Music Is My Friend

All I want is to keep on trucking,
I think I could with a little bit of luck.
Come too far to just get stuck,
So I refuse to die.
– Sydney Sprague

I think many of my favorite songs are aspirational. They often describe people I wish I had in my life. Those times when I really needed a friend that I didn’t have, I found one in music. Don’t get me wrong, I had some great friends through these times that I will always treasure, but in a lot of ways I had to figure stuff out on my own.

For the longest time the only person who told me that No One could keep them from loving me was Alicia Keys. Every time I hear it I imagine she’s singing it directly to me.

Ani told me that all of the Parameters can change, no matter how invincible I imagine myself to be.

B.B. King warned me that I’d Better Not Look Down.

Colleen Duffy was the one person who, after everything went to shit, still wanted to take a Walk With Me.

I wish I’d had someone to tell me I’d See the Sun again. Dido had to take that role.

Tom Shear told me that The Noise Inside My Head wasn’t mine alone.

Ronan Harris let me know that it was ok to have Gratitude for what is in the past, but to Perpetually look beyond the place I stand.

Nobody told me that there could be someone to pick you back up again if you Fell Back Down except for Tim Armstrong.

Aimee Allen let me imagine a world where we’ve Got Each Other‘s backs and that she would be By My Side.

The spirit of Invictus was instilled in me by Randy Blythe.

Frank Turner told me that so long as I’m alive, I can Get Better, and that If I Ever Strayed I’d have friends who stuck with me whether I deserved them or not.

Music can have a profound effect on me. In a life dominated by solitude, some of my closest confidants have been musicians that I will never meet. If you know me well enough to recognize why these songs helped me, then thank you as well. It’s been a beautiful journey. I wouldn’t be who I am without them, or you.

Like Jamey Jasta said, I Live For This.

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2022: The Illusion of Normality

It’s been an odd year. It seems like a quiet year with fewer events than I’m used to, but then I remember that we lost a couple of years somewhere along the way. This might be the first year I see more Florida Orchestra shows than all other concerts combined, which sounds like I’m getting too old to rock but really just means that not many musicians are back to touring yet and many of those that are, are skipping the Florida peninsula.

That said, it’s been nice to get out and live again. The big highlight of the year was a trip to New York City in April. The main purpose for the trip was that I wanted to see Hadestown with as much of the original cast as possible. Mission accomplished as André De Shields left the show seven weeks after we saw it, and Patrick Page is leaving it at the end of this year. They, along with Eva Noblezada, are the heart of the show for me. I love that show. Our time in NYC was just packed with sightseeing and fantastic restaurants. It was so satisfying to play tour guide to Sue in a city that is embedded in my soul.


American Museum of Natural History

Another high point was going to Nashville in February to see the Lightning play the Predators in Nashville’s football stadium. We had a blast, the Lightning won, and I got to see some of my extended family up there.

NHL Stadium Series

There were a couple of other small trips to Ponte Vedra and Saint Augustine. We’re trying to conserve our travel budget for some plans that we have over the next couple of years.

Our family got smaller as we lost Oreo this year. Our family grew again as we adopted Lucky.

Concert highlights include Frank Turner, Iron Maiden, and Aesthetic Perfection.

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Orlando HoB 6/26/2022

Now that I am done (for the moment) with flight training and able to read for pleasure again I spent the year reading all nine books of The Expanse series. It’s been well worth my time. The TV series was excellent, and now I know what the story is beyond the TV series.

No movies really stand out in my memory. Prey was good. Top Gun Maverick was good. Nothing spectacular.

The general vibe of the world around me is that basically I’m going to make some popcorn, watch people burn down the world that our grandparents left for us, and try not to get any of the flaming shit stuck to me. Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do remember history are doomed to stand by helpless as they watch others repeat it. I’ll do my best to not be a jerk, which suits my contrarian disposition.

As 2022 draws to a close and I look forward to next year I’m hoping to be able to reconnect with a few people that I’ve not seen in far too long. It seems that I’ve entered the stage of my life where the number of friends I have will only grow smaller over time. I’d like to spend some time with them.

On that note, I’ve probably shared this one before but it’s a great reminder of how temporary this all is.

“Let go of the little distractions
Hold close to the ones that you love
Because we won’t all be here this time next year
So while you can take a picture of us”
– Frank Turner, Polaroid Picture

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“I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Who doesn’t love an underdog?

For many years my neighborhood has had several stray cats in it. I’ve been feeding them more or less since they took care of a little problem for me, which is a story for another day. Having a set of cats that would regularly visit the house meant that we started to give them names. None of the names were terribly inventive. They were all chosen based on the appearance of the cat. This is the story of one of those cats.

