The Insatiable Night

One of my goals in life is to write a novel. This has been a goal of mine since I was a sophomore in high school. In fact, someone actually wrote an article about my ambition for the school paper. It’s a little embarrassing to think back to that article and realize that, 13 or so years later, I haven’t actually written anything yet. But I will. Just you wait.

In the meantime, I have a little bit of a problem. See, I have an idea for a novel (or rather, a series of novels) that has been percolating in my head ever since the aforementioned sophomore year of high school. This concept has grown over time, so that what began as an idea for one book has turned into an idea for a series of 9 books. And the mythology that underpins this potential series has grown correspondingly as well.

As I muster up the drive to actually sit down and work on this stupid book, finally, I’ve decided that my first order of business is to actually write out a timeline of all the relevant events that happen prior to and during the story that I plan to tell. And this timeline starts at the very beginning, i.e. the beginning of time.

Now, my problem is basically that I’m having trouble coming up with a beginning to my fictional universe that doesn’t totally rip off the beginning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional universe from The Silmarillion. See, at the beginning of The Silmarillion, Iluvatar, the One, creates the Valar (greater gods) and the Maiar (lesser gods), and the greatest of the Valar (Melkor) is jealous of Iluvatar’s power and rebels against him. In my mythology, the One, Ilu (or Eru, or Enu – I haven’t settled on a name yet), creates “greater gods” and “lesser gods”, and the greatest of the greater gods (Malachi) rebels against Ilu and tries to claim Ilu’s power for his own. I imagine you can see the problem here.

From this point on, the two stories diverge greatly (or at least I’d like to think so). And it’s possible I could get away with ripping off Tolkien in this fashion anyway, since these events don’t actually happen within the timeframe that the books will cover, but rather thousands of years prior to the first book in the series. Besides, I’d hardly be the first person to rip off Tolkien. Pretty much the entire fantasy genre of the past 50+ years is just a footnote to Tolkien anyway.

Still though, I would prefer to come up with something original. The problem is that there’s only so many ways that a world can be created. It is essential to my story that there be a being of infinite power that creates the universe, and a being of immense power, created by the first being, who rebels in an attempt to rule the universe himself. I suppose there’s not a lot of room for variation within that framework.

I suppose I could start by coming up with names for my characters that are less like the names of Tolkien’s characters. I am thoroughly partial to the name Malachi for my villain though, and that’s not all that close to Melkor, is it? Not particularly, plus that character will actually be known by the name Drazul for most of the 9-volume series anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter that his original name is somewhat similar to the original name of Tolkien’s villain. That, and Melkor is known as Morgoth in most of Tolkien’s work, anyway. Probably only the nerdiest of Tolkien nerds would know the name Melkor. Of course, those are also the people that would be the most vocal about me ripping off Tolkien. I’m just kind of arguing in circles at this point.

Maybe it’s not really worth worrying about anyway. I mean, this 9 volume series that I’m planning actually begins tens of thousands of years after the creation of the universe, so the specific events surrounding the creation aren’t going to be a huge part of the story. Again though, that means that the only people who would be aware of how closely the creation of my universe resembles that of Tolkien are the hardcore fantasy nerds, the ones who would be the most upset that I blatantly ripped off Tolkien. So yeah, it probably is worth worrying about.

Perhaps the solution is to flesh out the creation story in greater detail. Maybe I need to spend time thinking about the relationship between Ilu and Malachi, and the relationship between Malachi and Medroni, the second most powerful of the greater gods, who takes over the leadership of the greater gods in the wake of Malachi’s rebellion. I could delve deeper into why Malachi wants to rebel in the first place. That might be enough to differentiate my story from Tolkien’s. After all, Tolkien’s account of the creation of his universe is basically just a sketch that sounds as if it was written by the guys who translated the Bible into English back in 1611. (That would be the King James Version, in case you’re not up on your Bible translation chronology.)

It is also possible that I might be able to think of some sort of alternate creation story. I might be able to change things so that my universe is created by an impersonal force of some sort, rather than a God-like being with a name and a personality. As a Christian, it’s difficult for me to conceive of a logical way that a universe could be created by an impersonal force, but this is a fictional story. I’ve never intended for it to be an allegory of Christianity or anything. Maybe impersonal force is the way to go. It would change some elements of the overall story fairly drastically though. I’ll have to think about it.

