RIP, Leonard Nimoy


If I had maybe had a different blog post for the day, it was gone when I learned of Leonard Nimoy’s passing this morning. I don’t quite have the conscious, concrete connection that my friend Tobias Buckell has, but there’s still something there. Star Trek reruns were my first real exposure to science fiction, and Spock always stuck out as a very different sort of character. Nimoy brought him to life expertly.

Lately I’d been impressed by his class, and by embracing the role the kind of defined him (coming back for the reboot movies, the Audi commercial, etc.) And now, reading Twitter and such, I’m impressed by how many people he touched. Reading through them all helped me deal with my own grief, and get me to a place where I can probably work through the rest of the day without blowing my nose too much more.

Tonight, I’ll think of him when I go on stage. And again when I go to do some writing. Not just about the characters he played, but about the life he lived and how he seemed to embrace it all.


Thank You For Listening

I was driving around Ann Arbor today, dodging students in my nimble little car, and thinking about the stories I tell people in person. I remember, quite vividly, ranting and raging at a couple of friends in a nearby Mexican place last winter-ish about my terrible job. Not the job I have now, but the previous one, the one that first got us to move from Grand Rapids to the Metro Detroit area. That job, as I’ve told many folks, served only one purpose: to remind me how awful supposedly-great jobs can be. I won’t go into it now, since I’m pretty much over it, but suffice to say that for what looked like a decent IT job, I found myself regularly wishing I was just in one of the factories making paper plates.

That led me to realize that, given what I said recently about not talking about my current job, I’m finding it rather easy, mostly because I don’t have anything that I need to get off my chest. It’s a job, it’s got its rough bits, but usually a quick “can you believe that?” over dinner with the wife gets it out of my system. And that led me to realize that one of the reasons I tell stories is to ameliorate stress.

From there I found that I better understand why I would tell stories about Iraq. Not that I was still under the specific stress of being there, but being there had been such fantastic, unfathomable stress that I was still trying to cope with it and ameliorate it years later. It helps that the stories I often told were funny, or funny from a fairly benign perspective. I didn’t have any truly horrifying stories, and I try to be pretty scrupulous about not overstating or exaggerating things; I never fired my weapon in anger, I’m not any kind of crazy hero (and I’m not saying that just to take advantage of the meme that says that only the true badasses downplay their experiences–seriously, it just wasn’t all that).

I often thought I was telling stories to entertain and educate, but it turns out they had another purpose. So, thanks to everyone who has listened to me going on about these situations (work, war, etc.) in person. Turns out you were doing me a solid. It’s entirely possible you already knew that, in which case, a double helping of thanks.

Reading Lines


Today’s lunch hour was mostly dedicated to reading lines for the show. I did some basic social media maintenance as well, but mostly I’ve been going over my lines, hoping to keep away the rust that might set in after five days without performing the show (as it will be by Friday when we hit the stage again). It’s a little nerve-wracking, as well, since I know my wife will be in the audience Friday. Turns out, I’m perfectly happy getting on stage and being ridiculous in front of strangers, but it’s a little different with people I know and like. I know why, of course, I wouldn’t be much of a introspective navel-gazer if I didn’t, but it’s all very boring and includes a few, “Because of this, then that, then also the other thing too.”

That aside, I am hoping to see more people I know come out to the show the next two weekends, since I’ve otherwise seen no one, which has me oscillating a bit between disappointment and relief. There’s also the possibility of a review in a local indie paper, which is all kinds of exciting.

And yeah, one of these days I’ll stop talking about this show, and anyone who is reading can have some relief. I likely won’t be trying out for anything again until auditions for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” come up in Julyish. Then it’ll all be boring talk about writing (since I think I’m contractually obligated not to talk about work). I will certainly miss it, though, even if you won’t.


I got a new headshot over the course of the show, courtesy of one of the members of the theatre. He also took a bunch of show pics on the night of dress rehearsal. Verdict? I look fat and frumpy in the suit they have for me, but oh well. Just goes to show I a) need to further improve my diet and exercise and b) should probably get my own suit (or two). I’m lucky enough not to be in an industry that demands them, but they’re obviously good and useful things to have in your closet. One of the few things that has held me back so far has, of course, been my optimism about losing weight.

