Age Of Ultron And That One Joke

So the new Avengers movie has been out for a while and holy shit, has it created a lot of talking points. But strangely, I haven’t heard anyone talking about the point that feel is the most salient, which is, “was it better than the first one?”

Nope, instead we need to discuss Tony Stark and his rape joke and thus the continuation of rape culture. Here’s the clip if you haven’t seen it, starts around the 40 second mark. If you didn’t watch it, basically, everyone is hanging out at a party trying to lift Thor’s magical hammer Mjolnir, which can only be wielded by one worthy of its power. Before Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man tries, he quips, “so, if I lift it, I then rule Asgard?” Thor dryly responds, “yes, of course.” Tony then says, “I will be reinstituting prima nocta.”

I have three points I wish to make:

1: Characterization. Tony Stark’s entire characterization is that he is a jerk. He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s insanely smart, and he frequently helps save the world . . . but he is an asshole. He’s on a heroic journey not to transition from asshole to good person but from asshole who used to make weapons that killed everyone to asshole trying to fix the mess he made.”I will be reinstituting prima nocta” is something an asshole would say. In fact, that’s one of the ways we know he’s an asshole!

If Captain “Language, please!” America had talked about the good ol’ days of America before women were people, yes, that would be considerably worse. That would be an indication that the creators of this story want us to think along those lines, want us to agree with that idea. We’re supposed to look up to Cap. He’s the icon, the standard, even if he’s not “the coolest” or the most powerful or the funniest.

But Tony is a dick. He insults everyone around him, often at the same time; I think it’s fair to say his word choice “reinsituting” rather than “instituting” was meant as a dig at Thor’s people.

2: Well, let’s say it’s not okay to make jokes about rape. I actually disagree with that point philosophically as I think humor is a powerful force for social change, but let’s save that for another post. Let’s imagine a different version of this scene: after Tony makes a joke about prima nocta, everyone laughs and nods, not in the audience, but on screen. Thor smiles and says, “yes, those were good times,” and Cap says something charmingly old timey about smacking secretaries on the ass as they walked by. Everyone has a good old laugh about it. Rape culture for everyone! This is a universe where that’s okay, what does it say about our universe and about us?!

Except that doesn’t happen. If you listen closely to the clip, none of the other Avengers even chuckle. No one agrees with him.

Instead, right after making his joke, right after reminding us that he’s a dick, the literal goddamn forces of the universe also point out that Tony Stark is not worthy. The universe itself, in the form of a magical hammer, tells Tony Star that he is an asshole. He does not get a cosmic pat on the back and a vindication of everything he does. He does not get approval. The hammer stays put. He cannot lift it.

God (well, a god) is telling him, Tony, that he is not good enough. Is his misogynist nature be part of that? COULD BE.

This wouldn’t be as noteworthy on its own initially, as no one seems able to lift the hammer, although there are hints that Captain America can and pretends not to, likely to spare Thor’s ego. But later on . . . potential spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie, although I’ll try to avoid specific names: later in the movie, there is a character that can lift the hammer aside from Thor and the fact that he can proves his worthiness to the team. So we know that people other than Thor can lift the hammer if it judges them worthy of it.

Does this mean that the hammer rejected him because of his joke? What about the other characters who also couldn’t lift it? Should we take this to mean they’re also assholes? I don’t think so; there’s enough to suggest that each character who tries to lift the hammer can’t for their own reasons: Banner, because in his heart, he doesn’t want to. Hawkeye and Cap (assuming Cap wasn’t faking) likely can’t because they’re soldiers rather than warriors; to them, the fight is a job, not a way of life as it is for Thor’s people. For Hawkeye, at least, given the choice, it’s obvious he’d rather be hanging out at home (which we do see later).

But Tony does want power in a way that Banner doesn’t. He isn’t fighting out of a sense of duty like Cap and Hawkeye. But Tony still cannot lift the hammer. He is not worthy. If “we” want to be worthy (in the sense that we learn values and ideas from stories), we need to consider that point. If we want to be worthy, we need to be better. Not just funnier, not just wittier, but better.

3: Won’t someone please think of the children? Kids shouldn’t hear this kind of stuff. First of all, the movie is PG-13. If your kid is thirteen, they already know. Secondly, how many children know what prima nocta actually is? Do you realize that the entire point of children’s entertainment (well, one of them, at least; merchandise was the main point) in the 90s was to see how many filthy references one could slip by the kids, because kids don’t know what that stuff means? Seriously, this joke is downright brilliant in its subtlety compared to the cartoons I grew up on.

A closing thought: Why is everyone freaking out about this, but no one seemed to seemed to really care when Loki called Natasha a whiny cunt in the previous film? Why is that?

A Moving Diary, The Voyage Home

Welcome to Day Two of the Great Seattle Move story. When last we joined our heroes, Matt, James, Ashley, Bob, and serpents Maize and Morrigan were spending the night at a friend’s house in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, April 28

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday was how our driving rotation worked. I said before that I promised Ashley I wouldn’t ask her to drive, but what I neglected to mention in my post was my strange Captain Ahab-esque fits of insanity that occur during road trips.

I call it “Iron Manning,” although I haven’t gotten that term to catch on yet. Basically, when I’m driving on a road trip, I don’t stop. Ever. I can go for twelve hours without a break. When people ask if I need to switch drivers, I say, “nah, I’m good” and I mean it. I’ve done Tucson to Albuquerque in one evening with no breaks. I don’t know why I do this. Probably some undiagnosed OCD syndrome. The odd thing is that when I’m a passenger on a road trip, I’m the worst. If I drink anything, I have to go to the bathroom ever forty seconds. I get bored. I get hungry. I can’t sleep. I get motion sick so I can’t read or even look at my phone screen. I’m the worst.

