Saturday, October 25, 2008

I want to believe

Last night, as is our tradition, Sarah got to choose dinner and what we watched; she was the one, after all, who had performed. She choose any old episode of The West Wing, and after much discussion about all the wonderful options, we settled on "Let Barlet Be Bartlet." At the end of that episode, there's a great moment in which the president finally stops playing it safe and decides to pursue his ideals. It made me tear up, but not from sadness; the scene just deeply touched me.

That reaction set me to thinking, and I realized that there are many moments in art that affect me powerfully enough to bring a few tears to my eyes, even though I am a man who doesn't know how to cry. Some of them, of course, move me because they tie in some way to my life. Many, though, simply hit me hard without having any particular connection to me. A few from movies, off the top of my head and in no particular order, should serve to illustrate that second group:

* James Earl Jones' "they will come" speech on the bleachers in Field of Dreams

* Michael Douglas' speech at the end of The American President

* In L.A. Story Steve Martin's musings about magic and love as he stands at the window in the storm near the end of the film

* Multiple points at the end of Love, Actually

You can certainly accuse me of a certain sappiness and vulgar sentimentality, and I'd have to plead at least somewhat guilty, but I think there's more going on than that. I think these and other scenes touch me because I want to believe, I want to believe in getting over your fear and pursuing your ideals, in a dream touching everyone who comes into contact with it, in fighting for what you believe even if it costs you enormously, in love so powerful that it can bring on storms and affect compasses, in love being so pervasive and so powerful that humanity will always have hope because of it. I want to try to live a life worthy of those desires, though I mostly fail at it, and I want to deliver some of those moments in my fiction, though I mostly fail at that, too.

I want to believe.

I hope I always will.

Lovely synchronicity

Sarah had a piano recital tonight at the Fourth Friday event at the lovely little theater space at Ruggero's Piano store. I sat and watched and listened in awe as she played wonderfully. I'm always proud and amazed at the musical talent Sarah and Scott have.

My friend, Eric, hosts this event. About fourteen months ago I wrote about a previous Fourth Friday recital of Sarah's there and about my admiration for all who produce art. Tonight, I experienced a moment of lovely synchronicity when Eric sang a dark song, "Confessions of a Vampire," from the failed Broadway show, Dance of the Vampires. Eric really put himself into the song and delivered a powerful, moving, first-rate performance. I was both pleased to have gotten to hear it and very proud of him.

What was particularly great for me is that some of the mood of the song dovetails perfectly with some of what I'm writing right now. I was able to enjoy that moment when another's art touches what your heart is processing at just the right time; a wonderful treat.

We can never fully know the heart of another, but art can transport our hearts to very nearly the same place for minutes at a time, and in those minutes we can truly see our shared humanity.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The word of the day is "fried"

Tonight a group of us made our annual pilgrimage to the North Carolina State Fair. I love the Fair at night, particularly the onslaught of lights and sound. I can do without the crowds, but they're worth managing for the rest of the experience.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Fair, however, is the food. When I wrote last year about this trip, I confessed my many eating sins, and they were all over the map. I sinned several hours ago as well, but this time with more focus: I wanted to taste odd fried foods.

I began with a "corn dog cheeseburger," which is a cheeseburger rolled up and deep-fried in corn dog dough. It was artery-clogging goodness, an unusual blend of cheesy meaty yumminess and the strangely sweet fried wrapper. And, of course, it was on a stick! Ya gotta love food on a stick.

I then had a bite of Sarah's fried mac and cheese, followed by half a fried PB&J on a stick--which the purveyors mysteriously covered with powdered sugar! ("How can we possibly make this worse for people? I know: add sugar!")

I later added to my conquests a bite of a fried pickle and a fried green bean. The fried pickle is a noble member of the all-fry team, mixing as it does the salty tang of the lowly pickle with the always noble fryolator oil. The green bean was a surprisingly tasty addition.

I broke the fry spell later with about 60% of a bowl of the excellent NCSU ice cream; cherry vanilla was my poison tonight, as it usually is at the Fair. By the way, if you haven't had this treat--and if you live here and have not, get your butt to the Fair ASAP--then you may not realize that 60% of a bowl is probably around a full pint; they really pile on the ice cream.

On the way out, simply to bring myself back to sanity, I had a cheese dog and a bite of cheddar cheese nuggets--because let's face it, no fair trip is complete without a hot dog, nugget is fun to say, and fried cheese is nuclear goodness.

I've been dieting and losing weight, but tomorrow morning the scale will not be kind. Ah, well: The Fair is a special treat indeed. I do pray for nanomachine artery cleaners, however; I now need them more than ever.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beware the hairy beast that walks like a man

Yes, it does indeed walk and even sometimes talk like a man, but you cannot trust this creature.

It has decided not to trim any of its facial fur until it has accomplished three sets of key objectives:

* finish the first draft of its novel, which could happen any time in the next several days

* pay all its bills, many of which are overdue (from lack of time, not lack of money)

* complete nine work deliverables

How hairy might this animal get?

