A Look Back at 2015 and a Wish for 2016

                As 2015 comes to a close, I feel the need to recap the year.  Every year is a big one, and especially the last few have been fairly trans-formative for me.  The past 12 months though, I feel like I’ve taken personal steps that 2, 3, 4 …8, or even 9 years ago, I would never have believed possible.  So here’s a quick recap of a few of the changes I’ve made over the last year…

     First and foremost, as the year closes out, I feel I’ve gotten to the point where I can talk about the steps I’ve taken and the growth that I’ve made over the last few years.  I can tell people about all of it when they ask, without being horribly uncomfortable.

     During my third annual pilgrimage through Oregon and Washington for the Sasquatch Music Festival, I rediscovered some of my independence.  For the previous two years that early summer vacation had been about finding a community or a summertime love story, and those trips were great!  However, this time I repeatedly went off on my own and found that I could have just as great a time all by myself in a sea of strangers, if need be.

                I’ve realized that we are each responsible not only for our strengths but also for our flaws.  We are made into who we are by our failures just as we are by our successes; and to attempt to hide one or the other is to head down a dangerous path that leads us to force ourselves to be someone that we’re not.  My life is more enjoyable when I accept the bad with the good and find a balance.

                As a continuation of the statement above, I believe that in order to truly love yourself, you have to cherish your flaws just as much as your strengths.  Likewise, those people that love us the most love us because of our flaws, not despite them. 

                In 2015, through a series of revelations and realizations, I seem to have stumbled into a secure state of self-esteem that I can safely say I’ve never had before.  I’m looking forward to exploring this new found confidence.

     Now, to this point, this post has been all about me, but 2015 was a big year for a lot of people.  So let’s take a quick look back at the things that we covered and/or learned in the past year.

                Our 2015 began with a lesson in love.  It’s a lesson that I hope we all learn again and again throughout our lives.  While there are plenty of potential goals to reach for as we progress through life, there may not be any more important than love.

                Our imaginations are potentially boundless, but we have to use them in order for them to become so.  Never let your imagination go to waste… daydream, drift off, get lost in your own little world and when you come back from your journeys, maybe you will have learned something that will help you in this big world that we all share.

                Don’t underestimate sports as a vehicle for cultural change.  They may take quite a while to get momentum and bring about the change they need to.  But once they build up that momentum, they’re nearly unstoppable

     Blue and black can apparently look exactly like white and gold

                Over the last 12 months, the esteemed Shounak Bagchi has helped teach us some lessons as well, the first of which is that diversity in our lives is a commodity that we seem to be pulling back from, to our own detriment.  Therefore, on his behalf, I would like to challenge each of my readers, and myself, to befriend someone new in 2016… someone from a different culture, background, race, religion, political affiliation, anything.  Expand your horizons, learn new things, and appreciate differences.

                We learned that Tom Durham still has an impeccable ability to summarize my thoughts into a few perfectly succinct sentences… 

                In 2015 we lost one of the great literary minds of our time.  Terry Pratchett’s writing isn’t quite as popular in the US as it is in the rest of the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that he spent his life taking the world as it is and shaping it into a funhouse mirror that we could all stand in front of to laugh at ourselves.  Hopefully the hundreds of lessons that he learned and shared with the world will spread. 

                Much like an American Terry Pratchett on Television, Jon Stewart (and those that have followed in his footsteps) showed us that humor can be an incredibly effective tool for cultural change and education.

                The world found out that Drake should not seek a career in interpretive dance.  

     Next we were treated to a couple more lessons from the esteemed Monsieur Shounak Bagchi.  The first being that television has changed drastically over the years, and that this just may be the golden age of storytelling.  

     The other lesson was that we, as a society, have allowed the quality of our apologies to fall into disrepair; and that it may be a large contributing factor to the sorry state of our political system as well as our own personal relationships.  We have to truly mean it when we say “sorry” and remember that actions speak louder than words. 

     Toward the end of the year, we hopefully were reminded that the lessons we were taught as children and have subsequently forgotten are just as important today as they were the day we learned them, if not more so.  Coming together and making an effort to understand and help those that are different from ourselves could be the most essential step we can take to make this world a little better. 

                In 2015 we learned that the universe, and even just the solar system, is an amazing and thrilling place that supplies us with thousands of new mysteries every time we solve one. 

                We discovered that some media franchises are able to make an entire fan base lose their minds with one simple announcement… 


                To close out this post and this year, I’m not making any new year’s resolutions.  After all, life will continue to happen to me, and the only goal that’s worth setting is to enjoy that life in every way possible as it happens.

                I will however, make a wish.  (I got the idea from Neil Gaiman… 

                I hope you smile every day.  A big, face-creasing, wrinkle-causing, goofy-looking, eye-watering smile.

                I hope you cry.  Whether from joy, sorrow, beauty, or love; I hope you feel something so deeply that you’re moved to tears, and I hope that it happens more often than you want to admit.

                I hope you learn new things.  Maybe you’ll learn trivial facts (did you know that Winston Churchill’s mother was from Brooklyn?), and hopefully you’ll also learn things that change the way you see the world around you.

                I hope you get lost in thought.  Let your mind wander to faraway places and explore the farthest reaches of your imagination.  When you snap back to reality, bring something back with you.

                I hope, that just once in the next year, everything falls apart… your plans, your hopes, your dreams, everything.  And in that moment, you see something new.  I don’t know what that something will be, but make sure that you’re open to it, because it will be beautiful, and it just might change your world.

