The short film is a goofy little comedy I wrote, directed, and am still producing. It’s these three guys playing D&D who then accidentally summon an actual golem when using what they think is a crazy rare edition of the Monster Manual.
My original goal for it was to enter it into the MyRodeReel online film contest, but that fell through when I couldn’t get it done in enough time. That’s fine, because the main stipulation for the contest was to enter a film which would be under three minutes in length. The material I’m working with is going to be a bit longer than that…
It was a lot of fun to shoot. I got the cast and crew together for one afternoon/night of shooting. I do wish I’d taken a little more time, but the location was only available for a very limited time…though reshoots aren’t totally out of the question…I dunno; I’m just ready to have it done. We’ll see what the story requires.
13-part novel series – The Baker’s Dozen! If you know me at all outside of this blog you know I’ve been working at working on this thing for a while now. It’s still hot in my brain and I’ve started gathering all my notes and whatnot and trying to organize it. I’m also trying to get all this other stuff done so I can attack it as unfettered as possible.
Father’s Day was nice. Being a father to an almost-two-month-old makes me feel as though I barely qualify (especially considering how grumpy I can be at 2AM changing a diaper) but, still. Jenn okayed the purchase of a 48” TV that was on sale at the BX and got me a bottle of my (and hers) favorite wine (which we thought was discontinued but miraculously reappeared at the Diamondhead Market) as well as some delicious gourmet chocolates.
This morning I slept through my alarm and missed my new workout time with my good buddy Josh (who also stars as the titular character in The Golem’s Curse) but managed to eventually make it out to the gym on my own and now here I am at Starbucks blogging my eyes out.
I had in mind to try and talk about some heavy spiritual or social issue stuff, but I don’t really feel like it right now. However, I am a little overdue for a blog posting, so I guess this is just one of those “day-in-the-life” posts, or a “here’s what’s up with me” thing.
Just trying to carve out time for stuff like this is a challenge, but I’m getting there.
*NOT AN OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON FOR THE DOD, DON, OR ANYONE EXCEPT THE STAFF OF THECLIFFBAILEY.COM WHICH IS THE CLIFF BAILEY OF HONOLULU
The news started breaking as I was heading to bed after 0200.
“Mass Shooting in Orlando – 20 Dead, 20 Injured”
All I could think was, “Shit…here we go again.”
By the time I woke up this morning it was 50 confirmed dead.
Fifty souls lost at a night club in Orlando, Florida.
Gun crowd says there should be more guns in the hands of citizens to fend off such attacks.
Gun control crowd says the laws need to be tighter.
Some say it’s (radical) Islam which is to blame.
Some blame the President for making our country more friendly to terror – er…Muslims.
Some say it’s God’s judgement.
Some say it’s just a super fucked up thing to happen.
As mass shootings increase in frequency; as hatred continues to grow in strength and manifest in vile groups such as ISIS, the KKK, human traffickers, and politicians; as acts of terror become the new normal…I gotta confess, I’m not entirely surprised.
Always saddened and disappointed with humanity, but not shocked and certainly not surprised. Before things get better, they’re going to get worse.
There are moments of reflection where I sit back and wonder why on earth I colluded with another human to bring a new human into the world. There are moments where I reconsider and doubt the wisdom of my career choice in pursuing content creation (filmmaking, writing, etc); shouldn’t I be doing something important with my time instead of dreaming up frivolous stories for entertainment? The Titanic is sinking and I’m auditioning for the band?
Entertaining is all I’ve ever really felt good about being good at.
When you can laugh, think of a joke, sing a song, or just be creative in even the darkest of circumstances fear is castrated, terror is mortified, brokenness is restored.
And when you can get other suckers to laugh, think, sing, create with you, then the doom of doom is even more pronounced.
Besides, the boat is sinking; ain’t nothing changing that fact.
Now, the more we laugh and sing and dance gaily about our merry lives, the more darkness there is that conspires against us, seeking to snuff out the delight of life bringing only ruin and misery to nature’s existence.
Last night I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on web series. The panel consisted of three folks (Bernie Su, Hannah Cheesman, and Julian DeZotti) who have produced series for online distro and consumption and have a significant measure of success.
There were a few folks there I know from the Collective and a lot of folks I’ve never seen before.
It was my first panel discussion, so I figured I’d go whole hog into the experience and ask a Q during the Q&A portion.
