Friday, December 10, 2010

Country Wife

[...]On the third day after his return, the Godking gave audience to his rescuers. The young man was still gaunt and had a brittle, sensitive air about him, the horrors he had witnessed still plainly evident through his new clothes and freshly bathed skin. The Godking's seconddaughter stood just a pace behind and to one side of the young man, looking little better. Neither had spoken much over the in between days, forcing little smiles at the servants who insisted on thanking them personally or offering them sons or daughters in marriage. This attention had quickly waned, fortunately for the two youths, and they were allowed to recover mostly in seclusion until this morning, when a page had summoned them here, into the Godking's presence.

A delicate string of saliva slowly oozed out the corner of the old king's broken mouth as he gently coughed. The page boy quickly dabbed it away with a kerchief. Taking a deep, rattly breath, the Godking opened his rheumy eyes leaned forward, resting a gnarled arm against an equally bony knee.

"Boy, the maidens are already singing songs about you," he wheezed. "Never have i ever seen such bravery. Foolishness, my knights would have called it, but thanks to you, my kingdom is once again safe. In thanks, i now grant you a boon: your reward is limited only by your imagination, up to the hand of my firstdaughter in marriage."

The throne room went quite still at this announcement. The courtiers where aghast. It was well known that the dowry of the firstdaughter was the entire kingdom. Several of the wealthier nobles had been angling for years to be in this boy's very position. This farm boy's position.

Throughout the pronouncement, the youth met the Godking's gaze confidently. Now he closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath - which only shook the tiniest bit - and released it. His thoughts gathered, he opened his eyes and spoke in a clear, steady voice:

"King, i want you to know that what your seconddaughter and i did, we did not out of a sense of duty, or nationality to your great empire. We did not do it for fame and we certainly did not do it for any reward. We put our lives in harm's way because it was what was required of us. It was right. Therefore, i humbly relinquish any right to your boon and ask for nothing."

A lady in the gallery fainted.

The king blinked for several long heartbeats before beginning to violently rock back and forth. On the fourth attempt, the terrified page finally understood and helped the Godking to his feet. The old man began to rage, shaking his fist at the youth, foam spraying from his bared teeth.

"Don't be daft, you foolish boy! I offer you land the vastness of which you could not experience even if you devoted the rest of your life to travelling it. I offer you so much gold that you could not count it all before you perished. The hand of my beautiful firstdaughter is your's for the taking and you spit upon her?"

The young man did not respond as the king tired himself out and was helped back into his throne by the page. When the old man had finished coughing and sputtering into the page's proffered kerchief, the youth spoke again, and again his voice was clear and strong

"Sire, i do not wish you to think i spurn your generosity, for i do request something. My lord, i come to you now as a suitor and ask for your seconddaughter's hand in marriage."

Wispy sound of conversation began to drift down from the galleries as the king stared at the lad before him.

"My dear boy, you're not thinking clearly. My seconddaughter has no worth to you; you gain nothing by marrying her and you well know this. Now speak: tell me whatever your heart desires and that shall be the value of your reward."

The young man glanced beside him at the girl by his side, reached out his hand and took her's.

"I want whatever she's worth."

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Red Queen

I am often jealous of those writers i follow on the internets whose products are, day after day, clever and hysterical. They are the sitcom writers of my generation and i often envision their lives as idyllic versions of my own, filled with quiet, sunlit mornings and very few worldly cares. Oh! how i yearn to be one of their kind, recognized and admitted into their most awesome of circles.

To that end, i'm going to be funny today.

My grandmother is bipolar. My earliest memories of the woman involve sad stories my mother used to tell me about the after-grade-school snacks of cookies and creme de menthe her mom used to prepare for her, just so she wouldn't have to drink alone. My own experiences have a much rosier shade and involve mostly images and feelings of adventure: being shown gramma's collection of cane swords; admiring her many knick-knacks from around the globe; looking askance at my brother and cousins as she leaps from a doorway to bar our path, brandishing an antique threshing flail.

I particularly remember my first experience with what my mother described as one of my gramma's "manic phases." We were vacationing down in North Carolina (where my grandmother lived for many years), visiting my aunt and cousins, and gramma offered to take the four of us cousins out to a local flea market. For reasons i no longer remember - perhaps a debilitating case of the sniffles - i opted out of going on this adventure. To this day, i regret my decision, for my brother and cousins came back with all manners of treasures! I distinctly remember a neon orange shag throw rug, a couple of turkish fezes, and the looks of exasperation on the faces of my aunt and mother which i would only understand years later.

