Category archive: General

Mairzy Dotes and Dozey Dotes

I listen to a lot of Children’s music, and it got worse when El Matador was born. Usually, it’s just playing in the background as an alternative to the black silence that will someday consume us all. I’m a big fan of Charlie Hope and Caspar Babypants, but a song that recently caught my ear was called Marzidotes in Pandora. If you stop bathing your child and actually listen to the words, you’ll realize you’re hearing nonsense. And then it gets interesting.

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The Dark Place

One of the things “they” don’t tell you about parenthood is that at some point, you may feel like a prisoner in your own home. Your wonderful bundle of joy becomes a tether, and the outside world takes on a magical, limitless quality that makes you yearn for freedom. Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to combat this feeling is to invite people over, feed them pizza, and let them regale you with stories of a mystical, faraway land called “outside.” They may leave at the end of the night, but their stories will stay with you and make you happy, that is, of course, unless your husband (acclaimed Science Fiction author Daniel Verastiqui) hijacks the conversation and steers it towards The Dark Place.

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And This is How I Email

I went on a business trip this week to Maryland, home of the Marylanders, and in the course of setting up transportation and lodging and all of those other things, I had to give out my email address way too many times. But you know what, I hate giving out my email address. As an ardent opponent of advertising, I really hate spam. Like, really hate it. Thus, I needed a way to keep my personal email private while still giving companies a way to contact me. A few years ago, I figured out a relatively easy way to do it.

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Redefining American Childhood

Thirty years ago, our family was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. It was actually our second time there, and I remember my parents re-introducing me to friends I’d had when I was four or five years old. We all lived on a measly three streets, which are no longer tagged on Google Maps: Carswell, Vance Circle, and I forget the third. My friends and I explored every inch of that neighborhood and that base. And though I haven’t been back since 1991, I still remember it fondly, which was why it was so horrible to hear Trump would be housing detained immigrants there.

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I Miss Bitstrips

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I don’t read comics, but I like making them. That is, I like making them when they’re not too much work, and no site made it easier than bitstrips.com. I loved that site. Now it’s gone and I’m sad. But I still have some comics I made about the two things I love most: writing and m’pups. If anyone knows of a replacement comic maker where I don’t have to art, please let me know.

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Die Antwoord vir Facebook

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I’ve been listening to a lot of Die Antwoord lately because as a late-30s, married Hispanic male who only drives Japanese imports, I’m obviously their target demographic. Like every single one of my friends, I hadn’t heard of Die Antwoord until I saw them in Chappie. Then I checked out their music and got seriously hooked. Now I can’t stop watching their videos and blasting Doos Dronk every time I get the weepies. Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right. It was while listening to Doos Dronk for the 117 thousandth time that I boarded a train of thought that went straight to HateMyself-ville. I’ll explain.

I’ve been falling out of love with Facebook for almost a year now, probably since the run-up to the election. I tried several times to make it work for me by hiding people who posted nothing but gun porn, by only posting haikus, and penultimately (?), by simply withdrawing from posting, commenting, and liking altogether. Then came Cambridge Analytica and several days in a row of logging into Facebook and being presented with what I’d call absolute garbage.

So I deleted my Facebook account. And Instagram. Same difference.

Back to Die Antwoord.

I’m sitting there rocking out (every Fok jou by Yolandi makes me smile) and thinking about how since Die Antwoord is a South African group and the company I work for does business in South Africa, there’s an outside chance that I could one day travel there and maybe see Yolandi and Ninja in concert (provided they’re not too big to play SA anymore).

This thought made me happy.

I imagined myself flying over there, helping out a customer during the day, then changing into my J-Crew Punk Outfit to head out to the concert. I thought about the heat and the alcohol and the music and the drugs and the danger.

These thoughts made me happy as well.

But then, I imagined the stage and me getting close to it to snap a selfie. Ooooh, I thought, I can post it on Facebook to show everyone how cool this thing is that I’m doing.

That thought did not make me happy.

I’m currently reading a book about relationships (I do my research), and the author mentions the connection between adoration, admiration, and Facebook, and how social media can create unfair standards for couples to live up to. Adoration and admiration are both emotional needs (See: John Gottman), and the feedback we get from Facebook is so intense (comments and likes) that no one person could possibly compete with it.

Over the last decade, I’ve totally developed a need to entertain because being entertaining garners the most positive attention. Comments and likes are validation. And don’t me started on the laughing emoji or the coveted wow! I’d been off Facebook for only a few days when I read about this idea of unrealistic adoration standards, but it made sense to me. It makes me wonder how it affected my past relationships.

