Buggrit! Millennium Hand and Shrimp!

                You may call me a Grinch, a grumbler, or a grouch, but I am not a fan of the Holiday season.  I am perfectly OK with that fact.  I get far too stressed out every year.  I have a feeling that if I kept track of my blood pressure on a regular basis, there would be a dramatic spike from the middle of November through the end of the year, every year.

                Every time, money is scarce, and yet the number of things that I need to spend money on seems to increase exponentially during the holiday season (I need to find a way to switch my annual car registration to sometime in summer, so it stops falling on the week before x-mas).  Of course, this always makes things stressful; a lack of money when you need it has got to be one of the most nerve-racking aspects of our society.  Maybe it’s the primary reason that I’m such a Scrooge; money is tight and that paints the rest of life in a stressed-out light. 

                However, I always manage to get by; in hindsight money was never quite as tight as I usually assume it is.  So my dislike of the holidays can’t be solely blamed on that.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there’s so much less sunlight to work with. 

The sun has barely risen when I drive to work in the morning and it’s in the process of setting by the time I head home.  I enjoy my time outdoors, I love going in to the hills by myself and finding some time away from everything else.  With the lack of sunlight, there are precious few opportunities to do that.  When I can’t do the things I love, I get grumpy.

                Then again, maybe that’s not it at all.  Maybe my problem with the holidays these past few years stems from the seemingly inevitable defeat of the Packers at the hands of an NFC West team in the playoffs.  The way the last few years have gone, I would not be shocked at all if the Packers lose to the Cardinals this year, let alone the Seahawks.

                As much as these and a myriad of other tiny things tend to get on my nerves during the holiday season, the fact that so many people I care about are always in town and available to spend time with does make it all worth it.  I say this so that you all know that at times I may seem grumpy and I may complain about this time of the year, but despite my Grinch like attitude, I love every one of you and I wish you all the best time of your life to this point, and the hope that it gets even better from here on out. 

                One more thing: x-mas gift-shopping this year has been troublesome, therefore for most of my readers, in place of a purchased gift, I’m offering you something else.  I love to cook, and many of you apparently enjoy my cooking.  So in lieu of a purchased gift this year, I offer each of you a recipe of mine.  I’ve never written most of them down, I just keep them in my head.  Sometime this week though, I’m going to type up all the recipes of mine that I can think of, along with detailed instructions.  Contact me to let me know which one you want, and I’ll get it to you.  When I have a list of all of them, I’ll post it in the comments section for this post on Facebook. 

Also, if you love the sound of one or more of the recipes, but aren’t much of a cook yourself, I promise to have you over for dinner at some point in the next year, where I plan on coming up with a number of new recipes.  My goal for next year is going to be coming up with at least one new recipe a month, and I’m going to be focusing on my favorite two types of food; Soul food and French food… I may even try to combine them at some point… Southern Fried Chicken Cordon Bleu anyone?

                Enjoy!  Happy Holidays!  Also, I sincerely hope that all of your football teams lose, unless you are a fan of the Packers, like a sane person should be…


Reaching a Save Point

When I was growing up I read a lot, I also watched a lot of TV and played a lot of video games.  What I was doing was immersing myself in the stories.  I wasn't doing it because I had nothing else to do, I was doing it because the stories drew me in, like an addiction.  I was diving in to these alternate worlds and living out the role of the hero, the villain, the spectator, or the victim. 

Every day I would wander in to one (or more) of these lives and experience things that I never thought I would be able to feel in real life.  In a specific sense, I was correct, I wasn’t going to get to experience these things; I would never blow up the No. 1 reactor in Midgar and then fall in love with the girl at the church in the Sector 5 slums.  I would never have my name attributed to a prophecy in the Department of Mysteries.  Also, chances are slim that I’d ever have to go find all seven dragonballs in order to save the world. 

Red XIII was always my favorite character...

However, all of those stories, and all of the lives that that I borrowed, all of the roles I fulfilled in my mind, had one thing in common… they were remarkable.  After years of spending my free time in these alternate lives, believing that someday I would become special and save the world; after years of allowing my actual life to pass me by while I spent my time in lives already written, I woke up. 

I still love those stories and I still read, watch, and play them.  I even still have vivid dreams (day and night) of fighting to survive the zombie apocalypse or growing wings and flying around fighting aliens.  But I realize now (and it’s been a gradual revelation, over the last few years), that I don’t need superpowers or special circumstances to be remarkable, I only need the determination to live a remarkable life.

Not to brag but, my daydreams can get pretty awesome...

That’s why, last winter, I set myself some goals.  Call them New Year’s Resolutions if you like, but ultimately they were just some checkpoints that I wanted to try to reach within a year…

1.       Make enough money so that I don’t always have to live paycheck to paycheck
2.       Write more
3.       Earn some money from my writing (even if it’s only a few bucks)
4.       Lose weight (get down in to the 240’s)
5.       Build a Rube Goldberg machine
6.       Date someone and have it last longer than a month

I made sure the goals were fairly modest.  I knew that if I put the bar too high I would give up too easily.  Moreover, bettering yourself in life shouldn’t be about leaping up to the pinnacle of your abilities as quickly as you can.  Rather, it should be a constant pursuit of the unattainable.  I know that these modest goals won’t lead directly to the remarkable lives I dream of, but perhaps the constant pursuit of goal after goal will.

