Caine’s Arcade: A Lesson For Everyone

Caine's Arcade

Yesterday I ran across this touching video, Caine’s Arcade. It’s about a 9-year-old kid in East LA who creates his own game arcade out of cardboard and tries to attract customers.

I love seeing people take the initiative to create things, especially kids, and I’m the first to admit that I’m actually a big baby when it comes to things like this (if you watch the video, you’ll see what I mean).

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I love how much effort Caine puts into something meaningful. Most people don’t do that. He demonstrates a lot of ingenuity and passion in building and maintaining his cardboard arcade. It’s interesting to think about his goals–he just wants customers to play his games and have fun. Of course, like any other creative person, he obviously loves making and maintaining the games, and sitting in his chair waiting for people to show up. He seems to be empowered to just do it whether people come by or not.

I love that!

Writing a book takes the same sort of effort. So does organizing a convention. You put a lot of hard work into any big creation like that in the hopes that other people will enjoy it too. There might be a payoff, but then again, there might not. Maybe nobody will show up or nobody will read it, whatever. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to see the magic in what you do.

Visit Caine’s Arcade on Facebook. He’s inspiring other kids to make things, and people are donating money to him for college.

Be like Caine. Take the initiative to do something creative, don’t be lazy, and follow your passion.

Now I’m off to write.

((Picture and video courtesy of Caine’s Arcade))

Creative Person of the Day? Josh Kyle of Engeln Photography!

That’s right–today, I have an official Creative Person of the Day for you.

It’s my friend Josh Kyle.

I chose a campfire for the thumbnail picture of this post because Josh reminds me of elemental fire–he’s passionate, can easily change from one moment to the next, and burns brightly in everything he does (which is a lot). Actually, he’s kind of like a classic dwarf (in the Dungeons and Dragons/Snow White sense of the word) in that he can have a gruff exterior and can be intimidating to people who don’t know him, but he has a heart of gold. He’s a generous, dedicated, hard worker, who’s always pursuing something interesting, whether it’s photography, cooking, costuming, the spiritual, Victorian architecture, you name it.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m all about being creative and making a positive impact on the world. Josh is a great example of someone who lives this kind of life, as you can see by checking out his pictures at, and by looking at his photo “The Clock” which he recently sent me:

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Josh is a great example of what we should aspire to–in addition to being a photographer, he’s a hell of a cook, and is always whipping up some new (often weird) creation in the kitchen. The first time he offered me a lavender cookie I have to admit that I was skeptical. But the damn thing was very good. Not to mention his baked apples . . .

He puts a lot of care and passion into what he creates. The following photo is called “Reaching For the Sky.”

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Last but not least, Josh always ends up volunteering his time at MisCon, whether he plans to or not. Last year, before the convention, he declared that this year he was going to just attend the convention and have fun–he wasn’t going to volunteer at all. At first I tried to persuade him to do a bit here or there anyway, since he is a great volunteer and I know he loves the convention, but he was adamant, so I gave up. I suspected that once he was at the convention, he’d have a hard time not just jumping in.

Which he did.

A lot.

Creative people tend to congregate–MisCon is a great place to see a bunch of artists and writers and costumers gathered together, Josh among them.

So check out Josh’s pictures at, then go do something creative yourself!


Pictures of the Day: Skeletal Drummer

For those of you who missed my slideshow of a few of my brother’s carvings, here’s a picture of the Skeletal Drummer he made years ago. It was his first commissioned piece. He made everything on the sculpture from whatever he had lying around.

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Passion, Enthusiasm, Motivation: Get Your Mojo Back!

Taco the English Bulldog Head Shot

Passion can be elusive.

It comes and it goes. It’s wrapped up in motivation and creation, feeling good about something, enthusiasm, happiness. It often turns into obsession. When we’re in the middle of something and everything is going right, feeding our passions is one of the best things there is.

And when passion leaves us?

