Monday, May 29, 2006

Why Men are Doomed

I was in Borders tonight looking at the section titled "Social Sciences". I wanted to see if there was anything new or interesting in the Men's Studies section. Of course, they don't really have a Men's Studies section. In all fairness, they don't have a Women's Studies section either, but I noticed something stunning that I thought really defined why men in the first few decades of the 21st century are in BIG trouble. Below is a picture taken with my cell phone of all the books in Borders related to Men's Studies. Bear in mind that this is not a rural or small store, this is an enormous two-story Borders store in downtown Evanston.

Ta-daaa! That's right. Almost, but not quite, one entire row on one shelf. If you count them, (and you can in the picture) it amounts to a total of 24 books, including my own personal favorite "Iron John" by Robert Bly.

The women's studies books were also fairly limited, which surprised me given their pervasiveness in gender literature as a whole, but still made up for the rest of two entire shelves of books.

Now let's look at the REAL kick in the ass. Those silly little Japanese anime graphic novels have really taken off in the last few years, but no one told me it had gone this far. Just three rows over from the dismal, miserable little social science section at Borders was an enormous display titled "Manga" that wrapped around no less than SEVEN entire bookcases. They are pictured below.

These are much harder to count so I've done the math for you.
46 books per row
7 rows per shelf
__________________________ X

2,250 Japanese anime graphic novels. Give or take maybe a hundred books.

Or, roughly 100 Japanese anime titles for each title about the sociology of men. Sometimes I feel like if men and boys were any less important to our culture, we'd be mulched up and used as fertilizer for flowers.

I did find a really terrific book, though, that you should check out if you get a chance. It's called Where Men Hide, by James Twitchell.

Memorial Day

There was a point where I was optimistic enough to look ahead at the life that I knew was coming and think that in the future I would be laughing about how stressed out and overly-dramatic I had been way back in 2000. And there was a point where I could have laughed at it. Now, though, I feel a deeper and even more pragmatic sort of cynicism about the whole thing. Why would I want to laugh at that person? So what if I was just then 21 years old and still hoped for a world where I could get away with working only 8 hours a day? So what if I had some sense of the eventual hard work that would be necessary to bring about my life as it is now? Instead of laughing at that person from the 2000 Memorial Day journal entry, I find myself nodding begrudgingly from the other side of 6 years, and saying to that person: "You had your eyes open wide, and you knew what was coming." In a way, I'm a bit prideful now of how insightful I was.

In a lot of ways, this past year has been enormously difficult for me. My job, which cannot properly be called a career because it is an essentially both entry-level and terminal position, has presented me an endless array of adversity. Sure, it's just taking temperatures and loading needles, but it's also answering phones, ordering stock, comforting people in pain, calming agitated patients, calming agitated staff, making the personal connections with the patients that no one else bothers to make, keeping the VIP patients happy, making sure the doctor doesn't inadvertantly harm someone because he or she doesn't realize that the patient has an infection or drug allergy because the patient only bothered to tell me about it, remembering everyone's names and what their problems are, dodging used needles left out under discarded iodine swabs and bloody 4x4s... the list goes on. No one of these duties is particularly difficult or time consuming, but they are steam-shoveled on top of me from the moment I walk in the door to the moment I walk out. Sometimes it's 8 hours, sometimes it's damn near 11. The work increases and increases as the doctors become more popular. Every few weeks some arcane new detail of the insurance protocols pops up and adds 20-30 minutes of busy-work to my days that are already far too busy. As I learn to avoid or minimize one new hobbling task, another comes along on its heels. And so forth without end.

