Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cover Letter Template

In April 2011, I moved to California. I had to spend much of that June back East, so I usually tell people that I moved here in July 2011 because that's when, in my recollection, I was settled in, comfortable.

The letter below undercuts that.

I still suffer from acute and fundamental confusion about who I am and what exactly I should be doing with my time besides writing. But even in that context, the letter below seems a little extreme. In that spirit, I submit it for your mockery and review.

I was going to humorously annotate it, but I think this lily is better ungilded.

It is a letter answering a job opening to be an assistant to the person to whom it is addressed, at a big arboretum out here in L.A.

I cannot freaking believe myself sometimes.

June 28, 2011
Dear Arborist:

It’s a real pleasure to be writing. I may be an atypical applicant for this position, but I hope you will read this later through and decide that I’m at least worth meeting, in person or over the phone.

My situation is that I recently finished graduate school and moved out to Los Angeles. I am an extremely hard-working, reliable, and stable young man (with valid SS #, et cetera). I moved to Los Angeles because the graduate school I finished was a joint MBA/MA (the latter in International Relations) at the University of Chicago, but I very quickly realized that the roles these degrees prepare a person for are not the roles I’d like to do. I would like to work outside, and I would like to develop concrete schools managing people and ecology.

At this point you might be understandably concerned that I’m writing this as part of a romantic digression and you’ll be getting someone flakey. I can’t reassure you fully of that until we meet, but I believe there are a few good reasons that you should consider hiring me.

I have a very clean cut appearance, and to the extent that any part of this job is making a good impression on customers in my person, I can do that very well.

I am 6’2”, very healthy and strong, and eager to work hard.

While I don’t want to be misleading with respect to my arboreal or gardening experience, I have spent much of my recreational life focused on the woods, the shores, and the outdoors. I’ve worked repeatedly as a camp counselor, hike trip leader, et cetera. I believe I would very quickly pick up the skills required in this job, and I’d be enthusiastic about learning them.

I have attached my resume, which may appear – once again – a little mismatched to the position. I believe my value proposition is that I am able bodied, enthusiastic, and a very quick learner. I hope you’ll consider me, and to hear from you soon.


J---- C---------

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Meta Moment in Gaming You Should Know About

I bought a Nintendo 3DS last December. I love it.

One of last year's best reviewed games for the 3DS was Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. It's a terrific game -- a relatively easy platformer with fun puzzle elements. What really sets it apart is the wit and storytelling, however. And I noticed one thing early on that made me laugh out loud, and delighted me throughout.

The game has a soundtrack. Good video gaming scary mansion music going plonkity plink plonk as you wander through the haunting, doing the things you have to do to set the world right.

And at a certain point I noticed that Luigi, occasionally and mutteringly, hums along to the soundtrack. To be clear the music is not diegetic: there is no sound source on the screen or in the story. It's purely soundtrack: what you, the player, hear as you sit there playing. But there's Luigi, humming along with you, breaking down the 4th wall much more awesomely than I've ever felt it broken down in a video game, and as effectively as I've ever experienced its being broken down, in any medium.

Play video games, people. Not like, all the time. But stay on top of video games, even in just the broadest way. There's a lot going on.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Two Notes on Music

As discussed in a forthcoming post (which will probably be way too long), I've hurt my leg and have a little more time at the moment while it heals up. It's also left me feeling somewhat expansive. That gets us posts like this. No one's forcing you to be here.


(1) The Tug
I think it's compelling, catchy, and both very happy and very sad when songs have an element -- for me it is sense in the melody, but that's probably because I listen so predominantly to pop (broadly defined) -- that is always just out of reach. That tugs you along. It's not quite as simple as an unresolved progression or harmonic; it's a little more squishily defined than that in my mind. It's something that the song establishes and implies, generally musically or rhythmically, but never quite lands on; something that has but is absent -- that is almost clear from the way the song curves around it but never gives it to you.

For me, the tug is extremely strong on the title track, track 7, of the 1998 album Maybe You've Been Brainwashed, Too by New Radicals. I'll try to minimize the thing of describing music in writing. But what happens to me in this song is this: a spare guitar line, a chopped up melody line, and a driving simple rock beat combine to create a train that has great forward momentum but also holes in it. It feels to me like the verse melody line is always waiting to land somewhere it never quite reaches; it just keeps pulsing towards it in Gregg Alexander's tight sung melody line. The melody "lands" somewhere in the chorus, and that place is fine -- I like the song, it's a good song -- but what I love about this song is the implication of this thing during the verse, the promise that it never realizes; how there is a shadow of musical ascent traced out by what is there, and it's never ruined by actually trying to realize it.

