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How the hell is one supposed to choose a career? Related: Please help me choose a career.
Hello, SSC. I am using a throwaway. This is a beast of a post. A few thoughts related to its size:
Please don't read the whole thing; it's skimmable.
TL;DR – lawyer, doctor, psych researcher, or (jokingly, unless…) novelist?
To make a long story short, I'm an unhappy software engineer (unhappy with my career, not with life in general), and I committed about a year ago to making a change. Since that time, I've vacillated wildly in my thinking on the various career options available (never able to fully commit), and at this point it's causing me a ton of anxiety: I've gotta choose something, but there just doesn't seem to be a clear answer. My family and partner are running out of patience, and I feel the same way: It's time to get a move on, already. "Getting a move on" is super fucking hard, though (not to mention terrifying, given the stakes). How are you supposed to compare, on the one hand, cognitive fit (i.e. being good at your job) with, on the other hand, likelihood of being able to pursue your own lines of inquiry or expression (i.e. not feeling like a cog)? Where does money fit into all of this? The sheer number of different paradigms for career choice seems to be evidence that nobody else really has a clear idea either: "Do what you love." "Do what you like the most out of medicine, law, finance, and engineering." "Work sucks: Make money and retire." "Working for someone else sucks: Start a business or be your own boss." Then there are the more complicated ones, like Ikagi, or the Waitbutwhy octopus, or 80,000 Hours' five-star system. Every different paradigm comes up with a different answer, and the same paradigm often comes up with different answers depending on things that seem like they should not be able to shift paradigms, like what mood I happen to be in at the moment. I do have some concrete things to work with, namely that I think I've been able to pinpoint why I don't like software engineering. Three main reasons: 1 - Lack of Cognitive Fit: On pretty much every sort of standardized test thrown at me, there will invariably be a huge imbalance between subscores (verbal = higher, math = lower), with further cleavage between the mathematics subscores (numeric = higher, spatial = lower). This comports with my general "feeling" about these things: Reading and writing are easy and enjoyable; statistics is doable and tolerable; spatial math is difficult and unpleasant. This has manifested itself in difficulties with software engineering, which is, after all, concerned with how best to build complicated, invisible structures. My in-the-major grades in school were mediocre at best (they were high outside of my major); my work performance is middling. The overall feeling of working in software engineering is that of wading through cerebral molasses, and at no time is this feeling more acute than when I'm working with other computer people: They just get it, and I just don't get it. With all due respect to grit, conscientiousness, growth mindset, etc., I often feel like I am simply running up against the limits of my mental machinery. All fine if it's worth the fight, but... 2 - Lack of Subject-Matter Interest CS as an academic discipline is interesting enough, but it's never "grabbed me" in the way that some other academic disciplines have. I've never found my mind wandering towards topics in CS in the same way that it often wanders towards topics in, e.g., biology, psychology, economics, literature. I would never read a book on software engineering or computer science for fun. Why the hell did you major in it, then, you stupid, dumb idiot? I wish I had a better answer, but it was some combination of peer pressure (the cool, ambitious kids were ALL majoring in CS in 2011 (that may still be the case now, IDK)) and a desire to be employable. 3 - Lack of Workplace Autonomy A product manager tells you to build the thing, so you build the thing. You (sometimes) get to choose how you build the thing, but if you don't have any underlying interest in how the thing is built, the whole experience just feels like drudgery. _________ With all that in mind, I was able to build a pretty complicated paradigm that would take an entire post by itself to explain but basically boiled down to the following: Emphasize cognitive fit, subject-matter interest, workplace autonomy, and ability to do good, while trying as best you can to hold onto some of the positive features of software engineering (tons of stability, quite good pay, not-terrible working hours). That got me down to four main possibilities. For the sake of simplifying the discussion, let's say that remaining a software engineer isn't an option. Here they are: Law (JD): On the one hand: - Super high points for cognitive fit. Rules governing human behavior mediated entirely through the English language? Lots of reading and writing? Beautiful; give me more. - The potential (if done in a certain way) to feel like you’re “fighting for the good guys.” - For better or worse, I “vibe” with lawyers. Even the greedy ones tend to be "words people," because “money-driven” + “good with words, sucks at math” tends to equal “lawyer." I've never met, for example, another group of people who like crossword puzzles as much as I do. On the other hand: - Nearly every lawyer I’ve talked to says it’s straight-up difficult to get a job where you fight for the good guys and much easier to get a job where you’re fighting for the “neutral-at-best” guys. - At the end of the day, I’m more interested in the law and less interested in being a practicing lawyer, mostly because of the same autonomy problem in software engineering: A higher-up tells you to do the thing, so you do the thing. In an ideal world, you solve the autonomy problem by, say, working at a think tank or in academia. But I’ve gotten that beaten out of my head by the chorus of voices saying, “Don’t go to law school if you don’t want to practice.” - Long hours and a culture of overwork lead to high stress. Varies between firms (and between firms and government), but a work-hard-play-hard culture seem to pervade the profession, and, to put it bluntly, most of the lawyers I know seem pretty fucking stressed. - When I tell lawyers that I’m considering law school, many of them say, “Don’t do it.” People in other fields don’t say that when I tell them I’m considering their field. Medicine (MD) or Research Medicine (MD/PhD): On the one hand: - High level of interest in the subject material. I self-studied AP Bio back in the day by reading the textbook cover-to-cover. When I’m reading nonfiction for fun, there’s a pretty good chance it’s bio or medicine-related. To this day, I don’t really know why I didn’t study it in college. Network effects, probably. - I could see myself being interested in practicing psychiatry, endocrinology, sleep medicine—any field where the emphasis is more “This strange concoction of chemicals makes you feel a certain way!” than it is “The machine that synthesizes urine broke down again.” - I put “MD/PhD” because I find the idea of being a physician-scientist more appealing than one or the other. Being able to treat actual real people and then retreating to the lab to do solitary mind work really does sound like the best of both worlds. Either way, though, the process would start with a postbacc, so I guess technically I don’t have to decide yet. - I did a thing where I downloaded the SSC dataset and looked at all the different careers, and doctors had the highest levels of life satisfaction out of anyone (for whom I could find a coherent career field in the spreadsheet). This held even when they were in school and residency (i.e. couldn’t be entirely explained by income (although it could, I suppose, be explained by “income or the expectation of future income”)). Two main ways I can think of to explain this: 1. Being a doctor is (relatively) fulfilling and makes people happy. 2. Becoming a doctor is so difficult that only (relatively) happy and well-balanced people are able to complete the process. This might sound naïve, but my honest bet is number one. In what other profession do you get paid SO MUCH MONEY to work so intimately with other people? So many high-enjoyability, low-pay professions (teaching, social work, etc.) are basically about taking a pay cuts so that you can work closely with other people. And in medicine you don’t have to take the pay cut. On the other hand: - Maybe there are doctors reading this and thinking, “You naïve little twerp; do you know how hard you have to work and how good you have to be to do what you’re talking about doing? Genetic research? Neuroscience? Start honing your colonoscopy skills, bucko, because you’re going to have to pay off your loans just like the rest of us.” - On a related note, I know a lot of lawyers but no doctors, so I have heavy doses of “realism” from the law side, but not the medicine side. - Med school, from what I understand, is the most demanding of the professional schools. I honestly can’t say for sure that I’d be able to get through it. - While I like reading popular books about medicine, I don't really get off on academic papers about medicine. Maybe it’s just because I don’t know the lingo yet, or maybe it’s a warning sign that my interest in the field is going to turn out to be superficial. - It would take a long time. Between postbacc, med school, (maybe) PhD, and residency, I’m looking at another decade before I make money again. Which is fine if I enjoy the process like I think I will. But if I don’t enjoy the process, it’s going to be a long ten years. - Less reading and writing than I’d like, although that’s partially mitigated by doing an MD/PhD rather than just a PhD. I just really want a job where I get to read and write on the daily and the quality of the writing matters a good deal. “Just do that outside of your job!” Yeah, but in practice it’s hard. Academia (PhD in Psychology): On the one hand: - I like sitting down at a desk, reading about things, thinking about things, doing what it takes to get the answer to something that’s been nagging at me, and then writing about the process of finding that answer. The fundamental idea that I could get paid to do something like that is still mindblowing to me. - Checks ALL of the boxes that bugged me about software engineering: You have a degree of autonomy, and you presumably get to work in a field that you’re interested in and that you’re a good cognitive fit for. Law stumbles a bit in the autonomy department. Medicine stumbles a bit in the cognitive fit department. This baby don’t stumble. - To test my enthusiasm for academia, I read as many research papers as I could get my hands on from as many different fields as I could get my hands on. The result? I enjoy reading research papers. I could see myself writing them. This is a good thing, as I understand it, for a career in academia. - In terms of which disciplines “won” (greatest level of interest), three were head and shoulders above the rest: Psych, soc, and econ. I talked to some econ PhDs, and I honestly don’t think I have the mathematical acumen for it. Between (cognitive) psych and soc, neither of them has great career prospects, so it’s a wash there, and I’m slightly more interested in psych, so I might as well just do psych. On the other hand: - Due to mediocre undergraduate GPA and lack of research, I’ll probably have to do a masters or a postbacc first (time and $$) - You gotta always be scrapping for grants and funding. Nobody likes scrapping. - For better or worse, there is a distinct “good” outcome (tenure) that I might not achieve. I know that this is a really contentious topic, and I don’t mean to get anybody riled here, but yeah: I’m gonna be gunning really hard for the outcome that allows me to teach, do research, get paid well, and be difficult to fire. And I might not get it. And that’s extremely worrisome to me. “Making it” in academia, if you have the basic chops, is probably not as unlikely or fluky as, say, making it as an actor. But it’s still unlikely (depending on your field) and still fluky! You could get an advisor you end up not gelling with, and then you’re fucked. You could pursue a line of research that nobody really cares about, and then you’re fucked. (This is what people have told me, anyway). That’s all super scary to me, and it’s definitely an argument in favor of law or medicine, which have more of a “get the degree and collect your job” feel to them. - Arduousness: Everyone says that it’s difficult and demanding and stressful and that you have to make sacrifices. I believe them. And, while I think I’m willing to make those sacrifices, it’s one matter to say that you’re willing and another matter to actually not drop out of the program when you really feel like dropping out. - Covid-19 is currently in the process of upending higher education. It might be fine! But the next few years are a bit of an event horizon: We don’t really know what things are going to look like on the other side. In other words, more risk. Writing (MFA): On the one hand: - A cool “wild card.” - In the “You find out you have 5 years to live, what do you do?” thought experiment, I get an MFA and write a novel every time. Writing creatively is an activity that both hits a ton of neurons AND is somehow infused with meaning for me. - It’d be super fun. On the other hand: - Risk. Risk, risk, risk, risk, risk. Follow your dreams, they say. But what if my dream was to be a professional basketball player in the NBA? Should I follow that dream? To put it another way: I know that I’m a good writer, but it seems like you enter the realm of “luck not optional” when you’re seriously trying to make a living by writing books. I ballparked my odds of eventual success (defined as “I get to write without doing anything else on the side”) at 25% if I get into a top MFA program (which I probably won't anyway). That number is already scarily low to me, and it may well be generous. - My past is littered with the carcasses of unfinished novels. I’ve managed to finish short stories, and I’ve managed to finish screenplays. The novel is the white whale. I think I could do it from within the structure of an MFA program, but who knows? - If I don’t “make it” straight out of the MFA program, I’ll have to go back to doing something pay the bills, and that something will probably be software engineering. And then I’m back where I started: Doing software engineering for money while writing on the side. If I end up just “Doing X and writing on the side,” then I would have been better off spending my grad school golden ticket getting up to speed in an X—law, medicine, psychology—that I enjoy more than software engineering. Where I'm at right now: Trapped in a terrible cycle, pretty much. It goes like this: I choose medicine, and a voice goes, “Really? Once again subjecting yourself to a career where reading and writing artfully isn’t really an integral part of the process? Doing ‘science,’ which we suspect you might not be great at doing? You should do law instead, where your mental machinery seems more suited to the process and the people seem more like ‘your people.’” So I choose law, and a voice goes, “Really? Once again committing to a dynamic where you show up to the office and a superior throws a bunch of work at you and you do the work and go home without having pursued your own lines of inquiry or advanced human knowledge?” “I’ll be a professor,” I say. “No, you really won’t,” the voice says. “Think of all the unhappy lawyers who said they were going to be a professor or go into human rights or whatever. If you want to do research, you should get a PhD instead.” So I choose a PhD (in psychology or sociology), and a voice goes, “Really? A non-econ social science given the state of academia right now? Do you really think there’s a nice tenure-track job waiting for you on the other side of this? If you’re gunning for the risky thing you might as well go all the way and do an MFA.” So I choose an MFA, and a voice goes, “Really? And have to go back to software engineering in two years when you write a book and nobody gives a shit? Why subject yourself to that? If you’re going to write on the side, just be a doctor: It’s better than software engineering in terms of subject-matter interest and humanistic elements, but it offers similar stability and predictability.” Then we’re back at doctor, and the cycle begins anew. Since I listed pretty much every career option out there, I feel compelled to address some of the few that I left off my list. FIRE: Just gut it out for ten more years and then retire! But the thing is, I like working—I like sitting at a desk, reading, writing, doing stuff—and I can think of nothing more enjoyable than embarking on one of the career paths that I listed above. So all I would get by FIRE-ing is more financial stability when I finally pursue one of them. WHICH AIN’T NOTHING. Believe me, I know. But I don’t think it’s worth the tradeoff of being miserable for another 10 years and starting round two close to age 40. Become a Product Manager (PM): Okay, so you don’t like making pie. How about you supervise the people that make pie; wouldn’t that be more fun? No, I just fucking hate pie. ***Further Wrinkles:***I applied to law school last cycle and got into a school just outside of the T14. Still on the waitlist for pretty much all of the T14 except HYS. I am what the kids call a “splitter” (high LSAT, low GPA), so I don’t have any expectations of getting into HYS, and if I do get into CCN it will probably be because Coronavirus fucks everything up and they have to let a bunch of people off the waitlist. If I decide to not do law school this year (either because I decide to do something else or I decide that I can’t commit when I’m this unsure about things), I will be giving up something in-hand that I might not be able to get back. Which is scary. A Final Miscellaneous Thingy: Since I haven’t actually DONE any of this stuff yet, it would be cool if there were some sort of way to dip my toes into two of the options and see which I like better (the proof, as they say, is in the pudding). Something like a premed postbacc program that would allow you to volunteer in a psych or neuroscience lab. I don’t know if that’s a thing, though. Or maybe it is, but by doing it you just make yourself a weak candidate for BOTH med school and psych PhD programs. Okay. Phew. If you’re still here, first of all, thank you, and second of all, sorry. Thoughts? Feel free to be super discouraging, too. “I’m a doctor, and every vibe you’re putting out says, ‘flunks out of med school.’” That’s information! That’s helpful! Thank you again. God bless you, SSC. Edit: Thank you all so much for your kind and thoughtful answers! Tapping out of the thread for a bit while I go eat and do work and that kinda stuff. Gonna look at and respond to all of these, though; I've just been kinda responding in a random order, but I'll get to 'em.
