Day 56

Tomorrow is November 1. I'm nervous, maybe a little excited; aiming to write a 50,000+ word novel by the end of November is something I've never even thought about doing. That's--what?--around 1667 words a day?

But that's where the excitement comes in. It'll be fun! I'll hopefully be able to rattle off what I can in the morning, before I go to work; that's why I'm trying to wake up early each day.

I don't really have much of the plot stapled together in my mind, but I'm not worried--quantity over quality is the key, and as long as I can formulate a chapter ahead each day (or at least the framework) I'll be fine.

To those who wanted to read my NaNoWriMo entry, I created a 'blog for it here. I'll try to post what I write each day, but that's not a guarantee.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/31/2006 04:40:00 PM, ,

Day 55

Today was my first official day as manager of Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Company (BFC&T, "bifcat" to some). All I can say: wow!

Since I have yet to move to College Hill, I got up early (well, earlier). I like this, and I hope to get up earlier each day for the next few weeks; this will not only prepare me for getting into the coffee shop around 5 a.m. when we are open, but it also gets me up early so I can get ready to type the NaNoWriMo challenge in a few days. Exciting!

I spent a good portion of the day working on the employee handbook. I'm not done with it yet, and it will undoubtedly need some revision, but that still took up a good chunk of time. I also helped Bethany with phone-number hunting, and then we went to a local gardening center/greenhouse to buy some shrubs for the outside of the shope. We'll probably work on landscaping later this week, which will rock.

I even ate lunch at Sub Palace. I haven't had a sub from that place in at least two years. Boy, do I miss eating there.

It's very different from any other job I've had. I know in a few weeks, when we're open, I'll be handing hot cups of addictive liquids to people. I can't wait for it! But until then, I'm enjoying the change of pace; this is very different from the retail experience I've built up over the last eight years, and I don't mind that one bit.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/30/2006 05:24:00 PM, ,

Day 54

This morning we gained an hour. "Fall Back," Daylight Savings. Some people forget and show up places early.

I set my alarm clock back. I use a manual travel clock, if only because it doesn't have a snooze button that I could abuse. While setting it, I noticed that the main clock in my room--the digital one that's easy to see from any spot in the room--was blinking. I hadn't set it since the power last went out. That was over a month ago.

And I thought, "I'm not going to set it."

One of my goals is to stop letting clocks rule my life. Being timely is important, especially when you're in a position where others depend on you. Providing a ride, getting to work on time; these are all important things.

But it's too easy to look at a clock and think, "Oh, it's such and such time, I need to be more productive," or "I should make sure to run at 7 so I can catch the news and then read the Bible for 15 minutes before I go to bed and get 6.5 hours of sleep."

I'm not demonizing this behavior; I've done it. But sometimes I wonder if we pay too much attention to the clock and not enough attention to, well, anything else. Things to ponder.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/29/2006 05:02:00 PM, ,

Day 53

And if you haven't seen it already:

"In Defense of Genre," the article I wrote for Comment.

Thanks to Dan and Gideon for letting me write this!

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/28/2006 10:54:00 PM, ,

Day 52

Today was my last day at the Coffee Beanery. I'm learning to avoid being overly sentimental about situations like this (so no more "Oh, this is the last customer I'll ever wait on," etc.), so it ended nicely. The ten months there were a blessing--there were negative aspects, of course, but they are ones I'll keep to myself. Some things that'll stay with me, though:

So, thanks Coffee Beanery. You won't lose me as a customer, ever.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/27/2006 10:42:00 PM, ,

Day 51--on mix tapes

I really enjoy making mix tapes. (Well, CDs, but I would make tapes if, a) I had a working tape player and, b) other people had working cassette players. I still call mix CDs "mixtapes," though.)

Lots of people still make mixes. I was talking to a friend the other day, and she was happy that someone made her a mix. Whenever I see people with mixtapes, I wonder if they were carefully crafted or just slapped together with a postmodern zeal. I always hope for the former.

See, I like to approach making a mix like I'm a craftsman, leaving the "toss-my-favorite-songs-in-and-hope-they-all-fit" approach to wolves. I usually find a theme, and then--within the theme--break the mixtape down further. Even though I use CDs, I still break things into "side A" and "side B," and I still try to find good opening/closing tracks for not only the album as a whole, but for the side A close/side B opening--this is just as vital. I do this because I care.

I'm working on a mix now, so I'll use it as an example. It's an autumn-themed mixtape. There are lots of allusive elements of this season that I enjoy, and I wanted to capture these aurally. Some folkier songs come to mind, as do many atmopheric/ambient rock bands. So, I wanted to make side A sound like summer is being peeled away to show the falling, painted leaves underneath, crescendoing to brutal halt. Side B picks up with summer's last hurrah before diving headfirst into windy twilights, muted browns amongst the orange, and winter's distant call.

