I hate playing video games. With a passion. There were two brief moments in time when I exhibited gamer tendencies - once in the 6th grade, and again when StarCraft came out. Those outliers aside, I’ve avoided the money and time sink that is modern gaming.
Well, not entirely true.
While I don’t invest in video games per se, I have been known to watch walkthroughs on YouTube now and again. I viewed the entirety of both Rapture-based BioShock games this way, and I found them quite cinematic. There was a linear story being told, albeit between random eviscerations.
Lately, a new trend has emerged. Kotaku linked to a movie-cut that someone edited together of BioShock Infinite. They’d removed all the gameplay carnage that wasn’t integral to the plot, and left the in-game cutscenes and cinematics. The results were…well…like a movie. Since then, I’ve devoured quite a few games in this manner.
And I’m going to trivially list off my favorites. Here are my…
Top Ten Video Games You Can Watch as Movies
#10 - Final Fantasy XII
I’ll admit it. Like a lot of people, I believe that the Final Fantasy series jumped the shark after that incomprehensible movie. Their crowning achievement was VII. That said, the latter games in the series do hold up to a cinematic eye if a viewer is left with the cutscenes and cinematics. Most, however, are also boring as sin.
Not the case with FFXII.
The return to the rich and vibrant world of Final Fantasy Tactics does this game a great service. It’s a pre-established environment that doesn’t require much explanation, leaving room to explore the characters in-game. I found myself far more invested as a casual viewer than I ever was with any of the other FF installments. This is Final Fantasy done right - gaudy airships and all.
#9 - Portal 2
Portal is a classic…but it’s a short classic. When making a sequel to the breakout hit, some bloating and expansion was mandatory. Enter actors J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant as Cave Johnson and Wheatley, respectively. Their interactions with the voiceless Chell (the heroine) provide a much-needed sense of depth and urgency. Oh, and humor. Can’t forget humor.
The return of Ellen McLain as GlaDOS as a more…uh…humanized (but still psychotic) artificial intelligence also adds enrichment. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to whittle down the edits in the game to just the cutscenes. There aren’t any. The dialogue and voice-overs occur as the player is solving portal-based puzzles. However, if you have many hours to kill, it makes for a hilarious - if lengthy - voyeuristic experience.
#8 - Grand Theft Auto V
With so many unrelated side-missions and tangents that the player can take, GTA5 plays more like a loosely-knit TV miniseries than a movie. A hilarious and politically incorrect miniseries, granted. With three main characters to choose from - each from different motivations and backgrounds - the viewer is able to witness events from different angles.
Cinematically, it fits. Interwoven point-of-view plotlines are a common storytelling device. Effective in movies such as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and…heck any of Tarantino’s oeuvre. Eventually, the events in the game coalesce into an over-arching plot, but it takes a bit of meandering to get there. But what a ride it is.
Just keep in mind, it’s seven hours or more worth of material.
#7 - Injustice: Gods Among Us
This is probably the tightest story of all the video games I’ve listed thus far. The format of the fighting game itself allows for an easy viewing experience. With the melee gameplay cut out, the viewer gets roughly 90 minutes of cutscene footage - enough for a short, breakneck epic of a superhero movie.
The plot is simple. Members of the Justice League (and the Joker) are transplanted to a parallel Earth and must fight to make it back to their own. It’s basically Crisis of Two Earths on a slightly more rigid scale. Loved every superpowered minute of it.
#6 - Tomb Raider
It took me some time to suspend my disbelief watching a British supermodel survive that many pratfalls. But eventually I grew to like the plucky (and pert) Laura Croft prequelette. The events of the game are far darker than previous installments, but they still held true to the game series’ primary dynamic - badass chick surviving booby-traps and mythical creatures in ancient ruins.
I also enjoyed the way they (surprisingly) incorporated aspects of little-known Japanese mythology. I’ve run into mentions of the mythical Himiko before, but didn’t do any further exploration past casual mentions in anime.
#5 - Deadpool
God, I love this character. One of these days, we’ll see the mutant Merc with the Mouth get a proper big screen treatment. Not like that voiceless abomination in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Until then, the video game named after the titular character will have to do. It’s a standard hack-‘n-slash as far as gameplay mechanics go, but it’s the meta-story that really makes it shine.
Deadpool holds High Moon Studios - the makers of the game - hostage and orders them to make the greatest game ever, starring him. The rest of the game plays out like a fever dream. And the best part, he interacts with his own narrator and inner-Id. The prefix “meta” doesn’t even do this justice. It is endlessly entertaining to behold.
#4 - Batman: Arkham
All of them. Any of them.
I don’t even know where to start with this trilogy. The first two games brought back DCAU alums Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and the rest was something even Frank Miller couldn’t come up with in his wettest dreams. The designs were atmospheric and gritty, and it literally felt like you were walking in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.
The third game in the series - actually a prequel - kind of lost some of the narrative punch of the other two, but more than makes up for it in one area. One gets to see how the Joker’s mind works…or rather…doesn’t work. It is a masterpiece of inner-monologuing that not even the six-plus movies managed to pull off.
#3 - Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead
If only the TV series was as well-constructed as this li’l lightning in a bottle. Borrowing designs from the source material (the comic book), and fashioning itself as a parallel prequel to the TV series, this game plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book. (Any of you remember those?)
I watched it straight through, and it felt like perusing a motion comic. When characters died, I felt genuinely said. And there were moments of actual tension - something the TV series is only just starting to grasp competently. After my brother watched it as a movie, I followed suit. Can’t wait for “Season 2″.
