Monday, December 26, 2011

In Those Quiet Moments

As a parent you often hear others talk about Christmas morning in glee-filled tones as they recount how their children smiled as they opened their gifts. For many it seems to be the definition of Christmas. But, as many of you are aware: I clearly am not everyone else.

While my children played with their gifts this year a stray thought worked its way into the forefront of my mind. Christmas wasn't just in those frenzied moments of excitement as they tore through brightly colored wrapping paper. Not even in the screams of joy as they discovered the treasures contained within. No, Christmas was in those quiet little moments that awaited them later.

I watched them as they scattered to play and digest the sum total of what had been added to their personal horde. Like contented little dragonlings they scrutinized their tiny mounds and tried to commit them to memory. Now, as a father of 4 I can assure you that this by no means a common occurrence, but one that can only be explained as a miracle side effect of Christmas. Because in those quiet little moments children can be found absentmindedly sharing and playing together without any thought of the matter. In those precious moments a child can set down and play with a a sibling and explore a new toy. A boy can inspect a girl's gift without any scrutiny or insult. There is a true and pure magic in those moments.

Watching my kids simply coexist without argument or parental intervention brought back so many memories. Christmas that seem like forever ago where I myself could just immerse myself in a new set of Lego's and my brother might join me or one of my sisters might marvel at what was forming before me. A time where I could ask of them what they got as well and be regaled by explanations of just what their new acquisitions could accomplish or the delights they promised to provide.

Do you recall any of those simple little magical moments? A time when all the troubles and inequalities would melt away to be replaced by simple joy? The arrival of absent friends or a phone call from a loved one to simply ask in the early morning excitement: "So what did Santa bring?" Knowing full well the flood of detailed litanies that the query might unleash.

Yes, indeed; Christmas is found in those little moments. And while they are sometimes fleeting, I will forever hold them in my heart. May you cherish them too.

And, hey: let's hope there are many more to come!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Not So Super Man.

For a child the ideal image of their parents in often no less than that of a superhero. They get to stay up as late as they want, eat anything, and let's not get into the whole issue of reaching the tall cabinets. No, let's face it, when a child looks up at their parents they see someone the terror of the night can't touch and even the boogie man must flee from.

Be that as it may, the sad truth of the matter is that as parents we often lack the glamor of invulnerability much less laser vision. Although any number of powers could prove invaluable in a parents line of work, not to mention really fun. Unfortunately, I could really have used a few super powers several times in my life.

One such time recently popped back into mind. Mind you, it was in the early 90's, and I like many of my friends was hooked on the X-Men animated series that was just getting started. One night I was asleep in my bed, dreaming of the X-Men as they battled the tyrannical tin-cans: the Sentinels.  I watched vividly through the eyes of Wolverine as I launched myself to leap at a Sentinel's head with my claws extended. There was only one problem.

I was on the top bunk.

My eyes opened as I sailed weightless for a second past the spinning ceiling fan before gravity reasserted it's hold. In a surreal flash that was like I was still in the dream, not fully within the confines of reality I plummeted faster than I could consciously register. I struck my head hard against the floor, square on it's top. A chain reaction of electric fire shot down my spine like a cascade of shattered glass. Pain exploded like I had never before known. Somehow I had managed to avoid any real injury, a fact that I have never fully accepted. I mean sometimes injuries can haunt you, and that one has at times resurfaced from memory when there was some vague feeling of discomfort in my spine.

Clearly, I lack an adamantium skeleton or the healing factor of Wolverine.

Which leads me to my most recent act of less than heroic grandeur. There was a loud crash in our kitchen accompanied by a clatter of metal. Naturally, since it was late, and I am a father I decided to investigate. What villainous plot could be afoot, I wondered. Catching my gaze was a cat posing himself to flee the scene of the crime, where he had tried to get at some remains of a roasted chicken. His target now upside down on the floor and successfully forming a mess.

Now, it was at this point I took a step to close the distance and simply pick the cat up so as to deposit it outside while I cleaned up the mess. Otherwise it would of been mostly me trying to swat him away and little would get cleaned. Instead the cat decided to run. Another few steps and I was proving an inescapable foe when he stopped in his tracks. But when I reached for him this time he quickly changed direction and managed to bounce off my feet to run off behind me.

It was then that I knew it had all been a ruse. My feet slid free of the floor beneath them to carry me aloft and the floor joined the cat in it's plot to strike me from behind. Hard. The fall itself, wasn't anything to worry over, I have in all honesty fallen countless times. I instinctively knew I could just roll over and get up with little more than some grunts from the sudden shock of impact.

Alas, I was terribly mistaken. A similar electric fire now decided to swim up from my tailbone and into my lower spine. And in that moment I knew the fury of Bruce Banner. The only thought that could form, aside from the obvious ouch was vengeance.  I fought to claw my way up from the evil floor to renew my efforts against the cat to only be denied.

