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London 2014: The Prep.

In June, I went to Lakes of Fire.

In July, I visited my Aunt Rose & Uncle Dennis in Kalamazoo.

And in August, I went to London.

Ever since I lived in London from September '07 to April '08, I've tried to get back every couple of years. It really is my favorite city on Earth, and if I could have moved there permanently I would have. Were I fabulously wealthy, I'd love to alternate cities: living in Chicago for half the year, and London for the other half. Since I'm not, I simply try to get back as often as I can. Which, it must be noted, is still a heck of an expense (even if a somewhat infrequent one).

My last visit had been in August 2012, for Francesca's wedding. And when Ryvre & I attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago two weeks later, and the 2014 WSFC location was announced as being in London, I said to myself, "I know when I want my next trip to be!"

Granted, it nearly didn't happen. Finances have been tight the past couple of years, and when I considered the very large cost of such a trip (oversea flight, a couple of weeks' lodging, not to mention the additional cost of getting around & eatings & doings while in the city itself) ... well, all that considered, it seemed I might not be able to go after all. Until my father pointed out over the holidays that he had a free plane ticket earned through British Airways which he had no use for, and which he could pass on to me. Thanks, Dad!

The time leading up to any trip is such a funny thing. You have limited time in which to attend to all the MANY MANY THINGS which need to be taken care of (finalizing the details of your trip, making sure all work matters are planned for & covered in anticipation of one's absence, packing, etc.), and so you're rushing rushing rushing ... until the day comes, and you go, and you just have to shrug your shoulders and be all relaxed and zen about it. What's done is done, and what isn't ... will be fine.

The one part of my trip that was a bit frustrating was the timing of the outbound flight. International jet lag is a horrible horrible thing, and especially when flying eastward. You're going against the movement of the sun, so on an 8 hour flight you're really losing an extra hour for each time zone you fly across. In short: when you land, your body clock is completely set to the wrong continent. I have a hard enough time keeping my sleep schedule at all regularized even in the normal course of events; if it gets thrown off, it can be grueling to wake up at a reasonably early time, and/or I'll be groggy all day, and/or I won't be able to fall asleep at night, only dozing off around 5am. So already having that condition as a baseline struggle means that screwing with my internal clock via international travel is even worse.

Only once did I make this eastward journey smartly. When I was flying out to London in '07, I made the decision to get as early of a flight as possible. It may have been something like a 6.30am flight, which necessitated me getting to the airport around 5am. But the upshot is that by the time I landed in London, it was already night time - which meant that when I got in to Chad & Michelle's, whom I was initially staying with, I was tired from an early rising, not enough sleep, and a full day of being cooped up in an airplane (and then additional time on the Tube). As a result, I was able to fall asleep within a couple of hours, got a FULL night's sleep, and woke up the next morning largely refreshed and feeling almost no jet lag at all!

As I say, this seems incredibly, incredibly smart. To me, anyway. And not least because I know how much a messed up sleep schedule, or a significant sleep deficit, will screw with my ability to be awake and alive and get things done. As a result, when I was detailing my trip parameters to my stepmom Cathy, who was scheduling the flight, I did explicitly request a morning flight for that very reason. In the actual event, however, it was the dreaded late afternoon kind instead. I didn't ask if she just forgot my request, or if morning flights eastward across the ocean are just so little in demand that they're pretty rare and thus hundreds of dollars more expensive. As I say, it makes sense to me, since I know a late afternoon flight will have me arrive at the start of a new day, when I've had practically zero sleep (not being able to sleep on a plane), and my next several days will be somewhat wasted as a result. But I can also see how other people - who might not have as hard of a time as I do rolling with massive changes to one's day/night cycle - might think that scheduling a trip so that the first thing you have to do is pay for an EXTRA night at the hotel (or wherever) wouldn't make any financial sense.

Anyway. I boarded the plane around 6pm on Wednesday, August 6th, and set off.

So here's a thing that happened.

Ryan & I are at Township before the Hamell on Trial show, with Alex running late.  So we order food.  Ryan has ordered beer, and I order a dirty martini.  Cool.

Except when the bartender brings it over ... it looks nothing like any dirty martini I've ever seen.  I mean, it's in a martini glass, and I know other (nonstandard) martinis can come in a dazzling array of colors, but this is ... yellow.  What?  If anything, a martini with a massive amount of olive juice might have a vaguely greenish tint, but ... this was opaque, man.  Opaque and YELLOW.

And we chatted with the bartender about this, and he says he'd told the guy in the kitchen what was in one, who then made it.  And yes, it did taste olive-ish.  If also ... weird.  Something else.  I had Ryan try it too, and he couldn't identify what he was tasting.  Chapstick?  Soap?  I took a couple more sips over the next several minutes, but y'know.  I didn't want to be a pain and send it back.

--until suddenly the bartender swooped back over, exclaimed that this wasn't right at ALL, and he'd bring me a new one.  Embarrassed, apologetic.  Turns out the guy in back had completely misunderstood what he'd said - and since they were (as it happened) actually out of olives and olive juice, he was running across the street to get some.

So in that case, I asked, what HAD the drink been made with?

Olive OIL.

...

True story, y'all.

UK 2012: The Scenic Route

I lived in London from September 2007 to April 2008. I could spend many words on what a great city it is (and I have), but one of its features which I never really took much advantage of was its convenience as a hub to the rest of Europe. Living in the US, any trip to Ireland, or France, or Spain (and more) is a massive undertaking of both logistics and funds. When you're already in Europe, however? It's a heck of a lot simpler, and massively less expensive. I seem to recall that when I visited Dublin in 2007, the round trip from London was about seventeen pounds. So, like $30.

The attendant problem, however, was twofold. Partly was the fact that actually living somewhere - as opposed to just visiting for a couple of weeks - tends to dilute one's sense of urgency with regards to visiting the sites a place has to offer. (Hence why I didn't get around to visiting Greenwich Park until my last month in London - and then ended up, through pure chance, getting back there twice more before I left.) Similarly, I meant to visit more out-of-London and out-of-Britain places during my stay, but - aside from a few days in Dublin, a few days in Rome, and day trips to Canterbury and Cambridge - I never got out of the city during my 7.5 months there.

But that was partly due to the other problem: Namely, that I loved living in London, and adored the city like none other, and if I were to take a couple weeks off to go somewhere else...? Well, that's a couple of weeks I wasn't living in the city of my heart. In other words, this wasn't exactly a problem, per se, or else it's the good kind of "problem" to have. But I did realize after I'd left its shores that it did mean, for instance, I'd never really gotten to experience much of the famed English countryside.

So in making my 2012 travel plans, I aimed to resolve that oversight. After my two days visiting Cork with my dad and his friend, I would not hop a flight directly back to Heathrow - as would have been simplest, and obvious - but would rather take the most meandering scenic route I could possibly imagine over the course of a couple days.

To wit:

After checking out Blarney Castle that morning, and meeting up with Dad & Steve again, I hopped a bus to Dublin. I'd massively dug Dublin when I visited in 2007 - and I figured, why not have another drive through the Irish countryside while I'm making my journey? Dublin is on the eastern coast of the island, with Cork on the southern coast, so it took a number of hours. Europe once again blew my mind by offering Wi-Fi on the friggin' bus, and the scenery through the window was in fact gorgeous.

I think the journey took about 5 or 6 hours, so I got to to Dublin in very late afternoon or early evening - where the weather was looking dark and grumbly. I had planned on hiking from the bus station to the bed & breakfast I'd booked for the night, but between the walk being longer than it had looked on the map, my bags being heavier than I'd taken into account, and me getting a bit turned around, it ended up taking much longer than expected. At which point the skies opened up and a torrential rain started pouring down. I and my luggage huddled for shelter in front of some official government building (closed on a Sunday, of course), until I gleaned a taxicab pull onto the street from down the block, and managed to flag him down.

