Saturday, June 29, 2013

Binge and Purge

I go through phases where I am overflowing with creativity and a desire to build things and make music and photograph things.  Sometimes this lasts a week, sometimes it lasts two months.  Then I will invariably go through a phase where I don't want to build things at all.  I want to consume art and beauty in all its forms.  I want to play new games, be immersed in new stories, and see new typefaces and architecture and arrangements of color.  I mean, I always want to do those things, but sometimes the craving is much stronger.  It's a binge and purge cycle, where I ingest beauty and then later spew it out.

In the past I saw this with a more depressing light: there was the time of creativity, and the creative funk.  I saw the consumption phase as laziness—I had this feeling that I was being lazy and wasting my time on this earth if I wasn't trying to make things.  But I'm starting to understand a little better that in the grand scheme of things, if you go two months without making anything, it's not a failure.  It's not a failure that the sun isn't always out every hour of the day; it's part of a natural cycle that keeps plants growing while preventing us from baking to our deaths.  Even if right now I don't feel like making anything new, I will in a week, or a month, or a season.  Feeling bad about it as a way to motivate myself into being productive is probably not the right way to deal with it.  It's resting, to give me the energy to be creative again when the cycle moves on, and research to fill me ideas.

When I was younger I think the phases of this cycle were much shorter—no more than a couple days.  I wonder now if this was simply because I was younger, and time felt more compressed, or if it's because I work full-time now.  "Real life" is way more stressful and mentally exhausting than school was.  I do have a parallel cycle at work, where I'm very productive for a while and totally unproductive for a while, but regardless of which phase it is I'm still working for a similar amount of time, and it can take a lot out of me.

Certainly the "binge" phase of the cycle is much simpler mentally, when I can passively sit and watch TV or cast spells at monsters on my computer screen.  Work and social demands and anything else that exhausts me can perhaps lengthen the time I stay in the binge phase.  But perhaps unlike in real life, the purging is generally more long-term rewarding.  And I need both parts to be happy.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fanboys

I've been thinking off and on about why some people get so excited about movies or music or TV or games, and some people don't.  Being one of the people who do get excited, I couldn't really comprehend how someone could not be excited about at least one of those things.  I mean, art is pretty fundamental to the human experience.  How can it not thrill and excite you?

Talking with my friend Louise about the topic a while back, I learned something that I think helped me to understand it a little better.  Both of us love games, and we watch Breaking Bad and Dexter and other TV together, and generally enjoy art.  But while I become excited to the point of bursting whenever I find out that someone's working on a new Might and Magic or Command and Conquer or Warcraft game, or Imogen Heap's putting out a new CD, she doesn't.  I become overwhelmed with anticipation and she doesn't.

Now I don't have a deep psychology background or a lot of data points, but the thing that I realized talking to her is that basically all of my emotional experiences come from art.  Is that true, at least to some degree, for other people who become enormously excited about art?  Her emotions are triggered by human interactions, but I rarely feel much of anything talking to other people.  I don't cry at funerals or weddings, I don't get as angry as others, and I'm rarely sad.  But the scene at the end of what was effectively just the tutorial to Mass Effect 3, where the Leaving Earth theme is being played and you watch people get onto evacuation ships—that made me cry.  And the introduction to Up.  And at least half of the episodes of Lost.  And the feeling I get when I hear an amazing song for the first time is greater than most of the times I've heard great news from a friend.  Art is what moves me.

Is there correlation between those who react strongly to art and poorly to other humans, and those who get overwhelmed with excited anticipation about a CD?  Certainly on the surface it makes sense to be excited about the types of things that have most reliably brought you joy in the past.  For some people that's other people.  Or maybe some people just don't get excited with anticipation—that just doesn't seem very likely to me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hourglass

The short version:
Zedd—Clarity: 6/10
Labrinth—Electronic Earth: 7/10
Petri Alanko—Alan Wake: 7/10
Petri Alanko—Alan Wake's American Nightmare: 4/10
Charli XCX—True Romance: 5/10
Daft Punk—Random Access Memories: 5/10

Zedd's album Clarity is a dance album with music that you can dance to if you're into that sort of thing.  Dancing, I mean.  I would like this album more but a lot of the tracks are frankly pretty obnoxious in parts (even if they're otherwise not bad), and it's full of dance music tropes like noisy crescendos.  The opening track Hourglass is pretty great though, possibly because the first half of it sounds more like OneRepublic with a girl than a dance song.  Anyway, it's really well-constructed.  Speaking of OneRepublic, the second best is Lost at Sea featuring Ryan Tedder: it's pleasant, and it doesn't try to make me feel bad for sitting stationary while I listen.  The title track Clarity is third place, with a strong beat and strong vocals.  And then there are awful travesties like Fall into the Sky featuring Ellie Goulding, which sounds like it's a butchered cover of itself.  Anyway, most of the album's just okay; with a little more creativity I think it would have been a lot less forgettable.

