Thursday, October 16, 2014

Goodbyes


Many years ago...
So, today my oldest daughter and her fiancé, who have been living in our house for the last year and a half while she attends school, are moving out. With the help of her mom, they purchased a used van (which I kind of envy), and have been saving up their money for the last month. This morning, I said my final goodbye to them, as they plan to hit the road just as soon as they can get packed up today.

I know it’s not forever. It never has been. And that’s the thing. Ever since my daughter was a little girl, and her mom decided I wasn’t the man she wanted to be married to anymore, I seem to have been saying goodbye to my daughter on a regular basis. Sometimes just for a couple of weeks, sometimes for a few months, and once for over an entire year.

Admittedly, this time it’s a bit different. She’s an adult now, with a promising future, and (I hope) the skills she needs to succeed in life. I’m proud to say that my wife and I had a large part in making sure she was prepared (ok, her mom had some part in it).

But, in the end, it’s just another in a long line of temporary goodbyes. I prefer to think of them more as “see ya laters.” Because we will see them again. After all, they are moving to San Diego. And that’s not such a bad place to go visit.

So, to my baby girl, see ya later. Daddy loves you. And I’m never more than a phone call, Skype call, or silly text about bodily functions away.


High School graduate (with the "daddy" eyebrows).

Beauty School graduate!
These kids are just potheads.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

“Bowie is…”



That's my beautiful wife wearing her Bowie T-shirt,
and sporting her Bowie tattoo.
 
…my wife’s all-time favorite recording artist. It’s also the name of a travelling exhibit whose only North American stop is in Chicago right now. We went on Saturday, and it really opened my eyes (and ears) to an artist with whom I was familiar, but knew very little about.

If you know about David Bowie, his story, and his highly influential legacy in music, you’ll see everything you love about him, and maybe even learn a few new things. It’s a walk-through tour, and you wear a special little device with headphones that is connected to sensors placed over specific parts of the exhibit. As you enter a new area, the track changes to tell you about what you are looking at. All the while, there is relevant Bowie music playing like a soundtrack.

I was peripherally familiar with David Bowie. I knew he had been around the mainstream music scene since at least the 60’s. I knew he had been famous for flamboyant costumes and was a great performer. As child of the 80’s I knew about his popular hits from that decade. And finally, I knew he acted in movies like Labyrinth and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. But I had no idea that what I knew only scratched the surface.

Suffice it to say, I have a new appreciation for his music. Michele owns a lot of his CD’s, but they are out in storage right now, so I’m streaming YouTube compilations for now. He has a compilation CD set coming out next month, and I plan to buy that.

For now, here are my top five Bowie songs, in no particular order:

Space Oddity
Life on Mars
China Girl
Golden Years
Heroes

And there are tons more.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Recent reads and such

Let’s see if I can get into a blogging groove around here again.

In the last few months I have started and stopped a handful of books. Not that any of them were bad. For one reason or another, nothing grabbed me enough to continue past the first few pages, or sometimes chapters.

Then last month I made the conscious decision that I was going to step away from the older paperback books I have been amassing, and try to read something new and fresh. I had a few options that I really wanted to read, so I started looking around. Right now money is kinda tight, so shelling out $15-20 for a brand new hard back (or even $8-10 for a paperback) is not really an option. Which, of course, takes me to the public library.

What I settled on was Thrones and Bones: Frostborn, by Lou Anders. Lou is very active on Facebook, and a cool guy. This is his first novel (though he’s probably written more articles and short pieces than I have started), and it’s a YA Fantasy. He’s been doing a book tour specifically targeting younger readers, appearing at schools and such, and I’ve been following his progress with that with interest.

Anyways, the book is really good. It’s an exciting juvenile adventure without being condescending or overly “kiddy.” The characters are all pretty real, and the adventure they have keeps you guessing. The action is exciting, the dangers feel real. One thing I noted was that, even though some of the story elements were kind of predicable, that was not a bad thing. I found that when I knew something was going to happen, it made me more excited to see when and how it did. For a YA fantasy novel, I give it 5 stars, and eagerly await the next one.

After a few more false starts with books, I recently settled on yet another RA Salvatore novel set in the Forgotten Realms. I’m currently reading The Companions, the first book in a series called "The Sundering" (which I believe will be written by multiple authors). This book grabbed me right away because it picks up right after a couple of the short stories I listened to in The Legend of Drizzt audio book. I’m sure that was a marketing ploy, and you know what? It worked on me.

This book is interesting because it involves Drizzt’s companions that he adventured with in the early books (and throughout his long-running series), but at a time long after they have each passed away in the timeline of the story. How this is accomplished is pretty cool, and totally not what I expected when I started reading it. As always, Salvatore’s action and details are great, and the characters are very familiar, yet refreshed. You have to read the story to understand.

One thing this Drizzt book reminds me of is that I have a special place in my heart for RPG-based fiction. Admittedly, it’s not all good. But a lot of it certainly is. And it’s always interesting to see how the various authors work the tropes of the game into a fictitious narrative, without it sounding like gamer fanfiction. Salvatore has been doing it for years. And even though a couple of his outings have not been so good, overall, he has mastered the art of blending gaming and fiction.

