Nothing Special, Really

Monday, December 31, 2007

Resolute This!

After being away for almost 2 weeks, my apartment never looked so good, cat-vomit on the carpet and everything. I'm hesitant to call it a vacation but I feel a bit rejuvinated anyways. Now, back to your irregularly scheduled blog post.

New Year's Resolutions are dumb. 90% of them are about losing weight, and it's retarded to try to start losing weight at this time of the year. By this time, you're already in a pattern of eating like shit for 2 straight weeks, you probably don't live in a place where you can go outside to exercise, and you probably lack the motivation to travel in the cold to a gym. There's not really much more to do in January other than be lazy & eat. And regardless of all that, why wait until January to start making changes? You're probably already aware of how unhappy you are about your body, so why not start right away? Same thing with trying to quit smoking - if you know in November that you want to quit, then don't spend 2 months filling your lungs with more cancer just because you're waiting for the new year.

I made a comment to Wac sometime last week about how I thought that the quote "Insanity is doing the same thing over & over again yet expecting different results" was a stupid quote at first, but that I started seeing the truth of it more recently. New Year's Resolutions are a perfect example of that truth - many people commit to these resolutions without changing what's prevented them from making the change in the first place. You're not going to lose weight unless you commit to changing your diet & exercise. You're not going to quit smoking unless you stop your desire to smoke. You're not going to get out of debt unless you plan a budget & start sacrificing unnecessary expenses. I don't think there's anything wrong with starting new goals at the beginning of the year, but I just think it's silly to think that "this year is going to be different" when you're still doing the same thing.

With that said, I have 5 goals for 2008. Before you label me a hypocrite, I'd like to point out the following:

1. Many of these goals are continuations of actions that I've taken this year.
2. In most cases, I've already started making changes to reach these goals
3. I'm not calling these New Year's Resolutions

So here they are:

Maintain My Blood Sugar

Christmas was a disaster. We started off doing well on the AZ leg of the trip, even purchasing our own groceries, which saved us both calories & money. But I still splurged more than I should have (although it's tough to resist my mom's chicken & dumplings). California was even worse. Wac's parents were gracious enough to buy me sugar free candy & ice cream, but those hardly saw the light of day as they were surrounded by all things covered in chocolate. Breakfast was usually carbs, carbs & more carbs, and the coup de grace of it all was our final meal together at a Mexican restaurant that not only had unlimited chips & salsa but also unlimited freshly made tortillas. To their credit though, it wasn't like this was all pushed down my throat; I hardly put up anything resembling resistance.

Like any other life change I've made, I've been less focused on controlling my diabetes. I'm still doing well, and I can see that many of the changes I started making are still working. But I've still got room to improve, and there's not much else in my life that's more important to my health. All other goals are meaningless if I'm not healthy enough to enjoy them.

Pay Off Three Credit Cards

Next to my health, my finances are the biggest hinderance from allowing me to live the life that I'd like to. 2007 was less about reducing my debt than it was about learning to live within my means. I didn't quite fail at that, but I wasn't very successful either. However, I still made progress, especially in terms of planning. I've sketched out my budget through 2010, and I'm able to finally see when progress will be made, and it starts this year. My car will be paid off in August, giving me a little more flexibility. And although the sum of the three cards is less than $2000, I'll be able to rid myself of three credit card payments. Just being able to say that seriously gets me excited (and not in the way that you're probably thinking, you sicko).

Travel To Chicago

Wac wants to move there someday. I'm not too sure that I do, but I told her that I'd give it a fair chance. We were supposed to go there last year but we couldn't afford it. This year we're making it more of a priority, with plans to go there in August. We're committed to going there at least 3 times before we start making any plans - once when it's nice, once when it's hot, and once when it's cold. I'm not concerned about adapting to the weather as I am starting over in a new city - I'm where I want to be. Wac's not unhappy here either, but just I had spent most of my life in the same place, this is the only place that she's know since she started college, and I know about that desire to go somewhere else. So there's no harm in at least checking it out, and there's many more worse places that she'd want to live.

