Absinthe: A Review

Penny PibbetsShe plunged her face into the other woman’s cleavage then pulled back to allow the younger woman slip her breast free, and pirouette once for everyone to see its perfection pierced by a stainless steel bar through her nipple. The other woman licked her finger and gave the nipple a rub before they entwined tongues briefly as the crowd roared encouragement. So ended the audience participation portion of Absinthe, a circus cabaret that thrilled Las Vegas audiences over four years and is touring Australia in the famous Speigeltent.

Our host, The Gazillionaire, prefaced the show with this warning:

If you are offended by words like fuck and shit, you’re probably at the wrong fucking show.

The show invokes the surreal world of an Absinthe drinker, a spirit purported to be dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and hallucinogen. Circus performers are interspersed with cabaret numbers sung by the beautiful Green Fairy, and the crude vaudeville humor of The Gazillionaire and his sidekick Penny. They lampooned the audience mercilessly with risque innuendo; if you want a politically correct experience you should wait for Cirque de Soleil.

The circus performers included acrobats, gymnasts and high wire walkers whose athletic prowess matched their physical presence. Bodies so ripped I saw previously unknown muscles straining as they executed feats of strength and agility. Burlesque artists played with fire, raising the tent’s temperature but leaving the crowd wanting more in the best Gypsy Rose Lee tradition. A rollicking pastiche of early 20th Century performing arts.

Some people called Absinthe homophobic and racist but this is hyperbolic rubbish, its crude humor mocks racism and gay eroticism is present in a few of the acts. There is something for everyone but I recommend you leave the kids at home.

Making a simple lampshade.

Lampshade

My desk started life as an industrial sewing machine table, and bares the scars of a long working days in this guise. Local artisan, Lloyd Kellett of One Man’s Trash, turned it into a kick ass desk lit by a beautiful Edison light bulb. It creates a wonderfully warm glow for my workspace but I always felt it needed a lampshade.

When I bought a couple of 1940s vintage flash units to replicate the lightsaber props from Star Wars, I thought one of the reflectors was a perfect solution to my lampshade dilemma. I pulled it apart, cut off the stem and used the Dremel to smooth out the rough surfaces. Then I slipped it over the socket and screwed it into place. Job done.

Making something new out of old stuff does not have to be difficult, a simple job like this can take less than an hour with basic tools (hacksaw, screwdriver and a file). In the past, most people kept their things working or created the new things they needed to live a good life. Consumerism and mass production led to a rapid loss of those skills but the maker movement is starting to revive old skills and develop new ones modern technologies.

Search the Web for makers and you find a massive community building everything from stools to small houses, from massive mechanical sculptures to miniature dioramas. Makers come in all shapes and sizes but all share a passion developed by picking up some tools and building something simple. Starting with something simple allowed them to make mistakes, develop new skills and find satisfaction in making things.

As their skills grow they move on to more complex projects but it is often the simple ones that provide us the most satisfaction. It took longer to write this post than make the lampshade, yet it makes me immensely happy to see it sitting above my desk.

Anyone can do it, so what will be your first simple project?

Encounter near Bergen (Historical Fiction)

Hudson_V_48_Sqn_RAF_in_flight_1942_originalRoger pulled back the blackout curtains hoping to see a bright summer sunrise, instead he looked out at another murky wet Scottish morning.

Ruddy Hell, I don’t fancy flying in this weather, Roger exclaimed as he pulled on his heavy wool trousers. His Australian Air Force (RAAF) uniform is a distinctive dark navy blue so they stand out from the blue grey RAF chaps. Mind you boisterous behaviour and an inveterate disregard for authority also distinguished his countrymen from the Brits and Canadians here. Grabbing his battledress jacket, Roger headed out into the drizzle towards the Mess.

After pilot training in Australia, Roger completed an operational conversion on to the Hudson, a light bomber Lockheed developed from a 1930s civil airliner. A lumbering lightly armed beast compared to the Luftwaffe fighters but still a vast improvement over the Avro Ansons 48 Squadron flew at the start of the war.

Arriving at RAF Station Wick during the summer, Roger flew his first operational sorties in glorious northern sunshine but as summer waned constant drizzle punctuated by periods of cold driving rain seemed was becoming normal.

Hey Skipper, looks like summer days are behind us.

Yeah, Huey was really sending it down last night.

We see less rain in a year back on the farm.

