#8NewIn2014

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I woke this morning – never feeling so tough in my entire life.

At 42 years (and some change) old, I’m officially rocking a newly minted Legend of Zelda tattoo. That ought to show the dudes in Cell Block Z that this Gameboy means business. And if that doesn’t – the Mario & Luigi Tramp Stamp I’ve had my eyes on will certainly send them fleeing for the exits.

All right – let’s not go overboard. I know people say that once you get your first taste of the tat, you’ll be back again and again but I have zero intention of becoming The Illustrated Man. Not that there’s anything wrong with that BUT for my own personal canvas, I’m looking at one and done. I got EXACTLY the tattoo I’ve had my eye on for the last two years – and as an added bonus – it means something to me, too. More on that in a moment.

Yes – it’s a symbol from the classic Nintendo game, The Legend of Zelda. And yes, as a grown adult I will freely cop to the fact that I freakin’ love the Hell out of that game. Not the lack of past-tense in that last sentence. “LOVE” – as in – “still crushing hard“. Hey, I’ve got a lot of wide, varied interests. I dance in my daughter’s recitals. I don’t miss a single Pats game or rarely do. I write a lot (but not nearly as much as I’d like to). I enjoy hiking the great outdoors. See – all sorts of Renaissance Man activities.

BUT I LOVE ME SOME VIDEO GAMES!!! It’s just the way I’m hard-wired. They hit me hard when I was a kid when our family was gifted the Atari 2600; that ancient entertainment device with it’s faux wood-paneling design that made it the closest thing you could have to a 70’s Station Wagon parked in your own living room.

Later, I was one of the first kids on my block to score the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario Bros. became an immediate obsession; although back in those days, an obsession was nothing like what you hear of today. I may have loved throwing Mario & Luigi through their paces as they sought to rescue their purloined princess BUT that was relegated to early-morning activities on those days when the skies opened and poured buckets below. Anything above freezing and I was outside exploring the neighborhood and surrounding woods with my friends. I could easily shrug off that level-ending tease “We’re Sorry Mario But Your Princess is in Another Castle” with a “WTF – This is the 5th Castle I’ve been in this week. Screw this. I’m going outside.

It’s in exploring the woods and the wilds of my imagination where I found my lifelong love for The Legend of Zelda. That game – the brain child of master Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto – was inspired by his boyhood obsession with exploring the forests and caves that surrounded his home in Japan. He wanted to capture that feeling of exploration – where it’s less about the destination and all about the journey – and set out crafting a masterpiece that rewarded clever thinking over quick reflexes to solve its various puzzles and unearth startling secrets.

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I was enchanted the moment I laid eyes on the game. For starters, it came encased in a gold-plated cartridge; a spiffy-new paint job that instantly elevated it above the drab grey containers that housed other Nintendo games. Nintendo also threw in a nicely illustrated and documented manual – that went above and beyond the call of duty; providing all sorts of enticing narrative details about the hero Link’s quest. As the cherry on top, they packed in a densely plotted map – which became a handy tool for my friends and I as we gathered en masse around a tube TV in somebody’s basement rec room – playing late into the night as we would take turns with the controller while the others studied that map shouting orders and voicing bursts of inspiration. Solving these “riddles in the dark” made great social glue.

That game became a communal experience so even though we were hunkered around that tube – we were all chatting and laughing; collaborating and co-conspiring. Every time we discovered something new, we shared in that collective glory.

The Legend of Zelda became the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of my boyhood; merging so many great tastes together into something truly special. I was a boy who grew up loving my amazing L-Shaped neighborhood that was seemingly stocked with enough kids to cast Peter Pan’s Lost Boys 10 times over. It was with those kids that I found many amazing adventures in the woods that stretched just beyond our immediate borders – as we explored our “Lost World” in search of… well, whatever our minds dreamed up. And then when we weren’t trooping through the forest, we were gathered around that game – socializing the whole way through.

Our childhoods nurture and inform us – the good ones do, anyway. My days spent on that street produced a guy who craves social connections in every phase of the game. That stays with me. My childhood left a glorious mark.

When I wrote The Lost World, my play about a 20-Year High School Reunion – I wanted to pay sly tribute to that time; an era I look back upon fondly. The play pushes the nostalgia button a bit (while also offering a cautionary tale of the dangers of living too much in the past) and ultimately leads to this conclusive truth.

It doesn’t matter when and where you connect, just that you do.

I gave two of my characters a little exchange of dialogue that would bridge their current day gap. Michael Donatello had entered his thirties, a perennial gamer and social outcast. The other, Jamie Connor – is out there making his mark on the world. A theater owner, he doesn’t have much time for playthings any more BUT in a little rousing bit of dialogue, the two guys become kids again – waxing nostalgic for that earlier time in their life where there paths crossed and they gamed many a night away.

