‘Tis the Season…

The past few Christmases, I’ve had no income. I was laid off from a job and was barely affording food and such. It always devastated me because I like to give during the holidays. I’m a bit of a giver by nature, and it just always felt good to make someone else’s Christmas a little brighter in whatever way I could.

Lacking that ability is draining for me. There are people that I wanted to give a gift to so badly, but I just couldn’t and it would tear me apart. Those same people would buy me things and I’d be very appreciative. It brightened my spirits just a little bit. Enough to not feel like a total loser. but then I’d remember that I couldn’t return the favor and I’d fall into that mental pit again. It has been the case far too often for the past 6 years.

This year, I have been working, but the job doesn’t feel as secure as I’d like. That aside, I have money and I’m giving. I promised myself that I would if I had the ability to – which I do – so I am. It make me wince a little when I see the bank balance drop into the depths of Hell, but when I hear the appreciative words of my friends, it makes it all money well spent.

Even that has its ups and downs, though. There are some people that I feel a need to buy for out of obligation, and that kinda annoys me. But I try not to let it get me too upset. Things could be a whole lot worse.

This year, I’ve done some great shopping. I decided to buy some special friends a few gifts that I know they’ll love, and I’m quite proud of my ability to find thoughtful items on one day’s efforts. The rest of my buying as of this writing is basically gift cards, so I’m all set. The whole process of giving has made me feel less shitty.

But I also feel a bit empty. Giving to wonderful friends is great, but I feel like it would all be that much better if I had someone special in my life to share the festivities with. A lot of single people get all pissy and crybaby when Valentine’s Day rolls around, but for me, it’s Christmas that makes being alone harder to deal with.

Of my group of friends locally, I’m one of the rare single people, and it can be difficult hanging around a bunch of couples and realizing that they get to go home and have that person alongside them to talk with and just wind down from gatherings or share moments or whatever the case may be. On my end of things, I return to my bootcave and fire up youtube or the Xbox/PS3 or get wrapped up in Twitter. There’s no snuggling on the couch while watching TV or cuddling in bed at the end of the night… just myself and my mind left to ponder how things are.

As trying as that can get, I still have to say that I enjoy the holiday season whenever it rolls around. It’s a mostly good time, and I have nothing against the traditions of Christmas. I also know that there are people out there who just complain about it to no end, and I wonder if they know what it’s like to feel genuinely happy. Is Christmas perfect? No, but that’s not because the holiday is flawed. It’s because people can make it shitty for others. Because people are – on the grand scheme of things – idiots. Whether it’s competing with others or themselves about the gifts they give, or giving grief to other parents about how they handle what Christmas is for their kids, or even just downright being a Grumpy McGrumperton in general, the masses just know how to fuck it up for a lot of people. The trick is to just appreciate the things you can do to bring a little joy to the world. Should that be done on every day BESIDES Christmas or other holidays? Of course it should, but that doesn’t mean that celebrating on a certain date cheapens anything. The gestures should remain heartfelt and be received as such. If you can manage to let yourself be uplifted by the Christmas cheer, you should be fine. And if you absolutely just can’t stand the holidays, then that’s okay… but don’t be that assdrip that has to go around shitting all over it in the hopes of killing other people’s fun. That’s just plain selfish.

Anyway, I’m done ranting/whining. I’m just happy that I was able to celebrate this time and not hate myself. Whatever the near future holds, at least I can look back at Christmas 2013 and know that I put smiles on faces. It’s a good thing.

May your holidays be joyous and heartwarming and full of tasty burritos. Merry Christmas to all of you.

Just a Thought: Competition Vs. Community

Back in 1997 when I was barely 19 years old, the internet wasn’t anywhere even close to what it is now in terms of an entertainment source. Television and terrestrial radio were still the most viable options, and Howard Stern was considered the “king” of the radio airwaves. Here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Stern was just arriving to the market. I wasn’t hugely familiar with his radio work outside of the E! Network TV show he did, and the autobiographical movie Private Parts – which I actually really enjoyed and found humanized him – but his local debut was still an event that I looked forward to witnessing.

I had grown up listening to the local ratings champ The KQ Morning Show for years up to this point. They were very good, and the host Tom Barnard was always one of my major influences in terms of radio and creative ventures. So much so that I even pursued and was granted an interview with him a few short months ago. When Stern eventually arrived, I decided to check out his first show here in Minnesota. I didn’t expect to be pulled from KQ completely, but I thought that it’d be a nice thing to check in with every so often, and if it did win me over, I felt that I could like both equally for different reasons.

