December 30, 2008

Christmas Vinyl

This year I walked away with an impressive assortment of albums:



Iron Maiden - Number of the Beast

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Metallica - Master of Puppets (collector's edition)

Yo Yo Ma - Japanese Melodies



Harry Nilsson - self titled

Manhattan Transfer Live

Brahms: Violin Concerto (performed by Leonard Kogan)

Luciano Pavarotti - Verismo Arias

San Francisco Un-scene - Various Artists

December 21, 2008

Christmas Reading List 2008


Dubliners
James Joyce


Treading Water
Anne DeGrace


TORTILLA FLAT
John Steinbeck


Oil
Upton Sinclair

Now, if I can get at least two of these covered, I'll be golden. Christmases are not known for peace and quiet where I come from.

December 17, 2008

Movies Await 2008

Here's a list I'm determined to check off. These films all boast good casts and, above all, great directors I admire.

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)



Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)



The Class (Francois Begaudeau)


Doubt (John Patrick Shanley)


The Reader (Stephen Daldry)



The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher)

December 14, 2008

Stop Being so Damn Passive

After a semester of crunching out some killer prose, not to mention a paper for Japanese Film that garnered me 100% (I know, I know..no paper is ever that good), I can now sit down and reassess a couple short stories to get them ready for submission. Good teachers this semester, in particular Genni Gunn who was kind enough to be ruthless with her comments regarding my work.

Many Creative Writing instructors don't want to discourage students from writing. Someone submits a heap of horse-shit, wrought with grammar errors, incoherent metaphor, poor narrative arc--all signs of either a) too busy (or lazy) to really buck down and write something of quality or b) in desperate need of criticism. The teacher, upon reading said pile of dung, proceeds to coddle the student for several minutes before daintily suggesting they may want to consider using a spell-checker. Bollocks. A little truth is helpful every now and then. Maybe some people should be discouraged.

Enter Genni Gunn. She read several of my stories, all pretty good--better than anything else I've written to date, and got straight to the heart of the matter. Here's our conversation at the last peer edit session:

I think I've noticed a pattern.

Uh-oh.

All your characters are passive.

Really?

Your language is good, setting is good, metaphor is good. But your characters wander through their stories doing nothing. They allow things to happen to them. They need to be active.

Shit.

Exactly.


It hurt to hear that. I mean, you work so hard on perfecting the complexities of good story-writing only to find out you've bunged up the simple must-do. But I'm glad she just said it. I mean, what serious writer wouldn't want to know what they're doing wrong? I wonder why so many other teachers let this obvious problem slip by?

So Genni, thank you for the A+ this semester, thanks for tearing my work a new a-hole. Much appreciated.

December 4, 2008

Rick Mercer Needs to Form A Coalition

Ever wanted free ring-side tickets to P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth? Well, look no further Canada. Before our very eyes, during what appears to be significant worldwide financial crisis, we get the circus of political posturing. Who knows what this will lead to, but we all know Harper has had this coming for awhile. Bullies never figure out that at some point people fight back. At some point they bare their teeth and scrape at whatever means to make you fall.

Always funny to read Rick Mercer's take on it. Who else can compare Steven Harper to Knut the polar bear?

November 28, 2008

David Milch and Language

Taking my cue from Sam's analysis of HBO's The Wire and Deadwood--the two finest shows to ever grace television (along with Rome, a flawed but relatively close third), I found an interview with David Milch regarding his thoughts on creating and writing Deadwood. Incidentally, if you haven't seen any of these shows, you are less of a person. Seriously. There should be a social restriction on when you are allowed to wander freely from your homes.

Deadwood takes top spot for me, in part due to my own nostalgia for Westerns films. What sets it apart from everything else is its dialogue. Milch's use of language is what Shakespeare would have written had he grown up a few hundred years later, in the wide, brutal expanse of America. Profane, artful, and bearing an internal rhythm that rivals Milton's Samson Agonistes. Even if the diction is a little too complicated for legitimate representation of the West in those days, it has to be closer than the strange minimalist responses we've all grown up with.