#2 - BioShock Infinite
While any of the BioShock games could be viewed as narrative movies, only Infinite works as a complete story. Part of that is helped by the fact that the POV character - Booker Dewitt - has a distinct personality. Unlike the protagonists of the predecessors.
Plus, the whole thing takes place in a steampunk sky city. F**k yeah. To heck with Rapture, Columbia is where I wanna be. The classical renditions of newer songs were also a treat.
#1 - The Last of Us
Never before has a zombie-esque game packed such a wallop. When cut down to about a three-hour movie, it plays like a grimmer version of Children of Men. However, without the “aid” of Clive Owen in the lead. Gah, he reminds me of an older, British Channing Tatum. But I digress.
I don’t think I’ve “played” a video game all the way through that left me so philosophically torn. These were deeply flawed characters, but they were portrayed (or rather, rendered) so well. One could relate to them without feeling patronized. And the ending…my gawwwww! Pure, unadulterated cinema gold.
And that’s my list. There are many, many more out there. I’m well aware of that. These are just the ten I watched recently that didn’t have me clawing at my face in frustration. Like an actual gamer. If you have any others I need (or want) to look at, let me know.
I’m sure I can find several hours to kill.
Throughout my thirty-seven years of life, I’ve been exposed to Doctor Who, but I never fell under the Whovian umbrella of fandom. I remember catching reruns on PBS in the 80s late at night when I was younger. Okay, it was probably only about 9PM, but that was “late” for a six-year-old. I never got in trouble for it. In fact, my elder-geek of a dad subtly encouraged it.
Did I understand any of it? Oh heavens, no. My viewings of the cheesy sci-fi show were sporadic, never in order, and half of the concepts presented in the show were incomprehensible to my post-toddler brain. That and British English might as well have been a second language to me back then.
I had questions like: Why was The Doctor always played by different actors? Why are those slow-moving R2D2-looking things considered a dangerous alien race? What the hell is with that blue police box?! (Yes, I used “hell” rather liberally at that age.)
It wasn’t until later that the adventures of the wayward immortal time-traveling alien were made clear. And while that sort of subject matter would’ve grabbed me - and did when I caught glimpses of it - I quickly lost interest.
That isn’t to say that I wasn’t nudged in the Whovian direction in the interim. As coincidence would have it, I was going to school in London when the ‘96 Doctor Who TV movie (starring Paul McGann in the titular role) was to premiere. Unfortunately, I missed it by a day. I flew back, hungover, the next morning. Long story…but I digress.
My next Who-sposure occurred on my 30th birthday. While friends and roommates were doing their darnedest to keep me in the dark about a surprise birthday party, I was glued to the SciFi Channel (pre-Siffy). They were having a marathon of the first new series of Doctor Who - the Christopher Eccleston season. It was then that the first fanboy kernels began to pop.
Immortal time-traveling alien that regenerates into different forms (when the replacement of an actor was needed), following the continuity of decades past? I could get behind this. This was sorta my type of sci-fi.
But then I caught the interim special - “A Christmas Invasion - ” where they introduced David Tennant in the regenerated role. And I hated it. Every stinkin’ minute of it. Sci-fi at its worst.
As “luck” would have it, it was Tennant’s run as The Doctor that reinvigorated the series. A whole new generation of Whovians emerged from the Vortex. Most of them were young, and - to my dismay - hip. I wondered why so many late-teens and early-twentysomethings glommed onto Tennant so quickly and I didn’t.
Then it hit me. Pinstripe suit, trench coat, spiky hair, sideburns, Converse…oh my God! Tennant’s Who was a hipster.
What had they done?! After that, I refused to watch it on principle.
Friends showed me some Tennant episodes here and there in the hopes of swaying me to the Who-side of the Force. To their credit, “The Girl in the Fireplace” was a damn good episode, but for the most part, I was uninterested.
When David Tennant’s run ended (to my relief), the role went to Matt Smith. And he was even more hip and more youthfully oddball than Tennant was. Some staunch fan-friends of mine even noted this by dubbing him “The Special Needs Doctor”.
I got a chuckle out of that.
Which brings us to the present…
Last weekend, “The Day of the Doctor” - the 50th anniversary special - was set to premiere. The special promised a team-up of both David Tennant and Matt Smith - the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, respectively. John Hurt was also cast as an earlier incarnation of the Doctor that hadn’t yet been acknowledged in the series continuity. To top that off were two online mini-episodes that acted as tie-ins to the special. And I had no interest in it Who-so-ever. But a curiosity did linger.
I watched both out of sheer curiosity. The one that grabbed me was “The Night of the Doctor“, a seven-minute short that chronicled how Paul McGann’s incarnation became John Hurt. To put it mildly, my appetite was whetted.
Following that, I watched a parallel special called “The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot”. It was directed by another Doctor alum - Peter Davison. The mockumentary was star-studded and hilarious. That convinced me to hunt down the 50th anniversary special.
I watched it the Sunday after the initial premiere. And it was…
In my lifetime, I can only name three series that succeeded in blowing the ever-living wad of geekgasmy joy on the small-screen. Those honors belonged to the TV miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, Babylon 5 - episode “Into the Fire”, and Firefly’s cinematic turn in Serenity. Well, “The Day of The Doctor” trumped all of them. It paid homage to the last fifty years of the series, wrapped up old plot threads, and introduced a new direction to the series. All done to almost-note perfection.
