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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dream Fufillment

Whatever your hobby is you have a dream. A dream to find or do something rare and unique. If you collect records you want to find an original copy of the Rolling Stones from '64. If you are an art collector you would love to find a sketch by Caravaggio at a garage sale.

I love books, I love reading them and collecting them. When you are a book junkie you dream of finding an out of print, forgotten, literary gem at the back of a small bookstore in Chinatown. Since there is no Chinatown in Nashua, I get many of my used books from the used book bins at my local grocery store.

I live on the edge of a park and right across that park is a grocery store called Hannaford's Supermarket. At Hannaford's there are two book bins at the front of the store. One is for trade paperbacks and hardcover books and the other is for pocket-sized paperback books. Most of the time, you can depend on finding some bestsellers from the past five years along with the hits from years past. If you are into Grisham, Clancy, Roberts, Weiner, or Picoult you won't have a problem finding something to read over a weekend trip to the beach. If your tastes are more literary you can usually find something that will keep you happy, I've found a hardcover version of Midnight's Children, a couple Vonnegut novels. Hemingway and Maya Angelou make a regular appearance. If you shop the trade paperback and hardcover side you may also find a rare gem like a foreign version of a literary favorite or an author signed ARC.

The funny thing about the bins though is that they are multi-layered. The paperback side goes down four layers and the hardcover bin goes down three. As people take books the second layer is exposed but the donations keep coming in so the lower layers are repeatedly covered up so I was always left to wonder what  treasures of the literary past might be hidden at the bottom of the bin. Fortunately my friend Andy shared my curiosity so we planned a late night mission to find out what was at the bottom of the bins.

We arrived at Hannaford's supermarket at about 10:45 on a Saturday night. The store–a huge market with a sushi bar, deli, bakery, pharmacy and hot wing buffet– stays open until midnight every night. As we were driving to the store I we discussed how to best approach the feat of going through hundreds of books stacked in multiple layers. We decided the best way was to pile them into shopping carts and I contemplated whether we should alert one of the store staff that we were just looking to see what was there and not to run out the door with a shopping cart full of books. On the way in we grabbed a cart and went to work. Each of us took a stack of hardcovers and went through them but we soon realized that we would not both get to see the entire selection so we decided the most efficient way to go was to each take a stack and read the titles as we tossed them into the cart. After the hardcovers we did the same for the paperbacks. At one point we had  two carts full of paperback books.
Andy and the Books


We did find some great covers:

We also found about 15 copies of various Welcome to Tyler romance novels. What we didn't find is anything we really wanted to read. We also found the largest collection of book paper dust in the country on the fourth layer along with various scraps of paper that had fallen out of books over whatever time period has passed since anyone else had looked a the fourth layer, a period I assume can be measured in years.
This is the portal to literary purgatory.

I took home about 5 books from the hardcover bin and Andy went home empty handed. But at least if you're ever looking for the missing copy in your welcome to Tyler collection, you know who to call. Thanks for reading and tell me what lengths you would go to for your hobby in the comments.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How to Burn Your Brand

In America we have a lovely tradition called democratic consumption. Warren Buffet can't get a better Coke than I can, Bill Gates can't get a better piece of salmon than I can and Carlos Slim can't read a better book than I can. What they can do is create an exclusive environment that I'm not allowed into so really the only thing that separates the social classes is the spaces we inhabit. Namely our cars, our offices and our houses. At least that is what we tell ourselves so that our well armed populace doesn't wreck the social order on a weekly basis.

Abercrombie and Fitch CEO, Mike Jefferies, broke our little social illusion of being one class by speaking out about clothing sizing. Now every brand is exclusionary to some degree. Democratic consumption is a myth and who you exclude is as important as who you include. If it's not size, it's price or image. There are some places where showing up with a Harley Davidson jacket will get you shunned and others where showing up without one will get you beaten.

Now I'm no CEO genius but there are plenty of plausible answers you can give about why you won't make larger size of clothing that won't get in the face of the public but will still be just as exclusionary. How about "We limit the sizes we carry in order to control inventory costs", or "We haven't expanded our sizing options because there hasn't been customer demand for larger sizes but we consider that option whenever we introduce a new line". Yes Abercrombie board, I am available for half of Jeffries' salary if you want to hire me. But stating that your aim is to exclude a certain customer base is well, unamerican and subject to backlash from the the masses that have been raised to believe that they cannot be excluded and are worthy of consuming the best of what life has to offer.

A few years ago I went out looking for a used car with a budget of $5,000. I of course dressed for success in a pair of ripped shorts and a T-shirt and since I knew some of my co-workers drove BMWs and they seem like pretty nice cars. I went to the BMW dealer. After telling my budget to the salesman I was roundly rebuffed as he explained that cheap used BMWs start at $12,000.  Now I know that BMW makes a pricey automobile and that about two thirds of the population could never drive one because of the cost alone. But because of the salesman's attitude, that experience cemented in me that BMW is the brand of insecure losers. I then went down to the KIA dealership and because the salesman had no illusions about the exclusivity of his product, he asked me questions about my income and credit and sold me a car that cost about three times as much as I initially wanted to spend.

So goes Abercrombie. No longer will I look at the wearers of Abercrombie & Fitch clothing and envy their weedy frames. Instead I will feel a small twinge of pity for a fellow traveler who has decided that they need to burnish their image with a brand name.

Tell me which brand you think jumped the shark from mark of quality to desperate plea for attention in the comments.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zip up the Bodybag

I started the A to Z challenge with a sanguine attitude. I didn't finish it at the end of April and I'm wrapping it up over a week late. I consider it a success though, I had 1,999 page views which since I started with less than 1,000 views in the entire history of the blog makes it a total success. I had a lot of fun planning out the posts but I really hated making each post fit into a letter and I just plain ran out of gas before the end.

Will I keep blogging? Yes. Will I do another challenge? Yes. Will it be a rigorous month long challenge where each post has to start with a certain arbitrary letter? No.

I plan on doing some fiction writing and blogging from time to time and please be sure to follow me on twitter @wildpokerman and say hello!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Xtreme Blogging

I've fallen behind in the A to Z challenge. Tomorrow is Y day and then we wrap it up with Z. Do I like daily blogging? Yes I do. I've been surprised by the number of readers that I've had. I've had more this month than I had in all the years before. It's interesting how saying the right thing to the right person can get the word out to people who want to read what you have to say.

Will I continue after the challenge? Absolutely. To all my fellow participants we're almost done! Thanks for stopping by and tell me how you started blogging in the comments.

Writers

One of the most gratifying things about reading is the generosity and kindness of writers. In the age of social networks it's easier than ever to connect with your favorite writers. This past year I've been using Twitter as my favorite social networking site and I've had the privilege of discovering new books and new writers. On top of that I've actually been able to meet some writers after reading their books! Here are the two that I've met, Andy Mascola and Tiffany Reisz.