The world becomes grey and humdrum, boring. Maybe sad, maybe melancholy. Losing your passion is just about the worst thing around. Life loses meaning and you just want to sit around watching the Price is Right.

In my brother Josh’s case, it was nothing quite so dramatic, but it illustrates my point: this winter, he got back into taking care of his 135 gallon saltwater aquarium. He tends to become obsessed about some new thing every winter while we’re not painting much, whether it’s firearms, Toyota 4Runners, cuckoo clocks, cooking, wood carving, you name it.

When he is passionate about something, Josh does amazing things, as you can see from some of his carvings:

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Saltwater aquariums were his thing for about 3 years–he read everything possible about saltwater chemistry, corals, fish, lighting, you name it. He built his 6-foot-long tank into mostly self-sustaining ecosystem with fancy lights and high-tech gadgets, and plumbed it into his house’s water supply. When we went to Hawaii in 2006, he could name everything he saw. His knowledge was impressive. A few years ago, the tank was overrun by green and red algae, his corals mostly died, and he lost interest in maintaining it.

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The mandarin fish, pictured above, can be a tricky one to keep. You need a healthy tank–this one lived for years before the tank died. It was fun to watch, with its weird red eyes and swirly blue and green pattern. My brother sure spent hours and hours staring at the creatures that lived in his saltwater tanks (for some weird reason, I don’t have any good pictures of the crabs, snails, corals, or most of the other amazing stuff he had). I do have a couple decent shots of his favorite fish, the cowfish (pictured below).

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What’s interesting here isn’t so much that he had a really cool tank filled with amazing corals and hard-to-keep fish. It’s how fast a turn for the worse in something you love can kill your enthusiasm.

So the spring the tank went to hell, he picked up a couple new coral fragments in Spokane, Washington. Well, little did he know, but the frags came with tiny bits of invasive algae that pretty quickly spread all over the tank.

The bubbly purple stuff in the following picture is Cyanobacteria, a tank killer that’s tough to get rid of. The green hairy stuff is undesirable algae.

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He tried everything he could find to kill the stuff, from frequent water changes, changing out his light bulbs, you name it. He fought it for a long time, but green hair algae just crept in and took over. Then one day, his favorite, the cowfish, died. That crushed him–the cowfish used to swim up to the top of the tank and eat right out of his hand, if you can believe that. It was practically like a dog in the way it would cruise by the glass and look at you.

The cowfish’s death, combined with the invasive algae, just sort of killed my brother’s passion for aquariums, and he just let the big tank sit there for 3 years. The corals died and so did  a few other fish, but it kept humming away, a hairy green mess. I wish I could find a picture to show you before and after, but some of my old pictures have been corrupted.

This winter he decided to clean up the tank and get it looking good again. He got back into the swing of things, cooked and scrubbed his rock, cleaned out the tank, replaced the lights, etc. About $1,000 later, he stumbled across a broken o-ring that had caused his protein skimmer (the main cleaning mechanism in saltwater aquariums) to stop cleaning the tank properly. It had all gone to hell because of a $0.20 o-ring!

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Now he has corals again, and a few black and white clownfish (one of them survived the bad years). Coraline algae is starting to build up (this is the good stuff, something you want in your reef tank). His water quality is perfect and the tank is on its way to looking great again.

He is really excited about aquaria now.

So the question is, what does it take to get back into the swing of things? How do you rekindle your passion? Where the hell do motivation/passion/enthusiasm come from?

That’s a great question, isn’t it? I wish I knew, really. I may not know why we feel passionate about something, but I do have a few ideas about how to go about regaining it.

Here’s the process I do:

Step 1: Examine yourself. Why did you lose passion? Did you do something wrong? Was it guilt or laziness? Were you sick? Self indulgent? (I’m listing all my problems here!). Did someone else make you feel bad about yourself? Did you screw up something? Take a good hard look at your feelings and figure out where they came from. Once you do that, you’ll be able to try and cut away the bullshit.

