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Rated: 18+ · Book · Personal · #1196512
Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.

The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.

Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.

Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.

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December 7, 2020 at 12:01am
December 7, 2020 at 12:01am
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
7. Letter Writing Day
Write a letter to one of your favorite characters.
Which book and who's the author?

Each year, scalpers buy the most popular holiday gifts and sell them for triple what they paid for them. How do you feel about the practice of scalping?

"Write a letter?" Oh, sure, just let me get my inkwell, ink, goosefeather quill, parchment, and blotter and arrange them all upon my writing-desk, which resideth within my conservatory. Now where did I put that sealing-wax and my signet ring?

Speaking of which, when I was a kid, I was convinced it was meant to be ceiling-wax, and I didn't understand why one would want to wax a ceiling and what that had to do with correspondence.

Also when I was a kid, I had the worst handwriting in five states. If they'd had a "worst handwriting" competition, I'd have won. We had chickens for a while, and they scratched out more legible letters than I did.

Fortunately, we had typewriters, and then computers, and I got really good at touch-typing. I still couldn't sign my name as anything but a scrawl, though. So to really address the first prompt -- and to find a way to merge the two prompts -- I have to pick a character that's able to receive email. That leaves out fantasy characters. And it probably leaves out science fiction characters because I don't think any email I send will be around long enough to get to, say, Captain Kirk. Besides, like I said, it also has to address the scalping issue, so someone who can do something about those scum would be...

Ah. I've got it.

To: batman@batcave.org
From: cathartes02@writing.com
Subject: adventure capitalists

Hello, I hope all is well with you and the Joker hasn't killed another sidekick recently.

First of all, thank you for all that you do. You are an inspiration in your dedication to justice, your code of ethics, and your impeccable fashion sense. Also, wonderful toys. Well done.

I'm writing to you this evening with a fervent request. As you know, it's the holiday season, which means more petty crime, which I realize is usually beneath your notice as you're normally off chasing Catwoman (I don't blame you) or foiling the Penguin's plans. But there's an issue which affects families all over Gotham and beyond, and I believe that you are in a unique position to do something about it.

I'm speaking, of course, about scalpers: people who buy up all the most popular holiday items and then resell them for an obscene profit. Now, at first glance, I realize this is just an extension of capitalism: get there first, invest money in hopes of a high return, charge what people are willing to pay, give your employees minimum wage or less. And I also realize you got where you are now because of capitalism (yes, I know who you are, Mr. W.). But even you have to admit that charging poor families double or triple the market price is in, at the very least, poor taste.

So, at the very least, maybe keep an eye out for these scalpers. Swoop down on top of their sleazy vans or whatever, and then when they look up, just glare at them. Maybe say "I'm Batman." That usually scares them off. Then you can do the Santa thing and redistribute the wealth to the p- oh, wait, that's communism. Don't do that. Return the products to the store and make the people buy them at retail, then.

Of course, scalping wouldn't work if people weren't willing to pay more than the retail price. You probably own some of the companies making the popular items, so this is also an opportunity for you: jack up the prices, because clearly the market can bear it, and who knows? You might make enough extra money to be able to replace Robin with a robot next time, so you won't be as broken up when the Joker does what the Joker does. Oh, and since it was my idea, I'd appreciate a commission. Say, 20% of the net?

Above all, have a batty holiday season! Oh, and if you could give me Catwoman's mobile number, that'd be great, thanks.

December 6, 2020 at 12:02am
December 6, 2020 at 12:02am
I enjoy making up my own traditions and then following them... or not.

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
6. Marooned Without a Compass Day!
So where are you and what are you going to do?


Bartender Appreciate Day! (Europe)
Write about an encounter with a bartender,
make one up if you have to.

Some traditions are a lot of fun. Others are a pain in the ass. What are your least favorite holiday traditions?

I try not to be too negative around this time of year. Not only am I prone to seasonal depression, but I think some people take my grumpiness as a personal affront. But, dammit, it's hard sometimes. Especially this year, when the one inviolable holiday tradition -- that of traveling to reconnect with friends and family -- will only result in more illness and death. Just know that, apart from dangerous behaviors, I'm not trying to criticize others' traditions just because they don't work for me. I really do wish everyone, in the spirit of the season and for the sake of humanity in general, peace and joy; just understand that, in general, things like blinky lights, yard decorations, and most especially, the despicable practice of dressing your car up to look like a reindeer, annoy the living shit out of me.

Probably, it would be more succinct to mention those holiday traditions that don't cheese me off. Most of these involve drinking, which should surprise no one. It's an excuse to drink eggnog or spiced wine, for example, which is kind of frowned upon at other times of the year.

I actually kind of like the traveling, to a certain extent, although with millions of other people doing it, things get crowded, and I dislike crowds. When I first got my driver's license, lo these many years ago, I started my own tradition: go out on Christmas Day (first making sure I had a full tank) and drive around, enjoying the solitude as, on that one day, most people were staying home or at their holiday destinations, leaving the roads wonderfully empty. Back then, fewer things were open on the 25th, and for the most part, I had the road to myself. It was strange, especially after weeks of traffic, but also very calming -- provided, of course, there wasn't an ice storm.

Since then, the world's population has doubled and more things are actually open on that holiday, so it's not as solitary; and besides, driving interferes with my drinking time. So last year, I started a new tradition for myself: walk over to the drafthouse cinema, about a mile away, and see how many of their 32 beers I can drink before I would be unable to stumble home (and finding an Uber on Christmas Day was not something I wanted to attempt).

The primary purpose of the cinema, of course, is to show movies, but I didn't feel like seeing a film that day, so I parked myself at the bar in the mostly-empty restaurant part of the cinema complex. Because it was mostly empty, I got to talk to the bartender, whose name was Hunter. He seemed a decent guy and not too grumpy about having to work on Christmas Day; and, most importantly, the guy knew his beer.

Turned out from talking to him that he was the one who got to choose the kegs for the taps, and let me tell you, Hunter has good taste in beer. I'm used to going to places that are heavy on IPAs and, more recently, sours, which are not my favorite styles of beer, but they're popular so a lot of beer vendors devote the bulk of their taps to them, leaving me to choose from maybe one or two preferable styles, such as English browns or Belgian tripels.

Not this guy, though. Oh, there were a couple of IPAs and sours, and I think two of the taps were also devoted to ciders. We got to talking about that. One of my former go-to local beer places has only twelve taps, and the last time I went there, ten of them spouted pale ales, one of them was devoted to Pabst Blue Ribbon because hipsters, and the other was Allagash White, which is nice, but I need variety. Like I said, it was the last time I went there.

Hunter agreed with me -- at least out loud; I'm sometimes incompetent at figuring out when a bartender is humoring me for the sake of a tip and when they actually share my feelings about beer, but in this case I'm pretty sure it was the latter. Turns out he'd worked at the IPA-heavy place for a while, and also preferred more variety.

It's customary, at least in states that allow it, to let customers sample small quantities of a beer to help them determine whether to order a whole pint or not. It's best not to abuse the privilege, say by asking for samples of every one of the 32 beers/ciders and then not buying anything. Don't do that. It's a dick move. But since Hunter quickly pegged me as a Beer Guy (and, most importantly, one who was willing to spend money on pints and a pizza), I got to sample a lot of what was their selection at the time. There are some beers that are standards in each taphouse, ones they'll order over and over to keep them on the menu. Others generally rotate; when one keg kicks, it gets replaced by an entirely different magical concoction.

That's what keeps me coming back, of course. While some people stick to one style or brand of beer, others, like me, enjoy trying new ones, and there are always a lot of new ones. Oh, sure, sometimes I like to go back to old favorites, too. And neither way is wrong; it's a matter of personal taste. It's just that some taphouses are heavy on the "standards" while others focus on the "rotation," but this place strikes a good balance between the two.

You can do that with 32 taps.

And so it was that when I was done -- I think I had four full beers in addition to a dozen or so samples, for a total between the beer and pizza of maybe 40 bucks, I handed him a $20 bill.

"No, no, that's too much."

"Dude, you're working on Christmas Day. Call it a present."

I resolved then to make that my new Christmas Day tradition, since pretty much nothing else was open. But then the... well, you know what happened. The place closed entirely for several months, and I have no idea if they'll be open this Christmas or not. Like I said before: so much for tradition.

