Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Sight Without Sight" - An Original Short by Stuart Warren

His coat was a charcoal grey, faded black, from months of exposure in the noonday sun upon the saltflats. Now he knew, what is was like to be hunted, a fear potent with the tang of sweat and urine.

In the cataclysm, the great war between the United People of Corvelia and the rest of the known world, he was a janitor at the Camp of the Sunless, a place where prisoners of war were sent to go mad in sensory deprivation. Moping up feces and sick, he would hear their screams outside, encountering each other in the abject blackness.

He was once called to the recreation room, where bloated generals stroked what remained of their graying hair in the polish of aluminum. In an argument over cards, one of them had flipped the table, spilled some coffee and trays of boiled cabbage, served with salted potatoes. And as he cleaned, covertly, he would look into the void at those who had not yet died, shambling forward with spittle on their uniforms.

Sitting on the transit platform, waiting for a railcar to take him to the park, Lawrence closed his eyes, trying to forget.

Two hours later he was in a park, thrust into the center of the green that defiantly remained despite the breath and scope of New Halberad.

As he sat on the bench, feeding the rats that skittered around between his legs, another body approached. He could hear the tapping of a stick against the cobblestone streets, and in the periphery it sat beside him. Lawrence glanced sideways and saw an elderly woman perfectly still, with rummaging fingers diligently retrieving a leather sack of mouse feed. Etched into her arm was a black sun, with edges faded like spilt watercolor.

Stories of the Camp of the Sightless were varied. As to how the political prisoners and activists lost their sight is up to interpretation. Many simply entered and could no longer see, met by a blinding whiteness that burned out their retinas instantly.

She hummed the tune of a ballad, scattering the feed across the ground.

"Well? I'm here. Will we talk, or are you just content to sit there?"

Lawrence straightened up, sniffling.

"Good day to you," he said, attempting to smile.

"Is it? I can't tell..."

The words were like sinking barbs, tearing at his flesh. Nevertheless, she chuckled.

"I'm giving you a hard time, Lawrence... I can feel it. The sun is out. It must be beautiful outside."

Lawrence had met Cordelia at one of the amnesty dinners, five or six years previously. She was slightly older than him, having been twenty years old at the time she was taken from her college dormitory. He never asked why.

"I had the dream again," Lawrence said, leaning forward. His knee bounced up and down under the ball of his foot. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Cordelia chuckled. "I don't know if I can. But you are here. That is, at least, something."

A rat crawled up his leg to Lawrence's hand. Open palmed, Lawrence pressed his eyes shut and let it feed.

"I could have done more. I was a janitor. I had keys..." he shivered, waiting anxiously for the rat to leave.

Cordelia snorted with a laugh that shook her whole body. "What could a boy do?"

"Something..."

"We are here, Lawrence," Cordelia interrupted. "That is enough."

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How to Make a Sandwich

Making sandwiches at a deli, catering event, or at home for a friend, is a sacred obligation. Don't fuck it up.

Some might say, "But why does it matter? A sandwich is up to interpretation. There are many kinds of sandwich. After all, some would argue a hotdog is a sandwich."

To them I would reply, "You could believe that if you were a moron and didn't subscribe to Sandwich Fundamentalism."

After working a natural juice bar and deli for about 6 months, let me tell you, there is only one way to make a sandwich.

Otherwise cheese and tomato placement is flawless... Good Job!

Step 1: Take two pieces of bread. Lay them flat on your prep counter. Is there a whole in one slice? Is one slice noticeably more thin than the other? If either is true, get new bread. Don't be a bastard. (If cutting a slice from a roll, like ciabatta, cut the roll with the side facing up directly downward. None of this flat-on-the-counter-awkward-side-cut bullshit. 

Step 2: Apply condiments. How many will be used? Two? Then apply them separately on each side. (Ie. mustard on one side, mayo on the other.) Lightly apply them! Do you have any idea how quickly condiments soak through bread? You can't even get to the picnic benches outside the supermarket before its falling apart, into a soggy mess, and all you can think about is how (and why) a sandwich suddenly became a metaphor for your poor life choices.

Step 3: Apply meat and cheese. The foundation of all sandwiches is built on the bedrock of meat and cheese. They constitute the barrier between the wetness of tomato and lettuce. The rigidity of cheese, it's shape and preparation should make where it goes absolutely intuitive. If you put it in the center, then fuck you, you should be fired for crimes against humanity. 

I will add that there is no international consensus, as of yet, for the proper placement of meat. This is due to the varied states of meat. (Pulled pork may be naturally "wet" when applied, while roast beef and turkey could be dry.) If meat is dry, apply directly against the opposite slice of bread as the cheese. If the meat is wet, take each slice of cheese (There are always two. But you only have one? Jesus Christ...) 

*sandwich anger intensifies*


Step 4: Apply vegetables in even layers on top of the meat (which serves as the floor of the sandwich). Don't stack the sandwich! If it's one of those fuckers that asks for every vegetable to inflate the mass of the sandwich, make every layer evenly distributed. This is high art. You are Leonardo da Vinci. Don't let this fucking pleb' tell you how its done!

Step 5: Fold top half on top (with only cheese and condiment applied) on to lower half. You may be tempted to mash the top downward onto the meat and vegetable medley, but you don't have to. If you did "Step 4" properly, then you don't have to. Bread is supposed to be fluffy and airy. 

Step 6: If the customer asks you to toast it, counter with, "but why ruin a good thing?"

Step 7: Don't cut the sandwich in half. Why people do this is beyond me. Who saves a fucking sandwich for later? Just eat it now. Commit!

