Category Archives: life lessons

Making Time

time gif

Tock-tick

Pink Floyd are bastards. You’re listening to Dark Side, get all snug and sleepy from Breathe, and then ALL THE CLOCKS IN THE WORLD wake you up for a lecture on wasting time. But they have got it right. You need both. The space to breathe and be, and that little clock in the back of your mind that reminds you time passes.

Clocks, particularly alarm clocks,  were made by monks you know. It was to help them observe the proper prayer for the time of day. So, no matter what their daily business: farming, sleeping, eating, writing, counting money, making beer or wool; the clock made certain that they took the time to greet and witness each part of the day with the proper ritual in worship of God, which was their real job. And then they approached each bit of the day and it’s work in the frame of mind of worship. They went about all this walled off and ignoring the crazy nonsense of the world.

And that’s how it works. That is how you make time. One part ritual, one part work, one part ignoring everything else.

I do a lot of dumb stuff. I do a lot of housework, cleaning, animal tending, bill-paying stuff. But I chose that. It’s the easiest stuff to do, and no one else wants to do it. That’s my in! What I do I get back? Time to think. When I’m walking dogs, cleaning the tub, doing dishes, taking a shower…my body goes into auto-pilot, and I can think. That’s when the knottiest problems get worked out. Not sitting about.

I have considered that this is a form of “mindless” living. But no! The exact the opposite. I shower in the exact same way — same steps and soap, shampoo, razor in the same place every day — so I can shower without missing any bits.  I LOVE my showers. Because the rest is automated, my brain is free! I made a routine, a ritual to make time to work. Coloring is my new favorite time-maker! How wonderful to let the mind wander to color, movement, and some music!

I do it on social media, too! Prentend every comment or response is a little exercise in thoughtful writing. I’m practicing. I also try stuff out. Oh, perhaps I’ll write like Spock with a foul mouth? Maybe Dickens with anachronistic references? I was going through a big laconic phase a short time back. Sometimes I just make stuff up. Little “words of wisdom” I just pulled out of my… brain.  Caption this picture for best effect! This is what I do. It’s free practice. It’s fun. And that’s my “social time.” Oh dear!🤓

But then, it comes Time. The Time to do the real deed of writing. Now, here again, ritual is big. It’s a habit, but it’s also a ritual. I have certain things to hand. Vaporizer, extra fluid, at least two beverages, chapstick, and music. Now I can do that part anywhere. In fact, some of my best stuff I’ve done in bed on my phone. (I have yet to determine the causal correlation there. It may be coincidence. Further research is clearly required.) But, you know what? Nine times outta ten, I gather all of the above at my little antique letter-writing desk here (which must have been made for a child or a young woman because it is the perfect height for me), and I light a tea light under a bust of Shakespeare. I shittest thou not! BUT! (big butt) all I have to do is write until the tea light burns out. I normally lose track and it’s long out before I’m done, but yeah, that’s my timer. If I do that much, I win! I can go back after a break, or not. But yeah, I work one tea candle to Shakespeare at a time. And it’s all I need. It’s just a little measurable moment I have saved up and prepared for myself.

I ignore a lot. I might be worse than the monks in that regard. They did charitable works, I presume. I have no idea what the monks did. I know what’s going on. I read the news in the morning (with the coffee, it’s a ritual). Then I forget it and go about my own business! If I’m talking to you, I really care. “I give you my most precious thing, my Time,” is what Dad used to say.

I generally decide on giving a damn status fairly quickly. I am a hermit. I talk to my animals more than actual people…or digital people. I actually only “talk” in “meat-space” to about three human beings regularly. One is my therapist. So you know, if I get out of my house for you (or let you in) I am already way out of my norm. I need like 24 hrs of Netflix to recover from large get-togethers. 😂

Oh yeah, this wasn’t about what a weirdo I am, guess that happened though. It was about making Time. But that’s part of how I do it. My area of giving a damn is really slim. And the rest is all up in the old noggin there. And in my thought-filled dog walks and showers and tub cleaning. And in the ephemeral pixels I manipulate against mortality. And the scrawl of half a page of scribbled lines…that I put into Evernote, set a timer and tag a goal and a project for…

“Far away, across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell”

– Time, Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

*note to self: add back-up battery for vaporizer to writing materials to avoid getting up

 


JKHOA: Pt. 2.5 And I Feel Fine

That and love are all you need.

That and love are all you need.

