Be a Part of a Secret History

Had a thought that just occurred to me.

Do you remember in History class, or Social Studies, or whatever it was called where you went, and in the lessons you might be told, “People of this time thought ‘X’,” or “Members of this culture believed ‘Y’,” right?

I took a college course called ‘History of God,’ as well as a number of other religious studies curriculum, and one thing I will love my professor for forever was a distinction he drew: no matter what time period or culture you’re talking about, it’s not 100% true of all its members. Which is to say, it’s inaccurate to assume ALL people of a given time, given movement, or given culture can be attributed a given attitude or belief.

Many of us are familiar with the popular myths of the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Norse cultures, so on and so forth, but you can’t declare that those beliefs were held by all members of that time. Did many believe a stroke or seizure was a person being struck by an arrow of Apollo? Maybe, but were also many who heard that and thought, “Eh, I doubt that?” Yeah, totally. Were there Norse folk who thought the clouds in the sky were the brains of a frost giant? On record, yes. But might there have been those who saw the rain and quietly disputed that explanation? Of course.

Now, this is going to be a rough segue, but bear with me.

Was there a massive outcry following the finale of Game of Thrones, calling it garbage, full of ‘bad writing,’ and character abandonment? Yes. Are there also millions of us who acknowledge some of its flaws, enjoyed it massively regardless, and hold a lot of the outcry to be a bandwagon bit o’ bitching but just didn’t feel like shouting about that. Yes, God, and please remember that.

Was ‘The Last of Us’ a fantastic video game experience, whose sequel has fallen under fire with an enormous amount of controversy and outrage? Yes. Are there those of us who recognize the work, skill, creativity, and direction that went into it and are wondering why there’s so much hate? You bet your butt.

The sad thing is that the outrage is the louder voice, and so will be the one that’s heard and remembered. But, there’s an opportunity in that.

Imagining the future, where the archeologists and historians of tomorrow will look back on the records of today, they’ll see and know the hordes of angry fans, they’ll hear the desperate braying of upset followers, and recognize those things as the attitudes of the time…

But the astute among them will know there was another side of that time. A secret society of those of us who knew the true worth of those creations, whose job was to quietly safeguard the integrity of those arts, to hold them and keep them through the turmoil and the chaos until a time when they no longer need hide; and that they may fall into the hands of truly worthy, respectful recipients.

I literally stood by a window looking out at the sky while rehearsing that block. It brought me peace, breath, and probably an undue sense of importance; and I hope it can bring you the same.

Go in peace, brothers and sisters.

This is the way.

The Beautiful Mind of a Composer

I went back through my history of posts on here to see whether or not I’d covered this thought before, and couldn’t find it leaping out at me; but even if I had, it’s worth another visit.

I don’t often get jealous. Or mad, really. There’s a whole range of emotions, and while, like, duh, I’ve experienced both, they just come up very rarely. Don’t get me wrong, I consider it a good thing, but it means that when it happens, it’s usually a bit more serious.

The jealousy I’m about to speak on runs kind of deep, and I only found out I had it a few months ago. If I may, I’d like to start at the beginning, about a year ago (and no, don’t let that frighten you, I’ll keep it brief).

I was helping a friend move, and while her boyfriend at the time and I took a truck load of furniture to the new house, he asked me what I do. I mentioned at the time that I’d just left my job and was trying to find my way as a freelance writer and fiction author. He gave a polite gasp of awe, said how cool that was, and how tough it can be to be a writer (preach, my brother); and remarked how he could never write stories.

What I’m about to tell you – you, right there – I know to be truth. It’s an undeniable part of the fabric of being that I feel in my bones that anyone and everyone has the capacity to be a storyteller, without exception. We are ourselves, each a living, breathing tale in the making; so how could it be anything but natural when the art form is a part of our being?
Do I appreciate his reverence for the craft? Absolutely. Does it take patience, perseverance, will, and a vulnerable, heartbreaking openness and respect to do properly? I believe so, yeah. And is it a practice that’s ever finished? No, I don’t think so.
But no matter the case, his reaction – while flattering – stuck with me beyond the compliment.

Skip ahead a number of months to my friend Micah’s graduation party. He’s graduated with a degree in (sorry Micah, I’m about to butcher the facts by guessing here) music theory with the intent to teach (which is confidently true, because he teaches now). The point being, he was a music student. Consider it as owing to my own conical viewpoint, but I asked him if he’d had any interest in composing his own music, and his answer surprised the crap out of me: he said “no.”

