Thursday, December 23, 2010

End of the Semester

The semester has ended (so I’m late commenting on this) and the grades are slowly coming in. Very slowly.

Before this semester started, I was iffy about some of the classes I took and stoked about others. I knew I had to take Time, Motion and Communication; it’s required for my concentration and it’s something I should take either way. I was worried that, it being an animation class, I was going to hit the grounds in flames. I’m not very good with the abstract. When I look at something, I tend to see it for what it is, not what it might be. If I create a video about two people playing video games, I’m not making it with the intent of something else. The basic idea is “Eric and Glenn play Final Fantasy VII”. If you find that the video might represent brotherly love or childhood nostalgia, great, but those thoughts aren’t with me when filming.

This is the big reason I was and tend to be worried. I’m definitely in a major where it helps to be abstract and think in hard to compress thoughts. What happened though is that I actually learned. The Eric that went into TMC was not the same Eric that came out of TMC. If you look at my first work with typography to my last, or compare my first animated short to my second, the jump is ridiculous. I’m still not where I wish I was, and it’s a pain in the butt to be in a class with so many talented people, because I’ll always be behind just scratching to get to the middle class, but it was great to see real progress in my own ability. It was even good to be surrounded by talented people, to have to push myself and learn from their success. It’s a really cool thing to write a script that reads “General Zaroff is on his giant riding mole” and know that I’ll see it.

Which is another thing I learned about myself; even with animation, I’m a storyteller. My work is abstract or symbolic because my work isn't very much a story-centered one. Yes, my stories tend to be sad excuses for the medium, but they’re still a beginning, middle, and an end type of project. When I animated “A Most Dangerous Game”, I went in on how to tell the story best; camera shots, dialog, scenes, end joke. All I had at my hands for animation was just a tool to tell a story I normally couldn’t tell. That was the great realization about animation, and about my own style. I’m not so ashamed by skills with After Effects or Illustrator anymore because illustration isn’t my focus. The story is.

I was going to talk about my other classes, but that might run this a bit long. I’ll finish them up for the next blog.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Influences We Don't Admit

After writing my thoughts on influences and having been influenced in my writing, I realized I’ve limited myself. Obviously, what I’ve read is going to impact my writing a lot. But, in a big way, what I’ve been influenced in the most, is in my storytelling. Craft is important, but the stories I want to tell are always going to be the core. Instead of writing another essay on the authors who have influenced my storytelling, I’m just going to say that all the ones I previously mentioned count for this. Crichton, London, Applegate, Rothfuss, Adams, Lewis and others have all written great works that make me want to tell similar stories.

But let us not pretend that I’m not a child of my culture. I wish I could brag that it’s only been literary works that have influenced me, but that’s not the case. Movies, television, music, video games, and comic books have been working through my system for as long as I can remember. I really wanted to stop and look at some of the biggest examples in my life, which have really played a role in shaping my storytelling. So, knowing full many will read and scoff, here I go.

Final Fantasy VI is the first RPG I ever played, having bought it for the Super Nintendo very late in the game. I had no idea what I was I getting myself into. I could go on and on about the game play, style of graphics, music, and more, but that’s not what this essay is about. I’m here to talk about the story.

Final Fantasy VI has fourteen characters throughout the game and (with the exception of two) they all get character development and a story arch. Each character has a back story that is, especially for me, intriguing and elemental in their growth. You’re never confused by whose story we’re watching, because each is so different. Cyan having to lose his king and family (twice) and Terra’s birth the Esper World are among the most compelling, but they all get a great tale. I didn’t even remember Setzer having one until replaying it recently, and his short tale of losing the love of his life is quick, effective, and sorrowful.

From this video game, I learned that every character should be treated as importantly as the next. The biggest influence this gave me is that my characters must have a back story now; one that is as compelling and full as the main story. Now, I’m not entirely sure this is the best tactic, because it might come into info-dumping or bring to question why we don’t just tell that story instead. But I believe a great back story makes for a great character and creates a richer story overall.

X-Men will always be my favorite comic book series. I’m not going to get into an argument over it, my opinion is set. X-Men does so much, so well. It tells us a story that is bigger than itself, gives us characters richer than what we deserve, and stays cool while doing it all.

X-Men came about in my life almost the same time as Final Fantasy VI and I can say it had almost the same influence on me as that game (as well as Digimon). But X-Men did something else. It showed me the power of character interaction and hinting dialog.

Throughout the series, we have some amazingly interesting characters and they are always interacting with each other. Throughout my reading, I saw the power of these interactions; what they can tell us about the characters, what we can learn from throwaway lines. No character should interact with another character the same way as another. If two characters are talking, we should be able to know who they are, if only by the way the characters are talking to each other.

This interaction has also come into play with my writing. I make sure I know how each character sees the other one, even if it’s as simple as saying “Jace doesn’t like Doran”. This helps me understand how to write the dialog much better than I normally would. I’ve also gained the habit of making back stories interact, almost to the point of a hindrance, which I’m trying to reign back.

The Lord of the Rings, in which I’m talking about the movie trilogy, (sorry, book fans) was an epic eye-opener for me. I had never seen anything like it. I can think of no other term for it as these movies being the Star Wars of my time. I got pulled into this world with no resistance on my part and saturated my life in it. For three years, as these movies came out, my world revolved around the story of the One Ring.

I have to make sure to note again that I’m talking about the movies. I tried to read the books, made it all the way to the last one and hope to try again. But, the movies did something else for me. The epicness that Tolkien was trying to convey and failed to do for me was shown in fullness on screen. There are so many awe moments for me during these movies; Rivendell, the Mines of Moria, The Gates of Argonath, and these are only from Fellowship of the Ring.

Even with all these epic moments, though, the story never loses focus of the small moments and characters. When a character dies, we take the time to notice. When two character talk about their plans, we pay attention.

When writing my stories, I’m trying to write big, epic stories, because that’s what I love to read about. But if I lose focus of my characters, I get bored fast. Like Lord of the Rings, I’m trying to show how the smaller stories are interacting into a bigger story. Unfortunately, I’m not so good at this, but at least I have a goal so worthy of being followed.

There’s more of course; the cinametic nature of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s By the Way album, the episodic yet compelling style of the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica (take that, spell check), the amazing characters of Firefly, the world of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda or all that is Star Wars. All of these have effected how I tell my stories and what stories I’m trying to write.

Hey, look! Rowling didn’t have a thing to do with it…

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Return to Haverhil

I'm often hard on Haverhill. I grew up here, lived most of my life in the city, and didn't get out until I was 21 (and it was God's work, not mine that got me out in the first place). There isn't much to say about the city, it's not a booming town of industry, commercialism, or one of blissful residential life.
There is a comic book store, though, a great one that met my needs for as long as I started there. It's a beautiful place, boxes of comics on the floor, shelves of trades, pricier issues on the walls...a real place to love comics and get lost in their worlds.

Pilgrim Lanes is a decent bowling alley and I would be sorry not to mention it's where I discovered Dance Dance Revolution for the first time. My friends and I played that game for four hours straight upon discovering it, and I've never looked back.

Haverhill doesn't have a a real, gourmet restaurant, but if you're looking for pizza or Chinese food, go no further. If there's one business that's booming in this town, it's the small shops. Arie's, Athens, Giovanni's, that place in Bradford I never learn the name of but has great Chinese. Or roast beef? Welcome to Chicks.
I never knew we had laser tag while living here. How strange.
You can drive to the beach, ride the train to Boston, and shop in New Hampshire without going a few minutes down the highway.

...

That's about it.

Though, most importantly, my family lives here. As much as I could live without ever returning to this town, I will make the drive every time to come home and see them. I've learned this more and more having been gone, that when I'm home, I don't really leave the house. The town has nothing to offer me. It's my mother and siblings, my grandmother and uncles, aunts and cousins that cause me to come back. And I will keep coming back.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Influenced

Now that I’ve gone and insulted all those who write with Harry, Frodo, and Aslan in mind (Edwards need not apply), I figure it’s probably not a bad idea to think about the books that have affected my writing. It’s strange, but I never really think too hard about this. Maybe I’m not destined to be a creative writer like I dreamed, because my mind is so unwilling to work with others. But, I’m not self-centered as to think I’m beyond the arm of influences, especially with newer books. So, let’s take a look and mock at what I consider viable reading and influential to writing.

