Words in My Head

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One Crazy Stay That Influenced My Creative Life

Today I saw the trailer for a new project from Netflix based on a world I explored from a hospital bed in 1982 or 1983. Later this year Netflix and Jim Hensons’ Creature Shop will begin work on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and watching the teaser over at Nerdist, I got very excited. VERY excited.

Go watch if you would like, I’ll wait…

Ok, are you back? Cool! Now let me tell you a story about why this got me all geeked up and set me on an expedition into my memories.

While I was in junior high school, in the 7th grade I think, I played basketball. Poorly, but I had fun and worked hard with a bunch of my buddies. One day during practice, I unexpectedly had a grand mal seizure. One moment I was passing the ball to a teammate. The next I was sitting on the wall of the gym covered in a bit of my own vomit with my coach and wondering what the hell happened. Definitely one of the scariest moments of my childhood.

That led me to an ER visit, which led to visiting various specialist doctors, and eventually I ended up at Children’s Hospital in downtown Denver. The very nice doctors and nurses there got me sorted out and I was on my way after a few days. I won’t bore you with the details, but will suffice it to say it was a side effect of a thyroid issue and treatable with medication I’m still on today.

While I was there, I had a TV in my room and that TV had HBO. I think this was before the time we had cable TV at home, so HBO (and cable in general) were luxuries we simply didn’t have. And all I remember watching are two movies over and over again while I was in that bed hooked up like a video game.

  • Firefox. Clint Eastwood as a pilot of a super jet he stole from the Russians and had to use his mind to control. It was awesome. Gun fights. Cool planes. Spies. Everything a growing boy needed to kill a couple of hours.
  • And The Dark Crystal. Wow. Jim Henson took it up a notch for that one.  Fantasy. Magic. Monsters. Humor. Peril. This one blew me away even more than Clint flying an amazing jet.

Quite honestly I think The Dark Crystal formed most of my initial impressions of the fantasy genre. This was about the same time I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and played with my friends every weekend we could. To this day, I remember the Skeksis being cruel and interesting, while the Mystics were slow and meditative. The Gelflings were my entry into a world very far beyond our own. And they had a pet — Fizgig — and I wanted one.

My other influences were Star WarsRaiders of the Lost ArkFlash Gordon, and many many books. I devoured fantasy and science fiction and hardly touched a comic book.

But if you look at the stories I create, they’re a combination of Conan the Barbarian and The Dark Crystal. Sure, there are more variations than that, but my sword and sorcery influences are strong even today.

Why am I excited about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance? Because I’ll be revisiting my childhood and revitalizing my love for Jim Henson fantasy… YAY! I hope they don’t screw it up. 🙂

So let me leave you with this question…

What were the movies, TV, or books that influenced you the most in your childhood? Let me know in the comments!

The Struggle with Negativity

Every so often I fall into the trap that many people do and start listening to the whispers in my head. Call it self-doubt. Call it self-loathing. Call it imposter syndrome. But whatever it is, the whispers are never a positive influence.

  • You don’t deserve this.
  • Happiness is for other people.
  • You suck.
  • Nobody listens, so why talk?

Now, the rational part of my mind knows this is all bullshit. I definitely deserve to be happy, deserve to be heard, and deserve to have the success that I have worked hard to achieve. But the whispers wear me down over time and I get more and more tired.

Though I am married to an extrovert, I’m definitely an introvert. So I typically have to combat this negativity by feeding the creative side of my personality during my downtime. Sometimes I can do that through my writing. Other times through reading or drawing or music.

But these days that’s become harder and harder to do as we have become more and more busy as a family. The girls are constantly busy with school, soccer, and busy social lives. My wife is working at multiple animal clinics, running a non-profit, playing indoor and outdoor soccer, and starting a business. I’m working a full-time job, trying to be a part-time publisher, and attempting to keep up with the madness.