My merciful wife opened the door as I watched helpless to aid the cat in his escape from my clutches.

Unfortunately I am still bruised and swollen from my not so heroic endeavors. And I really would of given anything to have been able to call on almost any super power then. The cat is still under the protective veil of my wife's charity, and now I have more proof to show my kids that I am indeed not superman. Well, that and then there are all those jokes everyone(especially my wife) are enjoying at my pride's expense.

*sigh* At least now I know who my enemies are. The cat-floor alliance will fall, mark my words. and please, take my advice, keep your eyes on yours too. They'll plot against you...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Measuring A Technician By His Mug.

It is no surprising revelation that among the pop-culture image of technicians and electricians they are often depicted with coffee cup in hand. Now, I can speak from experience that this is no myth nor is it just a trendy thing for said groups to do. Actually, more often than not you generally see such skilled laborers drinking coffee and/or smoking too.

When I went to college I entered into a program(as I may of mention before) that wasn't new or ground-breaking. What it was, though, was a tried and true method of teaching someone key skills. I wanted to know how to fix computers when I started my education, but more than that I just wanted to know how they worked. Did I start with a basic introduction to computers course? No. I sat alongside other students as we learned the basic, ground-floor fundamentals of electrical and electronic circuits.

I spent 2 and a half years taking more than the maximum amount of hours normally limited by the school studying everything I could. When I wasn't in class I was doing homework, working for the school or working another job at night before driving 30-45 minutes home to crash. All this while married with a kid and another on the way. Like many of my fellow classmates I drank coffee all day. I wasn't a smoker, and never have been but many of my peers never missed a chance to add nicotine to their caffeine fueled metabolisms.

But do you know something? Our teachers always had a bigger coffee cup. And the best ones, the most senior instructors with the most experience under their belts; they had the biggest of all. The head of my entire program managed to keep no less than 2 coffee pots on in his office at all times and an assortment of mugs trailing him from office to class rooms like breadcrumbs. All while keeping a cigar stub in hand or mouth always.

After I graduated, I would always note wherever I worked the unspoken scale of people's coffee cups. You can laugh all you want, but the truth of the matter is a simple one. Technical minded workers are statistically proven to work long hours in all number of different environments. They're performance depends on the sharpness of their mind and ability to focus. Troubleshooting for long periods, not to mention a boss pressuring you to get a key piece of equipment back online also means that sometimes they're late for lunches or breaks. That, or they have to be skipped all together.  The end result is a steady coffee drinking habit.

How can I justify the claim that skill correlates with the size of a coffee cup you ask? That is the easiest one of all. You see the younger less experienced technician is often the least senior. Because of this they are often given menial tasks or sent on errands. Couple that with their inexperience and they don't know all the little tricks to expedite their work. Which means they have less and less time to drink their coffee. The older and better technician however has considerable knowledge and skill to allow them to diagnose exactly what is the problem, and then get it fixed as quickly as possible.

Oh, and don't forget; the more vital the technician's skill - the less likely the boss is going to trouble them over a simple matter. Not when a lower ranking one can handle it. You want to keep the big mug happy and supplied with his coffee. Cause you never know when you need him working those long hours in the middle of the night keeping that key equipment going when nobody else can.

So, remember; respect the guy with the bigger mug. Chances are, not only has he earned it, but you will probably need his advice sometime. Perhaps then you can someday be holding a bigger mug yourself.

Which reminds me, I could use a warm up...

You Never Let A Fellow Scribe Down

I got to thinking recently about writers, in general, so to speak. And you know,
something occurred to me. Every writer I have ever met, no matter how isolated or
prone to hermit-like behavior always knew another writer. It's like an unspoken rule that,
much like those fabled immortals they seem to be drawn together. Be it a
collaborator or old friend, chances are if you know someone who even writes as a
hobby they in turn know at least one other writer personally.

Ironic as it may be it is simply a part of the nature of things. Over the years
I have had the fortune to come into contact with some great writers, some I can
even claim as friends. Which is another post for another time. Long story short,
when one of them approached me about writing a piece for their blog I jumped at
the chance.

Mitchell Willie contacted me recently about doing a post for
his blog. A great author in his own right he has been working on
some projects of late that includes some children's books. While I wracked my
noodle on what to write for him it reminded me of a recent bedtime story I told
one of my own children.One I have been told repeatedly by my wife that has to be shared.
A wise man listens to the advice of his spouse.

If a single child enjoys it, or your own inner child, then it was worth sharing.

Kindness Is Magic.

For more great stuff, keep your eyes on

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trah-Dition! Tradition.


It's a word that holds so much weight, at least to me it does. Christmas like all holidays are built on that very word, it's the very nature of our culture. Now, we're all different, and no two people will celebrate the holidays the same. So, it only stands to reason that we all uphold different traditions.

