Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Let's Puzzles! (IV)

Finished "Cinderella's Grand Arrival" last week (so fast!), and took care of the (rather large) Marvel one in a day or two, because I've now got mad puzzle skillz.

My next puzzle project is to make a mash-up of Cinderella and Winnie the Pooh. Since they have the exact same cut, you can switch pieces between each one. I'm hoping it'll look somewhat odd and beautiful, but the color combination of blue and green really doesn't go together so far.

This might actually be harder than doing the puzzles from scratch, because you have to punch out each piece and they're sturdy little buggers.

2010: The year I revolutionized puzzles?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Let's Musical Improv! (IV)

I did it! (Again!)

Last Sunday was the free Intro to Musical Improv class offered by the Magnet Theater, and it was... pretty easy! And all because of teacher Tara Copeland and accompanist extraordinaire Frank Spitznagel, as well as the incredibly supportive class.

To be honest, I was nervous going in. It's not often that I take classes anymore, and I always feel like I've gotta prove my "veteran" status to the other students. Maybe everyone feels that way, I dunno. But it was a heck of a lot easier to have a handful of friends and teammates in there (plus it's always exciting to see Ari and Betsy rap), and the environment was blessedly free from any critical eyes.

Luckily, there wasn't much actual improvising, so I felt better - and yes, I'm aware it seems weird for an improviser to be relieved he wouldn't have to do any actual improvising in a Musical Improv class.

Since it was an introductory class, Tara ran a lot of warm-ups and simple musical exercises. To analogize this to my katana class from January, we were just learning how to hold the sword and swing it properly, not how to kill in one slice. You know, the basics. And since I've run a number of these exercises before, it was even less stressful. Also, it's hard to be nervous with Tara around, as she is one of the most incredibly supportive teachers I've ever had (also in that category: Ari).

Throw in the fact that Frank underscored all of the exercises with his epic level piano playing and it threw everything into a whole new dimension. Seriously, with him on the keys, even a simple game like Hot Spot felt performance-worthy.

About halfway through, I became delightedly aware that we were being trained somehow. And this sounds like a redundantly thing to realize while in a classroom, but it was pretty exciting to me. Tara explicitly taught us to not be ashamed of our singing or our lyrics, to never apologize, to love what we sing and to have fun. And those are all lessons I never tire of hearing. It's like walking past those guardians in The NeverEnding Story - you won't fail unless you let yourself fail. But if you live it, love it, sing it... you'll get whatever it is beyond those guardians.

And implicitly, we were learning to trust the piano, to realize the accompanist had our back and would only make things better, not make them harder. Maybe this li'l lesson delighted me so because that's something I've always worried about. As stated before, chord progression and crap like that is alien to me, and God knows I never want to be the performer who's singing off-key. Now I know that such a thing won't happen, the accompanist can handle it. Whew!

Our final exercise was, actually, improvising a song. Four people to a group, one person would come up with the chorus, two would each do a verse, and one would make up the bridge. I would've been happy doing any of those, but I got the bridge, which was probably the best choice, because I wasn't sure what one was until Tara explained it for us. And we sang a silly song about air pollution, and it was pretty great, and I loved it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Let's Christmas!

Christmas 2009 was a hit! And, for perhaps the first time in my life, I've felt like, "This was a good Christmas, and I'm glad it's come to a satisfying end," instead of the usual, "What?! That's it? I feel... so empty."

So what changed?

This season didn't have the outlook of being jolly - it came off of a pretty depressing Thanksgiving (where my 91-year-old grandfather, already recuperating from a recently broken hip, broke his wrist the morning of Thanksgiving), plane tickets that were mucho expensive (aren't they always?) and they edited out my favorite line from A Charlie Brown Christmas ("All I want is what I've got coming to me. All I want is my fair share."). Plus, my dog's still dead, and I don't think she's coming back.

But because of my grandpa's Thanksgiving trip to the hospital, there was no name-drawing for the family gift exchange, and I thought that made things nicer: everyone's gift was that he'd recuperated and most of us were together. Getting rid of gifts? G'04 it!

Actually, I did get a few gifts from my brother: a Sonic Screwdriver, but also a nice surprise - this Orange Bird pin that he picked up in Disney World...

And I love Orange Bird! I miss the li'l guy.

And getting that Christmas tree? I loved our tree and really enjoyed decorating it throughout the course of the month, either with real decorations or with stuff we've had forever. Having it for a month definitely made me feel like I got my fill of the season, and next year I might wait another week or so (just so it isn't pretty dead by the 26th, as it is now). And I loved making the Kinder Egg Nativity Scene and can't wait for the next one.

I was a bit disappointed to see that most of the old Christmas decorations from my youth (a walrus from Alice in Wonderland, an old lady - probably Mother Goose - riding a duck, one of those vintage Dwarfs I'm always talking about, this Oscar the Grouch head) are no longer with us, but I took it in stride. I wanted to plunder my favorites, but I can let the past stay with the past, and bring on the future with some new decorative traditions, like monkey head coin purses.

Maybe it's the realization that Christmas really is for kids, and rather than thinking that I'm a kid and I deserve Christmas joy for myself, I should try to give it to others. I learned this while watching Elf (for the first time!) last night. It's like, rather than trying to keep returning to Narnia, I have to accept that my time there might be over, and I now have to help others reach that magical Christian land. And maybe that's how I can get back, but it certainly isn't by helping myself.

Since my brother is having a kid soon, next Christmas will be the baby's first Christmas, and that's kind of exciting... even though he'll be too young to appreciate or understand anything.

Things I look forward to: pretending to be Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus on the telephone, which is what my uncle used to do to me. And I never stopped believing. Even now, knowing it was fake, I don't forget the wonder I experienced when talking to the two most important men in the world.

I guess that's why I became a bit jaded - I still want my phone call from Mickey Mouse, but of course that's not gonna happen, and so I stand around going, "That's it?" But what better way than to become Mickey Mouse? And to eventually become Santa? That's my plan.

So, like wisely deciding against thirds on that lasagna and ham we had last night, I feel good that Christmas is just about done. I don't wanna push it or anything. There's still Sarah's return home in a few hours and we'll exchange gifts, but all in all, what a hit! I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge felt after he got that World's Greatest Boss mug.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let's Distant Worlds! (II)

Last weekend Sarah and I went to Chicago, mostly to see the Distant Worlds concert, and let me tell you, I can understand why people fly in from around the world to attend these shows.

It was a harrowing journey from downtown Chicago to the Rosemont Theater, and I was pretty scared that we'd be late, because of course the first song is probably one of the most vital: the prelude. Luckily, we made it just as the lights were dimming. This was as close a shave as when you're waiting for Shadow at the edge of that flying island. (If you don't understand or appreciate this reference, you might as well stop reading this entry right now.)

The prelude means nothing if you aren't familiar with Final Fantasy, but if you are, oh, man, it conjures up so much! Mostly I remember the excitement of first playing Final Fantasy II and the III, not knowing what exactly the adventure would be like, but knowing it'd be epic... and being right.

Man, oh, man. Those were some good times. Those are some great games.

The concert was a little FF8-heavy for me (I never played Final Fantasy VIII) and a lot of the vocal songs weren't my cup of tea. I was mostly hoping for a lot of VI, since that's probably the best video game ever made, but sadly, they did not play the Opera. As a consolation, we got the world premiere of Dancing Mad...

...and they concluded with the much beloved Terra's Theme, so I was pretty satisfied. The ending, especially, with the credits showing and the character sketches, that got to me. Just remembering poor Cyan, beautiful, suicidal Celes and Gau, the worst boy in the world. I could (and would) fly anywhere to see a fully orchestrated version of Final Fantasy VI, that's how much I love those songs.

But the highlight of the show was the attendance of the man himself, Nobuo Uematsu, who composed this great music. And during the encore (One-Winged Angel, of course), he played a kick-ass solo on the Hammond organ... while dressed in a ninja costume. Then, as a second encore, they played it again. The audience roared.

It was a very inspiring night. It's pretty amazing to think that this humble little ninja could create such amazing music, music that'll stick with millions of people for their entire lives, and it made me think of creating art as opposed to just creating a product, and there's something to be said for that. (I was in a pretty weird head space last week, but that's another story.)

Out of everything I got out of that concert, I'm probably most grateful for that li'l lesson. So much emotion was poured into this music (man, I even got misty-eyed during To Zanarkand and Aerith's Theme), and, I dunno, life's just too short to make some bullshit project for the sake of throwing something out there.

I feel that way about movies and television and books and everything, and we're overwhelmed with choices, most of which are empty and subpar (Four Christmases, our in-flight movie, comes to mind)... and is it worth it? Couldn't we just focus on what we love and what means something to us?

I know it seems ridiculous to think such thoughts while attending a video game concert, but eff that, it's good music, it stays with you, you care about the characters, they have a soul, and that's the sort of thing I want to make.

So I thank you, Nobuo Uematsu. I thank you very much.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let's Musical Improv! (III)

I did it!

It was... not easy. But not hard, I guess. I dunno. It's hard to remember.

My favorite part was warming up vocally with everyone, since that's something I haven't done in almost ten years. Yeowch! And I thought, "Oh, right, we're also supposed to actually sing well."

And beforehand I'd asked some folks for simple advice, like, "What's the one thing you should know if you're going to do a musical improv set?" And the best answer I got was that your character should have a strong want - that's what you're probably gonna end up singing about.

And it was fun! A little nutso, but what improv isn't, and I actually sang two songs.

I've never been smart when it comes to musical machinations (I dunno the proper term for this, but things like fifths and eighths mean nothing to me), so I think I was paying too much attention to what the piano player (who did an incredible job all night) was up to, like if the chords were going to change or if we were moving into a different direction.

Then on top of that, there's the lyrics, which I'm responsible for. Yeowch! For some reason, despite being told to the contrary, I kept thinking the song should rhyme, and so that was a hard habit to break. I think that tripped me up the most. But I love rhyming so much, I don't know if I WANT to break that habit.

So we'll see how things go on Sunday. I hope it is a fun day. Four people are going - will my love of musical improv be growing?

See? Rhymes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Let's Musical Improv! (II)

Before Tara's introductory class, I'm gonna just try performing it. Tonight. Whoa Mama!

Musical Kaleidoscope
Monday, Dec. 14th, 7:30 p.m.
The Creek, 10-93 Jackson Ave.
Free, but the experience is priceless

Very appreciative to Jeremy for inviting me on his team, and, yeah, I'm kind of nervous! More nervous than I normally get before a show because I don't really know how to properly improvise a song. And by "don't really know" I mean "don't know at all."

There's a chorus in there somewhere, probably, and that's a big part, and there are also verses, and it should rhyme, but other than that, I just don't know. I kind of hope we don't go first so I can watch a group and try to figure this stuff out.

It'd be cool if I end up being this savant about musical improv (much like Charlie Sanders's legendary first Harold, where he came to class late, jumped in at the opening, did a hilarious and awesome set, and then after the teacher said, "So what'd you think of that Harold?" asked, "What the heck is a Harold?"), but I'll settle for not ruining the show.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Let's Chicago!

I'm leaving for Chicago in a bit.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let's Winter Wishes! (II)

My letter read:

Dear Santa

Lucas has been a good boy and enjoy Elmo anything that makes noise. He also likes cars.

Lucas is 2.5 years old. Stuff like this always breaks my heart, this little kid who loves Elmo and Cars, and I wanted to get him something nice.

But the thing is, I HATE a lot of those talking Elmo toys. I actually think they're detrimental to the development of one's imagination. Am I crazy? I don't think so. They're like robots that you just watch and the interaction isn't real. Where's the pretend?

Also, there's this amazing review video. Honestly, the extent of my research on a toy like this only included Amazon reviews, and they're always a mixed bag - "Love it!" "Hate it!" and it's all just anecdotal evidence.

But I had to go with my gut and eschew all those talking Elmo toys (crazily enough, there's one that goes for over $90 - WHAT THE HELL?), and I got an Elmo puppet, because either he or his parent can play with it and it's real interaction that requires imagination, not being talked to in a mechanical voice.

Some day, robots will be able to love us back, but until then, I think they're not proper toys. Also, they break too easily, eat up batteries, and steal old people's medicine.

(I couldn't figure out if he loved toy cars or the movie Cars - which every kid on earth seems to love - so I also got a stuffed Lightning McQueen.)

[Edited to add: after watching this video, I feel better about my choice. A toy is something you play with, not something you watch. And if it breaks as easily as they say, then screw that.]

Let's Musical Improv!

I signed up for a free Intro to Musical Improv class over at the Magnet Theater. It's Sunday the 20th from 3:30-5:30, and you can register for it, too - just click that link! Do it. Do it now.

I'm pretty psyched, actually. Musical Improv is something I've always wanted to do, since I like singing and making up songs and I really ought to have piano accompaniment in my life, but I never seem to have the free time/cash when classes come rolling around.

So this time I'm gonna do it... and I'm a bit excited/nervous about trying some skill that I have absolutely zero experience in (if you don't count the countless hours I've spent making up annoying songs around the house). It's like when I took rollerskating lessons - my body just had no idea what muscles to use, how to balance, anything, it was an entirely alien thing. Actually, that was worse, since it was physical. This should be easier.

As adults, I don't think we have many opportunities to be exposed to such newness, and in fact we probably avoid it a little - it's weird being uncomfortable and unsure and like, "I just don't know what's going on!" Hence my excitement/nervousness.