What’s quickly becoming apparent is that without the time to recharge, the battle between positive and negative forces is becoming a losing one, so I need to change a few things. I can already feel the retreat from the world in full swing inside my brain and choosing to fall back behind a wall of my own devising is not the way to go.

I’m finding less and less downtime in the cracks and finding that a few minutes here or there isn’t enough to combat the slide. Even a few hours tucked in here or there doesn’t seem to be enough. Sleep isn’t enough because it never has been. And our lives are definitely not slowing down any.

So I just need to figure out how to a) stop the retreat and b) return to a sense of positivity again in a world not predisposed to giving me what I need.

Yay. This adulting thing continues to be a challenge.

A few thoughts on a big ape

A couple of weeks ago I went to see Kong: Skull Island with my wife for a long lunch on a Friday. I had some bad vibes about the film, but was hoping to be blown away by a new take on the old tale. I like a good monster movie, after all.

It turned out that Kong was more about the filmmaker trying to recreate Apocalypse Now than create a monster movie. But even so, I found myself saying two very positive things about the film when we were done. 1. It was a very pretty monster movie. And 2, it had a great soundtrack.

When I saw Apocalypse Now in high school, it was in AP English during a unit on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I honestly didn’t like either the book or the movie and I think the movie soured me pretty much on war movies in general, not that I was really a war movie kind of guy. (I did appreciate the parody in Hot Shots! with Charlie Sheen however.)

Kong is the story of a small collection of characters and their relationship with the big ape. One wants to prove it exists. One wants to kill it because he can’t stand the idea that he lost the Vietnam War. One has accepted Kong as a force for balance in a world of monsters. And one, well, I’m not sure why he was there. And I think that was part of the problem.

The girl (played by Brie Larson) was not there for a good reason other than the fact that King Kong needs his Fay Wray. Tom Hiddleston was there for the money. Sam Jackson was crazy. John Goodman wasn’t far behind. And John C. Reilly was the only character in the whole damn film who I felt I really believed.

Did I mention it was a very pretty movie with a great soundtrack?

Kong and Skull Island was amazing. The special effects were fantastic. I want to just get an animated gif of Kong snacking on some squid tentacles at some point just for fun. And the soundtrack was right out of the early 1970s. I jammed along to every single song.

But I couldn’t get emotionally invested with any of the main characters except for John C. Reilly — and I don’t even like Reilly. His crazy little pilot character was the only grounded thing in the whole damn movie for me.

Maybe I missed something, but I want an emotional connection to a character in the flick if it’s going to really do anything for me. It doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the Tom Cruise Mummy movie that’s coming this summer, though I know I’m going to go see it and hope that it is better than this one.

It seems I’m in the minority on this one, so go form your own opinions. The big ape deserved more than a nod to Vietnam in my book.

The Prisons of Thought We Build for Ourselves

This past Friday, I was doing a workout for the CrossFit Open and found myself saying a number of things I hadn’t heard come out of my mouth for a while. “No more.” “I can’t.” “F*ck this.” All while attempting to squat under a 20 pound medicine ball and thrust it upwards to a 10 foot target. It’s a common movement in crossfit and one I’ve done many times before. But I seriously wanted to quit.

Putting aside any physical discomfort, this is a common problem for me in more than just crossfit. There are many, many boundaries I bump up against that are purely in my brain. I am a creature of comfort. If I’m pushed out of my comfort zone, I really struggle to continue.

Thank goodness for crossfit and the demands of family life or I would be even more of a social hermit than I already am.

I’ll give you an example.

I hate crowds. They are exhausting to me. I’m pretty good at reading the room, both from a strictly neutral observation standpoint and from an emotional one. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that I’m empathic, but I have used that word before. If I’m in a space with more than 5 or 8 people, it gets difficult because I am bombarded with input.

Sometimes I can center myself enough to enable myself to remain calm in certain situations. A couple of years ago we went to a concert where I was able to sit on the ground with my family, close my eyes, and focus on the music rather than the masses of people that surrounded us. I almost reached a sort of meditative state to where I was able to tune out the world and just listen.