So I had a few tracks in mind so far, but I need to figure out where to place them. Side A will start with shorter, maybe even poppier songs (one of them being Billy Bragg's "A New England") before climaxing with Early Day Miners' "Hymn Beneath the Palisades," a track that both foreshadows what's to come at the end of side B, but halts in such a way that the next few tracks can pick up. I then thought John Hiatt's "My Baby Blue" would work as a great "side B track 2" song, since it's upbeat but more reserved than what I'll put on the first side. I want to then stick in a longer Bedhead song (probably "Powder"), the New Year's ("18" which--if space becomes an issue, I'll just use instead of the Bedhead track) and then close with the one-two punch of Dolorean's swelling, majestic "The Righteous Shall Destroy the Precious" and the gentle "In the Fall," probably one of the best album closing tracks I've ever heard. If I can stick some Richard Buckner in there ("Ariel Ramirez" is a perfect pick), I will.

Sound complex? Maybe. But when I make mixes, this is the sort of stuff that goes through my head. I seriously cannot just slap songs on and send it to friends. Mixtapes exhaust me. If you ever get one of mine, try to listen to all of the tracks. They're there for a reason.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/26/2006 10:56:00 PM, ,

Day 50

I've been thinking about some new reality show ideas, especially ones in the vein of Trick My Truck or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition or Flip That House and Pimp My Ride.


-Tune My Guitar-- The crew goes around to small clubs and coffee houses and fixes problems musicians may have with their guitar strings, especially since the musicians usually don't know that there's something amiss. Special holiday episode features the crew getting pointers from Sonic Youth, who--after displaying their collection of bizarre pawn-shop guitars--play a set of Christmas songs over the closing credits (all atonal variations).

-Extreme Makeover: College Edition-- The crew cleans some rooms up. Hijinks ensue.

-Plant My Garden-- The crew lends a hand to well-meaning but clueless folks who want are interested in growing their own vegetables. At the end of each episode, they recap the work that was done and see how the garden works in the (hopefully green) hands of their new tenders.

-Survivor: Suburbia-- The two tribes (Minivania and Tudoroshia) compete for control of their wonderfully isolated paradise, weeding competing members out with strip mall shopping cart races and bicycle route newspaper tosses. Jeff Probst hosts.

-Ruin My Fun-- The crew goes from house to house each week, telling children that Santa Clause is really their dad dressed up in a felt outfit, that they really can't be friends with Peter Pan, and that statehood quarters grandma has been saving for you will probably get lost in your attic when you're 14.

-Write My 'Blog Post-- What Jason is using now. Just kidding.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/25/2006 11:26:00 PM, ,

Day 49-- classics for a reason

I often question the crop of canonized literature that makes the rounds in most bookstores and high school English classes. If I had my druthers, I'd ignite every copy of Chopin's "the Awakening" and Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" that fluttered into my path. I'd also make every college student spend an entire semester reading "Moby-Dick" or "the Dubliners," but that's a different story.

But I came across this quote today:

"Not all great writers may seem great to us, regardless of how often and how hard we try to see their virtues. I know, for example, that Trollope is considered to have been a brilliant novelist, but I've never quite understood what makes his fans so fervent. Still, our tastes change as we ourselves change and grow older, and perhaps in a few months or so Trollope will have become my new favorite writer." ( Francine Prose "Reading Like a Writer," pg. 15)

She's right. I think ten years ago, when I was neck-deep in Shadowrun and BattleTech novels, I never would've dreamed that I'd enjoy stuff like Toni Morrison or James Joyce. (And, for the record, I still dig Shadowrun and BattleTech.)

Prose comments on this further: "Part of a reader's job is to find out why certain writers endure. This may require some rewiring, unhooking the connection that makes you think you have to have an opinion about the book and reconnecting that wire to whatever terminal lets you see reading as something that might move or delight you. You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading. I'm not saying you shouldn't read such writers, some of whom are excellent and deserving of celebrity. I'm only pointing out that they represent the dot at the end of the long, glorious, complex sentence in which literature has been written." (pg. 15)

That woke me up. Taste is taste, but maybe--just maybe--some of the "classic writers" I distrust aren't all bad. Well, Chopin is, but you know what I mean. Maybe, as they say, it's just me.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/24/2006 11:16:00 PM, ,

Day 48- video games as art?

Well, why not? Roger Ebert doesn't think so, and I share some of his concerns; I however, think they can be, but--like any other narrative art--there's a lot of swill mixing in with the good stuff.

And I say all of this as a fan of video games. I'm going to run through a list of some of the good and bad aspects of video games, with maybe a few words on where games can go from here. And one more preface--most of the comments with deal with the games that have inherent narrative structure, though some will deal with straight puzzle games, and so on.

I'll use one game as an example: "System Shock 2." It's not perfect, of course; but it has a very, very well-written and developed backstory that isn't told traditionally, but instead through audio logs left around the decomposing space ship. The first time I played the game, I was incredibly drawn to the stories told by the former crew members--some of whom died as they tried to escape the ship. And the game is very, very detailed on things many people would consider minor--the audio in the game is important, and almost as chillingly used as a movie like Alien or a Hitchcock picture. And while the game shuttles you in a linear manner, you can play it multiple times with completely different approaches. "Thief"--made by the same people--is also worth noting, if only for its completely innovative and very aesthetic-based delivery. I could spend hours wandering around one small portion of the game, staring at the detail and wonderful little nuances.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/24/2006 12:04:00 AM, ,

Day 47

I seriously, seriously don't understand why more people don't like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/22/2006 10:54:00 PM, ,

Day 46

Two weeks from tonight, one of the most important decisions in Beaver County's history must be made. They've campaigned, they've debated, and now the votes will be cast. The future isn't just at stake--so is time.

