A Light in the Dark

There is a tradition of saying goodbye to the old year like a guest who has long overstayed their welcome. Hit the bricks Old Year, we’re sick of your nonsense! Come on in New Year, you HAVE TO BE BETTER! WooHoo! While that is absurd, one tick of the clock doesn’t erase the sins of the past, it feels as though all those previous ‘to hell with this past year’ this has been a dress rehearsal for where we are now. In the interest of being candid with you and myself, things might be even worse this go around. Let’s hope not. Happy New Year!

Rather than dwell on the horror show that 2021 was, I’m going to tell you about a highlight. My friend Angela invited me to see Neal Brennan’s new show, Unacceptable. While that was an excellent show with equally delightful company, the highlight I refer to came as we walked to the show.

About one hundred feet from the front of the Cherry Lane Theater, we passed two gentlemen talking. One of them looked familiar to me. I turned back and asked one of them, “Excuse me, are you, Adam Savage?”

Why yes I am,” he replied.

For those who are unfamiliar with Adam Savage, he is a special effect designer, one of the hosts of MythBusters, currently the host of Tested, and an unofficial ambassador of the maker community. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, he is as kind, funny, and gracious as you would hope he would be.

For ten or fifteen minutes, he spoke to Angela and me about making and other subjects. She showed him pictures of the table she made to his delight and they discussed techniques of building. As I said, just as you hoped he’d be.

While I had seen him speak at New York Comic-Con many times, and would do so again the next day as it had arrived, I had never been able to ask him a question as the line for that filled up rapidly, though there was one I very much want to ask. Here was my chance, no lines required.

Is writing making?” I asked.

Yes!,” he replied, “Anything you put out into the world, any act of creativity is making!”

It was of course, what I wanted to hear. While I knew, in my heart of hearts that was true before I asked it, hearing it aloud, it became an affirmation. Words were my materials and my laptop was a workroom. I am a maker.

We all went into the theater, Adam sat a few rows in front of us and saw a superb hour of comedy and self-reflection by Neal Brennan. All in all, an outstanding evening.

I would also to thank my constant readers whose existence gives me that extra push to continue. You are all gorgeous, amazing geniuses with exquisite taste. I wish that everyone could be like you. Really, I need more readers.

Let’s go into this year with optimism, despite everything that has happened. Perhaps cautious optimism. Also, remember that if you appreciate something that has been done or made, let people that are responsible know. External validation shouldn’t matter but it does. A lot.

Happy Guarded New Year to all!

For those who think the above tale fictional, here is photographic proof. I should’ve smiled but I still was stunned by this chance encounter.

 

The Day I Died

I see the truck bearing down on us out of the corner of my eye, I consider dropping our weight to my right, dropping down a few gears, and really opening that throttle up, red-lining the girl in an attempt to get away.

I had just gotten home from work, my fiance of 10 days was almost ready. I’d said we would go somewhere for a drink and a bite to eat, as well as swinging by one of my offsite warehouses. I didn’t want to though, I just wanted to lay down after a full-on day. I averaged 30 thousand steps a day at my job and it was physically demanding.

Today had been busier than usual and I was tired. Looking back I think it was my gut telling me to not go, but I knew she’d been looking forward to getting out of the house. So we geared up and jumped on my Hyosung 650cc and off we went.

The warehouse was going to be the first stop. 15 minutes away, at the most. I slowed down as we approached the roundabout, a bus was going straight through, across our path. Bear in mind, we are in Australia, we drive on the left-hand side. I looked to my right, nothing was coming at all. Glanced to my left as I started opening up the throttle and leaning, as we entered the roundabout, I saw the truck approaching and dismissed it as I went to open her up further, I’ve got right of way, he’s not even at the roundabout as I’ve entered.

To read the full story, join my free substack – https://jamesdarmstrong.substack.com/

Gift of Giving

I am an excellent gift giver. Is this a brag or even a humblebrag? No, it’s a fact and one other thing, which I will reveal later. “Why bring this up at all?” you might be asking yourself, “I’m busy enough without your non-brag bragging.” 

Because it is the season of gift-giving. I’m going to pause here for those who questioned this topic to go “Ahhhh!”

Pause…

Now back to the gift-giving. It is for many people, a source of great stress. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves on getting that PERFECT GIFT. A gift that will make this holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, Orthodox Life-Day, Saturnalia, etc) complete. That’s a lot to ask of a thing, so let’s accept that while a gift can be excellent, it’s not magic.

If it’s not magic, then what’s the secret? How can we match your self-declared skill in this specific wheelhouse? Simmer down there, I’m going to lay a little wisdom on you all. Ready? Good.

ONE-LISTEN

People tell you what they want or need all the time. Sometimes literally. “I really need a new scarf.” Or “I quite liked the Dune movie, I should read the book.” Maybe, “I’d like to start cooking more.”

All of these are just sitting there, ready to be picked up. Scarf, copy of Dune, cookbook, cooking classes, or a new pot and/or pan. All you had to do was pay attention. It also involves not being self-involved.