Gramma lives up in New Jersey now, within driving distance of my house. It was decided that my aunt had had to deal with enough of her shenanigans and - now that gramma was retiring to an assisted-living sort of facility - that it was now my mother's turn to deal with her. This new proximity has allowed me to witness all sorts of new sides of the woman that i'd only previously heard of second hand.

The Thanksgiving of 2008 saw my aunt and cousins up north and my ol' G-Ma solidly in the middle of a manic phase. It was that particular year when my mother took it upon herself to educate my cousins and i about what to expect from an almost-80-year-old woman in full-blown bipolar mania. She gave Paul and i actual photocopied textbook pages with lists of symptoms. I had long known about the inhuman levels of energy, the disjointed thoughts, the feelings of euphoria, but it was that year that i learned about the hallucinations, the delusions, and the "hypersexuality."

Think about that last bit for a second.

About mid-way through that week, i woke up in the middle of the night and ventured downstairs for a drink. Being a boxer-sleeper, the first thing i noticed upon reaching the half-way point in my stealthy descent of the stairs was the frigid temperature of the first floor. A careful look around the corner set the scene quite effectively. The hall was empty, the hall bathroom door open with both light and fan on, the living room dark and empty, the front door open with only the glass screen door keeping out the cold and the smoke from my grandmother's Misty cigarettes. I could see her silhouette out on the porch, so i swept as quickly and quietly as i could down the hall and into the kitchen where i found the source of the cold air: the wide open back door. I shut the door, grabbed my drink and retreated as fast as i could to the warmth and privacy of my room.

The next morning, i mentioned the occurrence to my mother. Apparently when she got up in the morning, she found the kitchen in a similar state to the one i described above. When she asked my grandmother about it, the old lady informed my mother that PSE&G had gotten in touch with her last night to inform her about a potentially hazardous gas leak. Checking the phone, my mother very delicately asked her how the gas company had talked to my gramma, since there were no records of any calls going through last night, either incoming or outgoing.

"There's more than one way of getting in touch with people," my grandmother replied sagaciously and with a sly wink.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Interminable Skittering of Anthropomorphized Words

I am quickly approaching what feels like a critical mass of nuggets and ideas. They rattle about in my skull to the point of being distracting, what with their collisions and then endless human interest pieces about the loving families of the concepts lost in the great catastrophe of the right prefrontal cortex.


While a cornucopia of potential projects seems like a fantastic thing in theory, my particular creative bent tends to end just there: at the idea stage. I have half-theories and choruses, novel conflicts and juxtapositions, species and tonalities all logged away in my head without any framing in which to put them.

You know how annoying it is when you have the chorus of a song stuck in your head, but you can't remember the rest of the song? It's worse when you wrote the blinking chorus.

Some of my frustration comes from my - for lack of a more accurate term - Renaissance tendencies; that is to say, my interest - and perhaps competence - in many fields without ever achieving expertise in any of them. So while my idea for a sky-born fish monster is nifty and i'd love to show it to other people, my drawing skills limit my ability to effectively portray the concept.

I have entire casts of characters with no plot for them to be a part of; beautiful, poignant scenes which cannot benefit from the scope of context; clever turns of phrase, naked of verse.

Still, they are mine. These little acts of creation, this instances of pristine beauty, give me focus and energy. Just as lethargy and apathy are sure signs of my depression, creativity is a signal to myself of a Good Place. The weather is turning colder and as it does, my thoughts stir, awakening to the world around me and its myriad inspirations.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Customs and Practices of a Man Called Murph

I find myself frequently blaming a man long dead for the seemingly-chaotic happenstance which plagues, oh, pretty much everybody. I refer, of course, to one Edward Murphy.

For posterity, here is the list of "laws" from which i exhume my nuggets of nonchalance (photo-jacked from a poster in the men's room of Zoe's Double Hex Cafe, Manchester, VT):

No good deed goes unpunished.

Leak-proof seals - will.

Self-starters - will not.

Interchangeable parts - won't.

There is always one more bug.

Nature is a mother.

Don't mess with Mrs. Murphy.

50% of everything is crap.

If you're feeling good, don't worry, you'll get over it.

All warranties expire upon payment of invoice.

Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit.

Never eat prunes when you are famished.

Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.

If you try to please everybody, nobody will like it.

A short cut is the longest distance between two points.

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

You will always find something in the last place you look.

The chance of a piece of bread falling with the buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.

No matter how long or hard you shop for an item, after you've bought it, it will be on sale somewhere cheaper.

No one's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.

The other line always moves faster.

