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Ethnic exile?

What is an ethnic exile?

As an immigrant (national, not digital), I favored the Salad Bowl theory over the Melting Pot. I saw integration as more of a desirable outcome than assimilation. One could argue for the latter as the need to represent a “united” state. But, it shouldn’t be at the expense of one’s cultural identity (ethnic, not artistic). It’s why we call ourselves African-American, Latin-American, or Asian-American. However, after doing more research, I came across a different viewpoint.

Florida State University professor Mohamed Berray’s literary review started with a quote by University of Hawaii professor, LeAna B. Gloor.

“People are not food.”

I’m sure he understood the concept of a metaphor. Nevertheless, it can be harmless when casually discussed amongst friends but problematic when implemented through public policy.

He then introduced a third way of looking at the issue.

This socio-anthropological theory called ethnicity in exile postulates that the existing local contexts of host countries influence the choices and actions of immigrant groups from different origins.

Mohamed Berray, “A Critical Literary Review of the Melting pot and salad bowl assimilation and integration theories.”

In other words, when it comes to immigration policies, it’s better to have a collaborative rather than a competitive approach. This point sticks out with the Melting Pot theory, in that all people should assimilate to form one mold, usually determined by the dominant or prevailing group. The Salad Bowl theory at least acknowledges its various ingredients. You can identify the tomato, the lettuce, and the croutons, all integrated into a whole plate. But, as Berray noted, it is still bound by strict definitions. Variety is all well and good but subject to the whims of, again, the majority or ruling class. So how does the ethnicity in exile theory address this?

Melting pot? Salad Bowl? How about Potluck?

Salad bowl, apple and sandwich. Hardly anything that refers to an ethnic exile.
Less a salad bowl and more a You Pick Two from Panera Bread.

The literary review then provides historical examples of different ethnic groups settling in one area and developing harmonious relationships. Over time, they intermingle and share customs and practices to the point where they form one culture distinct from their old ones. Instead of people being the food, they bring it, put it on one table, and share it with everybody.

And that is why I would rather be an ethnic exile. I don’t want to impose my beliefs on anyone, nor do I want anyone to force theirs on me. We put all dishes on the table, but anyone can choose what to eat. Of course, the food has to be edible and not toxic. Most important of all, everyone has a good time.

I understand this to be both an admirable and difficult feat to achieve. If a world like this were possible, we’d have had one like it already. Sometimes, I envision a society that puts aside its petty squabbles and works towards common goals. I’ll admit, those times are getting fewer and fewer. But, I have cautious optimism to go with my healthy skepticism.

Cultural refugee?

How am I a cultural refugee?

Edgar Neto wrote an excellent article explaining what this phrase meant to him. He explains that he escaped (or instead, expatriated) from Brazil and into Germany. It wasn’t because of war, disaster, or a totalitarian regime. He was just at odds with many of his fellow countrymen, politically, ideologically, and therefore culturally.

When you’re escaping a war, or a totalitarian regime, you’re swimming away from a shark. Your enemy is easy to spot . . . If, on the other hand, you’re seeking to escape what is technically a democracy, you have an invisible enemy. It’s hard to find shelter, and you’re lucky to get out of there with just a few stings.

Edgar Neto, “what it feels like being a cultural refugee”

Where did I escape from, and to where did I take refuge?

Well, take this quote from sources that debatably took from a Russian (oh right, Ukrainian) oligarch.

Art, freedom, and creativity will change society faster than politics. - Victor Pinchuk. It has something to do with me being a cultural refugee.
image by Paini with Notegraphy.com

I used it as my featured image for my site’s old front page. I thought I believed it then, but I don’t think I really committed to it. Art, freedom, and creativity certainly can change society. But faster than politics? The cynic in me now should have never put any cultural stock to what oligarch (Ukrainian or otherwise) said.

My opinion on the “jack-of-all-trades” thing has also changed. After falling out of becoming this so-called full stack storyteller, I’ve become less faithful and more agnostic. Because of failing to find a living wage as a “generalist” writer, I’ve become less devoted to the cause.

Starving artist? Still, but…

As a cultural refugee, this is how I feel at times
Both and neither

In other words, I am no longer the “plucky go-getter” writer that I thought all writers were. I probably never was. But, I sure did hold that image of myself for a long time. You know another unhealthy persona I’d like to shed: the starving artist. I can no longer afford to be fanciful about my profession.

No, really. I can’t. I can’t say that I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck if I haven’t even received one for writing. But, I am taking steps to stop saying I’m a writer and take action to be one. I’ve started by becoming an unpaid content writer for The Avant-Guard Media, a student-centered collective with a vision to be the one-stop platform for student media. It’s a start – the start of a journey that I look forward to taking with clear eyes, an open mind, and perhaps a pearl of analog wisdom that I can pass through the digital divide.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Besides, I am a cultural refugee and an ethnic exile. How?

Read on.

Digital immigrant?

Why a digital immigrant?

For a while, I claimed to be a full stack storyteller. I suppose that was a bit much (a bit?). Honestly, I knew next to nothing about software development, other than there was a front-end and a back-end. I think about it now and, that’s more analogous to an author and a publishing company. That is not what I was and not what I am even now. Therefore, my failed attempt to be clever only exposed my unfamiliarity with the digital realm. It is a limitation of my digital literacy, the bounds of which I need to push further.

According to Oxford, a digital immigrant was born or grew up before the internet became common. That sounds a lot like the pre-Millennial generations. YouTuber Ian Danskin brilliantly pointed out that what separates Gen X and Millennials is their relationship to the internet. Per what he said, that makes me the former because it was something that came home one day. However, I believe that the younger you were when experiencing cyberspace, the better you were at grasping it.

Image of Ian Danskin from his Youtube page, Innuendo Studios. The epitome of a digital immigrant.
from https://www.youtube.com/InnuendoStudios

“Classically, the dividing line between the generations [Gen X & Millennials] is framed by their relationship with the internet.”

Ian Danskin, innuendo studios

Xennial?

Jed Oelbaum and Sarah Stankorb coined the term Xennial. Those born between 1977 and 1983 had both Gen X and Millennial traits. The term had mixed reviews, with Business Insider embracing it and Danskin cringing at it. Nevertheless, my 10th-grade self never heard about the World Wide Web until he came across a Compuserve hard disk (that’s right, hard disk). From there, I continued to refine my tech-savvy skills and evolve as a digital immigrant.