I wasn’t planning on bringing up my ambitious goal of writing a 13-book series, followed up with a 3-5 season web series, culminating in a 1-3 film theatrical event, but when my question on audience-building apparently proved too vague, my hand was forced.
Even now my mind is a little foggy as my head was spinning, but what I took away from the event was: JUSTDOIT.
I mean, there I was…I told them the span of the idea and that it’s a bit of a cross-pollination of Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia. And these industry professionals, as well as a lady and gentleman of high import for the industry in Hawaii, all admonished, encouraged, and just told me to DO IT – WRITE THE STORY – DO THE THING!
Thing is I’ve known I’ve needed to do the thing for quite some time now! I just…haven’t.
I’ve hemmed, I’ve hawed; I’ve put the pro in procrastination but the time of side quests is done. The Dragovian Trials have adjourned and it’s time to go after Dhoulmagus.
So, in terms of stortytelling, of writing, producing, anything, it’s all going toward finishing BOOK I of the KNIGHTS OF THAELION.
Jenn’s been encouraging me ever since our first date (if memory serves (regardless, it’s a good story)). Other friends, along the way, have encouraged me over the years. The inner voice keeps encouraging me.
These are the admonitions my wife and I receive whenever we tell someone new of our recent delivery (alas; still no DiGiorno…). Recent…well, I reckon today it’s a month! How about that? On one hand I find myself wondering where the time went and on the other I dreadfully realize: it’s only been a month.
As you could see in previous posts, the first week or so at home was pretty rough. Up until the grandparents relieved us for an afternoon and early evening I thought Jenn and I were both going to eventually lose our minds.
And if you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen me post stuff about home life with a baby that isn’t necessarily up to socially acceptable code. It seems as though there’s a prescription for doting on one’s child and posting pictures with captions that are all about how cuuuuuute and looooooving their little humans are, and just how precious and sweet one’s offspring is.
A night or so ago I posted a few second video of my firstborn crying incessantly in his bassinet, hungry – YET AGAIN – for a bottle of formula or pumped mudder’s milk.
He also seems to have this internal timer that goes off any time Jenny and I, or just I, sit down to eat together (or by myself), after a bout of crying, diaper changing, and feeding, to start crying again before the first bite can be taken. WITHOUT FAIL, PEOPLE.
And then a couple nights ago…he’s fussy. The indicator stripe on the Pampers diaper is blue. Time to change.
Stormy’s actually not too fussy once he’s on the table. I’m like, cool.
Undo the diaper; start to wipe down the peethenBAM!! What would normally be a benign fart was actually a piñata of poop that burst forth its fecal candy on the table, on the paper towel roll, on the diaper genie and accompanying trash can, and my freakin’ hand.
Jenn, of course, had just sat down to eat her soup and was yukkin’ it up at my turn of fortune.
Now, for the sake of full disclosure, though the explosion had spread, it was fortunately enough light on intensity. So there were little dots of green, but that was it; no chunks or lumps or anything like that. Just little specks of Stormy poop that needed wiping.
Before I can finish cleaning – one-handed, mind you, as I have his legs up to keep him from getting anything on him – this little play-doh pusher starts a right good movement of the bowels.
“OMYGOD!” I say, giving Jenn the play-by-play, who is choking on her soup for all the laughter she’s indulging in.
Thankfully there was a paper towel beneath him to mitigate the staining of the changing mat.
So, I start to clean that when suddenly Stormy fancies himself a bit of a wiz’, and has his infantile junk positioned in such a way as to bypass the paper towel pee guard and get that out on the table, too.
Jenn’s ROFL’ing by now as I’m clambering about, trying to keep this natural disaster and potential biohazard contained.
By the time I’ve replaced the paper towel beneath him and start to dry off the droplets of his biological sprinkler system he’s begun his second movement of green, oozy, babyshit.
All I can do is stop and watch.
Stormy isn’t fussy at all; it’s like we’re both just resigned to the fact that some serious shit is going down and there’s nothing we can do about it in the moment.
He finishes; I clean; he pees AGAIN. Every time it catches me by surprise and I celebrate with a punctuated colorful metaphor and Jenn follows up with breathless laughter.
Our Nightstorm lies there and I don’t even get to the paper towels when suddenly a clean, vertical shoot of clear liquid (our boy is hydrated) springs up, perfectly perpendicular to the earth, and he’s engaged in his third movement (Beethoven wishes his movements were so moving, affecting the very bowels of a newborn) of green goo and all I can do is shout profane-sounding gibberish in shock and awe at the amazing feat my son has just pulled off.
