Wednesday, April 26, 2017
I wasn't really a space nerd growing up. In fact, in my late teens, I got the idea that all the money spent jumping into space could probably be better spent feeding or educating people. But as I grew up, I got a bit wiser. I became more aware of the space program working as a catalyst for intellectual discovery in general. I learned about any number of real-world benefits from NASA's work. Most importantly, I became aware of the sense of grandeur of the pursuit.
It was when I became aware of the Cassini, though, and its mission to Saturn where I finally turned a corner. Saturn is close enough to be real to me in a way that distant space objects (such as The Pillars of Creation) can never be. Yet it is also is more outlandish and weird than anything I've seen in films. It has a total of sixty two discovered moons. One of those, Titan, has ethane and methane clouds and liquid hydrocarbon lakes (a Cassini discovery). Another, Enceladus, has subsurface oceans of liquid water (also discovered by Cassini) and has volcanoes which shoot ice into space. Then there's Mimas, a moon which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Death Star.
Today, Cassini starts a series of swoops between the planet and its rings. It will undoubtedly discover more mysteries to keep the scientists awash in new discoveries. It will take more stunning photos. Then, by the end of the year, it will crash into the planet.I will miss the sense of wonder I feel whenever it sends a new photo. I will miss the marvel of every new discovery. Most of all, though, I will be thankful to the tiny machine orbiting a distant planet. Without it, I might not have fell in love with space.
Bon voyage, Cassini.
First, I am on the home stretch of the follow-up album. It will be called Depression Monster, and it should be out this summer. I'm hoping I can have copies for sale by the beginning of June. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, here's an early mix of the opening song "Mileage":
Secondly, I will once again be playing at the Old West End Festival. This year, I will be at the Art Fair stage on Saturday, June 3rd at 3pm. I'm currently working on trying to assemble a full horn section for the gig. It should be fun!
I've got a few more days of grading to do, and then I'm off my day job until Fall. I will be recording, recording, recording, and then I'll be looking for gigs to support the album. I've already got album number three written, and I promise that one will go a whole lot quicker than did album number two.
Thanks for your support!
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Admittedly, it would be a lot more fun to label a magician than a graphic in a technical description. At first, though, I thought I was just making a typo. It wasn't until the 'fun center' of my brain started to shut down, though, when I realized I was actually indulging in wish fulfillment! Screw technical report writing. I want to instead focus on spell-casting and alchemy. Surely I can't be the only teacher who thinks this way.
It is at that point of realization, though, where my logic center starts to reassert itself. After all, I find myself, instead of typing 'white space,' actually typing 'shite space.' Certainly that can't be wish fulfillment, can it?
Or maybe it's just unconscious description coming out. Hmm.
About halfway through the semester, I realized two things:
- In general, most of the readings were real bummers. I was making my students learn about universal suffering, the obedience-driven nature of religion, and depressive realism. None of these ideas are generally seen as pick-me-ups.
- Based on not noticing these depressive themes, when I previewed the text, I must've been in a not wonderful mental place. Was my depression kicking in with a particular vengeance? Or was I just lulled into complacency by the puppy photo? It is a question worth pondering.
After reading their last essays, though, I know I certainly am learning a lot, including:
- People with depression and anxiety cannot have free will, because institutionalized people always have someone running their lives.
- Philosophers only give their personal opinions on matters.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Let us all have a moment of silence for TrumpCare. Now insurance companies will have to continue to cover emergency room visits, mental healthcare, maternity care, and pre-existing conditions. Oh, poor billionaire corporations! How will we ever survive as a country???
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Every year about this time, we get the "ha, you thought winter was over" snowfall. Every year, it takes everyone by surprise. You'd think we'd learn to expect it, but we never do. Monday, as I was retrieving my snow brush from my car trunk, my daughter let me have it. "I TOLD you we'd get more snow!" Let me tell you: a five year old looking smug is a sight to behold.
I've been wondering what the final (?) Winter blast actually does to us. Two events have provided valuable clues.
