That’s an eleven-minute video, but just watch it, okay? Or if you must watch only a part, start from the 4:00 mark and see the cool soloing.
On an instrument-by-instrument basis, there isn’t a better rock band in the world than Dream Theater.
I’ve been boycotting Dream Theater for the past few years because the band dismissed its founding (and my favorite) member, Mike Portnoy. Someday I will come around and listen to the material with the new drummer, Mike Mangini, who by all accounts is doing quite well. I also suspect that Portnoy will be back with the band some time, maybe in the distant future, but eventually. Maybe I’ll loosen up then.
Bands change members, especially metal bands and progressive rock bands, and DT is a progressive metal band, so of course it’s doubly vulnerable. It’s been through three (excellent) keyboardists, for one thing, but the lineup had been very stable for a long time, through the band’s best stretch of albums. And I did not take kindly to the decision by the band to move on without its creative heart.
Their recorded output is enormous, and I only own a few albums and a couple of official bootlegs, so I think I’ll take this time in the interim to relax my boycott a little and fill in my collection of pre-Mangini DT.
James LaBrie, the lead singer, is probably the weakest link, and the only member of the classic lineup you wouldn’t put in the top twenty at his instrument.
Mike Portnoy is an unbelievable, versatile, expressive, thoughtful drummer. Easily one of the best, perhaps the second best in rock and roll, behind Rush’s Neil Peart.
John Petrucci is one of the underpraised guitarists. What always blows me away about his playing is how effortless hemakes it look.
I imagine that John Myung on bass guitar is, now that Portnoy isn’t in the band, the musical center of almost everything the band does. He must now the sound of DT (I wouldn’t know because I haven’t heard it!). And what a player!
And Jordan Rudess on keys is the best in the world. There was a point in the past few years where he surpassed Rick Wakeman.
Such an amazing collection of musicians. I’m thinking of them this morning because I received in the mail two official bootlegs. One is Dream Theater performing Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast album in its entirety, live in concert, and the other is Dream Theater performing Metallica’s Master of Puppets album live in its entirety. Two amazing performances.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Harcourt Brace & Company, 2014
Josh Bell, the narrator of Kwame Alexander’s Newbery Medal recipient The Crossover, lives to play basketball. He and his twin brother Jordan are a double threat on the court: Josh slam dunks the ball, while Jordan is money from the arc when he gets an open look. They are cheered on by their father Chuck, a former player in the NBA, and their mother, the assistant principal at their school. The brothers’ goal is to lead their middle-school team to a perfect record, but midway through the season, a pretty girl in pink court-shoes arrives at school and Jordan’s attention is suddenly divided. Add a few difficulties in school and some tension between his parents, and Josh has problems with the way things are changing.
Remember the greats,
my dad likes to gloat:
I balled with Magic and the Goat.
But tricks are for kids, I reply.
Don’t need your pets
my game’s so
Your dad’s old school,
like an ol’ Chevette.
You’re fresh and new,
like a red Corvette.
Your game so sweet, it’s a crêpes suzette.
Each time you play
it’s ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL net.
If anyone else called me
fresh and sweet,
I’d burn mad as a flame.
But I know she’s only talking about my game.
See, when I play ball,
I’m on fire. When I shoot, I inspire.
The hoop’s for sale, and I’m the buyer.
The Crossover is a novel written completely in verse. The author’s style moves between freeverse and freestyle, sometimes reading like E.E.. Cummings and other times like A Tribe Called Quest. It’s a good mix, and the poems are well-paced little snapshots of action and exposition, sometimes providing the play-by-play of a basketball game and then recapping or defining the action with an interpretation or explication.
Josh has a lot of things going on, and Alexander does a great job of getting into his head as he processes issues of family, brotherhood, identity, romance, competition, and ambition. I’m not a big fan of using the field of play as metaphor in serious literature, but a pass can be written for books aimed at younger readers who might not find it cliche. The author makes a questionable decision near the end that doesn’t ruin the story, but I can think of better reasons to decide the opposite, which does count (in a small way) negatively against the book.
