25 December 2014

Don's Christmas Storytime: "Scenes from Jodorowsky's RUDOLPH"

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Decided that this is going to be my last post of 2014.  I think I'm past that year-in-review stuff.  Instead, during this Christmas season with all of its stories of one kind or another, I thought I would share one of my own.

So, here's my present to all of you.  Gather 'round, kids!  Bring your hot cocoa.  Uncle Don wants to share something with you...

"Scenes from Alejandro Jodorowsky's Failed Adaptation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

15 December 2014


Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental ProfessorSyllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first sought out Barry's comics years ago because Filipina! Okay, part-Filipina but enough to hook me with a panel of an elderly woman, sitting on a couch with one elbow resting on her raised knee, declaring "Ay, nako!" But Syllabus was my first encounter with one of Barry's artistic how-to books. It's a compilation of syllabi, courses, and exercises she's used in the various classes she teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Other artistic how-to books emphasize the importance of play, but this is the first one I've read that has shown me exactly how to leverage that idea. Barry's thesis is that when we were drawing or writing as children, the last thing on our minds was whether or not we were creating works of art; at least in my case, she's right. And thus, I get something extremely valuable from this book: a method for RE-training myself to suspend any judgement at all about writing as I'm writing. (That stuff is for editing and polishing later.)

Syllabus gets 5 stars because after a mere two weeks, the exercises within--more or less in practice; definitely in principle--have already yielded dividends as far as filling some of the gaps in my writing practice that I've been struggling with since the day I started. I can feel the techniques reshaping my artistic process the way I used to feel muscles being shaped while working out (another experience I haven't had in awhile), and it feels great!

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05 December 2014

Reason No. 666 Not to Scoff at Hall and Oates

...Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates, worked with Robert Fripp of King Crimson to do his own Aleister Crowley-inspired album in the 1970s.
-Peter Bebergal, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll

via io9.

See also: You'll Pay the Devil, All Right

14 October 2014

Quickie Review: ILO ILO (2013)

A screening of this Canne Caméra d'Or-winning film was hosted by the dayjob and I went, having prepared myself to go all Hooper from Chasing Amy during the Skype Q&A with Singaporean director Anthony Chen. But this film about a Hong Kong family who takes on a Filipina maid during the Asian financial meltdown of 1997 thankfully wasn't rage inducing.

During the Q&A, the director mentioned having been taken to task for not providing any critique of the OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) system. I was just happy that we didn't get either of the two "typical" OFW horror stories--Filipinas being physically or sexually victimized, or victimizing the families they work for, stealing money, abusing children and elders, etc. Hell, I half-expected Teresa (the maid) to have some anting-anting which makes her some Asian Mary Poppins who teaches young Jiale about, I dunno, love and family or somesuch. 

(She probably would have if this was some Hollywood film.)

Anyway, I'm fine that the film wasn't about the plight of OFWs for two reasons. One, I think Chen gives a pretty even-handed representation of the part most people play in that whole system, in a way which jives with the memories I've had as a child observing Filipinas who were brought over to the United States to help with the families of other Filipinos. And two, that kind of message would've taken away from the film's focus on the compelling study of how four very different people cope against forces outside their control.

5 out of 5.

10 September 2014

Quickie Review: THE ONE I LOVE (2014)

If I had it to do over, I'd Netflix this one but I definitely wouldn't pass it up. If you liked 2012's Safety Not Guaranteed, you'll probably like The One I Love. There's something to be said for a movie that resists being described in other reviews because to do so even in the slightest would spoil it.

Other reviews have noted similarities to (and the film actually name-checks) The Twilight Zone, and it does so as more than simply a code for "something freaky's going on here." The film's plot absolutely feels like something out of a Richard Matheson episode. And of course, I can't even reference which Matheson episodes came to mind as I watched this, because spoilers.

The one thing this film has over a Twilight Zone episode is the feeling the film's resolution leaves me with, which I can only describe as the same feeling described by Bruce Sterling in his oft discussed and debated definition of "slipstream," namely "...a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility."  If slipstream is that form which is, as it's said, "some degree of the surreal, the not-entirely-real, or the markedly anti-real" then I'd definitely call this a slipstream film.

03 September 2014

Quickie Review: FRANK (2014)

I admit it, I watched this film because I caught the trailer a week or so ago at the local art house theater, and was captivated by the head...