Featured image of Jed Oelbaum & Sarah Stankorb's article on Xennials.
Image from Xennial article by Jed Oelbaum and Sarah Stankorb

“Xennials—a micro-generation that serves as a bridge between the disaffection of Gen X and the blithe optimism of Millennials.”

Jed Oelbaum and sarah stankorb, good magazine, 2014

Of course, if you look at my site title, I claim to be more than just a digital immigrant. I am also a cultural refugee and ethnic exile. Click on the links to learn more.

My Personal Ethical Framework

           Developing an ethical framework isn’t easy. Keeping it is just as hard, if not more so. Some people use their gut instinct to choose the right course of action. Others rationalize their decisions by telling themselves that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. But like many of us, I tend to form and re-form my way of thinking. This includes my ethical intentions due to key moments within my lifetime. Those moments range from traumatic events to epiphanies from self-reflection. Therefore, I will define what an ethical framework is and how it is important to me. I will also describe my personal framework, explain how I came to use this model, and compare it to other theories presented in ethics textbooks. I will close with my last thoughts on ethical frameworks and their usefulness.

What Is An Ethical Framework?

           Ethics refers to standards of behavior that tell us how we ought to act. While it does not acknowledge the complexity of decision-making influences and processes that an individual goes through, it provides guidelines on how to engage with it. The foundation of this decision-making process lies in one’s personal ethical framework. Factors that influence this model can be age, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and upbringing. I regard childhood experiences as the most compelling determinant of one’s formation (or lack thereof) of a moral compass. I believe we form our sense of morality in our younger years regarding fulfilling what Maslow called our physiological needs, safety needs, and needs for belonging. It is how we treat others when we are young that generally affects how we treat ethical dilemmas.

How Religion and Upbringing Influenced My Ethics

           I don’t think I grew up in a typical Filipino home. While my mother was the standard conservative Catholic, my father was a liberal Protestant (Anglican). However, I remember going to both churches based on more social reasons rather than religious ones. It wasn’t until later that this fact would change my impression of organized religion. Before that time, I thought of myself as fully Catholic and would be so until the end of my life. Although I claimed to be Catholic, I wasn’t entirely comfortable thinking I was one.

          It wasn’t when I started going to college that my outlook began to change. The more “Christians” I met, the more various versions of worship and dogma I saw. When I joined the military, my experiences became broader as I met different nationalities, religions, and beliefs. It wasn’t until I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, that I started to build a more solid moral foundation to make my ethical decisions.

           I would like to say Virtue Ethics motivates my thoughts and actions. If an act strengthens moral character, then it is correct. Geert Hofstede would consider this moral belief as indicative of an individualist culture. In fact, among 76 developed countries, the United States ranks as #1.  While I emigrated from a generally collectivist country (the Philippines), I have fully immersed myself in American culture.  I believe in the values of self-reliance, autonomy, and looking after myself and my immediate family. However, that does not mean I base all my decisions on what Kohlberg calls the pre-conventional moral development stage.

How Military Service Shaped my Ethics

           The United States Air Force has ingrained in me powerful moral principles that will stay with me well beyond my service commitment. The most important lesson I learned and tried to use as much as possible when leading and mentoring my junior members is Prudence First, Justice Second. Prudence is defined as an intellectual habit of choosing the proper means to achieve worthy ends. Simultaneously, justice establishes and maintains the laws required for the common good and advancement in society.

          A remarkable but straightforward example is about dealing with a subordinate that’s late to work. You can waive a one-time occurrence with a warning, but repeated infractions are a problem. Technically, it is considered a violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Still, there’s no reason to reprimand or even correct the Airman’s negative behavior without discussing why she has been late more than once. She may have problems due to extenuating circumstances beyond her control. Counseling would be more focused on steering her in the right direction to improve her situation and prevent further transgressions.

          This principle mirrors Cultural Relativism’s theory and Kohlberg’s fourth moral development stage. I firmly believe that prudence before justice is the right thing to do within the United States Air Force’s rules. While military culture has profoundly affected my personal code of conduct, it has not done the same with my view of morality. I attribute a large part of my ethos to immersing myself in the Far East’s very different concept of religion, that of a more fluid and all-inclusive view. In Western religions, affiliation is absolute.

How Exposure to Other Cultures Changed My Moral Development

          It’s either your Christian or your Jewish. You can’t be both. In contrast, Eastern religions treat membership in more fluid terms. It’s perfectly normal for somebody from Korea or Japan to adopt Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian teachings but not identify with any or all of them. What matters is the rituals, the prayers (or meditations), and most of all, the ethics. I have learned to practice the precepts of benevolence and understanding from Buddhism, the moral guidance portrayed through the Bible’s gospels, and throwing coins and praying to my ancestors for prosperity in a Shinto (and Buddhist) shrine.

          Through this all-inclusive system of beliefs, I feel I can reach Kohlberg’s sixth stage of moral development and train myself to cultivate virtuous habits. My goal is to authentically make decisions that benefit myself, my community (military or otherwise), and my connection to the pursuit of achieving harmony with the world around me. This brings me back to how doing the right thing isn’t always easy.

           I believe my parents instilled a flexible outlook towards religion, albeit not the way they intended. Even though my dad was relaxed in his Christian beliefs, he encouraged me to be as devoted a Catholic as my mom. But as I saw more of the world and further understood human behavior, I felt I didn’t have to follow a particular set of rules to be a righteous person. But it’s an excellent place to start and build a foundation for your personal ethical decision-making framework.

PTSD doesn’t just happen in the front lines

This article on non-combat PTSD is the latest update in what I feel is one of my most poignant works to date. While the sources are still outdated, the content is still relevant, and I tailored the article to be more SEO-friendly. Click here to read the original in its entirety.


Some news outlets and tech websites cited a CareerCast list of the 10 most stressful jobs of 2018.  #1 on the list was enlisted military personnel.

We can all agree to put your life at risk counts as a major stressor.  But believe it or not, a good number of military personnel finish their careers without being deployed.  And among those who did deploy did not go past fortification walls (aka “outside the wire”).  So, if one were to think about it, they shouldn’t count, right? They shouldn’t claim PTSD, right? They should’ve stopped crying like babies and enjoyed their cake gig, right? But, unfortunately, that is what a salty few of us have thought on more than one occasion.

