Follow or Face My Wrath

Sunday, November 10, 2013

And then I met Steph.

Today marks the first anniversary of my marriage to Stephanie Silvers.  Though our journey is yet at its beginning, I think it appropriate that I stop to reflect on where we've been so far.
Stephanie and I have actually been an item for nearly five years now (on the 28th of December, if memory serves) and we've had some time to go through a few ups and downs together.  We moved in together about nine or ten months after meeting, got engaged about eight months after that and immediately moved across the country.
My whole life I expected to live in Kansas City until the day I die.  I really did like that city, and I never imagined I would have a compelling reason to go anywhere else.  In high school and even college, there was always a popular sentiment of "I gotta get out of this boring state" that I never subscribed to.  A contrarian from a tender age, I decided that KC was the place for me, and I stuck to it for 28 years.  And then I met Steph.
I had been in the market for a serious girlfriend for some time.  I've never been very smooth with the ladies (still not, ask Steph) but I had managed to wrangle one date in the months before I met Steph.  My impressions of the girl were that she was merely an unmolded lump of clay.  An uncarved stone which I could shape into anything if I wanted to.  I found this completely boring  and unattractive.  And then I met Steph.  
If ever there was a fully-forged person, Steph is it.  Opinionated, intelligent, down-to-earth and downright beautiful, she was everything I was looking for.  I didn't know I was looking for those things until I had them in front of me, but there they were.  And that's been the name of the game ever since.
For me, our relationship has been a process of discovering things about myself that I was previously unaware of, and finding that it's who I've always been underneath.  We had a conversation just the other day about a walk I went on through an affluent neighborhood just south of our apartment, and how I gazed in slack-jawed envy at the gorgeous houses hidden in those quiet hills.  I have full-on house fever now.  I never gave a shit about houses.  And then I met Steph.
I used to pile dishes in the sink for days before grudgingly washing them.  I used to run errands in the same pajamas I slept in.  I used to think putting a few fresh vegetables in a packet of ramen made me a good cook.  I used to only do laundry when I ran out of clothes.  And then I met Steph.
I used to be content.  I was never depressed, rarely overjoyed, just content.  A somewhat-less-than-happy medium at all times.  I considered myslef very composed.  I almost never had strong emotions about anything.  And then I met Steph.
I want a beautiful home to share with her.  I clean the dishes every day.  I put on pants before I leave the house (almost every time).  I can bake apple pie from scratch.  I do laundry every week.I laugh harder than I should at things that aren't that funny.  I get angry.  Really angry, sometimes.  I cry at movies.  I tell people I love them more often.  I make an effort to be polite to strangers.  I've even *gulp!* hugged some of my dude friends (only a few times).
I'm alive because of Stephanie.
I left home for her, because she is my home.
Before I met her, I didn't feel much of anything.  I might have been interested in things, I might have wanted things, but those aren't emotions.  Now I feel everything.
And it's a pain in the ass sometimes.  Me and Steph?  We fight a lot.  We don't scream and yell at each other, but we're always disagreeing about something.  I used to think that fighting was what makes a relationship weak.  But Steph has shown me that fighting is what makes a relationship strong.  I know I love her because I can hate her and, dammit, I still love her.  We can hurt each other's feelings, and believe me we have the power.  And that to me is the surest sign that we care.  If we couldn't affect each other, if one of us was growing indifferent, I would be worried.
If you can't go to hell and back with somebody, how well do you really know them?  I'm confident that me and Steph can come back from anything.  We're always on the same team, even when we're fighting, and dammit, I have to say that feels fucking rad.  Sorry for the F-bomb, but it just makes me feel really cool to have a woman like that for my wife.  
I realize this whole post has kind of been about me, but that's just the clearest way I can get this point across.  Because Steph's best trait isn't the obvious things you think of.  Yes, she's beautiful.  Yes, she's smart.  Smarter and more beautiful than she gives herself credit for, which also means she's humble.  Yes, all of that.  But what I love best about her is the way she effects other people.  Nobody likes Steph.  They love her.  Nobody has fun with her.  They have a blast with her.  Nobody quietly disagrees with her.  They fight with her.  Nobody is insulted by her.  They're destroyed by her.  She's a human being turned up to eleven.
For whatever reason, she has chosen to see only the best in me.  When we met, I was a shabbily-dressed pothead with a crappy job and no plans for the future.  Now... well I'm still shabbily dressed, but less so. And I haven't done anything illegal since I met her.  I don't even speed anymore.  Some people might still call my job crappy because it doesn't bring in a ton of money, but I've literally never been happier.  I used to be embarrassed to tell people what I did for a living.  Now... I'm a writer.  I may not be Hemingway, but I'm a writer.  And the future's so bright I gotta wear shades.  She brings out the best in me, as she does with everyone who knows her.
And as soon as we get the chance, I want to make more humans with her, because I'm hoping they'll turn out like her.  The only contribution I plan to make is to ensure they like heavy metal, Star Wars and beards.  If they get those few things from me, and the rest from Steph, they'll be the best people I know.
I used to be half a person.  And then I met Steph.  I'm hoping that rate of multiplication continues exponentially, because this world will be a better place.  I know my world is a better place now that she's in it.
Love you, babe.  Happy anniversary.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Let me clarify something...

