Monday, January 07, 2008

What am I doing? Project 365.

I didn't start on January 1. In fact, my first photograph of the year is from Thursday, January 3, and it is this:

My sister Rachel and our two-year-old cousin Haden, who's astride ancient Horseback Bob. Haden was visiting along with her sister Ellen (who stole my birthdate), their mother Martha, their Aunt Gail and our cousin Courtney.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

To whomsoever may care. . . 

I seem more or less to have switched over to LiveJournal. Will I ever use blogger again? Who knows? Probably I'll find a use for it. In the meantime, I can be found here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rosh Hashana 

Yom Tov, Shanah Tovah, yes, it's the New Year. And I've become what I don't like: one of those guys who only goes to shul on the big holidays. I wouldn't even do that, but seeing as I'm living at home at the moment, it's not worth fighting with my parents about. When I expressed my mild displeasure with going to synagogue, my father snapped a bit. Started going on about how I need the socialization, and so forth. Which I happen to agree with. Except I fail to see how going to shul is socializing, any more than sitting in a movie theatre is. It is a community activity, sure, but it's not community interaction, just gathering, mostly. And over the years, there's gotten to be less audience participation.

While shul is meaningless for me spiritually, I do enjoy singing in Hebrew, but now more and more the prayers are to odd tunes for the Cantor and the Choir without the congregation, and it's boring to just sit there and listen without jumping in -- but how weird would it be to be the single congregant singing along? Still, I don't like this whole worshipping silently while the Cantor goes on business.

Honestly, I don't mind shul at all. Even though I'm an atheist, it's not the being there that bothers me: it's the being there only for the big holidays. If we went every weekend, it'd be no problem for me. There's a very good chance that when I'm not living with my parents I'll be an active participant in the local synagogue (or church, or other place of worship, depending on the religious inclinations of whomever my SO eventually is. . .).

Completely changing the subject, I'm thinking it's time for me to take on Proust, and was wondering if anyone would care to recommend any particular English translation.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I saw Serenity yesterday, and it was exactly what I expected: great fun. Not perfect; it had its flaws. But it was certainly the best science fiction film of the year and probably the last decade. You can find gushing reviews everywhere, so I'm not going to repeat them all -- just go out and do me a favor and see it. Of course I saw it alone, so had no one with whom to share my enthusiasm, but I guess that's life.

After that I went to dinner with my parents and a friend of theirs who's unfortunately afflicted with Huntington's Corea. We went to Mikimotos, a good sushi place. I had some delicious sushi/sashimi to start, and then an even better seared sesame tuna, served over onions and shiitakes and a couple pierogi. Mmm. Delicious. At dinner, out of the blue, my father said to me, "Your heart's going to be broken." "How's that?" saith Mastadge. "You're too nice. You're not an asshole like me. Your heart's going to get broken over and over again." "Oh, good," I replied, "something to look forward to." "You'll get used to it," he said.

Later on, he said that when I was little, his mother used to tell him that I was so sweet my heart would get broken when I got older. He said he didn't believe her at the time. "How little," I asked. "Five?" "Probably younger than that," he said.

So I guess it's no news to anyone that I'm a nice guy doomed to heartbreak. I guess it's been apparent for close to twenty years now, to those who're looking.

Later in the evening he told me what he said should make me feel good about myself. "You don't have a mean bone in your body. You should feel good about being nice." I couldn't help but feeling that that was kind of a backhanded reassurance.

Anyway, after dinner we had theatre tickets; we saw Larry Shue's The Nerd. It was funny, but not as funny as most of the audience thought it was, and its second half was a whole lot less funny than the first. It didn't cheer me up as much as I'd have liked it to.

I've been reading a lot lately. I read Dark Nest II: The Unseen Queen, which was okay, but you already know if you're going to be reading it or not so why bother talking about it? I also read Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, which was cute, fun, funny, quick and predictable. A good book, but not great. I'd be surprised if you don't laugh at loud at least once or twice while reading it. If you like Gaiman, you'll probably read it anyway, and if you don't . . . who am I kidding? How many people actually don't like Neil Gaiman? And, hmm, I'm pretty sure I read something else but I'm tired and it's not coming to me right now. Maybe later.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lords of Swords 

I like "heroic fantasy" as much as the next guy. Actually, chances are I like it a good deal more than any given next guy. And I'm always looking for exciting new stuff. So when I heard about Lords of Swords, I was naturally a little excited. It contained stories by E. E. Knight and Vera Nazarian, both of whose work I like, as well as stories by several established names, and some by writers of whom I'd never heard. So I decided to give it a chance.

Unfortunately, this is a book that should probably be judged by its cover. If the improbably buxom woman in the improbably low-cut, raggedy dress holding a couple of improbably large swords in an improbably pose does it for you, chances are you'll like this book. If it's the kind of cover that would have you embarrassed to be seen reading the book in public, you're probably better off skipping it. Of the thirteen stories in this anthology, only a couple are good, but none very good, with the rest ranging from okay to downright awful. While the paper stock is fine, the text is riddled with typographical and grammatical errors. I feel bad judging this book so harshly, but really, the best thing it's got going for it is the editor's enthusiasm -- and he's very enthusiastic.

The book opens with John C. Hocking's story "Vali's Wound". I'm familiar with Hocking only as the author of a Conan novel that I haven't read, and while the writing and atmosphere in this story are fine, it ends without answering the only question worth answering, and not in a satisfying way.

D.K. Latta's "Something Dwells 'Neath Hannah Town" is a relatively inoffensive story compleat with subterranean horrors. It holds its own, but isn't particularly impressive.

David L. Felts' "The King's General" actually starts pretty well, is fairly interesting with its parallel stories -- until the end, which is so unbelievably stupid, so offensively out of left field, that this story becomes a failure.

Howard Andrew Jones' "Line of Blood" is a pretty decent, straightforward story. I'll not be seeking out anything else he's written, but it's the best this book has to offer until it's eclipsed by

Barbara Tarbox's "Champion," which is a fairly straightforward if clichéd fantasy story that is at least fun to read.

