But I Got New Glasses

I wanted to get moisturizer, not new glasses. I had dry skin over my left eye, which by the end of the morning became the least concerning part about my left eye. While at Walgreens, I also picked up a birthday card for my cousin and a tea I like. I still need to mail the birthday card. And I feel pretty lucky that I get that opportunity.

I usually am incredibly cautious because people drive too fast. I sometimes turn right instead of turning left. But I didn’t on Thursday. And I was never more scared in all my life. I remember seeing the car right before impact and it did look just like it does in the movies. I remember screaming but I have no idea if I blacked out for a period of time.

I remember seeing a woman in my doorway with a second person behind her and a man sitting in my passenger seat. All three were yelling at me to not move. They told me I was in a really bad accident and the other guy was going really fast. But that the police and the ambulance were on their way. I could hear the sirens, so I knew they were telling the truth. It all went by very quickly.

I couldn’t see.

I wanted to call my parents, I wanted to call Brian, and I ended up calling work to tell them I wasn’t coming in. I remember saying, “I need to hang up – the police are yelling at me.”

I had a neck brace on and was carried out of my car. I had no idea what it looked like. I just knew that the car I bought fourteen months ago may not live to see another birthday, but that it allowed me one. I cried a lot. I was incredibly scared. I am still incredibly scared.

I’m still here. I’m okay. A few bruises.

And new glasses where I look like Woody Allen in Annie Hall and the tall guy Nelson mocks in an episode of The Simpsons. My new glasses keep my identity as Superman a secret. I cannot play the guitar like Buddy Holly because of the new glasses.
Which One Am I?

 

I’m having a rough time with all of this still, which is why I’m typing this. My biggest concern is that I never, ever get into another car accident. If you are driving behind me and you are wishing I would go, just slow down. You have nowhere to be. No one cares if you’re a few minutes late. Second, I need to focus on the things I enjoy doing and actually work on my novel. Third, continue to put the things that are actually important ahead of those things that are not. Fourth, stop making excuses. Fifth, be really really careful in a car.

Thank you to all my friends and family that sent messages, called me, or gave me thoughtful presents.

I hopefully will be putting more on this. See you here – with my new glasses.

 

 

 

Game of Thrones – Swords and Sandals Soap

I have not watched all of Game of Thrones. In fact, I end up falling asleep during most episodes due to its pacing. But when I do stay awake, I notice a similar set of beats. Brian wasn’t happy to hear it but I compared Game of Thrones to All My Children and other daytime soaps. The biggest difference is the language, nudity, violence, and the setting. But though they seem like big differences, they are not.

Let’s start with All My Children or As The World Turns, which are the two soaps I watched before they got cancelled. They have similar set-ups. There are groups of powerful families that are in powerful positions or run portions of the town. The Martin family in Pine Valley runs the hospital. You had the Chandlers, who were led by the patriarch Adam, an entrepreneur who had more money than he could do with but the sexual appetite of a 19 year old boy up until the end. You had the Kanes, which had a tie to acting and Hollywood, but over the years, Erica became the matriarch who wooed just about every person in town and married about half of the powerful men. But the marriages were not always about love. They generally revolved around revenge and power and intrigue. Because that is what people like to watch. Think of any soap opera you want whether it be primetime or daytime. Dallas had family fighting. Dynasty had family fighting. All for power. For control over something that really doesn’t make any sense except to the characters in the piece. Don’t get me wrong. This is drama generally. Shakespeare used all the same tropes, so I can’t just say family power struggles and end the argument.

My next point is more storytelling focused. Soap operas have to run five days a week, so they have large casts and multiple storylines. Usually in one episode, three or four storylines will get screen time cut into two or three minute segments and then the next day, one or two of those storylines may take a day off while we check in with other characters. Game of Thrones must hire all of England to be on the show. There are so many characters. Unlike soaps, it only has thirteen episodes each year so you would think with such a broad cast that they would be giving short shrift to characters (and they do). In the episode I watched last night, there was about six storylines, half of them basically got one or two short scenes with the other three getting the remainder of the episode, as if to remind you that these characters exist. There was brooding and sex and blood and more brooding. Lots of whispers that entailed blackmail. Lots of anger towards other characters. But I think the biggest fault of the show is that they rely on you to do some research and get outside knowledge. There are reasons that some of these characters are acting in certain ways and I can’t tell you what they are. I can assume the books, which are about 1,000 pages each, help with that. But the motivations sometimes feel petty – which is how all motivations seem on soaps.