Inspired by Chris Sievey's persona of Frank Sidebottom and the time the co-screenwriter Jon Ronson spend in Sievey's band, the film is about far more than the eponymous character wearing a big head, in the same way that any (good) band is more than the sum of its parts.  Frank shows the complexity of the chicken-and-egg question about the origin of creativity. And then it complicates the question further by throwing in the the added dimension of collective artistic expression; this is about a band, after all. Think of it as a po-mo version of The Commitments where you spend less time cheering for band, and more time going back and forth between "WTF?" and "Huh, that's kinda deep."

I don't think it's spoilery to say the band breaks up.  C'mon, it's a band movie--when was the last time a movie band didn't implode? But Frank might surprise you a bit with the whys and hows of the breakup, and might also surprise you with how the breakup leaves you feeling.

01 September 2014


BITE: An Anthology of Flash FictionBITE: An Anthology of Flash Fiction by Katey Schultz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good number of pieces here actually didn't hit me the way I like flash stories to hit me. Possibly I'm a little inured to that these days. And yet when I considered each piece and what I took away, I discovered a few stories with layers of subtlety. Yes, I realize not every piece of flash fiction has to slap me in the face to be effective. And yet, it was a little difficult for me to distinguish some of the slower-burning pieces with pieces that only fit the flash rubric in terms of minimal word count. Those latter pieces might be complete stories, but they could've been told--might as well have been told--in two or three or five thousand words. There were gems from some of "the usual suspects" in flash fiction that I like to read: Bruce Holland Rogers, Tara Masih, Sherrie Flick, Tom Hazuka, et al. But my joy at reading those stories was tempered by the ones that didn't impress so much. I'm rating this 4 stars, but it's really closer to 3.6 for me.

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29 August 2014

You'll Pay the Devil, All Right...

I know I'm not the first person to make this observation, but I've known about the video for "She's Gone" by Hall & Oates for almost as long as I've been listening to Abandoned Luncheonette  (we've both been around for a little while). And I've always had trouble reconciling this staple of AOR and Lite Rock radio stations with the sheer what-the-fuckery of the video.

Watch it.  I dare you.  Go on.

Now tell me what's more disturbing: the Neanderthal shape of Daryl Hall's head, or John Oates looking even more satanic than the actual devil portrayed in the video?

I mean, Jeebus... *shudder*

Bet you feel a cold chill when you think of his "Private Eyes" seeing your every move now, don't you?

27 August 2014


This Won't Take But a Minute, HoneyThis Won't Take But a Minute, Honey by Steve Almond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An opinion about a book of 30 microessays and 30 flash fiction stories shouldn't be very long. The essay half is on writing; it's now in my top 5 of writing resources. Not every flash tale resonated with me but "Unfriendly Cashiers" is any indication, each story holds a grain of real truth.

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20 August 2014

My Artist Statement (or, When in Ithaca...)

Via 500 Letters...
Don (°1973, United States) is an artist who works in a variety of media. By demonstrating the omnipresent lingering of a ‘corporate world’, Don presents everyday objects as well as references to texts, painting and architecture. Pompous writings and Utopian constructivist designs are juxtaposed with trivial objects. Categories are subtly reversed.
His artworks demonstrate how life extends beyond its own subjective limits and often tells a story about the effects of global cultural interaction over the latter half of the twentieth century. It challenges the binaries we continually reconstruct between Self and Other, between our own ‘cannibal’ and ‘civilized’ selves. With a subtle minimalistic approach, he creates work in which a fascination with the clarity of content and an uncompromising attitude towards conceptual and minimal art can be found. The work is aloof and systematic and a cool and neutral imagery is used.
His practice provides a useful set of allegorical tools for manoeuvring with a pseudo-minimalist approach in the world of art: these meticulously planned works resound and resonate with images culled from the fantastical realm of imagination. With the use of appropriated materials which are borrowed from a day-to-day context, his works references post-colonial theory as well as the avant-garde or the post-modern and the left-wing democratic movement as a form of resistance against the logic of the capitalist market system.
He creates situations in which everyday objects are altered or detached from their natural function. By applying specific combinations and certain manipulations, different functions and/or contexts are created.
Yup, that sounds about right.

18 August 2014

To Absent Friends, Etgar Keret, My Misspent Mallrat Youth, and More Jodo

It's been a lot of quickie reviews of things I've been reading and watching lately. So let's do something different today, yeah?

