Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 29, 2015

Six Degrees of Geek Nation – starring Wil Wheaton

The Big Geek Photo

Center of the Geekiverse Wil Wheaton, whose most recent high-profile sightings have been on The Big Bang Theory


Okay, that does it.

The Six Degrees of Geek Nation have now come full circle, and I hereby announce that actor/Trekkie/internet maven/uber-geek Wil Wheaton is at the center of it… or at least on the fringe of the center, or at the center of the fringe, to be more precisely imprecise.

It’s like that image from Wil’s memoir Just A Geek –of  himself and filmmaker Kevin Smith, ten years ago in their little comic con booths… way off in a separate smaller building, far from the madding crowd, greeting fans and being the nice guys that they both are (and no, nice guys do NOT finish last, despite what baseball manager Leo Durocher once said). When one experiences a sense of community –that “I’m not alone in the universe!” sort of existential hopefulness –that’s the best kind of geekiness of all.

Here’s a strange tale about where (when? how?) the geekitude ultimately coalesced for me this week:

I was first pulled into the Wheatonverse a few weeks back when his deceptively spiritual and profound “Life Reboot” blog post was picked up by and went sort of viral on the internet. From there, I subscribed to Wil’s blog []. Then I started listening to some back episodes of his Radio Free Burrito podcast, and I listened to his free audiobook version of the Just a Geek memoir at bandcamp. All that Wil –ingness then went on for a couple of weeks for me, on and off. I really resonate with his unique blend of funny and thoughtful fanboy/actor musings, his mental, musical and digital health suggestions, and his recommendations of other Geek Discount Warehouse inventory (and no, that warehouse does not actually exist, but if you put up the $1M in capital to do a start-up, I will gladly sign on to be your Chief Creative Officer and vice-president of purchasing).

Simply put, Wil at minimum helps me get through some boring graveyard shifts at work, and he will continue to do so– which is all one can ask of a decent podcast or blog. But at his best, he also inspires me to be better at my life, which is the art of deep spirituality, whether one is a religionist or not.

So now, taking my cue from Wil (and the aforementioned Kevin Smith, another “go and do likewise” guy who inspires me) — and in a minor personal reboot attempt of my own– I am here and now engaging in this present creative activity of the GENERATIVE variety. I do this humbly but with much enthusiasm, instead of just reading/listening/watching others’ stuff, … all done in the interests of improving my state of mind and happiness of heart (and maybe yours as well, as a natural byproduct of creativity and kindness being paid forward).

Creativity and community (two of the main ingredients in Life’s Love Potion) only beget more of the same when done well, which leads us back to more on my Geekiverse journey toward greater community:

After a few days of drilling down at, I then looked at his Table Top series a bit (Wil’s web series about board games), and with much glee I noted that one of my thirteen-year-old son’s recent favorite board games, the cooperative game Pandemic, was featured on an early episode. So I wrote up a long email to my son, wherein I detailed who Wil is and reminded him of my longstanding love affair with Star Trek TNG. By now, my son has also become a Wilboy (or maybe a Willower? a geeky own version of a Bleiber? No, wait! Never mind… I wouldn’t do that to you, Wil, or to anyone I care about, comparing you to The Big Bieby.) So anyway, my son is binge-watching Table Top, and he also joined my fiancé and I in viewing Wil’s recent appearance on The Big Bang Theory, …and thus the geek evangelism is spreading.

(Side note: I’ve also recently turned my fiancé on to Leverage, the first indicator to me back about six years ago that Wil had apparently landed on his feet and was not out of the acting game entirely. Wil hilariously played a hipster hacker, the main competitor and criminal arch-nemesis of Hardison, on several Leverage episodes over five seasons.)

