Thursday, May 29, 2014

2013 - Year in Review - Part 3

2013 – Year in Review

Part 3 – A Certain Kind of Writing Report:

By way of background information for any uninitiated readers:  I am currently working on a novel entitled A Certain Kind of Weird.  I hate trying to describe the plot of the novel because I can’t make it sound exciting at all, but the basic idea is that it follows the everyman protagonist through a normal yet eventful week; it’s narrated in the first person with each chapter consisting of a single day.  Okay, wake up now.  I began the novel in 2002 as a freshman at BYU and continued working on it until I left for my two-year LDS mission to Brazil in August 2003.  At that point, I had completed slightly less than 2.5 chapters, but I was confident that I would hop right back in the saddle and finish my novel within a year of returning to the States.  Well, that didn’t happen.  I did my best to resume writing but soon found that going to school and working a part-time job and trying to have a social life made it very difficult to do much writing at all.  Eventually it reached the point where I felt so removed from my novel that I began to doubt whether I would ever finish it.  I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the differences in who I was when I started the novel as a nineteen year old kid and who I was as an older student and later college graduate.  Even with that mental obstacle, my novel, especially the characters, were never far from my mind.  Finally, near the end of 2010, I realized that not only could I finish my novel, but that I had lived more and experienced more and was better prepared to understand my protagonist and what he goes through.  If ever I had one of those “ah-ha” light bulb turning-on moments, that was it.

With that mental hurdle cleared, I spent all of 2011 thinking about my novel, rereading my first draft and compiling all of my notes and outlines, re-conceptualizing the plot and characters, and preparing myself to begin rewriting my novel from the very beginning.  I knew I couldn’t just pick up where I had left off, not after that long of a hiatus.  Finally, in April of 2012, about a month and a half before I started dating the one-and-only Melissa Thompson, I began the rewrite of A Certain Kind of Weird.  (I should mention that at that point we had been hanging out away from work, and, as Melissa likes to claim, she had already begun exercising her muse-like influence upon me).

I wrote at the beginning of the year that 2012 needed to be my year of actual writing, not just thinking about writing.  Unfortunately, 2012 was not the year of writing; it was more like a few good months of writing.  2013, it turns out, came much closer to being the year of writing, but it still fell a few months short of being a complete year of writing.  Something about getting engaged, planning a wedding, then actually getting married, and starting an all-new phase of life threw off my writing routine.  I know – excuses, excuses, excuses.  I’m not trying to shift the blame for my periods of inactivity at all.  I’ll own up to it.  I just think anyone who’s attempted any kind of long-term creativity knows how essential routines are and how hard it can be to restart one once it’s fallen by the wayside.

Nonetheless, I am pleased with the progress I made in 2013.  By the end of the year, I was well into the fourth chapter of my novel, which might not seem like much, but trust me, that translates into many handwritten pages.  You’re probably asking yourself, “What kind of weirdo still writes by hand?”  This weirdo does.  It just works better for me, slows my brain down to the optimal speed for composing.  I later go through and type up my handwritten pages.  I’m quite a ways behind in typing up my work, but let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, my novel was at least 100,000 words total, most of that written in 2013.  The realization just struck me that at this point I have written enough for a book, just not enough for my book.  That’s both satisfying and disheartening.  Oh well.

Here are a few quantifiable stats from 2013 that I can pass on:
  • Total time spent writing:  115 hours and 56 minutes – that’s 6,956 minutes in case you’re curious.  And yes, I do track stuff like this.
  • Total pages written:  452.5 – unfortunately, that number is spread rather disproportionately throughout the year.
  • Best month for writing:  October.  I wrote for 24 hours and 5 minutes and completed 99.75 pages.  It killed me later to see how close I was to 100 pages that month.  If I’d written for just another minute or two I would have had it.  I didn’t let myself round that number up to 100 because I wanted to hit that mark legitimately.  (Spoiler alert:  I already have in 2014).
  • Worst month for writing:  September – a whopping 3 pages in 59 minutes.  Yip, total turd of a month.  However, perhaps it was my abysmal showing in September that prompted my renewed efforts in October and throughout the rest of the year.

So what’s the prognostication for 2014?  It might be too early to say, but I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be the fabled year of writing for me.  As I’ve already let on, things are going pretty well.  I believe that if I stick to my current routine, I will definitely finish the first draft of my novel in 2014, which is a pretty big deal for me.  After that I’ll have the daunting task of revising this thing into a taut and engaging work, which, with my long-windedness, will be like whittling a toothpick out of a redwood.  Oddly enough, I’m looking forward to it.  I must be a glutton for punishment.

Though perhaps the truly afflicted will be anyone unfortunate enough to read my book at some future point.  To that poor soul, perhaps reading these very words right now, I apologize in advance. 

But not really.

That’s it, folks.  The end of my three-part year in review.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2013 - Year in Review - Part 2

2013 – Year in Review

Part 2 – Official Media Consumption Report:

Like anyone with an above-average interest in art (mostly film/television, literature, and music), I like to talk about my interests and, if possible, find some way to incorporate those interests into another one of my interests:  making lists.  What follows are a couple lists with some additional commentary. Just because life might be short, that doesn’t mean my blog posts have to follow suit.

Lots of Words on Lots of Pages, a.k.a. Books

I set a goal at the beginning of the year, an unofficial New Year’s resolution, to read twenty-five books in 2013.  That’s a tiny fraction over two books a month, roughly one book every two weeks.  Nothing difficult there, especially for a former English major and aspiring novelist, right?  Sadly, my reading output in previous post-college years has frequently failed to reach such mediocre heights.

