You need it to get it: this writer’s struggle

For most struggling artists, the biggest dream they could dream is to make money doing what they love. Most of us yearn to turn our creative work into some form of income. The photographer who longs to book a celebrity session. The sculptor who wants to be hired for a commissioned piece of art. The painter who envisions their own creation as a mural along a busy street. The actress waiting for her big break The author who hopes to have their manuscript published.

Accomplishing any goal requires hustle and baby steps. Breakthrough artists are rare and overnight successes are rarer. Just like any other industry, creative pursuits require practice. Mastery is the result of years of trial, error, failure, rejection, and disappointment.

Some accomplishments are too complex to phrase in simple terms, especially when you have yet to reach them. Such admission is humbling for a writer like me - a person who regularly manipulates syntax and vocabulary to tell stories and communicate ideas. I am not immune to the challenges other artists face. Right now, my biggest hurdle is finding the one person who is willing to take a risk on me.

Eighteen years ago, Common released one of my all time favorite rap albums: Like Water for Chocolate. About halfway through, Mos Def joins Common for a track ‘The Questions.’ Lyrically, the two rappers trade back and forth, asking each other thought provoking questions and responding - usually something like “I don’t know you tell me.” The song is quirky and funky. Now, after nearly two decades, my current plight brings me back to one of Mos Def’s questions:
"Why do I need I.D. to get I.D.? If I had I.D. I wouldn't need I.D."
This one line is one of those odd truths about modern life. It doesn’t make sense but we accept it because that’s just the way it is. You need it to get it.

Which brings me back to today. As a struggling artist, an unpublished writer looking to transform my hustle into a career, I realize the I.D. Mos Def questioned could be replaced by other items.

I’m looking for opportunities to increase my income and it’s not an easy task. I have a steady day job - it’s not glamorous but I’m good at it. It pays the bills and provides medical benefits. My boss trusts me and there’s a couple hundred employees that rely on me. I don’t want to replace my income, just add to it. Between my skill set and lack of fancy degrees, writing is the most practical and logical method of earning more money. Considering the limited time I have outside my office, freelancing seems to be my only option. However, finding a paying gig is harder than you’d imagine.

Publishers looking for freelancers only want to hire writers with previous freelancing experience.

I could rewrite Mos Def’s lyrical musing: why do I need experience to get experience? If I had experience I wouldn’t need experience.

The J Jonah Jamesons of the world tend to ignore new faces. Whether they control the budgets and hiring decisions for websites, magazines, newspapers, or ad agencies, they want writers with proven track records. They would rather poach from a competitor than gamble on an underdog. This is a scary world for up and coming writers looking for their first step into professional bylines. Publishers want a sure bet. They don’t want talented writers, they want profitable writers. If you want to demonstrate your profitably, you must already be profitable.

Which is why you need experience to get experience.
You need publishing credits to get publishing credits.
You need a freelancing gig to get a freelancing gig.
You need name recognition to get name recognition.
You need a fan base to get a fan base.
You need an income to get an income.
You need I.D. to get I.D.

I do have a small army of fans: a few friends and family members who read everything I write. Their compliments motivate and encourage. However, I’m not a fan of nepotism and none of them work in print, web, or broadcast media. Their kind words are appreciated but don’t translate into dollar bills. If interpersonal encomium had monetary value, I’d be wealthy.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers for this phase in my creative journey. This isn’t a testimonial. This isn’t an “I can do it you can too” exhortation. Rather, it’s a call for solidarity. A beacon of hope - if you’re there, I am too.

You are not alone.


Casting the Fantastic Four (Part 2)

Sue and Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm make up the core team of the Fantastic Four. However, they don’t exist alone. They have friends, lovers, employees, and associates that fill their universe. Victor Von Doom is their archnemesis, the antagonist they battle most often. Yet he isn’t the only villain to spar with the Fantastic Four. If Marvel’s first Fantastic Four movie is a success, there is a wealth of supporting characters and bad guys who will populate their storylines. I have some ideas of who could fill these roles. I’d also accept a paycheck from Disney if they choose to adopt any of my suggestions.

image courtesy Marvel Comics

Alicia Masters is a blind artist and Thing’s love interest. Hollywood has a long history of using able bodied people to fill roles of disabled characters. With the visually impaired, sometimes it works (Charlie Cox’ Daredevil) and sometimes it doesn’t (Ben Affleck’s Daredevil). However, blind characters would be far more genuine if portrayed by legally blind actors. Give this role to Lachi. She’s made a career as a singer/songwriter who has worked with artists like Styles P and Snoop Dogg. And she’s legally blind. Her only acting credits are a pair of music videos, so this could be her big break.

