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December 17, 2K ... Bah, humbug.

Now, it's not Christmas I dislike. It's not the spirit of the season -- I applaud being good to your fellow man, being giving, and sharing in a sense of community. It's not even the holiday itself -- I see no point in being bitter just because the Christians appropriated traditional winter solstice celebrations and perverted them into a religious holiday. (After all, they got counter-perverted with Santa Claus and gift-giving, and turnabout is fair play.)

What I hate is the forced nature of it all. The expectation of providing gift-wrapped trinkets for all 30,000 of your barely-known acquaintances. The mad frenzy ... nay, orgy ... of spending that makes malls intolerable and requires online shopping to be done three weeks ahead of time. THREE WEEKS? Last time I planned three weeks ahead for a holiday was when I ordered plane tickets to visit a friend on the East Coast for Independence Day in ... uhm ... 1996.

Yeah, I've said this before, and I'll probably keep saying it until it gets stale: I'm not a holiday person. I don't appreciate forced celebration or forced camaraderie. Halloween, I found an excuse to like anyway; with Christmas I don't know if I'm going to be as forgiving. Yes, it will be nice getting whatever gifts I do get ... but as much as I'm sure I'll appreciate them, I'm looking forward to them with dread, knowing that I'm going to have to spend three days shopping (and dealing with the requisite lines, since it's now too late to order holiday gifts from Amazon.com) in order to make sure that everyone who gives to me gets something in return.

Maybe what this country needs is a rotating holiday calendar. Split every state up into 365 county-sized regions, or something, and rotate celebrations between them, so that the glut and frenzy of big shopping holidays like Christmas gets spread out over the whole year. I doubt I'd feel nearly as bitter about the whole gift-giving thing if, like birthdays, Christmas shopping was just a "walk into the store and be done with it" deal.

Either that, or bring back the Twelve Days of Christmas -- draw out the celebration to two weeks. If I could sit down on (the first) Christmas morning, open gifts from the people who really enjoy shopping and finishing that sort of stuff early, and then spend the day surfing the Web to find them something to get in return ...

December 18, 2K ... I woke up this morning with a nonexistent song stuck in my head. I hate it when that happens.

All I remember was the chorus: "Take my hand," followed by a 60s-esque synthesizer loop. And yet that one line was lodged in my brain for most of the morning. Real songs I can detach from my brain by Brightnessing them; imaginary songs are a lot more persistent. Fine irony, that.

At the risk of either creeping myself out or spotlighting a potential theme to my sleep-hallucinations, I have to admit that this isn't the first time I've had a dream about a song about hands. My paper journal, in fact, has an entry dated October 22 (of this year) in which I jotted down the specifics of the one other time I remember waking up with something similar in my head.

Tangent: Great thing, paper journals. I highly recommend them. But not necessarily as a "diary" type thing. 1/2 of my paper journal is magic notes; 1/5 is detailed outlines of draconity essays that have yet to find their way into finished form; 1/10 is poetry; 1/10 is reminders to myself about e-journal entries I want to write; and 1/10 is random scribblings and/or people's phone numbers. :De-tangent

Anyway. This other song was an acoustic ballad titled "In your hands." It's hard to transcribe dream-lyrics after you've awoken, but I did manage to capture the main idea of the song. It's about a guy who has declared himself to be of superior intellect and compassion while in reality his behavior marks him as bigoted and closed-minded. I did, as well, get the entire last verse:

You're locked in a steel cage.
The key is in one of two places.
In your hands, or in mine.
Which one did you choose?

Note carefully the word "did" instead of "do." This is not a choice that presents itself to the song's subject. This is a choice that has already been made, a choice with which the subject lives even today.

This, in itself, strikes me as a powerful and subtle statement, but the implication might not be too clear. The reason is that the song is unfinished -- it just kind of dies out after those lines. Perhaps in live performances, there's one more line spoken over the final silence, but the song itself leaves out the most important part.

The unsung question is, "And if the key is in your hands ... why are you still in there?"

December 19, 2K ... The present, some would say, is where the past meets the future. If this is true, then language is very much a creature of the present. Perhaps the only thing that really exists in the void between memory and imagination.

Take "highway robbery." The term, as you might expect, originally referred to the act of banditry along the roads. Back in the days when a horse was the cutting edge in transportation technology -- or perhaps a wagon, with horses or oxen to pull it -- it was actually profitable for groups of bandits to lie in wait along the side of the road and relieve passersby of their possessions. Try that today on a modern interstate and see how far you get ... no, highway robbery, for all practical purposes, is dead. And yet it lives on in our language. Haven't you heard people cry, "That's highway robbery!" when faced with high tax rates, for example, or $20 movie tickets?