                I hope that something scares you.  I hope you feel that gut-wrenching, deer-in-the-headlights, paralyzing fear, and that you let it in.  Embrace your fear, because only when we’re afraid can we truly be brave, and only when we're brave can we reach the goals we want the most.  So do things that scare you, find your bravery, and reach your goals.

                I hope you stop and admire something beautiful; not once, but every day.  Maybe it’ll be the sunset as you drive home from work, perhaps it will be the architecture in a city that you’re visiting, or the face of the person you love as they wake up in the morning.  No matter what you choose to admire, beauty surrounds us constantly, so take the time to appreciate it, and know that it can be found in the most unlikely of places.

                Lastly, and most importantly, I hope you love someone and that you find/spend time with someone who loves you in return.

                Happy New Year, I’ll see you in 2016. 


A Hand Up

Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign

Last week the world was shocked by a brutal attack against the people of Paris. 

A day before that, Beirut was attacked with similarly savage tactics in the form of suicide bombings. 

In October a man entered a community college in Roseburg, Oregon and killed nine people before committing suicide.

A couple of months ago, our nation mourned the murder of a congregation in a church in South Carolina.

This year has been marked by highly publicized riots and deaths in Missouri, Illinois, Texas, and dozens of other sites around the US.

Approximately 7 months ago, nearly 150 university students in Kenya were massacred while attending class.

In 2013 two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, killing 3 and wounding hundreds.

In 2011 a man carried out two horrendous attacks in Norway, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of others.

The list continues, on and on and on.  Terrorist attacks, hate crimes, murders, etc.  None of these crimes were directly related, though a certain group has claimed responsibility for many of them. 

Everything on this list is horrible, everything on this list is tragic, and everything on this list was caused by fear. 
            Experts, media, talking heads, writers, Twitter and Facebook users all give varying opinions about why these things happen.  Perhaps it’s mental illness, racism, religious extremism, a lack of gun control, or some other motive.  I’m not saying that those reasons aren’t largely responsible, but perhaps they aren’t the only explanations as to why these tragedies happen.
            Fear is more than just the reason that we jump when we see a spider or an excuse for not riding roller coasters.  Fear is a basic human emotion, it is an aspect of our existence that can’t be overcome or eradicated.  Fear is what keeps us alive.  By facing our fears, we can be pushed to greater heights, and fear is what inspires us to make changes in our own lives as well as the world around us.
            Despite all of that, fear is something that we shun on a consistent basis.  We hide our fears and deny that we have any at all.  And when we do that they fester, they become something else, something dark and twisted.  When they’re hidden and denied, our fears stop inspiring us to greater heights and instead they drive us into senselessness and other, more destructive emotions.
            One fear in particular, when it is denied and left to fester, spawns the thoughts and the emotions that are ultimately leading to the tragedies listed above.  That fear is xenophobia, a fear of all things strange or foreign. 
            When I say, “foreign”, I don’t want you to think of only people from other countries.  Instead, think of anyone that you view as “different”.  Anyone that you think of as “other” would fall into this category.  Maybe they follow a different religion, they’re from a different generation, they love someone different, or they simply look different… no matter what the difference is you shouldn’t be afraid of it. 
            Our fears can be great tools when we acknowledge them and face them.  They exist for a reason.  But when we bury them, or we accept them as hard facts despite their irrationality, they become harmful.
            Xenophobia in particular becomes more than a fear, it grows into hatred.  A hatred of anyone different than yourself.  A hatred that cuts you off from parts of humanity just like a tourniquet left on an otherwise healthy body. 
            This ends up becoming a fear that affects more than just one person.  Those who let it control them alienate those around them.  In times of desperation, people will seek help from anywhere they can, but when they are rejected by the xenophobic, their own fears grow.  They grow into hate.  Xenophobia creates copies of itself in the very people that are the subject of the original fear, like a virus.
            It’s a vicious cycle that can only be broken by someone facing their fear and welcoming those that scare them into their lives.  We can only truly combat these acts of fear and hatred by showing compassion and attempting to bridge the gap between ourselves and those people that we view as different.

Every day I hear and see people that are adamant about turning away those in need of help.  Sometimes it’s the poor in their own community, sometimes immigrants from Mexico or other countries, and most recently it’s in regards to the Syrian refugees, fleeing the terror of their war-torn homeland. 

When I hear and see people rail against the idea of opening our homes and our lives to these people, all I can think of is the very first lesson in ethics that I ever learned… “Treat others as you want to be treated”.

At what point in our lives did we allow ourselves to forget this message?

When did we reach the point where we let our fears overshadow the lessons we were taught as children? 

How could we have allowed our fear of others to erase the most basic level of morality from our hearts?

Terrorism, by definition, thrives on fear; primarily our fear of each other.  Its goal is to divide us; because apart, we are weak.  By refusing to unite all people against one common enemy, we are weakening ourselves, and we are doing the terrorist’s jobs for them. 

It doesn’t matter what race, gender, class, age, religion, sexuality, political party, or nationality a person associates themselves with, their most defining characteristic is that they are human.  Before all else, that person next to you is just as human as the person shown on the news, fleeing from tragedy or sleeping on the street.

