Recently our bikes were stolen out of our garage. We didn’t realize that neither of us had closed the garage door, and it remained open overnight. While I wanted to think that our neighborhood didn’t harbor the type of people who would do such a thing, crimes of opportunity should apparently be expected. My son took the loss of his bike pretty calmly. He is probably due for a larger model anyway, so we are on the lookout for something suitable. Still, I couldn’t help but think about two things from my childhood when I broke the news to him.
Here are some updates on different things that have been occupying my time and taste buds…
I have officially abandoned the “4 Hour Body” diet. While I did lose body fat and weight, my concerns for my cholesterol levels won out. Now, salad rules my plate! I’ve been eating large salads at lunch and dinner. Lunch usually features lentils and quinoa. I like quinoa because it’s a grain that packs complete protein and fiber. It absorbs flavors well, so I’ve been adding garlic, cumin and tumeric. At dinner, I usually have a bit of what my wife and son are having, unless it’s something I don’t think would be very good for me. For instance, I don’t eat beef or pork, but this week I’ve had turkey meatloaf and chicken breast stuffed with feta cheese. I’ve been limiting my portion sizes relatively well and only indulging in sweets occasionally. Over all, the new diet has been easier for me to maintain than the old one, since it doesn’t feel much like dieting. A friend directed me to a great quinoa cooking video by none other than David Lynch. You can find that here:
I started playing Diablo 3 after reading great reviews. As usual, I’m coming to the game far after it’s initial release. It’s a different, but typically minimal, story than the second game of the franchise. The graphics are far superior, though the same overhead perspective. The loot mechanics feel pretty similar, but the skill trees from the last game seem to have been replaced with fewer options for specialization. There are some new character classes to play, and I’ve tried almost all of them including the witch doctor and monk. I’ve just finished the first stage of the game, so I have a feeling that there’s a lot more in store for me. I may soon try the cooperative mode with a friend over the Playstation network, something I never tried playing Diablo 2 on my PC. I recommend the game, especially for those who liked the earlier installments. It has the same dark tone and is definitely not for kids.
I continue to be amazed by “The Wire”. I didn’t catch this when it was first on HBO, so I’ve been watching it via Amazon Prime’s streaming video service. I normally don’t like police procedural dramas, but the cast and writing are top-notch. Had I known how much I would like it, I would have purchased the seasons on DVD long ago.
I’ve also enjoyed “Daredevil”, the Netflix series, which was just picked up for a second season. Netflix was kind enough, or diabolical enough depending on your opinion, to release all of the episodes at once. While I could’ve obsessively zoomed through them, I’ve been watching one episode per night while on the treadmill, really trying to stretch them out. I never read the comics religiously, but I’ve always liked the character. There’s a dark, gritty feeling to the show that wouldn’t feel right in the recent Marvel movies, but it’s perfect for this character and his nemesis, the Kingpin, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. I’m almost done with the series, and I think I’ll wait a bit to avoid spoilers for everyone before I make a more detailed post. I highly recommend the series, even for people unfamiliar with the comic book character. I think the cast and story line will appeal to a wide audience. A series for “The Punisher” made in the same style would fit in nicely in this corner of the Marvel universe. If you’re somebody that can make this happen, pretty please work your magic. I’m anxiously awaiting other Marvel series coming to Netflix soon.
I recently finished “Toll the Hounds” by Steven Erikson. It was a long, fatiguing and rewarding journey through another epic fantasy gem. His vision and creativity never fail to stun me, even if sometimes his attempts at humor don’t amuse me much, compared to Joe Abercrombie’s wit for example. Erikson’s talent for simultaneously wrapping the lowliest and most powerful characters up in his plots leaves me frustratingly jealous as a writer, yet grateful as a reader.
After such truly epic fantasy, I stepped back into the world of Jack Reacher, in Lee Child’s novel “Personal”. I’ve read several other Reacher novels, and I always fall quickly into the plots. They’re quick but engaging reads, and thankfully it doesn’t seem to matter much that I’ve read them out of order. Reacher is the kind of smart, tough character that I enjoy immensely, and his willingness to get his hands dirty dispensing justice is my cup of manly tea. (See Daredevil above.) If you’ve only seen the Tom Cruise movie and not read the books, please do yourself a favor and pick up one of these. You won’t be disappointed.
The outline for my novel continues at a snail’s pace, but it is moving forward. I was kind of in the zone on my lunch breaks this week and made some decent progress. I already have a mental picture of the events to come, even though I haven’t outlined them yet. No estimated time for completion, but I would like to start writing the first few chapters soon.
