Every Journey Begins At Level One

Every Journey Begins At Level One

I play a lot of video games, so some things are much easier for me to get a handle on when they are restructured in gaming terms. As part of my big 2016 Epic Life Relaunch Of Awesome (patent and details pending), I have put a great deal of thought into exactly how I plan on making all the life changes I have decided upon when I don’t exactly have a great track record of sticking to habits, maintaining resolutions, or even finishing sentenc-

Hey, look! A squirrel!

What was I saying? Oh, right. Video games and building good habits.

The idea of gamification has been around for a while, and there have been countless books, blog posts, and apps written about it, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about how it works. This post is about how to take those ideas to start again with a mindset more geared toward success. This is how I plan on achieving my various goals, and I hope it helps you as well.

At Level One, You Have Nowhere To Go But Up

In (almost) every role-playing game, whether it be tabletop, pen-and-paper, or pixelized on the screen, your character begins at level 1. You have a rusty old sword, no armor to speak of, and a high likelihood of being wiped out by the first knoll, goblin, or slime to cross your path. To be blunt, it sucks. You can’t rush off to complete any quests, you can’t fight any boss monsters, and the loot tables are more likely to reward you with an old bucket for your efforts than a +5 Magical Sword of Stabbing Stuff.

But you can beat up rats, complete tiny little mini-quests, and wander around doing minor tasks to gain experience points.

The same applies to your big life goals. For example: I want to lose weight. A lot of weight. Maybe more than you weigh. I’ve tried for years and always failed. Lately, I’ve begun to think that it’s because I aimed too high. I gripped my -1 Dagger of Suckage, pulled on my Pantaloons of Disappointment, and charged right into Castle Weight Loss. And I got my substantial rear end handed to me along with a side of curly fries.

So, how do you avoid my mistake? You start small. You complete mini-quests. You take a sack lunch to work instead of eating out. +5 experience. You go for a five-minute walk. +10 experience. You make a healthy dinner at home instead of picking up a bag of burgers. +25 experience.

It adds up. Seriously.

Restarting At Level One Lets You Start Over

Like me, you’ve probably tried (and failed) to accomplish a major goal. You’re disappointed, disheartened, and probably wondering whether or not you will ever have the willpower, time, or whatever else you feel you did not have in sufficient quantities to complete your task. So, the next time you try, you start even farther back from where you began. Maybe you weigh more, maybe you haven’t written in ages, or maybe you’re on the verge of transforming into some kind of wombat and have a powerful urge to run off into the forest.

I think that’s what happened to that one newscaster who gave up his job. You know, the one with the hair who read the news?

Forget all that. Take an amnesia potion, turn a new page, and re-roll your character. None of that matters any more. You’re starting over, and this time will be different. This time, you’re going to break down that epic quest of awesome into bite-size single steps of reasonability, and you’re going to start working your way a little at a time every day until you reach level two, level three, and so on until you reach maximum level and build a throne out of swords or dragon hide or Lego bricks.

Forgive yourself and start again. The mountain is high, but you’re wearing sensible shoes.

Every Hero Starts At Level One

No one is born a hero. J.K. Rowling didn’t come into the world with the first three Harry Potter novels plotted, Scott Kelly’s first words weren’t, “Hi, Mom. I’m going to be an astronaut,” and Abraham Lincoln was not born with the Emancipation Proclamation in-hand (though he did have the top hat; thanks, Wikipedia!). They all started at level one and worked their way up. That’s the way everyone does it, and you are no different than them.

Though you may not have as magnificent a top hat as Lincoln, but finding one can be a quest if you want it to.

They worked their way up from the beginning, they put in the work, and they crawled and scraped and fought their way to epic status. There is nothing preventing you from doing the same other than whatever limitations you place on yourself.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty did not build the great wall without a massive amount of effort divided into a million tiny improvements. They just kept putting one more brick in the wall (as described in the Pink Floyd audio-documentary) until they were done. You won’t lose a hundred pounds or write your novel or change the world without your own massive effort, but no one ever said you had to do it in a day, or that you were a failure if you couldn’t do it all at once.

Choose a healthy sandwich over a burger and fries? You’re a winner.

Wrote 500 words on that novel you’ve been dreaming about? You’re a winner, too.

It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, and there is no shame in killing slimes until you level up and can fight stronger battles.

Just keep at it a little at a time. You will get there eventually.

So, what sort of epic quest are you undertaking? Are you writing a novel, building muscle, starting a business? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share this post on social media. Thanks for reading, and full steam ahead!

Why Depression Is Like A Bond Villain

Why Depression Is Like A Bond Villain

Like many people of creative persuasion, I have spent the majority of my life fighting against Depression in its various forms. When I was younger, I didn’t see it for what it was, but now that I have a few years and a few miles behind me, I am better equipped to see things for what they are, especially things that wander around in masks like every day is Halloween or some (even more) twisted version of Eyes Wide Shut. Depression is one of those things, and I think it can be summed up like this:

Depression isn’t just that jerk pretending to be your friend who deep down wants you to fail. Depression is a Bond villain, and we, dear readers, are 007.

But instead of going on wild adventures to exotic places, drinking vodka martinis (shaken, obviously), and playing with all manner of cool gadgets, we just end up sitting in the dark, clutching a blanket, hating ourselves, and eating ourselves into oblivion.