In the article, transcribed from a live interview at Bartos Theater with David Thorburn, Milch explains his emphasis on obscenity as follows:

As for the obscenity in Deadwood, I was trying to identify what organizing principles exist in a place without laws. Because Deadwood was a criminal community, built on land that had just been ceded to the Indians, they didn't want to pass any laws, since allowing law to exist would undermine their claim to the town. Language therefore had to serve two functions: to beat down any expectations of civility, and to show how words generate meaning through the context and emotion with which they're used. This is how one word can bear the weight of an entire story if the emotions and the context are there. In Swearengen's scene with Wu, I wanted to show how even with all the stereotypes about Asians, and the language barrier, a kind of order could develop.

And his use of profanity:


The guardians of the classical movie Westerns were offended, and asked me to prove that the language was accurate. The great Westerns were made under a strict moral code that prohibited obscenity, since the Jewish immigrants who ran Hollywood didn't want to rock the boat. There was a period in the late 'teens and early twenties when films started to become racy. They developed the Hayes code, which strictly regulated the language used in the films. When artists are faced with those kinds of strictures, they can either choose not to participate, or to find a way to internalize them in a way that serves the story. The image of the laconic cowboy was the result of the Hayes code; a character that not only used no profanity, but few words of any kind. The stoicism invoked a set of values. When people bond with works such as films, the works take on a kind of reality, so people don't say “I like Shane, ” they say “That's not how they talked in 1870.” That's not my problem. I did my research, and from what I read, in the West, obscenity was used to establish dominance, like apes beating their chests. With no law, any question could have lethal results. Language developed as an alternative to law.

Go out and find these shows, people....

November 22, 2008

Kurosawa is Overrated (Japanese Culture Through Film)

One of the highlights of this semester, if not the past year or so, has been sitting in a classroom, watching Japanese films--for bloody credit. Supplemental readings and lectures are provided too, but it's the films I find the most remarkable.

Director Akira Kurosawa garners a lot of attention in North America. He's influenced the likes of Sergio Leone, George Lucas (king of crap), and Spielberg, so maybe that's why. I haven't seen all of Kurosawa's work, but I shit you not, what I have seen pales in comparison to the other Japanese films viewed this semester. What makes Kurosawa films sub-par, in my mind, is their inability to present their themes or moral compass with subtlety--something I think can arguably be considered Western influence. Unlike Miyazaki, who infuses his themes directly into the story, leaving the viewer to draw from the scene what he or she can, Kurosawa beats us over the head with heavy-handed dialogue and obvious imagery. The films are entertaining, sure. But so is Bloodsport--and there's nothing great there by any stretch of the imagination.

Case in point, after viewing Sanjuro and Yojimbo, I decided to try of Kurosawa's more recent films, Dreams. Experimental in comparison to the linear story-lines of his Samurai epics, Dreams tells eight chapter-like tales through the form of dream sequences. Sounds inventive, I know. And to a certain extent is is. I mean, what other form for story-telling is so unrestricted? To a degree, Kurosawa uses this to his advantage. Visually speaking, this film is astounding. Each scene is careful and lush, drawing metaphor from setting as much as from the story nuance (what little there is). Why then does the director insist on falling into what I like to call the Spielberg trap?

Spielberg weakens a lot of his own films by assuming his audience is stupid and spoon-feeding them the "just in case you didn't quite get it" explanation at the end. Watch Minority Report and tell me otherwise. Great film right up until the last half hour or so. Same with A.I. In Dreams, Kurosawa goes the same route. A beautiful village, along a river dotted with water-mills, is a useful enough metaphor for pastoral elegy without having a protagonist lectured to about the perils of modernity by an old wise man.

There are exceptions. Two of the chapters are simply gorgeous. Kurosawa's indictment of war, told though the eyes of a soldier confronted by the ghosts of all his dead comrades, is a work of art. So is the following chapter where an artist steps literally into the world of Van Gogh's paintings, walking through their landscapes and conversing with the artist himself (played by Martin Scorcese). So it's not like Kurosawa doesn't have the knack. He's just too influenced by Western stupidity. His films embody what is wrong with American cinema.

