Zero to Hero and Tempestuous Happenings

As usual, the hero business is up to me. It all began, really, about six weeks ago, when I realized that at the age of 32, my body was about where it was going to be for the rest of my life in many ways (yes, wrinkles will show up and gray hairs will appear and arthritis will probably set in at some point as well… but you probably know what I mean). I wasn’t going to suddenly grow six inches, lose fifty pounds, get perfect vision, and suddenly be cured of my asthma and hypertension. If anything was going to improve or change, I was going to have to take some drastic action on my own.

This is why I’ve enrolled in the exercise/diet program that I’ve written about earlier. This is going to be a year-long program, you see; and at the end of the year, I plan to be in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. One year from now, I leave for my three-month backpacking trip through Europe, and I’ll be damned if I go weighing 240 pounds, and unable to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

This is why I’m starting up another series of weekly entries to this journal. I’m calling this series "Zero to Hero", after the song in Hercules. This will be a more-or-less regularly updated journal of my progress through the program I’m in. I doubt that I will get too intimate (sorry, everyone!) but I’ll certainly chart some essentials, along with whatever thoughts about the entire project that I may have along the way. Any tips on fitness or dieting or lifestyle changes that I pick up along the way will also be entered in the "Zero to Hero" column. My first entry is here.

Tempestuous Happenings

Last night I got to see one of my favorite bands, Tempest, perform. Tempest plays a style of music which the band itself describes as "Celtic rock" but which is really a fusion of Celtic, folk, and rock, with sometimes a bit of Cajun and even Arabian thrown in for good measure (one of their albums — my favorite, actually — is called Surfing to Mecca; that should give a hint of their musical style).

Generally, a concert is only a good concert if, afterwards, your voice is hoarse and your ears are numb (ideally, of course, you’re also surrounded by about two hundred of your closest friends, and pickled beyond recognition by the end of the show as well — though that’s my own opinion). Tempest provides that kind of show; my friends and I sat in the front row, about three feet away from the band, and in the venue that they played in — a converted old barn known as The Palms Playhouse — the music can’t really help but be overwhelming. Just the way I like it when hearing live music.

Tempest has a way of getting up close and personal with their audiences. The lead singer and double-necked-electric-mandolin player Lief Sorbye loves to interact with the audience while playing, and even came up and sat down in my friend Jennifer’s lap during one song of the first set. Jennifer announced that she would never wash her jeans again. I suspect, though, that she was being facetious.

Another friend of mine who had come to the concert was lucky to be sitting where she was. Michael, the fiddler of the band (Tempest is the first band I’ve ever known that has an electric fiddle as one of their instruments), whom my friend perceives as a sort of fiddling deity, stood right in front of her and even looked down at her several times. I’m sure my friend was elated by this; this was the same friend who, after seeing Tempest perform for her first time, went up to this same fiddler and asked, "Hey, Michael! What did you do with the golden fiddle that you won from the devil down in Georgia?".

Tempest was not the only live band I’ve seen perform this week. Last Monday, a friend of mine and I went to The Fox and Goose in downtown Sacramento (great bar — check it out if you’re in Sacramento) to check out Open Mike night. Generally, I love open mike events, and Davis hasn’t got a single decent regular open mike night since the Blue Mango closed down in 1995. Open Mike at the Fox and Goose started, that night, with a fellow who seemed to be tuning his harmonica through most of his set (turns out he was actually performing), and ended (at least for the two of us) with a woman who desperately wanted to be Aretha Franklin but was far too white to pull it off (no, I’m not racist — but this woman’s voice simply did not have the sort of range or depth which the great female jazz vocalists have had; and most of the female jazz vocalists I know of are African American). Instead of sounding inspiring, exciting, or thrilling, she came off as flat and… well… stoned. She was accompanied by three fellows who looked as if they really wanted to be somewhere else. At one point I leaned over to my friend and asked her how much she thought the singer had paid the band to stand there with her.

In all fairness, I suppose that this woman is probably just getting started and hasn’t had a chance to really find her voice yet. She has a good voice, and when she stops trying to imitate Aretha or Ella in order to develop her own style, she will probably be a great singer.

