Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just Another Day in Chicago


This was officially our first day back in Chicago. The past two days have been spent looking for apartments, and we didn't really have time to enjoy anything about the greatest city in the world. But today was 'welcome back' day. It wasn't anything special, but let me reveal to you just how cool this town actually is. There's always something going on:

After sleeping through a cold, gray, rainy Chicago morning, it started simply enough: with a lunch trip to Boystown for burritos. But this was merely sustenance, for the day actually started with our trip to a Ravenswood coffee shop (The Perfect Cup). Matt Joynt works as the barista for this coffee shop when he's not on tour with his band, Anathallo. He makes a mean Black Eye, and is always a pleasant person to be around. Amidst some conversation on current news topics, he shared this website with us: 

doihaveswineflu.org

We weren't at the coffee shop five minutes when my old co-host from the Moody Indie Review showed up. It was a lovely surprise. Her name is Jess Jones (formerly Jess Schlobohm), and she is 9 months pregnant. A baby will come out of her any day now. Her life is changing.

After spending some time at the coffee shop, my wife and I went over to Jess's apartment. It took less than five minutes to walk there, about a block. We were welcomed by two cats, one lazy as hell, the other climbing the curtains. Eventually, both cats settled down and we were all able to sit down in the baby-stuff littered living room to talk about our crazy, ever-changing lives. Jess encouraged us by just being such a brave soon-to-be-mother, and apparently we encouraged her by simply coming back home with some faith left. I don't think anyone cried, but it was a very uplifting half hour.

Next, I met up with an old friend for a poetry reading and a movie while Jaclyn went with another friend to do yoga and an art gallery opening. I don't know much about Jaclyn's night, but mine was as intellectually and aesthetically engaging as they come.

The poet was Philip Levine. He read poems for America's working class at the Art Institute of Chicago. Since this was a part of Poetry Month festivities, the reading was free. Here's one of his poems, The Two:

 When he gets off work at Packard, they meet outside a diner on Grand Boulevard. He's tired, a bit depressed, and smelling the exhaustion on his own breath, he kisses her carefully on her left cheek. Early April, and the weather has not decided if this is spring, winter, or what. The two gaze upwards at the sky which gives nothing away: the low clouds break here and there and let in tiny slices of a pure blue heaven. The day is like us, she thinks; it hasn't decided what to become. The traffic light at Linwood goes from red to green and the trucks start up, so that when he says, "Would you like to eat?" she hears a jumble of words that mean nothing, though spiced with things she cannot believe, "wooden Jew" and "lucky meat." He's been up late, she thinks, he's tired of the job, perhaps tired of their morning meetings, but when he bows from the waist and holds the door open for her to enter the diner, and the thick odor of bacon frying and new potatoes greets them both, and taking heart she enters to peer through the thick cloud of tobacco smoke to the see if "their booth" is available. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there were no second acts in America, but he knew neither this man nor this woman and no one else like them unless he stayed late at the office to test his famous one liner, "We keep you clean Muscatine," on the woman emptying his waste basket. Fitzgerald never wrote with someone present, except for this woman in a gray uniform whose comings and goings went unnoticed even on those December evenings she worked late while the snow fell silently on the window sills and the new fluorescent lights blinked on and off. Get back to the two, you say. Not who ordered poached eggs, who ordered only toast and coffee, who shared the bacon with the other, but what became of the two when this poem ended, whose arms held whom, who first said "I love you" and truly meant it, and who misunderstood the words, so longed for, and yet still so unexpected, and began suddenly to scream and curse until the waitress asked them both to leave. The Packard plant closed years before I left Detroit, the diner was burned to the ground in '67, two years before my oldest son fled to Sweden to escape the American dream. "And the lovers?" you ask. I wrote nothing about lovers. Take a look. Clouds, trucks, traffic lights, a diner, work, a wooden shoe, East Moline, poached eggs, the perfume of frying bacon, the chaos of language, the spices of spent breath after eight hours of night work. Can you hear all I feared and never dared to write? Why the two are more real than either you or me, why I never returned to keep them in my life, how little I now mean to myself or anyone else, what any of this could mean, where you found the patience to endure these truths and confessions?

Hot stuff. I even acquired my first copy of Poetry Magazine as a result of this experience. I also wandered briefly through the museum afterwards (it was free day).

Since we were already downtown, we were easily able to walk over to the Gene Siskel Film Center for a new documentary called Examined Life. It featured all sorts of philosophers and thinkers who were discussing ethics, disability, meaningfulness, politics, ecology and other important modern issues. The star of the film was Cornel West. I saw Dr. West speak at Calvin College a few weeks ago, and it was mind-blowing. He might be the smartest dude I've ever been in the same room with. If you've never heard of him, get off of my blog and google him. He's an amazing thinker, and will more than likely inspire you to examine your life again.

It was my kind of movie, and I want to watch it again. It was like Waking Life with less pretension and no spacy dream talk. And there wasn't any bullshit rotoscoping. Once it was over, Jim Joyce and I walked around the city and talked about the film and the issues it raised. Jim struggles with the concept of social contracts, while I have a hard time with disability ethics.

Next, Jaclyn and Avanti picked me up and we drove past the United Center just as the Bulls won game six against the Celtics in triple overtime. Everybody was wearing red. Derrick Rose jerseys were the item of choice, but Jordan jerseys were still around (and for some reason, Toni Kukoc's number 7 made at least two appearances...). There was honking and yelling, a typical celebration for the Chicago sports fan...

And a few minutes after the Bulls won, I got a text from our realtor letting us know that we've been approved to move in to our new apartment on Saturday. So everybody, if you're not doing anything then, come on over to 1922 N. Washtenaw and say hello. We'll go somewhere later that night to watch the Bulls game of course. And then who knows what the hell will happen after that!

So we're all feeling pretty good right now. We feel right back at home. But tomorrow's another day. 

A Thief In the Night Keeps Me Awake

Every year around Halloween time, I go to a 24-hour film fest that specializes in the horror genre. It’s called the Music Box Massacre, because it takes place in Chicago’s old Music Box Theatre. Some of the films shown are classics, The Exorcist, The Shining, Friday the 13th and Halloween for example. But the films that really stand out each year are the ones that I’ve never heard of before. Some of the best: Pieces (a chainsaw movie…), Demons 2 and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. I enjoy these films in that ironic “so-bad-it’s-good” way.

            Even though I’m there for sincere reasons, I always feel like a bit of an outsider at the Massacre. John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and Ed Wood are not just household names to the folks at this event, but have attained god-like status. And, almost everybody’s physical appearance is objectively unattractive, quite unlike my handsome demeanor. But it doesn’t matter who you are or why you’re there, it’s a time to celebrate the fun of just being scared. On the big screen we see wood splinters in eyeballs, pointless boobs being chased by masked murderers, monsters drooling acid saliva that burns screaming human faces into claymation puddles of goo, and more buckets of blood and guts than you can handle. Oh, it’s a great time!

            One of the most memorable films was a horribly produced gem from the late sixties called Equinox. As washed out as a film can get, Equinox has the audience squinting from start to finish. The acting was atrocious and the stop-motion monsters were fantastically corny. Laughs never ceded for this hour and a half of campy fun.

            

Equinox was produced by Jack Harris, who also produced the classic 50s horror film, The Blob. The Blob’s associate producer was Russell Doughten, who later went on to create a series of films about the Great Tribulation and the second coming of Christ. Doughten’s A Thief in the Night was probably the first horror movie I ever saw, and actually sheds some light onto my reasons for enjoying such a horribly campy movie like Equinox.