Johnny’s best friend, Wyatt Wingfoot doesn’t have any superpowers, yet he’s frequently saved the team from dire circumstances. He’s athletic, skilled in marksmanship and physical combat. Wyatt is also Native American, and America’s indigenous population don’t often see their people positively portrayed in popular culture. Marvel has an opportunity to create a hero for native people and they could use someone who is young, hungry, and talented – someone like Forrest Goodluck. He was brilliant in his film debut as Hawk in The Revenant and he could turn this minor character into a fan favorite.

Franklin Storm is Sue and Johnny’s dad, a former surgeon, widower, and alcoholic who struggles with feelings of guilt. Bruce Willis plays the same variation of the same character over and over, from Die Hard to Unbreakable to Death Wish; the elder Storm is another variant of that grizzled old man. It also gives him the opportunity to return to the tough and sympathetic fatherly role like he had in Armageddon.

Sue and Reed Richards are married with children. The older offspring, Franklin Richards, possesses psionic powers and the ability manipulate and rearrange the molecular structure of matter. The younger, Valeria Richards, can create forcefields like her mom and is super smart like her dad. And she is a time traveler. Finn Wolfhard of It and Stranger Things would add some youthful mischief as Franklin while demonstrating what it’s like to be the kid of famous heroes. Cailey Fleming, who recently joined the cast of The Walking Dead, could be a great addition as the youngest member of the Richards family. She also has a preexisting relationship with Disney, having appeared as the young version of Rey in The Force Awakens.

Inside the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four have a receptionist named Roberta. However, they didn’t hire this employee from a temp agency or dig though dozens of resumes to find the perfect candidate. Instead, they built one. Roberta is a robot connected to the building’s network with artificial intelligence able to access all security systems. From the waist up, she looks completely human, but she has no legs and is confined to the reception desk. Due to her robotic construction, her humanoid half is incredibly strong. I’d cast another Revenant alum: Grace Dove. She can provide the polite sweetness of a receptionist while demonstrating the super human strength of a robot.

There is another robot in the Baxter Building – Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics, also known as H.E.R.B.I.E. Herbie was built by Mr. Fantastic to help locate Galactus and is most often around as a comedic sidekick or a companion for Valeria and Franklin. Since an actor wouldn’t appear on screen, you need someone with a funny voice who is used to working in a sound booth. Enter Lucky Yates, who is mostly known as the voice of Dr. Krieger in Archer. He’s hilarious and is a regular in the Atlanta comedy scene.

Speaking of Galactus, the cosmic entity and eater of planets is one of the greatest enemies to battle the Fantastic Four. Not only does Galactus prove to be a formidable foe for the Four, he’s also one of the greatest threats in Marvel Comics. Bringing him into the MCU would be a force uniting the Fantastic Four with other heroes. Galactus would be the most difficult character to translate to the big screen as he’s the living embodiment of the cosmos, a being of immense size with an appearance that is perceived differently based on a person’s race and religion. Galactus harnesses the Power Cosmic which grants him godlike abilities: telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, and transmutation. He can project energy, alter his size, create forcefields and portals, manipulate memories and emotions, and give a fraction of his powers to lesser beings who serve as his herald. He survives by feeding off the energy of planets, often draining life on extraterrestrial worlds to extinction. If anyone in the Marvel universe can cause mass-scale destruction, it’s Galactus. An epic character deserves an epic voice, one like Patrick Warburton. His amazing vocals have been found in a multitude of shows and movies like The Tick, Open Season, Family Guy, The Venture Bros, and The Emperor’s New Groove.

