Monday, November 02, 2009

Cthulhu for Children!

If you are a grandparent like me, you have probably wondered how best teach you little ones about the Great Old Ones without scaring them and giving them nasty nightmares. After all, nightmares are just for grown-up cultists!

Well, YouTube to the rescue. Now lil'Cthulhu and all his friends can be enjoyed by even the youngest future cultist. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where do I get my ideas from?

This is a question oft asked of fiction writers. We love them because we can express the depth of our souls, the dark places we journey to to find that gem of an idea that at once spins a great yarn and expresses our loathing of some aspect of reality (or society, art, politcs: pick one).

Well, actually, this is all crap. We use a chart. This has been a craft secret for many centuries until some jerk over at Wondermark spilled the beans and went all Penn and Teller on our artform.

Full disclosure: here is how we come up with all our ideas. Yeah, that goes for all of us, even the ones who don't like to call themselves "Sci-fi" (I'm looking at you, Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut).

Well, since that ship has sailed, I guess I should start writing literary fiction instead. There has to be a chart about that here somewhere...

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Hold a Sword

I think I have found the source of an oft quoted simile in swordsmanship: hold the sword like a bird: not to tight or you will kill it, not too loose or it will get away.

I have seen this accreditted to Musashi Miamoto online and even from one of my sempai in the dojo. It's a useful idea for beginners who tend to hold onto their bokken with a white knuckled death grip and blow their wrists out by the end of the first week.

But did Musashi, the great Japanese swordsman/painter/strategist say it? Apparently, no. There is nothing in The Book of Five Rings about it, for certain, though he does go into detail about how to hold a sword, descibing each finger's pressure. Perhaps there is another text that he has written or in which he has been quoted that says this, but I can't find it.

It's a logical step to hear this quote and think Musashi. He took lessons from birds, and one of his most famous Sumi-e paintings is of a shrike (a personaly favorite painting of mine).

From what I can tell, those great line actually comes from a master of ::drum roll:: movie swordfights. The master. Errol Flynn.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eulogy for My Mother

My mother died last Monday after a long illness.  Below is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral.


First, I want to thank our Pastor for reading this for me.  Mom always asked me to write a eulogy whenever someone in the family died, knowing full well that if I were to present it myself I would end up balling like a baby, which of course would make everyone else cry harder, and we would never get through it.  So, thanks Pastor Jim for helping me out, again.  Mom didn’t ask for this one directly, but like so many other things about her, I just know it without having to be told.  Mom, I’m trying hard to make you proud.

I can’t sum up what my mother meant to me, so I won’t try.  What I can say is that she was the most influential person in my life, and it has been hard for me to admit that.  She is the person I have known longest, has always been there for me when I needed her—even when I didn’t know it or want it—and because of this I am who I am.  My wife, my kids, even my grandchildren owe some part of who they are today to the impact my mother had on me.

Growing up, I’ll always remember my mother as this stalwart wall of protection, love, and rules.  She was the lawgiver in our family, the one with magical powers to see through lies and sense evildoers around corners.  She was there at all my baseball games, bike races, swimming meets, boy scout ceremonies and hospital stays.  She was at once over-protective and surprising lenient.  As a parent, I think I understand how well my parents found the careful balance between keeping us safe and letting us flourish.  Bekkie and I weren’t easy to raise, and they did a pretty good job.

As a child, I was always amazed that such a tough, iron woman, who saw through all my lies and suffered none of my BS, who managed my constant fights with my sister, who survived by broken bones, concussions, and third-degree burns without flinching (at least where I could see), who always carried herself with such confidence and power…would scream and run at the sight of a harmless little cricket.  When I was young this was very confusing for me, and I honestly still don’t get it.  She could be so strong at the same time so very fragile.
There was this time when I was four and decided I wanted to go play at the park.  So I went.  I just walked out the door and down the street to go play at the local school playground.  Don’t think that my mother wasn’t good at keeping me safe, it’s just that I was better at getting into trouble.  After a half hour or so of playing I got bored and started walking home, though I had no clue which way that was.  I even got to ride in a Sheriff’s car, which for the moment was pretty cool.  I don’t have many memories of my early life, but I do remember clear as day my mother standing in the middle of the street waiting for me.  I remember the look on her face when I got out of my first cop car.  This was maybe the first time I realized that my decisions affected others in a big way.  It was a lesson she never let me forget.

Mom was a precious work of modern art:  delicate and priceless and often completely misunderstood.

She was quirky, weird, and eccentric, and in our family that was high praise.  Ask anyone who knew her.  Have them tell you the story of “the pink nighty and the bear,” or ask about my mother’s most famous creation: turkey soup.  There are thousands of little ways we will remember her.

I’ll remember her teaching my dog to say “please” while she fed him Smarties from the giant bag she always had hidden near her chair.  She always had candy hidden somewhere, especially when she wasn’t supposed to have it at all.  This kids and animals knew it.  We knew it and there was nothing we could do.  And my dog is still fat.

I’ll remember the long conversations with her, and let’s be honest, most conversations with her were long.  Often a conversation that started with “I know you are in a hurry” would last an hour.  She could talk to anyone about anything, as long as you didn’t feel the need to stay on subject.  My mother liked a two-way conversation, but that was never a necessity.  She had an interest in everything and wanted to hear about your day, your life, your thoughts on something she had seen on TV or read about.  I think she felt the need to be engaged on a close and personal level with us, and talking was her favorite way to express this.  

Even the last couple of years, when she was getting weak and her illness was a burden, she never lost her enthusiasm.  She was always full of life, which is why we are still in shock that she is gone.