Andy wrote Unmagnificent Lives  and Tiffany wrote The Siren. I read both of them in 2012 and I'm glad I did, both of the books were excellent.

Thanks for stopping by for W day and tell me how you discover new books in the comments.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vocabulary

When I read I am a plodder. I can't just gloss over a word I don't know. I've even found that there are a lot of words that I thought I knew but really had no idea about when I took a close look at them. I just cannot go on to the next sentence unless I'm positive that I know all the words from the one prior and understand why the writer placed them there. I had to find a system to organize new words and make them mine. 

My constant companion when I am reading is my smartphone. When I come across a word I don't know, or one that I am not one hundred percent sure I own, I will look it up in an online dictionary before I continue on. Then I'll put it on a list on my phone.


When I get a few spare moments I'll transfer all the words to a book and add the definition. I don't copy the dictionary exactly and I'll add notes about how it was used to help me remember it.


Thanks for reading for V day, we're almost done! Tell me your favorite word in the comments.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Taoism

I was raised in American Fork, Utah at a time when everyone in the neighborhood could point out the houses of people who didn't belong to the Mormon church. There weren't many to memorize. In high school history we were studying ancient civilizations and there was a lesson where some bible passages helped illustrate the point. All of us in the class went over to the seminary building to get our bibles. There was not one of us in that class that wasn't enrolled in the religious classes taught next door.

Intellectually I knew that there were other religions and spiritual beliefs out there. Hey, the Bible told me there always had been! When I was 21 a girlfriend recommended I read the Tao of Pooh and it was a life changing experience.

Yes, Taoism is a religion and I can't say I've known anyone intimately that has practiced it  I couldn't tell you one thunder god from another and don't ask me if there are any holidays to observe. What I do know is that reading the Tao Te Ching was a punch in the teeth to a white boy from Mormontown. If you've never read it before get yourself clicking here. It's free to download so no excuses. Ron Hogan's version isn't a literal translation, he's read several translations and produced the awesome modern Fight Club version of the text and that's why I recommend you start with that link. Tao is about rebellion and Tao is about making the old new so there is not a more Taoistic way to create a modern version than that.

Let me quote some of my favorite passages:

Do not glorify the achievers
So the people will not squabble
Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain
So the people will not become thieves
Do not show the desired things
So their hearts will not be confused
What does that mean? If you mess up your priorities you're going to mess up the whole system.

Heaven and Earth are impartial
They regard myriad things as straw dogs
The sages are impartial
They regard people as straw dogs 
How about that little verse. From what I've read straw dogs are little idols that were used during religious ceremonies. After the festival or ceremony was over you just have a big pile of straw. It means quit treating life so reverently, after we're done here we're just a pile of meat so treat every day as a sacred event while it lasts.
True Words
True words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
The good do not argue.
Those who argue are not good.
Those who know are not scholarly.
The scholarly do not know.
Wham bam internalize that my man. Just get out there and do stuff.  Don't sit around thinking about it. You're going to make mistakes. Stop doing just what you know and realize that you're going to need to know a lot more to get anything worth doing done. Don't worry about helping other people, the more you help the more you're going to be rewarded.

Whenever I feel less than centered or a little bit lost or lonely I reach for the nearest copy of the Tao Te Ching and it puts me right pretty quickly. It is the most life changing book I have read.

Utah

The average person in my adopted homeland of New England probably thinks about Siberia twice as often and they think about Utah. Utah only really comes up in conversation when people want to make a joke about Mitt Romney and people haven't bothered to come up with any Mitt Romney jokes around here for a few months.

Yes, it's the only state in the nation where the most subscribed newspaper has a regular polygamy section. No that's not a joke, there are really people still enslaving 14 year old girls and marrying them off to 68 year old men that already have four wives. Yes, young men and women who are going on proselytizing missions for the LDS church shriek with horror when they get a mission call to Utah. Everyone in Utah is either already in or out of the LDS church and there's a slim to none chance that you'll do any conversion while you're there. And yes, Mormons do smile all the time, even lapsed ones like myself.

But let me tell you a bit about what I miss about Utah.

What do you see in that picture? Red rocks and rainbows of course! What don't you see? That's right, millions of swarming people climbing up the mountain every 10 feet like you see on New Hampshire mountains. You don't see gas stations or trees either. It's just nice to go to a place where you could just sit for 10-15 minutes and not have to listen to somebody tell you what a nice day it is.


You like red rocks? Well I like them too! I love the granite all around here but there's something ancient and stark and just a little frightening about giant blocks of sandstone.
Well thanks for stopping by for U day. Tell me what you miss about your home town.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday

Today I was able to spend the day with my beautiful family. I asked Joanna to decide what we would do and we went to the neighboring town of Hudson to sit and read in the park. I was deep in a David Foster Wallace story and I heard a loud noise. I looked up and saw a huge cloud of dust and inside it was a car and a truck that had smashed together.

I don't think I've seen a car wreck that was so serious that close. It was frightening. Joanna went over to see if she could help. She helped the drivers of each car stay calm and talked to them while they waited for the police, fire department and ambulance to arrive. I stayed back with my kids and watched from afar.


Fortunately, everyone will be alright according to the fireman at the scene. I took a bunch of pictures with my high zoom lens and the fire chief asked me to send them to the department so they can review them for training. When they had removed the roof of the car so that they could get the passenger out I told my daughter she should go play because it could affect her for a long time if she saw something upsetting. She went over and played with the boys. When they brought the passenger out of the car and put her on a stretcher she was moving her arms. That was relieving. I knew that what I saw wasn't a complete medical diagnosis but it at least showed she wasn't paralyzed and wasn't dead yet so she had a chance.


The emergency responders were quick to arrive and a lot of people stopped to help and make calls including several bikers from the bar right by the accident. After what we've gone through in Boston it's good to know that there are so many people willing to do the right thing when the unfortunate happens. Seeing things like that also make you realize how it is good to be alive and well.

Resume Writing

I was fortunate to have a resume writing class at work. I'm sure many of you have read a book or taken some kind of class session on resume writing but it's always good to get insight into the process. We were lucky enough to have a human resources representative who has been reviewing resumes for several years come and teach a class on how to write a great resume and I'll share what I learned here.

Now before I go into details, I will say that I believe that the resume process is a weeding our process. This means that if you make a mistake your resume and candidacy are headed straight for the recycling bin. Chances are if you have very unique skills the employer is going to come looking for you. The best thing you can do to distinguish yourself before a job search is to network and make yourself known before the position opens. You'll have a much better shot at an interview if the hiring manager knows you are going to apply and feels you are a good candidate. Unfortunately however you cannot always be prepared for every opportunity; many of us either find ourselves unexpectedly out of work or a position will open up that you didn't know about and you need to present the hiring manager a picture of your qualifications so that you can tell your story in an interview.

