NaNoWriMo 2008

It’s coming up on November, which means it’s that time again… National Novel Writing Month! A ragtag marathon of writers trying to get 50,000 words written down inside of 30 days. I’ve participated a few times in the past, but never completed it, a fact I plan to change this year!

Of course, first I need to think of what the hell I plan to write about.

In the meantime, let me share some NaNoWriMo love for you all:

Our PDX Network has a great article up currently encouraging folks to particpate. Likewise, the lovely CamiKaos has an excellent piece about getting back in the writing saddle again after completing NaNoWriMo last year. So, come one come all, let us ride our keyboards and notebooks into the sunset next month!

826 Valencia

I might be late out the gate on this, but I wanted to call attention to 826 Valencia, which is a non-profit writing and tutoring center started by the folks at McSweeney’s. There are seven branches around the country now, which each one running a unique storefront to help fund their efforts. The original location in San Francisco runs a Pirate Supply Store. The one in New York City is for superheroes, while the one in Los Angeles is for time travelers. Seattle is all about space travel (appropriate since the Sci-fi Museum is also in Seattle), Chicago is meant for spies, while Ann Arbor, Michigan offers a home for itinerant monsters, and Boston is home to cryptozoologists from all over.

So friggin’ cool. I wish stuff like this had been running when I was a kid.

10 Days and Tea

It’s kind of ironic that what seems to finally get me to write a blog post is my internet being down, sending me to the coffee shop. I don’t really have much to say, mind you, but it feels good to be writing something, like it’s what you’re supposed to do in a coffee shop, more than actually drinking coffee. In my case, it’s not even coffee, it’s tea, a blend they call “Haiku”, which is a light green tea with a hint of spice to it. Pretty tasty, and it survives a second infusion quite well.

I’m getting over a cold that started with a cough, proceeded to a general feeling of guckiness, and is now just a slightly scratchy throat (my immune system is good: I may get sick, but I tend to power through it quickly enough). I laid low during the bad parts of it, but otherwise I’ve been feeling fairly productive. I paid off three out of four credit cards, and paid a chunk down on the fourth, which puts me at a lower debt load than I’ve had in over a year. I still don’t have a job, but I saved out enough from the stock sale (which is how I paid those debts) to survive for a while longer. I may put in my notice on my apartment, despite not knowing where I’m going next: it’s a lot of money I don’t really have. Pretty scary to think about being unemployed and homeless, but hopefully it wouldn’t last long (if at all — the goal, of course, is to land a job sooner than later).

It’s amazing what not getting harassing phone calls every few minutes will do to one’s stress levels (I’m not kidding, they autodial, and had the same people call every minute for fifteen minutes — I wasn’t bothering to answer, because I’d already told them my situation and had nothing more to offer or say). My phone would ring at 8-8:20am every morning, 7 days a week, and then again in the afternoon and evening (and often mid-day as well, but I took to turning off my phone). They even tracked down my parents’ numbers (home and work) and started calling looking for me, even though I’d never given them their names or contact information. (The incessant calling and contacting my family in this manner is illegal as it qualifies as harassment. I’m debating whether to call them on it — I have call logs to verify the call behavior.)

I prefer not to air dirty laundry like that, but it’s been pretty ridiculous.

In other news: Mouse Guard was excellent — the story itself is well told but unremarkable: it would fit easily as a re-telling of a Three Musketeers adventure. What really gets me is the world: it’s very well developed, and operates on an internal logic that makes a lot of sense. It’s the sort of place you’d love to learn the lore of, to view it as a functional society. Also, the artwork is stellar. Looks like they’re doing a regular series of these (this was Autumn, the next volume will be Winter, the volume after that, Spring), so I’ll be sure to keep an eye out.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Amulet, which is a graphic novel aimed at the young adult market by Kazu Kibuishi. Again, the artwork is excellent, and despite cartoony characters, he does an excellent job of conveying emotional gravitas where appropriate. The one major disappointment I have with it is that it is simply part one of a larger story, and as such ends with something of a cliffhanger. Not a fan of cliffhangers in general, and I know putting together a project like this can be a lengthy process, so it may be a while before the next volume is out. (Checking Kazu’s website, it looks like I have a first printing, with a gold title! Neat, in a makes-no-difference-I’m-not-a-collector sort of way.)

