Sunday, May 4, 2014

May the Fourth Be With You...Always.

The comic book that fueled my love of all things Star Wars
          Today is Star Wars day and it’s made look back several times over my thirty-three years or so of loving all things Star Wars.  I was too young to remember A New Hope, I was just four years old after all.  The Empire Strikes Back, though, now that movie I remember.  I know my Aunt took me to the movie but I don’t remember a whole lot of the movie itself.  She says I went to the bathroom a lot but I honestly don’t remember it much.  I have a vague recollection of Hoth but that’s about it from that experience.  What got me hooked, and I mean really hooked was a copy of the second edition of Marvel’s comic book adaptation of the same movie.  It was slightly larger than a normal comic and the colors were very stark but that book is what opened up my mind and my world to all that was Star Wars.  I had some toys before that too, the Death Star play set figures prominently in my memories as does the Falcon playset but that comic was my ‘gateway to geekdom’. (Geekgate?  Gateway Geek?)

                I’m not exactly sure what about the series that hooked me so completely and continues to hook me even now as an adult.  Maybe because it had it all; swords, action, flying ships, guns, and rogues just to name a few things!? My seven year old brain sucked it all up and from then on my world was set.  It was my Errol Flynn, my Three Musketeers, Zorro, and Lone Ranger all wrapped
Oh Yeah!! The Death Star!!
into three movies.  It scared me (that Wompa was not a nice creature) and in the beginning I wasn’t even too sure of Darth Vader.  My view on what a hero should be as an adult is modeled entirely on Han Solo, a bad guy just isn’t really a bad guy unless they can top Vader and Palpatine.  I suppose I was the perfect age for it but whatever it was I was in!! 

                As I’ve aged I’ve always been fearful the movies would age or wouldn’t hold up to my adult scrutiny but they haven’t.  They’ve grown more fun to watch especially as I share them with my sons (my daughters too but they won’t admit it publicly that they like the movies but I know they do...they do I tell you!!).  The prequels had their issues sure and didn’t even come close to matching the majesty of the original three (especially episode V) but they were Star Wars through and through.  They had swords, guns, romance, ships, and awesome bad guys just like the originals.  They stoked the Star Wars flames of my soul.  They made me feel like a kid again and stoked the imagination.  They took me back to hours spent playing with the toys or just imagining I was the one fighting Darth Vader instead of Luke.  They took me back to time spent pouring over fan-fiction before fan-fiction was even a thing.  I spent hours making up distant relatives of Solo and writing about those adventures. 

Fan-Made Episode VII poster
                As we slowly march our way through 2014 and into 2015 there is the promise of more Star Wars goodness.  I’ve seen the original cast is returning and that’s simply awesome.  The fans out there in the internet may not like it and throw down all of their negative fan hate that could only exist in the anonymous world of the internet but I’m pretty sure when those opening credits pop on the screen and the words begin their long scroll up the screen that I’ll be in my seat grinning like a loon, my inner seven year old squealing in absolute joy.  Whatever intangible thing it was that hooked me on this universe all those years ago, I am very grateful it was there.  Star Wars has made me a happy child, a happy boy, and a happy adult repeatedly over the years and I can’t imagine a world without being able to sit down and watch one of the movies, or quote a line at my wife, or have my mom throw out a line from Yoda or discuss the finer points with my wife and best friend. (or...shhh...beating my wife at Star Wars trivial pursuit!!! muhahahah)  Thank you George Lucas for being as influential on my life as much and probably more than any teacher ever was.  Long Live Star Wars, and May the Fourth Be With You!!

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's a scary scary world we live in!!!

                It has occurred to me recently that not all is right in the world.  No seriously, innocent little things like comic books and geek culture (one I’ve been a member of for nearly 30 years) is not as innocent as I once hoped they were.  This thing that started with my buddy and I running down to the local 7-11 and Newcombs to get our books on a monthly basis (for .65 cents no less but that’s a topic for another blog)  and trading books on the front porch of his parents house has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry (with movies thrown in).  Innocent ‘one and done’ comic books about teen age angst (Spidey) and that taught us to care for all of humanity no matter their race, sex, or power (X-men) or that anger wasn’t always the answer (Hulk) were what the industry was all about.  Comic Cons didn’t exist and if they did they were a world away from our parent’s front porches.  Wolverine was the best there was at what he did but all we really knew about what he did was that it wasn’t pretty.  This was how I came into the world of Geekdom. 