Imagine if you will, being trapped in a world made of snow. Now imagine that you’ve watched all of Netflix and YouTube. Furthermore, consider that nothing you ordered could be delivered anyway. On top of that, I submit that you need a haircut because you look like a hobbit mated with a wookie. And you didn’t even realize it was Friday because time got snowed out as well.

Look ahead! On the left! You’ve entered my Snowlight Zone!

Consider the case of one Jessica Lakis. Yesterday she didn’t know whether or not she wanted to punch someone or cry in the corner. Or punch someone in a corner while crying. The point is, she was in a bad way.

Now enter a not particularly mysterious personage, possibly strange, but not unfamiliar. Imagine that she got Ms. Lakis out of the house. They got hair cuts. And they spent some money on some new nail polish and yoga pants.

Upon returning to her home, Ms. Lakis put on The Beatles and painted her nails black and red. And her hair can shake like a Beatle again. Wooooo!

Who knew that such a little thing, could have such a large effect on the mindset of just one young woman? Only here inside The Snowlight Zone.

 

 


JKHOA Pt. 2.4 Being Other People

Mona_Lisa

All portraits are self-portraits.

I don’t know how you make up people, but here’s how I do it. First off, when I say “make up people”, I actually mean create a character. I’m of the mind that writers simply call it “character creation” because it sounds more sane. It’s not. At least for me. But I get into it, so I suppose I enjoy it. Here’s how it goes for me.

Let me make clear I’m speaking of intentional characters. These are the ones I’ve intended to be in the story from the get-go. There are other characters that sort of end up happening because plot, but I always try to give them the love they deserve too. This just isn’t about them. The intentional ones get lots of time. I usually first look for a model for this person. An actor, a performance, an actual person, another fictional character. But it helps me to have a visual model. They may experience some drift over time, but once I “cast” my character in my mind it’s a go. And characters that refuse to find a model are infuriating.

I do the written exercises. I write several pages of their biographies, and I do Syd Field three “P’s”. That is: What are their Personal lives like? What is their Profession? And what do they do in Private? My personal favorite is what they do in private. What one does when one is alone is probably more telling than anything else. Rocky Balboa tells stories to his turtles. Gollum talks to himself. Dexter kills people. Walter White just sits there, thinking. And often revealing what a character does on their own is where some wonderful story telling sneaks in.

Obviously, this requires a lot of thought. And how I deal with it is role-playing. I consider my self as this other person and pretend to be them. I do this normally while going about my daily routine. I imagine what they would say or do in various situations. How they walk. What their speech patterns would be like. How they act and react. And if you ever catch me seeming not myself, it’s because I’m trying that person out on you.

I’ll tell you what though, it’s more difficult to be some people over others. I’ve written so many different people from different times and circumstances, I’m not even going to list them. And, yes, of course they all get a lot of me. But, to my mind, finding what’s “like me” in a character is finding what makes them human, to my mind. It’s what makes them sympathetic. And even a “bad guy” ought to have that. But the worst are the ones that reflect back on “like me” something I’m not overly-keen to see.

My latest fellow is probably the worst of a fairly varied lot that includes both the innocent and the wise, as well as the murderous and distasteful, and a lot of places in between. But I just had to pick a depressive this time. It’s very difficult to be objective with someone who is already “like me” in a way that I’m less than excited to admit. He’s a lot worse off than myself in some ways, and I pity the guy. But it’s like looking at your pores in a magnifying mirror, or trying on bathing suits under florescent lights. Uncomfortable.

So even if my carriage of myself may be off, or I may seem a bit down. Don’t fret. I’m taking an honest look at man who of himself, would have this to say, “Think of me as one who died young. All of my life might have been.” And remember that I’m giving him a lot more life than he ever expected or would have wanted. So, he’s in for a lot more pain than he already has. Torture time! Poor guy.

Maybe if I can pity him, I can do the same for others who may or may not be a bit “like me.”  Maybe I can even find room in my heart for just me.

 


JKHOA 2.3 I am Beat

albert-camus-c

Albert Camus

Probably ought to have qualified my announcement that I have the Plague. I call any illness plague because I’m really into the plague. It’s true. Goes back to my childhood and my Dad. I remember being about 15 when he threw Camus’ book at me with the statement, “Read this if you want to understand human nature.” (It was a soft-cover.)

He considered himself a “Beat”.  He had returned from Korea and went to art school in the mid-50s, so that was his era. He explained to me that because he could never learn everything, read every book, go everywhere, and do everything in his life, that he was beat from the start. He tried to give me a better shot than he had.

