Thursday, January 31, 2008

85; Travels

Okay, so I wrote a column a little while ago about my travels, it was installment one of five. Oh, you don't remember it? That's probably because it was never posted.

Here was my train of thought, late as usual: The most interesting thing I've done recently was travel around Europe. I bet those travels would make interesting subject matter for my column. I shall write a multi-part series of these travels.

The problem with this scheme was that I'd already written such an account. I emailed everyone I knew at the time all about my two-part travels of Spring Break and Post-Finals. Indeed they were good times. But they weren't times I wanted to retell so soon after I'd experienced them, and, you know, told them the first time.

This lead to a mini-crisis. Was I a bad writer? What did it mean that I couldn't retell a story multiple times? Was this a case of writer's block? Did I need to take a couple aspirin, and chill the heck out?

The problem (I know, I already identified the problem, this should be labeled the heart of the problem. But it's too late for that now, I'm on a role, I'm writing, we're going to make Chatanooga by sunset...) was that I couldn't tell stories differently. I mean, things just happened, I reported the facts, the concurrent emotions, and my observations. Those things hadn't changed, so how could I rewrite the story?

There was always the option of using different words. Different words, drawing out elements, elaborating and sprucing up were all there. But what does that do to the story? The things happened the way they happened, putting extra emphasis into my step as I crossed the bridge from Europe to Asia wasn't going to change anything except highlight the fact that it was Real.

At times the column, for the sake of presserving interest delved into the fanciful. For example, my initial foray into Scotland is recorded thusly:


(While our (hero) was hanging out in northern England Ross' sister Jess has infiltrated the southern part of the country from Ireland.)

Jess: Bwa ha ha. I shall rendezvous with my brother in the north. I shall bring 500 cavalry, 1,000 mercenaries, 2,500 crack troops, and send orders to my armada in Cornwall to sail north. Together we shall form an alliance and take Scotland by storm!

Ross: ...

(Instead, the storm turns into a blizzard, and the two venture into the country under rather chilly circumstances. All the troops peished at Hadrian's wall.)"

So there you have it. If you want the original story of my travels let me know. I'll be more than happy to send you a copy. Otherwise you're just going to have to wait for it until I'm either willing, or able, to provide.

Monday, January 28, 2008

84; Untelling Title

First off a blog plug: My sister's new blog, entertainment and current pop culture related links, news, and opinions. My blog is also still to be found at, where you can find a full archive of my work and can leave comments. And no blog plug would be complete without mentioning John Wiswell's mighty blog, The Bathroom Monologues: I must confess his is my favorite of the three.

Now, to take a chapter from my sister's book, a bit of current events.

First off my opinions of Sea Monsters 3D. I'd never seen a 3D movies before this. There is definitely something to Don Hertzfeldt's parody of 3D movies (if this doesn't make sense: check out 'Intermission in the Third Dimension'.) I was expecting lots of big scary sea reptiles to pop out at me and eat things with some scientific facts. Rottentomatoes gave it a 100%, so I figured I was in for some jolly good mindless entertainment.

Instead I get served a feel-good family-oriented story of a bug-eyed snaggle-toothed sea lizard who is affectionately coined 'Dolly'. 'Dolly, a Dolichorhychops, has a family and dies peacefully in her old age. They then provide a montage of earlier scenes from her life. (I would have put that in caps, since, for the love of God, THEY DO A MONTAGE OF HER LIFE, but I'm trying to remain calm. Godzilla must be so ashamed. I would say Nessie should be as well, but she already sold out to a family film earlier this year.) So, surprisingly, Sea Monsters 3D did not actually provide what I expected it to: scary sea monsters eating each other. Yes, there was a little of that, but I would've been happier to see a solid 45 minutes of monster munching, fights and chase scenes.

