My wife says I have lots of opinions, and I should share them…
Seriously, I have for some time thought about starting a blog, but I’ve always run up against the barriers of I have nothing in particular to say and I have no particular area of expertise and I should just post to my LiveJournal.
But y’know, screw that.
- I have nothing in particular to say. Wrong. Ask anyone I know: I’ll go on for hours, raising my voice and gesturing wildly at the slightest provocation. I want to use this blog to think about what I think, refine how I think about it, and learn by doing how to communicate it in writing. I’ve got a whole series of “This I Believe” posts planned, to run the gamut from Life, The Universe, and Everything down to fairly trivial current issues.
- I have no particular area of expertise. Well, so what? I’ve always thought of myself as a generalist. I have a B.A. in History, I’m a competent web programmer, I have a wide range of interests, and I have a vast store of trivial knowledge. This isn’t going to be a blog that laser-focuses on politics or international relations or the military or the media. It’s going to be a look inside my head: some parts are pretty sharp and some are pretty blurry.
- I should just post to my LiveJournal. Well, no, not really. I consider my LJ to be the place I post stupid jokes, talk about my soon-to-be baby, or find out who’s going out to the club tonight. Most of my social circle is aware to some degree that I’m a Republican (gasp!) — I’m not, actually — or conservative (how could you!) — more libertarian, actually — or just not a knee-jerk liberal like most of them. But posting ranty political screeds just feels like poking them in the eye with it and I just don’t want the social hassle.
So, more about me:
I was born in 1965 in Anchorage, Alaska, where I lived until I went off to college. (Actually being born in Alaska is fairly rare for people my age; Anchorage was going through a population boom at the time and most children had moved there from somewhere else.) Growing up and into my twenties I found myself feeling the telltale symptom of the Gen-Xer: antipathy toward the Boomer generation. Fuckin’ hippies. Fuckin’ yuppies. Thanks for taking all the good jobs. Thanks for sucking up all the retirement money. SHUT UP about the ’60s already.
Sometime around 1993 I read 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? and became a devotee of the generational theories of Neil Howe and William Strauss. For a couple of Boomers, they were surprisingly in touch with the discontents of Gen X (or, in their nomenclature, “13ers”). Their theory of generational cycles, and my generation’s position of being between spiritual awakening and national crisis, and how Gen-X could draw lessons from the Lost Generation, explained so much and has colored my perceptions and expectations ever since.
In December 1987, I was watching “120 Minutes” on MTV when the video for The Sisters of Mercy’s “This Corrosion” came on, and my brain just exploded. It was an epiphany — even though I was still a poorly socialized geek with no fashion sense and no dance moves, I knew that here was what I wanted. This was it. This was the sound. This was the look. I’d already been listening to the ’80s New Wave bands like the Smiths, the Cure, New Order, and so on, but this was the pure stuff. I mean, c’mon — throbbing bass, screaming guitars, bombastic vocals, post-apocalyptic visuals, hot chicks in tight shiny vinyl — what’s not to like?
Twenty years later, I have the wardrobe and the moves. And the hair. The Mercury is my Cheers, where everybody knows my name. (I claim to be the Frasier.) Somehow I’ve gone from wallflower to Pillar of the Community, and my wife (who I met there) is even better connected.
Goth, for those readers not in the know, is far more than sullen teenagers in whiteface and fishnet shirts, reading bad poetry to each other and listening to Marilyn Manson. If you’re interested, Wikipedia has pretty good introductory articles on gothic subculture, gothic music, and gothic fashion. There are literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of American adults — with jobs, families, mortgages, the works — who identify to some degree as “goth”. Rather like Jews, however, any two goths will have at least three opinions about “what is goth.” For some like my friend Jilli it’s a 24/7 lifestyle (her site is Gothic Charm School). For others, it’s all about the “beauty in the darkness” expressed in poetry and literature. For me, it’s a fashion statement and a musical aesthetic. And for all of us it’s a community, where the slightly off-kilter to downright weird are welcomed; that’s the best part.