Game of Thrones Cast

Game of Thrones

My next point is strange character developments and reveals. Maybe it is because I have watched so many soap opera episodes, but every time they introduce a new character on Game of Thrones, I try to figure out who they are related to. All My Children would try to introduce characters who were not family members but they rarely stuck around. But if you brought in a mysterious character who turned out to be someone’s son! Jackpot! For example, back in the 1970s, Erica Kane had an abortion. This was a huge deal at the time because abortion was not a television topic. So, what do they do? In the early 2000s, they introduce a dark brooding man and his father, who is the doctor who performed Erica’s abortion. And low and behold, despite science not making this make any sense at all, the dark brooding man was actually Erica’s son. The child was not aborted! Make any sense? Of course not. But you didn’t see that coming! And you were able to tie that person to the history of the show. In the episode of Game of Thrones I watched with Brian last night, there were two characters who were revealed to be related to other characters. There were more characters trying to make sexual advancements that involved siblings. Mind you, there was a little weirdness between Erica’s newly found son and her newly found daughter (the child of when Erica was raped that she gave away for adoption but who came back) that seemed a bit incestual but that all went away once they knew they shared blood. But incest is basically one of three types of relationships on Games of Thrones.

I will call this a digression…And with that, let’s talk about rape. Soap operas love rape storylines. No idea why. Very few characters seem to not be raped on soap operas, so when I saw headlines a few weeks ago about how a character could never be redeemed because they raped someone on Game of Thrones, it tied to this piece very easily. Rape also is popular amongst comic book writers. And it is all disgusting. I have no idea why any writer wants to use this trope so often but they do. There are very few things as brutal on television as rape. Even death can be taken back on television. Murder can be taken back on television. But rape cannot. Downtown Abbey did rape this year – another soap that parades as high drama. So, besides the fact that here is another similarity – can we move past rape storylines or at least use them to teach a lesson and not just shock? Back on topic…

But in conclusion, since I have not seen all of the show, here is a list of soap opera tropes that are very familiar to me. Help me figure out if they are all used on Game of Thrones or add more tropes if you can think of them.

  • Amnesia
  • Evil twin
  • Dead but not dead
  • Coma
  • Wrecked weddings
  • Fake pregnancies
  • If you’re shown in a car, you’re wrecking said car.
  • Blackmail
  • In love with your partner’s sibling
  • But I’m your son/daughter!
  • Murder mysteries
  • Underbelly crime syndicates
  • Horrible natural disasters that affect parties

None of this is to judge the quality of the show. I love soap operas and wish All My Children was still on TV. In this article from Wired, they looked at demographics of Game of Thrones. It has a sizable female audience, with a 50/50 split in regards to social media presence. Yes, it is violent, but it hits a nerve in regards to emotion and drama and intrigue that soap operas and melodrama has used for a very long time. So, there is something about the structure of this show that appeals to men and women. People have always loved melodrama. And it is really interesting that Game of Thrones looks and feels like a soap opera. It actually makes me more interested and maybe less likely to fall asleep…just try to get Susan Lucci to guest star.

Check out the DVD opening versus the opening to All My Children. It’s pretty funny how similar they are: turn, stare, stand, walk, leaf, background, wealth.

Spring Cleaning and All-New Invaders #2

It seems like every April I begin my organization of my comics. Maybe it is my version of spring cleaning or because my parents host Easter, but it always makes me look around my room and it’s incredible amount of comic books. I love comics. I started reading them when I was 15 and have fallen in love with the medium. There is something about the way the images flow with the words that has captured my attention. Now, it just seems like a bit much though.

Spring CleaningI take the same photo almost every year of the comics yet to be sorted and stacked and it gets more and more of a tight quarters each year.

One thing I am hoping to get better at this year is writing about comics. I think I have a pretty good vision of what a good comic is and where stories sometimes falter. The hardest part of criticism is to not come across whiny or like a troublemaker but to actually appreciate the art and show where it could improve. Maybe sometimes that is impossible, but I’m hoping to do that.

Other times, it seems like there is nothing to write and that the minute I finish reading it, it just disappears from my head. The All-New Invaders by James Robinson and Steve Pugh is one of those books. I just finished the second issue and read the first one just a couple of days ago. I have a general memory of the story and I remember a very clean looking book, but nothing stood out. I don’t fault the creators because I think they both did admirable jobs on the story, but I wonder if I’m just burnt out by the piles and piles of superhero fare that I have read in the past 17 years. How many times can I read a story about a former team coming back together because of a forgotten mystery? Maybe it’s a sign that I’m moving past superhero comics right now.

Sometimes, I just want action. I don’t like action movies, but a fight in a comic always entertains me. I try to read into the choreography of the scene and see how the artist is using the space and what is being portrayed on the page.  The best page in All-New Invaders #2 is right in the middle of the book when the big Kree woman is fighting Cap, Bucky, and the Original Human Torch.

