Escapism Is Rearmament

You probably heard all of the knocks against escapism growing up. Stuff like: “Grown-ups don’t waste their time with that kind of stuff.”

Like what? Reading a book?

Imagination?

With all the ugliness and strife in the world, who wouldn’t want to escape? That’s where we come up with some of our best ideas.

Escape . . . removing oneself from confinement or a dangerous situation. 

And yet escapism gets a bad rap. It’s seen as retreat, a frivolous diversion into the unreal. Avoiding real life and real responsibilities. 

Even the dictionary seems to hold this view:

…habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity…

But that’s not what we do. We aren’t forced to flee to these imaginative worlds by marauding enemy hordes (though the enemies of civilization, intellectual and physical, do fit this bill). We seek to escape to somewhere better, even if only for a little bit, to recreate ourselves. 
Recreation = re + create

Retreat is running away. 

Escape is rearmament.  Continue reading “Escapism Is Rearmament”

Book Review: Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book I) by Brian Niemeier

Take the good parts of Dune and Star Wars, mix them together with a heaping dollop of Dante, a dash of high fantasy, and a whole lot of horror, and you’re beginning to almost approach Brian Niemeier‘s self-published Nethereal, book one of his three-part Soul Cycle series. 

Is it sci-fi? Is it science-fantasy? 

Who cares? It’s fun. 

Nethereal reads like the best console or pen-and-paper RPG you never played. Imagination abounds. 

Fitting, as Brian is a figure in the burgeoning #PulpRevolution

Nethereal focuses on space pirate Jaren Peregrine and the crew of his ship, the Shibboleth, as they seek revenge against the Guild, a quasi-governmental entity that dominates the Spheres (think: planets). 

Jaren is half-Gen (think: Elf), and the Guild destroyed his race, and his family, and now they’ve got to pay. Chief among Jaren’s crew is mercenary Teg Cross, steersmen Deim Corsurunda and Nakvin (no last name given), and the mysterious Vaun Mordechai, a late addition with mysterious motives. 

Pursued by the Guild, Jaren and crew meet a rebel force and end up commanding the mysterious, powerful Exodus, whose unsettling cargo takes them through the depths of hell…and beyond. 

Even stranger is Elena, a half-woman, half-machine who appears to be the Exodus’ source of power. 

I don’t want to spoil anything here, but suffice it to say Nethereal is one of the most imaginative works of fiction I’ve read in a long while. 

And the heroes are–gasp!–heroic!

I do have nits to pick–this is the Internet, after all. Some of the characters are a little tough to connect with, particularly Jaren, who beyond single-mindedness really has little else going for him–I don’t quite get why he is such an inspiring leader. Deim is similarly inscrutable. And I did feel some of the characters’ attempts at glib humor fell flat. 

The world and its structure, culture, and mythology is a little confusing too, though the glossary included helps, and things begin to make more sense as the story unfolds. And Marshal Malachi is a bit disappointing as a villain. 

But the rest of the villains provide one of the deadliest, vilest, and flat-out creepy rogues gallery you’ll find most anywhere. Each player has their own goals and motivations–and reasons for stabbing their purported allies in the back. 

So why do I say “science-fantasy”? Aside from the immortal Gen race, there is a substance called ether that the spaceships run on (hence the name “ether-runner”). This ether can also be manipulated via Workings (think: magic); indeed, it is through Workings that the steersmen control the ether-runners. 

There’s also gun fighting, swordplay, warrior-priests, demons, the undead, body-swapping, necromancy, and heavy theological discussions about life, the soul, and everything else that matters.

The pacing is brisk, which helps a book of this scope keep from getting bogged down. And I can offer it the highest praise any book can get: Nethereal was incredibly difficult to put down. I cannot wait to start book two, Souldancer.

Highly recommended. 

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Leave Sgt. Pepper Alone…For Civilization

With all the stupidity in America, you’d think there’d be no shortage of writing material. And you’d be right! While I never wanted this blog to be one of those things that just reacts to current events, some things are just too important not to be addressed. 

Things like The Beatles.

Check out this recent beauty from Salon:

Here, Amanda Marcotee uses the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album to blame men for…something. 

I mean, look at this: 

“…and that wasn’t a good thing.”

