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Robust McManlyPants on Average Display » books

books


Heavens. I can’t believe I let this sit for 10 months. A quick run-down of the things that have happened since my last update:

  • I won the 2012 Laine Cunningham Novel Award from The Blotter with my novel Perishables. It’s three connected stories about various experiences of a zombie apocalypse. In one of them, a vampire is at a meeting of his homeowners’ association when the dead rise. It’s a little silly and a little funny and a little serious and it has terrible recipes in it.
  • I published Perishables via Smashwords and Kindle and then decided to edit and publish the sequel, called Tooth & Nail. It’s built on a heavily edited NaNoWriMo I did some years ago about the same vampire.
  • I worked the partisan primary runoff election and my staff never mentioned the O’Keefe video. I’m sure they had seen it, but no one brought it up. I was intensely grateful.
  • I worked the general election in November. Jesus H. Christ on a platinum surfboard, what a day. I’ve never been so busy. It was busier than the partisan primary but the county gave me lots of staff and we all survived. There were partisan observers from both major parties in my precinct but they were very kind to me and to one another. Again, I’m sure lots of those people had seen the video but no one said anything. I was at least ten times as grateful because I had plenty more to think about that day. I also passed the election without any major run-ins with campaigners though I did have a couple of really amusing conversations with them.
  • I spent much of last autumn thinking about Tooth & Nail while I did a few promotional activities for Perishables: interviews on blogs and podcasts, for instance, and a few Google Hangouts with a group devoted to zombie fiction fandom. It was nice, after all the stupid bullshit of a year ago, to have a fictional world in which I could curl up and forget reality.
  • I ran my first 5K fun-run last October and my friend who is 6’7″ and ex-Army Airborne had trouble keeping up with me.
  • I spent November, December and January editing Tooth & Nail and dealing with my next-to-last class in the graduate certificate program I’ve been pursuing. I was kind of a stress ball.
  • I’ve spent the spring semester dealing with my last class and I still am kind of a stress ball.
  • I tried to play in two games of Call of Cthulhu at Dragon*Con last year, both of which were disastrous busts. I ended up running a one-shot for the Scourge of Nibelheim (aka “the Vampire group”) a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it but it ran too long and I didn’t get to include like half the stuff I came up with for it because I am just terrible at managing a game and remembering, you know, the poignant bits.
  • I had Shadowrun pretty much ruined for me, and for all my friends, by one really terrible game of it at Dragon*Con. Way to stay classy, totally-separate-and-self-isolating-and-aggressively-dickishly-insular Shadowrun Dragon*Con gaming track.
  • I ran my first timed 5K a few weeks ago and on a cloudy, rainy morning of running uphill at ~40F I clocked in at 25:13.6, 7th out of 46. I am extremely happy with that!
  • I’ve learned to love Twitter. Seriously, I used to say it was the diametric opposite of what I wanted the Internet to grow up to be but it is pretty great.
  • I gave a five-minute lightning talk at the opensource.com #cc10 get-together celebrating 10 years of Creative Commons:

  • I’m approximately two years behind on reading comics. I plan to catch up as soon as I finish this graduate certificate program next month.
  • I’ve been asked to contribute a short story to an anthology built around the theme of “invasion” and am currently mulling some ideas. I am super-excited!
  • I attended my twenty year high school reunion and survived it and even reconnected majorly with some really wonderful people I knew back in the day. Facebook and life in general have gotten a lot more entertaining as a result.
  • I’ve joined a queer softball league.
  • I’m going to be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte the weekend of 5/31 through 6/2!
  • I want the word “marriage” and I want to win the Supreme Court cases, absolutely, but I am also a little bit afraid that the queer communities will be divided into “normals” and “freaks” if we win and that the Right will use our victory as an opportunity to draw a line between those of us who are already primed for idle conformity: relatively moneyed, adhering more closely to rigid gender roles and identities, white, middle-class, “safe”. It will be vital, if we win this, to remember that it still must be okay to be different. Difference is what has given us the culture we create and celebrate together and difference has given us the advantages we are afforded by outsider status in the larger culture around us. We must continue to value people who have different families, different identities, different relationships (or none at all), different goals, different priorities and different beliefs. We do not all have to settle down into quiet, monogamous, dom/sub, top/bottom dichotomies defined by doggy day care and dinner parties. We have to stay freaks somehow.
  • My house is ruled by my cats and sometimes I find that really frustrating but mostly I am thrilled beyond measure at their benevolent dictatorship.
  • I’ve been watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 while at the gym and it is really fucking good.
  • Last year I skipped NaNoWriMo – what would have been my tenth – to focus on editing Tooth & Nail. This summer I’m doing My Own Private NaNo to work on the first draft of a science fiction novel, the setting for which was developed in a two-session game of Microscope played by Scourge of Nibelheim.
  • We tried Fiasco this year and it is so. Freaking. Fun.
  • I bought a new camera – an Olympus – and I loooooove it.