The season finale of "Dodge Intrepid & the Pages of Time" will be broadcast--live!--Nov. 4 from Cafe Kolache in Beaver. It's a radio serial about a time-traveling librarian who battles evils against literature (and mankind), all performed by several talented, funny guys.

Mike and James (and Mike and Dan) are a good example of local entertainment that needs to be championed; you don't need to pay a huge amount to see a nationally famous comedian for a few hours when there's something this good--for free, too--in your backyard. If you're not doing anything on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m., come cast your vote at Cafe Kolache. It'll be a blast, I guarantee.

Find out more here.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/21/2006 11:44:00 PM, ,

Day 45

For a bit over a year (14 months, this past Tuesday), I've been having a lot of fun thanks to a little thing I've been doing over the Internet. To me it's really simple, but it's fairly hard to explain to people that aren't too familiar with it. I'll give it a whirl.

It's a play-by-post role-playing game on a message board. That probably does not sound interesting to most reading this, but it's probably some of the most fun I've had in my entire life. I'll try to explain why succinctly without resorting to tech-talk.

If you don't know what a role-playing game is, the second link above is a pretty good way of finding out. The first lays down how play-by-post games (PbP) games work, if you're at all interested. But basically, several people scattered all over the globe are involved in this particular game. One fellow is running the show--he's establishing the scenarios, ties things together, and does all of the dice-rolling. The rest of us play our characters like an actor would play a role.

We're using a game based on the Spycraft 2.0 rules (the number means it's an updated, revised version). Like many other role-playing game rules, Spycraft is like a toolbox--you can use it to play lots of variations on the spy/espionage themes, from James Bond-ish settings to Cold War intrigue. We're playing in a setting that's pretty realistic; it's set in the present, with our characters playing mercenaries hired to do various missions. One bullet can kill, and loyalties shift like a box of sand in the bed of a dumptruck. It's very, very, very much influenced by the film Ronin (and Spartan, for that matter).

The guy running the game usually presents the scenario and each scene within to us, the players. We decide what our characters are going to do ("Warren will try to bribe the guard at the check point"), and guy running the thing will roll dice and see if it happens or not, posting the results in the "out of character" thread. Based on the results, the players post in the "in-game" message thread to describe what's happening. We're telling the story cooperatively.

All of this aside, here's why it's fun--this isn't like a video game, where you blast away at things and shut down and forget about it. We've created our characters like they're characters in a novel: they have lives, backgrounds, fears, dreams, morals (some moreso than others).

Aside from the guy running the show, only two players have stuck with the game for the whole 14 months; our two characters have bonded like brothers. The other player's character is an Irishman named Michael Fitzwarren. Michael is the brute force of the team, great with guns and shooting them, but he's sad-eyed and softspoken. He also is very easily distracted by women and charity cases, often putting himself (and consequently the team) in danger by sticking his neck out for them. My character is an aging, former Dutch professor named Warren Van Seerveld. He's the glue that ties the team together, fantastic at lending a hand (be it in a gunfight or canvassing a crowded city for a mole) and blending in. Warren and Michael have saved each other's lives more than once, and Michael's player and I have a lot of fun bantering back and forth with our characters, figuring twists in the plot out, and so on.

It's like we're reading a really good novel that we're also helping to write.

The guy running the game set up a website for our game here: it has lots of game stat stuff, which probably won't be of interest to those reading, but the "past jobs" section is worth checking out. It has all of our work posted by mission, so you can essentially read everything we've written for the past year. There are lots of typos, and you can't really tell who wrote what from the format (which was probably intentional), but I'd say check it out. It is pretty gritty, so be warned.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/20/2006 11:09:00 PM, ,

Day 44

More on Russ's (is that right? I think it is) post.

I'm thinking back to my schoolin' at Geneva, thinking about when I learned the most and what's helped me since.

The conclusion: classes really didn't help much. Working on my own, however, did. Several professors helped in ways that weren't anchored in the classroom.

What's helped me the most--
There's more, of course, but that midnight deadline is awful close. I loved Geneva, and still love it; but I agree with Russ I definitely got the wrong impression from Russ'(s) post, but still--the best things I got out of college were far from the classroom.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/19/2006 11:49:00 PM, ,

Day 43

I just started reading Cal Seerveld's "Rainbows for the Fallen World" tonight. I've owned it for almost a year and have been putting it off for some reason. Silly me.

The book holds a very, very esteemed reputation among lots of people I respect, and I see why. Byron Borger's rave review is excellent (though he has an article mix-up throughout). Though it's tough in spots--Seerveld is a word juggernaught--you can really pull much from the text. Again, I'm no where near done yet, but from what I've seen so far, this is the sort of book I'd recommend to any Christians interested in the arts and the glorious world around them.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/18/2006 11:53:00 PM, ,

Day 42- filler post

What? I'm serious.

#1) Russ has a very thought-provoking post here; go read it, if you haven't already. It's good to see someone articulate this so well--I've thought about this for years, and in standard Jason fashion, my thoughts were rambling and not cohesive at all. Russ hits a home run.