But, just because they didn’t go on a convoy, on patrol, or in an assault, they still served. They still count. I don’t intend at all to lessen the sacrifices that soldiers, marines, or special forces made. However, I would like to speak on our other fellow brothers and sisters in arms. A fight is a fight, whether it’s on or off the battlefield. Also, because, hey, One Team, One Fight, right?

Master Sgt. James Haskell was an aerial gunner for most of his 21-year Air Force career. Now, he struggles with PTSD and says putting on a happy face to get through a day is like wearing a mask.
Master Sgt. James Haskell was an aerial gunner for most of his 21-year Air Force career. Now, he struggles with PTSD and says putting on a happy face to get through a day is like wearing a mask. Master Sgt. Kevin Milliken/Air Force. From an article in military.com

PTSD and burnout

According to an online article in Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

I’d like to think all of us in the service have felt this more than one time.  In a 2001 study on the effects of stress and job functioning, 22 to 40 percent of military men and women experienced high-stress levels in their work or family and personal relationships. But, of course, the data they gathered for their analysis was from a 1995 survey that sampled over 16,000 members across all military branches. Therefore, the results are suspect at best. But, if you were to go to any U.S. station anywhere worldwide, there is at minimum a Military and Family Life Counselor (MFLC) present. Larger encampments have more robust mental health services such as PTSD patient advocates, suicide prevention support groups, and resiliency programs. So these are still pressing issues within the military ranks, and resources are continually devoted to keeping these programs active.

But I still haven’t answered the question as to why the ones cutting your paycheck, cooking your food, or even fixing your plane (I was an aircraft maintainer, I know how it was) are just as stressed as those who shoot guns at the enemy.  Again, not to take away from our commandos, but their stress is different from those behind the fence. So here is where I speculate based on my own experiences.

Pfc. Linaeja White, a health care specialist with Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, scrunches up her face on April 2, 2018, during a Mindfulness Monday class at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Therapies such as transcendental meditation are effective in treating PTSD.
Pfc. Linaeja White, a health care specialist with Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, scrunches up her face on April 2, 2018, during a Mindfulness Monday class at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Therapies such as transcendental meditation are effective in treating PTSD. (Sgt. Elizabeth White/Army). From an article in Military Times.

Behind the front lines

1. Depending on where you go, the ops tempo of that unit is ridiculously higher than what any civilian counterpart experiences. Sure, there are projects with deadlines and clients that will yell at you or no longer receive your services, but your mistakes don’t have the potential to destroy multi-million-dollar machines or take lives.

2. But our first-responders like police and firefighters take the same risks, extending to nurses, doctors, and almost everybody in the medical field. So what makes them different from enlisted?  Unionization (or at least the ability to unionize).  Given enough participants and limited management reprisal, civilians can go on strike.  Suggest “union” to a grunt, and she’ll laugh while spitting in your face.

3. Civilians can walk away once they find better opportunities. All you need to give is two weeks’ notice, correct? The military signs a 4-6-year contract that binds them by law to make the “mission” their number one priority. Also, they can’t call in sick without approval from the base hospital. Other than scheduling leave, the only way a military member can “skip” work is if she has a death in the family. Oh, and it has to be immediate (spouse, father, mother, brother). Anything outside of that is only through the approval of your commander.

silhouette of soldiers walking
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Non-combat PTSD, is still PTSD

All the aforementioned conditions contribute to a high enlisted military turnover rate.  An airman doesn’t reenlist (sign another contract).  A marine loses a limb in combat.  A soldier suffers TBI from a mistake he made because he and his co-workers worked 48 hours straight. A sailor gets a psychotic breakdown because he hasn’t left the ship for over a year and a half.  While these are sporadic cases, even non-life-threatening but disabling conditions take a toll on those who have to pick up the slack.  Just because your buddy isn’t at work doesn’t mean you get to take it easy. If that isn’t a PTSD time bomb in the making, I don’t know what is.

So just because troops aren’t out there in firefights doesn’t mean they’re feeling less of the suck.  It’s just doled out differently through 12 to 16-hour shifts trying to accomplish a task with half the resources and half the workforce. That’s why the enlisted military has taken the #1 spot on the most stressful jobs ever since 2012. In my opinion, it should have been ranked #1 in previous years, and I’m pretty sure it will hold that #1 spot for a very long time.

Gender Equality with “Under the Veils in Casablanca”

           I regard my article on Non-Combat PTSD, my poem, and my short story as my best “published” work to date. However, I sometimes include my undergrad take on the April 2000 Salon article about international differences of gender equality. At the time, I did not understand feminism as much as I do now. But I put a well enough effort. I have written a more cleaned-up and updated version of that article down below.

           Note: At the time, I put former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in a positive light, not knowing of her impeachment.


            Laura Fraser’s Casablanca article in Salon reveals an ethnocentric view that women feel oppressed in the Muslim world. Before her visit, she believed that women in the western world had more freedom than women in other places. Her experiences afterward showed her that this was not truly the case. However, the last paragraph of her article made one straightforward fact. Almost all women from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds suffer from the double standard of ambition as negatively viewed.

The “glass ceiling”

Marilyn Loden, originator of the term "glass ceiling."
Marilyn Loden, originator of the term “glass ceiling.” image from BBC.com

            In patriarchal societies, the “glass ceiling” prevents women from progressing to the same level as men. Some consent to this limitation, while others aim to break through it. Those who choose the latter face scrutiny from their superiors and peers. They perceive these “corporate ladder climbers” as overly aggressive, akin to a Hilary Clinton. This is a perception that not only comes from men but also women. If they are willing to continue the climb, they have to “own” that façade of ambitiousness. Women such as Theresa May, Angela Merkel, and Dilma Rousseff may have more nurturing sides. They reserve it only for their family and closest friends.

Another fact that Frazer expanded upon was the global issue of violence against women.

Violence against women and the global gender gap

         Participants of the Fourth World Conference in Beijing focused on attempting to combat and eliminate this problem. One major component was honor killings, where women were blamed for their own rape and executed as a result.  While most prevalent in developing nations in the global South, other issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking still exist in the more “developed” countries. When it comes to this problem, the media focuses their attention mostly on middle to lower-class families. Of course, that doesn’t mean those higher on the economic strata don’t feel its effects.

