4.26.2013

All The World Is Mad

DISCLAIMER: this entry contains a few graphic images.

Unless you were living under a rock (and no offense to those of you who actually do - I like what you're trying to do for the environment), you may have heard/read/watched the events surrounding the bombings at last week's Boston Marathon, an event in which innocent lives were taken in a seemingly random act of hate.


Acts of hate are usually never random.

I'm not going to give you a play-by-play, take you through the details, make a statement on terrorism, or call for the heads of the perpetrators. I'm sure most of you have seen enough videos and read enough articles concerning this grisly event to last you a lifetime. Some of those said images will never go away.

I'll admit, I followed the live stream of the intense manhunt which took place the following Thursday and Friday of last week after the bombing occurred on Monday. I took in every detail. I read the transcripts from police scanners, strained my eyes to see the events unfold in grainy on-site pictures, and studied maps of the suspect's flight through Boston. Like most Americans, I wanted to know what happened. Sure, I wanted them to get the bad guy, but I guess I also wanted closure. Sadly, such a luxury following something tragic like this cannot be so easily obtained as that.

Map detailing the hunt for the suspects.

I don't quite remember what I was feeling immediately following September 11th. I was in 8th grade and most likely not very sensitive to the severity of the situation. Of course, my understanding towards the 9/11 attacks have increased exponentially over the years. Empathy and sorrow have replaced what was once the lack of an ability for my young teenage mind to grasp the weight of that day.

However, I never felt anger. I didn't clap when Bin Laden was killed. I didn't proclaim a holy war against Islam. I never felt the deep-seated pain that comes with such a tragedy. I was 14. I didn't know how to feel those things without having them steeped in immaturity. Even now, over ten years removed the attacks, I couldn't conjure up tears about it if I was paid to. You can't force yourself to feel a certain way. You either do or you don't.

But I will tell you this.

I felt something after this specific attack. It wasn't the violent act itself, nor the pictures of theblood-spattered pavements on the sidelines; not the hundreds of runners stranded without lodging or the people frantically looking for their loved ones. It was this picture:


This is a picture of 8 year-old Martin Richard, one of the three people killed by the bomb. He was waiting for his father to cross the finish line when the bombs went off. His 6 year-old sister lost her leg and his mother was in critical condition as a result of the explosion. Again, he was one of the three people killed. Eight years old.

When I first saw this poignant image, it hit me hard. It didn't fully sink in until later, when it really gripped me. I don't know if it's because I watch kids for a living, but I couldn't get this picture out of my mind. It rocked me with a grief I didn't know I could feel for someone I had never met. When I say grief, I mean a grown man slumping down in the corner of the shower and weeping kind of grief. Even now, tears well in my eyes as I type this up.

Why? God, why did it have to be him?

As you can expect, it was then that I felt the first tendrils of anger rising up in me. Hate filled me for the Tsarnaev brothers and their spineless act of violence resulting in Martin's death. I wanted them dead. I didn't care about a trial or the evidence. I wanted justice.

But that didn't last long. Knee-jerk reactions aren't my thing, especially when they bear the magnitude of situations such as this one. I didn't want to devolve into a thoughtless commentator calling for the deaths of people I knew nothing about. What followed the anguish and anger was not what I expected to feel.

I felt hope. 

This is a picture of 52 year-old Carlos Arredondo (now famously know as "the man with the Cowboys hat") pinching - yes, pinching - the artery of victim Jeff Bauman, to keep him from bleeding to death. Many on site witnessed Carlos pushing aside debris to rush toward the victims seconds after the explosions. Without thought or a concern to his own safety, this man put his life in danger to help those less fortunate. In fact, if you have seen any of the videos of the bombing, you can see Carlos acting quickly to aid the injured. 

With this single image, my mourning and blind rage gave over to something more powerful. Events like this show us the worst of humanity; the indiscriminate violence and the resulting backlash of anger and hate give us a glimpse of our species' crooked faults, reminding us that we live in a stupid, stupid world filled with equally stupid people. Fatalism at its finest.

But in the aftermath, I don't remember the death toll or the graphic images as much as these images:


Above, the entire Boston Police Department line the streets to form an honor escort for the deceased MIT security officer, Sean Collier. He was simply sitting in his patrol car when he was killed by the suspects on the Thursday following the bombing.

