Monthly Archives: February 2014


It’s been a while since I talked about my efforts to restart a fencing drill regiment at my local practice. Unfortunately, there’s a reason for that: things have kind of stalled out.

Things seemed to be going well before the winter holidays. General practice attendance was up, I was motivated, and people seemed interested in hearing what I had to say. But then the holidays came around, and people started having other commitments. Attendance dropped, down past what I felt was a critical mass for drills. And then, as attendance started coming back up, it was time to start doing melee drills for those people going to war. Long story short, we haven’t really done drills in several months.

I could keep coming up with excuses. But the reality is, I’ve dropped the ball. I got out of the habit of leading drills, and let my nervousness get the best of me. Say what you like, but it’s tough for me to waltz into a room and take control of the training environment. Especially when there may be people who seem more qualified than me there (read: white scarves). After all, how do I know what I’m talking about, or if what I have to say is of any use to anyone else? Maybe I’m just wasting my time…

These thoughts, of course, are not rational. But they’ve been gnawing away at my confidence, making it that much easier to push drills of until “next time.” Heck, it’s been so long that even I’m getting rusty on the curriculum I wrote. If I’m having to re-learn things each time, how can I expect to be able to teach it to others?

I’ve been trying to think of ways out of this slump. Writing about it is helping; once it’s down on the page, I can see how ridiculous it sounds. In fact, the voices of my friends start crowding my mind, trying to slap some modicum of sense into me. In fact, I’m already feeling more motivated to lead drills.

But that’s not the reason I started this post. My main concern (after self-confidence) is familiarity with the material. So here’s what I’m proposing: I’d like to use my next few blog entries to detail the curriculum my friend and I have developed. Right now, it doesn’t exist much beyond a few bullet points and diagrams in a notebook. It needs to be fleshed out, and I’ve been meaning to do so. Doing it here, in a more or less public environment, would mean that I can’t shirk my duty, that I would need to actually follow through with my intentions.

(This is what I do, see? I trick myself into productivity and gainful activity!)

So for those of you who read this blog and come to fencing practice: if you’ve been expecting drills, I’m sorry. I’ve dropped the ball, but I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m going to try to make it up to you, and hopefully end up with a better product for us all at the same time. As always, your feedback is welcome.

You Can Probably Skip This

And just like that, after two heavy, cerebral posts, I can’t think of anything to write about. I’m pretty sure I had ideas earlier in the day, but the fact that I’ve waited until the last possible moment to write before I need to head to practice means I won’t be able to put much thought into things.

That’s an odd Catch-22, isn’t it? I have things I want to write about, but I want to do it well (read: perfect), so I don’t write about them. Instead, I think about writing them, and this feel a small sense of accomplishment for not doing anything. Go me.

I used this strategy against my perfectionism a lot in school: if I waited until the last minute to do my homework, who could blame me if it wasn’t perfect? Not me, that’s for sure. A part of me has always wondered if I would have done any better in school if I had actually taken the time others suggested. That’s not to say I did poorly; I’m just woolgathering over might-have-beens.

And today wasn’t exactly a day to instill motivation to write, anyway. For the first time in a while, like last week, I had two days off in a row. However, this week I didn’t have anything I particularly needed to accomplish. So what did I do? I slept in, puttered about on the Web, played some video games, and even chipped away at my Netflix queue. In other words, a whole lot of nothing.

I even got bored! That’s not a common feeling for me these days; usually I’m too exhausted/stressed/whatever to feel much of anything once I accomplish what I need to. But lo and behold, I actually managed to complain (at least to myself) about “nothing to do.”

But hey, I promised a post a day, and I want to hold up my end of the deal. I did get two posts written yesterday, so I finally have a small buffer again. It would have been so easy to just let today’s commitment slide, but no. So instead of nothing posted, you get a post about nothing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go hit my friends with sticks.

I Might Be Good

An odd thing has been happening recently, and I’m not sure what to do about it. People have been coming up to me and commenting on how much they admire my fighting skill, both in heavy fighting and fencing. In fact, one of my friends even said he was surprised that neither my belt nor my scarf were white.*

I haven’t been sure what to do about this. In fact, it’s even taken me several weeks to work up the courage to even write about this.

