Cebu and Plantation Bay

June 26th

About that ‘better internet.’ When it’s working, it’s much faster. But (you knew there had to be one), the POS connection keeps dropping. Like every 5-10 minutes. And takes a minute to recover. I’ve since learned that unplugging the router for a minute seems to help for an hour, but man is that tedious!

Most of the rest of the family have gone on long (12+ hour!) day trips since we’ve been in Cebu. One day they spent over 8 hours in the car, though an hour or so was because of traffic. Yesterday they remaining family split up (about a third of the party has had to leave already; some to go back to work, one to go to his high school reunion in Tacloban, another group to be with their family for a memorial in Manila). The ‘oldies’ went to a shrine, two hours one-way, the rest (only 7 at this point) went to Plantation Bay, a very nice resort with a series of huge man-made lagoons, that Eliz and I have visited a number of times.

At first, the snorkeling was disappointing, as the water was a bit dirty and I could only see about 10 ft. Still interesting things to see, though, colorful fish, corals, etc. I borrowed my nephew’s GoPro camera and took some videos. If they turn out good (I could barely see anything on the tiny screen), I’ll put a few on Youtube and send some links. We got lunch (I was the only one to get in the water, they all wanted to wait until after lunch, only an hour after we got there), which was part of the day pass. Eliz and I ordered the salad (it came with appetizer, main meal and dessert), which was quite small, and we were expecting the rest of the meal to be equally small. Well, it was very generous and hardly anyone managed to finish. It seems that salad greens are relatively expensive because most are cool-weather plants.

It turns out when we first arrived it was the change of high tide and that was why there was so much crap stirred up in the water. I went in after lunch and the water was a lot more clear, so I borrowed the GoPro again and hopefully got better shots. One thing I missed, though, was the carpet of giant clams I remember from the decade plus from our last visit. Either they moved the barriers that keep the boats out and now the clams are on the other side or they died and were replaced with coral. I recall extremely vivid colors from the clams, though my memory tells me they were in deeper water, so maybe they’re there and I missed them.

When we got back to the house, the power was out (thankfully the first (and hopefully only, since we’re leaving in a few hours after I write this)). I was tired, though, so went to bed. The sun was still up, so it was probably around 5:30. I woke up (well, stayed up; I had to pee – being old sucks!) around 1:30 with an incipient headache/migraine. Hopefully the drugs I took will short circuit it (it’s only hovering in the background now). I spent some time answering emails and writing this, now, at nearly 4, people are stirring and hopefully breakfast is on its way.

With the coverage reports convincing me that I should make my Treasure Hunt movie, I’ve shifted focus back to tidying up the script (I had a handful of suggestions from the last editor I haven’t incorporated) and then working on a shooting schedule (movies are only rarely shot in the order they’re seen; they’re shot such that the same locations are filmed consecutively to minimise cost and setup time). I need to convince myself that shooting over 4 weekends is feasible before I promise my cast and crew it will be done in that time.

Because I’m a regular on Reddit (though largely as a lurker) I posted there asking for suggestions on where to ask for cast and crew:

https://old.reddit.com/r/acting/comments/8t5g1j/where_to_look_for_washington_dc_area_nonunion/

https://old.reddit.com/r/Filmmakers/comments/8t5ipe/where_to_look_for_a_washington_dc_area_dp/

Good suggestions for finding actors, and, in private communication with one of the respondents to the acting one, it seems being able to offer $1K for the gig will get me lots of interest as there are so few paying jobs in the area.

I got contacted by a guy via the DP (director of photography, the person responsible for the images that actually get captured) ad and we’ve swapped quite a number of emails. Though he lacks his own camera, he does have enough credits to have an impressive reel, so I may wind up working with him. He’s eager to start and has read an earlier draft of the screenplay.

I’m not getting nearly as much writing done as I had hoped, but I’ve also been feeling very tired. I hope, with our arrival back in Tacloban, that I can finish my adaptation and be able to put in some solid work hours.

The Party and Cebu

June 22nd

Before the party was the mass where Mama and Papa renewed their vows. The church had AC, so the process was much more enjoyable than I expected. Though the music was too loud for me, and there were certain notes that resonated in a most unpleasing way.

Then the power went out. They fired up a generator, but it didn’t cover the AC units, so it got warm quick. The next wrinkle was they’d sent the cars back, as the reception hall was just a ‘short’ walk away and the wrong way on all the now one-way streets. My wife forgot to bring a belt, resulting in my pants dragging on the ground, so I walked with my ‘skirts hitched up’ all the way to everyone’s amusement. If I were in jogging shorts and tennis shoes, the walk would have been inconsequential, but because it was in dress clothes/shoes, it was a very long, hot, tedious walk.

Thankfully, either the power had come back on or the reception hall had beefy enough generators to power the AC, the hall was cool. But not the bathroom, which stank quite badly. The music wasn’t too loud, evidently my mother-in-law’s entreaties to turn the volume down were taken seriously. It was a one-man band, in that he sang and played saxophone with a recorded music background. He was quite good, actually.

The food was good and I was seated next to someone I enjoyed conversing with, but the main issue for me was the official start of the reception wasn’t until 7 and we were there before 6. I would have much rather spent that hour taking a nap (the reception hall is only a few blocks away from the house). I left around 9 ish, I believe, and went right to sleep. I think they wrapped up around 1, as that’s the time my wife said it was when she joined me in bed.

I was told we were going to leave at 2 in the afternoon for our 5:30 flight to the house in Cebu we’ve rented for 5 days. I was very unhappy about getting to the airport 3 hours early for a 45 minute flight, but learned my opinions in these regards mean nothing. I was surprised, then, when we didn’t leave until around 4. The drive was a long one, but probably not even 30 minutes. So we supposedly only had an hour to kill. Our fearless leader in the airport was my sister-in-law Lolyn (she and her husband built a house about 12 miles away from our place in Shenandoah) and she decided to check in all the bags for everyone by herself. I’m quite certain it would have been faster if we checked in ourselves, but we had time to kill.

Way more time than I expected, as the damn plane was an hour late. A prop plane and it has no AC, so it was a hot sweaty ride. And only 35 minutes in the air, barely enough time to hand out bottled water and a peanut butter roll. I declined both, but had one of the saved rolls later and it was quite tasty.

