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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Last Wednesday, David Sedaris took the stage at the Frauenthal Theater in Muskegon. I’ve read Me Talk Pretty One Day and half of Naked, so I knew I loved his writing going in, but I didn’t knew he would be such an excellent speaker.

He’s got a distinctive voice—as he’s written about extensively—and delivers wicked lines with visible glee, an infectious anticipation for cutting punch lines. Usually, you put me in a dark room and make me listen to somebody talk and I’ll be struggling to keep my eyes open in minutes, but this felt as much like a stand-up show as it did a reading.

First off he shared a few short stories which I think are works-in-progress, or at least unpublished as of yet. These were long-form hilarious. Then he read entries from his diary, short snippets built from his experiences or weird articles he’d read. The diary entries held some of my favorite lines, and it was very cool to hear stories that might not even ever be in a collection. And then he told jokes, several of which I’ve already latched onto and spread to family and friends. He asked for more at the signing, but the only really good one I know takes a minute to tell, and he had a long line waiting.

I bought a copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames for him to sign, and was compelled to copy Bill Ryan, genius and creator of Insulted By Authors. I hope he doesn’t mind. Sedaris gave me a blank look when I asked him to write “Dear Seth, Fuck You,” but then I explained the idea and he was more than happy to comply. And offered a more creative alternative:

I want to know who this "everyone" is.

I like this better than a generic message.

It was an awesome night, and if I see him coming to town again I’ll be the first in line for tickets.

On an unrelated note, tomorrow marks the beginning of November and the hell of guilt and procrastination that is NaNoWriMo. Maybe this is my year.

I started something new. Whenever I read an interesting article or a badass short story, I’ll look up the author on twitter, follow them and leave a comment. I do this for two reasons:

  • I’m terrible at social media. Just the worst. I don’t even like talking on the phone for more than a minute, much less raking through the muck online to find interesting people. So, when I find writers with worthwhile words, I force myself to do this so I can look them up again, and make connections with people I aspire to be like. It’s easy motivation.
  • Good writing should be appreciated, dammit. It’s too easy to get writing online. I mean, I could fill this space with gibberish—like a list of my 10 favorite Two and a Half Men episodes—and somebody could find that on Google. So if I enjoy something, I want the author to know, and I think it’s nice for them to hear. Affirmation goes a long way, and it only takes 140 characters.
It’s an easy, good habit to get into, and I have enough horrible, apathetic tendencies that I might as well try to foster some healthy ones.

So I’ve been listening almost exclusively to one sing for the past three or four days: Ratatat’s remix of Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Party and Bullshit.’

It’s got an electronic buzz beat that keeps pulling me back. I haven’t kept a song on repeat like this in years.

But I was listening to it the other day, and I heard the first drop where it really kicks in and I cut over in my head to that scene in the finale of Breaking Bad season 4 where (SPOILER) the door explodes outward and Gus emerges.

The sound and the image matched up in my head and I thought, “I should try and edit together a bunch of cool clips from season 4 and set them to that song.”

So I did.

This is the first time I’ve really done anything like this, but as soon as I started I was hooked. It’s a strange thrill to scroll through each episode frame by frame, looking for shots to match up with the different sound cues in the song. Some parts of it I’m happy with—others not so much. A lot of the shots linger, and should be replaced with quicker cuts, but I just didn’t really have the patience for it this time.

It probably took me between four and five hours total, but a good amount of that involved screwing up trying to learn Premiere. I feel like I have a decent handle on basic cuts and timeline manipulation—that’s all I had to do for this—but I haven’t really played around with different effects yet.

It’s encouraging to watch and think about what I’ll do differently next time. I feel like I’m learning, and I have the itch to try making some movies again.

The flash fiction I sold to DSF hasn’t been published yet, but I’m hoping next month? I can’t wait to see it online. Hah, I shouldn’t have talked about it so soon to people without having anything to show. Oh well. Soon.

I haven’t submitted much more lately, which is frustrating. I’m partway through four different short stories, but I’m having trouble narrowing my focus to single one out and finish it, so I just make incremental progress on all of them at the same time. I’ll still be crawling along when the month turns, and then I’ll have to deal with the prospect of NaNoWriMo—the 50,000 word elephant in the room.