Secondly I just recently finished Shakespeare's Sonnets. I must admit I am not a fan of Shakespeare's plays. As works they definitely fall into the 'better on stage than page' category. The exception to this rule is Hamlet. But regarding the other plays I've read, (Mainly tragedies. Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and two comedies, The Tempest and As You Like It.) I think a good performance of the work is preferable to reading the text. Unlike, say, Racine or Goethe who are enjoyable to read.

Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the Sonnets. I did not know that, taken together, they tell a story with distinct characters and plot developments, heartbreaks and triumphs. Of course some I'd heard before, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day..." and "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun...". Reading those poems in the context of a larger story, though, let me see them in a new light. The story is a love triangle, and you can play along and guess if Shakespeare was talking about real people, who they were, and of course if he was gay. If you're into that sort of thing. Otherwise you can just read them and appreciate that he seemed to have a knack at writing Shakespearean Sonnets.

Thirdly I got a new album. Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. Recorded in 1969 and produced by Frank Zappa. I was expecting this album to be all sorts of things, none of which it ended up being. If you've heard Frank Zappa, and combine that with free jazz and delta blues poetry sensibilities you might be able to picture it. The band practiced over twelve hours a day for eight months to perfect the seemingly cacophonous sound. As such they were so dialed that it took only five hours to record the double album. It's good. I don't think I would have liked it much had I not exposed myself to some other things before, but Trout Mask Replica is enjoyable, funny, and musically interesting and well done. Frankly, the seeming nonsensical lyrics are no odder than one of Dylan's ballads about Desolation Row or the Gates of Eden.

Let's recap. Sea monsters, sonnets, and experimental art rock. I'm sure you cold combine those three somehow. I'm not sure if it would be better to be hear, read or watched. Watching it in 3D would probably be fun, though.

Friday, January 25, 2008

83; Laughing heartily

Weekend Mentality: Noun. 1. The state of mind which causes a person to postpone their enjoyment and 'let go' at the end of the work week. 2. The bane of modern society.

The mind frame most modern humans share is that the weekend is a time to relax, be yourself, have fun, and do what you want. Since this past weekend was a three day celebration it would seem especially appropriate for us to ask ourselves whether this is a good idea. Is this how we ought to live, not doing what we want until Friday and Saturday night abandon?

Well, first off, I suppose we should ask whether we should be allowed to do what we want at all. For some the answer would be no, right off the bat. These would include: 'Committing murder and getting away with it', 'Seeing if I can jump from a fourth story window and land', 'Using my sexuality to get favors and break marriages' and '48 hour chocolate pudding diet'.

Other things we want to do are not, societally or morally, wrong. Camping, reading, sports activities. Even passive things like catching a movie or watching television aren't morally wrong decisions (FOX and SPIKE pending review).

How many times in your life have you heard the phrase 'carpe diem'? I have no doubts that I will be sick of carps and deities by the time I'm forty if this rate keeps up. (Of course, it won't keep up. Once we settle to a certain point people stop reminding us that we have options beyond chicken or fish. That's the evil trick of 'It's a Wonderful Life': It tries to convince us that setting aside or hopes and dreams for a mortgage and kids is really swell.Of course there's no way of knowing until you try it, I suppose.) 'Seize the day'. Good idea, I think we'll all agree. Why postpone the day, if that day may never come?

In a way the Weekend Mentality is a form of optimistic release. You make a bet with the world each Monday that you will be alive and well come Friday night. Why not? So far, if you're reading this, it's played out thousands of times that you have, in fact, survived the week, got through school, got through work, and were allowed to relax and enjoy yourself.
The following excerpt comes from Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher:

"Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy -- to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily. And who, indeed, could help laughing? What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done?"

We should pause here, a moment. First off, only a few years later Melville would open Moby Dick with a similarly melancholy and yet simultaneously frenzied character who has to control himself from walking down the street and methodically knocking people's hats off. Was Kierkegaard's narrator just reflecting his times? I think not.

If anything our world has gotten busier still. The fact that Melville, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Turgenev and others all felt the need to create such characters should be viewed, perhaps, as the first reaction to the then-initially changing world we've inherited. Why should we feel so much more comfortable that a tile will not strike us dead? If not a tile, why not the then-unpredictable, now most colloquial bus?

