My first thoughts focus upon what use, if any, I make out of the years of writing I left strewn about on LJ and other locations. I know I left good material buried in those various caches – writing that I can certainly rework in one fashion or another. However, might it be better for me to write from scratch and just use my previous writing solely as reference material? Of course, I don’t necessarily need to engage in an either/or approach and could take it on a case-by-case basis.
Beyond that, I already decided a couple other things. First and foremost, while I do want to push myself and make sure I set aside sufficient time for this endeavor, I won't set any concrete goals regarding output. Initially, I think the most important goal should be spending a minimum amount of time each week on writing. No decisions yet regarding how many hours per week to target, but I’m going to start with five as my tentative minimum and see where it goes from there. Writing posts for 14,000 Phillies won’t count towards that goal.
The other decision I’ve already made is that I will be setting up a new blog solely to showcase my essay writing. Even though it’s been a long time since I posted on LiveJournal with any sort of regularity, I don’t want my essay writing to get lost in the detritus that still occasionally clutters up my LJ page; I want the essay writing to stand on its own. Of course I’ll post links to the new blog from here, as I post new material, but for the moment I’m still trying to determine the name of this new blog. For now, the frontrunner is “Tales From Mooseville,” but I’m not going to settle on anything until I have new material to start posting.
In the meantime, I began compiling a list of subjects for the first round of essays. I haven’t started composing one yet, but now that I’ve gotten this post out of my system, it’s the next thing I’ll be working on. While I’m hammering out my initial piece, I’ll finish lining everything up for the new site I intend to create.
Finally, it occurred to me that I should incorporate far more essay collections into my regular reading list. The fact is that I actually read very little in this genre, despite the fact that I enjoy writing them. Although I have no worries about developing my own style, reading good essays and understanding what makes them work can only help to improve my own writing.
With that, I’m done with the literary masturbation. I hope to have the first essay up within a week. I’m not promising great material at first – not even good material, for that matter. The fact is that I haven’t done a lot of this type of writing, so I expect that I have plenty to learn. However, it’s an education I eagerly anticipate.
If you don’t know who he is, then do me a favor, stop reading this right now, and quickly go to Amazon Prime, your local library, Netflix, Barnes and Noble, or wherever it is you need to go in order to watch or listen to either one of his recorded standup routines or the documentary on his life, American: The Bills Hicks Story. If you absolutely need to know why I’m telling you to do this, then here it is: he is the most important American comedian of the past 30 years. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because of the way American culture works, celebrates, and rewards. His lack of notoriety does not negate his intelligence, wit, and observations upon the human condition and the way far too many Americans lead their lives. He was honest with his audience and, more importantly, with himself in a way that far too many of us aren’t. I include myself in the statement, and I like to believe that I bullshit myself far less than the average person. What he said demands our respect and attention. Sadly, he died way too young, from pancreatic cancer, at the age of 32.
So, reading that it had been 20 years since his passing stopped me cold, and I did one of the horribly clichéd things that so many people do when reflecting upon the passing of another: I started thinking about my own life and what I’ve done with it. I’m turning 42 in less than three weeks, and when I reach that mark, I’ll have experienced 10 more years on this planet than Hicks did. What have I done with it? Well, there’s quite a bit to be proud of. I’ve gotten a good education, been as kind as possible to those I love (though, to be sure, with many cringe-inducing events I wish I handled differently), am an incredible dad and good husband, and taken great pains to be aware of the world around me, in all its facets, and understand how it really works. From that understanding, I’ve tried in my own way to make the world a better place.
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3. Pebble in the Sky, by Isaac Asimov
I haven't read this book since my teen years when I was in the process of reading all of Asimov's SF. Actually, I still haven't technically read it since then -- rather, I listened to an unabridged BBC Audio Books recording released in 2009. I enjoyed the story, much as I had when I first read it [redacted] years ago, but what I really found interesting was the amount of explanatory science woven into the conversations that take place in the novel. It's been a long time since I read Golden Age science fiction,* so I don't recall if this was a particularly Asimovian quality or other writers of the era were just as guilty. Nonetheless, I felt like I was listening to 60+ year-old technobabble, only that the science was likely accurate.