            Harris and Doughten worked together on The Blob, proving that they had horror film chops. Even though they went in two different directions for their later films, their styles stayed the same. In Harris’ Equinox, an ear-piercing soundtrack is used to push the viewer into the highest possible state of intentional discomfort. In Thief, a very similar soundtrack is used to invoke a fear of spiritual desolation. To an 8 year old, a claymation inter-dimensional monster isn’t nearly as frightening as the thought of having your parents swept up by a Jesus in the clouds who is leaving you on a violent and godless earth to fend for yourself until the universe explodes seven years later. The former is just impossible and practically fanciful, but the real possibility of being “left behind” with no one to care for you is a truly horrifying thought in 2nd grade.

            I actually watched Thief with my mom. We watched it at church. The whole congregation was there on a dark, foggy night in the early ‘90s. While Doughten intended this movie to be a piece of evangelism to teens of the ‘70s, our congregation didn’t seem to notice. Our church was a former barn that eventually was remodeled by putting used carpeting and uncomfortable chairs in an old chicken coop. It was surrounded by a vast cornfield, and was located on the edges of one of the trashier suburbs of Chicago. It wasn’t exactly a very happy-looking place to begin with. Actually, this church and the kooky old people that attended scared me whether it was a Sunday service, a summer picnic or a Christian horror film night.

At this church, we would occasionally have these movie events where everybody would come and watch some awful thing that we could learn from. They would wheel an old TV into the front of the church, we’d turn the lights off and have a regular movie night. Before Thief, we watched some sort of Christian-produced documentary about Dungeons and Dragons. Apparently, some teenagers who happened to play this game had committed suicide and this documentary attempted to make the argument that they killed themselves because Dungeons and Dragons is satanic. After playing the game, the boys became possessed, and Satan actually made them kill themselves. Since I thought the game was nerdy even back then, I was able to ignore that particular video and draw in my sketchpad while all of the other adults grew fearful that their nieces and nephews could be at that very moment hanging out at a heathen friend’s house, playing a game that is turning them into the devil’s playthings. Oh God, they were a serious bunch, praying in tongues out loud if they ever felt the urge.

But that might be a story for another time. Tonight we were watching A Thief in the Night. My mom shouldn’t have let me see this. It was about the mark of the beast, the end of the world, the desolation that is prophesied to come within our time. The film is about 10 percent theology, and 90 percent old-school horror. It would actually make a great spot in an upcoming Music Box Massacre. It is cheesy by today’s standards, of course, horribly outdated. But to those who have weak wills, and to children, this film is truth. But in reality, it uses scare tactics to invoke a response. Unfortunately, not everyone can watch such a movie without getting completely wrapped up in it. It’s like watching The Matrix and afterwards believing that we really are in a bunch of pods.

I don’t know what to call such a phenomenon. Maybe it’s just gullibility. But I know a lot of it has to be stupidity. A lack of critical thinking is a dangerous quality in a movie-watcher.

I once heard someone say, “yeah, the groundhog saw his shadow again. So I guess we get more winter.” Which isn’t remarkable, especially not on Groundhog Day. But then a friend responded to her, “I don’t think it did actually. If you watched it, you’ll notice that its eyes never really turned in the direction of the shadow.” After hearing this, I have to assume that it has to be some sort of weird joke. But then the following response affirmed my deepest fears, “Do you think maybe it doesn’t matter if the groundhog sees its shadow? I feel like we get more winter every year.” This wasn’t said sarcastically.

There are some people in this world who have gone leaps and bounds beyond gullibility, and revel in ignorance. What I can’t figure out is how these people live past their 20’s. But these are the sorts of people who went to our church. And they loved watching these movies that didn’t have the slightest hint of fact to them, but were believed to be true regardless.

But to the few kids who were there, it wasn’t a matter of gullibility. Kids are already gullible, they don’t need any encouragement. To a kid, these movie nights were pretty scary.

By the end of A Thief in the Night, a kid will believe that if you don’t accept Jesus Christ into your heart at this very moment, the rapture could happen within seconds and you could lose your chance forever. If you lose your chance, you have to endure seven years of tribulation on earth. This means, everyone around you is not a Christian, and so everyone will want you to denounce your faith and join them. If you don’t denounce your faith, well, you go to the guillotine of course.

For whatever reason, this film pushes the idea that if you refuse to take the mark of the beast, you are immediately decapitated by guillotine. Even though I loved to draw, I really just can’t when a movie like this is on. And I can’t enjoy it, because all of the grown-ups around me are taking it as seriously as any other piece of nonsense produced by any schmuck who calls their product “Christian.” And herein was the problem. Had we all been watching Evil Dead, all of the grown-ups would have been laughing. Even though I might have been scared of the haunted house and the creepy music, I would have been assured that what we were watching wasn’t real but actually very silly. When a kid watches a scary movie and is told: “this is actually going to happen…” well, it should probably be considered abuse. I went through this nearly every week at the Church of the Good Shepherd.

This wasn’t like that little D&D docu-nonsense. Thief had a soundtrack that you couldn’t get out of your head. It heralded the end of the world not only as something that is nearing, but that has arrived at this very moment and is about to destroy you and all that you found beautiful in the world. I have to give Mr. Doughten credit. He knows what he’s doing. It would be interesting if he even considered himself a Christian when he made this, because it actually doesn’t feel like a film that Christian would make. A Christian would have done a lousier job, and it wouldn’t have been scary at all.

What I had endured that night was something called “Christploitation.” This film taught nothing of the love of Jesus, and if it did they tried to denounce it by saying that God “hates sin” and is going to pour out His wrath. This movie seeped into the psyche. It wasn’t fun at all. It made the viewer afraid for their lives, and not just on a spiritual level either.

One scene features a little girl, wandering around her house looking for her mother. Pots are boiling over as an eery, single, high note from an old organ harmonizes with a discordant piano whose tune is a trail to nowhere. The girl screams. The camera goes off in a million different crooked angles. Suddenly her mom appears from around the corner, hugs her daughter and everyone is relieved. The rapture hasn’t actually happened. Phew. But the girl then decides at that very moment that she must ask Jesus into her heart. So she does. Because, it might not be a false alarm next time… (watch below)


I can’t even count how many times I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I mean, I just had to be sure, because I didn’t want to be left behind in the rapture. At least once a day I prayed that Jesus would come into my heart. (Especially if I had gone through an experience like that poor little girl in the movie.)

When we weren’t at church, we lived in a trailer (which probably that didn’t help nurture any comfort in my young soul). I remember one day it really felt like the end. I was in my room, watching TV on my bed when I heard the trumpet. It came from outside, a low rumbling call that signaled all of the Christians to fly up into the sky. My heart stopped. I called out, “Mom?!” And I heard no response. I felt the blood fall out of my face again. I was pale. I ran around the trailer looking for my younger brothers or sister. They were nowhere to be found either. I knew what had happened. I was old enough to be counted for Christian eligibility; my siblings were too young to qualify though. They had been taken up in the rapture and I was left behind. I ran outside to look at the sky, and saw that someone had turned the hose on the side of the trailer on. I turned the corner of the trailer and saw my mom with the hose. And then I realized that the nozzle is just beneath my bedroom window. The rumbling trumpet sound I heard was my mom turning on the hose. Strange vibrations against the trailer can easily get the better of an impressionable young mind I guess.

As soon as I saw her, I turned around and went back to my room. My heart was still beating. I went back to watching TV, but I made sure to ask Jesus into my heart before sitting down again. Just for good measure.

But I still love a scary movie. Whether it's Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger or the returning Christ, there's nothing quite as fun as some good old-fashioned, cinematic horror.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No Post

I know, I totally missed a post yesterday. But we were on the road all day. We left before the sun came up, and arrived in Illinois after the sun went down. Give me a break. We're back.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Getting Out of Here

This is the best we could do for the past couple of months...

heh. Well enough of that. Time for more of this:

Oh. Yes.

Arrested Again?


