Peace Through All Doors

So when I revived this site, I thought it’d be a place for music and fiction. Well, truth is stranger than fiction. (Some say we’re stranger than both.)

There are some other reasons I’ve put this site back together. Two of them are currently twelve and fifteen. This next story is not for them.

Why is it here? Well, I sat down to write something new and I found this on the page instead, so I guess that means it’s next on the menu. (I also wonder what that means for the next time I sit down at my keyboard, but that’s another concern.) The story is not light, or uplifting. But it’s real.

I doubt there’s a moral – my stories don’t tend to have points, let alone morals – but if there is one, it might be: keep your peoples close; do everything you can to prevent them from drifting away. Also: no matter what the fuck else you do don’t give up, on yourself in particular or the world in general. Keep ya head up.

I’ve got people I love more than the Earth itself who have drifted away from me, and I regret that every fucking day. I’ve also got peoples that are still close to me that I’ve known since I was six years old, which at this point is probably fifteen years older than the last living dinosaur and maybe some twenty years younger than God, so I guess I’m not a complete loss. And above all I’m still here, dammit, despite my body’s best efforts to the contrary.

But these bastards: they’re gone from my life. And I miss them terribly.

George and Michael

This piece technically started long ago, when I was living in Berkeley, but it all kicked off about a year ago when I found an invitation (which had almost expired) to submit a story to Fiddler’s Green.

I’ve no idea how I got on their mailing list, or for that matter how I’d even heard of them in the first place. The (open call) invitation came at a really good time, though: I was in between projects at work, and had all these fragments of stories of a central theme, and what better excuse to try to mold them into some kind of shape?

Of course, my fundamental premise had already been done properly, so I took the idea in a different direction, and this was what I submitted.

Enjoy.

Pittsburgh Through the Windshield

So, I’m watching the first season of Inspector Morse (for absolutely no reason), and during one of the episodes, they show a poster for Last Tango in Paris. That movie was (ehh, slightly) before my time, but it of course called to mind the song Last Night in Paris. That was of my time, and it dislodged a few memories…

… Back in my Pittsburgh days, Brother Ra and I used to do everything together. (Too many things, some might say. Five or six in particular, in fact, but those are stories I’m not telling.)

Besides Super Mario Brothers, Queensryche, and thermonuclear Mac and Cheese, one of the things we used to do was drive the circumference of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s freeway system is one of those where you can orbit the city center like a roundabout, without ever taking a freeway exit.

For the price of 20 – 30 minutes and half a gallon of gas, you could circumnavigate the Three Rivers, take in the sights of Pittsburgh, and – if you happened to be in your early twenties – get your angst and frustrations out via a nice fast car ride to a background of very loud music. Ra knows his cars, driving, and music, and he was a very … therapeutic … driver.

When I left Pittsburgh to drive out to Cali, he saw me off with one of his mix-CDs: “Pittsburgh Through the Windshield”. It was a cross-section of the tracks we used to blast during our drives. It was a tribute to our Tin Lizzy Therapy. It was a reminder that we’d always have a way to deal with the bullshit life threw at us. Most of all, it was one of only three CDs that kept me company on the cross-country drive.

These are the memories that define us. Build some for those you love.

Here, I’ll help get you started:

Crystal Ball
Lunatic Fringe
Whatever I Fear
Story of a Girl
Crazy On You
Last Time in Paris
Livin’ on a Prayer
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
The Idiot Kings
Break It Down Again
One Thing Leads To Another
Teardrop
Cars
Heart of Glass
Meet Virginia
What You Need

(the ones in bold are the ones I particularly recommend checking out.)

Werefish

So we had a little writing crew at a former workplace, and the group’s founder had us each bring in a writing exercise for the group.

I remembered one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories: Calliope, from the Dream Country collection. In it … well, there’s a panel where Mr. Gaiman just drops a slew of awesome story premises, without pomp or circumstance. I couldn’t imagine a better starting place for a writing exercise.

I love the idea of someone who inherits a library card to the Library of Alexandria, but that wasn’t the one I rolled with. Instead, I give you the Werefish.

Frostwalk

So I had a few hours at my disposal on Boxing Day. Having no particular plans, I started walking. Presently I found myself at a train station, so I took RTA to downtown Cleveland to see what was there.

Bitter cold wind, was what was there. I was a cold ass in some cold-ass wind.

Now that I was there, though, I wasn’t about to turn around and get back on the train home. Seemed just a little too fruitless. So I picked a destination at random; a destination five blocks away.

Those were the longest five blocks of recent memory. Two blocks in, I was ready to call it. It was bitter freezing cold, I had no business out here, and my destination was arbitrary. I kept thinking: get back on a train and go home!

Just then I passed by an outdoor skating rink. That’s right, folks, this 17 degree weather wasn’t cold enough for some – they had to come out and PLAY in it, skating on a surface which was somehow, impossibly, colder then the one through which I was suffering. So who was I to moan about the weather?