Still not sure about the parallels? Let me break it down.

Depression’s Influence Is All Over Your Story

In a (good) Bond film, the invisible fingers of the villain are there from nearly the very first scene. While it may not seem related at first, Dr. Depression is a cunning sort who is always there, watching from the shadows and manipulating events as if playing an elaborate board game.

Dr. Depression knows that after a bad day at work, the last thing you want to do is go home to a healthy meal, a shower, and some downtime. The lights on the drive-thru fast food joint appear a little brighter, the French fries and quadruple bacon cheeseburger look a little tastier, and by Dawkins, you deserve a little reward after dealing with that nasty client or surviving another day, don’t you?

Of course, once the food is gone, you’re left with nothing but a stomachache, a credit card bill you didn’t need, and 5,000 calories more than you’d planned on eating. And all the while, Dr. Depression just sits back, smiling and stroking his pet honey badger while you sit in a pool of self-hatred.

Depression Lies. A Lot. Just to Be Evil.

And that’s when the whispers begin.

In the back of your mind, the voice of Dr. Depression is incessant. He whispers nothing but lies, and we believe them because they reinforce what we already tell ourselves.

You’re weak.

Nothing you do matters

You don’t deserve to be loved.

And the big one…

You do deserve to feel miserable.

None of those things are true, but we still believe them. And even if we find the strength to voice those fears aloud and are told by someone who cares that they are lies, we continue to believe them. That’s because Dr. Depression is a very good liar. He has been doing it for a long time, and we have always been the target.

Depression Plans Elaborate Ways To Hurt You

Near the climax of every James Bond film, our hero finds himself trapped in some sort of elaborate death trap. He may be strapped to a table with a laser ready to cut him in half. Maybe he’s chained to a pipe in a room rapidly filling with water.

The first Austin Powers movie spoofed this brilliantly with the platform that casually lowered the heroes into a pool of water filled with ill-tempered mutated sea bass.

Well, Dr. Depression has similar plans for us, but they are usually more conniving, more subtle, and far more difficult to escape. Part of the reason is that we are, on a subconscious level, complicit in his plans.

Dr. Depression wants to hurt us, and because he has us so thoroughly convinced that we deserve it, our subconscious brains are more than happy to play Jones to Dr. Depression’s Dr. No.

While we may not be on the verge of being sawn in half, we face elaborate traps of our own.

Let’s say you’re in the office and it’s someone’s birthday, so there’s a cake. Being that cake is awesome (though still not as good as pie), you want a piece. But you want to lose weight, and after hours of research, you know very well just how many empty calories are in that cake, so you say no.

But you want it, and you resent not letting yourself have it until you finally give in and grab a slice. You wolf it down, but take no pleasure in it because you spend the entire time beating yourself up over it. Then, at lunch, you ignore your brown bag lunch and get a burger. After all, you’ve blown your diet for the day, so there’s no use in holding back.

This leads into a spiral of self-ridicule and inward anger that drags on and on and just gets worse and worse as the day goes on.

Depression Attacks The People You Love

Most of the time, no one around you has the slightest clue about the continuous berating coursing through your head as the day goes on. You smile and pretend that nothing is wrong. You don’t want them to know how broken you are inside. So you continue on, and the loathing and sadness and everything else builds up in your gut.

Until it becomes too much and erupts.

The result of Dr. Depression’s parade of lies, whispers, and plots to drive you deeper and deeper into his clutches is, like most explosions, collateral damage.

Maybe you shout at your child when they want attention. Maybe you snap at a client or a co-worker. Maybe you say something terrible to your spouse and hurt their feelings.

Which begins a whole new cycle, reinforcing the belief that you don’t deserve to be loved and that nothing will ever get better.

Depression Can Be Beaten

No matter how impossible the situation or how bad the odds, in the end, James Bond always rises victorious. The world is saved, the villain dies or ends up in prison, and Bond relaxes with a beautiful companion and a glass of champagne.

Still, the villain may well survive and come back to fight another day. Just before the credits roll, you see a hand reaching out of the rubble or some hint that he will rise again. This is certainly the case when it comes to Dr. Depression. That doesn’t make the victory any less real, or the reward any less sweet.

The battle against Depression is an ongoing one. It never truly ends. But that doesn’t mean that there is no hope, or that there is no point in waging the war. Every day you wake up, every choice you make, every breath you take, I’ll be watching you is another chance to strike a blow against Depression.

You are worth it, and you don’t deserve to be depressed.

Let me repeat that: You ARE worth it, and you don’t deserve to be depressed.

Fight the good fight, and full steam ahead.

Deadpool Movie Review

My Little Deadpool Movie Review

Deadpool is one of those comic book characters that just doesn’t seem to fit in the cinematic universe that Marvel has been building. He’s vulgar, hilarious, violent with the joy of a kitten playing with string, and he knows that he is a comic book character. If Marvel had tried to take Deadpool and make a movie with the same sort of tone it has used thus far, it would have been a catastrophic failure.

But lucky for us, the Deadpool movie is a completely different sort of chimichanga. Here is my review.

First, The Story

Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. If you go into Deadpool looking for a compelling story full of twists, turns, and an ending to rival A Walk to Remember *ahem* The Dark Knight, you’re going to be disappointed.

