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“Oh, isn’t that the place where they filmed The Lord of the Rings?” 

“Yes, New Zealand is the country where Peter Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings, and no, I will not be living in The Shire.”

I was asked that question all too often before my departure to the Land of the Long White Cloud, and I have to say, it did become rather repetitive.  If I had an American nickel for every time somebody asked me that, I could have probably paid for my trip entirely.

I began preparation for my five-month-long journey to New Zealand nearly 12 months before I was to step foot anywhere near an airport.  But the time more quickly than expected.  I kept busy with school and projects and friends and such, and had little time to think about actually leaving.  Before I could say Middle Earth, I was suddenly on a plane on my way to New Zealand.  After the longest flight of my life, I was there.  Just like that, in the blink of an eye, I was there.  I stepped outside onto New Zealand soil for the first time – I breathed in the humid, sub-tropical air, felt the warmth of the summer’s-end sun, and welcomed myself to this new country.  “This will be my home for the next five months,” I thought.  This is home…

Home.  What an odd concept.  I knew that geographically speaking, New Zealand was going to be my home for the next five months.  But was my idea of home limited to just longitude and latitude?

Home.  “Will it be defined as the country itself?  Wellington, the city I live in?  Will it be the street I live on or the address of my dodgy, claustrophobic student flat?”    I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I knew it was home for the next five months, but it was.  That much I knew.

Only hours after my plane landed, I found myself in a classroom with my fellow abroaders.  We were at an orientation meeting in which our advisors briefed us on what to expect throughout the upcoming journey.  They taught us Kiwi traditions, cultural taboos, and how to maximize potential for the best experience possible.  Additionally, they trained us on how to prepare for culture shock, and more importantly, homesickness.  It was basically a crash course on how to avoid an emotional breakdown.  Personally, I thought it was all too dramatic.

I was in New Zealand and having the absolute time of my life.  How can you not have fun adventuring, river rafting, volcano hiking, drinking, tramping, backpacking, skydiving, bungee jumping, swimming, exploring, and meeting new people?  I was living my dream – hell, I was living everyone’s dream.  I took a two-week long South Island road trip during my spring break – it’s safe to say that it was the best two weeks of my life.  I lived off of peanut butter and jelly, apples, water, and adrenaline.  It was a nonstop, blockbuster-esque voyage that was jam-packed with jumping off of cliffs, hiking mountains, playing ultimate Frisbee, and taking a total of three showers.  It was the epitome of adventure.  We were a day away from making it back to Wellington.  I had never looked forward to being back at my small, cold 10th floor flat in the windy city.  I can’t remember a time when a shower ever sounded better, and I was almost willing to club a baby seal for a hot meal. 

I arrived back to my flat, dropped off my things, showered, and took a deep breath.  I reassessed my surroundings and found that I couldn’t have been more disappointed.  This is not how I expected to feel.  I thought arriving back at my flat would feel more… satisfying.  I mean, I finally had everything I had longed for: food, cleanliness, a bed, and a small sense of familiarity.  But I was still upset.  My expectations were shot straight to hell.  To sum it all up in retrospect, I wasn’t looking forward to returning from my road trip for the proper amenities.  Instead, I was looking forward to coming home.  It was quite the rude awakening to realize that New Zealand wasn’t living up to my expectations of home.

I was right about one thing: that orientation speech on homesickness was a bit of an over-exaggeration of reality, but it certainly had some truth to it.  I had finally admitted it to myself – I was homesick.

Could I even call it homesick, though?  I’m not sure that I missed “home.”  I mean, sure I missed America.  I missed California.  I missed the weather, the smells, the sights, the restaurants.  I missed fast, wireless internet.  I missed the American accent and I missed driving around in my car.  I missed my friends, roommates, familiar faces – I missed my girlfriend.  But I wasn’t homesick… was I?  I missed close friends and little aspects of familiarity, but is that what being homesick is supposed to feel like?  What is home?

On the most basic level, Merriam Webster defines home as “a house, apartment, or any other shelter that is the usual residence of a family or household.”  It is “the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.”  In some respects, this is home.  Going home is going back to your room, your house, your bed.  Or according to Metallica front man James Hetfield, “where I lay my head is home.”  So there is certainly an element of truth to this surface-level idea of home, but any ex-pat or person abroad would tell you that there is much more to home than a pillow and a full refrigerator.