In any case, none of this will matter at all if I never actually write the first book in the series. So I’d better stop thinking and start doing. Wish me luck.

Being a Parent Is Hard

I’ve noticed that I mostly talk about myself on my blog. I suppose that makes sense. It is, after all, MY blog. But, if there’s anybody out there who reads this blog and doesn’t know me personally, that person might begin to suspect that I spend all my time playing video games and listening to music. For better or for worse, that is not the case. In fact, I spend most of my time taking care of my children.

Now, I love my children. I really do. But there are times that I wish I could go back to the care-free days when I was childless. See, there was a time when all I did was play video games and listen to music. Well, I mean I slept and ate and worked sometimes too. But heck, even at work I spent a lot of time playing video games and listening to music. Now, I’m lucky if I get a couple of hours a day to play video games.

Now, those of you out there who aren’t gamers might be thinking, “Oh, quit your whining. Two hours a day of playing video games is plenty.” To which I say, “You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.” I just got done playing Final Fantasy VII for the umpteenth time. This most recent playthrough alone took me almost 70 hours. Now when you consider that, at best, I get to play for two hours a day, you realize that I spent well over a month on this one game. I currently own 117 games. As you can imagine, many of them sit and collect dust for a considerable amount of time.

Okay, so I admit that I am whining to some extent. Raising children is much more important and much more gratifying than playing video games. But I definitely miss having as much time as I want to play video games.

But there is more to my malaise than just wanting to play video games more. I tend to think of myself as a “self-absorbed” person. And I don’t mean that in the traditional sense, in which I only care about myself. (Although that’s probably more true than I want it to be.) No, what I mean is that it’s difficult for me to even notice people other than myself because I’m caught up in my own little world.

For example, my wife will sometimes spend a great deal of time and effort doing her hair. And when she does this, she wants me to compliment her, so that she knows that I noticed and appreciated the effort she put into making herself look nice for me. This is a reasonable expectation. And yet, a lot of the time I fail to fulfill this expectation. It’s not that I don’t notice or appreciate her hair and the effort she spends on her hair. It’s just that it doesn’t occur to me to say anything about it. I look at her, think “oh, her hair looks nice", and then I go back to thinking about video games or whatever.

My point is that I’m so used to sort of living within my own mind that it’s difficult for me to put so much effort and energy into taking care of two small children who live outside my mind. All my life, I’ve lived in sort of a dreamlike state, lost in various fantasy worlds that existed only in my own imagination. I guess it was sort of a defense mechanism for me, a way to escape from the dullness and harshness of everyday life. But now that I’m an adult and have two children to take care of, I can’t just lose myself in my own imagination anymore. That’s a big change, and I don’t adjust to change well.

This is, of course, another problem all its own. Having children in and of itself is a big change. The first several months of my son’s life were some of the hardest I’ve ever lived through. He’s now four, and I’m still getting used to having him around. Not to mention that there is now a second child involved as well, which changes things even more. It’s difficult for me to find the words to describe the amount of stress I feel stemming from these two massive (but also happy and cute) intrusions into my life.

Again, part of me feels like I’m whining. Maybe every parent feels this way. Maybe this is just a normal part of having kids, and I’m complaining about nothing. Besides, I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t love my children. In fact, I probably love them more because taking care of them is so hard for me. The tension and the stress and the day-to-day grind just helps me appreciate the good parts all the more. But the good parts don’t take away the bad parts. I’d love to be able to say something cliché like, “When I see them smile, it just washes all the stress away.” But it doesn’t.

There’s an old saying, though: “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.” Actually, I don’t know if that’s really an old saying or not, but it kind of sounds like it could be one, and it’s certainly true. Being a parent is not easy. It is, in fact, hard. But it is also tremendously worthwhile. As much as I miss having the ability to play video games for 8 hour stretches, and as much as I miss being able to sleep as much as I want, I would not give up my kids to get those things back. I love my children, and having them and being able to raise them is a privilege and a blessing and one of the most important things I will ever do with my life.

As a bit of a side note, my wife had a dream the other night that she got pregnant again and had twins. I told her that if that happened in real life, I would have a nervous breakdown. I know I just said that worthwhile things aren’t easy, but come on.

I Have No Strong Feelings One Way or the Other!

