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.

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.

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.”

Eyes Blinking GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
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.

On Ravens’ Wings

Black, majestic, with the bluish, opalescent shine off the sun.
The bluster of wind, the soft down of the feather, the impossible freedom of being alight in an empty sky.

Even perched atop a lonely tree. Alone on a hilltop, overlooking an empty valley. Dominion over sky’s reach, bird’s eye view.

Black of feather, black of night.

Omen, teacher, watcher, hunter.

To be so small, to ride on ravens’ wings, to see a vast world and erase bounds, may be to learn the lesson of rivers and valleys, which know no maps.

Lucid [Horror] Dreaming

Guys, I think I might be losing my touch a little bit.

Once upon a time, I used to have a super power. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything cool like immense strength, ultra speed, or being able to reliably find the last parking spot on a busy day; though I CAN usually guess the time without looking, but I’m consistently a single minute off – which I’m sure is what will eventually drive me to being a super villain.

ANYWAY.

No, my power was that I could, in a very limited way, reliably lucid dream.The way it worked was simple: if I was in a dream, and it started to get scary or in any way stressful, I would suddenly become lucid and therefore decide if I wanted to continue with the dream, or pull the rip cord and wake myself up. One of my favorites went sort of as follows:

I’m on an alien space ship, and it’s sort of a cross between Alien and the Halo series. I’m in a Spartan suit, but I’m being stalked by a Xenomorph. Things are going however they’re going as I look for a battery for the last escape pod, or whatever, and I come to a place in the ship where the lights are out. There’s a break in the flooring, and I know I have to go down into this super creepy spot next, when suddenly, I realize it’s a dream. I hear a snarl over my shoulder, but now suddenly lucid say, “Hahahahaha- no.” And boom, I wake up. Easy peezey.

That ability has given me the confidence such that I’ve made it a consistent hobby of mine to eat spicey food or have a bit of booze just before bed for the bizarre dreams. And that’s landed me with some real zingers.

But I think I’m starting to slip.

Last night, I had a series of bad, scary dreams. I mean, fortunately, they were the kind of “horror/action movie” bad as opposed to “real life tragedy” bad, but still.

I went from trying to escape some kind of compound, stealthily taking out guards and praying I wouldn’t get caught, to – naturally – a zombie apocolypse. From there, the last two softcore nightmares both took place in mansions. The less supernatural one was kind of a Victorian-era murder mystery; which would have been sort of cool, if I weren’t hacked to death at the end of it.

But the last one motivated today’s post entirely. And not even for the whole of it – which, of course, I can’t totally remember anymore because dreams are shitty that way (especially the good ones!) – but for an eerie effect that I remember happening somewhere near the middle.

I was walking up flights of furnished mahogany stairs in a half-covered mansion. “Half-covered” in that much of the furniture was draped in old sheets to protect them from dust. It’s morning time and the sun is pouring through the windows, and I’m looking for something. I don’t totally remember what, but I remember it was important.

I make it to the top floor, search for a while, and make for the stairs again. I’m at the top when I hear a sound, so I look over my shoulder. Behind me and down the hall is a figure, draped in black cloth and wearing a stoic, featureless, white mask (picture a creepier No Face). I’ve never had sleep paralysis before, but I’ve heard it’s terrible, and now I sort of understand why.

I couldn’t move a muscle.

But that didn’t keep my heart from pounding, my breath quickening, or my nerves frying while I fought it. The white mask floated over to me – it didn’t walk – but just coasted over the hardwood like a chess piece, and while it did that, I watched the light in the hallway and coming through all the windows shift. I watched morning, become noon, become evening, become night, become morning again, over and over, so quickly it was like a slow strobing effect. Every time the figure was hidden by the darkness of night and reappeared in morning light, it was different: arms slowly grew out from under the sleeves which turned to claws, it grew taller, the expression on the featureless, plain mask became more and more malevolent.

For whatever reason, my paralysis finally broke free and I turned to make a run for the stairs, but they were suddenly missing, leading just to a sheer drop down four stories.

