Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas

This is going to double as a Thanksgiving post and a “Why I hate Christmas” post, so we’re going to get into some deep stuff. Are you ready? Got your plate full and your Bah’s humbugged? Let’s do this.

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First off, I spent yesterday morning in the Emergency Room of a hospital I’ve spent far too much time in over the last three years. I had woken up around 9 in the morning to my roommate’s bedroom door opening and the morning shuffle that signals the start of day. I rolled over to my side, fully intending on getting another couple hours of sleep, and my body went into a full convulsion. It didn’t last long and I was conscious for the duration of it, but I had no control of my physical faculties as my hands clenched and unclenched and my legs twisted up in my blankets. When it passed, I lay there for several seconds later, surprised and shaky, and then I got up, got dressed and asked my roommate to drive me to the hospital.

I spent about two and a half hours in the E.R. and after a bunch of blood tests and a general check-up, it was written off as “probably dehydration-related”, which – assuming it’s not a sudden brain tumor sneaking around inside my skullhat – is relatively unserious. Certainly not as bad as a seizure. However, ever since the septic shock incident (which I wrote about in Life Was Simpler When I Was Dying)  I tend to not mess around when my body starts doing things it doesn’t normally do. Chainsaw-level snoring? Not healthy, but normal. Erections at work? Annoying, but manageable. Convulsions? That’s unusual.

But they sent me away with a relatively clean bill of health and instructions to drink more water and electrolytes (which I can never say without immediately adding, “It’s what plants crave!” Thanks, Mike Judge.”

Anyway, as always happens when I find myself leaving the temple of the ill, the injured and the dying, I find myself being reflective of life, the decisions I’ve made during it, those who are in it, those who have left it, and everything I’m thankful for. It helps, too, that Thanksgiving is in two days, and that it’s my favorite holiday of the year. Yes, for the food. Not a turkey fan, but I’ll be stuffing stuffing into my face hole.

Okay, I’m also a fan of another thing Thanksgiving does that I’m not sure a lot of folks realize: It’s a better Christmas than Christmas. But I’ll come back to that.

I don’t tend to think of myself as a materialistic person. I sleep on an air mattress. The bulk of my clothes have stayed in a pair of suitcases for the better part of five years. I own a ton of DVDs that I never watch and comic books I keep shelved or in storage, and I’ll buy the occasional knick-knack that catches my eye, though more often than not I’ll pass it up. I spend most of my money on food, drink, activities and travel. Don’t get me wrong: I can spend compulsively. I like doing things and tasting things, watching movies or going to see a comedy show. I live very much in the moment.

This is both good and bad, because I’m also a dreamer who wants to build a career off of writing, and I haven’t been doing any, uh…writing. I’m getting better, though! I’ve started spending less at the bar and now I’m investing money into a writing office. Cheap materials, but the pieces that will get the job done.

I’m getting off track. My point was that I don’t typically find a lot of value or investment in physical things or my money or even my place to live. It frees me to be thankful for other things, like the people in my life.

My family doesn’t invite me to Thanksgiving anymore. I’m not sure exactly why, but we sort of drifted apart from each other and, to be frank, I don’t think I’m necessarily a good fit for the relationships they’ve built with each other. I’ve always been a little outside of the family life, always been a bit of the black sheep. That suits my vagabond lifestyle, so they can and should be happy with whatever arrangements they’ve got.

One thing that did surprise me though (last year, as I was planning on microwaving whatever shitty Wal-Mart Thanksgiving substitute they had for half-off in their barren aisles at 2AM, and again this year) was the number of friends who invited me to spend the day with them. I was surprised again at the outpouring of positive thoughts and prayers and concern while I was in the hospital yesterday, especially since last year, when I actually almost died and I didn’t leave the hospital for four days, it seemed like almost nobody gave a shit.

I’ve been losing the number of people I feel I can comfortably trust and talk to. It isn’t that there aren’t people who offer, but more that as my life slips a little more out of control in varying degrees, I often feel too ashamed or embarrassed to confess what I’m going through, and when I am having an exceptionally bad time, it depresses me a little that some of the folks I would expect to reach out to me first are people I never hear from at all.

You know what that does, though, is it makes you so much more grateful for those who are there. Maybe they don’t know you as well, or even hardly at all. Maybe there was beef at some point, but it got patched up over one or the other going through some shit. But these are the people who do make an effort, who invite you into their homes, or come to visit, or even something as small as send out a concerned call or text message.

And caring for others and being grateful for each other and for what we have that not everyone else does, hey, that’s what the holiday is all about! It’s right there in the name: Thanks-Giving. And ignoring whatever historical fallacies we were taught and any sort of horrible connotations that pilgrims might have, the spirit is there to be grateful and kind and loving.

