Double-Barrel Relaxation: Blue Bear G Drone

After getting my Stellar flute, I was happy for a while, and I kept diving into the YouTube world of NAF videos. As I was exploring deeper flutes, I came across this video from Allen Bruce Ray:

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Allen is a really good player, and I was captivated by the low, mournful, and layered sound of the drone flute he used. I also loved the look of it, the paradoxically flat flute with the Cherokee red block on it. For those who don’t know, a drone flute is two flutes in one. One side is a regular 5 or 6-hole flute. The drone side is usually tuned to the fundamental (lowest) note of the playable side, so that when played together, they form a chorus, much like bagpipes do.

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Some drones are simply two pipes put together at the mouthpiece, but others are side by side in the “shotgun” style, called so for obvious reasons.

The thing about drone flutes is that one is getting into some serious money with them. Drones can easily go for a minimum of 200 bucks, and detailed carvings, exotic woods and turquoise cabochons can push the price into the thousands.

When I began shopping for drones, I turned to Stellar since I knew their work. Stellar indeed sells drones, but only as kits, and they start at $160. I have neither the tools nor the confidence to take an expensive rectangle and transform it into a beautiful and functional instrument, especially since one small mistake could screw it up permanently or create a blemish that would drive me mad because I was the one who put it there.
The drone Allen used in the video was made by a man named Kuzin Bruce. I checked out his website, and he has very nice prices for his flutes, but when I was shopping there was a message on his site stating that he was backlogged and not taking orders at that time. So I began to search for a maker who was economical, had a good reputation, and was taking orders. Then one day, while poking around in the recommended viewing in YouTube, I found Blue Bear Flutes, based out of Dothan, Alabama. It’s always a nice bonus to buy from a fellow Southerner. Supporting local business FTW, right?

Blue Bear flutes are made by Charlie Mato-Toyela and his wife, Jessie. In addition to making flutes, Charlie does how-to videos on making and playing his products. Their prices are very reasonable, with drones starting at $99 for an A in Western cedar and going up to $199 for an F#. That’s a big green checkmark on price. By the way,  if buying flutes from an actual enrolled Native American is something important to you, Charlie has a page outlining his heritage, and Blue Bear is indeed a member of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association. After watching a few of his videos, I decided to buy my first ever drone from them.

The next thing to decide was what key. I couldn’t afford a deep drone flute, and high flutes, while cheaper, have never excited me. The higher pitches wear out my ears faster than a mellow bass tone. I looked on Stellar’s website and found out that their most popular keys were G and F#. I already had an F, so I thought that a G flute would be a nice midrange addition to the family. I placed my order and eagerly awaited my new flute.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the triangular USPS package was the smell. Charlie doesn’t carve the air track and sound holes into his flutes–he burns them in with homemade tools. What greeted me when I opened the box was a wonderful smell of brûléed cedar that reminded me of the incense at church. Even today, almost a year after I opened that package, I can still find that smell, albeit less pronounced.

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I love the gradient effect that the block has. I didn’t really notice it until I got it out in the sunlight.

You might well ask how Charlie keeps his prices so low without sacrificing quality. I think it has something to do with how plain his flutes are. Charlie offers custom totems and that’s about it. Blue Bear flutes aren’t fancy objects: no bubinga from deepest Africa, no turquoise, no laser-carved wolves. If they were on a table among flutes with beads and feathers and carvings, you might miss them, but pick one up and the quality comes through clear as a bell. These are all go, very little show.

One of the things that I noticed when I first picked up my new flute was its…well, fuzziness. The only flutes I had handled up to that point were my Big Bear, which is lacquered, and my Stellar, which was unfinished but sanded quite smooth. The fuzziness was bothering me, so I embarked on my first attempt to modify a flute.

The flute was already reasonably smooth, so all I had to do was take it just a bit further, and I wasn’t terribly worried about damaging it, as long as I was careful. I’ve always enjoyed polishing metal, wood, plastic–it doesn’t matter. There’s just something about making stuff all shiny that gives me a tremendous satisfaction. I went to Home Depot and looked for a finish that would be safe, protect the wood, give it a smooth feel, and if possible, show off the grain a bit. As a novice I decided to skip the fancy lacquers and grabbed a bottle of Howard Butcher Block Conditioner.

I was especially careful when going over the top, making sure to only sand up the flute, in order to protect those cutting edges on the sound holes. Before I started this procedure, I set the bottle of conditioner out in the sun. A half hour later a pearlescent gel waited for me in the bottle, rather than the solid mass it was at room temperature. I put on a thin layer and left it for 20 minutes to soak in, then buffed it with an old washcloth. The conditioner did pop the grain a bit, and did deepen the color, but of course not as much as a polyurethane would.

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I then turned my attention to the leather cord that secured the totem. It was a black cord, and I wanted something a bit livelier–Yes, I wanted some show with my go, but not much. Don’t judge me. I hit up the leather section of a local Micheal’s and found some tasteful reddish-brown flat suede. I tried to tie it on, but it was too stiff and wide to make an effective totem securing system. Using my favorite pocketknife and a bamboo cutting board, I carefully split the strap down the middle and then softened it by pulling it back and forth across a metal chair leg; I had seen Tom Oar on Mountain Men do something similar to make deerskin pliable. I also learned that creases are very hard to get out of suede, and even after ironing the piece to smooth them out, some remain to haunt me.

