Thanks Buddy. Your comment really got me thinkin'; I've been pondering on questions that've popped up as a result, especially about authors that've entered the canon of "classic contemporary fiction," but get glossed over in favor of Twain and Ernie and Dickins and Hawthorne and F. Scott.

Here are some that I thought of--mind you, these folks are great writers that are recognized as such but don't linger in/terrorize the minds of students for decades, OR authors that are generally ONLY known for one or two pieces, despite great resumes.

Ambrose Bierce--Most are only familiar with his short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Bierce was considered a master American writer during his time, probably even more so than Twain. His book "the Devil's Dictionary" is oft-imitated, especially funny since most of the imitators are not familiar with what they're imitating.

Herman Melville--Though he wrote the grandaddy of modern American novels, "Moby-Dick," his other stuff--especially "Billy Budd" and his various short pieces--is almost as good. Note to high school teachers: many of your students don't like to read as is; you don't need to make it worse by ramming "Moby-Dick" in their face, especially since its allusions and Scriptural/Shakespearian references are lost on even the post-college crowd. Try something like "the Confidence-Man" instead.

Tim O'Brien--My favorite living author. Segments from his best-known book "the Things They Carried" are popping up more frequently in college courses. I've met some folks that end up buying the book, loving it, and then assuming that's all they should read by O'Brien. False. O'Brien is a moving, powerful author that demands a larger audience. He may revisit certain themes in almost every book (the effect of war on a person, the nature of truth, the loss of memory), but his revisiting never seems dry; O'Brien--whether he knows it or not--has a keen understanding of the eternal nature of truth. Award-winning "Going After Cacciato" is well-worth reading, as is the utterly disturbing/memorable "In the Lake of the Woods."

Stanislaw Lem--His novel "Solaris" is considered a not only a science fiction classic, but a "literature" classic as well (as if science fiction needs permission to be literary). Lem was more interested in the moral and psychological ramifications of hard science than aliens from the Malacandra universe. But yes, his works do involve the fantastic too. Maybe if more teachers put him on the same pedestal as Ray Bradbury (as they should), some of his out-of-print Polish novels will be retranslated.

Graham Greene--One of the famed "Catholic" writers of the 20th century, Greene was also a spy and critic. I hear his name pop up once in a while in pop culture, but I don't know many that've actually read him. What a shame--he's amazing. He not only wrote the story/scripts for the films the Third Man and the Fallen Idol (both directed by Carol Reed), but he also wrote a slew of amazing, important novels, from "the Power and the Glory" to "Brighton Rock" to "the Quiet American" to "the End of the Affair" to "Our Man in Havana" (just finished it: amazing). He was a master of moral storytelling, the English language, and of intelligent dialogue. Hopefully college students will learn something else about him besides the fact that they discuss him in Donnie Darko.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/30/2006 10:49:00 PM, ,


When the 'a' in Arts is capitalized, most think of visual arts, film-making/television, writing, music, architecture, theatre/dance and so on. I do. Even when the 'a' isn't capitalized, "art" conjures lots of assumptions: beatniks, museums, bearded guys painting church ceilings, long-lost field recordings from long-suffering, one-armed avant-garde kettle-drummists. Yes, drummists. That's art.

But lately I've been thinking; why is this art? Or more accurately, why is only this Art? Journalists get a special creative license to call very gifted tradesmen "artists;" shouldn't this be the norm, though?

I don't want to go off on one of my preachy rants. Think about this, though--I don't think "art" should be flippantly applied to anything; packaging a Big Mac and letting gravity pull it down the 30-inch metal shoot to rest amongst its warm fellows isn't what I call art. But I think an artist isn't a self-appointed position limited to writers and guys with video cameras and paintbrushes; artists can make chairs for a living, plant a field of wheat, raise children, fly a kite or even--since this concerns me greatly--encourage 150 degree microfoam to land a certain way on two ounces of espresso, causing the two to mingle and dance into a rolling pattern of honey brown and off-white.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/29/2006 10:34:00 PM, ,


As per Buddy's request--

I posted about some of the great writers that are still plugging away in their twilight years (I forgot to add Larry McMurtry to that list too); now, what about the other end of the spectrum?

Working in a bookstore exposes me to tons of fresh literary faces. And as good as some of them are, not all are bound for canonical inclusion. I've tried to think of a few writers that are either in their 20s or 30s that've either made an impact or will probably make an impact eventually.

