Book Review: What Should I Do With My Life?

February 28, 2008

What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question by Po Bronson Like many of us, the author (Po Bronson) sought to answer this question about his own life. And, like most of us, he had to approach it in his own way. He decided he would talk to people who had answered this "ultimate question" - nine hundred of them, to be exact. He talked to about seventy of them in detail, even lived with a few, and ultimately included fifty of their stories in his book. Despite the reader's understandable expectation of an answer to the book's title question: What Should I Do With My Life? Bronson doesn't offer any career-guides or self-help advice in this book. That's important to understand. Any guidance or judgments are purely anecdotal. If you turn to this book looking for clear-cut answers, you will quickly learn that there are none. See this post for more about that. That said, there is plenty of good medicine to be extracted from Bronson's conclusions, such as the notion that change is feared because of the loss of identity associated with it. "Get used to being alone," he tells one person, after discovering that most people fear being alone worse than they fear being stuck in a job they hate. This "barrier to change" pattern is seen over, and over again throughout the book. Uncovering patterns and similarities in the respective journeys of Bronson's interviewees, is what this book does best. However, Bronson often mixes roles inappropriately. His quest for interviews quickly becomes its own short story, and develops into a whirlwind adventure that the reader never signed up for. Bronson also chronicles his own career and life changes, peppering them throughout the book. In doing so, he removes himself from the journalist role, and distracts the reader from the more substantive "meat" of the writing. Even with those distracting injections of autobiographical content, the book is an easy read. Because it consists of a collection of short stories, and there is little or no linearity to the narrative, the book serves the casual reader quite well. Despite its flaws, What Should I Do With My Life remains an important book, and a worthwhile read for anyone asking themselves that same question. Check it out: What Should I Do With My Life?

The A-Word?

February 28, 2008

I sometimes think that in another life, I could have been a linguist, for I am always fascinated by language and how it evolves, how certain vernaculars, colloquiums, and slang develop within a area that shares a common language. You ever heard a New Yorker and a back-woods Georgian talk to each other? Oh, it's a Bach symphony for my ears. Yet what I find truly interesting about the evolution of language is how words develop certain connotations irrespective of their initial denotation. This manipulation of these connotations can be a very effective tool in political rhetoric, something of which the Conservative Right have been true masters. It is as if ever Republican for the past sixty years really paid attention when the teacher went over the major themes in "1984" in English class, and so are now putting them to practice. The Conservative Right has systematically taken certain words and twisted them in order to taint the political waters of discourse, making it impossible to instigate debate without instigating tempers. Political labels like, "pro-life, "patriot act," and "intelligent design" are all fitting examples of how the Conservative Right has been able to manipulate language in order to coerce less-than-informed people to make decisions on important issues simply on the basis of the "emotive" words employed. If you're not "pro-life," then what option does that logically leave you with? Anti-life? If you're not pro-life than you must be against life, you evil, godless bastard! Against the Patriot Act? You commie, pinko traitor! You want the evildoers to win, don't you? Against intelligent design? What are you, a retard? You unprogressive, ignorant ape! Why not get in a cage and fling your feces? The conservatives have even gotten their language-raping hands on words that aren't inherently "bad" or "negative" but nevertheless have been infused with a context that is now politically incendiary; words like, "liberal," "secular," and "atheist." Especially atheist. It's incredibly shocking to me how much repugnance the conservatives have attached to the word "atheist," and how successful they have been in making that connotation stick. I can only attribute this success to not only the lack of any real reform in maintaining secularism in our public affairs (not to mention that type of controversy attached to any atheist who happens to be in the public eye), but also the amount of hostility I've personally received by random people when asked of my religious affiliation. atheist-sex.jpg Now I must make mention that I'm not the kind of guy who obnoxiously prances around branding my atheism as a badge of honor (in fact I make it my M.O. not to prance at all). I will say that a bit of the stigma associated with atheism has been due to other atheists - militant atheist (or perhaps a better term would be anti-theists) who affront people with their beliefs (or non-beliefs) with the same type of arrogance and "moral" superiority most religious people have when confronted with someone who doesn't subscribe to the same belief system as they do. I find such attitudes despicable and inexcusable unilaterally, irrespective on what side of the political (or in this case, philosophical/epistemological) fence they happen to be on. By no means do I feel the need to educate the "misinformed" or "indoctrinated" simply because I've chosen to dedicate more time than the average person in investigating and studying the beliefs and systems of thought which were shoved down my throat since birth more closely. I don't think going to college and reading certain books gives me any right to condescend and preach. And so it is with great surprise when I do decide to tell people my religious (or non-religious) beliefs that I get the most aggressive responses. When I say I'm an atheist, it is as if I'm saying in one breathe: "You, dear sir or madam, are a stupid, silly fool for believing in such fantasies. Do you also believe the stories of Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm? I say ‘pshaw' to you and your entire foundation of knowledge. Oh, and P.S.: Fuck you and the religion you rode in on." That must be what most people think I'm saying, because how else could one explain these explosive, knee-jerk reactions?. You'd think I was asking them permission to pull down my pants and shit on their shoes. And dear reader, you must believe me when I say I try to avoid having religious discussions with people because such endeavors inevitably all end the same way: when the smoke clears, people walk away thinking the same they did before, the only new thought being that the OTHER guy is the stupidest asshole on the planet. It's a futile social exercise, and so I do my best not to instigate any heated debates on the matter in public. I say "atheist" and people respond as if I'm demanding them to justify their core system of beliefs right there and then. The fact that I chose NOT to subscribe to their beliefs is something that they can't immediately grasp and understand. And because they cannot fathom how someone can purposely choose to be an atheist, they lash out and defend their beliefs, trying their damnedest to convince me how wrong I truly am about the illegitimacy of their beliefs (and for the record: this only happens when I meet Christians; I've never had this issue with the random Muslims or Jews I meet in public). So then after they spew their torrent of a defense, I simply look back blankly as if to say, "Okay, well, if it's work for you..." and from there they proceed to excuse themselves, surly thinking I'm an immoral nihilist who secretly wishes for the total demise of life itself. I don't believe, like some atheists and anti-theists, that religion should be extracted from our culture entirely, as if it were some cancer that needs to be surgical removed in order to save the patient. If religion gives your life meaning and the extra incentive to be a good, moral person, then I'm all for it. Just don't push it on me and the public sector. You can say I'm more of a Dan Dennett than a Richard Dawkins on the subject. I've told another atheist friend of mine about these socially awkward situations, and he disappointingly shook his head as if I should have know better. "Frank," he said, "the first thing you learn when you an atheist is that you don't go around saying you're an atheist." "Then what do you say you are?" I asked. "I mean, there's a reason why a word like ‘atheist' exits. What's the point of having the word if we can't use it?" He took a moment to look at me like I was a naïve child and said: "You tell them you're non-religious." "That's it?" I asked. "Yep. I say it so as to avoid that conversation from happening. I don't want to deal with it. So I just say I'm non-religious or agnostic and that usually shuts them up." "But that's so stupid," I countered. "Hey: you wanna continue having these episodes, but all means, keep using ‘atheist.'" Though I would eventually agree with my friend's sentiments, I still had this nagging sense of frustration about the whole issue: it doesn't have to be this way. I shouldn't have to keep from saying a certain word due to the off-chance of someone getting explosively emotional. It's censorship of the most sophisticated kind (leave it to the conservatives for that). What are we, children? We can say certain words around each other lest we get into a tantrum? It's absurd. I believe what I'm saying unequivocally, but alas, only in theory. My story about my "coming out" with my mother is a prime example of my inability to apply that theory in practice (to read that, go here) And it's these kinds of experiences that make me wonder: Is Dawkins right? Should we have a new word to replace ‘atheist'?

