Archive for the ‘Spheres of Influence’ Category

Deliberate steps or just plain stallin’?

March 19, 2009

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flicker photo: Roberto_Garcia

Maybe I’m too close to it. Perhaps it’s a fear of failure. I’ve spent the last year working on this new gig, fairly preoccupied with learning more about instructional design, learning styles, neuro- and behavioral economics, and by no small stretch, bootstrapping and building a business. It’s intense, invigorating, and sometimes in the middle of the night, wholly overwhelming.

So when I’m up at night, scheming, brainstorming, hoping, and praying, I wonder: is all the work moving this thing forward, or is it a convenient impediment that disguises as progress?

What do you think? Got any advice?

No Line Horizon…no thanks.

March 2, 2009

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flickr photo: tammylo

I’ve been streaming the new album, No Line Horizon, from the U2 MySpace page in advance of the release tomorrow. I’ve been listening for a bit more than a week. It’s been heartbreaking.

This is one of the hardest posts I’ve written. I don’t know how else to process the jumble of emotions than through callow pith and…the unpleasant awakening at the end of any long standing relationship is never easy. Especially when you could see the end coming, but didn’t want to acknowledge it. I’m quite sure Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam will never read this; no reason for them to, but I want to tell my side of the story.

Why? Why this?

I think I’ve fairly well documented my savage U2 fanaticism, but since Achtung Baby, the savagery has been marketly less ferocious. Dare I say that Achtung Baby was their last true adventure. I am conscious that my statements may amount to heresy coming from a U2 fan (for more than 28 years), but if truth cannot be spoken to those we love the most, then with whom can we share the truth?

Up to and including the release of Achtung Baby (minus the exception of the self-indulgent Rattle and Hum), each album was a fresh piece of artestry. Boy, October, War, Under a Blood Red Sky, Unforgettable Fire, Wide Awake in America and Joshua Tree scythed a path through the packaged crap commercial radio and MTV shoved at us. The live performances, like the ones captured on Under a Blood Red Sky, or Wide Awake in America displayed the quartet’s socially conscious center in stark contrast to the sacchrine infused commercial radio of the day. In 1985 when the world paused to notice a famine crisis, U2 towered over the lollipop gang of pop musicians at Live Aid and cemented their place in the hearts of many. It was a springboard to the Joshua Tree. The success of which nearly excuses the overindugent Rattle and Hum movie soundtrack. Nearly.

The first signs of trouble, Zooropa.

Since Zooropa, U2 has slogged in a creative sludge of uninspired sameness.  To be sure, there have been moments of unabashed genius, “Beautiful Day” for instance. But for each notable single, there is a doppledanger. “Beautiful Day’ spawned “Vertigo”, from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. And for every album there is a fraternal twin Zooropa and Pop, All That You Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Now, if the pattern continues (dear Lord, U2 has become predictable) No Line Horizon can only mean there is more of the same to come.

I suppose I could go into more detail about the multiplicity of the albums and music, but it’s as uninteresting as the albums themselves. U2 stopped experimenting. Stopped growing. From Zooropa moving forward the four boys from Dublin put down their instruments and huddled together over a sequencer in a DJ booth. Please, cut the electronica crap.

So it was with absolute boyish exhuberance and reinvigorated pride I listened to the first track, “No Line Horizon.” Fresh, driving, building in the same vein as The Joshua Tree’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” without mimicry. The next song “Magnificent” took a u-turn to revisit some of the recent filler; I can’t even remember the names of the songs, but they have little for which to distinguish one from the other. You’ll know what I”m talking about when you hear it. And then No Line Horizon disintegrated.

The unspeakable horror

“Force quit/And move to trash” – “Unknown Caller,” No Line Horizon

Now, I call bullshit.

It is indefensible to use Apple OS user interface nomenclature as a lyric of a song. No defensible argument at all. They might as well start wearing hosery and singing Neil Peart lyrics from Rush’s A Farewell to Kings. Or Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance.”

Where is the “One?” Where is the “Stories for Boys?” Where is the “Electric Co?” Where is the passion? The committment? The experiment? The adventure?

That was then…

On April 19, 1981, U2 played at The Agora Music Hall (now the Newport Music Hall) on the Ohio State University Campus in Columbus, Ohio. The show was a stop on the Boy Tour – two days after my birthday. I was in junior high school. Most afternoons I would bike over to campus to the used record stores. I spent hours listening to crazy clerks ranting about comic books and crazy music. The only thing I wanted for my birthday was a ticket to the U2 show. Instead I wound up grounded for heatedly protesting the injustice.

