Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Top Albums of 2010

These are my favorite albums of 2010. I have a passion for a few genres but I'm extremely eclectic in my tastes so if you want a list of the hippest records that came out this year check Pitchfork or something. Mine is going to be all over the place. They are in order.

1. Hanson - Shout it Out
2. Kate Nash - My Best Friend is You
3. Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
4. Tim Barry - 28th and Stonewall
5. Danielle Ate the Sandwich - Two Bedroom Apartment
6. Ray Lamontagne & the Pariah Dogs - God Willin' and the Creek Won't Rise
7. Backseat Goodby - The Good Years
8. Otem Relik - Elephant Graveyard
9. Micah Schabel - When the Stage Lights Go Dim
10. The Rocket Summer - Of Men and Angels

Honorable Mentions:

Crystal Bowersox - Farmer's Daughter
Cee-Lo Green - The Lady Killer
Syndicate - The Line Starts Here
Rooney - Eureka
The 88 - The 88

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Mom and Halloween

I've never been big into Halloween. I was a very bookish kid and I was definitely never the type of boy who liked snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails, so to speak. I didn't like getting messy, "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" gave me night terrors, and anything remotely related to horror made me nauseous (I'm not joking).

When Halloween season came around I took to the more light-hearted, cartoonish side to it. My mom was a certified genius when it came to costume making. One year I went as Johnny 5 from the movie "Short Circut" and she managed to pull this off. She made the large metal tread-like wheels for my legs from the lids to copy paper boxes and glued HUNDREDS of popsicle sticks to them for the "treads" one at a time. Having to buy a costume was like admitting defeat for her. I only ever remember wearing one store bought costume in my whole childhood and it was as a Power Ranger in the first grade.

Other things I went as include a gay space man (it was a character that I invented and she brought to life in and EXTREMELY flamboyant, bedazzled fashion), Superman (which she bought a Superman costume JUST to cut the emblem off of it so she could put it on her home made outfit made of sweat clothes and quality fabrics so I wouldn't have to wear a coat over my costume, per my request), Ash Ketchum from Pokemon (this was rather boring for her but she made my brother Picachu) and finally a computer. Yes, an entire computer.

The Gay Spaceman

Dowl rods in the spangly gold cape to make it extend like wings when I lifted it, a modified and bedazzled Robo-Cop helmet, and (you can't really tell from the photo) gold, bedazzled boots.

Then there was the computer. The mother of all Halloween costumes to ever be created. I went to my mother and told her that I wanted to be a computer for Halloween and without questions she created this.

That is a REAL mouse Velcroed to the side of the apparatus and a REAL keyboard sticking out of the front. This all would probably have been fine but she did not stop there. What you can't really tell from this photo is that those colorful "CPU" lights in the front have actual, working lights in them. My mother started by buying a set of battery powered, decorative Halloween lights from the dollar store. It was a short string of Christmas-style lights with small plastic pumpkins over the bulbs, attached to a small battery pack. I suppose it was probably designed to put on an office desk or in a window. Mom pulled the pumpkins off of each bulb and fastened the string inside the large box behind colored cellophane. She taped the battery pack with the switch on it inside the box by the bottom where I could turn it on and off with my hand. In short, she wired it so that my chest actually lit up while I was trick-or-treating.

The point of these anecdotes is this: my mom worked full time, every day. She's damn good at her job and has done it for a lot of years. Her work didn't always stop the second her key hit the door either, she spent a lot of nights working from home after a day of working in the office. She never stopped being incredible at her job but that NEVER stopped her from being an amazing mom.

My mom never missed a sporting event I was in, she led my den in cub scouts, we went camping and on family vacations, I never wanted for a single thing in my whole life, and believe me, I wasn't always the greatest kid in the world. I was sick as a kid, and it made me a wholly terror a lot of the time.

There are a lot of stay at home moms and even certain organizations who think that if a woman works, she can't be a real parent to her children. To those people I have to say, quite frankly... suck it.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Camping in Roscommon

This past weekend, my wife and I went on a wonderful weekend camping trip to Roscommon, MI where we went kayaking, walking, roasted marshmallows, drank rum and beer by a warm fire, and slept in a tiny cabin watching DVD's on a portable player.

Neither of us had ever been kayaking before, apart from Loren when she was about 9, so it was an adventure to say the least. We dressed in multiple layers and took it slow and we both managed to have a really great time.

Loren even managed to have a great time despite the fact that she was consumed with fear about tipping over and drowning in the 3 feet of water at any moment.

The trees in that part of the state where at their peak for color changing and the scenes we saw were immaculate and picturesque. Beautiful explosions of golden leaves everywhere you looked with perfectly constructed houses perched along side the river peering down over it. We saw ducks and deer and felt the cold water rush past our kayak and it was paradise to me.