Other times, that’s not an option. I’m a geek and like geek things, but places like Denver Comic Con are completely overwhelming. Even a few hours of wandering through the vendor and art hall, I have to really fight to stay calm.

Honestly both of these reactions are ridiculous and I believe I learned the behavior from my father. He has hated crowds as long as I can remember. Going to places like Elitch’s or Disneyland was not his idea of a good time, so now it’s not mine either. But I’m at a loss with how to combat it.

My response when my wife asks if I want to go somewhere where a crowd is almost immediately no. But I’ve gone to Denver Comic Con a few times now despite it. And by forcing myself to endure those situations, I hope I’m helping myself get over the automatic “NO” response. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s helping, but hey — at least I’m trying.

Here’s another one of those weird behaviors that is having a detrimental effect on my ability to function day to day. Talking on the phone. I go out of my way to avoid it, actively putting off the simplest of conversations simply because it causes me a great deal of stress.

A few years ago we had some issues with a collections agency. We went through one of those organizations that helps with such things and that was supposed to reduce our stress while resolving the problems. And it did resolve the problems, eventually. But it did not reduce my stress.

I learned to hate the phone during that period of my life. Now I go out of my way to avoid any phone number I don’t recognize. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. But it doesn’t help the other way. Calling people back. Making simple calls to make appointments. All of this becomes impossible because there’s a huge ball of stress that builds whenever I even contemplate picking up the phone.

We only have one working landline in our house right now and I’m considering killing it. We all have cell phones. Cell phone coverage is good at our house so if we need to dial 911 or anything else, we can do so without needing a landline.

But that doesn’t help me. I still have to pick up my cell phone and make the damn phone call.

It’s the most ludicrous thing ever, but it’s standing in my way to doing certain things. I usually ask my wife to make the calls for me so I don’t have to, but even that is becoming harder and harder because I see the insanity of it all.

So as you can see, I’ve built a lovely little conundrum for myself. I don’t like crowds, so you’d think that a phone call would be a perfect solution. But I can’t make a phone call because I can’t get out of my own way to call someone. I’m becoming a hermit in my own house.

What does all this have to do with the crossfit workout at the beginning of the post? Good question. I think it comes down to the fact that if you say things or do things enough, you start to believe them. “I can’t” will eventually just prevent me from doing those damn wall balls, despite the fact that I can do them. Nothing physically is preventing me from doing them, not really.

Just like nothing is preventing me from picking up the phone and making a damn chiropractic appointment. And yet, I can’t bring myself to do it.

The mind is a powerful tool for defining our own prisons. I just wish I could find the damn key.

I know I’m not alone in this, but damn I’m a bit frustrated.

Effective Workflows in Publishing

No, this is not a normal topic for me but it’s something I’ve recently had to ponder and decided to capture my thoughts about.

I’ve been doing desktop publishing in some form or another for a very long time. I’ve worked with Interleaf, Framemaker, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Word, and InDesign. And I even vaguely remember doing physical layout of copy for a class at CSU more than 25 years ago.

Yes, I’m not doing it professionally these days, even with my degree in Technical Journalism and choosing to make my living doing software development instead, but that doesn’t mean that I have stopped. My work through Moebius Adventures, even going back to the mid 1990s, has seen me lay out books of significant page counts (from a handful of pages to over 100) for quite a few projects since I stopped doing it full time.

But working alone, I probably have developed some odd habits over the last 20 years while I’ve done this work.

For instance, I do quite a bit of writing within my desktop publishing software. I don’t recommend this. In fact, I don’t think anybody does. But it’s easier for me to get some text written in Evernote or in a Google Doc and then keep working on the text itself while I am working on layout. This requires that I mix and match concepts from desktop publishers and writing tools from time to time.

I rely heavily on templates, not only for the look and feel of a book, but to help structure the content. Paragraph styles, just like in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, do that nicely. I can consistently apply the same headings, text styles, bullets, and so on, to keep the document structure manageable. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I can get away with editing/writing directly inside InDesign when I go that route.

