Thom on November 25th, 2016

Things I’m Thankful For – Day Five: My parents

The older I get the more brilliant my parents become. Not that I was ever one of those kids who thought their parents were out of touch and clueless, but now that I’m a parent myself I understand a whole lot more what they were up against. Parenting is not an easy venture, but they almost made it look that way.

I know they aren’t perfect. Trust me, I get that. But frankly, that just makes what they did look all that much more impressive. I’ve only got three kids. They dealt with six. Mine are all within four years of each other. Theirs were spread out over seventeen years.

As I was writing my first two blog posts this week it occurred to me just how much influence parents have on their children. My love of music and reading both came from my parents. I got much of my DIY spirit from my dad. I learned how to work from both of them. I inherited a level of thriftiness from them. They taught me to love the outdoors and appreciate education.

They always seemed like they knew what they were doing, too. I never caught them at “parenting”. They were just being Mom and Dad. They made it look easy. But they didn’t write any of it down, dang them! They were supposed to pass along the manual to me!

No, if anything I’m learning from my own experiences that it wouldn’t do any good to try to create a manual for two reasons. One, every kid is different and what they had to do with each of us probably wouldn’t work with my own kids. Two, by the time parents know if what they did worked it’s too late. You probably don’t remember what you did in the first place. I won’t have the slightest idea if I turned out to be a good parent until my kids are already gone and beyond fixing. You get one shot at it, and it’s learn-as-you-go.

All the more reason why my parents are impressive.

Thom on November 24th, 2016

Things I’m Thankful For – Day Four: My wife

How do you even begin to thank someone who had every chance to run away and didn’t? Who has seen me at my worst and still loves me? My wife been beside me through some of the greatest turmoil I’ve ever faced and periods of the most change. She’s been my rock through it all.

There’s no doubt that we both have changed in seventeen years. We’ve been through a lot together, both highs and lows. We’ve watched our children grow. We’ve taken delight in their progress and successes and worried together about their challenges. We’ve nursed them and each other through illness. Every week, every month, every year has built up more and more common experiences that define our relationship and bind us together.

I spend my day out in the working world, but come evening I get to return home where my wife’s influence is everywhere. She’s in every corner of the house, in every decoration, every comfort, every scent, in every piece of furniture. She’s in every flowerbed, in every garden row, in every houseplant. Her touch, her signature is in everything around me, and it makes home home.

She supports me in my goals, encourages me in my tinkering. Whatever skill I’ve acquired in woodworking or invention is due to her, and I derive great satisfaction from making things she uses and enjoys.

She greets me with a kiss every night and sends me out into the world each morning with a hug and kiss (and a lunch to make co-workers jealous).

My wife is such a part of my life I likely don’t even realize just how big a hole she would leave if she weren’t there. I hope I never do. I can think of no better life than what I already have with her.

Thom on November 23rd, 2016

Things I’m Thankful For – Day Three: My children

How do you even begin to describe the space your children occupy in your life? How do you describe the combined weight of the pride, the fear, the joy, the frustration, the satisfaction, the curiosity, and the myriad other emotions they make you feel? How do you explain both the joy and the panic you feel as you see parts of yourself reflected back in them? How do you summarize the years of holding your breath, hoping you don’t mess them up beyond repair, waiting to see if they turn out alright?

I’ve got great kids. They are each so different, so interesting. They each have such incredible potential. They push me (and my buttons), they challenge me, and they continually make me step up my game. And they love me, even when I have a hard time seeing why.

I won’t have them that much longer. I’m just starting to get to know them, it seems, and they’re already on their way out the door.

God gave my wife and I three amazing souls to care for and try to turn into responsible, functional adults. That’s a tall order, when I’m not sure I’m one myself, let alone know how to make that happen. We’re all learning as we go, and I can only hope I’m teaching them enough of the right things. I hope they’re smart enough to grab onto everything good we’ve tried to teach them while recognizing and forgiving my faults. I hope, if they’ve picked up any of my weaknesses, they’ll recognize it sooner than I did and have better success in overcoming them.

But whatever happens, I will always cherish these years that are flying by all too rapidly. I wouldn’t trade all of this for anything.

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Thom on November 22nd, 2016

Things I’m Thankful For – Day Two: Books

If music has been a powerful influence in my life, so have books. I was reading well before first grade (I never went to kindergarten), and books have been a source of pleasure ever since. Somehow my parents instilled a love of reading in all of us–books were never just something required for school, they were entertainment. We wanted to read.