“There was something cool about that – codes shared in secret on playgrounds all across America. Like discovering cave paintings. There was no Internet. Barely any hint guides. You played these games and had to figure them out for yourself. And the developers used to hide these little Easter Eggs in the game so whenever you found one, you hit the blacktop at recess and told anyone who would listen what you discovered.”   ~ Jamie Connor

So, on December 31, 2013 – as the hours ticked towards the new year, I feverishly paged through my thoughts looking to find purchase in a New Years Resolution. I was at a loss until this little burst of insanity it.

“Do something new for the New Year. NOOOOO!!!! Do EIGHT New Things in 2014.”

Why 8? As I wrote last week, I really have no idea – at least, there’s no true symbolism behind the actual number. I know I started at 12 – thinking one per month but then wisely realized that might be biting off way more than I could chew. Then I looked at my favorite number “6” for inspiration but that seemed too few. So I fixed on 8 – which felt attainable BUT would also offer up a decent challenge.

Over the next 11 months, I got busy getting it done.

1.   On January 17, 2014 – I ate sushi for the first time. That became my First New Thing in 2014. Yes, I lived to tell the tale. No, it was not poisonous blowfish.

2.   In February, I sent my first Tweet and miraculously did not blow up the Internet or Twitter. 140 characters or less. That was my greatest challenge ever – one seemingly crafted by a cruel and vicious god.

3.   In March, I donated blood. Hey, it only took 42 years for me to stop being such a wuss about it all – and I felt so great afterwards (well…. after I ate some animal crackers, that is).

4.   In March, I did yoga – which is sort of an accidental first as it was tethered to my physical therapy program aimed at fixing my back which I had tweaked something fierce during February. As silly as I felt while doing it, I admit that it worked. After several weeks of stretching and meditation working in concert, I was back in order.

5.   On October 17th, I took to the stage – playing a role I wrote. That was a completely surreal first-time experience that I absolutely treasure. My self-imposed marching orders were clear. “Don’t Suck!!!” Hey, so many great actors were doing amazing justice to my characters – far be it for this hack to swoop in and wreck it all. Fortunately, I managed to rise a little above “Don’t Suck” and I think everything went swimmingly.

6.   On October 28th, I filed for an Arts Grant. I’ve never done that before – never even thought to until a friend suggested it. Now, I sit and wait and although nothing may come of it, it’s opened my eyes to other possibilities including publishing. That’s my Winter Project, right there.

7.   On November 23rd, I ran and completed my first 10K. Read all about it here.

8.   On November 29th, I got my tattoo – that Legend of Zelda triforce symbol that ties my childhood together with the play I wrote.

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A symbol that really means the world to me and not just because it’s from a game I love. That would be slightly silly.

No – this is emblematic of me – of the things I hold precious in life. Forging connections. Bonding with friends and family. Communicating and sharing knowledge, secrets, vital whispers of encouragement, wants, desires, fears, loves and things so random and mundane than all of that.

It’s also a symbol that you are only as old as you feel and a few years ago, when I was hitting my later mid-thirties and feeling kinda’ bad that I never really wrote anything of substance in my life; that I had this talent for writing and never did anything worth a damn about it – for the briefest of moments I allowed myself to sink into depression while staring into that abyss. Then I slapped myself out of it and realized I was the ONLY person who could rectify this. Nobody was going to come along and pick up “pen & paper” on my behalf and start doodling my thoughts. I had to do this.

“Get busy living or get busy dying” – so I sat down and started working on that “idea about an unemployed Dad and a group of playground Moms” that had come to me while living one year in same-brand shoes. That became The Monkeybar Mafia – a play which opened and played to 6 amazing audiences in the Fall of 2012.

Then I had another idea – my High School Reunion idea where 6 people who claimed to have hated High School the most, found themselves the sole attendees at a 20-Year High School Reunion. So, where once I might have just pushed that to a dusty corner in my mind – I decided to pull it out and page through it and do something about it. After all, that approach worked wonders on Monkeybar.

Now, The Lost World has had two successful runs – two years in a row.

And now, I’m fiddling around with another idea; my third. Lost & Found. More to come on that in 2015.

At the age of 42, I feel like I’m just getting started. This tattoo is tribute to that notion; to never stop exploring – to never stop communicating. It reminds me of where I’ve been and points the way to my uncharted future – one that I’m happy to have you guys part of.

Sure, I’m holding the controller BUT you guys can totally work the map.

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