Random Rants and A Possibly Good Thing

I don’t get this obsession with knowing every little detail of a terrible thing. For example, I do not wish to know the intimate details of the recent death of a loved one. I don’t want to know how badly he suffered or how awful it was. I know how awful it was: it’s why I keep crying. So please stop trying to tell me. This is not idle gossip. I did not wish to know every brutal detail of how my cousin died of melanoma a few years ago, but I was told – by many sources and even after asking them not to tell me. Now I have to live with this mental image of his final moments as he succumbed to respiratory failure.

So yeah, as you can tell I haven’t been having a great time of it. Everything is seriously fucked up in my kingdom and therefore I haven’t been up to blagging. I have mostly been trying to fix the unfixable – a process very much like voluntarily and repeatedly slamming one’s head into a wall (and in my case, while the house is being firebombed). As a result I’ve been in a right shite mood, and every little thing is setting me off.

The meaning is yours to experience and discern.

For example, I am so frelling sick of Hollywood making shitty movie versions of really good books. It irks the shiz out of me, but there’s not much for me to do about it but rant. Rant rant rant. I’m sorry but I like the way the story looks inside my head. I am not the kind of reader who hunts down all the interviews of their favorite authors trying to figure out what they were going for. I don’t believe that this is the point of literature. I believe it is like art – paintings, for example – where the artist composes the picture, applies the details and takes you to that other world. What that other world is like is now a construct of your mind. The meaning is yours to experience and discern.

The writer gave me all the information I needed to build their world, to live in it, experience it and feel it. If the information was good it will have a transforming effect; it will make an impact, resonate, and take hold. That’s why I read books. I do not read books so that directors can interpret them as they see fit and then build stunted visual interpretations of them that will forever taint them and compromise their integrity.

(I’m looking at you Joseph Gordon Levitt).

My dresser.

My dresser.

Sometimes I feel like perhaps I’m doing therapy wrong

I’m also super ticked because a lot of really awesome events are happening in my area that I would love to go to, but I can’t because of my crippling panic disorder. Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman will be doing a musical/reading event with a bunch of other artists and musicians in honor of Ms. Palmer’s upcoming book release. The New Pornographers have been oot and aboot. Various book events and cons. Just so many things I would love to see. But I can’t because I’m a fracking mental case.

Sometimes I feel like perhaps I’m doing therapy wrong or it doesn’t work the way I think it’s supposed to. Or perhaps it doesn’t really work at all. Anyway, everyone’s answer to my issues outside of the medical/therapeutic fields is generally ‘take something and get over it’.

I find it amusing how people who have never had issues like mine or who have never been on any sort of medication have the attitude of ‘just take a pill’ and shrug, as if that’s all it takes to make the shittiest parts of your life just go away. But they have no idea how the medication works, how your brain works and what goes into both the disorder and the medication. (Let me say right now that I think it’s disturbing how little the average person knows about how their own body works.)

Popping a pill is just not that simple. And don’t you think that with this whole nightmare that I go through on a regular basis, that I’d have done that already if that’s all it took? Trust me; I’m not a glutton for punishment.

 banana books

In interesting and non-shitty news, this week I got an intriguing email. I had submitted a portfolio to a charity that was looking for artists to make and donate work for an auction in December. This is sort of a big deal, both the charity and the auction. Plus it’s a cause that is really important to me.

Anyway, the other night I get an email from the committee or whoever that decides these things, and they loved my portfolio and want my stuff. Not only that, but, along with my portfolio I sent a proposal highlighting three options for what I could create for them, and they want all three. So they want at least (and they stressed the ‘least’ bit) five of each thing, all in less than a month.

I went into this thing thinking that it wasn’t just a long shot, but that I’d never get picked at all. But here I am, more than a tad shocked and excited. So I’ma gonna be crazy busy, what with NaNoWriMo, an art competition with a local art shop (for a much needed supply prize package), and now this. So it’s very likely that this will be my last blaggins for a while. Which is fine by you, I’m quite sure.

So with that I take my leave of you. Enjoy yet another musical road map, provided by the Psychic MP3 Player.

Portugal. The man – Everything You See (All the Kids Say Hallelujah)
St. Vincent – The Neighbors
St. Vincent – Black Rainbow
Lykke Li – I’m Good, I’m Gone
The New Pornographers – Failsafe
The New Pornographers – Go Places
The National – Conversation 16
Grizzly Bear – Ready, Able
Lou Reed – Andy’s Chest
MGMT – The Youth
Guided by Voices – The Future is in Eggs
Portishead – The Rip
Zoe Keating – Forest
Fleet Foxes – The Cascades
The Kinks – Who’ll Be the Next in Line
Say Hi (To Your Mom) – Toil and Trouble

P.S. I’m trying out a new theme. If it’s disgustingly pretentious, please let me know. I don’t mean to be, I swear.

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NaNoWriMo and Brain Leakage

I’ve decided to take a break from my weird life shits and discuss something of great and ill-advised import: I’m finally going to give NaNoWriMo a go. For many years it has been my intention to participate, but something always thwarts it. Although, really, that something has generally been me: I typically am too busy, forget when it starts, or just forget it exists altogether. Forgetting is a skill at which I excel.

But this year due to a series of badness culminating in my taking a semester off for the first time in three years (including summer breaks), I’m jumping in. I am not sure what I’m going to write though, which I guess is a big ‘oh shit’ thing in the NaNoWriMo world. Most people spend the year preparing for this like you would a marathon. Many have outlines, titles, plotlines, character profiles – everything ready to go come 12 a.m. November 1st. I’m not like that. I don’t really know what I’m going to do.

