Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Marathon Reading

This year has involved learning more about my capabilities.

In some cases those are pretty good. Finishing Family Blood and the daily screenplay challenge in October had their difficulties, but I was able to do them, and I felt good about it.

I also planned to start the next screenplay right after Family Blood, and I was not really able to do that.

I needed a debriefing, for one thing, where I could get my head out of one world into the next. That took some journal writing, and research, and honestly, writing Family Ghosts would still be easier now than anything else, though I still believe that it will go better because I have done other things first.

In addition, sometimes I need to do non-writing things. That has mainly involved reading and video games.

I have mixed feelings about the video games. It doesn't feel productive, but if the point is to take a break, then refreshing my skills in Mappy and Dig Dug is a big change from writing.

For reading, I had several books that I was intending to read, and one I checked out by mistake, and one I had been reading forever and kind of hated but decided I would still finish, and I realized I was also really close to 100 books for the year. What if I just really focused on that?

Some of them were still just going too slowly though. I have currently completed ten books in December, which has only been possible because some of them were comic books and some were children's books, but I still want to read two more.

This would not be an issue if I did not have a social engagement tonight, or if I were not working extra hours right now. It would also not be an issue if one of the books weren't so pointlessly repetitive, or a different one - despite having interesting information - had been written in a more interesting manner, or if I had not played any video games at all, but only read. Still, I did read a lot.

I had decided once that life was too short to read annoying books, and I might have served myself better if I had stuck to that with two of these books, one of which I have already finished and one of which is still in progress. I was just feeling stubborn about them.

I am not ruling out reading two children's books tonight (my sister the kindergarten teacher has a wide selection) and then reading some in one of the other three books, but letting their completion happen in 2015. Regardless, there have been three trains of thought associated with this, and I want to get those down.

One is that challenging myself is good, but within reason. I love reading and writing, and they are both important to me, but burning me out won't help. The most pages I have ever written in a single day was, I think, 28, but then I didn't write again for a week. I have had weeks where 14 and 15 pages days were really common and I was able to keep going. Those weeks are ultimately more productive. It's important to build in breaks and recreation. That is especially important to remember while in the time of the year for my job where overtime is encouraged.

Two is that I know part of my frustration is that I am behind the schedule I want. I have books in lists arranged by things I want to learn, and timelines in mind for when I want to learn them. I am impatient for some of the things I don't know and the insight that I don't have yet. I am really impatient for the thing that I write that will ease my life financially.

If I gave up all reading or writing or exercise or any of those other things for a while, I might progress in one area, but I might also go bonkers. Caring about more than one thing makes me a better person and writer. And while my self-imposed deadlines aren't exactly arbitrary, they generally aren't world-enders.

The other thing is that I have realized that I have read a lot of Newberry winners, but not so much with the Caldecott winners. As I do care about art, and I have been impressed by the strength of many images in things I have read this year, that seems like something to work on in 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Giving

Once I decided to make my book free it was easy to tell people about it because it was a gift.

Actually, let me back up. It was easy not to ask for money, but it still felt like I was asking for their time. Also, some people would be so impressed, but really, no one is checking for quality when you self-publish so anyone can do it. I will admit there is some accomplishment in completing it, but it doesn't feel that impressive.

Anyway, I did the general tweet and general Facebook post, then - knowing those are easy to overlook - started sending direct communications. First it was to the people whom I thought would recognize some of Sarah's problems as their own. That part was easy. Then it expanded to people who have encouraged me at various times, and friends, and fans of the All American Rejects. (I did not write to anyone in the Rejects, girlfriends, former girlfriends, or family members. That may have been a mistake, but it seemed presumptuous.)

I started thinking about other musicians, because while it could be easily seen as a vampire book, musicians should recognize many of the aspects of being in a band, and might enjoy it on that level. Mark's storyline in the sequel will relate to that even more.

I also started thinking about comic book people, because there are so many I like, some of whom have been really nice to me. Also, their work has given me pleasure. If I could return the favor, I want to do that.

It became a big concern that I was missing someone important, so I finally just expanded the full followers screen to look for names, and that took me back to last year.

A little over a year ago I started thinking of things I could do for people. I wanted to give everyone a Christmas present. It started because there were some things that I wanted to do for people and I realized I could. That was the real reason that I participated in Darkstar Day, because it was important to Steve Morris that people participated, and I could be one more participant. I bought Colleen's book. I took pictures of me with my bass and my dog for Bass Dogs. And I worried about missing people, so I created a spreadsheet.

There were three tabs: everyone I follow on Twitter, everyone I am friends with on Facebook, and then the people my family was praying for, because it's periodically good to check and see if there is something we should be doing besides praying.

Obviously I could not get everyone by Christmas, but I thought I could work from it over the year. I started on New Year's Day on Facebook by asking "What can I do for you?" They did not know why I was asking, but I did get three responses. I told Kim a story, and I became Chantelle's walking partner. I also kept blogging, though I would have done that even if Rebecca had not asked me to. I know social networking can be sterile and narcissistic, but it has been a good experience for me, and I thought it could be even better.

I did not keep the spreadsheet up. I did make more entries, but I found that except for the music reviews and songs of they day I was always in response mode. I would see that someone was having a rough time, and so I would send them 30 reasons to live, or send them something inspirational until they reached their 1-year clean mark, or whatever seemed appropriate.