First, as my kid and me were grocery shopping, I gave her a hug. An aisle later, she confided in me: "when you hug me like that, I feel like a bottle of mustard." Hmmm.
The second clue came yesterday in a class discussion. It came out that I'm a vegetarian. One student stopped the class to grill me over it. Expressing his shock,, he said, "But you don't LOOK like a vegetarian!" Hmmm.
While I might not know how a bottle of mustard feels or what appearance is standard for vegetarians, I now suspect this: that the final snow of winter does something silly to the language centers of our brains.
Friday, March 10, 2017
The world is ending. At the very least, the world as we know it is definitely ending. While what will exactly happen to the world is unclear, the two ends of the spectrum of possible outcomes are either the singularity (where we all merge with our technology, becoming one with computers and thus transcending our humanity) or utter societal collapse (where we will be fighting off radioactive mutants with mop handles). Deep down, however, I suspect that our ultimate fate will be less dramatic.
This (believe it or not) brings me to the Mall of America. The mall itself rose out of the ashes of an old sporting stadium. It has somehow combined the best attributes of a capitalist shopping edifice, a tourist attraction, a people-watching arena, and an amusement park. And its success in doing so is immense, to the point where even in the coldest part of the dark Minnesota winter (assuming, that is, there ever IS another cold winter), it is heated by the ambient warmth coming off the mall patrons and light fixtures.
The Mall of America is thus notable for its resiliency. Most former sports arenas do not have all that exciting as a second life. The Pontiac Silverdome, for instance, is the former home to the Detroit Lions. Instead of transforming into a valuable attraction and financial success, the Silverdome is more a picture of devastation, denuded of its dome, collapsing, and the victim of a fire. When you compare the former Silverdome's fate with that of the former Metropolitan Stadium, it is clear just how miraculous is the Mall of America's success.
Moreover, the Mall of America is a place of wonder. While "wows" are not something one normally associates with malls, this Mall certainly delivers. It isn't just the sheer size or number of tenants, although both are overwhelming to visitors only familiar with their own local shopping center. No, it is clearly "something else." It would be an extraordinary place just for the Lego shop, but no, it also has an aquarium and a friggin' amusement park. Just being cool clearly isn't enough.
So, what actually IS the Mall of America? How does it negotiate its various identities as an amusement park/tourist attraction/shopping complex? What effect does this collage of identities have on its visitors? Moreover, what is its symbolic identity, and how will that adapt to this most interesting of times in which we live?
These are the questions I wish to explore. I have visited the Mall of America twice, and each time, I had to take a few minutes to adapt my mind to its scale. It is an edifice which makes a definite impact, and indeed, after both visits, I found myself spending the following weeks trying to understand and come to terms with its expanse, both in mental and symbolical terms.
Moreover, we clearly live in an interesting time, and there's every chance that we're in the middle of a massive cultural change. We are clearly in the midst of continual rapid technological advancement, as evident from the rise of smart phone technology alone (which did not exist the first time I visited the Mall of America). New technology is only one factor in societal change, but it is a big one, with a particularly strong effect on commerce and the economy. From there, its a quick snowball roll into social change, political change, and every other change imaginable.
The Mall of America has already survived massive change. It is a center of commerce while still a massively popular attraction even in the time of e-commerce. So how the Mall has survived and adapted is important and deserves to be studied. In addition to this, I am also interested in how the Mall of America will continue to adapt as the world goes through whatever tectonic shifts in our future. Both of these will be centers of focus for my term as writer in residence.
As far as writing form, I can see two major approaches. First, a week in the Mall of America is an opportunity for wonderful journalism. While I know I can get several articles out of my residency, I am certain there's enough material for a popular approach non-fiction book combining reportage, social science, and cultural analysis.
Secondly, the Mall of America seems the perfect setting for speculative fiction. How will it adapt to the cataclysmic societal change which might be in our future? Would such an evolution be recognizable to its inhabitants? In the event of planetary catastrophe, I do believe the Mall of America would likely survive. Moreover, it would be one fascinating place to be, and I'd love to write a speculative novel exploring its potential future.