E. E. Knight's "That of the Pit" is probably the biggest disappointment in this collection for me. I've read several of Knight's novels, and they're always solid and sometimes excellent adventure that I've always enjoyed, if at times guiltily. And given his Lovecraftian bent, how could I not be looking forward to a story with this title? So it surprised me what a muddled, pointless mess this story was.

Beth Shope's "Dragon's Eye" is another fun, readable story -- if predictable. Given that it's her debut story, the fact that it's one of the best in this collection is faily imressive.

Jonah Lissner's "Viro and the Iron Circle(t)", on the other hand, is virtually unreadable. Practically incomprehensible. Honestly one of the worst stories I've ever read, or at least I think it was. If this is representative of his work, I wonder how in the world he got a book of these things published.

Vera Nazarian's "The Slaying of Winter" is, predictably, one of the best stories in this anthology. It's not one of her best stories, but given the overall quality here, it stands out as something special.

Ray Kane's "Iron Hands" is not awful, but it's yet another very standard sort of story.

Nancy Virginia Varian (aka Nancy Varian Berberick) contributes "The Oaths of (the) Gods," which might have been an interesting story if it hadn't been written in an annoying affected pseudo-saga voice.

Joseph A. McCullough V's "Blood Drop" is yet another fun but unspectacular story.

This volume ends with Tanith Lee's "The Woman in Scarlet," probably the best story here, about a boy and his sword, except maybe it's the other way around, and maybe it's about a bit more than that.

Generally, the stories included her, despite the editor's extreme enthusiasm, smack of amateurity. Though this book claims that these stories and writers are "fast-paced and breathtaking," "the best and the brightest," and so forth, they show an amazing disinterest in doing anything more than simply playing with long-established tropes and clichés, producing work that continues to give Heroic Fantasy a bad name.

This is apparently going to be an annual anthology. Will I buy the second volume next year? It depends who the contributors are. If it looks like more of the same, no. If it looks like they may have learned from their mistakes with this first edition, probably.

One thing I did find quite interesting here was that four of the five best stories in this collection are by four of the five female contributors. . .

Anyway, I'm sorry to say that, as much as I wanted to enjoy this book, even on a purely escapist fluff level, the stories are more often bad than good and I cannot recommend it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A time to be nice, and a time to be a bastadge. . . 

There's a certain phenomenon I've noticed. My dad has, too, in his workplace. And it is this: people are so concerned with being nice that they forget actually to do work at work. Now, I have no problem with being nice. Far from it. I like to think I'm a generally nice guy. I have, in fact, been told more than once that I'm often too nice for my own good. But there's nice and there's nice. And when being nice interferes with getting work done, it's no longer so nice. If people are afraid to confront other people who are doing crappy work in the workplace because they can't figure out how to do it "nicely," that's a problem. When people are being nice and social and not getting work done, that's a problem.

I may not exactly be the busiest fellow in the world, but when I'm working, I work. If I've decided to do something, I do it until it's done. When I work at the bird hospital, I work however many hours it takes, often without stopping for lunch or food. Once I get started on a paper, I pound it out until it's done. If I'm given a task, I do it. I'm not saying everybody should function as I do. I know it doesn't work that way. But sometimes it bugs me.

I live in an 1896 Victorian house. This house requires a lot of work. Plumbing, electric, carpentry, painting, whatever. There are two workers, Dick and Larry, who have practically lived here for the past decade. Really good guys, and I've learned a lot from them. Good workers, know what they're doing. But it drives me nuts when I come down in the morning when they get here, am told that I'm going to be working on something with one of them -- and then my mom proceeds to chat with them for 15 minutes or half an hour or more. Don't tell me to get down here, it's time to work -- and then keep me waiting for an hour. That's wasting my time. But if I get annoyed and go work on something else while they're talking, when they finally finish and I'm not around suddenly I'm the bad guy for not being "ready to go" when I've been kept waiting for such a long time already. I enjoy the work. But don't tell me to do it and then keep me hanging, wasting my time.

I'm a pretty nonconfrontational person. Anyone who knows me will attest to that. But when someone working with me is doing a half-assed job, especially if it's a volunteer job, I don't hesitate to let them know that if they're not going to do the job right, they might as well not do it, because it'll be less trouble for someone who cares to do it right the first time than to have to go around and clean up after the slacker.

When it's time to work, do the work, and do it right. By all means, be pleasant, but don't let that interfere with getting the work done. Don't be anal, don't be an asshole, but don't let being "nice" get in the way of the job, either.

Anyone agree? Disagree?

Anyway, I'll have that Lords of Swords review up sometime this evening.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Well, my dad's on his way home from CA now. He's switching planes in Phoenix as we speak, and will be home around 1800 if all goes well.

Here, it's an absolutely beautiful day. The 95 degree armpit weather of the past few days has broken. The sun's out, the sky's blue, there's a fantastic breeze blowing. I walked Caleb down by the river for the first time in a couple weeks. Last time I got stung. This time I didn't, no thanks to the dog. You'd think he'd be smart enough to know not to want to investigate the hole in the ground with the little yellow buzzers popping in and out of it. Here are some pictures of him playing with Lucy and Bella:

Pic 1
Pic 2
Pic 3
Pic 4
Pic 5

There are two things that would improve this day: having gotten more than a night's worth of sleep in the past three; and knowing someone around here with whom to spend the day.

I'm off now to get some drinks for a function here tomorrow evening.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Remember I announced a few days ago that there's a new Tim Powers novel coming? Well, here's the blurb:
When 12-year-old Daphne Marrity steals a videotape of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure from her grandmother's house, neither she nor her college-professor father, Frank Marrity, have any idea that the theft has drawn the attention of both the Israeli Secret Service and an ancient European organization of occultists -- or that within hours they'll be visited by her long-lost grandfather, who also wants that videotape.