This time around I wrote down several names to check on where I did not offer them the book, but I have messaged them, or seen an account change and followed the new account. I will be checking on those people for a while. It was just too many to get them all now, and for a lot of them it's probably not the book that they need.

This method is not bad. I do see people, and help them. Sometimes I know I make a difference, and sometimes I am not sure, but I try.

I do feel like there is this higher level, where I could be proactive instead of reactive. I do not seem to be capable of that yet. I am still so human.

So, this is my promise to you: I care about you. If I see a chance to brighten your day, or support you, I will. I am also really fallible, so if you think I can help you, ask. It makes life easier for both of us.

And if you missed Family Blood when it was free, you know, it's only $2.99. I would still love some reviews. They don't have to be long or fancy, just what you liked, or why you didn't like it, or something to let other people who know nothing about me whether or not this book is for them.

Monday, December 29, 2014

With a little help from my friends

Last week I wrote about formative experiences that gave me an incorrect worldview. I was also thinking about the experiences that caused me to start unlearning. Often it took more than one experience for the sake of reinforcement. It was also interesting how often it was my friends that started to show me that I wasn't horrible.

That is an area where I have been really blessed, and there was some twisted luck, but it also leads to one more memory that I only recently think I understand.

One of the girls in my first grade class was Keena. We talked once about our middle names. If I remember correctly, her father told her that her middle name was Canadian Bacon and she was really embarrassed about that. In retrospect, I think he was just teasing her and she believed him. I can relate to that. She moved shortly after we talked and I was very sad.

We did not spend a lot of time together, so I always felt that it was weird that I remembered her so clearly, but then I put it together with two other things that happened in first grade, and I think I've got it now.

The other one I have written about, which was when a group of girls surrounded me on the playground and started talking about how fat I was. That was when I first saw myself as fat, and began disconnecting from my body, so it was a defining moment in that way. The other part, though, was the ringleader of that, Suzy, I kind of pictured as ruling all of the girls, so if she was against me I was out. I felt cut off from girls socially.

That might not have been so bad. I played with boys more anyway. At the time, it was pretty much all Star Wars and Buck Rogers, but that worked for me; I loved those things. I played with Casey a lot. He even came to my house for a Halloween party. I like him and thought he was cute. For reasons that I can only assume were silly, I wrote a list of boys I liked and put it in my desk. Shawna looked in my desk, saw it, and blabbed it, and Casey never spoke to me again. That kind of cut me off from boys.

I think that I did still play with other kids sometimes, but I really got to be a loner. I was already reading a lot, but I might have escaped more into it then.

In third grade I got lucky. Jennie moved here from Pennsylvania, and with a new kid I thought I had a chance. She became my first best friend.

I wasn't just lucky that someone came, but that it was her. She was also smart, and nice, and she was independent enough that it didn't matter if I wasn't popular. We played Dungeons & Dragons together (not with dice, we just made things up), and spent the nights at each other's houses.

Jennie also made it easier for me to be friends with other people. I know I had hung out with Josh before, but then we started hanging out again, first with him and Jonathan, and then Stephen. She is the reason I did Campfire in 6th grade, which led to my first time at a real restaurant, and my first attempts at woodworking and cooking. We did not always play together. One year I was almost always playing basketball at recess, and she might play Wall Ball or Four Square, which I never did, but we often jumped rope together and played imagination games. I still read a lot, but it wasn't my only option.

Then there were boundary changes, and all of the people I mentioned were going to Mountain View while I was going to Five Oaks. I imagined that the next three years would consist of hiding in the library, but against my expectations, I made friends. I found Karen, Anne, Ericka, Nicki, and Danielle, and then we ate lunch together, and sometimes had slumber parties, and did normal things.

Something that has been disturbing for me as I read about young girls is the concept of "frenemies". My friends and I were not mean to each other. I wondered why not. Was I missing something? Kind of.

Everyone else knew about frenemies. Jennie sat next to a pair in English, Ericka had a friend who pressured her to quit hanging out with us, and Karen got put on trial for being a bad friend before we met (they must have read Blubber). But we never did that to each other.

When I referred to twisted luck, what I meant was that I never realized that hanging out with people who were mean to you was an option. If they were mean to you, you were supposed to go away, I thought, and that's what I did.

There are pros and cons to that. I am socially awkward at times, and not skilled at small talk, but I am also straightforward, and have skipped many opportunities to have others whittle away at my self-esteem. There are girl things that I am bad at, but I feel like that is okay.

Here is the important thing: a weird, socially awkward kid was able to stumble upon great friends, who would be nice to her, and that she could cherish. There were kind people out there.

I am not still in touch with everyone. I have found some friendships that for a time were really good, and then we kind of outgrew, but it doesn't make the times when we were there for each other any less real. I have also found people that I know I will always want to hang onto. Sometimes there are long breaks between seeing each other, but then the catching up is good. Honestly, the busy lives aren't surprising when you see how talented and capable some of them are.

So looking back now, I think the reason Keena's move was so devastating was that it felt like my last shot at having a friend had evaporated, but it wasn't my last shot. It just took some time.