Rediscover The Concept Of Nightlife

This is a tough one. The biggest obstacle to this is the financial aspect - finding time to go out or figuring out what to do is much easier than trying to afford it. One of things I love about this city is the array of concerts we get up here, yet I can hardly afford many of them, and it's even harder to budget them when the tickets go on sale within days of the announcement. We live close to several great bars, but drinking is a drain on my wallet & works against my diabetes. My biggest hobby, poker, makes me anti-social & a recluse. And now, I have to battle my new addiction - Guitar Hero. Nevertheless, I want to put an emphasis on going out. Just not on Wednesday nights, since that's when Lost returns.

Improve My Relationships

When I first moved up here, I struggled with the effect that the physical distance between my friends & I had on our relationships. I was naive in thinking that I'd be able to keep my friendships the same living 1700+ miles away, and I underestimated the impact that proximity has on friendships in general. But after being back in AZ, I know that there's no reason to fret. If I can be gone for over a year, then come back & feel like I'm picking up where I left off, then I'll be OK.

But that doesn't mean that improvement isn't something I shouldn't strive for. I still feel disconnected from some friends, I've lost contact with many others, and I hardly make an attempt to visit friends even in my own city. I know I'm not a bad friend, but I'm not as good of a friend I used to be, regardless of how close or how far I live from them. I recently just got back in contact with a friend who I haven't seen in almost a year. She lives 4 miles away from me. We're both partially responsible for this, but there's no reason why that should happen between us, or between me & any of my friends.

As for family, that's something else. We're a disconnected family partially by design. In my case, I'm 11 years younger than my next youngest sibling, I have vastly differeny ideals & interests than most of my family, and we all have our own relationships and\or families that we're trying to manage as well. I can wish & hope & even try to make a stronger connection with my family, but it's more difficult with them because there's less to connect on - in some cases, our relation is really the only thing we share in common.

Again, though, that doesn't mean it's not worth trying, which is something I can't really say that I've done very well. My calls to them are less & less frequent, to the point that they're hardly made outside of birthdays. I still don't even know when my nieces' & nephew's birthdays are. But, above all, I just need to have a better attitude towards our relationships. For years, I never connected with my family because I focused on our differences. It's time to move past that & focus on what makes us the same - the fact that we are family. There doesn't need to be any other reason than that. I'm not naive enough to expect perfection - I know that'll never be the case. But I don't need to wait until one of them has a birthday to call them - I can call them just because they're my family.

Happy New Year to everyone. I'll have another post up later this week.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gimme Presents Now!

For many years, Christmas was about one thing to me; the accumulation of toys. I didn't appreciate the family aspect of Christmas at all. Who cares about going to church on Christmas Eve or having dinner with family the day after? Just give me my presents, and when you're done doing that, go find more presents to give me. I was such a greedy, selfish little bastard. I couldn't even wait until Christmas; I recall many years, when my parents both left for work early in the morning, waking up and going to search for the presents. The space under the headboard became their prime hiding spot, and I was usually able to locate most of my presents fairly quickly. I think they caught on to this because they started putting them into their closet instead. I remember one year I got really brazen and started looking through the closet while they were in the house. Unsurprisingly, my mom caught me, and seriously considered taking back all my presents. I wouldn't have blamed her for doing so.

Our family tradition was to open one present before church and the rest after church on Christmas Eve. As soon as we'd get home, I'd set up camp right next to the Christmas tree. Being the smallest and most agile of the group, I was responsible for handing out presents since I was able to squeeze under the tree & get the ones in the back. Once all the presents were passed out, we'd start opening them. It was a virtual guarantee that I'd be done opening all of my presents before most everyone started on their second present. Once I opened a present, I was more concerned with what was in the next box than I was with the gift in hand.

On Christmas, my grandparents would come over for dinner with their gifts. My mom's parents would come over with trash bags full of gifts. However, I learned early on that quantity did not translate into quality, as my gifts usually consisted of clothes that I would never wear or the same Children's Bible that I'd get every year. I don't recall what my dad's parents gave me, but I think it might have been a card with money.

I do have some other fond memories of Christmas that don't revolve around how many presents I got. I'm pretty sure that whatever cooking skills I have began with helping my mom bake Christmas Cookies every year. My first taste of alcohol was at Christmas time, when my brother would play his trick of giving me his Jack & Coke instead of my regular Coke. And there were a couple of years somewhere in there where I'd help my dad collect toys for the Child Crisis Center. But for the most part, my Christmas memories are categorized by the gifts I received, i.e. "The G.I.Joe Christmas" or "The Beach Cruiser Christmas".

When I started becoming too old for toys, Christmas started changing. Grandparents had passed away, my siblings started having families of their own, in-laws started coming to our dinner, and toys were replaced with more clothes. Clothes have always been a terrible gift idea for me. Not only am I very peculiar with my tastes, but at that age, I also wanted to be wearing what all the other cool kids were wearing. Brands like Stussy, Mossimo, and Guess. My mom would try her hardest to find clothes that I'd like, but it was always difficult because she wouldn't shop at the stores that carried what I wanted. Plus, she would always try to put me in clothes that she thought I'd look good in, and very rarely did our tastes match. I do remember one year when my mom was able to find stuff that I wanted at the prices that she wanted, and we both walked away from that one fairly satisfied.

Christmas also started changing for me when I started enjoying the gift-giving aspect of Christmas. One year, after I lucked into a monetary windfall of a couple thousand dollars from the passing of my grandmother's best friend who I'd never even met, I used some of the money to purchase gifts from my family. This same Christmas, my sister has lost her boyfriend & most likely future husband when he died in a car crash. I don't recall the whole story, but I remember there was something about a white dove at the scene of the accident & that being symbolic to here. I happened to find a music box of a white dove (music boxes were a big hit as a gift in our family for a while) and gave that to her. When she opened it up, she tried hard to fight back the tears, but she completely lost it when the box started playing. Apparently, the song that played was a song of theirs too. I'm not sure if I've given many more gratifying gifts in my life than that one.

After I graduated from high school, Christmas became a whole different scene. More often than not, my brother's place became the hosting grounds for our family Christmas. My brother left his wife for another woman, and we started incorporating their family with ours. Things were awkward for me for a while because I associated Christmas with my house, with my mom overseeing dinner, with our tree in the living room. I also started developing many new friendships around this time, and for a while, it was more important for me to participate in Christmas with my friends than it was with my family. There were a couple of years where I spent money on gifts for my friends but didn't have enough left over for my family.

If it isn't apparent by now, Christmas hasn't always been a warm, fuzzy holiday in our family. In fact, I've often felt that we've celebrated Christmas more out of obligation than anything else. We're not a deeply religious family (or in my case, at all, which I made known one Christmas when I got the courage to tell my parents I wouldn't be attending church because I didn't believe in God anymore), nor are we a close knit family. Christmas has been a time for us to get together as a family, but physically being in the same place doesn't always make us that much more connected. As it is today, we're still a family that distanced by internal struggle and a failure to communicate to each other at times.

Anyways, I've spent the past two holidays away from family. My first Christmas in Seattle, I was adopted into a friend's family for the day, and spent most of it watching movies followed by a bowling trip. I was still a newborn Seattlite, and not really truly knowing any of these people, I longed to be back home with my friends & family. Last Christmas was my first with my girlfriend. This was the first Christmas where I was actually in a relationship at the time, so of course, I showered her with gifts. We spent Christmas with a friend of ours by going to the movies and then out for Chinese food for dinner. I really did enjoy Christmas last year but it still felt out of place.

After being away from family for a while, I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of what Christmas is all about. Of course, I'm still showering my girlfriend with gifts, I'm still hoping & praying that I get things that I'll like, and I'll still probably get clothes from my mom that I probably won't wear. But I'm not letting my Christmas be defined by that kind of stuff anymore. This year will be my first Christmas with my family & friends in three years. I've put in overtime the past couple of weeks not only to have money for gifts for them, but just to be able to travel down there to begin with. I'll be able to catch up with all my friends that I haven't seen in over a year. And even though I don't believe that Jesus was born on Christmas day, I'll be back in church with my family celebrating it on Christmas Eve.

Don't get me wrong - I still love the gift-giving aspect of Christmas. I'm staring at the presents under our tree right now, wondering what Wac got me. But I'm not tearing off corners to sneak a peek anymore, I'm not searching through receipts trying to see what was purchased. There's an unwrapped gift laying in a Target bag next to me that Wac has told me not to look at, and I haven't even thought about it. In fact, I've been the one who's had to demand that we wait until Wednesday morning to unwrap our gifts (although we did break down and opened our one gift tonight instead of Tuesday night - I got some kick ass headphones & some CDs of bands I've never heard of but now enjoy). Maybe even as recently as 5 years ago, I would've been all over the idea of opening presents early. Now, it's just not the most important thing.