That may be because my mother read to us. My mother is an excellent, fluid reader, able to change her vocal inflections on the fly and breath life into the words where many people struggle just to form the words. Had she been born fifty years later she might have had a career as an audiobook narrator. I remember many wonderful hours gathered around Mom as she read to us, and not just as little kids, either. She would read–and we’d gladly listen–well into my teen years.

It’s a tradition I passed on to my kids, and I hope they have as fond memories of my reading as I do of my mother’s.

Books have always been special things. Oh, that didn’t keep us from using them for other purposes–we were kids, after all, and an entire set of hardbound children’s books of identical size were impossible to resist as construction materials–but we did try to take decent care of them. If books were damaged is was usually from being loved to death, not mistreatment.

Libraries, likewise, became portals to wonder, and a library card a passport. I remember the thrill of being able to choose my own books to read, and I’m pretty sure I read every single Dan Frontier and Sailor Jack book ever written, and most of the Secret Seven series to boot. Then I graduated to the Star Trek tie-in novels and read most of the ones written during the 1970s and early 80s. My brother-in-law (at least I’m pretty sure it was him) introduced me to Terry Brooks’ “The Sword of Shannara”, which in turned launched me into writing. It was also the gateway drug by which he lure me into more hardcore stuff, like Tolkien.

My brother got me into Tom Clancy in the 80s, as well as Asimov, Clarke, and other sci-fi writers when he became a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. That may also be where I was introduced to Orson Scott Card and “Ender’s Game”, which led to his other Enderverse books and his Alvin Maker books (which he didn’t write fast enough and I somehow lost track of). That same brother, years later, via his daughter, would introduce me to Brandon Sanderson, opening up another rich vein of literary gold, though I confess “Elantris” didn’t thrill me (it would take “Legion” and “The Rithmatist” to really hook me). He also introduced me to Michael J. Sullivan, who has become my inspiration as a writer.

My own kids have become a source of new discoveries of late. My boys introduced me to the fun and adventure of John Flanagan’s “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series, while my daughter has helped fuel my love of Sanderson (“Stormlight Archive” and “Reckoners”), Dan Wells’ “John Cleaver” books, as well as introducing me to a few others here and there. She’s lately been lobbying me to add “The Count of Monte Cristo” to my reading list. Should I ever run out of books to try I can always count on my kids to load me up again.

I’m not as prolific a reader of non-fiction, but I do read it, and often enjoy it thoroughly. I’m especially fond of history and biography, though I’ve found I’m perhaps more successful with those when I let someone else do the reading. I’ve taken a break from audiobooks for a while, but they’ve had a significant impact in my life as well.

I’m a firm believer that the stories we enjoy help shape our view of the world and, in some ways, who we are. I’m grateful for the countless books throughout my life that have helped get me through the years and guided my thinking. They have been my refuge from the world and my window into it. I’ve been entertained, challenged, enlightened, and inspired throughout my life by the printed word. I feel a little sorry for those who don’t like to read (though I imagine the feeling is mutual), but perhaps they weren’t introduced the way I was.

I love books, and adore libraries, and I will always cherish the many happy hours I’ve spent between the pages of a book.

Thom on November 21st, 2016

Things I’m Thankful For – Day One: Music

Music has been, is, and likely always will be a major part of my life. I grew up with music around me constantly, and singing with the family was a given. I was involved in band for four years, and choir for eleven years (not counting church choirs since). I’ve performed with symphonies, a Caribbean steel drum band, all-state choirs, and select men’s choruses in some of the most exciting venues in the United States. I’ve participated in musical theater for much of my life. I got a degree in music.

I’m more of a music consumer than a performer these days, and that’s okay. As much as I love music and performing, I lacked the drive and discipline to be a professional, let alone be able to support a family. Music has always been a creative and emotional outlet for me.

It’s still fun to share what I’ve learned. Our church choir performed yesterday, and it was a great piece that was fun to sing. Then the music leader for the children’s group went home sick and I got to jump in at the last moment to lead the singing and run two twenty-minute segments with music–and with some of my most favorite music in the world: Christmas music! I had a great time.

But it also reminded me of yet another reason I’m likely better off not being a professional musician. I get choked up too easily. Music can stir deep emotions in me, and it’s awfully hard to sing when your throat is constricting. I was able to control it in the second group, but during one particular song with the younger group I couldn’t sing at least half of the song. That’s fine in front of a group of kids, but it probably wouldn’t go over so well in front of a paying audience.

