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Archive for May, 2011

THIS IS ONLY FOR FOLKS WHOVE READ THE BOOKS AND OR DON’T MIND SPOILERS. (more…)

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In the comments of the post below, Johne Cook recommended I read a book featuring Doc Holliday in a Steampunk setting. So I felt like I had to come out of the closet and admit my general dislike for Steampunk as a whole.

Trying to explain what I don’t care for about it left me with a lot of questions. Why the abreaction? Why would someone who so dearly enjoys great world-building and speculative fiction of most types have such a brass-and-clockwork chip on her shoulder about poor little Steampunk? After all, by combining two of my favourite things–gadgetry and alternative history–Steampunk should, by all rights, set me on fire.

Truth be told, I really DID enjoy the first real work in the genre that I ever read. It’s been about fifteen years since I read Gibson’s The Difference Engine, so some of the details are hazy, but I recall it being mostly alternative history and What-If politics akin to Harry Turtledove and other such works of that type that I harbour great affection for. Since I love political systems I very much like the idea of unravelling a thread or two and then seeing how the tapestry changes.

But Steampunk as it stands now is less about systemic reflow and more about “how cool would it be if these Victorian era people could kick hinds with mechanical gadgets?” The stories then end up looking like hot messes. (Wild Wild West and the giant spider? League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen?) In short, the focus is more about the gadgets than the people, and while I like gadgets I’m not one for gadget primacy in a story. (This might be another reason that I didnt out and out love Dan Simmons’ _Hyperion_.)

I guess I should be honest about another thing. Well, another two things. Two People? The other main reason is probably that I’ve read too much Charles Dickens and Ripperology. To me the Victorian age is always this dark, dirty coal-smudged frigidness, playing out the last of the Little Ice Age under gas lamps and fetid steam from midden heaps. It isn’t a shiny, happy place that I have any desire to visit. Since so much of Steampunk is either set in the Victorian era or heavily steeped in Jules Vernesque stuffs and mores I think I can’t warm to it.

I hope I’ve put my finger on it enough to clarify my position, so that people understand my dislike of the genre isn’t their fault by instead lies in my own preconceptions. If anyone has a Steampunk type story they think I might like I’m definitely open to suggestions.

And on that note I’m off to watch Tombstone. It’s gonna be a Doc Holliday weekend.

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It’s Friday, rainy and May. Three of my favourite things, but also three things that make me restless and eager to move to the season of leisure–Saturday, summer vacation and that fresh clean time after the rain clears out. So no long ruminations on Locke, no conversations about the hopeless rigidity of certain faith systems. Just thirteen random things I want to mention, little Post-its from my brain.

1. I gave in to lust and temptation and got Mary Doria Russell’s new novel about Doc Holliday. I’ve loved Doc Holliday since I was a girl, entranced by his iconoclasm. And I figured MDR owed me a better book than the last one. Thirty-five percent of the way through it and, to no one’s surprise, there are Jesuits. I just hope this Jesuit isn’t raped by a giant space puppycat, as I can only handle that story once. And just barely at that.

2.I love Russell’s fascination with the Jesuit culture. I share a minor amount, but I imagine were I Roman Catholic I’d share even more. I’m always intrigued by anyone who is part of a group that values disciplines of the mind. Kabbalists (the real ones, pre-Madonna and the red string), Physicians, philosophers, astronauts. Is it any wonder all the books I write have at least one of those creatures?

3. The older I get the more I lose patience with the RC insistence that priests remain celibate. It doesn’t really matter to me as anything more than an intellectual exercise and their faith is theirs. I just can’t help but wonder if it would energise the Catholic church to allow priests to marry.

4. I’ve decided to quit dreading the rainy days. I used to love nothing more than a good thunderstorm. To sit on the porch swing and watch the weather wash the world is so comforting and calming. When rain started ushering in the extra pain, when we started using my whimpering and clawed grip as a more reliable weather predictor than Channel 4 (“It’s Arthritis Bird!”) I started to hate the rain. I think I’m over that. I mean I’m gonna hurt anyway, right? May as well also enjoy the good stuff.

5. Stouffer’s has changed their frozen lasagne recipe. Now it sort of tastes like ketchup and noodles. This bums me out because these frozen lasagnes have been a go-to meal for me for 30 years.