Michael Crichton would be the top choice, what with him being my favorite author and all. I have never read a Crichton book I didn’t like, nor have I read an ending of his that I loved. I’ve often found his books slow to start, but once they get going, there’s no stopping. I can read his stuff in hundred-page sittings, unable to put them down. One thing he does amazingly well is tell us about characters and situations, in basically exposition, and make it thrilling stuff. I wouldn’t think learning about a character’s college course selection could be interesting, but Crichton does it. If I could make my info-dumping half as interesting as he did, I’d be sitting on gold.
Top recommended reading: Jurassic Park, Timeline, Next

Jack London
is next. I should state I don’t write about wolves (though, what more noble aspiration is there?) but London proved something else. One of the great things he is able to do is tell a story with little to no dialog. Yes, his books have dialog, but the story is carried by description and interaction. London proves you don’t need witty dialog and clever back and forth to make for a compelling story. As much as I love writing dialog, London reminds me you don’t need to drown your story in it. You just need a good story.
Top recommended reading: Call of the Wild, White Fang

K. A. Applegate is probably going to get me laughed at, but take your mockery and go eat it with you egg and Potter muffin. You don’t read more than fifty-four books over five years and not be influenced by them. No matter what your views of Animorphs are, these will probably be some of the most important books in regards to my writing. What Applegate did so well was create a world that was interesting beyond its characters, because of its characters. I wanted to know the whole story of the alien races because of the characters I knew from them. What she also did so well was write each book in a different characters view point, making it so you felt what you felt about the characters strongly. I can remember my excitement for picking up a book told from Marco’s view, and my disappointment for finding the next one in Rachel’s view. Because of Applegate, I’m always drawn to serial writing and multi-character storytelling. I can’t imagine telling a story without at least five main characters, making each as different as I can.
Top recommended reading: Animorphs, Everworld

There’s so much more than that. The exploration of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the powerful use of letters in The Screwtape Letters and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the pure and unrelenting use of humor in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Recently, I’ve discovered the great writing in The Name of the Wind and Starship Troopers. As I read more and more of these great books, hopefully more of my writing will improve. Unfortunately, none of these books or the others have a magical wizard going through puberty, so I’m sure they’ll be seen as lesser forms of inspiration.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Under the Influence

I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about their influences and what got them into writing. What strikes me is how ubiquitous Harry Potter is with most up and coming writers.

This scares me.

Don’t get me wrong, anything that gets someone to start writing is awesome and I’m glad that it’s reading that’s getting people to write. No, what scares me is how unoriginal this answer is becoming and how it might affect all of this coming literature.

First, let me state, I don’t really think Harry Potter is bad reading. I was enthralled with it for the first four books, but I moved on between the fourth and fifth book. But, just because it’s not bad reading doesn’t mean it’s great reading. But, that’s not the point. What I’m worried about is how many people are going to be writing books that read like J.K. Rowling.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy in general; I tend to be a sci-fi fan more often than not. Part of the problem (and this is the general sense, not the definite rule) is that I have a hard time finding fantasy that is different. I’ve heard writers talk about how J.R. Tolkien ruined fantasy for the rest of us because he did it so well with Lord of the Rings that we all want to write something just as great. Only we can’t so we write a lot of crap that reads like Elvin fan fiction. Look at Eragon for more proof.

It might be because I’m going to a Christian college, but it seems like a lot of people only like three things; C.S. Lewis, J.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. The last one is rather new, which means for the past forty years or so, it was only the first two influencing writers.

Why? Why are Christian writers so afraid to read anything else? If we add in the Twilight series, the situation only seems worse. I hear writers say they want their books to be different and too affect people the way these books affect them, but it won’t happen this way. Think about it; if you read Harry Potter and it changed you and made you want to write, and you write something just like Harry and his adventures, your reader will not have the same reaction as you. Why? Because everyone and their dead relative has read Harry Potter. Do you know why these books with lions, witches, and wardrobes changed you so? It’s because they were different than everything else.

I’m not arguing for writers to write without being influenced. Doing so is impossible and not worth doing. Why would you want to write unless something struck you before? No, what I’m arguing is for the broader reading of these up and coming authors. You want to write fantasy because you read Lewis? Good, now go read Neverwhere or The Name of the Wind, something that you didn’t pick up because your youth group leader really dug it as a kid. Science fiction? Have you ever read Starship Troopers or The Foundation series?

I don’t want to sound bitter, after all, where’s my up and coming novella? But, I get tired of sitting in writing classes and hearing how much Rowling influenced peoples writing. You and everyone else, buddy. Now, go do something different or prepare to get lost in the slush pile of YA book series that litter the shelves of middle school libraries.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Seminary

In the question of nature vs. nurture, we try to decide whether how we are raised is more important than where we are raised. Is our outcome as people determined on others, or by our situations? When I think back on my life, I’m not sure there’s a difference. People define our situations and our situations are made by people. A prime example of this is the time I spent working at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

I was fifteen when I started working there, still in school and angry at the world for whatever reasons I could come up with. It had been a year since my mom kicked my stepdad out of the house and I was starting to show signs of teenage rebellion (I thank the Lord I never have to try that again…). My youth pastor, and friend, said he would be able to get me a summer position working as a janitor. For a kid making no money, anything sounded good. I took the job and began working the summer of 2001.

Cleaning toilets and carpet cleaning became my existence, and I learned all kinds of ways to move furniture without using my back. The job, as it stood, was not a pretty one. I have strong memories of being inside a dumpster with a wet-vac, slurping up tomato juice as it splashed my face. Or bringing a sleeper sofa down four floors only to bring it back up only to bring it back down. Very few assignments would leave me with a skip in my step.

No matter how bad the work was, though, it taught me lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I never really knew the value of hard work or following instructions. I never learned how to save or spend money until then. The work was hard, dull, and, at times, humiliating, but it was work and kept me out of trouble during troubling years.

A job is not just work, however. A job is people. The benefit of working at a seminary is that the people there are mature Christians; older and wiser and willing to talk and listen, even to a moody teenager who thought he already had all the answers to life, the universe, and everything. When you are sent on a job (or as I affectionately called them, missions) you are with your co-workers for long periods of time and you get to know them more than you normally would. I didn’t fit in at high school, I never did. I couldn’t relate to the students, didn’t want to. But my co-workers, that was another story. The conversations were much more intriguing to me, more adult. I could discuss things that were important to me; trouble with the idea of God, family, college. They were at least ten or so years older than me but they didn’t care. The talked anyway, treating me like someone beyond my age.

I still remember the day one of them invited me to the movies. I had said no at first, scared to spend time with people because, as far as I knew, you couldn’t trust others. Five minutes down the road, though, I turned around and took them up on the offer. This was the turning point. After this, they were no longer my co-workers, but my friends. It was strange to have friends that much older than me, who I felt I could trust. Over time, I started staying over nights, in order to save on trips. They would put me up in their rooms and let me join in at get-togethers and events. I had been invited to birthday parties, youth groups, and weddings.

In a way, the seminary became a second home to me. In some ways, it was my first home. I worked there, ate there, and even slept there on occasions. The people were faces I saw every day, and who were good friends. I felt like I belonged there, that I mattered. I worked forty-plus hours a week and was one of the most recognizable employees. I felt that, even with the age gap, I fit in.

Then something happened. I began to miss my carpool without calling in. I began taking more days off. I began slacking. I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know what came over me. Was I becoming discontent with the work? Probably, the work was never a love for me. But it didn’t seem enough to make me want to leave, to leave my friends and the place. All I know is that I started becoming someone who couldn’t keep a job.

And with one phone call, it all ended. I hadn’t been home to answer it, but my mom had and relayed it back to me. I remember the sudden realization, that all my current choices had a consequence. I was fired, with good reason and no defense. The job that helped define me and make into someone I didn’t mind being was gone because I had decided to be lazy and selfish. No more hanging out with guys after work, no more going to lunch with them. I was no longer the kid that worked the graduate school; I was just a bum without a job.

It was hard coming to terms with that truth. Reality hit hard and my emotions were all over the place, sadness guiding them. I had something great and I let it go.

The last lesson I had learned was one of the most important. I haven’t been fired from a job since and I show up to work every day I’m scheduled. I don’t allow myself the error of not going in. I see the responsibility I have with a job clearer than I ever did at the seminary.

This is what I wonder about. Am I the type of person I am now because of the job, or the people? How would I have turned out without having worked there? Without the power to view alternate realities, I’m without an answer. I can only guess that I would have found ways to get in trouble and stay as I was, never finding ways to grow. Yes, I was a janitor, but I was also a teenager looking for guidance and friends. That’s what the seminary gave me and it has been more important than any paycheck.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Drop Out

Dropping out of high school was one the easiest things I ever did. There are decisions in life that you dwell over, that you sit and think all day long about until your racked brain still refuses to come to a conclusion. Not the case with me. In fact, I remember being in third grade and having someone tell me you can drop out of school at sixteen. “I’m going to do that!” I had said, full of excitement and hope. I wouldn’t have to live the nightmare of school forever and I would be free to pursue my own dreams; dreams of sleeping in late and playing video games all day. That was the life I wanted.

