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Category Archives: Life & Self

From the Ashes of Sixteen

And wasn’t that a bit of a bastard year? But, then again, the era of multi-generational celebrities is passing and we are losing the icons that were the foundations of the media-crazed world we now inhabit.

For me, after the loss of Lemmy Kilmister, all other celebrity losses are ‘just another death’. I understand that each will impact others in the way that Lemmy’s death hit me. But that’s the point – they didn’t hit me. You might be able to intellectually understand someone’s reaction, but you will never properly (emotionally) understand it unless it meant the same to you.

But, onwards –

Revisiting the usual annual metrics, we see an improvement in some areas – jobhunting: no change (environment worsening), romance: none (with a negative outlook), finances: abysmal (and declining), books published: 4 – bringing the total to 21, including a limited edition of my 20th.

I also upped my flash fiction output, going to four stories per month for 365tomorrows.com from April ’16. And, the creative push required to increase that output has improved the quality of all my work.

Voluntary work/consultation continues in various areas and some new ones.

My fitness has improved slightly, my strength more so, although the lingering damage from past century martial arts is beginning to hinder some exercises. I foresee some time spent at physiotherapy, and/or being told which impairments are permanent, soon.

In summation: the worst things that happened to me in 2016 were largely self-inflicted. I finally learned how to continue writing regardless of the shite going on about me. I have some of the finest friends a man could desire.

As for the world, I now harbour no hopes for an enlightened future in the short-term. We are about to enter a decade of darkness, where fanaticism and greed will dictate the lives of everyone on this planet. Mean hearts and closed minds will come to the fore.

Look to your friends, acquaintances, and neighbours. Know which of them you can rely upon, those you cannot trust, and those that present a threat. Gauge each threat carefully and have some idea of how you could mitigate it. Try to keep at least a weeks worth of canned/non-perishable food and have some way of storing – and collecting – water. If things go to shit, they will go quickly, and you will be unlikely to see it coming. In most cases, a few days of confusion and limited anarchy will be the extent of it. If things get worse, then good luck to all of us. Choose your ground and hold it. Protect those you love. Ally with those you trust. Finally: never judge by appearances or media endorsement.

Predictions? Things are going to get more difficult. More celebrities will die. For many, 2017 is going to be worse than 2016. I still have more stories to write.

With armageddon raining down outside, I’ll be parked in the one solid corner remaining, jotting pencil notes on scraps of paper. Bring more candles. 🙂

Let’s have more sense and less hype, shall we?

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2017 in Life & Self

 

The Pen versus The Sword

I’ve always liked the quote “The pen is mightier than the sword”. However, I also qualify it in my mind with “But the sword has the advantage of immediacy”.

Now, I know that because of my writing, I do and view words in different ways to most people, but I am getting mightily ticked off by the “50 Dead in Orlando Gay Club Shooting.” headlines.

What the f*ck has ‘gay’ got to do with that tragedy? Fifty people died. Mourn fifty lives ended too soon. Their sexual orientation is of low import… Unless… Someone was going for the implicit “you’re okay, it’s just another minority being picked on” form of negative reassurance.

And what that is, is reinforcing divisions. A form of media manipulation, if you will. Every word you contribute to a public medium can have impact. Let’s focus on the inclusive, folks. The petty, stupid and scared are getting fractious. See that? That’s me categorising unfairly. Doesn’t matter if you agree, it’s divisive because I am not present to diffuse the negative aspects of my words with body language, humourous depreciation or contextual setting – or in this case, telling you I’m being unfair.

I have a friend who winds up with minor misinformation people for fun. Problem is, that sort of wind up, released on the internet, is divorced from his swift intervention to correct the induced misconception.

And that, my friends, is where our doom will come from… Not my friend! But words released without recourse to correction.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it is frequently less precise.