The simplest answer, then, to what would I like to write about during my writer residency is twofold: adaptation and speculation. There's more material in the walls of the Mall of America than any one person could harvest, but being able to write both a cultural/social analysis non-fiction book and a speculative fiction novel would be the experience of my writing life.
Additional realization: 8pm on a Friday must be a popular time for hunters to shop for groceries.
Saturday, March 04, 2017
Redshirts is set on a spaceship in the distant future and focuses on a group of entry-level shipmates. The obvious parallel is to the red shirts from Star Trek...not the main officers/heroes of the ship, but the people who do the grunt work...and, as a fun bonus are more likely to die than the officers. Soon after boarding their ship, the protagonists realize that the non-officers on the ship have an annoying (and statistically unrealistically high) tendency to die while on away missions.
After some adventure and meeting a sage figure, our heroes eventually discover their exploits are the basis for a 21st century science fiction television show. I don't mean that they influence the show, but rather, the show determines their reality. While the characters are, to themselves and those around them, real people, many of their exploits are determined by the writers of this much earlier television show. Did I mention the television show in question is really cheesy and hackneyed?
Once the protagonists realize their fate is at the mercy of a centuries-before hacky television writer, they decide to go back in time and confront the writer in question. And then it gets weird. And then the twists start coming.
Redshirts is actually billed as "a novel with three codas." The novel portion of it stays pretty light and fast-paced action sci-fi. It's a very "metafiction" type novel, and the blurred line between reality and fantasy is mostly played for laughs. Good laughs. My daughter kept asking me why I was cackling, and I really couldn't explain it all to her. I blew through this portion of the book, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Then the codas hit, and they each added different perspectives, both to the narrative and to its philosophical depth. While one of the cool things the novel did was shine a light on who we'd normally think of as minor characters, the codas took the minor characters from that arc and made them the center of their own story. Each one only served to deepen the weight of the novel. You know the saying, "every character is the hero of their own story?" That's definitely true of Redshirts, except the more "minor character" you go, the more important and emotionally deep the stories get, and, by extension, so did the main narrative.
We don't think enough about the fate of those in the background. We don't think enough of the characters in our stories leading vastly richer and deeper lives than our stories let on. This is true of the art we create, sure, but it is equally true in our real world experiences. Nobody is entirely a villain or a hero. No one is simple. And when we ignore their complexity, we can and do only get a particularly shallow view of any story to which they are connected...and, by extension, to the world as a whole. To our own stories, for that matter.
I'm a songwriter. One of the things I try to do is to present vivid characters, because it gives the song that much more of an impact. Even so, I have to constantly remind myself to delve behind the easy surface. Case in point? One of the most appreciated songs on Skeleton Coast is "Totally Low Standard Blues." It's the narrative of a guy who's circling around a relationship with someone who is fairly broken. The narrator, though, is more obsessed with his own brokenness, though, and he interprets his crush's affections for him as her biggest fault.
The line more than a few listeners have latched onto is, "If I was the best you can do, then what does that say about you?" And yes, it is a funny and catchy line. However, it's a line brimming with loathing...for everyone and everything, I guess, but mostly for the narrator himself.
Don't get me wrong; I do like this song a lot, but it did shape me a lot as a writer. Do I want to be the kind of songwriter who only focuses on the negative? Who only sees the worst in things? Who ignores any depth his characters might have in favor of the clever impression?
I was actually not all that concerned about the narrator. In case you haven't guessed, this song is fairly autobiographical, but although it could be read as self-hatred, I have plenty of other songs in which to make my own case. The damaged object of affection, though, was another issue for me. She is partially based on a real person, and it's a real person who has endured a pretty rough existence, and for that, I have a lot of sympathy for her. By only focusing on the damage, I was being unfair...and not a little bit of a jerk.
But in addition to being unfair to a real person, I realized I was being unfair to my writing. I was being unfair to my characters. And I was also being unfair to my listeners (all six of them). Moreover, I was taking the easy way out. I was closer to the comedian going for the cheap crack about someone's appearance than I was being an artist. And that bothered me.
