Monday, September 29, 2008


I woke to bird song and the misty remnants of dissipated dreams. No doubt the sun in my eyes did its best, but that's why I wear sunglasses. It's easier than moving the bed. A cool breeze wafted through the open window as was its habit, and I breathed in deeply, blinked my eyes, felt rather groggy, and pondered the fleeting memories of last night - jazz even smokier than the air, a sea of trench coats and fedoras, a barman named Joe, and some sweet thing whispering sweet nothings into my ear. Someone else's memories, that was for sure. Briefly I wondered where mine had got to, and if this was anything like waking up in someone else's clothes, but it was too early for extensive mental action.

Really, it was too early even for getting up, what with the heaviness of my lids, I mean, and the temperature differential between in bed and out of it. I yawned and retested the latter with my arm, with the same results. Scientific method, check. I snuggled down in my little cave, closed my eyes once again, and of course this is when the fiddle music had to start on the street below. I think there must be a sign on the casement outside my room that tells those self-styled 'players' when they can achieve maximum damage. Still, this is old hat. I chucked a handy brick out the window, and after an inexplicable but brief increase in the noise, blissful silence returned. Thank goodness, because I'm running low on bricks. Well, I mean, I tell a friend of mine on a regular basis that she's a brick, but I don't plan on throwing her out the window.

Anyway, the air was still fresh, and the birds that had been scared off by the fiddlers returned and began singing once more, and I was warm and comfortable as I sank back into the pillow with a sigh and closed my eyes and began to mediate on serenity and its role in promoting man's artistic and scientific achievements. Everything was right, there was not a care in the world, sleep was impending, the fiddlers were unconscious, and with such a setup how could it possibly last?

It did last, for all of forty-five seconds, and then my alarm clock went off. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, this was a serious matter. It used to be you could just slam the snooze button and then toss the clock out the window without even emerging from the depths. If you lacked a brick, but were sufficiently disciplined to hold out for a bit, you could take care of two bothers with one throw. Not any more, though. Oh, no. Unless this was all just another woozy dream brought on by insufficient quantities of the fruit of the abyss and possibly the vine, but in any case when the clock changed I was conscious of my plane of repose shifting as my beloved bed went vertical and dumped me on the floor.

Well, that was OK. I'd slept often enough on floors not to resent the idea now. But the accursed bed had other plans, and as I tried to settle down and catch those Zs that kept eluding my grasp, the bed extended a foot and booted me in the behind. Well, that got me pretty riled, especially as it was actually wearing a boot, heaven knows where it had found it. I was no slouch at the fisticuffs and was certainly not about to take any lip from anybody, especially a body that has no lip. I leaped to my feet and put up my fists, it produced some fists from somewhere (boxing glove-attired, no less) and another foot and put them up, except not the foot of course, and we began circling one another warily.

"C'mon, ya pug!" I said. "I'll pop you one right in the pate, pally. I'll pummel you in the pillow! I'll paint you purple, you pontificating pugnacious poseur! You ready for some pugilism, punk?" Well, I was pretty pleased with that bit of patois, and wasn't paying attention, and the bed purloined a passing moment to punch me a powerhouse. I went down, and the bed pulled a piledriver and pinned me to the plywood.

It must be Monday.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I probably should make a more in-depth study of psychology and anthropology than I have previously, because I find the question of why we do what we do absolutely fascinating. This is especially true of certain phenomena; I've already expressed some of my sentiments about music, but if there's one thing I'm even more invested in, it's humor. Humor is so complex, dare I say ridiculously so, that it doesn't even have to obey the cultural trends that have such a sway on our thinking otherwise. This isn't to say that it doesn't often do so, but people can be very similar in many ways, having been brought up in like or even identical circumstances, and yet get their yuks at entirely different things. Probably. I'm just a guy typing at his computer; what do I know?

On a related note, many brilliant minds of all ages so far have tackle this very question and, as they're all more qualified to answer it than I am, I won't attempt to explain anything. One needs to understand something before trying to explain it, or at least that's how it ought to work. However, because I also like to talk and occasionally think, here are a couple of tidbits I 'acquired' through various shady but entirely untraceable means.

In college I read a fascinating article on the subject of humor's basis, one by an author from whom I would not have expected such a treatise. Aristophanes, perhaps? OK, I don't remember the name, but I do remember the primary assertion, which is that the urge to laugh at the ridiculous or bizarre is rooted in relief that it is not we who are in the unfortunate position. Sort of the same attitude as that found in one passage of the stoic Epictetus (maybe) where a man looks out his window and is relieved that it is not he who is currently drowning in the ocean in the midst of a storm, only less tragic and topical (but equally tropical).