6. I am showing remarkable restraint by not spending all my family’s money on sea-glass jewelry at Etsy. I don’t, as a rule, care for jewelry in the way I care for books and computer things. But I love stuff like this.

7. I keep meaning to write a full post about sea glass. About how it reminds me of me–trash redeemed and turned to treasure–and how I think it is worth more to my mind than diamonds. But maybe since I just said it all there that’s good enough.

8. Running out of words; I’m only at 8 and I’ve 485 words already. I guess this may go over. I’m truly sorry.

9. I don’t like Angry Birds. I’ve tried. I just don’t get it.

10. I am, however, still wildly addicted to Pocket Frogs. It’s weird how soothing I find that sort of thing. Maybe I should re-investigate stamp collecting.

11. My parents have given me for various birthdays and Christmases kits for beginning calligraphy, beginning drawing, beginning stamp collecting. I stuck with the calligraphy and the drawing, but I get so little mail…

12. This Doc Holliday book makes me wonder about what has happened to Val Kilmer. I was on his personal website and he seems both genuine and a little out there.

13. My passion for greek yogurt is getting out of control. I do need the vitamins and the calcium so I eat a cup a day. Many days it’s the only thing I eat. There might need to be a yogurt rehab.

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I just unfriended a person I know pretty well in real life on Facebook.

I just got so tired of made-up cancer scares and the long, drawn-out dramatic events designed to make people comment about their “love and support” for this person. I got tired of having to always be “offline” so this person wouldn’t chat with me about a life that sounded more like the last two seasons of Beverly Hills 90210 than reality.

I know I could have “hidden” statuses from Person X, but all that would do would keep me from knowing when X was online and ready to whine to me privately about all the ways God has been unfair.

I’ve known X since X was about 11–maybe before that. I’ll always remember the time X lashed out at me with a really painful retort, pressing one of my buttons that I’d revealed during one of the very long chats we’d had where I was supposed to be helping X work through some personal issue. We were at a party and out of nowhere this personal pain was thrown up at me with the sole intent to wound. Now that I think about it I wonder why I ever accepted a Facebook Friend Request.

I’m going into all of this because I feel guilty. I always want to be a ministry to people. But I’m starting to realise there are certain people whose ministry I’m going to have to leave up to someone else. Especially when those people regularly have religious crises timed to elicit sympathy.

It is interesting to me how many people will use Facebook as a place to be emotionally manipulative.

And then complain about not being able to get a job.

Do they not understand that employers read these things?

Oh well. This is a stupid blog post that was meant to be talking about how people use Facebook to misuse friends and family, how many people use Facebook as a sort of emotional porn. And about how I, who like to use it as a way to stay in contact with people I rarely see get tired of having a front row seat to the emotional masturbation of dramatic status updates, endless photos of storms and starving animals.

But I just can’t seem to get there eloquently.

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It’s in the news a lot these days…at least here anyway. Richard Land, the head of the SBC and the apparent guy for go-to quotes on socioreligious lifestyle changes, seems to think that

the growing number of unmarried and single-parent households [are] the result of a “30-year experiment into whether fathers are optional accessories in the raising of their children.”

I’ve been married for twenty years next month. We’ve been a couple for nearly twenty-two years. More than half my life. (And you have no idea how much it delights me to say that.) And I will tell you why marriage fails.

It fails because it is hard.

Don’t get me wrong; I love being married to this man and I wouldn’t trade that partnership and lifestyle for all the money and greek yogurt in the world. But we have been through a lot of stuff together. For much of our marriage it has seemed like that bit at the end of Shawshank redemption where Tim Robbins crawls through the sewer pipe. We have crawled through the excrement of two recessions (one right as we married and relocated to a strange city), several bad jobs, a few good jobs that placed demands on our time, infertility, financial crises and the mainstay of my life–sickness.

For several generations raised on the fairy tale of “happily ever after”, this is not how it is supposed to go. We’ve got people so drunk on fantasy that the abject and random awfulness of reality drives most of them to pull up stakes. I remember one day when I’d been married about four years, and I was watching a movie. I worked swing shift, my husband worked nights. We seldom saw one another and our lives had become a struggle to find a way to pay all the bills and still have enough money left over to have a fun date once a month to White Castle.* In this movie I saw a couple portrayed as passionate and fun-loving and untouched by trouble. Since I was the only person in my social circle who was straight, let alone married, I felt like a failure for having a marriage that looked like mine–as opposed to a marriage that looked like the made-up movie version.

