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Archive for October, 2011

The Walking Dead

Why am I watching a show about zombies? In the grand scheme of horror tropes, I find zombies to be even less interesting than those blue lights that hover in swamps. Whereas ghosts have all the creepy backstory (He Cannot Rest Until His Murderer Is Brought To Justice!) and even vampires have an aura of sexual danger and/or allure, zombies are the mud pies of horror. They have no compelling origin stories, no intrigue for the living.

Whenever zombies enter a story I tend to lie back and think of England.

So I’ve sat skeptically on the sidelines for a year while pretty much everyone I know is nattering on about how The Walking Dead is the new hotness and if I love __________(the wire, deadwood, breaking bad, mad men, lost) then I’d just go crazy for this show too.

“Yeah, but it’s zombies. Zombies are the celery of horror creatures. Crunchy, no flavour.”

Several things conspired this weekend to sway me into watching, though.

1. Season One’s showrunner was Frank Darabont. You may know him as the man who brought us The Shawshank Redemption, which is in my top 5 favourite films list having long ago ousted Empire Strikes Back. As far as storytellers go, I do believe I would buy a phonebook if someone told me Frank Darabont had a hand in writing it.

2. A couple of people did an end run around the Zombies and hit my sweet spot by telling me that it was “what the Stand mini-series should have been. And without Rob Lowe.”

3. There was absolutely nothing else of interest on Netflix or pay-per-view.

So now I’m 5/6ths the way through Season One. I think I like it; I enjoy the character development, and enjoy watching the conflict scenarios of how ordinary people handle extraordinary circumstances. It’s kind of like Shawshank except in this case the Outside World is the prison and safety and comfort come from being locked away.

I could do without the gross-for-grossness’ sake bits that I think they throw in there to draw the kind of guys who used to burn ants with magnifying glasses. But I figure you’ll always get that sort of thing whenever zombies are involved and so I put up with it to get to the good bits.

I must admit, though, that I’m more than a little worried for season two. Darabont had to leave the show so that idiot Matthew Wiener* (the only hollywood person who has ever bitched me out in my blog comments) could have more money for his stupid program about sexist pigs in advertising.** Since I assume that Darabont is the one bringing the character goodness, I’m leery about TiVoing Season 2. I suspect that it’ll be more gross and less group dynamics. I guess we’ll see.

* Yes, I do agree with Kurt Sutter’s version of events. He may be crass, but he’s got his fingers on the pulse of people in general. Not unlike Darabont. And from what I’ve come to know of Weiner through our miniscule grudge match and subsequent research, I think he’s a get-mine-and-screw-the-rest type of guy. In short, I think Weiner wants to be Don Draper when he grows up. I’m also 41 years old and I understand how budgets work. If one department wants more money, another has to cut their budget to accomodate.

**I worked for a long time in the marketing department of a publisher. I don’t need to hang out with those types when I’m at home vegging.

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I do tend to read a lot; if something captures my curiousity I usually run straight to the Internet. If websites there don’t answer all my questions the next stop is the Kindle Store, where I’ll get a book or three on the matter.

This is usually a good thing, and I’ve managed to store up quite a lot of information that I’m sure may come in handy some time. Trivial Pursuit nights with friends, most likely.

I’ve been doing this a long time now, and I swear it is NOT my imagination. Books are getting more and more salacious, as though the only way Reading can compete with TV Watching is to bring on the graphic sex and violence. I’ve ended up setting aside more and more of the most popular reads lately, as the graphic violence and detailed sex overwhelms the story.

But this book–and please forgive me for not telling you anything about it beyond the fact that it’s a non-fiction memoir–was the absolute end for me. I have never before now actually thrown up after reading something. And let me tell you that’s an experience you really don’t want.

The author of this book decided that their story of sexual molestation needed to be told in the most graphic detail as possible. But the ghost writer decided to eroticise the descriptions of the molestation scenes. So there I was reading something that was ostensibly about an entirely different topic altogether, but finding myself reading a sex scene between an adult and an eight year old child. A scene written just like you’d find in a romance novel.