Is that everything? I think that’s everything. A year of blogging in a single post. Heavens, indeed.

I would really, really love to see Lovestruck: A Romantic Comedy Set in the Horrific World of H.P. Lovecraft, but no such luck.

Stay classy, John C. Wright.

The Boyf and I were loading some groceries into the car on Saturday evening when he noticed the back of one of my recent comics purchases featured an advertisement for a comic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Holding it aloft he asked me to add it to my bag at good ol’ Chapel Hill Comics. “It’s Philip K. Dick!” he said, but my eyes fixed on something else: Warren Ellis.

Reading up on it this morning I now know that he’s not writing it or doing the adaptation of the novel. Instead he’s going to be writing something called “back matter,” which is the commentary and fan interaction at the back. Apparently the text of the comic itself just comes straight from the book, suggesting that this is in more ways an artistic endeavor than a literary one. I think this is a good thing. Why? Because much as I love a lot of what Warren Ellis has written, and much as I will always treasure Global Frequency for containing the most sincerely sweet storyline ever penned about a bunch of people in one neighborhood in NYC who are made to weep tears of blood, become bisexual and speak an alien language, he is just shite at finishing things. I confess that I have come to have something of a love-hate relationship with his work and seeing his name on a title for the last couple of years. Here’s why:

  • The Authority was, when he was writing it, amazing. So ridiculously good, and I’ll be the first to say that The Midnighter was a total hottie. Ellis wrote a couple of funny, affectionate drama queens really well.
  • Global Frequency was a really neat idea, really fun stories and perfect for my short attention span. That the TV series never got made really disappointed me because Ellis so heartily endorsed the pilot. Ah, well.
  • Transmetropolitan, when it wasn’t just filled to brimming with how much it liked itself too much, was a really fascinating setting with some very original elements.
  • Planetary was, almost entirely, amazing. The last issue that showed up in my bag – #24, I guess? Something like that? – anyway, the last issue I read left me with the distinct impression of having gotten closure and that was refreshing. Now apparently there’s another one coming out? Another three issues or something? Fuck. Given it took ten years for them to crank out 24 issues then I have no idea when or if it will ever finish. I’ll buy it, though, because The Drummer is so mad hot and because whatever bizarre gems of classic comics and/or sci-fi lore Ellis unearths to drive the story will be worth consuming.
  • Nextwave is a fascinating idea that has thus far suffered from a trainwreck of a publishing schedule. Is it coming out? Is what’s coming out a one-shot? When whatever may or may not come out does hit the streets will I remember a thing about the last issue? Will I still care? Let’s find out!
  • Desolation Jones is/was, to be honest, revolting. I have no problem with comics that tend towards the gritty, the over-the-top, the “adult,” the scandalous or even the disturbing. This one was too much for me, though. I would sit there reading it and wonder whether another issue of Planetary had been delayed so he could produce this, the 24 of exploitation porn. No thanks.
  • Fell, which is fantastic and makes me wonder just what was going on behind the scenes to disrupt the schedules of good books and push one bad one to market for so long: too many projects? Too little time? Rent due? YouTube addiction?

Maybe I’m being too critical. I dunno. When I first, mistakenly thought that Ellis was adapting Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I said to The Boyf, “Well, I’ll add it to the bag, but I’ve got to be honest and warn you that if it promises 24 issues in two years we’re going to be lucky to get fifteen in five.” If all he’s doing is the back matter, OK, I’ll give it a chance.

That said, this further illustrates (no pun intended) what an interesting publisher BOOM! has become. Fall of Cthulhu is, honestly, pretty dreadful. Cthulhu Tales, on the other hand, has been wonderful. Farscape‘s first three issues left me completely cold but I have no choice except to believe that a title like Muppet Robin Hood must surely be fantastic. The original titles they’ve produced seem to be hit or miss, as are their adaptations, but when they hit they are truly something special. I don’t really have any love left for remakes, adaptations or otherwise resoled properties – the film industry has used up all my tolerance for them – but if one is likely to catch my attention, at this point, it’s probably going to come from BOOM! so I am, in all sincerity, pretty stoked about this PKD adaptation.

