Red vs Blue November 11, 2016 at 21:28

In light of everyone’s discussion on the recent elections, there’s something I can’t get out of my mind.

I fully understood going into the election that now that I’m back in Indiana I can expect my state to go republican all the way down the line.  What I didn’t expect, probably as a result of naivete on my part, was that voting republican down the line really means straight ticket.  I wasn’t surprised when I saw the results of the polls significantly weighted toward republican president, governor, senator, state senate, etc.  But what really shocked me was Glenda Ritz getting sacked.  I thought even though we’re red through and through, no one as passionate and qualified about education as Glenda would get replaced with somebody that is essentially an unknown.

While I’m on the subject,  I don’t understand why something like a state superintendent would be a partisan, elected office.  As far as I’m concerned, qualifications (and passion) trump any political association.  That position should be handled as more of an interview rather than an election.  But I digress.

Obviously, it wasn’t difficult to find someone that was bragging about how their votes won big in Indiana, so I embraced the opportunity to speak with him.  He explained, essentially, that he is a single issue voter and he will always and forever (unless the political parties flip again) vote republican because he’s into pro-life and to him that issue trumps (no pun intended) all other issues.  That in and of itself is entirely fine, but then I asked him “by just clicking the button for straight ticket, all of the Indiana republicans essentially gave Glenda Ritz the boot because she’s not associated with the republican party.  You do realize that she is easily the most qualified and best person for a tough job in a state that already has a pretty bad state of education and it’s only getting worse.”

He paused for a second, thought about it, and said “yeah, you’re right.  I have heard really good things about her.”

The person in question has two children in varying grades in school, both currently attending public Indiana schools.  He didn’t think about the repercussions of his straight-party vote.

I don’t know anything about Jennifer McCormick – it’s entirely possible she might be good for the role, but even though I didn’t speak with a full thirty-two (all you stat nerds know what I’m talking about!) people, I get the feeling that a lot of people directed their vote towards their disenfranchisement with the status quo and voted straight down the republican party line, and, as a result, Glenda Ritz was a casualty.

As an ex-teacher and as someone that truly believes education is important, I whole-heartedly believe Glenda Ritz is exactly what the state of Indiana needs to direct the future of public education.  There’s a reason she was thrust into the spotlight in the first place – I have yet to meet an Indiana teacher that doesn’t support or endorse her.

In my state’s haste to paint the walls red, I believe we lost something truly great about Indiana into the bargain.

 

On a side note – I hope the rumors of Ben Carson becoming Secretary of Education are false.  That’s another huge leap backward.

Writing. Modified. February 12, 2016 at 16:22

Last Sunday was the second week of the writing workshop I’m currently taking.  More importantly, it was the first class where my story was peer reviewed and I learned some invaluable information.

First off, this whole “serious writing” thing is very new to me.  I’ve written quite a few stories, but I never really took the craft seriously.  I would write them, edit out grammatical mistakes or awkward sentences, and then shelf them as if they were a finished product.  Technically, I did have a graduate level creative writing class back at Purdue, but I was told right up front that “genre” stories wouldn’t be permitted, so that pretty much destroyed any interest I could’ve feigned in the class.  Technically, I don’t think I was mature enough as a writer to actually take my writing seriously as an art form, just as a class to get another A in, so I don’t know how much it would’ve mattered, but I did find out that I can write fiction in that class.  Alas, my interest wasn’t there back then.

As you know, I decided at the end of 2014 that I wanted 2016 to be the year I take writing seriously.  That’s why I got all of my reading out of the way in 2015.  It’s worth noting how serious I am about long-term planning.  I mean, maybe I could’ve died or something else slightly less tragic could’ve happened that could’ve affected my whole planning process.  Regardless, now we’re in the present and I’m taking my writing so seriously that I’ve bought books on writing and I’ve enlisted in a writer’s workshop.  I’ll write about this after all is said and done if I feel it’s worth a recommendation.

The most important fact I learned during the peer review / critique stage was the idea of writing for an audience.  If you’ve ever attempted writing or been through this process, I’m sure this is painfully obvious to you and you’re wondering what exactly is wrong with me and how could I have possibly overlooked that.  But let me elaborate a little bit and you’ll understand.  Because I’ve never really taken writing seriously, I haven’t written anything in years.  So the story I submitted was about eight years old or so.  Wow, that dates me.  It also shows you how long my writing has been dormant.

Regardless, the story I presented was an old one in which I used my friend Crystal as a character.  Dumb me followed the whole write what you know adage a little too literally and wrote about somebody I know.  There’s a lot more to this than that, but to keep it simple and to minimize the risk of me sounding like more an idiot I’ll stick with this as my prime example.  Anyhow, for my submission, I brushed the dust off this story, read it for the first time in probably five years, read it a few more times, made some minor surface revisions, and submitted it on the way.  I then spent the week eagerly looking forward to my peer review so I could hear all kinds of positive reinforcement.