I remember when he’d play music or a movie, he’d shout in his 1st Sergeant way “Listen! Listen! Listen!”,  “Pay attention!” and “Focus!” at the climatic moments of say: Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma or The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, or at that iconic bone to space station cut in 2001. I found it irritating at the time, but I did develop the habit of listening,  paying attention and focus.

The result has been two-fold. First, I learn fast because I’m paying attention. But dear me, it’s never enough. Now I have to learn everything about everything I learn about. But you know what I’ve realized? I’m beat.

One person simply cannot learn, master and do it all. It clutters the “brain attic” and diverts attention. At some point you simply have to accept not knowing, not being the best and not giving a damn. So you have to give up on some aspects of life, the Universe and everything. You have to choose what matters. You cannot care about it all.

In Camus’ The Plague we find characters quarantined in an isolated port town on the edge of North Africa surrounded by only desert and sea. They have limited choices in the face of the hand life has dealt them, bubonic plague (because sometimes life just sucks for no reason).  Some people use the chaos for their own benefit, some have internal limitations that keep them from doing as much as they could, others rage against the unfairness of the situation, some try to keep up appearances. But eventually an odd kinship grows up around a Doctor and a group of misfits who are willing to put themselves out there in whatever capacity they have to fight for the life of their town and its people.

My favorite character is M. Grand. Grand is a low-level civil servant, but the only person still willing to do his job after all the other officials have either fled or died. He keeps all of the statistics by neighborhood, issues necessary permits and generally keeps the town running.  All while continuing his secret labor, working on his great novel. He carefully re-writes its first sentence every day. He tells the Doctor that he’s even gone back to the original Latin roots of words to get at their essence. His apartment, bereft of love since his wife left him, is full of his notes for his life’s work. His dream is that one day he’ll submit to a publisher, that publisher will complete his manuscript (apparently aloud to a room of rapt listeners), stand, and declare “Gentlemen, hats off!”

Of course, Grand is taken with the plague. And he burns all of his manuscript and notes. It is the low-point of the book. But he is given the first of a new serum, and he lives. And he continues his book.

Of course, the Doctor, the hero, who has coordinated every effort and done all he could, watches many tearful reunions after the quarantine on the town is lifted. But there will be none for him. His wife, who’d been sent away to a medical facility before the book began, has died. No tearful reunions. No life’s ambitions renewed. Just his work.

Pay attention. This is important. Listen. We’re all beat from the start. We all live under the sword. Focus on what you can and must do. Learn whatever you can while you still have time. Never burn your manuscript. Ultimately you do not know. None of us do. We may all be beat, but go down swinging.

 

 

 


JKHOA 1.6 Midpoint

Bilbo

The Road goes ever on and on . . .

So, last Friday I gave myself the challenge of writing 500 words a day on this blog every day for two weeks, no rolling on Shabbas. Half way in, what have I learnt so far? Well, for one, I’m taking a weekday off next week because I need a week day of. That’s my reason. What? That day will be Thursday or Friday. Other than that, I had a hell of a time. In both senses.

First: I really did have fun. It was a hoot. Glad I did this. I needed a jump-start. I got out a bunch of brain backwash that was just building up in there like soap scum on the tub. You know how when you need to clean the bathroom, and every time you go in there, you’re like “God, I gotta clean this.” But you don’t. Then one day you get skeeved by the idea of taking a shower or brushing your teeth. And you’re like “Right! This is on!” And you scrub the crap out of that tub, and then you’re like “Ah! I can feel like I’m getting clean again in here.” That’s kind of how my brain feels.

Secondly: Hey feedback! That’s really cool. I’m thankful for all of it. Especially everyone who’s just shown interest in my brain drivel, or pushed me to consider new ideas and ways to expand upon my work. I enjoyed all the conversations I’ve had with folks over the past week. It’s good. I’m not as social as some (most) folks. So that part is good for me. Talk to people, Jess! Most don’t bite.

Number three, all the rest of my other goals-stuffs and things are lining up around this small enterprise. I’m managing my time better. I’m making sure that everything is in place so that I can take care of me, my life, my dog (she got super-walkies the past few days after a few neglectful ones — and she’s the best listener and has some great ideas too. Thanks Molly!). I’m sleeping better. I’m making an effort to eat before 5 pm. I’ve had to do some yoga and walk to work out the back issues, and that also helps my thought processes. Hell, I even cleaned the house. I haven’t been that productive since before the day we don’t speak of.

