Thursday, August 24, 2006


Nick Hornby has a great piece on "How to Read" which could be alternately titled "Life's Too Short to Read Boring Stuff." (via

Monday, August 21, 2006

One Book

Meme started by whiskyprajer. Found via the 2blowhards.

One book that changed my life: Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke. (A title I now find ironic since Clarke is a known pedophile.) This was the novel that introduced to me the magic that written, long-form fiction can do. I already liked stories, and even enjoyed some novels up to that point, but when I read this for an 8th grade class, it just blew me away. Up till then, like the majority of students, the forced reading of the "classics" had made me wonder what all the fuss was about. Who'd want to read this dull, moldy stuff on purpose? This one opened the door for me.

One book I've read more than once: The only one I ever have is The Stand, by Stephen King, but that's because the one released later was the "complete" version. (The restored sections weren't all that. I think the "original cut" is superior.) I don't read books twice because my recall is such that I can't enjoy a book the second time as I remember nearly everything about the story. I even get the odd sensation of an echo in my head as my recall "reads ahead," anticipating the good parts. (Oh, wait. I did reread Bach's Illusions in my late 20s, because I had initially read it when I was a teen and loved it. Since it was so short, I wanted to see if it held up. Verdict: It didn't. Bach's stuff is oddly self-centered, even when he sticks to seagulls, which a teenager wouldn't have noticed, of course.)

One book I'd want on a desert island: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. I consider this the Great American Novel. I'm waiting to age sufficiently before I re-read it due to the reason I gave above. I can't hardly wait. Some fellow Christians would be shocked that I didn't say "the Bible." But, y'know, I've read it, got the t-shirt ... besides the vast majority of the point of the bible is how to behave towards others, and if you were stranded alone, most of it would be moot. (Soccer balls expect to be kicked around, btw.)

One book that made me laugh: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Laugh? Thought I'd die! If you're not chuckling by the end of this, I'm sorry. I'm gonna cheat and name two others: Douglas Adam's "Hitchhiker" series, a hands-down classic; and Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job, the most recent stellar snort-fest I've encountered.

One book that made me cry: The Elephant Man and other reminiscences, by Frederick Treves. I read this as a younger man, about a year after the movie came out. I no longer have the emotional stamina to read anything this sad, so I'm fortunate I read it when I did. Had I picked it up now, I'd set it down about the second time it made me well up. This one will break your heart. However, it appears to be out of print, so check your local library.

One book I wish had never been written: this one. This bastard is also on my "time machine list," usually comprised of two columns: those you'd go back to meet, and those you'd go back to snuff in the cradle. Guess which one he's on (and I would do it with a red rag, just for the irony).

One book I wish had been written: "How to Play in the Minefield of Corporate Politics without Losing Your Mind or Morals," by Billi Lee. She has written a book, but it does not contain all the wisdom she conveys in her seminar on the same topic, which she calls "Success Savvy." It really is best delivered live or via video, but it would be nice to have it in book form for the ages.

One book I'm currently reading: Laurel Canyon, by Michael Walker (non fiction), about origin of "the California sound." The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Carole King and many other big players all lived in Laurel Canyon and together at one point, and they formed a body of music that everyone's familiar with. This is the behind-the-scenes story. I just abandoned The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards (fiction). The story was kinda good (I skipped through it to the end), but it was a tad overwritten, with too many descriptions of snow, buildings, roads, etc. (I've cheated again and gave two because I always have a fiction book going, and I don't let that fact get in the way of reading some non-fiction, so when I have a non-fiction book, I usually tag team.)

One book I've been meaning to read: I would like to say The Remembrance of Things Past, but I wasn't impressed by what I saw in my two false starts thus far, so believe it or not, it's the original Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have a quasi-goal of getting back to all the original iconic character novels, like Frankenstein, Dracula, Invisible man, and so on. I've found that all of the novels (that I've read thus far) that created an iconic character who spans cultures are truly timeless and gained their status for a good reason. Tarzan is one of the few I have left.