And when Daphne's teddy bear is stolen, and a blind assassin nearly kills her father, and a phantom begins to speak to her from a switched-off television set, Daphne and her father find themselves running for their lives through a southern California in which magic and the undead past are dangers as great as the guns of living assassins.

From ancient prophesies about Israel to the secret lives of Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein, this breathtaking novel throws a suburban father and daughter into the midst of an ancient supernatural battle.
Sounds like fun, no?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

So, you want to read the best debut novel of the year? Not only that, but one of the greatest, most interesting books of the year, debut or otherwise? Check out Hal Duncan's Vellum, the first half of his two-book sequence The Book of All Hours. What's it about? Duncan says:
I know I had a lot of fun trying to come up with a blurb. Hearing that movie trailer voice in your head can make you come over all silly solemnity, but actually trying to summarise a 180,000 word Modernist, metafictional, mosaic novel with a 3D theory of time underpinning the narrative... well it's an interesting writing exercise. So...

It's 2017 and angels walk the earth, beings that were human once, now unkin, remade by the ancient machine-code language of reality itself. Now, with the very book in which reality is written lost somewhere in the Vellum - the vast realm of eternity on which our world is just a scratch - the unkin are gathering for war.

On one side there's Metatron and his Covenant of angels, out to create Heaven on Earth even if it means an apocalypse to clear the way. On the other, there's the splinter-groups of ancient gods still hungry for the power that was once theirs, bitter enough to destroy the world if they can't rule it. And caught in the middle of it all are a handful of refuseniks still young enough to remember what it's like to be human... and to want to stay that way:

There's Phreedom Messenger, trailer-park tomboy, searching for her brother, Thomas, on the run in the Vellum. There's Seamus Finnan, the draft-dodging Irish angel hiding out in the desert, friend and mentor to both of them, who taught them just a little too much for their own good. And then there's Jack Carter, Covenant footsoldier, pawn of Metatron, a sleeper agent who doesn't even know he's unkin, who doesn't know that when he answers the phone, hears a certain word, another part of him takes over, and who doesn't know why he's haunted by a face he doesn't recognise, the face of someone he's been ordered to hunt down and kill... Thomas.

As Phreedom tracks her brother through the twisted timespace of the Vellum, determined to save him from the Covenant even if it means her own destruction, Jack, a time-bomb waiting to go off, is also on his trail. In the Vellum, a falling angel and a renegade devil are about to come to blows. In the Vellum, blood magic made in hell is about to come face to face with nanotechnology forged in heaven. Past, present and future will collide with other worlds and ancient myths.

And the Vellum will burn.
But don't let that fool you. It's really, really good. Great even. But don't take just my word for it! And if you don't care for hardcover prices, or don't want to pay to import it from the UK, that's okay, because it's being published in paperback here in the States in April. And while you're at it, don't forget to get in your order for the follow-up, Ink, coming next year. For more information on The Book of All Hours and his upcoming projects, check out this recent interview with the author as well.

Also, Rhys Hughes, about whom I've previously blogged, has announced a new book, a collection of his horror stories called At the Molehills of Madness and tentatively scheduled for release in June, 2006. Rhys is one of my favorite story writers, and it's been too long since he's had a book out, so this is great news. He discusses Molehills a bit more here and provides a list of the stories to be included here.

I'm currently reading The Kalevala, the Finnish Epic. It was compiled or assembled by Elias Lönnrot; the first edition was published in 1835 with a second, much longer edition coming in 1849. Lönnrot was a scholar who travelled around, collecting the songs and poems of the Finnish oral tradition from the old men who still remembered them, and then set about the task of compiling them into a coherent epic, a task at which he succeeded remarkably. While some old epics and sagas bore me, since I got into the rhythm of the poetry, The Kalevala has managed to stay consistently interesting, amusing and exciting. There are several translations available, but only three worth your time: those by Magoun, Bosley and Friberg. The most common are Magoun's prose translation and Bosley's verse translation. And while prose translations have their place, especially for those who don't like poetry or who are more interested in a perfectly literal translation of the original text (in fact, it's often very useful to read a prose translation in addition to a verse translation), and while Bosley's verse translation is perfectly fine, for my money the best edition, and the one I'm reading, is the verse translation by Eino Friberg. Not only does it sound better to my ears than Bosley's, but, though it's more expensive, it's a nice hardcover on good paper, beautifully illustrated throughout. So Friberg's is definitely the edition I recommend to any bibliophiles, though the other two are fine if you're on a more limited budget.

It's impossible to even begin to describe the influence The Kalevala has had on Finnish culture, but I do want to take a moment to look at a couple artists influenced by it. One is painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Don't really know anything about the fellow, but I like his paintings (the illustrations in my copy of The Kalevala, by Björn Landström, aren't quite as impressive, but they're close):

The other is composer Jean Sibelius. Probably the twentieth century's greatist symphonist. Sibelius is the Finnish composer. Probably the best place to start with him is his tone poem Finlandia. Once you've decided you like Sibelius, and you will, you might want to check out his symphonies. There're plenty of recordings, but I've yet to be displeased by Osmo Vänskä leading the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (Symphonies 1 & 4 and 2 & 3 are a good place to start). But he also wrote much music inspired by The Kalevala, including the early symphonic poem Kullervo which he hated and I think is magnificent and the Lemminkäinen Suite.

And that's about it for today. Coming this weekend, my review of the Lords of Swords anthology.

Monday, September 19, 2005

You know one of the only downsides to fall and winter? All the tasty vegetation is out of season.

A couple days ago, I watched the two new trailers for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. To my surprise, it actually looks like fun, and my guess is it will be my favorite of the Potter films to date. The first two were rubbish, and the third, though visually interesting, wasn't paced very well. This fourth film probably won't have as many neat visuals as number three, but my guess is it'll be generally solid, which is more than can be said for the others. Of course, what I'm most excited about in this new movie is the score. Patrick Doyle has taken over scoring duties from John Williams, which I had hoped he would do for the third, given his working relationship with director Alfonso Cuarón. Doyle is one of my very favorite film score composers, and it's about time he got some high-profile projects, such as Harry Potter and the upcoming Eragon. If anyone's interested, here're a couple recent interviews with the man, one about film scores in general and the other focusing on Harry Potter. Varèse Sarabande will also be releasing, sometime later this year, his score to Emma Thompson fantasy Nanny McPhee (scroll down; it's at the bottom of the page).

