What’s the Matter with Kids These Days?

As I write this, our household is nearing the moment in which the kids head back to school and my house is finally empty and quiet again for the first time in months. So, here I am, trying to get everything I can done before this delta variant (or any other of the variants) shuts down our schools again and we’re right back to the place it feels like we’ve been for the past 18 months where my kids are constantly in my office trying to convince me they should get more video game time.

Look, I get it. If you have more video games, you’re in my office far less, but then I have to deal with the absolute monster you become after because you apparently can’t handle more than 30 minutes of screen time before you become a little ball of rage who wants to destroy everything.

Cue the old man noises…

When I was a kid, I was allowed pretty much unfettered access to the tv for shows, video games, and then a whole lot of extra time on the computer after. And I would use it. I would sit in front of those screens for hours, letting my brain rot into a little pile of mush. But when I got done, it was usually because I was bored, and I would go off and do something else.

When my kids get done, it’s like they’ve been awoken from the worst nap of all time and they just want to go back to sleep, but refuse to do any actual sleeping, and then they just absolutely have no idea of what to do when it’s not screen time except scream and punch each other.

And I don’t know what to do about that.

Even more crazy to me is that they appear to not know what to do with themselves when the screens aren’t on.

My kids have no idea how to amuse themselves if it doesn’t involve a brightly shining LCD screen and somehow that makes me feel like I’ve failed as a parent. It’s not like I got training on self-amusement when I was a kid. I didn’t even have nearly the pile of toys these kids have. I had a bucket of action figures that I would drag around behind me and take into my sisters’ room to try and convince them to let my guys battle their Barbies. I had a bike that I would take around the neighborhood, or just ride in circles in my driveway. My kids take a whole ton of effort just to convince them that the sun is good for them, unless it’s to go across the street to the pool.

And I think that’s the part that’s most confusing to me. These kids will hang out outside for hours if I’m with them. They will happily hike through the forests, they will go fishing (with minimal whining when we’re not catching anything), and when we go camping, they will chitter away happily while we sit in the woods and wait for the fire to get hot enough to cook dinner. We have taken to trying to visit all the national parks and they will explore every inch of those places they can until we run out of time, but when we’re at home, the outdoors are some sort of evil place that will infect them with its fresh air.

So, in summation, I’ve finally reached the point in my old age where I look at these dang kids and can’t help wondering what the heck is wrong with them.

While also wishing I had the free time they had so I could just sit outside in the sun and take a nap.

Old Drafts: The Legend of Buddy Hero

I thought I’d share a little bit of old writing for all of you, just to give you an idea of the process I’ve gone through over the years. The following little bit of writing was one of the first things I wrote when trying to work out my ideas for The Legend of Buddy Hero. This was a point in which the book would have been a lot more like The Incredibles, but then that movie came out and I needed to find a different way in to the story I wanted to tell. Importantly, this was one of the first pieces of narrative fiction I actually tried to write, meaning it’s incredibly rough, and I’ve decided to keep it primarily in its original form, with a little bit of editing for typos and formatting. Considering how rough my writing was at this point, maybe it could serve to show that everyone has to start at their craft from somewhere?

“Today was yet another example of spectacular theatrics on the part of the Defense League as they once again saved the world from definite destruction,” I hear coming from the TV set over the bar. Tracy LaLane, horrendously reading from the teleprompter, seems to be taunting me from the flickering screen, going on and on about the glorious Defense League and their heroic efforts.  I find myself wanting to tear out my eyes as she continues while showing the images of this team of flamboyantly dressed freaks going about their business of saving the world.

“The threat du jour came from yet another meteor aligning with the earth’s orbit.  As always, our saviors at the Defense League were quick to act as the danger became apparent.  Colonel Courageous, ever the face of the team, held a press conference this afternoon to outline their efforts.”

The screen changes to an image of the Colonel standing in front of City Hall, surrounded by his entourage of costumed crusaders.  The frame seems to have been perfectly aligned so that it looks like the statue of Lady Justice is watching over him.  It is possible he was allowed to set up the camera angle himself?  I suppose they’ve got a pretty good PR set up over there. . . If only the world knew how Lady Justice really would view him if she was not just a statue looking down upon him.

