Writing Process: “Write drunk, edit sober” was mis-attributed to Hemingway but it’s still advice I’ve taken. (And I think it was Arnett who posted that on Facebook, and if that was the case and he’s reading this, I very much appreciate it, my friend.)
I like writing drafts, and I even like editing (where the real writing work is), but I don't often care to edit my own stuff. My work-around: I write my draft one day, as much as I can get out, even if it's not a lot (though it's usually more than I thought it would be) and even if it's not great (though sometimes it's better than I remembered it being), then I sleep on it and edit the next day. When I edit, it's like I'm looking at it fresh, I've had the time between writings to let it roll around in my head (though I usually don't think much about it once I get it out), and I can be more critical about it, even making drastic cuts that I hadn't thought I would take from the writing. And with giving it that much effort, I can be more confident in knowing that I got out what I wanted to get out. That way I also don't sweat it if I was in some less-than-ideal state when I wrote it (tired, drunk, hung over, distracted, frustrated, etc.), as long as I work it out in the edit. This has gone really well for me lately. I've probably been writing like this for years but didn't realize that I was actually consciously doing it until recently. Usually I'd wait until the next day just because I ran out of time to edit. I might have even thought I was lazy for letting it go for so long once I started. Of course this is for when I can afford the time to do it like this, but generally my writing isn't so urgent that when I'm writing something that matters so much that I have to get it written and sent in the same sitting.
Unknown Pleasures by Peter Hook. I’ve been an obsessive New Order fan since high school (a bit before they released Republic or so) but I didn’t get into Joy Division as much. In the mid-’90s there was a Joy Division best-of released and I picked it up, just because there was a connection to New Order. I didn’t even know about Ian Curtis and the legend of his suicide until I read the liner notes of that CD. But I couldn’t get into the music then. There were a few tracks that were okay -- “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Dead Souls” (more because Nine Inch Nails covered it) -- but I took a pass on it. I was okay with that for a while but of course there was a furor about Joy Division in circles around me and what I read, possibly even a bigger deal than New Order, which was crazy to me, so I was drawn back to them. Then one weekday night I was rummaging through a used-CD store and came up upon the Heart and Soul box set. At $30 I figured I could take a chance on it, and since it was everything Joy Division had ever done, I could definitively decide that I didn’t want to go anywhere with them and their music and move on. Yet I put the discs on and was instantly drawn in. Pretty quickly, I got it. I even got how they could be separated from New Order (even if not revered more than my favored band, but in their way they were a really different thing). It might have happened so swiftly because I’d already had a primer, but regardless I was in, and have been since.
You already know I get obsessive about rock biographies and anything having to do with New Order is an easy sell for me. Books are always my favorite thing to ask for for Christmas, especially since I can let it go if I don’t get one I wanted (since I have so much else to read already). Peter Hook put out his Joy Division book and I figured it would be worth a look, if to provide a context New Order if nothing else. I thought I could pass on it for a while but somehow I knew I’d get to it sooner rather than later. I was saving it for a lengthy flight to India but when that trip didn’t happen I shuttled the book to the back in favor of whatever else (which, unfortunately, turned out to be the ultrametabolism one). Then our honeymoon trip to Europe came up and I took that to be the ideal time to finally get to the book. I had other things in mind to do on the long trip over there but it’s always a good idea to have a book ready just in case. I concerned myself with other things on the ride over, and we were busy enough when we were in London and Paris, but on the way back I decided I might as well get to it. If I wasn’t going to read it there was no point in having taken it along, and since everything that went into our luggage had to count, I didn’t want to waste it. Besides, I could just read a bit of it and if it didn’t grab me then I could put it off and no love lost. As it turns out, it grabbed me immediately (even from when I did a quick survey and went over the acknowledgements in the back (which includes a mention of New Order's demise -- just enough to set the tone of what I was about to read)) and it was hard to get out. Between the rest of that ride (which, for when I began, was only from London to Scotland), then the ride back to London, and the flight back to the States, I read the main body (the two last chapters, mostly ephemera, I couldn’t get to right away, so couldn’t officially finish it for a while yet). Three sittings might not seem like much but that’s lightning fast for me. (Maybe the last time I read that much that quickly was Misery in high school and Count Zero in college.) Absolutely the best book I’ve read since Kavalier & Clay (even if it’s an utterly different genre) and the best biography I’ve read. Absolutely dazzling, in its own often morose way.