Star Wars's Lack of Source Material (and Why it Matters)
To those who've know me I've written a variation of this post almost a year ago which you can find here: The Importance of Star Wars's lack of Source Material. Some elements from that post will be utilized and repurposed here. Some quick clarification before we begin, when I say Source Material, I'm talking about traditional source material such as preexisting titles. Obviously we can talk about the many stories, movies and real life events that inspired Star Wars until you're blue in the face. Star Wars is in a unique position amongst the "biggest film franchises if all time." It's not only one of the oldest ones still going to this day, it's one of the very few that doesn't have traditional source material. It all started with one movie and has since branched out both forward and outwards. In a nutshell, it's one gigantic story that has kept going for over forty years. The MCU has comics, Harry Potter has books, Transformers has the G1 Cartoon, Resident Evil has video games, The Lego Movies have toys and Battleship had a board-game (Remember that one...). Though not a franchise, Titanic, the third highest grossing film of all time, is still based off a real event. To really hammer this in one of the very first things you see in the movie is the actual ship. Not a model or CGI or anything but the actual physical wreck sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. Funny enough Jack Dawson was a real person on the ship, except he was a Steward and he died that night. Even in real life there wasn't enough room on that wood for two (I Jokes). It goes even further than that though, some of the most acclaimed and celebrated films of all time have some sort of source material. Gone With the Wind was based off of a book, Hamlet (1948) was based off the play by Shakespeare, The Godfather was based off a book and Titanic was based on a real event. Now this isn't me trying to say how "110% Originality is automatically better." There's a reason those films I mentioned above are as acclaimed as they are. As we shall discuss, 110% originality is not easy by any stretch and can create issues later on. Star Wars obviously isn't the only successful franchise to lack source material. Alien, Terminator, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Fast and Furious, and probably the one that's lasted even longer than Star Wars; Star Trek. With the release of Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek has managed to keep its story going (for better or worse) since 1966. Star Trek is probably an even bigger accomplishment than Star Wars ever was considering how shows/ movies and countless other things it has gone through. Star Wars does not have books, comics, stage plays, or anything of the sort in which it was derived from. It is the creation of George Lucas’s mind with the assistance of those who worked on the films. Sure it took great inspiration from other films/ stories and real world events, but that’s just all part of the process of making a movie. This might seem like a "no duh" type post but I'd argue that this is ultimately what makes Star Wars, Star Wars. It isn't the X-Wings, it isn't The Force, it isn't Pod Racing, it isn't the Porgs, and it certainly isn't the God Damn CG flips..... I'd argue it's the fact that Star Wars is this big, fantastical, mysterious, highly ambitious, huge concept, "universe" that exists in movie form. It has a different set of expectations than say most other franchises I mentioned before. It's a visual-auditory experience that is very hard to get anywhere else. I also think it's important to understand where Star Wars has come from in order to understand where it might be headed. What does the future of Star Wars hold? I have no idea and that's kind of exciting wouldn't you say? Ultimately this is the sort of grand point I'm trying to make. Next time you decide to watch the OT start to finish, really focus on the story of those three movies forget about everything that came before and after it and any stories set between those movies and pay attention on how each movie "leads to the next." You'd be surprised just how few clues there were for how the story unfolds. The films always kept throwing curves at us and be unexpected along the way. We sort of took it for granted and just wanted to see what happens next without giving it too much thought. Sure the Rebels defeating the Empire is fairly obvious but let's say it's 1977, you just watched Star Wars and someone wearing a trench coat with a sonic screwdriver says to you, "this movie will have two sequels, the first one it will be revealed that Darth Vader is Luke's father and the second one Luke and Leia are related and Vader will return to the light and defeat the emperor." Would you believe that? I wouldn't and yet that all happened anyways. The structure that Star Wars has been running on since day one is fairly "complex" and some fans really don't want to learn about for one reason or another. The OT is about as Hero's Journey as a story can get. The PT on the other hand is more like greek tragedy. Everyone who went into the theatre when TPM was released in 1999 knew exactly how that trilogy was going to end. The part that interested everyone was the moment of catharsis where you go "Oh! That's why that happened." But then comes the sort of issue Star Wars has face since the OT ended: The Expansion. This is an issue that just comes with time and progress really. To demonstrate what I mean, here is my attempt to present A New Hope from a 2020 perspective: "So Darth Vader is chasing his daughter Princess Leia, a key member in the rebellion, who has stolen plans for a space station they just built. Said plans were literally stolen not even ten minutes ago with Vader watching them escape. But said space Station was in the works decades ago and the plans were first given to Count Dooku during The Clone Wars. The Clones of said Clone Wars were actually created by Dooku himself so that one day they could get rid of the Jedi altogether. They just so happen to fly over Vader's home planet where his son Luke and former mentor Obi-Wan are living. Obi-Wan has been living there for about twenty years doing "things" such as killing Darth Maul, someone who Vader himself was almost killed by when he was a child. Obi-Wan was also the one who brought Luke to tattoine in the first place as he had severely wounded Anakin forcing him to don the robotic black suit he now wears. Also the plans are being held by two droids, one of which Vader built while the other was his companion during many missions in his prime. Also on said planet is Han Solo, who played an unintentional role is starting the rebellion some ten years prior to and owes money to Jabba the Hutt, who once owned Vader and his mother as a slave some 40 odd years ago or so, is just chilling in a Cantina with Chewbacca someone that many Jedi of the past are familiar with. Also there is Greedo, someone Anakin knew when he was a kid, works for Jabba and threatens Han if he doesn't pay up the money he owes. Also it turns out the weakness in said battle station came about because the lead architect was forced against his will to work on it and installed a weakness so small that no one would notice." Lord knows I probably missed some stuff but does that sound like the movie we all watched when we were eight years old? Not in the slightest and that's my point. With the presence of so much extended material over the decades it can turn something like A New Hope, a movie that changed cinema forever, and make it feel like "Two Hours of Star Wars Content." Reddit user u/Harold3456 highlights what I am trying to say: "If there's one thing I kind of like about all the Star Wars movies (even the prequels... kinda) it's how minimalist they are with their exposition. They work as wish fulfillment space fantasy because they allow everyone to believe they could have these adventures. As such, they manage to give us the perfect minimum amount of exposition to ensure we believe Luke's journey." For myself, trying to treat the Galaxy Far, Far Away as if it were a real tangible place and that all the movies/ books/ comics are "documentaries" of sorts for it just doesn't work for. It makes conversations about canon and lore to be incredibly boring and very skin deep. When was the last time you had any sort of meaningful conversation on the topic of Canon? I've never had one and I don't think I'll ever have one. Fiction is fiction at the end of the day and I prefer to keep it that way. And then we have the ST, a trilogy that for the first time in literal decades we had an open ended Star Wars story. How was it going to end? I couldn't have told you. I could have thrown some darts and maybe got a bullseye or two but I couldn't really say where anything was headed. I figured that this trilogy was largely going to be about Rey and Ben eventually coming together, I guessed the "Legacy Characters" were going to be these sort of "broken" versions of who they once were thinking back to the old days when things were much simpler, and that the whole thing was going to have a sort of 'meta' feeling to itself. To point fingers for a moment, I think this is where some fans get confused. They are trying to put the ST through a lens that Star Wars has not had since the OT. Just about every major Star Wars production has been about pre-determined events and the moment of catharsis, or shedding some light on an aspect that hasn't been explored much. And this isn't just a Star Wars issue but you see it with most of our entertainment. How many new shows like West World for example come along and most of the conversation is largely "how does it end" "What's the big pay off" "How does this set up something in the future." Now these aren't bad questions to ask at all, the problem I've been noticing over the years is that "this is all anyone wants to talk about anymore." I never watched Game of Thrones but man oh man, whenever a season was airing and seeing the many social media posts/ comments about it day in and day out was just exhausting... and most of them were mainly "this is how this THING pays off in the future." It's less about finding enjoyment or meaning in something you watch and more about "trying to be ahead of it," and never being wrong, ever. As if we all developed Atychiphobia and the very notion that we might be incorrect is just heresy. We're all too obsessed with the "Hollywood Ending" as it were with everything needed to be wrapped up nicely. It might explain the obsession with "plot holes" in the last decade or so as these things don't turn into meaning anymore just bullet points on paper, stripping away the emotion of it all. To point to Marvel and the MCU for a moment.... With Avengers: Endgame, I knew exactly what was going to happen in that movie right down to the time travel plot (though it is becoming more and more difficult to even be surprised by MCU movies but that’s a discussion for another day). You can look to the source material to make an educative guess as to what things may or may not happen. The source material is a sort authority to the films. Even moments like Captain America using Thor’s Hammer have been done in the comics before so it isn’t so surprising to see it finally happen. Of course changes can be made to fit whatever story is being told. Thanos wanting to get the Infinity Stones to wipe out half the universe in Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, which Infinity War is loosely based on, was to attract Mistress Death, while in the film Thanos does it as he believes that over population will lead to end of everything as what happened to his planet. But the overall “goal” is still wipe out half the universe for reason X. Needless to say I’m glad they went with what happened in the movie because if they seriously tried to use the version in the comic… yikes. Listening to interviews with Josh Brolin and the Russos it seems they took inspiration from many Marlon Brando movies and performances, specifically Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (more on this one in a bit) when developing Thanos. But Source Material isn't the be all end all when it comes to movies that are adapted from. Many great adaptations have taken their source material and made their own thing out of it. Giving it a new identity that in some ways is better. I recommend watching the Gigguk video Source Material Is Irrelevant for more insight into this. The Godfather is a great example of this. The Godfather book written by Mario Puzo, while a best seller, isn't regarded the same way as the movie is (I can only read descriptions of Sonny's huge Penis for so long....). But Francis Ford Coppola found a way to turn that into a cinematic work of art that is still widely celebrated to this day. And then there is Apocalypse Now. One of the greatest war movies of all time and a movie that has weirdly been in the "shadows" of Star Wars since day one... even though it came out a few years after. The movie was based off of the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and was written in 1899. Fifteen years before even the first world war and was largely centred around Cornad's travels in the Congo River. Coppola more or less took the basic idea, set in the Vietnam War (very fitting) and made dramatic changes that helped make it into the movie that it eventually turned into. But that's one major example of source material being used to create something dramatically different than what was before. The same can be said about the many Shakespeare adaptations. Romeo and Juliet) and Romeo + Juliet are inspired by the same stage play but are both wildly different movies. Source material can be a sort of authority or guidance for that matter. If you've ever watched a movie based off a book you have read sometime before it's a completely different experience than say watching a movie based on a book you haven't read. That was my experience watching the Hunger Games movies. Myself and two other have read them all while out fourth friend had not but wanted to watch them anyway as he was a fan of Jennifer Lawrence. Needless to say we had a bit of a different experience with the movies. Though we all agreed that Catching Fire was the best one. Star Wars doesn't really have that though. There's an endless sea of Lore you could memorize but aside from answering next week's crossword puzzle or winning some trivia contest it doesn't really have that same feeling. There aren't any guidelines, blueprints, architects for how Star Wars film are supposed to be. March of last year, The Last Jedi Novelization Writer Jason Fry wrote a wonderful thread talking about how The Empire Strikes Back, when you splice it, is a very strange follow up to A New Hope. Both in a Story and a Filmmaking perspective. But then comes to double edged sword of this all. Because there is no source material and you have to look outside the movies in order to get the answers you might want, it creates a connection that can ultimately be destructive if not kept in check. Reddit user u/sccorby writes as follows: "On the one hand this universe is so appealing to the imagination because the stuff we conjure up in our heads becomes the source material in a way. When we fill the void left by not having pre-existing (and accepted) source material with our own thoughts, we create a powerful personal connection with this story. But with that connection, comes a sense of attachment to the stuff we come up with. And because there is no “guide” to keep our imaginations in check, for better or worse we as fans take on a sense of ownership of “what I think it should be” that can inevitably turn us away from enjoying what we eventually see on screen... simply because it wasn’t what we imagined so vividly. That’s the experience I had as a 9th grader with the prequels when TPM came out. I had spent my child hood imagining what this story would be like, what the Clone Wars were, how Anakin fell, and ultimately couldn’t accept the prequels because they were so vastly different from what I imagined. When people feel like that, it’s often not accompanied by a ton of self-awareness around why they feel like that, and simply dismiss the film as “bad”." I'd argue this outright explains some of the more... "extreme" reactions to put it lightly. The connection we get with thus stuff is oftentimes greater than say anything that happens in a... (throws a dart) Marvel movie. With Marvel, there's thousands of comics to look at and say "well this is gonna happen based in this particular issue, all these exact characters were in this location when X occurred meaning it eventually build up to Y appearing which will cause Z to happen and that's what Avengers 5 will be about." Star Wars doesn't have that. There's "I think this is gonna happen because.... reasons." And No, The EU (Legends) is not, repeat, is not source material. Say it with me, The EU (Legends) is not source material. It's an entire different type of flying... altogether. If anything it's sort of the opposite, the movies are the source material for the books/ comics/ etc as they build off stuff from there. i can guarantee, half these books that get written are a "response" of sorts to whatever movie is about to come out. It's interesting when the EU was dubbed "non-canon" seeing the myriad of responses. Most of them were... stupid but like my experience with the Hunger Games movies they highlight a sort of mentality that some fans have. First off, the EU (Legends) was not as widely consumed as some might have built it up to be. Heir to the Empire, the series that basically started the whole thing, sold about 5 million copies per book. Star Wars (A New Hope) sold 178.1 Million Tickets through release and multiple re-releases. The Last Jedi Sold 67.7 Million Tickets in its initial run. I think Solo sold more tickets than Heir to the Empire sold copies but that's just speculation. So in addition to not being on the same level as consumption to the movies the reactions to when that news struck revealed an interesting revelation of sorts. First off, fans mad that their collective knowledge that they have spent years/ decades memorizing and impressing chicks at the bar with was now flushed down the can. They'd be going into any new movie cold turkey and there was nothing they could do about it. Sure they could shout and say "Well it's still canon to me!" but that doesn't really do anything except make you look like an entitled dick. Secondly, and I think this might be at least A major reason, fans would no longer be able to say "I know what's gonna a happen next." But that advantage is now "taken away" so to speak. No longer will they be able to pick up chick and wins bar bets (ok that's an exaggeration but you get the idea). They would have been in the driver seat with both hands on the wheel. We live in a society (*Wink* *Wink*) where spoiler culture is dumb and stupid. And I get it, I don't want to be spoiled but something I'm looking forward to. Movies/ games/ book/ television, I want to be surprised and experience this stuff for myself as does anyone else. But the extremes people go to and how much they obsess over it is ridiculous. When Marvel released that video titled "Don't Spoil the Endgame" I rolled my eyes something fierce. Is this the level we are at now? The worst part is, everyone who worked on Endgame and the way Marvel talked about it all pointed to to the same thing: "Everyone and their dog knows whats going to happen in this movie." Even the lengths the Russos went to Keep Their Cast in the Dark about it was ridiculous. Because that certainly leads to better performances..... If you're like me (at least not too much like me) you probably look at these live action remakes of classic Disney films and ask "why?" Then you see their opening weekend number and then their final box offices and go "Oh, that's why." Seriously, The Lion King made like Jurassic World level box office and this surprised no one at all. Secretly, Audiences loves knowing spoilers ahead of time. It's why these remakes do so well in box office. To further this, The More spoilers you know ahead of time, the more you're likely to enjoy something. Two of the best selling video games of recent memory are Persona 5: The Royal, an updated version of Persona 5 with largely the same story but with added content and Final Fantasy VII Remake, a remake of the 1997 classic Final Fantasy VII. If you're playing either of these games, you've probably played the original versions of them. I certainly have and enjoy them both greatly. All fo this is to say that the EU being nuked for some fans wasn't just having their collective knowledge being thrown away, it was a signal that "you're not in the driver seat." That might be a bit extreme but that's how I see it. To anyone who says the EU "ShOuLd hAvE bEeN AdApTeD" into movies, go outside, preferably practicing social distancing, and smell the roses. But don't take this massive post to say "no source material is better," because it isn't. At the end of the day whether your movie is 7th in a franchise or whatever you're still trying to tell a story at the end of the day that will resonate with people on some level. With Star Wars, you're sort of working from scratch and the same cloth at the same time. You have to actively make everything. The characters, the locations, the costumes, the ships, the droids, ETC. And so far that has yet to reel any sort of results. The approach so far seems to be "hand this filmmaker a trilogy and let them go nuts," but we have yet to see that and how it plays out. It doesn't help when some of these directors that have been fired (and there have been a lot) it's done so in such a public and dramatic fashion that you can't help but wonder "everything good?" Pheeeeeeewwwwww. This is probably the longest post I have ever written.... but I felt this sub needed some "different" content outside of what we usually do. If there is something you feel I missed, please let me know, I have some other think pieces I'd like to present here.