This is the story of Oreo.

Oreo was a long-haired tuxedo cat who spent many years on the streets. Of all of the neighborhood strays, Oreo was by far the friendliest. Most of the cats don’t let me anywhere near them, but Oreo would always come and brush up against my leg. He had a hard life on the streets. Over the years I’ve seen him bloodied and ragged at times. Still, he showed up for dinner when we offered it.

Unfortunately for Oreo I already had two cats. This was down from the four cats I’d had just a few years earlier. That’s a lot for one person and so my heart had hardened to the idea of taking in any more strays. Eventually Mojo and Kitty passed and I was the only living thing left in the house. For a while, perhaps selfishly, I kept it that way. I fed Oreo, but he stayed outside.

Sue didn’t have any cats and she debated cat-napping Oreo, but we didn’t do so until December 30th of 2017. We were coming back to the house after shopping and Oreo came up to us looking as bad as he ever had. We picked him up and put him in a carrier to take him to the emergency vet. He was malnourished, FIV+ and had some serious hip damage, probably from getting hit by a car sometime in his past. He was covered in scabies. He was terrified and bit me as I was trying to comfort him, so our next trip was to the emergency clinic so I could get a shot for potential rabies. It was quite a day, and that’s why the date has stuck with me.

Sue sat with him in the garage that night. He curled up on her lap and from that point on the two of them were almost inseparable. She took him home with her and for 4-1/2 years he was almost never more than a foot from her if he could help it. For all of his time on the streets, he was one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever known.


Oreo died on Thursday, June 9th. He’d been eating less and less over the last month or so. There was something wrong with his kidneys and though we tried various things to help him out, in the end there was nothing that we could do except try to make his last few days as comfortable as we could. We spoiled him with all of the treats and tuna that he could eat. He was a cuddlebug right up until the end.

When we picked him up I didn’t think he would have lived more than a couple of weeks considering the condition he was in. Instead, he got over four years of the good life with lots of love and tuna, which to a cat might be the same thing.

Oreo was definitely a momma’s boy. Although he only lived with me for a little while his passing hit me harder than I thought it would. When I think about why that is, I think about the kind of cat he was and the life that he lived. Like I mentioned above, the streets were not kind to him. Fights, injuries, illnesses. He was one tough cat. Through it all he was still just a fluffy ball of love that adored his humans, and we adored him. To endure so much difficulty and come out of it with so much love, how could I not be affected by that? Rare is the cat that makes me want to be a better human.

Goodbye little buddy. We miss you. I wish we’d had more time together.

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2021: The Eye of the Storm

“The first time it was a tragedy
The second time it’s a farce
Outside it’s 1933 so I’m hitting the bar”
– Frank Turner, 1933

It’s been a frustrating year. The world continues to be stupid. At least things on a personal level have been going well, knock on wood.

I’m thankful that we have vaccines available, even if too many people refuse to take them. I’m thankful for all of my friends who are nurses, still, even though they are really (really) tired of being on the receiving end of everyone’s ignorance and stupidity.

It’s been a weird couple of years. I went 544 days between concerts, which is by far the longest gap since I went to my first concert so many years ago. The 2020-2021 NHL season was only the second time in the Lightning’s existence that I did not attend a single game. Only two seasons that I never saw a game, and they won the Stanley Cup in both of those seasons.

We did manage some limited travel. We had a couple of short in-state trips for Sue’s work, and we spent a weekend in the Dominican Republic with one of Sue’s college friends.

The highlight of this year is that I’m a pilot. As Sue says, I have no cheap hobbies. Now when I look up to the planes in the sky, I think “I can do that” and I wonder why I’m not flying today.

After a year of studying I’ve finally been able to read for pleasure again, so I finally read N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. I can see why every book in the series won the Hugo award for the best novel of that year. Highly recommended.
Other reading highlights include:
On Fragile Waves – E. Lily Yu
The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) – Katie Mack

I’ve been getting back into board gaming, so that’s been fun. Nine Days by Edson Oda was probably the only notable film I saw this year. Dark and The Expanse were the best TV series we watched. Concerts were limited, but highlights included Alanis Morissette, Selwyn Birchwood, and Gojira.

