2009-12-12

Still the Same

Here’s a point that i keep coming back to, that i’m constantly dwelling on, that lingers beneath all my understanding and insight and acceptance like some spectral skeleton:

From the perspective inside ourselves, from the point of view of the people we are, from the other side of the lens that our experience and understanding and vision makes, nothing ever changes.

I turn forty-five tomorrow, and despite all my lingering feelings of being annoyed at how stupidly fucking fast my life is speeding by me, the reality is that i don’t feel any different now than i did last year, or the year before that, or ten years before that, or twenty before that. I’m lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on your perspective) to be able to remember most of my life, and one of the side-effect benefits/detriments of that is being able to remember how it felt to be me at pretty much any particular point in that life. And though it seems odd and counterintuitive in equal measure, every stage of my life has felt pretty much the same.

Sure, the context of who we are changes fairly drastically. Things we wish we knew then become things we know now and will forget tomorrow. Things that were important in the past take on increased or diminished weight with the passage of time. But in the end, the perception that filters the things we know, the things the need, the things we dream — it’s all a continuum. It’s a steady line of understanding and experience that carries us through our lives, and thinking about this fact is important. Because it reminds us that the impression that nothing ever changes is ultimately false, and it reminds us that change is a small thing, is an incremental thing.

It reminds us that we can change, even as our perception tells us we are static. It reminds us that we are the embodiment of change. And that as long as the changes in our lives are small things adding to a larger whole, changing the smallest part of who we are lets us change the shape of that whole to be anything we want.

2009-11-16

Time Stands Still

One of the most memorable things about gaming isn’t the degree to which time flies. It’s the way in which time slows down.

Time flying is ordinary. Time flies while you’re gaming in the same sense in which you lose track of time when you’re watching a great movie, or when you get caught up in a book to such a degree that what seems like an hour’s reading turns out to be four. That’s ordinary. Everybody does that.

But when you’re gaming, there are points at which things slow down. A particular way in which the passage of moments, of thought, of all group and individual dynamics grind to a halt like some kind of remote event-horizon time-dilation effect. Things that should move forward cease to do so, and you get caught up in the isolated singularities of particular moments in a way that i don’t think is true for any other creative or entertaining pastime.

For me, that notion has always been a part of the game (both as player and DM). However, the most amazing thing about it from the perspective of trying to describe it is that it doesn’t happen on an individual basis. Rather, it’s in those moments when the group of players actually functions as a single unit (distinct from a group of characters doing the same). Whether it’s an everything-up-for-grabs final melee or a noncombat challenge that somehow manages to require a little bit of everyone’s skills to complete, there’s a sense of each moment stretching out to great lengths as everyone gets caught up in everyone else’s thinking and actions. I’ve always assumed it to be a kind of right-brain thing — cooperative strategy as a nonlinear creativity (examining the actions of everyone at the table at the same time) that works opposite to the more linear left-brain individual strategy (first I’ll do this, then I’ll do this, then I’ll do that...).

For me, it’s the difference between ‘hurry-up’ encounters (where everybody tunes out, makes small talk, et al while waiting for the player with initiative to check his sheet, look up a rule, or make his rolls) and those encounters where everyone hangs on the actions of every other player (no matter how mundane) because they see and feel the significance of those actions beyond the individual context. In that moment, I think that players actually go beyond the normal submersion-in-character and into a deeper submersion-in-party state of mind. They move past the individual and into the whole — the thing that gaming does in way no other pastime can.

2009-11-10

Memory

For pretty much my entire life, i’ve never managed to develop the ability to memorize anything useful, yet my brain soaks up the most trivial and esoteric mundanities with all the energetic thirst of a Death Valley sponge factory.

For example, did you know that Billy Preston played keyboards on the Beatles “Let It Be”? I heard that fact once, sometime back in the 1970s. I have no use for it, yet it stays with me.

For most of my academic career, i had cause to use the quadratic equation. All i can tell you, then or now, is that it has a square root in it. Or maybe it’s a cubed root. Crap.

2009-10-28

Under Siege

Remind me again why i'm living in Canada? I mean, sure, the free health care's great, but they couldn't build a few more freaking castles?

2009-10-22

Bibliography

It's funny, but i have absolutely no memory of writing this. Must have been during my mescaline phase. Oh, and i apparently worked on the X-Men, too. I'm sure that was cool.

2009-10-12

Breaking the Cycle

I’m not a believer in karma to any great degree, just because i’ve seen too much consistently bad shit happen to people who really deserve to catch a break from fate once in a while, and i’ve seen too much consistently positive fortune heaped upon people whose sum abuses against their fellow human beings should see them have their genitals hacked off with a blunt knife and fed to them while they’re still twitching. (The genitals, i mean; i suspect the person they were once attached to would be way beyond twitching.)

However, one thing that the whole karmic ideal touches on that i find myself buying into with greater frequency these days is the concept of cyclical fate. The idea that whatever happens to us is, on some very real level, going to happen to us again, and again, and again after that. On the highest level (or the lowest, depending on how you’re discussing it), there’s the concept in reincarnation theory that a person’s goal throughout his or her many lives is to learn some Really Important Secret Thing, and that our failure to learn that  Really Important Secret Thing is what keeps us coming back, life after life, to suck it up again. Once we gain the super-secret knowledge that is our destiny, we get to move onto something else. (I’ve never been clear on what that Something Else is, which is largely why i’m not really into reincarnation theory. I like to know the full itinerary before i commit to booking the trip.)

Anyway, the point is that life is cyclical and the point of the cycles, it seems to me, is that it should be easy to learn something by virtue of having knowledge handed to us repeatedly in the same fashion. We do something, we fail, we should be smart enough to learn to do it differently the next time out. The problem is, we don’t. We try things, we fail, we try them the exact same way the next time. We make a plan, the plan turns bad, we vow to not follow the plan the next time but we invariably do. We constantly make choices we know are bad by virtue of having made them before. We constantly succumb to our vices only to promise ourselves we’ll do better next time, in the same way we promised ourselves that last time. We constantly revisit the same landscape of failure, dread, and self-loathing that we’ve visited already, like we’re on some never-ending package tour of our own worst instincts.

And it’s taken me a long time but i think i’ve finally sorted out why this is.

As human beings, we have this built-in need to hope. And though hope is a great thing when it helps to focus our drive and ambition, it occurs to me now that blind hope — hope that is its own beginning and ending, its own only point and purpose — is actually fucking us all up.

Blind hope is a drug, but not the Nyquil kind of take-a-shot-of-this-tonight-and-sleep-your-way-to-feeling-better drug. Blind hope is like heroin, sucking us in by virtue not so much of how it makes us feel, but by letting us turn off all the other feeling for a while.

Someone has a job they hate. Focused hope lets them think about what they’d rather be doing, and to subtly analyze the things that need to happen in order to exchange what is for what could be. Blind hope simply tells them that something better is out there and it’ll show up eventually, and it gets them through the day. Someone’s in a shitty relationship. By blindly hoping that the person being shitty to them will change, it gets them through the week. But the thing is, as long as it’s enough to simply hope for a better job, a better boyfriend, a better life, people have no reason to actually seek those things.

The more you hope that things will change without letting hope drive you to effect that change, the more you can turn hope into an excuse to not change things. And so the cycle repeats.

As long as everybody’s hopeful, there’s no reason to actually break the cycle. Everybody works under the grand assumption that things will be different next time. But the only way to really ensure that is to make sure there is no next time.

Blind hope is easy. Realizing that hope alone is a waste of fucking time and that you need to let the things you hope for draw you on, become the beacon for the life you want to live, is tougher. But worth it in the end. Hopefully.

2009-09-20

This Morning

As i was typing the date for this entry, i somehow automatically went ‘September 20, 19…’ before i caught myself. This is interesting only because what i was planning on writing about is how i woke up this morning and was overwhelmed with the feeling of being back in about 1981/82. It was that moment just before waking on a day when you’ve managed to sleep in longer than you should have; a morning after a night spent working too late. It was a morning with a particular degree of chill before the furnace comes on, and a particular degree of light through the blinds. A morning a particular feeling of distance and anxiety and hopefulness working its way out from the fading spaces of a night whose half-remembered dreams hint at memories that the daylight dreaming doesn’t touch. It was a morning that felt like all the mornings of high school.

(The familiarity was short-lived, to be sure, as upon even partially waking, one of the big differences between now and then is that when i wake up now, i do so in bed with a vivacious naked woman. This is a thing sadly lacking in the above-mentioned high school years. But anyway.)

I remember this feeling of morning from those years, ’81/’82. That endless two-year-period where my life made its abrupt transition from whatever came before it to the place in which i still find myself now; grade 11, grade 12. Back then, every morning upon waking, there was this feeling of being at the beginning of something, and of everything being possible and nothing insurmountable, and of unrestricted creativity and endless amounts of time to piss away doing nothing but thinking and writing and exploring the ever-expanding extents of the world.

