Category Archives: Random Blathering

It’s been a hard day

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So…I had to take a hard look at myself today. I’m at the world wide sales kick off for my company, 7000 people from 50 different countries all in one room, and when thousands of sales people get together, you can be sure of two things: there will be drinking, and someone will say something stupid. Today, the stupid person was me.

The kicker is I said something I still believe is true. A few of us were just yammering about some business-y type thing when one guy said how much he appreciated our CEO for writing a company wide memo denouncing The Donald’s immigration executive order. Now, I work at an incredible company, but conservative it ain’t. I know this. I should have kept my mouth clamped tight, but instead I said, “it may not have been the right thing, but at least it was something.” What followed was a not entirely inept commentary about how we need to take care of our citizens and their protection, and not feel obligated to continue to defend the rights of people who hate us. (But I said it WAY more eloquently than that.) Some of you may now want to stop reading, as you imagine what follows is another nationalist “Make America Great Again” screed. Please bear with me a bit longer.

Here’s the thing. The guy I was talking to – unbeknownst to me – is married to an Iranian immigrant. After the Shah fell in 79′ and the Islamic revolution took hold, her family moved here. She was 6 years old. She and the rest of her family gained citizenship, and have helped most of their family move here with the exception of her Uncle – a highly regarded surgeon – because America does not honor his Iranian medical degree. He would have to go back to med school to practice here…after 30 years of experience… so he stayed, but visits his family here often.

Clearly, my friend has a different view of the situation than I, but he let me have my little fit. Only after my foot was all the way down my throat did he provide me the context I just shared above. He didn’t get mad though. He didn’t say I was racist or a Muslim hater or any of the other labels progressives love to bury people with who don’t agree with them. He actually thanked me for sharing with him. Then he told me how the law affects him and his family. How the fear is that his wife may not get to see her uncle again any time soon. That her grandparents fear going to visit him because they might not be let back in the country.

Normally, when I interact with ‘progressives’ (a term I hate) it involves them waxing on about freedom of expression and inclusivity and equality, followed by an expletive laden tirade sprinkled with random excerpts explaining all the ways I am a terrible human being for thinking differently than them. Not so this one…and for the first time in a long time, a genuinely open dialogue with a smart person with a different view  got me thinking…and by thinking, I mean ‘couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop’ thinking.

When did I decide protecting “us” was more important than protecting “them”? When did I start deciding whose life was most important? That unborn strangers ARE worth fighting for, but living strangers are not? That victims of sex trafficking are worth dedicating ones life to help (my wife works for a non-profit that does just that), yet the victims of ethnic purging need to fend for themselves because it happens somewhere else? When did I decide that the value in protecting others and showing compassion lies in the recipiants ability, or even desire, to thank me for it? When did I become this guy? I don’t remember, because all the little decisions seemed so right and rational at the time, but the part of me that gloried in someone finally putting “America First” and “Protecting our borders” is a guy I realize I don’t really like that much.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t agree with…well…basically anything in the progressive agenda. Not because all they want is necessarily bad, but because we have to become fiscally responsible. We have to secure our borders and protect our people. We have to fight terrrorism wherever it hides…I’m not saying any of the thoughts I had were fundamentally wrong. But maybe instead of saying we should be helping veterans (or homeless, or whoever) instead of refugees, we should be working out ways to help both. And maybe marginally sacrificing my own security to dramatically improve someone elses is a sacrifice worth making. Maybe a little less money for me – who has so much – is worth it if it results in getting something to those who have nothing. Maybe the best way to show the love of Christ is to love people where they are, and not just where I want them to be.

I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover, and I believe it’s words are true. Therefore I am confident that I’m told to “love my neighbor as myself”…not “love my neighbor if he looks like me, talks like me, and thinks like me…otherwise, screw that guy.” “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” looks nothing like “do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you”…which I’m pretty sure is a bumper sticker I’ve seen.

To my progressive friends out there…you will win no converts by beating every dissenting voice with your club of tolerance. All you do is destroy the chance to win others to your cause. You pride yourselves on your desire to accept those who think differently, while berating a sizable portion of the population for doing just that. But if you shelve your outrage for a few minutes and engage rather than berate, you might be surprised at how your response improves. I was.

To my conservative friends out there…we are wrong on this one. We are. I get that fear is driving a lot of decisions right now. We are afraid and that is something Americans are NOT used to feeling – and we are sick of it. We are also sick of being told we are racist because we want to feel safe. But as horrible as the twin towers falling was, that was a few hours of one day. Imagine living that type of horror every second of every day. Congratulations, you still have no idea what it’s like to live in Syria. If us feeling slightly less safe allows a whole lot of people to not be raped and murdered…doesn’t that seem like a good trade?

