Monday, March 28, 2011

Good Entertainment...

...should inspire. At least, that's what I think.

And I'm not talking about the "gee, I should really turn my life around and be a better person" type of inspiration, though that's not a bad result for entertainment to have. No, I'm talking about the type of inspiration that leads to new ideas. Creativity.

I just finished watching the second season of Dollhouse on DVD. Literally just finished. Two minutes ago. It inspired me for story ideas for a book series idea that's been slowly developing in my head. And on paper. I'm not stupid enough to think that I can keep track of all the ideas I have for it in my head. I write it down.

There are two television creators who have been truly inspiring. For me anyway. One would probably be rather surprised to mentioned in the same sentence as the other, and the other is dead. Joss Whedon and Jim Henson. Joss created Dollhouse, Firefly, Angel, Dr. Horrible's Sing-along-blog and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jim is most know for the Muppets, and rightly so. However, he also came up with Sesame Street, the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The one thing Jim has over Joss is that, at least to me, he is the "better person" inspiration as well as creative inspiration.

What works do I find inspirational? Let's see. The Muppet Show. Dollhouse. The Dresden Files series of books by Jim Butcher. Starman by James Robinson. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan. Top Ten by Alan Moore. The Nightwatch series of books by Sergei Lukyanenko. Bestiario by Julio Cortázar. Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro. Singin' in the Rain (not sure of the director or writer). M*A*S*H (the TV series). Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

There are many others, I'm sure, but that's a pretty good sample.

I like it when I'm reading a book or watching a DVD and I have to stop so I can write down a brainflash I just experienced. I'm sure it'd be rather annoying for those around me who aren't having the brainflash, but that's ok. I'm sure they'll understand. Or tolerate it.

It's not surprise that those works I find inspiring are also generally emotional experiences for me. I like having an emotional connection to my entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy "mind candy" as much as the next person, but I enjoy the cerebral element of entertainment so much more.

I just finished watching Dollhouse on DVD, but the inspiration it gave me is going to take me places I can't even imagine right now.

And that is good entertainment.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Alan Moore...

Honestly, I'm not sure where I stand on the great comic book geek opinion scale when it comes to Alan Moore.

He's generally regarded as one of the greatest comic book writers ever, and is almost certainly the most influential. Personally, of the other writers on that list, I greatly prefer Neil Gaiman, but that's not the point.

See, Mr. Moore's status is generally derived from one particular work: Watchmen. It was a twelve issue series published monthly during 1986. Right around that time, Mr. Moore also wrote V for Vendetta and From Hell. All considered masterpieces, and they've all been turned into movies. I've never read V for Vendetta or From Hell, so I can't really comment on those, but I don't really like Watchmen. I can see why other people do, but it's just not my thing. It has compelling characters, unexpected plot twists and simple vibrates with story power.

I can't put my finger on precisely what it is that makes me not like Watchmen. The art is really well done. The story is just so dense. Maybe some day I'll try reading it one chapter a week. Space it out. See if that helps.

Honestly, my favorite work by Mr. Moore is Top Ten. It's a twelve issue series about the police force for a city where everyone is a superhero or villain. Everyone. It's a great idea, but where the book shines is the character work. These characters are all so fully realized. None of them is a one-dimensional parody.

There is one character, not even my favorite, but when she dies, I choke up. Every time I read the book. Sometimes I can't even see the page.

Mr. Moore also writes the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, wherein some famous literary characters, such as Mina Murray, Allen Quartermain, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are a team of agents working for the British Government. It's a brilliant idea and well executed. They made a movie, but it was rather awful, in my opinion.

Mr. Moore also has some works that I want to read. Promethea for one. I have no idea what it's about, but every review I've read raves about it, but can't really describe it. That intrigues me.

I kind of want to read Lost Girls, but I don't think I ever will. The basic premise is that Alice, Wendy and Dorothy get together and recount their sexual exploits. In an interview, Mr. Moore said something to the effect that he wanted to write literature that was porn. I don't know if I'll ever know if he succeeded.

