Reset: Chapter Six: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (3)

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As Joe looked up at the grand Victorian that served as ZZN’s base of operations, he began to have mixed feelings about partying with a bunch of college kids. Though he was in his college-aged body, his mind was firmly planted in his depressive, disillusioned mid-thirties.

Revelers crammed the house, girls clad only in bikini tops raising their red plastic cups as they drifted in and out amongst the sea of brothers and pledges. One particularly well-endowed young lady leaned towards them from the wrap-around porch and beckoned them to come inside.

“Wonder what her father would think of this,” Joe muttered.

“Don’t know, don’t care.” said Nick. “All I know is that I think we made the right choice.”

“Absolutely,” said Jonesy.

Joe knew why Nick had chosen ZZN, of course. They discussed it as they set up their dorm room in Paxton Hall before heading out with Carlos and Jonesy. The two of them had still ended up roomies, the head of housing honoring their long-shot request. Thank God Nick had set The Machine to deposit them back here after their parents had left for Lowell; he wasn’t ready to see his family. Not like this.

“Are you sure we aren’t dreaming?” he had said to Nick as they bunked their beds. “I had a dream kind of like this tonight, the first time we were in college. I woke up and instead of being a freshman here I was a freshman in high school again. It was horrifying. Maybe The Machine knocked us out. Maybe you’re not really here and I’m talking to myself. Maybe–”

“Maybe you’re babbling,” said Nick. “We’re here, this is real, and we’ve just got to get used to it. Now shut up and lift.”

“Do you think this has ever happened before? Besides the tests, I mean? What if this wasn’t the first time The Machine had been built, or used? If it affects the whole world, how many shifts have there been? What if time never progressed past ours?”

“I guess we’ll find out if we end up back at ChronoCorp a dozen or so years from now,” said Nick. “Less talk, more bunkbeds.”

They got the beds together, Nick almost getting a finger smashed between them, and proceeded to secure the beds tight.

When we end up back at ChronoCorp,” said Joe, tightening a bolt.

“Joe. Joe, listen to me. The idea of this is to change things. What part of that don’t you understand?”

“I don’t want to change things, Nick.” He held back the tears, always close by. “I want my son back. I don’t know why you don’t understand this.”

Nick put his wrench on one of the dressers and sat down on the bare mattress, patting a spot next to him. “Take a seat. Listen: There’s nothing that says doing everything step-by-step like we did before is going to lead to the exact same outcome. There are a million variables between now and the birth of your son. A billion. Let’s say you marry Sandra again. Who’s to say that your firstborn will be Jason?”

Nick was right, of course, but that didn’t stop Joe’s heart from being torn apart. He put his head in his hands and began to cry.

“I’m sorry, Joe,” said Nick softly. “I’ve gotten you into a pretty big mess. But I promise you we’ll make the best of it. Some good will come out of this. I know it will.”

Joe straightened up. He had no choice. Why cry about it?  With a few last sniffles, he said: “Zeta Zeta Nu, right?”

“Right. And we can do more. Look at Carlos and Jonesy. They were like us: Full of dreams that went nowhere. We can help them, Joe. We can help a lot of people.”

“But what if things turned out the way they did for a reason?”

Nick stood up, almost bonking his head on the upper bed. “What about free will, right? God gave us free will for a reason. Things aren’t fated, Joe. Things don’t just happen ‘for a reason.’ It’s up to us.”

“It sure feels like we’re the ones playing God. I don’t recall the Almighty ever turning back time.”

Nick raised a finger, a passionate advocate making his closing argument to the jury. “But He could! And who’s to say He hasn’t? We wouldn’t know.”

Maddeningly, like usual, Nick had a point. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Six: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (3)”

Book Reviews: Comparing and Contrasting Never Enough by Michael D’Antonio and MAGA Mindset by Mike Cernovich

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You can't get away from Donald Trump. He's the President. As with Barack Obama, Trump has those who worship his every move and those who hate his stinking guts.

But I am not here to praise him nor to bury him. No, I'm not even here to talk politics.

I'm here to talk books.

Regardless of your personal feelings, Trump is President. And it's always interesting, at least to me, to learn about our elected officials and see what makes them tick. Because, to be honest, one has to be a little touched in the head to want to go into politics. And so, I read (actually, listened) to two books about the man, one that painted him in a distinctly negative light, and another that was far more flattering.

Let's face it: Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is an interesting cat. And he did beat both a veritable army of GOP insiders and the most favored candidate in American history, to win the election.

