talonkarrde: (argopup)
It's been a while, hasn't it? It looks like the last time I posted was... July of 2015, and jeepers, it's almost been a year! For the sake of something, I'm going to do a short update on my life, because, er, I assume you care. Maybe you don't — that's fine, too; I'm about to start writing again, because it is way past time. But if you do care, here's what I've been up to:

(I want bullet points. Where are my bullet points. Oh, I guess Unicode works.)

• After almost five years, three offices, and watching the company grow from 60 to 2000 people, I've finally moved on from Dropbox (you may have to be friends with me on Facebook to see this post) as of this past Monday. It's been a long time with an amazing group of people that I will keep in touch with, and there's much to be said about nights I'll never remember and people I'll never forget. There's a lot that I learned about being at a hypergrowth company, and I've worn many hats during that time, doing support, tools, legal, crisis response, and more. I don't think I'll ever start my own company, but my time at an early stage startup felt like it compacted an entire career's worth of lessons into five incredibly fast years.

I'm on a plane right now to surprise my mom for mother's day! :D

On Monday, I start at a small company you've probably heard of called reddit, handling legal operations there, which encompasses copyright/trademark, government data requests, child safety, and then some. Oh, and harassment. Helping to fix the harassment problem is one of my main charges, and in fact, one of the main reasons that I took the job. I wrote a lot more about my thoughts here, if you really care to read it (this one is open to all), but what it comes down to is that by helping reduce harassment I could potentially be impacting hundreds of thousands of people, and, well, I always wanted to make the world a better place. I have no illusions that it will be an easy job, but I think it's an important job, so I took the job. So there's that.

• In non-career news, I'm the owner of an HTC Vive, a sweet virtual reality headset that tracks you as you move around the room, and it is a kickass, incredible, lifechanging experience. I wrote a lot of stuff on it here, but the synopsis is that it's incredible and everyone I've demo'd it to thinks it's incredible and you — yes you, dear reader — should find someone with a Vive and try it out. It's the better version of the more well known Oculus Rift, which lacks the room-scale presence that the Vive grants. Try it out!

• And finally, after months of saying that I should write again, I posted a short experimental piece somewhere on the internet and it was well received, and I think that was enough to spur me to see if I still have it. So I think a few LJI home game entries will be on their way shortly. Probably some more experimental stuff, because I'm not sure what my current creative space it is, but it's certainly starting to look like a creative space that involves words and posting them.

• If you're in LJI and you're reading this: I'm cheering for you. You, yes, and you. And you. All of you. Keep writing! I'm still reading!

Alright. Non-fiction time over. See you on the fiction side :)

kindling

Aug. 26th, 2014 05:01 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
Sometimes it's something obvious — an ex from a long time ago moving into my city, and me remembering that I have a gift they gave me on the day of my graduation, almost a decade ago. Other times, it's more subtle: an author that wrote a short story we loved coming out with a new collection, or a mention of a specific experience with someone of a specific religion, an image of a couple kissing in the rain.

But whatever it is, invariably, it leads me to dig up a ghost of the past, find the only thing I would run back into a burning house to save. It's my most prized possession, something that I've never shared with anyone.

There's a box in my closet, a small, cardboard box with the American Eagle logo that once held a pair of boxers. Yes, boxers — with pickles on them, in fact; it was a gift from a dear friend of mine on my fourteenth or fifteenth birthday. On the box, in permanent marker, scrawled out across every empty space, is a rambling, crazy, happy birthday letter from over a decade ago, one that I smile at every time I see the box, though I haven't read the words themselves in forever.

The box is something I've kept with me across nine years, seven moves, and two coasts, and it's a fitting container for the contents inside. No, for the record, it's not a pair of boxers; I don't even know where those are anymore!

It's a collection of cards and letters, all folded up neatly, in no particular order: every letter that I've ever been given. And yes, perhaps unsurprisingly, the letters are all from those who I loved and loved me: they encompass my life from high school, through college, across the five years after and lead to where — and who — I am today. The collection varies from cute tiny micro-sized-birthday cards, still in their envelopes, to pages and pages that talk about life from states away.

I've never pulled this collection out on a whim; it's always something that sparks it, that makes me remember the author of one of those letters, that makes me want to unfold the letters again and read these perfect moments in time. Usually, it's a sadness, occasionally a sharp pain, but more often these days, an emotion called saudade.

It's a conflicting experience: It's a moment of the past, and specifically a past almost always promised a future that never came to be. And there's always a sense of loss there, a bit of wondering what could have been and should have been, and a bit of soul searching to figure out, for the umpteenth time, why it wasn't what came to be. And often, the conclusion is that it was a lesson to be learned, a flaw to be corrected, a failing in myself.

But in a way, it's the greatest gift that I could've been given. It's not only a chance to reflect and a chance to correct, but it's also a sign that I mattered: these declarations of love, these happy birthday wishes, these memories shared and remembered, these letters written, by hand, by pen, across pages and pages and dropped into a mailbox somewhere — they affirm that my life has touched and been touched by others, that we are not just islands in the sea, that we are threads of a tapestry that come together and bind to each other, at least for some time. These letters stand as a irrefutable signal that not only can we affect others, but that we do. Our actions may not matter to the universe, in the long run, but they matter to others that share our lives.

And so while I take out the box with a hint of sadness and longing, while that sadness flares into a deeper nostalgia and pain when I open it and start reading, when I put it back, I'm always reminded of another truth: I have lived my life surrounded by love. 
talonkarrde: (color)
"What do you believe in?"

"Honesty," he answers.


-

He very keenly remembers that one day in sixth grade, and will remember it for the rest of his life. He was ten, and there was a playground to play on during lunch, and he remembers well the monkey bars and the swings and the sequence of events: the other kid playing on the monkey bars, the kid falling, the kid crying, and then him standing there, feeling compelled to say something as the kid looks at him, sniffling.

Instead of saying, "hey, it'll be alright," or "hey, are you okay," or "hey, [consoling and human thing here]" he says:

"Hey, don't be such a crybaby."

Of course it doesn't go over well, and he remembers the teacher glaring at him and telling him to leave, and — more importantly to him — of course Mike didn't stop crying.

The easy explanation is that he's a dick — and he probably was, especially back then — but it wasn't done out of malice. You see, he remembers feeling guilty about it afterwards, feeling confused.

If you could freeze time and ask him why he said what he did, you'd get an answer that it wasn't done out of malice, or to make fun of Mike, one of the people he'd consider almost-friends (he doesn't get real ones until high school). What it was supposed to do was make Mike aware that it was a public space, and that there were people watching, and that tears were supposed to be shed in private, not in public.

He'd probably ask you why Mike kept crying, even when, in his ten year old words, "he shouldn't have".

What he learns from that event is that he's pretty bad at understanding people, so for the next few years, he resolves to get better at it.

-

"When you say honesty, what do you mean?"
"A sort of overarching absolute truth, if you will, that with the knowledge of all things, there is a /right/ and there is a /wrong/, an optimal path and a bunch of suboptimal ones."

"Is there one in every situation, in every circumstance?"

"Mmmm — it's hard to say. I think, probably, the answer is that there is one, but often it's unknowable. You may try to get close to it, but you never really know for sure."
-

Eight years later, he's in college, sophomore year, and has a debate partner that he does well with — they individually win novice speaker awards and together manage to make the quarterfinals of some of the bigger debate tournaments despite it being their first year doing debate. They're not the best in the world — that honor is reserved for Oxford kids and maybe Harvard and MIT — but they're pretty decent, especially out of the state schools.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they're now both in law.

It's one Saturday night at Swarthmore college where the debating is done for the day that they find themselves in "temporary accomodations". In Swarthmore's case, who aren't great with places to put visiting debaters, it happens to be on a linoleum floor in what appears to be a cafe. Not the best, certainly.

He doesn't remember what he says, really. Probably a pointed comment about something or other, but the specifics there are irrelevant.

What he remembers is what his debate partner, who has been with him now for almost eight months, says to him in return:

"You know, you're a huge dick, and no one likes you, right?"

And while he knows that, yes, sometimes he's kind of a dick, he doesn't know where this comes from. Out of the blue, and it feels like all of the strings are cut. He had painted himself a picture of success: opinions editor of the school daily newspaper, working another job with the school tech support, balancing two jobs and class and debate as an extracurricular.

But with one sentence, his debate partner tears away all of the successes and leaves him with only the failures: he realizes that he doesn't have more than a few friends, doesn't have more than a few people that he trusts — or that trusts him.