Nowhere is that fairy-tale version of marriage sold so strongly as within the Christian church. Very rarely have I heard couples talk about their marital struggles openly. When I pick up Christian Fiction–as I’ve been doing a lot lately–there is an overwhelming amount of romance that belies the true nature of a covenanted life together. We, too, are drunk on fairy tales.

My marriage is the happiest place of my life, and it is a living, breathing thing that the two of us work on constantly. But it IS a job. A job that at various times has demanded a sacrifice of other things. Until more people are honest about marriage–about describing it as a process instead of an end result–we’ll never see Marriage succeed again.

—-

*When people ask me how I feel about being over forty, I only have to remember my twenties to embrace this age with gusto.

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Over on Facebook I had several friends posting about their illnesses over the weekend. Various brands of sinus infection, flu and even an inner ear infection, all of which involved nasty cruddy nausea, body aches and just general ick.

When I came down with the flu yesterday around lunchtime my first thought was “Frak.” My second thought was “I guess it’s going around” and my third thought was “how did I catch a disease FROM FACEBOOK?!?”

It wasn’t until last night when my poor husband climbed about the ship I’m on–braving the tossing seas and unsteady deck to remind me that I went to the grocery store on Saturday and that I grabbed a burger at a fast food restaurant Sunday–that I remembered I’d actually interacted with the real world. Of course he’s been sick too, but my flu doesn’t look like his.

I broke my promise to myself yesterday by not writing a blog entry. Which is probably good because the one I was going to write involved a lot of yelling at J.J. Abrams for the Fringe Season Finale. And it would have looked very much like the other times I’ve yelled at J.J.Abrams, which I won’t link to because it may spoil the Fringe finale for those of you who haven’t seen it yet. I of course want everyone to be watching Fringe; it’s ten times the show Lost ever was. All the mystery, none of the Jack. With real stories that GO SOMEWHERE.

I’m writing this entry today because my computer is down here by the door to the yard, and I’m letting the dogs do their morning ablutions. But they now seem to be thoroughly abluted so I’m signing off now with the knowledge that this is half as long as it should be. But you probably don’t want to read about my dream of working in a hot-dog factory on a team of four people and covering for the man on our team with Down’s Syndrome, screwing up a batch of hot dogs because I was too busy doing two functions (*mine and helping the fellow with his) and then having to go to a Sports Chapel in punishment. I hate sports chapels.

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Well, I guess my blog traffic is up. We can tell by the vast numbers of comments that are dropped in lately. Things like “wissh all poeple were this smart” and “thanks for greate arrtucle!!!” that are meant to flatter me into leaving up the link to their enlarged penis casino vitamin sites. Yay. I’m popular enough again to have spamrider coattails! My, how the hallmarks of success have changed.

Contrary to the broader consensus of opinion, i do have a mother and was not hatched. I should spend some time cranking out a sort of paean to her today, because the industry of corporatised peer pressure has declared it so. But I think instead I’ll honour her by being the person she taught me to be. I will be free-thinking, self-directed and analytically minded. I’ll write another post in general tribute to her (to add to the minipile already on this site) on a day when it stands out from the crowd. Because Mother’s Day for me means something different.

You know that scene in Empire where Luke goes into the spooky tree on Dagobah and lightsabres Vader’s head off only to have the mask vanish, revealing Luke’s own face with smoke curling out of his dead eyesocket? That’s Mother’s Day for me. A trip into the roots of my greatest fear and deepest darkness.

First off, let me be clear. 99.9% of my waking time is filled with contentment AND genuine happiness about my life situation. I have no doubt that I am who God wants me to be and doing exactly what God wants me to be doing. But this day, when everyone goes on about the wonder that is motherhood and how much they love their mothers, adore their children and thier station in life as the bearers and rearers of those children…this is the day I remember starkly my own barrenness, my own call to childlessness.

Yep. Childlessness IS a call. For me it’s my Ninevah, and i spent a decade of grief and expense trying to avoid the boat. I had pieces cut out of me, chemicals added back into me and hot lasers slicing my insides apart. Many times. I talked to people who were called to adopt. But then it became clear in the way such things become clear that my path right now–our path as a couple–is not one that leads through the place of having children.