Fast-forward to last Tuesday:  On a complete whim, I watched a quiet little 2013 documentary on Netflix called Tim’s Vermeer, about apparent gazillionaire video industry genius Tim Jenison. The film follows his attempts to duplicate how Vermeer most likely painted using a sort of “smoke and mirrors” lo-tech machine, to achieve photorealistic and luminous paintings in the era before photography. Early in the film, narrator/producer Penn Gillette of Penn and Teller explains that Tim is a co-founder of New Tek, creators of the Amiga Video Toaster. Then my brain simultaneously flashed on both my own early career behind the camera at a documentary film company (my first exposure to a pro edit suite and to Video Toaster), and to my recent reading of Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek, wherein he fled Hollywood temporarily to Kansas (yes, Dorothy… Kansas) to work for New Tek and thus for Jenison.

Let’s review, then…

Whoa #1: Wil to Jenison to Penn Gillette in two Geek Moves. All connections/coincidences spotted in the span of a week for me personally. I was feeling stalked by this Six Degrees of Geek Nation idea. So Whoa #1 scores a 4.2 on the Random Coincidence Richter Scale: Wil and Penn and Jenison all in a linkety networky sort of thing with each other. (Begging the question: does Wil know Penn?, and if so, do tell a story at the blog sometime, Wil…).

Whoa #2: Just this week (?!!!!?), Wil mentioned him working for Tim Jenison again on his TV Crimes podcast , wherein he re-views and mocks a 1993 episode of Murder She Wrote featuring bad Virtual Reality and gaming portrayals as part of the storyline. This one scores a 2.9 on the RCR Scale– again for timing, plus the fact that my fiancé was a big fan of Murder She Wrote, while I –like Wil– had never watched a single episode until about a month ago.

Whoa #3, #4, and #5 are minor, but still sort of fun for me personally.

Whoa #3, aka The Gaiman Effect: As is my habit with indie movies and documentaries, I paid close attention to the end credits, particularly the longer-than-usual “Special Thanks”, wherein many odd private friendships and connections can be seen between people in seemingly unrelated fields or backgrounds. In the Tim’s Vermeer Special Thanks, I’m pretty sure I saw another familiar name: novelist/graphic novelist/screenwriter and five-tool geek Neil Gaiman. For the record, I want to BE Neil Gaiman. Now I don’t know if there’s a direct link of any consequence between Gaiman and Wil Wheaton, but I suspect there might be (maybe via author John Scalzi?). Plus a commenter on one of Wil’s blog entries this week mentioned Gaiman’s wonderful novel Anansi Boys , …so I’m clearly not alone in looking to Wil and/or Neil to help steal the secret Geek Launch Codes for a career in new media. Or maybe Wil can use his prodigious game-theory-hard-wired brain to mastermind the staging of a secret coup, to further cement the establishment of a Brave New Geek World. Also for the record, if ever that Geek Revolution goes down, I’ll settle for a post as  Assistant Secretary of the Inferior, a brave new Cabinet post.

Whoa #4, Ted Dekker: This one is a stretch, but for better or worse it’s the only way to establish my own Geek Number (with Wil and/or Neil) as being in the 2 or 3 range. Maybe I shouldn’t be so desperate to have a low Geek Number with these more famous (and probably more talented) fellow geeks. But God help me, I do wish I could sit down for a beer with them. So in that spirit, here’s my Whoa #4:

I once signed on to be a liaison/local host for a Christian creatives conference called Story here in Chicago. In that volunteer role, I ended up meeting fantasy/thriller/horror novelist, Ted Dekker. When I picked up Ted at the airport, he saw on my back seat an audiobook copy of Gaiman’s Fragile Things short story collection. Ted mentioned that he had met Gaiman at some other literary gathering a few years earlier, and we discussed Neil’s work some. (Thus giving me a Geek Number of 2, … i.e. I shook the hand that shook the hand. –By the way, I also have a Pope Number of 2, but we can save that story for another day.) So Ted and I had a moment there, wherein we both sensed we were part of some secret society, one so uncool that it came back around to being uber-cool again.

To make things still more Whoa:

Whoa #5, Sean Astin: The keynote speaker at that year’s Story conference was none other than Wil Wheaton’s good pal Sean Astin (with whom he worked on the film Toy Soldiers while they were teens). Sean impressed me immensely that day, and I’m not the least bit surprised he’s a nearby planet in the Wheatonverse– because as we all know, God has a really weird sense of humor.

