Archive for Deep Thoughts

2013 Year in Review

And so we come to the close of another year.

This means another year-end recap post to help me reflect and reassess the previous 365 days.  Sadly, much of 2013 is not worth remembering.

To start, Mashable brought their writing in-house, so my January 2 article on the future of tablets was my final piece for them.  I was disappointed to lose them, not only because they gave me some great topics to write about and the editors were great, but the inclusion of such a high-profile website on my resume definitely brought some much-needed attention my way.

Shortly after Mashable was done, I had prospects to write for Univision when a former editor at Mashable took a new position there.  I even wrote an article for the website, but never submitted it because Univision requires any employees – even freelance writers – to sign contracts in-person at a Univision office.  The closest Univision office to St. Louis is either Chicago or Kansas City, meaning I had to travel on my own dime just to spend 10 minutes signing some papers.  I would have needed to write at least three articles to cover my expenses, and in the crazy world of freelance writing, those three articles might never even come.  In the end, the job never materialized.

Perhaps the biggest blow came in June, though, when The Dim, a web series that a friend and I had been developing for a year, fizzled out.  We’d found a director for the pilot episode.  We found a location that would work for the shoot.  But as we started to fine-tune the script, there were creative differences with the director, and we wound up parting ways.  We tried to sign on another person we’d met with, but they were now too busy with other projects to come aboard.  It wasn’t long before the project died on the vine like so many creative endeavors do.  The director moved on, my co-producing buddy understandably shifted his focus to an exciting new business venture, and I…well, I was left standing in the rubble.  Hundreds of hours of research, writing, and editing down the drain with only nine unproduced scripts to show for it.  Nine scripts that had extensive notes for additional drafts, so it’s not like they’re polished and ready to shoot, either.  I’m still reeling from the defeat, honestly, because I had high hopes for it to succeed.  Maybe we can pick it up again someday, but for now I need to put it behind me and move forward.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been an easy thing to do and has been a shadow cast over the rest of my creative year.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though.  I’m still writing for mental_floss, though it’s less consistent than it was a few years ago.  I only wrote a handful of articles in 2013, none of which were big successes, before hitting on an idea for a regular feature called Strange States.  It’s an ongoing project which hasn’t exactly blown up the blogosphere, but I’m having fun with it.  It will conclude sometime in 2014, so keep an eye out for it here.

My big creative achievement this year has been When You Hear This Sound, “a podcast dedicated to the weird and wonderful world of record books and storybook vinyl”, hosted over at Bubble Pipe Network.  I’ve really enjoyed working on this one-man show since it’s debut in June, and look forward to continuing throughout 2014.  It’s been tons of fun and I’ve learned a lot about audio production, so it’s been a good project for me, even if only two or three people have ever actually listened to it.

With my focus on When You Hear This Sound, it means Watching the List, my movie podcast, has been put on hiatus.  The show was so time-consuming to produce that it just wasn’t worth it in the end.  I’d love to see it revived in some format for 2014, but I’m still trying to figure out how to make that happen.

I also worked on a few art projects this year.  The first was a piece I drew for myself, but wound up giving to my grandfather for his 99th birthday after he said how much he liked the one I made for my niece last Christmas.  He hung it in his room at the assisted living facility, and even included it alongside some of his own paintings in a small local art show.  Sadly, he passed away shortly after, but I’m glad he appreciated it while he could.  I also worked on a Pac-Man series that I really enjoyed.  And I drew a few more pieces as Christmas gifts – one for my parents for Christmas and the other for an Instagram friend.  I have a few ideas I’d like to experiment with in 2014, and might even try selling a few if I can find someplace that produces good quality prints at an affordable price.

Despite the rough year I had creatively, 2013 was a big year for me and my family.  While much of the time things were fairly quiet, things really picked up with the birth of our son in August.  Then, just a few days later, our daughter started kindergarten.  Talk about a whirlwind of activity!  Things have settled down to some extent – as much as it can in a family with two kids, anyway – but I’m sure the year ahead will be filled with plenty of adventures and milestones to fill our days.

As for 2014, I’m determined to make some changes.  Not resolutions per se, but I feel like the New Year is as good a time as any to decide to do things differently.

The main thing I’m really going to focus on this year is doing more.  I want to get back to a more regular schedule of articles for mental_floss.  I want to get When You Hear This Sound on a consistent bi-monthly release schedule.  I have ideas for a few kid’s books that I’ve written down, but never developed, and it’s time I start working on those.  I have some experimental podcast concepts that I’d like to see produced.  I’d like to get back to some old creative writing projects I have in my archives and see about maybe reviving them for a new medium (podcast?  screenplay?  serial adventure?  RPG adventure?)  And, as all writers do, I’d like to find more time to work on new ideas as they come to me.

