Thursday, October 31, 2013

Game of Kings

I've just learned how to play chess.  I had tried once before when I was maybe 16, but I didn't have the patience then even for learning it, much less for playing it.  I don't know, maybe it just caught me on a bad day.  Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was visiting a friend on his birthday and I got roped into playing again, but this time it took.

It wasn't even traditional chess, it was this special, expanded four-person board that made it all the more complicated.  At first, I was completely lost.  I didn't know what the hell was going on or how I was supposed to get the ball rolling.  I kept a tight perimeter around my King and Queen and was even hesitant to let my Pawns stray too far from the castle keep.  As the game went on though and I lost a piece or two unexpectedly, I began to catch on and start to think every move and every accompanying opponent's move through.  Even by the end, I couldn't quite see the board the way an experienced player would and I had to talk myself through each move like I was teaching a first grader arithmetic.  I also had a lot of help from my gracious buddies.

We played for hours and had a really good time.  I love the intricacy of it and the pace, which for me was admittedly glacial.  I don't know how those little clocks that some people use factor in and I don't think I want to know.  When we were in Alaska this summer, we would have these stretches of time when we were on the boat for a few hours, on a run to our next anchorage, and we'd break out the board games.  If we ever get back there, I'm bringing chess.  It should come as no surprise that I am already a total sucker to the idea of playing chess in front of a fireplace with a glass of brandy or a mug of coffee for hours on end this holiday season.  I know, I'm a living, breathing cliche of a dork, but you know what, so be it.  Oooo, chess in the park sounds pretty awesome as well.  I always saw those guys playing in Washington Square Park and I didn't really think about it, but I totally get it now.

It beats Chutes and Ladders, that's for sure.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I need a good old-fashioned shopping day.

(I could insert the obligatory caveat about materialism, what really makes one happy, bla bla bla.  Let's take a break from that type of thinking, shall we?  The best shopping days are an escape anyway.)

I could use one of those great days where you don't necessarily go hog wild, but you treat yourself.  Maybe you pull the trigger on that one thing you've been picking up and putting back down or visiting a few times a week online.  Maybe you don't just buy the shirt, but the pants, belt, and sweater to match.  And you stock up on some staples, retiring a few pairs of the old socks and underwear that have lost the elasticity of their youth.  Then there is the surprise, the hat or the scarf you're not sure you can actually pull off, but what the hell, you take the risk.  

No shopping day is complete without lunch.  On a day such as this perfect shopping day, I like to avoid the food court and go to that white linen place that looks a little too nice for a mall.  The temptation here would be to indulge in a beer or a glass of wine, but I will shock you when I say I would abstain.  You have to keep your energy up, not slow it down.  

It's late for the true go-getters, but a little holiday shopping in October is still ahead of the game, I say, which means the pressure is not yet dialed up.  You can relax and let the gift ideas come to you.  On a day like this, they usually do.  It's shopping as a crossword puzzle rather than a fever pitch scavenger hunt.  Isn't it great to knock out the toughest person on the list on a day where you're not even officially trying?  Your arm and hand strength is probably sapped what with all the bags you're carrying by now so why not make a run to the car.  You lighten your load, get some fresh air and head back in with renewed vigor.  

At this point, you splurge on a coffee and a chocolate (I'm a See's man, but I have no problem with your Godivas, your Leonidas).  You're worth it, damn it.  Then there is always that one last store, the one whose window display has been a splinter in your mind all day, but which you would only go into once you were done with everything else.  Well that time has come.  It's nice to find something new for the home too, I think, candle, pillow, whatever.  I have held back until now, but I will announce now that we've reached the home goods leg of the journey that I am a deft sale shopper.  My restraint in staking out price reductions is on par with legendary hunger strikes or spiritual fasts.  I will wait these stores out and then, when they lose heart and break, I strike like a cobra.  I find home goods can be the safest genres of sale shopping in that returns rarely come into play.