We came back to our campground and had a campfire where we roasted marshmallows, made smores, drank beer and rum, and laughed together as the sun set over the Au Sable. It was gorgeous. We ate lunch that day as a diner in town called "Angel's Place" that served some of the most amazing home cooked food I've ever eaten and for dinner I had a steak at Fred's, a restaurant slash bowling alley that was amazing.

After all this we piled into our tiny heated cabin where we played board games and watched movies on a portable player until we drifted off. Best weekend that I have had in quite some time. I know that it's only been 4 months of fatherhood but I still feel like a break to remind me why I married the woman I love is important. Something to break up the day to day of cleaning, cooking, homework, diapers, crying. This is DEFINITELY something that we will be doing again, most certainly with Lyric when she's old enough to come along.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dust Covered Soul - Love.Angel.Music

This is the final album art and title for the album I'm working on that WILL be done in the next hand full of months. I've recorded and re-recorded and re-envisioned a complete record that I'm going to press and distribute to the 5 or 6 interested parties for years now and I'm finally at a place creatively and I finally have the right view of the finish line along with the right songs to do this. I sound very pretentious right now but this has been a long time coming. I guess you could say I'm in the pre-production phase of things, getting the songs and the concept down at this point.

I've decided to go with the band name "Dust Covered Soul" that I came up with five years ago before deciding to just use my name because it won't be just me on this record. The album will have a song co-written and produced by Eric Quimby featuring his guest vocals and the other songs are going to feature my good friend and multi-instrumentalist Bryce Berry backing me up on a handful of instruments ranging from cello to piano to vocals.

The art is hand drawn and touched up in Photoshop. Over the years I have made literally dozens of potential album covers with several potential titles (My Legacy, Courting Disaster, Flannel & Folk Songs, Doing Just Fine to name a few) and I'm sick of using the same old filters and ideas over and over. I wanted to use a title and art work that came from a very real and organic place because that's where I feel like my songs come from. They have their flaws, because I have a lot of flaws musically, but I like to think that's part of my charm.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Music Under the Radar

This will be the first blog of my new idea "Music Under the Radar" It's just me talking about a few groups or artists that I think aren't getting as much acclaim and recognition as they deserve, or at least artists I feel compelled to spread the word about. You may have heard of them and if you have, spread the word, if you haven't, at least give them a try. There are plenty of options for hearing a few tracks before investing in a whole record in the age of computers.

1.) Danielle Ate The Sandwich: DATS is a solo project of Danielle Anderson, a twenty-something from Fort Collins, Colorado who plays an old school folk way beyond her years. Her voice is a gorgeous soprano with serious jazz tendencies that fills you up like the warmth of that first sip of a perfect cup of coffee. The songs are soft folk tunes with jazz, pop, and old school rock thrown in making for a truly perfect and unique throwback indie sound. She favors the ukulele as the main rhythm instrument although there are plenty of songs with guitar and on her newest record (Two Bedroom Apartment) there is a lot of warm bass holding the rhythm on it's perfect course. She has three albums for sale on her website and they are all filled with her beautiful brand of indie folk. Having already told you about the ukulele it probably won't surprise anyone that a large chunk of her fan base comes from here YouTube videos (as YouTube and the ukulele seem to go together quite nicely) and for those of you looking to get a taste of what she is about, I highly recommend going there and watching her wide array of videos ranging from covers to originals.

2.) Ray Lamontagne:
Probably the least "under the radar" of all the artists on this list but still nowhere near as big as I feel he should be. Lamontagne is never going to be a pop superstar, his music isn't like that, but he definitely has a certain appeal that should and could be enjoyed by almost anyone. I fell in love with his music after hearing the song Trouble from his album of the same name a hand full of years back. There is something incredibly soulful and perfect about his voice. His songs and voice sound like early Van Morrison with more control with hints of old soul like Otis Redding, all with vocal cords that sounds like they've been aged in whiskey and perfection. His most recent album God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise was actually number one on iTunes the week it came out and that made me happy but I still think not enough people know about this man's incredible voice and songwriting ability.

3.) Syndicate: Alright, I'm a little biased on this one because they ARE friends of mine but, completely objectively, I honestly feel like their talent warrants them having more fans. I'm not going to say a whole lot because if you want the full details on this group you can read MY REVIEW of their first album The Line Starts Here. I'll simply say that if any part of you misses that sweet spot in the 1990's when radio alt rock was hooky, soulful, and powerful... you will find Syndicate to be a fantastic listen, no question.

