466. Hugs

I’ve often thought of my cat, Pearl, during my vacation this week. As I’ve traveled with my family, the Pearl-cat has valiantly guarded my apartment, Mole End, protecting it from burglars.

…Nah, whom am I kidding? Pearl has probably spent the week napping, with brief breaks to freak out over nothing and run around the apartment like a cheetah on fire. This is what she does. It is her way.

Pearl-cat

When I get home, I’ll sweep up Pearl into my arms for Mandatory Cuddles. The Pearl-cat doesn’t like Mandatory Cuddles. As I snuggle her to my chest, she generally glances away with an expression of pained dignity, and occasionally claws and scratches until I put her down.

That’s more or less my reaction when people hug me, except with less clawing and scratching. A little less.

I don’t like hugs. Who invented hugging anyway? At some point in human history, someone must have said, “Here, let me show my affection by smooshing my upper body against your upper body and wrapping my arms around you.” Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird and a little bit uncomfortable?

While I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, I accept hugs from acquaintances without complaint. My friends know me better… and they hug me anyway. I respond to these hugs with pained expressions and mild grumbling. My friends take these in stride, God bless them.

I don’t mind hugs from close family members; in fact, my younger brother and I share awkward sibling hugs all the time. (The pats are essential.) Since I know my family so well, I feel less uncomfortable when they awkwardly press their bodies against mine.

Someone once proposed a theory that human beings demonstrate affection according to five basic methods, known as the Five Love Languages: Quality Time, Acts of Service, Thoughtful Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Physical Touch. (My parents and I practice a sixth Love Language: Cups of Coffee.) For many people, hugs and other forms of physical touch are simply expressions of love.

For me, hugs are just kinda awkward.

I have no right to be upset when people hug me, of course. I give my cat Mandatory Cuddles even though she doesn’t like them, so it’s only fair that I endure a little discomfort, too. That won’t stop me from grumbling about it. Grumbling is what I do. It is my way.

In conclusion, if you ever see me, maybe give me a fist bump? A fist bump will be great.

465. The Five-Step Writing Conference

I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.

1. Early Misgivings

I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.

Kalahari

Artist interpretation of writing conference weather.

I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.

The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….

2. Crushing Despair

As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.

This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.

The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.

Depressed Adam

Artist interpretation of depressed Adam. (In case you were wondering, I didn’t actually make faces like this at the writing conference… I don’t think.)

I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.

In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.

3. Redeeming Peace

As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.

Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.

I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.

4. Shower Misadventures

The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.

I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.

My old enemy

We meet again.

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.

I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.

5. Caffeinated Resignation

I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.

In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.

The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!

Gandalf

When in doubt, quote Tolkien or Doctor Who.

A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.

Either way, it’s nice to know.

I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.

464. Something Bookish This Way Comes

I’m attending a writing conference today. At this very moment, I’m probably scribbling notes, clutching a half-empty bottle of overpriced coffee, and being awkward and self-conscious. Such is the lot of introverts at social events.

Seriously, though, I’m excited to attend this conference. In preparation, I read Networking with Penguins, and also bought a lot of coffee. (I consider it an investment in my future as a writer.) I hope to learn more about marketing, social media strategy, book proposals, and all the other stuff I should have known before publishing a book.

After the conference, my family and I will spend a week on vacation. We plan to travel, visit friends and relatives, and eat many doughnuts. It will be glorious.

I should be able to connect to the Internet on our vacation, so regular blog updates shall continue. (If I take any more long breaks from the blog, I shan’t be able to finish it by the end of this year as I’ve planned.) Today’s post is a short one since I have to finish vacation preparations, but I’ll conclude with a sneak peek at a future post.

The next Adam’s Story post shall introduce the characters in my story project. I’m really excited, guys. Now that the preliminary stuff is out of the way, I can begin to explore some of the project’s other concepts, such as reworked characters.

I leave you with an early glance at the worried, whiskered face of Lance Eliot.

Lance Eliot early concept

I’m sure my own expression at today’s conference will be equally uncertain and wary. Fortunately, unlike Lance Eliot, I’ll have the moral support of coffee, so that’s something!

463. Goodbye, Beatrice

I’ve been reading about hell, and thinking of the girls I liked in my younger days. There’s a connection here, but… probably not the one you think.

In preparation for my story project, I’ve been rereading Dante’s Inferno, a centuries-old poem about a man who journeys through hell. The poem starts with Dante meeting the soul of Virgil, an ancient Roman poet. Virgil rescues Dante from a dark wood, giving him both good and bad news.

Inferno

Oh, hell.

The bad news is that they must pass through the nightmarish depths of hell. The good news is that Dante’s love, the dearly departed Beatrice, has interceded for him from heaven. After braving hell and purgatory, Dante will meet her there.

