Life After College

Not dead yet… that’s right, I’ve survived 2016. With that in mind my life is going well. Got my English degree, enough debt to weep at, and my health. Much of the questions regarding my life revolve around career pursuits, but what continues without question is the will to write fiction. Since graduation I’ve been compiling a collection of short stories, and am twenty-five thousand words into a novel project. It is with confidence that I say I’ll release something in 2017.

I’m excited for the New Year. I don’t usually play up the idea of being held to resolutions, but I’m building off of established momentum. Routines are in place, and content is being written with consistent urgency.

For better consistent writing consistent reading is necessary. I’ll share what’s on my plate, for the hell of it. I just finished reading Cat Incarcerated by Noah Nichols. Tomorrow I’ll begin my decent into all things The Tempest. First I’ll read the play by Shakespeare, and then I’ll read the retelling Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. Then in early February I’ll see a production of the play by my heroes in the LDP at OSU.

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Not the Actual Events: EP Review

With the year coming to a close I figured the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross camp was going to hold off on new Nine Inch Nails until after the New Year. I’d been satisfied with the ‘Before the Flood’ soundtrack, but new music with little notice is always a perk worth the excitement. Not the Actual Events is a five track EP that explores solid walls of distorted sound. Over the years I’ve come to develop certain expectations of Reznor and his work, but what makes this record special is that where it doesn’t deviate, it exceeds. Old tendencies are coupled with fresh ideas, and the resulting record feels like something that would’ve been produced in the 90’s, without sounding dated. The word ‘thick’ kept coming to mind as I listened through it. Thick beats, dirty bass, and layers upon layers of oppressive noise.

In terms of songwriting and production it’s a complete departure from the 2013 release, Hesitation Marks. It’s full of screeching, distorted, atmospheric guitars, scattered throughout the EP. The use of guitars and bass with this approach to production is more in line with rock, but the result is less polished than previous rock records. It’s not pop, and doesn’t have anything that would appeal to mainstream rock radio, which is why it’s sure to please the diehards. There’s a lot of moving action and sequencing, the sort of thing that merits multiple listens.

As a drummer I’m always fascinated by the variation of drums, and Not the Actual Events delivers in that category. Electronic drums are sequenced through songs like Dear World, while the booming roomy sound of She_s Gone Away are a quick disconnect from the previous track. These changing elements keep the movements fresh, which is common with NIN, but worth the observation here.

Certain parts of the record reminded me of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Specifically the vocal inflection during the chorus of Branches_Bones, and the rhythmic procession of The Idea of You, stood out as things I’d expect from Dillinger. Not a criticism, just something I noticed.

While the wall of sound is what got to me through my first couple of spins, I came to find my attention drawn towards the vocal production. Throughout the record the vocals are mixed in such a way to obscure what’s being said, which may frustrate the casual fan, but I find it to be part of the charm. In other places the voice is loud and clear. The theme of balancing nihilism with passion reveals an individual who is uncertain, and often-in denial.

Overall Not the Actual Events is an experience that can’t be disproven. It’s short, bitter, and made of all the pieces/parts of a great Nine Inch Nails record.

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UPDATE: 03/06/17

When I initially purchased the mp3s it included a “physical component” to be mailed at a later date. It was something to hold in your hands, and seemed like a nod to our collective nostalgia. After a few weeks I sort of forgot about it, until it arrived at my door, and made me excited to listen to the EP again.

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A caulk like-charcoal dusting had blackened my fingertips right out of the plastic. It contained a transparent piece of film with an image of Trent/Atticus. Then a paper slide for each track with lyrics. The backs had more of the charcoal residue textured to an aesthetic visual, and came up/smeared with a touch. Most interesting (to me) was that the page with the lyrics for “she’s_gone_away” had the lyrics to their 1994 track “reptile” squeezed in between the lines, which suggests some kind of narrative connection.

Critical South Park: Political Satire, Expectations, and the Issue of Donald Trump

With South Park having become serialized the most recent season placed greater emphasis on storytelling, while using real world events to maintain their topical edge. Season 20 focused on the presidential race, paralleled with the complications of Internet trolling. The end result was a show that had become self aware, and acknowledged the likelihood of existing, “in the post-funny era of satire.”

The show faced a curve ball when Trump won the election. Since 2008 South Park had produced their election episodes based on betting odds in Vegas. When Clinton lost they had to rework the episode with less than 24 hours to air. But I’m less interested in their portrait of Clinton, as she was depicted in her own likeness.

South Park has taken it upon themselves to include the sitting president, in addition to a number of other politicians, and their depictions, though crude, are fitting for the character they sought to represent. Bill Clinton looked like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush looked like George W. Bush, and so on.