Somewhere with more musical sophistication than me (you, probably) could easily read all this and say: "He just likes kind of tight melody lines." That might be it.

Another good example is "I'm Goin' Down" by Bruce Springsteen, which has the added awesome-song-thing of being a musically "happy"/upbeat song about a sad/downbeat topic. That is an awesome way for a song to be. But with respect to the tug, this one's a little different: it in fact almost does give the listener that vague thing it strives for, that landing implied by the rest of the song. The tightness of the verse melody line and (again) a simple guitar figure land perfectly, for me, in a chorus that is not just good but fantastic; fantastic for this song, for this melody. So, this may be a case where the tug proves itself in the exception: proves that exists not only because it does not exist, but because there are actual musical elements towards which songs that have it are "tugging" you, and they can sometimes land on it, it's just hard because those elements have to be just right so perhaps it's just as well if songs with the tug don't even try.

The last example is asinine, but I'm serious about it. It's lyrical rather than musical, and different from the other two examples also in that it wound up being the artifact of an error in hearing: it does not exist. But if it had existed, it would have been great.

For the first few weeks of the radio success of "I Get Knocked Down" (yes) by Chumbawumba, I did not think the chorus, these are the actual lyrics, went:

I get knocked down
but I get up again

I heard the chorus as this:

I get no-
but I get up again

and the "no-" was a clear cutoff, an expression of such ambivalent frustration the singer could not even complete it, allowing me, allowing anyone listening to put their own thing in the song, or more likely not put one specific thing -- not put "money" or "sex" into that gap -- but leave it wide open with their own unsayable inchoate longings, the things they aren't getting that are out of their reach and too frustrating to speak. I thought it was so great; so electrifying and great. I did not feel the same rush once I discovered what the real lyrics were.

(2) Josh Ritter's "The Temptation of Adam" and the evolution of understanding a song
To  fully appreciate this, I suppose you should go listen to this wonderful song. My general point here is simple: a rich narrative song allows for our understanding of it to deepen and unfurl over time.

(I'm also probably bad at listening comprehension. I'll point out that I was never studying the song for its meaning; that said, the "many many listens" noted below were frequently attentive listens, during which I was listening to the song with nothing else going on.)

I think, as a writer, I find this interesting: how totally clear something can be -- once you know whats going on in "The Temptation of Adam" it's not complicated at all, and there's nothing cutesy or guarded holding the listener back from getting the song -- and yet how it can still take awhile for a reasonably intelligent, reasonably attentive reader/listener to get it.

From here on, if you don't know the song, you'll be checked out.

My understanding of Josh Ritter's "The Temptation of Adam" followed this progression:

Years 1 and 2: many many listens
It's a cool, offbeat song about people relaxing together and then falling into and out of love, or in love but then she somehow has to go away, at a country house or some secluded retreat, the kind of place where wealthy and upper-middle-class people spend a few weeks over their summers.

Years 3, 4, 5: many many listens
Wow, I missed the point of this song! They're in a bunker! He's remembering the woman he loved, because they both were in some kind of bunker because there was like World War III, and then he lost her in what sounds like an explosion or maybe she decided to leave the bunker after the war I don't quite know... he "thinks about her leaving in the avalanche cascades," which sounds like an awful thing that happens when lots of bombs go off. It's sad and he's alone, and he's remembering the improbable romance of these 2 people brought together in a nuclear weapons facility by a catastrophe that annihilated mankind. And... I guess he's Adam, now, because he's the only one left? Hunh.

Years 5 - present: many listens
In Years 3 -5, there was a lot I shrugged off. I had never really understood the lines at the end; about how he "think[s] about that great big button, and [he's] tempted." And I'd never really understood the lines before that, about how something tells him that things "just won't work out above, that [their] love will live a half-life on the surface." I sort of wrote this all off on the grounds that, in the song, bombs had been dropped and so if they went up top they'd die, obviously, everything would die, but...

and then I got it, finally, and it's completely straightforward! I mean, there's nothing I need to explain. If you listen to the words of the song, all of which are clearly sung by Ritter with just a simple guitar accompaniment, it tells the story of a guy who's in a nuclear facility where he has his finger on one of the "great big buttons" that would set whatever incipient nuclear holocaust has brought him there in motion, and there is a woman "Marie" who is a technician or something in this same facility, and they fall in love, and he thinks the circumstances of their falling in love (trapped in nuclear bunker, waiting to see if all the bombs will fly and the world will end) are particular enough that their relationship would not last in the regular world, so he's "tempted" (IT'S IN THE TITLE OF THE SONG!) to press the button, to set off the bombs, so that he and Marie can have their own forever down in this bunker.

It's great; it's a terrific feat of storytelling, and I'm so baffled as to why it took me so freaking long to get it.