Please, think carefully about what you release into this virtual never never land.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2016 in Life & Self

 

Polish Your Own Boots

It’s another long-overdue boot polishing day. 🙂

Or, as my great-grandfather occasionally termed it (when great-grandmother wasn’t about), ‘bullying the boots’. Not that I can find that slang translation anywhere these days.

Great-grandfather taught me how to work a decent shine in, smiling when he mentioned I’d not need ‘spit shine’ unless I joined up. Ever since he taught the demon that masqueraded as his eldest grandson how to do that, he started a legacy within me: things that a gentleman should be able to do, and not be embarrassed about.

Decades passed before a Peruvian bootblack on the streets of Lima showed me how to mix solvent and polish to redeem badly perished leathers. My work boots have survived twenty years, thanks to that.

For all the marvellous things I’ve been able to do, all the luck I’ve had and all the damn hard work that always seems to accompany good fortune, working a thorough shine into my boots still makes the young savage within me proud.

Cheers, grandpa.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Life & Self

 

The Strange Effect

Way back in my early teens, my great-grandmother used to walk everywhere with me. A mile or so from their home was a dim newsagent where she would reload with Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes to cater to her (doctor recommended) one-a-day habit. That shop stocked a lot of odd and only vaguely interesting things for a young lad, but one afternoon, as she chatted at the counter, I saw a huge comic:

MT6F

It was priced at 50p, and a quick trot to the counter elicited an “are you sure?” comment, followed by a purchase in my favour. It got a crease in the cover from being stuffed in my coat pocket, but I didn’t care. It was big and bright and the stories just leapt into my mind. Then I encountered the centrepiece:

DocStrange

Safe to say, it blew my tiny mind to bits and reassembled it in a way that never returned to the way it had been before. (That centrepiece was done by Frank Brunner, but Doctor Strange was drawn by Steve Ditko, whose art in Doctor Strange is one of the cornerstones of my fantasy imagination, alongside the otherworldly fantasy of Andre Norton and the gritty fiction of Mick Farren. It is so fundamental to what I create that, like Norton and Farren, I can only see the melded influences in hindsight.)

Over the years, comics and I had an on-again, off-again thing. With the rise of graphic novels (a.k.a. trade paperbacks) which collected issues of comics and presented them without the wealth of crappy advertisements, I became more of a devotee of the comic format. Of course, access to comics requires money, and there was another stumbling block. That’s a sad tale recounted, in part, elsewhere on this blog, so we can move on with naught but a note that sometimes I had lots of comics, and sometimes I had vanishingly few, having sold most of ’em off.

New comic stars rose and fell, only some remained. But no matter what, my holdings of Doctor Strange increased steadily and quietly, tucked away on diverse shelves and in storage boxes, never really registering as a collection.

Just over a decade into the twenty-first century and things weren’t going terribly well. I turned to writing and it suited me. But it also changed the way I considered stories in all forms of media. Books, comics and films I had cherished for ages became tawdry. A half-dozen books I had sold off had to be re-acquired. A couple of films I had rubbished, likewise. Conversely and handily, a lot of stuff could be sold off at a time when I really needed the money.

Then, one afternoon as I unpacked in the little apartment I had ended up in, I came across the back of a huge comic:

MT6R

My first Doctor Strange was still with me. It still had that crease, despite being stored flat for decades. I read it and properly rediscovered my sorcerer supreme – and the love of his life, Clea. Curious, I started rummaging about. As I was mid-process of putting stuff back on shelves, everything was out, either loose or in boxes.

A couple of hours later I had a stack – a real, nearly foot-high stack – of Doctor Strange (and a tidier apartment). After that, the part of me that loves complete stories drove me to research what exactly I had. Of course, from there it was but a step to list what I didn’t have. It wasn’t a simple step, as Stephen Strange has been around for six decades and appeared in many comics and reprints. Plus, I had discovered that I had no interest in his guest appearances, team roles or re-imaginings of his origins et al. I wanted pure, or only slightly diluted, Doctor Strange.