#2) Despite my complete drop in support of Matador Records last year (due to a few choice comments they made), they're re-releasing two LPs from the much-missed band Chavez, all in one package. Chavez dropped just a few discs before disbanding in the late '90s. They made some really interesting music, and frontman Matt Sweeney gained some attention for his short-lived stint in the Billy Corgan train wreck Zwan. If you're like me and can't really afford to buy music, dig on these two streamed MP3s from the band, both from their final album Ride the Fader: "The Guard Attacks" / "Unreal is Here." If you just want to watch the twistedly funny video for "Unreal is Here," just click the link.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/17/2006 11:19:00 PM, ,

Day 41

I think I'm blessed with a great amount of trust--bad things happen, for instance, and I'm able to get through it with less emotional wear and tear than you'd think. I usually think, "Well, God knows what He's doing; He'll use this to glorify Himself somehow."

One thing does, though--my parents. As in, they can say things that completely shatter my dreams, my hopes, my trust in things. I talked to my mom a little over an hour ago; what started as a simple "How was your day?" conversation ended with her essentially telling me that I make--and will soon make--a "pathetic" amount of money and that I'm going to be miserable, and how it's sad that I don't care. Interesting, I didn't think any of those things before now.

I'm fooling myself, probably; I know I don't really believe this. But I still feel dizzy and like I'm about to vomit and cry simultaniously. Having your normally chirpy, optimistic and docile mother tell you your hopes and dreams are sad is fairly life-shaking thing.

But maybe it isn't. I think I'm also incredibly upset because she said that. My mom said she was being realistic. I can understand that. But on the same token, I wanted to shout how she needed to be more trusting, not only in my choices, but in the Almighty God.

I'll sleep soon; I was hoping to finish an article for Comment tonight, but I'm do that in the morning. I'm thinking if I repeat Psalm 121, it might sink in.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/16/2006 10:49:00 PM, ,

Day 40

It's hard being reconciled with my geekhood--geekdom--and nerdiness.

"Oh," you say, "you're not either!" Lies! I am. Accept it. But I admit, the nerd cultural aspects scare me; I sometimes make the mistake of revealing my geekiness to other geeks, who then--scenting one of their own--proceed to bombard me with Babylon 5 quotes and snorted laughter. I duck and run.

But man, I like sci-fi, am good with numbers (though I am not a math/science fan), have played pencil and paper role-playing games for more than half of my life, and--I bet--can score higher on this test than you. Plus the fact that I spend a lot of time reading, freaking out over obscure pop bands from the '70s, and memorizing lines from David Mamet movies (all geek conventions).

I know that pop culture is saying that nerd is the new cool. But it's not. Daily I see the 'cool' people treating the 'nerds' like trash. It sounds very high-schoolish, but having graduated college and worked in the real world (quote end quote) shows that it extends far beyond grade school. I escape much of the scorn; I wonder if it's because I dress like a preppy thrift-store pirate. But man, when I see my community (being College Hill/Geneva and Beaver County) treat nerds like rubbish and worship short-lived sport heroes, I get upset. I might shirk away from the Dagohir types, but when people treat them like freaks--I can't help but think that the guys dressing up in plastic uniforms to toss shapely rubber around are pretty freakish in comparison. Especially when they get mad and break things.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/15/2006 05:18:00 PM, ,

Day 39

Erica posted something not too long ago about what I'll dub as "social capacity." This is something that I've dwelled on for years, but it never really clicked until I read Erica's post.

Let me explain. I'm a fairly social person; I think "extroverted introvert" might be a better label, but whatever. However, I can only stand so much. I'm shy by nature, but open up fairly easy and am usually pretty wacky once I get to know people. But I get drained easily. I can take a certain amount of high-intensity social interaction because I say to myself, "OK, this stinks. Let's be anti-social!" This is usually the point where I shut myself down to the world and just daydream or read or hide from people.

Today was Geneva's homecoming. I did the alumni band, which mostly ended up occupying the entire day. There were lots of people doing the whole "Hey! How are you? What are you doing now?" schtick, which I sort of avoid to begin with (that may be why I was telling people--with a straight face--that I was a con artist). After so much of that sort of thing, the social misfit emerges. And it emerged tonight, alright--about halfway through the football game. By the time I got back to the stands, I just stared off into space and made small talk with a few close friends.

I often wish I wasn't like this. But I guess it's what I'm like. I've tried to "fix" myself of this social quirk, but it's never worked. So please, if you see me overly distracted or just acting odd, it's probably because of this. Nothing personal.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/14/2006 11:54:00 PM, ,

Day 38-- Happy birthday, malls! Not.

Well, I'm a few days off. 8 October marked the 50th anniversary of the grand opening of Southdale Center, the first fully-enclosed and climate controlled shopping mall in the US. The first modern mall, in other words.

Southdale was conceived with the goal of making a place for community, a place for people to gather and spend money. It also spawned countless clones across not only the nation, but the world--bigger, more lavish and creative malls.

And while I am a fairly giddy shopper (I am totally not joking about this), I'm also saddened. Shopping malls may ideally be a place to gather and worship shop in the minds of the public, but why aren't communities the primary place for that? That's probably more of a rhetorical question, though; I sort of know my answer for that.