2014-04-08 22.28.48

Spring Cleaning Break – All-New Invaders #2 Mini-Review

You have a set of framing panels between Tanalth and Jim Hammond that looks like a Super Nintendo fighting game opening screen. You have Tanalth holding the hammer towards the reading with a spare Bucky-shot hitting her thigh. On the other side, you have Hammond just standing. She is ready for a fight and he has trepidation. The way her panel bleeds onto his page shows this dilemma. And right in the middle is all of the action that takes place while Hammond decides to “Burn”, which is what happens on the next page. It’s all set-up for their fight as Cap and Bucky are just brutalized. It’s a really well-crafted page in the middle of the book. It is probably the best colored portion of the book as well. The earlier and darker parts were a bit muddied and then the sky just takes over in the last half. As with anything there can be a few qualms, like what is happening to Bucky’s face in the bottom panel of the middle of the pages. But overall, this is why I read superhero comics.

So, even when I get a bit down and think there isn’t much left and that maybe this spring cleaning will involved an end to some comic purchases, I grab a book and I remember the love. Spring cleaning isn’t all that happens in the spring: it’s a time of rebirth of why you like things and people fall in love with others and ideas and life.

Why I Like to Write

My favorite writer.

Sinclair Lewis

I write poems. I write short stories. I write personal stories. I have written short little stories for as long as I could remember. I would write these little plays about animals and their friendships when I was a small kid. I created a comic strip with a friend where she would draw it and I would write the word balloons as we said in this pile of tires that for some reason was considered part of a playground in 1992. Writing gave me an outlet that language never did.

I am not a talker, sometimes. I can talk a lot. You ask me an opinion on politics or a recent issue of a comic book or the work of Jack Kirby, and I am off to the races. But I have never been good at talking about how I feel or what I’m thinking. It’s one reason why I like going to a therapist. I know that whatever I say, it won’t leave that room.

I write a lot about what I’m feeling or thinking. It’s fun to create characters of people I wish I knew or whom I wanted to be. It’s fun to imagine a world that is like the one I live in but that is completely different. I try to put Dan-like characters in all of them. Generally, I create a Dan I wish would exist. A Dan that could do small talk without getting short of breathe and the sweats. A Dan who had his own apartment and a group of friends who lived next door. A Dan who actually was a dog.

But more importantly, I write because there is nothing that relaxes me or lets my mind flow more than typing words or writing something on paper. I feel freer than I ever could in any other medium. I used to feel that way sometimes when I would run. But even on my favorite runs, I was creating stories in my head. There is something that makes me feel good. And sometimes there is something about it that makes me just feel.

I wish I did it more, but when I write anything, I’m happy for the rest of the day. I’m lucky to have something like that in my life and I hope to continue writing more often in the days to come.

How I Met The Finale

John Mulaney, a great stand up comedian, says in a routine he does about getting a Xanax prescription, “Part of me was like…whatever…you know, you know those days when you’re like…well, this might as well happen…adult life is already so goddamn weird.” I have many days where I go to bed just contemplating how anything that happened today actually happened. The joys and the sorrows that follow you through a day that sometimes just seems weird. I remember just thinking there was a camera that followed me around because nothing that happened made any sense at all and someone must be watching and enjoying this because I am not.

<Spoilers if you haven’t watched How I Met Your Mother’s finale>

I remember when I first saw promos for How I Met Your Mother nine years ago. I remember being so excited and watching that pilot and having the same starstruck feeling that Ted portrayed. Many of my friends were getting married or at least were in relationships. The closest thing I had to a relationship was my addiction to All My Children and now figuring out how to tape How I Met Your Mother using a VCR and digital cable. The answer was buying an antenna as well. Oh 2004, you were a different time.

How I Met Your MotherTonight, How I Met Your Mother ended and I am still a bit stunned by it. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening with the mother based on a few lines in previous episodes. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the theme as time moved quickly for the entire hour. The entire episode is about aging and changing expectations. The whole show seems to be about aging. I’m a couple of years younger than the characters in the show but there is no time like your late twenties and early thirties where you are just utterly confused by life. You think you have things figured out and you pretend you do. You go out of your way to make sure everyone else knows that you seem to have things put together. I think this is why so many people get married and have kids. It allows you to move past the concerns you have about the direction of your life because you have just added someone else into the equation. How I Met Your Mother looked at this problem of aging and drifting from many angles.

You had Barney. He’s the life of the party and just is going to enjoy himself. Psychologically, I’m sure you would refer to him as the id. He’s always chasing a woman or two. He does what he likes to do and does it well. Over the course of the show, it seemed like the writers enjoyed writing his character but felt he needed a character path that deviated from his core. The finale touched on this problem right off the bat. You could tell his marriage to Robin didn’t make sense. They said it often. But it seemed like the only direction to go with them as they were so similar, but we will get there in a second.