The rest of the dream was a chase as I dashed in and out of bedrooms and down hallways trying to escape, until I eventually was tackled by something.

WITHOUT WAKING UP OR BEING ABLE TO GO LUCID.

I guess my point is that getting older sucks. (Eh, but it’s kind of cool too, but more on that later. I have to go.)

Ciao.

Walking in a Dreamscape

Think just how vast the ocean is.

If you have a fear of heights, you should have a fear of open water. Deep blue and dark, though it might be, bobbing there on the surface, you’re hundreds and thousands of feet above land of any kind. The amount of odds, ends, and creatures between you and the ground aside, all that open space is enough to lurch the stomach into the throat.

So when we’re bobbing there, out on open water, surrounded by nothing but the horizon on all sides how is that the primary thought: the emptiness that’s holding us aloft to the open air. The chilling cold of the water can constrict our chest and make us forget for a moment that we’re floating, suspended in an unending space, but the thought is always there.

And what’s below us? Do we dare a glance? Maybe see the leviathan’s maw in the moments before they snap closed over us?

But instead, are we just reminded of the empty vastness that stems below us, too?

We break the surface again, as a fin – at first like a shark’s – does the same. We watch it rise, except, when we expect it to crest and dive again, maybe it keeps rising.

And growing.

There’s no titanic splash. No seismic, rumbling growl from the earth as it continues to grow massive and crawl skyward. It just cleanly slices the water until it’s risen a mile over us, flaunting its size as a reminder of how small we are.

How far does it span? Does it stand as a monolith in the water? Does it span the horizon in its entirety? Or does it encircle us?

How about we see the edge, but its tail runs the curve of what we can see. We dip our head under water, to see its bottom purchase on the sea floor.

But what if we can’t?

Not because it’s too dark to see the bottom, but because the fin doesn’t have one, as though it doesn’t exist below the waves? And once that’s the case, what do we do? Do we swim away from it? Along it? Dare to get closer?

With little other options, let’s say we do: we make for the edge of the fin.

It’s as tall as the Himalayas, stretches about as far, but is no wider than the door of a house.

What’re we hoping for? Are we going to see if its sheer cliff face has handholds and footholds? To see if it’s as hard as stone, or soft like flesh? Does it have lichen and small things on its surface we can’t see from this distance, and how far away is it, anyway?

Does anything change as we get closer to the fin? Does it make noise, or change shape? Sink back into the ocean?

Maybe we do hear something, the growl we were so worried about earlier.

Does it come from the fin, behind us…? Or maybe behind it.

I’m seeing storm clouds. Storm clouds that form as we’ve almost rounded the edge of the fin. And now that we’re closer to the fin, what did we say it’s like?

Covered in creepy crawly things? Lovecraftian and great, but no; because that’s also gross.

I want to say it’s climbable, but I think I prefer the fin smooth – so no shards for handholds.

What about features we can’t see? And not those you can feel, but the ones you can feel?

What if, while we’re up next to this colossal…thing, in an endless sea, while we look at it, we suddenly have the sensation of recognition, of eye contact? Not the feeling you’re being watched, exactly, but observed and met?

And things happen fast from there.

We tread water at the edge of the fin, able to see along either sides of the ocean it’s bisected. We see lightning crackle from the storm clouds to our left and thunder rumbles in answer. Maybe, like a horn of summons, small dots – like little black beetles crawling over the edge of a table – appear on the horizon to our right.

Not beetles, ships. Galleons, and Man-o’-Wars, with three masted sails.

Maybe there’s another boom of thunder, and like a starting pistol, that starts them racing in our direction.

Do we wait for them to close in on us? Do we swim around the fin? To we brace against it, the eyeless monolith that’s seen us?

As the ships get closer, what if they change? Turn? Maybe they flip, so the hulls are on the surface of the water, and the oars sprout from the sides to look like legs, finally resembling the giants beetles we thought they were.

Fight-or-flight kicks in, and we think to dive below, to escape. But no avail, because the masts of this beetle line form a net, set to scoop us up anyway.

