Negative Zone

Music, Books, Time Travel, and other ramblings...


My wife and I took a trip last week to the state of my birth, where I spent my formative years as they say.  It had probably been anywhere from eight to ten years since I had been back, which is crazy.

We spent a day in Harvard Square, which is always fun.  The area seemed a little quieter than I remember, not a lot of buskers out there like I remember from years ago.  Maybe it’s still early in the year for all that, I’m not sure.  We walked through The Charles Hotel, which had always been a favorite of mine as a young kid starting out in the hotel world.  We ate at Legal Sea Foods, which was an amazing experience just for the fact that I could share food with my wife (celiac) – they have great gluten free options and seem to take allergies seriously.

We spent a day in Salem, a place I had never been before.  Wouldn’t mind spending more time there, it seemed like the town was just coming out of hibernation and not everything was open.  We want to plan a return trip, maybe spend a few days at the Hawthorne Hotel.  I’m definitely one of those people who love historical sites and annoy others by spending too much time reading historical markers and signs.  We didn’t get a chance to visit or tour anything, and I would like to see inside the House of Seven Gables.  Although, to be quite honest, I haven’t read any Hawthorne yet.  Maybe I can read a book of his while staying in Salem and get the full effect.

We got to see a Red Sox game, and was excited to bring my wife to Fenway Park for her first time.  The Sox beat the Royals 10-6 and we got to see Xander Bogaerts hit a grand slam.  Well, I got to see it…she was wandering around the park looking for a warm sweatshirt to buy due to the chill in the air and constant rain drizzling down.  It was a great night though, we got to get some food at The Blue Diner…sorry, the South Street Diner (not sure when they changed the name) and then capped it off for drinks at MJ O’Connor’s, an Irish pub at the Park Plaza hotel.  I forgot how filling Guinness is.

The best and worst part of the trip was seeing my 93 year old grandmother.  Best because my wife was thoughtful enough to have us stop and buy gifts and a plant for her before we went, something I wouldn’t have thought to do because I’m stupid, but it brought a smile to my grandmother’s face and she was obviously very happy to get some presents.  Worst due to the fact that my grandmother obviously didn’t recognize me, and that was pretty difficult to see.  There was a moment when we were sitting there while she ate her dinner, and she looked over at me and squinted her eyes as if she thought she knew me; she smiled and nodded and then went back to her food.  I’m sure I was projecting.  Overall I’m very glad we went.  I had wanted so much for my wife to meet my grandmother.   Also, if it wasn’t for my wife being there, my grandmother would have never been introduced to Snapchat.  That was too much fun.

The whole trip definitely made me feel nostalgic for Boston; I still miss it and I think of it as “home”.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love where we live now; I really have come to love Northern Wisconsin.   It’s beautiful up here, not to mention quiet and peaceful.  I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a remote area, where you can’t see your neighbors from your house.  It’s pretty amazing.  But sometimes you just miss having a Dunkin’ Donuts on every block.

Sick To My Stomach

2018 is my year to change, my Thunder Year, my time to finally express my creativity and write for real.  Part of that is this site, which I update much too infrequently.  The majority of that is writing a novel.

The website – well no one visits it as far as I know, so it doesn’t bother me horribly that I don’t have a new post every day.

The novel – wow.  What a cliche, right?  Isn’t everyone writing a novel?  I know, I get it.  But this is something that has been a part of me since I was a little kid.  Something that is a part of my being, this desire to be creative through my writing.  So much in my life up until now has conspired to pull me away from what I truly want to do in life.  Finally, I feel like a change has come over me.  I truly feel like I am going to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and everything is in place for me to succeed.  Trust me, I’m very excited!

So why do I feel sick to my stomach when I’m about to submit a short story to a national publication?

Amanda Palmer & Alternate Realities

It’s always interesting to look back at life choices and decisions, both big and small, that map out the course of your life.  I’m going to be 43 years old this year and sometimes I wonder how I’m where I am, how I made it this long in life, and how after everything I’m happier now than I ever was before.

A lot of times my mind reverts back to how life would be if I hadn’t been raised in an ultra strict “religion”.  In school, I wasn’t supposed to hang out with the other kids because they weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses like me.   I still did find a few friends, thankfully my parents looked the other way on that one as long as I was behaving.  The friends I found were more of the computer geek persuasion, they were non threatening and I think that’s all my sheltered brain could handle.  Don’t get me wrong, most of them were really good people and I enjoyed their company.  But I wonder who I would have hung out with had I been a little more free thinking.  I always felt drawn to the mysterious, weird, artsy, musical, alternative, different, or some amalgam of all of that.

