Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Make It So

For anyone who didn't grow up watching Star Trek, I pity the fact that the words in this title don't evoke for you an image of Patrick Stewart in red spandex lowering his gaze and pointing determinedly at you. It's magical.

Nicole recently told me about a study (vagueness alert: this ain't no damn science blog!) in which brain scientists or some such group of people found that a particular part of a person's brain is active when they complete some task. Let's call it the "self satisfaction center."

Apparently this same bit of grey matter lights up when a person merely tells someone about what they are currently working on, regardless if they have finished it already or not. So, if you got full just by telling someone about this amazing dinner you were going to have, why bother eating at all?

Turns out the greatest disincentive to actually finishing your projects is excitedly gabbing about them to all your friends. This resonates with me powerfully. I think I've seen it in me for a long while, and this was simply the validation I needed to put those theories into practice.

Ergo, from now on, if you ask me what I'm working on at the moment, it will likely be a short conversation. Either that, or I really am just becoming as inept and boring as I fear. Toss up, really.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Good-Bye Wi-Fi

We no longer have internet at the house because our wi-fi-sharing neighbors moved out recently to live in Chile. I begged and begged (in my mind) for Zach to simply leave me his scooter in the interim, since he couldn't take it on the plane with him, but nothing came of it. The same can be said of most things that remain only in the mind.

Our new, cleaner, airways have left a void in our days though. Not just the lack of Facebook as a time-waster, or G-chat as a half-distracted way to keep in touch with friends. The unexpected casualty has been television. We have no cable hook-up, and no digital receiver on our ancient Craigslist-begotten set, so our entire video media life has pretty much consisted of either streaming or downloading shows and movies. All of that's gone now.

Not to make this sound like a eulogy. It's really fine that we have more time to indulge in our active hobbies, or to work toward our future goals, rather than just sitting around opportunistically plucking off 60's comedies that have been added to Netflix's Watch Instantly orchard over the previous week. I'm writing more, for instance, as evidenced by this entry's very existence.

Like anything else, television is worth more if you have to work for it. Downloading shows and getting them from Netflix is no longer so convenient it can eat up entire weekends. Regulating this vice is similar to one of the big reasons why I prefer my moca pot for coffee brewing, or rolling my own cigarettes. I indulge less, and enjoy those indulgences more.

It makes me wonder what else I could limit so as to restrict as well as heighten. No longer owning a car is one option, though not in this town, with its population density similar to that of candy bars drifting through outer space. Maybe a couch that folds up automatically when I get up, but not so in the other direction forcing me to work a little before lounging.

Suddenly I feel like the dad in Calvin and Hobbes. "It builds character!"

More realistically, this should apply to food. I could simply stop buying all this "bad for you" deliciousness, and limit myself only to enjoying such things when I make them myself. Not exactly the most strenuous of exercise, but I'm sure running around the kitchen and stirring something constantly burns a few calories. It would at least limit my candy and pizza intake due to time restrictions.

But then, for that to be an issue, I would have to believe that candy and pizza are actually bad for me. Television, smoking, excessive caffeine are all probably negatives for my fragile bod and brain, but candy and pizza are precisely what a growing boy needs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MFA: Master's of Fiiiiine Arts

It occurred to me as I was writing a friend about my recent decision to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing (that's right, folks!), that I haven't announced it here, on this reader-less forum! Well, there it is, actually - I just did.

The facts are simple.