If that’s how it actually happened, the story would end there.  Instead, although I did get some positive comments on the overall story/tone/plot I received a fair amount of criticism about the character and sequence of events being confusing or ambiguous.  The entire time I was thinking to myself “What do you mean you don’t understand why she’s doing that?”  It was then that I realized that, although I’m familiar with Crystal, as would anyone else that knows her, my peer review group had no idea who she was.  I took the knowledge of her personality and her motivations for granted and assumed my readers would be familiar.  When I read through to make my revisions and edits, I didn’t even think of exploring Crystal’s “personality” and “motivations” to potential readers.  As a result, the story as a complete entity didn’t make sense.  It took me awhile to understand my error when we first began the critique but once I had time to think about it, it made perfect sense.  The prison, Crystal’s confinement, and the events leading up to that moment were perfectly clear in my own mind, but I failed to share that with the reader.

Once I understood what I did wrong, for the first time in my life, revision and editing was enjoyable.  I’ve worked on this story all week and now that I know some of the major and minor changes I need to make I’m having fun.  I look forward to the reception for my second (major) revision.

Hodor Speaks No More February 10, 2016 at 15:44

Two nights ago Amanda and I faced the end of an era in our house – our final gerbil (named Hodor) died.  Even though he was small and not very interactive, I’m still pretty bummed out about his death.  More important than his death, however, was my decision to longer keep the circle of gerbil life going in my house along with my decision to start making gerbils my companions in the first place.

It all started probably five years ago or so, probably a little more.  I was perfectly content with my cats but I decided I wanted a little more variety in the animal life at my house.  At that point, I needed to decide what animal I wanted.  I had it narrowed down to “small mammal” but I wasn’t quite sure which specific type I wanted.  I knew bigger animals like degus, bunnies, and chinchillas were out as well as guinea pigs.  So, I chose a weekend day I was off work and drove up to La Grange Park, IL to one of my favorite adoption shelters CatNap from the Heart.  Although they had a killer selection of cats and kittens (I still wish I would’ve adopted you, Team Fluff) I told the helpful volunteers I was looking for a so-called “pocket pet” and that I had limited-to-no experience with any of them but I felt that as a responsible adult I could handle any of them.  They essentially told me at that point that it was up to personal preference so I took a close look at their selection of hamsters, gerbils mice, and rats (they also adopt birds but there’s always been something heartbreaking to me about caging a bird and essentially taking away God’s gift of flight – and I obviously can’t give a bird free flying time with three cats in the house) to try and pick one.  Because I had never really been around any of those animals (I’ve had experience with friends with rats / hamsters but they were never really my animals and I never really played with them) I opted to go based on looks.  Up until that point in my life, I had only ever seen the tan/brown color of gerbil, so when I rounded the corner and saw a black gerbil, I asked them what kind of animal it was.  They told me he was a gerbil (the long, flared tail didn’t give it away to me) and I picked him because I thought he was super cute.

I brought him home and bought a 20-gallon aquarium for him because I felt like he needed more room to run around than the crappy plastic gerbil enclosure I had.  Then, I felt like I should learn more about gerbils as a species and picked up a book and then proceeded to feel like even more of an idiot because I quickly learned that gerbils are notoriously social creatures and they do much better with a buddy.  So then I went out and picked up (again from CNftH) a buddy for him.  Because I’m a literature nerd, I named one HPL and the other HDT.  I was as cautious as humanly possible about introducing the two of them but they became best friends and from that moment onward they were inseparable.  Then, unfortunately one died, and that’s when the struggle began.  I had to go out and find a new friend.  By this time I was living in Minnesota and there were no local shelters that had any gerbils to choose from, nonetheless a young male (stop it) that I needed to bond with my older male.  Finally, I made it a point to go to a pet store and I felt just horrible buying one and producing a demand for them.  Either way, this time it was a failure because they didn’t bond and the new one was aggressive and attacked his “buddy” constantly.  Then, when another died, I scoured craigslist and found a new one, but again, had trouble bonding the two.

At that point, Amanda and I discussed the issue and we realized that although we loved the gerbils, keeping and maintaining them became more trouble than it was worth.  As pets they are great and require little to no maintenance and their enclosures rarely have to be cleaned and they are healthy and robust critters.  The downside is with their two-year lifespan you’re almost required to keep on the look out for a consistent supply to continually produce bonded pairs.  I think once I eventually settle down in a forever home I may try my hand at it again, especially if I can build them a super-awesome enclosure with dirt and sand and stuff they can dig into, but I don’t ever want to be confronted with the situation of either forcing a gerbil to live all alone in captivity or go to a pet store and buy a replacement.  And there’s always going to be that nervousness and concern now about picking one up and him (or her, I may just try with females one day) not bonding with the other.  Then what do I do with the outsider?  Do I buy more enclosures and keep playing gerbil roulette until everyone has a bonded pair?  It’s logistically frustrating.