Can you walk to your closest mall? How many locally, privately-owned business call your local mall home? Do you abandon your local mall when your favorite chain store leaves? Do you know the names of the people who work at the stores in your local mall? Do you ever feel like some parents treat malls like giant, semi-hollow babysitters for their teenagers (and their teenage fanclubs?)?

Malls aren't totally bad. And small shops in communities are perfect. And honestly, I'm all about supporting what stores are still left in the Beaver Valley Mall, because it's poised on the fence between boom and bust, and running away from the problem won't help it. But seriously, when has a mall actually replicated the caring, nuturing, loving aspects that spring up in real communities?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/13/2006 10:55:00 PM, ,

Day 37

November is NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month. (Though, as an aside, it is international at this point, and 50K word "goal" technically constitutes a novella.) I'm going to take part in it this year, after shirking way from the challenge since 2002. No longer will I shirk.

You're not allowed to pre-write for NaNoWriMo, but you're certainly allowed to plan. And, since I joined the official site (jasonpanella is my user name) earlier today, I've been batting around ideas. The key is velocity; this is probably the first time in my life that I'm going to try for quantity and not quality. Maybe it'll actually work?

But anywho, planning--I'm thinking of the fictional exploits of a Superjock-ian band, but somehow bridging out into pulp detective novel territory at the same time. I'm thinking of a dreary, rain-soaked college campus, where both paranoia and groupies run high. Like a cross between "High Fidelity" and "the Big Sleep." It might work.

But I might fail. And that's OK. But I'm going to try, dang it, and you should too.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/12/2006 09:26:00 PM, ,

Day 36

Gideon's post via Keith's post of an ethic of gratitude was good. Thank you both for this. There are countless things for which I am thankful, and no matter how depressed or cynical I get, I'm always awash in blessings.

There are obvious ones. Then are ones I don't always think of, like eldery people. I'm grateful for older folks that I've come in contact with throughout my life.

Some drive slowly. Some release their need to talk on unwitting ears. Some smell like Bengay and some have shortened tempers in their age. But coming in contact with so many older people is a blessing. They might be in the twilight of their mortal life, but that doesn't mean they're useless (as some in my generation think). They've lived a long time. They've seen things, experienced things. They have stories. They have wisdom. They are a treasure.

I've been having an increasingly hard time watching films or reading books about WWII; not for any ethical reason, necessarily, but because I realize that the "Greatest Generation" is quickly fading away. The obituary section of the Beaver County Times usually has at least one Second World War veteran in it a week, if not day. It makes me choke back tears.

We have so much to learn from the elderly, and I'm always scared that we (I'm using "we" in a very general sense, by the way) are ignoring them.

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

Day 35

This is definitely funny, but also painfully accurate.

And this page caught my eye the other day. As you can see, the third season of "Battlestar Galactica" is getting rave reviews...but many of them contain backhanded compliments galore. Choice quotes:

-"The new Battlestar transcends genre." (TV Guide)
-"But the secret to "Battlestar ," as one of my colleagues keeps saying, is not to think of it as science fiction. This is a show about religion, politics, parent-child relationships, and the moral dilemmas of insurgency." (Boston Globe)
-" One of TV's most invigorating and intellectually stimulating series.... provocative television that transcends its genre." (San Jose Mercury News)
-"Over the past three years, the provocative future shock odyssey has transcended the science fiction genre to become one of the best drama series on TV...." (Detroit Free Press)
-"Though I am no fan of allegories (or space-based science fiction for that matter), I have to admit that "Battlestar" is many cuts above the usual outer-space shoot-'em-up." (New York Post)

Notice a trend? In their full context, these are all very positive reviews, too.

I read somewhere--and I wish I knew where--how postmodern society basically ditched the idea that legitimate storytelling could come from "genre" art. This is because that once parodies of the genre art became more popular in the '60s and '70s, an entire generation growing up with these parodies accepted them and not the basis for the comedy. And so on with each generation. This is a broad generalization, but I think it's accurate: most people my age or younger can't conceive the idea that a western--in book or film form--could be even remotely interesting. As if.

This is a trend that I've been focusing on more and more, and it really troubles me. It's OK if you don't like a certain genre; discounting it outright, though, is completely foolish and irresponsible. Change the minor details and you get something like this: "I don't like contemporary dramas for <>," or, "Comedies are such a waste of time." Say those sorts of things and people will assume you're nuts.

So, good for "Battlestar Galactica;" boo for the critics. Maybe the show will get some viewers that don't "normally like that sort of sci-fi stuff." If only "Firefly" would've gotten the attention it deserved.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/10/2006 11:39:00 PM, ,

Day 34

I've struggled greatly over the years with depression. I think I hide it well. I don't talk about it much either; I don't know why. It's not clinical depression--I've checked into it, and my brother does have that and I can tell the difference. I'm just sometimes melancholy extroverted introvert.

It manifests itself from time to time, usually in social situations. I think that I'm acutely aware of my flaws every so often, and I've managed to make a mental list of certain catalysts that get the ball o' depression rolling. But that's not what I'm aiming for with this post.