Meanwhile back in the present, I am considering starting a podcast of my own sometime soon, or at least re-directing and focusing the purpose of this, my mostly dormant blog, Marking Time [ yes, this is the self-promotion segment of our show, but clearly I’ve “buried the lead”, since it’s about ten paragraphs in… oh well]. I would aim it possibly in the same direction as this present random-but-fun inventory of All Things Geek. I might even call such a podcast or partner blog Six Degrees of Geek Nation, if the name ain’t been claimed yet. However, I wouldn’t want to half-commit to a podcast, go through the learning curve with Garage Band or whatever I would record it with, and then execute it poorly (neglect my research and writing, for example, or only throw something out there once every six months and squander the momentum). Either way, I assume it still would likely be just one tiny light among hundreds of similar media entities– including the always fun “Geek News” segment of Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman’s funny and informative (but very NSFW) Hollywood Babble-On podcast. Even so, maybe it’s worth doing for the sheer hobbyist fun of it, despite the micro-casting potential audience of about 30 people who would follow a nobody like me. We’ll see. Stay tuned here…

… and in the meantime, maybe also give Wil Wheaton a shout-out as he carries the load for the ever-growing Geek Army (or in his case, Geekfleet). I think he’s due for a promotion, in fact, just on the basis of sheer stamina and gumption… a child actor who’s had his ups and downs, yet survived to be issued his internet and Hollywood jet-pack despite some challenges. One can’t just be an ensign for an entire career, especially if one happens to be a Traveller as well.

Geek Force One, cleared for take-off. 5,4,3,2…

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 13, 2015

Starting Line-Up (original song for Cub fans, by Mark Nielsen)





Starting Line Up               by Mark Nielsen, Oct. 9, 2015

(A Song for Cub Fans …sung by Regular Joe, our manager)


“Hey Bitterness, Regret and Fear

Let me make this one thing clear:

You have a place on the team this year,

But tonight you’re on the bench. Just cheer.


Cheer for Youth and Joy and Play…

Chanting “next year” till our dying day.

Who am I to stop those who say

“Wait till this year”? Not next? Hooray!


Hope is the thing with a catcher’s mitt:

0 for 5 Wednesday but still won’t quit

The One-Hit Wonder, but what a hit!

Steals home, but doesn’t overthink it.


Your failures? That was before they were born

These kids deserve your thanks, not scorn.

This city has a mask it’s worn:

The Sad Jester, with his jersey torn.


Leading off is Second Chance:

He’s never won, but he’s been to The Dance.

Next up is Mr. Baggy Pants,

Who grew up poor, but he’s got plans.


Batting third is Dad Was a Drunk.

If he doesn’t hit, then we’re all sunk.

And even when the rest of us stunk,

He’s been the survivor; he brings da funk.


Cleanup is Joy, he’ll get it done.

Followed by Youth, he’s always fun.

And Holy Cow, can that kid run!

With the game on the line, he’s the only one.


Sixth batter is Anger, he’s turned it around.

Used it as fuel and lit up this town.

If the Redbirds think he’s gonna lay down

They’re wrong. He KNOWS he deserves the crown.


Mr. Play bats seventh, he’s our lucky charm.

A key man since he came up from the farm.

He keeps us loose and does no harm,

Plus Holy Jesus, what an arm!


Eighth up is my pitcher, Mr. Cool:

A quiet leader, with all the tools.

His splitter makes batters look like fools.

He’s gonna send them all back to school.


The last man up is as good as the first,

That’s Hope. He’s gonna break The Curse.

He’s got that magic that makes this all work

When our head’s in the clouds, his feet are on earth.


So that’s our team. Every man’s a treasure.

‘Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure.’

That’s what I tell them. No need to measure.

‘Cause win or lose, we’re in this together.”


#FlytheW  #GoCubsGo #TakeOctober

— Scrawled quickly on the day of the first-ever postseason matchup between the Cubs and Cardinals, a rivalry dating back to 1892!