Maybe that's why I keep telling my friends (including you) about this intro class - so that I'm not stepping onto that stage with a bunch of strangers. To misquote Calvin and Hobbes, the unknown is never quite so scary when you're with a friend. So sign up!

That's what this blog's been about all along, I suppose. I don't mind doing it alone - sometimes it's fun to face weirdness alone - but shared experiences have their own power, too.

[Edited to add: Pam just signed up for it, so now the entire class is ruined.]

[Edited further to add: Ari and Betsy and Katey signed up, so now it sort of evens out.]

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let's Craftacular!

Yesterday was the Bust Holiday Craftacular. I try to attend every year, and 2009 is no exception.

Surprisingly, there usually aren't many things at the Craftacular for ol' Kirk, but at one booth I spied a fancy silver monocle. And I thought, "Now, obviously I don't need a monocle, but I'm sort of surprised I don't already own one, and some day it'll definitely come in handy as an awesome costume accessory. Also, this is perhaps the finest monocles I've ever seen, and I've seen many."

I of course decided to buy it, but first decided to do a circuit about the entire craft fair - see everything for sale, make sure there isn't anything more pressing to buy (like, say, a gift for someone who isn't me, or, more likely, a better gift for me), and also make sure a monocle is a responsible purchase.

But, as I said, the Craftacular doesn't have me as its target demographic. This would seem surprising, since I like things, all sorts of things, but the majority of items for sale include handmade soap, women's clothing or jewelry, and other things I only use on very special occasions.

So two hours later, it was back to the monocle to get it, when lo and behold, it was gone. Sold to some lucky asshole (my nemesis). I kept wanting to circle the table over and over again, as if I missed it, and I did... but not in the good "Oh, there it is!" kind of way, but in the "It's gone forever" fashion.


I think I learned an important lesson: When it's in limited quantities, if you tell yourself to wait and if it's still there, it was meant to be, then you gotta be OK with it not being there when you return, because it probably wasn't meant to be.

Or maybe I should've just bought it then and there. I dunno. Maybe I didn't learn anything. Whatever. I like monocles is all.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Let's Nativity! (II)

I'm pretty proud of my Nativity set. The walls are made up of Jenga blocks, and most of the pieces come from Kinder Surprise toys. There's a few exceptions: Cakey guest stars as the Angel of the Lord, and that monster from a Monsters Inc. Happy Meal represents either a) the serpent/dragon/monster that was slain by the Christ-child immediately upon his birth or b) just monsters in general.

This was a lot of fun to make, and it was surprisingly an exercise in editing. I didn't want to go overboard, and since I have over 100 Kinder toys, it would've been very easy for this to get out of hand. Note there's no Squidward/Patrick/Mr. Krabs trio popping up or playing the Three Wise Men, and I kept the number of identical ragged Shepherds to one (not pictured are the two goats and a donkey with him... and you can't really see the horses in the stables. Also, there's a tiny booger-looking creature known as an Ick sitting on one of the off-camera Jenga blocks. He represents a Nisse. And the Three Wise Men have three off-camera squires bearing gifts, which are a crown, a shield, and an empty pillow. I would've liked to have included everything but then the picture would have been zoomed out. Maybe I'll do some close-ups later.)

Maybe next year I'll go all out and display the whole of the Kinder Universe worshipping the Christ-child, but I'm pretty content with what we have this year.

And then there's the tree! A real, honest-to-goodness tree! I love it! I love the tree! I say good night to it every night. The picture doesn't do it justice, and I'll have to take some more later.

Seriously, getting a tree really upped the Christmas cheer around this place, and it makes me feel less weird for constantly playing that "Sounds of the Season" music channel up in the 600s. I love that channel! I love the tree!

For ornaments, we just own a set of six pine-cone rodent ones I bought in Florida, and I'm opposed to buying shitty ones (although I'm really into looking at weird vintage Dwarf ornaments and Disney ornaments on eBay), so we decorated it with a lot of little things around the house.

Examples: My graduation cord! Three very cute change purses shaped like monkey's heads. A tag thing or whatever it is from Tokyo Disneyland. Grimace. Two stuffed toadstools. A tiny stuffed elephant Sarah found in Times Square. A holiday card from 2002 (why do I have that? I didn't even live in NYC in 2002, so I brought it up with me when I moved here?). SMRT-1. A few buttons, and atop the tree is old X the Owl from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Bringing back all these old, somewhat forgotten things makes me feel that this tree is more special than one filled with shitty ornaments bought at Target. And it's nice to be actually psyched about Christmas instead of that vague feeling of anxiety and disappointment, so hooray! Christmas!