Movie Review: Undertow

February 28, 2008

The notion of the "American Film-Artist" sounds a bit oxymoronic. The independent fever of the late 80's/early 90's has subsided into a flurry of productions that essentially share the same qualities as the big major Hollywood studios, only on a smaller scale. Even in the independent realm, films are created with the sole intent of telling a good story, or more importantly, a strong narrative. The screenwriter writes the story which (ideally) has a solid three-act structure, while the director's main job is to merely "add the pictures." UndertowFilmmaker David Gordon Green does more than just "add the pictures." In fact, if one were to regard his earlier efforts ("George Washington" and "All the Real Girls"), his films are ABOUT the pictures. Green is not so much interested in just "telling a good story" (though he ultimately does so), but rather he seems more drawn to moments, gestures, ambience...qualities that most narrative-driven films usually leave to the way-side. His films have a quality about them that negates typical American film structure. Like Terrance Malick, Green has almost a European sensibility in filming characters and their relationship to their environment. Now comes Green's latest effort, "Undertow," his first "narrative-driven" film, a film that explores the fraternal violence that shatters two generations of men. To say that, ultimately, "Undertow" is a slightly disappointing film is almost an absurd, nonsensical utterance - I actually feel ashamed for having such a feeling. For if I were to not have seen Green's earlier work, and perhaps, see "Undertow" first instead, I would be head-over-heels in love with it. I would have totally cherished every minute lensed by the brilliant cinematographer Tim Orr. I would marvel in how Green juxtaposes the rusty, dilapidated houses and other metal wastes left by industrial factories with the rural lusciousness of the Southern landscape. I would have been enamored with Green's naturalistic approach to dialogue, dialogue that has the poetry and lyricism of characters from a William Faulkner novel. Even though those events did happen, and overall, "Undertow" as a film experience was immensely satisfying, why do I hesitant in explaining its power? When someone asks the simple question of "Is it a good film," why do I falter? As a narrative film, "Undertow" was a bit predictable, a quality that was absent from Green's earlier work. Even the pacing, particularly the chase sequence in the third act, became a noticeable concern, due to the film operating on the (simple) dynamic of a bad guy bent on chasing and killing the good guys. When the film takes a break within the chase, the audience is not given any more insight into the bad guy (Uncle Deel played by Josh Lucas) or the brothers who are on the run (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan). At one point, the brothers come across a female drifter whose sudden appearance into the story seemed superfluous and rather questionable. I was incapable of discerning her thematic significance to the story, and because of that, her presence and interaction with the brothers slowed down the film considerably. Yet despite those flaws, "Undertow" has the mark of a mature, original artist, and David Gordon Green successfully fills in the void that is so desperately needed to be filled in the American film canon. Rent it on:


Review: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

February 27, 2008

You might not consider sitting down to read a cookbook from cover to cover, but with some cookbooks you should. Through the onslaught of celebrity chefs, catch phrases and cleverly named shows on Food Network, and the bandwagon jumpers of reality TV competition format TopChefHell’sKitchenAmericanIronChef shows- its good to find out that some people still write down recipes intended for us, the huddled masses, to cook. I have been a fan of Mark Bittman for some time now, ever since I went off to college and received his first How To Cook Everything. Honestly, Mom, I was a little insulted. “I can cook!” I thought. But with Bittman, I could cook Everything. His first book was incredibly easy to follow, versatile, and allowed me to make a meal out of whatever was crammed in the mini-fridge and some strategically spent cafeteria money. Since that first book, Mark Bittman has entered the realm of the celebrity chef. He has a weekly column in the NY Times and has a show on PBS, but I won't hold that against him. In my mother’s generation it was the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (and my copy is well worn) but with the focus on organics and healthy fats, it seems that it is time for some chefs who can see past the whole cream and butter (no offense Paula Dean). Even more specifically, as we age into and past our quarterlives, those metabolisms that allowed you to eat half a large pizza and a six pack and not gain an ounce are going to slow down. Its time to take better care of ourselves before we start seeing the Nordic Roller Total Diet and Gym Prepackaged Meal infomercial as a solution. Enter, How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. I am not a vegetarian and neither is Bittman. He notes that the changes in the world are pushing us all towards a semivegetarian lifestyle. Our current levels of consumption when it comes to meat and fish are not sustainable and thus, let us embrace the tofu now. But that’s the key in having a vegetarian cookbook written by a non-veggie. Bittman understands the wary nature of Omnivores (and the more extreme Atkinsovores) to eating a more plant-rich diet. Yes, there is a chapter (and a bevy of recipes) on tofu- the most earth shattering recommendation being to freeze your soy. I’ve been a hippy from the moment I took my first breath and tofu has always been a regular part of my diet. By freezing it, the water in the tofu expands, making larger bubbles so that when you defrost it, you have a chewier (read- better), restaurant quality tofu. If that wasn’t worth the price of purchase, I don’t know what is. But Bittman keeps giving me reasons to gush. Like the first cookbook, this one is very flexible. His “Muffins, Infinite Ways” allows you to take whatever you have: rotting bananas, dried fruit, sour cream, onions, leeks, oats, nuts, etc- and turn them into delicious muffins (I have oat flour, peach, banana, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, soy muffins on my counter right now!). He gives a basic recipe for ice cream and over a dozen variants depending on your tastes and ingredients (Saffron anyone?). Adding to the ease of the recipes is the format of each section. We get a rundown of the philosophy of the chapter (desserts- while generally vegetarian to begin with- are written with a vegetarian, health-conscious mindset), the general ingredients involved (a “Flour Lexicon” and a “Leavening Lexicon” reside in the chapter on Breads, Pizzas, Sandwiches, and Wraps), charts when needed to explain differences (with one chart for “everyday herbs” and another for “specialty herbs for enthusiasts”), and some step-by-step illustrations on things that may give you trouble (want to see how to prepare fennel?). Each recipe is also marked with a symbol to designate if it is fast, if parts of it can be made ahead, or if it is vegan (or easily made vegan). Now, again, I am not a vegan, but I did replace milk in my diet with soy milk and have reduced the amount of other animal products that I eat (I still love a sharp looking leather shoe- come on PETA come and get me). When cooking for a vegan, it’s a challenge- which is sometimes part of the fun. The few vegan cookbooks I own are highly labor intensive and require ingredients that must be ordered from the Internet. While they produce great dishes, that kind of cooking is not for me- at least not every day. Knowing that I can cook “Pasta with Lentils” (on pg 454) with basic staples and not have to worry that I will be poisoning my vegan friends with cramps in the middle of the night is quite a relief. And I didn’t even have to get out the food processor. Who cares about the book, how are the recipes? As a girl who never knows when she will make it to the grocery store and wants to cook a meal that is healthy but also doesn’t taste like cardboard, Bittman’s recipes are gold. He uses simple tricks to make your home cooked veggie meals taste as good as that fru fru restaurant in your nearby big city. Add some sake or veggie stock to your fried rice and you’ve got the secret of Thai restaurants everywhere. He has made my everyday standards more interesting and healthier. Next on my list is Beer-Glazed Black Beans. I expect it to be a hit.

