Friday, December 21, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

I was beating my head against the wall trying to get a different song together, and I was completely out of ideas. On a whim, I said, "Hey, what if I took 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' and started it...". The end result was this! Hope you like it!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Peavey

I have a Peavey Predator from the early 90's. It was my first electric guitar. It's been a reliable guitar, but all through my teens I had to deal with Fender loyalists putting it down because it wasn't Fender and others rolling their eyes and repeating "Peavey" in a mocking tone because they hadn't heard of the brand.

I've used it for at least half of the things I've recorded in the last couple of years, and in that time I've noticed a few issues. The pickup selector switch was really touchy and tended to cut out when it was on my bridge pickup, which just happened to be the setting I used the most. For a while, I had a dead fret on my bottom string; due to problems with the neck bowing and the strings being set too low, pressing down on the 16th fret would play the 17th, so I basically lost a note on that string. For the most part, though, it was good enough for what I wanted to do (see: this and this).

This year, especially in the last few months, I've been spending more time practicing (hence the lack of new recordings). I never realized how badly my technique sucked, so a lot of it has been going back to year one stuff and retraining myself, all the way to how I hold a pick. Almost immediately, I started to improve, which rekindled my excitement for creating music. I started paying closer attention to the guitars that my favorite bands were using and started looking into the cost of buying new guitars or upgrading my Peavey. In the meantime, I took my guitar to my dad so we could fix the pickup selector, which also resulted in us lining the inside with tin foil to reduce the noise coming from my pickups.

I also took the guitar up to the place where I take voice lessons and had their guitar tech look at it. He said it was a quality guitar, definitely worth popping new pickups in. I also discovered legions of devoted Peavey Predator enthusiasts on the internet. Pre-1995 is apparently a gold mine of underrated guitars. Some people swear by all of the stock parts, some replaced the pickups, some replaced the bridge and tuning pegs.

Suddenly, my guitar went from being a "crappy strat knockoff" to "a damn fine musical instrument."

It's up at the music store undergoing some adjustments. When I get it back, I'm going to reevaluate the sound and figure out whether I want to replace the pickups or whether the ones I have can produce the tones I'm looking for.

If there is a lesson in all of this, it's the same one I've had to learn multiple times in my life: It doesn't matter what other people think. Applied to musical instruments, that means if a block of wood and wire sounds like I want it to, it doesn't matter what it's shaped like or whose name is on the headstock.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Orthodoxy, or Not All Squares Are Rectangles

"There are over five hundred million Christians around the world!" said the guest speaker at the church we were visiting for the third time. I did some quick mental math -- 500 million was the number you got when you took the estimated number of Christians worldwide (1.5 billion) and subtracted the estimated number of Roman Catholics (1 billion).

Lately, I've spent a lot of time asking myself whether correctness of belief is something that matters to God. In the American Evangelical Christian culture that I've been part of for most of my life, believing the right things is of utmost importance. "What you believe determines how you act," they say. They're right about that, of course, but they immediately turn and say that "faith" is what saves a person from burning in fiery damnation for eternity, as opposed to "works", and spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars trying to convince everyone to believe the same things that they believe.

One of the tenets common to the American Evangelical Christianities is that Christianity is the only true religion, that all non-Christians (and most Christians) have wrong beliefs and are therefore doomed to everlasting hellfire. "You can be a good person," they say, "and spend your life doing good things, but if you don't believe in Jesus, then it doesn't matter to God."

Within each sect of American Evangelical Christianity, additional beliefs are tacked onto this central one in order to differentiate between "true" Christians and "sinners following a false gospel." This is where you get churches insisting that the Earth is 6,000 years old, evolutionary science is a lie, homosexuality is a sin, and that Jesus is going to return any day now to destroy the world and slaughter most of its inhabitants. These become core doctrines.

The results are easy enough to see: We teach our kids to fear science and disrespect their teachers. We elect politicians who deny equal rights to gay couples. We pretend climate change is a global conspiracy because 1) The Earth isn't old enough for the historical data to be true, and 2) Jesus is coming back soon, so who cares?

All of this is underscored by the fear that deviating from any of these beliefs leads to a seat in hell.

That fear keeps people from taking the compassionate stance on anything. We get "hate the sin, love the sinner" types, who say that homosexuality is sinful, but that the government shouldn't be in the business of regulating who can love whom, and that churches shouldn't be so judgmental. We get the belief that the Universe was deliberately created to appear old, which allows us to do science, but that it was created only 6,000 years ago. We get tension between what the American Evangelical Christian churches are insisting is true and what our consciences tell us is just and no way to resolve it without damning ourselves, either to an eternity of eternal conscious suffering or to a lifetime of knowing we are assholes.