The current herald of Galactus is Silver Surfer. Originally named Norrin Radd, he was an astronomer on an alien planet. When Galactus came to devour his world, Radd made a deal to protect his home, his family, and his lover. Radd bargained for their protection in exchange for his service. Galacus transformed Radd into the Surfer and spared his planet. Radd originally intended to lead Galactus to uninhabited planets but Galactus manipulated him into searching for life, eventually leading them to Earth. With the help of the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer rediscovered his compassion and humanity. For the betrayal, Galactus confined the Surfer to Earth in exile. For this role, you need someone able to portray deep emotional strain, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, someone like Rami Malek. Malek portrayed this moral ambiguity with skill in Mr Robot and would bring the same intensity into Silver Surfer. He recently filled some big shoes as Freddie Mercury with precision in Bohemian Rhapsody. The MCU needs Malek.

The Kree/Skrull war is a major event in Marvel comics and set to be central to the plot of the upcoming Captain Marvel. The Fantastic Four also found themselves in conflict with the shapeshifting alien Skrulls, especially a spy named Lyja. The Kree/Skrull war would be a great way to introduce the Fantstic Four with Lyja impersonating Alicia Masters to infiltrate the Baxter Building. While she has been an enemy of the Four, she’s also been an ally - developing romantic feelings for Johnny Storm, and helping to defeat Doctor Doom. To play the part of the warrior alien spy, I’d select Constance Wu who is most well known for her role in Fresh of the Boat. She’s tough, witty, and probably smarter than you. (She’s definitely smarter than me.) She’d be great in a morally conflicted role who is sometimes villainous and sometimes heroic.

Between this group of supporting friends and foes, along with my picks for the main cast, I think we’d have – for the first time ever – a great Fantastic Four movie.

image courtesy Marvel Comics


Casting the Fantastic Four (Part 1)

With the deal between Fox and Disney complete, all Marvel properties once belonging to 21st Century Fox are now eligible to appear in the MCU. Possibilities seem endless. With this merger, we could possibly see the wedding of Storm and Black Panther or crossover events like House of M and Secret Wars on the big screen. Who knows, maybe we could get a Marvel Zombies movie.

Casting for Fox’s comic book characters have been inconsistent. Some were perfect like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Others were not as great like Kelsey Grammer as Beast. The X-Men movies have ranged from abysmal to amazing while the Deadpool movies are comedy gold. However, there is one group of heroes they never got right: each new Fantastic Four movie Fox released was somehow worse than the previous iteration. With the Fox/Disney merger, perhaps Marvel’s first family will finally receive cinematic justice.

image courtsy of Marvel Comics

While fans speculate about how the next Avengers movie will unfold, I hope Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel Studios are contemplating how to incorporate the Four into the existing universe. John Krasinski recently expressed interest in the role of Reed Richards, AKA Mr. Fantastic, the super-genius scientist with elastic limbs. Screen Rant published some fan art of how Krasinski could appear in costume and it looks like the ideal casting choice. After seeing his stellar performance in A Quiet Place earlier this year, I’m a fan. I wouldn’t object if Disney handed him the director’s job either.

image courtesy of Screen Rant

Before Disney announces official plans to integrate the Fantastic Four and X-Men into the MCU, there are a few stars I’d like to see appear in a Marvel movie. If I was a casting Director at Marvel Studios, here is who I would select to join Krasinski in the MCU’s Fantastic Four.

Sue Storm is the emotional center of the team and the wife of Reed Richards. She uses the name Invisible Woman because her ability to manipulate light waves allows her to render herself invisible. The balance between tenderness and strength to keep the team functioning can be found in Reese Witherspoon. From Legally Blonde to Wild, Witherspoon has proven the ability to be funny and tough while maintaining Sue Storm’s nurturing side.

Johnny Storm is the arrogant, attention seeking, and temper prone hero known as Human Torch. Justin Timberlake fits the egocentric and impetuous character. Timberlake and Johnny Storm share another quality, both are (or were) heartthrobs for teen girls. Johnny is Sue Storm’s younger brother; Timberlake and Witherspoon look like they could be related, so we have a perfect match for the on-screen siblings.

Reed’s best friend, Ben Grimm had the worst luck when the Fantastic Four was exposed to the cosmic radiation that gave them powers. While the other three still looked normal, Grimm was bestowed a monstrous appearance and a body made of rock. Known as Thing, he has super-strength but is self-conscious about his image. He’s got a heart of gold, optimistic, and frequently jokes around. He also enjoys a fight. Throw 50 Cent into a motion capture suit and he’ll embody the tough guy with a sensitive side.

