Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Evolution

It feels great to be writing again. It feels great to be getting some good feedback and support on the things I’ve been working on.

I finally had learned enough Spanish that I needed some time to absorb it all. I have a stack of flashcards as long as my arm. All of them have been entered into a computer program called “Supermemo” and I learn a little more every day. I can do the program for an hour at a time and still not get to the end of them and see a repeat. I still have private lessons with Montse twice a week, and I have conversation class four times a week to hone my speaking and listening. Without class in the morning, and homework that took me two hours a day, I have some time to focus on my writing career again. Which I so desperately needed. On the other hand -

Spanish is maddening.

I’m told it takes two years to become “fluent.” Considering I didn’t start taking classes until last October, I still have a long way to go. And I feel like I am working so, so, so, hard at it and the progress is glacial. But I don’t have any choice. If I want to make a life here with Wendy, I have to be able to speak the language. I’ve always hated people that move to a different culture and fail to learn the language. I’ve always hated that. That won’t be me. But class is frustrating right now. There is an endlessly revolving door of students that come and go. Right now, every single person in my conversation class listens and speaks better than me. Since the students are constantly changing, sometimes I’m the head of the class. Other times, like now, I am the dumb shit. And I hate being the dumb shit. It’s like being in High School again when I didn’t know how to study and showed up to class every day and was embarrassed when the teacher called on me. Only now, I study every day and still can’t keep up.

The good news is, Raquel is the conversation teacher this week. Remember how I explained my prejudice about Italians? Well, I don’t know if my bitching to Montse brought this about, or if she is just as sick of it as I am, but yesterday she delivered some smack down.

“Francesco! Other people are talking!”

“Daniele! This is Spanish class not Italian.”

“Francesco! Daniele! Do you have something to share with the class?”

“Francesco! Enough! Move over here and sit by me. I’m separating you two.”

I was in heaven.

Life is just so wonderful and so weird right now. A lot of introspection.

I know, I just know, that if I can catch a few breaks I can get an agent and be a real writer. The things people tell me about how my writing moves them makes me confident I’m not just pissing in the wind with this dream. But a lot of it is luck. I think if I can get recognized by the right people, things will work out. If I can’t, I’ll be a self published author and never get national coverage or be a real success. Which scares the crap out of me. I don’t know if I’ve said it a thousand times on here, said it a thousand times to Wendy, or just thought it a thousand times in my head, but here it is, possibly again - It’s very hard to go from “Jamie can you sign this card for me?” and fifty comments on Star City saying “What a great column this week, thank you” and “You were such a great husband while your wife was sick. Your blog was an inspiration”- to “Jamie, you are the dumb shit in class this week, you have no income and your girlfriend orders your food for you.”

Quite a change.

But life is about change. I was awake this morning thinking about this entry long before it was time to get up. Have I told you how much I love Wendy? I can be wide awake, thinking about writing or playing WoW or watching UFC or wondering who won the latest primary and I can’t force myself to get out of bed. I just want to wake up next to this woman and kiss her cheek and hold her as she wakes up. Just so she knows I am there. I have lain in bed for an hour staring at the ceiling waiting for her to get up some days. She’s my best friend, and every morning, I just want her to know I’m there and will always be there for her.

Work continues on Marilyn’s Story. Most of my writing efforts are devoted to that and this blog. Wendy’s help on this has been invaluable in convincing me how important it is to turn a blog into a novel. Ways to transform it. Things to add or subtract from the story to make it appeal to people other than solely those who know me.

Chris McMahon’s editing has educated me on the endless, incredibly painful task of making a novel fit for publication. We are on our sixth revision of “Quest for the Pro Tour” and I am applying his lessons to “Marilyn’s Story.”

Bob Young made a nice donation to my Paypal account so I sent him the almost complete “Marilyn’s Story” in hopes of getting his thoughts. He replied with “I just wanted to let you know how much of a gift your writing is to me and my girlfriend. She is reading Marilyn’s Story right now with a glass of wine and has come to get hugs from me about 20 times because she is so touched by your life. “

Which is endlessly encouraging. There are times when I wonder if anyone will even want to read a story about a brave woman who dies from Cancer. I wouldn’t want to read it. Why would I want to be sad? And yet, I loved “Love Story” while hating “Terms of Endearment.” But other people loved Terms of Endearment so there must be an audience out there of people who need a good cry. Or a profile in courage or something, I don’t know. I just hope it finds an audience and that line about his girlfriend inspired me.

