Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Short Stories

Brandon Sanderson showed up on my radar screen in 2014 and has very quickly become one of my favorite authors. Since I went through his Mistborn trilogy, I have been working my way through all of his stuff. He has a unique vision for his fantasy works that is interesting, compelling, and just plain good story telling. Recently I got my hands on three of his novellas (each available for free download on the author's web page) and spent a couple of hours putting myself in his capable hands and just letting go.

The Hope of Elantris: A side story that was part of his initial draft for Elantris that was removed to streamline the narrative. It tells the story of the Elantrian mutants defending their city against a final scourging attack from the outside just before they undergo their final metamorphosis. Touching and poignant. Who are truly the heroes and who are the villains?

Defending Elysium: An interesting take about an agent responsible for keeping the peace between humanity and the various alien races that interact with Earth. A man with unique psionic powers who has long since settled into his own view of the universe and the relationships of the different sentient species. It takes a very unsettling event to find out that the so-called peaceful and evolved species that he interacts with may not be what he has come to believe.

Firstborn: A hero of the human race, the perfect commander to help bring order to the empire, a man whose cunning, strategy, and bravery have led him to victory in every battle that he has engaged in. Slowly it becomes apparent to the emperor and his nobles that the hero has become a rogue agent seeking to consolidate power in his own name. They then work to train his brother in the ways of warfare and command to face his brother and preserve the empire. Yet this younger brother is apparently not skilled in any of the ways his older brother is, yet the emperor firmly believes that he is the only way to save the empire.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pulchritude

In Shakespeare's classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Juliet gives voice to her frustration that the man she loves is a son of a rival house. She a Capulet, he a Montague, but she argues

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Poor Juliet truly believes in her heart that the name of something does not affect its beauty or its value. A rose would be just a beautiful to look upon and its scent would still be a welcome sweetness regardless of whether it is called a rose or twedgarkin puddledump. Poor Juliet, poor deluded Juliet. With holding to misconceptions like this, is it any wonder that she died so young and by her own hand?

The classic counter-example of names that doom someone to the "Ugh-list" are Bertha, Gertrude, Beulah, and Hortense. Have you ever met a woman with any of these names that did not look like a Rubenesque version of a wart-covered Michelin man? Have you ever heard some old-timey geezer refer to his woman as "handsome". That only makes me think that he married some barnyard goat some 50-odd years ago. What about describing the love of your life as having a pulchritudinous glow? I should think that you would immediately be deserving of a wonk upside the head with a heavily laden handbag. You might even get the follow up kick to the Quaker Oats on your way down. Actually, after you return from the emergency room and your vision has returned to normal, you might try to explain to your beloved that pulchritude means beauty. To make up for your unnecessary foray into erudition, you might quote poetry to your still brooding but rueful mate. Something from like

"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies"


When she looks at you like your dog Patches when you try to explain the foundations of quantum mechanics, you can tell her that it is from Byron with just the slightest bit of condescension in your voice. On second thought, maybe you should just banish all such thoughts and be happy that anyone would ever want to have anything to do with you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Flames of Shadam Khoreh

The final novel in the Lays of Anuskaya trilogy by Bradley Beaulieu, entitled The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, is the tightest and best written of the group. I think that is saying something given how much I have enjoyed this fantasy series about warring peoples, unlikely alliances, deep seated maneuverings, and the supernatural thread woven throughout. This part of the tale takes place several years after The Straits of Galahesh. There the future of the world teetered on the brink as two ancient souls schemed and manipulated and controlled their way to bring about the end of the world. They had sought out elemental powers to tear open the very fabric of space and time, all in an attempt to bring a merging of the material and the supernatural planes. Only at the last possible moment did an unlikely alliance of former adversaries who had set aside their mutual mistrust and their own agendas come together to work toward a common goal and avert the coming disaster.

In this narrative one of the ancient shaman has inexplicably survived using powers that none had imagined possible. Her single-minded intent was set upon a course to systematically eradicate the final protectors of the realm. Only at the very end does her ultimate scheme and her ultimate purpose become understood. It is not about bringing forth the end of the world or even elevating herself to a higher plane, it is about the lust for unchecked power, for election into godhood. In fact, it seems that she has finally uncovered the knowledge of exactly how to make this happen.