Let’s put a pin in that really quick.

If you’re nice to yourself and enjoy the good things in life, you’ve probably seen Ratatouille, the movie about a talking rat that wants to be a chef; if not, well…that’s…that’s what it’s about. It’s great. And in it, there’s a scene where the main character Remy is trying to teach his brother, another rat that scarfs garbage, an appreciation for flavors and the art of cooking.
He has him try a bit of strawberry, and a bit of cheese, then a bit of each together, all with his eyes closed and coaching him on how to savor it and ruminate on the experience. It’s visually represented with a black background and ribbons of color drawing themselves in the air as the different flavors are experienced. It’s well done.
(It’s also a good time to note here that, since seeing the movie, any time in the past twelve years I’ve eaten an exceptionally good meal, I do the same thing.)

By every fiber of the word, I’m an amateur writer. I’ve been blessed with a few paid successes here and there that I appreciate deeply, but it’s rooted in a love for story crafting. There are few pleasures above being brought a fantasy from the ether, honing the ability to capture that experience in words, and give it to someone else. A confession: that’s not really what gets done on here. This is fun, a routine-keeping tool (that I sometimes fail miserably at), and a place to vent, speculate, experiment with thoughts, and do exercises.
Most of the time, the root of a story comes from a thought, a real-world parallel, an ideal, a what-if, or…
…a piece of music.

A musical number will start, and like those ribbons of light in Remy’s brother’s head, a scene can start. It’s murky, like it’s being seen and heard, absent of context, through a window thick with frost. Then as you think on it, let it grow, allow the theater of mind to work, the ice thaws and it gets clearer and clearer, more and more refined, until you have a tale to share.

<removes earlier pin>

I have no idea at all, but I have tried so hard so many times to imagine the mind of a composer when an idea takes root. To put myself in that black space, floating in the void as the sounds come into being, layering on top of one another, an orchestra working in harmony. Imagining how they grow and morph, becoming the pieces of clockwork that produce flavor and emotion and memory and resonance, then to have the sense of responsibility settle on you that charges you with capturing it so it can be shared is all a process so beautiful tears well up thinking on it.

But I can’t.

My imagination in that regard begins and ends with that silent, empty blackness. No sounds bleed into being, no ribbons draw themselves in the air to inspire and awe.

And that shit is…just…heartbreaking, I find.

When Micah answered “no,” my immediate reaction (besides bewilderment) took it almost as a slap in the face of an art that I didn’t even share in; which might be weird, I admit now. Later, I asked my buddy Peter (a bassist and songwriter) what he thought of Micah’s answer, and he was nonplussed. Paraphrasing:

“Yeah, no surprise. Just because he has a masters in music doesn’t mean he knows how to compose, or likes doing it. Like, having a degree in philosophy doesn’t make you a philosopher. Knowing old philosophy doesn’t mean you’ll produce new ones, or that you’d want to.”

I took his word for it, and over time it’s come to make sense. Just because we watch movies, doesn’t mean we all want to be filmmakers, or if we enjoy murals downtown, doesn’t mean we necessarily want to take up painting.

So, I don’t know why this feels so different to me, but damn it does. You know that old, “If you could pick one superpower, what would it be and why?” Like, obviously telekinesis or teleportation is high on the list, but being tuned into whatever frequency lets you hear and craft orchestral pieces is a contender.

For now, I content myself with a vicarious imagination. Letting the ribbons draw themselves and dance while listening to the music that came to someone else. And really, it’s not too different from other arts. There isn’t anything to separate it from the eye of a photographer that sees the beauty in a captured moment, or the bones of a dancer that know the feel of a performance.

We’re all antennae for the arts, and that’s pretty cool.

Your Relation to the Infinite

I had a thought the other day that I’d like to share with you.
Yes. You. And the person to your right.
There isn’t anybody to your right? You wanna bet?
What about the guy behind you- BOO!

Okay, that got stupid.

But for real, I woke up the other morning and my first conscious thought was thus: “Hmm…I wonder how far it is, like, what’s the distance in vertical miles to outer space?”