Maybe some terrorists will get in because of our act of compassion. In fact, no matter what we do, some will. Maybe there will be more violence. When that happens, me and my 2nd amendment will stand up to protect both the people who support that right, as well as the people who don’t. Because that is what America IS. We defend the right of free speech for those who use it to tell us to shut up. We defend the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for those who pursue it in ways we may find objectionable.

We are a melting pot people. THE melting pot. That’s what makes America Great. It doesn’t need to be great AGAIN. We just need to remember what made us great in the first place.

Where I write one thing, and you read another…

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Go to a store and buy something. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Whether its a new car or a bag of frozen peas, it will come with a manual. To be certain, the less complicated the item, the shorter the manual; in some cases, it may be a few sentences on the side of the packaging. Pop Tarts come with instructions. Seriously. And the instruction is not “Toast the pop tart, then eat it.” In this world, when we buy something, universally, we expect to be given rules on how to use it. Even if we have no intention of reading them. More importantly, we also expect to be told how not to use it. Individuals and corporations are inundated with lawsuits regarding this concept.

This surprises me. Not that people blame others when they themselves do something stupid – passing blame is what Americans do – rather that in our society we still expect to be given instructions. Haven’t we moved past that as a species by now? I mean, if I buy something, shouldn’t I just do whatever I want with it? Isn’t that what freedom is all about? And, in the process of doing whatever I want, if said purchase breaks, its the manufacturer’s fault…right? Right?

Wait, you are saying no? Huh…

The above section is idiotic. No sane person would agree with it. When someone sits down to make something, they always begin by trying to solve some question. Everything that has ever been made, was made for a reason; to fulfill some purpose. To be fair, not everything ever made fulfills its intended purpose. Sometimes trying to solve one problem leads us to the answer of another, but all discovery comes from the seeking of an answer.

The shirt was invented to cover ones body. There are many different types and styles, but that’s what they all do. If I buy a shirt of 100% cotton, the manual (usually found on the tag) will probably tell me not to put it in the clothes dryer (which has a big manual), or it will shrink. The manual won’t stop me from drying that shirt, if I choose. The manual doesn’t hate me because I like warm shirts or the smell of fabric softener. The manual is simply stating the ramifications of a certain action. Ignoring this instruction has resulted in several of my favorite shirts being reallocated to my wife.

More complicated items have significantly more rules for their operation, and thus thicker manuals. Electronics often tell you the appropriate type of electrical socket and current needed for a device to work properly. Depending on where you live, the device you own may not match up with the outlets available to you. Take a Russian toaster to Mexico and you’ll run into an issue. Does that mean Russians hate Mexicans? Of course not. You may need additional help, usually a converter or adapter, to make it work. If you chose not to use one, you may need a new toaster.

Claw hammers are specifically designed to pound nails through wood. That is their purpose. I have used hammers for a great number of things not involving wood or nails. I’ve opened paint cans with them. I prop doors open with them. Once I hit a freezer with one in frustration because of the strange sound it was making. The sound stopped. Does that mean the hammer’s purpose is now to fix refrigerators? Of course not. Successful misapplication doesn’t change a things nature. ‘Circling the wagons’ may have been better than nothing, but I’m sure the pioneers would have preferred a siege wall.

This may seem like a lot of meaningless talk about manuals. Perhaps it is. You may think I’m alluding to something very different. Perhaps I am. Yet if you look at what I wrote, you’d be hard pressed to disagree with anything there. Its obvious to anyone without an agenda. Things that are made work in certain ways, are intended to work in those ways, and using them outside of those ways can (and likely will) result in either damage to the thing you’re using, or damage to the person using it.

Its not personal.

Its not hateful.

Its not intolerant.

It simply is.

If only that type of logic worked with people.

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View from the Cheap Seats: 71st WorldCon / LoneStarCon 3

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It’s done. Four whirlwind days rife with strange faces made familiar, familiar faces now friendly, and friendly people united in the love of the strange. Everything I hoped, little that I expected; LoneStarCon 3 was exactly what I needed.