While the story elements are quite fantastical, Beaulieu manages to build the plot to a wholly organic crescendo, never stepping beyond the bounds whose roots have been laid from the outset. Certainly this was a tale with commonplace thematic fantasy elements, but the author developed the plot with imagination, with a unique vision, and with more than a little skill and artistry. Definitely a recommended series for fans of fantasy fiction.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Observations 95

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • When grossly overweight folks go out in public wearing "skinny" jeans, I think that they do not realize that the style of the jeans in no way transfers to them personally.
  • If you want to understand what is in your typical witch's cauldron, simply look into a pool opened after being covered since the end of last summer.
  • Sometimes annoying, unprofessional, small-minded people are given way too much power to make life difficult for others. Why can't they just go away with a silent "poof"?
  • Why can't the grass in my lawn look as nice at the end of June as it does at the beginning of June?
  • 100 degree days definitely make it miserable to be outside. At least here in the U.S. we only have to deal with the occasional 100 °F days. In Europe they have to use the Celsius scale and a 100 °C afternoon makes for some pretty damp knickers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scattering Seeds

Jesus made it clear how we are to go about being generous to others. He told us

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." Matthew 6:2

I think that many acts of apparent generosity and selflessness are actually well tainted with expectations and hooks. People give with the expectation that they will get back. The old quid pro quo. We give of our time and our money with the hope of impressing others, whether it be to attract a mate, to make others think us a certain sort, to get in good with the boss, or to move up on God's list. Too often we may not even be fully aware that we are actually giving with ulterior motives because our prideful attitude creates a light that actually eclipses our ability to see what we are up to. We strut about like a peacock in a parade clanging cymbals over all acts great and small simply to draw attention to our benevolence and our humilty. This was exactly the point Jesus was trying to make. We settle for the low-end immediate reward of attention from those around us, while sacrificing the high-end eternal reward.

Many years ago I had a conversation with a friend whose message has stuck with me over the years. Their feeling was that generosity is not necessarily best served or displayed through grand gestures. In many ways such acts are doomed to come from or end up in the wrong place. Generosity that ultimately means something, that gains a sort of positive traction over the long haul, is about planting small seeds of joy wherever we roam. For many years I dismissed this thought because the acts themselves seemed so small and were so easily unrecognized in the moment. However, I have since had a chance of heart. While I may not have the power or the ability to change someone's life, I have sufficient strength to let them know that I appreciate them, to bring them a smile when they are blue or under stress, to edify them and lift them up. This consistent and intentional sprinkling of seeds, over time, can bloom into a pleasant garden while keeping my own pride and selfish spirit fully in check.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

In the News 14

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Cleveland Indians - Adriana Aviles is the 4 year old daughter of the team's shortstop Mike Aviles. The Aviles family was handed the devastating news that Adriana has leukemia and will have to go through a full course of treatments including chemotherapy, which would quickly cause all of her hair to fall out. All of
Mike's teammates and coaches then chose to shave their heads to support Adriana and her family. An absolutely lovely jesture. This story appeared in the news on May 27, 2015.

Phineas and Ferb - Throughout my entire life I have been a fan of cartoons on T.V.. They have a way of helping me to relax and to find my smile. A newer addition to my favorites is the Disney Channel show, Phineas and Ferb, about two step-brothers who look to make each day the best day ever. Not only are they clever, witty, and fun-loving, they are always looking to stand up for their friends and spread joy to those around them. My daughter and I have shared more than a few laughs and good moments while watching the show. Kudos to Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh for their wonderful imagination and for bringing these characters to life. The last episode of Phineas and Ferb aired on June 12, 2015.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Breath

Being a parent is a singular responsibility that too many folks enter into without even the slightest consideration of what they will be in for once the blessed event occurs. Certainly that was the case for me as I was just savoring being with the woman that I loved. The first thing that comes into view in this regard only a few short weeks after conception is the non-trivial financial responsibility that you are now suddenly on the hook for. Experts estimate that the cost to raise a child today is about $250,000. Thankfully that hit is spread out over 20 or so years. However, setting aside the dollars and cents issue, parents with even only a small taste of experience will universally recognize that raising a child gives rise to countless moments that will take your breath away.