I started a zombie apocalypse story that jumped the rails and decided it wanted to be something much longer. I have a general idea for the rest of the plot. Unfortunately I don’t have time to write two novels simultaneously, blog and work on short stories to build up my portfolio, so the zombies will have to wait. I will probably create a simple outline, so I don’t forget anything, and get back to it once my first novel is completed. It might also be a fun, temporary change of pace if I hit a major roadblock with my first novel and need to work on something else for a while. Sometimes it helps me to work on multiple projects simultaneously, even if it slows them all down a bit.
My short story, “The Hzeen”, is gearing up for an appearance in the third issue of Nonlocal Science Fiction. That should come out in September, and I have some work to do on it. The editor/publisher liked it and promised to give me some detailed feedback in the near future. I’m working from some general criticism he provided, as I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. This is one of a series of stories, so perhaps they will all find their ways into Nonlocal Science Fiction at some point.
With that, I only want to know what you’re eating, reading, watching, writing and playing. Let me know via comments here, Goodreads, Twitter or Facebook. If you’re dieting, good for you. You can do it. I know you can. If I can tame my sweet tooth, anybody can do it. Thanks for reading!
It’s important to me that I can be a good example of rationality as a father. One of my psychological issues I feel like I need to conquer before my son can pick up on it is my fear of stinging insects and spiders. The flying members of the Hymenoptera order are especially harrowing to me for some reason. I think it’s a combination of the swooping and the buzzing and the maneuverability of the little suckers that freaks me out.
Down here, south of the Mason Dixon, these creatures seem to reach science fiction proportions. I’ve seen spider bites turn into scars that looked like the results of some ancient Egyptian curse. I’ve had nightmares of spiders that caused me to spring from the bed and whip off the covers. Explaining that to my wife was a bit embarrassing.
Before I migrated south and developed my almost-drawl, I had mostly addressed this phobia. My first summer walk through a southern garden found me regressing to: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT THING?” Then I started flailing my arms and trampling the flowers in my mad dash toward the safety of my car. The whole time I screamed like my hair was on fire. The only thing I really learned from the experience was that a bumblebee is way more terrifying when it’s inside the car with you. And you never know it’s there until you hit the speed limit on the highway. I was like one of the hapless victims in the movie “Alien” because I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it. True fact: you can drive while manually rolling down a rear window of your car when properly terrified.
I’m getting better. Honeybees and bumblebees make my pulse quicken a little when I hear them, but once I see them I calm down. If you get between me and the house when I spot a yellow jacket or wasp, you’d better have great reflexes or health insurance.
I try to remind myself that even when I’ve been stung, it hasn’t been that bad. I’m not allergic. I’ve never been stung in the eye (but I’ve had a close call), and I’ve never been stung while driving. I’ve never been, cartoon-like, pursued by an entire angry swarm that waited patiently after I plunged into a pond to escape. Just wondering, does that work?
As a dad, it’s important that my son sees me as a source of security. What would I be teaching him if I ran screaming from every loud, flying insect? I want him to know it’s OK to feel afraid, but I also want him to differentiate between silly phobias and honestly terrifying events. Bees and wasps fall into the former category, no matter what my instincts tell me. I don’t want him to learn irrational fear from me.
I have to accept a mantle of responsibility, akin to Superman’s cape, that should be an integral part of fatherhood. Looking back, my dad inspired me to confront my fears through his own courage, integrity and determination. It’s my turn to be that kind of parent/folk hero to my son. Instead of a cape, maybe I’ll wear some mosquito netting.
I’ve joined a few writing communities over the years with mixed results. At their roots, some of them seemed like they would be genuinely helpful as workshops and networking opportunities. Being new to the game, it sounded like I could learn much about a large variety of topics: writing, promotion, publishing, contracts and more. I fantasized that I would become part of a tightly knit group of genre fiction writers, helping each other along the way to greatness.
Two things happened since my last blog entry that made me feel awesome(r), and I’m going to share them with you. Just try to stop me.
Way back in 1996, fed up with Upstate NY winters, I packed my meager belongings into my ’89 Pontiac Grand Am and drove south to Cary, NC. I liked the idea of settling in a suburb of Raleigh, even if it meant commuting into the city. NC had frequently been a pit stop on the way to Florida to see my grandparents, and it seemed like someplace better than NY in the winter and less likely to incinerate me in the summer than parts further south. The Raleigh area was growing, and there were opportunities to be found.