Tonight was our going away party. We will leave Florida forever on Monday Morning, but we had to celebrate this fact today. In yesterday's post, I mentioned being arrested twice (so I'm more than capable). And as you know, Matt Mackowiak is around this weekend too. So if we do the math, something ridiculous should occur anytime now.

Well, the weekend is only halfway through, but tonight was kind of ridiculous.

I've been practicing with my Traktor DJ Software for a good couple of years. I've never played at any parties, but I officially popped my DJ cherry tonight. I got people dancing. People I didn't even know. Even a few black people I didn't even know!

.......sorry.

But it was a really fun time. The few Floridian friends we have decided to invite a bunch of people over to our place to party. Of course, we didn't mind. But right at the height of things, at the climax of the music, amidst jumping, dancing and screaming, somebody ran over to me with some distressing news. 

"Dylan! Dylan, you have cops!"

My head stopped bobbing, I looked up into the crowd and saw a couple of thick, stocky men in black, shining their flashlights into my eyes. They were walking toward my huddled little corner on our back porch.

"Can I see your I.D. please sir?"

I turned down the beats. We were getting shut down. They called me away from the crowd, and explained to me how they won't arrest me as long as I keep the noise down once they left. It was a very fair deal, and I happily agreed. (I was running low on the high-energy tracks anyway...)

So at the peak of our party, we got shut down. And I must say, I felt pretty good about it. I think if a DJ does his job right, he'll get the cops to show up at the height of the madness. One might say that I'm 1 for 1 in the DJ business. I'll make sure to put it on my DJ resume that I got shut down right out of the gate.

It was a fun night. Matt Mackowiak really wasn't to blame in any way for the cops showing up though. But I suppose he was an accomplice. He even helped make an illegal fire pit. ha.

If you're wondering what got folks up tonight, here's what I played:

Thelonious Monk - Bemsha Swing
M.I.A. - Paper Planes
The Cool Kids - Black Mags
Phoenix - 1901
Sam Sparro - Black and Gold
The Cool Kids - Bassment Party
The Proclaimers - I'm Gonna Be w/ Isolee - Today
Tag Team - Whoomp! There It Is w/ School of Seven Bells - Half Asleep
The Field - The Little Heart Beats So Fast
Cut Copy - Lights and Music w/ 2 Unlimited - Twilight Zone
Ratatat - Shempi
Daft Punk - Human After All (Justice remix)
Grizzly Bear - Knife (CSS remix)
Crystal Castles - 1991
Santogold w/ LCD Soundsystem - Get Innocuous and Was Not Was - Walk the Dinosaur
Chicago Bulls theme with Daft Punk - Da Funk
Public Enemy w/ Justice - D.A.N.C.E.
Walter Meego - Forever
The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health
Beastie Boys - Intergalactic w/ Kanye West - Stronger
Montell Jordan - This is How We Do It
Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill
Junior Senior w/ Lil Jon - Can I Get Low?
Cadence Weapon - Limited Edition OJ Slammer
69 Boys - Tootsie Roll w/ Beastie Boys - Sure Shot
Crazy Q - Local Hero 
Tobacco - Street Trash w/ Kanye West - Heartless
Out Hud - 2005 Face Odyssey w/ C & C Music Factory - Everybody Dance Now
Sneaker Pimps - 6 Underground
Biggie - Big Poppa w/ Mashetti Moses - Zombie Nation
The Who - Baba O'Reilley
Menomena - Weird (Dekoder remix)
Crystal Castles - Magic Spells w/ The Offspring - Pretty Fly for a White Guy
Shop Boyz - Party Like a Rock Star w/ Cupid Shuffle
SHUT DOWN.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What Makes A Best Man?


This will have to be a short blog post, because it's been a busy day and the start of a busy weekend. But my best man drove down here today to spend the weekend with us. We'll all drive back up to Chicago together on Monday. It really is the best way to go back home. Caravan with friends.

My best man was (and still is) Matt Mackowiak. He's an amazing human being. Before I got married, he and I teamed up hundreds of times for the sake of creating some wonderful memories. I won't share any of them in detail right now, but rest assured, there will be stories of Matt and Dylan on this blog. This measly little post will act as the coming attractions release.

Matt and I met during our first years of high school. It was the result of matching "christian punk rock" t-shirts. I had never met anyone my own age who even knew what Cornerstone was, but Matt Mackowiak was everything I ever could have hoped for in a high school friend. I'll explain what I mean later.

I was arrested twice in my life. Once by myself, and for something so boring (driving on an expired license). The second time was with Matt. We were apprehended together. What did Matt and I do to get our names in the weekly police blotter? This is a good story, and will be told in due time.

Matt took me to a haunted cemetery one freezing winter night. It turned out to be the most terrifying night of my entire life. I had never run so much before. This is an unbelievable story, but it must be told. It's about fear and friendship, and the bonds that are created amidst life's most perilous situations.

Matt and I almost died in the Smoky Mountains. The two of us went on a camping trip together before I got married. This story involves storms, bears and a mentally challenged naked man running around in the forest. I can't wait to write this one.

We also took a road trip to Philly. While there, we ate cheese steaks.

There are too many stories to count. When Matt and I get together, ridiculous things happen. Before the weekend ends, I'll probably have a new one. This is the first and only time that Matt and Dylan will take on Florida, and I can't imagine anything less than craziness. Stay tuned.

Bring Back Biblical Nintento Games


Two things that have been strangely popular for the past decade are video games and Christianity. The former should be obvious. Wii Sports has turned old people on to playing video games, Rock Band is a house party staple and remember DDR? No brainer, video games are huge. But Christianity is just as big. Every other week, the covers of TIME or Newsweek have something to tell us about the state of America’s faith, and American Idol guests sing songs by Switchfoot and Third Day. Plus, nearly half of the country still votes based on whether or not a candidate subscribes to “Christian values.” If you haven’t realized how massive a force Christianity is in this country, you’ve been playing too many video games.

What I can’t figure out is why the two worlds haven’t collided yet. We got a good dose of ridiculousness a few years ago for the Left Behind video game, but that was ultimately a flop. Where’s the Moses video game? Where’s Spiritual Warfare? Where’s David and Goliath (I mean, they already made the modern TV show, Kings, where’s the Xbox version?)?

About 20 years ago, Nintendo did have “Christian video games.” You could buy them at the Family Bookstores. These games were incredible. They were not legitimate NES games at all. The cartridges weren’t even the standard shape or color. They were subversive in their religious infiltration, marketing solely to the Christian audience. If you didn't grow up in an overly churched family, you didn't know about these games.

I can vividly remember playing a few of them. Bible Adventures, Exodus and Spiritual Warfare were the big three.

Spiritual Warfare was such a trip. It played like the Legend of Zelda, with a view from above and a square-shaped character. But instead of wandering around forests and collecting pieces of the Tri-Force, you wander around forests and find various Fruits of the Spirit. Once you find a piece of fruit, you can use it as a weapon. I think the banana worked as a boomerang, and the apple was like a grenade. I’m not sure if any of these fruits represented peace or kindness, but if so, this game had some serious contradictions at its core.

I also remember collecting different pieces of the Armor of God. Shields and breastplates and what not. And boots, which enabled you to walk over hot tar safely. The boots were a nod to “feet shod with the gospel of peace,” obviously.

The enemies in the game were two-fold, physical and spiritual. That is, simple human beings would walk around, apparently trying to hurt you because of your blatant Christianity. So you were forced to throw fruit at them. If you threw enough fruit, you would eventually kill these people. But that was never the end of the situation. Once the nasty heathens were dead, a red demon would fly out of them, and would also come after you. Luckily the fruit was dualistic, as effective on flesh and blood as it was on metaphysical phenomena.

