Thursday, December 27, 2012

Music of 2012 (and the year in review)

   I already talked about books from the past year, but what about music? And what about real life for that matter? Way back in January I didn't make a series of resolutions, but rather a list of hopes, forecasts and a look back at the year gone by. Some of my forecasts and hopes came to fruition while others did not. Above all else I had my fair share of adventure. I lived in Ecuador for two and a half months where I braved high altitudes, ancient Inca ruins, murky puddles, salty waves, stray dogs, and rain forests. I blogged about it and the best part was that people read it: family, friends, and acquaintances and that meant a lot to me. So thank you.

   My cousin had a wedding out in Gettysburg, it was the first of the weddings for that side of the family and a happy occasion to be sure. We got to see the whole family make wonderful fools of themselves on the dance floor which included a conga line to "Call Me Maybe"(so much fun). We got temporary cousin tattoos to prove that we were cousins for life. We saw re-enactments of regiments long gone and took a tour of where the ghosts appear from time to time, though I didn't spot any. Maybe the ghosts were off for the night.

  I learned this year that I am very much still afraid of haunted houses. I thought that was something that would fade with age, but it hasn't yet. This discovery came courtesy of a trip to Cedar Points's Halloweekends one cold grey Sunday in October. Apart from the terror it was a great time, we made it on almost every ride and I rode two roller coasters that I never had before which is always cool. The zoo had a summer party with open bars and cover bands and most of the usual animals. We went and it was a blast. Also during the summer I went night kite-flying with an emerald kite. It was spectacularly windy and a storm was coming on which meant that it was just a tad frightening and epic as well.

   I learned this year that people honestly still do play spin the bottle at parties. And it is a lot of fun, but that is a story for another time. I continued to play Pokemon this year and I am not ashamed of that fact nor is there reason that I should be. Last winter I had a class on war that was equal parts saddening, eye-opening, and interesting. Every Monday evening we would gather in a mid-sized lecture hall to have heartfelt discussions that some weeks got a bit overheated, but were never mean spirited. I took a political science course that gave me insights into the international policy making process and further changed the way I see the world.

    Hurricane Sandy struck in early November. We only caught the tail end of Sandy's wrath, but we survived nonetheless. It was scary at times and surreal and I cannot even begin to imagine what people on the East coast had to go through. I went through another notebook and a half this year and as many blogposts. Some days I struggle to get anything onto paper and other days I'm overflowing with crazy thoughts to put down.

   With the end of school I rediscovered what loneliness truly means. At times it can be wonderful for peace or piece (I realized it could really be either way) of mind and productivity, but damn can it be painful too. Last winter I braved a town besieged by ice that covered every inch of ground to see some friends and now Ohio is hit not with quite as much ice but with a blizzard of white snow. Both winter snow storms were beautiful in their own way, but at least this time there's less ice to fall from.

   It was a year full of anything and everything, just as most years are. It was full of city-bus rides, ice-cream, long walks, drunk nights, fire works, writing, reading, and too many movies. And there was music, but not nearly enough of it. There's never truly enough music, this year especially as I felt I didn't nearly listen to my quota of brilliant melodies. But perhaps that was good as I got to see how silence can be too. Either way here are some songs, artists, and albums that I enjoyed this year:

                                                             Lord Huron
          Their music sounds like a spaghetti western turned to sound waves with heroes dragging their shadowy pasts into the future. Some songs sound like dreams, the type of dreams you might have at the seaside during an afternoon siesta. You can practically hear the soft crashing waves of that dreamscape in "Mighty" which starts soft, but grows quickly to a thrush of jubilation. On the whole the singer sounds urgent, like a man who has been away for a long time and is desperate to hear a familiar voice over the telephone line. The lyrics are both regretful and hopeful.

