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August 2, 2002 ... I'll kick off the month with a little multimedia. To wit, here is a picture of me, the unnamed white feline currently nicknamed Demon Kitten (who spent most of the week pissing on my stuff, but seems to be behaving again now that we've installed a second litterbox in the house), and the affectionate, black, intimidatingly horny cat named Original Sin, which I think is just the coolest cat name ever, even if she does try to live up to it. In the picture, I am in the process of having not only my lap, but also my keyboard taken over; I think I now understand why offices generally do not have kittens in them.

[Cursor of the Cat People?]

Today, Kras and I put in some more work on the roof -- stripping the three (!) layers of old shingles from about 1/4 of the roof in preparation for tomorrow's work. As well as the new shingles (only one layer this time, but we can actually make them work, unlike the house's previous owner, who seemed unable to decide between nailing, stapling, and gluing the old ones down -- and who didn't believe in removing the ones he was replacing), there is some rotted-through plywood to replace, and Kras wants to board over some of the skylights to keep the house cooler in the summer. I've also done some preparatory work for the job search -- updating resumes with the new address, checking the classifieds, and singling out a few places I want to apply. (I tried going to the local newspaper on Thursday, but couldn't find their offices. Also, the local community college is hiring mathematics teacher's aides; that's definitely going to draw an application from me.)

Other than that, life is going smoothly down here in California. I even got a chance to go stargazing a few nights ago -- and saw the Milky Way, right from our backyard. I think that really drove home just how remote our place is. Smack dab in the middle of the Sierra Foothills. I'm liking this place more and more.

I'll close by providing the following tidbit of information: Blueberries are wonderful antioxidants. (You're welcome, Erin!)

August 4, 2002 ... Let's set the way-back machine for just a tad over two years ago -- late July of 2000, to be precise. I mentioned in one of my earliest journal entries that I was taking off for the Denver Dragon Gather. It was a week-long event, held in a lovely cabin in the backwoods of Colorado, in which about twenty folks -- dragons and dragonkin from the online communities in which I am still involved -- all got together to relax, socialize, and sightsee.

The trip itself was a mixed bag. It had its share of logistical problems, especially at the beginning, but once those were worked out, everyone got into the spirit of things and had fun. It had its share of people who I spent the event trying to avoid (who I will leave anonymous). It also had people who I found interesting and tried to spend time with. For example, Zephyra.

I fondly remember a few high points over the week -- such as when I got fed up with everything about the event going wrong, and set about to smudge the house. (For whatever reason, that marked a definite turnaround in the Gather; things were much smoother from that point on. My modest nature prevents me from taking credit, but it remains one of those things one points to and says "hmmm.") Zephy showed genuine interest in the proceedings, and I spent some time talking to her and trying to explain what I was doing. I usually have a very difficult time talking about magic to people; I have better things to do than to try to defend it or justify myself, and usually I feel cornered when trying to explain just how everything works. Despite this, I remember being rather at ease when talking to her.

Later in the week, we were in the middle of a live-action game of Werewolf. My character and Zephyra's had gotten together, and had decided to explore the house's basement for clues to the mysterious goings-on that had been stirring up trouble for the clan meeting. As it turns out, the basement led to a series of puzzles and traps that the GMs had designed with the entire group (some 12 players) in mind; the first puzzle had a time limit in that one of the characters in the room would randomly be damaged every few dozen seconds. The two of us were unceremoniously dumped into the puzzle room -- under six times the expected deadline (because we had only two people to take the hits instead of everyone). It was a huge room with a number of objects which all had to be manipulated in order to produce the item that would trigger the solution. Incredibly, the two of us managed to not only survive until the next players entered -- but were only two steps from solving it at the time! We'd powered through basically all of the puzzle meant for the whole group. The GMs later admitted how impressed they were with our feat.

Between that and some other events at the Gather (such as our visit to the hot springs; have I mentioned how good Zephy looks in a swimsuit?) I took home a large number of pleasant memories. Of course, nothing really came of our camaraderie at the time; Zephyra was then in a relationship with Arcturax, and I was being so focused on Erin that I had little interest in looking around.

