Category Archives: autobiography

Just When I Thought I Was Out: Fantasy, Kindle, and Me

Check Out The Swords on this Dark Elf!

I have a strange relationship with the fantasy genre. From roughly age 10-13, my literary tastes tended toward books with barbarians on the cover. I’d always been a voracious reader, but something just clicked when I worked my way through the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander and almost without meaning too, I found myself mired in various epic battles. Seventh and eighth grade were when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and though I only played the game on a few sporadic occasions it opened the door to the morass of tie-in novels. R.A. Salvatore and company lead me through the hormonal soup of my early teen years. I spent more time reading about dwarven gold and elven longbows than I probably should have.

Eventually I drifted away. I started reading selections from the canon in my A.P. English classes and Kerouac or any other book I thought might make me seem cool to disaffected young women. From there, I became an English major and my focus tended to the more literary, proper fiction. Part of me never lost sight of the genre. I would occasionally pick up the latest in a series I had followed in my younger days, but I never returned to the level of fervent fandom my 12 year old self felt when he would stay up all night turning the pages of slightly yellowed David Eddings paperbacks.

As much as I like to think of myself as a rebel nonconformist who does what he pleases without a care for what people think, I know deep down that the stigma of being a geek had something to do with my shift. I did consciously decide that at some point I wanted to have sex, and maybe walking around with a dog eared copy of The Might of the Dragon Emperor’s WarKillers: Tales From the Kingdom of Le’ve’n’ti’ri’a wasn’t the best way to accomplish that particular goal. The girls I wanted to woo needed to hear me drop knowledge about the sensitive and the weird, not relay the latest doings of lavender-eyed dark elves. This applied doubly to the cute girls behind the counter at Barnes & Noble and the art student with horned rim glasses who I took German I with.

I know it’s shallow, but I felt vaguely embarrassed to be seen reading fantasy literature. But I never entirely lost the urge. How do I know? Because as soon as I got my Kindle last year I immediately began downloading cheesy fantasy novels. I have made peace with my geekdom since my late teenage rebellion from it, but there’s still a social cost to reading trashy fantasy novels on the bus or train that I don’t know I am willing to pay. The Kindle removes that social cost. I can download the books without anyone seeing the covers. Since I’ve gotten it, I’ve still read literary fiction. I’ve read a few nonfiction books. But I keep returning to the apostrophe-filled prose of the fantasy genre. When I read them, no none around me knows that I’m not reading Cloud Atlas. The Kindle strips my nerdy tendencies bare. It turns my homescreen into an inescapable reminder that I am a huge nerd.

 

Three Things That Rocked My World This Week

1. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is probably my all-time favorite beer. I’ve been on a serious IPA kick for the last four years or so, and the hoppy goodness (90 IBU) that the fine folks at Dogfish Head consistently deliver in every bottle tickles my nose most pleasantly. The high alcohol content (9%) means that I can’t drink as many as I would like in any one sitting without starting to talk kinda loud and possibly riding the wrong bus about five miles in the wrong direction. Still, it’s a wonderful beer. I continually monitor their website in case they post a job opening for in-house counsel, but until they do I’ll keep drinking it.

2. The Strokes are a band that I’ve followed since they first broke onto the scene during my first year in undergrad.

Julian Casablancas and company have delivered album after album of kick-ass songs. Maybe the didn’t turn out to be the Indie Messiahs who would change the Face of Modern Rock; as some of the more ardent critics proclaimed them after Is This It? but I have enjoyed the slow progression of their sound all the way down to Angles It’s been on daily rotation since I downloaded it from Amazon for $3.99 in one of the best daily deals Amazon has yet put out there. This album has a slightly 80s vibe to it, but in a good way.