“…serious fare for serious guys.”

You can hear the condescension. And it’s insulting to men and women. 

First they came for video games, and I didn’t say anything. 

Then they came for comic books, and I didn’t say anything. 

But now they’ve come for The Beatles, and it’s on

It’s The Beatles. They were not only talented composers and brilliant performers, but they aimed for the cheap seats. Their intended audience was Earth. How can one be so deluded as to think there are no hardcore female Beatles fans, or rock fans in general?

Oh. The author is Amanda Marcotte. 

This is all so dumb. According to the zeitgeist (German for: “collective insanity”), men have had it too good for too long and now they’ve got to pay. 

Forget that nearly everyone likes The Beatles. 

Forget that rock and pop as we know it wouldn’t be what it is, for better or for worse, without The Beatles. 

Forget that The Beatles made music for men and women alike. 

Forget that there are hundred of artists pre- and post-Sgt. Pepper that appeal primarily to women. 

Forget that it’s The friggin’ Beatles we’re talking about here.  Continue reading “Leave Sgt. Pepper Alone…For Civilization”

Delayed Gratification in Music

Music is the best. 

So is delayed-gratification. 

If you’re an adult–a successful one, I mean, regardless of what it is you have found success at–you are likely familiar with and practice the concept of delayed gratification, which is itself a function of self-control. 

By this, I mean the idea that you forego a short-term pleasure or gain now so that you can set yourself up for better, more lasting pleasure or gain in the future

This can also be thought of as long-term thinking (eternity sure is a long time, don’t you think?).

Or you can think of it as the future vale of something, such as money, the idea being that a dollar is worth more in the future than it is now, thanks to, let’s say, investing it. 

Or maybe delayed gratification can be seen as avoiding a Pyrrhic victory. See, in 280 and 279 B.C., King Pyrrhus of Epirus, a region of modern-day Greece, defeated the Romans in two battles. However, these battles inflicted such heavy losses on his own army that Pyrrhus is reported to have said that any more such victory would undo him. 

Pyrrhus later lost the war.  

So what does all this have to do with music?

A lot, really. The concept of delayed gratification can be applied to art in general in that it’s all about rhythm and timing–think set-up and payoff.

What better medium than music to discuss this? Continue reading “Delayed Gratification in Music”

Even Michaelangelo Got the Blues: What Bill Russell Taught Me About Craftsmanship

I like to write.

In addition to this blog, I like to write poetry and music and fiction. Lately, it’s mostly fiction.

And writing fiction is fun, but damn it’s a lot of work.

That said, I did state that one of my goals for 2017 is to get some of this writing published. And since I’ve backed myself into a corner, there’s really nothing left to do but push forward with it.

I would like to get some writing published in 2017. I have one novel in the hopper ready to go, another almost done, and my NaNoWriMo novel to finish (it turns out that 50,000 words represented the first half of my story).

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that the writing itself, while time-consuming, isn’t the difficult part. What struck me is that the blood, sweat, and other substances that hard work brings out of you really flow during the revisions.

In other words, for the book I am working on now, revising the sucker is taking forever. Or at least it feels that way, even if the math doesn’t make sense. Let me explain:

It took me ten months of writing, plugging away between work and family and travel, to finish my first draft, the final period put in place this past January. At 800 pages, it actually only represents the third-longest thing I’ve ever written.

If you’re into word count as a metric, Microsoft Word puts it at around 168,000 words. Please do not ask me for any more statistics.

Okay, here’s one more: Since January, I have edited, revised, rewritten, deleted, rearranged, polished, and spit-shone 211 of those pages.

It sounds like I’m moving at a pretty good clip right? And I am. But why does it feel like it’s ten times harder than writing the damn thing in the first place?

It’s all relative, and at this rate I should be done with my second draft in a month. But let me tell you, the level of effort required to refine this book is intense.

But as I go through this second-pass at my book, a word keeps bouncing in my mind, a word that seems to perfectly encapsulate what I am doing and, most importantly, why.

That word is CRAFTSMANSHIP.

Recall, if you will, that I wrote about my growing disinterest in professional sports not too long ago. But just because I’m not watching sports on a regular basis doesn’t mean I can’t admire great athletes and the lessons that they teach.

