Running

Pull up a chair, grab a drink. We need to talk, you and I, about running.

Not the running you do to lose weight or when you’re sick to your stomach about how your pants fit or you look at your arms and realize how weak and pasty, how flaccid and lifeless they have started looking. Not the kind of running you do when someone blows a whistle and you want what’s on the pedestal for the winner. Not the kind of running you do between important things, between commitments or the needs you have pressed onto your heart and soul… or day planner or smartphone. I’m talking about the kind of running you don’t ever want to talk about.

The type of running that makes you unwilling to take a shower on your day off, because being clean and prepared to go out isn’t you and you know it. The type of running that makes you keep scrolling down Facebook or aimlessly moving from room to room around your house without getting anything done. They type of running that keeps you checking the fridge over and over, knowing that what you’re hungry for isn’t in there. The type of running that is a silent scream, where you will accept anything except facing the truth of something that’s going on.

Maybe for you it’s facing your family, since you know you’ve let them down or have bridges to rebuild or maintain.

Maybe for you it’s procrastinating, since you have an image of yourself as creative or inspiring, visionary or full of potential and you have lived in your current life long enough that you realize that no, that’s not who you are— you don’t do anything with those thoughts and dreams, you don’t produce anything on par with your potential at all.

Maybe for you it’s cutting off something you’ve become addicted to: a significant other that is not assisting your growth, a group of friends who lure you into irresponsibility, a job that separates you from your time and energy and keeps you from living the life you want to live, a lifestyle of lethargy or a fetter of lust for things that you keep out of your reach because you’re guilty or you’re not deserving or you’re afraid of how empty those goals will feel when you achieved them or you’re afraid that they’re too low for your potential and you’re paralyzed with fear over what that even means.

The talk is simple: I don’t want to run from you any more than I want to run from myself. Stop running. Your life will change. Who you are will change. You will receive a definition of you, living and breathing with your every motion instead of a thought or a dream, an idol or an image. There’s a solidness in that which right now you crave but you’re so in love with a gossamer dream, a luring pretty phantom of lights and right now you’re the sort of person who’d rather try to grab a rainbow or look away than to be a real person. You’d rather play a puppet to someone else’s tune than grab the reins on the neck of the horse, mount up, and ride. You don’t want to be that person, not really, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Make no mistake, this is a conversation we’re having right now as you’re reading this. Your mind is throwing up sand and chaff but do you really think your questions are legitimate? I know how powerful you are, and I’m not about to let you tell me a lie. Not now.

Stop running long enough to sink to your knees. Set a day aside to stop running. Don’t take a blessed step on the track. Brush your teeth. Go for a walk. Set the cellphone aside. Make a cup of tea. Sit in silence. Have this conversation with me. Join me, and live the life you actually want. It can start right now and I hold here before you the glowing tomorrow.

If you take it, you have my support. It’s not easy to change like that, to stop doing something you may’ve done since you were old enough to make choices… But if you don’t take it, you have my pity.

And I hope I have yours in that way. I know full well how pitiful I am when I start running from myself, attacking myself, allowing the walls to grow cracked and fall, the fields to go to seed, the wild to take back over an area that I am too afraid to tend to properly. It’s a shame, like a bruised cheek in a young person that should carry the pink of hopeful life but carries the ugly stain of a dead dark thing. I know what it looks like when I do it, and I want to hear the truth from you about myself.

I know all the lies I love to hear; tell me something true and shock me. Tell me something true and make me see instead of stumbling blindly, hoping to get lucky with what my hands come across.

Wonder why I would sit and talk with you like this? We aren’t the closest of friends, sure, but that doesn’t mean you’re beneath my thoughts or notice. It doesn’t mean I want you to keep running, forever chased through the maze of your own machinations by the Minotaur of truth that you don’t think you can face. Stop running, go back, kill it, and make a delicious burger for lunch, steak for dinner, and breakfast the next day and don’t stop eating until you’ve grown strong.