When I sat down to start this blog post, I discovered, to my dismay, that I have nothing to write about this week. There’s no burning issue that I’ve been aching to get off my chest. There’s no semi-obscure hobby or pastime that I feel the need to ramble on about at wearisome length. There’s nothing interesting in my life that would make a good story to tell. In a nutshell, I got nothin’.

So have fun until next week!

….

Just kidding! I was just trying to see if anybody was paying attention.

Seriously, since I have nothing to write about this week, I might as well write about something to do with that fact. Namely, what makes something interesting? Why do people care so much about some things and so little about other things? Why, for example, do people leave long, nasty, expletive-laden rants as comments on news articles? Why are supermarket check-out lanes filled with tawdry gossip about who’s dating who, who’s fat, who’s pregnant, and so on and so forth?

And then of course there are other things that perhaps should be considered important that people seem to ignore as much as possible. Things such as politics, and the economy, and God. Of course, it’s not as if NO attention is paid to these things. But it certainly seems as if a majority of people are less interested in what we should do about, say, the economy, and more interested in, say, how much time Lindsay Lohan spent in jail.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on the average person. Perhaps the selection of periodicals in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart isn’t necessarily reflective of what the average person is most concerned about. But it is undeniable that there are a lot of things that people care about that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t overly important. I’ll even take myself as an example. I just wrote a blog post about how much I love video games. Why do I have that love? What is it about video games that I would write over a thousand words about how much I love them (and trust me, there was a lot more I wanted to say in that essay that I didn’t say for the sake of space)?

It’s kind of an obscure thing to think about, I admit. Why do people care so much about certain things? Who knows? Something to do with their genes? Something to do with the environment in which they were raised? A mixture of both? Or neither? It’s really kind of a pointless question to ponder, because there really is no way to answer it. I just find impossible problems fascinating, I guess.

Clearly, environment must have something to do with it. Take hunting, for example. I don’t hunt. I’m not opposed to it, but I have no interest in partaking in such an activity myself. Of course, my dad doesn’t hunt either. So I was never exposed to it as a child. So why would I like it? Someone else may have grown up in a home where hunting was a common activity, and so would have developed a passion for it because of constant exposure to it as a child.

But things are never quite so simple, are they? For example, take me and video games again. I mentioned last week that my brother and I were introduced to video games when my parents bought us an NES in the late 80s. Clearly, my love of video games stems from an environmental factor. But I also mentioned last week that my brother no longer plays video games and hasn’t since the mid-90s. Why? What causes two brothers who both grew up playing video games to take such different paths in regards to that hobby? Genetics, perhaps? Is there a “video game” gene? Or is it environmental? After all, even though we were raised by the same parents and lived in the same house, it’s not like our environments were exactly the same. After all, we were different ages, had different friends, were taught by different teachers, etc. Or is it a combination of environment and genetics? Or is there a mysterious third factor at play here?

Another example would be my love of heavy metal. This certainly wasn’t something that was introduced to me by my parents. It wasn’t really an environmental thing either. I had some friends in high school that turned me onto punk and hardcore, but it didn’t take long for my musical taste to branch out into more extreme forms of music. This happened pretty independently of any outside influence. I actually had some notoriety amongst my friends in high school as the guy with terrible taste in music. So why did I like it and gravitate to it? Everyone around me was either indifferent to heavy music or actively encouraging me not to listen to it. It’s the same thing today, in fact. My wife can’t stand listening to my music, and I try to avoid listening to music with other people around for the most part. But I still listen to it, because I love it. Why? I have no idea.

Fads are an interesting manifestation of this sort of thing. Why do people latch onto certain things or ideas so readily? For example, apparently the big thing among little girls these days is something called Silly Bands. They are basically rubber bands that are shaped like animals or things, and little girls wear them around their wrists. My nieces are obsessed with these things. They get extremely excited when they get new ones, they have to proudly show them off to anybody who will pretend to care, and they brag about how many they have. Why are these Silly Bands so popular? Again, it’s a mystery.

My conclusion is that I have no conclusion. I don’t know what makes something important to one person while another person is indifferent or hostile to it. I don’t know why I love heavy metal when I have never associated with anyone else who loves it. I don’t know why my nieces wear rubber bands on their wrists. People are just mysterious, but I suppose that makes them all the more fascinating, doesn’t it?

