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Scorns of Time

Life and death have been on my mind lately. The reality of these unavoidable phenomenon is different from them in abstract. I have been enthralled by the aesthetic cultural trappings of death ever since I was a child: skulls, graveyards, black everything, heavy metal, the list goes on. All of that is an entry for another day, but those things are not death and life is not their opposite. Creating a life is a huge responsibility that is impossible to truly comprehend until it happens to you. Children change from being grubby, screaming monsters to living breathing people whose comfort and happiness are your responsibility. Many people treat that responsibility with selfish contempt and fill the world with unpleasant and broken souls as a result. But for those who choose the path of parenthood, the reward is long lasting. It’s a new path for me, so my journey is just beginning.

Death touched me recently when Dan Sloan, a good friend, died of brain cancer. Everyone knew it could happen, but people beat cancer all the time so we all hoped for the best. A few weeks before he died we had lunch at Sicilia, our favorite sub shop in downtown Salt Lake that makes the best Parmesan chicken sub you will ever eat. We laughed about old times and caught up on friends from our days at the University of Utah. His latest round of chemo was not successful and he was much thinner than the last time I saw him. He was still his jovial self, though, and it was good to see him laugh.

Dan in front on a trip to Canyonlands

I found out he died while waiting for Pho takeout. On a whim I ventured onto Facebook for my yearly glance into the goings on of that strange world and saw that he passed several days previously. It was a complete shock and I cried on Erica’s shoulder when I got home. Even now writing about it a year or two later makes me choke up. I can only describe the feeling as an empty pocket in your heart where memories of their presence once slept. But time is the great healer and pleasant memories stick in your mind while the others fall away.

No one should choose the moment of their passage to the beyond. This brings to mind my cousin, Lewis, who tragically took his life as he transitioned from high school to college. My memories of him are scant since his family lived in Alaska and then the Midwest for as long as I can remember. I do have a vivid memory from a summer afternoon in my grandparent’s wooded back yard in Bellevue, Washington. We charged our fleet of big wheels down the steep hill and into the dry grass beyond the red rope swing. Lewis was always very physical, and we wrestled on the grass and filled the giant steel drum on the lawn with water. We all splashed in “cousin soup” as my family calls it.

Summer gatherings like this one are the only memories I have of Lewis. I never saw the pain he must have been in at the end, but I like to think would have gotten on well. After the funeral, his fencing gear and Lord of the Rings chess set were passed on to me. I sometimes imagine us matching knights on the game board after a workout of swords and canvas.

Lewis is on the bottom left with me next to him in blue.

But enough morose armchair philosophy. Being responsible for a new life makes me appreciate my family and prompts me to not take them for granted. When the time comes when those we love move on, we can still enjoy their company in the halls of our memory.

Shelob’s Lair

This is a small one.

The catalyst for this entry was a couple standing in front of me on Saturday night at Mo Betta’s Hawaiian BBQ. It was hard to tell at first if they were on a date or just friends. Since the line was very long they provided ideal fodder for a mental exercise where I imagine a backwards extrapolation of the social connections between two strangers. After observing them for a while I was reasonably certain they both swung in the same direction.

The girl had pixie cut and wore a long black and maroon pea coat with an intricate paisley pattern and crisp collar. The high fashion vibe she gave off was spoiled by a barcode price tag peeling off the side of her jacket. The guy was dressed like a typical hipster millennial; skinny jeans, canvas high tops, fashionably ratty hoodie and the trendy haircut where the sides and back of the head are shaved short but the top is left as a mop.

I stared blankly around so they wouldn’t notice me listening to their conversation. At first, I thought the guy was talking lovingly about a roommate or maybe his dog. Only after he pulled out his phone did I realize he was talking about an exotic African spider. “It would only cost a hundred dollars,” he said, “It is the perfect choice for someone afraid of spiders.” I would shit my pants if I saw that thing in the wild. Even seeing it on the screen made me nervous.

My wife often makes fun of me for occasionally jumping out of bed in the middle of the night beating at the blankets and shouting “Spider!”. It’s always a dream, but it takes about a minute before reality catches up with my fevered brain. Sometimes they are crawling on my pillow, others they dangle above my face about to drop in my mouth. I don’t have these dreams often, but when I do at least a year is removed from my life each time.

About 5 years ago my family did a Spring canoe trip down the San Rafael river. That year we had a big group with my mom, siblings, cousins, 11-year-old niece and numerous dogs. We were floating along a particularly calm stretch of water and decided to take a quick rest in the shade of a tall Tamarisk. The next thing I heard was Erica screaming “SPIDER!!!” I looked back at the bottom of the canoe where a dark-brown spider with a body the size of my fist was charging at me with impossible speed on spindly pipe cleaner legs. In that moment, 34 years of arachnaphobic terror blossomed in my mind in a crawling explosion. I remember bravely stabbing at the demon several times with my oar, but the next few moments are completely blank. I remember swimming in the river, the canoe floating away and the dog paddling towards the bank, but nothing before that. My family now refers to this incident as the “swearing spider” because I let loose a stream of profanity that shocked everyone and scarred my little niece for life.