What he learns from that event is hard to say, but it leads to a reevaluation of his life, again. It leads to a year of almost failing out of college, a year of rebuilding, and eventually a move to a different coast.

The move, though, is interesting: he moves with a group of friends, a group of people that he trusts, and, perhaps, a group of people who trusts him in return.

-

"Is it honest, though, what you're doing? Just because it's the 'truth' — or a truth, really — what happens when you're not being honest for the sake of being honest, but instead because you're using it as a weapon?"

"Nonsense," he would've said, o
nce upon a time — ten years ago, five years ago, a year ago...perhaps even a week ago. "Honesty is an absolute value."

Now, though, he turns his palms upwards, a mea culpa.

"Nothing lives in a vacuum, and honesty doesn't exculpate someone from doing wrong."


-

On Friday:

"Friends are kind to one another. Friends don't push on boundaries, or prey on weaknesses. This isn't friendship.

Until you are willing to accept and acknowledge that you could stand to be kinder, not just to me but to most of those you interact with online, the pros of being your friend don't outweigh the cons."

He's initially resistant to it. "But it would be dishonest," he writes back petulantly, and lays out his philosophy in dealing with things as if this is a courtroom, as if it's a battle to be won. They trade emails.

On Saturday, a coworker calls it fair criticism, and he spends the night brooding on it, not sleeping until five in the morning.

On Sunday, he tells his roommate the story at dinner and his roommate agrees with it too, and they have a long conversation on the values of friendship, the responsibilities, the requirements, and at the end of it, he knows that he needs to apologize.

On Monday, a peer assessment lands on his desk:

"On a few occasions I've seen him do an un-company-like, un-him-like thing: take an exceedingly harsh tone with a particular individual on the team as the result of mistakes that the person made. It's not as if strong, corrective feedback wasn't needed; attention to detail and careful judgment on these cases are crucial. But I think his frustration got the better of him on these occasions, and his style crossed the line into being disrespectful on a personal level. The main effect on the recipient seemed to be shame and humiliation; in my experience, no one has gotten better by being told they suck. It was also discomfiting and disruptive for other people who were present (at least it was for me). The irony of all this is that the intensity of his response surely came from two good places: his unflinching commitment to keeping the company safe and the great well of empathy he has. He cares about this person and him to succeed."

And so he does apologize, slowly and haltingly, but it comes out. And she — well, she's a better person than he is. She gives him something to aspire to.

He knows, already, that he'll remember this weekend for the rest of his life, that it will join the other moments that his life turns on, the other sharp changes of path, the other moments that he's greatly wronged someone. He reflects that it's yet another time to reevaluate his priorities, his goals, his personality.

It's not a great feeling, to admit that you've wrong; it's even worse to know as a capital-t Truth that you've wronged someone — someone that called you a friend.

What he learns from this — well, it's too early to tell, isn't it? Perhaps he learns nothing; perhaps he changes so completely in a few years that a friend wouldn't even recognize the person that he used to be. The truth, as it were, is probably somewhere in between.

-

"What do you think you'll learn from this?"

"I don't know. I told a friend that I was never going to be in danger of being too nice, that I'll always slip towards being cruel, that perhaps in a week from now I'll have rationalized it all away. And he shook his head and told me that if it was going to be rationalized away, it would've happened already, that you don't stew on something like this and then decide that nothing will happen."

"And do you believe him?"

"What I believe is that the last time I messed up, I didn't have a friend like him I could talk to about it. I have people to tell me when I mess up, who are honest with me and who are willing to talk about it. So, yes, I believe him."

"And honesty?"

"Should
always be tempered with kindness — with love."
talonkarrde: (color)
Looking back at the texts and messages, he sees hints and suggestions from months ago — but for him, it starts on a Monday afternoon.

It's twelve thirty in the afternoon and he hasn't gone to work yet, because it's a fairly low-key weekday and there's nothing particularly demanding his attention there. She IMs him just as he's about to head out: she was feeling crappy and stayed home, and she's hating it — being alone with her thoughts isn't doing her any favors.

It was, unfortunately, his advice that she stay home if she wasn't feeling great — mentally or physically — and he furrows his brow for a moment before offering to grab some food with her. Her reply is quick: 'I'm not hungry, but the company would be nice.'

So he heads over and knocks on her door, she invites him in, and six hours later, he's missed work completely.

Instead, they've spent the entire time talking — he's learned a lot of her past and history, and has also shared some of his own, though it was a bit like pulling teeth, she says, later.

While sitting in class afterwards, he gets a text from her: 'For real, though - thanks for coming by'

He smiles, then stifles a laugh as her follow-up flashes on the screen: 'You're a really good friend. Don't worry - I won't tell anyone'


This, he thinks, could be the start of a really good friendship.

-

Their background is this: they're coworkers, they've hung out a bit outside of work, but they only recently started talking extensively (because of a crush he had on one of their mutual friends, amusingly enough). But this meeting — six hours, where they talk about love and loss and childhood troubles and there's complete honesty — is something that's much deeper than the interactions they've have before.

It also sets the tone for their future.

-

A week later, and he's picking her up from the airport: she's coming back from helping her boyfriend move down to LA. The two of them have had a rocky relationship for a few months now, but she wanted to give her boyfriend one more chance — and it seems like her boyfriend sees (at least for a few days) the error of his ways, because they're still in a relationship when she gets back.

He picks her up and drives her home, and then, on her front steps, they talk for a few hours, well past midnight — about her trip, about life and sundry, about hopes and dreams. Time passes, and it's getting late, and suddenly he realizes something that's been bubbling under the surface for a bit now: he likes her.

As soon as he realizes, he's caught in a dilemma — they've been incredibly honest with each other, not dodging questions and putting all cards on the table, as she puts it. And yet, for him to say anything would be a terrible time; even if she had broken up with her boyfriend — which she hadn't — now would be far from a good time.

And yet, that demand for honesty remains. It eats at him, and so even though he realizes that it's going to be the wrong move, it just won't let him leave without telling her the truth. So he does — sort of, awkwardly, not making eye contact and mentioning that it is, in fact, the worst of times — and lets her read between the lines.

Normally, he'd be telling anyone else in that position that it was a stupid crush, and he's an idiot for giving it voice, for making it awkward and screwing up a friendship.

But there are two things that are different, here, for one main reason: the same honesty that compels him to tell her also gives him hope that it isn't going to mess everything up, because they'll be able to work through it.

So he does. And then, after going home, he texts her about it, knowing that he couldn't just leave it like that, and spends an hour with her in a conversation where she brings up her negative past experiences with friends that disappear as soon as it becomes apparent that they're not going to get what they want, and he tries to show that it's not going to be like that. And he asks her to trust him, and she says she does.

Here, he thinks that whatever it is they're building, at least it's being built on the truth.

-

Every story she tells touches on a different facet of her life — the way that her parents raised her, the journey to college, the trips to the Middle East, and across it all, the relationships that make up the fabric of her life.

He responds in kind, sharing stories of moving frequently, of the horrors of middle school when younger than everyone else, of finally finding friends in high school, of his lackluster college days, of his family, of his relationships, too.

There's always something to talk about, always a story yet to be told.

-

The next couple of months pass with little fanfare but much time spent together — hour-long walks at work, meals with each other, and almost inevitably a few hours spent on Sunday night, by phone or in person. Even when they're both traveling — him to Boston, her to Chicago — they still talk just about every night. She eventually breaks up with the boyfriend, because he never starts to treat her well, but she still loves him — it's never more clear than the night that she calls him and asks that he come over because her ex and her just had a phone conversation, and she wasn't doing okay.

He goes, of course, and is her metaphorical shoulder to cry on for a few hours, and his heart breaks a little — perhaps surprisingly not because she's crying over another guy, but simply because she's crying, because she's hurt, because she's unhappy.

And there, with her, after learning about her life across the past few months, through phone calls after midnight and three hours on any given weekend, he's starting to see the shape of her life. She's learning some of his, too, in a way that few do.

They talk a lot about equality, and the strong desire and preference for it, and at one point in time she asks him whether she's being too needy — she says that she feels uncomfortable that it always seems to be her leaning on him, and if he'll ever need her for anything. He responds, rather flippantly, that her sample size is too small — it's only been a few months, after all.

But then he adds, quietly, that he enjoys every moment he spends with her; it's not exactly a terrible burden he's bearing, and in a lot of ways, he's leaning on her, too. And he is — she makes him a better person.

Another night, and it's time to leave again, after spending a few hours helping her through a protracted mess at work involving teams and transitions and entirely too much headache, after a few stories that she hasn't told anyone else, after a few vulnerabilities shared.