This is the first time, though, that I've been depressed because of money. College wasn't cheap for me--my folks' mentality was that if their sons wanted to go to college, we (the sons) had to pay for it entirely. Fine by me. I did. I had lots of grants and scholarships, and though I lost some of the latter I didn't have TOO much to pay back (at least compared to some people that I know, my brother especially). My initial major was Computer Science, which is a Big Money Major. But I hated it, and never "got" it in the two semesters I stayed in that field.

When I switched to Writing, my folks weren't too happy. I'd be poor, they said. I didn't mind then, and I still don't. But I sometimes can't help to think that they're right; writing jobs are notoriously hard to come by, especially without connections. And I write my ass off every day and make less than a $100 a month, even in theory--one writing job I got in mid-July still hasn't yielded any pay.

And, even with my two other jobs, I've finally reached the point where I haven't been able to pay my bills. That's scaring me. I've almost been in that situation more than once, and it didn't phase me. Now it's finally wearing me down. It's not good when you go to put gas in your empty tank and realize that what you spend will be the last of your income for the next two weeks. Depression is sinking in, and I feel that pre-tears lump in my throat more often than I'd like.

If you could pray, I'd be grateful. Writing this is also a sort of release; I don't have to vocalize this to anyone in person (especially since I'm notorious at reading into things too much on peoples' faces), and writing itself just cheers me up. Whoo.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/09/2006 10:42:00 PM, ,

Day 33

Aping Keith's style (as always) with the date set-up.

Did I ever mention Librarything on here? Probably not.

Librarything is a website with two purposes:

1) It provides a space to list and organize your book collection. I have a lot of books, so this is a great feature as is. I can arrange them on here by author, title, publication, original language, and on and on.

2) It provides a social networking service based around books. Not in the MySpace sense, though; you can see who else has similar books, then browse their libraries to see what you might be interested in. You can how people rated various books, see how people tagged various books, and so on.

Basically, it's a big collective/research tool for book nerds.

My profile is here, and my library is here.

It's a free service, but if you want to catalog more than 250 books you have to pay a bit. It's seriously a fun, useful tool. Check it out, book fans.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/08/2006 10:58:00 PM, ,


Another musical question, one that's been on my mind for a few years but never really articulated until now: why do musical artists only stick with one style of music?

There are obviously exceptions; I'm listening to the insanely underappreciated Los Lobos right now, and they run the gamut from jazz-flavored country to Tex-Mex/'50s rock and roll hybrids to pop-injected Mexican folk. And lots of other guys (Prince, for one, and Beck both come to mind).

Fans are a factor, probably. I'm guessing that if Green Day suddenly released a bluesy gospel album, hundreds of suburbs across the nation would implode from the collective teen aneurysms. And while the Rolling Stones have shifted their sonic application slightly over the decades, I doubt they'd keep their fortune afloat if they started working on trip-hop collections.

There is also the possibility that influence and talent play vital factors, the latter being more key. I skim over lots of music publications, and you'd be surprised to see how many genre-saddled artists have very different influences. So I guess, in most cases, that rules the former possibility out.

But maybe most bands can just hack what they're playing. I'm sure plenty of radio rock bands (aka Stonesour/Nickelback/Staind) would melt if they tried to play 12-bar blues or eastern European folk. I'd also wager that those bands wouldn't WANT to change genres, which is OK. (Well, it's not OK in the sense that they suck, but they can do what they want.)

In the next few months, I'll (Lord-willing) be able to get together with a couple of very talented friends and form a band. We've discussed it. I've thought this a few times: "What sort of music should we play?"

And then I thought, "why am I thinking about limits?" Between the three--hopefully four--of us, we're influenced by everything from African tribal music to southern roots music to Latino to atmospheric indie rock to shoegazer to jazz to blue-eyed soul. And maybe pop/punk? Eek?

I'm not sure of my point. But when people sometimes complain about a band "changing styles," why is this a bad thing?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/08/2006 12:04:00 AM, ,

#31-- guide to the Internet, part one

Since I have lots of friends that haven't much swam/drown in the tumultuous waters of the Internet, I thought I'd post some tips and guidelines. I'll pay particular attention some of the language and slang tossed around on instant messengers and web forums, hopefully decoding it to a degree.

It's worth mentioning that any sort of social nuances that grace face-to-face conversation are usually absent in online conversations. You can't see body language, a major factor in how humans naturally communicate. You can read into language usage (I do), though it's not always accurate. One person typing a single "ha" might mean it as the equivalent to a hearty chuckle, while others might mean it as a patronizing potential conversation-ender. I usually take them as the latter. Maybe someone should make a guide for me.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/06/2006 11:09:00 AM, ,


Being the neo-Luddite that I am, I've been growing increasingly fed up with automobiles. I use one, yes. Daily even. I wish I didn't, and I wish Western society wasn't based entirely around automobile operation.

Disclaimer: I don't hate cars or anything. They've just become such a crutch to our wounded country since the late '40s, and it just makes me sad.