Lord Huron


               Electronic mixing with a bit of sparse guitar and drums thrown in, with a touch of piano at times. Even though I've listened to some of the songs from Alt-J dozens of times, the vocals are always slightly surprising to me or unexpected maybe. Sometimes the lyrics are spoken and sometimes he sings perfectly melodically, but almost always I find his voice haunting. If Lord Huron is a beautiful dream or spaghetti western then Alt-J might be a trip through an abandoned house where anything might be waiting in the apprehensive dark, but there's something reassuring about that darkness. Its a spooky sound without being quite scary, somehow Alt-J finds a balance there

Something Good


                                                           Bad Books
        Not illiterate, cheap books, but maybe more the type of bad books that would smoke and drink under bleachers and talk about existential problems. The kind of bad books that have awesome beards and a few tattoos and are just a smidgen cooler than you'll ever be. The band is one of the side projects of Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra along with Kevin Devine. They play simple indie rock with a few guitars and keyboards and a bit of heavy drums. Their songs are pretty catchy and one of them is called "Forest Whitaker" and although its not really about the actor at all I think that's pretty neat.

Bad Books
It Never Stops


                                   Andrew Bird - Break it Yourself
   Expert lyricism, whistling, and violins are everywhere on this album as per usual with Mr. Bird. After I picked up a copy of "Break it Yourself" it has had a heavy rotation in my car's CD player putting a certain toe-tapping, swaying ambiance to my drives. The album talks about the frustrations of breaking up, loneliness, and the bittersweet joy of a near death experience which leads to "dancing like cancer survivors/grateful simply to be alive". At times whimsical, playful and other times slightly dark, its a good trip.

Andrew Bird
Near Death Experience Experience


                                                 Youth Lagoon
          Trevor Powers is billed under the name Youth Lagoon. His music is minimalist and hypnotic. Youth Lagoon reminds me of the band Beach House a bit, although I'm not sure how much they're actually similar. Both bands create music that I find to be quite soothing, so there's that. The lyrics from his debut album "The Year of Hibernation" evoke growing up, especially on 17 with "When I was 17/my mother said to me/don't stop imagining/the day that you do/is the day that you die". Youth Lagoon sounds like finding a younger version of yourself and telling him or her a few things.

Youth Lagoon


                                               Hot Chip - In Our Heads
    One of my favourite british electronic bands came out with a new album this year. It was called "In Our Heads". And it does sink into your head with complex beats that drive into your blood until you find yourself dancing to the multiple synths and bass flowing out of the speakers. The album feels BIG. That is partly because a few of the songs are over 7 minutes long and also because it feels at times as if you could sail a space-ship through the middle of the songs.

Hot Chip
These Chains

Sunday, December 23, 2012

52 Books in a Year

      This year I decided a bit late that I would participate in Reddit's 52 book challenge on /r/52book. When I decided to join the challenge it was already the end of March or maybe mid April. The object is to read 52 books in the 52 weeks of the year, a book a week essentially. Simple enough, but I had handicapped myself by starting late. I began week 13 or 14, I was behind by 7 or 8 books. It meant starting a race already in progress, the simple task became an uphill battle. It was fun, I got to take a few road trips across the united states, cast magic spells, see the tragedy of war, visit old worlds, pull a con or two, go down down a rabbit-hole, run miles and miles, and travel through history.   Here's a list of the books I made it through and also a short list of the books that were especially enjoyable or noteworthy.