Upon reaching the B&B (a tiny collection of rooms amidst a block-wide building), I checked in, went upstairs, and had some tea while I waited for the storm to finish itself off. By this time it was night, so I headed downstairs, wandered into downtown Dublin, and found myself again breathless with just how gorgeous everything, everbody, every place really was. I found a snazzy looking restaurant, went in, and splurged on a fancy dinner for myself. It was a wonderful evening - until I finished my meal, and instead of being able to order another drink and some dessert, was instead ignored by the waitress for the next 40 minutes. I eventually got fed up and went to the front to pay, then walked back to the B&B and composed a ranty email to the management. I was impressed to actually get a reply a couple of days later apologizing for the poor service, and offering me a €10 gift card to make up for it. Needless to say, I wasn't able to take them up on the offer!

In the morning, I got up around 6am, then took a taxi down to the docks - the driver who had picked me up the afternoon before had given me a promo card for some new taxi app called "Hailo" - and then proceeded to hop on a ferry crossing the Irish Sea. I had remembered discovering the existence of a ferry between Ireland and Britain when I'd been planning the 2007 Dublin trip, but had discarded it for the increased logistics it would require, as well as the increased cost. (I'd still had several thousand dollars of credit card debt when I'd moved to London in the first place, so every non-essential expense was scrutinized.) This time though? It was exactly what I was looking for!

And, man, that was great. And gorgeous. And a bit surreal. The ferry was kind of a massive ship; not quite the size of a cruise ship, but also not exactly out of the ballpark. (I seem to recall that this ferry also had the space to cart around large cargo, such as cars?) So I had the rather odd experience of being on this enormous boat, with fancy carpeted floors and gold railings and the like, with almost nobody else on board! Relatively, I mean; I'd estimate I saw probably a hundred other people or less. I hung out on the equally massive lounge area, with a bartender and kitchen staff, and ordered some lovely breakfast. I recollect about maybe forty other people spread out in clumps around the lounge, which would have been nice and serene and peaceful ... if a couple of families hadn't brought ten year old boys, who then spent much of the voyage running around the enormous space being loud and terrible and unsupervised. Which, I know: That's how ten year old boys are. That's how I was when I was a wee lad, zipping back and forth with too much energy, being obnoxious and annoying my elders. Except that now I was the elder, and was in turn suitably annoyed! And the wheel of life turns on.

A few hours later, the ferry docked in Holyhead, a port town in Anglesey - itself a tiny island off the northwest coast of Wales. And from there I immediately boarded a train line to London, first crossing the breadth of Wales before then traversing the length of Britain.  I could spend so much time in trying to describe the immensely beautiful countryside as we passed through it - but I hear pictures are worth a thousand of my words, so I really should get around to putting my travel photos online sometime.

Some six hours hours later, I disembarked at King's Cross Station, then took the Tube and the Overground to Leyton (near Walthamstow), on to a house in Brewster Road where I was staying for this trip. I arrived in early evening, a day and a half after I'd left my Dad & Steve in Cork, and nearly four days after my plane had first touched down on British shores. I met one of my several flatmates - a Jo Fowler, which sounded very EastEnders to me - then unpacked, walked down the street later that night for a curry, and began my 2012 London trip proper.



Funny thing: On Friday morning, having just arrived and waiting for the plane to take me to Cork, I got to talking to a couple of British locals in the airport (one a fellow male traveller, one a female aiport worker). Both of them inquired as to my continuing journey, and when I outlined my plan, they were each agog. "You're mad!" I recall the woman laughing. "You must be saving a lot of money, taking that roundabout a trip!" the man exclaimed. Actually no, I explained, this convoluted scenic route actually added up to a few hundred more than if I'd just hopped a quick flight back....

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Those 2015 Hugo Awards...

[A couple of posts I recently made on Facebook. Cobbled together and reformatted because oh hey LiveJournal lets you do that sort of thing.)

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"In any case, this slate of nominees has already launched a Twitter firestorm, and lots of people are planning to vote "No Award" in every category except "Best Novel." It's definitely a weird turn of events that, the year after Kameron Hurley's double win, we see list of nominees that includes someone published by "Patriarchy Press." " - Charlie Jane Anders on io9

I'm tempted to throw up my hands and say this is why we can't have nice things. Because sooner or later some group of asshats will stomp on through and ruin it for everyone else.

So, this year's Hugo Awards is already set to be a debacle, one way or another. (I can't begin to imagine how surreal the Awards ceremony at WorldCon will be, if in fact it turns out that the winner of multiple categories is "No Award", one after another after another.) The real question is whether this is something they can actually recover from, given that the nomination process allows terrible people to game the system like this so completely.

Sigh.




And yet, one of the odder parts about this year's Hugo Awards nominees that (in light of all the controversy) is going generally unremarked upon, is that the "Best Graphic Story" category is (A) strong as hell, and (B) surprisingly reflects the critical and popular reading tastes of actual comic shop goers! Ryvre and I first voted in the Hugo Awards in 2012, and were shocked that two of the five nominees, including the eventual winner, were titles that we - as people who work in the industry - HAD NEVER HEARD OF. (But who, even if they had never had a book distributed by Diamond Comics, were perhaps regular attendees at WorldCon and thus more known to the nominators than the various bestsellers bought by actual comics readers...?)

This year, on the other hand? Out of five nominees, three of them are Image books (ie, creator-owned, creator-financed), and the Marvel one makes me incredibly happy:

* Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
* Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
* Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
* Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
* [plus one *Puppies nominated book that WHAT A SURPRISE no one's ever heard of]

Back in 2012, the "Best Graphic Story" category was up for ratification: Would this category continue? Or was it not actually all that viable? And based on what we saw that year (plus the fact that the Foglios had won three years in a row, for the first three years of its existence), we could totally have seen it having gone away.

How strange that in 2015, this category actually seems the most valid, and the least-XXXXed up, of the entire ballot.

Several months back I discovered a fantastic blog called The Digital Antiquarian.  It's written by an author of interactive fiction (text adventures and the like), and is a compelling and astoundingly well-researched history of the early days of computers and electronic gaming.  After first sketching in the very earliest days of the 1950s and 60s, he then begins in earnest with the state of computers in the 1970s - including the (literal) game-changing invention of Adventure, a.k.a. Colossal Cave, the very first text adventure game.  Subsequent articles discuss the beginnings of personal computers (then called microcomputers), the meteoric rise and fall of Atari and the rest of the videogame boom and bust of the early '80s, the rise of Apple (then a struggling company, as opposed to the staggering behemoth it is today), and the astounding speed with which computers took off in Britain when embraced by Thatcher as a way to pull Britain out of their economic doldrums.  I've read a couple hundred of his blog posts by now - they make great bedtime reading - and am currently up to 1985. 

It's been an utterly fascinating trip, and I'll truthfully be a little sorry when I've caught up and have to wait days or weeks between further installments.  (I see that he's currently approaching the end of 1986.)  I've learned a lot, and it's definitely sparked my creativity in a couple of ways as well; I'm currently brainstorming at least two stories I can credit in small or large part to all this reading.  But it's also been interesting just to learn about the rise and evolution of such technology, in both hardware and software, and compare it to the previously uninformed and very microscopic view of it I had myself while growing up.

I received my first computer, a Commodore 64, when I was 7 years old in 1983.  I'd had an Atari 2600 for a couple of years before that, although the action-based videogames, while fun for the time, rarely stuck with me.  On the other hand, I recall the first time I played the Atari videogame Adventure (maybe 1981?), and being rather more caught up by the sense of exploration and open possibilities it hinted at - far more than the videogame norm of one screen with one thing to do (e.g., Space Invaders, Frogger, Pac-Man and the like).  And let's be honest: The actual graphics and implementation took the concept about as far as it could go on something as rudimentary as the Atari VCS.  So it was clearly the very idea of what it was attempting that I found myself instantly responding to.

