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It’s been a rough week for inspirational people. 

The first came when Lemmy from the metal band Motörhead passed. Although I was never big into metal, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the bands sound. Ace of Spades was a perfect metal song for me: fast, loud, a gravelly voiced singer who actually sang with the right amount of edge-of-his-lung-capacity breath that really let the people know he was putting his heart and soul into it. The Ace of Spades video: http://youtu.be/1iwC2QljLn4

Second was David Bowie who not only influenced dozens of musicians and performers, he released his final album only days before he passed. The fact that he KNEW he was soon to die and infused his album with all the thoughts and feelings that go along with that makes me idolize him all the more. And it’s actually quite good on top of that.  Here’s the first video from his final album: https://youtu.be/y-JqH1M4Ya8

Then there is Alan Rickman, an actor so diverse and compelling on a Christopher Walken level that it brought a smile to my face any time he appeared on screen. From Die Hard to Galaxy Quest to Dogma to Harry Potter, he brought a unique authority to his roles that set him apart from other actors of his ilk.  

 
These three men have been an important part of our cultural lexicon for so long that their absence cannot help but be felt. 

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2015 was a good year for catching up on books. I discovered the Overdrive app which, when connected to my library card, I can download a bevy of books, in eBook or audio versions. Since my job is fairly mindless (a drunk monkey could almost pull it off), I was able to enjoy books that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, was curious about, or was recommended to read.

As you can see from the list, I didn’t start keeping track of what I thought of each book until about halfway through. It’s just a way of recording my initial impressions.

I also wanted to address what I noticed about the list. Plenty of the entries were series that I hadn’t gotten around to yet (The Dark Tower series, the Landover novels, Game of Thrones), while others were old favorites (The Road, On Writing). I read/listened to a couple because they were favorites of some special people in my life (Redeeming Love, The Tale of Desperaux) and plenty of others I had little to no knowledge of before hand (Robopocalypse, Gamify, Death’s Apprentice, Never Let Me Go, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl). Most of these I didn’t care much for but the beauty of listening for me was that I could get through a book in far less time. The last thing I’ll mention are the new favorites (Vertical, Wild, Quiet, The Examined Life), which proved to me that listening to books can have just as much value as reading them.

Have any recommendations for 2016?? Leave a comment and let me know! I’m always open to trying a new book.

-A

Books I’ve read in 2015

1. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

2. Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

3. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

4. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

5. Crap Kingdom by D. C. Pierson

6. Write Songs Right Now by Alex Forbes

7. The Wastelands by Stephen King

8. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

9. Magic Kingdom for Sale…Sold! by Terry Brooks

10. The Alamo by John Myers Myers

11. Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

12. 10% Happier by Dan Harris

13. The Black Unicorn by Terry Brooks

14. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

15. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo

16. When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

17. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

18. Wizard At Large by Terry Brooks

19. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

20. Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak

21. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

22. The Tangle Box by Terry Brooks

23. Gamify by Brian Burke

24. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

25. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

26. The Defenders of Shannara: The Darkling Child by Terry Brooks-Solid storytelling but lacks the journey into the mysterious unknown that makes his other tales so compelling. Musician character and complex villain are the highlights. – 3.5 stars

27. The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz -Cases a therapist acquired over the course of his career. Many of the cases were relatable for me, which made the material very interesting to me. I might buy a copy, I liked it so much. – 5 stars

28. Death’s Apprentice by K. W. Jeter -A stygian tale that feels like a noir set in hell. Interesting ideas for some characters but others are basic and uninspired. Unclear where the settings are and how they connect with each other. Video game type action. – 2.5 stars

29. Clockwork Fairy Tales: A Collection of Steampunk Fables by Various Authors -Didn’t really feel many of these stories and what ones I did start to like were ruined by poor endings that added nothing. – 1.5 stars

30. Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang -Read by the fast-talking but funny author. Plenty of street slang and personal values. Inspiring tale of finding oneself amidst family abuse, racism, and society (the bamboo ceiling). Interesting to see the changes made for the family sitcom of the same name. Highly enjoyable. 4.5 stars

31. Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman -An interesting look at the inside of a women’s prison, mostly because it explored the friendships and bonding between prisoners and didn’t get into the dangerous conflicts loaded into other prison stories. 4 stars

32. Wild by Cheryl Strayed -About a girl trying to find herself on a three month hike. A simple premise with heart-wrenching realizations and personal hurdles overcome. Deep and honest. Better then the film. Makes me want to take a similar trip. 5 stars

33. Goosebumps: Horrorland – The Scream of the Haunted Mask by R. L. Stine -A silly horror tale for tweens. An entertaining audio performance elevated the childish story. 2.5 stars

34. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy-Like Hardy’s other novels: a mix of interesting characters and societal pressures/rules that have tragic consequences. I like how he really enters the minds of each character so we know their sometimes strange reasoning for acting the way they do. 4.5 stars

35. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert -A more spiritual look at the creative process. Inspirational and supportive like others of its kind with some good stories to emphasize her points. Show appreciation for others without expecting anything back. A book to buy. 4.5 stars

36. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro -I liked how there were hints at a sci-fi element here but it was never the sole purpose of the story, which centered on the relationships between a girl and her two friends as they grew up together. I still knew what was happening so the reveal toward the end was not a big surprise – but maybe it wasn’t supposed to be. 3.5 stars

37. Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon -A short and sweet book about borrowing from things you like to create your own art. Feels a bit for the fledgling artist/creator but has several good tips and reminders for the seasoned artist. I read it on my phone and took several screen shots to remind myself of some of these tips. A book to have around on your bookshelf. 4 stars

38. The Road by Cormac McCarthy -One of my favorites. The lengths the man goes to save the boy is awe inspiring and touching, all while trying to teach him the skills he needs to survive in such a harsh world. The religious overtones/reading is interesting but this is one of the few times where I don’t like that deeper reading. The relationship between the father and son is more than good enough for me. 5 stars

39. Quiet by Susan Cain -Examples and reasons for accepting an introverted lifestyle in a culture that exemplifies an extroverted personality. There are enough examples of most situations that the book feels balanced. I found the subject matter hitting me on a personal level as some of the stories used could have been taken from my own life, about what to do as well as what not to do. One of the main points I took away was how my introvertedness seemed to be treated as a problem rather than an accepted part of who I was. I’ll read this one again for sure. 5 stars

40. Paladins of Shannara: Allanon’s Quest by Terry Brooks -A short story set just before the events of The Sword of Shannara. Despite Brooks being one of my favorite authors, this felt clunky and added little to the Shannara world. It was fun reading about Allanon again though. 2 stars

41. Vertical by Rex Pickett-The sequel to Sideways (one of my favorite films) is just as good, if not better then the original. While the author seems to go out of his way to showcase a deep and extensive vocabulary, he also creates a fun and joyous world with strong and interesting characters. The same comic yet melancholy tone of the first novel returns here while exceeding both. I can identify with the lead character Miles the most but the other characters are so detailed and real that it was difficult to not enjoy them also. As riotous as some of the events in the novel are, the ending had me tearing up, and almost felt like it belonged in another novel. But it worked and I loved it. 5 stars

42. A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin -The fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire series, it didn’t have the excitement of the previous entries. The story was more plodding and built through character rather then action. Some of the more interesting characters were absent but others stepped up. Still, the focus on a new set of characters and new environment only partially related to the bigger story was difficult to get through. 4 stars

43. On Writing by Stephen King -Inspirational and practical. My second “reading”. The advice that really stuck for me writing daily at the same time, celebrate when the first draft is finished then move on to something else right away, come back to that first draft with fresh eyes – a few weeks after finishing, write the first draft behind closed doors, cut out stimulations from writing area. I like his advice and also the straightforward way he tells it. He is very relatable and realistic. 4 stars

44. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae -Didn’t like it. Maybe I was missing something by not knowing who the author was before reading. There were some awkward stories but not nearly enough to warrant the title. Many of the stories had little awkwardness in them and were instead examples of how she felt after the fact. I wanted more awkwardness! 2 stars

45. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury -Creepy in parts, humorous in others, a story about two boys, a father, fear, and growing up. And a really creepy carnival. A horror story with a deeper meaning. 3.5 stars

