Me — Music as a Creative Outlet

I don’t know if any one thing changed per se, but in the past few months I’ve really been listening to lots of different kinds of music and putting lots of thought into various ways I can express myself using it.

Specifically, I’ve started seriously considering two things: One, writing songs, something the current Kollin is not yet knowledgeable enough about or even equipped to do, and two, using songs as inspiration for other creative outlets. I’ll explore the former first because since it’s less accessible for me, it doesn’t make a very good conclusion to a blog post.

I’ve always been interested in songwriting. I’ve written several poems that were meant to have a sing-songy rhythm (more than one of which I intend to attach music to one day), but I haven’t seriously picked up an instrument since middle school, so my understanding is rudimentary at best. Still, over the years I’ve come up with several parody songs, and I recently realized that they all have a centralized theme. All of these songs were integral to my childhood, so the album I eventually write will be titled The Summer of Yesteryear, and all of the parodies will be about a kid growing up, using the summertime as a recurring theme.

So far I have 7 songs, mostly parodies of songs from the 90’s-00’s. My most recent addition to this list is a parody of The Cars’ “Shake it Up”, a song called “Wake Him Up”. That’s the only one you get, because none of these parodies are actually written yet, and a few of these ideas are gold.

But even outside of that, I also want to make original music. I have three distant future goals regarding this. The first is making a solo (or perhaps not?) band called Fridays at Five, featuring upbeat jams in a union of Jukebox the Ghost and Silversun Pickups. (The idea is that “Fridays at Five” is the best time of the week because it means you get to go home from work and anticipate the weekend. I also have an inverted version of the band called Five to Nine, meaning its five minutes before your 8 hour shift starts. That music under that name would not be upbeat.)

Anther distant future goal is to put together a bunch of instrumental music using D&D spell names as song titles. The idea here would be that I’d take a spell (like Fireball, or Dimension Door) and write the song that evokes the feeling of what that spell is and does. That concept is much less fleshed out than the above two concepts, but it’s a thing I’d like to toy around with someday.

Lastly, I have an inkling. An inkling of a story being told through music and song, much like the Gorillaz’ canon of backstory and events explored through their songs. I want to do that, but with a fantasy setting, perhaps even in one of my established universes?

As far as actually using music to fulfill a creative outlet under my current means, though, I’ve been really attaching myself to songs and using it to fuel my fiction. For example, I wrote this story a while back using the song “The Hermit” from Hyper Light Drifter as a writing prompt. It’s fun to use prose to explore the depths of what a song might be trying to convey, or at least what it means to me, and I’ve been enjoying myself playing in that space recently.

Other songs that I find very inspirational:

Phantom Racer” by TWRP, commanding me to one day write a story about a race a-la Speed Racer or F-Zero.

Satelitte” by Two Door Cinema Club and “All This Time” by Jonathan Coulton” inspire me to write a sci-fi sitcom, oddly enough. This is a terrible metaphor, but imagine something like Full House but it takes place on the Enterprise and there’s just so many laser guns.

Lastly, “Do You Want it All?” also by Two Door Cinema Club, just begs to be the song for a movie trailer. Maybe some sort of adventure movie?

Anyways, none of this stuff is in the near future, really, except for the using songs as writing inspiration, which I am actively doing, but is much less obvious.

But one day, Fridays at Five might be a thing.

Me/D&D — A Love Letter to Critical Role

Dungeons and Dragons can be played a myriad of ways. I’ve read someone describe it as “being the main characters in a fantasy novel”, but it’s even more open-ended than that. It can literally be anything you and your friends want it to be, it just so happens that most people value simplicity over anything else, and so they more or less stick to the rulebook (which, as Barbossa would say, are more like guidelines—especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide). I came to a realization about Critical Role today, and I thought I would share that realization with all of you in the form of a love letter… Buckle up, this one is going to be a long one.

268x0wCritical Role, a weekly livestream of D&D I’ve already dedicated one full post to, does just that. They play with the rules that they’re given, and only on rare occasion does the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, ever cook up a new monster or a new character class/subclass. I would go so far as to say that they play a very vanilla version of D&D, and the only thing crazy about it is how gifted the players are at pacing out story beats and telling the tale of a group of people rather than getting from Point A to Point B. Of all the D&D streams I’ve watched in the past, that’s the #2 reason to watch the show.

What’s #1 you ask? Well, before I get to that, I want to step back and talk about why I personally love it so much. Not as the critical observer as I often am whenever I’m consuming media, but as the fan. As Kollin.

