plinka plinka 2020

Big year coming up for me on the mobile computing front. For starters, and unexpectedly, this is an Apple Watch year. With the pending acquisition of Fitbit by Google, it’s no longer tenable for me to rely on my Charge 3 (and given that I’m technically on my third one in a year because of warranty/QA/display issues, it’s not the worst turn of events). I am assured that the Apple Watch is greatly improved since Series 0, and that it is potentially a viable device for those Sunday nights when I don’t want to get the phone out in pub mode.

That’s as may be. I have no doubt that pairing it to a more capable phone than an iPhone SE may work well too, as iPhone processors are rapidly catching up to desktop (or at least laptop) levels of performance. If it’s fast enough that the apps are viable, to let me do Duo 2FA or Transit lookups on VTA or use Siri to dictate text replies and trigger Shortcuts, that would be something. I would like to move into the next stage of mobility computing, where the watch and the earbuds can deliver much of what you need without ever pulling out that phone.

Speaking of phone, the Great Mentioner seems to think the new SE will actually be a notional iPhone 9, which basically boils down to an iPhone 8 with the 3DTouch circuitry stripped out and an A13 processor from the iPhone 11 stashed under the hood. This is quite frankly a Hell of an attractive proposition. I reluctantly concede that a 4″ display won’t get it done in 2020, but a 4.7″ might, and if it means keeping TouchID…actually, the question now becomes whether it’s worth giving up on computational photography and the like.

Because the iPhone 12 supposedly starts with a 5.4″ model that would be the same size. Only more screen, better cameras all around and the possibility that the A14 processor will be as fast as a 15″ MacBook Pro (to some reports). It also means waiting another six months on work’s iPhone X, which is still a hair too big to be a hair too big, and it probably means an out of pocket outlay double what the iPhone 9 would set me back. I also need a minimum 256 GB in the next phone, because I’m tired of playing patty-cake with iTunes in the Cloud to have movies and songs stay available and I also want the ability to work on anything from the home Mac’s desktop in a pinch.

But then the argument becomes – spend half as much now, get six extra months of a phone that will be as fast and powerful as anything currently extant, with a camera no worse than what you already have, and let somebody else go first before buying the next rev of Apple’s flagship phone. And then the counter-argument: you’re buying your next phone for three years, minimum, so what’s the percentage in buying one with half a year already run off the clock and less advanced features?

A similar case exists for the Watch, if we’re being honest; the always-on display is the sole upgrade from Series 4 to 5, but what’s the point in buying before Series 6? If you have to refresh your Apple gear every three years, buying in September gives you a bit of a jump on viability. (And let’s not forget that some of the features may be confined by the fact that I’m still using work’s service, and falling back on prepaid if that somehow ends – an LTE Watch might not even be a viable proposition.)

To be honest, the biggest thing I need is more, faster and better integration with Siri and Shortcuts. I need to be able to roll over in the morning, hold up my arm and ask “how long til the next bus” and hear “the next bus arrives in 19 minutes” so I know I have three more minutes under the covers before facing the bleak day. And frankly, I need to be able to address myself to Cyrano, or Friday, or some name other than Siri. Bring me that and we’ll talk. Literally.

at day’s close

I first heard of the book on a late Sunday night talk show on WAMU, where I first heard described the phenomenon of “segmented sleep” that was apparently the default mode of pre-industrial man. The show itself felt like it was coming from the edge of the world – I don’t know if it originated from UVA-Wise or was just associated with that tiny school in a tiny town in the Appalachians. But it was three years before I remembered to buy the book.

I read it in January 2007, after a year of mostly staying home and settling into our new house and my staff job at Apple and living in a fugue state of trying to figure out who I was now. It was a liminal era, of adult study classes and feinting around RCIA and looking for new pubs the way a Baptist might look for a new church. And into this game Roger Ekrich’s At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past. It was readable, almost hypnotic, building a medieval Europe where natural light ordered the day and night was at once terror and shelter.

2007 was the first year I began making a habit of writing down the things I enjoyed during the year. And “the book about night” was on the list, along with the night class on the history of Catholicism and watching Scottish soccer on TV and the quiet solitude of our own house with a pot of tea or coffee. It was soothing, it was relaxing, and it felt like the beginning of a calmer, more peaceful sort of life. I don’t know any better way of describing it other than to say I liked the person I was while I was reading that book.