Hey, the world needs janitors.


With the above, the sandwich will be complete. It will be immaculate, a work of modern art, a testament to your making the best of working for minimum wage, right out of college. Work well. Work fast. Work with all the pride of a person grotesquely in debt. Didn't go to college? Well... then just you do you. You don't need soft skills to make sandwiches.



Saturday, June 1, 2019

Child Rearing Revelations

So I was thinking about generations, how we are the product of our parents and, by extension, our grandparents...


It's funny because it's not funny.


Living in Santa Barbara has taught me that living paycheck to paycheck is not only normal for people my age (born between 80'-91') but also the aging boomers I work with. (This could just be symptomatic of the area I live in, where rent for a 1 bed room apartment is about the same as a mortgage for a house in the Midwest.) This period of economic hardship I face today, specific to those in my age bracket, is not what my parents experienced, where a BA in the 70's was equivalent to an MA today and working at a single job right out of high school until retirement was normative. But there is this dilemma of stagnating college kids, unable to find work, and somehow their lack of progress is exclusively their fault, according to common opinion. Considering that using the word "Millenial" has gained a pejorative connotation among most in today's popular culture, exerted with the same vehemence as an elderly specimen choking on a biscuit, I resent when people write off financial hardships, both mine and my peers, as if they were something to scoff at, or that I could somehow "work harder" to attain stability.

This mentality doesn't consider the extenuating circumstances however. The second World War was immensely profitable for the United States, which unilaterally industrialized the private sector to power the war machine that brought us unanimous victory (economic, philosophic, political, and national) and international prominence. It was the sudden explosion of the middle class, those coming home from the war and the rise in prominence of the other 50% of the population (i.e. women), that created the suitable ecosystem for young-twenty-somethings between the late 60's and mid 70's. What I'm getting at, is that this generation took advantage of this profitable period and lived beyond their means, thereby creating a precedent for inflated housing costs and living expenses, and, in so doing, the Boomers fucked us all over. Today the third generation is paying for it.

It was the Boomers that inherited the wealth and success of their forebears and pissed it all away on youthful rebellion, drugs, and market speculation. So before you call me a "Millennial," take a hard look at everything your parent's wealth bought you and go fuck yourself.

Sorry... Rant over.

Seriously though.

How did I get here? It was about raising children... which has been on my mind a lot since my daughter turned 2 a week or so ago. As people of my age begin to have kids and raise them, I've wondered what example I'm setting for Eowyn. I can think of a few different ways right off the cuff.

Boomer's, and, to a lesser degree, the "Greatest Generation," have given themselves over to a false dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism, with either position profiting off the lack of education in matters of economics, politics, ethics, and philosophy. The "I earned this" mentality, has engendered a sense of entitlement among those that would accuse me of complaining unjustly about my current state of affairs. Because, again, we always inherit what our parents gave us. If the economy was exploding in the post-war years, is was our grandfathers and grandmothers that fostered that environment. Likewise, if we inherit wage inequality, democratic impotence, and poor infrastructure it was because our parents were too busy snorting coke in the 80's or endorsing conservative policies with alarming blindness to take notice. And make no mistake, I feel like those of liberal leanings can shoulder some of this blame, taking the path of least resistance and complaining while not offering realistic solutions to ongoing problems. Impotent policy, foreign and domestic, doesn't help much either, but that's another matter altogether.

Additionally, in light of the recent arrival of American Exceptionalism, resurrected like a Haitian zombie from the mausoleum that was the 1920s, the example I wish to set, always, for my daughter is that you can be anything you want to be, if you work your fucking ass off. (This opposed to the inflated sense of worth we have for "being American," and all that comes with it.)  For all the poor opportunities available to us in the current employment ecosystem, the 2010s has been a renaissance for those with entrepreneurial expertise. Software as a service, grass roots industries (culinary, agricultural, manufacturing, hospitality, publishing, etc), and creative innovations of existing markets (Uber, Venmo, GoFundMe, etc) have lead to a decentralization of industry, which in my opinion is the ultimate resolution to wage disparities in the United States. I have learned first hand from witnessing those that have set out to make something new, that this is not only possible (with incredible effort) but critical to striking down the monolithic industries that have strangled the working class for the last 100 years. When Marx talked about seizing the "means of production," I feel like this is the most reasonable culmination. Other countries have succeeded so much more successfully than we have in matters social and political, that we have lost our right to boast. (In my opinion.)

Oh my god...


When Alyssa, told me she was pregnant with Eowyn, the first thing I did was set up a college fund. (Because that's what you do, right?) Even $100 a month for 18 years is something like $19,000, and of course progressively increasing it along the way will eventually net quite a nice lump sum. I'm doing this for her, so that she can ultimately decide what to use the money for. If she doesn't want to go to college, the money is there for a down payment on a house, or her wedding, or a business loan. I think this is something that everyone my age should do. If anything, simply to spite our parents for not being forward thinking and spending the money on superfluous shit, instead of investing in their future. I was extremely fortunate to have parents that valued higher education enough to support it. But many aren't, and it's up to us to set an example for our children to value things that make society great (public education, art, freedom of speech, technological advancement, space travel, and all the other non-dystopian stuff of science fiction).  At the end of the day, what we seem to love most is money (unless God is already your highest love), and what we spend our money on reflects what we value.

I had several revisions of this post. Not sure why. I wanted to spend a little more time on it than usual.

***Misc Book Updates

If it's not obvious by now, my third book has been delayed, mostly because my wife is finding a lot of stuff that I missed, which is fine. Plus, I'm always overzealous in my timing.