I humored my loved ones for a few months my first year of high school, testing the waters and seeing what this new world had to offer. I was, in all cases, disappointed. I first knew there was trouble when I found out all my friends from my previous school had gone to other places, leaving me almost alone to this terrible world. With the exception of one very good and smart professor of history, my teachers were, in the best of words, imbeciles. It was hard to learn from someone I didn’t respect and to learn with others who I respected even less. The other students were fools; shallow and too into their selves to be worth my time (I, of course, was obviously into myself). Not that I was much worth of a student, I barely passed my classes and I was a geek to the point that geeks wouldn’t hang out with me. High school was a time of being alone and being ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Trouble loomed when I began skipping school; for a day or a week at a time. For a while, I could get away with it. I would go to the library, the one place no one would come looking for me, and read until school was over. After a time, my family started to fight back, driving me to school instead of the bus. I would get out of the car, walk into the building, watch my mother drive away, and leave school soon after. There was no stopping me. In a battle like this, the victor was going to be the one who cared the most, who had the passion for victory. I wanted to be out of school more than they wanted me in.

I said at the beginning that dropping out had been the easiest thing I ever did. All the things I did to do accomplish this; skipping, lying, hiding, they were all easy to do. Walking in to the building at sixteen, signing the papers, and declaring my leave from high school was simple and rather anti-climatic after years of dreaming. The hard part was lying in my room, listening to my mother cry. I remember her talking to my grandmother, her words fighting through the sobs. I tried to ignore it, to shut myself out of the moment and focus on my victory. But, even under my pillow, I could still hear her. Her fears of my future, the pain I had caused her. It bothered me then and it bothers me now to remember. I had won, but the victory was not as enjoyable as I thought.

Winning meant I had my reward. I stayed at home while others went to work or school. My days consisted of video games and movies, of staying up and sleeping in late. I beat all my games, read all my comics, and watched all my shows. I saw my friends less and less, and my family grew to accept me waking up at dinner and going to bed around lunch.

My victory cost me purpose and meaning. My life was now just a day to day routine of superfluous entertainment and microwavable dinners. When I moved out, got my own apartment and had a steady job making pizza, my life still lacked anything worth working for. I would wake up and wonder what I was doing. I was working to work, eating to eat, and living just because it was something I was supposed to do. Dropping out of school had been what I wanted, but it forced me into a corner of life with few chances and very small opportunities.

God, however, loves to work with few chances. After my life had really hit rock bottom, God introduced me to a Christian college that would accept me, even with my G.E.D. Looking at few choices, I applied, hoping for direction of any sort. Arriving at school, I feared I would repeat my old habits, skipping class and running away from my problems.

College, as everyone had promised, was a different beast than high school. All the issues I had had before were gone; the teachers loved what they taught, the students wanted to learn, and I found I could relate to them as friends. It was a strange thing to see happen to me, to watch me fall in love with school.

It’s been eight years since I dropped out of highs school and it’s now my fourth year of college with one to go. Irony and grace abound in the situation. I’ll have spent as much time in college as I did out of school. God’s humor is rather funny when you stop and get the joke. But, his grace is more than deserved. I know the chances I had, the statistics that said I would be flipping burgers and cleaning toilets all my life. I have been in those worlds, working as a janitor and a fast food employee. These should have been my life after my decision, but God took my biggest failure and worked it into something else. My life should be defined by its failure, but it’s now a great testimony to God’s work. The tears my mother had can still be seen in my mind, but I hope they have been long been wiped away by the present course. I am ashamed to say I took the lazy way out of school and I’m embarrassed when I have to explain why I’m older than the other students at my college. But, I am never ashamed to share how I made it off the path I had set and was brought to a better, more hopeful road laid out for me by a wise God.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Making the Mundane More Manageable

What does it even mean to make the mundane more manageable? I’d like to say I had a great vision when I came up with this mission statement, some grand meaning and purpose. In truth, I just wanted a tagline for my blog. “On the Edge of Meanwhile”, “Just like You Imagine”, and “Pretentiousness Becomes Me” all came to me, but, being a fan of alliteration, the mundane won out.

As I often do, when I have created something randomly, I looked for the meaning. I’ve done this before in my videos, specifically a music video. I’ve juxtaposed random footage together and, using the song, decided on what the story is long after I’ve told it. Existential, yes, but it works when I’m too lazy to plan beforehand.

The Mundane. Every day we go through this; brushing our teeth, doing the laundry, reading a book. Sometimes, we do things that should be fun but have become too routine; playing a board game, working out, walking through the woods. We let these things rule our lives, mainly because we have too. I’m not going to stop brushing my teeth because I’ve done it for twenty-four years already, nor will I stop playing Guess Who with my sister even though I know the end result will be me wondering how a girl can win five in row while her brother silently weeps. This is the mundane. This is what we live in.

To make it manageable, though, is something else. Doing this requires us to step back from our lives and look at everything we’re doing, all the little things. Our minds are so trained on ignoring these small tasks that we forget we even do them. We need to train ourselves to see with new eyes, to see the absurd in the things we do, and find ways to make them more absurd.

I see this playing in our older videos; before I even came up with our slogan; dancing instead of studying, being haunted by a vacuum cleaner, the thought process of a clock radio, shaving to epic music, solving crimes in the dorm, and singing about a lost pie. These things are not by any means worth noting but we have tried to make them more than what they are.

Since coming up with this idea, I try to keep it in mind while making new videos. I find when I try to stray too far from our tag, I have a harder time getting the job done. But when I focus in more, looking for the weirdness in potted plants or Windows 7, I thrive.

I suppose I’ve always seen life like this, especially when I was younger. Everything should have been more than it was, bigger and cooler. School concerts should have been light shows and bus rides should have had an element of adventure to them. But, back then, it was cute. Kid stuff. Now, it’s weird to look at a salad and think, “What else could this be?” That’s part of the reason, I believe, I make these videos. To share these thoughts aloud earns me glares; to film these thoughts on Youtube gains me laughs.

As I’ve said, I can’t sit here and claim to have had a grand vision for the future and humanity when I came up with Red Raptor’s subtext. I can, however, say I’ve found great meaning in it since. I never let it dictate my ideas, it guides them. When I think, “What’s a funny idea?” I try to follow it up with, “What’s a boring idea?”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Never Had My Zombie Apocalypse

Leaves changing colors, the chill of morning lasting until sundown, the threat of EEE disappearing as the mosquitoes die off, it must be fall. It must be October. It must be Halloween.

With the holiday upon us, I find myself reflecting on those creatures who have haunted my imagination for years; who caused me to sleep in my closet out of fear and right a “return to sender” note on my hand, just in case. The walking dead. Zombies.

I’m not entirely sure zombies struck a chord with me. I didn’t even give them much thought until I was about seventeen. The night I watched my first zombie movie, I couldn’t sleep. I grabbed my over-sized beanbag chair and brought it into my bedroom closet, keeping the door closed with anything I could find. There, my eyes remained open, knowing full well that I had trapped myself. If zombies came, attacked my family, turned them into undead, I would be stuck in the closet, unable to get out. My room was too high to jump and not injure myself. I had no escape exit. That weekend, I joined my friend for a music festival and we stayed in a cabin, away in the woods with a sadistic tree constantly dragging its branches along my window. When I returned home, my newest magazine had a half-rotted zombie on the cover. They were everywhere and I was under-prepared.

It was then that I started planning my escape routes. I memorized where I run to, which cute girl from school I would rescue, how I would live. My plans were many, in order to have alternatives to any situations. I would find a double-decker bus and make it a traveling home; I would make it to the roof at work and live off the remains of the cafeteria. When I had my own apartment, I was going to take a sledge hammer to all the staircases and cut a hole from each floor leading down to the first. From there, I would attach a rope and climb down to raid the convenience store for food on a need basis. After I had plundered the shop, I would leave town on a bike and make my way north to fortify a more permanent location.

These were my plans and thoughts for years. Zombies were a real fear. The bat under my bed was not for burglars, but for the undead. What kind of man lives like this? How paranoid was I and how worse would I become? After awhile, my eccentric phobia waned and I was able to rejoin society as a semi-productive member of society.

Was it my fear of conformity, of being lost in the crowd? Maybe I was afraid of being chased with nowhere to go. These days, I think I was just longing for adventure, for a social shift to reshape the world. In all my scenarios, I was the hero and I lived through the apocalypse. My world was falling apart around me and I couldn’t see much light down the tunnel. For a high school dropout, the world doesn’t have a lot to offer you anymore. My chances of success were slim and, if you asked, I had no answers. Such a situation as zombies destroying the world and leaving the status quo fresh was slightly attractive. Is it sad that my life was so in pieces that I craved the dead to walk just so I would have purpose?

In the end, zombies never came and my God sorted my life out for me, all without the use of undead monsters. That doesn’t mean zombies are gone from my mind. Old habits die hard and I still find myself planning my escape routes. I always make sure my friends and family are prepared to remove my head if I am turned and promise them I would do the same for them. The what-if scenarios still play through my mind and, if you search for “Eric and Brendan’s Zombie Blog” on Youtube, you’ll see my theories play out on video. Just because my life doesn’t need zombies doesn’t mean I’m going to lower my defenses. Once I do that, the walking dead has already won.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

By the Way

I never had a favorite band before I was 17. I didn’t know what it really meant to relate to a song or group. It’s strange that, without knowing why, I craved to find a band, some music, in which to identify with.

