Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Books not to be read. . . 

I was recently in the home of a woman who, it seemed to me, had more money than she ought maybe to have. I will not list the luxuries I saw there, but for an example: she had a pair of Bose headphones of the multihundred dollar variety that came with a "free" fifty dollar CD player. She liked them so much she was thinking of getting another set. What? She needs a pair of headphones for each ear? But the thing that really got to me was when I was looking over her bookcases. There were a couple of shelves of books that looked like they may have been touched, populated by the usual suspects: J.K. Rowling, Oprah's Book Club, and so forth. Above those were more shelves filled with beautiful leatherbound editions of great books (and some not so great, but included by virtue of having been deemed "classics"). Beautiful editions that looked as though they had never been touched, never been read. Purchased only because they look classy on the shelf of someone who wants to look cultured but will probably never actually read any of them. Oy. I would love to own those books in any edition, let alone such a nice one, but there they were, wasted. It made me sad.

Another thing that makes me less than happy is getting smashed in the face with a chair. That happened to me today. A rather unpleasant experience. I recommend, dear readers, that you do your best to avoid it.

Now, I'll continue with the list of books I'm most looking forward to in '05. First up is Kelly Link's second collection, Magic for Beginners. Her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, was hands-down the best collection of short fiction published in recent years, so I've been eagerly looking forward to her next. Here's what she had to say about it as of September '04:
I have six new stories, and I’d like to write at least one more longish story, and maybe a few shorter ones as well. Right now I’m still working on the sixth and newest story, which is called "Some Zombie Contingency Plans." Some of the new stories are darker in tone than the stories in STH, I think, although hopefully still funny. The seventh story will be a bit more cheerful, a bit zippier and playful-er. Not a ghost story or a zombie story. Of course I haven’t written it yet.
Next up is Jeff Ford's The Girl in the Glass. Jeff Ford is a powerhouse, genre-defying author. His Well-Built City trilogy was a wonderfully unique fantasy trilogy; The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque a beautiful, chilling novel of a painter in old New York, and his collection The Fantasy Writer's Assistant would be the best published in the past few years if Kelly Link didn't exist. What does he have to say about his newest novel?
It takes place in 1932, the Depression, along the Gold Coast of Long Island, and is about con men who put on séances for the grieving rich. The head of the confidence operation is quite cynical, but during one of the séances he believes he sees a real ghost of a girl whom he later discovers has been murdered. The ensuing mystery involves the Ku Klux Klan (huge on Long Island throughout the '20s) and a eugenics lab in Cold Spring Harbor, funded by Henry Ford (a major anti-Semite) and prominent US banks. The writing is a departure for me — much more pared down, more dialogue, less florid. I was very influenced in writing this by Dashiell Hammett, especially The Thin Man.

So, so far we have:

Paul Witcover's Tumbling After (03/05)
Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners (05/05)
John Crowley's The Evening Land: Lord Byron's Novel (06/05)
Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania (07/05)
Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass (08/05)

More to come on a fairly regular basis.

Monday, November 29, 2004

There are two types of people in the world: 

Those who bend their knees and crouch to pick something up off the ground, and those who just bend over. My guess is that the main difference between the two is how self-conscious they are as regards their fundaments.

There are two types of people in the world: Those who have way too much work to do, and. . .did I say there were two types?

You scored as Urania. You are Urania, the muse of the heavens and astronomy. You are very thoughtful, but so thoughtful that it sometimes hinders you. You also have an uncanny ability to know something out of the ordinary will happen.



















Which of the Greek Muses are you?
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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ah, youth. . . 

Today I was waiting for my train at Penn Station when I noticed, a few feet in front of me, a girl. She seemed also to be waiting for a train -- not unlikely, given the place -- and was facing the same direction I was: toward the arrival/departure board. She was also just about the most shapely girl I've ever seen. Statuesque legs sheathed in jeans tighter than I usually care for, leading up to a magnificent posterior -- and I'm not even really a "legs'n'ass" guy. She was wearing a blue leopard-spot pattern shirt that wasn't too tight, but clingy in all the right places. She looked ample, supple, soft, firm, all in the right places and proportions, and her natural-looking blonde hair was just the right length. I try to be polite about where I put my eyes, especially in public, but it's not often you see someone who's so perfectly shaped, and I'll admit that I spent more time than is probably polite admiring the view. After a while, she started turning around, and I'll just say that she was just as shapely and well-proportioned in front as behind. If I say more I, evil objectifier of women that I am, shall probably get into much trouble with any female friends who read this blog. :) She continued turning, until her hair was no longer hiding her face -- and she looked all of fourteen!

I briefly felt bad for not feeling like a dirty lecherous old pedophile. Then she turned back away and I kept on looking.

Wow. I can't get over how young she was, with a physique like that. Wow.


On the subject of monstrous beasts, let me tell you right up front that it's no fun carrying a 400 pound Stand-Up Chair up a flight of stairs, or maneuvering it through narror doorways.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now. Right now, I'm going to talk a little about Leviathan 4: Cities. Jeff VanderMeer's Leviathan series of anthologies is one of the most remarkable such series going (though VanderMeer's taking a break from editorial duties this time around, leaving them to Forrest Aguirre). Leviathan's purpose:
The Leviathan anthology series will attempt to cover many different themes and concerns without the kind of specific restrictions that often prove the downfall of more focused theme anthologies. Leviathan takes its name from the second, less well-known definition of "that which is too large to be seen in its entirety; important in scope or intensity." Thus, each anthology shall attempt to map part of the leviathan that is fiction.
The first volume was subtitled Into the Gray, and had stories ranging from "mainstream" to "genre." The second focussed on novellas rather than stories. The third gigantic volume, in addition to winning at least one WFA, also has one of the longest subtitles on my bookshelf: Libri quosdam ad sciéntiam, álios ad insaniam deduxére. This fouth, Cities, has an obvious enough theme, and while it's not as good as some of the previous entries, it's not bad, either.

The first thing you note when you pick up the book is its hideously gorgeous cover:

Though the cover art is credited to Myrtle Vondamitz III, the only writing I could find on the cover, in the very lower right corner, was, oddly enough, in Hebrew. Simcha, a name meaning "happiness." Already I was intrigued.

Looking past the cover, I noted that there was no introduction, which was too bad. I like introductions to anthologies, or at least frame stories. Some sort of overview of what I'm about to get into. Oh, well.

Having read the stories, I guess my taste in fiction is closer to VanderMeer's than to Aguirre's, because I've more consistently enjoyed the stories in the other volumes than here. Here, some of the stories were excellent, some weren't really stories at all but experimental fiction psuedo-story type things, some I didn't understand, and at least one simply left me cold.

"The City of God" by Michael Cisco is a very surreal, dreamlike story. If you've ever read any of Cisco's novels, you'll know that he can be a very pleasantly difficult writer. The problem I have with his writing on occasion is that I can't always tell whether he's bending grammatical rules for effect, or if a particular sentence is just sloppy. Either way, this is a story without much substance or plot, but a whole lot of language and city-ness.

"The Dreaming City" by Ben Peek is almost a great story. A story of Mark Twain dreaming in Sydney Harbour's dream, it's a wonderful Australian story that had me wondering just how much of it had actually happened, and left me wanting more than ever to visit Australia. The reason the story doesn't quite achieve greatness is that, as one of its characters once said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug," and it seems that in this story there were a lot of almost right words, keeping sentences that should have been fantastic merely workmanlike. Still, a highly recommended story.

"The Soul Bottles" by Jay Lake may be the best story in this collection and is, along with "The Dreaming City," the most straightforward.

"Encyclopedia of Ubar" by Catherine Kasper is not a story at all, although it feels like it could fit into one somehow. Despite a couple of interesting images near the end, it really did nothing for me.

Star Wars fans should recognize the name of the writer of "Mimosa in Heligoland," Alan Kausch. "Editorial note: This tale was composed using an obsessive collage technique. Each word was cut out, pondered, abandoned, rescued, positioned, repositioned and then finally glued down. Conventional punctuation would only slow it down and make it boring." An intriguing, very readable story of the seemingly self-writing variety, this was another worthy entry.

"We the Enclosed" by KJ Bishop is my favorite story in the anthology. Kirsten Bishop is one of the most exciting new writers out there; I liken her to Matt Stover in that I've yet to read anything by her that I haven't enjoyed tremendously. Even when I don't immediately "get" what she's writing, I love the way she writes it, though this story I get. It's funny and a bit sad and hopeful and a pleasure to read.

"The Revenge of the Calico Cat" is another gem by extraordinarily underknown writer Stepan Chapman. Set in Raggedy Ann and Andyland, though its stuffed-animal characters don't know that, it's tragic, bleak, hilarious and quite unlike anything I've read before.

"The City of Lost Languages" by Darla Beasley started off on the wrong foot, but then proceeded to break my heart before ending with a not-so-good poem.