“People of the city of Ikon,” Courageous begins, ever the one for putting on a show, “and of the rest of the world, today is yet another day that shall be entered into the history books.”

I mean seriously, the balls on this guy.  You’d think someone would be able to see through his crap, right?

“As you’re all by now aware, the planet earth was threatened again today by a giant asteroid that threatened to destroy all life on our wondrous soil. I am here to tell you that this threat has been contained.  After conferring with several of the world’s top cosmologists, it has now become understood that this will not be the last of this kind of threat upon our lives.  Although the cause of this recent continuing threat has not yet been determined, you can be certain that the Defense League will not rest until our children can feel safe.  For this reason, twelve of the League’s 15 members are being deployed into the depths of space to research the cause and the extent of this disturbance in our solar system.”

Yeah, there you go, twelve of you need to go out and check out how many big rocks are plummeting towards Earth.  I’m sure there’s nothing in it for them either.  I mean seriously, twelve?  I can’t imagine which of the three are the chumps who are going stuck behind with the rest of us. . .

Because of the obvious repercussions that will occur due to so many of the Defense League gone at one time, we are calling upon the hard-working police officers and emergency personnel to carry on in our stead.  These diligent men and women have always been the backbone to the legacy of keeping our nation safe, and I can’t imagine any better hands to leave you in.  However, the true key to our nation’s safety lies within you, the common people.  With such a tragedy on hand, I know that we can work together and feel safe.”

Jeez, now he just sounds like a parent leaving the kids with a babysitter.  How much more cocky can this guy get?  He might as well just tell us that if we’re bad while he’s gone we’re going to be grounded. Hell, I wouldn’t put it past him if he did ground us.  How the hell did this guy ever become the Icon of Ikon?

“Now, although I know it is standard procedure to answer questions after such an announcement as this, however, it is important that our operation begins immediately.  So, with that, I leave the world in your hands, good people of Earth.  Take care!”

And then in perfect unison, they all fly away.  I wonder how long they worked on that to get the image perfect?  It definitely comes off as quite the sight.  Maybe they have some sort of hand signal or something.

“Hey, BH, whatcha think about that, huh?  All yer pals jest up and left ya.” Carl, the bartender, sounds like he started smoking while he was hanging out in his mother’s womb.  All the same, he knows how to make a drink strong, and usually keeps from talking about the superhero stuff.

“Carl, come on, you know I don’t go by that name anymore.”

“Sorry, Buddy, you knows it’s alls cuz I tinks youse the best and all though, right?”

“Forget about it.”

“Fergottin’.  So’s, whatcha tinks about all dis, though?  Youse tinks they gonna find somethin’ out der in da outers spaces and whatnot?”

“I think it’s just another example of those freaks trying to lord it all over us common folks, trying to make us believe we couldn’t get by without them, you know? How do we know any of this is even real?”

“I dunno, Buddy, dat’s why I was axin’ you.  I thought dat maybes you might-“

“That’s not my life anymore, Carl.  Can we talk about somethig else?”

“Sure ting, Buddy, what youse wanna talk about?”

“How about another glass of whiskey?”

The idea for this scene, although it was never completed, was that a monster would fall from the sky and land just outside the bar.  This would happen in several places all over the city, and seeing as the big name heroes had all left (for reasons we would have later found out were just because they were going to go party or some sort of ill-conceived conspiracy theory I don’t remember anymore), it was left to Buddy and the C-Squad superheroes to save the day.

Which Buddy, of course, would do reluctantly….and drunk.

Book Review: Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology

I’m not a big fan of genre fiction. The very idea that fiction is made to fit within little buckets gets me a little itchy. Just the other day I was in a conversation with an author who was looking for books in which the main character is a writer. Like, that was a type of bucket she wanted to find books to put in.

I’m much more of the type of reader who prefers his fiction to be unexpected. I often refuse to read the synopsis of a book that is recommended to me just so I can get into the book without the preconceived notions one gets from knowing the type of book you’re getting into.

