When I ran the 3M Half Marathon two weeks ago, I threw updates up on Facebook as I trudged along. There are perks to being slower than a lame tree sloth and this would be one of them. As I made my way on my almost four hour trek, it was encouraging to get comments of support as I went along. Every time I signed in to make the next snarky remark, I’d pause to read what friends had said since the last one and was buoyed by all the “likes” I got.

Next month I’m going to Vegas on vacation during both the World Series of Poker Circuit events running at Caesar’s and the Deep Stack Extravaganza at Venetian. So sort of a “working” vacation, if you could call it that. I thought it would be fun to get some similar encouragement while I was there. I’ve tweeted hands out as I’ve gone when playing in tournaments both here and in Vegas but I thought I’d go a little further with it this go.

In the past I’ve bought pieces of action from one of my poker buddies who had a big score in Oklahoma three years back. But I’ve never sold any of my action because I didn’t think about it and didn’t think anyone would be interested. Mentioning the possibility on Facebook made me change my mind. So I’m offering 1% of three tournaments at $10, which makes it a reasonable “investment” for my friends who want to play along.

The schedule as I see it for my time in Vegas:

  • Monday February 24th 5pm WSOPC Event #5 $365 No Limit Hold ’em – this is listed as a 2-day event. Based on the parallel event at the Choctaw series from earlier this month, they will probably play down to the money Monday night, with the remaining players coming back around 2pm the next day to play to a winner. Choctaw had 257 entries paying out 27 spots. I actually played in a re-entry event at Caesar’s in this series two or three years ago. For that event they played down to 15% of the field remaining and I busted out just a bit short of that cut.
  • Tuesday February 25th – This is the only one that’s up in the air. If I make the cut on Monday night to day 2, then I’ll have to wait and see how I do there before deciding what tourney to play in. WSOPC has a $365 No Limit Hold ’em 6-handed starting at noon, but they tend to do late entries until at least 3 or 4 if I remember right. Venetian Deep Stack has a $400 2-day event where the second flight starts that day at noon (flight one begins on Monday). And if I’m in the money from Monday and can’t make either of these, there’s a 7pm $200 bounty tournament I can slide into that evening. Obviously if I make miracles happen and run to the final table from the previous event, then you’ll get a partial rebate on the entry I didn’t use from Tuesday along with your piece of Monday’s bounty :-). A man can dream ;-).
  • Wednesday February 26th noon Venetian Deep Stack $300 NLHE Black Chip Bounty – The bounty tourney Tuesday is a “green chip” bounty, meaning players would collect $25 for each player they knocked out. Black chips are $100, so this is a more lucrative one to play. Again, if I make it to the 2nd day on Tuesday at the noon Venetian tourney then this may get put off or cancelled entirely for me, although they do have a $200 tourney running at 7pm that I could still play in as part of the package.

So if you’re interested in sweating my play, let me know if you want a piece of the action. I’m looking to sell about 30% and based on FB response I think about 10% is spoken for already.  If you’re one of my Austin peeps, then text, email or call and I’ll tie out with when I can get the cash.  If I know you from out of town, ping me and I’ll send you the address to mail a check to. I can maybe do Paypal but they might take a piece out so let’s leave that as a last resort.

Let’s have some fun and see if I can run it up!

This has been and will continue to be a fairly challenging November for me.

The entire quarter from October through December is always a bit of a bear for me. My company’s success is centered around retail prosperity and Christmas is (in this country at least) the retail holiday to end all others. Throw in new products to roll out and the whole thing can get kind of hairy.

It feels a little weird to not even begin to try and do NaNoWriMo this year.  I think last year I got a whopping 1400 words into my 50K for the month and then just threw my hands up and quit on day 3. This year I didn’t even walk up to the starting line.  My fellow word nerds were all out and about 10/31 at midnight pecking away. I slunk home after a dinner of fried chicken and crawled into bed hoping that 1) no trick or treaters came by although I did in fact have candy if they did; and 2) that said trick or treaters didn’t decide to egg my car for such inhospitable behavior as they had two years prior.

I lucked out on both counts, but still feel a little sad at not making a go of it.  Words don’t come easily for me lately, as the sporadic activity on this blog would demonstrate. I have tried not to put any pressure on myself to try and produce words at a regular clip, but I feel like I may need to push myself to try and crank stuff out whether I feel up to it or no.  I do n0t do well without some kind of outside pressure or deadline pushing me to make something happen I guess. Flashbacks to late night cram sessions from college, maybe.

Right now I am sitting on a chaise at the home of friends Kurt & Deanna. There are writers all throughout the house furiously pecking away at their keyboards trying to beat each other in a word war (ten minute time limit to crank out whatever they can). I’m playing along here just because I can and it makes me feel a bit more connected to this world I used to feel so much more a part of.

I miss feeling like I have something to say here. I do not know if I was any good at it, but I do miss it. I have no idea why my ambivalence keeps persisting when I know that it does not matter whether I ever write the great American novel or not. All that matters is that I say what I feel because the feelings are my own.

Well, I guess obsessing about correcting contractions in this thing to help up my word count does not exactly count as “feelings” per se. But it does speak to the fact that my competitive spirit has not gone completely by the wayside. Nor my propensity for expressing myself awkwardly in prose to pad the bullshit pile effectively.

Where was I?

I do feel like I am slowly finding my way back in some areas. The last two times out playing cards have been profitable. I took fourth place in one poker tourney, and then flamed out in the second but came back huge in the cash game after making some good plays and hitting some lucky draws. More importantly, I am learning to let it go when the losing side of variance sneaks up and bites me in the ass. As long as I can analyze my play and understand where I might have made the different choice (if there was one) to maybe increase the odds more to my favor, I can sleep at night without beating myself up.

Progress. Or “baby steps” if you’re a What About Bob? fan.

(Note to self: word counts are significantly more likely to go up when you don’t struggle with spelling issues like how to spell aficionado and spell check doesn’t help you.)

Anyway there isn’t any real point to all of this beyond my saying I may be cranking out the random a lot more in this space than usual. You have been warned.

I feel like I need to say something upfront so I don’t forget. It may also be the only time you ever see these words coming from me, so appreciate it for what it says.

If you have any interest at all in seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, you owe it to yourself to see it in digital 3D. Hell, I’m absolutely pissed that the Bullock museum isn’t showing it in IMAX 3D. It absolutely adds that much to the experience.

When I saw this teaser for the first time, I want to say it was about 6 months ago, I felt nauseous just sitting at my desk at work. And then I went back and replayed it fullscreen HD just because I hadn’t been gut punched enough the first time. And it was more encouraging to me talking amongst friends to see what their reaction was. I believe the general consensus among those with a negative reaction was along the lines of “Yeah, you have fun with that.”

It had nothing to do with concerns about the story or the quality of the cast. The visuals from this 90 seconds of footage simply triggered the claustrophobia (or perhaps it would be better to say astrophobia) too strongly in the people I know who have that particular fear. I don’t have that phobia myself but even then the teaser made me uneasy as hell. I’ve had that experience before, though, and wound up pretty disappointed in the final product (see The Conjuring).

I’m glad that didn’t prove to be the case here.

It’s a high concept pitch. Retiring veteran shuttle pilot Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is on a space walk with technical specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). A satellite accident results in catastrophe leaving them adrift in orbit above the Earth. What will it take for them to survive?

And the story paints by the numbers for the first twenty minutes or so. Kowalski is confident and a bit of a smart ass. Stone is the fish out of water just trying to survive in uncomfortable surroundings. There’s even a supporting role in another specialist who’s digging the hell out of zero G a lot more than Stone is who comes across as cookie cutter as it gets. From the characters alone this movie shouldn’t be nearly as interesting as it is.

What sucked me in completely was how utterly immersive their environment is in orbit. Call it hyperbole but I stand by a comment I made on FB to friends: this is absolutely the pinnacle of special effects work I’ve ever seen in film. If I didn’t know better I would swear they filmed the entire thing in orbit. Nothing breaks the illusion for me.

So when the bullets…pardon, debris…starts flying, the peril Stone and Kowalski find themselves in is harrowing. When perspective shifts from omniscient to Stone’s view within her helmet, I could see how people might get motion sick with how Stone spins, jerks and bounces around. My gut is sore from how hunched over and clenched up I was as the action progressed.

What makes the environment even more immersive is how Cuarón uses complete silence when the action is most intense. This isn’t a tentpole studio production trying to give you more bang for your buck. There’s one shot in particular of Stone at the midpoint that I think was a very deliberate visual homage to Kubrick’s 2001 and I appreciated it not only for the nod, but the active recognition that dead silence can be more terrifying than having the whole of creation exploding in your ears as well as your eyes.

I’m not a big Bullock fan, but she’s compelling as Stone. I made the mistake of reading a review before the film’s release that made (in my opinion) a bigger deal out of her character’s flaws as they’re revealed than was warranted. I expect that there is going to be some nitpicks about her backstory and what implications it would have for her mission. At least that was where my mind went whenI first read about them. In the end I found it irrelevant to my belief in Bullock’s portrayal.

Clooney as Kowlaski is equally good, though he doesn’t get as many opportunities to dominate the screen as Bullock’s Stone. When Kowlaski does make his presence felt, I like how Clooney does it, going for a more subtle approach. I can buy into Kowalski as the veteran hand in space and easily see him as a leader in a difficult situation. He anchors Stone mentally as well as physically in spots (I suppose that merits a “spoiler alert” but if you watch the trailer you see it in action).

The movie clocks in at a very tight 90 minutes, and it’s damned efficient storytelling. There’s no dead air, no scenes that feel like they needed to be trimmed or excised entirely. The tagline “Don’t let go” could just as easily describe what the movie did to me as it serves as a suggestion to the leads. Free of Gravity‘s airless environment, I feel like I can finally slow down and breathe.

A close friend has started up her own book group. Because I think it would help my writing by getting back in the habit of reading more, I figured it would do me some good to sign up. Plus I figured it would get me exposure to writers and literature outside of my usual repasts. Which when I was reading more seemed to be limited to Dennis Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk and the odd poker strategy guide.

As if to justify that interest in going outside my regular fare, we started with Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon.  Which at times felt like it shared Palahniuk’s nihilism but without his joie de vivre. And believe it or not, I mean that in a good way.

Panopticon centers on a Scottish teen named Anais Hendricks. Anais is being transported to an “alternative” facility for troubled youth, her holding place while an investigation is conducted over her role in putting a policewoman into a coma. Anais’ involvement is a mystery to everyone including Anais herself.

Anais has spent most of her young life bouncing from foster home to foster home, having been abandoned at birth by a mother who fled the asylum in which she gave birth. Having nothing in her life she feels like she can hold onto or trust save herself, Anais spends much of her childhood raising hell and doing enough drugs to make Keith Richards take pause. Combined with the knowledge of her mother’s mental illness, Anais doesn’t even have confidence she can trust reality as she experiences it.

That sense of unreality is one of the things I enjoyed most about the story. It plays on the edges enough to make me question whether everything Anais is experiencing is grounded in reality or if a varying amount of it is some hallucination I experience through her as the narrator. As a movie person, I tend to associate certain literary experiences with films I’ve seen. In this case, Anais’ world made me think of moments in Jeff Nichols’ film Take Shelter.

There the main character grapples with a very fragile understanding of his reality. He has moments that absolutely broke my heart and made me experience the same helplessness he feels. I felt the same way with the way Fagan wrote Anais. I know the book will grate on some people with the heavy use of dialect (it certainly didn’t play well for everyone in the group). For myself because I tend to hear dialogue when I read it as conversations in my head, the Scottish “read” naturally to me.