Cover Art by John Byrne
                Then the internet struck and like many many things in the world things got….discombobulated….innocence slowly melted away.  One-and-done’s turned into epic multi-issue arcs that gave way to company spanning events.  Great covers gave way to foil covers and small community center comic conventions where books changed hands for other books turned into mega-cons!!!  We lost our innocence.  Usually this isn’t a big thing to me.  It happens.  Life will always move forward and that’s the way of things so we have to deal with it.  Books will never return to .65 and we’ll be lucky if they stay at the $3.99 mark they’ve been at for the past several years. 

                I grew up and so did my comic books.  I’ve had kids who have been immersed in the culture.  More specifically I’ve had girls who are as much fan-girls as I am a fan-boy.  This has me nervous.  I am alert to all of the dangers that face 13 year old girls.  The internet, boys, bullies, TV, eating issues, image issues, and puberty just to name a few.  I never in a million years thought I’d need to add comic books or anything else from Geekdom.  I have made attempts to keep them from some of the covers (Witchblade probably the most) so that they weren’t exposed to ‘those kinds of images’ and while they’ve not really taken to comic books per se they’ve seen them in the house.  They’ve gotten their toes wet in Geekdom by following Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, Adventure Time, Minecraft.  On the surface these aren’t too bad but they’ve led them to want to go to cons and one day it may lead them to want to read comic books or continue deeper into their chosen ‘Geek Path’. 
Cover Art By John Byrne

                The question that faces me is, ‘Do I want them to?’ After reading about all of the hate directed at one individual who criticized a cover of a comic book I’m wondering if this culture is really safe to raise 13 year olds in.  Because a woman stood up and spoke her mind the Culture with which I have so proudly claimed to be a part of lashed out in some of the meanest ways imaginable.  Do I want my daughters exposed to this? 

No I do not!!!  Not even a little bit. 

The anonymity of the internet protects these ‘people’ from persecution and emboldens them to say things they’d never say in public but it also means some of these comments were the true feelings of the posters.  These were the first things that popped into their minds!!  For the first time ever I was embarrassed to be a male and specifically to be a male in this culture.  I wanted to defend the males who would never ever think to say these things but I found myself at a loss.  I didn’t know what to say.  Honestly, I still don’t.  I stand with the females who’ve stood up and made the Culture aware of what’s going on, I stand next to the creators who’ve publicly stood up and put these ‘fan-boys’ down.  I’ve favorite posts, and re-tweeted tweets to show some support.  I’ve downloaded Podcasts and visited blogs to show my support but it’s not seemed like enough. 

                Now I look at the world I live in and realize I’m not a ‘cause’ type of guy.  I live a quiet life with my family.  I don’t speak out to often, I don’t donate money to charity’s, I simply live my life the best way I know how and hope that will be enough.  I’m polite, I open doors for people, and I wave and/or smile at strangers.  So how do I help with the ‘problem’?  How do I help ‘change the world’?  The answer is I raise my children right.  I also have two boys and I make sure they grow up knowing it’s not okay, ever to say those things or even think them.  I teach them to stand up for things that are right.  I teach my girls to overcome and to not accept the status quo.  I teach them that this is not the 50’s or 60’s and that they as young women have as much right to protect the image of women and of themselves as anyone else.  I teach them that the faceless masses of anonymous internet are wrong, that they are not humanity.  I teach them to seek the truth no matter what others say, no matter what the ‘common perception’ is.  I teach them to be Women, intelligent-go-after-what-they-want women who will rule the world in the end.  I teach all four of them the wonders of the comic book world, to look deep through the title spanning arcs to see the beautiful truth and lessons that are buried in today’s comics.  I teach them to appreciate the art and in turn to encourage the artists to ‘get it right’ and not accept the stereotype.  I teach them to read deep and feel what the author is trying to express.  This is how I can defeat the anonymous masses.  This will be my commitment to the wonderful world which I’ve enjoyed for so long and which I hope to continue to embrace.  This will be my contribution to the world at large.  Comic books are a beautiful medium and Geekdom is an awesome culture that has come together to achieve some really spectacular things.  I hope it continues, I hope I am able to teach my children to continue with it.  And with that, I will return to my room where I have stacks of books waiting to be read and return once more to the great stories being put to paper by the wonderful authors and artists who month in and month out are producing some of the most awesome story telling available. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

The end of suffering...