This would certainly explain why slapstick is such a, er, hit. Ever since the first banana peel on the floor, or perhaps it was a bit of mammoth fur, it has been a heroic struggle - with questionable and varied success - against the impulse to laugh at the poor sap who went heels over head. Really the advent of acting and certainly the technological innovation of the screen (somewhat later than the mammoths) must have been a tremendous relief because all of a sudden we were free to laugh without guilt at others' pain.

But this unchristian selfishness does not explain all humor. Telling a joke and linguistic humor, for example, put nobody at risk and, with the exception of some lower-rung puns, require no suffering on anyone's part. Much of today's humor is rooted more in expert timing for humorous effect than in a particular kind of writing. There are other examples. What's the deal? Why am I asking me?

Still, I can at least attempt to analyze my own experiences, and having done so in a highly unprofessional and unscientific manner, I have found that I'm especially tickled by the incongruous. By this I mean people saying and doing things I would not expect of them (not an example: writing an essay on the basis of humor), and things happening that seem out of place or uncharacteristic. Out of place is probably the best descriptor. It doesn't work for everything, obviously - I would be surprised if someone I knew started talking in immaculate Hungarian, but not amused - which just goes to show I need a more specific set of criteria and perhaps an explanation for why I find such things funny (that is is incongruous is not in itself an explanation). I am not prepared to give either of these, so here instead are a couple examples that I do find funny.

There's a moment near the beginning of the first episode of the medical sitcom Scrubs where lead character J.D. and his friend Turk are in class and J.D. leans over and whispers "Hey, Turk, you know how I'm down with the rap music?" I really like lines like that. Perhaps most people would not crack a smile at this point, saving their energy for Turk's response, but I'm grinning already. Here's why: I would expect him to say "you know how I'm down with rap?" or maybe even "you know how I'm down with rap music?" By putting that extra 'the' in there, the sentence becomes strangely - and amusingly - complex and even formal in its construction. Sort of like a prominent political figure talking about 'the Google.' That latter case is different because it's funny that he's not 'savvy' enough to know that Google is an Entity that you don't put 'the' in front of, and thus it becomes an instance of the explanation given by the mysterious author above, but probably at base it's the same principle.

For a more general example, I turn to A Prairie Home Companion, on which a recent rebroadcast of an old show featured folk singers Robin and Linda Williams (not that Robin Williams) performing a medley of various tunes, including 'Jenny from the Block' by contemporary pop singer (and seductive sensation) Jennifer Lopez. But they didn't sing it the same way she does - they're folk singers after all - instead recasting its aggressive sensibilities into their own folk duet mold, with hilarious results. It's not exactly satire and it's certainly not an homage. But it is incongruous, and very funny. More, please.

That's what I've got. I admit that I have more than an academic interest in the matter; anyone who wants to write in a certain style needs to know its mechanisms if he wants even the slightest success. Happily, it isn't necessary to know everything, which is why I can write these blogs and produce this. Whether they are funny or not I leave for others to decide.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

By the dock of the bay

Maybe it's because I've moved around so much, or perhaps it's in my personality, or perhaps some of both; in any case I have never felt much of an attachment to a specific place. Some grow up and live a significant portion of their life - if not the entirety - in one location, either loving or hating it (I think one of those must be inevitable under the circumstances); others move around but are drawn to specific environs that impassion them. Neither of these has been my experience. However much I wish to be in the neighborhood of certain elements that my current home lacks, when I actually get them I take them in stride. It's rather depressing, actually - sort of an inability to feel the spirit of the land, or care.

Still, living near the water sure has its benefits. When I go down to the marina and sit on the dock and watch the wind on the waves, the many tiny ripples of raindrops hitting the water, the elegant, synchronized flight of geese just over the surface only a few yards from the bench on which I'm perched, I find tranquility I have not attained elsewhere. It's a kind of silence that is in the world rather than divorced from it - the sounds of the cars on the road back on shore, the hum of boats in their parking spaces, the cries of seagulls as they wheel over the water all give me peace without alienation. It may not be a windswept mountain peak, but it is in refreshingly stark contrast to the isolation that may be found in the other kind of privacy.

In related news, my comic sure is great. Nine out of ten cartoonists would recommend it if they knew about it!

Monday, September 22, 2008


I hope it's localized to a few NPR unfortunates, but lately I've noticed 'woman' being used instead of 'female' with alarming frequency. Some examples include 'woman senator,' 'woman governor,' and the unavoidable - albeit hypothetical - 'woman president.' This is unacceptable. 'Woman' is a noun, not an adjective! That 'female' is primarily an adjective but may also be used as a noun is all the more reason why it makes no sense to replace it - people with flawed word choice, do you not understand the American principle of 'more is better'?