When we landed and deplaned, one of my nephews (actually, a grand nephew), couldn’t find his passport. Thus, our party wound up getting split, with our son on the wrong side of it. Fortunately, nothing came out of it; our nephew found his passport and our son connected with us at the baggage claim. We wound up waiting a lot longer, again, than I wanted for the vans to arrive to pick us up. Two vans only held 20 people, so some had to wait for one to come back. The drive, supposedly only 10 miles (probably as the crow flies; we drove nearly completely around the airport) was probably at least double that in minutes. The house is very nice, though. A small pool, a big open common area and three large bedrooms in the main house and two small ones in another building. But not enough beds for the bodies we had. Eleven twin sized, two full sized and three king sized. Even putting three bodies on the king and two each on the full, meant space for 24, so we had a couple on the couch and inflatable mattress.

As usual, I went to be early. Eliz and I snagged one of the full-sized beds in the other building, as I figured it would be quieter than being in the house. Everyone got up at 4 as most of the party (nearly 20) were going to do a long day trip to a ‘nearby’ beach (supposedly we’re only a few minute walk from the beach; not sure why that one’s not good enough). The main downside is the house has no food in it, so today some of those that remained will go shopping.

I got the final script coverage report I asked for and blogged on it here:

RedDom Coverage Reports

Not encouraging, though the feedback did help me with how to market/position the script for best effect.

I’m almost finished with the synopsis for my dominatrix sequel. I’m pretty happy with it, but have a transition I haven’t been able to work out (yet). I plan on continuing to work on the main body of the script; I have about 3,200 words written of a target of around 25K. I’m writing it prose-style and will convert to screenplay style once I’m reasonably happy with the story. Regular prose is much more compact and, I feel, easier to read than screenplay style. Maybe after a few more scripts, I’ll write directly in screenplay style, but not for now.

The Internet connection here is much better than at Mama and Papa’s house, so checking email, etc. is a lot less tedious. Hopefully the pretty location will inspire me to write more, or at least read (I’ve totally neglected beta reading up to this point).

The Big Party

June 20th

Tonight is the Big Party. I believe around 240 people. I’ve heard that it’s air conditioned and walking distance from the house, so if I get tired I don’t have to wait for a drive.

Mama and Papa (what I call my ‘rents-in-law) are renewing their vows again, and they’re doing so as part of a regular (Catholic) church mass. I believe that’s scheduled for 5 PM, then a pause, then the reception that also doubles as Papa’s 85th birthday party.

Yesterday was kind of a slow day. I kept napping and really wasn’t able to concentrate much. I did have a cigar, during a ‘brownout’ (which is a euphemism for a blackout that’s on purpose) in the ‘laundry room,’ which is open to the outside. In the shade, so I was mostly comfortable (I did have to wipe beaded sweat off my brow toward the end). Rereading sections of a book on directing, as I hope to start planning the shoot for my Treasure Hunt movie while I’m here.

I went to bed early while nearly everyone else went out to a bar. They asked me if I wanted to come, but were up-front that the music is really loud (they all know my aversion), but I was wiped out anyway. I think I was asleep by 8. They came home around 1 and I wasn’t able to get back to sleep, so worked on the synopsis for my murder mystery sequel, “The Dominatrix Was Blue.” I believe I was able to capture all the ideas that were floating around in my head during the plane trip and have probably 85-90% done. There’s a transition in the middle I’m still struggling with, but I think I have the ending nailed.

This morning my wife and I went on our usual morning jog (we talked about it yesterday, but never got out the door). Total distance around 4 miles, but probably only jogged about a mile and a half. Remarkably few signs of the typhoon, except at the resort Leyte Park, which is clearly on some very hard times. Rather sad, as it used to be a tourist attraction in its own right and well cared for. They used to have an open air nipa hut restaurant at the end of a pier, but it’s long gone. What I most remember was one time walking out along the pier and seeing a boat for sale. It advertised that it slept 4, or 8 Filipinos. I’ve not really got used to the piles of people, even after 20 years, but it seems they can stack themselves like cord wood. Shortly after we were married, the family rented a house on the North Carolina outer banks for a week (Avon was the town, if memory serves). I don’t remember the count, but I do remember in the morning having to be very careful walking as it was like the aftermath of a bombing, bodies everywhere. Eliz and I were too junior to get a bedroom to ourselves (thankfully, we get one here now), but the house had some sort of cupola or something, no door, but no reason for anyone to go up there, and we were able to snag that. It had a twin bed with a pull out twin underneath, so we slept on different levels, but holding hands. Another amusing(?) story: Eliz and I decided to jog along the beach to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse we could see that seemed just a short distance down the beach. After jogging for an hour or so (sand makes for a great workout!) that damn thing hadn’t got an inch taller! We decided to walk back along the road, hoping someone would pick us up, and we got lucky.

I believe it’s tomorrow afternoon we start our trip to Cebu, so my thoughts on the party will probably be included in the Cebu report.

The Trip Out

Beginning June 17th

We (note that this is the ‘royal we’ in that Eliz has done 99% of the preparation work and I just carry things (and complain)) took an Uber to National airport. There was some confusion in that it seems Eliz had signed up for ‘pool’ and a large vehicle (note that we are taking 5 bags and 1 box, each around 50 lbs, for nearly 300 lbs of stuff – almost all this for the parties and very little for ourselves) and the guy who showed up wasn’t a pool driver (pool, evidently, is where the driver can pick up more than one fare). It seems that was more expensive, but I can’t say that I paid that close attention. The driver appeared to be Thai, at least based on the script in the prayer (I’m assuming) stickers all over the vehicle. The beltway, shockingly (not), was crawling along, but we left some 3 hours early, so no worries.

Until we actually got to the airport. Man, is National dysfunctional! We were standing outside for curbside checkin and I wanted to get out of the heat, so insisted we go inside. Guess what? They only have self service checkin! I started grumbingling at that, then decided I’d go sit this one out and try and calm down. Except I kept being brought back in because, it seems, self checkin isn’t actually checking anything in, we got to stand in yet another line to get weighed. Except we didn’t actually get to check the bags in yet, we had to carry them ourselves to the TSA scanner. In my usual ‘charming’ asshole way, I started to complain louder and louder, sprinkling f-bombs fairly liberally and really pissing my wife off.

