Growth

I haven’t been writing much lately. Actually, I haven’t been writing at all. I don’t know what it means, or if it presages a surrender of my hope of becoming published. I hope not. I’ve put in too much time and effort working towards this goal, but at the moment I’m distracted by the realities of life. Is that a valid excuse?

There are stories in my head that I need to tell. I cannot deny it, it’s a fact of my being, that I’m always thinking, that I’m always inventing stories when I’m alone, coming up with plots and scenarios, dreaming of what I would like to say, yearning for others to enjoy what I have come up with.

Lately I’ve been off my rhythm. I haven’t set aside time to sit and daydream or brainstorm. I haven’t sat at my computer with the sole goal of committing the stories in my head to paper, or I guess to a computer file. It’s a shame because that’s what I want, what I need, but as I said before, I’m dealing with life issues, not at all live threatening or serious, but deserving of my attention. It’s where I need to be, and where my energies are focused.

I hope to get back to writing soon, and honestly, I have been writing, just nothing I care to share at the moment. I’m still planning on participating in NaNoWriMo again for the fifth time come November. I still want to rewrite Son of the Father, which was my first NaNo novel. I have others I want to rewrite, not because they are great works en potencia, but because they mean something to me, because I believe they have a message I want to share.

But for now I’m engaged in a trial of a sort, a moment of personal growth that is impacting me emotionally and spiritually. How I’ll come out is anyone’s guess, but it’s a journey I need to take, a journey we all have to take in one form or another, at some point in our lives. This is my time.

Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready_Player_One_coverI finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline a couple of weeks ago. Can I just say it? Wow! It was a great read, fascinating and engaging, highly imaginative and compelling. I can’t believe it took me this long to actually get around to reading it.

My friend Amy was the one who told me about the book. She listened to the audiobook, narrated by Wil Wheaton, and fell in love with it. She said I needed to read it. She implored, the badgered me, and she harassed me until I relented and said I would read it. I didn’t.

It took a documentary, Atari: Game Over to pique my interest, and so one day while in Lubbock, I stopped at the Barnes & Nobel by the mall, and I bought the book. It sat on my to read pile for at least a month, probably longer. In the meantime, Amy cajoled, pestered, begged and outright pleaded for me to read the book. It wasn’t until another friend of hers – well actually, her friend’s husband, but I don’t need to be nit-picky – read the book, that I decided to sit down and read. I can’t have anyone show me up, after all!

So I read it. Well, actually I only read the first 60 pages. It was okay, I guess. It was a little slow so I put it down for a week. Then, when I had a free day, I sat down and began to read again. This time the action picked up, and I found myself fully immersed in the story about a man, James Halliday, who created a virtual world and became the wealthiest man alive, but having no heirs, decided to create a contest to give the winner his wealth, and control of OASIS, the virtual reality he and his friend created decades before.

This is a story that takes place almost exclusively online. It’s an escape from the dystopian reality of a civilization in the midst of collapse, of crushing poverty and limited resources. OASIS is what its name implies, a getaway, one that is mostly free to use, and as such, the target of a corporation intent on winning the contest in order to turn the virtual utopia into a cash cow.

Enter our hero, the narrator of the story, Wade Owen Watts, who goes by the name of Parzival while in OASIS. He’s a student who, along with millions of other individuals, is drawn into the contest, wanting to be the first to discover the secrets Halliday encoded into OASIS. Watts becomes obsessed with the 1980’s, a decade the eccentric billionaire himself obsessed over, that being the time when he was a teen.

What comes across is a race between the everyman and the soulless, corrupt corporation, not only for bragging rights or the over $100 billion, but for control of the single most important outlet for the average human being. At stake is OASIS, with its access to the single largest depository of  knowledge ever assembled, books, music, and movies all at the disposal for mankind.

It’s a little odd reviewing such an amazing book, especially one as well-known and read as Ready Player One. I’ve seen on my Facebook feed that many of my friends have recently read the novel as well, and they loved it. Hollywood has also picked up the novel and is reportedly in the process of turning it into a movie, with no less that Steven Spielberg at the helm.