Hugh’s crew walked towards him through the rain. Bill and Jack, grew up together in South Australia before joining the Air Force in 1941. Almost inseparable, they trained together in Canada then somehow both wrangled postings to 48 Squadron.

This weather reminds me of our farm in Ontario.

Gordon a plucky Canadian Navigator arrived in Scotland a couple of weeks before the three Aussies.

I talked to Ronnie’s crew, they couldn’t see a ruddy thing through this soup.

Do you think our op will be cancelled, Skipper?

Weather’s supposed to clear but I’ll check with Operations after breakfast.

OK Skip, we‘re off to get our eggs and toast before they realise no one’s flying today.

Meet me in Ops in an hour.

Roger Skipper.

A final meal for the condemned Roger thought drily as he headed into the Mess.
The van dropped Roger and his crew next to their aircraft (callsign M for Mike), newly painted blue on its upper surfaces with a white belly to camouflage it against the North Sea. Hefting their parachutes out they headed towards the old girl, and the waiting ground crew.

Any problems I should know about, Chiefie?

No Sir, she’s in tip top condition, Erks worked through the night to replace that engine and it’s running like a Doncaster winner.

Guns?

Magazines full, tracer every third round as normal. Gunnies cleaned ‘em twice so they look like new.

Wizard Chiefie, anything else?

Just bring her home in one piece so the lads can get some sleep tonight.

No promises Chiefie but we’ll do our best.

The crew climbed into the Hudson to start their pre-flight checks, running methodically through each checklist, and cross checking critical items. Last thing anyone wants is to end up in the drink because they forgot to check the oil or fuel levels.

Checklist complete, Skipper. Guns and wireless are good to go.

Nav checklist complete.

Ok, before start checks complete. Starting number one.

Roger opened the throttle, pressed the starter and the 1200hp Pratt & Witney engine roared into life belching smoke before settling into a satisfying rumble.

Starting number two.

Engine two roared to life. Hugh’s hands and feet moved lightly on the controls, looked down at the Crew Chief who gave him a thumbs up. Everything looked good except the continuing rain but Ops is adamant they launch as planned. He squirmed to get comfortable in his seat, tightened his harness and waited for the signal to taxi.

Green light, chaps. Off we go into the muck.

Roger Skipper.

Assigned to fly a low-level patrol along the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Trondheim, M for Mike would be searching the deep fjords for German Naval ships.

In July, Convoy A107 suffered unrelenting attacks by German surface raiders, U-Boats and the Luftwaffe. Almost every ship included their destroyer escorts now rests below the waves, and hundreds of sailors lost their lives in the freezing Arctic waters. RAF patrols provided convoys with vital information about German naval dispositions but the lonely maritime patrols were dangerous. Weather, anti-aircraft fire and fighters conspired to keep the Hudson crews from their task but they pressed on regardless knowing their job would save many sailor’s lives.

Roger pushed open the throttles on the twin Pratt & Whitneys, and M for Mike gathered speed across the runway. The tail raised itself into the airflow, and as airspeed edged past 80 knots, Roger pulled back gently on the column and climbed into the drizzle. His hand dropped instinctively to the undercarriage lever, and the wheels clunked into place as he turned east towards Norway.

Herdla airfield sat on a stark peninsular north of Bergen, as remote an airfield as any used by Luftwaffe fighters. Windswept and cold even in late summer, the rain turned the grassy runways into softening fields of muddy clods. Werner was used to rough airfields after flying Army cooperation missions during the Low Countries offensive, spotting for artillery and transporting senior personnel in his tiny Fieseler Storch. During Operation Nicht-Wissen, ground fire forced Werner down behind enemy lines where the Belgian Army captured him. A few short weeks as a POW was a sobering reminder about the fortunes of war.

Focke-Wulf-190-620x397

Idle during the Battle of Britain, Werner converted to fighters in 1942 as the Luftwaffe regenerated their decimated fighter squadrons. Now he flew the new Focke-Wulf Fw190A Butcher Bird with Jagdgeschwader 5 (JG5). Its powerful radial engine made it faster than the Messerschmitt Bf-109F he flew during training, and with a wide undercarriage more stable on the ground. Armed with two machine guns and four 20 mm cannons, it is a formidable aircraft and deadly effective against the lightly protected British bombers.