Most people who know me are keenly aware of the fact that I am a diehard hockey fan – more specifically, a San Jose Sharks fan.  I’ve been known to be rather obsessive about the sport – ranting on about how the ref totally blew that one call, or how if our star player wasn’t injured, we’d be going to the Stanley Cup Finals.  I found out very quickly that Kiwis don’t give a damn about hockey.  They care about one sport and one sport only: rugby.  To call it a passion or even an obsession would be a severe understatement – it’s more of a religion.  A good Kiwi friend of mine told me that when he was traveling Southeast Asia for a year, the one thing that would have brought him the comfort of home was a rugby match.  That’s all he needed to feel comfortable, happy, at home.

So I decided to give it a try.  I met up with my best friend, a New England native, and we purchased an online pass that allowed us to stream NHL games live.  We woke up at the crack of dawn (because of the time change), grabbed our jackets and laptops, and headed out into the city.  We walked through the streets until we arrived outside of the Vodafone Building – the only place in Wellington that offered free, unlimited, wireless internet.  Of course, we didn’t have a key that allowed us into the lobby, so we would wait outside in the cold for five, ten, sometimes forty-five minutes for someone to walk out of the building, in which case they would kindly hold the door open for us as we stepped inside.  We sat on the lobby couch, plugged in our computers, and voila… hockey.  It was wonderful.  It was the closest to home I had felt since I arrived in New Zealand.  The only thing missing was a carne asada burrito… (Sharks fans will get this).

Despite the fact that streaming hockey games brought me a sense of being at home, the feeling had a very short shelf life.  During the time I watched the game and for a few hours that followed, I was content.  I had my little dose of home, and the high was exhilirating.  But, naturally, all good things come to an end, and the euphoria of watching hockey was no exception.  By the end of the night, I felt something missing again, so I began to search for the next little piece of home…

Sometimes, the key to feeling at home was Skyping my girlfriend, sending her an email, or just chatting with her on Facebook.  Other times, it was a spontaneous, random conversation with a fellow American traveler I had met in the city.  The idea of home changed, morphed, evolved, and it was always a variable for feeling perfectly content.  But the more I searched for that one thing that made me feel at home, it became more and more apparent that I would never find it.  Not because it didn’t exist, but because I didn’t know what I was looking for.

In writing this post, I reached out to a few of my friends who also studied abroad.  I wanted to find answers to this question about home.  I know that home is subjective to each individual, but maybe there’s a little more to it.  Maybe there’s some universally binding principle that represents home for everybody.  My good friend David described home with one word: constancy.  Home to him is the quality of having a resolute mind, purpose, or affection; steadfastness.  It was a sense of feeling grounded with the freedom to live within stability.  To David, a fellow experienced traveler, home was nothing more than a state of mind.  It was nothing tangible, it was simply an outlook – a perspective on what already is.  A more tangible perspective of home came from my dear friend, Gabe – a world-traveled backpacker with an insatiable thirst for adventure.  When I asked him what home was to him while he was abroad, he stated, “Home was the few belongings I had on me.  It was the pack on my back and the friends in my company.  Home was a nomadic place – for two years, I had already been away from the place I grew up in, returning for only brief moments at a time, so the concept of home was always at arms’ reach.  This feeling was only amplified while I was abroad, switching from bed to bed, one city to the next.  Home became my friends, my fellow travelers, and the only item that could mark this claim of home was my backpack.  It was my home base that served as a flag for the frontier, marking my space shared with my friends.”

The last person I approached was an American friend who is currently living in Australia.  Her concept of home is one that I find very interesting.  In her opinion, home is looking back to a previous chapter in your life in which you became yourself.  For example, her childhood and all of its associations were huge contributing factors to making her the person she is today.  Similarly, she will always have a home in Orange, the city where she attended university, as her college years will eternally remain a definitive aspect of her life.  Although she didn’t say this directly, from our conversation, I inferred that her perspective of home is fleeting – it’s pure nostalgia.  Her sense of home is never in the present, instead, it’s the idea of returning to a personal, unique, shaping point in time.  As interesting as I find her perspective, it does not completely satisfy my search for meaning.  By her definition, I would never be able to feel at home.

I concluded my trip abroad with a bang, spending a week exploring Fiji before returning to the United States.  On the airplane, I was ecstatic to return to America.  I was ecstatic to return to my girlfriend, return to a familiar routine.  I was thrilled to be back with old friends in Southern California, and I was dying to eat In-N-Out Burger.  In a word, I couldn’t wait to be back home.

It’s been six months since I was last in New Zealand, and it’s safe to say that I am still unable to figure out what home really is.  It almost feels wrong to end this post so inconclusively, but I’m okay with not being to able to nutshell this complex idea.  I am certain, however, that my idea of home will continue to change, grow, and evolve over the course of my life.  In my travels throughout New Zealand, I became a better person – I broadened my horizon, escaped my comfort zone, and experienced new ways of thinking.  I realized that sometimes, in order to truly find yourself, you have to get away from the place you call home.