They're talking about something, and he's about to leave when she asks him why he likes her.

And he tells her, because what else is he to do? He stands there, for a second, and then he looks up at her and says that sometimes you meet someone amazing, someone who feels right, and you just want them to be happy. That she deserves to be happy. And that he wants to help, in any way he can.

Here, he thinks, well, maybe there's something more to this — but he doesn't dare say it out loud, not even to himself.

-

There's a conversation where she says to him, "I let him in, and I gave them all of me, and he didn't like what they saw and left and left me with nothing," and he understands, too well, and his heart breaks a bit more for her.

All he wants to do is hug her and promise her that it will never, ever happen again, and how could that guy — how could anyone that loved you — hurt you like that?

But that is also the nature of love, he knows, and he resolves, simply, that he will not be like that. Even, perhaps, if it happens to him.

-

He mentions why he likes her from time to time, and she tells him he's being masochistic from time to time, and then, on a Tuesday night, they have a fight — their first.

It starts with her telling him that she doesn't want him making a goal of her, that it makes her feel less secure about their friendship, and that when his expectations aren't met, it's going to be shitty for both of them.

He protests, of course, but he's also confused — what's changed since the first time they had this conversation? He thinks she's being rather curt, and figures that this conversation would be better over the phone anyway, and calls her.

But after a few seconds, she simply says that she'd rather not do this, and hangs up on him.

For a moment, he sits, stunned, and then reacts the only way he knows how: he accuses her of shutting him out. It's unfair, and he apologizes for it later, but in the moment, he snaps at her, and she retreats, saying that his actions are making her insecure about their friendship, and as it escalates he wonders, briefly, if all that they've built will be destroyed in a single bad night.

He still doesn't understand what prompts it.

But after some more back and forth, she takes a few minutes, and he uses that time to write something to her:

"I didn't have any expectations, you know. I just cherished our friendship for what it was, enjoyed every moment. I didn't go home wishing that things were different, I didn't think that I deserved more of your time or energy. I just thought that it was a good thing, and that it was equal, and that it was shared. And no, it's not to say that expectations wouldn't have come, but I was pretty vigilant about guarding against them. And I thought that you shared a confidence that it would persevere, despite whatever challenges, despite time and tide. Maybe I'm just arrogant enough to think that I'm different, or maybe I thought that you would trust me when I promised that it would be okay. Yes, maybe there would've been hard questions to ask one day, but the questions wouldn't have been disappointing. Or maybe they would've, but I think a few disappointing answers do not a friendship break, and are perhaps the coin to pay for the passage."

And then she comes back, and writes something back, and mutually, they take a step back, they take a breath, they apologize to each other. And then she calls him, and they're almost okay again, but for the fact that he figures that he might as well get the pain over with now:

"You're never going to like me the way I like you, are you?" he asks, softly, knowing the answer, but needing to hear it anyway.

"I don't think so," she says, and his world collapses a bit, despite all of his words, all of his bulwarks, all of his anticipations.

The next day is hell.

And here he thinks, well, maybe none of it was worth it at all, and that the closer you are, the more hurt you get, and all this honesty bullshit bought him, what, exactly?

-

There's a recurring question that they've asked each other more than a few times — sometimes she's the one to raise it, sometimes he is.

They're talking about the fight, and she says, "We got to that point because we were allowing ourselves to get into a mode that wasn't platonic enough. I don't have fights like that with friends, nor do I want to."

And he ponders for a moment, and asks the question again:

"Do we spend too much time together?"

But for both of them, the answer is always no — even though they've spent a lot of time together, it's always been enjoyable, always been worthwhile.

Today, she says something else: "Maybe too much of a certain kind of time. Not that either of us doesn't like it that way, but the question is whether it's appropriate or sustainable."

And he says, "Well, I think it's fine—" and she's quick to respond that of course he would, and that it's not a robust philosophy.

But he understands, suddenly, the difference between their worldviews in that moment: he would rather live fully and take the ups and downs, the triumphs with the tribulations, and fight to expand local maxima, even if it means expanding the minima as well.

-

A few days, or weeks more, he recovers, and more importantly, he remembers.

"Corinthians", he said, that night. And after their fight, he wrote something to her, from the Bible verse, though not the usually quoted one: "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

And that is what he holds to, what he remembers — the way she laughs, the quiet gratitude on her face when he says goodbye, after a night spent distracting her from a bad memory or rough day, the way she sticks out her tongue, the way she slightly furrows her brow when she concentrates, the mock-exasperation when he's being obtuse, the banter shared, and all the moments in between.

He holds to the moments she's helped him, too — the times she's held him accountable in a bet with a classmate, the times she's kept him honest, made him a better person, and cheered him up when he was down, simply because she knew he was feeling down, simply because she chose to.

And he takes a moment to think about it, about the big picture, the long road to Eden, and not just the last five minutes or five days, and realizes that he's not everything to her, and may never be. But he's a close friend; he can make her laugh, he can bring her tea when she's sick, he can help her ease the pains of heartache and headache, and that's enough.

He's not everything to her, but he's a close friend. He loves her, and he wouldn't change a thing.
talonkarrde: (winter)
Let me paint you a picture, dear reader, of the world as it exists today.

You're sitting there in your comfortable office chair, or maybe curled up wtih your laptop in bed, or maybe reading this from a phone while waiting for a bus. You opened up a browser and browsed around before getting to ljidol, you looked at the poll, you started clicking through to the posts, and here you are.

Someone out there — yes, maybe the NSA — knows everything you just did.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen, the world of a big-data surveillance state.

What happened, exactly?

Well, most recently, you clicked on this link and it wasn't encrypted. All the information is sent in the clear and available for anyone to access, including someone sitting on your wifi, some hacker with a keylogger, or some government agent who doesn't even need to have probable cause anymore. And it's not just because some NSA closet exists somewhere and is reading all traffic, though that's possible — this is just how data is stored today.

Here are the links in the chain:

Your ISP is the first step, for they are the ones that assign you your IP address are the first ones to be subpoenaed. They identify you at your home address, all the sites you've ever gone to, and how long you spent at those websites.

Going mobile? No problem; we've seen how eager Verizon, AT&T, and the others are willing to give over subscriber information. You're not any safer using your cell phone or tethering than you are with good old cable internet.

And after all that information on your browsing is revealed, the site itself can be served with a subpoena, search warrant, order, (or national security letter or FISA order) revealing what data you store there, what your emails are, what private messages you've sent, which files you store, what's in thsoe.

Oh, and for the sake of completeness, there are also third-party cookies and trackers, and entire companies and industries dedicated around the use of them to figure out which sites you like and loiter at and which you 'bounce' off of.

It would've been unthinkable ten years ago, wouldn't it — an entire industry that works around the idea of figuring out where you shop and what you buy? Can you imagine the outrage if snail mail coupons had small beacons which told some mysterious company (that you never had any contact with) when you opened up an envelope and read a letter?

And yet, that's the world of today, and no one blinks an eye.

-

...Well, I guess that's not strictly true.

No one blinks an eye until someone comes forward and tells the world what the United States government has the capaibilty of doing, even as damage control immediately starts.

No one blinks an eye until a whistleblower stands up and says, this is wrong, and releases a powerpoint slide showing just how deep government access goes, just how closely you are being watched.

No one blinks an eye until someone, at great personal risk to themselves, points out how much the world has changed from ten years ago, and what the rules are now.

I know something of surveillance, and technology, and the fourth amendment. It's a large part of what I do at work, on a day to day basis, and all I want to say is this:

Liberty and security are not incompatible, and anyone who says otherwise has a vested interest in depriving you of one or the other. It is difficult, yes, but there has been a balance through history that has only been upset recently, in the last decade.

So I raise a glass tonight to Edward Snowden, the man who has spoken out against the incredible lengths that our government goes to today to watch us. And I remind you that if a surveillance state is not one you want to live in, we all must fight it, whether it's supporting the EFF, writing our lawmakers, or simply staying aware and spreading awareness to those around us.

Good night, and good luck.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Time passes,
and people change.

And yet, there are still moments
when, spurred by some passing glimmer of an idea,
he remembers what their time was like - together.

A movie, perhaps, he would've liked to share-
Or a book that he knows she would've loved.
Or sharper still, a new idea for a piece,
its ending yet undetermined.

They are more rare now, as it should be,
as years pass, but still they linger,
and lurk, in the shadows. Waiting,
until he puts pen to paper,
or his hands on the keys.