I just realized that the article I wrote yesterday might come off a touch different than I intended it.
The point of yesterday's article was to say that people should quit hating on cell phones.  I wanted to point out that, like all things, you can use them for benefit or detriment.
What I did not intend to say was that playing mind-numbing games is uniformly bad.  If you are a person who exerts their brain to exhaustion in their career, you deserve a little mind-numbing every now and then.  If you are a student who actually takes your studies seriously, you deserve to relax your brain from time to time.  When used in proper context, these games can be healthy.  I don't advocate playing them to the exclusion of more important things, but I acknowledge that they have a place in a balanced lifestyle.
So if you work your brains on a daily basis and play a little Farmville to relax, I don't blame you.  But if you're in a dead end job you hate and you spend all your free time "relaxing", you have the power to break the cycle.
That's all I'm trying to say.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It's the Future, People.

In the past few years, as smartphones have become more & more ubiquitous, I've become aware of a growing sentiment that these devices are somehow robbing us of our basic humanity.  If any of you have ever criticized a friend or acquaintance for always being on their phone, you may consciously or subconsciously subscribe to this view.
I'm here to refute this, insofar as a humble blogger with a laughably low share of web traffic can.
First, I'd like to point out the obvious fact that people who criticize others for overusing their phones are among the biggest hypocrites in existence.  Everyone is on their phone virtually every spare second of the day.  Admit it.  You do it too.
Now that that's out of the way...
I think the idea that these devices are somehow bad for us must come from one of two things (or probably both): the fact that people simply look disengaged from the world when they're hunched over a small rectangular piece of plastic; or the fact that some of us concentrate so single-mindedly on these devices as to forget things like our basic safety, i.e. texting and driving.  (an amusing note: I typed the word "texting" and blogger noted it as a spelling error with the traditional red squiggly underlining.  Amusing that that word and all its derivatives aren't yet regarded as a proper word by all programs)
As to the disregard of one's basic safety, I have no refutation.  It is obviously a problem that we must overcome, and there is no excuse for endangering yourself and others.  But that's why wearable technology is so cool (more on that in a moment).
As to the simple distaste for seeing a person focused on a handheld object rather than the world around them, I feel that it might be a fundamental misapprehension of what these devices are.
A phone looks like a mere object.  To eschew perception of the world at large for a mere object would indeed be foolhardy, but the fact is that these devices are not mere self-contained objects, but portals into a world that is much larger than one's current environs.  Chances are your immediate environment is familiar to you.  Why waste precious seconds of your mental life observing the familiar?  Why not interact with things beyond yourself instead?
Now, if those things are escapist distractions like Imgur or Angry Birds, I actually quite agree that spending too much time on your phone robs you of something.  However, if you're reading the New York Times or perhaps an ebook version of Dracula, the criticism loses some of its efficacy.  The smartphone, like all human contrivance, can be used for good or ill - it has no inherent morality.  It's simply a matter of what one chooses to do with it.
A matter of weeks ago, I downloaded a game called Tiny Tower.  In this game, you earn money by selling items from stores in a virtual building.  With the money, you build more floors and populate them with more stores and more tenants.  Gameplay consists almost entirely of waiting for people to board the elevator, directing the elevator to their desired floor and clicking on a store to restock it's wares.  In other words, it's mind-numbing crap.
I was under the spell of this game for quite some time before I realized how wasteful it was.  It's one of those games that sends you notifications asking you to play it; informing you that one of your stores needs restocking, or that your most recent addition has completed construction.  I wasted countless minutes of my mental life being numbed by this game.
I finally realized that all that game (and all games like it) really do is provide a healing salve for ordinary boredom.  But to paraphrase a very astute observation from a very unlikely source, being bored is the signal that it's time to do something creative, or to learn something.  It's your brain's way of telling you there is room for improvement.  If you spend all of your "bored time" being soothed into catatonic ineptitude, you will find one day that you aren't very good at anything.  These types of games are electronic weed.  They make you stupider.
I've replaced my electronic weed with two new things: FitBrains and DuoLingo.  FitBrains is like, except it works on Android phones.  DuoLingo is like Rosetta Stone, but it's free.  I'm learning Spanish a few minutes a day.  I am also filling many spare minutes reading random Wikipedia articles.