And no, I still have not read The Half-Blood Prince. I don't even own it. I'll get to it. Eventually.

What I have read over the past few days is what's been collected of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's comic series 100 Bullets. Prior to this, all I'd read by Azzarello was his run on Hellblazer, which, while fairly interesting on its own terms, simply wasn't Hellblazer. I'd heard good things about 100 Bullets, though, so decided to check it out. I bought all the trades in a lot instead of one at a time because it tends to be much cheaper to do it that way, and I'm glad I did -- the first story in the first collection was pretty bad, and the second wasn't all that compelling. If I'd only had the first book, I wouldn't've picked up the second. Owning all of them (First Shot, Last Call; Split Second Chance; Hang Up on the Hang Low; A Foregone Tomorrow; The Counterfifth Detective; Six Feet Under the Gun; Samurai; and The Hard Way), I decided to get my money's worth and read them, and am glad I did. Certainly this comic does not deserve all the rave reviews it gets as "the best thing in comics today." Its "street talk" dialogue occasionally wears on my nerve; Risso's artwork, constantly mentioned as "minimalist" or "impressionist" or would be better described by me as ugly-but-functional, though it's either improving over time or I'm getting used to it; but Azzarello's really drawing his story together masterfully, weaving together plots and characters very compellingly, with enough humor leavening this awesome noir series to make it palatable but also enough bitterness and brutality to make it occasionally difficult to read. Given that this is not one of my preferred genres, the fact that I'm still interested enough to keep reading speaks well of it. Anyway, the eight collections so far take us through the first fifty-eight issues of the series, which will, of course, be one hundred issues long. So it'll be another three years or so before I see the end of the thing, and I'm looking forward to seeing it through to the end.

And while on the topic of serial entertainment, let's shift to a different medium: television. Recently, Matt Stover said of the Best of TV that "about a third of it is really good, another third is watchable, and the rest is crap." I won't argue with that, but I will say that as far as I'm concerned, those numbers are better than what we've been getting in the movies these past couple years. I've never really watched much TV. Every once in a while I'd follow some show or other for a while, but I haven't even done that in years, and I never just sit down and "see what's on." It's usually boring and all too often not worth my time. But there are several shows on now that I'm very glad to spend an hour of my life on each week. One is Battlestar Galactica. The first season of this show was fantastic, truly fantastic science fiction; the second started off even better, then quickly lost steam for a few idiotic episodes, but it seems to have caught itself and is forging ahead once more. The other is Lost, entering its second season this Wednesday. I didn't see the first season on TV, but given the rave reviews, decided to pick it up on DVD (another good thing about TV -- on DVD you get a whole lot more time-value for your dollar than with movies). Lost is about a the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island, and it's very, very addictive. It's got a good amount of silliness and inconsistencies, but it's so well-written and well-acted, its production values are so high, that its problems are, for the most part, very worth overlooking. In fact, Lost is such good television that I decided to pick up the first season of one of series creator J.J. Abrams' other shows, Alias. A couple episodes in, I'm not finding it nearly as compelling as Lost, but I'll give it a chance.

In book news, Tim Powers has finally finished his new novel, his first since 2000's superb Declare, so we should be getting some news about that one of these months. A new Powers novel is always an occasion for much rejoicing, and even though I don't really know what this one's about, I can't wait for it. Back in 2003, Powers said, "In the current book I'm writing, a guy finds a cache of secret letters from Einstein, which will lead him into all kinds of occult difficulties." In 2001, he said of the new book that "It involves Death Valley and consequences from some stuff that went on in Southern California in the twenties and thirties. Movie stuff, Cal Tech." In 2000, "It looks like it will involve the Los Angeles area in modern times, but will have to do with consequences of things that took place in the 1930s. Beyond that I'm not real sure yet." And that's all I know. But it's sure to be a treat.

And another treat: Scott's posted another little excerpt from Red Seas Under Red Skies here. Of course, this book won't be out until probably mid-2007, but in the interim why don't you go order his debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora?

What I'm reading today is Andy Kessler's How We Got Here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology & Markets. I had not heard of this book when my dad gave it to me a few days ago, but it's not bad. I'm about a quarter of the way through it, and while Kessler's approach is more about breadth than depth -- a real connect-the-dots romp through the Industrial Revolution, steam engines, textiles, trains, steamships, electricity and so forth -- rather basic, but informative and generally quite witty and amusing. Worth a read, if you're interested in such things, as a jumping-off point; the reader who's already well-informed about this stuff will probably not find much new here. As I'm a fairly ignorant guy, I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

Catherynne M. Valente has a new column up: "Why I Write Such Excellent Books". Check it out. And then read her excellent books.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

This morning started off like most Sunday mornings: take the recyclables out, go get some bagels, get my little sister to Sunday School, get home. Except this time I didn't. Get home, that is. You see, my block is a circle. The only way out is onto the parkway, and this morning there was some kind of race or run on the parkway. The roads off of it were cordoned off and everything. Honestly, it doesn't bother me when they do these things, especially when they're for a good cause. What does bother me is when there's no notice. Doesn't somebody have an obligation to let us know that the only way out of our neighborhood's going to be blocked off for a few hours? Pamphlets in the mail, signs up in advance, or anything of the sort? Seriously, how can they block road access to all those streets for several hours on a Sunday morning? Seems downright irresponsible, not to mention a safety hazard.

