Thursday, November 22, 2018

Two Small Steps

I was never much of a runner. In my youth my cardio of choice was swimming. I could swim, literally, for kilometres and not be tired. When I was training to be a lifeguard, I’d get into the pool 30 minutes early and swim an easy 40 or 50 lengths. At 25 meters a length, 40 was already a kilometre, so anything extra was just showing off.


But ask me to run a few hundred meters and I’d be wrecked. 

And that was back when I was fit. When I started boxing earlier this year, I most certainly wasn’t fit. So, after a warm up routine of high knees, jumping jacks, fast feet and more, asking me to run around the block was torture. The first night we had to do that, I could hardly breath when I got back in the door, and I hadn’t even managed to stay running the whole time. I could barely swallow some water between the gulps of air my body was taking in and felt genuinely nauseous. 

Skip forward a few weeks and I’m really enjoying the circuit classes, making big improvements over time. The post-warm up run isn’t every class, but when we do it, I’m getting consistant with my performance, heading out the door toward the front of the pack and ending toward the middle. This makes me very happy. 

Then one evening there’s only eight in the class. We do our warm up and Sean tells us to run around the block while he sets up the circuit. I’m second out the door, but take the lead just after the first corner. I try to keep a steady pace as I head around the back of the gym. As I round the last corner, I realize I’m still in the lead. I have no idea how close the rest are, and I’m not willing to glance back to find out. My heart is pumping, my legs are straining, but the front door is in sight. With one final burst I break for the end and round the corner into the gym. 

Sean turns and spots me, shouts “Denis! You did it!” and gives me a huge high-5. It feels fucking great! 

The following week we have the biggest class attendance up to that point. 23 members present from the start. Sean orders a run and we all file out. I’m in the top five out the door, and my performance the previous week is fresh in my mind. Rounding the second corner that leads to the back of the gym, I start to speed up and one by one, take the lead. On the third corner I can hear the steady rhythm of another set of feet behind me. As we round the last corner and start for the door to the gym, I can hear breathing just over my left shoulder. I push forward, focusing solely on the door but hearing the heavy breathing of someone right on my heels. 

I burst in the door and Sean is delighted to see me again, congratulating me on my continued improvements. I stop and turn to the guy behind me. I’m breathing just a bit deeper than resting breaths.

Thanks for the push. I could hear you behind me and it made me keep going.

Between gulping breaths he responds “I was just trying to stay close to you and you kept on going faster.

Related:
One Small Step

On Friends And Friendship: Part 2: SHUX

Attending the first ever Shut Up & Sit Down convention, SHUX in 2017 was a joyous experience. I walked in knowing very few people and left knowing many more and feeling worse for the fact that I only got to see them for three days.

I got in to SHUX 2018 at 8am Friday morning. Well, technically, I got in at 7pm Thursday evening, when I went in to deliver a pile of my game collection to the library for the weekend. What was supposed to be a quick in and out delivery turned into something a bit longer as I stopped to say hello to lots of familiar faces, mostly local gamers volunteering at various demos.

But back to Friday morning, where three days of magic was about to begin.


Like I said, I got in to SHUX 2018 at 8am Friday morning. I marched along the long hallway leading to the entrance and was stopped halfway by a friend calling my name. Not even in the door and everything was already looking up. We went in together, flashed our badges at security, the lovely and always amazing SHUX volunteer force, and headed for the huge open gaming table space. We picked a completely random end table along one isle and set ourselves up.

Within minutes I had become reacquainted with friends from a year ago, as well as meeting in person someone I had been connected with over twitter. This was made very easy as I had immediately set up Inis on the table and as teaching it, and everyone knew I was the Inis guy from last year[1].

That table become our home for the next three days. Every morning we all met up there. Throughout the day we’d drift around, playing games at other tables, or teaching groups around the hall, but that was our home. And as the convention passed, the number of people that frequented that table grew. Some of us would join another game and then bring back people from that game to our table to play something else. People would walk past and see us playing something epic and stop to talk about it, or join in if there was still a seat free. I asked everyone that walked within earshot if they wanted to play the ever growing Karuba, until finally I had a full collection of eight players! Twice!!

