Tuesday, December 27, 2011

of pizza, dancing, and regret

I got a pizza stone for Christmas so, naturally, one of my goals for 2012 is to learn how to toss a pizza. Fortunately, world champion pizza tossers like Tony Gemignani are gracious enough to provide instruction via YouTube:

At the beginning of December I somehow acquired an uncharacteristic desire to learn how to tap dance. Because why not, right? At the end of the year I hope that you'll expect a similar performance from me:

Looks like I need to learn how to do the splits too.

I hate how fast 2011 flew by. I think part of the reason it did was because during certain parts of the year I wanted it to. In particular, I remember wanting the summer to fly by. I was anxious to establish a decent running habit, a feat not so easily accomplished in our summer desert (limit myself much?). And I knew I'd be starting school again in the fall and was looking forward to that. So with eyes focused on future, the summer really did fly by. Looking back, I'm reminded of how Yoda described Luke Skywalker in my favorite movie ever, "All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph."

I've never had anyone tell me that life seems to pass by slower as you get older. I have yet to hear that. Time only seems to go by faster and I don't anticipate that ever stopping. I'm not advocating the practice of hanging on the past; I just know that I can enjoy life despite an unfavorable environment, despite the hype of an exciting event in the near future. It's just plain stupid that I would wish for a part of my life to go by faster than it should. I hope that I never do that again.

Friday, December 23, 2011

in defense of pie

I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like cookies. Or cake. I've met a few people who don't like cupcakes. Which I don't understand. Because if you like cake why wouldn't you like cupcakes? Maybe those people just don't like that cupcakes have been the "it" dessert over the past couple years, and it is therefore cool to hate cupcakes, the same way hipsters are required to hate any semblance of mainstream. I'd be lying if I said that I've never adopted that attitude at one time or another.

Image from here.

What I don't understand, though, is when people tell me they don't like pie. I just don't get it. Really, what is not to like? Flaky, buttery pastry crust. Rich, overflowing fillings. I mean, c'mon. Sure, I get that some people don't like fruit and that they like it less when it's all soft and mushy, but don't they know that pies come in non-fruit varieties? French silk (fancy for chocolate pie) was my favorite as a teenager. You can make a pie out of anything: I've seen brownie pies, cheesecake pies, pies made from peanut butter, Oreos, ice cream. A favorite regional dessert in Quebec is tarte au sucre or sugar pie (think pecan pie without the pecans).

And what about lemon meringue, key lime, and pumpkin pies? Yeah, they're fruit-based but they lack the fruit chunks of an apple or cherry pie that might scare away a frugaphobe*. And for those that dislike cooked fruit, I've made my fair share of peach pies whose filling never saw an oven. I dare you to find something wrong with sweetened fresh fruit and a tasty crust.

To any pie haters out there reading this post I strongly urge you to reconsider your prejudice. You're only excluding yourself from a realm of decadence so uncommon in the dessert world.

*A word that I made up to describe someone who doesn't like fruit.

Friday, December 16, 2011

this much delight

This week, taste-making music blogs like Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound reported their top 50 albums of 2011. I'm always curious to read through these lists, although I never have the desire or capacity to verify most of the releases. As I perused this year's rankings -- which I often disagree with, even if CoS was a little more "on" than Pitchfork this year -- I was reminded of a tweet I stumbled across back in August:

I don't know this Brian Cook guy -- a musician, I believe -- but he couldn't have voiced my thoughts on the state of modern music any better. (Also, how awesome is Twitter's new "Embed this Tweet" function?) It's no surprise then that my favorite album from 2011 is neither safe nor boring.

The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable

One Tuesday morning last April my buddy Buster sent me a text, "Are you going to The Joy Formidable show tonight?" Having only heard of them I hopped on Grooveshark (I believe this was the pre-Spotify era) and listened to a couple tracks from the The Big Roar. I liked it. I replied to Buster, "Count me in."

OK, I know I'm not an old man but sometimes I feel one. I miss the days when I had the wherewithal and vitality to go see a band relatively unknown to me, and on a "school night," as older folk are prone to say. Going to see The Joy Formidable that evening hearkened back to my high school days when the only thing stopping me from going to just any old show was, well, nothing.

That night ended up being one of the best on-a-whim shows I've been to in recent memory (and not because they've been fewer than I'd like). At a visit to the Joy Formidable merch table, I happily surrendered the cash to purchase The Big Roar and now, with new ears, comparing the album to the band's, um, truly formidable live performance, I discovered one of those rare records nearly capable of what studio albums can only really attempt, capturing the energy of a live performance.

This video is from a year and a half ago so they're a little unpolished and Ritzy sings a bit flat at times but hey, that's rock and roll.

There aren't too many bands out there that mix rock, punk and pop as well as The Joy Formidable, and even fewer doing so with the economy of a three member line-up. They're destined for a bright future, and by extension, so is rock and roll:

Amen, brother.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I might be getting sick. I'm not surprised because there's definitely something going around. And I haven't been eating well, and keeping my apartment dust-free is a daily battle to which I too often resign to defeat, which won't be much of a help in fighting off any potential illness.

It was my intention to stay up a little later to work on my French term paper -- my very first "graduate" project -- that I am embarrassingly behind on, but if my body is threatening sickness, I'm probably better off fighting it now by getting some sleep.

Scout -- my dear feline companion -- is in heat right now, which might be one of the most annoying things ever. Especially with all the rolling around she does on my couch -- I don't know how or why such a small cat manages to produce so much extra hair (Jenny knows how badly my couch collects pet hair (because she gave me said couch)). When Christmas is over and I'm a little less busy I'm getting her spayed.

Oh yeah, the other day Scout peed in my bathroom sink. Yeah, I was a little mad at her, but I was more amazed than anything that she would know to go in a place where it drains and wouldn't make a huge mess. She's a smart cat. But why she didn't go in her little box is beyond me, she hasn't done anything like that since she was a tiny kitten.

And she seems to enjoy depositing hairballs around my apartment, like the one she left me on my bed last week. Today's hairball -- at the foot of my bed -- was thankfully a bit easier to clean up. The next place I live will have a yard where she can frolic, shed, roll around, throw up, and urinate as she pleases.

A lot of people like to include photos in their blog posts. I do too, most of the time. But only when it really adds something to the post or when the photo is the focus of the post itself. Otherwise, I feel like adding photos is pandering, at least when I do it. Because, for me, blogging has mostly been about writing. Not because I'm good at it, but because, simply, I like writing and I like reading. So even though I could share several photos here -- the piles of dust in my apartment I sweep up so often (aging brick walls are incredibly overrated) or some of Scout's hairballs -- I'm choosing not to include any in this post because sometimes it feels good to just write.

Also, I think some of my neighbors might be drinking, they're being uncharacteristically loud.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

and one more thing

The other day I finished listening to the audio of this book:

Image from here.

In the past, I've described Apple products as phenomenal (iPod, iPad), smug (iPhone), too rich for my blood (Mac), and a necessary evil (iTunes). After listening to this biography, I've gained a great respect for Apple's integrity in the creation these products. Steve himself described it best:

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation.

Interestingly, Apple -- a company with little concern for profit, supposedly -- is one of the most valuable enterprises in the world. (I wonder what would happen if we applied that same integrity, passion, and outlook to everything we undertake in our lives.) And while I'm not about to go out and buy a brand new Mac or switch my Droid for an iPhone, my general opinion for these products has certainly increased.

Steve Jobs' commencement speech at the 2005 Standford graduation has become somewhat legendary. Walter Isaacson said of this address:

The artful minimalism of the speech gave it simplicity, purity, and charm. Search were you will, from anthologies to YouTube, and you won't find a better commencement address. Others may have been more important . . . but none has had more grace.

If you haven't heard it yet, you owe yourself the 15 minutes it takes to listen:

"Because believing that the dots will connect somewhere down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference."