And in January 2008, after an awful end to what had become an awful year, I found myself reaching for it again. And going to the same pubs in San Jose again, and playing the same songs again, trying to capture a little of who I thought I was becoming in January 2007, only now with the benefit of having recently been to York and Paris and having a little more European experience to add to my reading.

This will make the fourteenth straight year for me to read the book in January. I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to capture now with a ritual that’s lasted over a quarter of my life. But it’s from that first read in 2007 that you can see my book purchases swing hard toward nonfiction historical reading. Maybe that was the beginning of Sunday pub time: a book, a pint, and nothing else to do until morning. It’s a welcome vacation. I look forward to visiting again this year.

the saga

WARNING: HELLA SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

OK, I need to see it again. I am content with how things wrapped up, and I had fewer immediate nitpicks than I had for Avengers: Endgame. But the more I mull over what happened, I have come to two conclusions:

1) Too much of the new trilogy has depended on the books for explication. There’s an awful lot of “why” that gets tacitly answered with “it’s in the books.” One thing I need to do is reread the original early-90s Thrawn trilogy and see how it holds up because the current Thrawn books, and the Wendig trilogy and frankly all of the new canonical Star Wars books I’ve read all feel like the least impressive of the EU stuff from the late 90s. Could be age or generational bias, but when I was a kid we had the movies and that was it. If it wasn’t in the movies, it didn’t count. And you couldn’t staff out your storytelling to the book for the sake of speeding up the movie.

2) This is a bigger one, and I think the result of a hole Disney put themselves in when they first planned on a new movie every year: The Last Jedi is an excellent movie, but in retrospect, it’s a movie made at a point where they thought there would be more than nine episodes of The Saga, and the decision to curtail their ambition made it a poor choice in hindsight.

Think about it. Rian Johnson, deliberately or not, set out to deconstruct the Star Wars universe and rip up a bunch of things from previous episodes. Let the past die, kill it if you have to – that was the mission statement, and by its own lights, it worked. But you don’t do that in the next to last chapter of the story. If IX was going to be the end for the Skywalkers, and a notional 10-12 the story of Rey and Finn and Poe, then yeah – rip up what we know and reinvent.

As it happens, once IX became the last episode, Johnson had painted the story into such a corner that Colin Treverrow had to quit rather than figure out how to resolve it. JJ Abrams found a way to do it, with a lot of hand waving and breathless action and don’t look too close at the details, and is getting hammered for it – unfairly in many ways, because no one planned for Carrie Fisher to die, and apparently nobody had planned on IX being the true end of the road for a while. So he had to crash-land this bird without notice, and by those lights, he did yeoman’s work and came up with something emotionally satisfying.

But the whole “Emperor Palpatine plots his future return in the Unknown Regions after decades of laying the groundwork for his eternal Empire” storyline, while at the back of almost all the new books, felt like it was shat out of a cannon at the last second on screen. It was a hotshot angle, to borrow the old wrestling term: a sudden change in storyline on the fly to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. And as a result, you can literally throw away everything in The Last Jedi that doesn’t involve Luke, Rey and Kylo until the Resistance lands on Crait. “They fled and this is where they wound up” would cover everything else: the mutiny, the hack, Canto Bight, Rose, DJ, the sneak aboard Snoke’s flagship, all of it. Not that any of that was the strong point of VIII to begin with, but IX definitively renders it all superfluous to requirements.

Which is a shame. It would have been nice to have things plotted from the start and a coherent story for 7-8-9, and somewhere along the way rejigger everything for 10-11-12 and Johnson’s vision for the franchise. As it is, it’s done, and probably for the best, because The Mandalorian has shown the future for Star Wars: smaller stories, more human scale, no lightsaber battles or Sith Lords, and time enough to tell the story at prestige-TV pace and let it breathe. What’s done is done, and if the future of this franchise lies elsewhere?

Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.

2020

“There are things in my past that were too painful to contemplate, and to get them out of the way, I shut off the past. It didn’t keep the actual problems from leaking through, but it did succeed in cutting off large swathes of who I used to be – things that are, or should be, a very big part of who I am today. When they leaked through, it usually only served to trigger the wrong reaction. Memory and regret go together like Jack and Coke, and that’s not an idly chosen comparison.

