EWF: A Tribute to The Elements

ewf

I had every intention of writing about something else tonight. But then I got word that Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire had passed away.

On one hand it seems silly to be upset over the passing of somebody that you’ve never even met. But then again, it’s kinda not. Music has always been about emotion and memories for me, and I have so many that I associate with EWF. I remember my parents playing their music from “back in the day” on those early Saturday mornings as a kid, which would always (and I mean ALWAYS) had some EWF mixed in there. I don’t know if it was the voice, the bassline, the horn section, or the combination of all three, but one day I just had to ask my mother. “What is the name of this song?” I wondered. “And who sings it?”

Mom smiled. “This is Earth, Wind and Fire,” she explained. “And the song is Let’s Groove.” She would then, without fail, start singing along. Let’s Groove remains to this day my Happy Song. On another day I was riding around with my dad and asked about that heartbreaking song that we just heard with that poor man pouring his soul out.

Dad nodded. “After The Love Is Gone,” he answered. He neglected to begin singing it because, let’s be honest, very few people on this planet can hit those notes. But that never stopped me from trying (within the privacy of my own vehicle as I got older, of course, and after making sure there wasn’t anyone around in at least a 3-mile radius). Their music would guarantee one of two things; I was either going to be in a good mood and shaking my posterior, or I was going deep into my feelings. Their music was a reflection of life to me. It talked about the highs, the lows, our hopes and dreams, and it showed me that awesome things happen when we bring together our various backgrounds and experiences.

EWF shaped my appreciation of music, taught me about funk and soul, and was the perfect soundtrack for those days where you were just happy to be alive. RIP, Maurice White. May we continue to make memories to your wonderful gifts to the world.

Song(s) For The New Year!

Songs-to-Make-Dogs-Happy-19db3705

So, I’ve got this odd habit.

At the start of every year, I take special note of the first full song that I hear on the radio. To me, that’s a reflection of how the next 365 (366?) days will go. Last year it was Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads, and I reaaaaaally do hope that 2015 was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of year.

Anywho, what’s funny about this year is that my song choices got interrupted twice (I was the passenger at the time), and I ended up coming into the middle of the third. They all seemed to work in their own special sort of way, however, so I’m changing the rules up a bit for this year.

1. Photograph by Ed Sheeran

A bit of a sentimental choice, but not a bad one. Remembering those that we are closest to even when they’re not around? I can work with that. It’s a good song, but I was slightly relieved when my wife changed that station since it gave me an out. Still though, I can respect the message.

2. Time Of Our Lives by Pitbull (ft. Ne-Yo)

On the surface this song is about mainly about drinking and fornicating, two activities that definitely would have made it on Conan’s extended list of What is Best In Life. Taking a look a bit deeper however, it’s also about an often overlooked aspect of our lives- Self Care. Let’s examine the opening lyrics.

I knew my rent was gon’ be later ’bout a week ago
I work my ass off, But I still can’t pay it though
But I got just enough, To get up in this club
Have me a good time, before my time is up.
(via MetroLyrics)

Knowing that your rent was going to be late that far in advance indicates that one is going through some tough times; this is supported by his next statement, which indicates that this is all despite the working off of the ass. That’s textbook frustration right there. But despite this (or perhaps even, because of it), he’s making the effort to enjoy life. Do what you can to take care of your business, but always take time to enjoy yourself.

3. Call Me, Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen

HOLD YOUR HORSES, THERE’S A STORY HERE.

My father-in-law liked this song. I mean, he REALLY liked it. For the longest time I wondered what was it about this insanely catchy (albeit slightly overplayed) pop song that appealed to this guitar-playing badass with a love for 60’s and 70’s rock like The Beatles and The Yardbirds? I never got the chance to ask him, but I think I finally figured it out.

I think personally that it just made him happy. And we need things in our life that just make us happy.

So, when I hopped in my car to run an errand and turned on the radio to hear this, I immediately starting laughing because I knew that I had my songs.

May your 2016 be filled with memories, self-care, and things that make you happy!