I asked Amanda to look it up, and the answer is “roughly sixty-two miles” (62). I did a little bit more googling, and it turns out there’s a measurement called the Karman Line, which is the boundary from Earth’s sea level directly up 100 kilometers, where the planet’s boundary ends and suborbital space begins.

Ah…fascinating.

Then I had another thought.

I live in California, right? So I looked up the distance from me to Sacramento, the state’s capital. You know how far I am from the state’s capital of Sacramento, a place I’ve driven to and driven through plenty of times? About sixty-six miles (66).

What about Fresno?

Two hundred thirty-four miles (234).

Oh…my…God. Sacramento is further away than…hell, I’m FOUR TIMES closer to the dark, cold, IMPOSSIBLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE, INFINITE expanse of OUTER SPACE than Fresno, California.

Anyway, that realization about fits with 2020 so far. And it is my gift to you. Enjoy.

A Softball [Deductive] Pitch

I want to note that the tittle here is a little deceiving. Most of us probably recognize “a softball pitch” to be a phrase that roughly translates to “an easy problem to solve,” or “a simple obstacle to overcome.” Out of journalistic integrity (LOL), I looked up a few compilations of professional softball pitches

What. The. F*ck?

That is such a criminally misused phrase, dude. Softball pitches ain’t only fast, but they’re kind of scary scary as sh*t.

So, while I move forward with this, let’s recognize that I’m using the expression “a softball pitch” in its classic meaning, but have since fully recognized the power in their real-world applications, cool?

This brief little story is about…
<dons a deerstalker cap>
…the power of deduction.

None of us should be strangers to giving, and I bet we all have had a least a few encounters sparing our change or extra dollars to needy folks we’ve encountered on the street. I do it both out of common human decency, and secretively as a little offering to the leylines of karma that I should never find myself in the same misfortune. Any one of us is only ever a few mistakes or unfortunate circumstances from being in the same position, and it’s good to bow our heads to that reality from time to time.

Now, that being the case, I think a few of us have also had encounters where those asking haven’t been…well, as needy as they let on, right? Which, let’s say up at the top, that that’s kind of a sh*tty thing to do, faking it, because you take away from and potentially spoil the perception of others who truly could benefit from others’ generosity.

Thankfully, the shysters in question this time were just in generous as to the clues they gave that they were up to no good.

My girlfriend Amanda and I had pulled up to a red light, and on the center divide between lanes stood a couple of folks holding signs. Amanda at times keeps a bag of loose bills cobbled together from the bills gotten by going to CoinMasters with spare change for just such occasions. So we see the couple and she asks for the bag.

I reach in the back, retrieve it, but as I’m opening it to retrieve bills, my Sherlock Sense starts tingling. There’s something about the way they’re speaking to each other (the window is still rolled up, so we see them, but can’t yet hear them), motioning, and strutting that stands out. This may have had nothing to do with anything, but they were also wearing identical jackets and backpacks; again, not strange or malicious in and of itself, but it caught my eye is all I’m saying. They also had…we’ll say “hallmark” acne around their mouths. Again, could be anything, people’s individual diets and biochemistries are all unique, but it raised an eyebrow.

Thankfully, the final softball pitch of a clue (remember what we talked about) came when we rolled down the window.

We gathered up ten dollars to pass out the window, but once it was down, it appeared we happened along at precisely the wrong time (or the right time, depending on how you feel about the encounter). We can hear the one guy singing to the woman with him, “Let’s get this money, hey-hey, so we can start feelin’ funny, hey-yeah!”

To this day, I strive to the level of confidence that guy had in that moment to openly admit, in SONG no less, that he was scamming for meth money. Needless to say, we rolled the window back up (a bit awkwardly now), and continued on our way, saving the bills for a more genuine case of need.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t take this in any way as a message to distrust those looking for charity by necessity – not at all condemning those in earnest need.

Instead, take it as the message it’s intended in that it relays my dope-ass deductive skills which sniffed out a couple of fakers. Did it get a bit easy there at the end? Yeah, maybe. But does that discount my awesome perception…?

Agree to disagree.

Ciao, y’all. See ya next time.

You Should Learn Jiu-Jitsu (for dream reasons)

<a dust cloud swirls, carrying light bits of debris across a deserted street>

<a tumbleweed is stuck up against a wire mesh trash can with a missing lid, bobbing in the breeze>

<the manhole cover in the middle of the road bumps once, twice, then grinds its way over to the side>

<a man with tired eyes and a messy hairdo pulls himself to the surface, wipes his nose, and looks around>

God damn. It’s been a second, ain’t it?