1) Achilles in Vietnam - Jonathan Shay
2) The Painted Bird - Jerzy Kosinski
3) Night - Eli Wiesel
4) Stories - various authors, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sorento
5) Lullaby - Chuck Palahniuk
6) The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
7) Love is a Mixed Tape - Rob Sheffield
8) The Gunslinger - Stephen King
9) Killing Yourself to Live - Chuck Klosterman
10) The Mysterious Affair at Styles - Agatha Christie
11) Slaughterhouse V - Kurt Vonnegut
12) Different Seasons - Stephen King
13) 9 Stories - JD Salinger
14) Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs - Chuck Klosterman
15) The Drawing of the Three - Stephen King
16) The Waste Lands - Stephen King
17) The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done - Sandra Newman
18) What is this Thing Called Love? - Gene Wilder
19) The Visible Man - Chuck Klosterman
20) On the Road - Jack Kerouac
21) I was told there'd be cake - Sloane Crossly
22) Wizard and Glass - Stephen King
23) Big Fish - Daniel Wallace
24) Rotters - Daniel Kraus
25) Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
26) Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Haruki Murakami
27) The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
28) Wolves of the Calla - Stephen King
29) The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
30) Song of Susannah - Stephen King
31) How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu
32) Bossypants - Tina Fey
33) The Long Earth - Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
34) A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
35) Princess Bride - William Goldman
36) The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson
37) This Must be the Place - Anna Winger
38) The Dark Tower - Stephen King
39) Tell the Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt
40) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling
41) Redshirts - John Scalzi
42) Best American Non-Required Reading 2011 - Edited by Dave Eggers
43) We Are What We Pretend to Be - Kurt Vonnegut
44) What I talk about when I talk about Running - Haruki Murakami
45) Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
46) The 100-Year-Old Man - Jonas Jonasson
47) The Broken Lands - Kate Milford
48) How to be Alone - Jonathan Franzen
49) IV - Chuck Klosterman
50) A Working Theory of Love - Scott Hutchins
51) Holidays on Ice - David Sedaris
52) Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann
53) The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
54) Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

                                       The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
            A saga told in seven parts, The Dark Tower series could be said to be King's crowning achievement. Inspired equally in parts by the Lord of the Rings and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it is a series that is epic if not anything else. It was my cornerstone through the year as each part was longer than the one before it, I would read a volume then take a break for a week or two, eating up smaller books in the meantime. The seven books that compose the series are as follows: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower. I had never read anything by Stephen King up until this year since I had always thought that everything by him was too scary or twisted, I found out that at least in this series that isn't the case the whole time.

                                       Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
         Simultaneously a trip through the past and the future and video games. The story starts 30 years in the future with a billionaire starting a competition to find an Easter egg hidden in the immersive virtual reality program that nearly everyone is a part of. The clues to the puzzle remained locked away within 80's pop culture and trivia. It is an action-packed, clever, and a treat for fans of video games, nostalgia or just geek culture.

                                 A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway 
            I had always been reluctant to try something by Hemingway, I think because I was under the impression that all of his work dealt with depressive topics and wars. A friend of mine leant me a copy of A Moveable Feast saying I would love it, and I did. It was a portrait of life in 1920's Paris with other famous artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and others. It was magical, like looking through a spyglass into another age. Also Hemingway talks about the process of writing and gives some good insights.

                             Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
               A coming of age story with a bit of a twist. About a girl growing up in the 80's during the emergence of the AIDs epidemic that her Uncle has just died from. Its a love-story, a tale of self discovery and of loss. Plus the title is irrelevantly awesome which I can appreciate.

                                     The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
        A dysfunction family driven by the parents' desire to create situation art in public and create a reaction. Its whimsical, dark, and reads like a Wes Anderson film.

                                This Must be the Place by Anna Winger
         The title comes from a talking heads song; always a good place to start. Its a quiet story of two people lost in the world and in their lives. One is an American woman adjusting to a new life in Berlin, the other is a German man going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. Displacement and loneliness through different lenses.

                              Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
         This was one of the last books I read this year and I would have to say it was definitely one of my favorites. In 1974 Phillip Petit strung a steel-cable between tops of the World Trade Center towers and then proceeded to walk between them. This is his story, but at the same time it's not.  The book is made up of short stories that follow different people in New York city. They are all effected by the tightrope walker in some way. Through each story McCann depicts a snap shot of New York in that year that is gritty at times and full of unbelievable beauty. The characters are broken, and beautiful, and very alive.