Sometimes this gasping for air is associated with the greatest joys that life can provide. Moments that you wish would never end and never fade, that you somehow wish you could bottle up and savor again at a later date. Moments that span an immensity of breadth and depth from the biggest of accomplishments to the smallest of gestures. These times bring joy and contentment and love that linger in our memories and our hearts. These memories sustain and enlift us through our days.

Sometimes the lack of air is associated with a kick to the stomach, periods of sickness and struggle that we are helpless to impact or affect. No hug or kiss can take away the hurt, no pill or treatment seems to bring comfort or peace. I have been enduring such a season now. All too often I have struggled with depression because I am absolutely helpless to bring relief or change. I have no words or magic that make an ounce of difference or have the power to even bring a smile. If I could take the burden and the condition upon myself I would, but life doesn't work that way.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Straits of Galahesh

The second part of the trilogy The Lays of Anuskaya by author Bradley Beaulieu is entitled The Straits of Galahesh. This story picks up just a bit after the first part of the story, The Winds of Khalakovo, left off. There we were introduced to the peoples from a group of island duchies who had once known a reasonable period of stability, but they were thrown into armed conflict after the Grand Duke was killed by a vicious creature from the spirit world. The conflict was only heightened by the wasting disease that had affected the people and a blight that had affected the land. Few understood that these conditions were directly tied to a rift that had opened between the physical and the spirit realms. As the first part of the story ended, Prince Nikandr Khalakovo had formed a bond with a young savant named Nasim. Together they had reduced the extent of the rift that was threatening to destroy their lands.

As the second story begins, the power structure of the kingdoms of Anuskaya have been rearranged and uprisings continue to bubble to the surface. Even though the effects of the rift have been somewhat abated, new threats have arisen that threaten the land. One threat is in the form of a guerrilla resistance that seeks to overthrow the leaders of the duchies in order to reclaim their lands that were wrested from them years ago. Another is from the mainland Yrstanla to the west which has launched a sudden all-out attack on the islands of the archipelago. Yet the reasons behind these attacks are far from clear to the leaders of Anuskaya. Little do they know that the leaders of Yrstanla are being controlled by powers far beyond their understanding. It is only through the relentless efforts of Nikandr, Nasim, and others with connections to the spirit realm that Anuskaya has even a sliver of a chance to save themselves.

This novel was well written and well-balanced. The chapters and sub-chapters were written from the points of view of different characters, a process that was skillfully handled and served to expand and strengthen the narrative. As was the case for the first novel in this series, this was not a quicky read. It took effort and commitment to keep up with the narrative and the growing conflict. However, the payoff made this attention well worth it. Now I move onto the final part of the trilogy, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Observations 94

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • We may think that we don't live with the same mindset as was prevalent in the 50s and 60s, but when a man goes on paternity leave after his wife gives birth, his reputation takes a noticeable hit.
  • Have you seen these jokers whose cellphones go off in a meeting and they actually have the chutzpah to go ahead and answer it ... right there in the freaking meeting? If you haven't come across one these folks, then you don't work where I do.
  • Nature is funny. I have a bird that has built its nest right by my front door. Whenever I approach the front door it flies out up to the roof in a fit of panic. The other day it tried this but was surprised to find a squirrel sitting on the edge of the roof. The look of "you're not supposed to be here" was clearly written on the bird's face.
  • Have you ever seen stupid in action? I witnessed it the other day as two children (I would guess about 10 to 12 years old) were playing chicken across a 4 lane highway. I wish that I could have spoken some wisdom into their lives. If they needed a thrill that doesn't endanger others with their stupidity, might I suggest Russian roulette?
  • It's amazing how one little bug in my space can set me into a breathless tizzy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wave

She used to be locked in my arms, tight against my chest. There I could look into her eyes, sing songs to her, take away her fears, and tell her how special she was. Most often she would only reply with a coo or a look of contentment and peace. While she was essentially a captive audience to my silly pantomime, it was during this season where she captured my heart and wrapped me about her fingers.