Maybe this year I’ll actually make a dent? I have a story all lined up, just need to force the pen to the page and stop worrying about whether or not it’ll actually be any good.

I remember when I responded to fatigue with a kind of mania. Productivity kicked in at 4 a.m. and I could pick inspiration from out the air.

Now it just makes me tired.

For whatever reason, I didn’t end up in bed ’til 5 a.m. Sunday morning, and then rose like a corpse to get breakfast less than four hours later. Instead of inspiration, I had this free-floating zen sense of detachment. It was nice, but instead of feeling unlocked and slaphappy like the lack of sleep used to bring out in me, I was content to lie on the couch for 95% of the day.

That used to be the state of mind guaranteed to put me in the mind to write. Now I don’t know where my head has to be.

Or maybe that’s the wrong way to think about it. I should be forcing myself to write regardless of what my stupid brain wants to do. This is difficult.

So I started playing this game called Dark Souls. For those of you unfamiliar: it’s the spiritual sequel to Demon’s Souls, one of the most notoriously difficult games released in recent years.

Combat—whether wielding a sword and shield or slinging fire and spears of light—is brutally tight, built on timing and precise movement, and often involves multiple enemies. Another game’s fodder, in Dark Souls, can carve out a third of your health bar with one swing. Bonfires provide a safe place to rest, recharge your life-giving Estus Flask, restore your humanity, and save progress, but this respite comes at a price: every bonfire visit resurrects your fallen enemies, and they think it’s adorable  you just managed to put one more point into your strength.

They still want to chop you up and wear you like a suit.

Even worse, Dark Souls doesn’t care if you decided to save your souls—both experience and currency—because you’re only a few hundred away from another point, and maybe you’ll check out the next room to beat down a few skeletons and besides, there’s no way you’ll roll off a bridge like some mouth breather who- goddamn it. At death, you lose all the souls you haven’t spent. You get one chance to fight your way back to your grave and claim those sweet souls, but if you roll off that bridge before snagging them they disappear for good.

Dark Souls is a game of immediate and permanent consequences.

The user interface does nothing to shield you from these razor-sharp mechanics. Most games now feature a comprehensive, hand-holding tutorial of some kind (“Use the joystick to move, asshole!”), or at least a map and an arrow to point you in the right direction. When I clawed my way out of an undead prison, the starting area in Dark Souls, I was presented with three paths and no hint as to which way I should venture.

I’ll guess I’ll go down this mountain path, I thought to myself, puffed up with my success in the prison and certain the game’s nefarious quality had been greatly exaggerated. Fool!

I spent my first two hours dying to invulnerable ghosts and only-slightly-less-invincible skeletons, finally despairing ’til I started up again the next day and found the right path almost immediately. Fresh eyes, I guess.

But then, slamming up against the same enemies and getting your ass kicked for hours doesn’t always mean you’re delving in the wrong direction. Sometimes it just means you’re playing Dark Souls!

It’s strange that I enjoy Dark Souls, as it carries few of the virtues I look for in games. It’s punishing and tough to grasp, whereas I play to relax. The multiplayer component enables and even encourages griefing, allowing other players to warp into your game world unannounced and attempt to steal your humanity.

“Hey guy! Are you here to help me fight this boss? No? Oh, you’re splitting me open with a club like two Hondas taped together. Great!”

And yet—and this is where I think the pull is—buried in Dark Souls are moments of sublime satisfaction. Every bonfire I manage to find and light is hard won, representing hours of blind, brave marching into the dark. I spent ten minutes fighting a twelve-foot knight armed with a sword my avatar could fit inside, alternately cowering behind my shield, rolling away from his strikes and leaping forward to strike a quick blow.

It’s rewarding where other games are patronizing. For every twenty encounters that leave me chewing my controller and making a noise in my throat roommates now describe as “Dark Souls rattle,” I’ll get one chance to feel like a god.

I don’t know how long my fascination will hold. Right now I’m trying to find some kind of bell, but I just found something called the Fire Keeper’s Soul that I think someone wants back at the bonfire where my journey began. This means fighting back through scores of undead I’ve already killed once.

But I don’t mind.