We’ll all float on!

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We were pointed toward home. We’d spent a month in central CA working our butts off and we were reaping our sweet reward: a long drive back East, drinking in as much of the country as we could along the way.

We were driving through Utah, we’d seen the salt-flats (tip: if you see them from the interstate STOP at the rest-stop and check them out. The next exit you’re going to see is about 70 miles down the road, so take that opportunity when it pops up), and we were heading towards the Rockies and all their splendor.

We saw signs for the western most Zaxby’s in the USA (2 are oddly enough located in Utah) and saw the Kennecott Garfield Smelter Stack. The stack in question is the tallest freestanding structure West of the Mississippi river. Standing a whopping 1,215 feet high it’s a pretty impressive piece of industrial construction. To put its height into perspective for you the Empire State Building is pretty much the same height (if you snap off the radio tower), the Willis Tower in Chi-town is shorter than the stack topping off at 1,450 feet, and if you hail from the Pacific North-West your most famous skyline feature (the Space Needle) tops out at a mere 605 feet. So the Smelter Stack was pretty impressive.

But enough waxing impressed about a toxin-spewing chimney…

The thing that stands out the most to me about wheeling through the Mormon capital of the universe was our brief stop to see the Great Salt Lake. Our plan had been to stop, take a gander at it, maybe dip a foot in just so we could say we did. We were NOT going to get into the lake, that was considered and voted down by unanimous vote. Our plan was waylaid by the friendliest State Park worker i’ve ever met in my life. His enthusiasm for the lake was contagious.

He plied us with said enthusiasm and the cold, hard fact that we were at a minimum over 2,000 miles away from home and when would we be there again? He weaved for us his master-plan for us to experience the wonder of the lake. Change in the gift-store bathroom, dip in the lake (with admonitions to make sure we floated in it, not just waded knee deep), scuttle across the parking-lot to the showers for the marina and de-salt ourselves as best we could.

So what did we do? We did all those things. Wading out his words of, “Once you’re about nipple-deep you won’t be able to keep your feet on the bottom,” proved to be absolutely true. Laying back into the salty water proved to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life. For an instant i thought i had sat on something in the water. It felt exactly like sitting on a float in a pool. It was amazing. It was relaxing. It was a moment i’m glad that my wife and i took a few minutes and made time for. Even hours later when we began to feel like beef-jerky (it’s pretty much impossible to de-salt yourself in a hurry in a marina shower that you’re using clandestinely) i was still so very glad we’d done it.

Floating in one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth was not part of the plan for that day, but we did it! If we had not met that particular park worker, if we had not been willing to alter our time-table, if we had not been willing to do a thing we’d actually decided earlier to NOT do… we would’ve missed an amazing moment.

Some folks never find serendipity in their lives because when it knocks they lock the dead-bolt.

So, try that new food. Take those free tickets. Get in the car and drive somewhere. Take that friend up on their offer to put you up for a night if you’re ever in their town. Float On! It could be one of the most amazing moments of your life…

i love D&D! (and the best lesson i’ve learned from it)

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i LOVE table-top RPGs!

i played them when i was young (often in secret, since the evangelical backlash against them had instilled a dread terror of them in the hearts of many who were authority figures in my life at the time)

i play them now, as a 40 year old man who’s primary function on this planet seems to be paying bills. Judge me, i don’t care!

Table-Top gaming is tied with Cycling as my top distraction from the day-to-day stressors of life and all that entails. i love most things about it and here’s some reasons why (plus the most important lesson it’s taught me at the end):

