Happy New Year–Now Let’s Get This Ball Rolling

I need to see how possible it is to crop GIFs while retaining the motion, if only so I can clean up this post’s featured image some day.  Never forget, people: Google is your friend, at least if you can’t take multimedia classes.  I’ve learned a lot of DIY skills through Google (and YouTube, for that matter), and while I’m no expert, I’m smarter than before I started searching.

maxresdefaultAt any rate, as the doubtless imaginative title of this post suggests, I’m all full of New Year cheer, and eager to get underway with my resolutions.  All the more remarkable about it is the fact that, by and large, I don’t formally make resolutions, at least not during New Year season, as I find them arbitrary, trite setups for failure that can really be made at any point during a given year with equal importance.  And I’d say that’s still a relevant attitude I sport towards them in general, so it’s fair to say that I’m not going to be making any new resolutions for the coming year.

But new resolutions aren’t a requirement these days, as I have plenty of old ones I’ve either failed at or left behind, as well as existing ones that, while I haven’t failed, might do with a new twist.  Those are the resolutions I’m happy to focus on for the coming year. Here are some ideas

  1. Get healthy–or at least, heathier. Always easily said, I’ve had my ups and downs when it comes to getting fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. On the down side, I was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic last year, but as a result, I’ve implemented at least a basic exercise regiment that has stuck pretty well these last few months. My biggest enemy here tends to be stress, as it makes me go to comfort food whenever things get tough.  There are a few ways I can continue to improve and uphold this goal:
    1. Take up a more intense form of exercise, such as martial arts.
    2. Get better at avoiding sugars, such as sodas and desserts.
    3. Eat less in general, while doing more.
  2. Continue to write, and write more.  I once wrote in a blog every day for six straight months, and this was back when I had a full-time job, so I know I can do more writing than I recently have been.  I profess to want to write, and yet I way too often find myself wasting time on video games, Youtube, and other idle pursuits.  Stress, again, tends to be the enemy here, so I should probably look into ways to manage it.  Specific to writing, a few possible goals are spinning in my head, among them:
    1. Resurrecting 187,500.  This is a 500-words per day mandate, at the end of the year of which I should have 187,500 words written.  I’ll detail the rules of this self-created goal some other time, but it’s significant that each year I’ve tried to accomplish it, I’ve failed.
    2. Creating themed day posts for my blog. Madcap Mondays, Terrible Tuesdays, things like that.  We’ll see.
    3. Find a writing exercise every day, and do them.
    4. Work on my novel(s).
    5. Write X number of {short stories, articles, novel excerpts, etc.} per Y unit of time.  Taking suggestions on how much of what in what amounts of time.
  3. Work towards a writing career.  Similar to the previous resolution, it’s more focused on publication and earning income.  Some possibilities:
    1. Finish a novel manuscript and start shopping it around.
    2. Enter x number of writing contests this year.
    3. Find websites and magazines that pay for writing, and start submitting applications.
  4. Make things.  So many possibilities with this one.  Writing is technically included, I suppose, but I’m thinking in a more broad sense.  Some examples:
    1. Learn to play an instrument (make music).
    2. Create superhero costume parts/pieces (make cosplay).
    3. Raspberry pi/arduino projects (make fun and useful technology).
  5. Read more–or at least, consume more audiobooks and podcasts.  Aside from graphic novels, which I love, I just haven’t found much time to actually sit down and read.  I’ve found that audiobooks and podcasts have been much more conducive for when I’m doing things like exercise, driving across town, or simply working on chores, writing, or other tasks.  Some things I’ve considered:
    1. Ask friends for podcast recommendations.  Try out a new podcast every week, and expand my current base of podcasts.
    2. Listen to both fiction and nonfiction in audiobook form.  I’m loving The Dresden Files so far (James Marsters reads them!), and am almost done with Stephen King’s On Writing, which he narrates.
    3. Where possible, listen to these things for free.  Library cards are your friends in this endeavor.
  6. Educate and teach others.  I do this more or less every day as a librarian (case in point: want to learn how to use your tablet or smartphone to access your library’s e-books and e-audiobooks? I and other librarians can help you!), but I’m hoping to do so this year in a more formalized sense.  Some ideas:
    1. Host a program or programs at work on a topic I’m knowledgeable in.
    2. Participate on a panel at a conference or convention on a topic I’m good at.

Quite the list there, eh?  I’ve been working on a lot of these for a long time, and hopefully can just build on them as the years go on.  There may be more new ones as the year continues, and I reserve the right to modify or abandon these as I choose (at my own risk, of course–I’m sure if I eat too many more chocolates, I’ll go into a diabetic coma), but this is a good base from which to work as I try to make 2017 as good a year as I can.  It is my hope that each and every one of you can achieve the goals and dreams you set for yourself this year.