In order to do this and still manage to be with my family every once in a while, I’m going to have to be better about using my time wisely in 2014.  This is a skill that I and many creatives often lack, but I’m determined to be a “maker” – not a “wisher” – this year.  I haven’t completely worked out my plan for making this happen just yet, but I’m kicking around a few ideas that I hope to implement sooner rather than later.  I have a feeling extensive, complicated To Do lists will somehow be involved.  Maybe a spreadsheet or two as well…

Anyway, goodbye and good riddance, 2013.  Don’t let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you.

Hello, 2014.  May you be filled with creativity and good fortune for this lowly little space-based simian.

To my family and friends out there in InternetLand, I hope you all have a great New Year, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what kind of trouble I can get myself into.

Dear Briefcase…

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Well, Briefcase, we’ve had a good run.

I bought you back in 2002, when Unca’ Dub’ya sent us all checks in the mail in order to stimulate the flailing economy.  No, the first time.  Remember?  When no one spent the $300 he sent, because, dude, it’s only $300?  Yeah, that time.  Well, I was one of the few who actually did their duty to the American marketplace by going to my local shopping mall and buying a briefcase from Wilson’s Leather.  Why?  Because I was trying to be a writer and writers need a briefcase, right?  So I bought a $225 (plus tax) briefcase to help myself feel like a real writer.  What’s the old saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”?

As I set out to write the next Great American Novel, you were by my side, Briefcase.  I carried notebooks filled with scribbled notes, ideas, and musings, all of which were sure to net me at least two, maybe three, Pulitzers.  I carried handfuls of pens, because you never know when inspiration would strike, and the last thing you wanted was to be left without any ink.  It was not unusual for me to carry the first five to seven pages of my Great American Novel, printed out, covered in red marks from top to bottom, as I honed my words to be as sharp as steel.  Unfortunately, more often than not, I never got past those first five to seven pages because I spent so much time honing that I’d forget to actually, you know, write more.  Later, I’d carry another five to seven pages of a different story, because I’d abandoned that first project to focus on this new one that was “a lot better” than the last.  But I still felt like a writer because I carried you.

Even when I went back to school in the Spring of 2002, going for my English degree because that’s what writers do, you were by my side.  You hefted my heavy tomes of Medieval Literature, my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, and all those Spanish textbooks that were such a pesado en mi culo.  Without you I would have never received by diploma, or my $30,000 in crippling student debt.

That brings us to about 2006.  You’re still looking pretty good, I must say.  I could have looked better, to be honest.  A few scrapes here, a couple of worn corners there, not to mention our cat Peekaboo had found that scratching your hard, leathery exterior felt nice, leaving your facade scarred like the mug of that guy who played Jake Fratelli in Goonies.  You, my friend, are starting to have “character.”  I, on the other hand, had just let myself go.

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After graduation was a dark time for us, Briefcase.  I struggled with what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Did I want to keep going down the path of secure paychecks, good benefits, and interesting work in GIS?  Or did I want to throw caution to the wind and try my hand as a writer, living freelance check to freelance check, spending hours and hours in coffee shops to use the free wifi, while hoping, praying that neither my wife nor I would ever so much as catch a cold, because, damn, insurance is expensive?  Well, you know me, Briefcase; I went the boring, traditional, conservative, “mature” route, and did both.

Yes, 2008 was when I finally gave up trying to become the Voice of My Generation and opted to become a cartographer who occasionally wrote about Yo Gabba Gabba, video games, and sometimes minor historical figures that no one’s ever heard of before.  I became…a blogger.

So I dusted you off, Briefcase, like an old gunslinger coming out of retirement for one last score, strapping on his six guns before riding off into the sunset.  For a while you still carried those old pages from my unfinished novels, screenplays, and my one-act, one-man Broadway show, Memories of Me (Not affiliated with the 1988 film starring Billy Crystal and directed by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler) (It was a working title…).  But by my second year of blogging, I began to realize that those things were just taking up valuable space where my laptop, mouse, and power cord could go instead.  Besides, those dreams were gone now.  And that’s ok.  Because I came to realize that maybe I was better suited to write what are essentially Wikipedia posts that someone pays me for, than to become the next Kerouac, the next David Foster Wallace, or the next “best-selling author, Snookie.”  After all, “Success is success is success.”, is something that sounds like Kurt Vonneget might have said once in a mythical commencement speech, but I can’t verify that at all.

As my writing career accelerated, you began to deteriorate in direct proportion.  Maybe the laptop has been too heavy, adding unneeded stress to your mass-produced, plastic buckles, rings, rivets, and stitching.  Maybe I slung you around too much.  Maybe I shouldn’t have tossed you into the passenger’s seat of my car so often.  But you were always there for me, Briefcase. Even when I wasn’t working on an article, I brought you to the office because you carried my thumb drive of ideas, my Kindle of knowledge, and my mini-USB cord of electricity so I could listen to podcasts all day without my phone’s battery running down.  Sometimes you served virtually no purpose at all, other than as a leather-bound security blanket.