Granted, I hate the person who put the idea in my head that made me hear it as Merida from Brave, but I digress.

Everything about Anais not only felt real to me, but I felt sympathy for a character that by her actions should be inherently unlikeable. Never mind the drugs (or the bollocks), she has exactly zero fucks to give about just about anything. But she gets enough moments of redemption to make me invested in what happens to her over the course of the story.

And that proves to be a severe emotional gut punch, because there are some twists that are about as bleak as anything I’ve read. As one friend commented, “Isnay a happy book.” I think I found myself a little more annoyed at what felt like obvious emotional manipulation with some of the supporting characters (specifically Tash & Isla, two girls in the Panopticon with Anais). I didn’t feel the same way with Anais, and it’s what ultimately pulled me through to see what happened to her in the end.

Definitely would recommend, with the caveat that given the style and subject matter it’s not gonna be for everyone.

It is true that I read Jenny Lawson, a.k.a. The Bloggess, more than probably just about any straight man in America that isn’t married/related to her.

Well, at least I hope her husband Victor is straight. But if he isn’t, I mean hey whatever floats their boat collectively, you know?

Wait, I had a point around here somewhere…

Anyway, today she had a post that hit a little close to home for me (emphasis mine):

I realize that I’ve accomplished a lot in life and deep-down I know that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I only have a few days a month where I actually felt like I was good at life.  I know I’m a good person (as in “not evil or intentionally arsonistic”), but I’m not very good at being a person.  I don’t know if that makes sense and it’s not me fishing for compliments.  Please don’t tell me the things I’m good at because that’s not what this is about.  It’s just that at the end of each day I usually lie in bed and think “Shit.  I’m fucking shit up.  I accomplished nothing today except the basics of existing.”  I feel like I’m treading water and that I’m always another half-day behind in life.  Even the great things are overshadowed by shame and anxiety, and yes, I realize a lot of this might have to do with the fact that I have mental illness, but I still feel like a failure more often than I feel like I’m doing well.

[snip]

Please tell me the truth (anonymous answers are fine).  How many days in a month do you actually feel like you kicked ass, or were generally a successful person?  What makes you feel the worst?  What do you do to make yourself feel more successful?

Please be honest.  Because I’m about to be.

I feel successful 3-4 days a month.  The other days I feel like I’m barely accomplishing the minimum or that I’m a loser.  I have imposter syndrome so even when I get compliments they are difficult to take and I just feel like I’m a bigger fraud than before.  I feel the worst when I get so paralyzed by fear that I end up huddled in bed and fall further and further behind.  To make myself feel more successful I spend real time with my daughter every day, even if it’s just huddling under a blanket and watching Little House on the Prairie reruns on TV.  I also try to remind myself that most of idols struggled as well, and that this struggle might make me stronger, if it doesn’t destroy me.

When she writes about feeling like a failure more often than when she does well, I feel a burning sensation across the back of my neck going all the way up to my ears. It is an old feeling, one of shame and embarrassment.

It is also unquestionably, unequivocally bullshit.

I can write that now without flinching. But I know a couple of years ago I not only wouldn’t have been able to admit that, I would have found any reason to dismiss it when others said as much about me and what I’ve done with my life. Any excuse, any exception, any possible qualifier to apply to the praise bestowed on me and I’d find it faster than you could blink.

It’s taken however may years of therapy and reinforcement to get myself to not do that anymore and even then I can still hear the words in my head even if I stop myself from saying them. I imagine that when I break myself of that habit completely, it will definitely feel like one of those days where I completely kick ass. It will feel even more so if I don’t realize I’ve stopped and can just let that go quietly into the dustbin.

Curiously, one of the things that has helped me get over that hump was a realization spawned from people around me. Everyone who knows me knows me knows that I’m very pro-gay rights. I have a huge number of gay friends and the idea that there are still people out there who think that my friends should be something less than equal. The idea that they base this on their religious beliefs is fine until they start imposing those beliefs on the choices others make is where I call bullshit.

And in that, suddenly the light bulb goes one.  One same-sex couple’s happiness is no business of anybody else. But that idea has to cut both ways. No one else can create that happiness or unhappiness for them or anyone else. It belongs solely to those involved. Which isn’t a novel concept but applying that idea reflexively just didn’t occur to me for the longest time.

Taking the idea apart even further, though, it occurs to me that if no one is responsible for my happiness but me then why should any of my achievements or failures be set in comparison to anyone else’s? It makes no more sense for anyone else to have control over the merits of my accomplishments than it does for them to have control over whether I am enjoying life or no, whether I’m sad about something or no.

Ok…now we’re getting somewhere with positivity. And I feel like it’s helped me be a better, happier person over the last six months it not the last year. But there’s a second point Lawson raises which isn’t necessarily dependent on other people. How many days do I feel like I genuinely kick life’s ass and how many do I feel like I’m just treading water.

Well if I’m honest, most days are pretty flat. I’m pretty well settled into my job and while there are days now and again where I feel like I really do stand out, most of them are pretty non-descript. It’s a quiet life. And I’m not out there curing cancer in my off time or anything like that. It’s a notable off-day when I do something like write here or see a movie I genuinely like.

(Segue: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. A Western that isn’t a Western. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are excellent. Recommended.)

I guess the question I have is: how is this a bad thing?

I’m not being facetious in asking this, nor trying to make light of the issues Lawson’s talked about publicly in her space. The depression, anxiety and ADD are all very real and her pain when self-doubt creeps in like this is too. But as someone who doesn’t have to deal with that every day, I can look at the front page of CNN or some other news site and this is what I see:

  • Syria: chemical attacks and debate over bombing people that have done nothing to me and pose no threat to my well-being unless I want to play a delusional political version of Six Degrees.
  • Related to that: Iran is saber rattling as well.
  • Global warming and the environment going to hell in a handbasket and making it feel like we’re already there.
  • Russia’s anti-gay laws that are really freaking scary.
  • Economic collapse still a risk in Europe and we’re still pretty damn close to the brink.
  • Not that Congress will do anything about that.

And that’s just for starters.  Every day if you pay enough attention to the world, there’s no less than half a dozen things that could make you want to just pack it up and move to Mars. There is a litany of things that could compel even the most level person lose faith in the world and everything around it.

FSM knows I find it hard to hold that faith a lot of the time.

But as I see it, every day that I don’t just chuck it all in and say “What the hell, there’s no consequences to anything” is a win. Because I can see the areas where I I’m making small progress in my personal life and I don’t lose that ground. Glacial motion rather than glacial retreat.

That may not be kicking ass, but it sure as hell isn’t a loss.  And the reason why that matters is because when I haven’t lost any ground on the 26 days out of the month when maybe I don’t kick life’s ass, the ground I pick up on the days when I do goes a hell of a long way.

I see Christian, my little from Big Brothers Big Sisters maybe twice a month now.  He’s 16, he’s in high school. He has a real life and he’s experiencing it as much as he can. This is phenomenal and it’s why I don’t try to force more time with him than I presently do. He should be enjoying life with people his own age.

But the days we do hang out? When he feels like he can talk about the drama that exists in his world and I can help him gain perspective on it from my own experiences both as an adult and as a teenager? When I help him see that whatever headbutting he does with his parents over the way he lives his life, he can also see what’s motivating it in terms of their love and concern for him and how to deal with it from that perspective so that he can accept it without feeling limited by it because he understands it

Those days I don’t just kick life’s ass. I absolutely dominate the mother.

The days when multiple people at work both below and above my current position seek out my input because I know my job backwards and forwards? Because they know I’m going to give them unvarnished input but I’m not so wedded to my opinion that I can learn new tricks that let me do things better.

Domination.

For those 26 days where the meter maybe moves maybe only an inch or two, as long as those inches are moving forward and not backward I’m still coming out ahead. So that when I do feel like a world beater, I move that meter a mile and I gain an actual mile, not half of one because I felt like I gave the other half back. Losing ground because someone on Twitter or Facebook accomplished something or posted something that has jack to do with me? That’s wasting energy over stuff that doesn’t even matter as far as I’m concerned.

It’s good for them, don’t get me wrong. I have one friend who just published her first novel, another whose first comes out this month. A third friend who’s on the doorstep of finishing edits on her first, one that is good enough that she’s going to be querying it soon. They are made of awesome and I’m proud of every one of their accomplishments.

They also do not make me less of a writer or a person because they’ve done that and I haven’t.

I know that at the end of the day, I’ll be a writer if I really want to be and if I put the effort in. I won’t be Hemingway, but I will be a writer if I put my mind to it.

I may never make a six figure score or five figure score playing poker like one friend I play cards with has over the last three years. Another I’ve been telling him that he needs to take his shot because he could be as good or better (and he should take that to heart when he reads this. I know he will.)

But I know that I’m a respectable player. I know where my strengths are and where my weaknesses are. I know that I have gotten to the point where the number of decisions I make that I question are fewer every game. And I’m not questioning them simply because I lose the pot. So that if I decide to apply myself more, when I get the opportunity to take that next step I can make the most of it. Be it in Vegas, Oklahoma or somewhere I haven’t played yet.

And what makes me feel more successful today is knowing that I’ve finally learned the lesson that it begins and ends with me, not someone else. That what other people do, think or say ultimately isn’t the standard by which I should be judged. The only standard that matters is my own.

Maybe one on of those other 26 days out of the month when I don’t crush it, it’s someone else’s turn to do so. That’s all good. That doesn’t equate to me sucking. It just isn’t my day. But it will be before long.

I’m still struggling with getting back into the writing habit again.

I think the last two posts have been something of cranky old man posts because it has been difficult to force myself to write anything here since I got back from Portland. The vacation shine came off a little, but it is more just anxiety about feeling like anything I write isn’t worth hearing.

One of the things I’ve been working through since I started group is trying to be more comfortable with my skills and abilities as a person and professional. In the past whenever I would get a compliment or praise about something I did, I would either:

  1. Find some way to minimize the quality or the skill required to do the thing I did. “Oh that isn’t that hard to do!” “I guess I look ok, but not as nice as you do.” That sort of thing.
  2. Or go in the opposite direction and focus on any negative at all that is tangentially related to the subject at hand. “I made a bad read and got lucky on the river.” “Yeah I clean up ok, but my shoes are all chewed up and smudged. I really should get them shined.” “Yes, I did this report from scratch that gives you all the information that you needed, but it’s kludgy and not very clean in how it shows the information off.” You know the drill.

(Yes, that’s a work related statement. If I ever have cause to utter those words in casual conversation to any of you for any reason, do the humane thing and Ol’ Yeller me in the backyard for the love of the FSM.)

I couldn’t begin to pinpoint just when it was that I started being so uncomfortable with people being high on the things I do or say, but I know that at one point the reflexive self-derision was getting pretty damn ridiculous. I don’t know why, it definitely did me no favors. The only person I can think of off the top of my head who has made a serious career out of self-effacing behavior is Woody Allen. And I have no interest in sleeping with my adopted step-daughter.

I also don’t have an adopted step-daughter. So I guess I’m way ahead of him on that score.

In all seriousness, though, I struggle with putting anything down here because the very first thing that comes to mind once I’m two or three paragraphs in is, “Somebody else has probably already said/written that and done so better than you can.” And I struggle with trying to find something singularly unique about the post subject that the previous statement can’t be applied to. And I wind up so deep in minutiae that I stop giving a damn about the subject, or actually listen to the negative voice and just shut the shit down completely.

Not terribly productive.