It is with great pleasure that I announce my goal for 2013 to have been met, surpassed even.  Turns out that I read a whopping twenty-eight books.  Still, that’s nothing extraordinary, but it is better than other years, and that’s nothing to scoff at.  Anyway, here are:

The Top 5 Books I Read in 2013:
  • Butcher’s Crossing – John Williams.  Williams is a great 20th century American writer all but unknown to the world at large.  Butcher’s Crossing, one of Williams’s four novels, is a tale of the West in which the protagonist leaves Harvard, heads to Kansas, and bankrolls an expedition to hunt a massive buffalo herd deep in the Rockies.  The novel chronicles the hardships the adventurers suffer on their journey as wisdom succumbs to obsession, winter and intense physical hardship falls upon them, and they return to find their world irrevocably changed.  Williams writes with intense clarity, and though the book is a bit of a downer, it is a powerful reading experience.  I also recommend William’s novel Stoner, especially if you are someone who loves to read books written about other people who love to read books.
  • Dom Casmurro – Machado de Assis.  My exposure to Brazilian literature has been criminally limited so after reading about the author, widely considered the greatest writer of Brazilian literature, I knew I had to read this novel.  It’s the story of a man who allows his unfounded jealousy (he admits his evidence is flimsy) of his wife, whom he believes has betrayed him, to completely disrupt his life.  I found the English translation (as my Portuguese is not up to snuff to read the original text) very rich, engaging, and darkly humorous, which only confirms the author’s brilliance.  The first-person voice is so strong that I was continually amazed by how modern the book felt despite being published over one hundred years ago.
  • A Lesson Before Dying – Ernest J. Gaines.  This book, another light read like my previous entries, deals with deep racial issues still at play in America.  Set in 1949 Louisiana, the novel is about a young black man, Jefferson, charged and convicted of murder despite being an innocent bystander.  During the trial, his white lawyer argues unsuccessfully against the electric chair, comparing Jefferson to a hog.  Jefferson is convicted, sentenced to death, and sent away to jail to await his execution.  His godmother then convinces her friend’s nephew, a young schoolteacher named Grant, the novel’s narrator, to visit Jefferson in jail and teach him to be a man before he dies.  So yeah, nothing important going on with this book.  Gaines’ novel shows, as Grant struggles to reach Jefferson, how difficult it was and still is to struggle against a society/system that continually dehumanizes an entire race by reinforcing the falsehood that they are sub-human, nothing more than hogs.  It is a powerful novel with themes still very relevant in contemporary America.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (series) – George R. R. Martin.  I began watching the HBO series Game of Thrones this spring and burned through the three completed seasons in no time at all.  I was hooked and had to know what was going to happen to the characters so I started reading the novels, and I didn’t stop until I had finished all five of the unfinished series.  Now I live in constant fear that George R. R. Martin is going to die before completing the series and wish he’d stop wasting time with unessential projects.  If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s a fantasy series, albeit a very mature one, revolving around a power struggle involving multiple families.  There are some magic and mystical elements involved (dragons!), but the heart of the story is the political intrigue, deception, and betrayal at play in the power struggle.  It’s a very fascinating and well-written series, though Martin can fill page after page with unnecessary lists of foods being served at meals and how hundreds of different banners look going into battle – the man loves his food and banners – but once you get sucked into the story, you’re there for the long haul.  At the very least, Martin did share how the story ends with those responsible for the TV series, so there will be some sort of closure no matter what.
  • Ender’s Game (series) – Orson Scott Card.  I read Ender’s Game to prepare for the upcoming release of the film adaptation.  I’d always heard good things about it from friends, so I wasn’t surprised to find that I enjoyed the books.  They were fairly quick reads but also deeper than a lot of other sci-fi stories, so I kept going once I finished Ender’s Game.  Of the entire series, Speaker for the Dead was my favorite, but I enjoyed each of the novels, usually for different reasons.  It’s just a well-written and engaging series by a talented author.
There we have it.  2013 was a pretty good year for reading.  So what’s the plan for 2014?  More of the same, no doubt.

The Tunes of Our Lives

I did enjoy me some music this past year.  I didn’t set any goals to listen to x number of albums or anything because I didn’t have to.  In 2013 I continued to scour the Internet for music, both new and old, in an effort to stave off becoming that old guy who only listens to stuff released ten years ago and is completely out of touch with contemporary music.  Not that I want to be the old guy obviously trying too hard to be hip.  I just want to keep discovering and listening to awesome music.  Here are the results of my efforts.  Note:  I tried to provide a link to each song mentioned below, usually the official music video, if available; otherwise, I tried to link to the album recording and, if that wasn't possible, a live recording.