3. Dragon Age II is my first real exposure to the series.

I did try to get into Origins but I was stymied by the difficulty level. I ended up not having fun because even when I micromanaged my party to within an inch of their lives, I still got schooled by nearly every Darkspawn we ran across. I was a big fan of Mass Effect games, so getting reacquainted with the BioWare approach to role playing wasn’t that hard. Dragon Age 2 is easier than its predecessor, in that it is actually possible for your followers to make rational decisions for themselves, such as drinking a health potion after they get knocked on their ass by orc-blades or not jumping in front of the toughest bad guy in the room when they are out of stamina. I also like the self-contained nature of the smaller scale adventure. Your hero basically just hangs out in the city and the setting changes temporally instead of spatially. That being said, I do wish that the you could check out more areas in the city and run through the same damn dungeon ten times. Nothing is more fun than setting up a cross class combo and having your rogue disorient an enemy just long enough for your spellcaster to bring the mystical pain. I also enjoy the way you go into conversational cut-scenes covered head to to in the gory ichor of your foes and just start chuckling with your buddies like it’s the end of Scooby Doo.

 

Ebay, Get Off My Back

ebay

I’ve gone a little nuts with the Ebay thing.

My auction insanity has deepened along two separate vectors: the madness of buying and a deep addiction to selling. Both activities keep me consistently logged in to the service, checking and rechecking MyEbay for any action, any infinitesimal shift in the bidding price of items.

The buying is easy to explain. There are any number of great deals you can finagle if you sweep in to the right auction at the right time, but there is more at work than mere frugality. The strength of Ebay lies in man’s greed and avarice. There is something tremendously satisfying of feeling like you are taking advantage of some poor sap who put his treasure out into the stream of commerce without a reserve and with free shipping. I enjoy the notion that I am swindling some sucker from Palookaville out of his hard-earned trade paperbacks. At the same time, the nature of the auction format ensures that I nearly always end up paying just slightly more than I wanted to but still less than the items would retail for. I work hard to restrain my competitive impulses and for the most part I am successful. But not always.

And the selling aspect of my addiction funnels into the buying. The items that I sell (primarily my comic books) go for less than I paid for them, but the income feels like found money. When a buyer pays me, the money sits in my paypal account. The convenience of using those funds to  pay for my next purchase is too tempting to ignore. The proceeds of my sales rarely make the transfer to my bank account.

Selling my possessions feels good. There is something liberating about shedding the barnacles that attach as I age and getting rid of my worldly goods. The feeling is addictive. The more I think about the unlikelihood of rereading my Eternal Champion novels, replaying Doom 3, or rewatching my Sopranos dvds the greater the pointlessness in leaving them sitting on my shelf. I have been a student for far too long to amass any serious material wealth but my geekier tendencies has filled my bookshelves with all manner of books, comics, games, and knickknacks. All of which I have enjoyed, none of which will ever serve me again in the future. So I commit them to the internet, letting Ebay find them an appropriate home. It feels better than simply dropping them off in a box at Goodwill, and offers some monetary compensation for my years of rampant consumerism.

I wouldn’t say this urge to purge has reached the level of compulsion, but it could progress that far. As it is, I now frequently buy book lots, read them, and then almost immediately post them for resale. Generally, I break even or lose money on the deal. I just chalk it up to the pleasure of reading the books and consider it a rental fee, which is a bargain for the hours of entertainment I get. Occasionally I  make a profit.

But I’m not accruing anything, no tangible objects of my culture. In my younger days I would look at my sprawling stacks of comics and books with a sense of pride. I would even sort of show them off when people came in my room. Although, I did make an effort to hide my comics when I thought I might be bringing a ladyfriend back to the boudoir. Ah, the insecurity of youth. At any rate, even as I enjoy clearing space and ensuring that my next move will involve carrying fewer boxes I feel a tinge of regret, an inescable shudder of loss. It makes me think about the nature of media, and how it is changing. It also makes me want a Kindle, under the theory that if I am not keeping the physical objects I might as well not even bother buying them and make the shift to digital media. But that feels like something that smarter men than I are already thinking about. But that is a post for another day. For now, I need to check on my auctions to see if there’s been any action since I last refreshed ten minutes ago.

The Summer of Sean

It’s summertime, and just because I’m working for a living doesn’t mean that my life starts at 9:00 and ends at 5:00. I have decided that even though I am a temporary wage slave, I should set goals to accomplish before school starts back up at the end of August. Sadly, this will (probably) be the last summer vacation of my life, since after I graduate law school next year I lose the comforting ebb and flow of the academic semesters.