So what’s my take? I’m sure it’s been said before, but it really is a bit of World of Warcraft meets The Matrix, well kind of. I loved the storyline, and though it could have easily devolved into some hokey David-vs-Goliath type story, the author deftly created one of the best books I’ve ever read. He manages to entertain despite clueing us in to the outcome of the story. You fall for the characters, who you meet as the online avatars of their respective players, and you still come to care for them, and as such Ernest Cline manages to surprise the reader.

This is definitely a 5 out of 5 star book, in my humble opinion. Check it out, then badger your friends to read it as well. I can’t wait to see what Spielberg creates in terms of the visual aspect, but he’ll be hard pressed to realize everything Cline managed to do!


List of Book Reviews
Next review –  TBA
Previous Review – The Protected

Going back again, maybe.

I’m looking into going back to school, again. I must be a glutton for punishment since I only graduated two years ago, but I really do want to go back. I’ve been mulling it over for a while now, at least a year, probably more. At one point, I had considered going back to earn my teaching certificate, which I decided was not the path I wanted, or needed, to take.

Here I am, years later, and I feel that I need to return, to major in a new field. Yes, I do have a Bachelor’s in General Studies, but that’s really what it sounds like. I’m looking into a career that needs a focused degree and certification. I’ll admit to a certain amount of trepidation, especially in regards to how long it’ll take to complete and the incumbent cost. I’m still paying off my loan for my most recent go around!

The fact is I’m unhappy where I’m at. I’m tired and I’m angry. I’m tired of being angry. Where I’m currently at in life is not where I want to be, it’s not where I’m supposed to be, but it is where I am. I can remain where I’m at and allow this anger and bitterness to consume me, or I can do something about it.

All I’ve known for most of my adult life is retail. I dislike retail. I’ve done it, I have moved up before, and though there are aspects to it in which I excel, the parts I don’t like hold me back. More than just that, I have an attitude problem precisely because I have been there before and because I feel that I’m not being allowed to do what I know I’m capable of doing.

Did you know that this is the first place I’ve worked for since 1999 that I haven’t been promoted? I have always been given a supervisory position. I’m knowledgeable enough, I’m responsible enough, and I have the experience to prove it, but that’s not enough. Not at my current job, and not with my current employers.

But as much as I would like, I can’t completely fault them. In fact, I should probably thank them for holding me back, for forcing me to evaluate my life and the direction I’m heading. Were they to promote me, I might be tempted to continue the rat race for financial reasons. That would be bad. Money has never been a good enough motivator for me. I need it, I want it, and I would like to have a certain independence, but that’s not what motivates me.

So what motivates me? Doing what I like, what I care about. What drives me is to get my job done, to step back and see a completed project, and to know that I did that. I also need to feel appreciated, which is something that management has never been good at providing. Also, I would like to find a decent job that will allow me to have a set schedule. My personal time is very important to me. I need it to survive, as a matter of fact!

I don’t know what my alma mater will say in regards to my inquiry. I hope I will be allowed to return this coming semester, though it may be too late to go back. I hope they will give me the chance to major in the field I’m hoping to join. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified by the thought of moving forward with this. I’ve thought about it for years, and if ever I’m going to do it, I would think now’s the time to do so, while I’m free and young enough to get it done.

Until then, I’ll keep the field of study a secret. If I’m given the greenlight to return, and if I’m able to go back this semester, I’ll give you an update and tell you what I will be studying. Until then, positive thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.

Short Story: Breaking free

“This is bullshit,” moaned a disheveled, middle-aged man as he slammed another empty glass onto the bar. His eyes were beginning to glaze over, and he had started slurring his speech. “I don’t know why I put up with it!”

“What’s gotten into you, James?” His friend Nelson – this one nursing his first scotch and water – looked on, concerned by how his friend was acting. “Don’t you think you should slow down. You’re hitting it pretty hard tonight.”

“What does it matter? Why does any of it matter?” He slurred. “Give me one more, Gary.” The bartender looked over to the friend, who nodded, and the bartender reluctantly brought over a fresh scotch.

The pair remained silent for a moment, but as soon as James had his drink in hand, he began his complaint anew. “I’ve been there for almost twenty years,” he began.