The triumph of 2009 is that a lot of that past broke through in a big way this year, for a number of reasons, and for the most part not in a bad way. Call it the Lion King moment, if you like – “remember who you are.” I did. Those things that happened in 1989, or 1994, or 2000 are not things that happened to previous regenerations, played by different people in a different era – they happened to me, they made me what I am, and I still have a lot of those things going for me.

In 2010, I’m not going to be playing defense against my own past anymore. Which should free up a lot of time and energy for other things.”

 

-31 Dec 2009

 

It worked. For a while. Facebook turned into a rolling high school reunion, right up to my actual 20th reunion, which was a joy and a triumph. I finally went abroad again, saw Europe, even if I was dragging a couple people I’d rather not have been, but I thought maybe I was broadening their horizons. I had a new job, which was going well. I had hope for the future.

Then things turned sour back in Alabama, leading to estrangements that still persist to this day and made it difficult for me ever to go back. Vanderbilt was unearthed from the past and became a source of unexpected joy for three or four years, before just as suddenly becoming a source of unpleasantness. Work turned sour for several years, but I eventually got out of user-facing support and came to an arrangement: I would give up on bonuses, stock, profits and advancement in exchange for stability and security and enough vacation to live the life I wanted when I wasn’t in the office. And after three years, they tore up their half of the deal and outsourced all of us. I’m typing this from my desk at the office, where I am working because I don’t have the day off. Or any days off, really; you have to use PTO for holidays now.

And the wider world got worse. I sincerely thought after 2012 that maybe we broke the fever, that the Old Ones no longer had their hand on the tiller of American life. Instead, we went from stupid as a valid lifestyle choice to stupid as the sea we swim in. Seas rise, forests burn, and we still have to pretend that a crooked reality TV idiot is the best possible leader of the free world – and worse, that the people who believe that are somehow worth paying heed to, rather than chucking in a home and reading out of polite society. And the baby boomers won’t let go. It’s a crime that the top three candidates for the Democrats are all over seventy years old.

Speaking of, along the way, I turned 40 and pushed it close to 50. We all got ten years older, with all the slowing and deterioration that implies. The breath of the Reaper is closer and hotter than it’s been in years, and there’s no escaping being on the back side of life. We have reached the age where it’s no longer a matter of doors closing on what might be – this, as was famously said to Indiana Jones, is the age when life stops giving you things and starts taking them away instead. Hope for the future has basically been reduced to the dream of retirement – somehow, somewhere, someday – and the desire to just survive to the end of the week. Three hours, a pint or two, a book to read. A full half hour to cuddle in the morning before having to drag out of bed and go to work. The occasional pleasure of stopping in for a Guinness on the way home, or going out to an actual pub for an evening, or driving over the hill to see the closest of our friends who all moved away. Small things. Simple things. Things that can be replicated when needed, that don’t require elaborate planning and don’t come with the crushing disappointment of cancellation because you don’t know if or when you’ll get another chance.

I’ve had the life I wanted. Not all at once, and not as quickly or for as long as I might have liked, but I did experience most of the life I wanted out of the last twenty-five years. Now my focus is on living with the life I have – what Kanter and Ebb musically said, “you can like the life you’re living.” There’s a lot of mindfulness meditation. A lot of putting thoughts on a leaf and watching them drift away on the stream. A lot of trying to be grateful for a cup of coffee, a quiet seat in the back of the bus, wool socks in my Indy boots, candles on the coffee table watching Ken Burns’ Country Music for the forty-ninth time. What I want now is a cocoon, unplugged, quiet and coziness and a resting heart rate around 60, and curling up together under the covers while it’s still too dark to wake up.

You won’t get to live the life you like for very long or very often. You have to learn to like the life you’re living. Somehow. It’s time to find a future we can live with, wherever – and whatever – it may be.

resolutions: ordering your life

So set aside the things I struggle with and let’s look at the things I might have a shot at doing something about in 2020 while the world burns down around me. It all boils down to trying to take some control over the things I can control in my life, since so many other things aren’t (or at least certainly weren’t in 2019). More to the point, these are modest and achievable goals, of a sort that will make my life better for having accomplished them.

So to put myself on the record:

– Clean out the garage. It’s kind of a disaster area, and I could make it a lot more palatable than it is if I would only take the time to rearrange and stack things properly, and get rid of some stuff like the four-year-old unopened home brewing set that I’m never ever going to actually use. Along those lines, look at some of the stuff I’ve accumulated and see if some of it might not be better off given away where somebody else can make better use of it.