Since deleting my account, I’ve been spending more time interacting with people in person. And also emailing. Not everyone likes that. As my graphic artist Lauren put it: This personal email thing is weird.

And yeah, it’s a little weird because it’s much more personal (intimate minus the sexual connotation), and Facebook has more or less killed intimacy. Everything we do is now out there for the world to see and measure and buy. Conversations about Trump or Die Antwoord are never just between two people anymore; they’re publicly posted on walls for extended acquaintances to comment on.

Personal is good. Intimate is good. In just a week without Facebook, I’ve already rediscovered the joy of interacting directly with people.

I don’t need to know what my 8th grade typing teacher (Hi Mr. P!) thinks of my photos from a Die Antwoord concert. I’d want to know what Dom thinks because I know she would be proud of this socially anxious novelist travelling to South Africa to attend a concert. And really, as my wife, she’s the one who’s committed to giving me the adoration and admiration that I need to be happy.

That’s not to say family and friends can’t provide you with that as well. They absolutely can. Finding Die Antwoord fans among my friends (strange no one has brought it up) is a lot of fun as we discuss which song is the best and which video the most disturbing. But all of that has to happen directly.

Intimately.

I don’t miss Facebook, but I have missed these direct connections. I’m looking forward to reestablishing relationships that can’t be used as data points for advertising and political influence. I’m going to reconnect with my friends and family and fellow JKD students and fellow writers and everyone else who have been just pictures on a website for far too long.

And that thought makes me happy.

An Artist’s Responsibility, IMHO

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Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon with a bunch of local writers, directors, and actors and discuss everything from when a child gets their first tooth to when a child takes their first step. It wasn’t lost on me that almost no one talked about their creative work–what they were writing, what they were directing, etc–which I found strange, because as an author, I’m always looking an excuse to talk about my books. I left the event feeling like I had rediscovered a group of people that I’m a part of but that I don’t spend time with. What really struck me, though, was how everyone there, as creatives, had a voice, and later, I realized, a responsibility.

Since my newest book is in alpha testing (hey, I mentioned my newest book!), I’ve been spending time catching up with a novel-in-progress by my writer friend Travis. He and I got to sit down and talk about his book, about the choices he made, the direction he was taking the characters, and so on. Since it’s just his first draft, I didn’t have anything huge to critique him about, except one thing: Trump.

There’s this weird kind of feeling pervading public discourse these days that we can’t be honest about our feelings without worrying we’re going to start a fight. We’re told not to bring up politics with family or at work or in mixed company because you don’t know who you might offend. Facebook, beacon of civilized communication that it is, has become a war zone where the weapons are Snooze, Unfollow, and Block.

People aren’t going to change their minds, so why rock the boat, right?

Wrong.

Maybe keeping your opinions to yourself and silently voting every 2-4 years is enough for the everyday Fine Upstanding Citizen, but you, blog reader, are an artist (I assume, anyway). In my humble opinion, I believe artists have a responsibility to own their beliefs and preserve them as best they can.

And I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Last night, as I sat around on the floor with students at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do (come for the pulse-pounding music, stay for the scintillating aromas), we somehow started discussing Trump, and I got to tell a story that has become well-known to anyone who has asked how my newest book is coming (second mention!).

When Perion Synthetics was in alpha testing, I had a reader come back with some comments about the book’s political content. Consider this paragraph from the first draft:

“Vinestead stock rose again today on speculation its PMC division could be called upon by President Romney to secure our southern border. Many democrats are calling this back alley favors, citing the President’s push ten years ago for the controversial GA bill, which was introduced by the then-governor of Massachusetts. Speaking from the Rose Garden today, the President challenged his critics to suggest a better plan for keeping immigrants from becoming burdens on the backs of hard-working Americans. A statement released by Calle Cinco today calls the President’s remarks irresponsible and racist. No threat of terrorism was made with the statement.”

In the alternate Vinestead reality, Mitt Romney would have won the election. Having a Republican win elections is pretty much standard for any dystopia, but that’s another post. My reader’s feedback was to remove the reference to Romney and replace it with a generic name. And why?

Because taking sides in politics in a novel would alienate half of my readers.

This reader is a smart person, and you know me, always looking for more ways to expand my audience, so I changed Romney to Hadden and went on my way. It made little difference to the story itself, none actually, but to me personally, I felt strange about it. Why was I censoring myself? To potentially sell a few more books?

The advice I gave to Travis, and which I’m following in Hybrid Mechanics (third mention!), is to embrace your political view. Don’t make veiled references to a “part-time white supremacist,” call that minority-hating son of a bitch out by name. My reasoning is based on a very popular quote: history is written by the victors.