Since then, I’ve time-wasted at least two days’ worth of Netflix binges on the show. I developed a lurking respect for Tennant’s and Smith’s runs as The Doctor, while desiring to start the show from scratch with the Hartnell years.
Sunday, November 24th, 2013 marked the day I officially became a fan of The Doctor.
I think I’ve mentioned in prior articles about my soft spot for teeny-bopper movies. It all started in the 80s and 90s, and continued well into the new century. Luckily, for my sanity, very few good ones have emerged since Ten Things I Hate About You. Most were clearly out of my age-range, both in wit and wonderment.
Then came Pitch Perfect.
I first heard about it from its trailers. It looked like yet another Glee knock-off by way of Step Up with the plot of Bring It On. However, something interesting caught my eye. A rather rotund Australian woman was taking center stage in many of the scenes - one Rebel Wilson. She was a riot, and that alone gave me pause. Was it enough to make me see it?
Oh no. Not solo. Not I, a man in his mid-30s.
Several months went by, the movie came and went from theaters, and life returned to relative abnormalcy. I went to work, I wrote, I drank tea; rinse, repeat. While at work, several co-subordinates blasted the local pop station amidst chores. One song stood out from the inanity. I didn’t know the name of it, but it sounded vaguely…folksy? What was this doing on the radio, and why was it talking about bottles of whiskey?
I learned later that the song was called “Cups (When I’m Gone)“, and that it was a redux of another song from the movie…Pitch Perfect!? The artist was actress Anna Kendrick. I’d never known her by name - save for the informal title of “Scott Pilgrim’s Up in the Air Twilight Sister”. At one point, I even declared my love for her. I think it was after 50/50. Never knew she could sing on top of…uh…acting all cute. All the time!
The song itself had the most varied of histories. It was first given life by one A.P. Carter of The Carter Family. The Almighty Wiki claims it was written in 1931, while others say it was first performed as early as 1928. Point being: It’s really freakin’ old. That and the rhythm was much slower.
Somehow/someway, it was picked up by a group dubbed Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009 and renamed “You’re Gonna Miss Me“. They’re the ones who added the titular “cup game” rhythm, on top of adding an extra verse. The video went viral.
Fast-forward to two years later, and YouTube vlogger/entertainer Anna Burden recorded her own cover of the song, which also went viral. During filming of Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick caught wind of this version. I’m not sure how she convinced the producers of the film to incorporate this song into the movie, but it was there as her character’s “audition” scene. And for some unknown reason, that went viral.
The attention paid to that half-minute try-out led Anna Kendrick to re-record a new version of the song - now called “Cups (When I’m Gone)” - five months after Pitch Perfect came out in theaters. The song went superviral. Yes, that’s a thing now. Because I said so. It was released in February of 2013, and it’s still being played. (It is currently November.)
Kendrick and “Krew” filmed a new video for the re-release in March of ‘13. I didn’t catch it until well into the summer. At first, I thought the video was a part of the movie. Small town girl working a dead-end job, escapes to the big city for a career in music; sounded Hollywood enough to me. I learned later that the music video had nothing to do with the movie, even though it was filmed by Pitch Perfect’s director, Jason Moore.
With a song that had a backstory such as that, now I had to track the movie down. I tried for two months to track it down via Redbox, but it was always out of order. As a result of this repeated failure, I finally broke down and re-signed up for Netflix’s DVD service. Yes, my reason for signing up for DVD rentals…was a teen music movie.
I finally got it. I finally saw it. Twice that day. In a row.
Not a day goes by without me playing one or two musical excerpts from the movie. Was it deep, masterpiece cinema? Not by a longshot. I was right in my original guess. It was Bring It On, only with a capella. And I loved every voiceboxing minute of it.
Well worth the several months and serendipitous history lesson it took to get there.
Wow, I went that whole article without making one boob joke. The title almost demands it. I should compensate somehow. Ummm…oh yeah!
There we go.
Roughly a month ago, fellow tea blogger Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin celebrated her five-year “bloggiversary”. Like any good mensch, I congratulated her. She followed that up with a query I didn’t expect. She asked, “How old is your blog now?”
That gave me pause. I had no clue!
I looked back through my “records” on Gmail. According to the rather lengthy archive, I activated the site on October 21st, 2008. Memories flooded back to me.
Back then, I did all my blogging on Myspace’s platform. It was a much simpler time. Words like “views” and acronyms like “SEO” hadn’t entered my lexicon. I mostly did it for the attention from friends - recapping prior adventures (usually involving alcohol), and pointless rants of very little import. And speaking of import…
Around this time, I thought, Why don’t I have my own damn site?
Sure, the Myspace platform was fine and all for basic practice, but there was no future in it. (Boy, how right that thought was!) So, I paid a friend a paltry sum, paid a webhosting company, and bought a domain. The last of which was the tough part.
What would I call this newfound site? The decision didn’t take too long. A nickname I’d adopted for myself on the writing front was “The Lazy Literatus”. It came about after a conversation with a girl. (Don’t they all?) We both dreamed of what the perfect retirement gig would be. I thought it’d be nifty to own a bed and breakfast for retired writers called: “The Lazy Literati”. For some reason, the singular of the latter word stuck.
And so, The Lazy Literatus was born.
After making all the necessary purchases, and getting the basic framework for the site set up, I had my cousin - Jason - design a banner image. He’d perfected a version of my likeness, and I figured, what better way to herald…myself.