4. Breaking Point, by Kristen Simmons
Sequel to Simmons's Article Five, which I read nearly two years ago. Decent story, but it didn't grab me the way the first book in the series did (the third book, Three, was just released two weeks ago), and because of that, I frankly don't know if I'll be bringing myself to continue beyond this book. It's a shame, because in most ways this book really was in my wheelhouse in regards to the type of dystopian literature I typically enjoy.
Now reading: Burning Paradise, by Robert Charles Wilson.
* I know that Pebble in the Sky was published a couple years after the commonly accepted end of the Golden Age, but in my mind it counts as such a work.
Along the same lines, the fact I've stuck with certain acts throughout the entirety of their career (or least, I did so after finally discovering them for myself) does not imply I love everything they've ever done. I own every single studio album Bruce Springsteen has ever recorded and numerous live albums, but I will be the first to tell you that there are a number of his albums that I listened to a few times, at most, before completely giving up on them. Then there are The Foo Fighters -- a band who has never released what I would call a great album but manages to maintain my loyalty through somehow placing on each disc 3-4 songs I absolutely love. Even the band who is clearly the musical love of my life is not perfect in my eyes. Since their divorce with co-founder Steve Page, I've continued to enjoy the Barenaked Ladies' output, but it hasn't been the same; I admittedly long for the reunion that has been inevitable for most musical acts through the history of the pop/rock era.
Getting back to the original point of this commentary, I believe that like most people I seek out in music both stuff that appeals to my basic tastes and material that challenges me. I don't want my tastes to calcify and become one of those people who solely listens to nothing but the music of their youth (or music that sounds almost exactly the same). Although I clearly possess a "sweet spot" for a certain types of musical genres and types of songs, my tastes have evolved and will hopefully continue to do so. By the same token, I prefer that the artists I love find a way to evolve as well. If I'm lucky, those evolutions move along the same path or at the same speed. If not, then that's just a side effect of everyone attempting to grow and evolve.
1. What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be, by John McWhorter
I've listened to a couple of McWhorter's Great Courses courses on language and linguistics and enjoyed them immensely. I decided to take a leap from the audio recordings of his lectures and delve into something a little more in-depth. I'm glad I did so, but some of the fine detail of learning linguistics really isn't for me -- even though I enjoyed his style and presentation. I also learned that what I'm really interested in is the history and development of the English language in particular, and not just linguistics in a broader context. Having said that, it was really amusing to encounter passages that McWhorter has used in his Great Courses recordings.
2. Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, No. 644 (Oct/Nov 2005), edited by Gordon Van Gelder
I don't want to admit/count the number of unread mid-2000s issues of Asimov's, Analog, and Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction currently residing on my shelves, but I'm reasonably certain at my current rate of reading I could focus just on them and not finish until sometime in early 2016. In the meantime, I will continue to chip away at them and consider each issue the equivalent of reading a short book. I enjoyed a couple of the stories, but the most interesting thing about the issue was reading a review of Night Watch, a movie I reviewed for Some Fantastic back in 2006.
I actually have one other book I've completed, but I am considering a blog post for it on the revamped -- though neglected since the summer -- Some Fantastic 2.0 site. Whether I do or not, I'll certainly include it in my next Stuff Read post.
Suzanne Vega has a new album out today. I've only listened to it once through in its entirety (haven't had sufficient time to do more than that), but I love the fact that it sounds so different from everything else she's released over the past 30 years. I prefer my favorite acts to continue to push their own artistic envelopes and branch out into different directions. The easiest way for me to grow bored with a musical act is for it to continue to record the same album repeatedly (I'm looking at you, Bowling for Soup)....
Back at the end of December, I unleashed my inner fat bastard so that I could enjoy holiday overindulgence for a bit. The problem with letting him run free, no matter how short a leash I think I've placed upon him, is that he can be very hard to put back in the cage. As a result, my weight has crept back up approximately seven pounds -- nothing that can't be removed without a little perseverance over the next couple months, but the fact that I feel the need to acknowledge the weight gain here is a way of placing extra pressure on myself to resume the routines that removed 15+ pounds at the end of last year. I won't return to weekly weigh-in posts just yet, but another couple pounds in the wrong direction and I may have to resort to them again....
