A new challenge for 2011: Poetry

10 02 2011

Well my life is starting to feel empty without a daily challenge, so it’s time to start a new one. I’m going to try to write a new poem each day. Here’s my first real introductory piece, not those ones I did on my phone earlier that sucked. I wonder how long I can keep this up!

Now, you might wonder what happened to 365 Hats. Well the actual challenge is over. (Although I still keep getting new hats. The latest is a cheesehead.) I finished that project as far as gathering material, and I even edited a video, believe it or not, but haven’t published it. The reality is I never completely finished the video editing because of musical concerns. I had started composing a track in GarageBand that is pretty much ready to go. Just a matter of getting it in there. But I really do need some better music … I’m so close, might as well.

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Magic and monsters

28 11 2010

Continuing with the theme of entertainment-based flashbacks, which coming home always seems to trigger: Youthful lit is all the rage these days. The last two movies I saw were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (version 7.1) and “Tangled,” a charming 3-D animated romp through ye olde “Rapunzel” story.  Both of the films were very entertaining, and most critics seem to agree with me. During the latter, I witnessed a promo for the remake of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that is coming out at some point.

Got me thinking about some of the things I read as a kid. Of particular note to me were the John Bellairs series of gothic mysteries. The stories themselves weren’t particularly childish, but as the story goes, Bellairs was advised to rework an early piece for young adults because they seemed to be the best audience. (Think: “Goosebumps” et al) They were so chilling and mysterious and atmospheric … I just loved them. Another one of Bellairs’ books, “The Face in the Frost,” is supposed to be really good, but I’ve never read it. That’s apparently the work he’s famous for, a dark fantasy that pokes fun at the genre even as it moves through a fast-paced classic storyline. Or so they say.

Before there was Harry Potter, there was Anthony Monday and Lewis whats-his-name and of course Johnny Dixon, whose father was away at war. The idea of a kid being away from his parents and forced to deal with a supernatural element is nothing new. Don’t we all face that same exact challenge — finding your way alone, as an independent individual? You have a choice to embrace it, avoid it, or resign yourself to a life of miserably accepting the futility of your meaningless existence. The Rapunzel story is pretty much the same. A girl escapes from her isolation in a tower and does what every girl learns to do: leave home, face the big, bad world and find an animated love interest voiced by Zachary Levi. And what a voice it is.





Strange little decade fetishes

24 11 2010

The ’80s are the new ’50s … and the 1990s are the new 1960s, I guess. Eh?

A bit ago, I was listening to the radio (which I haven’t done on a regular basis in years) and except for the sonic gyrations of Katy Perry, everything was pretty much as it was the last time I regularly listened. Or, more accurately, it was like a time machine of my teen years. Alanis Morissette was swallowing her jagged little pill, Weezer was rocking out, Gavin Rossdale was crooning sans Bush, Usher was doing some R&Bing. I looked up some Weird Al Yankovic videos for good measure, because that’s what we listened to when I was 13. And just imagine cruising through certain parts of Maryvale or South Phoenix (or down Boulevard in Atlanta) with Eminem cranked up. Yes. You know the feeling. Or you don’t.

At that moment, I felt that it could have been 1995 or 2000 again. Really, I felt like a time traveler, which tells you something about radio. So imagine that you made a time machine that goes back all the way to 1995, or perhaps a couple years earlier to when Kurt Cobain was still alive and young boys weren’t mourning in pea-green sweater-veils and stringy hair. My, how much the world has changed.

My thoughts immediately turned to the first “Back to the Future,” which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. In that film, the “future” is 1985. Heck, that’s almost before my past now. If you did a parody of that film in today’s world, you could have some kid go all the way back to 1995 and try to get their strung-out grunge-loving dad to marry their grunge-loving mom somewhere in a glamorized pre-hipster conceptualization of the Seattle rock culture. (You might want to bring in Weird Al if you’re planning any parodies.) Universal Studios is already working on the motion-simulator ride for its Hollywood and Orlando theme parks. Or not.

It seems like at the moment, the 1980s and 1990s are getting to be almost as fetishably foreign to us now as the 1950s were then. You already see a lot of romanticization of the 1980s, as evidenced by my recent iTune-age of the “1000 GREATEST HITS OF THE 1980s.”

Time and decades were a difficult concept for me to grasp as a child. “Happy Days” was the ultimate confusion. By that time in my youth, I had learned that there were old things and new things. But the advent of “Happy Days” was a layered mess of reruns of an old series that took place 20 or 30 years before. Very, very confusing for a youngster like me. At the time, people were fascinated with the 1950s in a very special way. Music from the era was all over oldies stations and was popular with other kids. (Side note: it won’t be long before the Phoenix, Arizona, oldies station KOOL FM will be playing Madonna instead of the Marvelettes.) Enter “Back to the Future,” which didn’t make much sense to me when I was very young. Particularly because the second film was coming out and they were going “back to the future” in the movie, weren’t they? But they had done that in the first movie? But that was set in the past, not the future … OK, I get it now.