Top Ten Albums of 2013:
  • Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City.  This is hands down my favorite and most listened to album of the year.  It’s rare that an album feels both fresh and timeless upon first listen, but that was my experience with this album.  Prior to its release, I enjoyed a handful of Vampire Weekend songs, but I always felt the band was more style than substance, some hipsters cribbing world music sounds and rhythms to be cool.  This album changed all that, and all it took was one listen to “Step,” my favorite song on the album and my favorite song of the year.  Then I heard the rest of the album when it streamed early on iTunes, and I was hooked.  Their two earlier albums suddenly clicked because of the perfection of Modern Vampires, and now I’m a convert.  Everything is just so good: the songwriting, the lyrics, the production, everything.  Must listens include:  Unbelievers,” the aforementioned “Step,” “Diane Young,” “Hannah Hunt,” and “Hey Ya.”
  • Arctic Monkeys – AM.  I slept on this album for an unfortunate amount of time. Here is another band that I had enjoyed prior to 2013 but never really gotten into all that much.  I saw the British group play at Coachella in 2007, and the singer was remarkably arrogant.  Maybe it was because we were a bunch of dumb Yankees or something like that, but I remember being both amused and put off by his condescension and smug attitude.  Maybe Alex Turner and co. were just a bunch of cocky twenty-one year olds then, and they’ve always known how to write a good song, but AM is, for me, their best album, the work of a band growing and refining their craft.  Listen to:  Do I Wanna Know?”, “R U Mine,” “Knee Socks,” “One for the Road,” and “Arabella.”
  • The National – Trouble Will Find Me.  The National is not a band that deals in surprises.  Why reinvent the wheel when it’s working so well and sounds so great? While this album fails to hit the peaks of High Violet, it is still extremely enjoyable and consistent.  As an additional commendation, The National put on the best show I saw in 2013.  Recommended listening:  Sea of Love,” “Pink Rabbits,” “Graceless,” and “Humiliation.”
  • Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty.  I read about this album one late summer day and fired up the album on Spotify.  I was immediately entranced.  The music, made of mostly electronic elements, has this dark, hazy atmosphere and a frequent sense of dread; yet amongst that dread there is often beauty, usually in Wolfe’s voice and lyrics, but not a sunny kind of beauty, as the album title suggests.  (This is probably why the song “Feral Love” is so perfect in the trailer for season four of Game of Thrones).  If you can listen to the sprawling eight and a half minutes of “The Waves Have Come” and remain unmoved, then Wolfe and this album are not for you.  If you find yourself burning the next part of an hour replaying the epic and crushing song over and over, you’re welcome.  Take a chance on these songs:  The Waves Have Come,” “Feral Love,” “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone,” and “We Hit a Wall.”
  • Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady.  In a day and age when so many artists are an instrument only performing someone else’s songs, it’s refreshing for someone with pipes like Monae to also write fantastic songs.  This album is a continuation of Monae’s earlier work (also definitely worth checking out), and she once again jumps from song to song and genre to genre with remarkable skill to create an album remarkably varied yet incredibly consistent.  There are some serious jams on this album.  See:  Primetime,” “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” “Electric Lady,” and “Dance Apocalyptic.”
  • Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia.  Ridiculous title aside, this album rocks.  Marnie Stern is an acclaimed guitarist, noted for her technical skills and tapping style, and this album delivers on that reputation.  Turn up the volume for this one.  Rock out to:  You Don’t Turn Down,” “Nothing is Easy,” and “Hell Yes.”
  • Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork.  Keep the volume turned up for this one.  Josh Homme and co. deliver another album of their cocksure and swaggering rock and roll.  This was their first album to really grab me since 2002’s Songs for the Deaf.  I will always remember listening to this album like five times the day before my wedding as I drove up and down the Wasatch Front, to and fro, stop and go, helping put the finishing touches on everything.  Raise a lighter to:  If I Had a Tail,” “My God is the Sun,” “I Sat by the Ocean,” and “I Appear Missing.”
  • Lorde – Pure Heroine.  Before “Royals” was played a million times on the radio, before the Grammy’s, Lorde was an Internet darling, and that was where I first found her.  Now that my indie-cred is secure once again, I’ll just say that I am fully onboard with Lorde’s minimal pop stylings and look forward to her future creative output.  I enjoy:  Royals” (duh), “Tennis Courts,” “Team,” and “A World Alone.”
  • Charli XCX – True Romance.  Here is another extremely talented young popstar, criminally unknown despite writing “I Love It,” Icona Pop’s summer anthem.  Yes, that “I Love It.”  Melissa and I have seen Charli perform twice, and she killed it both times.  Just twenty-one, she is poised for a massive breakthrough at some point.  I mean, she unceremonious released a non-album track as incredible as “SuperLove” like it was nothing.  Her best include:  Nuclear Seasons,” “You’re the One,” “You – Ha Ha Ha,” and “Set Me Free – Feel My Pain.”
  • Lucius – Wildewoman.  This album was the last addition to my list, and I technically didn’t even hear it until 2013 had come and gone.  That’s okay because I don’t care.  It’s from 2013, and it’s a fantastic album, full of great hooks and outstanding songwriting.  Lucius is basically what a 60’s girl group would sound like if some time traveler (Doctor Who, Bill and Ted, Marty McFly and Doc Brown, etc.) went back in time, scooped them up, and dropped them off in our day.  Give these a spin:  Wildewoman,” “Hey Doreen,” “Tempest”, “Turn It Around,” and “How Loud Your Heart Gets.” 

My Baker’s Dozen Top Songs of 2013 (w/o repeating an artist):

Note:  Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist with fifty of my favorite songs from 2013, featuring all of the above except “Giddy Up,” which isn’t on Spotify at the moment.

On the Silver Screen

Alright, this thing is getting a bit long.  I’ll try to wrap up this final section quickly. 

I thought 2013 was a pretty good year for movies.  Looking at the Best Picture nominees for this year and last, I’d definitely say that 2013 sported a stronger field.  Anyway, Melissa and I partook of many films, be it at the theater with a large popcorn (a must) or at home on Netflix or DVD.  Here are the top films I saw that were released in 2013.

Top Five Films of 2013 (plus some honorable mentions):
  • 12 Years a Slave – A worthy Best Picture winner, this is a very powerful and visceral film.  While watching it may have not been my favorite experience of the year, as it can be quite upsetting due to the nature of its story, I felt that it was an important experience.  Everything about the film is impeccable, especially the acting and directing.  Some film's just feel important and vital as you watch them, and this is definitely one of them.
  • Frances Ha – A Noah Baumbach film that feels less like a Noah Baumbach film and more like an homage to the French New Wave.  Credit for that probably goes to Greta Gerwig, co-writer and star, who is enchanting as Frances, a 27 year old struggling dancer in New York, and carries the film nimbly upon her shoulders.  It's a very funny and moving character study, and it's already streaming on Netflix so go watch it.
  • Fruitvale Station – This is a very unassuming film about the final day in the life of Oscar Grant, a young black man shot and killed by transit police in Oakland.  Grant is played by Michael B. Jordan (The WireFriday Night Lights), who does a fantastic job, worth an Oscar nomination in my book, in portraying a flawed human being shot in a senseless and controversial act.  I felt the film did a great job portraying the tragedy without getting mired in racial politics; what it does, rather, is show that any life cut short, be it white, black, or any other race, is a needless and devastating loss.
  • Her – First things first, Joaquim Phoenix absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in this film.  He is onscreen for 99% of the movie, with that mustache and those high-waisted pants, and is captivating every second of the way.  Masterfully written and directed by Spike Jonze, this film is about more than a guy falling in love with a sentient operating system; it's all about Love:  what it means to love another being, what love requires of us, how it feels to lose that love, etc.  Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as Samantha and should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress despite never appearing onscreen during the film.  I'm looking forward to rewatching this film when it comes out on DVD. 
  • The Way Way Back – My final selection is a charming little coming-of-age tale about Duncan, a fourteen year old spending the summer with his mom (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend (Steve Carell playing a very convincing jerk)  at his beach house.  Liam James (young Shawn Spencer from Psych) is great as Duncan, but the real star of the show is Sam Rockwell, playing the young-at-heart water park manager who befriends Duncan.  Rockwell is just flat-out hilarious throughout the film while still bringing the pathos at all the right times.  Just a solid little film worth seeing.
Honorable Mentions:
  • American Hustle – A very well-acted, well-written, and funny film about con artists. 
  • Before Midnight  The often very harrowing third act to Richard Linklater's series about Jesse and Celine, eighteen years after their pivotal night in Austria.
  • Dallas Buyer’s Club – Matthew McConaughey kills it as an AIDS patient trying to circumvent the hospital system to get the medication he and other patients need.
  • Gravity – Seeing this in the theater was one of the best filmgoing experiences of my life.  Just a massive spectacle to behold from Alfonso Cuaron and co.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coen Bros. fail to disappoint yet again with this tale of an unlucky folk singer struggling to get by in the NYC folk scene in 1961.