So here are the tips to create a perfect resume:

1. The top third of the resume should tell the employer why you should be hired. If your education or certifications are what you should be known for it should be at the top. If your work experience is what will make the difference, it should be at the top. You should be able to read the top third of the page and have someone have a good reason or two why they should speak to you further about the position.

2. You should use verbs to describe what you do. Sold, recruited, managed retained are all great words. The tense should match. For example if it is a current job it should say: I coach employees on sales procedure. If it's a past position it should say I coached.

3. Make it professional. Even if it is a creative position bullet points that look like little stars or printing your resume on balloon stationery will get your it noticed, but not in a good way. You're looking to get a job, not provide the HR department with one more story to tell over lunch about the clueless applicant that applied today.

4. Get rid of the objective. The objective is just one more place to sink yourself. For example if you say you want to express your creativity, and they're hiring an accountant they will toss your resume. Now a smart person knows we need accountants that are resourceful and creative but your personality should be discussed in an interview. If you give them any reason to doubt whether or not you are suitable for the position you will not get an interview.

5. Leave off, the reason you left employment, your salary, your hobbies, your marital status, your age, and how awesome your bloody Mary recipe is. Yes I had that on my first resume and fortunately I got the job but it probably wouldn't happen in this economy.

6. Focus on transferable skills. Some transferable skills are coaching, project management, teamwork, sales skills, customer service skills. Think broadly and make sure that the skills you have learned are on display. Don't just write a job description of what you've done, explain what skills you learned.

Those are the basics. Make sure you read your resume closely and review it for accuracy and clarity before you send it. Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your next job search!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Quiet

Today I'm sick. Joanna is doing the final pages for the elementary school yearbook. Coleman is playing Minecraft. Joaquin is watching annoying orange videos and Sofia has disappeared, I suspect she's downloading more pictures of Louis from One Direction but she's old enough that she doesn't tell me any more. 

I'm going to take advantage of the little lull and get some writing done. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pumpkin

Just in case you're wondering what inspires the orange color of the blog, orange is my favorite color and I think a major reason for that is because I love pumpkin.


Here in New England we get all four seasons in all their glory and misery and so fall is a pretty big deal compared to other places I have lived. Once September comes you can find pretty much anything with pumpkin. There's pumpkin coffee, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins.

The best part of the year for a bargain hunger like me though is in December. Right about that time, everyone here except me is sick of pumpkin, so what happens? Pumpkin clearance! This year I got months of pumpkin coffee for half off.I have cans and cans of pumpkin that I've scored off of Amazon. The best thing that happened was getting the last of the pumpkin ice cream at Cold Stone so I am probably the last person in New England to have a dish of frigid pumpkin flavored dessert.

If you have a can of pumpkin sitting around and are wondering what to do with it, make a pumpkin pie shake. Thanks for visiting for P day and tell me how you plan on surviving until pumpkin season in the comments.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Organizing Your Writing With Scrivener

I love writing. It's one of my greatest joys. My house is filled with pens, notebooks and journals. Whenever I get a cash gift card I spend it in the Staples clearance aisle. But in spite of all the notebooks I have lying around, I do most of my writing on the computer. Long long ago, in the dark ages I used programs like Word and Open Office but I'd heard legends how how serious writers used Apple computers and wrote on something called Scrivener.

Well the dark ages are over, and Scrivener is available on my Windows computer. Since the beta of Scrivener, it's been all I've used.

Scrivener is more than a word processor, scrivener is a whole writing organization system and you should be using it because it solves every problem you have had with your writing software in the past. Have you wanted a place to keep notes while you are writing that don't show up in your document? Scrivener has you covered. Do you wish you could have that academic paper you're citing in front of you on your 13' laptop instead of having to switch windows back and forth? Scrivener lets you store any document or image file you're using for research and view it in split screen while you write. Do you wish you could set word targets for a writing session, document, or chapter? Scrivener lets you do all that.

What about when it's time to show your work off? Do you want to send a manuscript to a publisher? Scrivener formats it perfectly for novels, short stories or screenplays. Did you get rejected and decide to self publish? Just export it as a Mobi file and you can have it selling on Amazon or as an Epub on Barnes and Noble in five minutes. And then you have the standard options of creating word files, PDFs and text documents.

Are you curious to find out more? Start by watching this video:



If you really want to learn how to use it I highly suggest buying Scrivener for Dummies by the great Gwen Hernandez. She also offers online classes on how to use Scrivener and I highly recommend taking one.

Thanks for stopping by again and tell me your favorite way to write in the comments!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nailing the Job Interview

Well it's N day here at Wildpokerman so I thought I'd speak a little about a skill that I've been working on and studying. I've changed jobs a lot in my career in spite of being with the same company and I'm about 50/50 when it comes to interviews. I'd like to have a higher batting average so I've been studying interviewing skills. My company has been giving seminars on career skills and I've found them to be very helpful. Here's what I've learned about interviewing-

There are three levels of interviewing:

1. Here is the neat stuff I've done.

2. Here is the neat stuff I've done and here's how it could help you.

3. Here's the neat stuff I've done and how it can help you and let me explain what it looks like when I'm in the position.

Obviously you want to be at level three when you discuss the job in the interview. But how do you get to level three when you don't know what questions you will be asked?

Here are the steps to having a level three interview.

1. Come prepared and know what it is you are applying for. If you spend the beginning part of the interview asking what the job actually is or if one of your follow up questions is "What am I going to be doing again?" you're already done. You may as well have thrown your resume under the door and waited for a callback.

2. Have an agenda. This means you should have a plan to describe what you intend to accomplish in the job. Write down four to five things that you need to say while you are in the interview. If you're lucky they will all come up in answers to the interview questions but most of the time you will have a thing or two that you need to say that doesn't come up naturally. Make sure you have a list of the unique value you are going to bring to the job and make sure that if the questions haven't covered it that you bring up those points before you leave. When the interviewer says "What questions do you have?" that's a perfect time to say "I have a couple of questions but first let me make sure I bring up some points I wanted to discuss today."

3. Bring yourself. If you try to pretend to be the type of person you think they want for the job you are doomed to failure. If you normally smile, smile in the interview. If you tell jokes, tell jokes in the interview. If you are detail oriented, make sure you are detail oriented when you ask and answer questions. Your best shot is to explain who you are, why you want the position and how YOU are going to do the job. If you pretend to be someone else you will come across as insincere and unconvincing. Worse than that, if you actually succeed you could spend years of your life in a job that's completely frustrating because you are never able to do it the way you would like.

I hope that helps a little bit and that next time you are in an interview you nail it and get the job of your dreams. Tell me your worst interview story in the comments!

