Tuesday, August 8, 2017

10 Reasons the Pokémon World Is Better Than Our Own

Niantic recently announced the arrival of legendary Pokémon in the 2016 hit app Pokémon Go, and all three people who still play it shouted for joy.

It got me thinking, though: that was a fun summer, wasn't it, when the Pokémon Go craze swept the world? I never did download the app, but I still appreciated how it brought people together. I may have even used Pokémon as a conversation starter myself once or twice during that time.

Works every time.
Image credit: Yuuki_Radosian on Anime Forums

A few months ago I introduced my sons to the original Pokémon anime, and we've had Pokémon fever ever since. In March I got to hear the Utah Symphony perform music from the Pokémon video games, and I was still on an emotional high from that when the boys and I finished the Pokémon XY anime in June (which is even better than the original show, so go watch it on Netflix right now!).

I have often asked myself, why does Pokémon draw me in so completely? What is it about these TV shows and games that I just can't resist? And I finally realized it's not necessarily the variety of cool creatures or the sense of adventure.

It's the world.

Numerous bloggers have already expressed what they find disturbing about the Pokémon world. And let's just clear the air here: yes, the entire society is built on animal fighting. Michael Vick would probably be considered some kind of hero there, and that's just plain messed up.

But I would jump at any opportunity to live in the Pokémon world. Animal fighting aside, that place has a lot going for it--and, in my opinion, is even better than the world we currently live in.

Here are ten reasons the Pokémon world is better than our own:

1. Children Can Travel Alone

Almost any article about the disturbing aspects of the Pokémon world will include something about children leaving home on cross-country, often solitary treks in search of wild Pokémon and ever-intensifying battles.

Sure, anything you let your children do sounds dangerous and irresponsible if you put it like that. But think of it this way: shouldn't the fact that so many parents feel comfortable sending their children on Pokémon journeys say something positive about the world they live in? Of course it wouldn't fly in our world. But apparently the Pokémon world is safe enough for children to travel alone in, and I find that worth aspiring to as a civilization.

Image credit: Imgur

2. You Always Have Friends

Even if things do get a little hairy, you're never really alone anyway in the world of Pokémon--at least if you have a Pokémon of your own. No matter how safe the world is, I'm sure any parent would sleep better at night knowing their son or daughter had a Charizard with them.

But it's not just a safety thing. If you have Pokémon, you never even need to feel lonely (unless you have a Snorlax, but they can be fun sometimes, too). Those Pokéballs on your belt are there for you no matter what, whether you're hiking alone through the forest or need someone to go clubbing with. We all wish we had friends like that.

3. All That Walking Is Good for Your Health

You may see the occasional car or truck in the Pokémon world, but no one really drives anywhere. Cities and towns are connected not by highways, but by foot and bike trails. All that walking means better health--and longer life. No wonder Ash Ketchum still looks so young after all these years.

Bonus: if you really want to get your blood pumping, swarms of Beedrill aren't hard to provoke, either.

Spoiler: he threw a rock at a Spearow and has been running ever since.
Image credit: Know Your Meme

4. Clean Air Makes Breathing Fun

People walking and biking everywhere also means dramatically lower vehicle emissions polluting the air. And while pollution and waste management remain challenges for the Pokémon world (as evidenced by Pokémon like Trubbish, for example), I guarantee any place there provides a much more pleasant respiratory experience than, say, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh. Citizens of the Pokémon world actually enjoy breathing--ten out of ten would do it again.

5. You Can Afford Healthcare

Clean air and an active lifestyle help, but eventually everyone gets hurt or sick. In the Pokémon world, however, you don't have to start a crowdfunding campaign to pay medical bills. (Actually, you don't have to do that lots of places, but that's none of my business.) Just drop into any Pokémon center and the friendly nurse will heal your Pokémon for free, any problem, any time. And if you can get that kind of service for veterinary care, just imagine what they can do for people! The folks in the Pokémon world have got this healthcare thing figured out.

