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Banishing Normal

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2017 at 6:44 pm

Last October, I was informed the bookstore I worked in for 21 year was going to close. I’d lose my job in April. This was the first in a line of incidents that crushed my sense of what was normal.

Then my mother’s pre-cancerous condition became serious enough that her doctors recommended chemotherapy and a blood marrow transplant. This would involve months of treatment with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Dad would come up with her and be her full time caregiver during this time. Seeing my mom treated for cancer, sporting a tube that had been surgically embedded in her chest for easy blood sampling and infusion, was the next jolt to my sense of normalcy.

When Dad had to leave Seattle to return home to the drier climate of Nevada so his bronchial infection could heal, I became Mom’s full-time caregiver. My apartment wasn’t suitable for her stay. It was a four-floor walk-up without an elevator and wasn’t close enough to the clinic. I moved into a one-bedroom apartment with Mom in housing set up for SCCA’s patients. I moved out of home, just another couple miles away from normal.

Mom got better and she went back to Nevada, too. I went back to work during the final month before the store closed. At this point, the building looked more like an abandoned two-story garage than a bookstore. It was emptied of books and only full of echoes. This shouldn’t be the normal state of any bookstore.

Now, I’m unemployed for the first time in my adult life. What used to be my normal life has completely vanished in less than a year.

Upon reflection of the difference between my life then and my life now, I realize I don’t want to have a normal life ever again.

Ten years into my twenty-one-year bookstore career, I realized it was time for me to leave, but I didn’t. I was comfortable. I had a routine. I was being paid well enough that I didn’t have to struggle to survive. I wanted to do more than survive, but I was afraid to risk what I had in order to strive for what I truly wanted.

While I recognize that routines can help us become more efficient in meeting our personal goals, I don’t ever again want to mistake the routine for the goal. Routines are tools that help us achieve the goal. The goal is a fully engaged life, not one stumbled through.

I don’t ever want to mistake comfort for success. I don’t ever again want to become hypnotized by sameness. I want to be fully conscious of what is in front of me, what is within me, and what is holding me back.

While I was afraid of being my mother’s caregiver, doing so forced me to face my limitations. I had to become better than I had was accustomed to being. I had to create better habits and be more honest with myself and others about what needed to be done if I and those around me were going to live healthier lives. So, from now on, I want to face the challenges of my life head on, realizing that at the end of my limitations begins new knowledge and wisdom.

I am choosing to live as a writer, whatever that means, wherever that takes me. I don’t know the path, and that excites me, but I know whatever comes, I will face it consciously, graciously, gratefully, and with more fear of settling for a normal life than of experiencing the unknown.

Doctor Who Needs Diversity Beyond Casting

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Saturday, August 3rd, Doctor Who fans were freaking out about the news of the new actor to play the British science-fiction TV series’ title character, sitting in front of a BBC or BBC America live show, awaiting the announcement of the next Nerd Pope (a title supplied by several people on Twitter). I’m one of the world’s biggest Doctor Who fans, but I don’t give a damn about the announcement for the casting of the next Doctor.

I don’t mean that I’m upset or in denial about who they cast. I mean I don’t care who they cast. It is meaningless to me until I watch the actual program. Knowing ahead of time and having an opinion doesn’t alter the BBC’s decision, so it’s not really worth my time and energy.

However, I did watch the live announcement and the following reaction on the internet. I knew people would ask me about it so I decided stay informed. And I realize that one of the things I’m going to be asked about the most is if I’m disappointed that the next Doctor isn’t a woman or/and a person of color.

And surprisingly the answer is “not really”.

I mean, there was an amazing list of people that fans were hoping would be cast, including Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Helen Mirren. However, none of them were in the running. None of them were asked or were interested in the role. Fans can make dream lists all they want, but, again, this has no effect on the actual casting process.

If you really want to be up in arms about the lack of diversity on Doctor Who, the main actor is hardly the problem. The larger issue is the representation of history in general. In the 50 year history of the show, although they have a ship that can travel to anywhere in time and space, they have never been to South America. While they have met the aliens who inspired the myths of the Egyptian gods, they have never actually been to Egypt, or anywhere else on the African continent. They have only been to Asia once to travel with Marco Polo to meet Kublai Kahn and they have been to the Middle East once, but only because they English were there during the Crusades. Unfortunately, we only know of these last two travels because the scripts and set photos still exist. These stories were among the early episodes that were thrown out or taped over.

The show has also been pretty skimpy on its representation of historical women. On a Wikipedia list of 56 historical figures seen in the program’s history, only nine of them have been women.

It used to be that the problem that science fiction had with the diverse representation of humanity was its depiction of the future. If you look at science-fiction films from the ‘60s and earlier it seemed that only white men survived to travel through space. By contrast, the current series of Doctor Who seems to do an okay job of placing women and people of color in prominent roles in their futuristic stories. However, the show’s depiction of the past eliminates 3/4ths of humanity as well as the influence of women. It seems the Doctor would rather travel to a planet knowingly invaded by genocidal cyborgs than travel to Nairobi or Mumbai.

I would love to see Doctor Who stories set in Buenos Aires, Cape Town, or Kyoto and other tales featuring Marie Curie, Joan of Arc, or Harriet Tubman. The token gender or racial casting of The Doctor is nowhere near as interesting to me as truly opening up Earth history to a complete and multi-dimensional representation of humanity.

Possible Blog Hiatus

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2013 at 2:00 am

Okay, last week I wrote a joke blog entry because I had a migraine and it was April Fool’s Day. But it’s now April 8th, so this one’s for real.

It’s entirely possible that I won’t be updating my blog for the rest of this month. That’s because April is National Poetry Month and several poets have taken upon themselves to also think of it as National Poetry Writing Month, which is the poetry version of the National Novel Writing Month that happens in November. It is also referred to as “30/30” for 30 poems in 30 days. So I’ll be spending most of my writing time this month writing poems.

