Sessions


Inevitably, you’ll encounter one of those moments where it feels like Gravity reaches up and tugs at your “sleepy, collapse into a coma” strings.  Pulling you down into that cozy chair or inviting floor as your energy and vigor slip, slip away.  And this event could occur during even the most mundane of activities… meetings, the Super Bowl, blind dates, waiting in line at Disney.

But there are ways to counter the Sandman’s curse…

  1. Engage your fight-or-flight instincts. It’s a touch more difficult to drift off when your body’s priming for an epic battle… or hasty retreat.  I know what you’re thinking, “How do I pick the right target to fight?  Someone small… preferably genetically engineered with Nerf hands.”  Well, that’s not the (only) way to enable this pick-me-up… you could also tap into the power of visualization.  Picture yourself in combat (or engaged in a combat-like sport… foosball doesn’t count) or facing your greatest fear (again, foosball doesn’t count).  Just the act of mentally “putting yourself in harm’s way” can stimulate enough adrenaline to help get you through the moment.  Bonus: running around the room shouting, “The zombie spiders are crawling on my nards!” will act as a good deed in keeping others awake during a boring status meeting.
  2. Move it or snooze it. This one’s easy.  Get up and get moving.  Do some push-ups  or jumping jacks or shadow boxing or dance moves from the 80s.  Do something that gets that heart pumping blood quickly through the body.  This does two things for you… makes you more attractive to vampires and pushes oxygenated blood out to the body to give you that alert O2 bar buzz.  Well, not quite (the scenery’s often better at the O2 bars), but it does get the heart pushing out energy.
  3. Cut your losses. Just give in to the forces of the universe commanding you to sleep.  Down a few shots of caffeine and then take a nap before your heart explodes.  Give this “nap” twenty minutes to help get the full effects of the caffeine.  It’ll almost feel like a full night’s sleep… just don’t forget to get real sleep later because it’s just illusionary sleep.  This one might be tricky to implement in some places, but if the boss asks why you’ve brought a folding cot to the meeting, tell him there’s room to share.
  4. Shatter some senses. You can stimulate the body to stimulate the mind, so I guess this would be the next best thing to thinning out the blood circulating in your caffeine system.  Scents like peppermint and citrus can do the trick, but I hear smoke and fire can also get the job done (see “engage your fight-or-flight instincts” above).  Besides the nasally senses, you can also get use out of that sense of touch.  Apply some pressure (or thumb tacks point-side-up) to the tips of your fingers and drive that touch center in the brain crazy, “OMGWTFKFC!  Something’s wrong with the hands!  Do something, brain… we need those for… uhh… social networking.”

You always wonder what you’d do if you received a decent chunk of money all at once (like a payment you forgot about or a bonus or a smaller lottery win).  Well, I have some extra money of this sort on its way… and it’s tough deciding what to use the money for.

  1. Buy all the components to build a new (upgraded) computer system.
    1. Pros: less waiting on computer slowdowns, computer will be stout enough to handle DCUO and Diablo III, more energy savings than my 9-year old beast of a computer, future-proof enough to support games and high-end apps (graphic rendering, movie editing, etc) for another 6-8 years.
    2. Cons: time sink (since computer will be stout enough to handle DCUO and Diablo III), need to reinstall all my current programs (and upgrade a few).
  2. Hire an artist to draw a comic book or webcomic.
    1. Pros: more samples of my writing available, more content to share with readers, able to keep showing everyone "I’m still out there producing".
    2. Cons: couldn’t afford a full graphic novel or mini-series run (close, but not quite), webcomic would only have about 4-5 months to establish itself (not an easy task), would still have to build up a pool of money for promoting the book/webcomic.
  3. Take a vacation.
    1. Pros: I need a vacation, more family memories.
    2. Cons: not sure I’d come back fully refreshed and recharged, might not want to come back
  4. Pay tuition for a class to enhance some skills.
    1. Pros: definitely some things I’d like to learn, additional creative skills to add to the resume/portfolio (investment towards a new career), forced deadlines and productivity.
    2. Cons: deciding on what to learn, finding the time to learn (and might have to settle for an online class since random weeks of travel is always possible with my day job).