Still, it’s certainly Newbery worthy, something not every recent winner can claim, and it’s a lot of fun to read aloud. Grown-ups should be cautioned to read the book all the way through before recommending it to younger (below fourth grade) readers.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hr Bookstore by Robin Sloane
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
Clay Jannon is a mid-twenties victim of downsizing in Silicon Valley. His competence with digital design proves to be less in-demand than he expected, and he finds himself desperate to take any job that will pay the rent. At his rock-bottom moment, he walks into the titular Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hr Bookstore, a crazy space with shelves reaching two or three stories high, loaded with books that seem to contain gibberish. The patrons are few in number but specific in need, entering the store at all hours of the day or night to return one book and ask for another.
It’s not long before Clay is working on the puzzle presented by these books and these borrowers. With help from a special-effects-artist roommate and a love interest who works at Google, Clay is soon not only moving in on strange discoveries about the bookstore and its mysterious owner, but he becomes personally invested, and he brings his friends along with him.
Author Robin Sloane creates an interesting story that puzzle-lovers will find difficult to put down. His prose is voicy as heck, something that can teeter between annoying and appealing:
I run my fingers through her hair, which is still damp from the shower. She smells like citrus.
“I just don’t get it,” she says, twisting back around to look up at me. “How can you stand it that our lives are so short? They’re so short, Clay.”
To be honest, my life has exhibited many strange and sometimes troubling characteristics, but shortness is not one of them. It feels like an eternity since I started school and a techo-social epoch since I moved to San Francisco. My phone couldn’t even connect to the internet back then.
“Every day you learn something amazing,” Kat says [possible spoiler removed]—she pauses and gapes for effect, and it makes me laugh—“and you realize there’s so much more waiting. Eighty years isn’t enough. Or a hundred. Whatever. It’s just not.” Her voice goes a little ragged, and I realize how deep this current runs within Kat Potente.
I lean down, kiss her above the ear, and whisper, “Would you really freeze your head?”
“I would absolutely, positively freeze my head.” She looks up at me and her face is serious. “I’d freeze yours, too. And in a thousand years, you’d thank me.”
But the likability of his characters, especially as they interact with his narrator, tilts the balance in appealing’s favor. Product-specific references, such as Kindle and Google, set the story solidly in today’s real world, but they make me wonder if this novel will feel dated in a few years. Yet they also present a few existential questions about how new technology and old technology can complement each other. Thousands of years after they were written, the words of the Bible and Homer are still with us; will Google still be with us even a hundred years from now?
There is a religious theme that I won’t explore here, and for much of the second half of the novel, the theme has the potential to ruin the mystery-solving aspect of the story. It manages to find some balance without going too new-agey or feel-goody, so that the end is satisfying at worst, ‘though it lacks a meaningful something deep that’s carryable for much longer after closing the back cover.
It’s an engaging, enjoyable read. I question its staying power and shelf life, but a questionable durability doesn’t erase the few hours of genuine pleasure this novel gave me. It’s tough to imagine very many people not at least enjoying swimming through its pages.
I haven’t seen R in person in a million years, and although I am not dreading it, I dread the conversation that I am pretty sure will take place. She will say, “How have you been?”
What will I say?
(a) “What’s it to you?” (this would be my first impulse)
(b) “Great! Just great!” (this would be the easy answer)
(c) “Mostly I’m okay, but I’m constantly, deeply sad almost all the time and keep myself busy so I can be other things too.” (part one of the true answer)
(d) “I don’t really have anyting to complain about, but there is now a ceiling on my happiness, and it’s not really that high a ceiling.” (part two of the true answer)
(e) “I’ve been expecting you to ask me this question, so for the sake of our being able to keep talking, I need to know how honest you want me to be.”
I really think (e) would be the best, most productive answer, but what if she honestly responds with, “I need you to be only as honest as will allow us to continue to have civil conversation and not ruin this day for all our friends?” Maybe that’s the best response anyway, to which I will give my (b) answer, or possibly (d) if I can see some amount of receptiveness in her eyes and if her eyes haven’t changed much.