And everyone has seemed to add one last "One book" topic of their own invention, so here's mine:

One book they shouldn't force kids to read in high school: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Yes, it is good book, and it's a great achievement considering the age of the author and the age she lived in, but I think you can only appreciate this book if you have some age on you (which is very odd considering a teenager wrote it) and were a Lit. major in college. I don't know of a single high school student who hasn't loathed this book when forced to read it, including me. I've only revised my opinion due to readings of passages when my wife read it recently.
Empathize without Sympathy

For constant readers, I try to collect great bon mots, snippets and passages that great writers have offered about the craft of writing.

Today, provided one from David Foster Wallace:
When asked about the similarities between great athletes and great novelists, Wallace suggested that great athletes possess the ability to "empathize without sympathy" with their opponent, something that is useful in fiction writing when putting yourself in the shoes of a character.
Reasons why, number 3,974,857.

I love that woman because she makes me laugh.

The other night, the baby was in her crib, and we were getting ready for bed. My wife farted a rather grandiose and multi-note fluffer. The baby stirred not. When I crack one, we have to get the spatula to scrape her from the ceiling. (Not to mention the dog.)

I said, "How come when I fart she wakes up, but you can fart with abandon?"

She said, "Because mine sound like a door creaking, yours sound like artillery rounds."

Maybe I should look into going competitive...
How far is too far?

I've never been a fan of the drug war. More domestic atrocities have been done in its name than about any other horrid, government-caused program or movement. Eventually prohibition ended, Asians were released from internment camps, slaves were freed, the Indians got their casino licenses, black people used as medical guinea pigs got some reparations, and so on. All of these are still shameful episodes in our history, but at least they're over.

The drug war just continues to metastasize.

The latest development is that pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is now a controlled substance, not because of its inherent properties, but because you can make methamphetamine using it as one of the ingredients.

As of Sept., you're gonna have to register with the FBI via your drugstore to get it.

Folks, it's a freakin' antihistamine. And a good one. But now, it's illegal just because you can turn it in to something illegal.

I just keep marveling at how stupid things continue to get due to the drug war. Hell, even pacifiers are now suspect because meth users use them to guard against grinding their teeth.

How come dirt isn't illegal? It can be used to grow all sorts of drugs, you know.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


The other night my eldest daughter asked me if I thought I was good-looking.

I said no, I think I'm probably just average. Not ugly, but nothing to write home about either.

Says she, "But when we go to Walmart, you're one of the better-looking guys there."

"Well, I guess I'm Walmart handsome, then."

I guess you gotta take those silver linings where you can.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oh were I younger, more limber, and had this kind of time

I've always been an animation buff. Even in grade school when we were assigned a paper where we could pick the topic, I would ninja vault over the other students to get to the "C" encyclopedia in order to get to the entry on Cartoons.

So, when I discovered this - folks drawing with light pens during a long exposure for each frame to create air cartoons - my old animation habit reared its hoary head and said, now that's awesome!

Imagine the talent this takes because you've got to be able to, a) draw well in the air, b) do it repeatedly and consistently, and c) on the fly while envisioning the next movement. And look, the thing has actual character - meaning it moves in a specific and identifiable way. It's perky.

Check out this ambidextrous wonder, she's doing two characters at once.

You can see the rest here.
los muchachos del verano
les garçons de l'été
i ragazzi di estate
die Jungen des Sommers

Garrison Keillor has another fine essay up at Salon. Most of his are good, but this is one of the greats: When the crooked politicians and crazy evangelists have got you down, it's time to remember Dad and take yourself out to a ballgame.

Even though I'm utterly lacking the sports gene, this hit home (cough, cough).
I would've wondered if the rapture had occurred...

Three of my mostest favoritest authors were in a room together and discussing Harry Potter.

I would've been in heaven.

I probably wouldn't have even been able to pay attention from being overwhelmed by the fact that Stephen King, John Irving, and J.K. Rowling were in the same room, reading stuff, answering questions, and leaning on Rowling to not kill off Harry.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


A picture every day for three years.