On its most barebones level, the origin story of this incarnation of the merc with the mouth is nothing extraordinary. Take your generic superhero origin story, change up the names, and you have something fairly akin to what you receive here. But that doesn’t matter. I didn’t show up expecting Shakespeare, and if you’re at all familiar with the character, I doubt you did either.

Fourth Wall SMASH!

From the opening credits, you know what sort of movie you’re in for. Without going into any spoilers, let me just say that within thirty seconds, the filmmakers had set a tone that was strong, unapologetic, and undoubtedly in keeping with the history of Deadpool.

Not only do they break the fourth wall every few moments, there are moments when they do it with such alacrity and just pure joy that you can’t help but smile. There is one sequence in particular, you’ll know it when you see it, that they take the concept of breaking the fourth wall, smash it into bits, blow it up, stomp on it a few times, and then shoot it into space.

I may be exaggerating. But then, maybe I’m not.

What About The Characters?

When the first Wolverine movie hit the theatres, I remember people being excited when it was revealed that Ryan Reynolds would be playing Deadpool in that movie. The level of snark and I-don’t-care-I’m-just-going-to-say-what-I-want that we are used to from the comics seemed right in line with Ryan Reynolds’s comedic style.

But we all know how that turned out.

Just rest assured that this time, what we get matches up with those early expectations. Ryan Reynolds is pitch-perfect as Deadpool, and you could feel with every line just how much fun he was having. This is one of those cases when the actor seems to have been genetically-engineered to play a particular character. Like Robert Downey Jr with Tony Stark. Or Judi Dench with… everything.

Seriously, have you seen Judi Dench act? Amazing stuff. Too bad she’s not in this movie. That would have been amazing.

We also have Morena Baccarin as Vanessa, the love interest whose subplot drives much of the film. While we may be used to her playing elegant, dignified characters a la Inara from Firefly.

Hoo boy, does she not do that here.

Not that she doesn’t do a great job or portray a likeable character. Vanessa may be a ball of crazy, but she’s an adorable ball of crazy, and it’s obvious why our titular character loves her so much.

But what I like most about her performance is that she isn’t just the damsel in distress or the woman waiting at home for her man to come back to her. No, this is a character with some agency. And yes, while she may or may not get kidnapped at one point in the film, she is no wilting flower. This is a woman who knows what she wants and fights for it. I just wish more female characters in media could be portrayed in such a way.

I don’t have much to say about the villain. Sure, he was a bit generic, but the movie does a great job of making you hate him almost as soon as he appears on the screen. Nothing compelling, but plenty enough to give you something to root against.

And, of course, there are all manner of minor characters. Colossus, the straight man. Negasonic Teenage Warhead (cool name) as the moody teen. TJ Miller in what for him is actually a somewhat low-key performance, but still solid. Even Blind Al, Deadpool’s roommate. All these characters add to the whole in a way that keeps things interesting and provides plenty of opportunities for that classic Deadpool snark to show itself.

And The Spectacle

From start to finish, the Deadpool movie is a joy to behold, a symphony of vulgarity and violence such has never graced a comic book movie before.

Sure, there is quite a bit of CG, and some of that CG varies in terms of quality, but I think that’s part of the charm. You’re never meant to believe that what you are seeing is real. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that separation seems appropriate for a movie about someone who knows that he’s in a movie.

Oh, And One More Thing

Whatever you do, make sure you stay until the end of the credits. There is a post-credits sequence that may be my single favorite in the history of movies.

Stay and watch it. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re in the demographic that the movie aims for.

And if you don’t get it, I’m sorry. You missed one hell of a reference.

Well, I guess that’s all I have to say about the Deadpool movie. I know this is a movie review, but I don’t think I’m going to give it a star rating. I enjoyed the beans out of it, and it made me forget for two hours just how sick I was at the time, but your mileage may vary.

But I would never even think to allow anyone under 18 to see this movie. No way.

If you are a fan of the character at all, if you like heaps of sarcasm served up with a mountain of comedy and drenched with extreme violence, or if you want to see the comic book movie formula blown up, you’re in for a great time.

So, have you seen the movie yet? If so, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. If you haven’t, what is your favorite comic book movie and why?

That’s all from me. Full steam ahead!

Photo Credit

A Rad Time At The Con: RadCon 2016 Recap

Like many of you, I’m something of an introvert. Public speaking makes me wish I were a turtle so I could hide in my shell (or fight crime, if I were the ninja variety), and I don’t like crowds, so the idea of attending a science fiction and fantasy convention presented a certain measure of dread. This was compounded by the fact that J and I were attending as active members of the Central Washington Authors Guild (and me as the reluctant shepherd of this particular group of authorcats). So, it was with a mountain of apprehension and a belly full of nerves that we set out across the central Washington desert in search of the raddest (not to mention most radioactive, hence the name) of cons, RadCon 7.

Now, safely back within the confines of my fortress of solitude, I would like to take a few minutes and ruminate about the events of the past weekend. The good, the bad, the indifferent, and the cosplay.

We arrived on Thursday night, ahead of the actual con, in order to be on-site when our author group assembled early Friday morning to build our little bookstore. The convention hotel was built in another time, and we could feel the weight of those years as we shuffled down the corridor, laden with luggage. The ancient elevator chugged and strained to raise us to the third floor, and the scent of burning wire and electricity raised a few hairs by the time the doors opened, but we reached our destination without too much incident.