Review: Radiohead, In Rainbows

February 26, 2008

Immediately hectic and enormously satisfying, Radiohead's latest installment revisits the bands straight-forward style. But, don't expect business as usual - this is the most low-key album Radiohead has made to date. While the band is clearly speaking the same sonic language they have spoken since OK Computer, In Rainbows is unmistakably more eloquent. It's warm and inviting, with a densely layered mellifluous vibe that oscillates in complexity throughout the album's 10 tracks. In Rainbows is a pretty smooth ride from beginning to end, with the possible exception of the final track, "Videotape." Although not a rabid fan myself, I know die-hard "Radiohead-Heads" will enjoy what could be considered a traditional closing track, as "Videotape" harkens back to the similarly-styled finale cuts of former Radiohead albums such as OK Computer and Kid A. Much has been made of the method in which Radiohead chose to release the record. They allowed fans to pay whatever they wanted to download the tracks via the band's website. As little as $.01 was enough to purchase the entire album, with the only instructions reading: "It's up to you." It should be noted that this offer now appears to be over, so if you missed the boat (like I did), you'll be forced to find another way to pirate purchase the music. It was interesting to read the horde of press articles, which seemed to focus more on the controversy surrounding the manner in which In Rainbows was released, rather than the record itself. Opinions range from glowing: stating that Radiohead is innovative, and will save the music industry - to scathing: accusing the band of trying to kill the industry. I personally believe their method was perfect, and am surprised that they were the first to try it. There is something inherently intimate, even sacred about the connection between musicians and fans. With the advent of internet technology, the obsolete record industry now adds more COST to the equation than VALUE, and thus represents a barrier to that connection. By placing control in the hands of the listener, Radiohead removed that barrier and provided another means of connecting with the millions of people who connect so strongly with them. Should I feel better about connecting with a band that hires a record company to sell their music to me at $18.95 a CD, or a band that trusts me to decide how much their music is worth? Of course, now I'M spending more time writing about the issues than I am about the music. Oh well, bottom line: In Rainbows is an album I can enjoy, while feeling good about enjoying it. And, if you've ever liked a Radiohead song, you'll enjoy it too. Download: In Rainbows

The Right to be Wrong

February 25, 2008

I've been thinking a lot about right answers recently. In high school the world revolves around the right answers. We are trained, even before that, that right answers get you ahead. The best perks are saved for those of us who can figure out how to translate their right answers into tenths and hundredths of points of a GPA. Those people are the ones who are going to succeed in life. Or at least that is what we are told. I chose to go to a college that didn't have grades. New College of Florida was my absolute utopia for four years and I scoff at the day that I thought I wanted to go to "big state university far from home." I can't speak for other people's college experience, but at least at mine, I started to develop the concept that right answers get you somewhere, but your wrong answers are valuable too. Instead of grades, we had evaluations that told us what we did well and what we could work on. So while I was learning from my wrong answers, the right answers still prevailed as a goal- something to achieve. Being the super-student that I am, I continued on to graduate school in a field that I didn't know about in a place where I didn't know anyone. Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design was my all-encompassing life for over two years. The most important thing I learned there is that there are no answers. Not only were my ‘right' answers not getting me anywhere, I was struggling to figure out what my ‘wrong' answers were teaching me. This was where life broke down. I had always been strong, confident, independent...and suddenly I found myself losing identity and fumbling with a direction. I hit the crisis hard. It was probably a year into my quarter-life crisis that I learned that someone had defined this part of my experience and that other people were going through it too. While it was a comfort to know others out there felt like me, a concept that I couldn't even imagine, it didn't make my lack of answers any easier. I started business school last summer. I like to think that business school saved my life. I certainly am not out of the clear of my crisis- but I have gained a paradigm shift about answers that has made things easier. Rather than right answers, or learning from mistakes, or wandering aimlessly- I just make the answer up. In almost every business class that I have taken, as long as you can just justify your answer, it is a right one. Sure, there is a right way to figure out compound interest or a way to exchange foreign currency, but if you have a variation on some process or, hell, even make up something new, there is someone willing to listen to your answer and, in most cases, tell you that you are right. There is a power to being able to argue your way into being right. It has given me strength and hope that when I don't know what step is next in my life or where the hell my emotions are going to take me next, that it's not going to be an issue of right or wrong. It is going to be an issue of making it up and being ok with that answer being right- even if the rest of the world wants to argue that it is wrong.