The great shopping day is capped off most enjoyably with the post-shopping movie.  The two were practically made for each other.  You're there, you've worked hard all day, but you're tired.  Why not rest and take in a flick?  Popcorn is mandatory, of course.  Something about the escapist vibe of the mall renders all but the most rudimentary of nutritional standards moot.

Yessir, there is nothing quite like the classic all American shopping day.  Say what you will about the conveniences and advantages of online shopping, which are valid, I agree, but you cannot compare it to the full sensory comfort of a great mall shopping day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dog Days

I've been feeling a mental malaise these last couple of days.  Pardon me if I whine for a bit, I just find it easier to type than to listen to myself on matters such as this.  Plus, Conrad* is still in Atlanta so it's not like I have my buddy here to gripe to anyway.

There's a litany of contributing factors and I can't really put my finger on any single one of them being the main reason for being in this funk of aimlessness, if not sadness.  Let's face it, my fall playlist, which I cherish, is comprised largely of sad music and it's all I've been listening to for over a month.  I'm sure that seeps in.  There's the natural drag of fall itself in that as much as I love this time of year, it's things like staying home in sweatpants and reading, driving through the country, or sitting by a fireplace anywhere that I am compelled to do, but so rarely able to actually do.  It wears on me, I think, to always have my heart and mind someplace else.  In that same vein, when my mindset is rainy days and nippy nights and my actual environment is relentlessly sunny and warm, it gets aggravating.  It can provoke a feeling of being trapped, a la "The Truman Show."  Then I start thinking about moving to a climate with a little more ebb and flow.  But what would I do there?  Well, what are you doing here that's so great?  What about your family and friends?  You're already far from one side, are you going to move away from both sides now?  What about my acting?  What about it?  Are you doing anything to make that anything more than a hobby and, if not, is there not theater in any town in America?  Are you going to have kids?  How the hell are you going to have kids with the job you have now and its limited time flexibility and zero vacation days?  If you know this job will prevent you from living the life you want to live, how much longer are you going to do it?  Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do then?  It doesn't help that I've just read "Death of a Salesman" for class.  That alone could inspire a person to take another long look at their work, their family, and their life, but when you're already tossing it all up into the air, it only scatters all the more wildly.  The good news is I should have no trouble connecting to this Biff character, but God help me if I someday find myself talking to the ghosts of hopes and memories like Willy Loman.  That's a legitimate fear.  I look at the calendar, both the literal calendar of the next few months and the big metaphorical calendar of life, and it's depressing in a way to see it almost completely filled, with maybe a couple of hours free here and there, weekend to weekend.  It doesn't really matter what occupies the time, whether it's joyous or mundane; it's the realization of "this is what's going to happen and you have limited opportunities with which to do anything else."  Of course, that's massively naive as life can shatter your calendar at any moment.  The angst I'm describing just breaks down to mortality, I think.

If only I could hit the pause button on life, stemming the constant flow of obligations, responsibilities, and time itself, long enough to truly sit and think, maybe I could figure some of this out.  Not only that, if I could freeze time (but not people), I would have time to do all the things I want to do and, most importantly, to be the person I wish I could be to everyone I want to be it for.  I wouldn't lose touch with people.  I wouldn't have the ping of guilt when I realize how long it's been or how I've forgotten important details of someone's life. Doesn't everybody feel that way?  Life in this way is kind of like juggling knives while yodeling on roller skates, isn't it?  I know this is something you adults fully get already, it still baffles me sometimes.

What to do about it.  This verbal purge helps a little, luckily.  Looking back and seeing how far I've come and how all the questions of earlier days got worked out one way or another gives hope and comfort.  There are no easy answers or solutions, obviously, but I think the one thing that ends up working best is to take my eyes off the damn horizon.  There are immediate joys and trials to be met, like coming home late to find my lovely wife has made me my favorite meatloaf, seeing old friends this Saturday, celebrating my grandpa's birthday the after that, and finally getting rid of the damn moths in the spare bedroom.  I do think it's ultimately a good thing to unplug yourself from The Matrix every once and a while, perturbing as it may be.  I just hope that these small steps that bring solace are not leading in a circle**.