These days, too much of the time, i find myself waking to the feeling of being sandbagged and sucked down in the middle of things. Too many mornings of my life now are the feeling of too many items falling off the bottom of the list of things i wanted to accomplish at some point, and of the vicelike grip of ever-shortening days cutting into the creative calendar, and of fighting an ever-losing battle with a general sense of malaise and the slowly fracturing purpose that was once my life.

This morning, for a little while at least, i felt again as if i could accomplish absolutely anything that my heart and mind desired. I like that.

2009-09-10

Coming Up Next!

Today’s pet peeve: books that admit to being the first in a series, but which don’t actually tell a complete story in and of themselves. That is, books that are actually only the first half of a book but don’t bother telling you that.

The guilty case in point: Karavans by Jennifer Roberson, which i picked up because it looked interesting and compelling and was sharply written across the half-dozen sample pages i scanned. And in the reading, sure enough, it was all interesting and compelling and sharply written. Only not until getting to the end of the book is it revealed that virtually nothing that’s set up in the book is actually resolved in the book. Rather, that’s all been saved for the next book. Ah, well.

Actually, this isn’t just today’s pet peeve. It’s an old pet peeve; i’ve just never bothered noting it before, i don’t think. The most egregious example of this kind of crap that i’ve personally encountered is probably Hyperion by Dan Simmons, which is a book in which literally nothing happens over the space of some five hundred freaking pages except the main characters recounting their life stories to each other. These recountings are all rendered in a series of vignettes so drastically stylistically different from each other that my supposition at the time was that they were actually unsold short stories that Simmons used to fill space. Oh, and if i remember correctly, they’re all traveling in a boat on wheels at the time.

Yes, i know that Hyperion won the Hugo or the Nebula or both (i’m not looking it up). Take everything i say for what it’s worth.

But Mr. Simmons: If you happen to read this, with the utmost respect, you owe me a week of my life.

2009-09-02

Work and All That

So a significant amount of creative energy of late is being diverted into an ultra-cool writing project that i can’t talk about. I think i’ve mentioned before that i know how annoying that is, because i’m personally annoyed by blogs and production diaries and such wherein people talk about how they can’t talk about what they’re working on. So i’ll stop.

Except to say that the big project is actually pretty much done, so that it’s back to the medium-sized projects now. The problem is that i have enough of the medium-sized projects on the go that they can all flank for +2 on their attack rolls. I’m editing another RPG book for Wizards of the Coast, am reading/analyzing roughly a script a week for Telefilm right now, and am story editing a new feature by the cowriter of District 9, which i had previously been a script consultant for. I’m also doing a ton of game design on my own, primarily a world-design project with a friend from back in the day (as i like to say), building on a set of narrative ideas that have literally been waiting decades to come to light. All i need to do now is figure out how to stop sleeping and i’ll have no problem getting everything done that i need to get done.

Just for the sake of saying it, i like my job a whole hell of a lot. However, the one huge disadvantage of working at home and doing something you like is that it becomes very easy to spend all your free time working. As much as i don’t miss the pressure of having to bring work home, i confess that i miss the ability to make a conscious choice to not bring work home. If that makes any sense. Sadly, however, the office politics i always used to have little patience for doesn’t go away even when you leave the office behind. Working in film, you get to go head to head with a lot of bright, even-tempered, creatively inspiring people. And then you also get to work with assholes. Frequently. Having to deal with them only by way of email is a nice buffer, but i also miss the satisfaction of being able to tell people to go fuck themselves to their faces. Not that that sort of thing ever got me into trouble at the half-dozen jobs i quit/was fired from before now…

2009-09-01

The Standard

In Alberta (where i’m currently road-tripping with the family), mid way 'twixt Calgary and Drumheller, there's a village called "Standard." While eating lunch in Drumheller, Colleen was flipping through the local paper, which featured a small-story headline that read "Standard Man Killed in Accident" or some such. Not knowing the existence of the village at the time, it seemed like a strange kind of condescension. I mean, the guy's dead; can't you at least pretend he was exceptional in some way?

2009-08-21

Crazy from the Heat

In my office in the back corner of the house, it’s currently 5,000 degrees. I’m not sure whether that’s Fahrenheit or Celsius, as the thermometer melted about an hour ago, and what with the ever-present haze of smoke from the contents of my bookshelves spontaneously going up in flames, it was kind of hard to see it anyway.

Here’s a confession. I absolutely freaking loathe this weather (34+ degrees today, yesterday, the day before, etc., etc., etc.). I hate the heat. I have always hated the heat. I will always hate the heat. At some point very soon, i’m going to take a picture of the view from the sliding glass doors, than blow that up and place it where the sliding glass doors used to be after i’ve replaced them with three feet of R90 fiberglass and an industrial air conditioner so strong that it blows the iMac off my desk if i’m not holding it down.

My ideal summer weather is 25 degrees with a light crosswind. Some cloud cover would come in from about 4 o’clock every afternoon (so i don’t get that annoying glare off my screen and have to get up and close the blinds) to 7:30 (so i can still catch the sunset). I keep calling Environment Canada with my order, but they continue to get it wrong. I suspect they must be outsourcing Customer Service to someplace where this sort of heat is normal. Hell, for instance. It would explain the smell of brimstone coming off the lake, at least.

2009-08-15

August

I'm extraordinarily annoyed to discover that it's the middle of August already, and so i’m spending long days in meditation seeking some secret metaphysical insight that will allow the summer holidays to seem as long as they used to when i was a kid. Either that or i’m just going to sue some calendar company, i don't know.

2009-08-09

Several Thousand Words

So Colleen (significant other) hails from the very tiny town of Lillooet, BC, [link] once famous for being the start of the Cariboo Trail during the gold rush days, but more famous recently for the following.



I’m not normally much into the aesthetics of tragedy and destruction, but even i have to admit that that all looks pretty freaking amazing.

Colleen’s mom and dad still live in Lillooet; which is to say, they’ve been living with us for a little while because the town was evacuated for obvious reasons. That evacuation order was lifted on Friday, so they’ve since headed back. They’re still on notice, but the fire is “under control”; which is to say, still capable of destroying the town, but if it does, it’ll take its time. As far as life-threatening disasters go, i myself am in full favor of those that move at relatively slow speeds. Swarms of killer turtles. That sort of thing.

2009-08-08

Not Funny

I was thinking of my good friend Matt (yo, dude) because Matt’s a bit of an Adam Sandler fan, and for the very first time ever in my life, i saw an Adam Sandler film today.

I don't mean "for the very first time ever in my life, i saw an Adam Sandler film in the theater”, or “i paid to see an Adam Sandler film" (though both are true in this case). I mean i've managed to avoid seeing any other Adam Sandler film up to now, in any form. (Though i admit, it was touch and go for You Don't Mess With the Zohan. I suspect the trailer was probably better, though.)

Funny People would have been a better film if it had a) been about actual people, which is to say, characters; and b) been funny. Based on how much of the film appears to be improvised, i’m half-guessing that the process by which this thing came together was one of those scenarios where everybody comes up with random bits of outrageous humor and crazy sight gags and things they’ve always wanted to do on film but never had the chance and they all say “Hey, we can pull all these disparate bits together and it’ll make a cool story!”

Actually, no. No, it won’t.

I’m a very-late-to-the-party huge fan of Freaks and Geeks, which does a better job transcribing my own life to film story than i ever could. But i haven’t seen a single other thing that has Judd Apatow’s name anywere near it that could hold my interest for a full two hours. It’s weird how someone can demonstrate such an incredible grasp of subtle character story, and then lose all apparent interest in telling character story. I’d love to be that much of a failure someday, if only to be able to prove to myself that i was that successful at some point previously.

2009-08-07

Dynamic Duo

I’m a huge fan of Alice Cooper and an equally huge fan of British comedy duo the Two Ronnies, both of which (which is to say, all three of which) carried a significant responsibility for keeping me mostly sane through the high school years. Thus it was that i tripped across the following with some amusement.

However, amused or otherwise, when i see things like this, i always feel equal parts of excitement ("Hey, Ronnie Corbett and Alice Cooper are doing a commercial!") and despair ("Why are Ronnie Corbett and Alice Cooper reduced to doing commercials?") From when i was much younger, i remember seeing actors and musicians that i really liked on shows like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas and thinking "Hey, this is cool!" It was only much, much later that i realized that actors and musicians only did shows like that if their careers were in a death spiral that they were unlikely to ever pull out of.

If you’re a fan of British comedy but are too young to actually know who Ronnie Corbett is, this will be of no help.

2009-08-01

Reality

The act of deceiving and the act of believing are simply different flexings of the same mental muscle. We push against reality to ascertain what’s real and what’s not, but when we do so, whichever side we push against reality from, reality pushes back with the exact same pressure of its own. So it is that the more we want to believe, the more the world is revealed as lies.