2015

This is the time where everyone posts their thoughts on the previous year. I will be no different in this regard. And my assessment of 2015 is that it can hurry up and get the hell up out of here.

getout

2015 was a good year for a lot of people. This has been a year of several weddings, engagements, career changes and personal growth for many folks. And for them, I am truly happy. But to me, 2015 will always be the year that I lost my kind and generous father-in-law. It is the year that I lost a wonderful uncle. A beloved pet breathed her last this year. I missed being t-boned by an SUV that ran a stop sign by mere seconds earlier this year. And a young man that I considered a brother left us way too soon this year.

So yeah. I’m not the biggest fan of 2015.

But, it certainly has been a great teacher.

2015 reminded me to take nothing and no one for granted because we never know what the future holds for any of us. I’ve never been a great communicator, and I feel that I should apologize to people for the relationships that I’ve let lapse, or for not telling my friends and family how much I appreciate and cherish them. It has helped me to remember what is important, and to appreciate my family. And it has showed me that the will to persevere is inside of us all. My wife has taught me more about that than any lesson could have. Though she struggles to see it sometimes, she’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. Bring it on, 2016- I’m ready.

Goodbye, 2015. I can’t say that I’ll miss you.

36 Random Facts

"Double-ewe-tee-eff?"1. My favorite pizza topping trio is pepperoni, black olives and mushrooms. This has been the case for as long as I can remember, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

2. As a side effect of working retail for so many years, I possess mad skillz at giving diplomatic answers to just about any question that comes my way. This can be quite infuriating to people at times.

3. If cornered by a shark with a chainsaw and asked to choose a favorite movie or face horrible marine-life dispensed murder, I would answer Brotherhood of the Wolf. Then I’d probably try to make an argument for Conan the Barbarian, and end up facing horrible marine-life dispensed murder.

4. I want to be a cool dad, but I don’t want to be THAT cool dad. I think this makes sense.

5. I am continually looking for ways to combine my creativity, random pop-culture knowledge and general disdain for mankind into a lucrative career.

6. OK, I don’t really have a general disdain for mankind. I’m actually pretty obnoxiously positive 95% of the time.

7. If people knew how inappropriate my sense of humor was, I honestly don’t know if I’d have more friends or less.

8. My biggest fears are death by drowning or suffocation, or being powerless to stop something terrible from happening to my wife and/or daughter.

9. My musical tastes and temperament lead me to believe that I would have been happy living in the 70’s.

10. I may or may not have used my art skills for evil, and may or may not have drawn a topless girl on a dry-erase board in an empty college classroom while visiting friends at the University of Florida many years ago.

11. I’m currently obsessed with all things Steampunk.

12. I spend a great deal more time plotting than executing. To me, this is my greatest struggle.

13. Like any other human being on the planet, I have things that I don’t like. However, it is very rare that I actually say that I hate something.

14. Two things that terrified me as a child- Gremlins, and Zuul from Ghostbusters. Like, thanks-for-making-me-scared-of-the-@#%*ing-dark type of terror as a child.

15. I love a good joke, but I absolutely cringe when it’s directly at someone’s expense. I will, without fail, turn to a different radio station as soon as a morning show does a crank call, for example.

16. I have a tendency to abuse commas. And of course I don’t have any commas in this entire statement.

17. Ever since Lily was born, I’ve noticed that a lot of my story ideas focus on female protagonists. This is in direct contrast to being afraid to write anything from a non-male point of view years ago out of fear of sounding artificial.

18. I live in constant fear of dying suddenly and not having a chance to explain all of the crazy notes I’ve written over the years.

19. I’ve noticed that I can get teary-eyed when either witnessing something insanely cool in a movie, or if I plot something out in my head to the perfect music. It is, undeniably, quite weird.

20. One of our dogs (Peanut) doesn’t hate me as much as just tolerates my presence. He also won’t walk down stairs. Sometimes, when carrying His Royal Highness down the steps I’ll shake his paw and sing ~Pleased to meet you, won’t you be my frieeeeeeend?~

21. I still have yet to watch/read all of Harry Potter. I purposely avoided it while I was plotting out Glenshire Abbey in order to prevent any accidental similarities creeping into the world design.

22. Seeing ignorant behavior bothers me, but I get downright furious when I see it being passed along to children.

23. I could be falling asleep in the middle my keyboard, but I will refuse to go to bed if it feels “too early”. This has led to me accidentally sleeping on the floor and couch more times than I can count and care to admit.