*That's a shout out!  I know you're reading!
**Although I realize it mostly is.  If I weren't too afraid, I am sure I could go back through this blog and find entry after pathetic entry over the years that are bemoaning the same things this one is.  Oh God, I need to go outside and take a walk.  Sorry, folks.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wide Open Spaces

I'm redecorating my cubicle.  Well, to a degree.  It's already all decked out for fall, but I am working to organize it more cleanly, free up some space, and class it up a little.  I've 86'ed a printer I barely used which has freed up what feels like fifty percent of my surface space.  I am befuddled as to make tasteful use of it while still maintaining a neat, uncluttered space.  Perhaps a nice table lamp and some interesting art/coffee table books?  Should I put the special coffeemaker for our quadrant there?  No, I don't want people all up on my back getting coffee all the time.  Zen garden anyone?  How about a wet bar?  That would be my first choice, assuming I could get away with it, of course, which I can't.  What if the bottles remained sealed or didn't actually contain alcohol?  What if I installed a Mad Men-esque bar that was for decorative purposes only.  I will occasionally need to use the space, of course, for my holiday arts and crafts or (gasp)....filing.  Come Christmastime, I figure it's an ideal place for a gingerbread house, bare minimum.  We're talking about approximately 2.5 x 4 feet of untapped potential here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I And Love And The Avett Brothers

I use Facebook status posts almost exclusively to talk about my experience with acting class, but, while tangentially related to acting, the ol' blog feels like a more appropriate venue to talk about The Avett Brothers.

I remember when I was in film school, people would ask me if studying film had changed the way I watched and appreciated movies.  It never really did.  I don't mean to necessarily draw meaning by the comparison, but since I have begun taking these acting classes, I absolutely see acting performances in a different way, which is just to say that I am in awe of everybody.  Stupid TV commercials that I would never even think about before, I watch now and think "I can imagine what that looked like on the page and he really did a great job with it.  Awesome work, brother!"  You can imagine what a great Paul Giamatti performance can do to me.  However, as much as my mind is blown like never before by great acting, it's not often inspirational to me, in terms of making me want to get to work on acting*.  To me, the best inspiration to work harder comes from music and concerts.  (Spoiler Alert: I am nearing the part where I get to the friggin' point)

There's a few that equal it**, but no band's music or shows give me quite the stir that The Avett Brothers do. Music journalist Stephen Thompson, writing on the NPR Music app which is currently streaming their forthcoming album,  describes The Avett Brothers as "gorgeous roots music...alternately stompy and swoony music that's rooted in a desire for self-improvement...a makeshift guide to life and to being fundamentally decent in the pursuit of something even better."  I love that.  Here's a line from their song "Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise" that I keep written on the chalkboard in our kitchen:

If you're loved by someone, you're never rejected.  Decide what to be and go be it.

Here's another one from "Murder in the City," which, no matter how many times I hear them sing it, still makes me well up (and in concert, forget about it):

Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.  Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.

The first time I saw them in concert, I had no idea what I was in for.  I was casual about it, I'd been listening to their album "Emotionalism" for a while and saw they were coming to LA so I figured I'd "check it out."  I ended up going alone, straight from a USC game, and didn't even get a ticket until I arrived at the box office. If you haven't been to the Orpheum, it's just what you would expect with that name, a grand old theatre with the red velvet curtain and the side balconies.  I had never before nor have I since seen a concert go full throttle so fast.  In a span of five seconds (max.), the lights cut off, that massive red curtain flew up like a window shade on a roller and the band launched into a fast-start song like a rodeo bull when the door opens.  Ever since that moment, I have to see them whenever they're in town.  They play so hard they frequently break strings, stagehands running back and forth to bring them new guitars (or banjos) mid-song.  Their cellist, Joe Kwon, holds a bow that looks like string cheese by the fourth song of the night.  They sing and dance and stomp with an open-hearted passion that is uplifting and incredibly freeing.  It could very well be just another day at the office for them, but with the spiritual zest they pour into it, you'd never know they were not living and breathing in these songs for the first time.