Today, like most days, he will lead his rotte (a flight of two fighters) on defensive sweeps along the coast. Increased British reconnaissance over the Norwegian coast was hindering the German Navy’s operations against Allied Arctic convoys. Werner’s squadron was tasked with stopping these British intrusions. Although Werner won the Iron Cross Second Class in France he is yet to score his first aerial victory. Some days he thought he never would succeed as a fighter pilot.

After 20 minutes, Roger realised they had to abort.

Lads, this weather isn’t fit for flying, even if we find Norway we won’t be able to see any flogging ships.

Roger Skipper.

We’ll land at Lossiemouth, Navigator plot a course.

Skipper, head One eight three degrees for Lossiemouth.

Roger, one eight three degrees.

Werner flew his first patrol in rain and low cloud, barely able to see his wingman let alone the enemy. On landing he could feel the muddy runway sucking at his undercarriage as he taxied back to the flight line. Another unsuccessful patrol.

As Werner shut down the BMW radial engine, his ground crew moved in to refuel his aircraft and polish the perspex canopy in readiness for the next sortie. He grabbed a quick lunch washed down with a bitter cup of ersatz coffee before settling into a chair next to his wingman.

I hate ground alert, Werner, we should be in the air and hunting.

Why waste gas in this weather, we’ll wait until it clears to have a chance of finding our prey.

Werner thumbed through an old copy of Der Alder (The Eagle) but his mind drifted back to Germany.

You know my parents sleep in the cellar. The British come every night to drop their bombs. They’re frightened but unwilling to leave their home.

Lets request a transfer to defend the Fatherland.

We have a job to do here, Christoph. Yours is to stop a Tommy shooting me in the back.

Ja ja, I know.

Werner’s eyes fell on a picture of General Galland, the Knight’s Cross hanging at his throat. He could almost feel his throat redden at the thought of joining the ranks of Luftwaffe heroes before he shook it off, tossed the magazine aside and stalked off to ops.

Righto lads, weather’s clearing east and the Old Man wants us airborne in an hour. Truck’s waiting outside to take us out to the flight line.

Roger Skipper, the three Sergeants said in unison, pulling on their jackets before heading outside.

The grey clouds are giving way to a blue sky, great for flying but makes it harder to avoid the fighters over Norway. His crew knew the odds but no one dwelled on the possibility of not coming home. Too many squadron log entries contained the words:

Aircraft failed to return from operation.

The Hudson rocked and vibrated as they taxied then shuddered to life as Roger pushed open the throttles for their take-off run. Airborne again he turned east and climbed to 5000 feet for the initial transit to Norway. Gordon studied his charts and continuously plotted their course, as Scotland dipped below the horizon he used the sun to navigate much like the mariners who delivered his forebears to the New World.
Jack and Bill scanned the skies for the Luftwaffe, it’s unlikely they’d see fighters this far out but the cautious survive longer than the foolhardy. Roger monitored his engines, feeling their strength through the controls and watching performance on the gauges arranged across his instrument panel. He settled in for the long flight to Bergen.

Hours later Roger felt on edge, nerves raw after a long patrol along a hostile coast. His eyes moved across the instrument panel then into the sun looking for fighters. Approaching Bergen the risk of interception increased rapidly, Luftwaffe fighters stationed nearby patrolled relentlessly searching for British reconnaissance aircraft.

Skipper, Navigator. Twenty minutes until we can turn for home.

Righto Nav, lads keep your eyes peeled for bandits.

Wilco Skipper.

The two Focke-Wulfs cruised along the coast at 2500 metres, Werner and Christoph scouring the sky for British aircraft. The Norwegian summer twilight provided good hunting conditions late into the evening.
Werner caught a momentary glint of sunlight below the horizon. Dipping his left wing 20 degrees, he concentrated on the area looking for telltale movement across the dark sea. There, an aircraft flying south towards Bergen.

Achtung, Ich berühre Auto (I see a two engined bomber). Pauke-Pauke! (Attack).

Viktor, Ich suche (Understood, I’m looking)

Werner pushed open the throttle and turned towards the unsuspecting Hudson. Christoph flew low on his right about 500 metres away and slightly behind to cover this leader’s tail. Beware the unseen enemy is a mantra fighter pilots learn quickly or perish.

Five miles out Werner could see the Hudson clearly. Its gunners must see me soon he thought, and he pushed the throttles full forward nosing down into a shallow dive towards the enemy.

Skipper, Navigator, Ten minutes to turn point.

Roger Nav.

Roger felt the hair on his neck prickle as it always did approaching the end of a patrol. No time to relax until we get well away from the coast, he thought weaving the aircraft to help his crew search their blind spots.