The next morning, that elevator, the only semi-functional one in the hotel as far as I knew, coughed its last and was thus festooned with miles of caution tape to ward away any convention-goers in search of modern conveyance. Since our last trip down that elevator that morning involved a brief drop followed by a more leisurely descent to the ground floor, we felt that perhaps the stairs were the much safer option. Still, for a gentleman of such significant proportions as myself, that presented an entirely different set of challenges.

Still, the weekend was filled with far more than back pain and falling death-traps. We attended a variety of panels featuring artists, authors, and podcasters (including Scott C. Brown and Andy Dopieralski of Dead Gentlemen and Two Bards in a particularly funny panel about getting started as a podcaster). We ate some excellent Chinese-American food from a local restaurant (whose delivery man was intensely confused by all the cosplay when he arrived) that was nearly as good the second day. But the highlight of the weekend was attending a talk hosted by Toby Froud that included a screening of his short film Lessons Learned.

You may remember Toby as the baby from the brilliant Jim Henson movie Labyrinth, which featured both David and his Bowie. Since those long-ago days, Toby has grown into a charming young man (gin and pickles, did I just say that?) and an excellent artist in the vein of his parents, both of whom were highly influential during those early days of the Jim Henson Company. He demonstrated how muppet-style puppeteering works and showed off a pair of puppets he used during the production of his film. It was a great time, and everyone seemed to have fun. Frances Pauli, in particular, nearly fangirled herself to death when she actually got to play with one of those puppets.

But despite all the great panels, fascinating guest speakers, and cosplay in all shades of kawaii to terrifying, our group was there to work, sell books, and make contacts with local authors. For weeks, I have been thrashing from one bundle of stress to another in trying to prepare for setting up and running the Radcon bookstore. Looking back at it now, most of that worry was completely unfounded.

The store we set up looked great, and there was very little drama in either the setup or execution. While we did not make up the cost of the room in overall sales, it was by far our best sales year since we began attending, and everyone in the group sold at least one book. I have to admit a little thrill when a sweet lady bought a copy of My Name Is Michael Bishop and asked me to sign it after J pointed out that I was the author. I’m still really proud of that book. Maybe I should write another.

Somehow, I managed to get through the weekend without spending myself into oblivion. Other than food expenses, the only trinket I purchased during my stay was a pose-able rubber dragon that looked very much like one of the characters in an upcoming story.

Needless to say, the final return to our single-story home was such an immense relief that I celebrated with fourteen hours of sleep. Of course, now I’m awake and struggling to return to the normalcy of Life Before the Con. While it may have the benefits of effective air conditioning and a decided lack of stairs to climb, it is certainly less colorful and runs at a far slower pace.

Bring on RadCon 2017.

Now Available: Broken Habit

Broken Habit Steampunk Novella Book CoverMy fantasy / steampunk novella Broken Habit is now available as a standalone on Amazon!

It appeared originally in the Central Washington Authors Guild anthology Assassins, along with several other excellent stories. Click on the cover (I made it myself; so pretty!) or the link below to check it out.

Sister Estella Porras has served the Order of Aramina for many years not only as a nun, but as a secret hunter and assassin tasked with cleansing the world of demons.

When she discovers that a powerful demon has not only infiltrated the Order, but gained a position of great influence, she is the only one capable of ending that threat before it can destroy everything she believes in.

With the High Matriarch’s airship due to arrive any day and the entire Order hunting her for a murder she did not commit, will she be able to challenge the demon, or is she doomed to remain the prey?

Buy On Amazon

Book-Review-Ready-Player-One-By-Ernest-Cline

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready-Player-One-Book-CoverShall we play a game?

On second thought, skip that. I’ve never been very good at thermonuclear war, and the only way to win tic-tac-toe is to not play.

Instead, let’s delve into the online world of the OASIS in Ernest Cline’s science-fiction-cyberpunk-gaming-80s-reference-fest Ready Player One.

Holy [Insert Reference], Batman!

The first thing you need to know about this book is that is it aimed solely, squarely, and with all intents and purposes directly at the heart of the geek community. Hardly a paragraph passes without some sort of reference, quote, or allusion to the geek culture of the 80s.

Ready Player One takes the reference-saturated jargon of the nerd world and injects it into every aspect of the writing, story, and world. One minute you’re seeing a Delorean with a Ghostbusters logo on the door, and the next, you’re quoting War Games word for word.

And it’s awesome. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course. Which I am.

Number 5 Need Inpu- No, Wait, Too Much!

So. Many. Infodumps.

As a writer, one of the first rules that gets stamped on every critique, solicited or not, is that the writer must avoid loosing a torrent of trivia and burying the reader under a mountain of minutia. The theory is that it slows the pacing and brings the story to a halt, especially when it happens every few pages.

Cline breaks this rule over his knee, waves around the pieces, and then sits on them while he tells you about the history of video games.

Child of the 80s and oldschool gamer that I am, I didn’t mind these pauses in the narrative in the least. I’ve been known to wax at length about the history of computers and video games, 80s pop culture, and the like, so I was right there with him as he described the history of Tennis For Two, Spacewar!, and the like.