But, I guess, I could always buy something bigger and have it tailored down on that happy day where I’m more pleased with my general health and fitness level. (And yes, I know that good health & fitness don’t necessarily correlate with lower weight… but I’ve been on this roller coaster enough to know that, yeah, in my case they generally do.) We’ll see how my latest attempt to track food intake and such works out. (Haha.)

I will tell you, though, that is something that has become significantly easier with the right tools, at least for me. Now my scale talks to my phone, and my phone tracks my steps, and I keep track of my workouts on there, and track my food intake, and so on and so forth and… yeah. Way easier than all the times I would try to put that stuff into spreadsheets or notebooks. Still not utterly automatic, but… you know… close enough, maybe.

Anyway, all that to say there’s now a very recent picture of me on here, off to the right there. Bask in its glory! (Or… something.)

Sensitivities, Part 1

I’m rapidly coming to grips with a lot of mental/emotional sensitivities lately, and one of them seems to be hype. I certainly remember experiencing it before now (Harry Potter was the big example), but lately I’ve found that nothing ever really sounds good when it comes to reading or movies. And I realized that’s because I follow too many authors and readers on social media. Which is silly, on some level, because I love talking about this stuff, but social media has been so deeply co-opted by marketing sensibilities, that I find myself kind of numbed by it all.

Now, this isn’t a condemnation of social media in general, or one of those hand-wringing “what has it all come to” type posts. It’s just… me. Penicillin is great for 99% of the population and saves a lot of lives, but if I take it, I’ll blow up like a balloon and die. And I’m thinking it’s a lot like that for me. I’m happy people’s books get hyped and spread around on social media. I hope like hell if and when I publish, it’ll work like that for me. It’s just a thing that seems to work in reverse for me.

Thinking about it, I realized that part of the problem is that I’ve come to miss just discovering things. My “golden age” for reading (and watching movies for that matter) was when I would just wander the aisles and pick up what looked interesting, primarily back in high school. I discovered some lemons that way, but I also discovered a lot of what became my favorites, and hidden little gems. Just the other night at dress rehearsal I was mentioning the David Mamet movie A Life in the Theater, starring Jack Lemmon and Matthew Broderick. None of the other actors I mentioned it to had seen it, but it’s a great little film (adapted from a play, of course–with a recent production starring Patrick Stewart, no less) about working actors in New York, and I keep thinking about it now that I’m acting again.

It’s much the same with books. I discovered my favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold, that way just browsing the sci-fi shelves in the library. Now, I know part of this is just a change in general awareness. I can’t put a lot of genies back in bottles, and I’m probably always going to have some low-level awareness of authors and works if I plan to continue pursuing a career as a writer; it’s almost unavoidable, unless I go full recluse. (And you never go full recluse.) So I understand I can never quite recapture the magical feeling of discovery that is often what I feel is missing when I read a book or rent a movie these days.

But I think that, lately, it’s hype that’s kept me from even trying.

Old Writing

Last night I was fiddling around, consolidating and rationalizing my family’s digital archives, and stumbled on some old writing. I actually got caught up in reading a couple of the stories I’d written. As fashionable as it is for writers to lambaste their older stuff as rough and unproven… well… I think I liked what I was reading. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, and I’m sure I could do better now (particularly thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal’s short story writing class–highly recommended, btw), but there was something about those stories that I just loved.

Part of it, I’m sure, is that I was very much writing the sort of things I loved to read and I wished there was more of. Particularly, sprawling science fiction intrigue/spy type stories that interconnected on various levels. I’ve been focusing on some fantasy projects recently, and while I really enjoy those two, it’s fairly clear to me after just a half hour perusing old stories where my heart lies.  I may need to get back to those soon.

Blogs and Me

I’m not a diarist. I never have been, really. My attempts at journaling and such would be laughable, were it acceptable to laugh at such awkwardness. The closest I came to managing it was on a university trip to Russia in 1997. But even then, I was often days behind, and wrote my entries as though I were writing them that day, which just seems… so weird and beside the point. My friend Jim would actually journal as we walked around, and tried to do the journalist’s thing of counting his photographs and making notes of what he was photographing. Eminently sensible, but a trick I could never pull off.