But when I’m driving? I look out towards the horizon with a steely gaze, aviators on my face and the limits of physical bodies defiantly ignored.

My long-winded point here is that James asked to drive on Monday, but I didn’t let him. I took the wheel the entire time. But for day two, I think there were concerns that even I wasn’t ready for twelve hours through the heart of Nevada and into Idaho. So I promised to switch drivers a few times, although I still made sure that I drove the truck out of the hellhole that was Las Vegas.

Driving in Nevada was entirely uneventful, I’m sad to say. It’s a very empty state. The only saving grace was that unlike the endless plains of somewhere like Kansas or Oklahoma, there are interesting mountains to look at in the distance. There’s also the town of Lund, Nevada, which prompted a pun duel with Jenn via text message during one of the bouts where I relinquished my death grip on the steering wheel:

Jenn: “Where are you now?”

Me: “Smack in the middle of Nevada, Route 318, about 20 miles outside of the town of Lund, if you want to look for us on Google maps.”

Jenn: “I do! Holy smokes, that is a whole lot of nowhere.”

Matt: “Lund is the weirdest town I’ve ever seen. No gas station, one store, huge expanse of nothing outside of ‘main street.'”

Jenn: “Maybe it’s a mob front!”

Matt: “We concur.”

Jenn: “I bet they’re involved in money lund-ering.”

Matt: “Well played. That made us lund out loud. Your comedy stylings tickle our lundy bones.”

Jenn: “And you guys just lundered into town.”

Matt: “You’re doing God’s work.”

Jenn: “And when you finally get home, you can look up at the sky with a wistful tear in your eye and say, the eagle has lunded.”

Matt: “And now we have the giggles. Thanks.”

Jenn: “Well, enjoy it. You’re passing through the lund of milk and honey.”

Matt: “True. By the way, thanks for lunding me the money to make this trip happen.”

Jenn: “You’re very welcome, but really, I had to, or we would have had some terrible blunders.”

Matt: “You should see these snow capped mountains we are passing. They filled me with awe and lunder.”

Jenn: “Sounds lovely. Just don’t get caught in a lunderstorm.”

Matt: “I’m not worried about lunderstorms. I packed extra lunderwear so I’ll be dry.”

Yeah, that’s Nevada.

Arriving in Idaho brought some exciting new problems with the truck. A different oil light came on, which prompted another stop to pop the hood and take a look. I checked the oil levels on the dipstick and everything was acceptable. I checked the auto manual included behind my seat and realized it was the single most useless document ever printed by mortal minds. Googling the issue determined that “it probably is the computer saying we’re overdue for an oil change.”

Well, whatever. As long as we make it to Seattle.

Then the radiator warning light came on!

Another stop, another pop of the hood to look around. The engine was a little warmer than it had been, which was troubling since we were so much farther north now. The radiator reservoir looked low, so I said fuck it and poured a few liters of water into it from my Nalgene. That turned the warning light off, which was good enough for me. But seriously, three warning lights in two days? Every time I drove after that, I kept my eyes glued to the instrument panel nigh-obsessively waiting for the engine to overheat or another light to come on. The oil light stayed on for the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Boise late that evening and checked into a hotel. Parking the monster Uhaul was an interesting experience that basically involved me taking up ten parking spots and hoping nobody got too irritated with me. I was also obsessed with trying to keep the trailer secured after our host from the previous night went on and on about how easy it was to steal the trailer containing my motorcycles. Both nights, we decided to park the Prius right behind the trailer to sort of sandwich it in and make it more difficult to steal. But I still worried about it.

Originally, we were going to go out for dinner, but because it was a Tuesday night (9pm?) in Boise, Idaho, everything was closed. Dinner was a loaf of bread from a grocery story, some cheese, and some fruit. But honestly, it was really good cheese, so I’m not complaining. Still, what the hell, Boise?

Wednesday, April 29

I woke up on Wednesday with enthusiasm because it was the final day of our journey. That night, I’d be sleeping in my own bed in my new home. Of course, separating me from those things in Issaquah was a good chunk of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. So I was getting a little ahead of myself.

The weird thing about driving all the way from Tucson to Boise is that really, the terrain doesn’t look all that different. The cacti disappear, but otherwise it’s still open desert and plains with mountains in the distance. Even eastern Washington looks like a desert. It’s deserts all over the place around these parts.

The first thing that happened during this leg of our journey was where I forgot to take the padlock off the chain connecting the trailer to the truck and it popped off during the first turn. That sucked.

Oregon was really pretty. We drove through some amazing forests and mountains and I had my first real feeling of, ‘this, yes, this is what I signed up for! This is the Northwest!”

We stopped in Pendleton, Oregon, for lunch. Pendleton is notable for having more Welcome to Pendleton signs than any other town I’ve ever seen and for having an absolutely amazing Indian buffet. I love Indian food, but some of the best Indian places in Tucson are, shall we say, unusual dining experiences. The food is amazing, but the service is weird. More than once, I’ve walked into a restaurant and been greeted not with “how many for your table?” but “what are you doing here?”

In Pendleton, the owner took ten minutes to give us a tour of his entire restaurant. It really was quite charming. The food was amazing, too.

When I crossed over into Washington, there was a moment of excitement followed by the prospect of a few more hours of driving through endless desert. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough to everyone back in Tucson. When you look at the map and see Washington, you imagine forests that stretch across the entire state. This is not true! There is actually more vegetation in southern Arizona than in eastern Washington. It’s very odd.

But once we crossed into the Cascades, man.