Kanji for bitter or suffering

                The person you were yesterday is dead!

                This is an idea I try to keep in the back of my mind on a regular basis.  This is especially true for those of us who hold on to things and worry over them like a dog worries over its bone.  This simple idea has allowed me to, by and large, let go of the things I can’t control or at least the things I’ve done/said in the past that I can’t change now.  It’s a concept I’ve brought up occasionally but with the recent changes in my professional life it’s a concept I’ve had to embrace a little more closely.  We all do things or make mistakes we can’t undo completely.  We’ve all had those ‘if only I had done that’ moments as we’re driving home and some of us worry over the consequences of those words/actions just a little bit.  (or in my case, quite a lot) Those moments are when the idea of who I was being dead comes into play.

                This concept stems from the Buddhist teaching that ‘Life is suffering’.  I always wondered how relatively happy looking Buddhists could walk through life thinking that it sucked due to all of their suffering.  I read some books and looked into it a bit and discovered that it’s not life that suffers but rather it’s our view on life that makes it suffer.  So, as we drive home and worry over what we coulda/shoulda/woulda said to the jerk-off we just dealt with at the office we are in effect suffering.  Suffering sucks.  I hate doing it.  Actually, I hate worrying too.  It’s an energy suck.  It’s a time suck and it is very rarely productive.  I had a supervisor once who used to worry through every little issue we might deal with on a given day/event.  Having a propensity for the same thought process often times we would end up ‘brainstorming’ just how messed up things could get.  We’d get ourselves in a tizzy and become tired and irritated and depressed over how helpless we were.  We were suffering.  The day of the ‘issue’ would arrive and all the things we thought would happen actually wouldn’t and often times the day would turn out ok but our stress levels would be through the roof.  We’d spent days, weeks, and sometimes months worrying. We suffered. 

                But back on track…..

                If who I was yesterday is dead and I can’t change that person then why am I worrying?  We need to continue forward with our lives.  If we don’t like what that dead person did yesterday then don’t do it again today.  If we spend our time trying to correct what he/she did yesterday we are wasting the precious time we’ve been given today.  I’m not necessarily saying we should ‘Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ because that idea supports more of wasting the time we have rather I am advocating caring a little less about what happened and what is to come and concentrate on the here and the now.  I can spend my day beating myself up for not riding, writing, being a better father/husband yesterday or last week…….or…..I can simply accept that those things happened and be Better today.   I think, and have tested it out on myself, if we concentrate on being Better today those ‘If only’ moments become less and less.  The idea leads us to being able to have a moment between stimulus and response.  Living in the here and now with the conscience idea that what we do NOW matters,  makes us slow down and react with less emotion/passion. 

This idea can be even more powerful when you realize who you were when you started reading this doesn’t exist anymore. 

That person is dead as well.  We are constantly moving forward, wasting the time we have worrying about who we were even five minutes ago seems pointless to me.  Acknowledge and move on. 

                Taking it a step further; if the person we were a minute ago is dead….then the person we are to become has not been born yet.  Living fully in the now and being Better now will lead to the birth of a better person every minute.  Expecting the future you to be better but not doing anything to make that happen will lead to suffering as well.  Expectation leads to disappointment.  Expecting the negative to be a positive, expecting a Monday to be a Tuesday will lead one to more disappointment.  So we must let go of the dead person behind us, not worry about the unborn you yet to be fully realized and embrace the moment right now.   I’m writing. This leads to a blog post which leads me to contentment.  Yesterday I rode because I woke up and that’s what I knew I needed to do.  Because I did what was right for me at that moment I look back on that dead me and am content that I did what I wanted to do when I had the opportunity to do it.