RIP Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, and also actress Arlene Martel, who I met at the Rod Serling Conference last year, still trying to keep herself out there in typical L.A.-style.  This isn't one of those, "How dare they forget such-and-such?" notes.  Just a nod to the one I had a brief connection with...
Etgar Keret says a lot of things perfectly.  This bit from his interview in Granta is no exception...
I once met this very good writer. She told me that sometimes she comes upon a metaphor or a description and she writes it down on a notecard and keeps it in a box. Then when she writes a story and her character is taking a walk, she thinks OK, I’ll take a walking image from my box of notes. And I said to her, ‘Why? The guy is already walking.’ I don’t think a text should be beautiful. We’re trying to say something, to help something. It’s like sticking a feather on a guy’s back. You know he either grows wings for evolutionary reasons or he doesn’t have feathers. That’s my attitude to writing – although there are writers whom I love who I can see obviously don’t write this way.
Who wants to see where I spent my preteen mallrat years in a state of urban decay?

These photos break my fucking heart.  The building is still walking distance from the house I grew up in.  I haven't been inside it in at least 15 years.  Those lounge pits you see are exactly as I remember from the '80s, except the vinyl covering the seat cushions was a red violet instead of blue, if memory serves.  And there are a lot of memories.  Buying 45s, then, as technology progressed, cassette singles at the record store.  The Burger King that came, went, and came back where I got many a lunch after swimming lessons and learned the joys of the bacon double cheeseburger.  The Waldenbooks where I'd buy the Target novelizations of classic Doctor Who episodes, and perusing other books that no 10 year old had any business going through, but I got away with it as long as I wasn't anywhere near the Playboy section of the magazine rack.  I was never ever asked to stay away from the "personal massagers" section of the Spencer Gifts, for that matter.  All the classic Star Wars action figures and other collectible toys that sell for hundreds of dollars now that my parents paid the '80s equivalent of hundreds of dollars to Kay Bee Toys back then... ah well, the past is past.

Next up in my movie queue: Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain.

12 August 2014

Quickie Review: THE EYES OF THE CAT

The Eyes of the CatThe Eyes of the Cat by Alexandro Jodorowsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pure impulse buy at my local comics shop. I've been on a Jodorowsky kick lately (I'm working my way through his films and have already read The Incal and some of The Metabarons) so this shouldn't surprise anyone.

The first graphic novel collaboration between Jodo and Mœbius gives us twenty-four full page illustrations with minimal dialogue, as part of Jodo's attempt to do something unconventional while trying to subvert commercial constraints. (He says as much in his introduction to this 2013 edition.) While the story is short enough to warrant grumblings about the collection being overpriced, it has everything you'd expect from any Jodorowsky/Mœbius tale in Métal Hurlant magazine: surrealistic sci-fi illustrated by a master. On top of that... again, we're talking about full page Mœbius here, so while the collection could've (should've?) been cheaper, I was happy to pay what I paid.

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05 August 2014

Quickie Review: EL TOPO

I have a theory that there aren't enough trigger warnings in the world when it comes to describing classic cult Mouvement panique films. But in the case of Alejandro Jodorowsky's legendary 1970 "acid Western" El Topo, let's try.

For anyone who intends to watch this film, then TW: depictions and descriptions of extreme violence, rape, genital mutilation, incest, child abuse, ableism, sexism, racism, some trans... eh, fuck it, I give.

No, this isn't a go at trigger warnings. It's an acknowledgement that this is a film made at a time and place where ideas such as, say, using part of your film budget to make fake dead animals when you could just go kill some real ones were considered ludicrous--oh, which reminds me, TW: animal cruelty.

El Topo is precisely the kind of art that causes critics of all kinds to have to choose sides: Is the film easily dismissed for its depictions of sacrilegious, violent, depraved, misogynistic, and generally unsavory behavior, or is it an artist's expression, whose license allows, even demands the right to strategically depict sacrilege, violence, depravity, misogyny, etc. to be utilized as tools? Either way, the promise of this movie has been fulfilled--I have been thoroughly mind-fucked. I can only imagine what it would've been like to have seen it during its heyday as the "first midnight movie."

When you consider the world and the characters Jodorowsky created for El Topo, from the surrealistic representations of spiritual seekers and gurus as gunfighters, to the graphic (and I mean extremely graphic) metaphors about both the noble and depraved state of men, women, society, organized religion--might as well just say, "the whole world"--and then consider the questions the film puts forth about problems of mindfully attempting to navigate this condition in a spiritual manner... well, that's the mind-fuck.