But now we aren’t alone anymore, under the water. A school of, what, fish? No, jellyfish! Like a living, writhing cloud of bubbled heads and ribbon’d tentacles below us, floating up faster and faster as the net of the beetles approaches. Soon, we’re enveloped, and expect to feel a thousand stings and paralytic burns, but instead, maybe it’s just a low, gentle hum – like we’re being sung to.

They grab our arms as they continue floating, rising upward. We breach the water’s surface and float out of reach of the beetle-ships just before we’re overtaken! Huzzah!

But the jellyfish carry us skyward, like a crowd of balloons.

Only they don’t let go, and the fear of heights returns. We rise higher and higher, up along the massive fin in the water, and feel it watching us as we’re lifted away.

Maybe we’re lifted above the fin, so we can see the storm clouds on the other side and the curtains of lightning beneath their layer of wool.

We’re lifted higher and higher, but what’s above us? A ceiling of glass, a mirror? Can we see it through the crowd of jellyfish that carry us? Maybe they part and we see…stars. Stars against black. Open space.

True vast emptiness.

We start kicking and thrashing against the arms that hold us. It isn’t fun anymore and we’re safe from the beetle-ships, but maybe it wasn’t worth this to have been rescued. And do we see anything in the luminous undersides of the jellyfish?

“Faces” came to mind first, and while excellently mystical and creepy, rule of thumb is to not go with the first idea.

Hands? No.

A song? Feel like we’ve said that already.

How about memories? Yeah, memories.

But are they yours? Our own? Someone else’s from another place, even another time? Are they happy ones, regretful ones, proud ones?

We break the hypnosis and see the fin is so small now, just a long, gray plank set on its side in an endless puddle. So far away.

Or is it?

Maybe as we kick our legs, our foot touches something?

Maybe in this place, even the rules of perspective bend, and we kick the fin we thought was so far away. Maybe now, instead of the massive thing we knew it was, it’s within reach, about a foot tall, no wider than an inch.

We kick it, and it falls to its side, laying atop the water like a…well, a long, gray plank.

After that happens, the ribbons and their memories let us go, and we softly land on this long, gray plank. Endless ocean all around us, the tiny dots of the beetle skittering harmlessly along the surface.

What’s left to do but walk?

END

(Hey all. Thanks for going on these weird mind trips with me. I’ve talked with friends before about story writing: resolving plots issues, narrating, finding a voice, and the dreaded what-happens-next question. The best answer I’ve thought up so far has just been to define storytelling as the art of asking questions, then picking through the answers. Trying to decide which answers you like best depends, ultimately on what kind of tale you want to weave. Fantasy? Maybe the most fantastic, imaginative answers are the ones you want. Mystery? Maybe the least expected, but ultimately most realistic are the flavor you need. So on, and so forth.)

(I dunno, or maybe I’m just thought-vomiting onto my keyboard. Either way, thanks for obliging me.)

(Later.)

A Legacy in Bone

What if we were in a dark room? Mm, let’s call it a dark space – no definite walls or borders. Sightless, pitch, and silent beyond your own sounds.

When you think, what comes into being first? Does grass slowly sprout under your feet, does it tickle? Do you smell the grass before you even feel it, and is there light enough to see? I like to think the smell precedes it, that yes, it tickles, and there’s an ambient light we didn’t know was there that now shows the grass.

Now that there’s grass, what’s in it? Are there flowers, weeds, brambles, or small rocks? Or maybe something less nature-y. What if we saw a glass marble first? Then a scrap of cloth – and what kind of cloth is it? Burlap, cotton, wool, maybe velvet? Maybe it’s none of those things, and instead we see…a discarded street sign.

Nothing big like a stop sign or anything with a name or number. Maybe it’s just the “All Way” little rectangle that goes beneath a full stop sign, just sitting there in the moist grass.

As we walk forward, does the grass stay soft? Or does the spongey soil beneath it harden or get gravelly. And if so, what does it give way to? Cracked salt flats? Concrete? Glass?