Since I drafted this, I actually checked the theater's calendar. Turns out they're indeed open on Christmas Day, and they're showing a bunch of screens of Wonder Woman 1984. This is relevant to my interests. Now I need to decide if it's worth the risk.
December 5, 2020 at 12:02am
December 5, 2020 at 12:02am
Today is, of course, the most important commemoration of the year.

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
5. Bonfire Night!
Tell us about an evening around a bonfire.


Prohibition Ends in the US, 1933
Write whatever you like about this.

Some people think it's wrong to lie to children about the existence of holiday icons like Santa and the Easter Bunny. How do you think parents should handle this?

I visited a friend's house once, a woman with a bunch of stepchildren, all girls, who at the time were all preteens. I don't remember their exact ages but none of them rolled their eyes so they couldn't have been teens yet. So at this time, sometime in December several years ago, I was hanging out with her and her husband in the kitchen and the kids were right nearby, definitely within earshot, doing kid stuff. Obviously I don't remember too many details, but what I do remember is that the subject of Santa Claus came up. And me, not thinking, said something to the effect of "Of course, we all know Santa's not real."


I haven't been invited back.

I'm not going to try to tell people how to raise their kids. They won't listen to me anyway, since I'm not in their sacred club of kid-raisers. Not that they listen to other kid-raisers, either.

But since you asked, I'm inclined to go with: Hell yeah. Lie to the little bastards. Lie ALL THE TIME (except, once in a while, throw in some truth just to keep them guessing). This way they will learn a valuable life lesson: no one is to be trusted. No one, not even your parents. Especially not your parents.

Maybe then you'll raise a generation of sprogs who end up growing up distrusting the bullshit they see on the internet, as opposed to our current generations, who seem to believe whatever suits them, all evidence to the contrary.

Or maybe not. I don't know. This is why I celebrate XXIst Amendment Day. The XXIst Amendment to the US Constitution is the one that repealed the XVIIIth Amendment, which was Prohibition. Clearly, in the XIII years or so between those two amendments, two others were ratified, the XIXth and the XXth. But I don't remember what those were about, nor can I be arsed to look it up because they cannot possibly be as important as the XXIst.

Incidentally, Roman numerals are dumb.

Point being, since I all the time gotta deal with other peoples' kids, whether they're still technically kids or have theoretically grown up, drinking helps. Prohibition itself was based a big lie, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny -- that banning booze would alleviate many social problems. These beliefs were well-meaning, but without evidence, and they didn't really think their cunning plan all the way through.

They got a big wake-up call from the Truth Fairy.

My personal theory is that Prohibition was the proximate cause of the Great Depression, and Repeal was the proximate cause of getting out of the Great Depression. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. But it's (probably) a lie.

I'd better wrap this up before I wax too philosophical about the nature of ideas and reality. Believing something doesn't make it so, but fictions have power, whether it be to convince a nation that they shouldn't be drinking, or convincing kids that a bearded white guy will give you nice things if you don't misbehave. Some people need to believe in something, I suppose. Me, I believe I'm going to have a commemorative drink.
December 4, 2020 at 12:01am
December 4, 2020 at 12:01am
Well, this is an interesting combination. Let's see how it turns out, shall we?

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
4. Waiting for the Barbarians Day!
Ok, tell us what you're up to and how you are preparing.

What was the worst gift you ever received and what was that person even thinking when gifting it to you?

A while back, when I was still married, there was some fad going on around the holidays involving group gift swaps. For all I know it's still going on, but I wouldn't know because even before the pandemic I rarely hung out with people around the holidays, except for my friends in California, and they had the great good sense not to participate in this activity.

I don't remember what it's called. Gift stealing? Something like that. Some of you probably know and can remind me in the comments. But as I recall, it goes something like this: Each person brings a themed gift, usually with a price cap. Like, maybe the theme is "red" or "fish" or "barbarians."

This particular gift swap was hosted by my then-in-laws. (Hey, can I claim credit for "then-in-laws?" I don't think I've seen it anywhere.) Since we all lived in Virginia, the theme for this one was "Made in Virginia," and the price cap was like $25 or something like that. Like I said, I don't remember too many details, including what I or my wife brought. No, ham wasn't involved. There might have been Virginia wine; I honestly can't recall.

So, like, all our names go into a Santa hat on little slips of paper, and one name comes out. That person picks a gift and unwraps it. Okay, great so far. Next random person can either pick a new, wrapped gift from the pile, or steal the first person's gift, which means the first person has to pick another wrapped gift. Third person can then pick a new gift or steal one of the first two. And so on. I think that when all the gifts are gone, the first person gets to swap with any of the now-unwrapped presents, because they didn't get a chance to steal before this.

Anyway, what I recall about this is that I started out with something really nice that I don't remember, and ended up with a giant can of Virginia peanuts.

I fucking hate peanuts. I mean, I hate them with an all-consuming fiery passion (for some reason, though, I like peanut butter; go figure.) If I were an asshole -- okay, if I were a bigger asshole, like the kind of barbarian who claims their annoying little yippy mutt is a service animal so they can bring them into restaurants, or the like -- I'd claim I was allergic to peanuts just so no one would break them out when I'm around. But I'm not allergic; it's just that my level of abhorrence goes off the scale. I avoid trail mixes with peanuts. I can't stand Snickers bars. Peanuts suck. Not only do I hate peanuts, but I loathe peanut breath more than is probably reasonable. If someone around me is eating peanuts, I'll go open a can of surströmming, pop a sewer manhole, or clean a cat's litter box just so I can smell something more pleasant than their exhalations.

(I do make one exception: Thai or Vietnamese food with peanut sauce. I don't know why, but they work for me in those cuisines. I justify this by classing it in my head as "peanut butter.")

Now, as far as I can recall, I never told my then-in-laws that. My wife knew, of course, and maybe she told them; I don't know. And like I said, I don't even remember the nice gift I started out with. But what has stuck with me all these years is the smug smirk on my shithead stepfather-in-law's face as he handed me this giant can of nasty legumes.

And even after all of that, I'm at a loss to find an artistic segué into the barbarian prompt. I mean, I could say something like "anyone who forcibly swaps me a can of hideous peanuts for pretty much anything can only be described as a barbarian," but that really does barbarians a disservice. At least most cultures commonly referred to as "barbarians" had their own code of honor, and this guy had no honor.

See, history was written not only by the victors but by people with the ability to write, and write in such a way that their writings stuck around a while. If your writing system consists of charcoal marks on tree barks, it's not going to last. If it's chiseled in stone or it's done with ink on parchment, well, then you get to define history, and so the people you don't like can get slapped with the "barbarian" label.

But people are people, and most of them have cultures that work for them, even if those cultures are not understood by the ones who call themselves "civilized." The most obvious examples are the Nordic people, who had a strong culture, but were feared by the more city-dwelling cultures as barbarians. To be fair, they did invade a lot. But just because you don't like someone doesn't mean they follow a failed culture; just a different one. Like... Europeans who settled the Americas considered the natives to be savages or barbarians, but from the native point of view, the invaders would have been the barbarians.

Except that some of these same American natives were the ones cultivating peanuts, so they obviously weren't completely blameless.

Point is, everyone's a barbarian to someone. Keep that in mind next time you're tempted to think some other culture is inferior in some way.

Oh, and Waiting For The Barbarians Day   commemorates a novel written in 1980, which sounds awfully pretentiously literary but I can't be arsed to delve into it further; also, according to my surely-infallible source, it's observed on November, not December, 4. December 4 is, among other things, National Cookie Day.   (I'm sure Miranda_EatingCookies will be happy to know this.) Just don't put any gods-be-damned peanuts in mine, thanks.
December 3, 2020 at 12:01am
December 3, 2020 at 12:01am
For the record, I'm selecting JAFBG prompts using a random number generator, for maximum chaos.

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
3. National Roof Over Your Head Day!
Tell us about the favorite room in your home.

What do you absolutely NOT want for the holidays this year?

I don't have a favorite room in my home.

What I do have is a home. That is, a relatively modest house in a quiet neighborhood that got picked for me by my first wife and her erstwhile business partner. They fell out, we fell out, somehow I kept the house. I decided I liked the house and its location, and so here I've been, absent a few months' worth of travel, for a bit over 25 years.

The last time I refinanced the house, it was on a 15 year mortgage that I managed to pay off early, so it's mine. All mine. MUAHAHAHAHA. No bank, no neighborhood association, just perfectly reasonable city regulations about grass height, snow clearing, not hosting crack parties, and the like.