Lately I’ve been trying to keep a passage in mind I read in Chris Kluwe’s Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies (side note: best book name ever).

When trying to write, many people never go looking for that primal act of creation, that tiny spark amid a roiling sea of black. Instead, they shut out the world within them, drown it in the glitzy flash of blinking lights and empty noise, banish it beneath the harsh glare of outrospection. Someone sits down to craft a novel, or a movie, or even a Tweet, but he gets distracted by the mundanity around him, the sheer overwhelming chaos of it all (which is not to say that you can’t write while listening to music or whatever; I’ve just noticed that when I do that, it’s a lot harder and the writing tends to be more about the influences around me).

Or, worst of all, someone stops writing because he listens to that tiny voice that says, What you’re writing isn’t any good because someone else has already said it.

Well, you should listen to that voice, because while it’s partially right, it’s also wrong. The stories we craft, the webs we weave, they are all drawn from the same common threads scattered throughout our shared histories. There’s no such thing as originality in the components of a story – our distant ancestors saw to that long ago with those ancient fireside tales.

No, the originality comes from what you bring to the table, the perspective you look out on the darkness with, the way you wrestly that fog into a shape no one has ever seen before.

So the next time you’re stuck with a though, trying to tackle a concept, or just want to explore your own mind, let yourself. Turn out the lights and go in a direction you never saw coming. Go traveling.

What you find in the dark may surprise you.

(Italics in the original, bold is my emphasis.)

This may seem like a non-sequitur, but I do have a point in making a jump right now.

When I was writing for Quirkee.com, I found myself in awe of the idea of having this big (well I thought it was and it may well have been big but I’d never know it) audience full of people who I had never met. It was awesome, scary and thrilling all at once. The throw into that getting the SXSW Film Passes for two years and my mind was officially blown.

Here I was, getting to not only see movies by the bushel, including a lot of obscure stuff trying to find an audience/distributor/whatever. Finding gems in there that I loved was like finding a secret treasure that only I knew about. Sharing those treasures was an amazing privilege. And then add that into the mix that I got to talk to some of the filmmakers.

Even better, some of them would geek out with me and respected and appreciated my perspective on their movies and on movies in general. I admit it feels weird just writing that, but I know absolutely and without question that this was true. I never took a journalism class, never worked for a publication in high school or college. But I knew what I thought were interesting stories and threads that came out of either the movie or the making of it. And I knew how to get those people talking about that.

And I liked it. I truly enjoyed myself even if I was ready to drop by the end of the festival. It was one of the best kinds of tired ever. But I gave it up after two years and pretty much blew Quirkee off. At the time I said it was because I was tired of spending my own money and time supporting what felt like someone else’s hobby. I wasn’t getting paid or a per diem. I was burning my own vacation time to go, burning my own money to eat and drink at these things.

But the reality that I can see now is that as much as I loved it, as much as I wanted to keep on doing it, I never got one iota of feedback as to whether I was doing good or bad with any of it. If I was getting better at it over time, I never heard from it. And I’m not talking about comments or reader feedback.

I mean the editors at the site (such as they were by the time the first SXSW rolled around) just took whatever I gave them and threw it up on the site without so much as a “nice job” or a “you could stand to work on this”. It was like my blog but with only the same feedback I’d get from my own circle.

And given that I know now just how much I bent over backwards trying to get the approval of others and overweighted that external input over my own self-assessment of my abilities…that’s pretty fucking useless. And downright devastating.

Because intrinsically once you get beyond my self-confidence bullshit struggles, I still need some kind of input to know whether I’m doing the job good or bad. Even if I was in the habit of downplaying positive feedback then, I still needed that feedback to downplay.  Without that, or even negative feedback for my messed up ego to overreact to, I found myself wondering whether anything I was doing or saying really mattered.

Which if any of you have heard me whinge about my dating life or the relative lack thereof, you’re hearing a very familiar whinge in that last line. And I find myself realizing right now just how that whole coincidence of zero feedback environments (writing and dating) may have fed each other into the worst of my self-loathing to spin me into therapy in the first place.

Which makes me wonder if I can pay myself for this post somehow as a therapy session. I really have to figure out a way to monetize this shit. I digress.

Some of me also feels like social media, specifically Facebook also fed to the negative constructiveness on the writing more recently. It’s one thing to throw up some pithy comment on my FB status and get a bunch of likes. There’s that brief juice of a burst of likes and it feels good in the moment. But it amounts to a critical sugar high, no sustaining power and nothing I can build a body of work on.

Twitter is slightly better for that, amazingly. There’s the challenge of trying to get that concise idea trimmed down to 140 characters and then get the zinger out there. And if it strikes the right note, favorites and retweets make me feel good in the brief moment. But I don’t have the first damn clue what it was about it that really worked. Although there’s at least some positive feedback in that if people I have no contact with retweet something I’ve thrown out there to know that the idea had some universal appeal. I went absolutely nuts the first time Jenny Lawson retweeted me.

Which makes me worry about myself a little bit even if I do still feel good about that. Ah well, it’s a process.

But jumping back to the Quirkee days for a bit, I do recall at one point sharing something I wrote for Quirkee with Brea to get input and a proofing. And I remember her telling me, “It’s ok, but to be honest…there isn’t a whole lot of you in there. I read that you liked it, but I don’t really feel how much or why.”

Contrast that with the post I threw up the other night about 2001 and what I felt and what it made me think and…I can see really freaking clearly where I went wrong. Why I stopped writing and why I let myself lose faith in anything I ever wrote.

In the end, I don’t know if this is something I can ever do for a living or if I’d even want to. Maybe writing will always only be a hobby for me. But it’s not much of a hobby if I don’t put more effort into it. I think I’ll be able to do more with it now, because I think I’ve made real progress in not being afraid of the silence any more. And in having faith in what I can do whether people are listening or not.

The voice that matters the most in this space is my own. Everything else can be constructive whether it’s positive or negative but it ultimately has to be backup to my work as solo artist with these fucking words.

So let’s turn out the lights and see where the journey takes us tomorrow.

Paramount Theater was running 2001: A Space Odyssey tonight as the opening feature in their 70mm week for the Classic Film Series. Sadly, it wasn’t the best print. The focus went soft on the edges of the screen a fair bit after reel changes. But it still sounded fantastic. After watching for the umpteenth time tonight, a few random thoughts and observations:

  • The initial space sequences to The Blue Danube make me miss a time when space exploration could inspire that sense of wonder and majesty. The “waltz” of the Pan-Am shuttle and the rotating space station just makes me smile. I think it is the use of classical music that just makes the experience feel regal and I have not the foggiest idea why we as a people lost sight of that.
  • Tangentially connected to that idea, there’s some serendipity in watching this movie only a couple of days after the 1 year anniversary of Neil Armstrong passing.
  • I will always love the design of the ships. The Discovery is so massive. In my mind I see it moving like some gargantuan arrow shot by and unseen archer through space. And the shuttle is amazing, sleek…it feels like a glimpse of the future even now 45 years after.
  • Related to that: give me practical effects work over digital every time. I can forgive some digital cleanup to make the illusion a little more complete (say digitally inserting the images of people working behind the windows of the station as the shuttle docks), but models and practical effects will always feel more real to me even if they don’t always wear well with age.
  • (Spoiler alert) To the people who laughed when Frank Poole has his EVA accident: you people are sick and need help. Yes, it happened at this screening.
  • I don’t think I’d ever noticed before how much it sounds like Jerry Goldsmith’s score from Alien was cribbed at least in small part from the original score of 2001. Specifically the scene when Discovery first comes into view, when Bowman is running laps in the central core. Sounds very similar to the closing credits in Alien.
  • They also used the second klaxon alarm that sounds in the pod when Bowman goes extra-EVA.
  • I know why some people don’t get or don’t like the montage when Bowman goes through. But I wouldn’t cut a second of it. I feel like it’s the closest anyone will ever get at trying to convey the concept of the infinite in a way that makes sense.
  • The more often I see this, the more I think 2010: The Year We Make Contact doesn’t need to exist. I really don’t get why they ever made that one.
  • EVA scenes: creepy as hell even when you know what’s coming.

Anyway, just some thoughts as I get ready for bed. If you have any attachment at all to the film, I’d appreciate your thoughts as well.

These days I have an uneasy relationship with big name sports on several levels.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been watching pro sports for as long as I can remember. I was a bit of an aberration in my own family, gravitating to baseball as I did when most of the adults in my family were into pro football. But I picked up the NFL bug as well back then. It will amuse and surprise some who know me that in my younger years I was, in fact, a Cowboys fan before I latched onto the Oakland Raiders as my team allegiance.

As I’ve gotten older, I view all revenue sports with a more cynical eye. Big time college football seems a big hypocritical joke to me with its emphasis on maintaining the “amateur” illusion even as the money for BCS games has gone through the roof.  Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit only compounded the issue for me, especially after Jay Bilas clowned the NCAAs selective perception in spectacular fashion.

The guilt (and yes, if I’m honest that is what it is I’m feeling) has been further compounded by the issues the NFL is dealing with now with so many players suffering negative health effects from concussions incurred during games. I remember driving back to the office after a funeral for a friend and co-worker’s mother. A lot of us stopped for a late lunch at Torchy’s on the way back from the service and I checked the news on my phone. That’s when I found out that Junior Seau had committed suicide.

The Seau news stunned me. This was a player who I’d pretty much knew/followed for the entirety of my adult life. He was a rookie my first year at UT. The Raiders weren’t a whole lot to watch back then, and Seau would wreak havoc in the middle against my boys more often than not. He was one of those players who it didn’t matter what team you rooted for, you had to respect his skills and professionalism if not flat out like the guy. He was a big, vibrant personality in addition to being a great player.

And then like that he’s not just gone, but by his own hand as well.

Since then I’ve read every report I can about the studies being done on players who’ve suffered multiple concussions in their playing days and the mental disorders that have afflicted them since retirement. I won’t say the science is definitive, but it is enough that the league is taking the class action lawsuit filed against it seriously. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that when watching an NFL game, I may well be watching men taking years off their lives for my enjoyment.

Which makes the brouhaha from ESPN taking its name off of a PBS investigative special look all the more damning in respect to the league’s efforts at damage control. Fainaru and Fainru-Wada have been doing some of the most extensinve investigative journalism in sports today. If they’re involved in the report, you know you’re getting the real dirt on a subject and I mean that in the best possible way.

But apparently the league can’t have that so they go and have a “talk” with the ESPN execs and the next thing you know ESPN can’t be associated with something they have “no editorial control” over.  And frankly I find using that excuse casts an even more unfavorable light than I think they intended. After all, if they need to exercise editorial control over the final product, how can we take them seriously when they rave about the “bifurcated” structure between business and journalism that one of ESPN’s reporters bragged about as to why you knew you were getting the full story?

As Peter King noted in SI, the NFL really had no recourse against ESPN. Their TV contract is inked well into the next decade. Punishing ESPN with shitty games would only result in the NFL cutting off its nose to spite its face in the end. So really, what did the NFL gain in trying to undermine or perhaps shut down this particular feature? This kind of poor decision making seems to be indicative of a body that’s scared of what may come out of the special and the image it projects on the league’s product.

In my mind, I know that a lot of these players are compensated handsomely for what they do. I don’t feel like that eases my guilt any more in how I feel when I watch a big hit during an NFL game. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be big hits that do it either. Kevin Kolb took what was by NFL standards a relatively minor hit in a game this week. He wound up with the 3rd concussion of his NFL career and speculation seems to be he may be done for his career.