From then on, I kept an eye open for Doctor Strange works and picked up those I could afford. The stack steadily grew, until a news item caught my eye: Doctor Strange was about to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

dsbcew

Which would make filling the empty slots in my collection expensive. If the film did well, the task would become prohibitively expensive, even for the lesser condition stuff I was accumulating. This necessitated a change of plan and pace, which, by and large, has been surprisingly effective.

I also found the need to assemble a sequenced reading list, which is when I thought of doing a blog post, as it might be of use to interested readers. Note that I used the cheapest way to get the tales, so there are many collections that do not specify which comics they include (If you need to know, consult the Wikipedia entry for Doctor Strange, it lists what is in the various collected editions).

  1. Essential Doctor Strange volume 1
  2. Essential Doctor Strange volume 2
  3. Essential Doctor Strange volume 3
  4. Essential Doctor Strange volume 4
  5. Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts #57
  6. Doctor Strange Vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula GN
  7. Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts #63 thru #67
  8. Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes #33 GN
  9. Doctor Strange: Don’t Pay the Ferryman GN
  10. Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa GN
  11. Doctor Strange: Strange Tales GN
  12. Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #1 thru #53
  13. Doctor Strange Annual #3
  14. Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #54 thru #66
  15. Doctor Strange Annual #4
  16. Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #67 thru #90
  17. Doctor Strange: What is it that Disturbs You, Stephen? GN
  18. Doctor Strange: Flight of Bones #1 thru #4
  19. Strange: The Doctor is Out! GN
  20. Doctor Strange Volume 1: The Way of the Weird GN
    – due for publication in May 2016

I’ll continue to refine/maintain this listing as I catch up with the backlog of acquisition and reading.

ST110

Stephen Strange has come a long way from Strange Tales #110 in 1963. But I don’t think that 2016 is going to cause him any trouble.

DSBC2
DSnew
Do go and see the film. If it keeps the promises of it’s concept art and intent, it will be spectacular, and may well be something far beyond the usual cinematic superhero fare – and that can only be a good thing.

ds4

Art from Marvel Treasury Edition #6: Doctor Strange is by Frank Brunner and Steve Ditko.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange; photos from Entertainment Weekly.
Used without permission.
Copyright remains with the original holders.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2016 in Life & Self

 

Farewell Fifteen

I was trying for a fancy title, but found that this one is more than apt for a year that passed at a speed quite disconcerting – because fast years indicate very little to separate the days, and I’m not happy with myself about that.

So, it’s the annual round-up in a revised format, because, quite frankly, not a lot has changed. Now, I’ve seen blogs that recount shopping trips and emails from friends, but I have never been one for chatter – which is why I’m such a social maven, doncha know? 😀 Yeah, being fundamentally antisocial and engaged in a pursuit that demands my interaction with people is a source of constant, ironic amusement.

The successes: Another book, selling out several first editions, releasing a special edition of my first book, the worldwide release of my Amazon paperbacks in OpenDyslexic font, starting the (unexpectedly long) process of getting OpenDyslexic editions of all of my ebooks (in epub format) and looking into doing OpenDyslexic editions for Kindle (which is not looking good so far).

The not-so-successes:
Jobhunting with my particular circumstances is becoming less entertaining. (But having spent the end of 2014 and early 2015 working with people truly in jobhunting hell, I have absolutely no grounds for complaint bar that single sentence.)
Yes, of course I’m still single. Quite honestly, if I review my past record and current station, I suspect that ‘ineligible divorcee’ has set in for life. Virginity and bachelorhood are both things that pass once, it seems. I feel that the loss of the former is de rigueur to enjoy life, whilst the latter is (usually) lost through the very best intentions, but not necessarily for the best outcomes.
My writing has to fall here as well. The cross-currents of the year and a touch of ennui have resulted in a desultory output of work.

