2013 in Retrospect

I usually keep this blog strictly as a platform for fiction.

Being as this Tuesday (the day I normally post new content) also happens to be New Year’s Eve, however, I’ve decided to take a moment and pay respects to the passing of one hell of a year. To assure that my readers get their weekly dose of Richard’s fiction, I’ve got something set up to post on Thursday. So, worry not!

2013 was a year to remember. Personally, it was a very big year, full of many wonderful, horrible, and enlightening things, many of which found their way into the “life altering” category. I’m just going to talk here about the things that affect me personally, because otherwise it would just be too much.

Let’s start out with why it was a hard year.

I lost my cousin to a tornado at the end of May. He was a bright and excessively thoughtful human being that was out there trying to develop better early warning systems for tornadoes to save lives, he and several colleagues lost their lives in the process. He was a truly great human being. Another indicator that the best among us suffer from the same limits on existence as the rest. Seven months later, the notion of his death is still shocking to me every time that it comes to mind. I take solace in the thought that he didn’t waste a single second of his bright, and all too short life.

I lost my paternal grandfather this March to cancer. We weren’t particularly close, but he was my grandfather, and now the possibility that we ever could become close is gone forever. He was the last surviving grand parent who I was actually related to, and I’m terrified by the thought that if I go back only two steps in my family history, the step is now empty. He did great things, he did some not so great things, but regardless of the caliber of the things, the fact that he does no more is a shame.

I almost lost another cousin to drugs. The word “almost” in the previous sentence is one of those words that remind me that all words are not created equally. I am very thankful for being able to write that “almost.” I’ll leave this one here, without further details for obvious reasons.

My brother had a close call in a motorcycle accident in June and is still in physical therapy, but is doing much better. His leg is still hurting him some, but I can think of hundreds of ways in which the accident could have been worse. In fact sometimes I still replay them in my nightmares. He, however, also has a pretty rad car now and the exercise of his therapy has given his life a turn in a healthier direction.

One of my favorite dogs in the entire universe was put down on Christmas this year. Animal was a big goofy Pit Bull with a heart of gold that belonged to my sister and her husband. He was getting up there in age, but it is still sad, and worth mentioning the passing of one of the sweetest critters I’ve ever met. It’s also hard to watch pain on the faces of people I care about so deeply as my sister and brother in law.

 

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, anyone that found their way through all that above gets rewarded with news as to some of the things that made it a great year.

It was the first year after graduating college, so it was different, for a lot of reasons. My special lady friend and I have been together for almost two years now, and her company and affection are two things that made the year survivable. Without her, 2013 very well might have broken me.

We were fortunate enough to work for a few months in the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains at a place called AstroCamp in Idyllwild, Ca. I got to play every day in some of the most beautiful surroundings a man could wish for. I met a whole slew of new people, some of which I can see as being friends for life.

Aforementioned lady friend and I moved to San Diego to start the Physics Masters program at San Diego State University. We also moved into our first place together. After seven months, we can’t wait to move, but only because of the apartment and the part of town. Living together has brought us closer together, rather than driving us apart, as it does with some couples.

My sister also started her PhD in crazy brain stuff. She is going to beat me to being able to tack Dr. on the front of her name, assuming I go that rout once I finish my Masters. I’m okay with her winning that one.

My Dad, after many years, changed careers, and I’m proud of him. It was a bold move into physically harder work, but he enjoys his new job more and thus has gained all the perks that come from liking what you do, including a healthier, happier life style (as well as the big bushy beard he always wanted but the old job wouldn’t let him grow).

 

It has also been a big year for my writing.

This year I finished two novels. One is mostly edited down and ready to go, the other is still as rough as can be. I’ve written most of another novel, almost near the end of the first draft. This last one promises to be the largest writing project I have taken on to date. It sits, unfinished at 86,000 words, 60,000 of which I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year, which I thought was a pretty solid first year doing NaNo.

I, of course, also finally started my Blog this year! This one, in fact!

Posting new content once a week has been a tight deadline that has forced my creativity to not get shoved to the backseat when it would otherwise. I love the community that I have become a part of, through WordPress. Full of support, interesting people, and wonderful stories.

 

For those that have been lost, and to those that survived, I say Happy New Year, don’t let the past bring you down, enjoy the present, and make the most of the future.

Thank you to everyone that has contributed to making the year what it was. I’m ready for the next one.

May you not forget too many times that the year now ends in a four.

Dino Fumble

131212_162521Nobody could understand why the paleontologist was laughing as the crew stood on the deck of the ship, peering over the side. Small bubbles still rose to the surface where the priceless piece of stone had disappeared into the depths. The rock had been cut away to expose the fossilized bones of the small dinosaur, while its shape suggested natural curves.

It had been slated for a display in the San Diego Museum of Natural History, but now it sank “like a stone” to the bottom of the ocean off the California coast because one of the two men moving it across the deck tripped and fumbled it over the side.

Someone finally broke out of their shock and asked, “Drake, what’s so funny?”

The paleontologist was doubled over with laughter, and looked up through teary eyes, pointing over the side, barely able to form words through his hysterics. “-isn’t indigenous to anywhere within a thousand miles,” he struggled through the laughter. “Gonna confuse the crap out of someone someday!”

