Shared Joy is Multiplied

Today I woke up, looked at my phone, and began to cry.

While I don’t talk politics or religion here very often, I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m a liberal from the few times I do, and today I got to witness one of the greatest triumphs of a cause near and dear to my heart, the right for same sex couples to marry.

I’ve talked about on here about my own wedding to Michelle. I could go on about the weather or the fact it was Halloween, the decorations. I could go on about the venue or the people who were there. All of that helped make it a singular day, a truly special one, but none of that made a wedding.

The truly incredible part was where I watched my wife walk down the aisle to me and we stood before nearly everyone in the world that we loved and made a vow to each other that, no matter what, we were committing to each other, even through the apocalypse (zombie, vampire, man-made or otherwise), we would fight and die by each others side. No joke, and it was Michelle who wanted that to be part of the vows. And once that was done and after we were pronounced husband and wife, we stepped off into something fantastic.

I’m not going to lie, marriage isn’t easy and it’s not always happy, but there is something fundamental to being married that wasn’t there before when Michelle and I were just dating or even when we made the step to live together. There’s a weight there, a significance. There are those words said in front of a gazebo before all of our friends echoing forward through time that remind me during all the times, good and bad, that this woman, this incredible, beautiful, sometimes infuriating woman, is my wife and if I’m a man of my word the only wife I’ll ever have, so don’t fuck it up.

Leslie Light, who I’ve mentioned here before, officiated out wedding and has said multiple times that she loves weddings because, in part, they remind her of her own and I know that to be true because that has been the case for Michelle and I. We sit in the audience and hold hands, watching other people say their own words, and hearing ours in the back of our minds. We see the goofy, loving smiles and remember our own. I’ve looked around at the other people attending those weddings and I’ve seen the same thing there reflected on other people’s faces.

After today more people will get to know that. After today there will be more people who will be able to share other people’s joy, who will know from their own experience, feeling the weight of and hearing their own words, the happiness of others.

This will not be the end. Just as Loving v. Virginia wasn’t the end of bigotry toward two people of different skin tones getting married, this decision will not end hate. But it’s a damn fine start because, with today, there’s just a little more joy in the world.

And while it’s from a satire account, this is my new headcannon:

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Christopher Lee

One of my favorite stories about Christopher Lee comes from when he was filming one of his final scenes as Sarumon. Peter Jackson was getting frustrated with how the scene where Wormtongue stabs Sarumon in the back was going, particularly with the noise that Christopher was making when “stabbed.” When Peter expressed this frustration, Christopher Lee looked at him and said something to the effect of, “Peter, while I cannot give you certain details due to the National Secrets Act, I can assure you that I know what sound a man makes when stabbed in the spine.”

Supposedly Peter stopped, thought about it for a moment, and kept the next take.

Christopher Lee, you see, was a member of Special Operations Executive, also known as The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. During WWII they were many things but primarily intelligence officers (which Lee was) and the trainers of saboteurs and resistance fighters. Lee spent most of his military career in Africa and southern Europe before spending some time hunting Nazis.

He was a god damn Nazi hunter.

Christopher Lee was also a Tolkien scholar, supposedly reading Tolkien’s works once a year and was fluent in Elvish. He was proud of having met Dr. Tolkien before his passing and, if stories are correct, pretty much demanded a role when LotR was announced.

Christopher Lee would go on to have one of the most (until his death he was the most prolific, living actor, not sure how he stacks up with other dead actors now) busy acting careers of anyone.

He played both Dracula and Frankenstein.
He was both Holmes brothers.
He was Death and Lucifer and a Bond villain which might as well be the first two combined.
He brought Lord Summerisle to life.
He was a Sith Lord.

He produced death metal albums about Charlemagne at 89.

How many people can say that?

Only one.

Rest in peace, sir.

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BayCon 2015

So Saturday I went back to BayCon, the local, (nominally) science-fiction writers’ convention in the Bay Area.

Two years back I wrote It’s not you, it’s me…ok, it is a little you, but it’s also a little me, a post about the state of BayCon as it applied to me.

In that post I said that BayCon would probably be my last and, really, it more or less was. I didn’t do 2014 because I had other plans at the time and 2013 had left a fairly sour taste in my mouth (no one, especially volunteers, should have to pay to work). The only reason why I came back to BayCon this year was that I was begged by my friend Louis of FLARE that they needed bodies and he would appreciate it ever so much if I came back. My resistance to his puppy dog eyes failing, I agreed and picked up a swing shift on Saturday night.

More or less my opinions from 2013 haven’t changed.

First, let me say that also includes my opinions regarding the hard working staff of BayCon. This year BC was chaired by my long-time friend Sally Rose and Kathleen (who I don’t know) and the theme was Women of Wonder. Bill Hay, someone long-involved with BC, made some pretty kick ass decorations around the hotel with these stations dedicated to Women of X, whether that’s aviation, science in general, military, cinema, science fiction/fantasy, whatever, with pictures of notable women and brief snippets of why they were cool. I have heard rumors that there were some staffing hiccups that did make things more difficult but I thought they all did a good job.