Here's her site.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Contribution to the "Signpost Films" Meme

From "girish" (via the 2blowhards):

There are movies we encounter at certain points in our appreciation for the medium that become, almost by accident, little breakthroughs in our viewing life. They may not be great masterpieces—though they well might—but the important thing is that we have the fortune of meeting up with them at just the right juncture in our development. I think of them as “signpost films”: they take a territory that was previously foggy or unmapped to us and they suddenly make us see and learn something revelatory about this art-form that we love. These encounters make us exclaim, “So, that’s what this movie’s doing!” And it’s a lesson we take with us, carry over and apply, to hundreds of other films we will see in the future.

So, here are mine.

While putting this together, I noticed something I hadn't know about myself before. My interests tend to center around an interesting narrative approach. Yeah, flashy filmic touches, great direction, great dialogue, etc. all mean something to me, but I guess I really get my yayas out when the film manages to have an interesting narrative.

Oh, and we start way early here, as you'll see.

Here ya go (in relative order of viewing):
(These first three I saw on television, btw.)

Winnie the Pooh - Though officially seen on TV as episodes, these original Disney Pooh stories were culled from a full-length movie, which is what you get now when you buy the DVD (and if you have kids you should). It was the first set of stories that introduced to me the concepts of emotional depth (there's one particularly moving section where Pooh and Christopher Robin discuss his going back to school, and what it means to each of them), longing, that it takes all types (see Rabbit and Piglet), and that there are very stupid people in the world (the bear of very little brain), but that doesn't mean they aren't wise at the same time.

Silent running - I was amazed at what movie magic can accomplish. The use of people whose legs have been amputated as the robots blew my little mind at the time. And, this was my first taste of an unhappy ending, which I hadn't expected.

Andromeda Strain - My introduction to bizarre narrative techniques where, for instance, we spend about 10 to 15 minutes of film time exploring how hard it is to totally decontaminate / de-germ the human body, and the people's reactions to the process. Also, the film is replete with long technical sections where we see how the disease kills monkeys, how the facility traps contagions, etc. The actual plot is pretty thin, but the scientific detective story is ace.

Lady and the Tramp - The movie where I realized that animation can go beyond fun and songs and be actually scary (when Lady is chased by wild dogs).

Star Wars - Spectacle. Breathless spectacle. I didn't know movies could be so huge. Or so downright fun. And it was the first film that portrayed what it must be like to actually flying around in a spaceship (sorry Mr. Kubrick). The spaceships just felt right, and you really got a feel for the scale, too.

Alien - Again narrative. The slow start where everyone wakes up out of hypersleep not knowing why they had really hooked me. Then we plot along with a very work-a-day feel to it, until...

Body Heat - This is one of the movies where it dawned on me how movies can work on/within a specific narrative genre. (Thus, successful genre narrative: erotica.) I'd seen sci-fi done a lot of interesting ways, but not erotica. I'd seen a bazillion "tit flicks" - as we called the drive-in fodder we saw at work (as drive-in staff) - where the cast were all supposed to be teenagers and every actress would get topless eventually. Yeah, nudity and simulated sex were fun to watch, but it was a very voyeuristic activity, and wasn't really a cinematic experience. Body Heat was the first time I saw how sex can be used as part of the narrative and not just for titillation. (I know M. Blowhard has no problem with "just for titillation," but for me, if that's all you want, just go straight to porno.) Sexy movies are the most difficult ones to get right, in my opinion.

Sophie's Choice - Proof to me that tragedy can be done right. (Successful genre narrative: tragedy.) Most tragedies, or just plain ole unhappy endings, always felt more contrived than happy endings, to me. To have an audience invest emotionally in a tragic story, the payoff has got to be cathartic, subtle, and not just a simple "that's life" letdown. Life has enough of those for us as it is, and to expect us to eschew something fun or entertaining for a bummer of a time, it's gotta have that indescribable component. Simply put, if you're gonna bum me out, do it well, don't cheat, and don't just toy with my emotions for the sake of doing so.

(Ok, this next one is out of order, I saw it around the time of Star Wars, but I wanted to establish the "successful genre narrative" thang before I brought it up.)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail - In which I laugh my ass off, and discover that girls aren't typically Monty Python fans. (Successful genre narrative: extreme comedy.) I didn't realize comedies could go so far to tell you a joke. (I consider this the precursor to both Airplane! and Young Frankenstein in that regard.) When the animated angels put the trumpets to their butts during the fanfare, I literally fell out of my chair laughing, only to emerge to the glare of my (first) girlfriend's glare for having taken her to such trash.

