Monday, February 18, 2013

Holy Shit, I'm 50

Not quite sure how it happened (OK, I *do* know how it happened, but was apparently not paying attention the whole time), but today I have been around for 50 years. 50 years of smartassery, skipping class, challenging authority, and tunage. Which should sound like "toon-udge".

I celebrated by playing a couple of nights in the sports bar of the Spirit Mountain Casino with my band, The Insensitives, then helping to host a jam session last night at the Dog House Saloon in outer SE PDX with same band (and a *lot*, and I mean a *lot* of other musicians). That seems to be, aside from hanging with the grandcritter, where most of my energy goes these days. I tell people I rock and roll like no one is watching, and I guess that more or less says it all. Hope my knees hold out.

Fifty years is a fair amount of time for a human. Until pretty recently, 50 was a good long life, especially before the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s. I think of what my father was like when he was 50, although to be fair I was seven and so he seemed pretty freakin' old at the time and I'm not sure I have a terribly accurate picture. His passion, at least the public ones, were gardening on a scale that most people would now call obsessive and woodworking. I find it ironic that we both ended up working with our hands but in ways that required our brains, given that I consider that we were very different people otherwise.

Here's the funny thing about 50 - It's really a meaningless amount of time in the grand scheme of things. I don't just mean insignificant on a cosmic scale, seeing as I personally am not living on a cosmic scale. Much better to measure things in a relatively meaningful way. What I mean is that 50 years really comes down to a period of time that is only significant because of the amount of time it takes our planet to circumnavigate the local star plus the fact that we have ten digits on our extremities. If we only had eight fingers, a la Mickey Mouse, 50 would actually be what we call 40 and not all that interesting. Instead, our 32nd birthdays would be a big deal (eight digits, or all fingers, plus four, or digits on one hand). And we would call that our 50th birthday. 100 in base 8 would be 64 in base 10.

I've lost you again, haven't I? And yet you keep right on reading.

When I turned 40 (and I'm back in base 10 again for those of you completely befuddled), which was ten years ago for those keeping score at home, it was a Bad Year. Well, except for my daughter coming into my life. That was great. But otherwise, it sucked. I lost my singing voice for more than six months and was never really sure it was coming back. My country, a country I'd been taught was the best and most noble country on earth, decided to invade another country for reasons that we'll probably be arguing about for quite a while but almost certainly involved maintaining access to a whole lot of a dwindling energy resource. My country, along with a "coalition" that included such major world powers as Bulgaria (sorry, Bulgarians, but let's just be honest about your overall level of importance outside of the Balkans and perhaps ice dancing), displaced a million Iraqis, killed about a tenth of that number, created about twenty thousand terrorists, and trumped it all up as an exercise in elective democracy.

Hey, it's my birthday and I'm going to make a political statement. Get your own blog and do the same when it's your birthday.

Anyway, it was a bad year.

That year, I stopped celebrating my birthday. People would call or send me cards or texts, and I would politely say thank you and change the subject. No going out for dinner, no letting people know, no special anything, although my wife and a couple of relatives would give me cards. I also let my mother be especially nice to me. Otherwise, no celebrating. It wasn't that I was trying to pretend I wasn't getting older. Really. No, really. I simply didn't see the point. Birthdays, like weddings, had been presented as this fantastic day that was Your Special Day, but without the dress and a quarter million dollar debt at the end. And it's not.

I mean really. A few people remember and say something nice, but otherwise the world is just as doomed and shitty as it always is. People are still total pricks to each other, sometimes in truly terrible ways, like displacing a million people so you can see if your army can really take over a country on the cheap. Or shooting up a bunch of school kids. I really have to wonder sometimes why we try at all. There aren't a lot of Special Days out there and the ones we do have collectively seem to involve Giant Space Rocks exploding over people with car cams. *Then* we get excited.

But for the world in general, and really for anyone who doesn't know me and there are lot more of them out there than there are of those who do, there's nothing special about it at all.

You know what's special about today? After three straight nights of rocking my ass off at two different venues, including humping PA and keyboards to the last gig, and dragging my sorry ass into bed sometime after 2am and waking up feeling like it's the second day of Daily Double workouts on the high school football team, I get to do nothing. Well, I get to let the dogs out every fifteen seconds to eat dirt or sneak some bamboo from the yard. You can't trust those mutts for a second. They didn't even let me sleep in, the ingrates.

OK, I get a new microwave delivered and installed today, which means that the panel on the POS4000 model we've suffered with for the last five+ years will finally stop shifting by about a 32nd of an inch every time you press a button and the entire thing, which now has no handle and several cosmetic blemishes, will finally end up where it belongs, the rust pile. Really, though, that's more of an imposition than fun. I am, however, going to put together the stamped metal model of a T-34 tank that my wife surprised me with. Somedays you realize you married the right person after all.