Image credit: Reddit

6. Gender Equality Is a Thing--Or at Least It's Pretty Darn Close

Speaking of friendly nurses, every town has a Nurse Joy and an Officer Jenny. Let's ignore the rabbit hole of explanations for the multitude of identical nurses and police officers and appreciate, instead, that no one makes a big deal out of them being women. They give orders, excel at their jobs, and are respected in their communities. And female gym leaders? No one ever cries about getting beaten by a girl when they win.

Plenty of men hold important positions and do well in the Pokémon world, too. But where they live, it doesn't matter that they're men. And the fact that even I'm making a big deal out of this shows that in our world, we still have a long way to go.

"Talk about a family resemblance."
Image credit: TV Tropes

7. Dirty Politicians Aren't a Thing

With the exception of an occasional mayor, the Pokémon world lacks any visibly structured government. I'm not endorsing anarchy here; I just want to point out that a lack of structured government also means a lack of dirty politicians.

In general, citizens of the Pokémon world look to the heads of their local Pokémon gyms for leadership. And given that the majority of gym leaders are good, wise, experienced people, I'd say their world is in worthy hands. Know who could really "make America great again"? I've got a list of 'em.

Starting with Olympia, of course. Because the whole future sight thing.
Image credit: Giphy

8. Crime Almost Doesn't Even Exist

Here's another reason parents might feel okay letting their kids roam the country on their own: the crime rate in the Pokémon world is practically zero percent. Sure, nefarious organizations like Team Rocket like to steal Pokémon, and others like Team Aqua and Team Magma are into eco-terrorism, but it's not the kind of stuff you'd worry about day to day. Things like drug dealing, murder, sexual assault? Unheard of.

9. Guns Almost Don't Exist, Either

Sure, something that shoots a net or tranquilizer darts will show up now and then, and there was that one awkward moment in the anime when Ash ran into a store and had a bunch of guns pulled on him. But other than that, where are the guns in the Pokémon world? No one has them.

I'm not here to debate gun policy. But reasonable people can agree that, assuming the bad guys can't get them, either, a world without guns is a safer, happier place.

Well, in the Pokémon world, the bad guys don't have guns. And considering the low crime rate and undesirability of Pokémon for game meat, no one needs guns. Fire-breathing flying lizards, on the other hand. . . .

10. People Live in Peace with Animals

I consider this one of the most endearing things about the Pokémon world: people living in peace with Pokémon. They work together, play together, grow old together. People see Pokémon as their friends. Businesses welcome Pokémon in their doors. Major elements of the infrastructure exist to make Pokémon comfortable.

I believe the way we treat animals says a lot about us. And yeah, the Pokémon world has the whole animal fighting problem--but look at what happens outside the arena, too. Their animals are the heart of everything they do. They're not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But between our two worlds, I believe the people of the Pokémon world are ahead of the game.

We have a lot to learn.

Image credit: TV Tropes

Know any other reasons the Pokémon world rocks? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Time I Caught Little Caesars Hot-n-Not-Ready

Even though I've claimed to not go out to eat much anymore, Red Lobster still draws me in on the rare occasion I can afford it. From the crack-laced cheddar biscuits to the kid-friendly tank of lobsters shouting "We who are about to die salute you," it's always a pleasant dining experience.

I also used to work there, so I probably annoyed my wife and kids when I took them last night with a gift card from my sister. I couldn't help but get excited over the updated hosting equipment or point out that the Molten Lava Cookie is delicious even though they just unwrap and microwave it in the kitchen.

I won't tell if you won't tell. Oh, wait....
Image credit: Kiari Dudley on Pinterest

And then, of course, my poor wife had to hear all my favorite stories again. Like the one about the time my boss and I created panic at a nearby pizza joint.

My wife doesn't have to read the rest of this if she doesn't want to.

I was finishing a double shift one busy Friday night when my boss called me into the kitchen. He opened up a cash drawer, handed me a hundred-dollar bill, and said, "Pick us up some pizzas, will ya?"

Five minutes later a pimply teenager most likely named Kevin greeted me across a metal counter. "Welcome to Little Caesars," he said. "Want to try some Crazy Bread?"