It’s Hook, bass player and founding member of both New Order and Joy Division, telling the Joy Division story as best he can. Of course it’s limited to how much he can remember but he recounts a whole lot of it and a great many details. It’s also his side of the whole thing, which could be suspicious since he has only contempt for his former band-mates now, but if you’re going to get only that part, at least it’s as believable as anything and it’s a satisfying, easy read. He just tries to remember as much as he can and put it all in story form and in order, all very conversationally, just like he was sitting at a table with you and talking out the whole thing. Either he’s a very clear writer or he had a capable editor who whipped it all into a good shape, but he got a fantastic manuscript out of it. He doesn’t shy from naming names and taking grudges out on those who crossed him in the past, but surely those bad bands have long since broken to nothing and that singer from Simply Red probably doesn’t care. He has a lot of positive things to say too, and all of it reads as honest as it can be. The only revenge (heh) he could be using this for would be against the current New Order, but he’s as complimentary to them, particularly “Barney,” as he would be if they were still on good terms, and since that lawsuit had already been settled, this could be taken as him just putting his story out because he had nothing to lose rather than picking a bone with those who pissed him off. It’s not even so much his own life story. It could have been, and he gets into a little bit of his own pre-band life, but really, as he tells it, his life was pretty much his band(s), so there’s not much to go into besides that and his personal details don't contribute much. That he only gives passing mention to one love, and assuming the groupies (such as they were, surely) weren’t worth a note (if there were so many to mention), it could be that he’s downplaying that part of his life (especially since that love is not his ex-wife) or he knows that, like the rest of his life, it’s not much that anyone wants to read. He’s under no illusions: He know that people are reading this to know about the band, not so much him.
He knows that most people are reading it for Ian Curtis. He definitely hones in on that element, though no more than the rest of it. He and Barney are center-stage for most of the first half, then Curtis enters the picture and it becomes about the three of them, which is fair since so much of that band was Curtis anyway. Hook gives his perspective on his band-mate as honestly as anything else, painting him as a normal guy much more than the goth legend he’s been made into since his death. He concedes the deification, and even notes how Curtis’ widow portrayed him in her book, but Hook knew him only as his mate, a good friend in his band, and knew more than anyone the goofy, charming side that any person has but no one can appreciate in the myth that Curtis has been made into in the time since. Hook is aware of this as well, giving all involved a much deeper human element than they’ve been seen as having in anything so far. He acknowledges all of that, even which portrayal was more accurate between the 24-Hour Party People and Control films (he picks the former). He knows that a lot of readers will get it to get more information on Curtis, and he gives it. It may not play into what they already know, but Hook had a view on him more separate, different, unique, personal, and closer than anyone had other than literally two or three others. Unfortunately but sadly predictable, it offers no more light on Curtis’ suicide or his reason for it. Even when you know it's coming, his passing as described and in its context is still shocking and utterly stirring, and Hook, writing from his heart, is elegant but direct and unflinching about his experience living through it.
Depending on how you come to it, this could be setting up the New Order book or it could be the high point in what he has to say about having a life in music. In his life with Joy Division, it was hard but he probably had higher points and maybe he was happier. The New Order book (which has been out for two months from when I'm posting this) will inevitably be harsher and pissier, and possibly less informative since he succumbed to the same thing that makes rock biographies oddly and irritatingly incomplete when they cover the time that the band were at their height: the wholesale loss of memory due to copious amounts of drugs. The time when they become a successful band was an easier time but it’s also beyond the rich time that they mine for so much of the genius works that they create, and by that time they’re just living through it and seeing their best times only in hindsight, when it was about the music, they say, and they did it because they wanted to, not because they had to, and it’s that post-(relative) peak that isn’t as thrilling a read. It happens to all of them. But there can still be redemption, since obviously they lived through it well enough to write about it, and it can make for a story, even if it’s not as much about the rock n’ roll (the concept or the lifestyle). It’s not often that artists get two significant stories to tell, and even less that they feel the need to make a book about those. We should be thankful. Even if I read this book in anticipation for the New Order book (which hopefully I'll get for Christmas), I concede that this could be the real high point. Though it will be fun to see what kind of shit Hook feels he needs to start in that one.
