Ultron and Loki Show Us the Importance of Human Connection

Its Josiah again!

Loki, the God of Mischief, is coming back to make trouble, and he’s not alone. Last week,, Tom Hiddleston was announced as a returning cast member for Thor:  Ragnarok, the third installment in the Thor movie series; and he’s not alone. The “threequel” adds some new players wearing the faces of Cate Blanchet of Lord of the Rings fame, Karl Urban beamed down from the U.S.S. Enterprise, Tessa Thompson by way of Philly and Jeff Goldblum at the top of his ‘Resurgence. The movie of course heralds the return of Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Thor: Ragnarok decimates theaters some time in 2017.

But enough about them, let’s talk about Loki!

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Well to be fair, its all of the other characters that got me started thinking about him in the first place. In fact it was Zemo, the villain from Captain America: Civil War that first got me reminiscing on Loki again. My friends were comparing villains from the various Marvel serials so it was only a matter of time until we traced it all back to Thor’s adopted brother. I liked Zemo enough, as understated as he was. Just a normal guy who had a bad day and used his resources in the government to bring the Avengers to their knees. He had a family, he was human – one of us.

The Punisher, Kingpin and Kilgrave from the Netflix corner of Marvel Studios, share similar traits to Loki, all able to draw some sense of sympathy from the audience. In some way shape or form I could mostly find some way to relate to some of the best baddies that Marvel had to offer.

And then I remembered Ultron.

The second Avengers villain, Ultron was an android built by Tony Stark/Iron Man as a means to save the world, a global “suit of armor” as it were, until via the world wide web, Ultron got a whiff of every troll throughout the history that ever plagued mankind. Ultron’s solution?  Rain fire from the sky and cleanse the planet.

Ultron was played by the excellent James Spader, who waxes poetically about God, Noah and the Flood, and allusions to Pinocchio and his refusal to be a puppet.

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There are no strings on me.  (Ultron – The Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

And through it all on the first viewing I felt kind of bored, or rather, underwhelmed. I knew what I was getting into with a robot villain and the buzz excited me. But imagine my surprise when while watching the movie I suddenly felt like I was at a great party that just got crashed by that one nerd who just recently learned some lore about a character and just has to tell everyone how much he knows now.

That’s Ultron, and I just wanted him to go away.

Back to Loki for a second, I have to be honest here, I never liked him all that much. I always felt like I missed something about the character. He was just, already mean, yet everyone swore he was a tragic character deserving of my sympathy. I just didn’t see it. He is childish, power hungry, delusional and a bully who tried to take Asgard and then planet Earth by force:

You take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights? (Thor – The Avengers)

And for all of that mess of a character, for all of that disconnection I felt… that I connect with Loki so much more than I do Ultron! The robot was just born, “learns” about humanity from of all places, the Internet. He doesn’t even try to reason with the Avengers or give them a chance to work anything out, he’s condescending and behaves as if he’s one of us. One of us? Dude, you just got here (but you don’t even go here), and to top it all off you’re LATE! How are you going to “teach” us about ourselves?

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Don’t get me wrong, his speeches are pretty, but I didn’t connect them with Ultron, I kept waiting for Loki or some thinking AND feeling (no really come on) character to echo such grandiose rhetoric about purpose, evolution and rebirth to step out from behind his monochrome back.

I think its the blessing and curse of Spader. He is so convincing as Ultron that it makes him all the more annoying because you can tell that he believes everything he is saying even though he hasn’t earned anything. Which I still felt on my second only viewing of The Avengers: Age of Ultron tonight. Ultron didn’t grind my gears quite as much this time and I appreciated his ideas about death and change a lot more this time. I think it’s because I connect Ultron to Tony so much more than I did the first time; I think a lot of what Ultron is projecting onto the Avengers belongs to Tony (somehow) and was transferred through faux comic book science mumbo-jumbo. And the father/son ideas are better the second time around too.

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I guess I just want to connect. I feel like the Avengers are fighting an idea more than a person in this movie and that makes it a challenge to believe in Ultron. Plus the movie was rushed. Loki at least had a single movie prior to his invasion in the first Avengers movie, but Ultron’s development would have benefited from a more gradual descent into darkness rather than his immediate villainy; for me anyway. No shade aimed at Marvel or Ultron or any of you that really enjoyed the character and the movie, these are just my observations.