All the same, it turned out I somehow managed to have this short story anthology of books the editors considered the penultimate examples of cyberpunk on my Kindle and decided to give it a read. The one thing it had going for it was that cyberpunk is a genre I haven’t spent too much time reading and in general have very little experience with (even if I did spend some time playing Cyberpunk 2077 in the last year).

To put it simply, I had a lot of fun with this anthology. While there is definitely some short hand which exists within this genre, like with any genre, that makes many of the stories feel similar to each other and lacking some surprise from one story to the next, what I found most interesting as I made it through this collection is how much these authors were able to play around with the concepts of corporate government and general dystopian nightmares. Short stories probably benefit the most from genre fiction, as you can easily build a world with the shorthand of the genre, allowing the author to focus more on character development and exploration of themes.

Quite possibly my favorite story out of this collection was Cory Doctorow’s story about the “end of the world” where a bunch of system admins were stuck in a server building housing a large portion of the internet. Their situation led them to discuss the idea of whether to continue fighting to keep the internet alive or to burn it to the ground in order to stop the terrorists. It was a clever take on the concept of a post-armageddon world, seen through the eyes of the people we usually don’t think of, who also manage to keep our networks running, and therefore also keep the world running. While I’d question this story’s inclusion as cyberpunk, because it was set in the modern world, it still asked many of the same questions you’d find in a cyberpunk story, while giving it an interesting new lens to ask them through.

In summation, although I’m not a fan of genre-fiction, this collection really felt like a fun take on a genre I had little knowledge of and learned a lot through.

And now I feel like I need to give Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom another chance…

Murdering Babies

Everyone get excited, it’s another white male here to tell you all about what you should think on abortion!

I struggle with abortion. It’s not that I don’t get the whole “my body, my choice” side of things, but that I’m not sure where I sit on the sanctity of life. Or more specifically, when that sanctity begins.

I tend to be a pacifist when it comes to things like killing other living things (outside of mosquitoes and a few other random pests, or for food). And so, I find myself in the same place when it comes to the topic of abortion. And it gets a little more wonky because I think all of us, regardless of religion (or lack thereof) see life as being somewhat sacred. Murder is wrong. We don’t like the idea of prescribed euthanasia. Heck, many people aren’t even for the death penalty for murderers nowadays. Our opposition to murder means that somewhere, deep down, we all recognize that there is a right to life that we all share.

Which, presumably, would also apply to the unborn, at least to some degree.

So the question then moves on to “When does the unborn have a right to life?”

And people have answers. For some it’s at the moment of conception, for others, it’s when the fetus is no longer working as a parasite and can live on its own outside the womb, even if it might need a little help. For others, it might be somewhere in-between. I’m guessing the answers on when are pretty darn varied among all of us, but I’m pretty confident that almost everyone agrees that it happens sometime before the actual birth.

For myself, I don’t consider myself a man with answers, just plenty of questions, and I ultimately don’t know that I know how to draw that line between saying one moment in a fetus’s existence is when they gain the right to life. This has been my ongoing struggle with the very discussion of abortion, that I do believe there is a right to life we all share, but how do we determine a specific point after a baby is conceived as being more life-like than the previous one?

BUT! I’m not actually opposed to abortion. And I’m definitely opposed to a Texas-sized stance on abortion.

Like I said, I don’t have the answers about anything. That includes the female body. I mean, I’ve got a pretty competent general understanding of the anatomy and how things work, but, I’ve never operated one directly. And just like I have questions about the right to life for the unborn baby, I have questions about the right to a woman’s control over her own body. I like knowing I have a significant amount of autonomy over my own body and would certainly struggle if I were suddenly told that it was going to be rented out by another human for the next nine months without my consent and no option to evict.

While I may cringe at the idea of abortion as a too-late-contraceptive, I also know there are plenty of pieces to this puzzle which make it difficult to place unquestionable rulings on. There are health concerns, those good old Sophie’s Choices, where the mother may die if they bring a child to term. And considering how poorly we are willing to support a child after birth, I completely understand the strain an accidental pregnancy could have on a young mother.