WorldCon in San Antonio was my first SF&F convention of any sort, and I stepped in with more than a little trepidation. I had no sidekick, no friends waiting for me with back-slaps and jovial greetings, but a myriad of stereotypical fears of those who spend their hard-earned money and vacation time on such a nerd-gasm. Just me and my backpack, alone in the wilderness. Days previous were spent sifting through the hundreds of panels and events, filtering down to maximize my time and learning. While I am certainly a huge fan of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, my trip was intended to target ways to grow as a writer, as opposed to sheer fandom. I absorbed a vast assortment of helpful nuggets, but the true epiphanies were the realizations that surprised me…

SURPRISE #1: Nerds are just better than normal people

There is no more genuine, welcoming, kind and open group of individuals than those at a convention like WorldCon. The stock broker and gas station attendant stride side by side in their wizarding robes, standing fast against the tide of evil-doers. I watched a young man wait in line for a seat to a panel, then give it up to an elderly women who arrived late. Doors were held, compliments were given, assistance was rendered and smiles abounded. It was nearly utopian…if not for the food prices, it would have been.

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SURPRISE #2: There are a LOT of aspiring writer’s out there

Everywhere I turned, I met people just like me; aspiring writer’s in various stages of their development, of all ages, races, and opinions. In fact I’m not sure I spoke with anyone who WASN’T writing to some degree or other. But they were universally great. Whether talking about their work, sharing ideas, or occasionally gushing over favorites, as far as the eye could see were huddled masses of recent strangers turned compatriots.

In addition, I met many published writer’s – highly regarded by the industry – who I had never heard of. Apparently, writing a great book isn’t the only factor involved here folks. Many great books were being given away free to help introduce fans to writer’s they’d missed…and there were a lot of them…

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SURPRISE #2: Writer’s are People…like, regular People

Over the four days, I had extended conversations with many amazingly talented people. Saladin Ahmed (nominated for the Hugo and Campbell) and I chatted over coffee for a half an hour about life, writing, and things we find both great and annoying about Michigan (I grew up there). He was a joy to speak with, candid and open as an old friend reunited. It was the same with Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, Kevin Hearne, Genesa Davis, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu and more. At times, it seemed they felt as awkward as I with the sudden influx of attention.

I spent a several hours in the company of Steve Diamond (Hugo nominee for best fanzine) who to a degree took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of correct con behavior. I was both amused and slightly terrified by Justin Landon’s exuberance (Staffer’s Book Review). I shared a drink and several stories with toastmaster Paul Cornell, who chatted with me like he was just a regular fan for nearly 15 minutes before I realized he…well…that he was kind of a big deal (I have some Dr. Who episodes to catch up on now). I think I also somehow annoyed Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary & Writing Excuses fame, though I honestly can’t tell you how.

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Through it all, one thing was constant: writer’s are just people whose names I know. They like to laugh. They like to argue. They (speaking of Wendig, Sykes and Hearne in particular) like to drink…occasionally (Sykes) to excess.

SURPRISE #4: I am not as weird as I imagined.

As I’ve written before, I have no support group. My nerd-ness lacks the protective buffer of like-minded individuals in daily life, and its easy to feel alone in some ways. But at WorldCon, everyone I met – to one degree or other – had a common love I could share in. People could be themselves, without fear of outside opinion…though to be fair, some of the cosplayer’s should have had at least one person tell them what they should and should not attempt to pull off.

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SURPRISE #5: I am not as good as I hoped, nor as bad as I expected.

WorldCon was my first ‘real’ writing workshop; professional people telling me their real thoughts without concern for my feelings. I walked in expecting the worst, and was moderately, though pleasantly, surprised. While my piece certainly had its fair share of issues, the general positives (in some cases very positive) outweighed the problems, and I walked away feeling like I may have hope after all. It was surreal to have Fran Wilde and Jack McDevitt (winners of multiple prestigious awards along with publishing a myriad books) tell me I had real writing chops, admittedly in need of smoothing and fine tuning. I may have to add them to the acknowledgements, if I ever get that far.

WorldCon was all that I hoped, and a bit more. As my backpack and I left the convention center, I was bid farewell by both new friends and new goals. Writer’s are just people whose names I know. Now a few know mine. Time to give them reason to remember…

I need a shot…

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As I sit here typing, there are 3 days left in the month and I am at 55% to my sales objective. To non-sales folks, that may seem insignificant. But for those who know, and who live in the fickle cryosphere of professional sales – where organizations fire tenured employees on first infractions, or as part of ‘consolidation’ moves – it’s terrifying. The inability to pay ones mortgage is, of course, a factor as well. Suffice it to say, my internal pressure gauge is buried red, and the only thing shorter than my time is my fuse.