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Catch and Release

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It could hardly be classified as “white water rafting.”

I’ve seen Jacuzzis with more adrenaline-pumping and life-threatening streams than that “river” I was rafting in Oregon, but this particular hydro-adventure wasn’t any less memorable than the most exciting rafting trip I’ve taken.  During this aquatic escapade in the Beaver State, I not only accomplished surviving my first river rafting experience, but I also caught my first fish – the most memorable moment of the entire trip.

“But how will I know if a fish takes the bait?” I asked my older brother.  “You’ll know when you feel it,” he replied.  I’ll admit that I’m guilty of using that phrase, but honestly, I hate when people say that.  I thought every vibration was a marlin, and I thought every tremor was a shark.  But then – I felt it.  The bite, the pull, the excitement – the fish.  And my brother was right, I knew what it was as soon as I felt it.  In an instant, it was me versus the fish: a battle of Iliadic proportions between man and nature.

Okay, it was a 9-inch rainbow trout – but because it was my first catch, it was like catching Moby Dick.

I was the only one who caught a fish that day.  Everyone was impressed with my success, especially considering my equipment: a crappy lure on a crappy line attached to a crappy, $20 Batman fishing pole.  My dad gave me a pat on the back, my mom was genuinely excited for me, and the river rafting guide was just surprised that my Batman pole stayed in one piece.  But the reason why I was so high on my success wasn’t due to the validation from any of these people.  It was because my older brother was proud of me.  And until I caught that half-pound freshwater rainbow trout from some abnormally calm river in Oregon, he had never had such sincere happiness for me – and for whatever reason, his happiness for me was worth more than anyone else’s.  His approval was the most gratifying, and frankly, it was more satisfying than catching the fish.

A few years later, I saw my opportunity to replicate that feeling of accomplishment.  It was another fishing trip – this time, on a family vacation to a lake.  My older brother, my dad and I went out on this rickety little tin motorboat just as the sun was setting.  The hot, summer day was cooling off and the fish were jumping.

We made it out to our “secret spot,” and instantly, the lines were cast.  My dad wanted to catch a fish to eat, my older brother wanted to catch a fish for “the hunt,” and I wanted to catch a fish for my brother.  My dad was the first to catch one – it happened almost as soon as his line was cast.  He brought in a decent sized salmon, but we were all convinced there were bigger fish in the… well… lake.  My dad’s line went back out, and again, it was like he cast out his line with the fish already on the hook.  He pulls in another salmon – this one was bigger, significantly bigger than the first.  But we weren’t satisfied yet.  His line goes back into the water once more.

My dad gets another bite, and he starts reeling, when suddenly, THUNK!  My brother’s pole was ripped out of his hands and sent smashing into our tiny metal ‘boat.’  This one was big.  He starts reeling – he’s fighting – this one is big – this one is it – what the hell is on the end of that hook?!  He was legitimately struggling to bring this sea creature to the surface.  “Blake, I need your help!” he tells me.  Here it is…  If I’m not going to catch my own fish, I’ll aid in catching the fish.  My brother’s catch was becoming more visible as it was being reeled closer and closer to the surface.  It was huge.  It was the fish we were after.  I reach down over the ledge of the boat to help bring it in.  I grab a hold of its body; pull it onto the floor of the boat, but then —SNAP!  The line breaks.  The fish falls into the water and swims below the surface, never to be seen again.

Honestly, it wasn’t my fault.  That line could have broke for a number of different reasons, but that didn’t matter to my brother.  As far as he was concerned, that fish would have been dinner if it weren’t for my “help.”  He was upset at me the rest of the trip, and it was the shittiest feeling in the world.  If fishing with my brother was a game of some sort, this trip would have been a loss – and frankly, I had never hated losing so much.

On the surface, my older brother was the guy that everyone liked and almost everyone wanted to be.  He was an all-star wide receiver for the high school football team (in a very competitive, D1 league), he was funny, handsome, outgoing, and popular.  He made friends easily, girls loved him, and he could get away with almost anything if he smiled at you the right way.

My mom always tells me that my older brother also used to be the best older brother on the planet.  She says that he loved me like his own son.  He would hold my hand crossing the street, he would have a supernatural patience with me when I would break his toys, and he was always so perfectly gentle with me.  I always wonder what those days were like, because honestly, I don’t remember that brother at all.