“And they don’t appreciate what you do for them,” his friend completed the refrain. “Yeah, I know. We all know. Why don’t you spare me the bullshit and just tell me what happened today.”

“Spare you the…, fine,” he sputtered angrily. “I’ll tell you. My tightwad boss yelled at me, wanting to know about the Andrews account. I closed that deal a month ago, he signed off on it, and now he’s pissed off because he thinks we under-charged them. He wants me to cancel the contract and renegotiate. It’s bullshit. They won’t go for that! They’ll find someone else to do business with, and then I’ll get blamed for losing another major contract, all because THEY can’t do their jobs correctly. I’m tired of being their punching bag.”

“Then get out,” a voice cried out from the other side of the bar. James whipped his head around, angry that he had been overheard, though he had been complaining so loud that many people had simply left to go elsewhere for a drink.

“What did you say?” James’ friend  asked.

“Get out,” she repeated herself with an eerily calm voice. She was an attractive forty-something, with expensive tastes. She looked out-of-place in the slightly seedy establishment. Nelson looked at her, and she wore a haunted expression on her face, but other than that, betrayed no emotion, though it was obvious to all that she had been crying recently.

“What business is it of yours?” James spat.

“None, I suppose,” she sighed, “but I think you should listen anyways. What could it hurt?” James shrugged as he started on his scotch. The stranger walked over and sat beside him.

“It’s funny how similar a job is to a romantic relationship. At first, it’s all perfect. You’re in love, after all. He brings you flowers, tells you he loves you. He brings you gifts and treats you like a princess. You get lost in the fantasy. At work, it’s the same, they check up on you, make sure you have everything you need, ensure you’re comfortable. They have a responsibility to you and they want you to succeed because their success is dependant on your ability to do your job.

“It doesn’t take long for the new relationship smell to start to wear off. You don’t notice it at first, but it slowly begins to change. It’s subtle, first he stops giving you flowers, or he stops rubbing your neck at the end of the day. There are no more sweet love notes, or he stops kissing you altogether. There’s a moment when you look up, and you realize that the magic is gone, but you can’t pinpoint when it happened, but you know you want to leave, but he doesn’t let you.

“‘I’ll change,’ he promises. ‘Just give me another chance.’ So you agree, and at first there’s a noticeable improvement. He starts kissing you again, his voice seductive promising you things he promised once before, and you fall for his charm. He comes home at a reasonable hour. He treats you how you deserve to be treated, for a while, but sooner rather than later it goes back to how it was. He neglects you, takes you for granted. You’ve become nothing more than a nursemaid while the jackass goes out to play.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” James groaned.

“Don’t you see?” The stranger said pointedly. “You’re nothing but your boss’s bitch. Sure he may treat you a little better should you want to leave and he needs you, but what’s the point? How many times do you have to do the stupid, little dance? You know what I’m talking about, right?”

“I’ve talked about leaving, sure,” he agreed.

“And what? Did you get a raise, a better office perhaps?”

“And a promotion, but I’m still doing the same bullshit work.”

“Exactly,” she shoved her finger into his chest. “Nothing but trinkets given to take your mind off the fact that they don’t respect you.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“Leave. Get out while you can. It’s a toxic relationship, abusive to the point where you’re losing yourself in drink just to numb the pain. Break up, while you still can, and leave on your own terms. Leave before you lose all sanity, lose all control, and do something you may regret later. You’re nobody’s bitch.”

“I can’t just quit,” James cried. “I have a family to support.”

“And yet you’re here and not with them,” she countered. “Don’t you think this is taking a toll on them? How long before she gets tired of being neglected? Get out while you still have a marriage to save. Or stay and lose everything. I don’t give a shit.”

The stranger got up, paid her tab, and left without saying another word. “What a loon,” James laughed before returning his attention to his drink.

“I don’t know,” Nelson said quietly. “I think she has a point, and I think you need to stop drinking and go home to your family before you end up like me, divorced and alone.”

***

James walked into his house, his children already in bed. His wife was curled up in front of the television, which she had on mute, a book in hand. She barely registered his entrance with a weary nod.

