How Sweet Life Is

May Twenty-Fourth, 2006.  The phone rang just before six o’clock in the morning.  I am NOT an early riser, and six a.m. is just to damn early to be conscious.  I can hear my Aunt Marge on the line, but I’m not exactly sure if I’m awake or just having a really weird dream.

“Nicky, I wanted to ask you if you’d do something to represent your mom’s side of the family at Grandma’s funeral.  The oldest child of each of her children have all agreed except you.”

“Um, of course.  What do you want me to do?”

“Just talk about your memories of Grandma.  We wanted each side of her family to get a chance to speak.  Jace and Lisa agreed to do it last night.”

“Yeah, I’d be glad to.”

“Good.  Try to keep it light hearted.  Funny memories, things like that.  We’ll already be crying so much, it would be better if we had happy things to think about.”

…and with that, I was signed up to give a light-comedy reading at a funeral for my beloved Gramma in front of hundreds of people.  Had I been awake, I might have thought harder about it.  But then again, I probably wouldn’t have.  I DID have to ask my wife several hours later if I had really agreed to that or if I’d just dreamed up the whole thing.

For the next three days I procrastinated mightily.  I knew I had to come up with something, I just couldn’t make myself take pen to paper.  I had a terrible time gathering my thoughts into anything resembling coherent sentences.

Marge asked me to try and be funny, but the only specifically funny story I could think of was “cop vs. white-haired grandma in tennis shoes” and I figured that one was going to be told about a dozen times before I got up to speak so I decided I’d skip it all together.

Oddly, no one actually TOLD that story at the funeral (perhaps because it involved repeated violations of the law???) so I shall relate it here just for posterity.

My Gramma’s maiden name was “Ledford” which is surprisingly close to “Lead Foot” which would have been an even more accurate description of her driving style.  Deep into her eighties my Gramma would still bomb down Nile Ave. in East Wenatchee at about three miles-per-hour less then what would be defined as “utterly insane” by rational people.

As you would suspect, police officers look dimly at one car high-speed car chases being re-enacted down a relatively busy four-lane avenue, and so she found herself explaining “the rush” to more than a few of East Wenatchee’s finest.

My Gramma was the quintessential Gramma.  She had beautiful pure white hair and an incredible peaches and cream complexion.  She looked like she’d just sprung fully formed from a Norman Rockwell painting.  No one could be cross with her for even half a second, you just wanted to hug her and forget everything bad that had ever happened in the world.

And bless her heart, she knew it.

As soon as a police officer would come to the window, she’s roll it down, look as though she was near tears and ask “officer, you wouldn’t give a ticket to a little old white-haired Grandma in tennis shoes, would you?”

To which, they would always crumble like abashed six-year-olds and assure her that they would only give her a warning. It was her own special superpower.  We seriously considered getting her a tee-shirt with the superman logo replacing the S with a G.

Which isn’t what makes this story funny.  What makes this story funny is when a police officer stopped her, walked up to the window and heard her typical plea for mercy…and then replied “Lady, I didn’t last time, or the time before; and I’m not gonna this time either, but  you have GOT TO SLOW IT DOWN!”

That’s right, my Gramma occasionally used her superpowers for evil (well, as evil as the most pure-hearted woman ever put on this earth could be). Lawbreaker…

I realize this might sound like an urban legend, so let me assure you that I was IN THE CAR when he said it.


SAME cop.

No lie.

Since I figured that story was going to be beat to death before I could tell it, I decided to give up on being funny and just talk about the things that define how I remember my Wenatchee Gramma; and about the lessons I learned in her home.

What follows is that remembrance, and to be honest, it was probably the first thing I was ever “proud” of writing.  Not because it is “good” writing, but because people told me that it was exactly the way they remembered her too.

As far back as I can remember, she was always the “destination” Gramma; “Road-Trip” Gramma; “Event” Gramma. And while a trip to Wenatchee was something that Alex and I looked forward to for weeks, the journey itself…

When you’re eight years old, the drive from Boise to Wenatchee is just slightly longer than the 40 years that the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, and almost as scenic.

A journey so entertaining that somewhere around Pendleton we were reduced to mindlessly drooling zombies, uttering monosyllabic grunts and fighting bitterly for control over the four inches of seat that were supposed to separate us.

Eventually, after a length of time so vast and sweeping that historians fail to comprehend it all, we would fall asleep in the gathering dusk and only wake from time to time as the car would come to some stop or another as highways were changed, exits were made, and stop signs were obeyed.

Then finally, magically, from the front seat would come my mother’s voice saying the most wonderful phase I have ever known: “wake up, we’re almost to Grandma’s House.”

We’d sit up, peer out the window, and strain to see her house materialize from the darkness. The porch light would be on, and the living room window would have a faint glow coming from a lamp.  Without fail, whenever we’d enter the house, Gramma would be waiting up for us.  Sitting in a chair reading; waiting to invite us in and welcome us home.

There was one other thing that Gramma always had without fail; She had this great old-fashioned glass cake cover, and inside it there was ALWAYS a supply of her homemade cookies.

12:30am? No problem. “Here, have a cookie, now off to bed.”

The first Christmas that really stands out in my mind was saved by one of her cookies. Jamie and I had wandered into Gramma’s room and discovered her high bed and feather pillows. What would any self-respecting five and six year old do when they discover feather pillows and a high bed? They have the world’s greatest bed-jumping pillow fight.

Oddly enough, the size difference between a five-year-old and a six-year-old was enough that I’m pretty sure Jamie outweighed me by a solid five pounds; apparently ALL muscle. Either that, or being the youngest of five gave her a set of pillow-fight self-defense skills that I had yet to master…or sufficiently respect.

When a five-year-old who isn’t particularly big for his age jumps up and his six-year-old cousin swings a king-sized feather pillow at him with all the force she can muster, what you have are all the elements of physics that allow baseball players to hit grand slams; only in miniature…and all working against me.

Gramma always had something else in her home besides cookies; she had antiques.  Very old, very ornate (and probably very valuable) antiques.  Everywhere.

I learned this by flying – nay, hurtling – through the air at a very old, very big, and very fragile vase in the corner of her room.

I remember the flying. I remember the look on Jamie’s face as I rocketed away from her, and I remember the pieces of the vase under my hands and beneath my bottom as people came running from all across the house at the sound of porcelain shattering.

Now, in discussing this event with Jamie, I’m reminded of one little fact that I’d forgotten at the time…she may have rocketed me across the room…but I knocked her feet out from under her and she knocked out her two front teeth when she landed.

So now you have the total scene:  Feathers everywhere, blood all over, two screaming children and a shattered antique vase.  It was like we’d snuck into Gramma’s room and killed a goose with a vase and Jamie’s face.  It was NOT a pretty sight.  And since I wasn’t bleeding, it was pretty obvious who’s fault it was…

I also remember being able to parse the general gist of the phrase “stop wailing RIGHT NOW and go downstairs, or I will end your life and make another BECAUSE I CAN!!!” from the look of shaking rage that my mother directed at me.

(Years later my Mother assured me that the “or” I was picking up was probably superfluous and could have been excluded from that sentence entirely.)

I went down to the kitchen and awaited my Mother and my impending demise.  Many long hours (well, probably less than one) later someone finally came to put me out of my misery.  But it wasn’t my mom, instead Gramma came in and went to the counter. She lifted up the cake cover and got me out a cookie. She gave it to me and said “Oh don’t worry about the vase Nicky, it’s not like it was new.”

For years I believed the only reason Santa brought presents for me that year was because my Gramma had a direct line to the Naughty/Nice list elves.

Several years went by, and many more trips, until I got a chance to do something that a lot of her Grandkids got to do, I spent two summers with her and Grandpa learning some valuable lessons and doing a lot of growing up.

I learned that the chickens might not be up at 4:00am but the Cherry Pickers are.

I learned that working your fingers to the bone is a real and serious possibility so bring medical tape.

I learned that you should NEVER eat an entire bucket of cherries on your first day in the orchard.  IF you do eat an entire bucket of cherries on your first day in the orchard, DON’T go to your cousin’s new home that evening. Stay home and suffer alone with no witnesses.  The alternative is just horrifying. For everyone.

I learned that nothing and I mean NOTHING beats a home-cooked meal at lunch.

But beyond anything else, what I had to learn was that we choose to be the people that we ultimately become; AND that we have to choose to be the kind of person that we would want to be around.

You can ask Pete and Jace, working on self-improvement did NOT come naturally to me at fourteen. Nor did being a person I would want to be around just spring fourth from my brain. I had a lot of lessons to learn and a lot of growing up to do.

In three months that year I grew several inches, dropped two registers to my voice, and had a long conversation with my Gramma over her kitchen table as the sun was setting over the canyon wall.

We talked about what it was like to grow up “po’ in a place so po’ that they couldn’t afford to pronounce their R’s.” What it was like to teach in a place so poor that they burned the schoolbooks in the winter for heat.  What it was like to grow up an orphan, alone among a family that she’d never truly be part of.  And what leads a young woman to get on a train and leave her life behind because she hoped…hoped for better…chose to find better.

One conversation.  One evening.  One moment to choose.

We are who we choose to be.  We become what we work for.

When the sun had finally set, and the glow was dimming in the sky framed by the window, she got up and went to her cake cover and got each of us a cookie. As she gave it to me she said, “no matter how dark it gets, or how rough the road is, it’s always important to remind yourself how sweet life is.  I always keep that lesson near me.”

And THAT was my Wenatchee Gramma as I will always remember her.  And I will always keep her lesson with me.


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I’m Always Late to the Party

Ok, so I’m gonna link something that apparently the ENTIRE rest of the universe has already seen, but I just discovered it recently.  Now, I laughed hard when this started, but it wasn’t until Donny Osmond showed up at the EXACT same time I was trying to grab a sip of my Dr. Pepper that it became dangerous.

[EDIT The link seems to be broken, so you can follow to Youtube Here]

So at first I had this moment where I kinda panicked…am I this bad?  Do people see me on the street and think to themselves “Oh My GAWD, is he ever a NERD!!!”

