Law of Escalation

I have always known about the Law of Escalation. In my time talking about it, I’ve come to realize that it might not be a law at all. I have found precious few people who will admit to experiencing this in their lives. The Law, or Principle of Escalation states that any activity done more than three times requires a negative modification of its safety rating in order to be engaged in the fourth time.

This principle was demonstrated nearly every day of my childhood.  We once sat in a sandbox with my brothers and a few friends. For some reason, probably because it was there and we hadn’t done it before, decided to start tossing a brick around the circle.  A few rotations of that later, we started to choose a direction randomly. A few minutes later, we added diagonals to the options and not long after that, the speed increased. That is how a benign game of pass the brick, became a deadly game of think fast. It is also how my little sister ended up in the hospital getting stitches in her head, but that is a different story.

I was sledding once and that led to racing, which led to building a ramp, which led to seeing how far we could jump off the ramp. That led to trick jumping, which culminated in dodging sleds thrown at the participant while they were doing their trick. This ended with me taking a sled to the face from Norman Shaw while I was in the middle of what would surely be the greatest trick of the day. My face split like a ripe melon and my brother chased after me as I ran home. His concern was not that my face had a second mouth in it, but that I might tell mom.

On another day, we invented a game called kick the shoes off, where you loosened your laces and tried to kick your shoes off without touching them. I feel like I should pause here to remind people that the internet and video games had not yet been invented and we didn’t have a TV. That game became an accuracy challenge and later we used to stand up stuffed animals to see if we could knock them down. One day my brother escalated this to a “think fast” version and I got a boot to the face, breaking a couple of teeth. I ran to the bathroom to inspect the damage and stem the tide of blood from my mouth. My brother followed with the too common refrain of “shush, shush, don’t tell mom.”

I know it seems like I took a lot of the damage from these escalations but they were pretty spread out. I can’t remember a repetitive game that didn’t conform to this principle. We all knew it was happening but we never spoke of it. We all wondered where it would go and who would be the first to invent a reason they could leave without being called out. Otherwise, the games continued escalating until we got called for supper, got bored, or somebody got hurt.

My wife looks at me like I have two heads when I tell these stories. She has an excellent method of preventing events just such as these. I have to grudgingly admit that nobody has had an escalation related trip to the ER since she forced us to do it. Whenever an event that has any chance of danger or property damage starts to happen, she asks, “what happens next?” Seems simple doesn’t it? It works strangely well at getting us to acknowledge that what we are about to engage in will end poorly. It’s much harder to engage in that behavior when you’ve had to acknowledge it. Sometimes I long for the days of pass the brick, dart tag or blindfolded pinata. I guess it’s only fair since we have video games and TV these days.

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Married To An Intelligent Woman.

I like to tell my wife that I married for brains and sense of humor and I just happened to luck out that she was also gorgeous. There is a good bit of truth in that though. I wanted to be able to laugh with her and have conversations about a wide variety of weird topics. I wanted somebody to argue with about who would win if the national monuments came to life and fought. I wanted to ponder which jobs animals would have if they suddenly became intelligent and joined our society. I wanted to sometimes wonder if she wasn’t just a bit smarter than me. Be careful what you wish for. I never have to wonder if she is smarter than me, I know for a fact she is. If it wasn’t for topics that hold absolutely no interest for her, I’d be at a disadvantage everytime we talked.

Being with an intelligent person does have its perils. Early in our relationship, I noticed her wincing and catching herself after she started to say something when I spoke. I asked what was happening. She replied in a way that was equal parts polite and condescending.

I’ve noticed that everywhere I’ve lived has its own dialect and sometimes you say things that I think might be part of your local dialect. Some of your word choices seem wrong to me. I don’t know if you want me to bring your attention to them or not. I don’t mind myself, of course. I’m concerned that you work in sales and deal with people from many different regions. You might run into people who confuse that with being stupid.”

She had appealed to my intelligence and pride and of course I didn’t want to look stupid. I hastily agreed.

Of course,” I said. “I’m sure it doesn’t happen often, so if you notice it, please tell me.”

Just like that, a demonic contract appeared in the air in front of me. It had a burning pentagram and smelled suspiciously of brimstone. I have since come to regret that decision. I’m proud of my vocabulary and my language skills, but years of neglect have blunted those a bit. She never misses a trick and I have the worst defense mechanism for this in the world. Well, I guess it’s not the worst, no stabbings are involved, but I do look like an ass. It starts a bit like this.

I will use a word incorrectly.

She will say, ”Did you mean to say this word?”

Now it should be said that at this point, I know full well that I used the word incorrectly. I could and should admit it readily. Instead, I reply, “No, I’m pretty sure this works.”

It doesn’t seem to fit the context much does it?”