I made these goals for myself at some point last winter (I don’t remember exactly when), and now that it is starting to feel like winter again, I think it’s time to revisit them and check on my progress…

1.       Make enough money so that I don’t always have to live paycheck to paycheck:

Money has been a bit hard to come by in the past couple of years.  Then again, I’ve been absolutely abysmal at budgeting for myself for my entire life.  So that’s how I ended up attacking this goal.  I’ve changed up my spending habits, I’ve tried to think more than a day in to the future, and I’ve looked in to earning extra money from side projects (see: Goal #3).  So far so good.  Now that we’re fast approaching the holiday season and I have a lot planned for the next few months, money is predictably tight.  Over the course of the year though, I’ve had a bit more breathing room than I’m used to.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually feel like a functional adult rather than a fresh-out-of-college-twenty-something struggling to get by.  I’m certainly far from where I would eventually like to be, but at least I seem to have gotten out of the “baby horse trying to stand up for the first time” phase.

2.       Write more:

This is the 14th blog post that I’ve written and posted in the last 12 months, the previous record was 12.  And not only have I posted more blogs; I’ve written more for myself.  Blogs that I haven’t posted, stories that I continue to work on, and random writings that I do for no other reason than to write.

I think I’ve written almost as much this year as I did per year in college, and I HAD to write for class back then, this time it’s simply for my own sake.  It feels good!

3.       Earn some money from my writing (even if it’s only a few bucks):

I’ve looked in to writing of all types that could earn me some money.  Mostly it seems to be a slow process, you have to build up some proof of success before the majority of people are truly willing to pay you for anything. 

I’ll admit that I haven’t put a ton of work in to this goal, but I haven’t ignored it either.  In fact, I’ve met the goal, I haven’t earned much money, but I HAVE earned more than $0.00 this year with my writing.  And that was the real goal…

... maybe I’ll set the bar a little higher next time.

4.       Lose weight (get down in to the 240’s):

It’s been a year of starts and stops and failed diets.  I’ve tried so many different things halfheartedly this year that I’ve lost count of them.  At one point I was at the heaviest I’ve ever been, just a few pounds shy of 270 (267 to be exact).  And yet, the past couple of months, I’ve begun to slim down a bit.

I’ve been doing some steady exercise in the form of hiking in the hills around my house.  I’m trying to get in about another 80 miles by the end of the year.  That most likely means hiking a lot on the weekends, any days off that I have, and possibly hiking in the snow; but there’s worse workouts than a little snow-hike.

I didn't get to do the Loch Leven Lakes trail this summer, but next summer I'm going!

What’s been more effective though, is my diet.  It’s not that I’m cutting out any certain food or drink; I’m simply getting in the habit of eating healthier and less.  We all know what “healthier” is to an extent.  Fruits and Veggies are obviously healthier than anything made by Hostess; a serving of some sort of lean meat is obviously healthier than a cake; and a salad with some grilled chicken is obviously healthier than a double cheeseburger.   

That third option is what I’ve been doing, eating a salad every day for lunch with some grilled chicken, rather than going to get a burger.  That plus a small, high-protein breakfast and dinner makes for just enough food to keep me jolly, and the last time I weighed myself I was at 254.  So, it’s progress, and at this rate, I should be in the 240’s by the end of the year!

5.       Build a Rube Goldberg machine:

I put this one in my resolutions, because I wanted something in there that I knew would be an absolute blast to do.  Not something that I would have to force myself to get in to a habit for; but simply something I had never done, but always wanted to.

Therefore I’m ashamed to announce that I have not yet done this… But that’s one of the reasons that I’m making sure this post is live before the week of Friendsgiving.  I have that entire week off… who wants to come by and help make one of these?!  If that week doesn’t end up working, we can always find some time in December to do it too.  My garage is open and can be used; or the spare room in the house… or both.

For those of you not aware of what a Rube Goldberg machine is…

6.       Date someone and have it last longer than a month:

This brings me to an interesting point.  This is the only one of my goals that would directly involve another person.  That is unless I was to become one of these guys…

There's too much of an age gap between my phone and I for me to date it...

No... Just no...

After focusing on my other goals, and looking in to this one, I “stumbled” upon a goal I really didn’t know I had.  The state of my mental health at the beginning of this year was a disaster.  Depression and self-loathing were running rampant through my subconscious with not an ounce of self-esteem to be seen in years. 

While talking about my goals, especially this one, with a particularly nosy friend, she made me dig deeper and uncover my sorry mental state.  Doing so forced me to face my depression head on and accept it.  I won’t say I’ve gotten past it, and that life is full of nothing but sunshine and puppies now, but I’ve made some good progress.  Progress that I don’t think I would have made if I hadn’t been single.

This part is getting a bit heavy, so here's a wrinkly pile of cuteness to break it up.

Perhaps that’s for the best.  Looking back at why it’s been so difficult for me to handle anything even remotely resembling a relationship for the past way-too-many years, I feel I can safely say that the reason is primarily my utter lack of self-esteem and my extensive depression.

Therefore, my sixth goal for the year has been changed to: Get my head on straight.  After all, there’s no sense in pursuing something with another person that ultimately isn’t going to help me or them.  This goal is linked to all of my others, each of them contributing a little to the success of this one; it’s why I listed it last.

And one more...

While this new goal of mental stability is obviously the hardest to measure, I feel like I can safely say that it is also the one on which I have made the most progress.  As for the goal that I dropped, the relationship, maybe next year I’ll consider it again… or maybe not.  I know somewhat what I want in a relationship, but I don’t see a way to reach that goal a little bit at a time.  It seems insurmountable at this point, so maybe I’ll move on, then try again somewhere down the road.

So at the end of this year, or 10 months, however long it’s been since I made these goals, I’ve come to the conclusion that my life will never be remarkable if I wait, hope, wish, and dream it away.  A remarkable life is something that I must strive for and make for myself; it will never fall in my lap, no matter how long I wait.  If these goals that I set for myself continue help me in that endeavor, then just maybe when the day comes for my life to end, I can look back on it and see a truly remarkable story.  