Thankfully, I’m pretty sure my secret is semi-safe.  I don’t think I could get more than three or four digits into pi, and the last of my “action figures” are boxed up and awaiting their moment of ebay glory.

BUT, I’m still a lover of Graphic Novels, Webcomics, Sci-Fi and Fantasy movies (and books, and TV shows, and…) and I’m a recovering Video Game addict.  A SEVERE video game addict.

There was a time when I owned ALL of the current-gen game consoles, two different portable game systems and spent about 40 hours a week playing Everquest.  Admittedly, that was several years ago, but I’m smart enough to know that there’s a slippery slope for me when it comes to computer aided escapism.  I was sucked into WoW for a while about a year ago, and thankfully I’ve kicked that habit too.

Sure, I have a PSP and a DS, but I don’t put in the ridiculous hours on handhelds like I did on my NeoPocket Color and my Wonderswan.  Did I mention I own every title ever released for the NeoPocket?  Even the really bad ones?  No?  Yeah, then forget I mentioned that.

Anyway, so I was coasting along in my Video Game Ignoring Fog ™ and I somehow managed to miss the first few iterations of the second coming of entertainment. Seriously people, there should be a public service announcement about “Guitar Hero” and “Rockband” broadcast on every channel in the free world.

I spent four hours last night attempting to perfect “Black Magic Woman” by Santana and “Even Flow” by Pearl Jam.  If I spent half the time I’ve spent on Guitar Hero in the last week on ACTUALLY LEARNING TO PLAY A REAL GUITAR I’d be awesome by now.

All I can say is that if they made a version of Rockband that was ALL Sting and The Police songs…I’d never leave the house.  So here’s to hoping they don’t…


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Gelato, Salman Rushdie, Phad Thai, and Pushing Through

[EDIT: Several people were curious why I would be so depressed this weekend, so I will direct you back to the final paragraphs of "He Knows the Hour and the Day" where I discuss my daughter moving away with her mother.  On Friday evening, I dropped my daughter off, gave her a hug and a kiss, and then cried with the kind of grief I can't put into words once I was out of sight. The following morning, before the sun came up, my daughter flew out of my day-to-day life for the foreseeable future.]

Twice in the last seventy-two hours I’ve started writing up a new post, only to eventually discard and DELETE them because they were so friggin’ depressing that unleashing them on the internet-at-large would very likely cause a depression singularity, collapsing all happiness in the universe in on itself, thus creating an actual swirling black-hole-OF-SUCK right here in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

As I don’t want to be remembered as the man who stole the smiles from all the children in the world and made all the chocolate taste like charcoal…I’ll do my best to keep this a bit less doom-and-gloomy.

It’s funny, when I know something really suck-worthy is coming up, I never actually plan for the time period when things are actually sucking.  Somehow I think I expected to just get up on Saturday morning, throw open the curtains, smile at my neighbors, realize that I was naked, and spend the morning laughing about the whole thing with the nice policemen that showed up to explain “decency laws” in the Municipality of Keizer…

I did NOT wake up on Saturday with a smile.  In fact, I gave serious thought to just not waking up on Saturday at all.  Fuck Saturday.  Hell, fuck any day that ends in “y” or is recognized as a state or national holiday (because I don’t want to give Thanksgiving or Christmas a free ride here).  Father Time can go shove sharp objects in his favorite orifice and call it macaroni for all I care.

I know depression.  I can smell it on my skin and in my clothes.  I can taste it in my mouth.  I can hear it’s trademark absence of sound everywhere and nowhere.  I know this dragon.  I know him well.

At first I was almost incapable of acknowledging him.  I almost just turned my back and went back to sleep.  “Let him have me” I said, “I. DO. NOT. CARE.”

“Really?” he asked.  “Not even a little?”

“NO” I replied, squeezing my eyes shut.

“That’s too bad.  You’ve always been too tough to really devour easily and you’re a bit too bitter for my tastes anyway…but a job’s a job and a meal’s a meal I suppose.” And with that the gloomy thing wrapped it’s cold coils around my throat.

I didn’t really fight it.  I just slowly, gaspingly, stumblingly lurched from menial task to menial task as the weekend wore on.  Slowly suffocating under the thing’s horrible weight.

Until today.  Today, I went to work.  And at lunch time, I decided to get lunch.  This is noteworthy because I NEVER get lunch.  Unless there’s a team activity or a customer engagement, I never eat lunch.

I drove down to Bridgeport Village, which is a sort of open air shopping center where people with six-figure salaries (and more often the spouses of people with six-figure salaries) go shopping for the books, baobabs, over-priced designer label clothes, even MORE overpriced one-of-a-kind designs, tech toys (an Oregon Scientific AND an Apple store, natch…), and everything else that the upper-upper-middle and lower-upper classes waste spend bestow their ridiculous amounts of discretionary income on.

As I qualify for the Bridgeport Village’s target audience, I guess it’s just natural that I gravitate to a place where the open air piazza and the surrounding architecture look like the Disney interpretation of an Italian village populated entirely by people who drive Range Rovers, Hummers, Mercedes Benz’s, Porsches, and more pristine late-model Harley Davidson Fatboys than you can possibly believe.

Hollywood would never include a place like this in a movie about semi-rich people.  They’d assume everyone would think it was just too fucking pretentious to exist.

I love it. I don’t know why, but I love it.

It has shops I just can’t find anywhere else within driving distance.  For example, there’s a paper store that carries the largest selection of fountain pens ON EARTH.  Ok, probably not ON EARTH…but for at least 300 miles in any direction from here.  AND THEY LET YOU TRY THEM OUT!!!!!

COME ON PEOPLE!  You know you want to use a $400 fountain pen on $12 a sheet paper with ink that’s sold BY THE GRAM.  OMG…squeeeeee…ahem…anyway…

So, I start my adventure with a trip to Zao Noodles, the best noodle bar in Oregon.  Period. And I ordered my favorite, Phad Thai with Shrimp and Deep Fried Tofu.

While my order was being prepared I wandered over to Borders and found two things that simply HAD to be purchased.  First was “The Enchantress of Florence” by Salman Rushdie and second was “The Court of the Air” by Stephen Hunt.

People, if you title a book “The Enchantress of Florence” I’m gonna buy it.  If it’s by Salman Rushdie and it won the Booker Prize, I’m gonna pay full price in hardback.

If you write a book in the style of Dickens but use steampunk and gloom-fantasy tropes…I’m gonna buy that too.  If it’s from TOR and I know who the editor was, I’ll pay full price in hardback for that too.

Eight minutes (six of them in line) and fifty bucks later…I’m now really excited to read something.  Excited is good.

After fetching my lunch, I decide to grab something to wash it down with and some dessert at Tutto Bene.  They had my Orgina beverage and “Chocolate Birthday Cake” flavored gelato.  OMFG.  Chocolate.  Cake.  Gelato….Oh HELL yeah.

So now, I’m sitting at my desk, stuffed full of Phad Thai, consuming frothy ice cream flavored like cake batter with the smallest spoon EVER and reading the first few pages of the first good book Salman Rushdie ever wrote (oops…did I say that out loud???).

“Turn the page,” the dragon says to me, “I want to know what she says next!”

“Fine, but I need you to lighten your grip a little, you’re making it hard to swallow.”

“Deal.” he says as he readjusts on my shoulders. “You were always too bitter to taste any good anyway.  So, does that really taste like Birthday Cake?”

As a little aside, to those of you who sent emails over the weekend out of concern that I jumped off a bridge or just needed a shoulder…your emails were sometimes the difference between my giving a shit and my just not giving a shit anymore.  Ever.

You will never know how much that meant to me.  I love you guys.


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Radio Silence

Starting a blog isn’t supposed to leave you feeling MORE stressed then you felt before you started it…but such is not the case for me recently.  I currently have five posts in my Live Writer queue (all of them about 80% done) and the mental outlines for at least two more rattling around in my head.

The problem for me right now is two-fold.  First, it’s been a busy time at work.  Simply stated, earning a paycheck > writing for free.  Yet, I still feel like I’m falling more and more behind on the things in life that I LIKE to do, and just keeping up with the things that I NEED to do.

And second, Sarah and her mom fly away in just four more days.  About ninety-four hours from the moment I write this actually.  It’s the kind of dreaded moment that just seems to drag down my very existence.  It makes my blood run thicker and my mind dull out whenever I think about it.

So I have some Wii games to play, some pictures to draw, some stories to write down and some favorite foods to cook…all with a little girl who means the world to me.  Everything else is kinda secondary for the time being.

As a teaser, I’ll leave you with the titles of the posts to come in the near future:

  • “A Blush, a Crush, and a Sympathetic Rush”
  • “How Sweet Life Is”
  • “My Last 50 Dates”
  • “The Lesser Angles of my Nature”
  • “Always Late to the Party”

I hope to at least finish the first one, as it’s semi time-sensitive and I’d like it to see the light of day.

I’m also putting together a few posts on the process I go through when I write fiction “for money” and highlight what an anal-retentive self-editor I really am.  I’ll probably use something I was thinking about “workshoping” this year.

I would love to go to Clarion West or Viable Paradise someday, but the money or the time never seem to present themselves when needed.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, “more will come, please bear with me.”


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Where the Magic Happens

I’ve spent the last week struggling to finish ANY of the four drafts I now have in Live Writer.  At some point earlier today I finally gave up and decided to go a COMPLETELY different direction.  My Love has been running images from the random places in her life, and I decided to follow her lead and post up something I’m sure ALL of you are dying to see: my home office.


As you can see…I like my workspaces BUSY.

Equally important to a writing and drawing environment is a great source of reference material…so I also have a bookshelf full of some of my favorite things:


I also have two 6′ x 5′ bookshelves full of history, fiction, literature and reference works…but they aren’t out of storage yet so the books are sitting in boxes just out of sight to the right of this picture.  Eleven of them.  They look exactly like the one to the left of my desk:


Yes, I am a geek.  Yes, that’s a Sun workstation.  Yes, it’s running Solaris 10.  Yes, I am a BIG geek.