CotG: The Core Desire

In Cauldron of the Gods, each player’s champion has 8 Stamina, meaning that a very solid hit threatens to put down anyone, albeit with a very low probability to do so. This differs from many games, where taking and giving hits is part and parcel of any given turn, and it makes some conservative and fearful players nervous, for there is no perfect security. A second way Cauldron differs from many games, especially arena-centric games, is that the objective is not the wanton and merciless slaughter of your foes. While this does earn a good amount of points, most often the real points come from the mini-game being played.

These seem to conflict, with high effect for something that earns fairly small rewards, but I consider both integral to the game’s design and theme as well as to its value and fun: It’s a different flavor, and its gameplay is unique instead of stale yet these are among the least of the reasons for electing these mechanics! Above all, I wanted this to be a game about actions- decisive, important decisions each turn that cause effects. I wanted the characters’ positions to be the ever-changing landscape upon which players made their choices: Is that player up, or down; At full Stamina, or low; Oh, that player has the Urnof now, how does that change what I want to do? After action, I wanted it to be a game of microscale risks. The game, designed as it was to promote and enable the teaching of grace and sportsmanship, needed to be made of successive goal-oriented risks: Four turns of movement to take the ball to the goal, each one contested by opposition; Plan and guesswork; rapidly-changing circumstance with a clear but harass-able path to the objective. Each small setback or gain is kept tense, especially to the unseasoned, young, or highly-emotional (my targets for the learning), yet each step is individually relatively small in its impact on the game overall- it takes a succession of successes to pull significantly ahead of your opposition.

All of this is fostered by the vulnerability of the Stamina amount- without the pressure of potential disaster, each act feels very flaccid and there was an underappreciation of the entire system. I could have, of course, used larger-denomination dice than six-siders, but that increases the variability to a criminal degree and brings luck into the game in a way I consider sloppy game design. Sometimes less is more, after all. This game, in theory and in practice, merge in the nature of the idea that to get the prize you must put yourself out there, you must accept risk and take it- a very masculine idea, fitting to the Roman theme I use so often in the game. This also is the core idea behind the first of the deities designed for the players, Aelanis, the Hero’s Strength. His whole kit was based around risking yourself in challenges and either flying ever-higher or falling in disgrace- both as stories that fill his eyes as he sings!

Surprise – A Short Story

Another short exercise; no edits yet on this. Enjoy!

The text was short: “Surprise waiting for you at the house.” Not unusual- with the strange hours of a young artist who has not yet subjugated his muse and a natural hatred of deceptions, such had long been my wife’s way with me. Tell me of the surprise, to heighten the anticipation of an event of which my active mind could only wonder and imagine; invite me in and join with me in a sense of adventure. I was touched. The latest round of trips and galas and planes and alcohol-tinged deals and lawyers and promises and business cards and a pack of cigars I was unsure what to do with… I had not been home in over a month. She was busy too, and knew of the importance and cost of opportunity, though I never argued for the payout.

I looked around; the desk had papers and the computer emails; two unlistened to voicemails on the phone. I was not even making art, and it was passing eight. My jacket appeared in my hands, the light vanished, and my car spun it’s wheels on the highway. I unlocked the front door of an empty house and stood, a cold fear gripping my heart. I’d hid it, my terror; I don’t like surprises. The house was empty, the clocks ticking on the wall, the bed made up and the table bare. The coats hanging on the hooks were not disorderly and the studio was quiet.
“Surprise,” I whispered hoarsely in the dark hall, “but it isn’t. Not really.” I heard the voice echo off the bare walls, her voice weary and her eyes looking past me, off to the side.
I wept like a child. My toy had broken and the tragedy was too permanent for my mind to grasp. I wept like a child.

Social Debt

In several social situations lately I have heard the phrase ‘debt to society’ thrown around as though the concept were a given, but I find it an interesting one. I do not know offhand whether he is the originator of the phrase or not but I encountered it reading Thomas Paine.