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And so it is with great sorrow that yesterday, January 28, 2013, you have sustained a life-threatening injury.  No, the split in your seam from where the should strap puts undue stress, did not finally give.  The metal strips that hold your form, which punched holes in your delicate lining long ago, did not burst through your leathery hide like a phallic alien embryo out of John Hurt’s chest.  It was, in fact, your handle that broke.  A plastic clasp that somehow held on for over 10 years, had finally had all it could take.  The break has left the other side of the handle useless, vestigial, and dangling like a leech from a young Wil Wheaton’s nether regions.

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So, my friend, my longtime companion, my life partner, I’m afraid we will soon have to go our separate ways.  Maybe not today…maybe not tomorrow…but soon, and for the rest of my life.  You’ve been a good bag, Briefcase, but, quite frankly, without a working handle, well, you’re just no good for me. Your shoulder strap has always been like razor wire to my shoulder, cutting deep and wounding my very soul.  Your popped seams, your broken bones, your torn skin…sure, there’s character there, but, well, character doesn’t carry my laptop, son.  But, for old time’s sake, we’ll stick together for just a little while longer.  Maybe we have a few more good mental_floss, Mashable, and Top Hat Sasquatch articles in us.  Maybe you’ll see me through the end of the production of The Dim.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll last until December, when I have to spend some money on something to offset even a little bit of my freelance income for the year.  Until then, old friend, old pal, old leathery you, we’ll stick together through thick and thin.  I swear.

Plus, the replacement briefcase I want from Saddleback Leather, complete with a 100-year warranty, is going to cost me close to $500.  And, well, I don’t have that kind of money just yet.  I started a SmartyPig account for it, though, so hopefully I can get it soon.  But, my God, will you look at that thing; it’s a work of art, ain’t it?  I mean, don’t get me wrong, Briefcase, you’re…you know…nice…and…and you have a great personality, but…

saddleback

Anyway, until I can afford to replace you with a newer, shinier briefcase that I’ll be able to pass down to my grandchildren instead of feeling lucky to have gotten 10 years out of like some briefcases I know, we shall have our last hurrah, my dear, handle-less, broken-ass Briefcase.

We shall have our last hurrah…

 

2012 Year In Review

For nearly 10 years now I’ve written a Year in Review post.  This is the first time that I pretty much forgot all about it until after the new year had already hit, which ought to give you some idea of where my mind is lately.  Or rather, where my mind is not.

2012 was a very strange year for me.  Without going into too much personal detail, a lot of less-than-good things happened, which unfortunately overshadowed a lot of the good.  But for now, let’s focus on the good, shall we?

I had a handful of Mental Floss articles that were worthy to rank as some of the best of the year for the site.  If you’re interested, this is one, this is another, and this is the last one.  That last one, Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Animaniacs, is one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my writing career.  I contacted one of the creators of the show, Tom Ruegger, and got some amazing, exclusive, behind-the-scenes information from him.  I wrote the words, but he filled in most of the content.  I can’t say enough about how great it was to, even ever so briefly, occasionally receive emails from the man who gave so much to my generation.  You don’t get to have that experience every day.

There were other Mental Floss stories that I was really proud of, but they didn’t set the internet afire.  For example, this one, this series of posts, that one, and this other one right here.  Check ‘em out when time allows.

I also wrote more for Mashable this year, and saw some mild success.  Their measure of a successful post is drastically different than Mental Floss’ (or almost anywhere else online, for that matter), so none of my work would rank as Best of the Year material for them, but I was very happy with some of them.  For example, this one, this one, yep, this one, this one over here, this one was nice, and I had a lot of fun working on this one.  But my two biggest stories of the year are definitely Top 5 Podcast Apps for Android and Top 5 Instagram Alternatives for Android.  The Instagram one came out just before Instagram announced an Android version, but it became relevant again and again after Instagram made a few missteps this year, so it’s been the story that keeps on giving.

My year with fun site Top Hat Sasquatch started out great, headed into the mid-year on an upswing, and then just sort of flopped, unfortunately.  I mainly wrote reviews of iPad apps for kids, did a few comic book reviews here and there, and then got in good with a rep from Titan Books, which filled out most of my year.  You can check out all my work here.  The one editorial I wrote this year for the site dealt with the loss of my childhood innocence at the hands of four teens that wore masks, wielded weapons, ate pizza, and spouted terrible catchphrases.  Yes, I wrote about How the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Killed my Childhood.

But the real excitement with Sasquatch this year was in podcasting.  The site’s owner, Tommy Day, had a dream of setting up our own podcast network, which he called Bubble Pipe Network.  We’d already done a few shows of Bubble Pipe Theater, I wanted to start my own podcast for Watching the List (more on that later…), and I even got my wife in the game with Handmade Alley, a show about the Indie Craft scene, so BPN was off to a good start.