Thanksgiving is a day where we gather our closest friends and family and we share a meal and love with each other. Where we provide comfort and security and a feeling of safety with each other and we can reflect on the small blessings we have. A full belly. Four walls and a roof. Good company.

Good will towards men. Gratitude. You know what else is supposed to have those emotions? That’s right. Goddamn Christmas.

But for some reason, people turn into raging assholes literally the day after they’re giving thanks for everything they have.

Black Friday is the beginning of the consistently worst display of human behavior to each other. Greed and entitlement course through the veins of shoppers that will line up a week before the sales even kick in. They need a new flat screen TV because it’s a couple inches bigger than the one they bought last year. They need a new laptop even though the one they’ve got hasn’t slowed down and in fact works just fine still.

It isn’t enough that they will fight to be first in line and push through the doors to buy this shit, but they’ll argue over who’s first, they’re short with the retail reps who had to come in at 4AM to set up for it but don’t get commission or anything else just to be there and be treated like garbage by people consumed with material need.

It’s also the real solid start to Christmas shopping. Nobody Christmas shops in June. They wait and then they swarm like hornets into shopping malls, crowding into stores with all the patience of Hitler invading Russia. Everyone fights over the last item on the shelf instead of thinking up a different gift to get their loved one. They clamor for attention like kindergartners in a broken home. They sneer and they snarl and they insult each other and the people trying their best to help them.

Minimum fucking wage is not enough to deal with the level of stress and debasement frenzied holiday shoppers lay on retail employees. This is when cashiers break into tears. This is when ushers are sagging on their feet in exhaustion because they’ve been working thirteen hours to direct hundreds of customers to the right merchandise and an open register, and their shift still isn’t over.

People bitch and moan about long waits in line as if it’s anybody’s fault but their own that they waited until a week before Christmas to fill out their list. They haggle for deals as if the salesperson set the consumer price. They bitch about whether someone says “Christmas” (“I don’t believe in Jesus.”) or “Hanukkah” (“Uh, I’m Christian.”) or “Happy Holidays” (“There’s a war on Christmas!”).

There is no war on Christmas. There’s a war on common human goddamn decency and civility.

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They act as if the person they’re shopping for is more entitled to gifts, as if the other shopper isn’t trying to just get something thoughtful for their loved one, too. What is this gift buying shit, anyway? As someone who has worked many Black Fridays and been to several Christmas parties with various families, at least half of that shopping process is done out of a sense of obligation for a friend or family member that the shopper does not give one single hot shit about. But it’s a compulsion. An expectation. Why? Why isn’t a heartfelt sentiment and a nice meal enough?

Which brings me to Christmas Day.

I grew up having two Christmases, usually, which is immensely fortunate but actually also had a lot of traumatic experiences for me. Of the good memories, I would have a generally quiet and love-filled Christmas Eve with my grandparents. We would each open one present that night and the rest in the morning. My dad’s friend would get absolutely shitfaced and show up sometime that week dressed as Santa Claus and he’d pull some little toy he probably got at an airport somewhere from some giant bag and he’d give it to me. Then Christmas Day would roll around and I would go up to my step-dad’s place and hang out with my brother and my sister. My step-dad would also, every year, donate thousands of dollars worth of toys to homeless and abused kids.

Now, when I went up to my step-dad’s place, I never got as many gifts as my siblings did. I shouldn’t have. They were his son and adopted daughter, my half-siblings. He raised them, not me. They lived there, I didn’t. I never had a problem with that. I did have a problem, when they were young (this is something they grew out of) with the way they always seemed to be disappointed when there weren’t more presents. Or that out of the dozens of gifts they got, something wasn’t good enough or they didn’t get one other thing that they wanted.

I saw that in my family, and I’ve seen it amongst other friends and friend’s families. There’s also sometimes a quiet resentment when a gift received doesn’t appear to be as thoughtful or expensive as the gift given. At some point, we stopped being excited about giving to others and started caring more about receiving, and not just that, but the quality of the gifts we’re getting, as if we deserve better.

What the fuck? What the fuck?

If my parents ever showed up at my grandparents place or my step-dad’s, they were usually drunk or fucked up on drugs. They treated each other terribly, shouting and swearing, insulting and occasionally hitting each other. On Christmas. On a day that’s supposed to be about loving each other.

While I know that some Thanksgiving family dinners are awful and awkward and not as great as I made them out to be, I can’t help but feel it captures the spirit of the holiday season more than the holiday season actually does. It’s more about coming together as family – by blood or by choice – and less about buying a bunch of meaningless stuff.