This of course means that the terrorists are human as well.  They are people (of all different races and religions, just because ISIS is the most prominent one now, doesn’t mean that Dylann Roof isn’t a terrorist), people that have allowed their fears to take over their minds to such an extent that they resort to causing these inhumane acts.  They sacrifice their humanity in an effort to destroy everyone’s.

They want to spread that fear and that terror to everyone, because they truly believe that the hatred and destruction they are spreading is the best solution for their own fears. 

Countless times throughout human history, they have been proven wrong.

Time and time again, it is shown that fear and hatred are NOT what can save us from ourselves or from the darkest parts of our existence.  Rather, a concerted effort to understand, accept, and even help one another, no matter our differences, has upheld a belief that too few among us still share… Love is better than hate.

The perpetrators of the atrocities across the globe that wish to divide us, those people that want to turn us against each other and sew fear in to the very fabric of our existence… they can be defeated.  Not with more fear, or divisive hatred, not by closing our doors, our borders, our hearts, or our minds; but with love and understanding. 

I wish it were possible to show every person on earth this fact, and to make even the terrorists see the error of their ways, but I don’t believe that potential exists.  Some people are too far gone, and yes, military and police action will be necessary.  We cannot save every life, or prevent every tragedy.  To believe otherwise is unfortunately naive.

Though it will be necessary to take action and to go to war against those that would see us tear each other apart, I truly believe that it is even more necessary to reach across whatever borders we perceive, either real or imaginary, and to offer help to those that need it.

If we don’t, if we shun our duty to humanity, then we leave only a legacy of vacancy to our future generations.  We will be those that turned our backs on the world when it needed us most.

I will not give in to the fears that those trying to divide us are forcing upon the world.

I will not allow hate to dictate my actions.

For those that I don’t yet understand, I will do my best to change that.

For those that I disagree with, I will not let that stop me from offering a hand up when needed.

It has taken me years to fully realize this final lesson, but I know now that I am not alone, and in fact, none of us are.  We are in this life together, and though none of us may make it out alive, that is no reason not to help each other strive to be the absolute best that humanity has to offer.

There is only one way in which I will allow my fears to dictate my life… By facing them, I learn the direction that I must go in order to become the person that I want to be.

“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.” – Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman – Good Omens

If you want to keep thinking on this topic, I suggest watching this…

And finally, to steal a bit from my favorite fantasy football analyst at Footballguys…
“I hope you make the most of whatever you're doing in your life. Love your neighbor and stick together

Peace and Grace to you.”


The Sorry State of Apologizing

Friends who are really fun to play Fantasy Football with + Rory,
On November 3rd, 2005 the Washington Post published an editorial penned by the former North Carolina senator, John Edwards, titled, “I was wrong.” Getting ready for another Presidential run, Mr. Edwards knew he would be sharply criticized for his vote and defense regarding the war on Iraq. In efforts to temper the push back, the former public official inked an article citing his misjudgment, lack of experience, flimsy information from the security community, horrible executive leadership, and poor temperament as reasons for drumming the beat towards another ground invasion in the Middle East.
Going forward, the Senator vowed to listen to his inner conscious, pray to God, and loop in his wife and close advisor with every major decision he would make as President. Yet, we should have all been wary of Senator Edward’s apology.
Mr. Edwards was known as being an ambulance chaser during his days as a North Carolina prosecutor (John-John once sued the company he defended 6 months prior), started attending Church once he started running for office, and later documents proved that his marriage was merely political. In the Ed Halperin’s book, “The Game Changer” the author reveals the Senator’s wife, Elizabeth Edwards, actually was okay with the return of her cancer, because in her words it, “Would give us a bump in fundraising against that cunt, Hillary.”
All along, those who knew this North Carolina native, knew he was a snake oil salesman and his apology was as flimsy as Teflon. Largely ignored by the mainstream media, Mr. Edward’s old law firm partners spoke up repeatedly about his bad behavior prior to his meteoric rise. As a bigger red flag, not one of his old colleagues voted for him in ANY of his elections.
Yet, it seems these days, everyone is trying to copy the Senator’s playbook for forgiveness.  Every time you turn on the TV you see a corporate press conference, a Hispanic Trump supporter, and Justin Bieber (Yes, I’m a Belieber) profusely apologizing. More often than not, they’re often apologizing for the sake of apologizing.
Elton John’s 1976 tune “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” has merit in today’s world. Regardless of race, religion, or gender, human beings have always struggled with apologizing. Human psychologists attribute this to the fact that we are naturally guarded and, regardless of how humble and secure we are, most people loathe being wrong and/or being chastised for their actions.
Efforts by human beings to acknowledge their mistakes and turn over a new leaf are usually a good thing. However, there are enormous negative implications to society quickly accepting apologies from celebrities, corporations, politicians, or anyone with enormous power. Excessive apologists make it tougher to decipher the noble public figures who made one off mistakes from those who are natural goons.
In June 2015 when Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, put forth his “Race Together” initiative urging baristas to discuss the issue of race and equality with their customers, his efforts were widely met with anger and skepticism. While this initiative may have been one of the worst corporate “socially responsible” plans ever, no one could reasonably accuse Mr. Schultz of being tone deaf to the important equality and social mobility issues of our time. As a Seattle native, Mr. Schultz was always an outspoken advocate of promoting diversity in the workplace, fought shareholders in order to provide part time worker’s access to healthcare, and recently put forth efforts to expand higher education opportunities for his employees.
African American civil right author Tanehasi Coates argues, in reality, it wasn’t anything Schultz did that triggered this enormous backlash. The Atlantic Magazine writer notes, “Howard actually had all the right ideas. African Americans have long felt highly uncomfortable in “white” places, because they feel they can’t have the conversations they want. Ultimately, the black population have become so skeptical of politicians and business owners, because they’ve offered them countless proposals of understanding their struggles, yet these proposals ended up being corporate empty gestures.”
Hollow gestures also cripple the progress in society in other ways. With the advent of greener and electrical cars, we will no doubt see auto companies make countless mistakes in an earnest effort to build a quality vehicle. Unfortunately, recent reports documenting Volkswagen’s two decade long effort to cover up EPA violations will make costumers sheepish of buying a new type of vehicle upon discovering even further scandalous behavior.
But as average dudes or dudettes, what should we do to make sure to pinpoint the actual crooks in society?
Long time consumer advocate and two term Presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, says it’s pretty simple.  Known as the man who forced automakers to install better seatbelts after uncovering the numerous safety hazards in American made cars Mr. Nader suggests a few things. He believes that when public figures put out an apology, we should scrutinize past deeds, assess their current character, and see what they do following their apology. This old-ass hippy proclaims, “You can easily tell if someone is full of it.  If they’ve always had a history of deceiving you and were never known as a person with good character. Secondly, you want to see if they are making consistent steps towards correcting their mistakes. If a corporation or politician continues to act in the same manner then you know they are still deceiving you.”
And he’s right. Long before last month’s scandal, Volkswagon had years of dodging EPA check-ups, consistently received poor consumer ratings, and regularly failed to adequately respond to customer feedback. A September 2015 Bloomberg article shows Volkswagon shareholders meetings became more secretive over time, because the usual complaints came up and the usual bullshit answers were given.
                As we head into the thick of 2016 Presidential campaign season, it’s hard not to look back at Mr. Edward’s fall. It’s incredibly easy to chastise the Southern Senator, but many of us ordinary citizens are also responsible for propelling this Juris Doctor to the national stage. I, in fact, was one of them.
                Yes, long before I was a Belieber, my 18 year young, Berkeley Birkenstock wearing, Bob Marley poster owning self, thought John Edwards would be a solid Commander-In-Chief. I was moved with his narrative centering on “Two Americas” where he argued that our nation would become a society with either very rich or very poor people (Note: this is kind of happening #justsaying #iapologizeido).
Nonetheless, it was my responsibility to look into his past and realize he never cared nor mentioned any anti-poverty measures before his second Presidential run. I should have read those interviews with people who knew John where they warned us about how heartless he was, and I also should have realized that President Barack Obama was always the best candidate in the 2008 election.
                Going forward, I promise to engage in the mind numbing process of watching all the Presidential debates, reading up on the candidates’ positions, analyzing their character profiles, and always admitting when I was wrong about my top choice for Commander in Chief.
                But folks, regardless of what I find out about my boy Bernie or dear friend Hillary, I still won’t vote for a Republican this year. I’m sorry.


