Posts Tagged ‘A to Z Challenge’

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Reflections

May 1, 2017

This was my third time going through the Blogging from A to Z Challenge and it was my most successful to date. Even though my life is kind of in upheaval lately, I never scrambled to get an entry done in time. The only time I did not have a buffer was going into the final Friday night. I solved that by writing up the last two posts and then I could relax. In fact, until the last week, I usually had a buffer of at least a week. I started working in February and it paid off. I would have had even more of a buffer if I could be more decisive about what each letter would be

This year was the first year that I had a theme which was “Getting to Know Me”. Every post had to do with me and my life. I told a lot of personal stories and I also pontificated on subjects that were on my mind at the time. I reviewed movies with subjects that I had a personal connection to. I wrote short fiction with themes important to my life. That last one probably was not completely clear. So, just for fun, I will run them down now.

Electrical Malfunction had to do with past health problems, fears that they will be future health problems and also about not being a morning person. Ion Flow was literally about my own self-discovery this month but also references to my love of research. The King is about the recent political unrest and how dissatisfied I am with the current “ruling party” in my beloved country. It is not literal. Radio is about the fear of death and my own brief fascination with working in radio. Finally, Victory Island and X Marks the Spot are about going and finding the tools to make my life better.

I had a lot more people stopped by and visited this year. From a traffic standpoint, this year I had three times as many views in April from when I started this challenge. I would like to thank all of you so much. This is a labor of love and I would do whether people visited or not but you guys and gals brightened up my days this month. I got so many lovely comments that it motivated me to go out and make thoughtful comments of my own. I hope that I brightened up somebody else’s day in return. I wish I had had more time to visit more than a handful of blogs each day.

My most successful post (most views and visitors) was Needles. That was full of very personal stories about one of my greatest weaknesses. That post, Electrical Malfunction, and Clarinet pussyfooted around a story that I am surprised to not find in my archives. It is probably one of the most important events in my life and I have never really fully gotten into it. I will be telling that story soon even if it is my first multi-part post. I want to tell it because people look at me funny when I tell it live and in person and it is fun to tell.

Finally, I have to thank you all again. Throw up your hands in exalted victory because, whether you were a writer or a reader, you made it to the end of this challenge. Cheers!

Edit (5/8/17):

The challenge has really inspired me to add to the posts that I want to write.  Instead of writing Sailor Moon fanfiction (as I said I might do) I am writing my own take on that kind of Magical Girl story.  I have also started talking about one of the biggest events of my life as I discussed above.  I am sure that all of the posts I wrote and the posts I read will continue to inspire me.

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ZZZzzz

April 30, 2017

I think it is fitting that I close out this challenge by talking about how tired I am. While I love this challenge, there have been a lot of changes in my life that have caused me to have to run on all cylinders. I got a new job, I finished an internship, I marched for Science and I have been working harder on this blog among other things. I have been dedicated to this challenge and I decided that I would not be deterred from completing it. Still, it is an endurance trial, one that I will talk more about tomorrow.

I have always been a big fan of sleeping. I used to do a whole lot of it back in the day too. I used to work in live theater and that always caused such a weird sleep schedule. In college, I would have rehearsal until eleven at night and then I would have to do the paperwork afterward. By midnight, I was tired but keyed up and ready to hang out online. With classes during the day and rehearsal at night, I had to have some time to socialize even if it was online. At that point, I would be up as late as five in the morning.


I used to frown on people sleeping in class and then I did it.

In my freshman year of college, I had classes scheduled at eight in the morning. This was something my advisor did to me in the naive opinion that it would be good for me. After that first year, that would never happen again. Every morning I would crash before the sun rose (sometimes) and then I would sleep until lunch time before running off to class. It put me in a weird position with the rest of the world. I was often asleep when everyone else was awake and I felt disconnected from the real world and submerged into the fairytale world of theater.


I learned to draw on deeper energy reserves.

Once I got a job, that tendency to want to sleep until noon continued. Luckily, I was in a small regional theater. For the most part, work did not begin until ten in the morning because, once again, we all had rehearsal the night before. So, one again I spend a lot of time at night on my computer and I met all new friends since I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I was continually tired and sore and crawling into bed at the end of the night was a welcome relief. By then, I had learned to sleep deeply in order to survive. Also, I learned to operate in a tired state and soldier on the best I could.