— Compare this poem –and this team– to a loaded Chicago hot dog: a little bit of everything, including the sport peppers, which you wouldn’t think taste so good on a hot dog, but somehow it all works together to achieve a quirky sort of perfection.

— This work is partly inspired by the songs of the late great folk singer Steve Goodman, writer of the well-known unofficial Cub theme song “Go Cubs Go!”, and the lesser-known but more poignant “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”. (see below)

— Disclaimer: I didn’t have particular Cub players in mind when I wrote this and assigned allegorical names to the players. I don’t know who has anger management issues and who doesn’t… I’m just grateful for the wild ride this manager and team have taken us on this year.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 12, 2015

Godness  -orig. poem by Mark Nielsen

Mark in front of an Alex Van Halen drum kit at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH. Godness is also a heavy backbeat...

Mark in front of an Alex Van Halen drum kit at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH. Godness is also a heavy backbeat…


Godness.           By Mark Nielsen
God is a Person,

and a Metaphor.

Meta- for you, beyond you, under you, in you.

Physical yet formless.

Specifically universal, momentarily endless.

He is Energy’s fingers gone silent,

glacially patient,

immensely sub-atomic.

God is not everything, but everyness.

And thinginess.

Thick, juicy, medium-rare Yesness —

with a side of fries and a diet No.

For dessert: a ripe peach.

God is human weakness,

cedarly strong treeness,

clear sentenceship.

Spirit Friend is wildness, caution

and kindness, always kindness.

She is not rest but bedliness

(and dreams,

especially those of children).

They is not action but Being–

now acting, now accepting,

now bleeding at the crack of my own whip.

A state of being that rushes at you

like a falcon in full stoop,

playing “chicken”,

daring you not to duck.

God is her hand on my cheek,

waking me to the day and to myself…

with her and with God-in-her.

Godness is full newness, nowness,

rooted in and growing from

yesterday’s decaying compost,

hopeful about tomorrow–

though hold that hope loosely.

It is no weapon,

just a life-preserver made of bread.

Life in God means

todaying with great joy, compassion and vigor,

yet tentatively reaching for,

flowing toward, arriving at

and resting in

foreverwhere and neverwhen.

All metaphors, figureheads,

pictures, symbols,

nouns and adverbs

necessarily fall short.

God is a verb.

I God you.

— —

MSN, Chicago, 8-12-15


a dark, quiet magic

I have known the mystery of a dark, quiet magic. The poetic wonder, ugly beauty, and vague fear when some parallel universe comes into a blurred half-focus, and the aura of what is possible brushes lightly against the cheek of what is real and here and now.

When Juliette’s character, in the movie, hears a mother upstairs screaming, just when I hear my upstairs neighbor’s boyfriend shouting her down. 

When the broken but functional umbrella protects the precious head of my broken, soldiering-on son, and I am overcome with a winsome gladness that God’s rainbow fulfilled its promise. 

When it’s a rainy Monday and all the news is bad and I have to go to work, but my love sends me a message and our song comes on the car radio. 

The dark magic is playful, and fear can sometimes be a friend.

What is is not all there is.
What is felt is seldom seen. 
What the hippies longed for in Eden, Mr. Spock (of all people!), desperately longed for as well.

The third eye does not just see what it wants to see. It also sees what it must, and must not deny.

Mark Nielsen, 5-5-15, in honor of Cinco de Mayo and my fellow Magical Realists all over the world

St. Finian's Wild Geese

St. Finian’s Wild Geese


Breaking Cabin Fever (St. Finian’s Song)

— 3/16/15, Linne Woods & Prairie, Morton Grove, IL


Stopping by woods on a muddy morning,

(whose woods these are I think I know),

I’m rambling, off the beaten path.

I walk where only deer have gone

–not horse, nor man–

picking and winding my way toward a plan.

I look ahead, far down the path,

improvising my route,

but careful not to trip on a root

or step in a puddle of mud at my foot.


I step around the muck, forge ahead.

I draw near to Him,

the Caretaker of these woods.