Then we get to Donald Trump, and we’re faced with the complication of entity. The discourse of the 20th season goes back to the first Christmas special, and the first time Herbert Garrison asked if their township could, “get rid of all the Mexicans.” His anti-immigrant sentiments have echoed on, ever since.

Season 19 was the first to implement serialization through the entirety, and that story world was carried over into Season 20. In an early episode Garrison finds himself overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Canadian immigrants, suggests getting rid of them, and declares his desire to build a wall between Canada and the United States. He’s distressed by the fact that Canada has beaten him to punch, by building their own wall between the countries. It’s revealed that Canada has been taken over by a character known as ‘Canadian Trump.’ By the end of the episode Garrison has raped Canadian Trump to death, and begins his own campaign for the top office in the country with running mate, Caitlyn Jenner.

Season 20 began, and Garrison is tanned to a bronzed orange. Topical interviews and dialog are voiced through this character, as a deliberate entity of Donald Trump is never produced. This struck me, over and over as the season progressed. The writers had avoided the low hanging fruit of the previous administrations, rarely depicting any president as incompetent on a consistent basis, so why establish the distance of depicting a candidate by means of another character? Aside from Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner, every other reference to the contemporary political arena mirrored that of the real world. Even then South Park left some of the sensationalism to the media, as their depiction of Steve Bannon showed him looking over a clipboard, and making a simple statement about the transition going smoothly.

It’s sharp satire, because it defies expectations. Such expectations include a Trump figure in the likeness of real world Trump. By having put that agency onto a character already established in the story world, it allowed for the writers to play with the kind of atmosphere that cultivated the results we have today. They made sharper and deeper cuts than their late night counterparts, but were never called out by the Twitter prone President Elect. Though poking fun at Trump, it’s done so through the veiled obscurity of distance, a nuance not employed by late night comedians or other political satirists, which is why South Park hasn’t been on the receiving end of a Twitter rant (or the trolls that follow).

In a time when the President Elect decries negative commentary in the media, the obscurity of South Park has allowed them to make some scathing comments without personal backlash. It could be that South Park is just a silly little cartoon show, while Saturday Night Live is culturally relevant, but I’d argue that the distance established in how Trump has been depicted on South Park is the best bet for artistic media to criticize the coming administration without fear of repercussion.

 

Book Review: ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King

I’m not one to care much about material possession, but if gifts are in order I’m all about books. For the big dirty thirty I received a copy of On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve had friends suggest this text to me before, but with academic writing taking precedent over fiction I didn’t have time for it.
The book is odd, as it’s broken up into segments that often have little concern of the writing process. It opens with a solid hundred pages of a life story that begins with childhood imagination. The cover of the book reveals the subtitle “A Memoir of the Craft” to which the first and third segments adhere. My expectations were thrown off, but for the rabid King fan it’s an interesting look into the life of the author.
It’s the middle segment of the book where King offers the goods. The tips to writing that makes for good reading include similar tendencies I developed in my academic pursuits. King even name-dropped The Elements of Style throughout his text, which I had put to use in college.
Beyond sentence structure King’s emphasis is crafting fiction. This is the gray area that has worked for him, if it’s true. I wouldn’t take the advice as that which all should follow, but one radical element stood out to me. I scoffed, at first, but further consideration has given the idea validity in my mind, though it’s not for me. This claim is that King does not plot, and that it’s the coupling of questions with the writing process that crafts his stories. Like a scientific theory more than one party must handle the notion if it’s to be considered fact. From here I point towards Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the minds behind South Park. At a college lecture on writing Stone and Parker described an approach that considers the full plotting of an episode to produce a result that is predictable. To avoid this the writing starts with a premise, and they throw questions at it until something sticks, and eventually takes shape.
Sorry to venture off there, but it’s the notion that King’s approach works for successful writers beyond himself that suggests the idea has some commercial merit. I do enough plotting to know where I’m going, lest I get to a pivotal moment and take the easy way out… but I must acknowledge appreciation in the face of difference.
This book is no holy grail. King offers no magic beyond general practices, and personal preferences. It’s another chunk of text on writing in a sea of such material. Yet I’d recommend it to those getting started, or even an experienced writer in need of a refresher. King’s voice is clear, encouraging, and easy to understand.

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Critical South Park- S20E1: ‘Member Berries’

Spoiler Alert: South Park, Season 20-Episode 1: ‘Member Berries’ will be discussed.