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Favorite Blogs

One of the things I love the most is discovering a new blog. I've been inspired, entertained and educated by some of the best writers on the planet, and it's pretty much free and available any time on demand. Right now I use Google Reader to track the blogs I follow so I am going to be terribly sad when it's all over for that service in June. But here are a few words of thanks to the bloggers that I enjoy reading the most. Note that these are all non-economics blogs. If you want to see what's happening in economics see my E post from earlier in the A to Z challenge.

If you're looking for inspiration I highly recommend Tiny Buddah. It's a blog where two inspirational posts are put up every day on topics like acceptance, learning to deal with loss and how to forgive someone who has hurt you. I also enjoy Colipera. That is a site that is about how to achieve goals using a method of forming a group of like minded people with a similar goal to keep each other accountable and offer assistance and support. The Minimalists have great articles on living a meaningful life and on have posts on everything from getting rid of your stuff, moving on from toxic relationships and dedicating a portion of your life to service.

Do you want to get ahead at work? The Time Management Ninja has you covered for a subject that should be obvious from the blog's title. I've learned how to structure the last day before a vacation and how to make sure a meeting is effective. Even though it has a marketing focus I find Seth Godin's blog to be amazing every day. I don't know how he can look at every possible business situation and bring a new perspective every day but somehow he does.

My favorite hobby is writing and writing blogs are aplenty but here are the ones that have helped me the most. Copyblogger brings it every single day. It's a blog about writing to sell but writing to sell is about making things clear and exciting and benefiting your reader. That's a list of objectives that apply to every kind of writing. Les Edgerton wrote one of my favorite books on writing, Hooked. I would absolutely recommend it to any fiction writer as a resource, if you get the beginning straight the rest of it falls into place. Plus, he's been super helpful and friendly on Twitter so say hello. Terrible Minds is the place where Chuck Wendig vomits up amazing writerly advice, in between tirades of language so foul and shocking that he should win an award for it. It's a NSFW site, but in a fun way. If you want something a little more saintly try out Jeff Goins, it's 75 percent inspiration and 25 percent perspiration but when sitting in a chair, undistributed, is what you need to accomplish inspiration is often what you need. When you're ready to commit to writing Stephen Pressfield will tell you where it's at. Nat Russo has a great blog full of short writing tips and he's well worth following on twitter for his all night write tip auto-tweets. Last but not least Gwen Hernandez is the authority on using Scrivener. I took her online class on using Scrivener for writing and it was life changing, it's the best value online so I highly recommend you check her site for new classes, she has one scheduled for May.

Lastly I'm sure you're looking for pure entertainment from time to time. Be sure to check out the anti-blogger Christina Majaski. Stupid list Friday is one of the funniest irregular columns around and you must learn how to make lint bunnies!

That's a list of some of the people that inspire me. I've also been discovering many more favorites in the A to Z challenge so be sure to check out a few there and see if you can find a new favorite. If you have a blog you adore or think we should be reading add a note about it in the comments!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Laze

This week I had a vacation, this is what I did:




Enjoy your Sunday!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kashin Koji

When I was busy failing high school my friend Dave and I would spend our free time searching out the worst movies we could find. There were several good hunting spots around my home town of American Fork. We cruised the action aisle of the Blockbuster, the bargain bin in the local Fred Meyer and the skin flicks in the Stars video store across from my therapist's office. None of those places could compete with the video wall at the local Circle K.

We used to visit the convenience store late at night and spend a couple hours talking to they guy who worked there. He was in police training. Coincidentally, his roommate owned the Stars video store and the future cop would regale with stories of the video store owner's attempts to get laid. My favorite story was when he brought a woman home and decided that the best way to start a conversation was to pull out a copy of Penthouse Letters and ask her to read him a letter. The circle K worker, Mark, was from the mystical land of Seattle and he would tell us all about the city and tales of the sea. Mark was a fisherman before he decided to move to Utah and become a policeman.

After our nightly conversations we would pull a bad video off of the wall and take it home to watch at 2 AM. We saw classics such as Rock and Roll Nightmare, Hell Comes to Frogtown  and Ninja 3 The Domination. One day we found the true gem, the pure decocted mystical essence of bad movies, the movie that would generate years worth of private jokes and forever engrave itself on my mind. We found Ninja Wars.

Now I'm not going to bore you with the Japanese mythology and film movements and comic books that according to my later online reading gelled together in the twisted mind of Sonny Chiba; then spewed out of his mouth like vomit from a devil monk:
Nay! I will just say go, see it now! It has everything a bad movie should have. A mysterious magician, an 80s action soundtrack, devil monks who spit vomit out at our heroes to encase them in yellow plastic! And did I say ninjas? It has ninjas, scores and scores of ninjas.

Not convinced? Here's the score. The evil lord of one of the provinces of Japan, Danjo, thinks he's good enough to be king. Kashin Koji comes to town in a storm and gives him a prophecy, whoever wins the heart of Ukio Dayo, the wife of the top samurai will become the ruler of Japan. Kashin gives Danjo the services of five devil monks, the plan is to capture her, make her drink a love potion and fall in love with Danjo. First though, they need a virgin who can supply the tears needed to make the love potion. Where can they most easily find a virgin? In the forest among the ninja clan of course! The devil monks go to the forest and capture said ninja, but not without a fight from the man who loves her, Jotaro. They take the ninja girl back to Danjo's place but the wily ninja girl cuts off her own head with one of her ninja tricks! Well no matter, the devil monks can just put it on the head of a girl who's hanging at Danjo's house and we're good to go, we only need the body of a virgin, not the head. 

So Danjo gets his love potion and goes to try to get Ukio to drink it. While attending the huge Buddhist ceremony that Ukio and her husband are at, ninjas attack the place and start the temple on fire. Jotaro rescues Ukio and hides with her inside the giant Buddha statue until the devil monks catch on. Then it's on for a battle between Jotaro and the monks. Jotaro gains the upper hand and Ukio falls in love with him. In the burning wreckage of the temple, Ukio appears on a burning cross and Jotaro jumps onto the cross with her and kisses her. They then appear to perish in the flames. Kashin Koji then reappears to repeat the prophesy and then laughs quite a bit. 

There's so much I've left out like spider teapots, boomerang swords, geysers of blood spurting out of severed necks and one of the most fearsome sex scenes in movie history. Luckily you don't need to hang out at the Circle K to enjoy this spectacle, you can enjoy it right in your chair because nobody cares enough about its copyright to have it pulled off of You Tube.




Do yourself a favor, get some popcorn and check it out. Thanks for reading again and tell me about a bad movie I might have missed in the comments.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Joshua Fields Millburn is the worst fiction writer on the planet

Have you heard of minimalism? It's a"new" movement to describe an old behavior of limiting the amount of "stuff" you have in order to lead a more focused life. One of my favorite blogs is The Minimalists which is a blog that is written by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. You can read the story of how they gave up their corporate jobs and most of their material possessions at their blog and in their non-fiction books. I find their inspirational books of essays to be impactful and packed with solid advice for living to the fullest. They've been a solid influence on me to get in shape, get organized and I even went to see them speak when they came to Boston. It was amazing. Joshua and Ryan have moved on to bigger and better things than being corporate drones and Joshua spends his time writing fiction. Unfortunately, Millburn is the worst fiction writer on the planet.