I Moustache You a Question...

                I have had a beard or a goatee for over 10 years now.  During that decade, I have only been clean-shaven a handful of times.  I love my beard, I like how it looks, and it keeps my face warm.  Sure it has its drawbacks, not everyone approves of facial hair, sometimes it tickles, and every once in a while I get food in it and don’t notice until someone points it out.

                Well next month I will be embarking on a journey of mustachioed proportions!  Next month is Movember.  Yes, you read that correctly, it is not a typo, that month just started with an “M”.  During the month of Movember, men everywhere grow out their moustaches in order to entice other people to ask the simple question, “Why?”  And the answer may be better than you realize...

                The Movember event is encouraged and propagated by a group of the same name.  The Movember Foundation is partnered with many different men’s health research groups, non-profits, and awareness groups.  For those not aware, “Men’s Health” pertains primarily to the following issues:  Prostate Cancer, Testicular Cancer, and Mental Health.  All of these problems, as well as a myriad of others, are horribly debilitating and shockingly under-treated.

                What the Movember Foundation does during the upcoming month is gather men together across the world and encourage them to increase awareness of men's health issues.  

                Via the Foundation's website, men (and women!) are able to register for the month-long event. Once registered, the men go clean shaven on Movember 1st and grow a moustache (NO BEARDS) for the entire month.  When the people they encounter in day to day life ask them, “Why?” they refer them to the Movember Foundation and the men’s health issues in desperate need of attention in our society. 

Then, once informed, the people are encouraged to make a donation to the Movember Organization, citing their chosen moustache extraordinaire as their inspiration for doing so.  The money will then be distributed to different men’s health research and awareness groups, to help bring attention and aid to those suffering from these health issues for far too long.

So if you want to try growing a moustache for this noble cause, or even if you just want to donate or help out, please do so and let’s beat back these Malcontent Maladies with the Majestic Might of the Moustache!

All of this being said, this is the point where I could use some reader input… What style of moustache should I cultivate?  I'm having trouble deciding, so I'm putting some of the pressure on you... Here are a few styles that I’m ruling out automatically:

The Charlie Chaplin: 

The Pencil Thin ‘Stache:

Anything that requires wax:

Please make suggestions for the style of my ‘stache in the comments section below or on facebook…

Thanks, and happy Movember!


To Hell or a Picnic

“Where’s this headed, and why the hand basket?”- Peter Mulvey

On a daily basis anymore I see people complain that the world is in decline.  People worry that the end of civilization as we know it is fast approaching.  Sometimes they think it’s because of a decline in morality, because of the political failings (or successes, depending on your viewpoint) of world leaders, because of the global economic shifts, or because of the growth of any particular creed, race, nationality, or sexuality, or perhaps because of some reason that I’m glossing over. 
Whatever reason they believe it to be, one thing is certain: The sky is falling…

We have the incredible ability now to access virtually any information in the world in an instant.  You don't even have to go seek it out with a few simple keystrokes; instead the information that you want is instantly sent to your phone or tablet.  It's on the homepage of your browser, it's in the "Articles you might like" section, and it's taking over your social media as videos and articles go viral through the online community.

This amazing level of access to information has been the cause of some truly awesome things in our global society.  Massive amounts of money have been raised for deserving charities, disease research, and potato salad.  Wrongs have been righted in the court of public opinion, even though plenty of other wrongs have been committed or gone unnoticed.

Yet perhaps the most awe-inspiring thing that the information age has brought upon us is the onset of fear (awe-inspiring doesn’t mean good, terrible things can inspire awe as well).  Via consumerism in this brave new world, fear is being spread far, wide, and constantly.

It’s at this point that I was GOING to talk about consumerism and how it has turned fear into, by and far, the largest and most effective marketing tool ever.  However, this post was getting too long.  So I’ve split that part off for a future post.   Stay tuned!

In our society there is always at least one large news story casting fear over our minds and doubt over our safety.  Right now those stories are Ebola, ISIS, and Big Bad Evil NFL players.  But let’s take a look at some of the scares from past years…

Beheading by Al-Qaeda in Pakistan
Israel was at war in the Gaza Strip
North Korea continues to fire test rockets and missiles as well as nuclear tests.
Swine Flu
3 commercial passenger planes crash

5 commercial passenger planes crash
Massive earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China, and Indonesia
BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
North Korea shells YeongPyeong Island prompting potential conflict between North and South Korea.

Arab Spring
Earthquake and tsunami in Japan leading to the meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant
United States credit is downgraded due to massive debt
Another Iraqi insurgency
Occupy Wallstreet movement and protests turn violent in Oakland and other cities

End of the Mayan Calendar*facepalm*
Attacks in response to the Innocence of Muslims trailer
Mexican Drug Cartels and assassination attempts on CIA agents in Mexico
Israel fighting again in the Gaza Strip
Large Hadron Collider “recreating the Big Bang”

More nuclear tests in North Korea
Large meteor strike in Chelyabinsk Russia causes worries that Deep Impact could come true.
Syrian Civil war
Edward Snowden
More plane crashes

Now we’re in the year 2014 and already we’ve had plane crashes, missing planes, wars, assassinations, terrorist threats, reemergence of old diseases, brand new diseases, and whatever political “crisis” you are the most scared of.

The fact of the matter is that terrible stuff happens all the time.  It happens world-wide, people die, misery ensues, and at some point(s) in your life you will experience terror and desolation firsthand.  It will be difficult, you’ll doubt whether or not you’ll pull through it, and you may not be able to.