But some stand out. I'm trying to go about this with some forethought, but these names come to mind:
-China Mieville--Sci-fi/fantasy author, probably best described as "weird fiction." I read "Perdido Street Station" and was amazed. Yes, it's about a fourth too long and probably overambitious, but the guy can write. I'm thinking he'll probably have a cross-over hit within the next ten years, something on the level of Ray Bradbury's more classic work. Mieville, if anything, strikes me as a "steampunk Herman Melville."

-Dave Eggers--He's polarizing, that's for sure; people either love or hate him. I think he's fantastic. He treats the written language like a roller coaster. And he's always involved in about 10 other projects. "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is pretty solid; if it remains as his pinnacle...well, that remains to be seen.

-Zadie Smith--I've not read her, but she has really gotten some amazing reception. "On Beauty" was one of the best reviewed books of...what, the last ten years?

There are probably many more. To be honest, most writers don't get their start until they're in their late 20s at least. Buddy wanted to know where all of the promising young authors are; they're coming, I'm sure. But come to think of it, there are countless middle-aged authors that WILL be remembered--in 20 years or so, many of these authors will see their novels become the dread of high school students and college freshmen. People from every possible genre. Talented people like Susanna Clarke, Margeret Atwood, Mark Haddon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaimon, Neal Stephenson (who really, really rocks, by the way), Jhumpa Lahiri, Marilynne Robinson, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje, and...well, there are plenty more.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/28/2006 11:42:00 PM, ,


J.R.R. Tolkien has a new book coming out in 2007. You heard me. John Ronald Reuel may've died in 1973, but his son--Christopher--has been releasing unfinished/near-finished works since. "The Silmarillion" and the various lost tales books are good examples of what Chris has been up to.

So J.R.R. (by way of Christopher) is releasing "Children of Hurin." There's a little accent symbol in there, which I opted out of placing. It's another story set in Middle Earth, just like the Lord of the Rings books and "the Hobbit" (and most of his other writings). It seems like it's a pared-down of "the Silmarillion," or at least one of the sections of it.

I appreciate Tolkien, but remain a distant admirer; his stylistic flourishes sometimes leave me drained of energy. Still, this fairly big news--some are ecstatic (front-page news in the UK, for more than a week), others are ready to form a mob and burn down printing houses. And you can get a glimpse of this courtesy of my friends at the A&F forums.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/27/2006 10:10:00 PM, ,


Cormac McCarthy released a new book today, his tenth. It's getting good reviews. I bought a copy today, picked it up, scanned the critical blurb on the back jacket, and thought: "Wow. I'm glad he's still writing. He's an old man."

And he is. 73, to be exact. I'm grateful for many of the gifted writers that keep penning stories, long after an age at which they could've retired. John Le Carre also just released a critically hailed novel. He'll be 75 in less than a month. P.D. James' novel "Children of Men" will see a film version in the next few months. She's 86. Irish nonfictionist Frank McCourt is 76. A 74-year-old Umberto Eco released his final novel (or so he says) last year. And, near the end of the pack, Don Delillo will hit the 70 milestone in less than two months.

This is a pretty common thing, I guess. In the music world (and to a lesser degree the film world), artists get lots of attention if they stick with it past the age of 60. So, hats off to the writers who don't put their pens down at 65.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/26/2006 11:13:00 PM, ,


I have a really weird eating schedule, at least when I'm working at the mall. I usually work in the evenings; if I have a shorter shift, I'll actually eat three meals at times that are fairly normal. So far, not weird. But if work a longer shift--1:30 p.m. 'til 10 p.m., for example--it gets odd. Meal time looks like this:

Between 8 a.m./9 a.m.-- breakfast
*optional* between 4 p.m./6 p.m.- lunch
11 p.m. -- dinner

Often the lunch segment happens before 1:30 p.m., but that's rare. Sometimes, like tonight, the lunch segment isn't even on the map. I also refuse to eat dinner at the mall--I'm at the point where I cannot afford to buy food like that, and doing the tupperware thing for DINNER at the mall is aesthetically appalling to me. I just can't do it.

So I wait. And I digest at night. Which leads to nightmares. Which is why I'm sometimes a zombie. Discuss.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/25/2006 11:02:00 PM, ,

#19- on zombies and Aeropresses

Oddly, these are two things on my mind.

