Monday, November 29, 2010

Mission...Accomplished. Well, Sort Of.

Unlike our former Commander in Chief, I set out to do exactly what I said I was going to do. To be more specific, I did TWO things I said I was going to do. Originally, several weeks back, I set a goal to hit 20 for a post count for the month of November.

I did that.

In order to do that, I decided that I would come up with a list of 50 things I was thankful for in celebration of Thanksgiving, something that most people don't traditionally 'celebrate' in any way OTHER than stuffing their mouths full of fatty foods and watching football.

I did that too.

Considering all the stuff going on in my world at any given moment, I have decided that there is no hand on this planet large enough to give me the pat on the back that I deserve. So I am simply going to conjure one up in my head and give one to myself. Especially since no one else is lining up to.

I earned it.

That list might seem like it was easy, but it actually wasn't. The easy route would have been to go with people or more specifics, but I kept it general and I think I kept it very entertaining. In other words, not only did I force myself to be and think positive for a full fuggin' week, but I also kept it interesting in a general sense from the perspective of being an 'author'.

Yes, I know...I'll try not to break my neck sucking my own...well, you get the idea.


And that doesn't happen very often, so I had, of course, planned to bask in it for an afternoon, do you mind? But this afternoon, I logged in and started reading some blogs, and then of course realized that in truth? I accomplished nothing at all really, except some clever words, a few funny stories and some minor distractions.

No, the giant pats on the back should not be directed towards me or the stuff I wrote about this week. They should be going places like here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here and many other places, with people writing about stuff that really matters. Big time, life-changing stuff.

Giant hand-on-the-back-worthy stuff. Attaboy stuff.

So I humbly duck just as the giant hand whooshes overhead, and let the thing pass on by, and recognize the week for what it was...a romp, nothing more, nothing less, and leave it at that.

I did learn one thing though...I use the word 'actually' WAY too much, actually. I'm going to make a concerted effort to use it less, actually.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #46 - #50

As Carson would say (does that show my age?), I hold in my hand, the LAST envelope.



Yes, it is finally over. This concludes the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I called LOFTY 2010, but I GOTTA get a better name.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#46 - Thanks to All Our Men and Women in All of Our Armed Forces

Both home and abroad, living and deceased.

I've always had a deep appreciation for anyone in the military, especially around the holidays, when they have to be away from their families in some far away land, in danger, in harm's way, and sometimes, too many times, for all the wrong reasons.

Thankfully, most of the folks in our family are not deployed at the moment, which is a good thing, but some people I know have family members they are missing. Hopefully they are safe and they are well.

One person I often think of when I need a strength boost, or a reminder of how difficult it can often be for those in the military, is the man in the photo. That's Captain Brandon Gorman, of the U.S. Marine Corps, father to Maddie and husband to Liz. Liz is the author of Maddie's Marathon, a blog about Maddie's battle against Leukemia and Infantile Spasms and other forms of Intractable Epilepsy.

I have sincere admiration not just for Liz, for fighting many battles on the homefront on her own when Brandon deploys, but an amazing awe for Brandon, whom I have never met, but I cannot imagine how he does it...he leads men in foreign lands while being cut-off from knowing what is going on back home with his daughter's condition. Only getting updates when he can.

Now THAT is a real Superman. And I suspect, though like I said I don't know him whatsoever, only what I know from the things Liz has said in her blog and the few times I have communicated with her, that he would shrug that off and very humbly say no to that.

And, of course, that's exactly what makes men like that great, and what makes men like me admire them so much. There are times, when I think about the career paths I chose, when I wish I could go back and do it over again and do something that had more meaning to it, like police work, or medicine, or the military.

I write so often about so-called 'super'-heroes, but the real heroes of this world are those ordinary people who have those types of careers where they put the needs of others above themselves, and for that we should ALL be thankful.

#47 - Thanks, B.F., for Laying a Foundation

Even though, lately, I have begun to ask a lot of questions about whether or not it is the right path to be on, I certainly can't deny that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy, has in some ways helped Bennett make some progress over the past year, in some areas.

I say some, because sadly we still are having a devil of a time actually communicating with him. But we don't know if this is because of the Therapy itself or just because of what is actually missing from his brain.

How CAN we know? Not sure we can. Not sure we ever will. I do know one thing certainly. This year, as we move from 2010 into 2011, will see a lot of transitions I think. Changes will happen in a lot of areas, not the least of which will be the direction of Bennett's life overall.

It's been over a year since the surgery, and he's really not that much closer to being able to tell us anything about what he wants or what he needs. This will be the pivot year, and whether it goes in the direction of B.F.'s theories or somebody else's is going to be the key, I think, to Bennett's future.

#48 - Thanks to All the Therapists Who Invest So Many Passionate Hours

And there have been so many. Since long before the surgery, and today, long after. The photo is of one of his Occupational Therapists, from a time before his surgery, who was working with him prior to his surgery, as we tried to keep his skills from leaving him completely even though the daily seizures were robbing him of much of what he was learning.

She was great with Bennett. Her pregnancy, however, cut her involvement in Bennett's therapy short. But what's so great about her and many of the other therapists who have entered Bennett's life is that even though their time with Bennett comes to an end as a therapist, they still make and effort to stay connected in some way.

She and I have a connection through Facebook, so she can see updates on Bennett and I can see updates on her beautiful daughter.

That kind of thing is nice, and it makes you feel good as a Dad, that your son touches people in such a way that they would want to stay connected with him. Of course, I REALLY hope that some of his more...aggressive...behavior that he has started to show more of lately changes, because I'm not so sure he is making the same connections he used to. ('s gotten really bad, but I'll get to that later.)

Still, I know that everyone who works with him sees in him...something. Which is good, because often, as the parent, we get so bogged down with worry and fear it is hard for us to see anything BUT the worry and fear.

The therapists constantly feed us heaping spoonfuls of hope, and that's always good.

#49 - Thanks, Elaine, for the Book

While Bennett was having the surgery to remove the tumor from his brain, a lot of people did a lot of things, sent a lot of things. One thing in particular I had always meant to talk about, but never did, I wanted to mention here.

I'd had the good timing of being at same hospital, Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, for a PET Scan for Bennett while Elaine, the author of Our Sweet Sophie, was there with her husband Brandon and Sophie herself, while Sophie was in the middle of a surgery to attempt to stop her own Infantile Spasms that had been plaguing her for so many years.

It's interesting to meet, face-to-face, one of the Internet Mom's and Dad's who you encounter through blogs and message boards. There is an almost familial connection there, even though you have never met before. I can't really explain it. So I don't really try to. It's just something that you either experience or you don't.

When it came time for Bennett's surgery, a few months later, Elaine sent a book and a stuffed animal over, on Sophie's behalf, and it was beautiful. A real treasure, about the animal and how it was a 'protector' of sorts to the owner of it. I, of course, totally dropped the ball and in my very confused state after the surgery totally forgot to send a Thank You card to all the people who sent stuff.

Then that awkward 'too long' amount of time passed where I couldn't, so I basically said that at some point I'd essentially have to figure out a way to make it up to all the people who sent Bennett something during his time in the hospital.

I'm still working on how to do that. :)

#50 - Thanks to Everybody Else in Our Little Club, I Wish We All Could Lose Our Membership Cards

Last, but certainly not least, to all of the people who are a part of our little 'special needs' community, I thank you. For reading my words, and for those of you who write your own, for sharing yours.

Your innermost thoughts, your dreams, your fears, your hopes, your doubts, your experiences.

The first day that Jennifer and I came home after Bennett's first EEG, after we heard the words 'Infantile Spasms' for the very first time, we did what any parents would do, we hit the Internet. At first, we were greeted with the cold, hard, reality of medical fact and definitions which offered little warmth, and even less hope.