Alright, so what exactly IS all this crap on my desk???

First, we have my favorite books from the last century.  At least the ones that aren’t by Robert Jordan or L.E. Modesitt Jr. or Daniel Keys Moran or…


Starting up the left-hand side we have “The Oz Tales” in two volumes and “Wonder Tales” in one volume by L. Frank Baum.  Then we have “The Works of Jules Verne” and “The Works of H.G. Wells”; and then “The Looking Glass Wars” and “Seeing Redd” by Frank Beddor.  Those two aren’t really on my “Favorites” list…they’re just recent reads.  Then we have “The Gormenghast Novels” by Mervyn Peake, “The Lord of the Rings” by Tolkien, Hassain Hadaway’s translation of “The Arabian Nights”, “The Call of Cathulhu and Other Stories” by H. P. Lovecraft, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” and “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, and the venerable “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.

Then from left to right I have the exceptional “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” and the utter magnificence called “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke.  Then two big omnibus collections by Glenn Cook in “Chronicles of the Black Company” and “A Cruel Wind: A Chronicle of the Dread Empire” which were both very dark and yet surprisingly entertaining.

Then we get to two of the utter high points of my library…my ENTIRE 5000+ book library…the delightful “In the Night Garden” and the sheer pleasure that is “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” which comprise the two books in “The Orphan’s Tales” collection by Catherynne M. Valente.  Mrs. Valente has a very entertaining blog and a few wonderful short stories here and there, as well as a couple of other books that I haven’t yet found, but have every intention of owning simply as soon as possible.  I really can’t recommend these two books with mere words that do them justice.  The language, the imagery, the very tone and texture of her expression of thought…it’s simply transcendent literature.

From there we progress into my “pulp classics” horde…First we have four collections of stories by Robert E. Howard in “The Coming of CONAN The Cimmerian”, “The Bloody Crown of CONAN”, “The Conquering Sword of CONAN” and “The Savage Tales of SOLOMON KANE”…which really cover so much of Howard’s work.  I need to get the collections that cover Brand Mac Morn and Kull of Atlantis, but there are always more books to buy.  Next we have three volumes collecting several books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  “Under the Moons of Mars” collects the first three books in the Barsoom/John Carter of Mars series.  “The Moon Maid” collects all of the books in that series and “Pirates of Venus” collects the first two books in that series.  I have every book by Edgar Rice Burroughs in electronic format, and they are readily available from Project Gutenberg…but as with so many books, there’s something visceral about holding a book in your hand.  I have to admit I greatly prefer these particular reprintings by Bison Press, and I wish I’d bought more of the books in the series when they were available.

Next we get some short story collections by one of my more recent discoveries, Charles de Lint.  They all revolve around his remarkable city of Newford, and I’m utterly entranced by some of the recurring themes and storylines. “Dreams Underfoot”, “The Ivory and the Horn”, and “Moonlight & Vines” are the only ones I’ve picked up so far, but I’m sure I’ll have spent at least a hundred bucks on his books by the end of the year.

Finally, we get to my favorite author who isn’t a British woman or a dead southern gentleman.  Neil Gaiman is, in my opinion at least, the greatest living mind in fiction; prose, poetry or script.  As far as I know I have all of his readily available prose and poetry on this shelf.  “Stardust” is perhaps as beautiful a novel as it is as an illustrated story (which is over on the bookshelf), “Neverwhere” was a BBC miniseries before it was a novel, “American Gods” and it’s semi-sequel “Anansi Boys” topped the NYT and are mind-bending perfection, “Smoke and Mirrors” was his first short fiction collection and “Fragile Things” was his second. I have to point out that “Fragile Things” is probably my favorite collection of words in print.  It includes his poem “Instructions” which I consider to be the most moving words ever strung together.  The final book in the lineup is “Good Omens” which was co-written with Terry Pratchett.

You can also see the two sourcebooks for the Tactical Strategy RPG “Cadwallon” which I will admit I bought totally for the artwork.  The setting is a sort of dark fantasy Napoleonic Europe meets Robert Howard on a bad acid trip.  Did I mention the artwork is friggen STUNNING???  Sadly, there won’t be any further output from the creator (Rackham) as the company has gone through an executive and artistic “reorganization”…i.e. they fired all the people that made their products worth buying so they can drift into the obscurity of being just another Games Workshop/Warhammer wanna-be.

Also sitting on my desk is the leather-bound journal I bought last year, my Schaeffer fountain pen and a bottle of Schaeffer “Azure” blue ink.  All three of these were acquired when I was considering a road trip from Tumwatter, Washington at the start of US 101 and then out along the coast all the way to the Mexican border and from there take Mex-1 to Land’s End at the southern tip of Baja California near Cabo San Lucas.  I haven’t given up on the trip, but I haven’t decided if I’m gonna save the journal for that or re-purpose it for something more likely to happen in the next year.

OH!  Also visible in that picture are my four fuzzy friends:


From left to right we have my Mariners Rally Monkey (which is apparently utterly and completely exhausted of rally mojo), my Pink Ichiro Bear (It’s actually my daughter’s) wearing my shark tooth necklace (which helped me win more than $200 at the craps tables in Vegas), my daughter’s Dragon “Fantasy” who is keeping my bookworm “Munchums” (which I actually had to argue for in the divorce) company.


Moving left we have my PSP, twenty one PSP games (wow, looks like I have a couple RPGs…) and two PSP movies (they were two dollars each), two bottles of Knappogue Castle Irish Whisky 1994 hiding behind the speakers, my BlackBerry, wallet, passport, keys and a stack of CDs I just imported into iTunes (I think I see White Stripes, Raconteurs, Alanis Morrisette, Dave Matthews Band, Cake, Pearl Jam and The Goo Goo Dolls), and below that the notebooks and sketchbooks related to my fiction.  Yep, my deep dark secret is that I draft all my fiction longhand.  The old fashioned way…with a pen on paper.  I realize that costs me all my geek cred, but oh well, now you know.


Here you can see the Mac Mini (iTunes and iPhoto and Photoshop and Painter X), my Wacom Intuos 3 6×8, three Hotoi figures and a Fu Dragon.  The Keyboard and the Griffen Powermate are for the Mini.


This is the “vice” side of my desk.  You have my green tea-set hiding behind the speaker, my Eddie Izzard DVD, my Train concert DVD, and every DVD of Sting that money can buy.  Next to that is my Nintendo DS (my daughter picked the pink alligator case) and 13 games.  My Painter X manual and a book that should have been entitled “Painter 8 for dummies” and “How to Paint People in Painter”…but they went with the much less descriptive “Digital Character Design and Painting” just to confuse people.

Below that is my cigar box for my all time favorite cigar, the Playboy by Don Diego Double Corona (sadly the box holds my pipes and pipe tools and NOT the 25 tubes of tobacco heaven) and on top is my pipe/cigar lighter and a couple of cans of butane and my “pipe boot”.  Next to that is my humidor, which currently has less then twenty cigars and about 4 oz.’s of pipe tobacco.  On top of my humidor is my bronze reproduction of “Pan Consoling Psyche” which I LOVE.  And behind that is my bottle of Glenmorange Quanta Ruban Single Malt Scotch Whisky, still in the box.


This is the semi-random side of my desk.  Ordinarily my drawing desk is somewhere close by and my sketch pads and sketchbooks have their own home, and my drawing pencils and inking pens are over there.  Right now the Drawing Table is in storage, so I’m “making do” with what I’ve got.  You can see my three html/css reference books next to my humidor and my drawing stuff next to them.

From there you have my Chicago Manual of Style 15th Edition, two marginal books on writing and submitting fiction, and then Lynn Truss’ marvelous “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” which should be mandatory reading for every English speaking child on earth.

Next to that are three photography books, “Lyrics by Sting” (by Sting obviously), a leather-bound and silver-leaf copy of “The Complete Frank Miller Batman” (by Frank Miller), and my birthday gift to myself, Volume One of “The Absolute Sandman” by Neil Gaiman.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that I haven’t yet even unwrapped the plastic.  I have this desire to pour myself a glass of scotch, light my favorite pipe, and experience the Magnum Opus of my favorite author from beginning to end on a perfect evening.

Lastly I have my “art bookcase” which is supposed to hold most of my art related books.  It doesn’t actually hold ANY of my Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Baroque, Renaissance, Second Empire, Romanesque, Romanticist, Realist or Impressionist books.

So basically, this is my “Fantasy Art” and “Comic/Manga Art” bookshelf.


Charles Vess, Roy Krenkle, Rodney Matthews, Frank Frazetta, Windsor McKay, Masamune Shirow, J. Scott Campbell, Ben Dunn, Jeff Smith and Kazu Kibushi would be the highlights here.

Well, that’s it.  If you made it this far, I’m very impressed…or a little worried…


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Random Thoughts

So, rather than finish any of the three drafts currently sitting in my Live Writer queue, I’ve decided to post some random observations from my weekend:

1 ) If a four-foot-tall seven-year-old is swinging a three-foot-long stick at a piñata, the appropriate amount of clearance to give her is roughly 50 feet.  I was guessing something more like ten to fifteen.  I was wrong.

2 ) (directly correlated to no. 1) A kid swinging a stick at a piñata will be able to strike you precisely within an invisible one-inch-diameter target directly over your temple, even if she can’t get within five feet of the piñata.

3 ) After about the age of 20 “the limbo” isn’t fun anymore.  Just painful.

4 ) Unfortunately a seven-year-old’s birthday party isn’t the time or place to discover if there is a high enough level of alcohol consumption to overcome no. 3. (my guess is “no”)

5 ) Cake with dark blue frosting and seven-year-olds is a bad combination.  This could be restated as “dark blue food coloring can even stain linoleum and formica, your couch and carpets stand NO chance.”

6 ) As the Mt. Dew ad states, yo-yo’s were invented as weapons.  Weapons shouldn’t be distributed as party favors.

7 ) If your child has an exaggerated reaction to sugar (because she never gets ANY at home maybe?) and you don’t plan to accompany her to a birthday party…perhaps you should WARN the parents hosting said party???