It’s hard for me to take a compliment at the best of times. To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable. I can’t do much more than stand there and stammer out a “thank you” that starts to sound ridiculous to my ears after a few repetitions. Whether I’m uncomfortable because I don’t like being the center of attention or because my internal view of myself is slightly biased, I don’t know.

Okay, that’s a lie. I do know: I tend to be much harder on myself than anyone else would dare to be. As such, it’s hard for me to objectively value my own accomplishments, as I always see things I could have done just a bit better, or taken just slightly more time to complete. I also tend to dislike my work once I complete it, especially in creative endeavors. I can’t stand to re-read my own writing, and almost all of my design projects in grad school ended with me being disgusted by them, but with due dates looming that required me to present something.

I also think of myself as quite humble, maybe to a fault. I’ve said before that I’m too nice for my own good. I also think that the things I do are not really anything that special. If I help someone, it’s because it was the decent thing to do. I don’t set out to accomplish things for the recognition; I do them because they need to get done. Apparently that’s a noteworthy trait. Who knew?

So I guess I’m not exactly the most unbiased critic when it comes to my skills. As such, I’m trying (hard) to accept the fact that my friends might know what they’re talking about. I’ve been fighting for about 10 years, fencing for a little less, and one couldn’t help but develop some level of skill in that time. I also have a black belt in Taekwondo. I’m not exactly a slouch. But it’s hard for me to see that. A part of me will always be the shy, nerdy kid.

That’s not to say I’m the best fighter out there. I’m not. I’m just trying to come to grips with the fact that I might be a good one.

So if you’ve given me a compliment lately, I say again: thank you. I’m trying hard to see what you see in me. If nothing else, I’ll try to take it on faith until I can.

* In the SCA, white belts signify knighthood, which is more or less equivalent to a black belt in eastern martial arts. A white scarf is the equivalent on the fencing field


While I was writing my article about the Nerf party yesterday, I found myself getting slightly off track. Unlike most times that happens, however, this time I noticed it, and decided to break the new train of thought into its own post. Which is probably a good thing, since the topic is one a lot of people (on either side of the fence) find it hard to be balanced and rational about.

I’d like to talk about guns.

One thing that made the Nerf party interesting for me is the fact that I don’t really like guns. No, that’s not quite right: I don’t have much of an interest in real-world, bullet-firing guns. I don’t own any, I’ve never shot one, and to be honest the cultural fixation on them (and resulting impossibility to be rational about them) makes me a bit nervous. But I’ve had fun playing laser tag and paintball, to say nothing of some of the video games I play. The Nerf party was, for me, abstracted enough from reality that I could have fun with it. It’s much like the melees I do in the SCA: sure, I may have no desire to wander into a crowded public space and start hacking and slashing indiscriminately, but I can still have fun hitting my friends with sticks.

While I was writing, that last thought gave me pause. After all, was my fascination with medieval combat and equipment (armor, swords, etc.) really that much different than modern gun culture? When I go to fighter practice every week, how is that any different than someone who goes to the firing range every Saturday? Is the collection of swords in my room any different than someone else’s gun rack?

Part of the problem, I think, is that “the gun issue” has been made out to be far more black-and-white than it really is. Guns are either elevated as a symbol of personal freedom or condemned as a bogeyman, with no room for subtlety in between. That sort of polarization will inevitably poison the well of any attempted conversation.

I know I’m guilty of this myself. It’s hard to stay rational when it seems you can’t turn around without hearing about some new incident of gun violence. And it’s so much easier to respond with a knee-jerk reaction than it is to take the time to stop, think, and perhaps face some uncomfortable truths.

Like I said, I don’t have any personal interest in real-world guns. I do find the intensity of gun culture in this country to be disturbing at times. But I do have several violent hobbies myself. To condemn someone else for theirs would make me something of a hypocrite. It’s not easy admitting that, but I try. I also tried hard to avoid offending anyone with exaggeration and straw-man arguments. No matter what your opinion on the subject, I hope I succeeded. If I fell short, I’m willing to have a conversation with you, as long as we can all agree to follow Wheaton’s Law.

P.S.: I would encourage you to go read this Cracked article on the subject that I think is relevant to what I’m trying to say. Too often the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the situation gets depicted as more polarized than it might actually be in reality.