Nemesis (Marvel/Icon). Say what you will but I’m usually not impressed by flashy new artists. There’s something to be said for the exuberance of seeing a young, bright talent breaking new ground but it’s not often that there’s something exciting and genuinely new brought to the form. This is no different from times past, as looking back it’s just as rare to see anyone bringing anything new to comics since Kirby or at least Moebius, but it’s good to see a new artist doing work you look forward to. I saw Steve McNiven’s work first on Civil War, as everyone else did, but he hasn’t turned in a large volume of work since then to truly plant his name in the industry. Mostly he seems known to make a big splash on a new series, starting with a new #1, of course, then needing a fill-in artist or even of the book by #3. If this is Marvel’s plan, as they've done it repeatedly, it sucks, though it’s not like they’ve ever done anything cheap to get eyes on and dollars to the first issue of a new series, to the possible short-sighted exclusion of the rest. There’s no point in even considering that McNiven could hold up a new series, and even in collected form you get him for such a limited amount of time that it’s jarring and disappointing when the next artist comes in. But if he could do an entire series, start to finish, no matter how long, that could be an event to behold. He finally got that, collaborating with Mark Millar (as if Millar would ever leave any decent artist from the offer of a new creator-owned property). They still didn’t get far away from Marvel, but at least Marvel have been capable with building their own Image line with their Icon imprint. McNiven might be a lot of flash and just another hyper-detailed young artist but there’s something about his work that always had me paging through the new issue of Civil War (whenever they eventually came out). Call it a guilty pleasure, but there’s not many other artists from the last 10 years that I would say I have an interest in going out of the way for. An entire book drawn by McNiven was an easy sell (especially when I found it in a half-off bin). Millar is usually a decent writer, even if he’ll let a twist go way too far or when he writes to have the best chance of getting the property made into a movie. If it’s still a good comic, and he’s written a fair share of them, then all is forgiven.
Unfortunately, Nemesis, story-wise, falls on the under side of the average, and even the McNiven art, which also isn't his best, isn’t enough to bring it back up. It’s not a bad concept, and it keeps a reader guessing through a break-neck pace, but when it scrabbles to explain itself with a twist that makes no sense and is completely unconnected to what has come before -- breaking the contract between writer and reader by making a plot surprise that could not be guessed -- the rest of it feels like time wasted on a story that doesn’t pay off. To pile it on, McNiven’s art isn’t an attraction either, as a style that has looked smooth and sexy before looks rough and slap-dashed, probably with pencils that went straight to production, without the Marvel-approved inks that could solidify it to its inherent glory, and with a popping superhero color palette that never works over direct pencils. The layouts are solid, though, which makes it even more frustrating that they couldn’t polish the art to bring it up to what we would expect from McNiven. And the main character has a great character design, even if there are no other superheroes in the story, which seems a waste in what could be a superhero story, and a waste of seeing what McNiven could do with other characters, even if they're not established heroes. It’s a story idea that could fly but Millar is more interested in pulling a twist -- any twist -- at the end than producing a satisfying read that carries to the end. It’s a grand opportunity wasted but maybe they’ll come up with something better in the movie (assuming McNiven doesn't have the time to do a sequel before the first issue of another series).
Umbrella Academy: Dallas (Dark Horse). It was easy for me to get on the second book in this series after being so surprised -- heck, shocked, but pleasantly -- by the first one. There was no guarantee that Way & Ba could turn out as great a book as they had done but it was a better than average chance, and it would be interesting to see what they could come up with and where they would take the characters, at the very least. Unfortunately, and unfortunately to throw a music analogy out there, after Way’s smash debut album, this one is the sophomore slump (and I have no idea how that compares to his band’s artistic arc). He might have spent his entire life writing the first one then was out at sea to come up with where the rest of it would go, never thinking he’d have the chance so not bothering to think too hard about the sequels. It’s a mess of barely-connected ideas, which don’t always need to be clever but could at least be fun and they mostly end up falling flat. Smash-cuts aren’t so effective in comics and there’s no sense of juxtaposition to all the parts he switches between. Even the title barely connects to anything, since it’s only a minor part of one of the various threads that winds listlessly through it. The art doesn’t do much either, as it’s still as solid before but there are fewer electrifying places that Ba is allowed to take it. It’s a disappointing follow-up but it’s a testament to the strength of the characters in the book that it’s excruciating to see their creator not doing anything worthy of them. There’s hope, though, as they state in the afterword that they have more stories planned, so this hiccup could be forgiven with a sturdy next chapter, or that this nosedive will make more sense in the context of the rest of the overall series. There have been plenty of bands that have turned in a stellar third album after a bad second one, maybe even one better than the first. If the book (whether the first one in the series or the entire thing) can pull off the miracle of being not only good but great, maybe they could do the same with the next parts (still to be put on the schedule, sadly).
