The penultimate part of “6 Powerful Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever” found me taking a look at what i’d do if money were essentially no object. Looking back i am a little disappointed that i didn’t come up with anything more extraordinary but, it is what it is and we’re moving along now to the final question in this series.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Question No. 6: Who do i admire most in the world?
List your greatest inspirations and the qualities that you admire about these people. Think about what really inspires you in this world. What you admire about others is also a quality that is in you. Know that you admire someone because they have similar qualities to you.
Right off the bat, i know for sure that there will be people who later on come to mind that i’ll think “darn it! I should have included them!” To answer this question right now at this moment in time, i’m stretching my memory back over my entire life and seeing who comes to the forefront in terms of standout personalities, both personally known or not.
As a child, from around age 8 to about 14, what i remember looking up to or feeling inspired most by were authors. i spent a lot of time reading in those years, mostly fantasy and science fiction novels, and writers like Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, H.P. Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock not only enthralled me with the stories they wrote but beyond that, with their ability to create entire worlds of their own to play in.
Thinking more about it now, each of those writers approached universe-building a bit differently. Weis & Hickman had their Dragonlance setting with recurring characters and an epic saga that branched out extensively from it. Lovecraft had his fictional New England where the setting itself was provided the atmosphere for unconnected characters and stories to take place. And Moorcock’s “eternal champion” was a more conceptual backdrop for stories of different genres to exist together.
What all of them did similarly though, and what inspired me, was their use of imagination to create something larger than a single great story, instead presenting their own worlds.
Of my high school days, the person who stands out most to me as an inspirational figure is my honors English teacher of several years, Joe Tomba. Papa Smurf, as Mr. Tomba was affectionately called, was the first teacher i ever had who engaged his students as equals in discussions. Or, at least, i was developed enough at that age to recognize the process. We may have had a textbook for his classes but, if so, i don’t recall ever cracking it open. Instead, we read books and would have conversations about the themes, character motivations and human nature. This isn’t to say i enjoyed all of the books we read (and sometimes i didn’t even read them). Nevertheless, the more valuable lessons were opening our minds to new ideas and, in a broader sense, allowing for a new perspective on education itself. Rather than a series of rote lessons, it was the first time for me that the teacher and students learned not through repetition and procedure but more naturally, through sharing ideas and coming to new conclusions naturally. In fact, when i first went off to college, my initial plan was to work towards becoming an English teacher myself.
While i’m on the topic of educators then, i must include Professor Anup Kumar from my much more recent time at Cleveland State University. Everyone i know who learned from Prof. Kumar is very grateful for their experience and considers him to be at least one of the best educators they’d ever had, if not the very best. (i am in the latter category.) In fact, although not in any official capacity, i consider him to be my mentor. The concept of meeting students on equal footing that Papa Smurf introduced me to, Prof. Kumar raised to the Nth degree. At that level of education, those in the classroom are adults first and students second. What i mean by that is, we have all made a choice to be sitting at those desks to learn something. Not just what comes out of a book, but as a last stage before participating in the greater world through whatever profession we hope to embark on afterwards. As such, what Prof. Kumar brings to the table is not only a wealth of knowledge and experience but a very real sense of guidance on what to expect out there. And if that is not enough, he goes beyond that as well, making himself available for questions, advice and whatever help he might offer even after we’ve put away our caps and gowns and ventured out into the “real world.” For those reasons and more, there was no one else more deserving for me to present the Cleveland State University Stole of Gratitude upon my graduation.
In a similar vein to the writers i mentioned above, there are two other creative geniuses who have had a huge impact on my life, Stan Lee and Gary Gygax. What can be said about these two pillars of the geek community that hasn’t been said?
Certainly, there is more to the world of comic books and superheroes than Stan “The Man,” but the fact that he has essentially been the human face of comics for over half a century is saying something. There are countless other creators who have contributed enormously to the industry, no doubt about it. Two very significant things Stan Lee did, though, were giving those four-color heroes more humanity, and beyond the pages of the comic books, giving a human connection between the readers and the comics themselves.