30 More Glimpses Into My Stream of Consciousness

Stream of Consciousness Part 2

1.       I have recurring dreams.  Sometimes it’s just a dream, other times it’s a memory.  Every once in a while though, it won’t be a recurring dream per se, instead I’ll have a continuation of a dream, like a sequel to a story that I had previously dreamed.  Those are usually my favorite because they tend to be easy to remember and I like being able to see what comes next.

2.       There are also recurring characters in my dreams.  Obviously the people that I know from my real life are in there all the time.  But there are a few people that seemingly only exist in my dreams.  They’re not limited to specific dreams either; they’re in all different kinds of dreams and frequently in different ways or roles.  There is one person though that always seems to be in the same role no matter what dream she’s in.  I remember virtually everything about her except her name, and she always fills the role of partner/love interest.  (In a strange turn of events, a couple days after jotting this thought down, I met someone who I would swear was this person… it was kinda freaky.)

3.       Speaking of dreams, I still have nightmares on a fairly regular basis.  Some of them are intricate and more like Ridley Scott movies (I usually love these ones) taking place on alien worlds or during glorious action sequences.  I frequently die at the end of my nightmares, but during these adventuresome dreams my death is usually along the lines of Bruce Willis manually detonating a nuke on an asteroid in order to save the world. 

I actually hesitate to call those kind nightmares, seeing as I enjoy them so much.  But I can’t deny that they cause my heart to race and leave me awake and out of breath.  Meanwhile the other kind is mundane and takes place in my day to day life with people that I know and care about until something horrible and yet entirely believable happens.  Those ones suck, and I usually can’t get back to sleep afterward, which makes me tired, which causes me to have more nightmares, which makes me more tired, which sometimes leads me to confuse dream events for real life events… and that’s just no fun.

4.       Sorry to break it to you like this, but if I know you even remotely well, chances are that you’ve died dozens of times in my dreams.  If it’s any consolation, I’m always sad about it.

5.       One more on the subject of dreams… My absolute favorite are the very rare, lucid dreams that I have.  When I’m aware that I’m dreaming, I can control the dream, and guide it however I want.  If you’ve never been lucky enough to have those, then I’m sorry, because they are awesome!

6.       My friends joke about me being bad with technology because I still have a flip phone.  I join in the jokes, I even encourage them… Hell, I make half the jokes myself.  The truth though is that I’m actually not too shabby with tech.  I encourage the jokes because they’re funny, and the corresponding mindset because I like it when people (especially those that don’t know me too well) underestimate me.  I don’t know why that is.