Daredevil: Father (Marvel). One of the hardest tasks as an editor must be editing work done by your boss. (It seems like it would be a conflict of interests but Marvel has done it for decades.) Even worse when that boss is also basically the head of the company. Even worse when the boss isn't suited in one of the tasks essential to the project. Even worse when the project is bad from the first page. But it shows bravery to do it (the editing, that is), and the project probably sold well. Joe Quesada heads out on his big, personal story -- a Daredevil one. The big squabble in the '90s in comics was artists writing their own stories. Never again being a Byrne, Starlin, or Miller, artists wanted full control of the story, they wanted to write what they drew, and they could come up with an idea for a story so, hey, that must mean they're a writer, right? But there were so many bad ones, greatly overwhelming the very few good ones (which don't even come to my memory at the moment). My conclusion was that if they could write -- independent of their abilities as an artist (or personality) -- then they could be a writer. But the ones from that new breed were few and far between. And from that greater batch came Quesada. Being the head cheese at Marvel doesn't show that he has evolved as a writer or that he's capable of doing the job. But he's the boss so he can do what he likes. It's a shame he had to abuse that privilege, and make an editor go through it, essentially taking a bullet for him.
So he feels the need to make his grand, personal statement with a Daredevil, which isn't a surprise given the work he did on the character with Kevin Smith, and presumably the story he wants to tell works with that character. Oh, but what a story that is. It's basically three stories, none of them actual whole stories, crammed together, and a through-line that jerks into ridiculous twists and a finale that would be lucky to be forgettable. Then there's the new superhero team that Quesada somehow thought would fly (whether minorities or not). Even being the head of all stories at Marvel, Quesada couldn't bring those characters back as more than footnotes. There are so many stat pages that it's bewildering how much original art Quesada actually did in the first place. Copying images is a far less effective technique when it seems more like the artist is trying to dodge drawing more pages. Then there's reconciling DD's alter ego with where it was in the ongoing series' continuity, which places it at a very specific point in time and could be confusing if the reader isn't up on what's going on elsewhere (a period which did not go on for very long, relative to the characters). Then Quesada's art isn't even great. He's been a good and influential artist over the years (I even bought one of his art books) but some of his worst-ever art is in this story. His body proportions reach Liefeld-levels of ridiculousness, most of them centered on DD, which makes it only more noticeable and ill-advised. It's really the artist/writer off the leash, and only bringing bad from it. The worst part (above a lot of very bad parts) is that it doesn't even seem very personal. What was Quesada trying to say about the state of fatherhood? Whatever is taken from it, if you can find anything, is contrived and injected as an alien form into the story. It builds for a last page which would be memorable if it didn't seem to be from a different story. Quesada has frequently been an exciting, innovative artist over the years. It's rare that he does a new, whole project, and it's too bad that he had to throw away all that time and energy and goodwill with a bad project. All he had to do was get a good writer to at least corral it, and he'd have had a pick of any of them at the time (though hopefully he'd avoid Smith just so he could get it published eventually). But with poor intention, bad art, and even worse writing, this book is one of the worst Daredevil projects ever. It's a shame that all the editing couldn't save it, but editors get all the blame when it's bad and none of the credit when it's good, so we'll try to avoid doing that this time. Then again, the first job of an editor is to take a bad story in a better direction. Hopefully they at least got to keep their job after having to do this. At least they got to be in the good graces of their boss.
This is a book I took on numerous airline flights over the years and never had a chance to read but took with me in the hope that I eventually would. I finally got to it. I rather wish I hadn't. Now this has to go into my collection. Grrr, Marvel.
(And there was a time when I could consider Quasada my boss for a short period. Unfortunately, after this that may not ever happen again. But if I had a connection to him and had read this, I would have told him that we need to start again and make something better, worthy of his art and of the time for anyone reading it.)
New Avengers: Sentry (Marvel). I had read the first New Avengers trade and actually liked it. I wasn’t completely sold on Bendis doing straight superhero work (mostly because I just didn’t get his Ultimate Spider-Man opus) but he had a grasp on the Avengers (though since he had done so much leading up to that, he really should have). Finch was an even harder sell, but once I got over my distaste for the early-Image style in general, I could see that the guy has a hand for composition and a straightforward style, even when his work isn't dirtied-up additionally by poor inkers, and he has an eye for interesting new interpretations of the characters. Bendis set up a decent story for that one, less a tale and more of a brew of interacting, often-clashing personalities and a bunch of superheroes for Finch to draw. It worked. I was interested in more but by the time I got to it the series had gone on for a while and I’d be buried trying to get back into it. Bendis also couldn’t stay with those high-caliber artists, such is the curse of these new-jack guys who learned their style before figuring out how to meet deadlines and turn around more than just a few issues at a time, but at least they could usually (but not always) make it through an arc (and credit to the editors for keeping any of it on track). Even if I didn't love Nemesis, I was still taken by McNiven's style and his older work was new to me. Even better, Marvel wouldn't let his work be so rough so he at least had an inker (or inkers, knowing the deadlines) to buff it out on the mainstream stuff. And again it works. Bendis doesn't waste any time waiting for a crossover to connect with and he doesn't flinch from putting the screws to as many characters as he can. After the initial splash of the first story line, this is where the real mettle of the creators comes out. He may have trotted out Sentry just so he could finish off that character, and he still didn't have an interest in putting Luke Cage in a costume, but he added a new edge to Spider-Woman (soon to be exploited explosively) and he has such a grasp on Cap that it's a shame he hadn't gotten to do his own 30-something issues with him (yet). The writer and artist push out the monthly issues and it may not be the best work by them, and it may only be work-for-hire that they can keep a distance from, but it still comes out as a satisfying story featuring well-considered characters who are written as well here as anywhere else (outside of classic runs).
