Monday, December 16, 2013

On Writing More Frequently

Well, hmmn... I rarely post here. Nothing special about that. Most blogs are rarely updated, or fall by the wayside with the frequency that makes me look like a daily virtuoso. Life happens, and I've been busy.

I started a new bout of employment in my chosen field after a long stint of unemployment for school and then working a retail job I loathed (and I have no qualms about saying that Burlington Coat Factory is almost as bad as Wal Mart for the way it treats its serfs), have put schooling on hold (it got me the current career path, so thankfully the time spent trying to decide if a transistor was an NPN or PNP didn't go to waste), and have been a combination of busy and stressed out that I really don't care to elaborate one. Suffice it to say that I wish I could share some of the runway sightings I have had, but that would end everything pretty quickly.

I'm now firmly ensconced in aviation work, and have an excellent set of coworkers and bosses. My home company even is progressive (or maybe just writing on the wall) minded enough to offer full benefits to workers in same-sex relationships, the pay is pretty good considering what I do on a daily basis, and the wife and I are eyeing some more changes to our lifestyle in the vein of hoping to improve our foreign language skills.

That's all well and good, and I'll be glad to be able to afford making a concerted effort at paying down debts and living like a human being instead of a cave dwelling servile, but it leaves me asking 'when will Roy get to write more frequently?'

The answer is a resounding "sometime soon." At work, we have a short pre-Christmas push to get ahead of our orders as far as possible. It's a normal thing, but it involves overtime on the week where Misses Skull One and I would be trying to clean house, package gifts, and make final arrangements - and overtime in my job is a harrowing, mind-numbing run of sixty hour weeks as a general minimum. Once that overtime is over, we're on the road to cross a large percentage of the continental U.S. to visit family and friends literally within 36 hours. That's going to lead to a week of driving, visiting, eating, and trying not to drink and smoke myself into oblivion. After that, it's back to work, and maybe if I feel like it I won't take a semester off from finishing an A.S. in what fast becomes a ridiculous degree plan with no real bearing on making sure big tubes of metal can be certified to fly based on whether or not I followed a set of rules.

Speaking of those rules, I may spend some time in some training; that will necessitate a schedule change to accommodate the trainer. A minor annoyance, which may or may not show up in poetry. I find myself drawn lately not to narratives, fiction, or essays, but poetry. I swear it's the weather and the strong pull of the Shinto shrine north of Seattle. Alcohol may help, though.

I really would like to get back to writing more often. I greatly enjoyed the longstanding fiction project that Misses Skull One and an old friend (who we will incidentally be visiting for the first time this Christmas) have allowed me to collaborate on. I managed to get a submission accepted for a charity book of flash fiction which benefits an elementary school on the first attempt to submit something for publication. That's gotta amount for something.

I keep imagining that someday, I'll be writing flight fiction or science fiction, of a kind like H.G. Wells. Did you know he wrote fiction about powered flight before it was a thing? I have since the eighth grade, thanks to a cheap book from Borders my father bought me as a birthday present filler. I never really appreciated that book until way later in life, but I'm grateful for it - I think it subconsciously formed some of my notions on what and how to write that all the other writing and reading I've done didn't.

I've droned on randomly long enough, so as a last random piece, I'll leave a transcription of a poem I wrote Gods know when, sometime in the last two years. It's a common theme in my longer poetry, something about aircraft and warfare. I keep imagining B-29s over the Pacific Ocean when I read it, since rediscovering it earlier today in a forgotten pile of papers.


Clouds race by us
Engines hum in time
As guns roar ahead

Dots in the red sun
Cruising past smoke and fire
A maelstrom follows

Peals of laughter climb
As if sparrows fleeing hawks
The vulture laughs most

Webs of condensation
Cross between puffs of thunder
Shattered glass rains

Wind hides chirps

Buzzing drones flit above
Green turns to flowers

Monday, October 28, 2013

Christmas Writings

Yes, I know it is early for Christmas since Halloween and Thanksgiving aren't even here yet, but this was an inspired piece. It was prompted by a submission for a writing group on Facebook which my wife had asked me to preview. It got me off of my can and writing for the first time in months, so I don't think I'll question the urges too much tonight. It was written as a piece of flash fiction to be submitted to a free anthology; I can only hope it will meet the editors' standards.

The Christmas Gift
By Ryan B.
eBook: Yes
Dedicated to my wife, without whom I wouldn't have a reason to write!