I don't even have names for all the rooms. I mean, there's the kitchen, the bathrooms, and the bedrooms, one of which is oddly placed downstairs off the utility room that houses the HVAC, water heater , laundry facilities, and a whole lot of stuff. My housemate lives in that bedroom. I mostly keep to the upstairs area.

Also downstairs is a big room that I suppose would be described as a "rec room," because right now it's a wreck. In earlier times, it's been a lounge, a home theater (I still haven't replaced the projector, or the water-damaged sheetrock to which it was once attached), my computer area, a meditation place, and a gaming space, but right now it's kind of everything and I don't use it much. The rec room is covered with stuff right now, mostly belonging to my housemate, including her two guinea pigs who are very cute but kind of a mess. Right off of that is the downstairs bathroom, and it also has a door to the patio. The patio has collected stuff, but only waterproof stuff because the deck above it is porous.

Upstairs is more bedrooms, one of which is mine; the other two are a guest bedroom and my office. All three are chock-full of stuff. There's a bathroom, a kitchen, and a space off the kitchen which I suspect was intended as a living room but now contains a really nice, sturdy dining table, which I mostly just use to sit my laptop on because the office is full of stuff. The bathroom, oddly, doesn't contain much stuff, except the cabinet could use some organizing.

The kitchen has a door that opens up onto the aforementioned deck, which is badly in need of replacement before it collapses, but I've contracted with a guy to do that. Supposedly he'll get to it next year. The replacement won't be porous, so the patio might actually be mostly dry when it rains. The deck has a bunch of stuff on it. The kitchen has a bunch of stuff in it. The dining room is lined with bookshelves containing stuff.

You try living in a place for a quarter of a century, with a changing cast of other characters, and not collect stuff. I don't know; maybe you could do it. I certainly can't. I've been taking some time every day to deal with the stuff, but it's a Sisyphean task. Hell, I don't even know how to dispose of a lot of the stuff.

So I should buy a bigger house, right?

Okay, no. Then I'd have to move all the stuff. Besides, like I said, I like it here; it's in stumbling distance of at least five drinking establishments, depending on what you consider stumbling distance.

And like I said, I don't have a favorite room. Obviously I spend a third of the day in my bedroom, but I don't remember most of that time. The rest of the time I spend sitting on my deck with the laptop if the weather doesn't suck too badly, and that's not a room with a roof over my head, just a patio umbrella. When it's raining too hard, snowing, windy, or cold, I'll sit at the dining room table.

But hey, I'm just glad to own my own home. Which leads me to the other prompt (you knew I had to get to it eventually). My knee-jerk response to "What do you absolutely NOT want for the holidays this year?" is of course Trump Mumps, but that's way too obvious. The actual answer is "anything" because... dammit...

I have enough stuff.

But, you know, there's always room on my new Kindle... and there is that distressingly empty spot in my liquor cabinet...
December 2, 2020 at 12:05am
December 2, 2020 at 12:05am
I'm adding in some prompts from "JAFBG [XGC] for now, because December.

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
2. Today is National Fritters Day!
Write about your fave and if you haven't had fritters, would you like to try one?

What is the most overrated holiday movie of all time? What should people watch instead?

Every holiday movie is overrated. Yes, even that one. That one, too. All of them.

Which doesn't mean they all suck, exactly, but way too much sentimentality is attached to all of them, beyond their worth as stories. They achieve an unwarranted mythological status; hence, the overrated bit.

But right now, and for the last oh, 40 years or so, I've considered the most overrated holiday movie to be Rudolph.

I ranted about that animated piece of drivel way back in 2007, and since then, I've seen these sentiments echoed elsewhere on the internet. I'm not saying people have copied off of me; I don't have that kind of reach. But it annoys me that something that I invented, this way of looking at a certain crimson-schnozzed reindeer, was popularized by someone else. I mean, it's like, way back in the 80s I invented a trick at fraternity parties where I'd hold two solo cups full of beer in each hand -- okay, it wasn't what I'd call beer these days, but I thought it was in my youth -- and let the sparkling amber contents fountain from cup to cup to cup to cup, eventually reaching my eager lips.

I mention the beer cascade thing because a few years back, I saw a picture of someone doing this with a caption like THIS MAN IS A GOD AMONG MEN and I got really pissed off because I INVENTED THE BEER CASCADE DAMMIT.

Pant. Pant. Pant. Deep breath. Okay, moving on. Where was I? Right, Rudolph.

Here's the original Rudolph Rant in all its glory, rated GC for dirty words:

The Rudolph Rant  (GC)
I ain't guiding no sleigh!
#1347370 by Robert Waltz

Now, I'm not entirely immune to feeling joy during the holiday season; it's just that everything about it, not just the movies, is overrated. But there are things I like about it too. One of them is a tradition I've had for the last, oh, must be nearly 15 years now, which was to go to a friend's house every December and attend their holiday party, which celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas. As a kid, I celebrated Hanukkah, and there was one part of that holiday I enjoyed above all else. Okay, above all else except all the presents. I'm talking, of course, about latkes. And my friend makes a mean latke.

It was easy at first, because they lived in the Northeast, a quick drive or train ride away. Then they upped and moved to California, which is a little harder for me to get to, but I managed. Every. Year.

Until... of course... this fucking year.

So it falls to me to make my own latkes for once. When I was a kid, we cheated and used store-bought latke mix because my mother, who was a wonderful person in many ways, was a ridiculously terrible cook. This year, I found a recipe that looks promising, although it also looks like a lot of work, and we all know how I feel about work. For latkes, though... it might just be worth it.

Right now a bunch of you have either already googled it, or are asking "wtf is a latke?" Well, I'm here to enlighten. Latkes are like fritters: vegetables shredded and mushed together and fried. Historically, whatever vegetables were available were used: carrots, parsnips, turnips, whatever. Jews in ghettos in Europe couldn't exactly be picky. Nowadays, the go-to vegetable for latkes is the potato, which, well, to be fair, didn't exist in Europe for a long time, but once it did, boy did Europeans take over that shit.

Anyway, basically you shred the potatoes, mix in some onions and seasonings, and fry those suckers up in a quarter-inch of oil. The oil is important, see, because it symbolizes the oil in the lamp in the temple where the Hanukkah miracle happened. (Everything symbolizes something. Metaphors are fun!) But it's also important because it's not a latke unless it's fried. None of this healthy vegan namby-pamby air-fry bullshit. FRIED. IN OIL. ONLY.

Lots of cultures have similar things, like pakora in India for example, one of my favorite fried foods. Hell, Japanese tempura can be considered in the same class or family of culinary creations.

I mean, really, who hasn't had fritters of one sort or another? Unfortunately, I won't have the ingredients for any of them today, so I can't celebrate National Fritters Day as the gods intended. I guess I'll just have to watch a movie instead, though not a holiday one. Yeah, yeah, I know, latkes aren't technically fritters. So what? I say they count, and I INVENTED THE BEER CASCADE. If you're not careful I will explain exactly why a hot dog isn't a sandwich.

Oh, and the one holiday movie that's less overrated than all the others?

Die Hard, of course.

December 1, 2020 at 12:55am
December 1, 2020 at 12:55am
I don't usually participate in the 30DBC Unofficial Months. If you've been following me for a while, you might recall I tried at one point but it just wasn't working for me. But this month seems to have a bit of a different format, so let's give this a shot. This could be fun.

1. Today is Eat A Red Apple Day.
Your entry should be inspired by red apples.

So here are some facts about apples:

1. "Apple" was originally a generic word for "fruit." The French equivalent word, "pomme," was also a generic word for fruit, hence "pomme de terre" for potato ("fruit of the ground") and "pomegranate" ("fruit that's as hard as a fucking rock").

2. Apple, Inc, formerly Apple Computers, formerly "that thing Steve's cluttering the garage with can you ask him to move his stuff?" wasn't named after the fruit but after the Beatles' record company of the same name. Hence one of the early Apple computer's names, the Macintosh, which is named after a common raincoat from Liverpool.

3. An apple invented gravity. It is not known whether this apple was red or green, but at relativistic velocities it doesn't matter.

4. Johnny Appleseed is credited with introducing apples into North America, where they became an invasive species and had to be eradicated by planting kudzu.

5. Contrary to popular belief, it was not an apple that Eve ate, but rather a banana. When Adam saw this, he got Ideas and God got Angry.

