Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sick of the Swine Flu

I'm sick, and the Swine Flu--er, the H1N1 virus--is the culprit. However, I'm not exhibiting the typical symptoms associated with influenza. My nose isn't running, I don't feel like crap, and I don't have a fever. In fact, the only symptom I have seems to be irritability.

Ok, that was really corny and I'm ashamed of writing it. But my point is that I'm tired of hearing about this disease and how bonkers people are going worrying about it. Yeah, I get it. It's a more virulent strain of flu. But I'm also pretty sure it's not the Black Plague. With any luck this will all blow over soon...but probably not before someone figures out a way to profit from it. Think "I survived the Swine Flu" t-shirts.

Now, I don't mean to diminish or make light of the seriousness of any illnesses or challenges people have to face. But our recent class discussion about how almost anything can be mined for writing purposes really has me wondering: when will we see the first Swine-Flu inspired book about some brave soul's harrowing struggle with this insidious virus, and how many more will follow? The Swine Flu has almost become a "fad" (bear with me) in the sense that it's inspired endless jokes and currently inhabits the short-term memory of popular culture.

Our current epidemic has a very SARS-like feel to it--unlike AIDS, which stuck around after its discovery and is now a daily fact of life for millions of people worldwide. Let's hope the Swine Flu turns out to be little more than a silly fad, and not something more serious and enduring.

Some Shameless Promotion

The Helix is coming out at the end of this week, so I'd like to remind everyone to go pick up a copy...

Also, I apologize in advance if anyone wastes fifteen minutes of their life reading any garbage by some Massie guy. That's fifteen minutes you'll never get back.

I'm Your Huckleberry

Though I grew up in the 1990's, I sometimes feel like I missed out on a significant chunk of the culture due to the overprotective nature of my mother, who wouldn't even let me watch The Simpsons until I was about fourteen. She was concerned about how disrespectful Bart was to Homer.

In recent years, perhaps due to fatigue or the fact that she can't win this battle anymore, she's lightened up on my kid brother Conor; he's fourteen now and he's been watching Family Guy (*way* cruder than the Simpsons) for several years. Where am I going with this? Well, my mother's restrictions also included a whole library of great movies rendered unsuitable for my naive and innocent mind. A little blood here, the "f bomb" there, a creamy tit or two--all these meant I would be spending the next couple hours in my room.

Over a decade later, I'm slowly discovering some quality movies made during my childhood. Last weekend while flipping through the TV channels my mother stumbled on the movie "Tombstone," which I'd never heard of, and a lengthy discussion of the film's merits ensued between her and my father. My father then explained to me that it's a western based on the true story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

I cringed--westerns aren't really my thing.
"You'll like it," he promised. "It's good."
"When was it made?" I asked.
"Early nineties," he told me.

Ah. Of course. The Dark Ages. Naturally we had to watch the film, and I've been pissing my roommate off pretending to be Doc Holliday ever since.

Monday, April 20, 2009

While we're talking about baseball and gambling...

Seeing the preceding picture of Big Papi (David Ortiz) while writing about fantasy baseball and gambling reminded me of my time working at Foxwoods. I used to work in the poker room and the big dude would come to Foxwoods all the time to play blackjack right above me in the Rainmaker section.

Apparently that guy drops some serious cash at the blackjack tables. Word gets around quick when any celebrity is on-site, so one day when I heard he was there I snuck up to the blackjack pit during my lunch break and scouted him out from a distance.

If you think he looks big on have no idea. He's a behemoth. I wish I could've talked to him, but we were expected to be professional and refrain from harassing celebrities if we valued our jobs.

How to make a not-so-quick $100

Ah, baseball season. It is during this time of year that I channel my inner dork and engage in a ridiculous months-long marathon known as fantasy baseball, which may not quite fit the bill as arts, but it is surely entertaining, at least for me. Seriously, it's more fun than actually following the games themselves.

There's something magical about beating up on your friends and coworkers and bosses in a virtual showdown and hoarding as many statistics as you can for yourself. But like any good drug there's a downside, too. In addition to fretting about papers and exams, I now get to worry about injuries, slumps, DNP (did-not plays), Triple-A demotions and free-agent pickups.

In a competitive (read: money) league, you almost have to manage your roster daily to make sure all your players are in good health and getting playing time. You're also considering trades, poring over massive stat sheets for a competitive edge, and just generally losing your mind. The whole thing can get really anal.

Luckily, I will be released from this hellish existence by October. Of course football season will have started by then. After finishing third last year in the office fantasy football league--and collecting a nice $100 prize--you can bet I'm determined to go all the way to top.

At least in football they only play once a week...

Weirded Out

I went to another show this weekend in New London, this time at New London High School. The occasion was an effort to "save the 82nd Drum Corp" or something like that. It might have been the 73rd Drum Corp or the 75th Bugle Corp, but naturally I wasn't paying much attention. The event was sponsored by the local radio station Q105, among others.

The fundraiser charged me $10 at the door and it turned out to be a complete waste of money-- I only stayed for about forty minutes after finding out that the band I'd come to see had played before I arrived due to a last-minute rearranging of the slotting.