By contrast, the C64 initially came with a tape drive - yes, an actual audio cassette player, through which you could load programs by pressing "play", which then fed the data into the computer - and both that and the later floppy drive brought a much wider breadth of programs and games to my attention, due to the rapid spread of public domain and shareware games.  I received some tapes and then later disks just crammed full of C64 programs (and only realized later how many of those were not shareware so much as pirated).  Again, a small number of action games were sufficiently entertaining - but it was the text-based story games which caught my full attention, including a C64 implementation of that original one by Will Crowther and Don Woods, Adventure - and which the Atari game by the same name had been inspired by.  These games of interactive fiction (not that I would encounter that term until years later) would become a serious love throughout my childhood and teenage years, and ultimately beyond.

But, as mentioned, it's been really fascinating reading this history of the field, and comparing that to what I saw at the time.  Case in point: Not long after getting that first computer, I received a subscription to a kids-focused computer magazine called K-Power.  I really enjoyed reading it every month, and was a little sad and confused when some months later a note stated that the issue in my hands would be their last, because the computer revolution hadn't caught on quite as rapidly as everyone had predicted.  I looked around, bemused at this new information:  I dunno, I thought mine was great.  Oh, the myopia of youth!  (K-Power would continue as a small 16-page insert in Family Computing, until even that went away after another year or two.)

It wasn't until high school that I finally upgraded to an IBM PC, the greater capabilities of which I'd already been envying for the past couple years.  (Still, that C64 had a good seven- or eight-year run!)  The massive leap-forward in processing power was inconceivable; when my uncle Donn helped me to set it up, he asked what I was going to do with the Commodore, and I said I still expected to use that a bit.  He laughed, predicting that as soon as I got used to how fast the PC responded to inputs, I'd never go back to the 64k computer again.  It's almost ridiculous how instantly right he was.  Especially since this new PC came with, wonder of wonders, a hard drive inside it!  And I could even install half a dozen large programs at the same time, because - get this - it was 20 megabytes large!  Truly, I was now living in the land of science fiction.

It's funny how I recall such details vividly ... but I don't recall which one of my friends or relatives first picked up a cell phone in the 1990s.  I had a pager for a year in 1999, but didn't get a cell until late 2000 (by which point I already felt like a late adopter).

In 1993 I got to the University of Illinois and received an email address; one of the first people I emailed was Zach, then down at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, and through this correspondence we not only stayed close in touch, but he also taught me all that he'd learned in the last year about this Internet thing.  I still remember finding out about this World Wide Web which I could access via the NCSA Mosaic (and later Netscape), and then passing on this newfound knowledge to my equally newfound friend BJ.  (I was astonished and touched to read a recent Facebook post where Zach recalled that our email correspondence at this time was one of his earliest consistent Internet memories.  I had always just assumed that after a year of living at IMSA, this was old hat to him and he'd just been kind enough to show me the ropes.)

It's dizzying to think of all the technological advances that came after.  Watching video on a computer.  The first smartphones.  Going from an enviable-at-the time dial-up modem to DSL to cable.  Everything being connected everywhere.  Tablets.  And hell, through all of this, the massive and unifying presence of Apple, which I had never really cared for: the Apple IIs I saw in school were "fine", the original black-and-white screen Macintosh computers were clearly more powerful but also bizarrely "other", and even today I still find using a Mac kind of ... weird. 

I mean, in my teens I was already (with the help of friends) buying component upgrades for my PC, like a bigger hard drive or more RAM, and then opening up the machine and learning how to install them myself.  I've heard it conjectured that one of the reasons text adventures worked so well for some, while being completely off-putting to others, was because those of us who grew up with these ever-evolving computers had needed to figure out pretty arcane commands just to get the damn programs to run.  I mean, I still recall the command needed to start most programs on the Commodore 64, the very first thing you would type in after its boot screen had come up:

LOAD "*",8,1
Seriously: WTF was that?! 

And the PC's Disk Operating System (DOS) was more understandable, but equally ran programs via command line inputs, which thus needed to be learned or divined.  It really wasn't until Microsoft Windows made home computers usable right out of the box, to the normal everyday person (not willing to put up with learning things like C:\cd programs\other\games to navigate), that the home computer revolution - predicted a decade too early - could finally begin in earnest.  And so I understand why people love Macs, which are all about the clean, graphical OS.  But for someone like me, who grew up tinkering?  I still like the ability to root into the guts of the machine, and troubleshoot it myself when things go wrong.

And yet, when MP3 players came along, I eventually found myself owning an iPod (with the staggering ability to carry all my 1500 CDs' worth of music in my pocket).  When my Motorola Razr died for the last time, I accepted a friend's old iPhone and never looked back.  And I've even owned an iPad for the last 3 years.  In many ways I'm living in an Apple world ... but man, I still can't (or don't want to) get used to using a Mac.  Windows NT/XP may have finally taken out DOS, but I still have the ability to configure my computing setup in any number of ways.

So it's been fascinating to read this early history, and compare it to my own, and read about the massive changes as they happened, and which I was at the time only vaguely aware of.

Where will we be in another 10 years?  Another 20?  Or more?

UK 2012: Visiting Cork

(Picking up three years later...)

Having arrived in to Heathrow at very early in the morning on almost no sleep, I immediately went to a different gate to await the plane to Cork. After all, my mad plan was to start off my London visit with two days in Ireland, joining my dad and his friend Steve, before then making my way back to British shores. See, very shortly after I had moved to London in September 2007, I'd found out that the two of them were going to be visiting Dublin for several days. So just a few weeks into residing in this new country, I had hopped a very short flight over to join them! It was great fun - and so, when I discovered that they were again going to be visiting Ireland (if the southern coast this time rather than the east), I decided to build my travel plans around it, joining them for two days at the outset before then going back into London.

Of course, the problem came in trying to coordinate such an unusual flight plan! The most direct route would of course have been to take a flight into Ireland, and then fly home a couple of weeks later out of London. But two one-way tickets are of course far more expensive than a round-trip ticket entering and leaving from the same location - hence my ridiculous plan to take an 8-hour transatlantic flight to Heathrow, then turn around and immediately get on another plane heading back west.

By the time I arrived at the hotel in Cork, of course, I was feeling bushed, bleary-eyed, and frankly somewhat dreading the day with no sleep and no energy. But I resolved to buckle down and enjoy our outings as much as humanly possible, while endeavouring not to fall apart (intellectually or emotionally). So it was a joy to phone up my dad's room upon arrival and find they had only just arrived themselves - and were going to nap for a couple of hours before heading out! This was the best thing I had ever heard, and I immediately threw myself into bed to get what rest I could.

We first set off on a bus tour that wended around the city and its local environs, and the beauty of these is that you can step off it at any point and then get back on when the next one comes round. So we let it take us on its winding path, first alighting to take in the Cork Butter Museum. Yes, Cork is such a happenin' place that they've got a whole museum dedicated to butter. After that, we next visited the Cork City Gaol - a 19th century prison no longer in use as such, but restored for the sole purpose of tourism. Given that one of the things I regretted having missed while visiting Dublin in 2007 was the Kilmainham Gaol (known to me largely through the historical ballads of Black 47), I enjoyed getting this glimpse into this very specific corner of Irish history.

The next couple of days were spent just wandering around the city, stopping in at pubs, and taking in the sights. Some of this city-wandering I did on my own; other times with my dad and Steve. I remember first visiting Dublin and falling instantly in love with the place as I had done when first visiting London six months earlier: The towns are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful, the people are beautiful. I could lose my heart to any and all of the above. I love the way the streets twist around, as well as (in Cork at least) rolling up and down the hills they're built upon. During the day, the streets are crowded with throngs of people, but as it gets closer to nightfall they gradually empty until they're almost deserted. (Everyone's in the pub drinking, I guess!)

