Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's playing in my car right now

One answer, of course, is whatever is on my iPhone, but that list is too long to share. So, I'll go with one song from each of the four CDs currently in the changer.


For this last one, to see the video for this song, you have to go to YouTube. Sorry about that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gaining ground in the allergy serum wars

Yesterday, I visited the allergy clinic during this week's one available office hour to get my serum test. Though I'm obviously still losing on the scheduling front, I'm happy to report that I appear to have carried the day when it comes to the test itself.

This trip, the receptionist, who will not call my mobile phone for scheduling no matter how many times I ask her, smiled and welcomed me by name. My nemesis, the guy who does the two needle-stick tests, forced a half smile, said hello, and administered the two needles quickly and painlessly. He barely checked my arm to see if I had passed, but I can live with that; I check it myself each time.

They also refuse to fix my address on the serum label, but again, I can live with that.

What's next after my best allergy test yet? That's easy: the scheduling dragon!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In praise of Dan Brooks

I've mentioned Dan before. He's a librarian at the Cary Public Library. He organized the library's SF writers event that I attended last October, and he also chaired the book club meeting that I visited Tuesday night and discussed in yesterday's blog entry. Dan's a quiet guy, at least in my experience, and he's an earnest one. He cares about books and reading and science fiction. He buys a box of cookies for the book club from his own pocket because the library has no food budget. (I know nothing about his salary, but in my experience librarians are not exactly overpaid or rolling in dough.)

Dan and I aren't really friends. We don't hang out. I've seen him at these events and nowhere else. All I know about him is what I've experienced in those few contacts. (I know enough from just them, however, to guess that he'll probably be embarrassed that I'm writing this about him.)

My world, though, is better for Dan being in it. So are the worlds of the book-club members, and those of the many folks who attended the events he helped organize.

Airlines sometimes hand out comment cards so you can send something nice to their headquarters about particularly helpful staffers. Maybe libraries do the same, but if so, I didn't spot such a card as I left the Cary library last night. So, this blog entry will have to do.

Cary Public Library officials, if you're listening, here's one man's vote that you should be damn proud to have Dan Brooks on your team. Whatever you're paying him, it's not enough.

Sorry, Dan, for embarrassing you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visiting a book club

Last night, I drove to the Cary Public Library to be the guest speaker at the Strangers in a Strange Book Club meeting. The good folks there had chosen to read One Jump Ahead and had planned to discuss it. When Dan Brooks, a librarian there and a member of the club, emailed me about that choice, I was so tickled that I offered to come and chat with them after the meeting, if they were interested in having me. As it turned out, they invited me to attend the entire meeting.

I had a swell time. I can't speak for them, of course, but they seemed to have a good time, too. All dozen or so (I didn't count, because we started talking the moment I sat) members had read the book (or in a few cases were well into it). Dan kicked off the meeting with a question, and from there the conversation ran fast and furious for almost twenty minutes longer than the scheduled hour. We discussed everything from details of the book (and other books of mine) to my writing process to where the rest of the series would take us. Their questions and comments were always intelligent and thoughtful, and they had clearly considered many aspects of the novel.

I answered every question except those on the series' future. Though the members offered many good guesses and ideas about what would happen in the books to come, as is my policy I never answered anything about any work still in progress. I know that can be annoying, but everyone took my refusal in good spirits and returned to the many questions I would answer.

After the meeting ended, I signed a few books, chatted with a several more folks, and then took off. I find libraries to be comforting places, and it's even more comforting to know that people all over the place are reading books and getting together to discuss them. That the book was one of mine was icing on the cake.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A TED talk I loved

In my blog entries on this year's TEDActive, I commented on a lot of the talks I saw. From time to time, though, I may point out a few that I think are particularly worthy of your attention.

The presentation below is one of them.

It's not about social change or bettering the world. It's not from a world leader or a Nobel Laureate. It's not a call to action.

What it is is a wonderful presentation from a young spoken-word poet, Sarah Kay, who blew away the TED audiences and earned multiple standing ovations. Sometimes nothing more complicated than a person telling stories, in poetry or prose or whatever, is the most powerful and perfect thing in the world.

