30 January, 2008

Social Anxiety & Avoidant Personality . . . And Bears, Oh My!

Having finished reading Living Fully With Shyness And Social Anxiety, I have learned that with a lot of constant effort at practicing relaxation, positive thinking, and desensitizing myself to the situations I fear, I can make a drastic improvement in the quality of my life. Great. Not to put down the book, which is a great and informative resource, but I don't think it gets to the heart of my problem. Namely, avoidance. Even just a second ago, I was strongly considering just aborting this discussion entirely because I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to head in. And I'm sure it'll happen a few more times before the end. Let's just hope I make it to the end, else you'll never read this...

For a time I've been a little confused about the similarities and differences between what I've seen described as Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia), and what I've seen described as Avoidant Personality Disorder. Their descriptions seem to be rather similar, and I find myself sympathizing with the symptoms of them both. I guess, on a basic level, it would make sense to consider SAD a condition which emphasizes the anxiety that a person experiences in certain situations, while APD speaks more to a person's specific type of behavioral reaction to that anxiety. In other words, a social phobic is someone who gets excessively nervous in social situations, and a person with an avoidant personality goes to excessive lengths to avoid those situations. Well, I don't have a doctorate in mental health or psychology or anything like that, but that's the impression I get. And if that distinction is accurate, then I'd say that, while I consider myself to be a sufferer of both conditions, I think the more serious one at this juncture of my life, is APD.

If I had been in a position to seek help when I was in, say, grade school, then the book I just read might have been a huge help. I'd have had plenty of time to right myself before losing the bulk of my youth to this condition, and I would have been surrounded by enough opportunities to practice more positive patterns of thought and action on a daily basis. Surely, being forced into countless uncomfortable situations, as I most certainly was back then, I would have chosen to overcome my inhibitions rather than live in fear, if I had been able to believe such a thing was possible, and if I could have understood my position in context. But I couldn't. I quickly came to the realization that I was different, but I didn't ever really believe that I could also be normal, if I really wanted to.

I dunno, I really don't know. But I feel like, a lot of the tips in this book are about how to communicate better. Now, I don't like to draw attention, but when I talk to people, though I might not be quite so anxious to participate, I feel like my abilities to listen sincerely and show concern for people and all that are perfectly fine. It's not that I don't have the skills to talk to someone. God, it's so frustrating when you say one thing about yourself, thinking very much that it's true, and then you immediately think of a counter-example. I want to connect with people, it's not that I'm anti-social. But at the same time, I don't have a lot of desire for the usual kind of conversation that people engage in. I mean, if I really wanted to, I could swallow my fears and force myself to be that confident and inspiring person. But it's not me. Even if it means not being afraid anymore, I don't *want* to be a commanding presence. And I don't want my life to be filled with constant "positive self-messages" and "relaxation exercises". I don't want to be somebody else, I don't want to mold myself to conform to society. I want to bend the world to shape around me. I don't want to learn how to call people, and ace interviews, and make lots of friends, and stand up to people. I don't want to come to accept society, either. "If you have ever loved me, don't take my anger away from me. It is the only thing I have left."

That's not even the issue I was aiming for. Avoidance. My problem is avoiding things. I've adapted. I've learned to avoid the things I don't like. In my life, as it stands right now, my problem is not getting rid of the anxiety I feel day to day. I feel relatively little anxiety. Because I've holed myself away from most of the things that cause it. What I really need, first, is not to get over the anxiety, but to get over the avoidance first. Then, it will probably be fruitful to work on the anxiety.

But if the biggest problem with social phobia is asking someone for help, then the biggest problem with having an avoidant personality is doing something to get help. Is it just me, or do I have to have the most heartbreakingly ironic conditions?

I feel like I'd be better suited learning how to get a job without talking to a single person, learning how to succeed without any motivation, learning how to get much from very little effort. Why do I have to be a certain way to get by? And why does my mind insist on me being a certain way when it's clear that I'm not that way? In a different world, in a different universe, among a different society, I would be a model citizen, exactly the way I am. Why can't I be in that world?

On a completely un-related note, while I was showering much earlier today, I thought about death in a way I haven't thought in a long time. Like, you can think about death and what it is and what it means, but how often do you actually think about it from that specific perspective where you can truly understand death? Like, when I think about the meaning of non-existence, after everything I've ever known has been existence. Even now, I can think about the words and the concepts, but I don't feel it like I felt it earlier. It's a very profound, and very unsettling feeling. I think I used to have that feeling more often when I was younger. Also when thinking about, again from a specifically deep perspective, about the very idea of a limit to space or time. I can't even force myself into that frame of mind, but it's profound. Eh, this really isn't the kind of thing that can be conveyed in words. Everybody's probably felt it one time or another, though.

28 January, 2008

Journal 007

There have been times in my life where I've considered the value of writing a diary. Having the ability to look back in detail at the things that were happening to me on any given day in the past, and the thoughts that were running through my mind, is interesting, if not all that practical. However, I never had the discipline to force myself to write about my day regularly, as it's always seemed like a redundant effort. Still, with my dedication to this blog, it seems I now have a sufficient excuse (even if it's not daily).

Friday was another Open Stage night at the den. It was relatively uncrowded - in my opinion, likely due to the bitter cold. I still get crazy nervous reactions before performing, and I don't know if it's more about going out of the house and into a crowd of people, or if it's about the performing itself, as I've gotten fairly comfortable getting up and playing at the den (although the same cannot be said about any other venues). The symptoms are more physical than psychological, I think. I have a sensitive digestive system, and my sinuses seem to want to react as well, like as if I was allergic to people or social contact or something. Even when I sit down and write for this blog, and start talking about stuff in a context where I know other people will be reading it, I start sniffing and coughing and sipping water a lot more than when I'm doing other things. It's weird. (And it is indeed happening now, as expected).

Before the Open Stage, I was thinking about my "madness" act, and I was starting to come to the conclusion that it was getting old, in my mind, and I needed to do something to make it new and interesting. I'm thinking about maybe incorporating the bow I have, but I need to practice that a bit and see if I can make it interesting. At any rate, when my time came to perform, I tried to mix my repertoire up a bit, opening it in a different way, and trying to spend more time on the quiet, ambient portions, than on the loud, erratic portions. I think it was good. At the end of it, someone in the audience asked for an explanation, and I was like (to myself) "shit, what do I say?" So I made something up about syzygy and planets lining up and cosmic energy or something, and I think they bought it.

Afterwards the Primatives & Co. had pizza again, since the Indian eatery they wanted to eat at wasn't open late enough (at least I think that's what the problem was).

Saturday, I finally watched one of the two Crossroads Guitar Festivals I got over the holidays. Some really great stuff. Joe Walsh did an awesome extended blues intro to Funk #49, which surprised and impressed me. I like his introduction to Rocky Mountain Way - "if I knew I was gonna have to play this song for the rest of my life, I would've written something else." I liked the songs that were done which had multiple guitarists, where each guitarist was given a chance to solo - which happened a lot at the festival. Like when Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and B.B. King all took their turn on Rock Me Baby, and when each of the artists in Clapton's band soloed during a fierce and extended performance of Have You Ever Loved A Woman. Even though it's not really my scene, Steve Vai's performance was at least interesting - he's undoubtedly very talented at the instrument, but I see him more as a showman than a musician. Robert Cray's Time Makes Two was incredibly moving. I love songs that are performed like that, where the pain and sadness is palpable, and you could imagine the artist breaking down in tears just as easily as pouring out another verse or solo. Pretty much the exact opposite of Vai's act. Musically, Jonny Lang's act was alright, but the sheer effort he put into singing and playing was downright impressive. I felt like he was gonna have a stroke or something... I generally steer away from J.J. Cale's influence on Eric Clapton (Cale wrote Cocaine as well as After Midnight), because it's different from the blues material that I like to hear Eric Clapton play, but Cale's playing here was very interesting. Unique, and expressive. When James Taylor came on to do a couple songs, I was totally thinking, "this guy is such a chick musician" - like, you know how there are chick flicks? Well, James Taylor is one of the 'chick flicks' of musicians, if that makes any sense to you. Always good to see Santana play - I envy him for his wicked sustain. I don't know how he does it. It was fun to see Clapton play some Santana-esque licks in homage during the song - I think it's so interesting to hear guitarists playing in the style of other guitarists - not so much when they're stealing an artist's technique, but more as a form of musical impression. John Mayer was expectedly disappointing - I don't even know why he was involved in the festival. Even during his interview, he kept saying these weird things that made absolutely no sense at all. It's like, what? What are you talking about, and who cares? ZZ Top's closing act was pretty cool.

I started reading Living Fully With Shyness And Social Anxiety. There are different sections dedicated to different aspects of the condition. I've read the part on the body - physical symptoms. It's not as important to me as I think the part on the mind will be, since at this stage in my life, I've pretty much extracted myself from most of the situations that give me physical anxiety, and I'm more concerned with battling the psychological ideas that keep me from even going out there, into the world. It was still interesting though. Particularly the part about Shy Bladder Syndrome - the condition of being unable to 'vacate' in the presence of others, for psychological, rather than physiological, reasons. I admit it's something I have trouble with at times. Using public restrooms designed for more than one person at a time is pretty stressful for me, and I try to avoid it whenever possible, sometimes to adverse effect. Especially in college, taking a leak could at times become a rather paralyzing obstacle, when the hall restroom was anything less than empty. The real trouble of it is that you go in there, and if you could get it out right away, then that would be great. But the longer you wait for it to come out, the longer you've been in there, and the more concerned you get at people wondering what you've been doing in there, and then the anxiety kicks in at full power, and you want to hide and pretend like you're not even there - there's no chance for you to either do your business *or* leave. And then you end up waiting, sometimes quite a long time, until you have the privacy necessary to settle your affair.