(Now if only BOOM! would pick up Spellgame from the defunct Speakeasy Comics portfolio…)

Last summer, as I prepped for my 2008 NaNoWriMo about a gay insurance agent in the 1980’s, I ran across mention of a series of made-for-TV movies about a gay private eye in Albany. Some positive reactions online led me to Netflix the first couple of movies and I enjoyed them enough to be interested when it was noted that they were based on a series of novels.

It turns out that they’re by Richard Stevenson (actually Richard Lipez), who has reviewed mystery and crime novels in the Washington Post for years. The novels are about a gay private eye named Donald Strachey and his non-detective boyfriend, Timmy. In the movie, they’re a couple of cutie-pie lifestyle queens, with Timmy being played by Sebastian Spence, aka “Narcho” from Battlestar Galactica, and Strachey being played by the ever-hot Chad Allen. They are portrayed as having an almost Cleaverian homelife, so picturesque it nearly grates. There’s a lot of plush set dressing and a cute dog and they get style points for giving Strachey a beater car and a classic, sunlight-through-dust-clouds hardboiled office.

In the novels, I’ve found, their relationship has a lot more texture to it. The novels have proven to be a lot racier and seedier than the movies, but in a good way. The natural comparison is with Nick & Nora Charles of The Thin Man and this extends to the grungier side of their adventures. Nick & Nora were not well-behaved or well-mannered, and for their time they were pretty free-wheeling while still perfectly in tune with one another. So, too, with the Donald and Timmy of the books, who engage in banter that makes the reader think they’d be fun to know and who back one another up with a vengeance but at the same time have enough points of disagreement and enough bad behavior between the two of them to keep them both distinct and interesting.

The banter is really worth a special comment. I was chatting about this on a MOO the other day with Jos and Deadblob and I was saying that I think one of the symptoms of the progressive cynicism our society has taken on in the last fifty years* is that we have let our standards sink woefully low in the banter department. These days we watch The Hero and The Villain trade insults and we call it “banter,” but as Deadblob put it, they’re basically having a “yo mama” fight. If you go back far enough in pop culture, you find exchanges that can be both sharp-edged, perhaps even barbed, but still somehow more inviting, more open, more give and take than what we get today. I love me a good Whedon-penned dialogue as much as the next nerd but Buffy just ain’t got a thing on The Big Sleep or Charade or The Thin Man. Stevenson’s novels have that same classic banter – “shuttlecock,” Deadblob called it – in which characters are always more clever than real life, clever in a way that gives as good as it gets, clever the way we wish we and everyone else were clever all the time except when it would get too tiring.

Happily, they also enjoy some genuinely bothersome villains, disturbing brutes and scheming parties whose machinations are genuinely grotesque. I’m reading basically one a week on my lunch breaks and finding them very satisfying. They can be a little hard to find, but well worth it, and easily picked up out-of-order., which is good, since the ones most easily found are not the first or most recent books in the series; they’re the ones that have been (heavily) adapted to the screen.

Friday night I went to see Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D and, immediately after, Frankenstein. Two classics were exactly the right way to start the weekend. It is worth noting that there is a reason Creature is so often held up as the example of its kind of movie – the ’50s monster flick – and it is that Creature is actually a very good movie. Pants Wilder went straight to the first time we see the creature swooning over Kay and pointed out that the scene is really creepy because that’s not CGI. The athleticism displayed by Ricou Browning is just stunning. No special effect can accomplish something that cool. That said, guess what? Nobody watches 3-D movies anymore so nobody knows which way to wear the glasses. A tip for future 3-D film experiences at the Carolina: give a tutorial before the movie starts. Someone as well-known and well-regarded as Phil Lee should not have to spend two hours wondering when the hell the 3-D will start because he’s got his glasses on backwards.

Frankenstein is also a genuinely great film – a narrative that wastes not a single second, lavish sets, a genuine sense of glimpsing another time – and watching it I was struck how not just some scenes were iconic but every scene was something I’d seen copied in later work. Gods, what a great movie.

That said – and I say this as one of the Retrofantasma people – can the Retrofantasma people who come to the headline movie on the Friday of NEVERMORE just shut the fuck up already? For fuck’s sake, people, I did not buy a 10-pass so I could listen to you run your fucking mouths. Do not fucking MST3K the movie outside your own home.

Saturday I went to see The Disappeared which was really, really good. In fact, it was so effective that I had to get up and go out into the hall and just take a break from it in the middle. The movie features supernatural elements but they’re not the real story. In fact, I’d argue that the supposed main narrative – the main mystery driving the plot – is handled fairly ham-fistedly. I didn’t care, though, because that wasn’t what interested me. The movie is a ghost story, yes, but it’s not about that. It’s about what it’s like to be powerless in the face of grief and what we do to cope with that. It’s about what it’s like to be disadvantaged and surrounded by personal relationships taut with the tension between poisonous suspicion and a desperate need to trust someone. Very touching. So touching, in fact, that I barely even noticed the twist ending happening because the emotions of the story were much more interesting than the events.