It’s safer to be a music consumer. It’s also easier to do while working other jobs, though I’m sure my co-workers catch me drumming, whistling, and sometimes even singing along with my headphones from time to time. I can alter my moods with music, raise my energy level, calm my troubled nerves, and help myself concentrate. It’s better than a drug, as it’s 100% renewable, mostly side-effect free, relatively inexpensive, and not physically addictive.

One of my favorite genres is movie soundtracks, and one of my favorites of all time is James Horner’s “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” with it’s iconic leitmotifs and gorgeous, sweeping orchestrations. For those in the know, I hope this serves as a little pre-Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

Thom on November 17th, 2016

Liberals are doubling down on their failed strategy, ensuring they will continue to be the minority party. The “party of the intelligentsia” are failing to learn from their mistakes.

In short, when faced with a come-from-behind electoral shellacking, they’re returning to the old tried-n-true thinking that got them in trouble in the first place: America is full of racist, sexist, hate-filled, ignorant people. There can be no other explanation. The only surprise is that they are even including women in that list now. So rather than taking a look at why otherwise reasonable people (ie. they voted for Obama last time, those horrid racists!) could possibly change their minds, it’s easier to write them all off–and ultimately admit “Hey, we’re never going to win another election, ever, because there are just too many haters!”

The sad part of this post-election period is that the left is proving that “Love Trumps Hate” was nothing but a slogan. People are being beaten and shot for being Trump supporters–or even joking about being Trump supporters. Protestors have rioted over their loss.

Yes, there have also been Trump supporters who have been emboldened by his victory enough to engage in openly racist displays, and that is equally appalling. However, it’s the Left who built the narrative of Trump being a racist and a hater. They did their utmost to portray him as a right-wing fascist white-supremacist hero–an image Trump himself has decried as leftist fabrication. It’s the fault of the Left that these people see Trump as one of their own and see his victory as sanction. Be careful of the demons you create, folks.

As it is, much was made over Trump’s refusal to give a blanket statement about accepting the results of the election. Little is being made of the Left’s loud and occasionally violent refusal to accept the results. Their leaders have called for calm, but their followers…aren’t following. Who’d have guessed that the “ungovernable” part of America included the Left?

The media, beyond a few singular pieces examining their biases and their role in Trump’s victory, continue to dig up every possible anti-Trump angle they can find. The president-elect ditches his press followers for a family dinner? Apoplectic hand-wringing about what this means for transparency. Really? The American public needs to know what the Trumps had for dinner? The press have made it clear they are enemies of Trump. Why would he want to invite his enemies along on a family outing?

I, for one, don’t claim any right as a citizen to know where the president-elect is at all time, who he’s with, or what he’s eating. It’s my understanding the Obamas were known to ditch the press corps on occasion, to which I say: good for them! Just like I’ve never begrudged President Obama his numerous golf excursions. It’s a tough job, and a guy needs some down-time. Get over it.

I also find it rather disgusting how suddenly and gleefully the Republicans who were fighting against Trump not so long ago have rushed to claim him and to plan the dismantling of their pet peeve legislation from the Obama era. What? Never Trump? Never heard of it! We’re buddies now! We always knew he didn’t mean half of what he said.

But it’s equally disgusting to see the return of “we’re going to treat your guy exactly how you treated out guy” that comes back every time there’s a power change. I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but it sure would be nice to see someone attempt to break the cycle and aim higher. Especially since “how you treated our guy” always seems to end up exaggerated more and more each cycle.

So yup, it’s just the same old same old, including from me. Both sides stink, and no one is doing anything to change my mind. Get off my lawn.

Edit: Well, not everyone is hoping for Trump’s downfall. Tom Hanks is actually daring to hope Trump does so well he’ll want to vote for him next time. I didn’t vote for Trump, either, but what does it cost us (or perhaps what should it cost us) to hope the guy does better than we fear? I had similar hopes for Obama and Bush. Why shouldn’t we be hoping that whomever gets elected rises to the occasion and proves their detractors wrong? I’d certainly be hoping for that if Hillary or Romney or McCain had been elected. Anyone who believes in the perfectness and infallibility of their elected officials is, quite frankly, scary. The rest of us have ample room to hope that they do better than we have reasonable cause to fear.