I Need Sleep

So yeah, in answer to the question posed by my last post. I am, indeed, quite tired. Working late kicked my butt as much as I expected, and even going back to early mornings for the past two days was tough. For some reason, someone thought it would be a great idea for the skinny guy with no thermal mass to go crawling around in the giant freezer and milk cooler.

Let’s just say I was less than thrilled.

But getting this tired wasn’t completely bad (I realized that may sound a lot dirtier than I meant, but bear with me). Sunday, I had the chance to go to a friend’s Nerf party. What’s a Nerf party, you may ask? Well, it’s better than a Tupperware party, I can assure you. It involves getting a bunch of people together, a couple barrels of foam darts, and more tubs than you can carry with plastic launchers for said darts. Then, you use the aforementioned darts and launch them at the aforementioned people.

The theme was suitably nerdy: Redshirts (Star Trek) vs. Stormtroopers (Star Wars). That is to say, people who can’t hit anything against people who end up dying anyway. We even had a bunch of cardboard boxes to use as terrain.

It was a ton of fun. We had done something similar last year, but without a unifying theme or anywhere near as many structured scenarios. People really got into it, and I was even able to drag my brother out of his post-sportsball-defeat stupor to come and have a good time. We ended up being on the same team (Star Wars, if you must know), but that didn’t stop us from shooting each other occasionally.

It was a ton of fun, and I think everyone that showed up had a great time. As things progressed, you could see strategies starting to form beyond just “wade in like Rambo Deadpool, firing indiscriminately.” And of course, there were a few minor hiccups with rules and intensity (one team seemed more aggressive than the other, and it can be hard to read whether or not a foam dart hit you), but for the most part it was nice and friendly. Although it was amusing how the “I shot you!” “No you didn’t!” dynamic holds just as true whether you’re twelve or twenty.

Who Needs Sleep?

One of the annoying things about working retail is the lack of a fixed schedule. I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s come up to bother me yet again.

Having no regular days off makes it really hard to plan non-work activities. For instance: I can’t decide on a whim to go to an SCA event, or spontaneously hang out with friends later in the week. I have to plan, but I can’t plan more than a week out in advance. Luckily, working early mornings has given me plenty of downtime in the afternoons to generally slack off or “get stuff done.”

And I’ve pretty much gotten used to waking up at 4 in the morning; it sucks, but at least it’s a consistent schedule I can get used to. In the past, I’ve had weeks where my shifts can vary from mid-day to closing (mostly closing). Since what socializing I do get around to is mostly done with friends who have more typical 9-to-5 schedules, working evenings cut into that time a lot more than I liked. Sure, early mornings get to you after a while, but at least they’re consistent.

But this week is inventory week, which means it’s all sorts of weird. Like today: they’ve taken a bunch of people who are used to starting work at 5am and having them work until 11h30 at night. Which is about two hours later than I’m usually asleep. I can see what they’re trying to do: they’re trying to get everything they need to done tonight so they can have their usual morning people come in Saturday night for the count. But I can’t help but think that they won’t get the best quality of work out of people who are dead tired.

Oh, and Saturday? I work another evening shift until 9pm, and then have to be at work at 5am the next day. That’s technically eight hours between shifts…

I realize I haven’t said anything truly deep or meaningful here. But every once in a while it can be good to just rant for a bit. I’ll spare you the drama llama GIF.

This time…

Retail Anthropology

If nothing else, working retail gives me plenty of time to observe people. But that observation is not just limited to the customers. Sure, you get to know the different types of customer: which ones need a bit more help, which ones will talk your ear off, and which ones to avoid like the plague. And yeah, you get to observe your coworkers: the energetic one, the cynical one, the petty one, the one who’s just there to do their job adequately and move on. But for me, the real interest is in watching the managers.

Managers are in a different class than the rest of us working peons, as they have the capability to make decisions that actually have an effect on things in the store. At my job, I regularly encounter a few layers of management: department, senior, and store. Department managers are responsible for a certain section of the store. Senior managers oversee several department managers in a task group. Store managers, obviously, are in charge of the store (I’m including assistant store managers in this group).

