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Uzès, Day 4

Another quiet, slow day, but a success on the jet lag front.  I may not have fallen asleep until 2 AM, but I was up by 9 AM and have yet to succumb to the dreaded afternoon nap, which gives me hope that tonight will be a completely ordinary full night’s rest.

Once again, I took the morning to find a bakery and pick up a baguette.  I had to range further than before because the usual place I’d been visiting was closed, but the place I found had far better bread, so it was a net win.  Because this town sees so much weekend tourism, a lot of local businesses are closed on Mondays.  It looks like tomorrow, things pick back up again.

Another trip to a grocery store was a bit of an adventure due to the heavy rain and our inability to read detailed product labels.  My father-in-law desired a clothing detergent sans enzymes, which proved very difficult to find. We spent at least 15 minutes reading labels, until I finally Googled the issue and found a recommended product.

Speaking of searching for difficult things, I have sought in vain a place that serves croque madames, my favorite French meal, but it seems that such a sandwich is a regional thing not available here in Uzès.  Instead, I had a tartine, which was basically an open-faced sandwich covered in greens, thin-sliced ham and cheese, and a heavy layer of tapenade.  Me, eating an olive-based product is practically a sign of the end times, but to be honest, I loved it.  Another confirmed kill in the war on my childishly limited palette!  Something about traveling helps me get over a lot of my food hangups and enjoy whatever is put in front of me.  Even Sarah’s fish soup, which smelled AWFUL, tasted good (not that I would want to eat the whole thing).

We spent part of the day planning the rest of the week, and we have a series of day trips planned around the region.  Tomorrow, we will go to a replica cave to see cave paintings by Neandertals.  It looks like a lovely experience, although I must admit I’m disappointed I don’t get to see genuine articles. Later in the week, we’ll be headed to Nimes to take in several Roman ruins — I can’t express in words how excited I am for that. I took Latin in high school for two years and those classes were as much about Roman history as they were the language.  I’m no expert, but I never really thought I’d get to see genuine Roman ruins.  My life is far more awesome than I ever expected back in 1994.

For years, I’ve had a certain type of dream.  In it, I am following the usual route home in whatever town I’m currently living in, and instead of going left at some junction, I go right, and I find myself in some entirely new location, strange, unfamiliar, and thrilling.  Being in Uzès is like living that dream every day. I spend part of each day ambling down the many narrow streets and alleys of the town. Each trip, I discover nestled avenues lined with quirky shops and art galleries. I don’t know what that dream says about my psychology except that it probably confirms my status as a neophile.  In life, I constantly seek novel experiences and places.  I have a bit of wanderlust that I suppress in order to keep a job and take care of my family, but if I could do anything I wanted, regardless of finances, I think I would travel nonstop.  Give me a small laptop and a couple changes of clothes and I would be happy wandering to and fro.

For those of you asking for pictures, I’m sorry–I’m not taking nearly as many pictures as I expected; the photos don’t really convey how I feel about the place.  My photography skills are more rusty than I expected, of perhaps it is the iPhone I am using rather than my standard SLR.  But I’m enjoying simply being here and experiencing it, though, and I am taking enough pictures to remember the experience decades from now.

Other than my quiet walks and spending times with the family, I’ve been reading.  I finished Wendy Wagner’s An Oath of Dogs last night, and quite enjoyed it.  I really look forward to seeing what she writes next.  Meanwhile, I’m about to crack open a collection of Roger Aickman stories next. I have never read anything by the author, but the description of his work I came across made me think that I would very much enjoy his work.  Having time to read something other than the internet for work is quite the blessing, and I aim not not waste it.  It’s been wonderful not feeling like I *must* spend time at the computer every day.  An hour or so to check on the status of my sites, run updates, and then write these posts.  How wonderful!  I do wonder if I might be able to make a vacation like this happen every year, even if it’s not overseas, but a disconnection from the internet annually could be quite good for me.  We’ll see!