In the blink of an eye I found her at the ends of my outstretching arms as we danced and played. Soaring on the swings was one of her favorite activities at the playground near our house. We used to pretend that I was pushing her up to the clouds. The whole time she would squeal in glee, abandoning any thoughts of danger knowing I was right by her side. Adventures with daddy, running, jumping, sliding were enough to give her everything that her heart and her imagination could ever desire. There was no time to reflect or even consider the passage of time as there was always the pull of one more story, one more minute, one more show.

Soon enough it was time for our first tentative breaks in contact where she would go off to school. At first there was a look of trepidation. We would sit together in the car and play Mad Libs or I Spy or 20 Questions until the very last minute when she had to go in. Slowly, as she gained confidence and adapted to her routine, she began to seek and then claim more independence. Soon she was out the door of the car before I could even reach for a hug. She was content merely to wave as she ran off to her world. I would sit there and wait until she was out of sight. Sometimes I was rewarded with one last wave before she disappeared. The times when she looked back to find me were my favorites.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In the News 13

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Namibia - The government of this small African country sponsored a hunt to kill one of the remaining endangered black rhinos. They setup an auction such that the winning bidder would be able to track and kill one of these creatures that are very nearly extinct. They held firmly to their rationale that this auction was actually part of their conservation efforts. The hunter with the winning bid made his trip and took down the animal with a high-powered rifle. As he stood in front of his kill with a smile a mile-wide, he gushed how magnificent and beautiful the beast was. The animal was killed on May 18, 2015.

Fake Charities - On May 19, 2015 the Federal Trade Commission ruled that four major cancer charities conned donors out of $187 million from 2008 through 2012 and spent almost nothing to help actual cancer patients. The donated funds went into the organizers personal bank accounts. It turns out that the four charities were each operated by different members of one family. They will each be forced to close their operations, but their penalties will be minimal as they each claimed poverty. I hope that there is a special place in hell reserved for these oily demons.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wait ... for now

There is a quote that I have stumbled upon a couple of times that begins,

"Start living now. Stop saving the good china for that special occasion."

For many of us who live dismissing the good in the everyday while holding out for the great and the unique, the good china will remain in the cupboard never to contact a single morsel of food. For me, the examples of this from my own life are a bottle of wine and a jacket.

The bottle of wine sat in our kitchen. I remember the words being uttered, something to the effect of "... when we have something to celebrate ...". Yet I had just gotten a new job, we had just purchased our first house, and we had recently welcomed our child. I could only think that it can't get any better than this, while the other thought in the room was that it has to get better than this.

I didn't have much money but a certain jacket was all the rage and I desperately wanted one. After saving my money over months and months I finally was able to make my purchase. I remember modeling it in front of the mirror, the feeling of its fabric across my shoulders, and its lingering, crisp scent. I can still recall that heady feeling of sated satisfaction and contentment. I immediately labeled this jacket for special use only. Yet that jacket remained in my closet, never worn while I waited for my moment.

I think the problem with waiting for that special occasion is that sometimes we just never allow ourselves to feel any satisfaction with what we have or what we achieve. That occasion that we are holding out for eventually becomes so idealized in our mind as to become unattainable and impossible to achieve. All the while that bottle of wine sits untouched, that jacket remains in the closet unworn. Every time we then glimpse the bottle or walk past that closet, feelings of unhappiness and failure register and build. Our negative thoughts become inured and take root until they grow into something utterly destructive, a weight that pins us down and saps our spirit.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Winds of Khalakovo

I was reading through an online list of reviews on a book that I had just completed when I came across a reviewer that pointed to a series called The Lays of Anuskaya by Bradley Beaulieu. After poking about a bit, I decided to dive into the first book in the published trilogy entitled The Winds of Khalakovo. This novel was billed as an unconventional fantasy epic. While some aspects of the story were quite unique, its main story arcs were quite traditional - relationships, betrayals, mistrust, warfare, and political intrigue. Nonetheless, as this was the first published book by this author, I was quite impressed with his ambition, his literary skill, and his approach. Certainly there were several portions of the story where the world building/magic system development were anything but clear, but never to the point where I was not able to muddle through and grasp the main point the author was trying to make.