House of M: Masters of Evil (Marvel). I don’t make a secret of loving superhero comics. If I’m going to read comics, a lot of times I just want to read stuff with superheroes in it. I’m all for high art and pushing the boundaries and exploring the medium for more than superhero trappings, but sometimes I just want to get down to the straight-forward superhero stuff that I’ve loved for maybe longer than what I’ve discovered from the format. And sometimes I don’t care how it connects to the greater continuity, from something that happened years ago outside of anything that’s happened now or since. And for something in the tradition of Suicide Squad, a story centered around a team of super-villains is an easy sell to me. This was a “House of M” tie-in. I didn’t read “House of M” when it came out, I still haven’t, I never read any of the other crossovers, and if this story didn’t include explanation enough to get what it was to understand this story's context, it didn’t affect me when I read it. It’s a team of super-villains, about as straight-forward as you can get. They’re not even working against a hero, at least not one that’s easily recognizable or necessary to lead the story, or one that’s morally more superior than the bad guys. It’s all ably done, in plotting, script, and art, but it’s a bit of puff, an unnecessary piece hanging on to a larger, past event, and it’s too easy to forget once it’s done. At the time it might have made a decent meal but it passes through quickly, especially now. There’s no encouragement to read more of “House of M” but, out of all their great characters, heroic and villains, it would be great if Marvel did more stories starring bad guys (especially if they make them good).
Uncanny Avengers: The Red Shadow (Marvel). It seemed like such a ridiculous idea at the time: some X-Men join the Avengers. Wolverine was already silly enough as a member of the Avengers but we had gotten used to that and maybe it worked after a while. Scarlet Witch was always more of an Avenger than of the mutant world, so that was never a big deal. But Rogue, part of the backbone of the X-Men? Then Havok, who wasn’t ever really much of an X-Man, and always seemed to exist more as a tangent to Cyclops’ and the X-Men’s story than his own? Then Cap and Thor in there too -- it was such a weird mish-mash of characters but at least they had some big names, so they could have done worse. And you’d have to buy in on anything that Cassaday was going to draw, not just for his art but the fact that Marvel thought enough about the idea that they would put such a big gun in the mix, especially when paired with a writer who seemed so fresh. Remender had some acclaim for writing but for Marvel he only really had one big thing at the time, and that was an ancillary X-Men thing -- maybe selling automatically because it was X-Men- (and Wolverine-)related rather than being good -- but he had something that made them want to put him on a big flagship book with an attention-getting premise. The characters and the art would be enough to sell it but if they really wanted it to have legs it needed a bit more than that. The main idea was to bridge the Avengers and the X-Men, which had never been necessary in years past when there seemed to be some fortune in purposely keeping them separate (except for big-sell crossovers), but Marvel apparently saw capital in blending their worlds, maybe to the point of an uneasy fusion where every hero ended up being an Avenger at one point. It seemed like a silly idea just outside of being outright bad, but Marvel has rarely shied from doing something just because it began with an ill-advised proposition. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's the entire '90s. The book also throws in a ludicrous plot for the mastermind villain, one that might not be so bad if it wasn’t thrown in with such a precarious set-up. But for all the ridiculousness, it’s not a bad story and they've kept going with the Avengers/X-Men mash-up long enough that it seems silly now that it seemed so silly in the first place. But it didn’t all work by the force of the story, which is not extraordinary. This could as easily have been a lull point between more monumental story arcs. At least Bendis would have made it consistent with what it connected to. The biggest problem is the art. Not because the art is bad -- it’s predictably fantastic, by the great talent of Cassaday. But it’s running at such a different speed than the story and the characters, it just leaves the rest buried in dust. It’s also the most uninspired Cassaday art probably ever, showing that he couldn’t pull anything more out of the plot so he just put down characters doing stuff then forgot about it. It’s a crime to waste such a talent (especially since he didn’t engage in so much output again. It would be a sin if this was the book that stopped him from doing ongoings forever more). For the time Cassaday spent doing this, he could have been paired with a writer with more of a drive and an editor with more of a vision. As it is, the whole thing plays out like they’re trying yet again to make a big deal out of Havok, which, to be fair, actually does happen, even if it meant forsaking better elements for too narrow a focus. If the idea was to develop Havok as the character he deserves to be they could say they did that, until no one else decided to pick him up and do anything with him after that. So now the book exists not as something to be noted fondly but rather as a historical record of when Marvel swirled their universe once again. Until the next ridiculous thing, which has more or less even odds of working out.