I grew up in Waltham, MA and went to high school in Newton, MA.  Newton North definitely had a few alternative type kids (whatever the hell that means), and I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had befriended them instead.  Some cooler music and some more interesting fun would have been in store, I suppose.  Who knows.

I heard The Dresden Dolls in the 2000’s while I was still in the religion.  For some reason I keep coming back to them when I remember the mental gymnastics I was going through at the time in order to avoid sinking into crippling depression instead of the general unhappiness and uneasiness I enjoyed.  Dresden Dolls’ music was fascinating to me, I really felt drawn to it yet I was very scared of it.

I’m not sure where I heard this, or got the idea in my head, but I thought the band had some sort of occult ties and was part of that growing list of music I couldn’t listen to as a good little religious boy.  I feel like someone said something to me about them in a negative light, but I can’t remember for sure.  Maybe it was the phrase “dark cabaret”, because we all know dark = Satan, right?  Anyway, I didn’t listen to them and in fact told myself and others I didn’t like the band.  “Something about them doesn’t sit right”, and all that.

Something about them, though.  Something about them really drew me in, as did Amanda Palmer (one half of the duo along with Brian Viglione).  Once I left the religion, I didn’t go crazy with drugs and orgies and all that other fun stuff some people do.  But I did start doing other things I used to have restrictions on.  I started examining those things I used to think were bad, and figure out if I really didn’t like it or if I had conditioned myself to avoid these things because of the religion.  I started reading books I’d avoided, watching movies I wouldn’t have seen before, and listening to bands I had previously condemned.  Like The Dresden Dolls.

I realized that Amanda Palmer had grown up a few miles away from me and was just a year younger than me.  How insane, I thought.  I started imagining a life where I met her while I was in high school.  I’d still be awkward and nerdy, but in this alternate reality I would be open about the things I was drawn to.  I would be friends with the art & drama & musical kids, and go hang out with amazingly weird and interesting people, walk around Harvard Square and enjoy the strange.  I would meet Amanda and we would be great friends, we would talk about life and love and sadness and music.  I would be a more confident person, have more self respect, have friends that didn’t decide to never speak to me again because I chose to leave my parent’s religion.  I would have gone to college (because in my real life you’re a bad person if you want to get secondary education) and have a degree but at the very least had that life experience.  Eventually, I’d even get to hang out with Neil Gaiman – another person I avoided in my original reality because he wrote about gods and demons and fantastic things that would probably have turned me to the dark side.  I would have started writing as a young man, I would have…I would have…I would have…

It can be a fun activity to think of your alternate realities, but it can also sink you into an endless loop of looking back at the past and feeling sorry for yourself instead of living life now.

If I had lived that alternate reality, I would probably be a very different person.  I am sure I wouldn’t have met my amazing wife.  My wife inspires and encourages me to take everything I went through, all the good and bad and shameful and wonderful things, and use them to make my dreams come true.  I want to use all the happiness and pain and be creative, to leave something in the world that says I made some sort of contribution and made someone happy.

My past is my past, and I can’t change it.  I can use it, though.  And I can make sure my next 40-something years builds and improves upon my last 40-something.  I’m sure we would have been great friends, Amanda…but I’ll stick with the life I have.

Stevie Nicks

I heard someone say that people who like Fleetwood Mac don’t appreciate good music.  Are they considered a guilty pleasure?  I never realized that.  Then again, I’ve always had a fondness for “yacht rock” so I guess I’m biased, not that Fleetwood Mac is necessarily yacht rock type music.

Anyway, I’m listening to Stevie Nicks’ “Bella Donna” this morning as I do some research for something I’m working on.   I was listening to Kind of Woman and realizing just how much I adore her.  Not that this is her best song or anything, but it made me remember that I love listening to her songs whether they were solo released or as part of FM.

Something definitely drew me to the way she presents herself to the world, that essence of the spiritual or mystical.   I find it a little ironic that I was drawn to that even as a young person, back when I was in a strict religion that forbade me from reading or listening to anything that may be “pagan”.

Now, when I listen to her music and think about it, I don’t just enjoy the music for the music’s sake.  I always feel like somehow it represents having an open mind, to realize that  we  don’t  fully understand everything  about the universe and the possibilities of what is out there, of the true magic in the world.

Too much for a lazy Sunday, maybe.  I should go back to research and enjoy the music.