World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Index, 2020.

         Although the world continues to close the gender gap, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Arab states still lag. The Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, created in July 2010, attempts to deal with these matters. Through these organizations, we become more informed about the differences of women all around the world. But, independent journalists such as Laura Fraser bring up the commonalities that they share. It saddens me that much of what they share is negative, harsh, and violent. Perhaps one day, women’s issues won’t be as unsettling as it is today. I know it won’t be tomorrow, but someday.

What lies beyond Brandman University?

I wrote Brandman and Beyond as a capstone essay to what I learned as an undergraduate of Applied Communications. After reflecting upon it, this is what I wrote as a follow up.

What Lies Beyond Brandman University

Brandman University defines a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Studies as “a degree that is ideal for those who want to build upon their technical and occupational skills.  Its cross-disciplinary curriculum explored multicultural perspectives, sociological change, technological advances and leadership theories to prepare them for success in today’s workforce.”

I’ll be honest, I initially saw it as a less conspicuous Liberal Arts degree, without the stigma attached to it.  It was also the shortest degree that I could complete with the ludicrous amount of college credits I accumulated within 20 years of ultimately not completing one.  Additionally, I subscribed to the belief that a degree, regardless of the major, is almost necessary in the job market due to “degree inflation.” So, I continued to see it that way up until about the last term of my undergraduate life, when I learned three things:

Less and less people are stigmatizing the term “Liberal Arts major” and in fact are actively being sought within the tech industry (although it seems as if the they’ve never heard of “Applied Studies”).

“A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none but oftentimes better than a master of one.” (origin unknown)

My education does not stop with this BA (mainly because I’m going right back into Brandman to get my MBA).

However, the most meaningful thing to ever happen to me on my path to get this degree is having to do all these academic projects and rediscovering the budding creativity I’ve always had and artistic flair I want to cultivate.  While in this degree program, I wrote a sketch comedy script, a short story, and a poem that, even though I was made to do it, I’m glad to have done it and proud of what I made.

My sketch comedy script is titled The Job Interview.  Drawing inspiration from Saturday Night Live and the Upright Citizens Brigade I tried to transform a normal, mundane event into a light-hearted affair.  As a satire, my goal was to put in perspective what is normally one of the most terrifying adult experiences in the modern world as a harmless and sometimes petty power dynamic within the employment relationship.  If anything, it was excellent practice for me to explore the subtleties of interpersonal communication.

Two books solidified my love of fantasy epics.  One was The 12 Labors of Hercules, the first book I read when I was 5 years old, and the other was Magician by Raymond E. Feist which I read in 7th grade.  A Conjuring Conundrumwas a story idea that rolled around in my head for quite some time.  I was fascinated with the “unreliable narrator” after reading Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and wanted to tell the simple story of a wannabee wizard who bit off more than he can chew in terms of his “skill.”

One of my most personal literary works is the poem, Post-Military Life.  While the more publicly known cause of PTSD and suicide comes from experiencing the horrors of war, it is not the only one by far.  Trauma is trauma, whether its from working several 14-16 hour shifts or suffering prolonged effects of a toxic workplace.  The most fortunate of us have walked away with both our physical and mental faculties, but the majority range from a spectrum of minor disabilities to full impairment, yet all of us have to find a way to make life work after the service.  This poem echoes that sentiment that, sometimes I feel that my compensation is not commensurate to my sacrifice and dedication.

I’ll admit that the “essay” that preceded this was more style than substance, which is why this is less of a revision than it is a complete redraft.  A majority of my projects in college, while accurate and clever, lacked the heart and passion that I am capable of infusing into whatever I create.  While I wish I had come to this conclusion sooner, I’m glad to have found it relatively early in my scholastic career.  My education in Brandman University started with self-interest, but as it comes to an end it gets closer to one of self-improvement.

Brandman and Beyond

A Critical Reflection on my academic experience at Brandman University

Introduction

George Washington said, “Discipline is the soul of an army.  It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” When I was younger, I must admit I didn’t have much discipline to continue anything, whether it was a job, school, or meaningful relationships.  Then I joined the United States Air Force.  During my active duty, I managed a long military career and met my future wife, who would bear my future child.  However, I was unable to accomplish my academic goals.  Then I registered for classes at Brandman University.  But while I finally got that elusive Baccalaureate degree that I always wanted, I was profoundly amazed at what else I received apart from a college education.  Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I’ve made many personal and professional connections, giving me the ability to expand my career network.  Also, I’ve vastly augmented my verbal and written communication skills, further enhancing my value in today’s service-driven workplace.  And finally, I’ve developed an extensive knowledge base through a multi-disciplinary approach towards the arts and humanities, which only increases my problem-solving capabilities.

Ability to Expand Career Network

The origin of the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is unclear. Nevertheless, a 2011 article in Business Insider asserts that it is fundamental for any successful individual to take this message to heart.  I’m no stranger to meeting men and women from all walks of life. Still, as Airmen fully engaged in Air Force culture, we inherited a sense of familiarity that transcended those differences.  As veterans being released back into the civilian world, it isn’t easy to make that transition.  However, in a military-friendly educational institution such as Brandman, we associate with civilian councilors, learn from civilian instructors and study with other students who catch us up with the day-to-day dealings of the civilian world.  As a result, I now have professors who can write me letters of recommendation and colleagues whom I can count on to inform and connect me to employment opportunities.  With reliable academic and business contacts established, I could focus on honing my communication skills and market myself as a valuable team member.

Verbal and Written Communication Skills

            Robert McKee in Story wrote, “How a person chooses to act under pressure is who he is-the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character.” I am also no stranger to working in a high-tempo, high-stress work environment.  Unfortunately, I’m more resistant to change than I’d like to admit.  So, when I discussed with my counselor what electives I should take, I chose Writing in the 20th Century, which I thought was a standard history class.  I was sorely mistaken.  In those grueling eight weeks, I did not expect to write a poem, a ten-minute play, a short story, a short skit screenplay, storyboards, a story treatment, and a video presentation analyzing a movie of my choice.  There were honest times where I wanted to quit, but I decided to plug through anyway.  As a result, I now have my portfolio containing all those aforementioned literary works, and I wouldn’t have done them if I wasn’t inadvertently forced to do so.  Courses like this opened my mind to different ways to express myself and discover various ways of thinking, cultivating a wealth of knowledge that pairs harmoniously with my communication skills.