The nice part about the wait too is that I'll be able to likely time the release against any tax refund I might get. Which could aid in getting books printed for a "Make 100" Kickstarter.

But we'll get there when we get there.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Imagine a Hat...

I have heard, with no certainty, that the difference between classical acting and method acting is either acting inwardly or outwardly. Method acting involves entering the mind of the character being played. Classical, on the other hand, takes something attributed to the character and then learning how that character interacts with it. This could be a hat, or a cane, or a trinket, and from that the character is extracted.

Keep in mind, this could be all completely wrong. But it makes sense to me.



Maybe this comes from what I've seen in film and stage plays. Hamlet holding a skull, contemplating death. Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass, snooping around. The T-800 wearing black leather and a pair of menacing sunglasses at all hours of the night. All this makes sense to me, especially when writing a character that is outgoing, socially adept, or professional. These kinds of characters smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey, dance on poles (light, stripper, or otherwise), wear white gloves or black hats, and hold on to things while they walk. Visually, these brief descriptions invoke certain archetypes in literature and film. You can imagine the symbol of a cowboy being made up of the sum of his/her parts: wearing a white/brown/black hat, smoking Marlboro, and drinking coarsely ground coffee that's been watered down to make it last longer. But even the associations between cowboy and cigarette conjure, in my mind at least, a rogue desperado walking up a steep incline toward a crest that overlooks a parched desert valley.

Internal characters, developed vis a vis a method actor perspective, are much harder to write. In my case, characters written in first person-limited essentially demand that I get inside their heads, which is challenging. It's so easy to influence the decisions made by the characters first of all. The author is biased in different and fundamental ways. If the character is a drug addict, the authenticity lent by the author is, at best, representative and not autobiographical. (That is, unless, the author is Hunter S. Thompson.) To get inside the head of a drug addict requires extensive research and interviews with those involved in that kind of lifestyle. The creative act therefore is not solely rooted in literary devices and diction, but in how pieces of evidence are knit together into a cohesive collage that, over time, becomes a homunculus made of pixels or bleached wood pulp (depending on the preferred medium of the reader). So, in essence, the method-actor-author is like a serial killer, flaying his/her victims and stitching together the pieces into ghoulish abominations. (I'm pretty sure that's what happens in True Crime novels at least.)

At this point... I'm stuck somewhere in between the two, which is amusing because of how black-and-white I often think about things. My characters typically drink whiskey, or throw rocks across ponds, or shave in the mirror, but I also read Godel Escher Bach and I am a Strange Loop to better understand the mathematical philosophy behind artificial intelligence and how that can be used to theorize how neurons relay information through our brains. I guess there is merit for each perspective.

As Alyssa works through draft two of my second novel, it's good to consider these things so that I have some better angles on the third and final draft.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Philosophy and Shit


I had a thought while driving back to the office today after lunch. (My wife and I share one car, so we trade on our lunches.) Philosophers were people, just like you and I. Why are they such a fucking big deal?



“20% of what Philosophers say is true, the other 80% is bullshit,” is what my friend Desmond says, and it’s not a bad maxim to live by, considering the branding that certain philosophers (or authors) exude over the course of their tenure—Grant Morrison is convinced that he was abducted by aliens from the 4th dimension in Kathmandu, an experience which has begotten the best cosmology and world building to date within the DC Universe.

And this really isn’t about philosophers specifically. It’s more of a credibility kind of thing. The words we speak, how they impact people, whether they endure beyond our close circle of friends or disseminate into the ether of pop-culture and beyond. I imagine that, throughout life, the layman and learned alike are told that philosophers and other influencers of culture are these larger than life figures. I’m often guilty of this. See below:



I admit I was angry at first. I mean take the fucking compliment, guy. But on further reflection, this appears to be the case, regardless of the critical distance that is maintained to allow some appreciation of accomplishment. Behind the storyboards, folios, and canvases are just normal, flesh-and-blood people. We know those we love (artistically) aren’t gods because Jack Kirby and Ronnie James Dio are dead. (Though their influences are legion in their respective industries.)

Many work to make a living. Very few get to make art, without feeling like they are “working.” Dante for example was one of the few authors in human history to experience the joy and legacy of his work within his own lifetime. For everyone else that enjoys, possible, posthumous fame, I think this is the case because of nostalgia.

Consider, for a moment, that in Hellenist Greece ideas were weighed with greater contemporary influence than they are in the modern era. There were forums back then specifically for debate and intellectual pursuits, because it was what their culture valued. Today (the "modern" world, which could span from the Renaissance to now) this isn’t the case, and philosophy has been relegated to a niche occupied by idealists, shutins, and professors. Philosophy is valued because of the nostalgia for the era in which those ideas were conceived. This can be the only explanation for why many philosophers never enjoyed their due in life.

After all, death amplifies of appreciation. The sense of loss and catharsis brought on by death naturally magnifies the value of someone’s life work as we, the bereaved, try to come to terms with what has happened. So the issue of critical distance makes sense in this case. We can’t, personally speaking, appreciate what we are offering because of the limit imposed by our own vantage point. When we try to do this, the only foreseeable outcome is looking like a giant piece of shit (a la Kanye West).

So, at least for now, fame shouldn’t get to our heads. Not until there are worms in them, at least.   

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Enraged, curious, stimulated by what you just read?! Comment below! Let's talk about it!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Super Shorts

I used to write these little, 100 word stories (or at least what was small enough to fit in a twitter post).

I miss doing that. 

So I decided to do it! (Again.)