Still, by the end of my time there, I felt a twinge that I hadn't checked out as much as I would have liked. Having read about Cork in the Visit Ireland guide my dad gave me, I had tried to talk him and Steve into the idea of visiting Blarney Castle, just outside the city limits. While not totally opposed, I could see that it also didn't really appeal to either of them. Finally, I realized on my last night in Cork that I could just go on my own! So I woke up early, hopped on the bus, and 30-40 minutes later was at the castle.

We had about three hours to visit before the next bus taking us back, so I checked out as much of the place as I could. The castle itself is stunning; while a big place, it was clearly something that had fallen into disrepair centuries earlier - for instance, I don't recall seeing any wooden doors still in existence (if it ever had such things). At one point I ascended to the highest floor and joined the queue to kiss the Blarney Stone; later on, I wandered out into the gardens and acres of land to discover such fascinating (and thrillingly-named) points of interest as the Poison Garden and the Witch's Kitchen.

Getting back to the hotel at just about noon, I had time enough to see Dad & Steve again before heading off to the Cork bus station, beginning the second, and more complicated, stage of my journey...

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I wondered if there was an adjectival word relating to all things dream-like. Presumably ending in -ic. Like how “ludic” refers to that which is gamelike or playful.

And so I type into Google “of or pertaining to dreams”, and immediately get back:


Oneiric
Of, relating to, or suggestive of dreams.

To touch just the tip of something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately: Man, I love living in the future. Questions that would have plagued us thirty years ago are now easily answered.

("You know, things that never had names before are now easily described. Makes conversation easy!"
-- David Byrne, True Stories)




Last night - early this morning, actually - I had a dream.

It started with, or at least I recall nothing earlier than, bits of imagery which suggests a recurring theme I’ve had a few times: The discovery of a hitherto completely unknown television story from William Hartnell-era Doctor Who. Sometimes my dream is the adventure itself, and sometimes I find I’m in the studios during or around the time of the filming. In other words, sometimes my dream IS the thing, and sometimes it’s ABOUT the thing. Given my simultaneous love for and fascination with 1960s-era Who, divided equally between interest in the narrative itself and the production thereof, this is perhaps not surprising.

But then later on, I was walking through some complex of interconnected buildings and outdoor areas, like a campus or a massively sprawling shopping mall. The lighting was dim but not dark; it was evening. It was a pleasant stroll and I was untroubled.

At the side of the corridor through which I passed stood a small bar, staffed by a woman in black slacks, white dress shirt and black bow-tie. Despite the formal attire, the bartender did not take her surroundings dead seriously; when I stopped to ask for directions (to the bathroom, perhaps?), she directed me to head down the stairs just a few feet to her right. And then she started talking, and laughing, about the restaurant below and behind her.

Through the glass walls of the corridor, I could see the outdoors. But right outside was a massive, circular tank, about two stories high, filled with fish and sealife of all sorts. The bottom of the tank was also glass, and through it I could see the equally large, equally round restaurant below. Clearly it was a swanky affair, filled with diners in tuxedos and fancy evening gowns. In the center of the restaurant was a grand piano at which someone played.

It was there to which the bartender was directing me. But she continued laughing about this restaurant, and the absurd heights to which its upper-class experience aspired. Tonight’s kicker was a newly-created martini which contained a flash-frozen ball of some liquid, suspended perfectly within each glass. Riffing equally on both the round shape and its blood-red color, she and the other bartenders were referring to this drink, for which the patrons were surely paying exorbitant sums of money, as “The Period”.

(Of course, this being a dream – and the rich often having tastes that run to the eccentric – I couldn’t say for certain that the substance wasn’t blood of some sort. Yes, it sounds macabre … but then I remember the existence, and deliciousness, of black pudding. Odder things exist outside one’s dreams.)

And so I went downstairs, passed through the swanky area, took care of things, and headed back. As I neared the top of the staircase, however, I heard a crack, and a loud creaking. And I looked up at the bottom of the massive aquatic tank, and the large fracture which had just appeared.

And then, all at once, it burst.

In my recollection, it happened so fast – so instantly – that I had a moment where I looked at the restaurant around and below me, and saw the entire place completely submerged, filled all the way up to ground level. Diners still sat at their tables, albeit wearing expressions of shock, as suddenly-displaced fish swam confusedly past.

And then panic set in, and everyone was trying to get out. I was fortunate in having been nearly at the top, and thus swam up and out in just a few moments. At that point, I turned around, surveyed the shocking disaster, and began doing what I could to help people out. Grabbing others, and frantically dragging them out of the water without falling back in myself.

It was at that point I awoke, oddly enough. My alarm hadn’t gone off, and although it was a somewhat nightmarish scenario, I myself wasn’t hurt or in any danger. I almost wonder if the astonishingly unpredictable events had so thoroughly derailed the plot that whichever subconscious thoughts and ideas are responsible for crafting such dreams simply threw up their hands in stunned bemusement. “Jesus, guys!” I imagine them saying to each other. “Who came up with THAT twist? Where do we go from here? Screw it, we’re done for tonight – shut it down!”



Last night, I went to Starbucks to write for a couple of hours. Except that when I arrived, having trekked through the snow and the cold, I discovered that my new laptop was completely out of power. (I’d forgotten to change the “close lid” action from the default, power-draining “sleep” to the far more power-efficient “hibernate”; thanks to cassielsander for that particular protip.) Fortunately, I had my Kindle with me, so I settled in and decided to read “The Bone Flute”, by Lisa Tuttle.

This story is one I’ve had in my Kindle library for a few months now. (It’s available as one of the “Infinity Plus Singles” selections.) I’m sure I must have initially come across it when looking over the Wikipedia page of Nebula Best Short Story winners and then noticing the bit about the 1982 award being refused by its author (Tuttle). She includes an afterword in this edition talking about the controversy, and thirty-some years later it strikes me as somewhat dated; in a nutshell, she tried (too late) to get her story removed from the ballot, because copies of her story and another were sent out to the listed members of the SFWA, at a time when this was not normally the case. She objected to this kind of “campaigning”, as she called it, and thought that such tactics gave those who could afford the not-insignificant postage costs of sending out so many physical copies an unfair advantage over authors and publishers who could or would not. (Incidentally, she now talks about how she later came to think better of her position, agreeing with a fellow author who felt the answer was more campaigning, of all entrants, and not less – and that today’s world of email and the easy mass-distribution of electronic files has now made the entire situation almost unthinkable. In fact, today the Nebula and Hugo Awards typically send out electronic copies of all nominated works to its voting members, and the occasional publisher which refuses to do so is roundly castigated.)

But that’s all beside the point. While the controversy may have been what made it stand out and attract my attention, what I want to talk about is the story. Which floored me, on multiple fronts.

Although it takes place in a spacefaring future, this tale isn't the type of SF that's overly concerned with how given technological advances could affect our lives. Instead, it’s perhaps a more fantastical approach, using radically different circumstances to comment on and question what it means to be human. Not only do I adore this particular motive of SF in general, but the question it poses is one I’ve long wondered about, and increasingly in the past ten years: What is the half-life of love? More to the point, is a lifelong love even realistic, or possible – or does the average person’s lifespan, extended decades past what it used to be just a few centuries ago, now mitigate against that? (My ex once displayed a rare moment of insight by commenting on how after spending too long in the presence of a single person, she would grow frustrated with and tired of them. This wasn’t, however, limited only to other people: If she spent too long on her own, she just ended up getting fed up with herself.)

The story is heart-stoppingly well-written, and absolutely award-worthy. Shorter than a novella, it’s perhaps on the longer side of a short story (took me about 20-30 minutes, though I’m not the fastest reader), yet takes exactly as much time as needed. The story opens with a set-piece that is fascinating, exciting, and yet intimate; on the one hand, its introductory events could be seen as extraneous, but on the other it fulfills the plot requirement of having our narrator meet her lover, and does so in a manner which in retrospect tells us a lot about him. Similarly, the final act takes place some ten years later in changed circumstances, with a final twist which goes unexplained – and yet I can’t say that I at all felt let down or betrayed by the lack of answers.