I was the biggest science nerd at my high school. During my freshman year, anyway. I was always top of every science class, and I was the only guy I knew who had built both their own Newtonian reflector telescope and ham radio set. But then, at the beginning of my sophomore year, Maria transferred to my school. The very first day she got into an argument with the physics teacher about the role that dark matter played in determining the final fate of the universe, and I knew at once that I had dropped into second place. I actually spoke to Maria after class. That may not sound shocking to you, but it was shocking to me. I didn't talk to girls. Well, to be honest, I didn't talk to guys very much either. Girls however, girls scared me in ways that I didn't even begin to understand. But when I heard Maria arguing about gravitational lensing and non-baryonic matter, she suddenly ceased to be a body with breasts, and became a person with a brain. That's not really the right way to explain it. It wasn't that she wasn't a girl anymore, I was a teenage boy and I wasn't going to stop noticing that. But she was no longer JUST a girl. Instead of being just a collection of body parts that both attracted and terrified me, she became an intelligent human being, who just happened to be female. It was a huge paradigm shift in my view of half of humanity. So I walked up behind Maria after class, introduced myself and said, "That was an incredible argument you made, worthy of Neil Degrasse Tyson!" Maria cocked her head at a very skeptical angle and said "Carl Sagan." I stood confused for a second and finally sputtered out, "What?" Maria said, "Carl Sagan was way more cosmic than Degrasse." I smiled and replied, "Would you say he was Billions and Billions of times more cosmic?" Maria laughed and said, "Yes! He was!" My grin only got wider as I said, "Well, you're wrong. Sagan is just Billions and Billions of years old news. Neil is NOW, and Neil is the King of Science!" We happily debated the point for the rest of the day. This was the beginning of our friendship. You might think that suddenly being passed up in all my favorite classes would have caused some jealousy on my part, but it didn't. Quite the contrary. I was just thrilled to find another human being who was interested in the same things I was. Maria and I talked about science and spent many Sunday afternoons playing D&D in her basement. We both loved math, creating and breaking ciphers, crossword puzzles, science fiction, and building things. We watched the old Cosmos and the new Cosmos back to back and never did agree on who was actually the most cosmic cosmos host, but even the disagreement was something we enjoyed. We quickly formed a closer friendship than any I had ever experienced. Other guys laughed at me and told me that you shouldn't ever be friends with a girl, because once you were friends, you would be stuck in the friend zone forever. I ignored them because I needed a friend much more than I needed a girlfriend. Besides, I didn't actually consider my fellow teenage boys to be a very good source of advice on relationships. Actually, I didn't consider them to be a great source of advice on much of anything, but anyone with eyes could see that they were ESPECIALLY bad at relationships. Maria and I remained friends, and over time, that friendship grew closer and closer. It wasn't anything that happened overnight. I couldn't point to any particular moment in time and say that was the day our friendship turned into a romance. It was way to gradual for that. Maria was my best friend, and eventually I realized that I was in love with my best friend. "This is my beloved, and this is my friend." I mentioned this to Maria and instead of acting like it was a big and important revelation, she just laughed at me and said, "Duh, of course. Romance is just what happens when a friendship equation switches from growing linearly to growing exponentially. Ours did that a long time ago." There wasn't much that phased Maria. I loved Maria, not with the shallow puppy love so typical of teenage romances, but with the deep felt knowledge that she was the other half of my soul. I don't know how to explain it except that I was most truly ME, when I was with her. We had so much in common, but it was also obvious from the very beginning that she was out of my league mentally. I was smart, but Maria, she was a certified genius. I felt pretty good about my grade in Algebra II, but Maria was put in the advanced Calculus class as soon as she arrived at our school. I did great in physics, but Maria was quickly moved to taking physics at the local University, and got the top grades in the class there. I was very proud of my junior year science fair volcano. Oh, it was no lame baking soda and vinegar looser project! I created a special mixture that accurately reproduced the viscosity of lava. I added solid chunks to represent rocks, and colored the whole concoction with dye extracted from highlighters that fluoresced bright orange in the ultraviolet light I had hanging over the scene. The fake lava mixture was pumped out of the paper mache mountain using multiple small aquarium pumps controlled by a raspberry pi. I had programmed it to start the show with a huge explosive bang that would scatter lava in a three foot diameter around the mountain, and then slow down to a more sedate flow. Just like a real eruption. I made certain my gym teacher was standing right next to the miniature volcano when I hit the remote and triggered the explosion. That was quite satisfying. My volcano DID win the competition. But I knew that I won because the teachers didn't actually understand Maria's project. Mine was just a very glorified paper mache volcano. Maria was doing real mad scientist stuff. She was attempting to use the Casimir Effect to harness vacuum energy to generate electricity out of, well, quite literally, empty space. The Casimir Effect is what happens when you place two surfaces so close together that there is no room between them for the virtual particles to form that continually generate and annihilate throughout "empty" space. This creates an area of "more empty" vacuum, and the pressure of the "less empty" vacuum on the outside pushes the two plates together with tremendous force. Maria had a new approach to generating and harnessing this same force. And it DID actually generate electricity, but less than the energy she put into the system. Maria insisted that it was still generating more electricity than expected, and that with further research and work, she could make it actually more than 100% efficient. But all the judges saw was a small box with an electrical cord feeding in, a voltmeter showing a small current coming out, a huge folder full of mathematical equations, and a young girl claiming something which sounded like it would violate conservation of energy. They didn't get it. But they DID get the volcano that covered Coach Johnson in glowing orange slime. Coach Johnson wasn't very popular with the other teachers either, so I won. Maria didn't seem to mind. She never seemed to rely on her teachers, or anyone else really, for her self esteem. She did what she did because that was what she enjoyed doing. And whether anyone else recognized the genius in it or not was of very little concern to Maria. Maria's Casimir research came up again during our Senior year. Even if I was only going to be salutatorian, I was still a grade conscious nerd. And, typical of that group, I was always hauling around a backpack absolutely filled to overflowing with school books, notebooks, my drawing pad full of portraits of D&D characters, pencils, various crossword puzzle collections, a battered copy of "The Adventures of the Mad Scientist Club", and my laptop. I was walking between classes with Maria and she asked me a question about a playfair cipher we had been cryptanalyzing together. I unzipped my backpack, struggling to get one of my spiral notebooks out and the contents pretty much exploded, kind of like my science fair volcano. Maria gathered the various bits of ejecta while I struggled to shove it all back inside the bulging backpack. She shook her head at me as I tried to squeeze one more book back into the bag and said, "If you force any more books into that little backpack, they're going to collapse into a black hole and suck the entire school through its event horizon. You need a bigger backpack, for the safety of us all." With a final grunt of effort I got the last book to go in and zipped the pack shut saying, "See, no black hole! Neutron star perhaps? Besides, I can hardly carry this one as it is. What I need is a genuine backpack of holding!" I laughed at my own silly suggestion, but Maria didn't. Instead she sat down lotus position on the sidewalk next to me and got that far away look she gets when she is thinking deep thoughts. There is no point in interrupting her when she is working on an idea like that. You have to just leave her alone until she comes out of it in a few minutes. So I dropped my backpack and just sat down across from her and waited. I never minded just sitting and watching Maria. Actually, it was one of my favorite things to do. In a few minutes Maria blinked, and her eyes suddenly refocused on me. She said, as if our conversation had never been interrupted, "I think that might be possible. What do you know about string theory?" "Which one?" I asked. "There are a bunch of them, super string, M, or, what's that other one, bassoon?" "Not bassoon, bosonic silly," she replied. "It doesn't matter which. One of the key points all of the string theories have in common is compactification. The idea that our universe has a LOT of dimensions, but all the 'extra' dimensions are compacted, curled up very small." "Uhm, yeah." I said. "It doesn't make much sense. So to answer your earlier question, I guess I don't know much about string theory." "String theory is unproven," Maria said, "but the models are consistent. So, here is what I'm thinking. Space is normally filled with virtual particles, generating out of nothing, and annihilating back to nothing. An ocean of virtuality thick enough to produce an enormous pressure in supposedly empty space. What if... What if that pressure is what keeps the extra dimensions compactified? What if we could use my variation of the Casimir effect, the same one I used in the science fair last year, to eliminate that pressure over a large area, and... uncurl some of those extra compacted dimensions?" "Uncurl them," I said, catching on, "and create a pocket of space that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? A tardis? A 'Last Battle' Stable?" "Yes!" she continued. "A backpack of holding. I think it will work, I'm SURE it will work!" "But," I insisted, "You need a better name than 'Backpack of Holding.' You can't put 'Backpack of Holding' on a scientific paper. How about, 'Casimir Backpack?'" "I would be perfectly happy to have a paper entitled 'Backpack of Holding' published in Nature with my name on it" Maria said. "But since you inspired it, you can name it. Casimir Backpack it is. I'm going to build it. My science fair project is going to whip yours this year!" "Only," I said, "if you can use it to cover Coach Johnson in glowing orange slime!" The science fair actually came and went with no sign of Maria's "Casimir Backpack." She instead entered a device that used sunlight and a catalyst to break water down into oxygen and hydrogen, then ran the hydrogen through a fuel cell to generate electricity. It was really much simpler than she was capable of. And because of that, the teachers could understand it enough to be impressed and she actually won. But I knew that it was something she had thrown together quickly so as not to take up the time she was spending on something she considered much more important. The backpack project. But Maria wouldn't tell me much about it. It was going to be a surprise for me, so I was supposed to be patient and wait to be surprised. It was almost the end of the school year when Maria finally invited me down into her 'laboratory' in her family's basement to see the backpack. On a table in the center of the room was the bottom of a steel shipping barrel. A little less than two feet in diameter and cut off so that it was only about one foot deep. It had all kinds of wires, cables, and strange looking devices attached to the outside, but was empty inside. I looked it over carefully and said, "This, is not a backpack. It's much bigger than my backpack. It looks like the pot the Borg would use to can peaches." Maria laughed and said, "This is just the prototype. Miniaturization will come later. Also, this one has a power surge problem. I don't know how long it will actually work. But I've already got notes on how to fix that problem in the next model. For now, this will make an excellent first test!" Then she reached over and flipped a large toggle switch. For a brief moment, perhaps half a second or less, nothing happened. And then the surface of the cut off barrel became a smooth golden mirror. As if the whole thing had just been instantly filled with molten gold. Maria looked at it and smiled. Then she took a yard stick and pushed it down into that golden surface. The barrel was only a foot deep, but the yard stick went down past twelve inches, past twenty-four inches, and didn't stop until almost thirty inches. Maria said, "Nice!, that's around, what, fifteen times the original volume? That's a lot more than I expected! I wonder if that volume could tell us something about exactly how MANY dimensions were being uncompacted in there?" And she started to get that far away thinking look again. I interrupted her with "Theorize later. Finish the current experiment now! Will the yardstick come back out, has it really just been dissolved at the interface?" Maria sighed and said, "Ah, yes, you are right. Time for that later. For now..." And she pulled the yardstick back up out of the barrel. I half expected the yardstick to be covered with liquid gold, but it came back up out of the barrel as clean as it had gone in. It was eerie, and exciting, watching thirty inches of stick coming out of a space only twelve inches deep on the outside! Nearby Maria had a stack of cinder blocks. She gestured towards them and said, "First experiment was mine, but the honor of the second goes to you. Pick up one of those cinder blocks and drop it in." So I lifted one of the blocks from the pile and then held it over the golden interface at the top of the barrel, then let go. The cinder block dropped in and disappeared without a sound. Maria lifted a second one and dropped it in. Then I dropped in a third. We kept alternating until we had dropped in six blocks. Three blocks shouldn't have been able to fit into that space, but now six had dropped in and nothing showed above the golden interface. Then Maria stuck both her hands in, fished around a bit, and pulled one of the cinder blocks back out. We both reached in and in a very short time had all six of them back out on the floor. "That is AMAZING!" I said. "Not as amazing as this," she said, and picked up my backpack from where I had set it on the floor. "Wait!" I cried out. "You said this thing might fail at any moment!" "Yeah," she replied. "But when it does, everything inside should just be pushed back out, a mini explosion, like happens with your backpack ALL the time." Then she unzipped my backpack, pulled out the laptop (since it was fragile) and dumped all of the rest of the contents into the barrel. I gulped. "Don't worry!" Maria said. "It's all still there, that's the point!" And she started fishing my things back out. One by one out came my school books and my notebooks. She started fishing around and pulling back out all of my pencils and my scientific calculator. She reached in one more time and said, "See, even your teddy bear is safe!" And tossed an orange furry stuffed toy onto the table. Both of us were very quiet for a moment. I broke the silence with, "I don't do stuffed animals Maria." Maria looked quizzically at the toy and said, "I know that. Could someone have snuck it into your backpack during the day?" I shook my head no and said, "That things about eight inches tall. There isn't ROOM in my backpack for another pencil, yet alone a stuffed toy. It's impossible. It couldn't have been in my backpack." Maria picked the toy up and said, "And this... isn't a teddy bear. I don't know what it is." I took a closer look. The stuffed toy was covered with orange fur. Besides the regular two legs and two arms, there was a second smaller pair of arms to the front and below the main pair. There were no ears on the head. It had five eyes. Two larger eyes spaced way to wide, and three smaller ones higher and centered between them. The mouth may have been the most disturbing element