Catwoman: When In Rome (DC). I’ve always been a sucker for Loeb/Sale collaborations -- much more for the Sale art than the Loeb writing, though I admire Loeb for knowing the limits of his abilities and letting the art be the star. It’s irksome that Loeb still rides those coattails to the acclaim these books always get but if he facilitated it all coming together, there are worse things than getting a story too weak to properly service the art -- at least the art gets out. After all their splendid Batman work, this comes as the least of the pair's bunch. It’s still great Sale art but with only a pinch of Batman to anchor it, it’s just a bunch of less-interesting characters. Catwoman doesn't have to be rely on being sexy to be a character worth looking at it but it’s a spice that is frustrating when wasted. Sale reaches a few notes of making her visually appealing in an obvious way but mostly focuses elsewhere and doesn’t give much other visual flare to the character. She’s also consistently inconsistent, which is usually a mark of Sale’s art and part of the excitement of it, but with her base image being so all over the place, it marks a lack of visual stability and not every panel stands up as its own work of art without context. The rest of the characters can’t make up for it, not limited to just a constantly-changing and ugly Riddler, and the story doesn’t give them much either. But this isn’t to say that it’s a bad book. It just can’t stand anywhere near the hallmarks that Sale and, yes, Loeb created with their Batman stuff. They ventured out without relying on the crutch of that character but it also handicapped them and left them out too far. It also doesn’t match up to their Marvel books, even with the nauseating sentimentality of those. But there’s some nice graphic design to pull it together and the coloring looks great in the format. If you found it for half-off like I did, you could do much worse (which would be the first Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder hardcover).
Top Albums Of 2015 (In This Order):
10. Currents- Tame Impala
9. Star Wars- Wilco
8. Chasing Yesterday- Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
7. Sound & Color- Alabama Shakes
6. Music Complete- New Order
5. No Cities to Love- Sleater-Kinney
4. Viet Cong- Viet Cong
3. I Love You, Honeybear- Father John Misty*
2. To Pimp a Butterfly- Kendrick Lamar*
1. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit- Courtney Barnett
(* To be fair, I got into these in '2016.)
My Top Replacements Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20. "Answering Machine"
19. "Waitress in the Sky"
17. "Left of the Dial"
15. "Fuck School"
14. "Favorite Thing"
12. "Birthday Gal"
10. "Achin' To Be"
9. "Kids Don't Follow"
8. "They're Blind"
7. "The Ledge"
6. "Another Girl, Another Planet" (cover)
5. "Talent Show"
4. "Alex Chilton"
3. "I'll Be You"
2. "Bastards of Young"
1. "Can't Hardly Wait" (any version)
19. "Waitress in the Sky"
17. "Left of the Dial"
15. "Fuck School"
14. "Favorite Thing"
12. "Birthday Gal"
10. "Achin' To Be"
9. "Kids Don't Follow"
8. "They're Blind"
7. "The Ledge"
6. "Another Girl, Another Planet" (cover)
5. "Talent Show"
4. "Alex Chilton"
3. "I'll Be You"
2. "Bastards of Young"
1. "Can't Hardly Wait" (any version)
My Chromebook. I had a gig last year that wouldn’t let us have e-mail and Internet on the company computers but they had wi-fi. My laptop had seen better days (bought used so it was already on its road toward the end) and it was too much for what I needed even when it was at its best (as well as being big enough to take up more desk than I wanted to give it). I had bought a new heavy-duty laptop to replace my desktop computer just the year before so I knew what I was looking for when I went poking around for a light-weight thing. I didn’t need anything for video games or watching shows or even holding music, just something to check e-mail and write on. I found Chromebooks, which are super-stripped-down laptops that pretty much just exist to run a browser (and of course it’s Chrome, which I would have picked anyway). Everything is on the cloud. I don’t think it even has a hard-drive. But it’s minimal, easy, quick, and everything I need it for. I even found it’s not bad for watching shows and videos and such if I want to (we used it to watch Kimmy Schmidt in Europe when we were avoiding figuring out their TV). It’s basically a cheap iPad but with a good keyboard attached (and, even better, it’s not Apple). Once that job got done it became my main work-tool, as I could take it with me wherever I went and as long as I could get a wi-fi signal, it would work as well as any bigger laptop I could lug around. I don’t write at home, so only rarely do I do that with the big laptop, so most of what I’ve written in the last year has been done on the Chromebook. And it was about $150 (on Amazon, and maybe with Groupon or something and/or it might have been a refurbished model, but I know they’re not much more expensive than that). So if it got broken or crapped out or got stolen, I’d be out less than a couple hundred bucks, and since everything is on the cloud, I wouldn’t lose any work, and entry into it is automatically password-protected so a thief wouldn’t get any of my stuff either. It’s so cheap that it may not last long (though it's going strong after a year and a half of heavy use) but I’m so pleased with it and it’s so great and cheap that I wouldn’t even mind so much if I had to buy a new one every year. Just for its ease and flexibility of use I would recommend it to anyone. It’s as useful as anything by Apple and a fraction of the cost (and, best of all, not Apple). I don't know why everyone doesn't already have one of these (or has an iWhatever instead).