All this to say, I have trouble with the idea that God cares about what people believe in. When I read the gospels, I see a call to be compassionate and do good, and to encourage others to do the same, not to engage in rigorous academic exercises to determine which thoughts are the correct ones to think.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Church Language: Othering

It's Olympic season! I love watching the world's best athletes get out there and kick ass like they do. The commentators have been getting on my nerves a bit, though, as they have occasionally whined about judges scoring Americans unfairly low, or "inflating" non-American scores when said scores seemed fair. One of my Twitter friends linked me to this gem of a tweet:
Dear NBC, ending the night with the French national anthem is kind of a let down. Please work on your programming. Sincerely, an AMERICAN.

The tweeter's profile says, "I love and am loved by Jesus Christ. I love my amazing family and friends, my dog Harriet, my high school girls, good music and Ohio State sports!"

Awkward segue: The church is big on making various groups of people into Others. You know, the scary kind. The different kind.

It starts off relatively reasonably: We, as Christians, take a stand against murder and burning kittens. Awesome. We hate things that hurt people! People who murder or torture adorable balls of fur are evil and deserving of God's wrath!

Then we start building a bridge from there to here via a game of Connect the Hateful Dots. To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure I can reconstruct the bridge anymore. I just know that it always ends up going through Hitler and landing on Democrats.

I sat through a sermon where the pastor rattled off some made up-sounding statistics about the habits of gay people re: number of sexual partners and diseases carried. The congregation murmured theiramens as the pastor's voice grew louder and louder with each false declaration. Homosexuals were not human in this man's eyes -- they were subhuman, a perversion of God's perfect will. This wasn't a man calmly saying that he had studied the scriptures and concluded that homosexuality was not a part of God's intended design; this was a man who hated homosexuals and consumed whatever reading material he required to "prove" that they were worthy of his hate.

"The gays", as defined by people like that pastor, are by definition outside the church -- they are faceless Others. People in the church are still safe and deserving of your love.

Unless those people affirm homosexuality as an intentional and morally good aspect of God's designed. Those people are equally evil and deserving of scorn.

Oh, also, if you are friends with or attend the same church as one of those gay-affirmers, then you are also morally bankrupt. Guilt by association and all that.

What does that have to do with someone being mad about France? Start with "socialism is evil", go to "France has universal health care, which is socialist" and finally end on, "France is different from America, which is not socialist, therefore I'm super pissed to hear their national anthem this one time."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Treadmill Playlist, volume 1

I started running a couple of weeks ago, which necessitated a new playlist for the treadmill. I hate "workout music" -- it's bland. Somehow we got some mp3s from Biggest Loser, and they're all sped-up dance covers of rock tunes. Yuck.

Here are a few things from my list:

Anberlin - Godspeed (video)
Whenever this song comes on, I basically just want to go nuts at whatever I'm doing, making it great for an extra burst of energy at any point in the run. Really, just about anything by Anberlin will work. Godspeed just happens to be Anberlin in their purest form.

Foo Fighters - Bridge Burning

The Get Up Kids - Holiday

I'm always looking to expand my list, so feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Church Language - Maturity

The Christian life is often described as a process. Some of the more common phrases include, "Your Christian walk," "Growing in the Lord," "Your faith journey", and things of that nature. Because of this sense of progression, evangelicals think of people are being either mature or immature Christians.

Seems harmless enough, right? When we look for doctors and babysitters we want people who are experienced and dependable. When a church is drafting leaders for its unending catalog of programs, the pastor or board of elders is looking for people who have somehow shown that they are mature in their faith. If you put someone who has never read the Bible in a position where they may have to answer questions about the Bible, you might have unexpected results.

The problem is that, in my experience with Evangelicalism, "mature" and "immature" don't actually represent two points on a graph, the starting point and the final destination of a journey so much as two mutually exclusive states of being, i.e. you are mature or immature, but never maturing. But even as I type that beast of a sentence, I don't feel like I'm explaining it properly because people say things like, "I'm still learning," or "None of us has arrived yet," and they even seem to mean it. Perhaps a story could illustrate what I mean.

I was 12 when my family hopped from Catholicism to a "nondenominational" (i.e. white suburbanite) church. Now, as far as Evangelicals are concerned, anyone coming from a liturgical sect is coming in as a brand new Christian on account of their entire faith community having been deceived by Satan into believing a false Gospel.

Like a good Evangelical, I attended youth group every Sunday night, eventually joining the praise band on guitar (and later bass, drums, or vocals as needed). When I was 17, after years of Sunday-Sunday-Wednesday services, an assortment of special events, lots of money spent on shirts screen-printed with banal witticisms, I was struck by a thought:

I don't know anything.

This was not a pleasant thought. I mean, I knew things. I knew evolution was a lie. I knew abortion was murder. I knew it was a sin to be gay. I knew Democrats were all Christ-hating atheists who wanted make it illegal to be a Christian. I knew these things because the Bible said they were so. Why was I suddenly convinced that I didn't know anything?

I don't know anything about the Bible.

Wait, what?