P.S. I went the audiobook route on this one because:
a. I can't say that I've ever completed a biography, so I thought I'd have better luck listening to this one rather than reading.
b. I don't have time to read right now (I don't really have time for blogging either, but here I am); but I can always listen to audiobooks while driving, working, cleaning my apartment, walking my cat, making dinner, etc.
c. I was able to score a free version from Audible.com.

P.P.S. I don't really walk my cat (though I daresay she could benefit from it).

P.P.P.S. It's only fitting that I finish writing this post on my new iPad (the acquisition of which was more a coincidence than a result of having pseudo-read this book).

Monday, November 21, 2011

guest post: free, exploring, undirected

A couple weeks ago I asked my friend Clint if he'd like to do a Steinbeck post for my blog and he kindly acquiesced by providing me with the following below. When you're done reading, you will undoubtedly want to read more of Clint's writings. So you will thank me for providing the link to Clint's blog, which you will find here. And now, Clint:

John Steinbeck is pretty much the only author that when I read his words, I spend time trying to imagine him writing them. I don't do that with David Sedaris or Dave Eggers or whoever it is that authors all the For Dummies books that I read, because that would be excruciatingly boring. Where is the romance in imagining a pajama-clad modernite silently tapping on a whispy-thin laptop while sipping a Slimfast and balancing on an exercise ball? (I do sometimes imagine Cormac McCarthy at work, but not intentionally, nor for long periods because in my mind it's mostly just him sitting at a desk made of the corpses of drug traffickers and dipping his long-nailed fingers into an ink bottle filled with horse blood.)

But there is something about Steinbeck's work that makes me just wish I could have been there while he clacked it into existence on his typewriter. Sometimes it's young Steinbeck, the one that's only marginally affected by hairline recession and adorned in what appears to be laborer's clothing. Sometimes it's old Steinbeck, visuals of whom could easily be confused with Walt Disney. But most frequently, it's the middle aged John, a ragged-looking cigarette in his hand, and his wrinkles just starting to find their footing on either side of his mouth.

In my mind, his house has lots of wood paneling, a well stocked aquarium and humongous bookcases chock full of classics that we would occasionally discuss, agreeing to disagree about Prince Hamlet's degree of sanity. I would stand just to the side, reading over his shoulder as he wrote. I'd watch the following words appear between the fluttering of typebars:

"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected."

I'd soak it in for a moment and then say "You know that is going to piss off Hemingway, right?" to which Steinbeck would turn around and say "Ya' think?" and then offer me a high five. He'd start typing again and there'd be some talk of maybe starting a softball league come spring, but it would never materialize, which is no big deal because of course I understand that he's busy writing--which is obviously the way I want it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

poet laureate

I'd be really interested to hear the thoughts of my artist and art loving friends regarding the matter below. I'm not trying to solicit anything here, I'm just genuinely curious.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I'm currently enrolled in a French literature class where we study 19th century French theater pieces. The second play we read was called Chatterton by Alfred de Vigny. It's a fictionalized account of a real-life English poet named Thomas Chatterton who lived during the middle of the 18th century. This play depicts the plight of Chatterton, a young man struggling to earn a living as a poet. In the end (spoiler alert), when he fails to do so he kills himself. (According to Wikipedia, the real Chatterton "died of arsenic poisoning, either from a suicide attempt or self-medication for a venereal disease." Either way, tragic.) (Incidentally, his death date is my birthday.)

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis. Poor guy. Image from here.

For every piece we read in this class we're supposed to write a paper expounding upon a theme or topic found in the piece. For Chatterton, one subject my teacher suggested for such a paper was the role of the poet in society. Her opinion is that the poet is a guide for the people, a person who gives inspiration and enlightenment. And in order to produce works of such enlightenment and inspiration, a poet needs time for constant reflection and pondering -- time that should not be lost in the pursuit of earning one's living, as a factory worker, or a cobbler, or a mason, or whatever it was people did for work in the 18th century. Therefore, as a guide for the people, it is then the people's duty -- or really, the government's duty -- to provide for the living of the poet.

Now, in theory, I don't necessarily disagree with that sentiment. While I'm not much of poetry reader, I enjoy literature, fiction, stories -- dare I say? -- more than the next guy. Not only do I find enjoyment in prose, poetry's sibling, I find a great deal of insight, hope, and wisdom therein. There's no doubt that the written word has been vital to my general well being as a human. I very much agree that writers, whatever their medium, contribute much to the enrichment of our society.

This sentiment in practice, however, is a different story. For one, sadly, not everyone in the society to which I belong will like reading as much as I do. I have friends who celebrate how little they read. That's fine, that's OK. They have different interests, to which they are just as entitled, that I will not begrudge them. Maybe, someone can find just as much meaning in, I don't know, football as I find in reading and re-reading some of my favorite books. (The same can be said for music, or photography, or painting, or film, or sculpture, or name your preferred form of art). So, what complex society of such differing interests and passions will support the poet or writer but not the photographer or painter? Or, is it up to society to provide a living for all these supposedly invaluable artists?

Furthermore, in a society whose government supports the poet/writer/guide-of-the-people, who or what determines who gets to be town poet? Let's say that in a society of 100 working adults there'd be room for one poet. The rest of the working population would have to fill the other important posts: baker, grocer, thatcher, tailor, cooper (someone's gotta make the town's barrels), butcher, farmer, and you get the point. But, what if in this same community, there are 10 individuals who want to be town poet but society has the means to provide for only one? What is the fate of the other nine wannabe poets? Do they kill themselves because they think that poetry is the only profession in which they would find success and enjoyment, just like Vigny's version of Thomas Chatteron?

Anyway, I've been wondering about all this lately -- because being town poet would be a pretty sweet job.

Additional Reading: "Distressed Nation Turns To Poet Laureate For Solace"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

David and Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi

Only three people have ever beaten me at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit: my brother Matt, of course, my friend Joby, and most recently, David here. Though in my defense, when I played David a few weeks ago it was an extremely close game: he won only after I answered my final question incorrectly, and had I gone with my gut feeling I would've got that question right (life lesson here?). In the end though, David is the kind of guy I don't mind losing to.

Whoa, what would Star Wars be like without John Williams' masterful score? I don't even want to think about it.
Return of the Jedi includes some of my favorite Star Wars compositions, like "Luke and Leia" and "The Death of Darth Vader". John Williams has set the gold standard for fantasy and adventure movie soundtracks -- something he did well before Return of the Jedi.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

in another life

One of the best jobs I've ever had was on campus at BYU-Idaho. One afternoon in late spring I was perusing job listings on the BYU-I website when I noticed there was an opening for one of the most coveted student jobs -- grounds crew. These spots always filled up fast so I ran to the hiring office immediately. I was surprised that they didn't ask me any questions, didn't want a résumé, didn't have me fill out an application -- they simply hired me on the spot.

My crew spent the rest of that spring and part of the summer landscaping -- leveling earth, laying sod, planting shrubs and trees. We were assigned to an area of campus that had been an unsightly patch of dirt for over a year. It was so easy to feel satisfied with this job because we could see the direct results of our work. When we were done that vacant swath looked a little something like this:

Yeah, I did all that. You're welcome BYU-Idaho. Image from here.

The only downside to this job? It paid crap (like most student jobs on campus). When finding a job why does pay have to be so important? Maybe a better question way to ask that question is why is it so important to maintain a lifestyle that teeters between comfortable and affluent? How can I get by on less and either save more money or have a job that I enjoy more but maybe pays less? While I ponder these questions (please feel free to add your two cents), here are two more jobs I think I'd love if money was of zero concern:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

toutes les grandes personnes ont d'abord été des enfants

Le Petit Prince was the first book I read completely in French. Which is not much of a feat because it's a children's book. But children's book or not (I'd describe it as a children's book for adults), it's one of my favorite books -- I've read it a good five or six times.

I would love to own a first edition copy of this book. Image from here.

More than once I've encouraged friends to learn French in order to enjoy this book in its purest form. And more than once I've wanted to read it in English just to see if the feeling is the same. But each time I try I end up feeling like reading it in English would be a waste of time in comparison or that it would somehow cheapen the original French version.