Extensive Knowledge Base

Before I enrolled in Brandman, and even before I enlisted in the military, I went to community college. Having a decent number of classes transferred to Brandman boosted me to junior status.  Coupled with my professional military education, I thought there wouldn’t be much else that I needed to learn. But, again, I was sorely mistaken.  The lessons I learned about cultural communication and professional ethics were just a few that broadened my mind and provided me with several theoretical paradigms to understand the modern world. For example, Hofstede’s cultural dimensions taught me that individualistic cultures like the U.S. might have issues dealing with collectivistic cultures like China or Japan.  I also learned that utilitarianism is a moral doctrine that aims to achieve the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people instead of deontology. Finally, morality is a personal duty or rule that ought to be followed.  While I had some understanding of these concepts, I was finally able to define them accurately, which allows me to define better problems I may come across in the future, which is the first step to any organized approach to solving problems.

Conclusion

Noted Roman historian and politician Sallus once said, “the splendid achievements of the intellect, like the soul, are everlasting.” (Bartlett & O’Brien, 2012, p. 92) I am eternally grateful for the gifts Brandman University has bestowed me.  Not only has knowledge given me more tools to solve problems, but it also widens my worldview.  I gained verbal and written communication skills and research and information analysis methods that clarified and validated my messages that much more.  And while I was granted the avenue to network with a diverse group of people, I also received that element of teamwork needed to enter and build a friendly office culture in the public and private sector.  This critical reflection allowed me to reinforce those qualities I’ve developed as a serviceman and a student, and I intend to use these gifts to grow into my next career.

Post military life

This is a poem I wrote expressing most of the feelings I felt as a military veteran. It does not touch on the more dire aspects of “the life,” such as PTSD (I wrote an article about this) or suicide (I plan to write an article on this). But it does reveal the mundane but significant challenges we face once we conclude our service. I acknowledge that every servicemember’s experience is different. Some prepared enough so that their transition seemed seamless. Others, whether intentional or not, felt it necessary not to prepare and paid the price for it. Full disclosure, I was on the latter end of that decision tree. However, while I will take responsibility for my inaction, I also have critiques on the Transition Assistance Program or TAP (another topic that I plan to write about in the future).


This is my post military life.

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

For example, I am not a Marine but,

I understand the meaning of always faithful,

as well as mastery of one’s life and enemies.

silhouette of soldiers walking (before a post military life)
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is my post military life.

I would have liked to have had this later.

But, due to circumstances beyond my capacity,

Physical, mental and spiritual,

it had to be now.

silhouette of people beside usa flag (in transition to a post military life)
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

This is my post military life.

The first month was heaven.

The next two took me to limbo.

And currently, it feels like Purgatory.

Other people call it Unemployment.

photo of man with his head leaning on his hands (post military life)
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This is my post military life.

I traded security for freedom.

Swapped paychecks for pensions.

Bartered bustle for tedium.

But what did I switch for what?

Image from Mission22.com

This is my post military life.

Unable to sell my past.

Uncertain of my future.

Unsettled about the present.

Undaunted nonetheless.

A Conjuring Conundrum

This is a story I had brewing in my head for quite some time. I’ve always loved this genre and would someday like to either write for a fantasy video game or some other media company or perhaps write a book of my own.


So here I am, face to face with what looks to be a giant lizard about to chomp half my body and swallow it whole, leaving my legs to plop down in a squirting, bloody mess. If I were a brave warrior, hardened by years of combat and deft with a sword, mace, or ax, I’d swing whatever weapon I had to kill this beast. I’m not. If I were a brave paladin, blessed by the power of the gods to be the holy hand of justice, bound to protect the weak and smite evil in his path, I’d have smitten this drooling, hulking behemoth. Yup, not me. If I were a masterful wizard, skilled in the mystic arts, I’d conjure up a ball of fire to incinerate this monstrosity as if he were nothing but an insect bothering me. Yes, if only I . . .

. . . wait I am! I’m supposed to be. At least that’s what my Scroll of Arcane Authentication says.

“What in the Dark Depths are you waiting for?!! Fireball this thing!!” She yelled as she held for dear life on the two daggers she stuck onto the back of the beast.

“Well, lad, do something! I thought you were a wizard?!! Isn’t that what it says on your fancy scroll?!!” He screamed, hanging on to his battle-ax as its haft was lodged into the giant lizard’s tail. I didn’t like his sarcastic tone, but he was right. If I don’t do something soon, we’re all dead.

This brings me to the lifeless girl by the tree from which the lizard came out. Oh, my Sacred Halls, poor choice of words. I hope she’s still alive. If these two didn’t attack the monster after it rushed out and swat her senseless, she might have been its first meal. Then there’s me. How did I get myself into this mess anyway? I didn’t have to be here, you know. Maybe I should start from the beginning.

It all started after I got out of wizard school or the University Concentrated on Learning the Arcane. I guess it was a decision I made half-heartedly but coming from a family of nothing remotely involved with anything dealing with conjuring things out of thin air, I had my doubts.

My father, Garzon, is currently a blacksmith, but before that, he served under the Hawkstone Guard for about 15 years. A veteran of the Alma-Galena war, he expected all his sons to follow in his soldier’s footsteps.

My oldest brother, Gesdon, was the first to don the boots of a guardsman. Since there was no big war to be fought, He was stuck keeping the peace by breaking up occasional brawls at taverns and the domestic disputes that result from them. He says he’s lost count of the number of times he’s had to snatch a bottle from a drunk who was about to break it over another drunk’s head or a wife who was about to do the same to her husband’s.

My next oldest brother, Gibson, was also a “peacekeeper” of sorts. Whether it was a wild boar or neighborhood rough, he was there to “rectify the situation.” So, with that in mind, his choices were to join the Guard, be a blacksmith, or take some job that involved punching somebody in the face. Thankfully, he found “a higher calling” as a Paladin of the Sacred Halls. Who’d have thought the neighborhood skull crusher would end up crushing skulls in the name of holy justice?