4.) Todd Kuffner: Aside from Syndicate, Todd Kuffner is probably the MOST "under the radar" artist on this list. He has a decent sized following on YouTube, but besides that he doesn't really view music as his main drive, more as something he does on the side that people happen to enjoy. He's been on YouTube since February of 2009 and just released his first album Squirrel Hunter In Training this past July. The record contains 35 full songs and is only $9.99 on iTunes... since music is something he does for fun, he seems to not pay much mind to the unspoken rules of the music business like album lengths which is all the better for the consumer because you receive three albums worth of stellar songs for the price of one. The music it's self is a rootsy sounding pop rock that strongly resembles The Dave Matthews Band meets a bit of John Mayer and a lot of Cat Stevens. Kuffner's voice is folky but still very accessible and even a bit soulful at times. The songs are hooky and the lyrics are phenomenal. If any of that sounds at all appealing to you check out his website to hear album tracks or go to his YouTube channel to see him play a few of his songs.

5.) The Swellers: Another band featuring friends of mine. Also The Swellers are, by leaps and miles, my favorite band of all time. They represent a lot to me musically and sentimentally and I don't think any band will ever take their place in that spot. I've written and talked a lot about them in the past so it's difficult to know where exactly to begin but I guess the best place is probably with the basics. They are a rock/punk band from the Flint area that got their start playing shows in the, now virtually extinct, Flint local scene. They began as a three piece but evolved to four as their sound matured and eventually signed with Atlantic Records imprint Fueled By Ramen (launching pad of bands like Paramore and Fall Out Boy). They tour relentlessly bringing their brand of 90's era skate punk to their fans all over the world. There really isn't a lot that I can say without sounding like I'm gushing but they will never be as big as I feel they deserve to be so I figured they definitely needed a slot on this list.

6.) Tim Barry:
Tim Barry is probably the most sonically abrasive artist on this list. His music is certainly not for everyone, but if you're into gruff acoustic folk rock with tinges of punk, then Tim Barry is king, in my opinion. He is one of my personal favorite artists so, again, it is difficult for me to write objectively about his talent without sounding like a gushing fan but I will do my best. Barry is from Richmond, VA and is one of the most sincere and intense performers I've ever seen live or heard on record. Everything he says is real and performed and sang with an amazing earnestness that you simply don't find in music. He is the lead singer of Virginia punk band Avail, and his past and a punk rocker comes through in his songs just like every other aspect of his life and his friend's life. When I listen to my Tim Barry records, two words tend to pop into my mind over and over. They are, as I said previously, "intense" and "sincere". If you go in with the right mind set, there's no way you can be disappointed.

Just Listen...

Now for the portion of the blog I call the "Just Listen..." section. I'm not going to say anything about the artist, just post a video you should watch and love.

Backdoor Slam:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Top 25 Sentimental Albums

This is a list of my top 25 sentimental albums. These are albums that all mean something to me as a music fan, a musician, an artist, and a person. They all either played a roll in shaping who I am as a person or are records I just really REALLY love. More albums may be added to these over time but these are the records I know will always mean something profound to me and will always represent either one period in my life or all periods in my life.

Keep in mind that I don't necessarily believe that these are all among the greatest albums of all time, nor are they even all MY personal opinion on the greatest albums. This list is all about sentimentality. They are in no particular order.

Underneath - Hanson
My Everest -
The Swellers
Ups & Downsizing -
The Swellers
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan -
Bob Dylan
All Killer No Filler -
Sum 41
Blood on the Tracks -
Bob Dylan
Shout it Out -
One Fell Swoop -
The Spill Canvas
Rivana Junction -
Tim Barry
13 Songs -
Highway Miles -
Kid Brother Collective
Through Being Cool -
Saves the Day
Can't Slow Down -
Saves the Day
The River -
Bruce Springsteen
Still Searching -
Senses Fail
The Times They Are A-Changin -
Bob Dylan
Bleed American -
Jimmy Eat World
Sticks and Stones -
New Found Glory
Manchester -
Tim Barry
Something to Write Home About -
The Get Up Kids
Hot and Bothered -
The Hot Flashez
Dookie -
Green Day
Third Eye Blind -
Third Eye Blind
Rockin the Suburbs -
Ben Folds
Casadaga -
Bright Eyes

Friday, August 20, 2010

Travis Valentine - My Angels (Feat. Eric Quimby)

This is a song that I wrote with my friend Eric Quimby (Syndicate) for my wife and I's third anniversary. This is a montage of pictures of my wife and daughter I put together to go with the song as a part of the massive gift I assembled.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Travis Valentine & Bryce Berry - Falling

This is a video of my friend Bryce and I performing a song that I wrote in High School. I tweaked it a little and added a new verse for Loren and I's third wedding anniversary and put this on a DVD compilation that I put together for her as part of her gift (full details of massive gift in an earlier entry) This is the first song that I ever wrote about her after we started dating.

I am by leaps and bounds NOT the greatest vocalist in the world but I try very hard and I like to think that what little I can do, comes from a very sincere place.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Syndicate - The Line Starts Here

Similar to: Matchbox Twenty, John Mayer, The Kooks, Jason Mraz, Third Eye Blind
Record Label: Independent
Overall Opinion: Positive
Genre: Hook Driven Radio Alt Rock

"'The Line Starts Here' is meant to signify how everything we do from here on out starts with this record." This is what Eric Quimby, vocals and guitar of Davison, Michigan's Syndicate told me recently. Right off the bat you get a sense of passion and seriousness from Quimby that most bands at their level in development lack. There is a professionalism to everything they do and nothing is halfway. It's something that a lot of bands either don't have or intentionally avoid.

