Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Liberation Transmission, by Lostprophets

Liberation Transmission

Quite a different album from the others on this list. I think that's why it makes it. Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, and Incubus -- different sounds in all of them. Lostprophets completes the top five with their 3rd album (3 of the 5 albums here are 3rd albums) of Liberation Transmission. It's not quite as transcendental, hurt-filled, or melancholy as the others. But it's a lot of fun and very upbeat.

Lostprophets are a hard rock band from Wales. This album of theirs begins with the song "Everyday Combat" about living in a hectic world but still enjoying yourself even though you're not a part of it. There's combat, there's riots, there are fights -- in our lives, in the world, at bars on Saturday nights -- but they're living in a DMZ. It's never going to end or go away, so the best you can do is just not be a part of it. Enjoy yourself and have fun despite the war; dance in the DMZ.

A few songs later, "Rooftops" has the wonderful lines, "standing on the rooftops everybody scream your heart out." It's about doing what you can -- saying what you want to say and trying to do what you can. If you don't succeed, you can at least say you tried. It's got power behind it, when you hear it you want to do whatever you can to live life in a way that you won't be regretful or upset about what you did. If change needs to be made, try to make it. If you need to scream, scream. I'm always reminded of the scene from Garden State. In the rain, overlooking a massive sink hole, Zach Braff climbs onto some old digging equipment just starts screaming as loud as he can. He's not angry -- quite the opposite -- he does it just because it feels good. I think this song captures that same feeling.

Other notable songs are "Can't Stop, Gotta Date with Hate" and "Broken Hearts, Torn Up Letters and the Story of a Lonely Girl." The former has the wonderfully written chorus, "Andie, you're a Goonie! Don't you wake me up, I don't want this dream to end," and the latter "You'll regret it all, living behind your wall. And you'll never fall in love if you don't risk it all." Contrasting some of the songs on the other albums about closing yourself off, this one pushes forth that you've got to keep trying. You might have been hurt and you might be protecting yourself, but if you don't take the chance you'll never succeed. Every relationship is a risk but it's one you've got to take.

I would be amiss if I didn't mention one more song from this album, "4:AM Forever" This is the song that made me really love Lostprophets. It goes well with the previous songs because this one is about losing the one you're with -- losing your best friend and the person you love. It's catchy, as all their songs are, but lets you know that when they sing the other songs about pushing on and opening yourself up again, risking getting hurt and putting your all into a relationship, they know that it can hurt, too. It's hard to take advice about getting over a problem if the person you're talking to has never experienced the problem themselves. I wouldn't trust a priest to understand a heroin addiction; I wouldn't trust someone who married their high school sweetheart to understand a broken engagement or a divorce. It's easy to be ideal when you've never experienced it yourself.

It's not a long album, and it's not for everyone, but I love it.

["Everyday Combat," by Lostprophets]

Thus ends the "Favorite Albums" list. Regular updates begin again tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Make Yourself, by Incubus

Make Yourself, by Incubus

This was the album I listened to the most often in high school. Incubus' 3rd album is almost unarguably their best. Opening with "Privilege," it kicks off strong, with Brandon Boyd -- one of the best singers in music today -- singing "The day you were born, you were born free" has a very positive ring to it. Going against the morose and heartbroken feelings of the top 3 albums on this list, Make Yourself has a pretty positive outlook.

The album was certified double platinum with three singles, "Pardon Me," "Stellar," and "Drive." Before these, there's a song called "The Warmth" which has the chorus, "So don't let the world bring you down, not everyone here is that f***ed up and cold. Remember why you came and while you're alive experience the warmth before you grow old." In many ways it's about looking at all the pain the world, at the cold winds that blow from the news and from watching things break apart, and saying, "No, I'm not going to give in and accept the cold air and fear. There's still goodness and warmth in this world." More than once it has made me smile on days when I wasn't sure I could.

"Stellar" is amazing in detailing how you can feel when with the right person. "How do you do it? You make me feel like I do. How do you do it? It's better than I ever knew." From there, "Drive" is another uplifting song -- one that applies very directly to my life right now. It's about not sitting back and just riding through life, but taking control and leading your life where you want it to go. Boyd sings, "Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there with open arms and open eyes." Whatever life gives you, sit in the drivers seat and be ready for it -- take control of your own life and work with what you're given.

Towards the end of the album (it's only 48 minutes long; just over 1/3 of what Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness is) is "Pardon Me." This is many people's favorite Incubus song because it's about just saying "screw it" and bursting into flames. Brandon Boyd has said he wrote the song because he was going through some hard things in life and saw an article in a magazine about spontaneous human combustion and thought, "I can relate to that feeling." It's a feeling I'm familiar with -- I think everyone is. The final track is "Under My Umbrella" and ends with "If this is right, I'd rather be wrong. If this is sight, I'd rather be blind." It's about doing what you want despite what society thinks. If that's what people say is right, that's fine, I'll be wrong.

["Pardon Me," by Incubus]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, by Smashing Pumpkins

Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness

This albums contains another instrumental opening, similar to Division Bell starting track, but it's more peaceful. It's almost serene in how it plays. The album is perfectly titled as the tracks flow through a melancholy sound; it's not eager or excited, just kind of there. There's anger in some songs, sadness in others. One of the most famous songs by Smashing Pumpkins is the 2nd track, "Tonight, Tonight."

They had a perfect sound for the mid 90's; moody, slightly depressed, not angry but not excited. Again, the title of the album is almost perfect. The song "Tonight, Tonight" has this sense of promise or hope, like someone suffering from depression being happy for just a moment. Billy Corgan sings "We'll crucify the insincere tonight. We'll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight. We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight; the indescribable moments of your life tonight. The impossible is possible tonight. Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight."

From there it goes into JellyBelly, a more grunge/alternative song with a harder sound. Following that, "Zero" has another fast alternative sound, almost fed up with feeling depressed but at the same time embracing it. "Here Is No Why" covers a sadness of realizing that perhaps being a popular rock icon isn't the key to happiness -- "The useless drag of another day. The endless drags of a death rock boy. Mascara sure and lipstick lost; glitter burned by restless thoughts of being forgotten."

The most famous song by Smashing Pumpkins is "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," which holds one of the best opening lyrics of any song ever written: "The world is a vampire, sent to drain." It's anger at being in this world of selfishness and greed, a world that takes and gives nothing back. It's anger at being in a world with no sense of hope or salvation. The amazing thing is how it changes into the next song, going from rage to quiet depression, feeling nothing.

