I noticed “Sense8” available to watch on Netflix a while ago, but I hadn’t heard the buzz around it. Honestly, I don’t hear a lot of buzz in general these days and normally rely on like-minded friends to fill me in about what they’ve been watching. Then I usually add stuff to my Netflix queue and it piles up there, collecting digital dust until I have some time off from work. As soon as I heard the Wachowski siblings of Matrix fame were involved, I knew I would find time to check it out. Once the treadmill finished beeping at me to let me know I was up to speed, I pressed play and was mesmerized for the entire first episode.
I was 15 and animatedly recounting the “Apprentice Adept” series to a friend, when he thrust a paperback at me as his response. The cover depicted a masked figure holding a dagger. Said dagger’s business end rested embedded in a table carved with arcane symbols. It was “The Black Company” by Glen Cook, and it forever influenced my reading preferences and the way I would write in the fantasy genre.
The Black Company mixed fantasy with military realism, depicting the life of a mercenary band and eschewing romanticism. Ironically many of the novels in the series were narrated by the company’s physician, who grudgingly admitted to a romantic streak when recounting the history of his world and his martial brotherhood. Doubling as the company’s historian, he chronicled their deeds, including losses of brothers-in-arms and insights into the world’s locales and cultures.
Cook created characters that were memorable for their contrasting personalities and even more so for their failings. Most were less than admirable, if not criminal, but they had formed a close family of misfits with whom I found no difficulty sympathizing. They were men who had long ago come to terms with hard realities, chief among them that nobody else would have them except their fellow soldiers. They didn’t fight for honor or nation, only hard currency and each other.
I had never considered the price of magical power until I read what Cook’s characters experienced, especially the feared “Lady” and “Ten Who Were Taken”, gifted sorcerers compelled to serve the Lady and her husband. Some bore horrible deformities, others were insane, and even those who appeared less so were scarred in ways not easily discerned. The corrupting influence of magical power was clearly evident in the greatest wizards who took every opportunity to sabotage each other’s plans. To mere mortals, like the narrator, it was at once terrifying and captivating to witness the results of the magic unleashed upon the world.
The novels dispelled all of my preconceptions about heroes, since he frequently portrayed the characters as disappointingly human. Sure, they were capable of decency and honor, but those things often turned out to be low priorities when the lives of their brothers or fortunes were in the balance. Those who paid with their lives were mourned. Then life went on, and the survivors seldom wished they had traded places with their deceased brethren.
The novels spanned decades within the over-arcing tale, and that allowed for some remarkable character transformations. Age took a toll on some. One central character even grew from childhood fostered among the mercenaries, and Cook artfully steered her from a scared child to a gifted commander.
I was lucky in many ways to discover Cook’s novels at that age. My brain and imagination were still malleable during those formative years. He dispelled my preconceptions about the fantasy genre before I knew I’d formed them, and I’ll be forever grateful.
I have a ton of great memories of my dad. Growing up, he was my friend, but there was never any ambiguity about his role as a parent. It was comforting because I always knew where I stood. I was always clear on his expectations of me as a person, student, and a future adult. He was there to teach me about responsibility, priorities, integrity, and accountability. He set an example for me by leading his life the way he wanted me to live mine, and I couldn’t have had a better role model. Of course, one of the things I loved most about my dad was that he loved to have fun and believed it was a just reward for working hard.
Like most kids, I was treated to many episodes of Sesame Street and loved all the characters. There was also some learning involved, but I don’t think I realized it at the time. I loved the way the characters interacted with children and adults, just other people in the neighborhood learning alongside the kids on the show and me at home. Inevitably I got “too old” for Sesame Street, but there was that void that couldn’t be filled by The Electric Company or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Enter the “most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational” show ever created.
My whole family watched, though it was the biggest hit with me, my mom, and my younger sister. I had no idea who most of the guests even were. Years later I would see Sylvester Stallone, Steve Martin, or James Coburn and say: “Hey, it’s that guy from the Muppet Show!” The Muppets were real to me, and they seemed even more lifelike when I watched famous adults interact with them like they were people. I anxiously awaited the recurring sketches, like “Pigs in Space” and “Animal Hospital”. What would Nurse Piggy say to make everyone laugh? How would Dr. Strangepork’s scientific knowledge save the crew? The fact that Kermit was a completely frazzled theater manager really sold it, too, as a place you could just stumble into downtown with the guest’s name on the marquis out front. Even better was the way that Kermit and most of the cast were completely aware of the Muppet Theater’s place in the entertainment world. It kept me sympathetic with the characters, watching them try their best to amuse a small, sometimes hostile, audience because they loved to create and perform. The musical numbers were some of most memorable parts of the show. Who could forget Alice Cooper performing “School’s Out”? What about the drum duel between Animal and Buddy Rich?
