Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Welcome 'Radiance' Friends!

Welcome to my personal blog to anyone I met during my recent tour of duty as Destination Lecturer aboard the Royal Caribbean vessel Radiance of the Seas! I met a lot of great people on this cruise and would like to thank everyone who took the time to attend my lectures, ask questions during them, and chat with me at other times during our voyage across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Sydney, Australia. I have started posting stories about the things I did and saw during and after the cruise and will post links to them here for anyone who is interested. 

The Rocks Ghost Tour: This tour departed from right next to where our ship was berthed and I bumped into three fellow voyagers on it. It explored the gruesome history of one of Sydney's oldest, most colorful, and most haunted neighborhoods. 

On the Trail of the Lord of the Rings: This piece looks at what we experienced on what was most assuredly one of the most popular tours available on the cruise. 

Cruise Log: I have been incrementally posting my log of the cruise, which mentions many of the people I spoke with and got to know, on my TravelBlogue. Only the first five days are up but more will follow directly! Comments pertinent to your own experiences on the cruise are welcome. 

Facebook: This is the best way to keep track of everything I am doing on a regular basis! I am there as "Michael O. Varhola," at https://www.facebook.com/michael.varhola, and will accept friend requests from any of you who send them. 

More to come, so keep your eye on this space! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

(Working) Vacation Reading List

For better or worse, I am not much up for vacations where I don't do anything but goof off, and at the very least like to be writing and publishing about the things I am seeing and enjoying when I am on the road. A good vacation for me is one in which I am energized and inspired to write, edit, create, and publish, and being able to work and read at least a couple of hours a day helps me to achieve that. With all that in mind, I have compiled an appropriate collection of things to read on my current trip, which includes four days in Hawaii, a cruise from Honolulu to French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Australia, and a week in Sydney and the historic coastal town of Port Macquarie. My reading list includes: 

* The Bounty, a non-fiction book by Caroline Alexander about the mutiny on HMS Bounty, which I am shooting to finish reading before we reach the island of Tahiti, where many of its events take place. 

* Noa Noa, a book by artist Paul Gaugin about his experiences in French Polynesia, which I have not yet started reading but also hope to have finished before reaching Tahiti. 

* "Chapter 13: Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec," from Promenades of an Impressionist, a 1910 book by art critic James Huneker (which, once again, I want to complete before we get to Tahiti!). 

* Rovings in the Pacific, an 1851 book by "a merchant long resident at Tahiti" (it is an interesting looking book but lowest on my priority list and if I have not had a chance to start it by the time we leave French Polynesia I will skip it, at least for the time being). 

* Twenty-five articles, nine on Polynesian history and culture; eight on the New Zealand film industry and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film franchises; three on the history of crime in Sydney; one on the Sydney Opera House; and four tying in with Australian and New Zealand military history. 

* Gygax #1 and Gygax #2, the first two issues of a new gaming magazine featuring articles by friends and family of Gary Gygax, creator of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. I will likely begin delving into them during the long sea days after French Polynesia (and after I have cleared out the above-mentioned books). 

* Sagard the Barbarian #1, #2, #3, and #4, a series of "choose your own adventure" stories co-authored by my friend Ernie Gygax, his father Gary, and author Flint Dille. As with the magazines, I plan on enjoying these during the second week of the cruise. 

I have also discovered in my hotel room in Waikiki, co-equal in the drawer with the Gideon Bible, The Teachings of Buddha, that I have begun reading! There will also presumably be any number of brochures, travel guides, and other itinerary-pertinent materials over the coming weeks. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lectures for Radiance of the Seas (September 23 - October 11)

Following are the eight presentations I will be giving as the cruise lecturer aboard Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas sailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Sydney, Australia, September 23 - October 11! Requirements for my program were more exacting than for any previous cruise for which I had served as a member of the entertainment staff, and required me to explicitly tie presentations in with the ports of Papeete, Bora Bora, Moorea, Wellington, Picton, and Sydney, and to include one focusing on Maori culture. Fortunately, I have researched the history and culture of the region extensively over the years for any number of books, articles, and other projects and thus had a wealth of material to draw upon. 

"Going Off the Beaten Path in Hawaii": Join travel writer Michael O. Varhola in an exploration of the Hawaiian islands that takes visitors to hidden temples, palaces, and other beautiful and mysterious places. (This lecture is adapted from my award-winning travel article "Going Off the Beaten Path in Hawaii," which anyone interested can read on my TravelBlogue.)