"The Wizard of Wardenclyffe" by Ursula Pflug left me cold. This surprised me, as in some other reviews I read it's touted as the best story here, but hey, de gustibus non est disputandum. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever particularly cared for an Ursula Pflug story. The last one I read, Album Zutique's "Python," didn't do it for me either.

The final story in this volume, "The Imaginary Anatomy of a Horse," is a fun story-within-a-story-within-a-story-etc sort of story that works well enough. Call me Ishmael.

In the end, this anthology had a fair number of good stories, but they didn't come together as more than the sum of their parts as the best anthologies will. Chances are, if you're thinking of picking this book up, you'll already know if you like the kind of stuff you find in it -- and you'll still find something new, different, and exciting. But it's not the best of its type, and if you haven't already, I recommend picking up Leviathan 3 instead.

By the way, you can read Matthew Cheney's far superior Lev4 review here.

Now I'm going to talk about another forthcoming book. The other day I mentioned Paul Witcover's Tumbling After and John Crowley's The Evening Land Today, I'll discuss Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania.

Paul Park is an exceptional writer. To quote from Liz Hand's intro to his novella No Traveller Returns, "[Paul] is [. . .] the Great Unraveller, who painstakingly teases meaning, thread by thread, from a tapestry. The Starbridge Chronicles, on the surface a Helliconia-style romance of a planetary system whose year takes aeons to complete, form a subtle, complex examination of the origins and development of culture, particularly religion. The science fiction novel Celestis is a savagely bleak deconstruction of colonialism. Park's two most recent novels, The Gospel of Corax and Three Marys, unwind the tangled skeins of belief and history that comprise early Christianity." Paul Park is a fantastic author, and I can't wait for Princess. What's it about?
This novel combines elements of magic with the prosaic, limning wonderfully drawn characters in a world only Paul Park could create. Miranda is a teenage girl living in Massachusetts, unaware that anything distinguishes her from her friends at school or the other mall-rats roaming Filene’s. She does know that she was adopted from a remote orphanage in Roumania, but has only a few mysterious objects as clues to her heritage. But as in every fairy tale, when Miranda and her friends lose their way in the woods the impossible becomes eerily true and modern 20th century history is undone in Paul Park’s mélange of magic realism, myth, and modernity.
Now, I have to go get ready to catch my train back to school. Everyone have a great day!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Finnish Christmas 

One of the highlights of my year every year is Finnish Christmas on the December 24. I find the meal so much more tasty - and interesting - than the typical American Christmas dinner.

The main meat is ham -- but rather than the supersalty pink variety, it's fresh ham. White meat. My favorite dish is a sort of liver casserole, which is ground liver in rice, basically. For fish there's gravlax, which is almost like lox except not quite the same, and lutefisk, which we usually don't have, because nobody enjoyed soaking the cod in the lye -- and neither would you. There are of course potato and carrot casseroles -- the potato casserole basically being sweet mashed potatoes. Also peas. Christmas rye bread -- the real kind, not the American stuff. And, of course, lingonberries. We almost had to call off Christmas a couple years ago because there were no lingonberries to be found.

Plus it's a good time to pull out the Kalevala.

Out of curiosity, is anyone familiar with the Polish composer Paderewski?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Worst. Thanksgiving. Evar. 

Which is not to say it was bad, per se. Just the worst I've ever had. This has as much to do with what didn't happen as what did. You see, this is the first Thanksgiving of my life not hosted at my grandfather's. And due to his absence, the Virginia clan didn't come up, which meant it was a much smaller group than usual. And because they didn't come up, dinner preparations were kind of half-assed. The mushrooms and broccoli and corn were great, but the turkey and stuffing left a lot to be desired. Plus I volunteered to to eat one of the drumsticks in honor of my grandfather, and it was huge, and I shamed myself by not being able to finish it. Plus I was the last person to be served champagne, and the bottle ran out, so I got only half as much as everyone else. Plus the my mom and her sisters kept crying because they missed their father. Plus I've been pretty lonely all week and having my sister's fiancé around all the time seems to accentuate that a bit. So the meal, and the day, was all right, but not great as it usually is.

(But I did see the video of the commencement speech my grandfather gave at Widener University in 1992, and someday when I need an amusing anecdote I'll share his opening to that speech with you.)

On the topic of Thanksgiving, we all know that on October 3, 1863, President Lincoln gave his Proclamation of Thanksgiving, saying that they would "set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." The Thanksgiving myth had been around before then, but hadn't a set date until then. But my question is: Why the last Thursday in November? Maybe November so it would be during the harvest season -- maybe Thursday so that Catholics (who used to have to abstain from eating meat on Fridays) could partake of turkey? Anyone know for sure?

Thanksgiving night is reputed to be the busiest drinking night of the year. I guess a lot of people, having had to put up with their families for a whole meal, are then driven to the bars to relieve the tension.

And why on earth would anybody shop on Black Friday? I certainly don't enjoy contending with the crowds anytime I'm out the day after Thanksgiving. . .
"Some idiot has hijacked a flight of stairs."
Today, I awoke shortly after six from a dream wherein I was at my Aunt Paula's house, attempting to open a can of soup with plastic explosive. Don't ask. I vaguely recall earlier last night having a dream in which I was humiliated (not by myself, for a change), and which would be too embarrassing to share here, so I won't.

Caleb seems to have grown a bit since I was home a month ago -- and grown a lot more energetic. He's such a friendly, fun, exciting dog. Yesterday was very windy, which fluffed and softened his fur, but while it was blowing with him braced against it, his fur whipping and streaming, he really looked the part of the mountain dog he is -- and he was beautiful. The best part of my day yesterday was probably walking him. Such a funny dog.

My dad wasn't familiar with the phrase Passive-Aggressive until this summer -- but he's really good at it. And ever since I taught him what it is, he often starts deliberately acting passive-aggressive, which is very annoying. And also very amusing. There was an article in the NYTimes on Tuesday the 16th, called "Oh, Fine, You're Right. I'm Passive-Aggressive.", which I also found quite amusing -- and interesting. Some snippets:
In milder forms it can come across as a maddening blend of evasiveness and contrition, agreeableness and impudence, and in severe cases is often masked by more obvious mental illness, like depression.

[I]n many cases it stems from a positive, socially protective instinct -- to keep peace at home, avoid costly mistakes at work, even preserve some self-respect.

[The researchers] found that people who had a highly cautious personal style and were especially sensitive to rejection were significantly more likely than the others to respond to conflicts by going silent, withdrawing their affection and acting cold.

"The people in this study were not the type who would ever say, 'I hate you' to the person's face because they are so careful not to do something that puts them out there,"

The person who has become hostile may not know exactly why, either. In some cases [. . .] people unable to recognize or express their annoyance often don't feel entitled to it; they instinctually let the "little things" pass without taking the time to find out why they are so angry about them. Unsure of themselves, they take care not to offend a spouse, a co-worker or friend. The anger remains.
I'm hardly a hypochondriac, but a lot of that seems very easily to apply to me. Am I a passive-aggressive personality?

There are several books coming in 2005 about which I'm quite excited. I shall discuss two of them now. First, coming in March, is Paul Witcover's Tumbling After. His novel Waking Beauty was one of the finest of the 90's, so I've been looking forward to what's next from him for a while. According to Paul, "half the book is set in the 70s, at the Delaware shore over a period of a few days, in which a brother and sister, twins, make a discovery about their family and themselves. The other half is set in a far-future that may or may not be identical to that of a role-playing game the brother and sister are playing."

Why Delaware? I don't know, but I do know that his parents have a beach house on the Delaware shore -- in Middlesex Beach (the nearest bay to which is, I swear, Little Assawoman Bay), which is near Bethany, which is very close to our own cottage in Zwaanendael (with its Victorian houses and the lighthouse museum and the dolphins right offshore and the pelicans. And the old cemeteries! For some reason, they changed the name to Lewes) -- which is his favorite place to write. He usually goes there for a few weeks in September, after the crowds have left, to get some writing done in solitude. "The beach in September and October is at its peak: increasingly deserted, its beauties sharper and starker with the onset of fall." Anyway, a book by Witcover, set in DE. What more could I ask!?

The other book is John Crowley's The Evening Land: Lord Byron's Novel. Crowley is one of the great American writers; I've discussed this book before. But now some blurbage has been released:
It is a famous occasion in the history of fiction: Byron has rented Villa Deodati on the shore of Lac Leman, to which have come the young poet Pery Bysshe Shelley, Shelley's wife Mary, and Byron's mistress Claire Clermont. Confined to the house in a week of cold rain, the friends - at Byron's urging - decide to write ghost stories. Only two stories were completed: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein became an immortal work and Dr. Polidori wrote a THE VAMPYR a romance based on a fragment Byron began and gave up on.