It took my breath away. Suddenly, we were in mountainous pine forests and gorgeous snow-capped mountains. There was a lake beside the highway that was so beautiful I wanted to cry. Washington west of the Cascades is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Over and over again as I drove that final leg of the journey, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t on a vacation, that I was actually going to live here. All of these beautiful places; I could explore them! And they were a scant few hours drive from my house!

And then I pulled into Issaquah. I already knew my way around the city. I pulled onto our street and then into my new neighborhood. I parked the truck, once again taking up ten spots.

I saw Jenn running down the stairs. I broke into a run to meet her.

It was perfect.

I was home.

Epilogue: Thursday and Friday

Everything was over except for the unpacking. The nice thing about unpacking a truck is that it goes much, much faster than loading it. You basically just grab everything and drop it into the nearest empty space, which is easy since the house you’re moving into is empty!

As I said in my last post, Ashley and James stayed with us for two days since their apartment wasn’t ready until Friday. On Friday, I drove the truck for the final leg into Seattle proper and had the absolutely terrifying experience of Google maps routing me down a narrow street with cars parked on both sides of the road, two inches of clearance, and a roundabout that I was certain I was going to annihilate. But somehow, we made it through. We unloaded James and Ashley’s boxes and furniture and returned the truck to the nearest Uhaul location.

Or at least, we would have. In my haste to get rid of the spinosaurus truck, I forgot to bring the gas level back to one half. When I asked them how much it would cost to return it at a quarter tank, they quoted me five dollars per gallon, plus $30. I quickly calculated how much it would cost to do a quarter of a tank (25ish gallons) at five dollars a gallon, dropped my monocle, took the truck back, and drove it next door to fill it myself. Yes, the gas station was literally next door.

Then, as I was cleaning out the cabin to make sure I didn’t leave any of my water bottles or trash behind, I found two pieces of mummified fried chicken under my seat. I don’t eat chicken. I’m a vegetarian. That was not my chicken. I tried not to think about how long that chicken had been there.

Fucking Uhaul, guys.

And that concludes my epic voyage from the Southwest to the Northwest. It’s been a week since I arrived in Issaquah and to be honest, it still feels like I’m on vacation. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that this is where I live now.

But every evening and every morning, I stand out on my balcony and I look at the trees and I look at the mountains and I smell the air and I savor the fact that even though it doesn’t feel like it yet, this is my home. This is my home and I couldn’t be happier to be here.

A Moving Diary, Moving Day

The long-awaited (maybe?) conclusion to my move from Tucson, Arizona, to Issaquah, Washington. For those who don’t know where Issaquah is, just substitute “Seattle” instead. It’ll give you the basic idea.

My original intention was to blog daily during each step of the journey. That was wonderfully naive. Long distance moving is like backpacking; when you’re doing it, your entire focus shrinks until there is absolutely nothing in existence other than the road (or trail) ahead of you. During the journey, I didn’t care about anything except for how many miles a day I was clearing and whether I’d make it to the end before I exhausted my music collection.

Emotional fatigue kept me from writing the first few days after I arrived. There was a lot to get done, including settling two houses and carrying many, many heavy things. Even though we arrived on Wednesday, we didn’t return the moving truck until Friday. Then there was a weekend of unpacking and then two days of pure sloth on my part and then . . . holy shit, it’s already Wednesday and I realize that I have to bang this out before we pass the point in which anyone will care. So, without further preamble, let’s wind back the clock and I’ll take you through the process of packing up four lives and all relevant belongings and transporting them to the great Pacific Northwest.

Our cast includes your humble author, my girlfriend Jenn, and my good friends James and Ashley. The final member of our team was Bob, James’ father, who came along for the ride and to help out with getting his son and daughter-in-law moved. Which also extended to his helping carry many of my ridiculously heavy boxes when the time came, which was supremely cool of him to do.

Jenn was the trailblazer and pathfinder of our team, having moved to Issaquah a month before me to take a great job with the local library system. We decided that she would travel fast and light and rent an SUV to tow her motorcycle and carry enough boxes so she’d be able to live for a month until I could bring the rest of her stuff. This plan hit its first snag when we learned that no rental place ever in the world would allow us to put a trailer on the back of their precious rentals and threatened to execute us if we did. My assumption is that there is a rental policy book somewhere that states that people who don’t own tow-capable vehicles are too stupid to know how to tow things. So that meant that both motorcycles (hers and mine) were now in my care when the time came.

This brought us to snag number two. I was desperate to avoid working with a Uhaul truck and really wanted to go with Penske or Budget or one of the other options out there. Unfortunately, only Uhaul would rent out the kind of trailer that I needed to tow two motorcycles. It was briefly discussed putting the bikes in the back of the truck but I vetoed that idea, believing (correctly) that we’d need every foot of space for stuff. So we rented a 26 foot Uhaul and an open-air trailer, and I confidently assured everyone that I knew exactly what was doing and that I had “tons of experience” towing stuff.

Let it be said that I have towed a trailer. Once. It was when I still had an SUV and I borrowed a jet ski from a family member. I towed the jet ski to the lake for the day and succeeded in launching it without driving my car into the lake. This, then, made me the only qualified person to wrangle roughly fifty feet of moving truck and trailer through cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Seattle! Fifty feet is also the length of an adult spinosaurus. I pointed out this fact several times during the trip.

Why did I need such a monstrous rig? Well, when Jenn took the job in Issaquah, there was a different plan at the time, but of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy. At the time, we decided that she would move first because she had to start her job and I would move in June with the truck and the stuff because my brother’s wedding is in May and it would be silly to move all of our stuff and then get back on a plane to fly back to the city I just left. Right?