It was only after we discovered Broc's Story page, then started exploring from there and discovering more Bloggers with kids who had the same condition, did we start to feel anything at all like human beings again.

I can't mention everyone by name, that would take forever and I would certainly leave someone out by accident...all you have to do for that is just look right, there is the Blogroll and the other Sections where I call out some of the blogs I follow. You know who you all are. And you have meant, and continue to mean, the world to me and my family, providing kicks in the ass when needed, shoulders to moisten when needed, information when needed, laughs when needed.

As much as the three other people living in this house with me, you are also my family, and there is simply no way to express how truly thankful I am for all that you have done and continue to do for me.

But like I said in the title, I'd give anything for all of us NOT to know each other, know what I mean? Or at the very least to have the reason that we all were connected to be that we were all a member of a Block Figure Community Forum or something of that nature.

But that's not the way it is, and that's not the way it is ever going to be.

And if we have to go to war against all this crap that attacks our kids, I can't think of a more thoughtful, generous, selfless, motivated and self-actualized group of people I'd rather fight side-by-side with.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #41 - #45

Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010 (don't worry, it's almost over...), or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#41 - Thanks, Peter Jackson, for Turning my Favorite Books into a Great Film Trilogy

It would have been SO easy for the movies based on the J.R.R. Tolkien classic trilogy of books 'The Lord of the Rings' to be a load of total, unadulterated crap on a stick. I mean, a bunch of hairy-footed little people running around searching for a magic ring, with elves and goblins and wizards and dwarves and some mostly naked thing speaking in hisses and eating raw fish? the wrong hands, it could have just turned into something so utterly horrible and unwatchable and been the most laughable thing in the universe, as so many fantasy films of the past have been.

But this went way beyond expectation.

These weren't just great fantasy films...they were great FILMS. Academy Award winning films, as a matter of fact. They were films my WIFE actually enjoys watching, again and again. And as a kid, having read the books over and over and over, it was like seeing your imagination come to life on the screen.

They were so good in fact, that even though I knew the story, I still reacted as if I didn't. And I'll even go a step further and to a place a lot of the 'purists' don't go. The films are an IMPROVEMENT over the storytelling of the books. Not the other way around.

And did I mention that they SMOKED the Star Wars prequels in every conceivable way possible, showing that you can have a huge, CGI-laden film and still have emotional, character-driven performances?

Now...we can only hope The Hobbit is half as good.

#42 - Thanks, Mr. Nolan, for a Batman Film that will Probably Never be Topped

And although a lot of that has to do with the late Heath Ledger, a lot of it does not. You could still slide another actor into that role and still, MAYBE, have as good a film. I'm not saying it would be the exact same experience, there's no way we can ever really know that, because that isn't the way Time works, but there are other great actors in the universe.

My point is that nothing is dependent on ONE man to make a film work. It takes a group of people. And the group of people who came together to make The Dark Knight just all seemed to fire on the same cylinder at the same moment to create what is, in my opinion, a masterpiece in the Bat-Universe that I do not think will ever be equaled.

It's sad but true. Because as great as The Dark Knight is/was, that means that it is always going to be downhill from here.

I could be wrong. I certainly hope that I am. But I'm probably not.

That's OK with me, don't get me wrong. The Star Wars Universe was and never will be as good as it was when I saw The Empire Strikes Back for the very first time. It's been a downhill ride ever since. That doesn't mean I haven't had some great Star Wars moments since, cause I have.

I'm just realistic. And The Dark Knight is The Empire Strikes Back of the Batman Universe.


#43 - Thanks Zack Snyder, for Helping Me Name My Kid

I was already familiar with the story of King Leonidas of Sparta, who was known for his leadership at the famous Battle of Thermopylae where he, along with 300 of his Spartiates and other Greek soldiers, fought against the invading Persian armies of Prince Xerxes. Leonidas refused to yield, refused to give in, and although his sacrifice didn't have immediate positive consequences for his people, his actions do have great historical significance.

The Battle of Thermopylae is often used as an example of the power of free men protecting their native soil, and it has also become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

I had convinced Jennifer to allow me to have Carter have the middle name of Maximus, though I had been unable to convince her to have Maximus be Carter's first name. I was close, but not close enough. She couldn't wrap her head around it, but she was OK with Maximus as a middle name. (I originally wanted his name to be Maximus Tiranus Lilly, how COOL would that have been, after the actual Maximus of Hispania, a real historical figure...but she just looked at me and said 'You're weird.')

When it came time to choose a name for Bennett, I got lucky. I loved Frank Miller's interpretation of the Battle of Thermopylae and King Leonidas in his graphic novel called '300', and fortunately, earlier in 2007 (the year Bennett was born) Zack Snyder's film adaptation of '300' had come out, and Jennifer had seen it and actually LIKED it.

So I lobbied hard for Leonidas, and when Bennett was lying in the NICU, I reminded Jennifer about Spartan children, and the fact that the real-life Leonidas was one of the few Spartan Kings who, because he was not an actual true 'heir', had to attend the 'agoge', the harsh physical training school that all Spartan males had to endure in order to qualify for Spartan citizenship.

The name was a symbol for courage and fighting against impossible odds, and it was a perfect fit for our son, and for us, and Jen could see that too. I don't think she would have, though, had it not been for the film.

But she still wouldn't budge on letting that be his FIRST name. Dammit. :)

#44 - Thanks Again, Zack Snyder, for Helping Me Get Jen Past her Zombie Racism

Jennifer is a Zombie Racist.

She hates Zombies. Hates Zombie movies. Finds Zombies and their behavior super-duper disgusting.

I, on the other hand, loves me them Zombies. I love the concept of the Zombie Apocalypse and the storytelling possibilities it allows. What is best about it is, of course, because the Zombies are totally irrelevant. It doesn't matter that there are Zombies outside trying to eat you. It could be wolves, or Aliens, or Vampires, or hell, if you saw The Road, a bunch of cannibalistic people like you or me.

What matters most about the Zombie Apocalypse film is the way The Living treat The Living. That's what usually turns the table on the story, at least in all the really GOOD Zombie Apocalypse stories.

The problem is, that most Zombie movies suck.

Let's be honest. Production quality on Zombie films, for the most part, is low budget. Typically, for the most part, you don't see a lot of 'name' (in other words 'good') actors involved in. And hey...I loved the Romero films as much as the next guy, but let's be honest, even in the great ones like 'Night of' or 'Dawn of' or 'Day of', the grey-skinned Zombies are...cheesy. Especially the Hare Krishna one.

But I understand the reasons. And I still love those films. And 'Land of' isn't THAT bad.

I don't know how I did it, I think I won a bet, but I finally got Jennifer to watch Zack Snyder's re-make of Dawn of the Dead. I say 're-make' very, very loosely, because it didn't really have much in common with the original other than the fact that it was set in a Mall. And while I don't like fast zombies, I did like the performances, some of the plot twists, and of course the way The Living treated The Living, which drove a lot of the story.

To me, it was a really well-made Zombie movie, one that I thought might finally cure Jennifer of her Zombie Racism. And lo and behold, it actually did. And am I THRILLED that it did, because without you, Zack, there is no way in hell that my wife would be watching The Walking Dead with me on Sunday nights.

So thanks...AGAIN.

#45 - Thanks Yet Again, Zack Snyder, for Filming the So-Called Un-Filmable Graphic Novel

And doing a damn good job with it. I disagree with anyone who says otherwise. I think Watchmen is not only a great film, I think it is in many ways better than its source material AS A FILM. No, it is not better than the graphic novel. But in film form, it is superior. Does that make any sense? Probably not.