From one side of the political spectrum, speakers referred to criminals and each individual’s responsibility- like a boy scout or a doctor- to leave the world better than you found it or at least no worse; do no harm, and if you do then you are obligated to make up for it so that society continues growing in infrastructure, technology, health, and wealth. This paints a utopia wherein each person contributes however they choose with their resources, free and ultimately unhindered. It is the spirit of classical science fiction: To the stars, imaginative, wild growth like a jungle complete with competition, conflict, and struggle. An inherently masculine and viewpoint where the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination, and no one man matters; Valar morghulis, and your contributions are all for you will fade.

On the other side, there was much focus on the wealthy, citing modern structures (legal systems) and networks (telecommunications, public safety) and technology (factories) as the primary source of the accumulated wealth. Because they (and the poor also) owe so much to the works of their ancestors, they are obliged to ensure that advances and benefits are fairly shared to all: The benefits and rewards of the advances is in seeing your fellow man happier and more fit in a world hostile to life. An inherently feminine viewpoint where the pleasure is in the destination, and all travel the journey at different paces, but none deserve more or less than another, and it is the individuals not the setting which matter; the props on stage will come and go, but human lives and the quality thereof are all that matter.

Naturally there were accusations back and forth; you’re heartless and you’re unfair, you don’t reward achievement and you miss the point entirely, back and forth. Ultimately, to my observation, the former argument argues that there is an essentially unenforceable debt- much like a parent is owed by a child- by each soul to the collective race that has come before it, while the latter argues that the collective race owes each individual unique soul a debt regardless of what that soul has or hasn’t done. There the razor falls, for the truth shines brightly: One admits it can’t force you to contribute but incentivizes and honestly cheers, the other demands and uses force and diminishes all ego which is the primary force that drive not just advancement, but also stability and maintenance in any human system.

Here we see the importance of incentives; I will be discussing incentives more in depth in my next few posts, using a fair number of examples from game design as opposed to the real world. Stay tuned.

The Coast

Another result of a writing exercise; this one I fabricated and cherry-picked a list of quotes, then selected four at random and did a small amount of prewriting to work them together into a story. Presented here after one write-through, no edits. See if you can pick out the quotes I had to use, and if you can do better!