So there we have it, my official media consumption report for 2013.  Stay tuned for the final piece of my year in review:  Part 3 - A Certain Kind of Writing Report.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

2013 - Year in Review - Part 1

2013 was a good year.  Unlike many people on my Facebook feed, I was not overjoyed to see it go.  When all is said and done, and if ever some misguided soul seeks to write my biography, there will be many reasons to remember 2013.  I intend to document a few of those reasons right now in the first of a three-part year in review; maybe I’ll save that unlucky biographer some work.

Part 1 – I am a Person and I Had a Personal Life:

I rang in 2013 with Melissa, my then girlfriend of seven months, at a low-key party with friends.  We’d had the big marriage talk two weeks prior in mid-December, and, with an influx of capital from the sale of my company stock when Ancestry was acquired by a private investment firm, I plopped down some Benjamins on a shiny rock and prepared to pop the question to Melissa.  No, I did not go to Jared’s.  On January 22nd, I invited Melissa over to my place of residence under the false pretense of eating dinner before going to catch a screening at the Sundance Film Festival.  She came over, and I surprised her with a recreation of our first date (first official date, not pseudo-date for those who reckon the beginning of our relationship differently, whoever that might be…) and a low-key but heartfelt and intimate proposal of marriage.  Blinded by the off-the-charts sparkliness (I just coined that term) of the ring, she accepted.  

(You can read her tale of the proposal here).

Thus commenced our engagement.  After sharing the news with family and friends (most notably, for me, with my overjoyed and speechless mother – there was hope for me yet, Mom), we set about planning the wedding.  We chose the second weekend in June for the date – an almost unheard of five and a half month engagement for a couple Mormons in Utah valley– and settled on the Bountiful Temple for the location.  Then we decided on buying a very comprehensive reception package through a place in Spanish Fork, allowing us to easily make almost all of the remaining plans in one or two brief meetings.  “But Chris,” you’re probably asking yourself, “aren’t those two locations a ways away from each other?  Isn’t that asking a lot of people to make the drive?”  If I were being honest, I might say yes, but it’s essential to know that, in making all of our plans, the question Melissa and I continually asked ourselves was, “How can we inconvenience as many of our family members and friends as possible?”  Or so some people thought.  Mostly it came down to this:  with no immediate family in the area to bear the burden of helping plan, set up and take down the reception, and all the various other wedding-related tasks, the only expectations we sought to gratify were our own.  Sure, it sounds selfish, but everything I’ve ever seen written about weddings says that your wedding is the only time it’s acceptable to be selfish.

Anyway, our “long” engagement flew by, and the big day was upon us.

08 June 2013, 07:00 a.m.   I got up after a short five hours or so of sleep, having spent the previous evening finishing up a few last minute wedding-related tasks (slideshow for reception, etc) and conversing with Mr. Whitney Jones, radio producer extraordinaire who had just jetted in from New York, New York.   I readied my physical appearance, donned my wedding uniform, and hit the road at 8.  I had to deliver a few forgotten items to Melissa (I did not prematurely see her at that point) at her aunt's place in South Jordan, and then it was off to the Bountiful Temple.

As one would expect, my bride took longer to get ready and arrived at the temple after me, but I didn’t mind.  After standing around for twenty-five minutes or so, I was told to stand in a certain place and face a certain direction so that Melissa could approach me without being seen.  Then, after receiving a tap on my shoulder, I turned around to face my would-be wife.  She looked, if I may say and I think I may since I was there and all, absolutely and gloriously beautiful.  Words are insufficient to capture the scene, the beauty I saw before me, the love I felt within me, and the excitement of joining my life with her’s.

There are a few occasions in life in which a person, upon looking back with any iota of honesty, can only conclude that he got luckier than he ever deserved.  For me, Melissa is the grace I could never earn of my own accord. 

It is amazing how radically life can change in such a short amount of time.  Melissa started working at Ancestry in October 2011, we started dating at the end of May 2012, and just a short year later, around 11:30 a.m. on the aforementioned 08th of June in the year two-thousand and thirteen, we were married for time and all eternity.

Yeah, it was a pretty great day.  A pretty great day indeed. 

We were blessed to be surrounded by family – literally surrounded by the near infinite number of Thompsons or Thompson-related kin – and friends celebrating with us.  My family put together an enjoyable luncheon following the sealing, and we got to spend some time relaxing, eating, and catching up with everyone.  Then there was the reception in Spanish Fork that evening where we got to spend more time being congratulated and receiving well-wishes and enjoying the whole spectacle aspect of the wedding.  It was great to have so many of our friends and family there.  A very big thank you to everyone who joined us on our big day, especially those of you who helped us out in any way.  It meant a lot to us.  The reception was an overall success.  There was a first dance to Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love”, delicious crepes were served, and our car was vandalized with balloons on the inside and washable markers on the outside – we have not forgotten and will have our revenge in time, oh yes. On a tragic note, Melissa never got around to eating her crepes; I had no such problem (the benefit of being the less social spouse, I suppose).

(You can read Melissa's account and see some pictures of the wedding here).

The reception ended, everyone got to go home, and the next day Melissa and I were boarding a flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.  I don’t have anything against Charlotte or North Carolina, but we were grateful to not spend any more time there than we had to.  Why?  Because we were going to Jamaica.