I did hear two lousy bands, and that was enough. The first looked promising as they took the stage; it featured seven members, including a trumpet, saxophone, a male and female singer, and the standard guitar/bass/percussion configuration. A jazz outfit, I guessed. I was half-right. They opened with a long jazzy tune that actually sounded quite good until the male singer opened his mouth and started rapping. Epic fail. The female singer had a solo about halfway through, which proved a nice respite from the rapping. The group played another jazz/rap abomination after the first song and then packed it up to decidedly lukewarm applause.

The second band called themselves the "Weird Beards" and I knew from the start I wasn't going to like them. They were a four-piece group with a creepy old hippie 50-something playing an industrial-sized cello. After opening with a bizarre pot-inspired tune that had the singer making farm animal noises, they proceeded to sing a rather creepy number about a guy stalking some girl at the bar.

I left after the Weird Beards' second song, because clearly this event wasn't going to get any better. So...that was my weekend, or a small part of it anyway.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gone For Great

At the request of the band's frontman Nick Johns, I recently went to go see a show by Gone for good, whom I wrote my Q&A about, at the El N'Gee in New London, and I have to say they were surprisingly good live. Because the vocals sound heavily distorted and doctored on their demo CD, I was expecting the live singing to be sub-par.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Unlike a lot of bands who doll up their lead singer's voice on recordings to mask the fact that they can't sing, Johns' voice sounds as good live as it does on their CD, and is one of those rare voices that seems to jump from the microphone and fill the room. I was hoping to catch a cameo by their horn section, "The Bang," but they only play with the three-piece band once in a blue moon and weren't with them that night.

As Nick mentioned in the Q&A Gone for Good is playing garage pop rock at a time when Indie music is really popular, which is another refreshing aspect of their music. If you're ever around New London and you hear about Gone for Good, know that they're worth seeing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A South Park Classic

Did anyone see the hilarious new South Park episode skewering Disney? Easily one of the best I've seen in a long time...just full of hilarious quotes:

"Oh Gosh, fellas, let me explain this to you one more time. You have to wear the purity rings because that's how we can sell sex to little girls, haha. See, if we make the posters with little girls reaching for your junk, then you have to wear purity rings or else Disney Company looks baaad, haha."

"Where would you be without me, Jonas Brothers? Haha. Your music sucks and you know it! Haha. It's because you make little girls' 'ginies tickle! And when little girls' 'ginies tickle, I make money! haha"

That would be the beloved Mickey Mouse, of course. Naturally, when his whole Jonas Brothers purity-ring concert is foiled he gets pissed and floats over the city breathing fire like a dragon. Classic.

Helix Update

So I've submitted 2 stories to the Helix and one of them, Nostrum, was accepted. I was a bit surprised because 1) I submitted 10 days late and 2) my cousin and fellow writer Chris, with whom I often confide on writing matters, had called the other story "brilliant" and Nostrum "terrible."

I had preferred Nostrum myself but I'm also aware of a bias I have of favoring my most recent piece, which is a problem I suspect a lot of writers have. Because of that I listen closely to outside opinion, especially from my cousin. I'm trying to stop a bad habit of rank-ordering my work because I've really started to realize that it's more about personal preference than anything else assuming the quality of the stories is similar.

Anyone else have these kinds of issues? I find grading my own writing is exceedingly difficult...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Helix, Round Two

After getting rejected at a number of more prestigious magazines, I think I might submit a short story or two to CCSU's own Helix literary magazine this year, and I have to admit I'm a little disappointed. Nothing personal against the Helix, but I was hoping for a larger market.

Actually, wait...I do have some beef with the Helix. When I submitted a story last year I made sure to edit it as well as I could beforehand, so it would be less likely to be significantly changed by others.

Well, I did a pretty good job editing but I did make at least one small mistake...which the Helix then turned into a bigger mistake. Apparently in one passage I'd forgotten to italicize the narrator's thoughts (I had italicized in similar passages throughout), and somehow didn't catch it on my edits. The people at the Helix caught it, and made a little note next to the passage: "[Shouldn't this be in italics?]" or something to that effect. How do I know? Because they published the story with those editing comments still in it. Ugh.

Oh well, I don't mean to sound like a whiner. I was happy to be published in the magazine, and I did get a lot of positive feedback from readers, which was immensely gratifying. Also, I should be glad they spelled my name correctly--my cousin Chris wasn't so fortunate.

Classic Movies, One at a Time

Apparently my roommate has lived under a rock most of his life, because every time I try to throw out a line from a famous movie he hasn't seen it and the whole thing is ruined. To remedy this situation, I've embarked on a project to introduce him to all the wonderful films he's missed over the past two decades. The project started last year and has recently resumed with a screening of There Will Be Blood. It's taking us days to get through it due to time constraints and his acute ADD.

In one semester we were able to knock off a lot of my favorites, including some 90's classics (and a few even older): Forrest Gump, Fight Club, Gladiator, Office Space, Anchorman, Braveheart, Lord of War, Meet the Parents, Pan's Labyrinth, Fargo, Dr. Strangelove and Crash, among many others.