Flash forward to earlier this year. I get a Livejournal account; so does Zephyra. We add each other to our friends lists and leave a few random comments in each others' journals. In early March, she writes a long, intricate post about a worry she has. I respond sympathetically, speaking from similar experience. We arrange a chat, talk for a while and flirt for a little, and things start to fall together from there.

Of course, it wasn't nearly that simple. She was otherwise involved at the time (I'm leaving out names to protect his privacy; those of you to whom it matters should know). While this didn't stop me from getting closer to Zephy -- they negotiated a poly setup, and my involvement was authorized -- that other relationship was having a difficult time of it, and I wanted to do what I could to help them out. So I spent a month or two playing counselor rather than building up my relationship with her; the last thing I wanted to see was for me to step in and for the NRE (New Relationship Energy) between Zephyra and I to drive wedges into the already unstable existing union. For that reason (and a difficult argument over something this other person said or didn't say that almost scared me off entirely), I deliberately kept things low-key. And then I broke my arm. And then Erin and I broke up. In other words, for a few months -- and not just any few months, but those critical few months right at the start, when energy levels are normally highest and the most poinging is usually poinged -- we were close enough to be in a relationship, but nothing happened.

Fortunately, things turned around about a month ago. Zephyra visited Seattle in early July; she arrived, in fact, on Independence Day, and we turned around immediately after getting her stuff into the house to go bus out to Gasworks Park and watch a fireworks display (as previously mentioned). We spent a wonderful week together; I showed her around the city, took her on field trips to the Seattle Center (where we watched kids play in the fountain) and to Pike Place Market, and went shopping on The Ave. I threw together a beach party with the Seattle Dragons on the spur of the moment to celebrate her visit. We were alternately snuggly and intimate and at times must have seemed nauseatingly public about our affection. In other words, my ass finally got in gear and started in on the poinging it had put off for so long.

In some ways, I'm still trying to adjust from that long, slow false start; the fact that I haven't posted more than a few token mentions of this before now is one indication of that. But make no mistake, I do love Zephyra, and I am happy that circumstances have brought us together. I do plan to be more forthcoming about the details of my relationship with her now that I've finally gotten through all the trauma this year has decided to throw at me (the joblessness, the arm, the break-up, and last but not least, the move). Of course, that having been said, I should really point out a recent twist that has made our relationship that much more complex.

As it turns out, while Zephyra was visiting Seattle, I found myself at times needing to get some work done, or simply unable to keep up with her social needs. (Frankly, she blew my expectations away; I remembered her from the Denver Dragon Gather as being somewhat shy and uncertain, and when she arrived in Seattle, I found she'd grown into a tireless extrovert.) In a household of seven, of course, it's easy to fulfill an itch to socialize, and she wanted to get to know my roommates better anyway. As it turns out, Zephy spent a fair amount of the time I wasn't around with Tim, got to talking, got to really talking, and ultimately to snuggling. To make a long story short, they kept in contact with each other after the visit ended, and -- after a little angst -- expressed mutual interest. We've spent some time talking over the last few days, and, well, I certainly have no problem with people I love wanting other relationships in their life; I've been mates with a married woman for the last three years. There has been some deep discussion, because Tim is revising a long and heartfelt anti-poly stance brought on by bad past relationships in order to deal with the logistics of the situation, but at this point everyone is willing to give it a shot, and everyone is willing to go through all of the necessary discussion to make this work, and there aren't going to be any critical issues right out of the starting gate. So I'm officially in a poly relationship again. I'll keep you updated with what happens with our little triad.

One practical upshot of this: I've been planning, even since the first moments I'd been considering leaving Seattle, to return there someday. But this gives me a very definite reason to do so.

In other news, today was another day on the roof. The porch is now completely finished; the north half of the roof is about 2/3 stripped and has about two feet of shingles across the bottom. Kras and I spent a long time today removing two of the old skylights and installing vent covers in their place (the previous owner had tarred, screwed, AND glued the rather ugly skylight dome things on, intermixed with the three layers of shingles on the roof). Getting the entire roof done is going to mean the dedicated labor of two weeks or more. I really should haul Lox's digital camera up there to give y'all an idea of the sort of work we're doing; it's keeping me busy, and it's been a long time since I've felt this good about manual labor.