The television was awash with pictures of snowy forests, gaily lit houses, roaring fire places, and everything else that could possibly turn Thomas’ stomach. He was certain that if he bothered to watch it any further he might see a happy family unwrapping presents between the various television advertisements for department stores and specialty shops.
     “You want another?” Christy asked from across the bar. She was leaning against the liquor shelf with a cigarette in her mouth, watching the rain blat away against the painted windows of her corner bar.
     “Yeah, why the hell not?” Thomas answered, as he leaned back on his stool and fished in his jacket pocket for his own pack of smokes.
     “I warned you once already tonight, Thom,” Christy chided sternly from behind the taps as she pulled a fresh mug of light beer for him. “You ain’t allowed to swear in here any more than I am, dammit.” She grinned as she slid the octagonal mug across the bar mat to him, and grabbed a foil packet of peanuts from behind the bar.
     “I didn’t order that crap,” Thomas groused as he watched her open the package of Beer Nuts and dump it into a shallow bowl.
     “Merry Christmas from one schlub to another,” Christy offered as she shoved the plastic container to her friend.
     “Now you’ve wounded me!” Thomas exclaimed with false modesty. He was unrepentant about accepting her gift, though, and crammed a handful of peanuts into his mouth before raising his glass in a mock toast. “To Jesus! May he envy that which you charge me a buck for!”
     “Hear, hear!” bellowed a voice from the doorway. The reply caught Thomas off his guard, and he nearly spilled his mug in his lap before he recovered and turned to face the intrusion on his quiet night nearly alone.
     “Eddy!” Christy exclaimed with genuine surprise, her matted, greying hair bouncing as she whipped her head towards the newcomer. “I thought you was gonna be in Cali with your wife?”
     “I was,” the grizzled man in threadbare denim and leather answered as he leaned over the elbow of the bar and delt a soft kiss to the bartender’s cheek. “Problem is, they ain’t my family and I’ve been disinvited. Pretty sure there’s a divorce in the works.” He sat down, his soggy boots squishing as he planted his feet on the rails down below.
     “What for?” Thomas asked, glad of the diversion from the achingly sappy Christmas special on the television. The bar was devoid of customers, save himself and his off-and-on drinking pal.
     “She says I drink too much,” Eddy replied as he received his customary boiler maker and an extra shot. Looking up from under his driving cap, he grimaced. “I didn’t ask for this, Christy.”
     “T’is the Season,” she offered, as she stubbed her ultra-light cigarette in the ash tray she and Thomas had been sharing. “Sorry for your loss, bud.”
     “No matter,” Eddy said, slapping a pair of worn bank notes down on the battered wood of the bar. “Tommy here-“
     “Don’t call me that!” Thomas replied, as per their ritual.
     “Tommy here,” Eddy resumed without missing a beat, “He and I are gonna have a few drinks and keep you in business, and for once, you’re going to join us. Call it a real Christmas present.”
     Christy stared at the pair of ten dollar bills on her counter, and then shrugged before fishing her pack of cigarettes out of her stained apron. Both men watched her apprehensively; they had seen her eject life-long patrons for less, and Thomas suspected that Eddy was just as unhappy with the idea of having to leave the warm bar as he was.

     “Oh, what the hell,” Christy said, as she grabbed a mug from the hidden shelves below the bar and went to the taps. “Call it a present to a dear friend.”

Oh crap! I am alive after all!

So much has changed from a year ago - I've switched jobs, failed classes due to inattentiveness, moved on with my life, continued my degree... oh, and gotten a new job which puts me squarely in the field I desire, but I'm not going to prattle on about that kind of stuff.

Just a quick note before I start posting some writings I've been creating off and on, and a hearty "sorry" to those three who seemed to check in with me regularly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I'm Just the Curry-ier, Ma'am.

It finally turned cold here in central Texas last week, and even then it's short lived - we'll be in the middle sixties by the end of the week. Being from a more northerly clime, I greatly enjoy these bursts of cold (sometimes foul) weather more than some of my neighbors (okay, most of them).

Due to the cold weather last night and an overabundance of desire to do so, I made more curry today. Most of the days between blog posts are taken up with other foods - misoni pork, oden and other nimono, the odd pizza or bowl of ramen - but this felt like it was going to be a curry day. I'm assuming it was on my mind because of both the cold weather and this video the Wife sent me last week. We had discussed making some changes to our home curry recipe, a la JMSDF ships and their post WWII traditions.