My point is, that as a film, Watchmen works better as it is than it would have if you followed the book more closely. Again, I use my wife as a test for anything like this. Any kind of 'genre' film or TV show...if my wife sits down and watches it with me and ENJOYS it, then you have succeeded tenfold.

Because you have crossed the boundary from appealing to just my Geek Brethren and you have now appealed to Everyman...well, in her case Everywoman, (or Everyhottie) and created something that non-Geeky people the world over can enjoy.

And now I don't have to explain what this book is that I pull out every once in a while that has giant yellow text on it with a giant smiley face on it that has a drop of blood on it. And that makes my life that much easier. And I like having life be that much easier.

So thanks...yet AGAIN.

One last thing though. Zack..., or Mr. Snyder, I guess I should be calling you. Clearly I respect you. Obviously I, your work, with deep appreciation, enough to have you appear THREE times, in a row, in my List O' 50.

Please don't fuck up Superman.


Friday, November 26, 2010

50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #36 - #40

Before we continue with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, notice the brief hiccup last night in the lack of a post?

That's called 'losing electrical power' on Thanksgiving, and since we've lived in this home (which I am thankful for, BTW) it's the second T-Day that this has occurred. Helluva week. But, that only puts me slightly behind schedule, and means that I'll trickle this into the weekend.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#36 - Thanks for the Talent I was Born With

We all have some unique gifts or talents that are just...implanted...inside of us when we enter this world.

Some people have the ability to throw a football extremely accurately and fast. Some can play the piano and understand its intricacies. Some are able to look at and just have an affinity for equations and numbers.

I have always had an ability to draw.

I'm not saying that I've always had the ability to draw WELL. And I am not saying that any of the abilities that you do have inside you always come easily to you, though I think some do for some people, but I think once you discover what your gifts actually are if you are able to take advantage of them you really are very fortunate.

I'm grateful for the skills that I was given, which were always strong, though I can't say that it has ever been 'easy' or natural even though I could probably get by (in a classroom setting) on what I had rather than try to push beyond that to something better.

But that's where other people come in. People who never get the credit they really should.


#37 - Thank You, Carol Dunaway...The First of Many

They say you never forget your first, mine was Carol Dunaway, my high school art teacher.

She was the first teacher I can recall who pushed me beyond my limits, and for that I've always been very, very thankful. She never did it in a mean-spirited way either, just look at the photo, she always did have a smile on her face for real.

She must have recognized in me some potential, because she never stopped being my advocate in anything I tried to do artistically throughout my entire educational experience in high school, even to the point when I argued to the school administration that I needed more time to draw and did not need to waste time taking a foreign language class.

My point to the school board was that art itself was a language, that I could go to any foreign country, ANYWHERE, and communicate to anyone using pictures, and therefore art should be considered a language as much as any other spoken or written one.

She actually helped me get that pushed through.

So instead of Spanish or, of all things, French, I had an extra hour a day to draw or paint. In exchange I re-designed the school flag or a hat or something and some flyers and junk. I had to be their 'art-bitch' for a while. But it was worth it.

She would often, early on, look at something I handed in which I clearly just worked on the night before because I knew I could get away with it and said 'Nope...You can do better than this. I'll give you the extra time, but I expect more from you.'

Of course I grumbled about it then. But now? I look back with nothing but gratitude. And the deepest possible respect.

#38 - Thanks for the Greatest Second Chance of All Time

YEARS later, many years later, I was still trying to hone my skills at SCAD, in the graduate program in Sequential Art (that's Comic Book Art, by the way). As for SCAD, that stands for the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The semester was spinning out of control though.

I'd stupidly gotten involved with some girl that lived in the carriage house behind my apartment and the relationship got very wacky. (No this was not the woman I eventually lived with and remain friends with, this was the whack-job right before.)

There was WAY too much time spent focusing on the wacky antics of my private life and getting lost in it with way too much alcohol and doobage and not nearly enough time spent focusing on the reasons I was actually attending the school, my freaking ART.

As the deadlines loomed in my main class, my professor, who would know who he is but I will keep nameless here for the sake of anonymity, could see my work was all-over-the-place-shit. And there wasn't very much of it to boot. It was SO not good and SO far away from what he knew I was capable of.

Somehow he got wind of what was going down in my private life, and he'd heard some of the more colorful stories of what this girl had been doing, in particular some of the more creepy, stalky stuff.

At the final 'review', where the professor gives you your grade for the quarter, he hands me the paper with my quarterly assessment on it. Essentially he spells it out for me. I won't tell you the grade he gave me, but it was WAY higher than what I deserved, and I passed the class.

'I know you are better than this. I also know that you happen to be going through some pretty F-d up stuff. I could very easily fail you this quarter, but I think you know that. But really, what good would that do you in the long run? During the break, get your shit together, come back fresh, and wow everybody, especially me. Consider this a second chance. There won't be another one. Don't let me down.'

And I didn't. From that point on I threw everything I had into the work and my work started to improve dramatically after that.

I never forgot the gesture, never forgot the lesson he taught me. And while I still feel like I actually DID let him down because I never actually succeeded in making it as a comic book artist (see below), I'll always be thankful for the second chance.

#39 - Thanks for the Tiny, though Bitter, Taste of a Dream

How many people can honestly say they are doing what they dreamed of doing when they were kids?

I suspect not many.

And frankly, today, as I write this, I can't say that I am either.

Right now, technically, I am unemployed. I freelance to make money, and sell some stuff on eBay, and I don't exactly know where my career path is going to lead me.

To be honest with you, I'm a bit scared about that. After all, I'm 43 years old...what the hell am I gonna do now? Where do I belong? But that's a blog for another time and another place.

But when I was a wee lad, I loved comics. And as I was growing up, I wanted to draw comics. So when I went to college, I studied art, against the wishes of my Step-Father, who insisted I study something more tangible. (He may have been right, actually.)

But after college, I tried 'breaking in' to the comic book industry and could not, so I worked at IKEA for four years during this process of submitting my work. Nothing happened. Could not get in. Clearly my work was not good enough. I could see that for real. And so I looked around for places to hone that skill and found SCAD.

After SCAD, I started submitting my work again. And I actually DID get some paying gigs. They were shit books, but work was STARTING to get published. But as I always like to say, timing is everything. And my timing always seems to be bad. I was trying to break into the world of comics as the world of comics was kind of imploding, or at least in a state of major upheaval.

Here's an example of bad timing. Marvel comics, for example. I'd been submitting work for a couple years. The submissions guy there had seen steady improvement in my work. He'd started to know me by name and I'd been up there (in New York) twice to meet with him face-to-face. The last batch of stuff I sent he REALLY liked, and he was about to hook me up with a gig. Probably a few pages shoved in the back of some annual, but who cares, it would have been MARVEL FREAKIN' COMICS.

I call him up to ask about it, someone else answers his phone. I'm told he was let go, and there is now a new Submissions Editor. This is the new guy I'm talking to. I ask him if he has seen my samples. He said he has, and that he feels that my work is 'too cartoony' for the direction that Marvel wants to be going right now, but I should keep trying.

TOO CARTOONY? Have you even LOOKED at a Marvel book lately you STUPID M--THER F--KER?!?

I just got the blow-off.


I was...absolutely heart-broken. I can't tell you. And yes, when I got off the phone of COURSE I cried. I'm all man but I was really felt so beaten. All the years I had been trying so hard and I thought my shot was finally here and it was just...gone. Just like that. Nothing I could do.

So...It began to feel as if I was never going to be able to break into the 'mainstream industry' and get any steady work with a major publisher. I remember in 1996 or 1997, I can't remember the exact year, I think my total amount of income was something like $7000.00. So I had to give up the dream, stop beating on the doors of the major publishers and look for a steady, regular paycheck job.