I still wouldn't mind catching up with her. I hope she found good friends where she went too.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Band Review: This Good Robot

I have wanted to check out the band for a while now, but this review is part of the magical thinking/summoning reviews I have been doing lately. It's a bit more complicated than the others.*

I want to let the band speak for itself to start, as their descriptors are more interesting than any I would use. At least on Facebook they list their genre as postindiefolkelectropopcore, and this is in the bio:

"Made up of comic book nerds, ex theater geeks and a few music theory snobs, This Good Robot is an 6-piece Science-Fiction/Indie-Rock band out of Long Island, NY. Pay attention, this song could save your life."

Personally I disagree with the "electro" in the genre line. There is a lot of acoustic, and while there certainly are times when they are plugged in, the term as generally used implies a greater emphasis on synthesizer than I hear. Their keyboards sound like actual piano. I would totally agree with simply postindiefolkpopcore.

Using my own descriptors, my first thought was that there is a real carnival atmosphere, with a feeling of wandering down a sideshow. It is amusing, but there is also an air of mystery and transience - maybe even some danger. The other thing it reminded me of was The Nightmare Before Christmas.

There is a sense of motion rather like a roller coaster on some songs, particularly "Woe is Barnaby Black" and some of "Call the Police", but there is a lot of rock in there as well. Even my favorite track, "The Human I Am", at first listen sounds like a quieter track, but there are some strong textures building and taking center stage on the bridge. It's an interesting mix, and it could easily be called eclectic, but then based on their bio, that sounds like what you should expect. Probably.

While there are no regular music videos on the Youtube channel, there is a fair amount of performance footage, as well as non-performance footage. It is interesting to watch them go back and forth between being really powerful performers and conversing as basically unassuming nerds (not a pejorative).

So it's a fun band, and worth checking out. Music is available via iTunes and Amazon, and tonight they play with Andrew WK and Patent Pending in Amityville, but I don't see any other scheduled show for a while.

*Re the summoning, one friend has expressed a desire for a lineup consisting of frnkiero andthe cellabration, Science, and This Good Robot. It sounds good, and also sounds more probable than Science or This Good Robot making it out to Portland. So, that show, and me being able to go to it, would work, and I invoke it! That being said, I can totally imagine them sharing a bill with Gogol Bordello.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Sing-along

I didn't want to review a new band today because of the holiday, but I do have something musical to write about.

About six years ago they had a Christmas sing-along at church that we really loved. They projected the lyrics overhead, so you didn't have to know the words. This is important, because a lot of people only know the openings of Christmas songs. There was a funny Saturday Night Live sketch about that where at the interfaith basketball league awards dinner they were trying to sing a carol together. After several false starts only the rabbi (as played by Elliott Gould) was able to sing one through to the end.

Our sing-along had a mix of hymns and traditional songs, and they did add in the Hallelujah Chorus, parts of which were hard to sing, but there were parts that went well enough that everyone could feel pretty good about it.

It was so much fun. We had a great time ourselves, and we invited a friend that we started hanging out with more after, so it was a good evening all around. We hoped they would do it every year.

They changed it. The next year they had what they called a Creche and Carol, where they had various Nativity displays around the building, and different soloists and musical groups performed. Apparently there was some singing along incorporated, but we never went.

Julie asked about it this year, and they had talked about doing something more like the sing-along again. One thing I understood with the other once is that you get higher attendance because more people have assignments. Not only do you get everyone who is signed up to sing, but the various people who would come to hear them sing, and then they hear the other people too.

Julie made it clear that this did not interest her at all. I don't know if that is why they went for a straight sing-along again. I tend to think so, but it may have just been time for a change. They announced it, we were excited, and we went.

The program made me grumpy. There were all of these soloists and instrumental performers and bell ringers listed. I suppose part of that was to increase the involvement again, but also, the part that made me grumpy was this incessant need to make things fancier.

That came through in some of the singing parts too. Here we will have you sing the melody, and here parts. Just sopranos here. Just men here. Those arrangements can sound good, but when you have people being guided and practicing them, it works better then it does in an unrehearsed setting. Also, singing parts takes all the joy out of singing for me. This is not the time to be fancy!

There are two things I need to point out about this. One is that it was still fun. Not quite as fun as if they didn't do all that, but there was still quite a bit of singing, and just singing without having to worry about parts is a very joyful thing. People should do that more. Maybe I need to organize my own sing-along.

The other thing came up on one of the songs. It was listed as a round, which I did not object to. I was thinking it would be "Christmas Bells Are Ringing" as covered by Nat King Cole, but it was a primary song I was unfamiliar with.

The round was okay, but I started thinking how a round could really work on the one I did know, and then I started thinking about what if instead of just the traditional round, the first groups started repeating the last lines, so at the end it was everyone singing "Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong, Christmas Bells are Ringing" really loud and full. So now I was doing it!

I hadn't realized how insidious getting fancy with Christmas music is.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Road Not Traveled

I've told parts of this story before, though possibly not since 2008.

My second year in college, I fell in love hard. At first I saw a picture and couldn't stop thinking of him. I tried to shake it off, but he kept turning up in person, and then we started talking. For each stage, I was more into him than seemed reasonable or logical, based on the level of contact we'd had. With every contact in person, I felt like there was electricity flowing between us, though, and I had never felt that with anyone else. It wasn't easy to shake off.

