Monday, July 11, 2011

Writers Gonna Write

Growing up, I was a reader. I read every book I could get my hands on as fast as I could, whether they were appropriate for a child my age or not. I graduated college with an English degree, which involved even more reading, some forced and some done willingly, as well as countless nights spent furiously typing analyses of literary motifs and plot points. This would lead one, I assume, to the expectation that I enjoy writing. Well, I don't. At least not while I'm doing it.

The anticipation of what will arise from that blank page in front of you...the thrill of discovering a new character...I have never experienced these phenomena. I see dread and failure and panic staring back at me with their beady little eyes, taunting me with memories of the unfinished documents I have abandoned. Writing can be TEDIOUS. And so, lately, I often find myself avoiding all forms that require more than 140 characters at a time.

When I do feel inspired to write, I tend to get bogged down in the details. I worry about divulging too much of myself or not enough, or being insincere, or coming across as silly. I worry about not having enough to say or that no one will be interested. I can only imagine that every single person who has written anything, from a simple blog entry to a best-selling novel, has experienced these same fears.

I have always viewed writing as some sort of great puzzle. The words fall onto the page and it is my job to find the best fit for them. The fit that will create the most beautiful picture possible out of the rough edges and blurred colors that I began with. The problem with this scenario is that the longer I avoid it, the more pieces I have lying around, just waiting to be placed. So when I do finally decide that I'm going to knock out a paragraph or two, I find myself staring at 5,000,000 jagged little bits of cardboard, with no idea where to begin.

This brings me to THE POINT. The thing that has actually urged me to try and shut off, at least temporarily, the nagging part of my brain that tells me I won't finish this either, so I shouldn't bother. It was something that two actual writers that I respect, people that get paid to do it, said to me and the other 200 people in the audience that paid to hear them speak about writing and comedy and just generally being awesome people.

I am terrible at paraphrasing and have a special talent when it comes to forgetting punchlines to jokes, but the gist of what they said is: If you want to be a freaking writer, you have to write. Compulsively. Obsessively. Maniacally. To the point where it is all you do when you have free time. And then you have to show it to people. And you have to be prepared for them to hate it and want you to change everything about it. And then there was something about divorce, but let's try to ignore that.

This is the part I have struggled with my whole life, as an aspiring People Pleaser Extraordinaire. I don't want to just create something. I want to create something that people enjoy. Something worthy of praise. And this is what has been stopping me. If I don't feel like I have anything worthwhile to say, I don't say it. longer! Look out, world, because I have received professional advice that says when I am in the process of creating, I am not supposed to give a crap what anyone will think of my monstrosity work.

What I'm saying here is, prepare for the worst.

I don't expect that I will ever become a prolific author or even make a single cent from my words, but even with my somewhat limited life experience, I do believe that I have the potential to impress myself with what I can do. So, I am going to write. And by default, as long as I am writing something, I will be a writer.

EDIT: OOOPS, my bad. I forgot to do excuse, just shame.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Told You So...

These are the four little words I have been dying to say when it comes to one thing in particular: The Boxer Rebellion. For five years now, I have stuck their songs on mixes, posted links to videos on Twitter and Facebook, blogged about them on this here digital soapbox of mine, and generally begged friends to JUST LISTEN TO THEM. JUST ONCE. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. I've had limited success, convincing a few people (including at least one stranger on Twitter) to buy Union while it was cheap last year, but all in all, I have been a failure as their self-appointed U.S. Ambassador.

Starting next month, I may not have to beg and plead any more. Why? Because they are finally getting some major exposure that can't be ignored, thanks to the new Drew Barrymore/Justin Long flick, Going the Distance. Not only are The Boxer Rebellion in the trailer and on the soundtrack, they are in the movie. And not only are they in the movie, they are a major part of the storyline. They perform parts of three songs, all with their name hanging gloriously behind them, just screaming at people to look them up when they get home from the theater. Justin Long's character, who works for a music label, rants about how the band worked hard for three years to make their latest album, all while unsigned (all of this is true of their 2nd album, Union). He wishes aloud that great bands like this got recognition instead of *generic Jonas Bros rip-off band*.