In my nineteenth century French theater class* we just finished reading a piece called On ne badine pas avec l'amour by Alfred de Musset (rough translation of title: Don't Mess Around With Love). At the end of the final scene of the second act is my favorite passage from all that we've read so far this semester:

[M]ais il y a au monde une chose sainte et sublime, c'est l'union de deux de ces êtres si imparfaits et si affreux. On est souvent trompé en amour, souvent blessé et souvent malheureux ; mais on aime, et quand on est sur le bord de sa tombe, on se retourne pour regarder en arrière, et on se dit : J'ai souffert souvent, je me suis trompé quelquefois, mais j'ai aimé. C'est moi qui ai vécu, et non pas un être factice créé par mon orgueil et mon ennui.

I wish I had more French speaking friends with whom I could share such passages. So instead I'll just pretend that you all understood that and enjoyed it as much as I did.

*When I tell people I'm taking a nineteenth century French theater class they usually think it's a performance class. Nope. Sadly, it's merely a literature class.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brian and IV

IV by Led Zeppelin

To be honest, it'd be a bit of a stretch to say that Brian and I have bonded over this album. No, our friendship was forged from a different fire, a literal fire, one that launched model rockets hundreds of feet into the air. A fire that could have gotten us in trouble with the law. Yes, I'm making vague, confusing allusions to the time that we launched model rockets at the local high school baseball field late at night (read all about it here, fourth paragraph in).

In addition to a penchant for model rocketry, Brian and I also share similar professions. We're both accountants, although our respective functions as such differ greatly.

I think
IV by Led Zeppelin was the first classic rock album I owned on CD (I didn't pick it up on vinyl until 2008). It was a sort of chicken-egg scenario: I either bought that album because I was learning how to play "Stairway to Heaven" (as apparently every budding guitarist should), or I was learning "Stairway to Heaven" because I bought the album. I was 15 or 16 at the time so I don't recall the exact circumstances.

It quickly became one of my favorite classic rock albums and remains one to this day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

committee of sleep

Today wasn't a bad day but it ended with a bit more anxiety than I would've liked (which anxiety will most likely bleed over to tomorrow). I could sure use one of these days:

And I could sure use one of those cupcakes right now.

"It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it." Thank you, Mr. Steinbeck (not sure where that's from, I'll get around to sourcing it later).

Well, we'll see how fast that Committee of Sleep can work with the four hour deadline I'm giving them tonight instead of the seven or eight they probably need.

Update:The Committee of Sleep performed far beyond my expectations, especially with the time they were given. Good job, guys.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

miles to go

When it comes to style and fit I have a hard time buying t-shirts. Style, because I can never find designs that I love. And fit, because when buying a new t-shirt, I never know how that thing will wear after I wash it.

In the past, my t-shirt wardrobe consisted solely of band shirts and thrift store finds. I'm certainly not opposed to either, but with band t-shirts -- unless it's an American Apparel t-shirt -- I run into the same how-will-this-fit-me-after-several-washes problem. And while I still love a good thrift store t-shirt more than the next guy, thrift stores are so over-picked, with the time and effort it takes to find something cool, you're almost better off heading to a vintage shop and spending five to ten times as much (notice how I said almost).

So imagine my delight when I came across Miles To Go* last week when I noticed this gem of a t-shirt on Pinterest:

I'm sure you can by deduce by the tattoos and slimmer form that this is not me. Image from here.

Miles To Go is an independent clothing line (mostly t-shirts, hoodies, and the like) by artist Greg Kerr. As someone who is influenced greatly by reading and literature, I love the premise behind his original designs: all of them are based on a novel, ranging from classic literature (see the Moby Dick t-shirt above) to more contemporary selections, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And Miles To Go prints on American Apparel t-shirts, so I know exactly how the shirt will fit me and how much it will shrink after washing.

After ordering the Moby Dick t-shirt above in blue, Greg sent me a personal email thanking me for the order with an update on shipping. Even better, the t-shirt arrived the next day, which, more than anything, had to do with the fact that Miles To Go is located in Phoenix and I in Mesa. Still, regardless of proximity, ordering something online and getting it the next day is the best.

I'm looking forward to seeing what great designs Miles To Go comes up with in the future while hoping that just one of them might be Steinbeck based.

Be sure to check out Miles To Go on Facebook and follow on Twitter.

*Not at all to be confused with the Miley Cyrus autobiography.

UPDATE: Just found out via Facebook that Miles To Go will be doing a To Kill A Mockingbird run in December. Looks like I know what I'm getting myself for Christmas.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kiana and Teaser and the Firecat

Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens

While it's not a surprising thing to like Cat Stevens (because what's not to like?), I wasn't aware of Kiana's affinity for the guy until she grabbed this record off my shelf for this photo. The fact that I didn't know this about her is quite indicative of her personality -- not because she's an overly private person, not because she's too shy to talk about herself, but because she is always so interested in others, perhaps at the expense of sharing things about herself. Some people are always talking about themselves; Kiana is always asking people about themselves.

This trait will certainly come in handy as Kiana leaves on her LDS mission to Michigan next week. She will be sorely missed for a year and a half.

Notes and Miscellanea:
Teaser is on par for best Cat Stevens album, right up there with its predecessor, Tea for the Tillerman. While Teaser has some of the more heavy-hitting songs of Stevens' career -- like "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train" -- Tillerman is more understated.

I'll make this a bit easier: Teaser is like Splash Mountain at Disneyland -- dramatic ups and downs -- while Tillerman resembles the Lazy River at Sunsplash -- a consistent stream of lower impact, though still poignant, folk hits.

Monday, October 3, 2011

comparative greenery

Over the past four years I haven't lived in any one house or apartment for more than eight months or so. I don't love moving -- and I certainly dislike the physical act of it -- but I still find myself doing so every six months or so.

Most of those moves were only across town, but a few of them were of an interstate nature: Arizona to Idaho, to California, back to Idaho, to Colorado, and back to Arizona. I still love Arizona, and while I thought that when I moved back here over a year ago that I'd be here for good, I really wouldn't mind moving somewhere else.

Sacred Grove
We don't get trees like these in Arizona, at least not where I live. I took this photo last July at the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York. Does the green in this photo hurt your eyes too?

I almost moved to Fremont, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area right after graduating college. I would kill to live there now. An hour away from San Francisco, the ocean, Muir Woods. And two hours away from Monterey County, the birthplace of my favorite author and the setting of his best novels. For all the things I love about that part of Northern California -- Steinbeck sites, San Francisco hills, redwood forests -- I wonder if I would begin to take them for granted, just as there is so much greatness -- being close to my family and constant sunny days -- that I take for granted while living here in Arizona.

I don't think I'm ready to live here for the rest of my life, not just yet. But I am happy to be here.

If moving were as easy as packing a bag and leaving tomorrow -- where would you go?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

you've got my song

After moving to Rexburg, Idaho, for school, it took me a couple semesters before I settled in with a group of friends who had interests similar to my own. You know, the type of people who liked going to shows and shopping at thrift stores and listening to records. For people with such great taste, I was surprised that many of these new friends hadn't spent their junior high and high school years listening to Weezer like my Arizona friends and I had (although a couple of them had). I set out to correct this supposed wrong and made them all a Weezer mix to download.

Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) by Weezer
Yeah, yeah, I know, I already included this photo in a previous post. I guess this album, for better or worse, is that important to me. And try as I might, I can't seem to get past my current writer's block unless I blog about this album. Again.

I don't know why expect so many people to have the same childhood I did; it used to be so unfathomable that people my age could grow up without having seen Star Wars (OK, to be fair, I still have a hard time with that). When you connect with someone I guess you assume that you have common passions and that you care deeply about the same things. While there might be so truth to that assumption, you'll never have everything in common with anyone. Intrinsically, that's a pretty common-sense statement, but for whatever reason there are things like this that I have to learn by experience. That's a lesson Weezer helped teach me.