I get on well enough with my department manager. I appreciate that they’re on the ground working with me most mornings, and that they value my feedback to a certain extent. For instance, I’ll be asked for advice on where to put things, as well as asked to help with some short-range planning tasks. There is a power differential, true, but I still feel respected. Plus, even if I advise them, the final decision (and responsibility is theirs.

Senior managers are a slightly different story. Because they have to oversee multiple departments, they are by necessity a little more detached from the day-to-day workings of the department. You’re more likely to hear something to the effect of “Do this, this, and that” from these managers, without them taking into account (in my opinion) the necessities of what those changes would entail. They swoop in, shake things up, and then move on, leaving other people to “work out the details” (read: clean up their mess).

I don’t interact much with the store managers, but they seem like nice enough people. They are, again by necessity, a bit more removed from the day-to-day workings, but the ones at my job seem fairly in tune with what needs to be done to meet their requests. I admire their ability to keep so many details of the business in their head at a time.

But for me, what’s really interesting is seeing managers interact with other managers that outrank them. A department manager, while nearly master of their domain, is still subjected to veto from a senior manager. As such, care must often be taken when presenting an idea to a senior manager lest they decide to change things to feel useful.

That may have been a bit uncharitable. But if you’ve dealt with middle management, you know how pointy their hair can get.

The real entertainment comes when senior managers interact with the store managers. For some reason, I can’t help but picture a dog rolling up on its belly before the pack alpha. Their whole demeanor changes: rather than making decisions from on high, they become much more appeasing and willing to please. They become subordinates, which is not a position grunts like me normally see them in.

I’m sure my girlfriend, with her background in anthropology, would have a field day with this sort of thing. But even I have enough insight to see things that amuse me. Has anyone else noticed anything similar? I can see it happening in any work environment that has multiple levels of authority.


Remember how I said yesterday that I intended to be productive today, in return for doing “nothing” yesterday? Well, it worked. I actually managed to get stuff done! In fact, I did most of what I set out to do!

Now, some of you may think I seem overly excited by this rather inconsequential development. But this really is a big deal for me. Too often, I get caught in a spiral of procrastination and guilt, which starts by me not holding up both ends of the bargain I’ve made with myself. Whether it’s because I slept in too much, or puttered around too long, I often find myself at the end of the day (or at least in the mid-afternoon) not having accomplished what I meant to do during the day.

Then, my perfectionism/procrastination takes over. It says: “Hey, it’s only a few hours before dinnertime. You and I both know you can’t do a good job with the time that’s left, so why even bother?” Not to be outdone, guilt raises its ugly head to chip in: “Oh great, another day wasted. Just like yesterday.” This often pulls me into a Funk, which completely annihilates any scrap of drive and productivity I have left.

But today was thankfully an exception. I had kept my expectations low: I wanted to repair some of my heavy fighting sticks, re-taping them and changing out the thrusting tips. I had a bit of an issue last week at practice, where my primary sword had lost enough tape that I didn’t feel comfortable thrusting with it. Then, my backup sword’s finger trigger broke. On top of that, my glaive’s thrusting tip had been looking a little deflated for quite a while; people were still taking shots from it, but I was starting to get nervous.

So I brought my gear inside to thaw (I think it got above 0 today) and ran some errands. Thoroughly stocked and warmed, I sat myself downstairs, pulled up something on Netflix, and got to work.

I was largely successful. Swords got re-taped, dead foam got excised and replaced, and I even managed to (finally) build my lighter-weight 9-foot fiberglass spear.

Needless to say, I’m in a slightly self-congratulatory mood. And no doubt the fact that I needed something to use at practice tonight served as a motivator. But I think it’s important to take time to acknowledge one’s accomplishments, no matter how banal they may seem. After all, if we only focus on the big, “legitimate” things, it can be hard to stay motivated. Take your victories where you can get them, I say. It makes it easier to pretend to be an adult.

I Did Absolutely Nothing Today…

…and it felt awesome.

After what seemed to be a particularly draining few days over the weekend, I finally had a day off today. Now normally when I have a day off, I generally try to be productive and do some of the things I don’t have the time or the energy to do after work. That’s not to say that any of that stuff actually happens, just that I mean to do it. What usually ends up happening is I “waste” the day playing video games and surfing the Web, and then feel guilty about all the stuff I yet again didn’t get around to doing.