How do I know all of this? Well, I attended a screening earlier this week, though the actual film doesn't come out until the end of August (no, no, scratch I'm writing this, I am finding out that it was pushed back to September 3). The director, Nannette Burstein, was also there for a post-screening Q&A. Someone asked her how The Boxer Rebellion were chosen to be THE band in the film. No, it wasn't me, surprisingly. I can't remember exactly what she said, because as she was discussing the fact that Warner Brothers loved them so much and just knew that she would think they were perfect for the part, my inner monologue was going something like this: "But, but...but...if Warner Brothers loves them so much, WHY DON'T THEY SIGN THEM?"

But really, who am I to know? They may be in talks. They may have an offer. They may not be interested. The band has done pretty well for themselves without a label, so do they really need one? I don't know. The music industry as we know it is changing so much these days. The Charlatans are on yet another label in the U.S. for their forthcoming album. I think this makes four so far? I'm beginning to think that the way things are going, true talent and building a solid, loyal fan base may be more important than having industry backing in the future of the music business. Hey, a girl can dream, right? Oh, look, here's an article about the band to highlight this very point.

So how was the freaking movie, Alissa? Phew, I got a little sidetracked there. Sorry. The movie was good. It was described to us beforehand as being one of the filthiest rom-coms in recent years. While I don't know if it quite lived up to that bold proclamation, it had its moments of edginess and filth. If you know anything about me as a person, you know I hate the term rom-com and I generally avoid any film that is billed as one. It wasn't sappy, though. I didn't want to strangle the couple in it and I was even sort of pulling for them.

As I'm sure you know, YOU GOSSIPERS, you...Drew Barrymore and Justin Long were a couple during the filming of Going the Distance, which is pretty obvious. They have real chemistry. They make out a lot. The supporting cast is brilliant. Two words: Jim Gaffigan. Would I recommend it to friends? Yes. Is it a good date movie? Yes. Is it a good movie to see "with the girls" on the weekend? Sure! In short, I am saying I enjoyed the time that the film was all up in my face.

Perhaps my favorite part of the experience, though, happened as the movie was ending and the credits began to roll. The two friends I was sitting with turned to me and said, "That band was really good."

I squealed a little inside.

I. Told. You. So.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Like a Rolling Stone

Since being unemployed is a brand new experience for me and hopefully something I’ll never have to go through again, I’ve decided to try and keep a semi-thorough record of my forthcoming days of laze. This is something I’m doing to keep myself on track and sane during this process. After all, writing truly is the best therapy that I can afford at the moment and the easiest way to keep the creative and inspirational juices flowing while my career is in limbo.

Day 1

Jobs Applied For: Zero, but I did apply for unemployment. It’s a start.

To Do List: 6 of 7 items done. Not bad.

Mope Time: Zero

I know Friday was officially Day One of my journey into the world of unemployment, but since it felt like nothing more than a part of the long weekend, I’m not counting it. And let’s face it, I was still in denial. Today, it’s all starting to sink in, but I’m surprisingly upbeat about things. Sure, I feel completely useless and unwanted at times, but I have flashes of hope here and there where I realize that my life is completely open to endless new possibilities. Before last Thursday, I never had to think too hard about what else was out there. Now that unknown seems almost comforting, as if I’m free to dream of doing meaningful things with my life again. There are highs and lows from one hour to the next, but the denial is helping me stay positive and keeping busy doesn’t hurt either.

I went to pick up my new glasses today. Ordered and paid for just days before being laid off, they were a reminder of how drastically things have changed in such a short amount of time. I like them so far, but they hold far less importance to me than they did a week ago. Things have to take a backseat right now. Instead of taking pride in the amount of money I’m saving or what I can afford to buy, I’m focused on seeing the value in what I already have (including my wonderful, supportive boyfriend, family and friends) and figuring out a way to make it all work under the circumstances. I’m also finding that there are a million things to do for free in this great big city of ours, if only you have the time to do them. In other words, I don’t think I’ll have a problem with boredom.

