Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Just a Plane Blog

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Forgive me for writing on such a hack subject, but I’m visiting my folks in Las Vegas and I’m having trouble concentrating in order to write the blog post I really want to write. And honestly, that’s just a convenient excuse. The subject is difficult, so it may take me awhile for me to say what I want to say exactly as I want to so say it. So, instead, I’m writing about air travel.

I’ve been a solo passenger in airplanes since I was eight. At that time, it was an adventure. Now, as an adult, I experience commercial air travel as an artificial, barely human experience. As soon as I step into the terminal, I feel I might as well be taking a trip into space, with all the wonder and struggle that’s involved. We are essentially launched through the sky in a pressurized tube, which is both miraculous and intensely unnatural. But while I was listing all the various things that bother me about plane travel, I have finally come to see why my disdain of air travel has grown over the years. Air travel produces an odd combination of discomforts that add up to a two-or-so-hour artificially induced flu.

Hear me out. After standing in check-in and security lines for 30 minutes to an hour, I get to sit in hard plastic chairs at the gate, which is not much of a relief. Follow this with the cramped leg-space on the airplane and I begin to experience a dull muscle ache.

In flight, while the cabin is pressurized for my comfort, it feels, much to my discomfort, that the air pressure is denser just around my forehead. My ears begin to feel clogged. And the air I’m breathing feels like it was manufactured from the air of dryer exhaust.

And I’ve become much less comfortable with turbulence. When the plane plummets 20 feet, so does my stomach. I know we are significantly less likely to crash into something up in the sky than when we are driving on land, but knowing this doesn’t make the constant lurching around, of the plane or my insides, any more pleasant.

Oddly, the whole experience induces drowsiness, especially with the ocean-like roar of the jet engines and rush of wind resistance cradling my senses in an envelope of white noise as we sail through the downy lusciousness of white clouds. But it’s so uncomfortable that I can’t sleep. On the rare occasions that I have slept, it has been like an ill person, drooling on myself, a rope of saliva hanging from my lip, swinging pendulously as my head rolls back and forth in rhythm with the turbulent plane. When we hit an air pocket my head snaps back as if the pilot had slammed on the breaks and I am jolted awake as if slapped. I sheepishly wipe the drool swing from my lip, smearing it across my chin, sticking the swaying spit to the side of my hand. What I really need in those moments is a napkin and not a sweater sleeve, but that’s what I have.

If I were on land and had all these symptoms, I’d be convinced that I’d caught the flu. I guess I shouldn’t complain that this is what I have to endure in order to span a distance in one day that used to take our ancestors a month, especially since those ancestors used to die from the actual flu or worse when on these long treks. However, if I did that I wouldn’t have a blog for today and I am not about to stop my uninterrupted upload streak.


“The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door” is a Fun and Inspiring Read

In Books, Uncategorized on March 19, 2013 at 12:51 am

During a night of cold- or flu-induced insomnia, I read the last 22 chapters of the young adult novel The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door. I had to know just what was the nature of Celia’s revenge against the mean girls of her school, Sandy and Mandy. I had to know if the handsome new boy, Drake, was going to stay in town. If so, would he, despite his growing popularity, maintain his friendship with the outcast Celia? I had to know if the advice of Buddy Strong’s over-exclamation marked book Dream It! Do It! was going to help Drake come out of the closet to the boy he loved or if it would backfire. I had to know what Sandy and Mandy had done in 8th grade to warrant Celia spending her spare time plotting revenge when she wasn’t writing poetry.

No, this is not the kind of reading I’m usually engrossed in, but this is a book I’ve been waiting to read for two years.

Karen Finneyfrock, the book’s author, is someone I know through the Seattle Poetry Slam. I believe we both became involved in slam and performance poetry around the same time in the mid-‘90s, but she became much more directly involved and active. She was the slam’s host once upon a time, and I believe she has been on Seattle’s poetry slam team at least twice. She’s got a great book of poems titled Ceremony for the Choking Ghost and at the release party for that book she read from her, then, upcoming new novel. If I remember correctly, it was then titled Celia the Dark and Weird.