Eliz kept getting wound up as I was wound up and we started to bicker amongst ourselves. She got so upset she had to visit a chapel to pray and calm herself down.

I did eventually apologize, but it took me a while to climb down off my high horse.

We finally got on the plane to NY. We’d no sooner reached cruising altitude when we started descending. Last time I was at JFK I vowed it would be my last. I make lots of vows like that, but time heals all wounds, or puts enough scar tissue on that it’s easy to forget.  Little convinced me to change that. Though they had a shuttle train to get us terminal to terminal (instead of buses), we had to take all sorts of elevators up and down to reach it. Up and down. And one of the elevators was barely big enough for our bags and Eliz had to take the stairs.

At first Eliz had us waiting in the Aeroflot line, but my sarcastic comments finally got her to check and the Philippine Airline (PAL) line was gratifyingly short. After we finally checked in, I wanted to go to a sit-down restaurant, but lo and behold, in the terminal we were in there was exactly one, and it was full. We did manage to find a table we could sit at and had something to eat while we waited. And waited. And waited…

The plane was a new 777 and Eliz had the forethought to get exit row seats. Full-sized exit doors, so nearly 6 ft of legroom. The downside was no window, which sucked. And there was no place to store anything, so it all had to be shuffled through the overhead bins.

It seems some relative works as a purser on PAL and she put the word out so the stewards/stewardesses were very friendly toward us and brought us lots of little gifts. Other than it being really really long, and the landing in Vancouver rather violent (my teeth felt like they were going to shatter), it was the usual dull routine. I might have dozed a little, but unlike trips in the past, where everything would go silent when I fell asleep, it just felt like no time had elapsed.

We got a new crew in Vancouver, so more well wishes and additional goodies. We tried a number of neck pillows and I learned quickly that the conventional U shaped ones were worthless. While they work fine if you’re (I’m) sleeping on my side in the car with the seat back, in the plane my neck would be forced forward if I had the opening toward the front, and if I put the opening toward the back, the damn thing would just fall off. We got one with two cylinders connected by a sheet, except it would slide around and fall away. What worked for me was a modification to the cylinders: they are L shaped, so tuck under my chin, but, most importantly, they connected in the front as well, to keep the damn thing from sliding around. I probably ‘slept’ (dozed) a total of 8 hours, a few from NY to Vancouver, and more Vancouver to Manila.

The flight from DC to NY was around 45 minutes and from NY to Vancouver about 5 and a quarter, so at Vancouver we had airtime of 6 hours. The air time from Vancouver to Manila was around 12.5 hours, if memory serves, plus, of course, waiting time in DC, NY and Vancouver. But we weren’t home yet…

In Manila we had to claim our bags, then check them right back in again. After going through customs. There was no line when we got to customs, unbelievably, but then it seems our bags were the last off the plane, so we stood/sat around for a long time. Then, much like how JFK has a half dozen terminals, Manila has several, so we had to change in order to get home. Note that we had to kill some 4-5 hours before our flight would leave.

We wait to take a shuttle to go to the other terminal (I believe there are 4) and finally a bus showed up. We piled aboard (with our 6 carryons!) and after a rather long time, the driver came on and started to collect money. For a shuttle! I don’t know if it’s an officially recognized scam or what, but it was only 20 pesos (there are some 53 pesos to a dollar), though my wife hadn’t made any change yet, so gave him two bucks. And that would have been OK if we went directly to our terminal, but no, it seems we toured Manila first, making random stops along the way. Eventually we wound up at our desired terminal and had lots of time to kill. A sister and brother (both inlaws to me) were already at the airport and terminal, so we were supposed to meet with them, except no one had working phones (have to get a compatible sim card first), so it was a matter of a prearranged meeting. Except Eliz and Don didn’t find them (I was tired, so sat with the carryon luggage).

It turns out they were sleeping in a place you can rent beds, but by the time I found that out, it didn’t make sense to pay for it, since we were boarding in an hour or so. We did, though, bump into they’re foster brother Tito, and he had been able to connect with them over wifi, so eventually, after they woke up, we could meet.

Note that the journey is still not over… One of our carryon bags was deemed too big, but fortunately Tito checked it in as his, so we were let through security (slightly less a theater than in the US – none of this nonsense about liquids or taking shoes off). We found the siblings and waited some more. They’d bought sim cards and were configuring their phones to work here and I sort of observed with glazed eyes. We then went to wait at the boarding area and I had to lie down on the uncomfortable metal chairs because I could barely stand. The flight time was 50 or 55 minutes and I probably dozed a little. We landed at the Tacloban airport and no sooner had we taxied to the disembarking area (just a spot on the tarmac; it’s literally just a runway, you taxi down the runway to take off) when it started to rain. Since it is walk down the steps with no protection, we wound up waiting on the plane for probably 20-30 minutes before we could finally get off.

Tito runs an ice business in Tacloban, and he had a couple of his employees and a truck to take our luggage. He then drove us to Mama and Papa’s house (I’ll try and get a picture of it; since my first trip it has expanded by ⅔ when the finally purchased the property next door; Papa’s father’s house and the siblings fought over selling it to him for decades). There are basically only two-lane roads except in the middle of big cities (and Tacloban doesn’t rate as ‘big’) and everyone uses the same road. Pedestrians, my favorite – though we didn’t see any on the way home – caribou (basically oxen-looking things), three-wheeled bicycles, three-wheeled motorcycles, cars and trucks. It’s constantly speeding up, slowing down and swerving. It takes a lot to make me motion sick, but driving on these roads has done it, though thankfully not at that time.

Tacloban has decided to make essentially all roads one-way in an attempt to make the traffic slightly less chaotic, so we had to loop around to get to the ‘rents-in-law house. I quickly said ‘hi’ to both, then went straight to bed for a couple of hours. I was practically cross eyed by the time I laid my head down. We left around 2:30 PM on Saturday and arrived at around 3 PM on Monday (we cross the date line, so ‘lost’ a day) for 36.5 hours of travel. Nearly 20 in the air, the rest sitting around airports. I am so not looking forward to the trip back, but will do the best to put it out of my mind until then.

