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How to pump it up

 muscles, weight lifting, venice beach

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Self, I wish I were better at (insert at will)?” I certainly do. The things I’d like to be better at are many and varied, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the time my little wish, usually said quietly in the back of my head, is as far as I go to actually do anything about it.  

I’m thinking I’m probably not alone in this.

My friend Tim, who might be steadily becoming absolutely wearyof being mentioned here, has talked with me about this a number of times; generally about this blog. But first, as a few people (to include my mother) have requested I do so, I present you with a Boot Camp story:

Before I joined the Corps I’d discharged a firearm only twice in my life. Once, and even now I shudder at the stupidity, I and a handful of other knuckleheads fired shotguns into the air on New Year’s Eve. The second time occurred when my father and I went on our (only) duck hunting trip. That time I fired another shotgun into the air (hitting nothing except perhaps one of the eight million mosquitoes in the area) and shortly after we called it quits. As I didn’t enjoy hunting, or (at that time) spending time with my father, I was more than ready to get back to the safety of my room and sink into the melodies of a Yaz or Depeche Mode album through my headphones. 

And yet it’s generally the guys exactly like me, those with little or no experience with firearms, who perform the best on the firing range once trained. Instructors say it’s because we don’t have a mass of bad habits that we need to break. There’s probably a post about that idea (Tim, Russ – the gauntlet is thrown) but that’s for another day.

And while I’m certain the lack of bad habits had something to do with it, I’m more than convinced “Snap-in” was actually the key to my success with an M-16.

You see, Boot Camp provided two weeks of rifle training – one week of position training (Snap-in), and another week of live-fire practice and testing. While going through it, Snap-in was horrible: five days, eight hours a day, of sitting or lying on the ground, holding a rifle and staring off into the distance, imagining your target floating between the sights.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was building muscle-memory in those five days. That because of standing up, sitting down, kneeling, or lying in a the prone position, over and over, I was teaching my body the correct way to get my trunk, arms, and legs out of the equation when it came to tracking, targeting, and eliminating a target.   

When week two finally began I was a “natural.”

Okay, so how does that apply here?

Tim told me a story a few months ago about a Comic Book artist who, when asked by an aspiring artist how to get into the business, suggested that the inquiring individual draw 10,000 sketches. Yup, not a typo – that’s four zeroes. 10,000 sketches and you’re going to know your way around a drawing, was the idea. “Chops,” you could say.

So I wonder – out of all those things, those wishes that we’d like to be better at, just how awesome would we be after a week of Snap-in or 10,000 practice swings? Want to get in shape? Start tracking the miles you walk or run. Or the number of push-ups you do. Seriously – imagine how your arms or chest would look after ten thousandpush-ups. What will this blog look like after 10,000 posts?

Of course, it’s far, far easier to look into the air and wish we knew how to do this or had more talent at that and chalk it up to genetics or talent. Which will you choose?

Image by RightIndex

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Zombies and pedicures

Zombie March Chicago 2009

You might be wondering what could these two things possibly have in common. Other than the former could probably really, really use the latter, I mean. The answer is that they were both topics covered in a rather odd meeting at work not long ago.

I guess ‘meeting’ is a bit of a misnomer. It was actually a group of about 15 people hanging out in a conference room during lunch on a Friday, laughing and chowing down on greek-style pizza, kicking-off our first  Pecha Kucha party.

In a nutshell, Pecha Kucha is a presentation where a brave soul queues up 20 images or slides and delivers a presentation dedicating twenty seconds per image. Meaning, each presenter gets up and does their thing for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Awesome.

The topics, as you might have noticed, can be just about anything. Zack’s presentation on zombies – and I had no idea zombie culture is as popular as it is – had us shaking our heads and cracking up, one after the other. MB had us all convinced that the secret to productivity at work was to take the time to give your toes some love.

Am I a total nerd, or does this seem like something that would be fun to do at a party? (If you’re in the Austin area, you can check out a local gathering here)

Photo by Eric Ingrum

Patriotism dies (just a little)

As  superheroes go, I was always a bit luke-warm with Captain America.  I was an X-Men disciple from the jump, and the broad range of personalities and cool powers (combined with the struggle to find their place in a society that misunderstood or rejected them completely)  felt far closer to my reality as an early teen than fighting evil in the name of country ever did.