7.       For a while I thought the same was true of my math skills and that I was just pretending to be terrible at arithmetic.  Then I realized that I haven’t been pretending, I really am terrible at anything involving numbers...

8.       For me (due to my old flip phone), being in a group text message is reminiscent of Raj from The Big Bang Theory being involved in a group conversation that involves a woman.  I can hear (read) all of the conversation happening around me, but if I want to chime in, then the most effective means to do so is to whisper (text) to a singular person and have them relay my message to the group as a whole.  In other words, it’s a pain in the ass.  Stop.

9.       There’s an apartment complex along my drive to work that has some tri-color banners on small flagpoles used to accentuate the advertising for the apartment complex.  Usually when a company does this, the banners are brightly colored and high-contrast, so as to really draw the eye.  However these ones are the color of bacon… Brownish red, reddish brown, and a vaguely reddish-brownish white… They don’t make me want to move there, but they sure do make me hungry.  It doesn’t help that this complex is only a couple blocks away from Red Robin, which always smells delicious in the afternoon.

10.   Every once in a while I realize that I am insanely oblivious to certain things.  Most of those things (I think its “most”… like I said, I’m oblivious) center on women and flirting.  When I look back at those types of interactions with women a day or two (or a couple years) after they happen, it dawns on me that I’ve been a total idiot the vast majority of the time.  

11.   I don’t have Tinder or any other similar app or account.  I don’t really date, haven’t done it in a while.  But I do read a lot of articles and blogs online, and I’ve been seeing the phrase “Watch Netflix and chill” in reference to dating and Tinder, etc.  From what I can tell, this phrase is apparently a euphemism for something other than just actually watching Netflix and hanging out.  Why?  I actually want to do THAT… I mean sex is great (I’m guessing that’s what the euphemism is for), there’s no denying that!  But so is sitting on the couch with some rum and cokes and a bowl of popcorn while watching Netflix.  I don’t know… I just think it’s a dumb way to tip-toe around the subject of sex, because both meanings of the phrase sound so great.

12.   I’ve been trying to write a blog about Jon Stewart and his departure from The Daily Show for over a month now.  After more than a month’s worth of work on it, I have one paragraph that I don’t hate, and a mostly blank page that I do hate.
A few times a week I open up the blog, stare at it… write a couple sentences… stare at them… delete them… stare at the blankness… start to write another sentence… delete it before I even finish it… rewrite the two sentences that I wrote before… immediately delete them while making a stupid face… stare at the blankness some more… check facebook… stare at the blankness… get some water… stare… stare… close my laptop and walk away. http://www.hulu.com/watch/824441#i1,p40,s20,d1

13.   I’m not sure why that particular blog is so difficult to write.  It’s not that I have nothing to say on the matter, I could talk about Jon Stewart and his contributions to media, society, and political and cultural dialogue for days!  But nothing I write on that hideously blank page seems to be good enough… Suffice it to say, he turned that show in to something so much bigger than anyone ever thought it could be.  He gave a voice to a generation and perspective to a society that was sorely lacking it. 

14.   Every time Mumford and Sons (all three times) comes out with a new album, I have low expectations.  I’m always under the impression that I’m not going to like the album.  Eventually, a friend convinces me to listen to it, and I end up loving it.  I suppose it’s nice that I’m always pleasantly surprised by the outcome, but I’m not sure why my expectations are low to begin with.  Mumford and his kids haven’t let me down yet.

15.   I think my favorite album of theirs may have been the second one, Babel.  But I don’t think that’s due to the music or lyrics being better on that album than on the others; I think it’s due to seeing them perform that album at Sasquatch.  It wasn’t necessarily the best show I ever saw there, but it was one of them, and the songs during that show still carry some of the most personal and even treasured memories that I have from any of my trips to the Gorge.

16.   I sometimes realize that I repeat the same stories over and over at different times.  I forget who I tell things to, so I just keep telling them again and again.  At the time I’m not sure if I’m repeating myself or if I’m just experiencing deja vu. 

17.   When I was little I wouldn’t use my left hand for anything.  My parents would have to remind me to do so at the dinner table when trying to cut my dinner with one hand, or when doing my homework with one hand, dragging the paper all over the desk.  When I say that I wouldn’t use it, I don’t want you to picture a young me with my left hand just resting on the dinner table or the school desk while I did everything with my right… I would literally let my left hand awkwardly dangle at my side, not even automatically moving it to a comfortable position.  I’m glad I eventually got over that.

119.   2014 was a year of first steps; recognizing that I was depressed, realizing that I needed to actually stick to a diet, finally looking in to what it means to be financially responsible… And I’m happy to say that ten months in to 2015, this year is all about actually following through on those steps and making progress.  Can’t wait to see what 2016 holds.

20.   I can’t eat a Baby Ruth without thinking of that scene in Caddyshack… You know which scene I mean…

21.   Every time I go past Donner Pass or Donner Lake I think of Robin Williams.  It’s because of that scene in Patch Adams… It used to make me laugh a bit every time, now I still laugh but there’s something else there too. 

22.   I sometimes realize that I repeat the same stories over and over at different times.  I forget who I tell things to, so I just keep telling them again and again.  At the time I’m not sure if I’m repeating myself or if I’m just experiencing deja vu. 