Actually, there are plenty of things that could come up once you start looking into what the well-being of the kid might be after birth. A pregnancy from a rape could definitely lead to a mother who can’t even look at the child. And considering the hell that is our current foster system in America, there are plenty of questions about putting the kid up for adoption as well. Not to mention how many people we have living under the poverty line and people who simply don’t have access to a support system or resources necessary to take on the full-time job which is taking care of a kid.

This may feel a little distracting from the original question, but when we’re discussing the concept of enforcing life on little ones who will have to struggle through life, our welfare systems immediately come into the picture. And right now, there are many of us who can’t help thinking of the welfare systems in our country as something that people will abuse, as opposed to something people need to survive. Like the school district near me in Waukesha, WI, who decided they would reject the federal free meals for kids program because, as the person actually named Karin put it, it would spoil the kids. Spoil them? By making sure they had food on their tables?

I’m sorry, Karin, but I’ve seen those meals they’re offering. They are not being spoiled. It’s not like they’re being given caviar and filet mignon. No, they’re getting old Uncrustables and apple sauce. They’re being given the bare minimum necessary for survival. They might as well be getting the MREs we send overseas, as they’d probably have more protein in them.

Why are we so willing to expect every single fetus to live when we don’t want to help them live after they come out? Now, I know that not every single pro-lifer out there is like Karin and there are plenty who do have concern for the child after birth, but at the same time, when people like Karin are the ones making the rules, what hope do these children have? We’re expecting people who aren’t responsible enough to use protection during sex to carry children to term and then also expecting them to suddenly be responsible enough to care for a child?

It took a global pandemic for our nation to finally start making sure our kids had ready access to food through the free meals program. These same kids still had the same food uncertainties before the pandemic and will still have them long after. How long do we actually expect to keep giving out this free food once our country returns to some version of normal?

Look, I’m not personally a fan of the idea of abortion, and I’m happy to say I’ve never been in the situation where it’s been a discussion for me. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss the idea if I had gotten a girl pregnant in high school. I also know there are many valid reasons that someone may need to end a pregnancy before it is completed, meaning that abortion is not inherently wrong. And that’s really where I stand on abortion. I’m waffling somewhere in the middle as someone who is happy he’s never been put in the tough situation where he’d need to even consider it, and as someone who, even if he had to consider it, wouldn’t be considering it for his own body, but for someone else.

However, I do have some pretty definitive thoughts about how we should take better care of the kids who do make it through pregnancy. In fact, I can give you all the definitive answers on my feelings about how we should be doing better for our less fortunate in general. The answer is always that we should be doing more. Food? Yes. Shelter? Yes! In general, if the question is should we do more, my answer is “YES!”.

But if the question is “should abortion be illegal”, my answer is generally a no. Regardless of whether I have difficult with some of the specifics of abortion, there are more than enough reasons in which abortion can be medically necessary which makes it downright dangerous to place blanket statements against them. And anything past that, I might have to look toward someone with a uterus for a little more insight. I like things to live, and I’m certain there are people who are using abortion recklessly, but I also know that there is so much more to it than simply murdering babies.

The Sound of Silence

The good old days when we thought the pandemic was only going to last a couple weeks and we were set to have some fun…

For the past 18 months, it has felt as though my house has been in a nearly constant state of chaos. Although the kids were going to school four days a week by the end of the last school year, it feels like I’ve spent far too many work days trying to wrestle my kids into submission since the start of this pandemic.

But my kids are back at school now. Full time. Sure, all of these new variants we’ve got kicking around might mean this is a short-time affair, but at this exact moment my house is…quiet.

It is glorious.

Sure, it’s a ton harder to not decide to take a nap or three instead of getting work done, something I just spent the last ten minutes trying to justify, but the increase in my productivity from not having to run up the stairs to yell at everyone for yelling too much should make up for it.

So, I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that life is pretty awesome right now.

Look, I love my kids, and there’s definitely a certain bliss to be had with the sound of them outside my office all-too-ready to spend time with me. Having my youngest come in and cuddle me while I’m focused on a work project serves as being both an annoyance and a joy. But knowing that right now I have not only the opportunity to increase my productivity by an incredible amount because I don’t have to stop what I’m doing every few minutes to put out the latest (figurative) fire they’ve caused has put me into something of a happy place, while again, causing me to question how many naps are too many.

