Saturday, December 29, 2012

Essay, Essay

I've dusted off high school, I think. I've come to love the form of the essay. Partly in thanks to George Saunders, George Orwell, Mark Twain, Daniel Pinchbeck, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Terrence McKenna, Tom Bissell, as well some of the live lit events in Chicago, I've discovered a peck in my tastes where the form serves as a fresh foray into the mind and experience of another. Like a documentary, yet through language play. High school, college, formal school in general can sometimes make us bitter to the form. The pressure of deadlines, grades, assigned topics that bore us, these things drive the idea of an essay into a negative crevice. 

As I've played with various personal essays, though selfish and self indulgent, and a myriad of subjects that intrigue me, I find myself reminded of the power of it. Sparked is an obsession to continue exploring the creation of my own little essays in the coming year. Like the Roman dude in the Little Caesars commercials running around saying, "pizza, pizza!" there is a little writer dude in me revving me up with "essay, essay!"

As a quick call back, there are some posts here on The Igloo Oven that I am quite proud of, and would like to bring them back to the forefront for a tiny bit, so they're not digitally buried as time moves onward. In 2013 I aim to knock out more that I'm proud of, and hopefully an evolution of these experiments. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Through the Last Synaptic Assignment

The end of times comes easy to our imaginations. Doomsday is ascribed to political discourse, relationship strife, petty incidents of inconvenience. Just the other day I accidentally dropped a hot dog on the floor of my kitchen and it was not a pretty scene. A rare hissy fit in the face of stress built from the day. The fiscal cliff fades to a joke as my rushed dinner rolls around in the mud I tracked in from the cold, December rain.

Here I am, December 22nd, 2012, writing. The end of the world did not happen. We may all be subtly both relieved and disappointed. Apocalypse is a cultural fantasy. It amounts to a wiping out of debts financial, emotional. All baggage blazed to ash. Start afresh in a new dimension. Though the prophecies were not taken seriously at large, I think most, if not all, of us can admit to thinking about the what ifs at least for a flash. I recently read 2012: The Return of Quetzlcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck as a pseudo reflection. The book explores the origins of the prophecy through myth and various interpretations by thinkers on the fringe. My take away is: I hope this date does transition us into a new Golden Age where creativity, rationality, and good will can merge into a way of life that is invigorating, refreshing across a wide spectrum of social class, seeping into behavior and policy organically through a cultural shift in value. We’re all hungry for something better suited to all of us, and frustrated, because we still cling to old perspectives on how to solve problems, even problems posed by new technology that may not apply to old frameworks. A greater change may come our way when we all lay exhausted from ideological battle, and our interactions slip to the slap happy, and we decide we like it there better.

The evening of December 20th I joined a friend at his holiday party. Enjoying beer in the 11 o’clock hour I found that time had slowed. I had checked my phone at 11:01pm. When I felt like it had to be getting well past midnight and I should be getting on home, I found that it was only 11:17pm. When I then felt as though, shit, it must be passed 1am, it was 11:40pm. I wondered, hey, maybe this is it, the final hour, rolling time into a slowed tube of perspective, my last synaptic assignment of consciousness? 

The next morning I awoke, December 21st, my commute was quiet, strangely so. Ah, a travel day for most with Christmas around the corner, easily explained away, though it had a flavor similar to the opening of The Walking Dead. I got out of work early, went home, read in my lazy boy until I felt sleepy. But it was an odd type of sleepy, and almost felt as though consciousness itself was just draining away from my cells. I once had a dream about the end of the world, where the universe technically expanded so far that it snapped apart, but instead of it being a violent experience, it was quite peaceful. Vision, sound, touch, all senses just faded as though the body was a biological movie projector reaching the end of a reel, no longer conducting the electromagnetic wavelength of experience. And it was actually beautiful. As I sat in my chair, feeling this ooze of sleepy, I thought on this old dream, and again wondered, is this how we go? 

I awoke from a quick nap maybe 15 minutes later, though it felt much longer. Groggy, I got up and wandered around my apartment. It was dark out, the neighborhood still, my girlfriend not home from work yet. It had that feeling at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey where Dave existed as an old man in that white lit home. What was that feeling; mystery, relaxation and loneliness melted into one new sensation? 

I picked up my phone to text her to see when she’d be home, but in looking at my recent text history I couldn’t find her name at first. And I briefly wondered if I awoke into a new dimension, and she had gone to another.

She arrived home 10 minutes later and my life went back to normal. The slow oozing of time squished back into the fast flow we’ve all grown used to. But the reprieve from being too tightly conscious of time as fixed rhythm, as I sensed in that hour at the bar, in the cat nap on my chair, is a taste of what we all may need to recharge our batteries, and help us recover from those moments where we feel so rushed from modern life we drop our hot dog on the floor and it rips doom into our tempers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bad Friday

The Connecticut shooting earlier wrests a gnawing in my gut this evening, as it does with many of you. A truly horrifying occurrence and just imagining what the families and community members affected must be experiencing brings pain. 

I do not believe there are simple solutions. Would tighter gun laws actually prevent something like this? Maybe it would help a little to slow a pissed off person from grabbing a firearm off a shelf. But someone warped enough to commit to a plan? Drug laws exist, but people find a way to get their hands on their desired goods. Someone hell bent on destruction can find a way. Arming teachers? Would a wild west shootout be a safer place for kids? Today's mass murderer killed himself in the end, I hardly think he'd be deterred by the possibility of being shot down. He had something dark to express, some awful impression he wanted to leave on the Earth, and so he did. Coming out unscathed, preserving his own life, doesn't appear to be on his malevolent itinerary. 

Perhaps an armed good Samaritan could have limited the damage and limited lives lost, yes, but damage would most likely still have to occur before another would become fully aware that a danger needed to be snuffed. So it's not as though arming everyone is a full on solution to eradicating violence. Unless we were all trained to have ninja reflexes and catch every bad action at the slightest inception of the act...even Superman couldn't stop every bad thing from happening, and he had laser eyes.

And the Trayvon Martin incident? Gang territories? Could concealed weapons create more travesty as hyper sensitive and paranoid fellows try to prevent travesty?

