Voice Actor. Author. Alien. Human

The Importance of Empty Space

I’ve noticed recently that I seem to be missing some things. Not big things, like paying my bills or getting projects done that make me money and feed my family. I never seem to have trouble hitting the big stuff that keeps my life going and stable. I’m pretty good at adulting, honestly. I get things done, I get them done on time, and I make sure all of my bases are covered. 

It stands to reason, then, that I should be a confident, high-functioning individual with nothing to really complain about. The problem is, I keep going through these cycles where I’ll feel really down about myself, or about my work, or about life in general. It didn’t really line up; I have two successful career endeavors and a beautiful family. What was I missing? 

The answer, I found, was nothing. I didn’t have enough nothing


That might sound strange, but I was missing empty space from my life. Not just empty space, but unproductive empty space. Things that I really enjoyed were falling off. I hadn’t read a good fiction book in months. Music, my first love in life, had become a side thing that wasn’t worth spending my time on because it wasn’t part of the things that made my life “successful.” I played video games every once in a while, but even that had started to seem like work - I am in the industry after all. 

So what would happen is that I would finish the tasks that I wanted to do in any given day, and I’d have all this unplanned, weird empty space that I would feel pressure to make productive. As a result, I would spend time clicking around on the internet, checking Facebook or Twitter, and altogether taking the gift of nothing and wasting it trying to find ways to turn nothing into something.

At the end of those little sessions of completely wasted time, I would start to feel like was a waste of time. 

It wasn’t so much about having time to stare out into space and contemplate the Monomyth or existential philosophy. It was about allowing myself to frigging relax. Since coming to LA, I found myself always on full-throttle. But there isn’t always something to go full-throttle on. During those times, I didn’t pull that throttle back, and instead just ended up burning a lot of fuel for no reason. 

Since I functioned so well off scheduling, I started doing something interesting  lately. I put a block in my calendar, from 1-2PM the next day “Music: Work on Theophany’s Deku Tree track.” 

Did he get the tracks that I promised him the next day? Hell yes he did. 

All of a sudden, I had permission! I’d given it to myself. It was in my calendar, so that meant it had to be done. I’d tricked my brain into believing that the stuff that I enjoyed, that brought me no real business or monetary gain, was in fact just as productive as the session with Toyota before it. 

Over the next week, I was able to channel that high powered, get-things-done attitude and put it towards things that made me happy. Things like spending time with my daughter, or practicing saxophone, or literally just a half hour block in between sessions labeled “Chill the F*** out.” 

So if you’re having a tough time where you feel a bit purposeless - if that Type A personality of yours is turning into a Type A insanity - give scheduling your day a bit better a shot. Having an open schedule for me, where work could invade at any time, wasn’t good for me. It meant that work was going on ALL THE TIME, even if there was no work to do. Not a great way to go through your day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost 4:00 and my calendar demands that I continue playing Legend of Heroes, Trails of Cold Steel

Productivity Part 1: Efficiency

I once wrote a 150,000 word novel in 30 days. I also have been known to do more than an audition a minute, given the right circumstances. I’ve been called prolific. I’ve also been called an asshole.

I have to admit, I’m not as good as I used to be. I’ve slowed down at the ripe old age of 31. There are days now where I get to the evening and wonder, first, where all the time went and, second, what the hell I did with it. At least I understand what those mental signals mean: I spent a day being efficient, but perhaps not being effective.


So what’s the difference? Let’s take a look at the dictionary definitions of both, courtesy of Merriam-Webster.

Efficiency: the ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy (punching a glass window 30 times a second)

Efficacy:the power to produce a desired result or effect (using the door)

I want to talk about both. Being effective is important. In fact, it’s probably more important than being efficient. But today we’re going to talk about efficiency, and in case you couldn’t tell by the prophetic PART 1 in the title of the post, we’ll look at efficacy next time.

Oh, and don’t punch windows.

Here are some simple philosophies I use to do more, more quickly-er.

Do similar tasks at the same time.Have you ever seen a production line at a major factory? How about one where there’s still a large amount of human influence on the processes? Let’s take Pam, a starving actress who takes a job as a line worker in a widget factory, as an example. Do you see Pam running from the widget raw materials station to the widget boxing station, back to the raw materials station, and then over to the shipping-label-generation station?

No. Pam sits her ass down at one particular part of the production line and does that task over and over and over again. If she were to keep switching stations, she’d do half the amount of work in twice the time, and eventually she’d trip on that wire that Steve keeps leaving out on the floor even though she told him notto and break her ankle.

Break your task up into sections of similarity. For me, I don’t record an audition, listen back, fix things, mix things, export things, send things. I record EVERYTHING. Fix EVERYTHING. Mix EVERYTHING. I don’t do a grammar edit while I am writing a first draft. I don’t look up graphic designers in the middle of the chapter. I don’t - like I literally just did - stop writing a blog article to tweak the synopsis for book 3 of the Epic Failure trilogy. By doing that, I just made both of those tasks weaker.

Focus on one thing at a time. To make scrambled eggs, would you crack one egg, whisk it, crack another egg, whisk it, and so on? No. Crack all the eggs at the same time.

Master surrogate skills. This is one I don’t often see talked about. Every task you’re doing has a whole batch of surrogate skills that make that task stronger. Think of it like cross training. You can learn how to match foods to each other all day, but if it takes you 20 minutes to chop an onion no one will eat at your restaurant and you’ll die alone.

For me, two absolutely critical surrogate skills are typing and shortcut mastery. I type, on a good day, 150 words a minute. That’s the average person’s reading speed. I can literally write a book as fast as you can read it. What does that mean? It means when I’ve batched all of my other tasks and I am prepared to sit down and write, I can churn 3,000-4,000 words an hour, easy.

Yes, I know 150 x 60 is 9,000 words an hour. Shut your face.

Anyway, I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t mastered a surrogate skill. Suck at typing? Take a typing class. Do you infuriatingly right click your goddamn mouse every time you want to copy and paste something? Learn keyboard shortcuts and use them.

Quality control.The absolute best way to become outrageously bad at something is to do it poorly 10,000 times. You are literally becoming amazing at being terrible. You need to implement some sort of quality control in your efficiency processes to ensure that you aren’t producing a bad product over and over again. Don’t get so head-down-charge-forward that you forget to watch where you’re going. I don’t have too much process advice here. I just wanted to remind you that you’ve been walking for 3 miles with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

So there you have it. A little practical advice for being efficient at whatever it is you’d like to be more efficient at. There is a huge amount of advice out there for being efficient and productive in your workflows. If you learned how to speed read, you could probably go and read 50-100 of them a day. You would become a master at reading articles on efficiency.

But that wouldn’t be very effective, would it?

More on that next time.

Surprise: WorldCon Had Women At It

WorldCon was great. I’ll write more about the general con later, but there’s something I want to get off my chest first.

Honestly, the most poignant part of WorldCon for me was a conversation I had with some raging asshole outside of a restaurant in downtown Kansas City. I was standing outside, waiting for a cab to show up (it was pouring) and a group of non-congoers came outside to do the same. For a moment, I was the only WorldCon attendee outside, and the normals struck up a conversation with me.


One of them, a bearded gent, was really nice. He saw my badge and started asking me questions, shook my hand because I was an author and it was “nice to meet someone important for a change.” My opinion of him may have been influenced by flattery; so sue me. We talked a bit about Mechanical Failure and the science fiction industry. The entire other group admitted that they weren’t very big readers, so everything I told them was new to them.

This other guy behind him, bald as a baby’s butt and having that sort of chest-out posture, kept giving me strange looks. He confided that he was a Citation (big jet) pilot after I mentioned my flying in some context or another, and eventually held up his hand.

“Wait,” he said. “Science fiction and fantasy? I’m surprised to see women in there with you.” He jerked his thumb back inside.