I slid my hundred-dollar bill across the counter the same way masked men sometimes start a bank robbery. "I want as many pizzas as this will buy," I said. I would have liked to add "Act natural--no sudden movements, no cops," but I held my peace as Kevin looked into the nearly barren pizza warmer then went pale.

"Th-that'll be f-fifteen to twenty minutes," he said.

I smirked all the way back to a chair in the corner of the store. "Hot-n-Ready" my eye, I thought. More like "Hot-n-Not-Ready!" 

Shouts rang in the open kitchen. Dough spun. Sauce splattered. Cheese and pepperoni flew. Customers lined up while workers crammed the oven full of pizzas. And each time Kevin told another person "It'll be about fifteen minutes," his head twitched in my direction.

"Abandon ship! Abandon ship!"
Image credit: Little Caesars Probs on Twitter

The stacks of pizza fogged the windows of my tiny car, but I made it back to Red Lobster without incident. Carrying the pizzas as if they were a rescued maiden, I kicked through the kitchen door like some romantic hero to the cheers of all my coworkers. Drinks were filled and dishes summoned.

At closing time in the Red Lobster kitchen, we made a feast.

Image credit: eBaum's World

Like any job, working in a restaurant had its moments--like spontaneous pizza parties in the kitchen--but in general, nothing too exciting happened. Life is like that. But that little dose of adventure now and then, that one memorable moment, can turn any job, any life, into a story. Now, no matter how monotonous or hard my job got, I always smile when I pass by that Red Lobster.

What's your story? Share your memorable work moments in the comments!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

10 Ways to Handle Major Life Changes with a Chronic Illness

It’s been a long summer, but I’m finally back after moving to a different town. Life is great at my new place: big yard, comfy basement, friendly neighbors. I even have the Lego room I’ve always wanted.

Maybe not quite as awesome as Jeffrey Pelletier's Lego room, but I'll take it.
Image credit: Houzz on YouTube

But you know, moving sucks. From digging up all the useless junk you’ve forgotten about in your closet (a Lego Mania Magazine from 1999? Sweet!), to hunting down everyone who needs your new address (I could call the power company, but my ancestors didn’t have to talk to anyone and they did just fine without electricity), to having all your friends and family find out you didn’t get rid of all that junk in your closet when they come to help you load your truck (sorry guys), the whole process is a nightmare.

And doing it with a chronic illness? Welcome to Hell, my friends.

I live with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that fuses the spine and does a lot of other crazy stuff, too. If my disease were a novel, its elevator pitch would sound something like “A young man wakes up trapped inside an eighty-year-old’s body.” But tying my own shoes feels like a major accomplishment most days, too, so I’m also, like, five.

I'm also a skeleton!
Image credit: His Perfect Timing

One thing I do appreciate about my illness, at least, is the way it’s helped me learn to sympathize with other people's pain. I know how hard it is to carry on a daily routine when everything hurts, and that’s just the small stuff. A major life change--even a good one, like a new job, a new relationship, or, in my case, a new home--can easily send you into a tailspin.

But I’m here to help. Here are ten ways you can handle major life changes with a chronic illness:

1. Don’t skip your treatment

Before our move, my family and I spent a couple weeks on projects to get the new house ready. Even when messy things like paint or dust were in the day’s plans, I still showered every morning. Pointless? Maybe if the point was to get clean. But nothing loosens up my joints like fifteen minutes underneath a hot stream of water.

Whether you take pills or attend a yoga class, make the time to treat your illness. It may seem easier to skip your morning stretches, tea, or meditation when you have an extra hectic day ahead, but it will just be harder in the long run.

2. Pace yourself

Any major change in life requires lots of work. Even following a treatment plan, you can wear yourself out easily, and the extra stress can lead to flare-ups and other complications. If possible, give yourself time to slow down: relax with a book on your lunch break; set the wedding date far enough ahead to allow for less frantic preparation; pack a box or two each day several months before your move.

I started packing things in May and it still wasn’t early enough. If your situation will accommodate it, plan for a slower pace than you think you’ll need.