I had a dream the other night that taught me a pretty powerful lesson. In it, I was touring Elon Musk’s SpaceX facility alongside Milo Ventimiglia, for some reason. Like in any good dream, I had no recollection or thought as to why Milo or I was there, but we were guests and it was pretty sweet, so I decided not to question it.

Elon (I get to call him Elon, because we were on a first-name basis) showed us around dark, gray, concrete corridor after dark, gray, concrete corridor, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was in the villain HQ of 007 Goldeneye. There were people in lab coats, a lot of restricted sections, a ton of “sciencey stuff,” but no armed guards, which I guess should have been odd but didn’t feel that way at the time.

The most striking feature wasn’t the collection of rocket boosters and shuttles under construction, but the giant vats of glowing green liquid. There were people in lab coats around each one carrying a clipboard, looking official, but that didn’t keep them from feeling out of place. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, goose-pimples rose along my arms, my ears strained their peripherals…

Something was about to happen.

Now, some might remember the time I stopped a fight inside a Grocery Outlet. I don’t know how to fight. I KNOW I don’t know how to fight. I haven’t trained the correct way to uncork a punch, how to establish a proper take-down, how to aim a kick in a way that won’t snap my foot like a weak-spined fish. I know a few things ABOUT the subject, but I RECOGNIZE my own physical ability regarding them.

Which is why it was a good thing what happened next took place in my head.

Of a sudden, Milo shouts, “Look out!” as one of the scientists pulls out of a bowie knife (why’d it have to be a bowie knife? Because my subconscious holds an aspiration to be Crocodile Dundee, I guess), and he lunges at Elon. Like Ip Man, I Wing Chun the shit out of the villainous egghead’s wrist, disarming him of his wicked blade. I kick his foot out from under him, and as he falls to a knee, I bring my own up to his forehead, rendering him unconscious.

It was sick.

At the same moment, another scientist removes his hat (for the sake of it, let’s say he was wearing a tall trucker hat) to reveal a menacing sneer and obviously evil scar over his eye. He grabs a vial of something that looked important, and a chase ensued.

Parkour assassins creed style, watch the full thing on YouTube ...
It looked something like this.

In short order, I catch up to the ne’er-do-well, he sets the vial down, rips off his shirt to reveal an absolutely STACKED physique, and the fight bell rings.

I want to be the matador, not the bull, so I stand my ground, taunt, give him the ol’ “bring it” hand curl, and he charges. Wide punch misses, my counter punch to the body lands, but the f*cker’s body is like an oak table, so he’s unaffected. I take a knee to the chest, stumble, and eat a follow-up left to the face. I fall to my rump, and he follows me to the ground to end it – his fatal flaw.

Like a spring tap, my legs shoot up, wrapping around his neck the extended arm he’s punching with. I twist it to the side, lock my left leg over my right ankle, and sink in the triangle choke. He twists and struggles, flailing his free arm’s fist about, but slowly loses steam. Finally, some seconds later, his body goes limp and collapses to the floor.

Did I best an evil-doer with jiu-jitsu I’ve watched but never practiced? Hell yes.
Did it feel incredible? You bet your tush.
Did I return the vial to Elon only to find out he’d arranged the whole thing, murdered Milo, then betrayed me? Yeah, that sort of happened too.

But was it all worth it?

Still yes, but learn from my example and when you see a group of villains steal from a billionaire, maybe sit it out rather than play the hero because you mind just wind up double-crossed as a reward for your sick-ass parkour and martial arts skills.

Til next time. Peace and love.

War Paint

When cries are cut by the sounds of gas,
When voices beg into the pavement before they pass;
When two can kneel, one on a field, the other on a neck,
And it’s given no mind at the sanctity of a check-

We shed tears.

When illness takes hold and truth disappears,
When the house sunders and folds divided,
bullets, bombs, and curfews replaces parks and dinner plates,
In these harder to say truly ‘United’ States,

We shed tears.

But soon we’ll look up from the dirt,
and those mud-scribed tears become our war paint,
it will dry and crack with roars
that will penetrate any House, any Tower – a voice for all ears.

We are Here.