Just like everyone's grandma's way of making pot roast or mama's spaghetti sauce secrets, every ship's cook in the JMSDF has a specific way in which they make curry sauce. Curry sauce (as I explained briefly before) was introduced by the British in the late 1800s, then morphed over the course of time to become so popular that it's now considered a national dish. In the early parts of the 1900s, the IJN began a practice that would become a weekly tradition. Ships would have lots of scraps of vegetables and meat saved up from cooking during the week, and various other things that needed some use: tomato sauce, worchestershire sauce, bread crumbs, you name it it was possibly in the galley. Cooks would make curry rice based upon these leftovers and sundry herbs and spices, all made in a thick lard-and-flour-based gravy.

After WWII, the dish continued to skyrocket in popularity to the point where in the 1960s when viable 'roux blocks' of curry began to be sold in supermarkets. Suddenly, you didn't have to spend hours mixing your own sauce and tending the stove twice (or three times if you still used a traditional rice pot) in order to make what was really a simple dish, if you even knew how to make it.

So I did some of my prep last night by chopping up some veggies and mixing my dry spices and flour. Instead of my usual mix of straight curry powder and flour, I went with curry powder, garam masala and flour. This morning, I made some quick beef stock (I have got to get rid of this free instant broth somehow), made my roux block, and  sautéd the vegetables and beef in butter before the usual steps of adding and boiling the beef stock, then adding the roe and letting it start to thicken.

This is where things took their second different turn: I added about five tablespoons of Bulldog chuno sauce, three tablespoons of honey and half of an apple's worth of apple puré  (made directly over the pot with an oroshigane. After simmering for about forty-five minutes, it was ready to eat.

Super spicy by Japanese standards, yet sweet and a little lighter than usual, it tastes like I'd imagine a combination of Java-brand super hot curry would if you mixed it with House-brand Vermont curry. Next time, I think I'll put some puréd tomatoes and maybe a little less garam masala in. Eventually, we'll find a mix that is specifically our home version. When that day comes, I'm not going to share it openly!

Final Ingredients:
5 cups beef stock
1/2 cup lard
2 Tbs butter
5 Tbs S&B Curry Powder
1 Tbs Garam Masala
5 Tbs Bulldog Chuno Sauce
3 Tbs Honey
4 Tbs Unsweetened Applesauce
2/3 Onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 Carrot, finely chopped
1 lb Beef Stew Meat, fine cut

Monday, December 12, 2011

It was "Perry" Enlightening

Earlier this week, Governor Rick Perry's campaign released an approved advertisement starring the man whom (up until this point) I had felt was a passable individual, no better or worse than most politicians in my sight. Sure, he could forget parts of his speech or key ideas of what he planned to do over a four to eight year run, but you know what? The man wasn't reading everything from a teleprompter, and as a Texan I had seen him handle crisis. I agreed with him more than the current administration, and was willing to allow him some foibles. Then came the campaign ad that the internet has been having so much fun with:

While I maintain folks are guaranteed free thought and speech, there are times when it would still be best to keep your mouth shut. These statements are insulting and backwards, and a vain attempt to garner the vote of what has been a consistently shrinking demographic. While not a directly hateful statement is made, the homophobia is palpable. The message could only mean that Perry is squigged-out by Gays, he doesn't want them allowed to be here, and therefore you shouldn't either. After all, if you're not welcome to serve your country and fellow man while still being who you are without being relegated to the crappiest, least-glamorous positions, wouldn't that put you on par with being an African American soldier before desegregation of the armed forces?

Drawing from that idea and his statements in his video, I can only speculate that whatever Perry's solution to the LGBT community would be, it would be on par with anti-miscegeneration laws or Jim Crow, while Christians would be just as privileged in the U.S. as members of The Party would be in North Korea. Speaking as a conservative non-Christian non-Republican, that scares the willies out of me. Like "stockpile food, ammo, and hiding places" kind of scaring the willies out of me.

I'm going to be completely frank: I wouldn't be writing this blog post and putting it up for all the world to see if it weren't for the blinding conceit of the Perry campaign. Their webpage's "contact" section is nothing but links to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, as well as ways to contribute time and funds for the campaign. Their YouTube and Facebook channels are tightly edited and obviously so.

I moved here to Texas almost four years ago, in order to marry my fiance and properly start our own lives. We both wanted to serve our fellows and our state, and so we joined Texas's official militia, The Texas State Guard. I was proud to help, and glad that the governor's office funded and controlled such a thing. We did training and missions for disaster relief, disaster recovery, search and rescue... and though I did not get deployed myself, my unit consistently deployed and acted with integrity and honor in the State and the Governor's name. Water was dispensed, cleaning supplies given out, food and shelter maintained for thousands of Texans, Louisianans, Arkansians, and illegal aliens. Yeah, there are some real Bubbas in the individual units, but on the whole the people were dedicated.