Of course, I am hardly in the majority in this regard. If you are one of those who just wants to blaze through the story and not get caught up in the lore of his world and ours, you may be in for a bit of a slog.

Cyberpunk Meets Teen Angst Meets Gaming History Meets Frankenstein Meets…

The book manages to be a lot of things at the same time. At it’s core, it is a science fiction cyberpunk tale about growing up in a world in which the alternate reality of an online game is so far superior to the real world that most people come up for breath only when absolutely necessary.

It is also, as I mentioned earlier, a sort of primer on the culture of the 80s and the evolution of gaming during that time. This is done primarily through the use of the aforementioned lore-heavy infodumps, but they are always relevant to the plot and characters at hand.

Since the majority of the characters reside squarely in their late teens (though some of them are somewhat younger in the mental sense), there is no lack of the sort of drama or angst that permeates every aspect of the teen worldview. Life isn’t fair, everything sucks, everyone is out to get me (which, admittedly, is sort of true, in a way), girls are amazing and terrifying, and there’s a whole world outside that I never really realized was there.

The protagonist does a great deal of whining throughout the story, but he also manages to be proactive and interesting at the same time. It can be a difficult balance to pull off, and Ready Player One does it well.

Want some romance to go along with that coming of age drama? Here you go. And while we’re at it, let’s make it with sort of gamer grrl that is the great white stag of the teenage gamer guy. Fun and witty and acerbic as hell.

And what would be better than the inclusion of a criminal megacorporation out for world domination, no matter who they have to crush in the process?

A Mirror Into A Larger, More Connected World

Like all good science fiction, a good deal of reality is reflected through the lens of one possible future. In a world that exists mostly online, things like identity, real personal appearance, geographic location, and social status blue. At times, they become totally irrelevant.

At least until you get smacked in the face with the harsh reality that things like prejudice, class warfare, injustice, and deception simply become as amorphous as the artificial world in which they worm themselves.

Ready Player One presents a world with shades of real possibility, even though it has been veneered with a dozen coats of pop culture, video game references, and the worldview of a new adult who has never known anything different.

It’s a hell of a ride, and a lot of fun. Five stars. One of my favorite books ever. You should read it right now.

I’ll wait.

So, how was it? Did you like it, or is it not something you’re particularly interested in? Leave me a note in the comments below, and don’t forget to share my Ready Player One review with all your friends. Hell, share it with your enemies, too. They deserve a good read as much as anyone.

Tomorrow's-Regrets-and-Yesterday's-Mistakes

Tomorrow’s Regrets and Yesterday’s Mistakes

Photo Credit

This morning, a co-worker informed me that his sister, who has been fighting cancer for some time, has only a month left to live. Possibly three if all goes well with her chemo. The cancer, which began in her lungs, has spread throughout her body and taken up prominent residence in her brain, where it’s set up shop, picked out china patterns, and redone the wallpaper.

It’s a terrible thing, fighting a losing battle, but it’s not the cancer I’m referring to. It’s the reflection on everything that came before. The regrets. The life that should have been, but somehow never manifested while there was still time.

Yeah, I know this isn’t my usual light-hearted fare, stuffed with Ninja Turtle references, dry humor, and a dollop of sarcasm, but stick with me. I’ll try to make it worth your while.

The Life That Should Have Been

When facing the end of a journey, any journey, you can’t help but look back on it and reflect. Sure, there are good memories. A good meal, an evening with friends, a smile from a pretty girl that you’re mostly sure wasn’t patronizing. But we don’t focus on those things. They’re still there and we can remember them when we make the effort, but they’re not the focus.

Instead, too many people look back and see only the missed opportunities, the mistakes, the things they should have done now that they’re older, hopefully a bit wiser, and have a few more XPs than they did when they started out.

I mean, who hasn’t done something stupid like attacking the darkness and wasting their magic missile spell on a joke, then ended up with a one-way ticket through the digestive system of a storm dragon. Am I right?

The advertising executive looks back and wonders what happened to his dream to be a rock star. The rock star ponders whether his life would have been better if he’d been a doctor like his mother wanted. The doctor, unable to heal himself, dreams of a life where he’d gone into advertising and wrote jingles and got to say with no irony whatsoever, But wait, there’s more!

<EltonJohn>It’s the circle of should, and it moves us all…</EltonJohn>

Why Do We Wait So Long?

So, if we look back and see so prominently all the things we should have done, all the risks we should have taken, all the opportunities we let slip through our fingers, why didn’t we just grab them in the first place?

I think fear plays a big role. We want to be safe. We want to be taken care of. We don’t want to risk what we have in the hopes of finding something more. A job in a cubicle listening to your neighbor complain about his lost stapler is a safer and more financially-stable choice than starting your own business or playing music at a club on weekends for tips and free drinks (no more than two; be responsible, kids).

Not only that, but we want to belong. We don’t want to stand out. That sort of acceptance and peer pressure can be a powerful motivator to act or not to act (but what is the question?). Facing that disappointment and resistance can be every bit as much of an obstacle as the Black Gate. The best we dare to hope for is to see an oliphaunt on the way.