I don’t buy anything for Christmas, and I hope nobody buys anything for me. All I want is for people to treat each other kindly this year. We’re all in this for somebody.

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Just Plane Silly

Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentleman. We’re talking about flying today.

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I love flying, but I’m terrified of heights. I can be perfectly fine staring out a couple inches of plastic window separating me from an uncomfortably thin atmosphere and be fine not being able to see roads, but I get shaky on a ten-foot ladder. If that strikes you as monumentally dumb: don’t worry, I think so, too.

Actually, before we get into the flying, let’s take a second to talk about open-sided escalators. These are the escalators that on, say, the right side, typically hug the floors of the building. The left side, meanwhile, is attached to nothing and overseas the open space in the center of the mall. At the Dimond Center in Anchorage, Alaska, it overlooks the ice rink on that side. In the 5th Avenue Mall, there’s a shoe store that takes up the bottom floor.

If you’re still having trouble picturing it, I’m talking about something like this:

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Yeah, screw those things. I get terrible vertigo if I look over the edge of those, and every time I step on one to come down, I’m convinced I’m going to trip over my own feet and plummet to my death. And this is probably going to sound a little weird, because it is weird, but I always plot out my strategy of defense were a sudden earthquake to detach the escalator from the walls or tear it in half. I know which angle to hurl my body for maximum opportunity to catch the railing of the closest floor and pull myself up to safety.

Now, I do the same thing on planes. I know that the back seats on the plane are the ones with the highest survival rating. I’ve got the Exit doors and hatches figured out, and I’ve mentally gone through what I would do if I were to survive a crash, both in the ocean and somewhere in the mountains or something (Would I survive in Arctic waters? Probably not. Would I cannibalize my fellow passengers? Probably. I’ll worry about brain worms later).

Strangely enough, though, I never get anxious on planes, not even as a kid. I think it probably comes down to, once it gets to a certain height it just stops being scary and starts being absurd. Twenty feet? Ahhh! I could break my back! 3,000 feet? Haha that’s just ridiculous. Why care? I can walk around freely in this giant metal tube filled with other people. It doesn’t even feel real. That guy is snoring. This chick is writing her memoirs. It’s like a really crowded living room.

Or an elevator. I’m fine in elevators, and I’ve seen tons of films where the elevator detatches and crashes, mangling everyone inside. I saw Devil, where some malevolent force starts murdering everyone in the elevator. That movie was garbage, though. So.

Anyway, I know that elevators have safety catches on them, and I know that if something were to happen with the plane, well, at least I can blame someone other than myself. The fear just isn’t there. A little turbulence actually thrills me. The closest I ever came to being terrified was when I got kicked out of Canada and had to take a rickety little plane from Vancouver to Seattle and that plane got struck by goddamn lightning.

Man, but I do love planes. Some are better than others. By that I mean their coach seats are a little roomier or you’ve got an extra armrest or something. I don’t generally shill our the extra dough for first class, but on the handful of times I did, THERE’S an experience, too. Kick back and relax, watch some movies. Some airlines have headrests now that bend in a little bit to support your neck if you decide to nap. Others will provide packaged pillows and blankets (instead of recycled blankets they used to give out which, more often than not, smelled like pee). Just let me kick back and relax while a man-made machine shuttles 100 other people and me 600 miles an hour through the air.

And sure, sometimes the people you get seated next to suck. There’s the occasional crying baby, or the guy who was so much in a hurry to get to the airport that he forgot to apply deodorant, or the lady who’s spilling over the seat like some kind of meat comforter for your side.

But sometimes you’ll get seated next to a guy who buys you shots all night long, or a gorgeous Peruvian that you get to spend three hours getting to know, never to see her again, or you meet a guy who teaches you that life is a decoy duck.

Sometimes you’ll just get a weird story. I almost had sex with a stranger on a plane once, almost ten years ago. That’s a big no-no, generally frowned upon by anyone with decency and, by all accounts, fairly uncomfortable to pull off in the strict confines of an airplane bathroom. I was all about it, though.

I had a window seat (typically my preferred seat) and she had the aisle. A slender woman in her fifties took the seat between us, already drunk from airport cafe liquor. It was this woman, this center seat lush, that I got to know first.

I was co-writing a romantic-comedy novella with my friend Skyler at the time and as such, I had my notebook out. She asked where I got my ideas from. I told her sometimes I wrote from personal experiences. She asked if I ever had an experience on an airplane before. “Haha! I’m just kidding,” she said. “But maybe not.” This is not the woman I almost slept with on the plane, although I’m sure that would have been a given.