It would if I meant it this way though, wouldn’t it?”

Did you mean it that way, Dan?”

No, I was just saying it could have been right, not that it was right.”

Oh, well then, I guess you would have been correct if that had been the case, but since it wasn’t, what were you actually?”

Fine, I was wrong, you were right.”

Why does it always take so long to come to that?”

Because one day I’ll be right, and then it will be my turn, and I will dance such a victory dance as has never been seen. I will live in that day for eternity.” I might think about this stuff too much.

I feel like a contract of my own should show up at that point maybe written on old pizza boxes, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I’m not sure where I learned to equate the possibility of being right with the actuality of being correct. I guess it was when I used to climb to the upper cabinet where the forbidden cookie jar was kept. I learned to argue that the possession of said forbidden cookies did not amount to the intention of eating those cookies. I might have been counting the cookies before asking politely if we might share them. I might have been checking whether somebody else had stolen them and the person who was confronting me about it might have been trying to protect their own crime from being discovered.

So what I’m saying is that being married to an intelligent woman today, caused me to steal cookies when I was a child. It’s all there and perfectly logical if you look at it the right way.

Earning Your Dream

When I first decided that I would try to get better at writing, I, of course, told my wife. My days were filled with work and my nights with my family and I would need to steal part of that time to pursue this dream. She was supportive, but not excited and I was a little put out. After all, this was my “dream” didn’t that mean there was some kind of contractual obligation of full throated support?

When it was time to write, I got distracted, didn’t really know what I wanted to do and often came at it unprepared. An hour became two hours and almost all of it was unproductive. It became a bit of a strain on our relationship. I listened to an audiobook that held a bit of advice that turned things around for us.

The audiobook reminded me that my dream was not my family’s dream. Their dream might well be spending the limited amount of time they had doing fun things with me. Why was I making them suffer for my dream? Why wasn’t I suffering for my dream? I thought about it. I could write in the evenings or mornings but I got tired in the evenings and my mind was crap in the mornings. Those were also my moments where I was largely the only one awake and I coveted that time.

So in pursuit of my dream, I was stealing the prime time from my family so that I wouldn’t have to give up my own prime time. The book also had another bit of advice. It said that you can’t expect your family to get behind a dream you haven’t gotten behind yourself. Don’t ask them to make sacrifices you aren’t willing to make. That advice turned things around for me.

I started waking up early to write and wrote in the evenings after everybody had gone to bed. I had to find ways to be alert and more often than not, I fell asleep at my keyboard but I kept at it. It wasn’t long before my wife noticed that I wasn’t stopping and tried to find ways to make it easier for me. Eventually, she would set aside time during our prime time for me to write and even joined me on exercises.

 

The day she decided to do Nanowrimo shocked me. She didn’t like writing, but had an idea for a book and finished Nanowrimo that year with a full novel first drafted. She went on to edit that novel and publish it. She published two books before I got my first one finished. She still doesn’t like writing, editing, doing her social media or any part of the process, but she’s become very good at all of it. Whenever I write, she writes and instead of it being me stealing time from her, it’s a precious gift from her of how we spend our time.

We’re writing a series together now and I am in heaven. I earned my dream but she made it so much better with her gift.

 

Killing Your Darlings, and Some Dreams #mondayblogs

I come from a generation that was taught to pursue their dreams. I’m not sure if it is because we were the first generation that generally earned less than our parents or because we found ourselves in our thirties, settling for whatever we ended up with. We are a generation that created the glut in motivational speakers and we are the ones that filled that need by pretending we had something to share.

So what’s the harm in that? Dreams give us drive and help us to strive to achieve more, right? The problem is those same motivational speakers. They have told us never to give up, that never quitting is somehow virtuous and that if we ever want to achieve our dream we have to have an unwavering belief in that dream.

That’s cult shit and one of the most harmful things to our generation. That’s one of the reasons people spend their whole life trying to get a game company to pick up their version of Candyland with celebrity pieces or keep pouring their time and money into a business that failed years ago. Motivational speakers and books have taught them that all of these are just hurdles in their way, that any dream is worth whatever sacrifice needs to be made. Bullshit!

Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to critically evaluate dreams and judge their worthiness. Probably around the same time we started to give our kids participation ribbons and accepted math answers that were wrong because we didn’t want to discourage the kids. Well, dreams MUST be evaluated and re-evaluated constantly. There is a cost/reward ratio that needs to be continuously monitored and when the cost is no longer worth the payoff, the dream must be put on a shelf. Dreams are not some divine exception to critical thought, and you don’t just get one of them. Open your mind to new opportunities and you’ll find dozens and one of them might even be a good fit.