There is a 22 year-old idiot who lives inside my head, despite being due a decade of rent, who occasionally offers such sage advice as “I think GI Joe: Retaliation could be good!” He views any and all problems to be best solved after innumerable fingers of something Irish, or perhaps Kentuckian. He has Mssrs Morgan, Beam, Daniels, Cuervo and Walker on speed dial. The douchebag even plays golf with the most interesting man in the world. Regardless, he’s been talking to me a lot lately. He has a 19 year old clinically depressed coffee addict roommate who politely suggests long winded and detailed self hate as the only appropriate course of action. “You are an utter failure”, he bellows while writing bad poetry, chain smoking Newports. “Your family is about to be destitute, and its all your fault”. Of course, he’s so hopped up on espresso it’s hard to understand the nuance of his prose through the stutter. He may just be giving me diet tips.

Their 35 year old landlord ostensibly ignores such commentary, but at times it’s difficult. He finds himself asking dangerous questions without answers, and looking at the content of top shelves. On these occasions, I find divine intervention often rears and delivers a swift kick in the stones. This is the setting where our hero finds himself, staring at a computer screen, trying to make two plus blue equal strawberry, when his son steps to his side and asks, “Can tonight be a cuddle night?”

Now, this is not an uncommon request. The boy has a predilection toward bad dreams, and thinks falling asleep beside mom or dad keeps them away. We oblige him, knowing times will soon change, and our presence no longer welcome. Bedtime comes, and inevitably the first words from his six year-old lips are these. Yet tonight, it reminded me what he wants. What he REALLY wants. His bedroom is three times the biggest room I ever had growing up…and I lived. He has more toys NOW than I likely ever owned in my entire lifetime. He is healthy, clothed, and loved. He has no concept of real hunger. Of real need. What he sees as the real need at this moment is me, keeping his dreams safe as he passes into sleep.

Numbers hold no emotion. They are cold and constant. Victory could be wrenched from the jaws of defeat over the next 72 hours, and miracles happen. It wouldn’t be the first time. But the stress pressing down on my spirit has noticeably lessened, thanks to a bedtime request.

I watched my son tonight in that narrow bed, surrounded by half built Lego assault vehicles and action figures, his blue-grey eyes gradually falling before the tide of exhaustion, and knew my blessing. The idiot who squats in my brain thought I could use a shot or 12. It turns out I only needed one, in the form of perspective. Its last call. Be sure to tip well…your server lives off them.

Things I don’t understand: tabloids

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I don’t understand why so many people find satisfaction in the failure of others. Why the public tracks the behavior and lifestyle of those they either admire or despise, and gain a strange satisfaction when we uncover they – like us – are human, and screw up, is beyond me.

I know it comes bundled with fame and fortune, but I don’t know why it should. If someone is a great actor, and gets paid millions to do it, why do we therefore have a right to photograph them on vacation changing their kids diapers? Great doctors can make millions and we don’t give a rip about them (until we get sick). Great business people do as well, so it isn’t the money.

Why do people care who is dating whom? Why do we care what club bathroom  is adorned by whose vomit? Relationship squabbles? Substance problems? WHY DO YOU CARE! Can’t you simply enjoy someone’s work without the need to prove they are no better than you? Do you do that with your dentist? You give her WAY more of your hard-earned money than the actress.

The flaws of the famous are not issues unique to those in limelight, but we treat them so. When your brother goes to rehab for the eighth time, its an annoyance. When a former teen idol does, its headline news. I find it incredibly annoying.

People are just people. If someone does something you enjoy, thank them for it. They helped remove your judgmental and incredibly disagreeable personality for a while. Don’t look for ways to make them small so you can get it back.

In short: stop destroying things. Stop living vicariously through others, then get happy/mad when they do the SAME STUPID S#@* YOU DO. Live your life. Let them live theirs.

 

“Things I don’t understand” doesn’t give answers, its frankly just a rant.

My Hugo quandary

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The World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention this year is in San Antonio, TX…practically my backyard…so for the first time I have the privilege of enjoying this yearly gathering of the best and brightest. There are certainly a myriad of things I’m excited about, but one of the coolest is that with a pass I gain voting rights for the Hugo, awarded to the genre’s finest offerings of 2013, along with a copy of every single nominated work. How I was unaware of this little bonus prior I don’t know.

That awesome tidbit (that you should totally take advantage of) is not the purpose of the post however. You see, I’m the type that takes voting fairly seriously. Running for 8th grade student council secretary? I want to know your platform. I don’t find this odd, though you may. If I’m going to help select a winner for anything, I feel obligated to know what I’m talking about. Therefore, I have been pouring through a stack of writing for the past several weeks. Short stories and novelettes are generally easy to manage, and lucky me I had already read several of the novella entries. Novels take time, but they are the best of the year, so should be well worth it, for no other reason than to learn from that which is judged excellent by my (hopefully) soon to be peers.

