Monday, July 23, 2012

And Just Like That...

...Vacation ends.  Well, if you want to call it a vacation.  Technically we didn't vacate our beloved and despised Stewartland for sandy beaches or wooded vales.  No, we stayed home and worked our butts off. As I mentioned in a blog post a few moons back, we're trying to get Stewartland on the market.  To achieve this amazing feat we must first deep clean and sponge bathe the house.  This goes hand in hand with one of our 2012 goals: to rid ourselves of material goods, and we spent the majority of the week cleaning and weeding and boxing and tossing.  It was a busy week, but we got a lot finished.

...I started my new job today.  Technically I didn't really do anything other than orientate myself with the Manuel's Mousepad Emporium (MME).  I'll continue to be orientated all week, going through safety and policy and whatnot.  But after going through my benefit package today, I'm extremely excited at how much God has blessed me.  My paycheck will be a little less than I have been making, but only slightly, and the benefits are so offsetting that it's negligible.

...I started exercising and getting healthy.  Technically I started a month ago.  I'd been feeling the faint stirrings in my ticker box to do so, but Carl's post on June 11--"(It was) Time for a Change"--gave me the final nudge into that not-so-gentle good morning.  (He also inspired a ton of others to shape up and live healthier, and those of us joined an email support group.  You should definitely read his post.)  Starting just a day or two later I began getting up an hour earlier than I normally did, right around 5:30am.  I started educating myself on eating healthier.  I took initiative.  I ran 2-3 miles every other day or so.  I've stopped with Doritos.  And since then I've definitely gotten* much healthier.  It's a wonderful feeling that I'll probably elaborate on sometime in the future.

...Blogging stalled.  Literally.  Rememorandom takes the back burner while life is in full throttle, and life is well into full throttle.  I very much enjoy blogging and the community, but there's just too danged much going on to have the time to do it all right now.  I'll continue to post intermittently until things calm down.  Winter is coming, after all.

*this is one of my least favorite words in all of English.  But the Dude abides.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Speculative Edge #1, a Review

The Speculative Edge is a brand new speculative fiction magazine with a goal set to push boundaries in the genre by publishing stories, reviews, and other assorted tidbits in a monthly digest form. Its Editor-in-Chief is Mr. Shane Collins. I've reviewed a magazine similar to this before (ResAliens #4, where I was first introduced to Collins' writing) and I enjoyed the short tales quite a bit. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to review the inaugural issue of the magazine.

As explained in the "Letter from the Editor," The Speculative Edge treads familiar territory in the zine world. There are several of these types of things out there, so why add another? The answer, as Collins says, is to create a magazine that caters to the readers by blending pieces from new writers as well as established (i.e. published) authors. The magazine would also contain film and book reviews, excerpts from novels, poetry, essays, and several unique short stories. 

The majority of the magazine is devoted to fiction. For this first edition there are two interviews with established authors as well as two excerpts from their respected novels. Additionally there are four short stories, ten poems, a smattering of dated book reviews and summer film reviews, and an essay on genre and literary fiction by the Editor-in-Chief. I like to review these types of things like I review anthologies, by each individual story. I will not be reviewing the poetry or the reviews (although a review of a review could be interesting).

"The Cosmic Stringbusters," by D. L. Chance, opens the magazine's short fiction set with a sci-fi yarn infused heavily with bluegrass. Now since bluegrass runs deep in my veins (being from Western Kentucky, where bluegrass was literally born and living in the selfsame city where the International Bluegrass Museum is located) I was immediately curious about this story. On board a space vessel with a mission of spending 100 years away from earth the people are segregated into two groups: those that look back to Earth and those that look to the future. Suffice it to say that there is some tension between the two. "The Cosmic Stringdusters" is more philosophic than action-filled, but it was nevertheless a rather unique and fun story to begin with.

"Of All the Gin Joints," by C. T. Hart. This is a rather standard android/cyborg story with a slight misfire. I had questions after finishing the very short story, wondering the plausibility. Even so, when the Narrator goes into a normal bar for an evening drink and everything suddenly grows weird, I was left wondering more about the world the writer created as opposed to what just happened.

"Gravity 101," by Christian Riley. Aliens and UFOs appear. The aliens are upset and the earthlings have to pay for it. As uninspired and trite as that sounds, I actually enjoyed this piece a lot. It is another very short story, but I liked the voice of the Narrator. My imagination had fun with this story.