I only remember him as being dangerous.  I think of my brother and remember the bipolar wishy-washy drug addict alcoholic.  Oh how much pain I could have avoided if I just didn’t care about him.  He was a waste.  A waste of talent, a waste of personality, and a waste of potential.  He was angry and pessimistic; he always had something to complain about.  In his eyes, he was always a victim of ‘life.’  Life was like this evil being constantly picking him, beating him down, and telling him he wasn’t good enough.  The alcohol, the drugs, the recklessness, those were just his ways of “coping,” as he would say.  “The shit I do is just an escape.  It doesn’t make me who I am.”  He was lost, misdirected, and confused, but he was still my brother.  He was family.  And no matter how much you despise family or the things they do, no matter how hopeless they may seem, you never give up on family.  That’s what I was told.  I wanted more than anything to have a solid, honest relationship with my brother.  I wanted to spend time with him, get to know him, tell him all of those things you only share with your brothers, but I didn’t know how.  I didn’t know how to communicate with someone who was so different from me.  Aside from DNA, I had nothing in common with this person – I actually enjoyed life.

I tried so hard to be excited about my relationship with him, but it’s hard to be excited for someone when they don’t really care about you.  I showed up to his football games wearing his number, and I would be the loudest one in the stands when he made a play.  Sometimes, I would wait by his room before he would get home from school.  I would desperately search for something to talk to him about, and hope that he was interested in what I had to say – interested enough to invite me into his room for more conversation.  For some stupid reason, that was what I thought being brothers was supposed to look like.  Every attempt failed.  I practically gave up.  I tried talking to him about fishing, and I expected the same type of half-assed attention from him that I usually get.  But this time, when I brought up going to the lake to catch some bass, his eyes lit up, and I could feel his full attention.  It was a rare feeling.

We started going to the lake every other week or so, and I looked forward to it more than anything.  Every other Friday, we would hop in his car, buy some live bait, and drive to the lake for an evening (or morning) of fishing.  He was always so ecstatic on the way there – and I was just excited that he was enjoying being with me.

We would set up shop at the same spot on the lake every time – the old boat launch, it hadn’t been used in ten years.  We would walk down to the edge of the dock and cast our lines.  From there, we would be able to sit around and talk about all those things you only talked about with your brother, and occasionally, we would catch fish.  Some days, he would be on a hot streak catching six or seven fish in a single hour, some days I would be the lucky one, and other times, we didn’t catch a single thing.  And it was never a competition – that was the best part.  It was just simple catch and release.  It was something we loved doing together, but it was never about the fishing.  Even on the days when all we caught was a couple of sticks and empty snags, we still considered it a success.  At home, I was nobody to him.  I was just the annoying little kid that lived in the room next door.  Out on the lake, I was his brother.

Things eventually started to feel a little different.  We would go to the lake, but I no longer felt like he was excited to spend time with me.  Instead, it seemed like he was happy just to leave the house.  Fishing turned into an escape for him.  The fishing adventures we would embark upon together no longer served the purpose of family bonding; it turned into a way for my brother to escape home life – I just happened to tag along.

I remember a time when my brother totaled his car.  He was doing 70 in a 35, lost control, jumped the curb, and turned his Nissan Altima into the size of a toaster by wrapping it around a telephone pole.  To top it all off, he was wasted.  Drunk off his ass and high on a combination of drugs I can’t even pronounce.  Somehow, he walked out of the car unscathed.  And if his undamaged body wasn’t enough of a miracle, the cops at the scene of the accident ‘forgot’ to test his BAC or run any sort of toxicology report on him.  He got home that night, and not a single member of my family brought it up.  We all knew what had happened.  We knew that he didn’t just escape a severe criminal punishment, he escaped death.  Nobody spoke to him, hell, nobody spoke to each other.  The very next day, however, my brother and I were on the docks by the old boat launch – our lines in the water.  We talked as though it never happened.

In the summer of 2007, my brother was kicked out of the house for stealing or getting high or a combination of a million other things.  It started with an argument between him and my parents.  There was a lot of yelling.  I was in my younger brothers’ room, trying to keep the mood light.  We all pretended like nothing was going on in my parents’ room.  Suddenly, our front door opened and then slammed shut, and for whatever reason, I decided to walk outside and see what was going on.  I watched my brother walk out the front door, and I just started following him.  It was over 100 degrees outside in the middle of July and I was walking on the asphalt with nothing on my feet – it hurt like hell.  I didn’t say anything to him as I walked behind him.  He knew I was there, but what the hell was there to say?  All he kept saying was that he was going to kill himself.  Life was pointless and there was no point to existing anymore.  He said his final goodbyes, gave me a hug, and told me to go back home.

I had gone fishing with him that morning.

As it turns out, my dad called the cops and he was picked up before he could do anything stupid.  He didn’t kill himself that day, but to me, it didn’t matter either way.