I’m what’s known as a corporate goth. I’ll dress way way up for the club, but for work — while I loves me some black clothes — I keep it low-key and business casual. My (velvet) blazer has a skull/bat/spider mini-medal pin; that’s about as wild and crazy as I’ll go.
I’m a science fiction fan in general. I started out with anthologies of the Old Masters — Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke — moved on to Dune and the works of Niven & Pournelle, and then found a home in military science fiction (although I get really tired of authors who barely file off the serial numbers from real history to craft their plots, since I can generally spot the analogues). In the last ten to fifteen years I’ve mostly been interested in the sister genre of alternate history. The most prolific writer in the genre, Harry Turtledove, is a hack, sadly.
I’m also a Tolkien fan. I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in the fifth grade, and I’ve probably read it ten or twelve times since. Used to be I’d read it once a year. I’ve read The Silmarillion four times, and that plus the historical/linguistic/cultural appendices in LotR were a heavy influence on my approach to gaming.
In 1977, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons. I was almost certainly one of the first ten or twenty people in Anchorage (and most likely Alaska) to play, and with breaks of a few years here and there, I’ve been a pen-and-paper roleplaying gamer steadily ever since. For an adolescent with an inquiring mind and no great athleticism, it was the perfect intellectual pursuit. Fairly quickly after D&D, I discovered Traveller, a science fiction roleplaying game, and my best friend and I settled into a pattern where we alternated his D&D game and my Traveller game. Being a game master, with fairly strong notions of verisimilitude and storytelling even as a teenager, prompted me to learn as much as possible about, well, everything. History, geography, geology, astronomy, climate, ecology, anthropology, architecture, religion, economics — you name it, it went into my game. And still does.
I don’t play D&D any more, since the game rules — and thus the expected, default game style — have changed beyond recognition from the game I remember from high school and college, and Traveller, sadly, hasn’t aged all that well. I’m currently running one game of secret agents in a space opera setting based very roughly on the “official” Traveller setting, and another of African explorers in an alternate 19th century where all the lost cities of legend and literature are real places, both using the GURPS rules. I still apply every new thing I learn to increasing the quality of my games.
My friend who introduced me to D&D also introduced me to wargames. This was right at the height of influence of the game company SPI, which produced scores of high-quality wargames addressing wars and battles of every historical era, including plenty of near-future World War 3 and far-future science fiction scenarios. For me this was the reverse of roleplaying: playing the wargames as games prompted me to learn all that I could about the specific era and situation, and that prompted my life-long interest in military history, even though I haven’t played a tabletop wargame in fifteen years. (Recently I discovered Hearts of Iron, so I can get my wargame fix on my computer in fifteen-minute increments whenever I want.)
Other Stuff About Me
I’m an atheist, and more specifically I’m a born atheist — I wasn’t raised religious so I’m not an ex- or apostate-anything; I have no grudge against religion or religious people, I just don’t believe that there’s a “god”. I also don’t think you have to believe in God to be a moral and/or ethical person; our responsibilities to each other as civilized human beings is a perfectly good basis for morality and ethics.
I’m what I guess I’d call a classical liberal. Since the term “liberal” has come to mean something entirely different from what it meant back in the 19th century, I guess you could render this in modern terms as “a national security libertarian patriot and defender of the Western cultural tradition.” One point of blogging here is to explore the (I’m sure incompletely self-consistent) set of political and philosophical notions floating around in my head, and to document my journey as I do more of the basic reading that I’ve never done. I hope that any commenters I’m honored to host here can point me to works that I should pick up; I really need to get back into serious reading and stop feeding my brain internet and television popcorn (mmm, popcorn).
I do watch a fair bit of television. Lately, all the good writing has been in serialized television: Lost, Mad Men, Heroes, Burn Notice, Criminal Minds, Life, and the late lamented Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Firefly. Then there are the series that are just fun to watch: NCIS, Numb3rs, Supernatural, Fringe, and Ghost Whisperer. And then there’s the pure fluff: America’s Next Top Model and Tougher In Alaska. And finally the documentaries and mil-porn: This Old House, The Naked Archaeologist, Digging for the Truth, Cities of the Underworld, Conquest, and Futureweapons. I need to either cut down on this some or re-learn how to read a book and watch TV at the same time. Bah.