I explained calmly that there were many very good female spec fic authors, but he wasn’t satisfied. The conversation devolved from there. He’d already embarrassed his friends, who clearly had more sense since all of them already had their faces in their hands.

“But they write romance,” he argued.

“They write a lot of things,” I countered. “Men write romance, too.”

I steered the conversation away from him because I dislike throat-punching people in public, but after a few seconds of looking like he was trying to solve a basic algebra problem, he cut into the conversation again.

“But come on,” he said. “I mean, there’s no violence in women’s books, right? Men’s writing has more violence.”

Grok like violence! Grok throw stone at lion! Women make love love with words words.

“I don’t know about you, man,” I said, “but I’ve known some pretty violent women in my life.” I pointed at the woman who was in his group and pointedly suggested that given the right circumstances she would probably gladly kick his ass. She agreed. He seemed unimpressed.

“So, fine,” he said. “What’s the difference? Tell me what the difference is between men’s and women’s writing.”

“Tell me what the difference is between men’s and women’s writing.”

I leaned in like I had a great secret, and very seriously told him that men’s science fiction had waaaaaaay more penises in it. He seemed confused. I let it hang in the air for a few seconds before his friends started laughing and I said,

“I’m just kidding. There is absolutely no fucking discernible difference between the two.”

The “you idiot,” was implied.

Men’s fiction has waaaaaaay more penises in it.

The conversation petered out from there; I got a cab, they got a cab. I explained to my cab driver and the other passengers what an absolute douchebag I had just met. But it stuck with me for the rest of the con.

I was surprised, but at the same time I knew I shouldn’t have been. As a white male, I don’t often get to see that expression of sexist narrow-mindedness. I work from home, I don’t socialize very often (or very well) and I don’t follow a lot of conversations online. I know the problem exists, but I so rarely experience it in person. Lucky me.

I’ve sat here for the last twenty minutes or so trying to write some sort of philosophically poignant conclusion to this story, but I’m not entirely sure there is one. I met an asshole, he self-identified, and I did what I could in the moment to make him see that there was still time for him to pull his head out of his fourth point of contact.

In a weird way, I hope I meet more assholes like him, and this is why: I feel like I might have been the first person in his life to seriously challenge his worldview. The look on his face told me that was probably true. Or maybe he was constipated. I don’t know. But if that’s the way this is going to change - gradually, person to person - then bring me your assholes. I have something to tell them.

Bring me your assholes. I have something to tell them.

Wait. That sounds wrong. Why did I put that in block quotes? I’m not going to actually literally talk to your – you know what? Nevermind.

Excellence and Arrogance

Lately I’ve been getting very interested in the lives and mentalities of today’s most successful business owners, entrepreneurs, and creatives. I guess I’ve been drawn into a prototyping mentality - the idea that people have certainly done what I’m doing, have done it better, and have a wealth of experience that I can learn from. The end result is that I make less mistakes, avoid some of the pitfalls that they fell into, and accelerate quicker on my own path. 

I was listening to a speech by Bo Eason, an ex NFL player and now successful motivational speaker, and he spoke a bit about the struggles he had with wanting to be the absolute best at what he did. That may not sound like a struggle, but it was more about what it did to his mentality and how he interacted with other people. It got me thinking.


There exists this state that sits firmly in between arrogance and excellence that I feel like I’ve been tiptoeing around in for a lot of my life. In work environments and social circles, I’ve had supervisors accuse me of arrogance or condescension. I had one boss in the Air Force, who was probably the worst manager I’ve ever had in my life, specifically go out of her way to knock people down a peg (and gossip about it with other airmen afterwards - she was a real superstar).

I’m not saying folks have always been wrong. I’m not saying there weren’t times where I put too much swagger in an underdeveloped idea, or lacked the empathy to present myself in a way that was considerate to others. It’s a personal weakness of mine, and something I’ve been struggling with for my whole life. But I also think it’s something that’s grossly misinterpreted, to the detriment of anyone who wants to exude one of the most powerful, alluring, and dangerous aspects of personality there is: confidence.

That fickle ally: confidence. People constantly say that’s what make someone attractive over anything else. It’s what star athletes say liberates them on the field of competition. But too much of it - or just a little of it for the wrong reason - and the contempt is quick in coming from all around you.

That’s why I think it’s extremely important to try and occupy a duality that’s actually sort of looked down upon in many respects, especially in politics (god forbid someone changes their mind when they get new information! Be loyal to your ignorance or we won’t vote for you! I digress).

I like to have “strong opinions, loosely held.” I love that phrase. I first heard it on a Tim Ferriss podcast, in which he was interviewing a prominent - and brilliant - Silicon Valley venture capitalist and technology buff. The phrase gives shape to the amorphous philosophy I’ve been developing since high school that kind of started with the way I approached music. When I was not playing, I always considered myself a student. There was always something I could do better. When that instrument started making noise in a performance, however, I was the greatest player in the world. Those times when I let one of those two attitudes slip into the wrong situation is where I got in trouble. Either my playing was flat and boring, or I reached a plateau and couldn’t get any better.

A fantastic quote by one of my favorite composers, Frederic Chopin, was delivered to one of his students. He warned:

“I see that timidity and lack of self-confidence form a kind of armor around you, but through this armor I perceive something else that you don’t always dare to express, and so you deprive us all.”

Going back to where we started regarding success stories, there’s a common thread of advice I keep hearing from all of the most successful people in the world. If you’re scared of being confident, of pursuing excellence, because there is pressure all around you to remain mediocre, then you need to change your environment. Immediately. Always remember that you are the average of the five people you hang around with most; if they are making you guilty of your own strengths, then you’ve gone as far as you can go until you swap those folks out for someone who genuinely thinks you have the capacity to be the best in the world at what you do.

Bottom line? Being able to approach people confidently, to approach your work or your hobbies or whatever without timidity making you second-guess yourself, allows you to perform like you are actually preparedto perform. Being able to let go of that confidence and learn, communicate, and improve is just as essential. Saying to yourself “I am absolutely doing this right, until I learn that I am doing this wrong” is, in my strong opinion, the way to excellence. But, of course, if you have another way to look at it, I’m open.

The Modern Squirrel Slaughterhouse

I was on debate team for about half a season in high school and absolutely hated every second of it. To me, it was a miserable collection of pride, egos, and regurgitation from collections of quotations that were, in the name of Lincolnian posterity, called “Squirrel Killers.” There was absolutely no interest in furthering thought, only in proving that one group was right and the other was wrong. Teams literally picked sides before they did research on the topic. It was a giant exercise in confirmation bias. Worse, one cannot emerge from a debate as “chief compromiser” or “peacemaker.” You can only win or lose - never learn. And you certainly aren’t going to be changing anyone’s mind or behavior.

Welcome to the new media environment; the modern squirrel slaughterhouse. 

You can only win or lose - never learn.

Behavior change is possibly one of the trickiest stunts of social gymnastics a human being can pull off. When you think about what you’re doing, it’s not that much of a surprise, either. You’re attempting to reach into someone’s brain, reach into literally years of ingrained habits and beliefs, and start moving things around. It’s like walking into someone’s house and re-arranging their furniture, but instead of furniture, it’s their mind.

It can actually sound kind of sinister when you put it that way, and in some ways it is. Thankfully, we have a natural resistance to it. Not just anyone can rearrange the furniture of my mind (I am trademarking the hell out of that phrase). Can you imagine what would happen if it was that simple? Any random joker could come in there and start putting ficus trees on top of your couch or painting everything salmon pink.

But there are people we let rearrange our furniture. There are people we let influence our opinions and thoughts, but only after we give them permission to do so.  Think about it this way: if you’re a parent, and that frizzy-haired, beady-eyed jerk of a woman in the grocery store gives you not-so-subtle advice on what your child should/should not eat, how quickly are you Googling the legal penalty for assault? Is three to five years in jail really that bad?

How quickly are you googling the legal penalty for assault? Is three to five years in jail really that bad?