I’m really only scratching the surface of the amount of absolute bullshit my brother has gone through.  Between now and then, there’s been more alcohol, more drugs, more suicide attempts, more jail time, and more loss.  He lives his life in a constant state of misery, but when the going gets tough, miserable turns into absolute defeat.  He throws in the towel, does something catastrophically stupid, and somehow he dodges death yet again.

His life has gotten more and more difficult as he has become more and more of a train-wreck.  Through his actions, he continues to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole that becomes more and more impossible for him to get out of.  Naturally, it would make sense for me to constantly feel pain, worry, anxiety, and concern.  But I don’t.  I should, but I just don’t.  I gave up on him.  I stopped allowing his pitfalls to bother me.  Why?  Because just when I think he can’t fuck up anymore, he manages to do so.  Just when I think he can’t escape death one more time, he does it four times.  I meet the height requirements for this emotional roller coaster, but I just choose not to ride it.  I stopped caring about him, and it’s been easier for me.  Unfortunately, I fear that I’ll only ever start to care about him again when it’s too late.

My brother and I share the same blood, and we call the same two people “Mom” and “Dad,” but I only ever felt like his brother when we were fishing.  It was the only time our relationship ever seemed “normal.”  And in retrospect, I realize that our entire relationship was just a huge game of catch and release, and I’m the fish.  In the past, I would fall into the same trap over and over again; I would take the bait.  I would be painfully reeled back in to what I assumed would be death only to be let back into the water.  I started to learn to protect myself, though – I stopped biting.

The Lover – An Adaptation

As an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker, I truly despise hearing people say, “I hated that movie because it was nothing like the book.”

God forbid an adaptation neglects one of its novel’s subplots or changes a character’s name, because then the film is crap, right?  I mean, isn’t that what an adaptation is supposed to be?  A visual translation of a certain book, journal, or article? Well, not exactly…

Anyone familiar with the art of filmmaking knows that a screenplay is a ruthless, impregnable, formulaic structure.  It is a carefully designed and perfected organization of thoughts and plot points that effectively tells a story, and it leaves very little wiggle room for structural difference.  Within the realm of adaptations, things become even trickier.  In books, you have all the time you need – all the pages in the world to share your story.  All the time in the world to share your characters.  Your plot.  Your subplots.  And you can do it all however the hell you want.  In a film, however, you only have 100 pages (give or take) to tell an audience a story audiovisually.  To say the least, creating an adaptation is a daunting task.

In The Lover (the novel), the book is told through a series of snapshots – quick little snippets of memory written in a fashion that resembles a stream of conscience.  Sometimes, the snapshots are out of chronological order, and other times, the memory is not one that had any sort of physical manifestation.  It was a memory of an emotion, a memory of a feeling, or a memory of a recollected truth – the type of things that are nearly impossible to convey visually.

When you think about recalling important moments to tell the story of your life, it’s difficult to pick and choose which moments to share.  Partly because you want to make sure you’re picking the right moments, and partly because you want to make sure you’re telling the right story.  In fact, the latter might be the hardest part of composing the memoir.

In The Lover, the story that the author is trying to tell is arguably indefinite.  While it is possible for a reader to pull multiple stories from the novel, it is difficult to sum up the entire work into a single, coherent story.  In a memoir chock-full of nuances, exaggerations, point-of-view shifts, and a non-linear structure, it might be impossible to draw one overarching story or message from what the author is truly trying to say in her book.

With that said, the film is an adaptation of an adaptation.  The author of the memoir had to string memories together in such a way to tell the story that she wanted to tell while the director had to string certain bits of the novel together to tell the story he wanted to tell.  He essentially pulled a story from a story, and in my opinion, he did a marvelous job.

He didn’t just create a scene-for-scene visual representation of what was already in the novel.  Instead, he carefully took bits and pieces of the novel and shot them in a way that would psychologically and artistically compensate for the moments he didn’t choose to share.  With the help of an incredible cinematographer, composer, and production designer, the director was able to tell the story of the “girl in the gentleman’s hat,” and he was able to do it in such a way that almost seemed more effective than the book itself.  Sure, it wasn’t a perfectly “accurate” adaptation, but that’s not what the adaptation is all about.  The art of creating an adaptation is about finding moments from an existing work, and dramatizing them to tell a specific story – and that’s exactly what the director did.

Guinness World Record Holder

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There was a time when I was a little shit. 

From 4th to about 67th grade, if there was a category for it, I would have held the Guinness World Record for “Most Frustrating Child on the Planet,” and I would have worn that title like a dunce hat.

I got in trouble for the stupidest things, too.  I would mindlessly yell out against my teachers in class, hop fences for a home-run ball and lie about it later, or go into my neighbor’s garage when they weren’t home to drink their Sierra Mist (I grew up in a Sprite family).  But no matter how hard I tried, and no matter what I did to keep away from mischief, I couldn’t seem to avoid it.  I didn’t look for trouble – it just found me.  Always.