August 7, 2002 ... We have a cat named Original Sin, and I find humor in the fact that Sin is one of the horniest felines I've ever met, simply because I think "Original Sin" is the coolest cat name ever. But I do have to say that the idea of "original sin" in general is one of my pet peeves.

Everyone knows what "original sin" is. It's one of those ubiquitous Bible "facts" (like Jesus' birth date, or why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) that is just taken as self-evident: original sin is sex, destroyer of civilization and damnation of mankind. Adam and Eve wandered around in that ol' garden naked all the time; what else could they have been doing in their innocent state but rutting like animals? Why else would they have been kicked out into the mean, cruel world?

Uh, well, actually, the Bible is quite clear on that point. Genesis 3 goes into some detail on Adam and Eve's first wrong-doing, and the subsequent tongue-lashing they got from God. (Incidentally, Eve doesn't even get a name until after God has chewed them out and is going about kicking them out of the garden. This disturbs me, although it would disturb me more if I hadn't also learned that "Adam" just means "the man.") What is the first thing God gets angry at the humans for? Let's trace the chronology ...:

  • Woman eats fruit of the tree of knowledge.
  • Man eats fruit.
  • Woman and man say, "Oh, crap, we're naked."
  • Woman and man sew aprons of fig leaves to cover nakedness.
  • Woman and man hide from God -- although why they do this is a mystery to me, since they've just made themselves clothing and aren't naked any more, which is exactly the stated reason for hiding.
  • God says, "j00 at3 uv TEH TR33?!?!11!1! sux0r. i W!LL pwn j00!"
  • Adam and Eve get nailed with God's BFG-9000 and respawn outside the Garden, minus their armor and immortality powerup.
It should be obvious at this point; Original Sin was playing Quake. Wait, no. Original Sin was eating the damn fruit (how this got translated into "apple" along the way is another mystery). Or maybe listening to the snake. Or maybe sewing fig leaf aprons that were so crappy that they had to hide from God in shame of their poor workmanship. One way or another, if one goes by the text, Adam didn't "know his wife" until Genesis 4:1. That's a little late to get them kicked out of the Garden.

So why the frag do people insist on making sex out to be "original sin"? If Adam and Eve were shtupping in the garden, such detail is noticeably absent from the Bible; and even if we, like good little Victorians, accept the premise that they must have been making the beast with two backs simply because they were nekkid ... well, we don't see God chewing them out about it, now do we? I certainly think that that sort of thing would rate a mention in the alleged story of the Fall of Man, don't you? I mean, how does one make the claim that sex is "original sin" despite its total absence from the printed story? Isn't that a little like saying that you should pour coffee on your keyboard even though the software manual doesn't mention any beverages?

I do wish most Christians would actually read the book they allegedly follow. (In general, the people who have something so say on the subject of original sin tend to get the point; but my beef isn't with them, it's with the people who go around mindlessly repeating what they're fed from TV programs and office gossip.)

August 8, 2002 ... I melted my brain today.

Kras set up the Dreamcast this evening, after we returned from the local pizza parlor. The melting began when Kai insisted on showing me a game called "Space Channel 5." This ... this ... thing took my brain and pummeled it around for a while with something vaguely resembling an orange in a sweat sock, not stopping until there was nothing left of the taste lobe but a gooey, dripping chunk of meat. Apparently there was a plot to this game; it involved the game's heroine, Ulala, dancing "Thriller"-style through futuristic locations, trailed by all of the people she saves along the way, and challenging various aliens that look like those green guys from "Toy Story" to dance contests. The aliens hop around and shout things like, "Up, left, right, right, kick kick kick." While they're groovin' and gettin' their beat on, Ulala mimics their moves, saying, "Up, left, right, right" -- and then taking out a laser pistol and vaporizing them, saying "shoot!" and doing so instead of "kick"ing. Okay, sure, the game claims in cut scenes that these aliens are invading Earth and mentally enslaving humanity, but the whole experience of shooting at fuzzy little cute things whose only crime is dancing too soulfully is just a painful one.