Finally, I caught the comedy shorts. The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon was every bit as good the second time around. Things that were new to me included the gleefully sadistic and extremely funny Treevenge and the genuinely surprisingly well-done and extremely fun and funny The Auburn Hills Breakdown, about which I can only say – without spoiling it – that the concept was sufficiently simple that it could either be done really badly or really well and the makers definitely land on the really well end of things. If you have the chance to catch any of these in person, do so.

It’s worth noting that a few seats away from us during the shorts collection was a woman who was having a really, really good time. I don’t know if she was just wicked high or what but she giggled endlessly, such that more than once the crowd was laughing at her as much as at the movies. I’m not complaining, though; she made the whole thing more fun. That’s the difference between someone who’s really into the movie and someone who’s trying to make the experience be about themselves: she was sharing and improving the experience with/for everyone around her. The blabbermouths on Friday were just pissing me off.

The Boyf and I went out for a drive and some errands today. Given UNC was starting their football season we took a bit of a long route to get to Chapel Hill and, once there, went on out to Furniture Follies where we saw an awesome stove and some other stuff.

Afterwards, we dropped in on Chapel Hill Comics to check out the new store. The new store gets a huge thumbs-up and is highly recommended. I commented that a friend might be leaving some DVDs for me in my bag there as he and I had failed to meet up when he had the DVDs in his possession and then I said, “Which is, I guess, kind of like having a post office box at the comics store?” I was worried that the request would bug such kind people but instead Vanessa seemed pleased to see evidence of their clientele as a larger community. The store itself is very nice, much larger and much easier to move around in and browse the aisles, very colorful, very engaging. Insanely awesome, in fact.

After that we hit the grocery store and in the parking lot I was taken with the way an approaching storm loomed over the Kroger. I took some quick pictures and while we were standing in the dairy aisle the building shook from the first peal of thunder. Awesome.

I’m currently halfway through the third book in the series. I said earlier that I had found the character of Harry Dresden to be a little thick but here’s what I think now: he’s a blithering idiot. He does things – magical things, stupid magical things – while out fighting monsters that I wouldn’t do in a prayer circle. He also is a little slow on the uptake regarding some of the more salient points of the mysteries he investigates.

That said, I do really, really like him as a character. I like him so much that I actively wish he were smarter. Chandler created Marlowe as something of a sad sack but a competent sad sack. I would like to see a little more day-to-day competence from Dresden. If he’s one of the best wizards of his generation then gods almighty but I’d love to play game of Trivial Pursuit with these people and have some money riding on the outcome.

All snark aside, I like the third book a lot more than the first two. I think the author needed to shake some bugs out of his writing and his story-world in the first two. I feel like he’s making progress with that by book three. Given that there are, what, nine? of these things, I’m figuring he’s got it mostly worked out by now.

I have also been mulling over the Harry Potter series, as I wrapped up Deathly Hallows a couple of weeks ago. I still am not quite sure what I think of it. Glad I read it? Yes. Satisfied with the outcome? Mostly. Do I like the fade-out-fade-in epilogue? Yes, actually. Do I still loathe Dumbledore? Yes and no. Do I like Harry? Yes but not like like. Do I like the whole series? Not sure. Do I hate Snape? Yes, terribly, and a part of me realizes that it’s because I had days when I was the greasy weasel of a kid that could have turned into that guy (though mostly I still identify with Lupin). Is it impossible, at 32, to identify at all with the kids? Sadly, yes.

It was a bit overwhelming to plow through that many thousands of pages in short order, just one right after the other, non-stop. I think that may have made it harder for me to process my reactions into lengthier statements for now.

I am at this point only four chapters into book six, aka & the Half-Blood Prince. Some thoughts thus far:

  • The teacher in me really hates Dumbledore. He wants to shout into D’s ear constantly that they are children for gods’ sakes, that if they get caught doing whatever they’re doing every time Dumbledore encourages them to break every rule and most laws while he looks the other way, they are screwed.
  • The kid in me likes Dumbledore just fine.
  • The kid in me is weaker than the teacher; as such, I am in direct opposition to most fans of the Harry Potter books by virtue of basically hating Dumbledore.
  • At the beginning of HP5 I liked Harry and couldn’t stand Dumbledore. At the end of HP5 I hate Harry and I could almost-maybe like Dumbledore.
  • In case an odd-numbered page and one’s goldfish-level memory might lead one to forget, a reminder: no one can Apparate or Disapparate to/from Hogwart’s! If one forgets while reading this sentence, don’t worry; shortly one will have an even-numbered page to read, on which Hermione will surely remind one.
  • In case one finds one’s self too occupied forgetting and being reminded of the fact that no one can Apparate or Disapparate to/from Hogwart’s to remember this fact, fifth years have a lot of homework.
  • I have posited to Deadblob that – note: there is a subtle reminder in the next fragment – given one cannot Apparate or Disapparate to/from Hogwart’s it is highly likely that one cannot Apparate or Disapparate to/from Hogwart’s because one has far too much homework to do.
  • I’m actually really enjoying these books.
  • The end of HP5 is just unforgivable. I want to reach into the novel and choke Harry with my own two hands.
  • That I feel this way simply means JKR has very successfully made me care what happens.
  • Everything about the 5th year Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher – more accurately, both of them – is absolutely brilliant.
  • I really want a better understanding of how magic works. It seems like they point their wands and say their fake Latin wordsincantations and if they really want it then it just happens. Much as I like a lot of the plot points and story effects of magic in the books a part of me finds this a really dissatisfying technology of magic.
  • Gods almighty, has any setting cried out more desperately for 0th-level detect magic? Jeez.
  • If anything bad happens to Lupin in the long run I think I will probably cry my goddamned eyes out.

For now I’m taking a break. In part this is to “let” Deadblob catch up but truth is he’s already passed me. I needed to pull my head out of that world for a while after HP5. Right now I’m reading Boris Akunin‘s The Death of Achilles. Highly recommended; it’s Holmes meets Marlowe meets Bond in Moscow in 1882. The empire is just starting to look a little wilty around the edges and a Russian diplomat trained in martial arts and philosophy is solving murders with his Japanese manservant. It sounds terrible, I know, but it is not. It is quite good.

A few years ago I read the first half of the first Harry Potter book and kind of felt enh about it and upon setting it down halfway through simply never returned. Since then I’ve come to learn that basically everyone I know has read and loves these books. It’s not that I disliked it or that I thought it was silly – seriously, no casting stones from my Princess House mansion on the silly tip – it just didn’t grab me and shake me around the same way as The Golden Compass or Uglies or, I dunno, Terry Pratchett.

Now that the series is over I have come to realize that to some degree I am missing the boat on a massively experienced, shared cultural phenomenon.

Somewhere in our house, between us, The Boyf and I have several but not all of the books. I’ve watched the first movie and remember it fairly well though I don’t really recall the particulars of the climax. Do I have to reread it? Should I? Is it vital? I’m pretty sure we have the second book someplace around here and even if we don’t I can lay hands directly on Azkaban (or however it’s spelled) and start there if need be. Given that I have an idea of what happened in the second book – though largely from the Sluggy Freelance parody of it – do I need to read that one?

Basically, here’s the deal: friends and strangers, lovers of HP, is the first book skippable? Second? Or am I cutting myself off at the knees by skipping any one of them?

Casino Royale – the book, that is – is just plain fabulous.  Fleming’s writing is so sparse and functional.  It’s not that he doesn’t describe things, really, it’s that when he does you get the sense of a rather dry voice reveling in a chance to wax briefly poetic.  There’s a bit of intro at the beginning that notes Raymond Chandler was a fan of Fleming.  I could totally see that.  Also, the plot differences between the novel and the recent movie are interesting.  They do nothing to lower my opinion of the movie which I think might well be the best Bond flick.  I still prefer Live and Let Die for the simple fact of the jazz funeral scenes but Casino Royale was damned good.

As you may or may not know, a couple of months ago I changed jobs.  This morning I got a call from the exchange used by my old employers and I answered it thinking my old work buddy was calling me – odd, given she doesn’t work on Fridays.  Instead it was a different ex-colleague.

“Dan?” he asked.  I said no, then recognized his voice.

“This is Michael,” I said, laughing.

“Oh, man, [my old boss] just IMed me this number and all he said was ‘Call him and ask if he knows.’  I’m sorry to bother you.”

Now, how many times have you fantasized about ditching a job and then getting a call later asking for help and telling them where to shove it?  Or perhaps introducing them to your shiny new consulting rate, top dollar per hour or any part thereof?  Fair enough, I’ve done it, too.  To be honest, though, I really liked my old boss and I really liked most of my old co-workers.  It was the company I hated.  Anyone further up the chain than my boss was a shark who smelled blood in the water.  Anyone whose face I’d see any given day was generally very decent.  I don’t mean “decent” in the sense of being merely acceptable, I mean it in the sense of being trustworthy and good.