Neither the heat of the afternoon sun’s wash of gold nor the warm humidity of the sea were to blame for his sweat as the man stepped out of his stirrup, and the groom led the rich brown gelding off leaving him standing before the large carved archway to the villa, its walls hung with ivy and overlooking the green plain and the cliffs below which the tide surged with its white caps. He shifted there a few moments, avoiding the inevitable trip into the tile-roofed domicile.
Minutes that seemed like heartbeats passed before a servant emerged, leading a lady in rich greens: Emerald in her sash and jewelry, over a lighter green that smoothed gently over her hips in a distracting way. Her dark eyes twinkled and her mouth gathered as if containing a laugh, but instead she spoke: “Welcome home; won’t you come inside?” and she bowed in that luring way young women manage, seeming to bend without seeming to lower themselves, looking at the ground without stopping the real gaze at the one to which they are deferring.
He approached slowly, making his steps precise. “Thank you, I will. Were you expecting me?” He held out his hands and she put hers into his, popping up on tiptoe to kiss him lightly on the cheek with eyes aswirl with happy schemes.
“Oh no, not for another week at least. Did you meet any difficulties on your ride from the mountains?”
“It was uneventful.” He fidgeted, not quite meeting her gaze.
“Your accent is much better; you’ve been working hard and well.” She probed, a small smile on her face as her eyes looked at each of his in turn. “Come, you’re warm out here after your ride I am sure.” She moved to put her arm in his, but he turned away a moment, reaching into the small pouch on his belt.
“I found this at a Jew’s shop, and it reminded me of you. Your eyes, the way they shine.” He brought out a smoke-grey gemstone, about the length of his thumb, set in silver and cut to a clean, five-faceted kite. “I couldn’t find a chain to put it on, but I thought you might enjoy finding a proper place for it. I know I do not have a great sense of fashion, and you enjoy spinning beautiful things into one another.”
“It’s beautiful!” She took it from his hand as though it might fly away, and pressed her ear to his sweaty shirt. “Thank you… I have some ideas already.”
“When do you not, love?” He laughed, for the first time starting to relax. “I am happy you enjoy it.”
“Why are you so tense? Is this about my brother, or is there something else?”
“I do worry; he doesn’t seem to favor me, though I do not think he will break off our match. He loved your father very much, and is honorable.”
“So it is something else. Come in the house with me, I have something to show you! There’s plenty of time to tell me.” She slipped her arm in his and began coaxing him to the house. They passed the gateway and into the rich garden of vines and flowers, and he slowed to a stop again, looking about.
“I went gambling again, while I was in Cenerne. That gem came from the winnings.”
“Three and a half months.” She pursed her lips. “Not bad. My brother owes me a horse then.” She winked at him.
“You gambled on how long it would take me to break my promise to you? About gambling?” He stared at her.
“Can you think of a better way to encourage you?” She laughed like a little bell. “Now, no amount of gems will make me not be upset at you for breaking promises, but you are forgiven. Mistakes are expected; giving in to judgment or vice is never salvation, but rather repentance.” One side of her mouth tugged upwards as she looked askance at him, but pain flicked across her forehead.
“I do not know whether to leave in shame or kiss you.”
“Neither, for you are coming inside.” She wove her fingers into his and pulled him along, her smile returning.
“I am sorry.”
“Does your sorrow mean you’ll keep a promise when you make it?”
“Not so firmly as your pain does, love.” He resisted, pulling her hand up to kiss it. “Every day is a struggle; they are so strong, my old habits.”
“Such is the way with our weaknesses; their strengths are their novelty at first, and their familiarity at the end. They aren’t truly what you ever want out of your time, or you wouldn’t feel so victimized by them. It’s a matter of falling in love with something worth your while to pull you away.” She winked and darted up the steps and through the door the servant had opened, and he followed slowly, but with easier steps and a soft smile on his face.
“You are ever the philosopher; I wish I were so deep as you.”
“Oh rubbish. An ocean must have her shore to keep her reined in, don’t you think? Come here, in the kitchen!” He trailed her voice through the carpeted house, pausing to look through the windows at the ocean for a moment. When he arrived, she was stirring a small kettle, and a clay bowl was beside it on the countertop. “Here, drink with me!” She dippered out two small cups, and dismissed the servants from standing there awkwardly. He took the cup and his mouth puckered from the sourness of salt and pink sourness that tanged like iron when he sipped.
“Urg, that’s foul!”
“No, drink the whole thing at once!” She gasped, having drained her cup. “It doesn’t work as well otherwise.”
He downed the rest, face contorting and a shiver running down his length.
“Why?” He croaked, half-coughing as he caught her infectious giggles. “That was awful!”
“Wait! Breathe through your mouth, and tell me when it happens.” She stared up at him, a huge grin on her face.
He waited, breathing in the sourness and shuddering again. His next breath shocked him, as it was sweet, like the air had turned to honey and mint. He stared at her, eyes wide. “What-”
“Isn’t it wonderful? Even from bitterness sweetness can come if you keep with it. It’ll last a good while.” She drew close to him and he gathered her in his arms, smelling her hair and pressing himself to her.
“I was concerned that my failure would mean you would not want me anymore.”
“So why bring me a jewel, if you thought you would lose me?” She stuck her tongue up at him.
“I’m a gambler; hope is the root of much foolishness.” He grinned and resisted the urge to kiss her by releasing her and holding her shoulders.
“Well now who’s the philosopher?” She fluttered away, cheeks all rosy and eyes colored with pleasant circuitry. “Sit down over here and take your shoes off.”
“I’ll call the servants if I want to wash, I hardly-”
“It’s my home, and this is how we do things here. The host cares for the guests if they are honored. You’d best get used to it.”
He felt awkward, but having clean relaxed feet felt wonderful, and the breeze as the moved out to the balcony overlooking the cliffside road at the back of the house filled the space his worry had occupied. The servants brought food and they sat watching the sea as the sky began to blush. She spoke to him of all manner of things, of her business interests and the gardens she had worked, her brother’s feuds and the children of her merchants. The sweetness had left his mouth and entered his soul by the time shadows began growing.
“Your brother won’t be here. I need to go find room at Vecino’s hotel.”
“Mmm… Yes. I’ve already sent your horse and things for the night. Would you walk with me in the gardens before you leave?” Her eyes were hope.
“You do taunt my promises, but since you care for me so much I cannot say no.” He tapped his nose and winked, hopping to his feet and lifting her in a whirl from her chair. A servant materialized at her shriek of surprise, but the moment of terror was over and nothing indecorous was observed. They moved sedately through the house to the cool of the flowered scents and the ordered rows of disordered, lively wonderfulness.
“You’re so much like your garden.” He said, low and thoughtful.
“How so?” She looked up to him, voice soft.
“I do not remember.” He blinked. “I’m sorry.”
“I am used to your vague nature.” She patted his arm and rested her head on his shoulder as they walked pace for pace. He felt her yawn, and ever more slowly turned back to the villa.

