Monday, August 23, 2010

The Return of Poetry!

Today I found a relic. It's called Watermark: the creative arts magazine of Linganore High School. I have four submissions (the first four submissions in the magazine, as it were): three poems and an essay entitled "A Redress of Grievances in Regards to Ocular Aides OR 'My Rant About Glasses'." Wow, what a mouthful - I can't believe I thought that was a good idea.

Anyway, I'd like to share two of the poems with you, because surprisingly enough I think they actually hold up fairly well. Without further ado, I present Poems from the Past.

Theme to the Fall of Man

Factory fires, funeral pyres,
Putrid stench of burning tires.
Smoke stacks, flapjacks,
Acid-leaking battery packs.


Computer chips, pink slips,
Fools go out and skinny dip.
Lines of code, a la mode,
Information overload.

It's falling out. It's falling out.
We're learning to live in doubt.

Human race, turn your face,
Hide away in your happy place.
Sing your song, nothing's wrong -
We can all just get along.

Digital music and books on CD;
Pray to the god of technology.

Everything is fine, The O.C.'s on at nine.
Who cares if the world is in a swift decline?
Don't go out alone, hold on to your cell phone;
You sold your soul for the coolest ring tone.

All that was green turns to brown.
Idols of man come crashing down.

Bottled water, lambs to the slaughter,
Got to get the money come hell or high water.
Jet lag, corporate slag,
Pledge allegiance to the flag.

Drowning in a sea of McDonald's and Wal-Marts,
The world's a stage, and we're all just bit parts.

Nuclear winter, summer of love,
Astronauts rockin' in the stars above.
Global warming, media storming,
Politicians all performing.

Wherefore hath the flaming balls of doom
Descended on your living room?

Apocalypse now, don't ask how,
Step on up and take your bow.
Nuclear war, hammer of Thor,
There will not be an encore.

Exit stage left.
Exit stage left.

War Child

Mind like a Rubik's Cube,
Heart like a vault,
Poised before the brink of the final assault.
Know they enemy as thy friend
And let him meet a merciful end.
Men fall like stalks of wheat
And vultures swoop to collect the meat.

The warrior's blade is his only companion.
Old vendettas run deep like a canyon.
Can you hear the bell sound?
For whom does it toll?
For men who've lost their souls.
Some are going home
And some are left in holes.

Under a bloody sun,
Bloody deeds are done.
The warrior waits anxiously
Like the bullet in his gun.
This lonely mother's child
Once was meek and mild;
Now his clothes are torn
And his eyes are wild.

Now his tears run like rivers
And he's filled with shrapnel slivers,
And though the day is hot
He's cold and he shivers.
The warrior's been brave
But he's too wounded to save.
Now the call of duty
Calls him to his grave.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bit Gen Gamer Fest

Today, August 14, was devoted equally to both nerding out and rocking out (cock-in I should note) at the Bit Gen Gamer Fest at Sonar in Baltimore. This festival (though I don't believe "festival" truly encapsulates everything that transpired there) was devoted to gaming culture and showcased 11 of the biggest names in video game music - and those are big names indeed. They are also extremely nerdy names. These names were, in order (or as best as I can remember it):

  1. Armadillo Tank
  2. Rare Candy
  3. Ultraball
  4. Year 200X
  5. The X Hunters
  6. The OneUps
  7. This Place Is Haunted
  8. The Megas
  9. Entertainment System
  10. The Protomen
  11. Powerglove
The event was MC'ed by none other than Brentalfloss (no, I have no clue who he is either). DJ Cutman was also spinning in the merchandise room. In the main room, there were a number of arcade cabinets set on free play. It was truly a unique experience playing Excitebike and Marble Madness at a rock concert. There was also a wall of consoles set up with comfy couches, but I would venture a guess that those were occupied by the same people the entire night, so I never even got near those. They also had Super Smash Bros. set up on a projection screen in the merchandise room.

I won't go into detail about every single act - in fact, I didn't even see every single act. I will discuss the ones that were the most notable.

Armadillo Tank, the first act, certainly had me intrigued by their name. See, when I hear the phrase "Armadillo Tank," there's only one thing that comes to mind:

Why yes, that is the cover of the 1971 Emerson, Lake & Palmer album Tarkus. I thought, "Surely, this is a coincidence. There's no way I'm listening to a video game music band named after an obscure progressive rock album." Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the band's music was decidedly less than my enthusiasm for their nomenclature. Well, I should rephrase that: the music was actually decent, but it was completely ruined by their vocalist, who had absolutely no business being on that or any stage. What was she doing there, other than ruining what could have been a good thing? They should have just handed her a cowbell or a tambourine - anything to get the microphone out of her chubby hands.

The story regarding Armadillo Tank does not end there, however. Later, after their set, I was walking through the merchandise room and stopped by their table. The reason I stopped there was because the Armadillo Tank table was being wo-manned by the bass player, who was hot. I wanted to strike up conversation, but I didn't want to come right out and ask her what was on mind.

So instead I just asked, "So...Armadillo Tank? How'd you come up with that name?"

She starts to reply, "Well, I don't know if you've ever heard of the band Emerson, Lake & Palmer - "

"YES!" I exclaimed, probably more jubilantly than I should have. But I really was that excited - after all, what were the odds of meeting a hot female bass player who not only likes ELP, but likes them enough to name a band after one of their lesser-known albums? I was so thrilled I told her about my idea to get a tattoo of the Tarkus, uncaring of how stupid that sounded.