That’s not to say that I don’t have options or whatnot. I have a notebook full of story ideas that I draw from and add to frequently. So I’m set for something to write about, I just haven’t picked yet. I’m not sure if I should choose one I’ve been mulling over for a bit, contemplate something from the idea book or go completely random and pull one from a hat.

I took the semester off – as in started classes and then withdrew when life became too overwhelming – because of the stress, but also because my migraines are back. With a vengeance. I had successfully whittled them down to one every once in a while, and now I have been having them every day for weeks straight. And there really isn’t anything I can do about them other than take this medicine that doesn’t make it better so much as make me sleepy and weird. Sleepy and weird with my brain leaking out my eyes and ears. It’s crazy frustrating. I can’t read or go online like I’d normally do. I have so much to do and am just unable. Did I mention that my migraines are vertiginous? Yeah, so that’s fun. Now I think that maybe I’m setting myself up for failure with this NaNoWriMo thing. Glutton for punishment am I.

 

Arts

I’ve been encouraged to do art-type things on a more frequent basis, studio access or not, to help me deal with my current shituation. So I got this tiny Moleskine knockoff. It’s roughly 3” x 4” and I’ve been trying to scribble in it at least once a day.

In the midst of my grandfather chaos, my uncle, aunt and father have been having this sibling painting competition. Meaning they’ve been painting in these Barbie watercolor books with my nearly three year old cousin, and have decided my art degree qualifies me as judge. It also apparently qualifies my uncle to make snide little comments about my being unemployed. This is a thing with this particular uncle. I couldn’t list the bullshit immature crap he’s pulled on me since I’ve been born. No, that list would take many blog entries. He likes to take little digs at me for no reason. Literally no reason; he would say mean and nasty things to me and about me when I was a TODDLER. The man is immature as fuck. Even in his 50s.

He spent a few days using my art degree as an excuse to make little digs, implying that I’m so bad at art I can’t get employed. So I whipped out my tiny sketchbook that I have been keeping on me at all times, and his wife snatched it up and dropped her jaw. ‘CAUSE I CAN FUKKIN ART. “That’s how it’s done son.” I declared, thus slightly smiting him in front of his laughing wife, sister, brother, mother, nephew, teenage daughter and one of his teen sons.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the pencil.

So that’s all I got. Next time perhaps I’ll regale you with tales of amusing librarians, and tell you what it’s like to cry in the basement of a house that is falling over.

Until then, please enjoy this Andrew Bird playlist, composed by my psychic MP3 player just for this occasion.

 

The Psychic MP3 Player Presents: A strictly Andrew Bird Assortment

  1. Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses
  2. Anonanimal
  3. Polynation
  4. Happy Birthday Song
  5. Hover I
  6. Far From Any Road (Be My Hand)
  7. The Giant of Illinois (Dark Was the Night version)
  8. Orpheo
  9. Unfolding Fans
  10. Desperation Breeds…
  11. Tin Foiled
  12. Near Death Experience
  13. If I Needed You
  14. Grinnin’ In Your Face (Fingerlings 3 version)
  15. Pulaski At Night
  16. Cathedral in the Dell
  17. Fitz and Dizzyspells
  18. Frogs Singing

A Memorial and a Song

rat pack

 

We were heading past the funeral home, down Mass. Ave searching for parking, when I saw him and recognized him immediately. No one else in the world naturally looks like a forgotten member of the Rat Pack, slightly stumbling in his dark suit, smoking a cigarette in that particular way. “There’s ____.” I told my parents. It couldn’t be, they said, he can’t be here; he has a show tonight. But I was right, it was him. He was stumbling away from his godfather’s memorial service, crying, escaping. Doing exactly what I wished I could do. I worried for him. I always worry for him. He has MS, and he is gifted, and sometimes I worry that he’ll feel too awful or too good and push himself too far and get hurt or lost or stuck or what. I can only imagine that he must feel trapped in his life these days. It’s because I feel that way too.

We found a spot across the avenue, practically beside the crosswalk that ends directly in front of the mortuary. I hate the place. I have been here, so many times that I often find myself outside the door giving directions to incoming mourners. “The viewing is in the reception room, through the lobby on the right – just follow the line. Yes, there are restrooms. Go straight, through that small anteroom there and they will be in front of you – it’s a straight line from the front doors.” I’ve memorialized so many loved ones here, that I can tell you where the phones are, where they hide notepads, pens, extra mints and tissues. I’ve even been upstairs in the residences/offices.

When Mum gets out of the car I am worried. She doesn’t handle these situations well, it’s hot out and she isn’t healthy. She has atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. I am beyond paranoid that sometime soon I’m going to be in this situation again, only this time I won’t be filing in to pay my condolences, I’ll be on the receiving end.

We get across the stairs and go inside, only to be greeted by the countless throngs that comprise my extended family. Everyone is smiling, even those who are crying. People are reminiscing and laughing. My cousin – who died this week of a sudden (mere days between diagnoses and death) and devastating re-occurrence of cancer – wanted this to be a day without tears. And being atheist and not one to stand on maudlin formality, this memorial service would be it. So we were instructed to be happy and not to cry; there should be no sad tears in the celebration of a life.