– Start running again. I got a bit of a start earlier and then got myself off track (ha) but every single health professional I have says that my life will be improved by running. Weight loss, cardio health, quality of sleep, quality of mood – running is apparently the silver bullet for everything, and I have to give it another shot. Might have to wait until it gets warm in (checks calendar) February though.

– Visit the local library. This was on the list for 2019 and was a glaring example of things I didn’t manage to do. I did manage to break the seal on trying the local downtown as a pub night option, and the increasing frequency of light rail service will open up a wider area for exploration, but I need to seek out transit-able things that aren’t just a place to get a drink, and the library is something I’ve ignored for far far too long. Speaking of:

Use the transit. The rejiggered VTA system has fewer lines but run more frequently. I need to avail myself of that, give the nearest local drinking establishments another chance, take light rail to the farmers’ market, walk to the new bus and make it a one-shot commute in the morning. Avail myself of what I can do on foot and not rely on someone else to drive my drunk ass home, and keep trying to dig out the Northern California that lies beneath the slimy surface of Silly Con Valley.

– Use the apps. Duolingo for German, Soundly for my apnea, Headspace for mindful meditation. Every day. I can get out of my own head and improve myself a little with just the earbuds and this thing in my pocket, and I need to do just that. It’s a lot easier to improve yourself than to wait for the world to improve.

– This is a big one: I have to stop buying things from Amazon. We recycle way too much cardboard and way too much fuel was burned to get it to me. If I can walk to CVS on the way home, or pick it up at REI on a Costco run, or actually visit a store, better to do that. And hopefully, after the ridiculous spending binge of 2019, I’m done buying things for a long time. Looking back at paper notes from 2008 or so, nearly everything on the old “Friv-o-List” has long since been purchased or gifted, and it’s starting to feel like I’m looking for things to fill the holes elsewhere. Soooo…

– This might be the biggest one: I have to find a way to reconnect with actual people that doesn’t depend on social media. Facebook is a no-go area already. Twitter will probably become so very soon. I’m still going to need to feel like I have other human beings in my life, and all the literature says that once you hit my age, the best way to make friends is to reach out to the ones you already have. And it’s not easy. By the time you’ve skipped going to the dentist for two years, it’s easier to make it three than to bite the bullet and do it, and next thing you know, you have nineteen teeth left.

– Live deliberately. The things, places and friends you enjoy aren’t going to be around forever. Tied House is closed for good. The pubs in San Jose are now two trains away, not one. Every friend I had in my own town has moved away, whether over the hill or around the world. My iPad mini isn’t getting upgrades any more and may not get updates much longer. Brexitcast is ending soon. The Junks can’t go on indefinitely. Keep trying to get better. Make the extra effort to do the things that make you happy. Stop doing things that make you unhappy. It’s not hard to figure out. 

After all, this is the Year of the Rat. Last time that came round, I said “my year, baby!” and ended up with everything I wanted by the end of it. I’d give an awful lot to have that happen again.

resolutions: football

What are my values?

Well, some of them would probably be things like:

– Follow the rules, or else there will be consequences.

– Don’t take credit for stuff you didn’t do.

– Your actions matter more than who you are, or who other people think you are.

– Do the best you can, whatever that may be at the moment.

– Don’t be a horse’s ass.

Set against this list, it’s easy to see what happened with me and college football in the decade of the 2010s. College football as it exists today is in direct conflict with my entire value system. Consequences are meaningless, if you look at the NCAA punishments doled out to Auburn or USC or Penn State. Who you are is more important than what you accomplished, and if you don’t believe me, ask UCF or TCU or anyone who got jobbed out of the BCS or the Playoff so that Ohio State or Alabama or Oklahoma would be taken care of. Putting your players in front of the graduation stage rather than the judge avails you exactly nothing at all, and beating the same team three years in a row or five out of seven isn’t enough for the world to stop writing Vandy down as an automatic W for the Vols or Ole Miss or UK.

I guess that’s what’s made this so much worse after the last decade of the sport. Something I enjoyed, something I loved, something I set my watch by and marked my years around has become a thing that stands in opposition to the very core of who I am as a person. Which has been a problem in other areas of my life as well, and no easier to let go of. But there we are. I watched Army-Navy, and saw a team that should face an insurmountable obstacle to success win its tenth game – something Vanderbilt has never done in 130 seasons of football.