Then, there’s Gordon. That’s me. While my brothers were out trying to knock each other senseless with a game involving a ball or a fight involving a fist I was, actually doing the same thing. Except I never did the knocking, and I was always the one senseless. If there wasn’t a stick or stone present, I was my brothers’ weapon of choice to break a neighborhood kid’s bones. At least I wasn’t alone. It was me, Beedy, and the weird kid who had a thing sniffing horse manure. I wasn’t a big fan of horse manure, so it was just Beedy and me doing our own thing. Yeah, this is a part of my life no one needs to know, so let’s skip forward to my going to wizard school.

When I told my parents and my brothers about my decision, I expected two things: Disappointment, that I didn’t continue the path of being some sort of warrior, like my father or two brothers, or laughter, at the notion of me being some bookworm or circus performer pulling hogs from logs. But to tell you the truth, I believe that was the day my father was the proudest of me.

“Well, son, it beats you lying around the house doing nothing and hanging around with that boy who sniffs horse ass all day!”

“What? No dad. He’s not my friend. And technically, he doesn’t sniff horse ass. It’s what comes out of the horse that-”

“Excuse me?!!”

“Um . . . nothing dad.”

I thought my brothers would be rolling on the floor laughing by now, but, I was surprised.

“So, our brother’s gonna be a paid bookworm.”

“Hey, when you’re done with school, you think you can teach me to pull a hog out of a log?” I wasn’t too surprised about their reactions. However, I was surprised about the resistance my mother had.

“Are you sure this is what you want to do? You know those schools are very difficult to get into. And learning all that magic? That’s a bit dangerous, don’t you think? And who says you still can’t get into the guard like your father? Or you can do the same thing your brother Gibson is doing. I’m sure he and Sephora can put in a good word for you to their master. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always help your dad out in the blacksmith business.”

I thought she’d be more excited about it. You see, before my mother married my father and settled down with him, she was a scribe. Weird right? But in Galena, women were not only allowed to scribe but also encouraged. I remember her telling me how strange it was in this whole continent that all women could hope to be are housewives, barmaids, or princesses. She said they could be other things, but it still disturbs me to this day that those words would come out of my mother’s mouth.

If it wasn’t for my little sister, Gemma, who thought it was the most amazing thing ever and constantly made up stories about me being a great wizard one day.

“Think about it. You could be the next Meranom the Wise or the next Veracosa Grandia. Oh oh! Dare I say it. You can be the next Lyganstel. Yeah!! I can’t wait ’til you get back, Gordy, and show me all your crazy magic skills. It’s gonna be sooo awesome!” The way she rattled of famous wizards’ names, I could’ve sworn that she was meant for this life too. And, with encouragement like that, how could I have resisted?

So, after four years in pre-Mage, three years in Mage, I became an accredited practitioner of the mystical arts and ready to show what I can do. As it turned out, there wasn’t much use for a newly graduated wizard here in Hawkstone. Meranom, the Duke’s Advisor on Arcane Matters, already had all the interns he needed. I suppose I could have put my application earlier. But again, I still wasn’t sure this is what I wanted to do. After a year of lounging around the house, I found a job that put my skills to good use. It would have been longer had it not been for the constant demands of my father to get to work, the stories I had to endure of my brothers’ toils of earning a living, and multiple messages from the local bank to reminded me I had school loans to pay.

I remember when the financial representative visited me while I was cleaning out my dorm room. He emphasized the importance of my debt by transforming into a demon, grabbing me by the collar, and telling me in the most colorful language that he would tear out my still-beating heart for recompense if I were not to hold up my end of the contract. When I told this story to my family, I expected some sort of sympathy, but I suppose I expected too much. My brothers burst out laughing, my mother scolded my father about letting me put myself in danger whilst my father shouted back that it was something I needed to experience in order to be a man.

Unsurprisingly, it was my sister who took my side, hugging me and letting me know that if I worked hard and continued to sharpen my skills, I would vanquish ten demons like him. What would I do without you, Gemma?

Eventually, I was able to find work.

“Alright, Gordy,” said Bertie, the head bartender of the Ogre and Hammer Tavern and my new boss. “If you see and rats down in this cellar, blast him with your magic. Got it? Oh, and if the food goes bad, try to make it fresher. If not, oh well. The customer will eat it one way or another.”

And that would have been the end of Gordon of Hawkstone’s story. I probably would have lived the rest of my life as a token rat-catcher in a dive bar or beat to a bloody pulp somewhere in the middle of the forest, minus a scroll and my still-beating heart. But I would not. I wasn’t about to get away that easy.

I remember it being mid-day. I zapped 3 rats, 6 cockroaches, maggots from the 9-day-old mutton, and a nest of termites that Bertie failed to mention existed under the tavern floorboards. If I had not caught it in time, the whole tavern would have collapsed. Did I get a “Thanks, Gordon, for saving our lives?” Nope, it’s “Clean up the mess your made, boy. Use that fancy magic of yours.” As I sat down and took an ale break, three strangers walked into the bar.

While I was in university, I learned about the different lands outside of Hawkstone and the multitudes of races in this world. I was amazed at the variety of bipeds that walked our earth but was soon dismayed that I would never go to these places or meet these peoples because traveling required money which I didn’t have. No, I suspected and suspected rightly that I was going back to this provincial town after school. But I didn’t think they’d come to me.

Now before I continue, I have to say something about trampers and stumps.

If you ever come across a tramper, you should do one of three things: Hold on to your coins, watch your back, and walk the other way. In fact, you should do all three. You’ll know immediately who they are by their pointy ears, olive skin, and gaunt features. I doubt there’s such a thing as a fat tramper, or an honest one, or a sane one. I also have not seen a tramper that was not involved in anything dangerous or illegal.

Stumps or stumpies are a little more trustworthy. Just don’t call them stumpies in their face, or they’ll knock you down to their size. They’re half a normal person’s size but twice as wide, and you’ll never see one without some sort of beard, or mustache, or some form of facial hair. Come to think of it, they’re a hairy lot. I guess it helps, given their career choices. They’re either miners, blacksmiths, stonemasons, or anything involved in construction or repair. My father fought with many of them during the war, and he says they’re all business when it comes to working. But once the forge fires have been put out and the doors are closed, ten mugs of ale later, they’re all fun and games. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the most hardworking, trustworthy people around.

Therefore, I learned that a tramper and a stump passing each other would sooner spit in each other’s face than say hello. To my surprise, there they are, side by side. I’m sure the patrons at the bar were thinking the same thing. I pondered it for two seconds, and then my eyes shifted to her.