I spent most of the time in a corner talking with some of my close cousins (the deceased’s niece and nephew) comparing photos of our dogs and talking about our new grown up lives, the other part of the time I spent with another cousin, an eleven-year-old with whom I am so close I consider her a little sister. We were in a little anteroom, next to the central air vent, goofing around. When a family member asked us (bemusedly) what we thought we were doing I replied: ‘Putting the ‘fun’ back in ‘funeral’.”

All around us was this almost painless, least-stressful wake/memorial service I had ever spent in this particular building. That is until I encountered the widow, a woman whom I have loved and respected and truly admired throughout my entire life. I should say rather, that she encountered me. She appeared seemingly out of nowhere, a specter, a ghost. Pale and in obvious shock she said my name, hugged me lightly, kissed my cheek, and then disappeared.

I have never in my life seen someone so completely devastated, heartbroken and destroyed. My breath left me. I was afraid for her; I am afraid for her. I wonder if she is eating, if she is sleeping. I worry that this is all too much for her, and that she shouldn’t have had to endure this stupid event.

 

I want to tell her how much I love her and that I’m there for her. But I’m the weird, black sheep little cousin, more like her niece than anything else. But I worry. I so, so worry.

 

We left the funeral home after two hours – four hours early, therefore missing the speeches and official reminiscing. This was surprising as my Mum is usually a stickler for the formalities. We wound up at my grandparents home, the ancestral manse, conveniently within walking distance of the service. We talked to my Gran, who having learned that I recently began seeing a therapist (or The Rapist, as I call her) insisted on knowing what for. “For lunacy” I told her. She was not amused.

 

 

My cousin died this week. He was a brilliant man, gifted and giving. He piloted planes and helicopters. He taught English in inner city schools. He was a sports car aficionado and driver. He was an accomplished bluegrass musician and he was teaching me how to play Jolene, the banjo Santa left for me by the tree. What’s more he was a survivor; he wasn’t supposed to die – he had been cured.

I feel cheated, but what’s more I feel like the world was cheated. Because it was.

 

Anyway, all week I’ve had this song trapped in my head. It came on when I was told he was dying and hangs on even now. I don’t know why this song, I don’t know if he even knew of Andrew Bird, and I don’t know that the subject matter has anything to do with anything at all or what it means that it’s trapped in my brain. But here it is.

The Year In Music 2013 and the Bandwagon of Death

 Here’s the other bit of that giant thing I wrote assessing the assets of 2013… and probably the last, so don’t panic. Or maybe panic. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.


The Year in Music

Typically I would start something like this off with a list of some of 2013s standout LPs. And I intend to, eventually. But this year I was given a randomly large amount of musical instruments.

First, completely out of left field, I was provided with Wilson, my cherry red SG. Then, the same saintly folk who gave me Wilson found me a hilarious First Act amp, with which to build a Tower of Power. Then, after BB stole Wilson, they brought me a black Fender Squire kit with a tremolo and its’ own little Fender amp. (BB is on the fence about stealing that.) They even brought me a small, parlour-sized acoustic guitar. (BB keeps trying to steal it, but he can’t play it, so then he gives up. BB can be a real prick.)

Stack

Another of Mum’s coworkers presented me with this mandolin, circa 1910-1920. It was sporting its’ original strings and case. It was discovered in a barn along with the Ansco, and despite, remains beautifully in tact (as does the Ansco). I’ve been keeping the mandolin in my room, under guard. BB already has a mandolin, (as well as around eight other guitars of his own), but that won’t stop him from trying to claim this beauty. And I’m not having it. I want to play along to Chris Thile, Glob it, and I want to do it on this.

This is a seriously gorgeous Medalist Mandolin.

Seriously gorgeous Medalist Mandolin.

In my grandmother’s basement they found a disarticulated Gretsch acoustic/electric. I plan on articulating it this year. So technically I have a Gretsch. I like to imagine that it’s very pretty.

The year ended in this strange direction, when having asked Santa for a ukulele ($25 on sale at Guitar Center, even), I received, well, this:

 Jolene! All shall love her and despair!

Jolene! All shall love her and despair!

This is Jolene my frelling fabulous banjo. I asked for a ukulele and got a banjo. That’s awesome on the level of asking for a Civic and getting a Maserati. Seriously. f(ukulele)=banjo. If I can figure out this equation I’ll have this gift receiving thing in the bag.

Sufficed to say, I’ve got my work cut out for me in 2014, as I’ve now got to learn the mandolin and the banjo. My cousin is an accomplished player of both, and he gave me some tools and advice to get me started. So far I’m just trying to get the hang of  picking and of using finger picks. You come at the banjo in a completely different fashion than you do the guitar, and I’m not used to picks at all as I play five finger arpeggio style. It’s a grab-and-pluck sort of method, where your hand kind of hovers above the strings. With the banjo you get really close to the strings and the drum, closer than you’d think what with the picks, and you only use three fingers. Plus it’s a five-string banjo, which means every time I play I keep forgetting that I can’t come at it with all five fingers, and I have to override my brain every time I look at the top frets and see four strings, but my hand is trying to maneuver over five. Plus add to that the fact that it’s tuned to G (as opposed to the guitar’s E tuning). It’s maddening.

______________________________________

When it comes to the music I listened to in 2013, I didn’t listen to that much new stuff. How could I after this happened:

Your jealousy gives me power.

Your jealousy gives me power.