In THE EVENING LAND Crowley imagines the novel Byron could have writtenin the Gothic tradition had he begun again, months after his first start. The reader sees the novel piece by piece, together with the commenatry of Ada, a daughter who was kept from her infamous father. Byron's novel comes into Ada's hands through a mysterious "third party", and against the wishes of her mother, she determines to save her father's lost work, which cannot be published without scandal.
In the tradition of A.S. Byatt's POSSESSION, LORD BYRON'S NOVEL combines a daring literary impersonation and an elegant literary mystery, telling the story of the discovery of an encrypted lost novel by Lord Byron, the modern-day woman who discovers it, and the woman who encrypted it - Lord Byron's daughter. Alexandra Novak (known to her friends as Smith) has traveled to England to do research on British women scientists - including Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron. Just as she arrives in London, a trunkful of papers surfaces, apparently once the property of Ada's son, Lord Ockham. Among the papers is a large manuscript consisting of a mass of numbers - which Smith at first guesses might be a computer program written by Ada - and notes in her handwriting apparently describing a prose romance written by her father. Enlisting the efforts of her partner, Thea, a mathematician, Smith discovers that what she thought was mathematical work is in fact an encoded copy of the novel itself: Ada burned the original, but secretly saved the book in encrypted form. Smith determines that as she lay dying Ada consigned the enciphered book to her son. Interweaving three separate stories - the contemporary story of Smith's discovery of the novel, the story of Ada's encryption of the novel, and Lord Byron's novel itself – LORD BYRON'S NOVEL is a tale of loss and discovery, fathers and daughters, Gothic romance and modern love. Spanning three centuries, it is a masterpiece from New York Times Notable Book author John Crowley. It is the novel Byron, the great poet, wit and outsider, should have written - but never did - until now. John Crowley is the award winning and critically acclaimed author of the novels THE TRANSLATOR, OTHERWISE, and LITTLE BIG and the collection of stories NOVELTIES AND SOUVENIRS. He is the winner of an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Literature.
Sounds good, non?

Back to work for me, but I'm hoping to see The Incredibles tonight or tomorrow. Nothing like seeing movies alone, eh? I'm also hoping to find a new pen, seeing as the one I've used for the last three years seems to be gone for good.

Hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy Birthday! 

Today's my mom's birthday. She doesn't read this, and I've already said it, but Happy Birthday anyway.

Right now I'm reading Barb and J.C. Hendee's Thief of Lives, sequel to Dhampir and the second in their series of a projected five novels. Dhampir is, by a fair margin, the worst book I've read this year -- even counting the couple of terrible Star Wars novels that we've gotten. Poorly written, often risible, always predictable, the best part of the book was the armed and armoured babe with the come hither look on the cover. So why am I reading the sequel? Because I'm incredibly frustrated with my writing right now, and I needed a junk book at which I could honestly and appropriately lash out -- and that I could make myself feel better about my own writing by reading. It amazes and amuses me though that these books are getting such overwhelmingly positive reviews, both popular and critical. I mean, it's not a matter of taste -- this thing is right up my guilty pleasure alley. It's a matter of the books simply being poorly and clumsily executed. Sentences with words missing, sentences that just don't work grammatically, attempts at wit that sometimes almost succeed, weird tense shifts . . . it's awkward and sometimes almost painful to read. Oy.

As to my own writing -- I'm trying to chop a thirty page Chapter One to a six-to-ten page prologue, a thirty page Chapter Two to a <20 page Chapter One, etc. Basically, instead of editing what I've written, I opened a new document and have been rewriting from the top. And sometimes it's hard to figure out how things should go, what needs to be moved, what needs to be cut, etc.

Today is Grandparent/Special Friend Day at Mary's school. All week she's been asking if I'd go. No, I've been saying. I'm not interested, I'm a sibling, not a special friend, and anyway I'm too busy to spend three hours at your school. So somehow today I woke up and it had somehow been established that I was going. Usually I'm pretty easygoing and a yes-man and will simply go along with things, but I hadn't slept well, I had a headache, and I had a lot of work to do, so I put my foot down and said no. And now I feel like an asshole. So there it is.

Tomorrow's Genocide Day. I hope I get enough done today that I don't have to work tomorrow, because I'd like a day of ease.

I've been tracking down John Ostrander's 62-issue run on The Spectre from the early- to mid-nineties. This book wasn't put out by the Vertigo imprint, though given the themes it tackles and its subject matter, it definitely should have been -- and it's as good as anything else they've published. Why The Sandman, Swamp Thing and Preacher are all collected in trades while The Spectre is not is beyond me. Come to think of it, John Ostrander must be one of the most underrated writers in comics. His masterpiece GrimJack has been for years all but forgotten (though IDW is finally reprinting those books in trades), and he's doing a brilliant job writing the Star Wars: Clone Wars comics. And The Spectre's as good as that other stuff. John's background in theology and theatre really served him tremendously well in this book, making what could easily have become an absolutely ludicrous story work very well indeed. I'm missing two issues now: #36 and #46 (as well as, I think, an Annual #1). If anyone knows where I might find any of those, please let me know. Thanks!

Does anyone know whether DeMatteis' run on The Spectre is anywhere near as good?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Art. . . 

So . . . renovations for the Art Museum are four million dollars over budget, and their several months behind. Which means that the lease on the place where they're storing their collection runs out before construction is completed, which means they won't have a home for their collection for a couple months. Which means that the Georgia O'Keefe gallery they were going to have at their big grand reopening will no longer be available by the time they finally get the doors open. Not to mention that, as far as I'm concerned anyway, they've made a mistake with the design. I know that I'm know architect, but to take a nice old-style building and add two modern, copper-covered wings to it is UGLY. Either make the wings a style complementary to the original building, or if you're going to make 'em modern, tear down the whole structure and modernize it all.

Alex Ross, music critic, talks about "Classical Music". Read it.

We had Caleb boarded during the Bat Mitzvah. He's a very friendly dog, and the caterers -- who have been here before -- were quite disappointed that he wasn't here when they showed up on Saturday, but I guess mom decided that it would be best not to have a hundred-pound rambunctious puppy around during the party. But I picked him up yesterday, and he was as much fun as ever, though I don't think anyone's walked him much in a while, because he was . . . out of practice. Still, I walked him, ran with him, played with him. He's a good dog. I want to take him up to school and show him off to everyone.

Rose is a funny cat. She's often a bitch to people, but she seems to like me for some reason. She's also a pain in the ass. Thinks she own the house. She'll learn.

It's incredibly refreshing to have swords in hand again. A little painful, because I'm not used to it, but incredibly refreshing nonetheless.

Oh, and my elitist bastards unite t-shirt arrived. Yay!

Monday, November 22, 2004

In which Mary becomes Bat Mitzvah 

Before I forget, reserve the date: March 26, 2006. The day Rachel and Eric are to be wed. Of course, y'all are not invited. They want it to be a small ceremony. My mom's very excited; my dad's skeptical -- he doesn't think the relationship'll last until then. We'll see.

So . . . Mary Ciporah Blumenfeld (named after her maternal grandmother's mother and her paternal grandfather's mother (whose name would've been spelled without the "h" -- I don't know where that came from)) is now bat mitzvah, or daughter of commandment/duty. According to Jewish custom, an adult. Also the last in the family, being the youngest of our generation, until grandchildren start popping out, so there's at least a good fifteen years or so before anyone needs to worry about it. Her Torah portion was the same I read when I became bar mitzvah eight years ago, Vayetze -- Jacob's dream, Bethel, etc. For her Haftarah she read Hosea 12:1-7.

And she truly did a beautiful job. Unlike certain of her siblings like, say, me, Mary has a beautiful singing voice. I've got the voice, but not the singing bit. It's not pleasant to have to listen to me warble along -- especially when I was thirteen, and my voice was still squeaky. She's very lucky, too -- she'd had laryngitis all week but was fine by Friday. So, she led the service, said her prayers and led the congregation well -- as I've mentioned before, she's good at memorization, and since there's no ad-libbing on stage for the BMs, she did fine. She also delivered her speech fine, though it was, I think, kind of a stinker. No laughs except one forced one, no real power or direction or emotion. Pretty dull speech. Mine was better. And I delivered it better. But hers did have one line I got a kick out of: "John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, once said something relevant." Tee-hee. And when she chanted from the Torah, she did a much, much better job than had I. They're really doing a much better job teaching the students the trope these days, and she learned hers better than most. And then my dad gave his little speech to her, and it was great. My dad, when doing this kind of thing, isn't loud, but he has the audience right from the start. Always he does. They hang on every word. He speaks elegantly and eloquently and moves people from laughter to tears. At bms, at funerals, wherever -- his ability to give a concise, powerful little speech is, in my experience, nonpareil.