on that disturbing toy. The mouth was a huge slash filled with enormous triangular cloth teeth and surrounded with short yarn tentacles. The whole thing was just WRONG. Just looking at it made me uncomfortable "What kind of a person," I said, "would find THIS thing to be a cute and cuddly toy?" Maria kept turning the thing over in her hands and said, "Or should, perhaps, the question be, 'in what kind of a WORLD is this a cute and cuddly toy?'" I said "I don't understand." Maria kept staring at the stuffed monstrosity and said, "The device I created, it uncurls compacted dimensions. I'm certain of that. My hypothesis was that this would expand the amount of space available, making the inside bigger than the outside. But this," and she shook the stuffed toy, "this implies that the original hypothesis is wrong, or at least incomplete. I think it's time for a new hypothesis: that we haven't expanded space, instead we have opened up a pathway to a new space." "You mean," I said, "this isn't a backpack of holding? It's a GATE? You opened up a gate to another dimension?" "Insufficient evidence to say for certain," she replied. "But it is certainly now a plausible theory." Then she set down the stuffed... thing, and reached out towards the golden interface again. "Wait!" I cried out. "Perhaps you should turn this contraption off while we think about this." Maria gave me an incredulous look and said, "Oh come on. I'm going to have to take away your Mad Scientist card. There is no WAY we could leave something as incredible, as exciting as this unexplored." There was a slight tremor in my voice when I replied, "A mad scientist opens a gate to another dimension, isn't that just how DOOM started?" "Well, yes," Maria said. "But a stuffed toy, no matter how ugly, hardly counts as a demon. And besides, how does that change anything? Would you suggest that Frodo should have just left the ring in a box on his shelf and forgotten about it? That Phileas Fogg should have turned down the bet and stayed in his room, Mr. Cavor should have just made window blinds, or Ender Wiggin should have just asked to be home schooled? No, no, this is an ADVENTURE, the likes of which we have never seen in our short lives. And not on your WORST day would you run away from an adventure like this!" But she was wrong. I could have, and I think I would have if Maria hadn't been there. But Maria was made of sterner stuff than I was. Or, perhaps this was just the one area where she was actually dumber than I was. Anyway, she stuck her hand back through that golden interface and started feeling around inside the barrel. For a little bit, nothing unusual happened, and I began to think that all of those feelings of dread coursing through my body had been silly. Then Maria said, "Hey, I think I found..." She never finished the sentence. Suddenly her eyes went wide and she started to scream. But before she could get more than the beginning of it out, her head was jerked beneath the interface. Maria's left hand had grabbed the edge of the barrel and was desperately trying to pull herself back out. In a heartbeat I stepped forward and grabbed her around the waist and pulled upward with all my might. For a brief moment we were making progress. I saw Maria's chin coming back up out of the golden interface, and then... And then, the hand came reaching up out of the interface. I say hand, but it was certainly no human hand. It was dull grey in color, and larger than a normal human hand. The fingers looked much like the talons of an eagle, just skin over bones with a long sharp claw at each fingertip. And right at the tip of each finger, directly underneath the claw, was a tiny eye. Not a spot that looked a little like an eye, but a real, blinking, tiny eyeball at the tip of each finger. There were also two thumbs, one on each side of the palm. And that palm... It still makes me shudder even trying to write this down. In the center of the palm there was an orifice. Like a small mouth. I can remember every detail of that hand, it is burned into my memory as if the image had taken a branding iron to my brain. It takes a bit of time to describe all of those details, but the hand was only there for a moment. It quickly rose out of the golden interface and turned, LOOKING for me with those tiny finger eyes. And when it saw me, the mouth in the palm opened. It was full of little teeth, and it screamed. When I say that it screamed, that is an entirely inadequate description of what happened. A sound came out of the mouth that was so loud it really didn't seem to make any noise. Instead it felt like someone had hit me in the face with a hammer. The force of it knocked me back several feet and I fell to the floor, the world spinning around me. I was back up within seconds though, only in time to see Maria's feet disappearing down through the golden interface and into that gate to... someplace else. I was still dizzy from the blow and struggled to step forward, I knew I had to follow Maria and help her. But before I could get there, two of those terrifying hands came up through the interface and grabbed the edge of the barrel. It, the creature those hands were attached to, was pulling itself up. Before I could go through to wherever Maria was, that... THING, that hideous monster, was coming out into OUR world. Then, just as I was expecting some loathsome head to appear, there was a loud pop. Electric arcs, like from a Tesla coil, shot out of and between the electronics attached to the barrel. The golden interface at top shimmered, and then disappeared. The creatures fingers, severed at the point where they had been intersected by the interface, fell to the table. The barrel itself was empty. Just as Maria had predicted, there had been a power surge. I doubt though if she had realized exactly how large of a power surge, and how catastrophic the failure was going to be. All of the equipment Maria had built was completely fried. Most of it fused into black lumps. I left it all behind. I gathered all of Maria's notes, then packed the severed fingers into a ziplock bag and took them, and the little stuffed toy monstrosity with me when I left. I never told anyone what happened that night. Maria's parents were very "hands off" in the way they raised her. They didn't even realize she was missing until over twenty-four hours later. The police were finally summoned, and they did question me, but not very seriously. I was apparently too nerdy to be a murderer from their perspective. It was eventually decided that Maria must have been overcome by the pressure of her schooling and ran away from home. No one ever associated the charred electronics in the basement with her disappearance, and I never corrected anyone on the point. I dropped out of high school before graduation. Most people, including my parents, assumed I was just depressed because my girlfriend had left me and run away. I've used that misunderstanding to buy me the time I needed. What I've actually been doing since then, for almost a year now, was following Maria's notes and rebuilding the Casimir Backpack. Or, actually, I suppose I should call it the Casimir Gate now. I'm not as smart as Maria. I don't understand all the details of exactly why this contraption works. But I'm very good with a soldering iron, and I'm smart enough to follow her instructions and rebuild the device. Maria had already identified the flaw that caused the massive failure in the prototype. I've used her notes on how to correct that in the new model. This gate should be able to stay open indefinitely. And that is why I'm telling my story now. I'm done with the construction. It's finished. And tonight, I'm going to open the gate again. If anyone knew, anyone reasonable and rational, they would try to stop me. I've still got the fingers hidden in my folks freezer. Fingers with those terribly long claws, and with horrible little eyes. Most people would insist I not open the gate just after looking at that grotesque stuffed toy. But if the police, or military, or any government agency saw those fingers, if they realized I was opening up a way for those creatures to get through into our world, they would stop me. And I wouldn't blame them for doing it. But I can't let them. Maria's been over "there" for almost a year now. But Maria is the smartest and most resilient human being I know. She will have survived. I believe that with every fiber of my being. I have to. She will be waiting. Waiting for me to open another gate so that she can come back home. And tonight, that is what I am going to do. I'm going to open the Casimir Gate, go through it, find Maria, and together, we will come back home. But how long will it take? How long will the gate be open, waiting for us to return? And what will slip through it into our world during that time? I don't know. I've taken some precautions to try and secure the gate. It has a locked steel lid that will shut behind me. It will be in a room with solid concrete walls and a locked security door. But will that stop those monsters? Will it even slow them down? I just don't know. I realize this is irresponsible of me. Criminally negligent even. But Maria is waiting for me, and I WILL be going to her. Tonight. And that is why I wrote this. Because I just wanted to say that if anything hideous, terrifying, and deadly dangerous shows up soon. If a horrible creature with eyes on it's fingertips and a screaming mouth in it's palm crawls into your window at night. Or if a whole army of them riding orange furred beasts with five eyes, six limbs, and tentacles surrounding a giant mouth full of huge teeth invades your city. I'm sorry. But I didn't have any other choice.
TL;DR AT BOTTOM I just figured us out guys. Completely. Again, correct me if I'm being Captain Obvious here, but if you related to my last post about having a recognition when you look in the mirror, but not understanding it, this is for you. I'll start by explaining it factually, and then I'll try to put it in more human terms.
According to the MBTI, the conscious functions of the INFJ are Introverted Intuition and Extroverted Feeling, while the unconscious functions are Introverted Thinking and Extroverted Sensing. In other words, our actual default way of thinking is via having an internal monologue and reading the room, picking up on moods and emotions of the people around us, while logical, analytical thought based on concrete details in the real world is done in the background without us having to really think about it. However, when an INFJ is placed under significant stress, their fight-or-flight mode kicks in, which means that the conscious and unconscious functions actually switch places, and we begin using logic and observation of concrete, real world details as our default functions. In other words, we lose our ability to pick up on the vibe of the room, and our ability to have an internal monologue, or at least the internal monologue of a healthy INFJ mind. Instead of consciously, deliberately thinking about how others feel, and how the outside world works, we are primarily living in the moment, consciously problem solving and trying to make plans, or lists, or goals. In my research and application of said research, I discovered that I could process things and empathize with others more quickly by attempting to suppress my Introverted Thinking. In other words, I stopped consciously thinking. About anything. A completely silent mind. And it exploded. My brain switched partially and intermittently at first, and then completely back to the optimal state, with reading the room and having a true internal monologue as my primary thought process, and logical, analytical thought in the background.
Okay, now here's the translation to human: What I didn't realize until tonight was that I figured out how to relax, and what anxiety feels like inside.Guys, if you find yourself analytically living in the moment way more than you empathetically reflect on the nature of things, and you don't know why,YOU EITHER HAVE CHRONIC ANXIETY OR SOMETHING IS CONSISTENTLY CAUSING YOU STRESS. Examples of thoughts by a 'stressed' INFJ:
"My dream house will have a bedroom above the garage, because I want to hear if someone tries to open it during the night. Ooh, and a 2nd story hot tub that waterfalls into the pool on the 1st floor deck. Oh, here comes Jim. Let me think; Jim brought his car by again last Tuesday I think. It's always the same problem with Jim. [Attempts to listen to Jim, but can't really hear everything he's saying because I was trying to think about my house.] I know! I'll try and figure out what he's thinking so I can cut him off and think about this house for an extra half second. [finishes conversation] I keep telling him to not mix peanut butter in with his oil. Dude is clearly not very intelligent. I bet he's like that because he's insecure. Maybe there's a valid reason though. Maybe he has a rough home life. I hope he's happy.<< Welp, while I'm scooping this stuff out, I'll try and think of something productive. Okay, I clearly need to keep better track of the chores. I should come up with a system that takes into account the week, my current work shift schedule, and my second job's staffing for the week, oh yeah, and ...uh...wait, what was I thinking about again? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Oh! Here comes the end of the dipstick. It was really wedged in there! ...is that a Reese's Cup? Dangit, now I want one. Not this one though, it's covered in peanut butter and burnt motor oil! What the hell, Jim. I do want a package of Reese's Cups though. I'll walk down to the vending machines after I go tell Bill about Jim's latest vehicle adventure. I still don't get why he brings his car here; this is clearly an office. Maybe he's insecure and likes hanging out, or maybe he thinks it's hilarious and wanted to tell me about it. Or maybe he's trying to mess with me. Maybe Bill will give me a no BS answer about it, if he knows. He probably doesn't or he would have told me. I would have told him if I thought someone was trying to mess with him. I like having friends who shoot straight. Those are the best kind. << Wait, I'm still hungry! Oh yeah, I remember. Alright, time to go down and get that Reese's. I need some music while I walk. Where are my headphones? Oh yeah. Dangit! They're tangled. How is this tangled? Ugh, I don't feel like figuring it out, but I want to listen to music. Dammit. Ok, I'll untangle it. sighs Alright, let's find an end. Ok there's one. Looks like the headphone is attached to the wire and the wire goes through here. Ok, I'll back it out. Whoops, nope, that's not gonna work I'm gonna pull it the other way. There we go. Looks like the next thing that needs to be pulled through is this guy right here. Ok awesome. Then that one. One more, and....I'm good! Ok, let's pick a song. Do I want to listen to something heavy, or something soft? I was listening to those guys earlier, but I don't want to get sick of them. I'll pick that one instead. Man, I like this song. These guys are awesome. I really like their tone. They've got a good vibe too. I should see if they're playing anywhere close anytime soon. << Ok so anyway, about this house, what color do I want to..."
So here's a question, guys and gals: Do your thoughts ever look like that? If they do, congrats; you're in grip stress mode! Do they look like that most of the time? Congrats, you probably have chronic anxiety, or some other source of continual stress! If you're like me, you have it so consistently that you think that it's the normal way your brain is supposed to work. You aren't really upset about it; you consider yourself pretty smart, and you try to be a nice person, so not really too upset about it. Logic can be useful! Here are some benefits of using logic in conscious thought:
The nature of our personality means that when we use logic as our primary thought process, we can become very good at it, given enough time to understand the underlying concepts. I have always been the computer guy in my family. I built an 8 foot tall Rube Goldberg machine for my Jr. High Science Fair. I love reading about things like the latest test of Elon Musk's Starlink system (610 Mbps!!!).
I do hours of research on whatever my current interest is, every single day. This means that I am highly knowledgeable (in a book sense) about a variety of topics. I can talk for hours without BSing about a variety of topics. I don't claim to be an expert on anything, but I do at least try to be competent in as many categories as possible.
I am very technically minded and excel at stringing things together. I played with Legos a lot as a child. It's no issue for me to grasp new concepts, and even think of optimizations for those concepts, if I completely understand the foundation that the concept is built on.