My last live music event of the week is going on as I write this, here on Lucien in Borders Cafe in Davis. I’m sitting here, watching a soft jazz band perform some of my favorite tunes (only one of which — "Girl From Ipanema" — I actually know the name of, but that’s okay). It’s great fun, though not as much fun as screaming "Hal An Tow" at the top of my lungs to the fiddler while the double-necked-electric-mandolin plays, but Tempest simply can’t be a nightly event, can it?

I love live music; probably for the same reasons that I love face-to-face conversations over telephone or internet conversations, or why I prefer sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons instead of sitting at my computer playing in a MUSH. Far too much happens in a personal setting, in a one-on-one situation, that simply cannot be conveyed through a stereo, telephone, or computer screen. Music, just like conversation, is a form of communication; and to get the full message that the musician is trying to get across, you really need to sit up close to them, watching their movements and facial expressions, just as communicating by e-mail will never convey a full message.

Please, though, don’t think that I’m trying to make a point here or anything. This is my personal journal, and I simply ramble on. Perhaps I could tell you more, if we met face to face.

Cinderella Need Not Apply

When it comes to relationships, I am not a Nice Guy. Or, at least, I try not to be.

Every now and then I browse through the personal ads on various sites on the web. I don’t answer any or place any of my own because of some bad experiences I’ve had (details available only in face to face conversation, I’m afraid), but it’s interesting to read through them and see what people think they want.

How many ads from women, for example, do I see that claim they want a "fairy tale romance"? Quite a few (I don’t have numbers, but this is a personal page so I’m not obligated to prove anything). A "fairy tale romance", I think, based on conversations I’ve had with women who want them, is one in which Prince Charming rides in on a shining white stallion, sweeps the princess off of her feet, and the two of them ride off into the sunset forever.

I am convinced that people tell themselves "stories", with themselves in the starring role, which explains the world to them. Sometimes these stories are helpful and healthy, and sometimes they are downright harmful. I’ve met many women, for example, who tell themselves the "Rapunzel" story, in which they are the beautiful princess who is locked in a tower by evil forces (sometimes these forces are cruel parents, sometimes a heartless society, and so on), waiting for the perfect Prince Charming to come along, rescue them, and take them away to live Happily Ever After. The Rapunzel women never leave their towers; they wait their whole lives for Prince Charming to come along.

A variant of the Rapunzel story is the Cinderella story. Women who tell themselves the Cinderella story at least get to leave the tower, but they still need to wait for a Fairy Godmother — sometimes the Fairy Godmother comes in the form of a great job, or a windfall of cash — before they think they have a hope of going to the ball where Prince Charming will meet them and sweep them off their feet, and take them away to live Happily Ever After…

There are other stories, of course, but the main theme is that the woman is the hopelessly misunderstood and helpless, downtrodden, and misused Beautiful Princess who will one day find Prince Charming and live Happily Ever After. The problem, though, is that Prince Charming is never perfect (he ends up being unable to keep a job, or laughs a bit too loud, or spends a little too much time watching football). And "Happily Ever After" is a mythical state of being, in which a romance lasts forever, and there is never any fighting or negative feelings, and the head-over-heels in love state of mind never fades. Unfortunately, there is no such state of being, and the feeling of "being in love" will almost always fade.

Generally, I think of such women as "Fairy Princesses", and I’ve had far too many experiences with them. Fortunately for me, very few such encounters have turned into long-term commitments.

To be fair, men also tell themselves these sorts of stories. It’s harder for me to find fairy-tale counterparts for men, but I’m sure they’re out there. Some men I’ve met, for example, tell themselves a story in which they are a misunderstood Prince who must battle a horde of hags until he meets the True Fairy Princess. These are the men who go through life in a haze of misinterpretation of the women they meet, and each relationship they get involved in invariably ends when he founds out his partner is, after all, only human (I have to admit that the story I tell myself is probably a variant of this one). Some men cast themselves as a male version of a Fairy Princess, and wait in some tower for Princess Charming to come along.

Then there are the Nice Guys(tm).

Women — especially the Heartless Bitches of the world (i.e., the Real Women) — probably know who I mean by the Nice Guy. These are the guys who worship women, who place them on pedestals, who do everything they can to please a woman and completely ignores his own wishes and desires for the woman he’s set his sights on. One such Nice Guy told me, "All women are angels"; another said, "All women are angelic creatures who could not possibly ever be corrupted". Honestly, setting women apart like this really is degrading, in my opinion; it implies that women are not human.