And when things got quiet, late in the evening, our spot was still open and inviting. I sat down to play Fog of Love with a friend around 8pm Saturday and as we were setting up a random attendee dropped by to check it out. We invited him to sit in and relax for a bit and enjoy the unfolding chaos. Over the slow metal down of my relationship with Brent, we both became friends with TJ.

SHUX is a magical convention. People from all over the world come to Vancouver to play games and I get to meet as many of them as I can. On the last night, after we had been kicked out of the hall, myself, Jordan and Richard joined my wife and my our kids for a meal. Claire had met up with the wife of one of the gamers attending SHUX and they had gone to the aquarium for the day to hang out, and they joined us for the meal. And so it was that I got to meet John and his wife and their infant son right at the tail end of SHUX, and became friends with them too. John and I immediately bonded over each of our wives telling us to look out for the each other, and being equally perplexed at how we should accomplish that in a hall over approximately 1,700 gamers.

Saying goodbye at the end of the meal, especially to Jordan and Richard, in whose company I had spent the entire previous three days, was tough. I truly think of them as great friends. I know I probably won’t see them for another year, but by God, I can’t wait for SHUX 2019 when I get to hang out with all my great friends again!

[1] I had taught the game nine times over the three days of SHUX 2017

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Digital Era

Having completed eight months of Mariner Moles in my sketch pad, Claire felt it was time I upped my game. I was really enjoying it and really liked my greyscale art, utilizing a whole range of grey shades of markers. I even have a “Warm Black” and a “Black”. Can I tell the difference? Nope! 


My birthday was imminent and Claire invested in upgrading my iPad. I have used my Apple tablet every day since I got my first one, an iPad 2, way back in Christmas 2011. Literally. Every single day. I email, tweet, watch YouTube and Netflix, read ebooks, surf the web, skype, stream music, listen to podcasts, play games and more. It’s always in my backpack when I go out and it charges every night on my bedside drawer. 

I’ve owned an iPad 2, and then an Air and I’ve loved them both. With the launch of the Gen 6 iPad that was compatible with the Apple Pencil, I looked into upgrading to that, but having tried it out and talked to Apple Store staff and friends, it was clear that I needed the Pro. 

In the weeks before I got my iPad Pro and Pencil I poured over every tutorial I could find on how to use Procreate, especially this ten-part series from Art and Design. I learned all the shortcuts, strengths, and shortcomings and how to get around them. I learned how to draw comics in Procreate, how to colour and add flair to the images. I watched the videos over and over such that, on the first day I got the Pro at home, after installing all my apps, I opened Procreate and produced my first digital Mariner Moles that first night. 

This one was a lot of fun to do. As the first comic, I learned a lot about digital art. Mostly I learned that I never remember to start a new layer until I’m five minutes past the point I should have done it. I had to erase so much good work throughout this strip in particular because I put in on the wrong layer and couldn’t adjust it later. But in the end, I’m very happy with it. Those YouTube tutorials were amazing and allowed me to jump right in at the deep end, already knowing how to doggy paddle. 

I also learned how to make a Pallet in ProCreate and spent a very short time building a Moles pallet of greys and the colours I use for the sketch layers under the inks. The greys are just from 10% to 90% and then black. Easy peasy. 

Some of the comics are better than others. I find it tough to come up with a gag every month. I’ve developed even more respect for the creators who do this on a weekly or even daily basis. I hammer my head against nothing all month and then usually come up with something at the last possible second, drawing it from beginning to end the night before submissions are due. 


I’m not overly happy with this joke, but I do really like the fishy in the mole hole in the header. So there’s that at least. 

This is my most recent effort, and I very proud of it. The gag came to me while I was doodling the costumes for the moles, trying a few different things on. Once I drew Doug as a ghost, the whole thing kind of fell into place. Scoop makes a great Pac-Man, and the comic comes back full circle to the moles destroying the garden again. I also like the pumpkin at the side, and the skeleton arm in the mole hole. 