That's how they inspire me.

As you might have guessed, I was at an Avett Brothers show last night.  And tonight...I have my acting class.  I'm coming in hot, folks!

*But watching great actors on "Inside The Actor's Studio" definitely does inspire.  The Hugh Jackman episode stayed on my DVR for a long time.

**Others include: Stephen Kellogg, Brandi Carlile, Jackson Browne...

Friday, October 04, 2013

I'm Weak? YOU'RE WEAK...

I hate it when I create a new password and the bitchy website tells me it's "weak."  Where do you get off, I say.  There are at least a quarter of a million words in the English language and you're gonna tell me that the completely random word (and potential combination w/numerals) I have chosen is "weak" in its security?  Let's try again then.  I'll delete that password and pick another one of seemingly equal strength and you guess what it is.  Crack the code for me, smug genius.  I'll give you two thousand guesses.  I'll give you a clue, I actually misspelled the word (..portion of the potential combination of case-sensitive letters and numerals)!  "Weak" password...How dare you, sir.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

So yeah, where was I...

Approximately nine and a half months since my last blog post.  I could have gone through an entire pregnancy in that time.  But I did not.  Anyway, I am not sure if I remember how to do this so please bear with me.

It's not like I've had nothing on my mind, nothing to say.  It's just that I haven't been able to align my inspiration to gab with my opportunities to actually put fingers to keys.  Like the Colin Haye song says, "When I'm done (drinking coffee), I feel like talking.  Without you here, there is less to say."  I usually feel like writing something up as I'm on my way to work in the morning.  I tell myself I'm going to take twenty minutes when I reach my desk, but, inevitably, the work tends to converge on me upon arrival.  And then at 4 o'clock when I am having my tea and can maybe spare the time, I'm over it by then and feel only like checking in on my fantasy football team.  And yet we're 1-3.  Such is life, right?  Never the time to do what you want to do when you want to do it unless you have a Jerry Maguire moment and make time.

Speaking of tea, I discovered one of the finer teas I've ever tasted yesterday.  And it's bagged.  Trader Joe's Harvest Blend Herbal Tea with the fox on the box.  It's like drinking an autumn Yankee Candle (which I've also deployed, of course) out of a friggin' mug.  It's potpourri for your taste buds.  I'm having some now, actually.

Speaking of having less time to do all the things you want to do, I am re-reading a novel for maybe the second time in my life, "Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby.  It's fantastic, obviously, but I guess I felt that if I can only squeeze in 15 minutes a day before I collapse into unconsciousness, I might as well spare myself the burden of following an unfamiliar plot.

I've been thinking about New York a lot lately.  Given that we're wading into fall, it's no surprise that my mind should go there, but I haven't been skimming over the romantic, postcard images this time around.  I've been recalling the minute details of my New York, be they pleasant, bitter, or unscented.  I know I have bemoaned this before, but I find it interesting how New York, more than any other city, seems to inspire such feelings of personal ownership, whether a person has been there three weeks or thirty years.  Everybody has their New York.  Some of the things I've been going back to...the sight of fish guts being hosed off the sidewalk on the lower east side as I walked to the public school where I was a reading tutor for a semester, the kid there, Adam, who was kind of a misfit in the class, but whom I kind of bonded with...the seeping self-consciousness I felt most of the time I was living there..the music I discovered while I was there and the exact place and circumstances where it affected me most...the first time I encountered East Coast snobbery in the form of an asshat who scoffed at me for wearing the so very unbecoming shoes known as flip-flops...the way my dorm was set up as three towers surrounding a central courtyard and the way it was like a prison riot (in a fun way) when we were all watching something in unison like the 2001 election..the things I wish I would have done differently...and the Chinese food, oh God, the Chinese food...

I think that's all I got for today.  But I'm back baby.