And then they spring,
merciless as always.
talonkarrde: (color)
This last weekend, I went to the semi-annual gathering of about 70,000 people in Boston for a convention known as PAXEast — The Penny Arcade Expo, East Coast. It's a three day convention that attracts gamers of all types, showcases new and unreleased games, and has panels by some of the notable people in the industry on all sorts of topics in gaming. But that little blurb doesn't do it justice — it's a bit like describing Woodstock as a gathering of people that like music, when it's so much more than that.

One of my friends didn't know that this was the third time that I had attended (and first time enforcing, but more on that later) and only learned that I had gone. He texted me this: "What was your favorite event/booth, did you meet mike and jerry [the guys behind Penny Arcade], would you go to pax west, and recite a detailed anecdote of the moment you realized holy shit."

The last part really starts to capture a bit of the essence that makes PAX so special. There is (at least, for everyone I've asked) a point over the weekend where everyone has that moment, though when and where it happens varies depending on the flavor of the gamer. For some, it's getting that exclusive access in trying some of the newest unreleased games from huge publishers and talking to them; for others, it's talking to indie game developers and learning what the journey is like to go from gamer to creator; and for others still, it's joining a tabletop session and spending four hours with complete strangers that are welcome friends by the end.

My response to my friend who texted me was that it wasn't my first year, which essentially allowed me to dodge most of the questions. But after thinking about it some more, I realized there's actually been a 'holy shit' moment all three times that I've gone, and that these moments build on one another to why PAX is something truly unique.

-

When I was young, being a geek/nerd wasn't cool. It may be cool to be nerdy now, but back then, it was literally something that neatly placed you neatly into the category of 'loser'. The prevailing atmosphere was that gamers were antisocial, icky misanthropes that should be shunned. We weren't often prom kings and class presidents, and saying, "Oh, I spent the weekend playing Chrono Trigger, which is amazing," was usually met with a confused look, at best. My parents forbade me from gaming and took pretty much every opportunity to tell me it was a terrible waste of time and that I was throwing my life away; in order to play anything, I had to sneak it in before they got home, and occasionally after they went to sleep.

I didn't have many friends up through high school, until by chance I overheard two classmates having a argument about Starcraft. I don't remember what it was about specifically, but I remember butting in rather vehemently (and possibly obnoxiously) to rebut one of them, which somehow led to an invitation to a LAN party to prove my position. That led to regular LAN parties (and the internal moniker for our group of friends as the 'LAN clan') and finding, after incredibly lonely and depressing elementary and middle school years, a group of people that I could genuinely call my friends. Gaming made the difference between four more years that I would have spent alone and some of the closest friends I have today.

That was a crystallizing moment for me — I had finally found people who I could freely talk about my interests with, even if the rest of the school (and my parents) actively thought that I liked stupid things. After the LAN clan, I realized what the internet could be, and since then, I've steadily connected with people through various online games (including World of Warcraft), leading to having friends in cities across the country and world, all because I wanted — or needed — to find more people who were like me.

But even with friends made online, we were still hundreds of miles away from each other. PAX changed that, and gave us an opportunity to bring online gaming groups together, as well as play games with complete strangers that soon became new friends that I would keep in contact with.

My first 'holy shit' moment at PAX was when I got into the expo hall for the first time. I think I actually stopped dead in the middle of an intersection, which might not have been the smartest idea, though I wasn't the only one standing there in slack-jawed wonder. There was a continuous human stream of people flowing around me, flashing monitors all around showcasing the latest and greatest games, and snatches of conversation ranging from playful arguments on the age-old question of which game was better, friends telling each other they should go check a specific booth, and every once in a while, just a simple 'wow'.

But the most notable thing I remembered was this: everyone had a smile on their faces, the same 'I can't believe this is real' smile. And my 'holy shit' moment was realizing one simple fact:

Everyone here shares my interests.

And that realization was was immediately followed by this one:

I can be myself.

-

A few weeks before the convention, Robert Khoo (the business vizier of Penny Arcade) asked on twitter whether or not there was interest in him doing a question and answer session, something that has never happened. Apparently the demand was high enough, so he announced that he would be having one: midnight, where it would be competing with the concert and the general fatigue of most people having been at the convention for over twelve hours at that point. I don't know how many people he expected would show up.

At midnight, eight hundred people filed into the theatre, and for two hours, Khoo answered everyone's questions, with a standing ovation at both the beginning and the end. He covered the apocryphal story of how he started working for Penny Arcade, how new ideas are implemented, and general advice on how to succeed.

And I had been there for over twelve hours at this point too, so the details are a little bit fuzzy (though I hope to God someone recorded it) but I remember him answering a question on how he decides what to do and why more or less like this:

"There's a core demographic of twenty four to thirty five year olds who identify as gamers as a large part of their identity, and with everything we do, we want to add value to this group, this core demographic. Everything from Child's Play to PAX to the PA Report is done to provide more value to them."

And that mention of Child's Play brought to mind my second "holy shit" moment. Specifically, this video here, from PAX East 2010. I don't think you can hear the sniffling over the standing ovation, but I'm pretty sure you had to be dead not to have tears in your eyes at the end.

This question really gave me a brief glimpse of the future that Penny Arcade was creating, where gaming isn't stigmatized but accepted as simply another form of media, one that has the capacity for critical discourse as much as any other art form. Child's Play is only part of the long game here, as is the PA Report, but the fact that part of what Penny Arcade is doing is actively creating a better tomorrow for gamers — that was an incredible moment.

-

The final moment was less of a specific moment and more something that occurred through the weekend. You see, this year I worked as an enforcer, one of the volunteer staff that does just about everything that needs to be done at the show, including line manangement, entertainment, security, setup and teardown, and more.

I volunteered because PRD posted a call for enforcers on twitter, and it sounded interesting. I figured I was going anyway, and I thought that it was time that I gave back for some of what PAX had given to me.

What I got was one of the best experiences of my life.

Khoo calls enforcers the spine of the show, or, to quote, "without enforcers the show would just be a steaming turd." All I know is that it was an absolute blast in just about every way imaginable. I was working one of the theaters (Arachnid, for those curious), and got to see amazing talks (including the Ben Kuchera on PA Report), take lots of pictures, and drink applesauce through a squirt-tube. Less facetiously, I was able to direct people to where they wanted to be, keep everything safe and fun, and generally give people the same experience that I had as an attendee.

I also got to run a 64-player Starcraft II tournament that went off without a hitch (and was won by a SCII semi-pro player, which was quite cool).

It's hard to describe exactly what makes it so awesome — much like the atmosphere at PAX is something that needs to be felt, so is the camaderie of the enforcers. We were everywhere, and even if we didn't know each other or hadn't met, there was nothing that we wouldn't do for each other. I remember one of the other enforcers dropping by with food on a supply run Saturday afternoon after we had just started areally busy panel and me blurting out 'I love you' to him by instinct — and getting one in return! I remember someone coming into enforcerland (where we got to rest) after the show had closed Sunday and saying that expo hall needed more help tearing down. Most of us had been on our feet for over twelve hours every day and were as tired as hell, and yet there wasn't any real reluctance — it was just the right thing to do, so we did it, and we did it together.

Simply put, I had faith that anytime someone asked for help, they needed it; anytime someone wasn't busy and could help, they would come; and everyone was doing everything they could. I didn't get to see every panel I wanted to, nor did I get to see all the new games that I might have liked. But I wouldn't trade the experience I did have — talking to Mike and Ben briefly, getting a quiet thank you from the attendees, and trading satisfied but tired nods with the other enforcers — for anything.

And next time, I know to schedule in an extra day on either side for the set up and the afterparty.

-

Wil Wheaton's 'Don't Be A Dick' is the first rule of PAX, and I think it goes a long way in explaining the magic. People aren't dicks here and those who are aren't tolerated. People who harass others are warned (and kicked out if they continue), exhibitors that aren't kind are asked not to return, and overall, it never feels like a corporate event to sell more games. It simply feels like a gathering of friends and family.

This was my sixteen year old brother's first time; my parents okayed his going mainly so he could spend some more time with me, they said. Instead, I don't think we saw each other outside of the hotel for more then 30 minutes throughout all three days; I was busy enforcing and he turned into a tabletop gamer right before my eyes, learning magic and competing with miniatures. I asked him, on the drive home, whether it was the best time of his life, and he didn't hesitate at all before saying yes.

One of my other friends stayed in the expo hall pretty much the entire time, with a few detours to the Dance Central freeplay stage, and I know a few more that simply panel-hopped without ever going down to PC or console freeplay. PAX is a lot of different things to a lot of people, but unlike elsewhere, our differences do not divide us.