The Death and Rebirth of the Printed Word January 13, 2016 at 17:52

If you’ve ever had the privilege of being one of my students, the following story is probably familiar to you.  If not, then enjoy this exciting tale.

Remember when you were a little kid (I’m assuming this story is universal, if not, sorry pal) and you learned your very first [insert personal anecdote here] and you couldn’t stop doing it?  Maybe it was a card or coin or some other magic trick?  A cartwheel?  Somersault?  Something, anything like that.  More than likely this happened quite a few times for different things you learned.  For me, the only one that stuck with me that proved to be something more than just a fad was reading.  For whatever reason, in my infant mind, being able to take letters on a surface, convert them to words, string them together to form sentences, and take all of them together to create meaning was the greatest power in the universe.  I would read anything I could get my hands on, believing it was some kind of magic that allowed me to be capable of such a task.  Think back to any of those movies you’ve seen where either some wild barbarian or some uneducated, illiterate adult learns how to read and how their eyes light up.  It’s like that.

From that point onward, I was a lean, mean, reading machine.  I remember going through the modest library in my elementary school and just slaughtering book after book that I found interesting.  I would read fiction, non-fiction, dictionaries, and even the encyclopedia.  For the longest time, I had some kind of weird predisposition toward “non-fiction” ghost stories so that dominated the bulk of what I read until I exhausted the available supply.  Looking back, this is odd since as an adult I don’t believe in ghosts, but I remember those being all kinds of interesting as a kid.  Real treats for me were the book mobile or the occasional time I could make my way down to the public library.  Exciting stuff.

Then, late in grade school (we’ll go with grade five or so) everything changed.  I was forced to read books I hated in order to pass classes in school.  It was a terrible, terrible pattern of forced immersion akin to torture.  What made it worse was that I was intelligent enough to perceive that the teachers pushing this crap on me didn’t like the stories, either.  This grew painfully apparent in high school with stuff like The Great Gatsby.

Author’s note: Yes, I do have a master’s degree in literature with a specialization in American literature but I still can’t stand that book.  It is easily one of my least favorite novels of all time.  I’m not saying it’s a bad book, it’s merely a personal preference.

I could tell, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Shakespeare and other material we were being forced to read were not the books that the teachers enjoyed, either.  And that for me took away the magic and excitement of reading.  This is a horribly exaggerated simile, but it would be like if every time you took a little kid that was excited about his magic trick and kicked him in the balls each time he finished.  So, like a Pavlovian dog, my heart grew cold and angry toward books and literature and I was conceivably lost forever…

 

Until the good people over at the SyFy (at the time still known by its original moniker of Sci-Fi) back in 2000 decided they were going to do their own rendition of Frank Herbert’s Dune as a made for Sci-Fi movie.  I remember watching it a few years later when I was bored and decided a 4+ hour movie would really be up my alley.  Although I started watching it late at night and I ended up falling asleep, I remember having vivid dreams about some of the scenes in the movie.  That’s where this part of the story ends.

Then, during my final year back at big Purdue (to specify the main campus in West Lafayette as opposed to the satellite campuses in South Bend, Hammond, or Westville) (we’ll go with 2003 or so…I’m starting to feel old) I was at a book store with some friends of mine (whatever happened to all those guys?) and I made a vow to Micah that I was going to read all of the books in the Dune series.  And at the time, I meant all, which was maybe eight or so books.  Still, to someone that hadn’t read for enjoyment for more than eight years, such a task seemed daunting.  But, with the virtually limitless free time afforded a college student, I ended up getting a copy of the book and I was enraptured.

If you’ve been following this blog since its humble beginnings, you would already know my love and, dare I say, reverence for Dune.  Long story short, I fell in love and it rekindled my interest in books.  From there I rather quickly reverted back to the wide-eyed child that was amazed at his ability to read.  The inner-nerd in me then went all over the place with my book interests, which eventually spilled out and over what local libraries could provide.  This then prompted me to start buying books, since this was before the advent of e-books and then became the monster that my current library is.