Even if the word 'female' did not offer a certain linguistic suppleness, a seductive flexibility denied its more activism-inclined variation (to say nothing of the clumsy but jovial oafishness of its opposite), what benefit could there possibly be to choosing 'woman' over 'female'? The former is no more divorced from its masculine root than the latter, as was at least attempted in a humor piece I recently read where 'woman' was replaced by 'womyn,' thus looking intentionally ridiculous (and, in its similarity to the fire-breathing 'wyrm,' conjuring up a very different stereotype, no doubt accidentally). I must conclude that political correctness is not the motivation behind the switch, which is good because the concern these days over stepping on toes is absolutely overblown. Step on those toes! The worst they can do is punch you in the face, and perhaps instigate a knock-down drag-out old-fashioned bar fight if you happen to be in a bar at the time and John Wayne is nearby. 'They' not referring to the toes, of course.

I fear that this is simply the next step in the exponential degradation of language; where before there was at least some semblance of reason behind the changes, now we are free to replace at will. Soon there will no longer be even the compulsion to use synonyms, and brag a fleece conjoined, ingots according why surface.

This to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophets, who foretold the End of Phrase.

Friday, September 19, 2008


There's nothing quite like the sensation of getting what you wanted but weren't expecting. Thank God. It's the most unsettling feeling.

It happens simply enough, and to everyone. Whether it's a relationship, job opportunity, chance for adventure, or some other sort of development, the process is the same: you express interest in something, not really expecting any results, and go your merry way. Later, like a reverse mugger IT leaps out from behind a bush or the next corner and demands action of you, to put up or shut up, and all you can think is "Uh-oh. What do I do now?" This is assuming you weren't really prepared to handle things, which for some of us is most of the time.

Making split-second decisions with serious ramifications can be hard and scary (surprise), as can be actually living dreams. You start questioning what it is you really want, and are naturally compelled toward rejecting the path of stress, hard work and the unknown (your potentially-former desire) in favor of the path of comfortable insignificance (your current circumstances). The true measure of strength and courage is how capable you are of piercing the vision-clouding mist of the immediate fear and the seemingly-compelling arguments it presents, seeing beyond to the true daylight of the reasons you wanted this in the first place.

And also, no less important, the capability to balance with honest weights the advantages and disadvantages such that a bad situation may be avoided. Because the temptation to seize an adventure just because it is an adventure can be every bit as powerful as the temptation to flee because it is new and scary.


I sure do hate using 'you' like that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I've never considered myself an artist, at least the visual kind, but I used to love trying. Even as I ridiculed, but was secretly proud of, my own efforts in mid-school art class, I enjoyed the experience and the outrageous, generally non-art-related tall tales of the teacher, who was one of my favorites as much because he encouraged my artistic pursuits as on account of those stories. I still try a painting or some such every once in a while, and I can do a solid perspective drawing (solely on account of the aforementioned class), but for the most part I'm lucky to make stick figures do my bidding. Peonic pretzel sticks.

Those who hold the rights are in the process of releasing the complete collection of Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip. It's an epic work-in-progress, and necessarily so, because near fifty years of work encapsulating nearly eighteen thousand strips does not get wrapped up into a tiny package, and consequently the collection is being released in something like twenty-four volumes, at a rate of two a year(!). They're really nice books, featuring fantastic cover art and lots of introductions and interviews by and with people who have been influenced by Schulz's work (these are not hard to find). Promoting this enterprise is not really the point of this posting, however.

The first volume has an extensive interview with the man himself, who says many memorable things, the most pertinent of which is that he was always surprised at how few people could draw well. What with my efforts lately to produce a comic, this got me thinking once again about talent, and its culmination in genius. That some things can be learned and some cannot is obvious enough, which obviousness does not in the slightest dull its capacity to infuriate. But even skills attainable through rote find their true expression in people who can intuit what others must memorize. What's the deal with this? Why do some leap the hurdles of calculus like an Olympic champion while others trip, repeatedly, over the concepts of algebra? Why are some scientifically-minded while others pursue linguistics in an altogether unholy manner? Arcane! And why, why oh why, can some people put pencil to paper and replicate the world as if the pencil were an illusion crafted for the rest of us because the sight of the direct transference from eye to paper that's actually going on would blow our minds? While I, mind you, see a picture in my mind, but in attempting to send it through my fingers experience the same frustration as when I try to play some real piano?

I believe there must be a biological explanation for talent and even for genius, just as there is for so much else that once seemed entirely rooted in the spiritual, metaphysical realm. One day the cause will be discovered, at which point it will be possible to endow people with whatever abilities they desire. Quite possibly. This is a topic science fiction has gotten plenty of mileage out of, and for good reason. It's one thing to chastise someone for wanting to circumvent a lot of hard work (download knowledge of Kung-Fu directly into my brain, thus mastering in two minutes what in reality takes many years? Yes, please.). It's another no longer to be limited by what capabilities one was born with, to be able to transcend what is often described as "Fate dealing a bad hand."