These Nice Guys have no backbone, no spine.

This is why I try not to be a Nice Guy. For one thing, I’m certainly not perfect enough to be Prince Charming; I won’t even try. I won’t place a woman on a pedestal. I won’t worship a woman. I’ll freely get angry and pissed off at a woman if need be, and happily admit I’m wrong when I make a mistake. I don’t believe in Happily Ever After, and I can’t live my life pretending that I’m there. But I can do my best to treat a woman with honesty, respect, and dignity, just like I treat any other sort of human being. I can learn from my mistakes and do better next time around.

I’ll never be perfect, of course. So any Fairy Princess looking for a Prince Charming had probably just look elsewhere.

(Just to address a rumor that I heard over the weekend: No, I am not dating anyone. I am not currently in love with anyone, despite what some people may think. It is true that I have been on a few "dates" with a couple of different women since ending my last relationship, but I’m not actively pursuing anything serious right now. Hope that clears things up.)

A Correction

In my last journal entry, I mentioned a Pablo Neruda poem which began "Today I am going to talk about pain" and ends "Today I am simply in pain". Man, was I ever wrong!

First of all, it’s not by Pablo Neruda; it’s by Oscar Vallejo. Second, it begins, "Today I am going to talk about hope". And third, it isn’t even a poem, for crying out loud. It’s an essay.

My apologies for any confusion this might have caused.


I’m in an unusually introspective mood today, so today I’m going to talk about something different. Today I’m going to talk about grief.

There is a Pablo Neruda poem which begins, "Today I am going to talk about pain", and ends, "Today I am simply in pain". While I don’t consider myself a pain-ridden, angst-infested person, there are times when I need to think about pain and grief.

I am, on the whole, a positive, optimistic person; I have a good attitude towards life, having learned that the only way to really enjoy life is to choose to do so. But every now and then people will say strange things to me: "Richard," I’ve been told, "you are one of the saddest people I know." A former girlfriend once told me that she could see that I had a lot of sadness inside of me. And so on. (Of course, I’ve also been told, "Richard, you have a great attitude", and "Richard, you’re the bravest person I know" — but those self-aggrandizing statements are for another time.) So I’ve wondered what it is that people see in me that makes them say that I’m a sad person, because I don’t, on the whole, feel sad.

Then again.

What I do feel, often, is grief. It’s a strange feeling, something that I frequently have trouble quantifying or describing. I have not suffered any major tragedies in my life outside of the loss of close family members; nothing more than anyone else. My childhood was a good one, and I had a great family. I like my life, and I look forward to the future.

So, why should I feel grief, especially to a level that is detectable to other people at times? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think I’m beginning to get a sense of it.

Grief comes from loss, or the awareness of loss. I look forward to the future with eagerness and joy, but I’m aware that all of the good things that I have now and that I will experience in years to come will, at some time, come to an end. I love my mother deeply, but I know that one day there will come a time when I will realize, "I haven’t thought about my mother in months, and she passed on years ago." Or, one day, I will have a family of my own: and I know that there will come a time when I’ll look into my son’s or daughter’s eyes, and realize that I no longer know that person. It’s a powerful feeling, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.

Is it a stupid or a silly feeling? I honestly don’t think so. It may seem absurd to feel grief for events or pains that haven’t happened yet, but, at the same time, I think it has served me well. I have become acutely aware of the times that I have lost people close to me, or failed to say "Goodbye" or "I love you" to someone who is leaving me forever.

Say your goodbyes when you can, tell them you love them while you still have them with you.

I suppose that I have at least two choices in the face of this neurosis of mine. One route — which I think would probably be the easier — would simply be to avoid contact with everyone, to avoid loving wherever possible, to become a solitary hermit, to withdraw completely. This would certainly ensure that I never lose anyone that is close to me, simply because I would never have anyone close to me.

That, however, does not seem like a good idea to me.

The other choice is to feel the fear of loss and plunge ahead and be close with people anyway. I may feel pain when I lose a close friend or lover or child or pet — but, all the same, my life will have been richer for having had that closeness in my life. I become very close to my friends, although I may sometimes have trouble expressing that, and I know that I’m really quite blessed to have those friends and family in my life.