Things started out strong on the Watching the List podcast, but it was slow-going.  I took months to write a history of early adaptations of The Wizard of Oz.  It only took me a few days to record the episode, another few weeks to edit it completely, but I loved every minute of it.  Seriously, it was the most fun, frustrating time I’ve had in recent memory.  I did another episode very shortly after on Night of the Living Dead and it’s influence on pop culture, in which I interviewed the creator of a serial podcast I’d recently discovered, called We’re Alive: The Zombie Podcast.  Again, had a blast!  I wish I could do more WTL podcasts and more posts on the website itself, but, well, something major has prevented that.  Let me explain…

About six months ago, my old friend Steve sent me an email, asking if I’d be home that weekend so he could call me.  I said yes and when he had me on the phone, he said he wanted to shoot something.  Not with a gun, mind you, but with a video camera.

Steve and I have produced a few small, short films over the last 5 or 6 years.  One, the most successful, ran one time at a public exhibition as part of the 48-Hour Film Festival.  It did not win any awards.  But we had a great time doing it and we vowed to do another film.  We did shoot another film based upon a one act play I wrote for a creative writing class years before, but it has only ever made it to the rough cut phase of post-production.  That was five years ago.  We handed it off to the director/editor, and that’s as far as it got.  Neither one of us has any proper video editing experience, nor the time to devote to learning it, so there hasn’t been much we could do about it.  Besides, at this point, I think we’ve both moved on.

Anyway, Steve wanted to shoot something again, but this time he wanted to do it right.  No more basements mocked up to look like sets.  No more bad lighting.  No more inexpensive cameras.  No more amateur hour.  He’d been doing freelance web design for a while on top of his regular job, so he had a budget of $10,000 that he was willing to put towards the creation of a really good, independent short film, with the hopes that it would be a pilot for what could eventually be a YouTube series.  The stories he kept coming back to that he thought would make for a good series were a few that I’d written about 10 years ago, called The DimIt had always been one of my favorite concepts – a supernatural thriller that takes place inside either a mental institution or a broken-down prison, depending upon the version you read – so I was excited to see one of my creations resurrected.

We started working on ideas, research, character bios, etc. in June and thus far have 6 of 10 episodes written.  Most of the scripts are around 20 pages each, which has meant a lot of writing and rewriting on my part.  Now, naturally, we don’t have the budget to shoot the whole 10 episode season in one fail swoop, so we’re focusing on spending the money on the pilot (the first episode) in the hopes that we can attract investors that will help us shoot the rest.  And even if this is all the further the project goes, we’re both excited to think that we’ll have one really awesome film that we can show our kids someday.  But here’s hoping it does get picked up, because we’d both love to see it through to fruition.  We have three seasons outlined, for a total of 30 episodes, so it would be a massive, but incredibly rewarding undertaking.

Anyway, production is moving forward on the The Dim, and we’ve just recently chosen our St. Louis-based director.  We’re going to start going over the pilot script with a fine-toothed comb, honing it to perfection, as well as start scouting for locations, finding actors, and getting all of our ducks in a row.  We’re hoping for a 3-day shoot in May.  After that, it’s post-production and sound design, and shooting for an October release date.  It being a supernatural thriller, October seems like a good time to introduce it to the world.

Unfortunately, writing and rewriting 20 page scripts at a pace of about one a month has meant I haven’t had as much time for my other writing as I would have liked.  I’m hoping to crank out these last three episodes, get the pilot as perfect as possible, and then get back to more Mental Floss, Mashable, Sasquatch, and Watching the List while we work on the pre-production side of things.  Granted, we’re already getting the marketing machine in motion, so I’m sure I’ll be tweeting, Facebooking, Google Plusing, Instagramming, and generally spamming the shit out of anyone who will listen in an effort to get our project out there, but I’ll try to squeeze in some time to write about pop culture and iPads, too.

So 2012 was a year of ups and downs.  On a personal level, more downs, but on a professional and semi-professional level, it’s been a very rewarding year.  In looking at 2013, it could be the best of both worlds, assuming everything goes as planned.  Then again, we all know what happens when you assume.

(If you came here expecting my typical Best of list, have no fear, that’s in the works, but will be a separate post.  Look for it in the next few days.)

 

Long-overdue Update

I know, I know.  I say it every year.  “I’m going to start writing on SpaceMonkeyX more.”  But I never do.  Why?  Because the blog (as a format, as a concept) is pretty much dead.  Why would I write here when I can tweet, pin, and share with ease?  I know, I know.  This is a permanent record of my life that can live on here as long as I continue to own the domain and pay for hosting.  But I don’t know if we need, or even want, our online lives to be so permanent anymore.  I think part of the appeal of the ever-changing world of social networks is that your life isn’t always available forever and ever and ever.  You might post on Pinterest for a while, then switch over to Google+, back to Facebook, and later find that Instragram is your new home away from home.  It’s hard to keep track of you; hard to pin you down.  I think that’s why Facebook’s Timeline feature freaked so many people out when they first saw it.  “Oh, man…they know everything!”