After the Sinclair / Big Brother fiasco of last week, it should be clear to everyone that the media can’t be trusted to remember history the same way those of us who lived it do. Therefore, it is my contention that history must be preserved by artists. Whether you hate Trump or love Trump (what the hell is wrong with you, honestly?), it is an artist’s responsibility to capture these moments for future generations.

Before El Matador was born, my wife and I used to make little videos chronicling his growth, telling him about the world and what we were doing in the months before he was born. And yes, the morning after the election, we recorded a video that I began with I wanted you to know how it felt the morning after Donald Trump was elected. And we told him how disappointing and scary it was.

The hope is that when El Matador is older, he can watch that video and know how his parents (just two normal middle class Hispanic Americans) felt the day after a pussy-grabbing racist dullard was elected President of the United States. No matter what the media says, no matter what the history books say, he’ll hear our feelings from our mouths.

And that I think is what is so important for artists to preserve: the feeling in America in 2017. They need to preserve it because someday in the future, the history of 2017 (and these following years) will be rewritten or forgotten or otherwise skewed. There are pure human emotions at play and enough mental gymnastics to fuel a thousand Olympics(es?). We need to capture it, keep it safe.

I tell the story about Perion Synthetics because in Hybrid Mechanics (that’s four), the entire premise of my book is based on the idea that the only possible way it makes sense that Donald Trump is the President of the United States is if we’re all living in a computer simulation that has gone way off the fucking rails. The characters live in a simulation (our reality) and they wake up to their real reality (the Vinestead universe). It’s an underhanded way of implying that our world is seriously messed up, but who can really argue otherwise?

I don’t know what my politically sensitive reader is going to say about the characters calling Trump out by name, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s staying in there. If the name of the President didn’t matter, if it were the same old Dem v Repub argument that has gone on since forever, I probably would soften it a little. But this is not a normal situation, and at some point, you have to take a stand.

Do a little. Do a lot. But do something.

You can keep your opinions to yourself and vote in private, but in your work where emotions drive everything, you can and should tap into how you’re feeling, even if polite society says you shouldn’t talk about such things.

Those are the same people who say you shouldn’t post about politics on a publicly viewable blog because it might hurt your employment chances when someone googles you.

But then, if someone doesn’t want to hire you because you don’t like Trump, doesn’t that imply something about their feelings towards El Presidente Pendejo? And would you really want to work for them?

Anyway, that’s my rant for today. If I offended you because you think Trump has some “really great ideas, the best ideas, everyone says so,” then you’re not going to enjoy my next book, Hybrid Mechanics, a cyberpunkian romp through an erotic dystopia chock full of witty one liners and inexplicable nudity (fifth and final mention!).

The Dallas Cowboys and The Domain

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I didn’t understand The Domain here in Austin when it was first built. Who the hell would travel all the way up MoPac just to go to Macy’s? Now, it’s the place to be, growing larger every day, and it’s home to some great restaurants and an aging iPic theater. We don’t go there often though, and it’s for one reason: parking. That brings me to my thesis: Parking at The Domain is a lot like the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl.

Every time you decide to go to The Domain, you think, maybe this time (season), it will be different! Maybe things will go my way and I’ll find a parking spot (not get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs). But no, there’s always a Tony Romo parked in the middle of the street with their flasher on waiting for people to finish getting into their car and leave. And even when you do see a spot, by the time you get to it, the defense has fallen apart and given up an easy 6.

The worst part is that you know finding a parking spot is possible. You remember the good old days when you found a parking spot three times, in 1993, in 1994, and in 1996. What happened in 1995? No one’s quite sure. Maybe there was a Lexus taking up two spots.

Ultimately, you end up parking in the garage (not making the playoffs) and sneering past all the Maseratis (Patriots) in their prime parking spots as you make your way to Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM to buy your fiancee some cupcakes because she’s been craving them and you’re a standup dude.

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Tollway Therapy

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$200. That’s how much I pay in tolls in an average month. $200. That’s how much I would pay per hour for a therapist with my insurance. We’ll come back to these figures later.

There was a time in my life when driving made me extremely angry. Whether it was the slow-pokes in the left lane or the stop-signs-don’t-apply-to-me people, everything everyone did made me throw up my hands and scream. Drivers shouldn’t do that unless you have Lane Keep Assist or a Tesla. My driving motto at the time was I hate you and I hate the way you drive. It got to the point where I didn’t want to drive at all. I tried listening to classical music. I tried to make excuses for other drivers. None of it worked.

Anger became the norm, and I just lived with it.