  1. Collaborative Story-telling: One of my favorite things in life is telling a good story. There have been MANY times in my life where i did something knowing it was a bad idea but my rationalization was: “This is gonna make a great story!” Table-top RPGs provide a scaffolding (the rules, sometimes voluminous amounts of rules) for a group of people to tell a story together. Granted the DM/GM holds more power than the others at the table in that process BUT a good DM/GM shares that power and lets the PCs actions, words, or even inactions influence that story. There’s something about any creative process that is rewarding, and when a collaborative endeavor is successful it’s often even more rewarding.
  2. The Escape: Life is life… by which i mean sometimes it gets tough. In those moments a little distraction can do the mind a great deal of good. When i was a young gent sitting around a table in some friend’s basement trying to save a world, or universe, or just pillage some village, i was an uncoordinated blundering mess. i fit the template for “potential D&D nerd”. Those long nights spent with the handful of good friends i did have were some of the best nights of those years. Using the theater of our minds to do heroic (or villainous) deeds sure beat wallowing in self-pity. It also beat the chemical escapes i dipped into a few years later… Today, though the nights spent around a table with friends are shorter (i’m too old to pull an all nighter and my brain gets tired after about 3 hours anyway) they are still just as welcome as an escape. Weather i’m playing a outlandish character bent on adventure, or juggling a detailed universe as DM/GM, i always feel refreshed when we pack up our dice and other implements of nerdom and head home.
  3. It’s Community Driven: Community is an idea that is a central pillar for my family. The life we live with others is often so much richer than the life we live alone (i could slip into a treatise about the dangers of “social” media here, but i won’t). It’s literally IMPOSSIBLE to play a table-top RPG alone! The minimum requirements are TWO people. (but 5-7 are ideal in most situations). i like that you sit around a real-life physical table with other people! It’s true that you can play online, using the digital world to connect over vast expanses, but i still prefer face-to-face play time. i love it all: the sharing of snacks & beverages, the laughter, the heated debating over the minutiae of rules. It’s good to see the same faces weekly (or bi-montly, or monthly, or whatever your gaming schedule for your regular group is). Also; It’s great to do something shorter and sit around a table with a group of brand new people. The main thing is the community, continuing or temporary, that occurs around that table.

 

The most important life-lesson i’ve learned around a gaming table: Don’t Yuck someone else’s Yum! Its an adage that i’ve heard the most in RPG circles. Someone wants to study for hours to build the most ideal character; tuning every stat and ability for maximum effectiveness within the structure of the rules (or exploiting a loop-hole in said rules)? Good for them

Someone else makes a character that can do a certain feat extremely well… and then NEVER does that thing because they feel like that’s not the personality of their character? Good for them

Someone builds a warrior straight out of high-fantasy honor-bound to break the bonds of tyranny that oppress the less fortunate; someone else creates a bumbling wizard who’s main contribution is comedic effect… its ALL GOOD! At the end of the day people play RPGs to HAVE FUN! That looks different to different people. If someone’s Yum doesn’t make sense to you, that’s ok. Let them have it!

How does that translate to the real world?

Well to quote myself fourteen words ago: “If someone’s Yum doesn’t make sense to you, that’s ok. Let them have it.”  Yum-Yucking is often the easiest reaction to something we don’t understand or don’t like ourselves. But i’ve learned a lot from people whose interests were vastly different from my own over the years so…

i won’t Yuck your Yum if you don’t Yuck mine!

Mean Humor

i’m a master at being an A-hole…

i can poke fun of the most deeply held convictions, the most vulnerable spots in a person, the most recent personal or social scandals. i can say those things that shouldn’t be said; and can i step over “the line”? Well yes, but i’d much rather jump over it and do a metaphysical jig.

Here’s a fact about that: that’s a trick that ANYONE can do that. Anyone can pull of mean humor. It’s the easiest route to get laughs. Mean humor is the cheapest way to buy laughs and smiles, you just buy them with someone else’s social credit card.

Here’s another fact: i’ve recently become VERY convicted about mean humor… i don’t like it (the convictions i’ve developed regarding it, i mean). It makes me uncomfortable. i like to make people laugh. But i’m trying to stop doing so at the expense of others.

i’m admittedly NOT doing a bang-up job of it either… We live in a social climate that is chock full of political unrest, where people who don’t like what others have to say rail about how it causes them pain… OR (the other side of the same coin) they rant that if you say/do “that” (whatever “that” thing is for the moment) you should be carted off to a modern internment camp and deported from the United States of America. (But that’s a whole separate rant for another time)

So i’m putting on my big-boy pants and doing my utmost to steer clear of the cheap and easy way of humor. Mean humor denies others the basic respect due them as a fellow human being.

It Devalues other passengers of Space Ship Earth…

Ultimately i’m stumbling along attempting to be a Christ-follower. To live the example that He laid out for us. (Admittedly many days i’m a poor one, limping along and poking at the gray areas of life and spirituality with a stick). i find myself hard pressed to imagine Jesus throwing back his head and laughing at my witty rip on flat-earthers, or my quip about those deluded Republicans, or those silly Democrats. i can’t envision him slapping a robbed knee at a well timed “nice shorts there 1995…” Honestly most days i’m not sure i’d garner so much as a smile from Him if we were chilling around a campfire in sandals, eating fresh fish, and keepin’ it Kosher.