Interesting note: I'm not going to say Jodo had any influence on Bruce Lee of all people (although it's a line of thought worth pursuing one day, given that Jodo's work really did influence a LOT, cf. Jodorowsky's Dune), but Jodo shows a progression to enlightenment similar to the progression Bruce Lee outlined at the end of his unfinished film The Game of Death, expressed as the need to symbolically defeat representations of old belief systems. (Except, where gunfighting is merely the symbol Jodo uses, Lee attempts to show the close integration of the martial and the spiritual.)

Anyway, did the character of El Topo manage to navigate his path and achieve enlightenment? All I can say is this: at first, I thought this movie was about a particular man's search for spirituality gone horribly wrong. Instead, it's about man who, with conviction, devotion, dumb luck, by hook and by crook, actually does manage a measure of enlightenment. His response to that enlightenment is horrific... but utterly and completely understandable.

Mind. Fucked.

27 July 2014


Stories for Nighttime and Some for the DayStories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's no way a reader and writer like me was going to pass up a story collection from someone whose work appears in The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, decomP, Monkeybicycle, PANK, et al., and whose book is blurbed by Ray Bradbury and Gary K. Wolfe!

I get the accusations about the book being "gimmicky". I get that some readers require characters to have things like names other than The Man, The Woman, or The Octopus. I get that the structure of these stories can seem repetitive. While the language, characterization, and descriptions of setting are stripped-down, it's done so strategically. There's still enough sense of character and place for relatively whole stories. Stories that are as instructive as any fable, complete with a moral--but which are as subject to interpretation as any myth.

When a story ends, so endeth the lesson. And while the lessons might not be profound necessarily, I think that's the point. The lessons are truths we (should) all know. What's profound is how Loory illustrates these truths with a mix of the real and unreal. Loory deftly places his character and the reader in all sorts of fantastic worlds. And what they find there is what we find here: the Kabat-Zinn truism of, "Wherever you go, there you are."

I know some writers and critics in speculative fiction for whom this would absolutely stick in their craw. And some of those folks intersect with those I know who don't much enjoy short stories, let alone short-short fiction. They tend not to be people I drink with, anyway.

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15 July 2014

Readercon XXV

Sorry with the Roman numerals. Still have Chicago XXXVI on the brain. (Shut up!)

So Readercon 25 happened!  And for once, I'm not going to wait months to blog about it.  Just gonna dump it all out of my head in one burst.  (It's actually part of a bigger plan to not overthink my blog posts so I put out more of them.)


Last year, I complained about the hotel renovations and how they hampered people from just running into each other and chatting.  But I didn't realize how much I missed that until this year when I really got it all back!  And so my con was filled with old friends, people I met again for the first time (yes, you read that right), and new people I'd never met before!

I liked the lobby/restaurant renovation with the expanded seating that ensured I never had to wait to get a table for breakfast.  The jacked-up prices of the appetizer menu?  Not so much.  I could almost live with what they charged for calamari, but the $12 cheeseburger was not a $12 cheeseburger.  Plus, how does any bar in the Boston area stop serving Smithwick's?  I'll say this for the service, though: my experience is that it wasn't one scintilla worse than previous years.

The program highlight for me was the workshop "From Page to Stage: Adapting Your Work for an Audience" by C.S.E. Cooney, Amal El-Mohtar, and Caitlyn Paxson. As wonderful as Readercon programming has been over the five years I've attended, there are a select few things that have stuck with me--this is the newest.  After some exercises, we were invited to read a paragraph or so of something we brought.  I brought the story I'd already recorded for Lakeside Circus, "Life After Wartime".  I wish I'd waited until after this workshop.  I surprised myself with how differently I read! It's been suggested that I record it again, but I don't want to be one of those people who goes back and retcons their own work. You know the type.

But the con highlight for me was getting a few minutes alone at a table with Mary Rickert and Ellen Datlow, who gave me advice as to the shelf life of mentioning my old McSweeney's Internet Tendency piece. (Apparently, the answer is forever... and that I should lead with it!). Close second: Dancing in a circle of the best and brightest in today's award-winning fantasy and sci-fi literature as a bad DJ spun '80s tunes (from the '90s).

The lack of physical space of my home, not to mention my reading backlog, forces me to make choices about what books I get at cons. This year's purchases/gifts/swag...

So who's gonna be at WFC next year?  At Readercon next year?  At WFC 2015 (which is going to be near-ish to me)?