In the years that followed “Bad (Live)” off Wide Awake in America was a personal salvation. I still have the holes in my ears from my sophomoric need to imitate Bono. To stand out. To be heard. To be understand and be understood.

This is now…

“Restart/And reboot yourself” – “Unknown Caller”

Really?

I spent about an hour with “Get On Your Boots.” Something nagged at me and it wasn’t the Led Zepplin “When the Levee Breaks” drum loop, it was something far more sinister that tickled my long dead memories of MTV dross.

I was knocked over when the song echoing in my vacuous skull drug up the 80s melody from Escape Club’s Wild Wild West. The crappy ass song in all it’s glory woven into the fabric of U2’s smash single. I can’t listen to it now.

Not for me. Not anymore.

For the first time since 1981, I’ll take a pass and not purchase the U2 release. I can only hope that U2 is intending to distribute the album similarly to Trent Reznor or Radiohead – either free or let the fan choose how much money to pay for the album.

I’ll admit my sentimental leanings; I’ll give ’em the benefit of the doubt. I’ll Tivo David Letterman this week and pray that the stage show is more…nah, I have to accept it’s over and let the good times be what they were; good times, great songs.

28 years later.

Man, do I feel old.

Thirty-nine years and counting…

April 17, 2008

“Is something wrong?” she said.
“Well, of course there is.”
“You’re still alive,” she said.
“Oh? And do I deserve to be-
“Is that the question?
“And if so
“If so,
“Who answers?
“Who answers?”

‘Alive’ Ten

Pearl Jam

Once an intimate personal anthem, the song is now a point of reference, a dogeared page in a chapter full of wild times, raving idiocy, and occasionally, a dry, genuine encounter. I listen to it every April 17. I look forward to it each year.

Hip, hip, Mr. Favre.

March 4, 2008

Congratulations on your retirement.

We’re the same age.

I’m at the pre-beginning of my career. You’re at the tired-of-300-lbs.-men-want-to-hurt-you point in yours.

Might I recommend a book for you to read in the very near future (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)? I hear there is a jolly good post-pandemic thriller on the horizon. Just keep it in mind. It’s tentatively called Strain.

Don’t fall into broadcasting this year.

Please.

Enjoy the time your family first.

Oh, might I also recommend if you’re in Oregon City get to Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor. Here’s the address:

1120 N Hayden Meadows Dr
Portland, OR 97217
(503) 283-0044

Ask for Bob. He runs the joint. He’s the Bocephus of outfitters.

Enjoy and best wishes.

Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 2

February 18, 2008

What didn’t work

Pinning down this list was more difficult. There are so many variables; when did a method slip from the ‘Worked’ category to the ‘Didn’t Work’?

For instance, NaNoWriMo 2005 was instrumental at the start. Our son was six-weeks old, we were exhausted; it was a stressful time. Our daughter was 2 years old and she didn’t give a whit if her brother was up all night. She’d slept her 10 hours and when morning came you better be ready for action. NaNoWriMo 2005 was an island in the storm. I wanted to complete the 50,000 like a dog begging to be let outside. It was a relief, but completing NaNoWriMo was a pipe dream. There was no way I could manage and not be a self-absorbed yahoo. My wife was all for it, but with a daughter and a newborn, we had no idea what we’d gotten ourselves into. So NaNoWriMo worked until it didn’t.

Since NaNoWriMo 2005, I haven’t felt the need to participate because I never quit the NoWri part.

So with that, let’s dig into the things that didn’t work:

The deadline: Wha…? I know, it’s not what I said previously, but by it’s nature, a deadline has to be met to be considered a success. Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. My very first deadline was to complete before my 20-year high school class reunion. Stupid idea – right motivation, wrong implementation. The second deadline was more plausible – four months – and I was close. Really close

Attempted assault: It was one encounter on a business trip, but it severed the continuity and momentum I’d built and sustained. I really, really hope those three boys got everything they wanted for the holidays and have since found more gainful employment and are giving back to the community in which they live. At the very least, picked a different form of after school entertainment.

Prime time television: It’s a crutch. Some days after work and getting the kids down, there is nothing better than a healthy dose of mind-numbing television to get you through.