The Exodus game was similar to Spiritual Warfare in its gameplay, only about 100 times more difficult. I didn’t attempt this one very often, because it was one of the hardest video games I’ve ever played. The game was a total maze, a mix of puzzle and RPG that I never had the patience to endure for more than 15 minutes. As far as Bible video games go, this one was probably the most appropriate adaptation. It probably takes a good 40 years to complete this game, level after level of wandering agony. I really felt empathy for the Jewish people after playing this beast.

Bible Adventures was a real treat though. If I remember correctly, there were three different games that you could play in one cartridge. Noah’s ark, David and Goliath, and one of them was somehow about baby Moses (I didn’t play this one much…).

Noah’s ark was good clean fun. In classic 2D scrolling (think Super Mario Bros.), an old, bald, bearded Noah had to run and jump around mountains and forests, picking up wild animals and dropping them off in the door of the ark. This really brought the story of Noah to life. If anyone ever wondered how every animal in the entire world, male and female, found its way into one boat in a specific geographic location, this game explains everything.

Animals are wild. They didn’t line up single file as they waltzed into the ark, that would be ridiculous. Noah had to go out and collect these animals himself. Snakes, lions, cows, monkeys and every species that can fit into a little cartridge, they’re all here. All you have to do is pick them up above your head, and run them full speed into the ark before time expires. It’s all about time. If you don’t move all of the species into the ark before it's too late, the great flood comes and Noah gets left behind. So to avoid partaking in heresy, you have to win this game.

And this game didn't include any dinosaurs either. I'm not sure if this means that the creators of Bible Adventures were theistic evolutionists or progressive creationists, but all that talk about the dinosaurs being wiped out by the great flood seem glossed over in this game. Maybe it was just a can of worms that Wisdom Tree wasn't prepared to open.

The best Christian Bible game was easily David and Goliath. With a trusty sling, your playing character is young David. In the initial stages, the only danger is wild animals. But with dead aim, you can kill these lions by flinging rocks. A great prelude to the final battle with Goliath is the fight with Goliath’s shield-bearer, an oft forgotten Bible character. As far as Bible stories go, he's very underrated. Verily I say, the shield-bearer was a tougher battle than the 10-foot giant himself.

Once you beat Goliath, you really understood the Biblical concept of violence. All of a sudden it wasn’t just something your parents did on Sundays, Christianity suddenly made sense to the first grade mind after experiencing it on Nintendo. Christianity was about being better than the sinful world that's against you.

It should be no different today. Christians still find victory and success very appealing, and what better way to garner accomplishments than by beating video games? Now would be a perfect time to resurrect the Christian video games. There are so many stories that would make for a great RPG. Jonah and the whale (or “big fish”), Joshua’s battle of Jericho, escape from Sodom and Gommorrah, Gideon, Samson. Samson for crying out loud, that would be amazing! And if these games are successful, maybe they could even do lego versions too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Deserve Gray Hair



I want gray hair. I'm so sick of being a redhead. The best haircolor a man could ask for is silver. Not only is it distinguished, it's easy on the eyes. Orange is not easy on the eyes at all. But what am I to do? I am a laid back person. There's no way I'll let stress get to me, and everyone knows that stress is the best way to go gray. And I'm at least five years away from a naturally aged gray.

My mind is old. I was told by my dad at age 8 to be the man of the house after he and my mom were divorced. I tried my best to pull through for him. I grew up in a trailer park. I got married after graduating from college. I've moved halfway across the country away from friends and family only to be fired from my first full-time job. I've been arrested. I've been to Europe. I've been doored on my bicycle. What more do I need to do before I get some gray? What's it take?

Do I need to have a kid? Will that do me in? I really don't want to do that. I can't imagine raising up a new person in the world as it is. That would be cruel. Nobody deserves to be subjected to this life. Or, do I just have to dye it silver?

This is a weak post, but it's late, and I often think about the day when I'll see my first gray hairs. I just want my physical appearance to catch up with my mind. I'm the oldest 24-year-old I know. This red hair has worn out its welcome. Youth is long gone. I'm dying. So where's the gray? Huh?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Meaningful Frowns, Meaningless Smiles: Drugs and Digital Photography



I’ve never wanted to do drugs. Every day life is trippy enough. My mind takes me to strange places whether it’s on a supplement or not. It’s hyper-aware and full of rotating fears, perversions, perplexities, colors and caffienations. It’s freaky enough just using my brain normally, there’s no way in hell I’m going to accentuate my thoughts into a heightened state of anything. No sir.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve even feared for my own psychological health. There were days in which I was sure that I was becoming a lunatic, hurtling towards death like never before. I’ve been telling people that I can’t die in Florida though. If the history books say “He died in the Spring of 2009 in Orlando, Florida,” I will be eternally embarrassed. I just know everybody in Heaven would have a field-day with that. I’d get so much shit from Kierkegaard.

A couple days ago, my head started to clear up. It’s nice. But I need to remember that feeling of mental instability. It made for some crazy dreams and bizarre pieces of writing (stuff that you, dear reader, will never see on this blog. I don’t want to give you nightmares, nor do I want to put myself in jail.). And even though it was a scary feeling, it was one that I appreciate having to go through.

For most of my life, I’ve said “Life is good.” I think I must have been an optimist for a while, because I just refused to believe that anyone had the right to complain. On Bob Dylan’s radio show, he played some version of Blue Christmas and introduced it by saying, “If you’re blue this Christmas, well, I’ve got the secret ingredient. You have to spend Christmas with someone who is worse off than you. I know you may feel down, but believe me, there is somebody out there who is doing even worse.” And while I agree with him, I am still at a stage where I don’t even want to be cheered up. If it were Christmas time, I wouldn’t even try to ditch my blues. I’d let them sink in as deep as possible, teaching me how naïve I was for ever uttering, “life is good.”

Naivety is a stage that everyone goes through. The folks who work at Fox News seem perpetually stuck there, but other than that, we all go through experiences that crush our naivety to bits. We realize that there’s good reason to frown sometimes. There is such a thing as meaningfulness, but there is also such a thing as meaninglessness. It’s not merely the existence of meaninglessness that gives us right to frown, but the cruel ping pong game that we play for our entire lives.

There are times when things make so much sense. We experience God. We experience love. We understand. We smile. And these are good things, but there is an all too real converse of this meaningfulness. When times are meaningless, we do not experience God. We experience hate. We are confused. We frown. But! The bizarre part of all this mess is how meaningfulness and meaninglessness need to balance each other out.

“We believe in nothing Lebowski,” shout the nihilists. They hope to live in a way that affirms only meaninglessness. They are half right.

“Life is good!” says a recently acne-free Dylan at age 16. I didn’t believe in meaninglessness. I believed that our Heavenly Father worked everything out for “good.” I was half right.

It’s one of the oldest clichés, but when we hear that life has its ups and downs, we hear wisdom. There are certainly down times, and the ultimate spit in the eye of God would be to pretend to smile in these times. He knows that we’re lying when we pretend to be happy. And I know what it’s like to truly believe that you’re happy when, in reality, you’re not. You don’t think anyone notices your feigning, you think that you’re a model of encouragement and hope to the outsiders. You think you’re helping the hopeless. But believe me, once you’ve let go of your pride and experienced pain, you can spot the fakers in an instant.

...

To medicate is to mediate. If somebody is somehow mediating by dropping acid, well great. I’m glad to hear it. But, I dunno. I’m pretty sure that if you’re dropping acid, you’re not mediating. Pretty sure.

Everything I do is an attempt to mediate. If I’m up, I won’t count on getting higher, I’ll assume to come down a little bit. If I’m down, I won’t stay there. I don’t want to revel in meaninglessness just as much as I don’t want to blind myself with meaningfulness. Drugs would be too easy. And in a sense, they’d be too unnatural. Life has its ups and downs, I think I can count on it. Taking matters into my own hands just doesn’t strike my fancy.

...

What all this comes down to is photography. Can we PLEASE stop posing for pictures? Sure, it was fun to have this technology back in the Civil War days, but even those poor chaps had the good sense to not fake a smile during such a dreadful time.