I do things INFJ's aren't typically known for, like skydive and ride motorcycles. I love being an adrenaline junkie. I don't mind getting up on stage and playing guitar, as long as I feel prepared.
I'm known as being pretty extroverted and friendly. I don't have any issue with talking about myself; I always say I'm an open book. Not because I think myself more important than others, but because I am eager to be understood, and before being able to switch I believed that the easiest way to be understood was to be as transparent as possible.
My wife always shakes her head because I can just walk up and be friendly with anyone. I have several friends that I stay in touch with that I met in person maybe one time in line for a movie or something like that.
I'm fairly self-confident in my appearance. Mirrors don't bother me, and I have gotten a lot more comfortable with photos.
I can usually explain my thought processes to others in a way that they can understand.
I'm okay with placing my needs first when necessary.
As an INFJ, I feel obligated to mention here that I'm not trying to toot my own horn. Just listing perks of developing some proficiency with the ESTP side of things.
But, it's not all awesome. Because of how the INFJ mind is wired, we can't consciously use empathy and logic simultaneously unless we're completely stress free. Here are some side effects of that, which I can attest to after 25+ years of mostly thinking about the wrong things:
Because logic is part of our fight-or-flight response, I had a very colorful childhood. Many schools, grades usually poor, angry phases, poor relationship with parents, lots of acting out and being goofy in inappropriate situations.
It takes a long time to comprehend things. School was hard for me. I had some happy experiences, and teachers seemed to like me, but grades? Not so great.
Issues with absentmindedness. Always losing things around the house and sometimes I'll lose my train of thought mid-sentence, which embarrasses me, which makes me even more forgetful, which makes me even more embarrassed, etc.
Trouble reading people and social situations. Rarely knowing how people feel. Rarely feel appreciated or understood. Gullible.
Little to no self-awareness. I want everyone to like me, but I can't figure out how to make it happen. My logic fails me. Most of the friends who I consider to be long term are the ones that have been blunt with me about how my actions come across. I don't necessarily think people consider me to be a jerk; more just clueless and tries too hard. Never really ever considered for management.
Making impulsive decisions without really considering all the options. A good example of this for me is basing most of my purchases exclusively on price and average review. If it's something technical, I make sure parts are compatible but beyond that I don't pay much attention.
So clearly, logic doesn't win out all the time in all situations. It's important, for sure, but it always feels like something is missing. Want to know how to switch back? I learned how to do it on command. It's pretty easy; you ready? LET. YOURSELF. ZONE OUT.
Find some time where you don't have any immediate obligations to talk to anyone or work to meet any deadlines. Take some space away from dinner plans, future goals, and problems that need to be solved. Stop worrying about the things you want to accomplish in life. Put your stressing about the bills coming up on hold. Try to tell yourself things like: "You know what? I'm going to take 5 minutes and not think about a single thing. Not bills, not goals, not lists, not plans, nothing. I am going to close my eyes and exclusively dedicate my attention to forcing myself to relax and be completely quiet in my mind. I am going to listen to this song without trying to analyze its structure, or how many vocal parts there are, and explicitly focus on how the song feels. I'm going to go for a walk down this quiet road all by myself and just enjoy the breeze in my hair and take some time to just enjoy myself."
Or, if you're talking to someone, make sure you put any current problems you are currently trying to focus on away temporarily, and go out of your way to give them your undivided attention, observing as much as you can about their demeanor, body language, facial expressions, etc.
For me, it's all in the eyes. I find that if my eyes are focused and deliberately trying to examine details in my immediate environment, I begin thinking logically. If I relax my eyes a little bit, slow my breathing down, "zoom out", and simply observe the world around me without consciously trying to analyze the current moment, I find that my inner monologue returns to me and I can pick up on people's moods (again, it's all in the eyes). I immediately found that my memories came rushing back to me. Social situations became a breeze and I found I didn't have to try nearly as hard to understand people. I was able to recall way more of my memories than usual. I was a lot happier in general. And understanding of complex concepts (such as this one) came as easily as breathing, where I felt like an idiot before.
DISCLAIMER: For me, it took medication and therapy to reduce my stress level low enough to have a breath of a prayer of consciously relaxing myself to the point that I could switch back to my ideal state. I had a lot of worries, concerns, and BAD HABITS I had to figure out in order to be able to be completely calm and objective. I am at the culmination of more than a year of conscious effort to improve myself. Please don't put me on /wowthanksimcured And those of you that didn't relate to the post I made about the mirror? Congrats, you're able to relax for the most part! I think you will find that if you deliberately focus on taking more details in about your immediate surroundings, and logically trying to string things together, and really 'zoom in' on the details of your environment, you will be able to access this part of your brain too! If you haven't used it much, be prepared to initially deal with anger, confusion, and a frustration at not being able to understand people like you normally can. Earlier, I put 'stressed' in quotes. That's because I don't believe it is inherently unhealthy to use logic, if you can develop a balance. In fact, it's one of the most beneficial things you can do, as long as you regularly take time to relax and return to your internal monologue and take time to appreciate life. At the end of the day, we are all humans. And humans need both logic and love to function at our fullest. Humans need both objectivity and subjectivity. It's important to have a balance between the needs of others and the needs of ourselves. When we make sure to attend to the needs of others, it helps keep our own happiness in check, and brings about that very important feeling of self-actualization. When we make sure to take care of ourselves, we are more capable of taking care of others, and pushing our ideas further into the world, thereby potentially helping even more people.
TL;DR - It's healthiest for people to use both logic and empathy. If you primarily think using logic, try to improve your ability with empathy:
Take time away from your agenda to relax and appreciate life.
The scalding sun beat down upon the crowds. Peak season had been reached and people were headed to Family Fun Land in droves. My skin was red and moist. I dripped the last of my water down my throat. I was sweating so much under my security uniform that its colour started to permanently change. I never thought that standing in one spot all day would prove so difficult. The only refuge on a day like that was to hide under the narrow shadows of the Ferris wheel. It’s constantly circulating beams provided the most protection available while we waited for the occasional refreshing refreshing gust of wind to come off the ocean. Family Fun Land was a small theme park built around an old pier on the coast of Western Australia. It wasn't anything special-- a collection of carnival-style rides, games, and kiosks permanently stationed along the sea. I think it benefited more from lack of competition rather than its own entertainment merit. I'd been working there since the spring and had nestled myself into a position on permanent front end security. The job's sole purpose was waiting behind the ticket booth and making sure that no one tried to sneak or push past the gates without paying. What it really consisted of was a lot of standing, staring, and praying for the shift to end. My lower back would always start to ache in the last hour or so and leave me wondering if I could last past my thirtieth birthday at the end of the summer. The task wasn’t impossible. My partner on the job was an old security veteran well into his sixties with greased back, thinning grey hair. Everyone called him Smokey. I'm not sure why exactly this was, but I never cared enough to ask him his real name. As far as I could see, Smokey wasn't friendly with anyone else on staff. He didn't talk much nor was he ever a whole lot of fun to be around. For whatever reason, the guy seemed pretty hell-bent on sticking things out on the job well past the normal age of retirement. I think they put him on front end security to limit his interaction with both staff and guests alike. Maybe they stuck me there along with him as some kind of hazing ritual for the new guy. That summer day was as boring as any other. Both of us leaned against the guardrail, not doing anything particularly useful. Smokey scribbled away on one of his many crossword puzzles, where he'd fill in a word or two, fold it into his back pocket, then survey the crowd for a good five minutes before attacking the next. I'd become somewhat of a professional people-watcher in my time posted under the Ferris wheel. I found it the best way to pass the time. I liked to take note of the many different types of people coming through. I'd profile them and try to picture what they were really like in their personal lives. Sometimes, I'd make up little backstories with full histories that led them all the way up to the moment where they visited Family Fun Land. I'm not sure who picked up on it first, but there was a quick shift in energy between us-- something that had never happened on the job before. Smokey clumsily stuffed the crossword book in his back pocket and let the pen fall by his feet. The disturbance wasn't coming from line to enter the gate in front of us. Rather, it was in the mix of people already inside the park and on the main corridor our right. Among all the sounds of different people talking and yelling, there were separate and distinct sounds of distress that stood out from the mass. My eyes darted around all the different faces, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was and where it was coming from. I finally found it, dead-center in the constantly shifting crowd. A bald man, maybe forty-five, pushed two kids in front of him. One boy and one girl. He gripped their shoulders and led them through the hordes of oncoming people and towards the exit gate. The kids winced and tried to drag their feet to slow him down. It was clear the children were not on board with whatever that bald man had in mind. Maybe it was just time to leave or standard parental punishment for bad behaviour. It was subtle enough that the three of them didn't stick out from the crowd nor grab the attention of anyone, save for the two very observant front end security guards. Disputes happened every day at Family Fun Land. Technically, there was no legitimate cause for concern. Yet, something scratched a nervous itch in my throat about that man. I couldn’t help but feel there was something more sinister than what met the eye. I turned to Smokey and grabbed his shoulder. "You seeing this?" Smokey didn’t acknowledge. I noticed that his gaze had shifted above the crowd and away from the man pushing the kids. He was looking into the bleachers of the outdoor auditorium at the halfway point of the main corridor. Acrobatic shows and circus acts were held there periodically throughout the day. Smokey didn’t blink. Clearly, something up there had caught his attention. It was just past noon. The next act wouldn't be on until one thirty. The stands should have been empty and already cleaned at that point in the day. I shouldn't have been able to see what I eventually spotted there. A man stood alone in the row second to the top. He wore a long trench coat and a black cap. He should have never been able to get past security and go up there. A long case rested on the seat next to him. He surveyed the crowd, paused on us for a few seconds, as if we knew we were watching him, then turned his attention to the case. He flipped the top open and pulled something out. It was a rifle. The shape was indistinguishable. There was no questioning what it was, not even from a distance. It was long and narrow at the top with a tiny scope resting atop the base. The man swiftly brought the gun up to his shoulder and pivoted his body so he looked over the crowd again. He leaned forward and pressed his eye against the scope. It had all happened so fast. Smokey had already dashed towards the auditorium and was pushing his way through the crowd of people before I could even react. "Code Red! Code Red! Hostile in the auditorium!" I screamed into my radio. That was our maximum emergency signal-- something I never expected to hear let alone use myself while on the job. The guys in the administration office would call 0-0-0 the moment they heard it. All security staff on hand were meant to head towards the auditorium. It took me a few seconds to go, but armed with only a small baton, I ran full tilt towards that auditorium. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do when I got there. I weaved through the crowd, screaming for everyone to get out of the way. I ran into people and knocked them over-- not stopping, not caring. People stepped out of the way, hushed and terrified from seeing a security guard in such distress. I heaved in big gasps of air when I finally staggered up the entrance to the auditorium. A few members of the security team had reached the area first and were looking around bewildered. They huddled around me when I reached them, asking what exactly I'd seen and where I'd seen it. I was too out of breath to talk, so I pointed up to the top row of the stands. I may as well have pointed at the sky because nothing was there except empty seats. The man, along with his rifle and his case, were gone. There was no way out except for the way all we’d all come in. It would have been impossible for him to get there before we did. I had to explain myself and what I thought I saw to everyone on the security staff and then to my manager later on. I spat out the same bullshit-sounding story on my own, asking for Smokey to come and back me up. That didn’t happen because Smokey never made it to the auditorium. He wasn't even in the park after all the commotion had calmed. The old coward had gone home. I didn't even have twenty-four hours rest to try and get over the embarrassment before my next shift. I still hadn't decided if what I thought I'd seen was actually real or some kind of mirage. Something must have been there. Or else Smokey wouldn’t have taken off. I'd played my confrontational conversation with him over in my head in the shower before work and had myself convinced it was going to play out the way I’d had it planned. Smokey's shift started an hour before mine. It was another hot summer day and he was no other place than leaning against the rail in front of the Ferris wheel, reading over what I thought was another one of his stupid crossword puzzles. Smack. I knocked it out of his hands. "The fuck is your problem?" I said. "Where the hell did you go the other day?" He looked up at me like he had no idea what I was talking about. "You saw the man up there. I know you did. How could you run away like that?" "Didn't run home, Ted," he said. His voice was casual, like he thought I was making a big deal out of nothing. "Well, you sure as hell weren't in the auditorium when push came to shove. Everyone was there but you. Quite frankly… you're the one with the least to lose." I thought that last remark had probably taken it too far, but still, his facial expression didn't change. He remained looking disinterested. "How did it make you feel when he wasn't there?" Smokey asked me. "The other guys push you around a little?" "What do you mean?" "When you showed up, and the old sniper man wasn't there waiting for you in the stands, how did it make you feel?" "Like an idiot." "Felt the same way the first time I charged after em too. Felt just the same way every other damn time I went chasing him after that." I squinted at him, seeing if I could get him to tip me off on whatever bullshit he was spewing. His face stayed cold. He ushered me towards him with his fingers. "Look." He handed me what I originally thought was a crossword but discovered was actually that day’s paper. In big bold letters across the top read the headline LOCAL FATHER ABDUCTS AND MURDERS CHILDREN. I tried to read about how the man had taken the children from his Ex-Wife’s home on hours he wasn't allowed to see him and brought them out for a day of fun before ultimately driving to the interior and shooting them and then himself inside the car. My eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the picture of the smiling man they'd used for their front cover story. That bald head, those skinny, almost impoverished looking facial features. Unmistakably the man I'd seen pushing the children before my attention was diverted to the sniper in the stands. "Familiar face?" Smokey asked. "Yes. How did you..." "The second I saw that man with those kids, I knew the sniper would show up," Smokey said. "The hell are you talking about?" "Been working here for thirty-six years, Teddy boy. That ghost has been here off ‘n on for all that time and I imagine a well before my time as well." "Smokey..." "Not expecting you to believe me. And I ain't gonna waste both of our time tryin’ to get you to. Tried that before. Not worth the effort." "Who was the man up there with the rifle?" "Wasn't a man, Ted. Was nothing more than a warnin’." "A warning of what?" "That something terrible is going to happen. If you're smart and you plan on stickin’ around here, you'll pay close attention from here on out. You see that sniper, you look around for where the threat really is. Snowball's chance in hell you'll be able to stop it, but maybe if you can find the right people at the right time, you can prevent somethin' real bad from happenin'." "Where did you go when all of us ran to the auditorium?" "Tried to go after baldy with those two kids." "What happened?" "Lost em in the crowd. Couldn't find em in the parking lot. Couldn't find em while driving all around the area the next few hours." I turned to the crowds of people coming through the gates we were supposed to be monitoring. "Never been able to stop it in all the years I've been here. Only reason I’m still here is to try and make a difference. Even if it’s just once," Smokey