In fact, drawing those little suplimentary gags for the headers are a lot of fun in themselves, and they’re usually the last thing I do before signing off on the strip. 

I hope to keep drawing these two for a while to come and it’ll be fun to look back at those first sketchbook strips and see my characters evolve. Maybe some day Ada or Connor will draw one for me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

One Small Step

When I started boxing fitness my plan was to enjoy it and get fit, but accepted that it is a slow process. I wasn’t going to be able to do ten pull ups after the first week, and if that was my hope, I was going to be bitterly disaapppointed and disheartened. Instead I set out with a goal of doing one thing slightly better each time, one thing faster, heavier, stronger.


Lots of small steps.

Many of the exercises look easy when the instructor does it. He makes it look effortless. One of the exercises that looked so easy to do involved the resistance band. It was tied around an overhead bar and you had to kneel under it, hold the band behind you head at the back of your neck and then simply bend over and touch your elbows on your knees.

I tried so hard to do it the first night it was part of the circuit. I strained and struggled and couldn’t seem to bend at my waist at all. Same thing the second night. On the third night, the instructor told me to kneel down more, to rest my butt on my heels and instead of bending with my back, crunch using my abs. I knelt down, sunk into position, grabbed the resistance band and crunched my abs.

Slowly, my elbow drew closer to my knees. I grunted loudly and exhaled as much as I could. I felt my abs crunch even more and start to complain, but I held on. Finally, my right eldow pressed against my knee. That burst of excitement at getting that far after so much failure pushed me to pull my weaker left side down, inch by inch. I touched my left knee, grunted loudly in satisfaction and slowly released the tension.

I managed it twice more on the second set and went home feeling on top of the world.

It’s moments like this that keep me going back. Small steps, big progress.

Related:
Two Small Steps

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stan Lee

I am the person I am today in no small part thanks to Stan Lee. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to diminish the influence of my parents, grandparents, friends and family. They were all part of my upbringing too. It’s just that, as a kid, I loved comics, and I loved Marvel Comics more than any other.

Through the characters he created, Stan taught me that everyone deserves love, respect and happiness, regardless of nationality, skin colour, race or creed, or any other defining trait. Treat everyone with respect and expect to receive respect in return. Likewise, don’t tolerate hatred. Stand against those who would hurt others. Don’t allow bullies to win.

Anyone can be someone’s hero. You don’t have to be big or muscular or possessing super flight to do good deeds. Small actions speak volumes to those they affect. And enough small deeds can change the world.

You don’t have to be rich or an alien or a godess to do good, though getting bitten by a spider, dosed with lethal radiation or filled with an untested chemical serum helps. But it normal people who are pure of heart that make the world better.

Respect your elders. Respect your partners. Respect your teachers and your mentors. And when you make it remember that you didn’t get there alone and don’t ever think that you and you alone are deserving of anything. Work hard for what you want and honour those that got you there and those that keep you there.

May his memory be a blessing.

Monday, November 12, 2018

On Illness And Immortality

We’re all invincible until we get injured.
We’re all immune until we get sick.
We’re all immortal until we die.

We are terrible about talking about anything to do with illness or death. We hate being reminded of our own frailty and mortality and distinct lack of invincibility. But yet, we all have to deal with it at some point, and many of us already deal with it in silence. As soon as you open up to someone, you discover more often than not that they’re going through something relatable too, or know a close friend or family member that is, and appreciate the chance to talk about it.

I learned through the openness of a friend about his own cancer battle that talking about illness is really helpful for everyone. The same goes for any medical condition. As soon as I bring up miscarriages with friends, it seems that everyone has their own story to tell, just no-one wants to be the one to bring it up, but it’s a huge relief to talk about it, even years after. Bottling anything up inside is never is good. Better to have it out in common conversation where people are comfortable mentioning it or asking questions.

But it is hard. I tell people I’m totally fine talking about my Parkinson’s, which is mostly true, but it’s still not easy to drop into conversation.