In the poem, Dante represents Beatrice as a savior: a lady of perfect beauty and saintly goodness. In real life, Dante apparently met Beatrice twice. He barely knew her as a person. Instead, he obsessed over her as an idea—a vision that had poetic power but was disconnected from reality.

Beatrice married another man, and died young. Dante obsessed over her memory for the rest of his life, thinking of her even after marrying another woman and having children. He himself acknowledged Beatrice as “the glorious lady of my mind,” a vision barely grounded in reality. In Dante’s mind, Beatrice was an angelic being of compassion and redemption.

Beatrice

To Dante, Beatrice was all clouds and halos.

It makes me wonder what Beatrice was like in real life. Did she think twice about Dante? Did she even read poetry? What were her favorite foods? Did she have a secret crush of her own?

Beatrice is a fascinating character in Dante’s work—a fictional character. She plays an invaluable role in Dante’s Divine Comedy, of which Inferno is the first part, but the role owes everything to Dante’s imagination and practically nothing to Beatrice herself. Dante’s Beatrice was an idea, not a person.

Like Dante, I’ve had secret crushes on gals I’ve known. Most of them are now happily married to other dudes, and good for them. I wish them the best.

It’s just hard to let go sometimes.

There’s one gal in particular—I’ll call her Socrates—who is rather like my own Beatrice. I could share more details, but won’t in case she ever reads my blog. How awkward would that be? (Answer: Soul-rendingly awkward.) I haven’t seen my old crush in years, but when I think of Dante’s Beatrice, I imagine her looking just like Socrates.

Penguin!

I won’t post a picture of Socrates, so please accept this photo of a penguin instead.

I’m a sentimental person. It’s hard for me not to treasure my memories of Socrates, and even to idealize them. She has become my own “glorious lady of my mind,” disconnected from the real Socrates. The real Socrates, wherever she is now, is a living person. She has her own likes and plans and interests. She has her own life. At this point, it isn’t romantic for me to idealize Socrates—it’s disrespectful, really. It makes for great poetry but lousy living.

I sometimes can’t help but wonder whether my life would be different if I had told Socrates that I liked her all those years ago. This can become just as disrespectful as idealizing her, and for the same reason. It replaces a person with an idea. I stop thinking of Socrates as an actual person, and think of her instead as a missed opportunity. It isn’t respectful, and it frankly isn’t healthy.

I’m still a stubbornly single dude. Even so, I figured that at some point I would grow up and stop having crushes on pretty girls. I haven’t. (Of course, I still watch cartoons and occasionally make faces in the mirror, so maybe I failed the whole growing-up thing.) At the moment, I’m letting go of another crush on another Beatrice. Like Socrates, she is also an actual person with her own life to live, and I need to respect that.

I live in a complicated world. It’s tempting to reduce human beings to trite, comforting ideas, but it isn’t right. People are people. They deserve to be respected as people, not reimagined according to my own romantic notions.

Dante wrote some great stuff, but I have to wonder whether he was happy. He was haunted by the memory of a girl he met twice. Is that any way to live?

My Beatrices have their own lives to live, and I have mine. I had better live it.

I’m now going to eat peppermint fudge and watch Steven Universe. Take that, Dante.

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

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.

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.

454. Adam’s Story: Introduction

A new series of posts begins today. As this blog stumbles doggedly toward its final post, I’m planning my next big personal project. I want to rewrite a story. I speak, of course, of the Lance Eliot saga: a trilogy of fantasies, and a dream I’ve chased for more than a decade. At this point, I have no delusions of grandeur, fame, or literary excellence. I just want to get the damned thing written.

Sooner or later, every creative person reaches a point at which he just wants to scream and shake things—preferably sharp, pointy things. (Art by JK Riki.)

A while back, when I wondered whether to discuss my story here, nobody raised any objections, so here we are. I’m not sure how often I’ll publish posts about the Lance Eliot saga, but they won’t take over TMTF or anything. This blog’s regularly scheduled nonsense shall continue!

I’ve decided to title this series Adam’s Story. I considered longer titles, like Adam’s Story Project, and more specific ones, like The Lance Eliot Saga, but settled on a title that’s short, sweet, and personal. After all, Adam’s Story refers to more than a story I want to write. It is also my story, the story of Adam, who has spent (or misspent; the jury’s still out) an alarming number of hours making up stories about a guy named Lance Eliot.

I’m actually really excited to write about the Lance Eliot saga, for at least five reasons.

  1. It will let me work on two things—this blog and story planning—at the same time, and with the same effort. How efficient!
  2. It will provide, I hope, a smooth transition from writing a blog to writing the story itself.
  3. It will force me to be a bit more disciplined. I can’t write about an aspect of the story until I’ve made sufficient progress in planning it, so I won’t be able to skip steps or cut corners!
  4. It will allow me to express my enthusiasm for the Lance Eliot saga, and to spread awareness of it. Every bit helps!
  5. It will allow me to share some of my ideas. Even if I’m not able to finish the Lance Eliot saga, at least I will have gotten some of its details out of my head.