During my time working as a janitor, I would bring my portable CD player every day and tear through my collection, looking for something to listen to during the hours I would be away from the main office. It was hard, because I knew what every CD I chose, I would be stuck listening to two or three times. After a while, I had listened to all my CD’s to death and couldn’t handle the repetition anymore. I flipped through my carrying case violently, looking for anything that I hadn’t listened to yet.

I found the CD behind another one, hidden because I had decided I didn’t really think I would like it. The album was given to me by a friend, who thought I would like the band. I took out the CD and listened to my first Red Hot Chili Peppers album.

My mind was blown.

Looking back, so many of those songs spoke of how I felt those days, as a 17 year old high school dropout, I was lost and looking for meaning. Some truth. Identity. The album, By the Way, sung to me songs that I felt I was trying to say myself, a collection I later described as “the soundtrack to my soul”. Melodramatic? Maybe. But, back then, so was life. Each song meant something in its own way, and formed a story of my views of girls, God, and life.

“By the Way”, the first and titular song of the album, has the energy I felt back then, this frustrated desire to break free and just run. At night, when everyone was asleep, I would still be up, wanting to see the world in a heavy glow of street lights and marquees. I felt, as if I was always waiting for something, that I would never be around for when it arrived.

“Universally Speaking” was the second song and took a much slower pace than the first one. It sang about love, something I only had a theory of back then, and it presented the emotion as extremely fragile. At that age, I knew it was truth and knew that I hadn’t found that experience yet and that I would want to, badly.

“This is the Place” always struck me hard to understand at the time, because it was filled with so many metaphors about drugs and sex. But, the chorus won me over, striking a cord with my problem with anger. I would sing along, knowing that I was like a powder keg at times, and this chorus would warn the world. It became even more relevant to me the day I was reading the last book of “The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman. This song came on and, combined with the surreal images of the comic and the abstract lyrics of Anthony Kiedis, I found the whole experience to fit, and make sense of both the story and song.

“Dosed” was a song I always found sad but beautiful and couldn’t relate to through my own experience. As I grew older and had my own relationships, I saw this song form a real meaning around my life. As those relationships ended “Dosed” became the music of those heartbreaks. I could finally understand what the words meant, and what it meant to feel that way about another person and. "Take it away, I never had it anyway." Sometimes, I think I preferred the song in my ignorance of the subject matter.

“Don’t Forget Me” was the song of choice for me on this album, if I could have a favorite at all. The guitar solo alone could have made this true, but, there was more. At 17, no longer in school or seeing my friends on a regular basis, working at a job where everyone was two generations older than I was, I felt the fear of being completely forgotten by the world. The song didn’t give me the resolution I felt I wanted, but, it spoke of my worries in a way I could relate to and find comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only suffering from this fear.

“The Zephyr Song” was the first song I listened to on this album, because I had seen the music video one night while unable to sleep. The video was one of those psychedelic scenes, full of symmetry and exaggerated images. But, as I sat there at night, listening to the tune and the lyrics, I didn’t feel like the song was too “trippy”. If I could have gotten away from life, lived forever, like the singer, I would have at any moment.

“Can’t Stop” is a faster, funkier song but it was actually the song that made me think the most of God. During those days, I didn’t know I felt about religion or faith, and I had really wandered away from the idea of being a Christian. Even so, I couldn’t shake the presence of God from my life, and I wondered why this was. The phrase, “ever wonder if it’s all for you?” said it all and every time this came on, I would stop and look around, trying to convince myself that the world wasn’t made by God and wasn’t all for me.

“I Could Die for You” was another love song about something I didn’t feel I had experienced yet but it gave me an idea of what I wanted. I’ve often been accused of being in love with love and I think that this whole album could be to blame. As I’ve gotten older, I gained a healthier view of relationships and love, but the effects are still there.

“Midnight” described my friends and I, or at least, how I viewed us. We were “the lotus kids” and the world better “have taken note of this” as I knew the four of us would make any scene worth being in. There was something about this song that made hanging out with my friends seem more important and (forgive me for bringing up a dead word) more epic.

“Throw Away Your Television” was all I could think about as I worked the same job, every day, doing the same assignments. I just wanted to throw away all of this away, and stop experience this repeat of my so-called life.

The next song I won’t comment on because I thought it was a love song, but later found out it was a Spanish swear word and has left me confused on how to interpret the song then and now. Either way, if it was a love song, I suffered from all the same issues as before.

“Tear” became the song that described my feeling of being alone and not wanting to live that life forever. There was the idea that I was spending my time by myself, which had a powerful meaning to me, as if being alone made me feel less so. Yet, at the same time, I needed to get out of this self-exiled position I had placed myself in. Contradicting, but it made sense to a moody existential teenager.

“On Mercury” was one of those songs that I loved but made realize that the band was definitely influenced by drugs. It always made me somewhat uneasy how much they had this element going, and how much I felt like I related to it. I have never done drugs in my life, but, somehow, I almost understood what they were saying. What really made me think was the idea of memories and how we manipulate them to fit our reality. I still don’t understand it.

“Minor Thing” was just an extremely melodic song, and still is. I had really enjoyed the concept of difficult and hard tasks becoming minor things for someone who knows how to readjust a situation. When I was younger (and even now) I always wanted to be that guy that walks into a situation and helps calm it down; the Aragorn, Batman, or Han Solo of life. I never was (and even now), but this songs reminds me of that desire every time.

“Warm Tape” really hit me because, at the time, I was in deep thought of my own mortality. I think of death and become worried beyond belief. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live forever, even if it meant walking a world where all my friends and family were gone. I would listen to this song and imagine what it would be like, to be the only one left, and think of the meaningless of that kind of existence. “Miles and miles of every world I roam, settle for love, I’m never far from home.” I could run and run in hope of immortality, but, in the end, I would never be happy without others. Friendship became very important to me when this song played through my headphones.

“Venice Queen” was a song I often skipped, even though it was very good song. I never understood its real meaning and it was split into two songs. The second half was much more likable to me, as I could follow its story much better. The idea that there was someone out there that I wanted to tell I loved, but couldn’t, gave the brooding teenage Eric something to think of when it came to girls and my lack of initiative with them. It didn’t change my awkwardness with them, but it gave me something to think about afterward.

Looking back like this, it’s hard to believe that I was ever so moody or subjective about life. I was going to have “Warm Tape” played at my funeral, “By the Way” described the bohemian life I was going to have in the big city I never moved to, my friends would always be memorialized through “Midnight” even if we never went to parties or caused trouble in the streets. It may be one of those right time, right place albums, but it will always mean more than that to me. This album, these songs, were as I said before, the soundtrack to my soul.

17 is a weird age.

Monday, October 25, 2010

8-bit Lullabies

I once had a girl explain to me the idea of ‘heart music’. While I was unable to find an official definition for this term, I though she explained it to me well enough. She described ‘heart music’ as the type of music that makes your heart full of joy; that can make you happy in any mood. She also noted that ‘heart music’ tends to be the music you grew up on. This idea really connected to me, as I tend to like over-romanticizing the little things. But, I wondered to myself, what is my heart music?

I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of music; my mom didn’t play much around me. With my dad, when I saw him, he would play music I definitely did not enjoy. But, it wasn’t hard for me to come up with the answer. There’s one type of music that I listen to in any mood, happy or sad. There’s one type of music I grew up with, the soundtrack to my childhood. My ‘heart music’ is video game music.

“Well,” the educated, well-bred scholar would say, “that’s a very dumb answer.” But, I don’t think I’m the only one who would answer with this. My generation grew up on the Nintendo, all eight bits of it. No matter how you view the medium, I grew up playing video games, for hours at a time, and that means that I listened to a childhood full of their soundtracks. When I hear the Mario Brothers’ theme, it’s not just the background music of an old game; it’s the sound of my past. It links me to a simpler time when I didn’t need to worry about anything other than the next save point.

But I’m not just a nostalgic fool (at least, not always). Video game soundtracks fit my life at anytime, more so than any other style of music. I can play it when my life is going down the tubes and find comfort. I can listen to it when life is high in the sky and continue to skip along. I can listen to it in the car and be content, and there is nothing else I turn on when I’m reading or writing (even right now). But, these songs aren’t limited to just what has been released on the games. Others in the world have found they too love this music dearly, and they created my favorite website of them all, Overclocked Remix. These people, in the hundreds, edit and remix old and new game music. It gets released for free and those people, like myself, get to listen to their favorite songs in all new ways. Orchestra becomes rock, electronic becomes a piano solo, and my heart sings with them.