There have been many movies made over the years featuring the Muppets. Aside from A Muppet Christmas Carol, I wasn’t a huge fan of them. They never seemed to capture the magic of the regular show, and though I liked them, they just couldn’t compete. I still have a soft spot for the first movie though. I even surprised my mom on my wedding day, by selecting “Rainbow Connection” for our traditional dance at the reception.
Probably my favorite Muppet spin-off, and Christmas special, is “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”. To this day I catch myself singing “Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub” in the car. Emmet, along with his friends and mother, enters a talent contest in the movie. At first, it’s a way to try to win enough money to buy Christmas presents, but it becomes much more. It’s about sacrifice, generosity, love, and family. It portrays poor folks trying to make a living, always a glimmer of hope just around the bend for a better life. Most importantly to me, it was about people, in the forms of otters and other critters, using their talents together to change their lives.
Finally, if it weren’t for The Muppet Show, I might not have listened to all of the hype about Farscape, produced and populated with fantastic creatures by The Jim Henson Company. It’s given me hours of “wow” over the years. My son decided early that The Muppet Show was “for little kids”. So far, I haven’t been able to convince him otherwise. Maybe it’s just too rooted in my own childhood and he couldn’t develop the appreciation for it that I did when he watched it on DVD. He is at least enjoying Farscape a great deal. Maybe he’ll enjoy The Muppet Show as an adult someday, like I do now. Needless to say, I’m psyched for its return on ABC, even if I have to watch it by myself.
It’s inconceivable that there was a time when I couldn’t picture you in my mind. The day I first saw you seems so far removed from all those preceding it, like another life. I knew I had to have you, could have you. That was my whole reason for being there, for such an encounter. Only at that moment did I realize my expectations had, for once, been truly inadequate in preparing me for reality. I also knew I shouldn’t approach you. There was, unspoken between us, a warning that went unheeded. You promised me only obsession and, very possibly, regret. I also knew that I would embrace you with abandon. In that place, where destiny had brought us together, I could partake of you with no intrusion from the outside world.
The first time my lips touched you, my senses erupted, my heart ached for the years I’d lived without you. It was as I feared. My desire for you could never be satisfied, but I could drive myself mad in the attempt, plunge recklessly down the path that might well lead to my undoing. Relinquishing myself to the moment, that perfect moment, when we first existed only together, I could stave off the eventual guilt and sorrow of our inevitable parting.
Hours, even days apart, the time tortured me. Sometimes I allowed myself to think that we were better off. Kept at a distance, it seemed I might unshackle my heart and soul from you. Eventually a day would come when I could not drive you from my thoughts, try as I might. As if you waited solely for me, you were there when I arrived. Amid the swirling activity and noise, the light seemed to cling to you, the sound muted around us. I longed for every second with you to mirror our first moments together. I feared familiarity might break the spell, send me drifting never to return. How wrong I was.
I never anticipated just how damaging our relationship would become. The guilt was mine alone to endure, but it nagged constantly at my conscience. I knew my obsession with you took a toll on me, body and soul. Why was I so weak? Justifications for my love leaped easily to my lips. I craved you, and fruitless attempts at logic and reason fell before my scything emotions. Even when I admitted to myself that you were not mine alone, I wanted you.
It was a night like countless others. Even now I can’t identify its fundamental difference. Had I found some well of inner strength? Had my desire for you finally waned, as it had for others over time? I knew when I saw you that our romance would soon be over. Perhaps I would think of you in days to come with fond memories, or perhaps anger at my own frailty would poison my recollections of the joy you brought me. You tasted just as sweet, but somehow I felt the emptiness of startlingly brief elation. I knew it could only mean farewell.
Sadness prevailed, obscuring everything else at our parting. No promises hung in the air, no expectations, even as the taste of you lingered on my tongue and threatened to send me running back to you. In my car, the dome light briefly revealed a final testament to our parting. A crumb of you, glazed devils-food doughnut, graced my shirt. I hesitated a moment before plucking the last of you from my chest and flicking you out my window. I saw through the shop window, that many others enjoyed you, with coffee of course. The question still arises in my mind today. Had I savored that last taste of you, instead of casting you into the night, would I have ever known freedom? I think not. There would have been heartburn either way.