Yeah. Turns out, I didn't actually know what the Bible had to say about much of anything. I started paying attention to how I perceived things in church or when I tried reading the Bible on my own. My mind did this thing where it just kind of... tuned out to what the text of the Bible said and just accepted what the preacher or the footnotes said. There were lots of things that I just didn't understand, but I didn't realize that I didn't understand them because there was always someone there to fill in the blanks for me (years later, I would learn that this is a side effect of the way many English-language Bibles are formatted, which is each verse starting on its own line, verse number in front of it, footnotes linked all over the place, bearing no resemblance to anything a person would actually want to read).

I noticed something else -- every sermon covered the same ground. It was an endless repetition of "Get saved, feel happy, avoid going to hell, Jesus loves you," week after week of remedial Christianity. Finally, I decided it was time to move on -- I told the youth pastor I wanted to seek out a different youth group, one that went beyond the basics and would challenge me to be a better person. His response? "The Bible says that God's word will never return void" -- meaning, he could keep repeating the same verses over and over, and I would learn from it in new and exciting ways. Much like a level 13 mage killing rabbits in the newbie zone, I would be grinding for experience so I could theoretically level up some day.

Maturity through repetition -- that's how Evangelical churches see faith growing. The fact that it doesn't actually grow that way is what necessitates the simpler approach. "Mature" Christians are the ones who have been in attendance longest and who follow the most rules -- they don't "smoke, drink, cuss or chew or go with girls who do", as they are fond of saying. The "immature" Christians are the newcomers or the regulars who listen to secular rock music.

I follow all of these rules and take on leadership roles in the youth group, but I don't know anything.

My pastor wants to keep it that way.

I'm still not sure what "maturity" means in this context, but I'm pretty sure I am lacking in it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Church Language - Being Right

I spent part of Saturday afternoon at a friend's house along with a bunch of strangers. My friend is starting a church and his guests were people who were interested in that church. When he was talking about the core ideals of this church, one of the things he said was, roughly, "While solid teaching is important, I really want this church to be a community."

This concept resonated with me. One of the main things that keeps me from making return visits to the local evangelical churches is their obsession with being right.

By "right", I don't mean "informed" or "educated" or "orthodox." By "right," I mean "not wrong like those other churches."

(can of worms: I will eventually write specifically about "othering")

I've been to many churches that focused on being right to the exclusion of teaching people about compassion and humility -- the stuff that actually makes the world a better place. In some cases, "right" doesn't even involve facts or truth. At one church, the pastor spent an entire sermon spouting off unsourced "facts" about the sexual habits of gay people in an effort to prove that they are an affront to God and the primary source of decay in society. Nevermind that the garbage he was spewing was utterly divorced from reality, it proved that those gays are evil and those churches that affirmed them were brainwashed by Obama. Or something.

So, yeah, the idea of a church caring more about community than being right? I think that sounds amazing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Church Language - Simplicity

In my experience with Evangelical, fundamentalist and charismatic churches, I've found that they tend to view the world through binary lenses. Everything is either morally good or morally evil, with nothing -- nothing! -- amoral or in-between.

The classic example is music. Churches, particularly youth groups, are big on convincing people to destroy their "secular" music collections and listen exclusively to "Christian" music (in short: Christian music really only refers to an artist's record label, not their lyrics, actions, or actual religious views). A speaker at a youth group event I attended once shouted, "Secular music will drag your soul down to the pit of hell!" The reason is because of spirits in the music -- no matter what the singer is saying, if the musician is not a Christian then the devil is inhabiting the music for the sole purpose of getting teenagers to have sex and become atheists. No music is neutral, it either a force for good or a force for evil and you'd better make sure you're supporting the right side.

This attitude can be extended to anything -- clothing, movies, brands of food, local businesses, whatever. Not all churches take it to the same extremes, but it's there.

Part of the problem, I think, has to do with the way they approach the Bible. Somewhere along the line, the Evangelical community decided that the only way to read the Bible was to assume that:

  1. Everything in the Bible was written directly by God himself and is meant to be interpreted as literal, historical and factual (known as inerrancy) "whenever possible". When the inerrant writings of God seem to contradict themselves, then you can start considering the possibility that maybe one of the passages in question has some kind of cultural explanation and isn't mean to be taken entirely literally.

  2. Everything in the Bible is either a command or a prohibition.

This stark reading of scripture can't lead to anything but perpetual judgment of all things as "good" or "evil". So, when pastors start decrying books and movies from the pulpit, the laity says, "He studies the Bible more than I do. He must be right!" and BAM! culture war. It leads to intense division (which is a whole other topic in itself) and perpetual witch hunting.

I view the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures, as a collection of stories or fictionalized historical accounts written by people who had specific ideas about God and morality that they wanted to convey. I don't believe that God would order the slaughter of women and children after the army defending them was defeated, but I do believe that someone could use that as a literary device to make a point about something else. I believe that Jesus really lived, really died, and really was raised from the dead, but I also believe that the writers who provided us with accounts of those events were also thinking about presentation and probably fudged some things for the sake of creating a compelling narrative.