Otherwise, today will probably mostly involve napping. Once I let the dogs out for the 50th time.

I may also clip some counters.

I am definitely not leaving the house, however. Because that would involve dealing with people, most of whom did not get the Special Day memo. Screw them.

I'm certainly not going to be playing the piano today. My fingers are pretty sore from all that rock and roll.

For those that know me, I'm mostly just having fun with this post. There's truth in everything I say, but a lot of tongue too, firmly planted in my cheek. The simple truth is that there are Special Days all over the place. I had one just the other day, Valentine's Day, when on our way to have dinner downtown we ran into my son-in-law and my four year old granddaughter, who was not expecting to see us. She and Dad had just gone out for a very nice dress-up-and-use-our-manners dinner, and she was already having a great night, but when she saw us she lit up like fireworks. So did I.

Last night at the jam, and all weekend long at the casino, people kept coming up to me and complimenting me on my musical skills, which is always nice. I'm smart enough to know that most people are completely incapable of making any sort of critical assessment of how well I play and sing, but the fact that I'm touching them with the music I'm making (and the jam sessions definitely have a high percentage of people who know their shit, so that's different) is what it's all about. In other words, it's nice to know, even after 50 years, that you're doing *something* right.

So happy birthday to me, and to everyone who is having a Special Day but not taking it *too* seriously. It's best, I find, to let the Special Days find you and to embrace them when they come, then let them go bump into someone else without trying to chain them to the bed and make them dance on command. Will today be a Special Day for me? No idea, but having had more than my share of Special Days in the past week, I'm more than willing to sit back down and let someone else ride the roller coaster.

Happy Birthday, everyone.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012: What I've Learned

I'm a big fan of Esquire magazine. Not the fashion tips, which are lost on a techie in the Pacific Northwest, but the articles are generally very good and the interviews also very interesting. This month, the magazine's focus is a series of comments, garnered through interviews but distilled so that it appears the subject is simply ruminating on a variety of topics seemingly at random. 

I can't resist a year-end recap, and I've gone into tremendous detail in years past on what games I thought were great and what weren't, but this year I'm going to try something very different (and you will see why below), and go with the distilled interview format, which Esquire calls "What I've Learned". 

In 49 days, I will turn 50. Something poetic about that.

At the same time, kind of disappointing that I didn't do the math yesterday.

I've always felt that I have the financial resources to be an ethical person. In other words, it's easy to be "good" when you have a full stomach, a warm house, and perhaps the most stable financial future one can have these days. 

Turned out that I also had the financial resources to hoard games. When my wife lost her job late in 2011 and we suddenly had a $1000/mo hole in the budget, the first thing to go were games. Not so much to sell, but that I stopped buying them. 

After a decade of preordering everything GMT Games put out, I cancelled everything but Virgin Queen. That was the only wargame I purchased all year. 

Euros followed a similar path, although I did buy a few. Mostly, I'm buying expansions to games I already have. Even that, though, is starting to tail off. Biggest category was multiplayer strategy games, like Eclipse. 

Sometimes a switch just flips in your head and you look at the world and what is important to you differently. In my case it was that the hamster wheel of acquisitiveness more or less came off of it's axel. Suddenly, instead of me in a game store saying, "Hey, I don't have that," I'm saying "Hey, I don't want that." And it's happening with video games and movies for me as well. About the only place where I'm not terribly discriminating is in iOS games, which are effectively crack cocaine for me. 

Even when my wife got a great new full time job and we ended up financially better off for the year than if she hadn't lost her old job, the acquisitiveness just seems to have petered out. While I still fight the desire to go into a store and buy something, anything, at the same time if I go in I'm simply not as interested in what's there. 

I guess this is what you call your mid-life crisis. When you become wise enough to realize that the framework of your relationships isn't the same as your relationships. I consider myself fortunate to have the relationships - many don't and then you end up with a Viper or too much hookers and blow. 

Although the Viper would have been cool. 

Here's the thing about games: The best part of gaming is who you play with.

I've known that for years, and I still really like playing certain games, but suddenly the game is nowhere near as important as the relationships that I've been building for 15 years through playing them. 

The person I'm most excited about playing games with: my granddaughter, who likes to cheat at Candyland. She's pretty sneaky. However, she's also easily confused about which direction you are supposed to go in sometimes (the board is essentially a back and forth scoring track, which I consider a cardinal sin in human factors design), but that ends up being a wash a good part of the time. 