The incident, its causes, its symptoms, its prognoses are complicated, and knee jerk solutions have their devil's advocates. This may not be a time for I-told-you-so's to be flung from either side of the aisle.

When these shootings occur the question is thrown; "why would anyone do such a thing?" But the perpetrator is explained away as a monster. They may very well be one. But how is a monster made? Cerebral anomaly? Demonic possession? Weeks after James Holmes went on his rampage we all seemed to forget about him. No psychological lessons lifted as to explore a social cure, an antidote to the atrocious. Perhaps until we dig deeper with this question, turning it on it's rhetorical back, we remain open for frightening repetitions. 

It's easy to want to put ourselves on lock down after watching the news, to subconsciously write suspicion on other people's foreheads. We don't know them or their intentions, keep them at bay. But if we take it so far as to shut out and shut in, what cycles are reinforced? Sick stuff floats in the cold shock waves of alienation. There may always be bad people in the world, but at the risk of sounding like a hippie long since laughed away, a little social warmth may slow the poison from circulating, penetrating, infecting, and spreading.

The best course may really be to hold loved ones close, and not stop there, hold our communities close and make a deep mental note not to wait until events like these happen to remind the people around us that we're all in this, cruising through a flawed society, together.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Planets as Pluckers of Vibrations of Soul

The second day after I was dropped off at college I got plastered on vodka with some friends down the hall. Inebriated and lying on her kitchen floor, I was later informed I said to my new friend Hala, "you're so cool you could be your own planet."

I forgot about this laugh until a night last week when I got up to pee in the middle of the night and a bright light shone in through the glass-brick of the bathroom window. Thinking it was something out of the ordinary, a helicopter beaming down a search light possibly, a UFO, I opened up the vented portion of the window to peak out through the screen. It was the Moon. A bright ass Moon shining down.

I continued to think about that luminous body when I crawled back into bed. I started to think about planets in general. With many of these orbs screaming through space at high orbital velocities, with no climate or with a wicked and inhospitable atmosphere unsuitable for human life, I wondered what the fucking point of these celestial rocks were. Birthed by the condensing of pressurized particle, these beasts boast desolation.

In thinking about ghosts for a moment, suspending disbelieve, most accounts of haunt investigations point to spirit life being conducted through electromagnetic energy; high EMF readings, bodies of water nearby. A ghostly presence sometimes makes itself known through sound detected through devices capable of picking up a spectrum inaudible to the human ear. Or through cold spots, changes in temperature, or sudden bursts of object movement, fiddling with how our bodily senses perceive physical clues. An apparition is a rarity, utilizing tremendous streams of energy when it does appear. Different strokes of frequency for different quantum folks.

I began kicking around the far fetched and occult soaked without apology theory that perhaps any and all planets are indeed a locale for driving the energy of life. We're familiar with life forms on Earth and how we fit into the biosphere. I'm intrigued with a brewing notion I have that other planets drive life in different ways, on different planes, hosting hierarchies of spirit worlds that operate through a different wavelength of energy. The dense pressures of Jupiter and Saturn may crush human tissue but may be perfect for conducting the electromagnetic waves of a soul. The rings of Saturn may create the perfect gravitational force to draw such spirits. And let us not forget the odd hexagon that appears at the top pole of Saturn. Clean edges within a gaseous swirl are indeed perplexing to modern science, but may have causes and effects via different laws that would blow our mind. Oceanic or ice planets may conduct energy at different speeds than the gaseous giants and serve the cohesion of a type of soul we've never pondered before. 

Though crisp, rocky planets such as Mercury, or the moons of various planets may have no atmosphere, they are particularly battered with a shower of radiation, which may lay the arena for a level of spiritual dance that our telescopes have no way of catching. Perhaps the ancients were more advanced than us, more highly attuned as they ascribed planets to the status of Gods, tremendous hosts to the concept of a soul. Perhaps my drunken compliment to my friend was an unconscious acknowledgement of this age old fact that planets, as Pythagoras once claimed he could sit in a field and listen to the sound of them, are electric stages for phantasm operas. Something may have been plucking Gustav Holst's psyche as he composed and orchestrated The Planets, beyond astrological homage, but a possible yearning from a non-local segment of his higher self, struggling or partying as a ghostly plankton bobbing the depths of Neptune.

Planets could be immense tuning forks of consciousness, not just as astrological tugs on us Earthlings, but as places in and of themselves a sort of radioactive, organic, decaying cathode ray tube-like, balled up matter to be receivers of beings. 

And these burning stars, spinning hot plumes of radiation, these are the big leagues for the existence of the biggest, baddest, and most advanced of souls. Or, as we are a complicated species indeed, just because our bodies are smaller than a Red Giant, doesn't necessarily scratch us off the running for being the most advanced of incarnations. 

These are fanciful, "spacey" ideas, but as I close my eyes at night and sometimes wonder about what the fuck is out there, how mind blowing space, time, the age of the universe is, and whether I actually have a soul that will outlast this sometimes polluted body of mine, they serve as exciting fantasies to put me at ease as I drift off to a dream-state, anticipating hypnagogic gradations of immortality.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Madness & Groove

As a lad, I used to dabble with music. I played the piano, violin, saxophone, mandolin, guitar, but I never went all out with one instrument, mastering chord theory and harmonics, etc. And I wish I did. Ever more I recognize the power of sounds, not just via sweet melodies or tones, but also in textures. There are some textures that are quick to get under my skin, for instance a car alarm, or my girlfriend's grating blender.  Precise cacophonous sounds like these have the power to stop me in my tracks, and shut down my concentration in a deep, petty way. 

Yet sounds also have that power to sooth, such as water lightly bobbing and echoing in a tub, and excite - food frying. And complex music can wash away a rotten day, the gunky build up of angst addled karma. Since we're in the throes of Christmas now, I think of Nat King Cole singing O Holy Night. That song will forever give me the chills. 

And I wonder how exactly these sounds trigger us. They're like keys not only along the musical scale, but are buttons as on a garage door. Certain sounds are the pass code to unlocking behavior. Some combinations may work differently on the neural sensory pathways of different people. Some may not give a shit about Nat King Cole's rendition of O Holy Night and many may be un-phased when a blender is suddenly on and grinding at arrhythmic intervals. 