                                       Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
       Really a challenge isn't a challenge without a roadblock; this was mine. I fought with this book, I gave up and walked away only to come back months later and finish. Cloud Atlas and I had a tumultuous relationship, like two people that fall in love too fast and realize that the they're not sure if they really know each other beyond their lips. I had to take a step back and look inside myself while the book and cast of characters did the same. Okay, but really, the Cloud Atlas is told in 6 parts, each except for the last are cut in half. You get to read the first half of each story, the full sixth, then the second half of each, now in descending order. I think the thing that gave me the most trouble with it was that as I would get invested in a set of characters and style of writing, bam, that bit would be over and it was onto the next part leaving you hanging as to what happened next. I found that incredibly frustrating. It is written exceedingly well and asks big questions and small questions about what it means to be free and what it means to be alive. But if you too have problems here's something I recommend, read up til the sixth part, watch the movie adapted by the Wachowski siblings (it was phenomenal) let it digest in your mind for a month or so, then come back to the novel and give it another go.

                                                    YA Books
                  I read a handful of young adult novels this year. Here is what I thought of them:

                                        Rotters by Daniel Krauss
     This was my horror pick for the year and I'm not much of a fan for horror books or movies as I'm a scaredy cat when it comes to such things. Rotters is about a boy who's mother has just passed away and is sent to live with his estranged father and learn about the under ground society of grave robbers. I'll give away no more than that, but it is an electrifying ride.

                                   Broken Lands by Kate Milford
               Brooklyn, the 1870's, the civil war has recently ended and the Brooklyn bridge is nearing the end of construction. New York is a cross roads for change, for control between good and evil. It is a race bettween a young card shark who plays on the boardwalk, a chinese girl with a magnificent talent for fireworks, and inhuman creatures, all for control of the crossroads.

                              The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
          A mysterious circus pops up in the dead of night to put on breath-taking performances. No one knows when the circus will appear or when it will leave, but when it arrives it is a joy to behold. The Night Circus is a magical book to be sure. My problem with the book was her use of present tense which I thought got in the way of the narrative at times making things unnecessarily clunky. Other than that it was quite good.

                          Book to skip: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
   This is one of the extremely rare cases where I would say skip the book and watch the movie instead. Its a story of distinguishing between a father's tall-tales and the truth hidden in the stories. Its a fun story, but I think Tim Burton's version makes the tall tales seem a bit taller and blurs the line between fantasy and reality even better.

   I enjoyed pretty much the entirety of the books I read this year, but these were some of the more notable ones from the list. Oh, and here's some music if you're still here after all that:

Benjamin Gibbard with Trio Ellas on Conan
Something's Rattling(Cowpoke)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On a Low Ledge, Gazing Out

     One day you might find yourself sitting atop a low ledge or small cliff if you prefer. The ledge looked too high to climb up from below, but now sitting on top, you realize it would be quite easy to jump down from. The sun is rising on the horizon, the landscape is lit up beautifully as if the land itself is waking up with the rising sun.

   You decide this might be the perfect place to stop for breakfast. You call over your friends, your traveling companions that you originally mislabeled "monsters". But the word monster denotes something that by its nature is scary, misshapen, or evil.  Not one of those words could truthfully describe your friends. They are great majestic creatures with forms ranging from a giant moth, a small many-tailed fox with fiery prowess, an animated boulder, a tortoise with a tree growing from its shell, and an armored bird. Each one is an individual with different concerns. They are inquisitive, foolhardy, brash, secretive, vain.

  Together you're all a family.  They protect you and you care for them. You think how far you've traveled from home to reach this small ledge. You distribute sandwiches and think of the challenges you've surpassed. Each one was tougher, but you learned about yourself and your friends with time.

  You crossed rivers and oceans, meeting people and creatures at every turn. You scaled mountains and explored caverns full of treasures unseen. Some days you played the part of the hero, some days you were just another traveler. Oh, how you traveled! to think you'd see so many countries, towns and cities when you grew up in seclusion.