OK, stay with me here--people need to spend lots of money on gas, and gasoline (pronounced "gazzzzoleeeen" like the guy in Road Warrior) seems to be a constant topic of complaint for folks, but folks drive very far not only to go to work or pick up kids or visit or go to church or school, but also to joyride and kill time and buy things, but this is only because having everything localized is a thing of the past. AND THAT IS A HUGE CONCERN OF MINE, but, ahem, I shan't vent here on that topic. Screw community, we say, 'cause we have six cylinders.

But, the main reason for my bad tidings about cars is that there are many folks on the road that are dangerous. For whatever reason. I hear lots of blame placed on the elderly, but younger drivers and baby boomers are just as much to blame. It's getting to the point where I almost die on a daily basis. There is an intersection at one of the entrances to the Beaver Valley Mall that is SUPER DEADLY. Uphill traffic has the right of way. Opposing traffic not only have stop signs, but also stop stuff written on the ground and giant signs that read UPHILL TRAFFIC HAS RIGHT OF WAY. And though I drive cautiously and gently up the hill, I've almost been hit four times this week so far. One example among many, of course.

Right, I'm really off track. The gist--the aim, if you please--of my ramble is that I think states should start implementing new license renewal processes. Check it out:

I'm just tossing ideas out. I'm have a sinking suspicion that this idea wouldn't ever work, or that I'm being shortsighted about many things. But wow, we--meaning you, me, everyone else--need to stop being so dependent on the Iron Horse.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/05/2006 08:19:00 PM, ,

#29-- LOST

I appreciate subtly in film and television. The third season premiere of "Lost" was definitely subtle. Some might add "and underwhelming," though I won't be one of them. It was different, for sure, and I can't fault it for that. Too much at least.

Things I liked: (and if you get upset about spoilers, stop reading)

-Any flashback that involves Jack and Christian (his father) gets my attention. They're always well-acted, and Christian is a very compelling and complex character (and a very dead character--yar!)

-The open sequence--with the Others Book Club--was really well-done, especially the quick-moving climax with the crash of Oceanic 815. Still, couldn't get a good look at the Stephen King book they were reading. Guess I'll have to spend hours looking at book jackets online.

-Any inclusion of Tom is a good inclusion. 'Only took the bears two hours.'

-Another hatch? The Hydra indeed. Glug glug glug.

-Ben/"Henry Gale" uses a press pot. Increased sales at BFC&TCo? (pronounced "bifcat")

-Sawyer's reaction after he figured out the Skinner test was amazing. As was his 'they're awesome.'

But yes, there were a few things that concerned me--some of the forced dialogue between Jack and Juliet was...forced. I know they're planning to focus a tad more on romance & action this season, which is OK, but it could veer into schmaltz territory. And the other thing that concerned me was basically along the same lines. Sawyer and Kate...awww. Look at her frown at mean ol' Henry. Look at her pout. Awww. Look at handsome, gruff, roguish Sawyer. Awww.


But I'm optimistic. I liked it. And, as usual, I'm twitching with anticipation for the next episode.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/04/2006 10:51:00 PM, ,

#28- stupid Internet. Stupid, stupid Internet.

It never fails to amaze me--bewilder, stun, shock, render speechless--is the gullible way in which some folks approach the Internet. I see it as this seedy, dark, rain-swept part of town that tucks the whores and vagrants into damp pockets of shadow that are just in your peripheral vision. And so many walk right into it, their virginal eyes wide with naivete, whistling a Sousa march as grubby-fingered pickpockets leer and transexual hustlers motion for them to click on this ad to win a prize!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chain letters, instant win schemes, fake site harboring credit card scams: they all make me mad. A friend once commented on his surprise that those sorts of things are still on the Web. It's simple; they're there because more people fall for them than don't.

I was prompted to write this after seeing a bulletin board message that a friend posted on MySpace--according to this letter, if you didn't copy and paste it to 10 other friends, Tom (the manchild creator of MySpace) would delete their account to free up more space. That makes as much sense as the one that's been going around for years, the one about Bill Gates giving you a dollar for every person you IM a certain link to. I'm not expecting people to be Internet samurai about this sort of thing, but you'd at least think that some sort of internal alarm system would activate and make whooshing and bleeping noises.

Credit card fraud is probably the hardest to detect, so folks that get stuck in that trap are (usually) innocent. But another thing that surprises me are all of the adds, the ones that present amazing challenges like, which one is Paris Hilton????? (which three pro wrestlers are shown along with one Paris Hilton) answer correctly 2 win prize!!!!!!! (which is usually $3 off a $400 electronic item). I think the first time I saw one of those things, I had a sinking suspicion that helping the ninja deliver the pizza wouldn't net me several thousand dollars, despite all of their promises. I did figure that it would net me tracking bugs and more spyware.

I've had Internet exposure since 1995, right after the term became widespread. I'm not exactly the most savvy online goon; in fact, I've intentionally kept a certain distance from it to avoid let it become a crutch. But something about the nature of it made me cautious from the start. The Internet as much as a tool for great corruption and debauchery as it is for wonderful research, communication and leisure purposes.

But maybe, just maybe, all of this has nothing to do with the Internet, and everything to do with our sinful nature; there have always been tricksters and confidence men, and using the Internet is just bringing their crafts to a more advanced stage. That doesn't amaze me as much.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/03/2006 01:40:00 AM, ,

#27- on guitars

On my mind lately: how the number of guitars in a band affects its sound. In addition to unvanquishable debt, unnavigable crushes and insurmountable alienation, this is the stuff I dwell on in my free time. Word.