There's a downside, of course. There's always a downside. When everyone's capable of anything, no one's special anymore. That in itself would be just a 'moral' concern to be sneered at, perhaps with justice. But it's quite probable that such a development would elminate the possibility of genius. If everyone becomes an Einstein, that might not be a problem, but at the same time I wonder if it isn't necessary to allow for people who can think differently than everyone else, in order for evolutionary developments to happen.

Arguably for any further understanding of the world to be gained, there must be a brain that operates in a unique way and can see 'outside the box,' at least when connected to eyes. Perhaps it is one that makes use of previously-untapped paths or resources. If everything we are can be explained physically, then as science proceeds and we find those explanations, what happens? When we understand everything about ourselves and can control our capabilities, do we achieve complete understanding of everything? Or do we screw up, and lock ourselves into believing that we get it all, when in fact we have misinterpreted something, and because of our 'mastery' we've eliminated the possibility that someone will come along and correct our mistake? Rather scary, in an amateur-science kind of way.

How did I get onto this topic by wishing I could draw better? It is likely there will be a lower concentration of metaphysics in the next posting. But I promise nothing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Not adjusted for inflation

I must dedicate some writing time to Nickel Creek, even if the masses that ought to know about them aren’t going to learn from this blog. Because they’re not reading it, I mean. Nickel Creek was a contemporary bluegrass band, but those who are turned off by the ‘bluegrass’ label shouldn’t be. Don’t fear the fiddle. Actually ‘contemplative’ bluegrass might be a better descriptor: on their self-titled debut album there may be found plenty of ‘hot licks,’ yet it is the moody, reflective, breathtakingly gorgeous songs that steal the show. Also ‘The Fox,’ which is absolutely infectious. The group, now on hiatus and possibly defunct, appeared on ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ several times back in the middle of the decade; I stumbled across them only thanks to the generosity of Amazon’s MP3 Daily Deal and the brilliant Facebook Amazon MP3 fan who made the suggestion. The music is ethereal, beautifully melancholy, soothing, and entirely spellbinding, except when it’s unstoppably, toe-tappingly vivacious.

I understand that their two successive albums took things in a different direction, which is a shame because the musical style on Nickel Creek is exactly what I need, pretty much all the time but especially when skies are grey. The album is no longer at the discounted price, but is well worth the full cost, which for the MP3 album is still a steal. I am seriously in danger of overplaying this one; I am also confident that, when the luster of freshness is gone – an inevitability in any case – the music will remain compelling.

Standout tracks: The Lighthouse’s Tale, The Hand Song, Sweet Afton, The Fox, When You Come Back Down, Reasons Why. This list may also be titled ‘Tracks with words.'

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hee hee!

One of my favorite video games ever is, as of recently, available for download on the Nintendo Wii's online service Virtual Console. It's Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars! Yes.

This Super Nintendo game happened when Nintendo went to the industry's quintessential force in Role Playing Game design, Japanese company Squaresoft, and offered the use of the Mario franchise. The result was a crossover of epic proportions. Square brought its amazing RPG pedigree to bear and successfully mixed the traditional elements of its own projects, such as the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger, with the 'hop and bop' gameplay style for which Mario was known, back before he got into every other conceivable gameplay style on the planet (or is that in the galaxies?).

The finished game offered an isometric-perspective adventure through many diverse and exciting area where Mario jumped on blocks and plumbed the depths of pipes just like before, except everything was sort of in 3-D, and whenever Mario jumped on enemies the game switched over to a Final Fantasy-style, turn-based battle system with commands entered via menu. Just like previous Square games, except when Mario and the various characters who joined up along the way started acting out those commands, the player could increase their efficiency with well-timed button-presses. Press a button just when Mario lands on a foe for extra damage; press it when an enemy attacks for increased defense. Variations on this theme were in abundance. Action elements within a turn-based context within an action context.

This being a Squaresoft production, all the things I just mentioned were accompanied by amazing music, graphics that took full advantage of the Super Nintendo's power, a solid and humorous story that featured a new villain and actually had regular villain Bowser join the party for the course of the game (and bring some great moves to bear), fantastic writing, and imaginative characters to meet, items to collect and minigames to play. Also cameos by Nintendo franchise leaders Link and Samus Aran; good luck finding 'em without help, though. This game had EVERYTHING.

It still does. Some games don't age, and this is one example. At its going rate of eight dollars for download, it's an essential purchase for anyone who has access to a Wii, especially those who have never played the game before. Sven, I'm talking to you. The once-radical gameplay style has seen spiritual sequels throughout the years, including the Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi series, but as good as they are I don't think they've ever matched the greatness of the one time Square and Nintendo got together and made a baby.