Outside of the convention center, there was the giant sign proclaiming that PAX East was being held. And the subtitle neatly encompassed everything PAX meant.

It said, "Welcome home."
talonkarrde: (Default)

There's a boy and girl — a man and a woman — you and me. 

And there's their last meeting, in a room, where they talk, where they kiss, and where he drives her home. The next morning, she says that she'll never see him again.

It's been almost two years since they met, since they started this journey of theirs, this relationship (albeit on and off), and it ends here, after they discuss what can be, and what can't be, and she makes a decision for the both of them. He doesn't blame her for it, though he knows what it means.

The truth — or a truth — has always swirled around them, sometimes acknowledged, sometimes buried, and it is this:

It was always going to be hard. It was always going to be the two of them in a rowboat that was leaky and had one oar, and they'd only make it to land (assuming there was land somewhere out there) if they worked together, if they had faith (the irony abounds), if they kept at it. And they did, for a while, and even when he would falter or she would despair, the other would be able to convince them to keep trying. And he thought that maybe it meant that they'd make it, them against the world, and eke out a compromise that would work for them, even if it didn't work for everyone.

And then it stopped working.

-

For all of it, for so long, I just thought that love was all that mattered, and...in the end, it wasn't. There were other things — tradition, acceptance, and religion, and what us being together would mean for her children, and more still. And part of it, I understand — I understand that if there are areas of her life that she is very passionate about that I am indifferent to, she may want to find someone who shares those interests.

And yet... I don't know if I do understand the sheer animosity, the sheer horror of even the idea of dating, or marrying, someone outside of the faith. We shared the same views on so much, the same outlook and worldview, and yet, the fact that I did not grow up a certain way excluded us from having a future together. The sheer fact that we kissed was wrong, because we could not have a future. 

That, I will never understand. 

Second Look

Mar. 1st, 2012 05:53 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
The life of an EMT (or more actually, EMT-B, with B for Basic) is generally not a glamorous one. We sleep through some quiet shifts (hence the occasional reference that we are Earning Money Sleeping, if we're getting paid) and we get calls on the hour, every hour, for our entire shift on others. When we do get calls, we usually give them oxygen, handle some physical traumas through bandages and splints, and occasionally perform CPR, if it's called for.

That's about it, really — it's part of the reason that medics and more medically trained personnel derisively refer to EMTs as ambulance drivers.

We're not authorized to give medicine or to start IVs, to start; all of that's handled by the paramedics and above. We're there mostly to stabilize and assess, and serve as the medical first line of defense for anyone that might have encountered a medical issue and can't respond to it themselves. Functionally, a lot of the time, we'll show up, assess a patient, and then either drive them to the hospital or stand around awkwardly, waiting for the medics to arrive, with their EKGs and IVs and the things that actually make a medical difference.

Granted, it's not to say that anyone can do it — there is a minimum requirement of at least a hundred classroom hours (and usually more), which is a fairly significant amount. The situations we walk into are often tense for multiple reasons, and there are definitely cases where EMTs make a difference. And, of course, we do actually save lives from time to time, because there are things that the general population can't do (especially under pressure) that we can do, are trained to do, and probably have much more experience in doing.

To be fair, though, CPR doesn't work as often as people might think, given the media's treatment of it as the sort of magic way to bring people back from the dead. But that's probably a story for another time.

One of the biggest ways that we are able to effect change, though, comes from a completely separate — but no less important — responsibility, one that took up an entire chapter in our textbook. You see, in the United States, every single state has a law that designates medical professionals (and many other groups) as having a duty to report child abuse and neglect. As an EMT, we're often the only people that ever even see a child in a case like this, because the abuser will often try and shield them from the medical community — they don't ever take them to the hospital, and we're often called only when the case is fairly severe, and the child legitimately needs some medical care, but even then, the abuser will try and refuse (which they are legally allowed to do, as they are the legal decision-making adult).

But as long as we're called, we're generally able to take a look at the child, and this is where the responsibility comes in. There are some things to look out for, of course, that are fairly obvious — small round burns, from cigarettes, regular patterns, from a hot stove, or a 'glove' like burn, from scalding water. But more discreet are the psychological signs; after being close to hurt children for a while, we get to be pretty good at identifying how they should be reacting and how they shouldn't.

With calls for children, there's always a heightened amount of alertness, a special notice that everyone on the team will casually exchange with each other in a glance or two before we walk in the front door. There's no change on the outside, of course, because anything we do obviously would alert the abuser and that's something that we can't afford, but I could tell you the details of some of the houses I've been in better than my own, even after being there once, for ten minutes. That's what this responsibility means to us.

This is usually where the actual story starts, but unfortunately, that's not something that I can do for this entry; their right to privacy is simply too high for me to say anything, really. After all, these are children, with the rest of their lives ahead of them, and nothing I say should ever go back and haunt them. And of course, in this situation, there is no way to get consent.

All I can say is that my time as an EMT wasn't always glamorous, or even acknowledged by others in the medical community, but I've seen firsthand that it makes a difference. We save lives from time to time, but it never, ever means more than when we can make a correct report, and get a followup from youth services or the police later, and know that we've saved someone from abuse.
talonkarrde: (Default)
My first memory of my grandfather is when I was six or seven, perhaps, and we lived in Colorado. I remember wanting to snuggle up to him and my grandma at night in their king sized bed, right in the middle, and I would frequently leave 'my' bed and escape to theirs. It wasn't because it was more fluffy (which it was) but rather that there was something incredibly safe about being between them.

After Colorado, I think, they were getting to the age where a twelve-hour-plus cross-continent flight to the other side of the world was getting to be a bit much, but I still saw them when I traveled back — in 2000, 2003, and then 2009 for my cousin's wedding, where the pictures of the entire wedding party (I was the best man, being uniquely qualified as the only person aside from the bride that could speak the language the groom understood) are very prominent in my grandparents' home.

I don't remember anything earlier than Colorado, though — not the years that they came to visit in California, nor, in the formative years of my life, when they raised me after my parents went off to cross the Pacific without their little baby boy. My grandparents raised me for more than two years, and according to my mom, I was the one child that my grandpa was really able to raise as a baby, to bounce on his lap and coddle and spoil to all hell.

And now, twenty years from when I first left my grandfather's embrace, I am back, to see him once more. This time, though, he is in a hospital bed, and he is unlikely to ever leave it again.

-

I can't say I know my grandfather all that well — there was always something of a language barrier that got in the way of being able to have completely fluid conversations, and even if there wasn't, from what I do know, our worldviews aren't quite the same. Where I have lived in the suburbia of middle class all my life, my grandfather had fought in the war against the Japanese devils, as he calls them, and did well enough to be recognized by the Chinese government. 

There was a distinct conversation that I remember when I was ten or so, I think, back when I still had the summers to go back to China yearly; I asked my grandfather what he thought of America. 'Bullies!' he said to me, wagging his finger, "All they do is they bully around the weaker countries!" I protested, in my ten year old way, that America was great and grand and glorious, and he shook his head, and said that, yes, the average person was very nice (having been directed home by them variously when they used to go on walks in Colorado by themselves) but the government, they were no good at all. 

I didn't accept it at the time, but it sounds rather right, doesn't it?

Beyond that, though, I never asked, that I can remember, about his youth, or about how he met my grandma, or what his hopes and dreams and wishes were — though there's still time to do so, now that I'm here. But in the last few days, just by watching, I've still learned an incredible amount — all of the important things, maybe?
I've seen all of his children and grandchildren — my four aunts and two uncles, and their families, and my various cousins — come through and visit him. There's a steady rotation of his children who will stay the night with him, and care for him, help him to the bathroom and make sure he takes his pills, and every face that comes in is someone who has loved him and been loved by him and comes to do what they can to ease his pain.

And my grandmother, of course, who is always, always there, who, as my dad says, my grandpa can't be without. He's always been a proud man, I think, more than anything, but I've seen a bit of what's under the surface these last few days. When he goes for a CT scan, and we wheel him out of the room, he asks if she's coming, even if he'll only be away for a few minutes. And this afternoon, when my dad and I are taking over the night shift to watch him, as she leaves, he presses his palm to his mouth and sends her a kiss, and she returns the gesture, and for a moment, they simply stand there, looking at each other.

-

It's an odd feeling to sit here, perched on the edge of the bed, ready to spring into action at the slightest sign of discomfort and yet be comforted by the fact that my grandpa snores and speaks in his sleep. Every time he makes a noise, it's a sign that he's breathing well, and deeply, and it's... soothing, for lack of a better word, whereas normally I can't stand any noise when I'm sleeping. When he doesn't make any noise for a few seconds is when I start to worry, even if it's irrational (because he's still lucid and fine), and I hold my breath until he releases his, and only then do I start typing again.