Even though I’m openly sharing the highlight reel of this painful, rocky experience, trust me that 500 (even 500,000) words are not enough to convey the intensity of crafting of personhood that this journey entailed.

Yes, I AM truly, wonderfully happy without human children. So why the dislike for Mother’s Day? Because there are always the folks who throw up that Bible verse about how a quiverful of children is a blessing…always assuming that the converse is true. That without a few fletched arrows a couple is cursed. And there’s always that tree, where I am reminded of my greatest battle, my own mortality and the seeming futility of the fertility struggle. I loke being able to move on and Mother’s Day represents a nostalgia for the Valley Of the Shadow that I would rather not indulge.

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Earlier this week I shared a news article on Facebook about a man who got high on bath salts and killed his neighbours’ pygmy goat. The article was the most unintentionally funny thing I’ve read in a long time.

What’s funny about an apparently crazy young man killing his neighbours’ pet? Let me quickly summarise for those of you who, like me, usually refuse to Read The Frakkin’ Article. This news story is two pages long and opens by telling us about how a neighbour walked into the man’s (boy? He’s 19 and obviously deranged) room to see the fellow dressed in a bra and panties, covered in blood. Next to him is the poor goat, mortally wounded and seemingly sexually violated.* The high fellow then takes off running into the woods, either ashamed or in some sort of bath-product induced paranoia. Then the reporter interviewed the people in the neighbourhood who all talk about this crazy kid and his growing weirdnesses. It apparently started with babbling to himself and stealing the communion wine–clearly gateway crimes to cross-dressing, bestiality and animal sacrifice.

*They’re doing a necropsy to determine the extent of damage done to the poor innocent creature.

Anyway, here’s the part that cracked me up (and John Hutchenson too, because he was the first to mention it.) The police arrive at the scene. They enter the crazy boy’s bedroom, see the entire scene minus the boy and then find the boy in the woods. Apparently he was still in the bra and panties because that looks to be what he’s wearing in the mugshot.

So the police dust the neighbour’s goat chain for fingerprints.

I swear I laughed about that for five minutes. Because dirty magazine pictures, violently violated animal corpses, blood, and a crazed cross-dresser aren’t convincing enough evidence.

We still have to check for fingerprints.

Yes, I realise that law enforcement requires a level of slavish attention to detail which often alludes me in my quest to do as much as I can in each short day. But it got me to thinking this morning about how often I (and others) spend time convincing ourselves to remain unconvinced of one thing or another. How many times I’ve been convinced that I can’t write because I haven’t had fiction published–never mind that writing is about all I do all day, I’ve been paid to do it under various circumstances for more than 10 years and several people tell me that I am pretty good. I’m STILL dusting the chain for fingerprints. The chain that keeps me from running free.

I’d give other examples of fingerprint dusting I see around me but I don’t think it’s appropriate to pick on people without their consent.** Just trust me when I say that I’m betting I’m not alone.

**Yes, this makes April Fool’s Day a bit harder to pull off.

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I’ve got a migraine aura sneaking around the fringe of my eyesight and the back of my brain. I was going to skip blogging but realised that it was more important to me to get something written than to pout and wait for my brain to kill me. So I’m squeaking this in under the wire.

I just left a birthday message for a friend on Facebook. It didn’t strike me as weird at all; I was like “hey! My friend’s birthday is today!” and I remembered all the times my friend said something to cheer me up or make me think or even make me tear up a little. It didn’t strike me as that weird at all that we’ve never met and that I had only about a 50% of recognising him from his picture. This is a lovely world, and I’m so glad to be here. And I’m also glad that Dolphin’s birthday is today and I hope he has a happy one.

The other favour the internet has done for me today was to convince me to give up on Treme. I read through Alan Sepinwall’s recaps last night and realised that perhaps this show really wasn’t going to be for me. I had pretty much decided that already but I was keeping watching for a very specific personal reason. Now to those of you haven’t seen Treme yet and are still thinking you want to, you probably wanna skip the next paragraph.
Treme Spoiler Begins here

I was watching Treme because John Goodman’s character Creighton was based on another one of my Internet Friends. I first met Ashley Morris about 13 years ago. He was THE Uber-Zevon fan online, and had the single best Warren Zevon fansite anywhere. He’d also met Warren several times and had a good many anecdotes to share. We corresponded about Zevon, about life and about the strange world of being a fan of someone loved by so few but loved so mightily. We talked a bit over the years, but sort of drifted apart after Warren died. A lot of Zevon fans experienced that–it was too hard to stay in touch.