In the last year, I have started my own business and seen it hiccup along for months now with only a few clients here and there. As of this writing, it has been almost 8 weeks since I have had a paying client at my location and the future is as uncertain as ever. The aforementioned job, which takes most of my time and nearly all of my energy, has something to do with that, as does my general lack of interest and mindset towards owning and running my own business to begin with. The whole thing just gapes before me like a great and unmanagable task. It is easy to see now how even people with budgets for things like advertisement and promotion can fail spectacularly with businesses. They are the sort of thing that you literally can lose yourself in. I get the feeling that my lack of success with it thus far stems intimately from my lack of time and effort put into it. When I think about what it would be like to run a business like that full-time... The military doesn't demand that much personal investment in work in comparison. This year I am forced to acknowledge the possibility that I just may not have a small business ownership in me. Or at least, not a particularly successful one. On the bright side, I did not incur any debt at it so far.

I would also love to report that Beth's pregnancy signaled a cessation of worry and turnmoil about the future of our family. This is not precisely true. All that's different is that instead of a black cloud over my head every day, it's a big, happy pink or baby blue cloud. I have merely traded one set of worries and insecurities for another. I will sure as hell take the set of worries that I've got NOW over the ones I had last September when we saw our hopes turn to sorrow after the second miscarriage. Nonetheless, a pregnant woman and imminent addition to the family is no small responsibility. There continue to be new and unexpected adventures into this unknown territory on a daily basis. And I am happy to report that they are almost entirely fun, amusing, heartwarming, and exciting adventures. Almost.

Which brings me to the real point of all this: 2006 a year in which I was 27 years old, marks possibly the first year of my life where the problems of my parents have become my own problems. I suppose in some circles, that's what people consider the final signal that I have grown up. Not just up, but all the way up. I told Beth in an email a few days ago that since the baby has been on the way, I have stopped feeling like one of the juvenile lions from the National Geographic specials and I've literally become the alpha male of my own little pryde. Not just the kids that are still in school, but the very young adults that are just now getting their first and second post-college work years in seem just comically young and inexperienced to me. I've started noticing the structure beneath the structure.

This journal entry every year has traditionally been about me bitching and moaning that my friends are so far away and that the summer represents a time of work and lonliness. But as many of you know, I make very firm New Year's resolutions. Three of them for 2006 were, as follows:

1) Publish Red Ivy Afternoon.
2) Get Beth pregnant and have a healthy baby.
3) Keep in better touch with my friends.

The first two are finished, the third I'm working on. I haven't actually been able to physically hang out with any of my buddies yet this year, though that will hopefully change next month if the plans come together. Nonetheless, I have been in regular contact with most of them via email and phone all year. This is something of a departure for me, since I hate calling people on the phone and much of my email traffic is to my friend and editor Paul regarding number 1 on that list. Nonetheless, this year I felt much better than I have in a long time about keeping up with my friends and not letting them slip away.

There was a fourth resolution, by the way, which I will tell you about once it's over, which should, if I'm lucky, be sometime later this week.

In any case, this year's Memorial Day entry finds me in a place where I am accepting and learning to deal with new responsibilities of every sort. I am happy to report that the responsibilities that I have taken on have almost invariably improved my life in one way or another. I took on the yoke of Chief Reviewer and eventually Associate Editor of, in return I saw the highly-professional publication of my best fiction work to date. I traded in my hot-rod Mustang for a very respectable Volvo and was rewarded with an endlessly more functional, useful, and comfortable set of wheels. And for all of its minor stresses, I cannot be more thrilled that my first child is on the way. In the entry below, you will find a downloadable audio file of its heartbeat, which I have been listening to with our rented doppler like the men in the submarine from Das Boot.

I chose to forego a long weekend or vacation so I could save the time off and go to Beth's doctor appointments with her, and I was rewarded with the amazing experience of seeing the little Baby Brand on the ultrasound slowly rotate and twitch it's hand at me as if to say "hi Daddy, I'm here, and I can see you."

Something tells me that soon I am going to be intensely concerned with how that little muffin sees me. Will I measure up in its eyes? It's not hard to see how maybe right now, right at this particular time in my life, a little bit of familiarity with these sorts of responsibilities is exactly what I needed.