I hate to come off as prudish, and I generally don’t mind sex scenes if they contribute to the story*. But this book was a non-fiction book about something else altogether. And yet here I was, ten pages into it and reading utter garbage.

Yes, I’ve returned the book. And yes, I’ve complained to Amazon about the content. If only I could wash my brain.

*which is why I’ve never had a problem with the graphic depictions in the GRRM novels.

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Those Who Can’t

Apparently there is a lot more money to be made in TEACHING writing to other people than there is in the actual writing of things. Because my facebook sidebar and email inbox are always chockablock with creative writing courses, seminars, workshops and self-published (irony much?) books on tips for finishing your novel, etc.

It sort of bothers me because it falls into the 20th Century trap of Validation By Degree. We don’t do apprenticeships anymore; craftsmanship and skill attained through disciplined and mentored practice have ceded the high ground. Now all you need to do is take a class or a series of classes, get a diploma and then–by golly! You are a hairdresser or an auto mechanic or even an actual writer.

Classroom instruction has its merits, to be sure. Without it I’d be huntandpecking this blog entry and the grammar wouldn’t be so fine. I’d probably also be unable to tell you who the combatants were in the War of 1812 and who served as the Third President Of The United States. But actual craft is not a booklearned thing. Not even for a writer. Craftsmanship is born from practice and persistence and the polishing of past failures. That’s what I find so incredibly jarring about all these “get a loan and learn to write a novel from us!” schemes. They aren’t really honing craftsmanship. They’re just paying some stranger to indulge them in a dream.

Because that’s the other insidious thing about coursework for craft. It gives one the appearance of doing something. We have been conditioned in my generation to accept Going To School as an honourable career path, regardless of outcome. Studenthood has attained an air of nobility and acceptability and with that the conferment of legitimacy. And while studenthood IS worthwhile for some things–would you want a doctor who learned only by trial and error on patients?–it does not complete the craft. Works are called that because they are that. The product of your effort. For instance, my husband is taking his second course in stained glass making. He can go to the classes once a week and know in his head the general theory of how one does a copper foil or lead glass project. But it’s only by spending hours in his studio grinding away and soldering the cracks that he can come away with an actual work of art.

So forgive me, good people of Winghill Writing School, but you aren’t going to get folks’ novels written for them. But I do thank you for jumping onto the Student Loan Bubble.

*And on that note, may I just point out that I’ve been squawking about the Student Loan Bubble years before all these fine experts got around to it??

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Edited to add that they did get here by 2:30 and had it up and running by 4:30. They stayed until they were sure that it was working, and went the extra mile to check connections outside the house and on the pole. Not that the pole is a mile from my house. I’m speaking figuratively. So this is why I’m never tempted to leave them. As much as we bicker, they usually work out any problems we have along the way. Funnily enough one of the installers was a trainee and when I brought up the bandwidth cap he said that they talked about it a lot in training class. It’s pretty much understood that most homes will exceed it in 5 years once they step up to the tech level we’re using and have more than 3 devices connected to the modem. The other, seasoned, installer said that when they first launched the cap there were no problems but now that more and more people use netflix and smart tv services like YouTube and Pandora they’ve had a lot of customers regularly exceeding. So they know it’s a problem.

I’ve been pretty happy with Comcast for, oh, like 15 years now. I’ve never been one of those who wants to switch to AT&T or Dish Network or whoever the trendy Other Woman is.

Until recently, that is.

See, Comcast is my Internet provider. About a year ago they announced a new “service” whereby they would monitor all their customer’s web usage, and kindly let us all know if we were approaching the cap they installed. When I spoke to a chatty dude in their sales department last year he told me that this was just something they were doing to crack down on pirates who downloaded illegal movies and music over torrents. Good, fine upstanding people like me didn’t have anything to worry about.