I should be sleeping as well, actually, so that when something does happen, I can jump up and assist; he wakes every few hours, fairly regularly, and so there's little reason to simply sit, and watch, and wait, but I couldn't go to sleep even if I wanted to.

I've had experience with hospice care as part of my clinical fieldwork class for psychology, and as an EMT, I'm no stranger to working in a hospital, even with long-term patients. But this is different, of course. It's different for a multitude of reasons, mostly collapsing onto the fact that this is someone I know and love and care about not dying on a very personal level, instead of on a more clinical or even professional level. It's also different because I'm not in a professional capacity here; instead of having to give medical care, I'm simply... here. There's no protocol to follow, no one else to contact, no medicine to push.

Instead, I'm simply here to... be here, really. I'm here to lend a hand, but more than that, I'm here so my grandpa can see me, so he can comment on how, erm, 'solidly' I am built, and so he can know that he — and by extension family — is the most important thing in my, and  all of his children's lives, and adherence to that principle is why we're all here.

And we're here, of course, because it makes him happy, and the look on his face as my uncles and aunts enter, as I come in, is something that I could come back a thousand times to see.

-

It's 3 a.m. now, and I think for a moment of the parallelism, that here we are, three generations of us in one room (and my dad and grandpa are now competing in the snoring Olympics, and I think my dad might win this one). My grandpa looked over at me a few hours ago and said, "This is our tradition — the elderly take care of the young, at first, and then, when it is their time, they count on their children to take care of them", and I promise to myself that this will be my tradition as well.

I wonder when it will be the time for me to take care of my mother and father, or my children to take care of me. And then I realize that it's not, really, just my parents I should be worrying about, but also my uncles and aunts, my teachers and professors, and everyone I know of that generation, and I wonder, for a moment, how we deal with all of this, a loss of this magnitude, one by one, as each generation passes on. 

But it's the natural order of things, isn't it? That's the best I can come up with.

I hope that I can pass on what I have learned to the next generation, so that whenever anyone in our family is to pass on, they will do so with their family and friends around them, reminding them that they are loved and cherished. I don't know if the secret is having a large family so that the burden may be spread and thus lightened, or if it really is a cultural issue where the bonds between families, especially extended ones, are looser in America than they are over here, but I'll find out.

There's no reason that the ones you love and love you shouldn't be at your side when you start needing help to do the things you can no longer do by yourself, and no reason that your loved ones should shy away and push that burden onto another, who will care less than you will that it's done right. And even if there are those who do care who are not family, no matter how much they care, their caring will never replace a family's bonds.

-

I've learned something, I think, though it shames me that it took so long to learn and that I hadn't learned it beforehand. Before I came, I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to communicate well with my grandpa, that I wasn't going to say the right things or be able to reassure him in the right way, or that I would be powerless and helpless to, well, do anything. I was afraid of messing up in a million different ways, and so I asked a friend of mine what you do for those in pain, who are near the end of their lives.

And he told me a great many things, and I thanked him, and then I promptly, I think, forgot most of what he told me. I think perhaps there was a bit of difficulty in communicating, and a bit of difficulty in saying the right things, and maybe I did mess up.

But it doesn't matter — none of it matters, because I'm not here for me, and this isn't some sort of a choreographed dance. I'm here for him, for him to look at me and hug me and understand that a part of him lives on in me, and in that, I think, I have not disappointed him.

I was lucky to have such a chance, and I may be visiting again soon, if things turn worse, because even though I'll still be afraid of not being able to say what I want to say, even if I'll be afraid that my last memory of him will be him even more gaunt than he is now, if there's anything I can do to make him even a little bit happy, it's what I should do.

Thanks, grandpa, for teaching me that, for raising me, and for everything.
talonkarrde: (Default)
...for the passing of a great man.

Regardless of whether or not you liked his personal style, whether you used the shiny, 'cool' products of his billion dollar company, and whether or not you think Apple's — and by extension his — policies were good ones, you would be foolish to deny that he was a visionary, a genius, a one-of-a-kind person in this world.

I don't know if he was the smartest person in the tech world or even of the top five tech companies, but he was someone who was expelled from his own company and then came back to make it the most valuable one in the world, someone who demanded perfection and cared about the details, and someone who always chased his vision — for desktop computers, for MP3 players, for mobile smartphones, and for tablets — and who can say what would have been next?

But even, even if you think the entire computing world would've been better without the design that he championed and the hardware that he picked apart before approving, he was more than that — he was responsible for Pixar, he was a father and husband, and a creator and inventor. He was a businessman — the greatest CEO of our time — and a techie at the same time, and proved that you didn't have to sacrifice one for the other.

And in 2005, he gave a commencement speech at Stanford, with advice on how to live life — even in the face of death. In his closing, he mentioned that there was a phrase that he had always wished for himself, one now wished for everyone in the audience. I've always thought it was good advice, and I've tried to live by it ever since I heard the speech.

Stay hungry, he said. Stay foolish.

May you rest in peace, Steve.

Nimbus

Feb. 26th, 2011 04:59 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
Without fail, when I think of rain, I think of one small moment in time, one that ends with a kiss, outside a restaurant.

This isn’t going to be a story of foreign lands and far off places, of heroes and heroines slaying dragons, of magic or science, though maybe there will be one next week. This isn’t grand enough to be in the history books, or even, perhaps, recorded in a journal somewhere, though maybe it is, because there is one other person that played a part in this story.

This is simply a memory, one that I’d like to share, of a boy and a girl.

-

The memory starts on a night with a boy - about seventeen, I think, waiting for a girl, in front of a restaurant.

Now this, in and of itself, is hardly special. But their relationship was different - it wasn’t one like the ones the others in his school was having, certainly, and this made it slightly awkward to explain how they had met.

You see, there was an 18 hour drive (about 1,100 miles, according to Google Maps) between the two of them. They had met in on a website for a series of books that they were both interested in, a few months back, and had struck it off. The website, you see, had a chatroom, and he was often on it, as was she, and it wasn’t long before they discovered that they had things in common. Everyone does, of course, but perhaps they had a little bit more than most. With the help of her friend, they started dating each other.

Well, sort of dating - how many dates can you really go on when you’re literally a thousand miles away? But they spent time together, and called each other, and talked online as much as they can. It was a relationship by any measure of it, even if they had never met.

Until now - she had told him a few weeks ago, with no small amount of excitement, that her parents were taking a trip to the east coast, and it would be conveniently be by him. A chance to meet, to spend time together, for at least a weekend, and actually see each other, hold hands, and go on an actual date.

It was ‘taking the next step’.

And it was frightening. Because the difference between talking - or even webcamming - online and seeing each other in person was incredibly different. What if there wasn’t attraction? What if the jokes that worked over text fell flat? How was he supposed to show emotion without emoticons?

But here she was, in his town, about to be dropped off by her parents for a date, just the two of them. And he, of course, could not have been more nervous in his life. Unflappable was what he aimed for, but the waves of energy that he couldn’t contain were making him physically tremble.

And then she showed up, and...well, I think he realized that it was going to be alright. He cracked a joke, and she laughed, and they stared at each other across the table, and it seemed like everything they had been online was the same way it was in person. They talked, they joked, and I don’t know if either of them remember what they said now. It didn’t matter; it never does.

She taught him something, though I don’t know if either of them realized it at the time. It was that long distance relationships were possible, that there were people on the other side of the country, or the world, that had the same interests, that a person didn’t have to be stuck in a five mile radius of where he lived or worked to find someone that he could be with. They had met online, and then in person, and it wasn’t awkward, or tense, or wrong; it could work - it had worked.

The food came and went, and eventually, they realized that they couldn’t spend too many hours there, that she had to go outside to get picked up. And so they made their way outside, closer now than they’d ever been, and, of course, it had started raining. Her parents weren’t there yet, and he met her eyes...

And whenever he think of rain, he thinks of that moment where he leaned down and kissed her, the girl who lived a thousand miles away, who came and visited him for a weekend and proved that anything was possible.

Cracks

Feb. 19th, 2011 02:57 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
There's a boy and girl — a man and a woman — you and me. And there's their first meeting, outside the library, with the sound of cars honking in the background. It's May, and there she is, sitting on a bench, late but finally present, waiting for him to come out of the library.