No fiction writing as of yet.  I have half-formed ideas and thoughts, but nothing is begging me to write it.  So many half-starts in the past year, but nothing speaks to me lately.  I have relied for years on raw enthusiasm to carry me through the work of writing, and that enthusiasm has been missing.  My career has been going so well, and I wish I could find my joy for it again. I hope I do soon.  I’m hoping for this trip to help me with so many thing simply by giving me the space and time to think about them without worrying about work.  But enough about that. It’s time to read and relax once more.

Tune in tomorrow for details about the cave painting museum! I can’t wait!

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Personal Life, Travel

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Uzès, Day 2 & 3

Day Two: market day.  This was what I was most looking forward to about France.  The food here is just tremendously good.  Simple meals of bread and cheese and meat and fruit are what I mostly go for, with dinners tending to be dining out at one of the dozens of local restaurants.

Sarah and I hit the Saturday market early and stocked up on the essentials (fruits, meats, cheeses, breads).  Because we’re here for about six markets worth of time (the market is both Wednesday and Saturday), our first stop was a nice basket made of woven straw.  With that acquired, we were off to the races.  All told, we spent about $70 on various staples, including an awful large chunk of cheese that we liked from a sample but turned out, once we got it home, to be a bit more bleu than we thought previously (but still good. Just not something you want to eat on a sandwich).  My favorite purchase was a $16 smoked ham… shank? Basically, the closest thing to spanish style ham I’ve seen anywhere, and it’s long been my goal to have iberico ham. We also bought four varieties of naturally preserved sausage – the kind you see hanging on ropes from stalls.  We’ve nearly finished the duck sausage already, but luckily we have the rest to keep us until Wednesday.  Dinner was at a local creperie, and I had a wonderful galette.  I hope to revisit for one of their actual crepes some morning.

We capped off the evening by watching some real live Eurovision- something I’ve watched other people watch via Twitter. No truly outrageous acts this year that we saw.

Today, day three, has been a day of rest, mostly.  The temperature has dropped into the 50s, and it’s been raining quite hard.  My day has consisted almost entirely of eating light meals, cleaning up, and napping. I walked to a patisserie for a baguette a bit ago, which was rather invigorating in the rain. The family went off to Catholic mass and had a good time at church, telling stories about watching the crowd. Now we’re assembling a basic dinner for ourselves and discussing plans for the upcoming days. Soon, I’ll climb up stairs, pull a chair over to an open window, and read until I get tired.

I feel ten years younger than I did a week ago.

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Travel

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Uzès, Day One

Here we are at the end of our first full day in France, and boy are my feet tired. One unfortunate reality of vacations is that you take your own body with you, and my body is a flaming heap of garbage lately. Much like my childhood hero Benjamin Franklin, I struggle a little bit with gout, which has been triggered by some other medical stuff.  I had hoped to not deal with Madame Gout while in France, but alas, it has followed me here along with other constant companions such as social anxiety and generally just being a fat bastard.

That said, I haven’t had to spend ten hours a day sitting at a keyboard, so my problems seem less significant.  The pain in my foot is mostly under control, provided I don’t tap it against anything too hard, and walking is still possible for the moment.  I’m drinking as much water as I can in the meanwhile, which can help, and I have meds which sorta help.

Today has been a day of rest and orientation. The most important thing we accomplished was finding a local grocery store and picking up some basics.  I was able, early in the morning, to make a quick walk to a small bakery and buy a couple of baguettes which we made our breakfast and part of lunch. I can already tell that we’re going to go through 2-3 loaves of the stuff a day with five of us.  It looks like our general habit will be to eat breakfast and lunch from here in the rental, and then likely head out for a dinner at any of the dozens of restaurants within walking distance.  Tonight, we had hamburgers – not very French, I know, although my burger had goat cheese and fig jam, so at least some of the ingredients were pretty French.  I’m dying to have a good steak au poivre soon.