Except…not quite. Fine upstanding people like me watch a lot of Netflix, hang out on Facebook, have husbands who use VPN to access the home computer remotely, rent a lot of movies through Amazon On Demand and Cinema Now and iTunes, download a ton of podcasts and ebooks through Amazon and have a fairly forward-looking digital lifestyle. We are the customer of the 21st Century. And we are constantly hovering around the upper limit.

The thing is, unlike your cell phone company or your water company or gas or electric or any other utility, Comcast does not give you the option to pay more for using more. Instead they have a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. If you go over the cap more than three times in a one year period, they will terminate your service. So every month we hold our breath, checking the usage rate every day. I’ve watched tv shows and movies that we have on DVD about a million times, since we’re locked out of Netflix, and I’ve curtailed FB, blogging and any other thing that involves using Comcast’s bandwidth.

It’s sort of like saving for years to buy a speedboat and then having to row it everywhere because gas is rationed. Except that gas is actually NOT an unlimited, renewable, expandable resourse–unlike bandwidth. So I can more readily understand gas rationing. Arbitrary bandwidth rations are designed to keep customers from using Comcast’s facilities for competitors like Netflix and Amazon UnBox and iTunes. It’s a huge conflict of interest–they sell the bandwidth and they sell content. They’d rather not sell you extra bandwidth, and instead sell you OnDemand programming, which is a higher-profile, higher draw for them. Unfortunately, their shortsightedness means that OnDemand is nowhere near as reliable as those other service providers. We had to stop using Comcast for our video rentals when EVERY movie froze at some random point midway through. The “rent video, watch video, have video freeze, sit on hold with Comcast for 12 minutes until they ultimately tell you they can’t fix it and will refund the charge” cycle ruined more Saturday nights than a nine o’clock curfew.

So what’s a person to do? After a year of sending complaining letters, we finally got a call from Comcast saying that we could upgrade to Business Internet, which has a higher (no?) cap.* And so we paid for some dude to come out and switch the modem. That was a week ago. And we haven’t had decent internet service since, because the business modems have a built-in router that doesn’t allow for new ports to be opened because they disrupt the firewall. So our internet access works in spurts. And you can only have one thing connected at a time. So some guy is coming “between 8am and 7pm today” to give us our old modem back. We’ll still have the business account, though, so hopefully I can go back to watching Upstairs Downstairs via Netflix.** Until then I’m hanging around on a very thin thread, holding off on my meds so that I can be available whenever dude decides to come by.

*We found this out after a series of phone calls. During one phone call the Customer Service Rep said she’d have someone from business sales email my husband the information. She then asked for his email address. Yes. You read that right. Our internet service provider asked for our email address. When she was calling us in response to an email. From the email address on our Comcast account.

** If OnDemand REALLY wants to compete against Netflix, they’ve got to majorly expand their offerings. Right now, OnDemand is super big on showing the most recent four or six episodes of a show. But Netflix will offer every episode up to the current season so if there’s something you want to catch up with (Sons of Anarchy, Downton Abbey, Gossip Girl, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, The IT Crowd) you have to do it on Netflix Streaming. Content-wise, I’d say that OnDemand has about 30% of what I’m looking for, whereas Netflix wavers between 60 and 85%. OnDemand seems mostly geared to those folks whose DVR didn’t record last week’s Ghost Hunters.

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Sunday was a “take meds and curl up with the colouring book” day. Thanks to the pain and the pain meds it was also a day where I wanted to have something without much substance to watch. Thankfully the entire Sister Wives reality show was available through Netflix and OnDemand.

Because of events in my own personal history I’m always fascinated with polygamy (More specifically: polygyny) as a social construct. How does sharing romantic, familial, financial and sexual attachments to one man affect the relationship between the women? Thankfully these fundamentalist Mormons* decided to celebrate the new American Dream and live their lives on television for my edification and their pocketbook.

I will warn you right now, however, that this is going to be a long post with a lot of opinions. It’ll go a bit past the 500 words and I’m putting in a jump. (more…)

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I had it all worked out. I’d go to Disney World on the big Anniversary Trip and then by the time I made it back home it’d be almost October. Then I’d be able to go online and for the first time ever, download the Harry Potter e-books.

Then I could spend October (and most likely November as well) re-reading Harry just like I used to. Without my ingenious Propping Up System, which looks like this from the side:

=/88

The “=” are the magazines I put in front to hold the pages, the “/”is the book leaning against the “88” pillows. It’s sort of a lot of work for the gratification and is very prone to subsidance.

But then the people at Pottermore announced that the ebooks–which were my main concern–wouldn’t be ready until 2012. Which I suppose is what happens when you’re beta-testing not only the ebooks but an entire Second-Life style world. I have to be honest, though. I don’t care to play the Pottermore games at this point. I’ve had it up to here ::points to the middle of my stomach:: with paying real money to customise my avatar in whatever world and to stock my store or build my farm or my vineyard. All of those games are great and really okay for relieving stress but then they reach this tipping point where each one goes from a sandbox game to a “nag your friends for gifts” game. I’m not one to pester my friends for barn parts or wine bottling parts or whatever. I can just see Pottermore going down that same road. And I think to myself “you’re about 18 months late to capitalise on Social Gaming.” But whatever. To each her own. If that’s what some folks want to do, then great for them.

I just want the books.

I don’t want to wait for them to be perfecting the economics of Potion Class in Pottermore.

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Faceplant

I’m forcing myself to move in some new directions, seeing as how the old directions were leaving me mired in routine that went nowhere. As part of that I’m writing things I don’t normally write–flash fiction–and submitting to magazines. I sent my first project out for beta reads last night and so far the reactions have been both good and helpful. Which is the best scenario a person could ask for from beta readers. All that remains is to implement suggestions and clean the thing up before submitting. The absolute worst thing that could happen is that the piece doesn’t get published. And since it wasn’t getting published anyway by just sitting in my head or on my computer, I suppose that outcome isn’t going to kill me.

The funny thing is that this particular short story was meant as a one-off written as a favour to my mother. I get mired in writing novels and figured short stories were a good tool for honing certain skills. (hat tip to nm who suggested that in the first place.) But now a few of the beta readers have mentioned that they’d like more stories about the character and that world. So there may be a longer work after all. Heh.

Oh, yeah. My point (and I do have one) is that here I am, all proud of myself for getting it together and accomplishing goals right and left in spite of myself. I mean, I’ve cleaned my bathroom and my cluttered closet shelf and actually cooked a meal. In my new, edited, lifestyle these are all HUGE accomplishments equal in measure to a healthy person running a half marathon. And so of course I’ve gotten sick again with the turn of the weather and the coming of the rain.

It’s my thorn to deal with, a la Paul, and I guess I should just deal with it. But it’s so frustrating to be moving along and have your body say “not so fast, chief!” Argh. In fact I’m only writing this entry as an exercise in staying focused in spite of the thorn. That would be why this entry is sooooo whingingly awful but is written anyway.

I had better ideas for topics of conversation but my mind isn’t working at that level right now. I’d tell you what those ideas were, but then it’d be like one of my big annoyances with Oprah and Rush Limbaugh and Dave Ramsey. Years ago when I watched/listened to these programs they’d always promise to come back from commercial break with some really tantalising topic. And then they’d come back and forget to deliver on the promise. So I sat through irritating commercials for pawn shops and razor blades waiting to hear the husband’s reaction to the wife’s disclosure or Rush’s takedown of Clinton’s policy or Dave’s tips on the best mortgage. And they never happened. So I try not to say “later in the week I’ll be writing about why Christians shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving” because chances are by the time later in the week rolls around I won’t care anymore.

…and that’s 516 words and I made it and I’m done. 34q∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞q89erl;f gporti]403958 ::wake me up for meals::

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