My issue lies in my responsibility as a voter. One of the great strengths of the genre is its’ amazing diversity, but it’s also one of the challenges when it comes to quantifying greatness. Do I judge based on creativity? Use of language? Simple entertainment value? What if its just not my thing? Does that make the work less deserving? It’s frustrating to explain. Put simply, some of the entries I absolutely hate. What now?

Hate is not a word I use often, but it is appropriate in this context. I’m a fast reader, tearing though an average novel in a handful of hours, yet there were some entries it took me 2 weeks to finish. Not for bad prose, or poor plotting, but from sheer disgust. So how do I rate a well written, clever and creative piece that made me want to gouge out my eyes rather than read another word? See my challenge?

Yet if we only rate things on how much we like it, we miss out as well. I don’t enjoy Jane Eyre, but I can appreciate her brilliance. I don’t read Horror often, but I can tell good from bad. If my Hugo vote is based on how much I enjoyed a book, my answer is an easy one. If my vote is based on clarity and sharpness of prose, that’s easy too, but not always the same answer. If my vote is based on most unique and creative, another answer still.

This may seem a small thing, but winning the award is a big deal to the authors, especially when it comes time to renegotiate their next deal. Maybe I’m making too much of this. In fact, I know I am, but it comes down to the responsibility of citizens. This year, I’m a citizen of WorldCon. Is it my job to vote based on what I like best, or what’s best for the genre? If giving an award to someone who breaks boundaries and opens eyes causes other new writers to see that being different can work, then maybe the fact I personally dislike it is irrelevant. Mabye. I’m not sure.

What I am sure of is this internal turmoil is one of the reasons I love this genre. Nobody is torn in this way by the next crime novel or legal thriller. If the story carried, that’s good enough. In science fiction and fantasy, you have to make the reader choose to live in your world, at least for a time, and when you do, you win a whole lot more than a trophy. So thank you all the writers who work in our strange corner of fiction. Thanks for not settling for what has come before…even if what comes next isn’t my thing. Now I just need to figure out how to let Scalzi down easy…

Coming out Geek

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Labels are strange things. While sometimes we place them on ourselves, just as often they’re placed on us unwittingly by others. You don’t have to let them do it; you don’t have to accept their tags. But you usually do, because even if the label is wrong, it’s still descriptive, and lets you know who you are, and who you’re not.

The problem is, when we choose to live with the wrong label so long we forget it’s the wrong label, we end up totally bent. See, you learn early on cool is important. Cool means no beatings, or if you do get some, its with large people there to back you up. Not cool is bad, in some places very bad, and pain is not cool. So when the kid you always liked to talk Star Wars with in elementary school gets dropped in a dumpster, you keep your head down, because dumpsters are not cool. And now there is a gap.

Then you play basketball, because cool kids play sports, and when basketball is over you do what basketball players do…generally act like idiots and rip off tear-away pants in front of girls…rather than play Magic: the Gathering with people you actually have common interest with. Magic, I hear, is pretty cool. I don’t know, as I’ve never played, because it’s not cool, and the distinction is important. And the gap widens.

Then you go to college and major in important things that will get you a good job and high paying career, instead of taking the creative writing and drama classes you’d like to, because what kind of money can you make doing that? (caveat: if what your geek self wanted to take was computer science, you are golden, alas that wasn’t me) You go to parties with cool shallow idiots and do cool shallow idiotic things with them to impress other shallow idiotic people you don’t even like. The other guys have parties too, but they usually consist of talking about ideas and dreams and the future and other things that aren’t cool. Beer is cool. Keg stands are cool. Ideas? Not cool.

Then you graduate, and you are now an adult. Adults MUST be cool. Cool hair, cool clothes, cool car, cool job. If you can wear sneakers to it, it’s not a real job, at least according to the cool book. (This is less true in 2013, but that’s because of something I’ll discuss later.) So you find a job where you can wear a tie, sit at your desk and be adult. You make adult phone calls. You sit through adult meetings. You work adult hours. And every minute you are looking at how to be first, get promoted, get a new office, get a better title and never once do you stop and wonder why you hate every second of it.

The answer is simple. You aren’t cool. You are a geek in repression.

Certain things take top billing in our society. In some circles it seems almost a trend to be counter-cultural, even if your not. The cool thing being the uncool thing makes my head hurt. I know a guy who swears he’s bisexual, even though he doesn’t find men attractive, and never has. He has a VERY large support group. I have no support group.