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Then, the other day, I realized that my anger and hatred of other drivers had dulled considerably. Not gone away, mind you, just dulled. Suddenly I couldn’t remember the last time I got really angry in traffic. I started to rack my brain to figure out what had changed. How long ago was my last rage-fueled steering wheel slapping incident?

The answer? Two and a half years ago, right before we moved into the new house. You see, the new house changed my route to work. Instead of driving down surface streets, I now take 45 and MoPac (which is part toll as well). Once I leave my neighborhood, I don’t hit another stoplight until Gateway Plaza on the other side of the city from where I live.

All of this means there is relatively low traffic on a majority of my route. Sure, there are still people who want to go 55 in the fast lane of a 75 zone, but there are plenty of empty lanes on the tollways and it’s easy to get around them.

I didn’t realize how great I had it until last week when I had to go out of my way to gas up my car because Austinites thought the world was coming to an end. The detour required me to drive surface streets back to my house and deal with slow drivers, possibly drunk drivers, buses, construction, last-minute lane changers, stop lights, confusing four-way stops, bicyclists who just don’t give a damn, and so on and so on.

All of the anger came back. All of it.

Over the last couple of years, the topic of reducing our reliance on toll roads has come up as a way to save some money. After last week’s experience, I think it’s pretty clear it’s a wash.

Either I spend $200 a month on tolls, or I spend $200 an hour on therapy.

It’s a no-brainer.

Wherein I Choose a Car?

As mentioned in Wherein I Go Car Shopping, I’ve been in the market for a new car after three years of driving a wonderfully capable but not overly fun Nissan Rogue. I ended the previous post with the intention of driving a couple more cars before making a decision. I got halfway through that plan before I crowned a winner, and that car is…

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0t. Probably.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0t

At an MSRP of $33k, the Sonata was outside my budget, and honestly what got me to the dealership was the Hyundai Sport 2.0t at a much more reasonable $27k. Throughout my search, I kept running into the same problem, which is best expressed in a familiar diagram:

Fast Full-Featured Affordable

The Nissan Maxima is fast and affordable, but only at lower trims, which are sparse on features like Forward Collision Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Lane-keep Assist. If you want those, expect to pay around 42k. Meanwhile, the Mazda6 is loaded with features, is affordable at 27k, but maxes out with a four-cylinder 184-hp engine.

The Sonata is the ultimate compromise between affordability, speed, and features. It doesn’t have a V6, but the 2.0L 4cyl Turbo engine puts out 245 horsepower. The MSRP is within haggling distance of a sensible $30k, and the feature list is unmatched (in my search, anyway).

2018 Hyunda Sonata Butt Shot

Here are some of the things you get in the Limited 2.0t:

  • Forward Collision Warning with Emergency Braking
  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Departure Warning with Lane-keep Assist
  • Blind Spot Monitoring
  • Keyless entry, push-button start, remote start (via iPhone app)
  • Backup camera
  • Electronic parking break with Auto Hold (no more holding the brake at red lights)
  • An overeager trunk that opens by itself for some reason
  • Sunroof
  • Auto-dimming rearview mirror with garage door openers
  • Heated and cooled seats
  • Dual climate controls

The features in bold are the ones I cared about most, especially the Forward Collision Warning and Blind Spot Monitoring. I’m not sure why you would build a car without a rearview camera anymore, and I’m not turning a physical key like some kind of neanderthal. Okay, I would if I had to, but I wouldn’t be happy about it, man.

Unlike the 2018 Toyota Camry, I find the Sonata’s center stack to be well-organized and engaging.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Inside

It’s got everything you need, like an unobtrusive navigation / entertainment area, simple environmental controls, and these cool little piano keys that give your fingers a break from tapping screens all day. It’s got a couple of 12V plugs at the bottom that you could easily drop a double Anker power supply into and end up with 5 USB charging ports.

Anecdote: During the test drive, I sat back in the driver’s seat with hands off the wheel and foot off the pedals and watched as the Sonata drove itself around a curved section of I-35. It’s not a self-driving Tesla, but it was still pretty surreal.

I’ve still got a couple months before I can go pick up this surprisingly awesome Hyundai Sonata, which means I get to keep fielding calls and texts from the 10 dealerships I’ve visited over the last couple months. It’s interesting how different the salespeople have been, from the bro-douches to the My boyfriend drives this BMW to my favorite: the hands-off, no pressure, let me know if you have any questions salesperson.

I met two of them, so if you’re in the market for a new car, go see Jamison at Round Rock Mazda and Rick at Round Rock Hyundai.

Speaking of calls and texts, here’s one I got yesterday.

Round Rock Nissan Text

Round Rock Nissan, keeping it classy.