Next, you have the happy couple. My parents met in college (not on their first day mind you). And they never really understood what it is like to be single and not in a closed campus of other hormonal people who just want to meet their soul mate. Lily and Marshall were that couple. They lucked out. They knew it but it is hard to be on the outside of that. They have some sort of magnetism that holds them together. When Lily left after season one in a very Robin-like way, she was miserable and had to return to Marshall. She was not a rolling stone. She had her moss-mallow (see what I did there, cause she called him her Marsh-mallow and a rolling stone has no moss). Marshall was a little more selfish in his wants and dreams throughout most of the show. His career took many paths but he gave Lily what she wanted and tried to consider her feelings until the last season. For example, they moved to the suburbs and hated it, but he did take the judgeship without asking. It all worked out as it always did for that couple. They were born under the right sign. But in the end, they had to figure out how to live together and be happy. Yet, they never imagined it without the other. In the finale, there isn’t a crack in their armor as time passes. All of the other characters have crises that hurt their relationships – but not Lily and Marshall. They are upset by the distance that is being created between their friends. Lily cannot seem to comprehend not having that closeness that they once had. I have that feeling often. I don’t have a large circle of friends but I miss having that closeness and wish it could be like it was. But that is probably the hardest part of your twenties and thirties – it will never be like it was and nor should it. As you get older, your life changes. Your friends change but it doesn’t change what you had with people before. People move and grow apart. People just find other things to fill their time with and you don’t share an apartment or live in the same hallway anymore. You can’t go to the same restaurant or bar or wherever because it is too far away. And as you grow older, you dream of those simpler times when things made more sense.

Overall, I relate to Ted. I wanted to find my soul mate. I wanted to get married. I just never had that group of friends to push me out of my shell. I didn’t have a group of five people to hang out with at a bar. I barely had people who asked me if I was having a good day. A lot of that was my own fault because I just don’t know how to do it. But I wanted to be Ted so badly.

Ted is that person you know who seems to have things together but is an absolute mess. He is a dreamer who can’t land on the ground. But he is a charming cloud jumper. You root for him because he is friendly and kind and really does seem to want to find love.

In the pilot, you watch him lose it when he sees the woman who may be the woman of his dreams. You find out right away that she isn’t. But she is central to the story. Robin is the lynch pin. She is the one that has to realize what it means to be loved and to love. She has a rough through line. You find out about a pretty rough relationship with her dad. You find out that she has self-esteem issues that make she not trust herself. You find out she is a rolling stone because she really doesn’t know anything else. Eventually, she dates Ted and breaks up with Ted, she dates Barney and breaks up with Barney, and dates a whole bunch of other guys along the way. You find out she can’t have children. And you think that she may be the one that can settle Barney down and that he may settle her down. There are two entire seasons dedicated to a long con to get her to marry him because she is his world and then an entire season of just their wedding. But the long con is actually not if she can settle Barney down but if Barney can settle her down and the answer is no. She doesn’t want that. She seems to treat Barney really terribly as she travels the world. She then treats her friends terribly because she just doesn’t feel connected anymore. But she has this halo around her that was there in the pilot when the camera had a soap opera haze to it. The minute she returns, it’s as if she never left. Marshall’s joke about the yeti is over.

Robin was the career woman who wanted to achieve. She wanted success and wanted to travel the world doing what she loved – journalism. It is what broke up Robin and Ted after season two and it was always at the edge of her mind. She wasn’t happy with her job and wanted to move on. She is the rolling stone. And again, the writers felt they needed a character path that settled her down. Because that is what we are all told we are supposed to do. But there is no sign that she does until the last scene.

The show had to end this way. And you know the writers planned it this way because they filmed that piece with Ted’s kids a long time ago as they are nine years older now. It makes sense but it isn’t satisfying.  It turned out to be a story about two women: the mother and Robin. And I guess the most unsatisfying part is that the actual changes in both of these two women are done off screen. Robin obviously wasn’t ready to marry and still had too much to do, but why did she return to New York City and get a bunch of dogs. Why did Ted and the Mother not get married for so long after everything Ted says about marriage the entire time? It seems out of character for all of the talk of fate and magic of love for him to wait seven years to actually marry her and for then Robyn to show up again. It is almost like the line that Stella says way back when: you never want an ex at your wedding. Why did Lily say this time was different if the whole story is about Robin? I suppose it doesn’t matter.

The hardest part of being a young adult is the uncertainty. You are trying to create a career and a family and have a social network that doesn’t exist only online. The days of your youth are slowly drifting away. You have to pay bills and start saving for houses, cars, kids, colleges, and just about everything else. And you change at a rapid pace. You shift from someone who has no cares in the world to having to take care of the world. And like Ted, I wanted to find someone to share that with.