If someone I loved released something new, I ate it up, trust me. The new Dum Dum Girls album Too True I listened to for like a month. But that didn’t technically come out until 2014 I guess.

So here is a quick run through of some of the new albums I tried my best to get my head around this year. I’ve linked to the band information and online album streams wherever possible.

The Julie Ruin Run Fast. Oh this record. It makes me nostalgic, but in a sad way (entirely my problem). This is all you need to know about what women making music should be like. Forget Lorde. Forget Haim. This is it. Real music, represent.

Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin. Thee Oh Sees make me happy. They make me want to turn this shiz up and jump up in down in a very undignified manner. Thee Oh Sees make me undignified. Glob bless them (even when John Dwyer sounds too much like Luxe Interiors for his own good).

Savages Silence Yourself. This sounds like what would happen if Siouxsie Sioux formed the Runaways.

Haim Days Are Gone One of the bands Thunderball would call ‘fucking hipsters stuck in the ‘80s’. And she is completely right. Sort of Au Revoir Simone just more into the 1980’s nostalgia aspect of it: indie electronic/rock with pouty Casio keyboard effects for punctuation. All in all it just falls flat.

Polica Shulamith. This band. I loved their first album Give You The Ghost so much it took me forever to get into Shulamith. I mean, after my first attempt to listen I just chalked it up to sophomore effort syndrome and left it at that. But I kept listening, and listening. And then I hit a song called ‘Very Cruel’. This one song is, if not the best song on this record, their best song to date – period. And after ‘Amongster’ and ‘I See My Mother’ that’s really saying something. So after about a month of listening to nothing but ‘Very Cruel’ non stop, I gave the rest of the album another go. Turns out it’s awesome, after all. Look out for a melody very similar to that in Portishead’s ‘The Rip’ on the song ‘Trippin’’, and for the guest vocals of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) on ‘Tiff’.

Okkervil River put out a new album.

… But seriously, it’s called The Silver Gymnasium, and it was good. In the way that Okkervil River is good, but with a little sort of classic Bruce Springsteen flair in the songwriting this time around.

Deerhunter Monomania. Oh this album. It goes from ‘what the hell is this sh-t’ to OHMYGLOBIT’SAWESOME, and very often in the same song. Thus making it excellent.

Au Revoir Simone Move in Spectrums.  This damn thing is frustratingly catchy: sometimes in a bright poppy way, sometimes in a poignant lullaby way. It’s a girlie, indie synth-folk pop record you can get through your day to: not over the top, not lo-fi but just right. Goldilocks would love this shiz. And while it isn’t the most profound, it is still very good, and does so much of what Haim is trying to do – but better.

And speaking of frustratingly catchy…

CHVRCHES The Bones of What You Believe. A few years ago a really dear and amazing friend of mine sent me some of the early bits of what would later become this album. So after that initial taste I was sort of – embarrassingly excited for it when it was finally released. I was not disappointed. This record is I guess what the kids call ‘indie synth pop’, but I don’t care what it is just that it doesn’t stop doing whatever it is doing to the pleasure centre of my brain every time I turn it on. Sweet Jeebus.

Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City. I think that there is a preconception of what a Vampire Weekend album should be, what a Vampire Weekend song should sound like. This record just defies all of that, and displays that this band is something more, that they have so much to offer. It’s not all affected college music. It can be really fucking beautiful.

Throwing Muses Purgatory/Paradise. I love Kristin Hersh. So much so that it may be considered a problem. If you are unfamiliar with her work, she’s been a professional musician since she was 14. Quite prolific, she has released music as Throwing Muses, as a solo performer, and as 50Ft Wave. And every time there is something about what she creates that makes you curious for more. Purgatory/Paradise is the first Throwing Muses album in ten years, and it’s wonderful. If you are an old school aficionado, don’t expect the frenetic cowboy punk of earlier material; this album rings more like a raw Sky Motel. And if you are on the fence due some of her more recent output (Speedbath) listen anyway you will not be disappointed. If anything Hersh’s music is brutally honest and original.

Hersh releases her music under a Creative Commons license, releasing it to the public as she creates it – from demos to stems – and she encourages her fans to share it , remix it, repost it and love it.

Chris Thile Bach: Sonatas and Partitas Vol.1. Chris Thile is better than you. IN EVERY WAY.

Wait. Now that I look at it, and think about it, I listened to a LOT of new music in 2014. Huh. So that being that I’m going to stop there. Maybe if you’re reading this, and are curious about an album or something that came out last year or well – ever – then ask me about it in the comments and I’ll give you the what’s what.

______________________________________

I think it should be noted that Benjamin Curtis died in 2013, thus ending the School of Seven Bells. The School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) was an excellent independent band from NYC. If you’ve never heard of them, I suggest you get to youtube and begin yo’ education: they were pretty fucking awesome. They were only together a few years, and they released three albums and a few EP/singles. Their sound was sort of electronic, sort of rock, very indie. In an NPR interview they said they wrote their lyrics first and then formed the music around it, which isn’t something you hear often from songwriters (and coincidentally how I write a lot of my stuff too). Sometimes they reminded me of the Cocteau Twins, sometimes My Bloody Valentine. In any case, you should really find their music and listen to it. Spread it around. Show the world how good they were and how gifted Benjamin Curtis was.