Not to mention the end-level bosses. They look like Pokémons on LSD, or perhaps killer tomatoes without the fangs. And then there are the people who you rescue who follow you around. I nearly lost it completely in the second stage, when Ulala rescues the captain and crew of a starship ... they're dressed like Marines, and they sashay after her in the most stereotypically gay manner possible, complete with swaying hips and wavy-arm mock salutes. The homosexuality level of this game goes from merely obvious to totally blatant when Ulala rescues the ship's (female) diva a few moments later, and as a reward for the rescue, the two all but make out right there on the screen. Now, I have nothing against people of alternative sexuality -- hell, I'm one myself -- but this was ridiculous. It had all the camp and over-the-top fashion of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with none of the crowd catcalls. I cannot do this game justice in a mere description; Kai was right, it needs to be experienced to be understood.

After two levels of SC5, I couldn't take it any more, and Kai next introduced me to Giga Wing 2. This is a shooter in the classic tradition of such impossible fill-the-screen-with-bullets classics as the Strikers 1945 series, with one caveat: everything about this game is over-the-top. What Space Channel 5 did to my sense of style, Giga Wing did to my sense of scale.

What are the elements of a classic top-down shooter? For one, the number of enemy attacks. You've heard of games which fill the screen with bullets? This is one of them, literally. Every thirty seconds you will run across a pack of enemies that will cloud the screen so thickly with bullets that the background is obscured. Every time you meet a boss, it will have at least two attack patterns that send bullets flying in such incredible bursts that you have maybe a few pixels' grace period if you try slipping between them at the far edge of the shot pattern. From level 3 onward, the bosses' attacks have some literally undodgeable patterns: solid walls of bullets advancing around the screen. So how do you deal with these? With your own over-the-top cheese, of course: A rechargeable shield that absorbs these bullets, then spits them back out at the enemies, in the same quantities in which you would have been hit. This can power up your own attacks to such ludicrous levels that you can clear an entire pack of enemies in a fraction of a second, without even using the genre-standard "super bombs" that incinerate the whole screen.

Which brings me to the next element: power-ups and bonuses. SC5 almost made me lose it with the gay sailor march; Giga Wing did make me lose it the first time that I used the reflecto-shield to clear out a screen. The defeated enemies spewed out such a prodigous quantity of bonus items (golden-green triangle thingies) that I couldn't see ANYTHING on the screen. NOTHING. Not the background, not my ship, not the bullets I hadn't absorbed. I let out some expletive, nearly dropped the controller, and lost two lives as I tried to parse the enormous shower of bonuses. Once I recovered, it took me ten minutes of gameplay to suppress the "instantly hit Super Bomb button" reflex when the bonus showers appeared. They're the only thing in the game that outscores the bullets in the thickness department. All of these things, however, are overshadowed by the one element every shooter desperately requires: the scoring system. When they named this game Giga-Wing, they weren't kidding; in fact, they were underestimating. Lox and I played through the game once (thank goodness for infinite continues) and ended up with a score of about 260 quadrillion. Yes, that's 260,000,000,000,000,000. And it wasn't simple inflation -- every digit but the ones digit was non-zero. (And I have, in fact, finished a stage with a score of "1" before -- I died, continued, hit the boss with a single shot, and finished the level. So it does in fact track scores down that far.)

After that round of further brain-softening, the coup de grace was accomplished: Lox got me to play a few rounds of Chu Chu Rocket. For those of you who haven't seen this game before, it goes something like this: You lay down cute little arrows in a cute little maze to guide cute little chibi mice to cute little bases so your cute little rocket can cutely blast off while cutely avoiding cute chibi cats and snagging cute chibi differently colored cute mice for cute powerups that cutely have different cute effects cute on the cute board and cute players cute cute. And the game's entire soundtrack is ONE FRIGGING SONG that is, despite its best efforts to get annoying fast, extremely ... cute. And catchy. Did I mention cute? In fact, the entire Chu Chu Rocket experience was one giant fun addictive huge steaming lump of cute cute cute cute CUTE CUTE CUTE AAAAH MY BRAIN IS DRIPPING OUT ONTO THE FLOOR AND MY EYES HAVE CAUGHT FIRE HELP ME HELP ME TURN IT OFF TURNITOFF TURNITOFF --

Anyway. My brain is melted. I think I will try to forget for the next several days that these strange and dangerous devices called "video games" exist. Maybe if I just curl up in a corner with my nice, low-tech paper and pencil and Mr. Sock Puppet to play me at Tic-Tac-Toe ...