I paused for a moment and then said to my old co-worker, who was the troubleshooting team lead when I left the position of change control team lead, “Listen, don’t worry about it.  What’s the question?”

He asked me The Question, which had to do with the obscure inner workings of an arcane process I used to manage and I answered it with a caveat that the answer was now two months out of date.

He was kind of surprised I’d helped, I think, because we’ve all had that same fantasy.  Truth told, I’m happy where I am.  I have no hard feelings against my old boss or most of my old co-workers.  I run into them at lunch, sometimes, and when they ask how I like the new gig I tell them I’m quite happy and they express jealousy and, well, that kind of gives me a bit of dark warmth on the inside.  At the same time, I am happy with the change.  I am enjoying my new job.  I don’t need to be a dick to a manager or a former co-worker I genuinely respected just to get my jollies.  So, I helped them.  It just took a second.  The answer was easy for me, but I’m not sure anyone else there could have come up with it.

In the middle of all that ‘look at me, I’m an adult’ self-congratulation, however, I had to recognize and acknowledge that knowing they did, in fact, really need me gave me one of those dark glows.

I had a fantastic rest of the day at my new gig.

A compendium of slang that arrived, newly minted, during the 1920’s.

Lake Week is always a festival of eating.  Too many people who love to cook being in one place at one time means nonstop buffet action.  For most lake-goers, being out on and/or in the water all the time leads to constant appetite.  Last year one of our hostesses lost two pounds despite said nonstop buffet action.  I, on the other hand, not being much of one for swimming, tend to just eat anyway.  By the end of the average lake week, I’m kind of tired of food.  That sounds stupid, yes, and it probably marks me as a bad liberal to be so bourgeois, but whatever, it’s the truth.  Come Sunday morning, we were dividing up the remaining food and somehow The Boyf and I ended up with all the desserts.  There’s a red velvet cake (minus one slice eaten for the noble purpose of verifying it traveled back without incident, of course) in our fridge and, on the shelf above it, a big tub of this absurdly delicious pseudo-eclair stuff Bascha made.  I’m feeling much better now that I’m eating like a normal person again, however.  Ugh.  Looking back on all the delicious food – grilled chicken, pesto ravioli with chicken and mushrooms, homemade salsa, homemade bean salad, eclair stuff, fruit trifle – I am just thrilled to death that my pants still fit.

Also, can I continue using this space to write love letters to Raymond Chandler?  Seriously.  Also Hammett.  The Thin Man may be one of the best books I’ve ever read for sheer entertainment value.  I’m convinced Robert Altman must have read Hammett and said to himself, “One day, I will make movies where everyone talks like this.”  I got more reading done in one week at the lake than I’ve gotten done in the last six months.

To finish out the brief lake roundup, we made it out to The Store Which Cannot Be Named again only to find that Jesusland had gone under.  I got one picture of a t-shirt with a faux logo revamped to evangelize, but that was pretty much it in that department.  I did get a bunch of other pictures, however, and those will go up sometime this week.

I’ve had this conversation (translation: rambled lengthily at them) with so many friends recently that I guess I should blog it. I’m still working on 2012, and here’s the deal: for all that I am a neopagan with what most might consider pretty fruity-tooty religious beliefs, I’m having trouble buying a word of it. (“It,” in this instance, is the possibility that in six years some massive event of global consciousness-shifting is going to take place and create a do-or-die moment for humanity.)

It’s not that I think Pinchbeck is dishonest, or a scam artist – I am utterly prepared to believe that he believes what he’s saying – it’s that so much of what he has experienced or believes he has experienced is so subjective as to be almost useless when communicated to another person. For all that I have seen and experienced things that defy normal explanation (such as the story of the ghost of Wilson Library, for those who know me) and in which I believe just as surely as I believe in the chair in which I sit as I write this, I also know that those experiences are so subjective, so interpreted and reinterpreted by my own psyche and so mediated by my own ability to perceive and then process and retell those perceptions, that it would actually be sort of silly for me to expect anyone else to really believe me when I tell them.

At SwingOut this year, Bascha asked me to tell the gentleman friend of one of our fraternity sisters the story of one of these events. I do love to hear myself talk about myself – I have a blog, this is self-evident – and so I agreed, but when I was done, and he said, “See, this bothers me, because you seem like a credible person but I’m very skeptical about these sorts of events,” I clapped him on the arm and said, “Do be skeptical. I don’t expect you to believe a word of it, and if it were someone else standing here telling that story, I wouldn’t believe a word of it, either, because I am simply not the sort of person who believes in the imperceptible arcana of the world based on someone else’s word. Do not believe this story just because I’ve told you. I don’t gain or lose anything by your belief or disbelief, so by all means, cling to your skepticism, because it is far more valuable.”