"They Call Her Miss Hood," by Matthew Sideman. I honestly struggled to finish this story. I'm not much of a fan of pulpy noir stuff with a whimsical self-righteous narrator, and after the first two paragraphs I groaned. The gimmick gets old very quickly. This is a story about a private investigator named Miss Hood (the Fable from "Little Red Riding Hood") and her quest to make rent by uncovering the truth from some wolves. I couldn't help but be reminded of Bill Willingham's Fables, of which I've been a fan for many years. This genre is too crowded and I did not like this story at all. Perhaps had it been shorter? Or if the writer had used a different voice?

Skipping over the poetry (Rosie of New Bedford and Asylum were my favorites) and reviews. Mr. Collins' essay, The Writing War, offers a beginners guide to literary and genre fiction. He treads no new territory, but I don't think that he was intending too, either. I've long wondered the same things he's pondered here, why we have the distinction in our books when so many of them span multiple genres. It was also nice to see Mr. Collins in support of expanding one's reading sphere and stretching out and trying new things. I've personally found that to be beneficial and enjoyable.

It's hard to say what my final feelings are concerning the first edition of The Speculative Edge. Of the short stories I enjoyed three of the four. I honestly skipped over the interviews because, well, I almost never am interested in those, regardless of the author. However I did read the two book excerpts--A Tale of Two Moons (George Wilhite) and Fallen World (C. R. Rollinger)--but neither story intrigued me enough to purchase the books. Poetry isn't something I normally read, and having no real gauge for this field I'd give it a mostly passable grade. The reviews were heavily dated, each focused on books that are a few years old. My recommendation for future editions would be to expand the fiction section, lessen the poetry section (but don't get rid of it), and have reviews for somewhat current books. The Speculative Edge is a fledgling magazine. It's not worth the print edition for a subscription, although a digital subscription isn't completely off the table. Much depends on where the magazine goes with the upcoming issues. 

If you're looking for a speculative magazine that you can get on your e-reader on the cheap (from $1.99 to $2.99 per issue), then check out The Speculative Edge, especially if you like reading stories by young and (relatively) unknown authors. Check the magazine out at their website, linked here. The first edition hits the shelves August 1.

FTC Thingy: This magazine was provided to me for free because I am ruggedly handsome and have a face made for the silver screen. Sometimes when I smile I literally break people's hearts. There were no monies exchanged between myself and The Speculative Edge, nor were there any baked goods.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Curse, a Cover

Been a while since I've done a cover. This song is by one of my favorite artists out at the moment, Mr. Josh Ritter. The lyrics are haunting, and I've puzzled over the implications of the song and would be curious to know your reactions, too.  I've put my cover first followed by the original.

(Don't those puppets add a certain creepy mmph to the song?)  After listening to Ritter's it makes me wonder why I even did a cover.  Honestly I just wanted to share the song and, more importantly, the story.  Wow. I can't stop thinking about it.

Theory One: The mummy is cursed and malevolent
Theory Two: The woman spends her whole life researching this thing and has a great imagination

The Question: Does the mummy truly love her? I think yes. Keisha thinks not so much. I think a great, thought-provoking song, unlike any other love story I know.


He opens his eyes, falls in love at first sight
With the girl in the doorway
What beautiful lines, how full of life
After thousands of years what a face to wake up to

He holds back a sigh as she touches his arm
She dusts off the bed where till now he's been sleeping
Under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart
Under scarab and bone starts back to its beating

She carries him home in a beautiful boat
He watches the sea from a porthole in stowage
He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed
Then one day his lips answer her in her own language

The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it's her hair that he touches
She asks "Are you cursed?" He says "I think that I'm cured"
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bullrushes

In New York he is laid in a glass-covered case
He pretends he is dead, people crowd round to see him
But each night she comes round, and the two wander down
The halls of the tomb that she calls a museum

Often he stops to rest, but then less and less
Then it's her that looks tired, staying up asking questions
He learns how to read from the papers that she 
Is writing about him and he makes corrections

It's his face on her book and more and more come to look
Families from Iowa, upper West-siders
Then one day it's too much, he decides to get up
And as chaos ensues, he walks outside to find her

She's using a cane, and her face looks too pale
But she's happy to see him, as they walk he supports her
She asks "Are you cursed?" but his answer's obscured
In a sandstorm of flashbulbs and rowdy reporters