At the same time, language is a vehicle for us to solidify the future -- those things in the world around us for which we have no prior concept, those things which move us forward in our exploration of the universe. The word "interstate" didn't exist at the time that the first multi-lane paved road was built. Somebody had to look at it, ask "What the heck do we call this thing?" and throw together some appropriate Greek roots.

Which just goes to show, I suppose, that language is a driving force.

December 20, 2K ... The company christmas party was this afternoon. As such, work ended early. As such, after the party, I spent a lot of time playing Counter-Strike.

Now, for those of you who don't play online games, a brief explanation of the rant I'm about to give may be in order. If you eat Quake for breakfast and Team Fortress for dinner, please skip the next three paragraphs. The rest of you may learn something new.

Counter-Strike is an online multiplayer game -- which is to say, you play it on your computer, but that computer connects to a remote server, whose job it is to synchronize you with the game's other players, who are also running the program on their computer and connecting to that server. Now, Counter-Strike is a game that can only be played online. (Picture the game as a hair dryer, and the server as an electrical outlet -- you can't dry your hair without the dryer, but you can't dry your hair without the electricity.) What this means is that you're not playing against computer opponents. Ever. All of the people you're shooting at are fellow sapients sitting at keyboards and running the same game you are.

Now, when you play them online against human opponents, some first-person shooting games ("FPSes") basically stick you inside a big arena and declare a free-for-all. Other games arbitrarily split the players into two (or several) teams, and sometimes even give the players objectives to fulfill beyond simply "kill the other team." Counter-Strike is such a game. The players are split into "terrorists" ("Ts") and "counter-terrorists" ("CTs"), and depending on the level one is playing, either (A) the Ts must detonate a bomb and the CTs must stop them; (B) the CTs must escort one special player (a "VIP") to safety, and the Ts must assassinate the VIP; (C) the CTs must rescue hostages that the Ts are holding. I like Counter-Strike a lot because there's a great deal to be gained through teamwork, and a lot of strategy involved in the objectives -- if you're sneaky, you can win the level without killing a single enemy.

Another selling point of Counter-Strike is its realism. You only get one player per round -- no reincarnations here. Bullets are also uncharacteristically deadly; nearly any gun will kill with 2-5 shots, especially if they're aimed at the head. One thing detracts from that realism, though: By default, your teammates are completely immune to your attacks. However! The owner of the server (remember that from two paragraphs ago?) can choose to turn on an option in the game, called "friendly fire" ("FF"), which rectifies this -- your bullets become just as lethal to allies as enemies. Now, I prefer FF to be turned on, because that transforms Counter-Strike into even more of a thinking man's game -- you have to know who not to shoot, and indiscriminate fire hurts more than it helps. So I almost exclusively connect to servers using the FF rules.

Okay. All of you gamers back with me? Rant begins.

There's one little flaw that pops up when the friendly-fire option is turned on, however. See ... some people don't play by the rules. They are known, in the parlance of the game, as "TKs" -- short for "team killers" -- and they are slightly lower than intestinal worms on the gamer food chain.

TKs generally start off the round by nailing two or three of their teammates, which (as you might imagine) rather unbalances the game in favor of the other side, and causes a great deal of aggravation besides. TKing is a great annoyance, because if you are targeted by a TK, you (A) lose all of your spiffy equipment when you die, and (B) have to sit there doing nothing for 3-5 minutes until the round ends and you can return to the game. This is an even bigger annoyance in Counter-Strike, because the standard penalty for TKing is to be forced to sit out a round, so if you shoot them as a pre-emptive strike, you still get penalized.

There's no point to TKing on a regular counter-strike server. (Woo, I've shot you in the head ten times! Maybe if I keep this up for the entire round, I can do a point of damage! Not.) But FF servers ... it's a constant battle to keep the game running smoothly. Some servers -- like my personal favorite, The-Space -- have strict rules about TKing, and give victims a lot more leverage against their aggressors; anyone killed by a teammate may elect to forgive them (no consequences are incurred) or punish them (the TKer is kicked off the server and temporarily banned). Even so ... they're not immune from the plague.

The-Space was invaded by a TKer while I was playing this evening. Now, some of these mouse-wielding rats have gotten clever, and will maul their teammates down to a sliver of health, without killing them -- and so never have to deal with the penalties associated with TKing, while still being able to ruin the game. This fellow was such a one. I made the mistake of taking him down halfway through his attack upon a teammate. He sent in a punish command and banned me.

Two minutes of fuming ensued.