And then there’s just the insult to injury shit. Florida pitching itself as the most academically challenging school in the SEC. Clemson doing it’s pore-lil-ol-underdog-us routine off the back of two national championships in three years. And at the heart of the decade, Penn State exemplifying the meaning of lack of institutional control and strip-mining Vanderbilt’s best success in a century so they wouldn’t have to suffer the ignominy of only winning seven games a year any more. Never mind the ridiculousness of Missouri in the SEC or West Virginia in the Big (sic) 12 (sic) or Maryland in the B1G or, or, or, or. The list is too long to recap yet again.

The HBCUs of the SWAC and MEAC have this figured out, having gone the Ivy League route. We’ll opt out of your nonsense, play each other against teams that are regionally located and on a par in culture, values and athletic budget, and we’re going to punt the Playoff and the bowls and the polling and the nonsense. If that was all it took, and there was some way for Vanderbilt to make its way to the Patriot League or some other new division-I creation that would let football be itself without compromising all our other successful programs, I’d be all for it. But I think that ship might have sailed, there’s no Magnolia League coming, and the final outcome for me and college football will be watching less and less until it wastes away into a once-or-twice-a-year-on-the-radio thing the way the NFL did.

I’ll be diminished for it, but my quality of life will be better. Which is the tragic necessity of our dumb century so far.

resolutions: social media

Staring down the barrel of 2020 is unpleasant. Four years ago, Twitter became completely unworkable for me, to the point where I basically killed my primary twitter account off after having locked myself out of it deliberately for a couple of months. I see no reason to think that Twitter will be any more tolerable in the coming year – not only because Twitter is and has been asleep at the switch in the modern world of online ratfucking, but because it’s almost impossible to stop the toxicity leaking into your timeline through retweets and dry-snitching by the algorithm. Jack Dorsey needs to stay in whatever African village he’s white-hoping his way to and the board needs to shut down Twitter and give the money back to the shareholders.

Instagram became the only social media I can tolerate. Being over 40, it’s less FOMO and more trying to keep in touch with friends. But it’s still owned by Facebook, which is completely untrustworthy and even less willing to face up to its responsibilities in a new world. And while it’s not a problem keeping the politics at arm’s length on Insta, it’s also not comprehensive at keeping up with the people I’d like to be in touch with. And I don’t want to feed Facebook any more than I have to, despite the fact that I’ve almost certainly managed to keep Instagram completely separated from anything I’ve ever had on FB.

But what are the alternatives? I have several. On the photography front there’s Flickr, which predates social media as we know it, and VSCO, which is less of a social thing. There’s also Cluster, which is a sort of private Instagram-alike – if you can convince people to join it. There’s Slack, and the good ol’ group chat, either of which is preferable – but neither of which is comprehensive.

And then there’s Twitter. There are alternatives – micro.blog and Mastodon being the two most prominent – but both are intensely geeky, not that easy to get going, and don’t let you view and reply to Twitter users even if your content can be piped out to them. There’s Tumblr, which is out from under Yahoo or Verizon and is now an adjunct of WordPress that has some social media features and splits the difference between Twitter and blogging. And at some level, there’s still RSS, and it’s possible to get anything that approximates a blog into an RSS feed.  I have other people’s Twitter, Flickr, micro.blog and theoretically even Tumblr all going through RSS.

But RSS isn’t social media. Replies, including favorites, aren’t really a thing in RSS. If you want to be in touch with people conversationally, RSS isn’t going to get you there. And thus we come to the real problem: two-way communication is siloed within every app. Text messaging and email are cross-platform, but everything else is its own service. And you have to coax people into Tumblr, or micro.blog, or Slack, or whatever. (Or convince them to log into the Flickr account that everyone created in 2005 and forgot about by 2008.) You might be able to see things from other people, but if you want to react, you have to give in and log in.

I went through this before. After 2006, I basically knocked my LiveJournal on the head and resolved to get out in the real world. I ended up posting less than once a week on LJ in 2007, and by 2008 it wasn’t even a thing anymore. I was never able to coax enough people into Vox before its demise, and by that point Twitter and Facebook had taken over social media. And now, I’m faced with the same problem all over again, only twelve years older. The easiest way to make friends at 48 is to reconnect with the friends you already have. And when they’re scattered across the country – or the world – then if you aren’t in contact, the only real way to get back in touch is to open the sewer hole and log into Facebook.