Enough about the look and feel. Let’s talk about the sound. There was a time for a while when I reached for my Stellar over the Blue Bear, just because I was chasing the bass. Lately, though, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough with my playing, and I’ve come to appreciate my drone much more. The sound of this flute can get very lonely and high, like an old-timey hymn, so I thought that pictures from one of our many trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be an appropriate match for the music.

In my quest to find reverb to play in, I’ve stumbled across a little-used stairwell at work, very quiet and private, and maybe has too much reverb, if there is such a thing. As I settled into playing, and truly fell into the flow of the music, I imagined the stark white walls covered with vines and petroglyphs, a fire burning on the waxed floors, and the sounds of night overtaking the distant belch of braking 18-wheelers. Maybe you can see these too as you listen, if you try really hard.

Keep your claws sharp!

 

Getting in Deeper: Stellar Low F

I thought about the YouTube videos that I watched, and I noticed a theme: They were all of deeper-throated flutes in the B and F ranges.  This got me thinking that I might enjoy a flute with more bass, but that’s a serious purchase, and one I wasn’t willing to make without actually trying out a deeper flute first. I have no place nearby to try out one, which made me yet again curse the nowhere area of the South in which I live. Then, opportunity knocked: this spring Mrs. Matheo and I took a trip out to Arizona to see our old friends and guildies, Red and Pinky. I told Red about my new thing, and he knew of only one shop at the Scottsdale Fashion Square that might have what I was looking for.

 

I’ve always considered myself a die-hard Southerner, but Arizona in the springtime is vurrry nice. The whole Mesa/Phoenix/Tempe supercomplex was fun and very artsy. Their interstates are decorated with geckoes and sidewinders; ours are decorated with chunks of tire and McDonalds bags. Everything I could ask for was there, in a nice grid layout, without everything being named Peachtree. At night there were no bugs, and everywhere was bathed in the scent of neroli. It’s so hot there right now that Satan goes back to Hell for a cool breeze, so it ain’t all great, but I could totally see myself out there.

 

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Off Red and I went on a one-hour roadtrip, during which I found out why folks call it “Snottsdale”. About five minutes after walking into the mall, I was certain I’d be getting escorted out because the security scanners had run my credit upon entry. We peered amazed into the Tesla store, hit Sur La Table and left nose prints and drool on the knife displays (oooh Shuns), and then we made for our target, Indian Market.

We walked in, and sure enough there was a rack of flutes behind the counter. The very nice shopkeeper saw my eyes gravitate to it, and she handed me a piece of plastic tubing. I asked for the biggest flute, plugged in the hygienic tube and did a little improv, very aware that I was playing in public for the first time. “I should hire you to play out front,” she said, smiling. “What a nice lie,” I replied jokingly.

 

Apparently, I had stumbled across a High Spirits flute. Oh baby, it was nice: turquoise cabochons, carvings, and a lacquer job like it was dipped in liquid glass. I think the shopkeeper said it was a G, but I got distracted by how full and lovely the tone was. Then I got very quickly undistracted by the 230.00 price tag. “But I can take off 10 percent,” she said quickly. I felt bad for her; high-dollar musical instruments don’t fly off the shelves in knickknack shops, and she was genuinely trying to make the sale, but I just couldn’t spend that kind of cash and feel okay about it. I very gingerly handed back the lovely flute and bought this 30-dollar ironwood carving of a bear as a consolation prize, for both her and me.

 

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I love his amazed and baffled expression. It’s basically how I look at the world.
Though I was financially thwarted, it did confirm my suspicion that I prefer, both in flutes and women, something meatier. It was time to buy, but this time I’d be dropping what is for me some serious coin. I was also determined that I wasn’t going to go whole hog and blow tons of cash on a new thing. I had done that in the past, when I was younger, more impulsive, and had slightly disposable income at my sole command. Nowadays I’m beholden to the CFO for my spending, and I can’t just say, “Well, whores will have their trinkets” like Bernard Black would.

 

After a great deal of research I decided to go with Stellar flutes. I listened to their YouTube videos of all the different keys, and I went with an F, the lowest key they offer in their quite reasonable Basic line. I submitted my order, which totaled about 113 bucks with shipping, and was filled with anticipation. You know, I think suicidal people should buy things online. It would definitely be harder to kill myself if I were expecting a package. I’d have the toaster all plugged in and ready for a swim in the tub, and then I’d think to myself, “Y’know, I have that Amazon package coming. It’d be shame to miss it.”

 

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This is a big ‘ol flute, but again, it’s marveously light, and sounds as good as the arm holding it is hairy and pale–which is to say, very good.
Anyway, it arrived much sooner than I thought, considering it came all the way from Washington state. When I first got it out of the shipping tube, I was amazed at how light it was. My Big Bear is made out of some kind of hardwood, but this is eastern cedar, and it felt much more delicate, almost like a toy, but it’s a good bit tougher than it feels. I put it to my lips, and this un-toylike, mournful tone flowed out, clear and crisp. It sounds a lot more serious than the Big Bear. It’s really hard for me to make up happy tunes on it because they just don’t seem to fit its personality. It does really well with slow improvs and long, ringing notes. All in all I’m super pleased with my Stellar, and I hope to add more from them to my collection.

 

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The maker’s mark and production date, not stamped but written on with a Sharpie. I love this simple, personal touch. I like to think Lily wrote it just for me.