Simple and so hard. Even before supply chain problems and the world being on fire, it’s not always easy to not worry about oneself. I’m not advising a Saint’s level of selflessness, just be aware of what’s being said. Here’s an example of this from my own life.

When shopping at a Costco with an old girlfriend, (ah the romance), I looked for those giant cartons of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers but they didn’t have them. A mild disappointment at best but I mentioned it to her, then promptly forgot about it.

The next time I was at her place, one of those giant cartons of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers awaited me. It was one of the best presents I’ve gotten. It meant that what I said, even in passing, perhaps especially in passing, mattered.

Are we still together? Let’s just say that love and goldfish crackers aren’t a universal solution. Nonetheless, this is the sort of thing to listen for. Whomever you do this for will be touched by your attentiveness. If not, those little crackers will fill the hole left by loneliness. Just kidding. Nothing will fill that hole.

TWO-ASK

Don’t ask the recipient, unless you both don’t care about the surprise. Do ask their friends or family. Often times they can give you excellent insights. Also swear them to secrecy, if you can trust them to do so. Use your best judgment. 

THREE-DON’T WAIT

It’s July, you see a sea glass necklace your sister would just love, but her birthday was two months ago and it’s five months till Christmas. You could make a note to come back later and pick it up close to the holidays. It will still be there, right?

WRONG! Oftentimes, unique gifts will not wait for you to make up your mind. If you know that’s an excellent gift for someone. Get it. If you fumfer, you will likely lose out. Or more accurately, the person who would love that thing loses out. (A side note: Don’t tell them that you saw something that they would adore and but waited too long. In this case, the thought DOES NOT COUNT!)

So as you go through life and you see something that you know will bring someone else joy, just get it, and put it away. When the holidays roll around and everyone else is franticly searching for presents, Jingle All The Way style, you’ll be sitting comfortably in front of a roaring fire, drinking eggnog like a boss, listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and smiling because you’ve done your shopping. Well done!

FOUR-THE PERFECT GIFT

As stated previously, perfection doesn’t exist. However, it’s possible to come close, but it is a real challenge. What is this rare and wonderful item? The thing that you didn’t know you wanted till you saw it.

This is tough to pull off, maybe even impossible. But when you can do it, wow, it’s amazing! Naturally, there is no one thing that can fill that order for everyone. Especially a car with a bow on the roof. If you do that you’re a dead-eyed, soulless monster. Am I planting my flag on this hill? You bet your holly jolly jingle bells I am.

Okay, back to why this is so hard. Say your sweetie collects Peanuts memorabilia. Charlie Brown and Snoopy stuff all over the place. You want to give them something special but it looks like they have everything already. Given their breadth of what they have, it’s a concern. They likely have done daily deep Google dives looking for additions to the collection. What do you do?

Let’s go back to part one. Listen. Did they mention a piece they are looking for? A character they resonate with? Start with that. 

Additionally, you can find a lot of artists who will make something for you to order. A wholly unique gift. It will also show that you’ve been paying attention.

As I said before, it’s tricky at best. Even if it’s not an epiphany in wrapping paper, the fact you made a real effort will be appreciated. In this case, the thought DOES count.

FIVE-WRAPPING UP

So, I’ve given you two solid techniques, one possibly useful trick, and a final aspirational idea. The fact is that being good at gifts isn’t that difficult if you pay attention. Here’s another tip, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. The best gifts don’t have to cost a lot of cash. If you have a big budget for gift-giving, good for you. It must be nice. Or so I would imagine.

In the beginning, I said that my being an excellent gift-giver was a fact and one other thing. The other thing is you don’t always get excellent gifts. 

One Christmas, I was given by a close friend, a memo cube. You might ask, “What is a memo cube?” A memo cube is a plastic cube filled with square pieces of paper, for writing down messages. This was not something I ever desired nor was it was something I never knew I wanted. Truthfully, had I given memo cubes even one second of thought, I wouldn’t have ever desired one. Why did he give it to me? I still don’t know.

Just so you don’t think I’m just grousing, I have received many thoughtful gifts over the years. For example, I’m a big fan of robots. A good friend of mine gives me a robot or robot-themed gift for my birthday every year. Clearly, I’m not the only excellent gift giver. A reassuring thought.

So when you go off to shop for the holidays, keep my advice in mind. Those you give to will appreciate it. And if by some twist of fate you come across a memo cube, keep walking.

It Begins with Me

My environment as a child never lacked any of the basic needs.  We had lean times, but I slept in a bed at night. I was sheltered from weather.  At 14, I ran away and learned a little about what it means to be homeless — but only a little.  I was more uncomfortable than I had ever been in my life, but help was everywhere.  After a week, I returned home.

Twenty or so years later, I learned about homelessness again…

What I wrote about me earlier…

My parent used to tell me when I was a kid – about 5 years old – that I had come to this world without clothes (naked), without teeth, and without the ability to speak …

At the beginning, I used to laugh at this …

I know myself very well… I just opened my eyes someday to find myself there: My body, my teeth, … I have my clothes… I can walk and speak …