On Being Lovelorn

I never thought girls had cooties. I always had crushes, always the starry-eyed hopeless romantic, and unfortunately, almost always lovelorn. This is the way of things when you feel that love should be shared and celebrated, whether it’s platonic or romantic, whether you love someone or are in love with someone: you “love not wisely but too well”, and it goes unrequited. The bright side is that because you allow yourself that freedom of love, you learn to accept it. You’re able to pick up the pieces, and move on — perhaps not forgetting, but accepting, and forging forward.

But sometimes, it doesn’t work like that. There are some that for whatever reason, you don’t forget them, and you can’t accept that they’re gone, and forging forward seems an insurmountable task. The ones that, when you’ve got yourself back together, and you think you’re ready, they pop back up in one fashion or another. A phone call, an email, a picture, running into them on the street, just the glance, the hint, and you’re right back where you were: picking up the pieces, and trying to forget how they felt in your arms, their smell, their voice soft in your ear.

It doesn’t matter how strong or aloof you are, how stable a personality you have or logical you are. You can be a player, or a saint, or be able to cope with disasters both epic and personal without breaking a sweat. You can be inured to love’s foibles (or think you are) all you want, there’s still that person out there that bypasses all your defenses and coping mechanisms and destroys you, without trying or even wanting to. Pointing out their faults doesn’t help, knowing you should move on doesn’t help, knowing there are others out there doesn’t help. It’s too late: you are lost.

I’ve loved a lot of people in my past. And I’ll love many more before I’m through. I’ve been in love, and have been lucky and blessed enough to be loved in return, and will be in love again. I know this. And one day, I may well finally be over her. But not today.
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Glory by Essie Jain

I know I’ve heard this song somewhere else, but for the life of me, I can’t place where. I do, however, know where I was (re)introduced to it: this afternoon, driving home from work, Essie Jain came into KEXP for a live performance and interview, and I immediately became enamored with this young lady from London. Her interview was delightful and personable, and the music was simply stunning. She’s currently touring for the release of her first album, We Made This Ourselves, of which “Glory” is the first track.

If you’re looking for layers or technical complexity, then you’re looking in the wrong place. “Glory” is primarily a vocalist and guitar, with another guitar accompanying, adding texture to the melody. That’s about it. Despite this simplicity (or perhaps because of it), “Glory” manages to capture a particular mood and atmosphere that simultaneously reminds me of walking in the summer twilight as the day’s heat cools off, and spending an evening curled up by a fireplace with a good book and hot chocolate as the snow falls outside. It may seem odd at first to have these two images juxtaposed, but if you think about it, they both depict the same sort of mellow, dreamy state of being. It’s a great feeling to have, and that essence distilled into a song is equally great to listen to.

["Glory" by Essie Jain Free MP3]

[Official Site]

[Essie Jain on MySpace]

Gone for Good by Morphine

Today I’d like to go back to an old favorite, Morphine. On this day in 1999, Mark Sandman, front man of Morphine, died of a heart attack while on stage in Italy. While I’m sure he would have preferred to not die, I suspect that he would have appreciated going out playing as he did. Sandman (and his compatriots in the band) was a consummate musician, often playing unique, heavily modified instruments to create an unparalleled, interesting sound. Given the circumstances, the song I selected seems perhaps a little morbid, but appropriate: “Gone for Good” off Yes.

It’s a quiet song, just sparse guitar work and Sandman’s deep, resonating vocals. The lyrics paint a clear picture, and really conveys a sense of loneliness and rejection, the unrequited lover coming to terms with the realities of a situation. “Never gonna walk up your walk and ring your bell and feel you fall into my arms. No, never gonna see you again — you’re gone for good.”

At various points in my life, this song has really struck a personal chord with me. I won’t say all, but I imagine most of us have gone through one of these periods, where friends or family are dying, or you’ve been rejected by the love of your life, or hell, all of the above. You feel fragile, right on the hairy edge of breaking, as you realize the loss. This song perfectly captures that. This may, perhaps, depress some, but I hope that listeners will be able to appreciate the craftsmanship inherent in capturing that emotion and distilling it in a song regardless of the mood it may direct you to.