I had some more to say, but I'm too tired now to care to write it out. Probably tomorrow. I'm thinking I may actually sleep well tonight.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Block Party 

Before I start on today's entry, I just want to make a quick FYI. Whenever I link to a book, movie, CD or anything on Amazon, I'm linking to the edition I've read, watched, or listened to. With books or movies this usually doesn't make much difference, but with music, almost anything I mention will have 50 or 60 different recordings. Since I'm not the enthusiast of the sort who can afford that many copies of each piece, I do lots of research beforehand to try to find one or two of what are considered the best or most "definitive" recordings of a piece. So I'm not just linked to any old recording, but hopefully a good one. Just so you know.

Moving on. (If you only read this thing for lit/media stuff, you may as well stop now. None of that in this post.)

Several new families have moved or are soon moving into our neighborhood. Five, that we know of. As I mentioned a couple days ago, we know two of them, so we decided to host a party to which we invited all the new families, everyone on our block and most of the people on the adjacent streets. A kind of getting-to-know-you, welcome-to-the-neighborhood shindig. It's kind of interesting how few people in the neighborhood I know. I spend a lot of time outside, and over the decade I've lived here I've come to recognize a few faces, and come to associate only a few of them with particular houses, but I don't know most of my neighbors to name or even to talk to. I virtually never see any of them outside. So I was a little surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the invitation. So many people gushing about what a great idea it was, how happy they were to be invited, and so on. Some of it, I'm sure, was simply people being polite, but there was also a lot of sincere appreciation for this thing. I reckon we had about 50 to 70 people here.

A nice bunch, mostly. Elderly, for the most part. One of them spent a year at my college, must be 40 years or so ago now. It's rare indeed that I meet people familiar with Hartwick, let alone who've gone there, so it was rather suprising that there was one on my block. Another of my neighbors turns out to be one of my high school classmates' college roommate's mother. Reminds me of Spaceballs: "I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate." "What's that make us?" "Absolutely nothing! Which is what you are about to become."

My mom had had the good idea of providing name tags, so we all had our names and our house numbers (our road is a circle, so the "block" is really all one street), which went over pretty well, except for the people who'd made the vanity decision not to wear their glasses and ended up writing past the edges of their tags. . .

I managed the small talk business for a while. Worked the room, chatted with people. 99% of people all ask the same questions. Here's a tip: be interesting. When you meet people, don't ask the same old questions that they've already answered 30 times that night. Be original without being conspicuous or obnoxious about it. It really will make you stand out, in a good way.

Interestingly, at least 85% of the people recognized me as "the guy who always walks the big white dog," and probably 45% guessed I was in high school. So I guess I still look young. . .

One of the several reasons I'm uncomfortable with situations like this is that I sweat a lot. I don't know how conspicuous it is, but it certainly feels conspicuous to have sweat beaded on your face, sweatstains on the shirt and all that. It's nothing to do with being nervous or even hot. I just sweat a lot, and am fairly self-conscious about it. So after a while, I took a few minutes and stepped outside to get some air. Took a quick run around the block, then played with the cats for a few minutes. Went back inside, spent a few minutes chatting with a guy. My mom comes in, says "We're having an emergency. There's a woman on the floor in the other room." I don't know exactly what caused the fainting spell. Some say she hadn't had much to drink, others that she'd been drinking a bit. It's fairly clear that the collapse was precipitated either by the heat, too much to drink, or some combination thereof. So I went into the other room, and lo and behold there were probably twenty people all around her. If she's collapsed from the heat, does she really need a bunch of people crowding her? Come on, give her some space, and get one of those fans trained on her. A few minutes later it comes to my attention that no one's called 911. Urgh. Yes, we all know that it's just the heat. Now how many times in history has what we've all known been wrong? When there's an octogenarian collapsed on the floor, you don't take chances. Far better for the professionals to arrive and say "It was a false alarm, she's fine," than to chance it going the other way. So she was on the floor for fifteen, twenty minutes and no one bothered calling for help. Goodness. Fortunately, this time we were all right, and we got her sitting, then got her home and she turned out fine, but you'd think a room full of intelligent adults would have some idea, any idea, how to proceed in a situation like that.

There was a moment I'm not sure I should write about, but you all know what an imbecile I am already, so what the heck. I was greeting people as they were coming in. Most of them were at least 50 or 60, some a little younger. A few had young children. And then in walked a literally stunningly attractive young woman. Over the next approximately third of a second, my mind went through a series of questions and deductions: I wondered how there could have been this model living in my neighborhood without my knowledge; as my brain did its thing and I recognized the people with her as my next-door neighbors, I wondered how I could have gone without knowing they have this beautiful older daughter; it clicked that they don't; and then it became apparent that this knockout was the fun athletic short-tousled-haired, rough-and-tumble tomboy gone drastically different -- and with that realization came the knowledge that she was my sister's age, 14, maybe 15 at most, and by that time my hand had reached hers, I welcomed her in, commented on her longer hair, turned to shake the next hand, and felt distinctly uncomfortable.

Now, I recognize that girls are maturing physically very young these days. It's a phenomenon I've recognized in my sister's friends, among others. And I don't feel ashamed for noticing, either. It would be impossible for me, for most guys, not to notice healthy, nubile girls, though how many of them in this society would admit it, being under the mistaken impression that that's pedophilia, is a different issue. I'm fully aware that physical maturity isn't an indicator of mental or emotional maturity; I have no designs on such young girls; I'm not uncomfortable around them because I'm afraid I'll lose control and do something all involved will regret or anything like that. No, the discomfort is not due to finding attractive girls attractive -- it's due to the notion that they know it. It's no secret that women can generally read men like billboards, and it makes me uncomfortable being around a physically developed 13-15 year old and wondering if and guessing that she knows what an effect she's having on me. I also have to wonder, as a quite sexually frustrated fellow, whether that frustration is having much effect on my judgment -- whether I find girls I wouldn't normally consider particularly desirable quite attractive precisely because my body's so eager for sex. Whatever the case, however the biology of it works, it's an occasionally uncomfortable situation for me.