Number four. I’ve been back to work on my other projects as well. I needed the self-inflicted ass-kicking.  It’s been a tough past half year. And I was getting all anxious and pissy because I wasn’t doing what I apparently need to do, which was get back to work. So I’m sure the people around me appreciate the less pissy part. Besides, if I dump all my excess brain energy here, I’m a lot more mellow IRL. (That’s “In real life”, Mom.)

So yeah, brain juices are flowing. I’m feeling better overall (although I think I have a cold). The people around me aren’t as afraid of me, and I’m feeling cool and groovy with them as well. I’ve enjoyed talking to new folks too. My neglected work is no longer neglected. Molly is also pleased to have her long talkie-walkies again. She’s such a help. And, finally, I have to thank my Mom for giving me this topic to write about over the phone while she was shopping at BJ’s  I was stuck. Thanks Mom Now when are you going to take the challenge with me? Your story needs to happen, too. I think we can manage better together.

Happy blizzard 2016 everyone. Hope you’re someplace warm and cozy with something or someone you love. No you cannot borrow Molly. I don’t care how much you need the touch of another being. You can have the cat though.

* I must say, this is the perfect day for the Master and Commander soundtrack. Why is that nobody ever talks about how awesome that movie is? It’s just like this magical thing only a few people know about and love.


JKHOA 1.5 Mystery

Type “Amen” like and share 😉 

One of my many nerd-denominations is Sherlockian. I owe an existential debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When I got to third grade, I had run out of Nancy Drew stories, so I started reading Sherlock Holmes. I sat there with the dictionary my Dad gave me and looked up the words I didn’t understand. I didn’t get it all, but I did so well on my language testing that my teacher announced it to the whole class. Then everyone laughed at me, and I comforted myself that some day I’d be just like Sherlock Holmes, and they would all still be stupid. (Hey, I was in 3rd grade! Leave me alone.) Anyhow, Sherlock Holmes is a great nerd mentor. He confirmed my belief in the beauty and power of a curious human mind. He taught me that magic is something awesome you just don’t understand…yet.

Sherlock Holmes adventures unfold like a magic trick. Usually they begin with Holmes whiny and pissy because he’s got nothing to do and the world is stupid and he hates how dull everything ever is. And then there’s Watson getting irritated because he’s trying to read the paper. So he jumps in and starts challenging Holmes. Into this bickering, the plot appears in the form of a messenger or a lady or some strange person. While Watson listens patiently to the inciting incident, Holmes just sits there until he hears some bit that is just slightly odd, “outre” was his phrase. Then we follow Watson follow Holmes on the adventure. In the end, Holmes gives Watson the “need to know” for a cunning plan. Excitement ensues, and then everyone asks Holmes “How did you ever…?” And Holmes’ intellectual vanity overwhelms him so he explains how he figured out who-dunnit. Then everyone, except our lovely Watson, is like “Oh! That was easy.” Poor Holmes goes home and plays some lonely violin, while Watson takes the girl to dinner.

So, for most of the story, you are Watson. You don’t see what Holmes is seeing, you simply see him, through Watson, doing his thing. So when the reveal happens, you feel Watson’s wonder at the “magic” of his friend. And it’s not cheap magic. The magic of Holmes is the magic of watching the beauty and splendor of the workings of a human mind. And a great and creative mind too. I’ll take that sort of magic as much and as often as I can. It’s the most wondrous thing that I know of in the Universe, and that’s a pretty big and wondrous place.

So what? Well, I get asked a lot about my thoughts on spirituality especially in relation to my creativity, and a lot of folks are shocked that I can find all the magic and meaning and inspiration I could ever want in just life, the Universe and everything. In the mysteries big and small. Holmes took cases because they tickled his curiosity, and he read a world of import and significance into scratches on watches, in a person’s shoes, in types of soil. He was infinitely fascinated by his world. And so am I. What more could anyone want than to be alive and have a brain capable of observing, learning and reflecting on this amazing world full of infinite expressions of Universal laws?

To me the magic of Holmes also reflects the magic of a Mozart or Newton or Michelangelo or Shakespeare, of great generals and leaders, of people who use their investigation of the world and its workings to discover, imagine and create. This world is so full, as Holmes observed “No ghosts need apply.” There’s just so much out there that really exists. And it’s all awesome. This Watson thanks Holmes for turning her on to that magic. And to everyone out there making awesome from the world, thanks. “My blushes, Watson!”

“The Cosmos is also within us. We are made of star stuff. And we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

 

 

 

 


Jess Kicks Her Own Ass Pt. 1.2

 

I knew him well, Horatio!

Alas! I know this feeling well, Horatio!