I notice it in hockey too, I sport I barely follow but at least know a little bit about.  Sidney Crosby was going to be the next Gretzky and by all accounts the talent level is there. One concussion was enough to put him out for over a full season. He’s only 26. I know he’s making crazy money but I have to wonder how much he worries about his life and his future after he’s done playing, regardless of how good he is.

I used to mock NASCAR fans for being so avid. I joked that the only thing they really wanted to see were the spectacular crashes. Rubbernecking monetized with corporate logos all over it. Now I find myself wondering if I’m not doing the same thing watching games at the pub. I’m seeing the same spectacular car wrecks, they’re just occurring at much slower speeds.

you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

This particular post and its attendant counter arguments has been bouncing all around the internet for a couple of days now. It started with this particular post, from a man who makes me think the worst of all venture capitalists everywhere. I get that people in that particular line of work are trying to think around problems or “outside the box” if that particular cliche is your preference. They’re trying to find the next big thing, etcetera etcetera.

But Hunter Walk’s progression of thought strikes me less as trying to think outside of the box and more just trying to change the status quo to fit a life that has taken some changes.  I know I might be speaking out of turn a bit in trying to ascribe motivations to a person I “know” only through a single blog post. I just can’t help but wonder if maybe there is a cognitive disconnect in an individual who asks this question when suggesting maybe movie theaters should allow texting or talking during movies:

But why? Instead of driving people like me away from the theater, why not just segregate us into environments which meet our needs. I’d love to watch Pacific Rim in a theater with a bit more light, wifi, electricity outlets and a second screen experience. Don’t tell me I’d miss major plot points while scrolling on my ipad – it’s a movie about robots vs monsters. I can follow along just fine.

When it seems to me like the answer lies in the previous paragraph, albeit related to something that (in his mind, I’d guess) seems entirely unrelated (emphasis mine):

In my 20s I went to a lot of movies. Now, not so much. Over the past two years becoming a parent has been the main cause but really my lack of interest in the theater experience started way before that. Some people dislike going to the movies because of price or crowds, but for me it was more of a lifestyle decision.

Let me be clear: I know nothing about this person’s kids. I don’t know how old they are, whether they’re infants, high school age or something in between.  But I do know enough parents, and particularly parents of younger children and infants to know there’s avery good reason why they don’t go out to the movies as much when the kids are younger. They know that if their kid starts crying, acts out, makes a fuss, whatever…that the rest of us don’t really want to be part of that.

It isn’t making any kind of judgement about the child or the parents. I know that there have been extreme situations where we’ve probably all made some kind of judgment about a child or the parents because they’re just being so out of bounds that it defies belief. But for the most part it’s just a case where sometimes kids cry or parents get frustrated and it gets loud. I’ve known a lot of parents who got upset or embarrassed when that happens.

And the reason why that happens is because the parents might be worried about that outside judgement but the more likely reason is because they know we didn’t ask to be a part of the family drama. And that ultimately may impose on the outside observer’s comfort or enjoyment of the movie or anything else that’s going on. The short form response is: we didn’t pay to hear your kid(s) yowl. I tend to be more indulgent than most, but I also know my patience levels are well above average. It takes a lot to damage my calm.

Ultimately though, what we’re talking about is that social contract with people we interact with in a public sphere that says “I don’t harsh your enjoyment of (experience) and you don’t harsh mine.” The moment your enjoyment of the experience interferes with mine, we’re gonna have a problem and vice versa.

Which is why it boggles my mind that someone else came out in support of Walk’s position (the post linked in the first line of this one).  Anil Dash starts out by trying to…I don’t know, list some bonafides that seem like they’re intended to give his observations some weight maybe? I can’t really tell.

But when it comes to film, despite all my gadget-wielding bonafides, I’ve been something of a purist. I’ve never had my phone on during a movie, let alone texted or talked. I’ve never even tried to watch a movie on my phone, and barely have done so with an iPad when on a plane. My Kickstarter history betrays a predilection for backing independent works that tend to be about artists or marginalized folks, like dream hampton’s recent TransParent. So I’m okay with technology being used to engage with film, but I’ve never personally been interested in mediating film through technology.

Ok, first off: mediating film through technology isn’t what we’re talking about here. There may be some information solicitation that’s tangential to the actual film involved. But Dash gives the game away in the next para in the very first line:

Recent days have brought a debate that’s forced us all to reckon with the fact that lots of people are bringing phones to public theaters, along with their concomitant light and noise issues, and the overall potential distraction of texting.

That, candidly, is not “mediating film through technology”. That is being an asshole. Dash acknowledges that the tendency of people being assholes (my words, not his) is increasing. The response that Dash has to this trend line?

In short, what we’ve done to encourage reverent, single-focus movie watching hasn’t worked.

So we should have the courage of our convictions. If we believe, truly, that a viewing experience without second screens or distracting sounds or lights, is vastly superior to any other way of experiencing this art form, then let’s bet on it. Let’s let people choose, and offer up screenings where people are allowed any manner of digital diversions during the show.

Wait…what? People are tending towards assholishness…our attempts to stop it have not stemmed the tide…so let’s just let people be assholes en masse? That is the argument?

I think I find this more argument more annoying lately because the basic structure is being used so damn much lately to justify so much of what I find to be ridiculous policy in the political sphere. It strikes me a variant (as an extreme example) of the whole “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns” brouhaha. I could be confusing my logical fallacies though.

The finish really drives me even more nuts.

Cinema has never resisted technological innovation; It’s where people first discovered moving pictures and color images and stereo sound. And the stories we discover there, shared with a crowd of strangers all moved by the same dreamlike images, have withstood time and crossed cultures to knit together people all over the world, even with their different cultural standards and social norms.

Ok, I’m sorry this is not a strong or polite argument to make, but the first thing that comes to my mind reading that is “THE FUCK??!??”

Letting someone use a phone in a theater while other people are around them has absolutely nothing to do with technological innovation in cinema. If you’re talking shooting on celluloid versus digital, digital effects versus practical, types of narrative structure…these are technological innovations in cinema and related to cinema that can be discussed or debated. Being able to text someone when you’re in the middle of a Michael Bay opus to see what’s up? Not a tech innovation in cinema.

Amazingly Dash doubled down on the argument in a later post. I don’t know that I can call some of the points he tries to refute straw men, as I’ve read the points elsewhere in posts taking Walk and Dash to task. But I want to take some his points apart because there is a little legit in there and then some that I find to be utter bullshit.

(Random observation: how curious is it that the two people I find talking about this most in my blog readings are named Walk and Dash? The world is not without a sense of humor.)

It’s not a church – as an avowed film snob, I try not to make that argument. I know that the church of cinema attitude is pretentious as all hell, and I do a good enough job being that level of pretentious concerning the medium’s content itself. I don’t want to extend beyond that into the “experience” of watching a movie because I know that for everyone the degree to which you’re engaged in a movie is personal.

That said, the mere fact that you recognize that depending on the venue there are certain levels of propriety and guidelines for behavior. You recognize there are places where you’re ok to do your own thing whatever that may be, and there are places where you keep the muss to a minimum. This is out of respect for the venue/event, but it’s also out of respect for the other patrons. Which leads to Dash’s next point.

Concern Trolling for Creatives – Here Dash combines two points.

  1. This is all just film snobs being pretentious about the experience of watching film and they just need to lighten up.
  2. Said film snobs want to enforce a no talk, no text, no bullshit zone during films to respect the creatives and their efforts to put the art up for all of us to see.

As one of the people who Dash seems to be mocking in point number 1, I want to speak to point 2 first. I recognize that for every The King’s Speech there’s going to be a dozen Smurfs 2 released. I have no delusions about the conflict between art and commerce where Hollywood is concerned and as such I don’t think one’s undivided attention while watching Michael Bay reduce vehicles or buildings to digital ash is going suddenly make viewer aware that he’s making deeper commentary on man’s mortality or the injustice of the legal system.

Though it will make one more aware of how mind numbingly boring Bay’s shit is, and for that we are all better people.

But even in the mass market features, it’s not the film snobs that are taking issue with boorish behavior. This past weekend I took Christian (my Little I’m mentoring through BBBS) to go see the new Percy Jackson movie. We’d seen the first one together, he’s read the books. I knew it was something he’d enjoy, even if it wasn’t really my thing. And I did find some things entertaining about the first one.

We get there about 15 minutes before showtime, seated in the third row center. Immediately in front of us is a cluster of young girls, ranging in age from maybe Christian’s age (he’s 15, that may be too generous to the oldest girl in the group) to a low of around 10. During the pre-show, they were chattering back and forth, texting on their phones and doing what pre-teen girls do. The movie hadn’t started so they weren’t really phasing me much at the time. But Christian kept glancing down at them and then right as the trailers were about to start he asked if I wanted to move.

Now I grant there was no way to know whether they were going to be equally obnoxious during the movie. They could well have settled in and been as quiet as church mice once the feature started. And if they were all gaga over the male leads (or hell, the female leads if they swung that way) I don’t know that I would have raised much as fuss. I’ve been known to make panting noises over Scarlett Johansson in spandex, though I’m also the one who shushed my then wife for fawning over Sean Connery during Last Crusade. I’m sorta all over the map with that sort of thing I guess.

My point (and as a famous person once said, “I do have one,”) is that someone within their own peer group didn’t want to chance it. He didn’t want to chance that they might be obnoxious because he and I were there to watch a freaking movie not post on freaking Facebook! This is a kid who loved Skyline for crying out loud. Artistic integrity doesn’t play into it.

(Note: I mention the Skyline thing not as a dig on Christian’s tastes as much as pointing out the further evidence that God does in fact have a sense of humor and wants me to unclinch the cinematic sphincter a bit and not take myself and movies too god damn seriously. (S)he is funny that way.)

Caution: Public spaces contain humans – Here Dash finally gets to the fact that there are other audience members involved in the public movie watching process. And I don’t think I would be quite so bitter and snarky about referring to this troglodytic douche canoe in such negative terms if he wasn’t so goddamn condescending about the people he clearly thinks are in the wrong. In my mind, Dash set the terms of engagement and I could decide to take the high road and say I’m above this level of childishness.

But fuck that noise.

The main point Dash seems to be making here is the idea that people like him and people like me are just going to agree to disagree and thus we should make accommodations for those like Walk and create a new space for them to be obnoxious in public.  To which I would make two points:

  1. There is already a place for people like Walk to do this in full. It’s called their fucking living rooms. If you really need other people to validate your obnoxious behavior then by all means, invite other douche canoes over to be obnoxious with you. You can even call it the Douche Canoe Regatta and get sponsorship (most likely from Axe Body Spray).
  2. Why in the fuck all are we, the people who have enough restraint to be polite in a public space, the ones who have to make accommodations for you, Walk and the rest of your ilk? If your next point is really to be taken seriously (We outnumber you) then it is just as valid a logical argument for me to point out WE WERE HERE FIRST!

What cracks me up is that at the end of this particular point Dash in his magnanimous way chastises those who disagree with him and makes some pretty gross assumptions about the anti-movie-talking position, he then makes the observation:

This is typically followed by systematically demonstrating all of the most common logical fallacies in the process of denying that others could, in good conscience, arrive at conclusions other than their own.

Thereby illustrating that while Dash may have some differences about the pros and cons about the movie going experience, he does still have a full grasp on the concept of projection.