But, I majored in English and enjoy creative writing, so I have trouble thinking of fiction as anything but honest and true. If God were to task me with writing a holy book, my first step would be world-building and probably rolling up some character sheets.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Church Language - Holiday Hypocrisy

In the morning, Christian churches all over the world are going to be celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Evangelicals will be no different. What bugs me is that in six months, the same Evangelicals who will be wishing each other a "Happy Easter" on "Easter Sunday" or going to be decrying Halloween as a holiday rooted in ancient paganism. A month after that, they will complain about how corporations have sucked the real meaning -- Jesus -- out of Christmas.

I've tried explaining it to them, but they don't actually listen because they already know in their hearts that they are right.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

my tumblr

I just wanted to update to say that I created a tumblr where I'm going to post all of my half-baked thoughts and ideas in between "real" blog posts. Check it out:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thoughts on Mass Effect 3

I finished Mass Effect 3 on Sunday and have spent the last several days following the various fan reactions and arguments for and against BioWare releasing DLC to change, expand or provide additional options for the ending. I figured I'd add my voice to the conversation.

Before I get to the game, though, I need to talk about art, because my view of art impacts how I view this situation. Other people view art differently than I do, and that's fine, but I don't think I will be capable of reaching agreement with those people in regards to Mass Effect 3.

Art is not special.

Art provides a number of functions. It can provide a snapshot of a culture at a given time or steer a culture in a different direction. It can speak to people on an emotional level that a purely rational discussion won't be able to reach. We can use art to teach people -- about history, about religion, about people who are different from us. Art can make us laugh or cry. Art is a wonderful thing.

But art takes work. I say this as someone who has studied music for most of his life and who majored in writing. There are objective principles that can be used to judge the quality of art, even art that breaks the "rules", regardless of the observer's personal tastes. A person can dislike rock and still appreciate that individual rock songs are well-crafted. That same person can love jazz and recognize that some jazz tunes are not put together so well.

Artists are not special.

Our culture is weird about creative people. We act like creativity and artistic ability are things people are born with. Try it out: Create something, and see how long it takes for someone to sigh and say, "I don't have a creative bone in my body."

Creativity isn't The Force and artists aren't Jedi. Anyone can train themselves to be creative and develop artistic skill.

What this has to do with games.

If I buy a chair and it's missing a leg, I get to take it back and get a new one. If Toyota makes a car that sometimes accelerates when it's supposed to brake, they have to recall it and fix the problem at the manufacturing level. These are defects that cause the product to work in a manner that is decidedly not as advertised or expected.

Note that I'm not saying that chair makers and auto manufacturers are on the hook for customers deciding they don't like wood grain or leather seats. That's the kind of thing you know you're getting into.

I'm also not saying that a guy who makes chairs and stores them in his basement is in any way obligated to people who happen to observe his creations. He made them for himself, outsiders' expectations be damned.

Video games are an art form. In most cases, they are also a product that is sold. They differ from other art forms in that they have the potential to be interactive, to allow the observer to assist in creating the final product. In the original Super Mario Bros., how many castles does Mario visit before he saves the princess? When I play, it's two castles.

They also differ from many other products that you can buy in that you're pretty much never allowed to return them anymore. If I buy a coffee table and it ends up being too big for my living room, I can box it up and get a refund. If I buy a video game, most stores won't accept a return if I've opened it and no digital services offer refunds. Once I've forked over my money, it's gone forever, no matter the quality of the game.

That means it's very important that video game creators manage their customers' expectations and deliver a product that meets those expectations. They need to make sure their advertisements match the product, that the comments they make accurately reflect the direction that the development is headed, and, if the game is (for example) the conclusion to an epic trilogy, that they take previous games in the series into consideration when building the conclusion.

Which brings me, finally, to the game in question. Though obviously each fan has their own idea of a perfect conclusion, they basically expected two things:

  1. Multiple endings that reflected the decisions they had made throughout the trilogy, right up to the end

  2. Endings that logically followed from the events that preceded them

Now, despite the outrage at the, erm, striking similarities between the ending cutscenes in ME3, I don't think the similarity is the real issue. The cinematics for the previous two games were largely identical, but utilized to tell different stories. Did you save the Council or not? If not, are you creating a human-only Council, or one with Asari, Turians and Salarians? You see a lot of the same footage no matter how it goes, but with modified conversation trees mixed in and the understanding that your decisions affected the entire galaxy.

No, the issue with the ME3 endings is that they are largely non-interactive and that your decisions don't matter much in the grand scheme of things.