A two-plus hour nap was sadly in the cards today. I was hoping to beat jetlag with my “stay up really long” trick but I still have some adapting to do, as does little Matty.  The nap felt great though, even if I was woken up every hour by the ringing bells from various churches around town.

Tomorrow is market day, which is renowned throughout the region, and I’ve got my euros ready so that we can stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables and cheese and dried meats and and and…

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Travel

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Uzès, Day 0

Travel from the United States to a place like Uzès is not exactly easy.  We Midwesterners are used to traveling long distances to get to anywhere interesting, but I’ve noticed that especially for people not from the U.S., the distances and travel times don’t sink in until I walk you through them. Let me give you the nuts and bolts:

  • First, drive one hour from Lawrence to the Kansas City airport
  • Catch a flight to Detroit, about two hours long.
  • In Detroit, board a large plane to Paris for about eight hours.
  • In Paris, board a bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare de Lyon train station for an hour.
  • Wait four hours for your train to arrive.
  • Take a three to four hour bullet train from Paris to Nimes.  Get yourself a rental car at the train station.
  • Drive about 30 minutes from Nimes to Uzés on roads that probably were first laid out in the time of Caesar.

If you’re me, and you can’t sleep sitting up, this means you stay awake for a very long time (about 32 hours for me).  No big deal though when France is your destination! We pulled into town at about 7 PM on Thursday, after having been awake since 7 AM Kansas time the previous day. I was feeling the exhaustion, but my plan for dealing with jet lag on the first day was to roll on up to bed time local time, take my meds, and then crash.  So far, that seems to have worked.

After getting a lovely tour of our AirBnB from the owner, Pierre, we unpacked a bit and then headed out down the cobblestone streets looking for something to eat. We settled into a little pizza parlor on the place aux herbs.  We had a platter of meat and cheese, pickles, and various other finger foods, some wine, and for our main course, a couple of wood-fired oven pizzas that were delicious.  Uzés is positioned such that it has many different regional influences on its cuisine, and I don’t think these pizzas would have been out of place in Italy.

Within minutes of sitting down, a local boy a couple of tables over had roped Matty into sword fighting with him using a pair of plastic swords.  As the sun set and the fairy lights came on in the Sycamore trees around the plaza, the pair, who didn’t share more than a couple of words, darted around the large stone fountain and dueled.  We spoke with their parents briefly, who were very kind and welcoming and encouraging of their play.  We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for our family in Uzès.  So far, everyone is incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming.

By 10 PM, we headed to bed, and as far as I can tell, we all got a good night’s sleep on the local schedule. It’s now early morning of day one. We plan to stock up on a little groceries, unpack some more, and generally decompress. I expect a nap in my future after lunch.

Initial reactions: everything is amazing here and I’m never going home.

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Place aux herbes

Personal Life, Travel

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Preparing for France

In seven days, my wife, son, and I will board a plane headed for Paris where we’ll catch a train and then rental car to arrive, eventually, in Uzès, France. We’ll be spending about three weeks there before heading back to Paris for a week, and then coming back to the United States (assuming there is still a United States to come back to).

I’ve taken multi-month trips overseas before, but not in about 20 years, and back then, I didn’t have a job or a wife.  Back then, life was lighter, and I was less burdened with belongings and responsibilities. I don’t really remember the preparation for my trip to Kenya.  I probably relied on my mother to pull together most everything for that, because I was busy in college, finishing up one semester.

I’ve just about wrapped up all my work that needs to be done before I leave, but just enough projects linger, requiring attention and time that I’m in that odd, liminal space of not quite working, and not quite on vacation. Like most people, I find this neither-here-nor-there state uncomfortable and unsettling. I find myself wishing simultaneously that I had more time before departing and wishing that I was already there, strolling the cobblestone streets and taking in all the sights and sounds of a fifteen hundred year old village.