When I reconnected, he was still there, and my teammates were trying to orchestrate a campaign to vote him off the server (which requires nearly unanimous consent, which isn't easy). But he was still shooting teammates, and I managed to hop in the way of one too many bullets that he was aiming at someone else, and consequently died at his hands. Let me tell you, typing those six letters, P-U-N-I-S-H, was one of the highlights of my evening. Especially since he didn't come back.

The-Space is my favorite server for a number of reasons, but the usual lack of TKers is right up there at the top. The average FF server deals with at least one per night. Usually, when one shows up, I just quit in disgust and move on. Sometimes, I stick around, hoping to outlast him. (It generally depends on how otherwise lively the server is, and whether he's on my team or not.) Tonight, in fact, I stuck around through two different TK incursions on different servers. The-Space's was the second. The first one disturbed me greatly, and if you sense a story cue in that, you're right.

First of all, the server was set up with the default TK rules, which meant that he could kill left and right, with only the slap on the wrist of "sit out next round". We tried to vote him out, with no success. He kept alternating between the two teams, so he could get a chance to shoot at everyone. But, oh no, it doesn't stop there. His personal logo (you can hit the T key to spraypaint a wall with it, which sticks around for a few rounds) was a nazi flag. Oh, and every time he died and got bored, he'd repeatedly type out a message which, using endearing six-letter words starting with "N", stated (in case you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic here) how wonderful black people are. Joy.

What do you do when confronted with a guy like that? Leave, or make the best of it. I wasn't really ready to leave at that point. So, I asked him when we were both dead and could type chat messages to each other, "Why do you do it? What's the fascination?"

"It's fun to hear people bitch," he replied.

For him, maybe.

It is completely beyond my capabilities to accept that sane, mentally competent adult humans beings are capable of deriving joy from acts of willful and targeted destruction. (I'm not talking about watching action movies with lots of explosions, here. I'm talking about kicking over sand castles.) I'm ... well, speechless. Breaking the rules of a game? I can kind of understand the illicit thrill of playing Counterstrike "the wrong way." Using a Nazi flag as your logo? Well, if someone is seriously into the white power thing, I don't like it, but I can ignore it for game purposes. But ... doing such things for the stated reason of making people angry, just so you can enjoy what they do when provoked? There is no word for this act, short of "sick."

The TKer in question (and, to a lesser extent, TKers in general), simply put, is sick. There is something wrong with his head. I feel kind of sorry for him that he's miswired so badly ... but I don't see him as fully human. I would have no more guilt about shooting him in the street than I would about shooting someone's pet hamster. (Which isn't exactly my idea of a fun weekend activity; I'm just trying to put it into perspective here, and the fact that even shooting a hamster would cause me stress should be only vaguely relevant.)

Well ... I should try to keep perspective. At least it's only a game. Maybe I should be glad that he's sitting in front of a computer instead of out on the streets, raping women because "it's fun to hear them scream."

December 22, 2K ... Another sabbatical. Christmas break started yesterday, and I've been spending a lot of time playing video games and otherwise recharging my creative batteries.

(Not to mention Christmas shopping. Thank the gods that I got most of it done today, before the weekend rush. Thank the gods even more that I didn't put it off for another day -- see, I thought today was Thursday for most of the day, and figured I still had Friday to shop before the huge lines started.)

I've barely even checked my e-mail for half a week. If you're awaiting a reply to one of your letters, I don't hate you. Honest. I just haven't been keeping up online like I should. I do apologize.

December 23, 2K ... I wonder how many people are actually reading this? Not in the archives, I mean. I can check server logs or something if I want to get a feel for my total audience. I mean now, today, on the evening of the 23rd of December. How many of my usual readers have found their net access (or their time) gone downhill with the holiday season? Heaven knows I haven't been keeping up on my daily reads.

I've been spending the last several days in a sort of grand limbo. Mostly playing computer games. I'd like to think that I'm allowed, every once in a while. It's a little disappointing that I don't feel more initiative to keep fresh thoughts flowing journalward -- or even posting site updates, for that matter; cripes, I've been two months without one -- but it feels good to just do what I want. Hang out. Be lazy. Yeah.

Hopefully the fascination will wear off soon; my laundry list of stuff to write isn't getting any shorter.

Whatever. I'm just kind of rambling, just trying to get thoughts to keyboard. Looking for an excuse to post, I guess. To non-post, as the case may be. Yeah, life's been pretty laid-back over the last few days. It'll be fun while it lasts.

(runs out of things to say)

(runs posting script)

December 24, 2K ... Merry Christmas. Happy solstice (although the date's a bit off to make that particular wish timely). Enjoy tomorrow's partial solar eclipse, if you're going to be up early enough in the morning to see it.