2015 – The Year of the Book January 4, 2016 at 14:35

Whew!  I had a busy year in 2015.  Here’s a little background for you.  I have this… predilection (obsession?) toward collecting books.  Especially small press genre books.  I have a difficult time resisting any purchase, and so through the years I’ve amassed quite a personal library for myself.  However, my wife (and rightly so) told me it was borderline lunacy to continue buying books if I’m not even reading the ones I have.  In fact, truth be told, she more or less put her foot down and told me not to buy any new books until I read the ones I already had.  The thought of not buying books was a scary proposition indeed, so I decided to make that my resolution for 2015 – to catch up on all my reading.

The good news is I completed my goal.  From January 2 (the day I finished my first book in 2015) to December 31 (the day I finished my last two books in 2015) I managed to read 137 books throughout the course of the calendar year.  My goal was simple – I wanted to read every single book I currently owned that was purchased before 2015 and that was not part of a series for which I did not own every book.  So, for example, Anderson and Herbert are still in the process of writing new Dune books (amazing, I know) so I didn’t read through those.  I like to read a series from start to finish without gaps so I don’t forget plot points.  It’s a memory thing for me.  Likewise, any books that came out in 2015 that I purchased (such as The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson) were also skipped over.

Now I completely understand that you are currently falling into one of two camps – the first one where you’re blown away by my literary prowess and can’t believe how amazing I am or the second one where you don’t believe such a feat is possible and you’re skeptical at best.  More than likely, you’re in the second camp, which is good, because my success sounds more terrific on paper than in actuality.  Let’s break that number down – 137 books divided by 365 days.  That means I’m allocating less than three days per book, which, again, on paper sounds amazing.  Anyone can read a book in three days, so that in and of itself is far from impressive.  But managing to maintain that feverish pace for an entire year?  Impressive.  But not all of these are real, true, 80,000+ word novels.  For example, forty of these 137 books were the “complete” Choose Your Own Adventue series.  In late 2013 on Black Friday I picked up the complete set at a super sweet deal.  These books are important to me for a reason which will ultimately be explained at some later post.  Either way, these take about an hour to complete, maybe ninety minutes if I’m distracted.  Keep in mind this is plotting through the book and reading through every possible ending.  Then, beyond these, some of them were comic collections and a few were chapbooks and short stories, such as Joe Lansdale’s Bubba Ho-Tep.  The actual story is less than thirty pages, but included in the hardcover edition are introductions, supplementary material, and the complete movie script.  Since I’ve seen the film quite a few times, I opted to skip the script but I did read everything else in the book from start to finish.

This much reading came at a cost – I obviously had considerably less time to pursue other interests/hobbies such as writing (I’m sure you’ve noticed how infrequently this gets updated) or playing video games.  Actually, though, looking at my numbers, I didn’t do too badly.  I apparently beat thirty-nine games throughout the year.  Again, this is a bit of a misnomer to say I completed thirty-nine games.  Some of them were flash games that I beat in the span of an hour or two.  Some of these, like Startropics for the NES, I beat in one sitting.  And then others were me going off the reservation and going for 100% completion like Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

So what’s in store for 2016?  Well, since 2015 was the year of the reading, 2016 is now the year of the writing.  My goal is to begin editing / reworking my existing stories and working on some new material.  To stay in good writing shape, I’ll probably be updating this more frequently along with my other blog – VeganEric.  I also hope to focus more on video games.  I have a handful of games left that I want to beat for my X360 and PS3 and then I will put them up in storage.  For Christmas I asked for some raw materials to build me a new gaming PC, which will be finished in March, so then I will finally be able to dip into my millions and millions of Steam games I’ve picked up through the years.  And, of course, in 2016 I will be finishing all of the books I bought during 2015 so I can always keep up to date on my reading.

And of course I would like to be able to travel back home more often and visit family and friends.  Although I love the weather and how (relatively) cheap everything is down here in Columbia, there is definitely that feeling of homesickness when Amanda and I miss our friends and family.

That Guy that You Know from Having His Stories Turned into Movies, but You Probably Haven’t Actually Read….YET October 19, 2015 at 13:31

This has been a busy reading year for me.  Ever since I made it my New Year’s “resolution” to listen to my wife’s advice and read through all of the books I’m constantly buying and collecting before I could buy any more, I’ve been flying through book after book.  As of this weekend, I’ve read a total of seventy-four books thus far in 2015, which is about 85% or so of my goal to read every book I have owned since before the beginning of the 2015 new year.  Since I have finished all of the major books that stand out, I’ve decided the easiest way to finish the remainder is to go through the unread books in alphabetical order, which is fairly simple since not only are my books organized in alphabetical order at home, plus I have a sweet book collection software called Collectorz that makes organization easier than creating my own spreadsheet.