Now, let’s say that at 12 years old, I had to write a summation of my young life.  I would probably say that it was a living hell – that my life was defined by my time-outs, my punishments, and the countless hours spent grounded in my room, or as I called it, “The Hole.”  I would have gone on and on about how I was the victim of some force or deity working against my every action; I would have claimed to be sole recipient of the universe’s bad luck. 

Now, however, I look back at my mischievous glory days and laugh.  I visualize these old situations that got me in trouble and find them incredibly amusing.  Why?  Because in the grand scheme of my life, those punishments mean nothing.  At 21 years of age, I don’t lose sleep at night over the days spent in The Hole.  I don’t waste time wondering how my life could have been different if I hadn’t gotten into so much trouble as a child.  As a 12 year-old kid, I would have told you that my childhood was defined by trouble, but now, I hardly see it as a blip on the radar.

I write this because I seem to be discovering more and more that memory is just recollected evidence to support a truth.  At 12, the truth of my childhood was that getting into trouble was the bane of my existence, but at 21, the truth of my childhood is nothing of the sort. 

I try to place this idea within the context of memoirs I have read in the past.  I think of Frank McCourt’s collective work: Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man.  Each of those novels tells a different story, but they frequently draw from the same moments; the same moments that serve as evidence to support multiple truths of his life.  I think of The Lover by Marguerite Duras.  The memoir is essentially the story of Duras’s coming of age as a 15 year-old girl, but she wrote it as a 60 year-old woman.  I can’t help but think of how her coming of age would have been told had she wrote it 40 years earlier.  Would she have remembered it the same?  Would it have even been the same story?

If I were to write the memoir of my life right now, my goal would be to use my own experiences to convey a truth to my reader – a truth that I know for certain, and one that I find is important to share.  20 years from now, if I write another memoir recalling the same moments from my first memoir, I’m sure I would use them to tell a different story – a newly discovered truth worth sharing.

As a writer, it used to frighten me to draw different conclusions and understandings from moments in my life at different times of my life.  I feared that any new revelation I might have would render the previous untrustworthy, synthetic, or false.  I feared that I would never reach a time in my existence when I would feel ready to recount my past.

Now, however, I am under the impression that if you know something to be true, and you write it at that moment, it will always be true – no matter how you contextualize your life in the future.

Let’s hope I don’t read this in 20 years and think it’s total nonsense.

I Want Hockey: An Open Letter to Mr. Gary Bettman

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Mr. Gary Bettman –

Before you discredit this letter and assume it’s yet another hateful bash on you and your policies, please know that I am approaching you in the humblest, most composed and thoughtful manner possible.  Strange, I know, considering I’m a die-hard Sharks fan.

I understand that you’re a lawyer and a businessman, and part of your job description involves renegotiating collective bargaining agreements to further the success of the league.  And what a success it has been.  In just a few short years, you’ve managed to play a vital role in increasing the NHL’s annual revenue by nearly 60%, bringing it from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion.  Ironically enough, this seems to be the root of the problem.

Due to the recent success of the league, I understand that the NHL needs significant financial aid in order to stay afloat the way you want it to.  After carefully weighing all potential options, you, Mr. Bettman, suggest that the best course of action is to ask the players for a percentage of their salaries; just a small percentage from their pay to be reinvested in the league to keep hockey alive.  Simple enough, right?  Well, not exactly.  I see the need on the league’s end, and I see the logic behind approaching the Player’s Association (after all, they have the money) for the appropriate funds, but I urge you to see this from the perspective of the players.  First of all, let’s remove the amount of money from the equation, and instead focus on the principle of your request.

You’re asking to use a cut of the players’ salaries to remedy a financial need; a financial need that was created by the outcome of previous CBAs, and the ever-growing popularity of the NHL.  Essentially, you’re asking the players to bail you out.  You’re asking the players to take a massive hit from their salaries so that the league can be where you want it to be.  Just seven years ago, the players took a 24% salary cut (which they agreed to) so they could play the game, and now you’re asking for them to do this again?  You don’t have to look very hard to discover the reason behind their frustration.  Furthermore, the financial atmosphere of the NHL is in no way, shape, or form the fault of the players.  They were offered a contract by the team owners, and they agreed to that contract.  Additionally, they are still in that agreement, and shouldn’t be forced out of it for reasons beyond their control.