(Inspired by the words of Amanda Nicholson.)

A Moment of Clarity

Hmm, nope.

I won’t lie, I had a thought that I felt was pretty transcendent, but by the time I opened up this window to record whatever it was, the train of thought left the station.

So…Hi, I guess.

Hope you’re doing well. Enjoying your week, and all the rest.

Uh, yeah. Nothing else for now, it seems.

Alright.

Um, bye now.

Now, for Some Shameless Bragging

I want to be clear up front: this is for me.

I’d love to sit here and say this was something I put together for you, something I sat on and thought about and pored over and worked on for your enjoyment and betterment – but it’s not. This is about to be an anecdote for myself to come back to later and be embarrassed that I put out to the public.

This is about the time I caught…The Glow.

I started playing Magic: the Gathering (yup, and there goes anyone that made it even this far) back in the Summer of 2018. I’d heard the horror stories of how much people can just pour money into the hobby, how much it financially drains you, and I was determined not to be another statistic. I bought two little 60-card starter decks and said, “That’s quite enough for me. THIS will be my Magic collection and I’m happy with it.”

Suffice it to say, it did not stop there.

To date, I’ve built and dismantled more Modern decks than was ever worth counting, and maintain a rotation of eight Commander/EDH decks with themes all important to my heart and soul: Izzet Artifacts, Elves/Tokens, Blue-Black Mill, mono-Green Hydras, Jeskai Time Wizards, Rakdos Goblins, Boros Angels, and Liliana Necromancy/Zombies. With the exception of Time Wizards, who has yet to ever come through for me meaningfully and was probably a mistake, I love each of them dearly.

So, now that the stage is set, our tale…

I was over at my good friend Josh’s house for a day of cards with friends. These same friends, mind you, put me through a baptism of fire when I first started playing – which was good. As I was learning the basics, they beat the ever-loving shit out of me most games. But I persevered, learned, and took those lessons of brutality to heart. All for this day…

First game of the day was just against Josh, since I showed up first (a rare occurrence). I pulled out my ‘Selvala, Heart of the Wilds‘ Hydra deck and got to business. That said, Josh was using his pride and joy, a Sliver Overlord tribal deck that cost, probably, about two grand. Selvala, bless her heart, held her own valiantly, but was ultimately overcome (it’s okay, every hero’s journey needs to begin with struggle).

It was close, and to this day I’m convinced that if I hadn’t drawn into so much goddamn land, I could have taken him. Or, if I’d used my pride and joy, my first love, my Saheeli, the Gifted artifact deck, I could have had him up and out of there in no time. (She was the underdog of her Commander block in 2018, but together, we trained her up and put some real power behind her punches with practice, study, and plenty of steroids.)

Once our friends arrived, the REAL show began.

I’m not sure what it’s like with other people’s play groups, but it tends to be within ours, that when a person wins a game between four players, it’s in a single, fell swoop: an infinite combo (thankfully rare), an “if X, then win the game” condition, or a huge move like a surprise Craterhoof Behemoth stomping that takes out all other three players at once.

This day…this day was different.

We start off, it’s a table with FIVE of us, which is a lot of players for a game of EDH; not monstrous, but a lot. I pull out my Rhys the Redeemed elves/tokens deck for this one. His main win condition is either cheating out a Felidar Sovereign for a sort of cheaper win, or raising an army of saprolings, squirrels, and elves, then plopping out the ol’ Craterhoof Behemoth trick; either way, its quickest route to victory involves annihilating the table or the game all at once.

This day, however, I knocked out each of the other four players through combat damage, individually. It was a deadly dance of politics to incite a fight with only another player at a time to not draw any undue aggression, healing up my wounds with lifelink abilities after each skirmish, and maintain token numbers to be a reasonable presence without being a threatening one. It was kind of like a fight scene out of an action movie, where the hero is surrounded by henchman who come at him all-at-once-ish, but really one at a time, and by the end of it, it’s the hero who’s done all the ass-whoopin’.

It. Was. Glorious.

And it came down to a razor finish. I knocked out the third of my opponents, trying to leave enough defense to withstand my final opponent’s turn since I was the only remaining threat, when he equips a Colossus Hammer to one of his soldiers and swings all out at me. I had enough tokens remaining to block enough of the assault that it left me with two Life left…TWO. Then I was able to counter-swing on my next turn for the finish.