Contrast that to some advice from a close friend, or that of a renowned expert on parenting whose book you have purposefully sought out. What’s the reaction there? You may still want to strangle your friend, but it will be a much friendlier throttling, and I guarantee you’ll still consider what they said.

We need permission to influence people before we attempt to do it. Salespeople try to obtain that permission in quick, gimmicky ways, through manipulations of social constructs like reciprocation and waving a pocket watch very slowly back and forth in front of your eyes. We are all salespeople in one way or another, but there are honest and dishonest ways to go about it.

Receiving permission to influence starts from many different places. Like trust, it is difficult to gain and easy to lose. But we have to start somewhere, and here’s a hint: it starts with a little bit of love. Maybe love for what you do, maybe love for the person you’re interacting with, but there has to be a touch of it in there to make it effective. 

Love means a lot of things to a lot of people. It means openness, honesty, genuineness. I’m not going to sit here and try to give anyone advice on how to do it, because, in fact, I’m not sure how anyone does it but me. Half the time I’m not even sure how I do it. But I know that it’s a necessary ingredient for change - whether that’s for another person, for society, or for yourself.

So do yourself and the world a favor: resist the urge to be part of the modern squirrel slaughterhouse. It didn’t create any useful learning in debate team, and it’s not going to create any useful learning now. 

Weirdness Is Power - The Impotence Of Routine

First of all, yes, I just wanted to use the word impotence in the title of the post. Let's all just giggle a little bit about that word and the fact that I made a play on words by not using the word "importance."

Alright, back with me? Good.

I don't know how you all form your reading schedules, but I tend to oscillate between fiction and nonfiction on a pretty regular basis. Maybe about 60/30 to fiction/non. I'm all about stories, but history and science have some amazing stories of their own.

Right now, I'm going to take a break from science fiction and hit you with some science fact that I found really interesting. I've been reading this really cool book called Keep Your Brain Alive by Lawrence Katz, which is actually more of a novelette. The (extremely simplified) premise is that brain function doesn't necessarily deteriorate because of old age. It's because we stop using it.

Now I know many of you have seen the presidential race going on at the moment and seen evidence of this, but that's not what I'm talking about. What happens is, as we use the effective schema and routine that allow us to be hyper-productive species, we actually atrophy the part of our brain that develops new connections.

As it happens, that part is the important part. Why? Because doing something new and interesting actually feeds your brain. That act of new connections, new associations, and new sensations, creates neurotrophins, which can quite literally be considered brain food. They're nutrients produced to promote brain growth and keep your brain healthy. When you stop doing new things, you start starving your brain.

So: Routine isn't just boring. Routine is actually killing you.

The bottom line? Here's some scientific evidence for the "stop and smell the roses" trope. Give yourself the permission you've always wanted to give yourself: BE WEIRD. Indulge in activities for random, senseless purposes (unless it's violence, don't do violence). Do things differently every once in a while. Don't let life pass you by just because you've done something similar a couple of thousand times. Make a change! It doesn't have to be huge or significant on a global scale. It's not about that; it's about changing the way you think about approaching your daily life. Adopting a mentality that says you won't accept hapless routine will, I think, make you see the world in a totally new way.

Oh. Hi.

Truth in advertising: I'm participating in a blog challenge set forth by WordPress, because as I got my report in from last year, I realized that I blogged a whopping eight times last year. Eight. That's not enough - not for my sanity, and not enough for all the things I want to say. So you'll excuse me if there's a more material than usual and if it revisits some past topics a bit.</p>

I've recently done a lot of social media shuffling - combining pages, refreshing websites, paying better attention to who is paying attention to the things I pay attention to, and so forth. This blog is a big piece of it that I've ignored for too long.

What am I going to be doing here? Well, since I've combined my voice acting blog with this blog, you'll be hearing about all kinds of stuff, but there is a central theme. That theme is "story." If there' one pervasive element that has permeated my entire life, it's been storytelling in all its forms. I find it to be one of the most important, compelling, and magical things in the universe, and after well over a decade of being in the military or government service in some form, I've made a big switch. I still plan on saving the world, of course. I just think I want to go about it in a different way.

So - hi. My name is Joe. For a long time, I was an officer in the United States Air Force. Now I'm a voice actor in Los Angeles and an author of science fiction and fantasy. My first book, MECHANICAL FAILURE, comes out this June. It's funny, and it's about space navies and robots and a guy with a beard. I think you'll like it. Here you'll find a little slice of what it's like to be a guy who is absolutely obsessed with stories and how to tell them - novels, video games, cartoons, even - don't laugh - commercials, if you do it right.

I promise future posts will be a bit more substantial, but sometimes a little push can get a big rock rolling. I invite you to follow my blog and jump over to my other windows of social media. I'm on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

Welcome aboard!

Maybe Forgetting Isn't So Bad

I was in Washington DC the other day with my family, and, since I'd come separately from them, we picked a place to meet - the World War II monument.  Even though  I've lived in this area for a while, I hadn't done a monument tour in quite some time - not since I was 14 or so when I was down here as a happy high school freshman on a 5-day youth leadership something-or-other.   So, to my recollection I'd never seen it before.

It really is a stunning, incredible monument, and I couldn't help but be struck by it.  The giant fountain is surrounded by separate monuments for each state that lost men and women in the war.  The grandness of it all gives you a real sense of the grandness of the war - not grand in a positive sense, but in the sense that it was all-encompassing; it affected every facet of daily life, and not just because a huge amount of America's young men were in combat.  I thought of all those men and women that didn't come home from the war, the hell they'd been through, the sacrifices they'd made so that some of the most horrible ideas in history wouldn't be propagated any further.

My two year old daughter, however, wasn't quite as impressed.  She was more concerned with a pair of ducks that were sitting in the fountain, occasionally diving into the water to poke their bills at the bottom of the clear water.  She didn't look at all the stone and marvel at the sacrifice of over four hundred thousand Americans.  She pointed at the ducks and laughed, saying "Upside down!  Upside down!"

The contrast of me sitting there looking out at the monuments and her sitting there looking at a pair of ducks struck me.  It brought to mind a phrase that's been ubiquitous for the last decade:

"Never forget."

The meaning behind what really is just two simple words wasn't immediately clear to me.  Does it mean that we're supposed to remember America's ideals and what it took to keep them?  To remember those who sacrificed?  To remember our history?

Or does it mean to keep a grudge?  To hold on to hatred and fear, because they are the only two things that can really protect us?

I'm not dove-hugging or naive.  I spent the last ten years of my life fighting terrorism and doing my part to protect our way of life; trust me, I get it - studying history or be doomed to repeat it, and all that. But maybe there's a difference between remembering and honoring those who have gone before you and using them as a shield to protect us from growth.

I don't know the answers to these questions - really, this isn't just a subtle way for me to tell people that they're wrong - but I'm glad a little girl helped me think about them for a bit.

As I sat there with the incessant laughter of my daughter in my ears no matter what I was looking at, I couldn't help but wonder if she had the right idea.  Is it better to look solemnly at our past and recall all the pain that has been caused? Or is it better to spend more time looking at a pair of ducks, laughing and yelling "Upside down! Upside down!"

I Am A Writer, and I Want To Ruin Your Life

Writing is a discipline of unintentional instruction. I don't think many self-respecting writers will tell you that they have all the answers and that by reading their books you will glean the most valuable pieces of wisdom that will help you life a better and more fulfilled life. But that's the funny thing - it happens all the time anyway. You can't control it. When you read, you learn, even if the writer had no intention of teaching you.

That's because, aside from the many different other ways we learn about ourselves, our existence, and everything else, we learn vicariously through the lives and examples of other people. While nobody's life is more valuable than another's, the great thing about stories vs. real people is that you can stretch a person to their limits and see what they're made of without causing any real damage to an actual human being. You can put yourself in their shoes and wonder "if I'm ever in this situation, how would I act? How would I want myself to act?  Would I measure up?"  Reading other people's stories widens your point of view, expands your idea of what it means to be human, a man, a woman, neither.