23.   This isn’t really a “stream of consciousness” writing in that I don’t sit down and write it all in one go.  Instead I sit down at night, after work, and write for a few minutes before realizing that it’s time for dinner and I’m hungry.  Then I typically stop writing mid sente

24.   I’ve been cooking more and more lately.  I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but lately I’ve been trying to get even more creative and fancy, even when I’m just cooking for myself.  On that note, I want some challenges in cooking… So I’m inviting all of you to suggest three, maybe four, random ingredients, and I will do my best to use them to make a good meal.  Like a competitive cooking show!

25.   One thing I miss, is cooking for a date/girlfriend.  There’s something different about cooking a meal with romantic intentions than when cooking for myself or friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook in general, but I do miss making a romantic dinner.

26.   There’s a house in my neighborhood with a front yard entirely covered in overgrown, potted plants.  Every square foot of ground is covered by the pots, and the plants have grown to a ridiculous height.  This makes it so that the only visible part of the house from the street is the garage, while the front door and everything else is hidden.  All I’ve ever seen of the occupant is a little, old lady, walking down the driveway to get her mail.  All of this leads to one very obvious conclusion about the house… It’s made of gingerbread, she’s a witch, and the garage is just camouflage.  Though I’m sure she’s also a delightful person.

27.   My roommate has a cat, Biscuit, who is adorable, and all-around delightful company.  But lately she’s been making it very difficult to write…

28.   I may occasionally be a jackass, but my heart is in the right place… or so the doctor’s tell me.

29.   I have a tiny spider that lives on my computer monitor at work.  I only see him once or twice a week, he mostly stays on the backside of the monitor.  Whenever he does come around to the front of it, he follows my mouse around on the screen.  He won’t get too close though, he’s afraid but curious.  I guess seeing that curiosity in him is what makes me not want to squish him like I have all the other spiders.

30.   Let’s say, theoretically, someone brings in a box of donuts to your office to share with everyone; it’s a variety box with all different kinds of tasty treats in it.  Then let’s say, theoretically, that you are trying to watch your figure so you only want to eat half or maybe a quarter of a donut, rather than eating the whole thing.  I have no problem with you cutting a section of a donut off for yourself, go for it! 
But if it’s a jelly or cream filled donut...  When you cut one of those into smaller pieces, you leave nothing but a sticky mess of disappointment for someone else… That’s messed up.  Stop.  Seriously, you know who you are, even if I don’t.  Stop.

31.   And finally, if you’re the only one that laughs at your “work” jokes… Stop repeating them… It’s for your own good.


My Life is Cinema (Part 2)

This post is part 2 of a larger series.  Certain parts of it won’t make a whole lot of sense unless you have read part 1, which can be found here…

                When I was a kid, there was a Samoan princess who lived in the stars.  I don’t remember her name, or any of the stories, just that basic setting.  What I do remember is the feel of soft, Costco brand sweatpants covering the lap I was sitting on and the sound of lounge chairs being moved over a rough brick patio.  I remember a warm summer breeze wafting the scent of gently smoking cigarette butts through the air, and the sight of stars sparking against the night sky as the stories strolled among them.  And I remember the joy of letting those surroundings soak in while my mind traveled with a princess among islands made of starlight.
                The stories were told to me by Penny, a friend of my parents.  In fact, she was the one who introduced them.  I still don’t know if the stories were ones from her childhood or if they were figments of her imagination that she occasionally allowed to go wild.  Either way, her stories of the island princess in the stars were my introduction to the act of storytelling.

                We went over to Penny’s house a lot when I was growing up.  She lived in the neighborhood between Idelwild and Chrissy Caughlin Park.  She and her husband would host poker nights all the time.  I would go with my parents, sometimes I would play poker with the adults, other times I would watch The Lion King in the other room while they played cards; it was then that I learned how to operate a tv and vcr. 

                Penny would make runny baked bbq beans, and serve some store-bought potato salad along with some French bread.  Her husband would make steaks on the grill out back.  If you asked for your steak to be rare, he would basically pick up a raw steak in some tongs on the right side of the grill, flip it over as he passed the steak over the heat and plop it down on a plate on the left side of the grill.  If you asked for your steak well done, you got the exact same treatment.  Every steak was rare and bloody, and the juices mixed with the runny beans to make a soup to be soaked up with the bread.  I hated the food when I was a kid; now it’s one of my favorite meals.

                Penny loved cats, especially Siamese cats.  She had a few different ones through all the years, though the two that stuck in my mind the most were Tinker and Stinker.  Tinker was small, devious, and playful while Stinker was larger, fat, and not overly bright, with eyes that went in every direction except straight ahead. 

Cats were a constant part of Penny’s life… so were Costco brand sweatpants and shirts.  She wore those sweats as often as she could get away with it.  And when you have as little concern for other people’s opinions as Penny did, you can ALWAYS get away with wearing sweats.  She would wear some of them frequently enough, especially around the house, that eventually the thread in them would wear down.  I’m pretty sure there were a few times where the ratio of thread to cat hair had shifted in favor of the felines.

She would chain smoke while she obsessively gambled.  She loved food that most other people would avoid (Eggroll King and Gold N’Silver) and she didn’t exercise.  She wasn’t the healthiest person around, there’s no denying that.  But her mind shined bright and her wit was the sharpest of anyone I’ve ever known.  She was never at a loss for words, jokes and comebacks were ready on a moment’s notice. 