The band features Quimby on lead vocals and guitar, Patrick Jenkinson on guitar, Chris Keller on bass, Jake Rathbun on drums, and Brandon Mansell on keyboard. The first thing anyone would notice about Syndicate is Quimby's phenomenal voice. It's a bit of a whiskey tenor with grandiose rock tenancies. The tone is clean but still very soulful as he effortlessly does vocal back flips through the melodies like they're his personal playground. '

When you listen past the voice and lyrics you'll hear the gorgeous guitar taking the melodies in directions you didn't expect them to go. Syndicate are a band who wear their influences on their sleeve like a badge of honor, mixing and matching the sounds that inspire them. The tightrope artwork on the cover of "The Line Starts Here" is fitting... they walk the line between paying homage and being unique, beautifully. In the guitar you hear the clean blues of John Mayer and The Kooks as it mixes effortlessly with the naturally distorted chords of radio alternative groups like Matchbox Twenty. In songs like "Hypnotized" you can hear the beautiful crunch and "wah" of Machbox Twenty songs like "Disease". Also I'll just say it... if "Criminal" isn't the Jason Mraz hit that he never recorded I don't know what is.

In the bass and drum you'll hear a perfect two man team in Keller and Rathbun. To the non-musical ear the bass player is essentially the rope that ties the drummer's rhythm to the guitar's melody and Keller plays that role perfect doing exactly what is needed to connect the two. On songs like "Criminal" you hear the perfect laid back groove between drum and bass carrying the song through it's relaxed vibe. In "The Breakdown" you hear the bass rocketing along with the frantic guitar. The bass is arguably at it's best in "Hypnotized" though, where it thumps it's own distinctive leads behind the guitar in the verses before gliding effortlessly into the highly melodic choruses.

Do I think that "The Line Starts Here" is a perfect record? Of course not. Achieving perfection is boring. What you hear on this album is a band launching out of the gate like an animal ready to take on anything. I think that Syndicate said it best in "Crazy Tonight", the record's opening track... "doesn't matter what's wrong... all that matters is what feels right."

Contact the band on Facebook about purchasing the record


Buy the record on Amazon or iTunes

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ART: An Experiment in Love and Friendship

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 was my third anniversary with my wife Loren. In past years we've gone on a vacation of some kind on the day but this year, with the baby and being a generally lowsy time of year for money, I knew we wouldn't have the money to get each other anything fancy. I started to think of how I could inject my usual pomp and flare into something that wouldn't be a big expense...

The first thing I thought of was asking my friend Brian Buckley (BamObituaries!) if he would be willing to draw a portrait of Loren and I that I could get framed and give her. He agreed and I was on my way. I didn't want to just give her something that I asked someone else to do so I thought I would write a song as well and give her that, although I knew that I wanted this song to be different than other one's I've written her in the past. I've written and recorded her dozens of my acoustic folk affairs and I think after a while they've begun to blend together. So I contacted my good friend Eric Quimby of the band Syndicate ( about collaborating on something. He agreed and that was that. I'd give her a song and Brian's portrait and it would be a nice, inexpensive gift that still had a lot of heart... or so I thought.

I went to Wal-Mart to buy a plastic box to put both the CD and portrait in and some paint to decorate the box. As I was getting some bottles of acrylic paint my eyes wandered to the brushes and canvases. I hadn't painted anything since high school when I stopped pretending I was an "artist" for more "sensible" things. I was never good at it in a technical sense because I can't draw but I always felt like there was some merit to the abstract "feeling paintings" I did back then. I bought a canvas, a cheap set of acrylic paints and some brushes and decided to paint Loren something to go with it all. It was about this point that the wheels started to turn and the project began to take on a new life.

Gradually the idea came to me... what did all of this have in common? A portrait from Brian, a song with Eric, a painting from me... all of these pieces of art coming together. That's when I had the idea of getting every artist that I could to contribute something, anything, to this gift. A massive amalgam of music, graphic art, poetry, anything... it would trump anything I've ever done.

I contacted Loren's step-mom who is extremely talented at damn near everything. She can cook, crochet, paint, draw, sew, embroider, I'm sure she can probably sculpt. I asked her if she could make Loren, what I pictured as a sort of cloth poster, with the word HANSON at the top and below it a list of all of the concerts she's been to (there are a lot, she followed them around Europe once) ending with the one that we are going to next week in Royal Oak, leaving room to add more. What I got was an amazing 3 foot by 4 foot tapestry with the words "Hanson Concerts" in six inch letters surrounding the Hanson logo in the center. The name and dates of the concerts are embroidered on badges which surround the entire affair with room to add 7 more at the bottom. Each of the badges is a pocket that can hold a ticket stub or other memorabilia from the concert as well. She gave me this along with brackets to mount it onto the wall and a rod to hold it up. It is, without a doubt, a billion times more than I expected and it is incredible.