The last thing I needed was content. So, I began porting over all my old blogs from Myspace to my site. While I hadn’t officially gone “live” with the thing, one of those entries “Stories I’m Glad I Never Wrote” got recognized by io9.com. Tons of trackbacks and comments resulted. I had no clue what to make of it, but I prayed that this wasn’t my “fifteen minutes”. I’d barely started!
I updated the site sporadically for a couple of years, but took an extended break from it during the summer of ‘09, and on to the end of August in 2010. In the interim, I did tea reviews on the side…which later led to tea blogging. What had started as an accidental hobby had turned into a full-blown geek obsession. But I hadn’t forgotten about my little unfocused site in the corner. Although, I will admit I used it as a bit of a writing dump.
So, here I was, five years later. The site still had no focus, but it possessed a bit of energy. I made it a point to update it more than I had in the past, and that seemed to be paying off. And speaking of “pay”…
Ever since its inception, this website has been ad supported. Kind of. I carried over an AdSense account I activated after a brief foray on HubPages. While I didn’t stick with the site, I was curious if this Google ad thingy could work on mine. A few days ago, I checked my totals.
Five years of work resulted in five dollars. That…was…awesome!!!
I had to celebrate both of these minor milestones. Nothing really came to mind except one word: Beer. On a quaint afternoon after a rough work shift, I trekked out to the only place I could think of for such an occasion. The Green Dragon had shown up in more entries than any other bar on my website. The least I could do was celebrate my website anniversary there - albeit solo.
The final hurdle was what beer to order. This is probably something The Green Dragon staff wouldn’t want me to display in public, but fuck it…it’s my damn anniversary. Of the 50+ taps at that place, there is one that’s kept off the menu. Number 19 of the Top 20.
A cute waitress had told me about it a couple of weeks prior. That’s where they occasionally put the really good (and rare) stuff. The last time, I ended up with the best Triple-IPA I’d ever had. This time…
The bartender said it was an imperial stout, but he didn’t know from where or what it was called. I ordered it anyway. When he brought the chalice back, he conferred with the same cute waitress that had told me about it. She confirmed that the beer was part of Ommegang’s Game of Thrones line - the Take the Black stout.
For the record: I hate Game of Thrones. Call me old fashion, but I like a little hope in my fantasy fiction. If I wanted gritty, realistic stories about awful people, I’d watch reruns of Seinfeld.
That said, I liked the beer.
I mean, really liked it. It was full-bodied for a stout with notes of chicory, hickory and hints of wood. Malt showed up toward the end, riding on a sled of smokiness throughout. I still hate the show, but this was a damn good beer to emulate it. That and the concept of The Watch is pretty nifty; I’ll give the book/show that. There were worse ways to spend my five-year blog anniversary.
I could’ve been watching Game of Thrones.
Here’s to another five years…and another five dollars!
For Book 1 of The Teabeer Trilogy, go HERE.
For Book 2, go HERE.
It began with a photograph.
Back in August, J-TEA International posted a photo of spent leaves from three different types of tea. I chimed in on Google+ with my guesses: Silver Needle, Yunnan Golden Tips, and Long Jing (Dragonwell). Josh Chamberlain, J-TEA’s purveyor, informed me that my choices were spot-on. Apparently, I had a talent for spotting spent leaves.
I’ll add that to my resume.
What I didn’t realize was that this was a contest J-TEA was putting on, and that there’d be swag coming my way. About a week later, I received a J-TEA “tea”-shirt, some ‘09 Li Shan black tea, and a tea tin with the company logo. Awesome. But it was the last thing that really grabbed my attention.
Josh had included a handwritten note informing me of an event in late-October happening at 16 Tons called “Tea Beer Fest“. And if I wanted to come down to participate, he’d put my drunk arse up for the night. I arranged for back-to-back days off from work the next day.
Two months went by without much incident, besides the usual teaing, working and writing. The week of the event, though, I was almost-literally swimming in teabeer. First was a birthday party at The Green Dragon, second was the Rogue release of a barrel-aged Lapsang Souchong porter. I’d gone almost a year without any teabeer, but then my pint ranneth over.
Finally, the day of the event came, and I made the drive down to Eugene, OR. My first stop was - naturally and obligatorily - J-TEA. I spent the better part of two hours talking shop with the owner, Josh. In the interim, I consumed a 1982 Gui Hua aged oolong, an ‘08 Chen Yi Hao sheng pu-erh (which tasted like grapes!!!), and a Taiwanese Rou Gui variant. By the end of it all, I was sufficiently tea drunk…before getting actual drunk.
Afterwards, Josh gave me an impromptu tour of his operation. The highlight of which was the burgeoning garden of Sochi cultivar tea plants he had growing in the shop’s backyard. Never before had I been so excited about baby plants. What am I, 90-years-old? Yeah, probably.
We also had a brief conversation about Tie Guan Yin. I confessed that it wasn’t one of my favorite oolongs. Josh insisted that I simply hadn’t had the right one, and mentioned something about a Taiwanese/Chinese Tie Guan Yin blend that I needed to try sometime. The thought scared me a little.
Following an impromptu meal at a taqueria, Josh and I moseyed over to 16 Tons. A mere fifteen minutes after Tea Beer Fest’s start time, and it was already hoppin’.
I beelined for a menu, and examined the wares. Of the fourteen teabeers on display, I was surprised that I’d already notched off four of them. One just within the last week - Buckman’s Rooibos Red.