Wine, wine, wine: This is not a cry for help. But if they could caffeinate it, I would’ve spent less time nodding off on the couch.

256MB of memory : I love, love, love my Dell C400 laptop. It weighs less than 4lbs, but until very recently (three cheers for profit sharing; hip, hip!) working in a document and opening the browser brought my little CPU to a 100% standstill. The new, additional memory has made a big difference. (Would it be irony or coincidence that the lack of computer power put the kibosh on browsing the Web instead of writing? Should this be considered a ‘Worked’ column item? Hmm.)

Self-(insert item): If there is one thing I learned, I have no control over the story; only the process. The only influence I have is putting my ass in a chair with a keyboard on my lap every night.  The story is outside of me. I’m recording the events. Events that are happening with or without me. Once I got me out of the way, things worked…better.

Trust the story. Be diligent and responsible and it will be just to you. Now, I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks for dropping in to take a look.

Cringe Video: A personal history

February 17, 2008

Please pardon the interruption to this regularly writing-centric blog.

My daughter and I were watching Martin Luther King Jr. speeches on YouTube. One of the other videos on the front page featured an old Smiths video. Wow. Education time was over (sorry, sweetie) and daddy’s trip to Video Nostalgia was full steam ahead.

So I used to hang out at Mean Mr. Mustard’s on the Ohio State University campus (High St. shout out – police paddy wagons parked at every intersection would be filled at the end of every evening) in Columbus. In the heyday of alternative music when R.E.M., U2, and the Clash were considered neither Classic, nor Rock, Mustards was a safe haven from the drunken masses getting liquored listening to Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Linerd Skinerd, and, heaven help me, James Taylor. Really, James Taylor. He’s big in Ohio.

I never dressed like Ian Astbury, but I did go the dapper vintage sports coat, Morrissey hair, and wingtips route. Ahh, to be 18 again. Here are three classics from the Mustards era. A BIG tip of the hat to the people posting at YouTube for this.

And yes, I danced like Ian (the guy in white) in this first video for “She Sells Sanctuary.”

Cure – “Close to Me.” I love the musical use of a comb.

Smiths – “How Soon Is Now.” I loved LOVED this song because it brought all the young ladies out to the dance floor in spite of my Ian Astbury spastic preening moves.

A poem to define the writer’s life

February 5, 2008

“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never -“

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

I first read Stephen Crane’s I Saw a Man Pursuing the Horizon in 6th grade. Eight lines of verse that – for me – encapsulates the life of a writer. For all the poetry I’ve read in the 27 years since, it’s the only poem I know by heart.

I recalled this poem after missing the cut for Nathan Bransford’s Surprisingly Essential First Page Contest. See, a little doubt reared it’s ugly head. A little, ‘hey, why the hell do I stay up nights after the wife and kids are in bed.’

At times like these, I think of this poem like a reflex. Perhaps because I relate to the man pursuing the horizon. The difference is I really think I’m going to catch it. [UPDATE: Obviously, the man pursuing the horizon thinks he’s going to catch it, too. The distinction I wanted to make is this: the Crane’s pursuer is flippin’ crazy. I mean, metaphor or not, who does he think he is? Forrest Gump? Stephen Colbert? C’mon. Twenty-seven years later, he’s still running. That’s not progress. That’s just sad. Dagnabit, now I pity the poor guy. Rather than accosting the poor man, perhaps the narrator should try to get him some help. Like a horse or a spaceship. Better yet, someone should tell him the world is flat.]

(By the way Nathan Bransford is now taking heat for his effort. I’m speechless; blown away that some would take the time and try to sandbag the contest with first pages from actual published novels. Mr. Bransford has handled the lameness with aplomb – remember kids, I still need to query agents in the future – but still, wow…just wow.)

O.K. it occurred to me I shouldn’t post the poem here for copyright reasons. See, I’m learning.

Point of clarification: when I say poem, I certainly don’t mean lyrics. Bono, no offense intended.

Top 25 on my iTunes

November 9, 2007

I have a lot of playlists on my iTunes at work. Occasionally, I’ll take a look at the Top 25 from across all the different lists. This is a pretty good representation; unfortunately, we had to migrate my data from one hard drive to another eight months ago, so I know this list would be different with that data. I mean, there isn’t a single U2 song on here. What happened to Story for Boys? Beautiful Day? Mysterious Ways? Acrobat? I mean, c’mon, the list is making me look un-Bono-worshipish. Sheesh.