The story takes place in the archipelago of Anuskaya, a scattered group of island nations spread out over the sea and ruled by a group of dukes. At the crossroads of the trade routes is the powerful duchy of Khalakovo. The islands are in a tenuous equilibrium as a terrible wasting disease has afflicted many and is also accompanied by a blight to the land. Resources are stretched nearly beyond the breaking point and civil unrest is growing. However, a mutually beneficial arrangement has been made between the duchies of Khalakovo and Vostroma to strengthen their relationship and their positions. Part of this brokered treaty includes the marriage of Prince Nikandr of Khalakovo to Princess Atiana of Vostroma. As the wedding day nears, all of the dukes arrive in Khalakovo for the great celebration. However, as the Grand Duke arrives, he is murdered by an earth spirit in a scene of terrible bloodshed and confusion. Immediately sides are formed as a faction of the dukes believe that Nikandr's father is protecting the one responsible for the murder. Soon armed conflict boils over.

At the heart of the problems plaguing the people and their lands is a great rift that has formed between the physical world over Anuskaya and the spirit world. While this rift continues to grow, there is great fear that it will utterly destroy the archipelago. There are some who would allow this to happen in their anger and their bitterness of being crushed under the foot of the Duchy, but there are others who better understand the true consequences. At the heart of the growing rift is a child, a sort of savant, who seems to exist partly in the physical world and partly in the spirit world. For reasons not fully understood, he has formed a tenuous link with Nikandr. Even though Nikandr does not fully understand who the boy is and what role he has come to play, he understands that young Nasim may be the only one who can heal the rift and save the lands and their people. However, as the rival dukes believe that Nasim is somehow responsible for the death of the Grand Duke, they seek their justice. Nikandr cannot allow this given the ever-growing rift and his sense that Nasim can close it. However, just as Nikandr helps Nasim to
start to close the rift, Nasim is taken away before it can be fully sealed.

I definitely enjoyed my time absorbed in this story. It was not a quick or light read in that it took a bit of contemplative engagement to stay in touch. However, I had no complaints. I now move onto the second part of the story in, The Straits of Galahesh.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Observations 93

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • My across-the-street neighbor is a morbidly obese old man who loves to ride around the street in front of his house on his riding lawn mower wearing only the skimpiest of shorts. It is the rare trifecta of disgusting, obscene, and fascinating all at the same time.
  • Back in the mid-80s it seemed like every pop song included a saxophone solo. After a couple of years the fad abruptly ended and the instrument has been all but forgotten about. If my memory serves, this was the same fate suffered by the glockenspiel back in the 30s.
  • When the angel of death came for Nora Beady she was incredulous. She just refused to believe that her time was up, after all, she consciencously pep-steps around the mall on weekends.
  • If you are a respected member of your workplace but are underpaid, really the only way to go about getting a raise is to have another company provide you with a job offer. Any other method to request a raise will only get you labeled as a whiner.
  • If you are trying to complement someone on their work, the expression is properly stated as, "I couldn't have done a better job myself", not "I could have done a better job myself."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Betrayal

I have been struggling with some relational issues recently and a number of questions have been circulating around in my head. They stir and they spin. They dance and they twirl. However, I cannot put them to rest because the answers that I come up with seem ephemeral. The moment that I begin to think that I have settled an issue in my mind, the answer coyly flutters away, the question unsettled. Peace remaining just beyond my grasp.

A: If someone you loved betrayed you, would you want to know?

B: If you did know of the betrayal, would you want to know the gory details in graphic fashion?

The questions appear similar, yet I think they are fully distinct and separate. I am not sure that either has a cut-and-dried answer.

Suppose your spouse cheated on you. They let their guard down in a time of extreme stress or weakness and gave themselves for a night to another. If they told you, it might wreak extreme trauma and emotionally destroy you. It could lead to the end of the marriage, and if there are children involved, what of their future? Your spouse might deeply regret their decision and take immediate steps that would not allow for such a mistake in the future. In such a situation, would you really want to know? If you did know of the situation, would anything good come from knowing exactly what they did together in all its vivid detail? Like a burgundy wine stain on a white carpet, those images would be ever-present and might be inescapable.

