Inking my inner monologue

Today marks the end of my first contract as a self-employed contractor. Much has happened in the last twelve months, most of it positive. The primary lesson I’ve learned is that independence is the right fit for me. I like the freedom, the flexibility, and the respect that comes with being my own boss. In the past, my previous employer had a track record of former employees returning to the company for a second journey. I don’t know if that’s changed in the last year or not (probably less so given the health of the economy), but one certainty exists after my first year: I will not be one of those former employees.

I don’t mention lead with this to stumble through a recap of the last twelve months. I possess a tendency and preference for nostalgia, but this isn’t one of those times. I lead into this because the end of year one almost necessarily indicates a looking forward to year two. It is never a given that past employment guarantees future employment, but I’ve done nothing to shake my customer’s (I love that word) faith in me. The only discussion of renewing my contract has been a clear indication that I’m expected to continue in my current role with the next phase of my project. I’ll be working “at risk” starting tomorrow, which means I could conceivably do work for which I’m never paid. There is little chance of that, though, as working “at risk” is almost a rite of passage when dealing with the molasses-slow contract process of the federal government, but it’s a consideration. I’ll work under an assumed contract until the beginning of June, when I’ll sign a new contract for the following twelve months.

In theory I could’ve packed up my belongings this afternoon before I left work, say nothing, and not return tomorrow. It’s my legal right now that I’ve fulfilled my contractual obligation. I didn’t pack up, of course, because that wouldn’t have been the honorable action. That I wanted to is the reason for my anticipation of what the future could hold.

I’ve known that my long- short-term goal is to be a professional writer, but I’ve rarely done anything to move forward, to achieve even the smallest hint of success. I have ambitions of being a novelist. I’m in the process of writing my first novel, with the expectation that it’ll be really bad. So bad that I can move on to the next one with all the experience from the first. I just love writing. That’s the reason why I keep this blog. The number of readers checking in here fluctuates wildly between one and half-a-dozen, so I’m not getting rich doing this. I write whether anyone reads it or not because I love it. The writing is for me. I feel alive when I write. I discover what I believe when I write. I understand myself more with every word. And every word moves me closer to my dream.

Over the last eighteen months or so that I’ve blogged, I’ve gained an appreciation for essay and article writing. I have no idea if I can do it professionally, but I want to try that, too. I suspect that my first writing-for-pay will come from that. But I’ll never get to even that entry point if I don’t work for it. I’m not old, but my dream will get harder the longer I wait. Publishers will be less willing to take a chance. I might be less willing to make necessary sacrifices, whether in time or money. These thoughts creep into my mind more often now, particularly as my first contract expired today.

I will continue in my current job for at least the next fourteen months because the money is good. I can use the money to help me make some of the necessary sacrifices when I’m ready to break away from my current career and be a part- or even full-time writer. If I find a writing job, that would offset the monetary sacrifices to an extent, but I have no illusions that I’ll walk into a lucrative writing gig immediately. Without a writing job, I’ll have the instant danger of no income. Either of those possibilities is scary, so building a reserve is comforting and wise. But I have no illusions that my job motivation is anything more than the money. The Money&#153 is the one motivation I always swore I’d never use again. I did it in the past and I hated it, but I had to do it to survive. The money now offers flexibility, but I can’t let it become an addiction or an all-consuming excuse to keep going.

That doesn’t mean I hate my career now. I’m good at it and there are parts of it that satisfy my curiosity for problem-solving, logic, and intellectual structure. But it doesn’t offer it in the quantity that I need it. My tasks involve those skills a few hours each week. Writing gives me those satisfactions every moment I’m doing it. Even when I’m stuck and it’s painfully slow, it’s still satisfying. I’m happy every moment of the process. So I need to pursue it further. I need to try to make it my career. I’m tired of waiting.

God, I wish I was on that show

I love The Amazing Race. I’ve written before about how perfect The Amazing Race is and how genius it is to dream up competitive travel. Behind the Internets and TiVo, it’s the greatest creation in the history of mankind’s unleashing of brain power on previously non-existent problems that, once solved, relegate any history without them as unimportant, and most importantly, useless and not worth remembering. Just like I can’t imagine the hollowness of my life before I started traveling to Europe, I stagger to think of the delight of competing against others on the journey. I would totally rock that adventure.

Last night’s episode showed that the potential zenith of competitive travel is so much higher than I ever imagined. I knew that The Amazing Race’s producers had “surprises” for us this season, but great googly moogly, I had no idea. Adding twists is nice, but dropping a boulder on the head of convention is brilliant, just brilliant.