I hope you enjoy her work and her talk as much as I did.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I'm a sucker for superhero films of all types, so it's no surprise that last night we headed out to see this superman-via-superdrug flick. I wasn't at all sure, however, what plot arc to expect.

In retrospect, I should have been. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

The trailer told the set-up: smart but failing loser acquires miracle drug and turns into uber-successful genius winner. The question was how to resolve the problems that such a drug was almost certain to cause, problems that would have to include dependence and some serious side-effects if the film was to have any drama at all.

Twenty or thirty years ago, the answer would have been clear: the man must give up the drug, compete on his own, and either win or at least show well, but always on his own. He could not win from something as cheap and, in the mood of that time, basically immoral as a magic pill.

Limitless looked for a time as if it would follow that same trajectory. Bradley Cooper's Eddie Mora is definitely a loser, becomes a huge winner, experiences serious side effects (including possibly committing a murder, something we're never sure if he has really done), crashes a lot, blacks out, loses his girlfriend for the second time, and so on.

What happens then, however, is the sign of these times: he kills the bad guys who come after him--but only by regaining his drug-made smarts by literally drinking some of the blood of one of them so he can get some of the drug into this system. Then, in a matter of a minute or so, the film flashes to today and a very cleaned-up Eddie. He's got a new short haircut, he's the clear front-runner for a U.S. Senate seat, he beats a business adversary, and he gets back his girl, who no longer seems worried about the drug usage that caused her to leave before.

Did he drop the drug? Hell, no; he perfected it. That conclusion is quite logical. After all, if he's one of the smartest people alive, he should be able to do better than the people who invented or possibly even find another way to up-fit his brain. The ending is also, however, a reflection of a world in which taking a drug to fix any problem is fine. Part of me hates that world. Another part has to admit that if I could pop a pill that with no side effects would let me have Jeni's ice cream at every meal and remain at my perfect weight and have rippling abs of steel, I would do it. It would bother me, but I would do it.

I enjoyed taking the Limitless ride, but I also left the theater surprisingly deep in thought about the worldview it espouses.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Belated birthday thoughts on a wondrous moon

Last night, about three a.m., after the party, after the UFC PPV, after playing late-night Halo with Kyle, I went outside for the second time that evening and stared at the amazing moon. (If you didn't do the same, you missed something wonderful: full, at its closest point in the last 18 years, and so bright it lit the yard, this moon deserved your attention.) As I was staring at it in the cool spring air, I was struck by how little my teenage self's vision of my future had to do with my life today.

Though I thought otherwise at the time, though I was as certain as any young person that I understood all that lay ahead, I simply had no clue what was to come.

The realities of life with a job, friends, family, and house did not figure at all in my vision of the years in front of me. I didn't even consider that I might have children. I knew what things cost and how hard life could be--I started working to help the family when I was ten--but none of that figured in my imaginings of my future.

I was sure, for example, that I would do great things, but I haven't, not by any standard that matters to me. More to the point, though, is the fact that my definitions of greatness then were as gauzy as the lens on a Playboy photographer's camera, and since then I've changed them every time I've even wandered near one of them.

A few dreams, though, shined as brightly in my young self's thoughts as that beautiful moon and still lurk in my dreams today: to go into space, to write something of heartbreaking beauty, to somehow--as ill-defined then as now--make the world a better place.

My first reaction to these middle-of-the-night thoughts was sadness, an almost unbearable ache at my failure to realize the dreams of the young Mark. Now, though, I'm pleased that some of those dreams are still with me, as strong and vibrant and compelling as ever.

I still want to see the Earth from space.

I still dream of someday producing a work of transcendent beauty.

I still hope to make the world a better place.

Even if I never achieve any of them, I will at least have clung to them for all those years, from then to now, and that pleases me, lets me feel in usually dark corners of my heart that maybe the world hasn't entirely won.

I hope I never let go of them, I really do. I hope I never stop reaching for them.

And, I hope I never stop wanting to stand under a shining moon and consider that I could still do more.


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