There were also a fair number of people I hadn't seen in a while. Shirley and Marvin made it down from Ontario, and Aunt Gin and Chip and a few of the rest of the Zwaanendael troupe made it up -- including Chip's daughter Lauren, whom I only remember having met once, and so was quite surprised to see her here. Also more than I expected of the Virginia clan came up, including Hallie with her six-month-old son Bradley whom I'd not yet met. After the service was a luncheon at the shul, where all the non-Jews were exposed to such things as bagels with lox, which most of them loved and returned for seconds and thirds and so forth. During this time I schmoozed a bit, listened to the music, and then spent a lot of time looking busy and not bored, I hope.

After the luncheon we returned home, where there is no longer a giant hole where the kitchen ceiling had once been. The party wasn't to start until six, but most of the family showed up immediately. Over the next few hours, I nearly scraped the back of my right hand off carrying a sofa down to the basement, I was introduced to Johnnie Walker Blue, I chatted a bit with family and I helped out Barbara and the caterers as I always do. Apparently ever since I was ten I've always shown up on the driveway when Barb's pulled in and asked immediately if there's anything I could do to help. Who the heck beat these manners into me? I know not, but if I ever find that person, I will kill him.

Around six more people started showing up. All told there were probably about fifty of Mary's friends, a similar number of family and adults, and a dozen or so people working with the caterer, the DJ, etc. Fortunately, there was a tend with a dance floor set up outside so most of the kids were seperated from the adults, which made the evening MUCH more pleasant than it might very well have been.

Now, I'm going to digress for a paragraph and share my heterosexual male girl-watching opinion. As I said, there were about fifty of Mary's friends here. I'd say about a dozen or fifteen of them were boys; the rest, girls. Average age, probably thirteen. About five of the girls were dressed in what I'd consider an appropriate manner, especially for their age. Of the other thirty or so, probably eighteen were wearing dresses and outfits that would have been appropriate for someone five to ten years older than them, but which had no business on thirteen-year-olds. The other dozen were dressed (and in some cases I use the term loosely) in outfits that would have looked downright slutty on anyone, of any age. Now, maybe I'm just a prude with unfashionably old-fashioned taste, but I found this a bit disturbing. Almost as disturbing as the near-uniform thinness of these girls. None of them were obese. Three of them were plump. About fifteen of them were a little too skinny, but looked within the range of healthiness and attractiveness. But about twenty of them were friggin' sticks. It was gross. Thighs should be thicker than calves, which should be thicker than the legs of the card-tables on which the presents were stacked. Seriously. Also, in my opinion thirteen-year-old girls should not be displaying that much cleavage -- heck, when I was thirteen, I don't think the girls had that much cleavage. I guess people really are developing younger these days. Most of the young women working for the caterer, on the other hand, were probably about my age, and, wearing black trousers and white shirts, were, to my taste, much more attractively dressed -- more than a couple of them were very attractive young women who were not obscenely thin and whom, I being me, I hadn't the nerve to talk to even when they were on break and not working, though I did help one of them with some furniture moving. One of them -- the most attractive one, in fact -- I kept noticing glancing at me, and was too shy to good-naturedly rag on her for being too shy to talk to me.

But getting off the subject of girls and back to the evening. . . I must be somewhat less antisocial than once I was, as instead of disappearing upstairs for the evening as I'd likely once have done, I actually was around all night, again with the working the room and schmoozing, and then with the wandering around looking like I was working the room, and then with the wandering around looking like I was working the room while I was really making eyes at the girls, and the with the actual schmoozing again. Then Barb called me into the kitchen to taste-test the tuna and chicken and zucchini hors d'oeuvres, and all too soon it was dinner time -- beef and salmon and beans and mushrooms and onions and asparagus and potatoes and salad and mmmm lots of tasty food and a chance to sit for a bit, rest the feet and socialize with the cousins. (Incidentally, cousin Alesa is a blond starlet aspiring to be an actress, so if you need an actress, get in touch with her via the link over to the right side of the screen.) Rose, the cat, who had also been working the room and getting lots of attention, and then had gotten lazy and decided to guard the stairs, found some smashed asparagus that had fallen on the floor and spent the duration of the meal sniffing at it. Later she got out and started chasing another stray cat who wishes we would adopt her.

In the end, it was a long day, but generally pleasant, with no major catastrophes and few of the minor variety. If any of you remember how my mom once stained my underwear pink -- well, it seems the t-shirt I was wearing still had some vestiges of pink, and it seems I got sweaty, and now the armpits of the white shirt I was wearing seem quite pink.

Yesterday, of course, was clean-up day. And carry-the-sofa-back-up-from-the-basement-without-the-help-of-the-people- who-helped-to-carry-the-damned-thing-down day. And recover-from-all-the-rich-food-and-dessert day. And read-twenty-issues-of-Cerebus-instead-of-writing-my-thesis day.

Today, so far, I've had but to drive Mary to school. But I am going to have to work a lot on the thesis today. Can't let myself put it off. Really really can't.

What else is going on? Well, it's less than a couple weeks before World AIDS Day -- December 1. Apparently something like .65% of the worlds population is infected with HIV, of whom something like 15% will die in the next couple years without immediate action. Why this major thing only gets a Day, I don't know. Places like America the problem's bad enough, but places in Africa like the Congo, where the infection rate is something like 8% among adults, simply supplying medical care and informational packets and so forth won't do crap, because the people are too busy struggling for their lives on a day-to-day basis thanks to war and such to worry about it, and there's simply no infrastructure thanks to political instability to properly distribute any help we can send. AIDs is killing more people than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Ladin ever did, so why aren't we pumping the same resources into fighting it? I don't know. But it's an ugly disease, and an ugly situation.

And I really want some breakfast, so I'm going to stop typing now and go eat.

Have a wunnerful day, everyone.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Always tomorrow. . . 

My feet are tired, because I've been on them all day. In dress shoes. Rarely have my feet so longed for my boots. And rarely have I come so close to a functional definition of heaven as when I took my shoes off just now. Ah, the relief.

Today was the bat mitzvah, and I'm pooped, so I'm headed upstairs. Details tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2004


So . . . I got to the airport today, and lo and behold my tickets were not confirmed, despite that I had a USAIRways TICKETS CONFIRMED printout in my hands. I was not pleased, and eventually had my way, and got on the plane. Got home. Mingled. Family from Ontario, family from New York. It's always fun seeing how much family has grown -- or, in some cases, shrunk as I've grown. I'm now taller than my father and his brother-in-law.

Caleb's boarded until after Mary's Bat Mitzvah, so I don't get to see him for a while.

The cantor has a TREMENDOUS voice. Hebrew sounds a lot better than English. The new Rabbi stinks.

I'm headed upstairs now. Work to do before bed. I'll probably have a rather lengthy update tomorrow or the next day.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Answering Machines and American Gods 

Short entry today, because I've much to do.

First, it must be said (maybe again, I don't remember) that I hate answering machines (voice mail systems inclusive). I hate them. It's irrational, I guess, considering I have no problem with e-mail, but I simply cannot stand leaving a message on someone for a machine. You never know who's going to be listening on the other end -- in my home, any one of around ten people might be listening to the message. You often don't have time to get out a full message -- many systems cut you off after a certain amount of time. A problem that I have is that I don't tend to remember what I've said in a message. I think of something witty and interesting to say, then stumble and spit out something barely comprehensible, in a voice that sounds a lot less confident coming out of my mouth than it did in my head. Then, as soon as I've hung up, I can't remember if I got across what I wanted to get across. Probably that's because I've got quite severe telephone anxiety either, which is probably caused by the quite severe social anxiety, but it's still pretty annoying. I had another point I wanted to make -- my biggest problem with answering machines -- but for the life of me now I can't remember what it was.

Matthew Cheney talks about his experiences teaching Neil Gaiman's American Gods to his high school students. Check it out. Very worth reading -- as is most of what he writes.
"Imagine that you are given the choice of two possibilities: to spend a night of love with a world famous beauty, let's say Brigitte Bardot or Greta Garbo, but on condition that nobody must know about it. Or to stroll down the main avenue of the city with your arm wrapped intimately around her shoulders, but on condition that you must never sleep with her. I'd love to know exactly what percentage of people would choose the one or the other of these possibilities."
-Milan Kundera

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"Oh, crap!" 

