On Veteran’s Day, since I work from home and Starbucks on a regular basis, I have taken to one tradition: I leave about six dollars and a large cup on the counter for the next veteran to come in. It’s a small gesture – I can’t be too big anyway, I’ve been financially strapped enough over the past few years – as a “thank you” to those who have served our country and its military conflicts. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do to give thanks as a grateful person who respects those who have given their all for my right to speak and think and live as I wish.
So at my local Starbucks here in the California Bay Area, that cup is waiting. I wrote “Thank You” on it so you know it’s for you. Hopefully I won’t be the only one doing this.
Here’s to a sober and reflective Veteran’s Day, everyone.
(WARNING! This post will contain major spoilers for the Season 7 premiere of the AMC hit The Walking Dead. If you haven’t watched it, or are intent on watching it, you may not want to read the rest of this post. I just needed to write a few thoughts, so no worries if you skip this one.
When Nintendo’s WiiU was initially announced, I thought that the built-in screen would be used to play games on the go. There was a battery, the thing was bulky and a tiny bit heavy (for long-term travelling use, anyway), analog sticks and buttons and everything that reminded me of a Ben Heck portable build. In short: I was excited. Think of the possibilities! Not just a portable Nintendo console, but a fully-fledged Nintendo console on the go! As much as I love my 3DS, it’s not quite the experience of sitting down through a cutting-edge Mario or Zelda title!
When I heard for certain that it still needed the plugged-in box to actually play, I wasn’t devastated per se, but I was a sad panda. Even with the touch screen capabilities (which were fun and interesting, BTW) I couldn’t justify for myself buying one. Partly because of being broke, but also because I’ve been focused on enjoying my portable consoles over the past few years for my personal fix. So when I watched the trailer for the Nintendo Switch this morning, I started getting really excited.
The most beautiful thing about the Internet is the ability to search for, investigate, and learn new stuff. Everything from an analysis of the most up-to-date theories of how the Earth formed to how to tie a bow tie can be found online, and in incredible detail – videos, scientific papers, walkthroughs, even the ridiculousness of WikiHow can be poured over to learn whatever it is you would like to learn.
Why this is important to me, and why it’s important to me right now, is because I’ve started investigating and learning to achieve a specific goal, and thereby achieving a goal I’ve set for my life: selling the book I’ve spent the past three years writing. And the process is why I’ve only so far sent two proper submissions over the past four days.
I haven’t posted here for a while. Not for any particular reason, just haven’t been inspired enough (and had enough time to write something I would want to share). The past six months or so of my life have been really good, kinda sad, and sometimes quite disappointing to think about, so I’ve just kept most of them to myself.
But hell, to get myself writing in this little corner of the Internet again, I’ll open up just a little. It’s been busy.
Back in the school year of 1999/2000, about 16 years ago, I started writing video game reviews in a school notebook when I should have been studying electronics. I would’ve been about 15 at the time. And instead of being fascinated by the electronics room’s dissected Atari 2600 heavy six-switch (though admittedly I was), I was dawdling writing my thoughts about games that had spent their fair share of time in my home consoles. And the first, which I remember with some clarity, is why this comes to my mind now: I reviewed Pokemon Yellow for my Game Boy, a game now being re-released nearly twenty years after its initial launch in Japan. I don’t still have the ripped-out page for that review, which is for the best… I feel like reading it back now would bring back my desire to burn things.
Last night, I had a dream that I couldn’t find my car in the world’s most complex, fourth-dimensional parking lot and garage. Every time I exited the door of the mall, at the very center of the lot, I would open up at another location that looked familiar, but was obviously a different place. And through the dream I ran around the lot, searching for my parking space number, but I just couldn’t reach my car. Everyone else seemed to get home just fine, but the vehicles in the lot wouldn’t diminish; it reached closing time, and I woke up just as I was about to be locked out of the building, leaving me in that labyrinth of parking hell.
I know people’s dreams are mostly just random neurons building a scenario in one’s head without true rhyme or reason, but the overarching sensation created by the scenario – in this case, the combination of being lost and confused – is real, and when it’s strong enough it’s not something to simply be ignored. And that’s about how I feel even now… a bit lost, sort of confused.
When I was a teenager, like lots of other teens of my time (I was a teen from 1997-2004) I listened to a lot of hard rock and alternative stuff. My sister was a rock lover and metalhead, and she exposed me to plenty of new bands I wouldn’t have heard around my parents or even many of my friends – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Metallica, The Cramps, AC/DC, and plenty of others I’m sure I’m forgetting. She may have been the one to cause my first exposure to the ass-kickers that are/were Motorhead.
And the man that led Motorhead through its history in the 1970s until his death last month was Lemmy Kilmister. An odd-looking warted man with funny facial hair and a voice the consistency of a rockslide-affected road, the man known as Lemmy fronted and gave voice to some of the coolest rock tracks of all time… the most notable of them all was “Ace of Spades”, a fast and loud song about living life to the full and worrying only about not having a good time. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, both for its message and its simplicity, and his voice sounded like the most mature person that could give the message to a teenage me.