Mostly I was too busy immersing myself in the moment, and that’s been my downfall in a lot of ways. Life has always been too interesting for me to pause from it and take a moment write it down and collect my thoughts.

And such was always the problem I had with blogging. The other time I really was hitting a stride in terms of journaling was back in 2004, when I was deployed to Iraq as a Marine. Though then, it wasn’t so much a diary as a broadcast letter home, one that saved me from writing a bunch of individual ones, which I didn’t have a lot of time for. Though, of course, that was also a rather dishonest account as I often concealed the threat we were under to keep people at home from worrying. The few moments of unalloyed honesty (frustration with my superiors, for instance, or a reference to someone in my unit being arrested) were filtered and hidden to keep me from winding up in front of my CO answering uncomfortable questions.

Otherwise, and perhaps especially because of Iraq, I’ve always felt the need to justify my blogging/diarying. As in, most of my posts (published and otherwise) would start with some kind of rationale for the writing of them. And the irony was that after Iraq, my life seemed altogether too pedestrian to chronicle with any kind of regularity. All that left me was commenting on current affairs and throwing my two cents in on the topics currently up for discussion among the people that I followed regularly in social media.

The thing that I missed, of course, is that writing itself is reason to write; and these days, I’m starting to feel like I’m emerging from some kind of hibernation. I’ve held back, considered, thought, observed–things I’ve gotten decently good at, I think–but now I feel like I’m ready to start writing and communicating again.

Me and NASCAR and Me

I went to my first NASCAR Sprint Cup race last weekend. Ostensibly with one of my best friends, though he spent the entirety of the race asleep in our tent. His other friends are pretty nice, though, and it was a fun and interesting experience. I got sunburnt, and not enough sleep the night before, but that’s okay.

I’ve been not-following NASCAR long enough that watching the race was an interesting exercise in detached observation. I don’t have a favorite driver (since Bobby Labonte wandered off the scene), nor do I have a “nemesis” driver (though I can see why people just have a hate-on for Kyle Busch), and my rooting interests are somewhat academic. I’m eager to see Danica Patrick do well, if only to help prove that male dominance of racing is largely cultural, and not tied to some mystical masculine traits only available with the addition of some testosterone. And of course, any kind of “brand loyalty” (like, Pepsi drinks can go fuck themselves because Jeff Gordon) is not my game at all.

That said, I like racing. I’m not a huge fan of noise for its sake, or even cars really, which I sometimes think as strange from a man who grew up in Metro Detroit. But I like the competition and the strategy. I like seeing how different cars perform in identical conditions, and I like seeing the edges to which the drivers will push in order to gain the advantage.

Also, the thing that has always struck me about NASCAR especially is that it seems like it’s actually, under the hood so to speak, the nerdiest of the major American “sports.” There’s so much more involved, especially now, than some raw love of cars or the skill of the drivers. The forces involved, the engineering necessary to govern it all, the numbers numbers numbers. (Baseball might be the next nerdiest sport, but only because stats nerds have made it so, speaking of numbers.) And I get why nerds tend to stay away, and it mostly has to do with the culture that NASCAR has inherited in unbroken line down from the moonshiner days, which I certainly saw on full display last weekend.

So I get the discomfort there, and the general reaction away. It’s just a shame, is all. There’s a lot for nerds, math and physics nerds in particular, to sink their teeth into. There’s an underlying grace and purity to the competition that can be fascinating, when viewed that way.

And yeah, I’ll probably go back to that particular race next year.

I Love Maps, Part 1

I love maps. Maps maps mapsy maps.

Despite the scorn they sometimes get, I especially love fantasy and role-playing maps. There’s something about all their crinkly edges, the mysterious empty spaces, especially outside the bounds of the primary story. Something about it makes me want to dive in and discover how the map and terrain differ, so to speak. Nothing quite sets the imagination to flight quite like it, for me.