Notes and Miscellanea:
Pinkerton includes some of my favorite Weezer songs ("El Scorcho," "The Good Life"), as well as some of my favorite songs of all time. And I dare you to find an album with better b-sides -- see "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly" and "Waiting On You" as examples. (The b-sides are now conveniently included in the deluxe edition released last year.)

If you didn't grow up as a millennial listening to this album it might behoove you to check it out now. In 15 years or so it's destined to attain the status those classic rock albums from the '70s now enjoy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ben and Tap Root Manuscript

As I mentioned earlier this month, I've been somewhat inspired by my friends Tyson and Jeremy: they both have been counting down their 50 favorite albums. I love this idea but if I were to try it, two problems would arise: my tastes change too often to be happy with a list; and such a structured blogging regimen would bore me after two weeks (these are reasons why I admire Tyson and Jeremy for undertaking their respective projects).

So, in an effort to document my record collection, I'll be doing something that's a little more me. Over the coming weeks, months -- perhaps years? -- I'll post sporadic photos of a friend or family member posing with a record that means something to them. And I'll talk about what that record, the individual, and myself have in common.

Unfortunately, many of my friends I'd like to include in this project live far away. So if you're living in or visiting the Phoenix area, I hope you'll stop by and peruse my record collection and let me take a picture of you (and for the next six months (maybe longer?) I'll have this awesome brick wall that makes a perfect background).

Tap Root Manuscript by Neil Diamond

In addition to being an all around great friend, Ben has been a huge inspiration to me as a runner -- earlier this year he ran a couple half marathons (one of which we dominated together) and in April, he ran his first full marathon. Running with Ben always pushes me to go a little farther than I thought possible.

Another thing Ben and I share is a love for the venerable Neil Diamond. One night, it must've been last January, Ben and I were finishing a long run in my old neighborhood. I was tired and nearly out of breath when Ben began singing "Cracklin' Rosie" by Neil Diamond, which is the first track on Tap Root Manuscript, the album Ben is holding here. Despite my heavy breathing I joined in, and in seconds we were shouting it at the top of our depleted lungs, the lines of song punctuated by desperate gasps for air.

Notes and Miscellanea:
The second half of this record is very experimental: it's Neil's attempt to dig up the roots of music, which he believed to be buried in Africa.

I picked this up for 50 cents in January 2008 at Rasputin Music in Newark, CA (though it might have been Fremont, CA, since the store was on the border of the two cities. I tried to verify it online but apparently the store no longer exists. But what if the store never existed in the first place and my owning this record was the result of some inter-dimensional, Twilight Zone-esque adventure that has been since repressed from my brain by some clandestine government entity, and the Rasputin Music location in Newark/Fremont is a memory implanted by said government entity? That'd be awesome).

Friday, September 23, 2011

photo frustrations

Why I just don't use my DSLR much these days:

Since I was a teenager I've always loved taking photos. I remember buying my first camera around age 16. It was this bulky Canon point-and-shoot, and I'm pretty sure I bought it from Walmart for around $100. At that age I took two types of photos. One: Goofy, posed photos with my brother Matt or another family member or friend. Two: Photos of bands. I always brought my camera to band shows and concerts, and whenever my band played a show, I always gave my camera with a fresh roll of film (yes, these were the film days) to a friend to take pictures of us while we played.

This photo is a synthesis of both of those types: a goofy, posed band photo, circa late 2000. This was right outside a small convenience store (hence the beverages/snacks) in downtown Mesa right after playing a show at the Nile (incidentally, if I tried hard enough I could throw a rock at both of those places from my new apartment). Looks like I did a poor job of scanning it.

That camera lasted me through my mission, after which I replaced it with a digital point-and-shoot.

In January 2009 I was expecting a sizable tax refund*. Depending on the size, I would buy myself either a new iPod or a DSLR camera. Apparently it was sizable enough because a month later I ended up with a new DSLR. I began using it instantly and I couldn't put it down, especially after moving to Colorado a few months later.

So why haven't I been using it much nowadays? I will postulate two reasons:

Firstly: Shortly after picking up my DSLR I began shooting in RAW format (as opposed to shooting in the internet/software friendly JPG format). RAW captures colors, especially skin tones, just a little better and photos come out a bit more clear. I got to the point where I felt that if I was going to shoot JPG I might as well use a point-and-shoot.

Now, the problem with RAW is that, based on my limited experience anyway, only the high-end photo editing softwares (like Photoshop) can do a good job of editing RAW photos. Formerly, this wasn't a problem because, up until a few months ago, I had a bootleg version of Photoshop. But then I bought a new computer and now bootleg Photoshop doesn't work (which is probably a good thing, because, as the word bootleg implies, I hadn't paid for it). So now if I want to edit a photo or even just post it on Facebook or my blog I have to copy it over to my computer, convert it to JPG, and then continue with editing/posting. Sure, it's not that big of a deal, but it is cumbersome enough to be annoying.

This is one of my favorite photos I've taken with said camera.

Secondly: Who posts entire albums of photos on Facebook or Flickr these days? Most of my friends who take photos do one-at-a-time mobile uploads on Facebook and Twitter or they use popular photo apps like Instragram. (Is anyone else getting kinda sick Instragram? It seems like a great app (iPhone only and I'm an Android guy), but why does everything have to be filtered and square? It makes me glad that I have a few friends out there that still take real photos**.) If I'm not sharing or displaying my photos, be they on Facebook or elsewhere, I don't have as much of a motivation to actually take any.

Part of me thinks I should invest in a decent point-and-shoot -- my new phone, despite its glorious speed, has a pretty worthless camera -- but that's $200-300 (or whatever they cost these days) I could put toward a new guitar. Or a record player. Or records. Or a plane ticket. (Or something practical and useful, but who are we kidding?)

Now that I can get a student discount (I think) I should probably just bite the bullet and buy Photoshop.

In the meantime, to all my photographer friends, and to all my friends who take photos, what Photoshop alternatives do I have? And what motivates you to go out there and take tons of photos?

*People are always confusing the terms tax refund and tax return, and more often than not, people refer to their refund as a return. But they're not the same thing. A return is the actual form or series of forms you file with the IRS, not the money you get back when you overpay.

**No offense, Instragram users.

P.S. I almost titled this post "photo phrustrations." That was a close one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

triple threat

Some thoughts from last night's concert trifecta:

The singer for the Walkmen came across as a bit of a tool -- the only member of his band in a suit, the way he jokingly berated the absent sound guy before the start of their set -- although I feel like he somewhat redeemed himself with a gracious thank you to the audience as they left the stage. Wish I would've known their music better, but I wasn't left wanting to pick up one of their albums after. Still though, solid band and I'm glad I got to see them.

Apparently everyone and their mom loves the Fleet Foxes, though I'm pretty indifferent. I was hoping their performance would convert me to fandom, but alas, that conversion failed. However, I did come away with a respect for them as the talented bunch they are -- especially the dude who played the flute, upright bass, guitar, violin, and probably a few other things I'm forgetting. My favorite part of their set was when fans were shouting song requests, Rachael yelled out, "Just do your best!"

I love this(ese) version(s) of "For Emma," and the conversation with the French dude at the beginning is pretty great. Thanks to Zach who posted this on his blog a few years ago. His love for Bon Iver was infectious and it's partly the reason I love them too.

Bon Iver was the real reason I was there. I was surprised how large and full this band sounded -- but I shouldn't have been given the nine band members on stage (including two drummers and various brass and woodwind multi-instrumentalists). And who would've thought that "Blood Bank" could be such a great rock song? Let's talk about some of the great guitars on the Bon Iver stage -- a Jaguar, a Les Paul, an SG, what appeared to be Telecasters Deluxe and Thinline, a couple Gibson hollow bodies, an ancient dobro, and on "The Wolves" Justin Vernon played a guitar I didn't recognize -- it had three P-90 looking pickups and sounded great. Anyway, enough guitar talk, I just loved the variety -- so much better than Ben Gibbard switching out different Telecasters the entire night when I saw Death Cab last month. (More to their credit, the Fleet Foxes guitarist had a great selection as well).