Over the past six months or so, I've been watching TeenLitGirl's Sex and the City DVDs with her. I had never watched more than an episode or two previously, but I must admit that I am enjoying the show immensely. The biggest reason: seeing just how bat-shit insane Carrie Bradshaw is and noting how much her friends enable her when she insists that it's the men who are the crazy ones and have commitment issues. A couple times, her friends call her on her psychopathic behavior, but those moments don't seem to have any real impact on her actions and are quickly forgotten. I'm reasonably certain that my impressions of the show don't align nicely with those of most fans of the show when it was originally on the air....
The other show that we're trying to watch as quickly as possible on DVD is Mad Men. We've been merrily playing a very slow game of catch-up since we watched the first season a few years ago, but now that we're less than 1½ seasons behind, it's possible that we might be able to fully catch-up before the season premiere in April. I don't know if we will get completely there in time, but with the aid of the DVR we may very well be able to watch the conclusion of the series in real time as it airs. This is not an unusual way for me to watch TV shows -- I did something very similar with Scrubs, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who at the time when David Tennant was completing his run....
That's all for now. I'll try to make sure that it's not another five weeks between posts.
Last night, TeenLitGirl and I opened up the fifth season disc set of Mad Men while entertaining fantasies of actually being caught up in time for the premiere of the seventh season in April. Yes, this is the type of thing you find yourself fantasizing about when you reach your middle age years with a mortgage, car payments, and three children from previous marriages. Long-gone are the dreams of becoming the starting third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies or writing one of the first great American science fiction novels of the 21st century. Oh, you certainly harbor dreams of a more fantastical nature -- and if you're lucky, like me, you have someone in your life who will gladly help you entertain them -- but you have learned to measure your happiness and, to a much lesser extent, your progress by goalposts that are grounded in a reality formed by a forthright examination and acceptance of your true abilities and limitations.
Maudlin philosophizing aside (I'm sure I'd probably like the sound of the previous paragraph much better after having consumed a drink or two), before we even started on the season premiere I found myself contemplating the advertising packaged with the discs. Mind you, we've all been dealing with such advertising since videotape rental copies started placing trailers and other ads in front of the "feature presentation." I always loved that particular turn of phrase; it implies that the other items placed on the media are all just as worthy of our time and consideration -- even though quite frankly, most of us couldn't give a shit about them and would happily fast forward right by all of them. The advertisers must have loved it when they learned that you could program disc players and create discs in such a manner as to make bypassing the ads more difficult than just pressing the "Skip" button. But, I digress.
What really caught my attention was the fact that the people responsible for the packaging of this particular season of Mad Men took the advertising to a new level. One of the paper inserts was a piece of co-branded marketing for Canadian Club whiskey, complete with two mixed drink recipes on the back.* To give the marketing material the highest degree of visibility, it was actually in front of the first disc. You might still place it aside without a second glance, but there was no way to actually not see it. However, since it was possible to see the insert but not give it any time or consideration, the packagers also included in the disc's opening ads what could most generously be described as a nearly 2½-minute infomercial for Canadian Club.
To be fair, there's no hiding what's going on here. Shortly after he takes the screen, Bobby "G" Gleason, our
pitch-man Master Mixologist, states Canadian Club's "appreciation of [its] partnership with the Mad Men: Season Five DVD," but not before mentioning that Mad Men "brings back an era of American history in which drinks were drinks and men were men." Amazingly, that's said without a hint of irony or humor. I could deconstruct everything that's wrong with the statement, but anyone who has watched and properly absorbed the first four seasons of the show knows exactly what's wrong with that statement. However, I give Bobby "G" credit for doubling-down on this canard and introducing the Old Fashioned cocktail as "a man's drink!" The lack of self-awareness and unintentional awkwardness displayed during the spot is only magnified by the "drink smart" disclaimer at the end of the ad. If there's anything that the alcohol industry doesn't want, it's a public that's "drinking smart." In fact, it's like the warning on the side of a cigarette package -- they don't really want you to see it, but they do want to cover their asses so they aren't held liable for using their product as directed.