I’m thinking of this because I’ve been in more and more contact lately with the friends we have in common, something that worries me. I’ve mostly removed the filter from my mouth that once kept me from even saying her name, so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. Every time I say it, I feel all the weight of the misery I’ve been in, not to mention the weight of the discomfort I imagine I’ve caused everyone by not being the gracious loser. “R and I used to talk about…” “Once, R said…” “When I was teaching with R, she…”
I just let it go now. And it’s caused me to feel a lot less pain, something I wouldn’t have predicted. If R and I ever find ourselves in each other’s lives again, I think the only way we’ll ever really be friends is if we can acknowledge the realness of our very long, very confusing, but very close relationship. I don’t know if her relationship with her family would allow that, to be honest. I had a conversation with her husband once, in a Starbucks when we ran into each other (unlike R, he’s made multiple unexpected appearances in my life), and he was candid about my role in her life before she knew him, so maybe we can all be candid up to a point.
I saw Inside Out this week and slept through most of it, not because it was boring but because I was so tired. What I caught of it, though, reinforces something I’ve felt for a very long time: that sadness is an important part of our growing up. I’m sad. Like, almost all the time, and while a lot of people think it’s an indulgence to swim around in it, as if it’s some kind of black jacket I wear so people know I’m moody and artistic, I think there’s more to it than that. Some of us are just sad.
One of the guys I still think of as my best friend seems to know very little of sadness, and I envy him, but I don’t think it’s a talent or skill or even tendency. His life has just been pretty good, while mine, at least in ways that are important to me, has been pretty lousy. I know I brought most of that lousiness on myself, and I am to blame for everything miserable that’s ever happened to me, and I deserve far worse, but they are still things that happened to me.
He’s married now, in kind of a strange way that now seems to make total sense. Because he’s not online much and I never see him in person anymore, I’ve gotten to know his wife on FB and Instagram. We have a few things in common besides our admiration for my friend, and it just all makes sense. He’s had a good, happy life, and there’s really no reason to expect it to be otherwise for a really long time.
We’re such opposites.
I’m writing all this mostly because I really think that maybe this is my life, and maybe this is my life for a reason. If I were married (to whomever) and had kids now, I would still be in the classroom, still teaching too many subjects and working too hard at it, and my lifelong ambition of being a career novelist would be one of those things I’d have traded in for all the other blessings.
My friends have spouses and children, and I can see that they’re happy and blessed. I don’t honestly know if that would do it for me. I might longingly hold on to some pipe dream of writing a novel, and it would never happen.
It still might never happen. But I’m here, and I’m doing this, and I’m not lonely and I live a pretty good life, and I’m still finding time, once in a while, to work on the writing. I write every day now, most of it for some kind of pay, and I squeeze in time to work on the personal writing, and who knows where that will lead, but at least I’m still working on it. My life, as it is now with all its low-ceilinged happiness and deep, yawing sadness, allows for it, and I am embracing it.
I don’t like the way the WP mobile app manages photos, so if I decide to put a few photos in this, you’ll have to wait to see them. I’m typing this up on the tablet while enoying a waffle at the 24-hour cafe in town.
There are several film reviews to post. They’re already written but I haven’t done the searching for photos yet to post with the reviews, and you know. I want my reviews to be pretty.
When I was at the birthday dinner with my family last month, my niece asked me if I play Tsum Tsum. I was familiar with it, of course, and I even knew what kind of game it was, but I hadn’t played it and told her so. She’s twenty, and I love her, but we’re not especially close. We’re definitely not as close as I always wished we’d become. Yeah, I was a lousy uncle. So I said, “I’ll play it if you want me to.”
“Yeah, you should play,” she said, “so you can send me hearts.”
I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I had a good idea, having been a short-lived Candy Crush Saga player (once I figured out that the social aspect of it was a total contrivance that had nothing to do with the game, I was done). That night, I downloaded the game and that was the end of my life. I was hooked.