24. I’d love to do voice acting. My two favorites are “Overly-Cocky Douchebag” and “Sniveling Minion”.

25. I always have some sort of music going in my head. ALWAYS.

26. It’s buried, but I do possess a bit of a mean-streak and can become pretty competitive when pushed. I’ve also learned over the years that anger is one of my strongest motivators.

27. I’m going to learn to play some sort of instrument, dammit. I’m thinking guitar.

28. Hidden talent- I can sling some pretty vicious “Yo’ Momma” jokes.

29. I love listening to instrumental soundtracks, especially if it’s for a movie or game that I’m not totally familiar with. It takes my mind in interesting directions.

30. I have two types of stores that I consider Sanctuaries. First is a book store, followed closely by an arts and crafts place. I always experience an odd sense of calm whenever I’m in either one.

31. I am a huge fan of unique song covers. One of my absolute favorites is this acoustic take on Prototype by Outkast.

32. My dancer name is Mocha Latte Supreme. Nevermind the fact that I’ve never been a dancer, but I just love telling people that.

33. I have three dreams that I contemplate from time to time. A lot of it is me just kicking ideas around, but on occasion it becomes a solid “What If”. The first is wanting to open a shop focusing on board games, cards and RPG’s. There really isn’t one towards my neck of the woods, and I’ve always enjoyed hanging out in gaming shops.

34. My second dream is wanting to open a movie theater. I don’t want to call it indie because that always sounds to me like I should be showing black-and-white movies in French with sad violin music. I’d like a place where I could show stuff like old-school martial arts flicks, classic sci-fi and of course, monthly showings of Rocky Horror.

35. My third dream is also one of my longest term ones. I would love to host a masquerade ball. I’m talking music, dancing, lavish costumes, all that good stuff. I blame Labyrinth, though I’d like it to be slightly less creepy. Cristi may have talked me down a bit to consider throwing a costume party instead, which I think is a worthy compromise.

36. I am a horrible procrastinator. This is evidenced by the fact that I started this list on my birthday. My birthday was back in February, by the way.

Of Legends, Zelda, and Lily

My four-year-old daughter loves The Legend of Zelda. This pleases me to no end.

I think it all started when she saw me playing the original a while back and ended up asking me all kinds of questions. What are those bombs for? What’s in that cave? Where was that fairy hiding? And why is that octopus shooting rocks at you?

"Because they're hateful cephalopods, honey."
“Because they’re hateful cephalopods, honey.”

Since then I’ve been showing Lily random Zelda-related tidbits here and there, and her interest hasn’t waned. I’ve made it a point to try and avoid the cartoon (on account of Link being an obnoxious tool-sack with personal space issues), but she absolutely loves watching a pretty nifty playthrough of The Wind Waker we found on Youtube. It’s fun to see random Zelda-isms pop up with her; she constantly wants to hear the theme song (which she recognized me humming one day!) and often times wants to play Pony-Zelda. This involves her My Little Pony toys questing around for random treasures while avoiding ‘bosses’ like dinosaurs and Nightmare Moon. Good times!

Like any dad, I spend a good amount of time with the phrase “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” and thinking about random ways to entertain my daughter. And wouldn’t it be cool if I could make something like The Legend of Zelda for Lily that we could play through together?

Enter ZeldaClassic.

A few years back, some random dudes made a version of LOZ for the computer. The wonderful part about that is when they finished programming it, they realized that the system was pretty customizable and could be used to make their own Zelda-esque adventures. There is a thriving community of modders out there, and the best part is that, with a little bit of practice and tutorial reading, it’s very easy to do. I’ve toyed around with the idea of making a game for some time now; Lily’s recent interest in Zelda was just the push I needed.

And good news, friends- I’ve actually already been hard at work on this!

zelda_progress

The Progress

There is an Overworld and seven Dungeons, all of which (excluding a few tweaks) are done; I still need to lay out some enemies, but the world itself is intact and playable. The beauty of ZeldaClassic is that it gives you a lot of room to customize the game, so I’ve got a few ideas for boss encounters that I’d like to test out. The big thing that I want to do is to edit our hero, and turn him into the heroine. Because wouldn’t it be cool if Lily looked at the game and noticed that the main character looked like her?