75cfb75b958e159f647988b804a4ce36aa1d2ace5be9328ddb1eaf505ec4e1e1Happy 2017, and may it be a great year for us all!  Now, let’s get this ball rolling, and knock it out of the park as best we can.

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Yes, People Blame 2016 on Their Grief, and That’s Okay

It’s been a near-universal constant that 2016 has been a difficult year.  Between the deaths of high-profile celebrities and entertainers, as well as political upheavals, it pretty much goes without saying that 2016 was fraught with many an infamous moment. Heck, 2016 may be a hurtful year to you if you’re a rabid enough White Sox fan (something I say with authority–I’ve seen some appalling words and behavior from White Sox fans directed at Cubs enthusiasts).

It’s gotten to the point that people blaming the year itself has become the default response whenever we hear about another celebrity death.  It’s as if 2016 has become the personification of death and despair itself:

  • “Damn you 2016, don’t you DARE take Carrie Fisher from us!”
  • “I’m done with you, 2016.  WHY did you take Anton Yelchin from us?!”
  • “Omg, 2016, how could you allow a giant Oompa-Loompa to take the White House?”
These are certainly not the most rational of responses, but as most of them are fueled by grief, they make a certain amount of sense.  2016 is certainly the common denominator for a number of grief-inducing events, from the deaths of beloved entertainers such as David Bowie and Alan Rickman to the Brexit decision and the 2016 US election, depending on how you view your politics. A lot of people had a lot of emotional capital invested in these people or situations, and when they imploded or expired, it’s natural that a grief response would follow.
But perhaps inevitably, there is an emerging backlash rearing its head online.
I’ve lately been seeing a lot of posts denigrating people for “blaming 2016” for the terrible things that have happened over the last 12 months.  These sentiments are typically coached in terms of pedantic rationalism, with posters bemoaning people’s lack of self-awareness and sense of accountability; or in a simple grumpiness that “things happen” and that people blaming a year makes said poster sick.  I’m now just waiting for someone to swoop in with the “time is a social construct, and doesn’t really exist, and by blaming a unit of time for your problems you are showing how small you are,” argument.
Such posts may give their originators a temporary sense of superiority, or allow them to think themselves smarter than the average bear, but all it really does is show them to be far too concerned with how others grieve.  I think it’s a reasonable assumption that most of the people cursing 2016 don’t actually think it’s a person or entity capable of deliberately wreaking havoc on the things and people we love.  It’s an obviously irrational act, born from an emotion that is typically not known for inducing calm deliberation in those afflicted with it.
Step off and let people feel what they feel, for crying out loud.
 
2016 HAS been an unusually turbulent year, and some people choose to grieve by collectively blaming the year, much the same way they celebrate the fandoms they love. Just because one doesn’t see the appeal of Star Wars, Star Trek, or Doctor Who doesn’t mean that person should make fun of others for liking them.  By the same measure, someone doesn’t respond to these events the same way as others should not try to browbeat people into thinking and feeling the way they do.
better_than_youIf you’re one of those folks who feels the need to make these snarky response posts, take my advice and just let people grieve in the way that most fits them.  I know it may be a little annoying, but it’s not like it isn’t coming from a genuine place.  Trying to put people in their “place” for their venting only makes you come off as douchey, elitist, and far too concerned with others’s responses to things that don’t concern you. You’re just a half step removed from being a bully.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, But Not Until These Things Happen

For me, the holidays are a fairly arbitrary thing.  They signify the end of the year is approaching, and there are the requisite get-togethers, parties, and feasts that tend to happen around them.  Many of the other trappings–decorating the house, putting up a Christmas tree, wading into the warzones shopping lines to get gifts for others–are catch as catch can: I’ll do them if time/energy/money/inclination allow, but I don’t really think to do them that often.  The stress simply isn’t worth it most of the time.

There are, however, two conditions that have to be met before I personally get into “the Christmas spirit,” where I’ll allow myself to admit that it’s now the thick of the holiday season and maybe even start thinking yuletide thoughts.  This very personal, and therefore likely rather eccentric short list is something that has simply become a necessity for me over the years, and hasn’t altered in as long as I can remember.  If you want to get me to come out and go Christmas caroling with you–a doozy of a proposition in any case–then I’d suggest you make sure the following conditions already have been met.

