Friday, November 21, 2008

Into the Den

So sometimes when I'm not on one of the millions of dates I go on every weekend I find time to write a little bit of fiction. Here is a snippet. I've hidden the last paragraph so you don't accidently read it before you've read the rest. Just drag your cursor to highlight it and you can read it.

Escape Attempt # 15

Arthur climbed down the darkened pathway, careful to watch his footing on the slick surface. His foot crush the carcasses of grotesque insects that had undoubtedly lay there for years. Clumps of dust scattered as he rounded the corner. He had finally found it; the den. Whose den didn’t matter; what mattered was that he was here now. He quickly surveyed the scene seeking the prize. In one corner was a repository of knowledge; enough knowledge that it would take him weeks to skim through it all. There were several tables, littered with items of little significance to him. Mere distractions. Tucked under a low overhang he found enough food to last him several seasons. One entire wall in the den; just over a puddle of stagnant water, glowed with an intense light. It cast disconcerting shadows across the intricate random patterns of the roof of the den. Through this portal Arthur saw vast worlds. It was his escape. His escape from the unjust treatment he had endured for years. The days spent bent over slaving away in the field, weeding the master’s crops; moving the master’s piles of stone and wood; for no apparent reason; his escape from the hours spent cleaning the defecations of the other inhabitants unwilling to relieve themselves in the basin.

Finally Arthur would escape. He only needed to find the artifact. He had spent hours of his free time studying it, so he would know how to wield it when the time came. Days spent reading the accounts of others who had the blessing of finding such a artifact, for there were more than one. Some treated it with derision, claiming to have even greater power; those accounts Arthur scrolled past quickly, looking for those who saw the artifact for what it was; an escape from the world of endless toil and labor with strange taskmasters. Taskmasters whose language Arthur barely understood.

The thought of his taskmasters made Arthur quicken his search. At any moment they would notice he was gone from the pile of masonry he had been scraping the old mortar off of. Soon they would call for him; would they know he had gone into the den? What terror awaited Arthur if they did find him. The punishment would be most severe and of coarse they would know where he was. With almost omniscient knowledge, they always knew where to find him. How many times had he been stopped on the slippery path down to the den? How many times had he been caught just before he rounded the corner? Each time the punishment double from the time previous. If he were caught this time, the punishment would be too great to bear.

Finally he found it, the artifact was resting on a leather cushion; almost in a place of honor. Its brilliant white shell encasing the most powerful controlling device known to man. He hefted it. Its lightness surprised him. He surveyed the blunt ends with the markings al down one side. The sign of the cross, the symbol of home, good and evil on opposite sides, and symbols representing one and two. From his studying Arthur new how to activate it. He found the symbol representing Power, and gently pushed it. Blue light flooded the den briefly; then subsided. The brilliant white portal that took up an entire wall sprang to life. Through it Arthur was taken to another world. Suddenly a knight approached him, a dark, evil knight. Wielding the artifact as a sword Arthur engaged in mortal combat with the villain. The contest went on for what seemed ages. Arthur swinging his sword, and blocking the dark knights blows. Finally the knight was knocked to the ground. Arthur stood, ready to deliver the final blow; when he heard a familiar sound; from that other world he had just left. The sound of the large glass door, which guarded the entrance to the den slowly opening. His heart pounded; would he be able to vanquish the knight in time or would the harsh taskmaster remove his power and destroy his work. He heard the taskmaster descending the slick steps down to the den. Arthur feverously swung his arm trying to kill the knight. He was almost too late. As the taskmaster entered the den the darkness suddenly gave way to light ripping him back to the harsh reality he had always known. The knight was not quite vanquished, he had failed, darkness would soon rule two worlds.

Arthur turned to face his taskmaster unashamed of what he had done. He would bear his punishment with honor, giving them no satisfaction as they inflicted their wrath.

“Are you really playing Nintendo while the rest of the family cleans bricks for the patio. I swear Arthur you’ll never amount to a hill of beans if you don’t learn to work; “ decreed the creature.

Arthur nodded slowly not fully understanding what was being said, but somehow he knew it meant back to slavery.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You Spent How Much for What?

Last night I grabbed a bunch of friends and went to the International House of Pancakes. Now i love IHOP, but when you go to the glorious house of carbs, you must be careful. I remember the first time I went how disappointed I felt afterwards. I wasn't full. Now all of the men out there between the ages of 2 seconds and 94 years old, don't need me to explain why the greatest crime a restaurant can commit is to not fill you up, but for the women, and the exceedingly old who may have forgotten what it means to eat let me explain. It's nice if food won't make us dies any sooner then we were going to before we ate it; its better if the food we eat tastes pretty dang good; its best when we leave the dinner table with a full stomach, intestine, and a throat full just to below the wind pipe.