2009-07-29

Everything Changes

Everything changes in the small instability of the things we discover without wanting to. Everything changes in the shrouded space of infinitesimal moments that hang alone and incoherent in their closeness but sum up to the vector state of unwilling transition when we back up far enough to see the whole. Everything changes in the lockjaw seizure of time that threads through us like fine wire, mapping the grid where our bodies touch the air and the space and the isolated lives that flow around us. Everything changes in the wanting to go back to the time before you became aware that time was passing. Everything changes in the need to go back to the place where need placed you. Everything changes in the fear that wakes you from the dreams of the things you’re afraid of. Everything changes in the night that reminds you of how many days you’ve missed. Everything changes in the space of the time that passed while the emptiness grew inside you. Everything changes in the time it takes for the space of that emptiness to fill itself with the love that life makes. Everything changes with the life that love makes. Everything changes with the loss of the life that love was. Everything changes.

2009-07-26

Back At It

A confession. I apparently have a really high pain threshold, such that even though i’m an abject coward and hate experiencing pain, things i inadvertently do that cause pain don’t bother me very much or for very long. As such, i’ve always felt a mildly condescending attitude toward people who say they’ve put their back out and act like that’s the end of the world, quietly wondering to myself how bad it could possibly be, and why don’t they just suck it up, et al.

I haven’t posted anything here for three weeks because about three weeks ago, i put my back out for the very first time ever. Three weeks of unable-to-move heating pad bed-rest while tripling-dosing muscle relaxants, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen (after checking with the proper authorities that the latter two are compatible for such stuff with no risk of kidney-destroying overdose, as they affect different pain pathways), and i scoff no longer.

2009-07-08

When I Wake Up

So i discovered that Caitlin (younger daughter) absolutely hates the song “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. Knowing this, one of the next times she asked me to buy music for her, i skillfully substituted the track she wanted with a copy of “500 Miles” with the name and artist info changed. She put it on her iPod without playing it in iTunes first and got very riled. So the next time she asked me to buy music for her, i did exactly the same thing, except i edited the fake track so that it would play the first 30 seconds of the real track at the beginning before kicking in to “500 Miles”, because i knew she would check just the first bit in iTunes this time before she put it on her iPod. She was even more riled.

Having kids is fun.

2009-06-30

Playing Chicken

Memory.

My grandparents’ house in Ladner, BC, sometime before we moved to 100 Mile House, the tiny BC-interior town in which i grew up. I must have been four years old. There was some kind of dinner party going on, which meant that i got shuffled off into my grandparents’ bedroom early. This was cool, though, because my mom and grandma wheeled in the TV (yes, TVs had wheels once upon a time; yes, i’m that old) and set it up so i could watch myself to sleep. I remember seeing a bit of something that i think was Land of the Giants — a plane crashed, people in it, a giant picking the plane up and rolling it from side to side. (A quick check of Wikipedia says that the year fits, 1968.) Then a movie came on. Some historical or fantasy thing, a medieval city, a market square, people in tunics and bad Prince Valiant haircuts. Maybe it was Prince Valiant (1954 says Wikipedia) for all i know.

Here’s what i remember. There was a scene in the aforementioned market square where one group of guys smashed into another group of guys and a fight broke out. Swords and clubs were unleashed, horses were panicking, farmers’ stalls were smashed, including a large rack of cages holding chickens. I remember one chicken who, as if completely unconcerned with all the chaos transpiring around him, stood completely calm on the top of his cage as the Hollywood imbroglio spiraled around him. He wasn’t tied down or anything, as i remember him walking at his own sedate pace, pecking, clucking, doing chicken stuff. He just didn’t seem to worry too much about the fight, seeing as how it didn’t concern him. At four years old, i thought that was pretty cool.

My grandmother came in right about then to see if i was asleep, and i remember pointing to the melee just now wrapping up on the screen and excitedly telling her at great, great length about the chicken that had stood there and must have been scared but hadn’t even run away. I remember her smiling in a way that, looking back on it now, meant that she had no idea what i was on about. However, i remember seeing her smile then and thinking that this demonstration of bravery was a special thing that only she and i and the chicken would ever understand.

2009-06-23

These Freaky Things

Out of commission for much of this week (meaning i have time and energy only for work and not work plus the obligatory amount of pissing around wasting time i like to do on top of that). A sinus thing i had a few weeks back has turned into an ear thing,  apparently. It’s not an infection yet,  but in the interest of keeping it so,  i’ve been doctor-ordered to start doing nasal lavage. Nasal lavage is the process of filling your head (or at least the hollow bits of it connected to your nose) with water, all the while continuing to somehow breathe. As i did nasal lavage for the very first time, it occurred to me that  though it’s not the freakiest thing i’ve ever experienced, the sensation of intentionally filling my head with water is definitely in the top ten.

I mentioned this to someone and he asked me what else is on that particular top ten list. So i had to think about it.

Here are the other nine most freaky things i’ve ever experienced.

My vasectomy is definitely number one, because it’s a local anesthetic, so you’re conscious.

The first orgasm i had after the vasectomy is number two.

Number three would be getting broadsided off my motorcycle by a green Volkswagen Scirocco the Thursday before the Easter weekend of 1989, and being completely conscious and one hundred percent aware as i felt my leg break; felt myself go up and over the hood; felt myself hanging in midair for long enough that i could think about the fact that if i was in midair, i was going to have to come down at some point; feeling myself come down helmet-first into the windshield; feeling myself bounce off the windshield; then finally hitting the ground.

Number four: When Caitlin (younger daughter) was born by C-section, the sight of watching the doctor put one knee up on the operating table as he was pulling her out so that he could get extra leverage.

Number five was the one time i was weight training while at university and overdid it, pushing myself to some weird point of oxygen deprivation where i remained conscious and felt fine, but had my vision go strange so that everything for, like, the next 10 minutes was rendered wholly in shades of purple and yellow.

Numbers six and seven would be the two times (both at 10 or 12 years old) that i’ve had a real, actual precognitive flash of something that i hadn’t known was going to happen, and which then happened only moments later. Not some vague “Oh, this just happened and i’m sure i felt kind of weird before like it was going to happen” wishful-thinking inversion. An actual flash of the future, detailing things that i couldn’t have predicted because i had no reason to believe they were going to occur.

Number eight is the time in high school that the spirit of death came to me in the form of a dog seeking refuge from a thunderstorm.

Number nine is the time in about third grade that i stopped my bike on the edge of a dusty under-construction cul-de-sac up the street from our house, no one around, no houses, no dogs, no birds, nothing. And i looked up at the sky and for the very first time i became aware of the size of the world, and of its shape as it sloped away beneath my feet.

Number ten is the time i almost died stuck fast and face down in wet cement when i was four years old, having snuck with a group of friends into the freshly-poured basement of the house being built down the street from us, and when my dad subsequently saved my life.

It’s funny how close that last one came to being the only item on the list. All things being equal, i guess being around to think about the freaky things in life is worth something.

2009-06-10

En Garde

One of the disadvantages of having fled the city (Vancouver; when you live in Canada, you can just say “the city” because we really only have one of them per province) is that the friends i left behind constantly taunt me with the cool things they get to do that i don’t. 

I took fencing for, like, three months at university before being forced to the sidelines with an appendicitis attack, but i confess that i found the sport less interesting than i thought i would. Running around like a crazed fiend with a rapier, on the other hand, would be something i could totally get behind. For the time being, however, i'll probably just have to look forward to axe-fighting off the bear that keeps wandering through our neighborhood.

2009-06-01

Love and Hate

A question posed by my friend François:

A person made a great piece of art and you loved it, but the creator puts it down, saying it's crap. Would that influence your view of it?

Depends on the creator's frame of mind and why he says it. Pete Townshend has written off much of the Who's canon at various points in time, but he also invariably comes back years later to say "Actually, i guess it wasn't so bad". One of my favorite straight-up rock bands is the Cult, who used to have a habit of launching each new album by announcing that they really hated their last album and were never playing anything from it again. Plenty of writers have works that they publicly decry, especially screenwriters, who are more prone than most to having their work messed with.

I think that when artists reject their own work, it often comes down to the fact that an artist is the only one who knows what the work was supposed to look, sound, or read like. Every piece of art has its Platonic ideal — the perfection toward which the artist strives, and only the artist can assess the finished work in that context. However, because you and i as viewers/readers/listeners don’t have access to that ideal, our sense of the worth of the art is necessarily different from the artist’s sense.

Which is to say, the work an artist sees in his head is always a 10, but the work the artist creates might be perceived by him or her as a 6, or a 2. The artist rejects it because it's not a 10, but the work that you or i see might be an 8 or 9, which  makes it more than worthwhile.

On the other hand, a creator might reject something for the opposite reason. He knows and accepts that he created a 5, but because of his reputation or extraneous circumstances, everybody else in the world calls it a 10, and the inverse gulf between ideal and  reality becomes a point of aggravation or embarrassment. The modern composer John Cage was arguably most famous for his piece 4’33”, which consists of nothing but 4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence. When the piece is performed, a pianist sits there for the entire length of time counting off rest beats, which is all the score consists of. Over the many years since it was written, many people have lauded 4’33” as a work of artistic genius, an appreciation that Cage was happy to accept. However, shortly after he died in 1992, i remembering reading an article in which he was said to have repudiated the work as not being music at all, but rather just a piece of clever intellectual claptrap.