I did not tell him that I loved him then. A big part of that was how ridiculous it would have sounded, but I believe I could have dealt with that if I had believed it to be at all possible that he could return my feelings, or that I could deserve to have good things happen to me. Sometimes I would get very angry with myself for being a coward or being lazy, but I wasn't either of those things. When courage or exertion were required for other people, or for things I felt responsible for, I had them. I just couldn't make that effort for me.

I did an in-depth self-examination back in 2008, and I came away with a few specific regrets most of which dealt with him, but I think the most significant one was for our first conversation. He said something about working on goals, and I should have asked him about that. I knew I wanted to write. I didn't know he wanted to act.

It was the sort of thing that could have bonded us. I remember at times thinking about how I wanted to make movies, and wondering if he would be interested in that. I didn't find out that in fact he already was until after the last time I saw him, in 1993.

He has been in more movies than I have had screenplays produced, though it probably hasn't been everything he wanted either. For a time, I did imagine this life where we could have helped each other. Because we were coming at the same fields from different sides, we could build connections and contribute. I didn't see us becoming a top Hollywood power couple or anything, but I imagined that we could alternate between working for hire on bigger projects and making our own independent movies, and that it would be a really satisfying life.

That life could have been good. There are no guarantees of course, but I really wanted it.

I also want the life that I have now. It has some really hard parts, but there are people I have met and experiences I have had that are good, and they might not have been able to happen any other way.

I do hate that the biggest impediment to the other life was my own inability to value myself. If I had told him I loved him, or taken the less radical but still bold move of simply asking him out, he could easily have said no, but it would have been done. I could still have been the girl who believed in myself, so dated other people, or pushed harder on other opportunities. I could have been reconciled to being me much earlier, which is sometimes still pretty hard.

I do not only blame myself, because I feel like it must have been pretty obvious that I loved him, and he never acted on it either, so maybe my self-esteem issues didn't even matter for that, but they mattered for everything else.

So writing about this is perhaps mourning that life that was lost. After all, if you don't let yourself acknowledge your own pain, it leads to all kinds of problems - this week has been all about that.

Also, and this is the really important part, I need to not do that again. I don't want to miss other good possibilities simply because I don't believe that I can have good things. To say, "Yes, I deserve to be happy and successful" is a radical first step, but actually acting upon it, and changing established habits, is much harder.

The road I am on has it's good spots, but for whatever is ahead if I need to turn or merge or speed up or slow down, I want to be able to do it. I want to be aware of what is going on, and make good choices. That's my wish for 2015 and beyond.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Still pretty sad

There was another memory that led to a song of the day. In this case, the song was part of the memory. My song for 1981 was "Baby Mine" from Dumbo. That was not when it came out, or when I first heard it, but it is from my most vivid memory of 1981.

That was the year my father cheated on my mother for the first time. I did not understand what adultery was. I knew it was shameful, because I was always attuned to that. There was a sense that we had been rejected, because he was spending time with a family other than us. (She had a son. I don't know how much time my father spent with the son, which would really be pretty irresponsible, but at least once when he went "out" he gave the son's name as the person he was going to see, not knowing that we knew.)

I am sure there are people who will think that Mom should not have told us. I know she didn't really tell us that much, but there were two ways in which knowing helped. Dad completely stopped going to church at that point. That would have been pretty abrupt, and confusing, but knowing that was going on did explain it and kept us from pressing the issue. Sometimes I think maybe we should have pressed the issue more, but he was always hard to talk to. That only got worse.

The other thing is that Mom was really sad. I'm not sure it would have been possible for her to hide that, or that it would be fair to ask her to hide it, but I do suspect that unexplained sadness would have been more unsettling for all of us. Yes, we were upset by what was going on, but we weren't left wondering what we did, or if there was something even worse happening.

The memory I have is one night she was sitting in the living room, and very sad, and I wanted to comfort her. I started crooning to her. I guess crooning is the word. I wasn't singing words, but it wasn't humming either, just notes, and the tune had some improvisation but was mainly "Baby Mine".

I believe the reason that I remember it so clearly was the feeling of helplessness, but then it was also this pattern for my life, where I would focus on other people's needs, and trying to help them.

I do not hate this about myself. Kindness and consideration of others are beautiful things. It does feel good to help someone. It just feels like it was also dangerous in conjunction with the lesson that my emotions didn't matter. For one thing, you can actually be much more useful to your fellow man if you practice self-care too, but I didn't.

So let's say ages 3-6 was learning not to let people see you cry, which really meant not to cry, and age 9 was learning that the way to cope with that was by putting others first. Written about some time ago, there was also learning at 6 that I was fat and disconnecting from my body, and at 14 that boys wouldn't like me. All of those lessons were wrong to some extent, but they shaped me. Given that, it's really not surprising that some things played out the way they did.

In retrospect, I believe the most damaging lesson was not to cry, because it kept me from examining the other things, when I really needed to not accept them at face value. There are good reasons against wallowing in self-pity, and it is totally true that some of the things that would make me cry when I was a little girl wouldn't now, but that wasn't the message I heard.

I saw a quote recently from Mr. Rogers:

People have said "Don't cry" to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is "I'm too uncomfortable when you show your feelings: Don't cry." I'd rather have them say, "Go ahead and cry. I'm here to be with you."