   The sun is getting ever higher in the sky, chasing away the last of the dawn's reluctant shadows. To get to the next town by lunchtime you need to leave soon. There's going to be some sort of competition there held after 2, and if its a competition then you're definitely ready to give it a try. At worst it'll be a fun diversion for the afternoon. At best you could win some prize money to cover the cost of tonight's hostel. "Everybody ready?", You ask your friends. They growl, roar, squawk, and nod their approval. "All right then, let's go!" Together you all vault the ledge and begin the trek to the next adventure.

  the other part of this story is here: Into the Tall Grass


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jumping Jackal Fish

I was working
the third shift
at the late-night
out on Severance Boulevard

The night had been uneventful,
with only a
few stragglers
here and there
and drifters coming in
to seek refuge
from the darkness

She came in,
a heat-seeking missile
homing straight for the counter
asking, "Do you have any serious fiction?"

I directed her
towards the
 self help section,
luckily she laughed,
but she still called me an ass


Some coming attractions here at Muffin Puddles: I participated in the 52 book challenge which is basically reading 52 books in 1 year. That's wrapping up, so I'm going to try to write a list of what I've read and what the stand outs were. Also I'm working on a story or two, so that's coming up, and I might throw together an "end of the year" mix. Its been a pretty stellar year all things considered and thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What We do to Feel Less Alone

  For the record I'm not using the royal "we" here to count myself as multiple people. Rather I mean to include everyone, which isn't really possible at all, but I'll do my best. This is a list of distractions, a list of art, of solitude, of whimsy, and anything there between.

  - We surf the internet endlessly. We are humble explorers, excited for the advent of a new discovery. We are pioneers in space shuttles, our phasers are mouse-clicks, our exploratory vessels are blog-posts jettisoned into the ether.

 - We brew tea and coffee and espresso, each with its own unique ceremony. Tea has flavorful herbs and leaves that need to be steeped and there's water that needs to be boiled until the pot whistles impatiently. Coffee has rich hearty beans and a slow drip of the coffee machine like an IV with a slow morphine drip. And then there's espresso with its miniature cups, ultra ground beans and industrially steamed caffeine goodness.

 - We watch movies. Sometimes the same films over and over, either when we're paying attention or when we just need some background noise. We watch those same movies until we know every single word of dialogue, creak of a door frame or surprise gunshot that we still jump at.  Or we watch a new and different one every night, trying to catalog them all in the library of our minds.

 - We dance around like absolute fools to music blasting way too loud. When they say, "Dance like no one's watching" this is what they're referring to. There's no one to judge, you can bob your head or head-bang, do the worm, do the twist, or flail as if your body were possessed and if its the ghost of Fred Astaire who's doing the possessing, don't be afraid to tap dance on the ceiling.

 - We bake and cook fantastic dishes. Simple ones or seven course meals depending on our moods. As we cook we pretend to have our own cooking show with our own catchphrases like, "That'll give it a snap!". Every course is beautifully arranged, baked, broiled and seared to perfection. We take a bow and eat after saying "Bon apetit!"

 - We take midnight walks under the stars and kid ourselves that we're real tough, that we'd never be afraid of a fight. Perhaps we don't wear a jacket even though its a bit chilly, because when you're truly tough you don't bother with things as trivial as a bit of cold. And really that's just a bit of false bravery to take your mind off the fact you're alone in the dark of the night.

 - We read books because books can take us to far away lands or two towns over. They give a taste of adventure or the mundane, or both molded together. More than anything books give us a chance to live a thousand times, to experience everything outside ourselves.

 - We build fortresses out of pillows and blankets and chairs and couch cushions. We drag any and all amenities and pets into the safety of the fortified walls of comfort. What's that you say? Building forts is only for children? Tell that to our fore-fathers who settled into wild lands with the safety of a fort. There is nothing more manly and courageous than the construction of a fort.