I think the common misconception for most folks is, "Oh, that band has guitars. End of story." You'd be surprised how--without even getting into playing styles or equipment--the number of guitars can really change a band's sound. Examples:

One guitar--The two easiest examples are 1) the Green Day types, playing power chords that effectively serve as an arm to the chugging rhythm section, or 2) the classic "power trio:" bands like Rush and Gov't Mule, where there are guitar solos a-plenty. My favorite one-guitar approach is summed up by Paul Weller, of the Jam. Weller effectively merged the typical "lead" and "rhythm" approaches into one chunky slab of guitar awesomeness. It's not atypical (Better than Ezra and Jam heir Ted Leo are two very good examples), but Weller did it best. Also worth noting are bands like the Who, who are their own animal in the one guitar approach.

Two guitars--Probably the most typical guitar line-up, and most bands that have two guitars utilize the lead/rhythm split. It works in that "if it ain't broke..." sort of way. The number of lead/rhythm guitar-oriented bands that've had hit singles probably numbers in the tens of thousands. Classic rock radio is awash in this split (AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, etc.) as is more modern groups (Oasis, almost every modern hard rock/"nu"-metal band). The rhythm guitarist plays chords, the lead guitarist noodles around. Yeehaw.

But then things can get mixed up. Many bands have two guitarists but fail to split into the "lead" and "rhythm" dichotomy: Springsteen and the E Street Band and modern descendents like the Hold Steady basically have two rhythm players; and plenty of bands (especially indie rockers) have two guitarists that play unique enough parts that totally transcend the labels. I'm thinking of bands like Television, Pavement, the Posies, My Bloody Valentine, and countless other groups. These sorts of groups tend to confuse folks used to the rhythm/lead pattern, who then try to label various players incorrectly. Even if the songwriting isn't very good, usually these sorts of bands have more complex arrangements.

One odd arrangement can be found in Frank Black's work, both solo and with the Pixies. While Black is most certainly a rhythm guitarist at heart, his six-string contributions are usually more focal to the piece than the lead guitarist(s)' stuff. He's a manic rhythm guitarist.

Three guitars--Most groups can go the Skynyrd route (one rhythm, two leads) or the Radiohead route (one rhythm, one more complex rhythm, one lead--though they've altered this a bit in recent years). But you also have the Bedhead route: three guitars contributing completely different, complex, and interlocking arrangement. Other bands have done this (Juno comes to mind), but I think Bedhead did it best. Surprisingly, people only familiar with the rhythm/lead shebang have a hard time imagining what you could use three guitars for. "Won't they all be playing the same thing?" someone asked me about three years ago. No, no they won't.

Four or more guitars--This is the bizarre realm occupied by music collectives (Broken Social Scene) or, more rarely, bar cover bands that somehow think four guitars chugging out Foghat riffs together is a good thing. I saw Broken Social Scene on Conan O'Brien's show once, and they had, like, six guitarist (not including the bass player) all freaking out. There was a point where I couldn't tell what was going on. Bedhead offspring the New Year also fits into this category, if conditionally: the band has three dedicated guitarists, but a fourth is added occasionally by a multi-instrumentalist. The New Year's albums are dense enough that you can only make three at most of the guitars out, so the addition of a fourth just makes my head spin more.

Of course, there are always exceptions to these cases. There are plenty of bands that don't fit into any of these categories, or differ in certain spots, or add and subtract the number of guitarists between albums. Regardless, if you see me looking to see how many guitarists play in a band or on an album, you now know why.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/02/2006 11:15:00 AM, ,


Hair. Hair hair hair.

I don't know why I do these sorts of things. Hair hair hair. Bizarre commitments, and the like. I'm sure I did it when I was much younger--I just can't remember back that far. I do know that during the summer between my sophomore and (first) junior year, I said, "OK self, here's the deal: you're not going to wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts all summer, nor are you going to cut your hair or shave." Right. I was working in the lawn & garden department of Wal-Mart at the time, which led to some fun, near-delirious events. Then I closed the end of the summer with an internship in the PR department at Geneva. I think I now know why they told me to stay inside all day and keep out of the public's sight.

Hair hair! Now I'm doing it again. I grew a beard. Big dead, since I'm fickle and my facial hair grows quickly. But I also told myself, "Jason, don't cut your hair until Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Co. opens." And I responded with, "OK."

So I have a fairly trimmed beard and a mane of hair that--as of now--growing at a freakish rate. I'm at the stage where I have to periodically toss my hair back, much like a surfer or fashion model. A low-rent surfer or fashion model. If I drive with my car window rolled down, the wind most certainly whips (whips!) through my hair. HAIR!

I'm predicting that in two weeks, my hair will be crazy. It's already a noticeable presence; I feel it all of the time, have to look through strands of brown half of the time. I sort of like the look, and I guess I'll have to like it until the shop opens. I'll probably want to cut it, at some point, at least for a sanitary reason. But until then: hair.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 10/01/2006 07:54:00 PM, ,