I asked Loren's friend Rachel Cary to provide a piece of graphic art because I knew her to be extremely gifted in that field and she produced and incredible piece that I framed for her. My friend Michael Walters wrote a poem. I had my friend Nick Diener from the band The Swellers (The Swellers) record a spoken word introduction that I put on the CD before the song that Eric and I wrote, introducing it and wishing her a happy anniversary. This was my way of getting a "celebrity" involved but Nick is the closest thing to a celebrity I know so he would have to do.

I ended up doing four paintings for her and writing a poem that I had printed in 11x17 and framed. One of the paintings is meant to represent the meaning of the song Eric and I did and another is meant to represent the meaning of the poem. The other two are very colorful, cutesy paintings that are meant to hang in Lyric's room.

One of the biggest things I did was put together a DVD anthology of me and every musician that I could get to collaborate with me, playing a couple of covers. This list includes: Mike DeLorme, Patrick Munley, Eric Quimby (Syndicate), Jason Kotarski, Chris Dunklee, Bryce Berry, and Nick Freakin' Hale. I met up with them, sang and played some covers, recorded them, and burnt them all to a DVD that I made fancy cover art for called "Anthology: Beauty is Imperfect". I figured since I knew so many musicians and it would be difficult and cumbersome to sit and write a song with all of them and probably more difficult to drum up interest in doing it, I could easily hook up with each of them, play a few covers, tape them, and put it all together.

The last thing that I did was put together a "Staycation" to go in place of our usual vacation. Now a "staycation" is a buzz word that the media has invented to essentially mock poor people who can't afford to spend their vacation time actually doing anything or going anywhere because of the economy but they still have to take it so they end up staying at home. They started airing all of these tongue in cheek pieces about a year ago suggesting things you can do for your "staycation". Anyway, I took the word and ran with it though and decided to actually do it. I bought some Lansing post cards and souvenirs and put them in a little wooden suitcase I bought at Michael's Craft's and painted. My mom agreed to babysit Lyric next weekend while I take Loren on a tour of the coolest sights in Lansing, cook her fancy meals, I'm going to re-arrange the furniture in the apartment so it looks like a hotel, we're going to watch movies. This is the plan.

All of this I put in a plastic tub I had painted and labeled "ART: An Experiment in Love and Friendship" and I gave it to her yesterday. I think that she liked it... I really hope I didn't forget anything.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Tale of the Last Few Days

I am about to take you on a journey. It is filled with adventure, foul language, and piles upon piles of bullshit. Abandon hope, all ye who choose to read further... submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, this is "The Tale of the Last Few Days" (you'll get that reference if you're over the age of 19 or under the age of 40)

It began on Monday evening when I was on my way to class. I turned a corner and suddenly my car wouldn't accelerate... at all. it was still running perfectly but it wouldn't move. I proceeded to push it into the parking lot of a nearby Quality Dairy (incidentally pushing a car up hill is difficult).

After having it towed to the Firestone in west Lansing we had to leave it over night because they were about to close. Now it is important to note that Loren, the people at Firestone, the guy driving the tow truck, and myself ALL knew that the likelihood of it being the transmission was almost absolute. We also all knew that transmissions cost thousands of dollars to repair.

I called off work for the following day because I had no way of getting there and went home. Upon arriving home I got more drunk than I ever have in my entire life. I drank two beers and when I could still remember that my car was broken, I drank almost an entire bottle of Jack Daniels. This happened in the course of about 10 minutes and caused me to pass out relatively shortly afterward.

I woke up the next day, hungover, and my car was still broken. Mission not accomplished. Let it be known that I am AWARE that drinking your problems away is bad, so please don't lecture me, I KNOW. Moving on... we found out from Firestone that it WAS indeed probably the transmission but since Firestone does not do transmissions we had to tow it to a dealership. That dealership was Hyundai of Lansing. They informed us that it was definitely the transmission and it would be SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS to replace... my first thought was one of regret that I was now out of Jack Daniels.

Needless to say we opted NOT to spend six grand fixing a car that is worth three grand tops. We did have to pay Hyundai of Lansing a 50 dollar "go fuck yourself" fee in order for them to look at it and tell us it was broken, though. It was going to be a $100 "go fuck yourself" fee but honest blokes that they are, it only took a half an hour rather than a full hour to ascertain that it was indeed broken.