I wish that sometimes I did not wake with the sun.

Now that I have an office job, I am used to waking up bright and early at seven. No matter what I do, I cannot seem to sleep past nine even on my day off. Today, I planned to sleep until noon to recover from the recent excitement. The oncoming heat makes me restless when I try to get to sleep so once it cooled down, I looked forward to existing in dreamland for quite a while. I woke up at eight in the morning after getting to sleep at one. I still get about six to seven hours of sleep per night but now I feel like I have more of the day to do things. If I had gotten up at noon, I would have missed a surprise lunch with the office I interned at. I would have gotten so much less done. I am learning, bit by bit.

Your Friend Steve

April 29, 2017

I often feel very awkward in social situations. When it comes to hanging around with friends in a casual atmosphere, I have most of those skills down. It just takes a while to achieve that level of comfort and I am down for joking and razzing each other. Gender is not an issue as from an early age, I have been part of unisex play groups. Probably part of why I ended up being a feminist but who knows? Either way, I was just as embarrassed to have my head split open in front of the girls as in front of the boys.


Awkward.

What is awkward is being the third wheel. I have known quite a few friends before and after they started dating that somebody special. I get along well with nice people so meeting and befriending a new girlfriend or boyfriend is fairly easy. I am always so happy for my friends because all of my friends deserve to be happy and if a relationship is part of that then I am all for it. However, I am socially awkward sometimes or at least socially anxious. I worry that I am missing signals.


The human brain is a frightening place.

That is why the above song struck such a chord with me (like most Garfunkel and Oates songs). I consider myself a good and loyal friend but I know I do not hang around a lot because I worry about being a nuisance. I know that is kind of silly. My best friends are very good about letting me know when it’s time to leave. I read those signals just fine, I guess. I just really, really appreciate my friends and I do not want to overstay my welcome.


In spite of everything, I still believe in love.

When I was in high school, I met two homeschool kids who came into our school to supplement their education and participate in after school sports. Homeschool would not have been any good for me. These kids were outgoing and friendly but socially stunted. I generally avoided people on a regular basis. If I had been homeschooled, I would be a social wreck. I am lucky I was forced into social situations where I made equally weird friends. That way I can continue to make weird friends. It is an important part of my life.


This was cheaper than therapy. I guess I still gotta go, though.

I guess I should just relax more about it. I still get invites to stuff and people seem excited to see me at events. I must be doing something right. I am not a social butterfly but I do things with friends at least every other week. I participate in social media and I try not to be too clingy there either. I think I just talked myself down. Thanks, guys.

X Marks the Spot

April 28, 2017

The sand had been easy enough to get through. The dirt was a bit harder. I left most of the digging to Macan. That is one of the perks of being the captain of the ship. You do not have to dig if you do not want to. I still took a turn because that sort of thing is good for morale. Besides, I need a good workout now and then and it had been a while since the last good sword fight. It looked like my turn just might have been the last turn as my shovel hit something hard. The symbols above had indicated that something important was buried here. Pirates and buried treasure seemed a little too on the nose but I was not about to complain. Treasure is treasure.

“Agatha!” I called up. “I don’t really want to dent whatever this is any further. Could you bring up a little wind to clear off what I probably just dented?”

There was no verbal response. Instead, the air started to swirl around me and I covered my eyes, nose, and mouth as best I could. Agatha was a powerful sorcerer but she did not disobey orders even if it meant playfully taking the order a little too literally. The wind picked up and dirt and sand rushed out of the deep hole I was standing in and it did not feel great against my skin. I was tough and I was pretty sure I would survive. When the wind died down, I coughed a little and looked down.

There was a long flat box sticking halfway out of the dirt which intrigued me. Supposedly there were charms and artifacts that would draw out and amplify the powers and abilities of those who obtained them. That is why we had come to the Othersea and whatever was in the box might be the first step in making my small crew the most formidable crew around. I touched the box and I felt the hairs on my arm rise and I shivered a little.

