Saturday, August 22, 2009


Last night, after a tasty take-out Chinese dinner, we headed out to a local arthouse theater to see Ponyo, Miyazaki's latest film. I've found nothing else to be quite like a Miyazaki movie, and Ponyo only reinforced that belief.

The differences start with the look. The animation here, which Miyazaki's team did by hand, shows its pencil origins with soft, gentle colors, particularly in the landscapes and seascapes. It was lovely and yet childlike, as if a gifted youngster had drawn the images--and in many ways, Miyazaki, though in his late sixties, is that talented child. It is perhaps his greatest gift to be so in touch with and able to tap the child within him.

The differences continue with the shape of his stories, which almost always follow child logic, not traditional plot structures. Children (quite properly, I believe) typically live in very limited worlds in which people outside their immediate spheres are distant, almost meaningless entities and secondary effects rarely enter their consciousnesses. (Reading my own words, perhaps I'm describing America instead. Ah, well; that's another essay.) So, the fact that a key character, Ponyo's mother, doesn't really enter the movie until the end, or that the giant waves that are destroying villages really don't seem to kill anyone, simply end up not mattering to the story. The tale is guileless and simple, with children whose intentions are pure and clean.

If your goal is to watch an animated adult film, Ponyo is definitely not for you. If, however, you're in the mood to ditch your grown-up sensibilities for a couple of hours and to see the world and all its wonder and magic again as a child, then make sure to catch this one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

You're not clever

when you cut into the right, turn-only lane so you can pass all the other stopped cars and then cut in again in front of the line, because your time is obviously so much more important than everyone else's. No, you're an asshole.

when in the Admiral's Club you take the laptop table from its place in front of the seat where my briefcase is sitting because I'm off fetching a drink and a snack for my obviously broken-footed traveling companion. No, you're an asshole.

when you walk in front of everyone else waiting patiently in line and interrupt the clerk to announce how important your problem is. No, you're asshole.

when you pull your luggage out of the overhead rack without giving warning first, smack someone hard in the face, and then giggle and as an afterthought mumble a completely unbelievable "sorry." No, you're an asshole.

when you cut in front of a woman on a cart and almost knock her over because where you're going is so very important. No, you're an asshole.

Can you tell some of my Montreal trip experiences weren't entirely positive?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What are you doing this coming Sunday, August 23?

If you live in the Triangle area, I know what you should be doing: Attending my reading at Fearrington's lovely McIntyre's Fine Books store. I'll be reading to support the sales of Overthrowing Heaven, but if we can get a decent-size crowd I'm considering doing something I've never done before: reading a goodly bit of the novel in progress, Children No More.

If that's not enough to tempt you to attend, and if the lovely McIntyre's won't do it, then perhaps the prospect of eating brunch at Fearrington's The Old Granary restaurant or wandering the lovely grounds or checking out the Belted Galloway Cows will do it.

Finally, if none of that is enough to lure you, then perhaps this will: Dave and Jennie have pledged to do a joint stripper pole dance if the crowd is huge and enthusiastic.

Okay, that's a lie, an utter fabrication of my demented brain and actually not a scene I'd like to witness, but who knows what we could talk others into doing if enough of us beg and plead?

Maybe I should stop now.


Okay, so come on out and hear me read this Sunday.

A couple of songs for someone you love--or want to love

First up, the Fray. I couldn't find a good video for this one, but as compensation you get lyrics on this one.

Blue Rodeo's first big hit, "Try," is the second. I saw them perform this song in January 1988 in the Diamond club in Toronto, and I swear some women near the stage literally swooned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In case you need a mostly humorous moment

but one still on the topic of my last two sentimental posts, here's Scott showing that he misses his sister, too.

As blurry as this picture is (and sorry about that), the expression on Scott's face is a wonderful blend of sarcasm and real emotion--something quite common around our place.

The 15th is still hard

One old, fat author and father; one young, handsome son and high school junior.

Scott and I this morning, just before we drove off to school.

I've never provided most of the school transportation for the kids. I have, however, always driven them to class on the first day of each new school year. I've done it since Sarah started pre-school, so this week marks the fifteenth time I've gotten up early (for me) to make the first-day drive. Yesterday, that trip was for Sarah. Today, it was for Scott.

The trips have changed a great deal. For the first few, Scott would let me hold his hand and walk him into the pre-school or kindergarten classroom, and he even liked it when I hung around for a minute or two. Very quickly, however, the handholding could extend only to the hallway near the classroom, and then in the blink of an eye holding his hand was strictly verboten.