Bandits, nine o’clock high.

Roger immediately turned left into the attacking fighters to get his eyes on them then jinked right as Bill opened fire from the turret. His tracer arched low and behind the fighters racing towards them. Roger started a left hand spiral down to sea level.

I’m heading for the deck, lads.

Bandits are following your turn, Skipper.

Keep firing.

Roger saw the muzzle flashes of the nearest bandit and pulled hard into the turn.
Werner ignored the tracer whizzing below his aircraft and concentrated on flying the Hudson into the reticle of his gunsight.

Wait until it fills the sight, he mumbled to himself.

At 200 metres the Hudson filled the reticle, and he squeezed the machine gun trigger. Muzzles buried in his aircraft’s nose flashed to life, and he saw his rounds hit the Hudson’s wingtip. He pulled up to walk the fire up the wing towards the engine. The Hudson tightened its turn, and Werner kicked the left rudder pedal to compensate then pressed down on the trigger for the four 20 mm cannons in the Focke-Wulf’s wings.

His aircraft shuddered under the recoil of his guns, and Werner watched as the shells exploded against the M for Mike’s fuselage. At 30 metres he released the triggers and flashed over the top of the Hudson, jinking away from its defensive fire.

Roger felt the Hudson vibrate under the impact of the first shells, and heard the fuselage buckle as they exploded around him. He pulled back on the control column to tighten his turn but the next salvo killed him instantly. Jack and Gordon died in the first hail of cannon fire, and slumped in their stations but Bill continued firing until the aircraft hit the water.

The whole action had taken less than 60 seconds.

Horrido! (Victory) yelled Werner excitedly as he watched the Hudson disappear into the icy water.

Christoph, I’m low on gas. Climbing to 2000 metres, heading home.

Understood, drinks are on you tonight.

Ja, Christoph.

As he approached the airfield, Werner’s heart still raced with the excitement of combat. A victory at last, hopefully the first of many kills. He touched down and closed the throttle as his right wheel sank into the soft mud. The Focke-Wulf lurched and ground looped in an uncontrolled ballet of destruction. As the undercarriage collapsed, Werner’s head slammed against the side of the cockpit. Blood flowed freely down is face, dazed and shaken he released his harness and slid groggily out of his broken bird.

An inglorious end to this encounter.

A few hours later the 48 Squadron Operations Officer completed the daily summary. Against M for Mike he wrote:

Failed to return from operation.

Dedication

This story is dedicated to the Australian airmen who never to returned from operations over enemy territory, particularly the 1421 who remain missing with no known grave.
Lest we forget.

No More Regrets

No RegretsWe left the City Recital Hall with the intense imagery of Neil Gaiman’s stories vivid in my mind’s eye. Outside a gathering crowd of young people is waiting to get into a trendy Sydney club. I compared the evening of wonder we had just enjoyed with the many youthful nights I spent in similar clubs.

I regret how I wasted my youth going to clubs instead of seeking out to events like this one tonight.

You’ve been saying that a lot lately.

Have I?

Yes, and it’s a good way to become depressed if you keep thinking you have wasted your life.

A stomach complaint kept me awake most of the night, and I began to examine the arch of my life without my inner critic for a change. In the early hours of the morning I realised I always saw my life as a series of stages. The shy kid in school who became a sports fanatic who morphed into a military professional and more recently a creative thinker and maker. I locked each phase of my life into a niche without understanding my life’s real narrative, evolution rather than radical change. I continually try new things while maintaining a fairly structured, and in some ways habitual life.

I have always enjoyed reading, and I can sit for hours with my mind transported to another reality by the words but my reading habits evolved over time. As I studied for my Masters degree I read exclusively non-fiction; history, political science and engineering texts dominated by library. I also read endless volumes of design engineering documents for my project management work, so by day’s end I only wanted to chill in front of television or computer game.

When I returned to fiction I discovered a more nuanced understanding of the stories, and sub-plots than I had as a young reader. This evolution could appear a radical change to the people who suddenly found me talking about fantasy novels more often than military history or the latest political intrigue. The real change is more subtle, I have started to pull all the threads together into a coherent narrative of how I live my life. Instead of silos of excellence, keeping my gaming brain separate from the military tactician I took lessons from every aspect of my experience to enrich the current activity or discussion.