In order to get a loan, you must first prove you don't need it.

Anything you try to fix will take longer and cost more than you thought.

If you fool around with a thing for very long, you will screw it up.

A $300.00 picture tube will protect a $0.10 fuse by blowing first.

If it jams - force it. If it breaks, it needed replacing anyway.

Any tool dropped while repairing a car will roll underneath to the exact center.

The repairman will never have seen a model quite like your's before.

When a broken appliance is demonstrated for the repairman, it will work perfectly.

A pipe gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth.

Everybody believes in something - I believe I'll have another drink.

Build a system that even a fool can use and only a fool will use it.

Everyone has a scheme to get rich quick that will not work.

In every hierarchy, each individual rises to his own level of incompetence and then remains there.

You will remember that you forgot to take out the trash when the garbage truck is two doors away.

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over.

When in doubt, mumble, when in trouble, delegate.

Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral, or fattening.

It is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money.

A bird in hand is safer than one overhead.

Murphy's Golden Rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Everything east of the San Andreas fault will eventually plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.

Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train.

Celibacy is not hereditary.

Never sleep with anyone crazier than yourself.

Beauty is only skin deep, ugly goes to the bone.

To know yourself is the ultimate form of aggression (Freudian Psychology).

Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

A Smith & Wesson beats four aces.

If everything seems to be going wrong, you obviously don't know what the hell is going on.

If more than one person is responsible for a miscalculation, no one will be at fault.

In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.

Never argue with a fool, people might not know the difference.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hope for the Hopeless/The Kindness of Strangers

I love PostSecret. For those who aren't familiar, this dude, Frank Warren began in 2004 what he calls a "community art project" which displays the secrets of others. Every Sunday, Frank puts up 20 postcards that were sent to him anonymously, each of which reveals a deep-dark secret from its sender. Some are depressing, some are inspiration, some are funny. Just in the past four years he has received over 300,000 cards.

I first heard about the project not to long after it went live, sometime in my freshman year of college. Over the years, it has provided innumerable instances of true humanity into the landscape of my experience. It has helped me form my Everyone Is Crap theory. It has helped me love people for who they are.

For Frank, he has used his stumbled-upon fame to support The National Hopeline Network and 1.800.SUICIDE. He has created an anonymous, mostly online community of acceptance, honesty, forgiveness, love.

Today, i stumbled upon the postcard above. It yanked at my heart, as i know the pains and struggles of that level of depression. I know, for that person, even send that card must have been amazingly cathartic. I hope it helps him. If not, there's always this:

The Please Don't Jump facebook group is now 26,000 members. It was started the day the secret went upand was over 20k in less than 24 hours. Covering the wall of the group's page are exhortations from randoms strangers saying "come live here. We want you." This sort of support is inspiring, but in the sort of social media sitethat has a Group supporting a pickle who's sole purpose was to have more members than the Nickleback-supporting group. That group had 1.5 million members, apparently.

The Together For Life! facebook group is taking a FAR more active approach to this kid. An anonymous member of the PS community wrote in saying:
"On Sunday the 13th at noon I plan on printing up all the caring comments from facebook, taking them to the Golden Gate Bridge and taping them up all along the walkway."
Lindsey Salazar saw the comment and started an event to garner some further support. So far, 107 people have said they're going to show up and show this random individual how much they love him or her - even though none of them have ever met the anonymous sender.

Hopefully, this story will have an ending we can see. Hopefully, it'll be a happy one. I know that PostSecret has had a huge impact in the short time its been around, but this would be a big win for the kind of awareness that Frank - and everyone who follows - is hoping to see.

EDIT: Sorry for broken links. Now i can't even find the groups anymore, blarg.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I've recently been thinking on a post i wanted to write about the nature of the experience that is a musical concert. Instead, today's post is going to comment more upon the nature of Art as a whole. You see, Twitter brought to my attention Roger Ebert's recent article delineating why video games are not, and can never be, Art. As a rabid geek, self-described gamer, artist, writer, this assertion rankled with me. The riling nature of his opinions are all the more exacerbated by the fact that, as near as i can tell, Mr. Ebert has played few - if any - video games.

This nest-rattling claim was first made way back in 2005 and has been brought up every now and again ever since, responded to by such names as Tycho & Gabe, Kellee Santiago, my fellow writers at, and many others. The debate has only recently come to my attention, although i've held the Gamer's position for many years now, not even considering the opinions of the general masses, let alone considering them for any length of time.