I’m currently rereading the latest version of the story’s first part, the one I published a few years ago, and it… needs a lot of work. Heck, it needs a lot of work.

This is a picture of me throwing away the torn-up pieces of my story’s published version. Hold on, my mistake, it’s actually that version’s cover. How… apropos.

The new version won’t be anything special, but I hope to make it much better than previous ones.

Will I publish my story? I don’t know. I haven’t planned that far ahead. I’ve stopped calling the Lance Eliot saga “my book project,” and begun referring to it as “my story project.” I should probably write it before I think about publication, and I should probably plan it before I start writing.

As I plan the Lance Eliot saga, each post in the Adam’s Story series shall focus on an aspect of it. Relax, there won’t be any huge spoilers here. That said, there will be small spoilers, but nothing past the story’s earlier chapters.

Here are some of my ideas for posts about my fantasy and its world.

Story

I have to lay out the basics at some point, right? There won’t be any massive reveals here: just the early stuff!

Characters

There’s obviously a character named Lance Eliot. This post shall share a few more.

Setting

The setting is changing from previous versions of the story. I hope to make it more unique, with more details from personal experiences, and fewer generic fantasy elements. (There shall still be dragons, though. I can’t bring myself to leave them out.) The geography is changing a bit, too.

Goodbye, old setting. We hardly knew ye.

I guess this means my dad and I will need to make a new map. It’s a good thing he’s a patient man.

Politics

Earlier versions of the story didn’t really delve into politics. I want to change that. The simplistic political scene of earlier drafts shall be replaced with a tenser situation, finding such diverse inspirations as the Cold War, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Final Fantasy XII. Lance Eliot’s story shall be an adventure, not a political thriller, but I’m excited to give it some political background.

Lore

Like the story’s politics, its lore shall be more nuanced this time around. In The Lord of the Rings and his other fantasies, J.R.R. Tolkien imagined the God of Christianity in a fantastical context. I plan to do the same, taking cues from the later Old Testament, and borrowing ideas from Greco-Roman mythology and the Legend of Zelda series.

Aer

I really struggled with the concept of magic as I wrote earlier versions of the Lance Eliot saga. At first, I fought to reconcile magic with a Christian worldview, and I think I’ve figured out that part. Now my struggle is to invent a kind of magic that isn’t too vague, generic, or unbelievable. The magic in my story isn’t actually called by that name; for now, I’m calling it aer. What is it? Why aer? You’ll just have to wait and see.

Literary criticism

Yep, this is a theme of my story… but not really. Literary criticism, for all its usefulness, can be a bit silly. Nah, its purpose in my story is to lead to something else… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dante’s Divine Comedy

I plan for my story’s three parts to parallel, however loosely, the three parts of the Divine Comedy. The first part of my story shall borrow from Dante’s Inferno, and it’s going to be a hell of a ride. (Alternatively: It’s going to be a damned good time. I can’t resist these puns, guys. I’m so sorry.)

I may cover more aspects of the story; I don’t know. Today’s post covers pretty much everything I have planned for now.

That said, this story won’t plan itself, so I’d better get back to it.

Abandon Hope, but Save a Little

Thence we came forth to see again the stars.

~ Dante Alighieri

Dante’s Inferno is not a cheerful poem. It follows the poet Dante and his guide Virgil through hell, upon whose gate are inscribed these words: Abandon all hope, ye who enter hereThis slogan could just as easily be printed on the poem’s front cover. Inferno isn’t a fun read, unless you happen to enjoy long conversations (all written in archaic language and poetic meter) with the tormented souls of damned sinners.

I once wrote about my favorite opening lines in literature, and more recently considered some of my favorite last lines. For example, A Tale of Two Cities ends on a poignant note: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” My all-time favorite last line concludes The Lord of the Rings: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”

The final line of the Inferno is right up there with my favorites. For a poem whose most enduring words are “Abandon hope,” it ends hopefully. Dante and Virgil leave hell.

I can imagine it so clearly: disheveled travelers, exhausted from climbing in the endless dark, chilled by the ice of hell’s last circle, disturbed by the horrors of the underworld, glancing upward and seeing a sky alight with stars. I can see them stumbling out of the cave into the fresh air, blinking in the soft light from heaven. I can hear cicadas buzzing and feel a breeze stirring the grass. Hell is behind them. The nightmare is ended. After all the circles of hell, they know they’ve reached safety, for they see again the stars.

