Friday, March 31, 2006

"If Your Dream Came True Would You Still Want It Then?"

The performance review at work wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be. Essentially, they told me I needed to work on the things I knew I needed to work on and said that I was good at the things I knew I was good at. It wasn't nearly so negative or threatening a situation as I thought it might be, so that was a load off my mind.

I picked up a really interesting CD at Borders by Greg Brown called Further In. It's one of those CDs I picked up because I heard someone else do a cover of one of their tunes (in this case, Glen Phillips doing a solo acoustic version of "Small Dark Movie" on his Live at Largo CD). I listened to it all the way through on my way to and from Tyson's Corner to run an errand for Cris Thursday evening, and I was very pleased with the record as a whole. I'll try to get a review of it up this weekend.

Speaking of this weekend and Cris, she's doing a potluck thingie at her apartment Saturday night. I'm gonna head down to Fredericksburg and get my socializing on, see if I can't maybe snap myself out of this seemingly perpetual funk.

Okay, bedtime. Lord knows I haven't been sleeping very much lately and need all the rest I can get.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "This Hard Land"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

March Madness

So this article over at Fox Sports complains about how the NCAA basketball tournament is arbitrary and irrational, how the best teams in the nation aren't necessarily the ones that make it into the finals, and because of this the system is flawed.

I'm gonna have to call bullshit on that, I think. Seriously, if you're ranked number 1, yeah, you're probably ranked that for a reason. But if you can't beat the lower-ranked teams...well, do you really deserve to be the national champion? The author of the linked article complains that teams like Duke and Villanova are athletic, exceptional teams and deserve to win. My understanding of sports was that the team that deserves to win is the team that plays the best. The second you start skewing things in favor of the big dogs just because you think the big dogs ought to win is the second you screw things up royally.

Sure, while I'm mad that none of my picks made it into the Final Four, I accept that that's just how the tournament goes sometimes. If you start changing the rules just so your team makes it and someone else's team doesn't, how is it fair competetition anymore?


Song of the Moment: Glen Phillips, "Thankful"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"But I'm Gonna Love You Anyhow"

I wanted to write something of substance here tonight. Hell, I've wanted to do something of substance for quite awhile now, and all my efforts end up feeling slight and half-hearted. This isn't just an issue of self-pity or over-exaggeration, either. I simply feel that most everything I try to do lately--comics, writings, efforts at interpersonal communication, and even teaching--has been something of a failure. Comics haven't been as funny or inspired (Clif agreed, damn him). I've written maybe two songs in as many months, and only one of those was even halfway worthwhile. I keep sitting down with the intention of writing a script for a comic collaboration between myself and Adam, and everything that comes out feels too...forced, I guess. It's like I'm having to try to force my gifts to produce instead of letting them create something worthwhile like it used to be. Part of this, I know, is just creative burnout: I'm in a profession that can be very taxing on multiple levels, and I don't have nearly the energy to just come up with ideas that I used to have. So many of my ideas have to go into teaching now that there's not as much left over for comics and songs and stories.

Another part of it is a lack of inspiration. Put simply, I'm not in college anymore. My college friends were a major inspiration for my comics and sense of humor. I drew on my roommate and my close circle of friends (and even my brother) for ideas and situations. Lots of the early Crooked Halo comics were the direct results of conversations with various friends. Those people are now scattered across the US. I don't get to talk with them as often. I don't get to interact as directly with them as I used to. In short, I'm more isolated.

I've always known that my tendency to isolate myself was a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it meant more time to pursue my hobbies and interests, more time to draw and write. On the other hand, isolation means less interaction and less communication; and ultimately, the stuff I enjoy doing--stories, songs, comics--are about communicating. Interaction. Maybe not direct interaction, but interaction nonetheless. It's part of the reason I put this stuff on the internet: it's a chance to not only entertain someone else, but it's a way of establishing a connection with someone else through something I've created. It'd be easy to leave the comics in a sketchbook that no one but me ever looked at. It'd be real easy not to let people hear or read the songs and stories I've written. It takes an effort to post those for others to see, hear, and even possibly harshly criticize.