I'm not saying avoid Kurosawa. Far from it. All of his films have something redeemable about them. But you can't consider yourself reasonably knowledgeable about Japanese film-making until you've sampled from the truly great. Directors like Ozu or Takehashi. Try the following films and see if you disagree:

Twenty-Four Eyes
The Taste of Tea
Always: Sunset on Third District
Early Summer
Spirited Away


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November 7, 2008

Rhubarb Publication

Months ago I sent a short-story to Rhubarb magazine for consideration. Got the rejection email to prove it--ha ha. However, the editor happened to stumble upon my other blog and asked to publish a few of the entries instead. Of course I agreed, being the whore for publication that I am. So, if you're out and about and happen to see this little magazine gracing a book shelf somewhere, pick it up and give it a read-through. Patrick Friesen, Elsie K. Neufeld, Robert Martens--all in there too. A far better reason to read it, if you ask me. I feel rather privileged to be paged alongside them.

If you're curious which blog posts of mine made it in there:

A Man Amongst Women

Music as Metaphor

Two samples of the five they chose.

November 5, 2008

2008 American Elections Are Finished

History baby, and I'm proud to have witnessed it. In my limited understanding of American politics, I think the best and right man won. The Republicans have not done an admirable job these past eight years. And who else has a chief strategist with the last name of Axelrod? Can't get more American than having a last name based on car parts (that's a joke folks).

What moves me most is the potential I see with this election. The potential for a government to take care of its people, to not censor their dissent, to actually work with the opposition to create unity in the senate and the house. Overly-idealistic, I know. But the potential is there. And I say this understanding the colossal amount of money used by both parties to finance their campaigns. Who knows how much change Obama can actually implement? But damn it I am so excited that the potential is even there.

The speeches given by both candidates were remarkable. A gracious concession by McCain and a victory speech from Obama that rivaled any southern gospel preacher's sermon. Both were passionate and sincere. Truth be told, I found McCain to be pretty likable, lacking the idiot-rhetoric of the right wing Republicans we get on Fox.

Obama's speech.

McCain's speech.


What I'm saying here is I'm relieved. After eight years of looking south from Canada and shaking my head in dismay, I see the spark of something new: the notion of putting people first, their well being, their safety, their equality.

October 31, 2008

Done and Gone

I managed to get a short-story in fighting shape for a contest this month. If I have anything positive to say about writing groups, it's that every once in awhile you luck out and find yourself in a group where everyone is serious about what they're doing. My short fiction class at school is such a group. Different ranges in experience, but I'll take sincerity over self-love every time. They made some great comments on my piece that have changed it for the better.

Submitting work to contests or journals or magazines or bathroom stalls takes a fair amount of work. Such a crucial aspect to writing. I wonder how many people tuck their first or second drafts into an envelope and fire it into the mail? I think I went over my piece about twelve times, and found something substantial to change on each read. Not sure if that's a good sign or bad. Of course, I had some good help too. I can't speak enough about having at least one or two people whose opinions you trust when it comes to your work. You'll never catch all the problems with your story on your own. Gotta have an extra set of eyes every once in awhile. I've got my wife--who has an eye for story and writing better than most, and maybe two other people.

Here's what I wanted to write on my cover letter:

Deer Writers' Union of Canada-
My storie good is. Pleez reed fore yore pleshure and send me monie prizes.

But I didn't.

October 28, 2008

Bill Gaston; Patrick Lane; The Vancouver Writers' Festival.

I meander too much on this blog. The blame shall be placed on its pretentious title.

Most of the reading I do these days is either for class or to improve my own writing. Case in point: Bill Gaston. I read through a collection of his short stories last summer, called Mount Appetite. The man writes strange, affecting pieces, often with haunting endings. I'm now working through his latest collection, Gargoyles, and having a similar experience. When I read, I wait for oh shit moments, where the writer captures an image, or sets up a scene, or uses the right combination of words in such a way as to deny any possible improvement. I get that with Gaston, though not in every one of his stories. But it's frequent enough for me to want to read more, and often. So many lines of his prose seem to sing from the page, and he avoids the sentimental--which is huge.