Each time, after Scott was safely in the his class, I would return to my car and sit for a few minutes, choking back emotion and hoping my baby boy would be okay.

Another blink, and Scott was hopping out of the car, getting his backpack, and walking from the car to the room on his own; no need for my help.

One more blink, and it's today, when, like most high-school kids, Scott does not so much hop out of the car as trudge out, because schools start earlier than most teens want to awaken.

For me, though, the experience has remained basically the same, though the concerns have changed from whether he'll be okay--I know he will--to whether it will be a good year, other kids will be nice, and so on. I still sit in the car, I'm still choked up, and I still share with all other parents the desperate hope that everything in life will go perfectly with my children--and, of course, the knowledge that this hope is in vain. Still, I hope.

In the end, as with Sarah yesterday, each beginning marks a transformation, some bigger than others, but each is a change that is appropriate and good and occurring on schedule--and nonetheless difficult.

Last night, I stood outside Sarah's (vacant) room and Scott's room and repeated my traditional invocation, as I wrote yesterday. I'll do it again tonight, but this time it will be on the other side of the doors of a high school junior and a college freshman.

Daddy loves you, Scott.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A hole in my heart

One old, fat author and father; one young, beautiful daughter and college student.

Sarah and I this morning, just before we all drove off to Duke.

Almost exactly eighteen and a half years ago, Sarah was born. Earlier today, we dropped her at Duke, where she is beginning college.

The night Sarah was born, Rana was exhausted and needed to sleep, but Sarah wouldn't stop crying. I knew nothing about being a dad beyond what I'd seen on television; for most of my childhood, I had no father. I sat on the torture device the hospital provided as a bed/chair for new dads, a rough, short, narrow contraption much like the sleeping surface an angry troll would design to hurt children, and felt powerless, because I had no clue how to comfort Sarah. I tried picking her up, walking around, and the few other moves I'd acquired from babysitting, but none of them helped. The world for this tiny newborn was too rough a place in ways I could not comprehend, and Sarah had to cry. She had been alive only a few hours, and already I was failing her and despairing of ever bonding with her.

Finally, in desperation I stretched out on the bed/chair and held Sarah's head to my heart, a technique I knew sometimes soothed kittens.

She instantly stopped crying and went to sleep.

After about five minutes, I began to get uncomfortable and adjusted my position.

Sarah woke up and cried.

I returned to the awkward posture, and she quieted and fell asleep.

I stayed in that position for almost six hours, my muscles aching and my fatigue almost unbearable and sleep unattainable. The entire time, I stared at my sleeping daughter. Sometime during those night hours, I came to understand at a bone-deep level what it meant to be a dad: That I would do anything for my daughter (and later, when he was born, my son), and that my love for her was greater than anything I would ever be able to express.

I also realized by the end of that night that the only chance my children would ever have of understanding how much I love them would be for them to have children of their own, because if they did, I could stand with them as they held their babies and say, "See how much you love them, how impossible it is for your heart to hold it all? That's how much I love you."

In the years since Sarah's birth, I've done the best I could as a dad. I've worked too many hours, and I've gone on too many trips, and I've spent too much time alone in my home office, and I've taken too much time for myself, and I've missed too much of their lives, and I've constantly felt like I was failing. I still do. I've tried to balance being a good provider and being there and all the rest, and I know I've screwed up. Only one thing have I gotten right, though I'm not sure how much it counts: I have always, always, always loved her and Scott with a fierceness of which I suspect they have only an inkling.

Every single night of their lives, I have either stood outside the doors of their rooms and to the darkness whispered, "Good night, Sarah. Daddy loves you. Good night, Scott. Daddy loves you." as if it were a blessing that could keep them safe, or said the same words to myself as I was falling asleep in some other building in some other place. It's a dumb tradition, dumber inside me now that I see it in writing, but it's mine, and it's theirs, though they've never participated in it, and I don't ever intend to stop it.

And now, Sarah has left this house and moved into a dorm and started the next phase of her life. All of that is good and proper and natural and what I have desired for her; heck, I'm paying for it. I want her to have her own life, and in any way I can, I will help her get it. I also know she'll be home at holidays, and we'll find our old ways quickly enough, we'll talk and laugh and hug and play Halo and rock-paper-scissors, and for a short time we'll all be living together again.

Today, though, there is a hole in my heart and an ache in my chest, a heart that still beats for Sarah, and a chest that will for as long as I'm alive be a place she can rest her head against a rough world and know that her father, that I, will do anything in my power to keep that roughness at bay, and that I love her more than I can ever express.

Daddy loves you, Sarah.