I guess it's telling that my three favorite RPGs are all Super Nintendo ones. That they were all designed by Square is not so surprising. Regardless, in my opinion only Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI are better than Super Mario RPG, and we're not likely to see either of those other two on the Virtual Console anytime soon (CT on the DS is sure something, though). Added incentive isn't actually necessary, but maybe if people show enough love for Super Mario RPG Nintendo will come to their senses and release Earthbound...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the dreaded block

Well, I'm strapped for ideas today. I got nothing, is what I'm saying. I'm trying to communicate that I forgot to resupply on topics last time I went shopping. I wonder how much of this posting I can fill up with phrasing variations on this theme? Never mind.

I really enjoy a cappella music. I mention this because it's what's playing in my personal musicverse right now and I am suddenly inspired. I brought up my love for a cappella last posting but it's a topic worth elaborating on. The point at which I first became aware of a cappella music as a major force (literally, if not commercially these days) was probably when I first watched the film version of The Music Man, which features absolutely classic barbershop quartet The Buffalo Bills filling minor roles; of course these 'minor roles' allow them to sing several wonderful numbers during the course of the movie. This was many years ago, and I still love that stuff and would cheerfully sing the old-time barbershop music given any opportunity, but I have since grown to like, and perhaps to prefer, contemporary a cappella as well. This latter style, practiced primarily by college kids on campuses but also by various professional groups, takes established popular music as well as original compositions and renders the tunes in an all-voice harmonic format. The results, at least when well done, are stunning.

It's hard for me to explain what makes a cappella music so compelling, at least for me. In my opinion the real magic of a cappella is its ability to negate the significance of genre and preformed assumptions and tastes - by this I mean that specific songs and types of songs that normally wouldn't appeal to Joe Consumer become endearing when given the a cappella touch. I had the fortune to stumble across an excellent college a cappella group called Freshman Fifteen; they had released an album online and I gobbled it up. Later I played it for some friends and one remarked that she really liked their cover of a pop tune that, in its original form, she didn't care for at all. Of course one reason was because the FF singer had a much better voice than the lead of the rock band (I listened to the original later and can attest to the truth of this). Just so, I've already written about my love for contemporary Christian a cappella group Rescue; normally I have no interest in Christian music, but their stuff is so fantastically compelling that it transcends the descriptor 'Christian music' and becomes 'great music' that just happens to praise the Christian god (sort of a bonus).

Ultimately I think the real reason is that I never cease to be awed at the magic the human voice is capable of. Music itself is one of the few things humanity has created that I think is truly magnificent, but the amazing music that can be crafted without any sort of instrument except the pipes we all were born with is nothing short of miraculous. In addition, anyone who can sing can make music right away without all the extensive training and practice (or genius) that would be required to produce it on a 'traditional' instrument, and a cappella has proven that with enough voices and talent, there is no limit to what can be replicated sans strings and stops.

Just a note: 'a cappella' is the most widely-accepted spelling, but 'a capella' is also correct. The first is Italian, the second Latin.

A cappella groups that I like (aka have been sufficiently exposed to):

Rescue (professional Christian/gospel)
Rockapella (professional pop)
Tonic Sol-Fa (professional pop)
Duwende (, alternative. I don't know how to describe it. Free album at their website.)
Freshman Fifteen (college pop [but most of the time you wouldn't guess they were amateurs])
Best of College A Cappella, or BOCA (college pop; not a group but rather an annual compilation)

'Just a note'...heh heh...

Monday, September 8, 2008


Those who are not familiar with radio show "A Prairie Home Companion" should get familiar, asap, although I admit it may not be to all tastes. If you don't like fun, for example, you should stay well away. If humor is not your thing, give this a miss. If you can't stand music, you probably won't find much to like.

Actually if you are down with the rap music, but nothing else, this also could be an obstacle.

Anyway, for those few who are left, PHC is a true boon for getting the weekend relaxin' on. Produced by American Public Media and appearing on many public radio stations, it's a variety show that, as might have come across above, combines humor and music to form a two-hour smorgasbord of yum. Is 'yum' implied in 'smorgasbord'? Host Garrison Keillor, with his distinctive voice and impeccable delivery and timing, segues effortlessly between humorous skits of various natures (regulars include 'The Lives of the Cowboys' and 'Guy Noir: Private Eye'), musical performances by the talented show band and many special guests, and his own narrations; these latter are also of a humorous persuasion and include his famous 'News from Lake Wobegon' segments. It's funny, funny stuff.

Though PHC makes its home in St. Paul, Minnesota, the show travels all around the country and often draws on local musical talent. This allows for many groups to get exposure they wouldn't find otherwise, and for listeners is a great source for learning where the skills are hiding. For example, I love a cappella; imagine my delight when last Saturday's show featured the previously-unfamiliar-to-me group Tonic Sol-Fa. Of course now I want to go buy their six albums, so I guess it cuts both ways.

Although A Prairie Home Companion dabbles in the edgy it is nevertheless an old-timey show at heart, which is pretty obvious just from the fact that it's a variety show, so it really won't appeal to everyone. For those who have one foot in the, er, 'good ol' days,' it's golden.

