Long Distance Writer

Ok. I need your help.

It’s the beginning of my last semester of college and it’s a good time for resolutions. My goal is to write 500 words 5 times a week. Also: write a couple o’ pages or more whenever I can find the time. Also: Update this blog at least once a week. That’s a lot on top of other things.

You see, I’m generally a long distance writer. I find myself with a little time, or I make time, then I hole up in some fox den coffee shop with quaint hipster music banjoing in the distant background, and I hunch over my keyboard and scowl at anyone who talks to me, or looks at me, or walks by.

I’m kidding. I don’t scowl. I’m nice.

These blissful moments in my life come maybe once or twice a week. But I’m notoriously bad at having any sort of real consistent discipline, and I don’t have a consistent writer’s spot either. I go where the wind takes me. Most days that’s a distracting place full of friends. I don’t get any work done at these times. (Real people are always more interesting than reading or writing. Remember that.)

My goal is two-fold. To strengthen discipline. And to exercise my ability to write in those shorter time segments between events. Long distance writers like me will often want to get away for at least a few hours, maybe even half a day or more, and pour all their attention into the task. This seems healthy and effective, but it’s not practical for someone with school or work (so everyone).

Since I have so much trouble writing through the small time segments, I’d love to hear from you writers about your methods of discipline. Please feel free to comment and discuss ideas. Maybe I need to journal more and collect my thoughts while I’m running about, so when I finally sit down I have somewhere to start. Maybe I need to skip my homework (kidding again).

Thoughts?

P.S. I could have uploaded a pic of, like, a coffee mug or some useless aesthetic to spruce up this post. But that’s silly.

Can I agree with all of the above?

Whatever

It’ll be fine. Really. 

One, JJ Abrams is a perfectly decent director, who does a decent job with human beings, which is more than you can say about the last dude who directed a Star Wars film.

Two, as Super 8 made explicitly clear, Abrams thinks of himself as being in the Spielberg school of filmmaking, i.e., make it entertaining or go home. He’s not artistically conflicted, as Lucas so clearly was, about being a producer of mass entertainment.

Three, as again Super 8 made clear, Abrams understands at least on a productive surface level the visual and schematic ethos of 70s-era filmmakers, of which Lucas was one, so he has a better than fair chance in capturing the specific flavor of the first trilogy — well, the first two films of the trilogy, anyway — that the (older) fans love so well.

Four, his track record as director and…

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Stranger than Fiction

Sometimes our world offers up images that really are stranger than fiction.

Photo taken by Andrew Biraj.

Photo taken by Andrew Biraj.

This is a photo I found on Time Magazine’s website. Here’s the URL if you want to see more: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/01/25/pictures-of-the-week-january-18-january-25/#23. The caption reads simply: ” boy plays with balloons by Buriganga river as smoke emits from a dump yard during sunset in Dhaka.”

I don’t know why, out of all the other photos I looked at, this one stuck with me. When I first saw it I didn’t think, “Now, that’s a pic I can blog about. The title will read ‘Stranger than Fiction.'” I looked at the rest then left my computer for a while before coming back and finding it again.

It’s like a dream. That one image. An odd, hazy sort of dream half remembered. A boy grips a cluster of balloons and stands in the middle of a world of smoke and waste. (That would have been my caption).

It’s one of those dreams from which you wake somehow still emotionally invested in a story you can’t recall. Who was that boy? His features are indistinct. You can’t remember his smile or the color of his eyes. But you have the color of his dazzling balloons. You have the smoldering ground he stands on. You can almost smell it — the sick and sulfur smell of that world.

I don’t know why this image affected me the way it did, but sometimes we look at things like this and we think, “Wow, that photographer captured the lighting and color so well. I wish I could do that.”

Sure. he did. But I caught myself thinking about that kid. Nothing distinct. Just thoughts about who he was and where he was headed.

From the picture it looks like his reality is stranger than my fiction.

Maybe that’s all we need to understand.

Chautauqua Writers

This past week I had the unforgettable experience of heading off to upstate New York’s Chautauqua Institute with a group of nine other writers. This is an interesting place. It has always had a history of being a market of intellect where brains crammed together in a relatively small area even before there were houses there. Before the houses were tents, and Mark Twain, after a visit, said it was so crowded that “you could hear the women changing their minds.” Now there are houses, and it’s still used by lecturers and learners in the summer months, but in the winter it’s almost entirely a ghost town.

Let me give you an image: picture Twain’s hemmed in rows of tents, now a cluster of old Victorian-esque houses equally squeezed, subtract the people, add a foot or two of snow, and—the last touch—add the massive sheets of canvas that folks cover those houses with in the winter to keep the…I dunno, winter out. A ghost town covered in white sheets. It was a little unnerving how often the few locals jokingly referenced Stephan King’s horror The Shining.