I sometimes feel cold and mechanical like Ultron, we all have our days. Sometimes the world seems all doom and gloom, all hope is lost, like we’ll never achieve our highest potential and get it all done. But we try, we never give up. You know, I think that’s why the Vision, Ultron’s “brother” I guess you could say, makes so much sense (plus Paul Bettany has voiced JARVIS in four movies already). He works very well as a hero at this stage of the game thanks to his relationships with the team and humanity at large. He’s seen us at our highest and lowest points and he’s stuck with us all the while and transformed from a servant into a friend. Without Ultron I don’t think this resolution would have been as poignant.

Wow, You’ve Got A Friend In Me reference, two toy allusions in one post, two Disney (and Pixar) jokes at that, okay time to end this. So movies can teach us about relationships and first impressions as well as yeah, watch a movie more than once!

(All images taken from Google)

Noteworthy Female Characters

“Women and men alike, regularly fail the Bechdel Test in real life… just sit and listen to them in any common setting: the supper market, college hallways, the park, Church, while walking the dog, jury duty, etc.”

That was just a snippet of a humorous and facetious conversation I had with one of my coworkers recently. I know creators are all about representation in stories more than ever these days, especially women, but listening to some college-aged women walk by us innocently talking about how cute some guy was or how dreamy his blue eyes were, made me feel I could laugh a little, provided some perspective, and then my thoughts were directed toward something else in the writing world…

Hey, Josiah here, the JO in JoMarkCreative and before I begin, I’d like to give a shout out to my mom, JoMarkCreative’s BIGGEST FAN, who had a birthday this past weekend. I credit her with my love of reading and writing and showing me what real strength looks like. Mom I thank you!

I love you, Mom!

I love you, Mom!

And now onto today’s topic. It is writing related and geared toward women. It’s something my dad and I and other writing friends have talked about and I thought it would be cool to share here. Please note that I am speaking for myself in this article and not for my dad or JoMarkCreative.

The title of today’s article plays on the popular phrase “strong female characters” and stems from a piece written by Sophia McDougall entitled, I Hate Strong Female Characters I’m not going to post any excerpts here but I do want to share the effect her piece had on me and how it helped strengthen my feelings on the topic.

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In short, Ms. McDougall helped me realize that nowadays (though its steadily shifting for the better) the word “strong” as it precedes “female characters” is a literal term solely focusing on feats of strength and physical prowess, and might include a little bit of no-nonsense attitude or something along those lines in terms of her personality. In her article, McDougall does an excellent job of explaining at length how strength is not just physicality nor is it determined by lack of any kind of submission. I think her article was saying that “strong” is a literary term having more to do with how sound a female hero’s character is by actually having that: character.

A character can be physically weak but very compelling and interesting on the page or onscreen. What motivates her to act the way she does can invite us into a world we might not have ever known before if not for how she sees it and moves within in. By that same notion, she can be a goddess but flat, one dimensional and lack any semblance of an inner life. I don’t see it as her being a composite of deep, dark deviant high concept ideas in one that keeps the reader up all hours of the night trying to figure her out; no, there’s no need for that much pressure. But she – any character really – needs to be strong from an objective point of view on how they move throughout any given story. We should be able to imagine what it would be like to know them in real life for their attitudes as well as their physical abilities and they should stand the test of intrigue and investment from the reader’s standpoint.

I thought McDougall’s comparisons to great thinkers in fiction was a great way to convey the point and more accurately define a character’s strength when writing a story. Sherlock Holmes is spot on, he’s not a fighter, he’s a genius, yet we love to read about him. It wasn’t until Guy Ritchie made the new films that we even imagined an action-packed Sherlock Holmes adventure, at least of that magnitude to be fair.

I think another one like Dr. Who is appropriate and I’m not even a Whovian. For the most part in my limited exposure to the character, Dr. Who isn’t a very physical hero (depending on the version I suppose) in general. Yet people, especially girls, can’t get enough of him. Why is that?