My most recent finished collection was the very well-done Philip K Dick collection put out by Subterranean Press.  Apparently, copies are no longer available through them, so you may have to hunt, but I highly recommend getting ahold of them.  Essentially, they created a five-volume collection (about 475 pages per book) of every short story that Dick ever wrote during his life time, all arranged as closely as possible in the chronological order in which they were written.  I’m also halfway through one of his novel collections published by Library of America, but I found the short stories much more interesting, and, more importantly, more important for the purpose of this.

Because the stories were collected in order and because I read from left to right like any good American, I was able to experience (for the first time) every one of his stories from the beginning of his writing career in the early 1950’s all the way up to his untimely death in the early 1980’s.  As someone with a literature degree and someone with an interest in American history of the 20th century, I found this exciting on many levels.

First off, it was illuminating for me, as a hopeful writer, to see how Dick’s writing style began, how it improved, how it evolved, how it changed, etc.  But, equally important was how the changing American landscape changed his stories.  The world became a much different place (in some ways – in other ways, they were still shoulder-deep in the Cold War) in those thirty years, and, as any good author, the focus of Dick’s stories changed as the world around him changed.

The linguistics nerd in me found it particularly interesting how the acceptance of profanity changed during those three decades.  In his earlier stories, Dick’s language was relatively tame, but as he approached the mid-70’s and beyond, his stories would let slip the occasional profane word.  It was never excessive or jarring, but society’s and his own embrace of colorful language such as America’s favorite “f-word” made his stories feel more modern.

I’m really glad I opted to pick up all five volumes in the collection, because he was one of those authors I always planned on reading, but never got around to, so for that I am eternally grateful to William Schafer over at Subterranean for going through and collecting and organizing the texts and making them available.  To this day, Total Recall remains one of my favorite films, so I was excited to finally read the original short story what was used as the basis.  As you can expect, they are completely and totally different, but the film did retain more of the core of the story than I expected.  Obviously, you are probably going to pick up and read his novel The Man in the High Castle when that Netflix series hits, because that’s what typically happens.  And of course, there is the new Minority Report series.

 

On a brief, semi-related side note, I also recently finished the three-volume exceptionally limited Charles Beaumont collection put out by Jerad over at Centipede Press.  When Jerad sent out the email, I was on the fence about forking over that much money for an author I had never heard of before, but Beaumont being credited with being responsible for some of the greatest episodes of The Twilight Zone swayed me.  Like pretty much everyone out there around my age with a cool dad, I grew up believe that Twilight Zone was easily one of the greatest television shows ever produced.  For this context, I’m specifically talking about the original series, not the more recent series, but regardless, I forked over quite a bit of money on one short novel, one of normal length, and an oversize collection of short stories and I wasn’t at all disappointed.  Even Beaumont’s novel Run from the Hunter, written in a genre I never, ever enjoy –  crime, had me turning from page to page to find out what happened.  He was one of the many authors that flew under my radar but I was fortunate enough to pick up his collection and I was overjoyed with his skill and ability at writing.

Getting the Timing Right August 3, 2015 at 17:04

I’ve been through quite a few changes in my life, some more drastic than others.  Through all of these changes, video games have been my sidekick forever accompanying me through the myriad phases I’ve undergone.  While all of this has been happening, two forces have been secretly colluding to negatively impact my appreciation for one of my favorite hobbies.  The first is one that I’ve observed in all of my friends and have dreaded experiencing myself, all while it was surreptitiously occurring – as I get older, I have less and less leisure time.  The other shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you’ve lived and gamed through a few of the console generations – games are getting bigger, more expansive, and, to the point of all of this, they’ve gotten longer.

Back in the 8-bit NES era, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge at all to ride my bike down to the video rental store, pick up something like Ninja Gaiden or Double Dragon, get it home, and beat it in a few hours.  Sure, you can easily make a valid argument that games like Ninja Gaiden were punishingly, even maddeningly difficult, but overall game length was kept to a minimum.  The gameplay was linear – there were no side quests, no worries about 100% completion meters, none of that.  Just a twenty-four hour game rental, the triumph of seeing the ending credits splash across the screen, and then the pride of returning the game the following day with that knowing look on my face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive.  I know there were some longer games on NES – the Final Fantasies, the Dragon Warriors [Quests], even the Zeldas of the world that typically took more than a single playing session to complete.  But, I was also young back then and I had more disposable time than I did income.  So the transition to the next generation didn’t affect me that badly, because I had more time than I knew what to do with.

In fact, my entire gaming style revolved around the idea that I had an endless amount of time to invest in each game.  Just for the point of reference, when I played through Final Fantasy IV, (or VI as it was known in Japan – I still wonder how that localization numbering scheme made sense to anybody) I would wait until I made it as far as the floating continent and I would literally stop advancing the plot.  That’s the milemarker in the game that I decided I should power-level my characters.  So I would spend the next few weeks of my life wandering around fighting monsters until every single one of my characters was at level forty or above.