Day 2

Jobs Applied For: Two, which was my goal for the day.

To Do List: 5 ½ of 7 items done. Meh.

Mope Time: Minimal

I blame the constant construction noise that goes from 9am to 5pm for my inability to complete 1 ½ of the tasks I set for myself. I know it sounds like an excuse, but it’s really loud construction. And I mean REALLY loud. If this continues, I may have to head to the library in order to do my writing and applying. I do have a laptop, after all. I also met Jon after work and went shoe shopping with him. He managed to find what he was looking for, and I managed to avoid being too jealous of everyone who can actually afford to shop. It’s called restraint and I am going to be the queen of it. I’ve managed to quit a lot of things in my life that I loved. Some of these things were just for a short amount of time, like quitting alcohol for a month or quitting coffee for three months, but some of those things have stuck, like no meat FOREVER. In other words: “I CAN quit you.”

Day 3

Jobs Applied For: Only one. I know. I stink.

To Do List: 4 of 4 items completed. SUCCESS!

Mope Time: Some

My challenge, once again, was trying to work through the construction noise. Just watch my video if you think I’m being a giant wuss. I promise I’m not. I did leave the apartment today, however, for about an hour and a half. I talked with a friend who was laid off a while ago and I have to admit, it did make me feel better. She’s been making ends meet by walking dogs (which is why she was in the area) and doing some freelance stuff since she lost her job. It gave me some hope and helped reinforce the notion that this THING may be good for me when all is said and done. It gives me the time to look for something that I really love, or at the very least, something that borders on a possible career path. It is slightly disheartening to think about how many talented, creative, brilliant people are out there looking for work, though.

The thing that has really helped me this week has been all of the excellent advice I’ve gotten from those aforementioned brilliant people that I happen to know. I haven’t cried since last Thursday, the day I was actually laid off. I haven’t felt the need to. Writing about this experience has helped me work through my initial angry/sad/frustrated thoughts on the matter; making to do lists filled with small, reachable goals for each day has given me a sense of accomplishment and forced me to hold myself accountable for what I do and what I don’t do with my time; waking up at a decent hour and not sleeping through the morning has provided a sense of normalcy, despite abnormal circumstances; and forcing myself to go outside for a period of time every afternoon reminds me that there is much more to life than what’s going on in my world right now.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nerdy and Manic...

...the perfect way to describe the past few days of my life.

In case you don't know this about me, in addition to being a massive music snob and avid concert goer, I am also a mega comedy nerd. One of the major perks of my job is that it affords me ample time and pretty much forces me to listen to podcasts and music all day long, in order to drown out the sound of the people around me.

I always enjoyed Comedy Central and HBO specials, Conan O'Brien, Last Comic Standing, and Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and others in the past, but over the last two years, I've had the chance to delve deeper and deeper into the world of "alternative comedy" and I've learned so much about what I find truly funny thanks to a number of amazing comics that happen to be much wittier than I will ever be.

Since moving to Chicago I've also had the opportunity to see quite a few of these comics perform live...sometimes for free! When done right, comedy shows can rival and occasionally even surpass concerts in terms of the joy they bring me. A night of unpredictability and laughter with hundreds of people that have a similar sense of humor...what could be better?

One of the people I've "discovered" through podcasts (and the very special A Special Thing forum) is Chris Hardwick. Of course, I remember Chris as the sarcastic co-host of Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra on Singled Out, and I also remember him as the equally snarky host of Shipmates, an atrocious dating show that I used to watch at an ungodly hour of the night in my waitressing years (when I couldn't sleep). I think I always liked him because he seemed to grasp how silly reality TV, dating, and people in general, were. Then he sort of disappeared...until he started popping up on seemingly EVERY podcast I listen to: Never Not Funny, Guys With Feelings, Comedy Death Ray, Adam Carolla, I Love Movies, Comedy & Everything Else and many more.