The reading painted a picture of Karen’s 9th grade heroes and villains. Celia had turned 14 and had also turned Dark, which meant her clothing and her attitude became grim and black. Celia was bright, well-read, and too smart, in intelligence and mouth, for her small-town high school. She was an outsider trying to survive the next four years as best she could. I think I would have been, or would have wanted to be, friends with her if we went to the same school. The friends I had in high school were all outsiders. The only thing we had in common was that we didn’t have anything in common with anyone else. I immediately wanted to see what would happen to this girl. And when her friend Drake, a closeted gay teen, was seen walking arm in arm with Celia’s arch-nemesis, Sandy Firestone, I had to know what was up.

Two years later, the book is out. It had already been sold to Penguin, but it had to go through some more revisions, including a title change, as well as the regular benchmarks of the publication process. It has been worth the wait.

The entire read was enjoyable, even though it was difficult at first to get Karen’s voice out of my head and substitute some generic 14-year-old voice when reading Celia’s narration of her tale. Once I got the hang of it, it was pretty easy. Celia has a very distinctive voice, as does everyone, even Celia’s cousin who only appears via email.

The characters and situations all felt real to me and while simply drawn were not two dimensional. I was immediately sympathetic to Celia’s situation although her smart attitude and stubbornness got in her way at times. Drake was friendly and amusing, but he also seemed oblivious about a lot of what was going on around him. These flaws helped flesh out the characters and made them seem more human instead of being mere wish-fulfillment avatars for the readers.

I also enjoyed learning something about the nature of bullying between girls by reading this novel. The book’s main villain, Sandy, perpetrated her evil in the form of image and body “advice” to girls in need of Sandy’s unwarranted help. This wasn’t merely short-sighted or insensitive of Sandy. It was subtle, intentional, and malicious. By contrast, boy bullies are usually more simple and direct with overt name-calling and physical intimidation. As a result, boys don’t often notice or understand when girls are bullying other girls. However, the segments where Sandy perpetuates her villainy are so well written that I got it immediately and definitely wanted horrible things to happen to Sandy.

However, the thing that was most exciting to me about this novel was how inspiring it was. There has been a book I’ve wanted to write about high school since I graduated high school. And yet, all the events of the book wouldn’t quite gel. I knew the tone of it and I knew what I wanted it to say, but I couldn’t figure out how to say it. After finishing Karen’s book in a literal fever, it came to me all the elements that needed to be in my book, who the major characters would be, what each of their stories would be. I’ve got it all written down and feel motivated to start fleshing it out.

So, thanks, Karen, for not only writing such an entertaining young adult novel, but also for giving me some inspiration and insight on how try and make one of my own.

Writing through Depression

In Creative Inspiration on March 12, 2013 at 5:10 am

So the last couple of days I’ve felt stuck. Stuck, stuck, and stuck. I don’t know what to do. I’m just pushing buttons on the keyboard in order for something to happen. It’s like a black cloud crawled across my imagination, as if my ability to visualize has become overcast and I can’t see anything other than the gray I feel.

Man, that seems like a mopey, self-indulgent description of teenage angst. And that last sentence of self-criticism was a symptom of the depression I’m actually feeling. I’m reminded of the book The Midnight Disease by Alice Faherty. In it she discusses writer’s block and depression and how depression is a force that suppresses and inspires writing. Right now I am trying to just shamble forward with this creative act in hopes that I will somehow write myself out of the well, scrambling word by word to pull myself out.

Writing is actually my number one tool for crawling out of depression. Many other useful tools I’ve found in David Burns’ book Feeling Good. The tools in his book have worked for me off and on, but if you suffer from chronic depression, your mileage may vary. One of the tools is his distinction of the difference between sadness and depression. It’s not simply one of degree. “Either sadness or depression can develop after a loss or a failure in your efforts to reach a goal of great personal importance.” The main difference between the two is that, “sadness never involves a lessening of your self-esteem.” This was an important distinction for me. Sadness I can tolerate as part of a healthy grieving process, but depression I’ve come to realize I have to do something about or it will start to erode my sense of self-worth.

Burns says, “Depression is an illness that always results from thoughts that are distorted in some way.” Depression is not caused by the external circumstances of your world, but by flaws in thinking that are distorted and unrealistic. Recognizing and confronting these cognitive distortions is helpful.