I see a world about me that has schisms deepening and in some cases being orchestrated to do so. I see countries divided as global capitalism heads for that violent evolutionary spasm which will decide if it is to unfold into a dystopian cyber-butterfly or crash down into something less controlled but quite possibly harsher (for those without private armies) in the short-term.

Humanity is failing at humanity. I am now resolved that this situation has no pretty ending without first descending into some form of brute ugliness.

As for me? I shall carry on. I still have books to write, after all.

May your words be kind and those you receive do you good.

Let’s have more compassion and less greed, shall we? 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in Life & Self

 

Live Like a Gamer

This post is a revised version of the original by Mark Rosewater of Magic:The Gathering, which omits the Magic specific terms to leave the advice, which can also be used by non-gamers. 🙂

Being a gamer is an awesome thing. It gives you great life skills. What I’ve discovered, though, is that many gamers don’t apply all the awesome gaming skills they’ve acquired to their lives. The point of this article is to say, “Stop doing that. You have awesome game skills. If you apply them to your life, I think you might be happier.”

    The Game’s the Thing

What follows are a bunch of things you pick up as a gamer about how to play games. My advice is a simple one. Use them in your life. If you already do, great. Reading them might give you some introspection on perhaps how you can use them more. If you don’t, well here’s a thought to chew on.

    “There’s a Solution”

First and foremost, games need to provide the players with a goal, because the point of a game is for the players to reach the goal. In order to do this, gamers quickly learn that to accomplish the goal they have to just accept that there is an answer to reaching the goal. When presented with the goal, gamers always start with the attitude of, “How am I going to accomplish that goal?” and not, “Can I accomplish that goal?”

Imagine starting chess with an attitude of, “Is it even possible for me to capture my opponent’s king?” That sounds crazy, yet it’s how many people face challenges in real life. Rather than assuming there’s a way to accomplish the goal, they start by trying to identify why they can’t accomplish it. Gamers don’t start games by identifying why they can’t win. They put their energy to figuring out how to win.

My favorite scene from Apollo 13 is the one where the scientists from ground control have to figure out how to make a square filter fit into a round hole. They dump a box that contains everything the astronauts have on the command module. They then are given a deadline to solve the problem or else the astronauts will die. The reason that’s my favorite scene is because I realized that it’s what I do every time I sit down to play a game. I’m given resources and a challenge and I have to make it work.

Bring that attitude to your life. If every problem is treated as solvable, guess what? You’ll start solving more problems. The key is just starting with the right attitude.

    “Try Something Else”

This is actually the first piece of advice that I gave my friend that led to the idea of this article. She was sharing with me how something she had wanted didn’t go the way she had hoped and how it was depressing her. My response was, “So the first attempt didn’t work. Figure out a new plan of attack.”

I then brought up that when she plays games, what does she do when something doesn’t work? She tries something else. You see, the gamer mindset is “it’s not over until it’s over.” If the game hasn’t ended yet, then you still have time to try and find another solution.

The key to applying this to real life is accepting that failure is going to happen. Not every plan proves successful, but gamers know that the key to solving a problem is to not stop looking for solutions. Yes, it can be disheartening when something you’ve worked very hard on doesn’t pan out, but if the goal is important, that just means you have to re-examine how you’re attempting to reach it.

    “Losing Is an Opportunity to Learn”

No one wins every game. No matter how good you are, at some point you will lose. Gamers learn quickly, though, that losing can be an opportunity. For starters, losing is a chance to learn what you are doing wrong. Why did you lose the game? What actions did you take that led to the loss? What could you have done differently that might have kept you from losing?

If you want to get better at playing a game, you have to start taking ownership of your losses. If you believe each loss is the result of something outside of your control, you will never have the opportunity to improve. But if you assume that your actions led to the loss, it will allow you the opportunity to learn and thus get better.