In Season 6, I liked that non-elimination rounds added the challenging twist of taking away the last place team’s cash. Even though the team stayed another leg of the race, they shouldered a burden unique to them for the next leg. That’s fair. With last night’s episode being the first non-elimination leg in Season 7, we learned the first surprise. When Meredith and Gretchen finished in last, they had to give up their cash. They expected that, but we stared in stunned silence with them when Phil demanded their gear, as well, leaving them only the clothes they were wearing. The sweaty, bloody, cave dirt-covered clothes they’d worn that day. I can only imagine what’s in store for next season’s non-elimination legs. Perhaps a gunshot wound to the leg, or maybe a really itchy STD.

Who could’ve guessed that the second hour would demolish the first hour? Seriously, who?

Rather than write my own recap, I like this one from Television Without Pity because the writer explains the episode exactly the way I experienced it. Behold:

And then it gets awesome. Brian and Greg wreck their Jeep, resulting in a pretty scary injury to their camera guy (that’s not what’s awesome). Lynn and Alex, to their credit, stop to see if they can help, and then Rob and Amber, to their non-credit, don’t — they at least should have slowed down and rolled the window down or something. They don’t, however, and so Lynn spends the rest of the episode telling everyone who will listen that the boys wrecked their car, but THAT’S NOT REALLY THE IMPORTANT THING, because the important thing is that ROB AND AMBER DIDN’T STOP. Basically, everyone is an idiot about this particular thing. But that’s not the awesome part either. The awesome part is that the boys have to wait around a long time for a replacement Jeep to come, but when they get to the Detour, they find that some teams are still there, including Ray and Deana, who apparently cannot work together long enough to complete a simple task, so intense is their dislike for each other. The teams finish different Detour options at about the same time, and they take off for the pit stop within sight of each other. Jeep race! And then they’re at the pit stop, and they get out, and Brian and Greg smoke Ray and Deana in the foot race, and Brian and Greg are saved and Ray and Deana are eliminated and I think I need to lie down. That was the awesome part.

I liked Brian & Greg when I first saw them, but I figured they were the frat boy type, so their personalities would become tiresome. I was so wrong about that. Not only have they not annoyed me, I like them more every week. I like them so much that, even though I’ve been rooting for Lynn and Alex, Brian and Greg might be my new favorites. That has a lot to do with the editing of last night’s episode, but I don’t care if The Amazing Race is manipulating me. I like it. From the moment Brian and Greg’s new Jeep arrived, I was hunching forward on my couch, bouncing my legs in anticipation. When they finished the task and got in their Jeep, just after Ray and Deana, I clinched my fists and started rocking in place. When the foot race began, I smacked the table over and over, all while screaming at the television, encouraging them on. I clapped when Brian and Greg overtook Ray and Deana. Brian and Greg deserved that “win”.

Rarely has reality television delivered so much honest emotion. Sure, Reality TV editors create tension and action but it’s mostly melodrama. I don’t care about fights or gossip or any other nonsense that passes for drama. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. Trump.) I want people who compete just for the sheer joy of the competition. I want people who understand that drama and viewer investment comes from the meaning behind what happens. That can’t be manufactured. It can be edited into a tight package, no doubt, but we all have sufficiently trained bullshit detectors to figure out when a show condescends to basic titillation and when a moment is honest. Last night’s foot race was honest. Every person involved in reality television (and scripted shows, for that matter) should study the second hour of last night’s The Amazing Race. That’s how it’s done.

Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate.

Who among us is perfect? What about omniscient? I don’t imagine there are many nods right now, but somehow I missed the notice informing me that I am. Being unaware of this, I clearly violated that honor this morning. For that I am so very, very ashamed.

I’ve mentioned before that I ride the Metro rather than drive to work. I did the same today, which led me to believe that this would be any other day. I should’ve known when I walked onto the platform that this day would be bad.

When I arrived at the station, the platform was more crowded than normal, even though I’d arrived at my usual time. The weather was fine, with no rain to slow the system down. But there they stood, more people than the average day. I assumed some sort of train delay. That’s a safe assumption because Metro suffers delays almost as often as the sun rises. I hate Metro.

A few minutes after I arrived, the train pulled into the station. The train inched forward after stopping because it’s easier for the train operator than knowing when to stop the first time. The doors opened and the herd charged for the seats. No one wants to stand because there can be delays or the train operator can be incompetent with the brakes. So many debacles can occur, so a seat is priceless. Like every other morning, I got a seat. I’m not so lazy that I won’t stand up, but I like to read in the morning. It’s almost impossible to turn pages when standing up; holding on to something, anything, is a requirement.