Social media is a slot machine. You keep feeding it your time, your interest and exposing yourself to an ongoing corrosion of your soul, in hopes that when you pull the refresh lever this time you’ll get that serotonin hit from someone you actually care about. It’s fine at a casual level, I suppose, but it’s a pretty piss-poor substitute for actual belonging. Nevertheless, I have to find some way in 2020 of making it work for me without getting worked over by it. Maybe if things go well, there will be some regulation and control over these systems before long. And if they don’t…of which more later.

Festivus: Our Stupider Decade

“I don’t know if it was just the shock of September 11, or some millennial sense of “we’re through with history and now we can sit back and coast” or what it was, but somewhere back there, we were transformed into a nation of pants-wetting fraidycats, with no more curiosity than it takes to sit on the couch sucking down straight high-fructose corn syrup and watching the latest episode of THE REAL OOOH SHINY!!! And what’s worse…somewhere along the line, a large chunk of American decided that was just fine, and wanting anything more was somehow weird, or dangerous, or wrong. And another chunk of people decided that those folks were somehow more real, more authentic, more to be valued, and went on validating them. If you want an epitaph for the 00’s, here it is: this was the decade we let stupidity become a valid lifestyle choice.”

– 31 Dec 2009

 

The sad thing is, at the time I wrote that ten years ago, Obama still had a seat in the White House, a Congress with 59 Democrats in the Senate and a House majority, and three years to go before Election Day. I don’t think any of us realized that would be the political high-water mark of the decade on the first day. Birtherism was still a ways away from being fully mainstreamed by cable news and reality dickbags, never mind losing first the House and then the Senate – and then, ultimately, the country. The last four years, really, has been running to stand still. Lose as little as possible, try to stop things getting materially worse, hope against hope to get a win in 2020 knowing we have one more shot, maximum. This nation won’t survive four more years of active bullshit.

The enemy is bullshit. And the bullshit, honestly, is what laid us low. Russia and China don’t have to be better than us, they don’t have to beat us fair and square, they just have to drag us down to their level and wait for us to founder. And they found willing accomplices in the useful idiots who have built a politics of bullshit for a quarter-century. Stupidity went from being a valid lifestyle choice to the only valid lifestyle choice. Reject science, history, logic and reason in favor of what the cable news tells you truth is, revised nightly. And with so much sewage in the air, it becomes impossible to fight through without being drowned out, and ultimately people just give up.

I mean, hell, I gave up myself. Oh, I still make sure I vote every chance I get, I try to put my money where my mouth is for the sake of certain charities near and dear to my heart, I’m liable as not to walk up to the table of some org feeding the homeless in a public park and hand them a hundred dollars cash before turning up my collar and stealing away – but all the cable news channels are blocked on my TV. I still don’t watch SNL or Last Week Tonight because I still can’t laugh at this shit. BBC World Service has been deleted from my car radio since November 9, 2016. I unsubscribed from the very channel I created in our friends’ Slack group for political discussion. I just can’t deal with it any more. I spent seven years getting two degrees in political science that in retrospect were worse than worthless, because nothing I was taught matters any more. Key, Sinclair, Wildavsky, Fenno, Folkways of the US Senate, Congress Reconsidered – all balderdash in the 21st century.

A solid grounding in the nature of SEC football rivalry and the forms and norms of Continental Championship Wrestling is all you need to understand American politics now. You can be openly delusional about your place in the world and the reality around you, you can substitute belief for facts, and you can update what’s real on a daily basis and deny anything and everything you said was true last year. Weaponized ignorance in service to wealth, in perpetuity. I don’t know how it’s possible for a country to survive embracing that, because sooner or later the real world will mark your beliefs to market. By this time next year, we’ll know how it went – and we’ll have the UK as an example of what happens when the wheels are about to come off. The die is already cast; the problem is living with waiting another eleven months for it to land.

rise

I’m six years old, running around my backyard with a blue broom handle, relentlessly whacking the hell out of an empty Windex bottle I throw into the air and then expertly slice with a two-handed swing, preparing for the day I’ll be lopping the heads off the Stormtroopers that stand between me and my nemesis, Darth Vader, the one I want to be like and must defeat so I can be like him, but a good guy. After all, when my first tooth came out at school and I lost it, thus missing out on the chance for that sweet sweet 25 cents that the tooth fairy paid for surplus enamel in Alabama, my dad made up for it by buying me my first action figure: Darth Vader.