I first expected Labrinth's Electronic Earth to be another dance album, and I thought about it that way at first, but once I realized it was "just" pop music (complete with too much Auto-Tune) with a bit more post-production it all made more sense to me.  There are three standout tracks: Treatment, Climb on Board, and Sweet Riot; and all three of those are infectiously catchy and are produced extremely well.  I'm glad I gave it a shot; the only song on here I recognized at first was Earthquake, which is full of annoying whiny noises which probably would have been clever if they weren't repeating throughout the entire song.  I'd recommend it to anyone who likes pop music that reeks of computers.

I got the Alan Wake and Alan Wake's American Nightmare soundtracks by Petri Alanko through a Humble Bundle.  I already owned the games for the Xbox—Alan Wake is incredible by the way, and you should definitely own it—but I picked them up again for the PC to get the soundtracks.  The first game's soundtrack is rather decent and fantastically moody; the second game American Nightmare's soundtrack not so great by comparison.  From the former, A Writer's Dream, Tom the Diver, and Hunters are good examples.  There are also a couple metal tracks by the metal band Poets of the Fall on some versions of the soundtrack.  If you've played the game—and, again, you should—then you'll recognize the band's music from one of the game's hilariously wonderful showdown scenes.  The latter game's soundtrack is shorter and not as interesting; Emma is a good example track.  It's unfortunate but quite expected that none of the licensed songs made it onto the soundtrack, such as Poe's Haunted or Kasabian's Club Foot.  Alan Wake made very good use of music, and even though most of the soundtrack is moody and not symphonic masterpieces, it's pretty well done.

I discovered Charli XCX through her guest appearance on Icona Pop's album and I decided to pick up her debut, True Romance.  It's okay but quite forgettable, with no tracks that stand out extremely well.  Nuclear Seasons, Set Me Free, and Black Roses are good examples.  I guess the style is probably something like "indie electronic," or just "alternative" for short.  I dunno.  Might be more worth checking out if you like 80s music; for some reason or another it has a mild 80s pop vibe to me.

I don't like Daft Punk's new album Random Access Memories.  There; I said it.  Burn me at the stake if you must.  In this album they've gone from an electronic band that samples funk to a modernized funk band.  In their first single for the CD, Get Lucky featuring Pharrell Williams, you wouldn't even have a reason to call it a Daft Punk track were it not for a little bit of their signature robot voice at the end.  Contact is fun, Touch featuring Paul Williams is weird but pleasant, and Giorgio by Moroder ends up quite nice as well, but starts with nearly two minutes of talking that I'll need to clip out to retain my sanity.  Anyway, their artistry is apparent, but their arty experimentation isn't enough to make me want to listen to this as much as their past work.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Petty name-calling, under-the-breath-talking

I decided while driving last Friday that High Road by Fort Minor is the best rap song that I have ever heard.  (Fort Minor is the side project of Linkin Park's rapper, Mike Shinoda.)  Naturally I needed to verify this with real data, and now after browsing through all of the rap tracks in my collection that I had rated 5 stars, I can back up my initial conclusion.
I love pretty much everything about High Road.  Mike's vocals are perfect—the rhythm is entrancing, and he's got a strong, sharp, clear voice.  The chorus is sung by John Legend, who fits the track wonderfully well with his silky-smooth R&Bness.  The beat's great too, and I love that the pacing is such that I can manage to rap and sing along moderately well, which is not generally the case.  And the lyrics, while not Shakespeare, have a nice flow to them.
Lemme tell you where I'm at with this
You bastards are gonna have to take back that shit
I'm not plastic and fake
When I make tracks, I take facts and lay 'em out for the masses
You assholes are gonna see soon that I'm not playing
Start asking me the names that I'm not saying
But I'm trying to be bigger than the bickering
Bigger than the petty name-calling, under-the-breath-talking
Rumors and labels and categorization
I'm like a struggling doctor: no patience
But you can say what you want about me
Keep talking while I'm walking away
Anyway.  Yeah.  Best rap song ever.  The runner-ups, which all excel in most of the factors that are important to great music, are (in no particular order):
Chiddy Bang—Handclaps and Guitars
Jurassic 5—Back 4 U
Diddy/Dirty Money—Coming Home
The Roots—Walk Alone

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Square one

Well I'm basically back to square one.  I had a visit with my neurologist a few days ago, and we decided that the Botox wasn't really helping all that much, and there wasn't any reason for me to keep taking prescription painkillers that come in suspicious powder form and cost $200,000 a pound after insurance.  So I'm off all of the medications that I was previously on.  I'm also going to stop going to the chiropractor, since I've been there for fifty visits now with no notable change in my headaches.