“Throw down a rope!” I called up. When the end of the rope came down, I tied it to a ring on the box. “Macan! Pull the rope!” I called out and I started to scramble out of the hole. As I reached the surface, Macan was grabbing the rope and he pulled hard. I watched as the box shot up to the surface and fell with a thud in the sand. Everybody was instantly crowding around the box but I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd as only somebody in charge can do.

Hooded Kartha was standing next to me. Her robes were encrusted with salt and seaweed and all sorts of bits of nature. She was wise beyond her young years and I valued her counsel. “What do you think it is, Captain?”

“I can only guess,” I answered. “I feel its magic. Can you detect any?”

There was a shiver of magic in the air and Kartha’s barely visible eyes went white for a moment. “There is powerful magic at play but it is in the box. The box, while pretty, is just a container. It is safe to open.”

I knelt down in the sand and smoothed my hands over the box and I felt both the thrill of discovery and something else. I felt the strong magic that Kartha spoke of as well. My excitement reached its peak as I flipped the latches one by one. I gripped the lid and I opened it. Inside was a large sword and I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. There were murmurs from the crew behind me. The clear consensus that this one was for me. I found it hard to argue that point.

I gripped the blade’s handle and mysteriously it began to shrink. It quickly reformed itself into a copy of the soldier’s rapier that I already wore at my side. There were gasps from behind me and I admit that although I was expecting magic, I was not expecting that. I swung the sword around a bit and it felt really good. It felt faster and smoother than any sword I had ever held in my hand. I had held a lot of swords over the years.

“What do you think, Captain?” Oni asked. I turned and saw a very curious crew and I felt myself smiling, not realizing when the smile had started.

“It’s powerful. It’s fast. Once I get used to it, I think I could be even more unbeatable.” I said with a smirk. You can only call it cocky if you cannot back it up. I can back it up. “I just wish it was a little sturdier, a little stronger.” And just like that, the sword transformed into a two-handed claymore. “Nevermind, it’s a magical shape changing sword.”

“Wow,” Oni said. “So what now?”

“We keep searching,” I said. I grabbed up the sword’s sheath and slid the sword into it and slung it over my shoulder. “The tools to conquer the seas are here and we will find one for everybody.”

Unbreakable

April 25, 2017

I have always liked superheroes ever since I discovered the joys of comic books. Back in the day (middle school mostly), I would save up my allowance and I would walk over two miles to the comic book store. I was proud of that. I still am. It made getting them back home all the sweeter, reading my comics after a quick shower to wash off all that good exercise. I used to spend my walk there and back thinking about the adventures I was about to read. I used to think about what it would be like to have superpowers. What if instead of walking, I was flying over the northern parts of Baltimore City. I thought about how much time I would save if I had super speed. Unfortunately, there were only tall buildings for part of the trip so I could not swing around like Spider-man or Batman.

I remember going to watch The Sixth Sense. This was the first movie from a relatively unknown director named M. Night Shyamalan and I was interested in seeing a cool ghost story. I was in high school by then and I was totally into horror movies by then not only as part of Halloween but as a 365/24/7 kind of deal. This was before we knew about Mr. Shyamalan’s penchant for twists at the end of the movies he writes and directs. Thankfully, the well-known twist from The Sixth Sense had not been spoiled for me so I enjoyed something that in retrospect was a little pointless and anti-climactic. Still, the journey was an interesting one and the movie was seen for a long time as the one good Shyamalan movie but there was another that I have not seen to this day. That is why we are looking at the superpowered tale of Unbreakable.

The movie starts off slow and quiet and the movie actually continues to be pretty slow and quiet throughout. Bruce Willis is the lead once again in this one but he plays a more blue-collar character. I am used to seeing him as brash and mouthy but he was quiet and unassuming. This kind of matches the other major character played with Samuel Jackson who is usually loud and intense but he is also subdued. It gives the movie an offbeat sort of feeling. We get a lot of slice of life of Bruce Willis’ character and everybody is pretty quiet. That was really unsettling the more I think about it.

This movie was a comic book movie in the truest sense of those words. In fact, it might be the purest comic book movie we have had yet. The plot is a superhero origin story but it is largely driven by actual comic books. If superpowers actually appeared in our world, we would probably pay a lot more attention to comic books. A lot of the concepts and language are derived from or are in purposeful conflict with comic books. For a guy who grew up with comic books and still reads them, that is a pretty cool concept. However, the movie lacks a lot of the excitement and charm that most superhero books that I like have. While Bruce Willis’ character is likable and relatable, I just did not really want to hang out with him. He was too sad.

