Overwatch 2001

This has nothing to do with the incredibly popular video game Overwatch. This post is about the game I first played in 2001 – “Halo: Combat Evolved”. It was an incredible experience for me. The first night I had played it, when it came to go to bed, sleep eluded me. I am one that often has no memory of turning the light off (in fact I frequently have fallen asleep with the light still on). On that night, sleep eluded me. Instead I had eidetic memories of battling grunts and jackals.

I had never played a video game with such a responsive enemy before. The intelligence was creepy. Yes the NPCs had their starting positions, but they moved and responded to me in such a way that it felt like I was really there. I got lost in the game for a while, they had at the first passed my Turing test.

Eventually I traversed the uncanny valley and the game took a much more mundane role in my imagination. The AI was scripted and bounded. It was, after all, hollow and dead inside once you had dug deep enough.

And yet there was still magic to be found in that game, not by the games designers, but within our own imagination – in recreating a moment that had impressed me as a boy a couple years before.

This scene.

An excellent story of honor, love, sacrifice… I recommend watching that film in its entirety. It will move you.

Anyway, that scene had especially impressed me and my younger sister, Elizabeth, and in cooperatively replaying Halo many times over, we had found a way to recreate that scene. In fact I can still remember exactly how we did it,

We would sit in the room upstairs in my mom and dad’s house, the old room with pink carpet and thick walls, that had once been part of the original log cabin. I had an alarm clock that was also a CD player. It had a cracked screen. It had a function to increase volume until the snooze button or shut off was pressed, and it would occasionally get all the way to maximum volume before waking me up. Unfortunately for my dear family, it would wake all of them up at that level. On one occasion, I finally woke in a panic because my family was yelling at me to shut it off, and in my haste to do so – I knocked it off the table and cracked the screen.

Elizabeth and I would play together, over an hour through one of the longest stages in the game, Two Betrayals, and make it to the Final Run.

Two Betrayals. Halo: Combat Evolved

A legion of enemy warriors, including even two armored tanks and a dozen dug-in infantry troops, waited for us at the other end of the valley.

We would then put, into that old CD player, the soundtrack (that we probably had downloaded from Napster) of the “The Last of The Mohicans”.

Most often I, but on occasion I would allow my little sister to do it, would sneak out ahead and steal one of the flying ships from the enemy. Ideally one would use the powerful weapons of the flying ship to bombard the entrenched enemy position, or at least to take out the heavily armored tanks, but in this case we would park our vehicled on a very high ledge and instead pull out the sniper rifle.

The other player, previoulsy watching and patiently waiting, would now arm themselves with the shotgun and an assault rifle, and with the Last of the Mohicans Music resonating in the room, the person on the ground would let out a battle cry and charge the enemy position. The trick of that person was mainly to avoid the massive cannon blasts from the enemy armor and to charge straight for the door on the far end of the valley, all the while the person up on the bridge sat in overwatch.

Up on the bridge I could see the full battlefield and I would use the sniper rifle to protect my friend from the attacking infantry. We made believe that we were the legendary Uncas and Hawkeye while we provided cover for our brave hero that was face to face with the enemy.

That is a most precious memory of a shared experience with my sister Elizabeth, and one I will continue to treasure.

Bathhouse Row

This was my first time to visit the historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, AR. Tiffany, Katarina and I had a wonderful stroll down, up and back down Bathhouse Row. We were late to town and ended up only having a few minutes in the National Park Visitors Center. It was still worth the visit and gave us a glimpse of what once was at Bathhouse Row.

The beautiful old structures had gilded fronts and architecture honoring the Spanish missions and the ancient Roman bathhouses. The interior was dominated by marble, brass, and steel.

The thought that returned to me again and again, when we visited each ornate structure, was “how this must have looked like in its heyday!”. Looking at the historical visitation records it may not be impressive that 265,000 people visited in 1926, but considering the limitations on transportation at that time, Bathhouse Row would have been a magnificent sight. I imagine it full of people and energy, just bursting to the seams with excitement. In one of the bathhouses, it was written that ladies had waited for hours for an available bath.

I felt like Bathhouse row was just a frame of what it used to be. Walking amongst the buildings was like looking at an old photograph, quiet and lonely now, which had once been beautiful and bustling.

I want to visit Hot Springs again, I want to breathe more of it, and I want to be in the history of it.

Out front of The Arlington, that old castle of Hot Springs Arkansas

The Foreignness of a Newborn Babe

I have seen hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of newborn Holstein calves over the last 3 and a half years.

Back in veterinary school, I saw a black calf with white spots, or vice versa. Now I see so much more in a calf.

I see chest and hip shape, muzzle curve, ear angles, neck length, elbow rotation, fetlock breakover, craniolateral position of the eyes and more. I am not even trying to look at those things, I just see them now. It fascinates me because it was happening over time without my full knowledge.

There is some part of my brain that collects, stores, and compares those measurements and observations, without me even aware of it, and it is working all the time. It’s a process that builds, and even as it conitinually ran in the background of my brain, I never really noticed it until my daughter was born.