Over the past couple days I've watched the Hellboy Director's Cut. I've put off seeing the movie for a while for several reasons. For one thing, it's based on a comic which has never looked the least bit interesting to me. For another, the trailers were pretty terrible. And for a third, reactions were all over the Spectrum. Even among the people who tend to have similar tastes in movies to me, some thought it was awful, some were lukewarm, and some loved it. Plus, the director, Guillermo del Toro, has a very uneven track record. He directed the beautiful understated El Espinazo del diablo (The Devil's Backbone), a ghost story that for my money puts 2001's other ghost movie, The Others, to shame. But then he also did Mimic, which I never bothered watching, and Blade II, which Roger Ebert described as a "vomitorium of viscera" and had some cool action and visual flair but was on the whole so over-the-top nonsensical, and so full of lousy -- and uneccessary, considering the talent involved -- CGI that it was pretty much a waste of time. But I finally got around to Hellboy, and what can I say? It's a whole lot of fun. Not without its problems, of course. The questionable physics I can forgive -- I didn't rag on them in the Spider-Man films, did I? I did, you say? Whoops! -- but while overall the fx were fine, there were more than a few instances where the CGI looked much too fake. There was also a whole lot of corniness and silliness that I can mostly forgive because the film knows that it's corny and silly, and embraces those traits. Many of the characters are terrible. The villain, Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin), and his lover are some of the least menacing villains ever. They have no character, and mostly just looked ludicrous instead of scary or worth fearing. The other bad guy, who wasted a lot of time and energy spinning his blades around in cool-looking but completely useless and impractical fashion certainly had his moments, though. And Meyers, with whom we're supposed, I guess, to identify, is pretty much a cipher about whom I couldn't bring myself to care. But the worst, to me, was certain details. Now, I understand and respect that the movie is PG-13, but when a guy is stabbed twenty times in the chest, then falls to reveal a perfectly white, unstained shirt, it throws me. And when there's a blast of flame that completely incinerates some really tough monsters and yet fails to burn through the characters' clothes, it bugs me a bit. It just doesn't make sense. But the movie was saved, mainly, by four things:

1) The very appropriate, occasionally beautiful cinematography.
2) Marco Beltrami's first-rate score (though Hellboy's theme doesn't get enough use).
3) The best visual presentation of eldritch polytentacled lovecraftion creatures yet.
4) Ron Perlman's dead-on balls accurate portrayal of Hellboy. Perfect. It's amazing how much leverage that guy can get out of a well-delivered one-liner, and it's even more amazing how much personality he can project through all that makeup and costume and whatever else. He truly made this movie into a very fun, enjoyable fantasy/adventure flick.

This isn't on par with Superman, The Crow, etc, but it's no Daredevil, Judge Dredd, or Hulk either, and much closer to the former than the latter. A very pretty, worthy addition to the comic book superhero film genre.

What else? My copy of McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (illustrated, appropriately enough, by Hellboy created Mike Mignola) arrived today, though I won't have time to read it for a bit. McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales from a couple years ago was a bit disappointing, but there're enough good-to-great writers in the newer instalment that I decided to give it a try.
"If 50 million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
- Anatole France
Those of you who read this know that the frequency with which I'm mistaken for a woman bugs me. Well, get this: We got our rooming assignments for Vienna today. There are no coed rooms -- and yet, I am in a female room. Roomed with two girls: Shannon Mack and Brianna Sifert (anyone know either of them? I certainly don't, though maybe I should meet them before doing anything to change the situation. . .). Is Nathan a woman's name in German? I doubt it. Oh, well.

I'm still lonely, but not as desperately lonely as I've been for a while now. I feel like I've been going through some belated teenage hormone thing. Maybe I have. Although come to think of it, I don't seem to recall ever going through a "teenage hormone thing" while I was a teenager. . . But things seem to be going okay now, on the emotional front at least. Still am clueless as to what the heck life after Hartwick's going to be, which is mildly distressing to say the least.
The remainder of my conversation with you today, which I trust will be long and stimulating, I propose to conduct in a new language of my own by means of rapid and symbolic movements of the left leg.
- G.K. Chesterton
Out of curiosity, does anyone actually know what "cordially" means? I see it used faily frequently -- on invitations to weddings, parties, and all such sorts of occasions -- and I often get the feeling that it's being used wrong. I get the feeling that when many people say "cordially," what they mean is something like "formally," when in fact the word means warmly, sincerely -- literally, "of the heart." It could be that I'm reading the way people use it wrong and people actually do know what it means. In fact, that's most likely the case. Again I say: Oh, well.

Have a great night, people.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


It has come to my attention that the first season of MacGyver is coming to DVD in 2005. I have already ordered a copy. I haven't seen the show in years, but when I think of my favorite television, MacGyver always immediately springs to mind. Back in the old days -- even before I had discovered Star Trek -- back in the days when I was still taking gymnastics and ballet and Tae Kwan Doe, before I was old enough to be self-conscious about being a fat kit in a leotard -- back in the days when other kids I knew were watching Tiny Toons and proud of their Child's Play comic books -- the only show I watched with any regularity was MacGyver. Of course, even then it was already in syndication, so I saw the same episodes over and over again. But I didn't care. I'd watch 'em anyway. And what better role model could a kid have than MacGyver? The guy didn't use guns, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't womanize. He disliked violence, and would shake his hand in pain after having to, say, punch someone in the face. He'd get himself into bad spots to get other people out of them -- and not for some noblesse oblige complex, and not out of some True Blue Right Thing To Do heroism, but because he honestly cared about other people. And he used his brains to get out of situations, rather than brute force like all the other rambofied maniacs of popular television -- and so what if some of his solutions were dumbed down or just downright dumb? Most of the time they were plausible enough to suspend disbelief, and anyway it's popular TV, not the science channel, and the concept works even when the execution fell a bit short. Ah, MacGyver. Back in '94 or so, they made a couple MacGyver TV movies that were Indiana Jones rip-offs and terribly disappointing, and then in '96 or so StarGate SG-1 started -- and why did I watch the first season? Not as much because I was interested in the subject matter as the fact that Richard Dean Anderson, MacGuyver himself, was starring. I only hope that this isn't a case where one of those childhood favorites turns out to be a big disappointment. But, as ever, I have faith in MacGyver.

For some reason, Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage just popped into my mind. Haven't read it in years, and I forget whom I loaned it to. About Shackleton's disastrous antarctic expedition, it's a truly remarkable story of courage, heroism, humanity, and just what human beings can endure. Definitely very, very highly recommended. Harrowing, gripping, well-researched. Non-fiction of the sort that would be dismissed as silliness if released as fiction.

Yet another nice warm day. When the heck is winter coming?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Man's Search for Meaning 

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."
- Tom Waits
I finally got around to reading Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning not too long ago, after having meant to read it literally for years, and it's been sloshing around in my mind for a few weeks, and I will now say that in my opinion, it's perhaps the most powerful philosophical text of the century, a brilliant tale of heroism, and a stunning critique of psychotherapy rolled into one. Frankl's a true hero, and this book is quite likely a lifechanging book and one that should be read at least once by every single person on the planet. Frankl here's really tapped into something inherent in the human condition, and he gives hope. Great, great book.

There's a little fable related in the book that I had in fact heard many times before reading this book, and you all probably have as well, but I'll share it here anyway on the off chance it's one with which you're unfamiliar:

A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned her: "Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?" Said Death, "I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in finding him still here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran."

I don't really have much to share today. Just worked, and pretended I was working, and later pretended like I was going to get back to work, and now am pretending that I have time to continue procrastinating. I've definitely bitten off more than I can chew with this novel. What I'd really like to do is throw it in a drawer for six months. Instead, I've got to rewrite it nownowNOW! That's not how I work when it comes to the writing. When I try to force it, what comes out is pretty worthless.

A squirrel mouthed off at me today. Squirrels, as I've mentioned before, are vicious little buggers. Emphasis on the little. The fellow's lucky I don't hold a grudge.

I'm reading some of Karen Traviss' stories. I must say that while they're not bad -- one, so far, is in fact pretty good -- they're nowhere near as good as her novels. Then, the lady seems to write novels faster than I can write stories. Goodness!

I really don't have time to say much more, so I'll just close with what is perhaps my favorite quotation:
"I'm almost serene. I can celebrate life. Below my window there's an apple tree in blossom. It's white. And looking at it--instead of saying, 'Oh, that's a nice blossom'--now, looking at it through the window, I see the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be. The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous. If you see the present tense--boy, do you see it. And boy, do you celebrate it."
- Dennis Potter, just before his death in 1994
EDIT: Later

Almost forget -- a particularly amusing bit from Catherynne M. Valente:
So, I've been thinking more than I really want to about the election and why everyone is so upset about it, and why there is so much wailing and rending of breasts and gnashing of teeth and how the general LJ population has turned into one giant Hieronymus Bosch painting of hellfire and the torments of the damned, and I think I've got it figured out.

It's Tolkien's fault.
Click here for the rest.

Even later.

Another beautiful night, not quite as cold as last night but it was getting colder as I was out. Not quite clear, but clearer. Still an abundance of shooting stars. Passed some people tonight. It's amazing how close you can get to another person without even trying to be quiet or hide -- if someone's not expecting to see you there, chances are he's not going to.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

There is no I in Self 

I got but three or four hours of sleep last night, so I guess I should be pretty tired, but somehow I'm not. It's another beautiful night (they (and just who the heck are they, anyway?) really need to invent some good synonym for beautiful, because it's a word that gets a lot of use from me), hovering somewhere right around freezing, with moderate visibility. Yet another long-duration shooting star tonight -- there seem to be a lot of those recently. And somehow I managed to put aside all the bad stuff and achieve a level of honest peace and happiness that I haven't reached for weeks. Maybe I'm just too tired really to feel sorry for myself and depressed, or maybe it's something else, I don't know.