There were enough transplanted Yankees in the Raleigh area to give me a taste of home, but finding a permanent job was a challenge. I knew a friend who had moved to NC a few months before, and I decided to give him a call. I hoped he might know some people who were hiring, and I hadn’t talked to him in some time.
He didn’t have much to offer me in the way of job prospects, but he and his wife let me stay in a spare bedroom while I looked for work. I moved there to Winston-Salem not long after our phone conversation, quitting my temp job and saying goodbye to the Motel 6 I’d called home for several weeks.
It took some getting used to. While everyone I met showed me kindness typical of southern hospitality, I could only understand their speech with great effort. It baffled me that conversations were in English and still so difficult to maintain. I was often grateful when people would give up trying to speak to me like and adult and switch to greatly exaggerated, monosyllabic speech with familiar hand gestures. Obviously they had at least a little trouble understanding me as well, but everybody was nice about it. Often conversations resulted in laughter, after patience had been exhausted.
Eventually I managed an understanding of perhaps 75 percent of the local dialect. It was easy for me to adopt “y’all”, but harder for me to allow other words and phrases to slip into my speech patterns. Some of the resistance was intentional. I refused to ever “mash” a button. That’s just the way it was. I also never believed that anybody “might could” do something for me, especially a person who told me that he didn’t want to “maybe” me. Didn’t “maybe” mean the same thing as “might could”?
I’ve become pretty adventurous in my gastronomic explorations, and there were many foods I adopted with gusto, as evidenced by my growing gut. Even my expanding waistline was viewed as “healthy” by my new friends and neighbors. Fried catfish, pulled pork barbecue and hush puppies seemed like things I should’ve been eating my entire life, but coleslaw I could not stand. I will never be a Southerner as long as I’m unable to stomach that slimy cabbage concoction, and people want me to eat it on everything: hot dogs, burgers, BBQ. They acted shocked when I asked them to substitute more hush puppies or an actual salad. It was like I had spit on their heritage when I refused to eat it atop a chili-dog. Please hold the collard greens, too. No offense, but anything that has to be seasoned by frying it in pork fat should no longer be considered a vegetable.
So here I’ve been for nearly 20 years, and I’m stuck at 90 percent assimilation completed. There I will likely remain as long as ‘slaw is part of the equation, even though I speak the lingo, married a native and sampled corn liquor.
I was as psyched as anybody when The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999. We had all been waiting 16 years for a new Star Wars movie. I was expecting the same magic that entranced me back when I was six years old and saw A New Hope in the theater. I didn’t account for 16 years of reading and watching other science fiction, let alone my tastes changing and maturing. None of us children of the ’80’s can watch Phantom Menace through the same eyes that we saw our first Star Wars movie, and we’re all the worse for it.
I’m not a film critic. I don’t have a theater or cinema background. I’m just a lover of good stories, especially science fiction and fantasy. I haven’t seen the newer films a dozen times each, and I have most of my sanity intact to prove it. I’ve certainly watched worse movies, but I seldom watch anything as disappointing. It’s with some reservation that I anticipate the upcoming film, The Force Awakens. I haven’t even watched the trailers. When I see Age of Ultron, where the next trailer is supposed to debut, I might be the guy in the theater with his fingers in his ears and his eyes clamped shut.
My son had never seen Phantom Menace. Initially I made the case that he wasn’t old enough. The violence is more intense, I told myself. It can be hard to follow, especially because the dialogue at times seems like it was written by someone in a hurry to get back to more explosions and light saber duels. That’s exactly how I felt when I watched it, and I was curious to see how my son would feel about it. Would he experience the same feelings I had for the original trilogy? Would he choke on the same stuff that gagged me when first saw Phantom Menace, nearly twenty years his senior? Would I have to watch my son experience pain on that same level? It would break my heart, but there was only one way to find out. I couldn’t just avoid it and pretend he wasn’t interested.
My son had been spoiled for the movie a bit because we played the Lego Star Wars games. In that medium, the Phantom Menace was superior because there was no dialogue, and humor was injected into areas that the movie (laughably) asked you to take seriously. Jar Jar was funny in the game. To my son, movie Jar Jar was also funny because he was “likable and stupid”. His words were much kinder than what I would have said.
The pod race was undoubtedly one of the highlights for him. It was very exciting, but Jake Lloyd’s acting makes me cringe. I could cut him more of a break if I hadn’t seen such good acting by kids in Game of Thrones. Talented child actors can be found if one is willing to do the work. Even the first time I saw the movie, the pod race seemed longer than made sense. My son ate it up. It was one of the few times during the movie that he sat nearly still. He commented about how difficult that part of the video game was. I agreed. We didn’t have the benefit of the force when we were trying to pilot those things on the Wii.