Oh, and about that Alpha lion thing...

Baby Brand's heartbeat

Right Click and choose "Save As" to listen to a clip of Baby Brand's heart beating.

Thump thump thump thump...

I once heard "On The Beach" referred to as "The saddest book ever written". I'm not sure about that, but it certainly is sad.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Memorial Day Retrospective

In preparation for this holiday, this is the one that started it all, six years ago.

May 29, 2000 (Memorial Day)
The real world is out there. We're living our isolated lives in a series of punctuated microcosms. We're putting our belts through the loops and tacking down our ties. We're saying "How may I help you" and "Please come again", and sometimes really meaning it. We're climbing the ladder and bucking for jobs, and kicking our dogs when we get home because the real dogs can't be kicked. We're making love on the weekends and just going to sleep during the week. We're making our Slim Fast and taking our vitamins and nipping a bottle of Mad Dog 20 20 before bed. We're fighting the ones we love and treating the assholes like gold. We're waiting for the other shoe to drop and spending more than we can afford. We're longing for real company and at the same time thinking how deliciously simple it was to just be alone. We're living in the same town we've lived in our whole lives. A safe town, a quiet town, a town we know. We're watching people die in other towns in other countries and shrugging as we guzzle our orange juice as we dash out the door for another 9 hour day in the rat race. We're wishing we were creative enough to live by our creativity and not possessed of such usefulness in a menial task. We're searching for satisfaction in a sea of promises with no bottom. We're calling it living and thinking of it as dying. We're seeing better things on the horizon, and missing the beauty at our feet. We're marching into adulthood knowing that none of us will get out alive. Some of us will stand and be recognized; some will stand and be destroyed. Some of us will change lives from the cockpit, others will change lives from arm's length.
What will you do?
Have a nice memorial day if I don't talk to you.

On The Beach

My 24 month old nephew Charlie takes his first steps on a beach.

Reading: On The Beach by Nevil Shute
Iota Cycle by Russel Lutz
The Perfect Revolution by Oscar Deadwood
Listening: "Petals" - The Honorary Title
Watching: A Discovery Times special about US SOCOM.
Working: Reviews for Silverthought, playing Super Nintendo ROMs.
Fetus is Craving: New designer shoes.

I remember in college that I used to positively loathe Memorial Day because it represented the beginning of the period of each year where I would be stuck in upstate NY while many (not all, but many) of my friends would be scattered to their respective home states for three months. I'd have to live at home and be stuck for 9 hours a day working in that Orthopedic Lab with people all my parents' age. The change was so jarring and so unwelcome that I used to dread this weekend for weeks beforehand. I have a loose tradition of writing a short essay about my life each Memorial Day, the first of which coincides interestingly with the same year that DyingDays was founded. Now, of course, I love Memorial Day like every other working stiff because it is the first long weekend of the entire year. Not counting Easter, of course, because for medical personnel we get zilch for national holidays until Memorial Day. In any case, the meaning this day has for me goes back a long way, and I'll have to give some thought as to what I want to say about it tomorrow.



Ironically, I went to an E/B Games yesterday in search of something for either my computer or PS2, and I walked out feeling slightly deppressed. Nothing looked even mildly interesting. It was either TRUE CRIME: NEW YORK CITY or NBA 2006, and not a whole lot in between. I was in the mood for a space-type shooter like the old Wing Commander and Starfox series and oddly these types of games are just not in vogue right now. Not a single title looked interesting, so I went home and downloaded a Super Nintendo emulator program and the ROMS for Starfox and Wing Commander. My wife looked at my as if I was insane.

"The games look so primitive," she said.

Yeah, it's true. Compared to the graphics engines of most recent games, Wing Commander looks visually like a piece of shit. The only difference is that Wing Commander is almost non-stop action and actually requires some skill to play succesfully. It's neither a linear story nor an interactive movie. It really is a space-dogfighting game unlike anything else made in the last 15 years or so.