That said…. Turning the wi-fi off. I’ve had a few times over the past few months, particularly the flight to and from Europe, that I wasn’t sure about the state of the wi-fi and if I’d be able to use my computer during that time. Well, of course I could use my computer. I’m usually using it to write anyway, and I don’t need the wi-fi for that. I figured I’d suffer through it but then came to realize that I didn't really need the wi-fi in the first place and might even be better off without the distraction. Generally I just want to sit and write, and I don’t need the wi-fi to do that (especially since I can get that with my phone, and I can usually get a signal for that and it’s good enough). Sometimes I just need to get some writing done. I’ve been reading studies about multi-tasking and how it’s horrible for productivity, and I have to agree. I can get so much more done when I can just sit down and focus on one task and just get that done without having all the other things on the periphery. I just get more done. (And if you think you're the one who can multi-task well, you're one of the ones who does it worst.) So now I almost purposely go to places where I won’t need to use the wi-fi, like a favorite coffee-shop that I couldn't work at after they closed up the electrical outlets. Problem solved -- I don’t need it. So now my laptop has even more versatility, since I can take it literally anywhere with me and I don’t have to worry about connecting to the Internet. I can just get my writing done.
Yoga. My littlest brother was a muscle-head a few years ago, as dedicated to working out as anyone I've seen. On a goof out of boredom when he was cruising some YouTube videos, he tried out some yoga and found he loved it and recommended it to me. I thought he was crazy -- I’ve seen it done and I never thought it was my bag. But my 24-Hour Fitness had some classes (not a lot but at least a few a week) and, on my own goof, I tried one out. And loved it. It’s a work-out both physically and mentally which is perfect for me, or anyone, really. I push myself as hard as I can when I work out so pulling it way back physically is a challenge and also a great exercise. The mental aspect is great for me as well, even though my anxiety is helped when I'm able to work out regularly; it helps rewire my brain so that maybe I can avoid them in the future (and boggles my mind at the thought of the kind of good it could have done me when I’ve gone through those times). I’d recommend it to anyone, those who work out or don't (though if you don’t, you really ought to get some kind of exercise). This is also currently as close as I get to meditation, which is still a level beyond me. Maybe one day.
Cashews. I’ve had a thing with cashews lately. I like to eat nuts because they’re healthy and they’re always at the store and they don’t go bad and if you eat enough you’ll hate food for a while, so they’re great for a snack at work. I try to avoid peanuts because they’re actually not great for you and I get burnt-out on almonds too easily, then I’ve realized that my favorite part of the deluxe mixed nuts packs is the cashews, so I just get bags of those now. And they’re great. They don’t even need salt so I can stay away from that too. I love when I have nuts in my mouth -- WHAT? (UPDATE: I kinda got over cashews. But my taste for certain foods usually comes and goes anyway. One day again I’ll probably love having nuts in my mouth -- WHAT?)