As I’ve grown older, my taste in music has changed; hopefully for the better. I discovered the Red Hot Chili Peppers and felt like I finally understood music. I became a classic rock fan and felt like I really understood music. I became a Christian music fan and finally understood music completely. But, none of these types make me disappear from the world. They’re good, and I love them, but they don’t tug at my heart strings. No, it’s the melodies of my youth that do that, that strum the chords of my soul and remind me why I own headphones. I travel back to the worlds I explored in these games; I remember where I was in life. I hear the songs of a Final Fantasy game and remember the heat of the summer as I sat in my gigantic black beanbag chair. I listen to a Zelda tune and I remember the smell of fresh laundry, trying to fold it as fast as I can to get back to the game. I play the theme from Metroid and I can still see the snow falling outside, with myself wrapped in a blanket as New England shut down.

Call this childish, claim it immature. Tell me I don’t have a real sense of music and that I waste brain cells listening to music that deserves no attention, it doesn’t matter. This music isn’t just music; it’s a road to my past and a path to my memories. I wouldn’t trade that for all the Led Zepplin in the world.

Space Drama

I have problems with dramatic narratives. It’s not a problem between a love of comedy or drama. I don’t believe you can have one without the other. In fact, just saying I have a problem with all dramatic narratives is unfair. But, I don’t enjoy watching or reading drama for the sake of drama. I get bored fast while watching a cop show or a political thriller; they just seem so mundane to me. We experience all these things in real life, why would I want to watch a man struggle to rebuild his broken family when I lived through already?

But, I don’t think you can have a good story without dealing with basic issues of life and drama. So, how does this get fix? Simply put the drama is space.
Not a complete fix, I’ll admit but a very strong step. Political thriller with spaceships just becomes more interesting to watch then something in Washington. Space just allows for the mundane to seem less so and, in doing so, creates a sense of interest for me.

The visual aspect plays an important role, for sure. Space allows for us to see things that only it can show us; stars burning closer than we would want them to, nebulas in the distance coloring the blackness of space like our evening sunset, planets with terrain unlike anything we’ve walked on. The world our characters inhabit becomes a character unto itself. People don’t travel from meeting to meeting in their limousines or buses, but in ships sleeker than the newest beard trimmer. Suddenly, the drama becomes interesting to look at. This is to say that I think all drama should be in space for the visual aspect, as that would lead to a very shallow and mindless experience. There has to be more.

Characters become more interesting in space. A mayor is intriguing when he’s leading a town on a desert planet full of meteor strikes. Our heroes can come from places we’ve never heard of and can experience things that our Othellos can’t. A family trying to get over the loss of their son becomes much more involving for me when the family is doing so about an exploratory space journey.

The best thing about a space story, aside from it being in space, is that a good science fiction story is always another type of story. You don’t enjoy science fiction because it is just science fiction. You read “Starship Troopers” because it’s a strong military book. We watch “Blade Runner” because it’s a classic film noir. We memorize the lines from “Firefly” because it’s a western with intriguing cowboys. But, by bringing these genres into the vast frontier of the stars, we add an element of unknown and mystery a boot camp in California couldn’t provide.
The problem ends up being that, without a proper story or, more importantly, strong characters, the work becomes boring anyway. Space adds much to a piece of fiction but it isn’t magic (that would be fantasy; Star Wars being sci-fi fantasy) and it isn’t a cure all for bad story-telling. If a character isn’t strong enough that we wouldn’t care about him in France, we won’t care about him on Mars. Space allows us to see the human drama unfold in new ways, sometimes highly metaphorical, but with the heart remaining. The battle between man and machine in “Battlestar Galactica” is a basic story of humanity’s untrustworthiness and fear of the unknown. Isaac Asimov’s “Foundations” is a retelling of our growth as a society and the power of religion. These are the basic elements of any good dramatic story, but we read or watch them in whole new ways.

Perhaps this is just the musings of someone who wishes he could get off planet tomorrow and see what the rest of the universe has to offer. Sometimes I feel like I wasn’t made for this earth and I should be traveling the stars, dealing with growing pains aboard a starship surfing a dying sun. The human condition is something we have to deal with wherever we go, but I have to believe it’s a whole lot more fun working through it in space.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Day I Was Shot

I was walking out of 7/11, slurpy in hand and a skip in my step. It was a warm spring day and I had left my trackjack at home. It was Saturday and I didn’t have a care in the world. A dangerous thing when you’ve got a day to kill and 20 dollars to spend.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye, dressed in black and his eyes hidden in the shadow of his brim hat. He was walking out of the shadows, bringing the darkness with him in his steps. There was something about his presence that seemed to distort the air around him, as if his mere existence was an uneasy prospect for reality.

I looked down to the ground and began to walk the other way, minding my own business and sipping on my beverage when a strong grip pulled my shoulder back. I tried to yell but my body was knocked against the concrete wall, my breath stolen from me. I still couldn’t see his eyes but his smile grew across his whole face.

“I want your money.”

“All I’ve got is a twenty!” I tried to explain, hoping he would see me as someone not worth bothering. His smiled remained.

“I also want your slurpy.”

I reacted out of instinct, sure that it was my slurpy or my life and I didn’t want to see the two separated. My fist flew and hit his face hard, the energy of my punch expelled in a blue glow. The man fell back, surprised by the power, but his grip didn’t let go. He pulled me up off my feet and threw me across the parking lot the way a mother tosses laundry aside. I smashed into the car windshield and I could feel the glass shards pierce my skin. My bloody hands tried to lift my body out of the window when the man leaped from his spot and landed on the car’s already damaged hood. He moved down to lift me up, but adrenaline ran through me and I rolled off the car. Without thinking. I channeled the energy into both my hands and pushed the car with all my strength. The blue power poured across the vehicle and the man, and then both erupted in fire. I was knocked back by the explosion but rolled to my feet.

The man had transformed, his tall stature now a prehistoric predator, an Allosaurus, or so I thought I recognized it. I whistled and began running, keeping my whistle’s pitch at a constant. The dinosaurs bite got closer and closer, causing me to trip in my step. I ran into the street, dogging traffic left and right as the monster behind me followed, crushing the cars in his way. I let one last whistle out and turned to face the Allosaurus. As he came at me, his hot breathe full of hunger, I closed my eyes and lifted my hand in trust.

The Pegasus flew in just as the dinosaur’s jaw snapped and I was in the air, holding on to his mane and throwing myself over on it’s back. I turned behind me and saw the man was now following us on a cloud, moving through the air with defying speed. I kicked the Pegasus and it dived down back to the city, into the subway system. It’s wings flapping hard, the flying horse was in constant change from flight to running, the man close behind. I could hear the subway coming, directly in front of us. I kicked the horse, commanding it to turn around and I let go, falling backwards to the tracks. The man flew past me, his face in surprise and horror. I smiled and the train sped over me, my body pressed flat against the ground. I didn’t see the man hit the train, but I could see the cloud dissipate into nothingness.

The train passed and I climbed to my feet, still clutching the slurpy in my hand. I smiled, and sipped my beverage in joy, knowing I had earned it.

The bullet hit my side before I heard the shot. I stood there, shocked, and my hand began to shake. I tightened my grip on the drink, but I fell to my knees, blood spilling to the ground. I turned to my head, confused, and saw the man adjusting his hat, his eyes still hidden. He leaned down, removing the slurpy from my hand. A tear fell from my face to the puddle of blood under me. The man smiled.

“I get what I want.” He said, his voice almost singing. “And what I want is your slurpy.” He laughed and began to sip the drink, walking away and waving back at me without turning. My vision began to fade and I fell to the ground, my Saturday ruined.

-Eric Mikols

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Predator Still to Me

By Eric Mikols

When I was a kid (not to say I’m old now), there were a few immutable facts that I lived with. I knew, for a fact, that the earth was round. I also knew, for a fact, that George Washington was our first president. For a fact, I knew that two plus two always equaled four and it was utter nonsense to think it would ever equal more or less. There was no arguing these facts, and why would I want to? They made sense and the world worked fine with them. When I was a kid, I knew for a fact that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the most fearsome predator the world has ever seen.

Now they tell me that he wasn’t.

Jack Horner has become a betrayer to me. As I grew up, he was the man I wanted to be. A famous paleontologist: foremost in his field with both finds and knowledge. He was a consultant for “Jurassic Park” and has gained a strong reputation for his theory on dinosaur growth. Then, as if he were mad at me, as if I had wronged him, he took my world and tried to shatter it to pieces. His 1994 article "Steak knives, beady eyes, and tiny little arms (a portrait of Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger)" in The Paleontological Society Special Publication was hate mail seemingly sent to my heart and childhood. Though no one else read it like I did, I still imagine the conversation he would have with my younger self;

“What’s your favorite dinosaur, young and wide-eyed Eric?”
“Gee, golly, and gosh, it’s always gonna be the T-Rex!”
“Why so?”
“Well, because he’s the best one there is! He’s the meanest, biggest, and coolest dinosaur ever and the biggest predator of all time!”
“He was a scavenger.”

And the world fell apart and I didn’t know what to hold to. I didn’t believe it (and still don’t). The Tyrannosaur couldn’t be a scavenger. He was the Tyrant Lizard.