 

Now we come to a point of contention among some flute enthusiasts: Stellar Flutes does not market their creations as “Native American flutes”; that branding is reserved for flutes that meet requirements set forth by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Therefore, Stellars are “Native American style flutes”. To some this is a deal breaker, but I honestly couldn’t care less. They put the heart, respect and care into the work, and that gets my money. There are of course Native American makers out there that do online sales, but not lots, and even fewer with very accessible pricing. I did manage to find one, but that’s another post  😉

 

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I’d say I’ve got large hands and long fingers, but the reach on this one is quite unforgiving, and I often make mistakes with the lowest notes and get odd sqwonks and such out of it.

 

Since I’ve talked about the Arizona trip that really got me started down the road to wanting another flute, I thought it would be a good idea to center my next video around the other reason we were in Scottsdale: I wanted to visit Taliesin West. I’ve always loved Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to see his winter home, especially since it was an hour away from Red and Pinky’s place in Mesa. We’ve all seen images of Wright’s work, but the 3D experience is totally worth admission. I was amazed at the serenity, the care that had been taken not to impose a building on the land, but to build in harmony with the environment. Seeing one of Wright’s masterpieces in person nourished my soul, and I hope these images can do the same for you.

 

“Get on it and go”: Big Bear High C

That NAF video stuck with me, and I began to use it whenever things were getting on top of me. I began to listen to R. Carlos Nakai and Mary Youngblood. I began to watch some of the NAF YouTubers out there, like Allen Bruce Ray, Christopher Ciccone and Charlie Mato-Toyela. Please do click the links and check out their videos. These gentlemen take the time to answer questions and respond to their comments, which to me is a sign of respect for their audience, something that seems to be the rule rather than the exception in the NAF community.

As the months went on, I became more and more interested in this instrument, but a part of me nagged, “Oh yay–another instrument. How long on this one? I give it a month.” The stress management aspect really drew me in. I found it hard to imagine a flute player freaking out about anything. Or listening to the demotivational coach in their heads.

(Yes, I could say “flautist” or “flutist”, but flautist sounds very classical and starched, like a symphony tux. And flutist sounds like a superlative adjective, indicating that something has reached peak flute: “This all-piccolo orchestra is the flutist.” Flautist will henceforth describe someone who makes flautas–end of discussion.)

I found out about a powwow happening in my old hometown, so I thought that I might be able to at least meet the instrument, shake hands, and see if we get along. Andy wanted to come along, and  I thought it would be a quite good bonding thing and a way to introduce him to native cultures. After a long car ride (by his standards), and a few tense minutes of wondering if I might actually be lost in the county I grew up in, we made it to the campground and paid our admission.

As luck would have it, there was a gentlemen selling flutes. I remember he was an older man, friendly, and his flutes were organized highest to lowest (and of course most expensive), but his gear topped out at  about 65 clams, which I now know in the NAF world is super affordable. I was a bit intimidated, so I picked up the cheapest one he had, which turned out to be this very unassuming high C:

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I couldn’t tell you what the wood is. All I know is that it’s lacquered, the finger holes are burned in, and it cost 30 bucks.

As I picked it up, he said, “There isn’t a right or wrong way to play it. You just get on it and go.” This struck me as odd. I expected him to say something like, “It takes years to develop any skill on this,” or at least “Practice makes perfect.”At the time my research hadn’t gone into the philosophy of playing an NAF.

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This is all I know about the maker. I’m planning to go back this year, and I’ll try to get more info.

I’d love to tell you that the first notes were where I fell in love, but that’s not what happened. At the time, it sounded like a wooden recorder, which is not bad at all, but I really didn’t know what I was holding. His other, deeper flutes had more ornate totems, combinations of woods, and higher pricetags, but I figured that 30 dollars wouldn’t put me in too deep, and I was supporting a small business, so why not?

I thanked the vendor and left the stall to think about the purchase. We wandered around, tuning in and out to the tribal dances behind us. Andy bought some agate at one stall, and he was fascinated by the flint knapper and the deer hides he had hung up.  Before we left, I went back by and bought the little flute I had tried out. As we left, Andy turned to the powwow and said in that carrying voice that only kids have, “Bye bye, Indians!” I hurried him to the car amidst smiles and chuckles from the assembled tribespeople.

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As you can see, it’s got a very minimalist totem on it. In fact, today is the first day I’ve ever taken it off.

So the flute came home and made itself ready to mend my bruised and battered soul–and spent a lot of time alone on my computer table. I would toot on it a bit and then let it sit. I sensed it had secrets to unlock, but I just didn’t know how to get at them. I think what initially put me off was its high tone. I find instruments in the high registers rather annoying, and I assume others do to,which is most likely my imagination. It took other flutes to bring me around to my first.

Today, we’re quite happy together. I’m learning how to make a high instrument work, how to put together improvisations that it likes. This little guy motly sounds happy to me, but he can sound lonely too, especially when I imagine myself sitting on the desert floor in an Arizona canyon, with high, cold stars wheeling over my head, and the blank nothing of a mountain gaping nearby.

This brings me to my sub-project. I’ve reached a point where I want to make a contribution to the musical conversation out there. Writing about flutes can only take that so far; I need to go out on a limb and start playing, and I feel that the flute community would be an excellent place to do so because of its kind and supportive nature. I’ve decided to make a short video for my flutes and let you really hear what each one is like.