I find that general situation is a problem with a lot of things - the idea of waiting until the moment's ripe, but the longer you wait, the more awkward it would be to act, and since you weren't prepared to act in the first place, you can't do it now, and then time just goes on and on and it gets worse and worse until you completely avoid what needs to be done. Like answering emails. Sometimes I'll get an email, and I'll be concerned about what to say and how it will be received, so I wait and think about it. And then the longer I postpone sending the reply, the more awkward it would be to send the reply that late. Arg. It happens with all kinds of things. Like telling someone about something. Like telling my dad about Burning Man, that's probably gonna turn out the same way. I'm afraid to tell him about it because I don't know what his reaction will be, and I'm afraid it will be less than 100% positive, which scares me - and even if it's like 90% positive, I'm still too scared about that 10%. So I wait for a good time to drop the issue, and it never comes, and the closer the event gets, the more worried I get about the added stress of mentioning it when it's so close, and the possible flak I'd get for not mentioning it earlier...and it's a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety and avoidance and it just doesn't have a positive outcome. So the best solution - and I can tell myself this, but it doesn't always mean that I can accomplish it - is to take care of these things right away. Cause none of the flak or negative reaction or any of that really matters - if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen - and the important thing is to get the deed done. The only purpose the fear serves is to prevent the deed from getting done, and once it's done, the fear is pointless. So the best way to get rid of the fear is to just do it. Don't think and don't worry; just do. But obviously that's easier said than done. If I didn't have a problem just doing it in the first place, then I wouldn't have a problem.

In the book, the author talks about what it takes for different people to overcome their struggles. For some people, all the information in the book won't be enough, and for others, just a single point of knowledge is enough to change their whole perspective. Well, after having read that, I'm surprised that I myself have been rather blown away by one minor little detail, that has changed my perspective at least a little bit. It's probably not everything, but it could at least be something. Anyhow, the detail was as follows. Having social anxiety means being overly sensitive to one's reception by other people. You get nervous over the smallest, unimportant details, thinking that the tiniest thing will cause a person to dislike you - and that's the worst possible outcome imaginable. But if you look at the coin from the other side, you see that this sensitivity to people's reactions can be considered a positive trait. You're nervous because you *want* to please people. So why is that a bad thing? Well, it's obviously a problem, but that's because you're making it out to be a problem. But it can also be an advantage, if you look at it from a positive perspective. If I'm nervous about meeting someone for the first time, I can let my anxiety at being accepted cripple me, or I can let my knowledge that I'm only nervous because I want to be accepted allow me to make a conscious effort at being accepted. And instead of using all that energy to monitor my own actions, and to worry about how other people might perceive them, I can use that energy to determine other people's moods, and then react to them to try and make other people feel more comfortable. I almost feel like it's a superpower, which can easily become a burden dragging me down, but if I learn how to use it properly, it could become an invaluable asset allowing me to help people, as well as myself. I think that's an amazing epiphany, and while I still have a long way to go in changing my life, I think it's an important step. Even just the idea, that the book encourages, that being shy is not something to be ashamed of, is empowering. I've alway been afraid to admit to people that I'm shy, despite it being obvious, because I've always looked at it as something to be ashamed of, something that people would naturally tease you about. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. It can be just as much a good thing. It's just an aspect of my personality, of who I am, and it's only as positive or negative as I allow myself to make it. Mindless positive encouragement has never impressed me, but show me facts and reasoning that support a more positive outlook, and well, it just might work...

On Sunday, the fam went out to eat in celebration of my dad's birthday. We went to a fancy Chinese restaurant nearby. The reasoning, as I understand it, is that my dad hasn't had a good plate of General Tso's Chicken in quite a while. He, and the rest of us, I think, were pleased with our meal. I hadn't had Chinese since college, I don't think. And it inevitably reminds me of college. Ordering Chinese with my friends on the hall. Ah, good times. I had my usual - Kung Pao Chicken. It's got a kick, but it's never been too spicy for me to handle (I'd say I'm a middle-weight on the scale of spice-lovers - if light-weights can't handle spice, and heavy-weights love the extremes). The only downside to Kung Pao is that it's one of the dishes with the higher veggie content. But I guess forcing myself to eat the veggies, which aren't too bad, is good for me, and it's worth it to get to the chicken. I also had some delicious wonton soup, and even more delicious pot stickers. A good Chinese meal like that has got to go up near the top of my list of best meals ever. I wish I could find a 24 hour Chinese buffet somewhere in the area. I'm a little disappointed they didn't provide chopsticks (though nobody asked), though it seemed like they might have been a bit too fancy for chopsticks (if that makes any sense). If it wasn't easier to just grab a fork out of the kitchen drawer, I'd definitely want to eat with chopsticks more often in general, no matter what kind of meals. Chopsticks are cool.

I read an article a while back about the changing music industry, and how albums are mixed differently today than they were decades ago - particularly, that they have less dynamic range and are louder overall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war). It's something I noticed when I got Silvertide's album Show & Tell years ago - it's mixed much louder than the average CD I have (considering that my collection consists mostly of albums from the 60's and 70's - although I've heard that some newer remasters or greatest hits collections are also victims of this 'louder is better' policy). But especially now, listening to most of my collection on a shuffled playlist, the difference between the modern and classic albums is striking. Earlier, I had to turn the volume up a bit to hear Jefferson Airplane's Comin' Back To Me - a mellow, acoustic piece - and then after the song, a track from the Stones new album A Bigger Bang came on and it was freaking loud! All the other modern albums I have are loud, too - including Aerosmith's Honkin' On Bobo, Johnny Winter's I'm A Bluesman, and American Minor, in addition to the ones listed above. It wouldn't bother me so much if the volume level was consistent, but the sudden switch from quiet to loud can be rather jarring at times.

My friend linked me to The RPM Challenge (http://www.rpmchallenge.com/) the other day. I hadn't heard of it, but apparently it's a general challenge to musicians to record an album during the shortest month of the year (February). It just so happens that February starts in a few days. I think this would be a positive experience, considering how much I avoid recording. It should be a nice kick in the pants, to force me to produce *something*, in the form of a final version. The idea is for everything to be recorded in February, although whether or not you *write* the songs in February is up to you. That having been said, I think it's truer to the challenge if you write the stuff, or at least develop most of it, within the month. So I've been partly thinking about what I'd like to do for my album, and partly avoiding thinking about it before February. Heh. But I think I wanna do a post-rock type thing. One long track that goes for 35-45 minutes, or however long it turns out to be. I want it to be a little more structured than the improvisation I do every other week at the Open Stage, because that would kind of be cheating for the challenge. So - and this is still a preliminary possible idea - I'm thinking about improvising for at least 35-45 minutes every night once February starts up, then after a little while, starting to work out specific sections. Ultimately, it's not gonna be transcribed note for note or anything, but I wanna have a clear idea of which parts go where, and what they'll sound like in general. And then we'll see what kind of things I come up with to make it interesting along the way. As much as I like the *idea* of studio wizardry, and using multiple tracks for different instrument parts, I think ultimately I'm gonna default toward just recording a single guitar, and just getting whatever I can play, like a live-in-the-studio kind of deal. I may or may not decide to add some words. We'll see, I might even change my mind about the whole thing, but so far, that's my idea, and the closer February gets, the more of a hassle changing my mind will become - though ultimately, whatever I come up with throughout the month, I imagine will be fair game. So it should be interesting, I think, and encouraging for me.

And that brings up another issue I wanted to mention. The fact that, the most important step toward accomplishing something, is committing to it. Because if you're not committed to it, then every little doubt you have becomes a potential reason to quit and back out. But if you've already committed, then your first instinct is to overcome those doubts and problems and barriers, rather than abandoning the project. And an insecure person such as myself will probably (I'm hoping) be surprised and impressed with how much he is capable of. So, I think, in order to accomplish amazing things, I have to commit to them first, or else they'll never get done. Like Burning Man. There are so many if's involved, that if I wasn't committed, I'd spend all my time worrying about it and not preparing myself for it. But having bought my tickets and committed to it, I don't care how much trouble or effort it is, I'm gonna do everything in my power to make it happen. It's like, getting into the mindframe that it's already been determined that it's gonna happen, and the only thing you can do is prepare for it. Whereas, if you weren't committed, then you can still fall back on the possibility of it not happening. And that becomes a crutch. And then it never happens. I think that maybe this could be good advice for other people, too. The most important step toward accomplishing something is committing yourself to it. Just don't be stupid, and make sure it's something you want to accomplish in the first place. And if it is, then once you commit to it, you'll be surprised at your ability to make it happen.

You know, I often think I won't have enough to say about something to make a good blog entry out of it, then when I finally get around to sitting down and writing stuff out, it turns out I have more than enough...

26 January, 2008

Zharth (or Between)

In 7th Grade, in my English class, during the unit on Greek/Roman Mythology, we were at one point required to create a new myth based on gods and characters from the mythology we had been studying. It was a narrative assignment. I regret not having a copy of the narrative I wrote on hand, but I can remember bits and pieces of it. The most important part is that I made an effort to invent the name for one of the characters. I wanted it to be unique, but I also wanted it to sound cool. The result was 'zharth'. I liked the 'zh' sound, because it's pretty exotic in our language (pronounced like the 's' in 'measure' - *not* like a regular 'z'). And the 'th' is to be pronounced like in 'breathe' (as opposed to 'breath'). The name is soft, and a little dark, and you have to take your time pronouncing it to get it right. Overall, I think it has a subtlely commanding effect, and its uniqueness allows it to stand out without relying on flair and cheap tactics.