8 ) Hearing your seven-year-old daughter correctly sing ALL the lyrics to “Oops, I Did It Again” by Brittany Spears while playing “Boogie” on the Wii will leave you very VERY concerned about the future.  The kind of concerned that robs you of sleep.

9 ) Watching your daughter correctly DANCE all the moves to “Oops, I Did It Again” by Brittany Spears and THEN watching “Juno” is not something I would recommend to any parent.  Conversely, it would make an EXCELLENT marketing campaign for the NRA and Viverin.

10 ) The satisfaction of having thrown the “coolest birthday luau EVER!” really can’t be put into words.

Sunday was Father’s Day, and my Father’s Day treat was to get to watch all the sports I wanted with NO interruptions.  This, was awesome.  I got to watch Turkey shock the pants off the Czech Republic (not to mention their country out of the Euro 2008), Team USA freakin’ CRUSH Barbados in a World Cup qualifier, The Washington Nationals defeat my lowly and forlorn Seattle Mariners in interleague play, and the insides of my eyelids defeat consciousness in a battle for the ages.

I also got to have my all time favorite food:  A Ground Buffalo Burger.  Because we all know that ground meats are better when they come from nearly extinct species.

Oh, and just a casual observation, being utterly smitten with someone who is a continent away is perhaps the most exquisite torture possible.


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Something Old Made New Again

I wrote this about six months ago and it was posted on my “first” blog.  I’m pretty sure that no one I don’t “know about” has followed from there to here, so I’m going to go ahead and post it up again.  It’s about my first love and just how sad it is to never take a chance.

I was in the same classroom with Miss V from the second grade until we graduated together from academy. Eleven years. She basically encapsulates my childhood and the journey to whatever was supposed to be beyond.

Assuming 40 weeks in a school year, at least eight hours a day, and add in time for Pathfinders camp-outs, church events, and the various non-school things we did together; I’d guesstimate that we spent about 20,000 hours together over the course of our lives. Of that, I hated her for roughly 10 hours; and I was completely in love with her for every minute of the remaining 19,990.

Number of times we talked on the phone: I’d guess over 100

Number of times we rode the ski-lift together: more than I can count

Number of times we “held hands” while ice skating: 8 (I only know this because I recently found one of my childhood journals)

Number of times we “officially” dated: 0

Number of times we kissed: 0

Number of times I saw her undressed: 2; number of times she knew: 0 (maybe 1, I’m not completely clear on all the details of the second time. I might have been “supposed” to see her that time, we were about thirteen…I’ll probably never know.)

Number of times she wrapped her arms around me in a swimming pool, grazed my neck with her lips and let me slide my hand under the “fun” part of her bikini bottoms: 1; age of participants: 18; number of significant-other’s that were CLEARLY cheated on during that event: 2

Moments of regret that I touched her while dating someone else: a few, but they’re fading every day.

Minutes of regret that we never really talked about how we felt about each other: exactly 7,058,880 and counting.

There are so many memories about Miss V that trying to explain everything starts to whorl together in some kind of mental tornado of images and sounds and tastes and smells…and then her face, smiling at me like it did as a thirteen-year-old girl washes over everything. For a moment, I’m back to being that skinny, unconfident outsider I always felt like as a kid. And I’m comfortable, because we were always outsiders together.

In the summer before the second grade, my parents completed the process of moving me away from my friends and a school where I was comfortable in a class of dozens spread out into several classrooms; and off to a tiny little outpost of humanity and a school where I was one of six kids in my grade. There were three grades to a classroom…so my overall class size was about twenty, but my direct peer group was six kids. Three boys and three girls.

I will never forget the first day of school, the cliques had already been established, and I wasn’t a part of them. And let’s be honest, I didn’t want to be there, and they didn’t want me there because I didn’t want to be there…ah, vicious circles, aren’t they fun. I was the outsider. I didn’t fit in.

I didn’t fit in at all. I ate meat, I watched movies, my parents had cable and let me watch HBO, I was allowed to read fantasy stories (the teacher confiscated my copy of “The Black Cauldron” because it was EVIL!!!). I was WEIRD. Because I was different.

At lunch on the second day of school I opened my brown paper bag and discovered I had three Oreo cookies. REAL Oreo cookies, not the fake sunshine versions that weren’t made with lard. Miss V was sitting at the desk next to me, she took one look and asked if she “could have an Oreo.” There was an audible gasp in the room. Real Oreo’s were evil. NO ONE should eat real Oreos! They’re MADE WITH LARD!!! (another classmate actually said that out loud). I reluctantly gave her one, waiting for her to use it to make fun of me. She smiled at me and said “thanks,” and then turned back to her friends and kept talking like nothing was out of the ordinary. She ate the Oreo. I loved her from that moment on.

As time went on, things got better. I made friends, I found my place, I tried to become a normal part of the school/group/place I was in; but I never quite made it. I was never the “best friend,” I was never completely at ease, I was never totally a part of the clique. I never felt just like everyone else. I always felt just a little bit like an outsider.

It would be many years before I realized that half of the people in that room felt the same way. Like something was off, like the picture was just a little bit crooked. But I knew instinctively that Miss V shared that feeling with me. We didn’t talk about it for another twenty years, but from that first day, it bound us just a little bit together. Just a little.

The two of us were competitive. VERY competitive. If you could compete at it, we did. If you couldn’t compete at it, we still found a way. We always pushed each other, if not physically then figuratively. There were people who thought we hated each other because we never let up.

Only once did it ever cross the line from pushing to hurting; and though it tares me up, I was the one that hurt her. In the fourth grade girls are very sensitive to anything that might draw attention to ANYTHING about their bodies or their physical cycles. Using that knowledge I said one of the things I regret most in my life.

In small classrooms with few students, collective punishment is probably pretty common. In this case conflict that had cropped up between “the boys” and “the girls” had spilled over into some heated exchanges between several classmates during recess and the ultimate resolution was to sit all of us down in our desks and have us talk it out. There were only six of us after all.

The teacher left the room and instantly the arguments resumed. I have NO idea what we were arguing about. Trivial couldn’t possibly begin to describe it. All I know is that the two sharpest tongues in the room went into combat like a pair of fencers…mine and Miss V. I remember she told me that if I was “going to be a stupid child” that I “should just shut up.” To which I replied calmly that she should “shut up and take a Midol.” The guys both gave me a hearty “YEAH”…as though congratulating me on the power of my counter attack. Miss V recoiled like I had physically hit her, and then broke down into sobs and fled the room.

For the record, I was pretty hazy on what a Midol was actually USED for, but that wouldn’t have been any consolation to a young girl who had just had her first menstruation start the day before. Obviously, I didn’t know that…

I’d say it was about a month before she spoke to me again. I never got a chance to apologize, even though I felt terrible about it. It wasn’t until the first ski-day of the year that things started going back to normal. I rode up in the car with her, and by the time we got to the lodge, things were better. We competed on the slopes, and we rode the chairlift together all afternoon. We were back to pushing each other, and helping the other one up again.

A couple of years later she was doing children’s theater and she would call me after rehearsals. She told me they were doing “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and I was excited because it was one of my favorite fairy tails from an old book my mom had given me. She wanted to know if it was any different from the story they were putting on, so I read it to her. Over the phone. As I’m writing this, I realize I have NO idea why I didn’t go see her perform, my parents certainly would have taken me…I was just too dumb to think of it I guess.

In the eighth grade I made another foolish comment that I would desperately like to take back. For whatever reason boys will pick on other boys about the girls they like. And no matter how much they like the girl, the boy will deny it. Why? I have NO idea. It was a small social circle, and maybe that was just exposing too much that was too personal…I don’t know.

I do know that after PE my friends were giving me a hard time about how much time I spent with Miss V, and teasing me that I liked her (which was painfully obvious to anyone) and for reasons I still can’t explain I said (with too much volume and intensity) “No I don’t! I like Emily you idiots!” Which was a lie. But since every single girl in our class heard it, I was pretty much stuck. I remember seeing the look in Miss V’s eyes as she walked out of the hallway where she’d heard me deny her. It still makes me physically sick, almost twenty years later.

Another thing we did together was Pathfinders. It’s a co-ed denominational version of Boyscouts with all of the expected issues of hauling a dozen boys and girls ranging in age from eight to fourteen out into the woods. Hazing, tent raiding, ghost stores, sneaking off into the woods together…all that stuff. Miss V’s mom was a leader and that meant she didn’t miss a campout, no matter how uncool it was to head off to the woods. Somehow we always ended up spending about ninety percent of the time walking off together talking and laughing and ignoring the rest of the world.

All those hours together, all those hours alone with her, and not once did I tell her how I felt about her. Not once did I just take her hand and look her in the eyes and tell her I liked her. I was always afraid I wasn’t good enough, afraid she’d tell me I was just a friend, just blah. That I was just the uncool, unattractive little boy I was afraid I was. She was the only one who would call me on my shit, and it scared me too much to tell her how special I thought she was, how beautiful I thought she was, how wonderful every word she shared with me was.

Towards the end of eight-grade four of us went to a youth-rally in Portland. It was a long drive and we were leaving early in the morning, so her mom (who was the chaperone) decided all of us should spend the night at her house and leave together in the morning. The four of us spent about eight hours sitting on Miss V’s bed talking silly, laughing and enjoying time together. I came within a hair’s breadth of telling her everything, but there were other people there…it was both heaven and hell at the same time…I wanted to tell her, but I was too scared to do it in front of our friends.

Later that weekend, she bought an ice-cream sandwich. Sitting next to me in the front of the truck, practically on my lap, she finished half of it…licking the end of the ice-cream out of the cookie…and then asked me if I wanted to finish it. As stupid as it sounds, it was as close to a kiss as I ever got from her. I could taste her lip gloss on the cookie, and I can still smell her hair in my face.

I started high-school a week late. It’s a long story, but lets just say that once again, I managed to be the outsider. The first person I saw on campus was Miss V. It was the first moment of relief in a long uphill climb. High school sucks. High school where you live on campus with the entire student body (of about two hundred), shower in front of every guy you know, eat institutional vegetarian food, and can’t have caffeine in any form is just BRUTAL.