"The Painter of Papeete": Join historian Michael O. Varhola as he explores the Papeete of French artist Paul Gaugin and how he was inspired in his painting by the people and geography of the islands of French Polynesia. 

"A History of Bora Bora": Join maritime historian Michael O. Varhola as he explores the history of the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora, from its earliest settlement 1,700 years ago, through its role in World War II, and up to the current era.

"Mysteries of Moorea": Join author Michael O. Varhola as he explores the myths, legends, and mysteries of beautiful Moorea, to include the strange, thousand-year-old pyramid-like sacrificial structures known as marae.

"Xena, Spartacus, and the Lord of the Rings": Author Michael O. Varhola looks at the fantasy film industry that has grown up in and around Wellington and other locations in New Zealand and how it takes advantage of the striking geography of the region. 

"The Maori Pa of Picton": Join author Michael O. Varhola as he examines the history and culture of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, with an emphasis on the centuries-old Maori settlement on the site of modern-day Picton. 

"The Golden Mile": Join true crime author Michael O. Varhola as he investigates the colorful history of crime in Sydney throughout the 20th century, from the gambling houses and brothels of the 1930s through the gangland wars and drug trade of the 1980s.

"ANZAC:" Military historian Michael O. Varhola looks at the role of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and the roles played by the military forces of the respective nations in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Favorite Quotes

Pretty often I hear someone say something I think is particularly cool, witty, funny, or absurd, or formulate something that I think is a good maxim, but almost as often I neglect to write it down and then only remember that something notable was said but not what it was. With that in mind I have started a post for material of that sort and seeded it with a few things I have heard or said recently.

"What we say about what we do is as important as what we do." — Michael O. Varhola (my own debatably cynical observation on the importance of promoting our own work and efforts if we want others/the public to notice them.)

"I didn't know we were going to be walking."

"We are most inclined to be creative when we are least able to be."

"I should be able to visit my parents without having to die!" — Hayley Waters (Who says so? This was, in any event, my daughter's unhappy reaction to visiting a house full of cats that she is allergic to.)

"When I found inversion it changed my life forever, and I believe it can change yours!" — Dr. Roger Teeter (I actually own a Teeter Hang Ups inversion board and think it is great. What makes this quote amusing to me, however, is that "inversion" was historically used as a synonym for homosexuality, which can make its use hilarious when considered in that context.)

"Watch out for the poop!" — Carter Valentine (This sound advice was given to me by my grandson during a recent walk we took together and can certainly be viewed as a profound allegory for the human condition overall.)

The following interchange occurred between my grandson and wife on Sunday, August 18, 2012:
Diane: "What kind of chicken do you want?" (While carving up a roast chicken we picked up at Costco for dinner.)
Carter: "The chicken nugget kind." (A statement met with laughter and us letting him know this chicken did not have any such parts.)

"Ah, the plot thinnens!" (This clever twist on a common phrase is one that I use whenever appropriate. I heard it for the first time in a movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, although the phrase certainly does not actually appear in any of the author's stories.)

"Hideous ... ugly ... freaks!" — Denis Leary/Gil Mars, Small Soldiers (It is amazing how often one is in public that this phrase seems apropos.)

"I'll tell you what!" (This common Texas phrase is used to express agreement with something someone has said, such as an observation about the weather. I noted during a recent trip to the East Coast that, after hearing it, people unfamiliar with this expression will pause and wait for you to "tell them what.")

"Not anti-Christian, nor un-Christian, but most decidedly non-Christian." — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"What I do now I do alone. I could not do it well with thee." — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (I often irreverently use this quote, either just the first part or in its entirety, to announce my departure for the bathroom.)

"There is a fine line between being a romantic and being delusional, and I often tend toward the latter" — Michael O. Varhola (my own observation of my tendency to view life as I want it to be, rather than how it really is.)

"Oh, so you want to play the truth game?" — Anonymous (in response to my asking someone why they sometimes deliberately lie to their friends as a device for manipulating them)

We are all so lucky to live in this God-forsaken place." — Anonymous (in response to observing the natural beauty of Canyon Lake, Texas.) 

"Crazy is as crazy does" — Michael O. Varhola (my observation upon already-crazy people who deliberately do things geared toward making them even crazier.)

"You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." — David Crockett

"No one ever died from a gut wound." — Michael O. Varhola (I picked this up from an Army buddy of mine c. 1986-87 and use it a lot. I don't think it's true.)