3. Eat well

Eating well does not mean eating a lot. If you have to push yourself so hard you miss a mealtime or two, at least get the right foods when you do eat. If possible, stick to the diet your body is used to (especially if you already eat healthy for your condition). My family doesn’t eat out too often anymore, so after a few days of greasy takeout during the move, my tired body thanked me when I finally had an apple. You can tell the difference, and so can your illness.

4. Drink water

This goes hand-in-hand with eating well, but it deserves its own spot on the list because it’s so dang important. Water aids in crucial things like digestion, circulation, and transportation of nutrients. It also lubricates the joints, which I especially appreciate. Your body is about sixty percent water, so if you want to feel more like yourself, drink more water!

Image credit: TheSquareComics

5. Get some sleep

I get it: you’re in the middle of a major event in your life. On top of that, you’re treating your illness, making time to slow down, eating well, and drinking water. You’ll sleep when you’re dead, right?


Sleep is the body’s chance to heal. A good night’s sleep can boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, and even heighten your pain threshold (assuming you’re not already in too much pain to sleep--truly a vicious cycle). I guarantee it’s some of the most pleasant medicine you’ll ever take.

6. Keep your doctor in the loop

A change in life may call for a change in treatment. If you see a doctor for your illness, let him or her know what’s going on in your life and don’t hesitate to ask questions. And if your changing situation requires finding a new doctor, do it fast! I attribute much of my success as a missionary in Texas to finding myself a great rheumatologist almost as soon as I landed. You definitely want someone on your side who understands your condition on a professional level.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help . . .

Even without a disease, there’s no way I could have made my move on my own. With a disease, there’s no way I should have tried to do it on my own. The friends and family who helped me paint the house, replace electrical outlets, load the moving truck, watch the kids, clean the apartment, and even pack the stuff I couldn’t get to didn’t only save my sanity--they saved my health, too.

It’s okay if the changes in your life take a village to complete. If the people who help you didn’t love you, they probably wouldn’t help you anyway.

8. . . . but find ways to still be useful

I don’t have the words to express my gratitude to everyone who helped my family and me move into our new home. Our friends and family have truly gone above and beyond this summer, and I love them even more for it.

But tip 7 on this list is just as much for me as it is for anyone, because I always feel guilty asking for help. Especially when my arthritis flares up and sends me out of commission, it’s hard for me to feel good about myself when others are helping and I can’t work alongside them.

Finding other ways to be useful can help combat that guilt. For example, I got to help watch my niece while her mom painted bedrooms in my house. When we needed more paint or other supplies, I drove to Home Depot for it. Maybe I just contributed in small ways, but those things needed doing and I was able to do them. Finding those things makes it easier to ask for help without feeling guilty.

9. Focus on the good things that aren’t changing

A lot can change in only one event. A new home, for example, can also mean a new neighborhood, new friends, maybe even a new climate. It’s enough to throw anyone off, but getting used to all the changes can be especially troublesome to someone fighting chronic illness. Anchoring yourself to what hasn’t changed can help you keep your bearings as you navigate everything that’s new.

For example, our first night in the new house, we picked up Wendy’s for dinner and I pointed out that the food was still the same. Same chicken nuggets, same Frosty, same Junior Bacon Cheeseburger--we could still enjoy Wendy’s. In fact, we live close enough to our old place that we still visit the same Wendy's we used before. That’s just a small thing, but every little bit adds up. Many of the important things have remained the same, too, though; we still have our friends, our extended family, and each other.

I’ve adjusted to this new chapter in life much more easily as I’ve focused on those things. And that adjustment has made it easier for me to stick with my treatment, too, since I’m less distracted by what’s different.

Ahh, feels like home.
Image credit: Wendy's

10. Be kind to yourself

As my limitations grow, so does my tendency to get down on myself. It’s even easier to wallow in self-pity during a major life change. I felt bad making my in-laws paint my house. I felt bad making my neighbors clear my bookshelves. I felt bad making my friends clean my kitchen. Yes, they did it because they care; yes, I’m grateful for the help; and yes, if I ever needed anything again, I know without any doubt they would volunteer.