Overall, I really liked the concept of the movie but I did not really appreciate the execution. They started with a good idea but Shyamalan just cannot write normal dialogue. Everybody sounds like aliens trying to act like humans. The life and energy of usually talented or charismatic actors are sucked out and we are left with a passable performance. I guess I do not regret watching this movie but I could not in good faith recommend it to people. I just feel really blah about it. I think I am officially closing the book on M. Night Shyamalan. He just does not do it for me.

Radio

April 21, 2017

Caleb shuffled into the studio and flipped on the lights. He yawned and sipped his soda to get a little more caffeine in his blood. The late night slot was a hard row to hoe but Caleb was just strange enough to do it. He fired up the equipment and checked the levels on the board. They were fine. They were always fine. Nobody came in here but Caleb. Most shows at the station used the main studio instead of this old one. Caleb was stubborn but if that lead to getting his own private albeit dusty studio then whatever. He checked his watch, it was almost time. Normally an engineer would be doing the counting down but nobody else wanted to work at midnight.

He picked up the familiar record and placed it on the turntable. He played most of the other music from his laptop but this one was special. It was one of his favorite songs and it had become kind of an unofficial theme song for his slot over time. It had been three years since he had moved up from engineer to host. The slot did not pay very much but he was finally doing what he wanted again. After Chicago, it was good to be back in the saddle. He looked at the clock. Ariel was winding down, any minute and she would go into commercials and throw it to Caleb. He was always ready and she knew that even on the days they missed each other in the hallways. It was almost time, the red light went on and Caleb dropped the needle. The familiar strains of People are Strange filled the studio and went out on the airwaves.

Caleb tilted back in his seat and let the song wash over him. As the song started to fade, he hit the button to turn on his microphone. It was time for the show.

“Welcome to midnight, where only the crazies, the insomniacs, the parents with newborns, the late shifters, etcetera, etcetera,” Caleb said. “I’m Caleb and I’m strange, how about you? The phone lines are open. You know the deal, though. If you don’t want to talk, then we’ll just hang out and listen to music. So how about it?”

Caleb just let there be a silent pause. That was usually a no no in radio. Dead air. Caleb was comfortable with silence. He knew his people, the army of the night, were fine with silence too. You had to be familiar with silence at the midnight hour. A single light lit up on the phone and Caleb was curious so he hit the button.

“You’re on, stranger,” Caleb said. He slipped his headphones on.

“Why didn’t you come by today, Caleb?” The voice on the other end asked. “I missed you.” The guy’s voice chilled Caleb to the bone. It was impossible.

However, “No” was all Caleb said. He reached to hang up the line.

“My funeral, Caleb,” the voice said. “You actually missed my funeral. You don’t even work during the day.”

“This is a really bad prank, even for my listeners,” Caleb said.

“This is no joke, asshole,” the voice said.

“Joe?” Caleb asked. Any semblance of the show was gone from his head, his heart was beating faster.

“Spooky Joe,” Joe said.

“Back from the dead, huh?” Caleb asked. There was a long enough silence after that question. Dead air again.

“No,” Joe said and his voice sounded rougher, tired. “But I guess you could say they let me have my one phone call.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“You like it strange, Caleb,” Joe said. “Cut the shit. Why didn’t you show up?”

Caleb took a deep breath. There was a station policy against drinking on the air but Caleb was seriously considering violating that policy. “I figured you wouldn’t know the difference.”

“Well, I did,” Joe said. “What were you so afraid of?”

Caleb let the dead air stretch between them. He wanted to shrug the question off. He wanted to give some biting, sarcastic response. He wanted to raise two middle fingers to the sky and play God Save the Queen a hundred times in a row.

“Death.”

“I am the one who died, Caleb.”

“I know that Spooky Joe,” Caleb said. “It doesn’t change anything.” Caleb leaned back in his seat. He wondered briefly if this was actually happening. He wondered if he had not finally passed out on the air.

“Explain then.”