Sukeban Boy - Not Power Rangers, not by a long shot

(The following is a guest post by Amy, who, with her husband, Eric, and Ticia, watched the movie after seeing its DVD case in my blog photo of beach movies. Enjoy.)

It could easily have been created by the same folks responsible for the Power Rangers TV show for kids, but I really hope it wasn’t.

My BFF insisted I watch it, so what could I say but, okay?

"It's pretty weird," she said. "It's not anime, but it's kind of like anime."

"Martial arts?" I asked.

"Well, huh...not really. Just watch it. You'll see. "

So I watched it last night with Eric, and now I have to wonder: Is this really the kind of movie you want to tell others you’ve watched? The back of the DVD mentions the guilty pleasure of Sukeban Boy. What if others judge me guilty for watching it?

Because they might.


Because they would be accurate.

If you watch it, you, like I, might be guilty in the same way that you get when someone persuades you to eat a dish that you insist you do not like--and then you decide you like it and are embarrassed to admit that fact because you don’t know anyone else who would. Like a peanut butter and mayonnaise sammy on Wonderbread.

Just what kind of sandwich is this movie? Sukeban is a bad boy with gender identity issues, a strange father, and a bunch of crazy women after him. Here’s some of what you and he experience:

* heinous thong underwear worn under the blue and red pantyhose, an oddly fascinating and mesmerizing combination

* high school girl uniforms

* other terrible costuming

* girl fighting

* bad boob jobs

* a lot of butts, most of them wearing sumo diapers (Maybe that's a cultural thing, but ick!)

* fakey gore scenes

* strange fight clubs with stranger bosses

* gangs with names like "full frontal women," "monk women," "the braless women," and the "Bang Bang Bang, half naked women"

* bad martial arts with such fight moves as "Can Can dance of doom" and the "high kick of death"
Did I mention fart jokes?

In spite of the constant bad acting, I ended up liking Sukeban and cheering when he triumphs over the baddies. Mochico/Full Frontal Woman is also cool, whether she’s practicing humility after school or hatcheting off a bad girl’s legs (oops: spoiler alert).

Did I sense a bit of a Quentin Tarentino vibe? This may be worthy of further research.

Is this a fetish movie? Well, yes. But what kinds of fetishes? I'm sure I could not list them all. Eric thinks perhaps some of them might have to do with repetition and OCD.

Each individual element of this movie is so very wrong. Put them all together, though, and the film works. I loved its uniqueness, and I loved that something so weird made me laugh for an hour.

As the box said: It is a guilty pleasure. It is Sukeban Boy!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What happens when your dad is an electronics geek

Yesterday, per our plan, Sarah and I hit the Best Buy to buy a few key electronics for her dorm room: TV, DVD player, and external hard disk for her notebook. Sarah wanted a small TV that would fit nicely on a dresser, was iffy about the DVD player, and humored me on the external hard disk (which was a wise decision, because backup is good!).

Here are some sample snippets of dialog from our shopping adventure. I think you'll be able to tell which speaker is which.

I could live with a nineteen-inch.

Why don't you look at these twenty-six-inch models? You might want to watch TV from all the way across the room.

I don't think I'm going to watch TV all that often. The twenty-six-inch ones are just too big.

Okay, how about this twenty-two-inch?

I guess. I'm really only getting a TV at all because I promised my roommate I would.

Drat! This twenty-two-inch is an Insignia. A Samsung would be better, but there aren't any twenty-two-inch Samsungs available. There's a good twenty-six-inch Samsung right over there.

The twenty-two-inch Insignia is fine. Let's get it.

The Samsung's not all that much more. I don't mind paying.

No, really, this one is fine.

But it's an Insignia! All your friends will think your father is some cheap hick who doesn't know his electronics.

No, Dad, they won't.

Oh, yes, they will.

No, really, they won't. Let's take the Insignia and go get the other stuff.
A little while later, as we're walking the aisles.
Look! A twenty-two-inch Samsung. It was clearly meant to be. I can take back this Insignia and pick up one of these.

No, the Insignia is fine. The Samsung is forty bucks more, and I don't think I can see the difference.

But the Samsung is better! And the other one is an Insignia! Remember what I said about your friends?

No, really, the Insignia is fine. Let's go get the other stuff.
Do you see my problem? Sure, Sarah is being sensible and reasonable and saving me money--but, come on, we're talking electronics!

In the end, the sensible person--that would be Sarah--carried the day, and I had to slink out of the store carrying the Insignia.

I swear that twenty-year-old guy working security at the exit smirked at me as he checked off the Insignia.


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