Now I was in a bit of an awkward position though. After all, at this point I was pretty much obligated to buy something. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no way I was going to purchase their CD. Instead, I used my last $5 to purchase the Armadillo Tank t-shirt. Now, I can walk around the world with this shirt on, and when people come up and ask me "Armadillo Tank? What's that?" I can answer, "Oh, it's a band that I don't really like."

Allow me to back up for a moment and enlighten those who may be confused about what I mean when I talk about video game music (henceforth referred to as VGM) bands. It's actually not as self-evident as the label would suggest; like "indie rock," VGM encompasses a wide variety of musical styles, from 8-bit electronica to ska to metal. Another important distinction is that not all VGM bands simply covers of songs from video games. A number of bands, e.g. The Protomen (more on them later), write original songs whose lyrics are inspired by video games. For the Harry Potter fans, this would be comparable to wrock bands.

I'll run down the other bands that actually left an impression on me. Rare Candy I had seen previously when I saw them open for The Protomen at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore back in the spring. Their lineup consists of a drummer, a bass player (who shreds in another VGM band Entertainment System), and two keyboard players, which for some reasons strikes me as awesome. When I saw Rare Candy the first time, I liked them enough that I actually bought one of their CDs. They do straight up covers of 8-bit video game songs, but they rock so hard that I can actually excuse their drummer for playing in a Pikachu costume.

We left to get some food just as Ultraball began "performing." They were a band only in the loosest sense possible, as their act appeared to consist solely of two dudes in Pokemon costumes screaming the in the faces of the audience. They didn't even bother getting on the stage. We also missed Year 200X and returned just after The X Hunters had started playing. They played frantic guitar-driven covers of Mega Man songs and appear to be fairly new to the scene. I was strongly considering buying their CD.

The OneUps did not leave much of an impression on me. They boldly proclaimed at the beginning of their set that they are the only band who play "video game music you can have sex to." I was skeptical, and while they certainly weren't bad, they didn't really live up to this lofty ambition.

The next band, on the other hand, definitely left an impression on me. They were called This Place Is Haunted and they performed perhaps the most random set list I have ever heard. They opened with a medley of 80's TV theme songs, which included: Duck Tales, Inspector Gadget, Full House, and Ren and Stimpy. They also played a couple Disney songs ("Under the Sea" and "Prince Ali"). And, of course, a generous helping of video game songs, including selections from the classic games Castlevania and Chrono Trigger (one of the greatest RPGs of all time, I might add).

The Megas, like The X Hunters, play songs based solely on the Mega Man games. Unlike The X Hunters, they play rock songs with Mega Man-inspired lyrics. This sounds a lot like The Protomen, but unlike that band, The Megas weren't that good. They suffered from the same problem that Armadillo Tank had (though not to as great a degree), i.e. solid music muddled by shoddy vocals. I really don't understand why so many bands insist on relying on a sub-par singer when they would really be much better off as a purely instrumental band (*cough* Dream Theater *cough*).

Finally, I get to the last two bands (we didn't stay for Powerglove, so I can't speak to them) and to where shit got out of hand. As soon as The Megas left the stage, my friends and I made our way towards the front so that we would be in a prime position to see The Protomen. The band preceding them was called Entertainment System, and they were certainly the heaviest of all the acts that performed. The guys could certainly shred, I'll give them that. Unfortunately, at this point the drunkest of those in attendance completely abandoned propriety and began moshing. Now, those of you who may scoff at the idea of a mosh pit at a VGM concert probably don't realize that a lot of nerds are also metal-heads and metal-heads love to mosh. There was some moshing at the Rare Candy/Protomen show, but it was nothing compared to what happened at Bit Gen.

Now, after Entertainment System left the stage, I think The Protomen realized that this might be a problem during their set and so, while they were setting up (which took nearly an hour), their personal MC/cheerleader K.I.L.R.O.Y. attempted to rid the crowd of their excess energy and also get them excited for the band by leading an impromptu dance-off and then a train around the club led by the winner of said dance-off. Unfortunately, the moshing actually got worse, so much so that it almost ruined the show. The moshers were even moshing during songs that were completely inappropriate for moshing. I'm not even sure they were paying attention to the music at this point.

Directly in front of me was a short, stout dude wearing a backwards cap and a button-up shirt. The first time that a mosher inadvertantly slammed into him, this meaty dude grabbed the mosher by the collar and shouted in his face, "If you fucking touch me again I'll fucking kill you!" This seemed such an exaggerated reaction to me that I actually thought this guy was joking, that he would suddenly grin and go, "Nah, I'm just messing with you." This did not happen. As the moshing got more and more out of control, this guy got angrier and angrier. Any time moshing caused him to so much as have to shift his weight, he would turn back and glare at the moshers with a look of such frightening intensity that I really thought he was going to just dive into the middle of the mosh pit and start swinging. The second time this guy had to grab a mosher and yell in his face, I genuinely believed that the concert was about to devolve into a brawl with this dude at the center. But ultimately, Angry Dude had more common sense and left the crowd before things got violent.

As for The Protomen...well, they were still awesome, of course. But I'm glad that wasn't my first time seeing them, since the constant moshing made it very difficult to pay attention. As this post has already gotten quite lengthy, I won't go into a full description of the band. Instead I'll just direct you to their official website and their Wikipedia page.

Anyways, Bit Gen Gamer Fest was a lively and spirited time had by all. I will definitely be attending next year as well as the Magfest coming up in January. I hope that, for those of you for whom this is a completely unfamiliar concept, you will check out some of these bands and perhaps become a convert to the VGM scene. I mean, video games are great and music is great, so what could be greater than combining the two?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Childlike Faith in Childhood's End

Sometimes I actually feel like I've gotten dumber over time.