The Enjoyment of Unemployment

February 24, 2008

The Enjoyment of UnemploymentSlacker, underachiever, no-good, detriment to society, straight up loser; how could someone with any sense of value take pride in unemployment?…well I’ll tell you how. I’m a twenty-five year old college graduate with a degree in Film and Television. Two years ago I walked across the Graduation stage and took a hold of that prestigious piece of paper. It was my greatest achievement to date (step aside ’93 Little League all-star appearance), and filled me with a sense of satisfaction and success. To be honest it made me a little giddy. I was light on my feet as I walked across the stage. It felt like a pair of hands lifted me across, guided me, and reassured me with their guidance that everything was going to be ok. It was an incredible feeling and one that I’ll never forget. In six months time those same hands were back but with a little different feeling this time. Instead of lifting me across the stage they were slamming me…in the gut…over…and over…and over…and over. Yes, my bright and shining future had a $100,000 black cloud of debt looming overhead and there was/is nothing to do but take the punches and deal with it. Lucky for me I was fortunate enough to land a job in my career right after graduation. It was local to my college making it convenient not to make a big move after I graduated. It was a good entry-level job as a productions assistant for a TV show about all things agriculture. I began as an unpaid intern, moved into part-time and in a few months full-time work. The Savannah run television show aired on PBS across the nation. Yes, its PBS, and Yes the content has a lot to do with farms so No it was not my dream job but it was a start, more importantly it was a way to pay the bills and loans (1,000/month). Yup, $1,000 to loan companies every month! $1,000 a month until I’m 60! Never again will I be able to buy 1,000 dollar menu items from Wendy’s in the month of April, never again will I be able to afford 50 bottles of Jose Cuervo in August, and never again will I be able to purchase 65 of those novelty tuxedo t-shirts in November, you know the ones that make it look like your wearing a tuxedo but in actuality it’s only a T-SHIRT!! HA! Anyway, what I’m trying to say is loan debt sucks. It’s always there. Always present. Always annoying. And always needs to be dealt with. It’s a lot like herpes. Loans are the herpes of the financial world. Now since loans are the herpes than a steady job must be the preventative topical cream. So, I knew it was very important to keep this job and keep those herpes at bay. Of course this added a lot of pressure onto a job already full of it. As a productions assistant there were endless new problems to deal with, difficult demands to be on top of, a number of bosses to cater to, unreliable workflow that varied daily, and a management crew with a knack to create problems rather than fix them. The company had its problems and the entry levels suffered. There were mistakes made, my job was threatened often, endless confrontations, and a constant feeling of failure. Of course the struggles are to be expected this early in a young career. Everyone struggles when they start right? Dealing with low pay, or treated poorly, or both is simply the norm. But expecting it and telling yourself it’s going to be ok does nothing to curb the actual feeling of ‘dealing with it’, the feelings of anxiety and depression that float around your head throughout the day. Even with my anxieties, to say the least, it was a comfortable job. Two years was the longest I’ve worked anywhere and it was hard to find the motivation to push myself and quit. And I never did. As much as I thought about it I never walked into the CEO’s office and handed him my two weeks. I didn’t because of those damned herpes. I was paying the bills and keeping the loans in check. I wasn’t gaining any ground or even saving but I was at least breaking even. But I was miserable. But I was breaking even. But still pretty miserable. But making those loan payments. But I hated my job. But the loan debt wasn’t getting higher. But MISERABLE… Two weeks ago I was called into the Senior VP’s office and let go. The company was through with production for a while and couldn’t afford to keep me on payroll. I wasn’t surprised and I wasn’t hurt though I did feel rejected. In some way it felt like I was personally holding back the company from achieving success. It felt personal but I know it wasn’t. It was a business move and that’s all there was too it. As I walked out the door I shook the VP’s hand and thanked him for the opportunity to be a part of the show and I meant it. I closed the door behind me and knew that I would always be on the outside of what was like a second home. As I walked to my car I felt light again. I wasn’t concerned about how I was going to pay my loans, or how I was going to pay bills. I felt elusive, like I was sneaking away from the scene of a crime and no one was there to catch me. The hands were back and helped me open my car door and I drove off. Strangely enough I felt comfortable and at ease only a few minutes after being laid off. I had every reason to freak out and go into a sleepy depression but I never did. Instead I went home played guitar hero then went to sleep comfortably. The week following my lay off was one of the best weeks of my life. The pressures of work were gone. I didn’t feel miserable. I talked with my family and discussed plans to come home. I never wanted to end up 25 and living at home but was very thankful to have family to go back to. I went into the unemployment office for the first time and filed for unemployment. I’m being awarded just enough to pay off my loans each month enabling me to focus on finding work when I go home rather than my loans. I’m able to put some of my loans that were in forbearance now into unemployment deferment saving me lots of money in interest. The Giants won the Super Bowl! And my sister told me I was going to be an Uncle. Ever since my lay off I’ve been riding this wave of good fortune and piece of mind in a situation that should have lent itself to the complete opposite. Being unemployed has a strange feeling to it. It’s not quite comfortable nor is it restless but somewhere in between. It’s sometimes hard to accept but I am thankful to be where I am. My job made me miserable and I didn’t have it in me to quit. My circumstances were my own and no more difficult than anyone else’s. The door at my first job closed behind me because it needed to in order for the next to open and the next after that and the next from there. Wherever I go I know there will always be a door open and that’s a very exciting thought. So, in the meantime, and this goes for anyone in between jobs, take pride in your struggles and like me try to experience the enjoyment of unemployment.