Photo Oct 18, 11 02 33 PMI think this last year has been my awakening, which is why some of the plotting and out-of-character actions in the finale don’t bother me. I lived through a lot of things that didn’t really fit into the plot I had written or the actions I thought would happen. A relationship that couldn’t go any further didn’t. But it opened my eyes to what I want out of life. Everything was building up to something. It makes things a little brighter and better because I was able to survive all of the hard things as I aged. All of the dilemmas and heartbreaks that were with joys of being with close friends and acquaintances all began to make sense almost a year ago today. I cherish what I have now because of what my life has been.

I suppose that is why I love How I Met Your Mother and why the finale has made me sit down and write all of this. We have a path in our life and it is a jagged messy one. We don’t have a through-line that always makes sense. Sometimes, we are shifted to fit a role that we think is better at the time, like Barney and Robin. Sometimes the rolling stone rests before starting out on another path. Sometimes the playboy finds that thing that makes him really understand what love is. Sometimes that happy couple looks around and wonders why no one else has what they have. And sometimes, it all works out. But sometimes, it doesn’t.

Love is a really powerful emotion. It generally hurts. There is nothing worse than hearing from someone you love bad news. There is nothing better than hearing good news. Yet both produce tears.

 

Her

I use my cell phone almost all day. I am constantly reading, searching, texting, communicating, and playing with it. I try to dedicate at least an hour a day where I am not within five feet of it. And that is hard. I want to play music out of it or do something at all times. I find it to be the most important gadget I have ever owned. The only thing that I don’t do on it is write. I go to my desktop computer for that as I find the keyboard and the large monitor refreshing.

I wake up with the phone feet from my face. I shower, watch WGN Morning News, and jump into my car where it speaks to my phone through Bluetooth technology to let me listen to a podcast or Pandora. When I get to work, I may text on occasion, but my eyes are glued on my two screen setup, unless I have to write on paper or I’m in a meeting. I jump back into the car where it resumes playing whatever I was listening to 8 hours earlier. I get home and turn my desktop computer on or the television on and have my phone in my hands or within a few feet of my fingers. And when I go to bed, I set my sleep app to track my movements. It’s a totalitarian device – from cradle to grave. Yet five years ago, I did not even have a Smartphone. Today, it is the thing I grab if I have a minute of downtime.

HerHer plays on this phenomenon. Within a course of a generation, we went from dial-up connections and chat rooms to constant Wi-Fi and apps. Spike Jonze envisions a world where we have a “friend.” The extent of that friend seems to depend on the needs of the individual and the person sets the limits. But as you see people walk around, everyone is talking to themselves. There is not a group of people who travel together in the entire movie. There are couples but they seem strange in the world. They are almost unsettling.

I posit that that is the point of the movie. Personal relationships are unsettling and we fear that reality in an age where we don’t have to interact that way. We can telecommute to the office, ask Siri questions, be rejected by a potential suitor with a computer screen between you, and IM/text all night long. If we didn’t have physical needs, I wonder how many people would explore the world.

We have all had the experience where we are at a restaurant and we notice a child playing with a device and someone will comment on how bad it is for the child. We have all had the experience where a group of people will sit down and immediately start playing with their devices instead of interacting with each other. We have all seen two people walk by us in what seems like a pairing but they are talking to two separate individuals through their phones or listening to separate music. Her shows us why we are uncomfortable with all of this when we see it but we don’t notice it when we live it. It is an uncomfortable movie, but within minutes of it ending, I saw three people turn their phones on.

Joaquin Phoenix’s character longs for his soon-to-be ex-wife and the past they shared, but at the same time, he has changed his entire perspective on what he needs based on this devastating event. He writes letters for other people for a living because everyone has disconnected from their feelings. He dreams of his wife but stays in his home playing video games, talking to strangers through his computer, and eventually falling in love with his OS. No matter how much you may have liked Windows XP, I will assume you didn’t have sexual feelings about it.

Hotter OnlineWhen I began dating, I used online programs and the first thing I noticed was that the same people seemed to have joined all of them. They seemed to not even want to move past the stage of chatting in emails. They would flirt with me and put butterflies in my belly but then disappear. A few months later, they may return. In some instances, they remembered talking to you but I assume that was because they didn’t delete their chat history. They lived online and continually looked for something more because the Internet provides you with a cornucopia of options. In theory, there is no end to what you can get or expect to get. There is always something coming around the corner. And perfection exists – and we must find it.