Before you think of me as guided by delusions of grandeur, I don't think of myself as high class or elitist when it comes to my music. Nor do I ever see my number of listeners going into even the triple digits (although it would admittedly be nice to play an arena at some point). No, I'm mostly doing this for myself. Writing songs makes me feel sane. Moreover, it makes me feel significant in some way. So a few years after I wrote "Totally Low Standard Blues," I decided I had to be fair to its subject. I wrote another song largely about the same person (called "Side to Side," which will be on the album after next), and when I first played it, I felt like some kind of karmic balance had been restored.
I bring up this digression into my own songwriting to (more than anything else) make clear why I was so knocked out by Redshirts. While yes, it is a fun and goofy sci-fi romp, it's also a pretty good meditation on art and perception...on how, if we want to be honest, we need to see everyone's story, and to treat those stories with respect and reverence. To do so is essential for art.
Moreover, I think that the respect and reverence for others is essential for life. That, though, is another post.
Monday, February 27, 2017
Okay, maybe this isn't my most insightful insight. Maybe it's even bordering on "duh" territory. Nevertheless, it was something that was very much on my mind this past Saturday when I had a show. The main contradictions? I am an interesting suspension of lazy and workaholic. Secondary to this is my balance of introverted and extroverted, but this one will have to wait for another post.
I have more projects on my plate than I can ever finish in a reasonable amount of time. I'm still working on my often delayed follow-up to Skeleton Coast; it should've and would've been done ages ago but for personnel changes, recording delays, technical issues (such as The Great Computer Blow-Up of 2015), work crises, and the like. I've had enough songs for album three for some time. I find myself writing album number four (which I'll have time to record....when?). Finishing all this would be tight if I didn't have a job I have to do and a family. With all this, I feel more sympathy for Sisyphus than should most mortals.
Still, when I get time at home without immediate commitments, I find myself doing...nothing at all. I like my couch time (but, however, not the couch itself. Avoid Furniture Row. Anyway...). And somehow, I'm able to avoid the feeling of wasting my precious time. Give me quiet, and I'm gone from the world.
Keep me from getting anything done while anywhere other than in public, though, and I start to crack...and this was the case on Saturday. I got added to the bill because the scheduled headliner dropped out. Then, a week late, a touring act was added to the bill, making it five bands total. The promoter makes you load in your equipment an hour before doors open. If there are lots of people in the band, I can understand this, but when it's just me with an acoustic guitar and kazoo, it seems like a little overkill.
Then comes the waiting. This night, I had to be at the bar at 8. When they posted that night's schedule, I was chagrined to find out I didn't go on until 12:45 am. This meant I had almost five hours in a bar with nothing to do and (as I didn't know the other bands and my trombonist had to work) no one to talk to. I thought about writing (I've got four new songs fighting for space in my head), but that's not really viable in the middle of a crowded, distraction-filled room with loud music. I thought about breaking out my Kindle, but again, that's kind of hard and weird in a crowded room. So I resigned myself to playing on my phone...until only an hour into the night, I found it down to 30% battery life.
So what did I do? Pretty much nothing at all. I tried and failed to get interested in the college basketball game on the television. There was an interesting crowd there, but there's also a fine line between people-watching and being a creep. So mostly I just wished the time would hurry up and pass so I could go up and play.
Of course, as I was a telemarketer, I realized that watching the clock only makes it move slower, and that was indeed what happened. So, because I couldn't just go into a catatonic fit until my set, my mind decided to simply stew on how much I could be getting done,...which is always fun.
Ultimately, the set was worth the wait, though...even though the crowd...well, I'm conflicted on the crowd, and that, as it turns out, is another post. After all, I gotta get back to my other work.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
I just received a communication that stated one of my E-mail addresses was compromised by some "state-sponsored actor" between 2015-2016. This was discovered by the company's "forensic experts."