This lady proceeded to buy a Bloody Mary for the girl in the aisle seat (who gave it to me once the lady passed out), tried to hook me up with her lawyer niece, and then tried to fall asleep on my shoulder. When I got up to use the bathroom, she grabbed my ass.

Upon returning from the restroom, she was knocked out and I started having a whisper conversation from the aisle with the girl in the aisle seat. The lady in the middle woke up and switched seats with me, so she would be in the window and I would be in the middle.

Game. On.

The girl and I talked about all sorts of stuff for close to an hour. She was 23. I might have lied about my age, but she knew I couldn’t legally drink. I don’t remember which of us made the first move, but we kissed, made out, talked some more, kissed some more, and then she pulled away from my lips with a smile and said, “Too bad we’re about to land or I would have given you that experience she was talking about” AND THEN THE INTERCOM COMES ON AND THE SEATS HAVE TO COME UP AND THE TRAYS HAVE TO BE SHUT AND I ENDED UP IN SEATTLE WITH A TEN FOOT ERECTION.

Ahem.

I wonder what ever happened to her.

But yeah, I love planes. I wish meals were still comped, even if they were those terrible fake eggs or two-day old turkey sandwiches they used to give. I wish I still got free little snack packages. Hell, I’ll even take the peanuts and those are too salty for my taste. I wish half the time they give me a complimentary drink, they wouldn’t walk away with the rest of the can. These are first-world problems. I should pack a lunch, or get something in the airport during my layover. I should cut back on my soda intake (although if I ever die in a plane crash and I didn’t slam, like, three Cokes, I’m going to be fucking pissed).

Planes are cool. Flying is even better. I have often entertained the idea of taking flying lessons to be a pirate, but in the same vein that I hardly trust myself to walk down an escalator without dying, I’m convinced I would immediately crash a plane on accident.

Airports suck. Not a fan. SeaTac and O’Hare in particular can blow themselves up and down a mountain for all I care, but airports give me planes and planes give me rides, and my dissatisfaction with airports can be saved for another time because I want to end with my favorite thing about flying.

I love the take-off and the landing. I love leaving in the middle of the night and I love the window seat when it happens, because I can see all the lights of the city. It doesn’t matter which city. You can see the businesses that are open late and the street lights, the houses with one light on in the bedroom or the living room, and maybe they’re reading a book or playing video games or having sex or doing taxes, crying or painting or thinking about all the years that have been wasted, or all the things that have been accomplished. The city, any city, every city lights up like a jewel, and the plane takes you high up above it, pulling away, distancing you from hundreds of thousands of lives continuing on, each one focused on momentous things, despite that as you pull away, you see just how small and inconsequential everything is in comparison to the entirety of the world.

That is so beautiful and so sad and so awe-inspiring that we’re all so small and we don’t give a shit. We just keep doing us.

I also love landing during the day. You get such a clear look of the country-side and how the lands looks around and because of the cities we have settled. You get to see the work that went into building these places, and the monuments or the parks or the lakes or the bridges that define them. Landing in a city during the day screams You Are Here. And as the plane descends and the buildings get larger, the cars become visible, you can make out the ants that are people, there is this feeling of reconnecting with the world. You’re literally coming back down to earth from a sojourn through the skies. You were above and apart from the world for a while. That’s amazing.

Flying, man. Not just for the birds.

Things I Love: The Malazan Book Of The Fallen

In the 90s, Canadian writers and archaeologists Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esselmont created the Malaz world to play a role playing game in. Erikson would go on to take the characters and history of the world and craft a novel out if it, Gardens of the Moon, the first in a ten book series collectively known as The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Since then, Erikson has written a couple novellas also set in the world and Esselmont has joined him as an author by penning some novels of his own detailing other events and characters that help flesh out the world and the thousands of years of lore that define it. But I haven’t read those yet.

The ten giant tomes that Erikson scribed, however, are some of my favorite pieces of prose ever written. Often overshadowed by George R. R. Martin’s hugely popular A Song of Fire and Ice (another grim fantasy epic with a complex and well-defined history), the 3 and a half million words composing TMBotF are every bit as steeped in realism, every bit as filled with legacies and lore and ancestries, has characters every bit as conflicted and nuanced and evolved, and does as great a job of world-building in a fantasy series as any else.

It does also have the advantage, though, of being complete. All ten novels tell one story, starting with a motley soldier crew called the Bridgeburners in the aftermath of a failed siege at the city of Pale and a counter-attack by Moon’s Spawn, the massive floating city that rested above it, and ending with a multi-army battle to prevent the extinction of mankind and redeem the souls of those who fight for it.