What maybe most impressed though was the voice of her narrator, and how genuinely, quintessentially human her reflections are, even in the midst of dialogue and plot. At one point she describes the visual confirmation she receives that her lover has left her for someone else; to extricate himself from the party so they can speak privately, he quietly excuses himself by touching his new partner's arm: “a casual, proprietary gesture.” We all know such gestures, and rarely consider them, but the kind of information they subtly convey (whether involved with, or perceived from without) is immense.

I was also bowled over by the opening:

I am forever falling in love with beautiful men who break my heart. Perhaps I prefer it that way. There are worse things than being left.

In short, this is an astonishingly well-crafted short work, and one I ecstatically recommend. (And for only $0.99!) It’s certainly something I feel the need to read over, again and again, from which to learn the lessons of good writing.

Lakes! Of! Fire

Eight years ago I went to Burning Man and had a terrible time.

Now, as I've been careful to point out in recent years, it wasn't entirely Burning Man's fault. I was in a crappy place in my life (leading to my leaving the country a year later for far shores & and of indeterminate length), the preceding months and the trip itself were filled with an oppressive and appalling amount of interpersonal drama, and I'd already been growing frustrated with the amounts of hippie culture I was experiencing and exposed to at the time. Let me tell you: If you're at all conflicted or frustrated with hippie culture, going to a week-long event like Burning Man will fucking cure you of any remaining interest.

As to the event itself? There's a hell of a lot of spectacle to be seen: Massive art installations, fire & lighting displays during the night, dancers, fire spinners, and so much more. And for the first few days that spectacle was exciting! But after that I became bored, and then frustrated, and wanted to leave. Which, having road-tripped there with several others, I could not. So I had to spend the rest of the week in the desert wanting desperately to go home, and not being able to. (To make matters worse, we'd planned a meandering route back - lasting another week or two - going through the Badlands, Yellowstone, etc. In other circumstances that would have been great, but as I then was I couldn't really appreciate the experience.)

Needless to say, I never went back to Burning Man (certainly not with an estimated price tag of ~$1000 for the trip!), I stopped hanging out on the fringes of hippie culture, and I never looked back. I never even went to another Full Moon Fire Jam on the shores of Lake Michigan. I left it all behind.

Zach went to Burning Man at least a couple of times after that, but cited increasing frustrations as well. (When he & I went, it was 40,000 people. Apparently now it's up to about 70k.) Instead, he and his have in recent years instead opted to go to the regional Burning events - such as Lakes of Fire, up in Michigan. As he would describe, it's all the best parts of Burning Man without the worst excesses. And so for the last few years, every time Lakes of Fire has been on the horizon, he's asked if I had any interest in joining them. To which I'd always responded NO THANKS.

...until last year when, after giving my instinctive, gut-level response, I suddenly ... stopped. And considered. As mentioned, I was self-aware enough to realize that a lot of my rancor had nothing to do with the event itself, but rather where I'd been in my life at the time. And not only are my circumstances today vastly different than they were in 2006 - but so too am I. And I found myself thinking about the few elements that I did enjoy from that Burn, and thinking about how at the very least it's a radically different context for one's life than one is normally used to ... and I began to reevaluate. Reassess. And wonder.

So earlier this year, when Zach said that he & Maggie were going to Lakes of Fire again, and they had an extra ticket if I were interested ... I told him Yes! I would take that ticket.

I had no idea what the experience would be like this time around, but I was interested in finding out.



Granted, at the end of April certain events in my life gave me a bit of a wobble, and I wondered if it would still be a good idea to go ... or if I should just pawn off that ticket instead. Eventually I decided I would still attend, and see what Life - and the experience - handed me. If I determined that I still hated all that hippie bullshit...? Well, unlike Burning Man, Lakes of Fire is only a long weekend (Thursday - Sunday), as opposed to a full week or more. If I just felt like taking it as a few days to myself, and avoided all personal interactions as much as possible, that's certainly a route I could take. And by Sunday I would be on my way back home. Not too unbearable.

My mind was further made up when I went to the "Newbie Night" presentation being hosted at Catalyst Collective - an impressive loft space located around North & Western. Gina (whom I know from Living Canvas) was one of the people who lives in the space, and she showed me around and introduced me to a few others as well. Most useful and inspiring, however, was during the presentation when they went over the Ten Principles of Burning Man. There were ideas with which I was already familiar, like the very important Leave No Trace. But other principles which really resonated with me were Radical Self-Reliance - ultimately, you are responsible for yourself - and perhaps its polar twin, Gifting. Everything at these Burn events runs on a "gift economy", where people bring items, services, offerings ... and just give them to each other. There's no money changing hands, and there's not even a need for barter. It's people providing for their own living needs... and beyond that? Just being generous to each other.

There have been a couple of times in my life when I've been called generous, and the declaration has surprised me a bit. But then there have been other times when I've recalled that, and have realized that such ideas and intentions felt entirely alien to me, and unenacted. Generosity is something I try to aspire to, but often fall short of - and thus something I appreciate being reminded of, as often as possible.

And the other principle that really called out to me was that of Immediacy. Living In The Moment is something I excelled at while living in London. I mean, I had to! I moved over there only knowing (barely) two people, not having any plan as to where I would live beyond the first few weeks, what I would do, who I would meet, how long I would stay, or how the experience would go. And yet I was moving to another country in 2007 largely because I'd been unable to break out of my year-long depression, and needed radically altered circumstances in which to start over. All in all, I found - once I'd resolved the mental/emotional hurdles I'd been struggling with - that I was able to live out my life in that other city, in that other country, with a joyful relishing of whatever goddamn thing happened across my path. ("I take things as they come," to quote the good Ian Chesterton.)

That said, one regret I've certainly had over the past seven years is how hard it's been to retain that intention since I've been back in the States. With a full-time job of ~50 hours a week (coincidentally, twice what I was logging while in London), always short on resources, and in a management role with employees in constant need of direction ... it's a hell of a lot harder to keep such an easygoing attitude as an instinctive way of living one's life. Especially when trying to find enough spare time to do all the other things one wants to accomplish! (Theatre, writing, socializing, down time, etc.) So on the one hand, I'm constantly needing to be forceful about using my very limited time to the best of my ability ... but on the other, I really do miss being able to just let it all go, and simply be thankful for being where I am, and having what I have in front of me. It's yet another balance I struggle with, and I come down on the side of easygoing immediacy far less often than I'd like.

So, I determined that I very much wanted to go, to try to embrace these ideals, and hopefully have a good time - whatever kind of time my experience ended up being.

Still, I first had to figure out how to even get there! Zach told me that he & Maggie would have their tents in Open Camping (as opposed to being part of a planned "theme camp"), and I was welcome to camp with them - as would several others - but that I would need to find my own ride there. And for the next several weeks, I really worried as to whether I'd be able to attend after all! I had deactivated my Facebook account at the end of April, but with the need for easy communication that Fbook offers I reluctantly reactivated it so I could message all the people I knew who were going, and thus see if anyone had any spare seats in their vehicle (and could use another person with whom to split the expenses of travel). Frustratingly, no one did. And so, upon recommendation, I posted and scouted out the Lakes of Fire Rideshare page on Facebook, hoping to come across someone driving and looking for passengers. To my relief, such a thing finally came together in the last couple of days before the event, and Thursday morning thus found me with a packed duffel bag & hiking backpack, getting up significantly earlier than usual, and jumping into a stranger's car. After picking up a third passenger in the Loop, we were off!



So, after all the wondering, and varied expectations: How was the experience?

In a nutshell: It was pretty goddamn great.