Humor is a gift, a gift to bring light and levity into a world filled to the brim with pain, confusion, hatred, frustrations, etc, etc, etc. It’s a shame that humor has become a vehicle that drives those things it could be so effective at repelling.

i’m endeavoring to treat humor as the tool for good that it can be, and not a cheap shtick to get laughs at the expense of others…

#98: Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

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Perdido Street Station is quite the Tome!

The Good:

Mieville builds a rich world filled with amazing sights and peoples. New Crobuzon, the city in which the action takes place, is so very well developed! Bustling with a kaledescope characters,  districts, artifacts new and old, and what feels like a deep history that undergirds the setting.

Mieville also throws in quite a collection of races, beyond just the human characters there are:

  • Garuda: Basically Bird folk
  • Khepri: Insect people, the females are sentient, but the males are smaller and seem to exist only for mating.
  • Wyrmen: Gargoyle-esque knuckle-heads
  • Vodyanoi: Frog-like folk who have a really cool innate “watercraeft” that allows them to temporarily stabilize the structure of water. Made for a very cool dock-worker strike in the book.
  • Cactacae: basically cactus people… i wanted to like them more but they never really seemed as neat as the other races.
  • Also of note: The Remade (mostly victims of the criminal justice system, their bodies are “enhanced” with freakish modifications like pincer hands, or their heads turned around, etc etc.); the Construct Council (a group of mentally linked sentient machines); the Slake Moths (the baddies of the story); and everyone’s favorite The Weaver (an inter-dimensional shifting giant spider beast who talks like a beatnick poet spewing a never-ending stream-of-conciousness performance)

Every race seems to have it’s own unique world view and sub-cultures that paint how the communicate with and move through the world.

The Meh…

Honestly the story-line wasn’t the most compelling. For a world as complex as this one i kept expecting the story to come together. Instead of feeling like a piece of story-craft it instead felt like a window into something happening in a different universe. Here’s what i mean by that: Stories have conflict and conclusions, there are story arcs, things often resolve somewhere along the way and you reach the end realizing that you’ve reached The End. The story line in Perdido Street did almost none of those things. It was a mass of tangled threads all thrown into this beautiful world-building basket together. Some things were left hanging that left me thirsting for some completion, things happened that hinted at deeper workings that we never get to see, the book ended and it didn’t feel like a “The End”…

The more i think about it the more i start to like what Mieville did with that… The story feels more like “Real-life” (IF real life had nightmare moth-men, crazy giant spider things, cactus people, and insects that sort of poop out art…) than many sci-fi/fantasy stories.

A few real plusses for me were: The “resolution” of Yagharek’s (a disgraced Garuda who has been de-winged as a punishment) and Isaac’s (the main protagonist) storyline/relationship was very interesting and well-done. Another high-point for me was the evolution and complexity of Isaac and Lin’s relationship through the story.

I’d give Perdido Street Station a C as a book (admittedly though it gets better the longer i chew on what i read. If it was shorter it would be a B-) , but an A+ as a setting. Reading the book really felt like reading the campaign notes from an amazing tabletop RPG. In fact if anyone ever turns Mieville’s world into an RPG setting, sign me up!

The setting is so rich and deep that although i wasn’t blown away by the story-line i do hope to one day read the other two novels in this series: The Scar, and Iron Council. They’re set in the same world (Bas-Lag) as Perdido Street Station and i’m interested to see what other great sights await us in Mieville’s universe!

NPR’s Top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books, a personal project

Things i enjoy include: good books, good book clubs, nerdiness! Those three things combine into one mighty personal project!!!

To Read ALL the Things on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book list!!!!!

I’ve been a part of a book club for a while now, i recommend a good book club (focus on the GOOD book club part of that) if you’ve never been a part of one give it a whirl. Book Club pushed me to read so many books i’d never have given a chance on my own, and i was blown away by the experience. Due mostly to the chaotic and hectic nature of this thing we call life: that book club may be on an extended hiatus. So, i, in an effort to push myself to read more started: Book Club of One! (Discussion in my book club can get really heated, which garners some real looks when Book Club of One is held anywhere public!) NPR’s list of Sci-Fi books has become my source list for this project: to push me to read books i may not otherwise pick-up but that are still well within my personal wheel house.

Many of the books on the list i’ve already read. Some will be re-reads because it has been literal decades since i read them last. I’m a quite a few books deep into the project and it’s been quite fulfilling so far! i’ll be posting reviews here on a fairly regular basis from here out so keep your eyes peeled to see what a middle-aged fellow thinks about books that have been deemed worthy by a troop of reviewers and voters.