But I digress…

I thought I’d update today simply because it’s been a few months into 2012 and I do have a few things I wanted to record for posterity.

First up, if you look back a couple of entries, you’ll find The National Film Registry Project (or just click that link right there).  At first I decided to just make this new project part of SpaceMonkeyX.com.  But then I realized that this site wasn’t man enough to contain such a huge passion project.  So I decided to spin it off into its own site, WatchingTheList.com.  I’ve also started working with my buddies over at Bubble Pipe Network to produce a podcast based upon my adventures through America’s cinematic history.  Unfortunately, I’m not making any money from WTL, so my paid writing gigs have had to come first.  Which means I’m not getting a whole lot done on the site (the podcast has been pretty slow-going, too, but part of that is because the Bubble Pipe site has been under construction).  I’ve probably watched about four more movies from The List, but I just haven’t had time to write up my reviews.  Yeah, I’ve been that busy.

What have I been busy writing?  I’m still writing for mental_floss, but, at the tail-end of 2011, I also picked up an exciting gig at Mashable.com.  Between those two, I simply haven’t had a lot of time to write movie reviews anymore, which means not only is WatchingTheList not taking off like I’d hoped, but I’ve had to pretty much stop writing for WeLoveCult.com.  And I only get the occasional review done for TopHatSasquatch.com, too.  It’s been a hectic few months and the rest of 2012 doesn’t appear to be any easier.

Oh, and aside from all this writing, I’m also starting an Etsy store in an attempt to sell my “artwork” (I’ve always hesitated to describe what I do as “art”, but I can’t really think of a better term for it, even though it requires more patience than actual talent).  My store isn’t up and running yet, but I do have a sample image of the first piece.  Check it out:

That’s an 8.5″x11″ print straight from our home printer.  I’m hoping that if I take it Kinko’s it will turn out a little bit sharper.  I probably need to play with the scanner settings, too.  This is one of the smallest pieces I’ve done, actually; most are 19″x24″.  I’m also going to do much smaller versions – trading card size – because that’s kind of a big way for people to get their name out.  Do something small and inexpensive to whet people’s appetite, and then hit them up for the larger prints once you have them interested.  I’m also working on a few pop culture-inspired ideas that I hope to debut later this year.

By the way, if you’re wondering where I find the time to work on these drawings (because it does take a lot of time), for the last couple of hours of my day (usually around midnight or later), I force myself to step away from a computer screen.  Essentially, this is what I do when I watch a little TV every night just before bed.  I can’t just sit and watch TV anymore (unless I’m watching a movie for a review), so this is what I do to occupy my brain.

Well, that’s a pretty good update for now, don’t you think?  I’d love to tell you that I’ll be back soon to provide further insight into my life, but, let’s be honest, it’ll probably be another few months before I come back.  In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter, on Google+, on Pinterest, and over at Mashable.com and mentalfloss.com!

2011 Year in Review

2011 was a strange year for us.  It was sort of a plateau of meh-ness, followed by some fairly deep valleys of WTF?-ness, with only the occasional peak of awesome-ness in between.  It wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t a particularly good year, either.  Projects that we had high expectations for – selling our condo, portions of Andrea’s business, most of my writing projects – didn’t perform as well as we would have hoped.  Unfortunately, the ones we weren’t exactly expecting to be brilliant didn’t surprise us, either.  So it was a humbling and discouraging year to say the least.  Thankfully, as we head into 2012, I can sense that our spirits are still strong and we’ll continue to make strides in the new year.  I guess that’s really all you can ask for in life, huh?

Anyway, on with the Best Of’s, which I know is what you’re all here for anyway…

* * * * * * * * * *

Best Movie of 2011:
Attack the Block

You probably didn’t see this movie this summer, because it was only released in a few select markets by Sony.  Why?  Because the characters, a group of thugs from a rent-controlled district of London, have thick English accents.  The thing is, you don’t need to understand every sliver of dialog to watch giant alien gorillas stalk a bunch of Brit kids who aren’t going down without a fight.  The film is very funny, has some really great characters, and spectacular action sequences.  What more do you need?  For more, check out my full review over at We Love Cult.

Honorable Mention:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Like everyone else, I wasn’t expecting much out of RotPotA, which is probably why I was so impressed by it in the end.  Who knew that watching a monkey version of Shawshank Redemption could be so awesome?  Also, if you watch it back-to-back with the original Planet of the Apes, it’s amazing how closely the story of Heston’s Taylor and Caesar parallel one another.  Really, the only thing they can do with the sequel at this point is match the brilliance of this one or fail miserably.  Should be interesting.