In the narrative/myth, I tried a pretty unorthodox technique to try and give the opening a bang. I sort of jumped right into the middle of the action, then I stepped back and walked the reader up to that action to give it its context. I liked it, but the teacher unsurprisingly hated the effect. I don't remember if my myth had some kind of moral or something, but what happened was that a mortal was taken to Mount Olympus to hold court with Zeus. For some reason I can't remember. I was rushed, trying to finish typing up the story on the computer at the last minute, as class was ending, so I ended up cutting a lot out of the end of the story in the 'final copy' just to get it finished and turned in. But the most important part of the story is in the middle, where the mortal meets with Poseidon, and agrees to escort a mute character named Zharth to Mount Olympus. Reason unknown (in the story - this time it's not because I forgot). Zharth really had nothing to do with the story, I just threw him in there for some reason, to add a little intrigue, or something. But since then, he's become vastly important, as I have adopted his name and developed his personality after my own. Alternatively, you could say that by inventing the character Zharth, I was placing myself into the story, in a nonessential role - a cameo of sorts.

In the cult classic PC game Realms of the Haunting, there's a scene toward the end, where you're talking to Abaddon (Keeper of the Key to the Abyss) just before entering the first level of Sheol. You ask if your adversary has been through the gate yet, and Abaddon explains that he knows people not by their name, but by their soul signature. The soul signature of the one who went before you was Lies - undoubtedly the one you feared, Belial. I've really taken to the idea of a person having a soul signature, which sums up that person's being in a single word. In practice, it's obviously very simplistic, but there's a certain poetry about it. Personally, I'd like to think that my soul signature is Truth, as that is the one virtue I admire most. However, that may be more of an ideal, and if there was one word I'd use to describe my whole existence, it would be Between. So I spent some time further characterizing Zharth - an expression of my soul being - as "The One Who Walks Between". Surely you've heard of the concept of the Happy Medium - well, Zharth is the Unhappy Medium, always torn between two worlds, yearning for both, but belonging to neither.

I see the concept of Between everywhere, when I think about my life and my personality. I am a middle child, second of three sons. I am caught between the conservative ethics of my older brother, and the liberal views of my younger brother. I want to be normal, but I'm attached to my eccentricity. I like to fit in, but I want to stand out. I desire company, but I require solitude. I've studied science, but I'm pursuing art. I respect logic, but I admire intuition. I love the sun, but I am a child of the night. I care for people, but I'm afraid to show it. I want to succeed, but I'd rather relax.

And I just retook the Jungian Types Test (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/jungiantypestest.html), and once again, the only trait I'm *not* on the borderline for is Introversion. I am Introverted, slightly Intuiting over Sensing, slightly Thinking over Feeling, and slightly Judging over Perceiving. Results are comparable to the last time I took the test, almost two years ago.

25 January, 2008

To Do List

Contrary to what you may believe, my schedule is just as busy as that of anyone who has a job or goes to school. The primary differences are just that 1) there are rarely any deadlines, and 2) most of the things I "have" to do are actually pretty agreeable tasks. In any case, I have a long list of things I'd like to accomplish, and despite their light nature, I do at times feel quite overwhelmed by them. The worst part is how I tend to avoid the most important tasks for the easiest ones.

Here's my current To Do List, more or less:

Video Games To Play

I recently (4, 5, 6? months ago or so) bought a bunch of classic Final Fantasy titles re-released for Playstation, as I was updating my old FF-related webpage, and it got me in the mood to dig up the old classics. As it turned out, I only had a chance to play FFIV and FFV before I got distracted and pulled away to other things. So I still have FFVI and Chrono Trigger to play through, which is something I want to make a point of doing sooner or later. Priority level for this task is pretty low, at this point, however.

I also got Silent Hill 4 for Christmas. I played through Silent Hill 3 last Halloween, so I'm on a break period before I'm ready to tackle another Silent Hill (you can only visit that town so often - too much and it'll tear your soul apart). So at this point it's just a matter of time, waiting for when I feel the call to return to that spooky resort lake town. Playing a Silent Hill title can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, or longer, depending on how much I focus on the game - I usually tend to put in long hours, when possible, while I'm working on the game, putting all other tasks in the background. In contrast, the Final Fantasy games could easily take weeks, maybe even up to a month, depending on focus.

PC Games To Play

Never been much of a PC gamer - I've always been the console type. However, there are exceptions. I have two visual novels to play through. One - Fate Stay Night - I've spent a lot of time on. There are three (I believe) scenarios to the game and I've played through the main one. The only thing stopping me from the others is waiting on the translations. So sometime in the future when those are done I anticipate completing the game fully. The other game - Ever17 - I haven't even started yet, but it looks interesting, and it was recommended by a friend, so I'm looking forward to playing it, *sometime* when I get around to it.

In addition to those visual novels, there is always Doom - which will always be my favorite PC game (and one of the greatest games ever made). I started on a voyage to play through the Top 100 custom wads (user-designed levels) as voted by Doomworld.com, but only got through most of the second year (they're ranked as the best 10 from each year, spanning a decade) before I got, once again, distracted and pulled away to other things. I will go through all those wad's eventually - Doom has been with me since the beginning, and I've always come back to it again and again through the years. I suspect the time commitment for playing all those wads, some of which are full-on episodes (groups of 8-9 levels), or more, is pretty huge, but I'm not really in any hurry. I originally started playing through them to inspire me while I was working on designing my own Doom levels (another project that's been put on indefinite hold), but since that's not currently on my mind, neither are the wads.

Anime Series To Watch

I am greatly happy that my anime fandom hasn't died out after all these years. I still love watching anime, as much as I ever have, and it's exciting to be on the front lines, seeing some of the series while they're brand new. But I do have a list of series to plow through, and lately that list has been growing faster than it's been shrinking.

I just finished up Genshiken and Zetsubou, so it's nice to check those off the list, although now it looks like there's an alternate Zetsubou-related series (which I haven't started yet). I still have Bamboo Blade to follow, which I'm guessing is around the halfway point right now (unless it goes longer than the standard 24-26 episodes for a full series). In addition to that, I have a number of series waiting in the wings. Among the series my friend has recommended, that I have yet to dive into, is Hayate no Gotoku which, from what I can tell, goes beyond the 26 episode mark. Also, there are a couple series that I've downloaded in full, and have been waiting on plowing through, but haven't gotten around to yet. Namely, the Lodoss TV series, which I've been dying to see ever since being blown away by the original OAV series, and a series called Negima, which attracted me due to being based on a series written by the creator of Love Hina (a series I very much enjoyed), and the fact that it appears to be chock full of cute girls. What's more, there's also Chobits, a series that I've already seen, but since I re-downloaded it, I've been dying to watch it again, because Chii is so damn cute.

And, as if that wasn't enough, there's also the continuation of the Naruto series, which I'm anxious to catch up with. I made a Herculean effort to watch all the two hundred-some episodes of the first series, much of which consisted of dreaded fan-criticized 'filler' (not *that* bad, though). But even now, with the new series, there's already some 44 episodes or so out, and that's 44 episodes that I need to watch before I'm caught up to speed.

As you can see, I have a lot of anime to watch, meaning a lot of time to be wasted watching it. Priority level on most of it is relatively low, except that when I start a series, I like to finish it in a timely fashion. That, and I'd like to keep up on the current series as much as possible, just to 'stay in the game', so to speak.

Manga To Read

And yes, there is also manga for me to read. I've gotten into manga more and more ever since becoming an anime fan. As far as paper series (as opposed to digital stuff on my computer), I'm following Berserk as it comes out in English, volume by volume. I'm also in the middle of School Rumble, which means I don't want to neglect it, if possible. I'm wary of getting into new series, because of the time (and money) commitment they represent, but there are other series I'm interested in reading.

As for the digital stuff, I still have 11 volumes of Kenshin left to read, which has been sitting around for awhile. I'm keeping up with Claymore as it comes out, but that's just a short chapter a month, which is a very small time commitment, and very easy to stay on top of (and also a very good series). Additionally, I have a few Volume 1's from a few different series recommended by my friend that I've been hesitant to jump into because of the time commitment involved if I end up wanting to read more. There's also 51 chapters of Yotsubato, which I recently picked up.

Books To Read

My pile of books to read just keeps growing, and with every title added to the stack, my heart sinks deeper from the knowledge of the commitment involved. I'm in the middle of Dante's Divine Comedy, which, honestly, I started reading about a year ago. I made it through Inferno, and part-way through Purgatorio, before getting (chime in, kids) distracted and pulled away to other things. It's a bit hard to read, because, being an allegory, there's so much uninteresting placement of political and societal facts which bogs down the narrative. It's unfortunate, because, considering the subject, it hasn't shown itself to be as interesting a read as I was expecting. Still, I'm determined to finish it, rather than give up halfway through. But that's proving to be a tough task.

Once I'm finished with that, I have John Milton's Paradise Lost, of a similar theme, that I'd like to read through (I'm crossing my fingers that it's a smoother read than Dante). The whole idea of reading these books, besides my general interest in the topic of heaven and hell as a plot device (Christian mythology is fascinating as fiction, just not as reality), is to serve as inspiration for my own narrative I'm in the process of writing, about journeying through heaven and hell (more on that later). So I see these tasks as not only something I want to do, but something that might have an important influence on what might be my development as a writer - not that I have any lofty ambitions about being a writer, but I do have ideas that I would love to see published some day (in some form), and it would be a great step in the direction of becoming a real artist - someone who profits from his creative instincts. Therefore, the priority level on reading these is high (and yet I've put them off for nearly a year now...).

You might as well get used to right now the inverse relation between priority level and the order in which things get done.