I suppose I’ll address the issue of my “negativity” or “pessimism”, along with some other words I’ve been hearing in relation to my writing and other media, comments, etc lately  (really, “emo?). These claims have a certain validity, but I’d hardly call my muse “the tombstone”, as someone recently observed. Mostly it’s just winter, and frankly I’m against it. I enjoy freedom of movement and the outdoors. My most cathartic moments are generally spent out of doors with my dog and my man. But let’s sing a song of momento mori today.

I want to feel something in life, even if that be something be “bad.” I don’t even necessarily care for that word or the notion of “negative emotions.”  There’s a time for The Beatles and there’s a time for Mozart’s Requiem or even just a sad etude. Winter naturally reminds us of death. And there’s been more than a few reasons to mourn lately. Bowie has left us for the stars. And Alan Rickman is sneering on us from some celestial plane of infinitely languid condescension.  So what’s so wrong with a bit of sad?

Not a thing. Say I. And dear me, how could I be alone? Why go around with a silly grin plastered on your face everyday unless you fear some unbearable evil will befall if your smile should slip? I’ve never seen anything wrong with celebrating an old cemetery, a moment passed, a shiny yellow memory that’s gotten blue on it. How would we ever know Joy without Sadness? Right my fellow Pixar fans?

I don’t advocate dwelling in grief, sorrow or despair. But ignoring these emotions seems to me far more perilous a thing than letting them grow inside until they own you without your realizing. When your fear of your own Dark Side dictates your very life because you’ve neglected it, then what? If we had no reminders of that eternal loss, our own mortality, how can we be expected to handle the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to?

Denying the Dark is every bit as dangerous as ignoring the Light. That’s why we can experience both. Evolution teaches us that nothing evolves without a reason because nature doesn’t waste energy. All of our emotions are there for a cause, and a very good one. They’re how we learn to live as a human being and survive the process.

I recently heard a phrase I liked. “When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.” ( Ursula K. Le Guin, The Earthsea Cycle) I don’t know the context of the quote, but I do know that the the Light and the Shadow are always with us. Shakespeare wrote sonnets of loss, and it never dimmed the brilliance of his humor. But it occurs to me that all life navigates that in-between world of mirth and joy, darkness and sorrow.

Why not choose winter, when the light is cold and Persephone still walks in the underworld, to meditate on those quiet, and not so quiet, shadow moments? Just don’t live there. The Spring will come.

And on the next sunny day, “Let’s go where we’re happy. I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates. Keats and Yeats are on your side. But Wilde is on mine.” (The Smiths, Cemetery Gates)

PS – I’m still with Johnny Cash on wearing black though.  I’ve got that which passeth show. Good grief!


Star Wars: The Force Awakens: a Personal Review (No Spoilers)

image

Yes!

Somewhere, deep down in a locked and staunchly protected room in my heart, lay my sincerest hopes for how Star Wars: The Force Awakens would make me feel. I grew up on the original films. In many ways they substituted for religion in my household. My Dad and older brother showed me the first two (on Betamax). My sister and I were old enough to go to the theater for Jedi, and we spent many childhood hours playing Luke and Leia with our white lab Obi-wan in the yard.

I never got into the “expanded universe.” In film school I learned about Joseph Campbell, lending the old films of my youth new credibility and significance. But by the time the prequels came out, I was watching Fellini and Bergman and The Sopranos. And The Lord of the Rings outshone the dottering old empire.

That’s not to say I didn’t still love Star Wars. Far from it. I bought all of the successively worse “Special Editions”. And I still watched the original trilogy whenever it was on TV. And, like all fans, I quote the films regularly.

My reinvestment in Star Wars really began with the cathartic Red Letter Media reviews of the prequels. And, soon after, the news of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilms was announced.

As a grown-up, managing expectations became a priority in all areas of my life. I certainly loved JJ Abrams. I devoured every episode of Lost. His second Star Trek was disappointing. But, given my knowledge of Lost and his 2009 Trek, he felt right at the helm of the new generation of Star Wars.

Yet, still, beneath my growing anticipation for the new film, I buried my secret hope for it. I didn’t much care about an expanded universe, or what new Star Warsy things I’d learn. I just wanted to feel that joy. I wanted to know if it were possible. I wanted to feel like a kid again.

Secretly, I pinned Fox Mulder’s poster up in my heart: “I want to believe.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivered and more. It was better than I allowed for even in my most hidden hopes. And laughing and crying and cheering with that audience was the best I’ve felt in a long time. I feel connected to my fellow human beings in a ring of pure, undiluted bliss.

