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November 29, 2004


I look back at what I wrote on Friday and am amazed. I guess sometimes you just need to vomit that out of your system to allow yourself to reflect, move on, and gain perspective. As a technical writer in my career, I am amused by the poor grammar and other mistakes I see throughout, but I’m going to leave that post as is. It stands as a truly emotional release—and something I really needed.

Now, of course, the questions: Where do I go from here? What change can I enact to make sure things don’t get this bad again? How can I start releasing these emotions in a way that is healthier and less constrained?

I managed to hit on a wide variety of topics, each of which must be addressed. As always, after the revolution must come the rebuilding. If you have any suggestions, feel free to post them.

Lastly, thank you for the kind words you have posted in response. They mean a lot to me.

November 26, 2004

The day afte Thanksgiving, 2004

So in high school my best friend died. I was literally the first student on campus to hear the news; the principal of the school, Mr. Cole -- a good friend to the family, told my mother (who worked at the high school) who then walked over to me in driver’s education. She pulled me out of class and told me, giving me a big hug.

I went back into class and everyone knew. All they had to do was look at my face and they could that something was wrong. It took Chris Elliott three times asking me what was wrong—when I said it, I think it was too loud because everyone in the class knew. Suddenly I saw what my face must have looked like.

As the next period began, Mr. Cole came over the loud speaker and announced it to the school. My French teacher started to cry, my sort-of girl friend and the time, Pam Bailey, gave me a hug. Chris Munroe (I know a lot of Chris’) got quiet.

I didn’t even know it but I got up and just walked outside. The teacher didn’t try to stop me—everyone knew how close I was to Tennyson. Everyone knew I went to see him in the hospital as often as I could.

Pam followed me outside. I was just standing there. She pulled me close and made me sit down and gave me a big hug.

I have no real memory of the days between her hugging me and saying it would be okay and the funeral. Just, all of a sudden, I was there. Mr. Reyes, Tennyson’s dad, had asked my mom if I would speak at the funeral. He wanted me to say something, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to see him in the casket, either. At least Chris Elliott, Tennyson’s other best friend was able to suck it up. He spoke, and said the right things. He was able to give the Reyes’ what they so very much needed. We both took positions at the front of the closed casket and walked it to the hearse. That helped a little.

And I didn’t cry.

When my parents got divorced, I didn’t cry. I was strong and quiet for my sister, who did cry. I thought she needed it, and I thought one of us needed to be strong. Little did I know then that by her crying, she was the strong one.

I didn’t cry when Jennifer went back to Michigan. I didn’t cry when she came back so, so different. I didn’t cry when she found the solace she needed in Shane and I thought I was genuinely happy for her when the got married. I mean, she found the piece she needed in him that I had once provided. The silver cord that connected us was severed. And I didn’t cry.

And then ten years ago I was diagnosed with a rare liver disorder, autoimmune liver disease. My doctor’s were baffled because the autoimmune disease typically strikes women and typically older people. I was male and 24. I took it in, I didn’t cry, I was strong. When autoimmune liver disease became rheumatoid arthritis in my joints, I only cried once. I woke up one day with a lower left leg the size of a football. I couldn’t walk and I was scared. I finally cried that day. But within an hour I was okay; I sucked it up and found my strength again.

The next time I found to cry was in the stupidest of times—I was home from work, sick again, and was watching AI (Artificial Intelligence). As the little boy staring forever at the statue of the blue fairy, I found something heartbreaking. It so reminded me of the little boy inside me who is seeking his own blue fairy and just doesn’t seem to find him.

When my mom fell and broke her shoulder the first time, I didn’t cry. I was strong for her. When she fell recently and rebroke the shoulder, I didn’t cry. I rushed out there, I took care of her, I bought her meds and got her to the point where she could find her own strength and plan for the future. And I didn’t cry.

Recently, a new friend’s dad died of a complication brought on by his own liver disease. Marcus is such a good man, a loving husband, a giving father. He seems so able to handle it. He seems so strong. Seeing that “strength” I always thought I had shown exemplified in him, plus the added knowledge that I could so easily fall to the same complications that his dad did, breaks my heart.

And, today, when I’m catching up on my old Joan of Arcadia episodes I came across the one entitled Friday Night. In this episode, Joan’s best friend Judith is killed. But not right away, which I could have handled. No, she goes to the hospital where they do everything they can to save her. This full-of-life girl, so similar in that regard to my pal Tennyson, is lying in a hospital bed slowly failing. Tennyson lingered on for quite some time before he succumbed. And Judith asks Joan to juggle. She wants Joan to be okay, so she asks Joan to juggle. But Joan can’t juggle. And then Judith dies.

Later, Joan is with her other friends an God arrives. God tells her the old story of the man and the three boxes and the bridge. Where the bridge is rickety and the man weighs enough that he can’t get across with his boxes, unless he keeps them always in the air.

And Joan juggles. Suddenly, she understands. The boxes are the burdens we carry, our hopes, our dreams, our everything. We have ups and downs, trials and successes that we must all juggle to make it through. And she juggles.