So I would sum up my process as:

  1. Write some notes
  2. Move notes into new InDesign document
  3. Do layout and writing at the same time in InDeign from that point until completion

Recently however I hired a designer to help update the look and feel for some of our books. First to create a new template and second to actually lay out a new book.

The designer does not have the same goals in mind as I do for the results of this exchange. I mean, sure — the document has to look good in print or online. That is a shared goal and he definitely has an amazing eye for that. But I realized very late in the game that I was not specific enough in what I was expecting out of a template.

We exchanged many e-mails and sample PDFs of how pages would look and when I got the final template I discovered that paragraph styles were not part of his approach to creating templates. Instead he formats everything independently, changing space before and after, adjusting indents, adding elements, and so on. It’s a perfectly acceptable.

It became very obvious that his preferred process is:

  1. Get complete, final, unchanging document for content
  2. Move content into InDesign and do layout
  3. Produce output. Done.

When I receive the “final” documents from the designer, I will have to go through and update them locally with paragraph styles to create a usable, living document and template I can use from that point forward.

This has been a very expensive lesson to learn.  It’s not the designer’s fault. I made an assumption and it’s going to bite me in the butt.

What was the lesson? Be VERY specific when you are paying someone to create something for you, not only in what you want as your deliverables but how you are going to use the deliverables going forward.

Stop means stop

There are only a few things these days that really get my blood boiling. I’ve mellowed with age. And though I still have some pet peeves, I try not to let them out into the world much. Most of them are idiot things that are more about how I’m reacting (poorly) to something someone else is doing, so I’m attempting to let them go as much as possible. After all, I can’t control them. I can only control me. So letting that go makes a lot of sense.

One of the things that I can’t let go is not stopping at stop signs. It drives me batty.

We have an elementary school not two blocks from my house. It has stop signs all over and I watch people do everything BUT stop. I’ve seen them:

  • slow down but never actually stop
  • slow down, tap their brake pedal for a second, and keep on going
  • roll on through without even looking

Um. It’s not there as a decoration. And they do it everywhere, not just the school zone near my house. Parking lots. Stoplights where they’re turning right. Anywhere they just don’t want to be bothered.

I’ve told my daughters that if I catch them not stopping at stop signs when they drive, that they won’t be driving long.

The purpose of these signs is to make us stop, usually for a good reason. School zones are one. People in parking lots are another. And residential areas in general is a third. People speed through our neighborhood all the time and it bugs the heck out of me.

In an age when distracted driving is at an all time high with cell phones, dancing to the radio, being overstressed and overtired, it’s amazing that more people aren’t in accidents every day. If we stop, look around, and take a breath to make sure there are no people, cars, animals, or kids in the way, does it really slow us down all that much?


The answer is no, it doesn’t.

So please stop at stop signs and pay attention to what’s going on around you. They’re there for a reason.

And it might just save a life. Yours. A neighbor. A complete stranger. Who knows?

Rough week and saying goodbye to a furry friend

Promise I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I definitely want to express a few thoughts about this past week. It wasn’t a good one. We dealt with sick kids, a pet whose time had come, work struggles, and who knows what else. And I came to realize that there is nothing harder than seeing the end of a good thing before it gets there and knowing you can’t do a damn thing about it.

We first met Caliente while we were still in Arizona. We dog-sat for Monika, one of Ev’s vet techs, a few times, and eventually things conspired to where we ended up adopting Callie as our own. That was probably 2003 or 2004. She was a rescue dog — a pit bull mix that I liked to call “the world’s smallest pit bull.” And though she could be dog aggressive at times, she was the sweetest, softest dog you would ever meet. And she would talk to you like no other dog I’ve ever known, with a sweet “roo-roo-roo” that would melt your heart.

It’s impossible to think that I’ve known Callie longer than AJ has been alive. Impossible.