Edit 2: Yeah, this…

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Thom on November 14th, 2016

I’m usually a “Christmas comes after Thanksgiving” kind of guy. But Peter Hollens has a Christmas album out, and one of his songs is an original that I’ve fallen in love with. And in light of recent events we could all use a little beauty in our lives at least, and to remember the message more would be even better. And so I give you December Song (the song is the first half of this video, feel free to stop when the talking starts):

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Thom on November 9th, 2016

You know how many candidates I seriously considered voting for this election cycle? Pretty much all of them. So I hold no animosity toward anyone for their vote in this election. The choices we were given weren’t very good. Everyone had to make the best of it. There are a few I know who were quite enthusiastic about their choice, and I’m genuinely happy for them. Would that I could have felt that way, but even the choice I finally made I didn’t feel entirely happy about simply because I knew they had no chance of winning. I don’t like throwing away my vote, even though I’m used to it. Living in Idaho for most of my life even voting with the majority is still rather pointless.

There are a lot of people out there who are upset today. I understand. I’ve been there. Losing stinks, especially when the stakes are so high. I didn’t win, either. The only difference is I knew from the outset I wasn’t going to get my way. I voted not for today but for a future I hope to see unfold. Things have to change, and we all have to find our own way to bring about that change.

There are a lot of people out there who are pleased, or at least relieved, today. I understand that, too. It wasn’t a clear case of which candidate is less evil, let alone which candidate can I support. There were aspects of both major candidates I liked. There were aspects that troubled me greatly. And few of them overlapped. As I watched the returns starting to come in last night I saw that Hillary was ahead. And I was okay with that. Then Trump pulled ahead. And I was okay with that. The only thing worse than this election is this election without end. We have to pick one and go forward. I saw that happening, and it was a relief.

Truth is, no candidate will ever be as good as their supporters believe. And no candidate will be as bad as their detractors claim. It’s probably no secret I’ve not been a fan of Obama’s presidency. I disagree with him on a lot of things–not necessarily his stated goals, but his methods of getting there. But for all that, he’s been a solid supporter of First Amendment rights, even when a large number of liberals have been going well overboard in trying to restrict them. And he and Michelle seem to have done a bang-up job of raising their girls in one of the most harsh spotlights there is. There is good to be found in everyone, and I imagine if I were to actually have the chance to get to know President Obama and his family we could be friends.

Well, now we’re going to get a new president, and one who comes with a lot of baggage. I didn’t vote for him. I didn’t want him. He was perhaps third on my list. In many ways I disagree as much with his methods as I do Obama’s. I question his character and his temperament. But he’s going to be our president, and for now I’m going to give him as much benefit of the doubt as I can muster. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, as my retirement funds warn. And many of the world’s greatest leaders were sub-par most of their lives until they had greatness thrust upon them. Trump could surprise us.

I hope he does. I have hope that what we’ve been seeing thus far is “Campaigning Trump”. If there’s anything I’ve learned about politics is that it really does require one skill set to get elected and a largely different one to govern once you’re there. He showed great skill at fighting, at doing whatever it took to win. The usual Democratic playbook just didn’t apply to him, even when it should have. And, quite frankly, I don’t like the way he fights. But then usually the people who fight like I’d want them to fight don’t get elected.

I’m hopeful that Trump can now adjust to play the role to which he has been elected. I’ve seen a few glimpses of “Presidential Trump” during the campaign, and I hope he can bring that guy back. I hope he can be the guy who gave the victory speech last night.

I could very easily be naïve–or at least be misplacing my hope. I hope he surprises me in a good way. I hope at the end of four years I’ll find myself wishing I’d voted for him. Time will tell. But for now I believe it’s time we got back to being friends and neighbors and give Trump time to realize it’s no longer necessary to play the Fighter. It’s time to let President Trump develop (Oh, good ned, run it together and it sounds like “president rump”!). I’m not going to hold my breath, but I’m willing to sit back now and take a good, deep one. And then another. And another. And another.

Life is going to go on. Everything I had to do when I left work yesterday is still here today. Traffic was still as bad on the commute. My kids still have school. It’s going to be a crisp, clear, fine autumn day outside, just like it was yesterday. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Much of what it does bring will come regardless of who won the election, both bad and good.

It’s November 9th, and from what I can see so far, it’s just another day.

Thom on November 7th, 2016

This piece in Vanity Fair is interesting. Some highlights:

This is not an argument at all for moral equivalency between Breitbart and, say, The Washington Post. That would be ludicrous, but all media organizations are grappling with changing audience expectations and demands. As Emma Rollerwrote recently in The New York Times,“The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true.”

And this…

Don’t mistake me for some traditionalist harrumphing that the media is not the way it used to be in the good old days. We had partisan media long before we had objective media. And Trump is an affront to American democracy and common decency, and if this is the price to pay for keeping him out of the White House, so be it. But there is most certainly a price to pay. The next time Fox News or Breitbart caterwaul about media bias, the claim will have substantially more bite to it.