Now, that's not to say it was ideal, at least for the first couple of days. After getting in on Thursday afternoon, I quickly found Zach & Maggie's campsite, and the midday heat was enough that I peeled off my shirt while setting up my tent in the baking sun. Zach had a spare air mattress to loan me, which was far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground would have been (even with the mattress's tendency to largely deflate each night) ... but which hardly fit in my teeny-tiny tent at all. I really do need to replace that budget-rate item with an at-least-slightly-more sizable one at some point; fortunately, Zach also had the mystifyingly awesome foresight to have brought an extra tent. (!) So I broke down the one I'd already built, stowed that away again, and erected the larger one. By then it was nearly night, so I took my first round of the camp's environs, checked out a few of the sights and attractions, and - considering the day's early start, the typical torpors of travel, and the draining effect of a good summer's heat - went to bed on the early side.

The next day, regrettably, was not nearly as blessed with good weather. The rain began at morning, and frustratingly lasted till the early evening. I tried to make the best of it and put on a persevering attitude, but I was disappointed, and unable to hide that from myself. I don't recall if I'd brought an umbrella, though I did at least remember my rain poncho & waterproof pants - but after a while of walking around the lake, and through the camps, a certain amount of unpleasant chill & damp was unavoidable. Dammit!, I thought. I'd so wanted this to be a good experience!

Fortunately, by day's end the rain had let up, and I took advantage of my pent-up energy to explore. Close to our own camp was a massive construction deemed the Touchy Duchess (Youtube link), a medieval-looking tower which would shoot a jet of fire from its flaming demonic face when a series of buttons was pressed in a particular order or timing. Also of note was Tick Town, which featured both an explicitly interactive bar (when requesting a drink from the bartender, you had to spin the wheel of fortune and then follow the instructions the ticker landed upon) as well as a number of well-built challenge games testing aim, balance, etc. Another camp had not just an ever-burning fire pit but also a seemingly neverending supply of ingredients for the making & roasting of S'Mores. And FreakEasy, known (and feared) for their massive sound system and all-night dance parties, had a couple of large lit-up domes for dancing and scheduled performances.

Plus, one camp was giving away Bacon Bloody Marys. Seriously: they had a jug of vodka with a HUGE chunk of bacon just infusing within. I'm a fan of both bacon AND the Bloody Mary, so this sounded like heaven. They also had bacon fudge, of two varieties - bacon maple fudge, and bacon peanut butter chocolate fudge. I absolutely partook of both the latter and a Bacon Bloody Mary. And the next day came back for the same again!

I'd actually had a fair bit of drink while wandering around from camp to camp - since so many sites have bars, or otherwise have boozes to offer, you're invited to bring a cup as you stroll around the place - and so it was while in a pleasantly sloshed headspace that I first ran into someone I knew. While admiring the pyrotechnic majesty of the Touchy Duchess, I was surprised to see my friend Barrett, whom I knew through a couple of the shows I'd run for Vaudezilla. She & her fiancee had been living in Florida for the past year as she finished her Master's Degree, so it was quite a treat running into her! Like Zach, she's someone who has been attending LoF for a few years now, and so gladly made the trip back up for it.

While talking to Barrett, I also had my first pleasantly arresting experience of the weekend in which someone complimented me on what I was wearing. This was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. While packing for the trip, I'd completely forgotten how much burners enjoy costuming, and thus entirely failed at bringing any of the couple of fairly ridiculous shirts and other accoutrements I might own. That night - after changing out of my wet clothes from the day - I'd simply donned a black t-shirt, with my black-and-grey-striped long-sleeve shirt button up draped over it, more to give my arms a bit of protection against the night's chill than to make a statement. It's possibly my hair might have still been slicked back a bit from the rain. So despite having felt a bit chagrined at having left some of my more colorful outfits at home, I nonetheless was tickled and a bit bemused to have my "creative look" so commented upon. ("But", I thought, "this is just what I normally wear!") The round Lennon-style sunglasses I'd snagged off eBay the prior week also drew an unexpected number of great remarks over the weekend!

Fortunately, as if to make up for the prior day's largely shitty weather, Saturday was if not baking hot then at least warm and sunny. I had once more leafed through the LoF pamphlet of scheduled events (any performances or workshops or timed anything else that a camp might be putting on was listed within), but nothing really caught my fancy - so after accepting one of several bacon sandwiches that campmate Ken was making and offering up for breakfast, I set off around the lake. All the camps were arranged in a U-shape around Lucky Lake (PDF map), and it took me about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace to make an entire circuit. So at several times that weekend I got into the habit of setting off for another circuit 'round the lake if I had nothing to do. I would usually come across something new that would draw my attention, or run into someone I knew.

Which, I realized, was a large part of what was making this new experience so much more satisfying! In addition to having travelled up with two people I'd just met (Eli & John), and Zach & Maggie's campsite with 7 or 8 other friends (some of whom I was just meeting), I'd been surprised when looking at the Facebook event page to see just how many people I knew who were going. In addition to Barrett, I knew Gina (from Canvas) and ran into both Meg Wolfe & Taylor a couple of times. Michael Sherwin, who I've worked with on both Canvas (Nocturne) and the three years of the David Bowie Christmas Special, was part of Camp Valhalla - about a 20 second walk from our own site! And I was pleasantly surprised to see Matt & Nicole, also from Vaudezilla, who had decided to come to the LoF just a couple of days earlier! At any given time I was striking out on my own, I was almost guaranteed for my wanderings to cross paths with someone I knew, and then change or join plans from there. John had introduced me to his roommate Jeremy, and that was one more person I kept running into! Because that's the kind of thing you can do when the attendance is capped at about 1700 people. You can't really have that same experience when exploring an ad hoc desert city of 40-70,000+!

I also made sure to wholly embrace the proper intention and mindset as much as possible. I turned off my phone when I arrived on Thursday, and left it in my tent the entire time. I didn't check texts, and I didn't check voice mail. I did not bring my computer, and did no work. No matter how silly or hopelessly idealistic some people might seem, I was determined to approach this weekend with an utter lack of judgmental attitude; all things considered, I wanted to leave behind my eye-rolling gut reaction of UGH - hippies! that I'd had since 2006. (And I'm pleased to report that intention was a success.) At one point in my wanderings I didn't actually come across anyone I knew, and instead just lay out at the pier on the far side of the lake for a half hour. Just relaxed and soaking up the sun.

Saturday night - the final night - was the big burn, when most everyone gathered at the lakeside "temple effigy". The event kicked off with an impressive series of fireworks setting off from the structure, followed by a half hour or so of fire spinners, fire dancers, fire swallowers, etc. Only after that was the effigy itself set alight. The approximatey 20'-high wooden structure was a pyramidal skeleton base constructed around a hefty polyhedron (Zach referred to it as a "bucky ball" - a term I'd never heard before). I can only assume that the entire structure must have been treated with some sort of fireproofing, because although it quickly and successfully was set alight, it seemed to take an hour or more to actually burn down into a proper, massive, and fully razed blaze. In the interest of embracing the principle of immediacy I had left my camera in my tent the entire weekend, but that burn is the one time I truly wish I'd had it with me - for when the dodecahedron became superheated enough we could see, through the wood of its facing side, a burning heart-shape of flames shining through. I have no idea how they engineered that, but it sent a thrill through my own.

And then it was just a massive, massive fire, around which people warmed themselves, circled in a moving chain of linked hands, and eventually danced around. At one point I came across Zach & Maggie, who were excited to introduce me to a friend of theirs they had apparently wanted me to meet. For the life of me, I cannot remember this person's name and never found out why it was awesome that the two of us were meeting. This was also the second night in a row I found myself in a state of inebriation intense enough that I eventually became sick - but even in the midst of that, I was not having a bad time! It's just that at a certain point my physical state needed to take some time to recover and recalibrate, before I found myself collapsing with a smile on the pillow.

