Warm Glow of Friendship

Happy Hour with my friends tonight. My four best friends could all make it, and that makes me happy.

We were meeting at Kay’s Lounge, in Sellwood. It’s a classic old-school lounge, with comfy leather booths and a nicely-stocked bar and bar food that’s got that little somethin’ extra that pushes a burger or a burrito into artisanal territory. I don’t have words to describe it right now, probably because I’m still a little buzzed, but it’s a cut above normal bar food, but not so expensive it’s a Portlandia type joke.

I mean, I can’t say a lot of bad things about a bar where I had a food item named after me, but believe me, the food is good. Even the burgers have that little extra bit of care.

The taps at this bar are constantly rotating but there’s always at least one cider on tap, and at least one dark beer (a stout or a porter) and also, always something “interesting”, like a spicy porter or a fruity IPA or something otherwise unusual. They do a good job at Kay’s, picking out good beers. Only eight taps but you’re sure to find something you like among the choices.

Happy Hour on a Friday night is pretty much peak time, and let me tell you, the bar isn’t as big as it is popular. There are maybe 15 bar stools, and 10 booths for 2-4 people each; if you get there late you have to stand around and wait, or move on to somewhere less popular. Oh, and 4 tables outside on the sidewalk, where you are encouraged to share, but Portland weather patterns make those dicy about 70% of the time.

And even at peak time, like tonight, there’s one bartender, one waitstaff, and one cook, so be prepared to wait a bit for attention. Unless you’re a regular, like me, and you get recognized. Or you’re just not shy and go right up and ask when the next table is ready. Or a bit of both. I’ve done both.

I’ve been coming here for years and years. I did mention the Lunar Burger, right? It was tasty, I’ll give the cook that. I’m not yet regular enough to be immortalized in the big painting on the wall, the picture with a lot of staff and regular faces included. Maybe someday.

Former Governor of Oregon Barbara Roberts is a regular here. I’ve sat with her and had a chat. She’s great! Very knowledgeable and down-to-brass-tacks. Her face is in the painting, because, well, of course she is.

Tracy showed up tonight first. Usually, I’m the first one to arrive, but I got waylaid by work, so I was a bit late. Tracy stationed herself by the door, under the mirror, on the sidebar, which is not a great place to be noticed by the waitstaff or bartender. She’s a good person, but she just isn’t in tune with the rhythms of a working bar. When I showed up, I talked to her, and then (after hitting the restroom—it was a long drive from Canby) I leaned against the bar under the aforementioned painting, which is right in the path between the kitchen window, the cash register, and the wait station, which ensures that the waiter for the night (on this night it was Krissi) had to talk to me. Tracy joined me shortly after.

We waited there, with a drink in hand each, for a while. Happy Hour ends at 6 PM, and it was 5:50 PM before a table finally opened up. By that time, Ken had joined us, where we stood around, looking conspicuous, getting in Krissi’s way sometimes, and making “are you leaving yet?” eyes at everyone hogging a table. But a table finally emptied, and we aggressively but politely nudged our way in, where the evening entered its second phase.

We ordered food and settled in, and then Terry joined us, fresh from his Han Solo haircut. He said his hairdresser was both surprised and impressed when he requested a Han Solo haircut. “70s haircuts are coming back in style,” he said she said. And it’s true; Terry looks great in that haircut. She did a great job.

We talked about baseball (I don’t want to talk about it). We talked about building houses (that’s Terry’s thing). We asked Tracy about hockey (she’s a giant Winterhawks fan). We argued about the feminism of the Joker, and we admired the diversity of Nike. I’m only scratching the surface of our winding, continuous, and sprawling conversation.

But it was a happy night for me. I love my friends, and any chance I get to spend with them, with all of them, is a good time. I’ve known these three humans for a long time. We have all of us been through a lot together. None of us are perfect, but we are all perfectly ourselves.

It was a good night.