I think it’s because he’s a smart, sensitive and moral figure to watch fly through the galaxy. He’s a hero because of his desire to help people and that makes him strong first and foremost. If he sports cool gadgets or gets special powers every now and again, that’s fine too, but his powers and physicality don’t define him, his principles do, dare I say his soul defines him and his compelling connection to people.

Dr Who

Don’t get me wrong I love special abilities and physicality (despite my thin frame), but I think if female characters continue on this excessive bombastic path a lot of people are gonna lose out creatively and even money. Sure we tell stories to inspire and connect with people, but we do it for money too, and what better way to turn a profit than by creative rich characters whose choices are understandable?

Three female characters I’ve recently learned about are Kate Macer from the new movie Sicario, and Gemma and Agent Stahl of Sons of Anarchy fame.

I can’t say too much about Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) since the movie just came out, but what I will say is I saw a character who is very much in touch with her feelings, but has trained enough mentally and physically to become a fine FBI agent. And its that mental fortitude that comes under fire when she is recruited by Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin to hit the drug cartels in a way that may not be by the book; yet it gets results. She conflicted because she shows she wants to get the bad guys but she isn’t sure if the cost is worth it. There’s much to her than a gun and stunner sunglasses. She’s a woman that wants to be the “good guy” but isn’t sure what that means anymore.

And then there’s Gemma Teller Morrow and Agent June Stahl, two women on opposite sides of the law in the FX show Sons of Anarchy, yet I think they are two side of the same coin ruthless coin; the difference is in what motivates they respective ruthless tendencies (at the time of writing this I’m only up to season 4 on Netflix). Both are aren’t afraid to get bloody either!

Agent June Stahl

Agent June Stahl

I think Gemma, the biker gang matriarch, is motivated by genuine, albeit, twisted love for family, whereas Agent Stahl is motivated by power and greed. Yet both women, as tough as they are, show emotional depths I wasn’t ready for. Stahl is cunning and two-faced but can be clearly effected by the carnage she creates, no matter momentary the effects may be. There’s even something a little sad about Stahl, behind the eyes. I hate her character, but love her at the same time because she conveys so well what she wants and her decisions make perfect sense, adding layer upon layer to her life on the show and impacting the series in a positive way.

And as for Gemma, only time will tell how far she will go to keep certain secrets hidden. Right now I do believe she loves her family and Jax, but I think she is still dead set on her way or the highway, which is what makes her so interesting to watch because her secrets are horrible and I sometimes wonder if Jax’s continued ignorance is for the better. Again, both SOA women show strength of character from a written standpoint as they strive to more fully define what their character on a moral stage, really means for both of them.

Gemma Teller Morrow

Gemma Teller Morrow

Here’s a final example. I’m a huge fan of the cinematic online movement known as Black&SexyTV. In fact they recently struck a deal with BET to air episodes from 3 of their online webseries’ weekly and I couldn’t be happier for them. One of my favorite shows from them (and included in the BET lineup) is a show called Hello Cupid, about  two best friends, Whitney and Robin who switch dating profile pictures, and shenanigans ensue from there. The swap is in response to the stigma of colorism among people of color where skin (light versus dark) tone determines how valuable a person is or feels in society, especially where money and romance are involved. In the show, Whitney is dark skinned, mildly preppy, with a conservative personality and believes there is a certain order to things. This sometimes drives the light skinned, spunky, loud and more outgoing Robin up the wall, but they’re friends so its not a big problem… until the swap.

Without spoiling the show, Whitney (played by the amazing Ashley Blaine Featherson) reveals more and more of domineering and manipulative side, especially after she meets ProudDad on the dating site. The problem is that since they’ve yet to meet, he sees Robin’s profile picture but gets to know the real Whitney, who is too afraid at this point to switch back to her own authentic picture. I think over the course of the show I came to realize that Whitney’s bossiness, her manipulative tendencies and explosive anger are signs of serious insecurity.

And I love that about the character! Whitney makes consistent choices all in the name of hiding the truth from ProudDad. Even though these qualities aren’t appealing in any way, it brings fans back for more to see how long Whitney can keep up the ruse and if her friendships will last. The irony is that the desire to be loved for who she is started this whole mess and I think she looses sight of that. But I think Whitney is one of the strongest characters, male or female, that I have ever had the chance to read/watch in a long, long time and she has become one of my favorites (along with Ripley, Trinity and Imperator Furiosa) female characters. She is compelling (Robin too, as her opposite), and we can all relate to bouts with insecurity, wanting to be desired, and questions of our worth. Even negative traits can make a character interesting and strong on a literary scale. And after this past season, dare I say it, as a well fleshed out and consistently compelling character, Whitney is on Heisenberg levels – real talk.