There is a subculture of digital personalities so we create our own image of perfection. We craft a persona on Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, and other online arenas. Many of us like to put positive feelings out there about our lives, children, houses, and jobs. We express all of the best of our lives. Others love to dwell on the negatives and use Facebook and Twitter as a release. But we craft what we want to say very carefully. We respond to certain people but not others. I think we love having such control in the image we put forward. We love having a group of people to commiserate with and to join in our joys.

Her gives us our own individual promise of what we perceive Facebook to give us. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) gave Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) someone he felt he could trust unconditionally though he had no reason to believe that. She was created based on his desires and conditions. She was created for him just like we create our online persona for ourselves. I believe that is why Amy (Amy Adams) has an OS who is a best friend for her and someone that she was left by her husband who left her for a simpler life.

I love the Internet. I love that I have a place to post what I write. I love that I can then post this to Facebook. I know I am walking into a trap though. I know what is new and exciting today will be useless tomorrow. One day, Facebook will be a deserted island with all of these pictures and posts looking like the remnants of the Minoan culture. And I will want to write and be apart of the next thing. I would buy an OS to be my friend. I just hope I don’t lose sight of my real friends. I just hope I don’t lose sight in the reality of life and not the perfection that we have come to expect from the Internet and our online personas. Because even what you think is perfect today may not be tomorrow. And shockingly, there is nothing wrong with that flux.

Horrible things happen to people and they can happen to them without 100 people seeing the melancholy and expecting cheering up. Great things will happen to you in your life where there will be no one to celebrate or “like” it. You will fall in love. You will lose love. You will regain love. But most of all you will grow. You will fail and you will be hurt by people.

But if you want to live in a world where no one is hurt, then online is perfect for you because you can choose to ignore the hurt and the loneliness. You can try to find a little perfect corner where you will succeed – but it isn’t real. It isn’t life and it will never be perfect. It will shift and it will change. And you will need to know how to honestly react to it. It won’t just be logging off.

Lou Reed

I didn’t watch the Grammys last night but I was assuming that today I would have watched a tribute to one of the pioneers of modern Rock and Roll, Lou Reed. But as usual, the music industry let me down. I can’t be too upset by the whole thing, but it made me decide that I never wrote about how important his music was to me in many of the hardest times of my life.

I was not very adventurous with my musical tastes. Growing up, I listened to Oldies 104.3 because that was what my mom liked and my cassette tape of the Canadian cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was the version with Donny Osmond. When I got to college, however, I had no radio. I couldn’t even get the college radio station in my dorm room, which shows the strength of the signal in Ripon, WI. Instead, I found Rhapsody, a streaming music site, which cost $10 per month. I had the whole world of music to listen to. All of the musicals I loved and a whole world of music I only knew some songs from.

Lou ReedMy brother introduced me to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground when he found out I was listening to a lot of David Bowie. I was having a bit of a rough year as I knew most of my friends were graduating and I would be left in college on my own. The isolation that one feels when everyone else seems to have nothing but a social life is a strange phenomenon, but I seem to have it in spades. Dave gave me a copy of The Velvet Undergound and Nico. From the first chimes that ring when the CD starts, I was mesmerized. Every Sunday, I would listen to Sunday Morning when I awoke around 7am. I would start my day with Lou Reed and that haunting voice. The celesta awoke my spirit in a way that I needed at the start of each week after a solitary night when the rest of campus was entertaining each other. I would take my Discman and walk around campus when it was quiet. I knew when the disc would skip in the middle of  I’m Waiting for My Man. And it would bring me calm.

Dave noticed that most of the songs I loved on the album were sung by Nico. I have never been a fan of abrasive music. I always fall for the softness. My favorite songs on London Calling are the Mick Jones songs. There is definitely a similarity to the pleasant sounds of Nico’s voice to the harmonies that The Clash reach in I’m Not Down. Don’t get me wrong. Heroin is one of my foundation songs, but we will get there in a bit.

I would listen to the album when I ran, just in my head. I memorized it to the point where I had a song for each occasion. When I needed a pick me up, I would go for a Run Run Run. When I wanted to mellow out, I would hum There She Goes Again. But Heroin was my race song. I needed to power up and power down in races. It relaxed me. For those of you who don’t know the song, here is a link to a YouTube video.

But it starts slow and ramps up for a few minutes and then slows back down, just like a Fartlek run. Lou Reed provided me with the perfect song to run my best. And I shared this with Dave. I knew he liked the song as well and when he was very nervous his junior year before Sectionals, I gave him the only advice I could give him (again, this story will follow a bit later). I told him to imagine Lou Reed singing Heroin. It would calm him down to settle into the right pace in the pack he was in and then when it began to ramp up in his head, it was time to leave that pack and bust it open to get to the next pack in time to settle down into that rhythm. For a seven minute song, it goes and goes and goes until it just goes off the rail. I’m assuming it is how heroin feels but since I have never done any sort of drug, running a cross country race was as close as I could get. He said it worked after he qualified for nationals. May be the best coaching advice I ever gave anyone.