Jenn finally catches her breath and asks if I need anything.
A third hand, I say.
I’m fresh out of third hands, babe, I say.
Oh, heehee, she says and asks how she can help.
I take Stormy over to the sink to wash him off and she goes to swab the Poop Deck.
After four shits and three pees, Stormy’s finally in his new diaper and suckin’ on a fresh bottle before burping and going down for the count (of about 20 minutes before starting it all over again).
And he was one Fussy McFusserstein once Jenn went to bed. The moment I’d start to nod off, thinking he was sleeping, he’d start that malcontent engine revving with little nasal whimpers, cresendoing into his crying forte.
So on Facebook and in this here blog I try to keep it real.
Sometimes I think the people who say, “Enjoy it” are either sadists getting off on some sick schadenfreude knowing Jenn and I are getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night or masochists who genuinely enjoyed the incessant crying, fussing, etc. and are trying to spread the love.
And then I go and listen to Episode 99 of the RobCast and hear the heartbreaking story of a mother whose 9-yr old girl finally died after being born without a brain.
I read a Facebook post or two of friends who lost children in the womb, or shortly after birth, having experienced the thrill of hearing the heartbeat and seeing the life movements of their unborn children only to hear the sickening silence a week or so later and see the fuzzy outline motionless on the computer screen; or to have their tiny child pass to the next world, still in the hospital under the care of those who try their hardest to preserve life.
I remember that Jenn and I are still in the SIDS window and that no moment is promised to any of us, and sure, I’ve made it in this world these almost 36 years and Jenn’s almost made it to 27, but Stormy…I’ve seen the young of birds eaten by snakes on National Geographic…why should Stormy make it past one month? What unseen forces of nature may be conspiring to take him; not out of any inherent malice, but just because that’s the cold, fucking, hard reality of the world?
I think of stuff like that.
I sure as heck don’t enjoy the crying and sleep deficiency, but I’m ever so grateful Jenn and I have a healthy kid that can cry and keep us awake.
Her first book, When We Were On Fire, especially resonated because I felt as though I was reading my own personal history of growing up as an ON FIRE FOR CHRIST teenage crusader; that is, were I a female and had I grown up in the Midwest instead of being a dude growing up in North Carolina.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. Once I hit youth group age Wednesday nights were thrown into the mix. The more I started learning about God, the more I became afraid of him.
I distinctly remember in the summer of ’93, we were having a rash of thunderstorms and tornadoes tearing up the piedmont. Whenever a severe storm or tornado warning was issued for our area, I’d go outside and walk into the middle of our neighborhood circle and bargain with God to just hit me and leave my family’s home – and the neighbors’ – alone. My conscience was just so saturated with guilt and fear, and for some reason I’ve always associated weather conditions with God’s immediate presence, that I was sure in those thunderstorms he was gunning for me.
A couple years later I attended my church denomination’s tri-annual youth conference, LIFE ’95. In one of the last large meetings I felt God’s love for the first time. It was the first time I felt no judgment; only love, forgiveness, and as if an enormous weight I didn’t even know was there was suddenly lifted from my soul.
Fast-forward eleven years…I’m in therapy to try and hash out some detectable, but indiscernible emotional issues.
I had been through the height of the True Love Waits movement in which the lesson I took away from it was that my natural, budding, sexual urges were sinful – or could lead to sin. After all, just thinking about having sex was a sin (often citing, and I believe misusing Matthew 5:28).
Within those four years I experienced a few significant firsts: disillusionment with the Church; abandoning God; sex; grace in a new way; severe self-loathing.
You see, I could have chosen to remain in a Christian bubble, similar to what I had at home, but I decided against that.
And then I moved back home.
It wasn’t long before I found myself cycling between backsliding believer and Bible-thumping asshole.
The jobs I worked at got me further into the real world with the people who I worked alongside and there was more dissonance I felt between being told I should spread God’s good news of unconditional love and yet remain separate from the sinfulness of wicked sinners – especially homosexuals. Shoot, the guy I could most relate to at my first job out of college was gay*. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble café a few years later, one of the shift leads was gay and we’d always, well (heh, heh) have a gay** old time singing showtunes and such toward the ends of our shifts.