I’m still hooked, although I haven’t had nearly as much time lately to play it. I generally save an hour before bed, but that doesn’t always happen. If you’re not playing it, I can’t say I recommend it, even though it’s fun and addicting. There are a ton of games out there just like it, but this one is kind of on cute steroids. And you gain virtual coins as you play, which you can spend on more Tsums, which just adds to the cuteness. At first, my goal was just to get a Baymax Tsum, but because the purchases are randomly selected, I couldn’t just save up the coins to buy Baymax. I had to buy a box, and there’s no telling which Tsum is in a box when you purchase it. Ugh.
It took me a month to get that Baymax. And by then it was just a habit already. If you are playing it, my LINE name is “scrivener,” so add me and we can send each other hearts.
I’m still watching Mom, and it has continued not to disappoint. Anna Faris is just great, and the on-screen rapport she has with Allison Janney is excellent. The Big Bang Theory is still my favorite show, but it may be time to put it to rest. There have been moments when the show remembers what it’s about (relationships!), little moments with just Sheldon and Penny or just Sheldon and Leonard that have been excellent, little throwbacks to when the series focused on those three characters, but the cast has gotten too big. I mean what is considered the main cast. The show is at its best when Leonard, Sheldon, and Penny are at the center of the story with the others in support. But now it’s gone and made stars of them all, and the show’s just not big enough for that. For all its many characters, M*A*S*H was a show about Hawkeye Pierce, and it never forgot that. TBBT seems to have forgotten.
The big news in some online circles I am peripherally part of is Fresh off the Boat, which I have been writing reviews of for <a href=”http://www.8asians.com/author/scrivener/”>8Asians</a>. I admire what it’s trying to do, and it’s good for a couple of laugh-aloud moments each week so far. My connection to that website means I sometimes get to watch episodes before they air, and we’ve been getting my non-spoiler reviews up the morning before they air. That’s kind of fun, and I’m enjoying writing the reviews. Click the link to see a list of my reviews.
I’m 70% of the way through the third book in Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy. It’s pretty dang good, but I’ve been stalled in the same spot for a couple of weeks now, because I know that the next time I pick it up to read, I’m not putting it down until I’m done, and I haven’t had that kind of sustained time lately. Depending on thow this ends, it might be a better series overall than The Hunger Games, and it’s already better than Divergent.
The day before I interviewed for that job with the engineering firm, I bought a new LED television. I’ve been watching the TV I bought the year before I finished college (1994), and it’s been on its last legs for a while. So since Santa Parents were generous this year, I used part of my Christmas gift to buy a nice-looking 32″ Samsung at Costco.
That was six weeks ago, and it’s still in the box. I got it home and told myself I wouldn’t set it up until I have a couple of the storage spaces in my house cleaned up and organized first. I’m getting there, but it’s been a long, slow process because I’m trying to do it right. I even bought a new Dustbuster (birthday money!) so I could get into those weird spaces. If I get as much done tonight as I have in mind, I’ll be able to move a few things into that space, which means newly open space for my new TV. Here’s hoping.
This is kind of stupid, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to with the new TV is seeing how all my old game systems look plugged into it. A photographic report on that is definitely forthcoming.
Okay. Going to go for a long walk before I finish cleaning out my old office at the community college. That’s the big project for today. *sigh*
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett, etc. Directed by Peter Jackson.
The first installment in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy is my favorite; in fact it was my favorite film of 2012. I found the second chapter kind of scattered, with almost mind-numbing action sequences separated by not enough meaningful character development. It seemed the things I enjoyed most about the first film were minimized in the second, and the things I enjoyed least were maximized. This third episode’s title implied lots of action, as did Jackson’s record, but would it contain enough of the ponderousness, enough of the small moments I loved best about the first film, to satisfy me? That was the big question for me as I got comfortable for the very long marathon showing of all three films.
It was nice to experience those first two films again, and I discovered more to like about that second film. It was also really good just to review the story threads that were leading themselves to this final confrontation at the Lonely Mountain.