This brings me to the Writers' Festival in Vancouver, which finished up this past Sunday. I attended a lecture/reading called Poets Turned Novelists with Patrick Lane, Anne Simpson, and Daphne Marlatt, all of whom have new books out. I'll give these authors credit, they're a lot more subtle about promoting their work than other authors whose readings I've attended. Lane was hilarious. He dropped the F-bomb once, got big laughs, and then decided to use it as often as possible. The laughs didn't quite sustain, but it was a typical male thing to do--and I dug that. What I really liked about the reading was the general agreement that it's a moot point to draw lines between so called literary genres. Yes, there are physical differences between poetry and fiction, but they overlap so often, and in such complicated ways, the distinction becomes unnecessary. Writers don't make the distinctions as much as critics do. It's easier to dissect something when it's contained within a box.

Each author read from their work, but only Lane stuck out to me--because he avoided being sentimental. In his opening remarks, he talked about the ever-popular phrase write what you know, something all students are bombarded with. We tend to misinterpret this statement as meaning what we know in the immediate, physical sense. He suggested it goes beyond that to every fantasy, day-dream, unfulfilled goal, failure we've ever experience. It also extends to every book we've read, every scrap of phrasing we've tried to steal and keep for our own. That's what reading is really, it's a way for us to take something not of ourselves and somehow take ownership of it. Anyways, his reading was from the perspective of an infant ghost, a wandering spirit trying to understand infanticide. Blew me away.

Have I mentioned I meander a lot?

October 24, 2008

John Scalzi

I actually yanked Scalzi's quote from another blogger but wanted to post here as well. Aside from the nasty double adverb, I agree with what he says--even if it's not exactly what I would call a cogent argument.

"The reader who believes a fiction author should keep his or her opinions to themselves is effectively (if generally unintentionally) saying “You exist only to amuse me. You are not allowed to do anything else.” To which the only rational response is: blow me. I’m not going to hesitate to add my voice to the national dialogue on any subject just because someone somewhere might not be happy with what I have to say. And more to the point, I think it is bad and dangerous thinking for people to suggest that fiction writers should have to live in a black box of opinion. The idea that writing fiction somehow obliges or even just encourages a vow of silence on any subject, politics or otherwise, that might offend someone somewhere, is flatly odious."

It pains me to admit this, but on many occasions I've re-thought a comment (not necessarily political) in fear of rubbing certain people the wrong way. I'm not as fearless as say, my friend Sam. I'm not condoning racism or any deep prejudices of any kind--though I contend their right to exist, detestable as they are. I'm saying a writer can't be afraid to write from the gut. You may have regrets, or a change of opinion down the road, but get it out anyways. Be wrong sometimes. There needs to be blood on the page; guts and the worried glance over your shoulder.


October 14, 2008

Milan Kundera revisited

A friend of mine, who lives in Czech, sent me a couple of fascinating articles re: the writer I often revere. Kundera is someone people love to hate in his home country, and these particular articles are likely fuel for the proverbial fire. At the heart of the matter: the question of whether or not he betrayed a fellow citizen to the Communist police during his youth. My opinion (for now) is that it does nothing to detract or add to the man's intelligent perspectives on the history of the novel, or the literary value of his writings. But I imagine his character as a person will not escape indictment--if the accusations are indeed true.

Article One and Article Two.

October 10, 2008

Writing Bullshit (A Rant From Four Hours Sleep)

While sitting through a peer edit session in a certain class this semester, I heard the following remark(s):

My stories just write themselves. I have to let them go where they want to go, live how they like.

Really? Not the first time I've heard people say this and the sentiment pisses me off. It reflects laziness on the part of the author, helplessness. I can't fix my story because it writes itself. I'm not to blame for the way it turned out, the plot mistakes, the flat characters. Bollocks. All you've done is grossly romanticize the effort required to write a good story. The writer is in control of everything. The story does not live on its own, does not get pulled out of ethereal realms. Ideas might, but not the story. This kind of flaky pith does nothing to further what we do.