As a young adult, the deeper I’d get into the Western Church Machine, the more I found myself despondent, despairing, and ultimately depressed. I couldn’t do anything right. Anything I would do right wouldn’t be me, because God gets all the glory. The only thing I could take credit for was everything I did wrong, and everything I’d do wrong would keep me from knowing God, so just try/pray/read your Bible harder, harder, harder.
Not exactly grace.
So yeah, therapy. First time I was ever told all that was bullshit and that I’m enough as I am. The kernel was planted in my spirit, and has been budding more and more in the last few years, that I will never arrive and be who I was meant to be. I arrived in July of 1980, in all my perfectly flawed glory, and the Darkness got to work (as is wont to happen to all of us who breathe, eat, and shit). But the Light – the Light has always been there, too. And always will be.
I was in therapy for three years, read a bunch of books (I recommend The Ragamuffin Gospel and No Man Is An Island), and went on to make the same damn mistakes…but this time with tools and strategies – a humble way of saying, “the beginning of wisdom” – to augment the ever-present Light and deal with the never-leaving Darkness.
What really helped put things in perspective was my first marriage. Yeah, Jenn’s my second marriage.
That first time out was my last time trying to do things by the book. At the expense of my identity and who I am, I tried following the teachings put out by modern evangelicals instead of trusting my gut. The result was one week of attempted happiness followed quickly by about five months of agony.
Granted, I probably shouldn’t have rushed into it the way I did, but I was sure that if I followed the modern teachings rooted in ancient wisdom everything would turn out okay.
And this is a very generalized telling of the story in extremely broad strokes, but it’s the essence of my experience and how I processed it. It was enough to get me to abandon the system and just go after some freakin’ happiness.
And here I am. Maybe you’ve seen the previous posts in this blog, maybe you haven’t (I’d recommend it for context), but I’m happier and more content with this life than I ever have been.
I still believe in God and Jesus, but I’m finding a need for some serious rethinking on concepts and doctrine; the true depths of mercy, grace, sin, and love.
So, I don’t know what follow-ups to this post will look like, but the door is opened now.
And does any of this resonate with you? Just curious…
*adjective, gayer, gayest.
of, relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed towarda person or persons of one’s own sex; homosexual:
a gay couple.
Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood:
gay spirits; gay music.
Older Use. bright or showy:
gay colors; gay ornaments.
Older Use. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures:
Conrad Nightstorm Won Bailey was born last Tuesday just before noon.
We call him Stormy.
His projected due date was May 10.
The docs decided it would be best to induce May 3 due to some health concerns for mother and baby.
The morning of the 25th, my wife, Jenny, and I went in for her weekly morning appointment to measure her amniotic fluids, Stormy’s heartbeat, etc. Ever since she had the flu a few weeks back her blood pressure had been slightly elevated. Her baseline is ridiculously low (compared to mine, anyway) so “slightly elevated” actually means “normal” for others. My dear wife is extraordinary in so many ways.
Anyway, there’s been a running fear of preeclampsia. Jenn never exhibited any other symptoms except for her slightly elevated BP, so we never worried. However, there was something different about that morning.
After the appointment, we drove home and I was getting ready to suit up for work. Jenn got a call from her OBGYN and then another from the lady who helps her at her weekly appointments. It was recommended she go into the hospital for observation. We were told it could only be a couple hours or much more, depending on what they’d find.
One pee and one blood test later, findings urged the docs to decide to proceed with induction.
Stormy was coming a week earlier than planned and two full weeks earlier than initially projected – I’ve since learned that’s fairly common among mothers in my varying social circles.
We were moved from the triage level to the maternity ward. Jenn and I each texted our respective friends and families that we should be expecting a new Bailey within 24 hours or so.
Now, not trying to get too far into the weeds here, but pregnancy, birth, etc – holy shit, it’s a messy, traumatic business.
A woman’s body goes through many, many changes as it prepares to deliver a baby. Over the millennia, as women have given birth to propagate our species, the smarties in scrubs have been able to document and analyze birth activity so well that they basically know what’s going to be happening each week leading up to term.
So, since Jenny wasn’t experiencing anything but Higgs-Boson contractions up to that point, her cervix had only dilated a little bit. The docs were going to need to try and manually jimmy that hatch open so the fetal soul who would be our son could escape his amniotic prison.
They used a, uh…balloon. Not the kind you get at a circus or the State Fair, but you know; one of those medical balloon thingies. Maybe it had a smiley face on it, I’ll never know.
The experts predicted it’d take all night for it to do its job. It took only a few hours, well before midnight Monday.