This intense phobia comes from the years growing up in my parent’s basement where every morning I would go into the bathroom to find a thousand arachnid webs spun while I slept. I would spray them with every chemical I could find and relished the sight of their little bodies writhing on the ground and curl up in a soup of hairspray and bathroom cleaner. In the shower I was blind as a bat and not infrequently a spider would dangle from the ceiling and I wouldn’t see it until it was right in front of my face. Trapped naked in the shower by a giant spider. Sounds like a John Candy movie.

The only exception to this unwavering fear of the 8-legged beasts was in 2009 when we moved into this townhouse. The basement was unfinished, and one window was completely covered by a majestic black widow’s web. Shelob (what else would I have named her) dangled for days in the window, her black carapace shining like a black marble. We had swarms of locusts pouring out of the desert that year, so I caught the largest one I could find and promptly tossed it into the web. She spun it into a cocoon and over the following week I watched her grow fat and almost double in size as she drained the locust to a desiccated husk. I came home from work one day and found that Erica killed and disposed of the creature. I’m not sure how she managed it, because killing a god is impossible.

Dunes on the Ocean

I got stuck in traffic on purpose today. I ended up staring at the gassy facade of the Adobe building for about 15 minutes as the light from the setting sun cast an amber glow across the Wasatch mountains. I was following closely behind a semi traveling at half the speed of anyone else. It probably drove the people behind me nuts, but I didn’t care because the last minutes of Patrick O’Brian’s HMS Surprise were playing from the Audible app on my phone and I wanted to finish it before I got home.

Being the creature of technology that I am, I usually consult the oracle of Waze before choosing my homeward route, but since lately it routs me around the Lehi area where every “me too” technology and network marketing company in Utah is clamoring to setup shop, I decided this route would nicely fill up the remaining 45 minutes I had left.

Enjoying the end of this book was just the symptom of a thought that has plagued me for some time. Most of my life has been spent living among the sage and red rock of the Utah desert. The quiet isolation and scorching wonder of a place unfit for the survival of all but the wildest specimens of humanity appeals to my inner Magellan. It is a place of dangerous beauty, filled with life unseen yet largely ignored. Despite this fondness for the desert I am not drawn to it like I am to the sea.

Will it stick this time?

I spent the entire day yesterday setting up this new blog. I was writing in my journal after a month of inactivity and was feeling that I needed something more to motivate me to write. At first I resurrected BryanMcEntire.com, but I’ve never been one for excessive self-promotion and decided something else would be better. Sword and Paper is derived from the adage ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, but most of the simple derivations of that phrase were already registered by other aspiring writers. I settled on this name partially because it was available, but also because paper has been the vehicle for writers since writing was invented. Over the past year or so I’ve discovered the tactile pleasure of writing longhand with fountain pens on smooth paper. Since this discovery I’ve written more than the previous two decades combined, and that coupled with my lifelong obsession with swords made it the perfect field for my creative output.

Back in 2003, before Blogspot was purchased by Google, I kept a blog called WheatBurn. It lasted for several years but eventually faded into disuse after I setup BryanMcEntire.com, entered the workforce and settled down. I pulled down BryanMcEntire.com a few years ago after my camera was gathering dust and Flash was murdered by the iPhone. Since then I’ve created several more blogs with the intention of continuing that effort: PaveNature.com. WheatBurn.com. RoughlyCrooked.com. TheRestIsMissing.com. I created logos and websites for all of these, but out of sheer laziness never did anything with them. WheatBurn.com was created with the Ghost blogging platform which I would be using for this website if Globat, my webhost, offered Node.js as an option. But alas, it doesn’t so I’m stuck with WordPress. Ghost appeals to me because it has a minimalist ideal, is focused solely on blogging, and is named after supernatural beings that haunt our world. This is where WordPress started until it became the bloated monstrosity it is today, powering what seems like half of the mom and pop sites on the internet, this one included.

My lifelong goal ever since I won the “best writer” award in the second grade for a story about the old west has been to be a writer. I’ve created lots of little story snippets, but until recently have yet to put dedicated effort into realizing this goal. All the seminars and books on writing I’ve seen tell aspiring authors to build their own brand, to develop an online presence and gather a community of like-minded individuals that share your vision. Although this is one goal of this website, it is a tertiary one. My hope is that this is a place where I can throw my thoughts and hone my writing skills so I can do justice to the stories and characters fighting to escape from my mind.