But I had the thought repeatedly throughout the moving process, “I am the worst person in the world.”

And it happens when people aren’t helping me move, too. I think it when I have to cancel plans because my daily fight with my disease has left me exhausted. I think it when I wake up stiff and make my family late for things. I think it when I hurt too much to get down on the floor and play with my kids.

Of course I know I’m not the worst person in the world. There have been worse people than me; Hitler comes to mind.

But it’s easy to think that when you’re sick. I know I’m not the only one.

Making changes in life is hard enough without beating yourself up. So be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that other people help you because they love you. Find things you can do with your disease and don’t let go of them. It’ll make not just whatever change you’re making easier, but everything that comes after, too.

Got any other tips for managing a chronic illness? Ideas to make life changes easier? Share them in the comments!

Friday, May 12, 2017

How Failure Made My Writing Stronger

Graduation season is upon us. To all of you who wear the cap and gown this year, congratulations! Your happy Facebook pictures with your diplomas and leis make me smile, and though I may not be there with you, I celebrate you in my heart.

It takes me back to my own college graduation just two years ago.

I crossed the finish line of that last semester like an exhausted racehorse, limping, panting, in last place but glad to make it to the end. I commuted more than sixty miles every day for class. I had a one-year-old at home and my wife was pregnant with our second child. Our only income came from a single summer and some Fridays I spent cutting grass at another university.

I was ready to be done with school and find a new job. My family was ready, too.

So I marched in the procession with my head held high. A pipe band led my fellow graduates and me across the college campus, past cheering lines of berobed professors, and into the packed arena where our friends and families waited and the university orchestra pounded out Pomp and Circumstance. My heart raced with the dizzying perfection of the moment. This was it. I had finished college, and everything looked up from here.

Different graduation, but I look better in this one anyway.

Except I didn't graduate.

Final grades went up a few days after the celebration. And instead of a diploma, I received a D in playwriting.

That dealt a devastating blow. After countless hours researching and drafting and revising everything from poetry to annotated bibliographies; sleepless nights forcing out coherent sentences with five tabs open on my browser and three books open on my kitchen table; early mornings on cold train platforms and long days away from my family; I came out empty handed.

I let myself down. I let my family down. What were we going to do now?

So I did what I assume all sensible people do when they fail at life. I wallowed in self-pity for a few days. Applied for what few writing jobs might take me. Hooked myself up to an ice cream IV drip.

Mmm, chocolate.
Image credit: Ketamine Advocacy Network

But I didn't come this far to fail. My wife and I looked at summer classes. The college offered the one course I had wanted to take but never had room for in my schedule. It would satisfy my final graduation requirement, and we had just enough money left for me to enroll in it.

The first day of the summer semester after I should have graduated, I walked into my advanced creative nonfiction writing class and hoped no one would notice me. I shouldn't have been there, not with failure stamped in bold letters on my forehead. I sat in the back and busied myself with my notebook.

It didn't take long, though, before I realized not graduating in the spring was the best thing that could have happened to me. I believe I grew more as a writer in that one semester than I did in all the years before it. The writers I surrounded myself with that summer helped me open up and give more to my readers, unpack scenes and savor every moment on the page, and embrace even the dark parts of my story and myself.

At the end of the class, I received my diploma. But I gained more than that. Like a phoenix from its ashes, I came out of failure a stronger writer than I'd ever been before.

Image credit: Salvador Davila

Writers deal with failure all the time. We might get halfway through a draft before we realize the story's going nowhere. We might get piles of rejection letters before we see our work anywhere in print. Readers might leave negative reviews online.

And that's all good. Because nothing forces you to grow like failure.

Rejection is a gift. Negative reviews are gold. Think of them as opportunities to learn: to make your writing sharper, your stories bolder, your voice more yours.

But failure isn't just for writers. Sane people fail sometimes, too. And good for them!

Maybe you didn't get that promotion. Maybe your mother came over before you could clean. Maybe you miscalculated the trajectory of that shuttle launch and sent a whole crew of astronauts hurtling through the eternal void of space.