Such reanimation, the two tour the nation
He gets out of limos, he meets other women
He speaks of her fondly, their nights in the museum
But she's just one more rag now he's dragging behind him

She stops going out, she just lies there in bed
In hotels in whatever towns they are speaking
Then her face starts to set and her hands start to fold
And one day the dry fig of her heart stops its beating

Long ago on the ship, she asked "Why pyramids?"
He said "Think of them as an immense invitation"
She asks "Are you cursed?" He says "I think that I'm cured" 
Then he kissed her and hoped that she'd forget that question

Check out more Josh Ritter if you want some great writing and excellent songs.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Avonlea Enjoys Swimming

A quick post to share this great picture of Avonlea trying out her float for the first time. Looks like she's rather enjoying the water. This is such a fun time in my life right now, and I'm so incredibly fortunate to be blessed with both a wonderful daughter and a phenomenal wife. Just thought I'd share.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday (Retro): The Story of Irvin Milhouse

[I discovered a cache of floppy discs that have stories and poems from when I was in middle and high school. This was written as a senior in high school for unknown reasons. I am putting these unedited works up here for archival purposes. Word Count: 1275]

     It was a Thursday in July of 1934. Irvin Milhouse sat on a tree stump in Kentucky. He had left New York on Black Tuesday without saying goodbye to anyone. He feared that the mafia was after him, and any person he saw dressed in a black suit Irvin generally avoided. If a gunshot rang in the distance, Irvin thought the mob was getting closer: Irvin Milhouse was a wreck. 
     He had not eaten in two days. It had been five years since the stock market had fallen, and since then Irvin had lost much of the weight he once possessed. Now he longed for it back. He bore a beard, old clothes, and a crumpled leather hat. He looked Kentuckian. Often he contemplated suicide. It would put an end to the suffering, but for some reason he could not bring himself to do it. He thought occasionally of the beautiful apartment he once owned and it brought tears to his eyes. All of the luxuries he had once taken for granted had simply vanished on that Black day. But, he rationed, was it payment for his sins? 
     Somewhere in the distance he could see a figure drawing closer. Too tired to run and too tired of hiding, Irvin simply sat on his stump, waiting for the person to come to him. As the shape grew close enough to see, Irvin made out that the figure was simply an old man, weary and bone-thin like everyone else. The man said nothing until he stopped beside Irvin. 
     "Howdy." The traveler peered sadly into Irvin's eyes. "You got a name stranger?" 
    "Yes, sir," said Irvin. "I used to use it back before everything went wrong. Irvin's the name. And you?" 
     The man shook his head and spit in the dirt. "Nope. I don't reckon I'm worthy of a name anymore. Haven't used one in so long." 
     Irvin stood and shook hands with the strange old man. "Take this here seat, Mister. An old man like you needs all the rest he can get." 
     "What are you doin' in these parts?" Asked the old man as he sat down on the stump. "You're not from around here, are ya?" 
     Irvin shook his head and shrugged. "I guess I'm doing what every other person in this country's doing. I'm looking for work and food." He paused. "No, I'm not from here. Does my voice give me away?" 
     The old man laughed. "Yep. You Yankees all sound the same to an old man, but I s'pose we hicks sound the same to you. But ye ain't gonna find work or food around here. I used ter work in them mines fer enough money ter s'port my fam'ly. Had me a wife and two kids. My woman died two years ago and my kids left me. Said they'd find 'em some work and then they'd help me out. Well, it's been two years and I ain't heard from 'em yet." 
     Irvin did not know what to say. Since the crash he had heard countless stories similar to this, and each one broke his heart anew. The whole world had been drastically altered in just one day. People were roaming the streets looking for work; people were crossing the country to find work anywhere they could in America; people were seeking desperately for just a small bite to eat and to end the suffering. Irvin and the stranger were two people out of millions who could tell similar stories. 
     "What's yer reason fer sticking ‘round here?" The man's voice brought Irvin back to the present. 
    "Well, I used to work on the stock market up in New York before that dreadful day. Somehow, I got involved with the mob and since Black Tuesday, I have been running from them. I think they are always after me because I lost my boss millions of dollars. Last I heard there was a bounty on my head, but I'm sure that's just a bluff. The Don doesn't have any money either." 
     The old man was shaking his head. "A bounty huh . . .. Aw, it's a shame when a man ain't got no place to sleep without being skeered o' somethin'. To be a runnin' fer five years must have quite a toll on a feller like you." 
     "Yep. I ain't ate in two days now. I ain't bathed in Lord knows when." Irvin paused. "What about you, Mister? How long has it been since you ate?" 
     The man had to think for a minute before responding. "Lemme see. I reckon I et me somethin' last night. I was gettin' off a train, and I found me an apple tree. Plum near every apple was plucked off 'at tree, but I got me one." 
     "Sure wish I had me an apple right now. I could eat the whole tree probably." The old man reached into his pocked and pulled out a small Golden Delicious. 
     Irvin's eyes lit up with hunger and the man smiled. "Here, son. You take this here apple and eat it. I'm old and ain't got much life left in me, but yer young and in need of some food." Irvin looked apprehensive. "Go on, son. I got more." 
     Irvin took the apple from Mister's hand and began eating. Between a bite he managed a "Thank you" and Mister smiled at his fortune. "The Lord is gonna look out fer ya', Irvin. He's got plans to fix up this country. You just wait." 
    For a while longer the two men just sat and said nothing. They enjoyed each other’s company. It was rare for a friendship to start in such hard times, but Irvin figured that people all around the country were pulling together, trying to overcome the hardships. Irvin looked at his new friend and smiled. The stranger could offer hope in Irvin's life where others could not. God was showing him that there was still a reason to hang on. 
     Night fell and the men were resting peacefully on the Kentucky grounds. Mister stood up from his stump and talked quietly "Irvin, son, are you awake?" 
     "Yeah. I'm just sittin' here thinkin'." 
     "Me too. I think I'm gonna be a headin' on." 
     "Where ya goin'?" Irvin asked rising up. 
     The man shrugged. "I dunno. I got a fam'ly out there somewhere. I sho' would like ta' see 'em again before I go on to meet the Lord. I guess I'll go a lookin' fer food, a job, and my kids. What about yerself?" 
     Irvin shook his head. "I don't know, either. I'm probably going to head on down the river and see if I can get me a job sharecroppin' with someone. Only the Lord knows." 
     Mister extended his hand, and Irvin happily grasped it. "I thank'ee son fer givin' an ole' man yer seat. If ya' travel a piece east, you'll find that apple tree I was tellin' ya about." 
     "Thank you, Mister. I hope God watches over you on your trip and I'll be praying for you to find your kids. Thanks for that apple, too." 
     The old man smiled. "I'll see ya again one day." 
     Irvin watched as his friend started walking away in the dark night. He was amazed at how strong the man was, how determined he was to find his kids and secure a future, and this offered inspiration to Irvin. He watched until Mister disappeared and then he sat back down on the stump. For the first time in years, Irvin Milhouse slept unafraid. The future would bring with it change for the better, and he would be there when it came.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