Step 2: Do something! Like my brother, you just need to start with a baby step. You need to force yourself to get off your ass and do something. Get up off the couch, turn off the tv, and do something. It could be anything. Maybe you’re trying to find the motivation to work out (like I am). So force yourself to get back into it. The first step is to do it. Set a realistic goal, and do it. You don’t have to run 10 miles right out of the gate. You just need to walk around the block. Get up and get moving. If you love working on cars, go open the hood. Grab a rag. Clean the air filter. Check the oil. Just get started.

Step 3: Keep doing stuff. That baby step needs to be followed by more baby steps. Those baby steps will turn into speed walking then running. Once you get going, you build momentum. Keep it up. Do it every day, just a little. Do what you can handle.

Step 4: Hope like crazy that your success will get you fired up again. You can’t control your feelings, but you can try to nudge them. Once you get up and running, you will probably feel good about doing something, accomplishing something. This can be the seed that grows into happiness and passion. Once you’re reminded that you’re good at something, it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep going.

Gianna's Tongue
It's not so easy to be enthusiastic like kids are, is it?

Step 5: Be positive/retrain yourself. Once you get on a roll, you MUST remind yourself that you’re on a new path. You’re not going to just sit and watch tv. You’re going to work out first. You’re going to carve something first. You’re going to write that story first. Or even just 100 words. You need to re-train yourself not to be lazy, not to beat yourself up for being a loser. Remind yourself of your victories, all those baby steps you’ve been taking.

Recap: Take a look at yourself. Why did you lose passion/motivation? Did you hit a setback like my brother did? When his tank went to hell and his cowfish died, he was so disappointed that he just lost interest. He tried for months to fix it, but the tank just got worse and he felt like he couldn’t get it. He lost interest.

And what did it take for him to get back into it? Well, he finally decided to try and start it up again, figured out what the problem was (the faulty o-ring), then regained confidence about his ability to keep a touchy reef aquarium. Every day that his tank improves, he becomes more motivated to transform it into something awesome.

This is  a picture Josh took of himself yesterday from inside his aquarium (he has a waterproof case for his camera).

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Now that I’m finally done writing what I meant to be a short little filler post, I am going to take Clyde for a run. I have been indulging my laziness all winter, gaining fat, losing fitness, and drinking far too much coffee with half-and-half and sugar (like a pot a day, at least). I know this run is probably going to really suck, but at the same time, I know I’ll feel better once I get home. Then hopefully I’ll get in some writing.

Trees of Yellowstone

I have a thing for trees. I’m not a treehugger, but I really like just about everything about trees, from their roots, to their branches, to their leaves. Living trees, dead ones, they hold some sort of magical thing for me. As a kid, I used to look out on the forests of the Flathead (where my grandparents lived) and imagine all the fairies and other strange creatures who lived there unseen. The forest was just plain mysterious. The same thing goes for forests everywhere, especially the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park.

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Yellowstone is one of my favorite places. I like to hike it, seeing new things and looking at how things have changed since our last visit.

Mount Washburn is a great hike–from the top, you can see pretty much everything in the park, from Lake Yellowstone to the Canyon, to the surrounding mountain ranges. If you’re in Yellowstone and want to do a moderately difficult hike, this is a great one (it’s around 5 miles). One benefit of spending some time near Mount Washburn is that if you’re there toward the 3rd or 4th week of July, you can enjoy the fields of wildflowers along Dunraven Pass (adjacent to the mountain).

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I love the Yellowstone River, even seen through these branches.

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I took this shot on the hike to Avalanche Peak near the East Entrance. I like how this spot opened into a corridor. I could imagine a fairy queen holding court somewhere down the path. There was also question as to whether we were gong to run into a Grizzly Bear on that hike since we found some very fresh bear poop toward the beginning of the trail.