The film begins about fifteen minutes before the spot where the second film should have ended, with the dragon Smaug taking out his wrath on Laketown. We are then re-introduced to the other plot lines, with Gandalf confronting someone (you know who it is), the dwarfs reclaiming their mountain, the elves peeking in to see what everyone’s up to, the residents of Laketown seeking refuge, and Bilbo caught hopelessly and helplessly in the middle, seemingly little more than a companion now that his primary role as thief has been fulfilled.
The action is long, and only mildly interesting to me, ‘though I confess I enjoyed most of Smaug’s attack on Laketown, and there is an element to Thorin’s confrontation with Azog that I found tense, emotional, and quite rewarding. But the best parts are centered on our title character, the Hobbit who only wants to help out if he can. Bilbo Baggins spends one-on-one time with Thorin, Balin, and Gandalf, and these moments are laden with sentimentality, grace, sorrow, and love, those elements that make this series so much more than three-hour commercials for toys or mind-numbing showcases for computer technology. Fittingly it is Bilbo who brings everything into focus, who brings the gigantic, epic war down to its smallest, purest elements. To Bilbo, the magical ring stolen from Golem is little more than a useful curiosity; the return of the dwarfs to Erebor is a homecoming; Gandalf the Grey is a crafter of fireworks. And Bilbo, a hero to the core, is just a Hobbit helping his friends before returning to his garden.
There is a moment that is extremely easy to look past, a strange, quiet pause that seems laden with nothing. So often, the quiet moments in good films like this are there to make one think of something; the viewer pays attention to what is not said, and gleans some kind of insight into the characters and story. This moment, however, which Bilbo spends with Gandalf, is little more than what it is, just a quiet moment, a shared minute of companionship, and while a lot can be read into it, my own take is that six movies’ worth of beheadings, sword fights, and yelling is the noise that obscures the signal of six movies’ one meaning. One of the characters puts it into words later, but that seems extraneous to me, as wonderful a dialogue as it is. I’ve given it some thought, and it’s the best scene in the whole six-film body of work.
It’s so easy to take this trilogy for granted, to think of it as merely a three-film return to familiar, lucrative ground for a film-maker who has done little else worth commenting on. But this trilogy stands on its own as a remarkable accomplishment in playing big while staying small, something I feel I will always treasure as a lifelong lover of movies.
93/100 (but this film elevates the whole trilogy to 96)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland.
If you’ve seen and enjoyed the first two Hunger Games movies, you might as well see this, the third installment of series. Most of the good stuff from its predecessors is here, minus the actual games mentioned in the title. The revolution is taking hold, and Katniss Everdeen, such an inspiration to the oppressed districts in her role as champion from District 12, takes a new role as steam gathers for war against the government.
The one new character worth noting is Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin, who is very well cast, especially if you’ve read the novel and know what happens in what will be the fourth movie in the series. The others, minus the terrific Lenny Kravitz, are here again, as good or as bad as they’ve been so far. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is still outstanding, while Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as Peeta and Gale are as stiff and uninteresting as they’ve ever been. Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy is great and probably deserving of Oscar consideration, though it will never get it. And as I mention in my review of Catching Fire, Elizabeth Banks somehow manages to turn Effie Trinket into someone you actually like, developing her character in ways I never imagined.
It ends pretty much where you imagine it will. Looking forward to the final chapter.
I’m a little behind on my film reviews for 2014. Going to spend the next few days getting caught up.
Ender’s Game (2013)
Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld.
Directed by Gavin Hood.
Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is a heck of a novel, one of those rare science fiction stories able to take hold of fans and non-fans of the genre. I’ve never really understood why it’s as popular as it is. It has great characters, a great story, and great action sequences, but lots of science fiction does, and nothing I’ve read in either SF or fantasy is as universally beloved.
Which means that the film based upon it comes in with all the advantages and disadvantages of an expectant, rabid fandom. I’m usually the sort who’s willing to accept a film adaptation on its own terms, comparing it to its source but not holding against it its inability to be as good. I think this makes me an ideal audience for a movie like this, and I can forgive its leaving out some pretty neat things, but I find it a lot harder to forgive bad movie-making decisions.