I wish you had been there.

Life’s A Pitch

Sheets of hand-written text lit by soft light through curtains.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I broke the seal. I’m now sending out pitches for articles to various editors.

In fact I’ve already gotten a rejection! Don’t be sad, that’s a good thing. Well, not as good as an acceptance but still, it means I’m out there trying. That’s why I’m saying I “broke the seal”—the scary part is over, and now I can just keep moving forward, by, presumably, coming up with more article ideas and sending them out to editors until they accept one or more of them.

The rejection I got yesterday was not my first rejection. Many years ago I took a writing class. It was a night class, not for college credit. Just something I took to dip my toe in the water and spend time around other people who like and want to write. And after we finished our first story, the instructor made us all submit it to an editor.

She made us all send it to Redbook, I believe. Is that magazine still around? The magazine published lots of freelance or reader submissions, on a wide variety of topics, including little memoir-type stories like we wrote for our first assignment in class.

Our chances of being rejected were quite high, she explained, but the whole point is to get our first actual rejection out of the way and behind us, to teach us it’s better to pitch and fail than just wonder.

I still have that letter, I think. It’s framed somewhere in a box, but I saved it. I wish I had a picture of it; I’d post it here, because I like to include pictures with my posts when I can. I’m funny that way.

As of right now (write now? sorry, couldn’t resist) I’ve got one idea that I’m shopping around to some local publications. I’m aiming high; it’s a big article idea and the outlets I’m sending it to are kind of a high bar to cross for someone with no real published articles to their name. But it’s a start. I have some smaller ideas I want to send out, and for those I will be aiming at various small online-only blogs and websites. But the idea I’m starting with is one I’m proudest of, and one that would be a lot of fun to write.

No, I’m not telling you what it is. You’ll have to wait.

This is what I have to do if I want to be published. This blog is a testament to my ability to write lots and lots of words, very good words, arranged well and communicating emotion and facts and character and plot… but that’s not the skill I need if I want my words to be accepted by editors and then printed elsewhere. I love you all, all 25-30 of you that are reading my posts these days, but I need to see if I have what it takes to get my words in front of a wider audience.

And to do that I have to send out pitches. I was talking to Terry last night and I was explaining the steps, and one of the things I mentioned was that it is considered a negative if a freelancer sends the same pitch to more than one editor at a time. Not supposed to flood the market, even though that would shorten the time it takes for a pitch to find a home. “I don’t know why that is, but that’s the case, and I’m going to follow the conventions because I’m trying to break in.”

Terry laughed at me. “You’re not selfish enough!” he said, and he’s right. I’m not selfish enough to try to break in by breaking the (unspoken but socially-accepted) rules. I want to do it the right way. I consider that my strength, not my weakness.

Honestly I already have the advantage of being a straight white cis male. It may seem like that advantage is evaporating these days, but it’s still there. I am OK if that’s seen in a less approving light these days; there are plenty of other voices out there that deserve the spotlight. People of color, women, gay and trans and queer voices. I’m happy they are getting more attention; it’s long since past time for them to talk about the world as they see it.

That being said, I know that I’m still going to have a small advantage due to the accident of my birth in a culture that leans in my direction—my privilege. So I am not going to press that advantage at all. I’ll keep my head down, follow the rules, just write as best as I can and send it out and see who bites.

Because I’m always going to write. That’s not going to stop. I’ve demonstrated I may slow down from time to time, but writing is still second nature to me. Writing is one thing. Writing for an audience is quite another skill, so I’m beginning to develop it. Stay tuned.

That Big Gap in the Middle

That old novel idea has been bubbling around in my brain again. The idea has been with me for a long time, years now. I’ve made at least two attempts at it but I’ve never been able to write it all down, start to finish, so I hesitate to call my previous attempts “drafts”. I have spent a lot of effort on it, though, and I have tons of notes and character ideas and themes… but when I try to think of the actual plot, as in the series of events that happen over the course of the story, my brain just kind of fuzzes out.