Further in the album, "Galapagos" holds one of the most powerful moments in music: when Billy Corgan sings "I won't deny the pain; I won't deny the change. And should I fall from grace, here, with you? Will you leave me, too?" The tone of the album is contained here -- an acceptance of pain and a fear that if he makes himself vulnerable, if he gives himself up, he'll be left alone again. When you've finally begun to stand on your own two feet and protect yourself, it's hard to open up and be vulnerable again because you can be left alone and empty just as you were before.

The album itself is over two hours long, so if I go into detail about every song this will take quite awhile. I'm going to jump ahead a few.

"1979" is another very famous Smashing Pumpkins song. It's about transitioning from being a teenager to an adult, about being at that crossroads, having some responsibilities but not all of them. Not sure where you're going of what's next. Billy Corgan himself said it came from a memory of when he was 18 and waiting at a traffic light on a rainy day; the feeling of being stuck at a crossroads, emotionally waiting for something to happen and not being quite there yet. The lyrics are somewhat hard to follow, but they give that exact feeling.

The album ends with "Farewell and Goodnight." I used to dislike it when bands would put closing songs on their albums, and sometimes it does still bother me, but in this album it fits. The final lyrics of the album are, "The sun shines, but I don't. A silver rain will wash away, and you can't tell, it's just as well. Goodnight, my love, to every hour in every day. Goodnight, always, to all that's pure that's in your heart." It fades off with a piano solo of the same sound as the first track, only instead of building up it tapers off, as if it was all one song just now coming to a close.

["Tonight, Tonight," by Smashing Pumpkins]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fragile, by Nine Inch Nails

The Fragile, by Nine Inch Nails

Supposedly Trent Reznor spent two years working on this album by himself. He's a perfectionist, and it shows in The Fragile. It's not a necessarily depressing work of pain that The Downard Spiral was since that dealt largely with his heroin addiction, among other things. The Fragile has an almost serene quality to it, despite some hard songs. It flows from track to track seamlessly, starting with "Somewhat Damaged," a song that details a relationship that's fallen apart and the aftermath of it -- feeling damaged and resentful, upset that the person said they'd always be there but weren't. The song ends with Trent Reznor screaming "How could I ever think it's funny how everything that swore it wouldn't change is different now? Just like you would always say 'we'll make it through,' then my head fell apart and where were you?" From there it moves through "The Day the Whole World Went Away" -- a sorrowful song about being left alone.

Moving through others such as "The Wretched," "We're In This Together," and "The Fragile" it goes through the anger of losing someone, missing them, remembering the times you spent with them and the feelings you felt. In "The Fragile," Reznor sings, "She shines in a world full of ugliness. She matters when everything is meaningless."
"Just Like You Imagined" -- the track following "The Fragile" -- is one of the most powerful instrumentals ever done. It leads in with a piano quietly, then the guitar bursts in and the drums hold the driving beat. The synthesizer carries a melodic distortion throughout the song while the drums and guitars hold the power. It's remarkable.

The album is split up in two discs, Left and Right. The Left disc ends with "The Great Below" and the lyrics "And I descend from grace; In arms of undertow. I will take my place in the great below. I can still feel you even so far away." The Right disc begins with "The Way Out is Through" where he sings "all I've undergone, I will keep on," giving the feeling that after all the pain and torment, the emptiness and loneliness, and the only thing he can do is keep going. When you're in that position, when you've lost the one person you love, the only thing you can do is push forward. The way out is through.


The next song is "Into the Void" with the main lyrics "tried to save myself but myself keeps slipping away." The rest of the disc goes through more feelings of getting over someone -- of knowing that you have to get over them and push forward but being unable to do so. The 2nd to last song, "The Big Come Down," ends with "there is no place I can go here is no place I can hide; it feels like it keeps coming from the inside." You can't run away from yourself, and the pain you feel is inside you and impossible to escape. Finally, the last song, "Underneath It All," the lyrics are straightforward:
all I do
I can still feel you

numb all through
I can still feel you
hear your call
underneath it all
kill my brain
yet you still remain
crucified
after all I've died
after all I've tried
you are still inside

all I do
I can still feel you

you remain
I am stained
The final track is "Ripe (with Decay)" and it's an instrumental. The album ends with the feeling that you can't get rid of the person from your life completely. You're changed and that person's mark will always be on you. You can fight it and be depressed and pissed off and everything you can imagine all at once, but there will always be a scar or stain remaining. You learn to live with it.

["Just Like You Imagined," by Nine Inch Nails, Live]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Division Bell, by Pink Floyd

The Division Bell, by Pink Floyd

It begins quietly. "Cluster One" is little more than silence and static for the first minute, but it has an almost astronomical feel to it. When the piano comes in after the crackling, you get a feeling that you're in space, just floating, looking around. It wouldn't be out of place as the music to a NOVA special with Leonard Nimoy narrating. It's quiet and simple, yet somewhat lonesome. There's a definite feeling of being distant, separate from everything else, like being stuck on a desert island by yourself just looking over the sea. There's even a feeling of contentment with it. It feels like being separate and alone is exactly what you want; you're alone to think.

The next few tracks, "What Do You Want From Me," "Poles Apart," "Marooned" (another instrumental of the same feel as "Cluster One"), and "A Great Day for Freedom," all have a somewhat hopeless sound. Not hopeless in a depressing, giving up sort of way, but more in a "I've tried everything and nothing works" sense. Again, there's an almost quiet contentment where you'd expect sorrow.

"Wearing the Inside Out" is the crescendo of this feeling. The saxophone at the beginning and the guitar combine in a hypnotizing fashion. When Richard Wright's voice starts in -- smooth, soft, almost hollow sounding, like a cotton ball on a bass drum in a drain pipe -- he sings, "From morning to night I stayed out of sight. Didn't recognize I'd become no more than alive. I'd barely survive, in a word...overrun." The guitar is artistic in the background, coming on between verses only for a second, while Wright's haunting voice captures your ears.

Going into "Take It Back" and "Coming Back to Life," there's more of an upbeat feel, something positive. "Coming Back to Life" especially holds this feeling that you've been through hard times but you're going to make it through. You've been alone, you've tried lots of things and they've failed, but you can make it through. It starts off with a guitar solo, then David Gilmour's vocals come in, over a simple background, when he sings "I was staring straight into the shining sun" the drums and other instruments kick in and it holds a great rhythm.