So finally, after all of the listening to him in my earbuds, watching him on TV and following him on Twitter, I got to see him perform yesterday at the Lakeshore Theater, where he showed up with his fellow joke-telling, music-making partner in crime, Mike Phirman. By the time they left the stage, the performance had already safely made its way into my top two comedy shows. Yep, right up there with Paul F. Tompkins...and that's not an easy place to get to. I can't really describe the show without repeating my favorite jokes, but I can say that they are brilliant stand-up comedians, surprisingly fantastic live singers, highly entertaining performers and overall smart, hilarious, sweet, lovely guys. And look - I got hugs and autographs! It was a dream come true.

(A few other pictures HERE, including the best autograph ever...they still make me smile!)

If you don't have the chance to see them perform, you can always just do as I do and check out Chris and Mike on Twitter every day, listen for them on any of the podcasts I mentioned above, or take a look at for a little bit of all things geek.

Moving right along, not only did I have one of the funniest nights of my life this week, but also one of the downright rockingest. Jon and I saw the Manic Street Preachers on Thursday night, which is normally not the best night for a show, because I'm tired and worn down from the week and anxious about staying out too late. As it got closer to Thursday, however, I got more and more excited about seeing the Manics again. When the time actually came to leave work and head over to the Metro, I had butterflies in my stomach and nervous energy like you wouldn't believe. I've seen the Manics twice before at English music festivals, but nothing that compares to being in a smaller venue with a few hundred hardcore fans that have either never had the chance to see them before or have waited ten years for the chance to do it again.

(More of Jon's awesome pictures HERE)

I'd read somewhere that Nicky Wire hurt his back earlier in the year, so I was worried that he'd be less enthusiastic or, even worse, obviously in pain, but there was no sign of any of that. James and Nicky (I couldn't really see Sean) were all smiles, jumping around like they're younger than me and absolutely destroying my eardrums all night long. Four days later, I still don't think my hearing is back to normal and I can't stop humming their songs. If you haven't gotten the chance to check out their newest CD, Journal for Plague Lovers, (it came out pretty recently in the U.S.) please do. It's beautiful and powerful and stuck in my brain.

I sometimes wonder if I'm doing myself a disservice by clinging so tightly to some of the same bands I've been listening to since I was a teenager, but when they continue to come out with brilliant new albums and tour them with such passion, I can't help but fall in love all over again. I don't know if I'll ever feel the same way about a "new" band as I do The Charlatans or the Manics or Super Furry Animals, etc. They came into my life at a time when I was really starting to understand the power of music, and the fact that they're still around and relevant just proves to me that I was right all along. There's something special there, and I'm a lucky girl to have the opportunity and means to experience it.

Any other week, I'd probably be able to write a full post about Big Fan, a movie we saw on Friday starring Patton Oswalt. Patton is another comedian that I feel like I've gotten to know better through podcasts, and another extremely funny person that I got to see this week. Because this post is already far too long, though, I'll keep it simple and say that the movie was really good. It's written by the guy who did The Wrestler, (he was also there for the Q&A after the movie was over) and from what I have heard, it's just as dark, if not darker. It deals with obsession, depression, rejection, love, hate, failure, and other such themes, but still manages to be pretty funny. I'd recommend it, though it may be hard to find, as it's currently only being played in a few cities at a time. Patton did one of the best Q&As I've seen so far and had me laughing so hard at one point that I was actually crying. How many people can do that?

So that's my week (well, three days of it anyway). I've been meaning to post for a while, and in my downtime have neglected to talk about World's Greatest Dad (another really dark, really funny film) and a few other things I've been slightly obsessed with over the past month or so. We also went to Milwaukee last weekend, which was much more exciting than I would have guessed, but I suppose all of this will have to wait for another day. Till then, please enjoy some Hard 'N Phirm and Manics:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Knew Things Were Going Too Smoothly

North America tour

The Charlatans are sorry to announce the cancellation of their forthcoming North American tour. This is due to drummer Jon Brookes' longstanding shoulder complaint. He has been strongly advised by doctors against undertaking 23 concerts in 28 days as this could cause severe damage to ligaments in the affected area. He will start a course of treatment starting in September and in the coming months to rectify the condition.