* * *

These days, my preferred media of choice is largely podcasts. I listen to anywhere from 8-15 per week, and I wish I had time for more. It takes me back to those old radio morning shows I loved where the banter was great and the personalities varied across the spectrum. The benefit now is that we can choose what topics we want to hear about. Video games, music, politics, comedy, advice, sex, comic books, etc… all of it is fair game and there’s an audience for each topic and show.

One of the best discoveries I made along the way were community podcasts; independently-run shows from fans of a genre that just wanted to talk about the things they liked. Hearing these shows influenced me to want to do my own program even more and I eventually started the BlankShowCast with my friend, Tim, whom I met out of a mutual podcast fandom. While many of these shows were of similar topics, they each had their own flavor and were able to share real estate in my mind as separate yet equal entities.

* * *

When I remember back to hearing that first Stern show, I remember not being entertained at all. There were long periods of dead air, the comedy wasn’t as great as I’d expected, and it just didn’t seem to have any flow. Perhaps the most standout aspect of it was when Stern and his gang dedicated a large amount of time to trashing the KQ Morning Show and picking apart its programming. Not only were their assessments totally false, but they were overly cruel and attacked parties that weren’t even involved in this newly-formed ratings battle.

KQ’s response was simple; “do nothing.” Somebody at the station had the foresight that acknowledging the drama wouldn’t do any good for them, and so they left it alone. Meanwhile, Stern and his goons continued to fire potshots at them in the hopes of garnering a response. This was Stern’s M.O. in every market he arrived in, and it was often the retaliations from his opponents that would become their undoing, making them look petty and scared in the process.

Terrestrial radio was highly competitive during that era, and for good reason. For the stations, it was all about ratings and profit and with two big names battling for market share in a small market like the Twin Cities, being #2 meant a huge difference in revenue for each of them. You had to win and win BIG in order to succeed because the number of ears on your airwaves was limited.

That is no longer the case in current times. With the growth of the internet and social media, an audience is no longer limited to one city and its surrounding suburbs. Youtube videos, podcasts, livestreams, blogs, fandom sites, and their ilk can reach anyone around the world. Supporters can number in the millions for a particular creative outlet and it happens regularly. Fans of internet entertainment can consume media whenever they like and can be into a number of different and/or similar things of their choice. The viewer/listener has total freedom.

Sadly, there are still some creators who either fail to recognize this or perhaps just choose to remain in a competitive mindset. They see other shows comparable to their own as threats or as outright “thieves.” It’s a thought process that feels antiquated and a bit regressive. Whenever you see two online ventures go toe-to-toe in some sort of clash, one or both parties can often come out of the ordeal looking petty, vindictive, or downright foolish.

***

In 1999, after the two-year Morning Show War was all said and done, the Twin Cities chose their champion. The locally-grown boy from North Minneapolis and his friends had defeated the self-proclaimed “King of All Media” and sent him packing. The tactic of silence worked in their favor. By remaining unresponsive to Stern’s prodding, Barnard and his crew dedicated their efforts to creating a quality show for their listeners and the show retained its loyal following. All the while, the cockiness and brash behavior of Stern and his troupe became off-putting and abrasive to the public. It was only a matter of time until the station that brought Stern to Minneapolis/St. Paul decided that his presence was unnecessary and unprofitable.

Here in 2013, media is taking the opposite approach. Programs of various styles are beginning to see that community wins over competition, and that there is a place for everyone to produce content and find a following. Prolific vloggers on Youtube – collectively known these days as “youtubers” – are seeing the benefits of collaborating. Appearing on each other’s videos only spreads good will and popularity and usually boosts the audiences of any and all creators involved. People like Grace Helbig (DailyGrace) constantly feature other vloggers like Hannah Hart, Felicia Day, Harley Morenstein, and others in an effort to help out their peers.

We are even now at the point where Youtube hosts themed weeks of programming, such as Comedy Week or Geek Week, in which they have a number of notable creators contribute to the theme and promote said videos as a group effort. The crossover can only benefit those involved. The same has also happened in podcasting, to an extent.

But again, there are those who seemingly want to exclude. The other night, I witnessed someone state that they felt as if one of their ideas had been plagiarized. Normally, this could be a notable accusation among content creators, especially if it’s one based on an intellectual property or other artistic vision. In this case, however, the idea in question was merely one of basic format and scheduling.

While these two groups may share a number of viewers, there is very little reason for them to compete with each other. Both are independent productions and are not monetizing their content in any way (as far as I know), so for there to be any kind of clash between them is pointless. Each endeavor should be free to establish an audience and attempt to thrive however they choose, free of the environment of accusations and publicized grumbling.