6. The botanical binomial of the commonly cultivated apple tree is Malus Domestica, which four years of Latin classes taught me means "Bad Servant." Apparently nobles used to throw apples at their peons who were misbehaving.

7. When an apple is cut up for making apple pie, it generally loses its a-peel.

8. New York City is called the Big Apple because Dutch merchants traded a big apple for Manhattan Island. Later, the English took it over and corrected the spelling from "Appel."

9. Red apples get their coloration from the blood of the sacrifice victim buried under the tree's roots.

10. It's said that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." I don't know how true this is, but I keep a few by the door to fend off roving bands of surgeons.
November 30, 2020 at 12:01am
November 30, 2020 at 12:01am
Well, I guess this is it for November.

PROMPT November 30th

Congratulations on making it to the last day of the competition! What was your favorite prompt from the last month? What was the most rewarding aspect of participating in the competition?

I gotta say the clear winner, for me, of Favorite Prompt was the Thanksgiving one where we talked about indigenous peoples. Not for my own entry; I kind of strayed off topic, but seeing everyone else's responses was enlightening and illuminating.

I'm actually not irritated about going into December this year, for once. My biggest gripe about December is all the shitty decorations and lame music and faux merriment forced upon us by the Consumer Gods. You know why people get stabby this time of year? It's from having to hear "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" or "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" on repeat at the stores.

But this year? This year, there is one beautiful, shiny gold nugget in the shitstorm that is 2020, to wit: I don't have to go anywhere. I mean, I usually don't have to go anywhere, but this year it is expected of me to not go anywhere. I can continue to get groceries delivered and other needs met by internet ordering. No dealing with holiday traffic in potential ice storms. No visual assaults by crappy blinking colored lights. No overload of angry red and bloated green. No tacky displays in the shops because I won't be going to any shops. And most importantly of all: no Damnation Army bell-ringalingalingalinging.

Look, I get that a lot of people are actually into that stuff. I'm not asking you to dislike what I dislike. If it makes you happy, great. It makes me grumpy, agitated, depressed, irritated (I know I already used that word) and antisocial. I'm also not ragging on Christmas itself, or any of the other holidays around this time of year; hell, I love the solstice with its promise of renewal and rebirth. It's just the incessant, unyielding hammering of it all, the constant reminder that We Have To Be Merry Or Else! (And Don't Forget To BUY GIFTS!!!)

What I need is cheer in February, not December. February sucks ass.

But like I said, we're all different and while I'm not about to change, I don't expect anyone to agree with me, either. Which brings me to the second part of today's prompt: the most rewarding aspect of this challenge, a thing that keeps me coming back to participate, is finding out what other people like, dislike, and do. Discovering our differences and also illuminating our commonalities.

It's been fun doing that. Stick around -- I hope to have made a blog entry every day this year, and there's only 31 days left to go.
November 29, 2020 at 12:01am
November 29, 2020 at 12:01am
Ah yes, the prompt prompt.

PROMPT November 29th

We need your help filling the Challenge War Chest! In your entry today, write three of your own prompts and then choose one of your own to complete your entry.

1) Talk about a sport or game you like to play. What is it about it that you like?

2) What is the strangest thing you ever saw/experienced?

3) Tell us about the oldest item you own.

And now that those three prompts have popped into my head, ran down my arms and oozed onto my keyboard, I find I don't really want to talk about any of them for myself.

But in the interest of playing along here, I'll use the first one.

Everyone's a nerd about something. It's just that some of us are nerds about nerd stuff. I don't like sports; I like games. Specifically, I like complicated board games and role-playing games.

Here's the thing: I don't much like competitive games, as a rule. Oh, sure, sometimes, but I don't think of them as competitions; I just try to do the best I can at them. I don't like winning because it makes me feel bad, and I don't like losing because it makes me feel bad. I just like playing.

So that's what I like about RPGs: while people can be competitive at times, it's more of a cooperation thing. The idea is how characters of diverse backgrounds can get together and team up to solve problems with combinations of their own unique abilities? That's one of my favorite things. And it's imaginative and subversive, which is why I think there was a lot of pushback to those games at first.

Traditionally, these games required sitting around a table and breathing each other's air, which of course is contraindicated today. But nowadays I've played RPGs with people via online chat; there are platforms specifically designed for this sort of thing. It's not as engaging, perhaps, but it has its advantages. Still, I haven't had the opportunity in over a year, and I kind of miss it. Meanwhile, I'll just have to continue playing video games.

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Mini-Contest Results!

Tough choice here. While I'm only awarding one MB, I have decided that everyone who commented yesterday will get a Season Ticket. I'll figure out which one later. I appreciated all of the comments, whether they were in response to the question or not.

Lots of hate for dish-washing yesterday. I can understand that. I hated it a lot before I got a dishwasher. Now it's just annoying to unload the thing. But I'm going to go with one of the bathroom-cleaning ones. Specifically, Cubby✏️'s comment successfully disgusted me with its vivid imagery. Good writing, there. So you get today's MB!

I'll do this again soon - won't wait as long this time. So everyone will have another chance.
November 28, 2020 at 12:01am
November 28, 2020 at 12:01am
What with the Cyber Weekend here at WDC, I figure it's time to have another Merit Badge Mini-Contest! It's been a while. Details below.

I suppose I should answer this prompt with "beer."

PROMPT November 28th

What’s on the top of your mind right now that you need to tell someone about?

But I won't.

I'm... not the world's greatest housekeeper. I tend to put things off and they get overwhelming so I put them off some more.

Yesterday, I decided to start small: with the spice rack in the kitchen.

You know, the whole purpose of drying and keeping spices is that they don't go bad quickly, so I never paid too much attention to expiration dates on them. But as I was wiping years of accumulated dust off of some of the bottles, I noticed that they had passed their "best of" date years ago.

In my defense, I haven't been using those. Mostly, these days, I use the garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes, and those were recent purchases. Had I ever had need for the tarragon, for example, well, I'd have noticed that it expired in 2015 and discarded it in favor of buying a new bottle. And it didn't look bad; it had merely lost most of its scent And yes, I noticed the scent of others, so no, my olfactory apparatus isn't compromised by the Trump Mumps. (As an aside, that particular symptom scares me more than other reported symptoms such as kidney failure, lung scarring, brain damage, or death. Not being able to smell or taste would severely cramp my style.)

The worst offender wasn't a spice at all. It was a canister of beef bouillon that had an expiration date in -- I'd be embarrassed to admit this if I were an actual human -- 2000.

Again, I haven't been using it. It's just been sitting there. Since the last millennium. Hell, I wouldn't have bought the thing in 2000 but some time before then, so it's likely the canister's old enough to legally drink.

Thing is, it's probably still viable. Probably. I wasn't about to take any chances. Into the trash went the little cubes, and into the recycling bin went the plastic bottle.

I'm hoping that this newfound interest in cleaning isn't transient, like most of my interests. The spices took over an hour to clean up and organize, and they take up maybe one cubic foot of volume in total. My house is 2000 square feet in area and 20 feet high, so... math... 39,999 cubic feet to go. In fairness, a lot of that volume is air. Dusty air... but air.

But I did also manage to take the time to deep-clean a fraction of the refrigerator, where I found a rock-solid box of baking powder that's probably been there since the first GW Bush administration, and bottles of tonic water that, if they were people, would be in middle school now. Yes, tonic water has an expiration date. Yes, I dumped the contents down the drain. I'll just have to keep drinking my gin straight.

So... 39,998 cubic feet to go.

I'm terrified of moving the refrigerator. Not even the gods know what it looks like behind there, or underneath.

Now, I don't want you to get the impression that my entire house is a mess. A good bit of clutter, sure, but the floors are clean, the food preparation areas are spotless, and I keep the bathrooms shiny. I have a cleaning service that comes in once a month to keep me honest about that sort of thing, but the only one who can do anything about the 25 years of accumulated stuff is me. I just tend to put things away and forget about them; they become fixtures. That's what I'm trying to do something about.

On the plus side, neat and organized people never make the kinds of awesome discoveries that I do. For every expired pack of baking powder, I find at least one interesting thing (not usually in the fridge though) that reminds me of something or someone from the past. This is not always a good thing, because that "someone" could be one of my ex-wives (they both lived here), but sometimes I feel like Howard Carter in Tutankhamen's tomb.