That being said, I want to openly declare my attention to ruin your life.

I don't want you to read my stories and laugh.  I mean, yes, of course a chuckle would be good, since I'm a humor writer among other things, but I want more.  I want to ruin your public persona because you are on a bus and can't stop laughing and everyone thinks you're nuts.  When you run  for president ten years later, I want to ruin your campaign because someone came of the woodwork and say "I saw that psycho ten years ago giggling to himself on a bus!"

I don't want to distract you from your life, I want to ruin it.  I want to shake it at the foundations because you see something in one of my characters that reminds me of you.  Or your mom.  Or your brother.  Or that guy on the corner who you always ignore but now maybe you want to say hi to.

I don't want you to read my stories in your spare time.  I want you to stay up late, give up a few hours of sleep, because you're too busy reading.  I want you to give someone important in your life that really irritating "mm hmm" answer because your nose is so deep in one of my stories you can smell the characters' body odor.  I want you to suddenly realize it's 5PM and you haven't eaten anything in three days because, shit, this book is good.

In short, I don't want you to read my stories.  That's a cheap aspiration.  I want my stories to shake something inside of you to the point where your life is different because of something I wrote.  Entertaining is good - we all need to be entertained from time to time.  But ruining your life?  That's better.

Maybe it's an arrogant goal, but I feel like I'm not serving you as a reader unless I'm working toward it.  I may never get there, of course.  None of this has been about how good I am or how good I think I can be.  Just about how good I want to be.

Saying Goodbye to Government Service

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my life path, I'll summarize the last decade or so below using clever ASCII art.

USAF Academy -> Active Duty USAF -> Reservist USAF -> Government Contractor

That's the gist of it.  And now, I'm saying goodbye.  I'm leaving behind the world of suits and uniforms and war and, in a complete reversal that I honestly never saw coming, entering the world of art.  I call it my Starving Artist Trifecta:  voice actor, author, musician, and I've written about it here several times before.  The biggest pillar of that right now is my voiceover career, but without a day job to weigh me down, I hope to strengthen those other two pillars significantly.

This is probably one of the strangest moments of my life. Looking back, when I was a young teenager and I decided to throw myself as hard as I could into the world of military service and worked every day with that goal in mind, I was convinced I would be doing it for the rest of my life.  I'd be a 30 year airman, an officer until they kicked me out, defending the values of American society from "all enemies, foreign and domestic."  I was also going to fly fighter jets and probably pilot the military's first Mechwarrior - two things that never happened.  I had seriously drank the kool-aid.  Hell, I was brewing the stuff in my basement.  I was all about glory and honor and watching Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, duty, honor, country, and those three hallowed words reverently dictated what I could be, what I ought to have been, what I would be.

Go back and tell that guy that some day he would blink his dry eyes, shake his head, and say "I don't want to do this anymore."  He'd laugh in your face.

Sometimes even now I laugh in my own face.  I look in the mirror, wonder what I am doing and tell myself to get a real job, something respectable.  Something that contributes to society.  Something that's bigger than me.  "You're selfish," a voice whispers in the back of my head.  "You don't want to do the hard work.  You don't want to sacrifice.  You're a coward."

It's harder to face than you might think.  To me, it's not just quitting my day job.  It's committing myself to a new life, almost an entirely new worldview and philosophy.  It's saying goodbye to the old life - the life that I spent all the years previous to this one building.  I worked hard to get here.  Really hard.  And then, all of a sudden  I realized that it wasn't the life I was meant to lead.  It was just a prelude, I think, to the one ahead of me.  But that doesn't keep that voice from whispering.

I've done some interesting things.  Some things I've felt great about; others maybe not so much.  I've met a lot of fantastic people.  I've met a lot of shitty people, too.  And, above all, I've learned a tremendous amount about myself and the world.  But, it's time to move on.  I leave it to the next generation of plucky young high-schoolers with stars and stripes in their eyes to figure out what to do about this country and those that threaten it - whether that be by putting on a uniform or by getting their hands dirty helping the poor in places all across the world.

I feel like I'll never really get out all the things in my head about this transition, but this is turning into a ramble as well as a very symbolic representation of what the last year of my life has been like.  It's time for me to stop straddling the line.

So: Deep breath, folks.  Here we go.

Slow Your Roll - Slate Article Had A Point, Despite Moronic Title

I saw a virtual explosion of anger yesterday at this article published on Slate, which admittedly doesn't have a great reputation for journalism.  The title was absolutely atrocious:  "Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed To Read Young Adult Books."  Accusatory, shaming, and outrageously stupid to target such a huge demographic with such inflammatory language.  In and of itself, that statement, I think, inspired huge streams of commentary.  And rightly so.  Nobody has the right to shame people for their literary choices, and, later in the article, the author even says so, even though there's a bit of clear tongue-in-cheek when talking about the "ethos of our era."

"I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. "

Now I could go on a bit of a tangent on the trend of titling articles in recent internet journalism - it seems just about everything is shameless clickbait - but I think that's for another time.  Suffice it to say that, in this case, the title of the article severely damaged the author's reputation and, more importantly, the content, which was actually sort of worthwhile.

My point?  Chill for a second.  At the risk of simply restating the article's content, there are actually a lot of good points.    The weirdest part  is that it contains information that, I suspect, most literary-minded folks already knew.  If you don't diversify your reading portfolio, you might be missing something important, if what you are doing is trying to use literature to enrich your understanding of life.  If you read literature as an escapist, or as a sort of relaxing leisure activity where the point is to distract you from a life that is nasty, brutish, and short, then I'm not sure that the article was really even intended for you.   And there's nothing wrong with that at all.  I think, perhaps, the author came off as even more snobbish by not drawing those lines in the sand (though she does probably stick a couple burrs by implying that "serious readers" don't read YA - I didn't say the article was perfect).

YA literature is written for young adults.  Middle Grade literature is written for kids.  There's always a target audience, and with that targeting come certain things that address the specific concerns of that audience.  Adults probably aren't dealing with bullying at school, nor are they dealing with the same sorts of identity crises that teenagers are.  I think the point of the article is that adult literature deals with adult concerns and can enrich the experience of adults in a way that YA literature cannot.

And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something. [emphasis mine]

Again, this line totally doesn't fall in with the title of the article, supporting my statement that whoever titled it is a buffoon.  There's no real shaming going on here, but  more of a qualification of the hypothesis.  But I think this is the real point of the article, and it's one worth paying attention to.  It's not about whether or not adults enjoy reading YA novels; it's about whether or not they are substituting growing as an adult with experiencing a second teenage existence vicariously through novels.  If it's not substitution, it doesn't really fall into what the author of this article is saying, despite her casting a stupidly wide net with that idiotic title.  Some of the other language of the article is snobbish, yes, but I'm not sure they're the fighting words that everyone seems to think they are.

Look; I love cartoons.  I will love them until the day that I die.  I love video games, too.  I'm replaying the Quest for Glory series at the moment, games that were made in the early 1990s, and lately I've been watching an awful lot of Sesame Street, thanks to my daughter.  But at some point, after my twelfth episode of Daniel Tiger or even Dexter's Laboratory, I need to go off and do something adult-like to keep myself mentally and spiritually healthy.  I love milk, too, and I will damn well continue drinking milk until the day I die because it goes great with cookies.  But milk is for babies (or calves).  It has some of the stuff that's going to keep me healthy, but I can't subsist on it if I want to remain a healthy adult.

A couple of obtuse analogies later, it boils down to this:  I've outgrown cartoons, and I've outgrown milk.  I still like both.  I will still consume both - and there's absolutely no shame or embarrassment in that.  But there's more to life than cookies and cartoons, and I'm healthy enough to realize it.