  1. I've been writing fiction for as long as I can remember. Ten-year-old me's sequel to Jurassic Park (written before that hack Michael Crichton wrote his version) received stellar reviews from Mrs. Douglas. And she hated the author, so you know it meant something.
  2. Still, to this date, despite my magazine internship, my forays into internet citizen journalism and blogging, and my two month gin-soaked retreat to San Luis Obispo, I feel I have not given the pursuit of my art an honest attempt. Two to four years of free tuition and just barely enough money to live on while focusing almost exclusively on my writing (and not being able to afford gin) would change that. If, after that, I fail, then I can say I tried.
  3. Maybe I suck at the whole white-collar office gig. Maybe I'm okay with that. Lord knows I don't enjoy it, so why should I pursue it? Just because that's what my middle-class upbringing had in mind for me? Yes, it sounds a little bit like middle-school-punk-rock me is returning to the surface, but maybe that's a good thing. I got lost in this whole 'grown-up' scene for a while. The difference is that now my parents can be counted amongst the good guys.
  4. What better time than now? No kids, no car I couldn't part with for food money, and no limitations on where I could live to fulfill this dream. Except Arizona. And Nevada. I'm so done with these desert environs. Give me rain, lord, give me rain!
So that's that. There are tons of details, sure, but that's the gist. For the really curious, the list of programs to which I'll likely apply currently includes (in no particular order):
  • University of Iowa in Iowa City
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  • University of Texas, Austin
  • Brown University in Providence
  • New York University in New York City
  • Cornell University in Ithaca, New York
  • Syracuse University
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • University of Houston in Texas
  • University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
  • Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
  • Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond
  • American University, DC
  • Washington University, St. Louis

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sing Song Silence, Tell Tale Tapping

There are times when I need to sing. Like thirst, I can postpone its sating for a time, but not forever. Often this is because I am sitting at my desk in my cemetery-silent office.

So, instead of singing, I do everything I can but sing. I motion the words or the rhythm with my lips and tongue. I type the words at the same pace at which I'd be giving them voice. I bob my head, rock my body and, if I'm careful not to shake the plywood floor or the plastic cubicle walls, I even settle into a salacious tapping of my heel.

To actually break out into song would be to stab at the heart of this unsuspecting, sleepy beast of an environment. So I tip-toe around it, slaking my thirst but leaving the beast on its throne.

Until the revolution comes!

"There will come a time when everybody who is lonely will be free to sing and dance and love...There will come a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance."
- Frank "who cares if it's satire" Zappa

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Weather Update: Still Weird (Addendum)

May 2nd, ice falls from the sky.

It's new to me too.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Weather Update: Still Weird

This morning I had to take a circuitous route to work that involved heading way up north, then looping through the NE Heights, and into my office Uptown. On the way, I saw three bank marquees displaying the temperature. At 8:20 at Menaul and Carlisle it was 71 degrees; 8:40 at Wyoming and Comanche it was 52; and by 8:43 at Wyoming and Indian School it was 62. I have little doubt that these readouts were accurate.

On my 10-mile journey, I passed through three (likely more) climate zones. I want to remind all the folks back home that all of Albuquerque could fit inside the San Fernando Valley one and a half times.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

No Earl Grey at these Tea Parties

I stumbled upon David Weigel's blog for the Washington Post and have been reading up on his notes from the inside of the Conservative movement. This one and the stories it links to caught my eye in a special way. What is the deal with the Tea Party Movement (how I hate to even validate it by calling it so!), anyway? Is it racially driven? Who are these people? Are they as stupid as their signs suggest they are?

This Gallup poll gives us the figures. About 79% of Tea Party members are white, 6% black, and 15% other. Given that the total US population is 11% black, it seems to me that blacks are only half as likely to be tea partiers as people in other races. In addition to being whiter than average, they are more likely to be wealthier than average, less likely to hold an advanced degree, more likely to be a man, and more likely to be a homemaker. Though, your average tea partier is probably not those last two things at the same time. But hey - wealthy, undereducated white men directing their anger at a black politician and his followers...you don't say.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Economist and Me: Climate Change

I'm not saying the editors of the Economist read this blog, but I'd like to thank them anyway for expanding part of my climate change post into a well-structured, fiscally-focused piece for their March 18th edition.

On December 8, 2009, I wrote "...who can argue about scientific findings concerning an issue as big and as old as the planet itself? Just about everybody."

On March 18th, the Economist backed me up by writing,  "if records of temperature across the past 1,000 years are not reliable, it matters little to the overall story" and "the problem lies not with the science itself, but with the way the science has been used by politicians to imply certainty when, as often with science, no certainty exists."