1. Play More Video Games

Last year I sold my X-Box 360 because I was short on cash and couldn’t bring it with me to Australia since the power supply was incompatible with Australian sockets, which run directly off power generated from kangaroos jumping on trampolines and are shaped like jars of Vegemite. My reasoning was that I wouldn’t be able to play video games for over half the year anyway, and I could just buy it back when the urge to rain hot-lasered death on my pixellated enemies became unbearable. I spent a good chunk of last Christmas playing Fallout 3 and Dead Space on my brother’s PS3, and although that video game binge allowed me to get it out of my system for a while I knew that there would come a time when I once again had to buy myself a video game console. That time is now. The problem is that I kind of liked the PS3 experience and Infamous looks bad-ass. But bad-ass enough to make the switch back to Sony after so many years canoodling with Microsoft? Are there likely to more exclusive titles that will once again chain me to brand loyalty? Hard to say. The X-Box 360 had some great exclusives as well…

2. Get to Book-Stack Zero

I periodically tell myself that I can’t buy any more books until I finish reading the backlog that threatens the structural integrity of my nightstand. I take a solemn vow that I will in no way purchase another book, swearing that this time I will have the discipline to follow through. It usually lasts until the next Borders 40% off coupon arrives in my inbox or I pass the Books, Inc. on a Sunday morning stroll with nothing better to do than browse around until I inevitably buy something. (There is never anything better to do). My rate of reading is relatively swift, and will likely increase now that I am using Muni to get to work instead of walking to school. Reading on the bus is one of my favorite activities. Since I buy and read at roughly the same rate the stack of unread books tends to stay at a stable height, usually about four deep. Not huge (especially compared to The Girlfriend’s stack, which could take up an entire wing of the Library of Congress) but this summer, I aim to read every last book on the list. That means finally polishing off the Borges collection I’ve been savoring for the better part of a year by reading a few stories at a time. It also means choking down 1776 by David McCollum. I bought this last year when I watched John Adams and contemplated a career as colonial American lawyer. I always THINK I want to read about history, but the experience proves tough to get through. No matter how skillful the historian, I still need a little fictionalization.

3. Shape Up

Finals are a dangerous time for my waistline and I’m starting the summer off with the telltale snugness of my pants that always signal that I’ve tilted away from stout and toward chubby. Who would have thought that sitting motionless for eleven hours a day while reading hornbooks and constantly stress-eating would be bad for me? I haven’t exercised in forever, and my constantly expanding ass shows it. You know what that means: bootcamp! I can just work out on my own, but I find the collective experience of forcing myself to wake up early and endure an ordeal for a fixed block of time is a big help. I always lose weight and feel better when I participate in one of these things, so I plan on starting one soon. In the past, I have taken a pugilistic approach to getting in shape. Now I’m contemplating something a little less focused on boxing and more of a general fitness experience. San Francisco has many bootcamps to choose from, and even now I’m deciding which one suits me. Military? Fish-based? General Purpose? Whichever one I go with, I’m sure that it will help me get back on the right track.

4. Ship Out

I want to travel some. The work week will keep me in San Francisco from Monday to Friday, but each weekend is a new opportunity to get out. I’m not sure what my plans are post-graduation. This could very well be beginning of the end of my west coast tenure and I will make sure to hit up as many spots out here as I can while I still have the chance. I’m taking a trip to Portland, as I do from time to time. And after work finishes, I will hit up Vancouver before making a likely ill-advised return to Las Vegas before classes resume for the fall semester. Before then, I’m going to try to take as many day/weekend trips as possible and explore North California. So far, I’ve barely been out of San Francisco, and not really very far out of the Bay Area at all.

I realize that some of these goals don’t fit very well together, if not totally mutually exclusive. Sitting on a couch playing video games will definitely eat up hours I could spend traveling, and it’s not the best activity when you’re goal is to get in shape. Likewise travel isn’t the best way for me to get in shape, since I generally eat out and drink more than I should. Nevertheless, a summer that satisfies all these goals will be an awesome one indeed.

Also, wherever possible I plan to integrate beer into the aforementioned activities.

The summer of Sean begins.