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I feel useless tonight

A confection that’s stale and might

Break a tooth if indulgence succumbed 

Better to leave me alone
I feel horny tonight

Anxious and longing cause the moment is right

Driven from terrors of quieted rage

Trapped inside a locked cage
I was searching

I was searching for my soul

Cause I was sent here

I was sent to rock and roll
Someone save me tonight

There’s no reason, no wrongs and no rights

Just a sad lonely ghost

Trying to make the most
Someone save me tonight

I’m a little boy lost to the night

With no light source no one for a guide

Someone save me tonight
I was searching

I was searching for my soul

Cause I was sent here

I was sent to rock and roll
Someone save me tonight

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     There’s been a problem recently at work. A few months ago the company revamped the bathroom. Nothing huge, just a change.
Before, the urinals were automated. They had switched to the hands free model in an effort to save water as most people apparently needed to double flush their frothy brew and the company wanted to save money. So, the automated flushers were installed to deliver the exact amount of fresh water needed to eliminate the urine as well as refill the receptacle with water you would consider drinking during the apocalypse. The problem with the automated urinals was the sensors. They would go off when people hadn’t stepped away or even if they stood in front of it at a ten foot distance. I don’t know about my coworkers but I couldn’t deliver a ten foot stream on my best day. Maybe if I had a step stool and a steep drop in front of me…
   So with all that extra unsanctioned flushing, the urinals would overflow and make a mess in an already dirty as hell bathroom. The company was once again losing that sweet water profit while gaining a certain musty smell as urine soaked into the cracks of the tile floor. Needless to say, they switched back to the manual flushers.
    Now here’s where it gets gross. Imagine stepping up to one of these receptacles and instead of seeing a pleasant dollop of neutral water, there is a bubbling witch’s brew of steaming urine to gaze at. If you’re into that kind of thing, good on you, but for me and at least a few others I know, we find it disgusting. And try peeing in that without getting pee-body splash-back. 
    Why are we seeing this split pee soup? There’s some speculation that these non-flushers haven’t realized that the urinals are no longer automated but I doubt that. No one is blind. Some people just don’t want to flush because they don’t want to touch the germ invested handle.
    Look, I get it. Touching something in the bathroom that everyone has laid wiener covered hands on can be mildly disturbing if you think about it. Just thinking about the six degrees of penile contact brings to mind some people I would rather not have anything to do with. But leaving your waste water for the next person who needs to relieve themselves is selfish. It’s annoying. And gross. And after a few hours of stagnation, the smell is vomit inducing.
    I appreciate the fact that bathrooms are gross and touching anything in them can be creepier than anything in a David Lynch film but let’s work together on this. No one wants to see, smell, or feel another person’s piss water. So for the sake of all of us, take the half second to flush. All those germs will be gone from your person anyway because you’ll be washing your hands afterwards anyway right? Right? Blaaaaaaaaaaagggghh!!

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  It’s my first time in Texas and I’m seeing far less sunshine then I expected. An omnipresent cloud has covered San Antonio since our arrival Saturday night and the only glimpse of sunshine occurred last night while we were visiting the Tower of the Americas. It made for some great pics but as we’ve entered the first days of summer officially, I expected more. As it stands, we’ve seen more rain and clouds then Seattle has seen in the past month.

Unfortunately, it’s put a delay on some of the things we wanted to do and because our stay is so short, there is a good chance the delay will be more then a few days. Hot-air balloons, rodeos, caverns…will have to wait. Between the weather, my wife’s conference meetings, and short duration of our stay, some things just had to get cut.

   

  

  

 What I have been able to see has been well worth the trouble and a must for anyone visiting this beautiful city of San Antonio. First, the San Antonio River Walk is something for anyone from out of town to experience. Located in the heart of San Antonio, the River Walk boasts a number of restaurants, gift shops, and boutiques that a traveler could spend an entire day exploring. In several hours, I still only managed to scratch the surface of what the River Walk had to offer. I plan on going back. 