For the Love of the Game

The video game, of course. For various reasons, I’m a little behind on my blogging this week. Therefore, I decided to pick a topic that nobody but me will care about. A topic that I can blather on about at great length, which will thus allow me to fill my word quota quickly and with a minimum of effort. And so, I’m going to talk about how much I love video games.

Man, I love video games. I love them a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Okay, I’m kidding, there is going to be more to this essay than that.

First, a little history. I started playing video games in the late 80s. I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and my cousins had just gotten an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System, for those of you not in the know). Strangely, I don’t actually remember playing it that much, if at all, but apparently my parents were smitten, because they went out and bought one for our family soon after. It came with two games, Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. So unfortunately I can’t say that the first video game I ever played was something super cool or obscure or whatever. No, I started out with the same game that every kid who grew up in the 80s started out with.

I don’t know when video games made the jump from “hey, this is a neat distraction” to “I must devote my entire life to this pursuit” for me. It must not have taken too long, because I vividly remember being thoroughly obsessed with the NES and its vast library of games. Every Christmas and birthday added new games to our collection, and my brother and I hounded my dad constantly to take us to the video rental store so we could rent new games. I remember having a subscription to Nintendo Power and lusting over one screenshot of Super Mario Bros. 3 that was featured in an issue of that magazine well before the game came out.

Somewhat strangely, gaming went from being something that my whole family enjoyed to being something that only I still indulge in. By the time the Super NES came out in 1991, my dad no longer had any interest in playing. (Although I do have fond memories of him taking us to the arcade around this time. We would play the biggest, loudest, newest, flashiest game there, and he would be in the corner playing Galaga the whole time.) By 1997, I had a Sony Playstation and a Nintendo 64, and my brother and my mom had almost completely lost interest. By 2001, when my parents gave me a Nintendo Gamecube for Christmas, I was officially the only gamer in the house. (Although as a side note, I gave that Gamecube to my mom six years later, when my wife bought me a Wii, which also plays Gamecube games. I don’t think she’s played it yet, but she always tells me that she plans to.)

Of course, my love of video games has ebbed and flowed over the years. For a couple of years after I graduated from high school, I went through a bout of depression where I didn’t really want to do anything, including playing video games. I got a job about a year after I graduated, working as a clerk in a meat packing plant. Several months after I started working there, they hired a new girl. She was a bit odd, but we hit it off pretty well. (In a co-worker sense, not a romantic sense.) She wasn’t big into video games, but she LOVED Final Fantasy VIII. Why that particular one, I have no idea. FFVIII is one of the quirkier and least-loved entries in the Final Fantasy series, but perhaps it was the only one she’d played. In any case, her love for that game inspired me to play it again, even though I’d already beaten it once. That inspired me to really take up playing video games again, and my passion for this hobby has yet to peter out again to such a great extent.

Which isn’t to say that it hasn’t petered out at all. When I worked at this meat packing plant, I made fairly decent money. Plus I lived with my parents and had no bills. Therefore, I was able to amass a sizable library of video games. Also, I had no friends, no significant other, and no kids, so I had plenty of time to play video games as well. Once I got married, all this changed. I had no money to buy games, and no time to play them. (This is, of course, an exaggeration.) When the Xbox 360 came out in 2005, I was well into another lull.

The main problem was money. In 2005, the video game industry was beginning a shift to a new generation, where old consoles were being replaced with new ones. The exciting thing about these shifts is that new consoles bring new possibilities – better graphics, better sound, bigger and more complex games, entirely new types of games, etc. However, the bad thing about these shifts is that new consoles are expensive. The Xbox 360 cost $400 at launch, and the Playstation 3 cost $600 when it came out a year later. Even the Wii, which is considerably underpowered compared to the other two, but has the hook of motion control, cost $250 – a sizable sum to someone with a limited income.

Essentially, I despaired of ever being able to afford these consoles. I ended up selling my Xbox, because I felt like it wasn’t worth keeping if I couldn’t have its successor. I finally fixed my sights on the Wii, which promised to revolutionize video gaming with its new motion controls (a promise it has not fulfilled, I might add), mostly because it was by far the cheapest. However, money is difficult but not impossible to come by, and consoles get cheaper over time. I now own every current generation console, and I am determined not to repeat my mistakes (i.e., I’m not going to sell a console just because its successor is too expensive and I’m too OCD to have one and not the other.) My love for video games may grow and diminish over time, but after more than 20 years of playing, I highly doubt it will ever disappear entirely.