That said, there were plenty to still choose from, including two made with J-TEA’s teas - Viking Braggot Company’s Chai Dunkelweiss and Oakshire Brewing’s 2013 Frederic’s Lost Arm. I’d already tried the Lost Arm from prior years, but this was my first time trying it as a straight, un-barreled saison. While those were definitely on my beerdar, I was transfixed by one particular beer as my first taster.
Walking Man’s Lap Sang - a Scotch-style ale.
Ho-ly shite. It was amazing. Smoke on the front, kilt party in the back. It was like a zombie Highlander lit on fire in my mouth. One of my favorite styles of ales combined with one of my favorite kinds of tea. It wasn’t quite the mangasm that Rogue’s Lapsang Souchong porter was, but it was definitely nudging on that territory.
My next favorite was the Viking Chai. Apparently, Viking wasn’t a typical brewery. Their specialty was braggots. Why I’d never heard of a braggot up until that night is beyond me. When I talked with the brewers, they said it was their first attempt at a dunkel. Well, good on ya, boys. It was superb. Dark and spicy.
The bronze medal went to a brewery that I only discovered last month completely by accident - Base Camp Brewing’s Meridiwitea. A tea-infused version of their Meridiwit, brewed with an emerald oolong from…somewhere. It tasted like lemons, hops, herbs, and wilderness. Y’know, like an actual base camp, I would guess.
The new batch of Oakshire’s Frederic was a close fourth for me. It would’ve been tops had it been like the barrel-aged version. As it stands, it was an extremely solid oolong saison, much stronger on the tea flavor than batches of yesterbrew. I had a chance to yack with the brewer - Matt Van Wyk - and he duly informed me that a new Pinot barrel-aged version was on the way by next summer. I’m counting the days.
Josh, of course, was pinting the Frederic like a proud papa.
You would’ve, too, had you provided one of the main ingredients.
Five hours went by in a blur. I’d expected to merely yack with Josh the entire time, but I ended up doing my fair share of drunken networking. Brewers, tea aficionados, and Eugenite regulars were all in attendance. I was also elated to finally meet 16 Tons’ owner, Mike Coplin, for the first time.
Sometime within the teabeer-fueled haze, Josh and I got to discussing the bourbon barrel he’d acquired. Thus far, it was resting in his teashop…but with no tea in it. He still wasn’t sure what tea he wanted to age in the damn thing. Somehow, in the reverie, we both came to a consensus that a cooked pu-erh would be the likely candidate for the experiment.
10PM arrived far too fast. The event had ended, and Josh and I retired back to his place. The “party” wasn’t over yet, though. We polished off half a growler of more Viking Chai, and at least two bowls of potato chips. Okay, nevermind, I polished two bowls of potato chips.
Not sure how this happened, but Josh got it into his head to brew some tea. Remember that Taiwanese/Chinese Tie Guan Yin I mentioned earlier? Well, he remembered, and brewed it up on the spot. We went through I don’t know how many cups. It managed to sober me up before I turned in for the night.
The following morning, I felt like I’d wrestled a very small bear. I honestly thought I was going to fare far worse. Oolong and aspirin worked double-time to prevent me from feeling nauseous. Other than a mild headache and a slight case of vertigo, I was ready to face the day.
Before parting ways, Josh hosted one last tea session. This time, it was a greener-style Ali Shan oolong. My favorite mountain. I could think of no better tea to have before heading out on the road.
When I got home, I crashed. Hard. For three hours. I rousted around 6PM and hopped online to see if there was any commotion. Then I saw that J-TEA had posted this picture on their Facebook.
Oh, dear lord, what had I done?
A bourbon barrel-aged pu-erh was in the making, and I’d been a part of the initial beer-drenched brainstorm for it. I’m not used to being a part of tea history in the making. Even by proxy. Just…WOW! I hoped it would turn out majestic.
And with that, my teabeer week came to a close. I felt like I’d been put through the ringer, but it seemed…well…epic. No other word for it. Another saga for the archives.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot.
J-TEA Josh also passed on some Russian-grown tea for me to play with.
But that’s another story.
This summer, a couple of potential writing projects fell on my plate. One was the newly-launched Dark Crystal website, and they were looking for authors for an upcoming prequel novel. The second was a writer “casting call” for an anthology collection called Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. I just about shit a writer’s block.
The Dark Crystal was one of the most influential movies of my childhood - up there with The Neverending Story and Krull. Clive Barker’s Nightbreed remains - to this day - my all-time favorite horror movie. (Only Cabin in the Woods comes close to tying with it.) Both of these opportunities presenting themselves seemed much more than a coincidence. And the fact that their respective deadlines were within a day of each other was far too perfect.
It was fate.
Or so I thought…
As a writer, there was one avenue I never went down. I’d never written fanfiction. Okay, both of these assignments weren’t exactly fanfiction in the strictest sense, but it was writing in some other creator’s universe. A feat I’d never attempted. There were times when I was tempted, but a sticky thing called “pride” got in the way. That and I was unsure as to whether or not I could write in someone else’s world. I’m kinda glad I didn’t. For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll air out the literary laundry.
Fanfic Idea #1.
Honorblade: A Star Trek Novel
It was no secret that Powers That Be behind the Star Trek franchise were open to new blood. Untested screenwriters were brought in all the time for the TV show(s), and new authors were given opportunities to pitch non-canonical novels. My idea, however…
I didn’t want to deal with the Federation at all, or space for that matter. My idea went back…way back. No human characters, either. Instead, I chose to focus on the Klingons.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was established the Klingon “messiah” figure - Kahless - showed up roughly 1,500 years before the 24th century - when the show took place. So, about the 9th century to humans. In Deep Space Nine, Worf mentioned in passing that his race “killed their gods over a thousand years ago”. In another DS9 episode, it was established that the Klingon homeworld was invaded by a race known as the Hur’q (”outsider” in the Klingon tongue). That also occurred over a thousand years ago.