 If you read Amazon reviews you'll see a slew of five star reviews for JFM's books. He also teaches writing classes for $397 for an 8 week online session. On his blog he says:

At 30 I wasn't a published author. I had a stack of rejection letters from agents and publishers to prove it. But now, at 31, I have published four #1 bestselling books on my own and co-founded my own publishing community—Asymmetrical Press—where we help writers and other creative types circumvent the old guard. Over time, I slowly became an expert in the publishing world.
When Millburn releases a new work of fiction I'm always one of the first in line to get it. Not because I'm anxious to read it but because I need a new reminder of why I don't quit my corporate job and write. His fiction is awful. Some of what he does could be fixed by a good editor but some of it is just plain unworkable. Let's review some of what's wrong with his fiction. Full disclosure, I have never written a novel so he's a step ahead of me, but I've read a book on writing a novel so you can be assured that my critique is well informed by the best advice that Writer's Digest publications have to offer. So let's discuss JFM's novel length release As a Decade Fades.

He breaks the Les Edgerton rules of having a compelling beginning. Here is his first sentence:

Things could've been worse, but not much worse.
The chapter goes on to describe how the main character, Jody Grafton finds out that someone, yet to be introduced, is pregnant. Stories should always start with disasters but  just finding out someone is pregnant isn't always the next to worst thing I can imagine happening to someone. Oh yeah, unless you're a young guy with no job, no health insurance and who wants to live like a minimalist. That's a nightmare because the amount of stuff you have to pack around if you have a baby in this society is unreal. So I guess we do have what could be called a disaster but it's pretty narrow cast to a specific group of people. Universal fiction this will not be.

He uses long words. Normally this isn't a problem. I'm a huge fan of David Foster Wallace who is the king of obscure vocabulary so being a huge word nerd isn't a fatal flaw in itself. What makes Millburn's prose so awful is that he misuses the words. In a scene where Jody meets with one of his friends Michael, Millburn describes a conversation between Michael and Jody:
Michael's servile interlocutor lightened the mood, momentarily freeing Jody from his memories.
 Now I had to go back a few sentences to see who else was in this conversation, an interlocutor is a person who takes part in a conversation. Since in this sentence Jody and Michael are already both accounted for who is the interlocutor who is freeing Jody? There is no third person in this conversation and this sentence makes no sense. This is something an editor would have caught and killed immediately. Millburn has a few other gigantic vocabulary issues, for example describing a laundromat in the city as an "intramural space". One of my favorite lines is a reference to "pan-seared opulence". Is the goodness of the opulence sealed in shake and bake style?  Lesson to you, would be writer, if you're going to use two dollar words make sure you've got a three dollar dictionary at hand so that you're sure what they mean before they land on your page.

He forgets what he said one page to the next. On page 41, Jody is in Michael's apartment thinking about the neighborhood (which is probably the most boring thing a character could do).He thinks:
Nobody here has air conditioning. All iPhones but no A/ C.
This sentence is even written in italics in the novel for emphasis of some kind. However, in the same apartment four pages and four hours or so later:
Jody could hear the droning of a small window A/ C unit beyond the door to the sleeping roommate’s bedroom.
Wait what? Did the roommate go out and buy an air conditioner in the couple of hours between the navel gazing that Jody was engaged in a few hours earlier and now?  I mean this chapter is a giant jerk off of the main character sitting around and thinking but I guess that all of his deep thinking is flawed because he can't even wrap his head around whether or not there is an air conditioner running in the next room or not?

The previously mentioned issues could probably be fixed by a publication and editing process, assuming this novel had something worth saving. However he breaks the first commandment of fiction writing, don't bore your reader to death. This book is riddled with passages, characters and events that are brain numbing pointless drivel. If you took out everything that doesn't impact the story you wouldn't have a thing left. One chapter starts out with Jody riding a bus to meet Michael, on the bus he meets a girl named Shelly and has a conversation with her from page 25 to page 32. It ends with Shelly getting off the bus and giving Jody her phone number. On page 48 Jody has a dream about Shelly, in a spectacular string of overblown prose the dream ends like this:
She represented everything beautiful about life, a life without a past. And now she was leaving him. Or perhaps she was saving him. He wasn't sure which.
 Upon awakening, Jody decides to give Shelly a call, but the number is disconnected, Shelly has given Jody a wrong number. If you don't want to smash your Kindle after this resolution of the relationship between Jody and Shelly you aren't human. In the same chapter Millburn spends a paragraph describing the piles of belongings of a roommate that had moved out, and it's all boring stuff:
All his stuff was scattered chaotically into makeshift piles in one corner of the livingroom (sic): some musical recording equipment, DVDs, CDs, clothes, a pair of shoes, a single flip-flop, a partially deflated basketball, and garbage bags filled with God-knows-what else.
What did that paragraph tell you about the characters or the setting? Oh, that it happened sometime between 1998 and 2018. It's not even poetic, rhythmic or shocking. There's another paragraph where the characters walk to the laundromat and the people on the street who are described in a similar fashion "paid them no attention". So why are they there Millburn? At the laundry, a character  is described in detail down to the haircut, the skinny jeans and the color of his shirt. Then it is stated "He was clearly not from around here; he somehow fit in even less than Jody did." Leaving alone the limp use of the semicolon, if your description doesn't indicate why the character doesn't belong, leave it out. If it does explain, you don't need the summary. This book is chock full of redundant phrasing, flat prose that doesn't belong and characters and places that don't add anything to the story.

Next time you're wondering whether or not you have what it takes to become a professional writer, just remember that As a Decade Fades is in (self published) print and you'll feel much better about whatever you are producing. Thanks for stopping by and tell me who the worst writer in the world is in the comments.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Irrational Behavior

One of the things that I didn't like about studying economics was the belief that every decision maker was acting perfectly in their best interest to maximize their utility. If you've every spent time in the company of other people you'll quickly see that either this isn't true or people get their kicks from screwing their future selves over. Behavioral economics exists to try to close the gap and explain whey we do the things we do, even when those things do not seem to be in our best interests.

Behavioral economics gives a few reasons we don't act perfectly rational such as:

1. We have limited perceptual abilities. You can use optical illusions as a prime example of this. Our brains use cues and clues from the visual environment to try to determine what is gong on. Sometimes we fill in details that aren't there. Because all of our senses use short cuts, there are various situations where we can't make good decisions because we can't perceive what's really going on.