How this specific situation will play out is up to the parties involved, but if the video gaming community and, by extension, the streaming community want to grow as a whole, there has to be a mentality of inclusion within them. If two or more outlets want to create and happen to share a schedule for their work, then it falls to their supporters to decide which they choose to watch and when. Luckily, most outlets archive their stuff so that we can elect which to view live and which to go back to after the fact. Either way, creators must allow each other to produce content without discouraging one another from doing so. Embracing others’ efforts can only serve to establish positivity and a stronger community for all participants. Being competitive and possibly divisive will only lessen the sense of inclusion, and would likely intimidate newcomers from becoming a part of the fun.

* * *

Currently, the KQRS Morning Show is on its presumed final stretch, according to its host. Barnard tires of terrestrial radio and its outdated revenue model. However, he still loves performing for his loyal fans and friends, and so he has also dived into the podcasting world with his own show, The Tom Barnard Podcast. Recently, he has taken the show to a live streaming format similar to radio but without the ad interruptions and incessant station messaging that usually goes with it. His embracing of social media and its power to reach a wide audience has inspired him to produce something that he enjoys doing without having to worry about ratings and ad sales and my butt of corporate machinations hanging above him. He’s even reached out to other radio personalities and former “enemies” – except for the aforementioned Stern – to appear on his show as guests. In his eyes, he also wants to help build the community he is now a part of.

And that’s really the underlying message that I feel should be focused on. If you want to produce content, do it because you enjoy doing so; because you like the process of creating and showing what you’ve made to the world. At the same time, others are probably doing something similar but instead of getting catty about it or wanting them to disappear, we as creators should embrace that growth in both our respective media and the communities that surround them. It’s a whole wide world out there on the web, and we all have plenty of room to coexist and still have fun doing what we do. Let’s actually practice this message of inclusion that we hear so much about and maybe we’ll all be better for it.

A Birthday Wish

The holidays have been a struggle for me in recent years. I’m not bothered by their commercialism or family gatherings or any of that superficial garbage that most people get upset over. It’s just not my way to care about it all. I like to just roll with the situation and do what I can to spread joy in what is supposed to be a happy time.

Lately, however, that’s been the part I’ve had trouble doing. I’ve spent the better part of the last four years out of work and when I did have a job, I was let go before the holidays happened and didn’t have the spare cash to buy gifts for most of the people who deserved them from me.

But this blog isn’t about me and my emo feelings. This is a tribute.

As one does with any sibling, I’ve had ups and downs with both my older brother and younger sister, but they’ve always been there (mostly) to help out with whatever issues I may have had. These days, it’s my sister who has been coming forward and giving whatever she can to help out. It’s tough for me to accept it without feeling worthless because her situation really is far worse than mine.

Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body decides that perfectly normal and healthy tissues are foreign and need to be attacked. In her instance, it started in the kidneys.

She was sick for almost a full year before getting it checked. At first she didn’t think it was a big deal but as time went on, it became more apparent that this was serious. The snafu came in the form of her not having health insurance, therefore keeping her from wanting to accumulate a giant medical bill that she’d never be able to pay off.

Fast forward to now. She takes a pill cocktail every day and goes to dialysis three times a week because of her kidney failure. The staff at the clinic is incompetent to the point where they sometimes damage her arm while getting the needles in place. Last month, they put the needles in backwards which effectively lessened the amount of cleaning of her blood. She told me this, and I immediately wanted to firebomb the building.

Because of the disease, she’s currently receiving disability money from the state. It’s not much at all and most of it goes to her medicine costs and basic expenses. And yet, she always offers to help me and I am forever grateful.

Really, she has no business giving me anything, and yet she never hesitates to ask if I need anything. I don’t know if a lot of people in the world would be so selfless and caring, and having no way to return the favor bothers the fuck out of me.

Today (the 6th) is her birthday. All I can really do is tell her “happy birthday” and be a nice older brother, but I wish I could do more. One day, I’ll do something special for her kindness. Lord knows she deserves it.

Happy Birthday, Sara. Thank you for everything. You’re one of the strongest people I’ll ever know.

My Thankfulness

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a celebration of the things we’re thankful for. As a somewhat heavy participant in social media – namely, Twitter – it often feels like people love to take this opportunity to be thankful for a chance to make snarky comments about how the world is or how much they hate the holidays. Heaven forbid that they might want to feel some joy.

I suppose it’s their right to be that way. Hell, I know I have some reason to fall into the same trappings, but I’m not really like that. I like to smile and focus on good things and I feel very thankful for a lot, so I’m just gonna sit here and list a few off. This isn’t everything, and some stuff is gonna get passed over. These are just some of the important ones in my head.