It’s not like I don’t deserve a nap. Now that school is back in session, I have to get up at 6AM to make sure they all can get out the door on time, as opposed to the devil-may-care attitude I’ve put towards morning alarms over the past 18 months.

Of course, who needs an alarm anyway when two out of the three of my kids already wake up at 6AM and turn on every single light in the house before letting me know that the sun started shining over the tree tops yet again.

I love my kids…

And, to be honest, I actually might already miss them being around a little bit…just a little.

Impersonating an Author

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m incredibly good at downplaying my own work as an artist. While I talk about it quite readily and openly here on my blog, I typically try to avoid discussing it with anyone in person. And when people try to bring it up in conversation, I am often quick to change the subject.

It’s not because I’m not interested in being known as an author. It’s not because I’m embarrassed about the idea of people knowing about my art. The truth is quite the opposite, in that I would love for everyone to know me as a writer. I like to pretend the accolades and back-patting and even the pride of friends doesn’t matter to me, but if I’m being completely honest (which is what I try to do here for you all), it’s probably one of the things I want most in this world.

So, obviously, then, the question is why would I be so unwilling to share my art with people in conversation when all I really want to do is to share my art with people?

And the only answer I have is that my confidence level is impossibly low.

While I’m incredibly proud of my work and honestly believe that it is at the very least on par with the majority of new books being put out in the print market, I still find myself stuck in my old insecure ways. Sure, I may love it, but why would that mean anyone else would?

And yes, I realize how stupid of a thought process that is. I have had countless people reach out to me just to tell me how much they loved my books. Friends, family, and strangers. I’ve actually made friends just because of people liking my work enough that they wanted to contact me to let me know. People I probably talk to more regularly than I do my actual friends nowadays.

I have, I guess you could call them, fans.

It may not be a huge fanbase and perhaps they aren’t exactly rabid for my next release, but there are more than a handful of people on this planet who will pick up and read my newest releases as soon as they are released.

And yet I still sit here feeling as though I’m bothering people simply by letting them know that I do this thing that’s pretty cool and that people actually like.

I mean, I’ve won awards. Not a ton, because I don’t actually, you know, put myself out there, but I have officially been told my stories are some of the best out there and yet I still feel almost embarrassed talking about them, because it’s one of those weird hobbies that I’m just not sure how to justify.

I was much more open with my movies when I was making them, which are terrible, than I am about my books, which are, by all accounts, pretty good.

And the really stupid thing about all of this is that although at this point my writing doesn’t account for much more than a hobby (if looking at time spent), even if I do get to include it in my taxes most years as additional employment, all I really want at this point in my life is for it to be my career.

And the worst part about all of this is that because I secretly harbor this want to be loved as an author, and am constantly afraid that my selling myself as one will simply be annoying for those around me, I’m actually really bad about finishing what I’m working on. Because I’m scared that each new story I put out there will finally out me as a fraud.

I have seven published books, two plays that have been performed in front of sold out audiences, three short stories in different anthologies, not to mention this blog which, at its peak, had people reaching out on the regular for sponsorships and the like, and I keep feeling as though at some point people are going to see me as a fake author.

Which, I know, is incredibly stupid.

I am an author. And I love being an author. And if there were one thing I could do with my life for the rest of my life, it would be exactly this: writing.

A few days ago I managed to set aside five hours simply for writing. And it was one of the best days of recent history. I mean, yeah, I’ve had tons of fun with my family and friends, but I came out of this day of writing feeling as though I had done some amazing work. And feeling accomplished. And feeling satisfied.

And yet, with all of this, I still feel as though calling myself an author is somehow a lie.

While at the same time, here you are, reading yet another blog post from me, meaning there’s something about the words I put to the page which is at least slightly better than the buzzfeed article you skipped past. I should take that to mean something.

And I do. This blog has been the one place where I’ve felt less like a fraud than anywhere else. And for that, I thank you.

And I love you.

Flash Fiction: How to Subjugate Humanity – Part II

Once the rest of the sweaty and toweled men finished laughing at the Asian delegate’s grandiose statement, he smiled broadly.