Regarding zombies-- I'm currently reading "the Zombie Survival Guide," by Max Brooks. That's Mel Brooks' son, for the record. It's a fake handbook, one aimed at preparing the reading for zombie outbreak. It's a riot; the writing is deadpan to the nth degree, parodying (and pairing) zombie film culture with wilderness/military survival guides. I'm hoping to get a copy of his newest book, "World War Z," a novel based around fake interviews with survivors of a zombie world war.

Re: the Aeropress (link changed for viewing pleasure)-- This is an inexpensive, small and creepily stylish coffee maker. Made by Alan Adler, of all people. Yes, the inventor who designed the Aerobie frisbee. I guess the Aeropress is regarded as a joke by many in the coffee industry. Their loss. It makes a fine cup of Americano--a fine, fine cup--with almost zero clean-up. I think we (as in BFCaT) will sell them; they're perfect for college students, since all you need is ground coffee, hot water and some arm muscles. Hopefully we can provide the coffee. Now, I still plan on using press pots and vacuum brewers for most of my drankin', but this'll join my trinity of fine coffee prep methods.

Russ asked if zombies can go in the Aeropress. Someday, Russ, someday....

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/24/2006 05:09:00 PM, ,


Uwe Boll.

If you're a film fan, you probably know who he is. If you don't know, stop reading now so you won't get contaminated.

Boll is best known for his film adaptation of video games. Boll is also known for being very outspoken about critics ripping his movies to shreds, especially when they haven't seen them. I've seen them. They're so incredibly bad that they're good but then horrible and not good at all. So there.

Boll's movies aside, he has a loose mouth that unleashes a non-stop torrent of trash talk and sleazy comments, all in broken English. To think--dude has a degree in Literature! This gives me hope.

Anywho, I don't want to dump on him too much. But I'm writing this because Boll had recently issued a challenge to his harshest critics: step into the boxing ring with him and last ten rounds. Boll clobbered one critic a few weeks ago in Spain, and tonight he fought four critics, including Somethingawful.com honcho "Lowtax" Kyanka. I'm very, very curious as to the outcome.

Now, if you didn't know who this guy was and didn't heed my warning...sorry. Sometimes knowledge is a bad thing.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/23/2006 10:13:00 PM, ,

#17- on trust

Eight years of Scouting burnt this into my memory: a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. That's called the Scout Law. Notice that the first ideal is trustworthy.

Trust is often hard earned and easily lost. Trust is also easy to expect from others. I sometimes dwell on trust; sometimes on the grand scale (trust in the Godhead), but frankly more often in relation to daily interactions with people (though the two obviously tie in together). How much do you trust strangers? Your family? Friends? Co-workers? Yourself?

I'm thinking about it again. Something happened to a friend today. We work together at the bookstore. I'll be stepping down from my 'keyholder' (management) position soon to run Russ and Bethany's coffee shop. My friend is a shoe-in for the position, and several other co-workers and I have been grooming him for the position. My friend is more than capable; in fact, he's probably the one I would trust most in a position like that. He has had some bad self-esteem issues for a while, and a position that demands responsiblity like this would totally help him.

But he's not going to get it--long story short, the main manager decided to nab a keyholder from another store. I guess it makes sense on paper; this second guy is already trained in the keyholder position from the other store, and it's a shorter drive for him to our store. But the main manager all but said flat out that my friend--the first guy--was going to get it. So, my friend was an emotional wreck. (That was hard to do without resorting to names.)

Trust is casually tossed about, though when you think of it, it's something that really impacts you. It's clear what the Fall brought; one aspect that always hits me, though, is how easily humans break their word, or don't trust when they should. I pray that God will work to make me a more trustworthy man.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/22/2006 11:32:00 PM, ,

#16- Sloan

The past few days have been fairly busy, and tomorrow even more so. I haven't had much time to prepare a topic for today, so I'll just link some Sloan videos. Sloan is one of those bands that really make me want to form a band; they've been around for what seems like forever, have a zillion albums (all of them good), and a near-psychotic fanbase made up entirely of Canadians. Plus, they're all multi-instrumentalists, and all write and sing on their own songs.

That's "Losing California." The sound and video are not synced together, sadly.

That's the band wandering around the Canadian BMG offices. Hi-lar-ious.

That's "Rest of My Life."

This is a brief interview and live performance of "Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay."

Man, I love this band.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/21/2006 11:36:00 PM, ,


Very interesting and well-written article here. If you're too busy to read it, uh, you're part of the problem (or something like that).