I don’t remember where i read the piece in question, so i’m not going to say that the statement is categorically true. However, i’m compelled to say that i agree with it. I’ve always liked Cage’s philosophy regarding music, but to my mind, there’s a difference between saying “This work has a compelling philosophy behind it” and “This work is interesting and worthwhile as a work”. I think that works rejected by the artists who create them typically fall into the category of works where this divide of philosophy and finished piece is simply too wide to be sustained.

2009-05-25

Five Down

So we sat down and watched the last three hours of season 5 of LOST last night. I’m glad we finally know how Dr. Chang lost his hand; i’d been losing sleep over that.

All in all, not what i was hoping for, given that i was hoping for the show to get good again. Especially anticlimactic was Juliet buying it, which seems an obvious twist when you know that Elizabeth Mitchell is starring in the remake of V next year.

I suspect that for next season, they’re going to use the “back to reality” scenario to just cut whole episodes out of all the flashbacks they’ve had in the previous five seasons. You know, to save money.

I will admit now that despite my sinking expectations, i will be watching LOST all the way through to the end, which says something about my masochism, i guess. I gave up on Heroes without missing a beat when it got profoundly stupid, but i still have a faint, faint hope that Cuse and Lindeloff and company will get it together. However, that hope is tempered by the knowledge that the writing in the show has long since crossed over the line where the mystery is being sustained by willfully withholding story, rather than being created as part of the story. Like, by virtue of the fact that Ben and Julia are now a part of the core group, we the audience should know everything about who the Others and the Dharma Initiative and Widmore’s group were/are, but we don’t. It’s sloppy, and it’s cheating, and i can’t stop expressing how much it pisses me off.

This season also spent way too much time backtracking on some of the most essential aspects of the character story, so that Jack used to be all “Don’t believe in fate” and then is suddenly “But i do now”. And Daniel used to be all “Can’t change the past” and then is suddenly “Except now i think we can”. And Kate hates Ben but decides to save young Ben for no apparent reason. And Sayid is a ruthless assassin who somehow fails to remember that WHEN YOU TAKE SOMEONE DOWN YOU PUT A SECOND BULLET IN THEIR HEAD TO MAKE SURE THEY STAY DOWN!!!!!

Sorry.

I also particularly despise the technique of following a character you think you know, only to realize that it’s a totally different character (i.e. — Locke). That kind of thing is a staple of fantasy and speculative fiction literature (it played big, and badly, in the fourth Harry Potter book if you’re into that sort of thing), and it’s bullshit each and every time. You can’t expect an audience or a reader to make the empathic and emotional connection to a character, as we did digging into Locke when he’s talking about what it means to have died and come back to life — then say “Ha! Just kidding!” Again, it’s a cheat, and after five seasons, a show like LOST  should be beyond cheating.

I did like the late reveal of Jacob and the flashbacks connecting him to everyone else, and i like what that potentially could have set up for the future. But it’s all getting a little bit too slapdash for my taste. The writers have an awful lot of holes they need to dig their way out of in order for next season to work. Unfortunately, they all seem to be engaged in a one-way race to see who can dig deepest before it’s all over.

2009-05-18

To Boldly Story Edit

Speaking of movies full of annoying mistakes, i saw the Star Trek reboot this week and enjoyed it thoroughly while i was watching it. However, the split second that the credits started to roll, i understood with perfect clarity that this was one of the stupidest films i’d ever seen in my life. The litany of flaws in this story — not trivial editing errors but enormous what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking logical gaffes of jaw-dropping proportion — are beyond comprehension, and include but aren’t limited to:

1) The Romulan ship was way too big. It’s an automated mining platform, so how many miners need to actually be there to push the buttons? A million? Ten million? And why does a mining platform need an endless supply of killer torpedoes capable of taking out an entire fleet of warships anyway? It’s like writing a script in which a fishing trawler is armed with triton missiles. (Though, to be fair, that would have made A Perfect Storm a lot more interesting.)

2) Falling into a black hole doesn’t let you travel through time. It only kills you.

3) How come neither Vulcan nor earth has any local ships capable of blasting the drilling platform? In the end, when Spock has to shoot it with his fancy future ship, he’s like a mile above Starfleet headquarters, and i’ve heard rumors that Starfleet is kind of in the ship business.

4) The coincidence factor of old Spock and Kirk being on the same planet/moon was touchy enough. Having them appear a hundred yards from each other was sloppy.

5) If that was a moon of Vulcan (as it would have to be in order for Spock to see the implosion at the scale he did), why is there a remote Federation outpost on it with that “Oooh, i’m a kazillion miles from civilization” vibe to it? Scotty should be shuttling down to Vulcan every weekend for the night life.

6) Setting aside the improbable physics of creating a singularity at such a local scale, there was no need to create the singularity within the core of Vulcan. Parking a black hole on the surface would have done the job just as well. (I’m half assuming that red matter needs incredible heat and pressure to catalyze its reaction, just as i’m assuming that the red-matter singularity disappears when its no longer fed by matter, in order to explain why the singularity formerly known as Vulcan doesn’t continue to suck down everything else in the star system. So how hard would it have been to work either of those ideas into a line of freaking dialogue?)

7) It makes no sense for Kirk to be the only one who recognizes the “lightning storm in space” effect. Pike should have (given his study of that battle), but at the very least, all previously seen space anomalies should be logged into a Starfleet database somewhere. Or maybe they’re using technology borrowed from the 20th-century FBI or something, where no office can share information with any other. (Given the insanely stupid appearance of human welders in the original teaser trailer, that might not be too far off the mark…)

8) How come the H-bomb was leaking radiation bad enough to burn the Others with even casual contact earlier in the season, but Sayid and Jack can work with/carry the warhead with no ill effects?

Sorry, wrong show. But most importantly:

8) Since Nero has gone back in time umpteen years and has a full supply of red matter, he can actually save his home planet by imploding that star now (in film time) before it ever threatens the galaxy, saving his wife and family, yada yada. At the very least, he could just get a message to Spock saying “In the future, when you go to deal with this supernova you don’t know about yet, try to arrive 20 minutes earlier.”

This is all ignoring the fact that a supernova wouldn’t actually have threatened the galaxy in the first place:


(There are lots more technical crap gaffes there, but i’m more of a story guy.)

I seriously want a law requiring people who want to write science fiction to be required to first pass some sort of written test.

2009-05-14

Los Angeles 2019

Blade Runner. Why’d it have to be Blade Runner?

(I’m mix-and-matching my Harrison Ford references; so sorry.)

I had cause to recently discuss with an old friend (François; yo, mon ami) that i still haven’t bothered to watch Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — The Final Cut Till I Need More Cash version of the film (i’m sure that was the title…) because i really don’t care that much. And though you don’t know it, this is surprising information, because as François did and still does, i loved Blade Runner once upon a time. But when i loved it, back in the day of the film’s original release, it was widely known that the studio had taken the film out of Ridley Scott’s hands at the eleventh hour (adding the horrendous voice-over among other things). And so it was easy to gaze upon this flawed masterpiece and assume that all the many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes present in the film (the miscounted replicants, the horrible dubbing in the snake bazaar, the stray hand on Batty’s shoulder when he first appears, the sudden blue sky over the dove when it flies away, et al) were the result of ham-fisted studio edits that broke the delicate perfection of Scott’s vision.

Except then in 1992, Scott released the director’s cut of the film, which François and i both went to see on opening day with great anticipation, knowing that finally we would experience the film as the auteur had intended it. Only the director’s cut still had all the many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes present in the theatrical release, as well as a fucking unicorn. And i decided as i left the theater that if it that was the film Ridley Scott actually envisioned, then Ridley Scott should go fuck himself.

I know, i know, i know that the things that bothered me about Blade Runner were nothing more than minor technical annoyances, taken objectively. And to reiterate, back in the day, i loved the film as much as anyone ever did or could. However, one of the things that can turn a minor annoyance into an aggravation is the intent. If someone accidentally hits you in the back of the head, it’s annoying but you’ll probably forgive them for it. But if they do it on purpose, it’s a different story. In the same vein, if you assume that someone hit you in the back of the head by accident, then discover that they did it on purpose, your attitude toward them is liable to change. That’s my thing with Ridley Scott. The director’s cut of Blade Runner was him saying “All those mistakes you thought of as accidents were really me not giving a shit, as demonstrated by the fact that adding a fucking unicorn was more important to me than fixing the mistakes the second time around”. And as a result, i chose to be unforgiving.