Japanese Kanji for Peace which is what we get when we end our suffering
                So, how does one go about avoiding this ‘suffering’?  To a certain extent I’m not sure we fully can, we are after all humans and humans worry.  When I discovered the idea through my reading and research it was a ah-ha moment (also a decent 80’s band) but it also took me a lot more soul searching to keep the idea alive and in play within my life.  At first the idea spent a lot of time on the bench.  It’d raise its hand occasionally trying to get my attention and I’d ignore it.  One day after a particularly frustrating series of events at work and a couple of weeks off to soul search I put it in the game and it’s been playing center field ever since.  I’ll forget about it once in a while and the idea might go through a slump or two and my life de-volves into a lose/lose scenarios but it doesn’t seem to last as long and I am able to put the bad stuff behind me quicker now.  It’s come to the fore front once again recently because of my current job posting which is very new to me and I’m stumbling here and there a bit.  I’m catching myself for the most part but this concept has helped me to get up each time, brush myself off and get back in the batter’s box again.  Hope it helps for you as well.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Is this a mid-life crisis?

    My question today is; when can we stop trying?

                I’m 40 now, is that an appropriate age to stop, relax and smell the flowers?  Or is it 50…60?  Do I need to keep striving to be something better until I retire?  Isn’t that sort of too late?  If we’re pushing hard to be better at work, to podium at every race we enter, and being the best husband/father ever, where do we rest and enjoy the life we have right now?  Are we moving too fast to enjoy the here and the now?  Will the people who are constantly trying to get to that CEO position or Supervisor position end up at 65 looking back on what they’ve missed?  I don’t want that.  Since I graduated High School I’ve been striving to be better.  Better at what I’m still a little unclear about but I know I wanted to be better.  With this new promotion chances are this is as ‘better’ as I’m going to get.  So if being ‘better’ has been my motivator than what is it going to be now?  I’m facing twenty to twenty-five years of work still in front of me.  I’ve promoted for what could, in all honesty, be the last time.  Above me degrees are required, experience is required, and skills….skills I don’t generally possess…are required.  My mother went out and got an education and a career in her 40’s and I applaud her for it but is that still a realistic option.  I looked at signing up for school to take some IT courses and bone up on my limited but ok tech skills.  I couldn’t get in and it would’ve cost me nearly $300 for one class if I did.  (after books)  So is the question one of passion?  Do I simply lack the passion to move forward.
                It dawns on me that it might come off as sounding a bit whiny.  I thought about deleting it and starting over.  It’s been my policy to not post complaints and tirades about life but these questions; this concern is real to me.   Work is good, the four week old promotion has been awesome and yet I’m left wondering if it will be enough.  Yoda accuses Luke of looking, ‘to the future, to the past, never his mind on where he’s at, what he is doing’  (I paraphrased a bit).  Am I un-trainable?  Will I bring balance to the Force?  Ok, Ok I’m probably trainable but I doubt I’ll bring balance to the force.  Seriously though, will this promotion bring enough challenge and enough opportunity to learn and stretch that desire to be ‘better’ will fade over time or to get me into my retirement years?  At what point is a dog old enough to stop learning new tricks?  Is that the point where we retire?  My Dad retired because he was tired of the politics not because he hated the core work he was doing.  I hate the politics of work now (does this mean I get to retire?) but what job doesn’t have them and honestly who actually thrives on them?  I love the core work responsibilities I’m being given (even when the load of it has quadrupled since I was promoted) will that be enough to keep me going or as I age and lose a step will it be too much? 

                It seems this post is one of questions, the unknown and the unknowable.  It’s kind of a cool thing to not have the answers, to not have a clear and concise path laid out in front of you but it’s also a scary place to be.  Walking the knifes edge of sanity is an awesome exhilarating experience yet the danger always exists, the possibility of falling into the warm embrace of insanity is always hovering over you and it’s a long walk I have waiting for me with lots of opportunities to fall.  I have no answers fellow reader, do you?  How do you my fellow forty-something year olds deal with this weird ‘not-quite-mid-life’ place we find ourselves?  Are you happy?  Do you face the same ‘fears’ and uncertainty?  I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nothing Else Matters...