Penny had a sense of self that was indomitable.  She knew exactly who she was and never seemed to doubt it for a second.  Others opinions held no sway with her unless they were the opinions of her friends, to whom she was unfailingly loyal. 

She was an avid reader, infatuated with a good mystery.  She would read book after book after book, always trying to stay one step ahead of the characters and the writer.  Likewise she would sit down with brain-teasers or puzzles, working on them for hours at a time.  She would burn through games such as Myst and Riven in a fraction of the time it would take an average person. 

I tell you all of this about Penny so that you can form a picture in your mind of the stories that she used to tell me of the Samoan princess that lived among the stars. 

A picture in my mind is all that remains for me as far as the stories are concerned…

A picture of lounge chairs on a rough brick patio covered in birdseed, below an ocean filled with islands of starlight far too numerous to count. 

A picture of people sitting around me with their heads tilted back and their eyes fixed on the night sky as a hand reaches out in front of me, pointing from start to star and weaving a tale more full and rich than any tapestry.

A picture of a mind shining brighter than the stars around it, its light shining out through the cracks of an ordinary life. 

That’s the picture that was given to me as an introduction to the world of stories and storytelling.  It’s the picture that taught me that no matter what may be happening in my day to day life, my imagination is capable of anything. 


                Penny passed away a few years ago from cancer.  She hadn’t told me a story about the princess in the stars for nearly two decades.  Though the details of the stories have faded, the picture she left me with hasn’t.  The lessons derived from that picture haven’t faded either. 

                Now the picture of the porch and the starlight islands is a bit ephemeral and far too complicated to include in my Life Is Cinema tattoo.  However, these stories, the storyteller, and their impact on my perception of life, and the stories that it’s made up of need to be included somehow.  So I figure, I’ll keep it simple and fill the first frame of the film with a penny, a little play on words for the woman that taught me never to let my imagination whither; the woman that showed me what storytelling can do for the soul.  


Why is TV Sho* Good (*Not a typo)

            What memorable historic moments come to mind when you think of 1983? For many it’s the start of the Ronald Reagan years, the expansion of free enterprise, or the last time Teresa Mullins smiled.
            But for TV enthusiasts, 1983 was the year where a record 105 million Americans tuned in to watch the series finale of the longest running TV show in history, MASH. Not until the 2010 Super Bowl, did an American based television program attract a larger audience. Mesmerized by the two and a half decade multi-media record, I sought out to discover what made MASH so good?

Quickly, I realized the answer. Absolutely nothing. Sorry white people (plus Wayne Brady).

The show consisted of flat characters with less development than a construction project in Qatar, it had over-used punch lines that make CBS comedy shows look clever, and Alan Alda’s performance makes you feel glad that we lost the Vietnam war. However, what struck me in my distaste for MASH was how good TV has become. 

Personal opinions aside, the facts back me up. Nielsen reports that more people tuned in to “TV” in the past two years than during the first twenty years of the invention of this multimedia tube.

Oh, and that MASH record? It’s obsolete in a broader comparative standard. When you factor in HULU, DVRs, and other forms of streaming media, more people viewed the first season of House of Cards, the end of Parks and Recreation, and the last four Game of Thrones season finales, than tuned in for the MASH finale.

So what made TV so good? Was it an accident? Did we get lazy? Or did TV producers utilize big data and better technology, thus causing the quality of programming to significantly improve?

The evidence tends support the latter. Despite the grumbling from older generations and Michelle Obama (thanks Obama), people are far more active now than they were in the Vietnam era.  During the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, copious amount of data was collected on the state of America’s physical activity levels. Since the MASH days, the amount of Americans going on hikes, swimming, or engaging in some type of physical activity once a week tripled. During the Obama administration, more Americans have stated that working out is an integral part of their lifestyle than during any other time in history (shut up Sarah Palin).

But what’s happened in recent years is that college students and young adults don’t follow up their weekend hike with a pizza and then a nap. According to the 2013 Nielson TV Survey reports, more households are tuning into Sunday premium TV or catching up on their favorite shows.

This is no accident. 

HBO, long known as the go-to for lewd late-night TV and abhorrent 1990’s Pauly Shore movies, understood that their current model of B-list-actor erotica movies would no longer work. With easier access to the Internet and information, the premium cable provider knew they would be fucked if nothing changed quickly.  In a Fast Company interview, Home Box Office CEO, Richard Plepler, explains, “There was no core advantage anymore in being raunchy or scandalous.  We needed to improve our story telling skills and adopt a narrative that would resonate with a broader audience.”

Richard and his Band of Brothers (pun intended) went to work, and they went to work fast. Former HBO Chief Technology Officer, Otto Berke, explains, “We went from having additional writers as an option in the late 90’s, to shows like Curb [Your Enthusiasm] and Sopranos having a dozen writers taking on massive responsibilities. We’d have four writers carving out 10 minute blocks.” Remember that God-awful show MASH? In total, the team had 30 writers over a two-decade span.

One other visceral difference between modern TV and the sit-com laden 80’s and 90’s, is the array of stunning visual effects. This also was no coincidence. Every year TV nerds gather at the Paley Center for Media Paleyfest, which boasts a lineup that consists of actors and producers from the biggest shows. During their “History of TV” panel, execs from CBS, ABC, and Showtime all explained their adjusted budgets to integrate digital effects. Otto Berkes, also a participant on this panel, had the chance to explain, the main driver was consumer trends. People no longer wanted TV to mainly consist of content that resembled their lives, only slightly more horrific or humorous; they wanted a sort of escapism. For the first time since Star Wars and Star Trek, the early 2000 shows of Heroes, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica gave TV producers an idea of what the audience really wanted. Non-acting and writing dollars soared by 155% over the past ten years.