We're already underdogs. Art in general is viewed as elitist and unnecessary in the every day, working-class world. Many don't consider it work at all. Nothing more than fancy. An instructor of mine once asked what it would mean for every artist on the face of the planet to stop working and all art, in every facet, to be removed from society. What would we be left with? Almost nothing, I think. Creative force is found in almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives. But it's not some extraneous entity. No, it is brought into fruition through the agony of the creator.

So when I sit in a classroom and hear someone spout lazy rhetoric about how their story sucks or when I read through a guild submission displaying a lack of effort or learning--the same mistakes repeated from previous submissions--I want to rifle a piece of chalk into the offender's ear. Why spend so much time and money if all you want is your friends to salivate and heap accolades on your shoulders? Why submit pieces for peer edits that are no different from the ones you submitted last year, or the year before. Why sit in a meeting and expect to be taken seriously when all you want is people to look at you?

Here's a secret: it's all your fault. Every last damn mistake. Your story doesn't have a mind of its own. The reason it sucks is because you suck. Your poems are crap because you think one-offing a first draft is all you need to do. You're lazy, disinterested. Waiting for a muse that never comes.
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October 1, 2008

Bill O'Reilly - You're Kidding Right?

Look, everyone knows the man is a gas bag. It comes part and parcel with his profession. He's inflammatory, condescending, pretentious. But I've also seen him ask the occasional good question too. I'm not saying this because I like the guy, or buy into his I-can-shout-louder-than-you-can approach to conversation. It's just plain common sense that at some point, even the most ridiculous of human beings get it right.

Or do they?

Another blogger responds to O'Reilly, who apparently claims that his own successes in America are proof enough of the existence of God. Whew.

Sometimes a person is so absurd it's impossible NOT to blog about him. I don't even have to try and posit a counter-argument here. Only in America.

September 27, 2008

Paul Newman Dies

Funny thing about Mr. Newman, I've never considered him one of the best--just one of my favorites. Part voice, part character, part icon I suppose. My favorite story of him is when he took out a newspaper ad to apologize for his lousy performance in The Silver Chalice, the kind of action that suggests self-deprecation, humility, persistence. Not that all of his work is a shining beacon of light over the vast darkness of Hollywood. But he does have so many great performances.

Look at Cool Hand Luke, Nobody's Fool, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Road to Perdition. With the exception of Cool Hand Luke, none of these films come close to perfection but his performances in each and every one of them is remarkable, full of nostalgia and a confidence from an older, better era of film-making. Old-school charisma or, as the slogan on the cover of my Nobody's Fool DVD says: Worn To Perfection.

I don't know the man outside of his film characters, but the records of his charity work are equally if not more impressive. The loss is two-fold; not only do we lose another link to a dying era in film-making, we lose a humanitarian. And Lord knows there's not too many of them around either. So, I doff my hat to Mr. Paul Newman. A person worth remembering.




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September 18, 2008

The Restless Appetite For Applause

I am El Presidente of the Kwantlen Writers' Guild. All bow to my ineffable wisdom. *scoff* The truth is I'm not sure I'm the right guy for the job. My cynicism prevents me from jumping on board with every supposed grand idea.

The Guild:

The Good - a place to revel amongst peers, share ideas, crack wise, come up with plans for fund raising. There will be a publication and a contest and a reading. That sort of thing. Needless to say, all this could be done via email, but heaven forbid we miss out on an opportunity to sit in a circle and gaze at each other. Most valuable achievement during the meeting: agreeing that Touch Me is an absolute crap title for the publication.

The Not So Good - Realizing that most people who submit their work are looking for affirmation instead of ways to improve. One first-year student and the rest are third and fourth years, with looks in their eyes--I dare you to find something wrong with this poem or short story or whatever. And if you do find something wrong, know this: I will hunt through your own work and come up with something horrible to say in return. I suppose affirmation is good, but it feels really disingenuous in this setting, where legs bob up and down as each person anxiously awaits "their turn".