said from behind me. "You see that sniper, you bet your ass something bad is happenin’." The next few shifts passed with no major disturbance. We didn't speak of the sniper again after that discussion, but I found myself spending the dragging hours on the job toying with Smokey's words inside my mind. It was about convincing myself that what I was so sure I’d seen wasn’t real and what Smokey said wasn’t true. I wanted to believe that he was simply a senile old man with nothing better to do with his time than to tell tall tales of a sniper I'd seen so vividly proof of up in the bleachers. There was no denying the scare had heightened my focused and increased my people watching ten times over. Vigilant all the time, my eyes darted from face to face within the oncoming crowds, always watching for that little sign of something out of place. That one person or situation going unnoticed in all the festivity of the park. Time progressed far enough for me to lose the edge and start to feel that everything was under control. Forget the fact that I could only see people entering and leaving, along with the others walking the main corridor. They were only a small fraction of the park attendees. There were many nooks and crannies on the premises completely out of sight and out of mind from where I was posted. I thought I was going to be ready the day the sniper made his eventual return. That time, it was me, not Smokey, who had noticed him first. I saw him look up from his crossword puzzle out of the corner of my eye and follow my gaze over the crowd. There was no disturbance among any of the patrons to catch my attention first. That time, the sniper had presented himself unprompted. He stood alone on the little pier that jutted out from the main boardwalk. It was built between two of the food kiosks and was nothing more than a short walk out to a dead end. The view overlooking the ocean was nice, but nothing any different than you would see strolling casually down the boardwalk and looking over the water from there. It wasn't a part of the park that people were particularly attracted to. The sniper leaned back against the railing with a gentle ocean breeze running through the flaps of his coat. The long case was at his feet. Once again, he stared out over the crowd towards us, as if he was distinctly aware of our presence. Like he knew, that we knew, he was there. Smokey and I exchanged a glance and both took off. Being his junior by thirty or so years, I sped way ahead of him. I darted through the families and couples holding hands, trying not to knock anyone over, trying not to take my eyes of the sniper. Right before I was about to break out of the crowd, the sniper became blocked by a woman’s head in passing. It was for only a fraction of a second, but it was all he needed to disappear. It was like he'd used the opportunity to splice himself out of reality and leave nothing but an empty space at the end of the dock. I looked over the railing in the spot where he stood only seconds before, praying I'd see him swimming away or hiding trying to hide under on the splintered wooden supports. Nothing was there. Only the gentle tide and a little white foam atop the surface. Smokey emerged from the crowd behind. He staggered while he held his chest and looked up at the sky. He almost made it to me before dropping to his knees. I reached a hand to help him up and he pushed it away. The old man hadn’t collapsed out of exhaustion, but rather despair. His eyes glossed over and he dropped his head to try and hide them from me. "We'll never catch ‘em," he whispered under his breath. "Smokey, I--" "Needs to end." I'd never heard him talk that way before. His voice cracked like a boy hitting puberty. I heard a gentle splash and some bumping from the ocean below us. I turned and checked in the same spot in the water where I'd just been looking for the sniper. A young boy’s body was face down and floating. The skin on the back of his neck was red and blistered like it had been out in the sun for days. The drowned child washed up against the supports and slipped back when the waves receded. Later that night I would sit and watch the evening news over dinner and see the story of the same boy who'd disappeared while swimming off his parents dock a little further up the coast the day before. He looked so much happier and full of life in all the pictures they were showing. Smokey and I were both given extended leaves of absence after that day. Our Security Manager essentially told us that it was mandatory that we took a few weeks off to recoup and had already begun scheduling other guys on our shifts. The idea was good in principle. It would have worked had I actually used the time to think and try and process what exactly I'd seen both times I'd run after that elusive sniper. The truth was that my time off was spent mostly lying flat on my bed, ordering pizza, and staring at the ceiling fan. Boredom and paranoia don't mix well. Although I was scared putting the uniform on for my first shift back at work after three weeks, I was happy to have moved on from that short and painful phase in my life. Before I could clock in to start, my manager called me into his office and told me that Smokey had tendered his resignation and wouldn't be coming back to work. It appeared that the incident on the dock had been the final straw. The old man had been broken and his long overdue retirement had begun. His departure left me with an increased sense of duty. His replacement was a pimply-faced teenager still in high school who I elected not to share my sniper stories with. Being the sole "protector" of Family Fun Land felt like a duty I could handle. Though, in reality, I knew there was very little I could do when the time came. It was another couple weeks before the sniper made an appearance again. Like before, the time in between was so mundane and uneventful, it almost started to feel like he was gone and all of us were safe once more. He'd originally caught my eye by accident. The lines of people outside the gate had morphed into the same boring personalities they always did, so I'd lost focus and looked over them. Right above the welcome sign, something piqued my attention in a spot where things rarely changed. It was on the row of buildings on the other side of the street beyond the parking lot. Most of them were the old-style downtown buildings with individual storefronts on the main floor and apartments built on top. None of them were higher than three stories on the entire block. Some of them had little makeshift terraces with gardens and barbecues on the roof. It was in one of those rooftops where I noticed him. People were typically out there on cooler days or in the evenings when it was actually pleasant enough to lounge outside. Yet, on one the middle buildings, on such a hot day, there was a small black figure standing on the nearest edge and looking over the park. Perhaps if someone less meticulous had been looking, they wouldn't have even noticed. There was no doubt in my mind about who that figure was. Just as I'm sure there was no doubt he was looking back at me as well. Like the first time I had seen him, I didn't know exactly what my plan was when I left my post to head in his direction. Still armed with only our mandatory baton, I left the teenager to man our useless position, cut through the crowds, and headed for the exit gate. I jogged through the parking lot, keeping my eyes on the figure until I hit the road. I crossed during a break in cars and went down the alley alongside the building to the fire escape. The metal pieces groaned beneath me while I climbed. I was shocked to see the sniper still standing at the edge of the terrace when I reached the top. It was the closest I’d ever seen him. His attention wasn’t on me. He still looked over the crowd. I loosened the baton from my belt and tip-toed behind him. Little pebbles scratched beneath my feet while I approached, surely loud enough for him to hear. He did not turn until I was almost right behind him. His skin was old and weathered. Just like Smokey's. He looked like any old man you would see on the street. No striking detail to make me think he was anything else. He didn't pose a threat nor suggest he fretted over me harming him. From inside his trench coat, he pulled out a piece of paper. He held it out to me, the wind ripping it back and forth between his fingers. I knew the author. It was those same block letters I'd seen Smokey fill out on all those crossword puzzles while we stood around under the Ferris wheel for all those wasted hours. Sniper will ever leave. Only way to make him go is for us to go. Finally my chance to make a difference. I looked up from the paper to see that the sniper had once again vanished without me even noticing. I stepped forward and looked over the crowd, just as he'd been doing before I got there. Something peculiar was taking place on the main corridor. Something I'd never seen before. A space in the crowd grew halfway down of the path. It was right in the busiest part where people crisscrossed heading to different parts of the park. Smokey stood as the lone figure in the middle in the middle. I could tell it was him just from his posture, even from the distance where I was. He wore a long trench coat, one not so different than the sniper’s. People’s screams pierced into the air while they dashed away. The space around him stretched away in all directions. Smokey opened his coat and flapped the sides behind him. Long black cylinders were lined a belt around his waist. A thin wire ran down from his back to a little detonator he held. I could have sworn that before he pressed it, he looked up and was aware of my presence in his final moments. The main corridor became engulfed in a cloud of grey and orange. Smokey and two hundred and thirty-six Family Fun Land Patrons ceased in the greatest act of terror I would ever see. The sniper had fairly warned us once again. J.D.
[Critique] My first attempt at writing a serialized story. [5000 words so far]
This is my first attempt at writing a serialized story. My plan is to write 1000 words every weekday, so that 5000 words get released every week. I just finished my first week. While I have some very basic ideas about where I want the story to go, I'm also writing this as I go. I would very much like some critique on this (admittedly quite lengthy) section I've written so far. I'd like to know what works and more importantly doesn't work about my writing style, if I'm too long winded (keeping in mind that I'm planning for this to be a very long story) if you're interested in seeing the story continue, and if I've written solid, basic characterization (that I hope to flesh out as time goes on). If I'm screwing something up, I'd like to know now so I can course correct it before I get too far. Also keep in mind I've done very little editing so far. This is, essentially a first draft. Story Link: https://www.wattpad.com/story/183883200-the-girl-with-white-hair Chapter 1 The Stranger at the Diner Patricia Longwith was busy replenishing a diner patron's coffee mug, when her eye was drawn to a pretty and youthful teenager sitting at a small table in the center of the diner, staring at the single page menu. Patricia had never seen her before; and in a town as small as Millen, any out of town visitor sticks out like a broken pot. The teen girl didn't appear to be any older than 13 years of age. She had long flowing hair that was white. Not grey. Not silver. White. If she had been standing up, her hair would've easily draped down to her popliteal, and possibly even lower. Her eyes were so blue that it was ready to play the harmonica. Patricia noticed that this girl was sitting all by herself, which was unusual, but not in and of itself suspect. What was slightly more suspicious was that she was, purportedly, an out of town traveler who appeared to be well underage sitting alone in a strange diner that raised a flag in Patricia's mind. It was odd to be sure, but not completely unheard of, she supposed. She decided that it wasn't worth raising a stink over. After all, it was very possible that she was actually older than she appeared; just like one of her old high school friends who looked like she was a young teenager until her late-20s. The middle-aged waitress, after finishing refilling the patron's coffee, approached the girl's table. "Welcome to Shae's Diner," she said. Patricia was one of those rare people whose natural voice tone sounded like her customer service voice. "My name is Patricia, and I'll be serving you today." The girl looked up from her menu and offered a genuine smile at the waitress. Without her needing to say a word, Patricia already really liked this girl. "What can I get started for you? What drink would you like?" "I think some coffee would be rather nice," the girl said. Her voice was both pleasantly smooth and remarkably assured. The teen's soft physical features gave Patricia a false aura of shyness, but there wasn't an ounce of shyness in her inflections. "Black, please!" Patricia pulled out a blank guest check out of her apron pocket began writing it down. "Sure thing, hon. And do you know what you want to eat yet?" "Not yet. I can't decide! It just all sounds so delicious!" Patricia was about to put the ticket away and head over to get her coffee, when the girl quickly set the menu down and exclaimed, "Oh the heck with it! You only get so long to be alive! Might as well splurge a little! I'll take an order of French Toast, two eggs cooked Sunnyside up, three strips of chewy bacon, four sausage links, and two strawberry pancakes!" Patricia wrote all the order down as quickly as she could and then repeated it to make sure it was accurate. She couldn't stop herself from wondering where this girl was going to put all this food, considering she had the physique of a yardstick, and how she was going to be able to pay for all this. Nevertheless, she went to go fill the order, and brought her a cup of coffee. Once the ceramic mug was in her hand, the girl took a huge swig of coffee, and after she'd swallowed half a cup of coffee at once, she let out a satisfied "Ah!" She then turned to Patricia and said, "Absolutely delicious!" Seeing someone take so much joy in consuming something as mundane and ordinary as coffee put a smile on Patricia's face. "Well I'm glad to hear that." As the girl began to drink the other half, she said, "I'll just go get you a pot of coffee for the table." You might as well have told the girl that Christmas was coming early, because she beamed. "Thank you so much! That is so kind of you!" Patricia brought the coffee pot over, and set it down. The girl lifted the coffee pot up by the handle and began drinking straight out of it. This girl certainly was a rather curious and mystifying creature. "You're not from around here, are you?" Patricia asked. She set the coffee pot down and shook her head, "Nope. That is accurate. I'm not from around here." "Where you from?" The girl's chipper demeanor lessened a touch, but not severely. "I think I'd like to keep that to myself, if you don't mind." "Not at all, not at all." Patricia brought the girl all her food about seven or eight minutes after she'd ordered it. She tried not to stare as the girl began to shovel the food into her mouth, which opened up far wider than she ever would've anticipated someone as small as her could. She had a system where she would cram three or four scoops of food into her mouth, and would then wash it down with a chug of coffee. Then she'd repeat the cycle all over again. She didn't stop to talk, savor the flavor of what she was eating, or even, seemingly, to breathe. Within five minutes, all the food had been eaten and all the coffee had been drunk. The girl leaned back in her chair, placed her hands on her stomach, and closed her eyes. If her stomach had distended, Patricia didn't notice any difference. She went to go collect the empty plates and coffee pot. "Absolutely impeccable!" the girl said. "My compliments to the chef!" "Thanks, I'll let him know. Anything else I can get for you?" "No, thanks I think I'm full. I'm ready for the check!" Patricia removed the check from her apron pocket and set it on the table, before leaving to take the dishes back to the kitchen. The girl looked at the check, set it down and reached into her pocket for her black eel-skin bi-fold wallet. She reached into it and pulled out three $20 bills and set them all on the check. Patricia went to retrieve the check. "I don't need any change," the girl said, "But can I ask for some quarters? I think four ought a do it." "Sure." As Patricia went to go retrieve the quarters from the register, she flipped through the bills and noticed that the girl had given her a $27.23 tip. Surely this must've been a mistake, she thought to herself, and headed back to the table with the cash and quarters in hand. "Here's your quarters," Patricia said as she handed them to her. She quickly shoved them into her pocket. "And I think there must be some mistake. You over tipped me. By quite a bit, actually. I think you gave me an extra 20 by accident." The girl shook her head. "It's not a mistake. You were a great waitress, and you seem like a nice lady, so I decided to give you a generous tip." Patricia didn't know what to say to this. Nobody had ever given her a tip this massive before. The girl stood up. Her remarkably long white hair flowed down less than a foot from the ground. Patricia finally found her voice and said, "Thank you. Thank you so much, Ms.