A New Year, The Same You

I celebrated last New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles by drinking a whoops-a-daisy dose of champagne, weirding out a stranger, and waking up with a hangover that lasted three days. It was not at all how I had intended to show 2018 what I was all about. And yet, there I was, the morning of the first day of the new year, brain made out of knives and cotton, struggling to open mascara crusted eyes to the harsh sunlight of what I was in fact in that moment, all about. 

I was 37, living in my friend’s basement, eating ice cream for dinner, watching my credit card debt rise. I was single. I didn’t want to be. With a ferocity one might have described as desperate. But it didn’t feel desperate. It felt holy. Wholly reasonable. Entirely natural. I stayed open, eyes peeled, searching, seeking someone. I slept with someone I didn’t want to just because I needed to be touched. After it was over, I understood there are lots of ways to touch and it is good to be specific about what touch you are actually seeking.

I went to Vermont thinking I might fall in love with my friend. I fell in love with my friend’s friend. He seemed to fall for me too. I flew to Seattle to find out. A willingness to cross the continental United States for potential touching. We touched. He decided he didn’t want to touch in the way I wanted to. I was crushed. I felt hope leaving me. That warm light in my belly going out. The air made out of molasses, my body made out of lead. It was hard to keep going.

I returned to Vermont. I took a lot of walks in field and forest. I held elaborate conversations with the sky. I prayed to the silence. I said a lot of heartfelt thank you’s. And then I asked for help.

I asked to be met, in love. I mean, I really asked. Got on my knees, head upward in a rainstorm. Not knowing what was rain or tears, wet-faced and wholeheartedly naming my hope. And then, I met him. He was everything I had asked for, and not at all like I had expected him to be. I watched my doubts but didn’t follow them. I held my insecurities but didn’t take on their shape. I stayed true to size. I stayed open. I let him continue to surprise me. I let life surprise me. I did my best to be patient with the process. He invited me to Peru. I found myself in the Andes in November. I laughed for the glory of it all. Life’s kindness that at times I had flirted with giving up on. Life’s generosity. Love’s ability to let us feel it. 

And here I am, 38, the year almost over. Currently at my parent’s house. My stuff in storage. Credit card debt hovering. I am no longer single. But that doesn’t mean I am cured of life’s frustrations or pains. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have to work to find peace. But now I’m getting to do that work with someone else. Now I get to eat ice cream for dinner next to someone. And it is nice. So nice. I find myself smiling often. A new soreness in my face. The sound of my laughter filling the room in the morning. I feel so incredibly lucky. I do. But my insecurities still show up to challenge me to keep stretching beyond my doubts. Fear has not left me just because I am no longer falling asleep alone at night. The work is ours, regardless of what we have or don’t have. 

The more I live it, the more I’m starting to feel that life isn’t about achieving. It’s not about getting or having or even keeping. It’s about maintaining a willingness. To bend. To continue. To accept. To hope. To trust. To get up when we don’t feel like it. To go ahead and stay in bed when we simply can’t get up. To let it all be okay. To keep trusting. To keep going. To stubbornly insist on seeing the good that lies in things. To let the difficulties turn into valuable lessons. To realize that hope in and of itself is the elixir, that it’s what keeps us believing. And it is that wishful motion that makes a life more than the actual obtaining. Having is wonderful, but the value of a thing is often felt the most in our longing for it. Perhaps the distance you feel from the thing you seek is what allows you to know exactly how much you love what you are reaching for.

So keep reaching. Just don’t get lost staring at empty palms. Look past your wanting enough to see that you aren’t naming what you lack, but what you love. Love what you love. Be vigilant in your patience for the things that haven’t shown up yet. And get to know the things you have a little bit more. Make lists of your richness. Tally the smiles you receive from strangers. The phone calls from brilliant friends. The rain on thirsty flowers. Be grateful you get to want at all. To be here learning, through longing and getting and hoping and losing, exactly what it is you love. 

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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