At the second stop, another herd piled on, filling every available space with bodies. I had a little girl stepping on my toes. Granted, I think she was doing this for entertainment, but still. She was stepping on my toes. And tapping my legs with her hands. Repeatedly. Should I have gotten up at this point? Possibly. In my defense, trading spots with anyone else on the train would’ve required a gymnastic move with a minimum degree of difficulty of 8.4. Getting up was an option, but it wasn’t realistic.

The journey continued with a packed car. I suppose some passengers disembarked, but if they did, they only relinquished their empty spots to someone else. Did I mention that the train was full?

A couple stops before Metro Center, which is where a majority of passengers transfer to another train, the doors opened and a few passengers filed out of the station. Unable to see the station markers through the windows, I looked up to see which station we were at. As I did a woman gave me a dirty look and directed a comment at me. Unbeknownst to me, although, remember, I’ve been given skills of omniscience, so I’m a bastard, there was an elderly woman standing close by me to whom I had, with obvious malice, refused to offer my seat. Being the good samaritan that she was, the woman exiting the train made sure that I knew how much better she was than me.

I have a problem with this woman’s attitude. I truly didn’t know that there was an elderly woman next to me. I mentioned that I was reading, but I was also listening to my mp3 player. I was in my own little world specifically to avoid people like that woman. For some reason, they like to chat about their leg tumors and whatever else unpleasant is going on in their lives. They, for some reason, think I care. So they talk to me. I don’t want to talk to them, so I avoid the situation. That doesn’t mean I ignore prodding, just that I’m not really aware of my surroundings. If she wanted the seat, she could’ve asked, or someone else who was feeling indignant could’ve tapped me and politely asked me to offer the woman my seat. Just because I didn’t offer my seat didn’t mean it wasn’t available. (Why I’m the only one who should be expected to give up my seat is for another discussion.)

I’ve had disabled people ask for my seat, which I’ve happily offered. I’ve had disabled people stare at me and tell me to move. I didn’t enjoy their social skills, but I still moved. I’m not immune to social graces, but I don’t make it my responsibility to plan for everyone else’s contingencies. It’s possible to have a rational conversation with me. I can be polite. I have had enough of being judged, though; I despise it with every part of my being. Judging obscures thinking. Life is easier when viewed through a pre-defined lens, but it is not better. The woman this morning had so much courage that she waited until she was leaving the train to say something. If she’d taken one moment to assess our situation, she would’ve seen that she couldn’t ask me to move earlier because she was nowhere near me, with no way to approach me through all of the people.

When I noticed the elderly woman, I got up and offered my seat. Through the remaining stations before Metro Center, my seat remained empty. The elderly woman didn’t want it.

But I was the rude one this morning.

The pen is mightier than hatred?

The issue everyone loves most is back, this time in California.

Judge Richard Kramer of San Francisco County’s trial-level Superior Court likened the ban to laws requiring racial segregation in schools, and said there appears to be “no rational purpose” for denying marriage to gay couples.

I’m not going to go into any details because I’ve written many times about this subject. My opinion is clear. This ruling only confirms my belief that same-sex marriage will be legal in the United States. There will be bumps and setbacks along the way, but this movement isn’t turning around.

What I do want to point out, though, is this press release from Liberty Counsel President Mathew Staver after Judge Kramer announced his ruling. Consider:

“This ruling is not the end of the battle. It is just the beginning. Marriage should not be undermined by the stroke of a pen from a single judge. Marriage is a fundamental policy issue that must be decided by the people. To rule that there is no rational purpose to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman is ludicrous. This ruling, which flies in the face of common sense and millennia of human history, will pour gasoline on the fire ignited by the pro-marriage movement. Californians and the rest of the country will react to this decision by passing constitutional amendments to preserve marriage on the state and federal levels. No society has created a buffet-like arrangement of human relationships from which anyone may pick and choose and call it marriage. Marriage is and must remain the union of one man and one woman.”

The pro-marriage movement? It seems to me that expanding marriage is pro-marriage and limiting marriage is anti-marriage. Liberty Counsel is self-delusional in thinking that it’s pro-marriage. And “no society has created buffet-like arrangement”? That statement is explicitly not true, and I have no doubt that Mr. Staver knows that. The Netherlands, among others, recognizes same-sex marriage. And I can only assume that Mr. Staver intends for that statement to lead into the inevitable argument that marriage between a man and his dog or a woman and her desk won’t be far behind. That sentiment is ridiculous and it’s not going to happen, so I’m not going to refute it.

Really, I’m bored with the fear that surrounds this issue. There is nothing more traditional than two people wanting to pair up and commit to each other. How is that anti-family? Why the fear? At least with my boredom I know that this mass hysteria will pass, civilization will not crumble, and the planet will continue to spin. The only question left is whether to look forward to the expansion of freedom or backward to the safety of tradition.