There are mixed opinions about people who get into music they’ve never heard of just because the artist has died. And I agree: there is something really douche-y about jumping on the bandwagon after the fact. I remember that after Kurt Cobain died, suddenly everyone in my school was a fan and was showing public displays of grief. And let me just say that, beforehand, Nirvana wasn’t that big a thing in that school. They were all into Metallica or they were hip-hop wannabes. But the notoriety, and the huge media attention was apparently too tantalizing, and next thing I knew… Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. So in my opinion, getting in on the action (so to speak) for the sake of getting in on the action isn’t that great a thing.

However, I think it’s perfectly fine to discover an artist after hearing about them because they have died (or the band broke up, or what not). In fact, I think any interest that causes the music of that artist to be heard by new ears is a good thing. I am in no way saying that dead musicians are good things. Of course not. I’m saying that even delayed (or posthumous) interest is worthy interest, because it helps to spread someone’s life’s work to a larger audience. And in doing that that artist lives on.

So do I think you’re a complete tool for running out and buying a “Best of” collection just because everyone made such a big deal when Lou Reed died? Yes. But do I hope you really like it, continue to listen to his music and spread it along? I really, really do.

And on that note I think I’ll be off.  (Door slams)

Writing Panic, Nerdfighteria, and New Knitting Jargon

Even though, logically, this would be the time when I post the next installment of the long-ass piece in which I blagged about the assets of 2013, I pull another fast one and digress yet again down a long and ridiculous tangent that has nothing to do with anything but is bothering me quite a bit. (Like that commercial in which a guy brings a flower to a date of some import, while a delectable guitar melody plays over it. Has no one noticed that the melody is in fact “Never Going Back Again” – a Fleetwood Mac song about bitterly giving up on love after a string of disastrous affairs? Seriously? What is friggin WRONG with people?)

And in that vein I refer back to my last blag post in which I mention how I’ve been knitting up a storm. And while twelve movies (make that thirteen – hello, the Breakfast Club) does fill up the time, it obviously doesn’t fill up all the time. So what else have I been watching? Well, first I went and watched all of the nerd videos I had missed this fall/winter while I was busy getting nerdier. Then, after I did that, I decided to go back in time and watch all of the early Brotherhood 2.0 videos. In order. I did this mainly because I was curious, and mainly because I was bored and knitting, and mainly because I am a fan. I mean, I watch the current videos and whatnot, but I am not an original fan. All of my DFTBA and Nerdfighting expertise came later, when I was lured in through other, related videos by Mental Floss and the like. I am not afraid to admit that; I was still at university (the first go round) and dealing with some heavy personal shit (like always) and so stuff like this got by me. This is true of other things of that time period – like Heroes, which I love and didn’t watch until years after the fact thanks to G4 and Netflix.

Now that I’ve admitted that, please don’t dump on me over it, fellow Nerdfighters. I am suffering enough knowing that too much time has gone past to bother posting replies In My Pants or otherwise when the Green Brothers need to be schooled. Maybe when I complete my time travel device, I can tell Hank that the Harry Potter series is popular in a way that hasn’t been seen since L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. Yes, it’s true: the Land of Oz was an epic commercial success that no one had seen the likes of before or until Rowling dropped her recycled saga on us. I could also fill the Brothers in on the equally epic Ninjas versus Pirates wars that went on at my college campus. Wars involving found vintage pornography and kites.

Anyway, so here I am knitting feverishly and watching John and Hank when I am struck by two unsettling things. The first being: as I watch John I can’t get the fact that this is the same guy who wrote The Fault In Our Stars out of my head. Seriously? This is the guy? Not to knock John – no, no, no. Not at all. It’s just that he is very much like my friend Dan. Too much, really (it’s doppelganger level scary), and I can’t imagine Dan writing that book. I can’t imagine John writing that book. Although when I do try to imagine who could have written that book I come up blank, so I guess the whole thing is moot.

What is getting to me, actually, is the second unsettling thing, which is that these videos are a good peek into the life of a modern day writer. They take place in 2007, in which we find John Green between two novels: the much acclaimed, already published An Abundance of Katherines, and the in-progress, still being crafted Paper Towns. This means when we don’t see John talking at home, or giving us sneak peaks of a day in a life of writing, we see John traveling… A lot: Promoting his books, going to functions, speaking at organizations and libraries and schools and even attending awards functions. He is always running around and this bothers me because my panic disorder has reached epic levels in certain departments, and traveling, especially alone is currently out of the question for me. And if I am ever to be published I will be expected to do this traveling, running around and talking and flying in planes, and whatnot. It’s bad enough I’ll have to deal with doing it all as a fatty (which is a really big concern, actually and probably will prevent my ever being published by a proper house), but doing it in a constant state of panic… I can’t even…

So concerned about this am I, I have been searching other writer’s blogs and videos and talks and interviews and articles and it’s all the same, everywhere I look. Neil Gaiman practically lives on the road. Even the Composers of Naughtiness have to do all of this. There are specific Naughtiness Composer conventions. I don’t stand a chance. My only hope will be to write something as epic as To Kill A Mockingbird, let my book work for me as I hide in my room and refuse to talk to the media.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have been medicated for my panic disorder in the past, but the drugs messed me the frak up and stunted my creativity in a weird way. In fact, if you read what I’ve written before, after, and during my periods of medication, you would swear that whoever was writing during was not the same person who was writing before and after. And they sucked even more than that other guy. The same goes for the rest of my art and music too – everything is forced and without, I guess, soul.