Originally, I was reading through Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series when I took a break to start reading Dante - my mood was ripe for Dante, though in the long run it seems as though I should have just waited. I plowed through the first four books of the Wheel of Time with great interest, and I maintain my excitement to continue the series . . . eventually.

There's a handful of other books, including the ultimate edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which I bought and intended to read years ago now; some other fantasy titles; and Roger Penrose's The Road To Reality - A Complete Guide To The Laws Of The Universe, a book that I doubt I even have the desire to read anymore. Oh, and there's The Illiad and The Odyssey, which I tried to read once a long time ago, but didn't get very far.

And, in the newcomer's corner, there's Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volumes One To Three, which I just got for Christmas. I'm interested in reading that, and if I enjoy it, there's a good chance I'll pick up volumes 4-6, as well.

For most of those books, the priority is relatively low - no rush. But I have three titles whose priority exceeds even the 'heaven and hell' titles. About a month ago I picked up three self-helpish books on battling social anxiety. My expectations remain realistic, but I'm still hopeful that they might provide *some* information to help me overcome my obstacles and ultimately get out there and make something of my life. I've been waiting on reading them until after finishing up the massive Stones bio, since I've been reading it for awhile, and now that I'm finally finished with it, I think it's time. But for anyone expecting a magical instant transformation, I refer you to NHK Ni Youkoso.

DVD's To Watch

Leftover from Christmas, I still have both Crossroads Guitar Festivals to watch, as well as the majority of Millenium. Millenium is three seasons, and I have about 70 episodes left to watch, I think, at around 40 minutes an episode, I'd say. I've got into the habit of watching one episode at a time, instead of marathoning it. Generally, I'll watch an episode after dinner on the weekdays.

I also received a few more DVD's for my birthday. Included are 300 (worth it for the oracle scene alone), Sunshine (an interesting title that I'm looking forward to seeing - by the director of 28 Days Later), a triplet of classic Bill Murray titles (Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day - maybe I'll wait till February 2 to watch them!), and a groovy PBS hippie special.

Good stuff to keep me entertained for awhile. Though also to keep me away from the more important tasks...

Important Tasks (Creativity/Becoming An Artist):

First of all, becoming a musician. On the top of my list should be steady practice of the guitar, at least an hour a day average. Of course, I'm notoriously bad at practicing, so this is something that rarely happens, unfortunately. Also, the recording status on my album Clear As Mud has been frozen for something like a year. I lost faith in the recording process somewhere along the way, and I've only been drifting away from the project more and more day by day. I have a second album in mind that I was gonna work on after I finished the first, but needless to say, that one hasn't seen any attention, either. Pathetic, isnt' it?

I have a couple major stories I'm working on. One of them is Jabberwocky, which is tied in with the first original [instrumental] song I wrote on guitar. The story is about a young man who returns from a year of solitary meditation/training in the mountains, to find his home town in ruins, scorched to the ground by a vicious dragon he sees in a vision. He then goes on an epic quest to avenge his family, by first acquiring the skills necessary to conquer the Jabberwock, then finding the beast to finally seek requiem. But he runs into some obstacles on the way, and becomes rather side-tracked after succumbing to a spell inadvertently placed on him by a member of the enchanted race. So far, I've worked out a number of the details, but I've actually written very little of the story.

The other story I've been working on is called Ascension. It's meant to be part of a series, possibly a trilogy - inspired moreso by the structure than the content of Dante's Divine Comedy. The story begins with a soul's awakening in the afterlife. So far, most of the effort I've put in is on the first part of the journey, where the soul travels through hell, encountering all the worst tortures and demons on the way. His goal is to purify his spirit and escape the pits of hell, in an attempt at being redeemed. Ultimately, he'll travel through Purgatory and Heaven, and the long term story I'm planning will involve an overthrow of Heaven, if all goes well. There's a bit of a backstory that I've worked out partially, which serves to introduce the main demon lords of hell, who will serve an important role in the overthrow of Heaven and the war against God. Most of my work on the story so far has been designing the various territories of hell, which I've had great fun working on. To start off, I did a lot of interesting research on the mythos of hell in various cultures (although Christian ideas are most abundant), and used the different names and descriptions I came across to define the various territories of my hell.

There are other stories I've thought about, but I've put much less effort into them thus far, and they're not nearly as important to me as the two described above.

As for the gaming realm, seeing as I fantasized as a child about being a game designer of some sort, I have an idea which makes up the backbone of what I think could be a really cool old-school-style 2D console-type RPG (in other words, in the tradition of the Final Fantasy titles for Super Nintendo). The theme revolves around the conflict between nature and technology, as the story starts up a generation or two after a radical religious cult worshipping ancient dragons uses a magical artifact to bring those dragons to life, commanding them to utterly destroy the mechanical world of man, reducing civilization to a primitive form. The charm of the series is the different types of dragons you have to fight, and the Hunter's Guild which plays a major role in the gameplay. It's something of a labor of love, and I've put a lot of thought into it so far, but there's still so much left to work out. I don't know if it will ever become something, but I like to think that there's a chance. By the way, my title for it is "dragonfaith".

While that project hasn't progressed beyond the "thoughts on paper" stage, I *have* put some "falsifiable" effort into my Doom scenario. As I mentioned above, there are some Doom levels that I've planned out into a scenario, and some of which I've actually spent considerable time on designing - to a point that you can actually test them by playing through them! The scenario is based on the story of Berserk, with level design paying homage to a less known PC horror title, Realms of the Haunting. I call my scenario Realms of the Berserk. If you're not familiar with Doom, you'll probably need a crash course if you're interested in trying my levels. And I'd be happy to help you out if that's the case. If you are familiar with Doom, then hopefully you have an idea of what the modding community is about. If you know about zdoom, and you know what .wad files are, then feel free to have a go at my levels - http://zharth.tenjou.net/doom/rotb/index.html. There's also screenshots and more information about the levels on that page, in addition to downloads of the available levels.

I've been working on this thing for quite a long time. I had early demos of the garden, mausoleum, ravine, and living chasm levels even before I went to college. After college, there was a period when I exerted an incredible amount of effort over a couple of weeks to produce what's available now. There's no telling whether I'll ever finish this project, but I like to think, the longer it takes, the easier to use the programs get (at least I hope that's the case, sometimes they end up becoming even more complicated). Any way, only the future can tell.

Realms of the Berserk is my serious Doom project; I have another project I've put a little work into just for fun. The idea came upon me as a result of the paradoxical inequality in American culture between the treatment of violent material, and the treatment of sexual material. Since Doom is a game that is pretty much 100% violence, I thought it would be interesting to flip it over and transform all of that violence into sex. Instead of bloodthirsty demons, you have sexual deviants with an insatiable appetite for lust. Obviously, it would be very easy to write off a project like this as another case of a horny geek replacing all the sprites with pixellated nudity - like all of those people who give pornography a bad name. But no, that's not my style, so I've made an effort to make it interesting, and even tried to tweak the gameplay in very simple but fun ways. Of course, it's only a side project, so there's not much to show for it, and I doubt I have quite the skills necessary to pull (jerk?) it off (largely in the graphics department). Still, I think it's a fun idea to play around with.


Well, getting back to the task at hand, the problem you can clearly see is that the more something needs doing, the less inclined I am to do it. The problem is, when I see a task, I treat it not as something to do, but something to be done. Something to be checked off the list, to be taken off the stack. And so I tend to default toward the things that produce the best results. If I sit and practice guitar for an hour, it doesn't really feel like I got anything done. I don't feel like I'm any better of a guitarist than I was an hour ago. But if I watch a couple episodes of an anime series instead, then I can check those off my list, and I know I'm closer to the end of the series. Even when I was in school, and had multiple homework assignments, I tended to want to do the short and easy ones first. That way, I'd get them out of the way, instead of risking working for hours on a tough assignment, not finishing it, and feeling discouraged because I don't feel like I really accomplished anything in those hours.

There are other issues involved, I know. Altogether, it's very confusing to me, and I keep trying to put the pieces together, to figure out just why I defeat myself like this, by not doing the things that'll produce the more important results down the road apiece (sorry, that was an early Stones reference). And no matter how much I think about it, and acknowledge the problem, it doesn't seem to get any easier to remedy it. I just don't know how to do anything that's not natural to me, and so I keep on continuing the way I've always known how. I have to wonder if it's anything like what an addict goes through, who realizes the problems his addiction is putting him through, but can't seem to shake it no matter how he tries. Except I'm not really addicted to anything (except leisure...and comfort). It has to be a bad wiring in my brain. But how can it be fixed? Can it be fixed?

23 January, 2008

Nudism, Sexuality, and Society

Disclaimer: It is not my intention in this post to develop or propagate any stereotypes about nudists. These are merely observations I have made in my limited experience. Keep in mind that nudists are just like everyone else - we come in all shapes, sizes, colors and patterns.

I've been looking up quite a bit of stuff on nudism the past few days - including reading through some discussions on hot topics within the community. I have to admit, while I still maintain the importance of separating nudity from sexuality, I'm getting the feeling that I can at least see where my brother is coming from in terms of nudists having a conservative knee-jerk reaction to issues of sexuality. Obviously, my experiences are limited to reading the opinions of nudists on the internet from the comfort of my chair at home, but the condemnation I'm seeing of any connections whatsoever between eroticism and nudism do feel to me to be somewhat excessive. It's a tricky issue, because there are all sorts of legal implications to the portrayal of nudists within mainstream society, but I do feel that there are people out there that are being way too stuffy for their own ultimate good.