I think of myself as a writer, but it’s mostly because it’s the only job I’ve ever really wanted. Now that I’m officially paying taxes on royalties, it seems like I’ve earned the right to tell people that’s what I am. Really I’ve been a writer for a very long time, and I’m just admitting it now. It’s not like I’ve ever been embarrassed to say it, more like I’ve recently decided that I’m OK with whatever a person’s reaction happens to be. I don’t intentionally try to make people feel uncomfortable, but sometimes I can see it on a person’s face as they struggle to think of a reply. Sometimes it feels like they pity my delusion or they instantly feel guilty. They realize they’re going to have to tell me they’ve never heard of me or read anything I’ve written. I could say the same thing to writers who are A LOT more famous than I am, so I don’t mind. If you want to tell me that my fiction doesn’t appeal to you, no problem. Maybe someday I’ll write something that does.
Writing, especially genre fiction like I write, used to carry a far greater stigma than it does today. With the popularity of science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies, most people realize that they’ve already enjoyed something similar to what I write. In fact, most of them know that a fair number of cinematic goodies have been adapted from books. I’ve found much more support in my writing endeavors than I originally thought I would. So far nobody has told me any of the things I used to hear when I was writing as a teen, labeling it as something for kids or something to do when I retire from my day job. Much deserved thanks go to everybody who has realized that it’s a labor of love, like lots of other things, and requires a tremendous amount of time and effort.
Probably the best thing about calling myself a writer is that nobody asks me to fix their computer. Any time I’ve ever said that I work in technical support, I’ve cringed inside with an unparalleled intensity. I like helping people when I can, but most people these days are savvy enough to figure out technical problems themselves, with a little help from Google. If they’re willing to ask somebody they’ve just met for help, they have encountered something scarier than I’ve ever written about. When I’ve said that I write, nobody has ever asked me to compose them a poem or tell them a story. It’s kind of disappointing, really, because I’m much better at that than I am at fixing computers. My advice on a flaky PC is usually: “Have you had your kid try to fix it?” My kid charges $50 per hour, and I’m glad to pay it. When he gets older, I’ll get to tell him he should’ve saved it all up to buy his own car, but I’ll rent mine to him for $55 per hour.
Seriously the best thing about telling people I’m a writer is that it’s true. I’m proud of myself for persevering after the times I’ve thought about giving up. There’s no better feeling than struggling to accomplish something and then achieving it. Then you get to set bigger goals for yourself, fail, and try again. Whatever it is you’re dreaming of doing, keep struggling and tell other people about it. Better yet, write about it on the Internet, so everybody can remind you about it if you give up. (That’s partially why I started this blog.) You deserve to be admired for your hard work. You may be surprised at how encouraging other people can be when they see your determination, and it will help power your escalator upward.
Working in the Information Technology field and liking technology do not always go together. I’ve been employed in IT in various roles since 2002, having previously worked in much more enjoyable but poorer paying jobs. In truth, I never really embraced technology as more than a means to different ends. I would never go back to using a typewriter after my first experience with AppleWorks. When I first experienced the Internet over my dial-up connection, I couldn’t believe I had survived without it. It always seems like I cling to some obsolete, or at least antiquated, method of doing things until I finally cave and adopt a smart-thingy or I-something-or-other.
I wrote long-hand far past the point when I could have been using a computer. I just liked the process of scratching away with a pen, furiously scribbling away my mistakes, and making notes in the margins of my notebooks. I still have some of them, where stories were started and finished on a computer, or they were left unfinished on pages dotted with coffee stains. For a long time, I didn’t have a computer for financial reasons. I could use one at the library where I worked, so sometimes I would stay late after my shift and bang out what I had written in my notebook. Spellcheck was a great convenience, and copying and pasting seemed like miracles, I had to grudgingly admit. I hardly ever start anything on my computer even now, but it’s usually because my writing time is relegated to my lunch breaks at work, where I don’t have access to a computer for personal use. Though my tablet would allow me a very portable way to write digitally, I usually leave it at home where it’s safe and secure.
Smartphones seemed like something dumb for me to have. I resisted owning a cell phone for years, and I finally justified purchasing one in case of emergencies. The salespeople wanted to dazzle me with the features available on the expensive models, and I insisted that I just needed a phone capable of being a phone. I didn’t need a camera because I lived in the city and hardly ever saw anything I needed to capture for later enjoyment. I didn’t understand the need to text instead of calling someone. When eventually I got the chance to get a smart phone, I thought of it as a distraction machine, always beeping at me to check my email, Facebook updates, Twitter feed, whatever. Oh, I can play games, which is great for somebody like me who could technically be labeled as a recovering video game addict.