Shuffle mode. If you know me, you know I agonize over decisions. It’s where most, if not all, of my anxiety comes from. Fear over making the wrong decision can paralyze me like crazy. Even deciding what to listen to can freeze me. A few months ago I started a thing where I put the iPod I listen to on the way to work on shuffle. Still the albums I want to listen to, but I don’t have to pick which ones or in which order. It stays within a playlist, so I can rotate stuff in and out, and I can put on mellow stuff for the morning then faster stuff for the drive home, but I don’t have to concern myself of what to listen to next. A great side-effect is that it takes these songs out of the context of the album that I'm so familiar with and I’m listening to some of them in a fresh way, some like they’re new. On the iPod I use while I’m working and the one I use while I’m cooking dinner, if I;m just using them as background music, I’ll put the albums on order, so I can still get into the groove of an album like I’m used to but I don’t have to pick the next one. It’s usually not a big deal when I'm with someone so I’ll let them decide. I’m just trying to figure out how to take decisions out of my life (what to eat, what to wear, what to cook, what to do) so I can free my brain for the bigger choices. At least there’s one thing I can let someone else choose for me.
Keyboard hotkeys. I dreaded using a track-pad when I got my first laptop but Boring (from whose wife’s brother I was buying it) told me I’d get used to it. Instead, I got a mouse (and I’ve gone through a number of them, usually travel-size since it’s easier to get around with them). That’s worked well enough but recently I had a crowded desk and I wasn’t navigating around different areas in different browsers, and for the writing I was doing there wasn’t much I needed to do with my cursor but it's always nice when it's easier. Along the way, I don’t even remember how, maybe completely on accident, I discovered some great hotkeys:
CTRL + Arrows = Jump word-to-word instead of space-to-space. Useful for having the cursor get around a line quickly (like when you want it to keep up with where you're reading), with more accuracy than a mouse can give. Up/down jumps from paragraph to paragraph.
SHIFT + Arrows = Highlight what your cursor goes over. Useful for covering words you’ll delete or cut/copy n’ paste. Up/down can highlight a whole line.
CTRL + SHIFT + Arrows = Quickly highlight blocks of words. Of course you have to put them together. I probably use this one most of all.
ALT + Up/Down Arrows = Jump page-to-page. I haven’t used that a lot yet but now that I’ve tried it, I might from now on.
These might be common knowledge but it’s not the first time it’s taken me a while to discover something everyone else knew. Whatever, I’ve been able to retain control over my cursor, and these work like a charm for getting around a text document (in Google Docs, of course). But, to be fair to say, I am using the track-pad more often.
Pomodoro Technique/my version of the Pomodoro Technique. I discovered this work process a while ago and it blew my mind: do 25 minutes of focused work with no distractions, then break for 5 minutes and do whatever you want, then 25 minutes of work again, then 5 minutes of a break, then after 5 or so of those cycles take a 15-minute break. It’s a great idea, and one that could work for many folks, but everyone has their own process that works for them. For me, I get into a zone and sometimes I have a flow that could go longer than 25 minutes and I suffer more from breaking it. And sometimes I can’t even start whatever I want to do and stop in 5 minutes. And just keeping track of it can be exhausting (though there are phone apps that help). Eventually this just became an excuse for me to take breaks when I didn’t need to and it broke up my work-flow when I knew it wasn’t helping. So I went back to my usual process: Listen to a whole album (as I listen to music as I work), then take a break once that’s done. I usually have no choice since I have to pee after that time anyway. Maybe I’m trying to be more permissive in allowing myself to stop, which I need to do more of when I work (that zone can be a deep place that’s hard to get back out of), but I know what works for me (well, most of time). Generally I just need something that will keep me on track to take my lunch at a reasonable time but maybe I’ll come across an app for that eventually.
My Marvel Heroic RPG online game is still going, stronger than ever:
I also posted a video with the fundamentals of playing, so anyone who is interested but has never played before, whether MHR or any role-playing game, can watch it and you'll have enough to get up to running and join us:
Something that's been bugging me lately: one of Stephen King's rules of writing is to never use a thesaurus. I live by my thesaurus. It's gotten me out of more than one jam (just writing this zine alone). I just don't see how it's sound advice. It's there, I use it. Everyone has their own thing that works for them, and mine is using a thesaurus, S. King be damned (as much as I admire him. Enough to respect his rule even when I want to dispute it vehemently). I just hate the thought that I'm doing something wrong. But it feels so right.
Did the pictures in my last zine get dropped out? I've no idea why, especially since the ones from the one before didn't. Grrr. Well, I have to let it go, I guess. Just when I start figuring out the tricks around HTML, it finds another way to be irritate me. Oh well.
I've got a few things to get a head-start on the next one again. Anymore I'm just dropping in reviews and a lists and that doesn't take much more of an effort other than just writing it out. So I'll have something, hopefully not taking too long. Maybe by then I'll even have finished Moby-Dick (even though I haven't picked it up again since the last time I mentioned it).