Potentially Telling But Most Likely Meaningless Autobiographical Detail #2

I eschew ornamentation. Not big on jewelry of any kind; rings, necklaces, bracelets or earrings have no place on my body. It’s not so much a value judgment. I’m sure there are many virile and strong men who like to decorate themselves with little trinkets. I would certainly never impugn the Masculinity of someone like Mr. T (indeed I would most likely join him in pitying the fools who did). But jewelry annoys me. Even functional jewelry like watches gets on my nerves and feels unnatural against my skin.

For this reason, I have long been a proponent of doing away with antiquated traditions like the wedding ring. Why should I be forced to wear decorative frill just because I’ve gotten married. I concede the importance of a symbol of everlasting love, so I therefore propose the “Wedding Belt.” It’s circular like a ring and won’t annoy me like other jewelry

Potentially Telling But Most Likely Meaningless Autobiographical Detail #1

Whenever I sit down at a table, I always try to pull the table closer to me rather than scoot my chair closer to it.

The reverse is also true; I push desks and tables away from me instead of sliding my chair away from them. (Often with greater force than is strictly necessary).

Tango Kilo Oscar

Well, Friday came and went. I was unable to participate in Friday Night Fights, because I was busy participating in Friday Night Fights. It only sounds like nonsense. You see, I was participating in some good old fashioned fisticuffs on Friday Night so I was unable to post a scan of comic book characters fighting. The boxing bootcamp culminated in a night of fighting, as we put our six weeks of blood, sweat, and embarrassing encounters to use in the ring.

sean mcgilvray boxing fighting

This wasn’t my first time boxing, but I’m still pretty green. This match-up was much closer than the last time I gloved up. That time I was boxing a man who does this whole “punching hard” thing for a living, and while I think I did all right, it was clear that he was pacing me. Not so, this time. My opponent was more my equal in both size and skill level. I had a few pounds on him but he was quicker and slightly more agile. Our experience levels seemed about the same, so when we entered the fray it was a full-on battle royale. I will never be known for my finesse, either in the ring or in everyday life. I’m more inclined to stand and trade blows like a drunken 19th century Irishman or a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot than to float like a butterfly. I was also slow to respond to the idea that I should actually be throwing punches. I had to eat one or ten jabs to the jaw before I settled down enough to start putting the things I learned to work for me. I may have even remembered to bob, though I almost certainly forgot to weave.

sean mcgilvray boxing too

I landed a number of good solid rights, and worked his body at the start of every clinch. If there were judges, they probably would have awarded the first round to the other guy, but it would have been close. But after conferring with my cornerman and having some water poured on my head, I entered the second round with a little more strategy. I started working serious combos and probing for weaknesses in my opponents defense. I probably still looked a little sloppy, but I was thinking more like a sweet scientist than a back-alley brawler. I was landing serious blows, and I could see they were taking their toll on my foe. He was slowing down and his jabs were less controlled. He started clinching more.

Then, about halfway through the second round, it happened. On the advice of my corner, I threw a low jab at his solar plexus. He rolled his front guard down to cover just a little too late. I followed up with a big right hook aimed right at the side of his head. Time slowed down. The lights got just a little bit brighter. I couldn’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure reality actually shifted into slow motion. When the punch landed, the thump of leather meeting leather and fist meeting skull echoed through the room. I’m told everyone in the crowd heard the hit, and I could hear their collective intake of breath as my hook hit home. My opponent buckled just a little, swaying woozily as the referee started a standing eight count. He didn’t get very far before waving his hands to signal the end of the fight.

sean mcgilvray: victory and wrapped hands

My second foray into the world of boxing ended in a knockout, albeit one of the technical variety. That was something new for me, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. It was a good thing it came when it did, though, because I was seriously losing gas and I don’t know if I had the legs for another round. Fighter safety is a big concern so everyone made sure he was okay before we hugged it out. There were no hard feelings, and I think he is a consummate sportsman. He’s also a practicing attorney here in San Francisco, so I’m sure I’ll be pestering him for a job when summer rolls around.

sean mcgilvray: sportsmanship

Me Versus My Body: Round Two Leaves Me Taking it on the Chin

I am now at the midway point of my boxing bootcamp, and things are progressing nicely. Timing, strength, and overall conditioning is improving. I’ve lost some weight, to the point where I don’t have to hold the ends of the towel together when I drape it across my post-shower nether regions. They meet comfortably and I can once more roam the locker room with both hands free. I have even shaved my head, both to look tougher and increase aerodynamics.