There are some difference of approach, sure. Whereas I implicate the Right's haggling over climate change specifics, the Economist points fingers primarily at the Left for having sold it as such a sure thing to begin with.  I focus on the environmentalism of it, and they on the good financial sense of investing in our protection against something uncertain, but potentially catastrophic and very costly.

Seems fair. Both sides are to blame, and I'm not much more a fan of the Democrats than I am of the Republicans. Thanks Economist!

But, seriously, next time cite me! Please? Oh, fine. Phooey.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thug Love

I'm sitting in the Albuquerque Main Library, directly across from a man who is reading, then sniffling as though crying, then kissing the pages of his book fervently. I guessed immediately that it wasn't a Where's Waldo collection. Its black covers, tiny text, and abundance of hair's-breadth pages told me it was the Bible.

I only realized this as I sat down, and now it's a bit awkward because I want to stare, to try to understand, but there is something sacred happening here, something that I would diminish to mere spectacle by witnessing.

He is a young man, maybe about my age, hispanic with the tattoos to prove he's had a hard life. I noticed one on his face, and his arms and neck contain the kind of writing endemic to gang life.

When I hear him sniffle, it's a sign he is about to dip his head into the filo-dough pages of his Biblia and kiss what I imagine to be every mention of his Lord's name. I take these opportunities to glimpse him again. Watching is only watching if he sees it happening, and I can't turn away from this passion. It's the stuff usually reserved for lovers resisting the inevitable break-up.

He doesn't look physically strong. This isn't one of the gangsters you see parading around the prison yard in crime movies, intimidating our lithe protagonist, who's only there undercover, anyway. He might be the protagonist. Only he's not undercover, and heroes don't have tattoos like this. He wants to be a hero, though. Villains don't tearfully kiss the Lord's name in public libraries.

Our hero just left. He sniffled one final time, deeply, in the manner of a recovery, zipped up something - a bag or a sweater maybe, and walked into the stacks, possibly to return the Holy Book to the piles of other things he does not own.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

(sugar)Crystal Ball

The other day I came back to my desk after a brief turn in the garden (read: sitting on a tree stump in the parking lot) to find a curious little trinket just in front of the keyboard. It was a plain little fortune cookie, still in its plastic wrapper.  No note, no clues, no likely suspects.

My colleague/uber-boss who generally shares a cube with me was not in town that week, and the only other person who even might possibly leave me such a gift had dined much earlier in the day, and had not gone out for any sort of Asian cuisine. Nobody else leaves me treats. I just don't reach out to people that much.

Tragically for the fortune cookie, I lean much more heavily toward gluttony than toward mystery. Untroubled by the thing's origin, I was sure it contained sweetness, and thus made with the nom-nom post-haste. No, I wasn't troubled at all. Until, that is, I read my fortune.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Old Bedroom

Maybe I was just staring at my blog, thinking about writing something for it. Maybe I was doing this just now, and maybe I realized that the green and white theme is very similar to what I painted my old bedroom in my parent's house after moving back home after getting my bachelor's. Green walls, white trim.

Some people claim that green is a color of illness. The M&M/Mars Corporation contests that it is the color of passion. I generally prefer M&Ms to "some people," anyway. More dependably pleasing on the tongue, for starters.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Atheist Test: The Second Coming

I'm almost ashamed to confess that the simple little booklet that Nicole found on the train is still on my mind.  The Atheist Test is really a piece of work.  I've read it a couple times now and I've realized that I love it.  Check out that link first before finishing this entry - give it a read.  I'll wait.

Funny, right?  Let me count the ways.

1)  It's well-plotted.  It has to be, since it's examples are so particular.  For instance, it talks about how the banana was clearly meant for human consumption because it has, amongst other things, a pull tab, a slip-resistant skin, is easily held in one's hand, etc.  Clearly an excellent design.  The problem here is that the banana is almost the only fruit that fits the bill.  Imagine making these arguments for a coconut or a prickly pear.  Maybe we're supposed to infer that only the banana comes from God, all other fruits are here merely to tempt us into sin.  Freudians and feminists could argue about that one till doomsday.