I’m not going to nit-pick the plot. Everything I wanted, and needed, was there: the wonderful characters, the banter, the thrills, the family drama and friendships, the Force…but most importantly…the fun.

Isn’t that why we all loved Star Wars to begin with? It’s not because they’re the best films ever made, or the greatest works of art, or the deepest explorations of the human heart and psyche. Star Wars began as George Lucas’ homage to the serials and movies that made up his childhood. His creations made up my childhood. Star Wars is about wonder, the wonder of seeing the world as a child. Star Wars isn’t about reserved, measured grown-up sensibilities. Star Wars is for children of all ages.

So I have to thank Disney, Abrams, the cast, Kasdan, the gaffer, the caterers, the sanitation troopers (hey Finn!)…you all gave me a gift that was better than this weary soul had allowed itself to hope for. I feel just like a kid again. I can’t wait to see it a bazillion times…and buy the toys!

And, without reservation, it is my pure pleasure to wish:

May the Force be with you…always

I know you were watching too Dad. 🙂


Life Lessons I Learned from “Civilization”

I promised in an earlier post to enumerate the life lessons I’ve learned from my obsession with Sid Meier’s Civilization V. To summarize: Civ V begins at 5,000 BC, allows you to research everything from pottery to particle physics, found religions, choose social policies and ideologies, engage in diplomacy and war, build wonders, earn great prophets, scientists, generals, admirals, engineers, and artists, and asks if you can “Build a Civilization to stand the test of time?” No pressure. Quite honestly, a game so complex that it not only allows you to, as Spain, use an inquisitor to remove a heretical religion from one of your cities, but then rewards with you with an achievement titled “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition” cannot be summed up in a Wikipedia description.  (Click here for Wikipedia description.)   Civilization, like life, must be experienced.

For the layman, you choose a civilization represented by a leader (Augustus for Rome, Elizabeth I for England, etc.). Each Civ has a Unique Ability (e.g. England gets naval bonuses), and either special units (Legions for Rome), a special building (Temple Pyramids for the Maya), or land improvements (Chateaus for France) that all confer special benefits that will affect your Civ and style of play. There are five ways to win: Cultural (make yours the dominant world culture, AKA “wear my blue jeans”), Diplomatic (be elected World Leader, AKA Money, Splitting, Soldiers, Spies), Science (bugger off to colonize another planet), Domination (capture every Capital while retaining your original), and Time (score-based, ominously ending in 2050).

So, after over 1,600 hours of play, what has Civilization ever done for me? (Aside from deepening my respect for James Burke.) Here’s a quick run-down, and it’s in no way complete.

1) “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.”

This quote, ascribed to Eisenhower, and which you will find in-game upon completing the Pentagon World Wonder, best sums up both my experience of the game and life in general. Did you want to play as cultured, wealthy, wonder-building France? Too bad. You spawned next to Attila the Hun, and if you don’t arm up and wipe him out he’ll be the bane of your existence. That’s if you continue to exist after he comes at you. And he will. Or perhaps you went with Shaka Zulu, warmonger par excellence, sine qua non, and other fancy phrases. You rushed up the tech tree to find iron to make your Impi warriors, and oh, The Shoshone grabbed up all the land with iron and built the Great Wall! Or maybe you just warred yourself to the point where no one will trade with you, your people are starving, unhappy, not making science, you’re broke, rebels are tearing up your land and attacking your capital and you’re so culturally impoverished that you’re 30 turns away from any policy that might settle things down. And now the Shoshone have nukes.

Point is, listen to the man who planned D-Day, the biggest plan ever planned in the history of planning. Going into anything with a strategy in mind is great, but you have to be able to adapt. For that you need infrastructure and logistics. There is an old axiom that goes “Amateurs speak of strategy, while professionals speak of logistics.” Ever read Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars? It’s awesome. About two-thirds are concerned with grain and supply lines. That may not  be as exciting as the battles of wit and war, but having the ability to sustain your Civ, to produce that which is necessary, pin down where it needs to go, and get it there in time is the key to success in life, love, war and Civ.

2) Bread and Circuses

This goes hand in glove with the above. Happy, healthy citizens produce more food, science, production, money, culture…and more citizens to do the same! Pay attention to them! An unhappy empire will weaken your military and defenses, leave you broke, your people illiterate, they will starve and revolt, and then you’re playing The French Revolution and not Civilization. There’s a story that Augustus Caesar, after becoming “First Citizen”, wondered why tax revenue was down and production so poor. A census showed that people weren’t marrying, and so there was a population drop thus less taxable citizens. So he passed a law enforcing a tax on unmarried men and women. Marriage rates went up, but the population didn’t increase. People were marrying to avoid the tax, but not having children. So he taxed childless married couples. People started having kids. Tax revenue and production went up. City of brick became a city of marble…you know the rest.