Friday, September 5, 2008


A lot of strikes going on, lately. Maybe this frequency is typical and the phenomenon is just receiving more media attention because the economy is in such bad shape generally, or maybe the frequency is atypical - and consequently is receiving more media attention - because the economy is in such bad shape generally. Although I've been listening to the news quite often of late, I have never felt particularly 'plugged in' to the world or even national scene; still, I suppose everyone remembers the writers' strike within the last year; Boeing's currently facing big economic losses if they can't, er, work out their issues with their workers (never mind that big goverment contract controversy).

Much more locally, teachers in the Bellevue, WA school district have put their collective foot down, and refused to lift it up again for such purposes as walking into their classrooms to do some teaching. That strike's been going since, well, when the first day of school would have been, and there's no sign of resolution yet. Of course, these people can work but don't wish to until they find better conditions; some of us wish to work but can't until we find a job. It's a little harder to be sympathetic when the unemployment rate's topped 6%.

I do wonder what will be the cost to the students.  The aforementioned writers' strike meant in many if not all cases a severely-reduced TV season in terms of episode count, and in some cases entire plot arcs or even the conclusion to long-running series had to be changed from their original vision, which is infuriating if you're a fan of the show and probably even more so if you're the creative staff behind the show. Strikes like the Boeing one mean the company might lose lots of money, which hurts the 'fat cats' but matters little to the average Joe, unless he happens to be a stockholder. But what do you do when the first week, or two weeks, or even month of the school year, are lost to a strike? It's not as simple as just adding the time onto the end of the year, nor is it practical to hold classes on weekends on any kind of regular basis. Do you abbreviate the curriculum, as the TV seasons were abbreviated? Decide that maybe the long-division section of the mathematics class is not as important as focusing on getting multiplication down? It's already pretty well-acknowledged by everybody except those who actually pay the salaries that teachers should be payed better; seems to me their strikes should be treated more seriously than those by other types of workers, for the same reason. And probably for the same reason that they are not paid better, their strikes will not be so treated.

There's one class of people who profits from the situation, at least in the short term. If I were a child of a certain age group living in that area, I'd be very happy right now...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

acting and reacting

I'm not an actor, but I play one on the stage.

*percussion indicating punchline**Some might say "Badum-chhh!" but not I*

This may seem merely a clever and ironic reworking of an advertising tactic that has become something of a cliche, but it's so much more. Specifically it is a brilliantly clever and devastatingly ironic reworking of an advertising tactic that has become something of a cliche. Also a reflection of true sentiment on my part, but that's almost beside the point.

Actually it is the point. I'll explain, and try from now on to refrain from the obvious jokes. Instead I will employ, never mind. In my experience there are three types of actors, separated by level of skill. The talent trio, if you will. And you will.

The first is the person who thinks theatre would be a neat thing to do, but for whatever reason isn't passionate about it. Maybe this character is too self-conscious to get into it or maybe the talent is just lacking. Regardless, the result is the same - an unconvincing 'performance' that never comes across as anything more than a person who's just speaking a memorized speech. There's no energy and no real acting. This is the sort of 'actor,' directors settle for when there's nobody else. I have no objection to those who do care about theatre getting involved in some capacity whatever their levels of talent, but there's just no excuse for anyone giving what should be an emotion-laden line in a weak monotone. Suspension of disbelief doesn't cease to become a factor just because you're embarrassed to commit to a role, people. Take a hit for the team.

The second acting type is probably the most common - those individuals who have sufficient skill to play their roles convincingly and give a real, perhaps even exemplary, performance...but they cannot achieve the true transformation that distinguishes the best actors. I mean that, however good they are, they cannot let go their own personality completely and give themselves to the role. Why not? No doubt for a variety of reasons - self-consciousness is as frequent an offender against this type as it is against the first, for example (heaven forbid they get cast against character). But I believe that other skills essential to the best actors are the sort that one must be born with. It's an unfortunate reality that in acting, as elsewhere, determination alone is not enough to reach the top. Luck is a factor as well, and genius can no more be bought here than elsewhere. Lest anyone think I am getting caught up in excessive elitism and watching my head inflate, I place myself squarely in this second, non-genius category, and not near the top of its personal spectrum, either.

The third type is of course the true actors, those who are capable of abandoning themselves and transforming into a completely different person whenever they step on stage. These are the people who study their role for weeks or months before rehearsals even begin, trying to get into the head of their respective characters, each figuring out how he or she would think, feel and react to any given situation. Then after they've figured that out they make it happen in front of the audience or camera, changing everything from the way they speak (obvious) to the way they walk (not so obvious) to their manner of facial expression (hardcore). Sometimes it's hard when watching a play or movie to forget that you're watching actors, but not with these superhumans.