That lasted until I priced the cost of a truck, trailer, and fuel. Ouch. Suddenly, I was very eager to consider any possible alternative. I saw an opportunity when I learned that my friend James had decided to do his move at the end of April to be with his wife Ashley, who’d been in Seattle since January (if you’re confused, just realize that no couples in our generation move simultaneously these days. It’s very passe to do such a thing; staggered relocations are much more in vogue.)

“Hey, James,” I said on the phone immediately after learning about his move and not bothering to congratulate him on his new future or anything decent like that. “I would desperately like to share the cost and burden of moving with you, so let us intertwine our fates and move together and ignore the fact that this now doubles the workload for both of us and focus on the sweet, sweet fact that we can each save $2,000.”

“Goddamnit!” he cried, but only because he was playing League of Legends at the time and had just gotten ganked by an enemy jungler. (I think all those terms are correct, but I don’t really know).

“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said after a pause. “Sounds great.”

And that was my solution! I would move up my own plans a month, share the move with my good friends, be reunited with my lady a month early, and make everything beautiful and wonderful along the way. And even though I will now be flying back to Tucson literally two weeks after I moved away from Tucson, I still saved money since plane tickets cost considerably less than $2,000.

The other weird thing was that my farewells to friends and family became a little odd. “Goodbye, my beloved family,” I said during my farewell dinner with my mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law to be. “I will never forget you. You will be in my heart always. I will see you in . . . two weeks. Which is actually less time than if I was still living here, because we usually only do this about once a month.”

Then there was just the packing, which I’ve already detailed. And then came the big day.

Sunday, April 26

We got an early start and picked up the truck and trailer. I learned how to attach the trailer, which I already knew how to do but I made an effort to pay attention anyway. I had my first experience driving the monster vehicle and quickly learned that a 26 foot Uhaul truck and a Kawasaki Z1000 are very different driving experiences. But on the plus side, my motorcycle riding experience has made me an intensely paranoid driver and that served me very well over the next few days.

I drove the truck over to James and Ashley’s house first. Ashley had flown back from Seattle to help with the move; Jenn wanted very much to do the same but she was already taking time off to come back for the wedding in May and couldn’t get so much time off so close to starting her new position.

We loaded their boxes and furniture first, since my stuff would have to be unloaded first. Oh, yes, that was another little wrinkle: we would be arriving in Seattle on Wednesday, but they weren’t able to get the keys to their place until Friday. So we’d be roommates for a few days! But all of that meant my stuff was going to be last in, first out.

I went back to my house after James’ parents and brother arrived and I realized that I still wasn’t quite ready. Whenever you’re packing, there are always the easy boxes first: all the books go here, all the electronics go here, etc. But eventually, you run out of stuff that goes together and you get the “fuck it” boxes that include things like two screwdrivers, a thing of Pinesol, and the Brita Filter you forgot about until the last moment.

The loading of the truck progressed well, except that very quickly, we realized that even with the largest truck available, we weren’t going to have enough room for everything. Cuts would have to be made. This wasn’t an unforeseen outcome, but it still meant a few bookshelves had to be left behind. Worst of all, though, I had to choose between my recliner and my couch. The recliner was my gaming throne and although it was worn, torn, shredded by zealous kitties, falling apart, and really just the ugliest thing ever, it was comfy. Although I think it was the right decision to leave the recliner behind because when I told my mom I was keeping the couch instead of the recliner, she said, “oh, thank God.” So there’s that.

Monday, April 25

Jenn had already bought a new bed in Issaquah, so I hadn’t packed the old one, which gave me a place to sleep for my last night in Tucson. It’s a very surreal experience, sleeping in your mostly packed up house. But surreal or not, suddenly it was time to go. Farewells were said. Tears were shed (but really, it was just dust in my contact lenses. It was very dusty, you know.) And we were off! James would be riding with me in the truck, while Ashley and Bob were driving their Prius. We would rotate drivers between the two groups the next few days, although I did solemnly and sincerely promise Ashley that I would not ask her to driving the monster truck at any point. As an infinitely more reasonable and sensible person than me, she was not keen on driving the spinosaurus-truck.

So it was me and James in the truck cabin. Well, actually, it was me, James, Maize, and Morrigan. Maize and Morrigan are my two snakes and they were along with me for the entire ride. I’d bought little plastic carrying cages for them a few days before and I set them up in the middle seat of the truck. They were my constant companions for the entire journey.

And if you’re wondering how much snakes love to be in a loud, vibrating truck, the answer is that they do not love it. They were rather miserable the entire time. Poor babies. But it had to be done and I did the best that I could taking care of them. That was Team Truck. We were ready to go!

Except maybe not. Almost immediately after firing up the truck, the Check Engine Oil light was on. We called Uhaul Customer Service and they told us, after some discussion, that “yeaaaaah, that truck was already overdue for servicing.” Which, you know, no big deal. It’s not like they knew we were going to be driving it 1,500 miles based on the reservation I’d made a month in advance, a reservation which required all relevant destination information.

I really didn’t want to switch trucks after it had taken us an entire day to load this one, so we popped the hood, checked the oil, saw that it was low, and added oil in ourselves. The light went off which was good enough for me. As long as the truck survived all the way to Seattle, it could implode on itself afterward for all I cared.

And then we were off! Except once again, not really, because we had to get gas since the tank was only half full.

Here’s the thing about driving a motorcycle daily. You get really, really used to the fact that a week’s worth of gas is $10. But in a monster Uhaul? $10 doesn’t even get you a tick mark on the gauge. Filling up that thing caused me actual, physical pain every time we had to stop and that was with the knowledge that I was splitting all fuel costs 50/50. Had I done this on my own, I’m sure that fueling the truck would have given me a brain aneurysm.