Macchiato in a Nameless Town

20131209-201905The service was slow at the little coffee shop where Lisa and I met up. Their pastry selection left more than a little to be desired, and the, albeit attractive but ultimately useless, barista that was always working when we went there made hands down the worst macchiato I have ever tasted. I always over-tipped though, because she had those bright hopeful blue eyes and that smile. I usually justified this with hopes that she was using her tips for college, so that she wouldn’t be serving coffee forever, because she was bad at it. No, Lisa and I didn’t come here for any of the normal reasons a person picks a coffee shop, not that I could figure out at least. We met there to catch up once a month because, for some reason, she liked the place and, being as she was my sister, I wasn’t about to just stop our monthly gab-fests because I hated the place she wanted to meet.

It was December, and the coffee shop was decorated with sparkly and shiny Christmas crap, and they had signs all over the place that said things about eggnog. I had arrived, as usual, a few minutes earlier than Lisa, so as Lisa was up at the counter ordering, I sat back contemplating my drink. I had thought that, maybe the barista was just bad at macchiati, so I decided to go with a more popular drink, perhaps something she made more often.

I had walked up to order and the cute little brunette had said “You usually get the macchiato, right?”

I was impressed that she remembered, and said “Instead I’ll have a bone dry cappuccino, with a bit of extra foam, please.”

When she just smiled and wrote it down, I dropped two dollars in my tip jar. “Please go to college and become a doctor, or lawyer, or anyone with a less important profession,” I thought.

The drink was shit. I waited for Lisa to come back and started thinking about that summer between my first and second year of college, when Lisa and I had gone on a road trip with her high school friend Wilma and our cousin Wyatt. We had made our way up from southern California to a wedding in Oregon. It had been a blast. There was a small town that we stopped in somewhere north of Sacramento, where I tasted my first macchiato, where I had fallen in love with that perfect balance of foam, espresso and milk. I loved the brown Rorschach espresso stain in the foam that, for some reason always looked to me like a face.

I thought hard until Lisa got back to the table. I couldn’t remember, for the life of me, what town we had been in. I had liked it, but its name completely escaped my mind, which bothered me.

“Lisa, remember back when we went to Oregon for that wedding,” I started.

“With Wyatt and Wilma?” she asked, “Yeah, that was a fun trip, why?”

“I’m trying to remember the town we stopped in and went to that little cafe.”

She just looked at me for a long moment with her eyebrow raised until I explained, “I can’t remember and it’s bugging me.”

“Ah,” she said, thoughtfully, “the town where we ended up getting on the wrong highway and heading west for like twenty miles before realizing it?”

I laughed while nodding, not my proudest moment. That story had been told quite a few times, to my embarrassment, but parsing all the retellings in my head, I couldn’t find the name of the town.

She thought about it for a long moment, after getting a good chuckle off her chest first, of course, then said, “You know, I don’t have a clue, sorry.”

I just grunted and looked down at the table.

“We could call Wyatt and ask,” she suggested, noting that it was really bothering me.

It seemed like a viable solution, but Wyatt and I had had a falling out a week before. Harsh words had been exchanged over a ball game. Now I don’t even really remember what, but at the time we had left on a bad note and we would need a little space to heal before mending fences. “Not sure that’s a great idea,” I said.

Half an hour later though, Lisa had convinced me, as creative Googling on our phones, nor talk of the trip gave any clue, so I called him, with the promise to myself that I would get right to the point. “Wyatt, where were we when we went west with Wilma?”

“Peter Piper picked a peck of leave me the fuck alone,” he said and hung up.

Lisa fell out of her chair laughing and the cute barista could be seen giggling behind the counter.

Mistakenly Matlabed

20131209-203130

I sat in front of the two large displays for my computer thinking about what I had just written in the MatLab script. It was a simple enough typo, just a single letter, easy to fix. I was curious though, I wondered if what I had written would work. I had learned most of what I knew about Matlab from experimenting with it, usually not afraid to just try stuff. I held down Control and let my finger hover over the Enter key. “It won’t work anyway,” I said to myself, “There is no way Matlab can do something like THAT.”

Echoing in my head, I could hear the words Dr. Galen, who we all called Dr. Doug. He had taught our MatLab class several years before. The man had been very fond of saying “Just try stuff, you’d be surprised at some of the things MatLab can do…”

That was both an encouragement and a counter argument to let my finger push down on the large key with the crooked arrow on it. It probably wouldn’t work, I mean, how could it? But if it did, the effects could be catastrophic. It was killing me to know if it would work, though.

I sat like that, staring at that one word, transformed in meaning and intent so greatly by that one wrong letter, I wasn’t even sure how it happened, the “N” and the “S” keys being so far apart.

“What if it just applies to the figures I have open,” I wondered, that would be nice, a tricky little tool to file away for some future project. That would make the most sense if it DID work, I had been trying to write “Close all” which, of course closes all the open figures, but what if, in this case, it applied to everything? What if it applied to what the word “all” usually meant?

I couldn’t take that chance, I couldn’t fathom the unspeakable things I would have to deal with if I suddenly cloned everything. I changed the “n” back to an “s”, my sense of adventure no longer what it used to be, then repressed the control and pushed the enter button, evaluating the cell.

It didn’t work, the Matlab command line told me in angry red letters that I had an unbalanced or unexpected parenthesis somewhere.