I’m not going to say Jack Horner doesn’t know his facts. He’s still an expert of Hadrosaurs and his discovery of the Maiasaura is one the most important findings for dinosaur parenting behavior (and he should stick with mothering herbivores). But, he’s obviously wrong on this point of the Tyrannosaurus and I hope he someday recants (after all, even villains like Darth Vader could turn around near the end, so why not Jack?).

Horner argues that the T-Rex was a scavenger because its arms were too short to grab onto prey and hold it with any sort of grip. Well, that seems a little biased to me. If we were to follow Jack’s reasoning, those with short arms couldn’t play basketball, wrestle, or swing on a rope. Say we concede that the T-Rex had short arms (he did, after all). What of the shark? The most fearsome predator of the sea and it has no arms at all! Am I supposed to believe that a Tyrannosaur, with a mouth the size of small car, one that puts Jaws to shame, couldn’t do the same job as a big fish? Horner needs to stop limiting one’s ability by their slight hindrances.

Jack Horner also suggests that the Rex was a scavenger because its olfactory bulbs (the glands that contribute to scent) gave it a great sense of smell, allowing it to scout out carcasses over large distances. He compares our dinosaur king to vultures. Well, that sure sounds like a reason for something to scavenge; even though it could use the same sense of smell to find fresh prey, or other Tyrannosaurs (who would be a threat since they were predators). Horner’s first argument is to attack the T-Rex’s disability, and his second argument is to attack its strength? Where’s the consistency?

We could go on with Horner’s defenses but they all fall apart. Weak teeth, slow speed, and a digestion system that can handle bone marrow all crop up in his crazy, angry mind. Weak teeth? I can crack a Jolly Rancher in half with my molars and I’m just a puny human. Don’t tell me the T-Rex had weak teeth, especially considering that theropods (bipedal dinosaurs) replace theirs rapidly. Slow speed? What about the fact that his big brain (one of the largest of the Cretaceous period) would allow him to be more clever and stealthy than his smaller brained contemporaries? That sounds like turning a weakness into strength to me. Digesting bone marrow? Why wouldn’t the T-Rex try to get the most bang for his buck? Does Horner mention the T-Rex had binocular vision that looked straight ahead, as a good predator should? Or that other dinosaurs have been found with wounds from a Tyrannosaurus bite before death? No. He doesn’t want to look at both sides like a reasonable person.

Myself, I’m a reasonable person. I’m willing to concede (though with heartache) that the T-Rex wasn’t perfect. It had a big brain for its time, yes, but it would be outsmarted by today’s house cat. I was even able to hold myself together when they discovered bigger carnivorous dinosaurs like the Spinosaurus and the Giganotosaurus (though, with a name like that, it sounds like Giganotosaurus had a bigger ego as well). But, these are points I’m willing to recognize.

Let’s take science out of the equation and focus on some of the deeper, more meaningful ideas presented here. By making the Tyrannosaur a scavenger, we are taking the coolest dinosaur that ever lived and making him a lowly carrion feeder. We are taking a king and making it a pauper. This isn’t like arguing for the roundness of the planet, where people become afraid to travel because they think they’ll fall off the flat world. No, this is taking something great and trying to bring it down to our level. Why? Was the idea of the Tyrannosaurus Rex too freighting for the world, and Horner? Did we have to make him a scavenger to stop him from haunting our dreams? It seems selfish that, in order for us to sleep better, we make these comments and theories about a predator that’s been dead for years and can’t defend its own appropriately given name!

I know this slaps Jack Horner in the face to read, but I feel no remorse. My face is still red from his backhanded attack of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. No, Jack Horner, the T-Rex was not a scavenger. You are. You scavenge the world for dreams and truths and try to tear them apart. There was no victory to be had in proving the Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger. The only thing you gained was destroying my childhood. As a young boy, I grew up idolizing the Rex, wishing to see it in all its glory. He was my celebrity, my hero. The T-Rex was the master of all he surveyed and you shattered that image like broken glass. As I try to pick up the pieces, you, Mr. Horner, stand over and laugh, knowing that my childhood is among those shards, unable to ever be repaired. Perhaps, one day, the world will see you as a fraud and traitor to your own field. Perhaps, you will be knocked down as you did to my favorite dinosaur, having your colleagues looking at you as nothing more than an intern who got lucky in the 1970s (when you stumbled upon the Maiasaura nest). The books will not read you as a hero, but as little Jack Horner, who sat in his corner, eating his undeserved pie, who looked in my heart, tore it apart, and filled the world with his lies.




Horner, Jack R. "Steak knives, beady eyes, and tiny little arms (a portrait of Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger)". The Paleontological Society Special Publication 7 (1994) 157–164. Print.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Customer

Customers are strange creatures. Like a suicide bomber, they seem self-destructive and always looking for a target to take out in their last moments. I could discuss customers in many fashions; retail, service, entertainment, the list can go as long as we can come up with new things people will want. However, from my own experience, I find it best to discuss the customers of the food industry, mainly the wonderful world of pizza (with sandwiches thrown in for good measure).

The idea of the customer to the food industry is a little fearful, because you are taking the already unstable mind of the consumer and adding hunger to the mix. ‘Wants’ can make a normal person go a little off the edge, but throw in a very basic ‘need’ such as food, and you have a person who wants what he wants, and needs it now.

Though you, the employee, are there to help the customer achieve this goal, all they see you as is an obstacle they need to get through in order to reach their desire. We must accept the fact that all customers to the food industry are already angry, and you are the enemy. You might wonder if there is a way to avoid this situation, but there is none. Until we event a vending machine that can handle already cooked pizza, there is no faster means of receiving it. So, we come to understand the customer is angry.

This is not the only thing that angers customers, though. Choices become a fire under their powder keg rage. Why? For starters, the lack of choices attacks on their right to be able to choose from any food at any time. After all, they are entitled to have what they want, how they want. Take this entitlement and limit it and you offend not only their creative intellects for coming up with such choices, but their God-given right of options. In the world of pizza, all topping should be able to be chosen, be it the simple pepperoni or the rare Russian sturgeon. A customer is not going to be satisfied with only one type of cheese, especially having been to ‘real’ Italian restaurants that sell ‘real’ Italian pizza. When selling pizza by the slice, you must always have options; pepperoni for those who like meat but not a lot, meat pizzas for those who want meat but not the taste, vegetable for those who hate meat in general, and cheese slices for those who hate everything.

But, these are only the basic options you can allow because many customers will come in with their own types of ideas of what makes a good pizza slice. There is no real winning solution here, as your best hope is to have many plain slices around that you can add to as the customer roars for options. However, a hungry shopper, while desiring many choices, can quickly become paralyzed with too many options. You will quickly notice these types by the ones that rush in the store, salivating for food, yet stop dead in their tracks when they see the mass amount of choices before them. They will stare at the food, as if they are seeing it for the first time. They will look at you, as if pleading for help. In the end, they will purchase a pepperoni slice, not wanting to get too fancy but still avoiding the normality of plain cheese.

I will assume that most of you will be able to get the customer past the moments of making a decision, as hard as this can be. After all, options are not without prices. We live in a world of coupons and weekly deals, where the customer must be bargained to buy what you are selling at all times. How many pizzas can they get for free will always be the main question, as most shoppers will be hoping to spend as little as to no money as they can. Here we come again to offending these people. For you to even gather the gall to assume they would want your product enough to pay for it is purely an illusion of grandeur. Most of the time, you must assume, the customer doesn’t want anything you have. So, you must reason them to you. You can’t give them a pizza for free, but you can give them toppings for free, as well as drinks or second pizzas. They will always be happy for free items, even when they see that, at the end, you are still asking for money. I cannot tell you of how many times I have made it all the way to the end of the transaction and had the customer leave in a fiery rage because money was required.

These are but parts of the customer experience you, the employee, will have to deal with personally. But do not think that these are the limits to the trial. For instance, while most customers like to arrive for food with time to spare, there are those that are so busy doing important jobs that the only time they have for pizza is three minutes before you close. They, though late, are still customers and deserve food as they demand it, even after you’ve cleaned and closed most of your kitchen. It’s not their fault you took unwarranted initiative; they are far busier than you can ever believe and you have no other purpose then to provide them with food.

Customers. I have seen them come in and wipe out a store of the entire product you have to offer and leave behind more trash than is physically manageable. I have seen them storm through, wave their arms and demand all of heaven’s treasure upon them and then leave in fury when you only gave them half. They are irrational, determined, and they are how we are paid. Without them, business dies and we leave poor. Good luck to you, employee.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer 2010

A Review

Another summer has come and gone and I now hold this one up to review. I figure if you can't come up with 10 good things to say about a summer break, no matter how bad it is, you've got a big thankfulness issue. And since I hate having issues, here's 10 things that made this summer worth having!

1. Samson- Okay, he's not really my dog, but he's the closest thing I've ever had. Part Husky, part German Shepherd, this pup is awesome. Walking him through the covered bridge and relaxing in the big field nearby has been great, as has chasing geese.