Like I said, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about this topic and until recently I didn’t realize I was so passionate about the topic. Maybe its because I’m an introvert and not very physical myself that I care so much about the internal representations of characters. People have complained that a lot of male characters, for all of their strength and super powers, are flat and boring, but in this world, men are at the top so it doesn’t matter; with enough CGI and explosions, these poorly written characters will continue to populate our stories.

I’m blessed to have had the chance to write screenplays and publish a novel flexing my muscles to create compelling female characters. I look forward to hearing feedback about Jasmine, Diane Spencer and Camille and Dorothy LaShea, the leading ladies of Noteworthy Tribute. And I hope to get better at showing the various strengths native to female characters, both physical and mental.

Lastly, check out Sophia McDougall’s article and the Black&SexyTV shows, you might like what you see.

Keep creating, the story must be told!

– JOSIAH

(All photos taken from Google Images.)

Miss Ash Productions

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The Motto and the Movement.

What’s up readers, its Josiah again! This weekend I participated in the 60 Hour Film Challenge with my friends led by the amazing Ashleigh Coffelt where:

We [Colchester Film Festival] challenge filmmakers from around the world to write, shoot and edit a film no longer than 5 minutes in just 60 hours. Each team is given a film title, line of dialogue and a prop/action that they must include in their final film. The rest is up to you. It can be any genre or style so get your creative juices flowing and produce a masterpiece.

I met Ashleigh through my best friend Marcus earlier this year and to date we’ve collaborated three times on short film challenges. She and her best friend, longtime collaborator and go-to actress Courtney Birk have produced over 60 films including short films, commercials,PSAs, vlogs and feature films together and to this day they continue to contribute to the art form by creating intimate stories and regularly challenging themselves technically. Ash and Court both give women in media a very good name and I think they are excellent role models for the new generation of female creatives today! One of the ways they continue to push their creative boundaries is through their non-profit Why Be Ordinary:

Spreading the Word of God means more than just sharing a status on social media. Why Be Ordinary is a non profit organization aimed at engaging twenty and thirty something Christians in discussing social topics through film.

For the 60 Hour we braved the Towson cold to make Teaser; can you figure out the story based on the poster? Thanks to our stellar team and great actors we got the film shot quickly and had a lot of fun, and I always consider it a win when Marcus and I can work on a movie together.

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Below is a list of my top five favorite films Ashleigh has made under her Miss Ash Productions brand; I’ve actually watched every video on their Vimeo account and I love them all but I singled these five out. If you like these, check out much more on her Vimeo and YouTube channels and be on the lookout for the release of Teaser!

Enjoy!


5. This Used To Be Our Dream
“A very important decision leads a young man to ponder the possibilities of a future that could have been.”
This was the very first of their films that I worked on and is a big conversation starter, viewing pro-life in a different light.

4. Cerebral
This is the second film I joined Miss Ash Productions on for the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Challenge form which Courtney Birk took home the award for Best Actress! We had to include the name Q Treller and make reference to a secret society. This was also my first time doing a lighting set up of any kind by myself outside of college – I think it turned out just fine 🙂

3. Just Fine 
“Sometimes, you have to fake it until you make it.”
This story is so relatable and Court’s performance is terrific, she essentially carries the movie with a faceless and voiceless character on the other end of the phone. The location is wonderful and the underdog yet rebellious theme is executed very well.

2. Intangible
“An experimental short, shot with natural light.”
I really enjoy their use of the storm (kids don’t try this at home) and nature itself to tell a story about a character seeking peace and safety and I especially appreciate what I think is a very fresh and non-preachy religious examination. This movie is a great example of seeing an artistic opportunity and going for it pedal to the metal.

1. Parallels
” The large city never felt so lonely.”
This is by far my favorite film by Ash and Court. The simplicity, the lights, their use again of what was available to them such as their matching tattoos – New York City… it just comes together very well in my opinion 🙂

Ashleigh and Courtney know better than anyone that “the story must be told”.

