461. Adam Does Dark Rock

Yeah, this song again. What can I say? I like it.

The band Disturbed produced a dark rock cover of “The Sound of Silence,” and when I stumbled upon a karaoke track for it, I took a stab at recording a cover of my own. My timing isn’t very consistent, and the key change partway through doesn’t sound great, but I’ve sung worse.

Toward the end of the track, there are prerecorded background vocals for a single line. I tried to mask them with vocals of my own, but they still sound out of place. Ah, well. I prefer the original version anyway.

Speaking of which, at some point my dad and I may sit down and record a cover closer to Simon & Garfunkel’s original, with a guitar and two voices. My cover above is either a warm-up or a consolation project, depending on whether we actually get around to recording.

I read somewhere that it’s best to record standing up, so I perched my microphone atop a stack of books to give it some height. The summer heat was fierce—I kept the door and window shut to keep out ambient noise—so I blasted my laptop with a cooling breeze from my fan at intervals to keep it from overheating. Thanks to the experience I picked up from my last recording session, this one was a lot easier despite the ungodly heat.

My dad snapped the photo in the video somewhere in Uruguay—Punta Colorada, I think, but I don’t remember for sure. I’m the silhouette on the right, gazing out over the gleaming sea, and probably thinking of sandwiches.

In other news, it is so flipping hot outside. In fact, looking out the window, I think I just saw one of the local geese burst into flame.

I’d better turn on that fan again.

460. Adam’s Story: The Premise

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

We begin with the basics today. The finer points of story planning really ought to wait until I’ve said a thing or two about my story’s fundamental premise.

Here we go.

Alone

Death! What a cheerful way to start a story.

Lance Eliot is dying, and he’s not terribly happy about it. Death is unexpectedly complicated. (Seriously, have you ever tried it? The legal paperwork is horrendous.) As he resignedly puts his affairs in order, Lance sits down to write a memoir of his adventures. He doesn’t expect anyone to believe it, but his story deserves to be told, and he’ll tell it if it’s the last thing he does… which it probably will be. Man, death is a nuisance.

This is his story.

Long before his death, Lance Eliot is a college student in the little town of Crossroads, Indiana. He’s eager to go home for Christmas break, but one thing stands in his way. He must confront a professor nicknamed the Skeleton—a gaunt, ill-tempered instructor of literary criticism—and plead for a passing grade in his class.

After a torturous discussion of Dante’s Inferno, Lance escapes the Skeleton, staggers to the nearest coffee shop, and buys a drink. Then, with no warning whatsoever, he disappears from Crossroads and reappears in a strange new world. Lance is lost and alone. Worst of all, when he vanished, he left behind his drink.

Spiritual coffee

Never mind Lance dying. Losing his coffee is the real tragedy here.

Lance eventually learns that he was transported to this unfamiliar world by an arcane power called aer… or as he puts it, “basically magic.” He’s now stranded in the kingdom of Guardia, a tropical nation tucked between two vast empires. Its society is antiquated, but not primitive; Lance later compares it to the Renaissance.

In some ways, Guadia seems too fantastical to be true. Aer, that mystical power, is channeled by a gifted few known as aerists. Stories abound of El Enthroned, the Greater God, and of his servants, the Twelve Seraphs. Dragons exist, apparently. Lance is skeptical, and not exactly pleased. “I’m stranded in a fantasy novel,” he grumbles. “Great.”

His mood only worsens when he learns why he was brought to Guardia. The kingdom stands upon the brink of annihilation. A young aerist, eager to help, tried to summon Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot… but got Lance Eliot instead. It’s hard to say who’s more upset: Lance Eliot, or the people who got him instead of the hero they wanted.

Now trapped in Guardia, Lance must face many trials to find a way home, and he’ll have to do it all without coffee. Even if he manages to get back to Crossroads, he’ll still have to face the Skeleton. Lance would frankly rather face the dragons.