Poor Britney

Yes, I watched the stupid tape where she apparently almost drops little SPF, but clearly the problem is just that she's wearing shoes that are too tall and her center of gravity is off due to the baby weight/baby.

With this in mind, Beth and I went shopping for shoes yesterday and I insisted on the flattest shoes we could find. Never mind that they are Paul Green and cost almost as much as my digital camera... I have visions these days of nasty spills on concrete stairs or broken ankles.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Reading: The Da Vinci Code (was this supposed to be a fast read?)
Watching: Bringing Home Baby, episode: "Daddy's Little Buddy"
Listening: Melissa Etheridge "Come to my Window" (iTunes originals)
Working: Red Ivy Afternoon official homepage.
Fetus is Craving: Backrubs, cherry creme soda, sleep.

Writing page updated.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Chicago L

Ever wondered what it's like coming home from work in Chicago if you have to take the L? Since my nifty cell phone takes video, I thought I'd show you. NOTE: All videos open in Quicktime.

Crossing Michigan Ave at rush hour:

Getting on and riding the Red line underground downtown, eventually emerging between North and Clybourn and Diversey.

Boarding and riding the truly elevated Purple line at Fullerton to Evanston.

And a picture of a Lamborgini that I passed outside of some hotel or another. This might have been the Water Tower, I don't remember.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Vignette Bricks

I thought I was the only kid in the world that used to do this. It occurred to me the other day that the reason Lego's were so great was because my generation lacked the expansive and creative video games that the newest generation has. My video games largely came in a large cardboard box with 550 pieces and some assembly (and imagination) required.

Baby Brand twitches his/her hand at me

So we're in the OB/GYN office today for Beth's first check-up with the baby, and we get to see the ultrasound again. Now granted, we've been listening to Baby Brand's heartbeat for weeks on the fetal doppler that we rented (no, not an actual ultrasound like Tom Cruise, just a little cheapo Baby Beat that can pick up the sound of the baby's heartbeat). Well, not only does the picture on the ultrasound actually LOOK like a little baby, but I'll be damned if he/she didn't roll over and twitch his/her little arm at me. It's one thing to see something like that materialize on a sonar screen, but when it starts moving and you can see the motion in its head and arm... it was an incredible thrill. I haven't felt like that in years and years. Nothing has seemed so outlandishly exciting in my adult life.

Just a little twitch, like a wave or a hip-hop dance move.

THX 1138

All I can say is.... wow. I have no idea why I waited so long to finally watch it, but it's absolutely stunning. It may be one of the best sci-fi films I've ever seen. The camera work and visuals rival anything I've seen in film, and it's so incredibly well put together that it stands up to the best new sci fi more than 30 years later. This is an amazing movie.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Making of Red Ivy Afternoon


Finished The Making of Red Ivy Afternoon.

Download it here:
Right click and choose "Save Target As". Takes approx. 15 minutes to download if you have DSL.
It's 75mb, so it may take a while depending on your connection. Running time 16 minutes 8 seconds. Opens with Quicktime.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

I spent, oh, probably 12+ hours in front of the computer today working on a video featurette to post on as a sort of promotional material for the upcoming release of Red Ivy Afternoon. I had originally intended to put up the video, which is a pretty impressive 18 minutes long, as an additional little fun thing for the site and the book, but I've been giving some consideration to the idea of posting it before the release of the book, and maybe drumming up some extra sales. In any case, now I know what Paul meant when he said he was "rendering" video. What it means is basically you push a button and watch your computer interpret a video file for... a very long time.

I shot the main portion of the video this morning while Beth was out. There's something sort of embarassing about watching an hour of uncut footage of me talking to myself. At one point, I coughed and excused myself to the digital camera.

The process of getting the clips aligned and splicing in music and using still frame images and transitions and titles... more than anything else, it brings back memories of the old videotape from college that I made of all my friends. At some point, I'm going to have to make a digital copy of that. I don't even own a VCR anymore.