She was a very good dog. Sweet. Sassy. And the queen of the house, for sure.

Over the last 12 or so months, she’s been on the decline. She took some hard tumbles down stairs last year and that was the beginning of the end. Ev did everything she could with medicines, laser pain treatments, we even did acupuncture. And it helped some, now and then, but it didn’t stop the decline.

The last few weeks have been rough. We knew that when it got cold and snowed we were going to see rough times, and that absolutely happened. I began to dread going downstairs in the mornings because I didn’t want to find her not breathing or stuck outside, unable to get back in the house. And the latter thing happened a few times. We had a few snuggle sessions where I had her in my lap wrapped in a blanket in the recliner while we tried to get her warmed back up.

And when we finally had to put her down yesterday, there were a lot of tears. I’m a sensitive guy and am not too proud to say that I cried. Sobbed even.  She will be missed. And there will be more tears before we’re done.

Here’s the thing. When I grew up, we had a cat. Fat City Kitty. She was an indoor/outdoor cat and I think her ghost still probably haunts my childhood home. I knew her at least a decade I think. And I wasn’t home when she passed.  We had other cats growing up too, but I was not there when their time came.

When I started dating Evelyn, I got to know Lobo (a German Shepherd/Mexican Wolf mix) and Dakota (a Corgi/Beagle mix). They were really the first two dogs I got to think of as family. Lobo was a smart dog with a lot of attitude. Dakota was probably one of the best dogs in the world and an amazing navigator in the car. They both passed after we moved to Arizona. And it was sad. But I didn’t know either of them all that long. A handful of years at best. And there were still tears.

Boo and Tigger, our two cats, outlasted both Dakota and Lobo by a long while. And it was hard to say goodbye, especially to the Boo. She was a very good kitty. More tears.

That said, I’ve known Callie forever in pet years. There’s a hole there now. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve come to love our Weimaraner Storm. She’s a good dog too and it will be equally as hard to say goodbye when her time comes. But it’s hard to know these pets for this long  and not take them into your heart.

Callie. I miss you already. And as someone on Facebook pointed out, you’re probably going to be waiting in the hereafter for us wondering what the hell took us so long to get there when we finally do.

I want to hear you “roo-roo” again. 🙁

Some days you realize how far you’ve come

Life likes to test us sometimes, or so it seems. Yet I’m coming to realize that perhaps it’s not what happens to us that’s important, but what we invite into our lives.

When the unexpected happens, I sometimes rail against it like a living thing. Nothing today went according to plan, from the moment I woke up to the time I’m getting ready for bed. And that’s ok.

It was ok.

That statement simply acknowledging that change happened is a huge step forward for me. Used to be I would freak out at the smallest deviation. Today, to use a football term, I “called an audible” at 6am and it changed the order of the day. Ev made some calls, I reached out and changed my schedule a bit, and the world didn’t end.

Go figure.

Later in the day, I resisted another change. Why? No good reason I could fathom when I sat to think on it a bit. So I called another audible, changed my plan, and adapted.

Towards the end of my day I got into what essentially was an argument about nothing about one of the game projects I’m working on. I didn’t get the response I was looking for and got more and more walled up. I asked for one thing and got sarcasm and grief instead.

So I did the only thing I could do. I backed off, said I’d check in with them tomorrow, and let it go. Even just a month ago I might have stormed off, slammed a door, walked for hours… who knows.

Right now though I’m wondering at why I’ve seen this change today. It’s not because I’m better at “adulting” – that’s for sure. Even before today I was always pretty calm on the outside. I only get rattled when there’s a lot of people around or confrontation of some sort. Is it possible to become even more calm?

My goal these days is to simply be a better me. And that varies day to day. I’m trying many things at once and find that of everything I do, writing is the simplest part of my day. Whether I’m writing for work, for a game, or writing something for someone else, it usually flows better than any other activity I attempt.

Perhaps some of that flow is spilling into other aspects of my life. One can only hope.