My kids joke they don’t me anymore but I don’t find many of these new obsessions too far removed from my past. The difference is the time I allocate to exploring new things, taking the time to look and listen to what is going on around me. Then follow the trails I find interesting, one such trail led me to Sxip Shirey‘s website today. Sxip is an eclectic, electric musician, his style defies definition and a few years ago I would not have stopped long enough to listen. As a teenager I continually discovered new music to add to my eclectic collection but at some point I just settled on a sound and set it on repeat. It became a habit rather than an experience.

Should I regret my life choices because I enjoy different things today?

Of course not, instead of pining over lost opportunities I embrace the past risks and adventures of my life. My trip to China, rugby championship and missing out on the coveted jobs were just as important as hearing Neil Gaiman read his latest stories or briefly discuss Mark Rothko with Adam Savage. Those early experiences led me to this point in life, it made those encounters possible and I am grateful for everyone of them even the soul crushing ones have value.

So, Colleen will never hear me lament the past again. Our future is built on dreams not regrets, and we have a lot of dreams to make real.

You don’t look like a fan.

Fan encounter with Neil GaimanLast night I took my daughter-in-law to a Sydney Writer’s Festival event featuring Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Tara Moss. As we waited in line for the theatre to open the young lady in front of us looked at me, and said

‘You don’t look like an Amanda Palmer fan.’

Well, what the Hell does a fan look like at these events?

Am I too old, too straight, too conservative to be a fan? Fucked if I know, I certainly had more life experience than most of the crowd, and arrived casually well dressed but so what? I grew up in the Seventies, and Punk played an important part in my development through the idea we do not have to conform to every social norm or expectation to be a part of society.

Alright I never quite bought into the anarchist level of Punk, and joining the military at 17 meant I accepted a certain level of conformity in my life. But I didn’t need a uniform to be a Punk, it is an attitude, one I applied liberally within the military to champion ideas outside the mainstream.

In standard psychological testing I have an unusually high score in the fantasy areas. Whilst the other results are consistent with typical outcomes for military leaders, fantasy is usually quite low amongst my colleagues.

I discussed this outcome with the psychologist, and I told him about my love of art, science fiction and my generally geeky/punk outlook on life. He did not see it as a negative, just one of those outliers that occasionally pop up in standardised testing.

Personally I take great pride in my ability to see things differently to my peers, friends and family even if I ultimately choose to support a conservative position. My Punk attitude means I focus on outcomes rather than how I look during development of an idea or working to complete a project.

Western society, maybe society in general, is quick to corral people into groups; conservatives, liberals, punks, bums, heroes and a thousand other labels. I rarely find any of them adequately describe an individual let alone any group of people.

I have an increasingly diverse group of sometimes conflicting and competing ideals, concepts and values. My dress and grooming habits evolve but rarely do they reflect my level of love or dedication to a movement, artist or idea. I’m just a bloke who likes a varied and eclectic range of things, and this makes me happy. It’s just me, and I don’t need a uniform to be me.

A Manifesto for Life

Maddog Manifesto 2.0What is a personal manifesto?

A manifesto is a statement of ideals and goals to guide a person, organisation or culture to a better future. It can be as complex as the Koran or as simple as the United States Declaration of Independence. They are often a rebellious call to action because they show people the disparity from their current reality and a better future.

The best manifestos provoke change, challenge convention and generate a commitment to change in their target audience. The Declaration of Independence is a simple document, yet its words reverberate through every aspect of American society and culture.

A personal manifesto is simply your own call to action to live a better life or create a better future for you and those closest to you.

Why write a personal manifesto?

Self improvement is a lifelong pursuit for almost everyone although we mostly do it unconsciously through repetition and practice, it is a fundamental part of what makes human beings a unique species on this planet. Successful self improvement must be consistent with your values and principles.

My own attempts at self improvement often failed because I followed the latest fad rather than a plan to address my own ideals and aspirations. In recent years I focused my effort on obtaining a Command in the Air Force. All my energy went into finding a position to get me noticed by the selection board. During an extended vacation I realised my desire for Command reflected my perception of success as a military professional rather than a step along the road to the person I really wanted to become in the future. I had a plan but it ignored my personal values, goals and philosophy. I decided I needed a personal call to arms to guide my decisions and keep me focused on the better future of my dreams. A personal manifesto.