There was a story in there somewhere.
Five hundred years after the death of Kahless the Unforgettable, and the forging of the unified Klingon Empire, Kronos - their homeworld - was invaded. Having never seen an alien race before, the superstitious Klingons believed their gods were descending upon them on the backs of metal dragons. (In reality, starships that looked curiously like bird-of-prey.)
The invading race used their superstition against them, fashioning themselves as rulers of the Klingon people. A few stood against them, however. Yivar, Son of Tarn - a young thief - was one of them. After witnessing an execution, he flees the Klingon capitol.
In his travels, he encounters a wanderer named Bul’roth. The stoic Klingon hailed from the line of Morath, Kahless’s dishonored brother. The two form an unlikely friendship and set about sowing the seeds of revolution against these so-called “gods”.
Why I Never Started It:
In 1997, author Michael Jan Friedman released a TNG novel simply titled Kahless, which…completely ripped apart the Kahless mythos. In so doing, my story was also rendered moot. Sure, even if I did want to publish it, Star Trek novels weren’t considered canon. More than one novel could contradict each other. Still, it was enough to dissuade me from even fanfic-ing the damn thing.
Fanfic Idea #2.
Serenity: From Operative to Shepherd
Like a lot of geeks in the early 2000s, I was completely enamored with a little show called Firefly. It didn’t last very long. (FOX canceled it after a few episodes.) But the DVD box set sold well, justifying the need for a movie outing to wrap up any loose plot threads. Serenity came out on the week of my birthday, and I chose to see it for my birthday party.
In short, it was amazing. Sure, it tanked at the box office, but I could think of no better send-off for that little ship that could. There was one unanswered question, though: What was the deal with Shepherd Book?
Throughout the show and movie, the mysterious preacher spoke cryptically about his past. A few moments occurred that revealed he had ties with the dreaded Alliance, but it was never established in what capacity. I had a guess, though.
The primary antagonist in the movie was a character simply known as The Operative. No name, no history - he was a ghost. And a monster. I theorized that Shepherd had been one as well.
Taking place during the time of the Alliance slaughter of Shepherd’s home colony of Haven, The Operative arrived to oversee the final culling. He witnessed a lone man with braided hair singlehandedly felling an Alliance troop deployer.
Shepherd and The Operative faced off. Both were evenly matched. As they parried attacks, they also parlayed words. It turned out that The Operative used to be Shepherd’s protégé. Eventually, The Operative succeeded in killing him…but with regret.
Why I Never Started It:
In 2010, Joss Whedon’s brother, Zack Whedon, and artist Chris Samnee penned a comic dubbed Serenity: A Shepherd’s Tale. It finally revealed Book’s true origins. Unfortunately, he wasn’t an Operative.
Besides…who am I to compete with a Whedon?
As I write this, the deadline for Midian Unbound has already passed. I never even put fingers to keyboard. There was an idea kicking around about a night auditor who was really a member of the Breed. It involved a priest stuck on the crapper, a secret about the Knights Templar, and a Baphomet statue. But I never thought it was any good.
The Dark Crystal “author quest“ is still alive and well. They’re still accepting submissions until December. I have some semblance of an outline that is equal-parts Dark Crystal and The Seven Samurai. At one point, a McGuffin called a “Conjunction Cannon” shows up. I’m still not sure this novel is a good idea.
Perhaps it’s sheer laziness or stubbornness that are keeping me from playing in someone else’s sandbox. Or maybe I’m just second-guessing myself. Chances are, though - paid or not - a subconscious kernel in the back of my mind would be constantly berating me about writing fanfiction.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Several years ago, I tried to submit applications to different schools in Asian countries. My goal was to use my pathetic English degree to teach the language abroad. None of that panned out, but this was my favorite submission letter to a Japanese outfit. (No, these images were NOT included in the original query letter.)
My fascination with “the rising sun” began in the spring of 1983. An unassuming precocious child, I channel-surfed Saturday morning cartoons like a pro. Perhaps it was a short attention span, or a reflex, but nothing ever caught my eye. That is, until I ran across anime for the first time.
The channel surfing stopped.
Fast-forward a few years later - by this time, a 9th grader - and introduced to the likes of Akira, thus solidifying my genre preference for all time. But not only that, I had to learn more about the culture that spawned such a dynamic art form. The bookworm in me took over.
Like any teenage male, the first word in the search key was “ninja”. That led to “samurai”, followed closely by “daimyo”, and lastly to “Amaterasu.” Film directors such as Shintaro Katsu, Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano breathed imagery into my textual inquiries. However, I was still distanced from experiencing the culture firsthand.
Then came college.
Most would assume a dorm boss to be a beleaguered, tired-looking post-grad student. Mine was the exact opposite - a bright-eyed, smiling, and downright hilarious guy by the name of Hiro. He and I grew to be fast friends and embarked on weekly sushi outings. (Usually impromptu, it being college and all.)
As with all things, though, college ended and we returned to our prospective homes. Too bad his was across an imposing ocean. I heard from him on and off over the years, his same statement being, “When’re you coming to Japan?”
To which, I would shrug and say, “When I have money.”