Maybe "dumber" is not the proper term. But it certainly seems that, in spite of all my education and experience, there are certain things that I could do when I was a kid that I just can't do now. Where did those capabilities go? Can I get them back? Will I ever buck my over-reliance on rhetorical questions?

I used to read - like, as a hobby. As in, more than when I was just on the toilet, like it is now. Not only that, but sometimes I would read two books at the same time. Not simultaneously, mind you. I would go back and forth between each book, reading a chapter from the first one day and a chapter from the second the next. And somehow I did that without using bookmarks. Seriously, I didn't need bookmarks. I would just remember where I left off and go right to that page. There is no way I could do that now. Being a college student doesn't leave a whole lot of time for recreational reading. Well, in my case, it does - but when you have to read dozens of pages a night for class, it doesn't leave a whole lot of desire.

Another thing I seemed to have lost is my endlessly active imagination. Actually, that sounds really depressing when I read it. Perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement, but it doesn't change the fact that I was a lot more imaginative as a child - as we all were, I suppose. I used to sit in the laundry room playing with Legos while my mom did the laundry, and while she busied herself with that chore I would entertain her with ridiculous stories that I would make up off the top of my head.

The details of these improvised tales are largely lost to me. I believe one was about something I referred to as "gopher fillings," and no I haven't the slightest idea what those are; one involved "a carrot that turned into a brick," though I believe there were many more permutations involved; and one was about a floating head that could only say "Hola!" and terrorized an entire town of people in spite of their best efforts to destroy it. This last story was inspired by my older brother who was taking Spanish. At the time, the extent of his vocabulary was "Hola! Como estas? Bien, gracias. Y tu?" which he would utter as one sentence...over and over again. In addition to entertaining my mother as an adorable little raconteur, I would also do characters. For example, I once pretended to be a newspaper reporter with severe amnesia interviewing her about doing the laundry, but every few minutes would forget key details like what I was interviewing her about and my own name.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I had more ambition as a kid than I do now as an adult. My very first personal computer was a hand-me-down from my grandfather running Windows 3.1. It didn't even have a mouse. This was my first experience with a word processor and it blew my mind. One of the things I distinctly remember writing was my own spy novel "inspired" by James Bond - which is to say it was completely ripping off James Bond. I was playing the shit out of some Goldeneye at that time. But it was still an original plot with an "original" character and it was at least 50 pages by the time I was done with it. I'd be thrilled today if I could stick with a story for 50 pages before deciding that I hate it.

When my younger brother and I played games, we didn't just play "Cops and Robbers" or "Tag." I forced Adam to be a character in a story which existed only in my head, to combat imaginary foes who actually had a motive and an objective which we were trying to thwart. This still consisted primarily of us running around with sticks, but looking back it makes me realize that I totally should have done drama in high school.

So what the hell happened? Where did all that amazing (if childish) inspiration go? When I was a kid, I came up with ideas faster than I could even write them down. Now, in the rare instances when I am presented with a nugget of an idea, I seize it like a starving man reaching for a piece of meat and inevitably end up smothering it. Now, the creative process is cruel to me, but back then being creative didn't require a "process," it was just something I did naturally.

My theory is that self-awareness is a double-edged sword. Self-awareness in the sense that I am referring to is something that children do not possess. It is the ability to step outside yourself, in a sense, and examine yourself from the eyes of another. It is the ability to assess your own strengths and weaknesses and understand just what it is that makes you tick. It's an extremely important trait to have as an adult; I firmly believe that it is self-awareness and not education or IQ that separates intelligent people from idiots. But with self-awareness comes self-doubt, and self-doubt is ultimately what cripples the imagination and turns innocent little kids into cynical hipster douchebags. Kids don't stop to wonder whether their ideas are hackneyed or derivative, or what the critics will say, or even whether or not the idea makes any sense at all. When a kid has an idea, he simply takes it and runs with it.

So I ask you, the readers: what are some things you used to be able to do as a kid that you can't do now? Are there things you remember doing as a kid that you wish you had the guts to do now?

ALSO: 1 million blog points to anyone who can tell me the artist whose song I have taken the title of this post from.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Outlaw Jam, Frederick Fairgrounds

I saw some strange things today.

These include, in no particular order: a man wearing a t-shirt that read "Tits Clits Or Bong Hits;" a middle-aged biker chick with a patch on her leather vest that read "My inner child is a mean little fucker;" Karl Marx in a muscle shirt and cargo shorts; a mentally handicapped guy wearing hipster glasses and size-0 gauges in his ears; a group of 40-year-old women trying to act like teenagers; a shirtless middle-aged man with a gargantuan potbelly and a bushy mustache smoking a cigar whilst exposing his ass-crack to the world; a man with a prosthetic leg and Confederate flags tattooed all over his shoulder.

These people were gathered all in one place today at the Frederick Fairgrounds. The 2010 Outlaw Jam (the first and, hopefully, last of its kind) drew a staggering assemblage of rednecks, bikers, and redneck bikers. Today I saw more horrendous tattoos than I have ever seen in my life. I saw hairstyles which stretch the very definition of that word to new lengths. I saw basically the worst that America has to offer. I cannot think of another situation in which a family of Jews could possibly fit in worse.