One of my lifelong dreams is to write comics, someday. And while every Joe Schmo says, "Hey, I can do it!" I can't even begin to imagine the labor involved, having to come up with a story every month, and communicate full time with the art team to make it happen. And, on top of all that, continuing the story in perpetuity... These aren't quite that, but I'd like to say they are seeds for the stories that I wish were told in comics.

Here we go!


Shazam!
The lightning he had was now gone. A dark, damp road lay ahead, the switchback driveway to Fawcett University that he drove every day to school from the radio station. Running ads for supervillains and their daytime talk shows. On his television, game show sets plastered with luminous chrome confetti ran re-runs. Joker’s Last Laugh will leave you screaming for more!

In his rear-view mirror, Billy saw the Captain in the back seat, smiling confidently, immaculate white teeth reflecting the orange glow of the Sivana Model Z dashboard.

“Just say it Billy, one word. And everything will be fine again.”

Superman
Three weeks of chemo and six doctor visits later, the news broke. And the man, allegedly made of steel, buckled under the weight of the poor prognosis. It was, as he feared, the reality of life and how fragile we are. Wisps of smoke from an extinguished match.

She lay there with translucent skin, jaundiced, weakly typing a column.

I could have seen it early, he thought. But that’s not true. J’onn was clear on that.

What do you give to the man who has everything, when he has nothing left?

But a cure was possible. He could still hope.

The Flash
How does it start, Wally?”

“There’s a thought in my head, racing faster than I can control it, until it’s all I’m thinking about. I don’t like to even talk about it because I’m afraid it will trigger an episode, you know?

The Martian nodded, gaunt featured under the metallic silhouette. “A psychic connection protects you, Wally. Please continue…”

“Have you ever wondered if it was worth it? What we do?”

“Very much, Wally.”

Wally fidgeted, tapping fingers vibrating 330 times per second. A sharp musical whine.


“I can outrun anything… by dying? I’m afraid of dying, J’onn. Oh god…” 

Darkseid
A good death. That, above all things, is my greatest gift.  Yet, even after discovering the Anti-Life Equation, defeating my foes, vanquishing my own son, the throngs of Hunger Dogs cast before me leave me… unindustrious.

My faith is just and pure. And as my subjects embraced oblivion for my cause against New Genesis, I too gained faith. And all make pilgrimage.

A war with the Kryptonian’s rebels is petty in comparison to what lies beyond the Source Wall. I have made parley with this new paradigm and absolute power. And so, when my worship concludes, it will be mine. 


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Waiting for the World to Load


I purchased Watch_Dogs 2 this past week and I’ve been blown away by its attention to detail, which, I suppose, invokes a greater design concept inherent in “open-world sandbox” games. (I say this in quotes because, typically, the most exhilarating moments of playing these games comes when the player is constrained and limited, which seems antithetical to the core philosophy of in-game freedom.) In order for these environments to feel lived in, they require elements of immersion to trick the player into thinking that the non-playable characters are “real,” as if every character interaction is a form of Turing Test. The representative populace of San Francisco, in my opinion, seems to be the most true to life distillation, especially when taking into consideration the carefully kept balance between technology (ie. in-game rendering of the world) and iconography (ie. contents of the world). One little detail, to those who are listening, I will share regarding my next book is that the setting is the San Francisco Bay Area. And, having spent a good portion of my childhood visiting and experiencing the Bay Area first hand, Watch_Dogs 2 will be instrumental in my approach of gaining a better visual frame of reference. Because, up until this point, I’ve used Google Maps and the street view to encounter and better understand the environment. The former is, at the very least, three dimensional. That helps.

As much as I hate to admit it... this is too fucking real.

 
When I saw the early screening of Shazam! the weekend I was in town to attend my grandmother’s memorial service, I was a little disappointed of the lack of an appearance by Black Adam (played by Dwayne Johnson), who is by far one of the most interesting anti-heroes/villains in comics today. Villains, much like the environment that a story takes place in, are critical in building the world, specifically because villains are foils to both the physical appearance and ethical constitution of the hero. In the case of Billy Batson (ie. Captain Marvel/Shazam!), his personal desire to aide those systematically disenfranchised (foster children, the terminally ill, victims of child abuse, et al.) contrasts with Black Adam’s autocratic characterization, and how this influences his view on Justice and the role of the fate of the “oppressed” in society. Whereas Billy is forgiving and patient, Black Adam (born as a slave in Egypt) consolidates power via the brutal suppression of his opponents (up to, and including, summary public executions). Both arrived to the wizard Shazam from similar circumstances, but their responses are black and white. And this ultimately builds the world, its ethics, its ultimate purpose as a theater for thought experiments on Justice, Rehabilitation, Consequence, and Fairness under the definition of Natural Law.

Villains, in general, have such potential for story-telling. It’s strange to me that there have only been small attempts to develop villain centric properties. I would love to see a series on Solomon Grundy, who, despite being an undead abomination, has displayed lots of depth throughout his character history. Likewise, a Vertigo-esque character study—similar to Neil Gaiman’s run on The Sandman—for Darkseid could have momentous potential. Other than the Joker (via The Killing Joke), this hasn’t been attempted with critical acclaim (at least to my knowledge).