And as to that last point of Dash’s…

We outnumber you – Yes. We know. Your obnoxious, self-centered, everyone see how important I am kind is everywhere. You’re in our coffee shops, our bars, our restaurants. We can’t experience a latte, a transit on the commuter train (hence the creation of the “quiet car” on the Acela, which you assholes still can’t respect), a sit in the doctor’s office or a walk down the sidewalk without experiencing your need to express yourself loudly, obnoxiously, publicly.  To that end, I can’t speak for all the cinephiles you look down on, Mr. Dash, but I can say for myself that

  1. You have plenty of options to express your exhibitionist tendencies. That does not obligate me or anyone else like me who has more sense to play voyeur for you.
  2. You can take my quiet movie theater from me when I’m dead and coldAnd not one minute before.

As Scott Kaufman summed it up at Lawyers, Guns & Money (where I originally found the Dash link):

I’m not going to ask you to turn of your iPhone during a film because it’s distracting, but because your narcissism is fucking with my head. Your tiny light is making my dilated eyes constrict, which means I can’t see the movie the director — otherwise known as the person I paid good money to fuck with my head — intended me to. Your vanity transforms the film I wanted to see into one co-directed by you, and while I understand that that likely thrills you, know that I have no idea who you are and no interest in anything about you. I am reducing the complex social construct that is you to its essence which is asshole.

Your body is asshole.

Your mind is asshole.

Your life is asshole.

If you cured cancer, then the cure for cancer is asshole.

If you stopped war, then peace is asshole.

You are assholes all the way down.

And as Jimmy Malone said (in a movie you were probably too busy tweeting through to notice), “Thus endeth the lesson.”

A ways back, I was having a conversation with my friend Ivy. She and her wife had made a trip out to I believe it was the Grand Canyon to spend time with Amber’s parents. If memory serves (and Ivy/Amber chime in if I’ve got the basics off just to keep the record straight) they flew into Las Vegas and drove down to meet the ‘rents at the Canyon. I think it worked out to be cheaper that way. Anyhoo…

Ivy was making a comment about how she couldn’t understand how I enjoyed going to Vegas so much. The noise and the glut of people were things I don’t think she cared for. And she also made a comment (I’m sure I’m muddling the details up some but I think the gist is right) about how the whole city seemed to be exude a sense of artifice.

I laughed and made the observation that that is sort of the point of Vegas. It is a city that fosters big dreams and wild fantasies but you never quite live them out they way they existed in your imagination. I mean you might be able to if you have enough money. The city does foster that attitude that if you don’t have it, you can buy it or at least rent it for the right price.

That said, I have been asked before if I love Las Vegas so much why don’t I ever think about moving there and living there. And I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’ve thought about it. Chucking everything and maybe going to school to work as a dealer in the casinos and just people watching and writing about what I see. It is an entertaining fantasy but I don’t have the slightest interest in trying to make that a reality.

I realized exactly why that is with this current trip to Portland. Right now it’s a little before midnight local time. I will be on a plane back to Austin exactly 12 hours from now, returning to my normal life. I’m sipping my last beer before bedding down for the night, having spent a couple of hours at a house party hosted by an old Austin friend who moved here a few years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Las Vegas is the booty call of travel destinations. It indulges all of my most venal instincts and does so without judgement. I drink more, eat more rich food and spend more money frivolously in Las Vegas than I do anywhere else and at any other time in my life. As I said, that is the nature of the city and how it functions. Vegas has a long history of being the girl/guy you pick up before last call in a bar just to have someone to go home to.

Portland, on the other hand. She has become the long term mistress that makes me question whether I should really stay in the relationship I’m in with Texas. Because she makes me see my life not as it is, but as it might have been if I had just made a couple of different choices along the way.

When people asked me before this trip if I had ever been to Portland before, I told them yes, about 6 years ago.  “And what was it like?” they say. And I tell them, “It’s like Austin, but green.” That’s a superficial simplification, but in a way it also sort of highlights the “alternate universe” I feel like I’ve been in this entire week.

Right now I’m drinking a Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis Imperial Stout with Vanilla. It’s a wonderful, rich beer. In my head, I’m comparing it to my current all-time favorite Texas microbrew, Austin Beerworks Sputnik (their winter seasonal). Which is a Russian Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout. Almost the same beer, just flavored with different elements to give it a distinct personality. I love them both for different reasons.

Earlier today, I caught a movie at a Living Room Theater location near Powell’s. It’s like Violet Crown Cinema but with comfier chairs and less counterspace when eating in the theater. The size and layout of the houses is exactly the same as Violet Crown.

Powell’s is this world’s Book People, though to be completely honest, Book People can’t hold a candle. The call it Book City for a reason. If you love the written word, you can lose yourself in that place for a day. I dare say Brea would drop dead of a heart attack in the rare books room, but she’d die knowing she had finally been to book nirvana in all of its glory.

Last night I spent time with friends at The Driftwood Room, which doesn’t quite have Midnight Cowboy’s panache for mixology but definitely ups the ante in pure ring-a-ding-ding old school coolness and charm. And I’d reckon Driftwood Room is far more likely to have ghosts haunting it, which gives it an allure unlike anything the Leagues in Austin can come up with.

At least, so far.

The experience was probably augmented by spending time with friends who I love like family. It is being in Austin and spending time raising hell with my peeps and yet it also isn’t because it’s not our regular places and I’ll be leaving them in less than half a day. The places, the friends have already left or are leaving the same time I am.

Hell, the population of Portland even goes so far as to sport a lot of goatees so I know they’re the evil reflection of my regular dimension. Or are they the good side and I just never fully realized it until now? Who can say.

What I do know is that Portland seduced me once again this week. I have spent a sum total of 14 days in this town between two visits six years apart. And it feels like every day that I had was better than the one that came before it. The only place I’ve been I found to be as physically beautiful or more so was Hawaii and that’s not even a fair comparison because Hawaii is something all to itself.

For the record, in my mind her name is Rose for obvious reasons. And you can take snide comments about whether her last name is “Palm” and shove them up your ass. My lady is far too sophisticated for such crass jokes.

But for now I’m going to go to bed and curl up with my mistress one more time. In the morning (maybe after one last run to Voodoo Donut), she and I will say goodbye to each other before we go our separate ways. Lord knows I’ll be thinking about her on the flight home. It hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve written more in the last week than I have in years. If that doesn’t show Portland to be something of a muse to me, I don’t know what does.

And then until the next time, I’ll wonder about what is and what might have been. I know my Austin will take me back. She knows about my fling with the Pacific Northwest, and she’s been surprisingly ok with it. Maybe she knows where my roots really lie.

But I will miss Rose. And I’ll be thinking about her until I can come back again.

Good night.

  • For its natural beauty, Portland and the surrounding Oregon area is hands down the most beautiful place I’ve visited in the contiguous US.  Hawaii is the only place I’ve been that can rival Oregon for a landscape that can just absolutely take your breath away.
  • Related to the above statement: this is the best vacation I’ve been on since Hawaii. If you know what kind of Vegas junkie I am, you know that’s saying a hell of a lot. I put entirely too much pressure on myself when I’m in Vegas and playing poker.  There is absolutely none of that pressure here and that’s what puts it over the top.
  • Anyone who tells you they just don’t like beer, I’m gonna have to call bullshit on without even batting an eye. When Hamlet says “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” he’s clearly talking about beer. There is absolutely, positively a beer for everyone. Big three brewers notwithstanding (InBev-Busch, Miller and Coors can politely go to hell), you can find something that fits your tastes, no question.
  • It can not be said enough: Audrey is without a doubt one of the best things to ever happen to me as friends go. I am proud to be a lesbro thanks to her. I would not be here if it weren’t for her. The thank you drinks stack up tenfold.

’twas the night before beerfest, and all through the house
I anticipated getting drunk as a louse.
The kegs are all tapped and teeming with brew.
Porters, stouts, ales and hefes, don’t know what to do.

I should be all nestled and snug in my bed,
But frothy beer glasses dance in my head.
I’m so damn exhausted you’d think I’d just drop.
But I’m excited for the celebration of hop.

The weather is temperate,
The beers, oh they’ll flow.
Why am I sitting here?
To Waterfront Park I must go.

But it’s still too damn early,
So for now I must sleep.
And tomorrow’s libations
Might move me to weep.

The Brewer’s Festival brings on
A mighty strong case of
Beer madness, it’s true.
But bring on the cerveza!

(Ok, that last one is a bit of a stretch, but work with me here)

There’s Widmer and Rogue,
Deschutes and some Ninkasi
Maui Brewing from Hawaii
In case you feel saucy.

Too many beers for my
Tired brain to assess.
So I’m ending this here,
Before it becomes a hot mess.

So before I imbibe,
And while I’m still quite upright.
Merry Brewer’s Fest to all!
And to hell with Bud Light!

This is full of some of my personal psycho-babble. If you’re not interested in any of that shit, you can feel free to bypass this post entirely.

So I might have mentioned this in this space before, but it bears repeating because I’m just now realizing the significance of the fact.  When I was a kid in high school…I was one of those  kids.

I liked proofs in geometry.

I was good at them.  I like the aspect of getting incomplete information and then trying to go and fill in the missing blanks based on the knowledge I had amassed to complete a logical progression of assumptions. It wasn’t homework so much as a puzzle, trying to go through the steps and fill in the missing information.

I think this is the aspect I try to recapture in poker. I have certain pieces of information: what my hole cards are; what my opponent(s) bet or raised before the flop; what cards came out on the flop and based on what my opponent does next I have to construct their hand based on certain assumptions and behaviors.

Sometimes I think my hand-reading skills would be markedly improved if I approached the game the same way I did proofs back in the day.

When I was taking geometry, my teacher was Ms. Annie Miller.  I knew and used her first name even back then on occasion because that’s the kind of ornery smart ass I was. Looking back, I’m astounded I got away with some of the things that I did with her. Her son Oliver played basketball for our school, actually got us to the state final four one year. He was like a mini-Shaq/Kendrick Perkins kind of player.  Tall (6’9″), heavy (he pushed close to 300 then, and ballooned in the NBA), he was a serious physical presence most of the time.

The exception being when his mom would light into him about missing his free throws in the game the night before. You never saw such a big guy try to get so small so quick as when she trained her eye on him.

Anyway, the reason I mention Ms. Miller is because while I zoomed through geometry with great scores in school, she did have to break me down some on proofs.  If the proof called for for a solution in seven steps, I’d turn in my homework showing only five.  And she would ask me about the missing steps and I knew what the were. I could rattle them off without even thinking about it. And she’d ask if I knew the answers for all the steps then why didn’t I show them all.

In my opinion at the time, it was because the steps I left out seemed extraneous. The rules being left out in my proofs were pretty general assumptions or known rules of geometry. To me in my head they were a given. And she’d tell me the same thing every time: “Henry, I’m not in your head.  You have to show your work.”

Flash forward to my life as an adult. There were a lot of reasons why my marriage ultimately broke down. The amusing part is that the ex and I can have arguments not about trying to place too much blame on the other for something, but rather for trying to assume too much blame for our own respective selves.

One thing that used to drive her nuts is that there were a lot of times where I took an action that impacted both of us, or said something that seemed to come completely out of left field and would be something she’d get irritated by. And the argument would blow up because she had no idea where I was coming from with this or that (and I apologize for being vague, I don’t remember specific incidents tied to this and don’t know that I’d be comfortable putting them out there if I did).

Her complaint was a fair one in that a big piece of what drove me to the point of making that comment or taking that action was all in my head and so she didn’t know where it was coming from or how to put it into any kind of workable context.  It was almost like trying to make sense of a conversation where you’re only hearing every third word, I suspect.

I didn’t show my work.