In passing years, I also developed a palate for refined green teas, gyokuro and matcha specifically. This further fueled my desire to one day cross overseas. I wanted to smell a fresh cup of loose leaf green tea from the source, not just from some secondhand distributor. A need for authenticity barraged me.
Aside from the need to experience a culture on its own soil, another desire needed to be sated; that being, putting use to my English degree. To put it mildly, it had been vestigial at best. No job I retained over the years was anywhere near related to my field of study. Granted, I wrote fiction on the side, but what good was that to anyone? I suppose I had a drive to teach.
Having tutored in the past, I can safely say it was rewarding. Seeing someone beam with delight once they finally understood material, well, there’s no greater high in the world. What’s the point finding joy if one doesn’t share joy.
I suppose that’s what brings me to [insert language school here]. The opportunity to live and learn away from the comfort of home is an alluring prospect to say the least. Traveling is in my blood, and so is teaching. It seems only natural that both be adhered too, and with a wonderful company, no less. I appreciate to opportunity for consideration.
This was a travel essay assignment I wrote back in college. Found it while trying to find “filler” for the website, since I’m knee-deep in some important writing projects. Kinda glad I found it.
Many a soul have traversed the path known commonly as Highway 80, and have each had their own memories of the wonders and horrors of that stretch of road. For long commuters it serves as a decisive short cut between the infertile lands below the Sierras and the prairie-like flatlands of Central California. I, too, use this stretch to trek my way home in a grey station wagon designed for soccer moms and families of five. My vehicle and I are an unlikely pair - one, a car built for many passengers, the other, a hapless college student returning home for the first time in over eight months. Home is where the heart is, they say. I’d rather prefer to think of it as the place where I left my soul.
Oregon has the strangest effect on people. Visitors come and take in the foliate scenery, mumble incoherently about the dreary climate, and complain further about the nativist population. Granted, Oregonians aren’t the most welcoming to outsiders. However, there is a silent understanding; you aren’t an outsider anymore if you’ve been there long enough. The northwestern state grows on you like a fungus, crawling deeply in the very roots of your subconscious, latching on to the part of the brain that produces waves of nostalgia. At the very least, that’s how I’ve come to see it.
Years have passed since I was welcomed as a migratory plague from California, infesting the landscape with my “smog-ified” presence. I didn’t care to be considered one of them anyway. The city of Portland, and all its peripheral towns, mattered little to me. The scenery was intoxicating though. Long walks and bike rides caused the coniferous environment to sink in like an intravenous surge. Urbanized teenagers rarely catch the bug to return to a Rousseau-like “state of nature”. But like many unsuspecting white flight transplants, I became a native. Maybe that was their plan all along, to haze newcomers before the natural infection of comfort sank it - the diseased word known as “home.”
This time around, though, I returned not as a native, but an outsider. I still used an Oregon license, insured my grey vehicular monstrosity in Oregon, but I hadn’t been there for long stretches of time in over three years. Nevada had done its best to weed out the Northwesterner in me. As the years passed, it had almost succeeded. I referred to it as a state rather than my state. Have you ever had the feeling that you don’t know which place to call home? Or whether or not you even have a home?
However, once I hit the road, flipped on factory stereo that belted out static rock, and set upon 80 to connect with I-5 North, that lost part of me rekindled - a spark that had refused to die. The journey from the Reno to Sacramento - via the Sierras - was beautiful, but only partially distracting. The flat expanse between Sacramento and Redding didn’t even shake me as the cruise control was activated. Looming ahead, the Siskiyou pass approached, winding roads that continued for at least an hour or two. I never kept track of it. Why should I? It was just another obstacle between the desired destination and I. Then the first positive marker arrived.
The Oregon border. Ashland would be coming up soon. My eyes began to weigh on me heavily. Little sleep due to anticipation, and post-academic lethargy threatened to hinder my progress. For a time, they succeeded in curbing my journey in the form of much-needed rest at an isolated rest stop. An hour’s worth of a power nap banished the need for any more delays. Roughly four more hours and Portland would be in view.
One interesting fact I’d forgotten to mention is how awe-inspiring a night drive can be. Typically, when returning home, I leave Reno in the late afternoon so as to skip past the rush hour blitzkrieg. By then, I-5 would have already cleared up on the way out of Sacramento, and the drive would be smooth sailing from there on in. Yes, the drive is boring if one is looking for outside distractions to keep them occupied while putting along, but the obsidian blanket of twilight also has its form of shrouded majesty - as if the world had been put on hold while you continued moving. In a poetic way, the journey goes smoother.
A tune chimes in on the radio that I know all too well on the road trip cassette I’d made - Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willy Nelson crooning away about reincarnation in “The Highwayman”. How fitting, I think. A song talking about the eternal journey chiming in as I return to the place where I believe my spirit is at rest. That song has stayed with me since I was a child, and here it plays as I return to the one place where the child in me hasn’t died.
So what if I wasn’t much of a child when I first came to Oregon - a snot-nosed prepubescent 5th Grader with dreams of aliens still dancing in his geeky little mind. Although California encompassed the greater part of my elementary school years, most of the “growing up” took place in the rainy state I’d been forced to endure. Maybe this was because the adolescent travails had begun. I’m not too sure. One thing is certain, though, the coincidence is almost too convenient - the most prevalent of my memories are from a place I’d moved to, not a place I’d originated from.