So we were there to write—none of us being Stephen King. And from 1:00 to 5:30 each day we wrote. I’ve never sat in a room with other writers, all silent, frowning down at the brain-sucking computer light, all spilling out their imaginations in front of the gas fireplace (It was a decidedly un-hipster event). We weren’t working on the same project, but we were working together, doing what we were made to do and helping each other complain about it. I can’t tell you how therapeutic it was to collectively groan. And I can’t tell you how amazing it was to write together and share our craft with one another.

What struck me the most, being a part of a community of writers and not just working alone, was the realization that writing can be a community orientated activity. The image I had before the trip was more or less individualistic—each of us heading off to coffee shops or separate rooms. Sometimes that’s what happened. But one of the best moments of the trip involved a fireplace, a couch, a collection of mismatched chairs, and five or six writers hard at work.

We were in our own worlds, but every time I drifted far enough back into our warm, shared world, I’d see them doing what I was doing. We had an unspoken connection. It was a connection of furrowed brows and mugs of hot tea (sometimes two mugs at the same time). A connection of slippers and craned necks and journals and thoughts, and, ultimately, of a gift.

Most of us had never shared that gift with other people before. Writing can be an odd, private thing if we let it become that. If we wish, we can set ourselves apart and keep our gifts close and hidden. We can fret over what people think and worry about how we look sharing something that we do well.

But I’m of the opinion that gifts are made to be shared.

I learned more from the feedback, and from the time spent with other authors than I thought possible. And the best thing of all…we avoided all Chautauqua chainsaw massacres.

A good time in my book!

The Best Metal Albums of 2012 Pt. 2

Here is part II of the metal music finals for 2012. There is a good chance that in the future I will be making music related posts in a new blog (that’s if I can ever get my act together and find the time). For now, I’ll post this here because 2012 is over!

gojira5. Gojira’s L’enfant Sauvage

French heavy-hitters, Gojira, took their time coming out with this. It turned out to be worth the wait. What I hear is a good blend of From Mars to Sirius and The Way of All Flesh. The stomping-ground, mosh pit arena, industrial riffs are undeniably there, but so is the emotion and writing that makes it feel like more than just a gun show. Gojira has guns to be sure, possibly some of the biggest in the metal scene; they also have one of the most unique sounds, and that shows more than ever on Sauvage. Stand out tracks are “The Ax,” “Liquid Fire,” and “The Gift Of Guilt.”

doon4. Impending Doom’s Baptized in Filth

I was worried about Baptized in Filth before it ever came out. In case you didn’t know, Impending Doom is a Christian band. Could have fooled me with the cover art and the name. But they have always been like that–more interested in a revelatory, apocalyptic, thou-shalt-burn-in-hell sort of Christianity…where do they make these people?! Whatever. It’s best to adopt a boys will be boys attitude with these metal-heads and enjoy the pleasure of being crushed under the churning wheels of their battle music. I loved their previous album, There Will Be Violence (I can still hear the pummeling chorus of the title track in my head when I write those words), and I was ready for more when it finally hit iTunes. With Death Metal it’s hard to decipher stand out tracks at first. It takes an educated (or desensitized) ear to listen for the best riffs. After the first few listens I kept discovering them…and discovering them until I realized that every song was a series of the most exciting explosions I’d ever heard. There are no stand out tracks. This has become one of my favorite albums that I mostly keep to myself, and it’s proof that not all Deathcore sucks.

contor3. The Contortionist’s Intrinsic

The Contortionist takes the gold medal for jumping off the tallest career cliff ever…and walking away unscathed. At least mostly unscathed. After Exoplanet’s extraterrestrial magnificence they were safer taking the low road and writing a clone with a few twists. Historically, bands get sawed in half when they change as much as these guys did (look no further than In Flames). But the progressive sophomore cool-off album, Intrinsic can still hold its head up high. The album is practically a study of progression, and I can’t help but think these boys planned it all along. It takes patience. Give it a little time and Intrinsic will grow on you. Only then do you notice the undercurrents of genius in the music feeding those roots.

tota2-cover2. This Or the Apocalypse’s The Dead Years 

One of the most underrated bands in metalcore? Maybe. After their magnificent previous album Haunt What’s Left hit the scene, I became a loyal fan of their near flawless, energizing beats. I didn’t think anything could overpower Haunt, and while I’m still not sure which I like more, The Dead Years is undeniably a step forward for this band. Haunt What’s Left was a bundle of melodic metal joy. But The Dead Years is heavier, meaner, more experimental, more emotional and catchier than anything before. They took risks here. It shows. So most impressive of all is the fact that the risks paid off. Their other albums were solid and enjoyable; The Dead Years is…brilliant. This is better than August Burns Red and Parkway Drive. It’s better than As I Lay Dying. Hell, ToTA is the best metalcore band in the pantheon right now.

Between-the-Buried-and-Me-Parallax-II1. Between the Buried and Me’s The Parallax II: Future Sequence

As fun as it would be to throw an underrated band into the number 1 slot, I have to be real…when the dust clears, no one can reckon with Between the Buried and Me. This album didn’t come as a surprise at all. After the fabulous part one EP of the Parallax series everyone who listened to it knew what was coming (give or take a few extra experiments). Do yourself a favor and listen to this album in its entirety as it was meant to be. If you have even more time start with Parallax I and flow through to “Goodbye to Everything.”