It's pictures like the two above that I'll remember the most when it comes to these events. I was young when 9/11 happened but not so young that I don't remember churches nationwide being packed by thousands praying in the wake of the attacks. I'm not necessarily saying my faith in humanity is restored - you have to have faith to lose it in the first place - I'm saying that my mind won't cling to sorrow and anger as acutely as it clings to hope. Hope for a mad, mad world. I can't adequately explain exactly what these pictures make me feel, but I believe this quote by Jon Stewart following the events of 9/11 sums it up perfectly:



There will always be senseless acts of violence and people to hate. There will forever be memorial services canonizing the dead and people losing their lives for no other reason than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as blunt as it may be, Mr. Stewart's quote renews what little faith I may have in the world. Carlos Arrendondo and his Cowboys hat does as well. And it's these people I'm going to remember, not the terrorists. Not the bad guys, but the good ones - the truly good ones - who value their lives less than those of the people they might save.

Remember them with me.

Hug someone you love today.

Cheers, JDS



4.06.2013

One Nerd To Rule Them All


DISCLAIMER: This post will be long and will contain nothing except my enumerations of all the things that make me excited in life.. Which is to say, there will be a lot of very nerdy things below (and above). 

I was in seventh grade in 1999. I grew up in a Nintendo family, which is to say that we moved from the NES to the SNES to the N64 to the Gamecube. That's a steady and honorable progression for those of you who weren't 90's kids. Early on I had developed a love for role-playing games (RPGs). Even today, I primarily only play RPGs. Seventh grade was an important time of my life, because that's when Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber came out. After I rented it from Blockbuster (remember those days?), my life was forever changed. I spent that whole afternoon playing it, to the point where I actually had dreams about it that night. They looked something like this:

Ah, the memories.

Since 1999, I've beaten the game countless times. With cheats, without cheats, finding everything, seeing all the endings. It rocked my 13 year old mind.

Of course, I didn't become a nerd in 1999. It started long before that. I grew up on LEGO and Star Wars. I saw Episode IV of Star Wars when I was 6 as a kindergartner. That's when it all started.

Since then, it's been one long and arduous journey into other world. Planes I never knew existed. Wars and histories of places that were purely the products of another's imagination. Magic I couldn't explain. Space stations that could destroy an entire planet! I drank it all in like a dying man in the desert. It brought me LIFE.

Some Friday nights you'll find me at The Green Dragon fooling around with my roommates. Other nights (last night), I'll be watching Jurassic Park in 3-D twenty years after its original theatrical release. But on very special Friday nights, you'll find me in a room that looks something like this:


Yes, this is a room of people playing Magic: The Gathering. It is the world's most popular card game, spanning over 20 years and boasting a database of over 10,000 cards. Friday Night Magic (or FNM for those in the know) is a special time where nerds of all ages gather for hours to play other nerds. We turn cards sideways, cast spells, counter opponent's spells, and build decks. It's the most exhilarating thing ever. 

MTG is by far the most exciting card game I've ever played but that doesn't mean I haven't dabbled in others. I've experimented in Dragon Ball Z, Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, Digimon, Pokemon - you name the game, I've probably played it. Of course, my love for these games extends to other formats as well, such as miniature tabletop war games (Mage Knight) and board games (Settlers of Catan). While I haven't delved too deeply into these two categories, I've still spent my fair share of time enjoying the heck out of them,

And books. Man, the books. After I graduated college last May, I went on a rampage and read all the books I told myself I didn't have the time to read when I was in school. I've spent most of my life reading fantasy novels. There was a point where I could almost name a fantasy author for every letter of the alphabet. 

A scene from Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon

There were the obvious classics like Lord Of The Rings, Dune, and The Wheel of Time. Later on there was The Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, and of course A Song of Ice and Fire. Much like RPGs, books were a medium which allowed me to escape the troubles of the real world into a place where I could immerse myself in the tales of distant lands and intrepid heroes. That's all a bit dramatic and romanticized, but I've pored over thousands of pages worth of fantasy and I have ZERO REGRETS.

Of course I obviously can't talk about any of this without mentioning the medium of film and television. While most of you know what I'll talk about next, I'll mention it anyways for the noobs, because their noobery knows no bounds:


I won't say any more about Game of Thrones because I spend too much time talking about it to all my friends who don't care and I'm sure they're sick of it (I love you guys). To date, I've convinced at least 10 people to read the books and a couple to watch the show, which is a little harder because it's so visceral. In addition to this, I have watched Lost all the way through, freaked out over the recent news concerning Star Wars, attended the midnight release of The Hobbit in 3-D, enjoyed many a Lord of The Rings trilogy sessions, etc. The history nerd in me cries out as well. Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers demand to be mentioned. I've personally watched the latter over 10 times, taking in every second of Easy Company's plight through war-torn Europe in 1944-45. 


It gets me every time.