A Brief Look at FX’s Legion

If you talk to me, you’ll quickly find out that I like movies, television, and books, particularly if they are of the science fiction, fantasy, action, animated, horror, or comic book variety. I’m a geek. It’s pretty easy to figure that out.

Of late, we (as a clan) have been devouring most of what Marvel Studios has been producing for film and TV. Netflix series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. ABC series like Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Movies like Iron Man, ThorDeadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers… the list goes on.

And now FX has joined the ranks of platforms for such programs with Legion.

Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to think of this show. The previews were bizarre combinations of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the crazy visuals of Deadpool, and a much darker storyline like we saw with Jessica Jones. Would it be worth watching? Would it be too weird? Would we like it?

Surprise, surprise. I loved it. The warped, piecemeal style of storytelling reminded me a bit of Memento mixed with a bit of the Usual Suspects. But the way you keep guessing and second guessing what’s actually occurring in the story was fantastic. It was almost an “is it real, or is it Memorex?” kind of thing. You never know whether the place in the story you were was in the past or present, or even real at all.

It’s not going to be for everybody. It definitely touches on some mature themes. It uses some language that some folks may not appreciate. But if you can get past that, it’s going to mess with your head. And I dug it. The first 90 minute episode sets the stage for an interesting battle of things to come.

If you like the darker road that Marvel is traveling with its Netflix series, then I think you might dig Legion too. Give it a shot. I don’t want to spoil it for you. I didn’t know anything much about it going in and was happy that was the case.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not going to last long. It’s pretty out there. But I really hope it finds an audience and stays in for the long haul.

The Challenge of Unmet Expectations

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been at war with my own perception of how the universe should work. Usually I get an idea in my head and my idea of how something should work and how it actually works in the real world are rarely in sync. And when I get my hopes up, that’s the worst.

Today was one of those types of events.

Since the mid-1990s, I’ve been part of a publishing effort under the name of Moebius Adventures. We have gone through three separate iterations over the years: the 1990s, the mid 2000s in 2006/2007, and the most recent run starting in 2012/2013. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out our website at MoebiusAdventures.com.

2016 was a great year for us and 2017 has been off to a bit of a rocky start. Today we were supposed to run a game for a group of playtesters at our favorite local game store. Yesterday I spent about 4 hours pulling everything together, getting in the right frame of mind to run a game, and today when we showed up… nobody came.

Let me start by saying that this is not the fault of our FLGS.

Over the last couple of weeks, I shouted into the void on social media — Facebook and Google+ — and mentioned it to a few friends. Obviously nobody was interested or had time. And that’s not their fault either.

The lesson here is that I need to figure out another way to get playtesters to the game table. That’s it in a nutshell.

But here’s the thing. It took the wind out of my sails in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for.

It’s not like it took long to realize that today wasn’t going to happen. I’d even mentioned it to AJ (my youngest daughter), who was there to help. We were going to give it 30 minutes and then head out. I think we gave it 20 and that was it. The writing was on the wall.

On the way out, I began feeling very, very tired. It was like I had just done an hour-long workout and my body needed time to recover. We went home, took care of a few things, went to lunch, and then I took a nap for about 90 minutes.

That’s unusual for me. I may like down for 10-20 minutes now or then, but 90 minutes of crash time is strange.  I believe this was a symptom of the difference between my inner perception and what actually occurred in reality.

In the past, I have reacted differently. When I realized that the Moebius Adventures Core Rules book was a failure at the game table after a playtest session, I retreated from publishing for TWO YEARS before I was ready to start again. And when I did start, I wrote reviews of other peoples’ materials through Game Knight Reviews. I did that from 2009 to 2012 when I started working on the first One Spot for the rebooted Moebius Adventures in the fall of 2012.  That was nearly a five year break between “failing” in 2007 and starting again in 2012.

My goal is not to retreat this time, but to learn from what happened and move on in an intelligent manner. 🙂

I think that’s a better way to go, don’t you?

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