We’ll say concrete.

Do we walk into a street intersection at, say, midnight? Nah, let’s not put a time on it, we’ll just say it’s still dark. A new moon, stars that are still invisible in a city’s light pollution. Or maybe there’s a single street light.

No?

Alright, four street lights. One on each corner.

If we step into the center of the intersection, do we see anything down each of the roads? Are there apartments, houses, businesses? A park, anything at all? Are they all different, or are they all the same, like mirrors?

Maybe two ways have some of those – a couple parked cars in front of an apartment complex, with houses across the street, and the other has an empty lot and a business on the corner (a liquor store). We’ll say the other two are just dark, no street lights to tell.

But what happened to the grass? Is it still there? Maybe only when we think about it, or maybe it’s gone, with only a few sprigs here and there in the intersection.

Is there anything else in the square with us? A small bauble, like a gemstone or snow globe? Is there another street sign? Or maybe something bigger, like a body?

Hmmm, is the body a person, or an animal?

Animal sounds good.

Now, is it alive or dead? And if it’s dead, how long has it been? Forever and the carcass is just stone? Did it just breathe its last breath before we showed up? Or maybe it isn’t alive, but it’s warm anyway.

We’ll go with that, the gray middle ground. It isn’t dead, really; but to call it alive would be weird too.

Ah, we never said if it’s a person or not.

Why not…a caribou?

Cool, it’s a caribou.

So there we are, with a caribou that’s neither alive nor dead, in the middle of an intersection without a name or time.

What happens when we get close to the caribou?

It’s warm, but it’s not breathing, right? Do we feel anything when we touch it? Do we touch it?

Maybe we do, and feel it’s hide, its fur is surprisingly course. At least it’s more course than we would have expected, having never touched one before.

Let’s say its eyes are closed, and we pet our way from its still side up its neck to its head. What if, once we’re there, we see small somethings on its antlers? What would those be?

Not faces (creepy).

Not gems or sparkles (we tried that already).

Keeping with the color palette so far, how about small flower buds?

And speaking of color palette, what color do we see them as: pink, like cherry blossoms? Maybe their opal blue, with little flecks of pink in there to compromise? Can’t be red, like blood. Can’t be green, because we already have grass. We could make them iridescent, shimmering all manner of colors we can describe and cannot.

I’m leaning opal, kind of a personal bias.

When we examine them closely, are they just buds; do they stay that way? Or do they bloom?

It’s more fun if they bloom, so let’s have them bloom.

When we do, what’s inside? Is it like the skin of a bubble, do they shimmer like diamonds or beads, or does something sprout? And how big do they get? I’m seeing an opening at the center of the bud no larger than a pearl, but as something we can peer through; something that, despite the smallness of the window, we can see an impossibly large interior.

And what’s through that window?

First thought was mountains, like taking on the point of view of an eagle.

Second was the bottom of a waterfall, and a sudden wrestle with the water.

But what I like most is this: it’s dark, with a light somewhere far away. And as we get closer, we come to see they’re streetlights. They’re streetlights that corner an intersection at night. In the middle of that intersection is a caribou, neither alive nor dead, with someone kneeling beside it.

We go like this until we fall into another one of the buds upon its antlers and see another intersection with another caribou, only this time the caribou is alive.

Within these buds is another darkness, with another intersection, with another caribou, but only three lights are lit. Inside another, the two streets that were dark are now lit and the ones that were lit have gone dark. Inside another, the buds are purple and fully flowered. Inside another, we lie in the middle of the intersection, neither alive nor dead, and it’s the caribou that comes to us.

And the possibilities repeat, and spin, and zoom an infinite number of times in an infinite number of ways with changes that are either drastic or small and minute.

Now, do me a favor?

Picture making eye contact with your self in the bathroom mirror – alright, it doesn’t have to be a bathroom mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

It’s kind of funny, right? That everything from the street sign and the grass, to the intersection and the caribou, and all of that never actually happened, but it sort of did.

Feel lucky to be alive, and thankful for everything that’s real, and isn’t.