Reading: The Da Vinci Code
Watching: Pretty Persuasion (Evan Rachel Wood, Ron Livingston, James Woods)
Listening: The Shins - "New Slang"
Working: The Making of Red Ivy Afternoon"
Fetus is Craving: Heat. Our furnace was turned off two weeks ago and it's something like 45 degrees outside. We're freezing our balls off.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I'm not sure why I find this site so addictive, but I do. It's an exhaustive list of obscure (and not-so-obscure) toys from the 1980's. I guess for a kid raised on consumer culture, this is like a sort of bible. Water cooler talk at work today focused around seeing who could come up with the most obscure late-80's cartoon or line of toys. I had them going for a while with Max Steele's RoboForce, but my friend James eventually trumped that with the DinoRiders.

In an era that pre-dates Reality TV, edutainment, pornified adolescent culture, and before the teeny-bopper personality cult was perfected, the closest thing that my generation had to real life heroes were these incredibly imaginative, and sometimes absolutely retarded, fantasy action figures.

In the 90's, we laughed when Dr. Evil asked for "sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads." Someone at Mattel or Tyco or any of a dozen toy companies in the 80's, however, made a boatload of money green-lighting the idea of dinosaurs that were harnessed with laser beams and ridden like horses by competing bands of aliens. I remember when these things were hot, as all toys were for about a year or so back then; they were so expensive that I never got any as gifts or could persuade my parents to buy them. I suppose it's possible that my parents were just intelligent enough to make the executive decision that dinosaurs with laser beams wasn't something that deserved a spending spree, but I tend to think that the reality is that maybe kids today have such idiotic and meaningless toys because somewhere along the line parents just decided that fifty or sixty separate action figure lines was... well, a little overboard.

I never owned a Sky Commander toy, either, though I desperately emulated their gimmick with my other toys: machines that hung suspended from cables like gondolas. That's all. Just space-toy like machines, with little men inside who had guns. There was a comic book story somewhere... Only $19.95, each sold seperately. In 1988 dollars, during which minimum wage was $3.35/hr.

The lengths to which my parents probably went to satisfy my craving for each and every one of the thousands of action figures available is enough to make the adult me shudder. My neices and nephews are deppressingly infatuated with non-sensical, boring, inert characters like Elmo, Dora the Explorer, the Twitches, SpongeBob Squarepants, Barney, and so forth. My parents would be much more familiar with names like The Visionaries, C.O.P.S., GI Joe, the Masters of the Universe, Battle Beasts, Army Ants (if there ever was a bigger shovel of schtick, I never saw it), Construx, Laser Tag and it's marginally less cool but better marketed competitor Photon, StarCom, The Thundercats, the Transformers, Voltron, Captain Power...

Like I said, there were scores, if not hundreds, of lines of toys.

Also check out for an exhaustive list. Man, does that bring back some memories. Children of the 60's and 70's had memories of things like baseball heroes and men walking on the moon, and other real-life heroes. Children of the late 90's and early 00's have strange, surreal, politically-correct icons that often tie closely into one-shot movies or entrenched cultural phenomena like Dora the Explorer. But the children of the 80's... we had every kind of imaginative playtime fantasy you could possibly imagine brought to life in a pre-digital video-game orgy of accumulative consumption.

This dynastic sort of cultural legacy is going to be inspiring nostalgia for a looooong time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Reading: "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown
Watching: American Idol. Chris just ran out of gas I guess. Oh well.
Listening: Blue October - "Hate Me", Barenaked Ladies - "One Week" (iTunes originals), Melissa Etheridge - "Come to my Window" (iTunes originals), Michelle Featherstone - "Waiting for Sunday"
Working: Not much at all.
Fetus is Craving: Macaroni and Cheese, Daddy.