Small example: the issue of erections. I don't know specifically how it's dealt with 'on location', but some of the opinions I'm reading seem to suggest that there are nudists who believe that the mere sight of an erection is an affront to their sensibilities. Now, I understand that there is a level of conscious control involved, but there are times when things just happen to pop up. Obviously, discretion is a respectable solution, but I feel like having to run and hide, like as if the erection was inherently an insult to the public, or even intended as such, is a little extreme. Now, if someone is actively "encouraging" the erection, then you're dealing with a whole new issue - an issue that I would agree is best relegated to a private moment. But if it's just an innocent happenstance, or even an uncontrolled reaction to the environment, I don't see the offense.

For those who are concerned, lest you get the wrong impression, many people have said that this is much less of an issue than it is often made out to be.

Another discussion I enjoyed reading through was on the topic of nude photography, and how (or whether) it relates to pornography. Most nudists in the discussion had the expected opinion that innocent nudist photography has nothing to do with pornography - that it's not any different than regular family photography, since the nudity doesn't serve any kind of sexual function. I'm in agreement on that. But I sensed a sort of disdain for nude photography that does serve a sexual function, which most people would classify as pornography. Now, a question I feel like I want to ask, is this: Can a photograph of a sexual act ever be considered not pornographic?

This is an incredibly complicated issue, compounded by the matter of defining the term pornography. And I don't really feel like getting into all of that at this time. But the bottom line, for me, is that when it comes to pornography, or what many people would consider pornography, there's trash, and there's gold. Ultimately, it's a matter of taste, but what appeals to my taste appeals to my aesthetic sense of beauty, and that's something that has a certain amount of worth to me, even if the subject matter is sexual in nature. Sex can be as beautiful as it can be dirty. So while a lot of the nudists in this particular discussion seemed to carry an unspoken view against the merits of pornography in any context, my view is that a photograph taken of a sexual subject can be every bit as pure as a photograph of a nude person enjoying innocent, non-sexual recreation, or of a clothed person doing the same, or anything else. Granted, the topic of sex is not necessarily appropriate anywhere and everywhere, or in discussions with just anyone, but that does not mean that it is something to be ashamed of. Isn't that the case with nudity, for a lot of nudists that haven't "come out"? They don't feel comfortable talking about it with just anyone, but they respect the lifestyle just the same. Shouldn't sexuality be considered just as pure as nudity then? More on that disparity later.

That's pretty much the point I wanted to make on that topic. Another interesting issue brought up in the thread was that of sharing nude photographs. Most of the nudists in that discussion expressed general comfortability with being photographed in the nude (in a non-sexual context), but with a decided reservation about who would get to see those photos. I understand my feelings on the issue are a little more liberal than the norm, and I can respect their concerns. Many nudists do have a reputation to uphold - although that's something that I personally don't like the idea of, having to hide oneself. I feel like one of the ideas of nudism is being yourself and shedding the masks and deceptions of clothes that you wear in society. But unlike me, most people do value their position in society, and simply can't risk the implications of being labeled a nudist, particularly in a society with many unfortunate and negative misconceptions about people that take pleasure in being nude.

One person used a phrase that sums up my feelings on the issue of being seen nude quite well. The idea is this: just because you see me, doesn't mean you have me. One of the most pervasive arguments against the sharing of nude photos of oneself with strangers, particularly on the internet, is the fear of what strangers might do with those photos. I think the implications are clear, but I have to ask, just what are these people afraid that someone is going to do? Honestly, how does it hurt you if some creep gets off to a nude photo of you? My feeling is that if somebody finds me attractive, then I'd be happy to indulge them, as long as it doesn't inconvenience me. Now, I enjoy taking nude photographs of myself, and sometimes in sexually suggestive poses. If somebody is interested in seeing those pictures, why should I keep them to myself? As long as they don't do something like stalk me or hound me for more photos or something like that, then what harm is it?

Obviously, that's a real concern. There are freaks out there, and plenty that wouldn't be below (above?) inconveniencing you if they think you've got something they want. And that's a risk. But my view of humanity is one of peace and love. I believe that people should be respectful to one another. Am I being far too idealistic? Probably. But I refuse to live a life consumed by terror. I believe that if you conduct yourself in a way that allows you to respect yourself, while treating other people the way you want to be treated, then you're being true to yourself, and hopefully, the bad seeds in your life will be displaced by the good ones (I'm talking about people - friends and such). In any case, we do live in a society, and there are always measures if things get drastic. But again, it's a matter of standing up to your detractors and showing them that you're free to be who you want to be. I've lived my life in fear, hiding behind a shell, and I'm sick of it. I'm still working on breaking free, and this is an important step in that direction. But when I see other people building walls of protection around themselves - while I can sympathize - I can't help but feel a little sad at the thought of a person living in fear like that. But I guess that's part of what makes me, me. I just wish it were a marketable thing that I could exploit to make a living or at least just teach people, or something...

There is a criticism I hear used against nudism. If nudism is about loosening the boundaries of what is acceptable, and recognizing that the sight of a naked body is neither immoral, nor harmful, but a perfectly natural thing, that should be encouraged and not shunned, then how come nudists characteristically tend to be so uptight about sexuality? You could argue that where nudists draw the line against public sexuality, the rest of society merely draws their line against public nudity. So what makes the nudists' position any more right, or acceptable? Ultimately it comes down to a matter of taste, and it would seem that the nudists are outnumbered. Now, you could throw scientific facts and studies around, but it's hard to change a person's ingrained sense of what is decent and acceptable. You could argue until you're blue in the face that there's nothing wrong with eating sushi, and that it could even be good for you, but that's not always enough to make a reluctant person try sushi (and who's to say they should be forced to?). I mean, who knows, it could turn out that having sex in front of other people is a huge health benefit for everyone involved - but even if that were true, do you think everyone's going to immediately adopt that belief and start practicing it regularly?

It's not a foolproof case against nudism, but it does raise an important concern. As for me, I would love it if nudity were universally accepted, if the choice to go bare was granted as an inalienable right, but I'm not the kind of person to push my beliefs on other people, and I have to accept the fact that there are people for whom public, social, and/or casual nudity is not the way to go, and those beliefs should be respected, too. But the bottom line is, there should be places, communities, where these sorts of things are more acceptable, and places where they are less acceptable. You would think that there would be enough nudists to form communities like this. Not expensive resort destinations, or just limited areas like parks and beaches, but actual entire communities of people gathered together who have the same open ideas about this subject. In various price ranges and sizes and qualities. Are there? Maybe there are. Maybe in a different country. I just kind of wish they were more prevalent. Like, this is stretching it even further, but why aren't there year-round communities like that at Burning Man? Those people all go back to their federal and state jurisdictions, where the laws only differ so much from the rest of the country. You'd think they'd band together and form communities here and there. And you'd hope there'd be enough of them to form enough communities to be spread out.

I think what I'm getting at here is, why does there only seem to be one way to go through life? There's only one option for society. It's a monopoly. I guess moving out of the country is an option. But I mean, that takes a lot of effort and initiative, and probably money - sampling cultures until you find one that you like. If this is the land of freedom, then how come our standards and morals are dictated by an insensitive penal code, constructed for a majority, when we are but one person? I'm quite frustrated with it all.

Can you see why I don't believe in free will? I feel like I have no control whatsoever over how to live my life. Granted, a lot of that is due to psychological limitations, but you have to admit that being raised in a society like this, there are certain things that it's really hard to escape. What if you don't feel like paying taxes? Isn't there some kind of alternative? What if you don't agree with some of the petty laws on the codebooks? Do you have to go to jail just to prove your point? And don't talk to me about lobbying. You could argue with politicians your entire life and not get the results you want. And what if somebody else wants the opposite - isn't that always the case? You die with no results, having wasted your life away on a lost cause. Yeah, I'm bitter.

Maybe I'm spoiled, and maybe I'm a dreamer. But who's to say we should have to compromise? My body is a product of my environment, and my thoughts are a product of my mind. I'd like to think there's something more to what I'm saying than petty idealism... Wouldn't you?

Journal 006

Stone Alone

After a long period of slow progress, I've finally got back up to speed and am nearing the end of the Rolling Stones auto-biography Stone Alone, by bassist Bill Wyman. I'm anxious to finish it mostly because it's not my book, and I've had it since probably around Thanksgiving. The content is unquestionably fascinating, but it's a very tough read. The chapters are really long, and being a history as opposed to a narrative, the flow at times can be challenging. But if you're up to the task, the book provides endless insight into the early era of the band, covering their rise to prominence in the sixties, and, judging from how much is left of the book, probably right up to the death of founding member Brian Jones. That's something that just struck me when I realized it - I had originally thought that the title 'Stone Alone' referred to Bill Wyman, since it was his book. But no, Brian Jones is the Stone Alone, and this book paints a fairly detailed picture of his journey from proud leader of the band to paranoid outcast - without ignoring any of the other important angles on the band. It still amazes me how many girls those Stones had access to...

Burning Man - Travel Plans

In other news, I spent a lot of time the other day mapping out the route to Burning Man on Google Maps. Playing around with maps like that really fascinates me, although it's frustrating when Google Maps starts slowing down and taking forever to respond. I'm not saying I have the route finalized or anything, but I've got a good idea of what the journey will include. Luckily, in this age of interstate highways, driving across the country doesn't have to be terribly complicated. Turns out, I-80, which is less than an hour north of Pittsburgh, runs straightway across the country, right through Reno, Nevada, the closest major city to the desert playa where Burning Man takes place. Here's what I've worked out so far:

Chicago appears to be about an eight hour drive from Pittsburgh. That seems like a good start to me for the first day of travel. I'm not entirely certain about the logistics of stopping over in a major city, but I have to admit I'm intrigued by the idea of maybe dining at the original location of Uno's, if that's a possibility. From there, it looks to be 27 hours of driving to Reno, through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming (where I-80 reaches its highest elevation), Utah (straight through Salt Lake City, then across the Great Salt Lake Desert), then finally into barren Nevada. I don't know that there's anything along that path particularly worth taking note of, beside the scenery in general, so I figure we can take it from city to city, stopping at a few places along the way to sleep (not counting breaks). I'm thinking 27 hours is quite probably too much to do in two days, but three days should be doable. I will undoubtedly work out more specifics later.