Simply put, the above is easy to conceive on a purely theoretical level. Actually writing it down is another thing altogether. Consider what has already been done. The formula to creating a villain is nothing new. So creating these characters is almost like building another piece of the world. The opposition requires a narrative that is equally as credible as the hero, as well as symbolize stasis. Being the catalyst for change, the hero interacts with the opposition, not the other way around. Bringing it all back to where we began, the setting of all narrative is like wallpaper, and the hero is pushing through it into the moldy drywall.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

On Dedicating My Book To My Daughter

The other day I said goodbye to a large swath of comics on my shelf. My personal goal of building a personal library over my lifetime was hindered by a lack of space, so I meticulously truncated my library based on the likelihood of re-reading titles. Those that didn’t make the cut are pictured below:


To be completely transparent, I recently acquired an Absolute Edition of
World's Greatest Superheroes, Kingdom Come, and All-Star Superman.

There’s so much to love about comics, yet, at the same time, there’s a lot of chaff that doesn’t deserve to be bound in the first place. After all, comics are serials, monthly installments that get churned out with incomplete stories. Though, when I was collecting monthly issues a year or two ago, I never recalled reading a story that I outright hated. Tom King’s current run on Batman, is beyond imagination and it feels interesting to watch presently something that in 15-20 years will have the same renown as Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. That said, what I was giving away were from the era of the New 52, back when DC was lured by the siren song of Zack Snyder’s grim cinematic universe into making shitty, transgressive stories—remember the 80s, am-I-right? Selling them was difficult, but ultimately I was able to consign them to a local comic book store. (Go Avalon!)

With my wife editing my second draft on the weekends, there has been more time for me to spend with my daughter, Eowyn. To my sweet surprise, she fell in love with all the Miyazaki films (the ones for children, at least) as well as Batman: The Brave and The Bold. The other day, she picked up my bluray copy of Justice League and was able to pick out all the members of the JLA without breaking a sweat! (“Bah-mah!” for Batman, “Wuh-muh!” for Wonder Woman, “Sum-mah!” for Superman, and “Fshhhhhh!” for the Flash.) The amazing thing about children, something that I never truly realized before having one, is how young children attain this environmental awareness. Like, you can talk to a dog, anthropomorphize it, but a dog could never talk back to you. That would be fucking crazy.

Talking kids. Now that’s fucking crazy.

I find myself in these positions where I’m having an existential crisis. How do I introduce her to comics? To guitar? To Jesus? Do my introductions actually matter? Do they appear forced? I try not to think about it, as much anymore. All the things that I fell in love with, were I to go back and look for the spark that ignited such passions, I doubt they would be anything obvious. Hobbies always start with a little push. I wrote my first “story” when I was in middle school. But I was also killing it when I started writing three sentence “sandwich” paragraphs in 3rd grade. Neither of those things would have lead me down the path to writing novels. Yet, here I am. Artistic talent isn't like building model rockets. And, at the end of the day, whatever she chooses to love will make me proud. 

Maybe this is my way of concluding on an announcement? Sure. I’ve decided to dedicate my third book to her, my kid. I pray that she will read it one day. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

This is Not the Gospel


A bit ecumenical for my taste, but, if you are a christian,
this is how you love others in line with the gospel. 

“This is not the Gospel.” That’s my usual response to atrocity. So, especially, when I see the news this morning (Friday) that 49 have been confirmed dead in New Zealand due to a right wing “Christian” terrorist, I just sit there shaking my head, without words to express my sadness. This would be the second time in recent memory that a white supremacist in a country of traditionally non-violent people carried out a shooting, motivated by race and hatred of immigrants. (In 2011 Anders Breivik killed 77 people, mostly children, to “protect” Norway from liberalizing and compromising the ethnic makeup of the country. These children were attending a liberal sponsored summer camp at the time for those volunteering with left leaning political organizations.)

The mark my faith makes on my books usually is Tolkien-esque—making subtle allusions in the interest of telling a story with a worldview in the background, not at the fore. In my stories, drawing from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, I decided—rather arbitrarily—that in order for a character to live, one must die. That is true of Spirit of Orn and Tall Men and Other Tales. I bring this up because the sordid past of the Catholic Church and Protestant sects, have on display a wide array of atrocities, some more recent than others. And while someone may have a “membership” to a particular strain of Christendom, I often steer clear of specific denominations because they function more or less as arbitrary categories and not demarcations for actual “saving-faith” in the resurrection of Jesus.

It’s frustrating both personally and existentially to see these things happen. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could read the New Testament and draw from it the conclusions of the NZ and Norway shooters. The only thing I can imagine, the only thing that could possibly explain this, is the fundamental desire to augment the practices of 1st century Christianity to fit our current cultural climates. And, make no mistake, there is not truly “right answer.” Christian ethics professors would say that something like Just War Theory is far more “reasonable” than the Crusades of the Middle Ages, which were motivated by misinterpretations of the Revelation of St. John and the need to consolidate the papacy’s political dominance as a nation-state. (Far different, one could say, from the Eastern Orthodox Churches that remained subservient to the governments in power.) But Just War theory is a pragmatic attempt to justify killing others in war, who at the end of the day are just other pawns being moved forward by heads of state.

It’s further frustrating when other communities observe these actions made by lone gunmen and equate those actions with modern Christian Orthopraxy. But I could say the same thing about Christian expressions of republicans, Southern Baptists, and people that don’t let me drink beer at homegroup (our weekly Christian gatherings affiliated with my church). These previous examples demonstrate a linear curve of de-escalating prejudice, which is observable in any community, be it Muslim or comic book fans. So, at the end of the day, the things that define us are tempered by our own conscience and reason.