Doctor Doom is the Fantastic Four’s main nemesis. Reed Richards’ rival is a technopathic scientist who dabbles in magic and wears strength augmenting armor. Zachary Quinto could portray the Latverian ruler with a delicate balance between charm and menace. Quinto’s best performances were as villains in TV shows like Heroes and American Horror Story. As we’ve learned through Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther, the best villains are the ones who make us understand and relate to their motives, even if misguided. Quinto has the depth to give the Fantastic Four a bad guy audiences love and hate all at the same time.

When Marvel introduces the Fantastic Four into the MCU, they need to be added as characters preexisting inside the universe. The Richards family could purchase Avengers Tower and convert it into the Baxter Building. Stories could be set in the past to explain what they were doing during previous events like the Battle of New York or Thanos’ snap. Whatever happens, we’ve had enough origin stories, we don’t need another.


The names that almost were

This is Jemma. She's the newest resident at Heartsong Meadow. And she is one of the reasons I've been a bit busy this past month. That's because she is my horse.

She's an older quarter horse, mellow, just my speed. However, horse ownership includes some extra responsibilities beyond the typical feeding and grooming. I have to spend time working her and bonding with her. As of this last weekend, I also started riding lessons; if we're honest, she's better trained than I am.

When we brought her home, she needed a new name. Blinded by Rainbow just wasn't gonna work around here. Her name needed to be strong and (because it's me) completely geeky. In one of my private groups, several guys suggested the name Epona for reasons.

There are four other names we almost gave her. Nebula - an interstellar dust cloud and the adopted sister of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. Gallifrey - The Doctor's home planet in Doctor Who. Valkyrie - the keepers of life and death in battle from Norse mythology and one of the female warriors in Marvel's Thor comics. Aurora - the technical name for the northern lights and a member of Alpha Flight in Marvel comics. None of these names felt right though.

We eventually decided on Jemma, named after Dr Jemma Simmons from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - the genius biochemist and a researcher for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s science division. Jemma is one of the smartest characters in the TV show and now Jemma is one of the smartest animals on our farm. Which is good, because I need a brilliant horse. According to our trainer, I ride like a sack of potatoes.


Wait, what? (a Thanksgiving post)

As I sat down today, the eve of Thanksgiving, I realized something. I haven't posted anything since the end of October. Wait, what? This month has flown by and we've been a little busy. Pictured below is a clear example of me not being busy.

All joking aside, the last few weeks have been an onslaught of activity. Changes at my day job have ensured I never lack a task in need of doing. New animals on the farm equal extra work at home. And we're doing a remodel project. Wait, what? This geek has been learning construction methods as we add two bedrooms so the kids can all have their own space.

What does that mean for The Faithful Geek? Well, not much other than the crickets chirping in cyberspace. It means I've been hustling from the moment my morning alarm blares until I crawl back into bed. It means I haven't had as much time for reading or writing - and what I have written hasn't been published. It's coming though. My hiatus isn't permanent and I have something fun planned, a return to my nerdy calling. Until then, enjoy your Turkey Day.

Wait, what? Don't worry, that's Uno and she is not Thanksgiving dinner. She's still running around Heartsong Meadow like she owns the place. Besides, I prefer eating ham.


This is how we Halloween

On Friday night, the last night we have all of the kids together until Halloween, we had a spooky family night. It began with dinner: toxic mac'n'cheese with cryptic ham-steaks.

The cheese even stained the kids' tongues green.

For dessert: dirt and worms.

Then it was pumpkin carving time. While I was in charge of the big knife, the kids did all of their own carving - except for Joylyn who had a little help.

If you ask me, they did a great job with their jack-o'-lanterns.

Finally, those who were old enough to stay up late watched a scary movie.

Annie and I had so much fun setting up this special night for the kids. We are already making plans for next year.


We Need a Hero

Some of the greatest stories told by humanity have featured corrupt rulers defeated by simple, humble, and righteous people. We've made heroes of figures who speak truth to power. We crave those tales where good triumphs - especially when the odds are never in their favor. When the abusive nature of despots thrives in the real world, we long for reminders that evil's reign is only temporary.

True stories of moral victors find a treasured place in history, like the band of rebels who rejected the tyranny of King George and the British Empire. Names like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton are American icons, the honorable heroes who won the war against corrupt foreign rulers.