After a couple more minutes of ads, we finally get to our feature presentation. Although, I did notice that it wasn't called that anymore -- when did DVDs/Blu-Rays stop including that bit of verbiage? I guess the advertisers felt that such wording was inadvertently devaluing the material placed before the "feature." Over the past couple decades, we've witnessed the shortening of the actual program, the expansion of commercial breaks, increased numbers of the product placements, and a mastering of the art of making product insertions appear much more natural while simultaneously maintaining high visibility for the brand name. With this "partnership" we've finally reached a point that would have left Don Draper stupefied in awe, particularly whilst sober: the advertising itself is now on-par with the programming. We are now only one small step away to returning to the day when The Three Stooges took part in an entire comedy skit built around cartons of Camel cigarettes (fast forward to the 14:00 minute mark for the whole skit -- the Stooges don't appear until around the 19:30 mark).
Okay, maybe we won't see a return to such blatant sponsorship of television shows. However, there's no denying that the age when the program mattered most is over. I see no greater proof in that statement than the fact I just wrote two full paragraphs about the ad without saying a word about the first episode of Mad Men's fifth season. Yes, we tell ourselves what we really value is the programming, but what we value more are $9.99 season box sets, and the only way to get them is to let the advertisers run amok.
Damn, now I need a drink after contemplating all this. A perfect circle has been created. At least I'll ascertain sooner than later just how much better that first paragraph sounds under the influence of a drink or two.
* Proving that any good ad man takes advantage of every opportunity, both recipes include the brand name of another alcoholic product distilled by the makers of Canadian Club.
Damn, I didn't make to 20 this past year either -- which makes three straight years I've fallen a book or two short of what should be an easily attainable goal. I'd like to say I need to make better use of my time, but what I really need to do (if I want to read more) is send a couple hobbies and favorite time-killers into exile. I will never understand how in this day and age anyone can say, "I'm bored." There's just too many good books to read, TV shows and movies to watch, things to learn, and other ways to entertain myself to ever find myself getting bored.
16. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
17. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Yes, this was reading in advance of the holiday movie season, just so I could be ready to watch the films in the theaters. I had originally intended to just read the original "Ender's Game" short story, but after reading the first few pages I realized that there was no way the movie was going to start in medias res. So, I scrapped that decision and read the novel instead. In retrospect, I'm glad I did.
18. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Patton Oswalt
I really enjoyed the more autobiographical parts of the book and the other sections wherein Oswalt flashes his hard-core geek credentials. In fact, I nearly squeed when he wrote about the fictional worlds he visited as a teenager, "And somewhere beyond John Christopher's White Mountains are Vic and Blood, hunting for food and pussy" -- that was my teenage experience as well! I should note that I actually listened to the unabridged audiobook, and the fact that Oswalt read it himself made a few of the sections feel more like performance bits and (I'm convinced) added some depth and feeling that might not have been readily apparent in the plain text. However, there were other sections of the book that I have already forgotten chunks of.
19. Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, edited by Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan
This book sat unread on my shelves for nearly 10 years -- though it wasn't even close to holding the distinction for oldest unread book on my shelves. Furthermore, I did pick the book as a means of clearing some shelf space. Interestingly, I didn't enjoy this anthology anywhere near as much as I have the ones in Dozois's and Hartwell's annual series -- I guess that my reading taste didn't align as nicely with Haber and Strahan as they do with Dozois and Hartwell.
The first week of maintenance went very well. I am still a fraction of a pound below goal weight, and this is in spite of the fact that, by my best estimate, I
consumed devoured nearly 5,000 calories on Saturday. I didn't just have a "bad" day; I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Yet, my weight is exactly where I want it to stay. Nonetheless, I'll try to be a little bit more circumspect on Thanksgiving.
The other thing I'd just like to mention is that now that winter is making its presence known, I am now dealing with the one side effect of the weight loss I could really do without: I am constantly cold during this time of year. In other words, I miss my blubber. I can never seem to get my hands and feet warm -- not unless I turn the heat up high enough to make everyone else in the house complain about the sauna-like conditions. Although I refuse to believe I would ever do it myself, I now completely understand why it is that some members of my family fled to warmer climes as they got older.
Although I know I did the right thing for the right reasons, there's a small part of me that wishes I could just put on 20-30 pounds of weight for the winter and then work my ass off to remove it again once spring asserts itself. Alas, that just doesn't coincide with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. So, for the next few months I'll just be placing the electric blanket under the covers 10-15 minutes before I go to bed and wearing enough layers to nearly qualify as a living mummy. I'll survive, but I'll also certainly bitch-and-moan about it occasionally -- much to the dismay, I'm sure, of TeenLitGirl.