It’s amazing where your thoughts take you. None of this was what I wanted to talk about today and yet, here we are. 1090 words later and I’m still not on the topics I wanted to talk about this morning. Let’s see if we can move in that direction. Hey, you got a funny story last week, now you get the deep, badly organized philosophy.

Wendy went to Paris on Thursday to meet with her evil overlords and then visit (my former girlfriend, her best friend) Collette. (They slept in the same bed. Insert my twisted thoughts here.) So I was alone for three days. I spent the time playing WoW, watching UFC and working on Marilyn’s Story. A lot of reminiscing happens when you do that.

It’s interesting remembering the best times of your life. And I say that knowing full well that the best time in your life is always changing. For example : Before Magic and before AC/DAOC/ WoW the best time of my life was college. It drove Marilyn crazy. We would get together with Hilary, Michelle, Brian, Dan and Rod and all we (we meaning everyone but Marilyn) could talk about was how great college was. I actually day dreamed about finding a way to go back to college. IT WAS THE BEST! We had so much fun then!

Then we all became obsessed with Magic. We got shirts made up for “Team Quarterstaff” and through my writing achieved some small amount of fame. One guy actually saying as we entered into a tournament “that’s Team Quarterstaff. I want to kick their asses.” And based on our performance that weekend, I am 100% sure he got his wish. Then I published a book. Holding that book in my hand, that was the best time of my life. I had done it! Then I won a PTQ with Secret Force. OMFG I won a PTQ with a mono green deck that I made! And people actually lined up to get me to sign cards! Can life get any better?

Yes, yes it can.

Then we discovered Asheron’s Call, and through a very careful afternoon, I got Marilyn addicted to it. I don’t think it’s possible to describe the adventures you can have to someone that hasn’t been there and experienced the addiction of online role playing games. Every single day is like Christmas and your birthday rolled into one. Sleep is an annoyance you have to put up with solely so you can play some more when you wake up.

Two stories I am compelled to write. To illustrate. To purge myself. Hopefully, to entertain.

Marilyn loved blue sparkly armor. We were in an absolutely terrifying Monounga (giants) dungeon who howled like wolves on the hunt. I will never in all my life forget the echoing sounds they made. We made a mistake and died at the very bottom of the dungeon, and in Asheron’s Call, when you died, your best items were left on your corpse. So, we’re standing at the lifestone, and we’re almost naked. Marilyn’s painstakingly collected blue armor is on her body at the bottom of the very scary Monounga dungeon. The only way to get it back, is make our way to the bottom of the dungeon, with no armor. Think about the ramifications of that for a second. We died at a place where we had all our best, most powerful items on. Now, we have to get those items back – naked. To top it all off, the admins of the game at that moment choose to do a global broadcast and say “There is a problem with this server, we have to restart in fifteen minutes.”

Terror. Sheer terror.

Marilyn starts to cry.

I start contacting everyone I know, and start yelling to all around us that we need help. Since this was the early days of online role playing games, everyone wanted to help. People were playing these games to be heroes, and this was their chance. We took everyone around us, recruiting more and more people as we made our way lower and lower, slaying everything in our path, the resistance and thickness of the monsters getting exponentially harder each level. The howling as we faced that dungeon with so many people trying so valiantly to get my wife’s armor back will never leave me. And every minute, a global broadcast goes out that says “Server restart in 14 minutes. 13 Minutes. 12 Minutes.”

Do you know what happens when the server restarts? All the corpses are wiped out. The pretty blue armor Marilyn had been collecting over six months would be gone.

We keep losing people. Lower level people who should not be this deep in this horrible dungeon are with us, trying their best to do whatever they can to help us get to the bottom. When they die, they are losing their best armor, weapons, rings, in order to help a woman they didn’t even know. We were all on a mission and sacrifice didn’t matter. We had to make it.

Next to me, Marilyn is weeping.

The countdown continues and the Monounga are howling there terrible cry.

