I often have podcasts and video essays playing in the background while I work or do chores. Here are a few bits of content that I've recently enjoyed.
I discovered Zoe Bee's videos only a few weeks ago. According to my YouTube history, I'd watched one of her videos before, but now I'm focusing a bit on them. This video, "Grammarly is Garbage, and Here's Why," sympathetically approaches the use of grammar programs to improve one's writing. Her conclusion is fair: using a grammar program is fine, but does "more harm than good."
I've had a difficult relationship with grammar over the years. I've always enjoyed writing and I've always wanted to write effectively. I've taken a lot of pride in the good marks I've received on specific assignments; I take a lot of pride in a couple of my songs that came out particularly well. I've gone through phases where I tried to write exclusively in E-Prime, even to the point of speaking in it. What I mean is, I take my grammar and semantics seriously.
I may be serious, but that doesn't mean I'm skilled or effective. I wouldn't take my successes so seriously if my writing didn't bomb so regularly. When I look at old essays, old blog posts, old journal entries, I feel ashamed. In those old compositions, my language comes off as sloppy and hackneyed; my arguments seem weak and unauthoritative. For someone who wishes he went into journalism, there is plenty of evidence to show a history of bad writing.
Despite this, Grammarly often pisses me off. Sometimes I appreciate its ability to point out sloppy writing, but I rarely change the sentence in the way it suggests. Grammarly usually points out a small solution to a larger semantic problem.
I've been an English teacher for most of my adult life. However, I still haven't cared to learn many of the technical terms for elements of writing. I've leaned heavily on thinking about what I'm trying to say with clarity and precision; getting fussy about technical terms isn't as effective, to me, as taking the time to just make sure my sentences make sense. I still need to go back and edit my ideas a lot. I know that I will always hate my writing when I return to it in a few months, but Grammarly and grammar programs have never changed that.
An example might be my post from 2015 about Bill Tapley. It has six comments right now, so it's by far the most popular post on this blog. I go back to that post, however, and its writing comes off as... weak: my verbs are imprecise; my nouns aren't concrete; my sentences are sloppy. But for the life of me I doubt Grammarly could help me much there. The post, and the thinking behind it, need a complete workover from top to bottom, or perhaps, more likely, a deletion.
I still battle with my writing. My modifiers get misplaced in my sentences; my passive voice use is messy; my tone is clunky and cumbersome. But Grammarly isn't the way to deal with those problems. Instead, I need to keep practicing and keep trying to empathize with my reader's point of view. And I need to keep finding ways to enjoy myself while I write.
Which is a long way to say, I agree with most of the Zoe Bee video, embedded above.
Max Headroom is one of my earliest TV memories. He was everywhere in a formative moment in my childhood. And then he was gone. I'd thought about him a bit over the years, but never in a way that led me to do any research. He was just there on the edge of my consciousness, popping up once or twice a year. Until this video appeared in my YouTube feed.
"On Max Headroom: The Most Misunderstood Joke on TV" is an excellent video essay. It provides history, analysis, context, and some synthesis that helped to bring a few of my disparate memories together. I remember a few of the commercials; I think I may have watched a few episodes of the dramatic TV series; I probably saw an interview here and there. But I couldn't cohesively assemble my impressions until I saw this video.
I've always leaned towards ironic comedy that pokes into tropes we don't quite admit to. SNL is usually too on-the-nose for me, and work like Chappelle's is too abrasively self-important. But I like how Max Headroom works in the middle: it weaves between genres and tropes and makes me ask lots of questions. And those questions often lead to smiles and quirky shifts in perspective.
And I like the ephemera of it, that something like Max Headroom couldn't really come out of a different place and time than where it came from. We couldn't re-create it; it wouldn't work. This "On Max Headroom" video is fun because it also describes numerous times when Max Headroom, even in his own space and time, just didn't work. I like the type of nuance that this video exemplifies.
Summer is over and I'm back at work. I taught summer school to adults in August, the first time I'd ever taught adults, but I'm glad to be back into a regular routine. August was a difficult month, so I'm glad to have a fresh start.