Many good points are made on both sides. Ebert's big talking point - and the one i have the most difficulty refuting - is that the very interactive nature of a game is in conflict with what his conception of what a piece of art is. This view, i must believe, is generally shared with the non-gaming public; Art is viewed, appreciated, experienced, but not "played". The gamers' usual rebuttal begins with Ebert's admission that he's never seen a video game worth playing. Some simply leave it at that, since it proves his stance, however well thought out, comes from a place of complete ignorance regarding the medium. Many, however, go further into the fray, formulating complex arguments with all the rich design that one would see in the programming of one of their exemplary games. And that is why this fight will never end.

Eventually, all the arguments come down to trying to define what Art is in such a way that their view point falls within its parameters and the other side's doesn't. Obviously, any rhetorical conflict is doomed to idiocy when the parties involved cannot agree upon the definitions which make up the very foundation of any point they might try to make. It seemed Ebert tried to clarify this at least once, in 2007, when he admitted that what he should have said is that, "games could not be high art, as i understand it", but since has become so mired in his single-minded position that the thesis of his most recent article is simply "Video Games Can Never Be Art". This claim is the last nail in the coffin Gamer Good Will.

Let's go a couple steps back and look at why i consider video games to qualify as Art. First off, let me say that i do not believe all games to be Art, just as i don't think all music or movies are Art. Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is a paramount of modern rock and roll and rewards careful and repeated listens, but i'd get pretty stabby if someone tried to tell me that the new Hannah Montana album is Art. Gus Van Sant's "Elephant", yes. Keenan Wayans' "Scary Movie 2", no. I think its safe to say that all examples do not have to qualify in order to claim that the medium can be considered Art. With that supposition in mind, i formulated my own definition of Art, then talked to my brother (of Good Night, States fame) for his thoughts. His thoughts are thus:

Art is that which is crafted using physical means in an attempt to comment on something metaphysical. Personally, while this definition is rather weighty, i think that very factor is important. Good art should strike you in a way which you cannot precisely define. This point is complimentary to my original thought, namely, that art is anything which is both aesthetically pleasing AND evokes an emotional or visceral response in the perceiver. I'm sure there are as many different views on the concept as there are possible readers of these words.

After our conversation, i found myself unable to reconcile a specific aspect of Steve's definition with my own thoughts. The problem is that my definition leaves out the idea of intentionality. Both my brother and Mr. Ebert agree that Art is created by an artist. This is important.

Very few (if any) games are designed to be works of Art. Hell, not many movies these days are, either, but this does not mean that they are not beautiful.

This is the delineation which i believe is causing such a schism. We, the video game-playing generation, have spent decades sharing a metaphysical experience in the interactive, narrative, sometimes-competitive landscape of a plethora of games, video or otherwise. Be it the sweeping story arc of a beloved Dungeon Master or that one cut scene in Final Fantasy Whatever, we have all be touched by a game we have played in a way that just slightly defies explanation. We have found beauty, and it has changed us.

What makes us such a unified front is that these experiences, while often occurring in the stereotypically dank, isolated caverns of our mother's basement, has been shared by millions of gamers. This effect has cleaved us together, mind and soul, with a bond much akin to that shared by the audience of a momentous event, or the brothers-in-arms of a conflict. We all watched Aeris die. We all dread Water Temples. We all know that the cake is a lie. We all recognize the Konami Code. These experiences make up the shared history of Gamers in a way that is no less meaningful than any other demographic-defining denominator.

And this, dear reader, is why we, the gaming community, are so pissed at Roger Ebert. I think writer Robert Brockway put it very well in the closing paragraph of his defense:

"But why even bother with all of this? Ebert himself wonders: 'Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form….Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?' And he’s already answered his own question: 'do we as their consumers become more or less complex, thoughtful, insightful, witty, empathetic, intelligent, philosophical (and so on) by experiencing them?' Anybody who’s ever felt even an inkling of something like that from a game is going to be understandably 'concerned' when you insist that they’re lying."

The aging critic is just lucky he doesn't drop any purples, or there'd be a queue to take a crack at him.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In Memorium

I once knew a man whom i truly respected as a paramount of all things Man. His name was Jim. He is dead now and i miss him sorely.

Jim was a great friend. If you made it onto his mental list of friends & family, you could count on seeing him a couple times a month, just because we would stop over to give you a little something or just to say hi. His actions never spoke louder than his words, and his actions were usually pretty loud. Our freezer downstairs is still full of venison.

Jim respected women greatly, but didn't treat them like porcelain. I would always warn any girl i introduced to him that he would ask if he could keep her and possibly propose marriage. This was just his ever-joking way, and his way won him a lot of smiles and friendship. But god help you if he saw you mistreat a woman. More than one man has been put in the hospital because Jim was close enough to reach him.