You can’t understand my mother without grasping the depth of her love for my father.  My parent’s marriage is a model for my own and their love should be a goal for us all.  In a world where most marriages end in divorce, they stayed madly in love with each other for over forty years.  Their example has been a subtle lesson for me all these years, and I hope my marriage can do theirs honor.  Dad, this is a gift I only recently began to appreciate, and I thank you both for it.  My wife thanks you for it.  What better way to teach children to love than to have parents like my Mom and Dad, leading by example every day of our lives.

My children got to see their love up close and I hope they were paying attention.  Think of what my parents created, what they endured, how they survived and adapted and thrived.  It’s a rare, special thing.  It inspires hope just to know such things are still possible.

Mom, thanks for bearing me and bearing with me.  Thanks for letting me grow up, for being there the countless times I needed you, and even for all those times I didn’t think I needed you.  Thanks for being there for my children and my grandchildren.  I hope they remember all of who you are and pass that on to their children and grandchildren as I will try to do.  Happy Mother’s day.  We’ll miss you forever.

The life that I have is all that I have
the life that I have is yours
The love that I have for the life that I have
is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
for the peace of my years
in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours

(Leo Marks)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Yet Another Sword Style

For the past couple of months I have added another weapon to my arsenal: the Longsword.

My main martial art remains Shinkendo, but for a while I have been looking for another style to act as my "minor" art, something I could use to counterpoint and put into perspective the skills I learn in the Japanese sword style.

I tried Iaido with my son under Michael Kazmer Sensei, and he has an excellent group here in Lancaster who take their art very seriously, but there is something about kneeling on a hardwood floor for four hours on a weekend that just didn't work for me. My knees just didn't handle it all that well. My "old" is beginning to show more these days.

Quite by chance I found Shay Roberts and his German Longsword class being taught in Van Nuys. I figured that learning a western style would be a good choice, and I'm very happy with how it has gone so far.

It has been something of a culture shock for me. I have been going to Shinkendo three days a week on average (seven days a week if you count home practice), so my body has learned to swing a sword in that style. In western longsword those moves just don't work, at least not the way I'm doing them. I swing a beautiful kasumi block and find a German sword pointing at my nose.

While Shinkendo is a comprehensive sword style, it doesn't include free play sparring. German Longsword does. We have to get protective gear (similar to fencing, but heavier) and eventually will be facing an opponent in an unscripted battle. I won't likely be qualified for free play for another couple years, but the idea of it makes me work harder. I can't wait.

This sword geek is moving upward.

An Inspiration to Me

This mugshot of Phil Spector, famous music producer, creator of the wall of sound effect, and psycho gun-waving murderer is fast becoming an inspiration to me.

No, not in that way. My wife is safe. (Who am I kidding, if I threatened her she'd kick my ass down the street.)

However, this mugshot is awesome. You just know he was being a smart ass during his processing, trying to hold onto the last vestiges of his atrophying ego, and the guard just said "fuck it, you want it you got it." ::SNAP::

I have been mulling over a few horror story ideas and this mug has my juices flowing. If you willingly forget the context and just look at this photo as if he were some guy coming up to you on the streets of LA, what would you think or do? This pic is a dissonant note, hanging in air like a scream. Add the name "Spector" to it and it gets better. Phil the Spector. Damn, this guy looks like Rorschach unmasked.

I hope he carves something into his forehead while in prison. Manson needs the competition.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Shinkendo Update

This week I have been thinking a lot about my very brief trek into swordsmanship. I've only been at this for about a year and a half, and in a couple weeks I take my test for yet another Shinkendo level, along with Toyama Ryu and Aikido. Slowly I have been kneeling more to the right of the dojo when we bow in and out of classes, and the more junior shinkendoka have begun calling me Sempai (title given to the advanced students in the dojo).

Sempai. I don't feel like one. Sempai. That is real pressure. That means people are watching me and doing what I do. I shiver to think of all those bad habits being learned behind my back as we practice. Those poor unwitting naive fools thinking they can advance by watching me!

Well, I guess it's not that bad. This Fall I tested for and received my first teaching certification which essentially allows me to train the first three levels in Shinkendo (Shinkendo doesn't use the dan ranking system that other martial arts use; i.e. no "black belt"; teaching certs are a seperate ranking path). Althought this hasn't happened yet, if I am asked to teach a class, when bowing in and out I will be referred to as Sensei.

Sensei. Okay, Sempai is enough pressure, but Sensei? This is going a little fast. But I have earned it and I really do enjoy teaching. I have a ways to go before I feel I truly deserve that title, even if I am only the lowest ranking Sensei possible. Sensei literally means licensed instructor.

This December I was told that it was time for me to purchase a shinken (a real "sharp" katana). This is something of an honor. If all goes well, I should have one next month. They are very expensive as we aren't allowed to do Tamashigiri (test cutting of soaked tatami-omote mats) with cheap blades; cheap blades have been known to break and send the razor-sharp shards flying. We do a lot of demonstrations (and we pride ourselves on not killing our audience), so Kaiso tests all the swords and we use only the best. By best this means a very good quality sword that is in the price range of mere working-class mortals like us.

A sempai described the swords we use as "Ford Trucks" not "Ferraris." A good metaphor as some hand-made swords in Japan can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. My shinken will have "Shinkendo" on the tang and will have been tested by Kaiso personally. I can't wait to use my own shinken for Tamashigiri. Maybe this year I'll be asked to do real cutting at one of our demonstrations. Wow, that will take some time to sink in.

So Shinkendo is working out well for me, as is Aikido. We have even started studying the bo staff, though I am only a few lessons into that path. And to top it all off, next month I am sitting in on a class in Van Nuys that studies western martial arts: German Longsword. If all goes well I'll start there soon. I think I have found my art form. A long sharp shard of metal is my medium, and I look forward to every session.