Many people view a personal manifesto as pretentious but every January we fill the air with our resolutions to loose weight, stop smoking or be a better parent/spouse/friend. Those resolutions are really just a simple form of manifesto but unrecorded and soon forgotten. By writing a simple call to action, and displaying it prominently in your home, office or sanctuary you will soon find yourself being guided subconsciously by those ideals. My own manifesto led me to retire from the military, and focus on creative endeavors like this blog and I could not be happier.

How to write a personal manifesto.

While a personal manifesto may take the form of a long manuscript, I believe simplicity makes it easier to envisage your future. I chose four themes; time management, learning, travel and simplicity.

Next I wrote down what these themes meant to me, developed goals to achieve them and over time refined these ideas into the eight goals and affirmations you see above under each red thematic statement. They guidelines, rather than rigid rules, to keep me heading in the right direction.

I put aside the original rough draft for a few weeks before rereading and refining my manifesto into the document reproduced above.

A printed copy sits prominently next to my desk, and I often find myself reflecting on those words.

I review the manifesto every year, and continue to refine my goals but the basic themes have never changed for me.

As a result I am living the life I imagined but never seemed able to obtain without the guidance this simple document provided me.

 

Making a Leather Pen Case

Leather Pen Case8The gift of a new pen (Thanks Liam, Lola & Lamb) inspired me to make a pen case to hold it and the fountain pen I received as a retirement gift. Here’s how I approached this project.

A simple design.

Every project begins with a period of contemplation to sort through ideas and search for inspiration. For this project I knew I wanted a leather case, and a bag of scrap leather recently liberated from Mum’s crafting supplies (Thanks Mum) provided the raw material. All I needed was a pattern to start making it.

Leather Pen Case1

I prefer simple designs, the case must protect the pens but remain small enough to fit in my pocket. I grabbed a piece of nubuck leather, and as I thought about the design started folding it into rough shapes. I quickly honed in on a simple three fold pattern, a rectangle folded up to form a pouch for the pens with a flap to close over them.

Leather Pen Case2

Sewing the leather.

The soft nubuck leather allowed me to use my wife’s sewing machine to sew the three straight lines to form the pouches. Transitioning from two thicknesses to three where the strap is attached proved to be a little finicky. We had to lift the sewing machine foot to get the strap under but then the machine happily worked away to complete the stitching.

I tapered the flap to fit under the strap, and the build was complete in a little over an hour.

Leather Pen Case4
Be prepared to fail.

Failure is always be an option when making something, particularly when developing new skills. My maker idol, Adam Savage, is steadfast in his belief that we learn more from our failures than our successes. He encourages makers to build prototypes out of cheaper materials like paper and cardboard before tackling the final product. Even a simple project like this one can benefit from prototyping.

I planned to build a paper model first but I decided to just dive straight into the final product. As a result, I only discovered an error in my pattern after I finished the sewing. I wanted the smallest possible case for two pens but my conservative pattern was too wide, and just looked wrong in my hand.

Luckily I could correct this mistake without a complete rebuild by resewing the outer edges to give the case a slimmer profile.

I am really pleased with the final product and it feels good in my hand.

Leather Pen Case7
Making vs Buying

I looked for pen cases in the shops, and they typically cost $50-$100 for a simple leather model. While speciality stores displayed beautifully crafted items I found taking the time to make my own case a joyful experience. It gave me a sense of achievement that buying stuff can never emulate, and I started me thinking about other leather work projects.

It feels good to be a maker of things.

2015: Making Things

Camp Lehigh Flag: Captain America
Camp Lehigh Flag: Captain America

2014: A year of change

In 2014 I retired from the military, moved into an inner city apartment and generally disrupted almost every aspect of my life. At times the stress on me and my wife rose above our comfort level but we love our new life and the freedom it provides us to pursue old and new interests.

Making Things in 2015

I want to be a maker of things, and this year I plan to explore a variety of activities and make things to share with friends, family and the world. Last year I built a replica of Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber prop from Star Wars, and the Camp Lehigh flag (pictured above) from Captain America. I found turning the raw materials into these beautiful artifacts a deeply satisfying experience. I mean we have these dexterous hands for a reason right, and it’s not to play video games or channel surf the television.

Luke's Lightsaber: Replica Prop
Luke’s Lightsaber: Replica Prop

So I am going to make physical objects at least once or twice a month in 2015. I have several paper and metal model kits bought in Japan, and a growing list of prop replicas to fill out a year of making. I also have several home improvement projects to complete, starting with a sliding cabinet next to our refrigerator for some of Colleen’s craft materials.