Once I’m done with this one, I plan to tackle Jon Sprunk’s Shadow’s Son (the first in a trilogy). I wanted to read his latest, Blood and Iron, but the library didn’t have any copies available yet. Eventually, though.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

That light sure sounds like a train

So, last night I got an email from my school advising me to apply for graduation now. I was a bit taken aback, as I am only halfway done with my current class, and will have to take one more class before I can even register for the Comprehensive Exam course. In essence, I won’t be eligible for graduation until sometime next summer.

And that assumes that I can pass the Exam. Which is the part that frightens me. Right now, the possibility of failing that exam, and then failing it again, thereby preventing me from being conferred a degree, frightens me more than a little. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but the idea that I might be on the verge of being done with school is a bit daunting.

And mainly, it’s the financial worries. After I stop going to school, some of my loans will come due, with the rest coming due later. Eventually I will need to consolidate them. But the fact that I will top off at somewhere around $70k in student debt worries me. That payment is going hit me in the gut, and probably make life extremely difficult for a long time.

Of course, I am always hopeful that I will get a good-paying job that will allow me to afford that. But really, what kind of jobs are there for History majors around here? I can’t really move because my wife is obligated to stay here in WI until her daughter is 18, which is still over six years away. So, I’m kind of stuck in Madison for the time-being. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just that pickins is slim for people with my (not so) unique set of skills.

Anyways, I still have some time to think and plan.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Always remember…

That’s the other part of “Never forget,” the American mantra on 9/11. That’s the part that a lot of people overlook. Yes, we should never forget the injustice done to us as a nation; never forget those who died needlessly in a cowardly attack (and if you think it wasn’t cowardly, you can go fuck yourself); never forget those who gave their lives to help those in need. There are many things that we should never forget.

Personally, I like also to always remember some things. Always remember how America came together as a nation, if for just a brief moment, and put aside our differences in the face of a cold enemy from beyond. Always remember the Muslim-Americans who came forward in spite of raw suspicion and ignorant hatred born of blind rage, and helped their fellow Americans. Always remember that, if you had family who survived that day, you were given a gift that so many were denied.

There are some who would like to forget that tragedy happened. Would like to forget the death, the sadness, the anger, and especially the aftermath. They would rather pull the blanket over their head and pretend the monsters aren’t there. Well, they are. And those monsters outside did more damage than a few planes could by revealing the monsters hidden in our own back yard.

Politicians who seized on the fears of the everyman to put into effect legislation that hurt us as a nation. Cabinet advisers who pressured an overwhelmed president into decisions he should not have made, for reasons no one can truly know. Not to mention hatemonger groups who were given a new face to hate, and a new tool on their belt to help them try to distort the truth, and mold America into their own, twisted version of reality.

We are still feeling the aftershocks of that day. America’s trust in the world was diminished. And in turn, the world’s trust in America was diminished. But it’s not over. At the risk of sounding like a Reagan-era ClichĂ©, we’re Americans. We don’t lay down. We aren’t defeated. We will never give up the fight, even though the nature of the fight and the face of the enemy may change.

We will never forget, and we will always remember.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie re-watches

I am a self-proclaimed “movie guy.” My wife is passionate about music, and I am the same way about movies. I like to see new ones whenever I can, but generally I am relegated to re-watching older ones. And now it has become a tradition to re-watch certain movies on a regular basis. Below is a short list of movies that I make it a point to watch once every few months.

(Note: long-time readers may recognize two things. First, that I have discussed many of these before, and second, that most of these come from a specific period in my life.)

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
No matter how much time passes, this film will probably always be in my top 5 movies of all time. When I was in high school, I was gifted with a hand-me-down TV and VCR from my parents, and while wiling away hours in my room doing fuck-all, this was one of two movies that was most likely to be playing in the background (the other was The Empire Strikes Back). The film catches a lot of flak from Robert E. Howard purists, and for good reasons. But, it is arguably one of the best sword & sorcery films ever made, with the greatest soundtrack in history, IMHO.

The Wild Geese (1978)
This is gritty mercenary action at its best. With a stellar cast, a fantastic story, and some really memorable acting, this is the movie I immediately think of when I hear the word “mercenary” (followed closely by The Expendables). This film was largely responsible for my interest in military action, and lead directly to me starting to read Mack Bolan books. I would say it probably even influenced my decision to become a paratrooper myself. Although my favorite war movie is A Bridge Too Far, it takes some real stamina to watch. The Wild Geese gets more viewings, simply because it is so straight-forward and fun.

The Dark Crystal (1981)
I can still remember seeing this one in the theater. I was mesmerized by the visuals, haunted by the overtones, and I felt like I was on that emotionally turbulent ride right along with the Gelflings. Lord Chamberlain scared me, but I also felt pity for him. Fizgig made me laugh, and Ogra made me smile. Even though there were no human actors featured in this film, the voice-acting and characters were so wonderfully done. Honestly, this movie should be used to teach film classes. It’s damn-near perfect. And I still enjoy the hell out of it to this day.