But after doing some preliminary videos, just stuff around the house, I’ve discovered that I can’t make a video that I appear in. I just can’t. It doesn’t look right to me because I hate seeing myself on video. So the audio you hear is indeed my playing, and is indeed the flute describe above, but the video are some images from my own archives. All the sound and video work was done with free apps, and the quality probably isn’t what it ought to be, but hell, I’m trying, and that’s what matters. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Anatomy of a Thing

Most of my life, I’ve had things. Other people call them hobbies or obsessions, but probably the best description in my case is a thing. When I was in college it was music and playing bass. Lately, it’s been WoW and gardening. With these it’s very hard to trace where they began. I’ve always loved video games, gardening and music, and the beginnings of those loves are lost in my own pre-history. But with my newest thing I want to try to trace the very beginning of it all right here, and follow its evolution as it happens. It’s my new project, and I like projects.

It started last summer while grading. I hate grading papers. I would rather grade 100 exams than papers. For those of you who thought that your teachers loved grading papers, let me pop that illusion right now. Real teachers like teaching, getting in the classroom and making you smarter. Evaluating you is just part of the gig. Grading papers is to English teachers what the act of emptying the catbox is to indoor cat owners. While it’s not our favorite thing to do, it is a necessary byproduct that can’t be ignored.  And if it is your favorite thing to do, you’re just fucking creepy.

Anyway, I was getting less and less motivated to keep plowing though the latest intellectual abortion to cross my desk, so I went into YouTube to find my favorite ambient meditation video. After it finished playing, I saw this lovely green forest image in the suggested videos, so I gave it a click.

The flute I heard was more soothing than anything I’d ever encountered before, and staring at that lovely emerald image calmed me down and helped me focus and get through the mental colonoscopy of grading my 26th paper about Poe. Not even Enya can smooth me over like flute music. Give it a listen, and you’ll agree it’s not like the European idea of a transverse flute or recorder. There’s something to this, something deep and ancient and spiritual.

This got me interested in Native American flutes (NAFs) in general. I started reading about what simple instruments they are, how easy they are to play, and how they’re being used to help people with anxiety, PTSD and traumas. I also noticed how different the YouTube comments for NAF players were. They were all supportive and very positive, not the normal hate faucet you see splattering all over even the most universally agreeable videos. Then I started wanting one. You see, I’ve spent my entire life wandering from instrument to instrument, from bass to recorders to Irish whistles, looking for the one that I can pick up and be a god on in ten seconds or less. Strangely, my search has yet to yield such an instrument.

For instance, I always sort of wanted to learn piano, but it’s so intimidating, both in expense and instruction time. I have images of sauntering over to tickle the ivories at a party and get the crowd going with “Tiny Dancer”, but that doesn’t come easily. It usually means being the victim of a piano teacher who somehow escaped Nuremberg, who corrects my posture with a cattle prod and screams, “Now play!” After two years I’ll be able to stumble through “The Wheels on the Bus” like a drunk toddler, and I’ll hate myself for my lack of commitment and failure to meet my impossibly-high goals. Bloody hell, I can get a gym membership for far cheaper and get the same end result.

But the NAF is different. Granted, my untutored fumblings with recorders and tin whistles laid a groundwork, but this really is an instrument you just pick up and go with. If you’re playing from the heart, you’re doing it right.

So that’s how my interest started. My next post will be the next step down the road to a new thing.

WoD Beta: I Believe We Can Fly

So, I got into the beta, as part of the WoW veterans group. It’s about time that playing since before Sunwell got me somewhere.

It’s fun, really. My level 91 copied character got wiped in the last patch, so I’ve been piddling around with a premade 100 DK. I’m having tremendous fun riding around on mounts I’ll never, ever be cool/lucky/time travely enough to own on live. And looking for bugs, rigorously testing quests and dungeons, and other essential tasks, trust me. But this riveting info isn’t why I’m writing. I think I’ve stumbled onto something rather big.

Much has been made recently of flying in Draenor: will we ever be able to, if so, then when, etc. About a week ago, I was in Flight Form in Stormwind on the beta server, and after speaking to the giant Khadgar, I was ported to the ship event and put into humanoid form. I spoke to less-impressively-statured Khadgar, and the cinematic rolled, and I was deposited in Shadowmoon Valley–in Flight Form.

So I began flying. Screenshots or it didn’t happen, you say?

No problem.

WoWScrnShot_072114_213510 WoWScrnShot_072114_213523 WoWScrnShot_072114_213506I puttered around a bit, and then reported the flying as a bug. About five minutes later, there was a server restart. Probably coincidence, but still.

Now, this suggests that even if Blizz doesn’t allow flying, the capacity to do so is there. They’ve designed Draenor with the option to fly in mind, which is very heartening for those who love to fly and who spent all that money to get out there into the wild blue yonder and break the sound barrier. Not that I really care on way or t’other; being grounded doesn’t bother me, as it puts everyone on more equal footing when farming for ore and herbs or trying to complete quests.

Has anyone else seen this phenomenon? If so, let me know in the comments.

In Defense of a Simple Joy

Admit it: you ARE slightly jelly, bro.

A few weeks ago, I found myself at McIntosh Reserve, one of the best-kept secrets in my area. In spring, it’s a simply gorgeous place, with cool, quiet camping sites right near the river, trees in every shade of green imaginable, and Atamasco lilies blooming at Council Bluff. It’s one of those places that has a spirit, and I can feel that spirit best when the weather is warm. It’s the kind of place that gives me a hug when I get out of the car. Crowds usually aren’t too bad there, either.