My wife and I have a baby on the way. We’ve been married for four years (wow!) and together for almost five; I’m 43 and she’s 34; and we decided almost a year ago that it was time to put our carefree lives away and seriously try to have a baby. Happily, we succeeded — our daughter is due in mid-March 2009. Infants make me nervous (although I know I’ll get over that) but I know I’ll be a good daddy, and my wife will be an excellent mother. I can’t wait.
My house looks like a library threw up on an IKEA showroom. In response to a LiveJournal poll asking how many books you own — typical answers were between 50 and 300 — I physically counted ours and came up with just over 1100. That was about two years ago; the total is probably up to 1500 by now, and they’re all on Billy-model bookcases that cover probably fifty percent of the wall space in our living room plus more in the bedrooms and kitchen.
We’re both cat people. When we met I had two boys and she had two girls; we joked that we were like the Brady Bunch … Of Cats. Since then the oldest boy and girl have each passed, and even though we kept swearing that we wouldn’t replace them we ended up with … another boy and girl.
A hobby I’ve let fall by the wayside is sewing and amateur fashion design. A few years ago I entered two Seattle gothic fashion shows to rave reviews, if I do say so, showing glamorous women’s clubwear in latex and materials like GoreTex. I created the wedding clothes for my wife and me, but I was so burned out on sewing after two shows and the wedding that I’ve made nothing but the odd Halloween costume in four years.
Education and Work
As I said, I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and came up through the public schools. Grades four through six were spent at Chugach Optional, an “open-format” school (that I’m surprised still exists). There were no classrooms, only a loosely-divided common area for all the 4-6 students. Subjects were taught in a group sitting in a circle around a teacher and a convenient blackboard; there were also “learning centers” devoted to various non-core subjects. There was a lot of parental involvement — my mother helped teach math, and an M.D. parent once taught a group of us human biology by bringing in preserved human organs. I learned that a smart, motivated kid like me could learn as much as he wanted far past grade level, but that someone unmotivated to learn a particular subject (like my best friend and math) would learn very little. I’m still not sure if this is a bad thing or a good thing.
The highlight of my grade school career was winning second place in the state Spelling Bee in sixth grade. While the eighth-grade boy who won first place got a suit, a check, a bunch of goodies, and a trip to Washington, D.C., to lose in the first round, I got a 1976 Bicentennial Edition Encyclopedia Britannica, all thirty volumes. I am absolutely sure that I came out the better in that contest, because I used that encyclopedia constantly, for school reports, looking up items of interest, or just randomly paging through it and browsing an article here and there. A lot of my font of obscure knowledge I gained that way.
I graduated from East Anchorage High School in 1982. Astute readers will notice that this is the same year that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin graduated in nearby Wasilla; although to my knowledge I never met her, we were only one degree of separation apart. I was also one degree away from current Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich although we only met long after high school — he ran a huge D&D game in which friends of mine played, so I guess that’s proof that D&D isn’t a disqualification for political office — and Alaska Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell was two years ahead of me at East High. It’s very strange to read an article about one’s home town or state and see big official titles before the names of people you remember with acne, tight jeans, and feathered hair.
In high school I was active in the Symphonic/Pep Band, but primarily in extracurricular drama. I was very, very involved in theatre — whereas an average participant might earn ten Thespian Points in a school year, by graduation I had earned 240 points.
I went to Williams College, class of ’86. Williams is the alma mater of a large and varied list of famous people. Williams is sadly slightly lesser known than the institution founded by the Defectors of 1821, otherwise known as Amherst College, ever since our arch-rivals. I had a great college experience at Williams, although my academic performance was marred by increasing depression, and I graduated with a gentleman’s B-minus. I was mostly involved with the Williams College Mucho Macho Moocow Military Marching Band, of which I was a student bandleader my senior year. I have any number of silly stories of band antics, which I have realized over the years are mostly funny only to me. I’ll give you one example: in my junior year, the big Williams-Amherst game was away at Amherst. Now, they’ve learned over the course of our longest-running-in-college-football-history rivalry to closely guard the field, but they weren’t guarding the street leading to the field. So several friends and I drove down the night before the game to spray paint on the pavement in white letters ten feet high the words “LORD JEFFS EUNT DOMUS.” (“People called Lord Jeffs they go the house.”) See? High-larious!