I'll skip talking about "Keep Talking" and "Lost For Words" in detail -- they're both brilliant and the album wouldn't be what it is without them (the guitar intro to "Lost For Words" is so calming, and again holds that simple complacency sound)-- because I desperately want to talk about my favorite song from this album: "High Hopes." A friend of mine pointed out that it's the last song they wrote, the last song they recorded, and the last song on their last album. "High Hopes" is in many ways their farewell song. It starts off with bells ringing, then with just one. Slowly the piano comes in, complimenting the bells ring. As the song continues, the guitar comes in with David Gilmour's voice in a low tone. Towards the end, as the song builds, more instruments come in, Gilmour's voice becomes more sorrowful and longing. You can hear the sadness of remembering the greatness experienced, of the sweet memories of what they had. The final lines of the song are:
Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There's a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we've been so many times

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river

Forever and ever
Pink Floyd is among the most legendary bands, but they were done. This song very much describes Gilmour saying goodbye. He's said himself that he wrote it quickly, almost within a day. It came together simply and beautifully. The ending guitar solo fits the tone of the rest of the album but crescendos it in final grandeur. The violin/strings sounds in the background add to the feeling of remembrance. And slowly it fades out, leaving only a bell ringing. For the last minute of the album, there's only silence. They've said goodbye. It's done.

The perfect ending to the one of the greatest bands. Their best song being the last on their last album; their final work being their greatest.

["High Hopes," by Pink Floyd]

Friday, December 26, 2008

Favorite albums

Possibly their best

I've been listening to a lot of different bands and albums recently. Just last week I started listening to Opeth, a progressive metal band that several people I know claim is the end-all of music. They're ok. I'm not blown away by them but I don't feel an overwhelming desire to turn them off, either.

I started listening to more stuff by Smashing Pumpkins and Pink Floyd, too. Also The Killers new album, Day & Age. I'm thoroughly impressed by all of them.

I've been thinking about my music tastes recently. It's changed over the years, as I think everyone's does. It's hard to pinpoint a favorite album or band because it seems to change annually -- a decade ago I was set on Metallica being my favorite, then after that Incubus, then Nine Inch Nails, then Tool. Now, I'm not really sure. Favorite current band would probably be The Killers. Favorite of all time, maybe Pink Floyd or Smashing Pumpkins? I don't really know.

What are your favorites?

Anyways, I decided to think about it and list my favorite five albums. It's a long post, so don't say I didn't warn you. I've decided to break this up into five posts. Starting tomorrow through the 31st -- Saturday and Sunday included -- each day another album from the list will post. Hope you enjoy it; I had fun writing it.

I'll update regularly on Twitter for my whereabout and doingwhatabouts. In case you've managed to miss it repeatedly despite my incessant complaining about it not working previously, it's on the right side of the blog just about my short little profile.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Origins of Father Christmas




I hope you have a little more appreciation for the Santa at the mall.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you read this post and so you knew to expect this. If you aren't a regular reader, this is something I've done for awhile now going back to when I was in high school on my original blog address.

I don't want to go into a whole post about how Christmas has lost it's meaning due to commercialization and greed because I don't think it has. I think some of the religious aspect it once held in society may be lost, but I don't really think that detracts from it's importance in any significant way. Those who wish to remember it as the birth of Jesus do so; but those who aren't Christian or religious should not feel any less welcomed or loved during these days. Christmas is a time to be with your family, to be with those you love and care about. Gifts are given to those we care about. Food is given to shelters and money is donated to charities to provide for those in need. Are these effects any less important or any less beneficial in a secular form? I don't see how.

There's very strong evidence that Christmas is based upon a pagan holiday. That's fine. It doesn't change what it means now. Different faiths have different holidays and Christmas is of course seen as Christian, but just looking around it's obvious that it's not exclusive to Christianity. Everyone gets in the spirit this time of year -- I know several Agnostics and Atheists who celebrate Christmas just as they celebrate Thanksgiving or the 4th of July. Instead of being exclusive about holidays, I think we should be inclusive. I participated in the fasting of Ramadan a year ago. (I asked some Muslims I know if it would at all be offensive if I did so and they all agreed that no, it is not, and they supported me in doing it with them.) I learned a lot from it and it was a very good experience. In the same light, I encourage everyone of every background to participate in the feeling and experience of Christmas. Not necessarily for it's religious meanings or implications, but because of what it means: being with those you love and care about and sharing with one another to make this world a better place.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Tabernash!

In high school I was friends with some very creative people. Peter and Lee were two of my closest friends -- Lee being perhaps my closest friend and Peter being one of my best friends since we met in 1st grade (I think). Peter actually just finished a children's book and it can be previewed at his website, www.petergulsvig.com. Check it out; it's really good (and gives you a good idea of his sense of humor).

Mormons needed a holiday

During my junior year of high school Peter and Lee decided that since Jews have Hanukkah, Africans have Kwanzaa, Christians have Christmas, and Muslims have Ramadan, Mormons needed their own holiday, too. They know that Mormons are Christian and that we celebrate Christmas but decided that wasn't good enough. Mormons needed their own holiday. Why? Because they (we) can.

So Lee and Peter created Tabernash. Tabernash is a Mormon holiday that occurs every year on December 23rd -- a date chosen randomly by them that just so happens to be the birthday of Joseph Smith. Lee created a song to the tune of In the Hall of the Mountain King that goes "It's the Mormon Tabernash, Tabernash, Tabernash. It's the Mormon Tabernash, Tabernash, Tabernash. Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance!" and has sung and danced it annually for me since it's inception.

Better still is that they told people about this. Most students at my school knew that I was Mormon, but growing up in the Midwest I was 1 of 3 Mormons in a school of about 1300. Few people knew much about the church and some were nervous to ask about things they'd heard. I don't blame them; I've been asked some rather ludicrous questions by close friends who had heard things and wanted to ask if they were true. Lee had been told that newlywed Mormons have to consummate their marriage in front of their parents. He said he didn't believe it but just had to ask. I don't know where that came from.

Where was I? Oh, yeah: people were told about Tabernash. Apparently people who I didn't know well weren't comfortable asking me about my faith but they'd ask Lee or Peter since they knew they were my close friends. Again, being the creative and comical group that they were, they decided to tell people about Tabernash. And people believed them. On the last day of school for Christmas break I was at my locker getting my coat on and a friend from one of my classes came by and, in all seriousness, wished me a
Happy Tabernash. I had to stifle laughing and told him "thanks" and wished him a Merry Christmas.

Inspiration for Tabernash

He walked off with what I can only describe as pride that he had respected my faith.