No, wait. Forget everything I just said. It’s a crappy place, full of poison ivy and hawk turds plummeting from the sky. Yeah, don’t go there. Ever. Stay away.

One of the simple pleasures I indulge in while at the Reserve is hiking, running, and strolling “soles out,” as it were. I’ve been on the trails, along the camping areas, and recently on a couch-to-5K run in the large field adjacent to the river, all barefoot. And I loved every minute of it.

Something happens, something simple and old and charming, that I can’t get if I’m not touching the ground. It’s hard for me to be mean or too far into my head when I’m standing there, between earth and sky. I feel small, among the huge oaks and stones of the reserve. Not small in a bad way, small in the sense of being in my place in the world, in that environment. I feel…natural.

Instead of pushing nature away with walls and screens and wifi, I’m part of it. I hesitate to use the term “earthing”; I’m not sure that I’m ready to venture down that free-market-granola-strewn path just yet. When you talk about conducting magical electric earth energy, people look at you strangely, even more strangely than they did when they inevitably noticed that you aren’t wearing shoes. I will say, however, that after I run barefoot, there’s this quite pleasant electric sensation from my knees down, like the muscles are happy or something.

Going barefoot is a quite nice cure for excessive introspection. One thing that you’ll notice is that you, well, notice more. It’s as if all your senses, not just touch, come to life, and suddenly you’re aware of the path in front of you. You’re evaluating how to negotiate that patch of gravel, or the particularly treacherous mud slick up ahead, the one that could make you perform an impromptu split if you’re not careful.

I hear you saying, “But what if I step in something gross or dirty?” If you step in something, be assured: you will die. You will fucking die. That’s been proven by science. Legions of our ancestors perished from dirt exposure, and you are no different. Same goes for your kids. If they get outside dirt on them, they’ll explode, right after looking at you with big, dewy eyes that silently scream, “Why did you let this happen to me?” Then boom. Kidfetti floating mournfully to the ground. I know it’s true, because the TV, the Playstation, and the superfattygreasy kid foods told me so.

Barefooting requires you to assess the terrain in front of you rather than literally roflstomping it while your mind grinds over the same bullshit it always does when you don’t have a screen going bippy-bip-bip in your face. You can’t think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines, or when you think you’re gonna die. You have to be there, present and in the moment. Think of it as cheap and easy Zen.

After a day like that, as I swing in my hammock down by the river and gaze up into the branches, I often find myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be like this all the time?”

I’d love to go barefoot everywhere, especially in weather like we have here right now. I desperately wish I were one of those people who truly does not give a rainbow-colored shit about what people think, but I’m not. I remember I have restrooms and nuclear-hot parking lots to negotiate today, so I slip my Crocs on and head out, knowing I’ll joyfully kick them off in the car, but also knowing I’ll dutifully put them back on for that trip into the drug store. Would I love it if I could wake up in the morning, get dressed, and step happily out my front door and run all of my day’s errands sans footwear, and not have anybody raise an eyebrow? Absolutely!



This is after a 30-minute run over a grassy field, sticks, and some stones. Do you see any blood or exposed bone? Then don't be afraid. Try it.

Some people find feet ugly or offensive. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that I grew appendages for the appraisal and consumption of the general public. You don’t want to see my feet? Well, I don’t necessarily want to run my eyes over your cottage cheesy thighs, or your husband’s hairy, bulging, exposed gut, or your grey roots that have grown out to the point that you look like a German shepherd. Or your face, which ain’t no oil painting.

But I have the civility to keep my mild distaste to myself, and not comment. People will go out of their way to tell someone that he or she ought to wear shoes in public, but let a woman walk in without a bra on, and the same thing will NOT happen. Not to say that going all chest-commando bothers me; I fully support jiggling in public; it’s going to be my foremost talking point when I run for office.

It’s the monocle-popping shock and horror that I find so irritating, so insanely out of proportion to the offense. I remember viewing a Today show video clip in which a panel of undeniable brain trusts was discussing people who take their shoes and (gasp) their socks off on long flights and dare to place their feet near someone else’s seat. From their scandalized tone and language, you’d think someone had carved out a pig’s anus, fresh from a carcass stowed in the overhead compartment, and draped it on an unsuspecting passenger’s shoulder during takeoff.

Granted, someone’s feet fresh out of a pair of shoes ain’t my idea of a good time either, but how bout some freakin’ perspective here: it just isn’t that bad. It’s at times like this that I realize we may be more repressed and puckerbutted in some areas than our Victorian forebears were.

Also, some say that going barefoot in public is disrespectful to the establishments that one visits.

Why?

HOW?

Am I tracking in any more or less dirt than if I were wearing shoes? Perhaps a little more, but that’s what those rugs at the entrance are for. With a thin layer of good, clean dirt on them, soles don’t pick up any more or less dirt than shoes would anyway.

Some would say that a barefoot patron would lower the tone of the establishment, thereby dissing the place hard, yo. Many is the time that I needed some laundry detergent and a Milky Way, and upon seeing a barefoot patron, I knew that dive just wasn’t up to my standards, and promptly left. I would rather reek of sweat and never know the taste of caramel again rather than lower myself to going to that seedy dump.