So now I'm back on ibuprofen, and next up I'm going to be trying massage and acupuncture, though massage isn't covered by insurance so I'm almost sort of hoping that it doesn't help.  She also prescribed Ambien to help me sleep, though so far it doesn't seem to have any effect on me at all.  She did warn me that a decent number of people sleepwalk and even order things online when they're taking it, which sounds kind of hilarious, but I think I'm safe because I have trouble typing my password when I'm awake, let alone unconscious.

She also asked "Have you ever had cranio-sacral adjustment? I think you should try that." Then she described that someone was going to feel the energy around my head and adjust my energy flows using their Gift. Then she pantomimed a crazy person and replied "So yeah, it's pretty wooo-woooooooo, but then again it's probably better for you than whatever weird poisons I prescribe for you to pop, right?"

In the meantime, it's nice to not be on a long list of different prescription poisons that I'm taking every day.  It's not that I'm against being a human guinea pig, but so far it hasn't been fruitful in getting me days free of pain, nor have any of the drugs at all made me totally high and awesome.

Other than those current non-pharmaceutical treatments—massage, acupunture, and cranio-sacral, there isn't really much else for her to suggest next other than variations on drugs I've already taken (I've already taken many variants)—or perhaps marijuana, for which there's definite significant anecdotal evidence in support, though she hasn't mentioned it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good old days

Last night I spent twenty minutes browsing through my favorite posts from the good old days.  Man, a while back I apparently had all sorts of interesting things to write about.  Now most of the time that I think of a good topic I realize that I already wrote about it years ago (I mean I've probably posted about this before too), and for some reason I rarely bother digging into my extensive list of rainy day topics.

Maybe I need to set a goal of writing a blog post once a week, instead of just writing dialogue for my game.  Just to keep things mixed up.

The sort of thing that gets you on a domestic terrorist watch list

When I was young I was obsessed with weapons.  As many nerdy children and teenagers do, I had a particular fondness for medieval weaponry, but I also loved guns and explosions and lasers too.  One of my prized possessions in my youth was a standing chalkboard on wheels.  (Bet you didn't expect me to say that, right?  You were totally expecting me to say "pocketknife" or something.)  On that chalkboard I devised all manner and number of games and activities.  My favorite was a game that I created to play with my little brother, The Explosives Game.  (I'm guessing I was around age 8 or so at this time.)

In this game I would create scenarios similar to how a Dungeon Master would in D&D, and then my little brother, armed with a number of sticks of dynamite and barrels of TNT and so on, would play the part of a guy who just wanted to blow things up and kill people.  The backstory of his enemies was always rather weak, as is always the case when little boys play with their GI JOEs and the like—they were "bad guys"—and that was justification enough to wander into their homes, kill everyone inside, loot their armory, and destroy every possession that they held dear.  This is the sort of thing that I imagine gets you on a domestic terrorist watch list these days, but I assume that any number of creative children come up with similar games of wanton violence.  Over the months (years?) I established quite an extensive (you know, for a kid) core handbook for this game, though the actual gameplay was flexible enough that much was made up as I went along so that whoever I felt like the winner should be would in fact be declared the winner.  (I think I tried to split play sessions 50/50 between us.)  I had a black binder filled with page after page of stats on explosive devices: what they looked like on the board, their explosive radius, how much damage they did, how much they cost at a shop, and so on.  It was like the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual for my magnum opus.  I would enjoy having that book now, though it's possible I destroyed it at some point; I vacillate between treasuring such nostalgic memories, and wanting to erase all traces of my past foolish low-quality creative endeavors.  (Some of my Photoshops from a decade ago make me want to throw up.)

Of course that wasn't the only game I created, but it was the most dear to my heart, and it was one of the few that I ever wrote down rules and numbers for.  Probably in second place was The Great Race, which basically consisted of putting a dozen or two small toys (especially Happy Meal toys) in a row on the linoleum kitchen floor and then racing them to the finish line using a completely arbitrary and made-up series of rules.  In one game my box of fries had a special power that allowed him to jump ahead of any car on the board and my pony got to move twice every turn, and in the same game maybe my brother's milkshake got to fire missiles at my racers, killing them and removing them from the game.  It didn't make any sense, but then again neither does Super Smash Brothers, and even adults like that game for some reason.

I think I turned out okay.