Now that you know the origins of Tabernash, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Tabernash. I plan to keep celebrating it each and every year and I hope you'll make it a part of your holidays, too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Flight log

I hate aisle seats

A collection of my thoughts from the flight:
  • My flight has been cancelled. I can't say I'm surprised, but how the crap am I going to get home?
  • United charges $15 for any checked luggage?! Screw this, I'm taking this as a carry on.
  • I have an aisle seat. I hate aisle seats. Oh well.
  • The kid next to me refuses to turn his phone off when the plane is taking off -- and he's bragging to his friends about how he drank 7 beers than drove home from a college party. Way to go, evolution.
  • I got tired of seeing him try and be sly about his phone; I explained that the electromagnetic field from the phone and the signals it's transmitting and receiving interfere with the instruments and radio signals of the plane and air traffic control and that they ask you to turn it off for safety reasons. He turned it off now.
  • I read "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman on this flight: it's going to be such a good film.
  • The plane is landing and the gears are making some noise; everyone near me is convinced it's a dog in the luggage area. I asked them how many dogs they knew could bark and shake floors. They gave me a blank stare.
  • I've got about 30 minutes to get through the Denver airport to catch another flight. And I just missed the train because the guy in front of me on the escalator just stood there. Great.
  • Ok, I made it to the terminal right as the plane is boarding, but since it's a different company (Frontier instead of United) I don't have a boarding pass. Crap.
  • Hey, there's Susanne -- I was wondering if I'd see anyone I knew on this flight.
  • The lady is checking if there's anyone in standby before looking at my ticket. Will I get a seat??
  • I didn't know there were times when you'd walk out onto the tarmac and get into your plane by the stairs that are kept on the plane itself. Or where you had to put your own luggage in the compartment. Or that had propellers instead of jet engines.
  • Got a seat. It's by the aisle again.
  • I'm sitting next to a marine in full uniform. He's said five words, all of which have been expletives of one sort or another about how we haven't taken off yet.
  • It's time for takeoff and we haven't moved.
  • The pilot just said there's been an "incident" (exactly what the pilot said) on the runway we're supposed to take off from and so we're being shuffled around. He hopes we'll take off in about 30 minutes. Everyone is groaning and complaining. I don't really mind. Stuff happens.
  • It's been 30 minutes, still no movement.
  • 45 minutes have passed, we're moving to the runway now. We're taxiing quite a ways. This is a big airport.
  • Holy crap this plane vibrates and shakes a lot.
  • Hey, there's I-94, West Acres, Best Buy, my old apartment... good to know things haven't changed.
  • Ok, we've landed; the marine next to me is looking a bit more pleasant. He saw me looking out the window and moved over a bit so I could see better -- he said he hasn't been home in a year and a half.
  • It's cold here. I like it.
  • Oh, the "incident" was actually a plane crash. I kind of assumed, but it's probably a good thing the pilot didn't say that.
And that was my flight log.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two things

Snow, the bane of Utah drivers

One) No one in Utah knows how to drive in the snow. This boggles my mind. It's not that much different from driving in rain or any other weather: you brake earlier and you take corners wider. That's about it. If it's a blizzard with lots of blowing snow and you can't see, then sure, slow down a bit. Otherwise, just brake earlier.

If it's a gentle snowfall -- the kind that makes you want to build a snowman -- you don't need to slow down to 20 mph on the interstate. Maybe go from 85 mph to 70 mph; not 20 mph. This is especially true if you drive an all-wheel drive SUV. If my front-wheel drive, low-riding sports car can handle this weather, your SUV can, I promise. Seriously. I don't want to take an hour and twenty minutes to get to work each morning. It gets annoying.

Two) I'm still asking for guest writers for the holidays. There are no set topics or lengths -- a paragraph on cats would be fine -- but if you'd like I can provide topics. Just don't complain if the topic I give you is the Spanish Civil War. I'd like to know asap to give you time to write something and to let me know about how many posts I should plan to write myself.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm scared of California

How are you not scared?

I don't know why, but California scares me.

I'm from the Midwest -- northwestern Minnesota, to be exact -- and my hometown is barely 120,000 people. It's the largest city for about 200 miles in any direction. I can't really think of any streets or parts of town that aren't safe to walk down at 3 AM with $20 hanging out of my pockets. It frequently ranks in at the top 5 for "Safest Cities in America" assuming it was large enough to even make the list.

I can only imagine it's because of movies about murders and the news reporting on gang violence from LA and other parts of California that have ingrained the thoughts that everyone who goes into California get killed. I have this irrational belief that by simply walking down the streets of Los Angeles I'll get shot. Or that by traveling through San Francisco my car will be broken into. Or simply crossing the state line will result in being mugged.

Logic says that this is not true. I have several friends from California, who grew up there. I have several more friends who have visited California. All have survived with minimal bullet wounds and knife attacks. Every time anyone has offered me a trip to California I always find a reason to turn it down simply because I am honestly scared of the state. I have no problems with New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin (well, not safety issues), or any other state in the nation. I've gone walking around Baltimore's Inner Harbor area at 3 AM before; I've gotten lost in downtown Philadelphia in the middle of the night and confidently asked for directions back to the interstate; I have no problems walking or driving around Minneapolis all night long. All of these cities rank higher than Los Angeles on almost every list of "10/20/100 Most Dangerous Cities in America" but I'm not scared of them.

Enough people live in California and spend their lives there that it's obviously not this deathpit that my mind thinks it is. But I still can't bring my self to visit it. I don't know what it is exactly, but the state scares me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Relationships

[Click for full view.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why are there no pencils here?

While working on the update for today -- something different than the usual writing -- I found out my office is completely devoid of pencils. I've spent the last few hours working on this post but it's looking like it won't be done until Wednesday. Since I spent most of my free time today working on that I'm lacking in anything in-depth and insightful.

I still have a source of entertainment for you: take the time you would spend reading my blog and go play Auditorium. It's a cool concept with fun puzzles. So go on. Click the link and play it.

Don't worry, regular updates will return on Wednesday.

[I'm also taking applications for guest writers over Christmas break since I don't think I'll have time to write a blog post each day while I'm home. If anyone would care to write something, leave a comment and we'll talk.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Customer service and Wells Fargo

I think I worked with this guy

I spent a year in college working IT for McDonald's. Specifically, I took care of the in-store processor, the main computer that keeps track of things like sales, ingredients, inventory, payroll, scheduling, and in the past few years, credit card transactions. I dealt with every kind of customer: the ones who are panicking because their store can't open at 6 AM, the ones who want to yell at you because the issue they called about two days ago still isn't fixed, the ones who are calm despite not being able to take an order and the ones who are about to start crying because one of the twelve registers stopped working.