Jim was an outdoorsman and an artist. There wasn't a material on this earth that he couldn't evoke a beautiful image out of with his carving tools. He was a crack shot and a masterful hunter, more in tune with the world around him than most of us have even seen in movies. His garage was chock full of antlers, the smell of fresh wood and cigarette smoke, ivory he'd somehow found at a yardsale.

While never married, Jim was engaged twice. I never met his first fiancee - or was too young to remember - and she died of a terminal disease before i could. I was there the night he found out his second fiancee died, drinking with him, reminiscing, gravely taking the pistols he had lying around and listening dispassionately as he called God a cocksucker.

The next morning he apologized for his behavior. To God and to me. We kept the pistols for a few months anyway.

I never knew Jim when he could walk. He was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal column never fully closes around the spinal cord. He had difficulty walking without crutches by 10. By the time i knew him, he was wheelchair-bound. Complications took his life this past year - his 50th - more than 30 years later than his doctors guessed.

He was a bear of a man (which, along with his love of the outdoors, led to his nickname of... Bear), weighing well over 300lbs for most of the time i knew him. Almost all of this weight was confined to his upper body, giving him arms of terrifying strength. To shake his hand was to know that, at any moment, he could crush every bone in your's. His forearm was so big that, wrapping both hands around it, i couldn't touch my fingertips together. It was this tremendous strength combined with the muscle control of a life-long hunter that allowed him the precision and delicacy of a master engraver. It was his bulk which allowed him to be such a softy. He was a scary man to meet, until you realized he was a teddy bear.

Jim taught me a lot in the few years i really put in the effort to know him. I regret not finding more time. I suspect i'll end up typing up more than a few of his stories in this 'blog, and i hope you enjoy them as much as i always did.

I miss you, Jim.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Photocopy of a Photocopy of a Photocopy... of a Love Letter

I sleep poorly.

Those who spend a fair amount of time in my life know that my sleep issues have been pervasive since i was in high school. No matter how tired i am sitting up, doing things, as soon as the lights go out and my head hits the pillow, i am suddenly wide awake. This state will persist for anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours. Because of this, i often find myself staying awake at night until i just can't keep my eyes open any more, trying desperately to spend the least amount of time staring at the ceiling as possible. After such a night, i sleep in, pushing back my daily allotment of waking hours, causing me to fall asleep even later than the night before. Its a vicious cycle which i've been trying to break by various means for as long as i care to remember.

A big part of this issue is i care far too much for Today Me to be able to reliably set up a good sleeping schedule. I sometimes succeed in going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, for a week or so, but then something shiny will tempt me into staying up late, i'll sleep in, kablooey.

My mother is reading a novel by Chuck Hogan called Devils in Exile, and she recently read my an excerpt from it. I will do my best here to paraphrase the concepts that were related to me:

Most people are like me, staying up too late to satisfy the desires of Today Me, not particularly caring about the consequences for Tomorrow Me. Unfortunately, Tomorrow Me all too soon becomes Today Me again, cursing out Yesterday Me for making such poor choices.

What i need to start doing is thinking of the best interests of Tomorrow Me. Like i so often put other people's interests ahead of my own, i need to start doing for myself. The really interesting part of this whole idea is that i should be doing just that for the exact same reason i do it for other people.

If you spend your days looking out for Tomorrow You, you will quickly find yourself growing to love Yesterday You. Yesterday You is a good bean. He eats well, letting you feel good today. He goes to sleep on time, allowing you to wake up refreshed today. He got all the boring stuff done, giving you time to do some fun stuff today.

You help other people because you love, respect, accept, and appreciate them. Shouldn't you do all that and more for yourself?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gretz' Hierarchy of Outcasts

I am part of a certain demographic which doesn't exist outside of the etherwebs. In perfect illustration of this, if you have no idea what the "etherwebs" are, you're not part of this demographic.

I am a geek (duh). I spend a fair amount of time fraternizing with real-live-actual-no-they-don't-live-in-Canada-like-that-one-kid's-girlfriend people solely through the medium of the internet. In doing so, i have my ear to the ground on a lot of trends, fads, colloquialisms, styles, interests, dislikes, etc that ONLY EXIST online. As such, this sphere of knowledge both separates me from the masses and cleaves me irrevocably to a community that the aforementioned masses probably have no idea exists.