After calling around and getting our ducks in a row, though, we have found out that, apparently, the VTi transmission in the Saturn ION is a piece of shit. They know it's a piece of shit, we know that it's a piece of shit, and they got sued for selling pieces of shit. As per the "shit suit" settlement, they (Saturn) will either A) pay for half of the repair of B) give us five grand toward the purchase of a brand new car.

We have decided to go with option B and get a brand new car. We're going to buy a Cobalt, and using current discounts and incentives we should be able to get it for around 8 grand. The 5 grand from Saturn will serve to wipe out the debt we currently still owe on the dead car. With a co-signer, we will end up paying about what we are paying now in car payments.

In the mean time I have rented a car from Enterprise. Now, you see, what enterprise has done to us is bend us over a table and anally violate us over and over and over and over and over. First of all we booked a rental on their website for about 42 dollars a day plus 14 dollars extra for being irresponsible children under the age of 25. This seemed reasonable, roughly 55 bucks a day for a rental didn't seem bad. When I got to Enterprise, though, I was informed that we would need to pay 14 dollars PER driver, so 14 for both me AND Loren, making it about 70 bucks a day. ON TOP OF THIS they needed a 400 dollar deposit that their site failed to mention in our receipt. To top it all off they had to call the dealership that my dead car is at to make sure that it was definitely broken and I have no fucking clue why... it seemed really invasive and really stupid.

On top of this we had to pay $80 to have the dead car towed from Hyundai of Lansing to a "Saturn authorized" dealership because, as it turns out, out super special "RV Plus" AAA membership with 100 miles of FREE towing only covers "one tow per breakdown".

Additionally my best friend Michael isn't speaking to be because I drunk dialed him when I was hammered and when he called the next day to make sure I was all right I was either a prick or dodged his calls and texts entirely. To be honest I'm sort of with him on this one, it was a dick move on my part.

In summation; fuck you Saturn, fuck you Enterprise, fuck you AAA, fuck you Hyundai of Lansing, and most importantly FUCK YOU GOD!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Non-Religious Christianity

Religion, denomination, the Bible, and Jesus Christ are all very important and extremely divisive issues to literally billions of people all over the planet. What you are about to read is me very carefully dismantling this issue and, in all likelihood, angering the extremely low number of you that take the time to read it.

I consider myself to be a Christian but I often find that my political and moral views conflict with what are supposed to be my religious views. This is a large cause of anxiety for me because I sincerely want to believe and I do believe but I feel as though I'm excluded from the community and culture that comes with Christianity because I can't 100% commit myself to it.

By "it" I don't mean "God" by any means. I'm referring to the community and I believe that having those friends and family members that share that culture with you is important. I can never just dive in and let go in that culture because I feel like I can't be the right kind of person for it. I believe that God will accept me for what I am and who I am... it's religious people that I fear the judgment of. Maybe that's wrong of me... or maybe I do need to change but as of right now here is who I am:

I cuss more than I'd care to admit, particularly when I'm stressed out or tired. I drink, not excessively, but on occasion. I am extremely liberal in my beliefs. I believe in evolution. I am pro-choice. I am against the death penalty. I'm anti war. I think that the health care in the country is appalling. I believe that homosexuals are born the way that they are and God loves them as they are. I believe that marriage is a legal institution that grants civil rights to individuals and refusing that right to people based on their sexual preference is abhorrent. I believe that forcing your religion onto other people is wrong and that everyone has the right to believe what they want. I believe that if God is as just and loving as I believe he is then entrance to heaven is granted based on the life the person led, NOT what they chose to believe or how many rosaries hung from their rear-view mirror.

If you are are one of those people who are comfortable in a Christian community, then you probably disagree with one, if not all of those view points and can probably understand what I'm trying to say. I do want to find that community that I can feel like I'm not sticking out like a sore thumb... I do. I want to feel at home among other people that believe in God... I've just lost hope that it will ever happen.

National Autism Awareness Day

Today is National Autism Awareness Day. Autism is literally one of the only "causes" on earth that I care about so I'm posting this. If you don't know about or understand it, read. If you have money donate to:

P.S Michael Savage is a fuck head and I hope terrible terrible things happen to him. Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Why Twilight Is NOT Hurting Anyone: ADENDUM

I'm writing this post because a new anti-Twilight argument has come to my attention.

The Argument: Twilight fans are physically harming people who profess a distaste for Twilight. Apparently an incident occurred (though I can find no actual news report of it, only blogs) where a girl tried to shoot another girl with a flare gun for not liking Twilight.

Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon because he believed that The Catcher in the Rye told him to. Was this, in ANY WAY, the fault of the book or it's author? Or was it the fault of an already mentally ill PERSON?

There is nothing different about Twilight than any of a thousand fantasy books marketed toward teens apart from the fact that a large number of people like it. When a large number of people like something, this by sheer mathematics, increases the odds that some mentally ill people are going to like it.

Making this argument is no different that saying that heavy metal music causes violence. It is, quite simply, ridiculous.