And there he is, inside, passing the time by reading the Sandman, hoping that she’s just delayed. He had spent half an hour outside, waiting for her, before coming in, and he's trying not to feel crushed that she's not there. Not because she stood him up — the possibility doesn't even occur to him — but because he knows how hard it was to arrange a day to meet, and he has no idea when the next one would be. And he's nervous, of course, because he loves her — like an idiot, he said this to her already — and he’s kicking himself and wondering if he’s scared her off.

He looks up at the clock — it's an hour past when they said they would meet — and decides that he’s going to take one last look around before heading home. When he comes out and makes that final sweep of the area, though, there she is, sitting on a bench, and she jumps up and goes to him as their eyes meet.

"Sorry," she starts, and he sarcastically pretends to be hurt, and all is behind them.

Then they talk, and the afternoon floats by on words and smiles, as they walk through her town, as she reads and he watches, as they talk about war and peace and politics and psychology and everything but each other. But the open secret is that everything that they say, really, is about each other.

When she leaves, he sits in his car, watching the sun go down, watching as the colors fade.

-

It is a week later when they have the first conversation that almost breaks them apart. It's because she told her parents the truth; ironically, something that he always believed she should do. He walks aimlessly down his street as she tells him they can't talk again, as she trots out a laundry list of reasons why they shouldn't have met, or talked, or anything, and how there's no hope for them. None of them really make sense to him, and he says this, but he knows that nothing will change tonight. He also knows, though, to be patient, that there are stronger forces than parents telling their children what they can't do, and he hopes.

It is a week after that when they finally start talking again, despite her parents’ wishes, and his world comes back together.

He tells her, one day, about the kids that they'd have, and how they would be bright and obnoxious, and possibly more than a little sarcastic. He tells her, offhand, that they'd change the world, and for once, he's absolutely serious. They talk about it sometimes, or at least he does, and she tries not to get too nervous about it. She cautions him about planning ahead so much, and he says that it isn't planning, it's just...something that comes to him, something that feels right.

Besides, he says, she'd be a great mother.

-
 
And then she leaves, to go across the ocean for a year. She might not have internet, and calling is expensive, and so their relationship becomes 'come what may', with a promise of a phone call when she comes back.

But it turns out to be better than that. She has access to the internet, and a computer, and they talk online, finding time for each other, and he gets used to seeing 'good morning' on his screen when he wakes up, and typing 'good night' to her when she goes to sleep.

They have their crises of faith, both of them, but they support each other, reassure one another, and they make it through, even when she thinks it can’t work or he thinks it’s impossible. They talk, and that's the important thing, because there’s nothing they can’t work out, even if it means giving up nights out or sleep. It’s a sacrifice gladly made, by both of them.

Then she has her computer stolen by someone, and it all goes to hell...until they work it out, as they always do.

He gets a phone that provides for international calls and starts his day with a call to the other side of the world; the first thing he hears is her 'good morning, starshine'. He hurries home from work to call her so that the last thing she hears before she goes to sleep is a 'sweet dreams, love'. They talk less frequently, but with more meaning.

And it works out for months, and even though it's not perfect, there is love, and there is the two of them, facing the future together, bridging the distance.

-

But there are some things they can’t overcome.

-

There are things that we can't work out, fundamental areas where we are different from one another. We love each other, but we each stand on solid ground and can not be taken away from where we are. Where we choose to plant our faith is not the same, and there is a fissure between us; we would lose ourselves if we crossed to the other side.

There is an ocean of emptiness between us, one I can not cross and one I do not know how to bridge.
talonkarrde: (Default)
"Why?" they ask. More commonly, they simply gaze in disgust, befuddlement, or amazement.

I can't really give them an answer they will understand, no matter how good of a communicator I am, perhaps storytelling at its heart requires the listener to be as involved as the speaker, and they have never encountered a choice like this.

Or perhaps I am simply not skilled enough with my words, not empathetic enough, and I can not lead them from what they know to what I understand.

She could, though.

-

I do it because of the...how did she put it? Really obnoxious, precocious children we would have. The ones that I say would rule the world.

I can see so clearly our children doing the thing where they do at age eight or nine and ask one parent for something and, when denied, go to the other parent, trying to play them against each other.

And I can see, without a doubt, our eyes meeting over the little one's head and sharing a smile, and then...we play with him - or her, drawing out the please and arguments until, because he is precocious, he realizes that we've just been stringing him along.

And he pouts, of course, and starts to work up to a tantrum until she comes over and kisses his forehead, smoothes the frown away, and then lets him have what he was asking for in the first place. Not every time, of course, but just this once, because we were teasing him and he deserves it.

I always said she'd make a wonderful mother.

-

"It is hard," a friend of mine says over the phone, and I interrupt — "I know; I've done some research."

"Well, your first step is to find a beth din. There's one in South Jersey, but I wouldn't advise it — they're Haredis, extremely conservative. There's another one in Elizabeth, I think..."

"Well...that's the absolute start of it, right? The start of the process, I mean. I..." pause, trying to put words to thoughts. "I don't want to jump into it and make a hasty decision. I need...a consult, in other words. Is there someone I can...speak to, without it being..."

"Well, that's sort of tricky...because of the way that—"

"I know," I interrupt again, never one for listening to how things couldn't work. I'm like House, I said to her once: I prefer to assume that what I believe is right and make decisions based on that. It makes more sense, certainly than assuming I'm wrong.

"But I can get you some numbers, I think."

And with a quiet thank you, I take a step to change my words into actions.

-

I do it because of the way that we have talked, honestly, always, about our hopes and dreams, about our futures and the challenges that we faced. I do it for the one afternoon we shared when we carried on the conversations from days past about what separates dying cultures from thriving ones, about converting and the cavalier way I always talked about it, about a thousand words over five hours that I don't remember anymore that simply boiled down to two people who loved each other spending time with one another.

-

I don't know how it'll turn out. There are so many uncertainties, so many challenges. A year is a long time, and the process, as everyone tells me, is hard. And perhaps one of us will have moved on by then, leaving the other clutching memories of a holiday afternoon. Or perhaps both of us will have moved on — that would be...second best, in my opinion.

I said once that I was unafraid, because even though the odds were against us ("don't quote me the odds", I told her) what we had, together, was solid, flawless. It was the only lie I've ever told her — I'm deathly afraid, more so than I have been of anything in my life, we'll be left with nothing but a memory of an afternoon. But it is not fear that motivates me, or even to avoid regret — I would never forgive myself if I could have done something to make this work and didn't.

I do it because I believe, above all else, in love, and a God who does not put burdens on us that we can not bear.

But it would be so much easier to shoulder if she were by my side.
talonkarrde: (Default)
 The first time someone asked me the question, it was an old man with a long white beard, his hand folded in his sleeves, and he was one of my grandfather's mahjong partners. He stopped me as I was on the way to the market and asked me, “小孩, 你觉着中国怎么样?” Little child, what do you think of China?

And I was ten, I think, and definitely not the most polite kid.

"Grandpa (because that's how the honorific for an elder translates), I think that China is very dirty and boring and I would rather be back in America right now, playing with my friends."

The old man looked at me for a second and then slowly shuffled away, and thinking back on it, I was kind of a dick.

-

The second time someone asked me the question, it was my grandpa directly, and I was fourteen; I had gained some wisdom into the world by that time and I knew my grandpa, a Chinese Communist Party hardliner, would not take well to me dissing his (and my) homeland. “晟然, 你喜欢中国吗?” Sean, do you like China?

And I tried to be fairly diplomatic and responded, "Well, Grandpa (my actual one, this time), although it is in some aspects not as advanced as America, it does have a unique culture that America could never hope to attain."

I think what I actually said was, "Well, you don't have a computer that can play Starcraft, but I've seen some pretty fun things, like the Terra Cotta Army, and those old towers, and stuff. Oh, and I love the food. Can we get 小笼包 now?" But really, it equates to about the same thing, and my grandpa was pleased enough and started rambling on about how America was a bully and China was good because it was only concerned about itself and I just sat there and nodded.

-

The third time someone asked me the question, it was the summer of 2006, and it was posed by my students during the communal dinners we had. I was teaching a 'total immersion' summer camp of students between the ages of twelve and twenty, which was a bit awkward because I myself was only eighteen. Thankfully, the older students seemed to like me, or enjoyed the fact that I wasn't as uptight, I suppose, as the other teachers they had.

Anyway, I had sort of been waiting for the question because we had been discussing America and lifestyles and music and whatnot, and finally it came:

"So, how do you like China?" It was from one of the younger children, demonstrating his proud grasp of about forty percent of his total vocabulary.