There isn’t much that you can do to prepare for that eventuality either.  No matter how much you worry and prepare, you won’t be truly ready when that day comes.  90% of your preparation will slip through your fingers when it happens. 

This leaves you with a choice; you can worry days away in fear of this pending disaster or that imminent doom.  There will always be plenty to choose from whether it’s a potential plague, a terrorist attack, war, natural disasters, accidents, or even just people that are different than you, you can always find some reason to be afraid of the world.

The real trick is to take the other choice.  Rather than worrying and panicking over everything that the nightly news or your Facebook News Feed tells you, choose to ignore the fear and enjoy life as it happens. 

Through all of the dilemmas and epidemics that hit the world on a constant basis, life continues.  You still wake up every day to a world filled with breathtaking sunrises and natural phenomenon.  You live every day in a world where beautiful art of every type is created.  You live in a world where every day you can love someone with such a passionate intensity that you can feel it warm your body.  You live in a world where you can laugh until your sides hurt and tears are streaming down your face.

Simply put, we all live in a world filled with fear and desperation that is also filled with beauty and hope.  We walk a fine line every day between those two worlds, and there will be times that we falter and step on the wrong side of that line. 

For my own sake though, I know that I’ll live my life aware of it all.  I’ll keep my eye on the fears and the misery, and I’ll help wherever I can.  Still, I will forever more value the beauty of my life over the fears of the world.

“I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”- Neil Gaiman


Sho's Africa Post

Friends Plus Teresa During Fantasy Football Season,

            Unless you lost Internet over the past four months and/or were incarcerated in one of those prisons where you can’t speak to anyone, text anyone, or deal drugs you all know I graduated from grad school in June. This Labor day while I basked in the Tahoe sun and listened to patrons discuss their serendipitous, $100,000 radical inclusion Burning Man vacation I came to the realization that this was the first time in my adult life where, for the most part, I didn’t miss being a student.   The one thing I missed out on was having the chance to research the unknown parts in some of my passions.  For me, I’ve always loved traveling but have never ventured over to Africa.

            If you pick up a Jared Diamond book you’ll discover that the continent of Africa is the domicile to 25% of the languages spoken on this earth, the birthplace of some of the world’s best coffee, and home to ten out of twelve of the fastest growing economies.  So why has this entire continent, with so many diverse and vibrant cultures, been relegated to a monolithic idea of an area perpetually engulfed with massive poverty, stagnant growth, and a forever war torn area?

            There’s no arguing that a large part of Africa has suffered through decades of mismanagement aid projects, self induced massive inflation, and brutally corrupt leaders. But if you’re looking for a blog post feigning some kind of insight into the depths of despair third world patrons go through on a daily basis, this isn’t one of them. Instead, I traveled to Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya to gain a better understanding of the rapid industrial expansion Africa is experiencing.

            My first stop was Uganda.  My mother always said there are two distinct parameters to evaluate the greatness of a nation. How many Bollywood movies they watch and how much their citizens want to give back to their country.  Uganda didn’t disappoint in either measurement. For starters, it was a joy to meet so many citizens sharing the same joy brought on by international films filled with long drawn out musicals with the archaic plot line of whether the man from the poor family gets the girl from the super rich family (Spoiler: He gets the girl). But beyond our Bollywood bonding, I was amazed by how the big cities of Uganda had a United Nations vibe where immigrants from Canada, South Africa, and parts of Europe all called this East Africa nation their home.

            Their reason? One fellow who I sat next to on the airplane, who we’ll call “Annoying”, stated that he moved from Toronto to Kampala, Uganda because he could make a direct impact immediately, but also because he didn’t have to do it at a break neck pace. Mr. Annoying, along with citizens from England and South Africa, flocked to Uganda because they could start small business like a Mexican restaurant or a bakery because capital was cheap, but they didn’t have to work the strenuous 15-hour days a western entrepreneur had to if he/she had to start a business in North America. 

            In my next stops in Tanzania and Kenya I once again ran into numerous former Western citizens up rooting their life because they feel Africa is the next economic frontier. An ex-Wall Street banker I met at a bar in Nairobi, Kenya explained his passion for investing and seeing companies grow. He felt that with anyone with a large amount of capital should come to Africa for its low barrier to start a business and cheap cost of labor (he was, though, disappointed by the difficulty of getting cocaine). By no means are foreign investments a rarity these days. In the March 2nd, 2013 edition of The Economist recent data shows that in the past five years, no other continent has received as much foreign direct investment as Africa. Furthermore, over 5,000 citizens from all over the world have come to Africa in the past decade to start a business.

            But, make no mistake; local citizens have been the main fuel that has spurred this break-neck financial expansion occurring in East Africa. Over the past three years, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania have grown at an average rate of 5% and roughly 90% of that growth has come from domestic citizens. On each of my stops I attended an entrepreneur and venture capital conference. As a Silicon Valley native, I was expecting these conferences to be comprised of Tyrion Lannister size hipster male tech workers presenting software and apps to mask their poor self esteem, third grade level social skills, and the fact that the only girl they’ve seen naked was when they walked in on their mom during one winter break in college.

This was far from the case.  I had the pleasure of meeting countless individuals working on issues such as water rights, female access to education, and improving quality products for farmers.  Many people were baffled that so much money in America was being thrown into technology companies. I met a man, in Zanzibar, Tanzania, who was setting up an easier way for motorcycle drivers to lease their bikes for much cheaper.  In many parts of Africa most people get around on the backs of motorcycles (an experience that makes you fear for you life, but is incredibly cheap and efficient). He said, “I am amazed at the talent that in the American tech community. They have the ability to solve some of the biggest problems, but many choose to focus on trivial matters that have a minute impact on the world. I think this is a wasted opportunity. It’s my privilege to create a business that can help so many people in my country, and that’s the only way I look at my business.  Many people all around the world wish they had the same community and resources that reside in Silicon Valley.”