As music and sound can be recorded with physical means, such as grooves on a record, or magnetically (tapes) or digitally, these electromagnetic waves can get themselves etched in our unforgiving memories, intertwining with other pathways. I must have had a splendid Christmas one year with O Holy Night as background music. Perhaps as a child I had a bad run-in with a blender, and so anger floods now when a blender makes itself known. 

But I also stop to think about the potential of a collective unconscious sometimes, and how emotional reactions to music may not be so much clipped into personal memories, there's a reason why a million plus people get a deep kick out of seeing a certain musical group live.  They seem to melt with the progression of the music. I've had experiences like these, seeing and hearing a band for a first time. The music itself surely not background to an old memory, but a new experience, electromagnetically unlocking behavior. 

And I'm not alone in hating the sounds of grating things, or the sound of the car alarm that won't stop piercing awareness.

On a cosmic level, I wonder if energy patterns can act like grooves of a record, and certain chord progressions (I mean, B minor tends to make us all melancholic) excite the quantum particles along these unseen electromagnetic grooves. Since our bodies are electric conduits when it comes down to it, many of us will be swept up this burst of flow. But of course not all. Some, for whatever reasons of stress and neural shut down, may be closed to these channels, and so the wild behaviors and madness may not be sparked by the groove of a certain tune.

And the more energy sucked into the flow of the groove, the deeper it gets, until, it scratches. We get stuck for a bit, then we move on, ushering on new musical eras. But every once in awhile we discover that old cosmic record and it still possesses an ancient aural power over us. Stumbling upon the jukebox plugged into that mysterious Akashic record, we, for a moment, can go back in time, and lose ourselves.

And so I wish I had stuck with music. The architecture of sound, when mastered, can exert much control over people, for better or worse. I hope I don't come across as a mini Napoleon wanting to take over the world, more so I'm interested, at the risk of sounding like a hippie, how good music can save the world.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Safe For Tourists - Indie Incubator Screening

Our short film Not Safe For Tourists unfortunately didn't make it among the top 15 finalist picks in the National Film Challenge. But we still like our film, like supportive parents, we'd pin a blue honorable mention ribbon on its bulletin board.  Or give it a trophy with a plastic, gold looking movie camera on top. Though our friend Alex Gianopoulos of Ultimatum Pictures made it with his film The Missing Link, so we can't act like "we're too cool for the competition anyway and it's all political" because he's a good guy who makes good films. We hope he wins!

So, we're unveiling our piece at the Indie Incubator Film Fest tomorrow night. If you're in Chicago, you should try and check it out. 

Oh, and here is a trailer. Remember, this was written, shot, and edited in 72 Hours. I muddied my work shoes and got honked at by Metra conductor for this one! Wood Sugars Donny almost got hit by a train. And Wood Sugars Eliaz didn't sleep much over the course of that weekend. But we all got to eat pizza and play make believe on a nice October weekend, so goddamn it, we in turn are victorious after all.

Not Safe For Tourists [Trailer] - National Film Challenge from Wood Sugars on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Wednesday evening I settled in my living room to eat some leftovers and watch something on Netflix. I heard a piercing knock outside my apartment. I stopped, look toward the bay windows, but let it go, resumed my meal. Maybe it was the wind causing an odd creak. A few minutes later I heard it again. Followed by another tap against the glass of the window. Being on the second story, this resembled the romanticized activity of throwing pebbles to gain the attention from an object of desire. 

I stood up to look out the window, and sure enough their was a boy, late teens, serious face, looking up to window with seemingly dark intents. I shuddered at his intensity, as though he'd been out there for some time throwing objects up my way, ready to toss potentially a brick to make a hateful mess of shards. 

Awakened in me was a long standing fear of people outside my window. From a childhood dread of aliens hovering outside my window to beam me up and make cuts to my skin tissues, to the chatter of a neighbor across the street one day in my early teens reporting a strange man had been lurking in the woods behind her house. She had called the police, who chased the man off. To more recently, several years prior I had a falling out with a friend whom I feared may belligerently show up to my previous apartment, on the first floor, and break through the window to come bludgeon me in my bed. Though I did have one pleasant memory of a stranger outside my window, when I had first moved to Maine at 10 years of age, I was in my room and heard some rustling outside my window. I had looked down, saw a kid named Chip I knew vaguely from school. I went to down to see what was up, he and some other friends were playing hide and go seek. I soon joined in the game and made some new friends.

So Wednesday night with the sight of this guy I thought about turning off the lights and hiding. He continued to stare up at me as I debated retreat. To nip it in the bud, to learn more on the mystery of the encounter, I opened the window and asked, "can I help you?"

He walked closer to the gate and spoke, but I couldn't hear him. I repeated. He spoke, again inaudible. I noticed the storm window was down, I slid that barrier up and repeated my inquiry.

"What apartment does Angel live in?" He asked.

"Um, I don't know an Angel that lives in this building, sorry."

"I'm looking for Angel!"

"I don't know an Angel around here, sorry."

He continued glaring up at me.

Then he turned and ran across the street. I closed up the window, resumed my dinner.

A few minutes later I heard the door to the foyer below open, and then some footsteps coming up the stairs. My girlfriend had left for a Zumba class not too long before, and it would be another hour before she returned home. Who the fuck then was coming up the stairs, toward my door?! It had to be this guy unsatisfied for not having tracked down Angel! I thought about whether the wood of the door could withstand unreasonable ferocity. I scanned the room for a beer bottle in case defense was necessary.

A key inserted and opened the door. My girlfriend entered, her Zumba class having been cancelled. I told her how relieved I was, told her about the guy throwing pebbles and wanting to find a dude named Angel. 

"Weird, " she said. "When I parked my car there was somebody across the street staring up at our window." Timing wise, I placed this after he hustled off.