This is what qualifies me as a member of what i like to call "the fringe". I admit, its a term that makes more sense in the high school society in which i coined it, but i like it, so it stays. This post will now attempt to categorize them.

1. The NERD
The nerd is possibly more common than one might think, easily masquerading as a normal person throughout their day-to-day lives. Nerds are recognized for their love of a particular field or interest that generally is not found very interesting by the world at large. Whether its math, linguistics, entomology, or what have you, the nerd's passion lies outside what you or i may think of as interesting. Nerds are the scientists of the outcasts; they love to learn, love to study, simply for the sake of the scholastic thrill. This differentiates them from the other outcasts in that they visit the spheres that make up their passion, but try not to live there. Nerds can sometimes become so engrossed in whatever it is that they love that they may forget about such social conventions as Style and Hygiene, but its rare. Nerds tend to be too smart for that.

2. The GEEK
I am a geek. Geeks are a little more easily recognized than nerds, and are becoming more and more prevalent every day. This is simply because the field or interest that geeks are passionate about are generally more accepted - or at least more common - than the nerds'. "Computer Geek" is so common a term at this point that it is almost universally recognized. And this is the important point that sets the geek apart from the rest:

There's a million different kinds of geeks.

"Wait!" i can hear you saying, "if there're so many different kinds, what is their common denominator? What makes a geek a geek?" Ok, maybe you aren't saying that, but i'm writing this, so deal. The key factor in a geek is that, while a nerd studies their sphere of interest, visits it to learn more about its intricacies, a geek lives there. The difference is a subtle one, i admit, but important. Geeks usually like to be called nerds (although they might be anyway; you can be both).

The hallmark of a geek vs. a nerd is that geeks tend to be much more socially advanced than nerds. There's a reason the term "geek chic" exists (besides the rhyme). Unfortunately, this leads to a lot more closet geeks than i would like, but it also lets them be accepted members of society, so i gotta let it slide.

3. The DORK
Nobody likes dorks. Not even the nerds or the geeks. The shortcoming of the dork is that, while they may share an interest with a nerd or a geek, they become so absorbed in it that they forsake all else for its sake. They are the ones who gladly sacrifice human interaction for computer. They are the ones who are so engrossed in their trading card collection that they forget to shower. They are what geeks and nerds become when they slide too far away from the anchoring hold of Friends and Family. Also, they're known to bite.

Nerds are usually very smart, but can be kind of airheady. They love their chosen interest to the point where they can sometimes let minor things slide. This interest is usually very particular and not often very popular.
Geeks are also often smart, but generally more gregarious. They love their interest, but then, so do a lot of other people. This larger community of like-minded people promotes healthy social skills, sometimes to the point of developing the now almost-common Cool Geek.
No one likes dorks. Sorry, dorks. Go take a shower and call up that friend you yelled at for messing up their klingon conjugations. Come back to the Light Side.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Or Is It Too Late?

As i fearfully approach the age that puts me closer to 30 than to 20, i find i am increasingly aware of just how little my current life resembles what i had hoped it would. Add to this the fact that i now know almost as little about what i want to be when i grow up as when that question was first posed to me and it leaves a horrible, smirking demon-monkey clinging to my back, picking nits of Hope and Positive Feelings out of my hair.

"Self, what the hell were you expecting?" i sometimes ask myself. When i was in high school, if i had tried to imagine what my life would look like right now, i probably would have said that i'd hope to be living on my own, working in some field in psychology or at least in school for it, engaged or married, content. Currently, i am none of those things, and at this point, don't even know what i want to be doing When I Grow Up.

Do i want to write? (yes). Do i want to act? Do i want to design, counsel, program? Then, after picking one (or two), i have to decide on the particulars inherent to each profession. You can't just go to a company and say, "i want to program for you". You have to have a specific area picked out and then you have to go to some kind of school to get a piece of paper that says you know how to do it. Then, maybe the company will decide to hire you. And only after a few years of working in that chosen field will you realize whether or not you want to be doing that in the first place.

Hoo boy. That amount of time just sounds to me like a lot of dollar signs i don't have. Unfortunately for me, i only spent two years in school, dropping out for reasons i won't get into here. I saved myself the misfortune of going into debt for a major it turned out i didn't care much for, but here i am, two years later, with no degree. This severely limits my job opportunities, and so, my ability to spend money to figure out what i want to be doing.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers details three specific factors in jobs that people describe as "satisfying." These are Autonomy, Complexity, and Connection between effort & reward. These are the things i want in a vocation. Any less, and i am sure i will eventually go mad.