Life is no different. When you fail, don’t blame the factors outside your control. Assume that your actions had an impact. Take the time to figure out what you did that led to the outcome you are not happy with. This will increase the chances that in the future you don’t make the same mistakes. It also will give you a sense of power, because you will see that you can directly impact what happens to you.

    “Identify What Matters Most”

One Thanksgiving Day, my wife and I were tucking our kids into bed when the fire alarm in our house went off. We quickly ran downstairs to see that the candle in our Thanksgiving decorations had burned low enough that it had caught the decoration on fire. The flames of the now-burning decoration were reaching four feet in the air.

I quickly ran to the sink and started filling up a pitcher. While the water was on full blast, it took about thirty seconds to fill the pitcher up. Those thirty seconds felt like it took forever. All the while the fire alarm was still loudly bleating. Once the pitcher was full, I ran over to the decorations and poured the water on it mostly dousing the flames.

Afterwards, my wife was commenting on how she didn’t understand how I could so calmly stand at the sink for thirty seconds while the water was filling up the pitcher. I explained my thought process to her: I knew the danger was the flames reaching the ceiling. The best way to stop the flames was water. My course of action was the most likely way to solve the problem at hand. Standing still for thirty seconds to get the water didn’t phase me because I knew I was doing the thing I needed to be doing. Yes, there were other issues at hand, such as shutting off the alarm (it was freaking the kids out), but it was a lower priority than stopping the fire.

The lesson here is something gamers all know. The key to solving a problem quickly is learning to identify what matters most. There are many distractions, so you have to learn to focus. Note that this applies not just to life-and-death moments such as stopping a fire, but even mundane tasks. What is the actual key to the problem you’re facing? If you understand where to focus, you’re already halfway to solving your problem.

    “Prioritise”

Let’s take the last lesson to the next step. Once you have identified the most important aspect of your problem, start breaking down the other components. This is something gamers do when gaming all the time. The key to winning a game is to figure out a priority for the things you have to do. The priority is important because it allows you to better allocate your resources (more on this one in a second).

I often find that when gamers shift to their real life that they sometimes turn off the critical eye they use when gaming. Life’s problems are no different than those in a game. The difference is the consequences. In other words, when you are playing a game, you feel safe to experiment because the threat of failure is low. What’s the worst that can happen? You lose the game. But in real life, the consequences are larger. Making a mistake has repercussions.

The interesting thing, though, is that the mindset used during gaming leads to better results. Understanding your priorities is simply a means to learn when and where you need to focus. If your real-world problems have bigger consequences, it seems you would even more want to use methods that increase your chances for success.

    “Use Resource Management”

Every year, I travel to San Diego Comic-Con. I’m there for four days, which is a pretty short trip. One year, I decided to treat my packing like a game. My goal was a simple one: What is the least amount I could bring with me? I wasn’t trying to see what I could do without but rather was trying a way to streamline what I was bringing.

Along the way, I made an interesting realization. I have a very large tee shirt collection, much of which is geeky and pop-culture related. One of the best places to buy these shirts is at San Diego Comic-Con. In fact, every year, I buy a bunch of tee shirts there. Hmm. Normally I pack tee shirts to wear at the convention, but I always purchase new ones there. There was a chance to minimize my packing—stop packing tee shirts, as I can wear the ones that I buy.

Gamers are trained to recognize when things are management resource issues and react accordingly. What resources do you need to accomplish your task? How much do you need? This second question is crucial because an important lesson of gaming is that too little or too much of a resource can cause problems.

This lesson is simple. Think about the problems in your life with the same resource-management eye that you would when playing a game. Ask yourself the questions you would ask if the items you are dealing with were in a game. Which resources matter most? Which matter least? How much is enough and how much is too much? You will find, once you use the same mindset, that there is a lot of value to be had.

    “The Value of Things Can Change”

This next rule is a corollary of the last rule. Gamers, in general, tend to look at their resources as tools. They are something you need to use to get to your goal.