So that's what's on my mind these days. I figured I'd better write it down because maybe by doing so it'll keep me from putting it off further. The only way for me to actually get any cleaning done is to use it as a procrastination tool for something else, but I haven't figured out what the other thing is that I'm procrastinating. It has to be something that's even more distasteful to me than cleaning, but there's not much in that category. I hope it's not something important.

But also for the record, no, I'm not in the least bit interested in going minimalist. I've ranted about that shit in here before; it's mostly promoted to encourage even more consumerism.

That's no excuse for keeping expired tonic water around, though.

It's a good thing gin doesn't go bad.

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Merit Badge Mini-Contest!

What's your least favorite chore? Doesn't have to be related to housecleaning as in today's entry, but it can be. Comment below. My favorite -- as defined entirely subjectively by me -- will earn the commenter a Merit Badge! As usual, you have until midnight tonight WDC time (that's the end of Saturday).
November 27, 2020 at 12:07am
November 27, 2020 at 12:07am
The short answer to today's prompt is: Nothing.

PROMPT November 27th

What do you want for Christmas? (Or for your next birthday if you don’t celebrate Christmas)

The long answer (face it, you knew there was going to be a long answer so I could say I wrote an actual blog entry) is that I have enough stuff, including everything I need and most of what I want, and while I appreciate tokens of friendship from people, there's nothing that I can say that I want that most people could afford.

"Stuff," of course, is only part of the big picture, but that's the form most holiday and birthday gifts take, so that's how I approach this.

Last year, the local movie theater / drafthouse was open on Christmas Day, so I decided to start a new Christmas tradition for myself: walk over to the theater, drink all the beer, stagger home. Didn't even see a movie, just drank beer. Then, of course, this happened, and while the theater has reopened, and the beer flows once more, the bar itself is unavailable. I don't know if it'll be open on Christmas Day this year or not.

So much for tradition.

What I want, of course, is what almost everybody wants: this to end. I'm way down on the list of people eligible to get a vaccine when it becomes available, but you can bet your last dollar I'll be getting the jab the moment I can. Am I concerned about them having rushed through the development process? Sure. Am I concerned about side effects? Sure; when I got the shingles vaccine I was useless for two days afterwards. You know what concerns me more than all that? Getting actually sick and possibly passing it on.

That's what a lot of people miss in all this, I think. Sure, you have the choice whether to expose yourself to illness, injury, whatever. Hell, I drink and I smoke cigars. Neither one of those things is going to increase my life expectancy. But when I drink, I don't do things to endanger others. There are laws about not smoking in public places so that secondhand smoke doesn't affect people who haven't made that choice for themselves. We have laws about drunk driving to discourage people from endangering others with the choices they make.

All these restrictions, masks, whatever: they're not just there to protect you from getting sick. They exist so that if you do, you don't pass the illness on to someone who has not made that choice for themselves. By being a selfish prick, you're not "exercising your rights;" you're depriving others of theirs.

Yesterday, I talked about my friend M, and in case you missed it, in the comments I provided an update: M is currently recovering from a stroke. This required hospitalization. Resources that could be used on him are sucked away by pandemic cases, in part because some people have been smug shitstains who absolutely won't be told what to do, and spread the fucking virus.

And this, folks, is why we're doomed. Not because of the pandemic; that will pass. But because of the "screw you I do what I want" mindset. This year has driven home to me that we have absolutely passed the point of no return on climate change. Too many people just will not do the right thing because it's inconvenient. Yes, the world will keep turning. Humanity as a species will survive. But things are going to get pretty rough for a whole lot of people. Displacement, water crises, food shortages, that sort of thing.

So I am working on not caring. I'm done. The assholes win. I can't beat them, so I'm going to join them, and just Do What I Want.

And what I want for Christmas is to drink. I'll manage to do that, whether the drafthouse is open or not.
November 26, 2020 at 12:03am
November 26, 2020 at 12:03am
Oh good. I was afraid I was going to have to rant about "gratitude" today. More like "grrr-attitude" for me.

PROMPT November 26th

I am writing this prompt today from the current and ancestral home of the Anishinaabe people. In your entry today, research and write about the indigenous and native peoples who lived on the land where you currently reside. If you are in the United States, take time during your Thanksgiving meal to thank your ancestors and the indigenous people of your area.

I'm going to use the word "Indian" in today's entry. I know this is controversial, but the Indians I know call themselves that. No disrespect is intended.

I live in Monacan country. The Monacans got state recognition a while back, and now Federal recognition as well. Historically, as I'm sure everyone is aware, European settlement in the Americas was... not kind to the natives.

Before that happened, though, there were distinct groups of Indians in Virginia, with great variation in language and culture; while the Monacans controlled the Piedmont region, the Tidewater area was the domain of the Powhatan confederacy -- which is far better known, because, you know... Pocahontas.

I know the prompt is to talk about where I live now, but I have a stronger connection to the Powhatans, so I'm going to be talking more about them.

When I was a kid, we couldn't kick a clod of dirt without dislodging some sort of stone arrowhead or spear point. Turns out the place where I lived had been a major village of a tribe affiliated with the Powhatans, called the Patowomack.

If that name sounds somewhat familiar, it should; it was this tribe that gave its name to the Potomac River.

I didn't think much about this when I was a kid. When you're young, you tend to think that the way you're living is normal, nothing to get all excited about. So I lived on a farm with woodlands and wetlands, next to a wide body of water off the Potomac, and we kept finding arrowheads (and also Civil and Revolutionary War relics such as shot, buttons, and even sometimes swords). This was just ordinary life.

You get older and, hopefully, you get some perspective. Maybe even some wisdom; jury's still out on that. Definitely aches and pains, but hopefully more knowledge, at least.

I don't want to go too much into detail because I don't want to identify the exact spot; the last thing I need is random people crawling around my land looking for relics. Yes, I still own the land; I inherited it and have rebuffed all efforts to develop it. But the general outline is as follows:

I moved to Monacan country in the mid-80s, and ended up graduating from university and sticking around because I got a job here. Eventually, my dad began to decline, and a friend of the family moved in with him to assist, because I'd had trouble finding a job back there. This friend, who I'll call M, had an interest in history and spent his free time finding all of these relics, as well as researching a great amount. He found some old documents that revealed the presence of the Patowomack village, for instance. He also spent time cleaning and mounting a lot of the artifacts.

There is some evidence that Pocahontas herself spent time there, in the place where I spent my childhood.

In the early noughties, my father got to the point where he had to receive more professional care, and I had to make the difficult decision to place him in an Alzheimer's facility. M wanted to keep living there; it was the least I could do since he'd been good to my dad. During this period, the Patowomack received state recognition as a tribe and organized in my home county. M knew some of them, and they talked, because it was part of his research.

According to the law, anything found on a piece of land belongs to the owner of the land: my dad, and then after he died, me. But when M came to me and proposed that we give what he'd found to the tribe, I readily agreed. As I put it at one of their tribal meetings once, when they asked what would motivate me to do such a thing: "Well, I didn't put them there."

Now, this is Virginia; it's difficult to find what you might call pure Indians here. Over the generations they intermarried and lost a lot of their history and culture. Before M and I gave them the artifacts, they had nothing but family histories: no artifacts, no tribal memory. We changed that.

And so that is how I became an honorary member of an actual Indian tribe.

I consider this the greatest contribution of my life, and true to form for me, it took almost zero effort on my part; M did all the actual work. But it just didn't feel right to hoard the collection for myself, or even to take a tax break or whatever. All I got in exchange was the honorary membership, but I treasure that far more than anything else I've ever received, including my college degree or my professional engineering license.

It probably sounds like I'm tooting my own horn here, boasting or bragging. That's not my intention, though. It's nothing to do with me at all; the tides of history sweep over eastern Virginia like... well, like actual tides, and take me with it. Those people were on the land before it was mine, and they'll be around long after I'm gone. I've had archeologists come out to the place, too, and though it's been farmed for decades, I'm hoping they can discover something new. Well, something old that's new to us, that is.

I inherited the land, but I also inherited a political system that, for generations, tried to erase the people who were here before us. I feel no guilt about that, because I had nothing to do with it, but the least I can do -- literally -- is acknowledge their history. It's not one I directly share, but I'm glad to have contributed in some small way to the history of the people of the land where I have roots.

One final side note: one of my best friends, a guy who grew up here in the Piedmont, showed me genealogical research that his brother had done, and that research traced his family back to Pocahontas. I have no idea if it's true or not, but either way, it drove home to me that in a very deep way, we are all connected.

