon was lit in stunning fashion that night, which can put a bit of a damper on stargazing, but when I looked in the opposite direction, I witnessed a sea of stars — the quantity of which I am certainly not used to seeing.  After a while of searching the skies for where the meteors might be coming from, I spotted the first big one and we all set our blankets on the ground and took in the view above.  It was a really beautiful occasion (with a very comfortable ride home, thanks GC), and catching sight of those meteors was akin to a sparse fireworks show.

The real highlight of the viewing, though, for me was that for the first time in my life I actually was able to spot the Milky Way in the sky.  I’ve camped and been in rural areas, but I can’t recall having ever actually seen the thick streak in the sky that is the view of our galaxy’s dense plane.  I’m certain I mentioned it a couple of times that night, but I was suddenly a little child lost in the stars above… seeing something I never had before with plenty of wonder🙂.

Since this wasn’t a planned trip, I didn’t have my camera with me (I wouldn’t have likely wanted to distract myself from the pleasant time, anyways).  So, to commemorate the evening, I decided to paint my interpretation of the sky I saw.  I was tempted to elaborate on it, to give the meteor an artistic flare, but while working on the piece I quickly decided that it would simply work better as a more grounded representation — realistic, as opposed to artsy. Oh, and if you give the picture on this post a click, you can check out the full-size version… though it’s just a bunch of white dots, so I don’t know why you’d want to😉.

And there we go.  It’s not an important or especially grand artwork, but it reminds me of a pretty special time, so I’ll enjoy its existence for that reason alone🙂.

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My Hesitant Excitement Over Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One Star Wars Story

From the get-go, this movie’s announcement has had my interest piqued.  The first promotional image released some time ago, of the ragtag crew of Rebels, was interesting… but it didn’t turn me head-over-heels.  The teaser trailer released a few months ago had a similar non-impact on me.

Last night’s new trailer once again left me interested, but not extremely excited:

There is some trepidation here for me, indeed, but also several reasons as to why I’m hopeful.

The Good:

  • The director, Gareth Edwards.  Of course, I loved his Godzilla, but I then watched his first feature-length debut, Monsters, on Netflix, and absolutely adored it in every way.  He and I are only two movies in on our relationship together, but I’m already pretty excited about where things are going.  His work may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really respond to it… there’s a certain simplicity, and I really appreciate his visual style.  Edwards has done well to make movie-monsters feel massive and realistically alive, and I’m really interested to see what he’ll do in a Star Wars world.  At the very least, as indicated by these trailers, it’ll be one heck of a visual treat… at least, in my book🙂.
  • The tone.  I really like that it’s a war movie.  Star Wars is the story of a family… but interwoven between this central theme is the tale of a galaxy at war, and this movie looks to be a fun focus on that side of things.
  • The Force.  In this latest trailer, I really love that the Force is spoken of by someone who obviously lives their life by their faith in it.  Strangely enough, in the lousy The Force Awakens, the titular energy field that binds us and penetrates us barely comes up much that I can recall.  Of course, this is just one line, but I liked seeing a view of the Force from a non-Jedi angle.
  • New characters.  While the Star Wars prequels aren’t good movies (or good prequels, at that), the threats that Obi-wan and Anakin face are never dire because we all know that they live on.  What those stories SHOULD have been is a great character study focus on the tragedy of Anakin’s demise, but instead they focused a lot of time on a world’s story that was otherwise uninteresting.  In Rogue One, though, while we know the story’s outcome, I have absolutely no idea if ANY of these characters will actually live.  Even more than that, while I know how this part of the story has to end, I’m really interested in watching this particular group of ragtags experience what they’re going to experience.

The Not As Good:

  • Felicity Jones.  I’ve only seen her in one other movie, The Theory of Everything, and she was wonderful in that, but in these trailers she’s felt very flat.  She’s capable of a great deal of charm, so I’m not sure if it’s simply been out-of-context snippet selection for the trailers that has portrayed her at her worst moments in this movie or if it’s a character choice (or the option I’m hoping against, that she’s just not great in it).
  • I can’t trust this universe now.  I grew up with three great movies revolving around lightsabers and Luke’s quest and fantastic creatures.  Then I had 4 movies that actually deterred from that in how not-good they are.  For as much as I enjoy the director’s work, he is also working under the constraint of an “over-arching” theme that Disney is now in control of with these movies.  Will that allow for a good movie?  We shall see.
  • I haven’t been energized.  I love the music, the visual tone of the world, and the character design (that villain.. what a beautifully cold mug!), but I haven’t walked away from any of these trailers with an unbreakable smile across my face.
  • A little bit of clunk.  In the first teaser, Jones’ line of “I rebel,” just felt awkward.  It wasn’t exciting, it just felt odd — as if it was trying really hard to be that great, cool line, but then it wasn’t.

So, here we go.  I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe this will be a horrible movie, and in fact I’ve probably seen more good than bad, but I’m hesitant.  The Force Awakens was such a horrible treatment of the characters I love, aside from simply being a bad movie, and I don’t expect this new flick to be so damaging… but my fingers are crossed that it’s just somewhere between mediocre and freakin’ brilliant🙂.

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Out Of The Box – 297

Out of the Box weekly stick figure web comic 297 Oliver

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