That is all.

December 26, 2K ... It seems to me that one of the big dilemmas in my life right now is finding the middle ground between anonymity and fame.

Between production and consumption, more specifically, but that's the way it came out, and maybe there's something to that. The struggle, in my mind, is between whether I'm going to change the world or merely observe it. There's something to be said for both philosophies, really. But the largest and most convincing arguments boil down to: Production = rewards; consumption = few demands on my life.

The sad fact is, when it comes right down to it, creating things is a fantastic demand on my time. Every hour spent writing The Great American Novel is an hour that I can't just kick back and, for example, play Chrono Cross on the Playstation. Conversely, when I'm guiding freaky dead boy and his friends through hours of fun monster-slaughterin' adventures, my stories (and website, and unanswered e-mail) lay fallow. I'm unwilling to do one or the other and stick with it full-time, because it means giving up on the alternative.

As this relates to anonymity and fame: I don't think I could be, for example, an Isaac Asimov. All questions of talent aside -- maybe I don't have his raw writing finesse, but then again, maybe I do -- I don't think I have the dedication. The man was a writing machine. He put out, what, some 500 books in his lifetime? ... How the hell would I write 500 books unless I quit my day job and basically gave up any pretense of a social life? That's something on the order of 10 books per year, no vacations. Every day spent on the Playstation would mean three chapters from my latest magnum opus gone forever. My calling just ain't that strong.

On the other hand, I do feel a calling. I am not content to sit back and perpetually ignore that in favor of the latest Squaresoft release. I want to make my voice heard, to say those things which I find important, to entertain, to support others who face the same problems I do.

Just like every other person ever, I want both the rewards (spiritual and monetary) of work and the leisure of non-work. And just like everyone else, I have to find that balance in the middle which allows me acceptable levels of both. This is complicated by the fact that I get very single-minded once I sit down to do something, and won't even come up for air until hours later.

Lately, more often than not, I've been erring on the side of consumption. Which isn't to say that I always recognize when I err on the side of production -- with as many things as I want to do, it's tough for me to recognize when I've been working too hard. And that's part of the problem, too. I not only don't know what balance I want, I don't even know where I'm standing.

December 27, 2K ... Several days ago, I was reading an essay by Odell Sheppard. He was lamenting his poor mail response rate, outlining how it was that his inbox continually piled up so high, and waxing envious of the people who always seem to be on top of their correspondence. "I can dig that," I thought. "He's in the exact same situation I'm in." In fact, I almost fired up my mail client and sent him a note of sympathy myself -- but that would have been kind of stupid. See, Mr. Sheppard was an early 20th-century writer, and the mail he was talking about wasn't the e-kind.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh? Here I am, in the digital age, reading an old and dusty book of 1930s essays, finding that while technology has certainly increased the pace of life around us, it hasn't solved one of our most fundamental social problems. That being, "the unanswered letter." In fact, I dare say, as time goes on and communications become more convenient, it will continue to worsen and worsen, until one day people give up on letter-writing at all, and do all of their communication through some virtual reality face-to-face equivalent of a phone call.

The reason I say so is this: For the first time in history, it requires more time to compose a letter than it does to deliver it. In the days of horse-drawn post or human courier, one didn't hesitate to linger over a letter for several days, plotting out a careful response, polishing the words in one's mind ... after all, what was a day or two, when you already knew that your correspondent was already resigned to waiting a month or more for your reply, simply due to travel times? Then the train came along, and letters became slightly less lengthy, as (with the growth of a postal system) it was actually more economical to send just a few sheets of paper than a novel-sized parcel. These shorter letters demanded more hurried replies, and the turnaround time dropped to perhaps a week or two.

The typewriter and the airplane were the beginning of the end. Letters became something to be dashed out impersonally, and delivered in scant days. The fax machine exacerbated this process, by sending the responses at the speed of light. I don't know that faxes ever came into widespread use, but certainly the capability was there, and they would have been used far more extensively if it weren't for the next great invention to come down the pike.

I refer, of course, to e-mail. Now, with e-mail, we face a number of simultaneous dilemmas: One, the dilemma of instant delivery. The potential of immediate delivery creates the expectation of immediate response. It's bad form to stew over someone's missive for a few days while scraping together your resources in order to provide the best possible reply. In some cases -- "instant messaging" systems of communication come to mind -- it's bad form to even wait a few hours. Once something reaches a week of age, it's almost more polite to just throw the damn thing out and pretend that it never got delivered. The effects on the the "unanswered letter" problem are obvious.