2)  I'm in love with the overarching logical theme, best exemplified in this excerpt: "The odds that ten oranges would fall by accident into a straight line are mind-boggling, let alone ten rows of five."  Never mind looking for context - it really is that absurd.  The author is basically asking us to ignore one incredulous, albeit possible (given non-zero odds and 4.5 billion years of earth history), explanation, and then to accept another even more incredulous, supernatural explanation.  The booklet says it in different ways throughout.  A building with no builder?  Crazy!  But a building whose builder was an omniscient ghost?  Now you're making sense!

3)  It is completely unaware of its own failings, which, granted, is a prerequisite for stubborn, blind faith.  Every one of its arguments could be easily turned on its head and used to "prove" the opposite point.  It teaches us that unless you know everything about something, you can't make an absolute statement regarding that thing.  I don't know everything about the universe, so I can't say, "there is no God."  Do you see where this is going?  It's fun and easy, try some on your own!

4)  It compares faith to a television broadcast.  We don't understand how the TV works (nobody does, that's impossible!) but once we have the right receiver, we can witness the power and the glory of the television "waves."  In this analogy, God is in the TV.  Marilyn Manson had it right all along.

There is so much more in there, sports fans, there really is.  This post is getting a little long, but for the love of the Saints, go stew on it a while.  It's rare that such a short work of literature is so brimming with intrigue.

Stay tuned for my sequel to it, The Agnostic Test.  All questions, no answers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"...and the Devil is a Railroad Car."

I spent the majority of this past weekend on a train - approximately two out of the past three days. The brief time not spent en route was spent cramming in as much friend-and-family time as possible in LA. Total count? About 30 hours, 30 relatives, and 15 friends. Thank you to everyone who made time to see me. I appreciated every second.

Nicole and I tried to sleep most of the round-trip. It's hard not to when 12 of the 16 hours in transit fell between dusk and dawn. But Amtrak seats are only a bit more comfortable than airplane seats, and not very conducive to restful slumber. So I read a little, stared blankly into the darkness, and sometimes went to the lounge to sip coffee see who else wasn't sleeping. Besides, I don't think my reading Catcher in the Rye aloud to Nicole was much appreciated by the giggly church volunteer behind us or the elderly Mennonite couple across from her. Bits like, "...and his soul's in Heaven and all that crap," could not have been warmly received.

There seemed to be an inordinate number of Jesus fans on the rails in general. That Mennonite couple was only the first of three couples I saw during my round trip, and on the way back yesterday I suddenly found myself locked in conversation between a preacher and a hard place - the hard place being a former farmer from Burlington, Iowa.

He was good company, though, in between feeding his pop addiction and pointing out livestock and buildings as we trekked across the sparsely populated snowy mesas between Flagstaff and Albuquerque. He also consented to be a guinea pig for my new blogging idea (to be revealed soon). Nicole even found a hilarious pamphlet of Christian propaganda entitled "The Atheist Test". Apparently, the Big Bang theory doesn't hold up to scrutiny when applied to the origins of soda cans. This is an actual graphic from the booklet.

They insisted I'm a believer, whether or not I knew it. This isn't the first time I've heard such things, but it makes me wonder if they say that to all the 20-somethings, hoping it will win them over to the church with trust and goodwill. Are they just spiritual confidence men? Yesterday I almost believed them, today I have more doubts. Of course, yesterday I was sleep-deprived, and today I'm better rested. Maybe this is what Saint Anthony, Buddha, and all their ascetic company mean when they say physical comfort distracts from what is truly important. Whatever that is.

By the way, have you ever seen Los Angeles' Union Station lit up at night? It's an elegant and stunning sight, as well as a dangerous one, considering it will make people loathe to leave, as it did me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Beards on the Bayou

Last week I found myself living in makeshift dormitory at the First Methodist Church of New Iberia, Louisiana, a small town outside of the roaring metropolis that is Lafayette.  Well, it might be anyway - I didn't make it up to Lafayette.  We were there to work, courtesy of our AmeriCorps program with Rebuilding Together. We were there to rebuild houses.