Everybody has these minutes.  And many of us spend them playing games like Tiny Tower.  But I have enough faith in humans to say that one day, soon enough, another trend will emerge.  It might not overtake the electronic weed (after all the one thing almost all people agree upon is that there are more stupid people than smart people in this world), but I think it will be a significant trend nonetheless.  I think some people will wise up and say, "Hey, why don't I use these spare seconds to improve myself in some way?"
And that is one very big reason why smartphones are good.  Because in the past, if you wanted to improve yourself, you had to seek out an expert, often pay them for their time, and devote significant portions of your life to the endeavor.  Even in the digital age, you used to have to go sit at a computer and not do other things like do laundry or ride the bus.  Now in the smartphone age, there are a million ways to learn and experience more, and you can do it a few seconds at a time, while still going about your daily life.  You just have to make the smart decision to use your time wisely.
Another aspect of the smartphone experience that often falls under criticism is the constant attention paid to Social Networks.  I, for one, am a huge advocate of the social network.  In the age of Facebook, I now know more about what's going on in my friend's lives that I ever have.  I feel more in touch with the people I like and love than before I joined Facebook.  What harm can come from being more in touch with people?  And while every thought may not need recording for posterity, what possible harm can it do?
I think the criticism comes from the narcissism inherent in the social media experience.  One must tacitly say "Hey, look at me!  This is what I'm thinking!"  Again, I invoke the hypocrisy retort here.  Everyone wants to be known.  Facebook and social networks like it allow us to feed this instinct in a passive manner.  The average person can subdue the basic human need to draw attention to themselves with a few posts a week.  I view it as a healthy way of diverting a natural instinct into a harmless activity, rather than allow it to build into bad social behavior.  And social networks like Pinterest serve an additional purpose; they extend the reach of your memory.  I don't know how to build a vertical garden, but I pinned it, and I can know it any time I wish.
Either the above is the case, or social media critics must view interactions on Facebook as somehow "less real" than conversations using our vocal chords.  I would respond that people have been communicating via the written word almost as long as we've been using our voice boxes.  The fact that the words no longer have to be of any great import, and the audience no longer has to go to any great effort to receive them seems like a good thing to me.  I feel like if Facebook conversations are "less real" than physical interactions, then writing a letter by email is "less real" than if you had used the post office and written the letter by hand.   We have always interacted in different degrees of reality.  Seeing a sign someone put up isn't as "real" as having them tell you to STOP or that the 7-11 is CLOSED.  Why would you want it to be?   Not all interactions require the full level of reality to be meaningful, and I think this is especially true of the passing observations we post to Facebook.  But by virtue of our having access to them, by virtue of their being expressed at all, do we know know one another better?  I have an old work acquaintance that posts recipes and culinary accomplishments regularly, yet we never talked about these things when we worked together.  Do I not know her better for seeing these posts and pins?
If anything, I think the speed and ease with which we access each other's words makes these interactions more real.  Rather than wait for your letter to arrive, or for a convenient time to come when we can meet and talk, I get a beep in my pocket and I have received the information you wished to convey in a matter of seconds.  Where is the harm in easy flow of information?  True, not all of it is of much worth, but what of that?  It's not as if any precious resources were expended in the creation of it.  Again, where is the harm?
If all you do with your phone is play Candy Crush and take selfies, then it's easy to think that these devices are bad for us.  But if you choose to do something worthy with the brilliant technology you hold in your hand, then you must realize, as I do, that this is the future we've always dreamed of.  We have the privilege of having the wealth of all human knowledge in our pockets at all times, and we may transfer it into our brains at any time we wish, with a minimum of fuss.  We have everyone we care about in our hands, and while it may not measure up to the experience of actually being in their presence, we can still reach out and touch them any time we want, and with smaller concerns the lighter touch of social media is, in a way, more appropriate.
Now that these capabilities are being built into wearable technology like Google Glass, Galaxy Gear and Airo, it's only getting easier.  And less dangerous!  If we all had Google Glass, we could text and drive to our heart's content without ever taking our eyes off the road.  I, for one, look forward to a day when we can weave these technologies into our very flesh, and we needn't ever be separated from them.
To have all this power is a privilege, not a burden.  It's the future, people.  It's coming, whether you like it or not.  Yes, there will be some speedbumps on the way.  And some casualties (like perhaps my entire trade).  But you might as well ride the wave, or you'll get pulled down by the undertow.