Keep your people fed and happy and making more productive citizens! Have you ever skipped lunch at work and then been miserable and gotten less done the rest of the day? Or maybe you missed your morning coffee (Civ speak: Luxury Resource), had a headache by 11 am and picked a fight with a friend for no good reason? As in life, so in Civilization. If that means postponing your planned invasion of Warsaw a few turns til things settle down, paying off a City State with a desirable luxury, or building a Colosseum when you really want to get started on that Wonder before someone else snaps it up, it’s worth it in the end. You’ll get that Wonder faster, your war will go better, you’ll gain a City State ally in the World Congress and you have more happy productive people.  There’s a possible political angle here, but I’ll just hope you connect the dots properly (no they don’t form a picture of Margret Thatcher).

3) Diplomacy is bloodless war, and war is bloody diplomacy

Backstabbing, a truth in life and the quest for world domination. It’s great to have allies and friendships, but like each individual you know, every leader in Civ has a personality and an agenda. Some are coy and difficult (Augustus!), some are plain-dealers (Washington — voice acted by Bill Clinton, I think), some will try to win you with their wiles then wait for you to show a hint of weakness and pounce (so looking at you Dido of Carthage!).  Allies and friends are great in the game. They’ll offer you better trades, engage in research agreements, go to war with you against a global menace (Assyria you are a cancer that must be eradicated, unless I’m playing as you), defend you, support your proposals, but they want to win just as much as you do. It is a game after all. If your total BFF from turn 25 sees you passing them on the scoreboard by turn 250, dude, they’re coming for you. Be prepared and then wipe them out after they declare war on you. Liberate a city they’ve conquered. You’ll look like the good guy!

So bear in mind, that gaining votes in the World Congress (in which you split, bribe and bully your way to being elected World Leader), building Wonders, and generally out-shining everybody in every way is the object, the more you shine the more hate you’re going to attract. It’s a long game, keep your defenses up, your treasury full, your spies busy, help out those who are down, take the bigger guys down a peg…you’ll do just fine.

4) Punch one class above your rank

Here we will talk about what people truly love: WAAAAAR!  Come on. Why pick Rome or Germany or the Zulu if you didn’t want this? Did you play as Japan just because Samurai also make fishing boats? I don’t think so. Why do you watch Patton once a year religiously? But even if you didn’t set out to play as a Dalek and Exterminate! War will come as invariably as the dawn, whether you seek it or no. So I offer some thoughts on one of humanity’s and Civ’s fave past times.

Firstly, a Civs gotta do what a Civs gotta do. As in my reference above to spawning as a late-bloomer such as France next to am early-game, warmongering jerk such as Attila, you’re just going to have to knuckle down and go for it as soon as possible. He undoubtedly will. But, if you must warmonger, and part of you somewhere wants to, do it correctly.

  1. Do it when no one is looking. If it’s early in the game and you’ve only met Assyria or a frickin’ City State sitting the only iron on your continent, and you need iron for your Roman Legions: TAKE THEM! Then later when you meet other players, you can be like, “Assyria? Never heard of them.”
  2. It’s OK to war for Oil. You can’t always find or keep City State Allies or free land with something you need. So if you’re playing as America and you need oil to fuel those B-17’s (that you will obviously use to protect Freedom and Democracy), you’re going to have to fight for it. But be smart about it. Make sure you’ve got a healthy, productive, well-placed empire and maybe an ally or two behind you. You may want to go for the town the has the resource, but the best play is go for the capital and get the city with the resource as part of your peace agreement. Then you’ve got a capital that is hopefully well-built with a wonder or two, and you can Puppet the other town: all the oil and money, without the fuss of citizen management and extra unhappiness. That’s how Britannia ruled, and Mama taught her American offspring well.
  3. Go for the guy above you. This is where it counts. As I said above, that BFF from turn 25 is watching you catch him up. He’s coming to knock you down a peg. Be ready not only to defend, but take him out. Wait for him to attack and then just pummel the jerk. He thinks you’re weak. You’re a technology or two behind him, but you’ve been playing smart. You’ve watched him building all the Wonders, bossing the World around, as you eyed him up. Slowly building your empire, culture, cities and units to a singular and final moment when you, Rocky Balboa-like come from under to knock him out (so Rocky II, I guess). Now all his Wonders are belong to you! Enjoy it.