And we did.  We did siding, decking, demolishing, painting, roofing, framing, nailing, screwing, sawing and some people spent a lot of time playing with caulk.  No caulk for me though.  I had my hands full screwing on the porch.  We screwed that porch right onto its frame!  Bam!

It was a blast.  By the end of the days our hands were dirty, our hair was sloppy from sweat and hard hats, our muscles ached, our skin was burned, and some people even shed blood to ensure a better life for these homeowners.  I'm sure they'd just as soon as not have shed blood, but ask me if that two-inch long splinter through my finger was worth it, and I'll proudly nod (while cradling the wound, which I can still make out).

What's a splinter compared to a family with a severely disabled daughter being able to move back into their home which was all but completely destroyed when Hurricane Rita got mad and threw a tree into it?  As we finished securing the ceiling joists and roof rafters, I caught a glimpse of the happy couple walking through the newly re-framed middle portion of their wrecked home, picking out spots for furniture.  The few words I overheard then kept me warm all night.  Which was good, considering I didn't have much of a blanket in our over-stuffed barracks.

Some of us waited for hours to shower each night.  God bless our hosts who cooked for us every evening, went shopping for fresh fruit and bread every day, and arranged a field trip to Avery Island, home of Tabasco.  We spent way too much time at each of downtown New Iberia's four bars just about every night.  An elite crew of us explored the graveyard behind the church one night, and then climbed through a not-quite-entirely parked freight train to get home afterwards.  We danced, we wandered, we made out with each other (just a little), and made friends with the locals (Pete - I hope things work out with your girlfriend leaving her husband in Dallas and all).

Most importantly, we deepened friendships that already were far more important to each of us than the short amount of time we've all spent together would normally suggest.  It's a rich incongruence of which I am a lucky part.

There is no word count bloated enough that could suitably convey the sensations of that week, so rather than understate the case myself, I'll borrow from a tombstone that never existed outside of Kurt Vonnegut's books.

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."  Thank you, everyone.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Have I mentioned that I totally failed NaNoWriMo 2009?  Yessir, in classic mattjosh fashion, I was quick to start, slow to finish.

Oh yes, I am a force in first gear, a gallop out of the gate, a booster during blast-off!

But as the time went on, and my life intruded into my writing schedule, I took my mid-month trip to Washington for my organization's national conference and endured long days, intense partying, and hard nights on various floors and beds in the circa-L'Enfant Plaza area.  I wrote on the planes, but could not recover my initial momentum once I arrived home in Albuquerque.

It didn't help that I launched into a project that had sat for two years, after a blitz of inspiration birthed and raised it in two days time into a bouncing baby step outline for a screenplay.  Now I was trying to adapt it into a novel as I went, dismayed constantly that I was not capturing the tone I had envisioned.

It's a difficult project.  A satire on Islamic Terrorism in middle America.  It has to be funny but not too funny, serious but not too serious, real but not too real.  My tone was alternately farcical and melancholic.  Maybe it will work.  Maybe, taken as a completed whole it will reek of genius, rather than simply reek.

Most importantly, I need to return to it because I won't be able to die easy without having completed it.  But there are a lot of those project sitting around my world, and maybe it's better to keep a few unfinished just so I don't get too comfortable with the notion of my own demise.

I'd like my last work to be an autobiography, its closing words, dictated because my hands have grown too feeble to type, quoting Polonius emerging from behind the curtain, "O! I am slain!"

Monday, January 4, 2010

Honey Bear Dying of Exposure

A problem and a plea today. 

Honey Bear does not handle the cold very well.  Every morning I wake up to my 40 degree or, on a good morning, 50 degree living space and find that the honey inside of Honey Bear has cemented into a sweet honey stone.  His guts are blocked.  His lifeblood no longer oozes freely around his body cavity. 

Is Honey Bear still sweet if you can't get sweetness out of Honey Bear?

He needs to be kept around 70 degrees, I think, to function as a Honey Bear should.  What's a boy to do?  Any suggestions?  Help!