For those of you who didn’t know, Typhoon Yolanda hit Tacloban City very hard. Around 6K people died from the storm surge of nearly 15 ft. My parents-in-law, fortunately, have an extremely solidly built concrete house that’s 4 stories, so they could easily get out of the way of the flood (which saturated the first floor; it seems they didn’t understand what storm surge meant and I wasn’t smart enough to ask). It was a trying time. I blogged a bit about the time here. Anyway, in places near the airport, where the ground was literally swept clean, the usual shanties had been back in place for quite a while. Since they largely used scrap, they largely looked exactly as I remembered. Closer in, where many of the buildings were replaced with concrete, the look was much more modern and clean. Closer in still, then it was back to the typical dark concrete (mildew starts growing before the building is even finished, making everything dingy). I didn’t see any overt signs of the disaster, except, perhaps, for the nearly endless construction. There was a large container ship washed ashore and I was told they saved part of it when they cut it up for scrap and turned it into a restaurant, so may need to check it out.

On the 777 I thought of lots of plot elements for the sequel screenplay I hope to complete while here. Sadly, I didn’t record any of my thoughts and most has vanished. I hope I can recreate some (most (all)) of it when I have had a chance to relax.

I have no idea how often I’ll do one of these, as there may not be much to write about. I intend to largely sit around and relax, which is a great-to-experience vacation, but makes for lousy story telling.

Must I turn in my sociopath registration card?

I’ve always considered myself a sociopath. That statement probably will upset my mother, but mothers always think the best of their little (well, not so little any longer) darlings. I’ve always been somewhat disappointed that I never got a chance to see action when I was in the military. For many years, when I was a youth, I seriously contemplated the life of a contract killer (most likely why I wrote a series of books on the topic). Sadly (and, yes, I really have felt that way from time to time), circumstances never gave me any opportunities.

After much thought and consideration, I decided, given the company I kept, that I would be better served by adopting the facade of a normal law abiding citizen. However, as I like to say, my veneer of civilization is quite thin, and just a little scratching or rubbing the wrong way will reveal uncivilized creature underneath.

A very close friend of mine dreads the thought of any sort of apocalypse. She’s as much as said she’d take the easy way out and take her own life if our society would devolve to that point. I, on the other hand, view those prospects with delight. I’d finally be able to let the ‘real’ me out to ‘play.’ Most likely I’d lose my wife, though a true apocalypse might be such that she’d greet those prospects with some relief, as society would operate under very different rules, ones I believe I’ve internalized on an instinctual level.

So, you ask, assuming there are any of you reading this and have got this far, what the heck does this have to do with anything? Well, a couple of weeks ago, one of my sisters-in-law’s (I have 4 (and two brothers-in-law)) husband died. Quite unexpectedly, in his sleep. While vastly better than a long, expensive lingering death, it’s still shocking. Particularly to those who discovered what happened.

Again, you ask, wtf are you babbling about? Sorry, that’s just something I do. I’ll try to get to the point… A week afterwards, we all attended a service for my brother-in-law (once removed?). First they had a viewing. I find those rather creepy, so instead latched onto the need to have someone babysit a newborn of a niece, daughter of the deceased. Her sister, another niece (not sure I could count them all), was breaking out in sobs on a regular basis. I found myself quite unexpectedly choked up and on the verge of tears myself each time she did this. Where was that cold-hearted sociopathic contract killer wannabe? The service itself (very well done, I felt) also had me choked up a number of times. What’s up with me? Am I getting soft in my dotage? Was I always like this, but lied to myself all these years? Weird.

I’ve also noticed myself getting choked up in certain movies, TV shows and even novels. I get upset when this happens. I don’t like the feelings and they’re certainly unfamiliar to me.

After some consideration, I decided to ask the above mentioned close friend (we’ve known each other since we were teenagers) what she thought. Below is her response…

I’ve always suspected that there was a huge vat of tapioca pudding simmering beneath all those layers of yours!

I remember, like a thousand years ago, we had a conversation about your sociopathy…it was not long after you had seen Awakenings….with De Niro as one of many suffering with “locked in” syndrome as it were, and Robin Williams played the experimental doc who tried Eldopa….and “unlocked” everyone, only to be forced to “lock” everyone up again because the side effects were so terrible….you told me how you hated that movie, primarily because it took such a toll on you to keep from crying…of course sociopaths don’t cry….not really….or maybe they do but not for the same reasons as other people cry….bottom line….I have always known that beneath the gruff, “asshole” facade beat a heart, if not entirely of gold, then certainly one of gold plated sterling silver…it’s one of your many endearing charms….and one of the many reasons I love ya….

That being said. I still verily believe that at the first hint of an apocalypse….you will indeed go on a murderous rampage. (Another of your many charms, I think) But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have a soul.

Clearly I have selective memory, as I totally blotted that out until her comments revived them. I’ve always been a misanthropist (my favorite curse word is ‘human’) and my fantasies tend toward misogyny, though I doubt I’d enjoy any of it in reality. Yet, it seems, I do have deep feelings that are incongruous with what I’ve learned about sociopathy. I’m sure there are degrees, as in nearly everything, so maybe I can still carry that card, just with a note that says it’s only true under certain circumstances. Sort of like how my driver’s license now says I am required to wear glasses. I’m sure you can see how similar those two examples are 😉

Wow! More than a year!

No, I didn’t die. No, I didn’t give up writing. I just didn’t write on this blog.

And I may not write much on this blog any longer, because I’m focusing most of my energy on another.

What? 1,024 posts and you’re going to throw in the towel? Well, that’s a very nice number for a computer scientist, so maybe that would be just perfect. However, the reality is I’ve been doing lots of writing, just nothing that felt blog worthy. I mentioned my creative writing before, well I’ve gone through a number of transformations since then. I’ve written over 260K words on my “Diary of a Contract Killer” series and wrote a murder mystery novella. I initially gave up my ideas for conventional publishing when I realized it was really a fool’s errand to make any money at novels (after reading a rather depressing article that ranked the top 100 ‘most notable’ novels in 2014, by the New York Times, and showing that the 50th best only sold 25K books (I’m pretty sure I got those numbers here)). I toyed with self publishing until I accepted that money would be wasted, unless I put in lots of time and more money on advertising and marketing. Time taken away from writing and money taken away from our retirement.