I'm not really sure where I meant to go with this. As I said, I keep meaning to write something substantial--which means, in part, having a point to what I'm writing--but I can't seem to manage. In large part, I think there's just too much going on right now. My mind can't process it all, so I'm shutting down more. It's also manifesting itself as an inability to come up with inspiration, I think.

What it really boils down to, I think, is my old fear of being a failure. Part of that fear is tied up in the evaluation I have at work tomorrow. It's probably irrational, but I really do fear that I'll come out of it feeling pretty shitty about what I've been doing as a teacher. I'm afraid I'll be told I'm not good enough. I'm afraid that I'll have to spend the summer looking for another job not because it'd be nice to have a better job, but because they won't want me back next year at my current school. Now maybe a lot of this is just me being a worrier. Maybe my fears are unfounded. I'm really not sure. All I do know is I really hope this evaluation goes better than I fear it might, or I won't be a very pleasant person to be around for awhile.


Song of the Moment: Primitive Radio Gods, "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand"

"Is This Your Grave, Jackie Brown?"

The birthday was a low-key day, as it turns out. Which is fine by me, really; everyone knows I'm not real big on the huge blowout parties and all that jazz. I like things low-key and simple. I went to work, chatted with the family, relaxed around the apartment, and watched more Justice League than is actually healthy for an individual (I've watched all 26 episodes of Season 1 since I bought it like a week ago. And all 13 episodes of Batman Beyond Season 1. And a quarter of Season 3 of The Simpsons. God, I have no life). I also picked up the Bruce Springsteen box set Tracks last night at Best Buy. So far I've only listened to about 2/3 of the first disc, but it's great. Like Dylan, Springsteen has had a habit of recording way more songs than he can actually cram onto an album, and since he usually did song selection for his records based on what fit the overall feeling of the album rather than on the basis of one song being that much better than another, it means there's a lot of excellent unreleased material available. I'm sure the next 3 1/3 discs will be equally compelling.

I've noticed the absence of Michelle from my life in a fairly pronounced way these past few weeks. Things are...quieter, for one, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. Her sudden decision to stop being my friend not only cut me off from virtually all the people I met through her (who, bless'm, still actually try to include me in their gatherings), but cut me off from her. I hadn't realized how much I enjoyed her company or looked forward to the time I got to spend with her. There's really no way to convey that to her, since I doubt she'd take a phone call from me or read an email if I sent one, but there it is anyway. I really do miss her, and there doesn't seem to be a damn thing I can do about it.

I think I'm starting to come down with a minor illness. My throat's been feeling weird since yesterday morning and I'm a little stopped up. I also just feel generally exhausted and shut down, which isn't a good way for a teacher to be...especially since I have an evaluation review thing with my boss tomorrow afternoon. I'm kinda dreading it, in a way, 'cause I know they're going to find fault with several of my methods and efforts, but I'm hoping there will be some positive to it. Wish me luck.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Zero and Blind Terry"

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"They Say It's Your Birthday"

Wen and Tim took me out for my birthday this evening (even though the actual day isn't until tomorrow...but it's tough for all of us to go out when Tim has a class tomorrow night, so we did it tonight instead). We went to a Japanese steakhouse (which is always fun) for dinner, then retired to the apartment for cake and beer. They got me some cool stuff: the movie Sneakers, a little clip-on book light, a Borders gift card, and a cat-apult (which, sadly, isn't built to launch our real cats across the room...but I could probably construct one if I really wanted to). It was a fun little evening out, all things told; very low-key, but a good time.

I get to spend my actual birthday working, which I'm sure will just be bucketloads of fun. I'm not sure Monday is the absolute worst day to have a birthday on, but...okay, yeah, it is. Oh well.