When we don't want someone to cry, I don't think it has to be all selfishness, because we probably also don't want them to be sad, which can be altruistic. But if the message is not to show the sadness, rather than to help with the sadness, we fail. It fails some people more than others.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A week of sad things

I wanted this week to consist of uplifting Christmas spirit posts. I was going to write about all of the sad things, but do it next week as a way of symbolically leaving them in 2014. It sounded like a reasonable plan but, maybe because I am feeling pretty sad now, this is the was to go.

I am going over different years by song in a countdown to my birthday. 1979 was "Don't Cry Out Loud" by Melissa Manchester. The reason I picked it was because of three memories, all of which happened before then, but that was the year the song charted. I do remember being moved by it, even though I would never run off with clowns.

Sometimes we have memories that stand really clear, like snapshots. There have been times when I have wondered why certain things stuck with me so much. With some, I have later understood that it was a moment that was forming my worldview. I have three strong memories of crying.

I know that there were other times when I cried. I don't remember why I was crying for any of them. That's not what the memories are about. I think they all happened between the ages of 3 and 6.

The earliest was crying in a store, and my father spanked me. He spanked me because I was crying; I wasn't crying because I was spanked. I know that could make sense in the "I'll give you something to cry about" way, but I specifically had to stop crying after that, so no.

The second was with my older sister. She was watching me for a few minutes while our mother stepped out. We were supposed to go to Wildlife Safari that weekend, and I started crying about something, probably that she did. She was afraid if Mom came back and found me crying the trip would be off, so she got a knife and threatened me with it so I would stop crying. I am mostly positive now that she would not really have stabbed me, because she would have gotten in worse trouble for that than for a crying sibling, but I was really scared at the time.

Finally, my brother once offered me a candy bar to stop crying. It's not as bad, except in reinforcing food as a helpful form of comfort.

I don't think I spent an unusual amount of time crying as a child, but every specific memory I have of it basically boiled down to "Don't; no one wants to hear that." Maybe they are embarrassed because it's in public, or because it looks like a personal failure on their part, or maybe it is just annoying. Maybe they will hurt you, or threaten you, or be nice enough to get rid of you, but seriously just shut up already!

Just keep it inside, learn how to hide your feelings.

And I did. I got very good at hiding my feelings. Another thing that I learned from my father (and it was false, but a lot of these worldview moments were false) was that you can't really show any weaknesses or people will look down on you, so it made sense. Crying or being hurt or sad was a weakness, and you needed to hide it.

There were a couple of side affects. One is that I always cried in movies. It didn't even have to be a particularly sad movie, but at some point some music would swell or something, and I would be gone. Well, it's in the dark, and it's not about you, so that's a safe place.

Also, about twice a year I would lose it. Too much pain would build up and I would have a very depressed and difficult weekend, and frustrate my mother. It was never really that it passed, but then things would be back under control until the next time. Of course, years later when it all came out, it took me months to recover.

I think the real problem was beyond thinking that crying was bad. If the expression of the emotions was invalid, then the emotions had to be invalid too. I didn't get to where I would sneak off by myself to deal with the things that hurt me; I tried to not feel them at all.

Surprisingly, this did not make my sorrows magically disappear. Instead, I got more distant from understanding myself. There were things that hurt a lot that could have been changed - things I should have objected to or reconciled with - and it left me with a lot of ground to make up.

I probably over analyze things now. There are also things that I still don't know how to deal with well. I am trying.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Band Review: Alkaline Trio

Yesterday I referred to bands being around for a while having a lot to go through. Alkaline Trio has amazing output, even considering their nearly two decades together. Because of this I have not been able to cover everything in the depth that I would have liked.

It was still a pretty good trip. My disclaimer is that my introduction to the band was with "Mercy Me" - one of my favorite songs - off of Crimson from 2005. I heard it in 2013, so was late to the party anyway, but it was still a product of a band that had been together for almost a decade, and had grown.

What I am getting at is that it is a recent discovery how gloriously, refreshingly punk they were at the beginning. Based on the time period for when it was happening, that makes sense, but it was still fun to find. I'm sorry I missed it then.

That being said, they can still do punk, but they have really broadened their sound, where you can hear other things as well. I think it shows a nice deepening over time. I like the straightforward rock, but then there are touches of synth on "Prevent This Tragedy", and "Emma" reminds me a bit of Elvis Costello, and so extended sequences of listening to them (hypothetically where you are trying to cover everything in a week) do not get boring.

I am also impressed with the newest album, My Shame Is True from 2013. Despite now having almost two decades of experience, there is a yearning in the tracks that sounds youthful and fresh, where it could be very easy to get jaded. With Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano doing solo work, the band members continue to challenge their selves. It's not going to get stale.

There are currently no dates scheduled for Portland, but they do have some dates in California in June, so this review is filled with positive thinking that they will hop up north as well.

***And with this I have now reviewed my 200th band. So far the main takeaway is that music and bands are awesome, which makes sense because they go together. It's not really profound, but I feel strongly about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Band Review: Lit

When a band spans a long time they can be harder to review because there is just so much there. Members of Lit, a rock band from Fullerton, California, have been connected musically since 1986. Even if they didn't become well-known until 1999 there is a lot there. Because of that this post is going to be a bit random, hitting on reactions to different songs.

"No Turning Back" - This was unfamiliar to me, but it is a track on Hey That's What I Call Sludge, and it surprised me because I had never thought of Lit as sludge. I wondered if it could be a mistake, because there is also this Techno-Dub thing where every track sounds the same that got included under their Spotify, and I am quite sure it is not Lit.

Two things about the Sludge though. One is that a lot of the bands on it are not traditionally sludge, and it could be fun just to do sometimes. Also, as I was thinking about the band stylistically, it came to mind that Lit makes really effective use of fuzz and feedback without overdoing it. I appreciate that.

"Zip-Lock" - On that note, while the guitars do sometimes get harder and thicker, there's a good balance in their range, sometimes getting softer (especially "She Don't Know") and more melodic, and incorporating other influences. "Zip-Lock" may be the best example of a song construction that shows their different sides, but you can hear traces of techno on the intro to "Quicksand", a little country on "The Wall", and quite a bit of funk on "Happy".

"Miserable" - I like the switch they do here, where it is completely reasonable to think that he is going to sing "You make me complete" which sounds romantic (if a little codependent), and then it ends up being "You make me completely miserable." While thematically the song isn't super upbeat, it nonetheless does show that the band is clever, and has a sense of humor. You could guess that from the music videos, but it comes up in the lyrics too.

"The Broken" - This was the song that hit me the most personally this time around. I had heard it before, but hadn't really listened a lot, and checking it out again, it is powerful.

Some of that may be timing. This week for me has largely been about getting my book (where a musician dies) up, and my head is still very much in that, and in the continuation as his band and his sister deal with it. It may be that, because of this, the song for me pulled up this grief over drummer Allen Shellenberger's death, and the loss there but also the need to go on.

Mentally I know that the song doesn't have to be only about that, and that in some ways "The Wall" and "Here's To Us" seem to be more specifically about him. It is also true that the specific circumstances that go into the writing of a song do not have to perfectly match your life for there to be an emotional connection. I say the song is strong and powerful, and deserves repeated listens.

Overall the key message of reviewing Lit is that they have a lot to offer, and it's good that they are still around. And I want them to come to Portland.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Free Book Alert! Family Blood is here

I believe I had already detailed my cunning plans book-wise, but there had already been some modifications, and now there are more.

One thing I had decided with Cara was that I shouldn't spend a lot of time promoting it. I am glad I went through it again, and that it is out there, but it is old, and appeals to a fairly specific audience. I wanted to go through the process of getting some reviews for it so I knew how to do that, and realized I should save that for Family Blood. I love Cara, and writing it has been an important part of my life. If through my other work people come to it, that's a reasonable path.

That left me free to focus on getting Family Blood out the door, and I had a plan. I would release it for the $2.99 price, but then when the sequel, Family Ghosts, came out, I would make it free, and that would send some people back for the first one, and then they would be ready for the third one, Family Reunion. Crafty!

As I got closer to completion, I started thinking about others who have influenced me in the writing. There is a really horrible mother in the book, and there are ways in which that has damaged her daughter. She is not my mother - I want to be really clear on that. She came out as her own person, like all of the characters did, no matter how they started (mostly as the All American Rejects).

However, about the same time that I was writing Family Blood as a screenplay, which I have now adapted into this novel, my world started really expanding it terms of finding and connecting with hurting girls, some of whom have pretty difficult mothers. I wanted them to read it. Yes, Sarah is a fictional character, but her problems are real, and she will still get through them, and fiction is important for that. It shows us that problems can be overcome, and that we are not alone.

I started thinking that I just needed to give the book to them. At first that was just seven, and that list started expanding, but if I could figure out how to give a free copy, doing it more than once wasn't a big deal.

And then I started to have other doubts, like what if people who pay for the book don't like it. The ending is ultimately life-affirming, but it could also be viewed as kind of a downer. There are some losses that are going to reverberate for a while, which is honestly part of how it became a series, because the ending wasn't the ending. I'm not even sure if after the third book it will be the ending, but for now it's just three.

And I started thinking about other people, because for a lot of the people I care about, the problem is not their mothers, but there might still be something for them in the book. And many of them are young, and don't have credit cards, so really, offering it free large scale was the only option. The way to do that is to enroll in the program that allows me five free days, so today through Sunday, basically, then it's back to $2.99, unless you have Kindle Unlimited:

Obviously my plans to make writing financially sustainable aren't really on track right now, but maybe some people will write me good reviews, and then other people will buy it. I mean, there is an audience for vampires and musicians, right? This has both!

So, that's where I'm at. I don't know if Family Ghosts will be free now. A part of me just wants to go right into writing them, and healing the wounds that were there at the end of Family Blood, because good things happen too, and I know it.

However, I am very ambitiously planning to complete another screenplay before the end of the year, and one more before my birthday. That will have me hitting my magic number of nine feature length screenplays written only by me (thus not counting the comic book, the series pilot, the collaborated upon adaptation, or the 31 6-page screenplays).

Ultimately, I did not want to be that person making post after post about how great my book was, and please buy it, but I can tell people to go get a free book. I guess it's a Christmas present.