I wallowed in depression for a while, as my numerous past efforts to build a business empire have all been for naught and writing was about the only thing that made me passionate. My passion is weird, though, and I can only be excited if I feel there’s a realistic prospect that people would actually read my stories. What finally got me excited and writing again was revisiting a notion I got from one of my early beta readers. This person ‘complained’ that, with my terse descriptions, my novel read like a screenplay. That statement sort of opened my eyes to other possibilities, so I started to learn about screenplay writing (which is a _very_ different animal than novel writing!). I started to think it would be nice to have control over what I was writing, so learned about what it takes to be a producer. Producing is a lot of work, work that appears to be rarely recognized, and producers generally only make money if the movie makes money, so the most risky. While I feel perfectly capable of being a producer (I’ve studied business for 40 years), I wasn’t feeling ‘called’ toward it.

That changed when I started to read up on directing. The more I learned about producing the less I was interested, while the more I learned about directing, the more I felt it was something I was meant to do and somehow missed out on all my life. So, after much navel searching, I decided to give up my notion of being a novelist and see if I could write screenplays. I’ve since adapted two (the first contract killer and the murder mystery) and been told by screenwriter developmental editors that it seems my writing style really does lend itself to screenplays. Now my goal is to try and get into the paid directing business by doing an unpaid directing job and am working on a screenplay for that. The progress I make on that will be detailed at my writing-centric blog.

Asshole masquerading as pussy-whipped doormat

I learned very recently that I’ve been particularly good at producing the appearance of being a door mat. A friend of almost two decades was comparing his marital situation to mine (though I contend there are very few overlaps) and mentioned how yielding I was to my wife, how I bent over backwards in order to please her. It was only then that I realized that my friend, for all the time we’ve known each other, didn’t know about that core aspect of my personality: I am an asshole.

I’ve always been an asshole. I’m sure, if you pressed her, even my mom would agree (heck, she might not even need pressing ;-). I used to be a largely insufferable asshole until I got a chance to be homeless and destitute (my career didn’t go as expected after graduate school, and I am hard headed (part of that asshole bit, I’m sure)) and I am quite sure that if you asked any of my friends (my very few friends) from before-homeless they would all agree without any hesitation. While I didn’t attribute my homelessness (now, to be fair, I did have a good friend provide a carpeted floor, pillow and blanket, not to mention he fed me, so I didn’t have to live like a troll under a bridge) to being an asshole, I did have a lot of the rougher elements of my personality smoothed off by that experience. So, when my life had stabilized enough to start looking for love again, I was more thoughtful. My first post-homeless relationship was, to put it mildly, stressful. It was emotionally abusive. Not in the overt sense, but she grew up in a very emotionally abusive household and that carried over into her private life. Until that point I never understood how people could stay under such conditions, but while the lows were pretty low, the highs were quite high indeed. A veritable roller coaster of emotions, though I was glad when I was able to break free. We stayed friendly for a number of years, just a little distance allowed the emotional stuff to move to the background. Anyway, that first, post-homeless, relationship also caused me to realize that being a straight-up asshole was counter productive. This is not to say that the roller coaster was entirely my fault, but to make plain that I was a full contributing member to the angst, though I suspect even the most mild mannered guy would be sucked into that whirlwind.

During the period where I was on my roller coaster relationship I also attended something called the Landmark Forum (http://www.landmarkworldwide.com/). It is a self-educational seminar sort-of thing (it’s hard to describe) that forces (honest) attendees to peel back the layers of stories they’ve developed for themselves so they can pull them out and examine them. Though, objectively, I’ve always known I’m an asshole, I had the story that it was an integral part of my personality, thus immutable. Well, one of the things they teach so well at the Forum is that nothing is immutable about your personality, the way you are is due to choices you make, either consciously or unconsciously. I was able to accept that I was an asshole by choice, thus could choose to be something different.

It was after I’d had these series of experiences that I met my wife, so she only knows the ‘current’ me, she doesn’t know the old, full-time asshole me. Because I now realized that I have an abrasive personality, most of the time (and why I thought to write this post) I strive to be the opposite of an asshole. However, the ‘default setting’ of my personality is asshole, and when I get tired, hungry or frustrated it has a tendency (to put it in its most mild term) to come to the fore. As a case in point: last weekend I was getting my wife’s help to put leaf guards on our gutters. Anyone who knows me well knows I get frustrated easily (an understatement 😉 and I was having problems putting the leaf guards in according to my expectations. My ‘default’ behavior immediately leaped forward and I started yelling in frustration. When my wife reasonably tried to help and offer advice, I, in my ‘charming’ asshole way, made it clear I didn’t want her input. This escalated quickly. Sad to say, but I believe my wife has, after nearly 20 years, begun to assume some of my bad personality quirks and now aggressively pushes back against me when I’m being an asshole. I don’t remember what I said, but she stormed off and later told me she let loose a primal scream or two (I don’t think I heard anything over my rage). I later apologized. Doing so, though, is not something that comes naturally for me and I am generally not free with apologies. I don’t like to say things I don’t mean (though I say mean things when I’m upset, it is because I’m upset; sort of like a drunk), so when I wasn’t feeling apologetic, I didn’t. However, as I have grown older and hopefully at least slightly wiser, I started to realized that there is more to the universe than me and even though I wasn’t feeling sorry that I’d been an asshole again, I was sorry I’d upset my wife again, so I have learned to apologize for the result of my anger, even if I still can’t apologize for being angry (I term myself a ‘recovering’ asshole, so just like the alcoholic, I’m always going to be an asshole, but I hope to be one less and less often as the years go by).