She had long, blond hair, sleepy green eyes, and the softest cream skin. She walked with elegant grace until she almost tripped over a loose floorboard. She held a leather-bound, gold-trimmed book with her delicate hands against her soft bosom. And she was walking towards me, a crooked, unsure smile. And as her lips parted, she said the words,

“Hey, there, lad. How about a table, ale, and your finest mutton?” I was quite taken aback by how deep and gruff her voice was, like a stump.

“Hey!!” she shrieked, snapping his fingers at me. I come out of my reverie and quickly realize it was the tramp talking. “What, are you deaf or stupid?!”

“Oh no, no, no! I don’t work here. I mean I work here but I don’t, uh-”

“Pay no mind to our rat-catcher,” Bertie interjected as he cuffed the back of my head. “He’s a bit slow. Shawna here will give you whatever you need.” A buxom waitress whose only lot in life is to serve drinks, sleep with strangers with deep pockets, and berates would-be wizards strolled towards the group and directed them to a nearby spot.

“And finish your ale quick and get back to work.” He punctuated his point with his fat finger on my nose.

As I sat down and slowly sipped on my brew, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. What was this beautiful creature doing with such disreputable characters?

“Ok, so where the Black Depths is this golden statue supposed to be?” The tramper shrilled. “I don’t wanna spend any more time in this dung hole of a town than we need to.”

“Keep your voice down, Bev.” The stump replied. “We don’t want to attract any more attention than we need to, and I don’t want spit on my food this time.”

“Oh, I swear to all the gods that if that happens again I’ll-”

“BEV!!”

“Alright. Alright.”

“Ok Tanya. Let’s see that map in that book of yours.”

Tanya. Her name was Tanya.

“Right!” She whispered in a honey-flavored voice. Tiny sparks flew from the book as she opened it. I guess they were used to it by now because they didn’t even flinch. “It’s a simple map, really. “It just shows the path you take from Hawkstone, deep into the Griffin Forest, and an approximate area where the underground passage is located. The only problem is finding which tree it would be under.”

“It’s not marked.” The stump asked.

“Sorry Gil. It won’t be that easy. Bev scared off our only way of finding it.” They both look at the tramper.

“Hey, if that pervert weren’t peeping at me from behind a rock bathing at the lake, he’d probably have his balls by now?!!”

The stumpy they called Gil sighed. “For once, I agree with Bev here. But you didn’t have to chase him all the way down Dean’s Pass just to emasculate him in front of innocent travelers.” All the tramper Bev could do was shrug. “Where are we going to find a wizard here at this time?”

Spitting the last sip of my ale, I blurt, “I’m a wizard.” Maybe I should have cleaned myself up first before pitching myself. Then again, would that have stopped them from laughing so hard they almost knocked the plate of mutton Shawna served them? Well, Bev and Gil laughed, but Tanya just looked at me, almost studying me. Could she feel the same way?

“Prove it.” The tramper called Bev said. “Do something magical.”

I was dumbfounded. I doubt zapping a rat or making bright colors shoot out of my hands would have been the best way to present my skills.

“Uhh . . . give me a moment.” I ran to the cellar where I normally drop off my satchel. Yup, it was still there. I knew this would come in handy sooner or later. I placed it in front of Tanya as a gift. Gil snatched it and held it as if it were the leg of a roast fowl.

“What’s this?” He asked.

“Open it.” I replied. He unrolled the scroll and all three proceeded to read.

Tanya soon recognized it. “It’s an Arcane Authentication scroll from the University Concentrated on Learning the Arcane.” I knew she’d recognize it. It makes so much sense.

“Alright lad. You’re hired.” Gil said.

“You better not screw it up or you’ll end up like our last magician.” Bev added.

“Wait, what happened.” I asked. They looked at each other and said,

“No, nothing.”

“Nothing you need to worry about.”

“You don’t wanna know.”

It wasn’t very reassuring. But, it was these or continue to be stuck in this ‘dung-hole’ for the rest of my life. If they weren’t stupid, they were desperate enough not to ask what a UCLA graduate was doing zapping vermin at a run-down tavern. And I was desperate enough not to ask why they needed magic to find a golden statue.

Bertie tried his best to show concern about me leaving, but really, he didn’t care. It was only as a favor for my father that I got hired in the first place. I mean, why turn down your most frequent customer and the only person that can shut you down for not being up to par with the health and wellness codes of the city? And the feeling was mutual. I can live without zapping another rat ever again.

As we walked towards our destination, I tried my best to make conversation with Tanya. What I wanted to say was,

“So, Tanya, what’s a beautiful girl like you doing with dangerous company like them?” What came out was.

“So . . . uh . . . sunny day . . . right?”

“Absolutely.” She said with a smile that melted my heart and stirred my stomach like Bertie’s cooking. Oh, man. What do I say next? My brothers always talked to girls. What did they say? Nice breasts? No, I can’t say that?!!

“Gordon, is it?” Gil asked. I vigorously nodded, breaking me out of my internal freak-out. “You know why we need a wizard for this, right?”

“Uh . . . yeah, of course I do.” I didn’t.

“No, you don’t.” He said as if he read my mind. “According to the map, there’s a tree in this forest that can only be found by somebody who has the ability to sense magic. Now we figured Tanya could do so, but she can only detect runes, magic writing, and all that nonsense as a cleric of the Scrying Eye. But, I’m sure you already knew that, being an avid practitioner of magic.”

“Of course. I knew it before you even said it.” Actually, after he mentioned the Watcher, it all came back to me. Clerics of the Scrying Eye followed the doctrine of Xerage, the god of Knowledge. I had to take an elective class, so I took Religion 101. From what I remember, they also go on expeditions and look for artifacts that lead to knowledge about the Ancient Ones. It made sense, but there was something about this situation I still couldn’t put my finger on.

“From what I remember, these particular artifacts are well guarded by all sorts of traps and dangerous beasts.”

Oh no!

“Well, that shouldn’t be anything for you to worry about, right?” Tanya included. “A wizard of your degree should see this as nothing but a challenge.”

“Sure.” I squeaked trying not the let the chunks from my stirred stomach eject from my quivering mouth.

“And, we have Gil, a battle-hardened veteran of the AG Wars and Bev, a . . .”

The tramper, who had no interest in the conversation, suddenly turned around.