And I have more thoughts on it than just that, but those definitely sit comfortably at the top of the list.  And weighing out the good and the bad didn’t help with the decision-making process that much.  I might have to roll dice for it… or I could have them battle it out in a death match.

Let’s try 15 minutes of rambling blog post to end up the first month of this blogging resolution.  It’ll be like a peek inside my mind… yeah, scary thought, isn’t it?

  • Great video by Eric Powell of the Goon for The Creators’ Front for Diversity in Comics.  Not sure it entirely stays on point, but people will remember the video and what inspired it.  Check it out (and a lot of polarized comments) over at The Beat.
  • Conventions on the brain… Comicpalooza, STAPLE!, GenCon Indy, Austin Comic Con, but sadly, no C2E2 this year because it’s the same weekend as a work conference I’m presenting at.  I also missed the New Orleans Comic Con, which looked like it would be a lot of fun (and oddly enough is in the same city my work conference will be in).
  • Quantum physics and Portal.  If scientists can get a particle to mimic the quantum state of another particle no matter what the distance (quantum entanglement), how feasible would a real portal device be one day?
  • Best birthday present given out this year? Darth Vader teddy bear from Build-a-Bear Workshop.
  • Working on a story where I have a character I planned on being male, but instincts keep telling me the character wants to act more like a girl.  If I’m gonna make the change, I should do it now.  Should I stick with initial thoughts or second thoughts?  Debate, debate, murmur, grumble… work on something else for now.
  • Cold weather hitting Texas tomorrow… at least, that’s what the Weather Channel app keeps telling me.  Time to warm up the pipes.
  • The Cape.  Still not watching it… the tweets of @NateCosBOOM are more enjoyable than any trailer of the show I’ve seen.

We never really think about pain and its impact on us until we get injured.  Get hurt, suffer, heal, and get back to normal life.  When you have a high threshold for pain, you have to be even more cautious.  Sure, being resistant to pain sounds like a good thing, but it has its disadvantages.  With a good tolerance for pain, the scenario often winds up being… get hurt, don’t notice and continue damaging the injured area, finally feel it when it’s really messed up, suffer for longer, take longer to heal, and then finally get back to life.

To deal with this, you have to take extra precautions.  Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.  A number of years after the rehabilitation of a knee injury, I eventually learned that the doctors missed a minor tear (because of my tolerance to pain), and this went on to grind up the cartilage in my knee.  It felt like some minor soreness to me, and with a little stretching and ice, I was good-to-go the next day. 

Over time, the soreness lasted longer and longer and one day it gave out on me while playing basketball.  X-rays… nothing broken.  Doctor twists it around… "Does this hurt?"  "Not really."  "How about this?"  "A little."  And after all that, they gave me some crutches, put me through a few weeks of rehab and declared me fit for duty.

But they were wrong.  The big mistake?  Asking me if it hurt.  They tell you to be honest, and I was… it didn’t hurt that much.  It would give if I tried to put weight on it… but it didn’t hurt, so the doctor set up treatment for me that matched the evaluation.  Not a lot of pain and some swelling and weakness.  Probably just a sprain… ice, rehab, move on.

If he had put me through an MRI, he would have seen the actual damage in the knee.  When I finally got to a point where I needed to see a doctor again for the knee, I mentioned I had a high tolerance to pain, so he decided to scope the knee out just to be safe.  My wife waited outside for me to get through my 45 minute procedure… and she wound up waiting for two and a half hours.  When the doctor came to her, he stated, "I don’t know how he was walking on that knee let alone running 2-3 miles a day."

Turns out that since I did have a high tolerance to pain, my legs built up in strength to be able to compensate for the injury.  When the doctor did the stretching and twisting tests, my muscles held everything in place to make the joint appear stable and strong.  When I went in for the scope, the anesthetic relaxed my muscles and he was able to see the full extent of the damage… 80 percent of the meniscus ground to hamburger, split ACL, bones starting to show wear from grinding together and the onset of a degenerative arthritic condition in the knee.

Did that change my ways?  No… too stubborn and afraid of hospitals for it to be that easy.  I eventually ran into more situations where things that would normally be causing people pain would just be getting worse for me.  Tonsils the size of golfballs?  Meh, just a little trouble swallowing, that’s all.  Sure, it was a major cause of my 10 years of sleep apnea, but it didn’t hurt.