I was also a big player in the semi-yearly Trivia Contest. I was on two winning teams in eight contests — “Rule 6” and “Nasty Big Pointy Teeth” — and thus helped write and run two contests. Freshman year I was the only member of my team who could correctly name all five members of The Archies (Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge, Reggie Mantle, Betty Cooper, and Jughead Jones). Junior year I wrote the world’s hardest comics bonus — twenty questions including things like “name all of Prince Valiant’s children” and “what is Cerebus the Aardvark’s secret weapon?” So a guy from a long-running alumni team calls up and answers every single question. I congratulate him for getting the best score (20 points where most other teams were getting 5-8), and he complains that there were no Elfquest questions. I opine that I think Elfquest is silly and childish, and he says, “Really? By the way, this is Richard Pini…” DOH! See? More hilarity.
After college I briefly went to law school at Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Oregon. I made it through my first year alright, but second year the depression took hold and I barely made it to class. I had a meeting with the dean where we basically simultaneously said “I quit!” and “you’re expelled!” Even part of law school gave me a basic understanding of how the law works, and first-year Legal Writing was invaluable in and of itself. It’s like boot camp for technical writers: everything you do on your first draft is wrong wrong wrong and thoroughly red-penciled to let you know; students basically competed to see how few drafts it took to get to no red pencil. After taking that class I wished I could go back and rewrite all my craptastic college papers.
After dropping out I bummed around Portland for a couple of years, mooching off my parents and the government — a period of which I am not proud at all, and which I would give anything to go back and do better. I met my first wife there and moved to Tacoma, Washington, to be with her. After a disastrous stint as a legal secretary I lucked into a job in desktop publishing. Six years and a series of ever-better jobs later, I’d mastered all the graphics and design software and was bored to death. That was just at the height of the dot-com boom, so I went out and on fairly tenuous qualifications got a job as a web programmer at a startup that luckily was later bought out by educational publisher McGraw-Hill, where I worked until the end of 2007. Realizing I just wasn’t getting paid enough, I jumped ship to my current job at a Bellevue, Washington, internet information company that for now shall remain nameless.
So, to make a long story short … oops
I guess I don’t have to worry too much about the I have nothing in particular to say mental block. When I get going, I clearly have way too much to say. I just hope I can keep it up; I have a problem with starting big projects and letting them peter out as I … ooh, look, shiny!
A couple of final items
Where does “No Clever Pseudonym” come from?
Well, back when I started reading blogs just before the invasion of Iraq, most of them were written under a clever pseudonym (Instapundit, Wretchard, Hindrocket, etc.), and therefore I had to come up with a pseudonym that mocked that. My license plate cover says “License Plate Covers Are Stupid,” so dry self-referential humor is clearly my bag, baby.
Just to make sure, I googled the phrase, and the only hit I found that I possibly might have previously seen was in a response to a comment at Tomato Nation. But that post was well after I stopped reading Tomato Nation, so I’m pretty sure “No Clever Pseudonym” issues solely from my warped little brain.
You keep mentioning your wife. Are you going to tell us about her?
Sure: she’s Jennifer Lovely. She’s got her own site at jenniferlovely.com, with links to lots of stuff, including our wedding pictures, our cats, and her baby blog. Jen is a lifelong Democrat, so we’ve had to just not talk to each other about politics lately, but she encouraged me to start a blog when I explained my purposes. She’s my second wife — my first marriage fell apart when our lives went in separate, irreconcilable directions — but Jen and I are perfect for each other, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.
Any questions from the peanut gallery?
Coming Up: Musings on the election, and then the first This I Believe post, most likely dealing with Life, The Universe, and Everything.