In conjunction, TV viewership has soared over the past decade. Yes, people may attribute this to illegal streams, show-to-web platforms like Hulu, and HBO Now. However, Jim Funk, former SVP of Business Development at Roku, argues that the quality of TV has improved dramatically. At a roundtable last week in San Francisco, Mr. Funk argued, “Replay for plain vanilla, single camera shows, such as Seinfield, the Mindy Project, and New Girl is hassle. You look at Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and others have a much easier time attracting viewers to view the same content multiple times. I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and I’ve never seen this much excitement” 

And he’s right. People don’t just like TV, they LOVE TV. The internet has become a source for viewers to know the actors, shitty websites like BuzzFeed have given us a “chance” to see which characters we would be, and forums give us a chance to discuss TV plots on end.

This trend, is also, no accident.  The utilization of big data has transformed a plethora of industries over the past 10 years, and TV is no exception.

One household name, Netflix, largely thanks their data geeks for their enormous success. Once known as a company with a ridiculous DVD delivery model that douche-y, small-minded TV talking heads on CNBC would routinely mock; the company now has 62 million subscribers and adds roughly 3 million news users every quarter. The entertainment streaming company just announced a 7 for 1 stock split. In the past 30 years, only Apple has been able to transact such an enormous market value mash up.

Dan Ellis, former Director of Content Operations of Netflix, attributes this success to the hoards of data his old employer collected. Ellis notes, “We knew House of Cards was a success because we had information that consumers continuously searched for Kevin Spacey, old and young audiences loved Fincher, and you had a national audience, who since the Clinton/Lewinsky saga, had a guilty pleasure for political scandals.” Jenji Kohan, the creator of such shows as Weeds and Orange is the New Black, confessed she was amazed by how much Netflix knew about her show even before productions. Kohan claims that Netflix strategists knew the size of their audience, the chance Piper would resonate with females of all backgrounds, and that the use of a transgender star would be an attraction rather than a distraction.

Other networks took note. Recently, in efforts to turn around their poor ratings, NBC expanded their analytics team by 20% and hired 3 different big data companies. ABC’s expansion into ethnic based shows and hiring additional non-white actors can largely be attributed to their studies on the market for un-tapped demographics.

But at its core, TV has always attracted audiences for the same reasons, intrigue and relatability. If you haven’t fallen asleep by now you might remember that I stated audiences didn’t want cookie cutter replications of themselves, and I still believe that. However, now more than ever, we can feel a sense of intrigue as well as relate to TV characters.

The appeal for Game of Thrones is a prime example.  Granted, we have a show with fantastic visual effects, the draw of medieval times, and nudity; but no one can deny the connection we have with these characters and, more importantly, their journey.

This season’s finale and the Red Wedding resonated with us all, because we felt a sense of loss. For the most part, all of us threw away our Edward and/or Jacob T-shirts and became Team “Stark” as the show progressed.  Seeing members of the Stark family struggle through their personal journey, come across new frightening unknowns, and ultimately triumph, kept many of us coming back for more. In fact, GoT enthusiasts will know George R.R. Martin originally pitched his books off the simple premise that his novels would chronicle the growth process of the five Stark children. So it made complete emotional sense that we all felt despair when we knew the time for Stark family members like Robb, Caitlyn, and Ned had come to an abrupt and brutal end.

Aside from our love for the popular HBO show, many of us resonate with TV and its countless characters for a variety of reasons. The camaraderie seen in shows like Entourage, Glee, Sex and the City, and even the dysfunctional Girls are something we slightly envy. The struggle for genuine kinships (or lack of) in shows like Suits, Breaking Bad, Scrubs, and of course Friends also resonate with us because at some time in our lives we have each longed for a relationship, plutonic or more, which either never came to fruition or (after a few trials and many errors) eventually did.

Additionally, no one can deny the intrigue for shows like House and Mad Men; many of us have experienced deep and un-admitted sorrow that our professional success failed to translate into personal happiness.  These shows gave us bigger-than-life characters that were struggling with the same personal dilemmas and troubles that so many of us face on a daily basis.

Apart from the connections taking place in the show, we also have to consider the connections taking place between the viewers. Who doesn’t love coming to work on Monday, discussing the shows with their colleagues, and sharing their excitement or sadness with friends?

We don’t want to admit it because it seems so trivial, but we all feel an emotional loss when our favorite shows end. However, I bring you very good news.  Upon an end to any relationship, your friends assure you there will be other opportunities to love again. TV shows are no different. With the tools of mass data and years of mastering the craft of powerful screen writing, we now live in a remarkable age where TV shows can deliver, in idiosyncratic ways, the opportunity to shine a lens on our deepest thoughts and fears, our grandest ambitions, and our most desired connections.

You thought you’ve seen everything, but you haven’t. In the not-so-distant future, TV will be so good we’ll be able to compare MASH to Bravo reality TV while we marvel at the stories highlighting Jon Snow’s reincarnation into the King of Dragons who rightfully regains his throne.*

Stay tuned.

*Let it be on record that I, Chris Blue, do not necessarily agree with all Game of Thrones theories stated in this blog post.