Then during an exam for possible bronchitis, my doctor discovered I had an umbilical hernia.  From his description of the signs for it, I’d had it for months.  That’s when I decided I needed to make a change to how I approach things… I needed to do more than just go by the feeling of pain.

Now, I take extra precautions when dealing with injuries.  I treat them as best I can but if anything doesn’t seem right at all after the first few days, I go see the doctor.  I make sure the doctor knows I have a high tolerance to pain and that the muscles in my legs don’t relax very well.  That alone makes a big difference in how he looks at the injury. 

I also self-examine my body every few days to see if there’s anything wrong (that should be causing me pain).  It’s odd how many cuts and scabs and bruises I find on my body where I can’t even place where they’re from because I never felt them occur.  I also check my joints with various balance and stability drills/checks.  Since I can’t always rely on the amount of pain, I can see how the various joints hold up under stress to see if they feel like they’ll give or wobble, etc.

So, just be wary, no matter how tough you think you are… that same toughness and tolerance to pain can take you down without you even realizing it.  If you know that describes you, be sure to take precautions early on in your life and it’ll do you a world of good.

[NOTE: this was supposed to auto-post Friday morning while I was working (since I wrote it way early in the morning), but I just noticed this morning that it didn't post.  I'll have to check and see why that feature's not working in my WordPress, but for now, this post will just have to show up late and Monday's post will go up this evening.]

Looking through my schedule for the techie job today and noticed next week begins two and a half weeks of France time.  New sites to see, new foods, art, history… at least, that’s what I imagine it would be like.  I don’t actually get to go there.  I’m just working France hours from my home office for a customer there.

There was a time with my job where the odds were I’d be traveling there, but oddly, the travel slowed down over the past year.  Honestly, the travel never bothered me.  As a writer, it invigorated my writing jumping from coast-to-coast all the time. 

Small towns.  Big cities.  Middle of nowhere.  Middle of somewhere I only read about in books. 

New accents.  New foods.  New mannerisms.  New traditions.  New people to listen to.

Never found out why my travel got reduced so much, but then I never bothered to ask.  On the plus side, I get to spend more time with my family.  On the down side, it took a while for them to adjust to having so much "dad time".  I guess they got used to me being gone so much and spoiling them on the weekends.  Now, they have to suffer through semi-exciting weekdays and boring (aka not spoiled enough) weekends.  They’ll live. 

But all the time working out of the home office did give me some time to… well, hate how much I neglected my office.  I began an overhaul to make this place more "all day (and some nights) tech warrior + writer by night" friendly. 

  • Picked up a desk to replace the folding tables I used for a decade. 
  • Bought a bunch of Expedit shelves to get my comics, graphic novels, and mini-library organized. 
  • Freed up wall space to hang up inspirational artwork I’ve collected over the years. 
  • And found a nice stand to hold my 42" plasma HDTV (that will become my new monitor when I finish all this).

So while I may be cooped up in this office all day and working strange hours (2am to 11am for those France hours coming up) while everyone around me keeps functioning on Texas time, I can handle it with much more ease… and wonder why it took me so long to set up my office like this.

Oh, right… it was the 75-95% travel year-after-year where my "office" wound up being whatever free cubicle, conference room or server room crash cart a client could spare and then finishing up in a nice clean hotel room at night.  [NOTE TO SELF: need mini-fridge and comfy bed for office now]

This morning, some of the comic-based news hitting the web make me think of some traumatic events from my younger, crazier (and healthier) days.  Back then, I encountered this affect dubbed "seeing the wizard" during the indoctrination course for Air Force Combat Control and Pararescue trainees.  Our lovely little OL-Hell on Earth as some of us referred to the course.

This "seeing the wizard" phenomenon occurred during our water confidence training.  It’s where you’d hold your breath long enough to get tunnel vision… and maintain that tunnel vision long enough to see a tiny speck of sparkly light at the end that looked like a robed man with a cone-shaped hat.  If you saw the wizard and didn’t come up for air soon after hitting that point, you’d usually find yourself lying by the side of the pool being resuscitated by one of the cadre. 

I learned that lesson the hard way.

I also learned the cadre didn’t like resuscitating cone-heads like me.