Two, the dilemma of quotation. It's become so common as to be standard for one's e-mail client to "quote" the previous writer's remarks, often by inserting a ">" sign before each line. While this is helpful in providing context for your reply, it severely pads the message. It's not uncommon to have 2/3 or 3/4 of a message, especially in a long back-and-forth thread, be quoted text from old letters. This makes the e-mail look intimidatingly large when you're trying to psych yourself up to write a reply to it. And this also ensures that any response, when read, is going to be at least half fluff, severely cheapening it, and contributing to the problem by making letters less worth answering.

Three, the dilemma of automation. Writing has been replaced with typing. Re-reading the letter before sending has, in general, been replaced with a run-through by a spell-checker. This has the effect of disconnecting the brain from the material being written. Letters come out less focused, less internally consistent and more error-prone, contributing to the unanswered-letter problem in the way mentioned above. The alternative -- writing with care and personal proofreading -- takes much precious time, thus adding to the problem anyway.

So my future -- at least as far as letter-writing goes -- looks singularly grim. But on careful consideration, I think I've found a solution. I'll just travel back in time and take care of old Odell's mail, and sit him down in front of a computer to take care of mine. I figure this would work for a few weeks, until he started realizing that I was getting the better part of the deal.

December 31, 2K ... (Also posted to the newsgroup alt.fan.dragons.)

There are those who say that you can choose your home. As evidence, they point to the displaced, the dispossessed -- those like us, perhaps -- who find no "home" in their birthplace, who later settle down in some other place, more suited to their souls. Or those who move about, stumbling between living quarters, finding what fertile ground they can, and then uprooting when the soil depletes.

I disagree. I think, insofar as one can actually have "a home," there's no choice involved. You are as you are, and your brethren are your brethren, and either your path will unite you with them, or it won't. I completely agree that some of us don't have the fortune to be born at home, but the journey there is, in hindsight, always the easiest and/or most beautiful path to take.

There is no "stumbling across home." It was always there; it will always be.

As for those who find solace around every corner, but only briefly, before moving on ... I think that just goes to show that there are some whose home is more inside their hearts than out in the world. They are the wanderers, those who can keep their soul nourished but seek to feed their senses' yearning for the novel.

But even there, it is dangerous to speak in absolutes. To some extent, all of us ("us" meaning those here who have found their inner hatchlings) are wanderers, as dragons in a human world. Yet is not Here, alt.fan.dragons, home? Whether briefly, or for good, we have connected with this place, forged bonds of brotherhood.

There has been some talk lately about how this place has changed. It always will. Everything always will. Especially in today's world, where to stay the same is a near-certain path to a quiet and lonely death. People come and go, and people's ideas come and go, and the world shifts with them.

That doesn't affect a place's value. Home does not fade with time, nor disappear through change. It's still there, and still offers refuge. Sometimes, our needs change ... and sometimes, the refuge that home offers changes. But that doesn't change the accumulated value of the place, nor does it make its inhabitants any less your brothers. Those are choices you have to make inside your own head.

I bring this up mostly to say, anticlimactic as it might seem, that my choices haven't changed.

I haven't been home in a while. When around, I tend to observe, quietly, far more than I actually contribute. Even my own house (http://www.tomorrowlands.org) is suffering. But my attitudes are the same as they have always been -- I still consider myself first and foremost a dragon; I still have much to say about them/ourselves. That I have wandered a bit further afield from home means as little as what changes have occurred Here in my absence.

New Year's is a time of new beginnings. I don't have any beginnings to make right now ... I'm in the middle of quite a grand journey already, and to start something else would just add to my omnipresent workload. ;) But it can also be a time to look at old paths with new eyes ... to renew oneself and reattack old blockages.

I don't make resolutions, really. It seems a bit grandiose to make promises to oneself; promises are for people who don't know what goes on inside your head. Promises mean nothing in a monologue, because you know in advance whether your heart is in it or not, and either way, the words of commitment are superfluous. No, I don't make resolutions ... but I do like the idea of renewing commitments, and forming new ones.

That having been said, I'll spend the next year devoting as much time as appropriate to this place. I hope that that value will be more than in the recent past, but it's hard for me to tell how far afield my future wanderings will take me. Whatever that amount ends up being, it will be right for me, and if it isn't right for y'all, I'm sure you'll drop me an e-mail and let me know. ;) I try to give back to my home(s) at least as much as I get out of them. That's the essence of family, after all.

Also ... I extend my best wishes to all of you, my brothers and sisters, for the year to come. I think it will be a year in which many of us will find sharper definitions, and great joy and surprise, on the paths we walk.

But then, aren't they all?

    Dream well,


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