There are plenty of preconceptions about Jamaica floating around our culture (everyone saying ‘ya, mon,’ dreads, Rastafarian hats, and so on), and, for the most part, they’re true.  But there is something I want everyone reading my words to comprehend with perfect clarity:  Jamaica is paradise.  Behold:

That was the view from our hotel room in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  How did we end up there?  A little back-story:

During our engagement I became addicted to browsing the Groupon Getaways – if you have any inclination to travel the world, DO NOT LOOK AT GROUPON GETAWAYS FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT!  Sorry to yell, but I had to give my warning the appropriate gravitas.  It occurred to me, while browsing the Getaways, that Melissa and I, in our position as well-employed people, could afford to make our honeymoon destination as memorable as we wanted.  I began to take note of the deals for all-inclusive resorts, predominantly located in the Caribbean, and the idea that this was what we should choose took root in my brain.  Melissa agreed with the idea – maybe it was more like she was similarly seduced by the idea – and we ended up settling on an awesome deal to the Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort, an all-inclusive adults-only resort in Ocho Rios.  We booked the dates at the hotel and purchased airfare to and from Jamaica, and then it was only a matter of time.

This was my first time in the Caribbean, really my first “luxury” vacation ever, and I must say that staying at an all-inclusive resort is amazing.  From the moment we arrived at the airport in Montego Bay, we were taken care of very well.  The food in the resort, from the outdoor grill and fire-oven pizza to the more formal Caribbean or Italian restaurants on site, was fantastic.  The jerk chicken wraps, in particular, were life changing.  We ate at least two of them every day, one for lunch and one later at night.  We loved going into a restaurant, looking at the menus, and realizing there were no prices next to any item (other than on the wine lists, but that didn’t matter to us).  It’s weird how much more enjoyable a 5-course meal can be when you’re not worried about how much each course is costing you.  I could go on and on about the joys of an all-inclusive resort, but I’ll reluctantly move on.

It was warm and humid in Jamaica but never sweltering or unbearably uncomfortable.  A breeze blew most of the time, and, for the duration of our visit, there was hardly any rain.  (See?  Maybe I wasn’t exaggerating when I called it paradise).  The blue-green water of the Caribbean was so warm and inviting that it made the Pacific feel like an ice bath.  At night, when the noise and commotion had died down and the swimming pool’s artificial waterfall was turned off, Melissa and I would just listen to the breeze blowing through the trees and the waves breaking on the beach and wish that, somehow, it could last forever.

It couldn’t, unfortunately, but we did our best to make our experience there as memorable as possible.  We went on a couple excursions to get a feel for Jamaica away from the resort, but it’s not like we ended up in backwoods, non-touristy areas.  Tourism is the national industry in Jamaica, and it is a well-oiled machine.  Our first excursion was a trip to the Dunn’s River Falls, a 900-foot cascading waterfall, but before we reached the Falls, we were taken to Reggae Wal-Mart, a collection of vendors and shops with very motivated locals trying to sell souvenirs to tourists.  Melissa enjoyed negotiating with the vendors, and we ended up buying some pretty cool handmade goods now on display in our apartment.  From there we visited a botanical garden and walked amongst the lush vegetation.  Then it was on to the Falls.  We strapped on our Jamaican water shoes, found our local guide, and began our trek up the Falls.  As I said earlier, the Falls are a 900-foot cascading waterfall in the jungle, and with the aid of your guide, you hike up from the bottom of the Falls to the top.  The rocks are frequently scrubbed to make the climb safe for everyone.  The going was quite easy and enjoyable, with frequent stops in areas with deeper pools, and we had a great time.

For excursion number two, we went to the Mystic Mountain where we rode a ski lift through the jungle to the top of the “mountain” and enjoyed some spectacular views of the bright blue ocean and the Jamaican coastline.  At the top of the mountain we first took a ride on the bobsled track; it was like a small metal roller coaster without any real climbing or loops or scary maneuvers, but it was still a fast and enjoyable ride.  We then geared up and rode five separate zip-lines through the jungle canopy.  It was a ton of fun; we both finished the final and furthest ride hanging upside down.  Following a second ride on the lift, we spent some time at the top of the mountain going down a meager water slide and chilling in an infinity pool with a fantastic view.  Good times.

Mostly, we just enjoyed every second together in paradise, whether it was being lazy and catching some rays on the beach or stuffing our faces with food or going on some adventure in the jungle.  Now, nearly eight months later, we still think back to our time in Jamaica and sigh, knowing that if it were possible, we’d go back in a heartbeat.

(You can read Melissa's account of Jamaica, along with more pictures, here).

Married life post-honeymoon has also been great.  We love our two room apartment and the fact that we had to acquire but minimal furnishings (mostly just a bed and TV – thanks Costco!) to start our life together.  We began renting our apartment in May so we were able to move our stuff at a leisurely pace, saving only the big stuff for a Saturday morning move that only took a couple hours thanks to some very helpful friends.  Melissa moved in to the apartment two weeks before the wedding, and I finished moving the rest of my stuff into the apartment the morning before the wedding – don’t worry, Melissa was then staying at her aunt’s house in South Jordan so everything was good and proper.  We really lucked out with this place.  It’s a good size, it’s in a quiet neighborhood, and it’s only a six to seven minute drive to work.

The rest of our year has been very good, if obviously less memorable than the wedding/honeymoon.  We’ve taken trips to Las Vegas (the Beatles cirque du soleil was amazing!), Vernal (wedding open house and Christmas), Yellowstone (camping over the 4th of July), Moab (rafting the Colorado River), Phoenix (to see my sister’s baby boy), Los Angeles (Melissa’s brother’s wedding) and Denver (early Christmas with Melissa’s family).  We’ve enjoyed a wide variety of activities together:  attending a Broncos game, the Utah State Fair, hiking, river rafting, floating the Provo River, jet-skiing, camping, a ropes course, bowling, Laser Tag, a corn maze, golfing, and so on.  Really, it’s been a blessing to spend so much time together and make so many memories.

As for the professional side of things, Melissa and I both continued to work at  Melissa was hired as an analyst for the AncestryDNA team so she left the team responsible for our meeting, but it was a great move for her.  She enjoys the work, she gets to use her educational background in stats, and she moved up a couple levels of sugar momma-ness.  I stayed on the same team after she abandoned us, and things have gone well there.  I started pushing myself to do more and take on more responsibilities and was rewarded with even more responsibilities and work to do, i.e. a promotion.  I haven’t worked on anything as significant as I did in 2012 (the 1940 US Census), but I enjoy the work and feel satisfied with my contributions.  Ancestry has been and continues to be a great place to work.  It was there, after all, that Melissa and I crossed paths.