I learned a few things from this job:
  • New Yorkers are the most high stress people. If one thing goes down in their store, no matter how minor, you will be yelled at, mostly because they're being yelled at by customers.
  • Hawaiians are the exact opposite. Even when they have priority 1 issues -- the literal "store cannot operate" kind of problems -- they're relaxed, calm, and never mind waiting 20 minutes. Half the time they'd be the ones causing the delay because they'd stop to talk to someone. They just don't rush. I liked them.
  • Yelling at a tech support or customer service rep will get you no where. It's not their fault that your stuff is broken or isn't working and yelling at them as if it were there fault will only make their day suck more than it already does. Chances are it'll also make them annoyed with you to the point where they'll just try to get rid of you as fast as possible even if your issue isn't resolved.
  • If you're friendly with the other person and let them know what's wrong in a calm manner, they're far more willing and happy to help you. People who were nice, who explained their issues in detail, who were patient, who let me know that even if they were upset it wasn't at me and that they were grateful I was helping them and who sincerely said thank you at the end are people who make me happy to be at my job. They're rare to find, but when you get them, they make your day so much better because they remind you that you're actually helping people.

XKCD has a comic for everything

It comes down to the saying "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." While I can't speak for the aphorism exactly -- different sites claim different things online; it seems that distilled white vinegar repels flies while balsamic reportedly attracts them -- the intention is true. If you're friendly with someone you're more likely to get your way than if you're harsh and angry. Working in IT and having worked phone support, I can attest to that completely.

This ties into what happened to me last week. I didn't get paid on Thursday. I don't know why, but I didn't. I called my supervisor and he said my time sheet was submitted on time and properly, but for some reason payroll didn't get it. Because I didn't get the paycheck I was expecting, the bills I was going to pay overdrew my account.

Fees hurt

And then the gas I bought did that. And then the lunch, the groceries, the book, and the game did so as well. In short, I ended up in the hole and with about five overdraft fees.

I know I should be more fiscally responsible and not cut it so close every two weeks, but I do. I'm working on not doing so, but there are times when I still do. This was one of those times. And it came back to bite me.

I spoke with my payroll about this and they claimed that since they didn't get my time sheet it's not their fault and so they're not responsible for these overdrafts. I called my bank and they said it's my companies responsibility and not theirs. The best they could do was return half the fees. Half a penalty is better than a whole penalty so I accepted this. I spoke with my supervisor some more and some friends and they said that if the company isn't going to cover it I should ask my bank again. So I called them back again. This was about the third time in two days.

The nice guy I spoke with said that they can refund the penalty fees because it was a direct deposit issue but that I need to get the paycheck in first before they'll return the fees. This was great news. All I needed was my paycheck and that was being sent to me overnight.

Deposits feel good

Saturday morning I got my paycheck, deposited it, and the called the bank. A nice girl named Michelle helped me and said that unfortunately since I had half the fees refunded already they could no longer refund any more of them -- the system actually locked them out once the refund was given. The apologized and said she was sorry that she couldn't return the whole amount, that she understood what happened but that she actually could not do so. I thanked her for her efforts and for trying and hung up.

A friend of mine mentioned that I was too nice and that I should have demanded that I get my money back. While it's not a critical amount of money I lost due to overdraft fees, I did want it back since it amounted to roughly 10% of my paycheck. That can make a difference, especially when you're paying bills. I called Wells Fargo again (fourth time) and asked to speak to a supervisor this time, making sure to explain to the rep I'm not upset with him or with my service but would just like to speak to someone who might be able to help me because I was told the reps could not. He said thanks for letting him know and transferred me to his supervisor. I began by telling him that I was happy with the service I've received from Wells Fargo in the past and that the reps I've spoken with have all been very helpful but that I wanted to see if he could help me. I explained my situation calmly to the supervisor, said that I understand the fees had been locked and that they couldn't be reversed and then asked if there was some way they could simply credit my account.

Refunded in full

I told him I know it's not required by them and that I was simply asking for a small token of kindness during the holidays from a bank I've always been happy to be with. When I finished speaking he asked me to hold on a few seconds. He said he looked over my account while I was talking to him and he understands that these things happen, then said he just submitted the paperwork for my account to be credited for the full amount of the penalty fees and that it would post to on Monday.

Thank you, Wells Fargo

I told him thank you and asked that each rep I had spoken with be commended for helping me out and being as sympathetic as they were. I know it was in many ways my fault. As I said, I should be more careful with my finances so that I don't scrape the bottom of the barrel just to get by. I know that. I learned that and I'm not going to let it happen again. Still, I'm very happy with Wells Fargo and their customer service: they were happy to help me and I was happy to work with them. It wasn't always fun, but they were always helpful, even when they couldn't actually do anything.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dr. Horrible, philosophy, and life

15th Best Invention of 2008

As I said yesterday, I watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog on Tuesday. (If you haven't seen it yet but think you might like to, follow the link and watch it now: this post contains spoilers.) It may be the best thing since Firefly. TIME even named it the 15th best invention of 2008.

I've been listening to the soundtrack almost exclusively for the past three days. Since the film/show itself is only 43 minutes long and only half is music, the soundtrack is only about 22 minutes long and during an 8 hour work day I probably listen to it over a dozen times. The other night, during yet another listen through, something occurred to me: I'm a lot like Dr. Horrible.

I want this chair

The story is based on Dr. Horrible's video blog which catalogs his attempt to get into the Evil League of Evil and win over a girl he's got a crush on that he sees at the laundromat. His plan is to take over the world and then show her that he's not just some nobody. In his own words, "And Penny will see the evil me; not a joke, not a dork, not a failure. And she may cry but her tears will dry, when I hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia."

I think what makes Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog so amazing is that on top of being brilliantly written, very well acted and musically genius, it has something a little deeper. It's not some grand of work of philosophy but it's a very intelligent look at how cynics and pessimists view the world and relationships.

Cpt. Hammer meets Penny

Dr. Horrible sees the world as a corrupt hellhole needing "saving" -- someone to come in and take over and rule it. While in the middle of a heist to steal the last thing he needs for his freeze ray, Captain Hammer -- the hero -- shows up and thwarts his attempt, but puts Penny in harm and then "saves" her (Dr. Horrible actually saves her but she thinks Captain Hammer does). Penny then falls for Captain Hammer and they start dating. Seeing the girl he likes with the man he despises causes him to view the world in a very negative light, singing:
Any dolt with half a brain
Can see that humankind has gone insane
To the point where I don’t know if I’ll upset the status quo
If I throw poison in the watermain.

