Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dinner with James Patrick Kelly

I need to tell you about the Unitarian church in town, but we had Jim Kelly over for dinner last night.  Dining with a guy whose fiction you’ve not only read but admired (because he understands the importance of dialog and characterization and is good at both) was a trip.  

I wasn’t at all nervous until earlier in the day when Amanda chatted with CarolAnn, who said, “Your husband invited a guest whom you’ve never met?  I’d kill John if he did that.”  Minor twinge of nerves after that, but when Jim arrived he was gracious (gave us a book plus a couple of his CDs) and good at making conversation, so much so that I felt like I was talking mostly about myself then about him.  Here’s hoping I didn’t bore the life out of him.

Jim had plenty of stories about his time at the Clarion Workshop and writing for the Sci Fi Channel’s site, but I found something he said while recounting a teaching experience particularly telling.  He would, from time to time, visit with middle schoolers, and he said that his eyes would scan the crowd for the geeks because they were his “tribe.”  I immediately thought of the feeling of community that I’ve gotten the few times that I’ve attended roleplaying conventions, that these others may not look like me but they’re my people.  We SF geeks may come cut from varied and sometimes garish cloth but we’re all sown into the same quilt.

He stayed about three hours and I hope had a good time (I’m afraid that Misty gave him an allergy attack, though.  She was loving up to him and later I noticed that his right eye looked red and puffy).    Hopefully we’ll get to hang with him again.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Anger Management (but not the usual kind)

Anger management, at least as I’m always heard it, refers to anger suppression, but I’m wondering how to turn my anger on at will.  

I’ve been thinking about my racquetball game because I’ve plateaued (and we’re not talking the Himalayan.  Somewhere closer to sea level) and I don’t feel that I’m getting any better.  Amanda suggested there’s a punctuated equilibrium situation here, and she might be right, but it just occurred to me that I play better when I’m angry.  Anger causes adrenaline to flow and that greatly ups my reactions times, plus it forces any anxiety or nerves away and allows for greater concentration on the game.  So, how do I turn my anger on like a switch?  An actor (one who followed The Method, anyway) would draw upon an angry emotional memory.  I’ll have to give that try.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Nurse Dancing

It’s Friday, and I’m sick once again thanks to the infected (infect-head?) nature of my big-headed boy.  Sometimes I think Gabriel is sick more often than he is healthy.  

Anyway, my good friend Eric has recently smoked the Nethack crack, and he’s been filling my inbox and my IM windows with summaries of his progress through the dungeon depths.  During one of these regales, he brought up the topic of “nurse dancing.”  No, it isn’t what I do when cutting the rug with my wife, it’s one of those emergent behaviors that gamers have invented to leverage the system.  Think of them as gameplay hacks; legal actions (as opposed to cheats or exploits) that players have stumbled upon and then made popular means of gaining an advantage.  Most of these are clever, some downright brilliant, but what struck me is how many are rather ridiculous.  I began to imagine what “nurse dancing” in particular would look like if described from a characters viewpoint.

     I felt vaguely awkward as I stripped naked in the dank dungeon room.  I took comfort in the fact that I’d locked myself in and checked the door to make sure no one (or thing) would surprise me standing here with my dork hanging out.  I held the cursed evil scroll in my hands, and looking down I realized I’d subconsciously begun holding it over my privates.  Being cursed, I figured I should probably keep it away from my crotch.  
     It’s funny what thoughts meander to mind when you’re in your birthday suit, and mine recalled speaking with Lundina, the Valkyrie, about dancing naked with the dreaded “Nurses.”
     “It is really quite simple,” she began in her Scandinavian-accented English.  “Have you fought a nurse.”
     “Um ...” I don’t like to stammer, especially not in front of attractive and armor clad Nordic warrior women, but I couldn’t help myself, “maybe a little before getting a shot —”
     “No,” she interrupted, all business, “I mean the monsters called nurses.  They are killers, like most monsters, but we call them nurses because if you are naked and have your weapons stowed they will increase your health.  So what you want to do is find a no-teleport level and —“
     She stopped to recognize my raised hand.  “Did you say ‘naked?’”
     “Yes, now find a no-teleport level, which is important because otherwise they will quickly teleport away.  You will also need a cursed Scroll of Genocide.  You find an empty room with a stout door you can lock ... yes?”
     “Isn’t Genocide really bad?”
     “It is cursed.”
     “Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t call genocide a virtue.”
     “No, the scroll is cursed.”
     “That’s supposed to make it better?”
     “You do not understand.  A cursed Scroll of Genocide does not have the effect of a normal Scroll of Genocide.”
     I could only manage to stare blankly at this.
     With a Wagnerian roll of her eyes she explained, “A normal Scroll of Genocide will cause the extinction of any one type of monster you wish, unless it is blessed, in which case it will wipe out an entire class of creature, but a cursed scroll will instantly summon several monsters of the given type.  Since you have locked yourself in the room and removed your clothes and weapons, the summoned nurse will enhance your health.”
     “And you’ve done this?”
     “Many times,” she smiled like only a woman who aspires to collect the souls of the honored dead from battle can smile.
     “Were they female nurses?”
     That was the last time I spoke with Lundina, the Valkyrie.  The armorer who specializes in tall and buxom sizes told me he heard she killed a cockatrice, which turn anything they touch into stone, and then wore gloves so that she could wield the corpse of the cockatrice as a weapon.  She was so successful doing this that she made crazy amounts of coin, over-burdened herself with the weight of all that wealth, and tripped down a flight of stairs until her face went right into the cockatrice corpse and turned her to stone.    