Suppose your child broke your trust. Despite all that you have tried to instill in them, all the values that you had hoped were imprinted in their fabric, they systematically wove a web a lies that stretched out thickly in all directions. If their acts came to light, would you really want to know all that they did? Every jot, every tittle? If their safety or their future were at stake, I assume that all parents would strive to get to the bottom of the truth, but would knowing the details actually serve to bring about healing?

I think the main thread in these sorts of questions involves the nature of all expressions of regret, remorse, or sorrow. Are apologies given solely because they are expected? Are they uttered only because sin has been unearthed? Apologies are never meaningful in the moments after they are uttered. It is only after seasons pass and behaviors are affected or left unchanged will we know if they were jasper or if they were wind.

The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Quick Hits 38

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

Have you ever had to work closely with a colleague who had such bad breath that it was nearly unbearable? Is it reasonable to bring this up to them and to dismiss them until they deal with their hygiene problem?

What do you think?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bucket Equity

Any homeowner, or better yet, any mortgage holder, understands the concept of equity. Equity essentially amounts to the fraction of your home that you actually own, or said another way, it is the amount of the principle that you have paid off. However, I have also come to apply the term equity to inter-personal relationships. In such a case, the notion of equity amounts to how tight the bond is between the principals in the relationship. The trouble with this type of equity, this relational equity, is that if you do not build upon your investment, your equity decays away. A friend of mine once laid out an analogy involving buckets being filled with water that fully crystallized this notion for me.

The strength of any relationship is linked to how much water there is in its associated bucket. The fact is that all of our relational buckets have one or more holes in them of varying sizes. The more holes there are in the bucket, the quicker the equity diminishes and the more frequently an investment of additional water is required to keep the relationship healthy. It is my observation that the relational buckets between women tend to have very few holes, such that the equity drains away very slowly with time. This is why two girlfriends can get together after a long time apart and spend the night gabbing and sharing their deepest secrets. For men, the holes in their relational buckets tend to be considerably larger and more numerous. Without care and investment, relationships between men can decay quite quickly indeed.

For me, my relational buckets all seem to come with unimaginably large holes. No sooner is water poured into the volume than it is found to be empty. Even a comparatively short break between seeing someone, whether it be a friend or even my own daughter, and I am noticeably uncomfortable. What I have come to understand is that in any relationship there is not one but two buckets. One that I perceive and one that the other person perceives. Folks in whose presence I was once quite comfortable, can very quickly become like strangers to me. What creates awkwardness and stress is that, in their view, as their relational bucket with me has drained out much more slowly, they feel there is a stronger bond between us that I perceive. For me, absence doesn't make anything grow fonder, it just leads to drainage.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Die Trying

The second novel in the extended Jack Reacher series by author Lee Child is entitled Die Trying. Folks who read my review of the first book, Killing Floor, might remember that I approached this second book already with a bad feeling in my stomach but with an attempt to stay hopeful. Killing Floor would likely have only gotten a "C" is a community college writing course due to its 2D characters, its weak story telling, its choppy brittle prose, and it overall levels of implausibility and utter contrivance. However, my mindset was that this was a best-selling series and there had to be good reason for that. So, I chalked up the weak first novel as a Child's first tentative steps into the world of writing. I figured that his second book had to be better.

The story involves a plot by a group of Montana militiamen, who had carved out their own small territory in an abandoned mining town, to declare independence from the United States. The men in power within this group are all dim-witted, right-wing conspiracy nuts who are sucked into the charismatic despotism of their leader. Their plan is to kidnap an FBI agent in Chicago who happens to be the daughter of the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs and the godchild of the President. However, just at the moment they make their move to take agent Holly Johnson, Jack Reacher just happens to be walking down the street. The bad guys then grab both Holly and Jack and sweep them off to their remote area in Montana. What happens from that moment until the moment when Reacher has killed off each and every one of the bad guys is just more of the same contrived nonsense in scene after scene. It read like a rejected A Team script.