            While the inner nerd in me was mesmerized by the economic transformation occurring in Africa, the time I spent on checking out the sites in East Africa was just as mind blowing. This blog post is already too long to go into detail about the amazing environmental landscape I had the privilege to see, but if one is looking for natural forestry and aquatic beauty then they should consider a trip to Africa. There are no words that can explain the awesomeness of a safari (or as I like to call it a “Shofari”). The people who you meet that are committed to protecting the wildlife are heroes.   Sitting down over tea with Safari guides, who have been giving tours for over thirty years, was just as interesting as seeing that one wild animal holding Barack Obama’s birth certificate.  Having the opportunity to raft the Nile over one weekend was a dream I had since I was in third grade.  Even as the number one Tahoe fan, I had never seen a body of water so pristine and blue.

            And just like every country in the world, besides China, people will blow you away with their kindness.  Regardless, of economic stature, the people I met in all three countries I visited were honored to have visitors. To the fault of my own, I ended up in the tourist’s nightmare where I was alone at night walking back to my hotel. Not once did I ever feel threatened and not once did a person ever ask for money after helping with directions.  Many justified their philanthropic gesture by explained they were happy to have people visit and taking money was thug-life behavior deterring future tourists. In the over thirty countries I’ve visited I’ve never encountered this kind of benevolent behavior.        

            Perhaps the most surprising fact was the agony that I thought many Africans experienced was never apparent.  They never felt sorry for themselves for living through a brutal dictatorship, like many had in Uganda. Nor did the citizens of Tanzania want any sympathy from the outside world over the countless times large multinational oil companies pillaged their resources and left them with less then their fair share.  I had the opportunity to attend a number of culture shows and art exhibits. The people of East Africa were proud of their heritage and culture and were incredibly enthusiastic about sharing it with strangers.

            I can say I met over two hundred people on this trip. The only time I met so many people in such a short amount of time when I was a volunteer in Las Vegas on The President’s 2012 re-election campaign. If you gave me an assignment asking me to give you a list of the different thing these two groups wanted in life I would fail. These were people just like you and me (but taller, better skin, and probably better basketball players). Whether it was my driver or the police officer I had to bribe, all of them had the same “American” dream of sending their kids to college, having a safe environment for their family, and having the desire to leave this earth a better place than why they arrived.

            If you don’t believe me, that’s fine, I get it. For far too long we in the Western world have only been given images of Africa in despair and not of rapid development.  But if you have time and money, be a student and take some time to learn about an area in the world that should be getting far more attention and respect that it has in the past.


Unconditional Inevitability

                Unconditional love is a rare and precious thing.  It can be found in only a few different places in life, a significant other, a parent, a child, etc., and most people are lucky to find it once or twice.  However, there is one exception to that rule, and that is the relationships that we share with our pets.  Whether it’s a dog, a cat, a horse, or something else, a human’s bond with their pet can be one of the most treasured connections that we are capable of experiencing.

                Not everyone has shared that connection; some people aren’t used to having pets.  Others simply don’t maintain that close of a relationship with their animals, instead choosing to view the situation as a necessity when the animal provides some sort of service, such as transportation or security.  Some people only keep porcelain pets (not that that means they don’t love them just as much as if they were, say, NOT made of porcelain). 

                For me, as most of you know, having a pet has always been something of a focal point in my life.  I grew up with multiple dogs and a couple cats.  Then I worked at an animal shelter for years.  Nowadays, while I may occasionally steal some affection from my parent’s dog, Sammy; or my roommate’s cat, Biscuit, I primarily get my fix for unconditional love from my dog, Levi.

                If you don’t know Levi, he’s a boxer and bullmastiff mix.  I got him from the SPCA, where he was a “frequent flyer”, meaning that he was returned to us time and time again due to the bad habit of jumping fences and never staying in one place for too long.  That habit didn’t change much when I got him.  It took years of chasing him down the street, tricking and trapping him, getting help from my roommates, (and one time even enticing him back in to the house with a trail of bacon that I HAD been cooking for myself) in order to break that habit and get him to stay home.

                Despite his natural wanderlust, Levi is quite the homebody.  He’s always loved to sleep on couches or beds, and it’s rare that he lets me out of his sight when around the house, following me from room to room.  He is always there to comfort me when I’m feeling down, to annoy me when I’m frustrated, and to share in my excitement when something goes right for me.  And isn’t that ultimately what real love is?  To be so in tune with the person or animal that you love that you not only feel what they feel, but you either amplify it or you change it for the better?

                However, nothing can last forever.  Levi is a large-ish dog (70+ lbs.), and even though I never knew him as a puppy, and all we can do is guess at his age, best guesses put him right around 10 years old.  Now for a dog his size, 10 is on the distant side of middle-aged.  Most dogs his size usually live to be 12 or 13. 

                I mention this because his age is beginning to become a worry for me.  He limps when he walks; he struggles to get on the couches and beds that he loves so much.  A few minutes of play with younger dogs will nearly incapacitate him for a week.  He has fatty tumors growing all over his body, and he sometimes has trouble swallowing.   He’s getting old.

                He still looks at me with absolute adoration in his eyes, but now those eyes are clouding up with cataracts.  He still likes to cuddle on the bed, but now he can only lay on a certain hip, the other one hurts him too much to lay on it for more than a minute or two.  He still begs for food, but he can’t raise his front paw as he used to in order to give that classic begging pose.