But then in 2007, it was revealed that the 1992 director’s cut wasn’t actually a director’s cut, just kidding, ha ha. The 25th-anniversary final cut edition would be the definitive actual version of the film as Scott intended, sorry about the eight bucks i wasted in ’92, no hard feelings. And i’ve spent some time reading up on the not insignificant changes to the final cut, which, to be fair, finally do address the vast majority of the stupid mistakes that shouldn’t have been in the film in the first place, and kudos to Scott for taking the time and all that. But two things about the final cut still galvanize my dispassion for this film, in the way that one feels a cold hate for an ex-girlfriend who you were nuts about at the time but realized only years later was truly nothing like the person you thought she was through the haze of young love:

Still got the fucking unicorn; and Ridley Scott is still talking about how Deckard is a replicant.

Strictly speaking, those are actually the same point, as the only reason that Scott sliced in that Legend out-take  in the first place is to “prove” that Deckard was a replicant because that proves that Gaff knew what he was dreaming blah bah fucking blah. I personally think that Scott is flat-out lying when he says that the unicorn is something he meant to do in the first cut (it’s known that it didn’t appear in the infamous pre-original workprint version of the film), just as he was flat-out lying when he called the first director’s cut the director’s cut, before later backpedaling and saying “Oh, i was really busy then and couldn’t do what i wanted to do.”

And no, you can’t argue that without the unicorn dream sequence, the origami unicorn at the end doesn’t make sense. The unicorn at the end was perfect the first time out in the original film with no dream, and remains so. Each of Gaff’s origami represent what he’s thinking (not the horseshit about him knowing what Deckard is thinking) at different points in the story. The first two are a challenge to Deckard — the chicken, calling out his fear of coming back to the life he walked away from; the matchstick man with an erection, calling out the fact that the reason Deckard quit was that he had developed feelings for replicants, the one thing a blade runner can’t ever do. The final one isn’t a challenge, however, but an admission that Gaff understands what Deckard has come to understand. Look at Harrison Ford’s face when he picks it up and looks at it, and you can fucking well see that understanding. He’s scared at first, thinking it’s a threat. Then he realizes that it’s something else.

The unicorn is a universal symbol of purity and innocence. In mythology, unicorns could only be ridden by virgins of exceptional moral character. It’s a kind of inversion of the obvious phallic symbology of the beast itself.  To quote the old voiceover: “He’d been there, and let her live.” Gaff’s final message to Deckard was that he understood that Rachel was innocent — and that as such, she didn’t deserve to die.

But much, much more importantly — if Deckard is a replicant, it’s more than just a stupid twist ending strapped on by a director whose sense of story isn’t all that sharp. (Ridley: love the visual style, but don’t ever work without a writer on set.) It completely negates the worth of the story the film is telling.

When Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, his whole thing — which was the thing in so many of his novels — was to look at the schism between what it means to be human and what it means to only appear to be human. Deckard is human by birth and biology — but in his actions and his ability to murder for the sake of blindly following orders, he reveals himself to be something less than human. The longer he hunts the replicants, the less human Deckard becomes. Batty is a replicant by design and decree — but in his actions and his hunger for survival, he reveals himself to be truly human. The more desperately he tries to cling to life as he feels the weight of his mortality and the the loss of his friends, the more human Batty becomes. And so the ultimate conflict of the film is between a human being who becomes a machine by his own choice, and a machine who becomes a human being because the brief life he’s tasted leaves him desperate for more.

Now that’s a fucking movie. That’s the story that needs to exist at the heart of Blade Runner for the film to work on any level. Here’s Ridley Scott’s version by comparison:

Deckard is a replicant who doesn’t know it, Batty is a replicant who does know it, and this is a film about two androids trying to kill each other.

As with all the little mistakes still wending their way through the director’s cut, Scott saying in his many interviews that he thinks Deckard was a replicant and that’s why he put the unicorn sequence in is tantamount to him saying he doesn’t give a shit. Deckard being a replicant doesn’t make the world of the story any less interesting, but it destroys the story that world is supporting. By his saying so, Scott is saying that he doesn’t understand or care about his own film. And so until the final final unicorn-free cut, i’m more than comfortable not caring, either.

2009-05-04

Drink Up

For long years now, at the times when i’m forced to look at contemporary poetry and the critical reaction to it, my own reaction tends to run along the lines of wondering whether these breathless halfwit blank-verse connoisseurs are simply on drugs. But then this morning, it occurred to me that, despite the rhetorical nature of the question, the answer is, in fact, ‘yes’ — though not necessarily in the way one might think.

From time to time, i can remember reading about those experiments that sociologists do where they bring a whole bunch of college students into a bar, telling them they can have as much to drink as they want, on the house. And all the while, these students are observed while they get more and more progressively, incoherently intoxicated… without the people in charge of the study telling them that none of the drinks they’re being served actually have any alcohol in them. Because what’s really being tested is how much people will succumb to the feeling of intoxication — the social side of the effect; the contact high, if you will — simply because their minds tell them to expect it.

And so it occurs to me — this is the poetry problem in a nutshell. The aesthetically incoherent modern-poetry freak approaches the art of contemporary poesy in the throes of the same kind of chemically imbalanced compulsion state with which the frat-boy binger approaches a row of what he thinks are 200-proof vodka shooters. And in both cases, the expectation of a buzz produces that buzz even in the complete absence of any real stimulus or kick. The poetry freak needs the self-delusion that tells him what he’s reading isn’t just the load of emotionally fossilized tripe that it is, just like the binger needs to believe that the water he’s drinking is capable of producing the inebriation he expects to feel. The poetry freak needs the kick of knowing how deeply meaningful his drug of choice is. And so the kick is manufactured within from the necessity of belief, rather than from the content and worth of the work itself.

2009-04-28

Nostalgia Check (DC 25)

Two afternoons a week, i get to hang out with a bunch of teenagers who do whatever i tell them to do. But it’s not what you think.

This is the third year of the RPG club i’ve been running/coordinating/unleashing the unbridled chaos of at the middle school where Caitlin (daughter) is a student and Colleen (significant other) is a teacher, and the first year of the same club at the high school where Shvaugn (other daughter) is a student after having worked her way up through the middle school club farm team. The group i'm currently running are all 7th-graders, two of which have severe ADHD. (I’m aware of this because living with a teacher, you learn to pick up on these things pretty quickly.) One kid (who's a treat to hang out with regardless) is as sharp as a tack, remembers and can recite every detail of every session of every adventure we’ve ever played, can strategize like crazy — and every time he made an attack for the first two months of playing this year, had to ask "What do i do?"

As i think is true of most adults (as i hope is true of most adults), i don’t have a lot of excuses to hang out with 14-year-olds these days. And i’m glad that i get to do so in this capacity, because even after 30-odd years, i still think gaming is pretty amazingly cool, as are the kids i’m gaming with. Moreover, the parallels/reflections betwixt watching them game and remembering how i gamed when i first started playing are sometimes wryly amusing. There's a 9th-grader named Murray (who was in 7th grade when we started the club at the middle school) who is far and away one of the best DMs i’ve ever seen. And i find that his freeform DMing style and penchant for burdening the PCs with the most insanely powerful magic reminds me so much of my good friend and uber-DM Mitchell, back in the day when we used to entrench ourselves in the Peter Skene Ogden Secondary library cubicles for hours on end, engaging our imaginations and completely undercutting any hope of having a normal social life.

Mitch used to number the NPC henchman the PCs would hire because they typically never lasted long enough to remember their names, and to have relatively low-level characters trip across artifacts just for the sheer joy of watching the players of said characters succumb to the temptation of using them. Murray is fond of letting characters construct oversized ballistae capable of hitting targets at a range of several miles, and of alchemical potions that can be thrown to explode for 1d4 x 100 points of damage. Down through the years, from generation to generation, there’s a continuum of rabid rat-bastard DMing that i feel privileged to be a part of.

2009-04-26

Let X Equal Everything I’ve Forgotten About Math

One of the greatest things about being the parent of teenage children is having to help them with their homework, and realizing in the course of doing so that you don’t remember a damn thing about any of the stuff you were supposed to have learned when you were a teenager. I guess i could split the difference and focus on teaching them in advance that by the time they have teenage kids of their own, they’ll have forgotten everything, too. However, that seems like the sort of thing everyone should really experience for themselves.

As a parent, one of the things you set out to do is make sure that your kids are better equipped to deal with the world than you are. However, the problem with that goal is that there comes a point (often the point at which you’re trying and failing to help your teenage children with their homework) when you’re forced to admit that your kids are already smarter than you and have nowhere to go but up.

I have a kind of half-assed recollection of enjoying more of high school than i hated, but i wouldn’t call my high school years a rousing academic success by any stretch of the imagination. I had this problematic little positive feedback loop going on in my life, in which i never studied or did homework (typically being too busy with things like books, movies, gaming, and just generally slacking off) even as i always completed consistently A-level work in the classes i liked, and got by with C+/B grades in the classes i didn’t like, and so had no incentive to study or do homework. For me, those years (specifically, grade 10, half of grade 11, grade 12) were more about figuring out who i was and discovering that i had a kernel of creativity in me that was ripe to be grown. It was about discovering that i didn’t have to be afraid of having ideas — which, when you’ve spent your whole life in a town of 2,000 people, is a more daunting task than it might sound.