The offshoot of this is that gamers learn to accept that, sometimes, something they value has to be sacrificed for the greater good. Often, the key to getting to where you need to be is being willing to let go of something that got you to where you are now but is no longer needed.

In life, what this means is that you have to be willing to reevaluate what matters to you. Just because something once was important doesn’t mean it’s still important today. Often, the key to moving forward to the future is being willing to let something go from the past.

This is an especially hard lesson to apply in real life because people are emotional pack rats. They feel a need to hold onto things that once made them feel positive (happy, loved, safe, etc.) even if it no longer has that impact. The key is to do emotional inventory from time to time to understand the value of the things in your life and judge them as they are now, rather than as how they once were.

    “Trust the Math”

One of the things you learn in gaming is that there’s a lot of math involved. A big use of math is predicting percentage outcomes. How likely is something going to happen? When making decisions where math is applicable, gamers learn to trust the math when gaming. If the numbers say to stand on a thirteen when the dealer has a two showing, you stand, even if the last three times this situation happened, you lost. You stand even if your gut tells you that, this time, you’re going to beat the odds.

In short, what gamers learn is that sometimes you trust your instincts and sometimes you trust the math. When the issue at hand is a matter of numbers, you trust the math. Fifty-one percent does, in fact, trump forty-nine percent. Gamers learn that your emotions will always have an opinion, but you have to know when and where to listen to it.

This problem is directly applicable to real life. When tangible stakes are on the line, people get nervous and, when they do, they tend to listen to their emotions more. That’s fine when the issue at hand is an emotional one, but when it boils down to math, you have to let your gamer instincts prevail. Your gut will never change percentages, no matter how much it wants to convince you that it can.

    “Find Value in Others”

There are many different types of games. One of them is what we call a political game. A political game involves players having interactions where the personal dynamic between the players impacts the outcome of the game.

One of the things gamers learn quickly is to recognize when games have a political component. The key to doing well in political games is understanding that your game is dependent on the other players. You need to recognize that each player has value and you have to learn what that value is. The fastest way to lose is to not respect what the other players have to offer.

Real life is as political a game as they come and this lesson carries over pretty smoothly. Everyone has value and has the ability to impact your life. Don’t dismiss people, understand their value. The worst thing you can do in a political game is to play by yourself without any allies. Life is no different.

    “Let People Do You Favours”

One of the things you learn in political games is that the key to doing well is creating a bond with other players. When push comes to shove, you want players to be allies and not enemies. What is one of the best ways to create allies? Allow others to do favors for you. At first blush, that might sound backwards. Wouldn’t doing favors for others encourage their loyalty better?

Here’s what’s going on. First, humans, as a species, enjoy doing favors. It makes them feel good about themselves. It gives them a sense of purpose. Second, because there’s an expectation of payback, there’s this sense that you want to stay around people you’ve given favors to.

The lesson here is another one easily applicable to real life. Don’t be stingy allowing people to help you. It makes them feel good, it helps create bonds, and – you know what? – sometimes you can use the help.

    Play to Win

Gaming is a great hobby and creates valuable skills that can extend into your real life. The point of my article today is to encourage you all to use these skills not just to win games but to live better lives. Even those of you who already do much of what I pointed out, please be aware that there are always opportunities to do a little more.

~^~

The original article can be found here: http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/live-gamer-2013-12-05

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Life & Self, Quotes

 

Prevaricate Not

Remember that ‘save for a rainy day’ thing?

Once there was a man who worked hard and spent a lot of money on books, ensuring he had a fine library to read during his retirement.

He even took early retirement.

A few days later, he was killed in an accident. Not one of his books did he get to read.

True? Yes. I bought a dozen of his untouched paperbacks from the second hand bookshop that his brother sold them to.

You can’t take it with you. Have your ‘rainy day’ regularly. Enjoy and share what you have.

Blessed Be.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Life & Self

 
 
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