Thus begins begins the story of Lance Eliot, which is also kind of my story. I did name this series of blog posts Adam’s Story for a reason, y’know. The next post in the series will probably focus on the setting or characters. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

The Force Is Strong with This One

The Force is strong with this one

Good gosh, do I ever miss Sam and his Obi-Wan impressions. He occasionally did other movie impressions, too.

Sam reclining

“Draw me like one of your French poodles.”

After spending many happy years with my family in Ecuador and Uruguay, Sam stayed in Uruguay with some dear friends. I have a cat now, and she’s all right, but I still miss the Sam-pup. Man’s best friend, indeed.

Sam curled up

459. That Time I Started a Church Ministry by Accident

Today’s story is a testimony, I suppose, but not mine. It’s the story of a pastor who founded a ministry, and of a congregation that supported it. My part in the story is actually very small. It’s kind of an anti-testimony, really.

Once upon a time, my laziness inspired the creation of a church ministry called Change the World. It gathers donations in the form of spare change and small bills, and then uses this money to support charity projects across the world.

At one point, when I was in college, I acquired about forty-five dollars in loose change. That’s a lot of coins, guys. Seriously, that’s like five flipping pounds of money, stuffed haphazardly into a sagging resealable bag.

Spare change

Spare change is kind of a nuisance, really.

This little fortune was more of a nuisance than a blessing. Where was I going to spend five pounds of change? I couldn’t use it at a store or restaurant—no sane server or salesclerk would accept a bag of coins. I was too lazy to put them in paper wrappers for deposit at the bank. How was I going to get rid of them?

In the end, I sheepishly handed over the bag of change to my pastor. In my defense, I was transparent about my own laziness. Giving the money to my church was the easiest option; I didn’t pretend otherwise.

My pastor—I’ll call him Socrates—accepted the coins, apparently unfazed by my laziness and ineptitude at being a capable adult. Instead, he realized how much spare change people tend to have scattered around, and decided to redeem it for the kingdom of heaven.

Together with the church’s leadership team, Socrates founded Change the World, which redirects donations of loose change toward a new charitable project every month. A number of church members supported the project enthusiastically. It continues to this day.

In college, I served that church in a number of capacities, from mowing its lawn to running its soundboard to whacking bongo drums during its worship services. I find it hilarious that my only enduring impact on that church was not only completely accidental, but openly lazy.

As Linus from the Peanuts comic once put it, “There’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.”

A lesson here somewhere

Peanuts by Charles Schulz.

My accidental involvement in the Change the World project reminds me of a story from the book of Numbers. It’s the tale of the wicked prophet Balaam, who was sharply criticized by a donkey. (It’s a funny story.) That donkey probably wasn’t planning to get involved in the work of God, but then neither was I.

My legacy of laziness endures to this day. I hope it has done the world a little good.

Welp, I’m going to take a nap or something.

458. The Initial Stage of Writing: 5 Ways to Improve Your Skills

Today’s post was written by Alyssa Johnson, a blogger and freelance writer who stands by this credo: “No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.” You can find more from Alyssa here!

Guest post image

Firstly, it should be noted that strong writing skills come only from practice. Nobody is born as a great writer so it will take time to advance your skills in writing. We all have different reasons to start thinking about improving our writing skills. It can be related to your work or business, your classes in university or just your self-confidence.

Writing is an inseparable part of our lives! You can see this through your everyday doings: sending emails to friends or relatives, responding to official business letters, leaving notes on the mirror for a loved one or just writing papers for university classes.

So here are five simple and fun ways to become a well-skilled writer:

5. Your own space is your comfort zone

It’s easy to understand: the place where you write should be within your comfort zone! Just find it! And be sure that everyone you know has such a piece of paradise where she or he feels safe. For some people, it’s a quiet and clean spot, while others need music or a TV playing in the background. The first step is finding a cozy corner where you can put your thoughts on paper.