                Having worked at the SPCA for as long as I did, I have had to assist with euthanasia multiple times.  Sometimes the animal was sick or old and in pain, and someone had to be there to do the deed.  That someone was frequently me during my time there.  I became somewhat accustomed to it, even with dogs or cats that I had grown attached to.   Still, it was never easy; it was an emotional hurdle every time.  (Side note: In my last two years there, I would sing “If I Could” by Jack Johnson to the animals while I held them.  It seemed to help calm them, and it certainly helped me.)

                However, this one, this one will be harder.  Levi has been my best friend for years now.  When I’m depressed he can tell, and he makes sure that he’s touching me whenever he can be; whether that means that he is laying on my feet while I sit on the couch, or pressed up against my side while I lie in bed.  When I’m happy, he tries his best to lick my face, even though I won’t let him.  When I’m confused, he sits and watches me as I talk to him.  I pour my heart out to him, and he listens, he’ll just sit there for hours and calmly watch me as I talk my way through my dilemma. 

                It’s because of the love in his eyes as he watches me; it’s because of the emotional warmth he gives me while pressed up against my side in bed; it’s because of his determination to congratulate me the only way he knows how, even though I won’t let him.  It’s because of all of this and more that I’m not sure I’ll be able to face that day that I know is coming.  I’m worried that it will be too soon.  And I’m worried that it will be too much.  I’ve had that unconditional love for years now, and I’m not sure what I’ll do when it’s gone. 

                Still, someday, everything goes.  It’s inevitability.  So I implore you, if you have that connection with a person, or with a pet, cherish it.  Make sure they know it.  Return that love with every fiber of your being, because ultimately love is the best way that we can improve the world around us.  


"X" Marks the Understanding

“I didn’t come down here to change any of y’alls minds about anything; I come down here to ease my own mind about everything.  It works every time.” – Todd Snider

Todd Snider has a point that he makes repeatedly in his new book, “I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales”.  The point is that a good song writer writes their songs and their stories for themselves, not for the audience.  They write the songs as a cathartic act, an act of breaking themselves open to draw out the poison and whatever else may be in there. 

                I feel like his point applies not only to song writers but to artists of any type really.  To make art, the best art, you have to delve in to yourself.  Your soul is your paintbrush and the world is your canvas.  The best art is made from raw emotion.  It isn’t made with the audience in mind; it’s done for the sake of the artist and no one else.  It’s an act that is private and meant to be whispered in the dark.

                At least, at the point of creation, that’s what it is.  But the catharsis wouldn’t be complete if the artist didn’t then share that private, secret piece of his/her soul.  While art is meant to be created in private, it’s also meant to be shared with the world at large.  By doing this, the artist can find at least a moment’s peace; a respite from the voices in their head or the emotions stampeding through their heart. 

                I believe that what we’re all ultimately looking for is for someone who can understand us.  Perhaps that is even more true for artists.  We can’t comprehend the emotions inside us or the complex thoughts spinning through our imaginations, and so we ask for help to understand them.  Maybe if I can get this thought on paper or find just the right brushstroke to convey this feeling, then maybe someone out there will understand what it is that I feel.  If they can understand what I feel, then maybe they’ll be able to understand me as well. 

                We’re all seeking that companionship.  The world that we live in can be a scary place, but the worlds that live inside us can be a thousand times more confusing and frightening.  At times we feel things so strongly that we think our hearts may burst out of our chests, then at other times we want nothing more than to collapse in on ourselves, as if there were a blackhole inside us, pulling everything inward. 

These feelings and these thoughts can be terrifying.  Our feeling can overpower us, and in our inability to understand our own souls, we desperately search for those out there that may be able to understand us better than we understand ourselves.  All art is born out of confusion and a need for understanding.  We put our questions down in song, in writing, in pictures or sculptures.  We hold our art out in front of us like a Help Wanted sign, hoping that someone will be able to save us. 

It’s a compulsion, this need to be understood and to understand.  Some lucky few find that person that can understand them; sometimes that person is their friend, maybe family, perhaps a lover (hopefully not all three).  But from what I’ve seen, most people never quite find that level of understanding that they’re seeking.  They may get close, but it always manages to stay just slightly out of reach. 

I mention all of this for a reason.  I’ve been writing a lot lately.  Most of it is incomplete, fragmented thoughts and emotions jotted down, scrawled on the back of a receipt stuffed in my pocket or typed on five pages only to be buried beneath dozens of other incomplete thoughts.  Yet I still find myself writing them.  The problem is, that I’m afraid.  I’m afraid to share the most personal thoughts in my head.

I’m not sure why.  There isn’t anything particularly scary about them, it’s just that they’re so deeply personal and so immensely confusing.  I don’t understand them, yet I feel like I should.  I don’t like that sense of bewilderment that comes with them.  I know that I need to get the thoughts out there, in to the world so that maybe someone can understand.  But that means giving up control, and that is not my strong suit. 

That being said, I am going to make an effort to post some of my more personal work.  I certainly wouldn’t call any of it art just yet, but maybe someday, if I break down my own resolve enough, maybe someday someone will consider it as such. 

It’s hard to relinquish that control, to admit that I couldn’t find the answers by myself.  But maybe that’s what art really is, the act of breaking open your heart again and again, just to show the world what’s inside.  So, be prepared, I’m going to be trying something new here, after all, what have I got to lose?