And then the endings just don't make sense. Shepard rolling over and accepting the enemy's conditions for victory is completely out of character. The AI god-child claims that synthetics will always rise up and destroy all organic life, a claim that could be refuted if the little bastard would look out the damn window at the Geth and the Quarians fighting side-by-side (well, if you managed to save both races; seems like it would be kind of a big deal to the AI kid). All the mass relays in the galaxy are destroyed, which should mean that they go supernova and destroy the systems they are in. The crew of the Normandy, most of whom were on Earth when things started exploding, crash land on some mysterious jungle planet. Game Over. Roll credits. Listen to Buzz Aldrin tell some kid about "The Shepard".

No. That is not the coffee table I was sold. If BioWare wants to make high art, they can create a new franchise for that purpose and market it as such. I want the end to the epic space opera that I was promised and for which I gave them money and for which I am willing to give them more money, if that's what it takes.

But I'm never making the mistake of pre-ordering a BioWare game again.


A bunch of things I read that I basically agree with:
Game Front: Mass Effect 3 Ending-Hatred: 5 Reasons The Fans Are Right
BioWare forum: Musings of a Screenwriter: The Ending Thread
Game Tourists: Mass Effect 3 has Broken My Legos (More Musings about the Endings)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Church Language - Christianese

Today's installment isn't about something I find particularly offensive, just... really annoying. "Christianese" is the name given to the strange jargon that peppers conversations between Evangelicals. I don't know where this term came from, but I learned it inside the church, as in, "Sometimes our classmates or coworkers don't understand us if we speak Christianese," so at least they know their speech patterns are off-putting.

At first glance, Christianese seems pretty benign -- people say things like, "I am so blessed," or "The Lord was teaching me patience as I was driving to church" in response to, "How are you?" It's stilted and awkward, but hey, they're making a conscious effort to be grateful no matter what happens in life.

If you've read 1984, you're familiar with Newspeak. If you're not, here's the basic idea: If people don't have words they can't articulate thoughts, so if you don't want people having certain thoughts, you take away the relevant words. Christianese lacks the ability to destroy the thoughts, but it does limit which thoughts can be safely expressed within the walls of a church.

First and foremost, Christianese assumes that everything happens as a direct result of God doing something. All events, all the time, as if God didn't create a universe that operates according to a variety of laws and doesn't require a whole lot in the way of maintenance. So, when someone asks, "How are you?" or "How was your week?", your answer needs to take into account that whatever transpired in the previous seven days represent God, in his infinite wisdom, reaching into the very fabric of reality to specifically make your week occur in the manner that it had.

Obviously, this rules out shitty as an acceptable response.

"The Lord has been teaching me patience" is one way to report on a less-than-perfect week, as is, "God has shown me the importance of maintaining my relationships."

In some situations, however, invoking God feels like overkill, so Christianese allows its speakers to attribute things to "spirits". This also goes for things that a person might not feel right pinning on God. A laughing child, for example, might be described as having a "spirit of joy" about him. Know a guy who seems unflappable? Spirit of peace. Experiencing depression or anxiety? Spirit of oppression or fear.

In the worst situations, this tendency to spiritualize everything can lead people to make harmful decisions. For example, I've known people who quit taking anti-depressants because they saw depression as a spiritual problem rather than a chemical one. This is, sadly, somewhat common in Evangelicalism, particularly if you head down the fundamentalist or Pentecostal branches.

But even when it's not that bad, attributing everything to spirits can have a negative effect on people. When I used to play guitar at churches, people would frequently approach me to tell me that I had a "spiritual gift" of guitar-playing, or that when I played they felt "a spirit of peace" or "a spirit of worship". Sometimes it would even get escalated to God somehow playing through me. Never mind that I practiced several hours a day, harvesting riffs from the songs I loved, running my scales and arpeggios until my fingers were numb. My efforts meant nothing; God was running my hands and the spirits were in the sound.

This destroyed my work ethic. See, since things only happened if God willed them, and I was only good at guitar because God intervened and made me good, then obviously effort didn't matter. If I tried a new hobby but failed to grasp it immediately, I gave up on it; if I took an interest in an academic subject, I quit reading if I didn't instantly memorize the basics. Obviously, God didn't want me to do it, or he would make me perfect at it.

Christianese permeates Evangelicalism, so it's going to show up in the rest of this series. I may make bingo cards (probably not).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Church Language - Expectation

In the proper context, expectations are a good thing. My wife expects me to keep myself alive so we can grow old together. My voice teacher expects me to practice between lessons. My friend Matt expects me to write music periodically. I have granted these people the right to expect certain things of me, so it doesn't bother me in the least when they vocalize those expectations. "You gonna treadmill tonight?" "How's the breath control coming?" "When are you going to upload new music?"

When I don't live up to those expectations, I feel a twinge of guilt and I resolve to do better. Then I'm thankful to have someone who is paying attention.