Also, I've heard it said that any father with a teenage daughter has, however fleetingly, had certain unclean thoughts, and I wonder if that's true. I know, as a guy with a sister whom I've been told is quite attractive, that I've never been attracted to her sexually, that I simply do not and cannot think of her that way. She's my sister, not a girl, basically. There are few attractive women I could honestly claim not to have lusted after however briefly, but my sisters are among that few, and I wonder why it should be any different with a father for his daughter.

And now I've probably gained the revulsion of anyone who reads this darned thing. So I'll just say that, despite a few moments, the party was quite a success, it's been a good day, but I'm tired so goodnight.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Recently, I've been listening to a lot of Russian ballets: Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, Stravinsky's The Firebird, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The latter in particular has been stuck in my head for a couple weeks. Brilliant stuff. But I've put all that aside for the moment to listen to a set with an irresistable title: EPICS: The History of the World According to Hollywood. Nearly five hours of music on four discs, thematically organized -- and best of all, I got it for about quarter price. This is generally a superb compilation. Even for scorephiles like me who own an obscene number of film scores, there's bound to be something new or interesting on here. The playing, by the City of Prague Philharmonic, is mostly quite good, and sometimes, as in the case of their selections from Gladiator and First Knight, superb, though their interpretations of Masada, 1492 and The Passion of the Christ in particular leave a good deal to be desired. It's an odd experience sometimes, because the acoustics where this is recorded are very different to the Hollywood recording studios where most of the early selections were originally recorded, so even when they're played well, the sound is much fuller and lusher than the originals, which is not always a good thing, especially when clarity and precision are lost. There are also some questionable selections here -- do we really need more than seven minutes from Pirates of the Caribbean? Is it necessary to have two selections from Alexander? Nevertheless, this is a fantastic compilation for both newbies and the more seasoned film score collector, so check it out. . .

I also recently watch Terry Zwigoff's 2000 Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes' comic of the same name and starring Thora Birch, Scarlet Johansson and Steve Buscemi in one of his finest performances. To be honest, this was a movie I didn't expect to like much. It had every opportunity to be pretentious, precious, self-consciously artsy. It wasn't. It's a touching, honest, funny, very observant and often painful movie. I haven't seen Zwigoff's other fiction movie, Bad Santa, and I have no real desire to, either. But Ghost World should not be overlooked. Fantastic little movie.

Speaking of movies, I've seen four movies this summer. I'll list them from best to worst: The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Cinderella Man, Land of the Dead, and Revenge of the Sith. I'm considering seeing Lord of War, which opens today, even though it looks really awful, because I enjoyed Gattaca. Otherwise, movies coming soon in which I have any interest include Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, which I hope can recapture the Nightmare Before Christmas magic; Capote; Serenity, which should be damned good fun; and A History of Violence just might be interesting, but we'll see. The only one I'm definitely going to be seeing is Serenity -- and probably more than once.

My sister was interviewing for a job at the café of the bookstore today, and I bumped into her there after the interview. We're both pretty elitist readers, but we've got wildly different taste. I think that if we could put together a list of the few books we'd both consider great, and then find some way to market our selections, we'd be onto something. . . I ended up picking up Nabokov's Bend Sinister, his first novel written in America, which I've been meaning to read for quite a while but which they consistently don't have on the shelves. I finally got around to having them order it for me, and they finally got it in. It'll probably be a while before I get around to it, though.

I'm currently near the end of Thorne Smith's 1931 The Night Life of the Gods, which I've had recommended to me several times over the years. Honestly, I found it slow going until about halfway through, when the gods entered the picture. I've been pretty much unable to put it down since. Hilarious stuff. I'm also about a chapter into Kipling's 1891 The Light That Failed, about 50 pages into Jim Munroe's An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil, and in the middle of about 15 other books besides.

As ever, it's a pain when a 150 pound dog has an ear infection. Not only is it gross to try to clean it out, but when you've got that much panicking beast bucking and screaming and thrashing about, it's not easy to make any kind of precise applications to delicate ear skin. Especially once he gets to the point where you think he's about ready to start biting you. I took him to the vet today to have him sedated so his ears could be cleaned and antibiotics administered professionally and safely.

Oh, and I've now got a cellular phone, so if you think you might ever need or want to get in touch with me, the number's 302-382-9014. Please don't abuse it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It's been so long since I've blogged (and I'm still surprised every time I use the word blog at all, let alone as a verb) that I don't really know where to start or even what to say.

As you may or may not know, I went to Poland in July with my father, his father, and my siblings. My grandfather's a Holocaust survivor from Poland, but hadn't been back. We toured through the southern half of the country, learning about Poland's Jewish heritage. Of course, given that there were about 3.5 million Jews in Poland before the Shoah and there are probably fewer than 5,000 now, Poland's Jewish heritage is mostly a whole lot of cemeteries, mass graves, concentration camps, ghettoes, memorials and decrepit synagogues. We started in Warsaw, continued to Lodz, where my grandfather lived when he was my age, then to Czestochowa, Auschwitz/Birkenau, Krakow, Dabrowa Tarnowska, Bobowa, Lesko, Sanok, Lancut, Lezajsk, Zamosc, Lublin, Majdanek, Kazimierz and then finally back to Warsaw. It's amazing how much Polish my grandfather remembers, having not spoken it for sixty years or so. One thing that Jews were frequently harrassed for when he was a child was killing Christ, so frequently in talking to Poles he'd introduce himself as having killed Christ, mostly to see how they'd react. I think I'm going to try to get him a cap that says "Christ Killer" on it. He'd talk to anyone, though. He speaks English, Polish, German and Yiddish and a few other languages less fluently. He'll walk up to a random person, ask what language the person speaks, and strike up the conversation. He's also very good at making pretty waitresses and tour guides blush, telling them how pretty they are or how beautiful their eyes are, things along those lines. And he has a remarkable memory. He can walk around an area that used to be a ghetto or a camp he was at, tell you exactly what streets and buildings used to be there and how things have changed now. When asked if he'd ever been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, his response was, "I am a memorial." And he is. He's been through so much, seen and learned so much. I can't even imagine. Poland itself is quite an interesting country. Very different from the other former Soviet states I've been to. For example, in the Czech Republic, the older people especially seem afraid. They don't make much noise in public, they look at everyone in a paranoid sort of way, which can be unsettling if you're not expecting it, they just seem to have had fear worked into them. The Poles don't seem afraid. They seem mostly indifferent. I didn't get much feeling of any national solidarity, any national pride, any particular character. They mostly seemed indifferent. It was kind of depressing. It's also interested that there are VERY few old people. The population was literally decimated a couple generations ago, so there are few elderly folks -- and a huge number of youths. Very attractive youths, mainly. The amount of beautiful young women in Poland is simply staggering. Speaking of which, there was one, Anna (pronounced the Slavic Anya rather than the English Ann-uh, though most everyone persisted in calling her the latter for some reason), to whom I was immediately, enormously and profoundly attracted, and for whom said attraction did not diminish when I started to get to know her. I'm not going to start going on about her now, but I will say that it sucks quite a lot to develop a huge crush -- of the sort that puts most other crushes you've ever had to shame -- on someone who lives four thousand miles away and whom you're near certain you'll never see again. I feel like a cad to admit it, but the hardest part of the trip for me was not seeing the mass graves and the like but leaving her. Anyway, yeah, that's the very very short version of Poland. If you're interested in the longer, city-by-city, event-by-event sort of account, let me know, and you'll probably get it.