I mean, that’s the only sane perspective I can come up with. Yeah, I’ve seen crazy shit. So do crazy people. I don’t think anyone necessarily gains from knowing that I’ve seen crazy shit – or, rather, from knowing that I believe I’ve seen crazy shit. If we went around taking everyone at their word on things no one else can or does see, it would take two seconds for us to be neck-deep in the worst possible hybrid of Moonie Scientologist Baptists. Seriously, it would be extremely bad. Individual people can believe whatever they want based on their individual experiences, imaginings and interpretations, and that is good and healthy because it indicates that they are at least midlly curious about the world around them, but in groups – and especially as a society – I think it is vital that we base our decisions and actions solely on the evidence available to us. Doing otherwise is what gets us James Watt saying environmental restrictions don’t really matter since Jesus is due back any day now, or Bush saying that God told him to invade Iraq. We don’t need the complex business of trying to hold together any society of two or more people muddled by things not all of them see or believe. So, skepticism: it’s a good thing.

Of course, much of 2012 is about the alienation many people feel from the world around them and the other people in it – in the context of advocating a breakdown of that alienation – and such skepticism may simply be another tool of maintaining that alienation. I don’t really have an answer to that, but I also don’t really feel that I need one. See, the nature of personal revelation – and I don’t doubt that many people have them, as these are the stuff of every religion and philosophy, even the ones without gods – is just that: it is personal. The idea of the koan – the Buddhist parables that challenge the seeker to discover the wisdom within them – may be the most applicable demonstration of this. Koans are meant to be tough nuts to crack, as it were. They are meant to be immune to a simple, rational explanation of them. The wisdom within them can only be received as a sudden revelation after contemplation and study. Even though the koan is passed from teacher to student in a form that can be rationally and objectively agreed upon, the lesson of the koan comes to each student in a moment of intensely personal insight. There is no explaining them. There is no Cliff’s Notes version of enlightenment. Revelations, and the signs and synchronicities that lead someone to look at the world in a unique way that shows them something they hadn’t seen before, are as much what the observer brings to the experience as they are the experience itself, perhaps even more observer than experience.

So, I sit and read 2012 and I think, “Well, that’s great, but give me something I can measure, something I can see and touch and poke and prod and photograph and bring out into the light of shared experience.” But I don’t get that, and I’m too skeptical to just take anyone’s word on pretty much anything, and at the same time that attitude is precisely opposite that which the author seems to recommend.

I will note that Pinchbeck is just as ready to call someone on it when he thinks they’re BSing or otherwise espousing some philosophy with something less than full honesty or full faculties. There are times when he comes out and says that he dismissed entirely someone’s claim or someone’s way of thinking. Much of what he shares of his own experience is told in a way that makes plain his knowledge that this was his experience and no one else’s. He’s an entertaining writer and a great storyteller. He seems earnest. It’s just… I’m skeptical. I don’t buy into the idea of huge life-changing events. It all smacks, frankly, of millenialism. Perhaps I’m simply too soiled by the skepticism and materialism of the world to open my mind to his way of thinking, but on the other hand, I’m not denying that there may be aspects of the world which we do not currently understand or comprehend – I can think of times in my life when I felt I had brushed against the Unseen & Unknown, myself. However, I haven’t brushed against his version of the Unseen & Unknown, and so while I find it an interesting story, and an intriguing idea, I don’t really plan to live my life in expectation that anything he says may happen in the future.

I guess, bottom line, what I hope comes to people who read his book is that they set it aside at the end with the feeling that it was interesting to hear his take on things. If hearing his take on things makes them more open to the Unseen & Unknown in their own lives, when it appears, then great. Maybe that’s his entire purpose with the book, I simply don’t know. On the other hand, the Unseen & Unknown do not appear to all people. Plenty of – perhaps most? – folks go through their lives without feeling they’ve ever encountered anything more than plain ol’ consensual reality, and that’s just the way it is. Maybe that demonstrates that people need thinkers out on the fringe of experience, such as Pinchbeck, to blow the dust off their ability to experience the Unseen & Unknown.

Or maybe that just means the rest of us are crazy.