Candyland is a terrible game, a game on a rail, a game that demonstrates that fate rules our universe, a game that is used as a pejorative as often as not for a terrible game. Unless you are playing it with your 4 year old granddaughter, then it's the Best Game Ever. 

Nice to see I can learn something from a 4 year old. 

That said, I'm looking forward to when she is old enough for Mice and Mystics or role playing. 

The best part of life is who you play with. 

In about ten days I will go off to the Oregon Coast to enjoy two+ days of gaming and excellent companionship in my gaming group's annual winter retreat. When we started doing these retreats in the late 90's (starting with the Sunriver retreats in the fall and spring) I was so excited to play the games. Now I am excited to be in very close quarters with good friends and the games are there to hang our memories on. 

2012 was a decent year. It had it's challenges (musically it's been a very mixed bag, for example), and in some cases those challenges give me no choice but to continue to learn about acceptance. 

Acceptance is really just faith that the things you have no power over are going to turn out OK, despite all evidence and history to the contrary. 

Acceptance is realizing that we are all simply eating time as we shuffle towards oblivion, but trying to do good anyway, and have as much fun as possible while doing it. 

Acceptance is understanding that New Year's Day is just another day, one where you can't really go shopping and there's nothing good on TV and Netflix is down. Again. The damned thing isn't even on an astronomically significant day, like the Winter Solstice. Even the calendar is based around whatever Julius Caesar thought was a reasonable point when he got tired of March slowly creeping up into autumn via the lunar calendar. It's like turning 50, a date which has significance solely because we have two hands of five fingers each. 

If we were all cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, the important date would be 40, base 8, which is actually 32 in base 10. 

I think that's a significant age for hobbits. Do they only have four digits on each extremity? I can't say, I refuse to go watch the movie in the theater because it looks like it was shot as a daytime drama. 

Didn't we give up on making half-hour cartoons into feature films in the 80's? Sometimes I think humans are incapable of learning anything at all.

Yeah, I'm getting crankier all the time. I consider it the only upside of the warranty running out at 40. That's 50 in base 8, by the way.

I've lost you, haven't I. Guess I'll need to accept that too. There's a lot of that in my life. 

I suppose that I will continue popping up with my stream-of-consciousness and navel gazing from time to time, but no one wants to read about how cool my gaming friends are, and as long as the game gets us to the place we want to be, I really don't care what game it is we're playing. 

As mid-life crises go, that's a pretty good one to have. 

The Viper would be good too. 

Happy New Year. 

I will end with one of my favorite Doyleisms:

Here's to looking up your old address. 

I'm not quite sure what it means either, but it always makes me smile and remember a good friend who left us in 2012. Maybe we can get through 2013 without losing too many more. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Open Letter To NFL Fans and Replacement Refs

I am a huge Seattle Seahawks fan, and a huge fan of the NFL. It is the only professional sports league I follow with any regularity at all, and I include college athletics in that category. After the embarrassing win last night over the Packers, I can only say that the replacement refs must leave, and they must leave immediately.

The trick is how this can be accomplished. As many have said, so long as the owners are getting revenue, they will continue to avoid the $100,000 in extra benefits per club per year the refs are asking for. I believe that a boycott of games would help, but like most "gas-outs" (where people were told not to buy gas on a given day), there is little chance of this actually happening.

No, what we need are for one of two things to happen.

First, and I believe the best, is for the replacement refs to simply refuse to work. Really, replacement refs, are you enjoying yourselves? Is this in any way, shape, or form worth the money you're being paid to try to accomplish a job that you are, frankly, completely unqualified to take on? Do you really need Bill Belichek chasing you across the field at the end of the game? No. In a word, no. This is not worth it. Just refuse to take part in this charade, regain some self-respect, and see how quickly the league and the owners cave to the demands of the trained officials who do this job well. Week 4 is not going to be better for you, it will be worse. Much worse. We know you're doing the best you can. Unfortunately, that's not even remotely good enough. Please, just stop enabling the joke that is the 2012 NFL season.

While I'd love to see this happen, I believe that the real motivation will come via the fans, but aside from those who pay for tickets, they only have one way to pressure the league. With a boycott of products advertised during NFL games.

This could actually be kind of fun. While you watch your favorite team play, write down who is advertising during the game. Put together a form letter (a simple sample is given below) and send a copy to every advertiser via email telling them you won't buy their products while the game is in such a shambles. Advertisers pressure the networks, and the networks pressure the league. You can also boycott NFL Network advertisers, all six of them.