One of my sports heroes is actually a thinker who just so happened to be really tall and ended up playing basketball: Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.

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Mr. Russell is an incredibly interesting man. While he was not the first black athlete drafted in the NBA (that would be Chuck Cooper, drafted by, ahem, the Boston Celtics in 1950), Russell broke many other color barriers, including being the first black coach in NBA history–a role he performed while also playing.

But Russell isn’t famous only for his civil rights work. He is also famous for being one of the most successful winners in sports history: In the 13 seasons he played, he won 11 championships, including an unmatched run of 8 in a row. He also completely revolutionized the game of basketball, single-handedly changing the way the game was played, particularly on defense.

He was also a damn good scorer and gobbled up a hell of a lot of rebounds.

Anyway, as if the guy wasn’t gifted enough, Bill Russell is also smart as hell. He’s well-known among basketball fans as being one of the smartest people ever to play the game. Seriously, he’s like a basketball philosopher-cum-scientist who can dissect the game in ways you never thought possible.

But more germane for our purposes, he is adept at relating the game of basketball and the lessons he learned playing it to life. Continue reading “Even Michaelangelo Got the Blues: What Bill Russell Taught Me About Craftsmanship”

Feeding the Perfection Beast

Today is February first. In addition to things like Black History Month, President’s Day, and whatever else is celebrated in February,* it also marks the beginning of the annual RPM Challenge

Think of the RPM Challenge as the musical equivalent of November’s National Novel Writing Month. The Challenge, which started in my home state of New Hampshire back in 2006 by local music magazine The Wire, is a call to record either 35 minutes or 10 tracks worth of new music in the month of February. 

It’s a lot of fun. Or would be, if I ever finished the challenge. 

Unlike National Novel Writing Month, which I accomplished this year, the several times I’ve began an RPM Challenge project, I never finished it. 

The one time I sort of did was in 2009 when I played bass on my brother’s album. He’s finished the challenge four or five times, now, maybe more. And he has more kids than I do. 

Me, I always petered out somewhere along the line, sometimes due to time restrictions, sometimes due to technical or equipment difficulties, but usually due to being my own worst enemy. 

You see, back when I had the music equipment and the space to record, I fell into the thrall of that dreaded monster perfection.

Perfection is one mean bastard. He gets into your head and makes you think you’re some kind of rock star when you’re really just a dude with a 9-to-5 and a hankering to pretend, just for a few hours here and there, that you’re something bigger than you really are. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

This is the difference between me and my brother: I let perfection play on my immaturity and narcissism. My brother, while only a year and some change older than me, got married, started a family, and finished school far younger than I did. 

In short, he grew up faster. 

He knew the value of time and realism. He didn’t dicker around with trying to get everything just right. No, he said to himself, and I’m making this up based on observations but bear with me, “There is something I want to do. If I do X, Y, and Z for this amount of time every day, I will accomplish what I set out to do.”

He had a goal, and a system to achieve that goal. 

Process and not perfection. 

In short, he went for it. 

Me, not so much.  Continue reading “Feeding the Perfection Beast”

Constraints and Creativity: What Old Nintendo Music Can Tell Us About Thinking Outside of the (Old Gray) Box

I like to listen to music while I work, primarily instrumental stuff so I don’t get distracted. Usually, this is classical and other orchestral music, but lately I’ve rediscovered the magic of old video game music. 

That’s right: I’m talking about 8-bit Nintendo chiptune soundtracks. 

And at me tell you, in addition to the nostalgia factor–many of these themes are forever seared into my memory–the music is just plain good. There’s a reason why it sticks in the memory so: compositional genius. 

Genius? Yes!

In order to both avoid boredom and capture the mood of the, albeit, primitive by today’s standards games, the music, usually a minute or two long per theme, sometime shorter, had to be catchy and not annoying. 

And let me tell you, these composers, the great ones, were able to do his masterfully. This is even more impressive given the hardware constraints of the console they were working with. 

Interesting, right? It’s almost as if the constraint on their resources lead to an increase in creativity Continue reading “Constraints and Creativity: What Old Nintendo Music Can Tell Us About Thinking Outside of the (Old Gray) Box”