I spent some time in the last couple of weeks stuffing clever people’s ideas about premise vs. plot into my head, and I came to the decision that I will write down everything I think needs to happen, and then see if that will tell me what I need to work on still.

So I did.

That big gap in the middle… that’s the problem.

Each color represents a different main character, although I have a couple of other characters I still need to add. But seeing it all laid out like that… you see that big gap in the middle-ish? That’s the part I’m struggling with. I don’t really know what happens there.

Turns out it was helpful to write it all down. I can spend some time thinking about that gap and figuring out what needs to happen to connect the beginning and end.

And, honestly… maybe it’s OK for the protagonist (in blue) to be simply reactive to what the antagonist is doing in the early part of the story. Maybe that leads to a breaking point where they have to push through their weakness, the one that keeps holding them back, and be more proactive.

I really identify with them right now. Time to be more proactive…

Learning to Be Bored Again

Discovered this article, and it made me want to… write about it:

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain – by Kevin Roose.

I, like the author, don’t want to give up my phone entirely; I just want to use my phone but get back all the habits I had before I got one, like reading books, watching movies, and talking to my friends without interrupting myself by poking at the digital tit (that’s a bad metaphor, I know, don’t @ me).

This quote, in particular, stands out to me: “If I was going to repair my brain, I needed to practice doing nothing.” And that cuts right to the core: if I feel even a momentary, tiny amount of boredom, I reach for the phone, because it offers so many distractions from boredom.

But when I used to get bored, that’s when I would think about my life, my friends, story ideas, or just whatever was going on around me. So I guess my next step is to start identifying those urges to relieve boredom and see if I can deprioritize the phone and try something else instead.

I’ve done this before, or at least taken a step or two in this direction when I would practice reading with no internet time; an internet-free zone, if you will. I kept it up for a while but then the excuses for not doing it piled up to the point where I was back on my bullshit.

Like any habit or any skill, it’ll take time to get better at it. The first step is noticing, and then putting it into practice. Here I go again.

Yes, This Was a Real Dream

Just woke up from a dream
where I was telling my mom about
the time I decided to take the bus
and got asked by a woman on a run
for a stick of gum
(which I didn’t have)
so I offered to buy her some
at the convenience store down the street
so I ran back into my apartment
to get some change from my change jar
and discovered my front room was a bar
with people wandering around
because the bar was having an open mic
but not until later (the bar opened at 4 PM)
so I shooed them out
and locked the door
and had to crawl out the window
to walk to the store
jingling the coins in my hand
and counting them over and over
to meet the woman
and buy her some gum.

Skyrim Memories – Coda

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As of today, about an hour ago, I collected my last achievement in Skyrim. Not even the Special Edition. Oldrim, the original.

Paid a guy online to transfer my saves to PC, bought a second copy of the game, and kept going. I’ve played stealth archer builds, magic-only builds. I’ve played it vanilla, I’ve modded it. I thought I’d done it all. I always assumed I was in it for the story and the immersion and that I didn’t care about being a completist. Figured I just had some Hearthfire achievements to get and didn’t care.

When the Special Edition came out, I started another whole playthrough, too, so there are another 150+ hours on a brand-new character.

When the Special Edition came out, I started another whole playthrough, too, so there are another 150+ hours on a brand-new character.

But… a couple of weeks ago I decided to see what achievements I still had left to get. There were 12: two of the College of Winterhold quests (despite me having done that whole quest chain at least three times; not sure why those were in there); a couple of crime-related ones like having a 1000 septim bounty in every hold or escaping from jail; fighting a legendary dragon, which, again, I am almost certain I have done several times on my highest-level ‘toon (level 81); craft something from stalhrim; and the aforementioned house-building achievements.

I’m done. But that doesn’t mean I’ve spent my last hour in Skyrim. I will return.

I love this game.