So I sat back, packed that deck away in its box, and contentedly notched my name in the win column for that night, feeling good. I’d gotten my win out of the way, and it was awesome. So, for the next game, I go back to my Selvala – Hydras deck, to give it another, Sliver-less try.

This time, there’s far more in-fighting at the table, with there being more aggressors than just myself, finally. Combat damage is being dealt back and forth among players, but no one is going for the knock-out yet, presumably so everyone can stay in the game until it ends; a noble gesture, but not a lesson my hard Magic upbringing taught me to embrace with them. I see an opportunity late game to flash in a Hydra Broodmaster on an end step before my turn begins. If I remember right, I had Unbound Flourishing on board, so I got to make her go monstrous where ‘X’ got to be something nice and big like ‘8,’ and then for combat on my turn, I throw down an Overwhelming Stampede and do exactly what one might expect…

…I…

…I stampeded the table.

Playful groans and gasps made their way around the table. And my proud triumph turned slightly to embarrassment….embarrassment that I was still inexorably proud of.

So I threw up my hands and said, “Woooof, y’all. Alright, my bad. I’ve had my fun for the night, had my fair share. Shit, I’m sorry,” all while laughing with them. “Looks like I caught The Glow tonight. I’ll change it up and just be a spectator for this next one.” I put away my Hydras, rolled up my foresty-colored play mat, and pulled out my Blue-Black Mill/Persistent Petitioners deck, headed by Phenax, God of Deception.

(My FAVORITE game ever of Magic is a story for another time if I ever again feel baseless enough to do another one of these posts, but I will say that what follows here might be my SECOND-FAVORITE ever game of Magic I’ve played.)

For the uninitiated, Mill-strategies in the Commander format are widely seen as a pretty unwise route to victory as, instead of the directness of combat damage, you’re trying to empty out your opponent’s 100-card deck. 1) It can be pretty slow, understandably. 2) It also usually has to be pretty focused, so with multiple opponents, your capacity for offense has a built-in cap. 3) To make up for its weaknesses, a mill deck usually has to be pretty focused on that goal, so defense can be somewhat lacking, leaving you kind of open. 4) Lastly, people, on average, fucking hate being milled and seeing their stuff get dumped into the graveyard, so it builds your villainy meter at the table pretty quickly (ie Players cheer when someone kills you in the name of public good, nobody mourns your loss, and they line up to poop on your grave).

This game was different.

Some brief stage-setting: It’s a 5-player game this time around, and since I don’t imagine any of them will EVER read this, I’m going to be using their real names. To my left, was my buddy Brent, who was playing mono-red Dwarves; to his left was Kopa, who was playing a Blue-Red-White ‘Voltron’ deck; followed by Woody, who was playing Blue-Red-Green elementals; followed at last by our illustrious host Josh, who was borrowing someones mono-blue artifact deck.

I draw my opening hand to see that I have two Petitioners, three land, a counter spell, and Thrumming Stone. In case it’s confusing as to why that’s cool, here’s the break-down:
Since I can have as many Petitioners in my deck as I want, I run twenty-eight as a multiple of four per the card’s ability. That’s enough of a percentage that they come up commonly enough and have good odds at the Ripple ability without clogging up my draws.
Thrumming Stone basically says if you cast a Petitioner, you can look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, yatta yatta, on until you have all twenty-eight of your Petitioners out – if you get lucky to roll on like that and provided none have gotten killed.

In my mind, I immediately see what I have to do: stall and be ignored long enough to drop Thrumming Stone and a Petitioner in the same turn – a seven mana cost – to hopefully let the Ripple effect take over. So if I can draw well and keep below radar until about Turn Nine, I have a shot at totally fucking over the table. Plus, hang onto that counter spell as an insurance policy.

So the game begins, and right out the gate Josh takes an aggressive lead. He rolls out artifacts and gadgets left and right, big equipment to buff his creatures, and throwing hot damage around the table. In addition, he starts lightly milling the table, which is where my Greatest Performance of Deception begins (Phenax would be proud).

We’re all getting milled for one or two cards at a time. With the rest of the table, I playfully and dramatically groan, pleading for him to maybe just forego the effect rather than having it go through, and commiserating with the other players at our misfortune, but inside I’m thrilled. Every card that gets skimmed off the top that isn’t a land card or a Petitioner is fantastic. He mills my Mind Funeral? Great, I don’t need the heat anyway. He dumps my Consuming Aberration? Super, I have something to jokingly “complain” about not getting to play. Every one of those is another turn closer to the land base that I need.