Help stop the sick joke that is the NFL referees lockout. Because you know that if this continues even a few more weeks, this season will have a giant asterisk next to it in the record books.

Here's a sample template letter you can cut and paste:

Dear NFL Advertiser,

Because of the replacement referee debacle currently unfolding at NFL games throughout the league, we have decided to temporarily boycott all products advertised during NFL games. We are very sorry to do this, but unfortunately we don't see any other way to convince the league that the game we love has been severely damaged by the continued lockout of the trained referees. As such, we ask you to put whatever pressure you can on the networks and the NFL to call a halt to the lockout immediately. Once the lockout is over, we will go back to purchasing and using your products. Thank you for recognizing that the NFL is the crown jewel of American sports and can only continue to be such with effective and competent officiating. Thank you for your time.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone

No posting recently. My pinched nerve is still a problem, and we finally have insurance through my wife's work so that I can start pursuing treatment. Right now, my left shoulder feels like it's been tased just sitting here at the computer.

I've been playing a few games, but this year has been a trying one for me. My mother is, probably, dying from a urinary tract infection that her Physician's Orders say we can't treat (and frankly, that's for the best). She's been on hospice care for nearly three months, and I honestly thought she'd have gone by now. I'm sure that sounds crass to many, but she's got dementia that makes her extremely anxious and this is no way to end your life.

Perhaps the most influential person in my life outside of my family, Roger Doyle, died in April. We held a wonderful memorial for him in Portland a week ago, there were something like 150 musicians involved in a three hour performance. I was unable to sing because of health reasons, but I was able to direct two different choirs and that was a huge honor. I give enormous props to the Balladeers from the Multnomah Athletic Club, who sang America the Beautiful with a grace and power that I think surprised them. Not me, I know that there's a choir in this group of largely senior men waiting to bust out.

Healthwise, the gout has been gone completely for about a month, and I'm tolerating the Colchicine as I  transition to the Allopurinol. So that's good. However, the pinched nerve is getting worse, and it may be related to a structural problem in my spine. Yay. For now, I can't bike or spend more than a few minutes at a computer or in a hard chair. Even my new Honda Pilot requires me to sit in a particular way or get a massive pins and needles attack. I'm very hopeful that physical therapy will alleviate or remove the problem. Oh, and the hypertension is about where it was. I'm seeing a nephrologist (kidney specialist, who knew they were hypertension people too?) for that, but I think that I'm one of those people for whom medication gets me a short way to a solution and no further. I'm very hopeful that when the aneurism happens it's a big one and I'm not driving at the time.

The worst part of the year, though, believe it or not, has been the return of a vocal problem I had in 2003. What happens, as I now know, is that a nerve that controls a good part of my larynx is either suppressed or dead. The result is that I can't really sing above a certain pitch, and that pitch is below a useable range for even a baritone voice, much less for a rock singer. In 2003, the nerve regenerated well enough for me to sing in 80% of my range within three months, and in nine months I was back to my old self, but a little nervous. Turns out I had good reason to be, as the problem appeared out of nowhere nearly two weeks ago.

Fortunately, I have a much better idea of what the problem is, what the possible surgical options are should the nerve not regenerate, and that it will almost certainly go away in time. Unfortunately, my band Raindriver got very nervous and fired me. Via email. While I was on vacation. It appears that this was simply some very poor decisions on the part of a few members of the band who got very nervous that I would never sing again, but it was enough for me to never want to work with any of them again. The lack of compassion and sense was so unexpected that I picked up my gear, told the leader of the band what I thought of the entire situation, turned on my heel, and left without another word. I've done that maybe twice in my life.

Life is simply too short to make music with, as my good friend Chuck put it, ingrates. Or play games. Or do anything. I expect my voice to recover around August/September and that's when I'll start looking for a new band. A terrible shame, as this band was a lot of fun and had good musicianship and, I thought, a good consensus model. I don't mind the concern about my voice coming back, I do mind that a decision was made without my input or apparently without concern or respect for what I bring to the band. I note that they have removed all information about me from the website, as I would prefer, but I also note that they've left up recordings of me singing. I may need to mention that to someone if it isn't rectified, although a couple of band members have told me that they may not wish to continue. Amazing how fragile community can be, a lesson for us all.

Hilariously, my pinched nerve was never a problem with the band, or with my directing. Maybe the only activity I take part in that hasn't been seriously affected by it.

As for game related material, I just haven't been feeling the love lately, and a long post like this really takes it out of me as I do a lot of starting and stopping as my numb arm allows. We held WBC West 2012 in mid-May and I fully expected my mother to die while I was there. It was fun, but it had a very different feel because I was not trying to play a lot of new games, which turned out to be a very good decision on my part. Lots of Combat Commander, and a gratifying 5th Fleet session where I sank the Wisconsin on the first game day with the Red Air Force.