“How familiar are all of you with the concept of designed diseases?”

“This again?” the representative from North America said, groaning loudly as he looked around the room to see if the rest of the group agreed with his annoyance. “All of us are familiar with them. All you ever do is talk about your amazing bespoke viruses and the only thing we’ve got out of it so far is a South Park episode about SARS blankets.”

“SARS?” the delegation from Australia joked. “That was, like, twenty years ago, right?”

The Asian delegate looked frustrated, but still held a certain confidence about him as he continued. “I’ll admit that the SARS epidemic was a tad less exciting than we had hoped, but we have a new SARS, a better one.”

“Next,” the South American representative said with a wave of his hand.

The Asian delegate’s shoulders slumped and he pouted. “Guys, come on. I’ve really got something this time, I promise!”

The African delegate closed his eyes and pinched his nose in frustration. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all our attempts at instituting a pandemic, it’s that you can’t have a deadly disease without just simply killing everyone off before they can infect everyone. Ebola had people literally spewing out of every orifice and we still couldn’t get that stuff to spread.”

“Our African brother is right,” the European delegate chimed in. “We’ve tried biological warfare through diseases. They simply don’t work like they used to. Now, if we could just find a way to bring back the Black Death, then we would–“

“You’re always talking about your stupid plague,” the North American representative cut the European delegate off. “That was over 500 years ago, buddy. Get over it.”

“I’ll get over it as soon as you get over talking about your stupid slave trade,” the European delegate shot back. “We killed hundreds of millions of people.”

“Yeah, but where’s the control there?” North America responded. “You just killed people off. That’s the whole problem with these diseases. How can you control people if you just kill them off? Remember when we allowed you to bring over smallpox? You almost destroyed my entire continent.”

“And mine!” South America chimed in.

“That was a pretty funny prank,” Australia laughed.

“Gentlemen,” Asia said calmly, “this is why my new disease is so perfect. It’s deadly, but only in one percent of the population.”

“Then what the hell is the point?” Europe shot back. “Even if everyone got sick, you’d still only be looking at seventy-eight million people. That’s barely more than we lost during the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.”

“I’m with Europe on this one,” North America replied. “People barely even talk about the Spanish Flu anymore.”

The Asian delegate’s wide grin returned as he realized he finally had them where he wanted them. “Right, but here’s the thing. It’s super infectious and most of the people who get it won’t ever even know they had it.”

“This is incredibly boring,” Africa yawned. “Didn’t I hear something about you guys having murder hornets over there ready to release? Let’s talk about that.”

The Asian delegate’s grin dropped and he muttered under his breath. “The murder hornets aren’t ready yet, like I keep telling you.”

“Perfect. Next,” South America said, waving his hand again. “Does anyone else have anything?”

“I’ve got some wildfires I think I could get to cover a major part of the globe in smoke,” Australia added hopefully.

“Interesting,” South America replied. “I’m not sure what we can do with smoke, but you’ve got those drop bears, right? Anything we can do with them? Maybe have them escape on a plane or something?”

“Um,” Australia said sheepishly. “So, we may have exaggerated a little bit about the drop bears.”

“I really think you should hear me out,” Asia cut in once again. “I’ve got a whole big plan and everything.”

“You Asians and your plans. I mean, sure, bringing the United States into World War II was great and everything, but you’ve got such great options for social unrest over there that you’re hardly using,” South America added. “Just look at North America and Europe. They’ve been installing some of the most polarizing leaders of all time, and look at how angry their people are getting.”

“Don’t forget about how we’re bringing racism back,” North America said with a cocky grin.

“Right, racism. That’s always a good one,” Africa laughed.

“Don’t worry, my disease will also bring racism to the forefront.”

The group laughs loudly.

South America took a deep breath and gained control of himself again. You really need to spend a little less time hanging out in your poppy fields. Are we agreed to see where we can go with these wildfires, at least to start?”

North America jumped in excitement. “Actually, I had this really awesome idea I had been working on in that vein. What do you guys know about gender reveal parties?”