I’ve been holding Tennyson’s death and my need for strength. I’ve been trying to be the mediator keeping everyone in my friendship group together because I’m scared they will fall apart like my parents marriage did. When my sister’s marriage was rocky, I tried to be strong for her and be there for her. I’m scared for my nearly 60 year old mom’s health and her retirement.

And I’m scare for my own health and what it means for my future. I’m already scared to death to have a long-term relationship with a woman because I have to share that I’m sick and may not be in it as long as she is. I’m scared of how this mythical woman will take the news. I’m scared of passing an autoimmune disease on to any children we have.

I’m tired now. I think I need to lay those boxes down and juggle other things now. I don’t know what else I can focus on, but I need to lay these fears aside and do something else else.

I just can’t keep smiling and being strong for everyone else anymore.

I see my friend Chris Luff being strong. He has gone from being an introvert to finding new friends. He’s gone from not being in relationships to juggle a couple of girls. And one day he said, in a quiet moment that I bet he thinks I’ve forgotten, that he see my health declining and how fearful I’ve gotten, and how I just plain can’t do everything anymore. So he’s going to live now. He’s going to jump out of planes and go white water rafting. And he’s going to talk to the girls and buy a house.

I want that too.

And I’m crying while I type this. I’m crying so hard I can’t catch my breath and my fingers are tingling and my stomach hurts.

Because I don’t know what to DO with all this any more.

As long as their is life, there is hope. And maybe these epiphanies will serve to guide me in the right direction. Maybe just saying the out loud, to the world, even if it is semi-anonymously will ease the burdens, release the pressure cooker I’ve become, and let me start taking those steps away from these burdens I don’t have the strength for any more.

Maybe I can refind ME.

November 12, 2004

Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Marvel Comics is in bankruptcy. They screwed themselves in the 1990’s by overextending themselves, financing bad projects, and believing the record sales of the collector’s market would last forever. When the bubble burst, they were left with overpaid artists (not writers, because Marvel never pays for good stories, just astounding artwork), properties that had lost 50% or more of their trademarked value, and stretched so thinly they couldn’t stand under the base that was left. They also are fighting some pretty nasty lawsuits, recently losing one to a comic book writer/artist who sued them for the rights to one of his creations and won, further lessening their hold on their products.

Early in 2004, Cryptic Studios and NCSoft released a PC game entitled City of Heroes. In this game, the user can create virtually any super hero he can imagine. With the thousands of costume combinations, hundreds of power/ability choices, and the virtually unlimited naming options they made available to their user base, Cryptic knew that they would have some individuals who would try to emulate their favorite published comic book heroes. So they included in the EULA (end user license agreement) stipulations about using copyrighted and trademarked information within the game. They also aggressively mine their database of names and the in-game moderators enforce name changes for anyone who uses a trademarked name.

City of Heroes hit the market at a good time. It has approximately 200,000 subscribers and has ranked in the top 3 of the game sales charts every month since its release (and in the top position for three months straight). I also note that none of the video games using Marvel Comics trademarked material has made even the top 10 during the same period of time (and they have released at least one major title in this time).

And now Marvel Comics is suing both NCSoft and Cryptic Studios for trademark infringement.

I understand that the trademark laws are such that you have to sue in order to maintain control of your trademark (unlike copyright laws, where you can choose whether to sue someone). That being said, Marvel Comics is biting the hand that feeds it. City of Heroes has brought many fans back to comic books who have either never collected or who have been away from it for many years. It has brought PC game fans who never liked comic books and super heroes into the fold. If my local comic book shop is any indication, it has boosted sales across the board as new readers start to pick up titles. In a time when Marvel Comics needs all the readers (and money) they can get to crawl out from beneath the morass they put themselves in, they are striking out and hurting one of their best free sources of potential new customers.

You notice that nowhere in the above article does it mention that they tried to cut a licensing deal with Cryptic. Nowhere does it mention Cryptic Studio’s EULA and aggressive defense of Marvel’s, and other comic book companies’, intellectual and trademark properties.

If the message boards for City of Heroes are any indication, many people who are fans of both comics and the game are going to stop buying Marvel products (and some have indicated they will stop going to see movies using Marvel characters) until this lawsuit is resolved in favor of Cryptic Studios. Others have said they are so disgusted with this lawsuit and Marvel’s antics they will never go back.

In one fell swoop Marvel Comics has managed to alienate their biggest source of new fans and possible income as well as offend and drive away existing fans and buyers of their product. Instead of lauding Cryptic Studio’s efforts to maintain Marvel’s trademarks and trying to work with them to promote comic books in general, they bite the hand that feeds them.

And as one final comment that really shows where Marvel Comic’s interests lie: yesterday I bought this week’s comic books. About half of them were Marvel Comics. Every single one of them had a center-book, two-page, full color advertisement for City of Heroes in it. In case you don’t know, this is the most expensive size and location in which to buy an advertisement in a comic book.

Shame on you, Marvel Comics.

November 1, 2004

City of Heroes

My friends have been surprised that I finally went over the edge and started playing an MMORPG called City of Heroes (CoH). I have generally only played single-player games or those (like Diablo) that can be played either way.