Everyone has a digital camera, and that’s great. We’re a wealthy nation. But I think it’s about time we abandoned the concept of “smile for the camera!” Stop looking at the lens. If somebody is taking a picture of you, make sure your shoelace is tied. Check your fly.

The only time looking at a camera should be allowed is at those photo huts at Six Flags where they let you dress up like it’s the Wild West and set the color tint to sepia. But that’s only because it’s homage to the early days of photography. We’re way past that with the digital era though. Don’t look in the lens anymore, stop posing, stop faking a smile. It’s lame.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Christian Karate



Some parents don’t let their kids watch Power Rangers because it’s violent. They don’t want their child to get a crazy idea in their head and kick a classmate in the spleen or something that’ll get a parent sued. But even though the Power Rangers use Karate chops to destroy monsters, legitimate Karate classes are a good way to mediate a child’s natural desire to destroy. Karate classes harness that energy into a disciplined practice without promoting violence. It’s because real Karate is about self-defense, and should only be used to defend oneself from a personal attack. So in the case of professional Karate, kids can learn that kicking is okay.

Most parents will see the value in enrolling their child in a martial arts course, but some see other problems in Karate. Violence is not the issue for these parents, but misguided spirituality.

It’s of popular Christian belief that most Chinese people to do not worship the one true God. In movies and TV shows, the stereotypical Chinaman is seen meditating, trimming bonsai trees, speaking quietly and slowly—such things are not comforting reminders of the Evangelical Right. And indeed, the martial arts can be traced back to Eastern religious thought and practices. So for my Christian mother, Karate classes were to be strictly avoided.

Now, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember some moments in the show and films when the turtles would meditate, and it never really seemed like they were doing so in defiance of Yah-Weh. Most of the time, they were just closing their eyes and thinking about pizza. So one day I decided to give it a shot. I crossed my legs Indian-style with my Ninja Turtle action figures strewn across the living room, touched my middle finger to my thumb and extended my other fingers out while my forearms rested on my knees.

Pizza. Chuck E Cheese’s. Nintendo. All of the good stuff. With the Ninja Turtles music playing in my head, I sat there and meditated like a red-headed little ninja.

“What are you doing?!”

Startled, my eyes flew open and I saw my mom rushing into the room.

“What? I’m meditating.”

She was no longer rushed, but started to move incredibly slow. She looked at me with her serious face. Looking me directly in the eye, she offered a look of discouragement and fearfulness. Her lips were tightly closed until she sat down next to me and said, “What you were doing is very dangerous.” My eyes got wide and all of a sudden I felt scared of something. What I was actually scared of, I couldn’t say, but my mom couldn’t be so terrified for me if something wasn’t seriously wrong. Right?

“When you do that, you’re calling out to demons.”

Okay. Now all of a sudden I wasn’t so sure. “No, no mom. I was meditating like the Turtles do. They don’t call out to demons.” I was sure of this. The Turtles were the good guys.

My mom sighed a great sigh. She was suddenly worried that this cartoon had anti-christian tendencies, and she had to steer me in a new direction.


Karate was always something I was interested in, but my mom would never take me because she didn’t want me to become a little Buddhist. But after some research she found a program not far from us that actually taught Karate within the walls of a church.

In attendance at this program, there must have been 50 people in white, ranging from five years old to 50. Almost everyone was a gold belt (their alternative to the white belt), and everyone was certainly a Christian.

The instructor was a strangely flamboyant man. He had a high voice and was vocal about his revulsion towards long toenails. But he made sure that we always prayed before the Karate lessons started. And we never bowed to him. The only time a Christian bows is when we bow in prayer to the God of heaven and earth. That was easy to follow, because our Karate instructor was certainly no deity. In fact, I wondered at times if he even knew much about Karate at all. He never did any sweet moves or anything. He just made us take turns doing kicks and chops.

Although I was interested in Karate, this class was strange and boring. Most of our time was spent sitting on the floor listening to him talk about what a Christian can learn from Karate. It really wasn’t very much like Ninja Turtles at all. It was …lame.

I wasn’t the only one who hesitated against the Christian Karate class. Our pastor at the time told us that we shouldn’t practice Karate because it calls out to demons. My mom assured her, “Oh I know but don’t worry, this is a Christian Karate class.” Our pastor was skeptical, but eventually nodded in approval. She wasn’t really in a place to talk anyway; she was a woman pastor for goodness sake.

So we continued going to the martial arts course that glorified the name of Jesus, and I never really enjoyed myself. I was even embarrassed to tell kids at school that I went to a Christian Karate class. But my mom told them anyway. “Do you guys know that Dylan goes to a Karate class? Oh it’s so cool. It’s a Christian Karate class.” Oh I could just die. Why was she doing this? “Do you guys want to come to the next one?” … She just had to be an evangelist didn’t she?

Luckily, I went to a Christian school (big surprise, I know), so this wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as it should have been. These kids all had parents who acted the same way, they knew my pain.

One weird detail about this school though: it was incredibly small. There were about two kids in each grade, literally. So they actually put every kid from 3rd to 8th grade into the same classroom. One eighth-grader was very cool. His name was Dan, and he had spiky hair and did real Karate. He was a red belt, just a few notches away from acquiring his black belt. To me, there couldn’t be anyone cooler. He was a teenager! He even called me “tiger,” because it was my favorite animal. I didn’t know how he was able to do real Karate instead of this dreaded Christian Karate that I was subjected to, but maybe he just didn’t know that it was available to him.

Picking me up at the end of the day, she saw me talking to Dan outside of the school. “Hey Dan!” my mom called out when she saw us standing together. “You do Karate don’t you?” Ugh. She just had to do it...

“That’s right Mrs. Peterson.”

“Well Dylan has been doing Karate too, has he told you?”

“No way! Why didn’t you tell me tiger?” I just said "I don’t know" and kind of shrugged.

“How would you like to come with us to the next lesson?”

I looked up at her. I couldn’t believe what I just heard.

“Yeah, sure, that’ll be great!” Dan replied. He was such a positive guy. I wish I could tell him to save himself the trouble.

But he came. He was there with his red belt, and everyone there was just staring at him. The people in this Karate class really were like a dumb herd of sheep that incessantly gawked at anything that seemed new or different. They were the same way to me on my first day. Even if you stared back, they didn’t unlock their eyes. It was enraging.

The instructor decided to call Dan up front, not only because he was a guest but because he was an actual red belt. A real martial artist. As soon as Dan stood up, he bowed slightly. All of a sudden, all of the sheep turned their heads at the instructor. They knew that bowing wasn’t something we did in our dojo church. “Ah! Good! Ha ha, well, Dan just bowed, uh, which is something he does out of respect for his teacher,” he bumbled. It was somehow embarrassing to have to see Dan put himself through this. He wasn’t there as a Christian martial artist, he was just there because his little friend’s mother asked him to go in support of Dylan’s Karate education.

It’s possible that this one moment might have done more for the sheep than they realized though. They witnessed a bizarre clashing of worlds. All that they were taught by our flamboyant, boring instructor seemed all of a sudden diminished. All of a sudden, the sheep had to think for themselves. They don’t have to go to Christian Karate to learn how to be Karate masters. And, if we study real Karate like this spiky-haired teenager, it doesn’t mean that we’re being bad Christians.

Maybe that meditation in the living room wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It just might have been the sin that eventually led to a few minds opening up to the possibility of non-christian Karate.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Synchronicity


My wife and I were talking earlier this week about why we have to leave Orlando. In the short time we've been here, we realized just how important an environment is. We are Chicagoans, and we need subways, busy streets, diverse neighborhoods, a music scene and an abundance of bicyclists at all hours on all roads. Those are just a few of the things we need, and Orlando offers none of it. We have been out of our element for half a year, and it has been really difficult to even want to go out on a weekend evening.