You can see a lot of that work, and some of everything else, in my deviantART gallery if you ever felt like it. I probably need to go in and re-organize the thing. Or have it live somewhere else.

Don't get me wrong...I'm EXTREMELY thankful that I got a taste of the dream, even though that taste, sometimes, is very bitter. I look at the books that I did, and the inking and coloring and lettering is awful, but some of the penciling work, my work, is OK. There is potential there. I can see it. If I'd had the chance, I think I could have really done well...but like anything, I'd have needed to do it more to get better at at.

But at least I had a taste of the dream, which I have to always remind myself is more than a lot of people EVER get.

And of course, from failure you often find success, and while that failure stings, without it I would not have found the two men below, ReSaurus, Palisades, my wife, my sons and all the things that would follow.

That my friends, is the nature of how life WORKS.

#40 - Thank You, Jay and Chris, for Giving Me a Second Career

So I wasn't able to make it as a comic book artist. You fall off your horse, you get up, watch the horse ride off into the sunset, dust yourself off and try to figure out how to get to the next town.

I needed a job that paid actual money on a weekly basis and I needed it fast. I was scouring Want Ads in the newspaper, back when you did that kind of thing, before, and answered one for a comic-book style artist. It was actually for a non-permanent gig, but it eventually turned into a full-time one.

I've only just started to tell that full story in Chronolillogy, a kind of 'history of my career in toys', that I started in earnest early on in these pages but sort of let fall by the wayside as Blogzilly began to focus more on my family and Bennett.

I may start doing a few more of those. These writings have inspired me a bit to write more of the historical stuff.

Anyway, I wouldn't HAVE the career in toys were it not for Jay and Chris Borman, the twins, who took me under their wings when I was eventually hired at ReSaurus and essentially, along with Steve, Tony and a few of the others, taught me everything I needed to know.

I'd never had any inclination to having a career in making toys. The thought had just never entered my mind. I always figured it would be too hard, too far beyond my ability, so I never gave it much thought, though I often would think of it whenever I bought a toy, pondering how this or that could be better or different, how this worked and how this did not work well, and I often took stuff apart because I was curious about it. While not a dream, you could call it a sub-conscious implant awaiting activation.

When I was hired I knew two things about the production of toys and action figures.

Jack and Shit.

I knew what I liked. I knew what I thought was good. And I could draw. That was it. Everything else? I learned as I went, with the two of them holding my hand for the most part and guiding me along the way.

They were more than just teachers, they became dear friends, and they stood by my side when I said 'I do.' to Jennifer. Of course, they towered over me, as I am one short little fugger and they are MEGA-sized monstrosities at over six feet, but somehow the photographers worked out some good shots.

So yeah...I wasn't able to actually realize the original dream of being a comic book artist, but thanks to Jay and Chris, I was able to have the next best thing, a career making toys and action figures, and if you can't have the hottest girl in the room, then the second hottest girl is still damn good.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #31 - #35

Brief update on the events of last night first. Carter was NOT admitted to the hospital. We were prescribed a medication to lower his blood pressure. No pharmacy that is open today has it.


We are to keep his sodium levels down as much as we can, fluids up, and watch the pressure. As of last night the highest reading before the meds was 143 over 96. This kidney thing sucks. Is it serious?

In most cases? No. Am I over-worrying? Perhaps. But I sure as shit know what it is like to LOSE THE WAR AGAINST INCREDIBLE ODDS when it comes to a kid, and so therefore, I believe I have earned the right to be uneasy.


Plus, this 'un-related swelling of his glands and super-enlargement of his tonsils'?

I just want some fucking answers.


I won't get them. I know this from past experience. I just want them.

So...happy FREAKIN' Thanksgiving. I'm getting by, but truthfully? I miss my Mom. Bottom line. I love my wife, I love my kids, and the in-laws and extended family are great. But I'd give quite a bit for a Mom-hug today. Quite a bit.

SO...Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#31 - Thanks to All the Turkeys...You're Sacrifice Today is Always Cherished

And good holy JAYZOOZ, you are one tasty creature. I love ripping into your tender flesh. In fact, so much so that I often cook one of you bad boys up over the summer, just because I can't wait until winter to sink my teeth into one of you guys.

I'm a carnivore. I love meat. And you're meat. Whether it is the white kind or the dark kind, you are oh so very scrumptiously delicious. And you make a HELLUVA sandwich the day after.

And the day after that.

And the day after that.

Not so much the day after that.

In fact, by Christmas I'm totally thinking Pig.

But thanks.

#32 - Thanks, SingleDad, for Reminding Me of Something I Forgot...Wet/Dry Vacs Deserve a Slot

I mean, I did mention Duct Tape, and how in the world could I leave out the Wet/Dry or 'Shop Vac'? Next to Duct Tape and another invention mentioned later on this list, it is one of those inventions where, were I to meet the guy who thought of it, I might have to at least consider letting him make out with me.

It's that good.

Why'd that suddenly sneak in there at this stage of the list?

A couple of reasons. First, because SingleDad is a good person. And he, like so many others, e-mailed me personally to ask me how Carter was doing. That alone is worthy of thanks (as I owe ALL of you thanks for all the concern). And yet, he did so despite all the heaps of shit piled up in his own world, not the least of which was his own Three Stooges moment today with a defrosting turkey in a sink and a distraction that caused a need for, you guessed it...a shop vac.

Read his Thanksgiving Blog for the full story.

And thanks SD...for everything. You inspire, you're a good friend, and you reminded me that Wet/Dry Vacs absolutely belong on this year's list of 50 Things.

#33 - Thanks George, I Love The Giggle of the Turkey Thingie, Though the Extra Weight Makes That Less Obvious

When I think of Turkeys, I think of those things that giggle under their chins. What are those things called? Wattles I think, not gobblers as many people call them. And when I think of those I think of, you guessed it, Mr. George Lucas.

As the years have gone by, Mr. Lucas's Wattle has changed. When he just started to gain some poundage, it was much more wiggly. But over the most recent of months, as the face had really filled out, it is much more of just your standard, average double-chin. But that fluctuates too, because he loses and gains, so sometimes it goes from Wattle to DC back to Wattle again.

None of that matters to me, really, I just say thanks to George Lucas, because despite the fact that he became the very Empire he so desperately fought against in the 1970's I will never forget what he DID for me in the 1970's, which was rescue me from a prison of psychological isolation.

As the child of an abusive Step-Father, I was massively introspective, and remarkably un-inspired. In 1977, when I saw Star Wars, something 'activated' within me, a spark ignited, and I found something that I could use as a weapon in my fight against my own Empire at home...imagination.

I've never forgotten it, the impact of what Star Wars did for my life, overall. And will always be grateful for the doors it opened. So thanks George. And thanks for Jar-Jar Binks finally gave the Star Wars Universe something worse than the Ewoks, thus making the Ewoks somewhat cool, thereby making Return of the Jedi all that much more watchable again.

In some odd, bizarre twisted way, your work was more of a Father to me than either of my two Dads. How freaky weird is that?

#34 - Speaking of Return of the Jedi, Thanks for the Slave Leia Idea...That Never Gets Old

And thanks, too, to Gentle Giant, for producing what has been, to date, the greatest Slave Leia, or for the more politically correct 'Princess Leia as Jabba's Prisoner' statue to date. It's so eerily good. Looks remarkable like a young Carrie Fisher, and despite some nitpicks I have with the factory paint job, it still remains as one of my all-time favorite Star Wars collectibles.

It's also one that I paid full price for, that's how much I dug it.