This weekend (Saturday) was also my maternal grandfather's birthday. I called to wish him a happy birthday Saturday evening, but something got messed up and I didn't get a chance to chat with him, though I did on Thursday, so I guess that's okay. I'm sure I'll talk with him tomorrow.

Mom apparently moved out of the house this weekend. It's weird, now, thinking that neither of my parents lives in Shawnee anymore. This whole divorce thing has been strange enough from the beginning, but it's brought about changes I hadn't even thought of. For instance, we won't be a permanent fixture at the Daylight Donut Shop anymore. We've been eating breakfast there at least a couple times a week for the past about 20 years. Mom's worked behind the counter when they're shorthanded. We've had birthday donuts there (huge donuts that the whole family could eat on and still not finish). We exchanged Christmas presents and spent many great mornings in that donut shop. And while I know we'll go back and visit whenever we're in Shawnee--we'd be in trouble if we didn't--it'll be different.

The second weird thing is that the phone number we've had since we moved to Shawnee--(405)275-5898--isn't our phone number anymore. I've thought of that number as my "home phone number" since I was old enough to memorize the digits. It just seems weird that I could dial that number tomorrow and it wouldn't connect me to some member of my family. It was a sort of permanent fixture in my life: even if our address changed, our number remained the same. Not now, though.

Neither thing is really all that major by itself, though together they sorta really make the divorce seem final and real in a way that dad's call back on New Year's Eve saying it was final didn't.

Anyway, tomorrow's the birthday. Yeah, I have to work, but it could be worse. I could be unemployed.


Song of the Moment: Glen Phillips, "Courage"

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"You're The Other Half Of What I Am"

A big congratulations to Cheryl Simmons, who got married last weekend. May your new life be as good as the old one was.


Song of the Moment: Nirvana, "About a Girl (Live)"

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"It Smells Of Cheap Wine And Cigarettes"

Talked with my grandparents today. Turns out they're gonna come visit next month while I'm on Spring Break (advantage of being a teacher: you still get breaks), so that's gonna be cool. We're going to hit DC and check out some sites, do the whole tourist thing (since my grandfather says they haven't been to DC since like the 1960s). I'm really looking forward to it.

Tomorrow, thank God, is Friday. We're having a pizza party for the 8th grade class 'cause we feel they deserved one and were gipped in a potato decorating contest on St. Patrick's Day (yes, a potato decorating contest. We decorated potatos; one was a couch potato, the other was a tator tot complete with diaper. We thought they were damn creative, thank you very much). So that should be fun. I was also reminded at work today that most of our students are not auditory learners and don't do well with the lectures style of teaching (which is funny, really, 'cause I've noticed that my boring ol' lecture style of teaching has been pretty damn effective, all things considered. A quick look at the students' exam grades would prove that, I think. They may not be getting every single detail, but on average I think they're doing pretty good). I'm trying to keep that in mind when I do my lesson plans, but it's kinda tough sometimes making history hands-on, y'know?

Okay, off to bed. Tomorrow is another day, though mine won't be nearly as long as Wen's (who has to get up at 4.30 to go to New York City for a fieldtrip. I say that's one hell of a fieldtrip).


Song of the Moment: The Wallflowers, "One Headlight"

Saturday, March 18, 2006

"Bart, You're No Longer In Sunday School. No More Swearing."

So I crashed around 7.30 last night for no reason I can decipher. Well, I mean, except for being tired. I ended up sleeping until about 8.30 this morning, at which point I got out of bed and went to run some errands. Got the oil changed (which ended up costing way more than I expected because I had to get a bunch of other stuff taken care of at the same time), hit Best Buy (ah, the second season of The Simpsons possesses my soul as I possess it), went to the bank, and put gas in the car. I spent most of the afternoon playing guitar and watching The Simpsons, a rather pleasant way of spending one's afternoon if I do say so myself.