For those unfamiliar, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a gifted boy in some future version of earth that has survived an attack by an alien race. Earth’s government is certain that the enemy is coming back for another shot, so it prepares by training smart young boys and girls for the impending war. Ender demonstrates early tactical and interpersonal brilliance, as his instructors put him through increasingly difficult training tasks.
There’s more to it than that, but most of what’s left is best left to the viewer to discover, and my best advice about that is to see the movie if you’ve enjoyed the novel. It just seems like something you should do, even knowing that it’s not very much of a film. The film cost more than a hundred million dollars to make, but except for the very good sequences in the battle room (an arena where combat simulations are contested), most of the movie looks and sounds very cheaply made. One friend compared its look and feel to a typical SyFy Channel film, and while that seems a bit harsh, I have to concede that it’s what I thought, too. All I’m going to say about the acting is that everyone tries, but it’s just not very good. Viola Davis is maybe the one exception.
Worse, the dialogue is painfully obvious, cliche, and cheap, something I did not observe in the novel, and I re-read the novel very recently in preparation for this movie. Emerging at a time when such recently successful and well-made adaptations as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Divergent (which was released a few months after), Ender’s Game suffers by comparison, and although it has a few things to recommend it, it has as many shortcomings. So if you haven’t read the novel, toss a coin.
Performance: The quality of an AC/DC performance hinges on Brian Johnson’s ability to sound semi-close to his records, something he doesn’t always pull off. But he did it this time. Angus seemed a little lackluster, but I’m cutting him slack because he’s like seventy. I was curious about who was on rhythm guitar and it turns out it’s Stevie Young, a nephew of Angus and Malcolm, so that’s cool.
Best new artist: Please, not Iggy and not Sam. Ugh. It’s Sam. HE SUCKS! Man, would I have loved to see Bastille get that, but it’s amazing enough that Bastille was nominated.
Performance: Jessie J with Tom Jones doing “Unchained Melody.” I hate this song. I don’t have issues with the singers. I just hate that song. Fast-forwarding.
Best Pop Solo: It’s a great field. I’d vote for Taylor’s “Shake it Off.” It goes to…Pharrell for “Happy (live).” Ah well.
Performance: Miranda Lambert, “Little Red Wagon” or something like that. She’s hot, but this just isn’t my cup of tea. I’m going to let this play while I get a snack.
Best Pop Vocal: Please, anyone but Sam. Dang it.
Performance: Kanye. Kanye is a songwriting, producing genius, but he really can’t sing or rap. Pretty good performance tonight. I like this. “You’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.”
Performance: Madonna. OH MY GOODNESS LOOK AT THOSE LEGS. The song isn’t great, and her singing has been better, but this performance is sizzling.
Best rock album: I already know Beck won this because I saw it on Twitter. Not a bad choice. I would rather it had gone to U2.
Best R&B Performance: Well here my prejudices show. I don’t know any of these songs. Beyonce and Jay-Z take it, and I have no meaningful comment.
Performance: Ed Sheeran with Herbie Hancock, ?uestlove, and others. Good performance. And a really good song. These guys really laid it down.
Peformance: Wow, what the heck? ELO doing “Evil Woman.” That’s a curveball I didn’t see coming. And now Ed Sheeran rejoins him and they do “Mr. Blue Sky” together. This is EXCELLENT. Geez, that really was great.
Performance: Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani. This is…well, it’s okay so far.
Performance: Hozier. Ugh. I haaaaaate this song. I’m fast-forwarding. Ah heck. I was fast-forwarding and I saw Annie Lennox. Now I have to go back and watch the whole thing. Eh. It was okay.
Best Country Album: My hormones want Brandy Clark to win this. And…Miranda Lambert. I can live with that.
Performance: Pharrell. Yeah. It’s fine.
Performance: Something about domestic violence, introduced by the President. I’m fast-forwarding over this too. It’s a bit melodramatic for me.
Performance: Katy Perry. Sorry. I like her but I can’t get into this song or this performance. This is this year’s version of last year’s same-sex marriage moment with Macklemore and Queen Latifah. I think there’s a way to pull this off in a sincere, effective way, but the Grammys haven’t found it yet.