I’ve been watching the show since it aired 3 years ago now, and this only dawned on me today. Critical Role encompasses every aspect of my personality, and encapsulates everything I want to have and be. (If you’re lazy, just skim the paragraphs ahead—the bullet points are in bold.)

For starters: storytelling. Obviously, I love stories. I’ve fancied myself a writer for nearly a decade now, and I specifically love epic fantasy. I grew up with World of WarcraftLord of the RingsDragon QuestOblivion, etc. The romanticism of picking up your sword and shield and going on an epic quest is something so inexplicably baked into my being that I literally cannot describe why I love it so much. It’s simple, easy to understand, yet its breadth is endless. In order to tell a complex story in such a world, you first have to start simple and show the audience this new world—explain its rules—and seeing a world where our impossible becomes their mundane is always fascinating to me.

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That ties into the concept of what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is a literal, mechanical fulfillment of the Hero’s Journey. You kill monsters, you level up, you achieve goals, and so on. I love watching or being somebody who has nothing inevitably challenge literal embodiments of evil. By then, you’ve really learned about and grown with the character, and in many ways you’ve watched their life go by. What I like about D&D is that victory is not guaranteed. If I had my way, I would even go so so far as to say that it is less likely than defeat, for how can victory feel empowering if you feel it was given away? (Now, a Hero’s Journey and storytelling clearly go hand in hand here, but I think the distinction is important. Not all D&D needs to be a journey, and not all storytelling is D&D.)

116curiousbeginningsAs for aspects specific to Critical Role, and to explain why it holds a special place in my heart over any other D&D show, the first component to this is the cast of the show itself. Every player in the game is a notable and respected voice actor, and I knew over half of them when I first tuned in (by the sound of their voice if not their name and appearance itself). These people have all had a hand in creating the games and shows I’ve dedicated so much of my life to (the aforementioned World of Warcraft is certainly pretty high on that list). So because I recognized their voices, I was already familiar with them. I already know these people, and this is an opportunity to know them better.

But even more than that, they’re all actors. I’ve been a part of the theatre world for six years now (which is crazy to me), and it literally changed my life. I tell people I was the kid that sat in the back of class reading and hoping nobody would talk to me. They’re always surprised to hear that because I’m so outspoken (they don’t realize that all that’s changed is that I now sit in the front of the class hoping somebody will talk to me). It didn’t necessarily make me more confident—I’m lucky enough to have pretty much always had that—but it did teach me to have fun by not caring about looking cool, stoic, and professional. I’ve found that people will hold a lot of respect for those than can throw caution to the wind. It’s a skill not many have. So watching the cast put on silly voices and make dumb jokes really speaks to me. Not because I’m an audience member admiring their skills, but because I’m a fellow performer that appreciates their techniques and the obscure theatre-related jokes they sometimes toss out at each other.

Lastly, and by far the most important reason that this show is the best—these people are all best friends. It’s really heartwarming to watch a group of people have a blast with each other. To share in the absurd humor as well as the very real tears that have happened over the years. You see people who so overtly love each other and the community they’ve created, and watch as they empower each other every week, and it maxresdefaultreally has an effect on you. It’s really difficult not to feel like part of the reason that they do this show is for you—and not in that “we do this for the fans” sort of way, but in a genuine way. They show fanart on stream and have hired fans to be part of the tech and have quite literally built a community founded on love and respect for one another as much as D&D. Sure, not everyone is as loving or respectable as the cast, but the vast majority of voices I’ve seen in the YouTube comments or on Reddit have been supportive and, in general, awesome.

I have a lot of dreams for the future. Some of them I know I will never achieve, simply because it’s not what life has in store for me. But if I have one goal, it’s to be happy. And every week when I get home from work or school to watch Critical Role while relaxing with a cup of tea, I can’t help but think.

One day I’ll have that sort of life. I don’t envy them for having it, because I’m grateful that they’re willing to share it with the world. And one day I’ll surround myself with people who bring me nothing but joy and we’ll share tears of both joy and pain. I may not be there yet, but if they can do it, I can do.

Me — Quick Maths

I love stats and data, as you probably know by now, but I’m starting to realize just how intrinsic it’s become to my personality. I do quick math in my head just as idle thoughts.