Regrets, Rain Checks, and Roller Skates

In my own life, I have a number of regrets, long-lost dreams, and shoulds have have fallen to the wayside. When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. I loved reading and stories and writing my own. There were even a few times when I won some acknowledgment or other.

But things changed. That dream fell away to new interests, new obsessions. It’s only in recent years that I have circled around and rediscovered writing. I only wish I’d done it sooner.

But even now, I still find plenty of excuses reasons why I can’t write. One day I feel I have nothing to say, the next I’m too tired after dealing with a schizophrenic (literally; not making this up) walk-in at work, or maybe there just wasn’t enough time.

In any event, it was a rain check. I’d get back to it later.

Next month will be the third anniversary of the publication of My Name Is Michael Bishop. I’ve written a few stories and novellas since then, but nothing substantial. No novels, no forward progress. Eleventy-hundred writing and business books later, and my velocity zero.

This is normally the part where I say something inspiring. hold aloft my magic sword and say, By the power of Greyskull! I make a stand, promise to never do it again, and to attack my goal with such laser-focus that all of space and time will bow to my demands.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t make some small changes that hopefully will add up to a result.

A Brand New Day

Here is my seven point plan for guaranteed success likely modest improvement:

  • Figure Out What I Want – Obviously, you can’t figure out where you’re going until you have a destination. Mine is to be a career writer. Moving on!
  • Every Day, Take One Step – Momentum is the hardest thing to build up when you try something new, whether it’s exercising, building a new habit, starting a career, or launching a rocket into space. But the thing about momentum is that once you get started, it gets easier and easier to keep going. Every day, at least one step toward a goal. Even if you never pick up speed, you’ll get there in time.
  • Watch For Opportunities – On a recent podcast, the guest mentioned that she always found money when she went for a walk, but only when she was actively looking for it. It would make sense to be on the lookout for any such career opportunities. When one comes along, all you have to do is grab it, shake it around a bit, and gnaw on it in the sun until you get to the marrow.
  • Treat (Almost) Every Decision As A Possible Regret – Today’s mistake is tomorrow’s regret, so sayeth somebody (I hope I’m the first to come up with it). Each decision presents a fork in the road, and unless it’s an episode of Sliders, you only get to experience one. Hasty, panicked decisions are the express pass to regret, so I’m going to make an effort to be more deliberate in my decision-making.
  • Be Present – I don’t mean wrapping myself up in paper and putting a bow on my head (though J may threaten to do it to me to be silly); what I mean is making an effort to not just coast through the day, waiting until I get through the things I have to do so I can get to the “good stuff.”
  • Never Give Up – When I launched My Name Is Michael Bishop, I had all sorts of unrealistic expectations about becoming a famous writer and selling tens of copies. That didn’t happen, and the disappointment put me off writing for a while. Now I know that this business, like so many others, is a long, hard battle up a steep hill while people throw rocks and insults. You only lose if you stop moving.
  • Number Seven – There is no number seven. Not even behind the curtain.

Regret has always been a part of life and will always be, especially when we approach the end of it. We (hopefully) still have a long way to go before we reach that point. While we may not become Brandon Sanderson or Charles Dickens or any of a thousand potential heroes along the way, as long as we push ourselves, look for opportunities, and try to leave the world a little better than it was when we found it, our lives had meaning, and nothing will be able to change that.

Wow, that was heavy. So, what do you think? Do you approach each day as an opportunity, and what do you plan to do to improve your lot? Leave a note in the comments below, and remember to share this post with your friends. Thanks for reading!

The-Gifts-of-Imperfection-Book-Review

Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The-Gifts-of-ImperfectionIf you’ve been following me on Goodreads this year (or stalking; don’t think I can’t see you hiding behind that squirrel), you have probably noticed that I’ve been reading a lot of self-help and life-improvement books this year. Part of that is due to a renewed effort to help myself (see what I did there?) improve my life (I did it again! +25 XP), break out of a decades-long depression, and just in general makes things better for myself and the people who put up with love me.

To some extent, despite a constant string of disasters and setbacks, I have done that. The latest book from which I sought to extract knowledge by means of dental pliers learn is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. The idea is to learn to accept yourself for who you are, faults and all, and show that same compassion to those around you. So, did it work, or did these Gifts of Imperfection turn out to be full of so much coal with much nicer, more personable hair than I’ll ever have?

Here we go.

There Is Still Hope

Why do you linger here here when there is no hope?
There is still hope.

When you struggle with the constant threat of self-shame and the depression that follows it around like an evil little puppy, it can be hard to remember that things can, and probably will, get better. One of the points made over and over is that perfectionism, along with much of the negativity we direct at ourselves and others, is the result of shame, and that shame’s kyptonite is compassion.

This gives you a weapon that you can deploy (or have Green Arrow shoot, if you have Justice League connections) when the shame kraken rises up out of the sea and tries to eat the Andromeda of your happiness.

No, that didn’t make any sense to me, either, although Andromeda of Happiness would be a great name for a Jefferson Starship cover band.

Basically, the idea is that you’re going to screw up, I’m going to screw up, and that’s okay. Forgiveness all around, and then we get on with our day. Things can’t suck forever. Just learn from your mistakes and try to not be a jerk.