Performance: Imagine Dragons. They were one of the buzziest bands after last year’s ceremony. This is fine.
Performance: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. I’ve already heard them perform this together (I think it was on Jon Stewart). Gaga basically holds the song together while Tony does his usual thing.
Performance: Usher. It’s okay.
Performance: Eric Church. Also okay.
Performance: Brandy Clark. This is more like it.
What happened to the awards?
Performance: Kanye, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney. This actually works well. I’m enjoying this.
Performance: Sam Smith with Mary J. Blige. I hate this song. I’m fast-forwarding over it.
Performance: Juanes, “Juntos.” This is kind of cool.
Album of the Year: Please, please, please. Anyone but Sam Smith. Wow, Beck. Totally unexpected.
Performance: Sia. She was a disappointment on SNL. Okay, this is bizarre but it’s really, really cool. I am not a fan of that dancing stuff she keeps employing with this album, but the singing with her face to the wall? Very neat. The stage set is cool too. And what a finish. Wow.
Song of the Year: “Stay with Me.” Bleah.
Dave Grohl reads a thank-you to David Letterman. That’s kind of cool.
Performance: Beck. With no turntables and a microphone. Is that Chris Martin singing with him?
Record of the Year: Please not Sam Smith. Suck! Aw suckity suck suck.
In Memoriam: Andrae Crouch. Pete Seeger. Big Bank Hank. Gerry Goffin. Paco de Lucia. I didn’t know about Paco and Big Bank. Gotta Google those.
Performance: Beyonce. She’s great. But this is just okay. I think the Grammys these past two years have been stricken with a bad case of the Seriousnesses.
Geez. That was a huge waste of time, and the show basically sucked. It had a few good moments, but all in all it was kind of a yawn.
I’m listening to Katy Perry as I write this. I’ve never actively listened to her, ‘though I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard from her incidentally, like when she was on SNL and at this year’s Super Bowl. She’s no Taylor, but she’s still pretty good.
So I have a lot of stuff to write about. I’m going to start with a few recent things and hopefully work my way backward.First, work. For the past fourteen months, I’ve been writing web content for an executive search firm (I’ve been told we don’t like the term “headhunter”). It started with one or two articles per month, but by last January, we were up to one article a week, and since July, it’s been two articles per week on topics like team-building, management, business travel, and work-life balance. These topics are well outside my realm, and at first writing the articles was a real challenge, but I am getting more comfortable with the topics, even writing the occasional piece with no research, just using my own experience and observations and applying them to a business setting. My relationship with the search firm has been great, and we’ve been talking about my eventually working for them full time. In the meantime, they’ve asked me to manage their social media presence and to edit some existing content for a website revamp. I’m excited about the possibilities, even though I never really envisioned this kind of work for myself. It can be time-consuming, but I get to set my own hours and work from home. Now that I’ve experienced this kind of work (and that was a huge adjustment), I don’t know if I can go back to having a job where I have to be somewhere specific at specific times. My dream, of course, is to make my living on my writing (preferably as a novelist), and while this isn’t quite that, it’s a step in that direction.
Then another job fell into my lap. I was about to leave my job at the community college (more about that later) and got a call from the COO of a local civil engineering firm. He’d been told about me by a mutual acquaintance, and he said he’d been looking for someone with my skillset. I said I wasn’t looking for a new gig, but he encouraged me to come in for an informal meeting with him and the marketing head, just so I could see what they’re about. This is the middle of the second week of January.I went in, and I sort of fell in love with the place as soon as I got off the elevator. The entire fifth floor of a bank building in Honolulu’s Chinatown is the company’s headquarters, and the entire space is painted bright yellow and blue with swirls, dots, and cool words. Even the carpet is painted. There are potted plants, tiki torches, and feng shui water fountains all over, and while the other edges of the space are lined with glass-walled offices, the rest of the space is wide open, with not a single cubicle.