So, what the hell does this have to do with being a door mat? Well, because I now realize that I’ve been an insufferable asshole most of my life, I actively try to not be an asshole, particularly to my long suffering wife. There is also the reality that when I was looking for a life partner I specifically wanted someone who would manage the minutia of things, such as paying the bills, ensuring there was food in the house, I look good when I show up at work, maintenance on the cars is done, that sort of thing. I got lucky with my partner (in so many ways!), not only is she smart (smarter than I am, certainly, when it comes to practical things) and looks fantastic, but she is happy to manage the ‘minutia’ so I can spent my time thinking airily lofty thoughts like how to implement my pie-in-the-sky ideas. She also patiently listens to my crazy ideas and is the practical anchor that ensures I don’t invest too much time in too many different ideas. So, since she is in charge of practical things and I largely ignore them so I can spend more time in my head, when she says certain things need to be done or we can’t afford to do something, I yield to her expertise in her bailiwick (she is generally quick to yield to my expertise, which is more engineering-oriented, so when she has an idea to build something and I tell her it won’t survive the winter storms, she usually goes with my advice, so it goes both ways). So, the combination of my trying very hard to offset my asshole-ness coupled with my avowed desire to ignore the practical things in life, I have been giving all the overt aspects of being a doormat (speaking of which, a good friend and I collaborated and put together this: http://sol-system.com/koxenrider/bok/AViewToMarriage.html). I never realized this until the recent conversation with my friend of two decades, so thought it might be amusing to document here.

Unlike in the above mentioned document, I have no need to work at becoming less of a door mat, indeed, I intend to continue my two decade effort to be even more of a door mat. I try to work very hard to be accommodating to my wife because she sees the default me so often. Hopefully less often as time goes on, but, unlike the alcoholic, there isn’t some specific trigger I can avoid, it is an integral part of who I am. We’ve talked about this many times over the years, it frustrates her a great deal when my ‘default setting’ is exposed. She has stuck with me this long, for which I am hugely grateful, but I know it has not been easy for her. Because I love her so much I try to make the times in between being the full blown asshole (like last weekend) as angst free as I know how (keep in mind that I’m not really good at being a door mat, it is something I have to consciously work at). Thus, if I am successful, I’ll become more and more overt at being a door mat, but, as mentioned in the document above, women don’t need much of the asshole to feel good in the relationship and I’m quite sure I am still way over quota. I naturally push back, that happens without any thought or effort.

Since this is slightly apropos, I want to laud my amazing wife a bit more. Though in my experience, the ‘submissive Asian woman’ trope is total BS (I dated a Chinese and Indian woman in addition to marrying a Filipina (clearly I have a ‘type’), ain’t none of them submissive!), when my wife and I were initially dating she was a lot more demure. The first time I realized that she had a fist of iron inside her velvet glove was on our first trip to the Philippines together (I wrote about that here: http://sol-system.com/koxenrider/trip/index.html). Though we were late and turned back at the gate, she ‘managed’ things such that we got onto the plane (and wound up in business class, though I don’t think she was directly responsible for that). Though in that document I say something about ‘gave him an earful’ to a ticket agent, she isn’t mean, nasty or needs to raise her voice (exactly how I am whenever I get upset). While not quite the same thing, I saw this again a few weeks ago (and a number of times over the years). She wanted a new phone and we were at the store looking into what was available. The salesman was doing his job and pushing my wife into more expensive phones with more expensive plans and though she was totally friendly and open, she didn’t budge a millimeter and pushed right back against him. I guess she got that from her mom, though all her sisters are that way so maybe it is genetic. Though my wife is easy going and accommodating, thus has aspects of the ‘submissive Asian woman’, she has no problems pushing back. Of course, that does mean that sometimes we feed back on one another when I get upset, I have been working hard over the years to simply walk away when I get worked up.

So, to wrap things up, I am a pussy-whipped door mat by conscious choice and work very hard to be so. If that causes some people to think less of me, that is a small price to pay to make my wife happy (or, honestly, in this regard, less unhappy). Since I’ve never really cared what other people think (yet another defining characteristic of the asshole), if they think I’m pussy-whipped, so be it.

Home Sick

I’m recovering from some sort of virus. As I lay down to take a nap on Monday I felt perfectly fine, when I got up from the nap I felt poorly. I worked a half day on Tuesday, then went home and huddled under a pile of blankets for the next 24+ hours, sweating and shivering. Because I had slept so late Wednesday, I didn’t get to sleep that night until Thursday morning – after I would normally be at work, though I still feel rather crappy. I woke up at 6:30 AM because I forgot to turn off the ringer to the damn phone before I finally got to sleep. I stayed awake because I want to call work to tell them I won’t be in today. An hour later my mother-in-law is _still_ on the phone, so I figured I’d put out a blog post to kill time and update my reader(s) on what has been going on.

Three weeks after I started my new job, back in May (I was hired onto overhead in April, so got nearly a month paid before I was back in the vault), the agency I work for announced that they were no longer going to support the product I was working on. At that time, the prime contractor (yes, it is a rather silly way to do things, as a tax payer I am mortally offended at the waste) said that we had enough funds to last at least until the end of October, most likely until the end of December, given how fast the rats were likely to abandon the sinking ship. As such, since we were in the middle of refinancing our mortgages, I decided I’d just sit back and let my new company try and find me another position somewhere. That lasted for about six weeks, then we got a ‘correction’ in what they meant to say was we would have until the end of September. Since it can trivially take 4-6 weeks to switch to a new job even after acceptance all around (what with clearance transfers and whatnot), I decided I couldn’t rely just on my new employer any longer, so revived many of my previous job search contacts. I have had some positive steps, but no official offers yet, so may get to be unemployed all over again.

Regarding the refinances, we are supposed to sign those docs on Monday (which is 5 days away as I type this). Though tings didn’t work out entirely to our expectations (the appraisal of our house in the Va countryside wound up significantly lower than I had expected, fortunately we could get a much higher loan-to-value rate on our house in Maryland to compensate) the end result is satisfactory. We will wind up with just two mortgages, about $500 more expensive each, but no other debt at all. All credit cards, student debt, etc. all paid off in two interest deductible loans. Of course, that also means we will be paying our Va mortgage until we are 81. However, at 3.5% actual interest rate, closer to 2.4% once interest tax deductions are factored in, I figure we are far and away better off putting any money we might have to prepay the loan into investments.