As for the way back, I've already mentioned the Rachel, Nevada plan (visiting, and, ideally, staying at, the Little A'Le'Inn). To get there from Reno is a good 6 hour drive. From there, the best path seems to be an alternate route that cuts across the lower part of Utah, into Colorado and through Denver, before meeting back up with I-80 just across the Nebraska border. From Rachel to Denver is about 12 hours. Maybe doable, maybe a bit long, I'm not sure. I don't know of anything important in Denver, anyway. Other than that, it's about 14/15 hours back to Chicago, and about 8 more hours from there to home. Four days should be enough, although, if we pick a slower pace, I don't see that being a huge problem, since there should be no terrible rush to get home. (Basically I'm setting my comfortability limit here at 10 hours of driving a day - that's 10 hours worth of miles, not including breaks and maybe traffic and stuff. It's hard to say for sure, since this will be the first time I've taken on a driving challenge this extensive, but I've done 8 hours in a single day before, and I'm fairly comfortable with that. Of course, in this case, it'll be multiple days in a row of long hours on the road. But that's what it's all about, isn't it? I think I'm up to the challenge, provided the car does its part...). I considered picking a different route back home to expand the experience, but at that point, after the festival, I think getting home will be looking like a good plan. At any rate, it will definitely be a pilgrimage.

Sleep Patterns

My sleeping patterns have been a little irritating lately. Just a little bit back, I was tired enough that in the small hours of the morning, I could fall asleep quite easily (and quite comfortably) for something of a nap. But even now, when the morning comes on, I have a hard time falling asleep. My body gets exhausted, and I reach a point around 8am where I can't stand sitting at the computer anymore and I have to crawl into bed. But even when I do - and it feels great - my mind is still running wild, and I have a hard time shutting it off. It's like, I can easily get my mind to rest during the night, but while my body gets exhausted when the sun rises, my mind seems to be running at full power. It's troublesome. Do you know how much I wish sleeping was as easy as flipping a switch? Imagine how much easier it would be to get a good night's sleep!

I partly wondered if my trouble had something to do with the light leaking in through the blinds on the huge window in my room. I've mostly gotten used to it, but sometimes it still bugs me a little. I also happen to have gotten into the habit of only sleeping lying on one side - facing away from the window, which is unfortunately right next to my bed anyway. The worst part is the slit at the edge of the window, along the side - that's where the most light gets in. The blinds block the light coming straight in, but it's like a solar festival along the edges! Anyhow, last night (yesterday morning, to most people in this area) I put up some blankets across the whole face of the window, just to see if the darkness would help me sleep. There's still some light that seeps through the blankets, but the room's a lot darker now than it was, and I put up a blanket over that pesky edge, blocking out the most annoying area. We'll see if it makes a decided difference after a few days trying it out.

You might ask why I didn't have the blankets up in the first place - well, the main reason is that I love windows, and it really goes against my intuition to block a window up. Even though the blinds stay closed and most of my days are at night when there's nothing to see out the window anyway. And even though my window has a terrible view. Not only is it facing north, which means the least direct sunlight (I had a room in college that got some serious direct sunlight in the evenings - so I understand what a pain direct sunlight like that can be, but honestly, I liked that situation better than getting *no* direct sunlight - certainly, in the colder months, that sunlight could really help warm up my room, don't you think?), but there's also the matter of the neighbor's big ugly brick side of their house all up in my view. To see anything but brick and other people's windows, I have to lean in close and look out to either side. It really sucks. And it has a real impact on my psychology - being disconnected like that from the outside world. Since I spend so much of my time indoors, despite having a natural affinity for nature, I've come to respect windows quite a lot, since they're my everyday connection to the outer world. I also happen to enjoy sitting in, or even just standing at, windows, just looking out, watching the world, and the weather. So the window situation frequently depresses me, but, and I think I've said this before, there are other things about this room that make it nice, so it's a matter of compromise (not to mention a lack of options - considering my fear of going out into the world and being independent).

21 January, 2008


Xenomorphs aside, little green (and often times grey) men have played a large role in my formative years. Although a skeptic at heart (though not in the philosophical sense), I am a very curious individual. The unsolved mysteries of life have always intrigued me, including aliens, ghosts, and all forms of cryptozoology. Despite Steven Spielberg's capitalization on the alien theme (with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., both of which were a little before my time), it was the harsher characterization of aliens, like that in Fire In The Sky, and all the popular TV specials about UFO's and alien abduction stories, that formed my impression of intelligent extraterrestial life. To my young mind, these were very real possibilities, that both frightened and intrigued me.

It should be no surprise that The X-Files is one of my favorite TV series of all time, with its exploration of these themes, focusing on aliens and the government conspiracies that relate to them. I remember when The X-Files first started. I didn't watch it then, but I remember seeing commercials for it - specifically the episode where Mulder arranges a bunch of papers from a fax machine along the floor, then climbs a flight of stairs and looks down on the arrangement to notice that the random binary characters form the shape of a face. At first I thought The X-Files was a movie, but when the commercials persisted, I realized it was an ongoing series. I still didn't start watching it, but my older brother did. I remember him making comments over the phone to one of his friends, as they each watched it in their respective homes.

Like with most things, I was a late bloomer in my fandom for The X-Files. Between the fourth and fifth seasons, I learned that FX had arranged to air the first four seasons of the show nightly, in their original running order. The moment was ripe, and I realized this was my chance to finally jump into The X-Files. So I started watching it on FX, and when the fifth season started up, I taped the episodes to watch them after I had caught up, which I think occurred somewhere around the middle of that season. Turns out the first four seasons was the best of it, but it was nice to catch up and be right on the ball when the movie came out. That was an exciting moment for me. Then, the series continued to decline, and when Mulder dropped out, I lost interest. One day I'll make a point to watch those last couple seasons, but I'm in no particular hurry. I'm even more interested in going back and re-watching the first four seasons, since it's been a while now. I remember trying to collect the series on VHS. Luckily I didn't get very far, as DVD is totally the way to go, and worth waiting for. I saw the X-Files DVD Boxset at Best Buy recently. That's definitely the thing for me, but considering there's like, what, nine seasons? - it's rather expensive, and would represent quite a time commitment. So again, I'm not in a major hurry.

Getting back to aliens - like ghosts, my belief is that *something* is happening to give people these genuine experiences, but it's not necessarily what it appears to them to be. Just like Scully, I try to look for a rational and scientific explanation for these things. A great example is a flyer I got in my chemistry class in high school, debunking sightings of the Loch Ness Monster as nothing more than atmospheric conditions (it was a pretty convincing read). But I don't think every situation is that easy to explain.

One question that intrigues me endlessly is the notion of government conspiracy, like that in The X-Files. Area 51. The Roswell crash. Has the US government had contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence? Have they performed alien autopsies? Do they have remnants of alien spacecraft in some secret hangar somewhere? Were some of the inventions we use today inspired by extraterrestrial technology? Naturally, my skeptical mind finds all of this rather hard to believe. A very convincing argument is the realization that many important government "secrets" don't remain secret for very long - think of Watergate, and I'm sure you can come up with many more examples. Now, if the government did know something about aliens, do you think they could have actually kept it secret this well for at least half a century, if not longer? It's rather hard to believe.

And yet, the idea of it is fascinating, and you want to believe that if it was something this huge, they would go to extreme measures to keep it secret. Still, I tend to believe that it's more a dream than a reality. The fourth season cliffhanger to The X-Files - the Believe The Lie arc - fascinated me. And it was major - it even got Mulder to doubt his own faith in the existence of extraterrestrial aliens for a time. The idea is that the government indirectly fuels the alien conspiracy myth. They'd be fools to step right up and admit (falsely) that they have had contact with aliens (not to mention that they'd be lying outright). But instead, when their denials and cover-ups fuel rumours of these things, they like to encourage it in a roundabout, untraceable fashion. The reason is that, as long as people are postulating alien possibilities, the real truth of the government's top secret programs goes unnoticed.

That's why Mulder got as far as he did. If the government really had secrets to cover up, they would have eliminated Mulder had he ever got as close as he did all those times. But instead, Mulder was very important to the conspiracy. It's a two way street. If somebody claims to know of some connection between the government and aliens, they can easily be dismissed as a loony, their story discredited. But this doesn't convince the believers - in fact it only encourages them to believe that the government is trying to hide its dealings by appealing to people's sense of what is too bizarre to be true. So carefully orchestrating situations where a person like Mulder can witness something profound, while not realizing he's been set up, gives fuel to the believers. And that propagates the lie behind which the government hides the much more mundane, but still secret, truth.

But then you have to ask yourself how deep the government will go? Is the operative that revealed this scheme to Mulder just another one of their tricks, to get him to disbelieve because he got too close? It's a spiralling argument, and you soon find yourself in the midst of a game of wits against a Sicilian, with death on the line. And perhaps that confusion is another part of the strategy. Whatever happens, there's always some room for speculation. The truth is out there, somewhere.