Sorry for the digression, but IHOP is one of those places that doesn't always get it. If you go there and order their signature item (here's a hint; it ain't the steak) chances are you'll be disappointed. There simply isn't enough mass there to fill you up. However if you go for the behemoth Steak Omelet, well not only will you be full, but you'll also not need to eat for the rest of the week. (Of coarse you will, you just won't need to.)

Anyways some members of our party were wise, they ordered the death omelet or some other gluttonous treat; however my roommate was fooled by the siren song of the 5 flavors of syrup, and the super-sized pictures, enlarged to show texture not to trick you into ordering a meal for a either a young infant, or perhaps a pet gerbil. So he ordered the crepes (pronounced craps). Needless to say, as we walked out of there he was the only one still able to drive.

Now here's the real tragedy of the whole situation. Those who were full, and the one who still hungered, all paid about nine dollars. This catastrophe has given me a chance to think about what we spend and what we get for it.

The most obvious thing we spend is money. Now I'm not any great finance expert, so I won't go on an on about money, but let me say this; If you went to the new movie Mama Mia and put it on your credit card you, my friend, may be a fool. Not only did you let some girl drag you to a musical featuring ABBA, but you put it on your credit card and chances are you're only paying interest, so by the time you've paid it off, you will have paid 200 bucks for a date with some girl you don't even remember, a movie you wish you could forget, and some nachos that didn't even fill you up (see first paragraph). Point is, don't pay interest.

Second point on money. Don't buy things in dark allies. Even if the product is legal, there's a reason Tony didn't want to meet across from the stake center. And when that car ends up belonging to the former Quick draw Frankie, don't come crying to me. Buy stuff that you know has some value.

Ok, enough with the money; Right? But what about time? You don't really think of time and money being related, but back in the day when they were inventing English they decided that you would spend both time and money. They must have seen some connection. Obviously its because time has value, and so in a sense are spending.

Here's the the obvious difference between time and money, Money you accumulate, you can save it, or spend it; with time there is no chance to save it for a rainy day, you're always spending a zit faced teenager at an arcade. It keeps flowing out of you. So the trick with time is how we spend it.

We can enrich ourselves with our time, just like with money. Only the methods are different. With time we have choices. Do we learn long division or memorize Pokemon stats? Do we go on a date with some sharp lady, or do we unlock the extra intense FTW mode on Rockband? Do we plod on through some menial job, or do we learn sweet new skills that get us more money? And most importantly do we watch Monday Night football or let the misses watch Martha Stewarts Designing Pet Swetters? (Just get two TV's)

Now the key to getting the most out of our time takes a little time. Time is kinda like water. It will either flow every which way or get channeled. When water is in a canal or a river its moving somewhere, but if the bank breaks for the river, the water just goes in the easiest path. Times the same. If you think ahead and decide what you want to do your time will be directed and will accomplish a whole lot more. If you just let your time flow wherever is easiest you'll probably get some really high scores on tetris, but you will find yourself unable to impress certain ladies who are in dire need of impressing. See women folk tend to like things that show your time has been channeled.

Now just a word of caution when channeling your time. Don't get so focused on getting the most out of your time that you don't have any variety. All those activites that moms have been deriding for years you know, messin around, have a purpose. The key is not to spend so much time on them you forget to get some value out of your time.

Well there are some thoughts on spending. I was going to talk a little bit about spending energy, but well I'm spent. Goodbye.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Towers and Trees

Have you ever noticed how simple things can have a tremendous power over people? How someone like Linus Van Pelt from Peanuts gets the shakes when Snoopy or Lucy steal his blanket; or the young man who wears a shirt long after its tattered and moth eaten; the lady who keeps her doll for years even though as a young girl she gave her a hair cut that makes her look like she has the mange.

Towns get upset when in the name of progress, old land marks are torn down. Why do we get so attatched to these physical things. Why don't we look at them with Vulcan stoicism and say this item has lost its usefulness, it has been used up; we no longer need it?

Because they haven't.

We hold onto these symbols because our mind and soul, in an attempt to interpret the most important things that have happened to us, place the emotions we feel inside on these physical symbols to help us remember the importance.

Let me share a few of my symbols.

The Tower

In my parents back yard there stands and aged wooden playset. The moss grows on it, the rust covers the swingset bar, in recent years the sandbox has become a litter box. Its still functional and usefull. My neice and nephew love to swing on it, and make a waterslide by running the garden hose down the slide. However if a new owner were to come to the house chances are probably 50-50 they'd tear it down. I can see in my minds eye, some new age women finding the moss icky, the rust clashing with her lawn furniture, and fearing her bubbleboy would get the hanta virus from the sandbox.