I spend a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I don't like it. Self-pity is self involvement, selfishness. It's putting oneself ahead of everything else. Egotism of a particularly pernicious variety. Usually my self-pity springs from loneliness. It's the easy solution, I suppose -- easier far to sit there and feel sorry for myself that I'm such a social retard than to force myself to go and talk to people and make an ass of myself until I learn the skills and cease to be such a social dunce -- and in addition to being extraordinarily boring to sustain, it's also, as are most easy solutions, generally the wrong solution. And, considering what a fortunate person I am, quite patently ridiculous -- though no less honest for it. Having said that, there remains the problem of actually approaching people and talking to them, because I literally and honestly find that almost physically impossible to do. I don't know why, either, but I'm as likely to pretend not to see a person and walk right on by as I am to stop and exchange pleasantries; I'm not able to walk up to a person, even a friend, unless I'm specifically asked to come over; and I have extreme difficulty sustaining a conversation with a person I don't know well. I'm able to talk to my roommate because I've been living with him for three years; I'm able to talk relatively comfortably with people I've had more than two semesters of class with, as long as we're in class or they start the conversation -- I rarely talk to them outside of the classroom; I've got one or two other people I've met with whom I can talk with any ease. My phone is a paperweight; aside from my parents I've called two people this year and one of them was about class. I don't know what it is that prompted me to be so ridiculously shy, but I guess my desperation for closer more meaningful relationships isn't strong enough yet to override my inate inability to approach people I don't know or don't know well and talk to them. It's very frustrating. Nevertheless, the self-pity doesn't help, and as I've said it's terribly boring, so it's refreshing when it goes away for a bit.

My keyboard's been acting up again, so I think I'll be taking this thing in to TSC tomorrow. Here's hoping they have a loaner for me or I'll be in a world of hurt.

It's a good night, people. Enjoy it!

Damn my eyes! 

I eat very few carrots. Why? Because I don't like them. Fortunately, so far at least, my eyes seem to be doing just fine without them. Very good eyesight, depth perception, night vision, all that good stuff. But if my eyes ever do start to go, I think I'll opt for glasses rather than contacts. I don't relish the idea of sticking anything in my eyes, and I don't mind the fact of glasses. Plus, on women at least, I think that glasses are often more attractive than contacts. Not always, certainly, but glasses tend to really add to a face, in a good way. Contacts I usually don't notice, but occasionally when I do it's quite disconcerting to see such an edge in an eye.

The day's beauty persisted throughout, though my guess is we'll be seeing some rain in the not-too-distant future. Which is fine with me, until it freezes, at which point it interferes with my walking. It's a pain in the neck walking up a hill covered in a nice slick layer of ice.

Here's an amusing link, if you're interested.


Sometimes, it can be a right chore finding matching socks! But the fact that it's such a tremendously beautiful day more than makes up for any associated aggravation. And I'm wearing my Ancient Mountain God shirt (v2.0; the first one I wore to rags a couple years ago) -- a shirt the wearing of which inspires in me an inordinate amount of irrational glee. Sometimes, anyway. And did I mention how gorgeous it is outside? What the heck am I doing in here, anyway? Ah, yes. Gearing up to write a paper -- an activity that unfortunately cannot be undertaken properly outside, unless I care to draft it by hand, which, having lost my pen, I do not. So: inside. And trying to motivate myself to write.

Speaking of writing, I've written over 50k words in this blog so far. That's the length of a (very) short novel (that no one would buy because people like their books big these days). I suppose that, optimistically speaking, about 4k of those words are actually worth reading, but I guess that's up to you, dear reader, to decide.

And now, because I said I would:

-- Name: Nathan Samuel Blumenfeld
-- Birthday: August 29, 1983
-- Current Location: My dorm room, Wilder Hall, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY, USA
-- Eye Color: Green
-- Hair Color: Brown
-- Height: 6'
-- Righty Or Lefty: Righty


-- Your Heritage: 25% Polish Jew, 25% Russian Jew, 50% American (originally English, French, Scotch)
-- The Shoes You Wore Today: My boots.
-- Your Weakness: Books; pretty faces; a tendency to procrastinate; an inability to talk to people;
-- Your Fears: Failing those I love; failing those who need me; never "finding" love;
-- Your Perfect Pizza: Now, the cheese and tomato pizza – the margherita – is the only true pizza. It should be thin crust and cooked in a wood-fired oven. Any other type of pizza, such as the grotesque “deep dish,” is a travesty (sometimes a tasty travesty, but a travesty nonetheless). Try asking for a “deep dish” in Naples! Go on, I dare you! No, I jest. And quote Rhys Hughes. I like lots of cheese, and at the moment would probably spring for mushrooms and pineapple. Relatively thin crust, but not cardboardy; not too doughey, and not too crunchy. Not much tomato sauce, but enough to taste.
-- Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year: Hmm . . . year's almost over! Would "having a first kiss" be considered a goal? Kissing looks very intimate and I think I would very much like some intimacy. Of course, meeting that goal would necessitate several other things, such as finding a girl I like enough to kiss, having the balls actually to talk to her (probably the highest hurdle), her coming to like me, and then getting around to the actual kissing business. Kind of a tall order for the next six or seven weeks, especially considering that most of them will be spent at home, where I know no one my own age -- nor even where to go to meet such creatures!


-- Your Most Overused Phrase On an instant messenger: Don't use one much. Probably "I've got to go do some work. I'll talk to you later."
-- Your Thoughts First Waking Up: Once more unto the breach. . .
-- Your Best Physical Feature: Erm . . . my eyes?
-- Your Bedtime: Usually somewhere in the vicinity of midnight -- on weeknights, at least.
-- Your Most Missed Memory: If it's missing, how'm I supposed to put it here? Maybe walking Schnug.


-- Pepsi Or Coke? Neither. If it was choose one or die, Pepsi.
-- McDonald's Or Burger King: Neither. If faced with the choice above, McDonald's.
-- Single Or Group Dates: Single, I guess. I'll have to get back to you once I've had one.
-- Lipton Iced Tea Or Nestea: Neither.
-- Chocolate Or Vanilla: Depends on the context.
-- Cappuccino Or Coffee: Neither.

L A Y E R F I V E: Do You...

-- Smoke: Nope.
-- Cuss: More than I like to.
-- Sing: Oh yes. But mostly only to myself. I try not to subject other people to it.
-- Take A Shower Everyday: Yes, when possible.
-- Do You Think You've Been In Love: At the time, yes. Now, I have my doubts. Unrequited infatuation? You bet!
-- Want To Go To College: I'm there, baby.
-- Liked High School: No. Pretty much a waste of four years of my life.
-- Want To Get Married: More than almost anything.
-- Believe In Yourself: Yes and no. I generally believe that I can do anything, no matter how unrealistic, while at the same time I'm very certain that I'll fail at everything I undertake to accomplish.
-- Get Motion Sickness: No.
-- Think You're Attractive: No.
-- Think You're A Health Freak: No. My diet's generally pretty good, but I eat what I want to eat.
-- Get Along With Your Parents: Most of the time. And love and respect them both very much.
-- Like Thunderstorms: Love them.

L A Y E R S I X: In The Past Month...

-- Drank Alcohol: Yes.
-- Smoked: No.
-- Done A Drug: No.
-- Gone On A Date: No.
-- Gone To The Mall?: Yes. My roommate wanted shoes.
-- Eaten An Entire Box Of Oreos: Why would I have eaten the box? Anyway, haven't had an Oreo in a LONG time.
-- Eaten Sushi: Alas, no.
-- Been On Stage: Don't think so.
-- Been Dumped: Nope.
-- Gone Skinny Dipping: No.
-- Stolen Anything: No.

L A Y E R S E V E N: Ever...

-- Been Trashed Or Extremely Intoxicated: Drunk, yes. Extremely so, no.
-- Been Called A Tease: Don't think so.
-- Gotten Beaten Up: Nope, nor ever beat up anyone else.


-- How Do You Want To Die: A heroic last stand against impossible odds, saving the life of the woman I love. Or peaceably, in bed, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Preferably the latter.
-- What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up: Honest. A good husband and father. A good person. A Jedi Knight.
-- What Country Would You Most Like To Visit: Keeping it only to countries to which I've not been, Scotland, Australia, India.

L A Y E R N I N E: In A Guy/Girl...

-- Best Eye Color?: Dark. Preferably against pale skin. But color's not so important as the intelligence and personality behind 'em.
-- Best Hair Color?: Brunette. Oddly enough, three of the four most attractive women I've ever known have been blonde.
-- Short Or Long Hair: Long. But not too long.
-- Height: Doesn't matter so much. Optimally, between 5'4" and 6'4".
-- Best Weight: 118 pounds. Seriously, though, it really depends on height and build and level of fitness, huh? Let's just say that skeletons aren't sexy, bones need to be sheathed in some meat, and hips, breasts and bellies are a good thing
-- Best article of clothing: Can't really say. Pants are nice. Skirts, but nothing too skimpy.