As I said before, there is no definitive answer, or absolute definition of orthopraxy. The only absolute in this world is the absolute—of course, to myself, this is Jesus. And when people raise up a tertiary cause to become what, in their minds, is absolute, the only resulting path is destruction. Jesus’ actions, the reality of who he was, and is, culminate in the gospel that I believe. The same gospel that prohibits prejudice, slander, and xenophobia. That is why I am not without hope, because what happened in NZ isn’t the gospel.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Remembering "Grandy," My Grandmother


Earlier this month, my grandmother died at the age of 92 years old. And, while I wanted to say something at her upcoming memorial, I decided, rather, to say it here. Because, after all, this is where I am most comfortable. Sitting at a card table, next to my books, drinking a beer in the darkness, waiting for sleep to finally lure me to bed.

I don’t think anyone is perfect. Usually the way we memorialize the dead, there’s a concerted effort to sanitize the subject’s life, in an effort to bring comfort and closure to those left behind. Though, I can’t help but think that disingenuous, like Thomas Jefferson cutting out the contents of his personal bible that offended his sensibilities. Life is complex, dirty, and beautiful. End of story.

My grandmother was always referred to as “Grandy.” I never knew why. It was never explained to me, and I never asked. It wasn’t until I was older (ten years old) that I learned her name was Matilde, or Matil. This is rather poetic, given that she never knew what I looked like. She suffered from Macular degeneration, which stole her sight from her over the course of her life. By the time we (my brother and I) were born, she had complete vision loss. Yet this never stopped her from challenging the norms of those suffering from blindness. She took many vacations and cruises to parts of the world that I could only dream of. She participated in sightseeing tours, experiencing (I imagine) the world through its smell and touch. I remember that she once asked me why God took her sight from her, when I was proselytizing in my earlier years after becoming a Christian. (Catholic and Protestant dynamic, and all that.) I can’t remember what my response was. But the way she asked it, I was certain she harbored some anger, or at least some dismay regarding her current situation. Her coping for this was bravely defeating it's stigma. 

Her mastery over the world was always apparent. Both financially and socially, she dominated her world. For most of her life she was a shrewd investor, holding real estate and stock market assets, which allowed her to be independently wealthy for the duration of her life. One situation, if it wasn’t so traumatic, I find to this day bleakly amusing. There was this time when my parents were in the throes of getting a divorce. Argument was common in the remote farmhouse that I grew up in, the surrounding trees numbing the dissonance inside. It was when Grandy discovered that my mom and my dad were getting a divorce that she asked to have the Hoover vacuum cleaner returned to her, which she gave my mom as a wedding gift, as if recouping a financial loss. And though my dad, the always obedient first born son, went along with it, I know today that watching my parents scream at each other in the hallway was caused by the fiscal soundness of my grandmother’s design. For better or worse.

My grandma’s legacy will carry with me for the rest of my life. The stories I’ve heard, about her adventures, about the fights she had with her children, as well as my memories of going out to dinner at Coco’s Restaurant after mass and the time she insisted that all of her grandchildren order prime rib (at Coco’s) on her birthday, have shaped me. She would always insist, perhaps beg, that we remember her, for what she did for us. She made a special pact with her grandchildren (for instance) so that, if we didn’t drink/smoke/have coffee/do drugs, she would give us the kingly sum of $1,000. (A lot of money for a 9 year old kid, mind you.) I was the only grandchild that completed the Faustian bargain. (Receiving an unexpected additional $1,100. $2,100 for my 21st birthday... Get it?) I say “Faustian” because of the anguish I had to endure in order to complete that arrangement, and the consequential estrangement from my peers in the process throughout my late high school and college years.

Ultimately, I used the money to fund the construction of a custom electric guitar that I play and enjoy to this day.

The last time I saw Grandy was during Christmas this past year. We knew her heath was failing, but she still doggedly pursued social engagements. She was able to meet her first great-granddaughter, Eowyn. (The previous year, also.) Watching her hold my daughter was… bewildering. Her stern quality melted away. She was a warm mother, a side of her I never saw before until then. That seemed to be her legacy. She was a product of her time, but a transgressor, enough so to challenge the cards dealt to her. She triumphed financially and was generous in her old age to lend a helping hand to all her grandchildren, including my wife and I. I never told her that the $4000 she gave us as a wedding present, meant to pay our rent for four months, was instrumental in funding a trip to Norway, to help conclude research for my book, Spirit of Orn. And I wish I did.

Because she accepted the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, I will indeed see her again, someday. But when I do, she will see me for the first time.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Gospel According to IT



I had an idea to write a short story, originally a tongue-in-cheek attempt at trying to tell the Gospel through the best practices that I’ve learned since starting in the managed services industry. Below is my attempt. Over the past few weeks, I’ve chipped away at it wanting to do something more comprehensive, actually trying to turn it into a “short-medium” short story. Clocking in at 2200+ words this is a reasonable size, what I would typically expect for a short story with a well-established world and narrative progression. Also, something to note, the story may be interpreted critically, either for better or worse, how the Gospel’s narrative has shaped our understanding of literature and the arts. (Structurally, the Gospel is a “comedy” in the classical sense, ultimately concluding with a wedding (as seen in the Revelation of Saint John) like most of the Shakespeare comedies.) I will leave you to be the judge of that, however. Anyways, enjoy!

Praise Him.