As I’ve gotten older, I would like to think I’ve gotten better about this. In some respects I have. Therapy helped with that quite a bit.  But it’s still something I’m prone to.  Look at it from this perspective.  I’ve spooled out over 700 words here telling tangential stories that tie to a vague central point but don’t really make a solid point as a whole. So I’ve gone to the other extreme in obfuscating what I really want to say with a whole lot extra details that don’t mean jack shit.

But the real question is why?

A good piece of that ties back to stuff I’ve talked about on here before.  This mental block I’ve got about devaluing my personal worth in the world beyond any reasonable or factual measure.  I don’t think well of myself, get it in my head that I don’t deserve to be happy, and so why articulate what I want or feel? It doesn’t make a difference.

Which is a particularly craptastic way to view oneself.

This tendency to not “show my work” is also what lends itself to me feeling like I’m not “heard” by others a lot of the time.  I theorize this is what lent itself to me reading unreasonable expectations from my dad for myself. After all, if I don’t ask about expectations or voice my concerns directly out of fear I might disappoint, it makes it a lot harder to be “heard” when I have a concern.

And that lends itself to my feeling shitty about myself pretty effectively.

It’s been a struggle even knowing part of what my current problems are with my mental well being. I’ve gotten to be so accustomed to doing things for others, helping my friends, going out of my way for other people. I have so little practice in trying to do things for myself and being comfortable with that.

Which I guess is why I’m spilling all that out here while I’m on vacation.  I’ve had this post sitting in pending drafts for days now while trying to hedge about what I wanted to say.  And what I want to say is I need y’all to help me out by asking me to show my work if it seems like there’s something I’m leaving out or not talking about.  Because I know the core of people who read this regularly are people who care about me and who aren’t afraid to get in my face.

So ask me to show my work if something doesn’t make sense. Ms. Miller would have wanted it that way.

Decided that coming off of a five day weekend was as good a day as any to get serious about training for the half-marathon in January I signed up for.  Some random brain spillage prompted by actually answering the alarm at 5:30am:

  • This may have been the first time I’ve ever run (well jogged) through my neighborhood in the morning and it’s kinda neat seeing the area just waking up in the morning. In my head it’s like being behind the scenes just before a big stage production. I expect it will only get busier once the school year starts back up again. We’ll see if I still feel like the magic is there when I’m jogging around surly tweens waiting for the bus.
  • Did manage a 12 minute mile without extreme agony. I couldn’t maintain the pace, but I think I’m going to start using Tuesdays to work on upping my speed as much as I can at this age, and Thursdays will be about sustaining the rate over distance. We’ll see how that goes.
  • Tangentially related to the above: I think I will always be more tolerant of yappy little children more than yappy little dogs. Some mini terrier tied up in the front yard kept barking at me and I wanted to get in touch with my inner Chris Kluwe and drop back for a punt.
  • I’m a creature of habit and they’re mostly bad ones. That needs to change in a big way. My house is a mess, my head at times more so. I’ve been taking steps to fix the head for the last few years now and I do feel like I’ve made a lot of progress.  But there’s a long way to go with all of it.

Which is why I also felt a need to post something up here just to say I wrote something.  I’ve had a half-dozen different posts I’ve tried to write to get back on the wagon and every time I’ve hated every last word and thought it stupid and left in drafts until I signed in to get rid of spam and deleted the post along with it.  That is not terribly conducive to clear thoughts, or good writing habits.

It needs to stop.

However as part of the whole “getting my head right” thing, I imagine there’s going to be some emotional purging going on here.  If you can’t handle that, no offense taken to those who stop reading.  My concern for who reads this thing is something I’ve got to get past anyway. I don’t need to do this for an audience. If I wanted one, I can get a half-dozen people into the pub and hold court just about any day of the week.

It’s time to stop being afraid and start getting back to being me again.  I miss that.

More later. Don’t mind the dust around here, it’ll get cleaned up in time.

This is kind of a personal purge here.  If you can’t deal with it, that problem is more your issue than mine.

As a few of you know, I’d signed up for a SCUBA certification class after seeing a special for the class on Living Social.  The deal was for ANDI certification through Deep Blue SCUBA.  There’s been talk of my family taking a group trip to either Australia or Europe in the next year or two.  Given how much I enjoyed my Discover SCUBA excursion on the Hawaiian cruise last year, the thought of being able to dive at the Great Barrier Reef was exciting enough to compel me to buy the deal and take the class.

And ever since then it’s felt like the class was cursed for me.  The instructors and business have been fine, exceptional in fact.  I can’t recommend the people at Deep Blue enough.  They know their shit and explain it well.  They try to focus your attention in the classroom segments on the pertinent topics that will have real impact on your experience underwater and their instructors have good, diverse experience that they’re happy to share.

But after my classroom sections were done, I couldn’t seem to make the time for the pool and lake sessions work.  Originally we had them all scheduled in the same week.  Then because of answers I checked on the medical clearances form, they needed me to get my doctor to sign off on my entering a SCUBA program (liability I’d assume).  So I had to push my pool and lake sessions back a week.  Did the physical, everything checked out, all set for the water.

And the water came, but not in the way I’d hoped.  Pool session rained out.  Rescheduling was tough because the next sessions open were during the quarter end period at work and I couldn’t count on making it work.  So we pushed back to pool today, lake next Saturday & Sunday.  And then I found out I’m having to take a week from tomorrow.  If you’ve gone diving, all recommendations are that you shouldn’t fly for at least 24 hours after your last dive.  So now the lake sessions get pushed back another two weeks, but I can at least do the pool.

So I get to the pool and after the long period of getting everyone set up with their equipment we get in the water.  And the instructor, a very nice woman named Jen, lets us know that the first thing we’re going to do is tread water in the deep end of the pool for 10 minutes straight.  Can’t touch the bottom, can’t touch the wall.  We can swim, we can float, we just can’t let our heads submerge below the water for the 10 minutes in addition to not getting assistance from the floor or bottom of the pool.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the water.  Since the Hawaii trip to be precise.  But I figure this is no problem.  I can do this.  So we’re out there, me and 5 other people.  We’re treading, a couple people are floating on their backs, some talking to Jen.  And I notice before long my arms and especially my legs are getting really, really tired and heavy.  No problem, right?  Just turn and try to back float for a while to give myself a break.  Except my legs are really heavy in the water so it’s hard for me to stay above water on my back and I try to move back to treading a little more slowly.

And before long, I find myself slipping in the water and some gets into my mouth and I choke/cough and next thing I know I’ve got one hand on the side of the pool holding me up.  I take a few seconds regain my bearings and try to get back out in the water but my calves and thighs feel like bars of lead and can barely move.  Before long I’m back on the side or moving to the shallower part of the pool where my toes just touch enough to let me right myself and then I try to move back out to the deep end.

And the intervals where I need a rest are shorter and shorter until I give up and I’m just hanging on the side of the pool and everyone else is doing fine.  I think I bailed at the 5-6 minute mark but really, I have no idea.  When the ten minutes are finally up, Jen has the others get on the step at the deep end to get ready for the next session which will involve a swim.

And then she comes over to me hanging onto the edge and discreetly lets me know that if I can’t do the 10-minute tread/float there’s no way she can pass me for the pool session.  The only absolutes are that and the swim, which are two laps from one end of the pool to the other (maybe 40 feet or so each way).  She’s very sorry, and I’m free to try and come back and pass the pool session another time until I can get it.  But right now, no dice.

In my head I’m thinking, “Well, there’s no need to whisper it like someone died. I mean, it’s obvious you’ve got to be able to swim to pass a SCUBA class and I know how to swim, I’m just not in shape with it.”  And I’m also remembering that they’ve told stories about people who have signed up for a SCUBA certification that didn’t know how to swim, a fact that absolutely astonishes me for the lack of self-awareness nee stupidity involved in making that particular life decision.

So I ask if I can just sit and watch for a bit while I try and digest this piece of information.  She’s cool with it.  I watch them do the swim portion, which I think would be a piece of cake if my legs weren’t blocks of sore lead at the moment.  I watch them do an initial swim about the perimeter in the pool sans snorkel, faces in the water like a snorkel expedition.  They can come up to breath but have to get their faces right back in the water.

And the fact that I’m not participating is as much an indicator that I didn’t make the cut as anything.  I eventually offer my borrowed snorkel to one of the other participants who’ve gotten a lesser snorkel (yes, there are gradations on these things. You’d be surprised the diversity.).  And I go and change into my street clothes and quietly leave the yard to go back to my car.

And I can feel the burning across the back of my neck and ears, the sign that I’m feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable in the extreme.  I can feel myself all the old mental bugaboos that I’ve been fighting for god knows how many years now.  Every fear and anxiety just comes back to the fore.  Not good enough.  Out of shape. Old. Lazy.

Failure.

That last one is the big one.  And I recognize in the moment that I’m being way too hard on myself.  It would not be unlike my going into the half-marathon relay I did back in January and trying to do it cold, without any training or practice and then beating myself up for not getting a time under an hour.  It’s ridiculous, irrational, unrealistic.

And yet it’s still there.  That feeling like I’m letting someone down.  Even though this is something that really only impacts me, and isn’t in any way an impugning of my personal character or ability.  I know, or at least feel very strongly that I CAN do this in time.  I know a couple of people with access to a deep enough pool that I can practice and maybe get to the point where I can do the 10-minutes in no time, I’m sure of it.

But I’m sitting here at Flying Saucer with a beer in front of me, my right ear in slight discomfort/pain from water trapped that simply will not seem to come out no matter what I do.  I’ve been here for at least an hour.  And it’s only now as I’ve gotten to this point of writing all this out that I’ve gotten past the urge/need to weep at least a little and beat myself up over this.  For wasting money, time, who knows what.

And that’s a big part of this particular part of my psychosis I think.  Only realizing the things that I want out of life way too late.  Realizing I DO want kids when most of the women my age are well past that point or have been there, done that and don’t want to revisit the experience.  Realizing I could maybe do all right as a writer about movies when the relevance of film as a cultural touchstone may well be long past due.  (And believe me, reading the piece at the link here made me really depressed this week for how much of it I find to be true.)  Trying to be physically active with running/SCUBA/Whatever when I’m too old to get started with this shit.

Christ, that’s a lot of pressure to put upon myself.

I expect it comes as a surprise to absolutely no one who’s spent any serious amount of time either in some kind of psychotherapy or personal introspection that these demons still weigh so heavily upon me.  I know these things don’t get vanquished overnight. Even after three plus years of group therapy I’m only in the last year really making any kind of breakthroughs in understanding just what my issues are and why they control me so much.  It’s a start, but it feels like I should be further along, I should be BETTER by now.

And I recognize writing those words that that attitude is itself a manifestation of the problem.  The amount of pressure I put upon myself, the expectations I have for myself are so unrealistic, so disproportionate to anything even close to resembling reality. At this point, I have to consider it progress that I haven’t gone out and searched eBay for a hair shirt to go along with my self-flagellation.

Although I do find it amusing that trying to do so right now brings up copies of REM’s album Green in response.

What will it take to let myself be me?  When will I finally allow myself to be human for a fucking change?  When can I finally stop trying to be perfect, my dad or whatever conflation of the two ideas I’ve created in my head over these last 30 plus years?

Because I’m goddamn tired of it.  I put this out here not to get answers from anyone as much as to try and hold myself accountable for the things I can control and just remind myself that it’s ok.  I don’t know that I believe it, but I know I have to say it more than a few times before I can accept it.

Prompt text: Your protagonist is inexplicably terrified of something. What are they afraid of and how are they confronting it?

“How do you like your iPad?”