In my experience in Evangelical churches, people seem a little fuzzy on where other people's boundaries are. Even as first-time visitors, Sarah and I are nearly always treated to this wonderful gem after shaking hands and exchanging names:
Congregant: So, do you guys have any kids yet?
One of us: Nope, we have a dog and a cat.
Congregant: Oh, well hopefully soon!

Another variation involves asking when we plan on having kids, and asserting that God will change our minds.

If we attend for any period of time, eventually someone discovers that I play guitar.
Person: You play guitar? Awesome! We'll have to get you on the worship team sometime!

Note the phrasing: "yet" indicates an expectation that we will have kids; invoking God makes it a moral mandate. "We'll have to get you..." assumes that possessing a skill means I want to lend it to them and destroys any concept of self-determination I may have.

And it continues. What night is good for you to join a small group? What are you bringing for the potluck? When are you taking a turn in the nursery (this one typically only applies to Sarah)?

It applies at every stage of life. I remember adults constantly asking other people's kids about their romantic lives, usually to express their distaste for teenage dating... and then, the minute these kids graduated from high school, asking when they were going to meet someone of the opposite gender and embark on a heterosexual marriage.

They'd ask what college we wanted to go to, just make sure we were planning on a Christian college. Bonus points if it was Bible college.

They'd ask what music we were listening to and whether it was "Christian".

They'd ask why we would possibly want to watch R-rated movies.

They'd ask anything, and they would do it in such a way that it expressed their opinion of what we should be doing.

Eventually, they'd drop the pretense and start prescribing. And then one morning you wake up and you realize one of two things:
1) The life you lead has been tailored to the preferences of a bunch of people you barely know.
2) You have been lying about who you are to an awful lot of people.

Either way, the only thing that eases the tension is to cut and run.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Church Language - Introduction

I live in perpetual fear that someone is going to ask me where or with what frequency I've been going to church lately. The answer -- "eh, nowhere, really" -- isn't the scary part so much as figuring out how to respond to the inevitable follow-up: "Why not?" The core of my religious convictions, the part that lends itself toward attending an Evangelical church, hasn't changed, but something about the thought of attending a church -- of even finding a church to attend -- fills me with a palpable dread. And hey, since I just outed myself to the entire freaking internet, I think I'm going to try and think through where that feeling comes from.

So, the plan is to spend a few posts reflecting on the language I've encountered at the churches I've attended and see where the hostility originates and whether it's real or all in my head. Some things I'd like to cover include:

Expectations - Statements and questions that reflect an expected way of doing things, the most common of which is the "When are you getting married/having kids?" series.

Divisive language - Situations in which an "Us vs Them" mentality is expressed/encouraged. Pretty much any time politics are mentioned.

Falsehoods and damn lies - I once listened to a dude go on a 30 minute tirade against gay people using all of these made up sounding statistics about their sexual proclivities. He did not cite a source. This may be bundled with divisive language.

Control - I may need to save this for last because it can be a part of anything people say. The sad fact is that some people just want to control what other people think.

These and pretty much anything else I can think of, or anything that may come up in the comments.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 15 - iPod

I'm skipping a few of these, as I don't feel like writing a letter (13) or digging around Facebook for a picture of me and my family (14). Today's prompt is "Put your iPod on shuffle: First 10 songs that play." This is a good one because I just got an iPod, so I have an excuse to keep playing with it.

1. Spitz - Indigo Chiheisen -- Back in the glory days of filesharing, my friend Don discovered a Japanese pop singer named Ayumi Hamasaki. Check her out, she's amazing. Anyway, I started going nuts looking for other good music from Japan, and wound up with a song by Spitz called "Yume Oi Mushi", which is still one of my favorite songs.

2. Spitz - Nana eno Kimochi -- Seriously, same band twice in a row? Gonna complain about the randomizer if there is a third...

3. Anberlin - A Heavy Hearted Work of Staggering Genius -- This is a short instrumental interlude before the last song on their second album, i.e. not the sort of thing I would seek out. Shuffle is fun!

4. Daft Punk - Flynn Lives -- Tron: Legacy was a freaking amazing movie, in no small part due to the brilliant soundtrack crafted by Daft Punk. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. It was an experience that made me go home and start screwing around with synthesizer sounds.

5. Spitz - Hatsukoi Crazy -- Okay, seriously? I have way more Muse, way more Anberlin, and way more Thrice than I have of Spitz, and yet here we are. It's cool, though, I like Spitz.

6. Ayumi Hamasaki - We Wish (Ramon Zenker Remix) -- The Ayu Trance albums are great for listening to at work. They pass the time quite nicely.

7. Anberlin - Change the World -- Not one of their best. It's not bad, it's just kinda... blah. Unremarkable.

8. Paramore - Feeling Sorry -- I still think Riot is their best album, but Brand New Eyes has some good stuff. I'm curious as to how they'll fare without the Farro brothers, since they were the backbone of the Paramore sound.