Picking Up Trash

When I go walking, I have a few simple rules: Keep the pace steady whether slow or fast, Carry a notebook, and Pick up trash if it breaks into my train of thought.

The last one is quite simple, where I collect any bit of flotsam or garbage that distracts me from my walk- walks are something like sacred to me and I am jealous of being distracted- and put them in a trash can nearby when convenient. There are plenty of available cans in the general area in which I walk, whether a small business’ back dumpster or a garbage can lingering by the curb on pickup day.

The particular walk which inspired this led me to a yard of city-owned property, overgrown and possessed of a surfeit of plastic cups and bottles, paper and old food wrappers, plastic bags and other manner of unnatural guests. I picked up one of the loose plastic sacks and filled it with any bits that would not become dust in a reasonable length of time, and was approached by the owner of the neighboring property.

He thanked me and took the trash, and began a long discussion that began with complaints against unsavory law-dodging trash practices and ended at recent astronomical observations. He had been fighting to clean up the lot and clear the all-too-often eyesore area of trash and the saplings and dense weedery, but he was aging and did not muster up his energy so often in recent times. He proudly displayed a USMC flag and a well-ordered property, and we spoke with a kinship of work: I never got his name nor gave mine, and both walked away with a tangible encouragement to our shared culture, mission, or belief: To make the world a better place, to be a force for good change in the world, and to treat our neighbors and neighborhood with a sense of responsibility.

It is a droll humor that the property we were both trying to care for is owned by the government. You cannot replace duty and honor with a legal structure and expect the same results. You cannot replace pride and self-identity with a faceless corporative and expect the situation to get better. The government is not a salvation to us- it is simply a word for the things we do together. It will always be better and more efficacious to go out and to do things together than it will be to ask the government to help, though any ambitious public servant will make promises, take your money and your responsibility, and you’ll wind up with a run-down lot full of garbage instead of a green where your children can play football.

A Drink from the Chalice

Another little excerpt for your enjoyment, of an ongoing project. This one will need some more polishing for sure.

—-

Chapter 3

The journey was uncomfortable from more than just the people; the roads were far worse than expected, with black clouds of insects and boggy, besieged roads from the recent rains constantly interfering. Perhaps it was a stroke of luck, for everyone had to work to keep us going and the labor salved away some of the grinding tension between the mercenaries and the levy troops. My praise was being reserved for Sir Evencer, who seemed to be everywhere with a joke just when frustration or bile began to seethe. Still, the sense of dread that gripped my belly at the Blackmantles’ presence lingered on.