Haphazard Adulthood

This is a poem that I wrote just today about my feelings on growing up.

Lessons Learned Pulling an All Nighter at 22

This is a poem that I wrote after I stayed awake for a full night last week.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Labels That We Place On One Another

I've always felt like a good word to describe myself is "eccentric" but throughout my life I've found that the majority of people seem to favor "geek" or "nerd". I'm not entirely sure who is correct in this instance. Is it "geeky" to love literature that's specifically written and targeted toward teenage girls or adult women? Is it "nerdy" to have a passion for boy bands AND punk rock? Does my love of the band Hanson make me a nerd? Am I geek for putting Tabasco on almost everything that I eat? Admittedly, I do posses a large number of more "traditional" geek qualities (a love of comic books, passion for literature, a fondness for anything involving aliens, etc.) but I feel like these things only add to my unique eccentricities.

I don't doubt that there are bland people out there, but I genuinely believe that every person is a patch in the quilt and every patch is different. Would you really describe a beautiful handmade piece of unique art, like a patchwork quilt, with arbitrary labels for every individual scrap used in it's making? Personally, I would pour over it, looking at all the pieces and wondering about each of their stories. Maybe that's my personality though. Perhaps there are people who step back and look at the mismatched monstrosity and think that it's ugly.

I realize that I've asked more questions than I've answered at this point, but that's really the point of this. I want to know about people. It's the reason I sit in a library or a cafe and read when I could just as easily do it in my apartment. I like to watch people and wonder about their stories.

Who am I? I'm 22 years old, very liberal in my beliefs, more than a little effeminate, and I love my family more than anything in the world. I've been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, severe depression, and a serious anxiety disorder. I've been living with this since I was 6 years old. I love music with a passion and I'm not very good at playing but that doesn't stop me from trying. I love Mexican food, comic books, literature of any kind, and writing.

I could go on forever because one word does not and can not contain me just like it can't contain you. If anyone cares enough to read this I'd like you to tell me about you. Who are you? I genuinely want to know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why Twilight is NOT Hurting Anyone.

In this blog I will attempt to highlight various arguments against Twilight and why they are wrong. First, let me state for the purpose of getting stereotypes and prejudices out of everyone's head: I am male, straight, married, 23 years old, and about to have a daughter. I do not fall into this book's target market so I think it's safe to say that I'm not some hormone addled teenage girl mindlessly trying to defend Twilight. Unlike many of the people who feel the need to scream about how terrible Twilight is for society, though, I have actually read all four of the books.

Argument #1: But... but... she's a MORMON!! and she's trying to shove her religion down everyone's throat!
This one makes me the most upset out of any of them. It's not just wrong, it's right down bigoted. I've heard two different versions of this argument.

The first being that Edward Cullen is essentially a direct transposition of Joseph Smith Jr. (the founder of Mormonism). This MAY be true, if you Google an image of him. He's a pretty plain looking white guy with a square jaw, as is Edward. This could also mean that Edward Cullen is a direct transposition of Paul Walker or Christopher Reeves or any number of plain looking white guys with square jaws. This proves nothing and is not a reason to hate a character or, for that matter, a woman who writes books that a lot of people happen to enjoy.

The other "Mormon" argument that I've heard is the idea that the "werewolves" are revealed to have the uncontrollable ability to "imprint" on someone and this is somehow secretly an effort to make young girls think that polygamy is okay. This is so unbelievably ridiculous that I can barely even bring myself to talk about it rationally. I'll give it a try though... In the series when the werewolves "imprint" they see a woman that they then become attached to. They're completely head over heels for them and essentially "destined" to be with them. If you ask me, that seems to play more to the ideals of "love at first sight" and "destined lovers" that have been staples in literature for centuries.

Now the most important part... if she IS attempting to insert her religion into these books... SO WHAT? The Chronicles of Narnia are one giant advertisement for the Christian faith. The message is pervasive and intentional. They are some of the most loved books in literature. Why does her putting snapshots of what she believes into her writing make her any worse? I'll tell you why: because she isn't Christian. People who make this argument are flat out bigoted, whether they chose to admit it or not.

Argument #2: Bella is a blank slate of a character with no personality who is designed so that girls can project themselves onto her.
This is PARTLY true. Bella IS designed so that the reader can project themselves onto her. Again I say: so what? This has been a literary device since Shakespeare and Greek mythology. Hell, in mythology they would actually name characters Everyman! It's a valid literary tool.

Some people may argue that just because a character is designed as an extension of the reader/audience doesn't mean they should be devoid of character and personality. For example, in the television series LOST, the character Hurley is pretty much designed to say what the audience is thinking. This does not mean he's a blank slate, on the contrary he has a lot of personality. I would argue that the character of Isabella Swan also has personality. Like I mentioned before, I HAVE read the books and I can tell you that she has a passion for classic literature (specifically Jane Austen and Shakespeare), she listens to classical music (her love of Claude Debussy is a large plot point), she's extremely uncoordinated and clumsy making her not a big fan of sports or dancing, she's very good at cooking because she was raised by a mother who wasn't, I could literally go on forever. Is she the most INTERESTING person in the world? No. She's not an eccentric character in the least and she likes ordinary things, but those things ARE her personality. I'm sure that you could find a lot of people similar to her.