I GOT A JOB, or A Polite Notice of Resignation

To all of you that have been praying for my job situation, I would like to let you know that God has provided me with an opportunity that went beyond my hopes. The job search has been slow and stressful and extremely down-putting, but through the many months I have never doubted. My hopes were to stay in the relatively same area that I'm at, but if I had to move I had to move. As it turns out,  God allowed us to stay in the relatively same area, thus answering another prayer.

Today, officially, I handed in my two week notice. It was awkward and I had no idea what to say as I handed it to my boss. I explained how I'd been looking ever since the kerfuffle about late paychecks and reduced work weeks. He understood and wished me good luck.

So, after three years and two months at the Mexican Lightbulb Company* as a Highway Drainage Engineer, I am hanging up my, um, keyboard. My last day of employment will be Thursday, July 19.

Where am I going? My new company is an aluminum manufacturing plant located a simple half-hour drive from Stewartland. There I will take on the mantle of Environmental Technician, where I will work extensively and exhaustively at reducing pollution. I will be involved in air, water, soil, and all other facets of environmental engineering. The work will be much more physical than what I've been accustomed to these past three years, but I am very much looking forward to that.

It is a bit sad that I'm no longer going to be a practicing engineer. Even so, this technician position is muy rewarding, as I will be working hand-in-hand with the environmental engineers at the plant. One of them is eligible to retire, and I was practically told (twice) in my interview that I would easily be able to step up to the environmental engineer position in the future. What excites me about the technician is what I said in my interview: I want to actually see how things come together and work from the ground up, and the technician position is perfect for that.

I'm sure there will be more to come in the future about my new place of work, but for now I just wanted to get the word out. Now I need to come up with another catchy fake name that'll make a good acronym.