I consult with St. Finian Lobhar,

The Leper of Dublin,

who cures me of my dis-ease.

Whenever I come here–

often as if drawn here–

I cannot help but feel that Presence:

Mr. Eliot’s “veritable transitory power”,

stronger in Lent than at any other hour.

My winter of hunger draws me back every year.


A cardinal cloaked in red flies by,

ministering to my heavy soul,

forgiving my winter’s worth of sin

before I have even confessed.

I feel lighter already.


My legs and body find their rhythm,

with Spring in my heart and a spring in my step,

despite this mucus in my chest.

Spirit was willing, flesh was weak–

I needed to walk, but did not want to.

Spirit won the battle.

Unbound, unlocked,

now my chains fall away,

and the inertia of an ill body is conquered for the moment,

as hunkered-down hope

crawls through the last dirty snow pile.

The remainder of my sentence

of loneliness and melancholy is suspended.

I feel that Nearness coming on.

It is contagious, too.


Yet I also wish she was here with me

-lonely together, quieted,

perfectly imperfect,

our hands clasped, trudging messily on.

We would look homeward

through these still leafless woods,

toward the clearing ahead

where friends and family gather.

We two would be a matched pair of muddy hiking boots,

neglected through the twenty-year winter,

finally put to use again.


Above me, a flying V:

the lead goose squonks like Ornette Coleman’s sax,

and the band plays on behind him.

To my right one lone redwing

sits atop a strong sapling,

daring it to bend under his weight.

An absurd pine cone is somehow caught (or placed?)

in the crook of a puny maple’s boughs.

Yet there are no pine trees

for five hundred yards in any direction.


For months, perhaps years,

I built my life around myself,

afraid of changing or venturing out,


racked with doubt

of Spring.


But that fever is broken now.


I don’t have a hammer.

I don’t yet feel strong.

But nevertheless,

let us build a new home

right here, right now.



Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 30, 2014

Immigrant Woman – orig. poem by Mark Nielsen

Immigrant Woman  ……………….– by Mark Nielsen ; 8/26-30/14


I see you walking, weary, 
groceries in both hands, 
yet somehow waving for a bus;
wearing a hijab or babushka,
wondering, watching the sky,
waiting for a sign that your wandering, 
and your bone-bending work,
will soon end.

I do not know why you came here
to my nasty, brutish city.
But it must have been worse
wherever you were before. 

Walk on, sweet aunties of the world, 
unrelated daughters of my immigrant grandmother.
Take a peach from your own bag.
Rest when you can. 
And finally, when you get home
(many hours and years from now),
watch the world come to your doorstep.
Comfort us.
Do not turn us away.
We once were ungrateful
and did not welcome you.
But we will be hungry
and in need of your love, soon enough. 


Walkers need love too, Rick.

“Zombie” – parody song by Mark Nielsen and Karen Nielsen Brennan, Aug. 7, 2014   (a work in progress)


It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say

But I just got bit and now I want your brains.

I’m a zombie now, can I chomp your face?

Used to be your neighbor now I’m on the chase.



Because I’m zombie. Clump along if you feel that brains are really good.

Because I’m zombie. Clump along if you feel your skull get crushed with wood.

Because I’m zombie. Clump along if you feel that fingers make good food.

Sorry if I eat your brains, I don’t mean to be rude.


Here come bad news, with our cold dead eyes.

We’re the walking dead, can’t you see the flies?

Watch out for Michonne and Sheriff Rick,

They stab me in the eye with a sharpened stick.



Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 25, 2014

New Age for Old West – Sedona, AZ

Meet Big Buddha and Butte Bobby.

Meet Big Buddha and Butte Bobby.


New Age for Old West  (Postscript for a Southwest Trip) ,

a 7-25-14 poem by Mark Nielsen, Chicago, IL


There is something of God in all things, of course,

but is there also sometimes something else?


Outside some shops in Sedona, Arizona —

a Vortex-ville, a New Age mecca —

I saw two statues side by side.


One was an expensive six-foot seated Buddha

made of bright white stone.