And so the IV drip of…not Percocet…whatever the induction drug is; that began. And then the REAL contractions started coming and it was killing me watching Jenn in such pain.
She’s also had a lingering cough since her bout with the flu a while back and during the last few weeks of pregnancy had developed this crazy itch which the nurses said would be cured by delivery (not DiGiorno, sadly (pregnancy pizza party with pizzazz!).
Close to midnight she called in the epidural and before too long she was sitting pretty as ever, with a ghastly needle deftly jammed into her spine dripping in sweet, sweet painkilling medication. She and I both were finally able to get a little bit of sleep when the faulty epi-alarm wasn’t going off.
Before we knew it morning had broken and so had her water, some time during the night.
At 0900 it was decided it was time to start pushing, and it actually started about 5 after.
Dawn, our nurse, assigned me the task of counting Jenn through the contractions. Since she was numb from the waist down, they needed to monitor the contractions on some birth computer thing. Not too long into the process Jenn could begin to feel the pressure of the contraptions (ed. note: Contractions…there were no contraptions to speak of.) – not the pain, but the pressure, which, ironically, could be painful to a point in and of itself.
With each contraction I held on tightly to Jenn’s hand and counted like a motherfucker. We had music playing from her phone – a Mozart-inspired list she had found. After looping a few times I recommended The Piano Guys. She had forgotten about them – she wanted soothing music…so I pulled up a couple of their albums on my phone and started playing them.
Before we knew it, Stormy’s hairy little head was visible just within the…uh…flaps? He wasn’t crowning quite yet, but the docs would part something down there and say, “He’s a hairy little guy!” or something to that effect.
More pushing, more counting and breathing, more Piano Guys starting to loop, and then Dawn suggested the Rocky soundtrack. Jenn said it’d be fine (she had more important things to worry about than the soundtrack of her delivery (again, not DiGiorno; sigh)) and so I quickly spun up The Rocky Story album and Eye of the Tiger kicked in.
After coursing through that song, There’s No Easy Way Out and Hearts On Fire, I was hoping he’d come out to the tune of Gonna Fly Now.
Li’l sucker took his sweet time getting out though.
One or two album loops later, though, he finally emerged to the tune of motherfuckin’ EYE OF THE TIGER. Damn straight! Winning!
But damn…oh my Jesus…first seeing his hoary cranium crown…THAT was weird…and it slowly, slowly emerging…I was back by Jenn’s side so I didn’t get…everything (and I’m okay with that). But wow. With every push session, with every sequence of counting that eventually turned into just, “Holy cow, babe! You got this! You got this! Holy shit, he’s coming! YOU’VE GOT THISSSSSS!!!”
And then…out he came, into this broken, sad, but still functioning world. As hairy as a model and as loud as a banshee. I seriously thought I was watching an alien autopsy, first impression.
But no…it was our son.
Stormy had arrived.
And I’m tearing up like a little baby myself as I type these very words.
He’s our little miracle.
Why, with all the other couples out there, should we have a fully functioning human baby with no grave or ill concerns?
And yet his breathing was a little labored and grunty, as one of the nurses put it. His air sacs were having a little trouble developing, but dang, he could wail.
I cut the cord, they cleaned him up and gave him to Jenny.
I’ll never forget how that precious little soul cried from the shock of transitioning from somewhere so safe, warm, and secure as my wife’s womb to this cruel, yet wonderful realm of existence we call earth.
His chin quivered with the intensity of each declaration of, “I’M HERE AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON, BUT LET’S GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!!”
A week and some change later he still quivers that chin when he’s getting real.
He…that seven pound little human…he has changed everything.
The first couple of nights were the worst.
The whole feeding thing; why is he crying?; oh my god, did I just kill him? All this and much, much more was running through our heads – still is to a point.
They – whoever they are (some who know, some who don’t) – said everything would change.
But geez. I mean, wow.
Sleep? Yeah, when you can – when he is and when you’re not paranoid about whether or not SIDS will take him.
Did you read my last post? How it’s all poignant and trying to sound enlightened and whatnot? Bruh – it’s…it contains truth, but when you defenestrate the textbook – so to speak – and are suddenly hands-on with a precious little fussy, waily, dude who farts like a man and pees like a sprinkler at all hours…it’s different.
I don’t want to say it all goes out the window, per se. A lot of it does, but not everything.
The core knowings versus the pervasive feelings.
The main thing that keeps us alive is that we know neither of us are in this alone. Stormy is both our responsibility.