I learned what i learned in class, a lot of which is still with me (my attempts to remember it as it relates to the grade 10 math curriculum notwithstanding). But from my best teachers (about a half-dozen all told across the junior and senior high years), i also learned how to think. I learned how to engage the world in an intellectual sense, not just an academic sense. In the most general parlance, i spent high school avoiding learning a lot of what i was supposed to be learning in order to learn how to learn, and how to keep on learning long after the high school years were done. And there’s no doubt in my mind now that this learning has served me a lot better over the last 27 years than would have a slightly more impressive transcript or the ability to remember the quadratic formula off the top of my head.

2009-04-22

Evening, Squire

Back in my day, being a Monty Python fan meant that you had seen the Flying Circus or Holy Grail or And Now For Something Completely Different once, maybe twice, on PBS or CBC, both of whose intermittent broadcasts of the group’s canon were watched for with the desperate reverence of a Roman augur scoping out a flock of starlings in advance of a senate election.

Then home video happened, and DVD, and YouTube and all that, the net effect of which is that younger daughter Caitlin and her friends and everyone else in their age group (12– to 13ish) have all seen more Monty Python than any other human beings on earth. Caitlin has probably watched Holy Grail as many times as i have. She can quote jokes that i’ve forgotten. She once recounted for me the story of how a group of grade 7 boys in her class the previous year wowed the school talent show with a certain self-defense sketch involving bananas and pointed sticks. Walking into a classroom of pre-adolescents today and saying “shrubbery” is a guaranteed laugh.

I like this strange new world i live in.

2009-04-12

Good Night

For the longest time (like since my university days, i guess), my own nocturnal habits have been an ingrained kind of cycle of work till 2 or 3 a.m., get up at 7, rinse, repeat until the weekend, whereupon i crash on Friday or Saturday at 9 o'clock and sleep till 10 the next morning to seemingly catch up. I never thought much about it, but in recent years as my energy levels have started to flag and my daytime crotchetiness has ever-ratcheted up a few notches more than i'd like it (which would make it a kind of cratchetiness, i guess), i've become aware of studies talking about how badly our bodies actually react to consistent lack of sleep and (especially) to working at night.

The scary thing is that our bodies have this reaction without our realizing it, such that we can consciously feel right as rain and completely in synch with things, even as our brain and body chemistry are slowly burning out.

So good night.

2009-04-05

Movement

Movement is the key. Force yourself to push on past the landscape of the familiar, the place where things get secured. Fight the urge to circle around the steady pace of comfort, find the low orbit of conformity. Look at where you are but remember where you once wanted to be — the maps and star-charts that once marked out all possible futures. Seek out and find those fewer and fewer places left unmarked by all the people you’ve been before.

Think back to when you were young and stupid. Remember what it felt like when you discovered something that made you less stupid. Find that feeling again. Repeat.

2009-03-17

Where a Kid Can Be Set Tripping, Yo

Some of the fondest memories of my university days involve hanging out at the Chuck E. Cheese on the Burnaby/Coquitlam frontier. We didn’t hang there because we were six years old in university or anything, but because the pizza was cheap, the video games were cheaper, and the Burnaby/Coquitlam frontier being what it was in the mid-80s there actually weren’t a whole hell of a lot of other arcades around. (If you’re one of these young kids today, an arcade was like an X-Box, but with a building around it.)

I tripped across the following today and was… entertained, i guess?

I particularly love the line where the police captain says “There's a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there.”

I liked slightly less the line “Amid pressure from local politicians, some Chuck E. Cheese's have stopped serving alcohol and added security guards who carry pistols.”

I love all my American friends dearly. But you need to move. Seriously. Like, right now.

2009-03-10

I Watches the Watchmen

Here’s the most positive surprise of my filmgoing so far this year — Watchmen rocks. And this is from me, who is the only person i’ve ever met (so to speak) who thought the comic was actually pretty weak, and wasn’t afraid to say so, and usually had to run for cover in the aftermath.

Don’t go with anyone particularly squeamish about disembowelment, elimbication, or male nudity. (There’s female nudity as well, but who could be squeamish about that?)

Also, there’s a Leonard Cohen song, but by concentrating on the sex scene taking place at the same time, you can almost drown it out.

I’ve often said that i hate the Watchmen comic, but truth be told, that’s just to see people’s reaction and/or take bets on whether i can induce a stroke in said other people simply with words. (I’ve failed so far, but have seen some impressive more-metaphorical apoplexy.) I don’t hate the Watchmen; i just think that the comic story is kind of profoundly ordinary. The experience of the book as a whole, incorporating the biographical excerpts from Behind the Mask is very cool. The philosophy in the book is likewise very cool, and Moore gets full kudos for so fluidly addressing the very basic idea that anyone who puts on a costume and risks their life to fight crime has to be a bit of a sociopath. I think Watchmen is worth reading, if for no other reason than Moore broke the new ground that he did, and his underlying purpose was well-intentioned.

However, i just found so much of the plot dumb beyond belief — even compared to the realities of comic story prevalent in the day. Two things in particular always rubbed me the wrong way. First, that Ozymandias is the smartest man in the world, yet he sets the password on his ultrasecret files to his own fucking name. And second, that the moment the giant squid exploded in NYC, Nixon in his bunker would have immediately launched the WWIII-starting counterstrike that Ozymandias was trying to prevent.

Once i heard that the squid had been written out of the film version, i had some hope for it which has since been vindicated. (I actually loved the setup in the film, where the direct line was drawn to Dr. Manhattan in order to make him the scapegoat. Spoiler alert!) However, in both the comic and the movie, there remains a kind of baseline level of superhero drek that those who love the comic are too quick to overlook, in my view. There are many such points that can be raised for discussion, but here’s the one that’s always annoyed me the most.

The one real piece of superhero work in the present day timeframe of the original story is Night Owl and Silk Spectre’s saving of the residents in the burning tenement. It’s a cool sequence in the comic; i thought it was great in the film. But when you spend more than half-a-second analyzing it, the only reason that they were able to save the people they did is because they have a flying ship. And to me, that begs the question — If Night Owl has a flying ship that can rescue people from burning buildings, why doesn’t the fire department also have flying ships that  can rescue people from burning buildings?

It’s the basic logical schism of every gearhead superhero story, from Batman to Iron Man and all the gadgeteers in between. If the technology exists, then other people should have it. If they don’t have it, it implies that the heroes who do have it are arbitrarily denying that tech as part of their idiom, and at some point, that seems selfish. Sometimes you can spin that concept out into an actual character story (as has been done more than once in Iron Man). Sometimes it just seems like Alan Moore thought “Hey, a flying ship would be cool” and didn’t bother thinking about what that actually means as regards the world of his story.

2009-02-27

Music Hath Charms

It’s been a long, long, time since any new band or piece of music has completely blown my mind, and i’m worried about what that means.

I was put in mind of this topic while discussing with a friend of mine (Ron) (’sup, dude?) a band called Marillion that you’ve probably never heard of, but which he and i both had a fondness for back in the day. Marillion is a band that i’ve followed since 1986 or so, but about which i’ve grown distinctly less passionate in recent years. Their last few albums have all had a number of solid tracks on them, but they've lost a huge amount of the edge they used to have when they were fronted by a berserk Scottish poet named Fish, and even on on the first half-dozen albums fronted by the newer, less berserk, but more evocatively emotive Steve Hogarth (probably up to the excellent This Strange Engine).

But the thing about Marillion is that when i first heard them in the heavy-progressive Fish years, and the first time i heard the “new” Marillion at the start of the angst-psychodrama Hogarth years, the band were like nothing i had ever heard before. Marillion blew my mind. Consistently. Repeatedly. And although i keep trying to find that same energy in the new Marillion and in Fish’s solo material, and though i look in vain for another band to knock me on my ass like Marillion did back in '86, i'm having precious little luck so far. I can still remember the day, with picture-perfect clarity, when Ron brought home the Market Square Heroes 12-inch to our little university-student enclave in Coquitlam and i listened to the 20-minute Beowulf-inspired prog-rock epic “Grendel” incessantly for, like, the following month. I can still remember when i picked up Season’s End at the tail end of a soul-shredding period of emotional and physical exile, when the experience of hearing Hogarth’s “The Space” and the feeling of hearing something that moved me in a way i’d never been moved before.

I can still remember Ron throwing on Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime a few years later at another shared domicile (Chateau Angst, we called it; hey, it was the 80s) and being aware that as the first notes of “Revolution Calling” shook the windows that i’d never heard anything like this before. Time and time again, band after band, the feeling of never having heard anything like this before.

But then at some point, it starts to slow down. At some point, it stops.