Rebel against the Weekend Mentality. Don't just put off your life to be celebrated two days a week, that's just not enough. Your life is special, and sacred. You have a duty to you, if you think at all highly of yourself at all, or feel that life is for the living, to indulge in your passions. Daily. If your job is your love then start indulging in your hobbies daily. No one tells us to take time for ourselves except the people concerned with our health, and when it comes to you who would you rather listen to? The person whose duty it is to make sure you're at your best, or the one who wants to work you?

Never forget that you have possibilities.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

82; Bennington

I wrote this a while ago. Last night I saw the movie 'Accepted' , which had been recommended to me, and enjoyed it. My thoughts concerning my school were as fuzzy as being smothered inside a pair of warm wool mittens. Yet, my thoughts on my alternative education are not always so rosy, as this article which I set aside show:

What on earth drove Aristotle? I mean, would you want to go to his school? The man wrote on everything, and lectured on everything. He's responsible for systematic logic, literary analysis, biology and genetics, and vast strides in philosophy, physics, and politics. Just counting his major works, that is. If you want to probe deeper he goes on to write on meteorology, economy, rhetoric, and on and on.

On the other hand you had Plato. He also wrote voluminously, is not as dry as Aristotle, but hides his philosophy in dialogues. Plato was rather exclusively writing on philosophy as well, although he occasionally went into politics and some natural science. I wonder to what extent his pupils had a hard time telling which ideas were the old man's and which were Socrates'.

Socrates was dead, after all, and only a few people wrote about him. Primarily there was Plato, secondarily there was Xenophon, and thirdly you had Aristophanes. Plato had an agenda, Xenophon was barely a historian by any account and also wrote in dialogues, and Aristophanes was one of the funniest people in antiquity, who wrote 'The Birds', 'The Frogs', 'Lysistrata', and 'The Clouds' which lampooned Socrates (amongst others).

Why didn't Aristophanes found a school? Plato's Gymnasium was very progressive, and liberal artsy, as was Aristotle's Lyceum. I'm sure if they were around today they would be very prestigious. The Lyceum might be like Bennington, and the Gymnasium something like Williams. As such I retract all of my previous critiques of Aristotle, and go home team.

I'd trade the broad-scope of the Lyceum for Aristophanes' school any day. Let's pretend he did found it, and named it something appropriate, like the Comedium. Wouldn't it be fun to go to a school whose focus wasn't philosophy, or liberal arts, or the good life, but comedy? The Comedium would have prestigious faculty, founded by a man whose writings would be just as revered as the Athenian pedagogues. The classes would be certainly surreal.

What would you major in at the Comedium? For that matter, what would be offered? Would there be Play writing, Acting, Clowning, and the like? Fruit-Remnant Physics? Advanced Fish Application Theory? Would they be more broad: Wit, Sarcasm, Irony, Puns?

Perhaps the classes would be broader still. You go to registration having no idea what you'll get. A haphazard selection lands you in a combination of courses half of which you have no knowledge of what they're about. You'd be concerned about your schedule's impact upon your major until you remember you don't have one, and you're a senior. Instead a bunch of jokers sat around and made fun of your aspirations years before, and you've been reeling ever since.

The courses are silly. They study the interplay between physics and Argentinian fiction; heartbeats and music. Anyone sitting in on the class would be prone to laugh, if not from the the material than from it's presentation and the odd conversations that arise from such lunacy. Except that the students and professor aren't laughing. They've each gone though intensive training at their respective initiations to put on perfectly dead-pan performances. For the students it was their first meetings with the jokers. For the faculty it was when they signed a contract agreeing to work for what must be, and commonly was, described as an utterly ridiculous administration.