I also didn’t have to pay to work, so that was a nice change.

That being said, there need to be some major changes at BayCon.

While I did see some younger kids there, the overwhelming majority of people seemed to be 30+. The con needs to get in the younger kids for all the reasons I mentioned in the other post.

Similarly, the attendance seemed low. I don’t know if it was low or if the hotel they were at is just bad for that image (it’s a big hotel with lots of convention space so people seemed even more thinned out).

Not just me but lots of other people have said that the con needs to do a couple of things:
1. Change location. The venue isn’t favorable to the kind of con that BayCon is. The size of the hotel makes everything more spread out which means its harder to build a sense of connectedness (that you’re actually AT a con). Lots of people have complained within earshot of me that this hotel isn’t that good for parties. I have to wonder how much of that is viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses but if people are complaining then it isn’t meeting their needs.

2. Change the date. Honestly, BayCon won’t be able to compete with the other two big cons that weekend, Fanime and Kublacon, at this point. They’ll never be able to steal back the people that find those cons more intriguing because they’ll never be able to play at that level; both of those cons pretty much specialize and cater to their demographic in a way BayCon never would be able to. Throw in Clockwork Alchemy nabbing the steampunk crowd (however big that is) and you’re left with a much smaller slice of the young person pie. Which also sounds like something that Dr. Lecter might cook up to cap off a dinner party.

A sub-note to this, many people have complained that if BayCon changed weekends they’d lose a day of con. This year BayCon effectively lost a day due to the hotel’s scheduling and contractual obligations and I have to wonder just how many of those people are really missing the small amount of programming that happened on Monday.

3. Programming. I have no idea of how the panels were so I won’t comment on that but I will comment on a discussion that was going on shortly before the start of con. The tl;dr is that there was a charity event at BayCon, a “slave auction” held by Klingons, that was a long-standing staple of the con that was asked to not happen this year because, unsurprisingly, selling primarily women, even for charity, doesn’t really jive with the whole trying to honor and recognize women of wonder theme. Of course people lost their minds. I was not one of them; even if you’re acting sketchy for charity, you’re still being sketchy, and when the MC complains that without the slave auction he’s going to have no where to be skeezy at, the sketchiness kind of outweighs the charity aspect IMO.

Regardless, several people made the comment that BayCon has lost a lot of staples that made it what it was and they haven’t been replaced. Years ago BayCon had a thriving costuming community and did a Masquerade/costume contest that was well-attended and had a lot of participants. That’s gone (although it was replaced with a variety show this year which seemed well-attended). Slave auction (however you feel about it), was gone and (IMO) I wouldn’t be sad to see it stay gone. Several of the very popular parties, while not done by the con, are also gone.

The con needs to figure out a way to integrate with the attendees to help create “after-hours” programming/events that people would enjoy. The con also needs to start, I think, directly interacting with the attendees to find out what they want. One of the people on the BoD mentioned that another Bay Area con, PantheaCon, sends/sent out surveys to attendees to find out their feelings on the con. Maybe BayCon needs to do that.

That’s pretty much it. I will say this, there is a LOT of talk about how people can save BayCon and that says two things:
1. That people know, or at least fear, that it is in need of saving. Never a good thing.
2. That people want BayCon. That they care enough to speak up about it (whether they then do anything more than that is a different thing entire) and that’s something.

Whether or not that happens I don’t know. With the same people, ultimately, in leadership who have always been there I don’t know how much change will actually come about.

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Where You Hang Your Hat

And, like that, I’m now stupendously in debt (translation: I just bought a house).

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RIP Terry Pratchett (I’m getting really tired of writing these)

It was only about two weeks ago that we lost Leonard Nimoy and now the news has come that Sir Terry Pratchett has passed. Terry was sick with a form of Alzheimer’s, a disease he had struggled very hard against.

Say what you will about his beginnings, which I heard many people characterize him as trying to be the fantasy version of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett’s books grew and got smart over the years. He used Discworld, in many ways, to lambast the real world, whether it was pointing out the stupidity of war in Jingo to tackling racism, religious dogma/tradition, and the struggles of being a father in Thud!, or dealing with racism and land-greed in Snuff. His books held surprising depth that was still easily accessible, that you only had to peel back the thin veneer on the story to get at the lesson underneath.

And that’s what I’m thankful for, that Terry’s books made me think. The second book I read by him was Small Gods (the first was Pyramids which is just kind of ridiculous) and that went a long way toward helping me deal with some of the anger I’ve felt in my life toward religion. Sam Vimes angry recitation of “I’ve Lost My Cow”, his son’s favorite book, when he goes to rescue his son echoes in my mind at times when I care for my own son.

I’m sad that we’ll never get to see Sam Vimes retire and enjoy his son’s childhood or Rincewind’s final appointment with Death that he couldn’t quite miss. I’m sorry we won’t be able to see Granny Weatherwax finally lay down her burden of making other people think or Vetinari, finally, give control of the city over to the more-than-capable Carrot (something, I think, he intended all along).