Sorry I've been so scarce. My office is having a large interior build-out happening in the space that used to contain my desk, so I'm currently homeless. Or, if not homeless, more like squatting in a filing cabinet at the nurse's station. I won't have my desk back until probably mid-June, so until then I'm going to be limited to when and where I'm able to log in and say hello or post. Fortunately, all of this chaos coincided with the completion of post-production on Red Ivy Afternoon, which is finished and should be available very soon now.

The baby's heart is thumping along nicely on the rented (and hilariously dumbed-down) doppler unit. 169 beats per minute today. I very nearly made the horrific mistake of buying Beth something for Mother's day, when one of my co-workers did me the favor of letting me in on the apparently VERY bad mojo of doing so. He was so adamant that I not buy Beth anything for fear of jinxing the pregnancy that it actually startled me a little. I had never heard of this particular faux-pas, but I guess I'm the only one. My other coworkers backed him up. Shrug.

Still waiting to hear about the IPPY award for Silverthought: Ignition. I don't know why I'm so excited about this, given that my stories only comprise a very small portion of the entire work. I've been checking my email every half hour all day. Maybe that's not the sort of obsessive thing you should admit to on the internet.

I'm pretty much taking a creative hiatus at the moment. Catching up on my reading, downloading some new music, playing a terrific computer game called Dawn of War, and just basically biding my time. That fluttery little heartbeat on the doppler is pretty mesmerising. I'm going to go to Radio shack and buy a male-male 1.8" cord to output the headphone jack right into my audio card and make an MP3 out of it. I still have the phone messages from when my family members found out Beth was pregnant again, I'm thinking of making a CD out of them for the baby to listen to when it's grown up. Maybe I can play it at his/her wedding any make everyone bawl. Muhahahaha.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Baby Beat

We got the doppler that Beth rented today and I heard my baby's heart beat for the first time this evening. I'll try to make an MP3 of it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Today's song

This is an oldie but a goodie:

Bob Dylan - "Romance in Durango"
(from the album Desire with Joan Baez)

Was that the thunder that I heard
My head is vibrating I feel a sharp pain
Come sit by me, don't say a word
Oh can it be that I am slain?

Quick Magdelena, take my gun
Look up in the hills, that flash of light
Aim well, my little one
We may not make it through the night

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Why does Jewel's new album suck so much?

You know, there's something a little heart-breaking about this. It would be like Sarah McLachlan making a techno album, and then half a dozen REALLY awful poppy follow-ups. I used to prefer Jewel to Sarah just because Jewel seemed to have a more diverse musical background and a little more creative range (a capella, heck yodeling!), but the last few records she's done are really almost inexcusable.

With people like Feist and Rilo Kiley and Sia and KT Tunstall and Michelle Featherstone, I just can no longer afford to humor Jewel's craptastic songbook. Not a single downloadable song from the new album...

I downloaded Michelle Featherstone's "Coffee and Cigarettes" and I can't stop listening to it.

Silverthought: Ignition nominated

The sci-fi anthology Silverthought: Ignition has been nominated for the IPPY (Independent Publishing) award for science fiction and fantasy for 2006. There are five finalist titles, and Silverthought: Ignition is one of them. The winner is going to be announced on May 10 (next wednesday).

For those just tuning in, Silverthought: Ignition is one of the first books published by Silverthought Press, of which I am an associate editor. Included in the book are two of my short stories "Cameron's Encyclopedia" and "The Cabana".

So, do me a favor and keep your fingers crossed. One of the other five finalists amazingly is also a Silverthought book, Broken the final book in Paul Hughes's sci-fi trilogy.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Black Horse & The Cherry Tree

It's been a while since I've gotten lit up on a school night. On the bright side, I did discover a great tune called "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" by KT Tunstall. Download it, if you want a song to groove its way into your soul. Watching Wedding Crashers, pretty damn funny.

Monday, May 01, 2006

This makes me smile.

Reading: Nothing.
Watching: Nothing.
Listening: Nothing.
Working: Too much.
Fetus is craving: Silence.