Twenty-odd years after the fact, i’m as dependent on Ron to guide my musical tastes as ever, having most recently been introduced by him to the band Blue October. And i like Blue October a lot, but while they're as good as or better than most anything else i've ever listened to, they're just a little shy of being life-changing as was the experience with Marillion, or the first time i heard Rush (Moving Pictures, fall of 1981, working at 100 Mile Esso with Kevin, another friend to whom my taste in music owes a great debt), or the whole of Dark Side of the Moon (New Year’s Eve 1982; i was a late arrival on the Pink Floyd bandwagon; don’t ask). And even as i hope that there's still something out there waiting to really blow my mind, i worry that maybe it's just a matter of being harder to get knocked on your ass by new stuff the more old stuff you have to compare it to.

I remember when i left home after high school to attend university in Vancouver, i owned a little over one hundred cassettes and albums, which were the entirety of my musical library. I can remember a couple of occasions when i decided to listen to everything i owned, in order by artist and year, a process that took about a week-and-a-half, if memory serves. A quick look at iTunes today tells me i have 1,827 albums catalogued there, and while they're not all full albums, that's still a stupidly huge number.

They more you know, the more you’re aware of how much you don’t know, or so i’ve always believed. However in thinking about it, i realize that it’s likely also the case that the more you’ve come to know the limits of what art can do to you, the harder it gets to keep pushing those limits. And so at some point, the state of rapture you once attained in response to a song, a story, a poem, an image becomes just a marker to remind you how far you went once — and that you’re never going to get there again.

2009-02-21

LOST, in Translation

Yeah, i’m pretty sure this is going to be the beginning of a thing.

So i’ve got the last LOST ready to watch but haven't watched it yet, which is historically unusual for me and my insatiable appetite for all things Island. However, as has been overheard in other contexts, i’ve got a bad feeling about this.

From the episode previous (i think; maybe it was the previous previous) i didn't like two things. First, Christian's line implying that the whole mess was John's fault because he didn't get the subtle inference of the word "you" when he said that “You need to move the island.” Rule 101 of drama — don't freaking treat your characters like four-year-olds. And second, Charlotte's big burst of exposition just before she croaked. (Spoiler alert! after the spoiler. I suspect that’s also going to be a thing.) That kind of stuff is potentially interesting storywise, but it's sloppy writing — and at this stage in the game, sloppy writing is a bad, bad sign for this show.

2009-02-17

Laugh It Up

I like the new D&D. But i miss the old D&D. Especially this bit.


That’s a cartoon by Will McLean from the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (page 123 if you’re playing along at home). It was one of about a half-dozen cartoons that graced the pages of that classic tome, highlighting a sense that D&D in those days carried itself with a bit of a nod and a wink. And i can’t imagine any circumstances under which Will McLean, NPCs named Gutboy Barrelhouse and Blastum, the gust of wind spell’s material component being a legume seed, an artifact causing a possessor to break out in acne, or the wandering harlot table would be a part of the D&D game today.

What, you don’t believe me?


Successive versions of the game and its core rulebooks have acknowledged that playing D&D will typically involve humor (assuming you’re not gaming with, like, a group of flagellant monks or something). However, in each successive iteration, the rulebooks have taken themselves slightly more seriously, and i think the game has lost something as a result. Especially for younger players, a certain amount of humor is a hook that translates directly into a good time playing — and that in turn translates directly into wanting to play again.

When i wrote up a starting adventure for the RPG club i run at my daughters’ middle school, i made sure to throw in the following:

As the party approaches either of the archways, they will automatically hear splashing water and a deep voice singing:

“Oh, humans make a wholesome snack
 And I love dwarves on whole wheat toast
 But an elf pan-fried in a halfling sauce
 Is the special meal I love the most!”

This is the bedchamber of Narvik the ogre. Narvik is currently in his bathtub, singing. The tub is really just a huge barrel cut in half and filled with water. A massive kettle on the fire heats water for the bath.

Narvik is the leader of the hobgoblins because of his size, but he is a bully and a coward. He is also easily embarrassed. When the party enters, Narvik shrieks and wraps a towel (really an old bearskin) around himself as he jumps from the bath. He then attacks with a large scrub-brush. Because a scrub-brush is a poor weapon, he does not deal as much damage as a normal ogre.

Narvik is a tough challenge, but the party can make him easier to fight by pulling his bearskin towel away. A character can try to do this on purpose by saying that they are trying to yank the bearskin away, then making a DC 16 Strength check. On a successful check, the character has snatched the bearskin, leaving Narvik in his bare skin.

If the players don’t think of this, help them out. Every time Narvik is hit, describe him clutching the bearskin tighter as he howls and swings the scrub brush in retaliation.

If the bearskin is snatched away, or if Narvik is taken to 5 hit points or less, he will shriek and flee through whichever archway the party is farthest from. Because he is not wearing armor (or anything else), Narvik moves 8 squares (40 feet) per round. If the party follows, they will see him run into area 14 and flee up the ladder. Once outside, Narvik heads for the hills.


Silly? Sure. But laughter is one of the key anchors of positive experience, and D&D seems to have forgotten that for some reason.

2009-02-06

Shopping

One of the constant banes of my existence is that i have to do the grocery shopping, both because i’m the work-at-home guy and therefore have a slightly more flexible schedule most days of the week, and because Colleen (much as i love her) has some kind of genetic-level inability to compare prices and singlemindedly buy whatever’s cheapest. Advertisers and marketers hate people like me, because i pretty much only ever buy what’s cheapest when it comes to non-essentials like food and clothing. Important stuff like books, music, movies, and gaming supplies i’ll pay through the nose for, never fear.

Anyway, i hate shopping and i’m mentioning that because the worst part of shopping for me is having to watch other people shop. I hate watching other people waste their money on brand names when the generic is not only cheaper but often has less sodium, sugar, fat, or whatever else you want to be avoiding. I hate that you can only get original HP Sauce in the convenient 1 liter bottle, not the far superior HP Fruit Sauce. I hate that HP Sauce is all being made in the Netherlands these days anyway.

I hate watching parents buying fruit roll-ups instead of actual goddamn fruit. I hate that raw glucose and modified starch can be sold as “breakfast cereal”. I hate seeing the guy who feels compelled to give his girlfriend constant grief as he points out things that he says he’d buy if only she was a better cook. I hate having to watch the woman in front of me at the checkout giving items back to the cashier to try to get her total under the sixty dollars she’s got in her wallet. I hate the fact that her kids are with her, watching as the granola bars they picked out get sent back to the shelves. I hate that the reason she’s got to send her kids’ granola bars back is the carton of Player’s Light that somehow always makes it onto the “must buy” list. I hate watching the stooped cashier who should be close on comfortable retirement but instead is stuck making $9 an hour in this white-tiled fluorescent tomb. I hate, i hate, i hate.

As a race, the whole idea of our abandoning the hunter-gatherer thing in favor of the market exchange of goods and services was to be able to avoid the stress and strain involved in actually growing and/or killing your own meals. However, at least with the big-game stalking and the hardscrabble tilling, the only stress and sorrow you have to deal with is your own.

2009-02-04

Obsession

Gaming is probably the only thing in my life that i would acknowledge as a hobby. Though i’ve been known to spend time in the garden under certain rarefied circumstances. Oh, and i have four dogs, whose care and training suck up enough of my life that i’d probably have to call them a pastime, at least. But it’s odd to me that in addition to gaming as a hobby, i also do gaming as a living, meaning that for a significant amount of my time, i’m engaged in a single activity that bridges the work/life divide in a way i suspect is unusual for most people.

For me, this is different than saying “I’m a writer, yet i also read” because reading and writing are different sides of the same creative coin. One becomes a better writer by reading, certainly, but it’s a basic input/output kind of scenario. However, with RPG work, i’m always playing the game mentally in the course of editing or designing it. As a result, it gets easy to get lost in gaming when the RPG work i’m doing hits critical mass, as it has these days.

I’ve never had a problem shirking work (i took Skill Focus (Procrastination) and the Layabout feat last time i leveled up). It's just that my deadlines these days are scoring criticals on 10-20 and coup de gracing at every opportunity. Prior to now, the work i've been doing for Wizards of the Coast has amounted to about half time, and i've filled out the other half of my paid work with the other stuff i do (primarily script reading and story editing these days). However, i'm now freelancing effectively full time for Wizards, even as i still have as much of the other stuff coming in as always, and much of what's coming in is stuff i've already contracted to do, so even if i do cut back on that side of things, it won't make any difference for a while. Still, there are definitely worse things than being able to work at home doing something you like, so i'm not complaining.

Anyway, the point of me saying all this is that even as i willingly bury myself in the continuum of gaming that is my work and life, i realize that i could easily spend much more time gaming than i do, which is frightening considering how much time i already spend doing it. But i guess if you’re going to have an obsession, it’s good to have one that pays.

2009-01-26

Upcoming Previously on LOST

I say this a lot to people who know me, and will likely say it again in these virtual pages if i actually manage to keep writing this thing:

I rarely, if ever, remember my dreams. We’re talking maybe twice a year. I don’t know why this is, but it’s been true for me since the end of high school (before which i remembered my dreams pretty much every night). I know that i dream, as everyone does, because i do occasionally awake with the sense of having dreamt. I just don’t ever wake remembering what i’ve dreamt. I’ve tried to change that, but to no avail. I’ve done all the exercises ever recommended to me, from the “I will remember my dreams” mantra while falling asleep, to trying to force myself to count my fingers during my dreams so i can get all lucid and shit, and all the rest. Nothing works.