4. Find your muse

We all know that “Muse” is a specific source of admiration that inspires writers to create their masterpieces. Even the ancient Greeks told us the “Muse” could have different forms and definitions. The writer can find it in his daily life, in the world full of inspiration—cafes with dozens of people, trains coming and going every minute in the subway, and even reading a newsfeed on Instagram can bring a wonderful idea. You have to be prepared  to see all the small details around you. Don’t miss your own “Muse”!

3. Just pick a topic

You should start practicing every day to turn writing into a habit. It means that writing becomes natural and even something you look forward to. This gives a rise for such questions as “Where can I take a topic?” The answer you may know—write about things you do, things you hear or see, even about your cat’s favorite spot. You will never create exciting stories if you never try.

2. Your friend is your best editor

Why do we need friends? Of course, to have a look at our writing! Just kidding! Our friends are those who can sit for hours listening to mistakes we have made. Is it any different to put our thoughts on paper and give it to them to read? Having another set of eyes makes finding errors which you missed easier.

1. Online help

We live in the age of the Internet. Anytime, anywhere and anything you want you can find on the web, so it can be very useful for those who want to improve their writing. A lot of people use the Internet in search of information. Businessmen try to find samples of official email letters, students research college essays or even housewives share their recipes for apple pies on forums. For many writers, the biggest problem is grammar. So don’t be afraid to use online grammar tools to help you answer grammar questions when they come up!  Additionally, there are a lot of forums and blogs for writers where you can find a soul mate or real professional to discuss issues.


Want to write a guest post for TMTF? Here’s how!

Two Perfect Girls

For the record, I support monogamy. (I also support Pokémon.)

Did you know there was an official Pokémon musical? I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard most of the songs from its soundtrack, and a few are actually pretty rad. (That said, a few are terrible.) Seriously, though, how cool/weird is it that Pokémon got its own musical?

Heck, they’ll be giving Ace Attorney its own musical at this rate… wait, what? Japan got three separate musicals based on the Ace Attorney series? Of course it did. Of course it did. We’re still waiting on an official Ace Attorney musical in the West, but there’s a fan-made one in the works, and its soundtrack is pretty good. (I was involved with the fan-made musical in a very minor way a long time ago. Good times!)

Returning to the Pokémon musical, the song above, “Two Perfect Girls,” is a bouncy ballad of divided affections. Catching random Pokémon must be a lot easier than wooing the perfect catch.

In other news, Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game, was released a number of days ago. It has flooded my social media with digitally-enhanced pictures of Pokémon in real-life parks, streets, restaurants, churches, and… bathrooms. The world just got a little weirder, guys.

457. The Sirens Are Calling for Me

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

~ John Donne

Nearly every time I think of John Donne, I remember the concluding lyrics of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King. This is admittedly an odd reaction to a centuries-old English poet, but there’s a reasonable explanation, I swear!

When I was in high school, I did an assignment on a meditation Donne wrote about friendship. (I think Donne wrote it; someone else may have.) He argued that friendship and romance take away from each other: as a man grows closer to his romantic partner, he grows farther from his friends. His affections become divided.

I explained this concept in my assignment. When I received it back from my teacher, I found the following words scribbled in the margin: “And if he falls in love tonight….” These apt lyrics from “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” are easily the best thing anyone has ever written on any of my homework.

In short, their pal is dooooooomed.

I’ve read hardly anything by Donne, but one of his statements is very famous. It provided the title for one of Earnest Hemingway’s novels. Heck, even I’ve quoted it. It’s his statement on our shared humanity: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

In other words: If someone dies, and the funeral bell rings, don’t ask who died. It was a fellow human, and as a member of the human race, you just lost a piece of yourself. The bell rings for you.

On a related note, I’ve been hearing a lot of sirens lately.


I listen to the sirens as they sing me back to sleep.

I pray that no one’s seriously hurt.

It feels like everything is dying at the pivot point of me.

I listen to the sirens tell me things could still be worse.