No matter what might have passed between us in the past, our circle of friends wasn’t particularly close at first. But we did work together for four hours every morning. She was the Boy’s Dean’s secretary and I was the desk monitor. I sat about ten feet away from her and as there was NOTHING else to do, once again, we spent many hours talking. And a few fighting, but mostly it was pretty relaxed. I heard about her boyfriend, about her girlfriends, about life away from home…and I pined for her silently. I smiled, we talked, same as always.

Our Sophomore year she tried going to a public high school near her mom, and I moved on and tried not to think about her as much as I had the year before. I had a couple of girlfriends, an absolutely crazy roommate, a better haircut, and a chance to realize that “cool” was as subjective as everything else. I found my footing, ran for class president, started working for the radio station, drank a WHOLE LOT of shitty beer, and discovered that life is good.

I don’t remember exactly when she came back…I’d guess it was around Christmas, but it might have been sooner. Regardless, neither of us was the same person by the time she returned. I think I caught her eye a couple of times, but I never knew at the time.

My junior year I met the girl who I would eventually marry and have children with, Miss H. We started a long distance relationship and for an entire year I was happily “off the market” and writing letters and making multi-hour phone calls every night. So much of that year is caught up with her that nothing else really penetrates. I know Miss V was there, and a friend, but everything is washed out in my memories with Miss H.

As a senior Miss H joined me at academy. I’ll talk about all that in other posts…what is relevant here is the last week before graduation. The senior class takes a trip together for a long weekend. As a group we went to central Oregon and stayed at a resort. Six to a condo, we really had the run of the place.

The last evening of the trip about half of us were in the pool, and Miss H was off with her friends enjoying some girl time. I was against the wall of the pool with one my close friends when Miss V and her best friend swam up and joined us. My friend had always been interested in Miss V’s friend, and they paired off as best they could. Miss V and I began reminiscing about all the years together. We talked for about an hour, and at one point she put her arms around me. For balance or support or…whatever.

Our friends got cold and hopped out of the pool to head off for the Sauna. Miss V and I climbed out and went off to the empty hot tub. After a few minutes sitting next to each other she climbed up over me a few inches to look over the wall and see if anyone was watching us. As she slid back down against me she grazed her lips over my neck and intentionally straddled my hand as it was resting on my leg. She looked into my eyes as my hand slid under her bikini bottom. As I touched her, her eyes half closed and she began to lean towards me…and seconds later we heard the voice of one of the class sponsors and she slid away and sat down next to me.

I don’t write this part of our story to expose what was a really personal moment between us, but to highlight just how big of a dork I really was (and probably still am). The next day Miss H (who didn’t suspect ANYTHING was between Miss V and I) sat on the bus home with her best friend and I ended up sitting with Miss V. We shared buffalo jerky, a couple of Dr. Peppers, and talked the whole way home. We talked of old times, funny things we remembered from grade school and honestly, we were saying goodbye. We just didn’t know it. In a week we would graduate, and we didn’t know when we might see each other again. This was goodbye.

That night I gave Miss V a ride home. She asked if she could smoke and I said I didn’t care. I drove her back to her mom’s apartment and we stood outside for a few more minutes talking. Right at the end, I leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled back. I’ve never known why. I never had the strength to ask. The moment wasn’t right, and it didn’t happen. We were both dating other people. I never told her how I had always felt about her. I was still afraid I wasn’t good enough for her. Still afraid she’d reject me. And that was that. I will never forget the sound of the door closing behind her.

I saw her once, a year later. Miss H and I were on our Honeymoon at Disneyland and out of nowhere Miss V was calling our names. We stood and talked with her and her roommate for about ten minutes. When she found out it was our honeymoon she was clearly surprised. I was afraid she was going to say something about that moment in the pool…but she just smiled and politely found a reason for her and her friend to go.

As she walked away, I saw her give me a look…a look I hadn’t seen since the eighth grade. When I said I like Emily more than her.

Since then it’s been 7,058,900 minutes. And counting.


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He Knows the Hour and the Day

During job interviews and on internet quiz memes there’s a question that comes up more often than I think most people really want to hear the answer.  I’ve avoided it many times before, but tonight I guess I’m finally ready to talk about it at large…to try and explain how, exactly, a reasonably normal white-child-of-privilege ends up in his early thirties, struggling emotionally just to climb out of bed every morning.

[edit: This post is about the saddest and most challenging personal experiences of my life.  Many people have gone through far worse, and I'm certainly not trying to claim some kind of prize for a hard knock life, because I've had it INCREDIBLY easy...but to my surprise, this made a couple of people cry; and I'd never seen one of them cry before...so take that as a warning of sorts...or something.  If you only come here for "the funny" (and who could blame you?) please be warned that there will be little to no funny here.  Come back tomorrow and I'll be back with "the funny."  I promise.]

I’ve probably been asked “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?” about two dozen times that I can think of since July 24th 1999. I think I might have answered it honestly twice.

So, what follows is the most full and complete answer to that question I can compose with almost a decade of distance since the events began to transpire.

On Thanksgiving weekend, 1998 the air was still warm in the evenings even though the mornings were starting to take on a crisp bite that warned of the winter that was just days away.  My wife and I were well past the three year anniversary mark and life had settled into a pretty comfortable schedule:  same jobs for more than a year, the same cute townhouse, same daily routines.

Then, all those routines, all that sameness, died to the sound of pee cascading off of an EPT test.

Oddly enough, the test was negative.  But the discussions that it sparked led to the end of birth control pills, starting to watch our diets a bit closer, and planning for a future for three instead of two.

One month later, another stream of pee, and the test was positive.

We wanted to keep the conception a secret at first, after all, these things can go badly early on and there was no reason to get our families all worked up if it didn’t “stick.”  Which was the plan we stuck with for almost an hour…if, by “almost” you mean “less than twenty minutes.”

I will remember the sound of that squealing, screaming, hyper-jump-up-and-down enthusiasm that my wife and my mother-in-law shared across hundreds of miles for the rest of my life.  If pure joy and excitement has a sound all its own, that was it.

We had excellent heath insurance, plenty of ob-gyn options in town, several great hospitals in the area and a nice local hospital just a few miles away.  My wife took all her pre-natal vitamins, every necessary precaution  at work and went for her regular appointments with excitement.  I didn’t miss a single office visit either.  I was an ENGAGED father-to-be.  We were excited.

And things were going great.  The heartbeat was perfect (and awesome to hear), the weight gain was happening at a very positive rate, and the utrasound went well.  We saw our son reclining in all his glory safe and sound inside his mother.  In fact, except for baby being uncooperative for an image showing his heart development, everything in the ultrasound images was perfectly normal.

Days turned into weeks, weeks slowly expanded out into months and after what felt like the longest winter and the shortest spring in the history of the world, summer and Lamaze classes were finally both upon us.  Almost eight months of waiting had brought us to the point where the end was finally in sight.  We decided to take the day off before our first class, go to her regular monthly checkup and then go up to Portland and do some shopping for mommy and baby.

The doctor’s appointment went well.  We listened to the heartbeat again, weight was good, everything was good…except my wife’s blood pressure was a bit elevated.  Which might not seem all that important for most people, but for her that was shockingly unusual.

After a long discussion, the ob-gyn on duty decided to send my wife over to the local hospital for a non-stress test.  Basically, it’s just heart rate and blood pressure testing over time while sitting in a chair.  We got to the hospital at about noon, and the test was started before 12:30…hey, it’s a small local hospital.

At 3:00 in the afternoon we realized we weren’t going to go shopping.  We also realized we hadn’t seen anyone in more than an hour, so I went off to find a nurse who could tell us how much longer this was going to take.  We had class that night after all.

By 6:00 we realized that we weren’t going to make it to class either.  At that point we decided I should go grab some dinner for us and potty the dogs at home.  When I got back, they had made it clear that she wasn’t going home that night, instead she had an ultrasound scheduled for 5:00am the next morning.  So, after calling her mom to let her know what was going on, we ate our sandwiches and I slept in the semi-reclining chair next to her bed.

When the 5:00am ultrasound came around, it became clear that everything was NOT well.  What had, up to that point, been a “mostly routine” observation process turned into an ambulance ride 55 miles north to the largest neo-natal ICU hospital in the area.  Through morning rush hour traffic.

I had to pick up her mom from our home (her sister had driven her up EARLY that morning) and we tried to follow behind.  We ended up getting there a good two hours behind the ambulance; and by the time we got to the hospital I was nearly unhinged from the process of trying to get through some of the worst traffic congestion and road construction delays in Portland area history.

Then next two weeks were like one moment of crisis stretched out over thirteen days.  Both my wife and our baby were in serious, but not immanent danger.  My wife had “significantly dangerous” preeclampsia, and there were some significant issues complicating the baby’s health as well.  The first concern was that even after a four hour attempt, no ultrasound could show a fully formed heart structure.

The doctor’s wanted to prolong the pregnancy as long as was safely possible and so we settled in to wait.  My Mother-In-Law slept on the sleeping bench, and for twelve nights, I slept on a thin hospital blanket on the tile hospital room floor.

The only time I left the room was either to go off and purchase some supplies to entertain us and keep our spirits up, or to drive down to the Olive Garden a few miles away to bring back something special for my family to eat together.

If there’s one thing my Mother-In-Law mentions any time these events are talked about, it’s that I was a rock.  My job, my focus, my only purpose in life, was to be there for my wife.  Be supportive.  Be calm.  Be there.

Then, after thirteen long days of waiting and hoping to wait longer, on a warm Sunday night, my wife’s health began to decline and the baby’s health began to decline faster. A little after midnight, the doctors decided they couldn’t wait any longer and an emergency c-section was scheduled for 5:00 am “or sooner if we need to.”

I’ll never forget getting ready for that.  The uncomfortableness of “the bunny suit” and the hair net, the smell of the mask mixing with my own dry breath, and the way the little booties on my shoes made walking to the surgery suite feel like ice skating in summer.