This February though, things may change in the freaking-the-fuck-out-in-the-supermarket department. Thanks to the ACA my health care is expanding and I will be able to resume my search for a mental health professional who has some experience dealing with panic disorder. Go me, and thanks Obama. (And please, I don’t need any guff, so don’t go writing nasty anti-Obama shiz in my comments section. I already get a lot of that – and plenty more – from my sadly misguided and misinformed right-wing cousins. Yes, I’ve seen the open letter from the lady in Alabama who is worried her kids won’t have health care. And I’ve successfully smote every single person who has attacked me using it as evidence. So let it go.)

Despite getting all wound up and anxious that my crazy may be thwarting my hopes of finding my book in a store one day, I keep obsessively watching Brotherhood 2.0, Year 1. I find it horribly amusing, and in a lot of ways I can see how these guys might just be In Cahoots. For all of you out there in Nerdfighteria, being In Cahoots is very much like being a Secret Sibling. We would have to meet, exchange glances and nod knowingly for me to confirm this, but so far as I can tell, all the evidence seems to be there. There is no question however, that I am a Nerdfighter. I mean, come on. Not only am I a most epic reader, I am specifically a most epic reader of Science Fiction. On top of that, I am a font of useless information. Seriously. I once inadvertently usurped a museum curator giving a tour, and ended up finishing it myself. (This has resulted in my being the go-to guide in every museum situation since.) I collect weird shit like ancient cameras, rocks, bits of discarded nature and dead bugs which I then incorporate in both my science and my art. I am an abecedarian, and I have lists of kick ass words – everywhere. This last year I didn’t make a gingerbread house I made a gingerbread… T.A.R.D.I.S.. And if that isn’t enough, I am currently enrolled in a major university, where I am studying theoretical physics. I ultimately want to use my nerdiness to make the world a better place – if not just a better informed one.

At this point I think I could actually give Nerdfighter classes. This I feel would be good, and beneficial, as the Nerdfighting community should aim to grow and spread across the earth, using it’s might against World Suck. So sign me up.

In a complete non sequiteur, I shall now present to you as promised, the epic hat stack:

The Epic January 2014 Hat Stack

The Epic January 2014 Hat Stack

That’s fourteen bald heads that shall be soft and warm in the near future, kids.

I wish to take this final moment to announce a new development in the world of knitting jargon. The knitting acronym/abbreviation Sl2,K1,PSSO – sometimes written as S2KP – shall now be referred to as Flooping The Pig. So remember, next time a pattern requires you to slip two stitches (as if to knit) then knit one and pass the two slipped stitches over that knit stitch, you are Flooping the Pig. Don’t worry, SSK – or slip slip knit – is still called Slipping the Nip. That will never change.

And with that, I am off. Please enjoy this parting gift – a playlist to get over this whiny rant to:
Fleetwood Mac – Never Going Back Again
The Goat Rodeo Sessions featuring Aoife O’Donovan – Here and Heaven
Newton Faulkner – Sitar-y Thing – Interlude
Chris Thile – Riddles in the Dark
Claude Debussy – Suite Bergamasque: Menuette
The Jane Austen Argument – Song for a Siren
CocoRosie – Gallows
Agnes Obel – Riverside
Alexandre Desplat – Mr. Fox in the Fields Medley
Bruno Coulais – Mouse Circus
Iaian Ballamy – Rabbit Band
Architecture in Helskini – Nothing’s Wrong

2013 and The Year In Books

So I wrote all this stuff the last week of December. Brace yourselves…

I have decided to commemorate 2013 with a scathing review of its assets. Yeah, I know that the year isn’t over yet. But it might as well be. I mean really, what else is going to happen between now and then? (Cue the alien invasion).

So let’s start with…

Book It

The Year in Books

I read too much. So much so that my Kindle exploded (see: the Year in Terrible Things). This is the second Kindle to have exploded on my watch in two years. I am currently borrowing a brain shattering Kindle Fire until I can swing a new e-ink number, so I can achieve my reading goal of 150 books. Yes I intended to read 150 books in 2013, and with only three more books to go, it appears I might just make it.

When I say I read 150 books, I am not talking board books or shitty romance novels. So far this year, I’ve read Faulkner, Woolf, Bronte, Stoker, Dr. Michio Kaku, Homer, David Levithan, Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee, A.S. King, and so on. And on.

Some tomes of note include:

Angelfall and World After by Susan Ee
This story is messed up. And I loved it. These are the first two books in the post-apocalyptic YA horror series “Penryn and the End of Days”. Here, our protagonist is a teenage girl with an un-medicated schizophrenic mother and paraplegic little sister, trying to stay alive while angels wage war on mankind.

Of all the dystopian, apocalyptic series I’ve been privy to, this is the most sophisticated in character disillusionment of any of them. As far as Penryn is concerned, keeping her tattered, tortured family together is the only thing keeping her sane; the only thing that matters. Even when good things happen, she never once fools herself into thinking that the humans will survive, or that anything other than the end is nigh. She harbors no false hope, and exists in a state of reality. For a novel aimed at teenagers that’s sort of amazing.

There is a strange dynamic between the two leads, the archangel Raphael and Penryn, and while the storyline pushes towards a possible romantic climax, you can’t forget for a second that this series is horror. It’s not Caitlin R. Kiernan, but it’s very dark, and pretty graphic. Dismemberment graphic. Mutilated children graphic. And even the ‘romantic’ aspect of the plot is more affection than anything. Raffe sees Penryn as a pathetic human, a lower creature. Penryn sees Raffe as a monster, and the means to an end. So don’t worry. If you read this you won’t throw up. Or at least, not for the sugary, unrealistic, teenage romance reasons.