Being a recovering alcoholic or drug addict is cool, if you are white and famous. You can get away with ANYTHING and just say it was a relapse. If you are anything but white and famous, it’s not cool, which seems like total bull to me. It makes me almost want to go to rehab so I can have an excuse. But I’m not famous, so it wouldn’t work. There is no rehab for Mass Effect withdrawal.

What do you do when the deep dark pit of your soul holds the one thing all cool/adult/important people most strongly attempt to deny? What do you do when your dark secret place holds such sick and twisted fantasies you are ashamed to reveal them, even to yourself?

I suppose you try to carjack one of those 12 step programs, so here goes:

Step 1 – admit our addiction, and that it has become unmanageable.

  • I want to be a Barbarian in a table top RPG. I want to roll dice and know what all those pips and symbols mean. But I’ve never played one, or known anyone who would admit to such a past time. Or maybe I have, but coward that I am, I’ve never asked.
  • I want to stay up until 3 am making Monty Python jokes while drinking Red Bull and playing Settlers of Catan. But I don’t. I go out with professional people and have important conversations about important professional things, then watch Will Wheaton do it on Geek & Sundry in the bathroom with the door closed on my iPhone.
  • I want to go to Comic Con and squee, just a little, and without guilt, when I see Patrick Rothfuss and his legendary beard.
  • I want to dress up like  Star Wars cannon fodder and laugh when Princess Leia asks me, “aren’t you a little fat to be a storm trooper?”

But I don’t do any of these things, so I suppose I’ve already crashed the 12 step car. I can’t even recover correctly.

I’ve spent 20 years with the wrong label, and picked up many cool habits that aren’t cool. They are hard to break. Worse, they label me as a class traitor. There is a big market for cool people pretending to be geeks, and even though geeks have a lifetime of experience and should know better, they fall for it. When the uber-hot girl on Youtube dresses up like Hello Kitty and plays Call of Duty via webcam, its not for the love of the game. I’m sure their are true geek beauties out there, but come on guys, if you can GM your D&D gaming group, then you’re smart enough to see that marketing strategy a mile away. Comic Con used to be for geeks, now its for corporations trying to get a piece of the geeks, because in 2013, the geeks have the cash.

Yes, that’s right. Comic Con didn’t get cool because the world realized geek was good. It got cool because of all the 15 year old socially awkward programmers who turned their personal shame into multi-billion dollar industries. The geeks are the ones with the bank now, and so we have a fleet of slave girl Leia’s and Lara Croft’s who look good in their metal and spandex. 15 years ago…not so much.

Outside of the mainstream geek culture (I can’t believe I just wrote that), there is  a geek counter culture, but its very tight knit, as you’d expect. They tear their hair at the blasphemous reinterpretation of their beloved comics. They bemoan the rise of the vlogs full of gaming advice from good-looking people who don’t even play the games they are touting. They stop going to E3, because it’s too expensive, and they know whats going to come out weeks in advance from all the leaks. And they are VERY, VERY exclusive. They assume outsiders are there to mock and ridicule, because…well…they usually are. I’ve walked into the comic shop by my house several times, and each time I’ve felt like every eye was on me. Conversations die when they see the tie.

So I’m out. I will no longer deny the way God made me. I’m a geek…but a lonely one.

So I read books and have nobody to discuss them with. I play RPG’s, but never on multi-player. I watch awesome videos that I never share. I got excited when I realized Felicia Day and I had the same birthday, but told no one. When I inevitably reach an unbearable point of social isolation, and can no longer stand it, I suppose I’ll have a super bowl party. I’ll invite all the guys from my basketball league. There will be beer. That usually works.

Because I’m too cool to be a geek, and too geek to ever feel cool.

The Switch

Today, I got the call. The call every parent fears: “Meet me at the hospital.” We live busy lives and get bogged in the mire of our busyness. It’s nobody’s fault, the little kicks life gives you pile up until the fact there are no paper towels in the bathroom becomes a big deal.

And then you get the call, and suddenly you go all binary. Is he in serious danger (yes/no)? Do I need to get to you (yes/no)? Do we have someone who can watch our girls (yes/no)? Is he in serious pain (yes/no)? Can I get there fast (yes/no)? Is that fast enough (yes/no)? Is there someone I need to kill for this (yes/no)? Do I have enough ammunition (yes/no)? It goes on.