“You know who’s at every funeral, Joe?” Caleb asked. “Death. He… or she… they’re waiting there. I don’t want to run into death at the funeral, Joe. I don’t want to be next.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Caleb,” Joe said. He sounded like he was smiling.

“How the hell do you know?”

“Believe me, I know,” Joe said. There was a deep, unnatural hollowness in his voice when he said that but his voice started to warm up again quick. “She’s actually pretty nice and she’s got rules.”

“You’re making fun of me,” Caleb said. He let the silence fill in for a moment but for once he could not let it be. “I miss you already.”

“I miss you too. I’m glad you took my call,” Joe said.

“I’m glad I did too,” Caleb said. “So what now?”

“I can’t tell you that. Just know that death isn’t gunning for you. You’ll get your appointment when it’s time.”

“Comforting.”

“I know but what are you gonna do?” Joe asked. That familiar grin was back in his voice.
,
“I don’t know,” Caleb said. He felt knocked out of his routine, his thoughts scattered.

“Play your music. Entertain the folks out there in the night. You were always good at that.”

“Just go on?” Caleb asked.

“You’d better,” Joe said. “And don’t miss any more funerals.”

“I’m sorry, Joe,” Caleb said.

The light had gone out. Dead air.

Quaker School

April 20, 2017

I will not show you the picture of the killer. This is the man he killed, though.

A little while ago there was a news story where a white military veteran traveled to New York City specifically to kill a black person. He succeeded and killed an innocent man who lived a life of charity and nonviolence. Even if the man he murdered had been a horrible person, it still would not have been right. The police said that the killer was racist since he was a little boy. To my horror, it was brought to my attention that this crazy man was from Baltimore, my hometown. Further, not only was he from Baltimore but he was also a student at the school I went to for twelve years. Friends School of Baltimore is a private school just inside the city lines, situated near a lot of other private schools. The killer went to Friends six years behind me so I never knew him and he is also younger than my brothers who also briefly went to Friends.

I spent twelve years here and it had such an impact on my life.

The news that this man went to the same school as me is baffling. You see, Friends School is very well-known in this area for being a good school with good values. While Bill Clinton was president, he and Hillary Clinton sent their daughter Chelsea to a Friends School nearer Washington DC which was very similar. Friends is a Quaker school which is nothing to sneeze at because Quaker is more than a religion in my eyes. Like Buddhism, Quakerism is a way of looking at and dealing with the world and the inner self. Quakers are by and large non-violent, anti-war, and seek simplicity in all things. We worked to be humble but also to use your gifts to leave the world a little better than you found it.


Our school song.

More than that, we learned how to identify with other people. I may have lived through a slightly sheltered childhood but I learned how to listen to all sides and all groups in a situation. I was also exposed to diversity. I met people from all sorts of backgrounds. There were families from so many varied ethnicities and fellow students of a whole rainbow of skin colors. We were taught about the civil rights movement, we talked about the LA riots, and we learned about the Holocaust too. In every lesson we had, if racism was present then it was a villain in the story. Our teachers made it absolutely clear that our human journey should not only be filled with tolerance but acceptance and love as well. We were not taught to be wide-eyed, naive students but we were told to do our best to love other people.

Imagine this, filled with people and stare at it in silence. Speak if the spirit moves you.

Peace was a prized experience that Friends gave me.  Once a week we walked up as a class to what was called Meeting.  Quakers do not have an experience similar to other religious organizations.  The room is full of benches in rows but not all of them were facing the same way.  There was no central focus to the room because there were no sermons or bible lessons.  For the most part, we sat in silence.  When the spirit moved you, you could stand up and talk about something you were thinking about.  Being little kids and then awkward teenagers, very few of us ever stood up to say anything but it was nice having a peaceful half hour to just sit and think.  It made me value peace even in the midst of a chaotic day.


Embedded into the wall of one of the Baltimore meeting houses.

So, wherever this killer got this racism and hate from, he did not get it from the school I went to.  If anything, the school has gotten more even more progressive in the years since I went there.  If this man claims to have had such virulently racist thoughts since he was a kid, I wonder how he felt going to Friends where he was told repeatedly that he was on the wrong side of history.  He was in the Army, and I wonder what effect that had on his psyche.  There are so many factors that it is difficult to parse out why he did what he did.  All I know is that Friends has nothing to apologize for.


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