And before you think that I’m saying this to sound smart, it really is very simple, stupid math. Yesterday my work just got an order of a bunch of postcards, and I had to transport them. So in the few minutes it took me to do that, I did the math: 17 boxes, each box has 5 stacks of 100 postcards each. 8500 postcards. Sometimes I’ll do the math differently just to see which way is fastest. Disregarding the 100 because it’s just adding zeroes, is it faster to multiply 10×5 and 7×5 and add them together? What about multiplying 3 stacks of 5 by five, with 2 remainder? (In other words, 3x[5×5] + 2×5).

My production manager has started asking me “What’s A times B?” and I’ll do the math real quick while I’m doing whatever.

The weird thing is that I don’t consider myself to like math. The class I hated the most in high school was physics, because I would plug in all the numbers into the equations and I would still get the wrong answer. It’s worth pointing out that I didn’t have the best teacher, but nonetheless. I also probably would have hated calculus even more, but I never took it.

The trouble with higher maths, for me at least, is that it becomes too abstract too quickly, and the visualizations and the datas start to turn into meaningless numbers. I don’t like doing pointless things, so if I don’t know what foiling polynomials does, what am I really learning?

I think math is at its best when it helps you better understand things that you couldn’t have figured out with standard observations. I can know that most established authors are far older than I am, but I can’t appreciate that until I gather data on all my favorite writers and calculate the average age of when they were first published (32.9 years old, by the way). And that math is easy! You just add up all the numbers and divide by how many numbers there were! Now I can do something with that information—like breathe, because by that standard I’ve got quite some time to figure myself out and get published.

I’m always confused when people don’t share my love for data. It’s just cool to see and understand the world better through objective means, how can you not appreciate that? As somebody whose entire goal in life hinges on my capacity to know and understand, data gives a very simple and tangible way of doing so.

A post hit my Reddit feed (from r/dataisbeautiful, as it were) of somebody’s heart rate as their significant other left the country. They calculated what moments correlated with which spikes, and as I’m looking at it I’m nodding my head, thinking yeah, I totally understand that feeling of seeing somebody for the last time. That rush of “Oh, no”, is your heartrate spiking to an intense degree, so just reading this and comparing it to the rest of the graph is really interesting to me.

How can anyone not love data?

Life — Obsessive Organization

Lately I’ve been embracing the fact that I just love putting everything in figurative boxes. I use Google Drive for all of my writing purposes, and everything is neatly organized in folders inside folders inside folders.

If I told you to go to find an essay I wrote in English class of my senior year in high school, it would be pretty easy. You just go open the following folders (and sub-folders): School -> [Name of High School] -> Senior Year -> English -> “Essay”. If I wanted to open the folder of my current major project, the “Spear Gate” book, it’s the same thing: Writing -> Books -> Spear Gate. I’m a little neurotic about it, to be honest. Just for fun, I’ve considered drawing a visual stem of all my documents in Google Drive just so I can see just how deep and organized it really is.

But in recent weeks, I’ve done more. I’ve made a dedicated folder entitled “Data”, filled with lots of information I like to keep track of. That’s where I keep my list of books I’ve read, the books I intend to read soon, descriptions of the books in my brother’s Audible library, etc. About a week ago I made a spreadsheet I call the “Hype Tracker”. In it is all the release and premiere dates of all the games, books, and movies I’m anticipating, as well as other important future dates I don’t want to forget. Using that spreadsheet I can easily grasp how long I’ll have to play X anticipated game until Y game releases. It may sound pretty useless, but I actually open it almost daily.

Tomorrow, I plan on making another thing: a timeline of basically everything that’s happened in my life. I hate having to do math to figure out how old I was when something happened, so if I lay out a timeline, all I’ll have to do is graph the year and my age to put everything into an easy perspective. It’s probably going to be the highlight of my day tomorrow. Not because my life is (that) boring, but because I actually enjoy that sort of thing.

It makes me wonder whether I’m really meant to be a writer, to be honest. Not in like a “I don’t know who I am” sort of way, but in a confused “Why?” sort of way. I cannot in any way see how I can implement data entry into my writing, and the two seem to be as far apart from each other as it is possible to be.

There’s so much I want to do. I want to be an author. I want to compile the lore for video games. I want to perform and teach more improv. I want to get into voice acting. And I also like numbers and data. Sesame Street might say that one of these things is not like the others, I suppose.

But at the same time, it might not be that weird. I’d imagine the common stereotype of a writer and an actor are two very different things, one trapped in a dark room all day trying to catch a break, the other making bank as they sell their millionth copy (see what I did there?) The way I see it, though, writing and acting aren’t very different at all. Being a part of both of those fields, I would actually say they’re very similar to one another. Maybe I’ll talk about that next week, in fact!