And the next day I woke, made myself a wonderful breakfast wrap of chorizo, halloumi & eggs in a sun-dried tomato tortilla, tore down the tent, packed up my gear, and set off to meet my travel mates (Jeremy joining us for the return trip). I got home about 5pm and was pleased to find I didn't actually have quite as many emails and quite so much work to catch up on from the past half-week as I'd feared.

A day or two later, Zach dropped by the apartment briefly, and asked how the experience had gone. I was really, really happy to tell him what a wonderful time I'd had (and to thank him for continuing to urge me to go, and everything he'd done to help make it such a great experience). What I found even more pleasing was that my estimation of the experience actually continued to improve after my return! Knowing how epically shitty my experience with Burning Man had been, I think there was still a tiny nub of worry in the back of my mind that something might go wrong over the weekend, and so even in my determination to have a great and relaxing weekend there remained perhaps a bit of potential stress. Once I was back, and realized nothing had gone wrong, and I'd had a truly, truly GREAT time ... I found myself able to accept that wholly and absolutely, and think back on the experiences I'd had - and just smile. As the weekend had gone on, I increasingly found myself wondering if I might in fact come back the following year. By the time I was home? I was sure of it.



Eight years ago I went to Burning Man and had a terrible time.

This April, I spent a long weekend with a bunch of hippies and utterly loved it.

Who could have seen that coming?

Dread, and Two Years' Passing

It's ridiculous how long you can keep "to do" items on your desktop. And by "you", I clearly mean me.

Just over two years ago, Tasha emailed me to say she had come up with a superhero-themed role playing game scenario she wanted to try out. (I'd replied to a post of hers several months prior to state interest if and when an RPG got off the ground.) So even though I hadn't seen her in about seven years (!), I said hey great! And Ryvre might be interested too. So the three of us gathered one evening at The Grafton for dinner/drinks, for Tasha & Ryvre to meet each other, and we talked about the game, life, etc.

It's so funny to think that was two years ago. On the one hand, I remember the storyline of that game pretty well. On the other, so much else has changed! I'd only hung out with Tasha a couple of times previous (most of our interactions to that point having been via LiveJournal & email), had met Bob at one of their Oscar parties years ago but only in passing, etc. On the other hand, in the two years since, we've gotten to hang out with Tasha much more - Ryvre more than me, as Tasha has not only run a couple of additional RPGs that Ryvre has participated in, but comes to G-Mart's Thursday board game night most weeks - and I've additionally had the opportunity to discover not only what a cool & interesting guy Bob is, but I first Kickstarted and then auditioned for and acted in his Hamlet webseries, as well as meeting and getting to know other new friends through them (such as Lisa).

Not to mention all the other people I've met over the past two years. Relationships formed. New interests, such as swing dancing, acquired.

(And in the meantime, Tasha - LiveJournal stalwart of so many years - seems the latest in the long line of people to have left their LJ blogging behind. A shame, that! Not that I can't relate...)

I'm reminded of all this as I looked at a text file called "dread" on my laptop's desktop. After that initial - and much enjoyed - superhero game, Tasha emailed us about another RPG she wanted to run: this time a horror-themed one by the name of Dread. (Appropriately, we would gather to play it on October 28, 2012, just a few days before Halloween.) To help get the roleplaying gears turning, she sent out brief, personalized questionnaire to all of us players to fill out - ideally in the week before we were to play, but life being as it was, I didn't get a chance to fill out mine until the hour-plus commute from our house to theirs, in Evanston.

Surprisingly, even though I was just coming up with ideas and character details as I typed away on my laptop while on the train, I felt I was able to come up with a fairly interesting character sketch pretty quickly. And I was pleased that (once I printed up my sheet) Tasha seemed to think so too. Her questionnaire mentioned that one of the bonus cards she was giving out would be for the one whose character profile she liked the most, and I ended up getting that one.

Anyway, I had enough fun coming up with the character - even if most of the background details went (understandably) unused, like the baby-snatching bit - that I saved the text file on my laptop ever since, planning to one day save a copy in my LiveJournal.

Well, nearly two years later - but here we are. Yes, I can procrastinate with the best of 'em. :P



Background: You are a small-town North Carolina high-school student and a member of your local 4-H Club, which brings together teenagers from all over the local area for “youth development projects” ranging from volunteering at hospitals and retirement homes to engaging in collaborative creative-arts projects to competing in local contests and events. Every year, the 4-H Club assembles a 4-acre “haunted corn maze” at Phillips Farm, a 1,200-acre family farm and orchard in rural North Carolina at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Normally, up to 50 adults and teenagers participate in preparing and designing the maze, but this year, a stomach-flu epidemic has sidelined most of the usual participants, either because they’re sick or because their parents have denied them permission to participate for fear of them getting sick. The 4-H leadership determined that the maze should be cancelled this year, but you were determined to make it happen anyway.

You are part of a group of die-hard Club members who don’t know each other particularly well—your really close friends are among the sick or grounded, or are back in your rural hometowns and aren’t in 4-H at all—but you’re each determined enough to make sure the maze happens this year that you’ve all agreed to camp out on the grounds and work around the clock to construct the admissions booth, the props, the signs, and especially the elaborate tableaux that make up the scary parts of the maze at night. It is three weeks until Halloween, and the maze isn’t ready yet. Since you have three days off school due to parent-teacher conferences and in-service days, you all came out to the farm on Wednesday morning, planning to work on the site together every waking hour you can until Saturday, when the farm has its Fall Festival grand opening.

Everyone will receive an individualized questionnaire with mostly different questions from everyone else. Filling these out promptly will let me consider your character’s personality when designing the game. As an added incentive, anyone who has their questionnaire in by Thursday, October 25, at midnight will get a one-use bonus card for gameplay—essentially, a competitive edge that will be useful in a pinch. Anyone who has their questionnaire in by noon THIS SUNDAY, October 21, will get the first bonus card plus a second, even better competitive edge card. And I will be awarding a third competitive edge card entirely subjectively, to whoever answers their questions best and most thoroughly before game day.

Any questions for me about the setup or situation, let me know, I’ll be happy to answer them. In the meantime, here’s your personalized questionnaire:


1. What’s your name, and how do you feel about that name? What do your friends call you?


Hey there! I'm Mac. Good to meet you. Well, my name's Trevor McCarthy. But nobody calls me that - well, except my dad. And my teachers, obviously. But everybody at school just calls me Mac.

2. What’s your best subject in school, and what do you wish you were good at instead?

I dunno. I guess my best subject is English - I've always enjoyed reading, and have also been pretty good at coming up with stories ever since I was a kid. (Well, writing them. Not nearly as great at making them up on the spot.) I don't know that I've got all that many subjects that I'm poor at and just can't get...? Mostly it's just a matter of whether or not it's something that's interesting, or bores me.

3. Which tableaux in the haunted maze did you dream up? What costumed character are you planning to play when the haunted maze opens?

Well, you know, my tastes don't run in the direction of trying to literally *terrorize* somebody. I guess I'm more along the lines of the classic Universal monster movies - you know, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, stuff like that. I've always enjoyed dressing up as the Dracula character; we'll have some other people be the Mummy, the Wolf Man, etc. Maybe have this tableaux start things off pretty early, before the creepier stuff some of the other people devise?

4. What one behavior of yours do people most often complain about?

I dunno. I guess some of my friends can get a little annoyed that I'm generally pretty "by-the-book". I try to do a good job at everything I do - why half-ass anything, right? - and I try to help others out when I can. I'm not what you'd call particularly religious, but I do think it's right to help other people out when they need it. My family sure went through hell five years ago, and a lot of people spent a lot of time and energy trying to help us. And, y'know, I appreciate that.

5. How did you feel when your parents moved here from a much larger city? Where do you want to live when you grow up?

Well, y'know ... it made me pretty upset and angry at the time. I mean, living in a city was pretty cool. There was always stuff to do! And moving to a backwater place like this just seemed so BORING! But I got used to it, in time, and eventually made friends and everything. But I sure wouldn't mind moving to someplace like New York when I'm older! Or even someplace exotic, like London or Glasgow. But that's pretty unlikely, I think.