...Oh and hey, if you wanted to spend some of those minutes reading my short stories it definitely won't hurt you.  Fiction is good for the brain too.

#technology #science #brain #brainsmanship #GoogleGlass #GalaxyGear #Airo #DuoLingo #FitBrains #smartphones #phones #future #socialmedia #free #ebooks #writing #reading

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Hater Gotta Hate

I'm sure many of you have experienced this (and some of the more popular ones among you may experience it constantly), but every now and then I make a post on Facebook that for one reason or another is just "hot".  Sometimes I'll get 20 likes and comments for the most mundane observations of daily life.  Who knows why this happens, but it does.
The weekend before last I made a post that had to do with the general agreement among serious music listeners that Nickelback sucks. This was one of those "hot" posts, and I've decided that it's rant-worthy.
For me personally, an appreciation of any music begins first with an impression that the artist is doing what they do because they have some genuine artistic statement they would like to make.  Some artistic statements are bolder and more ambitious than others.  Some bands have so much to say they can't squeeze it into a single artistic medium, and even after diversifying across multiple media are left with a body of work so titanic and esoteric it drives a great deal of fans away.  Other bands wish only to put across the simplest of messages, like "Dancing is fun!" or "Ain't love grand?".  I hold both these modus operandi to be equally valid, although it is debatable whether they are of equal value.  The value one ascribes to either approach is dependent wholly on one's musical tastes and one's attention span.  Add to this the fact that some timbres of sound are more pleasant to some people than others, and you have enough variables to remove objectivity from the study of music altogether.
However, this does not mean that all opinions on music are of equal argumentative worth.  Some are easier to defend than others.  We are therefore free to argue about who sucks and who rocks with moral impunity.  I have often expressed the sentiment that a particular band "sucks ass" and been met with the retort that that's "Only my opinion, and you can't argue about matters of opinion."  To which I reply that one can only argue about matters of opinion.  Facts are facts, fixed and eternal, to which there is no argument, only correct and incorrect perception.  Arguing about opinions may not be terribly effective, but well, a hater's gotta hate.
And I hate Nickelback.  I find their music to be the most flaccid, watered-down excuse for rock that exists in today's music landscape.  Full disclosure: I actually bought their first CD, and listened to the whole thing more than once.  Yep.  So when I say they blow, I'm not just blowing smoke, I know what I'm talking about.
Look at this douchebag.  Look at him!

Nickelback is just the most prominent, highest-grossing symptom of a disease that runs rampant in rock music.  While derived from the popular music tradition (I mean that in the academic sense), Rock is nonetheless stylistically distinct from Pop Music.  Pop music is a form of entertainment, while at it's core Rock music is a means of artistic expression (this was not always true; we owe this state of affairs to visionaries like the Beatles and the recently deceased Lou Reed).  The lines between rock and pop have always been blurry, and the best artists get to have it both ways.  But as the music and recording industry has grown stronger and obtained more control over the artists they "represent", more and more we see artists who wear the clothing and attitude of rock and roll but are truly pop artists at heart.  This is Nickelback I'm talking about.
Like I said, the line is blurry, but it's one of those things where you know it when you hear it.  Nickelback writes catchy tunes, but have you ever thought about one after you stopped listening to it?  I don't mean did it get stuck in your head, I mean have you ever thought about the song?  It's guitar riff, or the meaning of it's lyrics?  Probably not, and if you have, I would bet your mind is not generally occupied with anything exciting.  Pop music does not encourage too much reflection.  It exists for one reason and one reason only: so that you will pay for it (this does not necessarily mean all of it is bad; see all pop of the 1980s). Whatever it has to be to get your money, it will be exactly that.  And the people that make it often don't care what it has to be.  If one style is selling particularly well, that's the style they play.
You see this lack of engagement in all artistic media.  In Hollywood, for example, there are scores upon scores of cast & crew members for whom making movies is just a means to collect a paycheck, and to whom a paycheck is just a means to temporarily escape from the mindless minutia of daily existence.  These people don't care about making movies.  They don't know anything more about making movies than they have to.  Some of them don't watch many movies, or even particularly like movies.  The film business holds about as much passion for them as waiting tables or accounting.  These are the people that bring you films like the 2002 Rollerball or Hellraiser: Revelations.  Obviously the world could not function without these types of people, but that doesn't mean I have to afford them equal respect as I would to say David Bowie.
To this dispassionate, "I'm only here for the money" attitude, Nickelback is the soundtrack.  They're not the first, but they're this hater's flavor of the decade.
Some people can do this and get away with it by accident.  Bon Jovi is the best example I can think of; they participated in the commercialization of an otherwise 100% honest style of music (Heavy Metal), but lo and behold, they came out with incredibly kick ass songs like "Dead or Alive" and "Livin' on a Prayer".  Did anyone know or care about anything they did before, or after those songs, though?  Not many people did.  And now Jon Bon Jovi plays limp-wristed pop-country music.  Know why?  Because it's the hottest selling musical style right now, just like metal was the hottest thing in the mid 80's.
Nickelback jumped on the grunge bandwagon pretty late in the game (you can always tell the posers because they usually show up late), and they had a few hits, the first two of which are totally indistinguishable to me.  As the years have gone by, the sound of their singles has thinned out until it reached that same stylistic area of almost-country-but-not-quite.  I'm sure they still try to rock a little on their albums, but I certainly don't care enough to find out.
According to Wikipedia, Nickelback is the second best-selling band in the US, behind the Beatles.  So if we measure artistic success purely by sales figures, Nickelback is almost as good as the Beatles.  But I don't judge by album sales.  Its a quantitative measurement, not a qualitative one.  It makes about as much sense as measuring a suit by how many fish you can stuff into it.
In the end, I am occasionally happy to be entertained by pop music, but when you ask me if it's as good as say "A Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper's or even as good as "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Mötley Crüe, I'll be forced to tell you that no, it isn't.  I don't need every band to be The Beatles.  I don't even need every band to be The Animals or any of the countless also-rans of a particular music movement.  I just need the bands I listen to to mean it.  I need sincerity.  And that, my friends, is what Nickelback most sorely lacks.