Altered States - A narrative that takes sharp corners and doesn't necessarily explain what's going on, but if you pay attention, it's all there. And Robert Altman may have done it first, but this is where I first encountered realistic conversational rhythms, with people talking over each other.

John Carpenter's The Thing - This is the first horror movie that as an adult truly scared the shite out of me during my first viewing of the film. (Successful genre narrative: horror.) It's also a great exercise in Agatha Christie's "ten little indians" played out where the culprit could be literally hiding in plain sight, and it has a reasonable tragic ending - nearly a home run.

Hill Street Blues - Not a movie, but still an amazing leap forward in narrative technique and style. Even movies at the time hadn't achieved such a natural, realistic mesh of dialogue, circumstance, and the daily grind. Now it's common, but this is the first place I saw it.

Robocop - Holy ultraviolence, Batman! (Successful genre narrative: violent action/humor film (precursor to anything by Quentin Tarantino).) Yes, I'd seen The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde, but this was something else. It also has a lot of subversive parody, which is odd in this type of film. On a personal note, one of my phobias is memory loss (long story, that). So when the guy who becomes Robocop gets blown away, only to wake up as a science project (which we experience from his perspective), it gave me chills I cannot begin to explain.

Primer - Ratchets up the complexity of narrative that doesn't stop and explain everything, while at the same time showing how professional a movie can look and feel on a half-a-shoestring budget. This movie gives me hope for the future of American cinema.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Hinky narrative structure where you are operating on 3 to 4 levels of reality and timelines. (Successful genre narrative: non-linear narrative/timeline.) It's an amazing feat of storytelling that actually keeps your "where am I" references straight while zooming in and out of reality. It's also one of the most heartbreaking love stories I've ever seen.

Yes, there are no foreign films here. Unfortunately, since we are so close to the actual, visceral events of the story in the medium of flim - we witness it live - the distances created by a language barrier and different cultural touchstones, that disconnect has prevented any foreign film from being revelatory or a signpost for me - even though I've greatly enjoyed a few.

I almost put Blue Velvet on here, but - even though it affected me greatly when I saw it - I really just felt that the dude who'd made Eraser Head and The Elephant Man had simply managed to mesh those two sides of his storytelling personality into one cogent whole. Meaning, it wasn't so much a signpost movie for me, but it must have been for David Lynch for getting that mix just right.

Thanks for playing.
Night Terrors

When I was a kid, there were 3 things that simply terrified me: the Mummy, The Exorcist and Bigfoot.

The Exorcist was such a phenomenon that you really couldn't avoid it if you had a TV in the house. Come to think of it, it's the first "total media saturation" that I can recall witnessing in my life. They showed plenty of clips on TV, and the growling, levitating, green-faced girl scared the hell out of me.

My fear of The Mummy was just the result of a nasty coincidence. The plot of the mummy movie I saw was that someone had removed a broach from the mummy, and then when they x-rayed the mummy, it came back to life, and it wanted that broach back. So it walked very slowly towards wherever the broach was. Well, the week I saw the mummy, my weekly reader had a feature article about this actual mummy they recently x-rayed, complete with pictures of the gristly results. I was sure the damn thing was going to come after me, broach or not.

But those two fears were nothing compared to how much I feared Bigfoot.

See, all of these things got to me because they were all presumably real. (Granted, even as a kid I knew an x-ray wouldn't animate a mummy, but it was a real dead person in there just the same.) And Bigfoot was the most real of all. He could be standing in my yard at night, forchristsakes.

On top of that, for what seemed like a year they ran this commercial incessantly for "Sun Films International's Search for Bigfoot" (I think that's what it was - for once the web fails to produce a reference) which began with this unearthly wail/howl that was supposed to be a Bigfoot call. The sound of it would stop me in my tracks and I would be freaked for about 15 minutes thereafter. (I later discovered my brother-in-law had the identical fear and reaction to that preview.)

So, the other night when I saw the clip below, I was yet again glad to be born when I was. Had this prank been pulled on me, I'd've slumped over dead on the spot.
(Wish I'd have known this series was on at the time. But, thanks to Youtube, it's never too late.)