-- Number Of Drugs Taken: Lots of caffeine, though not so much recently.
-- Number Of People I Could Trust With My Life: My parents. Maybe a couple friends, though I think maybe more people could trust their lives to me than I could trust mine to them.
-- Number Of Piercings: None.
-- Number Of Tattoos: None.
-- Number Of Things In My Past That I Regret: A much more useful -- and shorter -- list would be of things in my past that I don't regret.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Yeah, so. . . 

. . .not much to report. I have a huge amount of work to do, so naturally I've been procrastinating. Yesterday I finished Lucius Shepard's novel A Handbook of American Prayer and am now about 50 pages into a new book. I also recently finished Karen Traviss' outstanding Crossing the Line. Quite the intelligent, insightful topical writer she is -- and not American, either. ;) Also reading a decent but not great translation of Goethe's Faust for Austro-German, some Woolf for Woolf, and a bunch of other stuff for other classes.

Last night I watched Cool Hand Luke. Good, almost great, movie with Paul Newman. "What we have here . . . is a failure to communicate." What a great line. It's one of those lines that have moved into the public consciousness, though until I saw the movie I didn't know where it was from.

For some reason, I'm not quite sure why, I've decided I wanted to be in at least a modicum of shape when Mary becomes Bat Mitzvah next week, so for the past week I've been taking steps in that direction. Which means that my biceps, shoulders, and surrounding areas -- the parts of me that have no muscle to speak of -- have been sore all week, as I've been pushing them a little harder every day. The rest of me has plenty of muscle, I just need to get some cardiovascular work in so I don't run out of breath so embarrassingly quickly. I know there's going to be no significant change over a couple weeks, but if I keep at it I guess I should be in pretty decent shape by the start of next semester.

Big news in the Star Wars community is that the director has agreed to remove Natalie Portman's fully-nude scenes from movie Closer (in which she plays a stripper), leaving only the topless scenes. Wasn't she one of those "I'm never doing a nude scene!" actresses? What the heck happened? I still don't understand her appeal, really. She's a pretty poor actress, and though many seem to think she's gorgeous I just don't see it. Her face is reasonably attractive, but she's too skinny and basically has a little girl figure . . . maybe that's the attraction? I don't know.

I guess I'm going to go do some work or at least pretend thereto.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


So, ask me something you think you should know about me. Something that should be obvious, but you have no idea about.


Oh, and:

My pirate name is:

Iron John Rackham

A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you a tough person. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from fidius.org.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


"My daughter would have preferred to go to a double-sex college."
-- Professor Schramm.

It seems odd, sometimes, that at temperatures most others consider freezing, I feel quite comfortable. I'm walking around in a t-shirt, enjoying the breeze and the sun, while most everyone else is walking around, huddled, shivering, swathed in layers of sweatshirts and jackets. People passing me mutter comments -- "Insanity!" -- give me dirty looks, or looks that say I'm crazy, or pretend like they're not glancing, as if if I notice them noticing I'm not cold I'll pass this crazy cold-enjoying disease to them, too. Some people, I'm sure, think it's some kind of macho thing -- I really am freezing, but am just walking around freezing my ass off, suppressing shivers, to prove how tough I am, or some such asinine thing. But no -- I'm not posturing, and I'm not stupid. When I get cold -- or when it gets cold enough out I figure it's probably not healthy to be uncovered -- I do indeed put on jacket, gloves, hat, et cetera. I do sometimes wonder why it is that cold doesn't bother me much. Is it a circulation thing? Is it some kind of overactive body heat thing? I doubt that, as I do pretty well in extremely warm temperatures, as well.

"I try to avoid faculty meetings, for medical reasons. Robert E. Lee died of a heart attack on his way home from a faculty meeting, so you can never be too careful."
-- Dr. Frye

I know I promised a while ago to talk about Leviathan 4. And I will. I read most of it in a few short days, but haven't had time to go back and read the last story. It will happen within the week, I hope.

I recently received several CDs I bought on eBay quite a while ago. A decent haul. Alan Silvesti's The Mummy Returns, which is basically fun, brassy bombast through and through; David Arnold's Independence Day, loud, catchy, ultra-patriotic, and a whole lot of fun; Joel McNeely's recording of Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo, arguably the greatest film score ever; Patrick Doyle's Frankenstein, which I haven't listened to yet but hey, it's Patrick Doyle; Elliot Goldenthal's Titus -- you think the play, Shakespeare's earliest, was nuts, give the music a try!; and Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell's Antz and Chicken Run. GW and Powell both came from the Media Ventures stable, and both have done quite a few scores on their own -- each coming out with a few good scores, a few mediocre, and one noteworthily fine. But when they work together, there's magic in the air. These two scores are both far, far better, catchier, and zanier than you could possibly expect, and I highly recommend them both.

Current Mood: Very lonely, very frustrated, quite down on myself
Current Music: Antz by Harry-Gregson Williams and John Powell

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I have a dream. . . 

Or at least, I remember one. I almost never remember even having dreamt, let alone the dreams themselves; very rarely do I remember even the slightest glimmers of my experiences beyond the gates of horn and ivory upon waking. I remember a not-so-nice dream from last night all too well, though.

In the dream I was on a makeshift raft -- a floating plank or board -- on what seemed to be a deep, dark, sluggish river surrounded with all sorts of tropical foliage. My father was swimming in the river, quite far upstream, and one of my sisters and my brother were on the bank. Just a little upstream from me was a fast current moving somehow toward the shore, than I was trying to paddle into without overtipping my raft, but the river, while slow, was strong enough that I wasn't moving anywhere. I started trying to call to my father for help to pull the raft into the faster current to get off the river, but I was hoarse, voiceless, and he couldn't hear me. At that point I saw a large serpent moving through the water, and I starting shouting for him voicelessly for a new, more urgent reason, slapping the water, trying to get his attention. Finally I did get his attention, and he started swimming furiously toward the relative safety of my raft, but was nowhere near fast enough; as he got close, the serpent, which appeared to be a HUGE black snake, came up impossibly fast and swallowed him whole. The surge of water from this movement pushed my raft onto the fast stream, propelling it toward shore; the snake followed the raft but it hit the bank and I scrambled onto land and for some reason the snake couldn't follow but it hit the bank hard enough to knock my brother and sister off a sheer cliff that I hadn't noticed -- there were only two or three meters of land between the river and the cliff -- and I rushed over, saw them fall; saw -- and heard -- my sister crash into a makeshift hut, saw my brother splatter at the bottom. I turned to start looking for a way down, but heard a sound, looked back down, and saw both of my siblings had somehow survived, though my sister had a limp, and I started gesturing to them to communicate something -- and then I woke up.

I found it a rather disturbing dream, for what I hope are obvious reasons. If this is typical of my dreams, I guess it's no surprise that my nights don't tend to be terribly restful, huh?

So: I'm not sleeping well, I'm pretty bummed when awake, my productivity's at a distressing low, my social life is undeserving of the name, I'm extraordinarily lonely, and my pen is gone.

It's amazing how many people you can know -- some of them for years -- and yet be close to so very, very few. Amazing, too, the distances that can grow between people once close, the awkwardness attendant to speaking with people to whom you once spoke with relative ease. One other thing that never ceases to amaze me is how self-destructive a person can be, even when he knows how unhelpful his behavior is. How scared people can be to change even when they know what they're doing isn't working.

And in case you were wondering: yes, magnesium flares do tend to destroy your night vision.

Monday, November 08, 2004


I said this morning that today felt like a good day. And for most of the day, well, I guess it was almost good. Nothing overtly bad happened. Nor, of course, did anything good happen. I guess it was a potentially good day, failing ever to quite recognize its potential.

And then, it took a turn for the worse. I lost my pen. I got this pen from my grandfather; for all intents and purposes, it's the only pen I've used for the last three years. This has me quite upset. If anyone happens to see a pen looking remarkably like this one, except a little scuffed from much wear, please, please let me know. Thank you!

More and more often lately I feel like a cipher in my own life. I don’t think that’s a healthy way of thinking. But I'm too aggravated about the pen to rant about it, so the pity party will have to wait.

Now I'm off to search for my pen.

G'night, folks.

. . . all ye need to know. 

I walk almost every night. I usually leave between 9:30 and 11:00, and am usually back an hour or ninety minutes later. Regardless of whether, too -- I'll often walk in the rain, in a blizzard, in a high wind. Whatever. Last night, I saw something I've never seen before, and it was beautiful. I can only assume it was some kind of aurora type of thing. I can't say for sure, for several reasons:It looked almost like some fsl effect from a science fiction movie, except slower, and real, and far more ethereal and beautiful. I honestly right now don't have the vocabulary to describe, but I've never seen anything like it. And as I was standing there just looking up at it, I saw two of the longest-duration shooting stars I've ever seen. If I were one to put much stock in signs and portents, omens and auguries, I'd be on the lookout for something good in the near future. But I'm not.