Incidentally, Back to the Future (the first one) is one of the tightest films or stories I’ve ever seen, plot-wise, and I think that’s why its popularity has endured. Modern movies and films and music would do well to learn from this example, regardless of genre. The key to its memorable nature is its straightforward plot, built in two perfectly intertwined layers so that the time-travel plot is a device for the emotional exploration of Marty’s parents’ relationship. How many things have you seen that balance this dichotomy so well?

Anyway, the point of this post is: leg warmers are going the way of the poodle skirt, Happy Days was awesome, BTTF is awesome, and holy moly, Weird Al is still going strong. Oh, and Gavin Rossdale is still as appealing as he was back in the day. That is all.





Reading stuff online

22 11 2010

I’m kind of fascinated by this whole “reading stuff online” thing. I’m currently checking out several electronic book platforms including readers, electronic print, iPhone apps, desktop sites and other venues. Reading the classics on my iPhone seems to be working OK for now, but I bet a larger screen would help. The question is, is it better to spring for an e-reader like a kindle, nook, literati or Sony model? Or just get a netbook instead? There’s at least a few versions for free. I can’t help but wonder if this will help fledgling authors build a following. Without further delay …

Online book sites of the day:

  • Wizard of Oz — nicely formatted for the PC screen, probably works on mobile as well. From an online library, which includes texts from …
  • Project Gutenberg — large source of classics, many now available on iPhone apps that serve up the classics. No excuses, folks.
  • Georgia Tech links to online math textbooks




The Elevator Play

21 11 2010

The other day, I’m not sure which other day, I was reading about formulaic story plots. One of the most commonly used is the Elevator Play, especially in theater. This isn’t like the Elevator Pitch, which is given in an actual elevator in order to elevate one’s status, but rather a theoretical construct in which the characters are confined together in a limited space (like an elevator). “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (sp) is a classic example of this. The action takes place in basically one spot the whole time. You can see how a playwright would love a limited space like this. Screw the setting changes, focus just on the characters.

According to the formula, you put a bunch of characters in the space together and then at least one of them goes berserk, or otherwise instigates the rest of the group. The physical limitations imposed by the setting then force the characters to confront some kind of personal demons.

It’s interesting how that theory applies to many stories. Think about “LOST,” which I’m just about done watching. Maybe down to the last three or four episodes or so (whew!) and I’ve already seen the finale. So a bunch of people are on an airplane (another classic Elevator Play scenario) and then they crash onto an island (there’s the confinement again) and, guess what, they’re not only being chased down by smoke monsters and giant polar bears, but they’re being forced to confront their own personal demons. Be they misgivings about one’s father, as in pretty much all the cases, or something else. Who knows what. And, guess what, some of those people are unstable and they create trouble, but everyone’s trapped there and they can’t leave. And so it goes, until it all gets boring, and then they get to leave the island … all the events from the second half of the show were created to cope with the limitations of the island setting. It gets to the point where the island scenes are less interesting than everything else.

I think an interesting writing exercise is to think about your “elevator” and what kind of people you would want to put in it. If I had to pick one, it would be a subway car late at night, or a family hiding out in a bomb shelter underground, or maybe some kids who eat lunch together in their school’s band room. It could even be a shady motel room on Route 66, or a Seattle office during the dot-com boom. Maybe even the Donner Party in a snowstorm. There’d be some archetypes: the wide-eyed innocent, the sage, the stoic, the trickster, the thief, the cannibal. Naturally, some wouldn’t get along, and some would get hungry.

The theory behind the Elevator Play probably explains what makes reality shows so remarkably compelling. There’s usually a set location or premise that permits a group of attractive young people to stop being polite and start getting real. That is, they get into a fancy house and then start getting naked, showering together, fighting about petty things, doing mandatory volunteer work, confessing to the camera and having pixellated sex on camera. Which is about as real as it gets.

I’m now several years older than most of the cast members, but let me tell you, the Real World kids have nothing on me; they’d better get those elevator pitches ready.





Not the Night Before Christmas Anymore

25 12 2009

OR: BUSTA X-MAS RHYME, YO!

Nerditor’s note: This is an unauthorized, potentially troublesome parody of “The Night Before Christmas” that you can read and love in its original format. What you’re about to read is a twisted, nasty, naughty, weird version of the traditional feel-good holiday poem with a little modern techie spin. I originally posted it on Twitter in 140-character-ish spurts. Some parts were omitted for brevity and to prevent mass-unfollowing from taking place, and so that I could finish by midnight ET for all my peeps on the Atlantic side of things. This is the uncut, unaltered, un-neutered, uncircumcised, mano a mano version of the parody. Enjoy.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Every keyboard was stirring, each mouse in the house;

We updated our facebook stati with care
In the hopes that likes and comments soon would be there.