The Best Metal Albums of 2012 Pt. 1

If you’re at all interested in my uncouth musical tastes, or, if you’re like me and you actually like metal, than this post is for you! Since the beauty of this musical style is entirely lost on most of my friends and family, I won’t waste time defending myself. They wont read this with any real curiosity, and that’s ok…sorta. You either like this stuff or you don’t.

Here’s my line up:

10. Eluveitie’s Helvetios helvetios

Mild curiosity at this band’s wide-ranged use of instruments was about all I could have said for their earlier two releases. It’s extreme metal with a fun twist steeped in Gaulish history (it’s actually an obsession approaching Nile’s monopolization of Ancient Egyptian themes) and close kins to Viking metal extremists Wintersun and Ensiferum. Apart from a few catchy riffs here and there on their first two, they had little to stand out with. But Helvetios caught my attention. Why? It’s a concept album, which has proved a risky move for bands in the past. Unless you’re Queensryche, they tend to fall flat, getting caught up in the story and leaving the music to drift or allowing it to distract from the story. It’s a tricky balance, and Helvetios, a harrowing story about the Roman destruction of the Gaul homeland, mixes a fabulous blend of voices and moody instrumentation to capture the life of the story. I’m a sucker for good stories, but Eluveitie manages to keep things interesting on the musical surface too. Surprisingly, not all the songs sound the same. In fact, it seems to be the storyline that keeps the same rhythmic aggression from running all the songs together like it did in their old stuff. They use some beautiful-sounding instruments, and this album proves that they belong in a metal album.

Kamelot-Silverthorn9. Kamelot’s Silverthorn

We all thought Kamelot was dead with Roy Khan gone…then we heard Tommy Karevik was stepping in, and we breathed a little easier. Then we heard their single, “Sacrimony,” the world seemed a better place. This is one of the only albums I’ve ever pre-ordered, and it was worth it for sure. But not as worth it as I was hoping. It’s good. It’s amazing. Don’t get me wrong. Good enough to make this list, but after a three week Seventh Wonder hype in my ipod I was willing to believe Karevik could do anything. In actuality, though, the only shortcomings of this album were my expectations and one or two weaker songs, but it’s still Kamelot. And that’s all we can really hope for. No lie: I’ll probably pre-order their next album and not regret it one bit.

texas-in-july8. Texas In July’s self title

This was a surprise. Perhaps one of the biggest musical surprises for me in 2012. That is to say, Texas In July is a band I had written off a while back as boring, cliche, and poorly produced. I have to revoke all of those insults for this album and throw a good deal of praise at them. The guitar riffs are refreshing and the production is almost perfect. The breakdowns are fabulous and new. In short, this is an almost 100% perfect metalcore album. That is to say, there’s nothing too new here, but all the old tricks are masterfully done, and no one should be able to complain that it’s not enjoyable. The replay value is high, especially on tracks like “Cry Wolf” and “Without a Head.” It’s heavy and it just keeps on rolling. Let me go so far as to say that August Burns Red is going to have a tough time one-upping this…what am I saying? Of course they will!

reshape7. Elitist’s Reshape Reason

Hey look! Another surprise. Sure, I knew Sean Hall was a good guitarist who has written some of the catchiest, grooviest djent riffs this year, but I never expected Elitist to pull off something this good. It’s actually mature song-writting, not just recycled Meshuggah pounding. That’s not necessarily a sin (Meshuggah itself seems to be just recycling its own riffs these days), but this fresh. This is the album that will take this band far. The song “Sacred Geometry” features a gorgeous, soothing piano wind-down ending, and that song as well as “Equinox” share some clean vocals that sound like they belong on a Tesseract album. That’s a good thing. There’s just something about the way this album was put together. It has charisma. It’s well produced, but not sterile. It’s heavy, but not brutal. It’s groovy–it’s djent, of course it’s groovy–but not narrowly focused. Remember how fast The Volumes got boring? (If it hasn’t that’s likely because you’re used to Lamb of God and Unearth). Reshape Reason is a smooth balance of intricacy and catchiness.

urd6. Borknagar’s Urd

People like to throw around words like avant-garde when jawing about their favorite forward-thinking artists. Even more abused in the music world is the word “progressive.” Urd deserves both of these labels as easy as it deserves to be on this list. But why is this new? Borknagar has always had those labels. That’s practically what they set out to do since their self-titled debut. And have they ever disappointed us? Have they ever gone stale with one of their 9 or so studio releases? Folks, you’ve got to hear it to believe it. I think the thing that impresses me most about this band is the layers. I always hear something new if I listen closely, or I should say deeply, enough. It’s what we might expect from a supergroup, but it doesn’t go over my head. I never did understand Transatlantic, but with Borknagar there’s enough catchiness and well-defined rhythms to follow it the whole way through. It might just take a very, very careful listen. Keep an open mind.

This is the first half of the top ten list for 2012. Get ready for the real heavy-hitters by the end of this week!