The question startled me, and I raised my finger from the screen far earlier than I intended.  On the display the yellow bird flipped impotently to the ground in front of the sling shot.  I scrunched my mouth up into a bit of a grimace before hitting the reset button and looking up to see who my interrogator was.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to mess up your game,” the server said shyly.

She stood maybe 5’6″.  Her hair was short and brown , maybe coming to a stop just below her chin if it were down.  Today she had it up in a ponytail, revealing a star tattooed on her neck just below her left ear.  The star was composed of blue lines, the interior fill a bright yellow.  A small silver stud was in her left earlobe.

“No, that’s ok,” I said.  The reassurance made her smile, broadly with a hint of very white teeth below a button nose.  She had almond colored eyes that looked almost comically large, what I sometimes thought of as anime eyes.  She had the demeanor that compelled you to smile at her no matter what your mood was before she spoke.

I had crushed on her for the better part of a year since I started coming to the pub.  And I had not had the courage to say more than the words “Hello” and “Goodbye” to her on any occasion.

I suddenly realized that I had just been staring at her and she just smiling back.  My brain worked overtime to try and string together something intelligible in English.  “Yeah, uh….” I felt a blush starting on the back on my neck and it rapidly spread until I felt like my whole face was aflame.  “I’ve had this one only a few months, but I’ve had one since they first came out.”

“You must be a big techie,” she replied.  “I see you in here all the time with your laptop writing.”  She had her order pad in her right hand, and she set it down as gestured with the left towards me.  I sat confused for a moment before realizing she was asking to hold the tablet.  I handed it over to her, and just sat looking at her.  My right cheek felt like it was starting to spasm and I found myself reaching up to tout my face, trying to make the twitching stop and finding nothing moving.

She took the tablet and laughed a bit as she saw what was on the screen.  “I love this game, I have it on my phone.”  She touched the screen and I heard the sound effect indicating she was lining up a shot.  Her finger raised from the display and the iPad uttered a muffled yelp as another Angry Bird flew to its eventual target.

The speakers gave back audio feedback that she had successfully hit something, but her mouth scrunched up in a fashion similar to how mine was when she first spoke.  She handed the tablet back to me, still beaming that overpowering smile.  I tried to return it and felt the corners of my mouth slowly rise, as though my face were made of molded plastic trying to change shape.  The more I tried to smile, the worse it felt and I eventually gave up trying.

I was uncertain or unaware of what kind of face I was making, but it seemed to be a negative one as her smile faded and she shifted awkwardly on her feet.  She grabbed her order pad, and started to turn away.  “Well, sorry to bother you…”

In the back of my head a voice angrily yelled Don’t let her go, you jackass!

“No!” I said, almost to forcefully.  She turned back towards me, looking slightly confused.  I tried to smile again, and it must have looked more real, as she returned it tenfold.  I tried to think of something to say.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…” Panic threatened to start rising again when a chirp from the game caught my attention.  “I just am having a really hard time with this level.  I can’t quite figure out how to clear this screen.”

Her posture relaxed and she cocked one hand on her hip.  “I know what you mean! I find I’m playing some of these screens for hours trying to get three stars on it.”  That she enjoyed the game so openly made me feel safer, and I could feel my body, which had been locked rigid since I became aware of her presence, started to relax slightly.  Something in my head clicked, and suddenly the words just started rolling out of my mouth.”

“Yeah I love the iPad because it’s not as bulky as my old laptop but since I went to a slimmer computer, I find I split my time more evenly between the two,” I told her.  “It’s just not entirely comfortable for me typing on the screen in the same way it is on a full keyboard.”

“Huh,” she said, looking at the tablet again as it sat on the table between us.  I reached down and closed the game out, bringing up the notepad to a blank page and turning it back towards her.  She put her pad down again and reached forwards with both hands.  She looked studiously at the keyboard, almost as though she thought there might be some trick to getting it just right.  She began to type, almost immediately going to the backspace key and making corrections constantly.

I laughed.  “Yeah, you’re doing just what I did when I first got it,” I told her.  Without looking up at me she laughed, but her focus on the screen intensified.  Almost imperceptibly, her typing quickened and there were fewer efforts to correct anything.  “You do adjust quicker than I do,” I admitted.

I didn’t think it was possible, but her smile broadened even more, lips parting and teeth showing in a victorious grin.  After another minute, she hit the home key and then turned the tablet back towards me.  “I’ve been thinking about getting one, but I’m not sure I want to take the plunge,” she said.  She was now studying the tablet, and I could see something going on behind her eyes.

My phone buzzed on the tabletop, and I picked it up the check the message.  Work was calling me in to help with a project.  As I started texting a response, I asked, “Can I get my check? I’m having to leave earlier than I expected.”

“Oh, ok,” she replied.  My imagination swore I heard disappointment in her voice.  She turned and headed back to the bar to get my check.  I sent my response and as she returned, handed my credit card to her without even looking at the check.  “I’ll be right back,” she said, pivoting quickly back to the bar.  I moved to put my iPad away in my bag, thinking that I hadn’t made a fool of myself but still feeling like I should say or do something.

“Thank you for coming by,” she said as she put the check and card down in front of me.  “And thanks for letting me play with your iPad.”  I smiled as I scrawled my signature on the receipt and jammed the card into my wallet.

“Any time,” I replied.  “If you are still thinking about taking the plunge next time I’m in, and have any other questions, let me know.  I’ll be happy to help.”

She smiled and nodded. “Ok, I will!”  She turned and moved towards one of the tables near the front door.

I bent down to pick up my bag, and then looked again at my receipt.  In the top left corner, above the date and time the check was run, I saw “SARAH” printed.  Mentally, I locked the info away in the back of my mind.  I slung my bag over my shoulder and passed her as I went towards the door.  As she walked past me, she said, “Have a good weekend, Phillip!”

My hold body froze, trying to figure out how she knew my name.  My brain caught up to the fact that it was from the same place where I just got hers.  I turned back to face her.  “You do the same, Sarah!”  She raised her hand, her fingers waving slightly at me.  Then she turned and moved back to the bar.  I watched her go, then left for work.

At the office, I started in on the project, forgetting the day and everything at the pub.  My manager asked about a slide presentation I was working on, and I reached back into my bag to bring my iPad out.  As I unlocked it, I went to the task bar and tried to launch the slide program.  I pressed the notepad app by mistake and was about close the notepad when I saw the last file opened.

There were three lines of random text, I registered it was some a poem or book I’d read once in college.  Below the lines Sarah had typed out:

SARAH
512-577-9810

I made sure to hit save and then opened the slide editor and handed the pad to my boss.  As she took it, she looked at me. “You’re awfully happy for someone working on the weekend,” she said.

Prompt text: It is a rainy morning. Imagine the smells, colors, the feeling of the air. At the periphery of vision, surrounded by fog, something emerges. Watch what happens, and write your scene.

The alarm shrieked at me for the third time this morning.  Unlike the previous two, I reach for the switch to turn it off rather than hit the snooze button.  I fight with the idea that I can sneak another five minutes of sleep in by counting backward from 300, then dismiss it knowing that if I tried to make that happen I’d sleep back through until late in the morning.  For myself, that would be fine but my running buddies might plot to murder me in my sleep.

Deciding that I’d rather live, I swing my legs off the bed and try to sit up.  In doing so, I accidentally bonk one of my cats in the head.  Black cats are entirely too well camouflaged in the dim early morning light.  By the surprised mew, I surmise it was Jackie.  Dobie trills more the mews.  I make my way to my feet and shuffle towards the bathroom, kicking the clothes I discarded onto the floor the night before.

The relief of an empty bladder doesn’t rival the satisfaction from a good early morning coffee, but it is enough to make me at least somewhat cognizant of my surroundings.  Gauging how much time I have to leave and still meet my fellow runners on time, I hurriedly throw on my running tights and a long-sleeve thermal top.  I’ve lost just enough weight from running and toned my upper body enough in the gym that I don’t feel entirely embarrassed about how I look in the clingy, spandex-like material.

The running shoes slip on and I stop in the kitchen long enough to dispatch kibble for the furry children.  They make their best effort to kill me, wandering in between and around my feet before they go sniff at the bowl.  I’ve become accustomed to stepping around them and avoid their nefarious murder plot.  I make my way to the front door, pulling my keys from the spot behind the love seat cushion where I usually toss them when I get home from work.

I lock the front door and as I step off the porch, the first drops hit my face.  There’s a light rain falling, not hard enough that it would have made noise on the roof.  That probably is the only thing that kept me from texting cancellations, turning off the alarm and rolling over for another few hours of sleep.  I consider going back in to get a hoodie and decide I’m not going to melt  from the moisture.

The sun isn’t close to being up yet.  It gets the benefit of staying in a couple of hours later than I do today.  There’s dim orange light being cast by the streetlamp on the near corner.  The halo from the the light shimmers in the rain, and makes everything on the block that’s visible the same color.  I find myself idly wondering if they make the lights in Texas that color to give us some semblance of fall in lieu of foliage.

I walk down the path to my car in the driveway.  The drop that hit my face stick to my glasses and through my vision off as my eyes try to adjust between the near focus and the distant one.  As I get to the driver’s side door, I take my glasses off long enough to wipe them on the tail of my shirt.  It probably would make more sense to wait to do this inside the car, but the blurred vision annoys me enough that I need to clean it now.

I replace my glasses and look down the street before getting into the car.  There’s a patchy fog that leaves some yards looking like pillowy fields of grey cotton. The neighbor’s car isn’t in their drive so the grey extends out into their drive.  As I am about to make my leave, a spot of black seems to move towards me in the mist.  I stop and look, and as I do the small dark ball moves closer, fading into dark grey.  The neighbors don’t have pets so I’m wondering what wildlife has decided to pay me a visit.  Idly in the back of my head, I recognize I’m going to be late for my run.  But my curiosity is stronger than my need to be punctual this morning.

The dark ball moves closer, skipping across the pavement like the bouncing ball on song captions that help you follow the lyrics.  The fog recedes a little and I find myself staring at a tiny rabbit, no bigger than a decent size grapefruit.  Its ears are laid back low on its head, and I make out the twitch of its nose as it sniffs for predators or anything else nearby.

I slowly reach for the pouch on my running belt I carry my phone in.  I try to unzip it as quietly as possible, afraid of sending my visitor scurrying off into the dark.  The rabbit stops and turns towards me, causing me to freeze, the tab of the zipper still between two fingers.  Eventually my visitor starts looking around again, and I manage to extract my phone from the belt.

I angle it, knowing I probably won’t get a good picture but try to anyway.  I pinch my fingers on the phone screen, trying to zoom the camera in as much as possible.  The rabbit turns to look at me, almost as though he knows what I want to do and strikes a pose for the picture.  As I press the button to snap the shot, the LED on the back of the phone lights a split second before the flash a shutter click.  The rabbit freezes staring at the light, then turns and sprints away as the photo is taken.

No longer needing to be cautious, I review the photo but as expected it’s not evident what the picture is of.  All there is is a blur of gray with the splash of light from the flash reflecting off of its fur.  I curse my luck and my carelessness at not turning off the flash, though without it I would be swapping a black blur for a lit grey one.  I look to see if maybe the rabbit is still close by, but he or she has been spooked out of sight.

The rain pelts my face, bringing me back into the moment and I decide that it’s a good morning to run.  The cool and the wet feel good against my skin, and I take a deep breath, savoring the mossy smell that fall rain brings.  I get into the car and immediately roll down the window.  The engine fires into life and I slowly back my way out the drive, making sure to check for any gray blurs moving across the drive.