Surfing For Love On The Net

February 23, 2008

Surfing For LoveIt all started shortly after college. I was working a soulless "Office Space" job creating 3D bombing trainers for the military. You know, the type of job that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside about your contribution to the world. I had lived in the same general 100 mile vicinity for my entire 23 years of existence. The days of playing Mario Kart all night long while sharing drinks with good friends were becoming few and far between. I was trying so hard not to let the college days slip out of my grasp, but they were already gone. The only responses I received from companies I sent my resume and demo reels to were rejection letters. My last serious girlfriend was nearly 5 years prior and any date since then had been a joke. Maybe it's because my idea of a good first date was taking them surfing in Florida hurricane swell, rock climbing or to a hard rock concert. The way I saw it, if they couldn't deal with a little extreme sport action, the outdoors and a good rock concert, we ultimately were not going to get along. What happened to all of my hopes and dreams? Was the past year an indication of what the rest of my life would become? A lonely one track path through the halls of corporate misery… I wanted adventure, excitement, love and happiness! I wanted to live on a tropical island, surf perfect waves every day and work at a job I truly enjoyed. That’s not too much to ask for is it? I just needed someone to share the experiences with. I know it's not the cool thing to do, but I turned to the internet for dating. American Singles to be exact. Bars and clubs aren’t my scene, so I could rule those options out for finding a quality girl. The workplace is a bad idea, but even if it was an option there’s not a great male to female ratio in the development of 3D military simulators industry. Anyway, that’s enough of my lame excuses for looking to the internet for love. At the time I was poor, so I didn't actually subscribe to the site. However, if you're internet savvy you can hide enough clues in your profile for someone to figure out how to contact you. A great thing about internet dating is the opportunity to learn about the person you're interested in before actually dating them. Assuming they're not lying, but you can usually tell who the fake people are. If she says she’s 18 and looks 16, chances are she’s 14. I mean, c’mon! She likes Ashley Simpson and her favorite movie is Hannah Montana in 3D! How much more evidence do you need? No longer will you have to go out for weeks before learning that your date’s idea of a perfect life is living with her Grandparents in the corn fields of Illinois with a collection of puppy magnets. The internet doesn't always work out. There are a lot of kooks out there, but after only a couple tries I got lucky. We hit it off right away on the phone and set up a date to go surfing the following weekend in February. There’s nothing hotter than a girl in a wetsuit! It turns out the waves were really up (a Florida rarity) and it was really choppy (not a Florida rarity). So, making the wise move I opted for a less extreme date of an evening together at Laundry’s Crab Shack right on Tampa Bay. Smooth, I know. She didn’t tell me until months later that she doesn’t like seafood. Anyway, the date was great. At the end of the night I gave her a peck on the cheek and headed home. I had to keep her guessing, but the truth was I already knew she was the one. Her name was Jana. She was so cute, exotic, intelligent and lived all over the world from France to Pakistan. She was a photography student at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Her favorite activities included surfing, camping, hiking and watching fantasy movies! How often do you meet a girl who loves to surf and digs The Lord of the Rings!? She was in to piercing, industrial music, Paganism and Buddhism! Basically, the perfect girl to bring home to my Christian conservative southern family! We commuted back and forth to see each other nearly every week for months. Jana and I spent so much time together that I lost my job. I guess in the grand scheme of things I found love to be a bit more important than building kill switches for stealth bombers. Every weekend together was a new adventure. We surfed multiple hurricanes, slept under the stars at Sebastian Inlet several times, backpacked through the Grand Canyon for 4 days, had several road trips to North Carolina and the Florida Keys and I even attended my first Renaissance Festival and taught the LARPers a lesson or two about throwing a tomahawk. I wouldn’t have cared that much about losing my job, but it forced me to move back home with my parents and get a job close by doing graphic design. I love my family, but after 5 years of college and 6 years away from home, opinions on almost everything tend to differ quite a bit from your parents. But like most things, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave me the opportunity to save some money and realize that graphic design was the career path for me. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life sharing adventures with Jana. An evening in August she spilled the beans about a surprise road trip for my birthday to our secret spot in North Carolina. A secluded location at the top of a beautiful waterfall that words can’t even describe and it was all ours. I decided that was going to be the spot to pop the big question. One evening before hiking down to the bottom of the waterfall I slipped the ring in to my pocket. At the bottom, wading through the water, I proposed the brilliant idea of searching for gold. I got down on my knee in the water, held up the ring and said, “Look what I found!” I’m pretty sure she thought I really found it in the water at first. The look on her face was shock and amazement. Then, I asked her to marry me. She said no. I went home heartbroken and have been writing poetry ever since. Okay, okay… she said yes. We were married a few months later. Jana was 21 and I was 24. It’s been over 2 years since our wedding and while I’m no expert on the matter, I can say marriage has been awesome so far. We didn’t marry for financial reasons or because we had a kid on the way, but because we loved each other and it was something we wanted to do. Has it been happily ever after? Hell no. We have our fair share of fights and arguments. I’ve made Jana cry on several occasions and she’s made me, uh… almost cry a few times. We’ve had financial difficulty and family problems. We were constantly criticized for being too young, crazy or stupid. There are several people that would love to see our marriage fail. We’ve learned who our real friends are and what people really think of us. There are many things that are "expected" of you when you get married. You're "supposed" to settle down, work a steady job, purchase a home together and start a family. Personally, I think that's all bullshit. The only thing that I ever felt pressured in to was purchasing a condo. I consider that decision a big mistake, but I don't regret it. I learned a valuable life lesson; other people never know what's best for you. Follow your heart and take everyone else's advice with a grain of salt. For us, owning a home was an anchor and the economy sure isn't helping the situation. Jana and I still have many years of adventures left in us. Eventually starting a family will be a great new adventure, but that's one we plan on waiting another 5 or 10 years before embarking on. We love each other now more than ever. Since we met over 3 years ago I have worked at 6 different jobs, started my own design company and moved to the tropical island of Oahu where I have the opportunity to surf perfect waves nearly every day. We left our condo behind in Orlando (it still hasn't sold) and moved to Hawaii with no place to live or job secured. Now we live in downtown Waikiki 2 blocks from the ocean. We have 2 dogs that drive me completely insane some days. I have great friends and a loving family. Most days I am genuinely happy. I got the change I was looking for. Nobody can say what the future will truly hold for us, but I can say with certainty that I don't regret any choices I've made in my life thus far. My dreams have come true and I can only hope most people can be as lucky as I am.