While at the bank, I overheard one of those conversations that makes me fear for the human race. The woman at the window next to me was arguing with the teller about whether or not she could withdraw money from her checking account (which didn't actually have money in it...or enough money, at any rate). She was depositing a check at the same time, but since it hadn't cleared yet, she didn't have enough in the account. The teller offered to withdraw it from savings instead, but she wasn't going for it. She kept insisting that she'd been able to do this before and that she really needed that $40 (though I think that if she really needed it, she'd have just withdrawn it from savings). They kept going back and forth like this for a good five minutes, neither really hearing what the other was saying. The teller who was serving me kinda smiled at me and tried her hardest to keep from laughing, same as me. It really worries me that there are people out there who don't know how to hold a conversation (that is, they can't listen to what someone else is saying and then respond to it).

Yeah, that's about it. Go do something constructive.


Song of the Moment: Green Day, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"My Life As A Creep"

This evening has just made me feel frustrated with people. People who, ostensibly, care about me. I want to tell both of them to just get over themselves, deal with their own problems, and stop using me as a strawman for their own issues. But, because I'm apparently a weak-willing, too-nice idiot, I'll do nothing except cower in my room all evening, afraid of upsetting the boat further. Have I always been this person? Very likely. Am I likely to change anytime soon? Not very.

I really wish sometimes that I were better at confrontations with people, that I didn't get sputtery and back down and forget how to argue and make a coherent point. Doesn't seem likely that that'll change anytime soon, though. I've been like this for most of my life--especially when I'm arguing with women--and I don't know how to change it. There were times in college when I would be arguing or having a fight with a friend of mine, and I could never muster real words. I'm a fairly eloquent individual, I like to think, but around her I became a pathetic pile of gibberish-spewing moron. I do it around Wen, too, which is frustrating.

Anyway, that's been the evening. That, and struggling with getting tomorrow's comic done and still needing to put together a little quiz for the Civics class for tomorrow (it'd be nice if the student-teacher, who plans for and lead teaches that class, would actually put together her own damn quizes). I think today is indicative of my life: I need to be less of a pushover.


Song of the Moment: The Minus 5, "I Don't Wanna Fuck Off Anymore"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Say Goodbye To Hollywood"

In a statement, Hollywood said they felt they weren't making enough money. I, for one, am shocked.

Okay, because I'm a nice guy and like stating the obvious, let me tell you exactly how to fix this problem, Hollywood:

1. Stop charging so much for a movie ticket. I mean, seriously, $10.50? Folks are only going to go see the flicks they really want to see when movies cost that much (and that's not factoring in things like popcorn and soda, which are also ridiculously expensive). It's cost-prohibitive for a date, really. Folks start to look at the cost of a DVD--which isn't anymore than a movie for two, really--and decide it might be better to watch the movie in the comfort of their own home, whenever they want, without screaming babies and annoying theatre patrons. It's not a hard decision between seeing it immediately and waiting a little bit to watch it over and over again.

2. Stop rehashing the same four or five movies over and over again. This means sequels, remakes, movies based on old TV shows, and crap like that. There are thousands of interesting stories and ideas out there to work with, but Hollywood keeps using the same plots, characters, and stories over and over again because they are afraid to take risks. I'm kinda sick of seeing an endless parade of sequels and remakes (I mean, Final Destination 3? Were the first two merely penultimate destinations or something?).

3. Stop demeaning your fanbase. When you accuse your patrons of being thieves and cheats and abuse them on a constant basis, why are you then surprised that they don't really want to see your crappy movies? Treat your source of income with respect, and they'll watch your stuff.

4. Cut back on the bloat. Do we really need films that cost hundreds of millions of dollars? It's not like those megabudgets are really making better films. I mean, Michael Keaton just managed to make a flick for less than $1 million, and it's rumored to be pretty damn good (a big hunk of the budget went into some of the special effects; the actors all made $100 a day, which is less money than I make). But Chronicles of Narnia? Dear God, how much did that exercise in mediocrity cost?