There are no greater minds contributing to contemporary satire than those of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. As South Park enters its 20th season the audience was enticed by a commercial that suggests the show has been there for a number of our own personal milestones. The advertisement juxtaposes clips from the show with a family, and depicts their youngest daughter growing up with the show. It is similar to my own experience, as I recall being in the fifth grade when the first season premiered. South Park has changed since then, and I argue that such change has been for the better. It maintains a particular freshness, while other shows become stagnate victims to their own routines. Season eighteen gave us a light serialization to the episodes, while the format of season nineteen was that of a chronological storyline. Season twenty seems to pick right up where we left off last year.

 

Episode I: Member Berries

To open the season with our current discourse the scene opens at a volleyball game where four girls sit down during the national anthem to, “protest all the harassment and trolling they receive on the internet.” With parallels to the recent Colin Kaepernick controversy, the internet trolling is used to make light of some of the heavier topics they tackle on the show, including race relations and cultural misogyny. The decision to sit out the national anthem is used as a device that gives light to the greater divisions being explored. “The final result: four athletes sitting out on the national anthem, three of them not even black.” The national anthem ends, the crowd leaves, and the girls play their game in front of empty seats to present the absurdity of the public backlash against peaceful protest of a celebrity.

To parallel the message of the commercial, season twenty opens with the theme of nostalgia. We are faced with the same language the show used twelve years ago concerning the nature of American elections and the voting process. Hillary Clinton is called a ‘turd sandwich’ while Mr. Garrison (the figure standing in for Donald Trump… probably to satirize Trump in their own way since he is the low hanging fruit of late night comedy) is called a ‘giant douche’ with the intent to carry out an immigration policy of, ‘fucking them all to death.’ Such a policy is also carried over from the story line of the previous season. Stan Marsh isn’t pleased with the throwback language, and suggests something negative about the writing in Meta fashion. Randy Marsh, his father, suggests that Stan is being ‘cynical’ and a ‘nihilist’ for voicing such concerns. This moment stands as a veiled attempt to please everyone through self-deprecation, and to this point I’ve heard no complaints.

The school message boards continue to be trolled by an anonymous figure, and the primary targets are women. All of the students assume the troll, known as Skank Hunt 42 is Eric Cartman, but the final scene reveals Gerald Broflovski, Kyle’s father, lawyer, and member of the city counsel. The use of this character suggests the complication of anonymity, as the shroud permits a person free of suspicion to partake in the vile expressions of photo shopping, ‘a picture of Heidi Turner’s mom with a dick in her mouth’ to the amusement of some of the boys. It suggests we may not know a person as well as we’d like to assume, and that that no one is born above the inadequacies of environment. This trolling creates a divide between the genders that is used to reflect upon the contemporary discourse concerning rape culture, and that the character of a reputably good person is susceptible to that of cultural vice.

With politics and the election being at the forefront of the narrative, the adults seek the refuge of escapism through chemical indulgence. Through the episode we see Mr. Mackey, Mr. Stotch, and Randy Marsh partaking in a ‘new super fruit that helps you mellow out’ known as member berries. These bunched fruits have the appearance of grapes, but bear faces, and speak with the voices of nasally children with thick New York accents. They make suggestions of comforting nostalgia. Lines like, ‘member Star Wars?’ are followed up with, ‘oh I love Star Wars!’ They make suggestions of nostalgic entertainment where the comforting suspension of disbelief stands in for the crippling anxiety of our shared reality. It is only as we near the end of the episode that the berries begin to lull Randy into a nostalgic stupor with suggestions of, ‘member when marriage was just between a man and a woman?’ ‘member when there weren’t so many Mexicans?’ ‘member no ISIS?’ and my personal favorite, ‘member feeling safe?’ Randy resents the sentiments of the member berries, and panics at the momentary connection he feels in being nostalgic for a past that wasn’t so great, and the possibility/complication of having harbored such prejudices.

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Book Review: ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ by Peter De Vries

Great literature has often moved me to feeling, but never to tears until ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ by Peter De Vries. As described by the late Dr. Myers back in 2013, the book is, “a comedy about a man whose child dies of cancer.” With this spoiler in mind, I was still left unprepared for the impact of the prose upon my heart.

In truth the novel follows Don Wanderhope from his early childhood through the loss of his daughter, Carol. We don’t meet Carol until the final third of the book, but to that point we are exposed to the persistence of loss, and the complications of faith in the face of such experience.

The death of a young lover brings Wanderhope to question the overseeing doctor on a belief in God, and we are given a great insight to the nature of doubt,

“He just perceptibly raised his eyes, as if in entreaty to Heaven to spare him at least this. It took me some years to attain his mood and understand my blunder. He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and the slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom. Dr. Simpson looked bored as he ground his teeth and gazed away” (111).