In class today, not part of the guild but still related to Kwantlen, a mature student shared with me that last semester a professor asked them to re-submit a different story because their current one was perfect--no room for improvement or revision. Not sure why I was told this, or if I even believe such a thing. But what motivates a person to make such comments about themselves? Part ego, sure. I suspect fear, too. I could have clapped said student on the back, cajoled him/her with soothing wow, you are such a great writer and we could all really learn from you. Instead I envisioned this person sending said "perfect story" off to The Malahat Review and nine months later receiving a letter suggesting they take some Creative Writing courses.

Sometimes I don't want to be all-inclusive with my writing. I don't want to share it with everyone--just certain people who I know will make objective, unmotivated, honest comments. Sometimes I don't want to hug everyone and say we can do it. Everyone will get published and we'll all live in a castle far away, sipping hot-spiced rum and laughing at the world toiling below us.

The truth is no one has to read your work. Convincing people to actually want to read what you've got requires playing a game of whoredom. Writing is solitary. Success is infrequent. Perfection is a useless ascription because it denotes a peak, the very best you can ever do. Everything after that is sub par. I want agony, anger, the constant ache to create something of value--to anyone. I want success, perhaps before other people around me.


September 13, 2008

Vintage Audio: Back to Vinyl




Best $180 I've spent in years. Went to a vintage audio dealer in Surrey and found a great turntable and receiver for my records. Full-range audio; no more truncated spectrum from CD's or, even worse, MP3's. Turntable - Pioneer PL A-35 in wood case. Receiver - Pioneer SX - 3700; the first and possibly only receiver to have AM stereo output...not that any AM stations put out stereo signals these days, ha ha. Gorgeous blue-light display, manual tuner with digital display above it. Heavy as a muffler-trucker (each about 25 lbs).

Vinyl played on first day:
Luciano Pavorotti - Yes Giorgio Soundtrack
The Swingle Singers - Going Baroque
Neil Young - Harvest
Nat King Cole - Love is a Many Splendored Thing

All hail vinyl.


September 2, 2008

Television to Look Forward to: Goodbye HBO, Hello Showtime

C'mon folks, it's not all bad. Not everything that comes out on the glorious idiot box has to be about narcissistic celebrity has-beens reveling in drug rehab or scrawny, pseudo-glamorous housewives and their fabricated beauty. We can escape the horrifying nose-jobs, the 200 calorie-a-day diets, the story lines that offer absolute meaninglessness. Good shows abound.

I've had my reservations about HBO in the past, mostly because they're too chickenshit to see a story through to completion. Too many great pieces have been snipped: Deadwood and John From Cincinnati to name a couple, all due to whatever perceived ratings not being reached. So maybe I should move on to Showtime instead.

Two worthy replacements, though entirely different in content: Dexter and Californication. Both exhibit excellent writing. Dexter's story from season one has been carefully manipulated, each episode a gut bomb of tension. Californication is an absolute clinic in dialog, with complex, deeply-flawed characters that the audience can relate to. The lascivious lifestyles of the main characters are not just mere entertainment, but an interesting psychological examination in addiction, midlife crisis, and trying to find a moral line in an otherwise bankrupt environment. Both shows begin their respective new seasons Sunday, September 28th.

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August 26, 2008

Yet Another Return to School

Next week I head back to Kwantlen Polytechnic University to continue with my double-minor studies (Creative Writing and Philosophy). Last year it was called Kwantlen University College, but someone way up the food chain decided polytechnic was a more auspicious descriptor. Not normally used to describe humanities I don't think, and do people still consider changing the name of an institution a way to negate its fundamental flaws? Would we think fondly of Exxon if they changed their name to Aqua-Marine Petting Zoo? I digress.

Here are my courses this semester:
Japanese Culture Through Film - Kurosawa here I come.
Short Fiction - Must how learn to words mix for imagery craft.
Formal Logic -
An introductory course, but it's a math based approach to philosophy so I'm betting on some serious problems for myself.

Nerdery. What better place to revel.

August 20, 2008

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The man owns every scene he's in. An absolute beast.

Click Here.

I couldn't find an embed script for this one. Have to make do with a link.