Chicago, and Changing Who You Are

I believe my love of music comes from my dad.  Looking at his stacks of albums, staring at the album covers, they seemed like such an adult mystery to me as a child.  I clearly remember being mesmerized by Kate Bush album covers, but that’s for another post.

Chicago is one of my father’s favorite bands, and so I listened to them a lot as a young kid.  70’s Chicago though, not what they became in the years in which I grew up.

“Make Me Smile” was released on the Chicago II album in 1970, and I believe it encompasses the spirit of Chicago in the beginning.  Amazing vocals by Terry Kath, a founding member of the band and lead guitarist.  This is what I think of when I think of the band.  In January 1978, Kath was fooling around with some guns.  Not realizing there was a round in the chamber of his 9-mm, he died when he rested the gun against his temple and pulled the trigger.

The band, after wanting to disband, stayed together.  Now I don’t know the actual history of Chicago and what kind of internal politics were at play, but my perception is that the music shifted at that point.  Again, I’m no historian on the band of music in general, but the first album after Kath’s death was the first Chicago album not to be numbered (previous albums were Chicago II, Chicago III, Chicago IV, you get the drift). The music was…disco? Pop? Different.  And just look at what may be one of the goofiest album covers of all time.

Look at that smug Peter Cetera’s face looking like “yeah, I’m taking this band over!”  I’m kidding!

Most people know Chicago as releasing music like the following:

I forgot about that video…aww, 80’s punk love.  Music is completely different in the 1980’s as compared to the previous decade.  Sounded to me like a different band.


So what about people? How often does something “die” within us that we completely change who we are?  Or is it that this new person was buried deep down within us since we were born, and something changed to where we were finally comfortable allowing it to surface?  I know it’s popular to say “People don’t change”, but is that really accurate?

I’m not talking about a movie or novel where the villain in the beginning turns out to be a hero, but in real life how often does this happen?

From my experience in seeing people grow up in a strict religious environment, and then escaping said environment, I can say I’ve see people change completely.  But is this really a change?  I feel like it’s more of the case where a person’s inner self was so buried, so hidden even from themselves, and when they finally realize it’s safe to be who you are it seems as if they have become a different person.  Really, how they previously acted was not a true representation.

In a minor way we change.  Someone who hated green beans at the age of 10 now loves a good green bean casserole at the age of 30.  Another person hated opera at the age of 21 but now weeps while listening to Un bel di vedremo.  Is this changing who we are at the core though? Isn’t this just the refining of tastes and growing as a human?

What about a person who has a wonderful family life, grows up as a kind and caring person, but in their later years show themselves to be bitter and angry and full of rage.  Did they always hate people, or did something happen to them to kill the joy they had in life and replace it with fear?

I really don’t know.  I don’t even know why I’m thinking about these things.  We are, we act, we live.  Sometimes we start off as 1970’s Chicago, and become 1980’s Chicago.  Go listen to some music and think about who you were and who you are.


I wanted to say that I’ve always been interested in horror, but that’s not really true.  Fascinated and frightened, yes.  If I had to hazard a wild guess as to why, I think the easy target would be growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness.  Anything the religion viewed as occult was to be avoided at all cost, and the definition of occult was far ranging depending on who was giving their opinion at the time.  It could be anything from the movie “The Exorcist” to the cartoon “The Smurfs”, and I’m not joking.

Once I left the religion, one of the first things I wanted to do is start reading and watching things that before I would have thought of as evil.  One of the first things I did was start reading Stephen King.  My maternal grandmother loved reading horror and suspense, and I had been secretly wishing I could read some of his books.  Now I’m sure many Jehovah’s Witnesses read and have read books by King.  Again, evil is in the eye of the beholder.  In my particular situation, books written by people like Stephen King were to be avoided.  And the first thing I wanted to do was read something.  It was amazing, and freeing, to just read and watch what I wanted.  For some reason Neil Gaiman had been on my “avoid as evil” list but good god (yes, lower case) do I love his stuff.

Movies were great as well, but I found I wasn’t as much into the slasher/torture movies as I was the paranormal and psychological thrillers.  One of my favorite movies recently was The Witch.  Just amazing from beginning to end, and really represents the kind of movie that I love to watch and yet 20 years ago would never have dreamed of looking at.

I recently finished reading “The Witches” by Stacy Schiff.  It was a very detailed description of what went down in 1690’s Salem and the surrounding areas.  I found it fascinating that the sort of ultra-strict religious atmosphere that existed at the time really enabled the whole horrible ordeal to take place.   The only thing about the book I didn’t enjoy was that the author didn’t seem to tie any of the facts together to draw some sort of conclusion on why these events took place.