Nor did Cap have traits I liked in other heroes: the brooding conflict of the Dark Knight, the isolation of Dare Devil, or even the snappy banter of Spiderman. Instead, he was just a man: tall, broad, and muscled, and unquestionably tough. He also sported an indestructible, absolutely righteous shield. And while that combination pretty much did the trick in the days of single-fire weapons or a good-old knife fight, they didn’t really reach out and grab me the way a furry blue teleporter nicknamed “Elf,” or a crazy-hot southern lass who couldn’t be touched, or a soulful Russian artist who transformed into organic steel and put himself in front of harm’s way, did every time I cracked open the cover of my newest issue of X-Men.   

Of all Captain America’s assets, however, I think his most endearing was a steadfast moral compass that most of us share only a marginal acquaintance. He didn’t have three razor-sharp adamantium claws popping out of both clenched fists (Snikt!), but this was a hero who always knew right from wrong and fought for the former – even when it cost him to do so. And I think I’ve come to appreciate his kind of heroism more and more as the years have passed.

Which is why I was surprised and actually saddened when I saw the “Where were you when Captain America died?” link on Twitter not long ago. It led to a page on the Marvel Website where industry players (writers, artists, execs, and on) wrote about their reaction to hearing the news that Captain America had died.  The page also had the issue’s cover art you see below.  

But killing off heroes for weeks, months, or even years and then bringing them back is hardly uncommon in comics – DC even did it to Superman in the early 90s. However, fairly quickly after Superman’s death a handful of limited series (one of which introduced the character “Steel” and later made it to the big screen in a fairly awful movie starring Shaq) were released that developed the plot for the Man in Blue’s return.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this one’s going to play that way.

Sure, there are a million things far more important than the death of a fictional character in a comic book. I get it. But I’m also not too old to remember just how important those stories were to me when I was young. He wasn’t my favorite good guy, nor was  he flashy, conflicted, or edgy, but the lack of those things didn’t stop me from collecting a stack of his comics right next to his mutant cousins on my bedroom bookshelf. 

All of which makes me think. I’ve written about this before, but comics seem to be far, far darker than they were when I was a kid. Hell, entertainment seems darker and scarier before.  Movies, television, music, and yes, comics, all seem a bit more real than they once did.  And while conflict and dark, brooding anger are great for a boy – as boys we were often mired in it – I’m left wondering. What comic is going to give my nephew what Steve Rogers gave to us? What hero will teach him doing the right thing even when it hurts is still the right thing?

Captain America cover art

Pearland HS, Class of ’89

graduationMy high school reunion was this Saturday. That, as well as the corresponding flurry of Facebook activity around the event, has caused me to spend the last couple of weeks doing a lot of thinking about that other life.

 

It seems so long ago, those days in Pearland. Certainly part of that is, well, it was twenty years ago and that’s no small amount of time. Part of it is also my actual recall ability. For quite a few years I had truly laughable short-term memory that didn’t really start to improve until 1993. No kidding. 1993. Waiting tables and bartending taught me quite a few life lessons, but the very nature of both jobs truly changed my life by improving my memory skills. So there’s that. Side note: because I’m out of the industry and in a full-time gig, I now memorize license plate numbers on the way to and from work to exercise those muscles. Try it – it’s harder than you think…

 

But, more than any of that, I think the distance between now and what was comes down to the person I’ve become over the years. That I’m a writer really isn’t all that surprising. Ask people from those days and, I think, most would say I’d find a career doing something that was creative. I performed in plays and musicals, I wrote quite a bit, and I was in choir for all but my senior year, so it was pretty clear I was never going into something like finance, is what I’m saying.

 

No, the real differences are deeper.

 

But I digress. Because Sarah is incredibly pregnant – in Juno language she’s ‘a planet’ – and we didn’t want to be two hours away from the most rockin’ OBGYN doc around, we weren’t able to make the reunion. So I’ve spent the last couple of days looking at pictures of the event and slow dancing with nostalgia. To a Phil Collins’ song.