   

    

  

 One of the other activities my wife and I were able to try out was the Tower of the Americas. Also located downtown, the tower stands against the skyline with an observation deck that gives a three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding area. Though it stands nearly twenty feet taller then Seattle’s Space Needle, the Tower is not nearly as visually pleasing (sorry Texans!). However, some of my favorite pics came from here. One thing I found surprising about the tower is that I enjoyed the view from the elevator’s west facing window more than from the observation deck. This was most likely due to the overcast day and the tinted glass of the observation deck where the elevator glass was completely limpid. As a result, the clear view of the setting sun was a sight to behold. Also included with our ticket price was a screening of a 4-D short film called The Skies of Texas, a ten minute commercial for the state, which was humorous in a cheesy, forced-fun kind of way. The floor moved, small air jets whipped our legs when a snake slithered away onscreen, and light water sprayed our faces when a bull snorted. I don’t think it’s what they were going for but I couldn’t help myself from cracking up. That being said, both were well worth the price of admission.

We still have a few more days in the city and I am excited to experience what there is to offer. I will report back on The Alamo, free museum Tuesday, and a possible surprise or two. Happy exploring!

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It seems like I’ve been at this forever but I’m finally getting it together! I’ve missed writing here on wordpress and commenting back and forth with the great writers that are everywhere on this site. Below is the reason I’ve been away. My album is finally finished!!

This is a link to the digital album. Please listen to the samples and download if you like what you hear. I’ll post a link for the physical album once I get that sorted out. Do people even buy cds anymore?? I guess I’ll find out.

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Now that it’s almost Christmas, I can start to relax and think about the things I love about Christmas. Although my lovely girlfriend and I won’t be able to be together on Christmas day, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends, Cinnabon on Christmas morning, and movie theater popcorn later that day.

I’m also looking forward to watching a movie that I watch every year called The Snowman. Based on the Raymond Briggs picture book of the same name, The Snowman follows a young boy who makes a snowman that magically comes to life and takes him to the north pole to meet Santa Claus.

Released in 1982, the animation is rudimentary by today’s standards but there is warmth and heart in the images. Every pencil line seems to have a life of its own and even in the “static” scenes, the background is alive and moving. Like reliving a memory from childhood, the images are not clear or even well defined in places but there is just enough balance of open space and detail that activates the imagination that newer, digitally animated films have a difficult time delivering. This ascetic gives the film a surreal, dream-like quality which is perfect for the story being told. Despite this, or maybe because of it, there is a coziness throughout the film. Whether the scenes are inside or out, the lack of dialogue coupled with the soft visual style lends itself to easy watching.

Except for a brief, live-action intro and sung lyrics in one of the songs, there are no words spoken for the duration of the animated story and I love that. Every emotion, joke, and nuance is expressed through the pencil drawn animation and a Peter and the Wolf-like score. Childish excitement is accompanied by string flourishes, surprises are accentuated with trumpet blasts, and so-on. Both visuals and musical score could work on their own but together they provide a wonderful yet melancholic tone.

The tension between the mediums is best represented during the flight sequence. Here is a scene that is full of excitement and wonder. The Snowman takes the boy’s hand and begins running through the snow. Suddenly, they take off, their feet leaving the ground and the houses and fields grow smaller and smaller beneath them. Visually, this scene is one full of excitement but the tone is anything but. While the two are flying hand in hand, the song “Walking in the Air” plays. It is a wonderful song but is so melancholic that it twists the scene into something else. It’s no longer a simple, fun journey. There is gravitas. There is substance and depth. The journey is no longer just exciting – it’s important and a moment in time that will change the young boy forever. Moments like these happen rarely in film, let alone animated film, which is why it’s stayed with me so long.

It’s this aspect that keeps it from being in the same zeitgeist as more popular holiday fare like A Christmas Carol or Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. It’s not a feel good movie. It doesn’t end with shouts of joy down main street or a bunch of kids singing around a christmas tree. This isn’t Frosty the Snowman. The ending is very real and logical and doesn’t hold back in order to get a cheap “everything will be okay” feeling.

This film doesn’t just celebrate the Christmas spirit – it celebrates experience and life and the fleeting moments that make life worth living. It’s beautiful and tragic and one of my favorite Christmas films of all time.

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