Thus, when i do remember my dreams, i’m often struck by a feeling akin to having just read an extremely unusual and memorable book. Because on the face of it, the memorable books i read are going to significantly outnumber the dreams i remember by the time i stop reading and dreaming. Thus, i’m compelled to share that it was kind of odd and interesting that from last night, i remember not one but two dreams about LOST.

I’ve been a fan of LOST since i rented disc one of season one at the video store midway through season two, with a vague sense of “Haven’t i heard that this is supposed to be pretty good?” (I don’t have any sort of broadcast, cable, or satellite TV coming into my house, though i have TV in the sense that i have a large device on which video images can be seen. However, that’s probably one digression too many.) I would have easily said that i loved the show through the first three seasons, with a particularly passionate attachment to the season three finale (“Through the Looking Glass”), except for that really freaking annoying bit where they somehow forgot that Charlie can’t swim. However, since then, the “Charlie can’t swim” moments have been coming fast and furiously, and my hope for a stunning finish to the series is getting seriously dampened.

What the hell was i talking about? Oh, yeah. From last night, i remember not one but two dreams about LOST.

In the first dream, i was watching what seemed to be the series finale. Which is to say, i dreamed the series finale; i wasn’t dreaming that i was watching TV. The big long-awaited reveal was that the island was actually a lost Disney theme park that had developed some sort of sentient consciousness. I remember Jack and Kate standing in this ruined South American-looking temple complex (perhaps the temple that Ben sent everyone to), whose central courtyard featured immense Easter Island-scale stone busts of Mickey Mouse and various other Disney characters. These statues were talking to Jack and explaining everything, and i remember thinking (in the dream) that this was all a horrible cross-marketing exercise by Disney-owned ABC.

Here’s the weird part, though. (Or the weirder part, i guess, because the above is pretty weird.) In the dream, i remember thinking at some point “This is the stupidest thing i’ve ever seen in my life.” And so in response, i dreamed another dream in which i was watching this season’s premiere, along with some sort of making-of documentary. I remember Evangeline Lily being interviewed on what it was like working in the jungle on an extended location shoot, which i guess was meant to lock down the authenticity of the concept, i don’t know.

Here’s what my subconscious precognitive sense told me the next season will be about. (Spoiler alert! In the event that i’m actually psychic.) There was a huge semiunderground temple complex (again, presumably the temple Ben sent the Others to) that looked an awful lot like the rebel base at the end of Star Wars. The castaways and the Others were all there, living in relative harmony but hiding out from yet another group that had infiltrated the island and were now trying to kill them all. (This was the group who the mysterious black guy and Naomi were working for.)

In the backstory, it was revealed that the Others were the semi-immortal descendants of the slaver crew of the Black Rock, to whom the island gave unnaturally long life. They had lived a kind of Robinson Crusoe existence on the island until the Dharma people showed up, whereupon they quickly copped the Dharmas’ modern culture before killing them.

It was then revealed that it was the new people who had actually first discovered the Island (even before the Dharma people), but their initial exploration crew all went mad and started killing each other. There was a flashback scene in which a crazy pilot starts throwing passengers out of a plane. In the forestory, the new bad guys had lots of planes. There was a constant motif of the island being buzzed by low-flying planes as the characters went about doing whatever they were doing and trying desperately not to be seen.

This season had better be at least that interesting.

2009-01-17

First Dibs on the Alaska Panhandle

My creativity is lost in fiction. I should have gone into political science where all the really weird ideas hang out.

So, still two years to get the kids to Disneyland, i guess.

Here’s the thing, though. The implicit tone of the piece, down to its reference to “much laughter” in the unofficial White House response, is that this guy is an idiot. However, it occurs to me that if he was writing fiction (in particular, speculative fiction), his ideas would seem edgy and groundbreaking — even more so by virtue of the fact that he’s an academic, in the same way that much of the best hard-SF resonates with the edge of science and psychology and sociology that its greatest minds are so well versed in.

I’m inclined to ridicule a lack of thinking whenever humanly possible (as my lack of invitations to religious symposia would attest). But as far as i’m concerned, if your research is solid and your intent is honest, there are no bad ideas.

2009-01-15

Denial

I’d happily all but forgotten about Ted Haggard until reading this week that he was making the rounds of the talk shows and reconfirming that he’d been “miraculously cured” of his wanting to strip down and get naked with other men. Praise the lord and pass the body lotion.

I remember back when it happened, i found the whole Ted Haggard thing funny for all the usual reasons that i won’t bother getting into because The Daily Show does it better than i ever will. However, the thing that strikes me in the kind of ironic aftermath of the whole thing isn’t the reaction from either socio-political wing to Haggard’s crash-and-burn or the incredible extents of his stupidity. It’s the surprise factor. Haggard’s supporters on the right were all so surprised that a guy who built a career on clean living and gay-bashing could secretly have a dependency on crystal meth and sodomy. Haggard’s detractors on the left were all so surprised that Haggard’s supporters on the right were surprised, which in turn makes the supporters on the right talk about how surprised they are that the atheist left hates the religious right so much, et al, et al. It’s just like this little orgy (probably a bad metaphor; sorry) of denial all around.

It strikes me that rampant denial is probably at the root of most surprise. (“He seemed like such a nice, quiet man.”) In and of itself, that’s understandable. As has been said in different ways by smarter people than me, the last Neanderthals probably looked at the first Cromagnons and said to themselves “Why worry?”

However, the framework of religious dogma and hypocrisy in this particular case underlines a more subtle and important point. Most religious faith is based on denial at its most basic, root level. Everything we’re naturally afraid of as human beings, religion allows us to deny in order to make those things safe. We’re afraid to die; religion lets us believe we won’t. We’re afraid of our own inconsequence; religion tells us that all creation exists for our pleasure and stewardship. We’re afraid of the future; religion tells us the future is set according to a master plan. We’re afraid to acknowledge our urges to get it on all animal-style with people we’re not supposed to get it on with. Religion tells us thou shalt not do that sort of thing.

Denial is the natural state of human affairs and always has been, because the antithesis of denial is reason, and we don’t like to think too much. But simply remembering that denial and fear are flip sides of the same psychological coin is the key to undermining the hold that fear has over us — and the key to remembering how to think again. It’s easy to look at ourselves and acknowledge the things we deny. Once done so, we have the opportunity to acknowledge that we’re afraid of those things — and to ask ourselves why we’re afraid.

2009-01-05

Time To Complain

I have, of late, been spending a fair bit of time watching the third season of Heroes, which i don’t like as much as i liked the first and second seasons of Heroes, and which has prompted me to state for the record that the reason i don’t like it so much is that i absolutely fucking hate time travel as a story device in film and television, because no one who works in film or television apparently has any freaking idea how to write time travel. Like, just as a for instance, if Future Peter came back in episode one to kill Nathan, then anyone else who can time travel (like, for instance, Past Peter, or Hiro, or maybe Sylar, or one of the other half-dozen characters who am sure will turn out to be time travelers in the end, or the guy from Quantum Leap for crying out loud) can simply show up ten seconds earlier to stop him. I’m just saying.

Having watched as much of this season as i have, i was inspired earlier this week to time travel back to last year, replace Tim Kring, and rewrite this season without any time traveling. But then of course, when i watched this season without any time traveling, i wasn't inspired to rewrite the season, which meant i never went back in time, so this season had time traveling, so i was inspired  to time travel back to last year, replace Tim Kring, and rewrite this season without any time traveling. But then of course, when i watched this season without any time traveling, i wasn't inspired to rewrite the season, which meant i never went back in time, so this season had time traveling, so i was inspired  to time travel back to last year, replace Tim Kring, and rewrite this season without any time traveling, so that i wasn't inspired to rewrite the season, which meant i never went back in time, so this season had time traveling, so i was inspired  to time travel back to last year, replace Tim Kring, and rewrite this season without any time traveling, so that i wasn't inspired to rewrite the season, which meant i never went back in time, so this season had time traveling, so i was inspired  to time travel back to last year, replace Tim Kring, and rewrite this season without any time traveling, so that i wasn't inspired to rewrite the season, which meant i never went back in time, so this season had time traveling, so i was inspired…

2009-01-02

Yeah, yeah...

“Having omitted to carry on my diary for two or three days, I lost heart to make it up, and left it unfilld for many a month and day. During this period nothing has happend worth particular notice. The same occupations, the same amusements, the same occasional alterations of spirits, gay or depressd, the same absence of all sensible or rational cause for the one or the other. I half grieve to take up my pen, and doubt if it is worth while to record such an infinite quantity of nothing. But hang it! I hate to be beat so here goes for better behavior.”

— Sir Walter Scott,
January 1, 1829