I don't care much for Comerica Theatre -- it's so big and sterile -- but hanging in the GA standing area made quite a difference. Sadly, those are usually hard tickets to come by unless you have the extra cash to pay the resale price (I lucked out in the presale this time).

Oh, those nine or so guitars I mentioned weren't played simultaneously, they just passed them around among band members throughout the night.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

car wars

I bought a new car last May. It's a 2009 Nissan Altima SL. While next time I will pass on the leather interior (very glad summer is ending), I like the car quite a bit. I have therefore resolved to take better care of it than I did my last one.

About a month ago I took said car to get it washed. I went to the Genie Car Wash on McKellips and Lindsay in Mesa. As they were finishing up -- washing the windows and drying the car -- a gentleman who worked there approached me. He pointed out a scaly-looking white build-up on my car. He said it had been caused by exposure to hard water and sunlight, and unless I had that build-up removed soon, it could cause permanent damage to the paint job.

One thing you can always count on -- almost as sure as death and taxes -- is that car people will always try to sell you crap you don't need. For that reason, and the fact that I didn't have the $100 the guy wanted to remove the hard water scale, and because I couldn't think of a time when my car had been exposed to hard water, I told him I'd take it to the dealership where I bought it to get a second opinion.

I went home and tried removing some of the scale myself and it didn't come off so I figured there must have been some truth to what the guy told me.

After work last Thursday, I took my car to the same car wash to get the oil changed. The oil change comes with a free car wash -- just a cheap standard wash, nothing fancy -- so I had that done too. While they were finishing the wash, I expected someone to tell me that I needed to fork over another $100 to have the scale removed but this time no one said anything. As I approached my car, I was surprised -- and not surprised -- to see that the scaly build-up had been removed.

So the lesson here is, if you frequent the Genie Car Wash on McKellips and Lindsay and some dude wants to charge you $100 to remove scaly matter from your car, kindly punch him in the gut and tell him where to go. And then have him actually wash your car.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

brick and wax

About a week ago I decided I needed to photograph my record collection (or at least the ones I care about). I've been wanting to catalog my collection since Jeremy added a table of his records to his blog. Furthermore, Tyson, and now Jeremy, inspired by Tyson, have now consecrated their blogs to a top 50 countdown of their favorite albums, which has only fueled my desire more to document my record collection. Oh, that and I've been wanting to add my favorite albums to Pinterest without having to rip off someone else's photos.

Lucky for me, this weekend I moved into a new apartment with a brick wall that serves as a perfect backdrop for these photos. (I copied the idea for these pictures from my friend Becky, as seen in this post.) So last night when I should've been unpacking, I took my first batch of photos.

Heady Nuggs Hot August Night by Neil Diamond

Left: Heady Nuggs by the Flaming Lips. This hefty gem is a box set containing the Lips' first five albums on the Warner Bros label spanning a decade, from 1992 to 2002. This also happens to be some of their best stuff (The Soft Bulletin, 1999, is probably one of my top five records). It was released on Record Store Day earlier this year.

Right: Hot August Night by Neil Diamond. I bought this album because, upon browsing the liner notes, I discovered that it was recorded 10 years before I was born, to the day. And because I love Neil Diamond. But I usually don't like live albums. With most live albums the recording engineer fails to capture the raw energy of a live performance, and you're left with a version that's even more stale than the studio recording. That doesn't happen with Hot August Night, though. These live tracks are so rich and warm -- especially on vinyl -- it doesn't necessarily feel like you were there, rather, it's like Neil is in your head* performing for you personally. But you know that he's really not so it's not as creepy as it sounds.

Diary (2009 Reissue) by Sunny Day Real Estate Star Wars by John Williams

Left: Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate. I wish I'd be so lucky to have an original, now out-of-print pressing of this record but I was nowhere near that cool back in 1994. So I was pretty happy when this album was remastered and re-released in 2009, with added bonus tracks. This has to be one of my favorite album covers ever.

Right: Star Wars by John Williams. I've always wanted to quantify John Williams' contribution to the Star Wars franchise. For example, I'd like to be able to say, with the math and reasoning to back it up, "Thirty percent of the greatness that is Star Wars comes from the score by John Williams." But if greatness is subjective to begin with, then maybe I'm better off estimating a percent without all that math. If that's the case, I'm gonna stick with my previously purported number, 30%.

Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) by Weezer

Pinkerton by Weezer. This is probably my favorite album ever. So I was elated when I learned Weezer would be releasing a deluxe version of this album both on CD and on vinyl (which is four records long, that's over 800 square inches of playable Pinkerton vinyl). The packaging is great too, with photos from the era and photocopied handwritten lyrics and a letter from Rivers to fans. Needless to say, it's one of the crown jewels of my record collection.

So there's the start of my record photo catalog. Five down... at least 100 more to go.

*For the record, I wouldn't mind being incepted by Neil Diamond.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

an open letter to George Lucas

Dear Mr. Lucas,

First of all, let me say, thank you for Star Wars. I can't even begin to catalog the number of hours I have spent -- as a child, teenager, and now adult -- with Star Wars. Watching the movies. Driving from Walmart to Toys"R"Us to Target to comic shops and beyond with my brothers looking for hard-to-find Star Wars action figures. Camping out at the movie theater and missing school -- when I was in danging of failing more than one class -- for tickets to see Episode I at the first moment possible. Missing even more school and work to see Episode I and Episode III (I was serving a mission for my church and unable to see movies when Episode II came out). Updating my Facebook status at least hourly -- perhaps to the chagrin of many of my Facebook friends -- with a Star Wars quote on May 4, the unofficial International Star Wars Day. Talking Star Wars, reading Star Wars, engaging in lightsaber battles with my brothers and cousins, finding new ways to arrange our family collection of Star Wars action figures. As they say, the list goes on and on.

Suffice it to say, I am a Star Wars fan. I know I'm not the biggest Star Wars, but apart from my brothers and my buddy Chip, I'm the biggest Star Wars fan I know.

As a teenager, and as a young adult, I came across people who had never seen a single Star Wars movie. I found this so hard to understand. For me, having not seen Star Wars as a kid was tantamount to having missed out on childhood altogether, that's how important Star Wars was for me growing up.

In 1997, you released the Special Edition versions of the original three Star Wars films, and I couldn't have been more excited. As I was either unborn or much too young to have seen them in a theatrical setting, I was now finally able to. I enjoyed and welcomed the changes you made (with the exception of replacing the Sy Snootles scene with the tacky CGI "Jedi Rocks" number). However, I'd like to make one thing clear: had these changes come about or not, I would still love these films. (Incidentally, my favorite of the series, The Empire Strikes Back -- possibly my favorite movie ever -- was the least changed by the Special Edition makeovers.)

As a filmmaker, how fortunate you were to have the resources, technology, and fan base to go back and effectuate these changes to make these films closer to the films you imagined.

When you released the original Star Wars Trilogy on DVD in 2004 another significant change was made at the end of Return of the Jedi. The final scene of the movie shows the ghostly figures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker during the Rebel Alliance's celebration of their defeat over the evil Galatic Empire. The DVD release shows not Sebastian Shaw, the original actor who played Darth Vader sans mask, or Anakin Skywalker, but the prequel version of Anakin Skywalker, played by Hayden Christiansen. Justifiably, this change upset many fans, myself included. Eventually though, I grew into this change because it made Return of the Jedi work on an additional level, it gave needed poignancy to the prequel trilogy, and it occurred during less consequential, post-climactic part of the movie.

Like most Star Wars fans, I have eagerly been awaiting the release of all six Star Wars films on Blu-ray. And now we're two weeks away. But today I read a disturbing piece of news that has made me rethink my willingness to shell out another $100 in addition to the hundreds (thousands factoring in opportunity cost?) I've already spent on Star Wars-centric pursuits. Today I learned that the new Star Wars Blu-ray release will include even more changes.