The long weekend (even for me, who has a 3-day every week) was celebrated in fine fashion by The Boyf, Katastrophes, Mr. Pink Eyes, Pants Wilder, Deadblob, Mr. Saturday and others. Saturday we had sushi around the corner from our house, then rented Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Mr. Pink Eyes tried half-seriously to get us to rent some bad, bad vampire movies, but we were strong. Instead we dithered over videogames for an enjoyable while, then when it came time to check out we realized that none of us had a membership to the evil video place in question. I remembered that there was a card for it that had literally fallen out of space-time to land in the floorboard of my car. I had not rented from Blockbuster in many, many years, but on checking the card in my car it turned out to be my card from, oh, seven years ago? Eight? Something like that. I handed it to the woman behind the counter as though it were a thing made of fairy dust, as though it were an illusion that would pass right through her hand and vanish with a tiny fwip! before we’d even have time to gasp. Instead, it worked just fine. I was shocked. I didn’t even know that card still existed. I don’t even know how it got into my current car when the last time I used it was… three cars ago? Yes. Three cars ago. How it came to be in my floorboard on the one night in a decade that I’d be at Blockbuster, I will never know.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit was pretty funny. I think it earned mixed reviews from my friends, and it was certainly lacking some degree of the madcap that can be found in, say, The Wrong Trousers, but it was still pretty hilarious. I think they’ve gotten very good at refining out all but the most visual elements of some of their gags, to the point that my favorite joke in the whole movie didn’t involve a single spoken word and didn’t even make itself apparent until it was practically already over.

Sunday was The Day We Cleaned The House. It has to be capitalized like that. It has to be turned into an Event. I mowed the lawn, we vacuumed, we swept and mopped, we washed floor mats, we cleaned the back deck, I mowed part of the back yard, and so forth and so on. By the time it was over, I wanted to lay down and die. Sunday was also the day I started playing Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, which is a fun little action-platformer. It is not exactly a difficult game (at least, not so far), but it’s very entertaining. It’s just hard enough that I get the satisfaction of having succeeded, but not so hard that I can’t breeze through most of it. Recommended if you haven’t played a modern platformer in a while.

For part of Sunday, in order to keep the kittens occupied while The Boyf did work he didn’t want them to disturb, I holed up in the bedroom with the cats and Sight Unseen. It’s easily the creepiest ghost story I’ve read in a long, long time, and it’s built around a really clever idea. A sci-fi ghost story? I’m sold.

Monday was The Day We Ate. I hit Chapel Hill Comics for the week’s bag, tossing Astonishing X-Men into my lineup on being told it’s written by Joss Whedon. Picked up the first two trades and the three most recent issues to give myself the whole run. So far, yes, if you’ve seen X-Men III then in some ways you’ve read this. The major difference is that Astonishing X-Men doesn’t make you want to slap everyone involved in its making. On the other hand, the 2nd trade’s main story-arc is, frankly, dumb. It’s entertaining, but the core idea is just… well, it’s hackneyed, but I can’t say why because at least two friends have asked to borrow it. Still, it’s entertaining. And the third arc, which starts with issue 13, looks to be a lot more interesting. I also picked up the first four issues of Doc Frankenstein, which makes me giggle with glee. Frankenstein, advocate of science and rationale, goes toe-to-toe with the Church. I like it. I like it very much.

After that, it was off to Driade to hang with Deadblob for a while, where we eavesdropped on an extended family repeatedly testing their children’s memories of mundane trivia about their relations. Questions like “What does daddy cook for breakfast?” and “What color are your eyes?” and “What is Uncle Bob’s last name?” do not, at least to me, suggest a methodology of engaging small minds and checking them for fact retention. Instead, it just sounded like they were making sure the kids had their new identities down pat. I kept waiting for “Where have you always lived?” and “What do you do if the phone rings and you answer it and a strange man tells you ‘the mongoose is loose in the stream?’ Yes, you hang up and bring daddy his guns, that’s very good.”

That evening, a whole slew of us met up at Chez Gingerbread to grill and eat. We grilled a lot. Then we ate a lot. Then we sat around and played Mario Party 7, with Katastrophes taking the crown.

And finally, on Tuesday, I spent the day playing WoW, as several of us did some practicing for our 45-minute UD Strat run. When we are really on top of our game, the five of us are simply a wonder to behold. We’re just really, really good at WoW. It was so nice to spend a long, hot day inside, doing nothing serious, just enjoying myself with friends and kittens. I really don’t think it gets better than that.

Today, back in the office and vaguely numbed by how much there is to do. Earlier I walked outside right at 9pm to take a break and found that the sky had turned such a color that I could not tell what was sky and what was cloud; one was very, very deep blue-black, the other grey. Either night had just fallen and the lights of the city were starting to reflect from the clouds, or the sky was something just shy of utterly dark. Either way, it was beautiful. It’s that kind of thing that keeps you going when you’re ready to throttle some customers to finish out the day.

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