According to Spotify my top ten songs for the year were:
Waste of Love – Ashbury Heights
You Will Know My Name – Arch Enemy
Invictus – Lamb of God
The Noise Inside My Head – Assemblage 23
Everything – VNV Nation
Amnesia –
I Can Kill You So Easily – Ashbury Heights
The Kids Aren’t Alright – The Offspring
In Ashes They Shall Reap – Hatebreed
Bad List – Ayria

I think Spotify’s lists might be a bit janky. I do like all of those songs, but I doubt they are truly my top ten plays. I’d at least add these to the list:
Grounds – Idles
Lemonade (2000) – Tsunami Bomb

May you get what you deserve in 2022.

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I’m a Pilot
Passed my Checkride

I’m a Pilot.

Since I was five years old I have wanted to say that. It’s not the longest-held dream I’ve had, but it’s damn close. It took me (mumble) years to get here, but I am now the very proud holder of a private pilot’s certificate.

It took much longer to get here than I had hoped. Much of my adolescence was directed towards becoming a pilot. I joined the Civil Air Patrol. I toured Embry-Riddle when I lived in Daytona. Once I knew I would never be able to afford that I applied to the military academies. After getting rejected from the Air Force and Naval academies I decided to work my way in through OCS. Then all hell broke loose, and after two spells of being homeless, carless, jobless and broke I found myself pretty far from having the means to learn how to fly.

Life went on with its ups and downs. Every airplane in the sky caught my attention and reminded me of a dream deferred. About a year and a half ago I started to think that flight school might actually be a possibility. When I mentioned it to Sue, she was all for it. Bit by bit I worked at it. Medical certificate, negotiating the ability to shift my work schedule, student certificate, written exam, solo flight, flight requirements. One by one I crossed every requirement off of my list. On March 26th I took my checkride, which is a combined oral examination and practical exam that took me five hours to complete. At the end of it, I was a pilot.

I was able to close 160(!) browser tabs I’d had open for studying.

It’s still hard to wrap my head around. I walk out to an airplane and I expect someone to come out and stop me because I am an imposter. There’s a part of me that still feels that flying a plane is something distant and unachievable. Then I sit down in one and do it.

This last Saturday I was able to take Sue for her first flight. It got a bit bumpy but she was fine with it and enjoyed the flight. Passing my checkride and getting my certificate was a HUGE weight off of my shoulders. Taking Sue up was my reward. Without her support I wouldn’t be a pilot now. Being able to take her up in a plane that I was flying and show her all that I learned was a real treat. Well, not ALL that I learned. I’m not going to subject someone to stalls or steep turns on their first flight.

The other thing that’s hard to wrap my head around is the fact that Sue was right there with me and encouraged me every step of the way. It’s not at all surprising, because that’s who she is. I’m just not used to having someone in my life who offers encouragement. I’m incredibly grateful.

I hope we have many years of calm winds and fair skies ahead of us.

First Flight
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That was some weird shit

Title courtesy of George W. Bush’s reaction to Trump’s inaugural address four years ago.

Political post. Surf on by if you’re not interested. To preface, I am not a member of a political party. I don’t feel either party represents me, and I don’t identify as one or the other. I think the world would be VASTLY improved if people didn’t tie their identity to a political party. That said, let’s go…

I’ve lived around Donald Trump most of my life. He’s always been a clown. That he would make a horrible president should have surprised nobody, especially not anyone from New York. With the exception of Staten Island (do they not get to Queens much?) there’s a reason he never got close to a plurality of the vote there. New Yorkers know him, and they know he’s nothing but a misogynistic, racist pile of bullshit made famous by daddy’s money and his own infatuation with the media. This isn’t some special insight that New Yorkers possess, it’s just that every village knows who its idiot is. He’s definitely talented, just not at business or management. He’s a very talented bullshitter who is great at self-promotion. None of this is new. He’s been that way since the 70’s and though he’s always exhibited a pathological need to be in front of TV cameras, he’s never shown any sign of becoming a better version of himself. He’s never had to. Drop him into a media environment that thrives on controversy, or a political party where the loudest voice wins, and he’s a natural fit.

Make politics and TV news into a circus, and you’re going to end up with clowns sooner or later.

When I pointed this out five years ago I lost some friends and family over it. The irony of them calling me a “snowflake” and then cutting me out of their life because I disagreed with them was a bit amusing. I’m still here should they ever extract themselves from the cult, but I’m not holding my breath. Being in a position to say “I told you so” brings no comfort. It’s actually fucking infuriating. We didn’t have to do this to ourselves. Every bit of stupidity and corruption over the last four years has been self-inflicted. Despite the repeated claims of “this is not who we are” it is clear as day that this IS who we are. We are a small, ignorant, frightened people who suffered for four years because we elected a small, ignorant, frightened ruler. Too many of us still think that was a good idea, because they’ve been told that any alternative is even more frightening.