                In a few weeks I’ll reach a milestone that in today’s fast food society is reached less and less.  On August 21st my wife and I will celebrate 20 YEARS of marriage!!!!!  Holy cow.  There are several thoughts that pop into my mind.  First, there is no way I’m that old! Second, there is no way my wife is that old!!!    The time has flown by.  It’s had its ups and downs and everything in between.  We’ve cried, we’ve hurt but most of all we’ve laughed and we’ve grown together.

                Nearly twenty years ago I’d just barely graduated.  I was a skinny geek who had no idea what he wanted or where he wanted to go.  I met a fine young woman who had come to visit with another friend.  I was hobbled by a soccer injury.  She gave me the total and complete cold shoulder and I was hooked!!  The rest is history, a year and a half later we got married and we’ve been making happy memories ever since.  In 1993 Monday night football was still on network TV.  Chipper Jones was a rookie on the Braves, Hoffman was a rookie on the Marlins, Raul Mondesi a rookie on the Dodgers, and Brad Ausmus was a rookie catcher for the Padres .  Toronto beat the Phillies in the World Series, Dallas won the super bowl, and Chicago won the NBA championships.  (So I’m a little sports centric…I can guarantee she just smiled at the Ausmus reference!)  There was really no internet and cell phones were still brick sized.  I drove a really sweet Mercury Cougar (which died and led to an even cooler Yamaha Scooter) and life was just getting started. 

Too often we get caught in this negative loop in life.  We see the bad, the poor, the ugly but seldom do we stop and see the good.  But you know what as I lean back and gaze back over the landscape our 20 years has created I’m pretty happy.  I see mostly good times, a life built and a family created.   We’ve done a pretty darn good job.  We’ve learned to communicate, to express how we feel to each other and how to sacrifice for each other.  We’ve grown up together.  Most of all though, after 20 years we are still very much in love with each other.

                I have had successes in life and I have had failures.  I’ve been up and I’ve been down.  I’ve had far too many jobs and even more hobbies I’ve attempted to pursue.  In the end my wife has always held me up and been my rock.  A lot of people don’t see that part of our relationship but I’m here to tell you that without Kelly I would not be the happy, fairly balanced family man I am today.  She has, over the years, supported all the cooky little things I’ve done, let me vent when I needed to, put up with all of my undiagnosed personality defects and in the end what more can a man ask for from his wife?  She’ll watch baseball, football, and even tolerates a bit of the Tour de France as well as a soccer game or two.  She’s the perfect wife. 

                Nothing I do is ever as good as it is when my wife is with me.  As much as I love riding my bike, if I couldn’t share my adventures with her (even though she’s bored to tears as I describe my latest ‘cool’ ride stats)the rides just wouldn’t be as cool afterwards.  Without her I’d never be able to see a doctor (I hate filling out those darn forms).  Without her I’d have no faith in me, I’d doubt myself at every turn but her support and sometimes stern reminder to shut-up keeps me going.  Due to my job we don’t get a lot of alone time or little dates except for a quick hour lunch break on Tuesdays.  There are no kids and often times we go to the same restaurant but I don’t care what food I’m eating because I’m really just happy that for a few minutes we get to hang out.

                Kelly you are my rock.  You are my inspiration.  You’re my BFF and life would just not be as fun if you weren’t in it.  So thank you dear for these years.  Thank you for your support, your love and your devotion.  Thank you for the countless sacrifices you’ve made for me and for our family.  Thank you for always being there with a shoulder to cry on, a stern word to keep me in line, and kind words to keep me motivated.   Thank you for an awesome 20 years.  I love you. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pause that.....

     Time does not stop for us mere mortals very often.  Try as we might the world keeps on spinning, the sun sets and the moon rises.  Tides go in, tides go out and the wheel keeps on turning (good song that last bit).  It is the way of things and as much as I wish it was otherwise it’s probably for the best.  Stagnation is never a healthy thing for any living organism, humans included.  As most of you know we recently welcomed a new member to the family.  My fourth child.  He’s awesome and for the past three and half weeks or so I got to freeze time, or at least put in in extreme slo-mo. 