Keep creating!

  • The JO in JoMarkCreative

Throwback Thursday: DCV Movie Festival

The first weekend of this month, Emily Aguilar hosted the first annual DCV Movie Festival in the Nation’s Capital. A graduate of Loyala Marymount Univeristy, Emily is a very passionate young filmmaker originally from the DMV area. With her mentor Seanie Blue supporting her, as well as other friends and family in and out of the industry, she put the word out inviting local filmmakers to submit their work for free screening.

But that’s not all!

Emily is proof that my generation is truly defined by our success by who we know, and the power of our networking abilities. After having studied with his daughter at film school, Emily befriended renowned cinematographer Bill Butler, famous for his camera work on the movie’s Jaws, Grease, and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

My good friend Sean sits with Emily while discussing film with Bill Butler.

My good friend Sean sits with Emily while discussing film with Bill Butler.

Bill proved to be very knowledgeable indeed. He also challenged the future’s filmmakers to not only rely on new technologies, but also tried and true methods of storytelling in order to captivate audiences. We noticed he wasn’t all that impressed with our college degrees, although he was happy for those of us who had them, but he stressed creative and critical thinking about art and the future by drawing comparisons to feats from history that were inspiring to him but things we couldn’t understand today, such as the locomotive and the space program. He seemed to admonish us to capture that feeling in our movies versus being overly impressed with the tech or innovation itself for its own sake, no matter how remarkable. And I think he was just scratching the surface seeing as that talk was Friday night and he was the weekend speaker!

Last but not least, the screenings; or should I say screening. Its always interesting doing something for the very first time, and to their credit, Emily and Seanie were gracious hosts, but due to some competing noise pollution from a dance party in the room next to us, the crowd was only able to view my team’s film, This Used To Be Our Dream, directed by Ashleigh Coffelt. Our team was unable to attend the rest of the festival over the weekend, but since generally everyone else would be able to view and screen, Emily was a good sport and we closed Friday night with our film which you can watch below.

I was bummed I wasn’t able to see all of the other submissions, but from just that night of Q&A with Bill Butler, viewing our film, and befriending Emily afterward, this first go around for DCV Fest left a savory taste in my mouth and I can’t wait for what’s in store in 2016 when it comes back. There’s something that can be said for being around for something at “ground zero”, at its inception, and DCV Movie Fest gets me excited to be a local filmmaker and to see what other talent resides here in the DMV area. Check out the director spotlights at the Facebook page to get a feel for the local talent, including Emily and Seanie, and what film means to them.

Best Regards,

Mark & Josiah

PS: Oh and Emily – bailar! ^_^

New Job!

So I had started a new job at Towson University, working the Student Activities & Marketing board that shares news about college organizations on campus; I’m one of their bloggers (Towson’s The Roar) and photographers/videographers. In one of my early blogs I shared my top 5 favorite short films which got me started in movies years back, mostly anyway, a couple I didn’t see until recently. These two carry the theme of, you guessed it, a father’s love.

Both are of the sci-fi/fantasy genre and run less than 10 minutes. One is quirky and light-hearted while the other is more series but no less heartfelt.

I hope you enjoy, and always remember to Be Noteworthy!

CARGO, Directed by Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke.
YouTube desc: Stranded in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, a man sets in motion an unlikely plan to protect his precious daughter.

LA LUNA, Directed by Enrico Casarosa.
YouTube desc: The timeless fable of a young boy coming of age in the most peculiar of circumstances. It’s the first time his Papa and Grandpa are taking him to work. Will he be able to find his own way amidst of their conflicting opinions and timeworn traditions?

Yours,

JOSIAH!

The Bradley Bunch Web Series: Episode 2

The family is at it again. Presenting episode 2 of Matthew’s reality series based on our family. Today’s episode: Josiah goes back to College and moves into his new apartment!

Yours,

MARK & JOSIAH!

BOYHOOD: Dinner & A Movie With MOM

Instagram moment!

Instagram moment!

It’s raining like crazy today!