I actually think about this often; I work in/manage a book store, after all, and I get to see first hand what folks read. I know the demographics are different for each region blah blah blah, but I do dwell on it more than a normal person would. I see who buys what, what sells, and what doesn't sell. And what I know is that yes, there may be many folks out there that read a lot for pleasure--and read often--but they are few and far between.

And only a small percentage of these readers (which is a small percentage to being with) actually read something worthwhile. Blah blah blah elitist blah blah. Sure, maybe; but it is possible to read something for fun that is exciting AND well-done AND good for discussion. Reading as escapism just isn't a good thing.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/20/2006 10:44:00 PM, ,


I've been thinking lately about how easy it is for my word choice to poorly reflect my beliefs. It's really easy to do, and I won't try to elaborate on this because I know that 1) most of you reading this can relate, and 2) I have five minutes to finish typing this.

I'm really trying to watch what I say. I've been cursed with a desire to talk, all of the time. This is bad. I'm trying to chose my words more carefully, too; even some colloquialisms, like "good luck" and "works like a charm," are now on my DON'T USE list. They're just words, you might say. Whatever. I'm realizing I don't necessarily agree with the basis for the phrases, though, so I'm trying to be more tactful with my wordage.

And this goes for a lot of things. I just pray that I can keep this goal in my head for longer than 30 seconds, and to actively strive to use language that fits instead of any ol' thing.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/19/2006 11:39:00 PM, ,

#13-"Harnessed in Slums"

I was humming it, so I thought I would post it. The name of this 'blog is title of an Archers of Loaf song; it's one of the best call-to-arms out there for the slacker generation. I may sound like noise to many of you, but if you listen closely you can hear some very hummable stuff under the angular noise rock.

Notice the reference to This is Spinal Tap at the end. Notice bassist Matt Gentling pogo-ing around. Notice bassist Matt Gentling's complex, rumbling contribution to the song. Notice how frontman Eric Bachmann looks like, well, a nerd. Also notice how he sounds like Neil Diamond these days. In a very good way, of course.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/18/2006 10:41:00 PM, ,



That I am a hypocrite is a given; everyone is, to one degree or another. But it's different for me, probably worse than the normal things people are hypocritical about.

I critique music and get paid for it. I guess that makes me a critic. It comes naturally to some people. Not so to me; I like to talk about and tell people about art that I think is noteworthy, but that's really it. Even if I think something isn't up to snuff, I try to see some redeeming points to it and see where it could be better.

So maybe that's why I can't take criticism. I can dish it out (sort of), but can't take it. I used to be much worse when I was younger, and I got defensive about everything--even constructive comments. I've gotten to the point where I'm comfortable about how I look or act enough that critical comments only end up helping me. But when it involves anything I write or something that ties into my "art"...that's a different story.

As a result, I take an obscene amount of time when I write. I mull things over, spend hours debating on the order of three words, toss and turn at night because I submitted something to an editor before I noticed a typo. Stuff like that. Negative comments, like the one from Anonymous on post #11 (which was probably a friendly correction to begin with) end up hitting like a brass-knuckled slug to the nose. I start doubting myself, I get depressed. I make posts like this.

Lord God, help me. If I even get anything published on a national level, I need to get much thicker skin between now and then. Maybe I can't take criticism because I'm NOT a critic; I'm just a guy who--after amazingly getting music journalism jobs--ends up talking about the stuff he likes on a critical platform. Maybe I should stick with the coffee business after all.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/17/2006 11:38:00 PM, ,

#11-excerpt from my work-in-progress

(From chapter four)

My laptop was closed, powered down when my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. On the ID: my agent.
"Parker, hit me with your best shot."
"I was just doing some writing."
"That," the agent half-screamed, "is what I want to hear!" A pause, and then he leans in with a whisper. "Tell me about it."
Well. "I'm thinking of steering clear of my first book. Mysteries, I mean."
"Yeah. Do something high-concept."
"Right. I like where this is going."
"Something alagorical."
"'Young writer breaks from mold, delivers stunning sophomore effort.'"
"Something haunting. Something that gets book clubs in a frenzy."
"'Stunning; a triumph.'"
"Something that draws fresh inspiration from the ashes of tired, self-defeating genres."
"'A miracle.'"
"I'm excited about the possibilities."
"So am I, Ray. What's it about?"
Shit. "It's--I, well, I'm still batting some ideas around."
"Do you have any characters, framework or anything?" The enthusiasm that built up over the past minute deflated with a raspy twitter.
"S-sort of. I think there'll be a man and a woman. In love."
"And maybe a safari." This was a new idea, spur of the moment.
My agent audibly frowned. "This is a start." A new, bad idea.
"Yeah. I'm still in the basic stages, though. Still brainstorming. Coming up with ideas."
My last word trailed off into space, phonetics slicing a trail through the tangible silence. He'd hung up, hadn't he? I hadn't heard a cli--
"I'll let you get back to your brainstorming, Ray. You'll hear from me next week."
He hung up this time, for real.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/16/2006 11:35:00 PM, ,