It's a shame this is a brief look too, It really deserves a complete photo shoot to do it justice. It's great. But I'll save it for another time. Alas, just like anything else in the house these days, it is not nailed down. Meaning that anything and everything at some point will have a listing created for it on eBay. I'll price it high, and if it sells I'll have to let it go, but I won't be happy about it.

And yes...I know you are curious, and the answer, for all these years, has been no. Jennifer refuses to even consider wearing the outfit.

#35 - Thanks Hasbro, for Taking the Second Best Toy of My Childhood and Making it the Best Toy of My Adulthood

The greatest toy I owned, next to the original Kenner Death Star Playset, was the Kenner Millennium Falcon Spaceship. For a kid my age, it was frakkin' awesome.

But as time passed, it became less and less impressive. As I began to get older and more discriminating, I saw all the flaws in scale, in detail, in design. But Kenner, even after Hasbro bought them out, kept re-issuing the same ship, with new deco, again and again and again.


But then, the seas parted, and...a MIRACLE came down from the Heavens and renewed our faith in Hasbro...the Legacy Collection Millennium Falcon. Yeah sure, it was $150.00, but it was worth every single stinkin' penny. I mean LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT IT!!! It's almost TWICE the size as its predecessor, and you can't even see, just from this one pic, all the cool stuff it does, how many more play areas open up, how many more sounds and features it has.

I swear, as I opened it up earlier this year (yes, I waited over a year to get it so I could get it at a great deal) I nearly wept.

Thank you restored my faith in Star Wars vehicles again and made them cool once more.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Interrupt the Regularly Scheduled Event of Me Lying Out of My Ass For This Special News Bulletin

OK, I'm not REALLY lying, in the technical sense, in that I actually AM thankful for all the things I have said up to this point. And it has felt VERY good to write about these things. But timing is everything, and I gotta be many ways, I am simply not FEELING it as much as I might be indicating.

There are a few reasons really.

Several black clouds hang overhead.

The Bennett cloud is always there, as we desperately try to make any headway we can in trying to communicate with him. It's hard...damn hard, and frankly I crunch on Tylenol like they are Sweet-Tarts.

I get headaches a lot. And there are other issues, looming, of all kinds. Economical, medically terminal, relational, and on and on.

There are days when you sometimes just don't want to get out of bed. But you do anyway...because you love the ones you're with. Period.

And when one of them suffers, you suffer. When another suffers, you suffer even more.

Case in point? My other son, Carter.

He and Jennifer are on their way to the Emergency Room as I type this (to F---ING Nationwide F---ING Children's F---ING Hospital). His medical issues are worsening, and I am now, officially, starting to become very, very worried about them. It started as a Strep Infection on October 30th. Apparently it has turned into Glomerulonephritis, and while this often resolves itself, especially in children, Carter's...hasn't.

He's had blood in his urine for a couple of weeks. Fatigue. Enlarged glands. Puffiness. Intermittent fevers. It's viral, so there hasn't been much we could do except to monitor him closely, and keep him fed, hydrated, rested and healthy as we could. (CORRECTION ADDED 11/25/10 at 12:50PM: It is not viral, as my nurse wife has reminded me. It is still bacterial, but it is some kind of secondary inflammation of the kidney that has no real cure or actual treatment. It either resolves itself over time...or it doesn't. You can only manage the symptoms. I have much more to say on this later.)

His blood pressure has continued to rise, though, and as of this evening it exceeded the number the doc gave me, and clocked in at around 136/86. I've done all the reading one does in a situation like this, and as you know, it consumes a parent.

But I'm not sure I can handle this. I can't handle two kids going down dark paths, can I? I've seen other people do it, guys like SingleDad, but he's made of far stronger grit than I. So all I can do is sit here and hope that somehow this turns out to be nothing in the long run and that Carter's Glomerulonephritis does not become something worse. Hell, I don't even know for sure if I UNDERSTAND exactly what it is that he has.

I'm probably over-reacting. It's probably just fatigue and stress taking control of me.

Tomorrow, I'll get up and go back to the List as if nothing has happened, though I will pepper in an update if I know anything at all. But I have to be honest, to myself and to the people that read is SO hard to look for the good sometimes in a world that constantly dishes out platefuls of shit not just to me, but to SO many good people I know.

Not impossible....I'm not saying that.

Just very, very hard sometimes.


50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #26 - #30

Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#26 - Thanks, Blogger, for the Outlet and Info Dispersion

Yeah, I use you a bit for therapy, but you are also a damn good tool for information dispersion to a wide range of people in one swoop. Stuck here in the center of Ohio, I can reach so many people at one time, in one sitting, all over the globe, and that's a good thing. Mom gets her updates on the kids, so do so many others.

And it works in reverse, as I get to stay on top of all the OTHER people I care about, some of whom I know personally, others who I have never met, but who I feel as if I have known all my life.

You are weird though, Blogger, I gotta hand it to you. You break down barriers in a very strange way...make us say things that surprise even us. I'm sure, one day, the authors that feed you may one day look back and say 'Oh shit, can't BELIEVE I said that...' but for now, I'll just say 'Thanks.' do give me something to DO...this is OHIO, after all.

#27 - Thanks Columbus, for an Awesome Zoo

It's nationally renowned, and with good reason. We go several times a year. Or I should say, we WENT several times a year. Since Bennett's issues started, that has slowed down. A lot. We'll have to see what happens with Bennett before we see what happens with us going anywhere with regularity, quite honestly.

But as far as Zoo's go, if you like that sort of thing, it's hard to beat the Columbus Zoo. Maybe San Diego, I have been to that one...and it's good, don't get me wrong, probably a little superior to Columbus, but San Diego isn't 25 minutes away.

So thanks, Jack Hanna...nice place you got there.

#28 - Thanks LOST, you Still Have Not Been Replaced

You watch a lot of TV in Ohio, too. It seems like only yesterday there was a nice chunky handful of shows that Jennifer and I were watching with regularity on the boob tube. 24, Battlestar Galactica, The Shield and LOST, maybe a few others. The cream of the crop being The Shield and LOST.

Everything is gone now. The ONLY show we currently watch is The Walking Dead. It's good, but it isn't LOST. Nothing is. At least, nothing is so FAR. We hope something comes along that has the emotional impact that LOST had on us. Or The Shield.

I don't see anything on the horizon though. Not that I see just bad TV, but TV that is extraordinarily special is just...rare, that's all. That's why when it comes along, you are that much more thankful for it.

Might be time to pull out the DVD's again...

#29 - Thanks for Small Town Fairs and Other Funky Activities

So what else do you do to keep yourself occupied in the sleepy town of Sunbury? You go to the annual County Fairs and other festivities, which I have talked about in these pages before. They are a nice diversion for the kids especially, and if you approach them with the right mindset they can be fun for the whole family.

Yes they are over-priced. Yes there are funky smells. Yes you need to be really careful about the food. But what the's small town middle America at its finest, and there is a purity to it that, if you really let it take you over, takes you to a simpler time, a simpler place.

It can be very Normal Rockwell.

#30 - Thanks Cleveland, for Having a Great Clinic

You know, I don't really mean to dis Ohio as much as I do. I do so in jest for the most part. It's actually a beautiful state, with a great deal to offer. We are extremely, EXTREMELY lucky to be here. We live in a very safe community, and I could rattle off a list of benefits that Bennett receives that depend entirely upon where we live that would make your head spin.

We have one of the most intense college sports rivalries on the planet, a rich American history and contribution to American society, two NFL football teams, two Major League Baseball teams and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

We also have the Cleveland Clinic, the 4th ranked hospital in the United States, which houses the surgeons who stopped my son from having daily seizures. How can you NOT be thankful for THAT? Yes, it also happens to have Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, that mis-diagnosed Bennett in the beginning of all of this, but don't hold that against Ohio...hold that against the people who did the diagnosing.