Best New CD of 2011:
21 by Adele

I know, I know – this is the obvious choice.  But, damn it, I really liked this CD; I can’t help it.  Adele is one of the best new voices in pop music today and she has the devil may care sass to sell it.  I’ve listened to this CD, as well as her previous effort, 19, so many times this year I’ve lost count.  It’s a solid album and I hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg for this young, British diva.

Honorable Mention:
I honestly can’t think of any other new CDs this year that really blew me away.  I bought a few more, but none really knocked my socks off.  Or at least nothing else has been in constant rotation for me.  So, maybe next year.

Best Movie I Saw in 2011 That Did Not Come Out in 2011:
Norwegian Ninja (2010)

This was really the year of television for me, so I didn’t watch all that many older movies.  However, I couldn’t help but seek this one out after I started writing for We Love Cult this summer.  This is pretty much the definition of a cult film – quirky, smart, funny, and somewhat surreal – it tells the story of Arne Treholt, a real-life Norwegian politician found guilty of treason.  He was not, however, actually the head of an elite team of ninja commandos that was setup by corrupted factions within the government, as the movie would (jokingly) have you believe.  I can’t recommend this one enough, but know that you might need to make a few trips to Wikipedia to completely understand its brilliance.  For my full review, head over to We Love Cult.

Honorable Mention:
Mystery Team (2009)

I grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown books, so when I heard that there was a comedy that borrowed heavily from the genre of the boy genius detective I had to check it out.  Donald Glover and his Derrick Comedy sketch troupe pals play with the tropes of the genre to creepy perfection, acting as maturity-stunted adults who are stuck in the fifth grade, still solving “mysteries” like who stuck their thumb in Mrs. Johnson’s apple pie.  But when a murder lands in their laps, they attack it with the same level of naïve aplomb to hilarious results.

Best CD of 2011 That Didn’t Come Out in 2011:
Illinoise by Sufjan Stephens

I don’t remember why I finally decided to check out Sufjan Stephens’ Illinoise, which was released back in 2005, but I’m glad I did.  Stephens’ voice is haunting and expressive, and the musical accompaniment is even more so.  With thought-provoking, yet catchy tunes like John Wayne Gacy, Jr. and Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!, I became instantly hooked.  It doesn’t hurt that the album is centered on the state I grew up in, so that many of the places and people he mentions have some built-in context for me.  Even without that, though, I can still understand why this has been on almost constant rotation for me this year.

Honorable Mention:
Geek Remixed Volumes I- III by Fatboy Roberts

I’ve already expressed by love for Adele’s 19, so I thought I’d throw in a sleeper hit from Fatboy Roberts, a writer/comedian/DJ out of Portland that has made three albums of pop culture-inspired music.  Borrowing heavily from film scores, TV theme songs, video game music, and sound clips, he uses everything from Night Court to Star Wars to the squeaks of sneakers on a basketball court to great effect.  His albums – all of which are available for free download by following the link above – have been the soundtrack to my writing for much of the past year.

Best TV Show That I Watched Live in 2011:
Game of Thrones

I didn’t know anything about A Song of Ice & Fire when I started watching HBO’s new series based on the books.  But none of that mattered, because I got hooked pretty quickly.  At first it was the fantasy aspect, but later it was the politics and the characters that brought me back for more.  And Peter Dinklage’s incredible performance.  I’m really anxious to start reading the books at some point, probably in 2012.

Honorable Mention:
A tie between Doctor Who and Parks & Recreation

After an impressive debut series for show-runner Stephen Moffat, I wasn’t sure if he could bring the excitement this year for series 6 of Doctor Who.  Thankfully, he did with room to spare.  Even the lesser episodes were a lot of fun and helped propel the overarching story of River Song to a satisfying conclusion.  I can’t wait to see what happens in the Ponds’ final series, but unfortunately it will have to wait until late-2012 when it finally airs.  Bummer.

I’m proud to say I’ve been watching Parks & Rec since the very first episode.  I was there through the rough first season, I felt pride when the show found its feet in season two, and now that it has become a bona fide great show, thanks in part to the Power of Swanson, I can rest assured that I’ve made the right decision.  The show really expanded its overall scope this year and gave some of its side characters room to breathe, preventing it from becoming The Leslie Knope Show that it so easily could have been.

Best TV Show That I Caught Up On in 2011:
This was the year of streaming TV shows for me.  Instead of watching movies, I got caught up on some of the more critically acclaimed series from the last few years.