And so it goes, Josh battles and harasses the rest of the table while I draw, maybe play a land, pretend to have my hands tied, and pass. It comes to a point where I have six lands out and I’m just waiting for one more before I can pull my move, but I’m worried to death about something that would destroy my Thrumming Stone. Josh has become a huge threat at this point, in a night that’s twice seen a single player butcher the table (#humblebrag), and he gets up to go pee. Everyone else starts conspiring as to how to turn the tide against him.

“Hmm,” I ponder aloud. “Hey, do any of you have any artifact-removal? That way, we could get rid of his [insert specific dangerous artifact here that I’m totally blanking on].”
“No,” says Brent.
“No,” replies Kopa.
“No,” laments Woody.
“Ah, bummer,” I say, looking down at the artifact in my hand.

I play Phenax, just so it doesn’t look too much like I’m intentionally doing nothing. Josh comes back, then Kopa pulls a huge play that sees him kill Josh outright, but one that fortunately makes him become an even larger threat. So Woody follows that by detonating the board with an All is Dust (thankfully the turn after I used that counter spell to stop him playing an Eldrazi). With Josh dead, it comes to me, and I draw my seventh land. I figure if ever there was a blessing from the God of Deception that I’d played my role well and it was time to set the plan in motion, it was now.

So I do. I plop down that land, set out my Thrumming Stone, and play a Petitioner, which chained so marvelously well into all the rest that I exploded from a board state of absolutely nothing, into twenty-eight Petitioners out and proud (total milling potential of 84 cards, basically lethal at that point). Plus, with that All is Dust, everyone needed to rebuilding their boards to pose any threat.

Brent’s turn, he plays a couple of dwarves to reconstitute his board, and at his end step, I mill out Kopa. Playing Jeskai colors and the potential he had for out-of-nowhere kills, he had to go. So after that, it’s just me, Brent, and Woody. On Woody’s turn, he plays Nikya of the Old Ways to regain some board presence which, if you ask me, made my next decision really simple.

It came back to me, and Brent starts talking to the late Kopa that “if I just had one more land, I could blow up his entire fucking board.”

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Me, listening to my opponent spill the beans so brazenly.

With Woody self-handicapped and unable to cast non-creature spells – meaning no big bombs, no board wipes, no nothin’ – and with Brent openly admitting he might draw into a way to kill me…

…yeah, duh, I milled the shit out of him.

Final turn came down to just me and Woody. His turn comes up, he plays a creature that can’t attack on account of summoning sickness, swings all-out for about 11 damage which I readily greet headfirst. Turn comes to me, I mill him down to dust to make my bread and make it my third straight full-table victory of the night.

A feat of which I was so embarrassingly proud, I just spent the last too-many hours bragging about it on an internet blog.

Thank you, and goodnight.

Watch the Time go By

Life is funny.

One minute, you’re writing a poem for your crush in the fourth grade, and the next, you’re thinking back on the decade since you last saw them, quietly browsing through their life on Facebook, wishing them well.

One minute, you’re a ten-year-old kid opening their bright blue lunchbox on the first day of fifth grade, and the next, you looking at that same, now-gray and weathered lunchbox while you’re twenty-six, emptying the pantry to move your mother out of her home.

One minute, you’re just a bunch of teenagers. Pot smoke, skateboard bruises, burgers, and savory high school politics, and the next, you’ve just come home from work, maybe you have plans with your colleagues maybe you don’t, and you’re reminiscing on those times you hadn’t thought would end.

Maybe you think of the cousin you’ve grown up with. Think of the man or woman they’ve become, then think back to the child you grew up alongside and realize that somewhere in the middle one became the other.

Somewhere in all those memories is the splendor of watching a huge web roll out (because “unfurl” would sound a bit pretentious here) like a gigantic road map of lives, seeing where the kids we knew somehow became the adults we know (or don’t, anymore).

“It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. This is not a weakness. This is life.” – Captain Picard

Moments like this, where we zoom out for a second, realize we’re twenty-six now, and we get to see how far we’ve come and how far we still get to go (if we play our cards right).

We knew kids…that became adults and then died.