Katarina taking her first of many naps

In that moment that I saw her present to the world, I realized, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. It was humbling to see this little life and not know anything about how a brand new human looks. It was a token moment, feeling like the moment the window pane trembles, and the walls shudder, under the lashing rain and burgeoning gusts of a thunderstorm. In that instance, you realize just how much the window and walls mean to your survival.

Seeing her for the first time told me very clearly that my life had crossed some threshold and would never be the same.

Our ship had found itself in new waters.

I Found You!

Parenthood has forever changed me, kind of like marriage did.

Back when I was a single man, I had so much time alone. Evening after evening, if I didn’t have plans with friends, I went to sleep in silence. I often ate my supper alone. I watched the television program that I wanted to, or listened to the music that I wanted to (I must have played Emotionalism a couple hundred times). My bathroom cabinet was stocked only with products that I used. The blankets and sheets on my bed were the blankets and sheets that I chose. Yes I was limited by budget and location, but other than that I had full autonomy. I could get anything I wanted from the local Salvation Army, and decorate my apartment in the best way I saw fit.

After marrying, I found a forever date. Dinner out – now always for two. I get to consider someone else in every decision.

Now that we have a baby, the dynamic has changed again.

It’s a whole new level of taking another into consideration.

Even when my wife and I step out on the porch for a few minutes of coffee and contemplation, and our little one is happily playing with her cousin and auntie Emily, she will find us. She is not easily dissuaded.

The Lighting of the Trees

My interest was captured by a beautiful invitation on the door of the donuts shop this morning. It was advertising a fundraiser for the Tulare Hospital Foundation at $125 ticket price. Hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, networking, awards, and a silent auction were all promised as part of the evening’s experience.

I stopped for a minute and looked at the flyer, and I found myself surprised that a posh event like this would even be of interest to one such as myself. I began to daydream about Tiffany and I dressing to the nines, sipping wine and enjoying the gala. Yes Christmas is our favorite holiday (thus our daughter has a French middle name – Noelle), and yes I am happy to support the hospital, but I think the real allure… was status.

I believe the attraction I felt, in that moment, was the chance to feel high-society. At such an event, I could tell myself the story of mystique and sophistication, and I would have the chance to play the role of a wealthy elite.

I don’t know why I felt this today. Perhaps it is because I watched a couple episodes of Frasier last night, with all of it’s tongue in cheek refinement and erudition. Perhaps it is because I am adjusting to the life I now live with a 14 month old, and the regular public displays of goofiness I provide. Perhaps I am feeling rather unrefined.

As an aside, when my daughter, seated next to me in her carseat while I drive to town, hands me her WubbaNub Baby Giraffe (pacifier), what am I to do except for to begin sucking on the pacifier? When I can so easily delight her, and make her smile, a smile which is like a thousand gold sunsets, how can I not accept the gift from her – no matter how much posterity I give up? And when someone driving the other way seems to recognize me and gives me a very questioning look, what can I do except wave and smile?

Are you OK being with yourself?

I am always with myself by necessity, but I am learning that I can also choose to be with myself.

In the same way that I can be, physically present, with my family, and at other times I can choose to be present emotionally and cognitively.

A family member once told me they were in between jobs and had been asked by a friend to care for their friend’s home over several weeks one winter. This home was a small mansion that sat on a lake in Minnesota, and my family member’s responsibility would be watching over the home and taking the family Golden Retriever out for regular exercise, and they would be paid to boot. I was starstruck at the thought of that. What a glorious winter that would be. No deadlines. No expecations. Just the chance to be present, in a luxury home, in the glorious Minnesota winter.

I pictured lots of hot tea and cider, beautiful snow all the time, a warm fire and good books. Oh what a dream. My family member said they didn’t know if they would take the opportunity because “I don’t know if I like myself enough to be with alone with myself that long”. He went on to say that he didn’t think it would be as much of an issue for me, but that it was a real struggle for him. That comment made me think deeply.

It’s been a decade since that conversation, and as each day passes, I am learning more about present with myself and being OK about that. I am not the same man I was yesterday, and tomorrow will be a new day again, but the beautiful gift and the only place I can ever be, is right here, today.

You are not a mistake. You are loved more than you’ll ever know. It’s only life, enjoy the ride.

Sauna

I took a sauna (sow-nuh) today, in memory of my grandma Elaine, and I smiled at the old familiar burn within my nostrils. There were other gentleman sweating it out at the same time, one fellow was Latino and another Portuguese.

They seemed to experience the sauna differently. You see, grandma used to tell me about the sauna being my heritage, and we learned about the traditions, and the community, those old Finn’s had in regards to the sauna. For me it is always a memory of family and fun times. A place of joy.

For these fellows it seemed more a place of labor. I was disappointed that they seemed to endure it rather than relish it in the way I was trained too. I felt some mild offence that they would wear their full exercise gear into the sauna, and listen to their rap music through headphones.

After reflection, I think I was foolish to look at it that way. The sauna experience is ritualized for me and loaded with subtext and a story I’ve been told since I was a young boy.

These fellows have different stories and childhoods.

Why should I be offended by their tradition?