Community

And now for a show that I watched when it first came out, but gave up on fairly quickly, and, in hindsight, wish I hadn’t.  When Community debuted, I was already sick of the “Starting a fake study group to get in the hot girl’s pants” storyline before the first episode was over.  Unfortunately I didn’t stick around long enough for it to get over those growing pains and become the meta pop culture show that it has become today.  Thankfully, though, we have a Hulu Plus subscription, so Andrea and I have been catching up on it with marathon sessions over the last few weeks when every season thus far became available.  Now I’m one of those people upset that it’s been put on hiatus and, most likely, will be canceled after the winter break.  I guess it will just have to join Arrested Development in the pantheon of Brilliant, but Canceled.

Honorable Mention:
A tie between Downton Abbey and Justified

As a 36-year old dude, I should not be so obsessed with Downton Abbey, a BBC series about early-20th Century aristocrats and their servants.  But this show’s characters, writing, and storylines are so engaging that I couldn’t help myself.  I can completely understand why it won so many Emmys and BAFTAs.

Last year around this time, it seemed almost every year-end list featured Justified, an FX series about an FBI agent that gets reassigned (AKA punished) to his hometown district in the backwoods of Kentucky.  The dynamics of the townsfolk’s relationships make for tense drama, with just a touch of bad ass-dom thrown in from Timothy Olyphant to make it exciting.  I’m really glad I got on board with this one.

Best Guilty Pleasure Entertainment of 2011:
Storage Wars

I know it’s staged.  I don’t care about any of the characters except Barry.  Actually, I have to admit I love watching Dave buy a locker filled with vending machines that everyone else thinks is a bust and turning around and making $70,000 on it.  He’s the only one who really knows what the hell he’s doing on that show and he’s supposed to be the bad guy.  Nice guys finish last, am I right?

Honorable Mention:
Glee

This show is a shell of its admittedly not all that deep former self.  It has become so utterly incoherent now, that every week is a surprise, because you never know what storyline is going to be suddenly brought up again after it was seemingly abandoned last season.  The songs are becoming less entertaining, and the characters so shuffled, changed, and marginalized that nothing makes sense anymore.  I watch now mainly for the train wreck aspect of the spectacle, rather than to gain any sense of actual enjoyment from the proceedings.  This show is going to go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in television history.

Best Podcast of 2011:
Nerdist

Thanks to constant badgering from Andrea, I finally started listening to Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast this year.  And I’m glad I did.  Chris and his buddies, Matt and Jonah, are consistently funny, always have interesting guests, and have been known to offer solid advice on succeeding in your chosen geeky endeavor.  Every week is entertaining and, more often than not, inspiring.

Honorable Mention:
Tie between /Filmcast and Superego

I’ve been a fan of the /Filmcast for a few years now, to the point I donate $2 every month to the show without regret.  I couldn’t tell you how many new TV shows and movies I’ve watched thanks to a recommendation from Devindra Hardawar, Adam Quigley, or David Chen.  It’s a solid show with a solid group of guys who know their cinematic stuff.

Superego is hard to explain, which is part of what makes it so great.  It’s a monthly podcast featuring some of the best underground comedians taking on the roles of hilarious characters in adlibbed sketches.  It’s fast-paced, usually pretty offensive, and would probably get me fired if I didn’t have headphones on at work.

Best Book I Read in 2011:
The Hunger Games

Laugh all you want, but this series of books was pretty enjoyable.  This, the first one and my favorite, was a really solid bit of genre writing that borrowed from previously written stories, but put it all together into a really fun package.  The second book is a little weak, but things pick up again in the third one to help the series end with a bang.  I’m definitely excited for the first movie that will be out in just a few months.  I’ll be one of those teenage fangirls waiting in line on opening night, with my wife, an even bigger fan, standing right next to me.

Honorable Mention:
The Magicians

I kept running into The Magicians this year.  A bunch of websites I visit reviewed its sequel, The Magician King, to rave reviews.  They inevitably discussed The Magicians in their reviews, usually giving it a simple synopsis like “Harry Potter: The College Years”.  So I finally broke down and read it and I really loved this post-modern take on the fantasy novel.  A world where kids know about pop culture, where the realm of magic pokes through to our world in the form of a few spells from the Dungeons & Dragons Rulebook, and where college students go through the same growing pains we all do, only they can shoot fireballs and turn themselves in geese.  I’m just about finished with the sequel and am really looking forward to the third book in the series, which will hopefully come out someday soon.

Best Website of 2011:
mental_floss, Geeks Are Sexy, We Love Cult, Top Hat Sasquatch, and Mashable

I know it’s kind of a cheat to say that all the websites I wrote for were the best of 2011, but it’s true.  They’re all very unique, covering different aspects of the world we live in.  It’s been a real pleasure to write for them all and I’m very thankful for the opportunities they’ve given me.

Honorable Mention:
Dropbox

This website made my thumbdrive obsolete.  And I couldn’t be happier about it.  The ability to sync my writing assignments to more than one computer, download files to my phone or at the office, is such a time-saver, that I really can’t describe to you how much this website has changed my entire workflow.  I can now write anytime, anywhere, on any device we own – my phone, my wife’s laptop, my netbook, my work PC, and any other computer I need.  I love it.