Donald Trump was not an aberration. He’s a logical step on the path we’ve been walking for decades now. More clowns are lining up behind him. Most of the congressional Republicans voted to overturn the results of an election that their president lost. Most are still going along with the fiction that the election (that they personally won) was stolen from him. We’ve gotten ourselves into a position where we need Democrats with courage and/or Republicans with integrity, so we may be fucked. Things will probably be bad for a while. We’ve got a brief opportunity to change course, but if we don’t get our act together quickly we may get so far down that path that there’s no coming back.

“If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism, they will abandon democracy.”
– David Frum

Posted in rants
2020 Year-end wrap-up

Madagascar Penguins

2020: the longest year. A year to remember, though we’d probably rather not.

There was a time when we thought 2016 was a comically (tragically?) bad year. That seems like a lifetime ago. Things have gotten progressively worse and more stupid since then.

Probably the defining feature of 2020 has been the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, this yearly wrap-up has no stories about the year’s travels. No reflection upon the year’s best concerts or films. Happiness in 2020 was being able to buy toilet paper. Most larger dreams had to be deferred.

I will wrap this up with a bit of thanks. Sue and I are healthy so far, knock on wood. We are both still employed. Although we are months from being able to get a vaccine ourselves, vaccines are starting to be made available. For the first time in years there is hope that things will start to improve next year.

Let’s hope so.

Posted in thoughts
Write Stuff

Fountain Pens

My name is Rob, and I am addicted to fountain pens. As addictions go, this is a pretty safe one. The only damage is to my wallet and the storage space in my office. I am occasionally surprised that this became a thing for me.

I’ve always had this attraction to stationary products, so I’ve usually had an odd assortment of pens, notebooks, and paper around. I never liked the cheaper Bic or Paper-Mate pens. I’d settled on Pilot G-2’s for a while, but a couple of years ago while making a run to an office supply store I wanted to find something better. I spent at least 20 minutes in the pen section trying to decide what to get. I think I came home with seven different pens and while they were mostly fine, I didn’t find anything really satisfying.

Around this time I saw a Twitter post from one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, where he stated that he did a lot of writing by hand with a fountain pen. Specifically a Pilot Custom 823.

I had used a fountain pen very briefly in seventh-grade art class. It was a horrid dip pen that no longer had any tipping, so was sharp as a knife. I spent more time cutting paper with it than actually writing. I thought fountain pens were a relic of the past and couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to use one when ballpoint pens were available.

I thought “What the heck? Maybe fountain pens aren’t as bad as I remember. Let me give it a shot. Let’s look up this Pilot Custom 823 and OHMYGODITCOSTSWHAT!?!”

Current rate for a Pilot Custom 823 is $288.

For a pen.

A single pen.

No way I’d ever spend that much on a pen (spoiler: I have two now). I wondered if there was a cheaper option. Turns out there are plenty of cheaper options. I picked up a Pilot Varsity for about $3. It changed my life. Yes that’s a silly statement but when I was spending all of that time looking for a better pen, I really didn’t know what I was looking for. With the Varsity I’d found it.

The Varsity isn’t perfect. Fountain pens in general will feather quite a bit on cheap paper, where the ink spreads out from your intended line. The Varsity feathers more than most. What it did have going for it was the fact that it was so incredibly smooth compared to anything else I had ever written with. It was so good that I felt like I had been missing out on it for my entire life. I loved my Varsity.

After a little while, I wanted to take the next step. For me the Varsity is far superior to any ballpoint I’ve ever used. It’s made to be disposable though, and you’re limited to just a handful of colors. Once you find an interest in fountain pens it’s just a matter of time until something else catches your eye. When looking for a good pen that’s not disposable, the general consensus falls between the Pilot Metropolitan ($20) or the Lamy Safari ($30). It took me some time before I was willing to shell out that much money for a pen, but I finally settled on a Lamy Safari. I was so excited to get it, load the ink cartridge, and start writing.

It was horrible. It skipped to the point of being unusable. I set it aside and went back to my Varsity. Time passed. I couldn’t understand how a $30 pen that people seemed to love was so inferior to a $3 pen. After about six months I decided to give the Lamy another shot. Lamy seemed to sell a lot of pens, and they couldn’t all be as bad as my one experience had been. I picked it up to try again, and it didn’t work at all. The ink had dried up. After searching for “how to clean a fountain pen” I cleaned it, loaded another ink cartridge, and tried again.