“If everything goes particularly well this evening, we can all expect a ninety minute distraction from our impending doom.” – Todd Snider


The Climb

                “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” – Neil Gaiman

                Throughout life we are challenged; hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.  We are challenged professionally, personally, morally, spiritually, romantically, physically, emotionally, and any other –ally that you can think of.  For some of us the challenges come more frequently than for others.  Sometimes these difficulties come in waves, we feel as if we’re overwhelmed and drowning until we eventually manage to break through the wall of water and enjoy a peaceful respite on the other side, no matter how brief.
                Some of us seek out challenges.  I’m one of those people.  I don’t think I’ve always been this way; I used to be happy to float along in a sea of mediocrity.  But at some point in life I developed a love for competition, whether I’m competing against other people, or just striving against myself. 

                I want to be challenged, in every aspect of my life.  If I’m not challenged professionally (scholastically when I was still in school), then I get bored, which leads to aggravation, and that’s a slippery slope.  The same thing could be said for my love life, or my hobbies, even my imagination.  I want my beliefs and my thoughts to be challenged on a daily basis.  I want people to prove me wrong, I need my theories torn apart, I crave to be knocked down again and again.

                I seek all of this out not because I’m a masochist, though it may sound that way, but because every time I’m proven wrong, or someone points out a gaping hole in my thought process, I get stronger.  I never want to be the best, not at anything ever, not unless I feel like I’ve earned it.  I want my life to be a constant climb.  I never want to reach the top of the mountain, because if I do, it means that I have nowhere further to go.  And as Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

                At times in my life I have gotten complacent, as I’ve written about in past blogs.  When that happens, I get angry with myself.  I feel like I’ve let myself down to some extent.  But let’s face it, I can’t be constantly looking to better myself in every aspect of life at the same time.  It’s too much, I have to let some things slide at times.  The trick is not to let them slide out of reach.

                This is the part where all of you come in.  If you notice me letting something slide, if I seem to be growing complacent, feel free to give me a little slap and tell me to get my shit together.  As much as I love the challenge of taking on everything totally and completely alone, I could, at times, use a bit of help. 

                This goes for all of us by the way.  Life is a series of challenges, you may seek some out, others will hit you when you least expect it.  But if you ever need help, don’t be afraid to ask.  Likewise, if you notice that someone you care about, or even a total stranger needs a hand, don’t hesitate to extend yours.  Maybe you’ll find something you never expected to find in the process.

                Folk Singer Ellis Paul once wrote, “Ah, but who needs perfection?  I like the tension when there’s room for doubt.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Perfection is boring, give me tension, give me a challenge, make me work for it, and I’ll appreciate it that much more. 


The Biggest Little Culture

                Take a moment and think of East 4th street.

                If you’re from Reno, then chances are I could guess what thoughts just went through your head; thoughts of homeless shelters, drugs, and prostitutes (or to put it more poetically, homeless hookers on heroine).

                That’s what East 4th street in Reno has made us think of for years, even generations.  So what are the odds that we could change that image?  What would it take for the people of Reno and our future generations to have a more positive image in their minds when they think of that neighborhood?  How can the image of that neighborhood be revitalized?  The answer, in short, is You.

                The question on the minds of a group of business owners along East 4th street and the surrounding areas is, “How do we get You to come down here?”  Some of the businesses are old standbys, ones that have been there for decades, while others are only a month or two old.  Under the Rose Brewery is one of those newer businesses.  It’s built inside the old Nevada Welding Works building.

                The back part of the building, which was originally a welding and iron working shop, is large and open.  The sides of the room are lined with brewery equipment that is constantly operating, creating new batches of their delicious beer.  The front part of the building is a bar, with the usual bar games of darts, foosball, and ping pong, but also the unusual fixture of a bocce ball court set up along one side of the room.  Try to name another bar where you can drink a quality craft beer while enjoying an indoor game of bocce ball.

                Scattered throughout the neighborhood is a nightclub, another brewery (built INSIDE the old SPCA building.  For those of you that spent time with me there during my four years of working for the shelter, it’s pretty awesome to see.).  There’s Louis’ Basque Corner, over a dozen artist studios, The Reno Bike Project, a handful of eclectic shops, and other unique businesses. 

                But still, despite some new businesses moving in, a huge number of the buildings in the neighborhood are sitting empty.  I won’t lie to you; the majority of the neighborhood does still feel somewhat destitute.  That’s where we come in…

                This neighborhood is full of nothing but local business, and every single one is just as creative and unique as the next.  This neighborhood is only the latest one to join in the movement of revitalizing Reno’s culture.  Before now there has been the Riverwalk, Midtown, and a handful of others.  So far, those other neighborhoods have been successful.  But none of them have had to fight against the stigma that comes along with East 4th street. 

                Nonetheless, Reno’s cultural footprint is changing.  We’re abandoning the old stereotype of Vegas’ dirty, little sibling.  We’re leaving behind the thought of old, smoke filled casinos and a different vice around every corner.  Instead, throughout town, individual neighborhoods are sprouting up, filled with local craft breweries, unique restaurants, and shops, the like of which you won’t find anywhere else. 

                Reno is developing in to something new altogether.  It’s somehow maintaining its small town persona while managing to grow in size.  It’s almost as if Reno is striving to become the southernmost point of the cultural behemoth that is the Pacific North West. 

                The district of East 4th street is simply the newest area to step up to the plate and help Reno change its image.  But it’s also the neighborhood that has faced the largest challenge in doing so thus far.  So I implore you to go out, meet the owners of these new and old businesses, and spread the word.  Get out and see what Reno is becoming, and see what you can do to help it. 

                Every day that passes, Reno is more and more in the national spotlight.  With tourism growing, large businesses from across the country flocking here (come on Tesla, you know you want to build in Reno), and local businesses booming, we are growing in to something different and something new right before the world’s eyes.