2. Jordan and Glenn getting baptized- What a blessing to see both my brothers getting baptized on the same day. I don't know what the future holds for these awesome young men, but I'm looking forward to seeing God work in their lives.

3. Sam Cobb's wedding- Sure, I filmed it and that's always refreshing, but it was great seeing all my BICS friends and getting to relax with a group of people I love dearly, and feel loved by. Plus, as much as I razed on the guy, the ice cream was pretty good.

4. Reading list- I got through some seriously good books this summer. Not all were gold mind you (here's looking at you, Dresden Files) but the good far outweighed the bad. Timeline, The Great Train Robbery, The Holiness of God, I Am Not a Serial Killer, Starship Troopers, Until We Have Faces, The Hand of God, and Foundations to name a few.

5. Writing again- But I don't want to talk about. Taking up writing, for me, is a big thing and because it's not perfect beyond belief, this is the only mention it will get.

6. Ligonier National Conference- Very cool and would go again easily. I got to listen to R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg and Burk Parson talk about Christian faith and the tough questions we face and I'm better for it. The talks were great, the fellowship was awesome, and I got to eat at Red Lobster. Very nice.

7. Simplifying- I got to continue simplifying my life and the clutter that is my material ownerships this summer. Finally removed my Nintendo and PS2 from my life and now, for the first time since I can remember, I am without a video game system and I don't regret it. I also cut my movies by another third and got rid of tons of books I'll never read again. It's nice to know I don't have so much crap waiting in boxes for my life to slow down.

8. Work- Wow, who would have thought? But, it's true. We live in a country where not everyone can get a job at the moment, but God has been good to me since I started working, never leaving me without a job. This summer has been great because I never had a lack of hours or pay and it's not only kept me busy and helped me pay for school, but it also has allowed me to grow more and more every day. Sanctifying hurts, but it's well worth it.

9. Good friends- Joel and Michelle are some of the most welcoming and heartfelt people I know. They never turn me away and go through a lost of trouble to help me during the summer. The BICS guys I got to see this summer where good as well, and Luke Peters was always on call for a Patrick's Pub trip. Not just that, but my friends Corey and Erica once again opened up their home to me and their love and kindness continues to be one of the most important and best things I have going for me. Plus, their kids crack me up and give me tons to talk about at school.

10. Allergies- Because sneezing can be fun.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Monkey Who Would Take Flight

“I want to fly” the monkey said, looking up to the sky above. His mother looked at him and shook her head.

“You can’t fly, you’re a monkey. Be happy in your tree.” She said.

The monkey sighed. “Trees only go so high. I want to go above the trees, above the giraffes, and above the whole jungle.” His mother just looked at him.

“That’s a dumb dream; you can never do it. Live sensibly and have dreams worth dreaming.” She scolded him. The mother then jumped away into some trees and the monkey was left to himself.

“Live sensibly?” He repeated to himself. Dejected, the monkey climbed up to his tree and made his way to the top. From there, he could see the jungle for miles. He could see the lions lying down under the shade of a lone tree, escaping from the heat of afternoon sun. He could see the gazelles making their way to the nearest river, and he could see the crocodiles waiting in anticipation for the coming meal. He could see more than most of the animals of the jungle, but he wanted more. The monkey looked up and saw the birds above flying, free of not only the ground but the branches of trees. The monkey sighed. “Have dreams worth dreaming.”

With his spirit slightly broken, the monkey began to make his way down the tree. Before he could reach the bottom, however, he heard a moan coming from another part of the jungle. Curious, the monkey leapt from tree to tree, making his way closer to the sound. Soon, he came to the source of the moaning. There, stumbling through the jungle, was an elephant. The monkey noticed that every time the elephant stepped with one of his legs he made a sound of pain and lifted the leg as soon as it touched the earth.

“Are you hurt?” the monkey asked, with concern.

“I am, yes.” answered the elephant.

“What happened?”

“I accidentally stepped on a turtle and now I have a piece of its shell stuck in my foot. I tried getting it out, but I can’t seem to reach it or get hold of it.”

“I could get it out.” The monkey suggested.

“Would you, please?”

The monkey hopped to the ground and ran over to the elephant. The elephant raised his foot and the monkey, seeing the wound, grabbed the piece of turtle shell and, using all his strength, pulled it out. The elephant sighed with great relief. “Oh, thank you. You have no idea how much that hurt.”

“I’m happy I could help.” The monkey replied and began to go on his way.

“Wait!” called the elephant, “Is there anything I can do to repay you?”

The monkey laughed with a sigh. “The only thing I wish right now is that I could fly and be as free as the birds.”

“I think I can help!” the elephant said happily, “You are light and small enough for me to toss in the air with my trunk! I could throw you into the sky; you might even fly higher than the birds!”

The monkey jumped and laughed, his eyes wide with joy. “Would you? Could you get me to the sky?”

The elephant chuckled. “I would be happy to!” Grabbing the monkey with his trunk, the elephant threw the monkey with all his strength straight into the air. The monkey went higher and higher, past the tree tops, over the heads of all the animals, even further than the birds. The monkey laughed and flapped his arms, feeling the freedom he had longed for. He was no longer bound to the earth. He was living his dream.

He took such joy in the flight that he didn’t notice the fall and inevitable crash to earth.

-Eric Mikols

Monday, March 22, 2010

Young Avengers #1



Here we have the video I will now call "Eric's Shame".
I don't really hate this video. What I don't like is how popular it has become compared to the others. The humor is funny, but not that funny. I only made one more episode after this, and I've decided that I will not return for a third. But, how did it happen in the first place?
I was walking through Wal-Mart (as you do when you live in Haverhill) and I was going through the toy section (as you do when you are in your twenties) and I was checking out the clearance section (as you do when you have no money). Most of the stuff they had was junk but then I noticed a hidden treasure. Sitting on the shelf was the Young Avengers set for just $20! I had just read the series and was in love with the concept, so I bought the box with haste.
Later, I was hanging around in my apartment and looking at these guys on my entertainment set and I was wondering, "What the heck do I do now?" Then I started thinking how I could use them in a video, and what kind of video they would be in. The one idea I kept coming back to was the idea of a talk show, set up like the view, in which nothing ever gets resolved. I felt I had struck gold.
I grabbed a painting a friend made for me, set up on my kitchen counter and went to work. Ironlad would lead the group's discussion, Patriot would take the negative side, Hulkling would take the positive, and Wiccan would be an idiot. For the first episode, I would bring up the discussion of global warming, having just finished "State of Fear" by Micheal Crichton.
THe problems in this video are many. The concept is strong but the execution of the idea fell apart. A crappy set, poor movement for the action figures, and the jokes fall flat more often than not. For some reason, I couldn't get Hulkling's voice to stay the same! To really work, this idea needed better production values. I think a real set, with couches or plants, would have added. I also think that this idea (like others), needed a script. There are funny jokes in this video, but they get lost in the improve conversation.
As I said, I did make a second one, which was even longer, but the problems were the same if not worse. This series is done and hopefully I've learned from it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Humanity's Last Midnight



This video is one of my remake videos. As in, I made the original on Windows Movie Maker during my first two months of editing. The original was my last video of this era and it was one of my best, I thought.
So, when I started editing again with my Adobe, I was interested in going back and redoing some of my better music videos, this being one of the candidates. I started this is with one real goal in mind, to make a better video. I wanted the action to really sync up with the music and I wanted the video to move quick.
This song, "Mitternact", was introduced to me by my Uncle John. For some reason, I got this stuck in my head and couldn't stop listening to the thing. I would go to work, put the CD in, and listen to it for hours straight, wondering how I could use the song in any kind of video. It didn't help that my uncle showed me this video, leaving me thinking I couldn't do anything worth doing with the song. But then, I started thinking of the last Matrix movie, which had been a huge disappointment to me, but did have some pretty intense action shots that looked like someone had used the concept art straight in the movie.
I decided I wasn't going to focus on anything in the movies but the very last battles of the last film. I didn't want to focus on the heroes except for Neo and Smith. For Zion and the Nebuchadnezzar, I was just going to show how intense there struggle was, all the while the real fate is being determined by a one on one fist fight.
Syncing certain things in the video were unbelievably fun. Any instance I timed the Neo/Smith fight well was a joy. I loved syncing all the punches and water effects to the song's clashing. There were also a few accidental moments of syncing, such as the ship hitting two poles in time with the beat.
There is of course a very big problem for me in this video; the ending. I want to blame it one the fact that I was sick and I just wanted to be done, but the I had a pretty lame ending in the original version. There was just something about the way all the fights ended that I couldn't really grasp in showing well. It all seems a bit rushed in this video, as if I was ready to move on to the next video (which has been the case before).
Overall, this is another doodle in my sketch book. I learned some techniques and made a video that was somewhat enjoyable. I have gotten better at these things and without this video and its faults, I might not have learned.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dancing in the Apartment