Today, Wizard magazine came up for air.  It had been holding on to the past and on to some of the more lucrative days of comics for quite a while, and the magazine was probably at the point where it needed some resuscitation.  But I will give them credit for one thing… the employees who I met from there over the years always had a passion for comics.  And after reading Agent M’s blog on his experiences there, I can see that passion was probably more widespread there than just the few people I’d met.

I might not have seen eye-to-eye with all the magazine’s reviews or all of the fanfare over certain creators, but I’d never expect that from any publication.  Opinions vary from person-to-person and the only way you’re ever going to see eye-to-eye with an entire magazine or website is if you write it all yourself (and there are people I think would still hate on their own publication just because they have an overdeveloped hatin’ gland).

So, here’s to Wizard as they follow in the footsteps of the Dragon by dropping the print version and taking their articles to the digital realm.  I may not have always appreciated what they had to say, but I rarely doubted the fire behind the people putting the actual words to the page.

Along with blogging every Monday through Friday this year, I also set out to work on my writing projects on a regular basis (Wednesday through Sunday).  So far, so good this year.  I’m a little late with the blog today (just got off work for the day), but it keeps moving along.

Now, the writing part is easy.  Especially for the novels and screenplays.  Revising/editing, though I’m good at that, takes a bit longer since my logical brain gets tapped out most days from the day job (disadvantage and advantage of being a techie… your logical brain gets a good workout all day long, but it just wants to kick back and recover the rest of the day).  The toughest part of all these projects involves the comic book scripts… and finding artists.

Because of the work I’ve been doing the past few years, I haven’t had to look for artists (work-for-hire doesn’t really leave me much control who I work with and then I also had a couple artists ask me to write for them).  Now, I want to get more of my comic stories out there, so I have to wander the wilds of deviantart.com, conceptart.org, Digital Webbing, drawingboard.org and other sites to look over artists and piece together styles with stories.

Sadly, I’ve done this before and I had a list of 34 "artists with potential" bookmarked to possibly use with projects.  Twenty-seven of those artists are currently working on books or full-time in the video game industry.  The others haven’t updated in months/years, so there’s no telling what happened to them.  So, I know I have a good chance at spotting talent to work with…

But talent isn’t everything with comics… talent won’t take you anywhere if you can’t deliver.  That combination is a little tougher to find out there.  It is out there… I’ve been lucky over the years to work with a number of artists with talent and the ability to turn in pages.  Besides, I really enjoy looking through art, so even though the task can be long and require barrels of 80 proof enforced patience, it’s not a torturous process.

So… be vewwy, vewwy quitet.  I’m huntin’ artists…

I hit one of those milestone years with my birthday on Friday.  The big 4-0.  Aside from the high cholesterol, the arthritic knees, the greying beard, the numerous pills the doctors have me on and the extra "insulation" around the midsection, I still feel pretty spry and young.

Hmm… that doesn’t sound like a good start to the second half of my life, does it?  But oddly, I’m doing better than I expected.  Even with the bad knees, I can still jog and run… something the doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to do again with the damage that was done with my knee.  And even with the high cholesterol, all my other tests came out great–sound heart, fairly healthy organs, perfect blood pressure, no other major blood chemistry issues, no rabies, no Lyme disease and (sadly) no latent mutant abilities either.  I really thought those toxic waste scrubs would do the trick.

I wonder if part of it all is that I’m not afraid to let the little kid in me out to play.  Arts and crafts.  Video games.  Comic books.  Acting crazy while my wife tries to shop.  Being kid-like when I get time to spend with my kids.

So, maybe the secret to staying young is being young… and not fully growing up.  Sure, I take care of my responsibilities and get my work done.  But I don’t stress out over most of it or let work fully control my life. I’ve seen some people who work out of fear.  I work to pass the time.  To make sure my brain gets regular doses of challenges to work on.  To keep my idle hands from tearing apart expensive electronics to figure out what makes them tick.

And in regards to my part-time job… well, I do that to have fun and escape from the logic-ruled techie world of my day job.  

For a while (many moons ago), I did a series of articles at the DigitalWebbing site called "Breaking Out!".  It actually started as a newsletter I put together with articles and interviews and even its own comic section.  But it wasn’t easy to print up newspapers like that (and I was very raw in the ways of the pre-press), so I went digital with it.