When I started watching Treme I had to do a lot of homework–David Simon’s shows always include a lot of throwaway references that you can either ignore or seek out, depending on your level of curiousity. Guess which one I always pick? Anyway, I sought them out and in so doing I discovered that after I lost touch with Ashley he had become pretty reknown for his blogs about New Orleans. Simon decided to base a character on Ashley, and a lot of Ashley’s words were respoken by Goodman. Ashley, however, never saw this, as he died in 2008. So watching Goodman was kind of like watching Ashley on TV. It wouldve been much more Ashley-like if there had been some Zevon, but Zevon isn’t really high-profile New Orleans.

As I read ahead in Sepinwall’s recaps, though, I realised that the story arc (if you can call something with no beginning, a flat middle and a sudden end an “arc”) for the Ashley/Creighton character was to take him through depression to suicide.

No thank you. I lost Ashley once when we both lost Warren. I lost him again when I read of his death. I didn’t much relish the idea of watching even a faux Ashley sink into depression then jump from the Ferry. And since nothing seems to happen in Treme anyway, I’m content to just let this one pass me by. I’ll wait til later to see more of Ashley.

Treme Spoiler Ends here

Wow. That took more words than I expected. I’m now almost allergic to exceeding 500 words here because I dread the whole “too long; didn’t read” curse. What’s funny, though, is that anyone reads me at all. I suppose I’m just trying to be a good guest in people’s lives and not overstay my welcome. Dang it, that sounded suicidal. It isn’t though. I’m not talking about ending my life, just ending a blog article. ::insert random emoticon here.::

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When Treme first aired on HBO I decided to defer my viewing of it until at least the first season could all be watched together. That may seem unfair, but I know from many years of experience with HBO Series (and especially HBO Series crafted by David Simon) it’s better to consume them in gulps instead of sips.

Simon’s method of story telling is a sort of grand In Media Res. He decides at what point we will be joining the story and puts us right there. There is usually comparatively little in the way of exposition–just like in real life*. His method is a very life-like way of telling a story, but it counts a lot on the viewer being either very curious and very patient or already bringing encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject and world to the table. It’s inductive story-telling, which is rare outside of books.

It’s hard to watch Treme (pronounced truh-MAY, unbeknownst to me for over a year) without comparing it to The Wire. It’s made by the same folks, has many of the same actors and is told in a similar style. It isn’t The Wire, however. After watching the first three episodes in the first season it is starting to show its weaknesses.

One of the best things about The Wire was the story-arc structure. Yes, you went into the beginning knowing that things wouldn’t be resolved at the end of each episode. And yes we went into it not knowing who was who or what was what. However it was clear from the first fifteen minutes of the first episode what the general story was going to be. Bad guys (the Barksdale crew) had gotten away with something and the goodish guys (Jimmy McNulty) were going to see them get comeuppance.

Treme has the same “what a minute–who’s that again? What are they talking about?” style, but there is no framework to give the show a form. Instead of watching a sort of jigsaw puzzle and having fun assembling the pieces, Treme is asking us to watch more of a flooding river. Appropriate to the setting, Treme is Jazz versus the Symphony of the Wire.

I appreciate Jazz, and I enjoy it on occasion, firing up some basic tracks to unwind. But I must admit that I find Jazz to be a sort of exclusionary religion of music. Either you buy in fully to its message, learning chapter and verse of who played what when and how well or you just don’t really GET Jazz. It’s freeform style is both deceptive and alienating. Well, not the style itself but the fact that people–who need structure–insist upon imposing a structure. And so the pure pleasure of the music is marred by all the Jazz Nerds who want to one-up you with their esoteric knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the world.

That, is essence, is the problem with Treme. At its heart it is a jazz story, one that you just experience for what it is, flowing along. But the need for dramatic structure–which is the essence of episodic television–is at war with the story and creates a dissonance.

*How often do you stop what you’re doing to explain a basic concept to your family and friends? “I’m so glad we decided to come unwind after work with a few drinks at this bar owned by your brother in law! I don’t know how he can run a business with his wife’s cancer hanging over his head.” I can’t get over the number of shows which do this so simplistically.

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