I went to the window, couldn't see him, but still fear there is an impulsive teenager out there who thinks somebody named Angel lives in my apartment and he'll stop at nothing to get what he wants from said Angel.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Being a King & Shit

I think I would like to be King someday! After nearly 3 decades as a living specimen trying to figure it out, I've found my vocation. I do have some royalty in my blood after all, so, I really should give this a shot. But, in this day and age of blowing our wad over the sweet sound of liberty and the sacred document handed down from God called the Constitution, I have to be very discreet. I've found a way to do this actually, I've been learning about this thing called an LBO. Stands for Leveraged Buyout. Where we restructure an institution, say a candy company, load them up with a shitload of debt, get my cut from that, but do that line of credit in that company's name, so they have to pay for it, hahahahaha. But I'll get really good with statistics, at least in presenting statistics so it looks like a pretty enticing package that anyone who is like "yeah, I want to grow my company!" will snack on, especially a candy company, ahahaahaha, 1 pun point for me.

But when the company starts to struggle because everyone start wising up to things like diabetes, and rising resulting health care costs, and so they try cutting back on candy, hell no am I going to not collect on my due profits, what do I look like a fucking idiot? So therein lies the next step to being a little King without everyone knowing it. We'll force the people doing all the work for me, hahahaha, to take pay cuts, or else we'll have to lay off staff because we're falling on hard times . If I'm effective here, I'll keep on raking in some sweet wealth and can have a ball living the high life of kings, while they take the hit and have trouble with the bills, oh well, in life there are winners and losers am I right? 

If the workers start getting a little testy though, which I've seen happen from time to time, I ain't going to shit my pants because I'm going to spin it like they're a bunch of fucking assholes trying to squeeze a bunch of money because they are so greedy and un-fucking-civilized, and would rather have no job than make a little less money. Then I'm going to turn the public on them, and then they'll be unemployed too, and I can turn the public on them even more. If this little plan B ends up being the case, it might even work out better for me if I want to be King, because then I can get rid of unions all together by making it look like they're raining on everyone's parade, because they're a bunch of thugs who only care about themselves and have no regard for what it would be like for an executive to have to eat lunch at an Olive Garden instead of the finest Italian trattoria. I mean think about how that would feel, that would be stupid embarrassing. Once I can get rid of the unions, then I can really start pushing that excessive government regulation, like minimum wages, are holding us back. I'll really do it up here, and say things like "oh the tyranny that is choking us job creators! We just want to help you by giving you jobs!" But what I really want is my own kind of tyranny by getting a real kind of liberty going that allows me to be tyrannical, now that's liberty brosef. Man, if I can just get people to work for me on food scraps from my feasts, that would be best for my bottom line and this is feasible if I can stir up enough shame to weigh them down on top of their own debt. That will really get me feeling overwhelmed with joy when I watch 4th of July fireworks because the freedom to be King without having to call it that, because I don't like labels, I'm hip believe it or not, man this kind of freedom is all I ever wanted. A little serfdom bringing in my surf and turf, hahahahaha.

I'm going to wish upon a star, maybe the headlights on a the limousine of a candy CEO heading to a bankruptcy hearing, hahaha, or better yet, I'll put this on my vision board, because dreams really do come true.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Election Day Exercise Schedule

I exercised today! Naw, naw, didn't go to the gym. But I did exercise my right to vote. Though I recognize this is only one smidgen of our duties as citizens, and that there is so much more I can be doing in my community, to continually participate in democracy. And I hope that no matter the outcome of our fevered contests, whether it's national or local, no one rolls over and plays defeatist like it’s all over. That's what pansies do, not 'Mericans. Get up and educate, respectfully persuade with your well thought out findings. Don’t blitz or relay messages you haven’t digested. That’s how propaganda gets its foot hold, tipping our emotions up and over like dominoes. Politics isn’t a football game, though it’s become its own genre in the entertainment industry, a hybrid of competitive sports and soap opera. Fascinating stuff.

If your party doesn’t win, instead of proclaiming half the nation a bunch of idiots, ask yourself if you did what you could to effectively communicate the meaning and consequences of your beliefs. 

Democracy isn’t a once a year thing when we show up at the polls. Let us get involved with our communities and get creative. Politicians are not our saviors, though their rallies draw the kind of reverence typical of a mega church. Election season is the Easter when the believers show up.

I’m just as guilty of all of the above as all of you. I am trying to be a better citizen. We can all do with a little reevaluating from time to time of the effectiveness of our citizenry, and better fend off societal rot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wicker Spook

Halloween is here. But spooky moments do their work on other days. In the mood of this holiday, I'd like to recount an experience left unexplained.

In 2004, I was roommates with my good friend and now Wood Sugars collaborator, Donny Rodriguez. We lived in a basement in Wicker Park; cheap rent, drafty, rat infested. On one occasion in the dead of winter we were both at a friend's party. Donny decided to leave before me, he said he was either going to his girlfriend's or to the apartment. He wasn't sure. I said okay, see ya later man. 

When I got home and unlocked the door, I couldn't open it. I double checked that I had indeed unlocked it. I had. The door handle rotated. As far as the deadbolt, I had in fact turned the key away from the door frame. I heard it click. It still wouldn't open. Thinking maybe he had returned to our apartment, I knocked. No one came to the door. I knocked on his window, to the right of the front door. No answer. I called him. It went to voice mail. Panicked, it was cold out, I threw my body against the door a few times until it gave way.

I found that there was a third lock in place. We had a metal latch similar to what you'd use to close a bathroom stall, where a bolt shaped rod dips into a hole in the door frame, and you rotate the rod up and back, clasping the thumbtack shaped handle into a gap in the metal to hold it in place.  We had never, ever used it.  A deep gouge had marked the door frame where it had ripped along after I had body checked the door in. I called out to Donny, checked in his room, he wasn't there. If he had in fact come home and locked it, he couldn't have left. We had bars lining across our windows. In the rear of the unit we had a storage room with a little door out from there to a backyard. But there was an accordion style iron grate locked via combination lock from the inside

Whatever locked that clasp had to have done it from the inside. And no person visible was inside. 

Later that summer I was watching a movie during a hot, humid afternoon. We didn't have air conditioning. But I felt a quick cold chill run through my body. Then the kitchen light went out. I got up and checked it out. The light switch had physically been lowered. I was able to turn it back on, it wasn't a burn out situation. 