Don't expect to much explanation for this one.
I was kind of a streak of making videos one after another before this and I was getting a kick out of just doing anything and everything I thought of. I was watching my sister and brother this day and entertaining them was not the easiest thing (since they're both genius).
I said, "Hey! Let's make a dance video! To this song!"
Jordan said, "Yea!"
We made this video.
I don't claim to be the focus of interest in this video, Jordan is the attraction here. This was the first time he started dancing in front of the camera and we try to get him doing it as often as we can. He's so small in this video, and has that dorky-yet too young to judge appeal.
As for the the intro to this video, about presidents and such, it's all random and we just wanted to hook the viewer.
But, hey, just because I don't have much to say about this video doesn't mean it isn't awesome. Because it is. It's just, this video stands as how my love for completely random, plot-less videos can sometimes work.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Phantom of the Apartment



Oh dear, I suppose we had to get to this a some point, no?
The problem with starting these commentaries with my first videos is that I have to deal with these kind. This video came out of a night of boredom (don't they all?) and there was very little planning/skill used that night. This is also the first time I gave someone else the camera and it didn't really encourage me to share more.
This was made on a night like any other. Glenn, myself, and another friend were in my apartment, bored. I suggested, as I often do, to make a video. I had originally wanted to make a video to "Dare" by the Gorillaz, but I couldn't get anyone to agree to dance. I tried to show them what it would look like, but I ended up smashing my hands into my light fixture and broke it. That idea was shot.
Still bored, another friend came over and suddenly I had an idea. I decided we would do the "Phantom of the Opera" song.
I wanted to play the Phantom. I wanted to make a half-mask out of a paper plate and play a creep/suave man. However, Glenn, as awesome as he is, did not know the words to the song. This meant he could not play the girl. So, we made Glenn the Phantom, made the mask a full paper bag covering to hide his mouth, and put him in my suit jacket (gone now).
Now that Glenn was the Phantom, it was someone's turn to be picked as the girl. The problem with having friends who are "shy" is that they won't get in front of the camera no matter what, leaving you as the only option. Now, as much as I wish I played the Phantom, I did have few things going for me here. My hair was longer than it ever had been, keeping me from needing a wig. I also knew all the words, which was good, since she doesn't where a mask. Grab my friends coat, hairband, and scarf, and there I was, all dressed up with no where to go.
I won't say much more about the filming process. I didn't have the camera and this was back before I checked footage after shooting. I learned my lesson in the editing room when I realized we didn't have enough footage and we had screwed a the stairway scene up. When we do get to the end, we get much better footage, in fact, it's one my favorite scenes in RRP history. I like that Glenn is singing and dancing around me one way, while the camera is going the other way. Not really the most innovating technique, but it adds something, and this was back when I was learning everything as I went.
There is little I can say to defend this video. It's old, it's broken, and it really doesn't hold up well. But, I have a strong affection for it as it is one of my favorite Glenn videos, and people always laugh when they see me as the girl.
Don't mind the Christmas tree; it was late January.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hoover Damned



"Hoover Damned" stands as one of my favorites.
We are not well funded, Red Raptor Productions. We are a group of poor, low-budget students and commoners. When we have an idea, we have to fit it into our account, which sits at 0. But, I hate being limited.
The idea for doing a monster movie came on a random Friday night, as many of my ideas tend to do. I had Glenn and Mack Morrison with me that night. Boredom struck and I suggested we do a video. It being around 11:00 pm, our choices were limited. We had to be indoors or night, and if indoor, we had to be quiet as to not disturb the neighbors. I wanted to do something different, since I was still on a creative high from "Monkey Business". I wanted to do a monster movie; one that was a silent picture. What kind of monster could we make at that late hour with no money?
Grab the vacuum cleaner.
Not very intimidating? That thing is full of cords and suction, a perfect killing machine. For the first scene, we have Glenn; unassuming, relaxed, and unaware. We have Mack behind the camera, making sure the vacuum is moving at a good speed, and we have me moving the vacuum and trying to be as intimidating as I can be. We may push the line of believability with the slow crawl, but the whole video breaks reality.
Glenn fighting the vacuum for freedom breaks him free to the hallway, and now we have one of my favorite moments. The slow chase of the vacuum down the hall is so much fun for me to watch. Mack pushed the vacuum and I walked on my knees behind him, following Glenn as fast/slow as we could. Glenn's reaction to the vacuum behind him was great. Glenn had real fear in his eyes, something I've only seen as he played "Jordan" in "Guitar Hero II".
Now, we have Glenn run into my room, though he ends up in the other room. I wish the reveal that the vacuum is in the same room as him was done better. His reaction is too quick and the light takes to long to adjust. I also wish the fight between the two could have looked better, but the knife scene is well shot, so I think.
Notice a jump in footage when the vacuum exits the room after our hero? It's because we're trying to do a long shot of the vacuum moving, without showing ourselves pushing it. I need a puppet.
We needed to kill this machine, but how do you kill a vacuum? Pennies, or loose change. We grabbed my bucket of coins and Glenn delivered the death blow. I wish the shot of the coins was better, I think the black and white makes it hard to discern what they really are. But, the vacuum sucks them up, chokes on 'em, and falls to its death. We do a slow pan to Glenn, now safe and relaxed.
I wish the shot at the end came in better, but we were happy with what we had at the time. It might have been a better shot had we had the vacuum light on the entire video, but I never know how I'm ending a video like this until we get there.
The music is from the game "The Movies"; not a great game, but it had music that fit the mood perfectly. It was classic, cheesy, and made the picture work.
It should also be noted, Glenn's last name is spelled "Benitez", not the "Benitaz" as I spell it here. My bad.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Monkey and Dog Show #4



Here we have one my favorite episodes of "The Monkey and Dog Show". This came from my second wind of energy for the show, after a break from the first two episodes. Coming up with reasons for Monkey to get mad at Dog is a bit harder than you might think, and trying to figure out how he will react to Dog is tricky at time. Having Monkey just threaten Dog gets old, because you can only threaten so many times until your threats become mute. So, sometimes Monkey needs to give in. Sometimes.
Crazy Hat Day is not a holiday I celebrate, because I don't get it off from work, but I like the idea very much. The idea came from the fact that, while living in my first apartment, I collected a strange assortments of hats. Looking for an idea for the show, I just had to glance around my living room. I loved the idea that Dog would be so excited for this holiday, because it's a simple one and Dog isn't very complex.
Most of the hat humor was going to come from the progression of hats that Dog changed. Just having him wear one the whole time wouldn't have been too funny, so we build up to it. Ending with the sombrero made me happy, not because of the hat so much as the size and the way Dog doesn't seem to mind.
Dog's logic for the holiday is funny, but I really enjoy Monkey's dialog in this one. "Yea, not gonna do that today...or ever." And the idea that Monkey has a holiday called "Monkey Day", where he just beats up Dog is rather sadistic.
It's interesting, but these first 4 episodes, Monkey isn't really that abusive to Dog. The first episode, Monkey concedes and opens Dog's spaghettios. It's in the second one is where Monkey gets mean, but the next two he's rather patient. It's seems that after this one, it just kind of became the thing to do, hence 5 and 7. But is Monkey really that angry? Well, we just have to wait for the fifth episode, don't we?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jurassic Park in the Dark



If ever I created a video love letter, this is it.
When I started editing videos in '04, my second music video was the original version of this one. When I received my copy of Adobe Premire, I wanted to redo it right away, because I love "Jurassic Park" and the song by Weird Al.
I'm a bit weak when it comes to telling a story in a music video. Some people can do it with no problem, and the story is better than the original, but not with me. I tend to think I have a story and then lose it in the process. I think it's part of the reason why in the beginning of my editing, I picked a lot of songs that told stories for me. Then, all I had to do was come up with images that went with the story. "Jurassic Park" was the easiest for me because I knew all the scenes and knew where they were and where they could go in the song.
When I made the original video, I was still in the clouds with the process, but when I remade it, I had the benifit of retrospect. I could watch the original and see what worked and what didn't. I could see where I needed longer shots of a scene or where a scene needed to be cut. That helped a lot. With Adobe, I was able to pick and clip my scenes to the nearest second and really get what I needed.
The thing with this song is that Weird Al doesn't just tell a story, he adds sound effects; dinosaurs and screams. So, part of the fun was syncing up his sounds with the video. Showing people running while Al is screaming was a lot of fun to choose.
The montage of scenes was fun to do, but I'll admit that these parts in a video tend to make me get lazy. I just pick the coolest, quickest shots, and try to arrange them in an order that seems cool. There's not a lot of thought that really goes into it and I would like to try another montage scene where I really think about what I'm putting into it.
The end of this video kind of drags, because the lyrics become less descriptive of the movie. For some strange reason I find that the joke "I'm never coming back this way again" worked better in the original.
But, if you ever wonder how I feel about "Jurassic Park" and why I love it, watch this video and watch the end of it; the last scene says it all.