Or, when I played Shadowrun, I would wait until my character arrived at the Caryards and I would run back and forth to the one screen with randomly spawning characters until I was fully and completely maxed out with skills, attributes, and magic.  Countless hours were invested in both games until my character was either completely maxed out or close enough to make the game a breeze.

Now, I realize that very few people play this way.  Some people appreciate the challenge of having a moderately-powered character and relying on skill and strategy to beat the more difficult parts of the game.  But I’m a brute-force type of guy that enjoys breezing through a game with a power-leveled character.

This brings me to another difference – using a cheat device/code, I could potentially shave hours and hours off my gameplay by leveling up my character in the time it took me to look up and apply the hexadecimal code.  Morally, I had no objections to this because I would’ve applied the time to enhance my stats in the first place, so the only unfair edge I was gaining was hours of my life back.

Games today are different.  For example, one of the more recent games I’ve finished was Darksiders II.  Without concerning myself about 100% completion or trying to find every little collectable, my total logged gametime was just shy of thirty hours.  Thirty hours for an action game seems excessive, especially when one can instantly warp to and from any location already explored on the map.  I could go on and on with examples, but they would all be similar.

The main difference is today just about every single AAA game, without very few, if any, exceptions, requires an insane amount of time to play through and complete.  Even with cheat codes or trainers, immersing yourself in the story and plot requires twenty or thirty hours.  Both publishers and players expect this as well – if  I’ve read reviews where a game was docked because it only took six hours to complete, as if that was a major flaw to the game.  People apparently expect to play a game endlessly with unlimited replay value if they’re paying $50-60 per game.  By contrast, there are some terrific indie studios that make games that can be finished in a few hours that are equally fun.

Because I’m finding that my available time is ever dwindling and because I have an insane backlog of games, television shows, and movies that I haven’t yet played/watched, while balancing being married and having a full time (well over forty hours per week) job that sometimes bleeds over into my home time, plus house chores and everything else that needs to be done, I always finding myself reevaluating what I want to do.  If the wife happens to be working an evening shift and if I manage to get home at a decent time, do I sit through my backlog of Under the Dome (don’t judge) or do I pick up and play one of the newer Assassin’s Creed games I still haven’t had a chance to play?  Or, do I pick up on my ever-growing backlog of comics and books that are rapidly filling up my slowly decreasing space in my bookshelves?  Or do I sit down and pursue one of my other passions, like writing?

The era of Contra and Startropics is over.  Now, I spend more time playing fewer games, and I think, at the end of the day, I have lost, as opposed to gained, as a result of the more time I spend on games.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame… April 17, 2015 at 21:23

Imagine my surprise, when, as a small child who had spent time with a Grandfather that lived in East Chicago (it was a good neighborhood back in 1984), I one day got dragged to a Chicago White Sox game and realized that this song wasn’t specifically for the Cubs and that every crappy (sorry, but I AM talking about you, White Sox.  I don’t care how many pennants you win) baseball team gets to sing this song before their game.  I mean, I grew up hearing Harry Caray announce Cubs games.  This, again, was mid to early 80’s when things were more simple and I things like alcoholic old men didn’t mean a thing to me.

But this brings me back to my focus this time around – Chicago.  Regardless of where I may live, Chicago will always have my heart.  I grew up (more or less) there.  I spent as much as I humanly found time to once I had a car and a driver’s license.  Spending that much time in Chicago shaped me – it changed me.  I like to buy into categories and believe that I am the person that I am because I’m vegan or because I’m still (really?  Even though I’m 34?) straight-edge, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Sure, I’m vegan, but what made that such an easy path to walk in life were places like Soul Vegetarian and The Chicago Diner.  Sure, I’m straight-edge, but what made that easy to hold true was the plethora of punk/hardcore shows available to me in my mid-to-late teen’s at such hallowed venues as The Fireside Bowl.

Unless you came of age in the 90’s and had a penchant for punk and hardcore, you will never understand the importance of The Fireside Bowl to the very essence of my being.  Nature vs nurture be damned, if I didn’t have easy ($7 – cheap enough to be disposable income to someone with a gut-wrenchingly horrible part-time job like McDonald’s) access to a venue that would constantly draw bands and crowds that motivated me to leave my house and partake in something greater than myself and my video games.