When we reached the high ridge we were to follow East, and the wet boggy earth became more cool than damp about us, I asked the Grailer what he knew of the mercenaries:
“They have been around nearly a century, having been formed around the legacy of a dragon-slayer. They have a good relationship with the Church on the whole- I gather that their usual talents lean towards the hunting or defense against sorcerors, and they harbor a peculiar hatred for those who bind the elements. Their practices and rites I know little of. Their captain is quiet and has his men’s respect. His name is Ghastiri, though I heard several of his men call him Whiteblade.”
“Are they loyal to our gold?”
“Of course. This contract was quite public, they would not risk a larger reputation for such pettiness. They are monasts, and the vengeance upon them for betrayal would be quite easily found. These are not your average mercenary troupe, as you can see from their equipage.” In truth, Sir Evencer was correct: They carried fine weapons and armor, matching equipment all the equal of soldiery of my father’s, or our enemy’s. Still, they set me on edge with their pale faces and their blue eyes, stalking about like ravens in the fog of the Spring through which we traveled. One would look at me and then immediately bounce his eyes away and find something useful to do. They kept their own campfire, and guarded the rear of the train as we began to make regular progress.

A night came where we had camped in a grove of trees, and Hien’s snoring drove me out from our travelling car with a blanket to sleep on the full, deliciously-scented spring wildflowers. The moon was dark, and the sky a picture which no painter could equal. Glittering stars and the night sounds was so exciting, and few insects patrolled the Ridge to worry about. Late, as I got a late start from my relocation, I was nearly asleep when I was one of the mercenaries stalking away from the camp, and a silvery badge on his shoulder caught the lantern light and told me this was the mercenary captain. Passing the lantern to one of his comrades, he proceeded to pick his path down the ridge instead of back to the camp. While my woodcraft was appalling, fortune smiled and I trailed him without great difficulty nor detection that I could see. He came to a point perhaps a full bowshot from the caravan laterally, pulled something from his cloak and impaled it into a fallen tree. He knelt and began to murmur, and the object glowed with starlight. My skin prickled at the wash of magic as it swept towards the ritual focus as Ghastiri intoned his prayer. I crept closer:

“…was in the dark that your blessing came to us, and here in the dark we receive it. As on the day of your birth, make our steps to fade and our burdens light, and fill horse and rider with the blood that fell from the scaled beast. Our mourning has been ceaseless for those we could not save that day and today we plead for our protection with gold and promise and ink. Winged father, help this secret task and bury the present that the future may brighten like the coming dawn. Leave the dark to us, and leave our enemies confounded by it.”

I was disappointed as I heard him continue on, and begin listing specific persons, nay, the whole of the traveling company before he stopped! The ritual light faded though he remained bowed for a time, and no heretical claims nor devilry seemed afoot in the least. He rose and nearly bumped into me as he returned with some severe haste to the column.

“By your father’s will, what do you do here?” His anger flashed, then vanished. “Curious, no doubt. You’ll find no secret books here, young blue, though I am not happy to see you away from the company.” He looked carefully about, towards the head and tail of our column. “Most unfortunate. You have been there since I arrived to pray?”

“Yes. I was sleeping outside and-”

“Shut up.” He grabbed my arm harder than necessary and dragged me back to the camp over my hissed protests. “Gather your things and get back in the wagon.” His blue eyes were full of fear when they looked into mine as we paused at the camp edge. “And you might consider praying. You were outside of the protective ward we were enacting, your ladyship. Pray there were no eyes watching, and that your Grail Knight knows your enemies well.”

We moved that night, everyone rousing to stumble well into the next evening, and not another word was said to me but I did pray. A little.

Cravings

While working at the computer one evening, I found myself in the unusual circumstance of desiring a hamburger so fiercely that I stopped typing and considered the urge; hamburgers are very fine things, and there is nothing wrong in wanting one, but I had already eaten dinner and was preparing to wrap things up in the next hour and turn in for the night- a burger was most unnecessary.

I could have grabbed my keys, hit up a drive through, and feasted on a former farm animal’s flesh, and gone to bed full and happy. I could have gotten a carrot or glass of milk from the fridge, opting for something close and cheap and healthier. I did decide to ignore the urge and follow the plan.