SIDEBAR: For an in-depth understanding of the legal aspects of the same-sex marriage issue, read A Stitch in Haste. Kip has an excellent array of posts about the various dimensions of the issue. His blog is worth reading to become better informed.

I only write the interesting bits

The House of Representatives is considering legislation “that would let parents and children filter the curse words, sex scenes and violence out of movie DVDs”. Senate bill S. 167 passed the Senate, so the House is its final obstacle before it lands on President Bush’s desk for his signature. I think everyone can assume that he’ll sign it. Here’s the surprising point: I don’t care.

I’ve written about free speech and our need to protect it, especially the speech that we least enjoy, but this legislation doesn’t upset me. It’s a blow against the boneheads in charge of Hollywood studios who wouldn’t know business sense if Congress stapled it to the desk of every executive. For a group so historically focused on the greenback instead of artistic merit, this doesn’t surprise me. Rather than embrace the potential for an expanded audience, the studios seek to shut down anything they don’t control. This is very much an “old media” strategy when there wasn’t money to be made in new ways or, wait for it… consumers who wouldn’t purchase the Hollywood product before technology made it possible to be family-friendly safe watered-down.

Specifically, the Family Movie Act of 2005 addresses the following issue:

The legislation was introduced because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the makers and distributors of technology for DVD players that would skip movie scenes deemed offensive. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content would violate their copyrights.

But the legislation would create an exemption in the copyright laws to make sure companies that offer the technology like ClearPlay, a Salt Lake City business, won’t get sued out of existence.

An unfortunately worthy goal, although perhaps the “activist judges” would interpret the law as they did the invention of the VCR. Dare we trust the system? Of course the answer is no, and I think we all know the primary reason. This issue involves “family”, so it’s a political goldmine, no legislative necessity required. That it involves “family” against Hollywood transforms it into a bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded four-bagger. Consider:

“These days, I don’t think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn’t come with a remote control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use an equivalent electronic device to protect their children from offensive material.”

Yes, but wouldn’t strapping a collar on your child and putting the offensive material beyond the electric fence be as effective? Even though that amazing technological device known as the remote control can be used as a MovieNanny&#153 to “protect” children via its surprisingly effective On/Off button, I’m kidding. Representative Smith is correct that devices like the ClearPlay DVD player are simply electronic devices that filter content, helping parents to avoid responsibility protect their children from objectionable material. The original version of the disc isn’t change. Take the DVD out of the player, put it into a non-ClearPlay DVD player and the movie plays as the studio and director released the film. The studios can complain, but there is no issue.

Rather than write a new ending, I’ll rehash something I wrote last April. Behold:

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

But I still think there’s something to that whole invisible fence thing.

Fifteen days until I don’t need a radio

The Phillies started our their Spring Training exhibition schedule today with an afternoon game against the Detroit Tigers. The results don’t matter, a stance I took even before we got thumped 9-1. What’s important is simple: baseball games are back. I heart baseball games.

Listening to the game today, I had a few observations as the game progressed. There’s no need to add any more description than what I wrote down during the game, so I present the list as it appeared in my mind. Behold:

What I love about Spring Training games:

  1. Harry Kalas and Larry Andersen
  2. Blaring police sirens in the background
  3. Cory Lidle giving up three runs in the top of the first inning of the exhibition season… and it matters to me
  4. The Phillies’ first run of the season delivered by the bat of Bobby Abreu
  5. Hearing Harry Kalas say it’s going to be tough to get a ball out of the stadium, immediately followed by calling a MAMMOTH home run by the Tigers
  6. Brett Myers loading the bases with a single and two walks… and it doesn’t matter to me
  7. Hearing Kenny Lofton (the ageless wonder?) going 2-for-2 in his first two at-bats
  8. When the Phillies make a mass substitution, not knowing who the new players are… and continuing to listen
  9. Hearing the first time this season that a foul ball slams into the radio booth
  10. Hearing the radio booth’s doorbell ring

I can’t wait until the Phillies lace ’em up tomorrow and do it all over again. \m/

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny

Listening to “MLB This Morning” on MLB Home Plate (XM 175) this morning, the hosts discussed American Idol because Larry Bowa, former manager of the Phillies, is a huge fan of the show. The morning after each episode of American Idol, Bowa gives a recap and judgment of the performances. He was fairly accurate this week, except for completely ignoring Bo Bice’s outstanding performance. Preferring Travis Tucker’s horrible singing just because he can dance is absurd. And Mr. Tucker is a student at UVA, so no reasonable person can support him. When compared to Bo’s amamzing performance, Bowa must be deaf. So Bowa ignoring Bo is a big omission for me. But I digress.