For me, one tradition of the season was a simple, albeit somewhat cliché one: Chestnuts. Growing up my Grandfather had chestnut trees that grew in his yard, those tress used to call to me. They just begged to be climbed and explored. We'd spend hours as children on brisk fall days clambering about their boughs and branches. Not without peril mind you, but that is something about chestnuts - most people don't really know about them. Aside from the obvious bad jokes and a line from a song, most people couldn't tell you what a chestnut even looks like, or how it tastes.

 You see, a chestnut grows inside a armored husk of sorts, its exterior becoming a spiky mace like ball that dangles until the weight of itself severs a tenuous fiber strand. My Grandfather would every week without fail rake up the fallen husks into piles under the trees. He would always caution us about them, but I don't think once I ever saw his fear or worry about us getting hurt playing around them. Honestly, over the years we became experts at removing splinter like needles from ourselves after my Grandmother and Mother had already done it for us thousands of times.

The husks themselves are more than just dangerous, they're tough. We mastered a fine art of using our shoes in a way by standing just so on one to try and force them to burst open along little seems. When the time is right you can even see a slight gap that lets the deep brown chestnut wink at you. But that is not the end of the Chestnuts defenses, left to foil your attempts is a thin robust shell that doesn't yield easily. Generally we'd rush inside with sand buckets full to seize shiny silver nut crackers that was always at the ready, bread tie twisted at their base to keep them closed. On occasion though, we were known to manage to pierce the shell somewhat with our teeth(something I do not recommend you to try by the way) and pick the shell away.

Once you had managed to bypass all it's defenses, a brilliant yellow morsel was left before you, marked with little wrinkles almost like a tiny brain. Sometimes they were dulled shades of pale grey-white, but then those you learned were the bad ones. Every year like clockwork we'd wait for it be just the right time of year to attack those Chestnut trees for their treacherous treasures.  We'd come home with brown paper bags full of the things. For me, Christmas time was simply Chestnut time.

Sadly however as we got older nature would slowly ravage those trees, denying us that precious prize. By the time they were gone I had thought that one simple delight would be forever denied me. Nobody else I knew could claim they had grown up with Chestnut trees, nowhere around me were they available. Save once, one year a small local grocery store had a few small square trays of Styrofoam. Plastic wrap clung to those dark delights, but again I was left to mourn as only a small handful was ever available.

To this very day, I haven't tasted or even seen a Chestnut in almost 10 years. I'd give anything to enjoy one again, much less share that tradition with my own kids. I've even tried to get my hands on a tree to plant of my own. Some traditions, however, are lost to us no matter what we do. But other tradition are left to us to keep and cherish. And those prized memories will always be with me. Much like the smooth feel of a Chestnut tree's bark or the sound of wind as it rustles through the leaves.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

And In The Begining There Was Cyber-Wars.

It all started on a carpeted bedroom floor, grey gloom the only mark left by the day. Images still held my mind like carbonite encased Han Solo. Only a handful of people would probably ever remember those early days, back when a scrawny awkward boy tried his hand at taming his wild imagination and putting it to use. Immediately I found myself winging stories and delighting those who got to take part in them.

Back then, two words seemed to encompass every ounce of excitement you could have with a few friends, a notepad and some dice: Cyber-Wars. Originally everything was simple, the options for players so fundamentally generic. Wanted to play a cyborg, no problem, pick a cybernetic limb. If you had some imagination and picked a cybernetic tail then it was easy you just called yourself scorpion.

But as I grew up I kept seeing things that Cyber-Wars lacked. The stories that could be told kept becoming more and more limited. Fortunately, I could also see where it could grow and all the new avenues it could promise. It took years to refine and develop the setting that had been born out of sheer whimsy after hearing on that fateful day about this wonderful new kind of game my cousin had watched his brother starting to play.

Over almost 21 years Cyber-Wars has morphed from it's infant form into a refined and mature setting with the help of brave and adventures souls. Without them, exploring it's depths, it could never have fully fleshed it's way out into the form it has become. Some have forgotten the times spent rolling dice and being swept away to an imaginary universe, others still talk in excited tones and mutter things like "Oh remember that one time..."

In the end, few things have ever touched me deeper than seeing those dearest me get to experience a portion of something born of my imagination and be left smiling. So, every once in awhile, when someone asks me how did Requiem ever begin, I get to smile. And deep down in the back of my mind I can see 3 boys,  dice rolling on carpet as one asks those immortal words: "so you just roll them, and then what?"

What indeed. 

Derek, Andy, Joe; You guys helped ignite the spark.
Teal, Mitchell, Jon, Courtney, without you the flame would have never caught and grown.
I owe to you all the gratitude I can ever give.