One could argue the morality or strength of character in the above decisions- gluttonous or sensible or disciplined- but ultimately I believe all three to be reasonable choices. Cravings are not all made equal; interpreting and responding to them appropriately is a vital life skill.

Perhaps I had spent a good part of the day out working and sweating and had little or no protein, and my body was asking for something to feed my healing muscles. This is a nutrition craving, and feeding these sorts of cravings is generally good to do- pregnant women get some weird ones of these, and are encouraged to feed them.

Perhaps I had eaten very little and do not sleep well on an empty stomache; this is an emptiness craving and can come from the physical side- not having eaten very much and the acid getting sloshy and lonely- or the emotional side, where hunger takes the expression of some unfilled need or desire. These can be quite destructive or very innocuous. Watch them closely!

Perhaps I am fat and am trying to lose weight, and have cut my caloric intake to achieve my goals, and my habit of late-night snacking and eating fast food is making the animal expectant. This is an obvious chance to practice willpower and achieve my goal.

Sometimes it’s easier to view the world in terms of categorical right and wrong, but sometimes it’s good to wrench open the termite mound and examine things in closer detail. Examine your life, especially when you’re trying to make a change- it will reward you with ease of mind while you are building habits.

101 Ways to Skin a Thank You

Two young men traveling are helped by a stranger while they pass through a small town on their way to a large city. After the help which took several hours, they walk on their way. One pauses, turns, and shouts a “thank you” back, the other one takes a few more steps, looks first at his companion and then at his helper before raising a hand in a wave back at the stranger.

Could be an Aesop’s fable: “A kind act does not always produce gratefulness”

Yet that is not what struck me from watching this scene play out. The two boys, I knew from their behavior through that space of time, were both grateful but their social responses were very different. Seeing this difference, which amounted to deliberate expression versus quiet presumption, made me consider: When we teach the young how to behave, we often fail to present the truth of personality. One of the boys was an only child, raised in a somewhat brutal strictness by aloof but intelligent parents, and his response was to take the advice and help seriously and put it immediately into practice, happily giving back what he could to the giver and saying little with his tongue or body language to express his gratefulness- actions were his focus. The other boy was energetic, raised by the rhythm of the mountain streams and the other children of the mountain town around which he rambled free by warmer, more carefree parents- words and the need to express his emotions and connect with this stranger bubbled up.

More to the point, their helper had a smile on his face and had begun to turn away before being called to. He knew they were grateful and appreciated them both despite their differences in expression, doubtless from having seem plenty of both styles in his life. Both expressions of the young men were valid, yet often I see manners and social graces taught as a form of magical mathematics- you are supposed to say this word to get this result, you’re supposed to do this and this every time XYZ happens, you’re supposed to do this every time someone enters the room, etc etc etc.

The reality of stylistic differences and, importantly, the value of developing and polishing a consistent style for your very own is extremely important, both to be aware of your own when you interact with others and to help you interpret others’ behaviors clearly without coloring harmless gestures or lack thereof with your own style. Enjoy the variety, and appreciate individuals you meet for their manners not your own. Focus on the substance, not the style.

Distance

Distance changes many things. Something imperfect and flawed up close may appear better at arms length, or even close enough to be perfect further away. Something beautiful from afar may have minor flaws when inspected up close. A project or idea close to your heart may appear flawed or deeply ugly, but to those looking from afar it may appear genius, good, or exciting in ways you can’t see it. Similarly, an idea in your head can seem good when first entertained but when executed or brought into reality, it can be destructive or dismayingly ugly.

The same can be said of people in your life. Some of them are wonderful when held at arm’s length, but diminishing, draining, or deadly when you let them or bring them in close. This is the importance of having a variety of friends you can trust who have different perspectives and walk a little distance off from you- we need other perspectives in our lives to assist us in seeing the truth of things. While a certain amount of truth, particularly intellectual truth can be discovered or at least approached on your own with a clear head, we are social beings and seeing the world clearly requires some assistance. Don’t go it alone, and watch your distances to things in your life, with an awareness of how that distance affects you.