Now, if someone going to title an article "Men Who Watch Cartoons Should Be Fed To Wild Dogs," well...

 

 

I Just Narrated Ken Ham's Audio Book and It Gave Me the Thinkings

I do not miss the irony that shortly after I wrote a couple of blog articles talking about socio-political conflict and how some aspects of it bothered me, I was awarded the contract to narrate Ken Ham’s audiobook The Lie: Evolution.  I wanted to take some time and write down some of my thoughts on the book, since, frankly, I was a little surprised by its contents and Ken’s arguments.   You don't read a whole book aloud into a microphone and not have something to say about it afterwards.  So, here we go.

First, let me set up my bias (since we all have one).  I am a very moderate conservative, I would say, though I am loathe to identify with any one group of beliefs because I think that way leads to the dark side of closed-mindedness (the “party line”).  I am not a Christian.  I am a former Catholic-turned-agnostic-turned-Protestant-turned-agnostic.  It’s complicated.  We won’t get into it here.  But that helps you understand where I’m coming from when I talk about what I read in Ken’s book.  There is plenty of stuff I absolutely disagree with in The Lie, but there’s also some stuff that I thought was pretty sound logic.  So before you attack me for being either a burn-in-hell heathen or an intolerant religious zealot…don’t, because you’ll look silly and everyone will laugh at you.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ken Ham, he is an ardent and somewhat infamous Christian creationist; he and Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) recently had a public debate on creation vs. evolution.  I didn’t watch it, but lots of people did.   But the most poignant thing about Ken’s views, however, is that he is a “literal creationist,” that is he believes that the Bible is an infallible document which must be taken literally.  In today’s world, that’s a reaaaaallly tough position to take.

The Lie’s first surprise to me was that it really wasn’t an argument for creation.  Ken took almost no time to talk about archaeological evidence for the flood, the Cambrian explosion, and other science-like approaches to the creation debate – this was absolutely not a Lee Strobel novel.  I realized quickly that the book wasn’t about creationism.  It was about Christianity’s own interpretation of the bible, and it was, in my opinion, clearly written to present an argument to creationists, not evolutionists.

Now, I think Ken made two big points in the book, and I’ll deal with what I think the lesser one is first.  One of them basically levels the playing field a bit by saying that evolutionists, atheists, agnostics, and Christians all share one basic trait:  they are all religious.  I’ll wait until you stop gasping to keep talking.

He argues that evolutionism is just as much of a religion as Christianity.  It is just as dogmatic.  It requires just as many leaps of faith to cover information available only by inference.  And if you ask a Christian what it would take for him to stop believing in Jesus as his lord and savior, he will say: “This is not possible.”  Ken spent some time asking evolutionists and atheists the same question – what would it take for you to start believing in creationism?   He got similar answers – people had already made up their minds, and a shift in opinion simply was not possible.  Now that’s a broad brush to paint all evolutionists with, but I think he’s got a point for the cross-section of that population that DOES answer that question with “I will never change my views.”

So, Ken summed that up by saying (and I am paraphrasing, not quoting): “Everyone has a bias.  No one is immune to the dogma of their own personal religion, whether it is evolutionism, atheism, Islam, or Christianity.  The real question is: which is the right one?”  Now, of course, this assumes there is a “right” one.  But I thought the argument was interesting, and it might be helpful to just about everyone to sit back and assess their own dogma before engaging in any kind of argument.

Second, and now we’re really on to the main point of the book, was that if you do not take the whole bible literally (that is, you take Genesis figuratively), what’s the point of it all?  It was a big, giant, finger-wag to Christians everywhere.  Most of the anecdotal arguments he details in the book are between him and other pastors or other Christians, not between him and evolutionists.  I admit, I wasn’t expecting that.

I actually wrote a blog article a while ago on this very same principle, and I’ll be damned if I don’t agree at least a little bit with the point here.  If you can interpret Genesis in a loose way, why can’t you interpret, say, the resurrection of Christ as wholly or partially symbolic?  I know those are different sets of circumstances with different historical evidence, though.  So, in dealing with something a bit less controversial, if you can apply historical context to a document and argue that it’s not about what the text says but about what the text means in that context, why can’t you apply it to the phrase “sexual immorality” as used in the New Testament and argue that homosexuality is not a sin according to the bible?  Why couldn’t you, say, use it to create one of 41,000 denominations?  (My tongue may go right through my cheek, here.)

But the converse of “all or none” is also problematic, and it’s one point that Ken didn’t deal with in The Lie.  If you keep Genesis locked into a literal statement and ignore historical context, you must also do so with the rest of the bible.  The problem is consistency – what you do with one part of the bible, you must do with all parts of the bible (right?).  If you believe that the earth was created in six literal days, you must also believe that it is disgraceful for women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), you have a whole slew of confusing rules about multiple wives and slavery and death penalties.  You also must, “if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow [Jesus].” (Matt 19:21).  Not a whole lot of wiggle room, there, if you want to be literal about it – but I don’t see a lot of people selling all their possessions (nor do I think them hypocrites if they don’t…I’m not passing judgment here).

Yeesh.  It’s not an easy spot to be in either way, is it?  But Christianity isn’t easy.  I’m not sure any religion is.

Ken extends this argument to “compromise positions.”  He tsk-tsks at Christians who say that God used evolution, that the “days” in Genesis do not mean literal 24-hour days and could mean millions of years, or any such middle ground. Many of them have a logical flaw that, when tied back into his original argument, result in a loose interpretation of Genesis, which results in a potentially loose interpretation of the bible.  He insists that these views are sometimes more damaging to the creationist movement than the evolutionists, and I can see where he has a point.  It’s a pretty thick series of if-then statements that support his claim that if the bible’s not totally literal and infallible, why bother?

He doesn’t, however, address the “mature earth theory” as one of those compromise positions, which was disappointing as it is my personal favorite; that God created a universe that was billions of years old, but it only took him six days to do it.  Maybe he created a universe that was billions of years old to give us the pleasure of discovering it, fossils and all.  We’ll obviously never know.

So, to make a short story long, if I didn’t precisely agree with Ken or much of the content of his book, it did certainly make me think a bit.   His discussion about bias and everyone having their own religion made me snicker a bit at the comments I got from people when I told them I was narrating his book, who immediately dismissed him as an idiot (particularly people that weren’t even that familiar with his position), and his comments about all-or-none in regards to the bible, while maybe a little tailored to serve his own bias, had some good points.  I hope for a little while you could set your bias aside and just enjoy perusing my thoughts, as I felt compelled after spending so much time immersed in such a controversial topic to sort of let some of my brain leak out.

Have a thought of your own?  STOP IMMEDIATELY AND CONFORM TO THE SYSTEM.

Just kidding.  Post it below!

 

A Pretty Strange Post About Burning Out

I thought about making some kind of clever introductory joke about biting off more than you can chew, but I thought I might utilize the 1:1000 picture/word ratio efficiency.

 

That’s about how I feel right now, except picture that there are 12-15 more chips scattered around this hamster’s (gerbil? Who cares?) feet, each of which need eating.

I am a hamster that is irrationally passionate about those chips.  They are facets of my life; they bring it meaning, they bring it wealth to chase away financial worries, they bring companionship.  But not all of the chips were created equally; there’s one huge one right in the middle of everything that looks like it would take, I don’t know, forty hours a week to eat.  It’s pretty hearty – full of nutrients, and it tastes okay – but it’s sort of the life equivalent to a military Meal Ready to Eat (MRE).  It gets you what you need, but it makes pooping an adventure.  Sometimes, in the MRE bag, you get skittles.  Sometimes you get something resembling tree bark.  Most of the time, though, it’s pretty boring.  While it sustains you, you feel perpetually drained, like a zombie who only eats skinny people.