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Miracle of Male Grief

The first time I went wonderstruck over the writing of Ronald D. Moore was while watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled Family.  And where did all that alliteration come from?  Anyway, Captain Jean Luc Picard returns to his family’s estate following his capture and torture by enemy forces.  The home he was raised in is now the property of his older brother, Robert, whose gruff exterior only accentuates his apparent dislike of Jean Luc for leaving the family vineyards.  Tensions build until they come to blows.  Within moments, the two realize, as we do, they are older men no longer fit for fisticuffs and they’re on the ground laughing.  And then the most miraculous thing happens; Jean Luc begins to cry, and as he sobs he faces the psychological and emotional reality of what’s happened to him.  As Robert helps his little brother up, Jean Luc says, “Maybe I did come back so you’d look after me.”

From my first watching of this episode, I’ve marveled at that fight between brothers and the catharsis that followed.  Even without knowing how it worked, I felt the truth of it.  Seven years later I would do the Men’s Weekend and see it in person on a grand scale.  And last weekend I saw it in my parent’s house.

Frank drove up on Sunday to see Mom, who had just come home from the hospital that morning.  We all felt relief as we ate lunch together, Mom seeming tired but still very much Mom.  After lunch, conversation briefly turned to plans for dinner, and Frank asked Dad whether he could use the bread machine.  Without warning, Dad was furious and letting Frank know it.  Frank reeled but soon angered himself, and the two uncomfortably went at each other for the next couple of minutes, leaving me reparsing Frank’s question looking for what could possibly have set Dad off.  As quickly as he’d ignited, Dad was apologizing to Frank.  The two sealed the apology with a hug, and then it happened.

I can remember only one other occasion that I’d seen my father cry.  A moment of shock passed and was replaced with recognition.  I patted both on the back and suggested we move out of the kitchen for a little privacy.  A minute after we retreated to the family room, the fears that Dad had been stoically repressing for the past several days flew out.  “She can’t go,” he said as the tears rolled, “I can’t live without her.  If she goes, I’ll go.  I’ll do it myself.”  Soon Frank and I were crying too and, as with Jean Luc, afterwards we all felt better.

I’m not sure what makes it work, but I know that for Men anger acts like emotional grease.  Someday, I hope to ask Ronald D. Moore how he knew.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I need to talk about the miracle of male grief (maybe next time) but at the moment I’m going to go back to an earlier mention and tell you about Yung-Ming.  I drifted to him just now because I was thinking about gaming, which led me to Hector, and Hector had qualities that reminded me of Yung-Ming.  

Anyway, on the surface Yung-Ming Shih was a Taiwanese man that I worked with at Gartner, a few years older than myself, quiet and very smart, who died of cancer.  All in all, though, Yung-Ming had a profound impact upon me by the example he lived.  I’m welling up just remembering him, that’s how deep he goes.  He is probably the only actual Christian I’ve ever met.  Yung-Ming never displayed anger.  I don’t even know if he ever felt it.  To quote from John the Balladeer, my heart is a sinful one, and each day I pray it will be less so.  Every person I’ve known is like that, has evidenced some bad, some dark mark, everyone except Yung-Ming.  If saints exist, Yung-Ming was one (and his name literally means “forever bright”).  To put it simply, Yung-Ming deserved to live.  I love him and I miss him to my bones.  I had a dream about a year ago in which I was shopping and everywhere I went I thought I saw him.  I’d run up with hope bursting in me only to find a similar looking man.  After this pattern repeated several times, my dream-self stumbled into an alley, fell against a cold brick wall and slid down sobbing.  I awoke in the same state.  

My greatest wish for the afterlife is that I’ll see him again.