10 July 2014

Quickie Review: NOW: CHICAGO XXXVI

Now: Chicago XXXVI is probably as cohesive as you can expect an album recorded piecemeal on the road in hotel rooms and backstage green rooms can be. It's a musical experiment with interesting results. Ultimately, it's the kind of album that happens when you let the members of the band be themselves, instead of playing assigned roles. Cool things happen when you don't force Jason Scheff to sing like Peter Cetera, or Lou Pardini like Bill Champlin. Or when Keith Howland and Tris Imboden don't have to play like Terry Kath and Danny Seraphine.

They've actually tried the "be yourself" approach in fits and starts over the decades since the original lineup suffered the loss of guitarist Terry Kath. In that way, this record reminds me a lot of Hot Streets and Chicago 13--and no, that's not a slam!! Sure, if you bought those albums in the late '70s expecting Terry Kath, then Donnie Dacus was inevitably going to disappoint you. But if you listened with your nostalgia-brain instead of your ears, you wouldn't have heard the (okay fine, the admittedly few) hidden gems in those albums.  Hey, I get it. I wanted to shout, "Blasphemer!" the first time I heard "Look Away" done without Bill Champlin, but I learned to live with it, but I didn't want to quickly came around.

You can read the historical context of those two albums elsewhere. Suffice it to say that, better or worse, those albums were where Chicago was in the "Now" 1978 and 1979. A new guitarist and a different producer with different musical backgrounds and styles that had to be absorbed by the band. Problem was, they conflated their "Now" with whatever they hoped might keep them relevant and on the radio--which weren't necessarily the same thing. But who could blame them?

The difference with Now: Chicago XXXVI is that it doesn't feel like Chicago is cramming everyone's style into a mold using a screwdriver and a plumber's helper. Of course, it helps that the individual band members (along with Hank Linderman) were "supervising producers" for different tracks--guys with, collectively (especially with the two most recent additions Lou Pardini and Walfredo Reyes, Jr.), at least as much experience in the recording industry now as Phil Ramone had in '78 and '79. But this time, the album clearly embraces everyone in the band, and you can hear the difference. It end product really sounds like work from the sort of "musical collective" Chicago always touted themselves as being.

Instead of simultaneously trying to please the jazz-rock/oldies crowd while playing disco-, synth-, or country-pop, or whatever the hell "the kids" are into this decade, you're going to hear musicians show you decades of writing and playing chops. And so you'll recognize some of the old Chicago horn vocabulary, but you'll hear new phrasings, too. You'll be reminded of those old segues in non-4/4 time signatures and maybe a bit of a multi-part suite, but no 14-minute jazz/rock jams (although I'd buy a whole Chicago album of just that). You'll hear a ballad, but no "You're the Inspiration" knock-offs. You'll hear different musical styles blended together, from hard rock to bossa, and a couple of spots with a tasteful hint of dubstep. Because a lot has gone on in music between 1969 and 2014, and they know all about it.

What you definitely won't hear is the ghost of Terry Kath or the ghosts of "...the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and Today".  You will hear guys who lived and learned their way through all of that, musically, and they're going to tell you all about it.

You know, I almost wish they put the live version of their classic "Introduction" (a bonus download track) at the front of the album. It would've been as appropriate a setup for this album as it was for Chicago Transit Authority.  Because I was definitely put through the changes. Might've cared more for some than others, but the more I listen, the more I don't feel this is an album of old guys out to show you young tone-deaf idiots with your Garage Band app how it's really done. Or, if that is the intention, that's just not my takeaway. The songs do strike me different. I do feel moved.

Okay, so maybe this review wasn't so quick. Sorry.  Might as well go song by song at this point...

09 July 2014

Today: New Pub at LAKESIDE CIRCUS. Tomorrow: Readercon!

A flash piece o' mine called "Life After Wartime" dropped today over at Lakeside Circus!

"Bu-bu-but... I like my stories read to me out loud," you say.  That's cool, because you can have that, too!

And, if you want to tell me to my face what you think about this story, I'll be at Readercon tomorrow night through Sunday.  Let's hang out!

03 July 2014

Chapter LXI

New year.  New chapter.  New manifesto, courtesy of Harvey Pekar...


25 June 2014


The Memory GardenThe Memory Garden by M. Rickert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review is probably biased. I've been a fan of Rickert's writing for almost a decade. As far as I know, I've read her entire published oeuvre, and have gone on record talking about how much I love it. I even had the pleasure of telling her face to face a few weeks ago!