The administration, after all, would have to be run by a nut. For there is a spark of insanity in all good comedy. Whoever ran the place would have to be wackier than everyone else. Their decisions and actions would be designed to utterly flabbergast those who come in contact with, or feel the brunt of, them. Those working under them would have to blend their lunacy with capability, although the two would be parcelled at random. Some students wishing to find help would later wish to tear out their hair, while others felt a warm fuzzy afterglow after meeting with administrators.

Financially the place would be precarious. There would have to be a calculated absurdity in their decisions. Lots of money would go to the random and meaningless, with enough going to the vitals just to keep them afloat. The whole institution would be lop-sided as a result. The students wouldn't find any of this funny, of course. After prolonged exposure to such humor they'd have become immune to it, and were merely practitioners of the craft. They would create the most fantastic and obviously ludicrous things, passing them off as serious and meaningful. Students would be like monks, so far into their world and craft that they didn't realize they were all just goofing around.

Could such a place exist in the real world? Would any faculty choose to teach there? What students would go to a school with such policies and actions?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

81; Stuff 'n Things

JRR Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll. Brits who feel the need to escape their own dreary land through fantasy.

I just saw a movie which did not particularly move me called 'Stardust'. It's based upon a novel by Neil Gaiman in which (as you learn right at the beginning) you have to cross a wall to enter a world of fantasy. Gaiman throws his hat in with the wardrobes, looking-glasses, and paintings his predecessors were creative enough to come up with as portals.

Just pointing out similarities. I have read and enjoy all of the mentioned authors. There is something to be said for commonplace things being a portal to a hidden realm. When I was a child I dearly hoped it was true. Eccentrics, once wealthy enough (since those seem to go hand in hand) love nothing quite so much as a good secret passage to adorn their mansion.

(Scoff all you like. If you were a wealthy eccentric what would you want? Money? You have it, and can buy eccentric things. Companionship? You have money. You're not a philanthropist, unless, of course, you give your money to quirky and amusing things. You have a pad. Why not make your wardrobe a passage to another realm, say, the scullery? Delightful.)

I will, however, grant that Stardust had one of the most entertaining sword fights I've ever seen, and Robert De Niro was quite amusing.

In Other News: There's something truly disturbing in the fact that I missed out on Wyoming's caucus. I missed it entirely, had no idea of the date, or the winners or anything.There have been, as of 1/16, four caucuses: Iowa, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Michigan. Romney has won two of those, McCain one, and Huckabee one. Giuliani must be pretty sore.

Maybe we should lay off of Tom Cruise for a bit. Yes, he's crazy. We already knew that. More empirical proof of his being crazy won't change that opinion if it just confirms what we already know. That he is getting more press coverage than Wyoming is a little troubling. I doubt Wyoming will be the key to the election race, but it will certainly be more key than Tom Cruise.

Special Other News Inside Existing "In Other News": From the BBC:

"The "darkest ever" substance known to science has been made in a US laboratory.

The material was created from carbon nanotubes - sheets of carbon just one atom thick rolled up into cylinders.

Researchers say it is the closest thing yet to the ideal black material, which absorbs light perfectly at all angles and over all wavelengths."


That's what I've got for 'ya. British fantasy, eccentricity, Wyoming and darkness. One day, in Cheyenne, a man with a Cockney accent named Alec O' Toole found a portal disguised as a hassock that lead to total darkness...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

80; School

If there are generations, mine does not like to work. The past century has pushed back the working age with new discoveries of age barriers. First children were exempt when enough of a case was raised to support the idea that they weren't just miniature adults. And they were told to go to school, likely because the adults soon found out that children are not creatures best left unsupervised. Supervision and public schooling went hand in hand from the start.

But if you thought the little ones were a hassle wait until you saw what they were getting up to after they got out of school. In the words of Diesel and A-Rab: "The trouble is he's growing/ The trouble is he's grown." And voila! Adolescence was invented. So you decide these people aren't ready for the real world. But child labor laws don't protect them, so they need to work. Problem is, they aren't much interested in work, because, hey, hot rods, electric guitar, cigarettes and grrrls. (To be fair, it was grrrls which started off this whole thing, since adolescents aren't just, um, mentally different from children, catch my drift?)