CoH is a game using the super-hero genre. As a comic book geek and a lover of super-heroes, myths, and legends, the idea of this game really appealed to me. The only thing I was unsure about was the fact that it was a massively multiplayer on-line roleplaying game (MMORPG). This meant I had to purchase the game itself, and then had to agree to pay a monthly fee to have access to continue playing it after the first month. I quickly was hooked, and let me tell you one story that explains why.

This weekend I played CoH using my "main." He's a Tanker who uses Super-Strength and Invulnerability to take on foes (like the Hulk). I decided to join a special Task Force that allows you to respecify your character, which I had never done before. I hooked up with 8 Heroes and we set out on the mission.

Shortly after starting, we lost one person. Still, although slightly more difficult, we thought we could press on. The party still had a couple of Blasters (characters who use ranged attacks using things like energy, fire, ice, and radiation), two Defenders (creates forcefields to protect the team from damage), two Scrappers (an offense-minded melee fighter who is best against small numbers of foes at a time), and my Tanker (a defense-minded melee fighter who is great against multiple foes-- the more the better).

While my character is at his best when completely surrounded by villains and slowly wading through them, the rest of the group decides we will skip a lot of the battles and get as quickly as possible to the end-game.

The two Defenders aren't getting along. Soon, the jerky Defender tries to "screw" the team by quitting. He thinks that without him, the other Defender will be overwhelmed and the party will fail because of the massive number of villains we will be facing in the end-game. Frequently this is true because the mission was "set" for 8 Heroes and we are now down to 6.

A few of the people have done this mission before, but not one of them has succeeded. One poor guy (the remaining Defender) has failed it 3-4 times in a row and has massive Experience debt because of it. They explain that the final room will have 10 separate waves of villains assault the party in an attempt to destroy the reactor core to the nuclear power plant the powers the entire city. We must both defeat the villains and keep the reactor core safe in order to be successful.

The first 4 waves go okay. One or two of my teammates fall, but we have special tools to raise them and get them back in the fight. We have the lone remaining Defender doing his best to keep his forcefields up on all of his teammates while using his limited healing powers on the reactor core to keep that safe. In all this time, my Tanker is just laughing at the villains, and attacking at will. I don't do a lot of damage, but nothing we are going against can really hurt me either. I throw Inspirations around to my compatriots to keep them going as long and as hard as they can.

And then it happens-- on wave 8, the villains are powerful enough and numerous enough that first one, then another, and finally all 5 of my fellow Heroes go down! I'm alone in a large room completely filled with Sky Raiders attacking me and attacking the core. I back up until my Tanker is right in the core itself. I've lost my protection against the radiation damage the core is producing, but I am healthy enough to shrug that off for a long period of time so I keep pounding away. The aura of one of my powers, Invincibility, makes villains near me focus on me to the exclusion of others, which is helpful-- they stop attacking the core and focus on me and the more villains around me, the more powerful Invincibility becomes.

Three of my compatriots teleport all the way back to the hospital, two zones away. They heal and start running, flying, and super-leaping their way back to the mission-- but they are long minutes away from reaching the battle. Two others can get themselves back on their feet as long as they are not immediately attacked afterward; they will be extremely vulnerable for a short when they do stand back up. I laugh out loud, and throw more jabs and punches and try to keep the focus of the villains on me.

Minutes tick by as I pound away at the Hordes. First one, then another, and another of the villainous Sky Raiders goes down to my might. More move in to attack me. My two teammates now are clear to stand up, heal their damage, and wade back in. Soon after they do, the first of the hospitalized heroes arrives from their long trek back to the mission. Just as they show up, the ninth wave arrives while we still battle the eighth!

I continue to stand in the core of the nuclear reactor, throwing punches to the scores of villains attacking me! My teammates are worried because they can see that my radiation protection is completely gone, my health is declining because of it, and I've got so many villains on me that they think I must surely fall. I pound away from the center, while they, as a team of 5, work together to take out Sky Raiders one by one from the outside of the mob. The Defender is able to throw some heals and another forcefield onto the reactor core to help protect it even though all the villains are focused on me.

We soon, working together like a well-oiled machine, are able to finish off both the eight and ninth wave of Sky Raiders. I run to the next room, grab some more radiation protection, and come back to my other five Heroes just as the tenth and final wave attacks en masse. I once again leap into the core of the reactor, draw as many of the villains to me as possible, and pound away while my compatriots work together as a second team on the outside of the villain's mob.

At last, we stand triumphant! The Sky Raiders lay defeated on the floor and the party rejoices their success!

And each and every one of my fellow teammates congratulates me on a spectacular show of determination over adversity. They are all amazed that I could take the pounding that I did and come out of it unscathed. One goes as far as to say, "We could not have accomplished this mission without you!" And, as I believe a true hero would reply, I say, "I doubt that is true, but thank you for the compliment. It was a team effort."

Now do you see why I am hooked on this game? Where else can you defend the entire city's power supply from the nefarious evil of the Sky Raiders, have your team fall around you, make a lonely stand against a mob of villainy, and, with the aid of your resurgent Heroes, triumph over the hordes of chaos?