He was in front of a gallery with many similar, skillfully-created

representations of the Buddha and

(one may presume) other figures,

like the Hindu god Ganesha,

or Egyptian sun god Ra.

Maybe Jesus even makes an appearance in there,

perhaps in a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

I will never know. I didn’t go in.


The gallery next door had Cowboy art.

Out front: an equally large bronze sculpture

of a lanky, sleepy boy,

son of a cowpoke,

with a lariat in his right hand,

and his trusty (and much-more-wide-awake)

mutt of a dog on his left.

Our cowboy, let’s call him Bobby,

was seemingly resting

after a hard day’s ropin’ and wranglin’.


I was out West for just such a rest.

But these two mythic figures

vexed me instead of relaxing me.

I wondered where my country, my world,

had got to,

in elevating these men —

Big Buddha and Butte Bobby–

to such a height as to sell their images

for thousands of dollars each

to bored tourists with money to burn

and little concern for what actually mattered

to Buddha or Bobby.


Surely Siddhartha Gautama

would have advocated compassionate charity,

not conspicuous consumption,

with the cash it takes to buy that statue.


Surely Woody Guthrie, or a Chisolm Trail rider,

(or some other real honest cowboy or Okie)

would have preferred a dusty, un-polished tribute

to a way of life mostly gone now —

not a mini-John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, or Clint Eastwood look-alike

all done up in bronze and settin’ on a bench,

a’waitin’  fer some luckless monied sucker

to buy the lie

of a squeaky clean, cutesy, romanticized Old West.


Good guys, smart guys, real guys —

they never wear white,

and never look this clean and romantic.

It never takes them long

to get dirt under their fingernails,

to rescue a dumb steer snagged in the fence,

to kiss a leper like Dusty Frank of Assisi,

or to wake up and smell

some New Age used car or snake oil salesman,

hawking marble, bronze or alabaster,

masquerading as concern

for God or Man.

(Plus the real good guys–

more often than not–

are girls, not guys at all.)


“Buddha” means “awakened one”,

or so they say.

May we all be as awake

as Bobby’s perfect little “good guy” dog —

let’s call him New Yeller–

attentively sitting next to his Master,

warning us off,

sniffing for the snakes,

just about to bark

and suggesting we hide our wallets.


Everything old is new again, ...but not necessarily better.

Everything old is new again, …but not necessarily better.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 13, 2014

Travels In the Southwest, Launch Date 7-13-14

Leaving today with my son Graham, my mother, and sister Laura’s family for a 10-day trip to Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Goodbye Midwestern humidity, …hello sun-baked desert, crazy beautiful mountains, and a few good friends out West.

Anasazi Native American pottery photo below, just for fun, a random sampling of what I hope to get a glimpse of in the Southwest this week:

Just like Mark: "Broken and glued. No restoration." Indeed.

Just like Mark: “Broken and glued. No restoration.” Indeed.

Approximate Dimensions: 12 1/2″ by 10 5/8″Broken and glued, no restoration. Has sew-holes.A.D. 1340-1450


Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 11, 2014

The Swing and the Wall

Originally posted on Southside Hub of Production:

-1Four (4) Sundays for Intergenerational Creative Idleness, Pleasurable Learning, and Meaningful Exchange.

at The Comfort Station 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave
Brought to you by SHoP & I am 9

#1 June 8

12:00 – 2:00 pm Chocolate Meditation and Geometric Learning through Origami With teaching artist Jerry Marciniak.
1:00 – 5:00 pm Bookbinding Workshop with Amy Sinclair of North Branch Projects
7:00 – 9:00 pm “Class Clowns” Comedy Showcase hosted by David Yontz
Curiosity, observation, and skepticism abound in the life of a comic. This event will showcase a handpicked group of local comedic talent, eager to share their insights on life and learning in the city of Chicago.

#2 June 15

12:00 – 2:00 pm Writing the Archives: A Poetry Workshop. Inspired by the history of classroom materials used in “The Swing and the Wall,” this drop-in workshop is an opportunity for writers and admirers of poetry to take…

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