9. House of Heroes - Drown -- I vaguely recognize this song. I guess I always tune out when I'm listening to the album. Huh.

10. Muse - Butterflies & Hurricanes -- This song is fantastic.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 12 - How/why I started blogging

Many years ago, two of my friends had accounts at, so I decided to join the crowd and created one of my own. I liked the idea of being able to write about personal stuff and easily share it with a couple of close friends. The site had a pretty minimal social feature, but I fumbled my way into following a couple of strangers. The idea of being able to write stuff for "people" was intriguing, but I wanted to keep diaryland under wraps -- too personal for general consumption.

Then I stumbled upon livejournal. It had a better social element and random online friends of mine were already using it, so it was pretty easy to jump in. It was great because it gave me an outlet for whatever stuff I felt like sharing with my friends, plus the ability to interact with them. Eventually the platform started to feel stale, so I moved to blogger, and eventually to a self-hosted wordpress blog (this site), which I'm pretty happy with.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 10 - Songs for Moods

This prompt called for "Songs you listen to when you are Happy, Sad, Bored, Hyped, Mad." Here goes:

Happy - Black Mages - "Those Who Fight Further"; Tobuscus - "Literal Skyrim Trailer"

Sad - Metric - "Gimme Sympathy"; Gackt - "Mizerable"

Bored - Foo Fighters - "Bridge Burning"; Mastodon - "Oblivion"

Hyped - Chevelle - "Jars"; Fono - "Sunlight Silence"

Mad - Thrice - "Firebreather"; Further Seems Forever - "The Bradley"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 9 - Something I'm proud of in the last few days

I have been exercising consistently for the last week. I'm pretty freaking proud of that.

It's not a New Year's resolution thing. I've been trying to get the ball rolling since November,  but the holiday insanity kept interrupting me. Now that the holidays are over, it's easier to focus, so BAM! A new habit.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 8 - Short term goals for this month (and why)

Goal: One piece of music.
Why: I'm trying to beef up various music skills, and the best way to do it is to keep making music.

Goal: Pretty up the website
Why: Cuz it ugly.

Goal: 500 minutes of exercise.
Why: Because SparkPeople is giving away an iPad! Also, health and stuff.

Goal: Maybe get to a doctor.
Why: Because my wrist hurts and I have new insurance that doesn't force me to always go to the same doctor who isn't taking appointments and tells me to call back every morning at 8 and maybe they can squeeze me in.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day 7 - A pic of something that has the biggest impact on me

This is the sort of topic that makes me freak out a little. I know which people might see this post, so I feel like I need to cater to them. For example, the thought of someone in my family seeing this makes me want to reach for an old family photo; coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I'm terrified that if I don't put a picture of a Bible or Euro-Jesus that people will leave passive-aggressive messages about how I'm not a very good Christian. I talk a huge game about how much I loooove music, so I feel like maybe a guitar or a stack of sheet music should show up or people will think maybe I don't really like it all that much.

Thankfully, I found a picture on Facebook that illustrates the thing that impacts me most:

Peer pressure.

Don't get me wrong, I totally wanted to jump on that trampoline, but when there are two other people also jumping and you're afraid of heights and the photographer is telling you all to hold hands and jump at the same time...

Anyway, the point is that the terror on my face contrasted with the excitement on Mike and Kevin's is the perfect illustration of how I roll in many situations.

I don't have friends that actively pressure me to do anything. Seriously, no one gets on my case to do stuff I don't want to do. However, I create a lot of pressure in my mind and end up doing things that I don't really want to do because I think my friends will look down on me if I don't. For example, I've blown off plans to spend an entire Saturday writing music because a friend kindly asked if I wanted in on some game, and I didn't feel comfortable saying "No thanks! Maybe later/tomorrow." I think I'm getting better, though.

Day 6 - Favorite super hero

Look, I just started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, so the Jedi are on my mind and it's really tempting to just pick one and call this entry finished.

Buuuut... Fine, I'll put some effort into it.

I've always really liked Spider Man. I have the most ridiculous fear of heights possible, so when I see pictures or play games that involve a masked hero swinging from buildings like it's no big deal, I can't help but imagine that it's me, that I'm that high up and moving that fast, and that I'm not afraid.

Also, the spider-sense is frickin sweet.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 5 - A pic of a place I've been

Thank you, Google image search.

This is Mackinac Island, MI. It's great because there are no cars and approximately 70% of the buildings on the island sell fudge or taffy. Also, historical stuff.

Day 4 - A habit I wish I didn't have

It's been months since I last bit my nails, so I have to actually think hard about this one. Hmm...

Well, I fell off the coffee wagon recently. Or jumped on the bandwagon? Whatever. I hate caffeine dependence because I hate caffeine withdrawal headaches on weekends. It's just hard to maintain the same sleep schedule in the winter when Mr. Sun is slacking off, so 7am starts feeling like 4am and everything falls to pieces.