At this point I am at a complete loss for how there can be so many 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon for this comic-book cartoon inanity. With so many really good writers producing so many amazing stories, I just cannot imagine how this one gained such traction. The next book in the series, Tripwire, is on my reading list only because I own the first six books in the series and am really curious if there absolutely anything worthwhile here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Observations 92

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • From the "What is going on in this world files?", Charlie Weis was the Notre Dame head football coach from 2004 to 2009 when he was fired. The university was still contractually obligated to pay the remainder of this contract, which to date has gotten him more than $18 million dollars for not coaching at Notre Dame. In fact Weis got another another coaching job after Notre Dame, at Kansas. He was fired after a few years and the university still owed him $6 millions dollars. So, Weis is getting paid $24 million not to show up to work.
  • Johnsonville Sausage has been running a new ad campaign with the tag line, "We don't make sausage. We make family and sausage." What? Is this some kind of Soylent Green thing they have going? Johnsonville Sausage is people, its people!
  • It sets my laths a-crackin' when corporations try to market themselves using their own devised "hip" and "with-it" nicknames. McDonald's morphs into "Micky-D's" and Buffalo Wild Wings slides into "B-dubs".
  • In the urinals in the men's room at work are these plastic disks that are designed (apparently) to splash urine all over the place. However, they also have advertising information printed on them in a very small font. First, who is their target audience with this advertising? Second, who is going to stick there head in the urinal to read the small font?
  • I refuse to wear pants that rustle, sway, swish, or flow as I walk. I would rather be locked in the bowels of a Turkish prison than to be forced to wear bell-bottom pants.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Quick Hits 37

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

If your employer gave you the option of working four 10-hour days instead of five 8-eight hour days, would you shift to a four-day work week?

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Google Finds

The other evening I got stuck for a while on a clue for my crossword puzzle. As I happened to be sitting in my office by the computer I turned to Google. About an hour later I had completely lost track of my original motivation for sitting down at the computer. Instead I got side-tracked reading biographies of a dozen or more folks who were apparently pretty big stuff in their day. Dictators, dancers, composers, spies, politicians, actors. The problem was that I had never heard any of their names before. These were folks who had lived their allotment of days within the last hundred years or so and died within the last couple of generations. Now their stories are essentially lost to the ages.

When I came back to myself and remembered what I had originally intended to search for, I began to ponder my own mortality. Is there anything that I have done or could do that would make my name or my accomplishments linger? I am pretty certain that the answer is no. Sure my daughter will hold my memory after I am gone, and maybe if she has children, then they might get to know a grandfather and have a relationship with him. Possibly too some element of my research work might be cited by some future scientist, although I cannot imagine that to be the case. I have heard of famous people that expend countless energy worrying about their legacy. It becomes something that haunts their thinking as their careers begin to wind down. In truth, I am not particularly concerned with such things. I don't say that in any sort of defeatist tone, it is just that it is not important to me. Fifty years from now I am reasonably sure that some database search engine likely might pop up my name due to some query, but it will in no way capture anything personal about me. As I said, that is fine with me.

Monday, June 1, 2015

I Need a Hero

I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight


One of the great things about being married was the hero's welcome that I got every now and then. Those moments where I completed some feat of daring like checking out that weird noise out back at 2 a.m.. Moments where I was especially clever like warding off the schemes of some schiester salesperson and getting our money back. Moments where I would brave the elements to shovel out the driveway and get the cars unburied. In the aftermath I would find my wife and she would tell me how important I was to her and how thankful she was that I was hers.

Sometimes I like to think that I am strong, able to get through all things reasonably well on my own. However, the truth is that I relied on her words and her hugs to embolden me, to make me a man, and to give me strength for bigger challenges in the future. Without her presence for these many years, I recognize more and more just what I lost in her leaving.

This past winter after a major snow storm in the area, I went out and shoveled my long driveway. Inch by dense inch, I slowly made my way about that large expanse until I was down to the pavement. As I stood there leaning on the handle of my shovel, resting for a moment to catch my breath and to calm my burning muscles, I wished that she would have been inside waiting for me to whisper those live-giving assurances. Of course with the advance of spring, the soaring temperatures, and the sound of lawn mowers and children playing outside, the winter's snows are long since past.