Listen close to everybody’s heart
And hear that breaking sound
Hopes and dreams are shattering apart
And crashing to the ground

I cannot believe my eyes
How the world’s filled with filth and lies
but it’s plain to see evil inside of me
is on the rise.
It's "the girl I like likes some arrogant jerk" syndrome leading to extreme cynicism and pessimism that I've experienced more than a few times. Contrasting this, Penny -- working in a homeless shelter with Captain Hammer -- sings:
Look around
We’re living with the lost and found
Just when you feel you’ve almost drowned
You find yourself on solid ground

And you believe there’s good in everybody’s heart
Keep it safe and sound
With hope you can do your part
To turn a life around

I cannot believe my eyes
Is the world finally growing wise
Because it seems to me some kind of harmony
Is on the rise
While Dr. Horrible is focusing on the bad things in life, Penny is looking at the bright side and trying to make a difference helping the homeless.

Hammer and Horrible: not friends

This all becomes more muddled when Dr. Horrible and Penny talk at the laundromat they get along really well and it becomes obvious that Penny kind of likes him (not knowing he's Dr. Horrible). Even though she's with the "perfect hero" she wonders if it's what she really wants, saying "This is perfect for me, so they say. I guess he's pretty ok. After years of stormy sailing have I finally found the bay?" While there are fans of Captain Hammer all around who think he's such a great guy, she's not convinced. She liked him at first but she starts to realize he's not really the guy she wants.

The reason I summarize all this is because, as I said, I'm a lot like Dr. Horrible, minus the desire to rule the world with an iron fist. When I like a girl, I get nervous. I get scared to talk to her. Then someone else comes along and swoons her and I'm left thinking what a cesspool this world is because I didn't get the girl. Well, it's more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it.

Y'know, for children and stuff

The underlying principle is that Dr. Horrible is a pessimistic cynic who is upset because the optimistic caring girl he likes is with a different guy. He wants to win her over by taking over the world and subjecting everyone to him and showing her what he can do. As I said though, that's not what Penny wants -- she doesn't want Captain Hammer and she doesn't want Dr. Horrible -- she wants a guy like Billy (Dr. Horrible when he's not being Dr. Horrible). Of course, his self-esteem is so low he doesn't think a girl would ever like him unless he did something great, even if evil. I'm very much the same way. I often don't think girls will like me for who I am and as such believe I need to accomplish great things in order to get a girl -- I need to win her over by doing things instead of by who I am.

A few weeks back I was in the car with my brother and I mentioned something about how Death Cab for Cutie and Dave Matthews are always writing songs about not being able to get girls or trying to win a girl over, and I made the comment "If these guys, whom girls swoon over nationwide, can't get girls, what hope does that leave us?" My brother responded that maybe being a great songwriter and musician isn't what gets girls, maybe there's something else. I know he's right, I just don't believe it (if that makes any sense).

This goes back to the Twilight issues I've got. Girls swoon over the perfect guy, but even though it's a fun fantasy, it's not what they want. Just as girls in Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

Real guys > superheros

swoon over Captain Hammer, the one girl who's with him finds out he's not what she wants. It's stupid that I'm just now saying this since girl's have been saying it for quite awhile, possibly even years: girls don't want Edward Cullen or Dave Matthews or Captain Hammer -- the "perfect" guys -- they want a guy who's real, who likes spending time with them, who makes mistakes and who loves them.

I think the thing that makes Dr. Horrible so amazing is that it's a very real situation approached from a farcical musical. It's based in real situations. Joss Whedon is brilliant in that respect. He can take a different world and make it relatable. He did it with Firefly by making it about real issues: finding a job, paying for maintenance of your home, living paycheck to paycheck and maybe skimping on groceries and food for a few days to make ends meet. Now he's addressed the angst and cynicism that comes from not being able to get a girl you like and the extreme measures guys go through to get a girl based on what they think she wants instead of seeing what she actually wants.

Feeling nothing without Penny

In the end Dr. Horrible gets into the Evil League of Evil after accidentally killing Penny when his death ray explodes on him. The final lines of the finale are "Now the nightmare’s real. Now Dr. Horrible is here to make you quake with fear. To make the whole world kneel. And I wont feel … a thing." Even though he got into the Evil League of Evil and has become a supervillain, Penny is gone and he's left with nothing.

I have a very real fear that I'll end up doing that with my life. I get so blinded by what I think girls want and what I think I need to do to win them over that I don't realize when a girl is right there in front of me. And the really sad thing about this? I've been told this by numerous people -- girls, guys, therapists, psychologists -- yet it's not until a 43 minute comedic musical uses it as a basis for a storyline that I finally pay attention and listen. That's Joss Whedon for you: able to teach life lessons through fantastical stories without being overly moral. The stories aren't told to teach anything, they're just entertaining and relatable. The lessons and epiphanies from watching are extra.

On February 13th Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse, airs on Fox. I'm excited.

[I suppose I should actually start watching Buffy and Angel since those are both Joss Whedon's work, as well, and most people I've spoken with have said they're just as good as his other works. I'll look into that.]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Specials

It's aired annually for 53 years

Every year, usually on Christmas Eve, I write a short blog post quoting Luke chapter 2 (that's the chapter that has the birth of Jesus for those of you not intimately acquainted with the Bible) and a video from A Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus quotes it and says what Christmas is all about. I'll probably do it this year, so go ahead and look forward to it.

We need more Barenaked holidays

I haven't gotten into the Christmas mood this year as much as in the past. I still love the Barenaked Ladies' Christmas album -- Barenaked for the Holidays -- but that's really about it so far. It's too early for Nat King Cole and I think there are laws about listening to Kenny G prior to 5 PM on Christmas Eve. On Monday I joined my brother and a bunch of his friends in watching The Muppet Christmas Carol which was perhaps my favorite Christmas movie as a kid. I still know it pretty much by heart. Just as when I was a kid, the Ghost of Christmas Past still looks like a gelfling to me and still gives me the heebie-jeebies (the Ghost of Christmas Past, that child-spirit-thing, not the Grim Reaper-esque Ghost of Christmas Future. I'm ok with him). And I'm eternally grateful the "When Love is Gone" song is omitted from the DVD. That song was pain incarnate, and I don't mean the "oh, that's so sad" pain. I'm talking about the "my ears are bleeding please make it stop" pain.

I want to go waffling

Yesterday we watched A Claymation Christmas which brought back memories of quoting "I lost mine" decades ago. I can't help but wonder how long that special took to make. I heard somewhere that while filming A Nightmare Before Christmas three seconds of film a day was considered good, and while I'm sure they were taking their time to make sure the quality was top-notch, I have to imagine that A Claymation Christmas couldn't have gotten much more than 10 seconds day. This means that for the 23 minutes special it would have taken them 138 days of shooting to complete, or about five months, not to mention the pre- and post-production work that would have to be done. I suppose in 1987 it might have been pretty awesome, but now I can't imagine putting (at least) five months of work into something like that. Lets be fair: it's a fun little special, but after 23 minutes you're ready for it to be over.