Biblical tradition speaks of Moses, who delivered the nation of Israel from the corruption of Pharaoh’s Egypt. Queen Esther outwitted the corrupt Grand Vizier Haman. Jesus often spoke against the depravity and hypocrisy found among the religious elites, legal scholars, and government officials of first century Palestine. When it came to corruption, chasing people with whips and flipping tables were acceptable options for Jesus.

El Greco's 'Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple

In Greek mythology, Nemesis was the goddess of retribution, the avenger of crime whose wrath focused on those guilty of hubris. She, along with Aidos the goddess of modesty and respect were the final good spirits on earth before the corruption of the age of mankind.

Legends of King Arthur tell of the king overcoming Morganna, a powerful sorceress corrupted by evil. Elsewhere in English folklore, Robin Hood is the hero who subverted the illegitimate king, Prince John, and his henchman the Sheriff of Nottingham. And Shakespeare wrote a play about a Danish prince seeking revenge against his uncle the king for murdering his father.

The advent of cinema continued this tradition. Dorothy saved the land of Oz from the corrupt Wicked Witch. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Empire was controlled by the corrupted Emperor Palpatine and his enforcer, Darth Vader until they were defeated by a farm boy, an old wizard, a princess, a smuggler, a Wookie, and a pair of quirky robots. Every Mission: Impossible movie finds Ethan Hunt exposing the corrupt government that betrayed him. A young LAPD officer survived a day with the corrupting influence of a dirty cop named Alonzo Harris in Training Day. And Captain America stood his ground after discovering S.H.I.E.L.D. had been corrupted by sleeper agents of Hydra.

image courtesy of Marvel Studios

When storytellers, novelists, and filmmakers need a villain, they mirror the lives of politicians, law enforcement officers, corporate CEOs, and religious leaders whose lust for power, wealth, and control have led them down darkened paths. Art imitates life.

We long for these heroes. We idolize them. Lionize them. Honor and respect them. And we desperately need them again. We need people who will stand in humility and do the right thing. We need righteous people who will rise and fight against modern tyranny. And you can be that hero.

Election Day approaches. The current president is the most corrupt president to occupy the White House during my lifetime. He has defiled the office. He has abandoned every concept of decency and the decorum expected of a world leader. He is vulgar, reprehensible, dishonest, impetuous, and morally bankrupt. His arrogance is limitless. He is a fear-mongering con-artist. He is adored by white supremacists. And he has somehow wooed the evangelical community while acting completely adversarial to the basic tenets of their faith.

I won't tell you that November 6th might be the last free and fair election or that we're about to witness the death of democracy. I don't believe those statements are true, and those who espouse them have sunk to the same level of scare tactics the president employs. I’m not clairvoyant so can't tell you what will happen after the election. However, I can tell you what is happening right here, right now. We have a president that is using the office to enrich his family. We have a president that is alienating American allies while befriending cruel, murderous, and inhumane dictators. We have a president that is fully indifferent to the rule of law, who blatantly lies, whose disregard for facts only grows more brazen the longer he is in office. We have a president who gathered the most incompetent set of fools to serve on his cabinet, who have in turn indulged in their own corruptions. Finally, we have a Congress who refuses to do a damn thing about it.

This is where you come in. This is your bitten by a radioactive spider moment. This is when you become the hero America deserves. Your vote is your superpower. We have the opportunity to get rid of the gutless Congress and replace them with civil servants who will stand up against the corruption of the Trump administration. When you fill out the ballot, vote for the candidate Trump doesn't want to win. Vote for the candidate most likely to inspire a Trumpian Twitter meltdown. Vote for the candidate with a spine. Vote for the candidate who believes in human dignity. Maybe then, we can actually make America great.


I believed them

My brother and I always wanted a younger sister but our parents didn't want a third child.

the Casey boys

Since a biologically related sister wasn't an option, Aaron and I had to find our own through bonds formed by choice rather than blood. I met my little sister during my junior year of high school. She had just moved to the area and we formed an easy friendship. By the time I graduated high school, she was one of my best friends. We never developed a romantic interest and we were able to confide in each other as if we were siblings. Even today, I still occasionally call her sis.

hello, 1997

in the spring of 1996, she told me about a guy from school who kept calling her phone; if she answered, he'd say something creepy or leave annoying messages if she didn’t answer. He followed her on campus; she often caught him leering at her. While he had not touched her, she always felt unsafe if he was present. A couple weeks later, she joined me and two other guys to post promotional posters for the drama club's production of Neil Simon's Rumors. Mike ran inside the library while she and I sat in the cab of his truck, and Damien sat in the back. We were in the middle of conversation when she froze.

"Oh, my god, it's him."
"Who?" I asked.
"Remember me telling you about that guy who was stalking me? That's him."

The kid was walking toward us along the sidewalk. I started hollering to get his attention. "Hey, hey!"

He walked toward the open passenger window of Mike's truck. "You talking to me?"

I pointed to next to me and asked him if he recognized my friend. He denied it. "Are you sure?" I asked. "I don't believe you." His expression changed from oblivion to annoyance. I continued with instruction. I told him he was to leave her alone, stop calling her, not to speak to her, not to look at her. If I ever heard he was not following those guidelines, he would regret it.

By the time I stopped talking, his bothered look gave way to pure anger. "What are you going to do about it?" he asked.

Honestly, nothing. He was bigger and tougher. I wouldn't be able to hurt him if I tried. Thankfully, Damien was still in the back of the truck. Despite a teddy bear personality, Damien could be intimidating. Damien stood in the bed of the truck, crossed his arms, and said, "Or you'll have to deal with me." The kid's face changed once again, from anger to fear. He took a couple steps backward, confirmed he understood my demands, then turned and walked away as fast as he could. My friend never complained about him again.

During the fall of my senior year, I had a huge crush on a girl named Alexis. She was in an engineering class the same time I was studying architecture. The two classes were taught by the same teacher in a shared classroom. The kid who previously harassed my best friend was enrolled engineering with Alexis. She often came by my desk to talk when there was downtime. I was one of the few guys that was nice to her, most of the others shunned her on the belief that girls didn't belong in in tech classes. One day, while she was at my desk, the kid walked by. He didn't say anything, but Alexis cringed. I asked her what was wrong and she explained how that boy was a creep. He wouldn't leave her alone, frequently made lewd or demeaning comments, failed attempts to flirt with her, and often followed her to her next class. I let her know I would take care of it.

After class, the kid walked out the door next to Alexis and tried talking to her. Before he could follow her further, I ran beside of him, placed my arm around his shoulder, and steered him a different direction. I told him I really liked that girl and gave him the same instruction as before: leave her alone, don't call her, don't talk to her, don't look at her. He took me seriously and the next day in class, he avoided both of us. A week later, Alexis told me she doesn't know what I did but she was grateful.

Months, he showed up at a youth group event, invited by Kay, one of the girls I'd known since kindergarten. It was at church, so I took a softer approach. I let him know I was glad he was there and hoped he would stick around. I said I'd known Kay for a very long time and that I cared about her. I told him it was OK if the two of them dated with one big caveat: "Don't even think about hurting her." That was the last I saw him for a long time.

Two years after high school, I moved to Boise and completely forgot about the kid who made my friends feel violated. In the summer of 2001, I took a road trip with some friends to see the Poor Old Lu reunion concert in Seattle. While back in my home town for a couple days, we stopped by Safeway to pick up snacks. In the chips isle, a stranger walked around the corner. It took me a second before I recognized him. It was that jerk, the creeper, four years older than the last time I had seen him. As soon as he recognized me, he panicked. I saw his bottom lip quiver for a second before he turned around and ran away. He dropped his shopping basket as he left, abandoning whatever he was shopping for.

It was the first time I could remember anyone fearing me. At the time, I wasn't anyone to be afraid of - a short skinny wimp whose friends were all cooler and tougher than me. But this kid was genuinely terrified. Perhaps it wasn't me that frightened him - instead it was what I represented that scared him. I think he was a sketchy dude who knew the way he treated women was wrong and he was petrified I would hold him accountable for his actions. See, guys like him, abusers and assaulters, they don't want to answer for their deeds. Today, in a world where more women are speaking up and speaking out against people who hurt them, these are the men who believe "it's a scary time for young men in America." They believe it because they have reason to be afraid.

I'm glad my little sister spoke up when she did and that Alexis felt safe enough around me to say something. Sure, they disclosed the facts of their assailant to me, but I know they never involved the police or school administration. I have no idea if they ever told their parents about the creepy kid at school who was stalking and harassing them. But they did tell me, and I believed them. If that kid (now in his 30s) ever ran for political office, I'm sure multiple girls from his past would oppose him. They would shine a spotlight on the traumas they experienced because of him. They would do everything they could to prevent him from holding any position to govern others. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone currently leading our nation would believe them.

That makes me sad.


For the XP

Garage sales and yard sales are curious attractions. You walk several miles within a small and contained plot of land. The items you think will sell don't while other items you doubt anyone would ever buy are the first to go. And people show up with odd requests, looking for items completely unrelated to anything visibly available for purchase as if there’s a secret stash somewhere.

We held a yard sale this weekend. Unloaded stuff that had been cluttering the garage for months. Made some money that will help fund a home construction project. We still need to take the unsold items to Goodwill for donations. Our best profits came from the coffee stand the kids staffed. Chickens visited. And Frosty decided to graze his way through the merchandise.

Less stuff and extra money are nice benefits, but even if we didn't sell a single item, we were visited by a party that made the whole yard sale worth having. Early on Saturday afternoon, an SUV pulled into our driveway. An older man, roughly my dad's age, stepped out of the driver's seat and explained their situation.

His elderly mother was sitting in the front passenger seat. He and his wife took her out for a drive, showing her the area. They planned on cruising around Newman Lake before heading up to Greenbluff. They had no intention of stopping at any yard sales, but as they drove by our house they saw the animals and knew they had to stop. The two geese and all five goats were hanging out by the garage, chickens were scattered all over the yard, and Zu was riding one of our horses in the back pasture. The old man explained his mom grew up on a farm. It had been several years since she was near a bunch of barnyard creatures and he wanted to reconnect her with memories of her youth.

I invited them out to walk around, but the man said his mom wasn't very mobile any more. So instead, I picked up Kazoo, one of our goats, and carried her to their car where the mom could see Kazoo up close. We discussed the animals for a while, and I provided driving directions to their remaining destinations. As we talked, it became clear the man's mom was in the twilight of her life; her health was failing and she was non-verbal - communicated through nodding or shaking her head. By the time her son climbed back into the driver's seat, tears began to well in the corners of her eyes and a faint smile lit up her face.

Their visit reminded me of my dad and his mom. Grandma Casey is in a similar stage in her life. These strangers helping their mom navigate old age is like the traveling my dad has done to spend as much time with his mom as he possibly can. I recalled phone conversations with my grandma, each time I wonder if it will be the last time I hear her voice. They reinforced lessons of wisdom older generations have given me since I was a kid: at the end of your life, you will value your memories more than your money. Your experiences will always be of greater worth than the stuff you accumulate.

In video games, you are rewarded with XP or experience points for completing missions, defeating opponents, and performing specific tasks. Gaining more XP increases your character's health, strength, and abilities. Life is much the same. Our experiences affect our health. They can improve our strength and knowledge. They give us wisdom. The things we do and the relationships we build propel us through this world, it is the foundation for the memories we treasure when our lives come to an end.

This summer, Annie and I came to a realization. We have a small house for a family of seven. Storage space is minimal. It's obvious we don't need more stuff, so we decided we're not giving the kids big gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Instead, we're giving them adventures. No more toys and gadgets that will sit unused after the kids play with it once. We're going to take them out for a fun activity, something that will build memories to last a lifetime. It's real world XP. Giving them something that will build better bonds between them as siblings and with us as parents. Giving them a wonderous and exciting life. Giving them stories to tell their friends. Giving them a foundation to build upon as they grow up. Letting them know our time with them is the most important thing in the world.

Our first attempt at the adventure birthday gift was a success. We took the boys to Silverwood and filled the day with thrills and laughter. My oldest son will always remember being braver than Dad after riding Aftershock, the roller coaster that I refused to board. My youngest son will always remember sitting next to me for his first three roller coasters and how I helped him overcome his fear. The expressions on their faces as they watched Nick Norton's magic show are images I will carry with me through the rest of my days. Hearing Christian announce over and over how the trip was the best gift anyone ever got him made every penny worth spending. They both gained XP and leveled up.

As caretakers, whether as parents raising children, or grown adults caring for the parents who raised us, creating these memorable moments are our most important tasks. It could be as elaborate as a day at a theme park or as simple as visiting a farm. The XP we gain in life will become the memories we cherish for years to come. The old lady's smile and tears were enough to convince me: Annie and I made the right choice.