My question is, will i be sane by the time i attain this mythical job?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ain't Nothin' Wrong

Let's talk about movies for a second, and in a broader sense, art in general.

I have noticed just over the past few months that we, the modern day movie-goer, have become incredibly jaded and cynical. This thought originally occurred to me when i was telling my brother and father what i thought about Shutter Island, which i saw last night (however, due to its recent debut, i'll use a different movie for my examples so as to avoid any unintentional spoilers). During the conversation, i couldn't help but admit that, while a fantastically well made and well acted film, the story was rather unoriginal.

I really liked Shutter Island. Now let's talk about Avatar.

Avatar is Pocahontas in space. I'll be the first to describe it that way and i stick by that succinct and catchy soundbite. The basic story elements are profoundly simple and have been used in a myriad of other movies to greater or lesser effect. Go google the term "Noble Savage" and you'll find more reading material than you'd ever want to actually sit down and peruse in your life time. Yes, there were a few tweaks to make it an edgy sci-fi action film, but let's face it: Avatar is about humanity finding the primal beauty of the life of the noble savage.

Oh no! The story is unoriginal! How could James Cameron ever subject us to such drivel!? Boo hoo, cynic. In the words of King F**king Solomon, "there is nothing new under the sun". If you look deep enough and far enough back, a vast majority of current storytelling is just a retelling of something older than your grandpappy's grandpappy. Especially if you're watching anything that has the word "Epic" on the cover.

Why on earth, then, would this lessen our enjoyment of a good piece of Hollywood storytelling? Was there anything WRONG with Avatar? Apart from a few kitschy plot devices, the entire film was glorious in scope and its ability to evoke an emotional response. Did "Pocahontas" do that for ya? Than congratulations to James Cameron. He's a better storyteller than Disney. And that's really what it comes down to, folks. Think of someone you know who just tells a really good story. Have you ever been involved in one of their stories and insisted that they tell it just because they do a better job?

Story-telling is a tradition older than history and used to be incredibly important. In fact, before the invention of the written word, it WAS the only means civilizations had of preserving their history. Today, it is not a necessary position anymore, but has instead transcended into various mediums of art: books, movies, comics, songs. Don't get so caught up in the lyrics that you can't appreciate the melody.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Reason

I am made up of equal parts Hopeless Romantic and Misanthropic Cynic. This causes me to often wonder on the nature of love and why it sucks so hard. I feel like the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who stays up all night wondering if there's a dog.

See, here's the problem i see with modern dating: romance is easy. Well, for me at least. Part of this is due to my inherent compassion and empathy and partly from my mother's rigorous training in consideration and listening skills. Women maybe illogically co mplex, but they generally have the decency to be consistently so. Tasteful displays of affection, little gifts, true emotive declarations; no girl doesn't like this stuff.

In high school, i was in a select Men's Ensemble. We would put on several concerts a year, participate in a couple different competitions, and generally spend a couple hours a week being really geeky. For fun, we once transposed and taught ourselves a moderately sappy love song to sing as a surprise for our friends and family at one of the year-end concerts. At the time, i was falling head over heels for a certain girl.

When the time for my part came, the rest of the guys softened to a background and i belted out the following lines:

"I don't care what consequence it brings

I have been a fool for lesser things

I want you so bad, I think you ought to know that

I intend to hold you for the longest time"

To this day, i have never sung anything more genuinely than those lines (although i admit, such a perfect opportunity rarely comes up). In true, corny romanticism, i didn't care about anyone else in the room; i sung only for her.

Such displays are beautiful, grandiose, and make great stories, but they mean approximately diddly-squat when it comes to maintaining a functional and healthy relationship.

My longest-lasting relationship spanned two and a half years. It took me exactly that long to realize that it wasn't going to work. The romance had died, and what was left were two people who thought they understood each other, trying desperately to hold onto a love for a person who no longer existed.

The butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling is delightful, but it never lasts. Disney movies are, sad to say, not real life. Years later, the grind of daily life and endless repetitions of once meaningful words render romance dead for all but a few sacred days of the year. It is the rest of the days that make up the actual relationship and it is the hours of those days that become Sisyphean in scope.

I believe in love. But i must acknowledge the horrible facts of life that so often make love seem like its not even worth the bother. I have determined, then, that the problem my Hopelessly Misanthropic personality has been forcing me to try to solve is a mystery, rather than a puzzle. You see, dear reader, all it takes to solve a puzzle is to find one piece to complete the picture. A mystery, on the other hand, requires a perfect understanding of all the factors, the influences, the intricacies, AND the missing pieces.