A Title for a King

I’m terrible at titles. Both in my blog posts (as can be seen here) and for my creative works. I can spend hours upon hours working on them and never get to the point where I feel like I’ve managed it successfully. How in the world do you possibly come up with a simple phrase to capture the essence of a 300 page novel while also being catchy enough for someone to want to pick it up?

That’s not to say I don’t have some titles that I’m proud of. The Agora Files is one that I think was particularly clever on my behalf, especially considering I initially named the book Run! and almost released it with that name as well. The Long Chron was the first name I came up with for that book and the one I stuck with, as well as possibly being my favorite title of them all, but Daddy of the Dead still sticks with me as being grossly misleading, as it does not feature a father figure for zombies.

And so it goes that my current nearly-complete work in progress is now undergoing a moment of redefinition. I’ve been referring to this book as The Right to Liberty for years now. This was the title I gave to it before I even began writing it. And although my wife has long told me how much she doesn’t like the title, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I really started realizing how little this fits the vibe of the book.

So, for the past few months, I’ve been slowly whittling away at the concept of the book and trying to come up with a fitting title for a novel about a man who tried to secede from the country at the same time he enters retirement, while also starting a revolution in the middle of the Northwoods of Wisconsin, which involves a large number of millennials camping out on his lawn.

I have a few I thought I’d share with you today. Feel free to comment on how terrible they all are if you must, but I’m still working on getting that final perfect fitting title…or at least the one I dislike the least.

  1. The Four Hundred Acre King

2. Jim Monroe’s Country for Young People

3. The Nation of Jim Monroe v. The United States of America

4. The King of the Northwoods

5. Moonshine Monarchy

Thoughts, critiques, ideas? I’d love any and all of them. Or just give me the best name for this book so I can stop spending time wondering what it is?

Love you!

Video Game Review: Doom (2016)

If there’s one thing I’m most conflicted about in the world of the 21st century, it’s that we keep releasing new versions of the things I absolutely loved when I was a kid. Right now we’re in the midst of waiting for the release of a new Ghostbusters movie, a new He-Man movie, another Little Shop of Horrors, Fletch, Drop Dead Fred, Starship Troopers, Wargames, The Birds, Commando, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Escape from New York, Highlander, My Fair Lady, Romancing the Stone, Scarface, and the list I just found on the internet goes on and on. And these reboots/remakes/sequels often wind up taking priority in the films we talk about when we talk about the movies we want to see.

And I’m conflicted because although I enjoy the nostalgia as well as the chance to get a new story in a world I love, I also want new stuff. New stories. New characters. New worlds.

Enter the 2016 sorta sequel/reboot to Doom called Doom, a fresh (well, five years old) take on a game I absolutely adored as a kid.

And it has been pretty great so far. I’m only about a quarter of the way through, but this game has so much of the insane first person shooter energy that made the original game an instant classic. Not only do you get new takes on some of the most outrageous monster ever designed, but you get that frantic energy of suddenly finding yourself in the midst of dozens of overpowered monsters with far too little ammunition, wondering if there’s any health nearby as a demon-skeleton with rocket launchers on his shoulders jumps down in front of you and cackles maniacally.

Sure, there’s a story that is moderately interesting, and the level design definitely causes you to want to dig in and explore (except when they expect you to do some first-person platforming, which is a thing I wish video game developers would stop thinking is a good thing). But what it’s really about is when the metal music starts kicking up around you and you realize you’ve suddenly hit another spawn location and you’re outnumbered and you’re just hoping you can find a place to duck and cover as you run around in circles shooting whatever weapons you have equipped while wondering if they’re ever going to bring the BFG into this thing so you can finally start causing some real carnage.

That’s the kind of stuff I loved about the original, and that’s the stuff they’ve brought in spades to this game. Unlike Doom 3, which was a fun game, but far less about that shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality required for the original games.

And I’m hearing that Doom Eternal is even better…

But, um, I mean, the independent video games market is still pretty awesome. Ask me about Automachef sometime…I won’t have a ton to say about it, but it’s unique and a whole lot of frustrating machine building that will make you tear your hair out as you wonder how in the heck you’re supposed to keep your machines from putting out too many ingredients.