I've pretty much quit celebrating Thanksgiving, myself. There's just too much cultural baggage involved, and fortunately, I don't have family that insists upon it (yes, last year I went to New York because my cousin invited me for Thanksgiving, but it was a low-key affair and mostly just an excuse for me to visit breweries in the Northeast). The holiday is just too tied up in religion and colonialism, not to mention consumer culture.

But I did buy my traditional Thanksgiving bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau (a red wine from France that comes out in November and, fortuitously, tastes goddamned awesome with turkey or by itself), which I intend to polish off later today while I'm sitting around pointedly not doing anything else. Maybe I'll pour some out for the ancestors.
November 25, 2020 at 12:02am
November 25, 2020 at 12:02am
I don't possess creativity.

PROMPT November 25th

Write about tinkering, brainstorming, or the process of creation. What brings out your creativity?

I know I've been over this before. Few things strike as much fear into my stony heart than the admonition to "Be creative!"

What I am is methodical and technical.

Now, I get that some people might question my self-assessment, what with my writing and all. But all I ever do is rearrange letters, words and concepts into something that's -- sometimes -- unique. What others might see in my stuff as creativity is more a result of randomness -- by which I mean, I literally pick things at random and then hammer them into some semblance of a form. Or, as with poems, the form exists and I just have to find the right words and rhythms and/or rhymes.

Having no creativity is, it seems, an unforgivable sin in our society. If I believed in such a thing as a soul, I'd say that the creative spark is the soul, and I never had one.

Take Legos, for example. Most people have played with Legos. Other people can take individual Legos and turn them into something new. Me? I have to follow the instructions or it becomes something indeterminate. You know in the first Lego movie where the entire theme was "don't freeze Lego creations into permanent form; be creative with them?" Well, that made it a horror movie for me. Everything is NOT awesome.

Or music, for another example. My attempts at making music sometimes followed the right form and structure, but there's no influx of creativity.

Fortunately, I went into a very technical, rules-oriented profession, where the soulless can, if not thrive, at least find a place. Hell, even my photography was more about the rules of composition, lighting, etc., than about any kind of artwork.

How, then, do I plan and plot a piece of writing?

Generally, I start at the end and work backwards. If I know, for example, that I need characters A and B to hook up at the end of the story, I can come up with plausible scenarios as to how they get together. If I'm working from a prompt, I find another prompt, usually through randomness, and combine the ideas. That's my theory on how writing works, by the way: not just one idea, but two or more, combined in what is hopefully a new way. If a single idea can be expressed in three ways, for example, when you get two of them together, you don't have six possibilities but nine. The more ideas, and the more ways in which they can be expressed, and the possibilities become, not infinite, but large enough as not to matter. Like shuffling a deck of cards: it's unlikely that any particular arrangement of a thoroughly shuffled deck of cards has ever been made before in the entire history of cards.

I try to find through-lines. It's an old design trick, to repeat a certain theme in different ways. A particular necklace, or the concept of "necklace," for example, can take on a different meaning in different parts of the story.

Mostly, though, I just write. When I feel stuck, I freewrite. This usually helps shake something loose, just vomiting ideas onto a screen.

The thing about technical stuff is, these are things that can be taught, learned, improved. Creativity isn't learnable. You either have it or you don't. It's kind of like how some people are born blind or deaf: they can get along just fine, and they even have the advantage that no one is going to judge them for their missing sense, the way they judge the uncreative.

I can admire creativity when I see it, though when it's not paired with technical skill I'm generally not impressed. I'm also not impressed when a bunch of people get together and try to out-create each other, like at Burning Man. Want to impress me? Have the courage to change the name to Burning Woman and deal with the inevitable backlash.

At this, I got curious about this year's Burning Man, something I've never been curious about before. Usually stuff about it is background noise for me when I'm looking for interesting stuff on the internet in the summer, but I just realized I didn't hear word one about it this year. Obviously there's good reason for that, but I didn't even notice its lack until just now. Turns out the festival was all-virtual this year.

I bet they got creative with it.

I don't care.
November 24, 2020 at 12:01am
November 24, 2020 at 12:01am
"Peace" is not actually an uncommon state of being for me.

PROMPT November 24th

Think back to a time when you felt completely at peace. What made you feel that way?

While much is made of "happiness," I find it unsatisfactory. I've ranted in here about that before, I'm pretty sure. But peace? That's a different feeling entirely, in my opinion. When I think of happiness, I think of something boisterous and gaudy, like a river rapids; peace, on the other hand, is a calm lake.

Both have their place, of course.

Some find that feeling of calm to be boring, I suppose. I do, too, after a while. It's not a state of mind I'd want to hold onto for an extended period. You forget about the things you're supposed to be doing, which is desirable in the short run, but then shit catches up to you and boom, turbulence.

In the Before Time, I'd visit breweries to sample their wares. I've done that a bit since the pandemic started, but mostly just ones that are nearby; with lockdown rules, it's not as straightforward as it was. At the best of times -- when the place isn't very busy and when I don't have to worry about being anywhere at any certain time -- I'd achieve a feeling that I like to call "beerenity." Not drunk, just... the calm knowledge that everything is right with the world (even though it never really is, at least one can pretend it's so, briefly, for the sake of one's sanity).

That feeling is one of peace.

I don't mean to give the impression that I need to drink to achieve this state. There have been plenty of times when I've reached it completely sober, usually after finishing something difficult, or exercising to physical exhaustion. Or while driving, which certainly doesn't happen when I've been drinking. With beer or other libations, it can be a delicate balance; drinking too much leads to mere mental fog or drunkenness. Which, I should hasten to add, in my case doesn't mean doing anything untoward, just that I can't enjoy it as much.

So I think the last time I felt truly at peace was a few months ago, and yes, beer was involved.

My state's lockdown kept my local taphouse closed for a while. This didn't stop me from getting delivery food, or drinks from local breweries and/or the grocery store, but one thing I'd enjoyed since the place first opened a couple of years ago was going to the taphouse, sitting at the bar, and either trying some new brew or indulging in an old favorite. It's just a different experience from merely drinking at home.

Anyway, and I think I wrote about it in here at the time, at some point back in June, I think -- late spring or early summer -- the taphouse reopened. The bar was unavailable (still is), and I didn't want to be inside anyway, but after a couple of months of stewing at home, I got to sit on the covered patio of the taphouse and order beer and some food. They have a sound system on the patio, so I just sat there enjoying the warm weather, drinking beer and listening to the music, and things felt almost normal. I would even say it felt... I can't think of the word right now. Promising? Hopeful? Auspicious?

Good, anyway. It felt good.

It didn't last, of course. It never does, nor would I expect it to. I think I ended up overindulging and staggering back home (I know I've mentioned in here before that the place is within easy walking distance, even after drinking) to pass out, but for a while there I'd achieved beerenity.

I've been going back once a week, even though the weather's gotten cooler so the patio isn't as welcoming. Enjoyable experience, every time, though never again as blissful as that first one after they reopened. Yesterday was one of those days, and it's looking like next week might work out also.

I'm going to be sore about not being able to go out to California this year. Still, somehow, I'll find peace.
November 23, 2020 at 12:01am
November 23, 2020 at 12:01am
Hm... I suppose I'm pretty good at drinking...

PROMPT November 23rd

Write about a time you discovered a new skill in yourself. Or write about the first time you put a new skill into practice.

But no. Actual skill, I suppose.

Thing is, I like to learn stuff -- both theory and practice. But because I like to learn a lot of stuff, I don't excel at any one thing.

I'm sure you know the expression, "Jack of all trades, but master of none?" I've heard it asserted that the original quote ended with "...but oftentimes better than a master of one." I'm sure that makes those of us with broad rather than deep interests feel better, but there's no evidence that this was any sort of "original" version. Maybe it was. Maybe not. I can't be arsed to delve into it much more deeply, which I suppose is fitting. here's the Wiki  , for whatever that's worth.

Thing is, I don't claim to be an expert at anything. Oh, sure, I have training in civil engineering and, I sometimes think, some small facility in writing English, but everything else? Just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

My dad was like that, except he actually did more stuff. He pretty much built our house, with a little bit of help, while I was a kid. It's... not a pretty house, but it's still standing, so I suppose that's something.

Not me, though. First of all, that's too much like work, and second, I wouldn't want to take the chance of shit falling down with me inside. He was apparently okay with the risk, though.

Anyway, I've noted in here before that the latest thing I'm learning is French, so I suppose that counts for the prompt. I still consider myself a beginner, though I can usually muddle through written French and sometimes even translate into the language from English. Don't ask me to speak it, though. My mouth just doesn't want to work that way.

But I suppose you might have also heard the saying that goes something like, "The marvel is not how well the bear dances, but that he dances at all." I've always been told it's very difficult to learn a language at my advanced age. And I wouldn't say it's a cakewalk, but I'm surprising myself by actually learning the words and grammar and so forth. So that's what I discovered in myself - that I don't completely suck at it like I thought I would. It helps to have low expectations of oneself; that way, one can't be too disappointed.

I hope to put it into practice at some point, if I can find someone to help practice it who isn't going to beat me over the head with a day-old baguette for stumbling over the pronunciation. Mostly I just want to see if I can achieve some measure of fluency -- though I'm not holding out a lot of hope for that; I'll settle for being able to ask where I can find the nearest bar. Fortunately, the word for "bar" in French is... "bar."

And hey look, I've come 'round full circle to talk about drinking again.
November 22, 2020 at 12:11am
November 22, 2020 at 12:11am
This prompt assumes I actually feel emotion.

PROMPT November 22nd

Write about a moving performance you’ve witnessed. Consider musicals, theatre performances, dances, operas, orchestras, etc. Why did it have an impact on you?

Well, okay, sometimes I actually feel emotion. It's rare, sure. Like, just the other night, I got angry. Really, really, seeing-red, punch-the-walls angry. Well, almost. I didn't actually punch the walls. I'd have to spend money to fix them, so I refrained. Perhaps I'll talk about the reason sometime. It has to do with the utter and complete stupidity of the American health care "system."

Obviously, I don't go to performances to get angry -- though that happens if someone drags me to an opera. I mean, I understand and appreciate the immense amount of talent and hard work that goes into an opera performance. Even so, I still hate the genre.

There have been a few peak experiences in my life, by which I mean moments where I felt extreme joy, peace, happiness, euphoria, whatever you want to call it. All of those moments occurred at music concerts. Yes, all of them.

As for any specific one, it would be difficult for me to pick. It would depend on what mood I'm in at the moment, what else I'm focusing on, etc. I suppose it doesn't matter, anyway; I'm not a good enough writer to suitably convey the feeling I get at a concert by a performer or band whose music I truly enjoy. Just as no amount of praise or flowery language will convince me that, say, a Nickelback concert was a transcendent experience, because Nickelback objectively sucks, so it is that there is nothing I can do or say to convince anyone else that seeing Bruce Springsteen on stage is tantamount to being transported beyond the Pearly Gates.

There's a certain energy to a music concert, though, and it's something I seek out from time to time. Perhaps eventually we'll have those again. It would be nice to feel something besides irritation, anger and despair.
November 21, 2020 at 12:11am
November 21, 2020 at 12:11am
This one could easily send me into dark places.

PROMPT November 21st

Write about a “cruicible moment” in your life. A challenging time that shaped you and altered your view on your life and/or the world.

So I racked my brains trying to think of a time that changed me without being too depressing. I mean, there was the 20 years I spent dealing with parents with dementia, one after the other, to the point where I was mourning them before they technically died... but 20 years is hardly a "moment." And no one would read it.

Instead, I'll go back to the time before their decline.

As I've noted before, I spent my childhood on a farm. It wasn't a large farm; we had a forest and a field and a garden and a changing cast of farm animals. It was work, sometimes, but I was never far from the shade of the house and a large body of water for cooling off in.

And so, when I went looking for a summer job in 1984, after my first year at university, I figured my childhood had prepared me sufficiently for the outdoor work of a surveyor's assistant, or "rodman." After all, hadn't I spent most summers toiling in the hot sun, and autumns trudging through the forest cutting and hauling firewood?

Summer in the Tidewater region of Virginia gets oppressive, even back then before the climate went to hell. You've head the expression, "It's not the heat; it's the humidity?" I'm 99% sure that was first uttered by a Jamestown settler. Oh, sure, that colony was famous for nearly getting wiped out in a brutal winter, but I guarantee you the summer wasn't any picnic, either.

So my boss, the surveyor, decided that the best way to handle the heat was to start work before the sun came up. I must reiterate that we're talking about summer here, the weeks surrounding the solstice, so morning arrived early. I didn't have an alarm clock, but I'd set a timer on my stereo so that rock music and the annoying voices of DJs would awaken me at like 3 am. Now, two things about that: One, like I said, I'd already spent a year at college, where 3am was almost bedtime. And two, my dad had been in the military, so he prided himself, like many men of his generation, on waking up at some ungodly cow-milking hour (for the record, we didn't have dairy cows).

Dad tried really, really hard not to be annoyed when, at 3 in the morning, Black Sabbath blasted suddenly from the enormous speakers in the room next to his.

Well? I wasn't about to spend hard-earned money on an alarm clock, and he could have bought me one at any time. It's his own damn fault.

Anyway, so then I'd grab a bowl of cereal or some such, then drive the ten miles to the surveyor's house, getting there usually just before the accursed daystar actually rose. We'd haul our stuff to whatever job site he was working on, and he usually tried to arrange things so we did open fields in the morning and then do our work in the woods at the height of the day. "Usually" and "tried" are the key words there; more often than not, I'd end up standing in the middle of a hot field, baking in the oven of the foul solar orb, waiting for him to take measurements -- and then haul the equipment on my back to the next spot.

That summer, I got serious muscles and a major tan.

I also got poison ivy, hornet stings, a sprained ankle, and back problems that will plague me until the day I die.

My boss didn't believe in eight-hour days. Now, don't get me wrong; I liked the guy, and he paid reasonably well for unskilled labor. And I wanted the job, not just for the money, but because I was studying civil engineering and this would turn out to be important for my career. A lot of civil engineers are also surveyors; I never got formally trained in it, but I picked up enough to be able to speak the jargon with the surveyors we worked with. Also, this guy was sweating right along with me, not just sitting back and watching me work. Anyway, as I was saying, he didn't believe in eight-hour days. We'd work until about noon, take a half-hour for lunch (usually, fortunately, in a nearby air-conditioned diner), and then slog through the afternoon. He'd generally use all available daylight, which -- again, summer -- got me back home around 9 pm.

Do the math. I'd eat a morose few bites of dinner, fall into bed, and wake up with Led Zeppelin blasting from my stereo in the darkness.

No time for anything else.

Oh, and on top of that, my boss didn't believe in weekends, either. We had Sundays off because his wife was religious (he wasn't, but you know how these things go), but apart from that and the rare occasion when it rained, we worked every day.

Now, I'm not going to say this didn't build character, or that I didn't, in a perverse way, enjoy it -- my dad was convinced that I'd end up being a lazy bum, and was endlessly surprised that I kept to this schedule. Mostly I did it just to show him I could. Sons are like that sometimes.

But what it ended up doing was turning me into a lazy bum.

See, once I got back to college, I returned to my college hours: study (or party) all night, arrange my class schedule to have the first class as late as possible in the day.

This was a far superior schedule for me. Also, I knew I had something to work toward: a lifetime of sitting on my ass in an office, with only the occasional foray into the not-so-great outdoors to look at job sites.

So yeah, that summer's experience changed me: it made me highly allergic to the outdoors, to waking up early, and to hard work. In my actual career, the day usually started at 8 am and proceeded, with a lunch break, until 5. Normal, ordinary hours, even if it didn't quite fit my natural nocturnal schedule (though the number of overtime hours I put in was frightening -- however, it was still office work).

I never did see that surveyor again after that summer. I hope he made enough money and got a chance to retire.

But I don't think he'd have enjoyed that very much.
November 20, 2020 at 12:05am
November 20, 2020 at 12:05am
What is this "post COVID" of which you speak?

PROMPT November 20th

It’s movie night at your place! Host a showing for your 30DBC friends of a movie of your choosing. Make sure the atmosphere is just right (imagine life post COVID *Wink* ) As your guests arrive, how are they welcomed? Any pre movie activities or games? What are we snacking on? Have fun with this!

I used to have a ceiling-mounted projector.

Well, technically I still have it because disposing of electronics is nearly impossible (well... legally anyway). A while back, I had a leak that dripped directly onto the fucking projector when it had about 999 other square feet to choose from but no, it had to pick that ONE spot.

So, no projector. I still have the giant screen for it, though, and six speakers for surround-sound. So before I invite anyone over for movies, I need to fix the sheetrock ceiling (because right now I can't be arsed) and mount a new projector. I like those things way better than TV screens, and the projector screen is much bigger than any generally available flat-screen TV.

The one disadvantage is that if people get up and move around, it throws shadows on the screen. So don't do that. Once the movie starts, siddown and shaddup. I don't watch movies to socialize. I watch movies to watch movies.

We can socialize first, though, if you insist. ("How are [guests] welcomed?" With a hearty "Come in! We're downstairs! Drinks in the kitchen upstairs! Try not to scare the cats!") I bet you already know what the drinks will be. Go ahead. Guess. Worry not - there will be plenty of sodas and water for the abstainers. If you want coffee, though, you're going to have to figure it out for yourself; I don't drink it so I never learned to brew it.

As for snacks, well, I'm too lazy to prepare anything, so it'll be delivery pizza. None of that crap from Domiblow's or PooPoo John's though; the boxes those come in taste better than the pizza - I'm talking real, actual, pizza. And of course we can't have a movie without popcorn; that would be illegal. I suppose I could get off my arse and microwave some.

Before the movie, it might be fun to play a round or two of Cards Against Humanity. Nothing better to get to know someone than to test the depths of the darkness of their sense of humor.

Oh, you're probably wondering what movie we're going to watch. Well, when I used to have guests over, we usually watched comedies. Those seem to do best with crowds. But really, I'm flexible that way; we could watch an action movie. Or an action comedy. Or a comedy with action. See? Lots of choices! I'm a fan of consensus choice for movies. The projector is hooked up to the internet and I have Netflix and Amazon, so we'll probably spend more time deciding on a movie (and what toppings to get on the pizza) than we do actually watching the thing. (If we can't come to a consensus then by regal decree as the owner of the house, it'll be Young Frankenstein.)
November 19, 2020 at 12:01am
November 19, 2020 at 12:01am
Really, isn't everyone a stranger? Philosophically speaking, I mean.

PROMPT November 19th

Share a time when an interaction with a stranger had an affect on you.

I walked into a brewpub and talked to a stranger. The stranger gave me beer and took my money. That had a wonderful effect on both of us: I got beer and she got money.

On the other extreme, one time a stranger pulled out in front of me while I was driving. My car hit his, I went to the hospital, we went to court. Those weren't great interactions, but they had an effect.

Incidentally, I wasn't seriously injured, it was entirely his fault, and I ended up with a small settlement. Car was totaled, though. Was he injured? I don't know and I don't give a shit.

In writing this, I've been trying really, really hard not to unleash my inner editor.

I have failed.

People mix up "affect" and "effect" all the time. It's something I notice when it's wrong, but I don't end up thinking less of whoever does it, not like I do with people who can't keep "its" and "it's" straight, or "there," "their," and "they're." Or how I pass judgement on people who type "loose" when they mean "lose," or "opps" when they mean "oops." Those last two are generally the same people, and I think they follow some sort of Law of Conservation of Os -- though that doesn't explain where they get the extra P from. Probably from drinking too much beer.

Anyway. As I was saying. "affect" and "effect" are often confused, because frankly they're confusing. You can affect a person, or someone can have an effect on you. Someone once said, "'affect' is a verb but 'effect' is a noun." And in those common uses, they're right... but here's the confusing part:

Affect can also be a noun. And effect can also be a verb.

Those uses are less common, it's true, but anyone following the "affect-verb, effect-noun" rule is going to be caught off guard, like when you realize just how many exceptions there are to "I before E except after C."

Example of affect as noun: "The patient's affect was consistent with schizophrenia." (yeah, this version of the word is mostly just used in psychology)

Example of effect as a verb: "With perseverance and tenacity, and a whole lot of money, we can effect change in the world."

Isn't English fun? I think it's fun. I have a great deal of affection for it, even when I'm effectively putting on an affectation of pedantry.

Speaking of "loose" and "lose," there's a similar problem there: "loose" is normally an adjective, but it can be a verb: "He loosed an arrow at the target." This is, of course, distinct from "He will lose the archery competition because he mixes up 'lose' and 'loose.'"

"Only loosers care about spelling and grammar." "You mean 'losers.'" "Your mother is a looser." "Yeah? Well, yours is looser."

And, for the record, I know these things because a series of strangers taught me English grammar and spelling when I was in school. I guess they had an effect on me.
November 18, 2020 at 12:01am
November 18, 2020 at 12:01am
For as long as I can remember, I liked superhero origin stories.

PROMPT November 18th

Write about origins. You can take this literally as in where your family originated from (your history, culture, traditions), or you can focus on your own origins as a person.

Other people with actual backgrounds in liberal arts have said this better than I ever could, but comic book superheroes are essentially updated mythology. Where the Greeks, for example, wrote of gods and heroes from the point of view of their own culture, our industrial/technological society has produced characters drawn from the fringes of our scientific approach to the world.

Not that there's anything actually scientific about them. Costumed adventurers have always occupied a place between genres, drawing primarily from fantasy and science fiction -- with, of course, several others thrown into the mix. Exposure to gamma rays won't turn you in the Hulk; it will sicken or kill you. Aliens don't leave glowy rings lying around for test pilots to find. Mutated genes are more likely to kill you than give you teleportation powers. Incredibly rich orphans find other ways to make the world a better place than dressing up as a bat to fight crime. Getting bitten by a radioactive spider (which, come on, really?) probably wouldn't do anything that getting bitten by an ordinary spider wouldn't do.

I like to say that my origin story occurred when I got bitten by a radioactive sloth.

Point is, though, these characters and stories occupy a place of speculation and wonder. The radioactive spider thing, or whatever, is incidental; the character's abilities draw a reader (or viewer) in, while their approaches to conflict keeps things interesting. We all know that the origin story, and everything about them, is fanciful. Some dismiss the entire genre for its lack of realism, and that's fair. But they're still stories, and just as with the magical aspects of fantasy, once you accept the more unrealistic parts, the rest can follow.

There's no real difference, then, between stories of the labors of Hercules (born of a god and set up to be an Earthly hero) and stories of the adventures of Superman -- except for the time period in which they're written, and the cultural milieu of their audience. Our modern stories take into account speculation about aliens, scientific discoveries, alternate universes, whatever -- things the Greeks had only the barest inkling of. Even the ancient gods are explained away in the comic books, as advanced, but natural, beings.

Much has been discussed about the differences between, say, Batman and Superman, or the difference in approach to superhero stories taken by different publishing companies, and everyone has their favorites, as well as those they dismiss out of hand. Most of my friends were more into Batman. I was always a Superman fan.

This has little to do with his powers and more to do with his classic origin story. An orphan sent to Earth from a dying planet, adopted by simple farmers who raised him as their own.

As an adopted child raised on a farm, this appealed to me.

Don't get me wrong; apart from the usual childhood fantasies about flying or x-ray vision or whatever, I knew damn well I didn't have superpowers and probably wasn't actually from another planet (unless Indiana counts as another planet). Though after making the entry from a couple of days ago, maybe "avoiding broken bones" counts as a superpower. And then there's my ability to drink different kinds of booze with no additional ill effects... hmm.

No, I'm pretty sure I'm human. 98% sure, at least. Well, maybe 95%.

But -- apart from the flying and the super-strength and tights and whatnot -- I have a significant departure from Clark Kent.

See, Clark was always interested in finding out his biological origins. In every version of the story, he ends up finding out about Krypton and his birth parents and whatnot, and soaking in alien science and lore. Not that he abandons those who raise him, but he has this need to find out where he "actually" came from.

Maybe it's because I know I'm not Kryptonian, but I have no such need. One family was enough for me, and apart from a mild curiosity regarding possible genetic predispositions to certain ailments, I couldn't possibly care less about my biological heritage.

I like to think that this gives me a less tribal worldview. Other people can be -- and in most cases, should be -- proud of their heritage, be it European or Asian or African or American or whatever. But for me, besides looking like I almost certainly have Northern European ancestry, I consider myself a product, not of one place or culture, but of the entire planet.

After all, when it comes to origins, whether you buy into creation stories or follow the science, ultimately, we're all descended from one human -- all one extended family. And I don't know, maybe if more people had that attitude, people might be less interested in bombing each other into oblivion.

But then again, knowing how some families are, probably not.

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