I like being places, but I’m not sure anymore that I actually enjoy the process of getting there. Part of it is the weird security theater we deal with to travel, and the other part is that travel is much easier when I’m only responsible for myself. Being a parent and traveling comes with all new anxieties.

Still, I’m hoping a four week vacation means I can relax more and worry less.  Who cares if we arrive a day late?  Travel mixups can happen and not take such a huge chunk out of our trip.  At least, that’s the idea. last night I began to obsess over whether our Airbnb had a shower or just a bathtub, and whether it had enough electrical outlets.  It seems that I’m an aggressive worrier and even a longer trip isn’t enough to calm my nerves.

Once I get there, I expect to really experience things.  I’ve felt sort of experience-deprived living here in Kansas lately.  Kansas is great for a casual day to day life, but there’s not a lot of excitement and novelty to the Midwest dad life.  Finding a balance between comfort and novelty has long been a struggle for me, and so if nothing else, I’m looking forward to an entire month of people and places entirely new.

And in my downtime, I hope to read and write and think hard about what shape I want my life to take in the next couple of years.  Freelancing for the past decade has been great, but I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with a lot of it and I need to think about what direction I want to go into next.  For the longest time, I thought I would transition into more writing, but that hasn’t panned out quite.  Although one possibility for when I return is launching a Patreon for ongoing Dungeonspace stories. I feel like I have enough ideas to write those for years, and maybe that crowd-funding method could help me start that transition.  Sometimes I think I’m a little afraid of succeeding as a writer, and self-sabotage or get too risk-averse.  These are things I hope to think through when I’m enjoying the French countryside. Have a great May without me, everybody!  I hope to come back with some brand new stories to tell.

PS: tune in next week for an important announcement!

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Personal Life, Travel

Ready Player One wasn’t unmitigated garbage, but it wasn’t that plausible either

I finally got down to the local cinemaplex to take in a viewing of White Nerd Fantasies: The Future part one.  Based on the general backlash to the book that’s been circulating online, I expected that the movie would continue the weird 80s nostalgia excesses of the book (which I frankly loved, despite acknowledging its problematic aspects). The book and the movie don’t share a lot of similarities in that regard.  The soundtrack seemed to be the primary place that called out the 80s. There were plenty of more modern references and cameos to be seen as well but I think visual references seem a lot less obnoxious than those on the written page.  I expected to find a much more off-putting movie than I did, so I was pleasantly entertained, and indeed, part of me was thrilled.  I’ve had a personal fascination with virtual reality since the 9th grade, when I spent the year writing a research paper on it. I’ve waited my whole life for virtual reality to be taken this seriously, and it took seeing it up there on the big screen to realize just how ridiculous a future including something like the OASIS really seems.

The first barrier you’d have to get over for wide-spread adoption of something like VR as depicted in this film is the “ridiculous” effect.  People participating in VR look absolutely insane to those who don’t have a screen strapped to their face. The movie played up this effect to great impact, intercutting between dramatic action-filled moments in virtual reality with the real world ridiculousness of people in black lycra suits waving around frantically.  Not impossible to overcome, but definitely something that hampers the development of an OASIS.

The second barrier is the idea that anyone would spend that much time playing the same thing for more than a few months. Take a look at the “free to play” games list on Steam sometime.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of games on there, some of which are being played at any given time by sixty people at most.  The diversification of options means getting a large crowd onto the same service or “planet” or whatever you want to call them seems impossible and absurd.   There would be a dozen or more OASISes and most of them would look like ghost towns.  An awful lot of people would be holed up in private creations, probably.  IOI would have just created their own competing simulation platform.

Also,  the film kind of portrays a wide web of people who seem to ignore those closest to them in favor of distant connections.  While this is a life some of us do indeed live, the majority of people use the connectedness of the internet and social media to stay in touch with people that live near them, that are already important in their lives.  Not an awful lot of people seem to use social media to connect to random strangers.  They use it to reinforce the bonds they already have.  So social media, not gaming, makes up a good chunk of internet usage.  We don’t really see that in this future.  Perhaps it’s there off camera?