When you see pictures of Mr. Moore, he comes off rather frightening. Huge beard, long bushy hair, circles under his eyes, rings and talismans on each finger. And he's a practicing witch. But he's rather soft spoken and gracious. I listened to a recording of a radio interview he did when Lost Girls came out. He sounds like a happy, friendly Brit. And I'm sure he is.

It'd be interesting to sit down with Mr. Moore and chat with him, but I have no idea what I'd say or ask. At the very least, I wouldn't ask him about Watchmen, which would be somewhat refreshing for him, I'm sure.

I'm fascinated by Alan Moore, but he's not my favorite writer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Started...

...The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

The first chapter completely blew my mind. I never thought that the description of an Oklahoma dust storm would so thoroughly captivate me.

I can't wait to read the rest of the book.

On the subject of reading, I don't think I'll be able to get through my entire collection before I move and get married. There's just too much to read. So, what I plan to do is read the books I own that I haven't read. I think there's about twenty. In English anyway. Very do-able. Then I'll re-read more books. At some point I'll get through my foreign language books, too.

And, of course, I keep buying new books. It's like a disease, or an addiction. And I don't want to be cured. Or rehabilitated.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How to Complain...

...without making your customer service person want to kill himself.

I honestly think that "The customer is always right" is the worst phrase ever invented. Why? Because it makes customers think they are entitled to treat other human beings like crap, just because said human beings happen to work in a customer service position. I generally alter the phrase in my head to say "The customer is rarely right and usually stupid." Rude, I know, but it makes me laugh.

Things go wrong. I get that. And as a customer, I like for things to be made right. However, there is a right way to go about getting things made right. The main point in mind is to keep calm and be polite. You can make it understood that you are not happy without blaming the person you are talking to.

This work week has been hell. I'm looking forward to the end of April when I can quit my job to move on to greener pastures (in Korea, natch). I've had two particularly rotten customer experiences that illustrate how not to complain.

I had a reservation check in about 1AM. I was in the middle of cleaning the lobby. I got the lady checked in, gave her a key to the room and locked the door behind her after she left. I started vacuuming. I stopped a couple minutes later when this lady knocked on the window. She told me her key didn't open the door. I apologized and asked what lights flashed. I ask this because sometimes the door doesn't close all the way and a jerk on the handle solves the problem. This wasn't the case, so I made a new key. As she left, she said, "This better work. It's late and I'm tired and just want to sleep. I don't want to wrestle with the door." I understand the frustration, but it was not my fault she arrived so late. And I have no control over the door locks beyond simple fixes and making keys. I watched as she opened the door, just in case the new key didn't work. She got in fine. But it was unnecessary to blame me for the problem, as her tone made it clear she was doing.

The following morning, I got a call from an irate guest. "My shower went cold. I can't believe you charge so much for a room and then let us take cold showers." It was my fault the shower went cold, rather than the result of half the guests in the almost full hotel taking showers at the same time. And yes, taking a cold shower isn't fun, but there's no need to call the clerk and chew him out for 10 minutes for something he has no way of controlling. To be honest, I don't really feel bad for people who get cold showers occasionally in hotels. For two years in Peru I had cold showers, when I happened to have running water.

To sum up, if you're unhappy with a service or product, state your complaint in a calm manner. Don't flip out and start ranting. It serves no purpose. If it's something that can be fixed, ask for the situation to be resolved. If it can't be fixed, ask if a refund or reduction in price is possible. The calmer you are, the more likely it is that the person you're complaining to will be willing to work with you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Las Vegas, Here We Come...

...and I am so ready for a vacation.

I am looking forward to spending a couple days with Chelsea. That will be nice.

Of course, there's the long-time bachelor in me that somewhat wistfully is wishing I could go alone, but he doesn't get a vote. Heh.