Once again, thanks to all of you that prayed.

*Obviously my current employer is not actually named the Mexican Lightbulb Company, though that would be pretty sweet. Actually my current employer is named after the three founders of the company. One of them (and I'm not yanking any chains here) is Johnny Depp's grandfather. Johnny Depp is from Owensboro, KY, and his grandad helped give me my job. So that's that.

Monday, July 02, 2012

ROMP Festival

It’s been record high temperatures here in Kentucky. We’ve had triple digits for nigh a week and I expect that they’ll continue on for the next span of days, too. Mother Nature has its own mind and does not heed the plans of mere mortals, and when the International Bluegrass Music Museum scheduled its annual River Of Music Party (ROMP) they did not anticipate the heat. ROMP is a three day music festival where people come literally from all over the world and camp and listen to great music the whole time. Guests also enjoy a bit of Kentucky hospitality and our lovely environment.

If I had not already purchased two non-refundable tickets well in advance I might not have made the journey to ROMP on Saturday. But I did, and so I cleared the day and prepared for the onslaught. I lathered on Avonlea’s SPF 50 to my fair-and-freckled skin hoping to avoid a burn. I filled my canteen with ice water, grabbed a popsicle, and headed out to Yellowcreek Park at around 2pm (whereupon my arrival I realized that I did not bring any lawn chairs and had to turn around and drive back to my house and pick up some before making my way back to the park).

First of all the ROMP festival is misleading. While the bluegrass museum is the host of the party, the music is anything but your typical bluegrass. In fact, of the six bands I watched I would say only one was a traditional bluegrass band. Most of the acts are newgrass, alternative bluegrass, or contemporary acoustic, though they all borrowed heavily from bluegrass and Old Time music. The crowd—numbering near 10,000 for the final act—was also very reflective of the music. By that I mean that a large percentage were very stereotypical hippyish. By that I mean to imply a bluegrass meets Bonaroo vibe. That said, the heat makes people do crazy things, which was simultaneously amusing and annoying.

But I was not there to people watch. No, I was there for the music, primarily for the acts beginning at 6:00pm, with a band by the name of Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. Pokey LaFarge played predominately Old Time music or songs that sounded befitting of the genre. The guitarist was unbelievable, picking out impossible riffs with apparent ease. LaFarge’s songs were humorous and dark and the energy the band had onstage was a perfect way to start the evening.

The 23 String Band came on next. This band was probably the closest thing to bluegrass of the night (excepting NewFound Road, which played in the early afternoon) and was one that I’d heard of before. Many of their songs were about typical bluegrass subjects, and once again the talent was phenomenal.

The next band up was one of the main acts of the night. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are getting loads of praise all across the States due to their unique style and song choice. The CCD play “black” bluegrass, old songs that sound straight from plantations of the mid 19th century. They preceded many of their songs with an attribution to who taught the band the song, and some of these were interesting. (Perhaps the most interesting one was the song done entirely in Gaelic.) A lot of the crowd at ROMP was there for the Chocolate Drops, and after sitting through the set I was unsure why. Yes they had talent and some of their songs were good, but a large portion of their show was, well, boring. They stayed on their chairs throughout most of their set and in between songs there was a dead lull in the air. Perhaps this was from the still 100 degree temperatures, but even so, I was not too impressed by this band.

Old Crow Medicine Show had the headlining event of the night. I’ve been to an OCMS show before and it was loads of fun. (The description under my "Concerts" tab says "This was an absolutely crazy concert.")  The band has so much raw energy that it’s almost impossible to listen to their music without having fun. At around 10:20pm the band came on, their first time playing live in several months. They played until midnight-ish, belting out several new tunes from their soon-to-be-released new album. They also highlighted some of their back catalog, including their mandatory “Wagon Wheel.” This was a great act, but I remarked to my friend that the band seemed more subdued than previously. Perhaps it was from losing longtime bandmate and founding member Willie Watson. Perhaps it was the oppressive heat.

ROMP continued on even after the main act finished with a few after-party concerts. I was sapped of energy and sleepy, as was my friend, so we decided to head home. Looking back I did have fun and definitely enjoyed listening to some good music, but at the same time I’m a bit let down. I think I was expecting more from the festival, but instead got mostly the experience of listening to a radio outside in the heat. I enjoyed all of the acts to varying degrees and I can see myself going again next year, but I can only hope that it won’t be so hot.