~ Relient K


I live in a quiet corner of Indiana. There aren’t many violent crimes around my home. Throughout the United States, however, there has recently been a number of shootings. It’s old news at this point, and I won’t rehash the sordid details. It’s enough to know that a lot of people have lost loved ones. A lot of people are angry. A lot of people are scared.

None of this affects me directly. I’m a white dude in a small town in Indiana. I never hear gunshots; the loudest things around here are geese and firecrackers. The tragedies across the US are just headlines on the Internet and blurred articles in the newspaper. My immediate reaction is to say “That’s really sad,” and then to get back to whatever I was doing.

Police siren

I hate the sound of sirens.

It’s exactly the same when I hear sirens. I don’t know whether they’re announcing a medical emergency, a police arrest, or a house on fire—all I know is that sirens are bad news. I often take a moment to pray for those trapped in whatever tragedy summoned the sirens. Beyond that, I’m not affected. Those sirens call for someone else… don’t they?

The truth is that sirens are a lot like Donne’s bells. They’re calling for me. Every siren, online article, and smudged newspaper headline tells me that humankind is broken, and that I’ve lost something.

I’m not sure what to do with that.

456. TMTF’s Top Ten Dragons

A while back, TMTF ran a top ten list of hot guys in fiction—guys who are literally hot, I mean. As I made the list, I was strongly tempted to fill it with fire-breathing dragons. I eventually wrote about other fiery characters, saving the dragons for a future top ten list.

That time has come. Today is a day of dragons.

Well, I won’t let this introduction dragon—sorry; drag on—any longer. There’s no claws, um, cause for further delays. These dragons hail from tails, I mean, tales of all kinds, old and new. (Heck, am I ever ember-rassed—embarrassed, I mean—by these dragon puns. I thought they were clever, but the scales have fallen from my eyes… so to speak.)

Feel the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Dragons!

Be ye warned: Here there be dragons, and also spoilers.

Before we begin, a quick note: I considered including Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock on this list, but it’s clearly not a dragon. It’s a Jabberwock. There’s a difference… I think.

10. Elliott (Pete’s Dragon)

Elliott

In this classic Disney film, Elliott is the dim-witted but well-meaning protector of Pete, an orphaned boy. Elliott communicates in good-natured grumbles, mumbles, and clicks. He can also turn invisible, which allows him to hide from grownups (and made less work for the film’s animators). Nearly everyone assumes Pete’s dragon is an imaginary friend, but that doesn’t stop him from being a faithful one. A remake of Pete’s Dragon will soon be released, but its oddly furry Elliott won’t replace the lovably derpy original.

9. Trogdor the Burninator (Homestar Runner)

Trogdor the Burninator

Have you ever wanted to draw a dragon? It’s easy! Just follow Strong Bad’s simple, step-by-step instructions—and witness the creation of a beloved Internet icon. Trogdor the Burninator began on a sheet of notebook paper as the letter S, followed by teeth, “spinities,” angry eyebrows, and a beefy arm “for good measure.” This silly sketch quickly spawned a cheesy death metal song and a couple of browser games, and went on to become one of the Internet’s most enduring memes. Strong Bad puts it well: “When the land is in ruin … only one guy will remain. My money’s on Trogdor.”

8. Ran and Shaw (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Ran and Shaw

There are basically two types of dragons. The Western dragon, rooted in European folklore, is a fierce beast. The Eastern dragon, born of Asian mythologies, is nobler and wiser. These dragons are that second type. Ran and Shaw are godlike creatures who guard the secrets of firebending, an ancient martial art. They are silent and mysterious, helping only those who prove themselves worthy, and adding to the fascinating lore of my all-time favorite show.

7. Mushu (Disney’s Mulan)

Mushu

I just declared Eastern dragons wise and noble, but Mushu is an exception to the rule. This tiny dragon is sent to aid the heroine of Disney’s Mulan by the spirits of her ancestors. (They meant to send a bigger dragon, but Mushu went instead.) This irreverent spitfire is full of bad ideas, but his heart is in the right place. Forget Malificent. In this story of war and loss, Mushu makes us laugh, and earns his place as Disney’s best dragon.