So you're no longer children, since you're sexually charged, but you don't have the sense that comes with being and adult. What do you do, but continue to go to school? That way you can have fun and not have to work 3/4 of the year. Swell plan, Skippy, but if you thought kids needed supervision high schoolers need even more.

Once you're out of there, you can go get a job. Only, now almost everyone has a high school diploma, and, as we learned in Econ 101, if you have an abundance of something, it's value will drop. In this case the value is the amount of money you make working a job backed with a high school diploma. Besides, what happened to all that stuff you used to like? Sure, you've sobered up a bit (literally or otherwise). But all those fun things are still fun, and work is still, for most, unpleasant.

Enter college. In 1946 about 2 million people 18 or older were in school. 1964, it had increased modestly to about 5 million. By 2004, however, it was 17 million. The same thing had happened as in high school, more and more people got a college degree, and the value of a diploma started to drop. You did get four more years of freedom, but as confirmed young adults the price of not having adult obligations could make your head spin. Oddly enough this level of schooling doesn't follow the other's in that the students are barely supervised at all, in the time arguably the most important for them to be.

The last 20 years have had a fixation on not entering the workforce. Movies like Office Space and Clerks are lauded as comedies of our time, not to mention the rebirth of collegiate comedies on the market. Time is set aside for travel, and we live with our parents longer, our first jobs will likely not be the jobs we define as our careers later in life. This may be a carry-over from high school summer jobs. Get the money, get out, and move on to better things. Careers now begin at 30, not 20 or 12.

Apprenticeship has disappeared. Young lads off to work under a master and learn the trade has gone the way of Republican fiscal responsibility. What a difference the years make. We have a system now that not only discourages such behavior, but a potential populace which also wants no part of it. If you can delay entering the working world you do, to the tune, in some cases, of nearly a decade later than our parents.

There should be a joke at the end of this discussion, but there isn't. I just wonder what trends will be like in the future if this keeps up. Will people all get PhDs and not start their careers until 40? Will we retire at 80 and 90, thanks to longevity and late starts? Do you really want to retire that late in life? Even if you scored a twenty year retirement, it's doubtful you could enjoy it like those who retire at sixty-five. Out of the workforce, and straight into the home. There's a chilling thought. Maybe we should get out earlier? Ah, but then we'd be uneducated and end up spending thirty years doing something we don't want to do. Which, ironically, is the very fear which spurned us to prolong our education in the first place.

Monday, January 7, 2008

79; Not Much To Say

Sweeny Todd, 2007 version. Saw it on the big screen, don't think I needed to. Nice visuals, nice cast, good songs (overall) and I didn't like Johnny Depp. Depp is a nice actor, and has many fine performances under his belt. Sadly, when Johnny/Todd walks off the boat at the beggining he is already a half-cocked crazy round the bender.

All I'm saying is I wish there had been more character development on Todd's part. All other regards, fine movie.

Since the world is in a state of normal disarray here we go with a jolly personal update column.

Boston is still cold.

I have now begun work at Codman Academy Charter Public School, where I'll be working for six weeks. I assume there will be more stories of this institution as time goes on.

Television has once again reared its head in my life. I am not a big fan of television. Maybe this is due to my fear of comitment. Recent consistent source of television amusement: how i met your mother, produced by ee cummings.

Of course no update written within the last two months would be complete without a mention of the goings-on in Iowa. Diagnosis: I like democrats. I intend on taking part in my state's primaries, and will vote for who I want. When the presidential election comes there will be only two, or maybe three candidates who will have running mates who've not yet been determined. When all those facts are in I will truly care and participate in our system of slighlty battered democracy.

While I'm writing this Jon Stewart is doing alright. The writer's strike is still going on, and Jon is making the best of it, I suppose.

There are kittens playing luca libre in our living room.