And then there's the topic of alien abductions. How do you explain this phenomenon? I happen to be very skeptical of hypnosis. I don't really know all the details, but what separates a dream from a memory? Still, I believe there are people that have had experiences they can recall, to some extent, without hypnosis, so you have to believe that something is going on. I have heard citations of certain conditions created by some kind of magnetic, or perhaps electromagnetic, field disturbances - this sounds like something worth further research and experimentation. If we could reproduce an alien abduction experience in the safety of a medical lab, that would be a breakthrough.

Traumatizing as it is, I can believe something like an alien abduction experience can be entirely within the head, induced by any number of physical and psychological factors, but not involving any real aliens at all, or even necessarily the victim leaving the bed. There's a phenomenon called sleep paralysis, which I've actually experienced, that goes back a long way in history, where a person partially awakens while their body is still in a state of paralysis. This experience is accompanied by the feeling of a presence in the room, visual and auditory hallucinations, and extreme terror. During my experience, I actually questioned to myself if this was an alien abduction, which is something I feared the chance of experiencing all throughout my childhood. But no, I looked at the face of the figure kneeling beside my bed, and it looked more like the faceless assassin in The X-Files than your typical grey. And there was no medical experimentation.

Whether or not this phenomenon could have something to do with alien abduction experiences is worth looking into. I believe there are probably other factors, though. I love the idea of associating the alien abduction experience with the historical 'revelation', where a religious person might experience a visit by an angel, and maybe even be taken on a tour of heaven. Although one is decidedly divine, while the other rather terrifying, can there be some connection? Again, worth exploring. I've always been fascinated with psychology and brain states and the barriers between reality and illusion. Dreams most definitely included. Fascinating stuff. Learning how the mind works is a lot more insightful than learning the laws of nature, ultimately. I mean, if more is possible by imagination than by reality, then wouldn't it be more interesting to learn the laws of that world instead? I certainly think so.

I had a somewhat interesting experience last night. I got up from my chair, and I looked back at it, and I noticed it was turning ever so slowly. If I didn't know better, I might attribute the motion to some sort of poltergeist. I stared at it amusedly for a few moments, resisting the urge to push the chair and spoil the experience. Postulating the idea of the existence of a ghost in my room was somewhat frightening, and when I moved my arm toward the chair, wondering if I would feel a "cold spot", my arm got quite tingly. Of course, this was just a side-effect of allowing my mind to accept such an idea. Like the feeling you get when you're sitting in the dark and you start thinking about the things that could be hiding, and then your blood runs cold and your skin tingles. It's not evidence of anything more than your own thoughts. But it's interesting that you can think yourself into such a vulnerable position. Most times I walk through dark rooms, and even through the yard at night, without a second thought about those kinds of things. But the moment I take a minute to think about what ungodly things might be lurking in the shadows, the entire arena changes form, and suddenly I feel scared. Maybe a lot of this hokey pokey has to do with people projecting their emotions onto their environment. Some would argue that this very thing is a legitimate method of conjuring certain types of attention, by loosing one's aura and energy into the air. But that itself is questionable, I think.

In any case, the genesis of this strain of thought was the realization that Area 51 is in Nevada. Burning Man is also in Nevada. Obviously, Area 51 isn't quite a tourist destination that you can just take a tour of, but I *have* long been intrigued by the idea of driving down the Extraterrestrial Highway, and staying at (or at least visiting) the Little A'Le'Inn. And what better chance? Honestly, when's the next time I'm gonna be in Nevada? It would be a shame to pass up the opportunity. I'm thinking that on the way to the festival, we'll be anxious to get there on time, while on the way back, we can pretty much take our time getting home, as long as we have provisions (remembering that money *can* buy food and shelter outside of Burning Man).

Wow, one thing I'm noticing is that the western states are HUGE. It's almost like the surface of the Earth expands as you move westward across the country. And there's bound to be a lot less people, out in these desert-y and mountain-y parts, compared to the urban concentrations of the east coast. I wonder what the population density is like. Sure enough - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/USA-2000-population-density.gif. You'd think a little trip from Reno to Rachel, from one side of Nevada to the other, would be like a few hours drive at most. But it's like 6 hours. Still, if it means an extra day of traveling, I think it would be worth it. And a 6 hour drive the day after the festival is probably better than going for like 10 hours or something.

Real and Ideal

When I look at the world, I judge it from the perspective of the ideal. And the thing that depresses me most, is that wide gap that exists between the real and the ideal. Maybe it's not unusual, but I feel like it must be some kind of deficiency. Why should I judge the world from the ideal? Why can't I see it for what it is, and simply accept it as that? But I'm a perfectionist.

One thing I don't understand, is how a right can be "inalienable" if there are situations where it can be revoked. A prisoner has been alienated from his right to liberty, while a man condemned to death has been alienated from his right to life itself. And, well, the pursuit of happiness is a rather complicated issue.

Furthermore, not every man is created equal. Is this not obvious? I think the true point of the notion is that a person should not be judged on factors over which he has no control - such as the color of his skin, or even his (or her) gender. But then, depending on your personal philosophy, you could argue that even a person's behavior is not under their control (well, I'd be inclined to, at least). But if we are not to judge a person by their behavior, then what good does judgement serve? Certainly, what matters more to a society is what a person does, rather than what a person professes to believe.

Physics is the study of natural law. While political law is based on moral action, natural law is based on possible action. Political law tells us what is and is not moral to do (remembering that morality is subjective), while natural law tells us what is and is not possible to do. From my perspective, the study of physics is the study of constraints. The more I learned about physics, the more I learned about the limits of reality that constrict the ideas that form within the imagination. Why is the human mind capable of imagining things that are not possible? Or, more importantly, what purpose does such facility hold?

Surely, dreams and fantasy can lift us out of the mundanity of our world-weary existence. But if we could imagine no better than what is possible in reality, then would we even understand the idea of anything better than what already is? Would existence not already be the pinnacle of imagination? Does a relative scale work in this instance?

Some would say that philosophy is largely the study of irrelevant questions. Of course, that's a pessimistic view. Society to me is the sum total of mankind's attempt to compromise dreams with reality. And maybe that is good enough, after all, but for a person like me, who sees in ideals, it seems incredibly insufficient to me. What I imagine is probably impossible, but what difference does that make? It doesn't make it any less desirable for me, and it doesn't make reality any more acceptable.

I feel like I'm in an undesirable position. Is that hard to believe? I don't have a job, and yet I don't currently have any bills to pay. I get food and shelter for free, and I can spend my days as I please. But those are only the outside conditions. Inside, I am not content. And my problem isn't my outside world, but my inside world. Something within me prevents me from living a life I can fully enjoy.

What is the nature of this beast? Fear, probably. A form of shadow. A darkness on my soul. When something comes to mind, my instinct is to hold back. This is troublesome, because it prevents me from doing things. But here's the question. Would doing those things be more harmful than avoiding them? Ah. The very question that plagues my every thought. It's quite ridiculous, really. But it's the way I'm wired.

I'm not a people person, and I can't decide whether I'd be better off *becoming* a people person, or by actually avoiding people. But how in fuck can I live a life simply avoiding people? There's way too many people in this world, and they all want my attention for some reason or another. This is the notion of being part of a community. If you're a part of this community, you have to give something back. You are subject to their laws. You are subject to their taxes. You have to be a part of this machine.

But I don't want to be a part of the machine. But I don't feel like there's any real existence outside of the machine, either. Not one that I've found. I've been hiding in the corner, because it's the best I can do, but it's not good enough. So do I have to give in? Do I have to get used to the machine? I desperately do not want to. And even if I convince myself that it's the only way... well, what does that really change? I'm still hiding in this corner.

They say knowledge is half the battle. But it's not. Knowledge is useless in this instance. All the knowledge in the world can't move a single feeling, if its roots are thick enough. I feel like society owes me some kind of assistance. 16 years of formal education couldn't prepare me for the real world. So what, am I just to be tossed aside? Independence. In a world so interconnected, how can anyone utter that word with a straight face? What happens to the people that can't help themselves?

I've long believed my fate to be extermination. If it's survival of the fittest, then I should be dead. But this society doesn't quite work that way. This isn't the jungle. It's a sort of jungle, but it's not the same jungle we evolved from. I envy other people's abilities to adapt. I wouldn't want to be anybody else but me, but there are qualities other people possess, that I would take in a heartbeat if I could.

In a parallel universe, I bet I was a lot more practical. I focused on studying computer programming, and ended up getting a cushy work-at-home job for great money. Some lucky break early on in my childhood resulted in early treatment for whatever personality disorders I may have had. I also ended up becoming a pretty good guitarist on the side, since I didn't constantly avoid practicing. Nothing major, just a local band to play some bars on the weekends - for great fun. I also didn't let my aversion to company spoil my chance at meeting a girl who understands me. My happiness is fueled by my carefully constructed initiative to go out and do the things that I take interest in, rather than sitting around thinking and reading about them. In this life, I lead my shadow, and not the other way around.

Ah, but that's the ideal. Welcome to the real.

19 January, 2008

Musical Discoveries

Inspired by a post by Satanic Thoreau, which characteristically turned out to be way fucking longer than I was expecting, I've decided to discuss where I discovered some of my favorite musical artists.

Classic Rock (Popular)

Most of the classic rock artists I'm into I discovered from a combination of my parents' listening habits as I was being raised (more of a subconscious inspiration), and the stuff I heard on RRK, which was (alas, no longer) the classic rock station in this area when I first *consciously* started recognizing music and acquiring a taste for it (around the end of my high school years). But here are a few specific stories:

Led Zeppelin

Stairway To Heaven was one of the first songs that I really got into in a big way. During the first semester of my senior year in high school, I spent a lot of time at home after school sitting in the dark and listening to RRK. I was "earning my chops" as a listener, in terms of getting to know all the most popular classic rock tracks (at least on big name radio, anyway). But everytime Stairway To Heaven came on - which was relatively frequently - I went into a total trance. It was practically a spiritual experience. The magic of the song, and the power and emotion of the solo. Once, a little later, after acquiring a girlfriend, I pulled the car into the driveway when Stairway came on. She was anxious to get inside, so she shut the radio off - cutting off my reverie. I was pissed.