Once again the band wish to apologise to people who have purchased tickets and those that had made travel arrangements We are as disappointed as you are, due to this unavoidable situation.
Many thanks.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Whole Lotta Lolla

And on the first day, it rained...

On the way to Grant Park, Jon, Dan (who was visiting from Florida) and I stopped to pick up ponchos. Turns out, everyone else had the same idea many hours earlier, so they were sold out. We probably should have planned a little better, but tons of people had already assured me, "It never rains at Lollapalooza."

I can't lie...I was grumpy. I didn't deal well when I came to the realization that I was going to be wet and cold and sticky for the next nine hours. The final straw came when I noticed that I'd forgotten the camera battery at home. I was outta there. Luckily, the three-day wristband allows for re-entry and we live a fairly short walk (about a mile) from the park. I decided that there was no way I was going to miss getting pictures of Depeche Mode, because who knows when I'll get to see them again?

I went home, dried off, changed from jeans into shorts (rookie mistake with the jeans), spent a few minutes of quality time with the cat, put on some more comfortable shoes, grabbed an umbrella and remembered the battery this time around. I was really surprised that they were even allowing umbrellas into the festival, considering their unwieldiness when it's windy and the fact that they would clearly get in the way at a concert, but I suppose it's a good thing they did.
Ever worn glasses in the rain?

And so, Friday began with a drizzle, continued with a slight downpour and ended with the parting of clouds just in time for Depeche Mode. I was alone in the crowd for this one, as Jon, Dan & Nick wanted to check out Kings of Leon first. Fine with me, as it's easier to make your way towards the front if you're only one person. The crowd around me was surprisingly polite and in so many ways the exact opposite of the Flaming Lips experience at Pitchfork.

DM played a good set...I would have liked to see more old stuff in there, but I understand that they have an album to promote. It's not that I dislike their latest work, I just don't know it as well and am obviously not as emotionally connected to it. Regardless of what they played, I thought they sounded great and Dave Gahan was as much of an entertainer as always. I saw them about 10 years ago and I couldn't find any sign (performance-wise) that they'd aged a whole decade, which says a lot.

Jon and Dan had tickets to see the Arctic Monkeys' aftershow (or pre-show, considering they played Lolla on Saturday) at the Metro later that night, so I took the opportunity to head home, clean up, and go to bed somewhat early. I'm glad I did, because I've now been to two Arctic Monkeys' concerts with Jon, neither by choice, and the audience is always 80% dudes, and rowdy dudes at that.

Saturday and Sunday were, in two words, hot and sticky. There were lots of ladies in bathing suits and shirtless men, which made for a sweaty mess when you're standing in the middle of hundreds of them. The lines for the water fountains were longer than the lines for the toilets and on Sunday, they even began giving out water bottles for free around 2-3pm (when the day was at it's scorchingest).

While I forgot the camera battery on Friday and vowed to be more careful next time, I somehow managed to forget my memory card on Saturday. At least we had two cameras, so Jon took his and I was left to roam without one for a while. I spent a lot of Saturday by myself. This may sound sad to some, but I really relish being able to find a little bit of solitude in the middle of all the chaos. As is typical, when I find myself alone at Lollapalooza, I tend to migrate over to the dance stage. I don't know why this is, since in my everyday life I listen to very little dance music, but for some reason I love it live. Talk about sweaty masses...everyone at this stage is jumping and grooving all day long, no matter the temperature. The crowd seems to pulse with the repetitive beats coming from the stage, merging and becoming a sea of glistening bodies, with surfers riding the waves of hands to shore.

If you've never spent time alone at a music festival without a camera, these are the sorts of things you notice and think about. It's poetry, really, and there is no way to capture it in words or images. I say try and check it out for yourself if you get the chance one day. I've been to festivals in England by myself before and it really does change everything about the experience. It's amazing how much more you remember about the day when your focus is more on the event and less on the individuals around you. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy my time with Jon, Dan, Elisa, Nick and anyone else I spoke to on any of the days. On the contrary, I think I was able to enjoy the conversation and company more once I separated myself from it for a while. Everything is better with a little bit of balance, isn't it?