An hour ago, whoever manages Terry’s twitter account wrote, “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”

I’d like to think that while Death did the job because it was his to do, that even Death felt sad doing it.

Goodbye, Terry. Thank you.

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The Finest Three-Year Old Blasphemy

Me: Connor, go to the table now please.
Connor: Ok, ok! Cheesus!
Me, pausing, because that kind of blasphemy isn’t common in our house: Connor…what did you just say?
Connor: Cheesus.
Me: Who is Cheesus, Connor?
Connor: You know, Cheesus. He’s a cheesy guy. He’s covered in cheese.
Me, trying not to laugh, looking at Michelle who is also trying not to laugh: Cheesus.
Michelle: He’s a cheesy guy.
Me: He’s covered in cheese.

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What Good Customer Service Looks Like

For most of my life I’ve worked in some sort of customer service capacity. My first job was for a sandwich shop called Togo’s and from there I’ve worked in phone centers and HR (which, IMO, is best approached as a customer service role). The only time I technically didn’t work in customer service was four years I worked in government, but since it was a publicly-facing office (the elections department), I think it’s pretty close. Good customer service is very important to me, not just as a customer, but also as an employee. Good customer service can make or break a person’s relationship with you and can mean the difference in a bad situation improving or getting worse (or, at the very least, managing it in a positive fashion that makes the situation tolerable, even if it doesn’t get better).

Something I haven’t talked about on here is that my wife and I have been in the process of buying a home. This will be the second house she’s purchased, the first for me, and the process has been, in a word, intimidating. Thankfully, my wife has a lot of experience with this as she used to sell homes for a living as a real estate agent and so I’ve been relying on her to take the lead on this whole thing and I’ve been doing what I can to support her.

While I don’t normally like to talk about particular aspects of my personal life, such as finances, I’m going to bend that rule a little bit for this story. You see, we’re using an old IRA account I had from a previous job as a down payment (first-time home purchases being one of the few exceptions to withdrawing IRA money early without a tax penalty). We did some looking, found some houses we liked, put an offer on one, which wasn’t accepted, got over the disappointment, and then made an offer on a second house. That one stuck.

Considering how important the money in my IRA account was to the process, I’ve been very paranoid about it. Paranoid about investing that money because I could lose it, nervous about that money being tied up in investments possibly making it difficult for me to get when it came time to pay up. The IRA was through Capital One’s Sharebuilder service and, after multiple calls, I was assured I could get the money easily with a little bit of prior notice.

So when our offer for the house was accepted we needed to move quickly (we were doing a short escrow). I called Sharebuilder, put in the orders to sell what investments I had, and waited for the sell orders to close, which happened that same night. The next day, toward the end of the business day, I logged into the website to submit the request for the distribution to send that money to my personal bank account (so that we could then in turn give it to someone else). As I was doing this Michelle called me.|

Her: Hey, you heading home soon?
Me: Yeah, I’m just taking care of the distribution.
Her: Awesome, when will that be done?
Me, reading from the confirmation page which was loading as we talked: “Your distribution request was received and will be completed on June 1st.” What…
Her: June 1st?

Now, with all my skill in writing I don’t think I can adequately describe to you the tone of her voice except that every person married has heard it. It’s the tone that says, “Something is wrong, it may or may not be your fault, but you need to fix it and you need to fix it now.”

Me: Calling them right now to find out what’s going on.
Her: Good. Bye.

I called up Sharebuilder, spoke to one guy, explained my situation, and I can say he seemed to get my concern very clearly and took it seriously. Sharebuilder is set up into a couple of different groups so he forwarded me over to the people who handle IRAs. I spoke to a woman named Elise, explained again my situation, and, again, she took my concerns to heart. She did a little bit of digging and discovered that Sharebuilder had given me some money as a promotion for being a good client, but that money was tied up and couldn’t be accessed until June 1st. She spoke with her manager and let me know the fix was simple: cancel the distribution, then resubmit the distribution for the amount of my account minus $300. That worked like a charm and the distribution would be processed the next day as I had originally intended. Throughout the call she was understanding and took the time to explain what was going on.

Me: Thank you so much, I can’t tell you the amount of panic I was in. I mean, can you imagine that conversation with my wife, that we weren’t going to be able to get the money to buy the house we found?
Elise: You’re buying a house?
Me: Yeah, doing the first-time home buyer exemption. We just had our offer accepted and we’re in escrow.
Elise: Congratulations, that’s exciting.
Me: Thank you, Elise, you’ve made me and my wife very happy. You helped us buy a house tonight.
Elise: Awwww.

That was on a Friday. I think it was Tuesday when I came home and Michelle was standing by our kitchen, holding a small envelope for me.

Me: What’s that?
Her: Just look at it. You’re going to like it.

I took the envelope from her and the return address, written by hand, said Sharebuilder. I took out the card.

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I opened the card.

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I don’t know if Elise did that on her own or if that’s something that Sharebuilder does, but either way that right there is excellent service. Even if she hadn’t included the gift card, that little personal touch, in addition to what she did on the call, pretty much made me a customer of theirs for life.

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