In case you didn't see it as a kid, it's available on YouTube in three separate parts.

After that I put in Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog because I've been meaning to watch it and figured watching it with friends would be better than watching it by myself. Since it's not a Christmas special I won't go into detail and will simply leave you with this: awesome.

Hell cannot be this bad

To finish the night I wanted to do a rifftrax, which is done by the same guys who did Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show from Minneapolis, MN, where they take old movies and make fun of them. Rifftrax does it by just recording the audio track and letting you play it along side the movie, thus not dealing with those pesky copyright laws. This way they can do movies they would never have been able to get showing rights to, like Transformers and the utterly horrific Batman & Robin. I was (un)fortunate enough to have found a a rifftrax for the Star Wars Christmas Special. I can say without a molecule of doubt that the Star Wars Christmas Special is in fact the absolute worst two hours of television you can subject yourself or your friends to and may go down as the worst two hours of my life, period. Sadly, the rifftrax only made it marginally better. About 30 minutes in the room unanimously decided to change the film. We put in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and we all felt better about ourselves and humanity as a whole.

They say true friends are the ones who stick with you through the hard times. Yesterday I think Mark, Brooke, and Jessica proved to be true friends. Rocio abandoned ship to save herself. For shame.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dear Santa, I have been a very good boy. This year I want socks. Sincerely, Tim.

Pirate socks: sweet!

Believe it or not, that's actually my Christmas list this year. That's not my entire list, but it is a significant portion and oddly enough the thing I think I want the most, the Adidas Samba Classics being a close second.

Why am I asking for socks for Christmas? These are the things that, had I gotten them for Christmas a decade ago, would have left me bored and probably quite upset that a perfectly good gift was wasted on something like socks.

NERF tech has advanced

Today it seems that socks are a perfectly good gift and are in fact preferable to the random toys for my home or office. Don't misunderstand: I still want the random toys, I just want the socks more. I've been meaning to buy new socks to replace my current ones for quite some time -- many are years old and are in less than reputable condition -- and figured that their price would make them ideal for Christmas suggestions for people who cannot afford the $49 usb webcam and rocket launcher for my desk at work. Last year around this time I threw out almost all of my underwear and bought all new pairs. I need to do that with socks now.

Best system ever developed

This raises the question: when did I stop asking for toys and game systems for Christmas? I know a few years ago I had a rice maker on my list which perplexed my family. To date, the only Christmas gift that's gotten more use than that rice maker is our Super Nintendo that we got back in the Christmas of 1991 (I think). On one hand I think I've grown up some and as such don't desire things like games as much. Then I realize that just two months ago I spent about $1400 to build a new computer just so I could play new video games. Obviously I'm not quite as "grown up" in the traditional sense as I may think at times.

Truthfully I don't think I want games any less now than I did as a kid. I still love video games and still love playing them.

Anyone want to buy this for me?

They still hold a very precious place close to my heart and are associated with some of my fondest memories. The reason I'm not asking for them for Christmas anymore is because I had a job now and I can afford my own games. Yes, there are some on my Christmas list that I haven't bought yet -- games I would like to have but not enough to use money that could pay off bills instead. I do have my priorities. Sometimes. Christmas is no longer the time to get the gifts you couldn't get throughout the rest of the year like it was when I was a child. Now Christmas is the time to get gifts you haven't bothered to get yourself because there are other things you want more and already bought yourself.

Oh, and that whole "birth of Jesus" thing, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Subjectivity in truth

What's yours?

Through an ironic twist, truth is subjective. This may seem counter intuitive to the word itself. Truth is what we seek, it's what we want. But all that matters is the truth that we believe. It doesn't matter what objectively occurred; what matters is what we believe occurred.


We don't base our actions on facts. We base them on truths.

I was once talking to a friend of mine who had recently gotten married. She was talking about how she and her recently acquired husband had attended a marriage workshop, not because they were having difficulties but because they wanted to avoid as may pitfalls as they could. It was a very logical approach and I heartily applauded their choice. She mentioned that something they taught was that there are three perspectives that occur in every marriage situation -- three truths: what the husband perceives and believes, what the wife perceives and believes, and what objectively happens. Most often the objective happening isn't the problem, it's one of the perceptions and beliefs of what happened. If a husband is working late and hasn't called he may be working late, but if the wife is convinced it's because he's having an affair then she'll react as such and the marriage will be hurt. It doesn't matter what the husband says because she'll just think he's lying or has an alibi. If it turns out she's wrong it will help but it won't erase the doubt and damage; studies have shown that ideology trumps fact. If we believe something to be true we'll still cling to parts of it even when faced with or told factual contradictory information.

It seems almost paradoxical that truth can be subjective. Truth is supposed to be true. That doesn't change that everyone acts based on what they believe is true, regardless of what may be objectively true. There's little else we can do. No matter how hard we may strive we cannot ever pull ourselves out of our own perceptions and view things with complete objectivity. Everything is based on what we believe to be the truth. Our truth is the only one we believe. Our truth is the only one we know.

Truth is subjective. Next time you're convinced of something or believe in something -- particularly something pertaining to another's actions -- try and understand their truth. That is, after all, what they're going off of, and that's all anyone can expect.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The trouble with toilets

Functional; not convenient

Toilets are functional things. I believe them to be a rather significant advancement in the infrastructure of civilization and utilize them daily, usually multiple times. Outhouses were little more than holes in the ground with a box around them for privacy; a toilet is something else entirely. They're plumbed. And they're conveniently indoors. I'm grateful for both.

I'm somewhat perplexed by the approach many people have towards them. While comfortable with our own toilets and even those belonging to our friends -- presuming our friends have acceptable hygienic practices -- we're somewhat averse to those used by the public. Eagerly we use restrooms in hotels and even offices where access to them is limited even if only momentarily; if we can quantify the number of people who have used the toilet before us, we feel better about using it now.

As a child I remember being taught to wipe the seat prior to use with toilet paper and if it looked unsanitary I was to put down a layer of toilet paper over the seat. Some public toilets even provide disposable seat covers in dispensers above the toilet, thus saving on valuable toilet paper and prep time.

Sleek, sexy, and dirtier than a toilet

For years I was told how disgusting and disease ridden these cesspool spillways are. Then I read an article that pointed out the average cell phone, dollar bill, or keyboard has more dangerous germs and bacteria than the average toilet seat. Similarly, there are very few butt-born illnesses. We get sick from things getting our eyes, our nose, or open wounds; very few illnesses are contracted by simply coming in contact with our skin. If you have gaping wounds and lesions on your butt then that could cause problems, sure, but that's a unique situation.