I call this mindset ‘the switch’. Pro athletes and military veterans talk about being ‘in the zone’ where everything gets quiet, and you are able to do things you never thought possible. The world goes in slow motion and you can truly see and think, as opposed to just react. The switch is not like that.

I had a train set as a kid. My dad and I had a blast driving around the engine, loading and unloading the cars, and flipping the levers to move the train smoothly from one track to another. It’s not like that either.

The switch is the antithesis of the zone. When you flip the switch, suddenly everything is moving at triple speed and you are standing knee deep in mud. The world blurs. You can’t think about anything except your boy going to the hospital, and you needing to be there.

The switch isn’t like going from one track to another, calmly rerouting and moving forward. Its jumping the train right off the rails and plowing straight at a nitroglycerin plant.

Suddenly, the client wailing isn’t the worst part of your day. It’s the wails of your 6 year old when the doctor tries to straighten his mangled arm.

Suddenly, the pain in your gut from losing that account is nothing compared to the pain in your gut as you are politely asked to leave, so the nurse can make sure you didn’t cause his screams of pain.

Suddenly, the stack of unpaid bills no longer weighs down your heart, but you are curious as to how many stuffed animals you can load on his bed without them falling off.

Suddenly, the “guys night” your wife has begged you to forgo ad nauseum is forgotten so you can kneel by his side until he falls asleep.

The switch is a sudden and dramatic reallocation of priorites, followed by a near super-human ability to focus on a single objective. Binary. 1 or zero. Yes or No. If you make my boy cry, I will end you, mercilessly, without hesitation, thought, or remorse. Do not stand in my way. If you make my boy well, I will give you my kidneys. Both of them. I don’t care. Each tear is a bullet. Each smile a salve.

I don’t know if as a single 20-something I would have understood the switch. Back then, I was the most important thing in my world, to my great detriment. Your switch can’t flip unless there is someone in your world whose well-being you hold in significantly higher regard than your own. There is less of that in this world than you imagine. The rush it fills you with is the most gut-wrenching narcotic you could ever be exposed to. It’s high is skin crawling nausia.

My son was playing video games with his sisters today on the Wii. Upon his dramatic victory, he performed an obligatory victory dance where he spun wildly in circles. So wildly that he cracked his arm on the furniture and broke his ulna. That information I learned later. It wasn’t a part of the call.

In that context, its a rather funny story. He was in pain for several hours, that part wasn’t fun. But 5 minutes after the splint was set, I was able to get a laugh out of him. By the time we got to the car, he was jockying for a happy meal. Now he’s excited about picking out his cast color. Yet for about 2 hours today, I was running through a mine field, my boy in my arms, as he cried to make the hurt stop. Making that happen was the only thing that mattered. My boy smiling again was all that mattered. Binary. 1 and zero. Yes or No.

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It’s unfortunate that it took a broken arm to remind me of that. The clients are going to complain. The bills are going to pile up. Life is going to get heavy. We’ll find our nerves, our patience, and our attitude all on edge. When it happens, and its going to happen sooner than you expect, remember the switch. Everything will hit the fan, and things will get blurry while becoming a lot clearer; the switch is in that place. That place in between where you find the ‘other’ kind of love you didn’t know you had, the kind that doesn’t sell movies or make tabloid headlines. The greeks called it agape, the love unconditional; free and undeserved. We give it without expectation for its return. It’s a gift that can only be recieved.

Don’t let the switch be the only catalyst that activates your unconditional love.

Love your kids when they drive you nuts. Love your spouse when they can’t stand to look at you. Love you mom when she makes you feel small. Love you Dad even if he breaks another promise. Love your sister when she makes you look bad. Love your brother, because nobody else will.

Love them when they let you down. Love them when they don’t love you. In fact, love them when they hate you, then in particular. Love them in their faults. Love them BECAUSE of their faults. Love them for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Love them as they curse your loving them. Love them while they are here, because you never know when they won’t be. Love them from the center to the edges, and everywhere between.

Love them, because you CAN.

I sat at my sons bedside tonight, and remembered I was supposed to teach him to throw a baseball. In particular, how to do so in the manly way us neanderthals aspire to. We’d talked about it, he’d asked more than once, but I was always busy with something that, in the moment, seemed more important. “We’ll do it next weekend,” was the answer.

As I gazed at his arm, splinted and broken, I thought, “What could possibly have been more important than being with my boy?”

I don’t have a good answer.