Like many that came before her, she of course thought that Zelda was our green-clad hero at first. But why not have a female as the main character? No, I’m not going for the Zelda-Saves-Link trope; as a matter of fact, I’m trying not to have a rescue in there at all. My goal is to reflect that our heroine is here to save this world because they need her help, and it’s the right thing to do. I’m not here to shift any paradigms; I’m just trying to make something cool.

So yes! That’s my plan. And now that it’s out there, other people know about it. And now that other people know about it, it is my sincerest of hopes that you will PESTER THE HELL OUT OF ME and make sure I’m working on it!

Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the idea…

I’ll keep you posted!

Five Lessons I’ve Learned From Role Playing Games

The game that launched a thousand geekdoms, Dungeons and Dragons, turns 40 this year. A buddy posted an article on my Facebook page where the author talked about life lessons he had picked up from RPG’s over the years- I decided to take the blind post approach and come up with five lessons of my own before reading the article. In no particular order, here’s a few things that sprung to mind.

Rule #1- Never let the Rogue handle the gold.
Rule #1- Never let the Rogue handle the loot.

1) No one person can do everything.
Of course there are those that try, but the bottom line is that no one person can do everything. Or rather, can do everything well. Sometimes we need a little help, and there’s nothing wrong with that. No person is truly an island, which leads in nicely to my next point.

2) TEAMWORK.
TEAMWORK GETS $#*% DONE, YO.

This goes for dealing with packs of murderous bandits to completing a project at work. Not only that, but if you can get Elves to get along with Dwarves and Orcs in order to take down a dragon, then dammit, we can get along with our fellow humans regardless of their race, sex or favorite console.

3) Sometimes, you’ve just got to relax.
A lot of moments in gaming are focused on your characters facing down swarms of enemies while wielding massive blades enchanted with enough arcane power to give Merlin an aneurysm. But some of my favorite gaming moments took place outside of the realm of combat. Sometimes, we just have to kick back and enjoy life.

4) There’s always an option that you didn’t consider.
Present a gaming group of five with a problem, and you’ll probably get five different potential solutions to said problem. And then that number’s going to grow once they start bouncing ideas off of each other. Always be willing to listen to a different perspective on things.

5) It’s not important what you’ve got, it’s how you use what you’ve got.
Role Players are a crafty bunch. For example, if you’re a Game Master with a bit of a mean streak and decide to give someone The Wand of Total Suck as a joke, then you better believe that they will find a way to use that wand in the most creative ways possible in order to make you regret not giving them The Sword of Total Awesome like they initially wanted. Be creative. Not every problem can be solved by brute strength alone, even in RPG’s. Often times it pays to be smart and charming, and most importantly, knowing where your natural talents lie.

So, gamers- what are some lessons that you’ve picked up along the way?

Lesson #1

I work in the wedding industry. Theoretically this means that I see people at their best. My expertise is in formalwear and suit rental, so I help a lot of people for weddings, cotillions, proms; events that are considered to be pretty joyful occasions. There is a lot of pleasantness to be had, but then you get to see the opposite side of the spectrum as well. People can be rude not only to you, but will direct it to their children, significant others, parents, their friends. It seems like the best of times have the potential to bring out the worst in us.

rings
Round 2- FIGHT!

On occasion, I also get to witness the exact opposite. Earlier today I helped a very boisterous and animated customer that needed a suit. Before I could even ask about the occasion, he volunteered that he was flying home to Jamaica so that he could bury his mother. I didn’t even get a chance to offer condolences before he cheerfully added that he wanted to make sure that he got the sharpest suit that we carried to not only honor his mother, but to also show up his cousins that would be coming down from New York. He continued to be a joyful and pleasant man throughout the entire process as we picked out styles, talked about colors and discussed his travel arrangements. Never once did he let the weight of his reason for going home weigh him down. “I have to be like this,” he told me. “If I just sit back and think about it, that’s going to take me to a different place.” He then proceeded to joke about how competitive he and his cousins were, and that he couldn’t wait to see them once they arrived. I told him about my recent trip to Chicago to honor my wife’s grandmother when she passed away, and while we did mourn her, we also spent a lot of the time laughing and joking in the way that only family could.

It’s the first day of the new year, and I had this lesson presented right to my face. Rise above your circumstances. Don’t let adversity take away your joy, and instead allow it to help you realize what matters most.

Happy 2014!