I’ve already had people ask me why I don’t just post the poems in my blog, but I don’t want to do that because  if I post them on the internet, I may not be able to sell first publication rights for those pieces to a publisher that may be interested in publishing them. So I am currently posting them onto facebook, where only people who are my facebook friends can see what I post there. If I post them here, anyone with an internet connection can see them and publishers may already consider them published as a result, and thus, not so interested in publishing themselves. Make sense?

In any case, I should be back to writing a regular, weekly blog in May.

Last Blog Ever

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Just lost both my hands. So no blog today. Actually, no more blogs. Or anything else. I’m done writing. Had to type this with my nose. Correcting typos is too hard. Plus, I now know my keyboard smells like burnt tuna fish. I can’t go on writing if I always have to smell that. So, that’s all. And please be careful when using your juicers.

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.

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.

Story: Nothing Special

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2013 at 2:52 am

No blog this week. Instead of writing, I spent my time typing and editing a story I wrote in college called Nothing Special. It was published back in 1998 in the fourth issue of Glyph, a comics and short story anthology magazine I was the fiction editor for. Honestly, I had forgotten what issue the story was in. I found that info on the Grand Comics Database. The internet is an amazing thing. You can read the story by clicking here. There will be more stories coming soon.

Technological Convenience: How Useful is it?

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 12:32 am

I’m having one of those moments where I hate taking the bus. It’s ten o’clock at night, it’s 42 degrees, I just missed my transfer from downtown, and now I have to wait 17 minutes for the next bus. But the truth is, as much as I hate waiting for the bus, I think I would hate owning a car more. The only vehicle I ever owned myself was a motorcycle: a Kawasaki LTD 750. It was a nice bike, but it was falling apart.  Every month was another problem. The thing was a money sink and the idea of having to deal with that plus car payments plus insurance seems horrible to me. Why would I want to lose my money in that fashion?
Besides, now I have time to read, and to write screeds like this one, while awkwardly avoiding people’s gazes, as I sit next to and ignore new people, and try to identify the source and ingredients of new smells.

This is telling of how modern post-industrial life is a balance of conveniences and inconveniences, weighing one against the other.

Another example: I’m worried that the smart phone I’m typing this on can make things too convenient.  I woke up this morning in a funk, remembering a friend’s advice about how she found videos of guided mediations on YouTube that helped her relax and focus when she was stressed.  So I planned to do this in the morning, but my mopey mood was so strong that I stayed in bed for 20 minutes after the alarm went off. And then I remembered I had a YouTube app on my phone, used it to look up “guided meditation deep relaxation”, plugged in my headphones, and was soon on a blissful journey.

Yet, my life doesn’t actually feel any better.
Instead, I find it scary how convenient this is. I take this as a sign that we’re on the verge of becoming Jetsons where machines dress us and brush our teeth. Today, I can spend 30 seconds to find a guru to lead me through a guided mediation without even leaving my bed. Next year, will there be an app that will rotate me in order to prevent bed sores?

But, am I overreacting? What if this turns out to be a good thing? I’ve been thinking about this as if new technology is the ruin of humanity as a species, as if technological convenience is a monster that will murder my family and motivate me to run to the arctic where I will die on an ice flow grappling my smartphone in eternal struggle. But really, it’s just a phone, not Frankenstein’s monster.

However, as I am typing this on the bus, I can see some of the paradoxical effects of the technology as I use it. I am surrounded by people who will not talk to each other, and I plan to later connect to people by posting this on my blog. That way we can all, separately, communicate, possibly reading the blog on our smartphones on the bus where we refuse to speak to the person next to us.

Yet, through writing this blog, I’ve come to see the undeniable power of the written word. By writing my “Time Travel Project” entries from journals from 28 years ago, I’ve realized that the true power of written language is that it is telepathic time travel. Because of written language we have access to thoughts from centuries ago. This is an amazing technology that we take for granted. Writing a blog on a bus with my phone is just another permutation of this technology.

I have yet to truly understand how to navigate the balance of these technologies of convenience in my life. This whole blog, hell, this whole life, is an experiment and I don’t yet know how this all shakes out.

UPDATE: Oh, crap. And just after I posted this, I found this article: Why the Secret of Happiness is Turning off your Mobile Phone

Which I found thanks to this video

Happy Social Justice Day

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Today is Martin Luther King day in the U.S. In my mind, it’s not just a little, “let’s get together and remember Dr. King” history lesson, but an attempt to continue his quest for social justice. That’s what, to me, this holiday really is about. It’s Social Justice Day. It’s about someone trying to get the U.S. to pay up on its promissory note of “equality and justice for all”. The problem is that people think of this as a black holiday, or that Dr. King is only important to black people. It’s because people who like simple pictures of history like to believe King’s struggle was solely about desegregation, as if not being able to use the same lunch counters was the greatest evil black people had to face. However, Dr. King was also responsible for action that led to the mandated minimum wage. He was against the Vietnam war. He was for all people receiving justice. This is why he was important. He was the person who tried to get the U.S. to pay attention to its own values and to make good on them, not just pay lip service to them. We have forgotten about this as a nation. This is why we need to remember Dr. King. I cannot communicate his message any better than he did himself. So I’ve included excerpts from his speech “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” and have posted an audio recording of the speech. Listen to what he has to say about how we’ve fallen back on our values, culturally and politically. These are the lessons we need to keep with us as we continue to shape this nation and our lives so that we may live up to the promise of America. Happy Social Justice Day, everyone.

“This is a role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible but refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investments. I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”

“It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo, we shall boldly challenge unjust mores, and thereby speed up the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”