Speaking of Elisa, I spent a good amount of time on Saturday and Sunday with her and I must say it was really really nice to be around someone who is so interested in and knowledgeable about all types of music. She seemed to run into a ton of people she knew as well, which I always find odd in such big crowds (I did hear from one of my co-workers that he saw me there, though, so I guess it's possible even for people like me, who don't know a ton of music lovers in Chicago).

I met up with her after Glasvegas and we got some frozen kefir (Starfruit), which was somewhat flavorless but refreshing and absolutely necessary on such a hot day. She was with me for my favorite moment of the weekend, which I posted last week, and actually took that picture of me with Glasvegas, which makes me smile every time I think about it. They were really nice and I got a kiss on the cheek from James after gushing about how much I adore them and how excited I was to see that they were playing Lolla. I joked with Jon afterwards that the first time we saw them I got a kiss on the hand, and the second time I got a kiss on the cheek, so he better watch out for someone trying to make out with me the next time we see them! I make this promise right here, right now, and you can hold me to it. Every time Glasvegas are playing here (or in any future city I live in), I will go see them. They are that good.

I'm not going to get into details about everyone I saw. That would take far too long and would bore the pants off of me and anyone brave enough to read through all of it. Instead, I will try do Twitter-sized reviews for the major ones:

@Band of Horses: Continuing to play opposite the festival headliners & organizers for 10-15 minutes takes major balls! See you @ Pitchfork next time ;)

@Lou Reed: Causing Band of Horses to go on 20 min late b/c you're a "perfectionist" loses you cool points in my book. Good to see u still kickin', tho.

@The Killers: You sounded better last time I saw you, but your energy made up for it. Too bad the drunkies around me didn't like your stories.

@Perry Farrell: Really? Your "special guest" was your wife? Really? Or was it her obscenely short dress? Cos *that* was actually pretty special...for dudes.

@Ben Folds: I'm sorry I didn't fully enjoy you because of my dreary mood. Next time, I promise!

@Kaiser Chiefs: I heard you were the highlight of the weekend for many. I feel bad now that I was so far back & couldn't see. I'm a hot weather wimp.

@The Hood Internet: Way to blow up the dance stage, guys! Seriously. Local boys represent!

@Tool: I wouldn't say I was ever a fan of you, but you sounded amazing. How is Maynard so soft-spoken with pipes like that?

@Prophit: You were certainly energetic and entertaining, but I liked you more before I found out you were Perry's nephew.

So if for some reason you haven't yet seen my hundreds upon hundreds o' pictures from the weekend, I give you the official Lolla photo roundup (The Facebook sets include some of the ones that are on Flickr, but Flickr doesn't include a lot of the ones that are on Facebook...get it?):
The best news is that we already have tickets for next year thanks to Jon, Dan and the $60 SUPER early bird sale last week. I'm buying a poncho in advance (and maybe an extra camera battery)! See you there?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Letter of Intent

Hopefully at some point over the next few days, I'll have the chance to sit, ponder and write about Lollapalooza and everything else that's been going on over the past few weeks. I've already uploaded my photos everywhere, as has Jon, but sometimes pictures and their thousand words still can't tell the whole story. If this little blog is to succeed in its lofty goal of helping me remember more about my present life well into the future, I've got to take the time to add to it, right?

I already have years and years of my life that aren't documented in any way. I've had to throw out letters and mementos over the course of three major moves and while the purging of "stuff" is always somewhat liberating, it means that I have only my memory to rely on. And let's face it, even at my age, memory is iffy at best. I don't think any pictures even exist of me from the ages of 20-25. I had no camera. I had little money and even less motivation to get one. I think this is the best way I can explain why I love taking so many pictures now.

Speaking of, I finally signed up for Flickr pro after years of avoiding it. I don't really agree with having to pay $25 a year, but it's nice to be able to organize things into sets and having the capacity for unlimited uploads is pretty rad too.

For tonight, I will leave you with my favorite moment from Lolla -- meeting Glasvegas: