Monday, January 28, 2013

What Am I Listening To?: Jonathan Coulton (not Glee)

The first time that I heard Jonathan Coulton (aka JoCo) was via a link that was going around the internet years ago to his song "Re: Your Brains." I loved the song so much that I immediately passed it along to everyone I knew. For a time, this was also my phone's ringtone reminder that it was time to get ready for work (though I've never worked in an office). This song was so popular that a fan, Jeremsoft, translated it into French and JoCo recorded it as "Re: Vos Cerveux." 

Another early Coulton hit is "Code Monkey," which I heard in the form of an AMV for Black Heaven. (AMV stands for "anime music video," the humorous practice of making one's own music video using clips of Japanese animated TV shows, or anime for short. AMVs can be funny or quite serious. Check out Anime Music Videos.org for a mother lode of links.)


Jonathan Coulton is my personal Nerd Hero of the Internet. His lyrics are nerdy ("Mandelbrot Set"), geeky ("Skullcrusher Mountain"), informative ("The Presidents"), and funny ("Ikea") while his music is well put together and damn catchy! This is probably why his songs are so popular in Rock Band

It was recently brought to my attention that one of my favorite shows (despite being a season and a half behind - there are a lot of holds on the DVDs at the library, okay?), Glee, pretty much totally ripped off JoCo's cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." This really pisses me off. 

In case you don't watch Glee, the overarching theme is succeeding despite incessant oppression. The show does a surprisingly decent job of helping the general populace of America begin to understand the difficulties faced by minorities in our country. One character is bound to a wheelchair, another has Down Syndrome, and a number of others are gay or bisexual. There are also Asians, a latina, a young black woman (who is possibly my favorite singer on the show), and multiple Jewish characters. (Glee really likes to play the field.)

So why would a show that purports to support the underdog jack someone else's music without requesting permission or even offering a nod to the original creator? Yes, Sir Mix-a-:Lot did the original song, but this is JoCo's legitimate and legal cover. If you don't believe a television network would do such an underhanded, dastardly thing, listen to the two tracks side by side at JoCo V Glee. It's uncanny. And very uncool.

I honestly like Glee. It's cute, goofy, and has introduced me to a lot of new music. It also features my homeboy from U of M Darren Criss (that is one "Go Blue" I can get behind - me-yow!). But this stunt kind of makes me loathe to watch the show ever again. Way to go, Fox. 

It has rekindled my love affair with JoCo and his music. I listened to him on my iPod all the way back from Kalamazoo and sang along to every song. Even "W's Duty," which was really more me speaking along with some of the lines and snickering like a middle school student. 

If you want to hear, well, all of Jonathan Coulton's songs, check out his download page here. There are some freebies for the poor among us (I hear you, brothers and sisters), or you can pay $1 per track, or $10 per album, or, the best deal of all, $80 for everything listed on the page. If you buy "Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee)" from iTunes, the money leftover after royalties are paid will be donated to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the It Gets Better Project, two very worthy organizations. Wouldn't it be nice if Fox donated their proceeds, too?

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Trip to the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

I was recently invited by a friend to join her and some other friends to the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. It turns out that during the month of your birthday, you can attend a show for free and invite up to five friends to watch the show with you. There are a couple shows a night. Because we were getting in for free, we were asked to attend the later show at 10:30pm. And since I worked downtown from 2pm to 5:30pm (5:45, as it turned out, because we were so busy), I decided I may as well stay downtown and hang out until we had to gather at 10pm to pick up our tickets. 

I had thought to head to the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor public library and dink around on their computers for a bit looking for writing gigs, paying some bills, maybe getting some writing done, etc. You know, the usual. (For me.) Unfortunately, by the time I made it to the library, they were closing. Boo! I really wasn't hungry, but I decided to grab something to eat anyway just to get in out of the cold. I ended up at Hommus Express on Liberty, which had the inauguration playing on its three TV screens, volume at minimum. 

Since I didn't have a computer on me, I decided that I should probably get some reading done on that novel I'm leading a discussion on next Friday. I probably looked like a student sitting at my table sipping Vernors , going back and forth between reading and scribbling into a pocket notepad, but no, those days are far behind me. I'm getting paid for this presentation!

From there I moved onto a Starbucks where I ordered hot tea with a gift card that I continually refill via Bing Rewards and continued reading until my friend called me and said they had gathered at Seva, the vegetarian restaurant located directly above the Comedy Showcase, which is downstairs in the basement. We ordered some very tasty yam fries, and one girl ordered a mojito that was really, really sweet when we stirred it up with the straw. I think it was mostly syrup.

Downstairs, we were led to a line of six chairs, every pair sharing a tiny table. We were in the back off to the side, which suited me fine since that meant there was no one behind us (it would have been really cramped had there been), and our view wasn't obscured by structural poles. 

The bar selection is pretty decent. Only a few beers, but plenty of cocktails, bottomless popcorn, and candy. I got some M&Ms just because I could. They were delicious. 

The MC for the night was pretty good. When he made a joke about being a level 5 wizard during his first LARP, I texted my roommate Kimmy to see if I could slip him her number after the show. The second guy was sort of hit or miss, which he could obviously tell himself by the way his eyes roved over the crowd. They both hit some good notes with our group, though, like talking about food. (Most of us are grocery workers.)

The headliner Bill Hildebrandt was pretty damn hilarious. He picked out three groups in the audience to play off, and he picked well. One was a group of kids barely old enough to be there, another was a guy his age whom he called "Stoner," and the last was a 22 year old college student to represent "the current generation." My eyes were teared up from laughing so hard.

The set up of the Comedy Showcase is perfect for a night out. Admission is around $10, snacks and drinks just a little bit more, and with Seva directly above, you can even go out to dinner first before heading downstairs for the comedy. (Of course, there are a number of other restaurants and eateries in the direct vicinity, as well.) The late show gets out around midnight, and as I headed back to my car, I noticed a fair number of people heading across the street and over to the bars that would be open until 2am. The Starbucks on the corner of State and Liberty says it is open until 1am, too, so you could catch some coffee or tea afterward, too. 

I'd really like to go back. Preferably before my birthday month of October.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Mind Off Medication

I did not stop taking sertraline (better known as Zoloft) as part of a New Year's Resolution, the timing just happen to coincide with the changing of the year. The real reason I stopped is because I could no longer get a 90 day supply at one time for $12, and the new $8 for a 30 day supply was seriously gouging into my finances. $8 doesn't seem like much until you consider a gallon of gas can cost up to $3.89 and it takes at least that much gas just to get to work every day, then another gallon to get home. And I work 6 days a week. The 7th day is devoted to Game Night, which sometimes involves driving twice as far as the drive to work. So although $8 a month for medication doesn't sound like much, that is money best spent elsewhere.

I've been taking sertraline pretty much every day since the fall of 2010. The first dosage left me unable to sleep for three days, despite the most common side effect being sleepiness. I was so strung out that it is a miracle I did not crash my car. Road signs ceased to have meaning, and oncoming traffic made me giggle. Returning to my doctor, the dosage was cut in half and I was assigned a sleep medication that also acted as a antidepressant. I was finally able to sleep a little, but in the morning, I felt so lethargic that it took at least two hours of psyching myself up and my cat crying for food to crawl out of bed. Then I only had enough energy to feed Memphis; it was another hour or two before I mustered the energy to feed myself. I stopped taking the sleeping aid.

Sertraline is an amazing drug, much, much better than Prozac, which I took in high school. Prozac left me unable to think anything beyond the most shallow of thoughts, making simple math a challenge. As one friend put it, I seemed happier, but I was a lousy conversationalist. Sertraline didn't do that to me. It stopped the thoughts that I was having from getting caught in an endless spiral. It also slowed things down. I could handle situations before my mind had spun them off in some crazy direction. Perfect example: my car accident in October. I was able to cut out the noise of being angry, frustrated, and having to deal with countless strangers in a still unfamiliar city and do what needed to be done. In short, sertraline allowed me to make decisions. (I'm Libran; we're short on decision-making.) 

So what is the world like now that the sertraline is out of my system? It still seems slow, but that's because I feel like I'm moving so fast. Typing is difficult because my mind is thinking so fast that my fingers can't move fast enough to keep up with it. I make at least 10 times more typos than I used to. This makes my job at the bookstore a little frustrating since a good bit of the job is entering information into a computer whether it's creating new files for books, or simply looking up a title for a customer. Writing is much easier, though the quality of my handwriting has gone back down. 

Driving is extremely difficult. I used to be able to turn on some music and drive, no problems, no distractions. Now I have distractions galore. My eyes constantly dart around at everything, like I haven't seen the same scenery hundreds of times already. And when that settles down, my mind drifts away and I have no recollection of driving entire stretches of road. I get in my car, I turn onto the road, then suddenly I'm parked and getting out. This disturbs me slightly. Obviously, nothing happened, but what if something did? I hope the part of my brain that is concentrating on driving and getting me to where I need to go (I have yet to turn up at the incorrect destination) would bring the rest of my consciousness back should something occur.

This isn't to say that I black out. I have memories of thinking about errands I need to run, things I need to buy, or how long I can wait until I have to buy them, what TV shows I've been watching, which DVDs I have and which need to be secured from the library, what books I've been reading and when they need to be read by, the story that I'm working on, the stories that I am not working on, what I should work on next, new ideas for scenes or dialogues, can I turn this into a haiku?, turning things into haiku, etc, etc...

My mind won't shut up. Worse, it has trouble keeping up with itself. I often feel like I live in the future, and the present is taking its sweet time catching up. When it does catch up, it's usually disappointing. I'd much rather be sleeping than toddling through my waking hours. When I sleep, I dream, and there are no limits to my thoughts when dreaming. It's beautiful and refreshing. I can go through dozens of stories a night as I come up with them, no distractions, and no slow fingers to write them down with or faulty memory to forget them. Dreaming is the best part of life. I see more, do more, think more, and feel more than while awake. I'd rather be dreaming than doing anything. 

I once lived with a guy who was what you might call a wake 'n bake. The first thing he did when he got up in the morning was get high, then he went to work and got high on lunch, then came home and got high, and got high again before going to sleep. I asked him why he felt the need to be high all the time and he said that being sober scared him. The real world was too serious. Being high made it easier to cope with the demands. That is precisely what sertraline did for me, and I honestly miss it. 

I'm more emotional without sertraline. I was reading an email our store received about the great customer service a friend there had given their family (the email called her an angel), and I cried because it was so beautiful. I read random greeting cards that we sell now and I choke up. TV commercials can move me to tears, and I cried at least once during every episode of Detroit 1-8-7. I don't like crying at everything - I don't like crying period. To be constantly overwhelmed by emotion is tedious and frustrating. 

This also leads to feelings of apathy. It takes too much effort to change things, so just let them be. Just the thought of doing most things is exhausting, so I put things off, sometimes indefinitely, because my mind has already played out every angle, every possible scenario twice before ten seconds have passed from the first mention of the thing. I've run through my entire day multiple times before I put one foot out of bed. If I've already lived it in my head twenty times over, what's the point in getting up and actually doing it? Isn't better to move on to other things?

That's the constant battle. That's why I miss the medication. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Michigan Science Center in Detroit

Last year, the Detroit Science Center, one of the 10 largest such museums in America according to Wikipedia, closed its doors due to lack of funds. Just after Christmas, 2012, however, the Science Center reopened as the Michigan Science Center after being purchased by a nonprofit organization. The building is pretty large with lots of hands-on exhibits. Greg and I decided to check it out on Sunday. 

When you first walk in, there's an exhibit on diabetes. It includes a refrigerator that raps a song about eating healthy when you open it. Not the most impressive exhibit, but the kids around us seemed to have fun with it. Across from that is an exhibit about an auto assembly line. Very Detroit.

There is another exhibit about construction with a walkable model of the Mackinac Bridge, and another exhibit just across the way of a 100 foot model replica of the Bridge that is really quite impressive. I tried to take a picture of the full length, but it was just too long.

On one side of the bridge exhibits is another exhibit about eating healthy, including a creepy couch with two giant potato creatures watching television. Naturally, Greg had to have his picture taken with them. It reminded me of this horrible children's book called Bud the Spud by Adam Byrn Tritt in which a child turns into a potato after watching too much television and is eaten by his family. Greg pointed out that within site of this couch was the food court, serving just the types of foods the exhibit warned against.

Anyway, there's also a NASA section that is not entirely functional yet. A lot of features of the various exhibits aren't fully operational, like the whack-a-mole junk food game that only put up one hot dog to whack, but we saw guys going around working on them, and we both felt pretty interested in what would be going into all the empty space that was under construction. We also thought we check out the IMAX theater another time.

We spent 2 to 3 hours there, so money well spent, I think. Their hours are kind of funky right now, mostly open on weekends. It wasn't very crowded on Sunday, so I wouldn't worry about fighting with crowds. Practically next door is the Detroit Institute of Arts, and across the street from that is the Detroit Historical Museum. If you're interested in a unique lunch experience, check out Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes just half a block away from the DIA. I highly recommend the hot Nutella. Beats the pants off hot cocoa any day.