The event was an all-day affair, but my family and I did not arrive until 4 pm when the main acts began. We came to see Candlebox, Blue Oyster Cult, and Bad Company, with Bad Company being the headlining act and the one that most people were there to see. Candlebox did not leave much of an impression on me, as I know exactly one of their songs. Blue Oyster Cult was very impressive, especially since they played at the Fourth of July celebration at Baker Park two years ago and I recall that performance as being lackluster. Today, the guitar solos were supercharged and technically dizzying, especially on "Godzilla." They were accompanied by "monster bass player" Rudy Sarzo, who has played with such acts as Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Whitesnake, and Dio.

Bad Company did not disappoint. Paul Rodgers, the singer, has not lost anything with age and the music sounded even better than it does on the albums. Bad Company is not a band that I necessarily get excited about, but they are still a truly classic rock and roll band and they put on a truly classic rock and roll performance. Bad Company is a band that both of my parents grew up with and so this was a pretty big deal for them. I, for one, appreciate the lyrical depth of Bad Company's music; with songs like "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," "Ready For Love," and "Feel Like Makin' Love," this is a band that is not afraid to tackle the more dense, challenging themes.

Being immersed in the beer-soaked heart of Fredneck only served to remind me that, although I have lived in Frederick County since I was in kindergarten, I have never and will never consider it my community, and its people will never be my people. I'm not ashamed to live where I do, but I'm certainly not proud of it either. It's not something I generally think about. The fact that I live in Frederick County only enters my mind in those rare instances when I have to deal with large numbers of Frednecks and in the more common instances when I have to listen to people from Montgomery County talk about how great they are simply because they live in MoCo.

This I can never understand. MoCo people are the only people I have ever known to a) see their county as a source of pride and b) feel a sense of camaraderie with people who have nothing in common other than happening to also live in Montgomery County. The only bearing that my county has on me is that it determined what schools I went to, and since Mt. Airy sits on four counties, it's just as likely that I could have ended up in living in Carroll, Howard, or even the prestigious Montgomery County. My girlfriend makes fun of me for shopping at Wal-Mart, but I find it more bizarre that there are apparently no Wal-Marts in all of Montgomery County, at least according to her. Why is this? Does Montgomery County consider itself "too good" for Wal-Mart? Does it even matter?

Clearly, there is a class issue at the heart of this matter, as Montgomery County is the second-wealthiest county in the entire nation. But I've gotten sidetracked here. My point here is that I hate being surrounded by rednecks, but what I hate even more is people assuming that I myself am a redneck simply because of where I live, especially since that could not be any farther from the truth.

But I'd like to hear some feedback on this issue. Post a comment telling me whether your county is actually important to you and if you have had any experiences similar to mine in dealing with people from Montgomery County.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Brief History of the Samurai Swords in My Bedroom, and Why They Could Not Be Any Less Cool

Have you ever been laying on your bed and tried to gaze upon your room, your most intimate sanctuary, with fresh eyes? Have you ever looked at the objects in your room and tried to figure out what kind of story each one tells? In this way, you might gain inspiration from the mundane. That's what life is all about, really - finding inspiration in the mundane.

Standing upon the dresser in my room is a set of knockoff replica samurai swords. They are placed, tastefully, in front of a small poster I received with the video game Fable and behind a rather random assortment of unsorted possessions, which at this moment includes: two glasses cases, a mug full of coins, an Xbox 360 controller, and a copy of the book Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. These objects are sitting upon a cardboard box, the top of which reads "Fantasy Axe" and is adorned with a picture of said axe. This axe is the one item out of all others that I am most embarrassed about purchasing.

The samurai swords are arranged longest to shortest on a wooden stand. The katana is on top, then the wakizashi, and the shortest blade, the tanto, on bottom. The sheaths are dark blue with brass caps on the end of the sheath and on the pommel of the sword itself. The hilts are wrapped with blue and gold cords. The hilt, the pommel, and the guard are decorated with intricate etchings. Each sheath has a rope secured with leather fasteners which I presume are included so that the sword may be worn on the belt. The inclusion of these ropes seems absurd, since it is inconceivable to me that any of these swords will ever be worn on anyone's belt. As this lackluster description demonstrates, I am decidedly ignorant about the anatomy of a samurai sword.

These swords were purchased in Disney World. To be more specific, they were purchased in a souvenir shop in the Japan section of Epcot's World Showcase. I bought them when I was only a freshman in high school. This was during a trip I took with the Linganore High School Marching Band which to this day still holds up as possibly the most fun I have ever had as a minor. It was my first experience getting to explore a new place with friends without constant adult supervision. Being afforded the opportunity to decide what we wanted to do, where we wanted to eat, and with whom was truly magical.

It was on the second day of the trip that I walked into the store in Japan-land with my friend Paul and gazed upon the majesty arrayed before us. We gazed upon the various swords that were on display under glass and thought the same thing: for a mere $100, we too could be samurai! It almost seemed too incredible to be true. As a 14 year old, this was the most exciting discovery I had ever made. Most kids would have just looked at the swords, remarked that they were pretty cool, and moved on. But at that instant Paul and I had already determined that we had to have those swords.

There were a few obstacles on our path to becoming samurai. The first was that, as minors, we could not purchase the swords without an adult being present. In addition, we also had to get permission from our parents. Finally, we had to get permission from Mr. Lloyd, the band director. That conversation with Mr. Lloyd was probably what cemented his dislike for me, a sentiment that persisted all the way through senior year. He grudgingly acquiesced to our childish demand, but stipulated that under no circumstance were we allowed to bring the swords back with us on the band bus. This was not about to stop us; we had no qualms with shelling out a bit more cash in order to have the swords shipped home. I recall that Paul, in order to afford this, stopped paying for food for the rest of the trip and subsisted entirely off of homemade cinnamon buns that his mother had given him before we all left for Florida. I simply accepted that I would be unable to buy any other souvenirs.