Virtual reality, as I grow older, seems like the bizarre fantasy of social misfits and shut-ins who want to be isolated, but still have life experiences.  “Wouldn’t it be great if we could climb a mountain without actually leaving our house?” Why would that be great?  I understand the appeal if you are, for instance, disabled, but for the relatively average person, I suspect the experience will always pale to the real thing because as Halliday says in the movie, it’s not real. Realness matters and will continue to matter until they’re plugging our brains directly into a simulation, which I’m not sure will ever truly be possible (but who knows).   It’s like androids. Androids don’t make much sense to me except in a few rare instances.  Why make artificial people who are indistinguishable from people when you have a surplus of… actual people around who could really use something to do?

Don’t get me wrong – I still see utility in virtual reality as a tech innovation, and maybe one day I will actually own my own gear, but I suspect it will mostly be a niche experience.

Finally, my main complaint is that the future in the film projects the apathy of Generation X onto new generations that have as of yet not displayed any of the apathy that seems necessary to give us the RPO future.  Today’s teens seem far more engaged in trying to change the world than the rest of us.  That alone makes RPO’s future seem pretty implausible.  The #NeverAgain kids are pretty unlikely to lose themselves to spending all their time playing games on Planet Doom.  The kids are alright.  I don’t think they’re going to let this happen, and I for one look forward to how they’re going to make visions of the future like this one utterly obsolete.

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Filling in the Cinematic Gaps: Goodfellas (1990)

One of my favorite things in this cruel and uncaring world is to watch a movie in the theater, followed not too far down the list by watching a movie at home after my preschooler has finally gone to $*%#ing sleep. Lately, inspired by my friend Marc’s deep dive into cinema, I’ve been working to fill in the gaps in my cinematic experiences when I can find the time. The latest hole to be patched was Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

I’ve seen plenty of gangster movies and maybe a dozen episodes of the Sopranos, but it’s never been a genre in which I’ve taken a strong interest. Obviously I tend to go for things that are a bit less grounded in reality, and I’m not particularly a big fan of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, who seem to have acted or starred in 95% of all modern gangster movies.

Gangsters in this genre make me uneasy in the same way I suspect sharks make other people nervous. They’re unpredictable, dangerous, and deadly. Their deadliness makes it hard for me to watch stories about them because I spend the whole time waiting for them to come through the screen and whack me and my whole family. You might think this is odd because I like crime and heist movies. In those movies, the characters are less often murderers and more the thieving kind, and I find that less threatening and uncomfortable. Let’s face it: an awful lot of gangster movies end in an orgy of murder and mayhem.

That said, I overcame my discomfort long enough to sit through Goodfellas and generally, I’m glad I did. This is an oddly placed film in time, having come out in 1990, but it feels very much like an 80s or 70s film rather than a 90s one. The film grain, the acting, and the music choices anchor it in an earlier era, and as the film drifts from the 50s into the early 80s, it never quite stopped holding on to its earliest time periods.

One thing that stood out in the early chapters was how Scorsese leans hard on a freeze frame narrative device, in which Ray Liotta’s character can pontificate about his past without the film’s action running ahead of him. It’s an odd technique that I don’t recall him utilizing nearly so often in his other pictures. It had the overall impact of slowing down the picture to start, which may well have been his intent. At 146 minutes, it felt at times more like a solid 180+ minute picture.

A big surprise for me was that Ray Liotta was the real lead of this picture. Everything about this movie that had drifted into my general pop culture knowledge involved Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro. Many of the lines of dialogue that were likely strong, memorable moments to original viewing have long since been milked of any vitality by the parodies that have followed (especially Pesci’s infamous scene where he busts Liotta’s balls over a simple compliment to the point where we soon fear violence will break out).  Liotta’s performance as a somewhat dim-witted and at-times decent man contrasted well with his co-stars, and served as a strong narrator who at times faded a little too much in the background against his more colorful co-stars.