                Last June I got to pause life for a twenty four hour camp out with the family and it was pretty awesome.  This time its nearly four weeks of pause time.  Now though, life is slowly beginning to speed up once more.  I’m not entirely sure I’m happy about that.  The isolation the family has had has been, well, pretty dang awesome.  There has been no school, no work and a whole lot of us just being a family.  I had grand plans for the time I was off.  Ideas to go camping, to take the three ‘older’ kids to a museum or two and to get out but none of those materialized.  Last night I spent time thinking about that and at first I was a little down about it.  I like to think I lead an active lifestyle but the past few weeks my life has been anything but.  I feel like I let the kids down a bit but then I thought about what we’ve been through and the fun little moments we’ve had and I’m not so sure I did.

                There have been many moments over the past few weeks that have brought us together as a family.  We’ve entertained Lil P together, we’ve fed and comforted him together.   In those moments when he was asleep and we were awake we’ve relaxed together.  We’ve watched TV, we’ve gone shopping, we’ve played video games and in the end maybe I didn’t let them down as much as I thought I did.  I just know with the two of the kids being 12 one day soon they’re not going to want me around, or at least they’ll pretend really really hard they don’t want me around.  Maybe in the end, as life creeps towards warp speed for me, and the family soon thereafter, the summer wasn’t as ‘wasted’ as I thought.  When Lil J was born it cemented our family together and now with Lil P I think the finishing touches were put on the family as whole.  The girls love the little guy and enjoy helping out.  Lil J has been very gentle around the new guy and seems very fascinated by the whole affair which is really awesome. 

                In about 36 hours I’ll be returning to work (can I get a big Darth Vader ‘Noooooooooo!!!!!!’?) and about three weeks from that older kids will return to school.  Two weeks after that my wife returns to work and the family will be diving head first into life.  I’m not sure we’ll have the opportunity to freeze life the way we’ve just done and I’m a little sad about that.  Life does not often slow down and I feel like we’ve put it off just long enough.  I hate to admit it but it’s probably time to hit the play button once more.  It’s always a bit scary when you restart that older computer you’ve had sitting on your desk for years and is covered with cobwebs. I very much feel like that old computer as I begin prepping for a return to life (Hey, I look good in cob webs).  It’ll be a fitful wheezing start but it will start and soon will be chugging away like nothing ever happened.  I’ll miss the alone time, the quiet moments spent holding a newborn and just watching him (they’re even fascinating when they’re asleep) but there will be new moments.  There always are. 

                So I’ve gotta say is ‘Stand back Life!’  I’m on my way back and you better look out if you know what’s good for you!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dusting off an old Hobbie......

     Back in the day when my girls were younger and just before Lil J was born I started to get into photography.  I took a lot of photo's.  Way to many probably but it did leave me with the photog bug.  I do love taking picture but I got tired of not being in the photos.  Over time I got tired of constantly trying to get shoot family functions instead of enjoying them.  So with gear that was aging and a lack of desire I slowed the photography shooting to a slow crawl and relied on my trusty cell phone to document life.
    Fast forward 10 odd years and with some new changes occurring in my life I have felt the photography itch starting to set in.  So I scratched it, bought some newish gear and have been having fun shooting the world around me.  It's been fun.  I'm not sure if anything I shoot is great (you'll have to be the judge of that I'm afraid) but I do enjoy recording my families lives and perhaps one day in the far off future my off-spring will look at these photo's that some Grandpa two or three generations removed took and they'll be able to share of piece of me and see who I was.  It's a romantic thought, I know, but it's why I love photography so much.  So now interspersed in my writings and ramblings I'm hoping to bring you a few shots from time to time.  Let me know what you think.  So without further ado here's a few from a little family gathering the other day.

My Father.

Eagle Eye Herself (only slightly smiling cuz they're not big fans of having their picture taken...they used to love it!!)

Still Life?  Or just ick?  ;-)

I do like landscape stuff and with as much work as my parents put into their garden I had to take a few shots.  This was the best of the bunch.

I'm not as good with the whole 'still life' stuff but this one turned out fairly well.  Tried to pull out the reds in the rust and the yellow stripe.  Still getting used to using Photoshop again.  Not sure if my 'post production' really worked or not.