Entertainment blitzkrieg:

Concerts in the Pittsburgh area (that I deem important),

09/29- Built to Spill (w/Helvetia) @ Mr. Small's. One of my favorite bands at one of the most frustrating crowded concerts. I think I'll pass; I've seen them a zillion times, and they draw a really obnoxious crowd in the 'burgh.
09/30- Cracker (w/the Elms) @ Rex Theatre. Underground rock legends with Christian power poppers. I'm sort of speechless (guess that means I have to keep typing).
10/24- Lovedrug and Brandtson @ Mr. Small's. Chances are I'll be the oldest person there. At least I can hang out in the 21+ area in style.
10/27- Frank Black (w/Reid Paley) @ Mr. Small's. Black is playing with a backing band filled with Nashville/classic rock veterans.
11/04- Los Straitjackets @ Rex Theatre. Someone, anyone, please come see them with me. It will change your life.
03/16/07-03/17/07- the Bad Plus @ Manchester Craftsman Guild.

In film/TV news,
On the music front,
On the lit. front,

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/15/2006 10:56:00 PM, ,

#9- Arts & Faith

Since I started bopping around on the Internet in the mid-'90s, I always gravitated toward message boards, also known as Internet forums. Wikipedia describes an Internet forum as "...a facility on the World Wide Web for holding discussions." Just in case you weren't sure what I was typing about.

After lounging around many forums over the past decade (including RPG.net, one of the top 100 forums on the 'net...I amassed close to 8000 posts in three years), I found one that I can really dig. It's the Arts & Faith message board. The tagline is "the best place on the Web for discussion of the Christian faith and arts."

They aren't kidding. It's not a heavily populated forum, which may be a good thing. The lounge-like atmosphere is really one of the appealing factors. But the main one is that the people that post there are Christians that really, really care about Art, and really see God's providence over every aspect of life.

The biggest draw is the Film subforum; the A&F crew annually publish their "Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films" (based on votes). There are also a number of indie filmmakers that discuss, and several frequent posters that are also well-regarded critics (Books & Culture and Christianity Today film critic Peter Chattaway and all-around film junkie Jeff Overstreet, to name two of many). There are also separate forums for Music, Lit/Writing, Theatre, Visual Art/Architecture/Design, TV, the arts in general, and about 15 other subforums (on everything from Food to Politics and so on). My buddy (and Paste/All Music Guide journalist) Andy Whitman posts a lot too, and he's is always a joy to read.

It's draws an impressive crowd: Christians from various theological perspectives, political orientation, country, gender, and so on. There are some non-Christians too that chime in from time to time; the discussion is usually quite good, level-headed, and focused on some great topics.

So, if it sounds like something you'd be interested in even remotely, check it out. It's a great place to discover new things and re-evaluate old ones.

--Also, check out Keith's 'blog. He is also doing the year-o-blog, and inspired me to do it too.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/14/2006 11:16:00 PM, ,

#8- v. the Times

The Beaver County Times is the major daily newspaper in, well, Beaver County. I have a long history with this newspaper. My brother delivered the paper on a local foot route for many years, and I was his young tagalong. Then, I inherited the route from him when he went to high school--I woke at 5:30 a.m. for six or so years to serve 40+ happy families. I even got a college scholarship out of it! Now, I'm a "stringer" writer for the Times; this means that I occasionally (as in, once a year or less) see something I wrote pop up in the newspaper. Go me.

But speaking of "go," my main contribution is to the newspaper's monthly entertainment offshoot, called Go Magazine. They hired me shortly after their debut a year and a half ago. I write the music reviews in each issue, and sometimes contribute feature articles or other entertainment-related blurbs.