A few days later, we arranged for one of the adult chaperons to accompany us to Epcot, even though it was not on the list of approved parks for that day (in order to prevent the kids from spending all their time at the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios and completely neglecting Animal Kingdom, Lloyd decreed that we would only be able to visit certain parks on certain days). When we arrived at Epcot, the streak of perfect weather we had been enjoying was immediately broken as the sky burst open and unleashed a tremendous torrent that soaked us within seconds. Paul and I, having no protection from the rain of any sort, did the logical thing and sprinted all the way through Epcot and around the World Showcase to Japan, which is on the exact opposite end of the park. There, sodden and shivering, we waited in the air-conditioned confines of the store for our no-doubt disgruntled chaperon to catch up.

The employees of the store eyed the two of us with some indecipherable mixture of bemusement and distaste. Though surprised that we were actually going through with this ill-conceived scheme, they were still happy enough to take our money. First, though, we had to call our parents long-distance using the phone in the store and have them talk to the cashier. I'm sure our parents were exasperated at this, but they knew us well enough that this whole thing was probably not a surprise to them. Finally, the transaction was completed, the shipping forms were filled out, and all that was left was to wait to get home.

I will skip ahead now to the fated day when the swords finally arrived. They arrived in a nondescript cardboard box. In my jubilation, I tore through the packaging like the velociraptor tore through that hunter guy in Jurassic Park. I took the katana in hand and slowly - reverently, even - pulled the blade from the sheath. I held the sword in both hands in front of me and assumed my best samurai pose in front of a mirror. Then I held my breath and waited for the kick-ass samurai powers to magically manifest in my brain.

Sadly, I was not struck by divine inspiration that day. I eventually came to accept that becoming a samurai would require a real samurai sword and, more importantly, years of brutal mental and physical training. Still, I was not completely disheartened, as I firmly believed that the samurai swords were really cool to look at and would make an excellent showpiece in my future bachelor pad.

So committed did I become to this new idea of having swords for display purposes that, rather than cut my losses, I delved deeper into the realm of the absurd. I began a new tradition of buying a new sword every year at the Renaissance Faire. In doing so, I ensured that the odds of me getting a girlfriend were about as high as me becoming a real samurai. What's more, the swords I bought became increasingly more preposterous, culminating in me purchasing a claymore nearly as tall as me (which of course I could barely lift). But finally, I crossed my own line. I jumped the shark, so to speak. I bought a "Fantasy Axe."

Behold my shame.

At this point, I already had so many swords that I didn't have enough room to display them, meaning they were not even fulfilling the single justifiable purpose they had. Up until this point, I continued to delude myself into believing that all these swords would someday look bad-ass on display in a nice glass cabinet illuminated with soft white light and lined with red felt. But once I came home with that Fantasy Axe and took it out of the box, I realized that I had gone too far. This was ridiculous even for me. This had to end. I took all of my swords and placed them in storage in a special container marked "Swords;" I could not bring myself to get rid of them. Two items, however, I did not place in storage. One was the Fantasy Axe. It sits on top of my dresser as a constant reminder of what an embarrassingly huge nerd I am. The other is, of course, the set of blue and gold samurai swords, mainly because they hold a special place as the catalyst for my whole "sword phase," but also because, even to this day, they still look pretty awesome.

The unspoken truth about nerds is that, while we are pretty smart people, we spend our money on some pretty dumb shit. Swords, Warhammer 40K, Magic: The Gathering - many are the days when I wish I could get back all the money I spent on those hobbies. But I can't bring myself to get rid of any of those neglected artifacts of my high school days. There's always the chance that someday - in spite of my terrible eyesight and flabby body - I just might get to realize my dream of being a samurai.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Twilight, or More Accurately, One Thought: Shut Up About It

The following request is going to require some explanation: could we all please just stop making fun of Twilight? Now, lest you believe that I make this request out of respect for the series or its fans, let me quickly back-peddle a bit and state unequivocally that I acknowledge this series for the unholy abomination that it truly is (as this personal tragedy demonstrates).That being said, I have never actually read any of the books nor seen any of the movies (nor do I have any intention of doing either). This, of course, prevents me from offering any direct literary analysis of my own. Frankly, my ambivalence towards Twilight is such that I am not even interested in critiquing the series.

Recently, I made a Facebook status update expressing that "I could not possibly care less about the World Cup." A few wise guys commented that such a statement was contradictory since if I really was that apathetic about the World Cup I wouldn't bother to make a post about it in the first place. I concede that they have a point. Since I can already see people leveling similar criticism towards the nature of this post, let me reiterate that my purpose in writing this post is not to complain about Twilight itself; I am instead writing about the meme that bashing the series has become.

To describe the general reaction of people on the Internet to Twilight as a "backlash" would be tantamount to calling the Holocaust a "misunderstanding." Such is the enmity towards this series that entire websites exist devoted solely to the purpose of bashing it. It has reached the point where I find anti-Twilight sentiment just as aggravating as pro-Twilight sentiment - actually, more so, since while I have never actually had to endure the torturous ordeal that I imagine a conversation with a rabid Twilight fan to be, I am constantly exposed to Twilight haters all over the Internet and in real life. I get it, Internet - real vampires don't sparkle. I know this. Everyone know this. I am certain that even fans of Twilight know this. I'd even be willing to bet (though not much) that Stephanie Meyer knows this.