We're behind on toilet tech

I can only imagine it's general gossip and hearsay that leads to people being afraid of toilet seats. Even knowing the facts I still am not totally comfortable with them. As my friend Mark said in Vegas, "the only thing worse than a cold toilet seat is a warm one" -- and he wasn't referring to the seat-warming, bidet-using, techno-toilets of Japan. Unlike a couch where I'll fight to steal someone's pre-heated spot, toilets are rather uncomfortable when still warm from a previous occupant. Yes, I'm fully aware that others have sat there and done their business, but that doesn't mean I need to be reminded of how recently that action took place. Let me have my ignorant bliss and imagine it occurred long ago in a cleaner, more hygienic age.

I hope this has been informative to you. I also hope you've disinfected your keyboard and cell phone (or will do so immediately upon finishing). I did.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Making soup

Irish stew: awesome

On Sunday I made a chicken and vegetable stew with a friend. We wanted to make something but weren't sure what, so we just cut up some carrots, celery, and potatoes (we were out of onions, sadly) and threw them into a crock pot with two still frozen chicken breasts. We added some water to cover, a few grinds of pepper and some salt, and then just turned it on and left it. The following morning she added some cabbage. Then, on Monday night, we had a vegetable stew. It was a kind of bland, but some Italian seasoning and a little more salt and pepper and it was delicious.

It got me thinking how easy some meals are but I still never make them. I always have some reason why I can't: "I don't have the right vegetables," "I don't have the any chicken broth/stock," "I don't have anything to cook it in."

Crock pots are just great

After last Sunday I decided those excuses aren't going to work any more. I went to the grocery store and bought both beef and chicken stock. At Walmart I looked at the crock pots -- only $30 for a rather nice one -- but decided I'd wait and check Bed, Bath & Beyond first. I haven't been in there for quite awhile and I have several 20% off coupons I need to use. Using one of them on a crock pot seems fitting. The only issue is that my setting foot inside Bed, Bath & Beyond sets off my culinary tendencies and I become engrossed in the various cutlery and gagetry they offer. Much of the bed and bath parts of the store don't interest me; while I enjoy purchasing new bedsheets and shower heads when necessary, I don't do so for entertainment or in my leisure time. Quality knives, cutting boards, cheese graters, and food processors on the other hand thrill me. The food possibilities they unleash sends adrenaline through me more powerful than roller coasters -- Wild Thing at Valley Fair being an exception. It has an initial drop of 200 feet and my butt leaves the chair during the fall so I'm quite literally freefalling with barely a bar (no seat belt or shoulder harness) holding me in an uncovered cart; it's a powerful combination of mortal fear and exhilaration.

Putting away groceries

I wish I had a larger kitchen. I currently live in a small townhome with a kitchen smaller than most hallways. While I don't require a large area for preparing or cooking food, storing pots, pans, and the food itself becomes problematic. Every time I go grocery shopping or buy a new culinary tool I'm thankful my parents let me play Tetris as a child. I don't think I'd be able to make everything fit without years of honing those skills. What this means is that by purchasing a new 5 quart crock pot, I need to find a place to put it. Hopefully I'll be able to find such a place. I really want to start making soups and stews.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Clark Griswold, eat your heart out

I'm speechless.

From the creator: "
This year we have taken decorating our house to the extreme, we have over 210,000 lights all computer animated and synced to music. It took us 3 months to hang the lights and over 6 months to do the computer programming."

Death and Me

Set in the Midwest

For those who are uneducated in the ways of my literary preferences, Neil Gaiman is my favorite author. American Gods, Neverwhere, Good Omens, and The Sandman series are all phenomenal. Currently I'm reading Coraline which is an "all ages" book by him that is being made into a movie by Henry Selick, the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's very good and I'm enjoying it immensely. After this I've got The Graveyard Book and Anansi Boys to read. From there, Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things. Oh, and he lives just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, because he loves the area so much. Not only is he the greatest author of our time, but he also has very good taste in communities and people. And I'm somewhat embarassed that I just now found his blog.

To know her is to love her

Why I bring this up is because I just found out that Mr. Gaiman is working on a film called Death and Me, based on his short series Death: The High Cost of Living which revolves around the character of Death from the Sandman graphic novels. It would not be a strain to argue that Death from that series is my favorite literary character of all time. She is wise, responsible, mature, and even fun-loving; she understands the value of life and the role she plays. She doesn't take people with joy or with malice, but rather with love, helping them to pass on to the next stage of their existence. She is beautiful and sincere, sweet and inviting, loving and motherly. In the word's of Mr. Gaiman himself, you can't help but love her.

Normally I'd be somewhat worried regarding a film being created from the works of my favorite author, but recently Hollywood has been doing a decent job with it, Lord of the Rings being of course the most monumental. Still, this project I cannot help but be giddy about. Not only is it based on my favorite character from my favorite series by my favorite author, it's also being written and directed by him. Of course, Neil Gaiman is a writer and not a film director by trade and profession, so, being the brilliant man he is, he took it upon himself to learn from a man who is one of my favorite Hollywood directors: Guillermo del Toro. What this means is that there is a movie in production about my favorite character, written and directed by my favorite author, and executively produced by one of my favorite directors.

He's directing The Hobbit

I can't think of many films I've had this much giddiness for. Part of me feels this will probably never see the light of production since Guillermo del Toro is currently working on two films based on J.R.R. Tokien's The Hobbit and as such will not have much time for yet another film, and I doubt Death and Me will take precedence over such a grandiose project as The Hobbit. I can't argue with this since The Hobbit is one of my favorite novels after all, having read it every year I was in school from 3rd grade through my sophomore year of college.

It's one thing to be excited for a film coming out. It's another to be excited for a film based on a book you love. It's yet further still to be excited for a film based on a book you love by a director you adore. Words cannot express the joy and anticipation coursing through my veins at the thought of a movie based a book about a character I love, written and directed by a man I venerate and produced by a man I respect so greatly.

If this film is actually made, I will be at the very first showing of Death and Me.
I find myself wondering about humanity. Their attitude to my sister's gift is so strange. Why do they fear the sunless lands? It is as natural to die as it is to be born. But they fear her. Dread her. Feebly they attempt to placate her. They do not love her.

Many thousands of years ago I heard a song in a dream, a mortal song that celebrated her gift. I still remember it... That forgotten poet understood her gifts. My sister has a function to perform, even as I do. The Endless have their responsibilities. I have responsibilities.

I walk by her side and the darkness lifts from my soul. I walk with her, and I hear the gentle beating of mighty wings...

~Dream, Death's younger brother, from The Sandman #8: The Sound of Her Wings, by Neil Gaiman