Marriage: Is It For You?

February 22, 2008

Is It For You?A couple of weeks ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding. Normally, I could care less about weddings, but it was my Italian cousin getting hitched. And every time I get invited to an Italian wedding, I check that “Will Attend” box faster than an overweight ninja on a buffet line. Why? Because at Italian weddings, you know the food is going to be nothing short of orgasmic. And let’s not forget the plentiful booze. I know, I know. I shouldn’t reduce such events to superficial elements. Weddings are about two people acknowledging their love and dedication to each other for the rest of their lives. It’s a ceremony of beauty and - Who the hell am I kidding? 50% of these marriages go down the toilet, so obviously these fools that decide to tie the knot aren’t really THAT committed. Just because they had a delusional fit and buy into this “sanctity” bullshit doesn’t mean I should as well. If you’re dumb enough to get married and pay thousands and thousands of dollars to celebrate it, then sign me up! Sitting through a gag-inducing ceremony is a worthy price to pay for the chance to eat a really good fucking steak dinner and suck back Long Island ice-teas like there’s no tomorrow. Anyway, back to my cousin’s wedding. During the reception, I was sitting at a table next to my cousin Mike, with whom I used to live in Orlando when I was attending UCF. We had a lot in common: we were both the same age, both loved theatre and film, and both scoffed at the idea of marriage. A budding actor, he also starred in one of the first serious films I made. I truly enjoyed and treasured all the time I spent with him during my time in Orlando. Then as soon as we wrapped on the film, he decided to join the Army. Stricken with indecision about what he wanted to do with his life (apparently he wasn’t too keen about pursing an acting career, after all), he felt that the Army could shape him up and give him some direction. Before I knew it, he finished Basic Training, and then was off to North Korea. That was Fall of 2002. He has been stationed in Korea for five years. And when I finally saw him at the wedding after all of that time, my jaw dropped in shock at what I beheld before my very eyes: He had with him a wife and baby girl, only a few weeks old. “Damn it," I thought. "There goes another one." Now before you start calling me a cold-hearted bastard, let me give you some context. Nearly all of my cousins are married and have kids. Every time I go to a family reunion, I find it really difficult to relate to the rest of my family simply because I am without wife and child. I was Francis, the “weird” cousin in Florida who’s been in school forever and never had a serious girlfriend. Despite this self-imposed alienation, I could always rely on a single cousin or two to talk to without having to resort to the pleasures of food and booze to pass the time. My cousin Mike was one of those cousins. Now after five years of serving in the Army, he comes back with a family, which completely surprises me because I truly thought Mike was different. We would both make fun of other family members and friends who married too easily and early. We believed it was a cope-out; a strategy adopted by weak, desperate people who were indecisive about what they wanted to do with their life and so decided to marry and have kids because, to them, it was a sure-fire way to make their life consequential and meaningful. We would go on about how it was imperative for a man to enjoy his twenties by himself without having to be answerable to anyone, parents or spouses. Bride Drags GroomAnd here I see him, at our cousin’s wedding, falling into that pattern of life he once lambasted. What did the Army do to him? Is this the kind of “direction” he was looking for? I asked him if he was still writing, and he said he was, but now with the baby, it’s been harder and harder to devout time to it. I scolded him for not making more of an effort (those iced-teas were really hitting me at this point), telling him that he was a good writer, and as a good writer, it was his artistic responsibility to hone his craft by keeping at it, despite whatever obstacles might deter him. I further insisted that he email me his writings so that I can proof-read them. He finally relented and said, “Okay, I will,” perhaps as a way to finally shut my drunk ass up about it. It’s not like I’m not happy for my cousin. He seems comfortable with the decision he made, and so far, he hasn’t regretted it (as far as I can tell). If he truly feels that having a family at this point in his life is the best thing for him, then who am I to piss in his kool-aid and spoil it for him? I grapple with what my cousin Mike has done with his life because I wonder if he truly became one of those sad sacks who felt the need to have a family in order to combat an existential (or quarter-life) crisis. Did he have a family so that he can feel significant? Did he feel pressured by his parents (or society) because IT’S THE THING TO DO? It’s no secret that our society smiles on a family man. They are looked upon as men with values and principles. All politicians stress about how they are “husbands and fathers” first. Yet when you’re single, people look at you as if you’re the most selfish, hedonistic bastard on the planet. “What’s wrong with you?” they think to themselves. “Why haven’t you get your act together and ‘settled down?’” Interesting term, that is. Settled down. I think it’s an incredibly succinct and appropriate term is there ever was one because, essentially, to make such a decision is to narrow your options considerably. You “settle down” and stop shooting for the stars, destroying any possibility of acting out on whims, flights of fancy, or whatever true passions you have in life which may inform you of your life-long ambitions and aspirations. When you “settle down,” what YOU want and desire isn’t a priority anymore. It’s all about what’s best for the wife and kids, which is what it should be. But with the sheer amount of possibilities before us as modern twenty-somethings, is marriage the kind of decision one can rationally make in this day and age?