Everyone knows it's difficult to act strong emotions for the millionth time, to pretend surprise or fear or rage and ignorance of what the next line is, but you know what's harder? To keep up the facade when the spotlight's not on you. It's so tempting, so very tempting, when watching instead of facilitating a dramatic confrontation, to drop the persona and wink at the audience, letting them in on the big acting joke. Of course you can't do that. There's probably nothing more damaging to the illusion than someone changing their costume, however metaphorical, while everybody's watching. So you've got to keep in character and simulate sometimes the same reactions that you'd give naturally during a regular conversation, and it's incredibly difficult to do convincingly. It should be obvious that class three brings it off with aplomb, which is why they're the real actors, because truth be told acting is more about the seemingly insignificant details and small moments than it is about the dramatic confrontations.

On a related note, Google's come out with a new web browser, called Chrome. Their argument seems to be that all of the other browsers were designed for an Internet that was text-based and focused on static pages, instead of the image-, video-, audio-, and instant-communication-heavy mutant hybrid that we know and feed with our souls (this might not be verbatim), and that a new browser is required for new times. It has nothing to do with money, they $wear. I'm trying it out; it's too early to tell how much of an edge it offers in terms of multimedia, and there are lots of features I haven't touched yet. One that sounds promising is sort of a "one engine per tab" claim, meaning that if one tab gets overloaded trying to do too much and freezes up, any other tabs will still function normally, as opposed to the epic crash sensation that is my otherwise-beloved Firefox under the same circumstances. We'll see if they deliver. One thing that they have already delivered on is the promised speed - Chrome loads pages quickly and, more importantly, opens very quickly from the desktop, which is one up over its competitors already. Since it's only in beta we can probably count on even more speed to come. Its interface is neat and clean to the point of spartan, and there's a nice and easy option for importing all the settings and bookmarks and such from your browser of choice, Firefox for example. Let's see where they go with this.

Wait...that wasn't related at all...

Monday, September 1, 2008


Part Eleven

Wind whipped over Hero's face. For a moment he thought he was still falling and reached again for his knife, turning his head in the process and looking right into the depths of an eye the size of his body. Hero put his hand down carefully and had just enough time to process three things: he was rising, he was atop something solid, and that something was scaly. Then the eye narrowed, there was a roar that hurt his ears, and the world spun out of control. Abruptly Hero was falling again, but only briefly before he hit the ground, sending out a shock wave of dust.

Compared with the many impacts Hero had already suffered in his travels this was a pretty minor one, and it was not long before he could shake off the usual confusion and pay some attention to his surroundings. Everything had gone quiet. Hero was not the sort to pick up on subtleties but if he were he would have felt the silence to be a tad ominous.

He got to his feet and looked around. He was some yards away from the cleft into which he had plunged just before that strange portal had opened. At least, he assumed it was the same cleft; there were no other landmarks to serve as points of reference, and he didn't quite feel up just yet to peering down into the abyss to see if the portal was still there. His memories of the portal itself were hazy, and he could not recall what had transpired after he fell in, or how he had escaped, if escaped he had. But there were strange thoughts in his mind, and a strange tugging in his awareness, almost like another consciousness was trying to make itself felt. It was a most perplexing sensation. Hero, being Hero, decided not to worry about it. Indeed, he didn't feel much like worrying about anything, really; rather the opposite. He was filled with a remarkable sense of confidence, peace and, above all, pure undiluted capability. Hero suddenly felt as though he could take on and withstand anything. Even trollish poetry. He smiled, adjusted his sunglasses, and walked towards the cleft three paces, at which point he tripped over his feet. Some things don't change.

It occurred to Hero to wonder what had happened to that eye, as well as whatever it was attached to. There was nowhere to hide, not even a cloud in the sky. Gargantuan eyes don't just disappear, after all, unless they have an invisibility power. Hero decided it was more likely the eye had taken up residency within the cleft. He approached it and peered in. There was no sign of the portal; clinging to the rock face there was, however, a dragon.

The dragon burst from the void with a velocity so great that Hero was lifted two feet into the air by the slipstream. When he fell back down and landed on his behind he didn't even bother to get up but just gazed on the creature with awe. Justly so, for it was sufficiently awesome to make people remember the original meaning of the word. Imagine the most magnificent dragon you've ever seen. This one may or may not have exceeded its magnificence. These things are all relative, anyway.

The dragon, which had been hovering in the air above the chasm and causing minor gales with each beat of its wings, suddenly opened its mouth and expanded its chest and Hero decided that getting up now was an excellent idea, worth acting upon immediately, which he did and thanks to his dwarf-honed reflexes narrowly escaped the river of fire that raged out of the dragon's maw.

Somewhere epic music began playing. Hero quickly scanned for local orchestras but somebody had already done that joke and there was no musical source to be found. He could devote no further energy to pondering the question because at this moment the dragon, which was not pleased that its morning toast was still raw, let out another roar that was the sonic equivalent of the flame, and began chasing the poor Hero.