Same result. It was uneven and skipping. I wrote one sentence. I wrote another. I was disappointed all over again. Then, as if some last bit of gunk had flushed out of it, it started writing beautifully. What I hadn’t know at the time is that all Lamy pens are tested before they leave the factory, so they all have a little residual ink in them that may dry up over time. You should clean them before first using them. I hadn’t, which led to the poor performance out of the box. Once cleaned it wrote like a dream.

That was it. I was hooked. I now have dozens of pens and inks, and I enjoy writing with them almost every day.

So, why fountain pens?

  • They give me a much better writing experience than ballpoints do.
  • Handwriting is an analog skill. In our digital world, I find it to be a nice and relaxing change from being at a keyboard.
  • There is an almost infinite variety of ink colors to choose from.
  • The ink is water-based and flows in a way that makes writing more interesting.
  • Various inks have different properties such as sheening or shading that add character to your writing. Click through to the larger version of the image above and you can see quite a bit of variation even within a letter.
  • Different pen nibs can have an effect on your writing.

I’m now a pen snob, and I’m ok with that.

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10’s in review

Thoughts on the passing of a decade.

I began 2010 single, in debt, and unsure if I’d still be employed in a couple of months. Half of my stuff was in boxes as I prepared to move, hopefully to Denver.

As 2010 progressed my client renewed their contract, giving me some job security for a while. Later in the year I met Sue. I figured I probably wouldn’t be moving in the immediate future, so I changed jobs with the goal of giving myself some added job security as well as a less rigorous schedule.

Over time, Sue and I grew closer together. I started to unpack things from boxes.

This decade I lost two Aunts, an Uncle, a Cousin, two adopted Moms, my Dad, a Brother in my extended family, and four cats, not to mention a few friends. Many who remain drift farther apart. In that way, my world is getting smaller.

I’ve been able to travel to the UK, France, California, Colorado, New Orleans, Charleston, Nashville, Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, and some other places as well. In that way, my world has gotten larger.

I got to see a total solar eclipse. I watched several rocket launches, auto races, and playoff hockey games. I got to see Arsenal play at Emirates Stadium in London.

I met several SF/F authors including Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Paolo Baciagalupi, Fran Wilde, Peter Straub, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Silverberg.

I managed to remove a few thorns. I came to realize that most of the hurtful things directed at me by others were a reflection of the person that said them, and not an accurate picture of me.

I still have Sue. I still have my job. I got the debt almost gone despite some major things that the house needed.

All of those things can change in an instant, but right now they are good.

It’s been a good decade.

What’s my hope for the next one?

That Sue and I are still healthy at the end of it.
That our friends and family remain healthy.
That our nation gets over its current sickness.
That the world is a better place.
That I’m still here to write the next decade wrap-up, and that you’re still here to read it.

Posted in thoughts
2019: A Storm Gathers

It seems this has become a site for yearly wrap-ups, and here we are again. This time we watch 2019 comes to a close.

I look back at 2018’s entry and I wrote “I suspect things will get worse before they get better.” That has held true, but let me try not to get ahead of myself.

This has been a busy year for work, a slow year for travel, and a ridiculous year for the news.

Work has been very busy with some big projects. This has been rewarding as I’ve been able to get some big accomplishments done.

Our one trip this year was to Vermont and Albany to visit some friends and family. Since the previous two years had trips to France and California, this was a year to let our vacation fund replenish a bit.

That brings me to the ridiculousness of the news. Any one week now seems to bring as much news as a year would in “normal” times. It’s speeding up, getting worse, and will likely continue to do so for at least another year. An impeachment vote may be held later today, so it looks like the Democrats finally grew a spine before the Republicans discovered integrity. Still hoping that the integrity will make an appearance, but I’m not holding my breath. I don’t see this getting better any time soon.

So, on to the highlights…

Best Concerts:
The HU
Frank Turner
Tony Bennett
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Anneke Van Giersbergen

Best Reads:
Exhalation – Ted Chiang
Radicalized – Cory Doctorow
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
Wanderers – Chuck Wendig
Gather the Fortunes – Bryan Camp

Other memorable events:
Les Miserables
Fourth of July weekend with friends in West Palm Beach

According to Spotify, my 2019 summary reads like this…
Top Genre:

Top Artists:
Frank Turner
The Offspring
The Interrupters
Assemblage 23

Top Songs:
She’s Kerosene – The Interrupters
I Will Be Heard – Hatebreed
Invictus – Lamb of God
Destroy Everything – Hatebreed
Looking Down The Barrel of Today – Hatebreed

Stay sane in 2020 and try to be more kind.

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