As I mentioned, it was a rat infested shit hole. Quite a few rats had lost their lives in traps. Maybe their rodent spirits never left. Or, this Donny character we're all friends with is indeed a specter still fucking with us. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Post Production, Pressure and a Partisan Viewing Party

We've been idle on the short film front Wood Sugars-wise so we decided to do the 72 Hour National Film Challenge. The procedure was: Friday night we were assigned a genre, a prop, a character name and a line of dialogue. Then we had the weekend to write, shoot, edit, and send our DVD entry post marked by the end of the day Monday. You'll see the particulars of our assigned components soon enough, hopefully we'll be selected in the top 15 to be hosted on their website, in which case you'll get to vote for the best. If not, we'll release it somewhere. We're proud of it. It's our most action packed piece yet. 

I wish I could tell you some crazy filmic horror story that would put us on par with Hearts of Darkness: The Making of Apocalypse Now but it was a smooth production. Actually, I don't wish that. The stress of that would not be good for something I'm going to talk about here in a minute. But ideas were flowing well Friday night in our Wood Sugars pitch/writing meeting. When we sat down to write, words and beats flowed. And Saturday we found a beautifully weird patch of woods along the Chicago river accessible by a running trail to shoot an "outskirts" scene. The Original Mother's Bar was very nice to accommodate us with use of their bar before opening, and their offices. Cast and crew members were on time, quick to learn lines, and deliver. As a result, we all had a blast, and we were able to create something cohesive without any arguments or meltdowns. We all got a little sleep too. Much credit goes to Eliaz Rodriguez, who has really set out to develop himself as a freelance videographer, so his experience organizing other shoots and pumping out concise edits in a short amount of time has grown extraordinarily. And because of his reserve in staying up late to stitch the piece together and make everyone look good, I was able to show up, write a little bit, act a little bit, and do some minimal production stuff. To really dig in and play a part in a scene without the mental balance being tipped toward other production tidbits was quite cathartic. 

The most stressful scenario for me was when we shot a train track fight sequence, we had to hop the fence and shoot along the Metra. There were of course some signs saying "No Trespassing." When a passing Metra sounded its mega horn, Donny and I were fearful of us being called into "authorities" and I kept thinking "a fine for trespassing is not what my finances need right now." But we got it done without hassle. And it's a swell sequence.

After work on Monday a co-worker and I went to an event at this space in Chicago called 1871, which is this rad place on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart, basically a shared office space where small digital start ups can pay a small monthly membership and have a slick work space, and access to a community of other like-minded entrepreneurial folks. We've been to some lively events there before, but with the final presidential debate and the Bears game, it was a thin crowd. There was this machine there that calculates blood pressure, body mass index, etc. So I tried it, and it told me I have High blood pressure, 153/101. When I looked it up later, I saw that my score is pretty damn close to Stage Two Hypertension. I'm realizing that maybe I need to fucking watch it. My health that is. Who knows, the machine might have been fucked up, I did have about 5 glasses of wine beforehand. But, I wouldn't be surprised if it was dead on. I do stress easy. I'm a worry wort. I let little things get to me, sweat the small stuff. 

But what did I do right after? My co-worker and I thought it would be interesting to go to the bar English where the Young Republicans of Chicago get together to watch the debates, to check it out, for shits and giggles. A good idea for a man with high blood pressure? It wasn't as rowdy as I expected, although they were quick to clap for Romney and guffaw at Obama. It had the same fervor of a football game, and ho, behold, on a TV screen right next to one casting the debate, was the Bears/Lions game. A different form of two on two. If the debate footage was turned off and the viewers kept their same reactions, it would be fitting that perhaps they were just watching the football game. I do get the gut sensation that national partisan politics is just one big fucking sporting match-up. 

There was a Black man in the corner by the pool table watching it all. He wore a full Cubs uniform, in fact I think he might some guy who does that often, that's his thing, wearing a Cubs uniform around town, I feel like I've met him at a bar before. He clapped after Obama's closing remarks. And I wanted to join him. But I didn't have the courage, not at a place like the gathering of Chicago's Young Republicans. So I winked at him, like thinking I was letting him in a little secret, that I was an Obama supporter too infiltrating this little meetup, but I don't think he saw my wink. I think he just saw me look over at him, like I was a little partisan dick shooting him a glance to stop his enthusiasm for the current administration. 

I finished my beer and left, thinking about how I might put into motion the lowering of my blood pressure.

I've begun eating oatmeal every morning, and am starting to do deep breathing exercises throughout the day. And I've stopped drinking coffee after lunch. My 5 or so cups a day might be what's egging the high score on. I've switched to tea. Update: I feel a little calmer. But I also feel more depressed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Back pain caught up to me throughout the week; a combination of sitting at a desk most of the day with negligent posture, and an accumulation of items in my man bag (books, sweater, hat, Chicago Readers) weighing down on my shoulder during my commuter trot. By Friday it was a distraction. So I distracted myself with a hot shower, lathered up my back with an herbal alternative to Icy Hot, and then sat in my lazy boy recliner with my massaging heat pad I got last Christmas. It put me in a trance. I kind of sat there all catatonic, with my mouth open, just looking at things, for possibly a couple of hours. 

I then decided to fill the void in my sedated brain with hours of videos on YouTube about conspiracies surrounding The Secret Space Program. I was kind of hoping when I'd drift off to sleep that I'd get to lucid dream explore old structures on the Moon left behind by the ancients. There's this one video on YouTube called Aliens Come From Hell that showed pretty convincing footage of an Apollo Space crew exploring some Moon ruins. Supposedly top secret leaked footage. My catatonic Friday energy suspended my disbelief for the evening and so I sauntered around outside for a few minutes hoping to look at the Moon in awe and think about that place haunted by aliens but it was cloudy. 