And what helps cement that is putting each other’s needs above that of our newborn.
That’s not to say I’m advocating any kind of neglect or anything; but let the kid wail just a second longer so you can give your spouse an extra squeeze or kiss and let her know everything will be fine.
A few weeks back, I can’t remember who the guest was, but whoever he was on Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast (I think it was Tom Papa or Adam Conover), when Pete asks him the greatest lesson you’ve learned from family, the guest’s answer is:
“Kiss your wife before you kiss your kids.”
I’ve taken that to ever-lovin’ heart.
I think I’ve missed it only once, but otherwise whenever I return from running errands, I make it a point to hug and kiss my good lovin’ mama before acknowledging our firstborn. He can’t comprehend anything yet; it’s fine and once he can I’ll adapt accordingly to help him preserve his own self-worth. Just don’t mess with mom and dad, kid. We’re your secure relationship. Mess with that you’re only screwing yourself.
…geez…they’re all blending together.
After the weekend, I think, one night I was about 20 hours deep with only 2-3 hours of sleep powering me and I found myself thinking nefarious things when Stormy was fussing during his myriad diaper changes: kicking the bandage off his recovering weenie; squirming away from the diaper; pulling himself away from the diaper; just being a real grade-A a-hole.
Now, don’t get me wrong: rationally I know the poor little guy is just acting on instinct and I have little clue as to how I’m affecting him, what he’s feeling on the inside (turns out a fair amount of gas pain, poor kid), and how that all mishmashes up within causing him such apparent turmoil.
But when you’re running on fumes and your emotions are raw, rationality has no place in such circumstances.
Thing is, I’m blessed/cursed with such self-awareness that I knew exactly what was happening, but I didn’t have the energy to act on it, save from actually acting on the frustration and annoyance consuming me.
Bless her dear sweet heart, Jenn could see I was cranky and told me to take five…hours. I crashed and she watched dear li’l Nightstorm.
Shoot…even now, I can still feel his wee li’l head snuggling up under my chin when I’m burping him and my crusty heart goes all aflutter. I can feel him grasping, hear him crying, me trying to reassure and soothe him with words and noises that the paste I’m dabbing on his wee heinie is for his own good; that alcohol wipes around his wormwoody umbilical cord remnant are to help him and that it really isn’t a big deal, but like I said…he can literally barely comprehend shit itself.
And then my graceful, gracious wife nearly lost her cool with our precious bundle of potential menace today. I told her to take five and she finally did.
And like, this is great; we’re both really seeing each other pull through for each other in what feels like impossible binds. When she allows me some extra sleep or vice versa, upon waking from that sleep we’re so grateful that we express it in such a way we’re reduced to tears.
I like to think that such visceral reactions to what should be common displays of affection and love mean we’re all three going to make it; and how.
Then again, with love, displays are never common; if it’s true.
At this point we’re just starting to find our groove.
Tonight a handful of her closest friends who happen to also be mothers are visiting.
I drove out to my dayjob office to pick up a couple things and to take the time to catch up on my writing/blogging.
Ha! Silly me thought that while I’m on paternity leave I’d have time to work on The Golem’s Curse. Turns out, it’s looking like I’m not going to make the deadline for the contest for MyRodeReel2016.
This year I’m transitioning out of the Navy, into the Air Guard, into school with the post-9/11 GI Bill, editing a film I shot in February, trying to kickstart my local commercial production business, and support my wife and now-child.
[I don’t even know if I’m using proper capitalizAtion in the post titles…]
At the end of a long day you’re ready to just crash; but you really ought to take that shower…just one more thing and then – oh, wait. After the shower you have to still floss and brush.
Shower. Floss. Brush.
During the quiet, peaceful tones of night and sleep wind currents, air pressures, moisture levels and the like have all been conspiring, colluding, and colliding to create a thunderstorm.
With the rapid expansion of super-heated air, you’re jolted awake.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somewhere early on in my life I got it in my head that I’m not worthy of good things. Anything I’ve ever wanted, loved, enjoyed, appreciated is always taken away from me long before I’ve had a chance to really experience it.
At some point later I learned that if I do enough, that if I work hard enough I will be able to earn the right to possess good things. However, with the ability to earn comes the propensity to lose. And so, I would, at times, earn these good things. Not too long after, I would ultimately slip up and then lose that which I understood I had earned.
Entering my 30s, a few years back, I started to finally really get it.