We still make the trip to Cleveland Clinic, every 3 months, to make sure Bennett's tumor doesn't come back. Each and every time he receives the same level of amazing care and attention. Each and every time they cross every 'T' and dot every 'I'. They take NOTHING for granted even though they have seen us and know who we are.

Yeah...they're good. And for that...I'm thankful.


50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #21 - #25

Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#21 - Thanks for the Price Break, DirecTV

I live in what I like to call the Bermuda Triangle of the AFC North.

I am besieged on all sides by my hated enemies.

To the immediate south are the Cincinnati BangGirls. To the immediate North are the Cleveland BrownStains. To the East? The demon horde known as the Pittsburgh SteelWhores, led by Ben Rapelisberger.

My beloved Baltimore Ravens are ALL the way through the Appalachian Mountains, on the East Coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and I am stuck here in the Tatooine of the United States...OHIO.

But DirecTV has the NFL Sunday Ticket, which allows you to see EVERY game the NFL has to offer. But it is expensive. This year, because of my employment status, it was on our list of things marked to cut. Jennifer makes the phone call. I just couldn't. I felt like I was gonna vomit.

The person on the other end of the phone offered her a deal. HALF OFF. That is a HUGE discount. HUGE.

I guess everyone is feeling the pinch of this economy. She looked at me...shivering and sweating in the corner, swaying side to side and muttering 'There's no place like home...there's no place like home...' and accepted the deal.


#22 - Thank you High Definition Television

There simply is no better way to watch said beloved Baltimore Ravens than on a big screen, gigantor High Definition TV. It watching the miracle of creation itself. Sniff.

I have a decent sized 32-inch TV in my upstairs office. It's one of those kind that has the curved screen, the big fat backside...and sometimes I am up here working and have it on. I used to watch some games up here. But after we got the Big Kahuna? Can't do it.

Several analogies come to mind, none of which I will use here, and if our circumstances ever improve I'd love to upgrade the office TV, but hell...I'm thankful TO HAVE AN OFFICE TV ANYWAY!

See? I'm so full of thanks I feel like I'm gonna burst.

#23 - Thank You, Smart Bombs, for the TV and So Much More

When Jen and I made the decision to come to Ohio to be closer to family, it also meant leaving another family behind, the one I had come to know at Palisades. Difficult decision? You have no idea. After moving, I tried starting a little venture on my own, making some designer stuff, the first of which were some interpretive figurines of the two atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy.

The first two sets made their debut at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2006, and were marginally successful. They actually turned a profit. Enough of one that, when I returned, Jen actually convinced me to buy the aforementioned High Definition television and I was able to put some money into the tooling of another project, a block figure body.

Sadly, the Smart Bombs project never got past these first two figures, because of legal issues. Even though legally they both were protected under 'parody' and 'satire' laws, I got a cease and desist from Lucasfilm and Warner Bros. The Lucasfilm C&D we were able to make go away, but the Warner Bros. one we were not, because we suspected it was more personally motivated than professionally (LONG story).

Because of that, the company stalled, ceased generating any money for the Smart Bombs general release that had been planned, and the block figure line that was planned, so it all fell apart. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

A good friend of mine, Chris, who I worked with at ReSaurus years before, said this...'Not many people can say that they actually took their own idea and put their own money into it and made it into a product, saw it through production, shipped it and sold it. You did. You should always be proud of that.'

I was, I was just so disappointed for the people that had put so much work into everything. People like Brian, Matt, Chad, James, Sean, Brandon, Steve and so many others who never got to see their creations see reality. I'm so thankful for what they did...I just wish I'd had the chance to see it through.

#24 - Which Brings Me, of Course, to Luke Milton

The block figure like I mentioned in Number 23 was very, very ambitious, and it was the brainchild of one Luke Milton. I first encountered Luke under the screen name 'punchbunny' on the old Palisades Toys Message Board back in the day. After a while, he started writing content for us on the site in the form of the 'Punchbunny's Drunken Review' I think it was called. It was some funny, funny shit.

He writes his own blog these days, the aptly named Luke Milton Writes, which is, in my humble opinion, the funniest, most cleverly written blog on the entirety of the internet. Without question. There are a few people I have encountered in my life like him who just 'have' it. The 'gift', I call it. The ability to just be creative and interesting in pretty much anything they do.

I'm convinced when Luke takes a dump...there's probably something fascinating to look at in the bowl.

When I was looking for stuff to produce for Creatus Maximus, the company I'd started, I wanted to essentially have the company be a conduit to produce things FOR creative people, not really for me to product things for myself. That was its original intent.

You know I'm into block figures, and Luke's pitch on the block figure line was to do a hybrid block figure/designer figure line that paid homage to some of the classic action figure lines of the 80's, but then flipped it right on its ass and then some. It would have been a very successful specialty market item.

The line was called kockBLOCKerz, and it was awesome in scope. Each figure had its own unique file card, ala the JOE figures in the eighties, and they were hysterical. He really threw himself into the designs. A lot of people did a lot of other stuff in support of it. Just...because. Nobody did it to get paid. Nobody did it for any reason other than the fact that they just wanted to do something fun.

The dream died when the company did. But I'll always be thankful for what those guys did, especially Luke. I've always said, if I ever win the lottery, my number one priority is to go back and finish that line.

#25 - Thanks for the Mighty Beanz

In stark contrast to the coolness of a kockBLOCKerz line, the bizarre subtlely and pizazz of it which of course in this brief scenario I can't show you, is the product known as Mighty Beanz. At first glance you might think you are looking at something quite similar. Oh how wrong you'd be.

It is the absolute best example of mass market toy grotesqueness that I hate so much about this industry. It is SO simple, SO boring, SO overpriced, SO over-hyped, SO over-marketed, SO not worth the hassle. Yet it is popular and it is selling and seems to be doing quite well.

So why am I thanking it, if I detest it so much?

Because my son, Carter, LOVES them...and because of that, they have helped me improve his behavior at school and keep him OFF of medication for ADHD, which he has recently been diagnosed with by a doctor. I had feared it might be coming, we'd been getting reports of behavioral problems for a while now, and I had it as a kid and continue to have it as an adult (though when I was a kid there was no diagnosis for it, I just mis-behaved).

But the Mighty Beanz be Mighty...and they have, for the time being, been magical beans as well. Each day that Carter comes home with a positive behavior stamp...he gets to reach into the bag and pull out a Mighty Beanz.

He gets WAY more stamps than he does NOT, and that is all because of the Beanz.

So detest them or not, for that I am MIGHTY thankful.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #16 - #20

Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#16 - Thanks, Mom, for the Emotional Utility Belt

It's actually very well stocked. See, if you read Blogzilly with any regularity, you know I have some Daddy issues. Much of it brought on by my Dad walking out when I was a wee lad and choosing not to have a relationship with me, but more from the shit that came after that at the hands of my Step-Father. This really bothers my Mom. She carries a tremendous amount of guilt because of it. We spoke about it at length during her last visit.

I'd give anything to be able to take that guilt away, but it is beyond my power. The only person with that power is, obviously, my Mom. But it's hard to do, to let go of those things that accumulate over a lifetime. Hell, I struggle with it in these pages all the time.

But I made it clear to her the last time she was here that as far as I was concerned I felt no blame, no resentment, no negativity for her whatsoever, only love, respect and other good things. The situation we were in? It was a nightmare for all of us. It was a vortex of bullshit, a web of chaos created by a man who was clearly mentally ill.

But the fact is, Mom, I'm super thankful for those coping skills you gave me, all tucked very neatly into my Emotional Utility Belt. Sure, I'm only now, in my early forties, just starting to learn how to use them as effectively as I should, but you put 'em there, nobody else did.