We took orders from (and gave our oaths of service to) the office of the Governor of the State of Texas. That means that while I was volunteering (we were only paid if deployed), I was taking orders from Rick Perry. I was proud to serve my new state, and to give a service which allowed the more important people of the National Guard to handle their own duties without having to worry so much about our own. Even after having to end my enlistment early due to financial hardships, I was proud to have served my state, and felt that Mister Perry had done well enough by us.

Now with this video, everything I thought about the man (and to some extent my residence) has been thrown into question. He seems to genuinely believe what he's said. That's all well and good, until it comes down to infringing on the personal freedoms and beliefs of others. That is why I completely withdraw my support of this ignoramus, and I hope he fails miserably in his bid for the Republican nomination.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Skewered Views

Lunch today was a trio of skewers of salt flavored yakitori and a couple of onigiri (salted and grilled chicken thigh kebabs and rice balls respectively) washed down with some warmed sake that had been previously offered up on our kamidana and mitamaya here in the household. A warm belly with a little alcohol in it lends me to thinking, and thus writing. Often I'll tweek an ongoing fan-fiction project the wife and a friend are involved in with myself, but quite a few times it has led me to posting on this ol' blog.

There's no point in apologizing for a lack of updates. I've been extremely busy with the build up and consequential tasks of finals week here in the aviation electronics department where I attend classes. I've accomplished everything and performed to acceptable standards throughout my semester, and so I am now roughly 1/6th complete with my studies. A week of stressful studying and testing has resulted in a 3.0 GPA, which while more than sufficient to continue in my classes was less than I aspired to. Now that the first weekend of winter break is upon me, I have a few moments to eat my lunch and reflect upon some thoughts.

I made the commitment this week to study for and be ready to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level 4 within a year. It's a Japanese government certified and administered test, similar to the ELPT that incoming foreign students have to pass if they aren't native English speakers. It's by far not the hardest level to take (the ranges are at 5 being the lowest and 1 being nearly native/native level), but it is a serious undertaking. I'll need to study a large portion of vocabulary, written and spoken grammar, and something close to 300 individual kanji. To that end, the wife and I will be ordering at least one set of the JLPT practice flash cards we found on a webpage that gives clear indications of what to study (and comes with very good reviews).

Today the wife is away at work, fixing the problems created by a largely non-secular group of shoppers on the run-up to what has been a largely secular holiday. The traditions and attitudes observed by the folks here in central Texas come from a good place originally, but lately the snotty holier-than-thou attitudes that have been exhibited and observed have begun to taint an already touchy subject for me. There seems to be a culture of expectant gift-giving here in the U.S. which translates (at times) down to "Gimme something because you should, but don't necessarily expect anything in return." Not everyone is guilty of this of course, but it seems to be more noticeable from year to year.

I like the Japanese take on New Year's and mid year times: giving presents has become a thing one does (especially when visiting a friend or their family), but is not openly expected. If one receives a gift, they are indebted, beholden in a tiny way to the gift giver. This results in a small, healthy cycle of politeness, gift exchanging and helpfulness. There's a social obligation to someone who shared their wealth with you, especially if you secretly needed that $300 your mother gave you while she was "stopping by on the holidays."

There's no need to expect that one would ever be given anything additional at this point in my life; after all, I have life, my own home (even if it's rented), a wife and pets, some useful widgets and a few toys of my own. So long as I have the basic needs of survival met, I really don't need anything else. I'm grateful when someone decides that they have something which they plan to give me, whether it is money or material goods. I'm indebted to them even if they intended nothing of the sort and expect nothing in return. Failing an ability to pay it back (such as monetary assistance from family members), I will pass it along as best I can, doing my level best to be helpful and contributory to society and its members.

Maybe that's what I'm failing to see from most folks, for whatever reason. Some of them must surely feel similarly, or else charity would have fallen flat in this past year of economic crisis. I hope that I'm only missing seeing the good, and not just seeing only what there really is to so many of the people I come across in my daily life....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Addiction and Nostalgia

Tonight I found myself sitting on the back porch smoking a cigar and enjoying a cheap cup of instant hot cocoa while I pondered how I got to where I am. I'm 28 years old, in a few short months to be of 29 years of age; I have parents who love me and try to be supportive of me; a lovely wife who (though she may not believe it) is the most beautiful and attractive woman I have ever met shares my home and my life with me; numerous friends and acquaintances who for whatever reason deign to share my existence; and am doing well enough in my classes despite a general lack of dedication to my studies this semester.