"Teeheehee! I told you about it!" — Chick in an Activia yogurt commercial

"Och, Hungary! Our dogs are from Hungary!" — Richard Allan (in response to a barmaid at the pub in Paddington Station, London, reveal her country of origin; "Och" is a Scottish word that means "yes," unless you use it in conjunction with "no," in which case it means "really no!")

"I do not presume that other people's problems are harder on me than they are on them." — Michael O. Varhola

"You need to scare kids, not scar them." — Lindsey Valentine

Overheard around 8:15 p.m. near the Hoffman Center 22 cinema in Alexandria, Virginia:
Him: "Damn hippies! I'll hacky their sacks ... " (in response to some kids in shorts and tie-dye shirts crossing the street in front of him)
Her: "Uh, do I need to remind you that you just smoked dope, that you're still in your sleeping shirt, and that it shows people partying on it?"

"That was pretty metal!" — Rico Nardini, Gen Con 2011 (in response to me downing a dirty vodka martini in one sip when he said it was time for us to get going)

"Put the boots to him — medium style." (coopted from Metalocalypse and used by me and friend Jon Reichman as a catchphrase during Gen Con 2011)

"Get the butter." — Marlon Brando/Paul, Last Tango in Paris (this line can be interjected for hilarious effect in any number of circumstances, as my friends Jon Reichman, Chip Cassano, and I have all aptly demonstrated over the years)

"In a respectable household, it's useful to have a weapon." — Gitt Magrini/Jeanne's Mother, Last Tango in Paris

"Fun was had by all." (common phrase brought to my attention when it was applied to a school play in The Simpsons, and used by me since then in writeups of events I have hosted or run)

"This one goes to 11." (coopted from Spinal Tap and applicable more often than you might think; used as one of our group's catchphrases at Comicpalooza 2012)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gen Con Indy Paranormal Events

Following are the paranormal panels and seminars I am organizing for the Gen Con 2014 convention, being held August 15-18 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana! 

Ghosthunting Indiana (Thursday, August 15, 4-5 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, Hay Market B Room)
Join local ghosthunters and Michael O. Varhola, author and series editor for the “America’s Haunted Road Trip” travel guides, for this seminar on some of the most interesting haunted sites in Indiana.

Ghosthunting 101: Introduction to Ghosthunting (Friday, August 16, 2-3 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, Victoria Station Room)
Join author Michael O Varhola of “America’s Haunted Road Trip” and a panel of experts for an interactive introduction to ghosthunting. Learn the basics and have your questions answered by experts. 

Ghosthunting 102: Equipment and Investigative Techniques (Saturday, August 17, 3-4 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, Victoria Station Room)
Join paranormal researcher and author Michael O. Varhola and other ghosthunting experts and lean about the equipment and methodology of effective ghosthunters. There are almost as many ways of ghosthunting as there are ghosthunters! This panel discussion with paranormal researcher Michael O. Varhola and other ghosthunting experts looks at everything from “naturalistic” means of ghosthunting, to those based on psychic ability, to ones heavily dependent on equipment like cameras, recorders, EMF meters, digital thermometers, laser grids, and night-vision devices. 

Be sure to also check out the other events being organized by Kettle of Fish Productions this year at Gen Con, including a number of live-action role-playing games using my Skirmisher Publishing LLC's Cthulhu Live rules system. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Space City Con (August 2-4, Houston, Texas)

Almost time for Space City Con! For anyone who has not yet heard of this great event Houston-based event founded in 2012 that is being held this coming weekend, August 2-4, it is the Gulf Coast’s newest fan culture convention and offers a robust mix of authors, artists, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, gaming, fan group networking, literature, writing workshops and more.

Skirmisher Publishing LLCd-Infinity, and I all had a fairly large presence at Space City Con last year, to include a running an epic "Little Orc Wars" miniatures battle that used live catapult fire to resolve combat, having a retail booth, and putting on a number of seminars as an author guest. An overseas gig that took me across the Atlantic via ship to England, however, and a number of other professional commitments this year unfortunately kept me from lining things up with the convention as early as I should have and our presence will be a bit more modest this year and be limited to some demo games, networking, and covering the event for d-Infinity. But I would not miss it altogether for anything and would encourage anyone who is in the Houston area or who can make it there the first weekend of August to attend this worthwhile event. It has got a fantastic lineup of celebrities, authors, and artists, and anyone who thinks they may be able to make it should check out the lineup on the convention website. 