I’m not saying that we should ignore dreams and aspirations, but we should demystify them. Take away their protective coatings and see if they can stand up to rational analysis. If they can, great. If they can’t, then take that dream off life support. A dream that can’t stand on its own will only drag you down with it.

One of the rules of writing is to “Kill your darlings”. That rule should apply to dreams as well. If it doesn’t fit the context of your life, put it away until it does.

Girl Genius #mondayblogs

This is a bit off-topic, but as writers, what we consume is important to what we output. I’ve read dozens of web comics through the years, but there is one that has stood the test of time and won boatloads of awards.  Girl Genius is hands down the best web comic I’ve ever had the experience of reading. It hits on all the levels. The story is amazing, the artwork is amazing and in a world that is often ruled by just good enough, this series consistently takes it to another level.

Girl GeniusGirl Genius

 

God Shuffle Available in Kindle Format

My first novel in the God Shuffle series landed early this morning in e-reader format.  I’ll be wrestling with paperback formatting this week. I hope you’ll check it out.

The God Shuffle is just one year away and the Nation of Hesterwind is in an uproar. The Gods are not happy to be working for humanity and none of them like having their jobs changed. Will this be the year that they bring humanity back under their thumb or will the great peace abide?

An event that happens only once in fifty years can make or break the careers of everybody involved. A grisly murder could destroy this anniversary and five hundred years of peace. If the Watch doesn’t solve this crime soon, the Gods themselves will be looking for blood.

 

 

Happy Father’s Day #FathersDay

Some of my favorite stories are about my parents.  I have ten siblings and life was anything but normal most of the time.  My dad and mom would go to such lengths to try to bring little pieces of normal into our lives.  If my dad wanted to play catch with me, he’d have to play catch with five of us. If we wanted to see a movie, it was a major budget item and logistical issue.  Sometimes just getting to and from church involved more coordination than many military maneuvers.  They never stopped trying though and I love them for the efforts they made far more than the results they got.

My Dad was the eternal optimist.  He believed that we could fit a tenth person into Volkswagon Bug because there was a person walking that needed a ride. He believed that we could find a house that was perfect for our huge family, that was close enough to being condemned that we could afford it. He believed that if you played fair, the world would reward that and play fair back.  He believed me every time I told him I would do my homework from now on or keep up with my chores.  An astonishing number of times, his optimism was rewarded (not with my homework and chores though).

My Dad put everybody else in the family first.  When you have twelve other people in the family, there isn’t a lot left when it gets to be your turn.  His life was an endless series of “Dad, look at this, Dad, pick me up, Read me a book, Dad.” He got up early to help my mom get us to school.  He got home and went to sports practices, recitals, concerts, and meetings. He did chores around the house, covered for people who didn’t do their chores and then started the whole staggered process to get us to bed.  That involved stories of different levels (everybody wasn’t old enough for Lord of the Rings), listening to the stories of our days, baths, laundry, prayers for all of us and hugs and kisses.  When he finally got finished putting us down and rounding up the stragglers who kept getting up, he would be lucky to get enough time with my mom to hear about her day and maybe tell her something about his before they had to start talking about finances and discipline for the kids (often me).  They went to bed exhausted and started it all over again in the morning.  (or would have, but you know they got woken up a dozen times every night by us)

I didn’t always appreciate the decisions my father made or his parenting style, but I’m fortunate to have always known he loved me.  Even at our worst, we both knew that we were loved. I’ve raised two boys of my own and I can only wonder at the stamina and sheer perseverance it must have taken to do this with eleven kids.

I salute you Dad and I’m glad that you are still around to read this and for me to tell you how very much you had to do with shaping the person I became.  You set a very tough standard to live up to and I don’t think I can.  I appreciate that no matter how good I get at this, I’ll always be able to see the course you laid before me.

 

Life Essays – Candy

Penny CandyI come from a very large family and at an early age, I became aware that we were poor. We were not poor in the sense of having to settle for the older version of the new gaming system. We were poor in the “mom knows you took a dime of the grocery change to buy a bubble gum ball” sense. That was a problem because I was a kid who loved candy.

I would do about anything to get it and I knew that my parents would never buy it for me. Halloween was the greatest holiday ever, but you can’t live on Halloween candy all year long. I knew I had to earn my own money.

I was eight when I convinced my parents to let me get a job delivering newspapers. That was a few years too young to get a traditional paper route. It was not too young for “Grit, America’s Good News Newspaper”. I mailed away a coupon in the back of a comic book and they sent me my first papers. I practiced my sales pitch for a week with my dad. Then I traipsed around the neighborhood extolling the virtues of a newspaper with only good news in it.

When I finally got a paycheck, I went right to the penny candy store. It was a little place called Cacchiachuties and because I was a boy I always used to say girls couldn’t go there because they would catch the cooties. This store was heaven to me. There were dozens of types of candy and most of them could be had for a penny.