In the beginning there was the Operating System, and the Operating System was with the Engineer, and the Operating System was the Engineer. From crowded rack space and winding spools of cabling effervescent, the Environment was unmade, without purpose or clarity. The Engineer, on the first billable hour, made the host, and it was provisioned. The Engineer, on the second billable hour, allocated the datastores with virtual machines of all variety and utility: A domain controller to elect, a file server to preserve, an intrusion prevention system to protect, an exchange server to commune. And it was provisioned. On the third billable hour, the Engineer PXE booted His VMs, the Operating System giving shape and form to them, filling their disks with files to give glory to the Administrator, who sent the Engineer onsite to be with the end user, but not of the end user, as a staff augmentation. On the fourth billable hour, the Engineer deployed group policy, making the end users in His image. And the Engineer looked down on all he had made and said, "it is provisioned."
And then the Engineer rested on His lunch hour, telling the end user before leaving, saying, "All that I have made is yours—that I have created—for your productivity and purpose. You may access the network shares. You may leverage email. You may create files as I created them. But you must not have administrative access, for if you do, you will surely compromise the integrity of the Environment."
While the Engineer was away, Amy and Steven in accounting were running end of month billing. And they enjoyed the responsiveness of the workstations and the synergy felt by one another working together as one, without network latency or corrupted installations. But the Sales Manager was also in the Environment, and approached Amy as she made copies in the break room.
"Why have you not installed BitTorrent to your local workstation? Greg in HR has, like, three seasons of Game of Thrones already..."
Amy replied that she did not have administrative access, and that the Engineer said explicitly that they should not have those permissions.
"But if you are an Administrator, you will be like an Administrator. And you will know the difference between being able to install programs and uninstall programs," replied the Sales Manager.
So Amy allowed the Sales Manager to make her a local admin, and then a domain admin, all the while installing iTunes and internet games and opening emails with strange documents. When Steven saw Amy playing Candy Crush on her laptop in-between calls, he asked Amy to make him a local admin (as the Sales Manager had shown her) also. Amy then gave him administrative access so that he too could play games and view private folders with her.
But once they had downloaded the programs, each of them looked at one another realizing that their machines were burdened, slow, and filled with adware. And so they began to complain.
But when the Engineer returned early from his lunch he called out to Amy and asked her, "Where are you?"
"We saw that you had come back from your break and needed to close out of our programs. But they were too slow," Amy replied. "Slow your roll, man."
"What made you think that they were slow? Did you install non-work related programs onto your machines when I forbade you to?" said the Administrator, coming out of His office.
But Amy and Steven reproached the Administrator, first complaining that they needed to run updates to Quickbooks and then that they had needed to give each other access in order to do so. This made the Engineer frustrated, as well as the Administrator.
"It was Amy that gave me the access," said Steven defensively.
"It was the Sales Manager that told me I ought to have access," said Amy. "I need music and games, so that I don't get stressed out while I work!" 
So the Administrator stripped them of their access, not before mentioning that their workstations would be slow and toilsome for the rest of the quarter. "Behold, I will send my Engineer to terminate the Sales Manager's employment for violating the Acceptable Use Policy, though not before the Sales Manager will, in anger, delete the company share on the file server, causing the Engineer to spend many project hours to recover the files from the Nimble storage backups."
So what seemed like centuries passed, as, every day, the machines loaded non-essential startup programs, demonstrated visual artifacts, and loaded applications inefficiently.
Until, one day there came a crying from the branch office, from John the Office Manager, saying that the Engineer would be onsite again, as was promised by the Administrator long ago. For John had been in a Highfive conference with the Administrator, who had approved of the Engineer's restoration of the company shares saying, "Joshua did a bang up job with that DR restore. I'm going to send him to corporate to finally fix the other issues we've been scoping." Therefore, in an abuse of "hey, everybody," John prepared them by sending a staff email.
When the Engineer arrived, the Sales Manager was sitting outside headquarters, covered in rags and living homeless behind the row of juniper trees planted along the perimeter of the building. The Sales Manager recognized the Engineer and approached Him as he ascended the steps, skirting past a dried fountain and looking out for the bulbous security guard patrolling in his golf cart.
"No hard feelings, Josh."
Josh turned to the Sales Manager and stopped, curious and bemused.
"You know how many people are hiring for an on-premise IT guy?" the Sales Manager said lethargically, drinking from a brown paper bag. "You could get work for any of those guys and make waaay more money, kid."
"The Administrator once told me, job success and happiness is better than a pay increase. I'll stick with that, thanks."
The Engineer began to walk again, but the Sales Manager grabbed Him again and pressured, "You have no idea, do you? Those suits up there, they'll eat you alive. You need to have the Administrator come out. Only he can fix this."
The Engineer rolled his eyes, removing the grasping fingers from around his arm. "He sent me to handle this. I'm not going to bother him about it."
"Oh yeah?" complained the Sales Manager. He shouted loudly across the pavilion. "Come work for me then! I'm starting my own company, and it's going to blow! This! Shit! Up! Home loans and short term lending. I'm telling you, this is going to be the next big thing."
Josh blinked, incredulous.
By now, Hank was waddling up to them pumping his fat arms against the sides of his tremulous belly. "Hey! What did I tell ya'? Get ova' 'ere!"
The Sales Manager was startled, jumping up into the air and shuffled off like an ape. The Engineer watched, amused, and shrugged. He was ready to get back to work.
When the Engineer, sent by the Administrator, entered the bullpen, and returned to see many of his co-workers, bent and low, cursing their duties, he wept.
Going around the office the Engineer went to each machine, performing maintenance on them, miraculously restoring print spooler services and casting out malware, with the power of the Operating System's native antivirus software. But Management watched him all the while, cursing his name for all the overtime he was logging, saying to themselves, "He's not certified," and "He never got our approval for all this OT!"
Though some disagreed, saying to themselves, "Didn't an email already go out about this?" and "Who cares? Look at all the good work he's doing."
But Josh heard them grumbling, saying these things to themselves and replied, "Something is coming down the pipe that will change the way we do billing. Don't worry about it, it'll be fine."
At the end of the week, while working in the later hours of the afternoon, Josh was approached by a woman with malware on her personal workstation. She had heard of all His hard work and tugged on the hem of His faded UC Santa Cruz sweater. Feeling the weight of her need, Josh turned around and asked, "Who was that?" and looked down to see the woman, for she was kind of short. 
"My machine is slow. I know that my computer isn't work related, but could you just look at it really fast?"
Josh nodded in agreement. "Well, I'm here to fix the broken machines, not the workings ones."
Powering on the machine, looking at the startup programs, scanning for adware and potentially unwanted programs, the Engineer extracted all the bloatware and installed antivirus that was continually scanning. "This should keep scanning automatically. It'll help keep your machine running well even if there are issues going forward." Josh paused to pull out His phone and sent an email to the woman. "I just sent you the acceptable use policy. Please read it and remember what I have told you, so that this doesn't happen again. But I'm always a call away if you need anything."
As the woman thanked the Engineer, the management watched. And they said to themselves, "He's doing things out of agreement now. We have to put a stop to this!"
That afternoon, they brought Him into the large conference room at the north end of the building. 
"You've been here for a full day, helping everyone, even working on assets that we don't want you supporting. Do you expect us to pay for all these billable hours?"
"It'll be fine," Josh assured them. "You'll see. The Administrator has some big plans about how we'll be doing IT infrastructure management from now on. All the work I just did was covered under the 'New Agreement.'"
The management team were confused and angry. "You were not mentioned by our account manager. And all of this work you did is going to cost us a fortune. The Administrator made this very clear to us in the beginning."
Josh shrugged. "I don't know what to say. I mean, you're just going to have to trust me. There is a New Agreement coming. It will be cost effective and allow us to do more work for you. It will be mutually beneficial and built and sealed with trust. The way things are working right now were good before, but we've all been working up to this New Agreement. The Administrator trusts me to offer this New Agreement and has put me in charge of negotiating it."
The management team became angry when they heard this, getting up from their chairs and kindly asking the Engineer to leave, saying, "I think we would like to seek other solutions for our internal IT. We would like you to leave."
"You're firing me?" Josh asked.
"Yes. And we are also going to file a formal complaint with the Administrator if you have any intention of making us pay for the work you did while you were onsite today."
Josh called the Administrator.
"Yeah, you've reached Yale's cell, owner of Moody IT. I'm not here right now, but leave me your name and number—and the time you called—and I'll give you a call back."
As Josh left the building, looking at his phone, the Administrator never called back. 
And Josh stepped out into the rain, shoving his phone into his pocket. "Man? What the hell..."
On the following Sunday morning at the Chamber of Commerce Sausage and Egg Breakfast, some of the members were gossiping, saying to themselves, "Did you hear about what happened to Josh? Tough break. It sounded like all he was doing was trying to help those guys at Wright, Cody, and Stubb."
Another member, one that they did not immediately recognize approached and said, "Who's Josh?"
Hal Bailey, the owner of the local co-op, answered, saying, "He was the on-prem engineer for Moody IT. Super cool guy. Shame what happened to him."
"He must have been fired," the other member replied, drinking a mimosa.
Hal laughed, shaking his head.  "Guy was fucking crucified. For doing his job no less." The others agreed with Hal, nodding silently under the glare of florescent lights, highlighting the polyurethane gloss of hardwood furniture and the scuffed chrome of industrial toasters. 
Josh revealed Himself to them, laughing at their surprise.
"Woah! Hey man! Didn't recognize you in those big dumb sunglasses. Since when do you wear those?" Hal said. 
Josh folded them up and put them into his pocket. "I ran out of contacts. This was all I had lying around from when I last saw the optometrist."
"So, what's going on?" Hal asked, waving what may had been his third mimosa that morning in a wide, hyperbolic gesture. "I heard you were fired?" 
"Sort of," Josh said looking at his feet. "Yale is still trying to talk them down from the ledge right now. In the meantime we are pushing out our new strategy to new clients. It's all based off of remote management, with a call center, where I'll always be available to talk, and unlimited support for a fixed rate. We're in the process of re-branding right now."
"Congratulations," said Hal, raising his glass. "You have any new hires yet?"
"A few, but I've got a good feeling that we'll be blowing up pretty soon...."