Future years are going to have to work hard to be more memorable than 2013, not that there won’t be better years coming our way.  2014 already has a few highlight reel moments on the docket: a second consecutive Valentine’s Day trip to Vegas; another Groupon Getaway, this time to Peru where we will visit Lima, Cuzco, and the one-and-only Machu Picchu.  And that’s just through the end of April.  I’m sure there will be adventures aplenty to report in another 340-ish days.

Next up in my review of 2013:  Part 2 – Official Media Consumption Report

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm an old man.

Here I am, sitting around on the eve of my twenty-ninth birthday, listening to random songs on not so random websites, reviewing the past twelve months of my life, and this is my conclusion:  twenty-eight was a very good year, certainly the best of my post-collegiate years.  Now it’s on to twenty-nine.

I’d be remiss to attribute the vast majority of the past year’s greatness to anything other than my wonderful girlfriend, Melissa, who has miraculously put up with me (and even seemed to enjoy doing so) for the past six and a half months.  Any year with her would be a good year.  We have had many an adventure together, and I look forward to many more.

Is it weird that I don’t feel like I’m almost twenty-nine?  Unless I’m coming off a night with too little sleep or some strenuous exercise (i.e. any exercise), I really don’t feel like an old man.  Sure, my hair continues to fall out – at least I still have some hair to fall out, right?  It could be worse.  Mostly I feel like I live in a weird state where I’m not really aware of my age nor does it make itself all that apparent.  Then again, I’ll be thirty in just over a year, and that kind of freaks me out.  Not so much that thirty is old, but that it’s hard to not think I should have accomplished more with my life by the age of thirty.

What did I really accomplish this year?  Besides the aforementioned wonderful relationship with my beautiful girlfriend, do I have much to show for my twenty-eighth year?  I continue to contribute to my team at  I did a lot of work with the 1940 US Census to help Ancestry put out not only the first complete but also the most extensive index, and I feel satisfied with and proud of my efforts with not only that specific project but many others.  Working there might not be my ultimate professional destination, but I feel like a valued employee and that my efforts are appreciated and even formally recognized within the company.  It’s been a good four and a half years there (crazy).  I mean, I kind of owe Ancestry for putting Melissa and I in each other’s path.  The cherry on top: we just won first place in the company film festival this past weekend, taking home a nice $1000 prize split between four of us.

So work is good, and I went on a couple cool trips during the past year:  to Phoenix to see Radiohead with some friends and visit my sister and her family; to Sandusky, Ohio for a week to visit Cedar Point, the best amusement park in the world; to L.A. with Melissa to visit a couple of her siblings; to Vernal a couple times with Melissa to visit my family; to Berthoud, Colorado for a couple days over the Thanksgiving break to visit Melissa’s family. 

As I list the details of the past year, I realize that it was more eventful than I originally supposed this December evening.  And then I come to my writing aspirations, those ideas and thoughts that never leave me alone and continue to motivate me to, if not write prolifically, at least remain discontent enough to never get too comfortable or complacent with my writing efforts.  As previously documented on this blog, I began rewriting my long lost novel (originally begun in December 2002, ten years ago) and eventually settled into a routine that helped me complete the first chapter in early September, coming in at just under 30,000 words.  Since then I’ve struggled to resume my routine, letting things like moving and indecision regarding the process to employ as I continue my rewrite get in the way, but I am still mildly pleased with my efforts.  I have much more to do, and I know that I need to push forward with everything I’ve got, mostly to see whether this writing thing is just a silly dream or whether it really is what I should be doing.  I vacillate between believing that I can and will be a writer and questioning my abilities and lack of important things to say.  I’ve read enough about writers and the writing process to know that I am not at all unique in having those conflicted thoughts, but the uncertainty complicates things nonetheless.

Very nearly twenty-nine years old.  Just a couple hours away now.

I look forward to twenty-nine.  Twenty-eight was a good year, and I feel like my life is moving forward at a good pace and, most importantly, in the right direction.  I still have much to accomplish and much to do to become the person I know I can and should become, but I am optimistic and resolved to push forward.

This basically preempts any New Year’s Day post I might make, but I’m okay with that.  My birthday is cooler than New Year’s anyway.  Besides, I’ll still have to write a year-end post about music and movies and all that so expect to hear from me again in the next few weeks as 2012 turns into 2013, assuming we don’t all die on December 21st.

The end.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Definitely time for an update.

I just had one of those “holy crap it’s been almost four months since I last updated my blog” moments.  In fact, the first eight months of 2012 has not been a prolific time for this blogger.  It’s sad and I’m always thinking, “I should blog about this and that,” but that just hasn’t translated into me actually sitting down at my laptop and getting my blog on.

Anyway, I’ll try and do better yadda yadda yadda…

With that out of the way, I thought I’d just give a general update on my life:

Life is good.

There you have it.  Thanks for reading.

Okay, a real update:

Life is good, for real.  2012 has been a bit more eventful than the past few years, which has been a very good thing.  To wit:
  • My professional life at is still going well.  I spent most of the past four months helping Ancestry put out the first complete index of the 1940 US Census, which was kind of a big deal for us.  I work with an awesome group of people, and I’m quite content with my situation there.
  • I have a personal life.  I know, I know.  Finally, right?  It’s been a very nice change of pace.
  • Even though I have but blogged very little this year, I have actually been a bit more productive in terms of legitimate writing, i.e. working on the rewrite of my novel.  I just hit the fifty-page mark in my notebook today.  I’m still not completely satisfied with the amount I’ve written because that really isn’t very much when you consider I’ve been going at it the past four months.  I’ve been forcing myself to push forward as much as possible and not dwell on certain sections or revise anything at this point.  Subsequently, there are sections of the text that I know I am going to rework extensively at some point, but that revision will have to wait as the goal is to produce a rough draft, not a perfect draft.  Besides the revision that awaits me in the future, there is still just a staggering amount to write to even complete a first draft.  I estimate that I have completed sixty-percent of the first chapter this past four months.  Not a very encouraging statistic.