Shit just happens. Good and bad.
The only thing we have even a measure of control over is how we respond to shit, great and small, good and bad, wonderful and terrible.
How we respond to it on one level corresponds to how we respond on a different one. Usually good to great and bad to worse.
It’s taken some monumental disillusionment to destroy that way of thinking – that is, that one must earn the gifts life brings.
And yet, such ways of thinking are so scorched and enmeshed within my soul, scarred into my spirit, wrinkled into my brain that as the clock of life clicks ever closer to the birth of my first son, an irrational yet palpable fear, at times, consumes me.
Some complication will arise claiming the life of my wife, my son, or both.
What have I done to warrant having such a joyful relationship these last two years? What labor have I performed to earn such a great marriage this last year and a quarter? And now a child? And now a son??
Surely every terrible lapse in judgment I’ve committed will catch up with me in mere moments…no, me suddenly dying would be too merciful.
There’s a place in my heart from which a voice declares, “You must live long and in misery for the crimes against reality you’ve committed!” That voice reverberates in my head and I have daymares; it echoes in my lungs and my chest grows tight; it resonates in my gut and everything is awful.
But in the smile of my wife, in the kindness of a stranger, in the misfortune of a colleague, in the wetness of the rain I am reminded for the umpteenth time that there are forces much greater than my will at work in the world.
In the grand scheme of things I’ve not done a damn thing to earn a damned – or blessed – thing.
Jenny loves me freely. Regardless of what I do, li’l ol’ what’s-his-name continues to grow within her body.
God is just and merciful; the universe is fair and gracious; petty things have no place in the dispensation of circumstance.
With the rapid expansion of super-heated air, I’m jolted awake.
History is but a vivid dream.
In the waking world, life is what I make of it, depending on how I play the hands I’m dealt.
I’m grateful for the night storm, waking me from my nightmares.
Back in the late ’80s the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the thing to have if you were a kid or kid at heart. My earliest memories of video games are of the Atari we had at home and occasionally going to the mall arcade to play Pole Position and Pac-Man (and being traumatized, yet fascinated with Splatterhouse). When the NES was released, it was a literal game-changer.
I recall mom and dad not being super-stoked about it at first, but as its ubiquity increased so did my desire to have one. Not long after its release, our local video stores started renting out consoles. This was pre-Blockbuster in our town and the choice was between Videorama and Video Plaza; the latter won out.
Every week as Friday approached, I’d begin pestering whichever parent was closest about renting a Nintendo for the weekend. Even during our vacation to Hawaii one summer, a condominium complex we stayed in for a few nights had the consoles available and we rented one there. The only available titles were Gyromite and Jaws so I still wound up spending more time outside, but if I needed my fix, it was there.
This cycle went on for the better part of a year and it was okay. I accepted this arrangement of temporary possession as a way of life.
One week in March I began my usual weekly ritual. I noticed dad having some covert conversation with mom before answering. Instead of the usual, “Make sure your homework is done on Thursday” the answer was, “We’ll see.” The problem with that response was there was usually a greater chance it would not work out to my favor.
Friday rolled around and as soon as I got home from school I asked, “Can we please go rent a Nintendo?”
“Wait until your dad gets home,” was mom’s answer. My spirits sank; dad didn’t usually get home until later in the evening. That wasn’t necessarily a problem as the store was open until 10, but there was no way I’d be able to stay up late and get in any good gaming time.
Dad got home about 6 or 7 and I didn’t even give him time to get in the door before I assaulted him with my earnest request. He stifled a bemused laugh, tried to maintain a stoic demeanor, and said to let him come in and rest a bit first. I knew time was of the essence but decided it was best to not come at him with too strongly, so I disappeared to my room and tried to distract myself with Encyclopedia Brown and Calvin and Hobbes.
When it was time to sit down to dinner I was on my best behavior: I was generous with my “please & thank you’s” and was even polite to my sister. When the opportunity presented itself I asked, “May we please rent a Nintendo tonight?”
Dad looked at mom. Mom looked at dad. Something was going on and I had no idea what. Dad responded with, “I’ll entertain the possibility.” That was dad’s go-to answer when he didn’t want to say “YES” too quickly, but still allowed for an unfavorable outcome. I wasn’t thrilled, but I was a little encouraged.
After dinner I asked again.
“It’s a little late son. How about we go first thing tomorrow morning?”