If you want to check out the list for yourself click here, it’s very good and hopefully it may steer you to read something new for yourself: NPR’s article and link on their top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

 

If you want to see the most up-to date data on my progress you can click here, this is a current doc of my journey through the books with a color code of recommendation (Green = Read it, Yellow = Read it if you have time, Red = pass on it); there are also brief notes on my overall thoughts on the books here as well:  My Progress on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books 

(a link to my list is also on the side-bar of my blog page)

Young Dad / Old Dad

IMG_6796I am unable to produce descendants at a decent age…

When i was fresh out of High School my first child was conceived. In the Photo on the left i am a whopping 18 years of age. My first wife and i began our “adult” lives as statistics used to pressure parents, teachers, and youth alike about the virtues of safe-sex or abstinence.

We were young and foolish with zero clue of what we were getting into! We struggled through years of scraping by and raising kids (2 more followed the first one). It was tough. Having kids that young often equals a lot of sacrifices, and it meant sacrifices for us. My tentative plans to go fart-around at college with my friends was traded for full-time work. She finished up her senior year in an off-campus facility for delinquents (because being pregnant is basically the same thing as selling heroin!). They claimed it was for her protection, but really it was the 90s and can you imagine how unseemly it would’ve been having an impregnated human getting education with the normal people? (we really do need to establish a standard font for sarcasm)

Those early years were some of the hardest years of my life. Hard work, small kids, feeling trapped in a continuous circle of work, pay bills, work, repeat…

But i don’t think i’d trade them in for anything. i got three amazing kids out of the deal. Smart, witty, creative, funny human beings who will have to pick out a nursing home for me one day!

For the last twenty-plus years i’ve encouraged myself regularly with the thought that they’ll all be grown and i’ll be fairly young, or at least “Not-Old”. Not-Old and free to travel, to ride across the desert on a motorcycle, to jet-ski across one of the smaller oceans, maybe book passage to the arctic and watch icebergs calve with my own eyes!

Then on Father’s Day of this year i had a revelation… i looked at my wife… This amazing dynamo of a human who can just power through things, this being of amazing ability who can set a plan in place and move heaven and earth to make it happen, this tiny person who joined forces with me to live out a life together, a life where we go places, live in 20 different places across the country, see the world… i looked at her and i KNEW…

She’s Pregnant!

It wasn’t long that it was confirmed, by not just a single test either- a whole flotilla of tests and an official doctor’s office test! To Quote Slartibartfast*, “Best laid plans of mice.”

So here we are. Like Abraham & Sarah or Jay & Gloria Pritchett:    Old(ish) and pregnant! (The photo on the right is me now, at 42) It makes me think back to discovering i was going to be a dad the first time. My life was RUINED, all my plans destroyed! i had that moment again this time around as well.

But then i reflected: Progeny batch 1.0 are all some of the best things to ever happen in my life. My heart is at it’s fullest when i’m together with my entire little clan (which as they get older happens less and less). So Progeny batch 2.0 should be equally amazing!

I’ve been young and i’ve been old… and both times i went and made babies without meaning to!

 

  • From Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: if you haven’t read it… read it! 

Hospital SCREENing

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i spent the day at the hospital. We found out my Dad had a heart catheterization scheduled. Was it exploratory or to fix things, we asked. He didn’t know… or at least claimed not to. So my sister made her long trek to take my parents to the hospital this morning and i made my much shorter one to be there today myself.

SPOILER ALERT: everything went very well, they did fix some things; my Dad is now the proud owner of a stint and two arteries that are a good deal clearer than they were when he woke up this morning.

Watching my parents today segued right into some thoughts i’ve been thinking and digging at recently, thoughts about the prevalence of screens in our lives and how they effect us.

i’ve been watching my own relationship with my smart phone more closely lately. It’s a handy tool, a means of connection, but also a distractor: a sort of crutch that keeps me from facing boredom.

Most nights i read myself to sleep, but as years pass less and less time is actually spent  reading and more and more time is spent scrolling, swiping, and commenting. i still eventually get around to the book at hand but fewer and fewer pages get read before sleep finally conquers me.

Today as we waited while my Dad was experiencing firsthand the miracle of modern medicine, i tried to be aware of when i was staring at my glowing rectangle. It was fairly often, some of it was texting or messaging family/friends but some was just filling time by reaching for my same old distractors that i find comforting.

