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