 

I would have liked to talk and interact with those people and find out what kind of men and women they’ve become. One old friend, Brice, is now a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force and is still as dashingly handsome as he was at 18. Another friend, Sundie, works for an airline and spends most of her weeks soaking up the world bouncing around from Houston to Singapore. Renee Labrot (how I pined away over her) is doing who knows what, but is still as breathtaking as she was 20+ years ago. And Jeremiah, as yet another friend tells me, ‘will never, ever change.’

 

Thinking of these wonderful people makes me smile. 

 

photo by waffler

Facebook, privacy, and common sense

While our conversation was about (and through, for that matter) Twitter, the observations  a friend and I had about privacy and the Internet during an exchange yesterday could just as easily have been about any of the social networking sites, personal Websites, blogs, or the countless other ways personal information ends up on the Web.

The conclusion was as simple as it is commonly ignored or just forgotten: don’t be a knuckle-head.

You see, visit a person’s profile on Twitter and, among other things, you’ll find a comprehensive list of their updates (posts/tweets). This is assuming they haven’t deleted them, of course. From links to a great article to random bitches about politics, every tweet you’ve ever made is out there for anyone to see. And people are looking.

You might be surprised just how people can find you. Looking through the stats for this blog, I discovered someone found their way here through the following search:

search-term-that-found-blog1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The post they found was about customer service, but you never know what search engines are going to dig up once you’ve broadcast. It’s out there, is what I’m saying. The conversation I mentioned above was actually more about the potential professional impact of social networks, but if you’re an employer and thinking about an applicant I think you’d be silly not to look and see if they have a Twitter account. Or MySpace page. Or LinkedIn profile. You get the idea.

And for those in the market of finding a job, it might make sense to take a few minutes and make sure your public face is the one you actually want people to see…

Your opinions needed

I realize that yesterday’s post ended somewhat abruptly – my apologies. It’s a great example of my current difficulty with time management. Meaning, trying to knock out a post during my lunch break sometimes just doesn’t seem to cut it. I’ll get to work on part two tonight or tomorrow, but for now I ask that you allow me to digress for a moment.

One of the tools available with this blogging application is the ability to see what, if any, links people have clicked in a given post. It doesn’t show who clicked them or when, so privacy isn’t an issue, but it is a nice way to gauge whether or not my audience is interacting with other sites or recommendations. And according to the reporting, my readers aren’t clicking on much.

Which is a bit of a bummer.

Certainly the act of writing this blog is something I do for me – have fun, stretch and reach with my writing, and so on – but it’s also very much for people like you who take time from your day to visit and read. I’m fully aware time is precious and I’m grateful you’re here, is what I’m saying.

So I ask you this: if the links I’ve provided, or the posts they’re in, aren’t stirring your interest to find out more about the subject what can I do to make this blog better for you? Are you looking for different content? Other topics? Alternate formats?

Seriously, let me know. I’m open to any and all suggestions you might have, so comment at will. Until then, thanks for dropping by…

Ice Cube was right – today was a good day

It was an odd morning. Thanks to a 21mg nicotine patch worn around the clock sleep has been, well, interesting. More than two weeks of active dreams, fitful sleep, and lots of staring at the ceiling in the wee hours of the night have left me feeling more than a little washed-out and punchy.

But the dreams have been cool, too. Last nights’ starred my old boss (now happily chugging away at a new gig) who gave me my end of year review using riddles and a rather odd mind-map. Knowing the man, I’m certain that if it was actually his company that kind of review wouldn’t be entirely out of the question.

He then invited me to watch then President-elect Obama’s inaugural ceremony and we stepped out of an office into a basketball gym and then into a pretty day. Not sure what that last bit was about – I can’t dribble to save my life – but I woke up singing/whispering, “Yes. We. Can.”

I was pretty excited about today, is what I’m saying.

Throughout my shower, lacing up my shoes, and over and around spoonfuls of cereal, I was humming along with that lovely tune in my head. In fact, I was singing along…And a King that led us to a mountaintop… right up to the point I was rear-ended on the way to work.

So now I have a dented car, a throbbing headache (coupled with the thinness from little sleep and it feels a little like Codine to me, and I enjoy Codine about as much as I do mucking out a latrine in the desert) but I’m still smiling. Wide and happy, I’m still smiling, and haven’t really stopped since I arrived this morning.

I’m glad you’re here, Mr. President.