But it isn’t helping. I still can’t run. Lacking an adrenaline surge from mortal danger, I just can’t pump my legs for any length of time. without panting and slowing to a walk. Its a good thing bears are so few and far between in San Francisco, or I would surely have been eaten by now. I know part if it is psychological. I don’t think I should have to run, for I am large and strong.

I know that boxers, indeed fighters of all disciplines, need the conditioning. I’m not arguing that Road Work isn’t a vital key to success in the ring. I’m just bitching about it because I am so bad it. I try to control my breathing and just focus on moving forward, and that has helped me make improvements. Today, I ran most of the way without retreating to my customary hands-on-hips walking breath-catch. Sure, I was panting. But I did it. Then, we ran some sprints and did some calisthenics. Okay. Then we ran some more, this time in the topographically ridiculous Potrero Hill neighborhood (photo by Toby Silver).

San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, steep inlines for the weary runner.

It’ has the word “Hill” in the title, fer crying out loud. I was doomed. I was reared in the wilds of Florida, a state perfectly sensible in its level uniformity. That is how God intended for us to move about the earth, on a flat plane. None of this ridiculous incline business. I got to the bottom of the first hill, and with all that sideways sidewalk staring back at me, I knew I was doomed. I tried to start running. I really did.

It was like when I was a kid. I remember watching The Empire Strikes Back about a million times. Specifically, the scene where Luke Skywalker is hanging upside down in the snow-beast’s cave. His lightsaber was just out of reach, and the creature was fast approaching. Using his Jedi mind powers, he was able to telekinetically summon it to his outstretched hand. You know the scene. After watching it, I just sort of naturally assumed I could do the same thing if I could juts concentrate hard enough. I used to spend hours (and I mean long hours) staring at objects and trying to move them with my mind. I would stare, squint and hold my breath, but unsurprisingly, the objects wouldn’t move no matter how red my face got.

That’s how I felt trying to run those hills this morning. I wanted to move my legs as bad as I wanted to levitate my childhood matchbox cars, but I was just as unsuccessful. There was no juice. At least not enough to run up the hills. I walked. Again. I guess the force (of running) is just not strong with this one.

The Man: Who Am I? And What is This Blog About?

Hello.

My name is Sean, and I’m a blogger. Apparently. I’m also a first year law student which you would think would mean that I have no time to tell the internet what I think about movies, books, comics or anything else. You would be right, but I make time anyway. This blog, Semantic Drift is mine. In linguistic terms, semantic drift when words change in meaning over a period of time. Like the word silly used to mean something like holy. Silly originally described purity. From there it came to be associated with innocence, and so children. Children are synonymous with simplicity. Over time the connotation of simplicity gave way to idiocy and we have the current usage. Language and ideas can shift in meaning over time and my ideas do the same. This blog is a way to document them as they do.

I feel sometimes that I’m a sensitive intellectual trapped in the body of a thuggish man-brute. Though my soul yearns for the higher calling of sophisticated pursuits, we all have to make do with the tools we’re given. So I’m stuck down here in the mire with nothing but brave words and bloody knuckles trying to talk about the things that interest me. I like to write, and I started this blog to get back in the habit of putting one word in front of the other in aesthetically pleasing ways. If I write more, I keep my skills with the written word honed to the cutting edge. I don’t know if its working. I also find it helps me discover how I feel about certain issues. Writing is my tool for gaining insight and clarifying my opinions and feelings.

I like to think I’m fairly interesting, but all too often it turns into “Interesting“, with the audible capitalization and air quotes, like I’m trying too hard. Part of this comes from a faux-pompous tone that occasionally creeps into my writing. To be fair, I think I’ve earned a certain amount of pretension since I’ve lived in a few foreign countries – most notably (and for the longest times) South Africa and Ireland. I have itchy feet and am a vagabond at heart.

I’ve never really felt like I was doing enough with my life, even when I was.