When I walked into the room, my wife was strapped down to the table with a brave smile on her face covering a look in her eyes like a trapped animal tied down to be a sacrifice. I went to stand next to her and I put her hand in mine.  I watched the entire surgery over the screen, describing anything she wanted to know.

I don’t think it took three minutes from the first incision until our son was born.  They held him up over the screen for a moment so mommy could see him, and then immediately whisked him away to the NICU next door to the surgery suite.

My wife looked at me, squeezed my hand and told me to go next door and see what was happening. I looked into her eyes, filled with tears, and bent down and gave her a kiss.  As our lips parted her tears began to run down her face.

When I went through the doorway my son had disappeared through, I could only see one corner of his exam table between the ten or twelve doctors and nurses clustered around him, working with a calm intensity that still bordered on frantically.

I stood there and listened for any clue as to what was wrong.  Any words that might sound like “getting better” or “improving” or even “stable”.  I waited a long time.  They never said anything like that.

After an hour, the lead doctor stepped away from the table and removed his mask. He introduced himself to me as the head of the Neo-Natal department and explained that my son was very sick.  They needed to run many tests and there wouldn’t be any answers soon.

Then they bundled up my son and placed him on an incubator table, attached him to hoses and pumps and wires and every manner of device and gizmo, and asked me if I wanted to see him again.

He was so tiny.  His little fingers could barely grip my pinky.  There were tubes connected to his nose, and IVs in one of his arms and one of his legs.  He was connected to a monitor that showed his heart-rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation, and his breathing rate.

I didn’t need a medical degree to see that things were very wrong.

I went out to the recovery room and held my wife.  She asked for details and I told her as much as I had grasped from the doctor.  I repeated what he said word-for-word at least a half dozen times over the rest of the day as family and friends came up to speed on the story.

July 13, 1999.  It was hot in Portland.  Hot by even Phoenix standards.  Windows were uncomfortably warm to the touch, and stepping out of the climate controlled lobby of the hospital and into the brutal heat of the day was almost physically crushing.  But I needed to find something for my wife.  Something that said “good job, I’m proud of you.”  Something that said “I’m here, and we’ll get through this.”

I found balloons and a card with a cartoon mommy giraffe with her legs all tangled up, but her neck still upright, and the inside read “way to keep your head up!”  It wasn’t perfect, but there’s a limited selection at Fred Meyer’s when you’re in a hurry and it’s more than a hundred degrees outside.

It was a long recovery for my wife.  She couldn’t even keep Jello down for a couple of days.  And what was worse was that she could only stand short trips up to the NICU to see our son before she needed to return to her room to rest.

As the week wore on things started to become clearer on what exactly was wrong with our son.  His heart had both ventral and septal defects, his kidneys weren’t functioning and his lung development was significantly delayed.  By the end of the third day of his life, he was no longer breathing on his own.  Instead, a machine next to his bed quietly and methodically wheezed and clacked air into his body and expelled out his tiny, nearly unused breaths.

By the fourth day, mommy was able to spend much longer holding her son.  And all the wires and tubes and needles that went with him.  We changed his clothes, and adjusted his hat, and read Dr. Seuss books to him as he slept.  Oh, The Places You’ll Go…

And then, after a week, his genetic results finally came back, and all the answers were given to us.  He had Complete-Trisomy 9.  An extra ninth chromosome in his cells.

If Down Syndrom is a Trisomy of the 21st Chromosome (and by extension, of the 21st SHORTEST chromosome), and causes that many complications…well, one can begin to understand why having a Trisomy of the 9th chromosome would be truly catastrophic.

As far as the medical staff knew, he was the first Complete-Trisomy 9 baby to survive to childbirth since at least the 1970′s.  When genetic testing began.  Placing the odds of having a child with that specific genetic defect at something approaching  one in ten or twelve billion.  With a B.

Worse, it meant that he would never be a candidate for the heart or kidney transplants he would need to live a somewhat normal life.  Of course, he was also unlikely to be able to ever lead a normal life of any kind.  Even a limited one.

It was late afternoon, and even though things were being explained, and we were finally getting answers…nothing was feeling any clearer.  He was still laying there, filled with tubes and medicines and needing a machine to breathe for him.

We had waited for and hoped for and counted on getting “The Answers” and yet…yet nothing.  No real answers.  No solutions.  No one was making it better!

We had a choice.  We could keep doing this, keep waiting, and running tests, and praying for a miracle to make it better…

Or we could turn off the IVs, and unplug the tubes, and turn off the machines, and we could hold our child…just our child…for a few moments in a private room.

I remember going into the private room that was just off the NICU…I remember calling my parents…I remember howling like a wounded animal as I cried while I talked it over with my dad.  I remember trying to make someone tell me what to do.  I wanted someone else to make it better…that’s what parents do!

A Twenty-five-year-old child shouldn’t have to decide life-or-death for their own seven-day-old son…it’s unimaginable.  I never dreamed even in my worst nightmares that I would be sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest, crying on the phone as I tried to explain to my parents that we were going to turn off the respirator keeping their only grandchild alive.

I remember walking down to the chapel at the end of the second floor hallway and prostrating myself before the alter.  I remember pleading with God to make my son healthy, to take my life instead.  I remember screaming at the alter at the top of my lungs.  I remember that all that met my heart’s purest outcry, was silence.

I don’t remember walking back to the NICU.

I do remember holding my wife close as we told the neo-nateologist our decision to hold our son and not keep him hooked to machines any longer.  I remember watching them administer the morphine to keep him comfortable with the smallest needle I have ever seen.  I remember my wife singing softly to our son.  I remember holding him for a moment without tubes, or wires, or beeping machines, or whirring respirators.  I remember the small sigh he let out as he died in my arms.

I held it together.  I cried…I wept from the bottom of my soul…but I held reality together.  I put my arms around my wife and we walked to the elevator, out through the lobby and into the evening sunshine.  But it was ultimately the heat.  It slammed into me like a mallet against a gong.

Before I could walk across the parking lot and get into the car, I could feel reality flex and warp like a plate glass window in a hurricane.  And I felt it shatter.  Little shards of reality blew out away from me…everything I’d ever known, or wanted, or felt, or believed…raining down around me like starfall as we walked back to the little green civic parked in the parking garage.  I couldn’t hear anything.  I couldn’t process anything.  All my senses were going numb as the sun was setting.

As a defense mechanism my body reverted to automatic pilot.  I’d driven this route so many times it was second nature…no thought, no analysis, no words.  Just grief.  Like an overwhelming haze that steals time, grief filled every molecule of my existence.  Choking out air, choking out thought, choking out time itself.

But even in grief, things had to get done.  My wife was far from healthy, and she needed rest, but the next day we found ourselves planning a funeral.  For a baby.  We picked out a casket, and a cemetery plot, and program cards, and called our pastor and invited him to speak.

Sitting in the funeral home, I composed a poem to go on the program:

A moment in our arms,
Forever in our hearts.
We’ll see you again,
In the arms of an Angel.

I think at the time I even still believed it.

The day of the funeral was probably the most beautiful Saturday that year.  Perfect temperatures, just a hint of breeze, not a cloud in the sky.  I was surprised at the number of people that showed up for a funeral for a baby that all but five of them had never seen.  More than twenty people from my and my wife’s offices were there, and probably fifty people from my extended family, some from hundreds of miles away, on what was a normal weekend for the rest of the world.  Just another Saturday in July.  I really couldn’t balance the two concepts together in my head.

I remember all the flowers were beautiful, and we donated them all to the church for that Saturday’s service.  I remember staring for the entire service at the little white coffin.  Hardly more than two shoeboxes laid end-to-end.  We laid yellow roses on it, and they lowered it into the ground after we drove away.  Eventually they covered it with a grave marker made of granite, polished mirror smooth, that read:

Kristopher Karl Charming
July 13, 1999 – July 20, 1999

Our neighbors had gathered together to provide food, and family and friends stayed with us for a long time to talk and try to make life a little bit closer to normal.  And for that I will always be thankful.

The worst was when everyone went home.  In a quiet house, my wife and I couldn’t make our separate grief align enough to grieve together.  I was afraid to truly grab the pieces of reality that I could still see scattered in front of me.  They were sharp, and it would hurt to pick them up…if I could just make it through without touching them…if we could just go on with life and leave them alone…maybe they’d get better on their own.

After that day, if anyone asked me, “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?” I’d duck the question.  No one wants to hear an answer like “chose to let my son die in peace rather than leave him hooked to life support machines waiting for a miracle,” or “planned a funeral for my seven day old son without jumping off a bridge.”

Also near the top of the list is “not punching out the self-righteous Christians who tell us that we should have prayed harder and trusted God more, rather than kill our son.”  I’ve been told that by well meaning people who never faced anything like the scenario they are so quick to talk about.  Telling me that my son would have gotten better, would have lived, if I’d prayed more, trusted more, wanted it more…that’s just a way to say that God didn’t love me enough…that he didn’t love my son enough to save him…that I must have done something wrong to deserve it.

People who believe in a God like that frighten me.

I wish that was the end of the story.  I wish that was the most difficult thing in my life.  But it’s not even close.

The advice that everyone gave us was that once we were given the ok, we should try again.  That the joy of a new life would make the pain of losing the last one more bearable.

And so, as soon as we were allowed, we tried again.  And it took a year.  In some ways it was the longest, most stressful year of my life.  I changed jobs, we moved to a new home in a new neighborhood, and it was proving FAR more difficult to conceive than we had expected.

Finally, FINALLY, we were successful again.  Almost two years after that first EPT test, we had another peed-on-stick with good news.  This time we were in the “high risk” category and we had TOP NOTCH care from the first day.  We drove 55 miles one way every two weeks to see her doctor from the start.  We had 8 different ultrasounds, including one of the first 3-D ultrasounds given at OHSU.

My wife was sick pretty much from the first day of pregnancy.  Nausea, cramps, sore muscles, everything.  The exact opposite of the last pregnancy.  And the baby kicked like she was practicing for the hacky-sack world championships ALL DAY LONG.