    I do have reason, however, to be pleased about my progress and optimistic for future progress:  I’m actually following a routine.  Weird how that might help boost my productivity.  I started the routine nearly two weeks ago, and for eleven of the past twelve days I have written for at least thirty minutes a day.  Even more astounding to me, this routine has involved waking up earlier than normal to make the time to write (a necessity because, as noted above, I now have a personal life).  With this new routine, I have written twenty-four of my fifty pages in the past twelve days; that highlights just how ineffective my previous attempts at writing had been until recently, as I was frequently only making time once or twice a week to try and write.  Not only has my total output increased significantly with the implementation of this routine, I’ve found that it’s getting easier and easier for me to just jump back into the writing (whereas before I needed to be in the right mood), and that I am more satisfied and content with myself as a writer and a human being.  It's starting to look like I may actually finish this thing within the next ten years -- hopefully it’s more like the next year.
So yeah, life is good.  How about I close this blog with some recent additions to my favorite things:
  • Krispy Kreme.  Internet rapper.  No one knows for sure if it’s an act or a sincere attempt at rapping – I lean toward the comic genius theory – but Krispy Kreme has become one of my favorite things of the year, possibly of all time.  If you find this video humorous, I suggest that you watch the rest of his videos on youtube.
  • Purity Ring.  This Canadian duo is one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year, and “Obedear” is my most listened to track of the year.  (I listened to it at least 100 times in the first three weeks after its release).  Their debut album Shrines is very good and definitely worth repeated listens.
  • There are so many other bands and songs worth sharing, but I’ll just post a link to my current jam:  “Rose Quartz” by Toro Y Moi.  This is actually a new and unreleased song, also the first song I ever heard by Toro Y Moi, but it has definitely motivated me to check out his discography.  This is just too smooth to not enjoy.

That’s enough for now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Certain Kind of Weird...again.

Yesterday I posted the following status update to Facebook:
After more than a year of preparing and conceptualizing and over-thinking and hesitating, I've finally begun rewriting my long lost novel. That's right. I actually wrote some words today.
The funny thing is:  it wasn't a lie.  I really did put pen to paper and compose a few paragraphs.  (Hey, that's all I could manage in the short time I had available before hanging out with some friends from work).

My relationship with A Certain Kind of Weird, my unfinished and oft-neglected novel, has been going nearly ten years, which strikes me as particularly insane.  I could write at length about that journey, and believe me, I have filled many notebook pages about it, but it suffices me to say that I am both excited and intimidated by the fact that the rewrite has officially begun.

I do not feel adequately prepared to undertake this journey.  I have not written as extensively or as frequently as I need to, and I haven't been reading as much either.  (How ridiculous is it that I read more on my own as a student than I have in the years since graduating?)  It dawned on me, and I suppose that I've always known deep down, that I would never feel totally prepared to undertake a novel.  No amount of reading or prewriting or conceptualizing would eliminate the uncertainty and doubt I feel regarding my writing abilities and my chances of becoming a real (i.e. published) writer.

A couple realizations led me to actually beginning the rewrite yesterday:

  • A first draft is going to be rough - in fact, it should be.  The point is not to produce a perfect draft right away; the point is to just produce a draft.  Fixating on quality at this early stage will lead to hyperconsciousness and will ultimate stifle my creativity.  
  • I have worried about finding the right voice for the novel, but I realize that as long as I develop the voice at some point, even if it's only at the end of the novel, then I can be pleased with my work.  I can then edit and revise the novel to incorporate the desired voice.  What I really need to focus on with the first draft is getting the plot and characters out of my head and down onto the paper.  Once those elements are in place, the others (voice, style, setting, tone, etc.) will follow.
  • The only thing separating writers from those that aspire to write is that writers actually write.  I still don't know if this irrepressible feeling that I need to write will amount to anything in the end, but I just can't sit back anymore.  One reason I decided to start writing yesterday is that I've grown tired of holding back and not progressing.  I lie in bed at night and think about my novel, usually focusing on the characters and specific scenes.  I actually compose paragraphs in my head as I drift off to sleep -- I'd probably have written a couple novels by now if I could somehow record those silent late night paragraphs.
So we'll see how well this endeavor moves forward.  For the record:  I actually wrote again today (two days in a row - huzzah!) and while it's not much, I find it encouraging.

I created another blog last year that I plan on using to document my experience with this project.  I will alternate between posting something specific about my novel and other general thoughts about writing and my personal experience.  All are welcome to read that blog, and if you do decide to follow it, please feel free to leave comments.  I have found that discussing my writing with others acts as a huge motivation to write more.  It probably gets annoying quickly for everyone but me, but it is one of my favorite things to do.

To paraphrase a great moment from the Simpsons, it's time to "move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards [writing a book]".

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Songs of 2011 - Volume 2

Here is the second half of my favorite songs of 2011.  I’ve got some good news for those of you concerned that the electric guitar is going extinct because this volume contains a decent number of more traditional rock and/or roll songs with electric guitars.  Here we go.

Top Songs of 2011, Volume 2 (in no particular order for the most part):