Some of those songs have bounced around my mind over the past few weeks, including a one-off track called “Shake Your Blood” that he performed with Dave Grohl (another of the best musicians writing and performing today). The more I listen to the stories of people who knew him, the more I view of his own words and speaking for himself, the more I admired just how nice a man he seemed. He was pretty soft-spoken, he would perform with everything he had (even after the brain cancer hampered his ability to speak he was still managing to get through concerts… somehow), and off-stage he just wanted a cigarette and a drink. And to read; turns out he was a voracious reader, and a history buff/historian. A smart, quiet fella, at home in the quiet corner of the bar as well as the stage. Maybe he preferred the corner to the stage.
After multiple interviews, this is what I’ve learned about David Bowie. The not-heterochromia-ed Bowie (he had a permanently-dilated left eye which gave him his distinct look, but both his eyes were otherwise blue) was, quite possibly, the most naturally handsome man in rock; a fashion icon and trend-setter; re-inventor extraordinaire; and yet, he was also very private with his personal life. He lived about as “normal” as he could, given that he was, indeed, David-fuckin’-Bowie. He would create a character, let them run to their highest point, then coldly and quickly cut them off and begin again.
Bowie was someone who didn’t simply make music, but simply made. He created music, played many instruments in his career, and generated characters that even I as an extremely casual fan recognized – the biggest two being, of course, Ziggy Stardust and… himself. Acting, writing, singing, performing, he was one of the few true renaissance artists of the 20th and early-21st century. He married a supermodel, genuinely one of the most gorgeous women in the world, he had children, effortlessly and publicly broke with the status quo more often possibly any other person in his industry or otherwise, and yet – somehow – still appeared down-to-earth (which, as Ziggy, completely broke character).
Oh, and I never heard an actually-negative thing about him. He was always just there, creating something new, asking his audience to come with him wherever he went. Always inviting, always daring, and yet never intimidating. And I respect the hell out of that.
These two men were very, very different, with very different ways of reaching their potential; both were, in multiple ways, geniuses that nobody really saw coming. They lived their lives on their own terms, yet stayed very kind in their journeys there. From what I can tell, they really only had about four things in common:
They were rock icons (Bowie for flexibility in presentation, Lemmy for steadfastness in rocking out).
They earned the respect of ALL of their peers, contemporaries, and the generation that followed them.
They ended their careers – and their lives – with new albums and performances until they were absolutely no longer able.
They both died from cancer.
Lemmy dressed in all black, Bowie in every color he could. Bowie with flexible vocals, Lemmy with a trademark gutteral growl. Bowie hitting every genre well, Lemmy driving hard rock harder than anyone else. Lemmy quiet in the corner playing his video game of choice and sharing a drink with fans, Bowie introvertedly developing new characters and creations for everyone to experience at home.
Is this an obituary for two great icons of music? Not really. I don’t like writing obituaries, though I’ve written a few. I much prefer writing a tribute and tipping my proverbial hat (and lifting my non-proverbial drink) to those who I can appreciate both as people and creators. And with both Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and David Bowie, we’ve lost two heroes in an incredibly short period of time. It’s easy to say “fuck cancer”, especially when two of our greatest just fell from its ravages, but the best way I know to react instead is to put on some face paint, make a Lemmy (Coke and Jack Daniel’s, in case you weren’t aware) and crack up the stereo to show appreciation.
If you don’t have any JD in the house – or you don’t drink – and you’re averse to wearing make-up, cranking up their tunes works just as well.
Lemmy had a bigger influence on me personally than Bowie, but the level of respect for both men is there. Both had long and powerful careers, ending with a crescendo for their respective audiences. They gave their all until the end, and they lived with both open and quiet dignity. And that’s what I celebrate tonight, and have celebrated in creating my own material improved by their influence. I looked up to them both not because they were famous, but because they kicked ass on their own terms. And, more importantly, as decent human beings.
So over the course of 2015, I found my way through 24 books, and I thought a nice way to wrap up the year would be a brief review of each, say a sentence or two and a basic overall score. If you want to know more options about any of these, do let me know and I’ll be happy to elaborate in comments.
But first, a little housecleaning: I didn’t finish the second draft of my manuscript this year. Maybe it was the reading, maybe it was the articles I was tasked to write, but for whatever reason I just didn’t get it done. I got a lot of work done on it – I’ve elaborated on characters, extended scenes, added depth to the story – but it wasn’t done. I’ll have more done over 2016, and hopefully finish this draft (and maybe even work on something new). I’ll keep anyone interested apprised over the next 12 months about progress there.
For now, let’s get to the books! This year was pretty good for my bookshelf, and I caught up on what was already on my shelf (they looked good in the store but I got distracted after purchasing, that sort of thing). Many were read on my Kindle, but exactly half were physical copies. There’s nothing quite like kicking back on the couch and flipping pages in the quiet… but there’s also nothing quite like never worrying about lighting up the page and hurting my eyes.
(Side-note: After all these books I got my yearly eye exam, and I have a new pair of reading glasses coming through the mail. Because reading significantly points out the flaws my eyeballs have, and made a few things worse.)