Normally, I would be thrilled to get expert help, but this was far from what I expected to discover about my life today. The uncertainty of it all is the weirdest part. Not only do I have no idea why my account was desirable to said actors, but I also have no idea which state was the sponsor. North Korea? America? The Royal Order of Malta???
There is also another wrinkle. Do I look at this as supporting evidence for my rampant paranoia? Do I take this as a sign I am more consequential than I originally assumed? I don't even know if this should make me feel good or bad.
One thing, though, is certain: I am now international, baby!
Monday, February 13, 2017
I had such great plans for this weekend. I was going to get grading caught up, complete a fellowship application, finish a song lyric, do some work on my long overdue album, and restring my electric guitar. I was probably also going to do the dishes, but it's hard to get excited about that.
Of course, that's not how life works, is it? Because Thursday, I started to feel some sinus drainage. Then by Friday, I was into a full-blown plague which allowed me to do pretty much nothing at all. My "this should've been productive" weekend was instead spent just laying on the couch, drinking herbal tea, moaning incessantly, and watching approximately 57 hours of Tabletop.
The only real plusses of the weekend were my kid telling me my head was shaped like a cauliflower and me recognizing a Neil Diamond song on one from of her video games.
So I guess it wasn't a total loss.
Thursday, February 09, 2017
That changed during that December on the promise of music actually becoming lucrative. It's one of the weirdest facts about being a non-famous musician is that audiences and venues will more greatly award bands copying someone else's stuff over performing their own. I was tired of not making anything from playing music, and I did need money. If I had to take on a second job, being a cover musician would be the best possible of all options.
December of 2016, I decided to leave the cover band. I love everyone involved, and it was an amazingly educational experience. I learned so much about songwriting and became a drastically better guitarist. But the money never really came, and I instead became haunted by the hours involved. Gigs were longer, so practice was longer. If I didn't have a family, a job, and my own music career, I could deal with it. However, my refusal to let my family or job suffer meant that I cut down on my own music...and that was something I could no longer abide.
I'm back. TheMikeDuBose is at a full active state. I have gigs scheduled. I have songs in progress. I am back working on my next album...and, in fact, the one after that.
Stay tuned for details.
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
I've been in a pretty good mental state lately in spite of the world sprinting towards some black hole of refuse. Alternate facts? The Bowling Green Massacre? A Secretary of Education who never went to public school (nor did anyone in her family)? I'm actually dealing with everything pretty well.
Let's be clear here. All the evidence still points to our smoking doom. The world still sucks, people are horrible, and there is no such thing as hope or salvation. These are still the End Times, and I still very much expect for all is society to come under the tyrannical reach of the evil gerbil demon of Ipswich. But for whatever reason, I'm still personally okay.
Maybe it's because underneath all the dread and ichor, I'm able to see positive signs. Yeah, our country is being run by a narcissistic dimwit, but at least he still didn't win a majority. I'm still seeing people standing up in resistance. There are very few people who are tuning out. So we got that going for us. Which is nice.
But I'm seeing goodness beyond my desperate search for a silver lining. Today, for instance, I had to head to the post office after picking up my girl from school. So we got in line, and I waited while my kid twirled endlessly around in circles (as she is wont to do). I got to a cashier and told her I needed to mail my package, but then I discovered my wallet had fallen out of my pants. I started to apologise, but then the gentleman behind me offered to pay for me.
I have no idea who this guy was. He didn't know me. But still, the act of kindness. I dunno. Maybe I'm wrong about our fate. Maybe the world's a better place that I think. Maybe there's more goodness in us than I expect.
I'm still not sold on our salvation. I do know, however, that for us to have any chance at all, we need all the random acts of kindness we can get.
Monday, February 06, 2017
Long-time readers know that when younger, I was employed at a pizza place for nine and a half years. You also probably know that I've often and quite regularly dreamt I was back working there. Well, the dreams persist, but lately, they've taken a turn for the strange.