When my dad got back from the procedure i didn’t see him touch his phone at all. i had the thought that if i was stuck laying prone in a bed, barely moving for several hours (doctor’s orders), the first thing i’d reach for these days is my phone. Keep in mind that my Dad isn’t some technology challenged septuagenarian. He’s a fairly technologically adept septuagenarian. More than once i’ve stopped by his house to see him at the kitchen table with his laptop, ipad, and smartphone all going at once. He hunched over them all like a spry youth of the technology age working on some project of his.

It’s true that he did use the hospital television as a distraction, but he was ever ready to turn his attention from it to his family. Oddly enough the television (playing a marathon of alien conspiracy shows courtesy of the “History” channel) felt less obtrusive than the screen that fits discreetly in my pocket. Why, i wondered as i drove home?

Here’s the embryonic thought  i’m mulling over in regards to that question: Television, or even more archaic the Radio, are devices that we engage with in an open setting. They are visible and audible to everyone in the room or space. It is a shared experience (a flimsy one in my opinion but shared nonetheless). The activities we engage on our smart devices tend to be solitary experiences. I play a game, I see who liked MY post, I watch a video, I look at and engage with the device. There’s a part of me that thinks that this is not a beneficial aspect of our constant glowing companions.

Of course, there are clear exceptions to this thought, we all watch videos on our phones with others nearby, we all sit in a room alone and watch TV from time to time. But i think it is the solitary nature of our small screens that makes them more dangerous.

Bonus Post Script: i’m old enough to remember those kids with those portable TVs… there’s no getting around it, those little TVs just felt wrong back in the day!

 

What am i doing here?

Years ago i had a blog…

i would regularly write as a way to collect my thoughts, and post them there. Over time that collection of my thoughts became something that i cherished. So i did what came naturally: i deleted them all and stripped that old blog down to absolutely nothing… No need getting soft, right?

But here i am, a few years older, probably not much wiser, and thinking it’s a thing i’d like to do again. It provided me with a time of reflection and introspection and gave me a spot to ruminate on ideas. So i’m endeavoring to post something weekly here, for at least the next 3 months (and hopefully beyond). i’ve sprung the minuscule funds to get my own domain, and set-up this woefully simple site; so here goes!

To provide some structure for myself, and whoever else may misstep and find themselves here, i want to post within a few categories, categories pertinent to who i am. So, who am i? My bride once wrote a great 6 word biography for me, “My life is love and mischief.”  In my Instagram profile (the only social media i’m really very active on by the way) i’m self-described as: “Part time curiosity seeker, reader of things, spreader of mirth, and Oxford comma advocate.”  My everyday friends know that i’m an avid cyclist. My cycling friends know that i’m a pretty hard-core nerd. Life, work, and my quest to seek out curiosities mean that i like to go new places, aka i’m a traveler.  At the root of things i’m spiritual, just maybe not like everyone wants me to be.

Those things fairly concisely describe me and most of my interests so i’m going to catalogue my ramblings as follows:

Reading: Books i love, books i hate, books i read, ingredients on shampoo bottles, book club stuff (when i’m involved with one) etc etc etc.

Travel: i go places, i see things, i drink in life. May have an addiction to the National Park Service! When i ramble and my mind rambles i’ll hammer away on my keyboard under this heading.

Spiritual: i made a living as a professional minister for years, my faith is VERY important and sacred to me. It’s probably the thing i wrestle internally with the most in this life. i’m prone to doubt and question… Spiritual moments will be filed here!

Cycling: Life is better on two wheels. traveling down road or trail with only yourself as an engine! Reflections on life as a two-legged-motor will be under Cycling.

Nerdity: i’ve been a nerd for my entire existence.  i will passionately debate the finer points of the LOTR mythos, am in a razor thin minority who loves Kirk AND Jean Luc, get frustrated when people can’t tell 12 sided dice from 20 sided dice, have a solid strategy for winning base Catan a majority of the time, and will smite you down (left handed) if you bad-mouth The Princess Bride!    i also love Carl Sagan and what he did to make real science accessible and alluring to the average person, think it’s a great time to be alive when Neil deGrasse Tyson is a public figure, want to give NASA more money to do cool space stuff, and have a near encyclopedic knowledge of mammalian life forms on this planet! i’m a sort of renaissance nerd! Post containing Nerdity will be posted under this category.

Life: Someone once said, “Life… It just keeps coming at you, right up to the end.” i have no idea who said that (it could’ve been me, i dunno) but it’s true. Life just keeps happening. The vast majority of the time i drink it in, sometimes though it knocks me on my butt. Posts that fall under all things life and living will be sorted thus.

 

So… thus this thing begins.