This is a great chance for you to learn something. You're gonna grow so much--just you wait and see! Someday you'll be glad this happened.

I know now if I could change the past and earn a higher grade in playwriting, I wouldn't do it. Not with everything that failure gave me.

Friday, May 5, 2017

What's With the Whole "Sly Pig" Thing?

I'm halfway through my sophomore year of high school. And it's dead silent in my debate class.

Our teacher, Mr. Hawkes, sits up front and center, facing the class in a borrowed desk and marking the roll while we research our speeches for a coming tournament. He exemplifies what I at fifteen think an intellectual might look and act like. Daily he engages us in political and philosophical discussion. He uses poetry to teach us verbal presentation. He's studying for law school and gives the class a practice LSAT. He wears long hair, plays chess at lunch, and is known affectionately to students as the Vegan Ninja.

Several minutes pass and Mr. Hawkes looks up from his roll. Out of nowhere, he shatters the silence.

"Oh, I get it!" he announces. "Sly Pig!"

And then he laughs. Hard. And we laugh with him--for a solid minute.

Image credit: Know Your Meme

I've grown to enjoy people's random light bulb moments as they've figured out my nickname. By this point in the school year, I've stopped explaining it. It's much more fun to see my friends and teachers get it on their own.

But it hasn't always been that way. Do you know how annoying a name like Cunningham can be when you're growing up?

My earliest memories of elementary school include classmates, each in turn, having a stroke of genius and saying, every single nose-picking time, "Your name is Cutting Ham! Get it? Cutting? Ham?"

Then they'd giggle in triumph, as if they'd just sailed from Spain and discovered the New World without knowing the whole rest of the class, like the Vikings, beat them to it before recess.

"Cutting Ham! Get it? Cutting? Ham?"
Image Credit: Architect of the Capitol

I'm not just talking kindergarten, either. In sixth grade I still ran into truly clever souls on the playground who shouted, "Hey, it's Nathan Cutting Ham! Get it? Cutting? Ham?"

And I'd laugh, because I'd never heard it before, so it was hilarious.

Kids these days get points for originality, though. After we got married, my wife went back to her job as a kindergarten aide and one student called her "Mrs. Candy Cane." I had to appreciate that one just for being new. It was January; the kid probably still had some Christmas candy left.

The kids at school would have never guessed the proud history of the Cunningham name: how we fought for Scottish independence in the fourteenth century; how we received earldom in the late fifteenth century; how the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, composed a passionate tribute to his patron, James Cunningham. Man, we even had some castles. Freaking castles.

Finlaystone Castle, historic seat of the Cunningham Earls of Glencairn
Image credit: Geograph

But sure, whatever. I like the taste of ham. And Heaven knows I've cut my fair share of it over the years. That Cutting Ham thing just got old, though--before I even reached first grade.

Maybe that's why I adopted a new nickname with such enthusiasm after I turned twelve. For whatever reason, the boys in my Scout troop at the time liked to call each other by their last names. So we had a Schultz. A Brenk. A Porter and some Danielses. I don't know what it was about my name--maybe it was just too long--but right away the other boys went to work improving on it. As all good Scouts will do.

So Sly Pig was born. And if you haven't figured out the play on words by now, just think cunning ham. Feeling stupid? Don't; it took a committee of clever Boy Scouts to come up with it. And man, was it a refreshing change from Cutting Ham!

I ran with the new nickname. By ninth grade, I had not just friends, but teachers calling me Sly Pig. In high school it became my email address and every online username. During senior year, a friend gave me a stuffed Sly Pig, complete with scheming eyebrows. And after graduation, I slapped the name onto personalized license plates and hit the town.

I suspect if I had let it go on longer, I might have tried to make a little cash on t-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers. But contrary to popular belief, I don't snort or play in the mud. Eventually I had to cool the Sly Pig thing down a little.

And yet, after all the nicknames I've been given since then--and I've had some good ones, like Clever Bacon and Stunningham--nothing's ever beaten Sly Pig.

So I hold on to it. Use it online. Give it to my website and explain myself to visitors.

'Cause hey--it sure beats Cutting Ham.
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