Day 3 - A pic of me and my friends

I'm the groom in this picture.

On the far left is Mike, seated next to his brother Kevin. Behind them (again from the left) are Jeremy, Olson, and DonSlice.

The bride is Sarah. Seated next to her are Jenny and Melanie. Behind them are Beth, Adrienne, and my sister, Karen.

I don't have any other pictures on my laptop, and I'm writing this from Starbucks, so I'll just give a shout-out to everyone else: Denny, Matt, Autumn, Tim, Kate, Dave, Dana, James, Amanda, Joel, Holly, Troy, and anyone I may have forgotten because I haven't seen you in a while (we should get together sometime). And of course Krista, who I stole these prompts from.

Day 2 - Meaning of the blog name

When I game, my handle is typically StanManX. In grade school, "Stan" became a communal nickname that I shared with two of my friends (no, I'm not telling the story of how that came about), but in junior high one of those friends bestowed it upon me. "Stanman" was guaranteed to be taken at all websites, so I stole a little from Mega Man X.

Offline, most people call me Stan -- friends, coworkers, some of my friends' parents -- so it makes about as much sense as calling it "Matt's blog" or something.


New music! Even though I technically didn't start working on it until after the new year, I'm counting it toward 2011. Hope you enjoy it!

[wpaudio url="" text="sleepthru"]

Also, I've bundled everything from 2011 into a convenient package at my bandcamp store.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 1 - A recent picture and 15 interesting facts about me

Fact #1: I loooove me some brownies.

Fact #2: I have a BA in English, which basically only gets used when my coworkers are arguing about words and they need an official ruling.

Fact #3: I have been playing guitar for over 16 years. I've also spent some time on drums, bass, and vocals.

Fact #4: I am currently taking voice lessons from Maria Rose of Maria Rose and the Swiss Kicks.

Fact #5: Final Fantasy XI was the first MMO I played. I quit because it got repetitive, but occasionally I have dreams about signing up again.

Fact #6: Actually, I occasionally dream about doing a lot of stuff that I quit doing, like karate, guitar lessons, or playing in a band.

Fact #7: I get really stressed out at big social gatherings, even if I know and love everyone involved. My heart rate elevates slightly and I start feeling warm. I have found that deep breaths help quite a bit -- especially if you follow them up with talking to someone.

Fact #8: I wear glasses because the thought of putting something on my eye gives me the willies. Someday, though, I will try contacts, because I'm really starting to hate glasses.

Fact #9: I have a younger sister.

Fact #10: I like anime. When I was a teenager and pretty obsessed, I couldn't afford to buy the stuff I was interested in, but thanks to the magic of NetFlix, I can finally enjoy the stuff I wanted to see so bad in 1998.

Fact #11: I like reading, but I don't read nearly as much as I say I would like to. I'm hoping to remedy that this year.

Fact #12: I hated cats until Sarah brought Aeris home. It was an instant transformation.

Fact #13: Speaking of Sarah, we bonded over discussions of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a single-player RPG. Now we're playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMORPG, together.

Fact #14: My senior seminar was a class on James Joyce. No, he doesn't make any more sense after taking that class. Dude had too much time on his hands. If anyone wants to fund me for 17 years, I'll bring you the next Finnegans Wake.

Fact #15: I still really want to learn to play the piano someday.


I'm going to steal some prompts that my friend Krista is writing from this month. Hopefully it will reactivate sections of my brain that seem to have gone dark. Here they are:

Day 01- A recent picture of you and 15 interesting facts about yourself.
Day 02- The meaning behind your blog name.
Day 03- A picture of you and your friends.
Day 04- A habit that you wish you didn’t have.
Day 05- A picture of somewhere you’ve been to.
Day 06- Favorite super hero and why.
Day 07- A picture of someone/something that has the biggest impact on you.
Day 08- Short term goals for this month and why.
Day 09- Something you’re proud of in the past few days.
Day 10- Songs you listen to when you are Happy, Sad, Bored, Hyped, Mad.
Day 11- Another picture of you and your friends.
Day 12- How you found out about blogging and why you made one.
Day 13- A letter to someone who has hurt you recently.
Day 14- A picture of you and your family.
Day 15- Put your iPod on shuffle: First 10 songs that play.
Day 16- Another picture of yourself.
Day 17- Someone you would want to switch lives with for one day and why.
Day 18- Plans/dreams/goals you have.
Day 19- Nicknames you have; why do you have them.
Day 20- Someone you see yourself marrying/being with in the future.
Day 21- A picture of something that makes you happy.
Day 22- What makes you different from everyone else.
Day 23- Something you crave a lot.
Day 24- A letter to your parents.
Day 25- What I would find in your bag.
Day 26- What you think about your friends.
Day 27- Why are you doing this 30 day challenge.
Day 28- A picture of you last year and now, how have you changed since then?
Day 29- Your favorite song.
Day 30- In this past month, what have you learned.