Despite its limitations, this playset is a powerful connector for me. It connects me to my days of youth when my friends and brothers would have floods in the sandbox. I remember using the tower to proclaim victory in a water fight, and i even remember when, as a very young boy my mom informed me that it was inappropriate to relieve myself from the top of the tower, and the neighbors would appreciate it if I stopped (those neighbors shortly thereafter moved out of state).

I have plenty of symbols that remind me of the utopian youth I experienced in East Idaho, but the playset is an important symbol for me in another sense. It is time with my father and brothers.

Every boy wants to be involved with his dad, doing things. Before a boy idolizes Kobe Bryant, or Payton Manning; before he deciding to be a fireman or a doctor; before wanting to start the next great rock band, a young boy sees his dad as the ultimate expression of manhood. Disillusionment might come later as the boy grows, but in his early years, the boy wants to be just like dad. And what's better than meeting your idol, doing something with your idol.

I don't know how old I was when my dad took his pack of three boys outside to build the playset; I must have been over seven, because I was that old when we built the house. But i remember working out in the hot sun with Dad. Marveling at his ability to know just how to use the tools right. How brilliant he was when he used a string to make sure the boards were all level, how strong he was when he carried the buckets of cement that we used to set the 4X4's in place, and how awesome it was that he spent his time doing this, for us boys, and that we were part of it. I remember the hours he spent creating drawings on his old Mac computer while we would fantasize how awesome it would be. I remember pounding the nails into the floorboards on the tower. And I remember how he continually sought to improve it after we had completed the main tower, when he tracked down an old pipe to hang swings on, and when he brought home rope to climb on.

The symbolizes the love of a parent for a child, my dad's sacrifice for his kids, which goes on to this day, and his desire to show us how to work, and complete a project. He could have bought a playset at the local big box store, then I wouldn't care about it near as much, and I wouldn't be sad if some antiseptically minded lady decided to tear it down, but the real gift of the playset was his time and effort to his kids, and that is what it means to me

I could jabber on for pagers about just writing about memories from my yard, the next sentimental symbol is about 7 feet from the playset. It is the old silver-tipped cottonwood tree.

The Tree

We planted this tree a few years after we built the house primarily to be a climbing tree for the kids. As a youngster this tree seemed to grow at a snails pace, but in the world of trees it is actually fairly quick grower. Having a complete yard was one of my ideals as a kid. A yard with climbing trees, hiding spaces for night games, and open areas for the sport of the moment, be it whiffle ball, football, volleyball, or some made up game. Well now the yard has become mature, and while i grew up faster the the tree, my younger siblings have had plenty of time to climb upon it branches. This tree represents the completeness of the yard and the assurance that generations to come will experience the complete yard that i yearned for growing up.

There is however one problem.

As the tree has matured it has developed a strong desire to reproduce. What the problem with that you may ask? Wouldn't the world be better with more climbing trees. Kids love them. The problem isn't so much that the tree wants to procreate, but how. In spite of the assurances of the greenhouse owner many years ago, this tree sends up runners and they are taking over the yard.

(As an aside for the botanically challenged out there. A runner is a root the tree sends out from which to grow a clone of itself. In the case of this tree the runners go underground and surface some distance from the tree attempting to start a new tree.)

With the drive of a teenager this tree is sending up hundreds of sprouts all over the yard. At first we ignored them and would mow over them. But that has caused a problem, after we would mow one sprout off, it would send up another one from the same location. Now with the build up of scar tissue we have the hard as rock pieces of wood on the surface of the ground waiting to roll ankles, and stub toes. The spread like cancer over the whole yard destroying the volleyball court and threatening the rest of the yard as well.

And so the best climbing tree in the world must come down.

We must take down the tree and tear up the yard to remove all the runners; if we don't we'll lose the yard. The tree that provides shade in the afternoon, where our first pet duck would set and quack; the tree with a great hiding place for night games. The tree with perfectly spaced branches for a youngun who fighting against his own fear of heights climbs higher then he has before. We must tear it down and tear it out.

And contemplate what to put in the holes. Inside and out.

But the tree teaches us another lesson in sentimentality. While we can gain comfort and strength from these symbols to our past, we should never serve the symbol, the symbol must serve us. When we get rid of a symbol, its not because we are getting rid of what the symbol represented, its because the symbol has stopped representing well.

If we get to the point where we are so attached to things that they tether us down from growing and becoming better people; if we come to the point where we have so many symbols to remind us where we have been that there is no room for where we may go. Then they symbol is like those knotty roots, it damages us, we strive to keep the symbol around for the symbols sake. We have to take a step back and realize we can move on. So lets keep our symbols as towers of strength comfort and wisdom, not cancerous tumors of attachment.