Shortly after we returned from Poland, my mom had surgery on her knee. They cleaned out some arthritis, some bone spurs, some torn cartilege. Yum yum. What with her out of operation, though, I finally had to teach myself to drive. I've had my license for six years or so, and in that time had probably driven less than my mom usually drives in a week. I didn't and don't enjoy driving, and what with being in school I'd managed to put off actually having to do it, but no more. Of course, my mom's just about the most nervous backseat driver in the world, and I've been in more bad situations on the road with her than on my own. For example, a light'll turn red and I'll start stepping on the brake, and then she'll start saying, "Stop! Stop! Stop!" The way I think, I interpret that not as Stop The Car, but as Stop What You're Doing, i.e., stopping, which ends with me almost rolling into an intersection at a red light. I've finally told her she needs to stop doing those manic nervous chants, that I know how to drive, and that all that happens when she starts doing that is that I get nervous and divert attention from the road to whatever she's going on about, so she's getting more tolerable. The point being: while I still don't enjoy driving, and don't think I'm very good at it, I'm at least competent to be on the road now.

During this time -- from the end of July through the beginning of September -- I also grew a beard. There's a lot of red in my beard, which I kind of like, but I had mixed feelings about it. It got mixed reviews from my family, too. My sister thought it was ugly, my mom didn't want her baby to have a beard, my female cousins and aunts apparently thought it looked great. Other people didn't say what they thought of my beard specifically but mentioned that in general they prefer clean-shaven guys. Of course, literally a couple hours after I shaved it off, I was told how good I'd looked with it. . .

These past couple weeks have been rather difficult. At the end of August and beginning of September, I was extraordinarily lonely. I'm used to being alone through the summer, but this was the first time ever that I wasn't getting ready to go back to school at this time of year, and the fact is that here at home I have no friends and no social life. Never have, really. I don't know where to go to meet people, and my schedule's erratic enough that even scheduling in any kind of regular activity at which I might meet some people has to date been impossible. Generally I'm a loner so at leat 90% of the time this is fine, but every so often I get lonely, and, not having any way to do anything much to appease that, I then get depressed and irritable until it passes. Usually other people don't notice unless I let them. This time, it was bad enough that they did. Ugh. Then, the first sunday in September, I gave blood because I was eligible to do so again. Immediately after that, I got sicker than I have been in probably a decade. Usually if I get sick it's gone in a matter of hours. This time it took three or four days to get over it. So in addition to being lonely I was also in pain and discomfort and unable to leave the house for more'n a few minutes at a time. Since then the depression's gone down, though I'm still lonely.

Several of my sister's friends have moved onto our block and an an adjacent street. Her friend Hannah, 14, her friend Ryan, 14 and Hannah's boyfriend, Ryan's little sister Hannah, 12, and their big sister Sophie, 15. And, of course, ours became the house, so I now effectively have four new little siblings. Fortunately, they're pretty good kids. I particularly like little Hannah. In my house, she's usually very quiet and polite; elsewhere, she's very very unquiet, bursting with energy in the way of little kids. This past weekend, there was a lock-in at my shul, organized by Mary and bigger Hannah. I was a chaperone, which basically meant that, since this is a very good group of kids, I didn't have anything much to do. There was one point when all the kids were playing "Never Have I Ever" or "10 Fingers" or whatever they were calling it and I promptly got shooed out of the room by my sister -- what doesn't she want me to know, I wonder? (I also find it interesting that, in a room of 12-17-year-olds, I at 22 would win (or lose) that game by a fair margin) -- but other than that all went smoothly. And I'm probably one of very few people in the world who can truthfully claim to have been reading The Thousand and One Nights in synagogue at four o'clock in the morning, for what that's worth.

My puppy, Caleb, is finally growing out of his puppy coat, which means grooming him is becoming a lot less complicated. He's also gotten strong. He's not as tall as Schnug was, but Schnug was a cripple, so while he had a massive chest and front legs, he was very lean in back. Caleb's powerful all over. And playful. And doesn't know his own size. But he's a whole lot of fun. Scout's just annoying. Here are some pictures (my scanner's pretty lousy, for which I apologize in advance):

Also, there's been an unseemly pipe in our kitchen that we finally decided to make invisible. Here are some pictures of our progress to date:

Recently I've been reading a lot, but being in the middle of somewhere between 15 and 20 books, I'm not getting much read fast. I usually only make progress on a book or two each day. The one I finished most recently is the In the Palace of Repose, the debut collection by Holly Phillips. This book has gotten a huge amount of praise, and is introduced by Sean Stewart, whose fiction I love, so picking it up was a no-brainer. But while it was very good, I think that it's overrated. There were so many reviews of the best-think-since-the-printing-press type that I expected a bit more from this one than can reasonably be expected from a debut. Several of the stories were phenomal, my favorite being "Summer Ice," but a couple, including the title story, didn't do much for me at all. I'm also about a third of the way through Kelly Link's second collection, Magic for Beginners. Link's work is most definitely deserving of every ounce of praise, as anyone who's read her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, already knows. Magic for Beginners is another incredibly strong collection so far, in Link's own unique, inimitable and unforgettable style. Definitely very highly recommended.