I’m old (and old-fashioned) enough to remember when journalism students, at least, were taught that their job was to observe and report, not working to put anyone in or keep them out of the White House. I sympathize with the desire to keep someone they view as a monster from becoming president, but it’s still bias to assume that they and only they get to decide which candidate is the monster.

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Thom on November 3rd, 2016

The real reason I don’t watch sports is because I know darn well if I start watching I’ll not want to stop watching. I’m a writer, see, and that means I can’t ignore a story. Which is why it was so easy to hook me on a Cubs vs. Indians World Series story. I mean, really, when it comes to baseball, there isn’t a better story than the Cubs. They used to be awesome, and then…something happened… And 108 years later they’re still trying to claim even a smidgeon of their old glory.

But wait! A new hero arrives on the scene; a president of baseball operations (what a magical title!) who turned the Red Sox around and broke their curse, and now wants to do it for Chicago. Five years later the team he built is knocking at the door of history, with the only team standing in their way being the one with the second-longest championship dry spell. (I mean seriously! If there was ever compelling evidence for baseball being as scripted as any WWE match, this would be it! That’s just too much of a coincidence to be true!)

Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon

That was enough to start me watching in Game Three. And then I was introduced to the cast: Rizzo, Zobrist, Bryant, Russell, Contreras, Arrieta, Baez, Chapman, and others, led by the stoic Joe Maddon (who looks an awful lot like like Judd Hirsch if you ask me). Like any good characters, they had weaknesses, like a bullpen lacking in depth and several players in a slump offensively. After a few games they were facing elimination and would have to win three straight against an impressive and dominant Cleveland team, which hadn’t been done in over thirty years.

This is usually the point where reality triumphs over narrative and I return to my usual hobbies after a bruising defeat that reminds me once again why I don’t watch sports, just sports movies. The story doesn’t necessarily turn out the way it should. I approach every sporting event looking for the best story. Usually that means I stumble across a game already in play, check to see who is losing, and start cheering for them. Not a very scientific approach if I want to pick winners, unfortunately, but when it works it makes for a great story!

Judd Hirsch

Judd Hirsch

Well, even I couldn’t ruin the Cubs’ story with my attention. They won game five, then game six (who knew that hanging onto a five-run lead could be so stressfully difficult to watch?!). Then came Game Seven. Part of me wanted the Cubs to just clobber Cleveland and be done with it. But the writer part of me wanted the story to end well, meaning “plucky band of adventurers overcome great odds to achieve the unthinkable”. (This did not endear me with my family, who just wanted the Cubs to blow Cleveland away and be done with it.)

I got both stories in one. At first it looked like the Cubs were going to make it look easy. But Cleveland played their part very well and kept chipping away at the Cubs’ lead until suddenly the game was tied and headed into extra innings–after a tension-building rain delay.

The Cubs pulled ahead again in the top of the tenth, but not by a comfortable margin. Not the way this series has been going. Cleveland started their own comeback and were poised to maybe even win, until…

The Cleveland batter hit a low, hard grounder near Third-baseman Byrant. You could see him start to smile as he scrambled in front of it, fielded it, and from his knees, launched it to First-baseman Rizzo, his grin widening and spreading to his entire body. He knew. They’d done it.

Terrific baseball. One heck of a story. At the end of the day it probably wasn’t worth staying up so late for, but then maybe it was. It’s the stories that go straight to our hearts that effect who we are, who we become. Does the Cubs winning the World Series change who I am? Well no, not really. But the story will stick with me for years to come, helping me hang on to the values of excellence, determination, faith, and teamwork.

The story couldn’t have been any better if someone had written it, and instead was only that much better because it really happened. It’s the Truth that validates the truths we tell ourselves in stories.

There is, of course, the other part of me that allows myself to see the other stories also going on. I am fully aware that so many other people were hoping to write a different story last night. And, frankly, it would be hard for me to offer a compelling argument against Cleveland deserving a better ending beyond sheer numerical values (108 years vs. 68 years). There are a lot of justifiably heartbroken Indians fans today, and my empathy goes out to them. Their team fought hard, and refused to give up. And should they make the Fall Classic next year I’ll gladly cheer for them. Their story will be all the more compelling in my mind now.

But today the day and “best sports story of the year” belongs to the Cubs. Thank you, gentlemen, for making me care and then delivering such an awesome story!

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