It wasn’t ideal, but hey, at least I’d have Saturday and Sunday after church to play. I agreed and went to watch TV or to my room or something.
DAWN OF A NEW DAY
The next morning I woke up super early, ready to go. I downed a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, watched a cartoon and then dad was finally up.
“I don’t think the store’s even open, yet,” dad observed. “But I have to run some errands first, anyway.”
I said that was fine and headed for the door; dad headed for the kitchen. My sigh must have been audible as he told me to be patient. Mercifully he skipped breakfast and only made himself his usual ginormous cup of coffee. Of course he had to sip it down a bit to mitigate spillage, but after an interminable five minutes we were on the road.
“I need to go by my office and then the post office,” he told me.
“Okay,” I said.
The video store was a 10 minute drive from our house to the shopping center on the corner of Kildaire and Cary Parkway. Dad’s office was a 30 minute drive toward north Raleigh. But it was okay, because it was early and I always enjoyed that drive.
We pulled into the parking lot and I thought maybe I’d go in, but he told me to wait in the car. Dad went in for not even a full minute and then came back out. What was so important yet so brief that we had to really come here? I wondered, but in the terms of a 7-year old.
From there we headed not back toward Cary, but toward Crabtree Valley Mall. When I asked about this, dad said he needed to go to that particular post office. I was trying not to go nuts.
We pulled into the mall parking lot, drove around to the post office and didn’t even stop.
“Huh, looks like it’s closed,” dad observed. “Maybe what I need is in the mall.” So we parked, entered the mall, and somehow ended up at the toy store. I stopped at the video game counter and just gazed longingly at the games locked up in the glass cabinet.
“Can I help you?” the clerk asked. Dad told me to go see if there was a Ninja Turtle I might want. With a sigh I left and halfheartedly surveyed the action figures. Donatello was the only turtle I cared about; completion was not an issue with me at the time; I hadn’t quite leveled up to that particular nerdset. But there was a Shredder figure I hadn’t been able to find yet – – “Cliff! Time to go.”
As I rejoined dad he thanked the clerk, the clerk said no problem, looked at me and winked. I thought it odd, but didn’t give it more thought than that.
“Do you still want to rent a Nintendo?” dad asked me in the car.
“Yes, please,” I said, my fervor rapidly diminishing.
“Well don’t sound too excited,” he said with a chuckle. “We have to make one more stop before going to the store.” This restored a measure of hope.
Going back down the beltline I noticed us approaching Cary Village Mall. What’s with the malls? I wondered, again in 7-year old terms.
Again, we entered the toy store, again I briefly lusted after the 8-bit entertainment and again I was dismissed to the action figure aisle; but this time I kept an eye on dad and his apparent clandestine dealings.
He was engaged in deep conversation with the clerk at the video game counter. I feigned interest in some Duplo sets to get within earshot and overheard him asking about what games might be included…what in the world? The clerk then held up the box for the NES Power Pad.
“This would be good exercise?” dad asked.
“Well, it’s kind of a gimmick, really,” the clerk said. “I’d wait for it to come down in price.”
Dad shot a sideways glance my way and I was immediately engrossed in…a Barbie. I course-corrected to the cap gun section, doing the fastest about-face in recorded history; dad must have bought it because he didn’t say anything.
“Okay,” I heard him say. “We’ll go without that.”
“Good choice,” the clerk said.
“But it does come with two games?”
“Yep; Mario and Duck Hunt.”
My heart raced.
“Son, come here, please.”
I slowly approached my dad, wondering what in the world was going on.
“This nice man here is going to help you out. If you could pick any game, which would you choose?”
I was dumbfounded. I turned to the clerk and he laughed.
“Any of these blow your hair back?” he asked. I was temporarily puzzled as I sported a buzzcut in those days, but then understood.
I looked closer. Some titles I recognized, most I didn’t. But there was a gold box – Zelda? But the lettering on Zelda was red; this was blue…no, it was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
“There’s a second one?!” I said.
“You talking about Zelda? Yep! It’s way different, but I think it’s alright,” the clerk said.
“That one,” I said, pointing at it and looking at dad.
The clerk unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a copy, laying it on the counter next to a black box I hadn’t noticed earlier. It had a picture of a Nintendo, two controllers, and a Light Zapper on it.
I…I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
All the words, all the noises inside me exited so fast all I could do was breathe.
Dad knelt down, put his hand on my shoulder and with a smile said, “I’m sorry son, we’re not going to rent a Nintendo today.”