Family – Obviously, they’re always there for any of us. Sure, some of them can be a little hotheaded, but that’s in every family. When we have to, we band together. Zunigas don’t fuck around.

Music – I’m often too busy doing things that don’t allow me to listen to much these days and I get withdrawals. It calms me. I often wonder if it’s due to its sense of structure or its complexity or both. Whatever it is, I like it and it’ll always be important to me. Special thanks to my late uncle Paul (RIP) for exposing me to it so young and letting me monkey around on his keyboard.

Gaming – The only hobby aside from music that’s been present in my entire life. It can be an escape one day or an inspiration the next.

Hockey – I love this sport. It’s been too long since I last played regularly, but now that late Fall is upon us, it’s time to get back to the office and embarrass fools.

BOOOOOOTS!!!

My Health – While I haven’t been as on top of it as I once was, I’m still in far better shape than I was at my lowest point. I’m thankful that I know I can achieve that goal if I dedicate to it. I just need to find that willpower again.

Podcasting – I’ve been involved with the BlankShowCast for a year-and-a-half now, and I still enjoy it immensely. It’s probably been my main source of creativity in that time, and it certainly satiates that desire within me. As long as I can keep doing it, I’ll be pretty happy. I’m even looking to expand into a network of sorts, but that’s for another time…

Twitter – Words cannot properly explain the effect it has had on my life. I’ve made many a friend there and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes people in my personal life give me shit for being on it too much, but I don’t care. It’s what I like, it’s what I choose to be a part of. I’ve made some great bonds with great people because of it, and I’m grateful for all of it.

Speaking of which, I owe some fine people a special acknowledgment:

Tim, Isabel and Holly – My original partners in podcast crime. Tim and I basically started the BlankShowCast during a game of Portal 2. Izzy later played along with me as well and has been a good jolt for the show, especially when she comes with questions for Tim and I. Holly was only with us for a short time but her contributions were always appreciated and, more importantly, is still one of the best people I know. If only she’d played Portal 2 with us, we might be a 4-person show. Oh well, maybe at some point we can convince her to return for an appearance in the future.

The Original Triumphant Trio

Unfortunately, none of us have met in person, but that’s something I hope will change soon.

Natalie – When I offered to write sporadically on her DojoRetro blog, I was unaware of what it would actually be turning into as time passed. Now it’s becoming a full-fledged website. What’s even more shocking is that even while doing seemingly very little (in my eyes), she’s put a lot of faith in my extremely limited ability and knowledge. The main thing, however, is that she’s made me realize that I still love gaming as a whole and helped me shake a jaded feeling I’d recently developed toward the industry and its coverage. It’s a hobby of fun and I want it to stay that way, and I think that’s our ultimate goal. As long as it continues to be enjoyable, I’m in. I couldn’t thank her enough.

Ellie” D – My twitter bestie and one of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever met. She’s always willing to listen when I have to gripe and is never without words of encouragement. We’ve both helped each other through some rough times and I’ll always respect her for her kindness. Another one I need to meet, someday. We have a production company to start, after all. %

BlankShowCast Guests – Before it was a three person operation, we often had outside people join us to help keep it fun. For that we thank the following people immensely: Aenne Schumann, Nate Hales, Sam Alegria, “Retro” Chris Carboni, Melissa Kay, Jared Larson, Marc Lynch, Cyrus “Fozzy” Fayazi, Sarah Strickler, Brendan van der Vlist, Brian Eskelson, Jason Ericsson, Brittney Brombacher, William Milby, and the reigning champion with 4 appearances, Stephanie Gutowski. Thank you all for helping us not be as boring as we would’ve been without you.

Various Podcast Special Guests – I’ve been lucky enough to have been granted a few serious interviews, all of which were exciting and super fun to do. For this, I’d like to extend serious thanks to voice actor Courtenay TaylorMeg Turney from SourceFed, Emily Reese from Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Top Score Podcast, and Tara Theoharis from the webseries Job Hunters. It was an honor for you all to join us and give insight into your worlds. Also, Kristina Horner for the musical number.

My Bro and Our Friends – I seem to see these guys less and less as time goes on, but if not for them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. There’s not much else to say, really. They mean the world to me and they know it. I hope they do, anyway.

I think that pretty much covers all of the bases. I know a lot of people are about to get stupid cranky about Christmas and all that, but I like happy. I’d rather enjoy the positive reflection that the holidays bring rather than focus on which part of the family I don’t like or how much of a hassle holiday travel and shopping is. We go through that out of duty, out of respect, and even out of love. The world could use more of that. I say we all put some out there.

-Happy Holidays, everyone!