Current Tunes

For a bit of a smaller post this Friday, I thought I’d take a moment to list some of the songs that feature on my current playlist and have helped to boost my motivation lately.

Lauren AquilinaFools 
I only recently discovered this artist and am super bummed she doesn’t make music anymore (performing-wise, anyway), but I love all of the songs she has put out and appreciate all the thought that seems to have gone into them. Her lyrics are amazing and so incredibly evocative! And I think Fools is my favorite; it’s such a great song, though Oceans is a close second.

Beth CrowleyBattle Cry
I love all of her songs, and Midnight is my overall favorite, but Battle Cry is probably the one I’ve listened to the most over the last few weeks. The fact that she’s inspired by YA novels is such a cool concept to me, and even if I’m not familiar with some of the series she writes songs about, I find it easy to connect with and be inspired by her music.

I PrevailAlone
Back in high school, I was a dedicated follower of hard rock, but kind of fell off that wagon and onto a more indie/folk-based wagon, though I’ve maintained and kept up with a few staples. However, I’ve been getting caught up with some bands I’ve missed out on, and when I caught this song on the radio I was hooked. I love the sound and it’s helped reignite my appreciation for this type of music, so I look forward to re-exploring more of it.

Lady GagaMillion Reasons 
I love Gaga, and though nothing will EVER usurp Bad Romance in my eyes, Million Reasons is my favorite from her recent hits. It’s pretty clear in all of her songs that she really feels the music, which comes through in her performances. It’s a song that plucks at the heartstrings, and I never skip this one when it pops up on my shuffle.

NickelbackSong on Fire
I have always been a fan of Nickelback, and genuinely don’t understand the hate that they get. Song on Fire is a nice addition to their repertoire; it’s not as “hard” as some of their music tends to be, more in the vein of Photograph or Gotta Be Somebody. It’s got a nice message and is an overall pleasant listen.

AdnaNight
Adna has a unique, folksy sound that really makes her music stand out; I’ve only just recently stumbled upon her music and I’m super glad I did. Night is a pretty chill tune; kind of haunting, but very evocative.

WILDBack To You
Probably one of my favorite recent finds, I’ve just started following WILD but I love everything I’ve heard so far. Back To You is my favorite; it’s just a nice, catchy tune with an uplifting, folk sound, stellar vocals, and lyrics that flow. I eagerly anticipate new music from them in the future.

KarminaAll The King’s Horses
I enjoy music with a sort of “fantasy” type sound, and I had this song on repeat for at least a full day after I first heard it. The lyrics are great and it has a powerful, serious sound that helps provide some motivation while I’m writing, especially since my current project is in the fantasy vein.

ValleySoldier
After the first time I heard this song, it was stuck in my head for approximately 7 hours; and I didn’t even mind or get annoyed by it. It’s got an infectious tune and great lyrics, and it’s the kind of song that sounds “fun,” if you know what I’m saying.

Fall Out BoyThe Last of the Real Ones
I have clearly been living under a rock for the last few months because I had no idea that FOB had new music out until last week. And this song IS F*CKING GREAT. I’ve loved just about all of their discography ever since the beginning, but they’ve really been hitting it out of the park with their more recent albums, and this song is no different. LOVE IT, LOOK FORWARD TO MORE.

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Worth 1000 Words #10: Reese

On a Wednesday night in 2007, I received a cryptic text message from my older sister while watching the latest episode of Lost. The message contained only one word.

Meow.

Some time later, I was dozing off on the couch when my sister returned home and deposited something furry onto my lap. I opened bleary eyes to see a small, mewling tortoise-shell kitten blinking at me.

That is how we came to own Reese. Technically, her full name is Reesie Lynn (my sister is to blame for that abomination of a moniker, we had exactly 0% input) but we have more or less only ever called her Reese. Sometimes, I call her Kit-Kat. Just to be contrary.

IMG_20170629_102725_202.jpgI think Cat People are Cat People for a reason. Cats are often thought of as fuzzy companions who don’t require constant attention; they’re adorable, not terribly messy, and can provide some warm, cuddly comfort on bad or rainy days. But Reese apparently has never read a single page of the “cat manual” because she doesn’t act like a standard cat at all; though Reese does provide ample fodder for my instagram, because she is cute, if nothing else. And if you think I can’t babble on and on about my cat for 1000 words, then think again!

Reese has never been much of a cuddle-buddy; the only time she ever feels like snuggling is at night, but only for about an hour before she gets bored, and she typically only solicits one person to cuddle with before departing back to the bowels of the basement so she can get the couch covered in fur. She loathes being picked up, and in order for us to trim her nails, I have to wait until she is asleep or groggy, then scoop her up when she is vulnerable – often, this results in being kicked in the chest/nose/throat when she inevitably rebels. She refuses to meet strangers, and I suspect some family members might not even know we have a cat, since she won’t show her face in the presence of visitors. My best friend house/cat-sits for us whenever we go away for any length of time, and during a 10 day absence, it took 4 days for Reese to be in the same room with her, and even then, she rubbed her head against my friend’s hand while hissing at her. So, claiming that Reese is fickle would be a drastic understatement. When I went away to college, it took several days during each school break to get her used to me again; I had to endure lots of dismissive tail swishing and scrambling away before she deemed me worthy of her good graces again.

She loves to sit outside on the enclosed patio and cackle at birds and bunnies, either because she wants to be their friend, or she wants to eat them, I’m not entirely sure. She greets me at the door every day when I get home from work or wherever, usually meowing her head off as she gets my black pants covered in her fur. I like to think that it’s because she misses me when I go away, but I’m fairly sure it’s because she’s just hungry. And boy, she’s perpetually hungry. She expects to be fed at around 5/6AM every morning, since there’s a couple of super early-risers in the family, so now, she’s accustomed to a schedule and there’s almost no chance of everyone being able to sleep in – not if Reese has anything to say about it. When she’s hungry, she is vocal. And then, even after breakfast, she expects snacks. Several of them. She also thinks she can trick us into feeding her more if she begs and whines at each person in the family, but fortunately, we are able to see through her ploys. It’s a wonder she isn’t shaped like a bowling ball with how much she tries to eat, though we’ve managed to regulate her diet well, despite her best efforts. Reese also loves to distract me while I’m trying to write; at the moment, she is sitting beside her food bowl and staring at me. She will not break me, though. I am steadfast – I can resist the food-mongering wiles of any cat, no matter how cute! Though, I must admit, she is especially “awwww”-worthy when she chases the laser-pointer around the living room.

A few months ago, I bought Reese a new bed; a nice quality one that I was able to snag at a great discount. Did she appreciate my generosity? NOPE, she actually prefers the comfort of a cardboard box, or a plastic bag laying on the floor. Her idea of a five star resort would be a kingdom of boxes and bags. We actually have fashioned a “cardboard apartment” of sorts for her to use, and she loves it. She’s a creature of simple comforts, I suppose… she did eventually warm up to her new bed, and it is now positioned on the floor beside my bed, so when she gets fed up with me, she has somewhere to escape to.

Reese is not a typical cat; but she’s my cat. She doesn’t like cuddles, but to be totally honest, neither do I, so it works out well. She’s an introvert, and can sometimes be downright obnoxious with her constant appealing for food, but she occasionally shows off her softer side. If I scratch behind her ears or she rolls over to let me pet her tummy, she might even deign to purr a bit, like a fuzzy motorboat. Sometimes, during her rare affectionate moments, she will rub against my legs, even when I’m trying to walk up the stairs… I refuse to believe it’s because she wants to trip me, though, sadly, that wouldn’t be much of a shock. I often suspect she’s the furry offspring of some feline version of Satan, but even if that’s true, she’s my furry offspring of Satan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Writing Techniques: Time

I think most folks can agree that there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all the tasks that need to be done. But – and I’ll admit, I’m biased – I think this is especially true for folks with creative careers/ambitions.

Like many aspiring writers, I have to work a day job. I do full-time shift work in a field that is totally unrelated to writing, so my schedule varies from week to week and shifts from day to day. For example, this week my start times are 7AM, 5AM, 5AM, 3PM, 4PM. Sometimes I have to work overnights, then flip it around to dayside right after. There are occasional bouts of consistency, but it’s hard to develop a routine when just about every day I have to adjust what time I wake up, go to the gym, prepare meals, do chores, etc, in addition to a work schedule that frequently changes.

So, the struggle becomes finding time to write. My schedule is obviously not as demanding as some, but it can still be difficult to find the appropriate work/life/other work balance. I’ll admit, it isn’t often, but there are days where I’m on the go from 5AM-6PM and by the time I get home, eat dinner, and take a shower, exhaustion takes over and the last thing I have energy for is cracking open a Word document and trying to put competent thoughts down into writing.

Weirdly enough, it was easier for me to schedule writing time when I was in college and writing I’m With You, even though I worked 2 jobs for the majority of that time along with a full course load every semester, and a partial course load in the summers and winters. Fortunately, my schedule, while busy, was consistent from week-to-week, so for the entirety of my senior year I didn’t have to scramble my plans and obligations around to find a solid chunk of writing time. For a while, Fridays were also dedicated to writing from about mid-afternoon on; my most productive writing sessions occurred during that window. Friday nights were also dedicated to being in my pajamas by 5PM, having cereal for dinner, and watching at least 2 episodes of Hoarders, but that’s irrelevant…

I can imagine that it is hard for a lot of people to schedule time for writing; but it’s important to do so, especially if your days are hectic. “Oh, I’ll do it later” all too easily turns into hours passing by unnoticed, and suddenly, it’s 11 at night, your alarm is set to go off at 5AM, and you haven’t written so much as a word all day, and that is the worst kind of feeling.

My personal strategy to combat this is simple; set aside a designated time (15 minutes at minimum) depending on the day. A white-board weekly calendar hanging above my desk assists with this. It’s such a basic plan, but writing down my schedule for the day makes it much easier to visualize the breakdown of the time I do have, so I’m able to set aside a specific block for “writing time.” This doesn’t work 100% of the time, due to unforeseen circumstances popping up or last-minute plan/work schedule changes, but that’s the great thing about white boards! You can erase and start over, good as new!

Ideally, I try and fit at least a couple of hours of writing into each day, be it a blog post like this one, character development, free writes, actual drafting, or just dabbling with an outline or some new ideas. On my days off from work, I can sometimes spend an entire day at a Word document, pounding out potential content or shifting between a couple of different projects. Some days are more productive than others, and that’s fine. I might (and by might, I mean, I definitely do) look back on previous writing and cringe at how poor it is, even if I only jotted it down the day before. It’s all fine; it’s all part of the process. As long as I get something of substance down on paper or in a Word document each day, I chalk it up as a victory. Journaling also helps with this, because it ensures that I do at least a bit each day, even if it’s just a sentence or two.

And when those “unproductive” days happen – where my schedule allows for no writing at all – I try and do better the next day instead of calling myself a failure and wallowing in despair. I mean, I never shut my brain off, so when I can’t fend off a sudden brainstorm or have a stroke of creativity, I whip out my phone and text the idea to myself. On my phone, I have a massive text chain to myself that is just random snippets of dialogue, scenarios, or descriptions, and it’s actually been very helpful when I’m on the go and only have a few seconds to jot down an idea. This tactic really helps when I conjure up bits of dialogue and want to remember it exactly, because lord knows if I don’t make note of it immediately, I will forget when I sit down to formally type it out later. You can’t control when inspiration strikes; I find that I have to write it down quickly, in a text or scribbled on a sticky-note, unless I want to lose it.

So, the gist is, even when there’s no time, never stop trying to make time for writing. I know that when I don’t write for any notable length of time, I feel unfulfilled, and it makes it so difficult to build or maintain momentum. There are never two non-writing days in a row, ever. Life does get in the way; but it can’t be a permanent obstacle.

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

Worth 1000 Words #6: Leon

My first car was a navy blue ’02 Subaru Legacy, purchased with 148,000 miles on it. I was 17 years old and absolutely terrified of driving on the highway (still am, for the record), but regardless, I was ready to (slowly) hit the road.

And boy, I loved that car. I named him Leon, because all cars must have names. I actually got the name “Leon” from the main character of Final Fantasy VIII, Squall Leonhart, my favorite all-time FF character. Leon the Legacy was his full name, but I usually called him by his stage name – Leyonce. This post shall be an ode to Leon.

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Now, I did not get my learner’s permit or license until well after most of my friends had already acquired wheels and the means to use them. This is largely because I was terrified of driving. When I was still learning how to drive, I took my mom’s Ford Escape around our neighborhood at 15mph, constantly asking, “Am I going too fast? AM I?” I also cried during my driver’s test because the instructor yelled at me, and I’m like, 43% sure he only passed me because he felt bad.  That should give you some idea of what sort of driver I was at the start of my driving career.

But soon, I had Leon.

I did not have him an exceptionally long time, but Leon got me through a lot, helped me overcome some of my driving inhibitions, and was with me during my first forays into the world of adulthood. I only got a car because I needed one to go to college in a state six hours away from home, since I didn’t live on campus and needed a way to get to class and my part-time job – and Leon was the best first car I could have ever asked for.

I believe I suffer from some sort of driving dyslexia, because, while I am not a good driver in general, it’s mostly because I am not good at all with directions. Two months ago I had to use my GPS to get home from the same doctor’s office I’ve been going to for like, eight years. I don’t know what it is, but when I’m behind the wheel, I am utterly useless at finding my way anywhere. It’s a miracle I even make it to work.

Leon is the first car I braved the highway with. I have fond memories of driving on the Mass Pike by myself for the first time, eschewing a panic attack, and having to climb out of the car to get my ticket at the station because I couldn’t reach it through the window. A 20 minute trip turned into 2 hours; and that’s not including the return journey, which included trauma I won’t go into. But I had Leon; my navy blue security blanket with all-wheel drive. I made it safely home, despite my struggles, thanks to him.

Late night heart-to-hearts with friends, parked at a curb in our tiny PA town. Driving up to the highest residential point in the area to look out on the city below. Venturing home from work after a snowstorm and skidding straight through a red light at a four-way intersection, screaming bloody murder all the while. My first road trip, from PA to MA, where I didn’t have to trade the wheel off until CT, when I was fighting to ward off sleep. Crossing state lines to play laser-tag (medieval style) for my 20th birthday, and jamming out to the Backstreet Boys on our way back to campus.

Leon’s demise came in 2014, after two head gasket replacements in a one year span. The first one made my wallet weep, but I understood why it was necessary, as Leon was 12 and things were starting to get worn out. After the repair was finished, I assumed all was well for the time being. So, I was driving around for a while (as in, for months) before I started to smell something burning every time I drove. A mechanic told me it was my oil pan, so I shelled out money for a “used” oil pan, then when that didn’t fix the problem, they took another, closer look. I was told that I needed another head gasket, and that I shouldn’t have been driving with my car in such a condition, because it could have broken down at any moment. Apparently, the first one wasn’t installed properly, or whatever – which made me lose a lot of confidence in said mechanic. Needless to say, I got another new head gasket. For free.

Sadly, though he seemed to be mostly okay after the second repair, this incident basically showed me that Leon was now costing more to maintain than he was worth. Every time I took him in for an inspection, there was something wrong with him – and it was never something that was easy or inexpensive to fix. I was forking over hundreds of dollars for a car that experienced constant issues, so, in the late summer of 2014, I decided that it was time to let Leon go and get a new car.

I found a used Nissan that I liked, and it was time to say goodbye to Leon. Before I traded him in, I took the time to clean everything out. The frisbees in my trunk, which I kept because you never know when you’ll need a frisbee. My emergency bag, complete with emergency granola bars and emergency change of clothes and emergency toothbrush. Countless poptart wrappers (it’s an addiction, don’t judge me). A surplus of CD’s, chronicling my taste in music over the years; from J-Pop to film scores to Swedish metal. Approximately 47 half-filled water bottles.

Once all my things were cleared out, I handed the keys to the dealer, and my trusty Subaru either went off to auction or was sold to someone new. It was difficult to say goodbye, but no matter what I’m driving, I’ll always have fond memories of Leon.

Favorite Anime Openings

Music is imperative when I’m working on a writing project. I’m one of those obnoxious people who crafts specific playlists for each story I’m writing, and I listen to them when working on said projects. But sometimes, my well of inspiration runs a bit dry, and I need a different kind of musical inspiration to get the creative waters flowing again.

There is one playlist in my collection that really gets me motivated, and that is a playlist full of anime opening (and some ending) theme songs. I’ve been an anime fan ever since Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Dragonball, and all those awesome classic 90’s series aired on Cartoon Network and were part of the Saturday Cartoon or Toonami lineups. And lets not forget classic Adult Swim. Those were the days, man.

So when I feel like saving the world, killing massive humanoid monsters, collecting all the shards of a dangerous jewel, becoming a mecha pilot with serious daddy and mommy issues, or learning the cruel lessons of equivalent exchange, I just put my Anime Openings playlist on to get myself pumped up. Sometimes, it makes writing just a bit easier and helps to blast through pesky bouts of writer’s block.

Is there anything more inspiring than a good anime theme song? I think not! So here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite anime themes, in no particular order.

Disclaimer: I do not own the anime or music listed below, nor are the embedded videos mine, they are just posted for reference.

1.) Ready Steady Go!Fullmetal Alchemist – L’arc En Ciel

I preferred FMA: Brotherhood to the original series (no hate, I did like both), but I will always consider the second opening to the first anime as one of the very best I’ve seen and heard. I often listen to this song on the treadmill and it gives me the boost I need to finish my workout.

2.) Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis  – Neon Genesis Evangelion – Yoko Takahashi

Say what you want about the anime itself (it’s one of my favorites, but I understand people who dislike it, especially the last episode which really is a big WTF), this opening might be the greatest anime opening of all time. It makes me want to clap and congratulate somebody, for some reason…weird.

3.) My Soul, Your Beats! – Angel Beats – Lia

*bursts into tears*

4.) SignNaruto Shippuden – FLOW

I watched Naruto for a long time before I eventually got burnt out and gave up on it, and I never made it to Shippuden, but hope to pick it up again. I love FLOW and their songs are always definitive of what an anime intro should do: Get someone hyped to kick some ass. This one in particular makes me feel like going out and fighting ninjas, or rescuing my angsty traitor best friend from a freaky snake guy…

5.) Guren no YumiyaAttack on Titan – Linked Horizon

After disliking Death Note, Bleach, Black Butler, and many other anime that were far too over-hyped, Attack on Titan was the first anime I saw in a really long time that lived up to the buzz that surrounded it. This intro really gets the adrenaline pumping, and the second one, Jiyuu no Tsubasa, is just as awesome.

6.) Kimi ga Inai MiraiInuyasha: The Final Act – Do As Infinity

Inuyasha was one of my first “real” anime (that wasn’t Pokemon) and I actually bought the theme song CDs when I was in junior high. But as much as I love the original series (minus some of the filler, it did drag a bit), this theme might just be my favorite from both the original and the sequel.

7.) Tank! – Cowboy Bebop – Yoko Kanno ft. The Seatbelts

You can’t beat the classics.

8.) Crossing FieldSword Art Online – LiSA

I personally did not like SAO (don’t judge me, it was WAY over-hyped, though I understand why people loved it) but this opening song is pretty amazing.

9.) Cloud Age SymphonyLAST EXILE – Okino, Shuntaro

Last Exile was the first anime I owned myself (and it is the perfect length for an anime, in my opinion) and whenever I rewatch it, I never skip the intro. I like that it has a bit of a different sound, and the visuals are pretty great for an anime that came out in ’03. I have yet to watch the sequel, but I hope the music is just as good!

10.) Taiyou no Mannaka eEureka Seven – Bivattchee

Eureka Seven is one of my all-time favorite anime (great characters, concepts, story, mecha, etc) and I loved all the intros and outros, but this one just struck a chord for me. Though Days by FLOW, the first opening, is great too.

BONUS: Moonlight DensetsuSailor Moon – DALI / Moon Lips

BECAUSE SAILOR MOON IS GREAT, OKAY.