We need to stop the Internet from transforming into nothing more than glorified soap box from which to denounce a single book series. The main reason I implore people to cease the constant complaining about Twilight (besides how annoying it is) is that making fun of Twilight fans - like making fun of the handicapped - is both painfully easy and ultimately not very fulfilling. To paraphrase a quote by Reverend Al Sharpton, at this point Twilight fans should get our prayers more than our responses.

Look, I'm not saying that anyone needs to stop hating Twilight. I'm just saying that maybe we can tone down the rage just a bit. I don't care how many message board threads you start or how many incoherent Youtube comments you leave, Twilight and its adherents are not going to simply go away. Also, the only thing that all of this hate-spewing accomplishes is putting Twilight fans on the defensive, spurring them to protest even more vocally about how great Twilight is and how "you don't even know." I know, from personal experience, that nothing is more grating and intrusive than a nerd who feels that his favorite series has been slighted. If we just ignore Twilight fans and let them live in their little fantasy world, we'll all be happier for it.

We're just going to have to accept that Twilight is (and it physically pains me to say this) now as entrenched in popular culture as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are. The only real permanent solution I can see is for someone to invent time travel, go back in time, and takes one for the team by giving Stephanie Meyer the thorough dicking that she probably needed. Because, clearly, anyone who writes a series like Twilight is not getting any.

Mission Statement to Myself

My favorite quote has always been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The world existed long before I came around, and it will exist long after. But it need not be the same world. Indeed, it cannot be, for by my very presence I change the world. But that is not enough for me, I’m afraid. I cannot merely be satisfied with myself, for I have the willpower and the imagination to effect great things. Sometimes I doubt this and I am frustrated. It is easy to lose sight of ourselves amidst our surroundings, to “see the forest from the tree” to use the expression. When you doubt yourself, you doubt everything.

There’s a part of me that needs to create, and it is frustrated that I just don’t seem to have many ideas lately. I think everyone is driven by something and that is what drives me. Success means adding something to this world that is uniquely yours. That is why I need to write or make music or just record myself talking. If I am not creating something then I feel like I am just wasting my time. Eventually there may come a day when getting married and having kids will seem like a sufficient culmination of all that I have lived and experienced, but right now I am young – and selfish. And so, success to me at this moment means having a body of work, to have something that bears my name and means something to someone else.

I probably think about writing ten times as much as I actually write, and yet I dare to call myself a writer. What arrogance it requires for someone to take something that virtually anyone can do and declare to the world that they deserve to get paid for doing it. You might as well call yourself a “professional breather” or a “professional walker.” Then again, writing – like thinking – is an activity that everyone can engage in and yet so few actually do on any kind of regular basis. So right here in this paragraph I have distilled what it takes to be a writer: the ability to think and a great deal of arrogance. These I possess, if nothing else.

I suppose I left out talent, but as I can neither quantify it nor qualify it, I cannot describe it. Suffice to say, it is not for me to affirm whether I have it or not. I am not fishing for compliments here, nor attempting to seem humble, but merely explaining that anything I can create will always fall short of whatever intangible ideal is swimming around in the murky sea of half-formed thoughts from which I draw forth ideas kicking and screaming. This is a complicated way of saying that I am my worst critic, a fact that my closest friends know with a certainty that can only come from listening to me ramble on over games of Peggle or Marble Madness.

And speaking of rambling let me dredge this river for a point. With the Internet as my witness, I am issuing a challenge to myself. I challenge myself to write something – anything – every single day from this point forward, for such time as it takes for me to no longer be slightly ashamed about calling myself a writer. It need not be something of great significance, and I am not requiring myself to post everything on this blog (though I will try and do so as often as possible), but it must be more substantial than a Facebook update, an email, or a text message. Writers write, and so this is my Mission Statement: put aside doubt, stop over-thinking, and simply be a writer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lost in the Supermarket

I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’m intimidated by the prospect of going to a grocery store. A grocery store is a terrifying place. It is a staple of a civilized society. It is a shining monument to consumerism and personal choice, and yet there is something inherently primal about it. Grocery stores bring out a selfish, animalistic nature in old women and housewives and reduce dudes like myself to nerve-wracked messes, clinging to the handles of our shopping carts like passengers of the Titanic must have clung to shards of debris bobbing in the frigid waters of the Atlantic.
No matter where you are in the store and no matter how empty the place may have seemed when you first arrived, there is always someone right behind you impatiently trying to get by. You’re always in someone’s way. Everyone is roaming the store, dutifully self-absorbed, ignorant to the plights of their fellow shoppers. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is pushing a shopping cart.
If man were meant to command four-ton hunks of metal and flammable materials at excessive speed, he would have been born with keys in his hand. It is my firm belief that everyone, no matter what he or she says, is a bad driver. Similarly, if we were meant to push around unwieldy steel cages on rickety little wheels, we would have been born with shopping lists in our hands. The shopping cart has all the grace and maneuverability of a Panzer tank. When the cart is being steered by a rheumatic septuagenarian who can barely see over the handle, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Even for those of sound mind and body, navigating the cramped confines of a supermarket aisle where a beleaguered mother is arguing with her toddler over what type of cereal to get and a stock boy has parked his palette presents no shortage of challenges. I can think of no gauntlet more harrowing to run.
I wasn’t meant for the grocery store. I am deliberate. I am a browser. And I never make a grocery list. My laid-back nature is incompatible with the frenetic pace at which my fellow shoppers go about their weekly excursion to the local Giant. They know what they want and they know where to find it. I do not. I am as the country bumpkin plunged into the dazzling insanity of the great metropolis. I have no ready guide and no map to the stars.
How many brands of breakfast cereal does a society really need? To what conclusion would Aristotle reach were he faced with the choice between a dozen different varieties of Special K? Would our founders see a rainbow of Pop-Tarts boxes as the American dream made manifest? Is there such a thing as too many options? Have American shoppers been desensitized to the notion of want or scarcity? Perhaps if I weren’t devoting so much of my conscious thought to questions like these I wouldn’t be such an infuriatingly slow shopper.
I glance around at the other shoppers, practically shoving each other aside in order to peruse different flavors of yogurt, and wonder if the hunter-gatherer instinct has become as vestigial as wisdom teeth or the appendix. Lord knows I’d be screwed if grocery stores were to suddenly vanish overnight. Food is an industry, tied just as much to profits as it is to providing a basic necessity of human survival. Our ancestors were not concerned with bio-degradable packaging, organic ingredients, or low-carb alternatives. They killed what they were fast or smart enough to catch, and they picked up plants off the ground and hoped they weren’t poisonous. Nature doesn’t offer two-for-one specials or coupons. It is not a basic assumption that we should have supermarkets. We create new necessities for ourselves as we invent ways to satisfy the old ones. We didn’t have supermarkets 100 years ago, but we panic if we didn’t have them tomorrow. Can that really be good for us as a society?
On the other hand, my local Giant has portable hand-held scanners now, and those are pretty cool.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting There