2. We are stuck in societal constraints. For example, it would make more sense to give cash than to give gifts. Giving a gift is a risky process because we have no idea what the person will like.Because society prefers gift giving to giving cash, people end up with stuff they don't like. Since our behavior is guided by societal demands, we make errors.

3. We are hard wired to make some mistakes. Times we should probably do the opposite of what we feel are when we want revenge, when we are sad, when we are angry. Basically we are emotional rationalizers rather than logical beings that feel emotions. Because our inner selves are constantly in turmoil, we cannot make correct decisions all of the time.

There are other reasons for being irrational but you get the idea, we make mistakes and many of those mistakes are unavoidable. So the next time someone does something that doesn't make a whole heap of sense, cut them some slack, they're only human. Tell me what irrational behavior drives you crazy in the comments and thanks for stopping by for I day!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Help Other People

It's H day on wildpokerman.com in the A to Z challenge and what I want to discuss is one of my favorite habits which is helping other people. We're all alone in a lot of ways and our culture values independence and self-sufficiency so we are always afraid to ask for help or encouragement We are afraid it will make us look lazy or weak. On the other hand, often times life leaves us feeling lost and purposeless. The surest way to end this feeling is to help someone else.

Don't confuse unsolicited advice with help. Unsolicited advice is often a way to give the other person your opinion on what they are doing wrong or why you think they deserve the problems they have. It's true that many people just need some know how to solve their problems but to get to the point where they are ready to explore how to solve their problems, they need to know that they are valued and that they have the support they need in order to make the change. We are all somewhat paralyzed by our circumstances, even positive changes sometimes threaten the equilibrium of our lives. So make sure that when you find a need you offer help and not just a to-do list for the person you are trying to benefit.

Here are some ways you can help people:

1. Make a how-to video of a skill that you have and share it.

2. Teach a class.

3. When you hear someone is looking for a new job, offer them resume and interview help. Interviews are easier if you have thought of a few questions in advance.

4. If someone is sick at work, bring them some soup from the cafeteria or the local Panera so they don't have to walk a long way for their food.

5. If you admire something someone has created, tell them.

6. If you have possessions you no longer need, try to find someone who would use them and give them away.

7. Offer to go to the gym with someone that is just starting to get in shape. Sometimes just having someone to go with makes it easier to go.

8. Send someone a thank you note when they help you.

9. Bring someone coffee in the morning.

10. Help someone fix a mistake without judging them.

I've found that days go better if I'm looking for ways to help people. Time goes by faster and I have less days where I feel bored or directionless. I'm sure you'll have the same experience if you make helping other people a habit. Tell me your favorite ways to help people in the comments.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Goals

I am a competitive achiever. I love getting from point A to point B and getting there faster, making it look easier and getting a better grade or performance review on the way there. That means that I am goal oriented. If I don't have something to accomplish that's measurable I feel rudderless, bored and lonely. I love goals because they give me a sense of meaning and direction and I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I check something off from my to-do list.

So how do you set and accomplish goals? It's a difficult process because there is so much uncertainty in life. The first step is to find out what you really want. There are two ways to determine this, a top down or a bottom up approach.

The top down approach is to create some kind of vision of what you would like your life to look like. The best way to do this is to get out a sheet of paper or two and write down either an essay, or story or list about what your life would look like if you accomplished all of your goals. I think the story approach is the best because a story gives you the freedom to add emotions and describe how you would feel if you reached your goals. That makes the experience powerful and vivid. A lot of people are uncomfortable doing that kind of thinking to start out so if you feel better just making a bucket list that's fine too.

The bottom up approach is a deck clearing process of going through all of your existing commitments, possessions,  relationships and hobbies in order to give your life more form and structure. The best description of this method in in a book called Getting Things Done  by David Allen. This book takes you through a process of looking over everything you have and all of your other commitments, to-do lists and calendars and getting a system in place to get everything done.

If you're just starting out, I would recommend the top down approach. Starting out doesn't mean you just graduated high school, it could mean you were recently divorced or just moved to a new job or just finished a major goal. The bottom up approach is best used if you are mid career and want to make sure you aren't missing anything or if you are in the middle of a project or several and want to get a better handle on things. I always recommend that you master the bottom up approach and learn time and "stuff" management because once you start achieving goals you are going to want to have a way to stay organized and stay on track.

The next step is to set your goals. I recommend that you use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym when you are setting goals. Now that you have your goals written down, I want you to write each one on the top of a piece of paper. You can also use an online list program if you would rather. I use Remember the Milk to track all of my to do lists and goals.

Now what I want you to do it take a look at your goal. Write down step by step how this is going to happen for you. For example let's take a simple goal. Let's say I want to read 52 books in a year. What I need to do is plan it from beginning to end, just like you're writing a story or planning what you are going to make for dinner, just write down step by step what you need to do to get this done. My list might be:

1. Visit the library to renew my library card.
2. Join Goodreads to research which books I want to read,
3. Make a "to read in 2013" list on Goodreads and add the books I want to read.
4. Check out the first four weeks worth of books.
5. Spend one hour a day after work reading and two hours on Saturday.
6. Repeat steps 4-5 every four weeks on Monday.

And there you go, each time you complete a step you check it off the list. Now the last thing you are going to need is a to-do list that you can update every day and carry with you. You can go low tech with a notebook or you can go high tech with an app that connects to your computer or phone but the important thing is that you have  list where you can add 3-6 things that you commit to getting done that day. If you can do more that's fine but your to do list is your daily must list so don't add things that don't belong to it. Keep it simple and oriented towards your long term goals. Your to-do list must have the next specific action(s) on it that you need to do in order to move closer to your goals. If we go with the reading example above my to do list for today might read:

1. Go to the library and ask how to renew my card at the checkout desk.
2. Go on my computer and go to Goodreads and start an account.

Now the last thing I'll ask you to do is to take a Taoistic approach to the whole thing. If you have a goal to be the Valedictorian in your class and go to Harvard, and you end up coming in second in your class and go to M.I.T, you'll probably be OK  If you want to run a 5K but don't get in shape in time and just end up losing 5 pounds but can only run a half mile, you've improved. If you want to be a painter but you learn that the painting of your fiance looks like blurry doberman, you've learned something about your limitations. If when you cross the last item off of your to-do list the outcome looks different from the place you charter, that's OK! If you're an airplane pilot setting a goal to fly to LA, you probably want to do careful assessments and correct your course often but if you're on a weekend trip in the car driving to wine country, taking a few side roads and ending up at a vineyard you didn't plan on visiting is often times a bonus. How often you need to course correct depends on how important having an exact result is to you and for most things I recommend a healthy dose of flexibility in the end result because that is how you learn.