Much to my chagrin he refuses to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy because they're "too long" and he doesn't like "all that fantasy (stuff)." Also, he apparently has something against trilogies, although he hasn't been able to explain that to me. He won't watch any of the Star Wars movies either because they're too "nerdy." What he doesn't realize is that even the manliest of men have a special place in their heart for Star Wars, and it takes a real man to admit it.

I'll continue to work on that, though. Up next: Sling Blade.

No Homework on the Horizon

I've slowly been listening to U2's new album No Line on the Horizon (bland album cover on left) over the past couple days while procrastinating on my homework. I admit to being a U2 fan, as much as they are the poster boys for commercialized music, and as much as Bono and his oversized ego annoy me. But they didn't get this big by making bad music.

The album has gotten rave reviews with critics, and I'm inclined to agree that it's pretty good so far, with a few exceptions. One of the first tracks, Get on Your Boots, reminds me of that iPod commercial staple Vertigo that I hated so much--with all its "yeah yeah yeah" jazz that South Park so perfectly made fun of a few years back. I didn't like Get on Your Boots much better.

The other song I'm not crazy about is I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. A stupid name for a song, and it's as pop-culture as it sounds. I know how much Bono likes his money, so of course I expected a few cheesy probable singles like this.

It gets better from there, however. As a fan of their eighties-and-early-nineties work (think The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby) the song Magnificent sounded like vintage U2 to me, and might be my favorite on the album (so far). I also liked Moment of Surrender, which featured a long, slowly building intro like their old classic Where the Streets Have No Name and is about as long as Streets at 7 minutes 24 seconds.

Anyway, I might get around to listening to the rest of it tonight, and maybe some homework as well.

Demetri Martin Is Back!

The first time I saw Demetri Martin on Comedy Central, he instantly became one of my favorite comics. His shtick is easily one of the most unique out there, as he frequently makes use of props, drawings, and instruments in his show--something most other comics don't do. I was especially fond of his segments with the "Large Pad," where he would make quirky but ultimately hilarious observations and figures, like his a flow chart about types of clowns or my roommate's personal favorite, a graph of his ability to draw mountains over time.

After a few quiet years he's recently resurfaced on Comedy Central with specials every Wednesday, whichI've been watching for the past few weeks. The trademark drawings are back, and this time he's dabbled in skits as well, which I've decided are mostly hit and miss. His standup is better in my opinion, but the skits are a nice change-of-pace addition and I was happy to see several of them featuring The Daily Show's John Oliver, another favorite of mine.

Can't wait for the next one this Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to Write a Novel in 4 Years or Less

Two half-finished attempts at a novel later I've gained a new appreciation for just how hard it is to write one of these behemoths--which makes me wonder how some great authors manage to put out book after book, year after year.

Fortunately there are resources available for an aspiring novelist. How to write a novel in 100 days or less offers daily nuggets of writing wisdom and encouragement over 100 days, aiming to inspire writers and push them through the peaks and troughs that come with writing a novel. I'm also fond of Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules of fiction writing.

These are all general points on writing, but it's the technical aspects of the biz that have me wondering what I'm doing wrong. Is it generally a bad idea to write bass-ackwards and all over the place, perhaps writing the ending before the beginning, or Chapter 4 before Chapter 3? I can't help doing this sometimes, as I have ideas for different scenes and events I want to happen later on in the novel. These are often defining and important twists or developments in the story and I'm anxious to get those written and fleshed out. All this can make for an editing nightmare of cutting and pasting and revising later chapters due to changes in the story in a more-recently written earlier chapter, if that makes sense.

I guess it's just how my brain works, and I'll have to learn to work through it. Or maybe I should stick to short stories.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Would Updike Write About Today?

A little over a month ago the late American author John Updike was recommended to me by a friend. After sampling some of his writing in the New Yorker and deciding I liked it, I bought "Rabbit Angstrom," an anthology of his four famous "Rabbit" novels, and I've been slowly reading from that bright red tome (often mistaken for a Bible) ever since.

What strikes me so much about the Rabbit novels is the scope of time they cover. They all follow the story of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, but in each novel he is a decade older and living in a different era of American life--starting with cocky 26-year old basketball star navigating the 50's in the first book, "Rabbit, Run" and ending with an aged Rabbit cruising through the 80's in "Rabbit at Rest."

Although on the surface Updike often focused (perhaps a bit too much) on sex, his novels also painted detailed picture of what it meant to be American during each of those decades. Through Rabbit and his sometimes-bizarre and always-changing supporting cast Updike chronicled the hippie culture of the sixties and the moon landing right on through the Japanese car invasion, all the while injecting--often subtly--his opinion into the account.

Given today's uncertain economy and indeed uncertain world I can't help but wonder what Updike might have written about the new millennium and all it has brought us, both good and bad, had he been inclined to expand the Rabbit novels beyond a quartet. Defining moments like 9/11 or the election of our nation's first black president are a given, but what other less obvious hallmarks of this decade would Updike have highlighted? Perhaps the meteoric rise of the internet, cell phones, GPS and other technological gadgetry into mainstream culture? The war in Iraq? the Bush presidency? Global warming and efforts at "going green?"

What themes and events have defined the 00's? Think about it.