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Given all the fires that rage through Yellowstone all the time, you see a lot of deadfall trees (if you step off the roads and go into the woods a bit).

I have thousands of tree pictures that I plan to weed out and post here at some point (some of them, anyway). These were just a few I liked in Yellowstone National Park. I’ll select some more and put them up here soon (hopefully with wittier reparte than I have managed this morning-insert winky smiley).



The Car Graveyard: It’s Not Just Junk. It’s a Time Machine.

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As you wander through a car boneyard, you can smell everything rotting around you–the fabric of the seats, headliners, rubber tires, gaskets, window seals. Some of the cars stink of mildew and off-gassing formaldehyde. The zillion colors of fading paint almost flake off when you walk by, and rust clings to everything. The cars have often sunk into thick mud. I’ve seen a tree growing up through the floorpan of an old GTO.

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A lot of the cars are just junk to most people, me included, but sometimes you’ll find some cool old stuff from the 1960s and earlier. There’s not much like suddenly coming upon an old 1930s Oldsmobile that has mostly gone to hell and getting a chance to see how they were built, the craftsmanship involved, the styling, the design. I like the steering wheels, in particular.

I got my 1955 Cadillac from this private yard outside Hamilton, Montana (the guy also had running cars) back in 2003, I think. We had gone there to look for parts for my dad’s 1959 El Camino that he was restoring.

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I just went along for the ride, really. I never intended to come home with a car, let alone an old Cadillac. I have always been into cars, and in more recent years, while the muscle car craze was in full swing, I developed an affinity for 1950s classics. They’re bigger, curvier, chromier (new word I just invented). They’re larger than life. They epitomize the good parts of 50s American prosperity (as opposed to all the racist events of the day). And in the case of my Cadillac, it makes everybody smile when they see it drive by. I fell in love with the big green monstrosity as soon as I saw it sitting there covered in dust.

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Being as my dad is always working on cars (and has been my whole life), I grew up going to car graveyards. When I was a kid, it sucked. It wasn’t any fun. But in those days, we were going there to find a cheap but necessary repair part for one of our vehicles. That’s not nearly as much fun as hunting for some little factory Cadillac or Oldsmobile or Chevelle or GTO part they don’t reproduce.

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Wandering around these paces makes me nostalgic for days that vanished decades before I was born. It makes me think about what the old days were like, and the people who designed, built, sold, bought, and lived in these cars.

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Junkyards like this are usually quiet. You might hear distant highway noise, but most often you just hear a little bit of wind, especially if you go off alone. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to be both muddy and windy when we go parts-hunting. The sighing of the wind just adds to the sense of being dislocated from our time and transported back. It makes me think of Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, and Taxi, all tv shows from my early childhood.

It’s almost like I hear Archie Bunker sitting in his armchair bitching about hippies and I feel a little sad. Isn’t that silly? But it’s true–it also makes me think of all my grandpa’s stories of the cars he had throughout his life, the crazy things he did, the times he ended up in the barrow pit, or blew up a motor racing some guy in a Ford. I guess it’s a way for me to connect with the past in some way, whether it’s the real past or some strange amalgamation of real and imaginary things drawn out of my memories.

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I suppose I have been waxing nostalgic lately. It’s probably because Gianna just turned a big one-year-old yesterday, so I’m thinking about the passage time and what’s gained and lost as the world grinds on. It’s that and the fact that the novel I’m working on, Unleashed: the Eddie Black Story, takes me back to another era.

What about you? What brings you back to the “good” old days?

Picture of the Day: Hummingbird

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This hummingbird flew into a window on a house we were painting years ago. It was so dazed that we thought it was going to die, so we picked it up, babied it for a few minutes, and got some great pictures. Its head was spinning as it sat in my brother’s palm, until suddenly, it sprang into the air and flew off. It was a rare experience to get to observe such a tiny bird (and to help it heal up enough to get back into the wilds of Missoula).