A lot of Rickert's shorter work is often populated by the walking wounded. Characters who are often terribly aware of whatever darkness (some kind of guilt, trauma, tragedy, maybe some secret) pervades their lives. It often isolates them, as those who might share that grief--well-meaning lovers, family, community--move on. And while sometimes (not every time) I'm left with a sense of a character's transformation, of some tiny newfound strength or hope in the future, I would fear what tomorrow could bring them.

The difference in Rickert's debut novel The Memory Garden, is that Nan and her friends Mavis and Ruthie made it through to the other side of their darkness. They lived past a shared tragedy some sixty years into old age. Not unscathed, of course. The damage to their lives is done, and they drift apart. But one way or the other and with varying degrees of success, they each soldiered on to eventually move into and through their own individual guilts and traumas--and occasional blessings, too. Nan was given the care of Bay, an unexpected, maybe even undeserved miracle. And Nan chooses to raise Bay, even if it meant doing so in the shadows of everything that came before. Even if it meant more secrets.

It's the sort of situation one falls into once life becomes about more than survival.

The Memory Garden's peculiar cast of characters gathered under even more peculiar circumstances shows us what any of Rickert's short story characters' lives might be like sixty years after a given tale, about a time when the past will, despite whatever life you might have lived in the interim and whatever you've done to put distance between you and it, demand to be reckoned with. And this is, at least as far as my memory of Rickert's other work goes, fresh ground.

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24 June 2014

"Making my entrance again with my usual flare..."

It's been a publishing dry spell, folks.  No one's fault but my own.  But now I'm back, both barrels blazing!

Because I have a face made for radio, I've made my first foray into the wide, wonderful world of podcasting with "The Naturalist Composes His Rebuttal" by Fran Wilde in the latest issue of Lakeside Circus!

I have a story in there too, which should go live next month.  And, I'll be recording that one, so stay tuned!

25 May 2014

Quickie Review: THE INCAL

The IncalThe Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll be honest, I finally got around to reading this classic only after having seen Frank Pavich's documentary Jodorowsky's Dune. I'd heard of Jodo and his El Topo, and you can't be any kind of comics fan without having at least heard the name Mœbius. Still, I came late to this particular party.

It's absolutely true what people have said--you can literally pick out the bits that have been used in any number of sci-fi films over the past 30 years. I'd never read The Incal, but every one of Mœbius's meticulously drawn panels seemed familiar. Jodo's writing didn't disappoint either--it's a good example of a writer weaving his beliefs into a story while avoiding, IMO, turning the work into a tract.

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18 April 2014

"I will see you on Good Friday..."

As some of you know, my Good Friday tradition is listening to the song "Good Friday" by the Black Crowes while looking up who got crucified in the Philippines this year...

SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA (Updated) -- Devotees in San Pedro Cutud village here had themselves nailed to a wooden cross to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as thousands of local and foreign spectators watch the bloody annual rites to mark Good Friday in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation.

The money quote comes from Lasse Spang Olsen, a 48-year-old filmmaker from Denmark who joined in on the fun...

After being helped down from the cross, [Olsen] said of his experience: "Fantastic, you should try it."

25 January 2014

On Track to Shoot Chi or Lightning Bolts From My Hands

So I made it through my second yoga class the other day without stopping (or dying!), and I was warmed up enough that when I walked home, I barely noticed that the temperature had dropped to a balmy 7 degrees.

This time around, I was a touch less focused on just surviving the class, and could pay attention to things like exactly what my limits are right now (more than there used to be), and exactly how my body was having trouble moving (ways that never used to trouble me before).  I did do every pose though!  The quality sucked near the end, but I pushed myself as far as was reasonable I think.  That's what matters.

And yet...

See, what I'm feeling with my return to yoga is almost exactly what I've been feeling like with my writing lately.  I can't seem to bring myself to feel good about the rebuilding I'm doing.  Oh, I do it.  I take a step forward and I'm determined to show up and take the next one; lots of people would pat me on the back for that.  Yet, I know how far I've fallen.  I don't go, "Yay, me! Let's keep moving forward!"  I think, "One step down, 9,995 to go until I'm back to where I was."

It's motivation by self-loathing.  It's letting fear and anger fuel me.

It's the Dark Side of the Force.

Probably not a good thing.  But what to do about it...?

22 January 2014

I LIVED!!! (Ow.)