A Roadmap to Compassion

The Gifts of Imperfection is divided up into what Brown refers to as guideposts. Each one is focused on a particular aspect of perfectionism. Think of them as minions of the shame kraken. Each one attacks you from a different angle in order to break down your self-esteem and make you put up all sorts of barriers that prevent you from seeing things objectively.

I thought that breaking things down this way made it easier to isolate and identify each of those little minions and attack them one at a time, rather than going after the shame kraken and its army all at once. Everyone stacks up differently when faced with those aspects of imperfection (which totally sounds like an Enigma album name). One person may be particularly weak against the fear of scarcity, while another might have a problem where they constantly compare themselves to others.

And if you have to face a Charmander, I recommend using Squirtle. Water Gun is super effective!

A Little to the Left

While I did learn a few things from this book and feel that, overall, I am better off for having read it, I couldn’t help shaking the feeling that I am not the target demographic. Most of the stories, anecdotes, and advice cover people and situations more in line with mothers, many of them single, and almost all of them of a strong financial background. As I have not (to my knowledge, at least) given birth to a baby human or become financially independent from my workplace, I felt a little left out.

This is not a mark against the book or anyone more suited to its material. It just would have been nice for it to be more inclusive for people in differing situations or less affluent monetary conditions.

I still want a Scrooge McDuck money bin. Ah well; maybe next year.

I’ll Have One With Everyone

As someone who has flirted with Buddhism (but never closed the deal; I’m not easy, you know), I couldn’t help but notice quite a few similarities between Buddhist teachings and many of the recommendations on the book. The central theme revolves around letting go of the fixations and obsessions that make you unhappy and color your perspective with excrement-colored glasses.

That’s some old-school sutra right there.

Spirituality is a fairly constant theme throughout the book, but it doesn’t seem to point the reader toward any particular faith. Maybe the idea is that happiness depends on having some sort of connection with something larger and more powerful than yourself, whether it’s God, Jesus, the universe, or Andre the Giant.

Have fun storming the castle.

So, the book. Definitely some good lessons, though many people may find themselves on the other side of the shop window, looking in and trying to gleam whatever knowledge they can from how the other half lives. The focus on spirituality may come across as new-age-ey, but I can understand why it was included. Like any self-help book, you’re free to take what you find helpful and ignore the rest.

Overall, I would have to say that while there are some good lessons to be had, the book isn’t perfect, and that’s okay. I forgive.

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Flash Fiction Fridays Shattered Irons Part 2

Flash Fiction Friday: Shattered Irons Part 2

Last time on Shattered Irons, Foren, rider of the horsebat Alfons and one of the world’s most accomplished nappers, awoke to the trouser-changing sound of his entire world turning upside-down, rending into pieces, and floating away on the wind.

His duty, limited as it was, was to watch over one of the four massive chains that tethered the floating mountain Atumar to the ground. Not that he minds; it’s a good place for a nap. Unfortunately, that nap was cut short when the ancient chain broke and the mountain began to drift…

Shattered Irons: Part 2

Foren wanted to run, to shut his eyes, to put that image out of his mind and go back to the world of five minutes before, when he rested comfortably on the sweet-smelling grass and tussled with Alfons. But, as his corner of the mountain climbed higher and the distant peak took on a decidedly eastward tilt, he only managed a single thought that was not laden with all manner of expletives.

My mother is going to kill me.

It was a silly, almost absurd consideration among the greater implications of the broken chain, but the numbing grip of shock held tight around his mind and had yet to let go. He just stood, mouth agape, staring up at the ever-tilting mountain Atumar.

He had to tell someone. Send a message. Find help. Fix the chain. Something.

A pathetic chitter and nudging at his back broke the cycle of futile thought and brought him back to some semblance of sense, though he doubted it would do much good. He looked back at Alfons, who lay low against the grass behind him, squeaking and shuffling his folded wings. The horsebat whined and fluttered his wings, and Foren scratched behind an ear to calm him.

“It’s not your fault, Alfons. You didn’t do this,” he soothed.

But the question remained: why did this happen now? The mountain had been tethered since long before people had settled the valley, and none of the chains had ever shown any signs of weakening.

He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the intense glare of the sun, now clearly visible around the tilted peak, and peered at the length of chain hanging from the edge of the mountain. From such a great distance, Foren could make out few details, but he guessed that the break had been at least a hundred and thirty feet off the ground. Assuming someone had done damage to the chain, there was no way up other than astride a horsebat.

None of the Juvesper he knew had reason to release the mountain, at least as far as he was aware. And none of the Walkers, those without horsebats, could reach so great a height. That is, not unless they had discovered some alternate means of flight that they had thus far kept to themselves.

Too many questions. Foren’s head spun, and none of the possibilities looked at all pleasant. With a heavy sigh, he mounted the saddle affixed to Alfons’s back and took up the reins. “Well, I’d say just about everyone within a hundred miles knows that something happened. We’d better get back before someone sends for us.”

Alfons whined again, but he obeyed easily enough, leaping into the air and streaking toward the distant village at the barest squeeze of Foren’s thighs. Even at such a distance, Foren could already see the tiny black dots the made up the horsebat cloud swarming as the Juvesper Assembly took to the sky.

Every one of which seemed to be headed in his direction.

And thus we conclude part 2 of Shattered Irons. Check back next week for part 3. Me, I’m as interested as anyone in finding out what happens. I’m not much of a pantser when it comes to writing, and the randomization of the story dice really shakes things up.