So check it out. And don’t let the angel thing turn you off. In this story, angels don’t know if god exists either, so it’s not religious schlock being shoved down your throat.

Still With Me by Thierry Cohen
I was sort of excited to read this book, it seemed like an interesting idea: A young man commits suicide on his 20th birthday after his best friend/lifelong love rejects him. And that, it would seem, would be the end of that, except he wakes up the next morning to find that it is now his 21st birthday. His life has moved on without him, a full year, and he has no idea what he did during that year or how he got to this new stage of his life. Every morning he wakes up and it’s another year and another birthday, and he is lost like someone suffering with DID. As the years (days) pass, he sees his soulless self gain everything in life he ever dreamed, only to selfishly and tragically lose it all. The story is part science fiction, part spiritual redemption. And I suspect it would have been pretty great too, had I been able to read it in its original French. Instead it reads almost emotionless – bland, flat. Seeing as this was a national bestseller in France and in other markets, and has been translated into fifteen languages, I think the problem is with this particular translation.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I had to read this one for a class I took over the summer. Everyone hated it. I loved it.

To the Lighthouse follows a family as it hosts friends and neighbors at their summer home on the sea. They’re 1920s-ish, upper middle class white folks, who have fancy dinners and keep some degree of society. But that’s not what turns people off about this book. It’s not simply a book of rich white people on vacation; it is a complex study of human relationships, and entropy. And it’s told in what is called stream-of-consciousness writing, which briefly became popular around this time with authors like Faulkner, but which Woolf (arguably) perfected.

Stream-of-consciousness writing follows the thought process of the writer or the character. Imagine you’re walking down the street and you’re thinking about how tired you are and how much work you have to do and what is going on with your best friend and how come they haven’t cal – oooh! A Squirrel! That’s stream-of-consciousness. Many people find this too confusing to read. But it’s how we, as humans think, how we take in information, and so if you read it, and give it a chance, it not only makes sense it makes the story more believable.

So this particular story looks at every character like threads in a tapestry. Their lives, their thoughts and feelings interweave, and over time they fade and fray, separate and come loose. We see exactly what happens when those threads are picked apart, when some are removed, how the tapestry unravels in some places, how it becomes stronger in others. And time  – like I said, entropy – is another character here. Time passes and you feel it.

I love this book. So read it. And after you read it, check out Virginia Woolf’s biography. She was pretty awesome.

A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller
This book is just… downer doesn’t really cover it. The entire book is a man dictating his life story into a tape recorder, in preparation of his upcoming suicide. Yep. Rosy. So much so in fact, it became one of those situations where I only finished the book at all because I have this thing where I have to see it through. I finish every book, no matter how shitty it is. When I’m in, I’m all in.

The book is set and was written during the late 1950s/ early 1960s. So in that aspect it’s very interesting, very much of it’s time. And it’s beautifully written, don’t get me wrong. I just genuinely didn’t like this book, because I genuinely didn’t like the lead character. He is miserable and sad and blames everyone around him for the fact that he is an asshole living the life of an asshole. He doesn’t do anything to fix things or to take ownership for his situation in life – which by the way isn’t so bad. He’s a completely successful individual career-wise. And you know, maybe that’s what the writer was going for, and maybe that’s was Miller’s motive in writing the character. But as a reader it did nothing for me.

And trust me I do not look for sunshine and rainbows and happy endings. Not at all; that stuff is in no way realistic. It’s just if I wanted to read whiny self pity from over privileged apathetic people, I’d give a shit about Twitter.
In related book news, Gaiman released The Ocean at the End of the Lane this year, to much acclaim. Even though I have it, had pre-ordered it, even, I haven’t read it yet. BECAUSE IT’S TOO DAMN PRETTY AND I DON’T WANT TO WRECK IT. It’s autographed in green ink, for cripes sake. The second I open to the first page, the spine is going to crack I’m going to crease and then tear the first page and spill gravy on it. And I’m a vegetarian – I don’t even eat gravy. BUT THAT WILL HAPPEN.

Aside from the books I’ve read, I’ve also acquired some real doozies this year. My great aunt had been slowly liquidated her late husbands’ books to me ever since I found a deposit of them she was unaware of in a closet in her spare room. They are mostly in the ‘little snippets of knowledge vein’ or are novels very specific to his tour in Morocco in WW2. They have awesome titles like What Happened in History (I was flipping to the back page to see how it ends, when my aunt came over and said “Oooh, see how it ends!), and I Never Met an Arab Like Him. Yep. Never.

This same uncle, John, was also fond of marking his dictionaries, and as I grew up I’d find things stuck throughout marking the words he looked up. He liked to write the word he was trying to learn over and over again on snips of paper, or use dental floss to mark pages. Yesterday there was a grand ransacking of their apartment (see: the Year in Terrible Things), and I finally took the dictionaries home with me. I also found a smaller, pocket dictionary I’d never seen before. It too was full of snippets of paper. But when I read them they weren’t just words he was trying to read: there were things in his life he was trying to remember. Like how earlier that day the Boston Globe had a picture of him in a major article on Veterans who served in North Africa. He didn’t save the article, he just wrote about it. At least he listed enough information that I’m sure I can find it.