I don’t need to tell you about how amazing A Song of Ice and Fire is. It’s the most-watched show on HBO, shattering records every year.

I do need to tell you about Ganoes Paran, the green commander who takes over command of the Bridgeburners from Whiskeyjack and his men, to their chagrin.

I need to tell you about stocky assassin Kalam Mekhar and his shifty mage friend Quick Ben, whose relationship is much more trusting and full of far less bickering than that of sappers (saboteurs) Fiddler and Hedge.

I need to tell you about the tragic stories of expert spear-fighter Trull Sengar the shorn and Toc the Younger who lost an eye when a piece of flaming rock fell from the sky and melted it out of his face.

I have to tell you about Coltaine and his army of tribal horsemen leading thousands of slaves across a desert for an Empire that hates him while being attacked by an army that dwarfs his own, and of Itkovian who brings peace to others by absorbing their souls into his own, and of Anomander Rake, who wields Dragnipur, a sword that collects the souls of those it kills and binds them in another plane to forever drag the carriage they are chained to.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Let’s go over a few things that make the series so great:

1. The World and Its History

Steven Erikson has worked for years as a professional archaeologist and anthropologist and he utilises both of his professions to resounding success here. There is a tremendous difference between the Malaz Empire and the Letherii Kingdom, with the first being an expansionist, disciplined culture and the latter centered around greed and debauchery. Each of the tribes have distinct rituals that they perform, from color-coded armors to masks where the number of black marks showing denotes their prowess as a warrior.

Each of the armies are different, from the mercenary and seemingly immortal Crimson Guard to the religiously devout Grey Helms.

Not to mention the varying races. There are humans, yes. But gone are traditional fantasy races like elves and dwarves. The closest things to the elves would be the towering, ebon-skinned Tiste Andii, the honor-hungry and shadowy Tiste Edur, and the righteous-minded, arrogant light-skinned Tiste Liosan. There are the elder races: the ogre-like and powerful Jaghut who have a surprising dry sense of humor; the T’lan Imass, an undead army that can dissolve and reform itself at will; the K’Chain Che’Malle and the K’Chain Nah’ruk, a matriarchal society of lizard creatures with bladed hands; and the terrifying Forkrul Assail.

There are the barbarian Toblakai and the Trell who descended from them into a powerful but more human culture.

And with ALL of these, these races and empires, kingdoms and villages, there is thousands of years of history. Civilizations that have risen and fallen, cities that are patchworks of different times, deserts that were oceans. Rivalries and genocides. And over it all, a complex pantheon of gods (Ascendents) that rule different warrens, each for a different kind of magic and some more unruly than others.

2. The Realism

Like A Song of Ice and Fire or any of Joe Abercrombie’s novels, these books are not for the faint of heart. There is murders borne of passion, and rape, and slaughters, and tortures. There are large-scale battles that dart from character to character as they fight and bleed and die. Victories come at a cost, and losses are felt deeply. There is emotional turmoil and character growth. Karsa Orlong, Ganoes Paran, Onos T’oolan (Tool) and many others are virtually unrecognizable at the end of their journeys from the characters they were when they started.

There is beauty in these books as love is found and friendships are forged. There is anguish in these books as lovers are driven apart or characters are brought to their mortal coil. You will find yourself caring more about a character in scant paragraphs than some characters in an entire novel written by a lesser author.

The humor is real, and the panic. The fear and relief. The jokes cracked in the middle of a desperate situation because what else can you do? The incredulity at the task before them or the miracles that save them.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of quotable lines that capture the human spirit perfectly, and others that echo the uncomfortable sentiments from cynics or zealots or the hopeless.

These books are compelling because though the settings are fictional, and the races are fictional, the world feels real and familiar. And a huge chunk of that is because of…

3. The Characters

There are a LOT of characters throughout the Book of the Fallen. A handy Dramatis Personae in the front of each book, organised by faction, helps keep them familiar and manageable. Each of these characters are unique amongst each other still. Take a look at two trios of brothers: the Beddicts and the Sengars. Hull Beddict is the eldest of his siblings and is a sullen man who feels betrayed by his city. He seeks to turn on his own people in order to make up for the ways he failed the more tribal peoples he had parlayed with. Tehol Beddict is homeless, sort of. He’s a quick-talking, ambivalent soul who seems to have no direction or purpose, which suits him as it masks his brilliant mind. Brys Beddict, the youngest, is firm with discipline and an unparalleled swordsman, but his youth makes him naive. The three brothers love each other.

Instead of just being carbon copies, the Sengars are different. Fear Sengar is proud of his family and holds to tradition. He tries to bring his younger brothers to heel. Trull Sengar, meanwhile, is outspoken and crass, railing against the traditions of his people. Rhulad, meanwhile, holds Trull in contempt. He is brash and impetuous and quick to action before thought.