Is The Bro Still Alive?

February 20, 2008

I truly value my college years, especially during my undergrad in Orlando. My time at the University of Central Florida was one of the most enlightening experiences in my life. Within those four years, I became fully aware of how much I didn’t know about anything, let alone what I THOUGHT I knew about my passions, film and literature. I was so eager to soak in all the knowledge my ripe brain could absorb. I remember vividly driving to school and being excited about going to class; I actually LOOKED FORWARD to school, a sensation I never possessed before. Every semester I made sure that I had one or two film theory classes, a lit class, a writing class, and a philosophy class to keep me invigorated. On top of going to class full time every semester (including summer: I was, after all, double majoring), I worked part-time as a manager at a video store (an awful chain that rhymes with “Lackluster”). With that kind of heavy workload, I was very particular about how I spent my free time when I wasn’t at school, at work, or doing homework. My extracurricular activities consisted of: playing trivial pursuit; partaking in Mario Kart tournaments; going to a comedy show, by myself; seeing movies, by myself; attending the theater, by myself; eating occasionally at a four star restaurant, yes, by myself. And not once did I feel the need to join a fraternity. That was an aspect of college I never really experienced: fraternities. “Rush week” was never a term written hastily on my calendar. I knew classmates who were part of fraternities (and sororities) and swore up and down by them. They would wax on about the sense of community and love they felt for their fellow brethren (and sisthren), how it was a fantastic outlet for socializing and networking. On a few occasions, I was invited to come by the houses and look into joining, and I would always decline. Why did I decline? Because fraternities are full of bros, and I can’t stand bros. That’s right. Those beer guzzlin’, bitch slappin’, sports lovin,’ deep-thought hatin’ cretins flock to fraternities like flies to shit. I have no tolerance for this preening, raunchy, classless bunch of Neanderthals, and I was always lucky enough to take classes which kept me from ever having to cross their paths. I hate bros like fat people hate diets. Like the English hate the French. Like Old School Trekkies hate Deep Space Nine. Like attractive women hate other attractive women. So suffice it to say that anytime I got accosted to join a fraternity, I shuddered with contempt. I did my best to hide my contempt from my inviters lest I came across as rude, and it took quite a concerted effort. I made a concerted effort because I knew these guys meant well by inviting me, especially when it was to a fraternity that was highly selective. And the interesting thing to me was that these guys who would invite me weren’t real “bros”, so when the occasion of such an invitation would arrive, I was always taken back by surprise - I would never peg these people as being part of a fraternity. Even after I declined the invitation, I didn’t judge them or immediately stopped associating with them afterwards. I try not to be that kind of guy. There was, however, a slight change in attitude within them towards me after I declined their invitation. And so I never became part of the “frat” scene. Never even went to a party. Sometimes I’ll come across all these films and television shows on T.V. depicting the frat experience as some sort of “rite of passage,” and I can only shake my head in confusion. What is it about this lifestyle that is so alluring? Why would any rational human being put themselves through the humiliation and dehumanization that is “hazing?” Before I’d get myself worked up, I’d then come across other movies and television shows that seem to value (and empathize with) the plight of the geek. I smile at the success of particular movies such as 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad. It’s very encouraging that these types of stories from the geek perspective are becoming more and more accepted by the mainstream. And what about those frat comedies? Well, it looks like they get regulated to straight-to-video hell, because I hardly see them anymore. When was the last big frat comedy to make HUGE money? And what happened to Adam Sandler? Bros used to LOVE him, but now it seems Sandler’s movies haven’t enjoyed as much success as they did previously; it could be due to Sandler’s alter egos being less and less bro-like with every film (a choice I hope is conscious on the part of Sandler). Can it be the bro is no mo’? Can it be, perhaps, that geeks are the new bros? I mean, why is it that geeks get such a bad wrap? I find geeks WAY more interesting than bros and jocks. They partake in complex board games, play video games (even bros and jocks do that), are technologically savvy, and know a bunch of random, interesting shit. If geeks are into sports, they aren’t obnoxious about it, and if they are obnoxious about it, well, you can control a bunch of geeks much easier than a bunch of drunken bros. Geeks are also usually very down-to-earth, modest, and extremely sincere. I can’t say I ever meet a geek that I wanted to punch dead in the face upon meeting them. Bros, on the other hand...let’s just say there have been instances where I’d have no compunction about taking a Louisville slugger to one of those strutting, babbling bags of insipidness. And this is coming from a man who believes in non-violence. If Gandhi were still alive today and had the displeasure of meeting a bro, I’m sure even he’d try to strangle the bastard with those thin, fragile hands of his. LONG LIVE THE GEEKS AND ALL THEIR SPLENDIDNESS. DEATH TO THE BROS! Ah, what a splendid utopia that would be. Now what to do about the emos and hipsters…? [youtube][/youtube]

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