Maybe it's an effect of not being able to see friends & family more than twice a year anymore, but I guess I've finally come around to understanding the "true importance of Christmas". There's still that cynical side of me that thinks that Christmas is too commercialized, too consumer-driven, and celebrates the birth of a person who, if he really did exist, was no more than a great storyteller. I don't believe in Christmas, but I do believe in setting aside at least one day a year to be in the presence of those you care about, and if I have to call it Christmas to do that, then I'm willing to make that compromise.

So whatever Christmas means to you, I hope you have a good one. And to many of you....I'll see you later this week.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I realized sometime within the past 30 days that I haven't actually bought myself any CDs this year. Usually, I'm dropping $50 a month on CDs, if not more. The fact that I'd gone at least 11 months, if not more, without buying a CD was sort of disheartening. When I made this realization, I almost felt like I'd let someone down....I just didn't know whom.

There are a couple reasons why my CD purchasing habits have changed so drastically, and they're all sort of interwoven, but the main reason is that I just haven't had the disposable income this year to drop some cash on CDs (in fact, on at least two occasions, I've actually gone to the record store to sell CDs, and DVDs, that I no longer cared for). So, since I don't have the cash to get new music, all the music I've obtained this year I got via downloading for free. No, not "illegal" downloading either. I'm going to transition away from my story for a bit to explain this.

Downloading something for free is not, per se, illegal. Neither is downloading many things. There's this big misconception that the act of downloading is illegal. The truth is, providing the material for someone to download is illegal. If you look at all of the lawsuits that assholes like the RIAA have filed, you notice that every single one of those is for uploading or for hosting material to be downloaded. The reason Napster went down wasn't because they were downloading so much music, it's because they were actually hosting the files to be downloaded. Anyways, I could get into a much bigger discussion about that, which I may do at some point, but that's not the story for today.

Anyways, through downloading, I've been able to find a lot of new music that I wouldn't have had the means to find out about otherwise. New (to me) artists like St. Vincent (my vote for Album Of The Year), The National, Peter Bjorn & John, Girl Talk, as well as the latest albums from some of my favorite bands like Radiohead, Interpol, Arcade Fire, The Frames, The Shins, etc. I'll try to stay away from the argument for downloading tangent again, but in support of my actions, I should note that I bought tickets to see all of those artists this year, except for The national, PB & J, who I couldn't afford to see at the time, and Radiohead, because they haven't gone on tour.....yet. This is the basis for my argument for downloading - I could either give my $14+ to a record company for a product that I may or may not like, or get the music for free and invest my $14+ to see the band perform for free. I'll choose the latter any time. Again, I digress.

Despite my affinity for downloading music, I'd still probably spend the money buying more CDs anyways if I could afford it, and that's because I believe in supporting independent music stores. For years, I had the same dream that so many others have had - to own my own record store. It seems like it'd be the best job in the world (and High Fidelity confirmed this as fact), but the fact that CDs are a dying medium, as well as the truth that many others are doing a much better job of running a record store than I ever could, killed this dream pretty quickly.

I'm lucky enough that I have an incredibly kick-ass record store just two blocks away from my apartment - Easy Street Records. They have everything you'd want an independent record store to have - great selection, reasonable prices, a friendly staff, and they host in-store performances, it seems, at least once a week. They also carry a huge selection of used CDs, DVDs & vinyl as well. How can you not love a record store like this? I don't think of a record store as a store, I think of it as a place to hang out, a place to discover new music, a place that facilitates actual artists by giving them a place for the music to not just be sold but also heard & felt. In my opinion, an independent record store is just as vital to music performance as are videos & concerts. I have to emphasize "independent" here. Retailers like Best Buy & Walmart, corporations like Clear Channel & Viacom are a different story. They don't promote artists, they simply push product. What I'm talking about here are organizations like Easy Street, Sonic Boom, Amoeba, KEXP, etc. that help introduce new music that isn't just the latest product for you to buy.

As if I didn't need another reason to go to Easy Street, they were having a 20% off sale this weekend on EVERYTHING (excluding sale items). With a little bit of cash left over from working mega-OT lately, I walked down to Easy Street to fulfill my duty as a music appreciator. I had full intentions of buying a buttload of new music, but I got there too late and only had a half-hour to shop before they closed up.