What brought on this introspective mood? Part of it was thinking about an old friend that I’ve lost touch with; this person used to be my best and closest friend, a person with whom I could share my deepest feelings, fears, and hopes. Then… something happened. I’m still not sure what; but this person apparently decided that I’m an asshole, and subsequently severed contact with me. Conversations with people who knew both of us very well convinced me that the fault really lay with the other person and not with myself; but the loss lingers. I enjoyed the time I spent with this person, and I regret the loss. But perhaps the end of that friendship was for the best anyway. (Trust me, you don’t know this person.)

You cannot prevent losses in your life; you cannot prevent the pain that they will cause. But you can strengthen your appreciation and love of the things that you have, and face a future that will be filled with more blessings, most of which you have no clue of today.

That may be why some people have told me that I’m a very sad person; or, perhaps, I’ve missed the mark completely. But these are my own thoughts on this.

Once again, I hope I haven’t bored you or embarrassed myself utterly in this semi-public forum.


Throttling the Day

You can’t convince me that there is a single comic strip that is better than Calvin and Hobbes. The interactions between Calvin and his tiger companion are splendid, the artwork is fantastic, and the themes and storylines are wonderful. When Bill Watterson retired in 1996, it was, in my opinion, a great loss; heck, when it happened, I was still reeling from the loss of The Far Side.

What I really love the most about Calvin and Hobbes is the basic philosophy behind the strip… or, at least, what I see as the basic philosophy behind it.. Calvin, the impulsive, creative, hyperactive kid with the imagination that runs overtime, knows that there is much more to life than school, work, and dealing with your parents. While Hobbes, on the other hand, reminds Calvin that those other things are important too. What’s important to me is keeping up with your responsibilities while not forgetting to actually live your life, enjoy it, and have fun with it.

Life, I think, is meant to be enjoyed. After all, when you get right down to it, what else is there to do with it? In the words of the immortal sage Bugs Bunny, "Don’t take life too seriously; after all, you’ll never get out of it alive."

I’m puzzled by people who say that life is drudgery, that it’s meant to be drudgery, that life is meant to be endured, and so on. It makes me wonder what they’re waiting for. Something that I had to learn is that the life I’m living right now is my life, not a dress rehearsal for something else. Making plans is good, preparing for the future is important, and setting and achieving goals is important as well. But while your goals are coming to fruition, you need to realize that your life is still going on.

"Life", my mother told me once (quoting someone else I’m sure but I don’t know who), "is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.

So. Enjoy your life. Take advantage of what the world has to offer and do the best you can to improve yourself and the world around you, while never forgetting to enjoy what you have and be grateful for the gifts that you’ve been given.

Enjoying life is often a choice that you have to make. It is, in fact, something I struggle with every day. However, I have known some people (have even dated some of them) who seem determined to make life a wretched experience; even if you have all of the riches that you want, all of the friends you can possibly have, and everything you think you desire, you can still choose to be angry, miserable, or sad (though if you do, you probably won’t have that many friends after all, thereby further justifying your angry feelings about life). The fact that enjoying life is a choice is the only explanation I have for why I can see very rich people can be miserable, or why some very poor people can be so happy. Research, in fact, has shown that one’s enjoyment of life is pretty much independent of material wealth. (Remember that bit of dialogue from A Christmas Carol: "Merry!" (said Scrooge) "Why right have you to be merry? You’re poor enough!" "What right have you to be miserable?" (answered Fred) "You’re rich enough.").

Seize the day, goes the adage. As Calvin would say, don’t just seize the day; seize the day and throttle it.

I’m not advocating being selfish, being a hedonist, or ignoring the pain and suffering that pervades our world every day; I’m advocating making the choice to make the most of your own life, which means enjoying it as best you can (which, in my opinion, does involve helping alleviate some of the pain and suffering in the world).

On a more practical note, I’ve recently turned 32 years old. This is a pretty good age; still young enough to seriously plan a backpacking trip to Europe (though I doubt I’ll ever be too old for that), but old enough to know what my priorities and responsibilities are. In about 7.75 years I’ll turn 40 and probably begin a new stage in my life. Recognizing that, I’ve made a list of things I plan to do before I turn 40:

  1. Take a backpacking trip through Europe (currently in the planning stages)
  2. Act in a Shakespearean play
  3. Volunteer in a literacy program (now happening)
  4. Get married (but not necessarily start a family — that can wait until I’m in my 40’s)
  5. Go to Australia and New Zealand (after I get back from Europe, of course)
  6. Get a great job as a web developer for an educational institution like the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco
  7. Write and publish at least two novels
  8. Write and publish my non-fiction book Shakespearean Mutations
  9. Heck, become a Shakespearean scholar
  10. Produce a television series on public access television (I have an idea for a series called The Commons which I’ve been developing — something influenced by Twin Peaks with elements of Stephen King and John Irving)
  11. Get involved in the production of a movie
  12. Volunteer at a children’s hospital or similar organization

I’m not sure how interesting or important this all will be to anyone else. But it’s pretty interesting to me, and I suppose that’s what really matters in this personal vanity page, eh?