1
Mary Won’t You Call My Name?
Morphine
Cure for Pain

2
Hotel Yorba
The White Stripes
White Blood Cells

3
Graveyard Shift
Uncle Tupelo
No Depression

4
Try Not to Breathe
R.E.M.
Automatic for the People

5
moral kiosk
r.e.m.
murmur

6
Save Me
Dave Matthews
Some Devil

7
Crazy (The Late Show with David Letterman 08-14-06)
Gnarls Barkley

8
Absolutely Cuckoo
The Magnetic Fields
69 Love Songs Vol. 1

9
So Damn Lucky
Dave Matthews
Some Devil

10
Eh Hee
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
Radio City Music Hall DVD

11
Grey Street
Dave Matthews
Some Devil [Bonus Disc]

12
Iris
Live
Throwing Copper

13
Here It Goes Again
OK Go
Oh No

14
Dust Radio
Chris Whitley
Living With The Law

15
Grey Street
Dave Matthews Band
Busted Stuff

16
City of Angels
10,000 Maniacs
In My Tribe [Reissue]

17
Phone Call From Leavenworth
Chris Whitley
Living With The Law

18
Made From Dirt
Chris Whitley
War Crime Blues

19
San Francisco
Hello Saferide
Introducing: Hello Saferide

20
Life And How To Live It
R.E.M.
Fables Of The Reconstruction

21
Turn You Inside-Out
R.E.M.
Green

22
Up The Beach
Jane’s Addiction
Nothing’s Shocking

23
Pretty Persuasion
R.E.M.
Reckoning

24
Boll Weevil
Presidents of the United States of America

25
Sample in a Jar
Phish
Hoist

And I thought I was writing fiction

October 2, 2007

I started writing my book during NaNoWriMo 2005 (specifically on November 5, 2005). I discovered the NaNoWriMo site because of a headline I saw on Google News (before the days of iGoogle and it’s time-evaporating excellence). It was the motivation I needed. I had my kernel idea: the sick and the scared. I was off like a rocket.

I wrote each night after the children had gone to bed and did my research during lunch at work. I researched viruses that cause the white of an eye to turn red. I found tuberculosis to fit. Tuberculosis can cause coughing fits violent enough to burst capillaries allowing blood to seep between the conjuntiva & sclera (the white) of the eye. With a little creative license, I could bend the traits of the virus to meet my storyline.

Then I found this December 2003 press release from the University of California at Berkeley. It turned out that during an experiment to test a latent strain of TB, the researchers created a mutant form more deadly than the counterpart.

“These findings came as a complete surprise to us,” said Dr. Lee Riley, professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study.

The test was to disable a collection of genes believed to impair the pathogen’s efficacy. As they discovered, disabling the collection made the virus more deadly.

“This is one of the very few hypervirulent organisms ever created,” said Lisa Morici, a lead author of the study who received her Ph.D. in infectious diseases from UC Berkeley in May.

The premise of my book: Research continued, fueled by government paranoia and the race to patent genes for profit (tip of the hat to Michael Crichton’s Next) with catastrophic results. My novel, Strain, follows the lives of a small group of people as they struggle to survive after the collapse. The fragile peace of the frontier town is shattered with the arrival of the first healthy newborn since the outbreak. The town’s power brokers tear the town, and one another, apart to gain control of the child and his mother. The child and mother’s only chance for freedom and survival is with one man, the last uninfected person in town – an outsider who lives in the shadows in fear of the virus, but who will risk everything to…

You get the idea.

Then today, I read this article on Wired listing the unnerving system and protocol failures at our nation’s laboratories handling the deadliest viruses and toxins known to man.

“It may be only a matter of time before our nation has a public health incident with potentially catastrophic results,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

Even with all the research I’ve done, the story still gave me the shivers. It was as if Wired had plugged into my back story. Crazy.

So I need to finish the first draft. I’ve eclipsed 70,000 words with my ending in site. I took the last several days and nights to track down where everyone is in the story. I really needed to get my head around all the threads to test their strength; found a couple of weak ones and gave ’em a tug. Found a lot of strong ones and felt much better.

I’m overdue on my October 1 deadline, but I did manage to create a story that is tense and well crafted. The second draft is going to be just as challenging, but with the solid foundation, the finish work should go smoothly.

Fingers crossed.

2 days overdue (48:47:30)