I'm nowhere near the most technologically advanced person I know. Not even close. I don't know how to program or code or hack or read HTML. I don't take apart electronics to see what's inside. I've never built my own computer. I STILL DON'T OWN A SMARTPHONE. But that doesn't mean I don't get excited about silly things in the technology world. Having endured Windows Vista for years, I flipped out when the ad campaign for Windows 8 launched. And you know what? It's not even that great. In the words of a wise friend who works for Microsoft, it's essentially Windows 7 with this: 


How is that not awesome? It's not really, but it felt good to be excited about something having to do with technology, which was never my forte.

I said for months that tablets were the most trivial and frivolous things ever. And you know what? They still sort of are, serving as over-sized smartphones for some. However, as someone who constantly has to carry a laptop around to access the interwebs (like I said, no smartphone) a 7-inch tablet is an extremely convenient thing to have. I went for the best 7-inch-er sub-200$ selection on the market. If I was going to make the jump, why not get the best, right? After a month of comparing prices, reading reviews, obsessing over specs, and watching videos, I finally took the plunge and purchased a Google Nexus 7. I had to go to a ton of stores, as it sells out online impossibly fast. Now, Android 4.2 has become the most exciting thing ever. Of course I'm super late to this whole party, but I'm glad I ended up joining.

Oh yeah, and this. I want one of these:


The robots are getting closer, I tell you.

Last, and certainly not least, is the fact that I've taken it upon myself to start something that I've tried numerous times over the years, having always loved it but not attempting to do so for at least 4 years. 

Building a fantasy world for a future book.

There was the warlord named Mallis who invaded the land of Kalyndra to steal the three lost relics of Astillith to access his holy plane in 2003. Later that year came Jadaris the Cold, who plotted the downfall of Stratian Keep - but her demise led to the planting of the Silver Seed and the birth of a new world. My senior year of high school had me penning the adventures of a 19 year-old youth who lived in a city in the clouds, where androids and elves lived together in harmony (worst idea yet). My first year at ACU (2008) saw me tying together the lives of Rayven Gailtruce (the thief), Theles Dwelgor (the prince), and Articlus Theacore (the merchant's son). Their fated meeting would throw them into a journey to topple the Varpalaisian Empire. Lastly, the Protectorate of Illuviatra - consisting of the Synod, the Supreme Magnate, and the Six Mavens - found itself in severe unrest as the Skorn banded with the southern barbarians to take back the land their ancestors lost in The Excise many ages ago.

I only ever finished one of those stories to the end. Needless to say, it wasn't very good. After fretting for weeks over how to pick up a new hobby, I finally decided to return to my roots and try my hand at this whole world-building thing again. It's been very slow and I am by no means close to having a complete story or able to sketch out a map of the world, but it has been astoundingly exciting to dive back into the creative process. There's nothing better.

I understand there wasn't much of substance in this post, but I merely wanted to share with you what I am passionate about. I could go on and on about Magnus Gallant's decision to join the Revolutionary Army and fight the Holy Lodis Empire and their imposition of Palatinus or how to point out the differences in weapons in WWII between opposing forces. But there is "always a bigger fish" - in the words of the great Qui-Gon Jinn. I've never played Minecraft or World of Warcraft. I don't own a next generation console. I haven't read a lick of Harry Potter or seen an episode of Stargate, FireFly, or Doctor Who. Being a nerd is exhausting because there is always a lot of catching up to do - and no matter how much you know there is always another discovery around the corner.

So come, my friends - share my fire, meat, and mead - and tell me the tales of your travels. I have spoken too much, and I wish to know your stories of the places you've been. The night is young yet.

Cheers,
JDS


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UPDATES & SUCH

I'm going rather slow, but reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar has been refreshing so far. I fell in love with in on like page ten and I'm awfully afraid of how it ends because we all know how Sylvia Plath died. I know that it's going to be sad no matter what.

I've been listening to an eclectic mix of Within The Ruins (I just saw them in concert two days ago), Unifier, Lydia's new album, and a little band called Some Stranger. I recommend you download their new EP.

Of course, I've been writing ideas for my new story, watching Game of Thrones religiously (I have been writing a new quote from the series everyday on the whiteboard in the house where I live), and playing a ROM of Lufia II on my Nexus 7. I've got enough in the world of entertainment to keep me satiated for....maybe a week.

Lastly, I am excited to travel to Texas (never thought I'd say that, ever) in a month to see all of my old friends who helped me survive college. I'll spend a week there. I must be brave. And I'm still waiting to see many bands live. I've already purchased the tickets for Daugher, Now, Now, New Found Glory. Next I have to buy Eisley and Lydia tickets. It's a tough world we live in. 

That about covers it. Time to go shave my head.