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I Just Read Daytripper And This is How I Feel Now


I spend so much time thinking about the past, and so much time thinking about the future. And very clearly now do I see that living in the present is the most tenable, yet realistic place to be.

I'm 30 years old. And it's taken me this long to understand that.

Jesus once said the following:

 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

The idea that the bible is carved up into chapters, passages, and verses, was a later development in Christianity. It was done to make referencing easier to do. And, I imagine, when the laymen and women could read it helped them to find their places during mass/service/sermon. But the problem with numbers and codices and cross-references is that these words, that Jesus spoke to us, are no longer words of conversation, but teachings and practices. Christianity was never meant to be a process, or even an experience, it was meant to tell us that everything was going to be okay.

This is the trouble of living in the past and the future...

In the past, we look back and wish we could have done things differently. We feel guilty of not taking chances when we had the opportunity to be young and stupid. When you're older, you feel regret for doing all those stupid things. In the future,  telescoping dreams and concerns set expectations and plans in order, all for it to fail (in the eyes of the past self).

The trouble of living in the present, is that uncertainty awaits and the moment before is now a memory. It is this reason why I sometimes believe that "sin" is not just choosing to live a life apart from God, but that sin is entropy.

Sin is time.

It is my hope that Heaven is here and that time no longer passes. Let the heat death of the universe be averted so that we can explore it completely and witness the majesty of what God has made.