I spend most of time thinking and caring about things that ordinary people neither think nor care about. For instance: magicians, samurai, comic books, cartoons, globalization, the history of role playing games (although I don’t play), video games (I do play these), the weather in strange cities I will most likely never set foot in, those warning cartoons you see around industrial equipment, movies, fighting, vacant buildings, recipes for chicken.

I (and this blog) have a few broad interests that I concentrate on:

  1. I love to read, and do so constantly. This includes novels, nonfiction, comics, and an increasing emphasis on legal treatises what with the law school and all. I like to review the novels that I read because I was an English major (Creative Writing, but still…) and also graphic novels because I am a huge nerd.
  2. I don’t get to read very much non law school curriculum-related books these days so I’m sharing my initiation into the legal world.
  3. I love going to the movies. Everything about it, from the popcorn kernels that get stuck in my teeth to the previews all the way through the end credits. I am omnivorous when it comes to film, taking equal if decidedly different pleasure in everything from foreign/indy flicks to big-budget action spectacles (and everything in between). I like to talk about the new movies that come out and give a postmortem on my theater experiences.
  4. I’m something of a traveler, and have put some serious miles under my feet. Sometimes I write about travel, but not as much as I would like to.
  5. I enjoy drinking, and though I do so but rarely these days it usually becomes quite epic when I do. I’ve got some stories, and I occasionally make reports on new bars that I discover here in San Francisco.
  6. I train obsessively in combative sports (MMA, Submission Wrestling, Kickboxing). I enjoy mixed martial arts, and while I don’t follow the UFC or PRIDE as fervently as I once did I still enjoy a bit of the old ultraviolence now and again.

I some times combine these interests, where it makes sense to do so. For instance, I might read a book on Australia while drinking a beer. Or I might travel somewhere and proceed to get drunk. The permutations are many, but you could probably work out for yourself which ones work better than others. I also reserve the right to pop in random posts that have little, if any, overriding theme. This is my playground and I’ll damn well write what I want.

Something else you should know: I’ve never been able to call anyone “Baby.” It’s something I’d like to accomplish before I die. But every time I try it comes off sad and kind of disturbing, like when middle-aged men give each other high-fives.

If any of that makes you more interested to read what I have to say, you might have problems… But welcome to Semantic Drift.

Me vs. My Body- At the End of Round One A Clear Victor is Emerging

My body failed me today.

It’s been a rough first week of my boxing bootcamp, since I am more out of shape going in for this round than I was back in January. At the same time, I have decided to supplement the awesome cardio action with some weight lifting later in the day. The idea is that I’ll be a little leaner and a little stronger when the moment of truth comes. My fundamentals are decent if not spectacular. My footwork is passable and timing not totally ridiculous. Still, I’ve noticed I have some trouble delivering punching power. I suspect it has something to do with the comical shortness of my arms and the fact that I get tired so quickly, but I want to hear that killer thump and watch my opponent wince a little bit when the punch drives home. Hence the lifting…

The downside is that my muscles are in full revolt having grown used to the sloth-like leisure they had previously enjoyed. The bootcamp workouts haven’t even reached their full pitch of intensity yet. We are still in what the coaches lovingly refer to as “Pussy Week.” And yet, today my body failed me. I’ve been getting along through the calisthenics, and the boxing drills haven’t made too much of a dent.

But the running is killing me. I am not made to be a runner. I have neither the ability nor the inclination. Roadwork is a part of the game, though and I have to pay my dues. I would say that I am genetically predispositioned to be a poor runner, but my brother was a cross country superstar who ran four miles to warm up. Madness! Sprints I can deal with, but distance? Forget it.

Today, we were running down by the San Francisco Bay and it seemed like it would never end. At a certain point my legs just stopped responding. I could run no more. There is a difference between being too tired to run anymore or being too sore to run anymore and what I experienced today. I was willing my legs to move and they refused. My body has turned against me. I had to walk back to the gym.

It happened again at the corner store. After I was done buying my post-workout bottle of water, I dropped my wallet in the parking lot. When I bent down to pick it up, I was unable to stand. I wasn’t in pain, per se, yet I knew that the act of rising to my feet would send shock-waves of pain throughout my legs. My thighs were already groaning. It took me a full three minutes of kneeling in the parking lot before I was able summon the strength and courage to return to a standing position.

Five days down, Twenty-Five to go…