But there are other chips too.  The chips that are the tastiest, CHOCOLATE chips.  If you eat too much of them, you’re going to spoil your belly.  Or you’re going to spend so much time eating one of those chips that the rest of them are going to rot, and you’ll wonder to yourself one day “why the hell did I spend so much time eating THAT chip when I should have been focusing on THAT chip?  Wasn’t the tostito with the bean dip (my family) the most important? ”  Or wondering if you’re making a mistake by focusing so hard on the chip labeled “your artistic career” and that you’re a lunatic for thinking of giving up that giant, menacing 40-hour-a-week chip that you have to eat EVERY FUCKING WEEK UNTIL YOU RETIRE OR DIE BUT AT LEAST IT KEEPS YOU HEALTHY IF NOT PRECISELY SANE.

Then there’s lots of little chips scattered around on top of the bigger chips.  Bills.  Long, meaningful discussions with your wife about where you’re going to raise your family, and is it going to be where you are now, and why can’t we just live in Japan in a house with a lot of sliding doors, and where is the fucking SUN around here?   Little chips that, really, taste like another hamster came by and wiped his ass on them in some cruel prank, but they’re your chips so you have to eat them anyway.  Health insurance.  Car maintenance.  Instrument maintenance.  House repairs.  Realizing that you aren’t very good at those house repairs.  Realizing that you probably should have called an expert about those house repairs.  Realizing maybe tearing out part of your kitchen floor (and part of your kitchen wall) was probably a bit short-sighted.

Ultimately at some point you have to realize that your stomach is only so big, that you should try to eat as much of stability and responsibility as you can without making the rest of life tasteless.  And, most importantly, that sometimes you have to put the goddamn chips down for a day or two and fast for a few days so that you have the mental capacity to keep living.

Of course, while you realize that, you’re still not going to do it.  Because you have a family to feed, cheeks to stuff, chips to eat, and a dream to pursue.  You just hope that you’ll catch yourself before you start to fail at all of it at once, hope that that editor will get back to you soon about that book deal, hope that your voiceover career starts to gain momentum, and hope that stepping off the plank of the 9-to-5 grind lands you in tropical waters instead of chummed waters with fins (not dolphin fins) sticking out of it.

And that’s about where I am right now.  I’m a hamster with really full cheeks trying to grab a bunch of chips, standing on the edge of a plank (how the fuck did I get on this pirate ship?) and wondering if I ever actually learned how to swim.   I know it’s temporary – at least as temporary as I make it, maybe – but I’m ready for this 16-hours-of-work-a-day push to end and for my life to decide, once and for all, why a hamster is eating chips in the first place when everyone knows they eat other hamsters.

The Ten Impacting Books Meme

This popped up on Facebook and someone asked me to answer it, so I thought this might be a good place to post it!  Leave some notes on your opinions.

While these probably change daily and I'm sure I'm forgetting some, here are (currently) the ten books that have had the most impact on me.. I've included three non-fiction books because I took "impact" as also including "changing the way you think or act" as well as "struck you as super awesome stories."

1.) The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley - easily my entrance into fantasy as a genre, before I understood what it was (I was like 11). Strangely I started my fantasy journey with two books that had females as the lead character, something that certainly wasn't popular 20 years ago when I started reading.

2.) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - at some point it transformed from a fantasy novel into a thing of beauty. I love this book and I hate Patrick Rothfuss for not being an actual musician and understanding music so well.

3.) Memory of Light (last book in Wheel of Time). It's rare that I have to stop reading a book midway because I can't take the emotional strain. I literally put this book down after "the Last Battle" chapter and had to take a break. I'm not a huge fan of the denouement, but that was like the best chapter ever written.

4.) The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover. Just a really emotionally gripping story about a missionary family in Africa that I still think about many years after reading it.

5.) Catch-22. Being in the military and having a dry sense of humor, this is a must read for anyone and I absolutely loved it.

6.) Starship Troopers - Again, colored by my military experience, I read very few novels that really get across what it feels like to be in the service. This was one of them.

7.) It Starts With Food - Non fiction book explaining the biological impacts of the standard American diet and what you can do to change it. If there was one book to sum up the "real food" movement and why it's important, this it it (and it doesn't talk about GMO, so don't start acting like a jackass because that debate makes your internet-muscles flex)

8.) The Five Love Languages - Cheesy, I know, but every couple must read this book. It will change the way you think about communicating with your spouse.  Actually, it can be expanded to include communicating with everyone.

9.)  Husband Coached Childbirth - Completely reshaped how my wife and I went through pregnancy and birth together, as a team.  Changing the way we thought about childbirth (as in destroying the modern stereotypes and looking at how we were designed to do this) has had a real and tangible effect on how it all unfolded with my daughter's birth.

10.)  Brian Jacques' Redwall series - I'm reaching a bit, here as I run out of books (I read a lot of books but I don't know that many have really made a huge impact) but these were a huge part of my childhood reading experience and I still get hungry when I think of the feast scenes that are ubiquitous in the series

11.) Fifty Shades of..err...umm. Nevermind.

On Memorial Day

Today on Memorial Day I'd like to share a story with you all about my Great Uncle Stanley, a veteran of the second Great War.

He wasn't, at least not at the end of his life, a very well-liked man.  He was miserly, rude, and sometimes downright mean.  He was never abusive or an alcoholic, or anything, just not very pleasant.  And - I think - terribly lonely.  Much of it by his own design, but lonely all the same.

All that aside, he and I shared a lot of weeks in the summer together when I was little watching Yankees games, crab fishing, looking at his strange collection of African masks, and so forth.  I, therefore, never had any unhappy encounters with him.  I loved getting to spend time down there with him and his sister, with whom he lived (neither of them ever married).  I loved smelling his pipe smoke, to this day one of my favorite smells on the planet.

But this isn't about how different two people's experiences with the same individual can be.  Every once in a while, Uncle Stanley would tell me about The War.  I knew he'd been overseas during World War II, I knew he'd been in some rough parts of it, but aside from that he was always pretty vague.  I'm not sure if his age precluded him remembering some details or the experience itself packed away some of the memories for his own mental safety, as so many soldiers do.  Always I promised myself - as I got older and really understood what he must have gone through - I would sit down with a tape recorder and have him tell me the whole story.

He died while I was serving in Germany, the same place where he fought 60 years earlier.  I'll never get that chance, now.  His war medals were inherited by my aunt, who very graciously passed them on to me, knowing that my time in the military brought me a little closer to what those medals really meant.  A bronze star, a silver star, and a purple heart with two clusters (the equivalent of three purple hearts).  A few days ago, I finally got the official citation for his bronze star from the person managing his estate.

The full citation is below.

CITATION

AWARD OF BRONZE STAR MEDAL

Private First Class Stanley P Magielnicki, 517th Parachute Infantry, United States Army, for heroic achievement in action.  On 14 January 1945, Company G was attacking near Butay, Belgium.  While crossing an open field in the face of a heavy enemy barrage, the second platoon sustained many casualties.  Private First Class Magielnicki, with a comrade, bravely exposed himself to go to the aid of a severely injured man.  After removing the casualty so safety, he observed that the enemy was concentrating fire on a number of wounded men nearby.  PFC Magielnicki, disregarding the terrific intensity of the enemy fire and the apparent hopelessness of the situation, moved among the casualties aiding and encouraging the injured men.  With the aid of another man, PFC Magielnicki evacuated the casualties and saved the lives of several men.  PFC Magielnicki demonstrated courage and devotion to duty in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service.  

 

I don't care how angry and miserable he was at the end of his life.  My great uncle served with honor, and I'm remembering him today on Memorial Day.

There is a stream of people out there who seek to make people guilty for having barbecues today because they haven't been face down in a trench knifing a terrorist.  I'm not asking that.  In fact, those "rough men who stand ready to do violence" on your behalf, those who gave it all, would probably encourage it.  That's what they were fighting for.  They were the few, fighting for the many, so that the rest didn't have to.  So that the rest could be secure in knowing that tyranny and terror have no place between our shores.  Therefore, I hope you enjoy yourself today - I bet they would, too.  As you do, however, I encourage you to lift your glass.  As we say of fallen comrades in the United States Air Force:  "Here's a toast//to the host//of the men we boast..."