I really am looking forward to this trip. Lots of fun things planned. Some really typical tourist things, and some not so typical. We're going to visit Freemont St, as I've never been. Don't think Chelsea has either. The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. Go up the Stratosphere Tower. We're staying in the hotel there. Probably going to go to the M&M factory. Other things as they occur to us.

Oh yeah, we're planning on the Peruvian restaurant. Should be good. I hope.

Anyway, looking forward to a fun couple of days. Hopefully I'll be a little relaxed when we get back.

Would be nice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Welcome Back, Shakira!

I've liked Shakira's music since the end of 1996.

I had been in Peru for about 6 months. I was a missionary. We weren't supposed to listen to "worldly" music, but I couldn't help hearing her music as I walked down the streets. Her music appealed to me. There was a earnest quality to it that grabbed my imagination.

So, on my way back to the states, a year and a half later, I bought her album, "Pies Descalzos." I loved it and listened to it constantly. When her second album, "¿Dónde Están los Ladrones?," came out, I bought it as soon as I could find it. This was before iTunes of course. I loved that album too.

Then she decided to join the Latin invasion popularized by Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias. She released two albums that were primarily in English. I didn't like these as much. Her music didn't sound as natural anymore.

It wasn't as heartfelt.

So I kind of gave up on her. I didn't follow what she was doing and I didn't buy her next album. I think it was called "She-Wolf," but I could be wrong.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I heard a preview of a new single from Shakira. It was in Spanish. And it sounded good. It sounded like Shakira, just an older, wiser, more musically mature Shakira.

I was nervous, but decided to listen to the minute and a half previews of the songs on the album. They sounded intriguing. I liked most of them.

So I bought the album, "Sale el Sol," using the last of my prepaid money for an alternate download service. I'm glad I did. The songs are good. Heartfelt. Honest.

I'm a fan again.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not Sure What I Think...

...but last night I felt the need to create a new, private blog to be my online journal.

I'm a little conflicted about this, as I like being open and vulnerable to those who read this blog. However, I do have thoughts and observations that I wish to keep to myself, yet type out. In this way I am usually able to work through whatever issues I'm having. And if I let everyone read these thoughts, there are some who may be unnecessarily hurt or offended. And here I'm thinking of those closest to me: my mother, my sisters and my fiancee.

Hence the private journal.

I think it will be a good thing, and there may be posts there that I mirror here, but for now it's nice to have the separation, and I feel a little more free.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It Is What It Is...

Life is life. I like to think that I'm fairly easy going and willing to take things as they come. Unfortunately, I also know that I don't deal with surprises all that well.

I'm talking about big surprises. Life-altering surprises.

Chelsea and I got hired to go teach English in South Korea. I'm really looking forward to the challenges and new experiences to be had there. When we applied, they advertised that the airfare would be provided. And it will be, we just have to come up with it first, then they reimburse us. That's fairly standard for these programs, so I wasn't too surprised, but it irritates me that they're not open about that.

We have to get an FBI criminal background check. That's another twenty bucks. Our new employers need to have a copy of our diplomas. We have to get the copies and the background check results affixed with an Apostille. They only place in UT to get an apostille is in the Lt. Governor's office. It costs fifteen bucks per document.

After all the documents get sent off to Korea and the English Village gets approval for our work visas, we have to contact the Korean consulate to finalize the process. The consulate that covers Utah is in San Francisco. There's a chance we may have to go there to go through an interview to get the visa. There's a chance it can be done over the phone. However that works out, the visa will cost anywhere between forty five and eighty dollars.

It's a little stressful to be trying to get all this done on top of getting ready to get married.

So what do we do? Plan a vacation to Las Vegas for my birthday. On the fifteenth of this month we'll be staying at the Stratosphere hotel. I chose the Stratosphere so I could do some research for a story I want to write. We'll also go to the Peruvian restaurant I know there (provided it's still open) and go to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. I'm also looking at museums to visit.

It will be fun and a much needed break from life.