Also, that reminded me – I used to live in this weather. This was what I had been looking forward to all year: a nice walk, in the cold weather, snow on the ground. Well, here it was. And here I was. (Which just goes to show that you can get what you want and still not be very happy*.)

Also, you can view the past through nostalgia-colored glasses, but if you do get the chance to pick up some pieces of the past, be very careful to look past the romance. See it for what it is. If it still seems like a good idea, then go full force; just be careful to look clearly.

After all that, I finally get to my destination (which proved to be completely worth it, by the way) and the second I take off my jacket and sit down, I’m warm again. A little nip on my toes, perhaps, but otherwise I’d soon forgotten all about the frigid misery I’d just left outside.

Which brings me to my final point: by and large, bad things pass. Misery, cold, hunger, anger, pain: get past the triggers and often you can forget it ever happened; that’s how we humans are built.

With that in mind, don’t let anything distract you from your goals. If you succeed, then your obstacles won’t seem nearly as big in hindsight as they do now. I realize they probably seem insurmountable right now. And hey, they might well be. But try to look at them through a lens of already being where you’re going. If you can smash through your current situation, a better one is probably waiting for you right behind it.


*
happy

White Belt Tests, and Latin

Besides competing in a tournament, a belt test is probably the most nerve-wracking part of martial arts.1

Belt tests in my alma mater focus more on the upper ranks: Black belt tests can be 45 to 90 minutes long, but lower rank tests are pretty short: usually about 15 – 25 minutes long.

Why so short, if you’ve been training for months? The idea is that the instructors already know how well their students are doing; the test is really more of a recital than anything else. (But again, at higher ranks the test carries more weight.)

The white belt test is really short. Its main purpose is to determine if anyone is exceptionally talented or experienced. Everyone comes in as a white belt, of course, even if you come in from another school2, but if you hold black belts in other disciplines, chances are that you’ll dispense with some of the beginners training. That’s the main purpose of a white belt test: to determine how far the student will advance. Not if, but how far.

The only way to fail a white belt test is to walk off the mat before it’s over.

My mother recently reminded me that I took one of my AP tests in Latin, which I didn’t remember doing (it was thirty years ago). I don’t remember the idea, or the reasoning that led me to doing it. It makes sense, though, if I remember correctly.

I mean, I really sucked at Latin in high school. And here I was taking my AP test in it. Why? Because no matter how bad I was at Latin, the practice test was still unbelievably easy. Like, my straight C average in Latin in high school translated to an A in the AP test world. As usual, I was my own worst critic. And if I hadn’t taken the practice test, I might never have found out that I could pass the real one.

Who knows how well we’re doing? Don’t doubt yourself too much; you’re also probably your own worst critic. Just do the best you can.  Don’t leave the mat until the test is over.


[1] There are some schools who don’t make an entire production out of a test, but who spring them on you one day unexpectedly, or even just abandon them altogether and present new ranks whenever the instructor deems the students ready. I think I favor a hybrid approach myself, but that’s another story.

[2] Usually. Unless you hold a recognized certificate from a similar school, or something. Or are really obviously advanced.

Impressive, Inspiring, and Inexplicable

This is a story to remind us all to enjoy what we do, and to do what we enjoy:

It started absently enough.  Someone asked: “What’s the difference between three nines and four nines?”  The first hit on Google was https://uptime.is/

It’s a slick little calculator, showing what each level of 9s in uptime translates to, in minutes/hours/etc.  So I got my answer, and normally that might be the end of it – but something on the page caught my eye:

Secret alien technology, heh. –Wait, what’s that in the alien’s trunk?  A flag? And it says … lisp?!

Lisp is a programming language taught in prehistoric Intro CS courses, with – as far as I could ever tell – the sole purpose of hazing students.  I figured it was there to winnow out the students who thought “Hey, this could be a lucrative career” from those who really had a passion for programming.  Since leaving that course (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), I never heard of that language again.  What’s the story?

The story is at the top of the tool’s own page.  It describes how an Norwegian IT lawyer decided to write this simple but useful tool, and basically decided to write it in Lisp, just to be perverse.

I love it.

It reminds me that – yes, this is our job, and often we have to race to find the best solutions for things, but that far too often we’re constrained by fear, or by worry, or by concern.  We design things as best we can because there’s a certain artistry in good design, but mostly because we don’t want the phone to ring at 3 am.

But it’s supposed to be fun.  It’s too easy to forget that.  Mr. Miazine, apparently decided, just for the sheer giddy foolishness of it, to write the thing in the most bloody-minded language he could find.  Look at his grin, in the picture on the article.  He knows.  He knows he could have written something quick and easy and common, fired it off, and left it to be used but forgotten in a corner of the internet like some kind of programmer’s paper towel.

Instead, he created art.  Intentionally or not, he made a statement that said, “Do what you love and love what you do.”  Even though – or perhaps because – that statement was written in the most archaic language possible.

Cheers, Sir.  I salute you, and thank you for reminding us to pursue our passions.

(Comments particularly welcome.)