We knew kids that didn’t make it that far.

We’ve probably seen friends accomplish really cool things.

And known others that have spun out.

Maybe we’ve fallen away from people who we were really close to.

But then again, met new people we’re glad to know now.

Nihil nove sub sole – “There is nothing new under the Sun.”

None of this is meant to be some epiphany or great revelation, some wisdom I’ve found that I’m sharing to waiting ears. This has all been figured out before and gets figured out all the time. It’s more like a moment in a reaaally good meal – just taking a second to savor what you’ve got. It’s a way to harness the good times, to get more out of them. We tell ourselves to do it all the time with struggles. “When times get hard, just think about how strong you’ll be on the other side.” Same thinking here. If you don’t take a moment here and there to examine the life you’ve had and the one you’ve got, how can you ever be sure of what’s important?

Pain sucks, but it’s part of the human experience, and thus can be a pleasure.

Loss sucks, but its memory can be used to make warmth.

Regret sucks hard, but its lesson is a real straight road to wisdom and experience.

A long time ago, a farmer would walk to a far away well for water. He had a yoke on his back which held a bucket at either end. He would fill the buckets and carry the water home. Well, after the years, one bucket became weathered and cracked, unable to hold water with its leak. “I’m sorry,” said the bucket. “I’m old now and cannot work like I used to.”
“Not to worry,” replied the farmer. “When next we gather water, look to your side of the path.”
When next the farmer gathered water, the bucket saw that its side of the path was covered in fresh flowers, watered from its own leak.
“I planted seeds,” the farmer explained. “You see, as we grow older and acquire new qualities, they may all be turned to good advantage.”

Love hard, take care of yourselves.

The Watchdogs of Osaka

(Yuuuup, it’s a re-post. Feel like we’ve been doing these more than usual, recently; but it’s for a good cause. 1] This little dream-story is heartfelt. 2] I’m writing a book and am a bit bogged down. It’ll be worth it…in like ten years when I’ve eventually finished it, edited it, and brow-beaten some poor publisher into publishing it. For now, enjoy!)

There’s a man standing in the children’s ward. His suit is brown, tattered, and dirty, his hair is dropping from the rain. His head hangs low and his voice only mutters, but in the quiet of the hospital at night we can hear what he says. “She has nothing,” he repeats. “She is so small. So new. And all she has in this world is me,” he says.

He turns to us now, and the knife in his hand gleams against the sterile light of the room’s lone lamp. “All she has is me, and I am nothing. Why should she deserve this? She shouldn’t know this, while so small and with nothing.”

I shout again for him to drop his weapon, to step away from the baby girl. He sees my military uniform, but rejects its meaning; sees my gun pointed at his chest, but dismisses its authority. His foot shifts and his hand twitches, and I command he be still! A pause, a still moment in time, slows the air…

And seconds later, he’s dead.

Then the sirens wake, blaring their warning of American bombs. Like an ocean wave, people roar through the hospital. A woman, the baby girl’s sponsor, comes up to me. She says, “there are others. She has siblings. I can give you names. There are others, I will give you names.”

An answer catches in my throat, but the woman’s eyes look into my own with a pleading intensity that squeezes the air in my chest. I timidly nod and place a hand on her shoulder. I see my hand is dirty, worn, and is the culprit of many things, things that no longer have the same meaning.

“I will watch her,” I say. “Go.”

“But there are others,” she repeats. “I-I can give you names.”

“She will be fine, I will watch her. I will watch her.”

In that moment, my heart crumbled and was gravel within my chest. I was lying to her, and all parties know it. She is aware, I am aware, yet the words repeat.

“I can give you names.”

“She will be fine. Go.”

Like one cast adrift, the tide of people carries her away. I turn to look at the child in her crib, to the dead man at my feet. The sirens continue to wail as I lean over and pick her up.

She’s…so soft. She unmarred, unfettered by this life – perfect. She’s warm, and so small. And within her tiny chest, an unknowing heart beats.

“I will watch her.”

“She has only me, she has nothing.”

“There are more. I can give you names.”

“She will be fine. I will watch her.”

“She has nothing.”

“There are more.”

“I will watch her.”

The room flashes. In the distance, booms shake the Earth and flames glass its surface. I hold the infant tight, a shield for her ignorance, a lost purpose given to fire and steel.