We haven't just been uncomfortable in this environment, we have been unhappy. There's only so much living that we can do within our own heads. There comes a point when our surroundings seep in and effect us. 

More than ever, I've seen the importance of community living. People in this town aren't really as invested in their neighborhoods. They don't need to be. We've been to the Farmer's Markets, we've tried to go to a couple independent shops and art galleries, but everything seems like reaching. Nothing feels authentic around here. And even though I'm a very good bull-shitter, I loathe dishonesty. 

We've been like a couple of fish out of the water and into a desert. We were forced to adapt in a place that we are not meant to adapt to, and we have been dying. So because of this, we easily agreed that we HAD to leave Orlando. We knew why we had to leave, but we didn't know how.

Jaclyn has been working part-time, basically keeping us alive financially. I have been picking up my emotional pieces, but I haven't received any job leads in the meantime. But about a week ago, we went ahead and scheduled a moving truck for the end of May. We decided that we were just going to do it. We didn't know how we were even going to afford the moving truck, but we knew that this was a decision that we had to make.

Earlier this week, we felt stuck. We had decided to move, but neither of us had job leads. Jaclyn and I sat in our living room, and sitting so near to each other we tried to figure out "how" this was going to work. Jaclyn didn't feel very hopeful about the situation. And even though I had no idea what we were going to do, I knew with some sort of instinctual certainty that we had to get the hell out of Florida.

"You know what," I said, "Don't worry about it. We know WHY we have to leave. The HOW will figure itself out. One way or another, we'll be alright."

I'm not sure if saying that made Jaclyn feel any better about our unpromising spontaneity, but what happened next did.

Jaclyn's phone rang. It was the Lincoln Park Zoo, offering her a job.

We can call it a coincidence, but I don't care, I call it God. We have been given a shot in the arm of hope, something we haven't had since leaving Chicago. Jaclyn starts working the first week of May, and we'll be back on our bikes, cruising down Damen and Milwaukee before we can even reflect on how miserable life has been for the past half-year.

We've learned a lot being down here in this hell hole. Especially about marriage. Jaclyn and I probably love each other more today than when we first met in high school. We've become better friends, and we know how important it is to lean on each other in difficult times.

And as I already said, we've discovered how vital it is to live in the proper environment. We will probably never make a big move again without first REALLY checking out the town.

And in the meantime, I learned to not put any sort of trust in a company that calls itself "christian." If anything, I trust these institutions less now. I will never again work for a "christian" company.

But whether we've learned stuff or not from this experience, the important thing is that we're coming home. I have been living in sin by living in Florida. But I have also been humbled. And now it's time to get redeemed.  We're coming home folks. It's not a triumphant return, but it's the happiest return I'll ever make. If you thought I loved Chicago before, wait until you see me this summer!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Derrick Rose (Dylan's First Sports Blog Post)


The '90s were the best time to be a young Bulls fan in Chicagoland. Michael Jordan was the king of the city, and we loved and respected our great king. He inspired us. He put a happy spell on Chicago for a solid decade. And when the party ended at the end of the 90s', it really ended. You could hear a thud.

It's been bad for a long time. We've had to endure an entire decade of subpar basketball in Chicago, but dear readers, it's finally the dawn of a new era. Derrick Rose has singlehandedly given us hope for the future of the Bulls. After todays opening playoff win against the defending champion Celtics, excitement has returned to Chicago's basketball fans. Our hometown boy is the rookie of the year, and will probably end up an MVP before his career is over. And hopefully, Rose will bring in a few more Bulls championships.

I almost didn't make a post today. I thought that I'd take the weekend off. Then I realized that I don't have a job, and that I really have no excuse to not post. But today was a great day for Chicago, and the Bulls made me proud. And in making this post, I suppose I am obliged to write something here every single day of the week. No breaks. (at least until I get a job...)

This may not be the year that Rose takes us all the way. We may not even get past the first round still. But he has proven himself today. He has assured us that he is indeed something to be excited about.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Enemies of Harvey Milk


"You can argue with me, but you cannot argue with God." -character of former Senator John Briggs in Gus Van Sant's 'Milk'

There's man's law, and then there's God's law. Man's law is a driver's license, taxes and orderly conduct. It keeps a society under control. God's law is quite different. It can be learned in books like Leviticus and Exodus, and should be applied as universal truth for all men for all time. It is unchanging and perfect.

I searched some other blogs for topics on 'Man's Law vs. God's Law,' and came across this gem from an extreme-right brother: "You may not believe in God, that is your God given right, but what you cannot deny is the immutability the laws he has given us and of our equality under those laws." This was his closing sentence. He has granted the reader the right to not believe in God, but he has denied the right to not believe in God's Law. I'm not sure how you can believe in an effect without also believing in a cause, but I suppose this blogger has the right to believe in such a thing...

There's a scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou in which Delmar gets saved. "All my sins been washed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked up... Neither God nor man's got nothin' on me now," he beams. But then Everett reminds him, "Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed."

So we can be eternally free of all sin in the eyes of the creator and God of the universe and yet still have to answer a measly little man-made ordinance? Non-believers call it contradiction, Christians just say one truth supersedes another. And Christians take this "higher law" and try to apply it to political situations all of the time. It's the strongest arm against abortion and homosexual marriage today.

But this is nothing new. People have been trying to use "God's law" to supersede equal rights for as long as America has existed. Interestingly, "God's law" is the thing that segregates people (I mean this altogether in the context of America's history, and do not think that Jesus would give our history a thumb's up). Man's law unites, but God's law divides. It's not just gay rights, it was civil rights for the blacks, and it was women's rights too, and those are just the obvious examples. People in positions of power have been trying to use the Bible as a means to control for a very long time. (Has anyone heard of Constantinople?)

There's something people should know about "God's law" though. If it hasn't been made clear already, this divine "law" is no different from man's law.

I searched the word "homosexual" in the NIV Bible. It appears once, in first Corinthians chapter 6. It is grouped this way: "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." Interesting that it doesn't merely say "homosexuals," but rather "homosexual offenders." What really caught my eye was a verse in the previous chapter though: "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?" Whoa. Wait a minute. What was that? Was I just reading the Bible in context? Am I to assume that it's improper to take one verse from the Bible as objective truth without first looking at the surrounding passages?

There's no such thing as a single verse. Each one is a link in a chain.

What we must remember is that I'm quoting from something that was written a couple thousand years ago. And when it was written, it wasn't these exact words. Truly, this piece of writing has gone through changes. The Bible that we have today was not only written by humans, but was interpreted and re-interpreted by many more humans. Whatever we read in the NIV version of Corinthians may very well be similar to what was written 2000 years ago, but we will never know. We do not have original manuscripts, only copies of copies of copies. And translations of translations of translations. Humans decided which books to be included in the canon of scripture. And humans decided to compile the "Holy Bible."

Ever make a really great mix CD? That's kind of how the Council of Trent did it. They found their favorite epistles and letters, put them together in a comfortable order. It's the best mix of holy writings we've seen in 500 years (that's right, we've only had the immutable and inerrant "Word of God" available to us as it is for about 500 years...), sure there have been some quality remixes in the way of The New Living Translation and The Purpose Driven Life, but the best-seller is still the source.

Another appropriate quote from O Brother, Where Art Thou is when we meet Big Dan the Cyclops. The Bible salesman explains his job: "What do I sell? The truth! Every blessed word of it, from Genesis on down to Revelation. That's right, the Word of God, which, let me tell you, there is damn good money in during these times of woe and want. People are lookin' for answers, and Big Dan sells the only book that's got 'em." The only book with answers? That's the line. Absolute truth. Written by a human, read by humans, believed by humans. For nearly 500 years now.

Men use this Bible to claim authority. They say that it doesn't come from anything of their own worldly nature, but from what is the ultimate truth of God.