The most grotesque of which, as you know, occurs during the end of the throne room scene of Return of the Jedi -- the true climax of the movie, of the entire series even. As the evil Emperor Palpatine tortures Darth Vader's son Luke Skywalker with the intent to kill him, Vader looks on at his suffering son, then at the Emperor, then to back his son. It's at this point where you decided to add some extra audio. In the new Blu-ray version, at this point Vader mutters, "No," and then yelling, "NOOOOOOOOO!" he hoists the evil Emperor Palpatine over his head and throws him down the nearest reactor shaft, thus rescuing his son Luke from imminent death. It's one of my favorite scenes of any movie, not just Star Wars, and Mr. Lucas, you've effectively ruined it.

With the creation of Star Wars, unquestionably you became one of greatest filmmakers of all time. And not only have you created a universe in which so many people have found enjoyment and pleasure, but you have created stories that have inspired hope and meaning in so many people. Most importantly you've created a medium through which friendships and family bonds have been made and strengthened. And yet, you risk cheapening all that with these willy-nilly changes to these films that have meant so much to so many.

On September 16, you won't see me in any line waiting to purchase a copy of Star Wars on Blu-ray.

Myke Olsen

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pre-P.S. I pride myself of my ability of coming up with post titles that indirectly or subtly reference the post's content without being redundant of the content itself. However, I'm having a hard time coming up with such a title for this post. If you happen to think of one while reading please make it known and if I like it I'll consider using it. Thanks in advance!

I started school this week. If you want to get technical, one might say that I started grad school this week. Even though I feel like a bit of a cheater when I say that I'm a graduate student. I haven't taken the GMAT or GRE, and I'm not enrolled in any actual program. But at ASU, I am technically a grad student -- a non-degree grad student -- but a grad student nonetheless.

Things are somewhat unofficial right now because I have yet to be admitted to my graduate program of choice -- ASU's Master of Arts in French linguistics program. That's why I'm a bit hesitant to declare myself a grad student -- despite my being enrolled in one grad class, which will likely count toward the MA degree in the event I am admitted.

(I do this thing where I minimize myself when I do something that could be conceived as a notable accomplishment by at least a portion of the world. (Starting school again is probably one of these things.) It's a bad habit and I should probably stop.)

My grad class is French 19th century theater. Probably not my first choice for a French literature class, but I'm glad to be taking it for that reason, since I can study and read what I like on my own. We've only met twice as a class and so far I'm loving it. The class is small -- very small -- consisting of three undergrad students and two grad students (as grad students, we have a more advanced work load).

I'm also taking an advanced French writing class (it's an online class because the professor is currently abroad. But not a broad. See what I did there?). I'm taking this to help me get back to the level where I once was. That, and I will need to take a few undergrad French courses to make up for the fact that I have only a minor, not a major, in French.

So with my new scholastic responsibilities, I will undoubtedly fall behind in blogging -- I already have. But it's a worthy sacrifice and one that's easy to make. I look forward to the day when I can call myself a master of something, and I look forward to the road ahead that will get me there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

avoiding discretion

My stats teacher explained it this way, "A discrete number is something you can count, it's a whole number. For example, the number of students in a class is discrete. You can't have half a student," he continued in jest, "unless you're a liberal arts major!"

On the other hand, continuous numbers are used for measurement. I'm five feet ten and a quarter inches tall. Last night I slept for six and a quarter hours. Pi is 3.14159....

Sometimes we think of aging as a discrete event. As a young child I never liked the question often posed on my birthday, "So how does it feel to be a year older?" It's such a confusing question for a kid because he thinks he was only five years old yesterday but in reality, he was five years and three hundred sixty four days old (depending on the year), and that's certainly closer to six years than five.

With that, another common mistake is to think that when you turn six you're beginning your sixth year. This is not true. Turning six means you've lived for six complete years. That sixth year has now come and gone. On your sixth birthday you start your seventh year.

I mention all this because tomorrow, in a few short hours really, I begin my thirtieth year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

in my dreams; or what I blog about when I can't sleep

Last January my brother Matt -- who got engaged on Friday -- bought a house and I've been living with him since. With Matt's nuptials on the horizon (the word nuptial always makes me think of a certain scene from Arrested Development), I've had to find me a new place to live. Which wasn't hard. I'm moving in to my new apartment on September first.

It's a small place so I'll be living alone. (Well, not entirely alone, I'm bringing Scout with me.)

With a new apartment comes the welcome challenge of furnishing it. Other than a bed and some bookshelves, I don't have much furniture to my name. So hopefully over the next month or so I can come up with a couch, table, chairs, coffee table, and maybe a rug or two since the floors are all wood.

Part of the fun of looking for furniture is dreaming about items that I just can't afford that probably have no business in a small one bedroom apartment. Here are some things I'd buy if I had more money than sense:

Every time I take a trip to Stinkweeds in Phoenix I see this ferry boat wheel in the window at Red, a vintage modern furniture store on Camelback. I have no idea how much it costs, and I don't want to know, but if I were to buy it I'd pretend and tell people that it was a wheel from an actual pirate ship, and I'd go so far to say that it belonged to some obscure pirate (because, honestly, who'd believe me if I said it belonged to a famous pirate like Blackbeard or Henry Morgan).

While I love Scout, if I had $20,000 to spend on a pet, I'd get an Ashera cat. These cats, bred by Lifestyle Pets, are supposedly part African serval, part Asian leopard, and part domestic housecat. While the breed's authenticity has been challenged, it's still an awesome cat. These cats are hypoallergenic, meaning those allergic to cats won't have reactions to this one, and get this, you can actually take an Ashera cat on a walk (though in her defense, I've never tried this with Scout). I wouldn't be so nervous to run the canals at night with a domestic leopard in tow.

Recently I've thinking about buying a new electric guitar. Right now it's up in the air between a Gibson SG and Fender Jaguar, two fairly different guitars (for example, SGs have been used in countless hard rock settings -- think Tommy Iommi and Angus Young -- and Jaguars got their start in the surf rock scene, although both guitars have proven to be quite versatile over the years). If I've got money to drop on a ferry boat wheel and a pet leopard, fronting the cash for two guitars wouldn't be tough, even for vintage models. I'd look for an early '60s issue on both. And I'd probably need a vintage guitar amp to go with them, an old Fender Bassman would do.

So there you have it. If you happen to have a superfluous flow of cash, I'd be happy to front any wire transfer fees. Also, I take checks.

Monday, August 15, 2011

guest post: how Becky met Hazel

A few weeks ago I asked my friend Becky if she would do a post on my blog detailing her recent adventures with my favorite author, John Steinbeck. She kindly obliged and provided the post below.

Becky is from one of my favorite places on planet Earth, Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of our lovely northern neighbor, Canada. She currently resides in Calgary, Alberta. Becky has a blog of her own, unabashedly becky, so please go read, comment, follow, share, repeat, ect.

And now, Becky:

Hey peeps! I want to tell you a story. Spoiler alert: It’s about me, and John Steinbeck.

I had a phase (that lasted for years) where I didn’t read novels. I couldn’t stand fiction. I was still reading, but I read non-fiction. Books like The Stuff of Thought (authored by Steven Pinker), or The Elegant Universe (Brian Greene wrote that one), oooor...anything Malcolm Gladwell wrote (that guy is the boss). When I came out of that phase, I was craving not just stories, but good stories. Entertaining stories. Literature. I started out by reading Salinger, then moved to Kafka, then Vonnegut. All good stuff. Mostly, incidentally, short stories. Short stories are the best, for me anyway. I love that I can get through an entire narrative in a few fifteen minute blocks -- give or take.

I should tell you now, I suppose, that I had an unofficial boycott of Steinbeck going for many years. It began when my dad was reading The Grapes of Wrath. See, my dad has this quirk* where, when he really loves what he’s reading, he has to read it aloud to someone. For those of you who haven’t read the book, Grapes of Wrath contains one whole chapter which is devoted to a turtle crossing the road. This is the chapter my dad read to me. It could have been because I was a teenager, but I found the whole thing ridiculously boring. That’s how the boycott began, it continued on account of a boy I particularly despised in high school** choosing Grapes of Wrath as his book of choice for his Independent Study in our last year of high school. So, you can see how I might be poisoned against reading Steinbeck, so to speak.

ACT III: Through a short series of events, mostly consisting of my sister-in-law emailing me a link, I started reading and then following Myke’s blog. Both of them, actually. After reading what he posted about Tortilla Flat on Earthbound But Aspiring I resolved to read it. You know what convinced me? This: “Each short chapter is so self-contained, but not to the point of being able to stand alone like a short story.” Granted, he does say they can’t quite stand alone like a short story, but I figured...close enough.

Guys, I loved it. It made me laugh out loud. On the bus. In public.

Once I had the skeleton of the plot (by which I mean setting and characters) it really was almost like a series of short stories. Of course, the chapters build on previous ones, so they really can't stand alone out of context, but I was able to read roughly a chapter or so a day while riding the bus. The characters are fantastically loveable (a few notches above scamps on the scale of badness, really) and I couldn’t get mad at them, even when they did very bad things. One part in particular made me laugh until I cried and tell anyone who would listen. It involves a gift that is as thoughtful as it is thoughtless: a vacuum cleaner for a special lady-friend who has no electricity. The description of her "using" her vacuum is reason enough to pick up the book. With that, the boycott was officially lifted.

Next I read Cannery Row which I also really liked. It has a similar feel to Tortilla Flat but the characters aren’t as loveable. They’re no more conniving, but they seem less innocent. Nevertheless, I found it mostly funny, and sometimes infuriating***, and I fell totally in love**** with Hazel. And while I’m not American, I loved the Americana in the book. It feels like Bruce Springsteen, or Bob Dylan, or a segment of “This American Life”. I don’t know how to describe it better -- maybe that’s just because I’m not American.

During the time I was reading Cannery Row, my best friend Darryl found a copy of East of Eden and started reading. Yep, it spread. We resolved to swap when we finished our respective books, but East of Eden is like five times the size Cannery Row, so I started Grapes of Wrath. Or, rather, I tried to start it.

It was the perfect setup, even. My dad has a copy (had, I stole it from him), and it was right on schedule with Myke’s reading list. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get past the second page. I meant to just borrow it from my dad, read it and then put it back on the shelf, but then I couldn’t get interested in it, and then I moved. So I took it with me. It’s on the tippity-top of my pile, actually. I just, for whatever reason, can’t get past the second page. I’m going to keep trying though. Maybe Grapes of Wrath is my Macbeth? Just in case, as a backup, I bought a used copy of East of Eden for ten bucks.

Anyway, kids, that is the story of how I became a fan of the badassest looking author...probably ever.

* I have the same quirk, incidentally. Nature or Nurture? Who can say.
** I had very good reason to despise him, trust.
*** (Spoilers) I’m pretty sure my blood pressure went up a few points while I was reading the chapter with the first party. I could not believe they let the frogs out.
**** Not romantically, yeesh!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

pick your poison

I may have shot myself in the foot with the challenge I issued last week to write a lengthy word-only post. I don't have writer's block, I just don't have that much on my mind that's impersonal enough to share on a medium accessible to anyone who uses the world wide web. So I tentatively write the following, taking some comfort that the length of this post will scare most readers away.

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is a sort of pseudo-hero of mine. I don't agree with many of his personal philosophies, but I love the passion and originality with which he approaches his career. For example, earlier this year the Flaming Lips released a digital EP stored on a USB drive embedded in the gelatinous brain of a seven and a half pound gummy skull -- you had to eat your way to the USB drive.

A year or two ago, a piece of Wayne's unconventional wisdom struck me and made me realize something important about myself. During a commencement address at an Oklahoma City high school in 2006, Wayne said, "We are not what we dream. We are what we do." Now, I know that's not terribly profound, and it's something I already knew, in a nebulous sort of way. It just had never been articulated for me so clearly (or if it had, I hadn't been paying attention).

Sometimes I feel like more of a dreamer and less of a doer. I contemplated making a list of all the things in my recent life that I've wanted to do or thought I would do but haven't. I look back on a few of those things and think, Why didn't I do that? Why haven't I taken the GMAT yet? It would be so easy to get that out of the way. Why didn't I take the CPA exam right after finishing college? I could've been done with that by now.

And then I try and account for the time I spent not doing these things. What have I done instead? Why is it easier for me to focus on what I haven't done than what I have done? And why do I feel like my most important accomplishments are limited only to the realm of school and work? -- especially when, historically speaking, my passion for both of those things has been so up and down.

Anyway, I feel like I know the answers to these questions. They just tend to bounce around in my head less when I know someone else has heard them.

== == == == ==

In case you haven't noticed, from reading this post and from subtle hints on other posts, I've been rethinking my line of work. I remember someone saying that who you work with is more important than what you do. If that's the case, then maybe I should change my attitude instead of my career. I don't know which scares me more: a new attitude or a new job.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

corpus callosum

Every now and then I wax nostalgic and peruse past posts on my blog. It's interesting to see how my writing has changed over the years. Now, I don't really fancy myself a writer, but I do love writing. I was talking with a good friend the other night, and I decided that I really like to use both sides of my brain, left and right. Writing lets me do that. To write, you have to know grammar; it's like math for words. You have to know where things go, how to marry quotation marks and punctuation, for example. Writing also requires a certain amount of creativity -- creating metaphors and similes, drawing conclusions and forming ideas where they aren't expressed in an apparent manner.

A couple years ago my blogging habits were a bit different. Rarely did I post pictures. My posts were thick with long paragraphs. Recently I've strayed from that a bit, I guess to make my blog a little more interesting. I don't know if I'd call this pandering but it sort of feels like it. I didn't start blogging to write for an audience and I didn't do it to post pictures, especially ones that others have taken. I started blogging because I like writing and I think that needs to be the reason I continue.

So, just for fun, I thought I'd post links to some of my favorite posts that are nothing but writing -- a few short creative non-fiction essays, if I can be so bold as to call them that. Here they are:

  • "Fingerprints": This is my second blog post ever but it's one of my favorites. It's short.

  • "my skeptic sight": This one's about Jimmy Eat World, one of my favorite bands.

  • "My Fidelity": This one's about my love of record stores and records.

I happen to like reading as much as I like writing (OK, maybe I like reading a little more because it's easier) so I'd like to issue a little challenge: Try doing a post with only writing. No photos, no videos, no music. Use words to describe what you would share as a photo or video or otherwise. Avoid single-sentence paragraphs and avoid making lists (like the one you see above) -- make it long, paragraph upon paragraph. Tell a story. Or make one up. Try learning a few new words to use in this post, or at least use a thesaurus to replace any repetitious words. I'll do one too. If you decide to take this challenge, post a link to this entry and I'll link your post here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

murder by numbers

On the first day of one of my accounting courses my teacher asked the class, "What is the purpose of business?"

We weren't idiots, we knew the answer to the question, the answer he was looking for anyway. But we kept silent. Maybe it was the first-day jitters, maybe some of us were ashamed of the answer.

"The purpose of business is to make money. There's nothing wrong with that," he continued, addressing our silence, "and it's nothing to be ashamed of."

Is this dude's house just really small, or is it half buried in dust? Famous Dust Bowl photo by photojournalist Arthur Rothstein that I stole from Wikipedia.

One of my favorite things about The Grapes of Wrath is how Steinbeck arranges the chapters: for each chapter of plot -- the story of the Joad family as they migrate west from their home in Oklahoma to a new life in California -- there is a brief, three or four page chapter that gives a broader context to the meat of the book. It's a sort of macro and micro view of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. (Steinbeck chapters out Cannery Row in a similar manner.)

In chapter five, one of those short, contextual chapters, Steinbeck explains the role of the banks and land companies during the Dust Bowl:

If a bank or finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank -- or the Company -- needs -- wants -- insists -- must have -- as though the company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. These last would take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because they were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and masters all at the same time.

So when the crops failed and farming ceased, Dust Bowl farmers defaulted on their loans. And that insatiable monster took their land away.

== == == == ==

A few years after that accounting class, I remember discussing the differences between French and American work ethics in a French civilization and culture class (French was my undergrad minor).

My teacher -- who was French -- had a tough time understanding our American workaholic culture. It's not that she didn't want to, but coming from a country with a 35 hour work week and five weeks of mandatory vacation for full time employees, it must have been a hard concept for her to grasp.

As we talked, I remembered what my accounting teacher taught us on that first day of class. I offered an explanation, "The purpose of a business is to make money. When an employee is absent, the company makes less money."

It's a simple explanation, and it's also true, at least on paper.

"Seal my heart and break my pride, I've nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide." Mumford and Sons' Grapes of Wrath-inspired "Dust Bowl Dance."

While I read chapter five of The Grapes of Wrath, as an accountant it was really easy for me to understand the position of the bank and land owners. Repossessions happen every day in our country: if you can't pay the loan, the bank takes the asset.

But what happens when that asset is your livelihood, your home? In the course of business, there are many types of gains and losses. But this kind of loss is one I never learned how to account for, how to quantify.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Of Mice and Men

The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar*.

I have a t-shirt of this book cover. It's a size too small but it was on sale so I bought it hoping to shrink myself into it. Hasn't happened yet. I stole this image from here.

I feel like most people who have read Of Mice and Men, read it in high school or junior high. (I specifically remember classmates giving away the ending when I was in junior high.) The first time I read it was a good six years after graduating high school.

I'm glad I read it when I did. Who knows if I would've enjoyed it, or even finished it, back in high school; such is the nature of compulsory reading. (And English and literature were some of my worst classes in high school. But in those days the only thing I got consistent A's in was ceramics.)

The first time through, I liked it. The second time, just last May, I loved it**. When you read Of Mice and Men a second time, it's such an aching book. You already know the characters, and you know how it ends. You hope that this time, George and Lennie will succeed in their dream, which is something so many of us take for granted -- having a place of their own. But in the back of your mind, you already know of the imminent tragedy to come.

== == == == ==

George said, "Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an' they blow it in. They got nobody in the worl' that gives a hoot in hell about 'em--"

"But not us," Lennie cried happily. "Tell about us now."

George was quiet for a moment. "But not us," he said.


"Because I got you an'--"

"An' I got you. We got each other, that's what, that gives a hoot in hell about us," Lennie cried in triumph.

Knowing what came next, I might have cried a bit as I read this part (which is why I like to finish books in privacy).

== == == == ==

Within the last few years, I've talked with friends who read Of Mice and Men in high school. Quite a few didn't like it. I can't say that I've matured much since then, but my choices in reading have. For those who didn't like it in high school, I wonder if their minds would change after a second reading.

Of Mice and Men is a story that "lets the heart soar" -- it's the crash at the end that makes your hopes fly so high.

== == == == ==

*This quote is from the superlative East of Eden.

**I tend to judge books by the range or depth of emotions they evoke. That's probably why I can love a book as sad as this one.

== == == == ==

I'm curious of the thoughts of those who read this in high school (or beyond) -- did you like it?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

just the other night, at a hometown football game...

Matt and I never did find our passports. I looked everywhere. Four times. I'm pretty sure this was my logic when I last saw and stowed my passport -- which was probably right before I moved to my current residence:

Well, I don't have a permanent spot for this thing (a mistake I will correct when I find it) so I'll stick inside this book/notebook/folder/other object. That way, when I move I won't leave my passport behind.

I do this with other things all the time. For example, when I was looking for my passport, I came across my ticket stub from Star Wars: Episode III -- I had stashed it in this book about the Arabic alphabet. I don't keep ticket stubs but I wanted to keep this one and had nowhere to put it. (Maybe I should get into scrapbooking??)

So in a year from now, I'll crack open some forgotten, dusty book and out will fall my passport.

But then, Matt couldn't find his either, and he's usually way more together than me, so maybe there's some other force at work here. Hmmm.

We were supposed to head to Montreal tomorrow. From what I hear (from my Canadian boss), getting into Canada sans passport isn't tough, but getting back into the US is. So tomorrow we're driving to Concord, New Hampshire, and staying the night (we're in Palmyra, New York, right now). Monday morning we're driving to Maine (and seeing the first showing of HP 7.2 we can get to) and hanging there for a few days.

Why New Hampshire? Why Maine? Because none of us have ever been there and when are we gonna get the chance to go to Maine.

After Maine, we'll head down to NYC via Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut (again, when are we gonna get the chance to go to any of those places). I'm currently trying to convince my family to make a stop in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, to check John Steinbeck's home (where he lived later in his life -- not to be confused with his boyhood home in Salinas, CA).

So what all of this really means is, I need to find another time to go to Canada. Making it its own trip (instead of combining it with other destinations, like this trip) is probably a good idea -- then I could see beautiful Ottawa and other parts of my beloved Quebec. I still dream about going to live there for a summer. Lately I've been all about following my dreams.

I need to start having some less costly dreams.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

passport prayers

I'm going out of town on Thursday. My sister is performing in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which takes place every year in Palmyra, New York. So I'm flying with my mom and brother to Rochester, New York, and we'll drive to Palmyra and hang out in Palmyra for a couple days.

On Sunday we're supposed to head up to Montreal for a few days, but there's just one little problem: I can't find my passport. Neither can my brother Matt. While I know it's not the end of the world -- there is plenty to do and see in that area and in New England -- I really want to see Montreal. I served my mission there, and I have been back since, but that was seven years ago. That's a long time to go with a real smoked meat sandwich or a decent poutine.

So if you're the praying type, please say one on the behalf of my passport, and on behalf of Matt's, that they will find their way back to us. Please.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

adventures in facial hair

Most people who know me know I have a penchant for growing facial hair, and luckily, it's something that as man, I'm not too bad at. I grew my first beard during my senior year of high school -- it was an Abe Lincoln-style chinstrap. It's barely visible in this photo:

Who are these kids? At the time we were collectively known as the Manhattan Project. This was taken during the recording of our terribly mixed album, The Night Was Sultry (a high five to the person who can tell me what movie that is from -- no Googling).

It wasn't until the mid-'00s that I dared growing a full beard.

This wasn't my first beard but it's from that first beard era. Notice the matching bass guitar (christened the Bumble Bass) and bass drum.

A year or two later I ended up attending a college with a strict honor code that severely limited my facial hair options. But the honor code didn't prohibit all types of facial hair; it did leave me with one option: the mustache.

Here I am with Jeremy Enigk (on the left), one of my musical heroes, at a show in Pocatello, Idaho, of all places. I forget the dude's name on the right (Jeremy's guitarist for that tour).

I started growing the mustache as a joke. But after some time it grew on me (get it?!) and I began to legitimately like it. I remember getting so many compliments from guys, "Dude, awesome mustache!" To which, my response never varied, "Thanks, why don't you grow one?" "Oh, I can't grow a mustache," or, "I could never pull it off like you."

I posted this photo on Facebook.com and my good buddy Jeff (light blue t-shirt in the top photo) left the following comment, "It looks like you're having a vision of the day when everyone has mustaches... and you're liking it... a lot." From my Colorado days. I miss that hair.

Now, I understand that some men out there, bless their hearts, cannot grow facial hair. To these men I extend my sympathy: you're missing out. But to the latter, those who can and have wanted to, but are scared because they "could never pull it off," I extend this invitation: just try it. Maybe you can't pull it off, but you won't know till you try. (You might look like an idiot or chi-mo for a few days, but at least you'll know.) If you're worried about what others think, if you're worried what girls will think, remember this: if someone is judging you by a piece of transitory facial hair, they're not worth your time (such was the wisdom imparted to me by a fellow mustachioed student when I lacked mustache confidence).

One of the greatest things I acquired from adhering to the BYU-Idaho honor code was a deep love for the mustache (which, I admit, was not the intended effect of said honor code).

In closing, one of my favorite beards (circa 2008), and one of my favorite people.