#music #nickelbacksucks #rock #popmusic #art #hate

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Things that I have seen and experienced lately

I don't have anything in particular to write about, so I just want to briefly share with you a few things I've discovered lately:

A band:
Bloodrock are a proto-metal band that sound kind of like a cross between Deep Purple and Pentagram (who is Pentagram?  Check them out here)  They produced 6 albums between 1971 and 1973, which is lightning fast, even by 70's standards.  The latter 5 albums are of debatable quality, containing only a few gems apiece, but the first album totally destroys.  Anyone who likes rock music that actually rocks should check it out.

A movie:
My gorgeous wife and I got pre-screening tickets to go see About Time; the latest film from the people who brought you Notting Hill and Love, Actually.  I really did like Love, Actually so I walked in assuming the movie would be at least alright.  I know this probably necessitates the immediate burning of my man card, but I actually like a good romantic comedy.  Personally, my manhood isn't threatened by laughing at the trials and tribulations one endures in the complicated dance that is human coupling.  I've been there, to some extent, so I can laugh at it.
ANYWAY, About Time was freaking brilliant.  One of the funniest movies I've seen in a while that wasn't a zany comedy in the vein of Anchorman or Zoolander.  It was also supremely heartbreaking towards the end.  I won't give you any spoilers, but suffice it to say that when I left the theater I wanted to immediately call my dad and tell him I loved him.  I didn't because that would be a bit random.
So you should go see this movie.  It's hilarious and if you don't get a little misty at parts your soul may have withered beyond repair.

A place:
Lately I've been taking long walks around my neighborhood to get some light exercise.  I've been having a lot of fun exploring the areas nearby, and I've even snuck into a few areas where I definitely wasn't supposed to be.  Which is fun, if you've never tried it.
Anyway, lo and behold, I've been living next to an enormous wildlife reserve for 2 1/2 years and I never even knew it.  It looks like an abandoned construction site from the road, but the Sepulveda Wildlife Area is actually surprisingly nice.  There's a great collection of trails, some built by the Parks department, others forged by bums making their way to and from their bum camps.  There is cool graffiti and a lot of little gray lizards and a lake and a HUGE dam you can climb around and some really nice little groves of trees around the several creeks that run through the area.  If you live in LA, you should come hike around and explore this place.

A tool:
Everyone these days knows what a QR code is, even if they don't know it by name.  It's one of those square codes with the dots in random patterns that you can scan with your phone.  It never even occurred to me to check this, but you can generate those for free online.  What would you use them for, you ask?  What wouldn't you use them for?  I reply.  It's a great tool to make your business' website easier to access, as well as any content you have that you want to draw people into.  You can make them bring up text, contact info, phone numbers, whatever.  I'm seriously considering getting a tattoo of one that includes my emergency info or maybe some kind of esoteric message.  So if you have a website or anything that you want people to know about, go to this site to generate one for free in like 2 seconds.

And those are the big items in my life lately.
What's going on in your life?

#life #discovery #rock #music #abouttime #movies #love #hiking #exploring #nature #wildlife #socialmarketing #fun