But her blood pressure stayed good, and on June 13, 2001 our daughter was born.  It was a great surgery, and other than getting stuck in traffic (in the same place as two years earlier) everything went like clockwork.

Slowly I was picking up the pieces of reality again.  They cut, and sometimes I’d bleed, and sometimes I’d cut my wife…but I was holding them again.  I was able to grasp them and not let go.

In my world, my daughter was important…but so was my wife.  So was my job.  So was making life go on.  For my wife, nothing was more important.  With our daughter she saw redemption for failing with our son.  Nothing could EVER be more important.

Somewhere between our different grief and the difference in our daughter’s importance in our hearts…things began to change in our marriage.  There’s a lot to that story that can’t be covered here…but five years later I knew I was going to lose my daughter.  Not the way I’d lost my son…but I would ultimately lose her all the same.

My wife wanted a divorce, and I knew from the first moment she said it, that someday my daughter would leave my daily life.  Someday I would become as distant in her world as my wife’s father had been in her’s.

I’d have given anything, and everything, to keep our family together.  I didn’t want to lose even one day with my daughter…but there was nothing I could have ever done to change her mind…by the time she told me it was long past done for her.

We’ve done our best over the last couple of years to keep our daughter equally between us…but my ex-wife has found love again with a man in Oklahoma.

I could fight her for our daughter…try to keep her here, or something…but I can’t do that to her.  In my world she is my beloved daughter.  In her world, she is everything, air and water, light and dark…everything.  My ex simply couldn’t live without her.  And I can’t be the one to hold her here, hold her back from finding love.  True love is wanting what’s best for the ones we love, even when it hurts more than anything.

I believe that I’ll be able to keep my relationship with my daughter strong enough that she’ll always know me…always know that I love her…always be able to call on me when she needs me…

But in just over a month she boards a plane and flies away.  She will always come back and visit, but she’ll never “live” with me again.

And every day between now and then I have to hold on to the pieces of reality still in my hand…no matter how much they cut me, no matter how much of my own blood slicks their surface, I have to hold on.

Every morning when I wake up I can feel the pain as reality cuts me a little deeper, as it severs one more strand of my soul.  And I have to open my eyes and carry on.  But if anyone asked me “what’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done?”  Well, I’d have to admit it’s imagining a moment when my daughter’s flight has taxied down the runway and lifted slowly into the sky…away from reality as best I can grab a hold of it.

When I talk about my dragons, my demons and the things that evilly stalk my dreams in the night…the one that frightens me the most is that someone will see exactly what I am:  Just a boy in a man’s body clutching the shards of his reality like a bouquet of splintered glass that’s dripping with the last drops of blood from his shredded grip.

What woman would accept such a gift?  When I admit that I’m afraid I’m “too damaged” to find true love, I mean that even if I found it, I’m afraid I’m so cut up I couldn’t grab it and hold on.

As a bit of a postlude, I thought I would mention that I recognize that there are many MANY people who’s troubles in life FAR exceed my own.  Sexual abuse, personal violence, witnessing murder, there are SO many things that exceed anything that I’ve ever had to go through.  And I have some tiny clue as to how they get through the day, they just grab hold, squeeze hard and do it.

When I was younger, a writing teacher told me that before I could write, I needed to go out and live life.  I couldn’t write about it until I’d lived it first.  I didn’t really believe her at the time.  Now, I’d give back that lesson if I could.

In the words of the great Baz Lhurman, “It’s not things that you think are important in life that will get you.  It’s the things that blind-side you on some idle Tuesday.”

If I could ever give one piece of advice, it’s to cherish your idle Tuesdays, but never trust them.  Live your life like the next Tuesday will change everything you hold dear.


Comments (18)


100 Character Notes

Doing this twice with no overlap is a CHALLENGE!

1) I went to a private boarding academy for high school.
2) I think referring to high school as “academy” is pretentious at best.
3) I still habitually refer to high school as academy in my mind.
4) I was baptized by immersion at the age of thirteen.
5) I can actually remember the exact moment I tried an “unclean meat” for the first time.  (It was bacon, I was six, and it KICKED ASS)
6) I think the concept of an “unclean meat” is pretty retarded.
7) I have been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for multi-year stretches in my past.
8 ) I like my steaks rare, my ribs medium and my toast dark.
9) I didn’t try sushi/sashimi until I was in my 30s.  Now I’m trying to make up for lost time.
10) I’m from the brewpub capitol of the world.  It’s also the town with the highest per-capita number of strippers and strip clubs in America.  It always surprises me that neither of these facts seem to be particularly related.
11) I prefer brewpubs to strip clubs, and I don’t even care much for beer.
12) I have no moral issues with strip clubs, strippers or any other form of consensual adult entertainment.  If both parties understand the transaction and consent, good for them.
13) I think Hooters is creepy.  They aren’t selling adult entertainment, they’re selling sexual harassment. Pinching, slapping or touching a waitress on the ass is just unacceptable.  A “family” restaurant that peddles that kind of environment is really unacceptable.
14) I think the European sensibilities regarding violence versus sexuality on television make a whole lot more sense then the American ones.  I would rather my six-year-old see a naked person then a dead one any day.  Even IF children do learn from television, I’d rather she learn to value sex over death.
15) I can count the number of women I’ve kissed on two hands.
16) I can count the number of women I’ve been intimate with on one hand.
17) I once had a physical affair with no emotional connection.  I have never regretted anything more than that mistake.
18 ) I once had an emotional affair with no physical contact.  I have never truly regretted it for even one moment.  Ever.
19) I don’t believe either affair was moral or right.  I have learned a great deal from both of them, and can quite honestly say that I would never allow myself to emotionally or physically enter a place where that could happen again.
20) When I was a teenager, I was distressingly “quick to fire” under pressure; I considered thirty seconds to be a “long time” to last.
21) Now I have the opposite problem, I only “fire” about a third of the time after intense effort. I’m more likely to cramp up or become exhausted after more than an hour of exertion.
22) Number 21 scared me enough that I talked to my doctor about it.  After an in depth check-up and my first prostate exam, I was found to be in very good health.  So I’ve started running cross-country again to build up my intense exercise stamina.
23) If 21 and 22 sound like I’m bragging, keep in mind that it’s been more negative on my sex life than positive. It’s very easy for a partner to take that problem personally, no matter what you tell them to the contrary.
24) My sexual ideal lies somewhere on the spectrum between the end of the Keira Knightly “Pride and Prejudice” and Tara Patrick’s “Karma Sutra.”  Yes, it’s a broad range.  No, no sex happens at the end of “Pride and Prejudice”.  If you don’t know who Tara Patrick is, PLEASE don’t google her at work.
25) I knew Tara Patrick “in real life” before she became famous.  I knew her when she was shy, willow-thin and wore braces. I have every reason to believe she is just as nice today as she was then.
26) Milla Jovovich (of Resident Evil, The Fifth Element and other movies) once pushed me off a boat dock and into a frigid lake.  It was about a month before she went to film a Disney Channel movie (“The Night Train to Kathmandu”).  We were eleven or twelve, I knew she had modeled, but I just thought of her as my cousin’s skinny friend.  If she remembers me, and I doubt she does, it will be as the boy who dumped ice cream on her on accident.  It would not be a “happy” memory, so I hope she doesn’t.
27) I was once ridiculed on a major area radio broadcast as “Mr. Potato Head”
28 ) while not related to 27, I was called “Fathead” by my grandfather until I was six or seven years old.
29) I have attended more funerals in my life then weddings.
30) I’ve never been to a funeral where it rained.
31) I’ve been to three weddings where it poured.  At one of them lightning caused a power outage.
32) I have been to a wedding that lasted longer than the marriage (and I don’t mean figuratively, the wedding ceremony lasted more than four hours, the marriage didn’t even last two).
33) I have attended two “gay” weddings.  One for two guys, one for two ladies.
34) I actively believe that two consenting adults should be allowed to get married, regardless of gender.
35) I also have no personal issue if three consenting adults want to get married.  My only concern with polygamy is equal treatment for everyone involved.  Which happens to be my big concern in two person marriages as well…
36) While I am irretrievably straight, I have no qualms with people who aren’t. Or can’t decide.  Or just don’t know.
37) I’ve certainly met gay people who creeped me out…but then I’ve met more straight people who creeped me out.  It works the same as race for me.  I’ve known some black/hispanic/asian people who creeped me out, but I’ve met far more white ones who did.  I don’t think that’s a racial issue or a sexuality issue, just a location issue.  I meet more straight whites, so there’s a better chance that straight whites will annoy me.
38 ) People who either can’t or won’t grasp number 37 annoy me more than anyone. I have no patience for bigots of any stripe.
39) I’m more liberal than most people. Who are democrats. On the far left of the party.
40) If I was president I would federalize Healthcare, Energy Production, Education (both higher and lower) and Transportation with the same level of federal control as we exert over our armed forces.
41) I think Nurses, Doctors and Teachers should be as heavily budgeted as the defense department.  Elder care, cancer research and HIV/AIDS vaccines should have the same scale effort as the moon shot or World War II.
42) I believe that if high school graduates can get money for college by being soldiers, shouldn’t we give them the same level of support for being nurses or teachers?
43) I seriously believe ALL Oil/Natural Gas/Coal/Hydroelectric resources should be federally managed and citizen owned.  Citizens can own the national parks…but not the natural resources?  The cost of a gallon of gas should be ten percent over the cost of production.  Currently that would be somewhere between $1.32 and $1.67 depending on how close you live to the refinery belt.
44) I believe as a nation we should be sponsoring, creating and displaying more art.
45) My favorite artists are Frank Frazetta, Masamune Shirow, Raphael and the masters of the Art Nouveau movement (Aubrey Beardsley, Ivan Bilibin, Alfonse Mucha)
46) I had a subscription to Playboy in college.  I really did read it for the articles.  And the cartoons.
47) I still read Playboy on occasion.  If the cover was more understated I’d still subscribe.
48 ) My favorite cigars are “Playboy by Don Diego” followed closely by “Hemmingway by Arturo Fuente”
49) I prefer either well aged (and port cask finished) Scotch or Knappogue Castle Irish whisky.  On the rocks.
50) I believe that mixing scotch with ANYTHING should be a capital crime.
51) White over Red, Amabile over Secco, Italian over French.
52) Belgian over Swiss, Milk over Dark
53) FOR THE LOVE OF GOD don’t put vegetables in dessert.  Carrot Cake, I’m looking at you.  And the Rhubarb Pie.  But Pumpkin, you get a hall pass.
54) Phad Thai with Tofu and Shrimp.  BEST. MEAL. EVER.
55) Wailua from Kona Brewing Company is the only beer I’ve ever had that made me want another.
56) Most people use Word, Excel and Outlook on the job.  I do 99% of my job in Toad and vi over PuTTY.  If that made sense to you, I’m sorry.
57) I can program in more than a dozen languages.  I do about 99% of my work in SQL, PLSQL and Java.
58 ) I HATE Java.
59) I LOVE coffee.
60) I’ll drink Starbucks under duress when no better option is available.
61) I’ve had Folgers Instant Coffee that was better than Starbucks.
62) I love Chai tea more than any other hot beverage.  With honey.
63) I believe in my heart-of-hearts that Starbucks Frappachinos were developed by a cabal of evil conspirators to enslave mankind under the yoke of obesity.
64) I am honestly afraid of “Mad Cow” disease.  Mostly because I ate burgers in England in the early 90′s.
65) I didn’t know I was at risk until the Red Cross refused to take my blood donation after 9-11.
66) Now I’m paranoid and will only eat ground beef if it was organically grown.
67) Which is ok, because I prefer organically grown products anyway.
68 ) I refuse to eat eggs that aren’t from free range and vegetarian fed chickens.
69) If you think that’s easy, you need to find out more about where your eggs come from.
70) The moment that I truly grasped what Dukkha means was probably the most significant spiritual moment of my life.  I will never be able to watch the end of a Superbowl broadcast the same way again.  (Non-”Fresh Air” listeners won’t understand that at all).
71) I have answered the “Faith” section of government or legal documents with the following answers:  Seventh Day Adventist, Christian, Sometimes, “In science”, Buddhist, and “Not Applicable”
72) I would answer that question with “Zen Christian” today.
73) If I ever returned to organized Christianity it would probably be to Catholicism.  I love the ritual of it.
74) Which is odd because I could probably be an effective protestant minister.
75) I have preached before hundreds of people before.  The experience was slightly more addictive than cigarettes.
76) I would like to get my bachelors in history.  And classical literature.
77) I am currently planning on learning French in the next year and Russian not long after.
78 ) One of my best friends from high school has a “mail order bride” from the Ukraine.
79) I was very skeptical when he first told me how they met.  She is neither mail-order nor money grubbing NOR simpering housewife.  Which just shows my prejudices before I met her.
80) While I wouldn’t advocate it as a method for anyone, I sincerely think their online experience was more honest than match.com or ehamrony.  At least they both knew there were barriers and pitfalls.
81) I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it since meeting her.
82) I’d be lying if I said I thought it would actually work for me.
83) After failing two marriages, and letting my daughter move thousands of miles away, I realized that I am an utter disappointment to my parents.
84) When you come from a very close (and large) family, that’s a hard thing to accept.
85) I am only the third member of my extended family (covering almost 300 people) to get a divorce in the last four generations.  I am the first man to do so.  Both women were being abused.  I don’t have an acceptable reason.
86) Yes, I realize that the logic behind 85 is utter crap, but that doesn’t change the circumstances.
87) When my second marriage began to fail, my family actively began avoiding me.  Not because they were upset with me…because they didn’t know how to interact with me.  I had become so alien to them that they didn’t even know how to speak to me.
88 ) I don’t admit it out loud, but 87 and another event last year almost led me to change my last name and start over.
89) I don’t admit it to anyone but my therapist, but 87 almost cost me my life.  I don’t believe in “gesture of suicide”…if you’re gonna go, use a gun, make it quick.
90) I can also gladly say that I am long past that dark place.  Hopefully never to return.
91) My best female friend is trying to convince me that instead of being the prince that rescues the princess, maybe I should let her find me…let her in and be rescued from my own dragons.  And if not rescued, than at least fight them together, side by side.
92) Deep down inside, I don’t think I deserve to be loved.  I’ve already failed.  I’ve already fallen in battle.
93) That’s the dragon that I can’t seem to fight.  I can’t even see it when I’m battling it.  It’s always hiding in the shadows and burning me in the dark.
94) I am secretly afraid that I am such damaged goods that I will never find my true love.
95) I have never admitted that before. Not even to my therapist.
96) I do not accept a victim mentality, I believe in standing up, dusting off and trying again.
97) I rarely give up.  Which is dangerous when playing poker. It is equally bad when playing blackjack or craps.
98 ) I love to gambol, but I don’t EVER play with money I can’t afford to lose.
99)  I will always throw the dice in life rather than playing it safe.  Always.
100) If life is a game, and love is the answer, and we’re all players…then here’s to hoping the third times the charm?