Okay, that's my rant for the morning. Off to work for me.


Song of the Moment: Van Morrison, "Listen to the Lion"

Monday, March 13, 2006

"House Got Too Crowded"

I've been playing a lot of Bruce Springsteen lately. I figured out how to play two of his songs in the past few days: "Maria's Bed," from the excellent Devils + Dust, and "Lucky Town," originally from the album of the same name (though I heard it first on The Essential Bruce Springsteen). I'm particularly proud of getting "Lucky Town," as I had to piece it together myself from two or three different tabs and my own imagination (but it sounds good when I play it, it sounds close enough to right, so that's all I care about).

I've noticed something odd when I play the Martin lately, though: the high E string has been buzzing and twanging. It's tuned correctly, and it seems to be resting on the bridge in the right way. I have no idea why it's doing this, but it's kind of annoying. I'll have to talk with Clif, Dad, or Uncle Gert about it and see if any of them know what could be causing it. It could just be time for new strings, though they still sound decent enough. I dunno.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Lucky Town"

"You Know I Just Can't Jump It"

So I found out today at work that Ms. Hughs, the woman who was the history teacher at my school before leaving to have a podling, won't be coming back this school year. That leaves us with the question of what we're gonna do to cover the history classes for the rest of the school year. We've actually lined up a meeting for next Monday to discuss that, and I've got a couple of ideas that I rather like (most of which involve me switching to doing just history all day, every day. I like the idea, let me tell ya, and it really works out since the English teacher who's been on maternity leave will be returning at some point in the near future, even if just for half a day every day). There's always the possibility that things won't work as I want them to, or that I'll get reduced to part time (which would suck. I'd probably just quit if that were the case. I can't survive on part time), but we'll worry about burning those bridges as we cross them.

It's been ridiculously warm the past few days, so much so that even with a fan going and the window open I've been sweating while I sleep. Which is frustrating, in large part because I keep waking up because I'm too damn hot. I'd turn on the air conditioning except that (1) Wendy would probably kill me and (2) it's supposed to only be in the 50s tomorrow and the next day. Maybe we'll have some cooler weather for a bit longer, 'cause I'm not ready to jump into the 80 degree days just yet.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Absolutely Sweet Marie"

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Van Morrison - Pay The Devil

Van Morrison has played with country music before. The fantastic Tupelo Honey, from the peak of his career in the early 1970s, was almost entirely a country album. So Pay the Devil should come as no shock to anyone familiar with Van's tendency to follow a particular muse down The Man's own little idyosychratic path. And following him turns out to be a fun ride for fans.

Pay the Devil is primarily a covers album, though Van does throw in three excellent new originals that fit right in with old warhorses like "Your Cheatin' Heart." Van plays these songs with warmth and even a bit of reverence, showing a deep understanding of what makes these songs great. His vocal style fits very well into these songs; so well, in fact, that the record doesn't seem surprising or jarring in any way. It feels right, as though Van had been doing it for years and could continue for years to come. Van manages to avoid too many vocal histronics (which he does sometimes have a weakness for), and his mellow, soulful voice carries each song easily and lovingly.

The song selection for this record is fantastic: well-known tracks and lesser-known gems sit side by side, each receiving the same care and attention and stellar delivery. Van's originals--"Pay the Devil," "Playhouse," and "This has got to Stop"--are by turns playful, forceful, and sparkling with wit, energy, and creativity.

The oddest element to the record is the inclusion of a noticeable string section in virtually every song. Set alongside the pedal steel guitar that appears virtually throughout, it seems strange and almost out of place (but still very Van Morrison). Van also happens to play guitar on almost every track, which is unusual for The Man (who generally just sings, though he's a very capable guitarist). Ultimately, the songs swing along at a good country gait, revealing very little new about these songs that wasn't already known, but feeling comfortable and fun.