In the case of Gary Gygax well, anyone who’s read even a little bit here at The Long Shot has no doubt noticed my great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. i’m not even going to get into the vast influence Gygax has had in so many ways. Suffice to say, the thing he created (along with Dave Arneson and others) has been a big part of my life for about 30 years.
Along with the preceding individuals, there are a group of people that have continued to fascinate and inspire me and one of my goals here on The Long Shot is speaking with them and sharing their stories with you. These are the folks who have worked tirelessly to remain autonomous and are strong in the creative spirit. People like Chris Stuckmann, Jim Mahfood, Stefan Pokorny, Paul O’Connor, Don Hileman, Valentino Zullo, Anthony Snitzer, Shawn Coss and more have shared their time with me and it was a great honor to share their stories. These are all people who i look up to, who continue to follow their passions and dreams and bring their unique creativity to the world on their own terms. What they all share, which every one of them said to me, is that they just keep doing their thing and that they’re “just a person who likes <whatever the thing is they’re doing.>”
In a similar way, a childhood friend of mine is also something of an inspiration. Aaron Bonk was my best friend growing up, and these days he is a performer who does all sorts of things like a comedy juggling whip show, fire performance and stilt-walking. We had lost touch for many years and reconnected a few years back through Facebook, and i was really astonished to see what he was up to these days. i recall when were were in maybe sixth- or seventh-grade, he got a book on how to juggle for his birthday. So imagine my surprise to see that here we were decades later and he’s parlayed that into a successful career! How cool is that? For the simple fact that an innocuous birthday gift as a child would transform into a fun, fulfilling life for him as an adult is definitely inspirational.
My best friend Melissa is another person i admire. For the better part of a decade my girlfriend and since separating my closest friend, she was sort of a dual inspiration for me. When we were together, she kept me inspired to keep trying to do better. She would say i need to do better for myself, but i strove to do the best i could for the both of us. Although i returned to college to finish getting a degree through a desire for personal fulfillment, the inciting reason was really to try and make a better life for us. When i first met her, i was working on filming an independent movie and the same support and enthusiasm she had for that continued through whatever project of endeavor i pursued, including this here blog. On the flip side, i always admired her fortitude, honesty and drive. She is a very strong person and i continue to look up to her still. She has a way of putting things that can be complicated or confusing to me, in a way that smooths them out and makes simple sense.
Lastly, a small group of people who might not have a huge impact on the wide world, but who certainly do on mine, is my mom, my brother and my dad. Although we are far from the closest family, and in many ways far from it, i do hold some admiration for each of them in their own ways.
Despite the many times i’ve thought my mom was batshit crazy over the course of my lifetime, i definitely recognize that raising two boys on her own was quite a feat. i have a hard time taking care of just myself! She has always done her best to make sure we’re okay though, and at the end of the day she’s always been there for my brother and i when we needed her.
As for my dad, we have been basically estranged for a long time, since he and my mom got divorced when i was in, i think, kindergarten. We’d see each other here and there over the years but it wasn’t anything groundbreaking. A few months ago when i was preparing to move here to Austin though, we went out to dinner and had a really great time. Since then, we keep in touch more and it’s been pretty cool. What inspires me about this is that it just goes to show that, no matter how much time passes or how distant you can grow from people, family is family, and i’m happy that we are staying in touch even if it took me moving away from my hometown to do it.
Lastly, my older brother, who has really forged his own way through life. He has always been his own person and stayed true to himself. Like me, he has a penchant for the philosophical and getting way out there in conversations, and i think he always has other people’s best interests at heart. As far as big brothers go, i can’t complain. We’re different in a lot of ways, but similar in just as many or more. To see that he is happy with himself and his life in certainly something i look up to.
What about you? Who are some of the people you admire, or who have inspired you?