Our narrator is a tragic embodiment of something that relates to the human condition. In describing the conflicts of his marriage he observes, “one of those subtle shifts of mood that emphasize how much we live by one another’s variable weather” (147).

But no matter the weight I’m well versed in tragedy. It is a subject matter or genre that brings me a peculiar pleasure. Morbid as it may seem, I delight in such material as it brings me the comforts of community. Upon fighting the ‘beast’ that is Carol’s leukemia, Wanderhope suggests that in the face of a terminal illness, medicine is, “the art of prolonging disease” (183), and that the notion of progress serves only to infect the wound, as, “Progress doubles our tenure in a vale of tears” (242). It is with the loss of Carol that Wanderhope is able to admit that, “Time heals nothing” (246).

The Blood of the Lamb is a hard-hitting piece of work, with a style of prose that tells more than it shows. It’s in this telling that we relate to such loss through empathy. Knowing that the entire book was leading up to the death of a child made it no easier to read the passage in which Carol was lost. I had to put the book down on several occasions, but in returning I always found more value than I had expected, and more emotion than I could handle at times. This was the kind of tragedy that goes beyond standard literary merit… this book moved me to tears more than once.

What makes it so difficult is knowing how closely the story mirrored the life of the author. It’s what made it all so authentic. His conflicting thoughts on faith, and his sharp observations of love, and life, and hatred, brought me to care in such a way as to suggest true feeling… My apologies, for this is not my typical review of sorts… I’m still dealing with the loss described on the page.

This’ll Feel Like Home-My Friends of Mumvies Boy

Disclaimer and personal opinion: the unique band name is derived of a story oddly close to infringing upon the copyrights of Friday the 13th.

My time with Mumvies Boy came with a predetermined expiration date, so I knew from the start that we’d share a limited series of moments. No long-term commitment allowed me to apply effort without any real pressure. I felt free to be myself, and play the parts as I saw fit. The core members consisted of the songwriting duo Michael Davanzo and Tommy Isaac, and their plans involved relocation after obtaining their respective degrees. With their previous drummer having departed from the Columbus area I was welcomed into their circle. Bias runs through this text, but music is best described in terms of taste… their approach to creating music is most tasteful.

I met Michael at Ohio State in the fall of 2013. Through our studies we became acquaintances, but through music emerged friendship. He was living with Tommy off of Hudson, and I met him when I finally came over to jam last winter… no strings attached.

While my drumming resume ranges from metal to musical theatre I’ve never taken part in anything that would fall under the banner of folk. Michael plays an acoustic guitar with a style that nods towards that of Lindsey Buckingham. Tommy brought flare to the table with erratic synthesizers, and the occasional complimentary ukulele. Together they seek to craft a sound that is a hybrid of minimalist electronic and folk.

The only Columbus show I played with them took place at the Space Bar in early February. At the time they had acquired the talents of Sylvie Mix to round out the group on bass. I remember the burden of concern that Tommy had expressed for that show. To consider a rhythm section that hadn’t ever gone over the songs together would sound the alarm of inadequate preparation, and yet the set started, we all clicked, and the crowd was none the wiser.

After that Sylvie departed for the endeavors of her own plate, and Mumvies Boy would continue without a bass player for the remainder of their time in Ohio.

We started tweaking songs and playing gigs in their hometown of Mansfield. The duo had acquired the vocal talents of local artist Erin Mason (to my knowledge she performs with a multitude of other acts, but I’m only certain of Hello Emerson), and the harmonies she and Michael produced gave the sound an extra layer of magic. I loved the charm of their music, and their Mansfield. Up to that point in my life I’d never experienced latte art, and assumed the patterns atop coffee cups to be the beautiful lie of Photoshop. Though I’ve seen pictures of such imagery online, the physical cup of chai tea amused me beyond what it had merited… a simple pleasure serves best.

The Mansfield gigs included the basement office space of a newspaper production house (of which there is a recording), the patio of a local brewery, and a larger outdoor stage that we shared with another Columbus act, Coal Fired Bicycle. Within the scope of that time I met their families, was a guest in the homes they grew up in, explored high rooftops, carousels, and developed friendships outside of a classroom setting. All of which happened to be more than I expected to take away.

With their departure I find a personal joy in acknowledging their hopeful spirits. They venture west in search of the next chapter of their lives, without burning the pages of previous endeavors. I write this only to reflect, and wish them well. I hope they settle into their new home with an ease that allows for their musical project to take root, and continue with the most limited of interruption. I believe in the horror story that is Mumvies Boy.

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From left to right: Erin Mason, Michael Davanzo, my horror-show self, and Tommy Isaac.