“Where I successfully offend everyone” OR “Why Newton’s Law is unfair and therefore can be ignored” OR “Why you have never had a compassionate thought”

Long ago when alarms where more of guidelines than rules and the rising cost of my health insurance never crossed my mind, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Religion. It made for interesting discussion groups and a deep appreciation for the strongly held beliefs that prompt both groups to see the other like Grover Dill from “A Christmas Story”… the stupid thug who attacks unprovoked and without cause. In the end Ralphie crushed Grover in a profanity laced fury, shattering his fragile persona and ending his hold over the neighborhood. I can understand the pull of doing that.

Recently, I stumbled upon David McRaney’s fantastically insightful blog youarenotsosmart.com . In digging the archives, I found an article about the illusion of Asymmetric Insight and how, while most people think that they respect the point of view of others, in practice we almost unilaterally do the exact opposite. In nearly every situation, from reading the news to talking to a friend or co-worker, you spend significantly more time considering information you disagree with than  information you accept.

“Great”, you say, “Insightful even.” “What does this have to do with physics and a persons political leaning”, you ask. Or maybe you’ve already stopped reading and moved on to TMZ, in which case the rest of this would be beyond you anyway (Zing!).

My point is, that because people generally spend less time thinking of their own views and more coming up with ways of proving wrong those who disagree, that liberal thinkers no longer believe in physics and conservatives are unsympathetic jerks.

A bit of a jump? Yeah, probably, but follow me here. Anyone who has taken high school physics should know Newton’s Laws of motion. There are 3, and while all make for great conversations over foie grae at your next Mensa dinner party, the third is the one I am referencing:

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction

The Third Law means that all forces are interactions between different bodies,and thus that there is no such thing as a unidirectional force or a force that acts on only one body. Whenever a first body exerts a force F on a second body, the second body exerts a force −F on the first body. F and −F are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

Put very simply: a force acts between a pair of objects, and not on a single object. So each and every force has two ends.

“Great”, you say. “Thanks for reminding me of Junior year when what’s her name sat next to me and made it impossible to pay attention”, you say. “Your welcome”, I say…but I’m not done. No matter your political persuasion, it is my opinion (highly educated, insightful, well backed by statistics, but opinion nonetheless) that most people don’t understand the true reason behind why they lean one way over the other. I am about to drop some transcendental insight on you so get your pens ready.

Are you ready?

Every political, social, religious, military, and economic opinion you hold is based on your answer to this question:

Should every action result in the reciprocal consequence ?

Think I’m wrong? Look at your most deeply held beliefs. Abortion. The War on Terror. Welfare. Sin. Taxes. Fundamentally, your answer to the above question is a fairly accurate bellweather to your feelings on all these issues.

Biologically, sex results in pregnancy. It’s SUPPOSED to. You shouldn’t be surprised. But if you aren’t ‘ready’, for a baby, but really like sex, should you have to deal with the consequence and have the ‘unwanted’ baby? Aren’t you saving it a miserable life by ending it?

People are trying to kill me. They hate me and everything I stand for. Should I react to defend myself or try to make myself less antagonizing to them?

Certain aspects of my nature is looked at as negative by my culture. Should I change myself to match the societies norms or should the society accept my ‘rebellion’ as a natural progression?

In every culture in history, there have been have’s and have nots. Is it better to try to spread everything around to make things even regardless of actions, or allow some to suffer through no fault of their own?

I worked hard and made more money than you. Since I have more resources, I automatically PAY more than you, but should I carry more of the load percentage wise as well since I have greater resources?

Your answers to all these questions, as well as your opinion on how I WORDED the questions all come back to the ultimate question. In my observation, people who lean liberal feel you should not have to ‘pay’ for everything you do. Those of conservative leaning think you should pay for everything, with extreme prejudice, sometimes even for something you DIDN’T do.

Most poor children are not poor by choice. They didn’t CHOOSE for their parents to drop out of school, use drugs, have a one night stand, or even to simply be born less capable than others resulting in fewer opportunities. Yet the CONSEQUENCE of not graduating top of your class, going to a great college and getting a high paying job is that you are poor. Why should I have to pay for you?

Men and women in service to our country have died in places they had never heard of fighting an adversary they rarely see. While September 11th unified us for a time, we haven’t seen any attacks like that since then, so why are our soldiers still fighting and dying? Is it because there is no more enemy, or simply those soldiers deaths have resulted in the saving of my hundreds over in attacks they’ve stopped in advance?

I’m not here to give you the answer. I just humbly request that you occasionally stop and think about WHY you so adamantly oppose…whoever you oppose. Why do I spend my time coming up with ways to prove they are wrong? And, of course, do I believe Newtons laws define how things should be, or simply how things are?

Just because something is unfair, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.