I think, after a 15-year friendship that has bordered--at times--on love affair, I've had it with the newspaper. Had it as in 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore,' to quote Sidney Lumet's famous movie. The Beaver County Times is in a sad, sad state. Here are some reasons why:

-The Times values style over substance--Oversized fonts and massive photos might work once in a while, but not in every section/every day. One-liners are OK, but not as every headline. It's obvious that the paper wants to draw a younger crowd, but the folks in charge are making the poor assumption that people under 30 only want to see tacky ads and flashy design. Go Magazine is extremely guilty of this; I'd wager that it's all style, no substance. In fact, when they hired me, they told me to not write reviews so much as pithy one-liners. I guess I woke up.

-The Times is increasingly disinterested in Beaver County--Aside from obituaries and the police/fire report, very little in the Times is geared toward Beaver County. Some sections obviously can't center around it (World News), but having the local news area filled with stuff about Philadelphia is almost funny. People--young people especially--complain that nothing ever happens in the county. That's a foolish mindset, but it's basically enforced by the largest publication in the area. Maybe all of this is because....

-The Times is utilizing fewer local writers--Instead, they're using more and more AP articles about crazy hobos or useless polls ("Studies show that Asian American men over 40 are more likely to Super Size than any other Asian demographic"). And, they pay me for music reviews for a magazine no one reads--why not just regurgitate them in the daily paper, instead of getting AP reviews of the same albums? The paper could be retitled: the Beaver County Times, Just Kidding.

-The Times focuses mostly on sports and pop culture--The first one is understandable, to a degree: Beaver County is a hotbed of high school football fanaticism, and that will never change. But on a daily basis, maybe 3/5 of the paper is taken up by sports and entertainment; it's not uncommon for the front page to be covered with sports junk. I guess little Joey's field goal IS very important, moreso than, say, attempts to revitalize the community. But what gets me is the 'Entertainment' section. It's just lists of the top downloads on iTunes, comments from gossip magazine, photos of Johnny Depp, and maybe an actual article. And it's all stuff I could've found out last week, for free.

-Go Magazine is trash--And I write for it. I'm sticking with it because I hope it'll change, but the ship is sinking so fast that I might have to bail sooner than later. When I first joined the staff, I was under the impression that I was among folks that cared about the arts. False; I'm writing for a low-rent Pittsburgh City Paper. It's obvious that they're gearing it for a younger audience. I'm fine with that. But I'm insulted that the honchos have to use slick packaging and articles about 'f--- buddies' to draw a crowd. Are the editors trying to replay their college years in some alternate reality daydream, one filled with casual sex and bad clip art? Maybe. I don't even know what's going into the magazine these days; most of the places that used to carry it stopped. Go them. Ha.

It's not hopeless, though. The Times has many good qualities. There are some talented writers aboard, and I hope they don't leave. The Times also does, once in a while, put the spotlight on local people and places that deserve it. It doesn't happen as often as it ought to.

I think the Times can change. I think people should recognize any problems and try to do something about it. I'm not yelling for Beaver Countians to take up arms, or the like; but if you see something in the paper you don't like, let the editors know about it. Let them know about the things that they do well, and the ones they don't. Don't shrug it off and forget about it. Other counties have great newspapers. Why can't we?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/13/2006 11:26:00 PM, ,


Seasons change!

And I love it. Maybe this is something that's attributed to "being an adult," but I dropped the summer lust years ago; it's a trait that bookends the mortal lifespan. You're young and you like to play with your friends outside, or you're old and retired in Florida where you can complain about social security.

Now, I like weather. Period. Each season is just as jaw-dropping and wonderous as the last. It's beautiful, God! Thank you! Spring! Your snow melts, clandestine wildlife meetings become more robust! Summer! The leaves you sprouted months prior provide ample shade, and the water is a respite when the lawn-mowing becomes too taxing! Fall! The sun retreats and the jackets emerge, and Club Cafe gets all of the good folk/alt. country artists! And hot chocolate starts making more sense! Winter! The snow is the perfect visual companion to grey skies and darting small birds, specks of red and yellow in the white landscape!

And people complain about the weather, all of the time. The sudden change in the temperature over the past day might've caused a headache this morning, but now I can't wait to go outside and stare at the sky. If you're having a bad day, take five minutes to go outside. Just look up: look at the gradual color shift in the sky, how the edges of trees gently cut into the blue-grey like a drill bit resting on plywood, the lick of the breeze--cool enough but not cold enough to warrant gloves. Why is this something commonplace? Why is this something to gripe about?