Now that I’m in a position where work provides me with opportunities to travel and visit other places, I really do believe that Chicago is a unique place unlike any other.  Granted, you probably feel the same way about wherever you’re from, or maybe not.  Maybe you’re one of those people that spent your childhood dreaming of going away.  And I did that as well.  Because, for all the greatness that Chicago has to offer, there’s plenty of detractions.  Corruption, filth, violence, murder, pollution, etc.  If you can think of a problem, a huge city like Chicago probably has it.  And in fact, now that I’m an adult, I am able to separate my inner child and nostalgia from my grown-up self.  I don’t think it would be a good place to live now.  I hate the snow and cold (thank goodness for mild South Carolina winters – my middle finger is for you, Minnesota!) and breathing dirty air and sitting in traffic and that subtle uneasy feeling while I’m sitting at a red light and someone approaches with the intention of cleaning my windshield.

But even with that being said, I would not be the person I am today had I not grown up in that specific place and time.  And obviously, that’s the most generic thing anybody can say – because it’s universally applicable.  But, even with that understanding, I am happy with the person I am today.  I am proud of the person I became.  And I am that person because of my Chicago roots.  The last time I returned simultaneously reminded me of why I missed it but also why I was happy to get out.  It’s a nice place to visit and I’ll miss it when I am away for too long, but I’ll always have that bittersweet feeling every time I leave.

 

 

Keep in mind that this was specifically about my love for Chicago as a city – it is not meant to trivialize the fact that majority of my family and friends live there or thereabouts and that I also miss the hell out of them.

When You’re Here, You’re Family March 3, 2015 at 20:09

First off, a quick update.  I’m doing fairly well on my New Year’s goal of reading all of the books I own – March has just started and I’ve finished twenty-three books.  I’m a little too scared to look at the total I need to read, but I’m just shy of averaging three a week, which is leaps and bounds ahead of my normal goal of three a month.

 

Anyhow, one of the things I’ve heard (as I’m sure you have as well as everyone you know) throughout my life by different people in different locations and different situations is the old adage and idea that somehow, things were much better back in the day or that they are somehow worse today than ever before.  But there’s one thing in particular that is much, much better than it once was – our relationship to our companion animals typically referred to as pets.

Within some circles of the vegan movement, there is a stigma about referring to our companion animals as our animals (showing that we own/possess them) or pets (a word that has the negative connotation that the animal exists merely for our amusement.)  That’s not really the semantic argument I’m looking for right now, so feel free to call them whatever you’re comfortable with, but let’s primarily focus on the two big American companion animals – dogs and cats.

When I was growing up, it was standard practice for many people to go out, get a dog, buy themselves a twenty-foot (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it wasn’t only ten) chain, chain the dog in their backyard, and provide him or her with a doghouse for when it rained outside.  They would leave two bowls outside, one for water, one for food, both within the reach of the dog, and that oftentimes those two sentences encapsulated the dog’s entire life.  For someone like me that needs to be constantly occupied and busy, the potential boredom from a life like that is unimaginable.

I even remember in the neighborhood I grew up in there was someone that owned some derivation of a Husky breed in the aforementioned situation.  Every day during the early/late summer I would drive by on the bus and couldn’t help feel bad for a dog specifically bred for colder, winter climates stuck outside on a hot 95-degree day in Northwest Indiana with only a dilapidated doghouse to provide any measure of shade.

 

But, alas, this is one of those positive changes I promised.  The money that people spend on animal care each year is increasing.  More and more veterinary clinics are opening and they’re opening because of dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, snakes, etc., as opposed to livestock.  There are multiple big-box chain stores that specialize in food, toys, and even medical care for our companion animals.  And this is something that has slowly and gradually occurred even during my own lifetime as society as a whole has become more progressive.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the capitalist engine helped to make this happen through advertising and marketing campaigns, but regardless of the financial impetus, generally speaking, animals on the whole mean more to people on the whole.  There are still people that keep their dogs chained in the backyard with little to no concern for the well-being of the animal, but there is also an ever-growing population of people that bring animals not only into their homes, but into their families.   Before the understanding was that if an animal had some sort of medical condition that would prove costly, that animal would be put down to save money.  Today, people are willing to spend hundreds and even thousands to get their animal the medical care he or she needs.  Heck, even less people (and veterinarians, which is a very important step) are declawing their cats.

The best part is because there is so much money involved now that I don’t ever see this trend reversing.  If anything, it will only grow stronger.  So say goodbye to the Old Yeller days and say hello to the expensive animal routine medical care days.

If You’ll Just Sign and Initial Right Here… February 24, 2015 at 19:40

I’ve had something that’s been bothering me for some ten-odd years or so, and it was recently exasperated after this year’s Superbowl, so I guess I’m about due for another blog.  My reading schedule is going quite well and because I don’t want to get too out of practice, I figure it makes sense to update this with something after each book I finished.  Since I just finished another book, the timing works out quite well.