From familial relationships to differing ideologies, from the changes these characters go through upon meeting the peoples they had long hated or disrespected or held in low regard, from the brash and hilarious commentary amongst the marines in the Bridgeburners, each character is given life. It easy to love and to hate, and thus to invest yourself in these men and women.

You’ll find yourself hurting for ever-loyal Mappo, chortling at fat man of mystery, Kruppe, cheering for jaded mercenary Gruntle, oohing and ahhing at assassin-god Cotillion the Rope, reviling Kallor, the immortal destroyer of empires, and being bewildered by the necromancer and serial killing duo of Korbal and Broach.

4. The ‘Holy Shit’ Moments

I have talked often about those moments that stand out in books and films, the moments that make you gasp and swear and that stick in your mind. The moments you tell your friends about or can’t wait until they get to so you can talk about it together. This series is FULL of them.

From the opening of Gardens of the Moon, surveying the burnt and bloody landscape in the aftermath of the siege of Pale to Coltaine’s labored Chain of Dogs, to massive battles in Letheras, Coral, the blue city of Darujhistan, to Ygahatan, a city that already held a dark military history. There are plenty of awe-inspiring moments, moments of bad-assery and displays of power, shocking deaths and betrayals and sudden routs and pained victories. There are moments that will make you weep for these characters and other moments that will make you pump your fist. I don’t want to go any further into detail. These are moments that should not be spoiled but experienced with fresh eyes.

5. The Complexity

These are not books that will spoon-feed everything to you. Steven Erikson has faith in the patience and intelligence of his readers and in his own work. With a world as rich with history and filled with deities and power structures and differing cultures, there is a lot left unsaid or only alluded to, or teased before paying off much further down the line. There are relationships that spur snippets of conversation that might seem strange or out of place until a piece of history is further revealed down the line. There are mysteries in the first book that aren’t solved until the tenth.

There is also a load of symmetry throughout the novels, and a lot of symbolism. The series is rife with details you might only notice on a second or third read. It can feel a little overwhelming.

Also potentially overwhelming is how his books skip around some. The first book introduces you to loads of characters that you become invested in over hundreds of pages. When the second book begins, you’re introduced to an entirely new cast with only a handful of exceptions. Your mind will want to wander, wondering what became of the survivors of Gardens of the Moon, but before long, you will have new favorites and be invested in this new story. As you continue through the series, it all draws together neatly.

Still, that seems like a lot, which is why I always recommend the novels but waited until now to write a blog post about it. Why now?

6. The Read-Through

The lovely people over at Tor publishing house do read-throughs of varying series. They take it a book at a time, one chapter at a time, updating one to three times a week. It’s read by Bill Capossere, who checked the series out for a second time, catching things he missed the first time around; and Amanda Ritter, who read it for the first time with fresh eyes, and whose reactions are as new and genuine as many of yours will be.

They went through all ten of Steven Erikson’s main Malazan novels (and three of Ian Esselmont’s: Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard, and Stonewielder), and you can find the entire archives of their recaps, reviews and discussions here. Now you don’t have to wait until the next update, or feel pressured to catch up immediately. You can read at precisely the pace you want.

I implore you, if you love fantasy, or war, or great characters, or intriguing settings, or history, or reading to pick up these novels, read them a chapter at a time, and then check out those recaps. They’ll help you pick up on things you missed, appreciate the parts that stood out, and keep your head from exploding. Do yourself a favor.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen novels in order are Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice, House of Chains, Midnight Tides, The Bonehunters, Reaper’s Gale, Toll the Hounds, Dust of Dreams, and The Crippled God.

The Carolina Reaper

Here’s a fun fact about me: I’m not a huge fan of spicy things. Sure, I’ve gained an appreciation for the noble jalapeño. I’ve found that pho and chicken fried rice benefit from some sriracha. I had a burrito yesterday with habanero in it because I had a healthy amount of soda to wash it down. I like a little heat, enough to make me sweat and clear the sinuses.

A few years back, my friends RJ and Isaac convinced me to do a hot wing challenge in Seattle. I don’t know why I did it. To say that I did? That seems to be a trend for poor decision making where I’m concerned. The challenge was seven 7-alarm wings in seven minutes with nothing to drink. I also had to eat the lettuce they came served on, which was packed with the sauce the wings were covered in. This was not a fun time for me.

The wings came out in a thick, dark brown sauce that looked like shit. Literally, it looked like shit. It was offensive to the eye and the smell of the things was a macabre indication of the torment my insides were about to endure.