The stand-out performance here was Joe Pesci’s, of course. I loathed Pesci’s character from the first minute he was on screen until he finally took a bullet. Pesci’s performance here was great, definitely the kind of thing he specialized in for years–characters that you absolutely loved to hate.  Pesci absolutely earned his Best Supporting Oscar in this picture, and as time goes on, his performance as that unhinged and unpredictable man will linger even as other memories of Goodfellas will fade.

If I had to summarize this movie, I would say: it’s about sharks in suits who spend a lot of time treating women like shit and then come to morally appropriate ends. It’s not a masterpiece of cinema like The Godfather and it’s not probably even as memorable a movie overall as even Casino. Scorsese’s ability to get memorable acting work out of these actors in goodfella wise-guy roles is on display here as usual, but structurally, and from a story-telling standpoint, it doesn’t stand up to the test of time. It ranks in the middle of Scorese’s oeuvre for me, but that’s still better than an awful lot of cinema out there.

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All the things on my mind lately (a semi-condensed list)

Any one of these thoughts could be the subject of a carefully written blog post, but my thoughts around all of them are difficult to congeal enough to fit into this list.  When social media asks “what’s on your mind?” I don’t think they intend for us to answer truthfully.  The actual things on my mind lately would not be easily commodified.  Increasingly, I’m not comfortable giving them my personal life as a medium through which to sell Russian propaganda and pay-to-win freemium games.   Back to the blog we go, perhaps this time for good. Here’s some of what I think about lately in the quiet moments between the periods of work.

  1. The internet (social media) divides us specifically as it brings us together generally. People have been never more informed on what those around them are thinking or believing, and having access to this information has ruined us.  Meanwhile, companies like Facebook have taken the human instinct to be connected and piggy-backed upon this with a horrifying tool of mass information gathering that allows bad faith entities to further drive wedges between us. When the internet was little more than a glorified home shopping network combined with a digital Encyclopedia Britannica, it was intellectually useful, and socially neutral.  I would see us go back to that internet. I am seriously considering personally returning to that internet.
  2. Even though I worry about item #1, I struggle to put my beliefs into action.  Ideally, I would rather read a book than read another Facebook diatribe or another fifteen plus thread of tweets, but I find myself reading these things in great volumes over books constantly.  Am I addicted to screens? The information? Something else? Does it matter if I’m addicted when everyone else seems to be?  How can I break this cycle and return to deeper thinking and meaning?  I sometimes feel as if I have trapped myself in an intellectual tide pool, and it’s safe here, but I am slowly starving myself of a meaning only found in the depths.
  3. Shallow thoughts are my constant companion. I find myself formulating opinions not on the basis of my own thoughts but on the basis of what my political or social tribe seems to formulate, and I have found myself becoming swept up in a tidal wave of public opinion, carried forward with beliefs that don’t quite sit right.  I find myself wanting more time for contemplation.  I feel compelled by the pace of internet life to decide how I feel before I even feel anything.  I would challenge anyone who held opinions other than mine for going along with their tribe — why don’t I consider the source of my own conclusions and opinions more often?
  4. The modern internet, I fear, was a mistake, and though it provides everything in my life from friendships to my way of living, I wonder if it is at the cost of deeper meaning and satisfaction in life.  I worry that my superficial connections online prevent me from forming more meaningful ones on a local level.
  5.  My community is pretty white, however, as is my family.  Is my interest in helping my own communities and families a sign that I’m racist?  I worry that my desire to bring those in my family and my local communities back into something like the Democratic party means I’m secretly a white supremacist.  I worry that my concern for why my male peers no longer read, why so many of them seem so angry, means I’m sexist in a way I don’t see clearly.  How deeply can we lie to ourselves without having any hint of the truth? I worry often that deep inside, I’m all those things I do not like. Do I dislike them because I think they are morally wrong, or do I dislike them because I dislike myself?  What should I do about any of this?
  6. I worry at a secret notion.  It says that the best action I could take for the advancement of marginalized writers is to never write another thing again. To step aside.  The world is screaming that it has had enough of the opinions and thoughts of cis-hetero white men.  I want to do the right thing, but I am not sure if it is the right thing if it means giving up on my own dreams.  Part of me says, don’t give up. Continue to chase your dream and don’t listen, as part of the world will always want you to be give up no matter who or what you are.  Another part wonders if it my intent is to continue writing means I am in fact the monster I fear.
  7.  I watch my son grow up and I wonder if we are all born so inherently in touch with joy and happiness, or if that is something special to him?  Do our lives rob us of that connection, or do we not all get it to start?  How much was I like him when I was his age?  What is the nature and what is the nurture in the happiness of a child? And how do I protect his innocent happiness for as long possible?  Does anything matter more than that?
  8. Is an apocalypse or a famine the only way I will ever find to lose weight? How much longer can this husk of a shell put up with the damage I deal to it through inattention?
  9. Am I giving my business the attention it needs?  Should I be working harder, making even more money when possible? How do I know when is enough?
  10.  Having read over this list, I wonder, am I depressed right now? Or do I need a nap and a vacation? There’s at least one question I know how to answer with some certainty.