August 10, 2002 ... I would like to express my most heartfelt thanks to the anonymous benefactor who recently sent me $100.

The envelope arrived Friday night, showing up in our mailbox here at the new place with no return address save a rubber stamp design of a dragon. Inside, a card. Inside that, no text or explanation -- simply the gift.

Is this a (belated) birthday present? Did someone see the brief, throwaway mention of my current financial status in my post about the move to California, and decide to take pity on me? Is it a housewarming gift? One way or another, I'm very grateful; it will be a great help with moving expenses and to pay down the credit cards.

I hope to be in a position where I can pay it forward in a year or two.

August 14, 2002 ... "I keep wondering why I keep trying," a friend said to me earlier tonight.

"Because that's what life is all about," I replied. "You keep trying. We fight and struggle against the random, haphazard things that tear us down. Life is people giving the middle finger to entropy and saying 'I can have what I want. I can make this survive. I can deal with the setbacks.'"

"I can't," my friend replied.

"You're here now," I pointed out. "That's proof you can. That's proof you do. You may not be proud of how you've handled things but the fact is you have. You've made it through all this. You have the strength. Believe it."

Nobody ever said life was easy.

Sometimes it kicks us in the chest. Sometimes it drags us through the mud. Sometimes it whittles at us in a long, slow erosion. The one thing it doesn't do is give us a free pass; it's a little easier to forget in the middle of civilization, but everything we have was fought for tooth and claw, and must be guarded just as zealously lest it crumble in our fingers.

Sometimes it's easier not to care than it is to keep fighting. We call this giving up, and in many ways it is -- but it's not entirely giving up, merely retreating in the great battlefield of life so we can focus our fighting on other fronts. The final up is not given until we raise the white flag and let the universe tear apart our flanks and scatter our main line.

Until then, we may lose things, occasionally, when we can't protect them with enough vigor. Sometimes, we fight, and we can get them back. Sometimes, we wait until the furor has died down, then quietly rebuild them from the ground up. And sometimes we mourn the loss and move on.

But we keep moving. That is the essence of life.

And even when we "give up," when we're "not strong enough" ... in retrospect, we admire the fact that we were strong enough simply to continue after the losses we suffered. The mere fact that we're here means that we have more power than we think.

August 20, 2002 ... I've been out of touch over the weekend because I went briefly back to Seattle. I've been down here for three weeks getting settled in and getting used to the place -- and now, after a weekend of socializing, a frantic day of packing, a long day of driving, and a few hours of unloading, all of my stuff is here with me.

Monday morning, the day of the drive, dawned grey in Seattle, as usual. A thick, unbroken blanket of clouds smothered the sky. I drove almost all the way to the Washington border, listening to the U-Haul's radio and changing stations occasionally, before I saw any sunlight ... and the radio, at the moment the clouds broke, was playing David Bowie's "Changes." Except for the clouds of smoke from the Oregon wildfires (that I thought actually were clouds until I heard about the fires on a news station), it was sunny the rest of the way to my new home. Changes, indeed.

Later on, in an NPR interview, I heard Richard Russo -- discussing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Empire Falls," and how he didn't understand how people could read books in book clubs -- state "[Reading] is like sex; I don't think it improves in groups."

Some random right-wing talk show host complained about Spanish-speaking radio stations on public airwaves, since "Americans speak English" and "why should I have to compete for listeners" with people who couldn't even speak the language.

I spent the last hour of my drive listening to, and enjoying, a Sacramento-area Spanish music station. Se caliente la noche.

August 24, 2002 ... Getting sucked into computer games again. Playing through Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy X. Consequently, not as much to say as usual.

I've also been sorting through the stuff that I brought down here form Seattle, having earlier this week finished entirely with The Move and now being settled in to Lostweyr. As luck would have it, one of the ladies here on the loop we live on had organized a block sale for this weekend; I discovered that sifting through everything I brought produced three boxes of old games, electronics and junk. I opted in on the sale and spent most of the day today out in front of the house bartering with prospective customers.

I'm now about $30 richer. (It was a good day. I sold one or two big-ticket items. Lox and Kras, on top of my personal success, also sold an old computer apiece. Lox used his proceeds to buy a bicycle from one of the other vendors.) Just in time to pay my credit card bills, too; this worked out rather well.