I arrived with my dollar and seven cents. It was more money than I had ever spent on candy before. With tax, I could buy 100 pieces of candy. I stared at the bounty that could be had and started doing math that would have made astronauts jealous.

It was the same kind of math you can see when kids turn in their tickets at an arcade and chose prizes. I could buy 25 of the sour patch kids, and 28 Swedish fish and 23 wafer saucers and 24 squirrels, or I could drop the fish by 8 and split the difference in sour cherries or I could buy the wax lips for a dime since they would last so long and were so big. I always got tricked by the wax lips. It was like they had some kind of pheromone that made you buy them and then regret it but buy them again next time.

I finished my purchase, convinced I had chosen the absolute perfect combination of one hundred candies. I knew I had reached a new level of affluence because the shopkeeper, Pat Cacchiachutie himself, had to use a medium sized brown paper bag for my purchases. I’d never gotten a medium sized bag before.

As I walked home I felt like everybody passing on the street or in a car was looking at my bag in admiration. “There goes a boy who can afford his candy”, they must have been saying. I didn’t save much money that summer, but I got what I wanted. I had a supply of candy that was mine, that I earned with my own money. I couldn’t eat it in front of anybody for fear of my mom making me share with my brothers and sisters. I would hide in the closet, take it out from my hiding place and eat it in the dark. I knew I was successful.

I never got over the sweet tooth. Years later I was able to get a real paper route for the local paper. The first time I collected money on this new paper route, I headed to Cacchiachuties. I had a dream and it was about to come true.

I had always wondered what it would feel like to buy an entire box of candy. I had watched as the storekeeper had rooted around in the boxes before and when he emptied them out. There were five hundred pieces in a box, plus tax of thirty-four cents.

I walked into that store like the Godfather. I watched patiently while he waited on a few small kids. They were carefully choosing how to spend their dimes and he scraped pieces out of the candy boxes for them.

Then it was my turn. The kids seemed to know that something big was going to happen. They stuck around waiting to see what kind of candy the older boy would choose.

“I’ll take the sour patch kids I said”.

He asked how many I wanted and I said.

“I’ll take the box.”

The kids were paying attention now and I was feeling like a banker.

“You want the rest of the sour patch kids in the box,” he said?

I think he worried that he would have to count out several hundred pieces for me.

“No”, I said. “I want a whole box.”

He looked surprised, the kids looked shocked, and I felt like I was going to explode with the tension. I placed four wrinkled dollars on the counter and four quarters, then counted out three dimes and four pennies. He smiled at me and reached under to counter to bring out a fresh box. He packed it in a large bag, a large brown paper bag. I walked out of that store and my feet didn’t hit the ground until I got home.

I went right to the closet and separated the serrated edges of my box. I opened it like they did in the store. I had always conserved my candy to make it last, but now I had the supply. I had the whole box and I wasn’t sure what to do.

I smelled them and they made the whole closet fruity. I threw four of them in my mouth and then a handful more after that. I licked the sour coating off the next few and then I took little bites and tried to find new ways to eat them.

I wasn’t a third of the way through the box before my tongue got swollen, bumpy and painful. I wasn’t worried though. Candy doesn’t make you sick. It had always been a constant in my life, a dependable source of joy and how could that be bad. The only thing you had to worry about with candy was cavities, everybody knew that.

I came down with hives an hour later. I was called to supper and my mom took one look at my face and nearly lost her Irish Stoicism. She had me open my mouth and saw my multi-colored tongue. It was abraded to shreds by little gummy sugars and somehow she knew. She didn’t make me tell her though or get rid of my stash. She did smile knowingly when I choked down supper. I didn’t taste a thing for a week.

Those sour patch kids lasted me a month. I ended up sharing them with my brothers and sisters. I could never eat more than a few of them again without my tongue swelling up.

I learned you really could fly too close to the sun. I had learned my lesson though, sugar coated things were not for me. A couple of months later I got a box of Swedish fish instead.

Getting To Know Your Author

Get To Know Your Author

I’m a fairly open person and I think putting myself out there is a good way to let people see the person behind the author.  In that spirit, I present ten things you might not know about Dan Desilets, Author.

  1. I have 11 siblings.
  2. I jumped out of airplanes for a living in the army.
  3. I am afraid of heights.
  4. I once ran a successful Renaissance Faire.
  5. I live in my dream house.
  6. I scuba dived with Barracuda
  7. I once ran a successful LARP.
  8. One of my dreams is to be a public speaker.
  9. I was hit by an airplane in midair and had a parachute malfunction.
  10. I once was involved in a Karate Kid situation.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, but the other half is picking up a weapon and murdering people, so, there’s that.