"Uh," I think I got out, before realizing all other conversation at the table had died and fourteen pairs of eyes and ears were focused on me, including the camp counselor's.

Diplomacy, I told myself, diplomacy.

"The one thing I really like about China is that it's changing to become modern while still maintaining the proud heritage that it's come from. It's really stepping up and flexing its weight as a powerhouse both economically and politically, but you can still visit temples and palaces that are thousands of years old. Beijing is this weird mishmosh of ancient structure and modern bureaucracy — a bit like Washington D.C., I suppose, except with a couple thousand more years of history behind it. And Shanghai — analogous to New York — is so modern that it doesn't really taste like China anymore, from what I know. A city closer to the center, like Zhengzhou, gives this mix of modern lifestyles and millennia old family culture."

...And then, looking around the table and nodding at my excellent speech, I realized that I lost them all somewhere around 'maintaining the proud heritage'.

So I tried to express most of what I said in Chinese, and it seemed to satisfy most of them, and that was that.

-

In retrospect, I think all of the opinions I've expressed are true, whether or not they're politically correct. The cities are still incredibly dirty and polluted where skies are rarely, if ever blue — but that's at least partially because of the population pressure, with more than four times as many people per square mile. It's certainly not as advanced as the United States, but it does have a hell of a longer history — and a most excellent cuisine. And it is modernizing amazingly fast, but still retaining much of its cultures and traditions, and the fusion that has resulted is really interesting.

Take my cousin's wedding last September for example, which was a fusion of a traditional Chinese wedding and a Western style church one. It is impossible to describe, and probably not as fluid as either one by itself would have been. But it was a lot of fun, and that's what's important. Every time I go back, I learn a bit more about this old civilization coming into a modern age, and each time I'm asked the question of how I feel about China, I think I can answer it a bit more fully. Eventually, I feel, I might actually understand it as well as my grandparents do.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me welcome you to the next world war: one that's going on as we speak.

No, you don't need to look outside your window; there are no bombs, or troops establishing beachheads, or four-star generals poring over a map in a hidden bunker somewhere. Or if they're poring over a map, it doesn't depict any land range. The battlefield is one that can't be visualized like that.

You see, the salvos being launched are packets of data; the generals are men and women, often sitting in their own homes, in front of their computers; and the collateral damage... is still the lives and well-beings of innocents, the same it's always been.

The threat is more distributed than any in history. It comes not from one army, as in the time of Alexander the Great, nor from multiple fronts, as in World War II, nor even the impossibility of fighting insurgents in a hostile province, like we see in Afghanistan. It is global, with pockets of activity in every major country, some sponsored by foreign powers, but many freelance.

They used to be called hackers, and they used to send viruses that would crash individual computers. Blaster was an early one, a worm that would shut down your computer after you started up, no matter what you did. But as viruses go, Blaster wasn't that successful, even though it spread widely and took many computers down for days, or even weeks.

Think about it: parasites survive and reproduce the best when they don't kill the host — when, in fact, they're not detected at all. A mosquito that can suck your blood without you noticing it is going to pass on its genes; the one you squashed because you felt the itch is not.

So viruses evolved, changing their methods of attack, their goals, their execution. They stopped being spread by email and started masquerading as Windows alerts and, ironically, anti-virus programs; they started infecting and collecting information; they started waiting for commands from a foreign source.

The last trait is the most chilling, because it changes computers infected from being simple dummy robots that can only execute a few lines of code (no matter how disastrous they are) to an army that can adapt on the fly to threats that challenge it. The biggest army in cyberspace right now isn't owned by a corporation or a government — it's called Conficker, and it has more than 7 million computers in up to 200 countries under its control. Conficker has infected government computers, hospital computers, and, of course, the computers of people like you and me.

That is the enemy — a general who is open to the highest bidder, who has millions of computers across America that he can take at a moment's notice, forming them to become a weapon that can down almost any connected system. And nowadays, there are many, many systems that are connected, from mass transit to patient records, from government resources to corporate networks.

How do we fight them? Well, our government has admittedly been slow to respond. One of the biggest problems is that the military has always been a reactive force, one that always learns to fight the enemy that it just defeated — the Maginot Line, for example, is a great example. Part of this is because the leaders and generals who are good at anticipating the enemy in one war are rarely insightful enough to see past their area of expertise. Part of this is because we never really fight the same war twice, because there are always different actors involved, different technology deployed, and different situations that arise. And part of this is because our enemy is always going to be smaller, more fluid, and thus able to respond faster than we are.

There are defenses, though. In America, organizations like the NSA, or the United States Cyber Command, are fighting against those who would seek to destroy us. But most importantly, this is a war where normal citizens, more than in any other war, will be able to lend assistance. Security researchers may come up with defenses that the government can't dream of; one teenager in his room may be able to propose an attack that would completely wipe out the enemy. In decades past, this would have been ludicrous.

But we won't all be programmers that understand the fine points of honeypots or penetration testing. As always, some of us will be civilians, and the best we can hope for is that attacks won't be successful, our sites that we visit won't go down, and our lifestyles won't be disrupted. But again, more than any civilians in wars that have come before us, we have an obligation to act.

We must secure ourselves. We must defend our computers from those that would seek to use it, and we must educate ourselves on the many forms attacks can take. We may not be able to win the war, but we must be aware enough to not unwittingly become pawns of the enemy.

Thus: learn. Learn about security, about how to keep your computer your own and not the agent of a foreign power, or unfriendly hacker, or terrorist group. Learn that there is more than just Facebook and Google out there, and learn about how connected everything really is.

Learn about how vulnerable you are, and then fix it.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Procrastination, forgetfulness, and a pesky time for work to become busy all of a sudden; these are the reasons why I missed the deadline. The former two are also fairly accurate descriptors of my personality, though they're balanced out by some other things like...insightfulness (well, sometimes) and...other...stuff.

In all honesty, though, I'm a firm believer in the old mantra of 'show, don't tell' and with writing in particular, I feel that the most important things are the words themselves. The less preconceptions that are held, consciously or otherwise, the better. So even if I had all the time in the world to write this first intro, and all the people in the world reading, I think I would still end here. You'll see enough of my predilections and prejudices, trials and tribulations in the upcoming weeks.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Doing [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol for as long as I can.

Because of writing prompts, external motivation in form of deadlines, and a cool new community!

Commitment

Jun. 4th, 2008 08:05 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
I’m not a person that can really say a lot about commitment. I’m young and don’t have that much experience with it, as you guys know. But there is one experience with commitment that I would like to share, here.

Commitment comes in a variety of forms – to a person, to a task, to an ideal. At its heart, commitment is tied to sacrifice and assurance; to commit to something or someone involves sacrificing other things for that one, and assuring them of a place
in your priorities.

My experience with commitment has been more to ideals than to people, which should come as no surprise. As an EMT, the ideal I commit to is helping others - I sacrifice time and sleep every Sunday night to assure the township that I live in that if someone is injured, there will be help for them.

But the easing of pain and preservation of life is a common commitment; EMTs are not remotely alone in that – they are joined by medical professionals and volunteers of all sorts. Every Good Samaritan is committed to the same ideal that I am.

However, there is one commitment that I have come across that I think is relatively unique – the commitment to life in the face of imminent death.

We humans do not often commit to things that are likely doomed to failure; we don’t put our life savings into buying lottery tickets, we don’t jump off fifty-story buildings with the intention of living, we don’t try and move objects with our minds.

But working in a hospice exposes you to people that are doing precisely that. The residents of the hospice will not live their full lives. Most will likely will die in the next month. Survival rates, by the time that a patient is placed into a hospice, are less than 10% for a year.

But that doesn’t stop everyone working there from committing to life, even as they know of the inevitable failure. It’s different than in hospitals, because we are taught that while death is inevitable, we can often beat it back, push it away, and snatch back from the edge those that should not yet be there. With hospice care, it is accepted that death will claim those that we work on – and through that, we carry on.

It is inefficient. It is hopeless. And it restores my faith in humanity, every time I take my place in there. Through our efforts, we bring hope to those that have none.

It takes a great deal of commitment to walk in there, day after day. There is a reason that hospice care is not a field that many choose to go onto – the burnout rate is tremendous. How can it not, when you daily fail where you strive to succeed, and even the victories that you gain are cut short brutally and almost immediately.

And yet, we commit to it anyway. We sacrifice our mental health, our time, our energy for the sake that they may know that someone cares about them in the last few days that they have.  We are there to assure them that whatever they have gone through in the past, we will be there for them at the very end.

That is what I know of commitment.

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