I've also been attending Rip City Gamers sessions, but right now the company is more important to me than the games, and it's nice to have that support right now. When my wife lost her job last October, I stopped preordering nearly as many wargames, and have almost completely stopped buying Euros (I'm down to a few wargames and experiential games now, mostly expansions to games I have). To be honest, it feels good to have pushed back the collecting monkey on my back, and I expect that by the time we move next year my collection will be much thinner. At some point you just realize that the weight of having all of those games does not make you happier, it just makes moving a bitch. The same goes for books, CDs/DVDs, all the media that has been slowly making it's way to a hard drive (and a back up, always a back up).

For now, though, I'm going to simply announce that the blog is going on hiatus, which it's effectively been doing since the beginning of the year. I've even stopped logging plays on BGG, which is kind of surprising. This isn't depression (I've had depression, I know what it feels like), it's more of a psychic "growth spurt". I suspect that part of it is losing the last two major role models I had in the previous generation. I feel a bit like I've gone through a rite of passage and emerged on the other side changed in some essential way that I don't fully understand but definitely sense. Like I've become an adult, perhaps, forced to face the hard truths about life at last. Maybe it's because I'll be 50 years old in less than nine months and I just can't visualize myself at that age. Hell, I still can't visualize myself at 40.

Regardless, this will probably be the last post for quite a while. There's more change coming in the next 12 months, from my son-in-law graduating from college, us selling our house on the golf course in Wilsonville and moving back into Portland with all of it's foibles, and what I can only imagine will be my mother's last days. There will be a new band, there will be recovery for my voice, hopefully a solution for my pinched nerves, and I expect some things that I frankly don't see coming at all.

Just so long as there aren't as many unexpected changes. I've really had enough of those this year to last for a while. Like I have the slightest control over the world!

For those of you who have been following this blog for the past several years, I thank you for your insight, your willingness to read my long and often rambling posts, put up with my frustration of how the world works, and my strong opinions on pretty much everything. I expect I'll be back, and I'm not shutting the blog down entirely, just continuing to not post. I will put something up when my mother dies, but otherwise I expect to be dark for a long period of time, probably a year or more.

Thanks for listening. It's been surprisingly comforting.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Saying Goodbye To Roger

I lost a very good friend a few weeks ago, Dr. Roger Doyle. Roger was not only my choral directing mentor and an enormous influence on my musical life, but to my life in general. I don't think my experience as one of his students was unusual when I say that he was perhaps closer to being a father figure to me than my own father.

Roger died from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Over a period of three or four years, Roger gradually lost motor control of his body, all while his mind continued to function. For a man who lived for conversation and whose career required fine motor control of his body (especially his hands), this must have been hellish, although I never heard him complain ever.

He was 72 years old. My own father died at 75 and it felt as though it was his "time" to go, but Roger still had a lot to say and do with his life.

With my mother also in her final days (and much of the last six months she has not been "with" us), it seems to me that all of the people who were my authority figures have gone. There are still many friends who I look up to and treasure their opinions and talents, but these two people were the last of this group from my formative years.

For those who don't know who Roger was, this article was published in the Oregonian today. I have heard it is hard to find online, so I have put a scan of the file in my DropBox public folder, and you are welcome to read it. My apologies for the quality, I was not the person who scanned it. So you know, I performed with Roger with the University Singers at U of Portland, Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland, the Balladeers (a group I now direct, at Roger's request), and I also performed two of the G&S shows at Mock's Crest back when the company was first formed. I met my wife in the University Singers, and asked her out on our first date while putting away music. I acted as Roger's assistant with the University Singers at the Master's level, and also performed the Missa Solemnis, prominently mentioned in the article under his direction.

Roger was also a friend. We roomed together in Sydney, Australia, when we attended the World Choral Music Symposium in 1996. When I was at U Colorado, Boulder and struggling to understand a radically different academic environment than I'd been in at U of Portland getting my Master's degree, Roger was an anchor to sanity when he came out for the ACDA convention in San Diego, where I was performing with the UC undergrad choir as a ringer. We enjoyed meals together on many occasions, and I did a lot of tech support for him for over 20 years, both in his home and occasionally for his work. When the daughter I gave up for adoption contacted us, Roger was one of the first people we told.

I've even been told I look quite a bit like him, but then overweight white guys with shaved heads and glasses tend to look like each other I guess.

Please keep Roger's widow, Kay, and all of Roger's many many students in your thoughts and prayers.