Until next time, of course, I remain,
Your obedient and humble servant,

To Hell with it All (And Wipe that Grin off Your Face)

Damn it, I am going to go to Europe next year!

I’ve been planning a trip to Europe for nearly two years now, ever since I last visited my friend Steve at his home in Simi Valley, California. While I was taking the train back up, I read a book on World War Two, and thought about history a bit. I also began to think about my life (dangerous pastime, that!) and about all of the things I had and hadn’t done. A trip to Europe seems like a very natural thing for me to do, especially while I’m still relatively young, single, and child-free.

So, I began to save my money; I put aside $300 per month into my savings account, and even took on an additional part time job to supplement my savings. I bought guidebooks and maps and talked to people who had been to Europe, and began to plan these things out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. A couple of poor financial choices all but eliminated my savings, and when I got to the point when I was supposed to buy my tickets, I realized that I had been dipping into my savings each month to buy non-essentials, and was left without enough money. So, I pretty much gave up on the idea.

In recent months, I’ve been putting money aside again, into my 403(b) account that I have with the University. This is a better plan than a simple savings account, for several reasons: the interest rates are higher (if you invest well); because it’s pre-tax, putting aside $300 per month actually works out to something like $250 out of your paycheck instead of the whole $300; and, most importantly, it’s hard to get at this money. You need to go through a lot of red tape to get at that money, preventing impulse purchases of, say, a zip drive or a new stereo or VCR. Ostensibly, the plan is to put aside this amount of money and then take it out when I have enough to pay of the loan I took out for this computer. Then, once that was done, I’d start putting money aside again, funnelling money that was going to the computer loan into paying off others of my few debts, and so on.

The hell with all that, though.

I’ve decided that instead of paying off the computer right away, I’m going to take out that money next year and fund my trip to Europe. I’ll be 33 years old when I get there, but what the hell? I’ll have enough money saved up and enough vacation time squirreled away that I’ll be able to afford a 3-month backpacking trip in Europe without too much financial pain. And if my proposal goes through at work, I’ll be able to put aside more money per month, and stay even longer.

Of course, paying off your debts is important. I’ll be making regular monthly payments onto my various loans and debts even while I’m saving my money; I just won’t have them paid off as soon.

It’s back to this priorities thing; will I put a higher priority on a life-nriching experience where I will be able to travel, see a good chunk of this rock that I share with 6 billion others of my species, and the opportunity to meet incredible people and have amazing experiences? Or will I be a Good Citizen and deny myself an opportunity for growth to pay off a debt?

Well. I believe that I certainly have my priorities straight.

Wipe That Grin Off Your Face!

I’ve been in a great mood of late. Well, I’m normally a pretty happy person (or, at least, I try to be), but lately, even in the face of a couple of minor setbacks, I’ve been able to maintain my positive mood.

There’s no particular reason for my uplifted mood… and why should I need one, anyway? God — or whatever deity (or lack thereof) that you choose — has been good to me. I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who love me and whom I love (even if I’ve had to end communication with some of them for the sake of our mutual sanity); I have a good job that I enjoy; and more.

Part of this is certainly that I’m beginning to work on reaching some of my long-term goals. I’ve managed to stick with the exercise/diet program that I started a couple of weeks ago, for example (and knowing that being in shape when I go to Europe will heighten the experience has certainly been an incentive for that). I’ve also made contact with the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

All in all, I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life, and I’m very grateful for that. I’ve had rough times, but who hasn’t? The world is an amazing place to be in, and I’m happy to be here.

Think I’m being irresponsible with my money, or that I’m unrealistic in my outlook on life (or do you know of a reason why I should be unhappy, depressed, and upset with life)? E-mail me and feel free to let me know.

Until later!