There are life-lessons in there somewhere, but I think one of Augustus Caesar’s maxims is apt: “That which is done well is done fast enough.” Like I said, it’s a long game.

And, finally:

5) GANDHI WILL NUKE YOU

This is one of the slipperiest characters in the game. Who can say “no” to Gandhi? There he is, in his hand-woven dhoti, standing by the sea making salt. But do not be fooled. He may look like the man whose face is covered by a million internet quotes about peace and love, and the man starving himself for freedom. But for all his Ben Kingsley saintliness, as with all leaders, this guy wants to win, and he’ll do so by any means necessary.

This is Gandhi’s play style: immediately ask to be your friend, maybe offer some nice trades, then he’ll start asking for “assistance” in the form of money and resources, which you will find difficult to pass on because: Gandhi. Meanwhile he’s building up, building up. He’s still asking for “assistance” while sitting in first or second place. And a couple “No, I’m sorry if this causes a divide between us” laters, he’s Denounced you to the World and then War!!! Gandhi has declared war on you and you’re feeling like the biggest jerk in the world, but he will bring the pain and nukes if he’s got them.

So mind that humble looking fellow. And don’t be afraid to go after him #becauseGandhi. Actually, it’s an ingenious play style and life lesson right there. Heck, live and play like Gandhi and nuke anyone who stands in your way!

Want to play Civ V with me on Steam? I’m Lakiski. Hit me up. I’ll be playing as Gandhi. 🙂

Inspired by the Civilization Rap? Check out more epic gaming/topical/socially conscious raps and general fun on Dan Bull’s YouTube Channel! 


Phighting Rocky When You’re Phrom Philly

록키 발보아 Rocky Balboa

With Rocky, language doesn’t matter

I love the term “curse-bless.” I think I first read it in a Dylan Thomas poem. And there’s no better way to describe being from Philadelphia than as a curse-blessing. I call it “The Rocky Syndrome.”

Philly is a great town to learn the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.” Sandwiched between our nation’s capital and the inimitable New York City, Philadelphia must struggle to define itself. A struggle that often manifests in the town’s well-publicized “addy-tood.” And I’ve spent my  life struggling to reconcile myself to it.

Part historical treasure, part post-industrial collection of neighborhoods and failed factories; travel where I will I find two names associated with the place: Ben Franklin and Rocky Balboa. But everyone mentions Rocky first.

And I can’t blame them. Rocky is a truly great film that transcends culture and language to touch people on a gut level of existence. And while the language-crossing may be down to Rocky’s own struggle with English, who can’t help but feel like and for Rocky?

The film itself is a series of body-blows, and it all comes down to one man’s ability to take those blows and remain standing at the end. He loses the fight, but earns his own respect.  Two hours of pain and struggle for one moment of glory and release. Like life. A lot like life in Philadelphia.

Rocky, like every “filu’fian,” is obsessed with being a “bum.” In case you don’t listen to sport radio, that’s what Philly fans call their teams or players whenever they stop living up to their potential. When they lose heart they become a bum.

No one likes a bum. No one wants to be a bum. Rocky shows us how not to be a bum. And there’s no better place to learn that most difficult of lessons than in Philly. And yet it’s so easy to slip into.

Philly’s a tough, gritty, depressing town. For all the advertisement, unless you’re in medicine or pharmaceuticals, it’s a great place to become a bum or, if you’re ambitious, get out of. And even if you do, it’ll haunt you, well, Rocky will.

You can learn to enunciate, you can even do well for yourself — go back in the ring against your personal Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang — but deep down inside you wonder if you haven’t lost heart. . . if you have, indeed, still wound up a bum.

Like the curse-blessing he is, Rocky himself shows us the way out. Think of Rocky’s training compared to Apollo Creed’s. Rocky gets up,  puts on his Chuck Taylor’s and old grey sweats and drinks raw eggs before he goes out to run the Art Museum steps. It’s about doing what you can with what you have at hand, not the spiff accessories of success.

It’s also about loving Adrian. About taking the girl in the glasses out ice-skating after hours. About telling her that she’s beautiful until she believes it. It’s when she loves you even though you may lose.

Nobody is guaranteed some big win in life. But if we can have the heart to take the punches, to fall and get back up and to be standing when that final bell rings, we don’t have to be bums. As much as it pains me, here’s one Philadelphia intellectual whose glad to claim Rocky. And now I’m going to go beat up a side of beef…


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