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
Everyone knows that Chuck Norris is legend. As the indestructible Karate Cop/Soldier of the 70’s and 80’s, he has made a lot of movies that, while the overall quality may have been hit or miss, he still kicked ass in every one of them. This one is my favorite of his, and I can’t really say why. It’s got a great story, some superb supporting cast members (including a young Robert Beltran, aka Chakotay), and some of the best, gritty action scenes. But, the one element that stands out the most is the fact that Chuck kicks David Carradine’s ass. I have never liked Carradine. He was a mediocre actor with questionable fighting skills, and I really never understood how he became as popular as he did. Personally I always viewed this movie as Chuck getting some on-screen revenge on behalf of Stallone for his having to suffer the indignity of being beat up by Carradine in Death Race 2000.

Rocky III (1982)
Speaking of Sly, what list of mine would be complete without at least one entry of his? I am a huge fan of all of the Rocky films (even V, which Sly himself doesn’t like). I remember my first exposure was seeing Rocky on my grandparents’ 13” b&w TV. I only saw bits of it (mainly the scene in the ice rink), but I thought the character was pretty cool. Then I saw Rocky III in the theater by myself (first time I ever got to do that) and I was hooked! Been an unabashed fan of the character, and of Stallone himself ever since. When I first moved to Wisconsin, I discovered that my wife (to be at the time) had never seen any but the first one. So, we binge-watched all five over the course of a few days, and now she regularly suggests we need to do that again (along with all of the Rambo films).

The Hobbit (1977)
This film was a very important piece of my childhood. The story itself is one of my all-time favorites (I like it better than LotR), and this presentation is like a Reader’s Digest version. The visuals are very cool for the time, and carry a certain charm unlike anything else. The voice-acting is great, and whenever I read anything by Tolkien, I hear John Huston’s voice. Smaug was the standard by which all dragons would be judged for years to come. Bard the Guardsman was my primary inspiration during my first forays into playing D&D. And the music! Magical to me. I even downloaded a program that allows you to strip the sound files from YouTube videos, just so I could have the soundtrack on my iPod. My kids even like this one, and Connor sat in my lap and watched most of it with me one time when he was barely 4 years old.

Honorable Mentions – I don’t watch these with quite as much regularity, but I do still put them in on occasion.

Enter the Dragon (1974) – Bruce Lee at the top of his game.
The Last Dragon (1984) – Corny, campy, and oh so damn much fun!
The Empire Strikes Back (1981) – The best Star Wars movie ever made.
First Blood (1982) – The godfather of the modern “lone hero” action movie.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Still my favorite Star Trek movie.
DC Cab (1981) – First movie I ever memorized from beginning to end. Hilarious!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Once more unto the breach!

School begins today. Already posted my introductory post, and will need to respond to two more of those this week in order to get full credit for the week. The class only has two books required. An art history book, and The Prince by Machiavelli. I’m hoping to find both at Half-Priced books this week. Read over the syllabus and it looks to be a somewhat busy class. Two 1500+ word papers, and two 2000+ word papers, plus the weekly discussions. Not too bad, actually. I should be ok.

And with the beginning of school comes the inevitable slowing of my leisure reading, not to mention my already undisciplined writing schedule. Over the course of the summer I managed to read three novels (after a few false starts), and a graphic novel. The graphic novel was a Punisher volume collecting the first five issues of his first unlimited series in 1986, in a story arc entitled “Circle of Blood.” It was pretty good. Sort of a reboot from previous mini-series and guest shots in other comics. It begins with Frank in prison, and it just gets wild from there. The art was pretty good, with a strong Buscema influence on the breakdowns (always a good thing). And the writing was pretty stable and interesting.

I checked that out from the library, and at the same time I got a Thor collection entitled “If Asgard Should Perish” collecting Thor #242-253. This has long been on my Amazon wish list, as it is drawn by John Buscema (with a cool Jack Kirby cover image). I doubt I will buy it now, but I’m glad to be able to read it.

I had started using my Kindle a bit more lately, so I decided to just read from that instead of paperbacks for a while. I had started David Drake’s Redliners, as noted before, but I suddenly had a hankering for something a bit more fantastical. So, I queued up Wings Over Talera, book 2 of the Taleran Cycle by frequent commenter, Charles Gramlich. I had enjoyed the first book immensely, and now with a fourth book coming in the future, I figured I should read these up. Just a few chapters in, and Charles already has me. Highly recommended stuff!

On writing, I’m still plugging away at a few different projects. I mentally switched gears to my “Orcspendables” book (Orc mercenaries in space!) last week, and I am re-working the outline a bit to make the story a bit more interesting and logical. I realized in going through it that I had my protagonists just being lead through the story. So, I am re-writing parts of it to make them more pro-active. I’m also looking at it with an eye towards making it a series. For a model, I am looking at the Mack Bolan books that have been in constant production since 1968. There is a market for books like this. It may not be very large, but it’s definitely there.