Now before I continue, it’s important for you to understand that this is an attempt to make common-sense understanding of a situation.  I’m writing this as Everyman Eric, not Reverend Eric.  I’m sure you can follow up with Biblical quote after quote about how I’m wrong and how it makes perfect sense and how I’m going to Hell for even entertaining such a notion, but we’re not trying to argue the interpretation of the Word of God – we’re trying to use common sense and logic to understand humankind’s limited understanding in a Celestial Universe.

Anyhow, there are groups of people out there that really and truly believe that there are [specifically, for this, I’m discussing bands, but the argument could easily be expanded to any type of performance art] bands out there that hide under the guise of Christianity but actually contain non [or even possibly anti] Christian references.  These bands typically come in two flavors, although their ultimate fate seems to be shared – either they are intentionally trying to subvert true believers with any number of nefarious tactics, or they are merely unwilling pawns of Satan.

Let’s take one of those famous urban legends as an example – the whole “while playing a record in reverse you can almost pretend you hear some kind of prayer or invocation to Satan.”  Let’s even go further out on a limb and assume that the band did it intentionally but they had no other leanings toward what I’m generally going to categorize as darkness.  What does it matter?  Do I listen to records in reverse?  If an otherwise non-Satanic band makes music and I like them and listen to their music but the grooves on a record are arranged such a way that something completely different happens while I listen to it in reverse, am I liable?

I’ve read different pamphlets during the course of my life where people – true Believers ended up going to Hell either for listening to or playing music that was universally Christian.  It’s the whole “The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions” scenario.  Although the people responsible thought with all of their heart and mind that they were doing the right thing, somewhere along the line Satan took a ride and rearranged everything in some petty attempt to trick people.

 

This leads me back to the scenario previously alluded to that happened to me many years ago.  I met some guy at work and he was a preacher of some specific Christian faith or another – the denomination is not particularly important because this scenario isn’t isolated to them.  He wasn’t that much older than me and he was recently Born-Again and because his father-in-law-to-be happened to also be a preacher, he felt it was his duty/obligation/calling to convert the people at work.  As such, he and I used to talk quite a bit because I enjoy discussing the differences between Christian denominations.  One of his biggest points of contention, however, was the devil’s influence on music – specifically rock music – even more specifically, Christian rock music.  At one point in one of our discussions, he singled out POD (to this day, I still don’t know why he chose them as an example, certainly there are better candidates out there) and misquoted some of their lyrics out of context in order to prove that while their followers thought they were listening to good, old-fashioned pro-Jesus music, they were actually being indoctrinated as worshipers of Satan.

 

Logically, I don’t understand the intention or the consequences here.  If we’re going to go with the “good intentions” adage, it doesn’t apply.  That usually refers to some situation in which an action is performed in good faith that has disastrous effects to someone else down the line.  This is nothing more that some man or woman listening to a song and probably singing along and/or dancing.  This is a victimless crime that only affects – A) the band because it presumably brings in more notoriety and money their way B) the listener because they’re the one choosing (or maybe not if the radio is set and they’re lazy) to listen to the song and C) God / Satan since apparently this one song determines the overall worthiness of the listener and the eternal fate of their soul.  Now, obviously, if they were to attend what they thought was a concert but turned out to be some giant Satanic bacchanal and they reveled instead of leaving, then of course they are liable.

I have absolutely no doubt that there are bands that pretend to be Christian bands just for a popularity bump or whatever, and I’m sure there are even bands that surreptitiously attempt to slide in some darkness just for a laugh or whatever.  But this belief that there are people who, in good faith, are listening to music that for all intents and purposes seem to be Christian are actually listening to something evilly subversive are going to be forever damned to Hell is ludicrous to me.   I won’t even make the argument that not all rock music is the work of Satan (because his instrument is an electric guitar?)

 

My biggest issue is if we have somebody who lives their entire life and does everything he or she can to be a good Christian person, I don’t really believe that God is going to disqualify them because there was some type of Satanic double entendre of which they were completely unaware.  I would like to believe that the gates of heaven move for the common, well-intentioned man and woman, not the lawyers that can read the fine print of music and ascertain whether it is truly Christian or whether it is darkness.

 

 

I rambled on so long that I forgot about the Superbowl reference – some dude posted an article online about how Katy Perry is evil or whatever and how she’s corrupting America’s youth.  Dude of course made mention to the fact that she’s a preacher’s daughter and that she began her musical career (albeit under a different name) as a Christian Gospel singer.  But homeboy was trying to claim that Perry’s ultimate aim is the corruption of boys and girls.  And, while, heck, it just may be, I think her much more immediate goal is money and popularity.  And sex, as they say, sells.  Do I think there is a difference between pervasive evil that corrupts for the sake of winning over souls to Satan and amoral behavior that appeals to our basest instincts?

 

For the record, I liked Katy Perry better when she played guitar.