Do not ask. You do not want to know.

Is this strange decision bothering it?

What do you think?

If you see it, what should you do?

Run away, lest it give you a look like this.

You've been warned.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Things that piss me off: non-communicative devices

In my Jon & Lobo novels, I write about machines of all types that are intelligent and constantly communicating. I make this scenario science fictional by having the machines be extremely intelligent (if self-absorbed) and their conversations quite human-like. What is not fiction is that we live in a world in which many machines are regularly chatting away without appearing to do so.

What pisses me off is the way some of them chatter, the way in which simple devices sometimes fail to communicate simple things.

Cases in point: Bluetooth mice and keyboards. These battery-powered rascals talk to the system with which they're mated. Their conversations consist of keystrokes (keyboards) and coordinate changes (mice). When they're working, they function well.

The problem is what happens when their batteries fail. For not a lot of hardware and software effort, they could send a signal to their host system, something along the lines of "Power dying. Help!" The host system could pop up a nice message telling me to change the batteries, I would comply, and I wouldn't end up wanting to beat my peripherals into dust after they suddenly stop working and I can't tell if it's because Vista lost its Bluetooth connection--again--or the batteries just died.

Not that this wasted my time tonight or anything.

If you make a peripheral, you should be required to make it talk to all the key host operating systems. If you don't, you should be forced to sit in a room with a thousand of your peripherals, all currently not connected, and a hundred sets of batteries, and then find the hundred that need those batteries.

Or we could just beat you silly. That would work, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My office is messier than yours

I'm not proud of this claim, and we're working to fix it, but it's true. Yeah, I know, plenty of writers say the same thing, but the thing is, they're wrong.

I'll prove it. My home office measures about 24 by 30 feet, with a deep closet that's about 10 by 20 feet (but with a roof sloping down so it's mighty short on the rear side). You'd think with that much space I'd have tons of room for everything, but as I'll prove today, enough stuff can overcome any amount of space. (The closet, by the way, looks worse than the office; I won't even show it to you here.) This is also not a recent phenomenon; the office was last completely orderly in about 1990. I am not kidding.

Don't believe me? Fine. Check out these photos.

In the rear, near the corner, that's Sarah on the library ladder, just to give you a sense of scale.

Yes, I know I need to catalog and file a few books and DVDs. Did I mention I'm a bit behind?

Two of those monitors, by the way, are 30-inch units, and the other is a
24-inch display; they just look small amongst the clutter.

Now, here's the room from another angle. That inflatable Godzilla is about six feet tall. Don't ask why he's standing on a big pile of stuff. There's always a reason.

I'll tell you this, though: He can scare the bejeezus out of new visitors who enter when the room is dark, say at twilight.

I warn some folks.


In this final shot, you get a sense of the state of many of the bookcases--bookcases that are about 12 feet high; the room peaks somewhere around 15 feet high.

One day in the next year, this room will be orderly--or so the plan goes, and Elizabeth and Gina and I hope to realize this long-held dream. The few empty shelves you see are the first signs of the order still to come.

Until then, don't feel bad about the state of your office, and definitely don't whine to me about it. You'll get no sympathy here.

The Duchess

Though it's not common knowledge, I often enjoy chick flicks. I find women endlessly fascinating, and watching them interact--on screen or in real life--is interesting and sometimes quite informative. I'm also particularly curious about the many women in history who overcame the adversity they faced to become more than their society would normally permit them to be. And, of course, any movie with the promise of a lot of sex is good by me.

I consequently entered the showing of The Duchess with cautious optimism.

I left more than a little dissatisfied.

The problem was not Keira Knightley. I'm not a fan of hers--her acting usually leaves me cold, and physically she's entirely too bony for my taste--but she did a good job in this movie. Her beauty and physical allure were undeniable, and her performance made the Duchess' intelligence and suffering palpable.

Ralph Fiennes also delivered, actually elevating the character as written into a more human person, albeit one who made those few males in the theater feel pretty damn bad about being a man.

You also couldn't fault the cinematography, set design, costuming, or any of the other visual aspects of the movie. It was stunning to behold.

The problem was the script. (I'm not saying the writers, because with movie scripts there's no telling how much the finished product resembles what the writers typed.) It gave us plenty of suffering, plenty of eye candy, and a great deal of one type of character development: the Duchess grappling with the difficulty of her position. What it never delivered were scenes that showed just why this woman was so popular, why she was in demand at political events, why everyone loved her. It took the cheap route and basically said, "Here's Keira Knightley. Don't you love her?" I left wishing for scenes in which the Duchess' actions earned her the acclaim of all the people who wanted her presence.

To be fair, we did get one dinner party in which her boldness emerged, but it was hardly enough to show why so many people considered her so special.

In the end, I walked out liking that the film showed a poly relationship that, though initially unhealthy, worked out reasonably, liking the look of the film, even liking Keira Knightley in the role--but still wishing for a great deal more.


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