And really, that's what this record's all about: not creating revelatory, earth-shaking music, but crafting a solid, enjoyable, fun record of songs you very likely already know but will like hearing anyway. Country done Van Morrison style, which is to say with a healthy dose of blue-eyed soul and a good bit of fun. Pay the Devil may not be the most mind-bending record of 2006, but it's definitely one of the most enjoyable on a purely aesthetic level.


Song of the Moment: Van Morrison, "This has got to Stop"

"Glory Days"

It's been a hell of a long weekend, and it's just an hour or so into Sunday (officially...still Saturday to me, since I haven't gone to bed yet). Spent all Friday night/early Saturday morning at Wen's school for the lock in. I spent nearly 5 hours playing guitar at the thing, which was a lot of fun, but now my fingers hurt like hell. I'm definitely not used to playing that much.

After the lock in, we came back to the apartment and were awake long enough to fall into bed. I got up around 2.00, putzed around for a bit, then decided to go back to bed. I finally dragged myself out of the sack at 5.30, showered, and headed to Springfield for the school auction. Looks like we made some decent money, though I think (and a few others agree with me) that it'd be easier and probably more productive to just ask each student's parents to donate something like $50. It'd be easier, less time-consuming, and we wouldn't have to have auction items eat into our profits. The auction, while a cute idea, is really just not effective in a cost-benefit analysis (the humanities scholar in me dies a little bit each time I use a phrase like "cost-benefit analysis"). I finally got sick of that around 9.15 or so and left. Chatted with mom on the phone for a bit (and discovered an interesting bit of news), then sat and watched the first disc of an anime I picked up on a whim, Rune Soldier. So far, it's fairly amusing; and while I like the style of the show, some of the low-budget animation techniques are kinda bugging me. It wouldn't have taken that much more effort to really animate certain movements rather than just panning a single image like they do. But that's a small complaint. The characters are interesting and I like they way they interact, and a magician who uses his fists more than his magic is always good for a laugh.

Anyway, off for bed. You'd think having spent the better part of the day asleep would mean I'm not tired, but coming on the heels of 26 hours of being awake means it really only put a small dent in my already-sizable sleep deficit.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Dancing in the Dark"

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Seems It's All Been Wasted Time"

Still not in a particularly good mood today. Had the last meeting of my first education course last night. The idiot professor decided we needed an hour and a half of class lecture before giving us our final. Needless to say, I didn't get much out of that class session, much as I got very little out of the course as a whole.

Apparently I've lost a friend in the past week, which is upsetting and frustrating and I'm not entirely sure what the hell I'm going to do about it (or even if there's anything I can do about it). So that's what I've been having to deal with over the past week. On a positive note: picked up Howl's Moving Castle and Van Morrison's Pay the Devil at Best Buy last night, both of which are fantastic treats. Those were bright spots in an otherwise rather dreary week.

Join us next time, when Chuck will bitch and moan about more stuff that he has no control over.


Song of the Moment: Louis Armstrong, "Mack the Knife"

Monday, March 06, 2006

"My Life As A Creep"

The past week or so (especially the weekend) were so ridiculously overwhelming that I decided to take today off from work. Admittedly, I'm going to use the day to work on the paper that's due in my class tomorrow night (and maybe even to study for the final that we've got in there tomorrow night as well), but I'd be writing that tonight after work if I'd gone anyway so this is really just a better way of things, I think.

I ended up spending 29 hours total at Wen's high school this weekend helping at with their function thingie; 16 hours Saturday, 13 Sunday. I've seen enough of that building to make me sick, so of course I'm going back this weekend for the Drama Department Lock-In.

There's other strange stuff going on that I really don't want to talk about, but I will say it meant that I didn't really sleep at all Thursday night, spent most of Friday in a funk, and still don't really know where I stand with the person. That's all vague and cryptic and stuff, but that's all you get.

Anyway, I'm going to go make good use of my time. I might post again later.


Song of the Moment: Old 97s, "Victoria Lee"