Refinancing dramatically reduces our fixed monthly expenses, by over $4K, which makes my job search immensely more flexible. According to our budget spreadsheet I could take a pay cut of 60% and still cover all our bills. Since I was making only 35% less when I was last working in the uncleared world (yes, there really is a 35% premium for putting up with this nonsense!), that means I have the potential to find a job on the ‘outside’ if things don’t work out on the ‘inside’. Of course, I’d rather keep my current pay, our plan is to put that extra money into investments so we can retire in 6 years. Six _long_ years…

After the refinance seemed in the bag my wife allowed me to schedule a professional editor to go over my first book. He is busy (beware professionals that aren’t!) and won’t be able to look at it until mid Sept, so I probably won’t get feedback until Oct. It is ‘only’ $750 to give a detailed appraisal of my work, including the most important to me: is it worth a damn. Depending on his feedback I should be able to make a clear decision on whether to pursue this dream (fantasy) or not. I’ve approached nearly 30 agents with none asking to view the manuscript. I’ve also submitted the manuscript to Tor/Forge (one of the few mainstream publishers that will consider unagented submissions) and got rejected. Now, it might be simply that my writing is crap, despite the encouraging words I’ve been given, but it also might be I’m selling my work incorrectly, for instance by targeting the wrong genre. The editor should be able to help sort that out as well, and perhaps even provide some input on my ‘query’ letter, maybe that sucks as well.

Though this post wasn’t triggered by any specific article I’ve read, I did read a couple recently I think my reader(s) might find interesting. This one:

Growing Organs on Apples
The future of regenerative medicine may be plants.
http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/07/growing-organs-on-apples/493265/

Is quite fascinating as it talks about some ‘low tech’ ways of engineering organs for humans.

On a more political note is this one in a theme I’ve ranted about a few times before:

FBI Agent Goaded Garland Shooter to “Tear Up Texas,” Raising New Alarms About Bureau’s Methods
https://theintercept.com/2016/08/09/fbi-agent-goaded-garland-shooter-to-tear-up-texas-raising-new-alarms-about-bureaus-methods/

Yes, it really seems that, on purpose or not, the FBI is involved in ‘false flag‘ attacks on our own nation.

According to Scott Adams, Clinton now has a ‘master persuader’ in her own camp, which is why she is no longer getting roundly beaten in the court of public opinion. This doesn’t mean that she is a shoe-in for the elections, though, as the difference is that Trump is his own advisor, so will always take his advice and Clinton is likely to ignore her advice at some critical juncture. While I buy into Adams’ master persuader hypothesis, I’m rather upset that the only way to win an election now is to start enough fires to burn down the nation. This idiot nonsense with Trump ‘dog whistle‘ of encouraging gun toting morons to go after Clinton and any SCOTUS appointments is pure and simple idiocy. With the two sides working so hard to make the other into non-human aliens who aren’t fit to exist, it seems like any success will result in half the nation actively working against the winner. I had expected Trump to moderate his attacks and go back to show that the Main Stream Media (MSM) had misinterpreted his earlier inflammatory comments, yet he seems to be doubling down. Of course, if you go look at his actual quotes they are no where as inflammatory as reported, yet in the vast majority of the cases he is perfectly happy with the MSM interpretation. For a while I thought I might get off the fence and vote for Trump just to see what would happen, now I’m starting to think of voting for Hillary because I hate so much how Trump is dividing the country. Not that Hillary would be a ‘good’ president, we are well and truly in the situation of ‘death by hanging’ vs ‘death by firing squad’, all outcomes are going to suck.

I’ve spent an hour writing this post, so my mother-in-law has been on the phone for two hours and seems to be going strong. I had to use my cell phone to call in to work!

Now that I seem to be awake, I may get something to eat and watch some Olympics before going back to bed…

Long dark tea-time of the soul

Well, perhaps not as poetic as the title, but it has been a strange trip. My job search appears to be resolved, I’m supposed to get briefed on Monday and back in the vault. I’ve been on the payroll already, which has made my wife a lot less anxious, but we won’t really be relaxed until I’m comfortable in the vault with my new work and the paychecks have been running for a while. I actually got two offers and had a third company say they were going to make one (but couldn’t react in time), which was lovely, but there was still a long period of depression when nothing was going on. I do hope we are able to actually focus and put a year or two of savings away before we go off our austerity, but the past doesn’t provide a lot of reason for optimism.

So, this post was prompted by a Dilbert comic I just read. Only the one panel does it for me, so I cut it out (click on the image to go to the Washington Post full panel):

People are just fish plus time

I like the simplicity of the statement and it really sums up evolution in an excellent way.

As always seems to be the case, we have more expensive problems. We were driving home from Shenandoah on Sunday when the transmission on our Odyssey (almost) literally burned up! We kept smelling smoke and were trying to figure out if it was us or someone else when Eliz finally looked in the rear view mirror and saw smoke billowing out from behind our car. After pulling over I carefully popped the hood (leaning back in case it burst into flames) and there was smoke from the back of the engine compartment. Fortunately it didn’t burst into flames, but I was worried for a while as the smoke actually got worse for a minute or two. An expensive tow home, our AAA membership only covers the first three miles, but it wasn’t too bad.

We have a backup car: a 1988 Ford Escort POS with 45K original miles on it. We got it ‘free’ from Eliz’ aunt who was the original owner. It starts and runs fine, but it is a 1980s American POS after all, complete with the idiotic self buckling seat belts. I hate the damn thing, but we need a spare for when events like the above happen. However, when Eliz started it up to make sure the battery was still good, the damn thing started pissing gasoline all over the driveway. That fix ‘only’ cost $150 (the transmission is supposed to cost $2,200; we only paid $3,500 for the damn thing!), because the service station is less than 3 miles the tow truck didn’t charge us extra.

My car has this strange vibration that happens only at highway speeds and only when pressing the gas. Meaning, if going down hill at the same speeds, there are no vibrations, but when going up hill the vibrations are rather disturbing. I at first thought it was tires, but I’ve replaced the two on the front (the mechanic said the two on the back are fine). Now, after some research, I think it has something to do with one of the drive shafts. Because I haven’t been working I haven’t taken it to the shop, but now, with the other two costing money, I might have to put it off for a couple of paychecks (which only come once a month). I sure wish I could win the lottery and drive a brand new car!