I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore and went to bed but I didn't have these trippy Moon dreams. I think I dreamed I was in a traveling theatre troupe stopping off in my mom's town of Lexington, MI and my dream's super-objective was getting my mom to cook some very heavy feast. And I think she did, which put me into a mini coma in the dream and I didn't remember any other dreams after that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thought, Character, and Crises

Two big causes of economic problems seem to be rooted in: 1) lack of understanding of finance (both personal and business). 2) lack of ethics. Many lack one or the other or both. Those who lack number 2 often use it against those who lack number 1. These people are mixed in the workings of both the public sector and private sector. So to say either or knows best without acknowledging this perpetuates a back and forth war of ideology. And doesn't remedy any roots of problems. Perhaps a step toward giving future generations a leg up is to actually incorporate addressing these roots as required courses in public school. I know in my K-12 experience I was never taught anything about loans, credit, retirement savings, insurance, etc. I was lucky to learn this from my family, and through their advice when suddenly having to deal with it. Many aren't so lucky as to have family to fill in this gap. And schools may teach manners and basic citizenship, but what about an in-depth study of ethics, and situations in the history of the market place, where disregard of ethics caused serious, harmful consequences? We can try whatever quick fixes political parties want to fight for to boost the economy. But if these elements of thought and character aren't developed further, harsh crises will always be ingrained in cyclical, moody monetary swings.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Votary Nerves - released!

My latest novel, Votary Nerves, is now available. The soft launch has rolled forth. You can order it in paperback and for the Kindle. I might be biased here, but you should totally buy a copy. It's nutty, it's strange, it's personal. And it would mean a lot to me if you read it, maybe dog eared a page or two.

From Votary Nerves:

My dreams that night did not condone rest. Ever see a man with translucent skin? I did. I have dreamt of him many times before. Bright images ticked and shined through his epidermis. And he was loud. Static danced and burned my eyes and I wanted nothing to do with him. He was the terrorist I liked to call Televisor. He was apt to pin people down and force them to watch his heartbeat the images of Nagasaki in repeat. He desired to do this until everyone resigned to go live in a world built from television scraps that grew from the Earth by copper vines. I blamed the dreams on my dad for thinking it necessary to collect televisions that bulged our retinas.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

I've Got Some Nerve

Some news.

The novel manuscript I've been tinkering with for 3 years now has come to completion. Votary Nerves is coming around the corner.

In 2009, while I was revising Turban Tan and prepping it for publication, I decided to do the NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that November. So I set a little chunk of time each night to pound away at something a tad stream of conscious. I started to pre-plot and outline an idea but threw it out in favor of surprising myself.  And I feel I successfully surprised myself. The only notion I had in mind to explore was "high school" for better or worse. I had at the time realized I never wrote a story revolving around a high school aged character. Even while I was in high school, I was writing about adult characters, because I thought them more interesting. At the time I had just watched Freaks and Geeks on DVD and re-watched Twin Peaks. There was a sort of fresh recklessness I found myself drawn towards through watching high school characters get themselves into trouble. In remembering my high school days, despite the lack of actual stakes in the grand scheme of things, at that time in my life, everyday was fucking vivid. And so my interest was piqued in that sort of naivety, and a perspective infused with curiosity and a tendency towards hysteria. 

So I started writing, and soon a story emerged involving the death of the narrator's father. I myself lost my dad to cancer the summer after I graduated high school. I didn't necessarily set out to write about that, but things spewed, and a different exploration dug itself into my story. A fantasy evolved. After my dad passed away, I experienced little waves of inexplicable anxiety. But I felt I handled that period of my life with some semblance of grace and even temperament. So I thought while writing, what if I handled that anxiety with extreme resignation to my quaking nerves? Out of all of my fiction so far, this one is the most personal. It's certainly fiction, but there are autobiographical nuggets peppered in throughout, and that makes it actually pretty scary, for me, to release. But I decided it was time. The proverbial "they" say to do thing that scare you. Well, here we go.

The first draft was raw and all over the place. It took some time to reshape and fine-tune into something readable. It morphed into some other variations. I played with a section of it to perhaps try as a solo performance piece, and even played with a screenplay version. Both were helpful in developing the voice and action of the piece, but ultimately I brought it back to prose form, because I felt it was the more appropriate medium for experiencing the story from the narrator's head, especially with some of the cerebral, hallucinatory aspects I wanted to keep.

I recently wrapped edits, artwork, and formatting for this bad boy. The release is imminent. 

Notes on the release. There will be a soft launch and an official launch. The soft launch will be very, very soon. Soft meaning, you can order it in paperback and Kindle editions via the internet. The official launch will be in early 2013 and will involve distribution to independent bookshops and a big launch party followed by a little book tour here in Chicago. If that goes well, maybe I'll run around with it in different corners of America.

Stay tuned for my baby, Votary Nerves.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poon Men

Today, athletes caught doping are left with widespread shame, and in some cases, life time banishment from competing. I don't necessarily feel sorry for them, they cheated. However, it is a game they have dedicated themselves to, and dope tainted life blood should have some sort of recourse. The story of the redeemed athlete is a highly charged one.

Let's look to the effects of space travel for a second. Space men must spend considerable time exercising lest their muscles deteriorate due to zero gravitational conditions. Sinews become strands of jelly.

If we wish to be draconian in our sporting consequences, when the days of easy space departures and arrivals are part of our infrastructure, I predict a system of reprieve and amnesty for physical short cutters in the athletic-sphere. 

In a platinum made moon, a small capsule for a scrunched body, an athlete can spend in orbit of the Earth for X amount of days, restricted from exercise, until his muscles have deteriorated. Then, when he returns to the ground, his training will be re-set. If he wishes to be a champion once again, he must re-invent his musculature.

There will be a subculture of these athletes knocked back a plethora of pegs, self made underdogs, training to get back to where they were, if possible, and beyond, if possible.

Reality TV can launch its own game system, following these disgraced competitors, these platinum moon-men, or Poon-Men, turn their sporting sins into a feat worthy of a new multi-billion dollar docu-drama genre.

Since athletes are masochists, deteriorating muscle in outer space orbit will not tickle their minds as painful. They will be tempted to cheat as to be kicked into this circuit, or better yet, paid by a sponsor to plunge into the challenge regardless, even if they were most pure in their resume of competitions.