Sunday, I survived my first yoga class in about 2 or 3 years.  It was a small class, but well run.  I had that awkward moment where I was the oldest person in the room, but I got over it.  (That'll only get more frequent, right?)  The studio is new, so it's not quite finished yet.  The folks that run it are getting it there, though.  I've no doubt it'll become the tranquil place they envision.  But it didn't phase me.  I have a history of working out in places that were far worse (but where I got the best training).  Plus, I'm Filipino; training in garages, backyards, on concrete, etc. is in my DNA.

I didn't quite survive unscathed, though.  I was doing pretty well at first; there wasn't a single pose the whole class that I hadn't attempted before.  But about 3/4 of the way through, all those intercostal muscle spasms came back.  I dealt with it at first, but then I had to stop for a bit until the very end.

Not proper yoga mindset.
I pushed for two reasons.  1) I constantly mistake yoga classes for my old kung-fu classes where, if you feel too strained to execute a move or drill at full force, then you do it slowly using the best technique you can bring yourself to muster and 2) I'm just stubborn by nature.  One of the very few things that life hasn't beaten out of me quite yet is the idea that it's better to light an inch than curse the dark.

It's just that sometimes, that attitude has less to do with following through with goals and more to do with defying whatever's keeping me down.  Even if it's myself.  It's like that old joke about the parrot who resists its owner trying to teach it not to constantly say "Fuck you."  Finally, the owner gets frustrated and throws the parrot in the freezer.  And when he opens the freezer the next day, he finds the parrot frozen with it's middle finger raised.

Sure, maybe passive-aggression against myself isn't the healthiest way to pursue goals but hey... whatever works.

20 January 2014

Just Like the Phoenix...

The day before Lifehacker featured the discussion "How do you start exercising when you're older and out of shape?" I'd signed up for a yoga class at a new studio that opened up an 8 minute walk from my place.  Probably one of the few times in my life that I started out a little ahead of the game.

In keeping with that, I'm scheduling this post to be pushed out after the class, just in case it kills me.  This actually isn't  (unless I'm deluding myself, which I suppose is possible) an attempt to fulfill a freshly minted New Year's resolution.  Getting back into shape has been on my mind since I turned 40 last July.  I've known for awhile that it's past time I put some consistent effort into maintaining this meat-sack of mine.

I set the bar low: to just not be a mass of blubber with no muscle tone.  I'm not trying to recapture what I had in my late 20s/early 30s when I was training different martial arts and feeding an endorphin addiction by working out 3-4 times a week.  Though I admit, I looked good those years.  I'd lost two pants sizes, and wore jeans from high school.  Now I'm back to where I was before I worked out, and then some.  I was flexible back then.  I'd just like some of that back.  It's still kind of there I think; I've always had slightly above-average flexibility.  But it doesn't take much to push it too far these days.

It still feels like a lot of my moves are still in me, though.  But I'd be stupid to try them now, without a slow return via something like yoga.  I'd end up looking just like this...

So, assuming this isn't my last entry, I'll be back with tales of how this over-40 meat-sack rises from the ashes...

19 January 2014

My Everyday Horror Story

From "An Everyday Horror Story"
by Harvey Pekar.
Art by Gerry Shamray.
Whatever lung pox I had that led to two weeks of paroxysms of coughing has messed up my voice.  To clarify, it's messed it up for an additional week after the coughing is now more or less under control.  I'm starting to wonder if it's one of the two(!) inhalers I'm on.  I'm this close to having to having to use one of my Field Notes notebooks to write things out instead of speaking them.

Anyway, it reminded me of a story in Harvey Pekar's American Splendor (issue 5), "An Everyday Horror Story," in which our man has a long bout with laryngitis and it starts to do things to his head.

I'll tell you, I'm starting to relate.  It's not just the voice loss, but these weird muscle spasms I've been getting lately.

I try to avoid soliciting curbside consultations from the medical professionals I work with, but a lot of them are just generally helpful by nature.  So the other day, some of them dropped some knowledge on me.  Now, I knew the muscles that were spasming (my intercostals) are the ones I use to cough but what I didn't realize is that the reason they can take a long time to heal is because they can never truly rest, seeing as they're the same muscles I use to breathe.

That's what's messing with my head.  My voice I can rest, but I can't stop breathing.  Talk about feeling like a supernatural force is messing with you.  It's bad enough fighting my own procrastination, which I do every day.  It's even harder when you can't talk and have trouble moving, or even sitting.  But I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill, really.  Harvey got his voice back.  I'll likely get my voice back (gonna call the doctor again, though).  My intercostal muscles will get better.  Maybe I'll get my groove back, too.