Anything I have that's positive...ANYTHING...that's all you.

Don't forget it. You did GOOD.

Wish you were here.

#17 - Thanks for Believing in Me When I Would Not

Jennifer and I were seriously teetering on the brink of maybe splitting up. She felt I had sold her a false bill of goods. I'd said I would be open to the idea of having children, but after we got married, when push actually came to shove I kept dodging the issue and refusing to embrace the idea of being a Daddy.

Wonder why? :)

Fear, plain and simple. I believed since I had such a bad example of Dad-ness to draw from as far as life experience, I figured I was doomed to be a piss-poor Father. I was convinced of it.

Jennifer wasn't.

She believed I would be able to overcome it, that I would be able to rise above it. To fight this perceived destiny. To be a wonderful Father. She believed in me so much, she 'accidentally forgot' to take her birth control.

Yeah sure, the anxiety attacks began and increased in intensity and I discovered I actually had PTSD when Carter was finally born, as I spent the time of his arrival unconscious on a gurney outside the delivery room. And the attacks have remained ever since, but I wouldn't trade them back even if someone offered. And as I try to imagine a life without Carter, it's like trying to imagine a life without my eyes.

I can't.

Your children become such a part of your life, it's a remarkable transformation. And in the end, Jennifer was absolutely right. I'd walk through a hail of bullets for either of my kids. I'd fight a demon horde. I'd do just about anything it took.

It's hard. And it's work. But it's worth it.

And I will always be thankful that she believed in me.

Because I never would have.

#18 - Thanks for the Clean MRI and Seizure Freedom, So Far

Speaking of stress and your kids, you all know this little guy and what he's been through. I don't care WHAT you're carrying around in your Emotional Utility Belt, you stand in front of this and it is your son who just had a brain tumor taken out of his head, and you'll be very weak in the knees.

But, if you are lucky, you'll have your Mom, dear friends, and other supportive family members standing right there, propping you up, despite the fact you feel that you might fall over right there on the spot.

Today, 15 months later, we still cannot communicate very well with Bennett, but he is alive, he is happy, and he has made some fairly tremendous advances. Is he progressing as fast or as far as we would like? Of course not...we are his parents after all. Like anyone else, we wanted him to skyrocket forward after the surgery.

Who wouldn't?

But we would be totally remiss if we did not pause and reflect about how fortunate we are that Bennett's tumor has not come back and, so far, his seizures have not returned. It is...heartbreaking to hear so many stories of the other surgery kids, like Sophie and Emma and Trevor and Broc and so many others who even after the surgery have some kind of seizure activity return. That's why I have to temper my feelings about not being able to communicate with him and exercise more patience. I have to remember to keep a sense of balance.

It is November. November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. And I am acutely aware of how devastating Epilepsy is.

I am so very, very thankful that Bennett is not having any seizures.

#19 - Thanks for the Depth of the Familial Bullpen

I've talked about how lucky I have been in many regards in my marriage to Jennifer. One aspect of that I haven't touched on yet is her family. And not just her immediate family, but her extended family as well. It is VAST. It is TIGHT. It is really something that I have never seen before. They all have, at one time or another, stepped up and helped us in one way or another, and still do.

It's taken me quite a while to get used to, and I am still getting used to it, honestly. I still tend to become a lot quieter the larger the groups get, and the groups get VERY big sometimes. In fact, the Saunders or Layton family functions can get so big that often they don't even take place at people's houses. They have to take place at OTHER places, that you rent and such.

They're a terrific group, though I have a hard time with a lot of the kid's names (there's SO MANY OF THEM!!!). That and, like I said, I tend to get very quiet as the rooms get more full. It's one of my quirks. Groups of 5 or less? I'll talk like crazy. As soon as #6 walks in I start looking for an exit. I have never figured out why.

But I'm working on that, along with a lot of other things, especially for the kids.

What's fascinating though is how polar opposite my family life and Jennifer's actually is/was. It's uncanny. Maybe that's kind of one of the things that bound us from the very beginning, know what I mean? She filling certain gaps in me, and vice versa? Perhaps.

In any case, it's something that I am often very thankful for.

#20 - Thank You Nespresso, You Get Me Through Many an Afternoon

Brain Surgery. Epilepsy. Autism. PTSD. Streptococcal nephritis. My X-Box is on the fritz.

Shit happens to cause all of us stress. Shit happens that cause us all to lose sleep.

And when you're ass is dragging and you need that boost around, say, 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon? Pop a Nespresso capsule in your Nespresso machine and make a cup of Espresso in what seems like a nano-second, sit back and enjoy.

I received my Nespresso machine a couple of years ago as a Christmas gift from Jennifer's parents. One of the greatest gifts I have EVER received. EVER. I'm still surprised at how few people know about this amazing European coffee device.

But it's awesome. It makes a HELLUVA cup of Espresso. And I am SUPER thankful that it gets me through many a tiring time!


50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #11 - #15

Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#11 - Thanks for The Right Mix of Medication

Even though Jesus is on the Pill Box, the real thanks go not to the Lord and Savior but rather to my latest Psychiatrist, who went out on a limb and prescribed for me, not an anti-depressant, but something entirely different. He saw in my history a pattern of anti-depressant failure, and decided not to TAKE that path again.

Instead he tried a drug I had never used before, but ironically one my 2 year old son HAD...Topamax. Used to control Epilepsy, it is also used as a mood stabilizer in some cases of people with Bi-Polar Disorder. Even though he believed I did not have Bi-Polar, he felt I should give the medicine a try.

Maybe it was the medicine, maybe it was the timing of a LOT of things, and who knows...maybe it does have something to do with powers beyond my understanding. Perhaps a combo of all of the above. All I know is that here I sit, making conscious effort to be positive despite all there is to BE negative about in our lives.

That means something.

#12 - Thanks for All Things Small and Still So Great

Smaller is better. I keep telling myself helps, as many men know.

And as much as drugs help you cope, it also helps to have other outlets. Hobbies are always a good thing, no matter what your situation. I've always been a collector of toys. In fact, I used to go totally bananas with what I collected and displayed, but familial responsibilities change your priorities.

But MiniMates have remained a constant for me.

I still love 'em. I still collect 'em. I still anxiously await each and every release. And it's the only toy/action figure line I can still say that about. I only wish they could do more of them. And of course, I wish they could get the license for Star Wars.

#13 - Thanks for the Hours of Diversion and Cheap Therapy

Oh X-Box, how I love thee. If you were a woman, I would marry you. If you were a man...well, I might swing from the other side of the plate. Yes, I admit, for while, you sucked me in, very unhealthily, and I almost lost myself in your sweet embrace, but if I can maintain control over you and keep my distance, the soft green light of your green cycloptic gaze is oh so very mesmerizing.

You are always there for me, with adventures at the ready in endless variety. We can fight together on Reach against the Covenant. We can explore the leaky depths of Rapture, avoiding the Splicers and searching for the precious Adam to enhance our abilities. We can suit up in the purple and black together and face the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game...and WIN.

Thank you, X-Box 360. You are as much a coping mechanism as you are a curse, and I have never had such a love/hate relationship with anything in my entire life.

#14 - Thanks to Rockstar Games for the Greatest Game of 2010: Red Dead Redemption

And what's interesting to me is that they also gave me the Greatest Game for 2008 with Grand Theft Auto IV. (In 2009 I was far too consumed by Bennett's seizures to play that much, but I would say if I had to pick a 'winner' for '09 it was probably Batman: Arkham Asylum if you need to keep score). And it was Mike, Father to Marissa, gamer and author of Marissa's Bunny, who finally helped me figure out why. In one of our recent communications he explained it to me rather succinctly.

'You're a Sandbox Gamer.'