  1. “Intro” – M83 (ft. Zola Jesus).  While this song isn’t quite as spectacular as “Midnight City”, it’s more than awesome enough to kick off the second volume of my top songs of 2011.  I love the way the song builds and builds until the sweeping climax of the final two minutes.
  2. “Sails” – Hooray For Earth.  Here’s the fifth and final song of my top 5 of 2011.  The song may not seem like anything special at first, but once that chorus drops and the bass starts hitting, the song becomes something special. This was easily one of my most listened to songs of the year.  Also, it was spectacular live.  Also also, play it loud.
  3. “Heart In Your Heartbreak” – The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.  Hey, there’s something about this song that seems different.  Oh right, it’s the return of the electric guitar.  I haven’t really given this album the attention it deserves, but this song has always jumped out at me.  Good old rock and roll.
  4. “Get Away” – Yuck.  The guitar onslaught continues, and this one is even a little noisy with muddy distortion and vocals buried in the mix.  The main riff is so simple and catchy, and while it seems so effortless, the band deserves all the credit for crafting something so perfect.
  5. “Breaking Down” – Florence and the Machine.  The second song from Florence to make the list is more along the lines of what you’d expect from her, but this song still defies those expectations with her restrained vocal performance.  You can’t fault any singer with pipes like Florence for letting loose whenever possible, and ultimately, it’s the contrast between this song and others from Ceremonials like ‘Shake It Out” and “What the Water Gave Me” that makes this song so memorable.  
  6. “As Bright As Your Night Light” – Nerves Junior.  This group was a very late discovery, which I owe to the music blog Pretty Much Amazing.  We live in a great day and age when music of this caliber gets produced by bands without major label funding or promotion.  This is a great song.
  7. “Loop the Loop” – Wild Beasts.  Here’s another smooth jam from Wild Beasts.  The band’s vocals have always been a little unique and sometimes over the top, but they deftly figured out how to incorporate them seamlessly into the more restrained and elegant songs of this album.
  8. “Green Aisles” – Real Estate.  Speaking of smooth jams and elegant songs, here’s another Real Estate song.  I instantly connected with the chorus of “all those wasted miles / all those aimless drives through green aisles / our careless lifestyle / it was not so unwise, no.”  This song helped make Days a perfect soundtrack for an autumn drive over mountain paths.
  9. “County Line” – Cass McCombs.  So I guess this is the smooth jam section of my list, and that’s cool because I love all of these songs.  Cass McCombs is in no hurry with this jam.  This song would be perfect for a slow dance, if it weren’t for the heartbroken lyrics:  “You never even tried to love me / What did I have to do to make you want me? / I feel so blind I make out the passing road signs / All that you would have me do is cross that county line.”  I feel you, Cass.
  10. “Changes” – Sandro Perri.  This song, another late discovery, is the last song in this string of smooth jams.  I really don’t know much at all about Sandro or the rest of his music, but this song is outstanding.  I wish they would have jammed the chorus to this song over and over, it is so good, but I recognize that sometimes it’s the briefness of something, that feeling of not having enough and wanting more, that makes a thing special.
  11. “Cruel” – St Vincent.  This song is classic St Vincent: disquieting lyrics set to incongruously upbeat music combined with off kilter guitar riffs into a song that will be stuck in your head for a very long time.
  12. “The Words That Maketh Murder” – PJ Harvey.  There are artists with considerable discographies that I keep meaning to listen to, but I never seem to get around to it.  PJ Harvey is one of those.  I did manage to listen to her latest release, Let England Shake, and this is just one of the great songs on that album.  Someday I’ll get around to more of her music.
  13. “Dystopia” – Yacht.  First off, the version of this song I included is edited and I had to pull it from the music video.  That’s why there are sound effects like explosions throughout the recording.  That being said, this was one of the catchiest jams of the year, and their album Shangri-La was solid all-around.
  14. “Same” – Hooray For Earth.  The third and final Hooray For Earth song to make my list.  This synth-pop song, like all the others I posted, is immaculately produced, but it’s the vocals and the melody that really make the song great.
  15. “Seekir” – Zola Jesus.  I’m a big fan of looped vocals in songs.  I’m also a fan of songs that keep building and introducing new elements until there is a glorious wall of sound that can vanish instantly.  This is a good tune.
  16. “Serpents” – Sharon Van Etten.  While Tramp, Sharon Van Etten’s latest album, wasn’t released until a couple weeks ago, “Serpents” was released as a single in 2011.  I am smitten with Sharon Van Etten so anything she released in 2011 was pretty much guaranteed to make this list.  I will definitely be posting more about this amazing artist in the near future.  In the meantime, enjoy this rocking song.
  17. “Never Never” – SBTRKT.  This song has a very nice groove and sounds amazing, but it’s the soulful vocals that make it one of my favorites of the year.
  18. “Eyes Be Closed” – Washed Out.  This is a perfect summer jam, but it also works really well at night on a pair of nice headphones.  This song makes me feel like it’s not worth getting stressed or worried about stuff because everything is going to be okay.
  19. “Second Song” – TV on the Radio.  I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to see TV on the Radio play live – I’m not really counting seeing a portion of their set from far away at a festival as really seeing them.  This song is them at their funky best.
  20. “Romance” – Wild Flag.  Sleater-Kinney is near the top of the list of bands I regret never seeing in concert, so anything that reminds me of Sleater-Kinney is instantly a good thing.  Wild Flag is made up of two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney, and, as this track demonstrates, they rock.  Just not quite as much as Sleater-Kinney.  I’m still hoping for a reunion.
  21. “Vomit” – Girls.  I’m not very familiar with this group, but this song was instantly memorable.  It’s a six and a half minute jam that ends up incorporating an organ and gospel vocals.  How could it not be amazing?
  22. “Someone You’d Admire” – Fleet Foxes.  This song, like “Helplessness Blues” in my previous entry, hits me hard.  It’s such a simple song, acoustic guitar, a melody, and a harmony, yet it is incredibly poignant and affecting.
  23. “Try to Sleep” – Low.  Low is another band that I keep meaning to really check out.  I’ve listened to and enjoyed a few of their albums, but I still have a long way to go to really familiarize myself with this band.  This is a beautiful song.
  24. “Codex” – Radiohead.  Sometimes I forget that Radiohead put out an album in 2011.  Even though The King of Limbs is not my favorite Radiohead album, not by a long shot, there are still some really good songs on it.  I’ll be giving the albums a few more listens leading up to my road trip to see them play in Phoenix on March 15th.  This song, and especially the performance I linked to, is exquisite.
  25. “End Come Too Soon” – Wild Beasts.  I really don’t need to say much.  This is a perfect track to end my list.
Well, that's that.  Again, I had to split this volume so here's Part 1 and Part 2.  I hope this is has been useful/enjoyable for someone besides myself.

Coming soon:  my Top 10 Albums of 2011.

Recent Reading Progress:

  • Quotidiana - Patrick Madden
  • How to Be Alone - Jonathan Franzen
  • The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
  • Lamentations of the Father - Ian Frazier
  • Coyote v. Acme - Ian Frazier
  • Songbook - Nick Hornby
  • Love is a Mixtape - Rob Sheffield

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