Is it because my naked flesh is in contact with their floors? Maybe that’s the dark side of the sensuous enjoyment of barefooting, that I am somehow getting some free, unregulated, untaxable enjoyment out of their virginal floors.



Kiwis and Aussies are so much more sensible about this than Americans. In the mall, barefoot, no problem. Try that in the States and you'll be in a straitjacket before you can finish your order.











Oh, Dollar General, your floors are so…cool. So smooth and perky. Look at that cheeky shine. They’re asking for it, all polished like that. I’m going to press my naked skin against them erotically with every step. They like that, I can tell. They may look all clean and white, but I’m not fooled. Filthy whore-floors. My stroll down the aisles is just foreplay. After I check out, I’m headed round back to find that naughty little air conditioning drainage outlet and do unspeakable things to it. I’m going to pound your store like a cheap hooker, and there no way you can charge me for the privelige because there isn’t a “building sex” key on your register!

I simply do not understand this argument, how flip-flops, two thin flaps of neoprene between the floor of my local store and me could be the threshold between Downtown Abbey civility and uncouth, discalced savagery. Of course, I know what it really is: it’s fear of legal action. They’re afraid that if someone gets hurt in the store, they’ll be liable. You know what I say to that?

Caveat planipes. Let the barefoot beware.

I understand that by not wearing shoes I am taking a risk. I could step on an errant piece of glass from that broken jar swept up weeks ago. I could tread on a bee in the parking lot median, or stub my toe on an endcap–and I am okay with this risk. If I get hurt, it’s my fault and my problem. Mea culpa.

Wow, you use one Latin phrase, and it just won’t stop.

I guess I’m saying that we need to reassess how we see going barefoot. It’s not dirty. It’s not disrespectful. And if it offends you, look the fuck away. It’s time to take back the simple, free joys of life. Get out of the screen, get out of your head, and get into some mud. I promise you’ll smile.

Continue reading “In Defense of a Simple Joy”

Catching Up: The Fam

Oh, hey. You're still here? Really?

Been coming by, just checking in? No? I'll just pretend you said yes, then.

Anyway, pull up a chair! Here, let me dust that off for you. Have a seat, and try to ignore that cobweb cheekily tickling your ear. Enjoy this suspiciously old chocolate bar that I left the last time I was in here, on the house. Yeah, just break that part off. Don't feel bad; I wouldn't eat that bit, either.

So, how's every little thing? Really? Fascinating. Yeah. Yeah. Uh-huh.

Me? I'm glad I imagined that you asked! Let me catch you up on everything.

Proto-Katie. I've learned that when they get loose, that's when the trouble starts.

 

 

Meet Katie. Wait, she looks quite different now. Let me get something more current.

Yes, she is pretty much this photogenic and happy all the time.

She's now 7 months old, and quite possibly the most spookily happy baby I've ever seen. If she's not lonely or hungry, she's cool with the world. She came in at 9 pounds, 2 ounces, and for a while she was worryingly coasting on her ample birth pudge, but her eating picked up, and she's currently both fat and happy. Someone once said that the best things in life are round, babies and bubbles being chief among these, and that's certainly true in her case.

Daughters are, to be sure, very different animals. For one thing, they are very different in the behind-the-diaper area. When she first got here, I wasn't at all prepared for the fact that she would have fully complete girl gear at Level 1. O.o

I don't know what I expected, but now that I've had time to think about it, here's what should happen: Girls should be born with just a date down there. Maybe the word “Mattel” too, but that's negotiable. At about 18 (or better yet 30) the Vagina Fairy should visit, tap these proto-women on the crotch with a magic wand, and bink, lady bits!

 

But no. Instead, I have to worry about every boy's magic wand, from now until the day I die.

/target Boyfriend
/cast Scare Beast

Andy tells people that Katie is his baby. We've agreed to not really be concerned about that for the future.

Andy? Andy's fine, thanks for asking. He's doing okay: hard-headed, negotiating, but sweet. He loves to make Katie laugh. For all of my worries about who he's going to become, I think he's going to grow up to be a compassionate person, a good person.

Now, now I understand the saying, “Boys will be boys”. He dashes all over the house, runs in circles (while wearing socks on a laminate floor) right in front of the brick fireplace, and was recently busted at school for jumping on his cot during nap time–all this from a boy whose parents were total teacher's pets in school! Today he stepped on a kid's finger, pulled the hair of a different kid, and hit still another one with a shoe, but it was okay because Andy didn't use his own shoe to do the deed. /sigh. It's hard to be angry with a kid who thrives on making you laugh; even his teachers have trouble disciplining him through the smoke bomb of charm he can toss.

How's WoW going? I'll save that for the next time I see you. When you come back, I'll have everything dusted and the Rainmate cranked up, I promise. I want to whip this place back into shape.

 

Roll with the Changes

Months ago, I had a voice in the back of my head whenever I would pause. It would say, “So I went out to Land’s End Beach…”

When a phrase keeps popping up in the background of my mind, unbidden, it could be two things. It could be evidence of my slipping grasp on reality, marking me out as someone who will eventually be put in a small room and looked at through a little window forever, only to be visited by my handlers and the occasional starry-eyed FBI cadet–or, it’s my mind trying to tell me something, and it wants this venue to do it.