--" The girl simply said, "My name is Beatrix Pippin." Beatrix Pippin left the diner full and happy. Chapter 2 Mr. Fritz Peck; Entrepreneur Mr. Fritz Peck was busy attempting to reset the time on his silver watch for the second time that day when the phone rang. He picked up the receiver within two rings. "Hello?" Peck said. "One cannot look at the sea," a familiar voice chirped in his ear. "Without wishing for the wings of a swallow," Peck finished. "I made it," the man whom Peck had only ever referred to as "Periwinkle" said. "Did you figure out exactly why our profits have decreased significantly over there?" "I did." Peck listened as Periwinkle explained exactly why their profits were down in the town of Millen. The explanation wasn't all that surprising, but it was disheartening. Millen had been quite the money maker for their business, despite it being such a tiny little town. It was so hard to sell drugs to people who were trying to sober up and try to actually do something with their lives. It just broke Peck's heart. "So," Periwinkle continued, "I suppose I don't have to guess what you want done about this?" "Well it certainly isn't rocket science," Peck said. Something similar had been happening in the town of Colshire some time ago, and he'd needed the help of Chartreuse to fix it. The organization wasn't shy about what needed to be done; after all, they were in a business to sell people poison that slowly kills both their spirit and their body. "And I suppose you understand exactly how it needs to be done." "Robbery?" "You're a very smart man. And if there's one thing that I reward in my business, it's intelligence and a propensity to understand what needs to be done before speaking with me." "Well I certainly aim to please, boss." "I'll be even more pleased once the deed is done. Do it, and then get out of there." "Understood." Peck hung up the phone and began rifling through some papers sitting on his desk. He found the one piece that he was looking for, the one that had caught his eye regarding the situation in Millen. The dealers had come back reporting a 42% decrease in purchasing compared to the previous month, whereas most of the other places were either relatively stagnant, or even increasing. Such a dramatic shift had to be because of one person; there was no possible way that a decrease that drastic would happen organically. He was wanted to get his hands on this person; just put his hands on this person and choke the life out of them. They were cutting into his business, and he didn't like it. He had worked and worked hard to get where he was; he was a regular entrepreneur. He hadn't even needed to use his special abilities in his pursuit to be a good businessman. But then these people come in and try their hardest to convince people that they don't need drugs. Quite frankly, it made him kind of sick to his stomach. He wasn't going to let anyone slash his profits. They needed to be taught a lesson. And thanks to Periwinkle, that was exactly what was about to happen. Chapter 3 A Walk in the Park Beatrix had only been in Millen for a few hours, but she could already tell that she was going to like this small town. She had always preferred the quaintness of small towns when compared to the loud oversaturation of massive cities. There was just something that was so inviting about the small town that a larger city simply couldn't replicate; kind of a welcoming, almost neighborly feel. She could spend as much time here as she needed, and she wasn't going to complain about that one bit. That diner had been a great place to eat. All the food had tasted delicious, and the waitress had been really nice. She'd been so accommodating to her, and Beatrix could just sense how nice she was. She could usually get a feel as to whether someone was a nice person or not within only a few minutes, and she was rarely wrong. After that nice big breakfast, she was practically jittering with energy, so she needed to take a nice long walk to burn away some of those calories. And the best place to do that was, of course, the nearby public park. The park at this time was nearly empty, which wasn't all that surprising considering it was a weekday morning. As she began walking down the park trail, the only person she saw was a senior sitting on a park bench, doing a crossword puzzle. If she had to guess based on appearance alone, he had to be in his 80s. He had a tattoo of a dragon draped around his left arm. Beatrix approached the man and asked, "Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?" she asked, gesturing to the empty spot on the bench to the man's right. He shook his head, but didn't say anything. He went right back to his crossword puzzle. It was clear that the man didn't want anyone to bother him, and didn't want to speak, so Beatrix opted to just sit there and enjoy the view. She watched the tree branches in the distance wave at her, as the sound of a mourning dove cooing welcomed her. The weather outside was absolutely perfect, and she just wanted to take this opportunity to soak it all in. "Excuse me," she heard the old man say. Beatrix turned and looked at him. "Could you stop that?" It took Beatrix a second to realize what exactly he was talking about. Without out even knowing it, she had begun humming. It was involuntary on her part, but sometimes, particularly moments where she was content, she would hum nonsensically. She just couldn't help herself. "Oh. I'm so sorry about that sir," she said. "I didn't mean to bother you." "Well you should learn to be more mindful of the other people around you," he said brusquely, before jumping right back into his crossword puzzle. Beatrix felt immense pity for the man. What events had to transpire for him to be this jaded; to be this grumpy? Given he was in his 80s, it's very possible that the man's wife had just died. Or maybe another close relative or friend had just died. She, of course, didn't know this, but she wanted to believe that he was suffering and was in pain. She always found that it was better to give people the benefit of the doubt. She'd probably go crazy if she assumed the worst about everyone. Still, she thought that it would be better if she gave the man some space and left him to his crossword puzzle. Her walk continued down the park trail, and she continued to take in the wonders that this park had to offer. She walked slowly so as to savor as much of her marvelous surroundings as she possibly could. She was quite taken with two squirrels chasing after each other in a high-spirited game of tag. The aroma of trees and nature surrounding Beatrix was overwhelming in the greatest possible way. She was fast approaching the section of the trail that runs right past a tiny pavilion that is hidden from the main park area. To her shock, she saw four boys, they couldn't have been much older or younger than her, sitting at a thermoplastic steel table under that pavilion. She saw a deck of cards sitting between them, and a crumpling of dollar bills in the center of the table. Beatrix grinned. She involuntary patted the left-hand pocket of her jeans where her wallet was. "I've never gambled before," she thought to herself, "But I'm certainly willing to give it a go! What do I have to lose?" She approached the pavilion. Chapter 4 Hold 'Em Jesse Hickok scratched the back of his neck, as he exhaled tobacco smoke from his nostrils. He looked at his own cards for the second time, now that the river had been dealt. Normally, this would be considered a no-no; a bad tell. But he'd forced himself into the habit of rechecking his cards every single time the river was dealt so that he couldn't ever do it accidentally when he had a great hand. The community cards consisted of a 6 of Spades, a 2 of Diamonds, a Queen of Hearts, a Four of Diamonds and a King of Clubs. His hole cards were a 6 of Hearts and a 3 of Spades. A pair of sixes. With only Benjamin still in play, this put his odds of winning this hand at about 61% statistically. However, if Benjamin was still in play at this point with such a terrible collection of community cards, that would normally mean that there was a good chance that he had either a King or a Queen tucked away in one of his hole cards. But Benjamin was also an idiot, who very often found himself pot-committed. The only thing worse than playing with a poker pro, was to play with a poker novice. They were completely unpredictable, which meant playing strategically with them was next to impossible. After a moment of contemplation, Jesse decided that the risk was worth continuing. Jesse put a $20 bill out in the pot. "I raise." Benjamin looked at his own cards for the fourth time. As far as Jesse was concerned, that was neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Benjamin threw his remaining bills into the pot. "All in," he said with a smug look on his face. The other two guys, Rolfe and Andy, whistled. But Jesse didn't hear them. As far as he was concerned, this was a battle between him and Benjamin. Anything outside of this was a mere distraction worthy of blocking out. Jesse tossed in three $1 bills. "I call." Then he quickly flipped his cards over to reveal his hand of a pair of sixes. "What do you have?" Benjamin grinned widely and flipped his cards over, to reveal that he had an Ace of Hearts, and a 9 of Diamonds. Absolute junk. Ace high. Jesse couldn't believe it. This guy really was an idiot. "A flush," Benjamin said. He reached for the pot. Jesse slapped his hands hard. "Ow!" Benjamin said. "That's not a flush, you moron!" Benjamin looked confused, as both Rolfe and Andy doubled over in laughter. "What are you talking about? That's a flush!" "A flush is a hand that has all of the same suit, not a hand of the same color." Benjamin's expression dropped and he rechecked his hand, and a wave of red color washed over his face in pure embarrassment. Jesse grabbed the pot and began counting and sorting his money. Halfway through, he nonchalantly tossed the cigarette butt from his mouth. He found that he now had $214, far more than any of the other guys. "Anyone else want to have a go?" he asked, as Benjamin stood up and left. Neither Rolfe nor Andy seemed eager to go toe-to-toe with him, especially since he had already wiped out at least 75% of their money. They were smart guys who knew when it was time to cut their losses. Jesse could tell that this was it for the day, but he figured that it was polite just to ask and make sure. "Sure," he heard a voice from out of nowhere say, "I'd like have a go at it." Jesse lifted his head to where the origin of the voice was coming from and he saw a short, petite girl about his age with long white hair that almost reached her ankles standing there. He'd never seen her before; he'd have remembered if he had. And she'd also come out of nowhere. This made no difference whatsoever to Jesse. Someone had challenged him to game of cards, and he wasn't going to back down. He gestured to the seat across from him that Benjamin had just been sitting at. "Then have a seat, miss." She sat down. Her hair now touched the concrete ground. "What's the buy-in?" she asked. "How much do you have?" "I believe I asked my question first," she said with a playful smile. "How about 50?" "From your stack, it looks like you've got way more than 50." "Well the buy-in is simply the minimum. You can put more of your money down if you want." "How much is that?" "$214." Jesse watched as she reached into her pocket, pulled out a black wallet, reached in and pulled out ten bills exactly. Without counting, she set them on the table. "What's that?" Jesse asked. "$214," she said. Jesse just now noticed that her smile hadn't wavered one bit since he'd first seen her. It wasn't one of those obnoxious, obviously phony smiles either. She just seemed like a naturally happy individual. He must've been eyeing her suspiciously, because she said, "It's okay. You can count it, if you want to. I won't be at all offended if you do." "No," he said, "That's won't be necessary." He picked up the deck of cards and began shuffling them. "You know how to play Texas Hold 'em?" She nodded. "Good. I didn't catch your name, by the way," he said, more to avoid awkward silence than anything else. "Mine is Jesse Hickok." "Beatrix," she said. "Beatrix Pippin." Chapter 5 Fold 'Em Once Jesse felt the cards were good and shuffled, he dealt this Beatrix girl and himself two cards, and then set three cards between face-side up. It was a 10 of Diamonds, a Queen of Clubs and a Seven of Spades. He set the deck down and lifted his cards and was greeted with a pair of black 10s. He kept his face stoic just like he had trained himself to do every single time he checked his cards, but inwardly he was doing backflips. He had a 3 of a kind right off the bat. He looked at her in order to look for any tells. Unfortunately, he didn't have a frame of reference because this was his first time playing with her. He would have to play this by ear. She was smiling softly. No way to tell if this was some kind of trick. "Let's see how she bets," he thought to himself. "Let's see if she's a cautious gambler, or a risky gambler." She flipped through her stack of bills and tossed a $10 bill in. Not too risky of a bet, but not conservative either. Jesse tossed in a $20 bill. "I raise you 10." This Beatrix girl appeared to be pondering hard about her next move. "You know," she said rather unexpectedly. "They say that poker is a game of both skill and luck." What was she doing? Trying to psyche him out? Playing mind games? Well it wasn't going to work. If she wanted to talk and play at the same time, he was more than willing to oblige. It would be the last thing that she would be expecting. "It's a game of luck that becomes a game of skill the longer you play," he said. "You can't judge how good a poker player is based on one game. You have to play a hundred hands in order to determine if they're any good." "And in your eyes, would you call yourself a skilled player?" Jesse took a closer look at her as she spoke. Her eyes were not calculating. They were bright. Of all the years that he'd played poker, he'd never come across a player with eyes as bright as hers. She didn't give the impression that she was attempting to throw off his game. She was acting as if she was genuinely curious about him and wanted to get to know him better. Jesse couldn't sense any hint of insincerity whatsoever. And Jesse had to admit, it was actually starting to unnerve him. But he couldn't allow her to get into his head. He had to maintain control. "I would say so," he said. "I once managed to get a guy to fold a three of a kind when I had absolute junk. That was my proudest poker moment." "Really?" she said in an excitedly chipper voice. "That's impressive!" Again, no hint of sarcasm in her inflection. What is her deal? She tossed a 10 into the pot. Jesse made the turn. The fourth card was a Queen of Hearts. Jesse tried his hardest to keep his face still. He had a full house. His odds of winning were now at least 95%. Before he even had the chance to think further, Beatrix put a 100-dollar bill into the pot. Jesse stared at it, and Benjamin Franklin stared right back at him. He looked up at her and saw that her same chipper expression was still on her face. "100," she said. Her quickness in putting down that kind of money spoke volumes to Jesse. Either she had something, or was trying really hard to convince him that she had something. Jesse decided to operate under the assumption that she had something for the time being. What could that something be? Two Queens, a Ten and a Seven. She has a Queen. She has a 3 of a kind. Jesse was elated. That explained her relatively low betting early, when she had a pair of Queens, versus now when she has three queens. From her perspective, she has an 80% chance of winning with one Queen in her hold. Unfortunately for her, Jesse's two 10s was one of the few combinations that would beat her hand. Jesse dug through his unkempt wad of cash and tossed down a hundred and fifty-four dollars. He was feeling generous today, and was more than willing to give her a chance to back out now. "I raise you 54," he said. "You must have an excellent hand," Beatrix said. Jesse did nothing more than give an ever so slight head-nod, the kind that you give half-heartedly in response to someone when you don't wish to speak with them. He decided that the best way to keep her out of his head was to not even play her game. Engaging in conversation with a player that he'd never played with before had been a huge mistake, and he was kicking himself for having done so. Just let her do all the talking. Let her be the one who says too much. Beatrix grabbed a 50 and four 1s, and set it in the pot. "I call." Jesse almost felt bad for her. She thought that she had a great hand. It didn't seem right that she was going to lose all her money because of one hand of extremely bad luck. Jesse dealt the river. A 10 of hearts. Four of a kind. 99.9% chance of winning. Jesse almost lost his composure again. This was the best hands that he'd ever been dealt. And if his assumption that she had a Queen tucked away under there, then she would be under the assumption that she had a full house, Queens over Tens, and that she had a 95% chance of winning. Jesse set the deck of cards to the side as Beatrix put a 20 in the pot. She only had 20 dollars left. Jesse shoved the rest of his money into the pot. "All in," he said, finally allowing himself to smile at her. For the first time, Beatrix didn't put her bet down right away. She looked down at her cards again and then back at Jesse. She smiled, picked up her hole cards and set them face down on top of the deck. "Take it," she said. Jesse's smile evaporated for an instant. She'd folded. Why? It didn't make any sense. Did she suddenly realize what hand he hand? No, that didn't make sense. If she had a full house, she would've known that luck was on her side, and she would never make the assumption that he had one of the few hands that could beat her. She must've been bluffing, trying to get him to fold, and when he went all in, she decided to cut her losses and save her at least twenty of her dollars. She was smart. She wasn't pot-committed. She'd made a huge mistake in going as long as she did, but she knew when to fold. He felt bad that she'd tried a bluff when he just so happened to get his best hand ever, but such is the nature of the game. He desperately wanted to flip his cards over, and show her what his hand had been, but he knew better than that. If your opponent folds, never show them your cards. The less information your opponent knows about She grabbed her last remaining twenty and put it in her pocket. She put her hand out and Jesse took it. "Good game," she said. Jesse hesitated for a moment, but he grabbed her hand and smiled. "Good game. I'll admit it, you're a gutsy player." "Same to you," she said. That smile. That same chipper smile and persona was still there, despite the fact that she had just lost $194 in a single hand. Jesse had to admit, he admired her sprightliness. Despite not knowing her very well, he found it next to impossible to dislike her. She began heading out, but before she did, she turned back to him. "Thanks for letting me play! It was a lot of fun!" Jesse was taken aback and he wasn't sure how to respond to this. He'd never had someone after losing so badly genuinely thank him for playing. So, he simply said, "No problem." She left the pavilion, leaving Jesse all by himself. He'd been so caught up in his match between himself and Beatrix, that he hadn't noticed that at some point Rolfe, Andy and Benjamin had all left. He was alone. Made no difference. He was done for the day. He'd made out like a bandit, managing to ensnare $408 in a single day; his best earnings ever. He was sorting through the cash, organizing and stacking it, when his eye was caught by the deck of cards just off to the side. He remembered that Beatrix had set her two cards at the very top of the deck. He hadn't thought about it at the time, but that was such an odd way to fold. Why not just toss the cards forward like a normal person? Sure, she was strange, of that there was no doubt, but this in particular struck him as very odd. It was as if she didn't want to risk showing what she had underneath. Jesse knew he shouldn't do what he was about to do. It went against an unspoken code of conduct between poker players, but he couldn't help himself. He had to know what she had underneath her cards; whether she'd been bluffing, or she had realized what hand he had. Jesse lifted up the two cards on the top of the deck. He nearly fell backwards off his seat. He saw the eyes of two Queens staring back at him.