The next ten minutes, or maybe it was ten seconds or ten hours, hard to tell, were for Hero a blur of running and dodging and panicked thinking, which latter was much more tiring. He was fairly certain that he could not hope to get close enough with the katana, and anyway he was not certain the blade could do any damage. His other weapons seemed woefully inadequate to the purpose at hand, and there was nowhere to escape to - not even time to dig a dwarfhole and bunker down. He needed...he needed...

For some totally inexplicable reason Hero's thoughts drifted to the haze of the portal. The word "aspire" rang in his mind.

Another burst of flame just missed his leg. He had the feeling the dragon was just toying with him, but was more concerned with survival than pride and so didn't mind, under the circumstances., that wasn't right,, that was right...Hero recalled the spear, with that curious mispelling d-r-a-g-o-o-n on the side...

Well, counterfeit or not he didn't have any other options. Hero pulled the spear out of his garments, into which too-small space he had stashed it using secret dwinjitsu techniques, and, with the intention of leaping onto the impending dragon's body, he got a foot up on a large boulder and jumped backwards.

Well. That was unexpected.

It really was the most curious sensation. At the moment of pushing off Hero felt his legs suddenly full of a strange energy, and before he knew it he was soaring high into the sky, above the dragon, above the clouds if there had been any clouds; in fact Hero wondered momentarily if he was never going to stop rising and might just fly to the stars, which really wouldn't be too bad an adventure.

Eventually, though, he felt his momentum decrease and gravity's angry tug reassert itself. As Hero came to the top of his leap, he executed an elegant back flip of which his dwarf tutors would have been very proud, and then plummeted back to earth where he landed right next to the troll, who was sleeping peacefully in the sun, at least until Hero landed on his fingers.

You have to remember that Hero had jumped not straight up but backwards, knowing that the dragon was right behind him. Consequently he had described an arc, and with his strange new jumping prowess had in one leap traveled all the way back to the edge of the desolation, where he was currently staring into the bulging eyes of a very angry troll. Hero quickly decided that he didn't really feel inclined to test his feelings of invincibility from earlier, and so before the troll could open its mouth, and perhaps quote some poetry, Hero had leaped back towards the befuddled dragon.

The dragon had seen a great number and variety of desperate escape attempts by its prey over the millennia, including suicidal dives into the chasm (this didn't work) and efforts to turn invisible by sheer willpower (neither did this). It had never seen its food actually disappear, and into the sky no less. The dragon was not used to confusion and also had not eaten for five hundred years, and consequently had got rather cranky by the time it heard a strange whooshing sound, which was getting louder.

The dragon was unquestioned master of the skies. Always it hunted its prey on the ground or occasionally a bit above it, but never had anything "gotten the jump on it," at least not from its own realm. But it followed a strange instinct and did something it had never done before, and looked up. What it saw filled it with rage besides which the earlier anger had been a mild distemper, but also a secret feeling that maybe this day wouldn't be such a waste after all. With a roar it sent out a great torrent of fire, which was especially impressive, being straight up. Normally the dragonian physique does not allow this kind of maneuver - the body needs to be aligned with the head for maximum flameage. A bad mood does a lot, though.

Hero, who was plummeting towards the dragon spear-point first, was a little worried about the river of fire racing towards him, but not much. Wrapped in a cone of rapidly-displacing air, falling in a very self-assured and heroic manner, Hero knew he was much too cool not to beat the heat. Sure enough, after a moment the head of the spear gave off a strange glow, and as the fire hit Hero it parted all around him and streamed harmlessly off into the atmosphere, where over time it would warm the local atmosphere just enough to facilitate the growth of a new kind of plant, which would quickly spread over the wasteland and turn it into an ocean of green. That was later. This was now.

And now Hero dropped right through the dragon's attack unscathed, and the spear struck.

There was a great flash.

When the light had dissipated, there was no trace of the dragon, or the spear. And Hero looked on the scene and knew finally what his quest was, and that it was done. After all, in this strange world, once the wyrm has been slain, the story must end, as it can no longer...drag on.


The End



BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! the manipulated words of the Monty Python's Flying Circus DVD menu, "I apologize for that. But I think you'll find this a bit more entertaining!"

That's really it, folks. Before you judge me too harshly, bear in mind that very little planning went into the ending or pretty much anything else. I promise you, if I had planned this story and written it like a traditional project, the pun would be much, much better. Anyway, I hope that anyone who got suckered into reading this epic tale enjoyed it, especially as I do think I got some good jokes in there. There may be future serialized writing experiments in the future but for the moment I'm taking a break and moving things in a new, but not necessarily better, direction on Wednesday.

It's only maybe not better because I've already attained perfection. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!