I don't think it is. It's majestic.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/12/2006 01:00:00 PM, ,


There are some words and phrases that I like, ones that aren't common in everyday chit chat. I don't drop 10-cent words in all of the time, mostly because I can't pronounce them, but once in a while I dip into my swirling, chaotic mind and draw out some of the following:

"juxtaposition;" "careen;" "careen wildly;" "mottled husk;" "harrowing;" "Marshall Crenshaw;" "black as a moonless prairie night;" "elaborate" (as in a verbal command); "kibosh;" and "placate."
I would list more, but I have to get to work.

I'd like to hear some of your uncommon word choices.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/11/2006 12:48:00 PM, ,


These fast readers. They sit there, perched like the Thinker, plowing through books like a fat kid through Halloween candy. I don't envy them, per se, but I guess I'm close.

I'm sluggish when I read. I can't sit and read for long periods of time, and when I do read I get distracted easily. It there is background noise, it's nigh impossible for Jason and reading to get along. (There is a medical explanation for this, but I won't get into it.) I'm at the point in my life that I doze off when I'm in a reclining or sitting position for more than ten minutes.

Let's say I have a 300 page novel. If I can finish that in 10 days, I'm blessed. I finished "Pride & Prejudice" a few weeks ago--my edition was 280-some pages long, and it took me almost 20 days to read (good book, by the way).

Once in a while I'll get into a groove, flying through a book at a good clip. Other times I'll be able to block out the background noise. But these are rare occasions. If you're around me and see me getting irritated as I try to read, don't take it personally--it's like one of my greatest passions is handicapped by a litany of quirks. Maybe that's why I gravitate toward solitude.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/10/2006 11:26:00 PM, ,


Have you ever been asked a question that is beyond comprehension? Not something complex, like quantum physic calculations; no, a question--a simple one, even--that forces you to pause, think, get frustrated, and mentally waltz with how to answer it.

I get these sorts of questions frequently, especially at work. Since I'm soon going into the coffee business both full-time and on a large scale, I'll have to learn how to deal with this. Let's work with an illustration. A customer comes into the Coffee Beanery (my current job, at the BV mall). They stop far enough away from counter so that you can't activiely engage them in conversation, rock back and forth on their feet, and bite lips while staring at the menu. This goes on for a few minutes as they ignore offers for help or suggestions.

They come forward with their question. It's not simple, not a "what is..." or "tell me about...." It's something like this: "You can do one of them frozen things in sugar-free cappuccino flavor, right?"

My mind explodes. I don't know how to answer this diplomatically, so I just blurt out "no" while frowning like Burt from "Sesame Street." Roll call on the next move: explain to them that cappuccino isn't a flavor, but a form of drink? that sugar-free with frozen drinks doesn't exactly work well with the sugar-saturated cream base? that "cappuccino" and "frozen" don't play well together? And all the while the customer gets impatient--this stupid kid he don't know what he's doin' don't know nothin' 'bout them cappuccinos or expressos.

This happens to me often, and I'm still not used to it. I need to get used to it, because there's a lot more of that comin', starting really really soon. I plan on being as gentle as I can, explaining whatever I need to in a friendly manner. The next step is learning how to process the questions without punching the customers in the throat.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/09/2006 11:18:00 PM, ,


I'm writing a screenplay. Well, I'm in the brainstorming portion. Sort of.

This is something I discussed with Mark Sanders. Mark is an incredibly gifted Geneva student; he's become the college's resident filmmaker over the past three years, for one, and has a deep appreciation and respect for the arts. Plus, he's become a film noir advocate.

So, I thought, why not take advantage work with Mark? I almost made a film my last year at Geneva--I story-boarded a few scenes, wrote some snappy bits of dialogue, started asking folks about casting choices. It all fell through, though, and a wonderful/terrible grade Z movie called Stefano surfaced in its place. Do NOT ask about this. Trust me.

I'd had also done a major research paper on book to film adaptations, and took an independent study course on turning short stories to screenplays. I wrote a weird little detective screenplay called "the Block that Doesn't Exist," the title gleaned from a certain song by the New Year.