["Gone for Good" on iTunes]

[Morphine on Wikipedia]

Tomato Song by PWRFL POWER

I’ll admit it: I’m a big fan of KEXP, and often end up raiding their fine selection of Song of the Day Podcasts for songs to review. I also, however, read their blog, where they often link to some really interesting independent artists, alternative tracks, remixes, and things you might not always hear on the radio. That would be the case with “Tomato Song” by PWRFL POWER. I haven’t been able to find info on buying an actual album, but he (yeah, it’s one guy, Kazutaka Nomura, a 22 year old Japanese International Student, currently living in Seattle) is apparently touring a fair bit (mostly in Japan). He’ll be at the Capitol Hill Block Party at the end of the month, but I’ll still be in Vermont. Ah well.

It’s an interesting song: acoustic guitar with an interesting progression, and simply sung lyrics, which gives a sort of childlike feel to the song that belies the nuances within the lyrics. There’s nothing grandiose or overly complex about the song: it’s simply good. I imagine he would be a great live show, so those of you on the east coast or in Japan, go check him out while you can (tour dates and locations are on his MySpace).

["Tomato Song" by PWRFL POWER Free MP3]

[PWRFL POWER on MySpace]

We Do Not Fuck Around by Viva Voce

Welcome to the modern epic rock ballad. No, I’m not kidding. Off Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, Viva Voce’s “We Do Not Fuck Around” starts softly, before breaking into a marching, explosive chorus that brings back the best elements of the rock ballads of the late 70s and 80s, but with a flavor that is a bit more modern while staying true to its roots. When the guitar breaks out and the chorus begins, you can’t help but want to get up and shout the lyrics along with them: “Hey ya’ll, we do not fuck around!”

We’ve all had those days: the days where the shit is hitting the proverbial fan, and you wade into it with both arms swinging. You’re there to get things done, and you’re not going to put up with any drama or bullshit from anyone or anything. There is a white hot passionate fury behind your eyes, and people scatter to avoid your path, because when the hammer falls, it’s going to be a 500 megaton bomb on whatever you’ve set to task. It’s getting to a work site to discover a seemingly insurmountable amount of work before you… and then powering through it before lunch. It’s getting assigned a 5 page essay and handing in a heavily researched 50 page dissertation. Your enemies shall be utterly destroyed, and your allies shall be protected from damn near anything.

That’s this song. An anthem to that idea, that fire that burns away all the cruft and gets to its core with laser precision. This is a song to play LOUD, before marching in to quit, or ask for that raise, or to ask that girl you like out, to remind yourself of that fire, and that you, too, do NOT fuck around.

[We Do Not Fuck Around Free MP3]

[Viva Voce on MySpace]

[Official Site]

Caved-In Heart Blues by Nels Cline Singers

I’m a firm believer in maintaining an eclectic breadth of music, so now I’m going to dive into some Creative Jazz with “Caved-In Heart Blues” by the Nels Cline Singers, off their JUST released Draw Breath. If the name sounds familiar, that would be because Nels is also the lead guitarist of the band Wilco (who are excellent in their own right, though wildly different than this sound). The Nels Cline Singers is an experimental/creative jazz trio he does on the side.

“Caved-In Heart Blues” is an instrumental piece, which is primarily a steady, deep drum and bass at a slow, steady interval, accompanied by some really fantastic guitar work that plays around with several elements often found within the blues. As the song progresses, other instruments are temporarily added, before returning to the core elements, creating a nice shift that serves as a refresh within the song. On the second of these shifts, it sounds like some atmospherics were added, which left me vaguely feeling like it was a good synthesis of ProjeKct Two’s Space Groove, and the quieter soloist guitar work of Mark Knopfler. This, to me, is a very good thing. I’m quite well pleased with this discovery, and I look forward to picking up the rest of the album in the future.

["Caved-In Heart Blues" Free MP3] (You may need to enter the ID3 tags manually… I had to, at least.)

[Nels Cline's Official Site] (Tons of good info and free MP3s)

[Draw Breath on Cryptogramophone] (Label’s Site)

[Draw Breath on iTunes]