The children wore snuggies pulled over their heads
But the copyright folks said to call it a ‘sleeved blanket’ instead.

Pa in his wayfarers and ma in her Uggs
Could not get to sleep without aid from drugs;

When all of a sudden, snow fell and the cold grew bitter;
I decided to post photos and update my Twitter!

But first, Windows told me to update my Flash,
Had to restart my system and empty my trash;

Lawnchairs, grills, flamingoes covered in snow
Gave warning that Jack Frost wanted to nibble my toe;

When what to my wandering eyes did appear
But a schmaltzy TV pitchman and eight robotic reindeer;

He wore a funny hat, his personality lively and quick
I asked him his name, he said it was Nick!

More rapid than eagles, Nick’s sales pitches came
And he whistled, and shouted, the robotic reindeer names!

“Now, Crasher! now, Necromancer! now, Hacker and Stricken!”
“On, Grommit! on Blooper! on, Blunder and Chicken!”

So up to the house-top the robots they flew,
With geeky griffin-like wings of metal, and Nick, too.

Then, in a ring-a-ling-a-ling, I knew a text had come.
Felt jolly buzzing in my pocket, so I typed with my thumb.

I’d asked, “Yo Santa, wat r u gonad bridge me?”
“Hot hoo hoo,” went another typo-ridden T-X-T.

CUT: [[[ Let’s skip lengthy description of Nick’s jelly belly —
The rosy cheeks, smoky wreaths, reindeer breath so smelly … ]]]

He stayed pretty chill though ash covered his suit and loot;
This North Pole pro’s hair was perfectly coiffed to boot!

A plethora of thingies he had stuffed in his sack,
And he looked like — was — a peddler opening his pack.

His CrackBerry — how it twinkled! his iPod how merry!
The LED’s were like blinking roses, iPhone case like a cherry!

His troll-like mouth was drawn up like a bow,
His ears pointy and Spock-ish and all logical, you know.

He wouldn’t stop smoking despite pleas to the contrary,
And just kept puffing away so much that it was scary.

He had a cute little face and a clear-cut beer belly,
Like a pregnant man with a dude-womb full of jelly.

He was stocky and big-boned, which is code for “chubby,”
But I wouldn’t say he was quite on par with a Teletubbie.

With twist of the radio dial and a pounce on his touchpad,
He chuckled a bit at the gumption of those yo-yos at NORAD.

[[[END CUT]]]

The Northern sales-lad worked quietly to not be a jerk,
Giving free samples of things we don’t need — such a perk!

I shuddered when he put his finger in proximity to his nose
Fearing he might be in H1N1’s throes.

As he veered for the chimney, I missed him like whoa,
But I knew he had peeps to see, places to go.

With the sound system cranked up, the sleigh flew out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all,” he said, “Cuz this Saint Nick’s jammin’ tonight!”





Dragon*Con redux: Part Deux: The Recap

9 09 2009
 


Thriller creep

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

So just a few days ago, I made my third expedition into Dragon*Con. As usual I was overwhelmed by the schedule, the possibilities and my own physical limitations. It is difficult to stand up for hours and wander around. Heaven forbid that you are wearing a sweaty Klingon outfit and carrying a bunch of memorabilia around. I’d hope these folks have a hotel room that they can retire to.

The impression that I get is the 2009 event was the largest ever. It was super-crowded. We got to do a few things and it was fun, but we had to fight a little and be smart about it. No doubt, the fact that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were making appearances must have drawn in the crowds by the thousands. It was, by all accounts, a magical exchange. I was at work, but I was there in spirit. Now, if only I cared about all these newfangled shows the kids are watching. Im an old-school Trek and TNG fangirl. Buffy, Babylon and Battlestar don’t really do it for me. And the new Star Trek movie? I have to admit, it was a bit of an affront.

I managed to get myself up for the parade (my second year doing this) and enjoyed it, although it was much harder to see than last year. After that, we objectified ourselves by looking at wings, masks, corsets, bellydancing suits and other geeky and nerdy thingamajigs. It was good because one of our non-Con-membership-$$$ friends was able to sneak in with us and buy some things, thus helping the tourist E-Con-omy — someone who otherwise wouldn’t go. That’s how we justified it; I think it’s just like how BART overcharges for travel to SFO airport — because tourist dollars are sought after more than resident dollars. When the Patrick Stewart line had gone through (our mouths were agape at the fact that it stretched through the Marriott and into Peachtree Center mall), I asked the ushers if I could get inside and we lucked out. Captain Picard was on fire, exchanging hot remarks with the Trek Trak show hosts with the sharp, barbed wit of a bald, Shakespearean science fiction actor. We sought coffee and were immediately besieged by geeks with cameras and horrible pickup lines. 