I always liked Land’s End Beach. Before Uldum came along, it was the southernmost part of Kalimdor. I would ride out there old school, on a land mount, and sit with the nice neutral turtles, sure that I wouldn’t see anyone else, and just enjoy the utter solitude. This was before RealID, back when one could hop on a toon and hide from absolutely everyone.

I grabbed a portal to Uldum and flew out to Land’s End Beach. I wish I could say it was one of those areas completely untouched by the Cataclysm, but it’s not too bad. I found a spit of land and sat, waiting for…something.

It’s amazing how this digital world can evoke a sense of contemplation, like a real beach would. And as I looked around at the realistic water and dark sky, the things that I needed to talk to myself about came forward.

One, I wasn’t happy in my guild, where I had been for at least two years.

The reasons don’t really matter. It’s gauche to get into private details in a public venue. I left that guild not long after, and I must say I’m happier. It’s a chapter in my WoW story I really want to put behind me. I’ve learned painful but valuable lessons from the situation.

Two, (and this was hard to admit) I didn’t want to raid anymore.

I enjoyed raiding through BC, but the pinnacle of raiding for me was in Wrath. I originally joined my former guild at the beginning of Wrath because it offered more raiding opportunities, since they did 25-mans at the time. But the real attraction was that I didn’t have to raid lead; I just had to show up and let mobs hit me in the face. It was liberating, taking off a lot of pressure so that I could enjoy the game.

Then came Cataclysm, and the death of 25s. Three 10-man teams were formed, and I was asked by someone I respect very much to lead one of them. I was honored, flattered, and said yes. We did pretty well through Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight, but then came Firelands. To me, that was Blizz’ way of saying that casual 10-man raiding was going bye-bye. If you wanted to play at this level, it was all or nothing.

Firelands was not fun for me. The gimmick fights like Rhyolith, bosses that had to be spawned by killing legions of trash, and fights with more moving parts than ever before–this was the first point that I realized that I really didn’t like tanking a much as I used to.

Raiding went from “Oh good” to “oh God” very quickly after that. And as I’ve gotten older, gained more responsibility, and work has gotten to be problematic, I find myself less inclined to put up with my fun time not being very fun for me. I felt chained to my computer every Saturday night. Nonetheless, we did okay in Dragon Soul, got Deathwing down, and once we got tired of alting it up in there, I got a nice respite from raiding.

Then came Pandaland. Grind dailies, get gear to raid, and what do I hit first? Stone Doggies. Two years ago, that fight would have maddened me, but I would have relished buckling down and learning it. But when I was dragging myself to raid, it just made me want to stop. We got stalled. Raiders stopped showing up. I sunk deeper into depression. Finally, my wife and I made the decision that raiding wasn’t for us anymore.

Almost all of our raiders understood and respected our decision, and I count those individuals as valued friends. Others, however, simply…moved on, as easily as flipping a switch. Sometimes I wonder if the connections in WoW are real, or if they’re just based on what one person can do or be for another, and when that dynamic changes, they’re simply done with you. It leaves one with the sense that through all the wins and wipes, it wasn’t the people that mattered, that they were simply flesh blobs behind a monitor, meant to facilitate access to mounts and titles and purples.

That the raiding is what matters, and not with whom one raids.

People say that WoW is an addiction, and up until now I used to consider that view a tongue-in-cheek joke, but now I’m not so sure. Think about it: a junkie would get high with Hitler and Kim Jong Il as they took turns feeding kittens into a woodchipper, as long as they had also had quality drugs to offer. Maybe that’s why some players aren’t too picky about the quality of human they raid with.

And no, I certainly have not discounted the possibility that I’m the problem here. Maybe I’m too picky. I’m certainly no prize pig as a player or as a person.

All day long I have to deal with in-fighting, politics, and a campus system that makes even the smallest decision a paralyzing ordeal of phone meetings, where some consensus must be made but never is. And I’m not talking about my students yet. They’re their own barrel of monkeys. I need my play time to be relaxing, rewarding and refreshing, because God knows I’ll get very little of it once Katie gets here.

I’ll get to Katie later. One thing at a time.

In any event, somewhere along the line my view of this game has undergone a massive shift.

I used to pore over Elitist Jerks, agonize over armor penetration, and think nothing of spending four hours on perfecting a boss fight. I’d have to say that now my attitude is more relaxed, more “good enough”. If I am Blizzard’s unwanted casual, so be it. It’s all going down with the next raid tier, the next expansion, the next shinies to chase. Fuck the hamster wheel. I can’t see the need anymore, or the joy in it.

So why do I keep playing this game? I’ve found something that does make me happy again ;).

Review: Gil Hibben Large GenX Pro Throwers (GH5029)

So, here we go, my first knife review! As a novice, am I qualified to review a knife competently? Good question. Is anyone on the Internet really qualified to do anything?…Other than him. Okay, other than her. Look, just shut up and read…

Hibbens have always fascinated me; they seem to be the Nikes and Rolexes of throwing knives, so I really wanted to see what their knives are about after owning a Hibben axe. The first Hibbens I bought were these 8.5 inch, 5 ounce throwers.

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To be honest, I don’t like them. They have decent weight, but the length makes it hard to distance them for reliable sticking, neither at the short nor long distance-marks for the throwers I already owned. I needed a knife that was about the same length as my faves, which led me to the more expensive but comparably-lengthed GenX series. There are three designs in this line: tanto, dagger, and…well, these.

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Bowie? Kukri? Whatever it is, it’s cool.