16 January 2014

Quickie Review: JAGANNATH

JagannathJagannath by Karin Tidbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is technically incomplete. I finished this book back in September ('13) but didn't write about it until now (January of '14). I felt I couldn't write about it because I didn't (and still haven't) rated the story "Some Letters for Ove Lindström." (I'm still too close to the subject matter of that story.)

I know almost nothing about the Swedish/Scandinavian myths and didn't think I necessarily had to in order to see the heart of these stories. Nor could I tell which stories were translated and which were written in English. It's testament to Tidbeck's writing, I think.

The collection started strongly and ended with a bang. The stories that didn't move me were generally the ones where Tidbeck revisits certain themes without, at least as far as I could tell, adding anything new. Those aside, the ones that did move me are positively gut-wrenching.

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13 January 2014

The Next Time I Give a Reading or Presentation

...I'm following this advice that comedian J.B. Smoove gives to Macy Gray.

This notion isn't new.  The band Toto has known this for about thirty-five years now.

09 January 2014

Coca-Cola Comic Book Orgy, or Quickie Review: HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR

Horse of a Different Color: StoriesHorse of a Different Color: Stories by Howard Waldrop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 out of 5, with the caveat that I cannot be objective about this collection. Howard Waldrop is one of the few writers whose work I'll buy the day it comes out, unseen and unreviewed.

If all Waldrop does is cleverly hide all sorts of historic/pop culture Easter eggs into most of his stories with barely any telegraphing, it would be a feat. Indeed, it's a point of pride for me when I catch them. I immediately recognized bits of the Bird Man of Alcatraz in the story of the "Wolf-Man" of the same. But, here's Waldrop's trick: as always, there are moments I fail to spot the references, and it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the stories one bit!

More importantly (to me at least), Waldrop's characters almost always convey some sort of bittersweet piece of truth or wisdom that can only be gained from going around the proverbial block a time or two.

I did let a sliver of objectivity creep into my reading, but I won't mention it here (you can find it in my story-by-story comments on the actual goodreads review page). It's more of a technical quibble, anyway. Whatever.

Also, "Coca Cola comic book orgy" is now my favorite Waldrop line. If I had a band, I'd ask his permission to use it as a name.

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03 January 2014

Quickie Review: North American Lake Monsters

North American Lake Monsters: StoriesNorth American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Plain and simple, if this collection doesn't win the Shirley Jackson Award or the World Fantasy Award for 2013, there really is no f**ing justice in the world.

I hung on every word in this collection. I was enthralled by every story, something I haven't felt since reading M. Rickert's Map of Dreams. Ballingrud takes some rather standard horror tropes and gives the readers more palpable and disturbing reasons to fear them. In a lot of stories, the horror/speculative element serves as a possible pathway that can be chosen by a given character. What's disturbing is that often times that pathway represents a viable, sometimes even a preferred, life option.

I found myself giving each story a 5* rating. But that isn't to say the collection didn't have it its... well, I'm so reluctant to say "flaws." That's much too strong a word, in my opinion. Let's say, "Things that took me out of the story for a micro-second, of which I took note before re-submerging myself back into it." There were two.

In the cover blurb, Maureen McHugh calls the collection "Raymond Carver territory." There's definitely a "K-Mart Magical Realism" thing going on here. The opening scene in "The Good Husband" would've made me think of "So Much Water So Close to Home" even if Carver wasn't referenced in the blurb. One of the tiny, tiny problems I had, though, was being so effectively grounded in each main character's POV--very Carver-esque characters--that I couldn't help but notice when these characters, as they're written, would think in un-Carver-esque terms. A construction worker seeing something "in a rictus of pain." An ex-con encountering something "soporific." A homeless man smelling "the ripe, deliquescent odor of river water." (Maybe it's more accurate to substitute "Raymond Carver" for "Gordon Lish," but that's another debate altogether.)

The other matter depends on how cynical a reader one is. What I might, and in fact DO, interpret as this collection being an examination of a singular theme from multiple angles might be interpreted by another reader as "the same story over and over again."

I feel like I've given too much time to these issues relative to the actual impact on my reading experience. But it's important to note that even despite them, the quality of the stories is such that I unreservedly give this collection a 5* rating.

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