We'll start with the most essay I've written and move backwards. This one is about the road trip I took over Spring Break. Enjoy.

Tim has just finished rolling a cigarette when I realize the error of my ways. There is a pair of headlights behind me that wasn’t there a moment ago. Only headlights, though; for a moment I reassure myself that it’s only a false alarm. I am wrong, of course. Flashing blue lights come to life at that instant, pulsating with silent menace – silent because the music is blasting. I know the wail of the siren is chasing me down I-95. I resign myself to my fate and pull over – on the left side, like an idiot.
Tim has stashed the contraband well before the state trooper is at my window. I roll it down to see an older gentleman with paunchy cheeks and a bemused expression. He shines his flashlight into Tim’s car and asks for my license and registration. I do as he tells me. The time is a bit before two am.
“Son,” he says after he hands me back the license and registration, “you may want to consider pulling over on the right side next time. This is…sort of dangerous.”
He returns to his vehicle. I slump in my seat. In the six years I’ve been driving, this is my first time ever getting pulled over. I’m a fine driver. It’s just that this isn’t my car, it’s late at night, and we’ve already been driving for nearly nine hours. I can only hope that Southern hospitality is all it’s supposed to be.
He returns to inform me that he clocked me at 91 mph in a 70 mph zone. The penalty for such a speeding violation is normally $180 and four points on your license.
“I did as much as I could for you,” the officer tells me. “I brought it down to 79 mph. That’s $100 and no points.”
“Th-thank you, officer,” I manage to stammer.
He looks at me for a long moment. “Headed to Florida, are you? What university do you kids go to?”
I don’t bother to ask him how he knows this. “UMBC, sir.”
“Right.” He switches off the flashlight. “Well, slow down, son. Florida will still be there when you get there.”
* * *
Only a day ago I was sick in bed with a fever. I spent the day laid out on the couch at home. I hadn’t been home in three months, and my one day at home was spent in a medicated stupor watching TV. Much of this time was also spent listening to my dad lecture at me about the merits of going to law school. I finally agreed at some point that I should go to law school. Then I watched Kung Fu Panda followed by Monsters vs. Aliens. Kung Fu Panda was actually decent. Monsters vs. Aliens was terrible.
The fever broke soon after that, around eleven pm. Tim called me then to tell me that he was willing to wait till the next day to leave. I had called him and Gary, whose house we would be staying at in Tampa, at around noon to tell them that there was no way I would be able to go on the trip in my current condition. The original plan had been to leave Saturday night after Tim got off work, a plan that had been shot to hell by my falling ill. Weak though I still was, I told Tim that I would probably be feeling well enough after another night’s rest that we could still go. We’d only be losing about half a day in that case. My relief at not having to disappoint my friends was tempered by the fact that, all in all, this trip was still a dumb idea.
My dad was less than pleased with the idea. I was making a big mistake, he told me. I was a fool. But I was also 21. He could no more force me to stay home as he could force me to go to law school. Of course I was still going. I knew, however, that whatever happened, I could not ask him for help.
* * *
On the road, we measure time not in hours but in albums. This is our chance to listen to the really good stuff. Tim and I are constrained not by time, distractions, or unbelievers who do not share our eclectic taste in music. We can listen to the epic songs. We can listen to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which clocks in at 40 minutes. Supertramp’s Crime of the Century is followed by Lateralus by Tool, which in turn is followed by Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio. Who knows how many miles we covered in that time?
My body is filled with a cocktail of DayQuil, sugary snacks, and 5 Hour Energy drinks. My bladder has shrunk to the size of a cocktail peanut, but I’ve become supremely capable of holding it in. I’ve finished off about four servings of orange juice and, combined with the DayQuil, I’ve probably taken in 600% percent of the Daily Recommended Value of Vitamin C.
Tim does most of the driving. I don’t know how he does it. He apparently did not go to bed until 6 am the previous night after an evening of belligerent drunkenness. His actions are not mine to judge. Tim is my closest friend at UMBC. I tend to gravitate towards people bent on self-destruction. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I just want a taste of danger myself. This trip would certainly attest to that. Tim’s mechanic warned him that his car would probably not survive the journey. We decided to take it anyway. The smartest people often make the dumbest decisions. That’s hubris at work.
* * *
Cruising through the land of white and orange barrels, I see huge, blocky shapes rise up to my left: construction equipment. In the distance, the lights are reduced to single pinpoints – stars on this lowly plane. The night is weird and the way is long and our minds are always in danger of slipping away. A billboard to the right advertises vasectomies. “No needles, no scalpels.”
Another set of flashing blue lights in my rear-view mirror startles me from my place of strange thoughts and eternal questions. The time is around four am and we are driving through Georgia through a construction zone that never seems to end. I am filled not with fear this time but with confusion. I know with complete certainty that I was not speeding; it would be moronic to speed through a construction zone, even one that goes on for miles. I’ve been keeping a diligent eye on the speedometer; my only explanation is that this must be an ambulance.