On a completely unrelated note, I don't think that enough people see cynicism as the warning sign that it is. Cynics are burn-outs; the world they live in has shorted out their sense of wonder, of awe, of positive expectation. Cynicism is a sickness of the soul just as surely as a fever, numbing and immobilizing the body, is a sickness of the flesh. There will always be sick people around, of course; life just works like that, nailing you with an infection on occasion. But when a society starts churning out cynics by the bucketfuls, that's symptomatic of a greater problem. It takes a sick society to mass-produce sick people.

August 27, 2002 ... One of the reasons that I keep a journal is, I'm certain, the same reason that many keep photo albums or save old postcards: a way to record the highs and lows of the past, the mundane and the memorable, so that one can go back through the keepsakes later on and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. In some ways, I think I've got a better deal than the photographers; setting down memories to text turns them from event into story.

It's often said that memories, like fine wines, get better with age; this is because we remember better the things that interest us most strongly, and let the details and imperfections flake away over time. Those things we enjoyed get distilled down to the bare essence of the enjoyment; those things we disliked have their edges dulled, since we have long since found other, fresher pains that seem worse in comparison.

With a photograph, to some extent, we can't help but notice those details. The camera's eye doesn't change with time. But a few carefully chosen words can evoke those essences without the imperfections.

This comes up, naturally, because I was snooping through some of my old papers this evening.

In particular, I found an index card on which I had written down some quotes. Back when I was in high school, I was a member of the school's Academic Olympics team -- sort of a junior Jeopardy, with regional competitions between schools. It was always an enjoyable experience -- testing my recall, intuition, and speed, and socializing with the sort of person who actually appreciated intelligence -- but one year (I don't recall which, and I didn't date the paper, a habit which I've mostly broken myself of), the competition really brought out the best in me. I ended up writing down several lines of mine that drew laughter from the assembled spectators. (I am quite certain, in hindsight, that they were mine. Sure, I had three teammates and several dozen opponents that might have also been the source of the quotes, but they weren't the ones who took notes and wrote a journal entry about it. So nyeah.)

I think the highlight was when the moderator asked a question to which the answer was very obviously "the Bible." I managed to get the jump on the other players, and gave that response, in as many words. The moderator glanced down at the answer sheet, looked briefly puzzled, and stated, "I need a more complete answer." The answer sheets, while generally reliable, weren't infallible, and the answer I had given was as complete as the question called for. So I said in my best deadpan, "the Bible, you idiots."

(It sounds mean-spirited, but I can assure you it wasn't. I don't remember the context, but I'm certain it was such that the quip was appropriate. I've never been one for put-downs.)

My most smugly self-satisfied moment of the day had to have been when they read off the question, "Who was Charles Lindbergh's co-pilot in his record-setting flight across the Atlantic?" If you don't know that offhand, that's alright -- neither did any of the competitors. There were a few uncomfortable seconds of silence, and then I finally buzzed in: "Uh, he flew alone." I think, in retrospect, I earned those ten points not for knowing Lindbergh flew solo, but rather for being the first person able to process the cognitive dissonance of the moderator asking a trick question.

Then there were the bonus questions. The format in which the game was played ran like this: There would be an open question which anyone could answer. If someone answered it correctly, then their team would receive an opportunity to answer a bonus question; on those, the entire team could confer, and a wrong answer didn't cost you anything. So on the odd occasion when a real stumper came up in our bonus rounds, and the team neither had the answer nor a reasonable guess, we'd come up with something entertaining.

For example: What do you call a male ballerina? A ballerino.

What was Martha Graham's claim to fame? Being Alexander Graham Bell's wife.

And even when we did know the answer, we still entertained the crowd. On one particularly easy bonus question, we were given 20 seconds to confer, and two different people suggested the same (right) answer basically immediately. Less because I had doubts than because I wanted to keep us from rushing into mistakes, I glanced over at the clock and pointed out, "Wait, we've got 16 seconds, let's think about it a little." It turned out to be a great tension-breaker, as a contrast to the fast-paced, urgent nature of the game so far.

Then there's the note at the bottom of the page, scribbled in FC's handwriting: "800! (After Portugal is ...)" I have absolutely no idea any more what this refers to. But I can assure you that it was really funny at the time.

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