The issues surrounding the current player lockout are a pain.  I get it.  I know it’s controversial, and unfortunately, it seems that most fans are only choosing to see one side of this coin – the side that claims you are an evil CEO bossman who just wants to rob us hockey fans of our happiness.  They say you’ve achieved the ultimate hat trick: three successful lockouts in under two decades.  And while I admit the hat trick joke is rather cleverly comical, it certainly frustrates me to see my fellow hockey lovers be so narrow-minded.

The reason I’m writing to you today is not because I’m upset at your policies, nor am I upset at your attempts to solve the problems surrounding the lockout.  I’m writing to you because I’m upset that there could potentially be no NHL season this year.

I’m upset because there’s no hockey on T.V. right now.  I’m upset because I can’t show up to HP Pavilion and feel like I’m home.  I’m upset I can’t go to the Honda Center wearing the other team’s jersey just to piss off the Ducks fans.  I’m upset because I love hockey, and it’s hard being a hockey fan.

Yeah, I said it; it’s hard being a hockey fan at all.  In a country where popular sports are games with only 12 minutes of actual play-time (football), or games that should be called “nine innings of nap time,” I get no love for being a hockey fan.  It’s hard to be a hockey fan when the biggest sports channels on television think hockey is an action you perform to spit out a loogie.  And, well, it’s hard to be a hockey fan when you like the Shar– *cough cough* sorry, I was choking on something…

Most of all, however, it’s hard to be a hockey fan when there’s no season at all.  And to be fair, I understand the circumstances that are currently postponing the season, and furthermore, I think you probably have one of the most (if not the most) difficult jobs in all of professional sports right now.  I don’t think anyone would want your responsibilities at the moment, and despite the fact that everyone seems to have the solution to this lockout conundrum, I doubt they could be any more efficient than you’re attempting to be.

I’m not saying that your reasons for negotiating the new CBA are wrong, and I don’t think that this lockout issue is one of taking sides.  I do believe, however, that asking the players to bail out the owners isn’t an effective way of achieving success for the league.

In fact, the player lockout is doing just the thing that you’re trying to avoid: it’s reducing league popularity and revenue.  The Phoenix Coyotes had a franchise season last year; do you really think Arizona residents are going to remember the Desert Dogs if an entire season is cancelled?  The L.A. Kings just took their first Cup in franchise history, or in other words, L.A. residents just found out that their city has a hockey team.  The New York Rangers are playing some of the best hockey they’ve played in decades, and while all these franchises are on the cusp of athletic (and financial) greatness, the players get locked out.  The ultimate buzz kill.

The league is responsible for managing its funds.  The league is responsible for making sure owners aren’t paying more than they can afford.  And the league is responsible for dealing with the ramifications of their decisions.  If you want to keep a sharp eye on spending and prevent this from ever happening again, take it up with the people that are giving the money, not the people who are getting it.

If you truly want to keep the NHL a successful hockey league, you need to let the players play hockey.  At the end of the day, we are all on the same team.  The owners, the players, and the fans just want hockey.  That’s it.  We want to see the puck drop.  We want to see our favorite players score goals, make plays, and dish out big hits.  We want to watch our favorite sport, and we want to watch our favorite club make history.

From the perspective of the fans and players, it seems as though your concern is not with the sport, but rather with the money that it generates.  Frankly, I want to believe that you are a true hockey fan, and I want to believe that you want to see hockey this season as badly as I do.  I urge you to let the puck drop for the good of the sport, the owners, the players, and the fans.  When your actions in CBA negotiations reflect that having a hockey season is your first and foremost priority, I promise that you will be supported.

I want hockey.  We all do.  And when you make it perfectly clear that that’s exactly what you want, I will support you and your actions 100%, even if you’re a Ducks fan.

I sincerely thank you for your time-

Blake Kirchick: San Jose Sharks fan.

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I have this idea that one day, we might all be robots.  Or maybe not full robot, but just half robot.  Like, we’ll all have blood and veins and organs and muscles and such, but (like our phones and tablets) we’ll have apps.  Yep.  Apps.

Some of us will purchase online road maps and navigation systems so that when we’re driving, a hologram of step-by-step driving directions is projected from our eyes onto our windshield.  Some of us will download games that can be played using nothing but our mind, and some of us will download filters for our eyes that let us see the physical world in black and white, 2D, or even HDR.

Most of all, however, I think of the future and see everyone walking around the streets as per usual, except their online persona from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr is surrounding them.  His likes and interests are like 3D holograms that orbit his head, his favorite song is blasting from his ears, and pictures from his house party last night play like a slideshow behind his head.  In other words, I have this idea that one day, our true physical selves will possess the ability to be multimodal.  We will project sights, sounds, images, ideas, and beliefs, and we won’t eve have to say a word.

This is the online persona.  It’s a uniquely stylized collection of personal and shared information expressed by means of text, image, sound, and video. 

