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.