Could you pass the salt? I have Parkinson’s.
I like this seat in the movie theatre. Nice and central. Also, I have Parkinson’s.
Yes, I’ll take my meal to go, please. I have Parkinson’s.
Oh, I love Back to the Future. Speaking of Michael J. Fox, I have Parkinson’s.
And my favourite:
Shaky cam in movies is the worst! I get it on all my cell phone videos and it doesn’t cost me millions to produce. I have Parkinson’s.

See? Not that natural.

But when it does come up naturally, or in one of those very few times that someone has politely inquired about my noticeable tremor, then I can talk about, make a few jokes and answer any follow up questions to the best of my ability. Everyone comes away more relaxed.

Knowledge is power. Feel free to ask me about my condition next time we meet. We’ll all be happier for it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Board Games For Everyone

Last year I started to attend a board game meetup night in downtown Vancouver on a monthly basis. West End Game Night is a really fun and welcoming meetup hosted by some friends and even though it takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to get there, it is totally worth it. It’s a regular opportunity to play my favourite games and discover new ones, to hang out with friends and get a regular night to myself.

At the start of this year the call went out for applications for a Vancouver based grant to support small events in communities and neighbourhoods around the city. The Small Neightbourhood Grant program by The Vancouver Foundation is designed to provide support for projects that bring people together and nurture a community spirit.

My application was for a regular meetup in my neighbourhood in South Vancouver where people could come and play board games in a shared space, open and free to all. I live in Marpole, one of the older neighbourhoods in the Vancouver area, with a wide, diverse population. It’s also central for people travelling from Richmond, New Westminister, or Downtown.

I called it Marpole Meeples.

A local church was kind enough to give us access to their hall, a huge space with plenty of room for tables and chairs, which were provided in ample quantities.

Before the first event in May, I made sure all my friends knew about it. I emailed, texted and instant messaged everyone I had contact details for, even if we hadn’t spoken in a few years. My biggest fear was that I’d open the doors and have four people in this huge hall. Worst still would be four friends that I game with every other week. The whole point of Marpole Meeples was to meet new gamers in my neighbourhood and bring people from the community in to discover the joy of modern board games.

On the first night, I had thirty people show up, of which I knew maybe eight by name, another eight by face and the rest were brand new to me!! Success! As hoped, Marpole had a gamer community I hadn’t met yet, and they were coming out to join my meetup! Honestly, I had a said before that first night that I’d be happy with ten and delighted with twenty. Thirty was not even worth considering for our first night.

To date, I’ve run four Marpole Meeeple events and every one has been a success. We’ve been pretty consistent, with around 30 people gaming each night, and it’s a wonderfully warm and inviting group, with a nice selection of people bringing their own games to teach, as well as those just showing up to try something. I bring two full bags of my own games for people to use on the night, and there is always a great selection on offer among all the tables, with something to suit most levels and interests.

I learned from my friends that run the West End Games Night that the host shouldn’t play games, and I’ve taken that to heart. It’s my role to welcome people in, find out what level gamer they are and find them a table to join, or teach a game to a group if needed. I always have games like Azul, NMBR 9, Guillotine, No Thanks and Love Letter available, as I can teach them in just a few minutes, but I also make sure to pack some bigger games, like Quantum, Flamme Rouge or Sheriff of Nottingham for those who want a longer session. Marpole Meeples runs from 7pm until 10:30, so we have plenty of time for longer games. Just not Twilight Imperium.

When I dreamed this up I thought it would take us months to get to where we’ve been since the very first night. The support from the gaming community has been phenomenal, with people travelling to attend from all around. The financial grant support form the Neighbourhood Small Grant program allows us to keep Marpole Meeples completely free to all who walk in the door, as well as paying for the Meetup.com page, which has been a great success in drawing in new people. It also covers the donation we make to the church for the use of the space.

I’m so glad I get to share my passion for this great hobby of board and tabletop gaming with new faces every month. I’m so grateful of all those who attend in being so open and welcoming and inviting people to their tables.

Together we’ve build a beautiful addition to the Marpole Community and I look forward to it lasting many years.