According to its founder, my friend George Comits, Space City Con was envisioned "as a geek festival with free parking" and with the goal of putting on the best event possible for current generations of fans and instilling a love of comics, Sci-fi and fantasy in the next generation. It is conveniently located this year at the Westchase Marriott conference hotel, located in an area that has a great selection of restaurants and other amenities. Pulled together in 2012 in just five months, Space City Con attracted about 2,000 attendees and is expecting considerably more this year. 

And, if you can be one of them, you should be! I will be there all weekend running demo games, meeting with friends and colleagues, and walking the convention floor, so be sure to say hello and visit with me awhile if you are. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Failure as a Mentor

Recently, a friend of mine contacted me to let me know that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with me and that "any future emails, messages, or missives [from me] will be deleted without reading." I had known him about two-and-a-half years at that point, and the last time things collapsed that completely with a friend it was with one I had know for more than three decades, so I have obviously gotten more efficient in the way I manage my relationships. 

This unhappy event took place after I contacted my soon-to-be-former friend to express my concerns with the way he had managed a number of projects for my company, to include submitting reports to me under false pretenses. I concluded by expressing my assumption that we were still friends and that I was looking forward to seeing him when I was in his area the following month. His completely ending our relationship once he realized I had discovered his malfeasance, however -- along with things like him heavily poaching my friends list on Facebook and using my company and its projects as stepping stones for his own advancement in our industry-- suggest to me that his motives in befriending me were cynical from the start. 

During the relatively brief period of our friendship, this person regularly referred to me as his "boss" because of the opportunities I had given him in my company, something that made me a little uncomfortable, as I only ever wanted him to be a friend and a colleague. It eventually became apparent to me, however, that he did this for purposes of establishing a nonexistent class difference between us so as to help justify taking advantage of me. 

My friend also periodically indicated that he considered me to be a "mentor." That is very flattering but, sadly, in retrospect I don't believe it was ever really true. Not only do I not think he learned anything from me that I would have thought worthy of teaching, there was nothing in his demeanor over the last several months of our relationship, or in the way he ended our friendship, that would suggest he ever actually wanted to. 

I wish, however, that I could have been a true mentor and taught him something. It would be easy to say that those things might include not lying to friends, not using people, and the like, but those are a function of moral compass and ethics, and I don't think I ever could have effectively taught them to anyone but a child. But there are actually a few things I wish he would have learned from me and the way I try to conduct myself, and which would have made him a happier, better adjusted person and probably led to things turning out better between the two of us: 

* Be Good at Something

There is research that suggests it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a vocation and, if you want to be good at something, you need to be willing to commit that level of effort to it. My friend, unfortunately, thought that talking about the things other people had accomplished, trying to associate with those people, or pretending to be one of them, was on par with actually being good at something himself. Suffice it to say, it's not. 

* Be a Leader
I believe that the best leaders know how to follow when necessary, and that the best followers know how to lead; someone who can do only one of those things if only half as useful at either. My friend was never so proud of being my colleague as he was to become a self-proclaimed "minion" -- i.e., an underling -- with another company, something that made me very ashamed for him. When I put him in charge of things, however, he actually used his leadership position as a device for abandoning his post; to him, being the "boss" meant nothing more than a short-sighted chance to goof off. 

* Toughen Up
Never have I had a friend who was so inclined to give up on things, to suffer sickness or injury that prevented him from working but not from playing, or to otherwise succumb to mental and physical ailments rather than simply work through obstacles and complete the things required of him. A little more physical, mental, and emotional resilience would have served him well. 

* Don't Worry So Much About Having Fun
In the month before he unfriended me, my former buddy completely stopped contributing to a number of projects he had asked to be part of, even as several of his companions continued laboring away on them. Over the course of that same month -- and the week before it, during which he abandoned the afore-mentioned position of responsibility -- he made one post after another to Facebook about all the "fun" things he was doing in lieu the things he had obligated himself to do. That desire to have "fun" to the exclusion of all else is actually pretty common, but it does not ultimately fill whatever hole the person in question has within them. 

All those things are interconnected, of course. Being good at something and being recognized for it, stepping up to lead the way when it is necessary, and having the fortitude to follow through, can give one a sense of well being and help put them on the path to fulfillment, and there is a reason why people with those characteristics tend to need less contrived "fun" in their lives. In the best of all possible worlds, I would have taught my friend these things, and today he would be a bit better adjusted and we would still be friends. It brings me no pleasure to know those are things I failed to help make happen and that my own example was insufficient in this regard.