No Ghosts but What We Imagine

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No ghosts but what we imagine.

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Went out to get some dinner, stopped at the library to pick up a hold, then didn’t want to go straight home. Saw the full moon in the deep indigo sky, yellow and unfocused by the high thin clouds, and just drove around and sang along with a favorite playlist.
And everything around me had a memory attached to it. I’ve lived in this patch of the world for so long now.
That song reminded me of a similar dark night in a different car a long time ago.
Drove through downtown Milwaukie and remembered seeing a movie with an old friend at the theater there on a similar cold night.
That back street? In high school, my friend with the car would drive up and down it, very fast, too fast. How did we never crash?
There’s the street corner I would wait for the bus when coming home from my girlfriend’s house.
I’ve lived here, in this little corner of Portland, in this 3 square mile patch of Oregon and America and the world, for so long now. I’m surrounded by ghosts, except I’m an atheist, so I call them memories.
I’m feeling sad and lost, and eager. Ready for change, and yet tired of changing. Rootless but grounded.
Goodbye old year. So long, farewell, see you never again.
Hello new year, hi, welcome, ready or not here I come.

A Simple Trick: Disabling a Specific Key

Most of the time, I learn something new because I have a problem to solve. I’ll tolerate some annoyances as long as they’re minor but if they go on for a while or start becoming worse, I go looking for a solution.

I’ve been playing Fallout 4 a bit lately. I know I’m not the most dextrous gamer around. I am, however, far more comfortable with mouse and keyboard than I am with any controller. So when I get into a combat situation and I start flailing around on the keyboard trying to shoot the super mutants, I have found myself hitting the Windows key, which pauses the game and drops me back to the desktop.

Supermutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.
Super mutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.

The first few times I just groaned, alt-tabbed back to the game, hit ESC and carried on. But it kept happening. I knew there must be a way to just turn off the Windows key entirely, at least while I was playing. Trouble is, I use that key regularly when I’m not playing. What about a more elegant solution?

Enter AutoHotkey (AHK). It’s a scripting program that runs in the background, waits for keyboard input, and then uses that to trigger actions. I use it as a text expander already: when I type “sphn”, for instance, AHK will expand that to my phone number. Super handy!

And as it turns out, there’s a way to get to have specific key combinations tied to specific programs. So I could have it just ignore the Windows key, but only when Fallout 4 had the focus.

I went looking, and found that I only had to add the following lines to an AHK script I’m already using:

#IfWinActive, ahk_class Fallout4
~LWin Up:: return

The first line tells AHK to only run the next line if the window that’s named “Fallout4” is the active window. And the next line is what I want to happen: do nothing at all when the Windows key is released.

Now, no matter what flailing I do when feral ghouls attack, I won’t take myself out of the game by tapping the wrong key, letting me stay in the moment. Much better!

There’s probably plenty more uses for this trick, like re-mapping all the controls (or just the annoying ones) in a stubborn program. Thankfully, AHK is well-documented. For now, though, I’m happy I went looking for the answer to this question.

Books For Free

I spent Monday with Terry, going through a house on his street, basically looting with permission of the owners. 

The owner has sold the house and moved out, leaving behind lots and lots of stuff. The house is going to be torn down and something new built on the lot. The owners are pocketing a nice profit. Such is Portland these days. 

But the reason Terry and I were interested was the fact that the owners were big fans of sci-fi and fantasy, and they had a lot of books. I recovered 19 titles, plus a blank pocket sized journal, some of which I’ve read long ago, most of which I have not. 

A big pile of books.
A big pile of books.

I already have a nice pile of “to be read” books, though, so who knows when I will get to any of these. But more books are always welcome. They’re less trouble than taking in stray cats, for sure. 

Dad Stories

My dad is a natural storyteller, and I’ve long wanted to capture some of them on video. Finally got a chance to test the waters. Here’s a short teaser.

Want to see more?