[Full disclosure: I voted for the guy. Mainly because, as a reluctant Republican, I have grown so disgusted with the party as I have with the Democrats, and Washington in general, that I relished the idea of sending a giant, human middle finger to the entire establishment. Regardless, one does have to admire his ability to accomplish what he sets out to do, even if you dislike him politically or personally. I felt much the same about Barack Obama (whom I did not vote for, twice–but still, the man knows how to accomplish what he wants and is also an interesting guy. There's a lesson there for all of us.)]

First up, the more "negative" book, Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by author and journalist Michael D'Antonio, published in 2015. I know that in 2016 D'Antonio updated the book and re-christened it The Truth About Trump, but I listened to the audio version, borrowed by my wife from our local library for me to listen to during my many long car trips between the D.C. Metro area and New England I had to make in the recent past.

Reviews of this book call it “A carefully reported and fair-minded account" (USA Today), “A brisk and entertaining read, drawing on interviews and documents and distilling decades' worth of news coverage to tell the story of Trump's childhood, family, business deals, and political forays” (The Washington Post), and "Balanced, well sourced, and perfectly timed" (Financial Times (UK)). Me, I find these claims of balance and a lack of bias laughable.

Let's get it out of the way: D'Antonio clearly does not like Trump. That said, the book is meticulously researched, well-written and constructed, and sheds a lot of light on Trump and what makes him tick.

Trump's family history is pretty fascinating, with his hellraising and, quite frankly, dishonest and kind of sleazy grandfather (who first built, and then lost, the family fortune), to his father Fred who, through hard work and good timing, nearly single-handedly rebuild the family fortune, to Donald himself, the story of the Trumps is one of sheer determination and will. No one will tell ANY of these men that they cannot do something, and they all have a knack for sniffing out an opportunity and exploiting it . . . even if that involves some unsavory steps along the way.

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What D'Antonio discusses definitely raises some red flags (and sensationally hints at far more sinister doings without much in the way of evidence, but I digress) about Trump's temperament and proclivities–his penchant for stretching the truth, if not outright lying; his habit of bending the rules to benefit himself and his family, if not outright breaking them; insinuating that he is a virulent racist and anti-Semite with no real proof; his cozy relationship with corrupt attorney Roy Cohn . . . but was it enough to make me pull the lever for his opponent? Absolutely not. For all of his vices–greed, arrogance, women, and a pathological inability to not fight back seem to be Donald's vices–to me at least, Hillary Clinton was far worse.

And yet, through it all, Trump comes across as an enthusiastic builder with an almost childlike sense of wonder about everything. One can imagine him looking at a building he fought tooth-and-nail to get built and being like, "Holy cow, can you believe it?" He clearly also believed in his designers and architects, going to the mat for many of them. And he, obviously, believes in himself.

He also tends to, let's say, exaggerate his accomplishments and disparage those of his opponents with stereotypical New York bravado. Continue reading “Book Reviews: Comparing and Contrasting Never Enough by Michael D’Antonio and MAGA Mindset by Mike Cernovich”

Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier sure knows how to start a story off with a bang.

The third installment of his Soul Cycle trilogy (as of now) brings back one of Book I's best characters: Teg Cross! And he's as badass as ever.

What begins as a mission for survivors of the galaxy-shattering cataclysm turns into a battle against the forces of the Void intent on remaking the world in its image.

If you watched Star Wars and thought, "Not enough magic or monsters"; if you're into horror and ask yourself, "Where are the spaceships?"; and if you're into Dune and keep wondering "Where are all the good books?", then the Soul Cycle series is right in your wheelhouse.

Teg isn't the only returning character from the first book here, and allies and enemies from Book II also feature prominently. And of course, new friends and foes appear and make their impact felt. To say anymore would spoil things, but just let's say that the interaction between these disparate personalities is great.

It also helps that Brian can write, keeping the action fast-paced, keeping the danger right at the protagonists' heels, and giving few respites from the (almost exhausting) breakneck pace.

Oh, and we get to see more cool planets.

As I try to do in my book reviews, let's highlight a few key things that really made The Secret Kings work, and discuss why.

Characters and Conflict:

It's great seeing characters like Teg and Xander, Astlin and Nakvin, and Jaren and Tefler cross paths…and deal with villains like Kelgrun, Fallon, and Vaun Mordechai.

These interactions feel natural, and friendships and friction created when they all meet is completely in-character; nothing seems out of place. Brian gives the sense that, were these characters real and sitting in a room together, this is how they would act.