A Mid-Pandemic Retrospective

Back in March of 2020, when we were first shutting down due to the severity of the impact to our hospitals brought upon us due to the COVID-19 outbreaks, I’ll admit, I felt a little weird. Like, things were shut down. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. Suddenly my kids were home 100% of the time. Plans were cancelled. Future trips were in question. And for the first time in my life, more so than the September 11th attacks even, I felt as though the world was being irrevocably changed.

But, then…it didn’t actually feel all that different. Yeah, we hunkered down and spent most of our time outside instead of doing the indoor activities we also liked. We didn’t see our friends or family…but, the busy road in front of my house was still busy. When I drove around town, all the roads were still just as busy as ever. I think I expected a sudden ghost town appearance to the world once the quarantines happened, but instead, the world still kinda felt like it was humming along rather like normal.

There were a few times where I got this haunting feeling that things were different as I walked around my world, but really, the haunting thing was: it wasn’t.

There were certainly moments where it was impossible to recognize the impact COVID was having on my world. I remember going to my favorite steakhouse to pick up dinner because they were offering a special on the food they had ordered for St. Patrick’s day before they had to completely close their doors. This also happened to be the exact time all the bars around town had to close. While I was waiting in a socially distanced line where no one was talking to each other and we all gave furtive glances around the room behind our masks, the street erupted into this sudden absolutely ridiculous amount of noise as everyone was pushed out of the bar for an incredibly early last call which would be the last call for months.

I remember seeing the sign on the golf course across the street blaming COVID for being closed. Heck, even the local downtown movie theater isn’t reopening until later this month.

And I remember the feeling of going into grocery stores, with a mix between people who were terrified of being out in the world and others who would fight at the entrance about how they had a medical/religious reason for not wearing a mask. I remember the feeling of holding my breath whenever I walked past someone while searching for the items I was tasked with picking up, assuming this would somehow help avoid the spread.

But these all felt like exceptions, as opposed to the actual reality. For the first time in my life, I was actually directly impacted by the big news events the news reports were talking about, but, well, it still didn’t really feel all that different.

I had worked from home for 10 years already by this point. Having the kids home all the time was a bit much, but wasn’t all that uncommon during the summers anyway. And as we were just coming out of winter when things shut down, it was pretty normal for us to want to spend all our time outside.

But then I started talking to some of my friends who were a bit more directly impacted, such as the director of our regional theater who was having to suddenly cancel shows which meant they were looking to have to fire off all their staff because they simply couldn’t afford to pay anyone.

Or my friends in the medical community who were quarantining themselves from their own families because they didn’t want to possibly pass on anything they had gotten during their extreme overtime hours.

Heck, there was even the guy who worked in a customer facing role whose wife is immunocompromised, who would strip down in their back yard and put his clothes in the washing machine before he even walked in the house so as to avoid passing anything along.

Sure, I’ve been wearing masks and cancelling trips, but I’ve not had to fear anything outside of passing this disease on to someone else throughout all of this. My life has been pretty cushy for a pandemic, and I have a feeling this is true for many of us.

But there are far more who are still struggling to get through this pandemic. People like my friend who lives in constant fear he’s going to have to cancel the few shows he’s managing to put on at his theater. Or the friends who didn’t see their family for weeks as they fought on the front lines to try to keep as many people alive as possible while their colleagues fell victim to this impossibly virulent disease. Or, the people I don’t know who are starving because we simply don’t have enough ability to ship aid to places we’ve long shipped aid to.

I spent months trying to figure out why things didn’t feel all that different for me before I realized it was because of how blessed of a life I lead. There are so many others who were simply and suddenly out of work and have spent the last year and a half fighting to figure out how to stay alive, while I sit here and question when I’ll be able to travel freely again.

I’ve been lucky…and I’m guessing that especially if you’re unvaccinated and/or unmasked, so have you. Maybe you should think about those who have been struggling their way through this pandemic before you decide to continue being unwilling to suffer even the most minor of inconveniences as a way of saving the world.

In other words, as I’ve said many times already since the blog came back: wear a mask and get vaccinated. Save the world.