5a2fe25f79d1cc38daaa3799445a51f3First, bring me the Little Debbie’s Christmas Tree Cakes.  And not just any kind, I want the GOOD ones, the chocolate ones.  I’ve seen a lot more of the white cream chocolate cakes in recent years, as well as an emerging green frosted variety, and I’ve never cared for them.  These confections are only made during the holiday months, and I start to see them between Halloween and Thanksgiving, when the year’s candy has gone on sale at the grocery stores.  I require at least a couple packages of these to chomp on throughout the season, to remind me both how sweet life can be at this time of year and how much I like to gamble with my blood sugar levels.

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Second, I must view at least one of the two most sacred of Christmas movies.
 There can be little argument that one of the best–if indeed not the best–Christmas films is Die Hard. Between the humor, action, and memorable lines and characters,  it’s a standout in a veritable sea of movies competing for your attention during any given holiday national-lampoons-christmas-vacation-11457season.  If Bruce Willis isn’t lecturing loudly to an emergency call handler about how he’s not ordering a pizza, he’s scrawling messages about how he now has a gun (ho ho ho!) to the assailants of the office Christmas party he finds himself at.  The other most sacred of Christmas films, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, is a shocking yet delightful documentary on just how stressful the holidays can be, as viewed through the eyes of Chevy Chase’s ever-suffering Clark Griswold.  Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and how he manages to make it through the holidays without losing his mind–or his family, for that matter–is nothing short of a miracle.

So, there you have it.  Insofar as this aspiring writer is concerned, it’s not the Christmas season–and I’m not in the “Christmas spirit”–until I’m sugared up on the chocolate Christmas Tree Cakes, and I’ve either seen Hans Gruber fall from Nakatomi Plaza or Randy Quaid kidnap Brian Doyle Murray for Chevy Chase’s benefit.  Those things, to me, signify the holidays.

My Dirty Little 4th of July Secret

I always feel like the odd man out when it comes to the Fourth of July among my friends and family, at least when it comes to one seemingly quintessential part of celebrating this holiday.

I’m all for most of the normal things you do on the Fourth: grilling up and consuming hamburgers and hot dogs, making the kids watch Independence Day (because hey, what other reason do we celebrate this holiday for, if not kicking alien butt?), even the occasional parade doesn’t bother me too much–depending on just how merciless the Houston sun and heat decide to be, of course.  I can absorb all the requisite flag waving and nationalistic jingoism on this day pretty painlessly, because again, it’s all about celebrating the USA.  Right?

But there is one much beloved aspect of this holiday that I pretty much can’t stand.  And if you haven’t guessed it by process of elimination yet, you should be able to figure it out from the picture below.

fireworks
Image source: piquaoh.org

Yep, fireworks.  I am not a fan, never have been, and I don’t see how I ever will be.

Now, let me clarify.  The above image isn’t entirely accurate, and the reason it isn’t is because fireworks like the display posted above are a-okay with me.  They’re pretty, they’re far away, they’re (hopefully) viewed from a safe distance, and they’re part of a show that’s intended for the public.  I’m alright with all of these things, in theory.

Where I get a lot less cozy with the concept of fireworks is with regard to the other kind of fireworks activities Americans tend to get involved with so much: the store bought, bring them home and light them up in your driveway and/or backyard variety.  So many of my friends and family look so forward to this part of the holiday, spending small heaps of money on bundles upon bundles of sparklers, smoke bombs, firecrackers, and who knows how many other kinds of pyrocentric indulgences, that sometimes I’ve wondered if I’m some kind of genetic freak, someone who just doesn’t have the DNA sequences that allow humans to appreciate this sort of thing.  With rare exceptions, most people to whom I’ve confessed this tend to drop their jaws and cock their heads to the side, as if there’s no way that could possibly be the Tony they’ve known for so long.

But it’s true.  I’m no fan of back yard fireworks.  Hell, given the choice, I’d much rather go hide in my room with the frightened animals and play video games rather than take part in fireworks on the lawn or driveway, no matter where I am.

My reasons can be many, or all boiled down to a simple dislike of up close and personal pyrotechnics, but here are the ones that jump immediately to mind:

  • They are loud;
  • They are unpredictable, meaning some of them can propel themselves almost anywhere;
  • They positively wreak of sulfur;
  • The mess is not something I look forward to seeing, or cleaning up, ever;
  • How expensive are these things?

Enjoying fireworks displays from far off is one thing.  Having them in your own yard is a far less pleasant proposition, at least in my mind.  It’s difficult for me not to see them as invaders of my space and property, even when my household isn’t actually lighting them off, because enough of our neighbors do that the effects are virtually identical.

But hey, don’t mind me.  I’ll just be hiding in my room, playing Plants vs. Zombies or one of the LEGO games.

Happy Independence Day!