Side Table made with found objects.
Side Table made with found objects.

Apartment living imposes limitations on the projects I can undertake without upsetting our neighbors. For example I need to keep the dust confined to our apartment, and noise to a minimum but this fits with my skill level and preference for hand tools.

Writing a book

I set out to write a memoir in 2014 but fell well short of my goal. Writing the 70 to 100 thousand words required to fill even a modest book is daunting for a novice writer. So this year I will focus on writing 2000 words each week, and see if I have a story worth publishing in 2016.

I tend to get bored with a single project so it’s important I create other publications in 2015. This blog provides me an outlet for writing on any topic I choose, and a place to experiment with style and content for my other projects. I also plan to write a few zines.

In 2015, I will release four limited edition zines with the first one available by March. Each zine will be handmade, individually numbered and signed by myself. The goal is to make a thing, not a perfect thing but an interesting thing and release it to the world. While I hope to make a little money, the main goal is to learn and grow from the experience.

Digital Things

I will release a digital copy of each zine for everyone to download, read and enjoy after the print edition is sold. I will leave it to you to determine their value. Your feedback is more important than your cash but feel free to send cash if you value the content.

Last week I listened to a reboot of Wil Wheaton’s Radio Free Burrito podcast. He wanted to make a thing (his words) and release it. He knew it contained content and production flaws but he thought it was more important to put it out there and then improve his thing with the audience.

It made me think about doing my own audio series, and I have an idea for a companion to my memoir. So I’ll do as Wil did, grab some tools make a podcast and put it out there for everyone. This is a new endevour for me, and digital things are no less challenging to make than physical things but the goal is to learn by making something.

Makers are never bored with life.

I wish I had a dollar for everyone who asked if I was bored in retirement. Most people think retirement is like putting a horse out to pasture. Your useful life must be over, and many retired people share this opinion. I have never been busier, and the list of projects grows every day.

I spend a couple of months a year in uniform to supplement our income but most of my time is spent making things. I didn’t really retire, I just transitioned to a new creative life, a maker’s life and the opportunities are endlessly interesting.

So, what are you going to make in 2015?

Memoir and Gaiman, 2014 readings.

As I looked back at my all too short 2014 reading list I found two themes, memoir and Neil Gaiman.

My decision to leave the military after 34 years became the catalyst for a year of change in 2014, and I decided to use a generous training grant from the Air Force to develop my memoir. I took the Writing the Self class at Newcastle University, and explored memoir in a variety of forms including an interesting foray into zines. I devoured memoirs as I sought to find my own voice (the search continues) but three resonated strongly with my own life.

In Blue Nights, Joan Didion remembers her daughter who died all too young and their troubled relationship. The writing is raw and fragmentary, often confusing and some reviewers thought it narcissistic but it laid bare Didion’s feelings. Blue Nights reflected the confusion and my own narcissism as our son fought for his life after a bicycle accident. It reminded me that it takes effort to maintain your relationship with your kids as they grow into the adults they want to be in our world.

Peter FitzSimons is a journalist, former Australian Rugby player and prolific writer of history and biography, and in A Simpler Time he turns his research and writing skills to his own childhood on a Peat’s Ridge (north of Sydney) farm. FitzSimons’ description of life in Australia through the sixties and seventies spoke to my own childhood, and awakened a dozen long forgotten memories as I read his tale.

Unable to cope with her mother’s death, Cheryl Strayed turned herself inside out with infidelity, drugs and self-loathing that threaten to consume her life. After finalising her divorce, Cheryl headed to California to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mojave to Oregon. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is a journey into the mind of a troubled life, a woman overcome by grief and unable to find the life she wants in the noise of our modern world. Read Wild before you see Reece Witherspoon’s portrayal of Cheryl Strayed at the cinema.

I started 2014 by reading a thrift shop find, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and he has become my author of choice throughout the year. Gaiman builds his fantasy worlds with enough hooks into reality that I find it easy to imagine they really do exist at the fringes of our known world. American Gods, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Good Omens (written with Terry Patchett) captivated me, and my reading list is filling with his novels including The Sandman graphic novel series.

The Martian by Andy Weir is simply the best and funniest book I read in 2014. Stranded alone on Mars Mark Watley employs his engineering and botanist training to survive in the hostile Martian environment until a rescue is possible. Written largely as a series of log entries, The Martian is a great book for a lazy weekend by the sea or sheltering from winter’s cold embrace.