Spectators will be glued to the handicapping process because the story of the come back kid has always been more compelling than the seeming alpha male who was born an ace at the game of his choice.  Someday, we'll have the technology to do epic things with the downfall of an athlete.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Guts of Education

Dear politicians, 

I don't fully understand your plans for education. At least in the sense of how they're going work for the betterment of a learning environment. 

So, getting ahead?

In Chicago, 160 schools don't have libraries. Is not addressing that part of the plan to help kids meet and exceed reading standards? How do you get kids excited to explore books and foster their reading skills? Especially since there aren't any Borders around, don't use free market economics to say they can go to the store and get some books. Especially in the case of poor kids. Many don't have playgrounds for recess, or gyms. Running around and playing has been backed by psychologists as important for developing creativity. By limiting such, as well as art, music, drama. Is this how we're going to prepare the next generation of innovators? And on another note, keeping health care costs down, by allowing a lack of opportunity for physical fitness for many youths slide, will this prepare them for a healthy lifestyle, or does diabetes, heart disease and obesity not weigh down health care costs?

Back to the topic at hand. Longer hours, less pay, larger class sizes for teachers and punishing them if their students don't do well on standardized tests. Bogging teachers down, exhausting them, riddling them with fear, is this going to keep everyone sharp in the classroom? Is this going to attract the best and the brightest to make a career in the classroom, or should we take advantage of the good nature of dedicated teachers who already donate extra time outside of scheduled classes and chastise them for not doing enough? Mush mush!

I don't know...if you have information proving that these things promote academic success, do sell us on it, please. Instead of harassing teachers behind closed doors and villainizing them when they stick up for themselves. You talk about how times are tough, how we need to share in the sacrifice. Rahm Emmanuel, his school board, his CEO, his executives all have their salaries preserved and off the cutting board. 

Anyway, I'd really like to know how your education plans are going to work. It's all rhetoric with a framework of cheapening, at least as far as what you're currently showing us. No real specifics are being laid out by your campaigns, aside from an agenda of trimming and scaring teachers while waving pictures of children with puppy dog eyes. Ah, the emotional appeal, kind of a redundant tactic. Lipo-suctioning the guts out of educational resources doesn't excite me personally. Show us differently, please.


Jeff Phillips

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Elephant Conquest

My sophomore year of high school I felt the itching of rebellion and drifted into a subtle bad-ass stage, or I should say, attempted to promote the appearance of one. I didn't have the balls to really get in trouble, but I did little things to sprinkle my angst into the world. When the new Super Wal-Mart opened, my friends and I would go there, fill up a shopping cart with ice cream, some perishables and other items throughout the store and then just leave it in some aisle. I justified this asshole move to myself since I worked at CVS at the time and my favorite task was restocking the returned/discarded bin around, so I could zone out and not talk to people. 

I also found myself apt to doodling. I particularly enjoyed drawing big, powerful elephants. I thought it was a beautiful animal, thought it could maybe be my power animal. I would doodle these elephants using a sharpie on the cafeteria tables where I had study hall. I fantasized that if I was ever working some corporate job, the greatest rebellion would be to max out the company credit cards on the purchasing of many elephants to be delivered on the vicinity. A kind of fuck you for no specific sake, fueled by the movies that came that year with anti-corporate tones; Fight Club and American Beauty. Amped up by the Fugazi albums I was absorbing. 

I wasn't truly sure why the elephant was this power symbol to me. I could look to other cultures and their spiritual representations. Ganesh for example, the elephant headed god in Hinduism. The collective subconscious maybe. I changed my AIM screen name to RadElephant. But when my friends noticed and asked me if I was Republican because I was so into elephants, I was immediately embarrassed by my oversight. I had forgotten this beast was the symbol of the Republican party, and here I was spreading their image around thinking I was cool, thinking I had a thing of my own. And if you're not a young republican, whoa man, being young and thought of as a Republican kind of hurt. Especially if you thought you were parading anti-corporate ideals. What a fucking misunderstanding, I thought. Why'd they have to go claim that beautiful animal, man? But I wasn't rooting for the other side necessary, I was voting for Ralph Nader in my school's mock election. 

The two party system is a chess match of driven blockage, finding opportunities to push through moves. But democracy isn't, or shouldn't be a mashing board of opponents knocking down the other side's pieces. Democracy should consist of many voices, having a say, and coming to a reasonable accommodation of each other's liberties and wishes. Democracy, if it were a game board, should look more like a Chinese checkers board with all the marbles intermingled, independent in one's own pock space, multiple views competing, just as fierce, yet co-existing beside a marble a bit different from itself because it has to interact, it doesn't have huge mob of buddies to back its arrogance. I speak like a Millennial, in the gyst of "everyone is a winner" because that's what democracy is, correct? Everyone having a say? Being a participant? Shouldn't capitalism thrive off of more options? Or does plan A or B suffice for our desperation? Platforms pieced together by desperation, because previous platforms laid the groundwork for desperate situations. The longer the two party system persists, the more losers we will accumulate, players checked and placed aside, forgotten about, because the game then focuses on taking down the other's King. One side muttering "dirty, bleeding heart liberal..." and the other muttering "heartless conservative greed ball." Each piece is pressured into accepting the aspersions of their side and bouncing fiercer ones back. 

Like a football game in perpetual overtime...

Stalemate, exhausted eyes, pissy spirits that don't want to play anymore but are obliged to keep on tearing up the grass while supporters pin on them their championship dreams. 

I am a political news junky in the way one is hooked on a soap opera.  The political arena is indeed a soap opera, but with actual consequences.

But the reasonable players keep my attention and earn my enthusiasm. And there are those players not so reasonable, they become villains, but not before declaring their opponent the villain.  They're less so playing for an underdog's cause. They're playing to win for themselves, maybe because there are certain monetary stakes, reelection funds, and that obsession makes for inconsistent, sloppy moves. The idea of winning becomes too important, fantasies of knocking out the opponent is the objective at hand. It causes them to drool it excites them so damn much. Solid strategy goes out the window. I like seeing smart defense when the offense is erratic. Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC was delightful.