6. Spike (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic)

Spike the dragon

This young dragon is a dude in a world of candy-colored ponies, and he knows it. He survives as any self-respecting male does when surrounded by emotional females: he makes sarcastic remarks. Behind the snark is a kid who is in turn earnest, selfish, thoughtful, and insecure. In a couple of unexpectedly deep episodes, Spike comes to terms with his identity: neither a pony nor a typical dragon, belonging to neither group, yet finding acceptance in both. And did I mention his deadpan snark? Spike may not be the most consistent character ever written, but I like him.

5. Eustace Clarence Scrubb (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Eustace the dragon

By the time the Dawn Treader, a ship battered by wind and waves, reaches the safety of a deserted island, Eustace Clarence Scrubb is sick of everything. This ill-tempered brat abandons his fellow passengers and goes for a long walk, which ends with a nap on a dragon’s abandoned treasure. He awakes, in the fine tradition of Gregor Samsa, transformed into a monstrous vermin—a dragon, actually. This outward change is horrifying, but prompts a positive inward transformation. As a dragon, Eustace finds his humanity, and eventually regains his human form in a scene that echoes the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. Eustace may be only a temporary dragon, but he’s quite a good one.

4. Hungarian Horntail (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

Hungarian Horntail

In the Harry Potter series, the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is notable partly for training witches and wizards, but mostly for child endangerment. (A troll and a three-headed dog in the first book alone? Really?!) By the fourth book, Hogwarts has made child endangerment into a formal competition with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, in which teenagers face giant freakin’ dragons. (No wonder Harry Potter is controversial.) The spiked Hungarian Horntail is the deadliest of these, giving Trogdor some serious competition in the “spinities” department. I love how the various species of dragons in the Harry Potter books seem so believable, with different breeds having different countries of origin; the Hungarian Horntail is the coolest by far.

3. The Dragon (Beowulf)

We’re dipping into the classics here with the unnamed dragon from Beowulf, the Old English epic. (I recommend the poem; it’s fairly short, and modern-language translations are surprisingly readable.) After conquering a couple of frightful monsters, Beowulf finally meets his match in this dragon, and dies shortly after killing it. This beast made literary history. According to Wikipedia, it’s an early archetype of the Western dragon, establishing classic traits such as hoarding treasure and breathing fire. John Gardner’s novel Grendel adds its own interpretation of the Beowulf dragon, depicting it as a nihilistic philosopher. Huh.

2. Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon)

Toothless

Toothless is basically my cat, but even more adorable. He can also fly and shoot concentrated blasts of explosive energy, which I’m pretty sure my cat can’t do. In the film How to Train Your Dragon, the Viking lad Hiccup defies his culture by refusing to kill this injured dragon. The dragon, which Hiccup names Toothless, rewards his compassion with fierce loyalty and adorable affection. In the original book, Toothless is actually kind of a jerk; this is a rare case in which the movie is way better than the book. Toothless is cuter than your average dragon, which makes him pretty much perfect.

1. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug [alt]

Yes, Smaug is number one on this list. Of course he is. Inspired by the Beowulf dragon, Smaug is the ultimate example of his kind: cruel, vindictive, petty, vicious, powerful, and scary as all heck. After destroying an entire kingdom, he haunts the land for many long years. The entire story of The Hobbit builds up to Smaug, and it doesn’t end with him: Smaug’s death ignites a battle between three armies, which is interrupted by legions of goblins eager to claim the dragon’s hoard. Even in death, Smaug causes all kinds of horror, and I consider him the greatest dragon ever imagined.

Who is your favorite dragon? Fire away in the comments!

The Brutal Art of Speedrunning

This is a special week. America celebrated its Independence Day, sure, but that’s not all: Games Done Quick is currently running its summer marathon for charity.