Some people argue that consumers use Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr (I’ll call it ‘FTT’) differently: some use it to archive the past, some to archive the present, and some for reasons completely different than those.  Yes, people use FTT for different things, but what they choose to use it as tells us something about that person, right?  People would also argue that FTT couldn’t possibly be an entirely complete online representation of one’s self.  Well, that’s true.  Obviously, a website can’t possibly represent every single last detail about a person, nor can it provide any information beyond what that person wants to share, but it’s not designed to.  FTT is designed as an interface for users to express themselves through multimodality; express themselves through means by which they couldn’t otherwise express themselves in an offline venue.

Is FTT a good thing or a bad thing?  When used properly, it’s always a good thing.  It tears down physical constraints and extends our network of friends and acquaintances, it serves as an archive of information, and it allows users to create portraits of themselves in ways that had previously never been possible.

The creation of the online persona through FTT is a tool.  Let’s say it’s a chainsaw.  You’re not going to give a chainsaw to someone who isn’t capable of using a chainsaw, and you’re not going to use a chainsaw to hammer a nail into wood.  That just doesn’t make sense.

FTT is a tool.  When it’s used poorly, it can be dangerous, but when it’s used properly, it can be extremely effective.

The Purpose-Driven Writer

It’s difficult to be convincing.

I like to think of myself as not just a writer, but a writer with a purpose.  And while the specifics of that purpose will change with each new writing task, the ultimate purpose (or goal, if you will) is to get my audience to think.  I want them to think about themselves, think about others, and think about the world they live in.  The problem, however, is that not everyone has an open mind.  Not everyone has the ability, capacity, or even the will to be changed – his mind is already made up.

Everybody has opinions.  Morals.  Ideas.  Joe Schmo has a unique, one-of-a-kind upbringing that contributes to his worldview, and Jane Smith has one completely different from Joe’s.  Neither of them are right or wrong, they’re just, well, different.  The idea here is that people have these grand, solidified ideas about the way the world is and the way it ought to be, and these ideas are based almost entirely off of their own experiences.

With that said, how am I supposed to place myself within the context of my audience’s life?  How am I supposed to be a part of that upbringing that shapes their entire perception of reality, their entire perception of truth?  Is it even possible?  These thoughts have often plagued and discouraged me.  If the answers to any of these questions suggest that being a writer with a purpose is impossible, then there’s really no point for me to write at all.  Well thank God, because I recently discovered that it is, in fact, possible to be a purpose-driven writer.

I recently read John McCain’s “Torture’s Terrible Toll;” an open letter that discusses the treatment of POWs by the American military in a post-9/11 world.  At the time the letter was written, the issue of how to handle prisoners had practically spearheaded political discourse for months.  John McCain’s letter, however, practically put the issue to rest.

His letter wasn’t one chock-full of political jargon.  It wasn’t filled to the brim with statistics, it wasn’t overflowing with facts and numbers that diluted the point of the message completely, it was simply honest.  It was almost as though McCain said, “You know what, forget about republicans and democrats.  Forget about liberalism and conservatism and radicalism.  Let’s lay to rest the partisan dick-measuring contest of who’s right and who’s wrong and just speak truth to one another.”  And that’s exactly what he did.  In a calm, well-composed manner, McCain talked about the ineffectiveness that torture has on POWs, and he spoke purely from personal experience.  He talked about his time in Vietnam as a prisoner held captive for nearly 5 and a half years.  He talked about how POWs are so quick to divulge false or useless information just to suspend their physical abuse.  And most importantly, he talked about America’s obligation to remain a pinnacle of morality, and not stoop to the lows of our enemies.

God, it was brilliant.  It was simple, honest, thoughtful, and personal.  McCain never took the “I’m right, you’re wrong” stance, he never bashed others’ opinions, and he never claimed that his letter was the be-all-to-end-all to the debate.  And through humble honesty and unrestricted transparency, McCain was able to nearly end the debate entirely.  At a time when America hasn’t seemed more polarized on an issue since the Civil War, McCain hushed both parties.  The boldest feat McCain accomplished was composing himself, and it turned out to be the most powerful feat too. 

So in regards to my personal conundrum of how to properly convey thoughts and ideas to a large group of people, I found the solution in John McCain’s letter.  I learned that the power of convincement lies not in statistics or self-proclaimed superiority, but rather it lies in humble honesty.

It quickly became very clear to me that the very thing I was fighting against in convincing my audience to think was the very thing I had to my advantage.  Unique upbringing, personal experience, and subjective views of reality are the very (effective) tools I have to communicate with people who have unique upbringings, personal experiences, and subjective views of reality.