I’m nine years old, and while we’re pretty sure that a new Star Wars movie is coming in a couple of years, I don’t have time to wait. So I plot out the next ten installments in the series. By the fourth one, I’m a main character. By the fifth one, we have crossed over with Battlestar Galactica. By the seventh, Star Trek. By the eighth, I’m THE main character and the action has moved to Earth 1981; so much for a long time ago and a galaxy far far away. And I want to fly a snowspeeder more than just about anything.

I’m twelve years old, and just starting to get a sense that there might not be an Episode VII in 1986. But then, I don’t do much with my Star Wars toys any more. The first movie just showed up on HBO last year, it only just aired on CBS, nobody has the movies on VHS yet, and it’s out of sight, out of mind.

I’m sixteen years old, and the original West End Games version of the Star Wars Role-Playing Game has landed in my lap (when the guy whose books they were runs away from home and gets packed off to military school). All of a sudden I have a framework to start thinking again about these characters – and others – much like what Marvel Super Heroes had done for me for comic books. And if I’m thinking of that battered Monte Carlo as an old but sturdy Y-wing, that’s nobody’s business but mine. (Those RPG books are still in Alabama. I need them back.)

I’m nineteen years old, and every guy in my freshmen dorm – even the ones pledged to the explicitly Confederate fraternity on a campus that runs on the Greek system – has run out and paid cash money for the hardback release of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, our first opportunity after eight years of blank space to learn what happened next. And since Zahn used the West End RPG as source material, it feels immediately comfortable and fits perfectly, and it’s like I never left.

I’m twenty-three years old, and going straight from cashing my grad school stipend check to the Target by Hickory Hollow Mall, because they have the toys that were sold out at White Bridge, and just like seventeen years ago, my first Star Wars figure is Darth Vader. And there’s a promise of new in-theater releases of the original trilogy, and a new prequel trilogy to come, and new stuff in the meantime like video games and novels that have their own soundtrack and even more on the way. And I’m playing the Dark Forces demo on my Mac over and over and seeing the beginnings of outlining a Star Wars universe that doesn’t have to involve a Skywalker to be interesting.

I’m twenty-four going on twenty-five, and all three movies are 1-2-3 at the box office. It feels like the Olympics, like for two weeks normal service has been suspended, because we’re all kids again and we’re popping like crazy for the bloody 20th Century Fox fanfare and again for “A long time ago…” and AGAIN for those words on screen. And we’re being teased with the prospect that there will be more on screen, and soon. And if my fleet little Saturn feels like a TIE Interceptor, or there’s a lightsaber-sized MagLite in the pocket of my long brown leather coat as I meander around campus after dark, that’s nobody’s business but mine, is it?

I’m twenty-seven, and the kid in front of us in the theater says “we’re about to see STARRRRR WARRRRRRS”, and my best friend leans forward and says “For the rest of the night, you have to say it like that” and just like that, STARRRRRR WARRRRRRS is a thing. And it doesn’t matter how iffy the actual movie is in retrospect, even after the seventh viewing in the theater, because it was new Star Wars. Sorry, new STARRRRRRR WARRRRRRRRRS.

I’m thirty, and our entire gang is going to the exact same theater for opening night of Attack of the Clones. My ex-girlfriend has a shredded knee that she tore up in a softball game only hours earlier, and we pulled her out of the ER and kept going, because STARRRRRRR WARRRRRRRS stops for nobody. And I’m playing yet another game demo on my PowerBook G4, and surreptitiously Force-pushing the doors open at the grocery store in a way I didn’t even do when I was ten.

I’m thirty-three, and I’m on a plane from California to Virginia, because I’m not going to miss the last STARRRRRR WARRRRRRRRS movie with that same crowd. My co-workers are all going to see it on Apple’s dime on opening day, but not me, I’m going to take a bird to the other coast for a midnight showing, because that’s what we do. And the Jedi starfighter in the first five minutes, so obviously the parent of the TIE fighter, is the spacecraft I’ve been waiting for my whole life, as much as the snowspeeder. And it feels like we’ve finally closed the loop on film, because there’s no prospect of Episode 7 or later, so the novels and such will have to do – the original Zahn trilogy will just have be an acceptable 7-9, and I’m OK with it.