I'm working as an Integration Support Teacher again, this year at one elementary school in Surrey. I'm the only IST at a small school and it's an enormous amount of work. Things appear to be going ok, somewhat, but it's a lot of responsibility and a lot of headwork. I'm finding it very hard to stay motivated with fitness and healthy eating. I need to get my body back into the zone of teaching after a rather inconsistent summer.
I'm coming into the new school year with the hopes to, if I have the self-confidence for it, apply to the administration pool for next year. I'd like to put this Master's in Education that I received back in 2016 to work. Life has been very busy since then, but I'm hoping that I'm in a place where I have the skills and experience to take on some new responsibilities.
Music and photography-wise, I'm feeling a little exhausted. It's difficult to focus on many of the small things that I used to enjoy doing: learning new songs, printing out new songs, writing and practicing, taking a drive to a good photography location. I don't really know what to do there. I've considered selling off a bunch of the portrait photography paraphernalia that I've acquired over the last five years: studio lights, softboxes, backdrops, etc.. All that stuff feels like a weight around my neck of sorts, stuff that says I should be able to use it more often, but I can't seem to get the energy to do it.
Life is generally good, but I'd like something to pep me up. That's all.
This weekend, I will be playing music for my girlfriend's sister's wedding. They want me to perform three songs throughout the ceremony: "I Wanna' Dance With Somebody," "I'll Come Running to Tie your Shoes," and "Let's Stay Together."
I've had a devil of a time memorizing these songs. For "I Wanna' Dance With Somebody," the words and sequence kept going out of sync. Last weekend, I had set up some of the studio lights in the livingroom, so I decided to try to make a video, hoping some of the lyrics would sink in.
Here's the raw, muddy result:
This was my first video I've made for a long time. I made a lot of mistakes. I should have made a basic 4/4 drum machine track to play along with, but I settled for a click track; as a result, I went out of time quite a few times.
My uncle, a professional musician, says I should have had less distortion on the rhythm guitar. He's correct, but I do love the sound of those flatwound strings through some light distortion; there's something huge about the sound, something both warm and out of control.
Another friend offered to remix it for me. Perhaps I will take him up on the offer.
Anyhow, there it is. Hopefully I've learned a few lessons for next time.
I've recently really enjoyed Pat Finnerty's "Why does this song stink" videos on YouTube. I love not only that he agrees with many of my biases about why certain songs "stink," but I also really appreciate the creativity by which he builds his videos. They are deliberately lo-fi with various basic animations and simple jump cuts.
He's done excellent videos about "Hey Soul Sister," "Don't Tell me How to Live," and "All Summer Long," but his best tour de force so far is the "Kravitz Bowl," a hilarious hypothetical "football game between two bad songs."
Finnerty's videos are wonderful if you have specific techno-culture-based taste in music. I think it's safe to say that most people who play guitar, really love pop music, dislike Train's music, found "Kryptonite" insufferable, or were bewildered by Warren Zevon's presence on "All Summer Long" will enjoy his videos. Finnerty's clear love of music and willingness to create in-depth videos about why some music doesn't quite work, well, I appreciate that effort. I remember first hearing Train songs, or "Kryptonite," or both Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman" and "Fly Away;" I thought, Something's wrong here. Something's off. And Pat Finnerty seems to be able to put into words just what's so off about that sort of corporate-driven bland music.
In addition, Finnerty appears to have a real knack for getting people involved in his videos. These videos are masterclasses in being friendly and inclusive with the people in your community, in making them feel connected to your projects. He appears to have a knack for getting people on board, even the likes of Dave Grohl. His empathic extroversion is seriously admirable.
I feel as if I'm suffering from a creative block right now, both in music and photography. I've gone through this sort of thing for a very long time, but it feels rather acute right now. I can't seem to conceptualize anything: no visions for interesting photographs, no melodies or lyrics to work with. I don't want to dwell on the problems of creative block, though. I'd rather try to pin down some solutions.
In no particular order:
I miss creating. I miss feeling like I wrote a worthwhile song, or took an interesting photo. Here's to hoping that, as the days get longer, my creativity can flourish again.
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