Today, I tried something different. I deliberately set out to do “nothing;” I also have tomorrow off, so I gave myself today to sleep in, read, game, and surf with the expectation that I would be “productive” tomorrow. So far, it seems to be working. I’ve had a nice relaxing day; I even got to watch a movie! I’ve been procrastinating, true, but by “allowing” myself to do so, I short-circuited the guilt cycle I usually end up in. I found I was more carefree, and generally in a better mood. Than my usual days off.

That’s not to say this method is without its risks. For instance, if I do the same tomorrow, I will definitely feel guilty about it, since I was “supposed” to accomplish something. Likewise, I find that too many days in a row of “nothing” have an undesirable numbing effect on my mind, catalyzing a kind of Funk of boredom rather than depression (although the two may not be so dissimilar).

But I consider today to largely be a success in lowering my expectations of myself and my productivity to healthier levels. For so many years of my life, I’ve had to be very careful with how I parcel out my time, mostly due to school commitments. “Free time” was not really free; it was subtracted from the amount of time I had to do homework and move my education forward. But now that I’m out of school, that motivating framework is gone. I’m not sure if I’m completely comfortable with its absence yet (guilt is a hard beast to slay), but I’m getting there.

And in retrospect, I didn’t accomplish “nothing” today. That all depends on how you define “nothing.” After all, I watched a movie I’ve been meaning to see. I read some interesting articles online. I continued playing a nostalgic video game. Did I build anything or write the Next Great American Novel? Of course not. But to call what I did do today “nothing” strikes me as somewhat judgmental. And I’m trying to recalibrate my scale in that respect. After all, if I’m happier at the end of the day than I was the day before, shouldn’t that be worth something? The benefit doesn’t always need to be tangible. And while I don’t always grok that, I’m trying to get better about doing so. I think it’ll be better for my mental health in the long run.

The Past Few Days

Not much to say today. I’m more tired than usual, and am not feeling that eloquent. But I at least had fun getting tired, so that’s something.

Friday I went over to a friend’s house to play Artemis, a multiplayer game that lets you crew a starship in the vein of Star Trek (or more likely Galaxy Quest, if you have friends like mine). There’s multiple positions, like Helm, Engineering, Science, Communications, Weapons, and of course, Captain. My first game I eased into it by playing Comms, which tasks you with communicating with other ships, both friendly and hostile. The second game, this time with a different group, I got to try Science, which is in charge of scanning objects and ships, reporting weaknesses to the captain and Weapons.

Gameplay mostly consisted of flying around a randomly-generated quadrant and battling with NPC ships, as well as the occasional mission for space stations and friendly freighters. The real fun began when the two player ships interacted. An errant beam weapon, a mis-targeted missile, made for some… interesting conversations. And by conversations, I mean weapon exchanges. It was also interesting seeing how the personalities of the two crews differed. One was definitely more Kirk (brash, boisterous) while the other one seemed more Picard (professional, disciplined).

Disclaimer: I have watched very little Star Trek. I was a Star Wars kid.

Saturday, I got together with my family an early celebration of my dad’s birthday. It was nice to hang out with them, and I got to try out my newest unholy creation in the war against the Dreaded Pancreas: double-layer Rice Krispie Treats with (wait for it) frosting both on top, and in the middle. They were a success; next time, I might put all the frosting in the center. Or maybe two different types of frosting: one on top, one in the middle.

Sunday was more defined by what I didn’t do: for the first time in a while, I had absolutely nothing to do with the Big Sports-Ball Series Magnificent Dish (or something). In years past, I’ve gotten together with my family, since the game often falls on or near my dad’s birthday, and both he and my brother are big (American) football fans. In fact, sometimes I worry my brother is going to pop a blood vessel or something while watching an important game. But this year, my dad gave me an out: he told me my girlfriend and I didn’t have to come watch the game; we could get together some other time. I of course jumped on the opportunity, but I was impressed with how subtly my dad had managed to keep his Super Bowl experience free of Debbie Downers. Well, played, good sir.

So I’ve had a busy few days. And of course, I stayed up much later than I should have most of these nights. In addition to having to work early. So I’m tired. Luckily I have the next couple days off. I hope to recuperate, and maybe even get some work done on some projects I’ve been putting off.

*falls asleep*