Books have also recently appeared on my doorstep. I am generally okay with this little to none of time, as their subject matter pertains to causes that I don't care about or beleive in.

However I am delighted to find the books currently showing up are instead my holiday purchases.

That's it folks. An assortment of statements regarding topical personal issues. I admit I am tired and have nothing more to say.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

78; IKEA

I really do want my columns to be more upbeat, positive, and generally reflective of the optimism that I embody. The last entry, on annoyance, was not in that vein. Nor, I'm afraid, will today's be. This is because I have some choice words regarding the IKEA company.

Let me give a little background info that may help you, dear reader, understand my position. I am not, by nature, a shopper. There have been a few times and stores in which shopping has delighted and even enthralled me. That is, I am not an anti-shopper on principle. Shopping can be enjoyable, and I fully acknowledge the realities of this complex world we live in.

Bearing that in mind I've also had enjoyable visits to hairdressers, dentists, doctors, and sewage plants.

Shopping should, in my mind, be an efficient task. I realize that I am only aiding the unfortunate and perhaps misleading stereotypes about how guys act, unfairly at that. But I will not shirk from telling the truth of the matter. Dawdling should be limited to pet stores, Brookstones, and jewelry stores, the latter if so only to build up the fortitude that will be required when dating. Basically, go in, get what you want, and get out.

(It has been brought to my attention that in the above paragraph my comment on jewelry shopping is unfair, sexist, biased, and evil. I assure the reader, of any sex, gender, or sexual preference that the first three accusations are completely unintentional.)

IKEA attempts to thwart easy shopping at every turn. Those are literal turns, mind you, since the store is laid out in a maze-like pattern, with different sections and shortcuts to other parts of the store you don't want to go to. The fact that the man who came up with snakes and ladders has designed the store I am shopping in does not bode well.

Some of the furnishings and finishings appeal to me. This is due to their cleverness, utility, and artistic merits and not their cheapness. Let's just say. Unfortunately the things I am looking at in the maze are not for purchase. Why is this? I was under the impression I was in a store. Surely the items hanging, draping, sitting, and sofa-ing around me with the price tags hanging off of them are there to be bought. But no. These items are display items. The ones I can take away are downstairs, in bulk.

IKEA has now fooled me. I do not appreciate being fooled. It is analogous to walking by a sushi restaurant, being told what is in the window is what you get, and finding out that those items are inedible plastic models, your California roll is made with imitation crab meat, has browning avocado, and won't be ready until next Tuesday. Considering their calculated inefficiency this added wool over the eyes maneuver has just earned IKEA a second strike.

Downstairs I voyage, into the warehouse. Combating incomprehensible Scandinavian labels in a chain store probably visited by one Danish woman a year I eventually find what I had already found upstairs. After purchasing the item the only reasonable destination is home.

Some assembly is required. Expected, the requisite tools are collected, instructions read, and process begun.

Three hours later I make, and hold, the following vow:

I will never, ever, buy anything from the IKEA company without just cause. 'Just cause' may be defined as: on penalty of death, severe economic hardship coupled with insanity, unforeseeable supernatural forces beyond my control, or a direct act of God.

The products IKEA produces are of such shoddy quality and a source of such pain in the assery that the low low fares at which I bought them do not, to even a fifth, compensate for the frustration of assembly. Remember how IKEA had two strikes already against them for inefficiency and trying to fool me? The inability to put their horrible furniture together is not strike three. It is strikes four, five, six and seven. Strike three was the food court they put in the store right after you pay and check out, coupled with the single shopping cart ramp in the parking garage, fences blocking off all other means to get to the car.

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, there are not enough words in the English language for me to voice my distaste of your existence. Luckily the English language allows me to make my own in cases when the language provided is inadequate to express myself.

You are a sveltrite, parbody, flamberish farzbopple, Ingvar. A quarpalean, wivklean, amperositor. Jiboolish, niomensch, and reptflavit.

Flamberish farzbopple.