Of course it isn’t. Karma has taken me to task for getting off so easily the first time around. Six years without a speeding ticket, and now I’m getting two in the span of a few hours. There’s no way I was going 76 mph. I never saw the needle go above 70. Officer Kenny Williams is an evil old bastard. Of course he knows I’m not going to come back to Georgia to contest this $180 ticket that I didn’t earn. The night is weird and the way is long and highway robbery is alive and well in the South.
* * *
Tim points out to me that the lyrics to the song “Lateralus” follow the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 5, 3.
“Really?” I ask.
“Yeah. Just pay attention to the verse the next time it comes around.”
I listen:
White are
All I see
In my infancy.
Red and yellow then came to be,
Reaching out to me,
Lets me see.
“No shit,” I marvel.
We head bang.
* * *
Eventually, we leave Georgia behind. And just as we enter Florida, faint traces of color begin to seep in at the horizon. Light is returning to the world. Red and yellow come to be, letting us see. The sun is rising just as we enter the Sunshine State. I can’t remember the last time I saw a sunrise.
We have just entered Florida, but we are still three hours away from Tampa. The GPS, our constant glowing companion, never tires, but as we watch our estimated time of arrival rise with every delay and mishap, we do. Weariness resides in our minds more than in our bodies. I have discovered that 5 Hour Energy has a certain threshold of effectiveness; after one or two, it ceases to offer any benefit.
I fear for Tim’s sanity. Once we got pulled over the second time, I completely lost my will to drive. Before that, even with the first speeding ticket, I had been in high spirits. The first 5 Hour Energy that I quaffed had really done the trick. I was so wired that I started calling random friends. Incidentally, that was when we got pulled over the first time.
Since that second run-in with the law, at around four am, Tim has been powering through. The drive was easy-going when there was no one else on the road, but now our tensions are mounting. Traffic is picking up and the Florida sun is baking the inside of the car, causing Tim’s temper to flare.
“People in Florida can’t drive,” he grumbles constantly.
I’ve never really understood the tendency to rank drivers by state. People in Maryland say that New Yorkers can’t drive. I’m sure that New Yorkers say people in Maryland can’t drive. As far as I’m concerned, people everywhere can’t drive. There are no good drivers as long as there are bad ones. Driving a car isn’t something humans are just naturally predisposed to. As soon as you forget how easy it is to end your existence in a twisted mess of crumpled steel, you become one of the bad drivers. I’ve never had any accident, but that doesn’t make me a good driver – it just makes me a lucky driver.
That being said, people in Florida can’t drive. In the entire time we spent driving through Florida, I never once saw a driver use their turn signal before changing lanes. Traffic had been abysmal between DC and Virginia, at one point coming to a complete stop, but we had still been full of vim and vigor then. Now, 16 hours later, Florida may be our breaking point.
Tim is hunched over the wheel. His grip is rigid, like he wants nothing more than to snap the steering wheel off and beat the driver in front of us to death with it. His cap is turned backwards and his hair is a mess. His eyes are wide but his mouth is clamped tightly shut.
I am searching for the loudest, most bone-crunching metal I can find in a futile attempt to keep us alert. My eyelids feel heavier than the boulder Sisyphus was forced to roll up a hill for eternity. The three hours left in our trip feel that long. Time has become a factor again.
A black Cadillac Escalade cuts us off as it weaves from the right lane to the far left lane. Neither of us can summon enough energy to muster an appropriate display of rage. We can only stare at the Escalade as it continues to weave through traffic ahead of us, knowing that there is no justice in this world.
Flashing blue lights behind us: an undercover cop. It cannot be possible. The universe does not want us to succeed. It is as simple as that.
The cop speeds past us to apprehend the driver of the Escalade. We slow down to watch it get pulled over, something we would never normally do. A look of unspeakable triumph passes between Tim and me. Maybe there is a little bit of justice in this world.
* * *
We are 15 miles out from Gary’s house and sweet, blessed rest. We are crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge and our exit is coming up. We will finally be off the cursed highway. No prospect has ever sounded as inviting to me.
The engine of Tim’s Toyota Avalon erupts in a fit of violent sputtering. The oil pressure drops to zero. Tim reacts quickly, putting on his emergency flashers and pulling over on the side of the bridge right before the exit sign. The car has died.
We knew this was a possibility all along. Tim’s mechanic had advised against him taking the car. I had told him that if I were in his position, I wouldn’t take the car, but that I would stand by his decision either way. And so we had taken the car, knowing that it was a dumb idea.
We are stalled out on the side of a bridge and I have to pee. We look at all the cars passing us by and laugh.

I Write Sometimes

It's been a while. Short post right now, just want to inform you that I'm going to start posting some of my creative nonfictions (read "personal essays") on here that I've written in the two Creative Nonfiction classes I've taken. I think you'll get a kick out of them, and it's a lot easier for me than actually telling you about my least at the moment. Cause Lord knows there's plenty to say on that subject. More later.