I'm not sure if it was only partially or completely due to feeling rushed, but as I was browsing the store, I couldn't find anything to buy. I couldn't think of any new CDs that I wanted to buy or artists to check out. I found St. Vincent's album, but I didn't feel like investing my money in music that I already had, a problem I ran into many times over that night. When I did find music that I didn't have & wanted, it was already on sale, which meant no 20%. I went to the used section, but then I realized that I wouldn't save as much from the sale if I bought used, and what I did find used, again, I already had on my computer. So instead, I browsed the used DVD section, only to hear the announcement that I had 10 minutes left to shop. Dammit! I went back over to the CDs, found a couple that I really did want, and made my way out of the store.

If I had enough time, I could've spent hours in that store, or at least I'd like to think that I could have. I know I used to be able to, but last night, walking around in the store, I actually started feeling bored. Even though I'm happy with what I bought, I don't feel as excited as I used to when I bought new music. It almost feels like I bought stuff out of obligation - I found myself thinking many times "Do I really want to spend my money on this? I could just download it instead." CD shopping, and following music in general, has become a waning interest for me. I still get my daily music news & I try to get to as many shows as I can, but I just don't feel like I have the energy for checking out new artists like I used to. Honestly, that kinda makes me sad.

I do feel like the problem is mostly an economic one. If I could afford to, I feel like I could see myself spending more time in the record store. But I just wonder how much longer I have this in me. 10 years ago, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that music wasn't just a hobby of mine, it helped define me. The music I listened to influenced who I hung out with or how I felt about certain issues. Music has always been the soundtrack to my life (yes, I know how cliche' that sounds). Pull out any one of the CDs I have and I can probably tell you, pretty vividly in fact, the first memory that I associate with that album. Back then, I had few passions in my life that were bigger than music. Today, I don't know if I still feel the same way. I'm not quite sure what's changed that's made me lose part of my interest in music, but whatever it is, it's a bit depressing.

BTW, if you're wondering what I purchased:

Hvarf/Heim by Sigur Ros

Broken Social Scene presents Kevin Drew's Spirit If...

Werewolfs & Lollipops from Patton Oswald

A gift for Wac which I cannot say

Monday, December 3, 2007

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I've seriously written like three posts for this blog over the past couple of weeks, but once I finish, I don't feel like posting them. I do have some ideas for new posts that are going to sort of transform this blog, or at least make it more interesting than it has been lately. I'm not really surprised if everyone has quit reading, but for those of you that are, I think you'll enjoy it.

The weather has been ridiculous this past weekend
. We got our first snow on Saturday. I was working OT at our store in Bellevue so I didn't get to experience it that much. I did go walking in it on my lunch break. It wasn't sticking to the ground just yet, just to anything metal and to me. I was like a walking snow magnet. After living in AZ for almost 27 years, living in a place that snows every once in a while is still a novelty to me. I guess downtown Seattle got it pretty heavy too, and I missed out on getting to play in it, but hopefully we get some more before I go home for X-mas.

Since then, it's been non-stop rain. I think it's rained for 24 hours consecutively, at least. Today's been one of those days that reinforces the image that everyone who's never been to Seattle has in their head. The streets have turned into rivers, roofs have become makeshift Chinese Water Torture devices if you stand under them long enough, and hundreds of basements throughout the county have probably become indoor swimming pools today. Just walking from the apartment to the bus stop probably qualified as my second shower of the day. Yes, I have an umbrella, I just don't know where it is. Maybe Santa will bring me one...if I don't drown first.

I'm excited to go back home for Christmas - I leave in just over 2 weeks! It's strange to think that I haven't been home in over a year. Friends have had babies, others are making them, moms are getting skinny. It's like going home to Bizarro world. Of course, the pre-requisite trips to Casey Moore's, Cheba Hut & Filiberto's will be in order, as well as a stop at Peter Piper Pizza. If you're wondering...yes, it's quite possible that I miss the food more than I miss some of you.

On Christmas morning, we fly over to Riverside to spend the second half of the trip with Wac's family. I think we also have a trip to Disneyland lined up. The last time I'd been, Splash Mountain was still a pretty new attraction. I was also wearing a fanny pack & blue sunglasses at the time. Suffice it to say it's been a long time.

It's time to go to lunch. Hopefully the rain doesn't wash me away to Elliott Bay.