I guess most of what I am thinking about is, what does it mean to be a good person? How can I be a good person, or at least a better one?  What is meaningful and important to me in my life, and how do I accomplish that?  Perhaps a month of low-density work and travel will help me get my head around these thoughts and questions and figure out a way to become more comfortable with them.  Here’s hoping, as I’ll be headed to a small town in France for a month this summer.

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The Sunday Shift : Serving Up Great Chicken With a Side Helping of Ass Kickin’

While getting ready to tackle my day this morning, I came up with a TV show or comic book series pitch. It’s called : SUNDAY SHIFT.  The proper names are mostly placeholders right now, but the general basic concept was too much fun not to share.

JAMES HERO (JIMMY) is your typical disaffected 19 year old dork; he loves playing video games and looking for love, and mostly he’d rather be doing either of those things than working his day job for the pious fast food chain, WWCD (Winner Winner Chicken Dinner). WWCD is known to all for making pretty tasty chicken, but their reputation as a company owned by self-righteous Christians drives Jimmy to lie to his friends about where he works. Still, he’s a hard worker with a mysterious family history, perhaps even a legacy.  His commitment to a job done well catches the eye of his manager, MACE SOLOMON. Mace looks less like a fast food manager and more like a grizzled war veteran, and speaks very cryptically in strange, half-mangled aphorisms.   He’s missing a hand, which everyone says is due to a fryer accident at his last job.

One day after a particularly painful failure of an attempt to ask out the cute girl next door right after learning that he’s at risk of flunking out of college, Jimmy stops by to pick up his next week’s work schedule. To his confusion, he learns he’s been scheduled to work the Sunday shift… only everybody knows WWCD is closed on Sundays.

Mace tells Jimmy to show up at 11:59 PM on Saturday night, and not a minute later, claiming that they take the night to clean the store from top to bottom.

When Jimmy shows up to work his first late shift, he learns that not all is as it appears at WWCD. At the stroke of midnight, a gong sound rings out, and Mace rips off his fast food uniform to reveal tactical body armor. Hidden panels spring open to reveal weapons where there should be condiments. And a horde of demon-possessed zombie people fill the parking lot, screaming for Mace and Jimmy’s blood.

The entire building is weaponized and trapped.  Playground equipment emits jets of flame to roast baddies.  Straw dispensers turn into mini machine guns firing weaponized tubes of plastic at the horde.  Mace tosses Jimmy a shotgun and tells him that his only job now to protect the walk-in freezer with his life.

At one point, Jimmy’s cute girl neighbor nearly rips his head off, before Mace blows her away. “You killed a girl I kind of think I love!” “Don’t worry about it! She’ll get better!” Or patter to that effect.