“Yes, Tanya.” She sneered. “What exactly am I?”

“Um, a deadly woman with twin daggers?”

“Save it. I don’t need you to fluff me up.” The awkwardness lingered up until we entered the forest and reached the marked destination on the map.

“Alright lad. Work your magic.”

I really should have prepared better for this. If I had been a good wizard, I’d have asked more questions about this whole trip, did my research in the library, contacted my colleagues to get their input in the matter, and gathered the necessary tools and materials to do this task efficiently, and effectively. Truth be told, I had no time to ask questions, no access to the Library of Arcane Matters, and no colleagues to consult. Well, there was Beedy, but if you knew him, he’d have been worthless too. And the only materials I had were restoring spoiled food, killing small rodents and insects, and seeing-through wood to detect said vermin. I cursed myself as I took out the crystal ball I packed for this trip.

What in the Dark Depths did I get myself into? It’ll probably take the stump five minutes to see through my deception. Then what? I suspect the tramper will rip my guts out. I’ll never see Tanya again.

This isn’t right. I should just come clean and . . .

“Hey, I found something,” I call out, almost ready to cry out of sheer joy that maybe I’ll be keeping my guts inside me. It seems while I was scanning the trees, looking through my crystal and shooting in the dark, I found something. Through my seeing-through-wood crystal, I saw writing that I suspected Tanya could read. I gave it to her, she read, and as she uttered those strange words, the tree began to glow, so brightly that we had to shield our eyes. Once the glow subsided, a portal formed in the tree. And out of the portal charged the largest, ugliest, meanest lizard I’ve ever seen.

And here I am, inches away from being food for a snarling, drooling monstrosity with a breath I can only describe as a conglomeration of all the animals in the worlds’ feces. What a sad end to my sad pathetic life. Should I be surprised that it came to this?

“What the Dark Depths is taking you so long?!!” the jostled but hanging-on Bev screamed. “Didn’t they teach you to fight in your stupid university?!!”

“Come on lad. Don’t freeze up now. Use what you know. ANYTHING DAMMIT!!”

I didn’t think it’d come to this.

“I lied.” As if they misheard the worst thing ever to mishear they shook their heads.

“You what?!!”

“I . . .I . . . lied ok. I really didn’t graduate from the University Concentrated on Learning the Arcane.”

The look that was once intense focus on the beast now became burning rage towards me.

“I made it about six months before I was kicked out. Ok, that’s not true either. I left. It wasn’t the long hours and lack of sleep. I didn’t mind that at all. It wasn’t the cost to study there. In fact, they have a pretty good loan program.”

Speaking of loan programs, remember that ‘financial representative’ who threatened to rip my still-beating heart from my chest for recompense? He wasn’t a UCLA loan officer. He was sort of an enforcer of those who didn’t pay the Toad Alley Reapers in time for ‘services rendered.’

“I couldn’t go back home without having graduated, so another colleague of mine who also failed knew a guy, who knew a guy, who knew a guy, who could get us some forged scrolls. He said he could do everything from land titles to proof of royalty, given the right price. We didn’t have much to give, but they said it was ok. We can pay it back later in installments.”

“A FORGED SCROLL!!” Gil bellowed. “I knew you were too good to be true. Damn me for being so blindingly desperate.” Bev followed with,

“I swear to everything holy and unholy that if this thing kills us all, I will hunt you down in the Fields of the Dead and be damned a god to stop me from ripping your square head and shove it up your round asshole!!”

Do you know what it was? I couldn’t take the pressure. I didn’t think I had what it took. I was told by Professor Lazuli that, to know the Arcane, I had to embrace it with full force. I had to hold it until my muscles ached, your body trembled, and my mind wandered into confusion. Then, with unknown reserve, I was supposed to crush this malevolently beautiful force until it eventually became a part of me. If I wasn’t willing to do that, then I should leave now. So, I left. Six months and I already knew that I couldn’t muster up that type of courage or resolve.

“I still needed to get some sort of magical training, so I went to the Generic Conjuration College.

“GCC?!! You went to GCC?!! Curse us, we hired a third-rate wizard!”

“Gaaaaah! Why did our last guy have to be a damn pervert?!!”

“I did a semester in the Prestidigitatorial Cantrips College.”

“SHUT UP!!” They both yelled in unison. I should have taken my mother’s advice and tried to join the Hawkstone Guard. I could have been Gibson’s punching bag training as a paladin of the Sacred Halls. Heck, I could have just worked under my father making horseshoes and stovepipes for a living. Nope, I had to go try to be a damn wizard, but now I was gonna be lizard food. And as it lunged at me . . . everything went blank.

How disappointing that my death has to be just as boring. I feel nothing. I see nothing. I hear nothing. I guess I could have been something if I tried harder. Sorry, Gemma, I was supposed to be . . . no. I can let my parents down. I can let my brothers down. I could care less if I see the tramper and stump again, and Tanya . . . as if I could ever get a girl like her. But that doesn’t matter. If there were a reason I was to make it out of here, it would be for her. To crush her hopes of me being the next Meranom or Veracosa, or she dared say it, Lyganstel. I can’t let that happen. I can’t let that-

When I got my senses back, I took stock of what I saw in front of me. Gil was to my right, mouth wide open. It looked as if he was about to tackle me from harm’s way but stopped mid-stride. Bev was behind me. It seems she was thrown off the beast and right over me. She, too, was about ready to grab me and drag me down, but like Gil, was dumbstruck. Tanya had come to, wide-eyed, and hand over mouth. My feet were firmly planted on the ground. My hands were fully extended, smoke rising from them like wispy snakes climbing imaginary vines, hot and trembling. And paces in front of me was a large, charred pile of flesh, bone, and ashes, still smoldering, and looked to have been blasted back by some fiery, malevolent force that I could only equate to as a fireball.

Gil was the first to speak. “Alright son. Now I’m confused. Are you or are you not a real wizard?”

It looked as if the giant lizard was the only obstacle standing between us and the treasure. None of us spoke much during the trip back. We sold the statue, split the gold, and went our separate ways, never to see each other again. I didn’t get the girl, but I did get a good amount of money. In fact, I had enough to pay the Reapers back, and then some. I could go back to town, get my old job as a glorified exterminator, and continue to face the ridicule and disappointment of my family. Or, maybe…just maybe…I can give this wizarding thing one more shot.

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