Most importantly, the people were super super super nice. The work was appealing (if also outside my realm), but it was the people (and their desire to work with me) that had me back two days later for a formal interview. This was Friday the 16th.On Monday the 19th, I was on the job. They said they really wanted me full time, but they were willing to meet me where I could meet them, with part-time hours plus health insurance. My official title is “publications coordinator” and my supervisor is the marketing head, who’s been really, really good to work with.
The biggest drawback is that now I have somewhere I have to be at a certain time five days per week, which is not what I was looking for. But I need money for wheels, and this will help me get there. Plus, until I’m a full-time employee for the search firm, I don’t have a steady income from them, and I don’t have any security. If that ends up not working out, I have this to turn to, which I have to say wouldn’t be too bad.One option, which occurred to me early, was to take the full-time (pretty generous) salary from the engineers and do the search firm part time. I didn’t go this way for two reasons. First, I feel committed to the search firm, at least for the next six months. I said I’d be available for them and they’ve been nothing but nice to me. The second reason is something I couldn’t put my finger on until a conversation with the person who has the other part-time hours in my position. She’s also a writer (but much, much, much younger than me!), and she recently quit at the engineering firm to pursue other work plus her writing. While we shared with each other our hope for writing careers, I realized the other reason I’m not embracing the engineers full time is that it leads me further away from the dream. The search firm leads me closer. At this stage of my life, I’m kind of lucky (if you look at it this way) not to have a mortgage or family. I can handle a few years of poverty, if it comes to it, in pursuit of the dream. And while working for the search firm probably won’t mean poverty, in the long run I don’t think it will pay me what the engineers will pay me.
I’ll take the slightly lower pay if it means working at cafes, setting my hours, and having the flexibility to work on my own writing.
So that’s what I’m up to now, with a full time gig, a part time gig, and almost no time for other things in my life. Things should settle down once I finish training. I’ve been told I’d have a little more flexibility once I know the job, including working remotely once or maybe twice a week. That would be swell.
I still haven’t told the story of how I got from teaching to here, so I’ll do that sometime in the next whenever.
- What’s something in your life that’s on the fritz?
Ah man. My washer just went on the fritz last night. This is going to make things very difficult for me until I get some wheels. Ugh!
- What have you recently handled with kid gloves?
Almost any time I have to critique someone’s writing, if it’s not someone I know well, I have to be very gentle. Since that’s part of the new part-time gig, I do it every day. The people whose work I have to edit have been great, though, telling me they appreciate the way I suggest edits.
- On what task do you continue to plug away?
I recently reconvened the cleaning of the house, spending an hour or two every night, and the results have been dramatic and pleasing. I have a stairway that goes nowhere (my landlord lives upstairs, but we keep the door at the top of the stairs locked), which I’ve used as storage since I first moved here. I have cinderblock bookshelves going all the way up, an arrangement that works well and even looks good, but I’ve lately used the rest of the space just to throw things I want to deal with later. Going through that stuff and (mostly) throwing it all out has been like therapy. My idea is to get that whole area straightened out so I can open up the walk-in closet and go through the stuff I threw in there when I first moved here. Yeah. Then I can use that space for real storage, instead of just the holding area for the crap that I was eventually going to throw out anyway. Plugging away.
- This past week, what’s something you’ve sailed through?
The business articles have been remarkably smooth sailing. I did the prepping and outlining the nights before they were due, then spent just an hour or so the morning of the deadline, and it’s been smooth, quick, and pretty easy. Thank goodness. It doesn’t always work out that way.
- What have you had to hold your horses on, and what’s the reason?
My parents gave me enough money this Christmas to get myself a small TV. The one I’ve been watching, which I bought in 1994 when I was in college, is on its last legs. So I got a nice 32-inch LED at Costco a week after my birthday (three weeks ago) and it’s still in the box. Part of it has been that I’ve been so busy with the two jobs. The other part is that I don’t feel right setting it up until I get a certain portion of my house clean, which is another reason I’ve been plugging away at that task. I hoped to have it set up before the weekend, but that’s not going to happen, seeing as how the weekend is now upon us. Perhaps by Monday.
Ugh. Nearly three in the morning now. I need sleep. Next time: my latest obsessions, and some movie catchup.