My point is, listening to “MLB This Morning”, Bowa gave his review. The primary reason for discussing American Idol on the baseball channel, aside from needing to fill three hours of radio before spring games have started, is Nikko Smith. For anyone unaware, Nikko Smith is Ozzie Smith’s son. Ozzie Smith is the Hall of Fame shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. The connection matters, sort of.

In the discussion, Mark Patrick set the scenario up with Bowa to discuss Nikko Smith, asking whether or not fans eliminated Smith. Bowa said no and then talked about Nikko’s resemblance to Ozzie. (The resemblance is apparent.) Mr. Patrick finished the discussion by saying that he didn’t know much about Nikko, but on American Idol, he always performs first or eighth.

That’s a bit of a joke grenade for baseball fans, so not everyone reading this will get it, I suspect, but let me say this: that’s funny. Sitting at my desk at work, I laughed out loud. An hour later, I’m still laughing. Okay, I’m not really laughing any more, but I still smile at it. I wish I’d thought of that joke.

I heart satellite radio

One benefit of converting from a portable cd player to an mp3 player is that it’s easier to carry around a significant amount of music. I won’t listen to all of the albums I have on a regular basis, but if I’m sitting on the subway and the urge to listen to something strikes, I can do so. I usually have a rotation of three of four albums that is constantly playing, so there’s no real need to dig into my archives. I am a techno nerd, though, so I must put my music into mp3, regardless of how often I listen to it. Even if I only listen to a specific cd in my car, I might listen to it on the subway or sitting at my desk. I won’t listen often, but that I might listen is the essence of my collection. It’s a good life maxim.

Over the lasts few days, I decided that I wanted to listen to Lila McCann, an artist I haven’t listened to in probably a year or more. She put out three albums in the past, with the last released three years ago, I think. I could look that up, of course, but it seems pointless. Let it suffice that it’s been awhile and she’s not on any music radar right now. But neither am I, because I’ve already used the word “album” three times, which is two more than anyone cool under the age of twenty-four has used the word in his life. And did I mention that I’m listening to Lila McCann? I mean, seriously folks, how not cool can I be?

So I listened to the albums in reverse order from newest to oldest. I enjoyed them, even though I realized how my musical interests have changed over the last decade. I listen to more adult, diverse music today but memory lane is fun.

The long lapse between listening to the albums had an additional benefit. I’d forgotten the songs and the specific details of the lyrics and musical buildup. Pop-type music is formulaic, so it’s not too difficult to imagine how songs will build. Listening to “Already Somebody’s Lover” from her first album Lila, I felt I knew how the song would build and finish. I should’ve known because I’ve heard it before, but I didn’t remember. It was “new” to me.

The build came as expected. The finish, not so much. I snapped out of my zone where I was aware of the music but it was in the background (despite the headphones). What was that, I thought. Did that just happen? Then I remembered that the song had always perplexed and annoyed me. I don’t know who wrote it and the lyrics don’t deserve the effort required to look it up, but the songwriter was clearly nuts when he or she wrote the song. Since I can’t do justice to the asinine lyrics, I’ll show them here. Behold:

Maybe he lives in the city
Workin’ on a college degree
Or maybe he’s a boy in Paris
Tryin’ to paint a picture of me

So I’m sorry that I can’t go any further with you
And tonight may be a night I’ll regret
But I’m already somebody’s lover
He just hasn’t found me yet

Maybe he works on the railroad
Or he’s drivin’ from town to town
Saving his pay for our wedding day
Then he’s gonna settle down

He’s just lookin’ for a girl to send some flowers to
He’s as honest and true as they get
See I’m already somebody’s lover
He just hasn’t found me yet

I see his face in my dreams every night
And I wake up with the taste on my lips

— Highlight the next two lines to reveal the lyrics —

And he’ll never pack it in or walk out on me
The way my father did

What?!? The song has one more verse, but who could bother to care after those last two lines? That songwriter cheated, leading me to deduce that the songwriter wanted to make a specific point and wrapped it inside the first “story” that came to mind. What started out as a hodgepodge of sentimental, tender imagery (a song genre not lacking in Country music) blew up into a bumbling diatribe against absent fathers. Huh? I don’t get it? How did this song get used in this format? Lila McCann was fifteen (I think) when she recorded that song, so I guess she gets a free pass of sorts, but still. No one in the recording studio read these lyrics and thought “We can’t use it that way because it’s a mess”? I can’t believe that. I just can’t. I want my money back.