Thence we came forth to see again the stars

I’m a bit sentimental, but that’s one of my favorite images in all of literature. After literally going through hell, our heroes are safe. They are no longer trapped beneath stone ceilings. Above them, the heavens declare the glory of God. It’s a touching picture, and an uplifting end to a really bleak poem.

In one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, there’s a similar scene in which the protagonists escape an underworld to find themselves beneath a starry sky. J.R.R. Tolkien’s books also feature characters ending underground journeys by stumbling out into the open, such as Bilbo getting out of the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit and the Fellowship fleeing Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. Escaping the underworld to find oneself beneath the sky has become a literary motif, and I dig it.

To conclude, here’s a bit of trivia: All three parts of the Divine Comedy end with the word stars. Neat, huh?

450. Adam Answers

As TMTF hits its last fifty-post milestone before the end, I want to pause a moment, thank everyone who has been a part of this blog’s journey, and declare my opinion that Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.

Empire Strikes Back

The greatness was strong with this one.

All right, with that out of the way, here are my answers to the questions submitted by readers for today’s Q&A. Here we go!


JK asks: In spite of your down-playing your abilities, I think your singing is quite lovely. Do you have any music related experience/training, or is it just natural know how? Play any instruments to go along with the vocals? Follow up, can we get another serenade while you’re at it?

Aw, thanks, JK! I sang in choir a couple of years in high school, and performed with a few worship teams over the years, but I’ve never taken lessons or anything.

I am a little proud of my vibrato: that wobble in the pitch of my singing voice. As a kid, I heard other singers perform the vibrato technique. I thought it was neat, so I trained myself to do it. Mine is a bit forced, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

The only instrument I’ve ever played is the bongo drum, for which I have no training whatsoever, and on which I performed with more enthusiasm than skill.

Bongos

None of my typewriter monkeys play bongos, thank heaven. Imagine the racket!

I’ve thought about doing one or two more song covers, but for an amateur like me, they take a ton of trial and error. I’d rather spend my non-blogging free time relaxing! I did cover “Baba Yetu” karaoke-style a while back, though, singing over the original track. I’m really pleased with how that one turned out.


Sarah asks: How much time per week do you and your monkeys put into the blog? And how has that changed since you started the site? Of all the places you could have chosen to live, why Indiana?

Good questions! My time spent blogging varies wildly from week to week, and I don’t really keep track of it, but I estimate three to eight hours.

Depending on the kind of post I write, I might dash off it in an hour or slave away at it for three to five. Personal reflections and silly thoughts on random subjects are quicker and easier to write; serious treatises take tons of time and effort. Posts involving audio recording or image editing take extra time.

I’m probably spending less time on the blog these days than when I started, thanks to my decision long ago to publish a short, geeky commentary every Wednesday instead of another numbered post. The shorter mid-week updates require much less effort, and they let me share stuff I think is cool.

Your final question is a familiar one! When people ask me why I settled in Indiana after living overseas, I tell them, “It’s a really long story, but I’ll give you the really short version.”

Here’s that short answer: I live in the United States because, of all the countries in the world, it’s the only one for which I currently have the legal paperwork required for a job; I live in Indiana because, of the few roots I have in this country, most are here; and I live in the little town of Berne because, when I was looking for a job years ago, it had the only place that would hire me.

Berne ain’t a bad place to live.

I’m fond of Berne, but it really could use a movie theater, some mountains, a beach or two, a Japanese noodle stand, and a Starbucks. Ah, well. Nowhere is perfect, I guess.


JS asks: What about pants?

A most profound question. I cannot offer an answer worthy of it, for I am but a foolish mortal. How can I, or any of the humans who live their short lives upon this fading earth, match a question of such wisdom with an answer equally wise?

The word pants can be traced back through the English, French, and Italian languages to Pantalone, the character stereotype in commedia dell’arte, a form of performance art popular in sixteenth-century Italy. This stereotype, which caricatured Venetians, was named for Saint Pantaleon, a saint popular in Venice.

By following these tangled skeins of history and etymology, we trace pants to a legendary saint. Does its connection to an ancient martyr make pants the holiest of clothes?

Speaking of holey clothes, why do some stores sell torn jeans? Who actually buys pants that, as Dave Barry put it, appear to have been ripped to shreds by crazed wolverines? That’s another question for which I have no good answer.

Wolverine

Not that kind of wolverine, guys.

Returning to my reader’s question, a character in Avatar: The Last Airbender, my all-time favorite show, offers this unfathomable wisdom: “Pants are an illusion, and so is death.”

My own view on pants is that a gentleman shouldn’t leave home without them.


That concludes today’s Q&A post! I’m grateful to everyone who submitted questions; without you, this post would have been embarrassingly short. Thanks, guys.

With fifty posts left, TMTF is hitting the final stretch at last. I could say a lot, but I’ll save it for some other time. For now, I will only say this: Onward!