“I think we need to talk,” he said glumly.

“Oh?” she replied, not taking her eyes off the book.

“First, I want to say I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting, the way I’ve been treating you and the kids. I love you all, and I don’t want to lose you.”

That finally got her attention and she put her book down. “Okay?”

“I’ve been having a hard time at work, and I know it’s no excuse, but that’s why I’ve been so distant lately. I want to change before I lose you. I don’t want to lose you. I can’t bear the thought of losing you.”

“Okay? So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you think it’s your job that’s at fault, leave.”

“Just quit? I can’t do that! I have a family to support.”

“And you think you’re supporting us by coming home drunk every night? By neglecting us? I hate to break it to you, but you’ve already lost me. I’ve been seeing someone for a while now, someone who’s taken care of me, who treats me how I should be treated.”

“Oh,” James replied, stunned by the revelation, not knowing what else to say.”

“Yeah, you’ve already lost me. I’m just here for the kids, but even for them, I don’t know what more I can take.”

“So, you’re sleeping with him?”

“Not yet, but it’s going to happen any day now.” His wife looked at his compassionately for the first time and smiled grimly. “I love you, too, but I can’t go on like this. You say you don’t want to lose me, this is your chance. Quit your job. It’s either them or me.”

“And what about our mortgage and our bills?”

“We have enough to get by for a couple of years, but you should be able to find a job before then. We’ll have to cut back on a few luxuries, but so what?”

“Wow,” James exclaimed softly, waves of fear, anger, and jealousy over taking him. “So you have someone on the side and you’re about to leave me?”

“I have someone on the side, but I wasn’t planning on leaving you just yet, but eventually, yes. I won’t be treated like this, not by you. If I have to find affection somewhere else, yeah I’ll do it, and feel no guilt for doing it.”

“I – I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.”

“I told you. Quit. If you want me, that’s my price. Quit your job, and come to counseling with me. I’ve been going for several months, alone.”

“I need to think about it. I can’t just up and quit.”

“Suit yourself. You know what’s up. I’ll give you some time, but not much more. I’ll take a poorer man over you if that means I get to have his attention. And just so you know, that trip I was planning for this weekend with the girls?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll be with him in Vegas, in his arms, in his bed.” She got up and walked out, taking her book with her, leaving him to his confusion.

James picked up the remote to the television to shut it off when a picture grabbed his attention. The same woman who he met at the bar. He turned up the volume to listen to the news report.

“…woman wanted by the police in connection with the brutal murders of her husband and his lover was found moments ago, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Friends described her as an outgoing, loving person, who had endured years of abuse and neglect, culminating in cold-blooded murder.”

“Chilling, Steve. Next, we check in with Dave for the weather. How’s it looking for the…”

James shut off the television and walked into the bedroom, the brutality of what he saw breaking him. “What’s the matter?” His wife asked, as he sat on the bed, shaking by what he saw on the news. He had just talked to her moments earlier.

“I love you. I’ll put in my notice tomorrow. If you have to go this weekend, I won’t blame you, but I won’t stop fighting for you.”

“Babe, if you choose me, I’ll choose you, too. Just understand, this is your one and only chance, but I won’t guarantee I’ll stay, either.”


Short Stories

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Previous story – Faithless

Giving planning another go

20150720_210140I bought myself a composition notebook yesterday after I left my writer’s group. I didn’t hadn’t planned on it, but I needed to buy a few things at the store and I saw that they had begun to set Back to School. I decided to check it out and lo and behold, I saw a stack of them for fifty cents. I bought two.

So today at lunch, as I sat in my car, I pulled one of them out and began to loosely sketch out who my main characters are, what their role will be and their probable motivations. I’ve tried to plan and plot before, but it’s never worked for me. I’m going to try again. I probably won’t create a strict outline, I know that won’t work, but I think I general idea of major plot points will suffice.

I should get going. I have a reality to create, a journey to figure out, and frankly I need a snack. I’m thinking cake. Cake goes good with writing, at least that’s what I believe. If anyone wants to bring me a coffee, that would be awesome, too.