The  whole purpose of the Breaking Out! column was to motivate new and aspiring creators and also get them to approach finding work in the industry like a job hunt.  Oddly, there was this disconnect that some young creators didn’t think they had to treat it like a job hunt (but then I doubted most of them considered it a real job anyways), and I wanted to change some of that mentality.

My background at that point was mostly from the military, but I knew about helping people find jobs.  As people left the military, I watched many of them make mistake after mistake.  Not wanting to make those same mistakes, I learned all I could about job searching and resume writing and interviewing.  I turned out to be pretty good at it.  I volunteered a lot of time to help friends leaving the military get good jobs (or better jobs than what was being offered).  I remember helping one person get offers $15K higher just by tweaking her resume and helping her evaluate companies before interviewing with them.

When I did leave the military (medical severance, so it hit quickly), I was prepared.  Resume written (and kept updated).  I kept in the loop with various companies in the area that had Oracle shops and could use my skillset.  Plus, I had an interview lined up within 15 minutes of emailing my resume out to companies and was hired for a new job before before I even finished outprocessing from the military.

So these series of columns was my way of passing on some of that information I’d gathered over years.  A lot of creative folks pour all their time and energy into actually creating and little things like building resumes and developing interview skills and learning how to interact with businesses… well, those things escaped them sometimes.  I actually got a lot of good responses from these articles and a couple dozen success stories from readers who had applied the techniques and found opportunities.

These articles no longer appear on the DigitalWebbing website, but I have them archived here for anyone who wants a little extra motivation and some creative business sense.

Look for more archive of some of my other columns (The Art of Words and The Creative Adviser) to show up here in the coming months.

Joshua’s fingers tapped lightly on the keys.  Just enough to make noise but no force backed them up to make letters appear on the computer monitor.  They just tapped away… anxiously waiting for words to form.  Trigger happy soldiers waiting for orders from thoughts too jumbled and chaotic to give them.  He scrolled up the page to read through what had managed to get through.

Eyes squinted.  Lips tightened.  Not enough angst.  It pained him to no end… but he pressed on.  Needs to be darker and grittier here.

Further down the page, his neck twitched.  His very muscles betrayed him and nearly forced him to look away, but he refused to give up at the hands of his self-imposed torture.  He approached the last sentence and breathed deeply letting all the negative thoughts gather in that bubble of air.  Swirling around.  Twisting.  Stinging.

And then he let it all go.  With one breath, he exorcised those little demons of thought.  He felt alive and free.  He armed himself with weapons forged of motivation and perseverance and charged back into the heat of battle.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Again, his fingers released their anxiety with light taps on the keyboard.  Again, no letters appeared on the screen.  Again, his thoughts quickly fell into chaos and disarray.  Surrender looked promising.

He reached for the monitor power button and a miniscule arc of static leaped into nerves beneath his fingernail.  He cut the power to the screen and reeled back his hand shaking out the stinging sensation.  The screen faded and pulled the nighttime darkness from the rest of the room towards the light until all light left the room.

Joshua navigated his way past boxes and books and stacks of paper–a trip all to familiar to him after years of repetition.  Left of the big box, slide through the stacks of books, four more paces and reach for the door–

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Joshua looked back.  His eyes adjusted enough to distinguish the room in varying shades of darkness.  He stared at his desk.  Nothing there.  No sounds.  He wondered if imagination was getting the better of him.

Then a flicker of light from his computer keyboard.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

He heard it clearly now.  Someone was typing.

An edged surface pressed deep into the arch of his foot as it stepped on an old phone charger.  He hopped forward only to feel the corner of tumbling books smacking across the long bone of his other foot.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap. Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

He shoved the books aside and used the edge of the desk to brace himself as he stumbled around it and reached for the reading light on his desk. 

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

With a click of a switch, the darkness fled to the corners of the room revealing… nothing.

No one was there.  No more noises.  Nothing.

Joshua plunked down into his chair and rubbed his foot.  He bit his lip as fingers rubbed over dimpled, bruised flesh and bone.  Then he spotted something odd… a single key depressed on the keyboard.  The period key.  He examined it and the moment he touched it, it popped back into place.

He turned the monitor back on and as it hummed back to life, he saw words in his document.  New words.  Words he would never dare write.

"Once upon a time…"