The newcomers, like Izlaril, Lykaon, Gein, Anris, the Anomians, and Celwen are welcome additions to the cast.

And the conflict! Not always armed hostility, but even the good guys don't always get along.

In screenwriting, there's a principle that also applies to novels, that every scene needs conflict, or at least a goal. You can broadly call this a reason for existing: Does it further the story? Does it reveal something about a character? Could you cut it out and lose nothing of the story? Continue reading “Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier”

Names and Legacies

Children's movies can sometimes present a purer message than fare aimed at adults, if you can call superhero movies, hyper-vulgar comedies, and blood-splattered action-fests "adult."

It strikes me that kids' movies, the good ones at least, have to make their message accessible and understandable while keeping the movie actually entertainingthat things like craftsmanship and universal themes and even good scriptwriting.

Shocking, outdated concepts, I know.

Anyway, I took my son to see Cars 3recently, and I was not expecting to see a treatise about aging and legacies from a movie about anthropomorphic vehicles, but I did. I know Pixar is known for high-quality children's entertainment, but still: what an interesting time to be alive.

But stories tell us things in a way that the mere recitation of facts can never hope to match, and the movie stuck with me.

So with legacies on the mind, I started to think about my own, and what I hope to leave behind for my son, any future children I hopefully have, and their children and grandchildren.

I started thinking about names and a question came to mind, or more appropriately, a theme:

Is it better to be unique–like everyone else claims to be? Or is it better to be meaningful? Continue reading “Names and Legacies”

Reset: Chapter Five: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (2)

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“Whoa. You guys are pretty cool,” said Jonesy.

“I know,” said Nick, smiling at the smaller boy as he picked gooey cheese off of a breadstick.

Jonesy was short and slight with shaggy brown hair and a round cherub’s face, looking like an overgrown toddler. He’d eventually start to look somewhat more grown-up, but Scott Jones would never lose that boyish roundness.

So far, the day and their conversation was progressing as it had all those years ago as they sat at the Hollister House of Pizza in downtown Hollister, New Hampshire, home of New Hampshire University, the Granite State’s finest, largest, and most expensive institute of higher learning.

They ate as they spoke in a cautiously open manner, the two pairs of friends feeling each other out. Joe felt more like an outside observer than an actual participant, the words and actions coming unbidden. He had no way of remembering verbatim what had been said over a dozen years ago, yet he somehow knew that this was it.

“So you guys went to high school together?” asked Carlos. He was taller than Jonesy, with an angular face and a tight-lipped set to his jaw. His hair, shaved nearly to the scalp, would progressively grow longer and puffier as the years went by.

“Yeah. And law school too,” said Joe, before the realization hit him that this was not a part of the original conversation.

Carlos and Jonesy looked at him like he was having a stroke or something, but there was no cosmic jolt, no tolling of a divine bell marking his anachronistic error.

Going to go to law school,” said Nick, poking Joe with his elbow. “We’re going to law school. That’s the plan. Right?”

“Right,” said Joe. He took a hasty gulp of soda.

“Wait a minute,” Carlos said to Nick.

“Didn’t you just say you were into computers?”

“Yeah? So? Ever heard of a patent attorney?” said Nick.

Carlos said nothing. He picked up a slice of pizza and took a desultory bite.

“My brother’s in law school,” said Jonesy.

“Let me guess: he hates it,” said Nick.

“How’d you know?”

“Magic.” He took a swig of soda. “Everybody hates being a lawyer.”

“Then why do you want to go to law school?” asked Carlos.

“Good question,” said Nick. “Joe?”

“I don’t know,” he said. He wanted to get up and leave. But Jonesy and Carlos were good guys and for some reason he wanted to make sure they all still became friends. Acting like things were normal helped keep him from thinking about the enormity of his situation. “I guess I never really thought about it.”

“Which is pretty stupid for people who want to be lawyers,” said Nick, “but I digress.”

“Well I know what I’m going to do,” said Carlos. “And I know why I’m going to do it. I’m going to be a composer.”

“Yeah, for video game music,” said Jonesy. “Games I’m going to design.”

Joe, who knew that Jonesy ended up writing business software and that Carlos would soon switch his major to business and become a major player on Wall Street, said nothing.

But not Nick. Nick was always one step ahead of everybody. “Then let’s make sure that happens! Maybe we’ll join you and found a company together. You’ll need lawyers. What do you say, Joe?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Joe’s an idea guy,” said Nick. “He likes to write. Right?”