Little known fact: people call me creative, but they're misinformed. I sometimes come up with little inspired bits, but can never tie them all together. A few sepia-toned images here, a few bits of conversation here...these do not a movie make. This goes for writing fiction, writing songs, et cetera. That might be why I like working with others, because I can rarely shoulder the tasks on my own.

But I've been batting around some ideas. I've been slowly constructing a story in my head the past few years: something about a recently deceased musician, a family trying to strike it rich with his (pilfered) songs, and a reporter who struggles with deciding whether to rat them out or not. Either that, or some gritty detective story that relies more on Mametish dialogue than gunplay. This'll be a doubtlessly be a short; I truthfully don't think I can write a feature screenplay at this point in my life, but the other reason is because--if the finished product ends up at least halfway decent--I want to twist Mark's arm into submitting it to the 2007 Film Fest.

If anyone is willing to shoot some ideas out, I'll see if they fly or not. I'm not entirely sure what I want as of now, but I have a good idea as to what I don't want.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/08/2006 09:34:00 PM, ,


The set-up

This is the set-up. The clutter on the left is a vacuum coffee brewer. The thing in the middle is my cheesy home blade grinder, and on the right is a half of a pound of Ethiopian beans, Yirgacheffe in origin. The tomatoes are...well, forget about them.


The beans are dropped in (I use a rough measurement of two heaping tablespoons per six ounces of water) and ground. This thing is pretty trashy, but it gets the job done with a moderate degree of success.

Brewing process

This is how it works-- the bottom half is filled with water. The top has the ground coffee. There is a filtering device between the two halves. You turn the thingy on. It heats up the water, creating pressure with the vapors (or something). The water is then vacuumed to the upper portion of the brewer....

Finished brewing process

...like this. The boiling water and grounds swirl around in the upper portion for a short amount of time. After a minute or so, the heat is shut off, and the gravity (and lack of pressure) draws the coffee to the bottom half, leaving the grounds in the top for easy cleaning.


Like so. See the heat slinking away from the mug? Wunderbar. That's enough for several cups right there. The entire process, including grind, set-up and brewing, took seven minutes.

Why is this a good thing? While autodrip brewers are incredibly common, vacuum brew pots were fairly common in post-WWII American society. They're actually speedier than autodrips, and they don't filter out the beans' natural oils--that's a sad side effect of a paper filter. And while commercial autodrip makers do a good job overall, home units--one item most coffee-drinking Americans own--are really flawed: they don't actually heat the water to the proper temperature. Vacuum brewers do, even though it makes them very, very, very hot to touch when the process is done.

Vacuum makers--and to an extent drip brewers--are also great for lighter-bodied beans, like this Ethiopian. It accentuates the bite. Yum!

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/07/2006 10:17:00 AM, ,

#1- Cinematic concerns

The Black Dahlia hits the screen next Friday. It's based on the James Ellroy novel of the same name, which happens to be a novel I like. I've been following the development of the movie for the past five (or so) years, back when it was a screenplay being developed for David Fincher.

Officially, I'm simultaniously excited and worried. The book is VERY ROUGH; Ellroy doesn't pull any punches. And while I'd have a hard time recommending the book to many people, it has some redemptive values that endear it to me. Plus, Ellroy's writing style has severely influenced my own.

Now, Brian DePalma is directing the movie. He's a capable director, and this could serve as a come-back for his (debatably) sagging career. But, having seen the trailer a few times, I have some concerns. Namely, some of the brutality in the book--which is never glamorized, and is juxtaposed with moments of grace--might make it to the screen in a flashy, sexed-up translation. This could be very, very bad. It could be the worldview, though; most fans of Ellroy's novels don't catch what's at work anyway, seeing the rough spots as "cool."

Second concern: the Black Dahlia is based on a real murder. The movie, and the source novel, are works of fiction. The sad truth is that so many American moviegoers won't be able to make the distinction. Browsing the IMDb message board is a depressing venture.

Third concern: how will this affect Ellroy? He's had a bad track record in Hollywood. Some of his books in pre-production get canned before they even get the green light (White Jazz, the Big Nowhere), and some come out as poor, poor adaptations (Cop, Brown's Requiem). The only winner was L.A. Confidential. It was a great movie, but differed so much from the source material that the only similarities were the three main characters. His books are notoriously labyrinthian in plot; if the screenplay for the Black Dahlia is bad, it'll end up somehow reflecting back at him. Bad film adaptations do, in fact, hurt authors.

So here's hoping.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/06/2006 12:24:00 PM, ,