A what? Huh?

I'd never heard the term before, even though I play video games. See, I play games, but I would never call myself a 'gamer'. I'm not hardcore enough. I don't play a lot of X-Box Live matches against strangers, I don't buy a lot of games the day they come out at full price, etc. I love playing, don't get me wrong, but I do it at a leisurely pace.

And Red Dead Redemption was right up my alley BECAUSE, apparently, I'm a Sandbox Gamer and RDR is a Sandbox-Style Game. And what is that? Essentially, it refers to an 'Open-World' or 'Non-Linear' style of game, where you, as the character, have the option to go wherever you want whenever you want and engage in mini-games and also engage in various story-related challenges that can be completed in a number of different sequences.

Just how good is RDR? Well, I bought it in May. I STILL PLAY IT. Some other games have worked their way in, like Halo: Reach, Bioshock 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which I finally got used for $12.00 on eBay) and Alan Wake, but I always go back to Red Dead Redemption.

#15 - Thanks to Friends Who Never Ever Go Away

The X-Box 360 is a machine, and I always talk about how it is always there for me. When you can say the same thing about a being made of flesh and bone, then clearly you are speaking about a relationship that is truly special. And Richard, who is the author of Daddyspeak, is one of those individuals.

He came to mind while writing this mainly because of the X-Box. He is a PS3 guy. I SO want him to be an X-Box guy, because I would love to be able to play with him on X-Box Live. But it's like Mac and PC. Getting him to convert would be a big expense, one that I just can't make happen.

One of these days, I am going to write an extremely long blog about Richard, a man with whom I have been friends since I was around 12 years old. He is an astounding human being, and we have a lot of history. I have many stories to tell about him, all good, but one in particular that I have been putting off and putting off and putting off...all because I have yet to figure out exactly how I want to shape it.

But I will give you a little taste of it. He lives in Texas, where I met him. I lived there for a mere 3-4 years in my youth. Our friendship has endured all this time, and even though it has sputtered a couple of times throughout our lives it had found resurgence in recent years thanks to the World Wide Web.

Last year, as Bennett was wheeled back to have his brain cut into, Richard was standing by my side, his hand on my shoulder. I don't think I have ever actually said that here in these pages. I've never publicly thanked him, since I wanted to wait until I could 'weave it' properly.

And though I still intend to tell the 'full tale' and all that accompanies it, I don't think acknowledging my deepest of thanks here, in this Random 50, for his loyalty and sacrifice does any of that a disservice.

Thanks are one of my greatest friends. I have been, and always shall be, yours.


Monday, November 22, 2010

50 Random Things I'm Thankful For #06 - #10

Continuing with the list of Random Things I'm Thankful For in 2010, or what I like to call LOFTY 2010, until someone else blows me away with something better. These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.

Now...on with the thanksgivingfulness...

#06 - Thanks...For The Mammaries

Of COURSE you knew I was going to go there eventually, I figured I'd get it out of the way early, that way you wouldn't always be wondering when I'd be dropping in a reference to the Golden Winnebagos. And let's face it guys...when we feel down, nothing perks us up better than a peek at nature's to speak. It's a sad truth...but it is a Truth nonetheless.

At least give me some credit...for visuals instead of a photo I chose a piece of art.


And what a great piece of art it is. I have a print of this super awesome painting of Catwoman by Adam Hughes, signed by the man himself. Mr. Hughes is known for his comic book artwork of ze wimmens, and his work has made many an appearance not only in the header above but in the text of Blogzilly, and for that, we should ALL be truly thankful.

#07 - Thanks for Priceless Pieces of Original Art

Like this one, not sketched by the aforementioned Adam Hughes, but by ANOTHER giant in the comic-book world, Alex Ross.

Note the signature.

Yup...that says MY name in there, as Mr. Ross signed this original sketch of Super Grover and sent it to me as a gift. It was a thank you at the end of a project I had the good fortune of working on with Alex Ross, when he painted the cover of a box for a Super Grover action figure I designed and did the product development for while working at Palisades Toys.

The painting is gorgeous. Beautiful. Almost bought it. Came close. Lost out. He knew I was bummed. But when this arrived in the mail? I gotta tell you...priceless moment.

#08 - Thanks for All Those Other Muppets, Too

Before the Sesame Street figure was even a blip on the radar, we were hip deep in Muppets at Palisades Toys. We made 9 series of figures, a bunch of playsets, some big chunky figures and some mini figures. It was one of the highlights of my career, creatively.

And there were so MANY mini-highlights within the entire experience, not just limited to the Muppets line itself. Though I could write a book about just THAT line and all the amazing things that came from it. professionally and personally.

One such highlight? Creating a figure of the legend himself...Jim Henson, and a memory that accompanies it. While attending the ceremony that unveiled the statue of Jim Henson that was erected at the University of Maryland, I was smoking a cigarette with Brian Henson and chit-chatting.

The conversation was going so well, we double-dipped. For you non-smokers (well US non-smokers, I quit two years ago) that means we smoked two ciggies back-to-back. We talked about all kinds of things, about why I thought Phil Van Neuter worked so well as a Muppet (and never got the recognition he deserved over, say, Pepe) and he was so jazzed at how hard we were trying to actually MAKE a Sal Manilla.

He was also completely overjoyed about the Jim Henson as a Muppet figure.

As the conversation was winding down, he crushed his cigarette under his heel and said in a very casual way something that I don't think he even thought twice about, but something I have never forgotten. As we walked back in to the reception he said 'I think my Dad would have really liked what you've done.'

I'll definitely take that one with me.

#09 - Thanks for Hundreds of OTHER Memories...Just Like That One

Nobody likes getting laid off. And in early 2000, shortly after having MET Jennifer in that Meijer parking lot, getting laid off from ReSaurus was no way to kick off the Spring. The job search began, and I saw a website for a company called Palisades located in Baltimore, 'hometown'.

I drove the 6.5 hours for the interview wearing a full suit and tie and walked into the building you see in the photograph, the old Oella Mill, where the old offices were. Everyone else was in shorts and T-Shirts. Oops. Mike Horn got a kick out of it, and I could tell right away he and the rest of them all had a sense of humor.

It was a small, tight-knit group...more like a family than a workplace. A family I was adopted into, and one which, over the next five years, remains the best career experience I have ever had and one that I am still very much thankful for.

I don't know what my future holds...will I wind up in a different career altogether? I can't really say for sure. But those Palisades Days, as I like to call they were some of the very, very best.

#10 - Thanks for the Reunion Tour, Even Though Nobody Showed Up

In 2008, Mike Horn, that very same president of Palisades, which had closed up shop in 2005 for various reasons, most of which were due to the very shitty marketplace for the types of action figures and collectibles we'd been making, reached out with a proposition to work together again on a line of NFL products.

The company, to be called The MVP Collection, would feature NFL Statues and Busts, and essentially I would do what I did at the Product Development side of things.

The situation, to begin in 2009, was perfect for me, since at the time Bennett was having daily seizures, we didn't know what the hell was happening, but I could work from home as the job did not require me to be in an office environment full-time.

In the end, there were a number of setbacks, most of which would take too long to explain in brief here, but suffice it to say that MVP didn't work out the way any of us hoped it would, and it's in the rear-view mirror for me now.

But I'm grateful for the opportunity to have worked on some NFL products, and it was great to have some of the band back together, if only for a little while. Reminded me a little of the old days. Yeah it wasn't exactly the same, but it was a nice rhythm to have, it was great to have regular contact with many of my peeps again, if only for a little while.

And the stuff LOOKED terrific! ;)


A Beautiful Blank Page

Christmas is over. That sound you hear is my sigh of relief. The tree is not actually down, as the opening image suggests. That was a tem...