“Right,” said Joe flatly.

“Cool,” said Jonesy. “So why’d you guys come to NHU?”

Nicked shrugged. “The weather. The beaches. The bar scene. The same reasons everybody comes here.”

“I’m serious. You guys are from Mass. In-state tuition’s high enough in New Hampshire. Out-of-state must be crazy.”

“We just really wanted to get out of Lowell,” said Nick. “Everybody we went to high school goes to UMass. We needed a change of scenery.”

“Yeah,” said Joe. He was getting annoyed with Nick’s upbeat unconcern. Nick was normally glib, but he had been high as of late. Now, completely sober and fully aware of things, he acted like just as much of a dilettante. It was highly annoying and honestly quite shocking.

“Well, I’m from Hollister, and I still went here,” said Jonesy. “It’s a cool place. I think you’ll like it.”

“I’m from Manchester,” said Carlos. “Half of my high school ends up here. My sister too, but she loved it.”

“Then I guess we’re one big happy family,” said Nick. He elbowed Joe playfully. “Joe’s the mom. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Five: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (2)”

Letting Things Breathe: The Power of Rhythm 

Rhythm

I move fast.

It’s just how I am. My natural inclination is to make quick, precise, sometimes jerky movements designed to do what I need to get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. My wife likens it to a bird, which isn’t necessarily the best animal to be compared to, unless it’s a hawk or falcon or other kick-ass bird of prey.

“Enough about birds!” you might be saying now. “I didn’t think this was an ornithology blog!”

And it’s not. Not yet, at least. But birds do have their own sense of rhythm.

“Rhythm!” you’re saying now. “I like rhythm! Music, right?”

Exactly.

My natural rhythm, the tendency to be make quick movements, spills over into other aspects of my life: I walk fast. I talk fast. And I tend to think fast.

Thinking fast sounds good, right? But you’d be surprised–reaching a conclusion quickly, perhaps quicker than other people, sometimes means that you’re not thinking things through.

Slow down . . . breathe . . . 

This is where the idea of rhythm comes in. Think about music. If the drummer or the guitar player is doing a solo the entire time, it would get kind of boring, wouldn’t it?

Or a movie that’s 90 minutes of bloody action. It sounds cool, sure. But it works far better in theory than in practice.

But I like the music anaolgy better, because so much of life resembles music.

So much can resemble a bloody action movie too, but I digress. Back to music.

One of my favorite drummers of all time is the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.

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I know, I know, everyone loves Bonzo. But I’ll tell you why, among other reasons, he’s in my drummer top three:

He didn’t overplay. He could, but he didn’t. Continue reading “Letting Things Breathe: The Power of Rhythm “

Get Some Help

I'm not going to lie: famous, successful, and beloved people committing suicide freaks me out. Anyone killing themselves is terrible, but the rich and famous seem to have fewer reasons to do so. Don't they?

Of course not. There are many reasons why people take their own life, and those who seemingly "have it all" also have as many mental and emotional issues as the rest of us.

And like the rest of us, they didn't get the needed help that may have prevented this.

Help is a funny thing. We all know it's good, but so few of us ask for it when we should. And this doesn't just go for mental health issues, but any aspect in life.

I've had recent, chaotic experiences that brought this home. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and I found myself overwhelmed. It was not my finest moment. I survived with minimum damage, but it was still brutal.

So focused on staying afloat, I didn't even think to ask for help from anyone. I also kept agreeing to take on more duties, because of the "I can do it!" attitude that some may mistake for stubbornness, but I like to call…

Okay, it's stubbornness.

But the point is this: people like to take on too many burdens, and delude ourselves into thinking we can handle it all.

We can't. Not always.

And since I'm a man, and men kill themselves at appalling rates, and I'm also a white man, and white men kill themselves at an even more appalling rate, and I tend to write about what I know, I'd like to share a hypothesis as to why men tend to not ask for help:

Most of the available resources are women.

In fact, as recently as 2013, there were 2.1 female psychologists for every male one.

There are many reasons for this gap, which mirrors the general widening gap in educational attainment, and the reasons for this could open up another whole can of worms that I don't want to get in to here.

But before you call me a "misogynistic, patriarchal, heterosexual subhuman," hear me out: I'm not saying it's a good or a bad thing; it just is. Maybe it's societal. Maybe it's biological. I have a strong suspicion that it's a bit of both. Continue reading “Get Some Help”