And there you have it. Thanks for stopping by for G day and tell me about your goals in the comments.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Family

Of course I have to introduce you to my family. I'm happy to have them in my life. First is my wife Joanna:

You can find her blogging over at Applique Today where she is also doing the A to Z challenge. She is from New Zealand originally and I am going to be taking my first trip there later this year. People always ask how we met. We met online. I was living in an apartment with two other friends and we had an old friend who came to visit with his computer and showed me the magic of the Internet. He showed me IRC chat rooms and I was very intrigued. I was able to borrow a computer, but because I could only use it at night all the rooms I knew about were empty. I found some full chat rooms and started talking to Joanna. I had no idea she was in Australia which explained why she was up at 3 AM Utah time. After talking to her for a couple of months and exchanging letters and phone calls, she decided to sell everything she owned and move over and marry me. That's also my story of writing success.

Here is my son Coleman:

He is my twin in almost every way. He has the same looks, hobbies, interests and pretty much the same set of anxieties. The only thing that's different is that he does super well in school. I never really paid attention in school and it wasn't until I became an adult that I started performing well academically. He spends all of his time not in school trying to find a way to get onto an electronic device and play Minecraft.

Here is Joaquin:

Joaquin wants to be a boxer when he grows up. He's athletic and loves to run. When he was younger he had delayed speech so he was almost three before he started talking. Now he won't stop talking. Every night at dinner he says he hates whatever we're having and will only eat one thing. It's funny because the one thing he chooses is always something he has said he hated some other night and the things he passes up are things he has eaten other times. At breakfast and lunch he'll eat whatever we're having which makes his dinner habits all the more strange.

Here is my daughter Sofia:
This is her first year in middle school. She does very well in school and gets an A in every subject except math. She hates math and I tell her every day that the key to a good job is math but it hasn't convinced her yet. She did raise her grade at the midterm from a D to a B so maybe my constant nagging is making a difference. When I was younger I always wanted a daughter and I'm so pleased that I got such a great one!

So that's my family. Thanks for stopping by and tell me your favorite thing about your family in the comments.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Economics

So you like psychology, statistics, math, literature, philosophy and politics? Me too! All all of those topics are studied by economists, which is why when I decided to go back to school a few years ago I decided to major in economics.

I love the models, the debates, the completely false belief that people behave consistently and rationally. Mostly, I love the fact that there's a little bit of thought and modeling that goes into the theories before they get tested out. I see economics as applied mass psychology and what I love about it is that it is a fairly new science so there are still pioneers and that the most famous practitioners are theorists more than technicians. I have a feeling that half of the economic theories we have are going to be as antiquated as alchemy is but I believe that like alchemy, it will give way to a good measurable predictive science just as alchemy gave way to chemistry.

So let me tell you about some of my favorite economic blogs so that you can go read a bit more about it if you are so inclined:

Do you ever see the unemployment report numbers on Friday and wonder why it's making the front page? Calculated Risk  and Econbrowser are for you. Both of those blogs go over the economic reports, graph the trends and have nice short articles about what they mean. Next time you're heading to a party with people who aren't drinking Four Loco check out those two blogs and you'll sound like a genius all night.

So that's not enough for you? You want to have an opinion on Krugman's columns in the Times? Check out Marginal Revolution or get out on the track and listen to the Econtalk podcast. Marginal revolution has links to all the hot topics going on in economics and Russ Roberts, the host of Econtalk, has a guest every week to discuss one of the hot issues of the day. I'll give you a little warning that Russ Roberts and the economists on Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, are conservative economists. That means that they believe in policies that many economists believe are harder on the poor and less productive members of society. I myself am on the very liberal side of economics, I don't think that being poor or unproductive is always a decision, circumstance weighs heavily on what you do in society. If you want to make sure you're getting a balanced view read your Krugman but also read Matt Yglesias's Moneybox column in Slate.

If you read those blogs from time to time you'll stay very current and you'll have an informed opinion when the budget talks start in a couple months. Also you will be a more informed voter, a smarter consumer and a better business person. Economics can impact every area of your life so its a topic worth being informed about. If you're really into it after exploring a bit, all of those sites will link you to places all over the web like a Coursera class I'm taking about irrational behavior or articles about what's really going on in Greece and Spain written by people who have been there. Tell me what you think of economics in the comments and thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Diary

Good writers put their main character up a tree and throw rocks at them. Great writers make their main characters marry closeted gay men, move them to an island, break their legs and drug them all to create a work of art that will save the town. They also make you laugh about it.

Diary is by Chuck Palahniuk and it's not something that he wrote on an off day.Does he follow the Les Edgerton rules of great beginnings? You bet:

Today a man called from Long Beach. He left a message on the answering machine, mumbling and shouting, talking fast and slow, swearing and threatening to call the police, to have you arrested.

How could you not want to read on after that? I love how Palahniuk creates taglines, you probably remember "This is Jacks..." from Fight Club. In Diary he uses the Misty Wilmot (the main character) drinking game.

Anytime some well meaning person forces you to demonstrate you have no talent and rubs your nose in the fact that you're a failure at the only dream you've ever had, take another drink. That's the Misty Wilmot drinking game.

If you're new to Palahniuk I'd say Diary is a good starting place. It's not hyped up like Fight Club  and not as adult as Snuff or Invisible Monsters. It has  a creepy suspenseful and magical aura without taking off into the full fledged supernatural. It's a nice dreamlike thrill ride. Plus it's not too long! You can read it in a few hours. It's pretty easy to find used if you're into that so put it on your list next time you're at the thrift shop!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cameras

Another of my fetishes is a love of all small electronic gadgets, namely cameras. I just can't pass up a good deal on a camera and there's nothing I love more than taking a new camera out of the box, or using a new lens, and taking a few hundred photos in a place I haven't been before.

Here's a photo of (most) of my cameras:


Here's the rundown. The top two are the same, I bought the first one on Woot.com right after Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection. The second one I bought because they put it up a couple weeks later at a lower price with more accessories so of course I wanted another one. The ones underneath are a Lumix and a Leica. They are pretty much the same but the Leica has a GPS inside. The one on the bottom right is my go to video camera. It's compact and fits into my pocket easily and has a front light. On the bottom left is my high zoom Lumix. I can stand across the parking lot at the home depot and take a picture of the whole store and then zoom in to see the doors. That's the one that I use to watch the neighbors. Just kidding most of the neighbors are policemen and that's a great way to get arrested or beaten. I actually use the high zoom because I'm too lazy to walk across the parking lot to take pictures.

The one in the bottom on the middle is my crown jewel, a micro 4/3. It has a pancake lens on it right now but I have a super zoom lens and a standard zoom. The super zoom is 7-14 inches long depending on how zoomed it is but is looks kind of silly at the end of such a small camera. It's totally awesome though and it gets some great shots.