August 16, 2008

Beijing 2008 Olympics: Sports vs. The Arts

I've never been a huge fan of professional sports. I watch some hockey, a little baseball, world-cup soccer when the bandwagon beckons. Individual, amateur athletics are more compelling. The Olympics, for example. I love stories of underdog triumphs. Countries I once knew only by name now headline the news when one of their athletes excels. But is the spectacle of individual prowess authentic? The big guns like China, Russia, the USA--all funnel millions of dollars to their athletic programs. Canada pours money to its athletes as well. Sponsors come forward, athletes become walking billboards, smile for the television while holding fast-food. Over dinner the other night, my friend Colin raised the question, what benefit does society glean from the success of athletes? What if the same emphasis and funding went to musicians, writers, playwrights, poets, sculptors, painters? Would society benefit more?

Ambiguities like national pride, inspiration are the cursory response. One might suggest most people prefer sports to the symphony, or a play, or a trip through the art gallery because sports are cooler. The very sentiment of these words is manufactured. We've been trained, almost indoctrinated, to place high emphasis on the physical capabilities of people. Pop culture demands it. I don't deny the lure either. But why is a person's ability to paddle a canoe faster than another, or throw an orange rubber ball through a metal hoop, or smack a circular piece of rubber with a carbon stick an instigation of national pride or inspiration? Because it's easy to absorb. Mindless, void of creative thought or process. And what's even more damning is that ascriptions like art form are used ad nauseum in an attempt to intellectually elevate the base.

Perhaps this is a sign of a declining society. If such grandiose support were put forward to the arts, it might prompt equal passions amongst viewers over time. But this too begs another question: would that very same coercion then exist in the arts? Would they become a commodity, an engine for mass consumption? Commercialization of various art is nothing new; bubble-gum music, books, television, prints of nature paintings are more accessible than those weightier efforts of the lesser-knowns. Most of it is utter shit. So perhaps funding causes more problems than it solves. Perhaps a component of artistic merit is the artist suffering his/her way to success. And success then is seen in completely different terms.

Admiration is due to those amateur athletes who work themselves to the bone, carving a niche for their talents. Artists do the exact same damn thing. Refinement, effort, agony. And I know I'm over-simplifying too. Many athletes have artistic interests. And with their newfound fame, they have the chance to be successful with them too. Here comes yet another book from a retired athlete about personal triumph over adversity, a torn hamstring now a metaphor for every day life.

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August 4, 2008

The New Yorker (God Bless It)

Here's why it's worth putting it in your Bloglines:

Trouble by Matthew Dickman

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris

Deep Holes by Alice Munro

'Nuff said.

July 31, 2008

Miriam Toews

A funny, insightful writer and one of the nicest people you'll meet anywhere. If you get the chance, check her out:

The Vancouver International Writers Festival and Random House of Canada present Miriam Toews. The bestselling author of A Complicated Kindness and Summer of My Amazing Luck will read from her new book, The Flying Troutmans. Appearing on the same bill will be Joan Barfoot, author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlisted Luck and a new novel Exit Lines.

7:30 pm, Monday September 15
Granville Island Stage
1585 Johnston Street

Tickets $15/$13 plus $2.00 facility surcharge. Tickets on sale August 5 at VancouverTix: 604.629.VTIX (8849 or www.vancouvertix.com). For information call 604.681.6330.

July 23, 2008

Watchmen

I know I've said this ad nauseum, but 300 is a terrible film. Pointless, silly, a wretched misuse of cinema--aside from the one moment I concede to my friend Sam, when the mighty elephant goes splat. But that's a lot of horse shit to sit through to get to that one moment.

Now, this new film Watchmen made by the same people looks like it has promise. Great graphic novel. And I must confess I still enjoy The Smashing Pumpkins. But I worry about the dialog. In 300, someone was announcing their home town every two minutes, usually while expectorating giant wads of spit over their finely combed beards. I guess the writers were concerned the audience would forget the characters' origins (like we cared). I love when the Persian leader pleads to their Greek sense of logic, to which Leonidas responds something to the effect of "We're Sparta". My, that's clever. Woo them with your logic, oh great king.

I hope these filmmakers try for something beyond style with this next one.

July 15, 2008

An Excerpt...

Been working on a novel and finding it excruciating at times. