Mondays are the worst for it. That feeling that, by 9:00 p.m., I’m screeching to a halt with the remains of the various clutter that was in the moving vehicle of my day falling on the floor around me as I realize that, much to my chagrin, I have to pick it all up and make some neatness out of this before retiring for the night.

Those close to me say I’m too tense. Its a valid criticism.

As much as I make concerted efforts to slow down, to incorporate contemplation into my lifestyle, to limit the amount of media intake I experience and carefully balance productivity, the truth is that I still remain tense. Life isn’t as bad as before I stopped listening to the “writers must write every day” gospel, but still…I’m tense. I realize it the most on weeks like this, when I return from a holiday that was relaxing and that permitted me to unwind from all of the obligations and schedules and stressors of the average week and enjoy my family, a good book, and a few good movies. Only to return and be launched right back into Monday.

Mondays are the worst for it.

I made a reference this week to how I needed to get moving on a book that I started over the weekend, because it is my bookclub’s choice for November, and so I’m on a deadline to finish it by Wednesday. Karen responded that the great thing about books is that you pick them up and put them down as you have time. I insisted that I have a deadline. (And, besides, I find this a bit hypocritical of someone who read like half a novel in a single sitting on Sunday, to tell the truth. Grumble grumble grumble).

Now, I haven’t always been like this. In fact, its come and gone in phases around the academic cycles of my life. During my undergrad years, when I juggled two majors and major design work in every show my theatre department staged, sleep was a luxury that occurred on occasion. Then, once I entered the professional world, life became less stressful. I worked my nine-to-five, and returned home to my personal life, which was largely fun and un-rushed. Then came grad school, and I was plunged back into the world of homework and research, but at a level of intensity that I had never before experienced (it was my bright idea to pursue my master’s degree full-time). All the while maintaining employment and working as a teaching assistant in order to go to school for next-to-free. I became stressed. I adopted coping skills of extremely disciplined work schedules that involved almost no relaxation time in order to make good grades and still make a living. I had very little personal life. I always had a book by my bedside that was a class assignment, another in my bag, and a paper on my laptop.

Oh, what I wouldn’t have given to have had e-reader technology a couple of years early.

In any case, my point is that I became very, very driven. I couldn’t permit myself to relax if I was to keep that schedule. In retrospect, I should have altered the schedule, but there you have it. Three years of almost no relaxation. The problem is that I haven’t been able to let go of it this time. I haven’t learned to relax, unless I’m on holiday or vacation. I consider every book I’m reading to have a deadline, and I’m stressed if I haven’t reached a designated chapter by the end of the day. Or if I haven’t reached a word-count on a writing project by the same time. Or if I haven’t made it through my to-do list.

The problem is that I think I’m missing a lot of life by keeping all of my self-imposed deadlines.

So, I need to relax. I think we all need to relax. I’m glad that the Advent season sort of builds in time for us to do just that, and, as we’re nearing the time for New Year’s resolutions to occur, I’m going to toss mine out now. I’m going to relax. Really, I am. Learning to relax is now on a list, with a deadline, color-coded and prioritized.

Wait…that may not work…  

Photo Attribution: Kimmo Palosaari 

A Game Changer

As Thanksgiving Day festivities (read: I ate entirely too much food) drew to a close late last night, I was in a conversation with a family member about video games. Some of the family were leaving a couple of hours from that time to arrive at a Back Friday sale at midnight to pick up a video game that has, apparently, been long anticipated by gamers. We talked about how I’ve always sort of found video games to be time-wasters, and that I’ve always had better things to do with my time. Its not that I think gamers are weird or anything…I have a lot of friends that are gamers. And while I was heavily into role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons when I was young, video games just aren’t anything that have ever interested me.

The other family members in the conversation, though, offered a different perspective. They find video games to be interactive storytelling. They describe detailed world-building, beautiful artwork, and an experience that is never the same twice, because the player will make different decisions that alter the outcome of the story in different ways…not dissimilar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books of old.

This intrigued me, because this is similar to the theatre experience. Live performances are never the same twice. Different plays are interpreted differently by different directors and actors. The same cast will experience completely different performances on different nights because of different audiences, the reactions of whom are necessary for the complete experience, and alter each play considerably.

So, I thought, if you view video games in this light, then they begin to look like very legitimate forms of art: in the words of my family member, a form of storytelling with “more depth.” In fact, I think of schools with MFA in creative writing programs that offer coursework in writing for games.

So, to complete my education, the family pointed me toward some video samples of some of their favorite games.

Storytelling? Sounds interesting to me. And, just to appreciate the artistry of the worlds that are built for these games, I was impressed by the detail and the beauty of this one:

I was thinking about the wealth of creative talent involved in this last clip: the digital animators, the musicians, the voice actors, the writers, the post-production technicians. This is on par with an animated short, at least. And when I think about writing a story with so many possible twists and turns that can change with interactivity, I suddenly find myself very appreciative of the specific skills required.

So, while I doubt seriously that I’ll ever become a gamer, and while I’m still troubled by the many cases of video game addiction that can plague those who invest too much time these worlds, I’m thinking that this possibility exists with any creative endeavor, and any participation in alternate fictional worlds. That doesn’t, I suppose, make the participation itself a bad thing. So, the result of my 2011 Thanksgiving holiday is to find a new appreciation for the art of video games.

Learning something new is a beautiful thing.


I had a conversation with my wife recently about a conversation that she had with a mutual friend about an incident that happened to this friend. The incident involves a powerful topic that I think needs to be discussed. Its a topic that fits the context of this blog well. To explore the topic, though, would involve my re-telling the story, even if in the most vague of terms. And, in fact, I drafted just such a post this week. It will remain unpublished for the time being, however, shrouded in an ethical uncertainty that, as it turns out, makes for a pretty good discussion in its own right.

I contacted my friend on Monday about the story. She liked the idea of presenting the issue in this space, but was uncomfortable with relating the story in any form, because others were involved. This is a huge reason that it remains unpublished here, because I’m still working through where the ethical boundaries lie.

I’ve had friends make references before to how their conversations with me end up being told here, sort of half-joking that they should be careful what they say around me. I suppose the problem with being friends with a blogger is that we write about how we encounter life, and that, by necessity, involves our friends and loved ones. Typically, it isn’t an issue, because the conversations we’re telling on the blogosphere, while thought-provoking, are innocent enough. And, generally, I can tell the conversations with enough anonymity that an individual couldn’t be identified through my discussion. I make every effort, in fact, to do so. And, honestly, I don’t usually ask permission.

During my brief dabbling in journalism, I learned very quickly that there’s really no such thing as “off the record.” Similarly, because I blog about the way I encounter life and because my friends and family necessarily play into that, there’s really no such thing as a conversation that has no chance of being referenced in a post here at some point. The difference, though…and this is huge…is the nature of what is being published.

Whether or not blogging by those of us who aren’t journalism professionals can be considered true journalism isn’t a new debate. Its been discussed since blogging was in its infancy, and the concept of user-generated content became the norm. However, what I’m blogging here isn’t news, and so the ethical weight of communicating what the public has a right to know isn’t a burden I currently bear. I write about ideas, trying to contribute them to the pubic sphere. However, if a friend asks me to not publish something they’ve said, or to not write it in such a way that they are connected to it, then I do my best to respect that choice. They have a right to privacy.

There are a handful of legal obligations that govern blogging, but not many. I think there are more ethical obligations that govern blogging, and I’m sensitive to those. I don’t think that I needed the legal consent of anyone involved in my friend’s story to discuss it here, but her story was still hearsay in as far as it involved them. That is to say, from a journalistic perspective, I couldn’t have confirmed her story through two independent sources.

Still, the conversation would, I think, spark great thoughts and debate if I put out there.

Ultimately, protecting the best interest and confidence of a friend and her colleagues wins. Perhaps I can eventually find a way to present the issue here without connecting it to my conversation with her, but for now I can’t, so I’ll keep it in my file of thoughts.

What do you think are the ethics of blogging, whether or not you write one yourself? I’m interested in your perspective.

Photo Attribution: KaiChanVong

A Review of “The Colorado Kid”

The Colorado KidThe Colorado Kid by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first I’ve ever read of Stephen King. I’ve never found myself attracted to King’s writing…a couple of glances at the films made of his novels and overhearing descriptions of his writing have generally been enough to rule him out for me. That’s not because I don’t think he’s a good writer…I’ve heard everything to the contrary. Its just that suspense and horror aren’t my bent.

What I have found myself drawn to lately, however, is the SyFy Channel’s original series, Haven. The series is based off of The Colorado Kid, this short novella by Stephen King. Some of the behind-the-scenes videos from the series  discuss how veiled references to King’s other stories appear throughout the series, much to the delight of his fans. While I’m not interested in reading the rest of his canon…or really anything else by him…I was very interested to read the basis for the just-eery-enough program upon which I’ve become so hooked.

And when I call this a short novella, its just that: the ebook version finishes at less than 200 pages, so if you pick it up with any time to devote at all, you’ll likely finish it in one sitting. Like the television series, the story is set in coastal Maine. This proves to be the perfect setting for a mystery, because, as King states in his afterword, nowhere is quite so isolated to provide for the mysterious as an island. The story is of a man who is discovered dead on a beach by two high school students one morning, and the subsequent investigation that is sold short by local law enforcement, and performed largely at the hand of the two old newspaper reporters of the local paper (who will be instantly recognizable to fans of Haven). The unidentified man, to whom they begin to refer as the Colorado Kid, is eventually identified, and discovered to have not only be from Colorado, but to have been seen in Colorado hours before being discovered dead on a beach in Maine. Thus the mystery begins…and it proves nearly unsolvable.

What King does here that’s so fascinating is that he leaves the story at that: an unsolvable mystery (although he hypothesizes the potential for solutions in his afterword, he never identifies any).  Rather, this is a story that explores the phenomenon of mystery, the fact that human beings are confronted with (what King views as) the unsolvable mystery of life, and compelled to reach toward it, to keep trying to solve it regardless of how unsolvable it turns out to be, and to keep our future generations motivated to continue probing the unknown, as well. The newspaper reporters pass on the unsolvable story to their college intern, who has become passionate about staying in Maine and carrying on this small newspaper. She is the heir to the story of the Colorado Kid, and we know that she will continue to pursue it. In his afterword, King states that wanting to know can more important than knowing. As much as he seems to eschew any rhyme or reason to the tragedy of life in his thoughts, he seems to be exploring an almost theological idea here, nothing short of the knowledge of good and evil.

There’s nothing frightening about the novel. I was left with some chills when I read it late into the night in a quiet apartment with most of the lights off, but they weren’t the “something’s coming to get me” chills, but rather the chills that accompany an excellent mystery. And that, ultimately, is exactly what this is: an excellent mystery. The supernatural element that drives Haven is absent (although one does ponder paranormal solutions to the mystery when all rational explanations seem to fail), and the reader is drawn into sleuthing with amateur sleuths who are passionate about discovering the answer to the mystery. King even weaves in a classic quote from Sherlock Holmes, and its very much at home here, even though the truth isn’t discovered by the end.

But the reader is still left with the hope that it could be discovered. And so we’re driven to always keep wondering. And that’s the part of the human condition that King is probing here, the thing that drives us to seek answers to “why?” when we’re confronted with the unanswerable.

You don’t need to be a fan of Stephen King to love this book. You don’t even need to be a fan of Haven. If you are a fan of a good mystery, then this should be on your shelf.

View all my reviews

Seeing Things in a Different Light

I never thought that I would admit something like this, or even that I would think something like this, but I’ve found myself enjoying Autumn. And when I say “enjoying,” I mean that its a bittersweet sort of thing. I still mourn the fact that my day has reached darkness by 5:00 p.m. As I drove through traffic at around 4:00 p.m. on Monday evening, though, I realized that I really love how the light falls across the streets. I love the way it catches the trees in its slant, casting very pronounced and distinct shadows that really don’t occur at any other point in the year. The beauty is even more distinctive in the way the light falls over, and is broken up by, the homes and buildings along the sides of the streets. There’s something that’s completed as a beautiful sunset has its light distinctly dance around both the trees that were created for us, and the homes and buildings that we’ve created.

I realized also Monday evening, as I stood in a department store waiting to pay for a rushed purchase that I was making while between points A and B, that there’s something about the way our lights meet the light that is falling from the sky. As darkness arrives more quickly, I feel a sort of warmth in the way signs and streetlights and even brake lights punctuate our evening commutes. The experience evokes memories of Christmas shopping and Holiday festivities. I’ve always been so focused on how much I detest being cold that I’ve noticed these things sparingly, and at times not at all, in years past.

I think that all of these things occurred to me because I took the time to notice the way that the light fell across the streets this evening. Even though I didn’t really slow down, as such, I did make the time to notice what was happening. I wouldn’t have normally paused enough to notice the lighting while driving to where I needed to be. The curse of our busyness and supposed productivity…the burden of our ability to always be productive as we are mobile…is that we frequently move past these beautiful marks of the seasons that are given to us, I believe, as gifts. We miss the way our own advancements are cast in a different light because of the way the light from a sunset falls across them.

I heard someone talking about the physics of light this week. Perhaps because I’m used to seeing light depicted as rays or beams in comic books so frequently, I found this as a sort of revelation of the obvious, but the principal (and that’s probably the wrong word) is that we don’t see light, but rather we see everything else because of the light. The light reveals things to our attention. From that perspective, then, I didn’t really see the way the light fell across things this week. Rather, I saw everything else in a different way because it was illuminated in a different way…that is, revealed to me in a different way, almost like using theatrical lighting to point an audience’s attention to a different part of the stage. I would hate to think that I wouldn’t have noticed that, just because I didn’t take the time to notice.

The Holidays are closer than I care to think about right now. Which means that now, of all times, I need to take the time to notice. I must take the time to notice. This is all far too beautiful a thing to miss.

Photo Attribution: donjd2