So, what did you think of part 2? Do you like where the story is headed, and do you have any ideas of where it may go? Let me know in the comments below, and if you enjoyed this story tidbit, please Like and Share on your social media of choice, and be sure to come back next time for Flash Fiction Friday: Shattered Irons Part 3.

Why I Stopped Eating Fast Food

Why I Stopped Eating Fast Food

Before we get started, I just want to point out that this post is in no way a damning of fast food itself, its legions of underpaid workers, or the corporate overlords who have so effectively blanketed the world in dollar burgers and super-sized cartons of fries. Don’t expect me to wax poetic about all the reasons why fast food is bad and how we should all subsist on kale smoothies and quinoa sandwiches. I’m not going to judge (unless you mean Dredd – I AM the law!) anyone’s eating habits. This is just a rundown of why I made this decision for my own life; take from it what you will. Or not. I’m easy.

All set? Okay, let’s go.

I Need To Lose Some Weight

You can’t talk about cutting out fast food without some guy in the audience raising his hand and saying, “Get off the stage! We’re here to see Aerosmith!”

Some people.

Then, after evading security, you spend a pleasant half-hour discussing why healthy eating and fast food don’t mix with the voices in your head. It’s a common enough story, and it’s happened to us all.

So, being a gentleman of, let’s say, significant proportions, I need to lose weight. A lot of it. And that’s not going to happen on a diet of double cheeseburgers and burrito supremes.

Once I Pop, I Just Can’t Stop

I have something of an addictive personality. Thankfully, I’ve avoided vices like drugs and alcohol, but if you set me loose on a buffet of fried chicken and curly fries, it turns into an after-school special starring me as a fast food junkie and Alan Thicke as my TV dad who wants me to be happy, but doesn’t realize that his pressuring me to join the school track team is making me turn to disreputable late-night burger runs to deal with the stress.

My name is TR Goodman, and I’m addicted to fast food.

And, as we all know, the first step toward getting help is avoiding responsibility for ten years admitting that you have a problem. Why is fast food addictive? Hell if I know. I just know that if I eat it, something happens in my brain that turns me into a burger-crazed zombie.

It’s not pretty, and the only way to avoid it is to stop eating fast food altogether.

Cooking At Home Saves Money

It pretty well goes without saying that it’s a lot cheaper to make up a hefty pot of mushroom and barley stew at home than it is to buy a sack of burgers down at the corner drive-thru. Given that I’m still in the process of paying down a number of old debts from my care-and-responsibility-free college days, more money to dump on those old credit cards is a pretty big plus.

It also means that I have more money for the important cultural things in life. Like video games. And pretty book covers.

Now I just need to write a few books to go with those pretty, pretty covers…

It’s not that I’m never going to eat out again, but when you’re not eating out 7X per week, you save up enough that when you actually do go out, you can buy yourself a nice steak dinner. Now that’s something to look forward to.

I Can Be Supportive

Whether you’re married, in a committed relationship, or just have a cat that you really like to hang out with, your decisions affect more than just you. They affect the people (and cats) around you, sometimes just as much, if not more. And when those decisions impact the health of those around you, it becomes a problem.

My fiancee has a particular chronic ailment (not zombie-ism – sheesh) that makes her have to follow a strict diet, mostly a vegan one with some fish and a bit of chicken breast thrown in. She’s done very well on this diet, in terms of her illness, and I want to do everything I can to support her. She’s been a good sport about my addiction, and generally doesn’t say anything when I run out for sausage and cheese biscuits, hash browns, or a bag of tacos. Sometimes she even shares them with me.

And then it hit me that in doing what I was doing, I was directly jeopardizing her health by bringing all these unhealthy foods into the house. When you love someone, you do everything you can to support them, not tempt them away from what has clearly been working.

Once the guilt storm passed, it made the decision obvious.

It Doesn’t Taste That Great

I love salt and fat and heaping mounds of meat as much as the next guy. Probably more, to be honest. And while there are definitely some things on various fast food menus that I’m going to miss (I’m looking at you, Carl’s Jr burgers and hash browns from just about anywhere), but none of it really tastes that great compared to what I make at home. I just tend to be too lazy to do any actual cooking.

I Feel Better Without It

On top of everything else, this is the one that made my decision easy. The effects of eating fast food, at least for me, are similar to the annual Thanksgiving binge: a bloated, slow, waddling feeling, followed by a food coma that knocks me out on the couch in the middle of Doctor Who. It’s not fun, and I don’t want to have to have someone explain to me how the Doctor defeated the Daleks (hint: stairs).

After only a few days of “clean” eating, I have more energy, I feel better, my back pain goes away, I win the lottery, and all sorts of little physical things become easier for me. During those moments when the drive-thru becomes and the aroma of bacon fills the air, it’s those little things that remind me that I made the right decision.

So, I think that’s enough serious discourse for the moment. Those are my reasons not to eat fast food. Your mileage may vary if you decide to try something similar. If you think you might want to give it a shot, more power to you. If you read this article while dipping your fries in a chocolate shake and noshing on a bucket of fried chicken, I applaud your sense of irony.

Well played, sir (or madam or other). Well played, indeed.

Photo Credit: Flickr