Perhaps she was doing her job as a historian and not inserting herself into the narrative, and I shouldn’t issue demerits for that reason.  But at times the book was a chore to get through, with a lot of names and dates that blurred together after a while.  Do not read this book if you are tired!  Overall though, it was very informative to read what happened without having the information twisted by trying to make it entertainment.

The truth is scary enough.  It did make me want to watch The Witch again, though.


More Thoughts about Writing

It really is tough to “just write”, at least for me.  When I said I would write more, I didn’t really mean on this website.

Two weeks ago I purchased a laptop in order to write every day.  This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, this is my passion, so why not do it while I’m not working.  Makes sense, right?  But the fear…am I good enough? Would anyone want to read what I write?

It’s easy to write on this website because I know nobody is reading it.  I originally had comments turned on, but stopped that because it was literally all spam.  The first comment got me so excited and then I realized it had a spam link on it and, well, sadness.

Writing a novel, or short stories, or submitting to a website or magazine…that’s a lot different.  There is true rejection.  And even if you are published, people can hate what you have to say or tell you that you’re not good at putting those words together.

So I bought the laptop, brought it home, and it didn’t work at all.  My brand new computer was so slow it felt as if I were on the first desktop I ever had back when I didn’t go on any websites, I dialed in to BBS’.  I couldn’t use it, had to bring it back to Best Buy.  I can’t write now!

That’s unconscious resistance.  Bullshit.   I went online and bought a new laptop, and this thing is amazing. I love it. And I’m writing.

Maybe you’ll never see what I write.  Maybe you will and you’ll love it.  Or think it’s complete garbage.

No matter what, I’m writing.  I sit down, and “just write”.  And a week in, I love it.

On Writing

I’ve had so many stops and starts.  Not only in the past few years, but my whole life.  For now, let’s just talk about writing.

When I was a child, I wanted to either be a writer or in the mafia.  When that was met with some nervousness from the adults in my life, I changed mafia to FBI.  Writing was always a constant.

My grandmother always encouraged this dream, and we would write stories together.  Our reading tastes weren’t quite the same; I wasn’t allowed to read Stephen King.  Now I wish she were still around so we could discuss Misery or The Stand.

I recently finished reading On Writing by Stephen King.  The Universe, Mr. King, and my wife have really encouraged me in the last couple of weeks to dig back into my first love.

I don’t believe the mafia is in my future, so I’m really going to give writing a shot.  A real shot this time.  Wish me luck

Joni Mitchell

I’m sitting in the Minneapolis airport waiting for my flight and listening to “Blue” by Joni Mitchell.  “My Old Man” is playing right now.  This week I’ve been listening to a lot of her stuff, and yet I still wouldn’t be able to answer any  trivia questions about her songs.  I did read an enjoyable article about her though, by Lindsay Zoladz on The Ringer:

I’m really not sure what it is about listening to her stuff…her voice? The lyrics? The way she plays guitar?  Probably all of it.  I have a few musical regrets, and not seeing her live is one of them.

There’s just something about her that makes me feel warm and sad, warm and happy, sometimes both.

Anyway, read the article because it’s really good. Then listen to some of the music (I guess suggesting the album “Blue” is cliche but that’s for a reason).


More San Francisco Adventures

Maybe wandering the streets of San Francisco inspires me to write. Or maybe I just really am a huge procrastinator.  Either way, I”m back in SF and got the day off to explore.

Standard tourist fare: took a trolley car to Fisherman’s Wharf. Walked around there a bit, decided to go to a different neighborhood for some refueling, and hit Ghirardelli Square for some dark chocolate.

Highlight of the day had to be Musee Mecanique.  The place has an enormous collection of coin operated antique machines, actually playable. Well, most of them were playable.

The entire Fisherman’s Wharf area seems pretty overpopulated by touristy stores and restaurants, but that place was a lot of fun. Just walking around it was amazing.  It reminded me when I was a kid going to Disney World – one of the coolest things I saw were the old arcade style machines in a store on Main Street.  My whole family was excited to go on rides or take a picture with Mickey, but I was thrilled to watch a “movie” like they did before TV.

Well..that’s about it.  I wanted to write these posts so I could remember what I did, but I started this one in March when I actually was IN San Francisco. It’s now almost the end of April.  But something pulled me to the blog and I just had to finish it.

So there you go, my 2nd SF visit, for the (non-existent) people who read this.  Go there, and play a bit at Musee Mecanique.  OH – and go to The Braxton for their French Dip and martini with blue cheese olives. Damn good combo.

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