 - We play video games. We play online with friends unseen but caring. We play solo in lands populated with NPCs. In video games the player is important, the player is the hero endlessly saving the princess/prince from evil. IN a video game we are never truly alone, even if our only company is made of bits and bytes.

 - We work out doing push-ups and sit-ups and squats and thrusts. We sprint and jog and sweat. Sometimes we peddle bikes, sometimes those bikes are stationary. We tone muscles and hone our bodies into machines.

 - We write love letters with abandon. Which are then torn up and discarded into the trash. Then we write more letters and the cycle repeats.

 - We organize vinyl records. First by genre, second alphabetically, third chronologically, fourth by preference, and fifth by a system that would make no sense to anyone save ourselves.

 - We build model train sets. The landscapes are groomed obsessively. Each car is hand-painted. Some cars are named, some are not. Conductor's caps are worn proudly and whistles are blown as each train crosses the station and chugs mightily along.

 - We teach ourselves foreign languages. Romance languages like French, Spanish, or maybe Italian. Languages from far, far away like Japanese or Mandarin or the native language of the Maori. We whisper simple, yet exotic words to see how they feel on our tongues. Using each syllable to plan out future trips across oceans.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ohio's Bound to Boomerang

  One thing I miss from my time in Ecuador (I miss many, many things and people and places) is the weather. In Ecuador the weather was, above all else, predictable. Imagine your ideal of a perfect Spring day. Sun shining in the sky with a few scattered clouds, green grass abound, flowers blooming, and temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees. Your ideal day might be a little different, but it probably falls within that range. Ecuador resides right in the middle of the globe. This means that they get a clean cut of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness or thereabouts. The mornings start out a bit chilly, maybe in the low 50's. By noon the sun would be cranking at full power, which would mean that it was time to shuck off the sweatshirt that was necessary in the morning. This wonderful heat would stay until about four in the afternoon then it would start to lessen a bit as the sun made its descent.

  You could count on the daylight and the warmth but also one other thing: the rain. Almost everyday between 10 in the morning and 5 in the evening or so there would be a storm or shower. Usually it was over just as quickly as it started and most of the time it was refreshing. I miss taking mid-afternoon naps while the rain tapped on the roofs outside.

  But here in Ohio the only predictability in the weather is that it is bound to be inconsistent. Yesterday it was unseasonably warm outside, today it rained all day and the temperature plummeted. Tomorrow it could very well snow, or just as easily it could be as warm as a summer afternoon. Its all within the realm of possibility here.

  All of October and November it went from warm to wet to cold to warm to snowing to wet and back to cold. Going outside on any given day in Ohio, or in the Midwest for that matter, is like jumping into a game of ping pong that starts and stops of its own volition. You never know if its your turn to serve or return a volley. The weather here plays by its own rules and no one else's. And sure the erratic nature of the weather is due in part to global warming, but to give climate change the whole blame is unfair.

  As long as I can remember its been like this here. The snow might start in October and go through March. Though during that time its never consistently snowy. There's just as much of a chance of snow tomorrow as there is in March, but also of it being warm like Spring today or in January. Ohio's bound to boomerang as far as the weather is concerned. And while I enjoy the chaos and mystery of going outside each morning, some days I miss the clockwork predictability of Ecuador.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Brave Little Melody

I heard you hummin'
sweetly in the pale moonlight,
just a yellow sliver in the sky 
and your melody
floating so softly

You were a ghastly sight,
beautifully illuminated
by the piccolo vibrations
floating from your 
rosy cheeks

I thought life would be just lovely
so full and complete
if there was a banjo 
to accompany you,
oh, how heavenly that'd be

But I did not have a banjo
on that night, so I did the next best thing,
as we got closer,
moving our separate ways
in the pale moonlight,
I sang along to your 
brave little melody.

You were surprised, 
then your cheeks grew redder with embarrassment, 
then we both smiled at each other and continued 
our separate ways,
carrying the song
with my voice and
your humming