The Guide To Reading

I also found a gorgeous little volume at a flea market called The Guide To Reading for $2. And it literally is what the title implies: a list of what books to read, what passages, in what order, and even on what day of the week. It’s a rather presumptuous little thing, really.

The Guide to Reading Content

So that’s it for The Year in Books, but I’m not done with 2013 yet. Gird your loins for The Year in Music.

An Embarrassing Comment On Lou Reed and a Thank You

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Everybody who is anybody is writing about Lou Reed right now, and as I’m nobody this seems a nonstarter right off the bat. But here it is.

When I was growing up I was inundated with an amazing spectrum of music: My father was uncharacteristically eclectic listening to everything from the Beatles and CSNY to Miles Davis and Johnny Cash. My grandparents loved the standards. I was training to be a classical musician and had a lot of that going on. My mom was a sucker for Neil Diamond, Phoebe Snow and ‘80’s pop. My cousins were musicians into punk and metal and Sonic Youth.

But my favorite of them all was David Bowie.

From the beginning and in a very unhealthy way, too. When I was three or four I had a five alarm tantrum when my folks went to see him in concert and THEY DIDN’T TAKE ME. I had this insane dream that he would adopt me and take me to New York where I would hang out with all of his cool friends and sing and make art. And that was when I was still in single digits.

Someone eventually, probably my dad, started introducing me to those cool friends: Iggy Pop and Lou Reed and Brian Eno. And I loved them too, but I hadn’t the… agency I guess to pursue this music myself.

But when I was in junior high my life was shitty and I was lonely and all I wanted to do was my art and play music and lock myself in a room with paints and a needle and thread and try not to exist. I went to all the local museums and to the libraries and checked out all the art books. I went and taped all the free records from the library. Among them was Lou Reeds’ Transformer. I would put the new tapes in and let them play through and move on to the next, deciding what got kept and what got taped over. But that one…

I wore Transformer out. I had to check it out from the library again, tape it again. See, I hadn’t had any money of my own to buy it (things were complicated) and I had not yet become the teenage PR ne’er do well who hung out at Fort Apache and went to parties with AFP. There was no interwebs to scope out music on and my few friends weren’t nearly as learned about these things as I, so I was stuck with what I could find when I found it.

To say that this album was influential would be an understatement. If David Bowie was the key, then Lou Reed was the doorman, because he opened wide a world of music that I didn’t know existed. I went through all of his albums, which led to the Velvet Underground (of course) and to Nico. Which led back to Jackson Browne (a favorite of my dad’s) and around to Patti Smith, Wire and the New York Dolls. Which led to Suicide and Magazine. Grace Jones and Laurie Anderson. It even somehow led me to Throwing Muses, my favorite band of all time. (Throwing Muses, in their own right would change my life. But that’s another story).

On top of all that Lou was endlessly cool. I could never see him living some weird glamorous rock star life. I imagined him walking after dark in his leather jacket with a cigarette. Sporting shades. And I would look in my art books and he was there. He was a photographer. Just like me. And his music was unreal – painfully simple and infinitely complex, all at once. And his words were poems, stories, rants, narratives. He created worlds in his songs where you can smell the blood and the wet pavement and see the dealers and feel the love for the junkies and prostitutes and punks that lurked around every corner. He took me to the city where I no longer was and most wished to be. Best of all it was completely unapologetic. He could screech or drone monotonous and have six minute pseudo pop songs because fuck you this is art.

I wanted to meet him. I wanted him to be my friend. I wanted to show him my stuff. I wanted to thank him for being him. I wanted to call him Uncle Lou.

And I did. Every time I put on an album or cassette or CD, I would say “time for Uncle Lou”. Every time I saw him in an interview or on teevee or in a book “hey look – it’s Uncle Lou”. Somehow I felt like, as an artist, whatever I did in life somewhere out there I had an Uncle Lou.

And that was my big mistake I think. Because when this happens, when someone that great comes along and changes everything for you, you make them immortal in your mind. And in a way they are immortal – as is the nature of art. But that’s what’s so dangerous about this thinking, because they are really just people, and they get old and they get sick and they have accidents or they get murdered and in the end they die. We all do.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when, on Sunday, at the worst possible moment of an inexplicably bad day (seriously, if I wrote about it here the WTF chorus would be stunned mute), my dad told me that Lou Reed had died. He was human, after all. But I was. The air was sucked out of my lungs, and it was all I could do the exit the building, don my shades and get in the car before the tears overcame me.

Lou’s music is always somewhere in my head and at the tip of my tongue, and in a way that I didn’t really realize or think about until Sunday.

In the soundtrack to my life he was a major presence. He was there for every major phase, stage and disappointment. I learned to drive listening to a compilation tape of every Velvet Underground song I could squeeze onto a super 120 cassette. When I printed photos in the lab it was also to the Velvet Underground. The time I was nearly locked in the wet room it was my singing ‘Satellite of Love’ that saved me. Me and dad on the T going home from a Bosstones show where I got sick before the main act – he was singing ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ to cheer me up. Hot water at the Tasty, after midnight in the Pit, the 77 bus to Arlington Heights, waiting in our seats at the Orpheum Theater, trapped in a Central Square parking garage, sitting alone on the floor of my bedroom – my memories are a Lou Reed mix tape.

And I know I can say the same thing about Bowie and Kristin Hersh and David Byrne and so many others. But none of them are or ever will be my Uncle Lou.

I never got to thank him. So I’m going to do that now. Thank you.