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In the Eye of the Beholder

So, what am I looking for?  I have no idea.  A couple of friends recently pointed out a pattern in my female friends and acquaintances (tall, long hair, glasses…see Joy Wilson for an example) but I’m not really sure I buy into that…that seems like more of a coincidence than an actual pattern. One of the women “in my life” who I honestly thought could have been Mrs. Charming was “short” (under 5′ 0″) with chin length curls and no glasses in sight.

When my friends were pointing out my apparent taste in women, I tried to analyze the last few women I’d found to be noticeably “attractive” and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

First of all neither height, hair length or eyewear are common denominators.  Nor is hair color, eye color, bust size, body shape or ethnicity. In fact, I can’t identify any common denominators at all.

Second, I can honestly say that for me personality can be more physically attractive than purely external features.  Sure, there are things that might catch my eye or turn my head, but a woman who shares my interests and I enjoy talking with becomes more physically attractive to me than any girl who is “just a pretty face.”

I realize that might seem obvious to some people, but for a lot of guys that’s a concept that’s simply impossible to grasp.  Several of my friends included.

So here’s how I explain it:  The girl I mentioned above, the one that could have been Mrs. Charming, she’s cute.  By most guy’s standards, I’d imagine that she’s cute and reasonably pretty.  If you’re into tall women or big busts, she’s not gonna be your type, but otherwise she’s certainly attractive.

To me she’s very close to perfect.  Her most attractive feature is the sparkle in her eyes when she laughs. She’s past thirty, she’s no longer “young” and yet she’s so fresh that I forget she’s out of high-school.  Never mind her degree from a prestigious northwest college.

Knowing her makes the shape of her face perfect, the arch of her nose sublime and the color of her lips adorable.  Strangers would see in her a sweet person with an engaging smile; I see in her the potential to be a wonderful mother, a dedicated partner, and an enthusiastic lover.

THAT is what I find to be truly beautiful. And knowing those things enhances her beauty, makes it shine, makes it last in the minds eye long after she’s out of sight. I guess that doesn’t really explain anything.  That’s just the way it works for me.

And it’s not limited just to her.  A lot of the women I find attractive are attractive for many reasons, less then half of them physical.  But the non-physical things enhance the physical.

And after about three hours of discussion with my friends, and quite a few beers (or in my case scotch on the rocks), I can safely say that’s nearly universally true for all guys.

I’m not a fan of the “number grading” system some guys use…in fact I find it more degrading than useful as no two men see a woman at the same place on the scale…but for the purposes of this illustration it will have to do…

Every single guy I know has at least one example of personality changing a 7 to a 10 or a 5 to an 8 or whatever.  At first we were debating if the “personality goggles” effect was the same as the “beer goggles” effect, but the beer goggles come off after a few hours.  The change that personality makes is usually permanent.

This is probably the only thing that really differentiates men from monkeys.  Or dogs.

So my first question is, does it work the same way for women?  What do you look for?  What triggers attraction for you?  Can personality overcome too many cheeseburgers?

I had a close female friend tell me that women are less physically selective.  I’m really not sure I believe this, but then most of my female friends seem to think guys are somewhere between highly and VERY physically selective.  Which is rubbish.

I know for a stone cold FACT that 99% of guys couldn’t tell if a woman gained five pounds if their life depended on it.  We simply aren’t geared to notice.  Or care.

Now, guys ARE pigs.  Even nice guys are pigs sometimes.  Even the most respectful, honorable, decent guy has said to himself “NICE RACK!” when a girl in a bikini walked by.  The difference between decency and depravity is a) not saying it out loud, and b) NOT ACTING ON YOUR BASE URGES. The first is easy, the second always trips up guys at the dumbest moments.

My 10 Simple Commandments of male decency: 
1.) It is only acceptable to whistle at a woman if you know her VERY well and if it won’t offend her. 
2.) Commenting on a woman’s physical attributes is NEVER ok. 
3.) Praising a woman’s physical attributes should be done privately and sincerely.
4.) If you aren’t clear on the difference between 2 and 3, don’t say anything at all.
5.) If she’s uncomfortable, you’ve fucked up.
6.) There is a BIG difference between making her blush and causing her to smile-and-blush.  See 5
7.) Listen more than you talk. As a guy, your mouth will do you in faster than anything else.  If you don’t say it, it can’t be wrong.
8.) If she’s brave enough to share her feelings, have the balls to share yours.
9.) If you figure out how to balance 7 and 8 you are straddling the universal paradox and you should thank God, the Stars and ALL the little angels that you haven’t fucked everything up. Yet.
10.) Even following these commandments will not save you.  You are a man, and you will therefore do something stupid eventually. DO NOT COMPOUND IT by throwing away decency after the fact.

Now, obviously these aren’t going to cover everything.  I do like my friend C’s personal mantra: “When in doubt, keep it in your pants.”  It works for breath mints, cell phones, and lots of other things.

So what am I looking for?  I still don’t know.  But hopefully I’ll remember how to act when I find her.


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