And then, finally, we were off! We hit the road, ready to roll out for new adventures and new lands. Except that the first part of the drive was Tucson to Phoenix up I-10, a trek that every southern Arizonan has made so many times you can do it in your sleep. And based on the driving skills of my fellow travelers that day, I think at least a few were attempting to do exactly that.

Once you get past the Phoenix and Tucson corridor, though, you break into the long, uninterrupted stretches of wild desert and mountains that make the Southwest what it is. Outside of Alaska, the Southwest is the least densely populated region, particularly Nevada, and believe me, you feel that isolation when you’re out on the road.

There wasn’t much to report from this leg of the journey. We stopped and ate lunch in a town called Wikiup. Which isn’t to say that we bought lunch there; there didn’t seem to be any actual restaurants in Wikiup. Instead, we ate food I’d brought along myself: cold pizza and sandwiches. We parked the truck at a pull-off for a “historical marker” monument that earned my vote for the most bullshit metal plaque ever. Here’s a tip: if you’re going to enshrine a historical event forever, don’t write on your bronze metal plaque that “Spanish explorers were probably the first people to settle this area.” You’re writing this down in metal, people. Don’t say “probably.” You really should know.

Our destination was Las Vegas and our route took us past Lake Mead and over the Hoover Dam. All I have to say is holy shit and not for the reasons you’re thinking. The dam was fine. Easy, even. It’s the lake that had me freaking out. Everyone in the Southwest has been hearing about the catastrophic drought for years but to actually see how low the water is and to realize that shrinking lake is the majority of Tucson’s water . . . it’s freaky. I’m honestly surprised that more people aren’t freaking out about this the way they are in California. I guess it’s because Arizona is still more than a year away from complete water catastrophe. Regardless, it chilled my bones. I’d advise stocking up on water. You know, just in case.

Onward to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas sucks.

The roads are nightmarish, the drivers are ferocious, and everywhere, you see the kind of excess that makes you wonder, “wait, you guys know this is a desert, right? And the lake over there that supplies all of your water is dangerously low?”

We stayed with James’ friend’s sister and her husband for the night, which was interesting. Their house was lovely with plenty of space for everyone to crash. The reason it was a little less pleasant (and why I’m not mentioning their names nor planning on sharing this post with them) is because she was absolutely terrified of snakes. I didn’t want to leave the snakes in the truck overnight and I was too tired to consider other options, so while James provided a distraction, I brought the snakes in under a blanket and quietly set them up in the corner of one of the guest rooms and kept the door shut. It worked out fine, but all evening and throughout the night, I kept having nightmares that they would escape and end up killed by our well-intentioned but uninformed hosts.

This post is running far, far longer than I expected, so I think this is where I’ll pause for a bit. I suppose this is the downside of saving the entire story for the end rather than posting as I go. Ah well. We’ll continue our tale tomorrow! Thanks for reading!

A Moving Diary, Part Two

It’s almost here. Moving day. It’s almost here and I’m ready.

It’s almost here and I’m not ready.

It’s almost here and this is the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s almost here and this is the worst decision I’ve ever made.

I think about all the little annoyances I’m going to leave behind and I grin smugly to myself.

I think about all the little wonders I’m going to leave behind and I try not to cry.

I think about the people to whom I’m saying farewell and I do cry, but I pretend that it’s because of my contact lenses. They are very dry and dusty today.

Packing.

Packing is all there is. Packing is love. Packing is life.

These are my collapsible cardboard boxes. There are many collapsible cardboard boxes like them, but these collapsible cardboard boxes are mine. My collapsible cardboard boxes, without me, are useless. Without my collapsible cardboard boxes, I am useless. I must pack my collapsible cardboard boxes true.

Tomorrow is my last day at the library, but today feels like the true finale. Tomorrow is a Saturday, which means a skeleton crew on staff. Tomorrow is the epilogue. Today is when I’m saying goodbye to co-workers. No, not co-workers. Friends. I’m saying goodbye to friends.

I remember the first book I checked out when I started as a new library employee in December 2007. It was The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman. My library card had lapsed years before, so this was the first book I checked out on my new card that I created on my first day. I’ve read nearly 600 books since then and checked out hundreds more than I never finished.

The last book I checked out is Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman. I’d often wondered which book would be the last one I’d borrow. Now I know.

I should be packing.

A Moving Diary, Interruption

There’s probably never a good time to get sick, but there are certainly times that are worse than others. On Friday, I acquired what I would later call Death Flu and yes, I do believe that is the scientific name. I was bedridden for four days and even after I was upright and ambulatory, it still took a few more to really get over.

I pride myself on keeping things classy around here, so I’ll spare you the (actual) grim details and relate my experience entirely in ridiculous comparisons. This is how sick I was:

  • It was like my body was a retail outlet having an end of year clearance sale. Absolutely everything had to go!
  • I reflected extensively on the works of Jackson Pollack and attempted to recreate his style . . . in my bathroom.
  • Usually, being sick means staying home from work and binge-watching Netflix; I was too sick to look at a computer screen, let alone go all the way to the living room to retrieve my laptop.
  • Several times as I lay there, hurting and shivering, I considered mercy-killing myself, but I couldn’t muster the energy to get up out of bed to go about it.

So that was all of last weekend and a good part of this week. I’m finally over it and over the intense dehydration that resulted.