6. What are you superstitious about even though you mostly think superstitions are ridiculous?

I don't joke about dying. A lot of people do: "My parents are gonna kill me for this." Or that party game where you guess how you're going to die, and people try to come up with the most ridiculous or convoluted methods, and try to top each other. I can't get into that. At all. I'll say it: The idea of death terrifies me. And yeah, I'm only in high school and I'm terrified of dying. I know how messed up that is. So I just try not to think about it.

7. You are the oldest member of this group. How do you feel about that, and how do you think it changes how the group relates to you?

I'm cool with that. Honestly, I've never really been close to the people in my grade level for some reason. When I was a Freshman, the people I was close to were the Juniors & Seniors - you know, the drama geeks, the goth girl who used to be a cheerleader, the leather-jacket guy who was always smoking and getting into trouble. The outsiders. Which meant, of course, that in the next couple of years I had to deal with my closest friends leaving, and me staying behind. Which sucked. I guess I've always had to deal with loss.

So now, anyway, I'M the Senior, and MY good friends are the Freshmen and Sophomores. And I guess they look up to me and follow my lead, in the same way that I looked up to those upperclassmen when I was a Freshmen. I've got no illusions about "popularity" - I'll never be one of the jocks or whatever - but I've got a place. So if I'm the oldest of the kids to get this maze up & running, that'll be just fine with me!

8. Why do you hate your boss at your afterschool job so much, and why do you keep working there?

He's just kind of a TOOL, man. He's one of those managers who thinks everybody who works under him is an incompetant schlub, and treats us all like children. I HATE that. News flash: I know what I'm doing, and I'm actually pretty good at it - when you're not interrupting me all the time for things that aren't important. Yes, getting the silverware bundled for the next shift is necessary. Pulling me away when I'm with a customer probably isn't the best time to go over it though.

9. Who are you most going to miss this weekend while you’re hanging out in the field, and why?

Um ... No, I think I'm good, actually. I mean, yeah, Mandy & I just started dating a couple of weeks ago, but we haven't even used the words "boyfriend"/"girlfriend" yet. And come on - it's just three days! I THINK I can handle *three days*, y'know? It's not the end of the world or anything.

10. What’s your planned college major, and what jobs will it get you?

Man, I've got NO idea. I mean, obviously I like to write stories. Even won a couple of "young author" awards. But good luck getting steady work from that! I suppose I could try journalism, but the news just bores the crap outta me...

11. You intermittently have nightmares terrifying enough that you wake up yelling. What are they about, and what event in your life do you suspect caused them?

Well, my nightmares revolve around the night my baby brother disappeared. Obviously. It was a Saturday night and he was fine. I even poked my head into the door of his room, which he'd only moved into a few months previously. (Before that, he was still in a crib in my parents' room.) It was storming pretty badly, but I sat on his bed and talked to him until he fell asleep. And the next morning, it was empty. It was a horrifying and traumatic time for all of us, and my mom never really recovered. I just visited her at the hospital last month and she's still not really "there". The doctors say she just suffered a traumatic break with reality. Which, y'know, anyone could understand.

So my dad and I just try to carry on. We don't really talk about it, and I try not to think about it. But not having any clue what happened with something like that is a thing that haunts you. And sometimes I dream. And it's ... not great.

12. What secret skill do you have that you suspect other people would laugh at?

Well, I don't know that you'd call it a "skill" really, 'cause it's not something I can control. Or is, y'know, reliable. But sometimes ... WEIRD stuff ... just happens around me. Coincidences. Small things nobody can explain. And the funny thing is, sometimes, right before this happens...? I'll sneeze. I dunno - it's not all the time, and it's not 100%. But it's something I noticed a long time ago. Which means that if I ever get that itching going on in my nose, I definitely start paying attention - y'know, that whole "heightened awareness" thing. But sometimes it's just a sneeze.

13. What are you most afraid of your parents discovering in your room while you’re away?

I dunno. A couple of girly mags? My dad and I may not talk about our feelings or anything, but we get along pretty well. I don't know if there's anything that I would feel like I CAN'T talk to him about, or would have to hide.


Live Through This And You Won't Look Back.

On Friday night, I got together with Tish for drinks and to catch up. She'd been to WisCon the previous weekend, and I wanted to hear all about it. (Hopefully next year I'll be able to go?)

At one point, I talked about how I've done the 5-mile run a few times now, but it's still hard as hell, and more often than not I'll try to run that in an hour, and just fall off 15 or 20 minutes in. I'm lacking the energy, and I just can't do it. This especially happens when I'm trying to run in the morning, as by nature I'm not a morning person and my body seemingly isn't set up for that - but due to the particulars of my schedule, it's far more conducive for me to work out in the morning than at night. So I've been going online, looking for help and advice on how to have morning energy, how to really wake myself up, and how to hopefully have what I need to be able to make it through the whole 5 miles when attempted, and not fail out. And, knowing how much amazing progress she's made with this sort of thing - and how hideously, massively early she has to get up if she wants to exercise before beginning her work day - I wondered if she had any advice or suggestions too.

And she did, but it wasn't what I expected. She didn't have particular advice on the energy or wakefulness component. Intead, what she said was that when I'm feeling like I have to stop running, and I'm feeling like I'm going to die ... I have to just push through it. That whether she's running 5 miles or 20 - because that's seriously the level she's at - it's always the first 2-3 miles that are the worst. (In serendipitous timing, nothinfinah confirmed the same in a post earlier that same day.)

I thought about it for a second, and had to admit it made sense to me. After all, that feeling of "oh my god I want to die I can't do this"...? It's not actually (entirely) physical. My feet and legs aren't sending me shooting pains. My heart and lungs aren't about to explode. What I'm feeling then is the psychological torment of physical stress. And that means it can be overcome. That means it really is all about willpower.



The next day I went to the gym and proceeded to have the most intense workout of my life. I'd been (surprise!) lifting 100 lbs for a few weeks, and noted as I began that it was starting to seem a bit easier. So I added a third set of 10 reps onto my regimen, and succeeded at nearly all of them! (Being sure to keep the heart rate up between sets, so as to get the full "circuit training" effect.) By the time I was done, I felt exhausted, and wiped, but strong in mind and body.

Then, feeling ambitious ... I decided to try a run. Even though adding a 5 mile run at the end of intense weight training hadn't worked for me before. But I got on the treadmill, gave myself a 5-minute warmup walk, and then ... took off. Letting the pumping music in my ears push me further and farther, giving me an occasional boost forward when needed. I'd selected one of the treadmills at the front, as I often do, and was amused to see through the gym's large full-length windows the many attendees of Mayfest below me gathered and binge-drinking enormous quantities of beer.

And yes, it was hard. Especially after a full workout routine already. Especially at the 15 minute mark. The 25 minute mark. But I kept on pushing forward. I kept on pushing through.



"Live through this, and you won't look back" is a great line from a great song: "Your Ex-Lover is Dead", from the Stars 2004 album Set Yourself On Fire. The lyrics are beautiful and evocative, the music is alternately poignant and thrilling ... and having for the first time sought out the music video, I can confirm that's just as gorgeous too. It's an amazing opening track to an album that impressed all of us at the time with how fantastic it was - and honestly, it's a dizzying peak their subsequent albums never again quite reached.

(I will also always remember the comment a fan shouted as Torquil began to play the song the first time we saw them, at The Empty Bottle: "MELODICAS RULE!" Yes. Yes, they do.)

"Live through this, and you won't look back." It's a sentiment that moved me the first time I heard it, and one I've taken advice from, or strength from, in any number of wildly different situations over the years.

Well, it looks like I've found one more applicable use! And when my feet are pounding those steps, and I don't know if I can do it, if I have it in me ... I'll endeavor to keep that in mind.