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musical Magical Thinking

You probably don't know this, but my heart has been breaking a little bit lately. It is because there are concerts that I want to go to but am missing, for the usual combination of financial and logistical issues.

November 24th, Circa Survive
December 9th, Billy Idol
December 10th, Weezer
December 16th, Reggie and the Full Effect
December 20th. Dandy Warhols

Yes, I have already seen Weezer and Billy Idol, though that was before I was doing music reviews.

Yes, I have also already seen Reggie, and in fact have written three different reviews (general, album, and concert - more than any other act). However, tonight is with Say Anything and Saves The Day, which could be a valuable addition to my study of emo, and he has Pentimento backing him up, which would be a different side of them too, and they have been incorporating holiday aspects into this show, but okay, fine. It's just kind of frustrating.

One reason that show would have been especially cool for this week is that Friday will be my 200th band reviewed, and so 199 and 200 could have been for a live show. When #99 and #100 were for the Third Eye Blind show, with TEAM, that was special.

(And #199 and #200 would have been for Say Anything and Saves the Day, because I count bands, not reviews, so whether I wrote about them the following week or not, #28 Reggie and #113 Pentimento would be repeats and not go into the tally.)

So I have decided that this week's music reviews will be about hope instead, like that Dave Hause (#85) review, where I couldn't go to the one show, but I reviewed him anyway, and then he came back and I got to see him.

This sent me to my list of bands that I want to see, but haven't.

Of course, I have already reviewed Torche (#115), but they have promised to come. I think this is a good sign, and bodes well. I have also already written a review for Gerard Way (#180), so while I do want to see him, if he can be summoned, it has already been done. Therefore I turn my summoning powers to Lit and Alkaline Trio.

That is how I will close out my second hundred bands. I may start my third hundred in a similar note, or I may go straight to Drum Week. No, wait, I wouldn't do Drum Week the same week as Christmas. Setting a blog schedule that feels right is harder than you think.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Much ado-ooh-ooh-ooh

Today has been a very busy day, and the thing that I want to link to is still processing, so I thought I would take a moment to appreciate the McLoughlin Auto Mall commercials with Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge.

I have not found a good chronology of the whole story. The first commercial that I saw had them singing the "McLoughlin, ooh ooh ooh ooh", and maybe it wasn't terribly on-key, but I found it charming.

I am predisposed to like things that Robin Lopez does anyway. I had read that he loves comic books and Disney; I mean, talk about your perfect man! With both of them, though, they seemed to be having a good time, it was light-hearted, and I enjoyed it.

I guess there was a lot of guff about the singing, so the next version I saw had only the "McLoughlins", and muzak over the ooh's. I thought that lost something, but then they kept coming up with more variations. If I do online searches now I primarily come up with the fake new conferences. I kind of miss the singing, but you still get Lopez's surprised face, and it's fun.

The series has gotten some impressive mileage. Now they have video footage of people giving their opinions on the singing, and Lopez and Aldridge coming up behind them. Yes, I can see how that would be awkward, and it wouldn't matter which one came out, they would almost certainly have the height advantage, which can be intimidating. But how nice would it be if you had just been saying that you had found the commercial utterly charming?

Be careful of the words you say,
Keep them soft and sweet,
You never know, from day to day,
Which ones you'll have to eat.

I would not be against them singing again.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Band Review: Amasic

Amasic is a Rock/Punk band based out of Montreal. They have been a pleasant surprise.

Most of my reviews come because the band followed me on Twitter, they were recommended by another musician, or I saw them live. In this case, I saw a link for a video of a punk version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", checked it out, and it exceeded my expectations. That led me to listen more, and I'm glad.

The "Rudolph" cover is very punk, though many of the band's songs seem less traditionally so. They reference Green Day as the best band, but for many of the songs remind me more of All Time Low, especially with some resemblance between the lead vocalists.

I mention this as a way of getting to something that struck me about the band, but that I may not explain right. Starting with "Rudolph", one reason my expectations were low is that traditionally people have added a lot of repeats that are as annoying as they are common. (I hate "Like a lightbulb".)

The Amasic version uses a few of those - "it glows", "ho ho", and "yippee" - but without the overkill it enhances the energy of the song, which is really good. Punk guitar goes well with the original melody, which I wouldn't have expected and which makes me wonder about the rest of Johnny Marks' and Gene Autry's back catalogs.

I also found that they had other Christmas covers. It is common for Christmas covers to be awful, either stale or ridiculous and in the worst cases both, but that wasn't the case here. The versions sounded good, and that made December an excellent time to review them.

In addition, there was the album The Covers, Vol. 1, as well as several covers on the Youtube channel. Normally I focus more on original music, because I think it tells you more about the band, but I appreciated that they took some songs that many people view as cheesy and treated them respectfully. In addition, they did a reasonable cover of "Friday". I feel that song deserves disrespect, though maybe some of that came out at the end of the song.

My overall impression from that is that Amasic has a great deal of respect for music in general, and that it informs how they practice and how they record and how they view individual songs. It feels like you can rely on them to have good output. I respect that.

And all of that is not even getting into their original material, which is pretty good. They have a 7-track EP from this year, The Things We Say. My personal favorites from it are "All for Myself" and "You're a Freak", but the band is definitely worth checking out.