I was an Air Traffic Controller at Atlantic Municipal Airport, Iowa for 27 years. My first year at the job, I unwillingly went from a firm atheist to a believer
My uncle and aunt came to visit me here in Atlanta. We got to talking about all sorts of general things, you know how family is, but we somehow ended up on the topic of strange/supernatural. This is when my uncle started telling me his story, a story that he says will haunt him all the way to his grave. I stopped him two minutes into it and got my laptop because I wanted to write it down for NoSleep. These are his memories, almost word for word. Forgive the non-traditional writing. Are you typing? You are? Ok, ok… And your friends on the internet will read this? Ha, alright, but warn them that these are just old man’s memories… Ok, so back to the beginning. So I graduated from Fordham in 1974 and I still had no idea what to do. Times were different then – we were able to find jobs easily, Jesus, I remember companies practically begging us to work for them. But I didn’t want to do some shitty desk job for the rest of my life. So I waited. Then one day, while flying to visit your aunt on Thanksgiving, I caught myself being fascinated with the complexity of air traffic systems. That’s all it took. I decided to become an air traffic controller. By the time I turned 27, I had passed all of the necessary tests and have accumulated enough experience to be hired and work without supervision. Thing with air traffic controllers is that you don’t really get to choose where you’re gonna work in the beginning. Sure, we all wanted to work at JFK or Hartsfield-Jackson, but those jobs just weren’t available to us rookies. So I had to take a job in a bumfuck little town in Iowa called Atlantic. It was literally a single landing strip in a damn cornfield, but I had to pay my dues. And the money was alright. Now, small airports like these usually only work 8-5, but this particular strip was in such a geographical location that there were a lot of flights going above us at any time, so we needed to stay open until 4am in case of emergency landing. By staying open, I mean I had to sit in the control tower, and there was one security guy sleeping in the airport’s only terminal. It wasn’t that bad, really, I’d bring my books and crossword puzzles, and I’d spend hours on the phone with your aunt. You know how they say that the air traffic controller is the most stressful job in the world? Well, I was bored 99% of time, and that 1% was guiding small Cesnas into my cornfield airport. So why am I telling you all of this? Well, about 3 months into my job, something started happening. Something that even today I can’t really… I’ll save you the talk about the supernatural, but what happened at that airport just ain’t right. February 20th, 1979, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was your regular winter night in Iowa –winds and freezing cold, but no snow. I was spposed to work until close, although we didn’t have any flights scheduled. Around 1am, I received radio message from a small Cesna about 30 miles from the airport. They were having really bad snow storm up in Omaha and needed to land here in Atlantic. I guess being open late was justified, after all. I got my binoculars out, verified the visibility and started guiding the aircraft. Though it was really windy out there, they managed to touch down. I looked through the binoculars to verify the landing went ok, and that’s when I saw her for the first time. Just walking down the runway as if it were a normal street was this... woman? Shit, I don’t know. Now, there were about 100 things wrong with this situation. First, the woman was wearing some sort of short summer dress, or a night gown, and she was barefoot, believe it or not. Normal person would be cold dressed like that during the summer, let alone our winter. And then, you had to wonder what in the world was this person doing walking down the active runway, and how the hell did she get there to begin with? “Flight 84, this is Alex from Air Traffic Control, do you happen to see a woman walking down the runway towards you?” I asked the pilot who had just landed. “Huh, let me check.” The pilot answered. Still watching through binoculars, I saw him open the door of the plane, then get out. He started walking towards the woman. Not going to lie, at that point I was having a lot of fun. Not much happened in Atlantic, Iowa and this certainly was entertaining. I couldn’t wait to hear her story. My bet was that she got in a car accident near the airport. Well… The pilot walked up to her and I could make it that he was saying something. I saw (still through the binoculars) her lean to his ear and almost… whisper something to him. He just stood there for a good 10 seconds with neither of them moving. She was still leaned close to his ear. Then he snapped out of it, I guess, turned around, and literally sprinted to the plane. When I saw the propellers starting to rotate, I jumped on my radio. “Flight 84, what are you doing?” No answer. “Flight 84, I repeat, what is happening?” Nothing. Then, the plane started moving, speeding up. “Flight 84, you do NOT have permission to take off, I repeat, you are NOT cleared for takeoff!” But there was no answer. That damn Cesna kept speeding up and then took off. Nothing I could do really, besides making sure that no other planes were above us at the time. I tried one more time. “Flight 84, this is Air Traffic Control… what the hell is happening?” And then my radio started making white noise. “nu…un…n… u…” was all I could hear coming from the radio. “Flight 84, please repeat, you’re breaking up.” “What a night,” I thought. Radio started transmitting again. “un… UN…RUN. RUN. RUN.” “Flight 84, did you say “run”? Please repeat yourself.” But nothing else came from out of that damn radio. The plane was long gone. I sank into my chair trying to decipher what in the fuck just happened, pardon my French. Run? From what? What the hell… And then it dawned on me. The woman. I grabbed the binoculars. She was looking straight at me. Good 200 yards away, at night, she was somehow looking straight at me, eyes open so wide, it’s hard to explain what she looked like. I guess, you know how when someone is super surprised, their eyes widen? Like when you startle someone and their eyes just get so wide, some sort of defense mechanism, I susppose? That’s how she was looking. Straight at me. “What in the world…” I mumbled. At that moment, she started running towards my tower. Like not jogging, but really running. Still looking straight at me. I swear to you, goosebumps ran all over me like 10,000 cold ants. You know I’m not the one to get scared, shit, I spent 6 years in Vietnam. But something about this situation, something about that pilot telling me to run and this…woman running towards me, something seemed so wrong. “Joe, are you there? Joe?” I blurted into the radio. Joe was our night security guard. He didn’t answer. Shit… I looked through the window just in time to see the woman run into my tower. I heard the door downstairs slam open. I honestly didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t a rational situation, you know? If it were some sort of terrorist, or whatever, I’d know what needs to be done. But this… Was this situation malicious? It was certainly strange, and that exact weirdness, that not knowing what is happening is what made me run into the bathroom and lock the doors. As I turned the lock, I heard the control room doors open. You know how in your generation’s movies you just hear quiet footsteps of some invader slowly looking for you? And then the shadow shows up under the door? Well, this was the opposite. As soon as those doors opened, chaos began. I tried peeking through the keyhole but all I was able to see is fast shadow running across the room, accompanied by tremendous noise. I swear I was so shocked that at one point I nearly opened the door just to see what is causing all this. Then, a hard slam into the bathroom door had me nearly fall on the floor. And then, nothing. Silence. I could lie and pretend I was brave enough to get out of that bathroom soon after, but I wasn’t, I’ll admit it. I stayed in there the whole night, waiting for the morning shift. Around 7:45am I heard a familiar voice say “What in the fuck…?” It was Clark, the morning shift controller. I opened the door to see a scene so twisted that even to this day I remember every detail. The control room was nearly totaled. Radios ripped out, papers and manuscripts everywhere, radar screens smashed to pieces. When the police came, I gave the full report. It took 11 days to repair all the equipment and get the room fully functional. The security guard on duty that night was fired. They even started considering installing security cameras (I know, I know, today that seems like a normal thing to you, but it wasn’t back in the day). Police had no idea what to make of it, they just urged us to report anything suspicious. I used the 11 day break to sort myself out, and by the end of that forced vacation, I was convinced that all of this was caused by some deranged woman, possibly a mental patient? Whatever made me sleep at night, right? I came back to work on March 4th. I was a bit worried about working nights again, but I was convinced that whoever did this was far gone by now. The next month or so was very uneventful, just how I liked it. Iowa was scheduled to get hit with a big snow storm that day. Most of the flights were grounded, but some were still in the air, and I had to work. I hated it because if we did get hit with heavy snow, I’d probably end up being stranded. I wish that was the worst thing that happened. Around 11pm that night, when it was already snowing big time, I received radio message from a small private jet that was some 50 miles away. They were getting caught in heavy winds and the pilots wanted to land on our airport immediately. Now, jets like that would traditionally be too big to land at our strip, but the emergency like this called for overriding of guidelines. “Flight 676, you are cleared to land, but we have to remain in contact at all times, this strip’s pretty short, do you acknowledge?” “Sure thing, let’s just put this puppy down, shall we” the pilot said. It was snowing heavily by that point. Thankfully, we had a cleanup crew deice and clean the runway before they headed home, so it was still in decent condition. Again, back then, we were way more relaxed about the rules. I took a look at the strip to make sure it was clear. And out of nowhere, just when I forgot about her, she appeared. She was just slowly strolling down the strip, about 100 yards away from the tower. Her bare feet slowly moving across the freezing asphalt. The worst part about it… She was looking straight at me again. Again with those crazy fucking eyes. This is when I realized what the most disturbing thing about her was… She wasn’t blinking. I was looking at her for good 2 minutes, winds and snow blasting in her face, and she wasn’t blinking. It was almost as if she didn’t want to lose a fucking millisecond of looking straight at me. “Oh god…” “Flight 676, maintain, I repeat, maintain the altitude until further communication.” “Traffic Control, this is 676, that is a negative, we cannot maintain with head winds like this. We have to land. Are we clear? We are 6 minutes away.” I couldn’t risk the lives of people up in that plane. I had to land them, despite this… whatever this was walking down the runway. “Cleared to land 676.” I put down the radio and looked through the window. She was now some 10 yards away, coming closer to the tower. Though I shouldn’t under any circumstances leave the control room, I ran down to the first floor and locked the outside door. I knew she was close and I knew she was coming. When I got back to the room, I heard the radio. “Control Tower, we are approaching the runway, please advise” “Rotate 3 degrees right, acknowledge.” “Copy that, we see the lights now. See you soon!” I looked up through the window and could see the plane in the distance. There was no trace of the woman on runway. I sighed a breath of relief. I was going to deal with this issue after the jet had safely landed. At that moment, a loud noise broke through the tower. I didn’t want to believe it, but I was afraid that the first floor door had slammed open. How the hell? I locked it, I know I did. And then, goosebumps overcame me again, almost as if my body could feel something that I couldn’t. My first instinct was to lock myself in the bathroom again, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave the radio. Footsteps on the metal stairs were getting louder. She… I assumed it was her, wasn’t running at least. But the violent sound of footsteps made me think she was, what, slamming her feet into the ground with every step she made? “676, this is Traffic Control, I have visual confirmation. Clear to land.” I heard the control room doors open. This is when I realized just how afraid I was. You know, I’m almost 70 now and am not embarrassed to admit how scared I was at that moment. Matter of fact, I was so scared that I couldn’t even turn around, if you can believe that. I just couldn’t face what was behind me. This was very unusual because I was always composed and rational. Always, whether it was being stuck in a ditch in Vietnamese jungle or being nearly hit by an 18-wheeler on the highway. Always calm. And there I was, staring straight at my radio, unable to turn my head and face it. I’m sure your friends on the internet will laugh at how I reacted, but I guarantee most of you would behave the same. Your body just doesn’t behave normally when terrified. “Traffic Control, 30 seconds out, here we go” came from the radio. I slowly pressed the talk button on the radio, my teeth literally chattering. “All… all clear” I muttered. Then I felt a cold breath on my neck. She was behind me. Breathing slowly into my neck. I could feel the lips move up to my ear. You know when you were a kid and someone was messing behind your back, making faces or bunny ears and you could somehow feel it? I could feel the mouth an inch form my ear, though I couldn’t even see her with the corner of my eye. I was still nearly paralyzed. I admit, I used to ashamed of my inability to act in this surreal situation. But now when I look at it, no one can tell me they’d react any differently. It just wasn’t earthly situation, you know? “Come down… to field… come down.” The whisper crawled into my ear. You’d normally think that hearing a voice would somehow defuse the situation, or at least brush away any thoughts of supernatural, but that voice was so different than anything I’ve ever heard. I’m not a writer, I can’t explain it. It was cold, inhuman even. But what scared me the most was the anger I felt in it. Though she whispered, I could feel the rage. And, I don’t even know how to put it into words, her voice lacked something that every other voice had. I don’t know. “Touched down! Traffic Control, 676 is on the ground. Hope you have some hot chocolate ready!” The woman behind me snapped back and I heard what I assumed was running. I forced myself to turn around just in time to her running out, barefoot. “676… welcome” I made myself say into the radio. Though my legs were still foreign to the rest of my body, I propped myself up and looked through the window. I was expecting to see the woman running out, but she was nowhere to be seen. I thought that she was still in the building. This time I managed to get the security guy on the radio and he showed up few minutes later. He did a full walkthrough the tower, but no trace of the woman. I started feeling relieved only when the police showed up. They thoroughly searched the building with no success. They did notice the trace of footsteps coming from the neighboring corn field to the tower, but there were no prints going back. Imagine my situation at the time, just take a second to think about it. You are the only one to ever see this woman, I’ll call her a woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if the police started thinking that I was hitting the bottle during work. I decided to keep it to myself until I could prove there was this person disrupting (or haunting?) the airport. I couldn’t really quit, and honestly, would you? Probably not. I mean, yes, these were two absolutely surreal experiences, and I did feel some sort of intangible hazard, but I didn’t think my life was ever in danger. I decided to stick with it. Winter was almost over, anyways. Spring brought more horror than winter ever could. The end of the story is here. All other updates and new write-ups can be found here.
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