Boast them today with your celebration, and, if you can stand it, boast them with the way you live your life every single day.  You don't have to wear a uniform to live with honor.

 

Neurofibromatosis Awareness Month: Jordan's Story

I’d like to step away from the usual prattling of this blog to tell you a little bit about someone whose story you should know.  His name is Jordan Blazier, and he’s been diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis since the day of his first birthday.  He is now thirteen, and each year has been a gift.

May is neurofibromatosis awareness month, and I’d like to share Jordan’s story with you. 

I’ll leave the rest of the explanation to his mother’s article, where she details the experience of raising a child who has NF.  But I will tell you that the Blaziers have been some of our truest and most steadfast friends for several years now – they have inspired my wife and I to become better people, to become parents, to give ourselves away like they give themselves away for the good of others.  Jordan’s story – and his family’s – is a testimony to the true potential of the human spirit, and it is not to be read lightly.

I can’t tell you how much I encourage you to read the story and share it with others.  The goal of the NF awareness campaign is to help the over 100,000 families in the United States that suffer from this condition get into a community together.  If your words reach just one family who is suffering from this and gets them connected to a community of people that can function as a pillar of strength, you’ve done more to help keep the patients and their families strong than you can ever imagine.

Click below to read something inspiring.

AVWAS: The Bible, The Whole Bible, and Nothing But The Bible

The Bible is a BIG book.  A really big book.  Not nearly as big as the entire Wheel of Time trilogy put together, but at least as big as two of the books.  It’s about 800,000 words, depending on the translation.  From the Christian perspective, that’s a lot of perfection.  Many Christians – most that I’ve met – consider the Bible to be the irrefutable, if often misinterpreted, word of God.  That means that every one of those 800,000 words needs to be true in some way that is always applicable, never negotiable.

To me, this is one of the greatest stumbling blocks on the path to Christianity, and I’m sure I’m not alone.  The Bible says an awful lot of really good things about loving each other, being kind, being generous, meeting the needs of your community, and in general gives a pretty solid guideline on living a just and moral existence on this mortal coil.  Even if you hate what someone is doing, the Bible is pretty clear that you’re supposed to love them anyway.  That’s a good thing.  That’s tolerance – not a message we hear often associated with Christianity in the media.

But, to me, the Christian view is necessarily all-or-nothing. Either you believe everything the Bible says or you believe nothing of what the Bible says.  Or, perhaps I should rephrase that as either you believe everything the Bible says or you’re not a Christian.  I certainly believe a lot of things that the Bible says – don’t kill people, don’t lie to people, etc. – but I just as certainly don’t believe everything that the Bible says.

So, every time I read the Bible (which has been several times, for certain sections) I keep finding myself stopping and saying, “No, that’s wrong.  I don’t agree with that.”  And then it makes me want to put the book down completely, because with each stopping point there closes a door between me and Christianity.  I think there is a logical contradiction in saying “you need to take some of the Bible with a grain of salt” and also saying it’s the infallible word of God.  There are phrases in the Bible, such as “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:33-35) and, and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 reaffirms that sort of thought when it says that a man should never be taught by a woman.

There are many other examples in the Bible, but this isn’t a post trying to pick apart specific phrases; it’s about looking at the Bible as a whole and why that’s a tough thing to swallow for me personally.  The point is that there are bits and pieces of the Bible that I’m pretty sure I’ll never agree with.  To me, that’s a break in the logical chain – I can never become Christian.  Right?  Well, that’s how I feel sometimes.

“Taking it with a grain of salt” is often confused with “context.”  Context is king, I’ve been told, and I agree.  Context is important.   Context, however, is in the hands of the person interpreting it.  The church has used context to evil ends many times, so it makes me wonder if context is really that important after all.  If we misinterpreted the bible to support segregation (applying a different context to passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that said not to mix races), are we now misinterpreting passages that say that homosexuality is wrong?  How are we to know if anything in the Bible is being interpreted correctly if context has caused the church to fracture a hundred different ways over two thousand years?  All of this is sitting on the foundation of the biblical canon being chosen by a bunch of old men in a closed room 400 years after the death of Christ.  Whew.  That's really tough for me to wrap my head around.

I'll actually be meeting with a pastor relatively soon to talk about this issue, and I'll definitely share the results of that conversation.

I don’t intend to solve the problem here, only talk about what’s been on my mind.  If I could eliminate some of the stuff in the Bible that doesn’t make sense to me, I’d probably be more inclined to become a Christian.  In fact, I generally agree with everything that Jesus says all throughout the New Testament. He gives some incredible advice – some of which is tough love, too.  If I could be a Christ-Follower instead of a Christian, I might consider it (though Jesus throws a few curveballs, too).  I think it’s sad that the church focuses a lot more on Paul, who, in my opinion, was kind of an asshole.  But that’s tangential - I’ll write another post on that another time.

I don’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar or apologist, but I do know that if you have to eat the Bible whole, I’m not convinced I can stomach it.  I can’t simply ignore the massive book of violence and God-Wrath that is portions of the Old Testament, how God seems to have turned off his Smite switch when Jesus came around, etc. even if I believe that Jesus had the right idea.  Jesus came to cancel out some of the Old Testament, yes, but not all of it.  If I have to take the Old with the New, the Leviticus with the Luke, or the Paul with the Jesus, I might not want either.

A (Vegetarian) Wolf Among Sheep

I go to church every Sunday.  I go to a  Bible study every week.  I volunteer at church on my free time, and I occasionally do some "extras."  You might find me at church on a Friday or Saturday night, even.  My children will be raised in church, possibly attend a Christian school, and participate in religious education and activities.

I am not a Christian.

A lot of people find that pretty strange, and I don't blame them.  I find it stranger every day, myself.  It's a new kind of awkward when you go to a bible study full of Christians for the express purpose of studying a book about how to devote your life to a God that you're not sure really even exists.  Even though everyone around you might be welcoming, there's a bit of an electric tension that surfaces, a sort of feeling of not belonging.  I likened it to being a wolf among sheep, at first, but there's nothing malicious about it.  I don't come to all of these things because I'm going to challenge God and Jesus and other people's faith.  So, it's not quite like being a wolf among sheep at all.  A vegetarian wolf among sheep, maybe.  A wolf that thinks that sheep pretty much have the right idea, but disagrees with a couple of fundamental issues - like wearing wool, or bleating.

I think this puts me in a pretty unique position, and for a while now I've been thinking about writing down my observations from this point of view.  My goal isn't to make this blog into a platform for the discussion of religion and philosophy, but from now on if you see something titled AVWAS (A Vegetarian Wolf Among Sheep) followed by a subtitle, that's what this is going to be about.  There's no curriculum, there's no agenda.   It's only a blog, and I'm pretty sure that's what blogs are for.  So if you've been following this because you enjoy my writing or my music and you simply don't want to hear any discussion about one of the most taboo topics in American culture, you can feel free to ignore any of the articles that might follow.  I mean it sincerely that I generally respect all beliefs more or less equally (the Rastafarians are on thin ice with me, though).

In this lead-in, I want to give a bit of a background of where I am coming from:

I've done a lot of cultural studies.  I've traveled to a lot of places, done a lot of different things.  As a result, I like to think of myself as open minded.  A lot of people outside the church have a very narrow-minded view of Christians, and a lot of people raised in the church have a narrow-minded view of non-Christians.  I'm smack in the middle.  I've been in and out of churches my whole life.  I was a fairly devout Catholic when I was a kid, and I'm serious when I say that.  I prayed every night to God, went to church on a regular basis, attended Sunday school, and did other church activities, without complaining too much (though you'll have to ask my mother).  I wandered away from it in my teenage years, and when I met my wife I dove right back in to a completely different kind of Christianity.  I'm talking about the speaking in tongues, jumping up and down in church, rock music for two hours, people putting their faces on the floor and crying kind of church.  I didn't quite jump in that deep, but I was there for a while.