Law school didn’t get off to a great start either but I would visit a Tower Records often. I know…at some point, no one will know what that means, but I loved walking in there to see the new CDs. Ironically, one day when I was at my worst, a re-release of Loaded had just come out. I was unfamiliar with the album, but I knew Lou Reed would not let me down. Within a few hours, it became the only CD I listened to. With the same Discman, I popped in Loaded and would jump on the Green Line to get to Kent.

Around this time, I was seeing a psychiatrist who liked to give me drugs. I didn’t do well with drugs. I became very depressed and lethargic. I hated how I felt on them and wanted to feel something. I am supposing that much of Lou Reed’s music had a similar sense as he was on lots of drugs through much of this time and I wonder if these songs were what woke him up and moved him through the day. That is what they did for me. I would dance down the street listening to Rock and Roll. These songs had a 1960s Rock sound in them. There was a Motown taste in Lou Reed’s mind. Songs like I Found A Reason just would make me smile in a time when nothing made me smile.

the velvet underground & nico  1967 lou reedEventually, my psychiatrist took me off the pills since they were making things worst. The week he did this was the week before Dave’s Sectionals race and I had to turn in a research project for my legal writing class. I was feeling very cold and very sick because I was no longer taking anti-depressants. I wore a sweatshirt and a wool hat to school and could barely talk. I was going through a withdrawal that I was not expecting. I had never been more scared in my life and did not know what was going to happen next. But I had to turn in the project: a binder full of all of my research. That afternoon, I got on the train to go home and had to call my parents to help me get off the train. I was scared to walk as I was losing my motor skills. I couldn’t hold anything and kept shaking. I went to the hospital that evening and they told me it was withdrawal and that I would be okay but that I needed to ween myself off of the pills. Thanks, Doc…

The next day, I got to Iowa and gave Dave the advice about Heroin. It scared him to hear the advice but he knew it was important because it was all I said in between shaking fits. I had listened to The Velvet Underground and Nico on the way to Iowa and the song was on my head. I knew I was going to be okay and I wanted to help my brother out.

When I got back to law school, I got my binder back. I didn’t do very well on the assignment as I didn’t remember some of the documents that were sitting on my desk. But I did remember one specific sheet of paper to put in the front cover of the binder. I had lots of song lyrics laying around my room. Somehow, after sitting in the back of the room with a sweatshirt and wool hat pull over my head, I included the lyrics to Heroin for the professor to see. Thanks, Lou Reed.

But I got through law school, got my degree, and continued to listen to The Velvet Underground. And over time, I moved into Lou Reed’s solo work. This past Christmas, Brian bought me Transformer. I put it in the record player often just to hear Hangin’ Around. There are so many perfect songs on the album and it always makes me happy to hear. All of his music was with me in a lot of troubling times and unlike some of the music, I don’t have bad memories of it. I can really never listen to After the Gold Rush again as it became my depression album, but I can still put in any of his records and just feel free.

I’m a pretty straight laced kid. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. Never was very risky at all. But I love so many of these Lou Reed anthems that probably have a risky story tied to them. He spoke to me in a way that very few musicians ever have. I will always have his music to listen to and I feel blessed because of that. Thanks, Lou.

Jeopardy Quiz or How I’ll Never Be A Contestant

I always get nervous about the Jeopardy quiz. For the past four years, I have taken the Jeopardy online test to qualify for a possible random selection for an interview and a practice game to possibly appear on my favorite game show. I take it because I love games and want to test my knowledge on so many fields. I have a few wholes in my knowledge – geography, liquor, and classical music. Last year, I read Othello and part of Wuthering Heights to prepare for Jeopardy. No questions on either of those this Jeopardy quiz. There was one on King Lear. I think I got it right. But I would love to appear on the show. I think it would be amazing to meet other people who love trivia and have little nerdy qualities. I would love to compete against them in fun categories about minerals and TV theme songs. Not just look at the JBoard.tv website after the Jeopardy Quiz and make small talk with a few other contestant hopefuls.

Jeopardy QuizI used to show up late for cross country practice to see Final Jeopardy. I have taped it every day since law school started. I watched every episode of Ken Jennings‘ long run on the show. I had a Jeopardy! handheld game. I had the computer game. I had the Super Nintendo game. I just love trivia. I love the game and I feel lucky to just take the Jeopardy quiz each year.