“AAHOOOOOOOOOO! ARRROOOOOOOOO! HARUUUUUUUUUU!”

We are surrounded by brown ape like giants now. The thump of giant clubs on our friends skulls reverberates through our speakers. The Monounga are howling and everyone around us is dying as we are going too fast and are being ambushed from all sides. People apologize for dying and losing all their best armor and weapons by trying to help us.

“Server shut down in one minute.”

A club takes the last of my life. Marilyn succumbs seconds later. We appear at the lifestone, naked.

The screen goes dark.

Marilyn screams, crying, and throws her keyboard into the air. The dogs go insane. The keyboard lands and pieces snap off onto the desk. Marilyn goes upstairs and cries in bed. I do my best to comfort her. All that work. All her pretty blue armor. Gone.

Ring, Ring.

Who is calling at three a.m.?

“J?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s Keith. The server just came back up and you have four bodies in the Monounga pit. You need help getting them back?”

It was the first time a server restart didn’t result in a body wipe.

We get together with everyone that just helped us, moving slowly and methodically and everyone recovers everything they had lost.

We moved to Dark age of Camelot next. After two years we started to crave a different gaming experience than Asheron’s Call. I moved alone. No one wanted to leave AC, but I was bored. As would become a habit, I would explore a new world, slowly convince Marilyn to just play for a couple hours with me, and over a week or two, convert her to the glories of the new game. Once I convinced Marilyn to follow me to a new game, everyone else followed a week later.
Dark Age of Camelot was amazing. Lots of good stories there. My favorite one is called “Operation Strikeforce.”

Dark Age of Camelot is based on castle warfare. You level your character up fighting monsters until you’re level fifty, and then you go out into the frontier and try to take the other two realms castles. Whoever controls the most castles has access to the best dungeon in the game, “Darkness Falls.” This wasn’t just “kind of” the best dungeon in the game, this was far and above the best place to play in all the realms. You had epic raids, fantastic loot, great monsters and at any time the dungeon could trade hands and you would fight the other realm that just gained access. It was the prize of prizes.

So important was Darkness Falls to each realm, that professionals with sixty hour a week jobs would stay up until four a.m. defending or trying to take just one more keep from their defenders so that they would have access to DF the next day. Each night dozens of castles would be filled with dozens of defenders and outside was dozens of attackers. People would go to work bleary eyed and exhausted for weeks on end because they couldn’t quit fighting at night. Marilyn and I tried to keep up, but we just couldn’t. We weren’t that great at keep warfare and with her chronic fatigue, we just could not stay awake until four a.m. night after night after night and then work a full day. It was insane.

Finally, I came up with a brilliant plan. (I won’t be modest, I still think it’s a brilliant plan. ) I posted on our message boards that each morning, at 7:00 am, I would be equipped with a ram for taking down a keep door, and anyone who wanted to join me, could help me take back keeps before work. So each night, working men and women would stay up until the very wee hours of the morning ensuring that they controlled the most keeps. The winner usually being the people who could survive the most sleep deprivation.

Marilyn and I would get up at seven a.m. each morning, log on, sip coffee and collect our party of raiders. Because at seven a.m., no one else was awake to defend. The only things we had to fight to gain a castle for our side was the computer controlled guards, which were a hell of a lot easier to defeat than fifty other human controlled players fighting tooth and nail to hold onto their castle. Keith and Stacy joined us most days and we had a few others that lived on the east coast and had jobs that started at nine.

We would gleefully head out into the frontier, take over the nearest two keeps in an hour and then go to work.

The other realms became baffled and their spirit broke. No matter how much sleep they missed, no matter how many keeps they took, no matter how hard they fought, in the morning, Darkness Falls belonged to Midgard.

Every morning.

It took about two weeks to break their spirit for about six months.

Those were great times. Just, fantastic times.

The evolution of life is fantastic. May you live in interesting times. I know I am. At each juncture, I think “this is the best time of my life.” College. Magic. Online Role Playing Games with a wife that enjoyed them.