Among my friends I can count a handful of folks who have known me for over a decade. Some of them are folks I have never met face-to-face, who I feel guilty for not having been more dedicated to in the past or the present. I have a very supportive family from all aspects, especially when you consider how much some of them have been burnt by the same problems and tasks which now enumerate my existence. All in all, I should be pleased with how things have gone so far in what should be the first third of my life. Instead, I am nearly brought to tears by my good fortune and by past mistakes.

Just a few short years ago, I was head over heals in love with a girl from near Cincinatti. I left her in the dust in a very bad way to pursue my current relationship, because deep down I knew I had been trying to replace the woman who is now my wife. I had been doing so for as long as I could remember, and it was but for a night of conversation with a friend as a go-between that I would have never seen the error of my ways.

Looking back upon those times, and the events that led toward that time, I am utterly amazed. I never could apply myself to my studies of engineering or the humanities, and yet now I can debate with the best of them, and am in one of the top-rated programs for aviation technologies in these troubled United States! I've just this day made a commitment to finally carry through all the effort Yaneyama Megumi sensei invested in me back in 2000 and begin to truly study Japanese language and culture in order to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests, starting with the lowest level. The wife has suggested I might be able to pass the level 4 or even the level 3 by the end of my time here at TSTC-Waco, which would tickle me pink in all honesty. I truly feel I won't be worthy, no matter how much improvement I make past reading the labels on my food!

Other things from the past have been welling up tonight. Before I (as I sometimes feel and suspect my family feels) abandoned my family up north, I had several 'close' friends who were of like mind, and witnessed the dedication and compassion that comes with a lifetime of love and marriage as my grandfathers took ill and passed on. In no small part, I am given comfort by the fact that if they so chose in the afterlife, they have a place in my home. It is a small family shrine called a mitamaya, which my wife and I commissioned and helped prepare under the direction of Reverend Barish-sama at Tsubaki GS in Washington, the same place we were married before the kami. That they were professed Christians matters not to me - if the Christians are correct and I am wrong, then hopefully the souls and guardian angels of my family will guide us through this artifact of our own energetic creation.

I remember long nights spent upon the internet, talking to distant friends (some of whom I have met since then) at my friend Graham's homes around the area where we grew up. The poor guy hit some hard times and made poor decisions later in life, and I abandoned him. If he even knows it to be so, I hope he can forgive me. He and his family showed me such good times; many of my fondest memories are of playing Medal of Honor: Allied Assault or the original Halo online. Even today, my stories of the craziness that came from Graham's dedication to technologies that were above my head bring laughter from my friends and classmates who remember 56K modems and spending all night downloading that one .midi that they wanted from an FTP server.

Of particular mirth and awe is the fact that, due to his mother's estate sale shopping and alimony, Graham had been able to purchase AV/TV output cards and a "primitive" wireless keyboard-mouse combination for our enjoyment. We played many a night away in our late teens, shooting Krauts in the face with Thompsons or annihilating the pink-clad SPARTANS which assailed us. All of the good times he showed me, and I ditched him because of some choices a few years ago which I held against him. My Maturity shows itself in annoyingly slow fashion at times, while Immaturity rears its ugly head with far too easy access for my liking.

I can recall spending hours online, developing personal relationships which continue to this day, albeit in forms I never could have conceived. I chased after affection, never realizing until 2007 who it was I was actually seeking - and even then, it took a completely twisted, almost catastrophic turn to get myself the fortitude to make my opinions and desires known. I was damned near internet addiction for 1999-2004, and yet even now I spend more time online. It's what is accepted, even expected (especially given how much of my studies are turned in on-line).

Even with all of that, I have to admit I have a good life and a decent time of things. I've managed to pull through my semester with As and Bs after years of having not been a full-time student. I smoke more than I ought to, and once in a while I drunk to excess... but you know what? I've got a wife whom I love (and who loves me in return), two cats who miss me if I even go outside to dispose of the litter box scoopings, a family that loves me and friends who keep in contact despite the distances betwixt us. I'm strong in my faith that the kami will guide me if its necessary or warranted to what I should be doing, and above all else - I'm beginning to be "okay" with myself.

With that knowledge comes the responsibility to once again improve myself. I should be in better shape, and I certainly should practice more of what I preach and what I expect of others. Life is a learning process, and while I am no less a student than anyone else, I should know and do better by now. Hopefully I will be as worth the effort others continue to allocate to me!