The ten basic cognitive distortions are:

  1. All –or –Nothing Thinking – this is the mental state of the self-defeating perfectionist, who believes if it isn’t perfect, it’s worthless.
  2. Overgeneralization – the belief that one problem, obstacle, or defeat is demonstrative of how you will never get things right.
  3. Mental Filter – focusing only on the negative to the extent that it colors every possible outcome.
  4. Disqualifying the Positive – deciding that anything good that comes along doesn’t really count
  5. Jumping to Conclusions – there are two main ways this occurs:  a. Mind Reading – jumping to conclusions about what someone else is thinking with little or no evidence.  b. The Fortune Telling Error – making guesses about the negative outcome of a future event with little to no evidence
  6. Magnification (Castarophizing) or Minimization – exaggerating the negative consequences of a mistake or failure, or shrinking the good and helpful qualities of something, such as your own strengths.
  7. Emotional Reasoning – believing that because you feel so badly about something, your negative thoughts about that thing must be true.
  8. Should Statements – obligations you give to yourself to motivate you, but if you fail in meeting them, your sense of self-worth decreases.
  9. Labeling and Mislabeling – this is basically name-calling, giving yourself with a negative label instead of dealing with the problem or behavior itself.
  10. Personalization – feeling personally responsible for something that has gone wrong when you weren’t the primary cause of the problem.

Burns suggests talking back to your internal critic by identifying which cognitive distortion you are exhibiting and write a rational response to yourself about what is really going on. It may seem odd, but recognizing the truth in this manner often puts me on the road to feeling better and more motivated. If you want more detail on this process and his other tools, an approach called cognitive therapy, I suggest checking out his book.

I wrote this as, like a lot my blog posts as of late, a reminder to myself, but also as something that I hope other might find useful since a lot of people I know seem to suffer from occasional feelings of low self-worth and depression.  I’m going to end this post here because I have a lot more writing I have to get to.

When Nerd Worlds Collide

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm

My time machine is broken.

A couple weeks ago, I came home to see that the wire frame shelves in my closet had collapsed, creating an avalanche of CDs and table-top role-playing game books that spilled out into the bedroom. After two years of use, this series of wire grids snapped together with plastic pieces finally gave way under the weight of 30 years of RPG collecting box sets and large hardbound books.

It was useless to rebuild the shelf, so I just picked up everything and stacked the pieces on top each other as sturdily as possible until I could gather the time and money to find another , more durable, set of shelves.

Buried beneath all the RPGs are all my journals from high school through college to now. As a result, the Time Travel Project is on hiatus until I can clean and organize my closet. I think we know how closet cleaning projects go. So I don’t know when I’ll get back to it, which is a shame because I thought it was an interesting project of literary merit and now it has been literally crushed by the results of my more geeky passions.

I’ve tried to keep my comic/genre/RPG nerd separate from my literary nerd when out in public. They seem to be two different creative circles that I haven’t had much experience blending together as if they are high school cliques seated on opposite ends of the lunchtime cafeteria. But the past week has blown the lid off of this idea.

At the Seattle Poetry Slam I had a conversation with a poet about a graphic novel he bought at my store, Locke & Key by Joe Hill. Other poets broke into the conversation on the subject of favorite comic series, then Doctor Who and then table-top RPGs.

“Funny you should mention RPGs. The only writing I’ve been paid for, to date, has been for a role-playing game,” I said.

“Oh, yeah. Which one?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t have heard of it.” But because the poet gave me a skeptical look I told him, “Weapons of the Gods.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m currently playtesting Legends of the Wulin.” FYI: Legends of the Wulin is the new version of the rules used in Weapons of the Gods with the Hong Kong comic book IP stripped out of it.

And then we spent the next 20 minutes deep-diving into RPG geekdom, losing all the other poets in our wake.

Another substrata of literary nerd that I’ve compartmentalized is black literary nerd. I hadn’t seen a lot of cross-over conversations about Dr. Who and old high school games of Shadowrun happening at the poetry readings at the jazz club or community center. However, Thursday night I was at a spoken word/comedy/performance event titled “Happens to be Black”. At the end of the night I won a raffle to another upcoming geek-themed night of comedy titled “Comedy Trek” and a fellow black poet I knew through the poetry slam said he wanted to go with me so we could hang as fellow geeks. This was surprising and cool.

Two days after that I attended the Emerald City Comic Con and encountered two different participants of the Seattle Poetry Slam. One was actually in costume.

I guess it’s time to not just clean up my closet but come out of it with all my various nerd inspirations. It looks like these cliques aren’t as separate as I thought.