But where this leaves me in relation to my upcoming move is that prior to being sick, I felt like I had plenty of time to get everything packed; now I am certain that I have absolutely already run out of time and I won’t get everything packed and ready and I’ll have to leave things behind which means I’m going to have to abandon most of my possessions on the side of the road and my girlfriend will hate me for having to abandon all of that stuff, much of which is hers and she’ll leave me and I’ll die alone and unloved somewhere, probably from another bout of Death Flu.

Or something like that. You know. Reasonable stuff.

I suppose if you’re going to come down with something like Death Flu and you have a schedule like mine, it’s better that to get this out of the way now. If it had struck while we were in transit from Tucson to Seattle, I’m sure I would have gotten left on the side of the road in the deep Nevada desert. If it had struck after the move was done, well, that would run right into my brother’s wedding and if I screwed that up with something as base and unreasonable as my body’s complete inability to function, I think he’d never speak to me again.

So . . . better that it happened now. Hopefully my immune system is prepared to keep me upright for the next two months, at least.

But that also means I’m panicking because I have to pack and I’m out of time!

If you’re wondering how I have time to do this right now, well . . . this is what you do with your lunch break when you forgot to pack your lunch.18

A Moving Diary, Part One

(This is a diary about moving as opposed to a moving diary, which I imagine would be a personal account so poignant that it might move one in an emotional context).

In the late summer of 1996, my family moved from Rochester, New York, to Tucson, Arizona. I was ten at the time, old enough to remember Rochester quite vividly, but it is Tucson that has been my home for the majority of my life. I elected not to travel out of state for college. There were reasons for this: cheaper tuition, few other schools around offered the particular major I wanted, and I had a good job at the time that I didn’t want to leave. But I suspect that the deeper reason was because at eighteen, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I stayed close to home and only ventured out a few degrees at a time. That was ten years ago.

In twenty-four days, I’ll be leaving Tucson and moving to Seattle.

It’s odd to think of time in such disparate sizes. Ten years. Twenty years. Twenty-four days.

I was asked to blog about the impending cross-country move that will involve me, my friend who is also moving and also to Seattle, his wife that he hasn’t seen in four months, his father, and two snakes. There is the assumption that there will be misadventures and hijinks in the upcoming journey. If there are, rest assured that I shall report them in this space.

But even before that, as I begin the slow process of packing up my life, I find that this puts me in a reflective mood. Everything seems to be changing all at once. In a little over a month, my younger brother will be getting married. I’ll be leaving the library system that I’ve worked in for eight years, far, far longer than any other job I’ve ever held.

Change is inevitable, of course, but it is not often that it all happens so quickly. This is why I want to capture these moments in time, because so much is changing and I don’t want to lose these moments as they happen. In ten years, twenty years, I want to be able to look back on this moment.

That I am not writing these thoughts privately is a testament to the nature of the times in which we live, the zeitgeist that is “everything worth doing is worth sharing.”

I suppose we shall see.

I don’t know that I will having something worth recording every day, but I will write every time I have something worth saying.

Departure: T-minus twenty-four days.

Adventures in (Indoor) Climbing

I’m afraid of heights. Actually, I’m afraid of lots of stuff. If we’re going in order of most severe to least severe, my fears are tight spaces, dying with regrets, drowning, spiders, and then heights. I might have forgotten a few of them. Not important.

My claustrophobia is the worst of them. When I was young and needed stitches on my face after a nasty fall, the doctor offered to “show me a cool trick” and put my arms into an empty pillow case and then a nurse pushed down on my shoulders to pin me. I lost my fucking mind and thrashed until I forced my way out of the pillow case. After that, I was completely calm and they were able to stitch me up, which ironically would have happened in the first place had that bastard not tried to restrain me. Regardless, tight spaces or having my arms pinned freaks me out.

The problem is that I like going on adventures and so, in my teenage years, it so happened that one of those adventures was in a cave. If you’re curious, it’s considered a “primitive cave” which is another way of saying you bring your own damn lights and such. No guided tours here!

I’ve been back to that cave many times since then, but one thing has never left: always, always there is a little undercurrent of panic at the back of my mind. The trick, of course, is to keep it at bay and under control, but it’s never really gone. You just learn to deal with it and manage it.

I was invited to go indoor climbing yesterday, which is another one of those adventure things I’ve always wanted to do but never actually got around to doing. I said yes and then immediately had profound misgivings about my decision. But, shit, I thought, little kids do this for their birthday parties. It was going to be fine.

When we arrived, I was feeling pretty good. It wasn’t until I had the harness on that the little panic wave started. However, I very, very badly did not want to show this to either of my friends.

I started on the easy wall and tied my figure-eight knot (is there another name for it? I don’t know) and I grabbed the first few rocky bits and pulled myself up. No big deal. This is easy. It wasn’t until I got about halfway up and I looked down and realized I was something like 30 feet up that the little panic current surged into something like a wave. Well, shit. Now what?

“I’m good!” I called. This was a lie. When in doubt, bluff, even if it’s to yourself. My fear stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know what to expect from the belayed rope that I would be using if I fell or when I started to come down. What if it didn’t work? How could I trust it?

Well, the rope worked and down I came, admitting to no one that I basically came down because of fear. But to carry the bluff through and make it believable, I said, “okay, I’m ready for a real route. Let’s do this.”

My friends led me over to the real face. It’s, I dunno, 40 or 50 feet? It was tall. Once again, I was tied on and ready to go. But this time, I had a flash of brilliant insight! I climbed up a few feet and then leaned back to test my rope for my own peace of mind. I dangled a few feet off the ground just to make sure it would all work and it would support me and I hadn’t tied the knot wrong or broken something.