I hope to figure it all out before i die. Or get married. My wife deserves it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

To Every Artist I've Ever Known

Look for beauty wherever you go - in the mundane, the ugly, and the trivial.
Sing when the mood takes you, without regard for nearby critics.
Draw what you see, not what's there.
Listen to the rain, but don't ignore the sunshine.
Find the rhythm of the situation. Don't force yours' upon it.
Dance like you mean it.
Language is the tool: don't let it use you.
Create always.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Things I've Learned as a Geek: Theory #7

(this is a Note i put up on Facebook a while back that i thought i'd transfer over here for more easy reading)

The trading card game, or TCG, is a long-standing and time honored past-time among the geek community. I played the oldest and most respected of these, Magic: the Gathering, for about five years and would often spend hours perusing websites devoted entirely to theorycrafting and strategies.

As with most TCGs, M:tG is played using a deck of cards which you create out of your personal collection and pit against an opponent using his own personal deck. As of February, 2009, there were over eleven thousand unique cards to choose from, with 600 - 1,000 being added each year. This tremendous card pool creates an almost infinite number of possibilities for making a deck tailored exactly to your play-style or fanciful whim.

The challenge, then, is to make a deck that eliminates, to the best of your abilities, the randomness factor inherent to the game's rules. Each game is started with a seven card hand and a new card is drawn on each of your turns, so the likelihood of drawing exactly the card you need from your shuffled deck is dependent entirely on the construction of your deck.

This project is what makes a good player; a finely-tuned, 60-card deck will handily beat the 100+ card monstrosity that the kid down the street is always toting about with him. What makes a great player is the playing, or "piloting" of said finely-tuned deck.

The final effort in minimalizing the random factors of the game comes in playing your hand in such a way as to set yourself up for good luck. A short-sighted player will, when he finds himself in a bind, go all in, hoping that a final onslaught will be enough to secure victory. A more patient player knows that there exists in his deck a card that will save him; he only needs to survive long enough to draw it. This is what makes those "lucky draws", when they appear, seem so miraculous. They don't always show up, but when they do, the pro is fully prepared to take full advantage of the situation.

"Jeff, wtf are you talking about?"

It is impossible - short of holding a gun to the head of a person with a strong sense of self-preservation - to make anyone do anything. People, and situations, are outside of our control. The only variables we have any say in is our own actions. It is best, then, to live our lives so as to maximize our gains should favorable situations arise. We cannot count on Luck to come along and give us everything we've ever desired, but we can put ourselves into situations that increase the likelihood of us seeing it.

Play smart.

(Trev is tagged because he introduced me to Magic.
Tim is tagged because he taught me to play.
Nate is tagged because he was my punching bag in learning how to properly construct a deck. His usual strategy of throwing monsters the size of skyscrapers at my face left little room for error and made me quickly discover the holes in my stratagems.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Step Off, O Ye Grinning Bastard

I am focusing myself.

Recently, during the in-between minutes of the night, right on the edge of my vision, i've been recognizing Depression rearing its dusty, smirking head. This is nothing new, but its been wonderfully absent in my life for several months now and i was just beginning to get used to a new status quo, emotionally.

Depression is nothing to get excited about 'round these parts; its just part of the family dark. A recently learned that i had a great aunt who stepped in front of a bus one day without explanation. Most of my extended family (on that side) has had at least a brief episode with depression and we generally come out of the experience all the better for it. But still, i suppose its never something to be taken lightly.

The important thing to remember about depression, for those who don't suffer from it, is that it is not just being very, very sad. Sadness is normal. Sadness is a sharp, localized pain that is easily targeted and dealt with. Depression, on the other hand, effects all areas of one's life and is, more than anything, exhausting. It drains your energy, your passion, and, if not overcome, your will to live. It is ennui to the Nth degree.

I have always been what i refer to as a "Depressive" personality. It is common for me to wake up one day and simply feel quiet, delicate, contemplative. Rainy days often provoke such moods and i do not shy away from them. Once, when i was younger, i questioned why "depression" got such a bad rap and decided to embrace and utilize the effects of such moods for artistic purposes. Several years, a short stint on Lexapro and a lot of experience later, i realize that my occasional dark moods and actual depression are two entirely different beasts.

This time 'round, i resolve to cut the beast off at the pass. I know his tricks, and i know his effects. I've seen him coming and i'm taking measures to make sure his arrival is a most unpleasant one.

You can't scare me any more, Mister What's-the-Point-Getting-Out-of-Bed. I broke your wrists last time we fought, and you'll not get hold of me or mine again.