I got through two and a half before the heat hit me. By the time I was finished with the third, my eyes had betrayed me and the world had taken on the blurry nature of being underwater. By the time I finished the fourth wing, appearance had become reality and I was actively sobbing into the wing.

“It’s not worth it,” I cried in as manly as fashion as I could muster. “I can’t. I want to quit.”

My friends, either believing in a steely resolve that I did not believe of myself or reveling in my suffering (likely a little of both, more of the latter), refused to let me throw in the towel. “You’re over halfway now. If you wanted to quit, you should have stopped at three!”

Gee. Thanks.

But they had a point. I forced myself through three more lava-covered monstrosities and came to the giant piece of lettuce. There was so much sauce on it. So much. I wrapped the piece of lettuce in a ball and shoved the whole thing in my mouth. It was honestly the hardest part of the entire experience. The texture, the taste. I almost vomited all over the table. I have no idea how I didn’t.

I finished with thirty some seconds left and let the timer run out. I drank two things of milk, ran out and screamed in the street, vomited on the sidewalk, and came in for my free t-shirt and my picture to be taken on the wall. I went to wash my hands and inadvertently rubbed my eyes, introducing myself to a whole new level of hell. Then I spent the rest of the day in distress, my stomach and bowels betraying me in a variety of interesting ways.

It was not my most dignified experience, nor was it fun in any real meaning of the word. I’ll stick to my mild salsa in the future, thanks.

Then last night came around. RJ and our friend Phillip and I were sitting around and they bring up that they’ve purchased some Carolina Reapers, also known as the world’s hottest pepper. How hot? Here are some comparisons.

The jalapeño can rank between 2,500-10,000 on the Scoville rating. Cayenne is 30,000 to 50,000. The Red Sabina Habenero is 248,556 and the ghost pepper is a whopping 1,041,427.

Then you have the Carolina Reaper, sitting there with its average rating of 1,569,300 but peak levels as high as 2.2 MILLION.

Full disclosure: RJ ate two of these in a row without doing much more than breaking a sweat, tearing up some and having some abdominal discomfort. Phillip and I reacted less well, and I, worst of all.

The first thing that went through my head just after biting down just below the stem and chewing was, “This is actually a pleasant tasting pepper.”

And it was. It was also all a lie. Like the crew of Homer’s Odyssey, reveling in Circe’s bountiful feast before having the veil ripped away and realizing that it’s all a lie and they’re trapped by deep magic, my next thought became,  “Oh, shit, I can’t back out now. This is it. There’s no off button.” At one point Phillip said that he wanted to run away from it, but there was nowhere to go. That was accurate for me as well.

I started drinking beer: Labatt Blue, which isn’t a bad beer but did fuck all to help. My tongue desperately tried to remove the shreds of pepper that had lodged in my teeth while my eyes melted and my face felt like I was gargling coals. I had seen videos of this ordeal. The people eating them got hiccups more often that not as their bodies frantically tried to figure out what unholy disaster had been loosed within it. None of us three got hiccups. I did pace and swear a lot, and I cried. I’m not even ashamed.

It was about a solid six minutes for both Phillip and myself before our faces began to claw themselves from the Purgatory they were exiled to and the burn traveled downwards to neck and chest and eventual some light pains in the stomach.

What followed was what can only be described as post-orgasmic relief. The body, being so flooded with endorphins and adrenaline finally relaxed and settled into a state of peace. More or less. The tummy still had some rumblies.

And that should have been the end of it. We hung out, drank some more. RJ went off to bed. And about three or four hours after that, I felt like someone stabbed me in the stomach. It felt like my intestines were pulling an Ourobouros and devouring themselves. Whether it was the pepper or the beer or the sandwich I ate earlier or the combination of all three, my body had had enough. I heaved myself into the bathroom and prayed to the porcelain god and, really, any god that would come to my rescue.

You know how puking is generally unpleasant? Especially with the bile that comes up? Now imagine that bile is literally the hottest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth and it’s left a trail of fire down your esophagus.

But my stomach felt alright after that. I crawled into bed. I wouldn’t call myself victorious, necessarily, but I certainly pushed myself places I never thought I’d go.

So, yeah. Don’t fear the Reaper. Or do. Just don’t eat it. Or do. I mean, RJ ate two and he’s fine.

EDIT: He just told me that after going upstairs he thought he was going to “fucking die”.

“I was up here withering in pain on the couch and yelling. Then I passed out from the pain and woke up every hour to it. Thanks for talking me into eating 2 guys. Happy birthday to me.” And then he called Phillip and I both whiners.

Fair enough.