And up I want. It was slow at first and I doubted everything I was doing. At the halfway point, the panic returned. And at the 2/3rds marker, I lost my grip and fell about a foot before the rope caught me. It is a very uncomfortable feeling to fall when you’re 35 feet in the air. But the rope worked and I didn’t die and soon after that, I made it to the top. And literally as soon as my hand reached the top edge, I said “okay, good, bring me down” and I was lowered back to the ground because really, I didn’t want to stay up there a second longer than I needed to be.

And so it went for the rest of the day. I had fun but there was still that little fear, the little current of terror. It wasn’t until my last climb of the day that I conquered it.

I chose a tough (for me) route that had a textured surface to resemble a real mountain cliff. There was a ledge that I had to pull myself up over, maybe about 10 or 15 feet up? I lunged for it, lost my grip and swung in the air for a while before trying again and failing. My arms had given out completely at that point but I kept lunging, falling, and swinging. And I realized at that moment that I was too goddamned tired to be afraid and as I made my last attempt and felt my arms burning, I figured what the hell and let myself fall back so I could relax my now-noodley arms.

And just like that, the fear was broken. I was simply too tired to be afraid of it. It was a profound and amazing experience, one that I couldn’t really articulate to my friends because it would mean admitting that I’m a big chicken and that wouldn’t work with the whole image I was trying to create.

But it was fun and I can’t wait to give it another try. I really want to make it to the top of that one route.

How I Write (These Days)

Let me take a moment to say what this post is not. It’s not a discussion of style or process. It’s not going to be a long navel-gazing about “where I get my ideas.” There are a lot of posts and books and things already out there for people interested in those topics and I guarantee they’re written better than what I could come up with here. Also, I think the topic is somewhat boring. Most writers love to talk about writing. Just pick your particular favorite writer and you’ll be able to answer those particular questions.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the actual physical mechanics, such as they are. Let’s talk about what I write with in terms of programs.

There are writers out there who write longhand. Some still work on typewriters. I actually do own a typewriter, although I’ve never used it for anything serious. I typed a story up on it once and then looked at the pages in my hand and wondered, shit, now what? Do I scan these into a PDF or something?

There are a lot of writing programs out there. Scrivener seems to have the most vocal disciples, although I’ve never used it and generally, the more vigorously someone evangelizes something, the less I want to try it. I’m a Microsoft Word user these days, although I didn’t get my start on Word.

My first computer was purchased in the halcyon days of 1998. Instead of getting the current version of Word, we ended up with something called “Student Writing Center.” It was an absolutely bare-bones program with very little in the way of frills or features, but I liked it ’cause it was all that I knew. I wrote my first manuscript on it, as well as the incomplete sequel I abandoned somewhere around 70,000 words. I’ve copied and uploaded those files from machine to machine over the years; even though they’re both “trunk novels,” I can’t let them go. And it’s not like they take up much storage space.

My first laptop was a Dell purchased in 2004 and somehow, I purchased WordPerfect instead of Word when I bought it. It took me years to realize that WordPerfect was created by a different company (Corel). I thought it was a Microsoft product and probably figured it was the “better” version of Word. It had “perfect” right there in the name, after all! Despite this, it wasn’t perfect. I wrote a lot of papers and short stories on WordPerfect and kept working on my novels, but I never finished anything big.

My next computer in 2009 was an HP desktop and I finally had my own version of Word. (2010, I believe). In fact, I still have this version of Word and it’s still my main writing platform the majority of the time. I’ve done the vast majority of six NaNoWriMo successes on this version of Word and this computer and I finished the manuscript that I’m currently trying to publish.

Finally, there’s my current laptop, also an HP, purchased last year along with Word 2013. Originally, I was really hesitant about buying Word (shit’s expensive, yo) and tried to use Google Docs or OpenOffice as my main writing platform for that machine. It never took, though. After so many years, I’m basically acclimatized and anything different distracts me too much for comfort. I’ll probably continue buying versions of Word until I’m in my grave and even my corpse will insist that my tombstone and funeral programs be typed up in Word (and probably using Calibri as the font).

The only major change in how I go about handling my work is where I save my master files of my manuscripts, which is what I call the version of the document that I actually work on. I’ve been perpetually terrified of having a hard drive failure or house fire destroy all of my work, so I’ve tried various things over the years. Originally I burned copies to CD, but this was such a slow process that I never kept them as up-to-date as they should have been. Eventually I switched to using USB thumb drives but this was also unsatisfying as I was afraid of losing the sticks or having them get destroyed in a fire.

My current system for backing up my work is one that I’m really happy with and it happened pretty much by accident. Early on, I started using Google Drive to make digital copies of my manuscript files. The problem was that I didn’t like writing in Google Docs but at that point, the only way to go from one machine to another and use Word was to download the file from Google Drive, work on it in Word, and then upload it back to the Drive.

This wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that I very quickly had dozens of copies of my files and had a very hard time remembering which ones were the “master” and which were back-ups or transfers. What I wanted was a single file that I could open with Word and access regardless of which machine I was using and still exists in the cloud to prevent data lose if my house burns down.

OneDrive ended up meeting all of these needs, so these days it’s my main platform, which is especially convenient since Word Online is actually pretty good. So now I have my main file in my OneDrive, which I can work on with both my desktop and my laptop (or even a borrowed computer if need be) and I don’t need to keep transferring or downloading files. Since I ride a motorcycle or a bicycle everywhere, carrying a laptop isn’t overwhelmingly convenient, so instead I can log onto a library computer on my lunch break and still have access to my master files. It’s improved my personal productivity tremendously by having those files so conveniently accessible, which I suppose is the whole idea of cloud storage in the first and which Google already did and would have worked for me anyway if I wasn’t so picky about the whole Google Docs thing. Anyway.