Now that I’m trying to get a writing career off the ground, I find myself increasingly dependent on all of the things I tried to avoid for years. And I like most of them. I like keeping in touch with people via Facebook that I haven’t physically visited or phoned in decades. It’s probably the reason I haven’t attended any of my high school reunions, now that I live 600 miles away from my alma mater. I like the community of writers I seem to have fallen into on Twitter, many of whom share the same type of aspirations and frustrations that I do and would otherwise never have met me. I’ve practically filled my phone with pictures of my pets and my kid, and I haven’t contemplated buying a camera in years. Mostly, I owe my budding writing career to the Internet and digital publishing, and neither of those things existed when I first dreamed of seeing my stories published.
So Technology, it seems like I owe you a big apology for all of the nasty, curmudgeonly things I’ve said about you over the years. You’re not so bad when you work and when you’re used as a force for good. I appreciate the conveniences you’ve given me and the opportunity to reach out to people all over the world with my writing. I’m sorry. I was wrong. Now my admission will live in the Cloud forever, in case I ever start yelling about you again.
Thanks to all of you for reading this on your computers, phones, tablets, and other things I probably haven’t heard of yet but will grudgingly buy in the next couple of years.
I don’t usually indulge in true crime stories in any medium. There’s a reason I don’t watch the news, and it’s because it stresses me out. Human beings seem to have an unlimited capacity for brutality, greed, and perversion that is just too horrifying for me as a fan of horror. The pain is too real, too immersive and maddening, when I know it’s real. I compulsively watched the first season of “True Detective” on HBO anyway, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
The cast intrigued me enough to watch the first episode. I’ve been a fan of Woody Harrelson since “Cheers”, and though he’s been in his share of disappointing movies, I’ve only enjoyed his work as he’s gotten older. His comic and dramatic talents lend well to his character, Marty Hart, as we see him develop through decades of police work, including flashbacks to his early career. Likewise Matthew McConaughey excels in his portrayal of Hart’s partner, Rust Cohle. McConaughey has enjoyed a resurgence of his acting career that is well deserved, forgiving an occasional car commercial, and tidbits of Cohle’s backstory definitely contributed to my devouring of the 8-episode series.
The investigation of focus in the series is heart-wrenching as much as it’s horrifying. Though difficult to watch at times, the toll it takes on Hart, Cohle and the people close to them is just as important as the investigation itself. It speaks to the dedication, obsession even, of the detectives involved. This treatment makes it easier to understand why they can never be free of the case until it’s solved. Too many cop dramas I’ve watched don’t seem to establish the reason for this type of determined investigation beyond a simple “Type A” personality in one of the characters, usually the “loose-cannon” type who must be reigned in by his partner. Hart and Cohle seemed like real human beings as much as they were policemen, something that makes me eagerly await meeting new characters in the second season of the show.
There’s plenty of suspense, even in seeing how the characters react to each other without the threat of criminals. I enjoyed also enjoyed the portrayal of dead ends in the investigation, something discussed in the behind-the-scenes tidbits that I waited for at the end of every episode. These proved valuable, not just for the occasional piece of the puzzle I missed in the episodes, but also because they led me to appreciate the painstaking writing and camera work that made each hour so memorable.
If you haven’t seen “True Detective”, I urge you to watch it. There are so many great moments, that you could easily get sucked into the show even if you’re not normally a fan of detective fiction. I didn’t expect it to appreciate it the way that I have, as just phenomenal story-telling. Luckily the debut of the second season is only a couple of weeks away.
I saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” over the weekend, and I was fully prepared to write a proper review, but Nonlocal Science Fiction has already published an excellent one here. Much of the review shares my opinions of the movie, and I didn’t want to risk redundancy; however, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk about my favorite science fiction sub-genre. My enthusiasm for the post-apocalyptic setting probably has a lot to do with my enjoyment of the horror genre. Nuclear war was one of the scariest threats I could imagine when I was young and the Cold War Superpowers were constantly butting heads. Unlike the monsters of horror movies I enjoyed, you can’t drive a stake through its heart or find a relic to return it to the Netherworld. When I finally saw “The Road Warrior” as a teen, I instantly fell in love with the idea that a nomadic anti-hero could survive in the wasteland by his wits, will, and his V-8 Interceptor (vrooooommm!). He might even do some good here and there, when it would conveniently provide some petrol, anyway.