Monday, October 15, 2007

Not dead yet

There will be more to come soon, I can guarantee as much – about a week in Chicago, about a weekend in San Francisco, about losing my Renaissance Year “book” and the debilitating sadness felt as a result, about the computer virus that wouldn’t die, and about oh so much more.

Today, however, I’m sick. I’m also rapidly preparing for a 2-week trip to Germany for work, where I will have ample time to update on all of the above, provided I talk myself into Sherpa-ing around a laptop the entire time.

Oh, and a woman scratched me on the Metro today.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Reaching 89 pages

I’m honestly not delinquent… just a little preoccupied.

I’ve finished the screenplay I attempted to, and mailed it off this week to the agent in L.A. for consideration – and I accomplished this task while fighting off some strange virus that has decided to invade my laptop. It might be SpyWare, it might be a Virus… it is DEFINITELY obnoxious.

There are a couple of scenarios that will play out with this screenplay, of course… I expect it to arrive TODAY, which puts it in just in time for the weekend read, if that pile isn’t too big already. This is a potentially commercial project – a path I haven’t normally taken, but one I wanted to give a pass at. Plus, it’s sufficiently sarcastic, so even if it sells and gets made (it’s a family movie, for god’s sake), it has my stamp of witty banter littered throughout.

I could get an email next week telling me that it needs further development and can’t be placed in the market at this time. This scenario is the MOST LIKELY scenario, but my bigger fear is that not only is it given a pass at this time, but this agent connection might not deem it acceptable enough to devote any time to future scripts, thereby rendering a strong connection into a strong former connection.

I could get an email expressing interest in seeing it further developed… with suggestions and edits.

I could get contacted about them loving this script, which makes me fly to L.A. to sign a contract with the agent and have them take it to the marketplace.

I could have that happen, and they could sell it, and I could be an actual screenwriter that makes 4 figures – or more – for a script, instead of the usual 3.

I could have any one of those things happen… but one thing I will have happen is me gaining the realization that I took another stab at it, I gave it another shot on the big stage. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

There’s something really refreshing and inspiring about taking chances with a dream. It reminds us we’re alive, it reminds us that there are things we live for, and things we’d give anything to accomplish. And then it reminds us that we’re living life, because, in the end, life is what actually happens when we’ve dedicated ourselves to chasing that dream with every single ounce of our energy, every single day.

I could have also mailed it to the wrong address, but I sort of doubt it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

To Zip, or Not To Zip?

I think I’m going to sell my car.

Hear me out, of course, before the screams of “that won’t get you very far!”

As a matter of fact, it very well might.

Coming from some part of me that both wants to save the environment single-handedly, while I realign my finances so I can buy things like a home and a wild, crazy tattoo, and an overall realization that I’m a lover of all sorts of projects – I’m thinking that next August when my car is paid off I’m going to go car-less for a year. Maybe more, but a year is an attainable goal. (And think of the book I’ll get to write as a result!)

But Cullers, how would you get around?!? How would you LIVE!??!

Nothing would change, really. I’d live and get around just fine!

Thanks to ZipCar.

ZipCar is a self-rental automobile organization that has cars placed throughout metropolitan areas for rent on an hourly or daily basis. Three of these vehicles are all within a two-minute walk from me. They’re ecologically positive, and the financial benefit is undeniable.

I did the math. Currently, I spend $3,881.00 per year to own my own automobile. I understand after talking with friends that this is not a lot, and that may well be true. But currently I spend approximately $323 a month for my car, which I rarely drive anymore since I can Metro to work. This includes car payment, insurance, gasoline budget (considerably lower when you take the train), personal property taxes, parking, tolls, and so on.

On the occasional weekend, I’ll break out the car to go to the dry cleaner and to the grocery store.

ZipCar costs a variety of figures depending on the package, of which I’d go for the “Occasional” selection. After a $25 activation fee and a $50 annual fee, I’d be able to rent a ZipCar for about $9 an hour. Let’s say I drive 8 hours a month – two every weekend, which would be the high-end estimate.

Oh, but wait… what about those trips to Ohio and Baltimore? Let’s say I continue to travel home 3 times per year. With proper planning, I could book three flights at $200 apiece. As for Baltimore, I could Amtrak or MARC train up for whatever reason, and my comic book store did once offer to ship me my books if I wanted. Plus, I know people with cars, should I truly end up stranded.

This option would cost me a high estimate total of $1,739.00 per year, or about $192.00 per month.

I’d save $2,142 that year.

Easy. So long as I live and work where I can walk to the train.

Plus, Blue Book currently has my car’s private party resale value estimated at over $4,000.

What the H?? Why is this such a crazy option? Six thousand dollars in my pocket and I’m no more put out than in any other scenario?

Officially, I don’t think it is. And while I haven’t pulled the trigger on this idea just yet, it’s certainly one I’m enjoying planning for and thinking about. After all, what better time to try new things than in the midst of this year?

Friday, August 24, 2007

One Month In...

A recap of sorts…

It has been exactly one month since I officially resolved to embark upon a life “cleaning” mission, and so far…

So good.

My diet was easier to start to change than I expected, as resolving to dump unhealthy in favor of fruits and vegetables was a welcome transition. And results aren’t impossible to note – clothes fit better and I flat out feel better. The rare occasion I’ve had a bite or two of bread this past month has left me feeling sluggish even, which indicates to me that I’ve been moving in the proper direction.

A tougher challenge has been making sure my gym/workout regiment stays on track, which isn’t as easy as I’d hoped with a busy and evolving schedule. In month 2 I’ll be pushing that forward a bit, especially given that the one workout I forced myself to keep at as planned and accurately turned into the best workout I’ve had in about a year or so… perhaps more. Signs of life are out there, I can tell.

On the rest of the personal care front, I’ve worked through my antibiotics for my neck, I’ve discovered what’s covered by insurance with my chiropractor(s), and I’ve found a new dentist.

I bought a couch, and maybe some new bed sheets, and some plants to liven up the work and home.

I pitched a project to a producer in L.A. and now owe them a great draft of a script. Emboldened by that push, I put together a pitch package for Marvel Comics and sent that off, as well.

I started managing my finances like a hawk, both on my own and through Expensr. Opened a savings account, started a credit payment plan, and am positioning to invest and more.

My book reading list for the year started to get worked through. I read this:

And this:
And am working on this now:

A sign of maturity

Just when I think my Renaissance Year is the point at which I'll be too old to enjoy ironic t-shirts, T-Shirt Hell has to go ahead and release this one.

I won't buy it and I won't wear it (so that's a proud moment), but I'll be damned if I don't think it's clever.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Plots and Renovations

I’ve been trying of late to put together a natural progression of the next couple of years of my life – not in any set schedule or timeline, but more of a general idea of when I’d like to do certain things, and one of those things that needs to be considered is going to grad school.

Heading back to class(es) and obtaining a Master’s Degree has always been somewhere on the horizon for me, but I’ve managed to sneak up to 30 without having faithfully considered it. Certainly, I flirted briefly with the idea of getting an M.F.A. in Playwrighting at one point, going so far as to speak with the school about my candidacy, but never to the point where I’ve factored in application deadlines or GRE scores or anything of the sort.

And then two days ago I randomly saw an advertisement for an MBA Tour convention and decided it was worth checking out. At the very least, I might learn what programs are in the area (with me considering an MBA in a marketing concentration to be the most valuable to me and my career these days). Then I can dig in to see what my company has in the way of tuition reimbursement – with their once-mentioned career development budget. The convention isn’t until September 11th (NICE), so I might force myself to plan and prepare some information beforehand.


Not content with sitting in one chair every day of my life, I bought a couch the other day. I’d say that was in my Renaissance Year plan, but in reality it was about 8 or 9 months overdue since I moved into my current residence. Now I can actually have guests! Who are allowed to sit down! I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of this newly acquired butt space. (Other than think that that’s gross.)

What I’ve noticed more than anything, however, is that home retail shopping is an infectious, powerful disease. By simply buying a couch (and thereby pounding the ceiling of my home-spending budget for a short period), I now feel possessed to get that nightstand, and that end table, and that filing system, and all of these other items that I’ve subsisted on for a little while without but immediately consider the most important purchase I’ll ever make… next. Want a sandwich, Aaron? Tough – you need that coat rack for your living room. Curious.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Music Project

Since the start of July, I’ve instituted a weekly tradition wherein I email my 14 year-old sister Slammer a new song for her to download. The song may not be new in and of itself, but my hope is that it’s new to her, and she’ll get some unseen value out of listening to it. Whether its by her loving it or by her just hearing things that her older brother deems quality music, the point is that I’m on a mission to broaden her musical exposure.

My plan is to do this every week for 52 weeks, all of which I’ll be giving her an Itunes gift card for so as to sponsor the “musical journey.” Part of me is doing it out of brotherly love, while the other part is insanely jealous, in that I’d get a total kick out of someone forcing me to try new things every single Sunday evening that doesn’t require extensive sporting equipment or a change in my ethical structure.

Below is this week’s email to her and this week’s selection… chosen as such because it summed up my entire outlook on Saturday.

“S –

This week’s song comes to you on the heels of a weekend spent seemingly mired in nostalgia… a Saturday afternoon spent accomplishing a large number of tasks all beneath the weight of vivid memories, recollections, and a dash of déjà vu.

Such is the course when you’ve sort of locked yourself in for serious self-discovery, I suppose.

Many years ago, I was your age, and when I was, this week’s song was having a run of popularity. It’s by the band Weezer, which has been around for a fair amount of time by this point, and while I own 3 of their albums I can’t confess to being a big fan of theirs. This is jarring to me in a way, because in the back of my mind and on the periphery of my pop-culture immersion, Weezer strikes me as a band that should be a bigger deal to me.

This is different in the way that, say, U2 is in my opinion the most important band in the world. (Not to be confused of course with the band Radiohead, who I will widely argue is the only band that matters anymore.)

No, Weezer should be a bigger deal because they’ve been around awhile, and they’ll always have this song to take me instantly back to when I was a sophomore in high school who just got his driver’s license and blasted this song with the windows down – blissfully unaware that life at 17, and at 18, and at 25, and more, would be rushing past and before long this very song would serve as little more than a vivid memory… a recollection… or in Saturday’s case, when it came on the radio I rolled the windows down and cranked up the volume and was oh so aware of the déjà vu at that very moment.

“Come Undone (The Sweater Song)” by Weezer.


9 Days Later

My access to updating here was shunted the past week and a half with an increased work schedule and the week-long visit of my family in town from Ohio, yet while I was away playing tour guide and keyboard-less I was still reaping some Renaissance Year benefits.

Since I expect the diet regulations to be the most difficult part of these next 12 months, I can at least find solace in the fact that there are some ever-so-slight noticeable changes. Clothes are starting to feel just a weeeee bit better, and I’m much better-rested. And its funny how you lose the taste for bread when you stop touching it.

Another benefit is that focusing on growth is a terribly awesome excuse for spending a ton of time in Microsoft Excel – creating a training program, for instance, or designing the most pride-inducing spreadsheet I’ve ever seen… a multi-tabbed budget spreadsheet that tracks my financial planning by the penny. I credit that effort with pushing me to do something I have not done since I was about 10 years old – open a savings account. I can track those efforts month by month.

Now I’m on a mad dash to finish the script I pitched to Los Angeles. Interest was present and a script was requested, so I’m tightening and drafting, pushing to get the best damn draft imaginable in the hands of a potential agent.

Next month, I take over the Dominican Republic and install myself as a dictator, crushing opposition beneath my thumb in a despotic fit of rage and power. I’m not kidding. I made a spreadsheet for it and everything.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ba da Ba Ba Ba

I read a study online this morning that was conducted by interviewing 63 low-income pre-schoolers (certainly this means they hail from low-income FAMILIES… I don’t think my ego could ever take hearing of a HIGH-income pre-schooler individually…) between the ages of 3 and 5, which asked them to rate food – 3 items from McDonald’s and then regular vegetables and fruits… some of which were served on a tray and some of which were wrapped in McDonald’s packaging – based on taste.

The food that was not wrapped in McDonald’s wrappers lost ALMOST EVERY. SINGLE. TASTE TEST. Even carrots, milk, and apple juice tasted better when wrapped in McD’s wrappers. In fact, 77% of the kids preferred the McDonald’s-wrapped French fries to the McDonald’s-UNWRAPPED French fries.

The results of this taste garnered a wide variety of reactions, most notably the lambasting of McDonald’s advertising for hooking these kids at such an early age, while the other camp hung the parents of these kids out to dry for not practicing responsible parenting.

The fact of the matter is, not one single reaction asked the largest question that popped out at me: Is this really a smart study? By asking that, what I really mean is – are 63 kids truly representative of the overall? Not only that, but the study clearly indicated that these were low-income families, and only 2 (2!) of the kids had never eaten at McDonald’s, while one-third ate at McDonald’s once a week.

I’ll go right out on a soapbox here and say that McDonald’s is not to blame. But everyone else is.

I say that not because I am a marketing professional and thereby make my living creating marketing and advertising campaigns (though not to sell French fries or hamburgers), but as a marketing professional who understands pricing structures and business models to know you can’t hold them responsible when they’re doing business.

Granted, it’s subsidized business, and therein lies the problem.

I don’t eat at McDonald’s, with the sole exception of road trips to Ohio and a somewhat-ritualistic swing through one at the Breezewood, Pennsylvania changeover. However, right before I entered into my Renaissance Year here and made a pact to eat crazily healthily, I considered a ceremonial stop right before as a send-off… if only because I realized that of all my choices, nothing would signify “unhealthy” quite as powerfully as the Golden Arches. I never made it… and I can’t remember what I even settled for.

I think the problem isn’t McDonald’s doing business and advertising their products; I think the problem is the fact that in order to eat as nutritionally as possible, your budget for food needs to be considerably larger than if you’re going to take advantage of a well-publicized dollar menu.

This is highlighted pretty strongly by the fact that the potato industry is highly subsidized – the entire industry is assisted enough by the government that McDonald’s is able to sell French fries at artificial (read: affordable) prices. (The counter argument is that the ENTIRE industry is subsidized, so places like Whole Foods or Kroger also pay artificial prices.) The kicker of course is that then again, the items available at McDonald’s versus a wholly nutritional diet are all presented at less than market prices.

This is pretty relevant to me these days… Fresh foods and fruits don’t seem to last as long as sodium-charged soups or snacks. Convenience is inexpensive when held up against the right diet. Hey – Styrofoam takes a while to break down in the environment… can’t we just start throwing strawberries and grapes and asparagus into McDonald’s old Styrofoam packaging and let it keep for a month or so?

SIDENOTE: One of my recent birthday purchases for myself was – via the power of Ebay – a complete set of all 8 McDonald’s Happy Meal toys of the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s a sharp, rare day that the Legion of Freakin’ Super-Heroes is available as a toy at McDonald’s, but not enough of a rare day to get me to eat there during Renaissance Year.

And I do very well when I don’t think about how those same toys were intended for the same pre-schoolers surveyed above.