I keep backups of my files on both my desktop and my laptop in case Microsoft crashes, although I suspect if that ever happened, I’d probably have more to worry about than just my data. But I still like to be redundant.

So that’s my current approach to my precious writing files. For those nerds out there who are interested in this stuff that you read all the way to the end, what’s your approach to managing your files across multiple computers?

The Trouble With Long Books

I read for a lot of reasons. One of the stranger reasons I read is because of how much I like entering my reading into my Goodreads profile. You enter the books you’ve read, when you’ve read them, give them a rating and a review (if you want). Basic social media stuff, but that’s now why I love it; I love it because of what Goodreads does with all that data after you enter it.

I love how the data get arrayed out into neat bars and stats based on how many books you’ve read in a year, how many pages, when you’ve read the book versus when it was published, and what the longest book was that you read for that year. Basically, these are stats for a nerd, the way a baseball player might be concerned with improving his batting average or a runner might want to improve her best times. Suddenly, I want to read so I can fill my bars and I want to read a lot, all the time, even if I don’t really feel like it because I have to keep filling those bars. This is also the neurotic motivation I have for gathering Achievements for my Xbox Live gamertag, incidentally.

And hey, as long as it all motivates one to read more books, what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that when you set a reading goal for the year, and if you really focus on hitting it, you very quickly turn into a mercenary about what you’re reading. Sure, you could be reading Infinite Jest right now (which I am) and it could strike you was one of the best books ever written (which, thus far, it does) but it still only counts for one book. It’s over a thousand pages long yet it only moves my “books read” bar up by one tick. It’s over a thousand goddamn pages. I could read three average novels in the same time period!

There was one month (May 2013, according to Goodreads) where I did nothing but read Shogun by James Clavell for almost the entire month! And sure, it was one of the finest books I’ve ever read in my life and absolutely compelling, but an entire month was spent on one book! What about my bars? I have bars to fill.

Sure, there’s the fact that the graph also tracks the longest book that you’ve read, but that also has a flaw: what’s the point of reading a thousand page book if you’ve already got a 1100 pager on that graph? I have Neal Stephenson’s Anathem sitting patiently in my “to read” stack, but what’s the point? That shit only clocks in at a mere 937 pages, which makes it too long for me to stay on track with my monthly book goal, but too short to make “longest book of the year that I read.”

So, what, I’m left with the joy of reading? Maybe I want to marvel at a masterpiece of speculative fiction from a writer who cosistently delivers interesting and intelligent work that always impresses me? Maybe I just want to read something great for the joy of reading?

Fuck that, man. I got bars that need fillin’.

The Great Bikening

I’ve mentioned it on Twitter a few times, but I purchased a used bicycle about two weeks ago. My reasoning for this decision was because I’d cancelled my boxing gym membership and I needed something to provide a measure of physical activity. I’d loved boxing, but after moving five miles in the wrong direction, suddenly a 30 minute drive just to get to the gym didn’t seem so appealing. Not to mention, I’m trying to get financially squared away and a $45 monthly gym membership just didn’t fit with that goal, especially after I’d picked up a poor attendance habit and was only going about once a week (I’d been hitting the gym three times a week when I first started).

I’d been reading on a few blogs (Mr. Money Mustache and the Art of Manliness) about how rewarding it is to commute to work via bicycle. I checked the distance between home and work on Google maps and discovered it’s just a hair under 10 miles one-way. Shit, I thought to myself. That’s doable. Yeah, I could do that.

The math worked out. Google estimated the time at 50 minutes. My normal commute right now via motorcycle is about 25 minutes. But since I was already spending two hours on fitness when I went to the gym (and only getting one hour of actual exercise out of it), this scheme would allow me to spend my time more effectively since I was turning commute time into exercise time!

So I went out and purchased a used bike. It took a few tries; I looked into BICAS first but they didn’t have anything comfortable for my height. Bookman’s Sport Exchange had a very reasonably priced, very stylish looking green bike that I fell in love with after one test ride.

I rode it home. It was about five miles. I nearly died of exhaustion.

I recall lying on the carpet, gasping like a fish and wondering two things: first, how the hell was I going to do twenty miles a day and second, how had I let myself get this out of shape?

Because I used to bike a lot as a kid. And as a kid, I was able to go on my bike forever. It isn’t until you revisit things in adulthood that you loved in childhood that you realize how much slower and heavier adult bodies are if you don’t keep them in working order.

After that humbling experience, I spent a week building up my stamina. I took a long ride to get some miles under my belt. I tested the commute itself on a day off, reasoning that if I collapsed in a heap on the road somewhere, at least I wouldn’t have to call in.

The commute itself is lovely. I’m really lucky. Around 7 miles of it are on a dedicated, bike-only path that runs the length of a dry river, because in Tucson, rivers don’t need to have water in them to be considered rivers. Even the few miles I do spend on the streets are mostly well designed with generous bike lanes. I only hit three stop lights in ten miles. It’s amazing.

Today is my second day biking to work. I make sure to give myself an hour and a half, even though the commute itself is just about an hour. I have accepted the fact that I’m basically the slowest person on the entire bike trail. Senior citizens zip by me at roughly 1 million miles per hour and politely do choose not to mock me.

But I’m getting better. I’ve improved my commute time by almost ten minutes from the first time I rode it until today. I didn’t need to stop and catch my breath at any point.

I still feel bad when I see how much faster everyone else is. But it makes me really happy to feel the improvements already. I’m getting better. I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as the senior citizens on their carbon-fiber super bikes, but you know what? That’s okay. Because I’m doing this for me. I’m getting healthier again. I like that.

The Blog and Times of Matthew Ciarvella

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