Three hours pass and the signs informing me of Salem’s approach whisk by. I look at the time - three-thirty in the morning. I peer down at my numbing legs, still pressing the gas with shaky anticipation. The gas gauge blinks at me, relaying the dire need for fuel. Pulling over at a Chevron, I curb the grey Taurus next to a fuel stand, exit the driver’s side, and proceed to remove the pump.
“Sir, what’re you doing?” a vagabond-looking attendant says from behind me.
It takes me a moment to fully process what he’s asking. His beady eyes peer down at the pump then return to me. At that moment the realization clicks. Oh yeah, Oregon doesn’t have self-service gas. Shrugging, smiling weakly, I hand the pump back to him, beckon for regular unleaded, and stop into the mini-mart to sustain me with a Twinkie. Of all the little things to remind me of home, it was a bearded man with a lazy eye asking for a gas pump back. Yes, they say home is where the heart is. I disagree. It’s where your soul rests until you go to reclaim it.
A small confession.
Okay, maybe a big one.
I’m Geoff and … *sigh* … there’s a coffee I like.
To those who know me as a “tea”-totaler, it may come as a shock to you, but I actually started off as a coffee drinker. During my latter years of college, I worked graveyard shift at a hotel. Even then, my young, supple body couldn’t stave off sleepiness for long. The mystical powers of caffeine had to help eventually.
So, naturally, I brewed a pot on shift. For many months, this worked just fine. The coffee wasn’t…great. (Up ‘til now, no coffee had.) On one unfortunate, sleep-deprived night, though, I brewed a batch at double-strength. It led do a three-day “flu”.
That put me off coffee for years.
In the interim, I became a tea guy. To some of my friends, I was THE tea guy. But even in my most snobby of moments, I admitted there was room for coffee’s existence. The occasional dark roast did make it into my cup. Those moments were rare, but they were there. Much to the chagrin of some of my tea brethren and sistren.
Still, there was nothing I truly loved about coffee. It tasted like burnt blackness with a hint of fire-swill. For the most part. Then…I encountered one that changed my palate opinion. And I have this li’l f**ker to blame.
My cousin, Jason, introduced me to peaberry coffee. What is that, you ask? I’ll friggin’ tell you.
It’s crack. Roasted. Crack. But more specifically…
A coffee “cherry” generally only has two beans (or “seeds”) in it at the time of plucking. They are usually ovular (I think?) and flat-facing. Every once in a while, though, only one of the beans is fertilized, but the other doesn’t flatten. Think of it like a normal chicken egg…but without the chick. That is a peaberry or “caracoli” bean. These are oftentimes collected to create a different type of single origin coffee. Many different regions produce and sort peaberry coffee - Hawaii and Tazmania for examples.
I’m not sure what happens between bean plucking and roasting, but whatever it is, voodoo must be involved. To a staunch tea drinker, coffee cannot taste that good. I likened it - in tea-ish terms - to a black tea from Yunnan province, China made up of gold-tipped, fully-oxidized leaf buds. The taste was even similar, if roasted.
Peaberry coffee - at least, the Ehiopian arabica, medium dark roast stuff my cousin fed me - tasted like burnt lotus blossoms by way of a burly Assam tea brewed as a concentrate. Floral, chewy, and painfully addicting. Oddly enough, it wasn’t as jitter-inducing as other coffees I’ve had. Nor was it as offensively astringent. This might be due to the anecdotal claim that the rounder bean roasts more evenly compared to its flatter siblings.
I’m convinced my cousin fed me this stuff so that I’d never ask for an actual wage when we worked together. We hammered out a book outline, and the start of a new comic project. And that was only on one cup of the stuff. Keep in mind, I was already tea-caffeinated for the day.
What can I say, I’m a peaberry whore now.
First cup’s always free.
In late June, when I was packing up for the inevitable move, I ran across some old heirlooms. Well, that’s a pretty loaded word. It was, rather, a stroll down memory lane. Artwork I’d done at the fragile/fractured age of fourteen.
When I was in the seventh grade, my cousin - Bucky - and I played one of the Bard’s Tale games on my dad’s computer. We created several characters - all with names varying in levels of cheese-factor. My particular favorite of the bunch was a warrior aptly named “Killer the Third”. So inspired was I by this ham-handed protagonist, I wove a fantasy novel yarn idea around him.
His real name was Darick Garvin, and he was a brooding knight who’d lost his ladylove. (Aren’t they all?) After his kingdom was invaded by a demon race known as the Erril, he ventures out on a quest to restore balance to his wartorn land with a questing party of other misfits. The MacGuffin for the quest was also the title of the novel - The Well of Darasia.
I won’t go into the “intricacies” of the plot; I’ll save that for a later entry. Needless to say, this was the best idea I came up with in junior high. On a family trip to a cabin in Wyoming, I even devoted the better part of my downtime to drawing out the characters for my little opus.
This was Darick “Killer the Third” Garvin.
Rediscovering him was like reacquainting myself with an old friend. In my nostalgia, I even posted the old sketch on Facebook. Response was minimal. Perhaps because it didn’t feature a cat. Or a baby. Or a baby with a cat. No matter.
It did grab the attention of my other cousin - artist Jason Norman. To the point where he decided to create his own take on the character. There were a few…changes, however. Killer the Third’s scabbard became a jetpack and his spiked hair became a pompadour. And it was awesome.
Definitely a far cry from the brooding knight I’d originally conceived, but it helped brighten my mood as I ended my trip down memory lane. Or rather, art walk. Thanks, Jason.
Shortly after that, I began writing in earnest again. I don’t believe in coincidences. Only “Killers”.
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