They have some availability on Amazon, but more on iTunes. No tour dates are currently listed, but there is supposed to be new music out in 2015.

Old post on why I hate "Friday":

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Band Review: Like Changing Seasons

Like Changing Seasons is a pop punk band from Western Massachusetts. It has been their turn for review for a few months now, but I was holding off until their EP was released, and I just saw that it was up this week. You can purchase Life Goes On at your own price from Bandcamp:

The music is a little heavier than a lot of the pop punk I have heard, demonstrating more of a hardcore influence. One of the tracks makes a reference to "easycore". Apparently the term was coined by New Found Glory for one tour, and refers to the blend of pop punk and metalcore. You learn something new every day.

For what they are, I believe Like Changing Seasons delivers pretty well. I do question whether sometimes the "core" elements disrupt the message. For example, "Where Have You Been?" exhibits depth and has emotionally affecting lyrics, so at times when they are shout-growled, it seems to undercut. However, if anger is a part of what is being expressed, that can be a legitimate choice, and musically that track has one of my favorite intros. That and "You Look Like a 90s Roller Blader" were probably my favorite tracks.

With "Roller Blader" it can be interesting to compare how differently the line "I never thanked you for what you did for me" sounds compared to the same line in "Life Goes On", possibly the hardest track, but also the shortest. It could be gratitude, or it could not be, and it could legitimately be opposite emotions for the same situation. Again, they have some depth.

They have a few scheduled performances in the near future, and with the new release this looks like a good time for the band.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons from Judge Judy - Where we disagree

Yes, Judge Judy is often harsh with the people in her courtroom. Usually it is amusing, and there is a sense that they deserve it. You have people refusing to give a straight answer, and it is still clear that they are not good people, and have not been at all responsible or even minimally considerate of others. As often as she has to deal with people like that, and reach some resolution with them, well, I would get cranky too.

Sometimes though there are points where I feel the contempt is not completely deserved. Maybe they have made bad choices, but there are circumstances where they are not that surprising. She really looks down on state assistance, but those programs serve purposes. That's not saying that they are immune to abuse, or that the people who are likely to abuse such programs might not be the type do other things that would get them on the show, but I sense an unnecessary level of prejudice on her part.

I guess the short way of saying it is that she comes across as politically conservative.

It makes sense. We have covered this before, but if the system works for you, you are more likely to be conservative. The system has been good to her. That doesn't mean that there was no hard work or determination involved on her part. I admire her, she had a good legal career before the show, and I think she was a great find for the show. I do think, and this probably goes back to that normal bias in one's own favor, that it is easy to think that the good things that come to you are totally deserved, and that other people's problems and shortcomings are totally deserved, when that may not be the case.

I have been thinking about that more because of a few people whose criminal charges came up in the case of dealing with the civil suits. Some have accepted pleas, and that is taken as proof of guilt despite their protestations of innocence.

I know that some of them, and probably even most of them, did in fact do the things that they pled to. Because of the things that you have to swear to there, and she has referenced it, technically no one should accept a guilty plea unless they actually did it. You have to confirm that you haven't been coerced, and you understand what you are doing, and similar statements.

It seems like a way of preventing any innocent person from ever losing their chance to be cleared by a jury, so it should be a good thing. For an innocent person who has no faith in the system, and no reason to have faith in the system, it's pretty cruel. If you are scared and desperate, is that not coercion? Sure, you can take your chances, but what are your chances?

I am thinking about one of the examples in The New Jim Crow. She was taken up in a neighborhood sting, she had no drugs, but she was going to be held until trial if she pled innocent, and she had children to get home too. She pled guilty, and then for most of the people who were being held the charges were dropped, but it was too late for her.

I am thinking of Marissa Alexander agreeing to a plea deal. Yes, she could have made a good case for defense, and some people were disappointed in her for accepting the plea, but she was looking at sixty years, and she didn't even injure anyone!

I am thinking about Candice Anderson who pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide because she lost control of the car and her boyfriend died. She didn't think she had been negligent, but what other explanation could there be? Only a faulty ignition switch, which GM knew about, because they had reviewed her case five months before she entered the guilty plea, but they didn't tell anyone until they had no choice, years later, after her parents liquidated their 401K and she had paid fines and restitution.

And of course I remember Josh Marquis that night in Powells. Actually, I'm just going to quote myself:

"Marquis never came right out and said that he still thought the guy was guilty, but there were different points that he raised that would lead one to believe so. For example, the way this man, Edward Lee Elmore, got out of prison was that after the most recent conviction was overturned, he entered a plea that is not accepting guilt but not denying it either, and Marquis' point was now that he has a good lawyer, and he would certainly not be sentenced to anything worse than time served, why not go for it and prove innocence? Well, from the point of view of the legal team, the prosecution played dirty three times in a row, and they did not want to risk it again, and maybe Elmore would just like to be out after 28 years in jail."

Well if you were really innocent you'd risk it. Would you?

The Innocence Project keeps clearing more people, and some of them have to wait a long time.

Maybe we can't expect the legal system to be perfect, but it feels like we have set our expectations too low. A lot of the flaws have to do with economics, and a lot of them have to do with race. We have to face those things if we want the word "justice" to have any meaning at all.

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