I'd like to see a third party called, The Reasonable Party. Strength in conviction is a virtue to a degree, it's important to stick up for what we believe is right, apathy isn't a good option either. Standing up, voicing opinions is respectable until one party becomes blinded by the full speed of their quest that they forget other's have points of view. And rather than bolster up their own cause with supporting evidence and case studies, the energy of one's conviction is spent on belittling other perspectives because they may not understand them, or realize that asking to be understood themselves may be an effective strategy, because if another side is so fervent against them too, perhaps they aren't being understood either.

The fervent dream of an elephant conquest for an elephant conquest's sake is civically nauseating. And without effectiveness, much like my rash markered etchings on cafeteria tables. The recent Tea Party rally cries reminds me of my own rebellious immaturity at age 16. Perhaps the party should go all out, max out their coffers on a parade of elephants, shitting in the streets, making a dire mess of everything, so the extremism will mellow post overdose.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blood Doper, Mid-flight Toker

As the Olympics were in full force I thought of something I think about every Olympics; blood doping.  I remember watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics with my brother, footage from a cross country skiing event, and a Spanish skier named Johann Muhlegg dominate the competition. He finished well ahead of any other skier. As I was a competitive cross country skier at the time for my high school team, seeing him finish beyond strong was inspiring to me. I thought, this guy might be my new hero. I was jacked for my next meet.

Then it came out that he tested positive for blood doping. He got his medal taken away. And he wasn't really my hero anymore.

Blood doping is the act of injecting additional red blood cells into your blood stream for a short time to increase your body's ability to carry more oxygen to its cells, upping your energy, endurance, making for a great performance. Blood doping emerged in the 1970s as a practice among athletes, and it wasn't banned in the Olympics until 1986. That gave Olympians a good decade and a half of being, as a British commentator would say, "bloody unstoppable."

Blood doping is a strange thing. My brother explained to me that going from a high altitude to a lower one is a natural form of blood doping. Sans needles and infusion. When I went to visit him in Golden, Colorado several years ago, having gone from Chicago, which is pretty much at sea level, up to the mountains where the air is thinner, my body started to, after a few days, create extra red blood cells to adapt to the thinner air. Less oxygen was getting in through my lungs, so my body found a way to even things out through overcompensation. As more red blood cells were created, more oxygen could be passed along from the lungs. When I went back to a lower altitude, my body having more blood cells than normal, but also a higher concentration of oxygen in the air, my blood was getting a real treat, sending around a real rush. Unfortunately, my time to experience this was on the tarmac as major airport delays caused us to sit for 4 hours waiting to take off again from a lay-over. Sitting still was a mad joke. Irritation danced from inside my skin as the likes of splintery clogs. I had the energy of 1,000 hormonal teenagers, each having chewed 1,000 espresso beans. And I got to just feel it, sitting strapped into my middle seat, waiting for clearance. 

When I was deep into method acting, I once wrote in a journal that if I were to ever play a famous figure that was still alive, that a true hardcore commitment to taking on this character would be to inject their own blood into my veins and dive into the scene with it in circulation. This was a vampire-ish idea, and certainly can highlight the notion that acting is in a way based on sucking the personality of others, not sure if I ever planned on doing this, but my imagination did explore the notion. I no longer method act. Not to say that I never will, but the concept I jotted on my thespian bucket list was a creepy one that I won't be aiming to infuse into any approach to walk around in the character's theoretical shoes. But, I would like to see that performance, if say Johnny Depp, while hanging around with Hunter S. Thompson before shooting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, had also been taking Hunter's blood for a spin in his body.

One summer, while visiting my old hometown, a former cross country ski teammate mentioned to me that one of our other teammate's second cousins was a nutritionist for a famous band's bass player and that she helped him blood dope. When I mentioned I heard this to that teammate on AIM she wasn't too happy that this knowledge was going around, so I am refraining from mentioning who it is. But based on the feeling I had sitting on that airplane with extra red blood cells to go around, I can see blood doping turning a stage presence into a scary and jolting experience. If Jon Voight had circulated the blood of Howard Cowsell in Ali, new meaning would be given to embodying the character. And if blood doping were a thing at punk rock shows, look out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pumpkin Progress

I tried my hand at growing pumpkins in my backyard this summer in hopes to harvest the fruit and use in a batch of home brewed pumpkin ale this fall. I'm worried, though, about the plant actually bearing fruit. We're half way through August, have been getting some beautiful flower action, but no fruit yet. After WebMD-ing the state of my pumpkins in various pumpkin grower forums, it seems from the similar experience of others, lots of flower blooms, no big orange fruit, the soil may have too much nitrogen! There goes my thoughts of letting the luscious plants decompose right in the same spot to fertilize the soil for next year's go around. Because compost creates a nice quantity of nitrogen, I believe. I have a lot to learn and research about micro, urban gardening. 

It also seems my pumpkins may be suffering from what's called "powdery mildew" as it looks like the leaves have been dusted with baking soda. I can expect the leaves to start dying soon. Next door, on the other side of the fence, our neighbors have a little circular pool. Not a kiddie, wading pool, but not a big, big pool. But it's a pool, and I assume some chlorine. I wonder if some pool splashes seeped through the wooden fence gaps and coated the leaves, making them susceptible to some fungus spreading. But, before I go blaming neighbors for my pumpkin's disease, I learned in the forums that I should not have been watering the leaves themselves. And all through the summer I'd give them good splashes from the hose, thinking I was cooling them down, since they were sitting out in the hot sun burning like fair skinned Irish kids. But their outdoor activities caught them a variable case of athlete's foot that no fungus cream can treat. 

If I don't get any fruit, I can rest knowing that my plants probably created a smidgen of oxygen for our fine atmosphere. I learned that the average plant leaf creates approximately 5 mL of oxygen for every hour it is photosynthesizing. I counted about 100 leaves on my pumpkin vines which have taken over a stretch of my backyard. And let's say they're in the sun for maybe 8 hours a day? 11-7 at its angle. A good eight hour workday. 100 x 5mL x 8 =  4000 mL, or 4 liters! If my calculations are correct, my pumpkins are creating about two 2 liter bottles of oxygen a day. 

Next time you breathe, you could be sucking in a bit of my pumpkin's progress.