Together, they fight off the waves of evil until, as the first slivers of dawn sunlight creep over horizon, the horde become normal people again, the dead rising as if never wounded, and they confusedly wander home, wondering what they drank last night.

Mace takes Jimmy for a diner breakfast where he explains the true nature and reason for WWCD. The founders of the company aren’t fundamentalist Christians. They’re actually an ancient order of druids, responsible for protecting the sacred places of power all across the United States and the world.  WWCD is a front that alllows them to buy up property and build defensive structures on these locations to protect them from the attacking forces of evil.

Sunday being the day that the Gods rest throughout many religions, this is the day that evil strikes.  So WWCD are closed on Sunday to the public so that they can do their “real” job which is fighting the evil.  That doesn’t mean that evil rests during the rest of the week… Mace and Jimmy have to keep a careful eye on things, as evil resorts to sneakier ways the rest of the week.

Mace has been there since the beginning, but he’s getting old, and he lost a previous WWCD to evil forces, which is now a Burger Hut (the evil forces operate their own fast food cover chain too).  He’s not got much longer in this game before they finally take him down, so he’s decided to train Jimmy to be his assistant manager.  Together, they will take down the evil across town at the Burger Hut and he will pass the torch to Jimmy.

Jimmy’s going to need help if he’s going to make it as the new assistant manager, so his first job will be to recruit co-workers to help him on the SUNDAY SHIFT.  How will he balance his school life, love life, pretend work life, and defender of the world life?  He’ll be terrible at it, and it will be hilarious to watch.

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The Self-Employed Life – Happier, but Less Secure

Anyone who knows me (and I doubt you’re reading this blog unless you know me) knows that I’ve been self-employed as a web developer for going on 10 years now.  I have a lot of thoughts about the self-employed life, but first, a study that validates them:

The study by Professor Peter Warr from the Management School and Professor Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter found that despite working longer hours and having less job security, self-employed workers were among the happiest with more freedom and control over their work life.

Self-employed people happier and more engaged at work, study finds – News – Faculty of Social Sciences – Faculties – The University of Sheffield

 

Longer hours?  Check!  Less job security?  Sort of!

I definitely work generally more hours than I did before I was a freelancer.  This is because half the jobs I’ve held as an adult couldn’t produce enough work to keep me busy.  At least one corporate job I had gave me something like 4-5 hours of work. Not per day. Per week. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone that I was laid off from that job at the start of the recession. I’d already been looking for something more interesting for a few months.

As a freelancer with a fairly well valued skillset (web development), I find myself employed mostly to the degree I want, and no more or less.  I’m very lucky in this  My billable hours goal for any given week is 20-25 hours, more if I want to buy a new toy of some sort, or more just because the work is interesting.  Of course, I work far more hours than that, but that’s how much of my time needs to earn.  And one great thing about being self-employed is, while the income is more variable, you see the writing on the wall long before the pink slip shows up.  The first time I was laid off in 2008, I was caught off-guard, if not entirely surprised. I was laid off a few months later from another job. I’ll never be surprised by someone wielding the ax again; because if anyone wields it, it will be me.  And that kind of hyper-uncertainty back in the Bad Old Times made self-employment seem far more stable even in the beginning.

The aspect of this study I do not dispute is that I have far more personal freedom than before.  If I want to take a walk, or a day off, I take a day off or go for a walk. If a project comes in that I’m not well suited for,  I can turn it down (provided I don’t need the money desperately).  In general, more personal freedom has led to higher levels of personal happiness.  Being able to do what I want, when I want, without ridiculous office place rules mucking things up has been wonderful. The downside on the happiness issue is, with great responsibility comes great anxiety. There have been times when I’ve been stressed to my breaking point by making to all continue to work.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re like me at all and you get a shot, I recommend giving it a chance. You might find your quality of life significantly improved by it.

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