Whenever I'm around town I have a camera on my neck, I love when I catch something that's unusual or interesting and I don't see anyone else taking photos. Sunday morning seems to by the prime time as I've caught a St. Patrick's day 5K, complete with green grass skirts and green wigs, Easter morning at the local Catholic church. Four weeks ago I took some photos of a guy named "diamond" and his girlfriend with rainbow hair at the park and they told me about some deer they saw in the woods behind the park. So if you see a guy with a camera taking a picture of squirrels in the cemetery or the pile of boxes behind Costco, say hello, it's probably me.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Books

The A-Z challenge rolls on and now I get to start talking about the original reason for starting my blog. Way back in 2006 I realized that I had not read a single book in years. The last book I remember reading before 2006 was an autobiography of Dennis Rodman. One a video game forum I saw a forum post about a challenge to read a book a week. I immediately decided to join the challenge.

I started out by reading books on poker. That's how the wildpokerman website was born. I read how to play books, how to spot tells, advanced strategies and how to play obscure games. At that time I was also playing online poker and I ended up winning $1200 over the summer.

It took me a year or two before I actually completed the challenge but it felt really good to increase my reading. Last year I finished the most books since I started the challenge with a total of 67 books. For a number of years I would create a post a week about the book I had just completed as a way to keep myself motivated to keep going and to reflect a bit on what I had read. You can see the previous posts in the archives.

Beyond reading I picked up a habit, an unconstrained book buying habit. I now have shelves and boxes full of books all over my house. Here is my "go to" shelf:

The crazy thing about that shelf, is that the books are double layered! That's just the front row and there is an equal number of books in the back. Those books are the sum of aspirations that I have about what type of books I want to read. I hope to read all the books on that shelf before I die.

In storage downstairs I have another two shelves::

Those are the books I will read if I have time. A lot of those are books I have just for the irony like Dow 35000 and a book from the 1970s called Casino which is an action packed adventure romance that I may read in a dentist's office someday. Those are the books I would take on vacation with me because if I left one in the airport I wouldn't cry about it.

Upstairs I have another shelf:


That shelf is full of academic books, journals and moleskines and high literature. Those are the books I would tell people I was reading and where I would say I do my writing if anyone ever asked. Not that the go-to shelf is any slouch with it's David Foster Wallace and Ray Carver on it. It's just that I'd rather just say I'd read Fundamental Theory of Mathematical Economics than to actually read it.

Since the shelves are full, I am surrounded by books all over the place. My cubicle at work is overflowing with books, there are a couple of boxes and stacks of books by my bed. The trunk of my car is even still full of books that I picked up in the library book sale!


So yes, I totally, completely love books! The only feeling better than finishing up a good book and marking it off on my Goodreads list is to start a new one. If any of you are on Goodreads, feel free to come be my friend. Tell me why you love books in the comments or shout out your favorite books to me on twitter @wildpokerman.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains will debut a new album on May 28th. I've been a huge fan of theirs for 20 years, and I think they deserve recognition for being the most popular group of abstract expressionists in history. If you've had a chance to read Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut you'll know that abstract expressionists were artists who had all the talent in the world to create realistic art, but instead chose to withhold their talents and create simplified pieces that looked, at first glance,  like a five year old could make them. The art they created was designed to display a mood or moment but it was very abstract. A casual observer would believe that they were celebrated in spite of a lack of talent, but in most cases they had all the skills one would need to create traditional art. They chose not to in favor of making their art an evocation of raw emotion.

Let me show you an example. Mark Rothko, one of the more famous abstract expressionists started out doing this:


And ended up doing this later in his career:

When Alice in Chains started out they intended to create music that was on the intellectual side of hair metal. I'm sure if you've listened to Poison or Twisted Sister that you're aware of how narrow that space actually is. One of their first songs was "Queen of the Rodeo". Here are some lyrics:

My daddy was a trucker 
Left home when I was three 
He fell for some dude in Austin 
She always wanted a daughter 
Then it was mom and me 
A'hit me, beat me, a faggot I ain't 
Well look at what she got 
But a real man they say I'm not 
I'm the queen, queen of the rodeo 
Queen, queen of the rodeo 

Notice how the song is a traditional narration of an event. You can easily identify the theme, story and emotional response that the song intends to generate. It's certainly on the liberal side of rock music. This was 1988 when discussing homosexuality in any kind of context was taboo in rock music. Putting it front and center as a central plot device where the homosexual character isn't condemned was mind blowing and would have been career ending for a less talented group.

Well of course, soon after the band started producing records, Nirvana came along and any poor bastards who could only produce hair metal were DOA (I'm looking at you Enuf Z' Nuff).But Alice in Chains were able to evolve. They went back into the studio and produced what I think is the greatest grunge album of all, Dirt. Dirt is an album where each song is a set piece that describes an emotion, and they aren't the easily accessible emotions like lust, happiness or anger that they describe. The band reached down and found the rich palette of emotions such as frustration,  hopelessness, hope and need. Here are some lyrics from the song "Down in a Hole" a song about despair:

Down in a hole and I don't know if I can be saved 
See my heart I decorate it like a grave 
You don't understand who they 
Thought I was supposed to be 
Look at me now a man 
Who wont let himself be 

And here are the lyrics for my favorite song from the album "Rain When I Die":

Is she ready to know my frustration? 
What she slippin' inside, slow castration 
I'm a riddle so strong, you can't break me 
Did she come here to try, try to take me 

Can you see how much the style of the lyrics evolved? In the later work it is difficult to identify a story in the song but the emotions the music evokes are much more powerful. I've found this to be very helpful when I'm writing to remember that word choice, phrasing and images matter to set mood as much as a trail of events do, if not more.

I've read that people who can use subtle terms to describe their emotions are more emotionally healthy and more able to deal effectively with emotional stress. Alice in Chains convinces you to feel a mood for a good 3-4 minutes and is able to do it in a very entertaining and rewarding way. It's more artistic and powerful than most songs that are "about" something. Because of the amazing artistic ability it takes to do that in the context of modern music, I'm looking forward to adding their newest twelve songs to my collection.



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

I am excited to see what 2013 brings. I am anxious to make changes but I have not set any major goals so the options are wide open.

Things I want to change:
1. I want to develop healthy habits. Better eating, more exercise.
2. I want to keep learning. I don't know if this will take the form of more formal education but I will absolutely develop some skills this year.
3. I want to buy less. I am going to make my purchases more focused and more planned. I do not want to use shopping as a form of entertainment anymore. I have a surfeit of manufactured goods and not enough time to use them all.
4. I want to develop better relationships. I want to push my personal boundaries a bit to tell people how much I appreciate them, spend more time engaging with people and sharing more of myself with them.
5. I want to write. As in write something for publication. I enjoy writing in my journals, blogging, and writing reviews but I would like to do something a bit commercial and see if I can sell it.

I am at the point where I'm less interesting in doing things because I should do them and more interesting in doing things because I want to do them.

I hope beautiful things happen for you in 2013 and I am excited to see what our little journey brings us in the coming year.