Darth Maul was, of course, “cool and creepy” to my son. The light saber sequence among Qui-Gon, Obiwan and Maul was his and my favorite scene in the movie. All of the other light saber action in the film seemed casually ridiculous to me. There were scenes where my son said it was “a lot more fun and crazy in the game”. He called the fight leading to Qui-Gon’s death “intense” and some of the same action when fighting droids “lame” by comparison. Agreed. How intimidating are droids that fall apart when their control module stops working? If the Trade Federation isn’t smart enough to buy better technology than that, they deserve to be defeated by the likes of Jar Jar and some punk kid, midi-chlorians or not.
My son’s overall rating for the movie was “7 out of 10 stars”. He might have given it eight if I hadn’t choked on a popcorn hull as he started to suggest it. I tried not to sway him, but apparently my poker face stinks. Maybe we’ll watch it again in 15 years and see if he feels the same way. No, why do that to myself. He can watch it and tell me about it afterward.
As a boy, I eagerly awaited April first every year. Fishing season started that day, though there was sometimes still snow on the ground. I have a lot of great memories of fishing with my father. In ten minutes, we could walk to the Delaware River as it flowed through town. When the weather warmed, we would take the canoe downriver and get picked up by my mom. We could drift along, casting and slowly reeling in our lures with hardly a need to paddle. Sometimes in the summer droughts, the river water level would fall so low that we had to wade through the shallows, splashing along in our old sneakers.
Perhaps the most memorable first day of fishing season for me happened over thirty years ago. Naturally some of the details have clouded with time. I’ll always remember it fondly, despite the cold and going home empty-handed.
Dad woke me near sunrise. I was disoriented, but the announcement of fishing quickly set my heart racing. I dressed in a hurry, and I could hear him heading downstairs. Mom and my sister were awake, too. Our whole family was getting ready to go, some more enthusiastically than others.
After a quick breakfast, we bundled up while Dad grabbed the rods and tackle. He even had worms for bait. Who knew where he’d found those that time of year? The ground was still frozen. I never thought to ask, too busy thinking about trout. My sister was still very young, but she was always an adventurous spirit and was nearly as excited as I was.
The walk wasn’t far. To stay out of the road, I walked atop the banks of snow created by the plows. The surface had frozen and easily supported my weight. I could have run the whole way in my excitement, but we all stuck together. Dad smiled ear to ear in the early light. My sister’s cheeks were rosy in the cold, and her eyes betrayed the joy she found in nearly everything at that age. Our noses ran, and we sniffed and coughed. Mom produced tissues as if by magic, always prepared even at that time of day.
It seemed to take forever to arrive at the bridge. In the summer, there would always be several people fishing over the guardrails. It was empty on that frigid day, as the river flowed silently below. We made our way across the bridge, heading over the piled snow and down the bank, through the frosty grass. Mom held my sister’s hand. I was too big for that, always in a hurry to grow up.
Dad baited my hook, so I wouldn’t have to take off my gloves. I always felt bad for the worms but tried not to let it show. I cast the poor, impaled creature out into a deeper pool, where neighborhood kids sometimes swam, and kept my eye on the bobber. Dad moved on to my sister and cast for her, before taking up his own rod. It was very quiet, like all sound had frozen, but it didn’t last more than a few minutes.
My sister started crying. I looked over, expecting a hook in her finger. She had somehow gotten her long hair tangled in the fishing line. The more Mom tried to unwind her hair, the louder she cried. I reeled in my worm and watched ice crystals form on his waterlogged segments. Mom called Dad for some help, but he had stepped away. I didn’t remember when he reeled in his lure, but he wasn’t beside me. I wondered if he had needed to go pee.
Mom called him again, asking where he was. Nothing. My sister’s crying became less frantic, and I saw that Mom was having some luck with her hair. She ceased crying altogether as she looked around for Dad, and Mom managed to free the rest of her locks. Mom grew very quiet. Inquiries concerning Dad’s whereabouts were conspicuously ignored. The walk home was not as fun as the walk to the bridge.
Inside the house, the heat washed over us. Dad was nowhere to be seen, but I could smell coffee and hear wood popping in the fireplace. I pulled off my winter duds and made my way around the corner. There at the dining room table sat Dad. The fire crackled behind him as he took a very deliberate sip from his steaming coffee cup. He folded up the newspaper when my sister and Mom entered the room.
“April Fools!” Dad grinned. I had forgotten that day wasn’t only the beginning of fishing season. We all had, except Dad. I couldn’t help laughing.