Best New Obsession of 2011:
Podcasting

This year, an online friend of mine, Tommy Day, asked me to be part of a podcast he wanted to start called, Bubble Pipe Theater, in connection with his website, Top Hat Sasquatch, which I occasionally write for.  I jumped at the chance and it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  I won’t say that I’m a brilliant commentator or anything, but it’s been fun to get into the world of audio recording.  I even produced my own DVD review for a couple of movies back around Halloween.  I’m really hoping to be able to make more time in 2012 for a regular series of audio reviews, as it’s something I really, really enjoy doing.  This is definitely an area I want to get into more next year.

Honorable Mention:
My Artwork

A while back I introduced you to this weird art hobby I have.  At some point in 2011 I decided to work on a similar drawing that I started and put down back in 2010.  It’s mainly been a really good excuse to force myself to sit and watch TV instead of writing, reading, or surfing from the time I wake up and the time I go to bed, though I don’t always succeed.  I’ve made some serious progress on this drawing, but I’m not finished just yet, so it’s not quite ready to show.  I’m hoping by March or so I’ll be done, and then I can start on the next one, which I already have planned.

Best Freelance Article of 2011:
Pinterest: A Beginner’s Guide to the Hot New Social Network

I can’t say if this is actually my best-written story of the year, but I can definitely say that it was my best-received story of the year.  My second feature for Mashable was a pretty big hit, thanks in part to the topic – a new, very popular website called Pinterest that has been rapidly gaining traction online.  In about five days time (it was just published on 12/26), the article received over 4,000 tweets, nearly 1,500 Likes on Facebook, almost 1,600 shares on LinkedIN, 230 bookmarks on StumbleUpon, and even 220 +1’s on Google+.  Now factor in all the people that read it but didn’t tweet, Like, share, bookmark, or +1 the article, and that’s a whole lot of eyeballs looking at something with my byline on it.  I’m pretty happy with that.

Honorable Mention:
A tie between 10 Peanuts Characters You’ve Probably Forgotten and Muppet Babies: An Adorable, Deplorable Legacy

10 Peanuts Characters was probably my biggest hit on mental_floss this year.  It was the perfect combination of obscure facts and pop culture that the readers seem to love nowadays.  I was really happy with it myself, too.

The Muppet Babies piece was just a lot of fun to work on.  Researching the vast number of “kid” spin-offs or reboots of popular franchises after the success of Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, was a blast.  It seemed like every time I’d find one property that I couldn’t believe had been “kid-ified”, some other tidbit would come up that was even more egregious.

Proudest Moment of 2011:
Seeing my name in a mental_floss book

Earlier this year I had the most surreal feeling of going into a Barnes & Noble, opening the latest book from mental_floss, and seeing my name as a contributor.  I had five stories chosen from the website to be included in the Best of 10th Anniversary publication and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  I think the only thing that will ever top that feeling is when my daughter is old enough to appreciate the fact that her dad’s name is in a book that’s sitting on our shelf.

Honorable Mention:
Watching Harper Paint for the First Time

Andrea was working on a project earlier this year and it required her to break out her paint and brushes.  Harper got really interested in what she was doing and begged to be able to try.  Immediately upon sitting down at the table with a blank piece of paper in front of her, she dipped the brush in and began to spread color across the page.  We didn’t have to show her how to hold the brush, to dip into the paint just a little, how to wash the brush or anything; it was like a natural instinct for her.  She has continued to paint on paper, but she also paints ceramic figures and wooden animals that we get from Michael’s, often in a wild array of colors.  I’m not claiming she’s the next Monet or anything, but she picked up on it so quickly and gets so much joy out of it, that I can’t help but be excited to see her anytime she picks up a brush.  I hope it’s a love that stays with her forever.

Project I Have the Most Hope for in 2012:

Podcasting

I really want this to be a focus for me in 2012.  I want to get more comfortable writing, recording, editing, and releasing audio content.  Whether it be movie reviews, editorials, mental_floss-type articles, or continuing to podcast with the guys from Bubble Pipe Theater, I want to gain more experience in this field.  I think it’s something I could be good at if I keep working on it, and it can lead to so many great opportunities.

Honorable Mention:

The National Film Registry Project

It might take me longer than one year, but I hope to really dig my heels in and kick ass on my latest writing/movie blog concept, The National Film Registry Project.  THe idea is to watch and write about all 575 (and counting) films that have been deemed significant by the National Film Preservation Board as national treasures.  Click here for more information and click here to follow my progress as soon as I get started after the first of the year.

* * * * * * * * * *

I think that about wraps up 2011, folks.  It’s been a real up-and-down year for us, but I hope that the lessons we’re taking into 2012 will lead to an enlightening and enriching year ahead.  And here’s hoping the same for you.

Happy New Year!