I found the map featured above while looking for a good, detailed map of Middle Earth (why? cuz). This comes from a game I never played, but kind of wish I had, Middle Earth Role Playing, by Iron Crown Enterprises. I enjoy me some Lord of the Rings, including playing the MMO, but there is something about having been over the familiar terrain a thousand times that made this map in particular stand out. I love all the edges and expanses and unexplored possibilities here. I know it’s not “canon” but, hell, I play the MMO. Obviously I’m not concerned with canon, overmuch.

Full version of the map is here.

Engage As Intended

As usual, I don’t intend anything prescriptive by what I’m about to say–I’m just kind of musing on art and story and experimenting with the conclusions that the musings bring me to. This is may well be a theme around here. Disclaimer out of the way, I’ll proceed.

The beautiful freedom of the modern age is that we as consumers can engage with art in almost any way we choose. In fact, the recombinant engagement that a lot of people choose across the internet, from fanfic to vids to Tumblr gifsets to mashups, makes literal a lot of what we talk about when we say that genre is a sort extended artistic conversation. To greater and lesser extents, the creators of recombinant and transformative art are directly engaging with the art in question, interrogating and deconstructing it in really unique and enlightening ways.

This is very cool, and I applaud it.

One of the other ways we’ve started to engage with media and art, lately, is the almighty binge. I remember the first time I binged on a show–the first time I could binge on a show–was when I got the first two or three seasons of Stargate SG-1 on DVD. As I recall, I spent a few days on the futon in my wife’s apartment (before she was my wife, of course) mainlining Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson and Samantha Carter and Teal’c like a fiend. Couldn’t get enough. It was glorious. It was a temptation I simply could not resist, if I could even conceive of resistance as an option.

I’ve discovered a few things about binging in the years since, though. One is that it leaves me wanting more where there is no more. I was lucky, back then. I ended up getting all of the DVDs that were out at the time, and got caught up to where Stargate SG-1 was when it jumped over to the Sci-Fi Channel. So then I had more on a weekly basis for about half a year, every year. But binging on a show that’s already done, when I’m watching all there is of it… that’s kind of a bummer.

The other thing I realized is that the binge leaves everything… more muddied. There really isn’t a chance to reflect on what I’ve watched, let it sink in, let any anticipation build. My wife and I are catching up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. right now, after leaving it for most of the year. But, for various reasons, we can’t really binge on it. We get in about two episode a week, and that’s it. So, as of this typing, Skye is in near-death coma and has been since Saturday night. I probably won’t get to see the follow-up episode for another week-plus, given our weekend plans.

That’s cool. I’m down with that. It gives me time to think a bit on it, gives it time to mature, to “season” I guess.  I don’t need to rush through it.

One of the other things I’m finding is that people work on the weekly TV show as its own art form, within its own constraints. I think I first encountered this idea in a blog post by John Scalzi (don’t ask me to go spelunking through his archives for it; I’ll get lost down some 300 meter shaft), where he was advising, in his calm-headed way, that This New Medium did not mean the death of That Old Medium, that people had said the same thing about That Old Medium back when it was new. The idea being that stories will find their natural place, that if there’s a story that can only really be told in Smell-O-Vision, it will be best told in Smell-O-Vision but that won’t mean we can’t still create stories for the “traditional” cinema. We won’t have to create everything for Smell-O-Vision.

I’ll call this A Scalzian Principle (but not The Scalzian Principle–the dude has too many to grant any of them the definitive article).

Anyway, it has occurred to me that, especially with older shows, but still with new shows, there is a reward to watching them more or less as they were originally intended to be seen. Now, in a lot of cases, especially let’s say pre-2000ish, this did actually mean you could watch them in any particular order. A lot of them did feature the dreaded reset button, the horror of ungrowing characters and static, immutable situations. But I’m also coming to appreciate this constraint that the creators had to work in. How do you make Thomas Magnum’s exploits suspenseful when you know he and Rick and TC and Higgins are still going to be alive at the end of the episode?

I could probably write a whole other blog post answering that question, so I won’t try to get to it here. I’ll think about writing it another time, though. Suffice to say that I’m finding it both interesting and instructive to see the art in that kind of constraint. How is it handled, how is it done well, how does it fall down?

But, well, also I’m just enjoying the shows for the sake of the shows themselves. Just watching them as they are, as they were intended to be watched.