Oddly, all of that bores me now. I’d hate to go back to college. I am like the Ken Shamrock of Magic. I used to be good but the game has evolved past me. I wish I still loved it and maybe I will again, but for now, it has passed me by and I’m not good enough anymore. (I still love every single person on the design team that honored Mare’s memory. Thank you again.) WoW bores me. I play it because it’s better than reading political threads on the Outpost for hours on end when my beautiful Wendy isn’t around and I can’t write any more.

Now I find my excitement in this new wondrous part of my life.

Just when I thought I had seen it all and was ready to shake off this mortal coil, Wendy came into my life and changed it forever.

I don’t even know the last time a Wakefield has left North America and now I’ve been to Spain. To Provence. To Paris. Berlin. I’ve seen the magnificent Arc de Triumph. The Louvre. The Mona Lisa. The bombed out remains of a church near check point Charlie. I’ve seen dozens of Bullfights and on June 21st I’m going to a Capea, which is where I actually get to get into the ring with a small bull. (Okay, cow. Whatever.) I get to use a cape and do passes. Hopefully I’ll get hurt and can post pictures. (Oh yeah, running with the bulls didn’t happen. Wendy had too much work that weekend so we couldn’t make it to the town in time. But it’s on my list, I need the points.)

It’s amazing to me how life has evolved for me and those around me.

Hilary used to want to slap me for not buying my parent’s comic store and now he’s owned one for the past five years.

My sister was a waitress for a decade before quitting to find out what she really wanted to do. She now works for millionaires (possibly billionaires, there wealth is staggering) taking care of forty dachshunds.

Her husband (Prince Todd) was a burnt out executive chef working the same job, endless hours a week for two decades before starting work for the same women my sister works for. And he has never been happier.

Wendy earned a law degree, hated it, got an offer to work in Madrid and took it, shipping over all her stuff, starting up a brand new business and now has more insanely important clients than I can even fathom and lives in the country she has alwasy wanted. To top it all off, she has the man of her dreams. (I think.)

Me? I used to be able to make scrambled eggs and boiled hot dogs. I never wanted to leave my house, I hated crowds and thought I could see everything I need to see right on my television. Now I make scrambled eggs with onions, green peppers and mushrooms and know why the onions go in first. I can grill steak, chicken, pork and burgers on my BBQ and know how hot the flame needs to be, by touch, for each one of them. I grill salmon and fry up sea trout. I have a pig’s leg in my kitchen that tastes like nothing found in America and I carve it myself. I’ve flown. I’ve been in riots. I’ve been in a stadium of 24,000 people and not felt panic. I’m working on a writing career and learning Spanish. And more. So much more.

Life is good.

And you can never know where it’s going to take you.

10 comments:

  1. Yep...In the words of Tom Hanks...
    "gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring? "

    A popular one among cruisers is...

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. "

    Or as Bob Bitchin says...
    "Don't Dream your life, Live your dream!"

    So many reasons to go and do and see...and the only thing holding us back is ourselves.

    Hope to see you.."Out there"

    ReplyDelete
  2. J,

    Easily the best writing you have done in awhile! Excellent... and I could not agree with you more... life is good and as we all know life changes. It is how you choose to make those changes, or accept those changes, that makes life worth it... loved College, Magic, AC every minute of it... but would not go back because I love every minute of my life now as well.

    Well done....


    Rod

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jamie, is there an e-mail address where I can contact you?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post, enjoyed it very much

    Glad the SuperMemo thing is helping

    How do the ad links work, instead of the traditional GoogleAds on the side? I'm trying to check back frequently and click your links. I'm also working on my own site that is partly for fun, partly to try out a new web-app framework (RubyOnRails), and partly to see if I can make any money with ads.

    you can email be at briforge 'at' gmail 'dot' com if you care to respond

    ReplyDelete
  5. J,

    I don't know why I didn't notice this before, but I think Joshie has a man crush on you...hard.

    John T

    ReplyDelete
  6. Since he's neither Sting nor Tim Daly, I don't have a man crush on him. He's just a really good friend.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Awesome entry Jamie, I'm catching up from the last time I read about a month ago and this was so great I had to reply and post because I am also one of those people profoundly touched by your writing adn I want you to know that. Keep it up! Lena

    ReplyDelete
  8. You were right...really good stuff. I am glad I went back and read it.

    Bobby Y

    ReplyDelete