I’m forty-three, older than my parents were when they took me to see the movie for the first time, and watching the second trailer for Episode VII, and I see Harrison Ford say “Chewie…we’re home,” and my throat catches and I choke back a sob in the middle of the office, because thirty years later, we’re finally gonna go into the theater and look up at the big screen and see what happens next. And when we do, turns out it’s dead solid perfect. Our old friends are there, and they’ve put the torch in the hands of a new generation, and I want to be Poe Dameron if I grow up.

I’m forty-four, and the world has been lit on fire and turned to shreds around me, and yet I’m watching something that looks and feels like it was plucked out of a 1979 that never was, and that last word, hope, resonates with me in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I can’t wait for episode eight now, and you can see why that elementary school aged kid wanted to be Darth Vader and slash effortlessly through a world that disputed him.

I’m forty-five, and I’m watching Luke Skywalker, who has to be well over fifty at this point, a man broken and damaged by the fact that things did not go the way he had planned, a man who has to stop perseverating on what was, a man who can’t be what he used to be but can be what he needs to be now, and for the very first time in my entire life, I feel like I get Luke Skywalker. See you around, kid.

I’m forty-seven, and I’m walking out of Galaxy’s Edge in Anaheim with something that isn’t so much a lightsaber as it is the thing that’s been missing from my hip for four decades. It’s lightly customized as best I can, and the blade is yellow, which I like to think is not “Jedi consular” or “Jedi guardian” but “Jedi IT support” color, and it’s a similar yellow to the inflatable blade of the original flashlight-based lightsaber that was in my stocking in 1978, and all I can think is, freeze me in carbonite until December, because I don’t want to die not knowing how it ends.

It’s December. It’s been almost forty-two years for me. I don’t want it to end, but it’s like the trailers say, “the saga will end – the story lives forever.” I want a good ending. I want to feel like I felt in 2015, or 1999, or 1991 or 1983 or 1980. I want to feel like it was worth the wait, that our questions are answered, that there will be victory and vindication and triumph, that General Princess Leia Organa will finally have her time to shine, that Poe will be redeemed and Finn will be complete and Rey will become who she was meant to be, that I can see the three of them with Chewie and BB-8 charging headlong into battle without choking up and blubbering, that I even can finish typing this without choking up and blubbering. I want the full payoff of the promise made to an eight year old in Alabama, that the most important thing in his life will have nine episodes. And I know I’m going to be a basket case on Saturday and probably right up until then, and I’m just going to have to deal.

It’s not an exaggeration to say my whole life has been leading up to this. Please be worth it.

second impressions

It feels so familiar. Like I’ve worn it for years. I feel like there should be a liter soda bottle in one of the big pouch pockets, and a whole jumbo bagel with cream cheese brown-bagged in the other. And then I remember that almost a quarter century ago, I did just that with the Elk, the ridiculous oversized leather field coat that I bought in a fit of madness my first year in Nashville and wore in the coldest weather until I left DC for California.

This is also brown and hip-length, if NyCo rather than leather. It’s also a little too big with its liner removed. The hood is zippered up in the collar, not snap-off detachable. But the sleeves are generous enough to go over a sweater, and there’s a specific heat on the neck when wearing it in unexpected 67 degree weather, and it feels…

It feels correct, for want of a better word. It feels like my black AmGiant work shirt, or my plastic Birkenstocks: like something I’ve had all along, should have had all along. It feels like it fits, the way the rare cigar feels in my hand, or the equally-rare pie beer feels on my tongue or the iPhone SE feels when you pull it out: this is the natural order of things. As if there’s another edit where this brown Army surplus jacket is my companion through snow in the District and fog in San Francisco and London drizzle and Patagonia winds and twenty years of pictures.

And the more I think of it, I realize this is an anomaly. I had a coat this length for a couple years in undergrad, a Helly Hansen parka meant for Central Europe and lost before grad school. I had the rarely-worn International, the never-worn CERT coat, and the too-stiff and too-slim “engineer’s coat” bought with AmEx points from Land’s End and subsequently donated. But as natural as the hip-length field coat seems in my memory, the Elk is the only one I wore for any length of time, and it stopped being a thing once I got to California altogether.

Maybe that’s why I was casting about the last few years. Barn coat, Barbour coat, some kind of horse-poop-colored British waxed cotton thing or blanket-lined duck workwear. All I know is, I’m none too quick to take it off at work – or when I get home, for that matter. It’ll probably be too warm by February, but all the more reason to enjoy it now.