Today feels like it'll be a good day anyway, though.

I watched two movies I hadn't seen before this weekend. The first, Tony Scott's Man on Fire, was a fairly typical bloated "actioner with heart" movie of the sort that's so popular. It's almost an hour too long, not nearly as intense as it probably thinks it is, features a passive score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and a more-of-the-same performance from wunderkind of the moment Dakota Fanning, yet is almost salvaged by a typically excellent performance from Denzel Washington. I recommend skipping it and watching the vastly superior The Professional instead. The other was The Bourne Supremacy (no, I haven't seen the first one), which, in a refreshing change of pace, was under two hours long and the fight scenes in which seemed unbolstered by wires, CGI, and crazy superheroics. The fistfight scene looked and sounded quite brutal. The John Powell score was functionally rhythmic and percussive, though nothing special. They did manage to make Matt Damon look like a badass, and that can't be easy, so props for that. This movie was an enjoyable diversion, if flawed and not nearly as dark and edgy as the director would've liked. And I find Julia Stiles very attractive, so yay for her role, small though it may have been.

If you're interesting, there's a very heated debate on abortion going on here. As I've been writing papers all weekend, I've only had time to contribute a couple small remarks, but that's probably for the better, as if I had time to contribute more significantly likely all I'd have done would be to betray my ignorance even more than usual.

For the record, I find it surprising that I'm in such a good mood today, as I've been in an extraordinarily lonely, self-pitying funk all weekend.

Top o'the mornin' to all!

Friday, November 05, 2004

It's snowing. 

This should cheer me up. It's beautiful out, and it's the first snow of the year. I love this weather. And, to be sure, it's extremely pleasant to be out walking in it.

But . . . it's not doing its job. Come to think of it, I was nicely cheerful yesterday, so what the hell happened? Why am I so down today? Bugger all if I know.

I have work to do before class. Have a good day, everyone.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Holy crap! 

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Episode II was so bad that until I heard Matt Stover was writing the novelization, I had no intention of bothering to see it. Then Matt started talking about how good the script was. And now . . . the trailer. I thought it would be like any other trailer -- at most, like a Lord of the Rings trailer. I was wrong. I haven't had the fanboy Holy Shits like this since, oh, six or seven years ago. Gee. I cannot wait for this damned movie. Eek. Better wrap this up before I say something particularly humiliatingly fanboyishly disturbingly geeky.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

On the Stairs 

I don't usually find away messages particularly amusing, but for some reason this one got a laugh:
"With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry La Prise, the man who wrote "The Hokey Pokey", died peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started."
Moving on. I must take hundreds of stairs a day. Inside, outside, rain or shine -- I take those stairs. Just the way it is on this campus. Generally I take the stairs two or three at a time, and get where I'm going, no problem. Also generally, I find it much less tiring to take stairs two steps at a time. A staircase I'll shoot up no problem taking two steps at a time'll leave me panting when I take each stair as it comes. Not sure why that is. Which is one reason why I find it very aggravating when I get stuck on the stairs behind a slow person. I mean, some people go more slowly than I like, and that's okay, but then there are those who seem to linger on each step for five seconds or so. And because of the nature of the staircase, you can't go around them. In addition to slow people, there are other aggravations that occasionally come with falling behind someone on the stairs. Like how to handle the whole ass-to-face configuration. Depending on the situation, sometimes you can just enjoy the view, but sometimes the view doesn't offer much, and sometimes you're in a situation where you're trying to find something else -- anything else -- to fixate on besides the ass right in front of your face. Actually, I was going to use the staircase discussion to segue into an elaborate political metaphor, but frankly I'm sick of talking politics, so I'll tell a joke instead. Got it, where else, from Scott:

Don Rumsfeld walks in on George Bush and Dick Cheney at the White House cafeteria, and finds the prez and the vice-prez giggling at one another over their cups of coffee. "What's up, fellas?" Rumsfeld asks.

"Take a seat, Don," says the vice-president, "the boss and I were just discussing in detail our plans to go into Iraq, kill a hundred thousand or so Iraqis, and then cut off a fuckin' mime's head on national television."

"Wow," says Rumsfeld, "Why the hell would you guys want to do that to a mime?"

"You see," Cheney shouts as he pounds the table with mirth, "I TOLD you, Mr. President! Nobody gives a shit about a hundred thousand Iraqis!"

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Vote today! 

For quite a long time I've been profoundly displeased with my antiperspirant/deodorant. Not only has it had the interesting ability to make me sweat more than when I'm not wearing it, it has the unfortunate side effect of staining the armpits of my shirt and building up some kind of thick residue down there, so now most of my t-shirts have a white, stiff stain in the armpits. So I've finally switched. The new brand seems to be working fine.

Hm. Y'know, I've shared a bed with exactly one girl in my life. And who is she? The first, last, and potentially only girl I've ever slept with is . . . my sister. No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter. When we were very little we shared a bed. When we were a little older we had different beds but shared a room. Eventually we got our own rooms. (I have shared a sleeping bag, on the other hand, with five or six girls. Some of them very good looking, too. But that was a logistical problem -- we had one fewer sleeping bag on the boat than we did people, so had to rotate through the night as each person took his or her turn on watch. So I was never actually in the bag at the same time as any of them. Just sharing.) My sister and I, being siblings, have an odd relationship. It seems to me, though I suppose I could be mistaken, that she always was better at getting me into trouble than vice versa. I've frequently covered for her over the years, whereas it's sometimes seemed that whenever she knew I had done anything wrong she could wait to let the parents know until the worst possible moment. Of course, she was also always better at getting herself into trouble, so I guess I can't complain too much. The two of us also don't have a great deal in common, and days months years have gone by wherein we'd barely exchange a word. Whereas I've generally been pretty sedentary, she was always eager to be gone, never really happy at home, never really happy in one place for too long. I knew nobody back home, whereas she was constantly with friends. But whenever things got particularly messed up, we've always been there for each other.

But of late, over the past couple years, it feels to me like I've become more self-centered. Like somehow she's there for me more than I'm there for her. Is this the way of it, or am I just imagining things? I don't know, but I suspect the former. Because I've noticed it to some extent in other aspects of life. I've never been much of a conversationalist, but I used to be an extraordinary listener, and I don't think that's been the case as much recently. I've become more introverted, and somehow cut myself off from others even more than usual. Something may have changed in my demeanor, because it seems whereas people used to pick up automatically that I was interested in what they had to say, now they . . . don't. Have I stopped listening? Have I stopped caring?

Do I try to hard, or not nearly hard enough?

Am I just completely oblivious to what's going on around me? Often, it seems that I am. Somehow missing both the forest and the trees. (And speaking of trees, the nights are absolutely gorgeous this time of year.)

Moving on: desire. Desire's a funny thing. Lots of us want lots of things. We want and want and want. But very often we don't really want what we want. Y'know, the old monkey's paw business. When the gods would punish us they answer our prayers. That sort of thing. Desires, it seems to me, can be broken into two general categories: those that go away when ignored, and those that don't. Many things we want but don't get, eventually we resign ourselves to not getting them, or realize that we don't really want or need them -- are maybe better off without them. Or we just realize that while they'd be nice to have, they're not really worth worrying over. This is most things. But then there are the other desires that don't go away, and in my experience only grow. You ignore them, you tell yourself they're not important, sometimes for a day or an hour or a second you actually manage to be absorbed enough in other things that you don't even think about them. But the more you go without, the more you desire them, until they become a constant aggravation, a constant frustration that just won't go away. Yeah.

So . . . have I talked here yet about how I now own and have worn jeans? That's right. And, erm . . . I really need to get to class. Maybe I'll be back later.

Monday, November 01, 2004


"What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."
- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Upon occasion a thing happens that you simply cannot understand, about which you are powerless to do anything at all. And it tears you apart because you always feel the need to understand things, and flatter yourself into thinking that you usually do; and because you hate feeling powerless, and wish there were some gesture you could make, however affected, to make you feel useful; and because it is wrong. And it hurts you, and it confuses you, and it keeps you awake nights -- all th emore so because it really has nothing to do with you. And in the end all that's left is to say I love you and hope that it matters, and I need you and hope that it's believed, and I will catch you when you fall and hope that it's not a lie.

And by you, of course, I mean I.
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
I hope what I just said isn't quite as trite as, having written it, I think it might be. And now to bed (and to sleep, I hope) I go, before I say anything I may potentially regret having said.

Currently reading: Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
Currently watching: Chocolat by Lasse Hallström
Currently listening to: "Valhalla," The 13th Warrior, Jerry Goldsmith

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