These knives are big. No, you don’t understand–they are big. At 11 inches and 11.8 ounces, you will feel it after an hour of tossing them.

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This is one seriously massive piece of metal.

One nice thing about these knives is that, unlike every other thrower I’ve bought, these shipped to me quite dull, which makes them a very nice candidate for blade throwing right out of the box, with no need to neuter the knife with a file.

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You can see that the design and weight give it plenty of power. Notice how wide the mark is, almost like an axe blade.

Take a look at the tip. It’s more of a wedge than a point, which means I pretty much have to hit the target straight-on to get a stick. I also have to throw these beasts with a good deal more muscle than I have to use with any of my other blades. But when they hit, it sounds like the Hibben axe, and the target shakes like I walked up and punched it.

I suppose that the knives are designed to be thrown using the Hibben technique, which may be why they sometimes tumble en route to the target. I really should read his book…at some point.

I do like the scalloping on the handle, both because it lightens this quite massive blade and also for the comfort the scoops provide.

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For being so heavy, it’s really a comfortable knife to throw.

All in all, I would buy these again. The weight takes some getting used to, but it’s very satisfying to sink these big boys three in a row, and I’m pleased to have found a Hibben knife that I like. Take a look at the GenX series; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The House of Flying Daggers

When we last spoke, I had just set up my target and was ready to start putting holes in it. First, I wrapped the knife handles with the green tape, as I had many a tense half hour in my youth searching for a knife that I had cast into leaf litter. Remind me to move to red tape for summer.

Through trial and error, I found a distance from which I could stick the majority of my throws and began to work from there. I throw from the handle; I know that many more people are blade throwers, but when one’s knives show up sharp enough to remove a finger, it just makes more sense to use the handle. This also allows me to throw any knife, dull or sharp, without the action feeling strange.

When I first started throwing, I had a table set up near the target so that I could array the knives and keep them off the ground. Then it occurred to me that my system was rather inefficient. Why didn’t I just use the sheaths they came with, you ask? They are nice leather, and in the case of the Bökers, the fit is very tight, and I didn’t want to muck them up with mud and leaf litter.

I needed something sturdy enough to stand up to the blades and loose enough to allow me to draw and store them easily. To my mind, that required a trip to Home Depot to get a toolbelt. After perusing the leather models and finding myself unable to justify the price, I settled on this $7.00 Husky utility pouch and a nylon belt.

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I am now offically certified ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

As you can see, the pouch rides quite low on my hip, like a gunslinger’s holster, which naturally means that I find myself, instead of drawing back and carefully taking aim, throwing knife after knife as quickly as I can let them fly, savoring the Hollywood sound of ringing metal. Now I throw both for accuracy, and to see how fast I can put a dagger into the heart of that oncoming zombie 😉

Enough backstory–Let’s meet the family, shall we?

Boker Bo-kri

Böker Mini Bo-kri

I got these because they were big knives, had a cool shape, and best of all were only about 20 bucks. I’m not even going to grace the site I bought them from with a mention. Terrible people. Incidentally, these are the knives that Glimmer uses in the movie version of The Hunger Games, probably because the design makes them look extra wicked. Or was that Clove? Cute girls held knives–that’s all I remember for sure. Anyway, when these guys stick, you know they hit. When I get back from the target, they sound much like my axe, sinking with a solid, satisfying thunk that I’m sure the neighbors can hear.

Kit Rae Black Jets

Kit Rae Black Jet Dagger

When I saw these, my jaw dropped and the 12-year-old boy in me squealed at the top of his lungs. I would say that these are what really launched my knife throwing renaissance. They are simply gorgeous, and if I had gotten them as a kid, I would have kept them in a box and only brought them out to polish them and call them my preciouses. I’ve always been partial to daggers, I suppose because of their design unabashedly screams their use: Single-blade knives can pass as respectable, but daggers are only for dark and nefarious purposes, and they don’t care who knows it. Very much like rogues, now that I think of it…

The etching on the blade gives them a real fantasy feel. While they may look delicate, they are actually large knives and quite tough, for all the abuse I’ve put them through. They stick very well and feel great to throw, but they do have a couple of downsides. The finger choil areas have very sharp edges and can easily cut if I grab the knife carelessly. They make the knives look epically cool, so I can forgive the occasional scratch. Second, they arrived very sharp, like the Bokers, but they soon dulled to a safe level. All in all, I think I’d buy more Kit Rae items again.

Gil Hibben Axe

Gil Hibben Throwing Axe

I bought this one off of a friend who was moving away. I imagine at the time he paid quite a chunk of cash, as Gil Hibben had just started to take off as a reputable name then, but all I had with me was twelve bucks. Still, home it went, for he was a desperate man who needed some quick cash. I would feel bad about fleecing him, but when I look at the axe my morality suddenly becomes rather slippery. It’s been under my side of the bed for years now, but when I built the target, I remembered it and streaked to the bedroom to gleefully unsheath it and hurl it at some pine.

One thing I will say about axes: they will tear the crap out of a target. The Hibben is a heavy piece of steel, and when it hits, stick or not, the force is enough to knock the boards loose from their nails. And if the same area of the board gets hit, the chunks start flying, and this can be the result:

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Ouch…sorry tree.

So there’s my new hobby. I hope to indulge in it more as the weather warms up. Next time, I may write a review of one or two of my recent acquisitions.