For years, the dreams shared a common narrative structure. I was sent to a store that had severe problems, and once there, I turned out a heroic figure, helping them overcome inordinately large difficulties. This was how it was when I did in fact work there (I was "the fixer"), but of course, my dream versions were slightly overblown and fantastic in the way only dreams can be. Stupidly large stores, zombie-like customers, unbelievable tsunamis of orders? I have defeated them all.
When I was at the worst stage of my mental breakdown, the dreams took on a similarly sinister, apocalyptic bent. The obstacles started to border on the insurmountable territory. I quit being able to stem the overwhelming tide of orders, of difficulties. The parallels were obvious, but still, I couldn't help but be struck by the extent that my high school job had become the central setting for my life in microcosm.
Over the last year or so, the dreams started to fade in frequency, and I thought maybe my subconscious had moved on from my early employment. I even started to dream of teaching, something which until that point had yet to happen....which was itself interesting, seeing as by that time, I had been teaching even longer than I had flipped pies. Yet during the last month or so, the pizza dreams slowly started to reclaim their position as the dominant topic within my slumbers.
These dream versions of course sport their own organizing principles. The stores to which I am sent no longer even vaguely resemble those of my youth. Rather, they sport gourmet ingredients such as quail eggs and prosciutto. New menu items include stromboli and exotic soups. That kind of stuff. And rather than entering the store as some pizza-eyed savior, I find myself in stores that are running just fine for what they are, and I find myself with few relevant skills to contribute. So I tend to seem inessential and then leave early, to do naught else but wander around a hyper-dream version of my hometown.
Last night, I started at a freshly opened combination pizza place/upper end fine dining establishment/working class tavern. Even within those parameters, though, the place just didn't make any sense. We had no posted hours or schedule. We had twice the number of employees as we required, and no one had assigned them to any specific schedule or duties. The back of the restaurant was three times larger than the dining room yet even more out of proportion to what was needed.
I wandered around the back for a while, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do yet failing to find any insights. I then went up to the manager, who listened to my concerns before sending me on a deep sea mission of some sort. I completed my task and returned to the restaurant only to discover the manager was some Christ-like demigod who claimed we were engaged in an epic struggle with evil and chaos, because of which the fate of the souls of all humanity hung in the balance.
For whatever reason, this revelation did not surprise me in the least. But when I asked the manager/deity a basic theological question, it became clear He was merely making it up as he went along. So I handed him my uniform before leaving the restaurant and walking into the hyper-dream snowy town in which I live, resolved to figure out the ultimate truths on my own.
The metaphor will work itself out eventually, right?
Friday, February 03, 2017
This is something that's always happened, but today, for whatever reason, it's making me feel particularly old. And it's not the feet so much as it is the absent-minded walking around the house, trying to remember where I might've put my slippers.
Moreover: they are actually normal, adult slippers. They are not in the shape of any animal or cartoon character. They don't have any silly writing on them. Maybe this is connected to my recent desire to dress in a more typically adult fashion. Maybe not. I dunno.
It doesn't help that when I say something to my daughter, she offers no sympathy. Instead, she looks at me, purses her lips, and lets out a loud "ppppthhh" sound. No empathy at all there, only the "Daddy's being silly again" attitude.
Isn't the kids not taking you seriously a sign of age? But that can't be the case with me, can it? No one has ever taken me all that seriously.
Something to contemplate once I find my Metamucil.
Thursday, February 02, 2017
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
Thursday, January 05, 2017
However, all of the snarkiness cannot always be held in check. It's one of the worst kept secrets in the university that whenever two or more teachers gather, they tend to either talk about bad teaching evaluations or hilarious student mistakes.
Take typos in essays, for instance. Spell check helps with a lot of things, but typos will still slip through because your computer just isn't smart enough to tell whether you mean 'their' or 'there.' These kind of slip-ups are, however, understandable and thus not all that funny.
Other errors, though, can be quite hilarious. Up until today, my favorite typo of all time was when a student said something "was being taken for granite." Not anymore, though. For, as I prepared sample student papers for my new semester students, I ran across this gem: "...technologies designed to help students out in cretin subjects."
I love it when teaching makes me smile, and some days, I'll take that joy however I can get it.