                So help me leave behind the tired old facade of the Divorce Capitol of the World, and let’s shape this town in to what WE want it to be.  If we want the world to view us differently, we need to do so first.


The Walls We Build

            The restaurant is crowded; you’re sitting alone at your table, dressed up a bit, nothing too fancy.  People are coming and going, there’s a group having a loud conversation, interspersed with raucous laughter.  A few tables around you are filled with couples, some are quietly talking, and others are eating in silence.  You've only been there for about five minutes, you’re early, and your date’s not late, not yet.

            You've never met the person that you’re waiting for.  You talked with them over the phone briefly, but this was set up by a friend, you've never seen your date face to face, and that makes you nervous.  What are you going to do, what are you going to talk about, you don’t know very much about them, how do you learn more about them?  What if they don’t like you?  What if you don’t like them?

            They come in, ask for your table and the hostess seats them across from you.  You introduce yourself; you make awkward small talk, mostly about the menu.  After you each order your food and maybe some drinks, you try to engage each other in conversation, you try to get comfortable. 

            As the date progresses you either get more comfortable with each other and the conversation benefits, or you don’t and the entire night is just as awkward as those first few minutes.  Maybe it’s the worst date you've ever had, or maybe this person will become the love of your life.  Either way, it depends in large part on that first conversation (and all the ones that come after it). 

            As you talk to each other, you notice things, little reactions; nervous ticks.  Maybe you notice something about them that they themselves aren't even aware of; a difference between their polite smile and a real one, how one is controlled and perfect, but when they lose that control and laugh out loud, one eye winks just slightly smaller than the other.  Whatever it is, it’s real, it’s true, and most importantly, it’s un-edited.

            When we have conversations with people, face to face, we have the opportunity to learn things from them that we would never have known had the conversation been via different means.  Perhaps you’re talking to your boss, or to a friend, maybe it’s a stranger; no matter who it is, you’re learning more about them, more about their mood, their opinions, and their personality the longer you talk to them. 

            The same thing can happen (to a lesser extent) when you’re talking to someone on the phone.  You can hear little cues in the person’s voice; are they happy, are they mad, or maybe they’re bored or busy?  These unspoken signs are what truly let us learn and get to know a person.  They’re important.

            But there’s a problem.  We’re forgetting these signs; we’re not taking our opportunities to notice them and to learn about the people around us.  Instead we resort to other forms of communication.  Rather than calling up an acquaintance and asking for a date, we send them a text or a Facebook message.  When we need directions, we look at our smartphones instead of asking the person next to us.  We go to dinner with friends, and instead of just enjoying a conversation with the people close to us, we each Instagram and Tweet pictures of what we’re doing.

            We’re told that this social media lifestyle is opening us up to a whole new world of opportunity and an entirely new level of personal connection.  But it’s not true.  We may have hundreds more “friends”, but not a single one who truly knows us.  We’re more informed than we've ever been before, but we don’t have the information that matters.

            Some people will tell you that the technology is addicting, others will say that social media is simply the way of the future and that opinions like this are outdated.  Occasionally someone will make an argument stating that the advent of these new technologies is strengthening our connection to those around us and helping bond us to the human race as a whole.  Whatever the reason, the use of text messaging and social media is quickly becoming more and more prevalent. 

            Personally I believe that it’s not the technology that is addicting, and it’s not the minimal connection with a multitude of people, it’s not even the ease of using social media to schedule our lives that is addicting to us.  What we’re addicted to is the ability to edit ourselves. 

We portray our personalities over the internet, but we control it.  We clip out and hide the parts we don’t like for people to know about, we add in parts that aren't truly ours.  We think about something over and over and over before posting it, in order to make sure that it’s just right and that it conveys the persona that we want it to.

We break things up in to…

shorter and shorter…


We do it so that the persona we’re depicting is easier to manage; we can show the world that we’re deep, witty, or clever all with just a quick one liner or a meme.

We build a wall of data and tell people that the wall is us, while our true selves whimper on the other side of it and beg for someone, anyone, to peek over and acknowledge them.  We crave for someone to see the real us, and to get to know us, but to let anyone in, past that wall, is terrifying.  So instead we force edits upon ourselves and force ourselves to be who we believe we should be rather than who we are.  And we ignore our desire for self-discovery. 

We assume that the job of finding our true selves should fall to someone else, we hope and believe that someday, someone will be able to see through the wall to the parts of us that we hold most dear.  But with that mindset, we completely ignore that sometimes it’s not the discoverer’s job to find you, but rather it’s your job to be found.

When we put down our phones, our tablets, and our laptops and we look a fellow person in the eyes and talk to them, we can learn so much more about them than if we were to just stare at their wall of data.  And it’s a two way street, while we learn about them, they learn about us.  We barely even notice it’s happening, but it is, constantly; provided you can put down the phone.

A wall is just a wall, but we as people are more than our social media profiles.  We’re more than our posts, our likes, and our comments.  We’re each made up of hopes, dreams, thoughts, beliefs, kinks, quirks, opinions, and values.  Every one of us has things that we’d rather hide, and things that we’d like to add on to ourselves in order to impress others.  Ultimately, we are not able to change simply by how we portray ourselves online.  And when it comes down to it, (as hard as it may be to believe) nothing is more impressive to the right person than you exactly as you are.

So please, put down the phone, close the browser, stop reading this, and go strike up a conversation with someone that you’d like to know something more about, even if that something is just their name.  Please, stop editing yourself, let people see you as you are, flaws and all, because you as a whole person are more impressive than any wall you can ever build.