Speaking of the lottery, I am getting some movement on my long-term digital storage idea (I haven’t blogged on this topic before and this is the extent of the ‘technical’ description I’m going to offer), something I feel might be worth even more than the DNA sequencing idea. I already have the proof-of-concept (it cost me less than $10 and took less than an hour), so it is already ahead of the game as far as the DNA sequencer is concerned. I have some people interested in paying for the working prototype (which I think I can do for less than $30K) and my patent lawyer said his firm might be willing to cover the patent labor in exchange for some equity. Early days yet, but reasons to get excited.

The DNA idea has been showing brief signs of life. I contacted a consultant about some electron beam lithography work and somehow we got to talking about my DNA concept and the government lab where he works sometimes does research ‘pro bono’ as long as they can publish the results. That, also, is still in preliminary talks, but it would be exciting to know if my idea actually works. Plus, publishing positive results might get me the sort of attention I would need to sell the IP to at least pay back what has gone into it.

Despite having all this time off, I have been too lazy to update the web site with the construction pictures. At first I was rather depressed about my sluggish job search, now I actually have a task: learn about mobile phone technology. It has been an interesting learning experience, it seems that in the world of telephony they have never turned their backs on any protocols and everything ever invented is still in use somewhere. What a mess! Still, learning new things helps keep the brain active.

Sadly, it seems my man Bernie has come up short. Though the outcome was in doubt for quite a while, there is now no realistic path for him to get the nomination. That means it will be Clinton and almost certainly Trump, I just don’t see this Cruz/Kasich last-ditch effort having the slightest impact on Trump’s momentum. I really don’t see that the GOP cigar chompers having any choice but to nominate Trump, to do anything else I feel sure will not only cost them the general election but the House and Senate as well. They may detest him, but I don’t see the party being able to recover from such a debacle for a generation. There is no way any Trump supporter would vote for Cruz or Kasich, so they would either stay home or vote for Hillary out of spite.

Personally, I think Trump will eat Hillary alive during the general election. As I’ve pointed out to several friends, Trump has been taken out of context numerous times, but hasn’t bothered to attempt to correct the record. That’s because it plays into the thoughts and minds of the base, the voters necessary to win the primary. Once in the general election, he will go back to all those supposedly inflammatory statements and ‘correct’ the record and blame it all on the press. Since the voters, as a species, are credulous morons, he will easily convince well over half the nation that he really isn’t the frothing mad man that we all know and love to hate today, but is actually a reasonable and centrist guy who will make Hillary look like a frothing lunatic. This, btw, is exactly what Scott Adams has been promulgating since the very beginning, so I can’t take any credit for the idea.

So, will President Trump be good for the country? At this point, since Bernie is effectively out of the running, I have to say I think he is better than the alternative, that being Hillary. Whether he would be better than Bernie, that I can’t imagine one way or another, but I am quite sure he will be better than Cruz or Kasich (who makes himself out as a centrist, but his only difference is he isn’t full of bombast, he wants all the usual things ultra conservative right wing nut jobs want). At least, with Trump in the White House, there is a chance things will get shaken up and we can perhaps break out from the strangle hold special interests have on our government. Something I don’t see as possible with Hillary.

Whazupwitdat?

Three months! Wow! Quite a few things have happened, this will be another long and rambling post…

First, some good news: My patent was officially granted on Dec. 29, 2015. You can see it in all its glory here:

http://patft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?patentnumber=9222130

Of course, it is still worthless and we’re still paying for it. One friend insists, though, that the simple fact that I have a patent will make some employers more interested, only time will tell…

I’d been looking for a new gig for a while. My last job was really interesting right up to the point where they told me to stop working on it. Then, despite a number of promises, no further work materialized. I’d been bored out of my mind before (which is what got this blog started) so decided, after a couple of months of waiting, that I would look for something else. I found something else, back with an old employer (ironically, the one who was employing me the last time I was keeping the chair warm), but it took over 9 weeks to transfer my clearance. I’m ‘lucky’ that way, for some reason.

I was to start the new gig on Jan 4th, but, less than 2 hours before I was to start, I was contacted and told not to show up. The only explanation I ever got was this very blog. Fortunately my new/old company put me on overhead while they tried to get me a different new gig, but after 5 weeks without any success, they had to cut me off. To think: if I could just accept being bored I could have kept my old job and none of this heartburn would have happened (as I type this I am still unemployed. Very stressful, since we’ve been diligent about spending every penny we’ve earned on that silly house).

Speaking of the silly house, we have officially passed the final inspection. Not quite 5 years after we got started. I have yet to update the web page with the latest pictures, etc. If you’re curious, though, I stuck three pictures of the pool here:

http://sol-system.com/koxenrider/property/greenhousepool/poolpics.html

Now, if I could only get another job, we can finally refinance and pay off the credit cards we’ve run up to the limit to pay for the construction and maybe put some bucks in the bank. Of course, there are still little things to do, lots of them, and the aquaponics hasn’t started yet, but we are close. Too bad, as an austerity measure, we’re not going out to the place for a month or so. We’ll save a couple of hundred a month by staying in MD.

I have yet to get any interest from an agent for my book(s). I ‘finished’ the third, mostly I ran out of enthusiasm. I got 60K words out of an intended 85K. I slapped it into some sort of shape and am asking a friend to take a look. She might be the only one to read it, the lack of interest is starting to weigh me down and I’m getting to the point I’ll just stick them on my web site where no one can read them, just like this blog.

I’m trying to motivate myself to complete my attempt at turning my first book into a screenplay, but I’m starting to suspect that activity will fall by the wayside as well. While it is feasible to find interest in a screenplay totally independent of a book, I figure the competition is probably higher and thus odds are even more against. Then again, I may get enthused once this job situation is ironed out and things are back to normal. I’m nothing if not dully persistent…

Well, this turned out to be a shorter post than I thought… Maybe I really don’t have anything to say, so perhaps the silence wasn’t so bizarre after all.

In case you’re curious, this was the article that triggered my desire to post today:

Mind and Matter
Research suggests that a combination of mental power and conventional medicine may be better than either alone.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45103/title/Mind-and-Matter/

More evidence that the so-called placebo effect is real and subject to harnessing.