People ask me sometimes if that was really genuine - a lot of people think I was just playing the game so I could date my future wife at the time (she is a devout Christian and has been raised in the church her whole life).  Only I can really know where I was during that two or three year period of my religious journey.  All I can say is that if you grow the guts go home and try to convert your staunchly atheist/agnostic parents, you probably have to believe in what you're saying.  Other than that, I don't have to prove my experience to anyone.

But I've also done some other things, too.  I've read literature and studied religions from Greeks to Hindus to black magic and Alister Crowley to reading the Koran and parts of the Book of Mormon.  So, I'm not only looking at this from the Christian perspective, though I'm going to focus on it because that's the environment I'm immersed in right now.

I would say that I am not a Christian because the fundamental doctrine of Christianity states that you must believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, sent down by the father to live a perfect life and be given up as a perfect sacrifice to cleanse us of our sins and be our permanent intercessor as well as our gateway to eternal life in heaven.  Frankly, I'm not so sure.  I don't deny that it could be a possibility, but right now I don't believe it.  There are  a host of other things that I'm not in line with the church, and I'll deal with them eventually.   Since I don't believe in Jesus, I can't be a Christian.  It's cut and dry, for me.

There are, however, a lot of things that I am in line with the church on.  And I also acknowledge - and encourage everyone to be cognizant of - the fact that Christians are people.  In general, I support what Christians do.  No, I don't support radical right-wing psychopaths that want to lynch homosexuals or burn abortion clinics.  Those are the kinds of Christians that make headlines, and those are the kinds of Christians that aren't Christians.  I'll explain that more another time - the issue of ceremonially succumbing to the anecdotal logical fallacy when religion is involved.

So there it is.  A non-Christian acting mostly like a Christian who plans on writing a bit about why he is where he is.  A vegetarian wolf among sheep.  We'll see just how quickly someone sets my house on fire.  Hopefully I can get some profound thoughts out, first.

Until next time,

Joe

 

 

Awkward Party Jokes

Every once in a while I notice there’s a giant hole in my blogging regularity. Most of the time it has to do with major life changes, since I seem to be keen on packing them into small bundles of time. Now I realize that I haven’t written anything here since the day we were all supposed to die, and I thought that perhaps an update in order, because that’s what you do when you have nothing else to say at the moment. It’s like the awkward jokes told at parties when everyone runs out of things to talk about. Here’s the awkward joke of my life:

Writing: I’m still chugging away at the first book in THE DEICIDE SAGA, and it’s proving to be a much bigger project than I anticipated. The world I’m creating is huge, and requires me to keep large amounts of research data readily available for reference while I’m writing. Sometimes I just can’t remember the name of that city, or what color hair that one lady has. I’ve found myself more than once typing (CITY NAME) into the document rather than looking it up, because it’s hard to port all of that stuff to the multiple places in which I write. The novel is at 150,000 words at the moment, and my plan is to keep it below 250,000. I expect to have the first draft done by the end of February.

I’ve been invited to submit something to an anthology on military fiction for a friend of mine, which I plan on doing. The deadline isn’t until sometime later this year, so I have plenty of time (and plenty of projects to worry about) until then. I am, for example, still submitting to Writers of the Future, though I am one sale away from being too experienced a writer to qualify. The contest is a game-changer for writers, but is only open to those who have stayed below a certain sale threshold for short fiction, one that I am rapidly approaching. In the meantime, I’m still on my quest to get a story into Analog, Asimov’s, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ve been getting some very pleasant rejection letters from Sheila over at Asimov’s, so I might be close to working my way into some of these killer markets.

Oh, and Mythic Scribes, a website for Fantasy writers, is going to be publishing a guest post of mine on top mistakes writers make when dealing with militaries. That’s coming out on January 26th, but you can visit Mythic Scribes in the meantime at – you guessed it – www.mythicscribes.com .

Music: I’ve completely lost my mind. Since my first two tracks came out at OverClocked Remix, I’ve been working on 5 different projects for 5 different directors in addition to collaborating on at least 3 other tracks with other artists. This has put me in my studio for hours at a time getting these mixes ready. They include a carnival piece, gypsy jazz, flamenco, cool jazz, heavy metal, and Rachmaninov-style concerto, topped off with a reggae collaboration and some more requests for my strange talent for whistling.

It’s been exhausting, in a way, and it’s been a Time Vampire, but it’s been some of the most fun I’ve ever had with music. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve added a player to the right side of the page where you’re welcome to listen to some of the music that has been released. I’ll be updating that over time to make it easier to listen to, and of course over the next year that list of songs is probably going to triple.

Speaking of the website, I’m starting to think it needs a bit of an overhaul. I’m not sure quite how I am going to do it yet, but damnit it needs doing. If there are any web designers out there…nah, I’m just kidding. I can’t afford you, and I’m not famous enough to care that much. Ask me in five years when…well, when I’m still not famous, so I can tell you no for a second time.

That’s about it from my end. Of course life is happening in the background right now. I’m still getting ready to be a father, and that has its own level of stress. Maybe someday I’ll sit down on this blog and actually tell you all something interesting about my life instead of just writing a report on my writing and music adventures.

Thanks for reading,

Joe

On the Cusp of the End of the World

I don’t consider it my fault that I’ve been spending some time thinking about the end of the world.  I really have to hand it to those Mayans; they knew how to build suspense.  I should probably take a lesson from them in a story or two.

Everyone seems to be focused on the Mayan calendar ending signifying the end of the world by whatever means the Higher Powers deemed fitting: meteors, the resurgence of the dinosaurs, a Kardashian temper tantrum, whatever.  It’s all been doom and gloom, but that’s sort of what we thrive on, isn’t it?

I heard an alternate interpretation a few days ago from a colleague of mine who had recently gone to Chitzeniza in Mexico to visit the Mayan temple there.  Someone who professed to be a Mayan (I have serious doubts, too, but just go with it) said, “You people have it all wrong. It’s not about the end.  It’s about a new beginning.”

Normally I would say that the random musings of a Mayan-impostor tour guide in Mexico don’t affect me, but this one made me think.  We – humans, that is – have both an outrageously high and a laughably small amount of power when it comes to shaping the world we live in.  We can literally alter the ecosystem’s balance, change the atmospheric makeup of the planet, build wonders and terrors with equal ease.  Yet, when mother nature decides it’s time for us to get a spanking, we walk away with one collective red ass.  Really, really red – like Grandma’s wooden spoon kind of red.

The capacity and limitations of our power aside, there is no doubt that we have a mixed track record.  Our world, today and in all the years that have gone before this one, is a place of many intricate problems.  Sometimes it feels like there just isn’t much hope left.  But what if the Mayans had the right idea?  What if today we could start a new beginning?  There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that we’ve all unconsciously taken our first step into a brighter future. 

I like that idea.  But more than I like that concept, I like the idea that the “new beginning” doesn’t have to be on the macro scale at all.  I can start a new beginning at any time I want just by exercising the small amount of control I do have over my environment.  Sometimes that can mean letting that control go.  Sometimes that can mean being just a little kinder, forgiving someone a little easier, laughing a little harder.  Stress is a state of mind – this is my new motto – and I can resolve today to be a sponge instead of a cinder block.  Think about that metaphor for a second and get back to me; by that time I might understand what I’ve written (I’m winging it here, folks).

So, even if the sky does turn red in a couple of hours and your next dinner guest is a million-pound globule of flaming asteroid, you still have the time between now and then to make a new beginning.   Take the opportunity, and thank the Mayans for giving you the inspiration.

That’s all I have to say about that.  Have a great apocalypse everyone. 

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