Games Done Quick, whose current marathon supports Doctors Without Borders, is an event celebrating the art of speedrunning. A speedrun is an attempt to complete a video game as quickly as possible. There are endless variations upon this concept, but they all have one thing in common—they are ridiculously fast.

The video above is a brief feature on a young man nicknamed Darbian, who held (and still holds, I think) the world record for speedrunning the original Super Mario Bros. He beat the game in under five minutes. The entire game. That’s bonkers.

I don’t really follow Games Done Quick or other speedrunning projects, but I’m fascinated by the metagame they create around existing games. They add rules, objectives, and strategies never intended by the games’ developers, building new games upon the old ones. It’s neat.

It’s also pretty brutal—a tiny mistake can derail an entire speedrun. A successful speedrun requires near-perfect timing, comprehensive knowledge of the game, tons of practice, endless patience, and perhaps just a touch of insanity.

I only ever tried speedrunning one game; coincidentally, it was Super Mario Bros. When I was in college, I spent a week or two playing and replaying the game, whittling away the seconds, until I managed to finish it in under ten minutes. I felt quite accomplished. Now, knowing that speedrunners like Darbian can beat the game in less than half that time, I feel… less accomplished.

Ah, well. I suppose what matters is having fun!

455. Thoughts on Extremism

A few days ago, John Cleese showed up on my Twitter homepage—a video of him, I mean, not the man himself. (That would have been pretty cool, though.) I think the video, a brief discussion of extremism, is worth sharing.

Extremism is a vague term, but it generally describes a cause or belief—or, alternatively, support for a cause or belief—so extreme as to be harmful or irrational.

In just a few words, Mr. Cleese lists benefits of extremism, which are more or less synonymous with some of its flaws:

Well, the biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good, because it provides you with enemies.

Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies, and all the goodness in the whole world is in you. Attractive, isn’t it?

So if you have a lot of anger and resentment in you anyway, and you therefore enjoy abusing people, then you can pretend that you’re only doing it because these enemies of yours are such very bad persons! And if it wasn’t for them, you’d actually be good-natured, and courteous, and rational, all the time. So if you want to feel good, become an extremist!

That’s a problem with extremism, isn’t it? It’s often nothing more than an oversimplification, or a deflection of blame. It deflects the blame for vast, complicated problems toward anyone with whom the extremist strongly disagrees. This enables both wrath and pride, allowing an extremist to act like a jerk and feel like a saint: an appalling hypocrisy.

Most extremists are easily controlled. They want to deflect blame on others. If someone tells them others are to blame, most extremists are only too eager to agree. After all, it’s satisfying to point out a speck in someone else’s eye. It’s much harder to acknowledge that I might have something in my own.

Extremism is alive and well in the world today. It provokes conflicts great and small, from massive terrorist attacks to petty political insults. I like to think I’m not an extremist, but Mr. Cleese’s video touches a nerve—I understand the mindset he describes. It’s easier to blame others than to figure out to whom the blame really belongs… especially if it ends up belonging to me.

It’s so easy to point fingers, isn’t it?

I mean, just for example, I could say, “Those extremists! They ruin everything, and I have nothing but contempt for them.”

If I said this, I would admittedly make a valid point: Extremists generally make the world a worse place. However, I would also overlook a point of great significance: By griping about extremists, I’m not exactly making the world any better, am I?

It begs the question: How is my contempt for extremists any different than their contempt for others?

It’s all rather complicated. The world tends to be a mess, after all, which may be why Jesus Christ made a point of summing up so neatly: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

This doesn’t mean that I must accept every point of view. What it means is that I must do my best to respect and understand everyone, even if I don’t agree with them. Disagreement is fine. Extremism—demonizing those who disagree—is never acceptable.

On a personal note, I do tend to blame my typewriter monkeys for all of this blog’s problems. Maybe, instead of deflecting that blame, I should acknowledge that some of it belongs to me. I make mistakes, too. Maybe I should try to respect and understand my monkeys instead of assuming the worst of them.

I’ll think about it.