The bulk of people who use this argument have ONLY seen the film version of the books and are basing this assessment on Kristen Stewart's acting. Kristen Stewart is a pretty bland actress, I'm not sure if it was the script, the directing, or if it was just her, but the way she portrays the character and the way the script was written is in no way a representation of her character in the books.

Argument #3: They're poorly written.
I've seen worse.

Argument #4: They reinforce negative gender stereotypes and depict abusive relationships as good.
This is the biggie. The one that I've seen most frequently. I'm going to have to tackle this is a few key parts.

The ways that this argument has some validity is seen in books two and three.

In book two (New Moon) Edward leaves Bella because he's afraid that exposing her to the supernatural world is threatening her life. After he leaves, she essentially falls to pieces because she NEEDS him. Having this sort of attachment to someone, true love or not, is NOT healthy. I concede all of this. If you read the book the way I did though, it isn't portrayed as good. She looses a lot of her friends and everyone essentially hates her for the way that she's acting. Just because the character is acting this way does not mean that it's being portrayed as positive. I give young adult women WAY more credit than the book's critics seem to, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The second way you see this argument as being valid is in book three (Eclipse). Edward essentially forbids Bella from seeing her friend Jacob (who is a werewolf) because he says that it isn't safe. For several chapters he goes to extreme links to keep this apart. This is controlling and borderline abusive. It is wrong. Again, I will concede all of this. What you have to do is, again, take the piece as a whole. Eventually Edward admits that what he's doing is wrong. He admits he wasn't trying to protect her, but was acting out of jealousy and backs down. Now while a lot of you may be saying "so it's teaching young women that if an abuser apologizes than it's okay?" To which I say: sort of. If a man is inclined to PHYSICALLY abuse a woman, there's pretty much no changing that. It's an unfixable character defect. But if you can say that you've never acted irrationally out of anger or jealousy, then you are either a saint or a God damn liar. Should he not be entitled to redemption if he admits he's wrong and changes his ways?

The final point to be made is regarding the "out dated gender roles" argument. Throughout the entire series Bella is portrayed as the damsel in distress who needs a man to save her. This is not a positive portrayal of women, I admit, but the difference in this case is that Edward IS a lot more powerful than she is and HAS the ability to protect her. Additionally, she expresses her disdain at having to be rescued and how much she hates being the damsel in distress multiple times throughout the series, so it isn't as if she's accepting it. MOST IMPORTANTLY: The series ends on a note of triumph for Bella. She becomes a vampire and is more powerful and in control than any of the the others. If you ask me, this is a positive message.

The thing that sticks in my throat about this assertion is that it assumes that all young women are idiots. I don't believe this to be the case. I think that when the average girl reads the portions of Eclipse where Edward is being controlling they, like me, are angry with him. I believe that when they read the scenes depicting Bella, delirious with misery because she got dumped, they are as annoyed with her as I was. I mean I don't doubt that there are young women who read it and think "Yes! I want a man who's going to control me!" but I doubt that the book has as much to do with that as other aspects. Teenagers are smarter than they're given credit for.

In Closing:
Do I think that Twilight is the greatest series that has ever been written? No. Do I believe that it has it's problems (particularly Stephanie Meyer's abuse of adjectives)? Yes. Do I believe that this SERIES OF STORIES is actively HURTING anyone? No, I do not.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Midas Touch

As a card carrying geek, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and speculating on the nature of super powers. Which would I like to have? Which would I not like to have? What are the limitations of abilities granted to heroes in comics and film? These are among the things that clutter the space in my head that would otherwise be occupied by math, science, and other useful skills.

The other day I found myself thinking about a discussion I saw somewhere. A reporter asked an interview subject a fluff question that was along the lines of "If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?" and the person said that they would love to have the ability to touch any book and immediately know it's entire contents.

Something about this stuck with me (only this part obviously, since I don't remember a single other detail from the interview) and it made me wonder about the nature of that power. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like it would be terrible. I mean, I can see the benefits of being able to touch a text book and know it's contents, but the only way I can see this ability being worth it, is if it were controllable. If not, it would be more like a Midas touch, in my opinion.

The ability to simply touch a work of fiction and know the whole story would destroy the pleasure of reading. I don't think that I'm alone in feeling like the joy of a good book is in the slow burn, the cup of coffee you drink while you're reading, the gradual unfolding of events... to simply know the story isn't the same as having read it, even if you do know every single word.

Such are the musings of a man with entirely too much time on his hands.