I'll try to get back on a regular blogging schedule, keeping you guys up to date on my latest boring misadventures, failures with women and other such stuff.

EDIT: I just found out that one of my neighbours has two daughters, Anna and Grace. I find this amusing because Anna is derived from the Hebrew Channah, meaning "Grace."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Because no one comments on posts like this anyway. . . 

From Caity:

Leave your name and I'll
1. I'll respond with something random about you.
2. I'll tell you what song/movie reminds me of you.
3. I'll pick a flavor of jello to wrestle with you in.
4. I'll say something that only makes sense to you and me.
5. I'll tell you my first/clearest memory of you.
6. I'll tell you what animal you remind me of.
7. I'll ask you something that I've always wondered about you.
8. If I do this for you, you must post this on your journal. You MUST. It is written

And I hope to have a real post up this afternoon!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Happy birthday, Liz! Happy birthday, Chris!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Happy birthday to me! 

22 today. This year's going to see some big changes for me. It's all very exciting.

I've probably no credibility left, assuming I ever had any, but I sincerely intend to get back to blogging soon.

Friday, August 19, 2005

It's a girl 

As of right now, I have a new cousin. Please welcome Haden Katri Lodge Helojoki into the world.

Friday, July 08, 2005

No updates for the next couple weeks. I'm off to Poland until July 21. Anyone needs anything from Poland, now's the time to let me know.

I've got a fairly large pile of nice new books to plow through when I get back, so maybe I'll actually get back to litblogging (or blogging at all), but that depends on how well my mother recuperates from her surgery, scheduled for the 26th, among other things.

Take care, everyone.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I haven't updated in a while, and I have some time, so here goes. . .

Things I've done in the past few weeks that may potentially be of some interest:

I spent an extended weekend down in Richmond and then Williamsburg. In Richmond I stayed a couple days with my three great-aunts as I do annually. Just caught up with them, enjoyed the company and the anecdotes (The worst thing my my Aunt Flora's ever said to anybody is, "I'll have you know I'll giggle wherever I want to."). While there, I also went into Fife, met the woman who introduced my mother's parents all those years ago (and who now lives in the house that MomMom and her sisters lived in when they were children). I also was in a nonagenarian relative's civil war-era house, where she was busy shelling (shucking?) peas. There was a dead flying squirrel in her fireplace, and all kinds of bugs and spiders in the house. And her dog, having been bit by a snake, was only semiconscious. After Richmond I went, as usual, to Williamsburg for a couple days, where I caught up with my cousins and aunts and uncles. And it was good.

I spent the weekend, in part, at my aunt's house. She's seven months pregnant, and I was helping get rid of lots of heavy old junk in her house so that it would be clean and baby safe and all that kind of thing. Got very dusty and dirty and a little sunburned, and between that and the insomnia acting up again, today has not been the most pleasant of all days. But that's cool, because I'm going to the beach until Saturday. Of course, it's supposed to rain all week, but at least it should be relatively cool that way.

In a couple weeks, I'm going to Poland for a couple weeks with most of my family and my grandfather, who's a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor, so that should be quite the trip.

I've also been reading quite a bit, on human nature and economics most recently, and have just picked up the new John Crowley and Paul Park novels. And I've been walking my dog a lot, when it's not too hot for him and sometimes even when it is, and am as ever frustrated by the ratio of young women I see (many) to the number with whom I manage to communicate successfully (few or none).

In January, I'm off to Denver, CO, as I'm joining AmeriCorps and will be spending next year doing community service, which should be a blast. I can't wait.

Last night, I saw Land of the Dead, which was fun brainless escapism, but if you stop to think about it even a little, you notice how riddled it is with plotholes, nonsense, cardboard characters and the like. It's a movie that I enjoyed watching quite a lot, but doubt I'll ever watch again. After seeing it, my father commented on the common theme between Land of the Dead, Revenge of the Sith, and Batman Begins (which I've still not seen): "There are good guys and bad guys, and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which." I was amused. After the movie, we got a pizza from a new local pizza place that stands where used to be a chinese restaurant. Their pizza was actually pretty good. Not great, but not as unpalatable as so much pizza is.

I've also now got enough film scores that I've decided to do something fun with them, so I've started putting together a website (on freewebs for now) on which I'll be reviewing them. Because that webspace is limited, all the pages are text-based, with a minimum of images, but then again, for now the thing is a resource more for me than anyone else. Once I get, say, a hundred scores reviewed, maybe I'll post a link here and some other places, see if I can't get a little traffic.

Yesterday, the art museum next to my house had its grand reopening. I was leaving to go to my aunt's, but some guy was parallel parking, so everyone was backing up to give him room to get into the space. The guy in front of my backed up very quickly, very abruptly, and damned near smashed into my car, so I laid on the horn briefly, just to let him know how close he was. The guy had the nerve, though there were police officers around, to get out of his car and start yelling and gesturing at me. I just sat there and ignored it. I saw no need to get into a fight at all, let alone over something so stupid, and especially considering the presence of law enforcement officials on the scene.

And I've recently been watching Enki Bilal's movie Immortel (ad vitam). Released last year, it's a French sci-fi flick based on the director's popular comics from twenty years or so ago. It's very ambitious, and has some moments of breathtaking imagery, but for the most part its reach far exceeds its grasp, and it's saddled with occasionally very obsolete CGI, some French actors speaking English phonetically so missing much of the nuance, and a virtually incomprehensible plot. Overall, a pretty bad movie. I'd recommend skipping it.

And with that, I must go. . .

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