Of course, I would love to appear on the show one day or at least meet Alex Trebek and tell him how much I enjoy the show. But if that never happens, I’ll survive. Most people don’t get to appear on the show. And the quiz really makes me realize where I am in my knowledge and what I’m missing.  I know my television and musicals. But hard knowledge – not so strong. I generally guess my way through with basic knowledge. But I always forget about Mt. Etna and have no idea where any desert besides the Sahara is. I think I got 33/50. I probably should have paid more attention to The Hunger Games…

Here is a YouTube video of the Jeopardy quiz for an idea of what you missed out on:

Marijuana Legalization

I remember in high school that I was once on a run with some teammates and they were talking about marijuana. Because they knew I liked politics, they asked me if I was for legalization. I was never a popular kid and I did want people to like me. I honestly had no thoughts on the matter because I didn’t even really know what it was besides what I learned from after school specials. I had never encountered it. I had never encountered any drug outside of the time this girl would hide her cigarettes in my locker in middle school because she knew that no one would search my locker. I went through all of high school without seeing anyone with a red Solo cup or tasting a beer. I definitely never saw pot.

Marijuana Rally 2007-09-15 34So, I said, yes. I did support legalization. I believed them when they told me it was no worse than alcohol. I believed them that it was a way to relax. And if nothing else, I didn’t need to seem even more square than I already was. It didn’t mean I was going to try it. But I wanted to show that my liberal credentials were solid.

Unfortunately, I still feel I need to do that on this topic.

After Colorado and Washington legalized small amounts of pot, it has become a hot topic. And strangely enough, the only real connection to marijuana use happened in 2013. A few days ago, I wrote to Andrew Sullivan of The Dish the whole story.

I don’t know if it is worse than alcohol. And as someone who doesn’t drink, I have no frame of reference. I have never been drunk. I have never wanted to be drunk. I had only one drug in my past – antidepressants. And I never want to have that loss of control feeling again. I hated it because I lost myself. And as hard as I am on myself, I like myself. Maybe I am not supposed to be relaxed. I might be tense and a bit of a stick in the mud. I may not be very social and maybe a drink would calm my nerves but I have made the decision to not do that to myself. It isn’t good for my social life, but I am content with being the guy who reads and writes.

I understand why people want to use drugs. I understand the want to relax and basically shut your mind down. I do the same thing with reality television and superhero comics. But there is one thing that reality television and superhero comics don’t do: create addiction. Yes, alcohol is legal and creates addiction. And maybe pot should be legalized with the same thing. But to just write it off as a given and a good thing ignores one big problem. And I have not seen anyone pointing this out. I don’t know if it is a gateway drug and honestly, I don’t care. My biggest concern about marijuana legalization is that addiction is forgotten. Marijuana is addictive.

People addicted to things aren’t bad people. People are addicted to lots of things – good and bad. But addiction creates a dependency on something that seems to extend past boundaries. And that was how it affected me in 2013. I don’t know how to talk about this without going into the details and I don’t want to get into the details, but it hurt more than I can really say. I saw someone on marijuana say and do things that I couldn’t comprehend. It is why I am torn about legalization.

I understand the tax arguments. I presume the “no worse than alcohol” argument. I presume the crime statistics are true and that there are lots of individuals arrested for marijuana possession. But there are going to be people hurt by legalization, just as there are people hurt by alcohol legalization. And that will be something I will never understand. I don’t think I’m meant to.Marijuana Tax Stamps

I don’t see this as some big civil liberty win. I see this in the same category as abortion. It is something I wish never happened. I wish no one got high. There are so many beautiful things in the world to see and explore. I will never understand why it is more fun to sit in a room and get high, just like I don’t get why it is fun to get together with friends, get drunk, and then forget what happened the night before. I honestly believe I only have so many hours on this Earth and I want to be aware of as many as I can. I need my sleep but otherwise, I want to be alert and ready to go.

Lots of productive people smoke marijuana. Lots of smart people drink. Lots of amazing people do both. I will never be one of them. Just like abortion, I understand why people want it to be legal. But just like abortion, I wish that we lived in a world where it didn’t have to be. So, if it is to be legalized, I won’t celebrate it. I don’t think it will be the end of society or the beginning of some sort of US crash as the Chinese become more productive than us. But I will continue to wonder why people need something to escape.

2014 Goals

Goal LineAs 2013 was derailed early, I didn’t get much of what I wanted accomplished done. Well, not this year. I’m going to make a few changes and actually get things on track. So far, 2014 has started

  1. Write 4 short stories (at least).
  2. Return to my novel, The Release.
  3. Write on this blog at least once a week and write at least once a week on my comics blog, comics.rockthewesternworld.com.
  4. Continue going to the gym and running. I want to run a 10K this summer and be under 8 min per mile pace. It isn’t an insane goal, but I want to shoot for doable.
  5. Just enjoy life. Sounds easy. It usually isn”t.
  6. Redesign the blog. Make it more of a personal page with blog outlets. I just need to think of a good homepage!