As far as the rest of Zep's catalog, in addition to what RRK played, they did a Top 50 Albums countdown over Thanksgiving weekend that year. I got introduced to a lot of good albums on that countdown (as opposed to just songs), and I actually used it as a guide for writing up my Christmas list, since before then I didn't really know what albums were good. The albums on that countdown that made the biggest impression on me were Zep's.

Another formulating experience, if I haven't mentioned it already, was the weekend with the ZoSocar. One weekend that December, my brother 'traded' cars with me for the weekend, because he wanted to take the van up to Canada. So I got to drive his white Firebird. It was a sweet ride. He left Zep's fourth album in the CD player, so naturally, driving the car meant listening to the album. It was an amazing experience, that I am sure only increased the magic of that album.

Pink Floyd

I discovered Pink Floyd pretty much the same way as Led Zeppelin, though there wasn't necessarily one song that stood out for me as much as Stairway To Heaven did. But I do remember one Floyd-related incident from my childhood. I was in some way familiar with Dark Side of the Moon, because I remember I would sometimes beg my mom to put it on so I could listen to my favorite part, which was the ambient portion at the very beginning of the song Time. Floyd was probably the band I was most consciously aware of during the early years. In the discovery period, during the end of my high school years, I attached myself to Pink Floyd because they seemed a bit more sophisticated than the average rock band, and also because their music had a certain emotion to it - something a bit more introspective and atmospheric - which attracted me. I remember driving back from the mall one day, by myself, and Hey You came on the radio, and I thought back on my experiences, since I was approaching graduation, and I just had this feeling that Pink Floyd had some underlying connection to me.

The Doors

Something about The Doors reminds me of our family vacations to Deep Creek Lake in my childhood. It probably has a lot to do with hearing them a lot during those vacations. But it might also have to do with a very important experience that has stuck in my memory all these years. We were just coming off the lake as a storm broke out. While our relatives were tying up the boat, my brothers and I ran ahead to the cottages for cover. The doors were locked and nobody answered. We ran along the road from our parents' cottage to our grandparents' cottage, and the van drove right up to us, coming back from shopping. They opened the door and we climbed in out of the rain, and Riders on the Storm was playing on the CD player. Perfect.

The Who

The Who was actually the first rock concert I ever went to. But it wasn't me, it was my brother, that suggested it to my dad in the first place. I wanted to get a better idea of who The Who was - in essence, which of the songs I knew from the radio was actually The Who. I heard Who Are You one day, and I remember coming to the realization that "this is The Who". So I've kind of always felt a little behind the curve in my appreciation for The Who, but there's something very unique about the band, particularly Pete Townshend's approach to playing the guitar, that I've come to appreciate more and more over the years.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones is my dad's favorite band, so my awareness of them is pretty self-explanatory. They don't really have a searing guitar god - Keith Richards has always been more of the rhythm/song-writing type - so I've always spent less attention on them than other bands. But there's no doubt that they have a solid groove, as well as being just downright cool. And listening to them a lot, and learning about them on the side, from my dad's influence, I've learned to appreciate them more and more.

Neil Young

My first encounter with Neil Young was the song Cinnamon Girl which came on every once in awhile on the radio. I remember separating it in my mind from Brown-Eyed Girl, since the title was similar in structure. But between the two, Cinnamon Girl was more interesting because it was electric and had a rock edge. Another time, in a rare occurence, I heard Down By The River playing on the radio, and I was captivated by the electric jamming and groovy atmosphere. Yet another time, I heard Like A Hurricane, and I wasn't sure it was Neil Young, but I had a pretty good idea that it was, because I could hear the stylistic similarities to Down By The River. I tried to look it up, but kept getting Rock You Like A Hurricane, which obviously wasn't right.

I knew my dad had some Neil Young in his collection, so I looked through it one night, and discovered the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, with the song Down By The River - bingo! Listening to the album, I heard Cowgirl in the Sand for the very first time, and it blew me away. I loved it, but I didn't become totally obsessed with the song until my freshman year in college, sitting in the window, watching the students pass by down below, listening to the song on repeat for hours, waiting for just a glimpse of heaven.

Other Classic Rock/Blues

Robin Trower and Ten Years After

I'm lumping these two together only because I 'discovered' them simultaneously. Ten Years After has more or less been my dad's second favorite band, and my introduction to them during the Woodstock film (Alvin Lee totally smoking on the guitar throughout I'm Going Home) whetted my appetite for more. As for Robin Trower, I heard about him from an online classic rock forum, and decided he was worth checking out. So sometime during my college days, I ordered a TYA album and a Trower album. When they arrived, I took them to the library to listen to while doing some homework (I'm thinking this must have been sophomore year). I was entranced by Trower, and TYA blew me away. One of the TYA songs, You Give Me Loving, actually sounded familiar to me. It was bizarre, because I know I hadn't consciously heard the song before, but the riff must have been burned into my brain subconsciously from listening to TYA a lot during childhood, as I'm sure I did.

Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac

My first introduction to Peter Green was waking up halfway in the middle of the night, with the radio still playing, and hearing the song Oh Well, including the full acoustic portion. It mesmerized me, and I made a point to jot down the name of the song and the band, that the DJ announced after it ended, on a strip of paper so I would remember it the next morning. I woke up and looked at the piece of paper, and told myself that there was no way that song was by Fleetwood Mac, the band that did the Rumours album. So I shrugged it off for the time being.

I don't recall how Peter Green re-entered my consciousness, but I was curious, perhaps still wondering about that Oh Well song, so I went and bought the BBC Sessions featuring not just Fleetwood Mac, but Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. I was sold instantly, after listening to it. Peter Green, with his heart-rending soulful blues licks, and his melancholic sensibilities, immediately became one of my favorite artists of all time. He's an amazing musician, and the very personal songs he sings, I feel like it could have been me that wrote those songs. There's a deep connection there.

Michael Bloomfield

I came upon Michael Bloomfield in a roundabout way. It's pretty ironic, actually. One day, jumping into (or maybe just before getting out of) the car at Guitar Center, I heard on the radio - a rare occurrence, indeed - the version of Season of the Witch which turned out to be by Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. Not at first, but this gradually led me to the Super Session album, from which the track comes, which features some of Bloomfield's best playing. The session was conceived for just that purpose, and Stills' contribution came only after Bloomfield skipped out halfway through the proceedings. So by chance, I was drawn to Super Session by one of the non-Bloomfield tracks!

And then there was the Monterey Pop Festival DVD. Bloomfield plays on it with a band called Electric Flag. But what caught my attention even more, was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's performance on Driftin' and Driftin'. Once again, I just barely missed Bloomfield, because shortly before Monterey, he had quit the Butterfield Blues Band to form Electric Flag! Still, I got interested in the Butterfield Blues Band, and bought the anthology, half of which features Bloomfield on guitar. So from both this and Super Session, I came to discover, in a roundabout fashion, the genius of Michael Bloomfield, forgotten blues virtuoso guitar god of the sixties (and to a decidedly lesser extent, the seventies).

Other Genres

Joe Bonamassa (Modern Blues Rock)

I don't recall exactly how I came across Grooveyard Records, but when I did, I realized that here was a potential treasure trove of modern music that could appeal to my guitar-driven blues-influenced rock sensibilities. I downloaded all of the sample tracks from the various albums they were offering, and I listened to them, paring them down to the very best four. Then, I ordered the albums those best tracks were from. This is how I discovered Lance Lopez, also. One of those first tracks was A New Day Yesterday from Joe Bonamassa's live album of that title. I got the album and I've been a dedicated fan ever since. He's my favorite modern guitarist.

Shannon Curfman (Modern Blues Rock)

One day during my senior year in college, I was sitting at my desk in my room, reading from a hometown mag I had just got in the mail. I scanned through it for anything interest-catching. Well, in the live performances section of the magazine, there was an article about an upcoming performance by a young female blues rocker. My interest was piqued. When I read that she had recorded a blues album at age 15, I was fascinated. I couldn't get home to see her perform that time, but I bought her album and got a chance to see her next time 'round.

Silvertide (Modern Classic-style Rock)

When Silvertide were just getting popular over in Philly, there was a Philly-based member on an online Zeppelin forum I frequented at the time. He was advertising the band, but I pretty much ignored them at first. Finally, this member sent me an audio track or two, and I was really impressed. I also visited the band's website and heard a few more songs, and I was hooked. I got a chance to see the band live as an opening act, and I eagerly anticipated their first album release. Afterward, I even hoofed it out across the stateline to see them perform for a future live DVD release, which never happened. Unfortunately, the band faded into the void behind lies of a second album. Nobody knows if they will ever resurface, but at this time, it looks highly doubtful. Ah well, they were good while they lasted.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Post-Rock)

My initial foray into the post-rock and, more generally, the ambient and atmospheric music genres, came out of my discovery of the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And that occurred while initially watching zombie horror flick 28 Days Later. Despite their anti-publicity stance, Godspeed allowed one of their songs to be used in the movie - and to breathtaking effect. It certainly made an impression on me. Not only did I fashion the main riff of the first "original" song I wrote on guitar after the riff in that song, but I tracked the song down (which doesn't appear on the film soundtrack, by the way), and I've been a fan of the band ever since. The post-apocalyptic soundscapes that journey from very loud to very quiet sections entrances me.