After that, we marched around some of the show areas where art is on display and went to see a concert by Abney Park that was right in the middle of the Hyatt ballrooms. The fire marshall was literally pacing back and forth like Darth Vader, and his D*C minions were adamant that people were to “keep moving” and not linger in the area around the concert. Clearly the demand exceeded supply. I don’t know why the fire marshall didn’t don a villainous constume, because it would have befitted his cretinous ways. I was tired at that point and could hardly see what was going on because the crowd of ewoks and other ridiculousness had gotten thick. I heard some clapping and cheering going on. Turns out, there was a marriage proposal during the concert. Too bad I couldn’t hear. But, congratulations to the lucky couple. We had run into a coworker who was working on a video piece about love and romance at Dragon*Con (not as much of an oxymoron as it seems) and we let him know about this as well.

The rest of the time around then is a little fuzzy. At a later point we were wandering around the art show. And at still another point, we attended a panel discussion by some people who worked at Battlestar Galactica (but were not key players like writers or actors). In the words of a friend, they “towed the company line” in regards to fans’ questions and disappointment about the series ending. I didn’t know what they were all talking about, but I enjoyed getting this sense of the kinds of reactions fans get to work that people put out, as well as a way NOT to act when receiving criticism and affection from devoted followers. It was enlightening nonetheless. I also remember we tried to sneak into the Leonard Nimoy panel just as we did with Patrick Stewart only to find that it was canceled. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to wait in line to find out.

And then, sometime later in the evening, we went to go get some food and had some geeky conversations, and then we attended a panel on skepticism (a bit baffling to me coming from a crowd of folks dressed in Spandex alien suits), followed up by a “filk” concert by Tom Smith. I always forget what filk is, but it’s basically a geeky version of folk music. The music guests that I saw were a lot better last year. Voltaire and folk duo Paul and Storm were there. I know the latter joined the likes of Jonathan Coulton and Wil Wheaton at Penny Arcade Expo this year. Hey, I can’t blame them for wanting to go to Seattle. In fact, I’m thinking if I do a Con again, I might seek out a change of pace by heading out West instead of looking outside my back door.

After that, or maybe before that, my memory fails me, we had some time to kill and went in search of amusement. We found it in a tiny, dark room showing bizarre films. We watched the last act of “Black Sheep,” an apparently foreign film (Australian? I’m going to get myself in trouble here…) about evil mutant sheep that attack humans and try to turn them into additional members of their kind. Yes, I said evil mutant sheep. The film is a hoot. After that, we saw the beginning of a horrible movie about lesbian vampires. Meh. It was kind of entertaining, though.

We closed out the night with a rousing concert by Cruxshadows, a funhouse-mirror reflection of Depeche Mode; I would describe it as the band’s brooding, younger, goth-ier brother — the one who cuts himself for attention. No, but Cruxshadows rocked the carpeted ballroom floors in stylish fashion. The band isn’t all that well-known, so they were hungry to bond with fans. That made this a great show. The lead singer dude came into the audience right in front of us on a couple of occasions, standing on a chair in one instance and doing some sort of a dance in another. And then at the end, everyone jumped up on stage and the singer picked up a young child that had been sitting on someone’s shoulders (!) much to the crowd’s excitement. Everyone was singing along and it was awesome.

That was the conclusion of day one. Day 2 found me sleeping in, going to a brunch at Straits in midtown, venturing out to the Decatur Book Festival, and then heading back intown just in time to join the world’s largest thriller dance. It was chaos when I got there and I almost didn’t get to dance. They were only going to let the first 1,000 go in, and they weren’t giving out any more ribbons. I was lucky that someone in the gift shop heard my pleas for a ribbon and mentioned that her pelvis hurt too much (or something along that line) and soon I found myself with three ribbons in the 400 group. And thus I had admission for my friends as well. It was a good time. The way I see it, the count is MORE accurate this way, even if it’s not the same person.

The dancers included a giant Michael Jackson single shiny glove, Cookie Monster in an orange jacket, storm troopers, zombie Elvis and some other colorful folks. It was a good time. The dance was more involved than I thought. I tried to recreate it for my coworkers the next day when we went wading in a fountain near the office, but was not very successful. That MJ. So talented was he. And such a great zombie.

And then more dinner and talking and a little more gawking and soon I was back at home, celebrating and mourning the end of my Con experience at the same time. Maybe next year I’ll go to PAX in Seattle for a change of scenery. Maybe not. I’m certain that there’s something magical about Dragon*Con and I hope it stays that way.