Direct Link

The look of abject terror on the girl's face is something. She. Just. Can't. Look. Away.
Three Moons Over Milford

The teasers to for the show were good, and the premise seemed great - with the potential to be another Northern Exposure or at least Desperate Housewives, but hopefully one the whole family could watch (both of those being a bit adult for anyone under 13).

The premise is that a meteor hit the moon and cracked it into three pieces, so everyone on earth has gone into "Carpe Diem" mode. See how that could be whacky and fun? And in fact, during the opening credits, our heroine Maureen McGovern (whom I've always liked) cruises past several neighbors who've obviously adjusted their lifestyles, one of whom now waters her lawn in the nude.

But then we (actually McGovern) drive past a church where a bride and groom are emerging, he in the dress, she in the tux. Moments into the show we join a group of teenage girls in the midst of a Wiccan spell-casting ritual to restore the moon.

Um, when will the producers of these kinds of shows get the memo that the vast majority of families don't want to tackle the issues of gender bending and occult rituals during lite prime-time fare? Shows marketed to teenagers, sure! But "family" shows, no.

The commercial breaks all crow about how this is the "New" family channel, presumably one geared for the whole family to watch together. But perhaps they mean the "new" definition of family that the media is trying to force on us, which really is a code word for the new definition of "diversity," which really means ... well we all know what that means. Which is too bad. Postmodernism and American families really don't mix. (And if you want proof, just watch children in Toy'r'us sometime - where they go and what interests them.)

Now if the show had been actually good, I would just declare it not suitable for kids and be done with it, gladly taping it for later viewing. But since it sucks AND since it has material not suitable for kids, lets call this one a wash.

About the only thing that's clever about the show is that they worked "MILF" into the title.
Great Saves

Our neighborhood funds a concert series in the park for 3 Wednesdays every summer, so we pack up the family and go.

Kids run around everywhere blissed out of their little gourds. Mom and dad are nearby on a blanket while they play with hundreds of other kids, music pumping in the background. Cops stand around stone faced, mostly making people who haven't sufficiently disguised their alcohol dump it out.

Somehow the baby got ahold of a ball and decided that bouncing it off our neighbor's margarita was a grand idea.

All of his party training kicked in and within microseconds of the cup landing on its side, he'd grabbed it and scooped the drink off the blanket back into the cup, leaving only a pool of humidity behind. It was a grand save. I doubt they even had to wash the blanket.

The only save more worthy of glory that I have witnessed was during a wedding party. Tradition had it that the men of the wedding party "steal" the bride and take her out for an hour or two, plying her with drinks and entertainment. The groom gets the same treatment from the women.

We took our charge to every nasty bait shop we could find as machine gambling had just been legalized statewide.

So, there she was, in her bright white wedding dress perched on a stool next to the minnow tank, beer in one hand, the other playing the buttons. The stool squirted from beneath her, leaving only air between her and the cement floor, stickily stained with leakage from the minnow tank.

Her party training kicked in too. She landed flat on her ass with nary a drop spilled, dress be damned. It was a lovely thing.

We ponied up another $20 for her to gamble with.

(And for those who care, the dress remained pristine.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

King on Writing Successfully

Stephen King's On Writing is fantastic, and if art/act of writing interests you, it's something you should seek out.

Aside from that though, there's a famous short version that he wrote a while ago that usually is available in the annual Writer's Market, called "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes."

Since the original includes graphics that show how the editor edited his text way back in the day, I've never attempted to re-create it for the web. Well, somebody did if for me (us), but without the graphics.

Check it out.
Dancing with Himself

I don't know why this article struck me, but it did, so you might like it too (since, after all, you're here): Dancing in the Dark

This guy was going blind in his 20s, and when he had lost his night vision, he took home a girl from a dark bar only to be surprised when the lights came on.

Now, this doesn't interest me because it appears to be one of the world's worse case of beer goggles that's been documented, no. It's really along the lines of the fabulous Oliver Sacks books where he explores the fringes of perception. If this article interests you and you haven't read any Sacks yet, you might want to arrange a visit to your local library.