Anyway, I’m gonna go back to August 1st. So I love my mom right, and my Dad has always encouraged the brothers and I to treat her right and do nice things for her. I was not only raised by my mom obviously, but I was educated by her too because she Homeschooled us as kids; yup, all the way up through high school. And because she has done so much for me, I have always felt there was NOTHING I could possibly do that could measure up to all she has given me.

Truth is I can’t.

And then I remembered, my mom isn’t a demanding woman; she doesn’t ask for a lot and she doesn’t flaunt her motherliness all over the place expecting certain treatment. She just loves people and that’s enough for her.

That realization gave me the kick in the pants to take her out again to see the movie Boyhood by Richard Linklater. The last movie I took her too was You Again!, that Jamie Lee Curtis versus Sigourney Weaver movie from a few years back. But we didn’t get to eat dinner that time. This time would be different.

So as broke as I was, Mom was her awesome self again, wanting to experience Baltimore and this “awesome Charles theater” I kept talking about. I should’ve known she wouldn’t care about paying for things; presence over presents. And I mean she has always provided and Boyhood was all about that, so it was kind of poetic.

So mom and I caught up on the drive down to Bmore, talking bills, summer time, entertainment news, etc. We even took a weird back road where we got to see all of these HUGE old rustic houses; she and my dad always liked walking/driving through neighborhoods admiring big houses. Finally we made it to Charles St.

Our first stop was Teatro Toppas for dinner. Its built right next door to The Charles and I’d never been there. “Small plates, big pleasure” is right! Mom and I laughed over plates of kale (how hipster of us), lamb chop w/ rhubarb BBQ sauce, fried bass, shrimp and calamari; I had never had fried anything that was so spot on and so lightly fried and it was superb! Next thing we knew it was time to see the movie, but we’d recommend Teatro Toppas to anyone in the DC/Baltimore area!

So I got a good laugh when I realized I had confused The Charles for The Senator! I was told one of these theaters was very old-school looking, with curtains and that old-timey feel. So that was a bummer, but then we were overcome with how vast the auditorium was; instead of seats stacked on each other like in traditional theaters, the rows were spaced out stretching several, several yards in every direction. Wow!

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Our feelings during and after the movie was just a feeling of awe: its amazing to watch a 2hour movie of kids aging 12 years in one sitting. The closest and maybe most recent experience like this was Harry Potter movies, difference being obvious – we grew up with the actors.

The story is very simple and obvious – growing up. The movie follows Ellar Coltrane as Mason from the age of 7 to 19 as his family moves to Texas to start a new life. The story follows him and his sister and mother as they reunite with their dad played by Ethan Hawke. Honestly the story could have followed any one of them in that family, or more specifically Mason’s sister, because it is just so cool to watch these same young actors grow 12 years right before your eyes.

I really don’t want to say more than that so that you can watch the movie for yourself. I admit that the movie might be more amazing as an experimental movie technically due to sticking with the same actors. The story is fine and familiar in some ways but its the behind the scenes knowledge and the way its been marketed that will put you in that theater and you will get your money’s worth for sure.

Mom and I on the drive home had a lot of fun decoding the family dynamics, mainly between the mom and dad characters. Their relationship and separate lives around Mason are very interesting to watch and Ethan Hawke is just awesome to watch since I don’t regularly watch his movies. And let me say it was awesome seeing Patricia “Kissin’ Kate Barlow” Arquette again, its been a while!

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Sorry I really want to get into the nitty-gritty of the movie that mom and I did but – you just gotta go see it. But its nights like that one with my mom that fill me with happiness. Most of the time I just talk to my mom about movies but rarely do I get to see any with her, lately mostly since I’m at school for another year. She had an amazing time, just her and I catching up and it was a lot fo fun sharing my kind of new “home” in Baltimore with her and showing her where my college friends hang out and getting a taste of something new. And I think that movie gave me a small taste of what it must be like to be her, to be a parent, to watch kids grow up so quick right before your eyes! I think I appreciated her love even more after that night.

She says she and Dad will go to Teatro Toppas one night soon. But I do want to take her out for mother/son bonding time again and cover everything! But I remember that love is really what matters to her and spending a night out with good food and a great movie experience just her and I was just what the doctor ordered and I look forward to out next adventure together.

Yours,

JOSIAH!