I know that referencing the Westboro Baptist Church on a blog is all too predictable these days, but it's an important example to drive home what I'm saying. Sure they're extreme, but this church proves that (in this country especially) people can interpret the Bible to mean whatever they want. The Bible really is a masterful piece of writing in that way, and I don't say this with any hint of sarcasm or cynicism. Some of the greatest art humans have produced admonishes a timeless quality through its ambiguity. Just look around, how many denominations of the Christian faith are there again? Hundreds? Thousands? It's the result of a powerfully ambiguous book.

When politicians claim to adhere to a higher law, they fool themselves. Their law is what they want it to be. The Bible is full of good and evil, and has been interpreted to mean so many different things... It means something to me, and it means something to you. Who's right? Who's wrong? ...Wait a minute, why am I even asking these questions? What does being right and wrong have to do with Christianity? I thought this was about loving our neighbors.

I'm not going to say what I think of abortion and homosexual marriage right now. That would make this post way too long (maybe another day). But I think it's time to stop using the Bible like a magic wand. It is literature, and appeals to our spiritual nature. It is not meant to be a civics textbook (or a history or science textbook either... Ken Ham.). I will argue that this human-penned book is something that should not be interpreted literally. If that were the case, we wouldn't have so many different denominations. But the subjective nature of the Bible is one of its greatest strengths. You might see in it something that I could never see, and nobody should be wrong for interpreting it differently.

Maybe someday people will stop saying things like "I don't believe in the separation between church and state." I hope I live to see the day. We have freedom to believe whatever dumbass thing we want. The Bible gives us this right (free will), and America does so as well (Constitution), let's stop "superseding" and put an end to "judging those outside of the church." Oh, dear readers, is it even possible?

Man rewrites God's laws every day. But this blog post was not one of them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best of the Decade: Years


When the last decimal in a year ends with a '9,' countdown lists are even more exciting than usual. For the past nine years, we've had annual lists every December. 'Year-end' lists. Our favorite movies, music and whatever from the past 12 months. It's always fun, but like Christmas, it's here and gone too soon.

This year, we have the ability to make lists anytime we want, because we can look back at the entire decade. So this is where it starts. The best of the decade: individual years. It starts off pretty rough, but gets better.

The Top 10 Years of the Decade (2000-2009):

10: 2001


Our country took a hit this year. The hit was so bad, it was enough to define the rest of the decade as the 'Post-9/11 Era.' P.O.D. also released their album Satellite on September 11th. Their song 'Alive' became America's anthem for the rest of the year. It should already be clear, this was the worst year of the decade.

9: 2008


This was the most distracting year of the decade. The only thing people cared to talk about was the presidential race. In the end, it turned out to be a good result, but the process was absolutely grueling. And in the meanwhile, our country fell into recession. 2008 heralded the worst economic times we've seen in three decades.

8: 2000


Y2K didn't happen. Disappointment right from the start. And it didn't look anything like "the future" either. No flying cars, no robot armies. And to top everything off, George W. Bush became our president. It was a very disappointing year. Not a fun way to start the new millennium.

7: 2009


It's possible for 2009 to move up the list before the year is over, but it's not looking good. The economic climate in America is dreadful, but just having Barack Obama becoming President is something to keep this year out of the bottom three. Plus, some people still think that lolcats are funny. Not a good sign... But, this is the year that we'll see Where the Wild Things Are. This movie alone might make 2009 a "good year."

6: 2006


This is the "meh" year of the decade. It's the middle child of the new millennium. Forgettable, unappreciated, mediocre. What happened in 2006? I'm sure it wasn't that bad, but I honestly can't remember anything about it. I did get engaged to Jaclyn that Christmas, and that was cool. But everything before that was just debates about whether Bible college kids should be allowed to watch DVD's in the dorm rooms. What a strange year it was...

5: 2004


Time for the upswing. 2004 signaled a change in the atmosphere. We elected Bush again, which was absolutely bizarre. But this was the year that gave us Arcade Fire's Funeral and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Those two pieces of art should say enough. Possibly the best album of the decade and the best movie of the decade, both released in the Autumn of 2004. Something good happened this year. Our art proved it.

4: 2003


We might have been deluded this year, but it felt like our country was on the right track. We felt united, but we started to question things that were taken for granted before. I think this was a turning point year for America and set the stage for a weird, wild decade.

3: 2005


The main reason I have this year at number 3 is because Sufjan Stevens' Illinois came out this year. It said to the rest of the country: "look out, Illinois is hot stuff." And then a few years later, one of ours becomes President and we put in the major bid the 2016 Olympics for America. Other 2005 highlights: our Illinois men's basketball team had their best year ever and our White Sox won the World Series. This was a solid year. Especially if you were a Chicagoan.

2: 2002


Honestly, the only reason this is number 2 is because I graduated high school in 2002. It was a very good year for me personally. I also began dating Jaclyn this year. I don't know what happened outside of my individual subjectivity in 2002, but if it was this good for me, I'm sure it couldn't have been that bad on the outside. I mean, I'm no solipsist.

1: 2007


The best year of the decade? I guess. I do remember this year as a great one for film. No Country, There Will Be Blood, I'm Not There, Once. It was a very good year for film. And one of the rare years when the Academy Awards got it right. In Rainbows was pretty revolutionary too. One of the landmark moments in rock and roll history for sure. And I think this was the year when we really 'got it' when it comes to environmentalism. Al Gore won the Nobel Peace prize. People started "living green." As annoying as that phrase is today, it really is one of the prouder social phenomenons of the decade. And I got married in 2007. Went to Berlin. Lived in Chicago with my wife. Got published for the first time in my writing career. Yeah. It was a good year...

The Top 10 Years of the Decade. Listed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bad Ideas Are More Fun




I've had so many ideas today. In the shower, grocery shopping and driving, I've been shouting "eureka!" every five minutes. But with each new idea, the previous revelation is replaced. My most recent idea was writing a blog post about all of the ideas I had today. I wish I could provide some examples, but what you read is what you get. This is the current idea that has replaced all of the others.

My wife and I were talking about who has more ideas, me or her. We basically concluded that I have more ideas, but the vast majority of them are bad. She has more good ideas. Now, it could be a result of my ever-increasing insanity, but I like running with a bad idea much more often than a good one. Good ideas bore me. They remind me of white-collar go-getters. Good ideas are for yes-men. I'm not a yes-man. I'm not a no-man either, but I love a good perplexity. There's nothing like the look on my wife's face when I say something like, "let's move our bed into the dining room and sleep there instead." or, "I took all of the art in the house down and put it in the spare bedroom."

But I still don't think I've figured out what a "good idea" is. Maybe that's already obvious, but does a "good idea" have to be logical? What if I'm making a gut reaction in a fast-paced environment, is there time to really evaluate between good and bad ideas? Of course, the most popular answer of the 21st century is "it's all relative," so maybe my bad ideas aren't as awful as I think.

I just watched Being John Malkovich again. I can't help but wonder, did Charlie Kaufman act on a "good idea" when he wrote that script? If I were him, I'd be writing each line with crossed eyes. When Kaufman brought his story to producers, did they respond with nodding heads and affirming grins? I doubt it. It must have been intense perplexity. They couldn't have considered it a "good idea" to make the movie. But they did it anyway. But the most fascinating part of that decision is a classic film.

My friend Jess recently told her online friends that she and her husband had a conversation about what the world would be like if everybody's head was a cupcake. I found this interesting, and wanted to take part in the conversation. Of course, a cupcake for a head isn't just a "bad idea," it's downright ridiculous. But why not run with it? Why not take the conversation as far as it can go? What's so bad about a "bad idea"?

