Saturday, December 15, 2007

I miss John Lennon

I've been listening recently to Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, a two-CD set of covers of John Lennon songs. Hearing these familiar pieces again has made me realize how much of what Lennon wrote is still, sadly, applicable. The experience has also made me appreciate his original versions all the more.

That's not to say that all the covers are bad; they're not. The standout is Green Day's take on "Working Class Hero," a song I've always liked. Many others range from good to acceptable. The low point belongs to Aerosmith, which contributes all the worst parts of an unlikely collaboration with the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars on "Give Peace a Chance."

The proceeds from the CD's sales go to Amnesty International's work in Darfur (and probably elsewhere). If the Darfur region of western Sudan had oil, we'd have intervened long ago; alas, it does not.

Give to a good cause, enjoy the tunes, and then listen to the Lennon originals again.

Love Actually

is one of the two movies you must watch every Christmas season, so tonight we gathered for it and a vaguely British dinner (Shepherd's pie, Welsh Rarebit, and some bread and cheese). All present seemed to enjoy the film, including the few who had not seen it before.

What I adore about this movie is that writer/director Richard Curtis unabashedly sets out to find and celebrate the love in a large group of connected lives. He certainly shows pain, both from love betrayed and love unrequited, but he focuses most of all on the joy of love. He presents completely improbable (if not impossible) love of all sorts with absolutely no shame, and in the end you want to believe they could happen. Comic moments abound, but Bill Nighy as an aging rocker with a truly crass Christmas song is pure genius. His performance alone makes the movie worth seeing.

If you don't know this film, find it and watch it. If you've already seen it, get the DVD and plan a few happy hours this holiday season.

Next Friday night, we're planning to watch my other essential Christmas movie, a very, very different beast indeed. If you don't know already what it is, you'll have to wait until then to find out. (Hint: One actor appears in both it and Love Actually.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Web Weasel says it's not her fault

What, you may ask, is the Web Weasel declaring not her responsibility? The heavily pixilated photo of me in the right sidebar of the blog. She swears that this is a blogger problem and that Google knows about it.

So, it's not her fault, and she doesn't want to hear about it.

It's not my fault, either.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Last night's WEC show

As my late-evening break last night, I watched the WEC fight show that I had DVR'd when it ran earlier that evening on the Versus network. All the bouts they showed were entertaining, and some were way above normal.

Two particularly interesting fights were the ones involving Jens Pulver and Uriah Faber.

Pulver, who just left the UFC (which owns the WEC) so he could drop down to his natural fighting weight of 145 pounds, is known for his heavy striking, particularly his left. His opponent, Cub Swanson, was in most forums I read considered to be the better-rounded fighter. Pulver dispatched Swanson quickly--but not with a knock-out. Instead, to everyone's surprise he submitted the much younger man with a choke.

Faber, the WEC featherweight (145 pound weight limit) champion, looks like a surfer dude--a heavily muscled surfer dude. He typically runs right through his opponents, but in this fight he actually spent much of the first round on his back. (Despite that typically bad position, he never looked upset in any way; one close-up of his face showed he was completely relaxed.) In the second round, he punished his opponent, Jeff Curran, and then won with a choke submission--even though Curran is a well-regarded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Faber is simply amazing.

If you're into MMA and have a chance to catch this show on a rerun, don't miss it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm liking it

Today, to my surprise I've been upbeat about Overthrowing Heaven. I can tell when a book's story is working for me via a simple but reliable indicator: I find myself mumbling "Oh, this is good," and similar phrases.

Of course, I still don't have the whole plot or even most of the links between the bits I think are cool, but at least right now the new novel is pleasing me. I've got to enjoy the feeling while I can.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The shifty, useless time

These days, my writing time consists of staring into space and occasionally jotting notes by hand into a notebook. The notes range from ideas to questions to myself to answers to those questions. Every now and then, I'll cross one thing out or underline another and annotate it as "good" or "could be!", but that's about as exciting as it gets. I have nothing productive to show for the time. I don't feel like I'm writing. I feel like I'm wasting time.

I keep going only because intellectually I also understand that this is how the process works for me. If I don't invest this time, I won't do good work.

Just as importantly, the time I'm sitting and taking notes and doing nothing but thinking about the novel really is just the small visible part of the writing iceberg. All during the day, my subconscious churns on the story, and at random moments new insights appear.

I hate this time, and it's likely to continue for at least a few more weeks. I also don't know a way around it.

Eventually, I'll have enough notions that I can handwrite a rough outline, and then after more days of work, I'll be ready to start typing up a significantly longer (typically over 7K words) outline. When I finish that, when I finally write the first sentence of the book, then I'll feel like a writer again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

School concert night

Today's big event was the school holiday concert, in which both Sarah and Scott played violin as part of the string ensemble and then again with the full symphony orchestra. Both are very good violinists (and, more generally, musicians), and I love to watch and listen to them play.

The program was almost completely Christmas music, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Though I certainly can and sometimes do overdose on Christmas tunes, I typically like them--provided, of course, that you not start playing them until at least the day after Thanksgiving.

I've talked with a lot of parents who dread going to school concerts. Particularly when the kids are younger, you certainly hear a lot of awkward playing and missed notes, but even in those days then I liked the events overall. There's something wondrous about a group of young people making music, giving themselves if only for a short time to the sole purpose of art. I often come away thinking we grown-ups would be better served spending more of our time on art.

Which is one of the many reasons I now, after over two decades of flirting with and occasionally engaging in fiction, now write every day.

I'm proud making music is part of Sarah's and Scott's lives, I'm proud of the way they play, and I'm just proud of them. Seeing them in tux and long dress on stage, playing well and looking good, made me quite happy.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Latke time

Tonight was Gina's annual Chanukah party, at which we celebrate that holiday, eat latkes, socialize, eat latkes, laugh, eat latkes, and eat latkes. Then, we eat ice cream cake and cheese cake.

Sometimes, for a break, we eat chips and dip.

Latkes are always available for the hungry.

I can't understand why I have weight trouble this time of year.

The party was fun and, thanks to the hard-working fry crew moving to the deck, significantly easier on that team than in the past. (They make a lot of latkes.)

In unrelated news, last night I went to bed tormented by the change in direction of Overthrowing Heaven. Though I knew I was doing the right thing by moving to this new approach, I had figured out virtually nothing about it, so I was quite concerned. While in the shower after the walk, however, my subconscious spit out idea after idea, and suddenly the book has form and I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be a really cool book. I'll have to hope that others feel the same way, when about eighteen months from now they get to read it.

Seasonal celebration

Our company, Principled Technologies, held its fifth seasonal celebration tonight at a lovely Raleigh restaurant, Second Empire. The folks there were good to work with, the food was delicious, and I think everyone had a very nice time.

At this event each year, we thank the employees, and we also thank their families, who have to put up with the demands the company makes. We thank employees verbally and, when the company has a profitable year, with profit sharing.

I'm proud to be able to work with these folks. I am completely confident that we are the best in the world at what we do. Tonight, my hat is off to my colleagues.


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