Prompt text: Write a scene about two people who disagree, but must find common ground to solve a problem.

“Mexican?” Levi offered.

Jody shook her head violently.  “You know how bad Santeria made me feel last time we went!”  Even in the dim light of the car, Levi thought Jody’s pale skin seemed to blanch.  “Christ, I spent the next two days never more than three steps from the bathroom.”  She turned the wheel, going left onto Stark.  Stopped at the next light, she turned to Levi?  “Italian?  There’s Georgio’s over on Hoyt!”

Levi snorted.  “Isn’t that where your ex-boyfriend works now?”  He turned to look out the window, arms crossed over his chest.

Jody couldn’t believe Levi was hung up over this STILL.  “Hey, he comped our drinks the last time we were there.”

Without turning around, Levi replied curtly, “After I caught him looking down your blouse at your tits.”  Jody felt her face flush and the backs of her ears burned.  Self-conciously, her had reached for the next of her blouse, buttoning another button.  “Ok, you’re right…no Georgio’s.”

Levi’s posture relaxed a bit and he turned back towards Jody as the light turned green.  “We could always go to Deschute’s,” he said tentatively.  A wry smile touched the corner of Jody’s mouth.  “Sure,” she said quietly.

“Great!” Levi looked pleased with himself and turned his attention to the road.

They drove in silence for a few blocks when Jody whispered, “What’s the spread?”

Without thinking, Levi began rambling.  “UCLA is an underdog by a touchdown, but Nebraska’s totally overrated and the over was a sweet play too, so I parlayed that…” His voice trailed off.  “Busted?” he asked.

“Busted.”  Jody looked more pleased with herself for seeing through the ruse than anything.

“It’s date night, you’re right, I’m sorry,” Levi said sheepishly.  Jody managed to steal a quick glare at him.  There wasn’t malice in the look as much as wondering who he was trying to fool.  “That was fair payback for Georgio’s,” he added.

Jody’s face softened considerably.  “I wasn’t trying to get you back.” She sounded almost defensive.

“No, I deserved it,” Levi countered.  His eyes scanned the street ahead, looking for another option.  He got distracted when he felt Jody’s hand, and he looked down.  She had taken his hand into hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.  He looked up at her as the car came to a stop at another light.

Sorry she mouthed at him.  He smiled, and leaned over.  Their lips met, lightly at first, then returning and lingering.  The kiss was interrupted by a honk from the car behind them.  The light had changed.

Jody returned her focus to the road, but Levi continued to stare at her.  His smile broadened.  “Andina,” he declared.

“Andina?” Jody repeated.  She seemed lost in thought.  “But we haven’t been there since…” Suddenly, her look turned wistful.  “Was it really three years ago?” she asked.

Now Levi squeezed her hand.  “A good three years. It’s been too long.”

Jody turned on her turn signal.  As she made the turn to head back towards Glisan St, Levi brought her hand to his lips.  After all this time, it still made her heart flutter.

Prompt text: Start your scene with this line: “Her laugh broke the silence.”

Author’s note: I recognize I’m ending this in a different place than were I started.  I think if I took this where it felt like it should go, it would turn into a whole chapter.  I just took the prompt, started the chapter and ended the scene where I thought I needed to.  For all I know, I may revisit this later.

Her laugh broke the silence.

For the first time in what felt like hours, I let out an exhale and laughed a little myself.  I held out my hand, which Hazel took in her own to try and pull herself up from the roller rink floor.  And because I was even less practiced on skates than she was, I promptly lost my balance and went down on my ass.  This time, we both cracked up.

As first dates went, this one had been a good one.  I had no idea what to expect of Hazel, having never actually met her before.  The friend who had set us up told me only a few details.  Brown hair, near shoulder length, straight.  Very friendly smile.  “But I promise you this,” Nancy told me over the phone.  “You’ll know her when you hear her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“You just don’t hear many people like her around here,” Nancy replied.  She knew I was scared shitless about being set up, and was having entirely too much fun at my discomfort.

“Ok,” I said.  “I don’t know what you mean by that, but ok.”  I heard anxiety creep into my voice.

“Oh would you relax,” she chastised.  “You’re gonna be fine.”  I sighed, and I think she took my concerns more seriously.  “Look,” she said more gently.  “You’re a terrific guy, and she’s a wonderful woman.  The worst that can happen is y’all don’t click, have a nice night out and that’s the end of it.”

I swallowed hard.  “I…I know you’re right.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Believing it.”

I stood outside of the coffee shop, pacing back and forth.  The pacing did nothing to dispel the nervous energy I had, but it did more to that end than standing still.  My fears about arriving late had gotten the better of me, and I wound up arriving more than half an hour early with nothing to do but stew in my own nervousness.  I had already wandered through the record store and the vintage clothing store next door, trying to kill time.

Twice.

In my head, my nervousness had ratcheted up what I referred to as the “Hamster Wheel of DOOM” in my head so fast I swore I could smell it smoking.  Will you stop with this bullshit! I told myself.  It’s just coffee!

I know, but what is she likes me?  Hell, what if I like her?

Then you like her.  You have fun, maybe you guys go somewhere else. What’s the big deal?

I just…I don’t know how to handle that…I mean what do I say? What do I do? What if she’s really awesome and I feel stupid around here and

Out of the darkness of my psyche, I heard Nancy bark at me, firmly but compassionately, “For God’s sake, stop naming the kids!!!” Then as if she were there to see the chagrin on my face, I heard her more gently. “It’s just coffee.  Breathe.”

It’s just coffee.  Right.  Breathe.  Breathing is good.

Just as I’d calmed down enough that I no longer felt like pacing, a black sedan pulled into the parking lot and parked.  The driver’s side door opened, and a woman got out of the car.  She locked the car and began walking towards the coffee shop.  Then she saw me and changed course, heading directly towards me.  I swallowed and could feel my heart start hammering in my chest.  I closed my eyes for a second and heard Nancy’s voice one more time.

Stop naming the kids.

And then Nancy’s voice was replaced with one unlike any I’d ever heard outside of a movie.

“Is this Alonzo?”

I smiled, though it felt somewhat unnatural. Like my face was made of molder plastic and I was trying to shape it in a way different from how it had originally been cast.  “Yes…you must be Hazel.”

She laughed.  “Oh aye, and who else would it be?” The Scottish brogue was unmistakeable.  And then the smile Nancy had told me about shone like a spotlight.  Or in my anxiety ridden head, more like headlights from an on coming car.  And I was the deer about to be roadkill.

But there were worse ways to go.

“….raight aboot the hats.”

I shook myself out of my stupor.  “Beg pardon?”

“I sayd, Nancy were raight aboot how I’d know ya.  She said ya fancied hats more than most men yer age.” She held her hand out and I shook it delicately.  I’d completely forgotten I’d told Nancy I would wear my straw Panama to make me easy to find.  “Well, more than most men not ridin’ horses or herdin’ coos.  Isnae what you Texans do?”

I laughed despite myself.  “Not all of us.”

“Yer not all cowboys then?” She crossed her arms in mock skepticism.  The twinkle in her eyes told me she was having me on, and I was happy to let her do so.

“Technically as a Mexican, the term should be caballero or maybe gaucho,” I replied.

“Oh, hablas español?” Hazel asked.  Hesitantly, she continued, “Estoy tomando clases para aprender español ahora.”

“Uh, no,” I said sheepishly.  “You’ve probably heard about a third of my full Spanish vocabulary I could use properly.”

“Oh,” Hazel said.  She paused, and then brightened up.  “Awright.  We’ll go in then?”

I turned towards the coffee shop and proceeded to stumble upon the curb.  I regained my balance, terrified to turn around. Instead, I strode purposefully towards the door and then held it open for her.

Hazel walked past me, and as she reached the door whispered, “Guid recovray.”

Without even thinking about it, I replied, “I am, as ever, a picture of grace in motion.”

That elicited a bemused giggle from Hazel and for the first time since I’d gotten there, I smiled.

Prompt text: A character arrives at work to find their chair missing. What happened to it?

“The hell is this horseshit?”

Chuck had never been taught the concept of an “inside voice” as a child.  Consequently everyone in the department knew what he thought on any topic, whether engaged in conversation with him directly or trying to work despite the loudness in a cube four rows away.  I had already been in the office a while, and seen what the new office policy had wrought.  I had no doubts about how Chuck would handle the change, and he hadn’t disappointed me.

I made sure I’d saved the worksheet I had open, lest the tech gods smite my hubris.  Then I made my way down to Chuck’s office.  The door stood wide open, and by the shadow cast upon it I could tell Chuck was standing near it.  He was probably looking around his office for signs he was the victim of some kind of practical joke.  As I walked up behind him, he turned towards me.  Incredulously, he asked, “Who in the hell took my GODDAMN CHAIR?!?!”

I peered past Chuck into the office.  It was one of the smaller offices on our floor, about 15 feet square.  When he’d first moved in, facilities had given Chuck the option to have the walls painted one of three colors.  He chose red.  If there’d been a survey of the department, we would have selected maybe blue or beige.  Something more soothing in the hopes he’d be less high strung.  Sadly, our input was never solicited.

Chuck’s desk sat on the right side, perpendicular to the door and the outside window on the opposite side.  Where Chuck’s office chair would normally be, a balance ball stood.  It was about two and half feet in height, and the PVC plastic is was made from had a high sheen reflecting the office fluorescent lighting.  It was clearly very new.  To the credit of whoever selected it, the shade of red the balance ball was matched the walls perfectly.

“You remember when you filed a complaint with facilities that you needed a new chair?” I asked.  “Back when I was complaining that mine was hurting my back?”

“Well, yeah.” Chuck’s tone had dropped as his confusion increased.

“And they had those ergonomic experts come in and study how we sat and worked? They watched you, me and the contractor we brought on to help with the end of quarter rush,” I went on.

Chuck’s annoyance resurfaced as he failed to make the connection I was leading him to.  “Yeah yeah yeah, I remember all that crap, what’s that got to do with my goddamn chair going missing?”

I sighed.  “That’s your new chair, Chuck.”

“Oh, fuck that!” I knew he was pissed if he was dropping f-bombs loud enough for anyone to hear.  Chuck didn’t stand on ceremony for anyone in the office, but he broke out the heavy vulgarities only when pushed to his limits.

“No, Chuck, I’m serious,” I went on.  “I’ve been here for an hour, it was the first email I opened.”  I crossed my arms, bemused at how much the situation appeared to have tripped all of Chuck’s triggers.  “Some new special ergonomic program.  They’ll order a special chair if they need to.  But they want us to try the balance balls first and work on our posture while we’re working.”  As I thought back about the last hour, a realization dawned on me.  “To be honest, I’ve found it be pretty comfortable.”

“I don’t give a crap what you think of it,” Chuck replied.  He angrily tossed his laptop bag onto his desk.  “I’m gonna go have a talk with those hippie dippy assholes down in HR, and I’m gonna get me a goddamn chair to work in.”

I couldn’t contain a smirk, which I knew agitated Chuck even more.  “Come on, Chuck.  You haven’t even given it a try yet!”

“Damn right I haven’t, and I’m not gonna.” He brushed past me and down the aisle, muttering the whole way.  “Goddamn HR jackasses…no clue how an office should be run.  I’ve gotta work here, today…how the hell am I gonna get anything done with furniture out of a goddamn pre-school?”

I watched him go.  Once I was certain he was out of earshot, I said out loud to no one in particular, “You do that, Chuck.” I walked back to my desk shaking my head.  “Sure you’re gonna go over great with that attitude and vocabulary.”