Maybe it's because a bad idea wastes time. Maybe a bad idea does some sort of damage to an individual. But who's to say that a good idea can't do the same thing? If someone acts on a good idea, it could result in the creation of the atomic bomb. Or was Einstein actually toying with "bad ideas?" I don't know.

Not many people read this blog yet, but if you do, I want to hear your best "bad idea." Something that you actually might go to work on. Something that will make your parents say "what the hell were you thinking?" Or better yet, something that might get you labeled a heretic.

Because, after all, heretics are only heretical while they're alive. But very often, a dead heretic is later remembered as a saint.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix



release date: May 25, 2009

Just when I was about to give up on guitar pop... a beacon of hope.

Never mind how awful their album covers are, Phoenix are an unquestionably cool band. Ever since they rocked alongside Air in the Lost in Translation soundtrack, these French boys have been flirting with the possibility of becoming a great rock band. On Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they've succeeded.

On past Phoenix albums, it's been hard to get past the halfway points. For whatever reason, their records always just fizzled out. WAP is still front-heavy, but the middle and end are pretty weighty too. By the end, it's a completely satisfying musical experience. It's impossible to know which of these 10 songs will end up stuck in your head on any given day, because they all contain some of the catchiest melodies and warmest harmonies you'll hear this year, but the most likely candidates are one of the first three tracks (it is still front-heavy after all).

The first track, Lisztomania combines assuredly un-virtuosic piano playing with summertime synths. It doesn't sound like Franz Liszt, nor is it reminiscent of The Who's experiment in film, but the track is nevertheless impressive. Right at the start, Phoenix proves that the beauty is in the subtle details. Complexity shows up nowhere on WAP, and Lisztomania sets the stage for a straightforward good time.

Next is 1901, a song that doesn't know if it's better than Lisztomania or not. The same tricks are used: jangly guitars, punchy vocals, a catchy chorus and a dancy beat. There aren't any surprises, yet the music is surprisingly engaging. From one song to the next, not much changes, but there's nothing to tire of either.

By the time track three hits, you're already convinced that you're listening to a great record. Fences is probably the sexiest song on the album, and even though it's much airier than the first two romping tracks, it's dancier. If there were ever a Lost in Translation Part 2, this would be the opening song. I could go on with each track, because they're all noteworthy, but it's more fun to just listen yourself.

Somehow, Phoenix already played SNL a couple weeks ago. Who knows how they scored that before having the time to prove that they're worthy of the hottest weekend slot on television, but they really do deserve a little more fame this year. Expect to see them on many more late night shows in the weeks to come, and maybe even on some top ten lists at the end of the year.

This is a seasonal album. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is perfect for warm summer nights at your friend's house party. Don't listen to it by yourself; the more people around to dance, the merrier.

(To hear the album's opener, Lisztomania, check out the top of the lala playlist on the right)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Orlando: A Horrible Place


We moved down to Orlando almost half a year ago. It has been warm just about every day of the winter, and we even went to the ocean a few times. But now that I've lived here, I can confidently say that Florida is one of the worst places in the world.

This town runs on tourism. Disney World, Universal Studios, The Holy Land Experience. It's all here for you and your family! People can spend a week or two in the sunniest, happiest places in the world. There's just one problem. It's all fake.

Of course, a vacation should be a bit of a fantasy trip. If people brought their dread with them to Disney, Goofy would just look like a crazy, tall man in a ridiculous costume. People need to lose their minds a little bit in Orlando. They have to pretend that there's some happiness outside of their dead-end jobs. They need to appease their bratty kids. They need to forget their troubles.

I can't even imagine how sad that kid in the Goofy costume must be. He's probably an alcoholic. Or maybe even a cutter. And even if that big, dog face is smiling on the outside, there's a depressed, crying college dropout on the inside. He knows that his whole job is making people think that they're happy, when in reality they're just slaves to their jobs.

This is what Orlando runs on. The great Disney artists have nearly turned me into a philistine. I love art, but in Orlando, it's been co-opted. Art is utilitarian here. The tourist dollar is what it gains.

I went to a bar in downtown Orlando a few weeks ago. It's called the 'Independent Bar,' and they proudly, loudly serve PBR. And they play Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins. 

It's. So. Indie.

See, here's the problem: Orlando is trying to be cool. It doesn't have a scene of its own (unless you count Anberlin or Copeland...), so it copies what can easily be found on Pitchfork or Garden State. The result is embarrassing.

But can I really say that Orlando is one of the worst places in the world just because of its insincerity? Well sure I can. The two worst parts of Chicago are Navy Pier and Wrigleyville, and for the same reasons. People don't come to these places to be engaged in any sort of brain activity, they come here to get away from it. Orlando is an entire city of this mindset.

My wife recently heard an Orlandoan say "I love it here. Cultures from all over the world come here to see our theme parks. Every culture, we don't even have to travel anywhere because everybody else comes to us." Which is to say, Orlando doesn't really have any culture of its own, it just steals everyone elses. It doesn't have anything substantial to offer, not to its visitors and not to its residents.

I could go on like this, and I probably will on another day. But to all of my dear readers, please don't come here. If you have take a vacation, go to the mountains. Or California, at least a place with some sort of character. Orlando is a joke. And as long as I live here, I deserve to be laughed at.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Skipping Easter


For 24 years, I've been going to church on Easter Sunday. Christians call it 'Resurrection Sunday.' It's probably the most important day of the year for Christians, because we remember how Christ beat death once and for all by coming back to life three days after his brutal crucifixion. It's a cornerstone event in the history of the church, one that happened 2000 years ago on the 2nd Sunday in April... approximately.

But I slept until 11:30 today. I didn't go to church. It's Easter and I'm sitting in my underwear on the living room couch watching Poltergeist. Have I lost my faith? Don't I care about Christ's glorious resurrection anymore?

I went out into storage to find our antennae, because the Celtics are playing the Cavs this afternoon. I haven't watched TV in weeks, but Easter Sunday seems like the perfect day to zone out. The Bulls have a shot at the 6th spot in the playoffs, and I haven't cared about basketball since 8th grade. I don't know what the outcome of these games will be, but I've heard the story of the empty tomb about a million times. Hearing it again isn't going to make me a holier person.

And this is my main beef this Easter, a lot of people started sounding a little more pious this past week. They quote more Bible verses and publicly thank God for their blessings. They're inspired by the power of the gospel. But outside of the first week of April, they'll sound just like anybody else, complaining about their jobs and talking shit behind people's backs.

There are two problems here. One, is the people. There's nothing wrong with feeling inspired, this is actually a good thing, but inspiration shouldn't be a yearly engagement. Inspiration should constantly move people to live better lives. The individual shouldn't stop here at Easter, but should live every day humbly, especially those days following Resurrection Sunday. Because what it comes down to is this: Easter is just a day like any other. The sun comes up, and the sun goes down. If a child goes hungry on Easter, it doesn't make the pangs any softer if the child knows about Jesus.

The other problem is the church calendar. What is the church doing for the rest of the year that they're not inspiring people to quote Bible verses in facebook updates and twitter feeds? You won't see anybody "gettin' holy" on Independence Day. No, it takes passion week to get these "Christians" talking holy. And should the church even have this emotional effect during the Easter season? How about instead of getting them amped up, actually sobering people up? Sure, on Good Friday dim the lights and act somber about the crucifixion, only to smile and wear pastel two days later. It's an emotional ploy, every year.

I refuse to feel guilty. I am not going to church today, and that doesn't take anything away from what Christ did 2000 years ago. I will reflect on him by writing this cynical blog post. I will not let Christendom sway me.

So no, I haven't lost my faith. If anything, I take my faith more seriously than ever these days. Maybe skipping church today is a protest against the hypocrisy of Easter. This truly is an important day, but a day that should transcend the rest of the year and inspire Christians to love each other and their neighbors.

My 24-year streak is over. I'm less holy today, but I'm not going to front on the holiest day of the year.