The Wedding Bells Are Ringing

So I fly down to Pittsburgh tomorrow. Well, that’s not accurate. I’ll fly down to Chicago tomorrow and then catch a second plane (doubling my chance of a death via Langoliers) to Pittsburgh where I will arrive the morning of the third.

You ask yourself, “Why Pittsburgh?” Well, I like the Penguins. “Yeah, but what are your feelings on the Steelers? Do you like them, too?” to which I reply, hahaha no. Fuck no. The Steelers suck all of the dicks (sorry, Steelers fans. At least you have the most Super Bowl wins?).

In actuality, I’m flying down to hang out with my friend RJ, affectionately known as Dr. Chuck Toddles, tie connoisseur, dolphin hunter, and doctor of law and figuring shit out by day, crime-fighting Falcon Man by night. There’s a story behind all of that, but it’s dumb, so we’ll move on. See, this is a very special week for my friend. His birthday is on the 4th, inching him ever nearer to 30 and, beyond that, a likely untimely death. Then, on the 8th, he ties the knot. Gets hitched. Buys a ball to hook to a chain to attach to his…ankle? Hoof? I’m bad at this.

My boy is getting married! My (two year elder) child has grown and found the love of his life and has agreed to nuptialize her. Side note: nuptialize is a new verb. Go forth. Use it in your debates with marriage purists.

This is exciting news. Also, I fucking love weddings. I tend to get a little too drunk and a little too slutty at weddings, but seeing as how this is in a strange city I’ve never been in, and ignoring the convenience of the hotel room I have by the airport, I should be fine.

The wedding is made even greater by the congruence of friends from two opposite ends of the continent. Phil has already flown down from Alaska (where our friend Matt and I will also be coming from) and asked his girlfriend to marry him. That rapscallion! That romancer! That Duke of Debonair! She said yes, of course, because love is real. It’s real! And it’s beautiful and a little bit weird, which makes it perfect.

Brolin, meanwhile, is coming from South Carolina. You geography majors might recognize South Carolina as being “not Florida” but a few years back Brolin and I drove from Alaska to Florida in four and a half days so he could move his family down there. It was a stressful ride, during which I crashed into a ditch literally right next to a herd of bison, and one in which we got stranded in a podunk town in Middle of Fuck-All, Montana where we proceeded to get drunk in a bar with no less than thirty stuffed animal heads. So I’m counting South Carolina as Florida. It’s Florida, if Florida was on a gator-free diet, which is Florida enough for me.

I actually have no fucking idea if South Carolina has alligators. I’m going to assume if it does, they’re tourists.

Anyway, I’m excited for this trip. I’m excited to take a week and a half off work, I’m excited to travel somewhere new, and most of all I’m excited to see my friends, especially during such an important, amazing event in RJ’s life.

And let me tell you something about ol’ Falcon Man. I’ve known him for something like 7 years now. We’ve been drinking buddies from jump. I’ve driven across town to split a bottle of whiskey with him regardless of what time I needed to wake up in the morning for work, because he needed it. We looked into moving to Australia just to get the fuck away from Alaska. We packed everything into a shitty car and drove from here to Los Angeles in a move that changed my life in a lot of ways. THAT wasn’t an easy move, either, with the vehicle having no less than three horrible things happen to it IN CANADA. I like Canada and Canadians, but Canada is not God’s country unless God is a moose.

And God might be a moose. I’m not ruling it out.

I will go into my experiences in Los Angeles at a later date, but RJ and I lived in the a shady part of town for five months. He helped support me until I could get a job, and when we separated ways so that he could move to Seattle and I could move elsewhere in the city where I wouldn’t be shot at (again), we had one last breakfast and shook hands before parting.

Almost a year later, RJ gave me a place to live in Seattle after I got fired from my job for embezzlement. We moved to Redmond together. We turned Netflix into DrinkingGameFlix which is something we’ve never actually called it ever in the history of ever, but it seems appropriate, so I’m shoehorning it in here. It’s my blog and I’m mad with power.

We’ve lived together in three states, pounded liquor in four states and a foreign country, and have been there for each other’s tears, insecurities, failures, accomplishments, ambitions, fits of rage and moments of hope and love. Shit, RJ saved my life once. If he hadn’t, I would have never started a blog and where would my beautiful readers be? Bereft of…whatever it is I give you, that’s where.

RJ is family to me. I didn’t hesitate to drop the money to fly down for this. I fought to make sure I’d have the time off to celebrate both wicked birthday and wedding bless. I’m honored to have even received the invite and I’m so stoked to be there for this moment. If you read this, I love you, man, and I’m glad you’ve found your one. Here’s to the future!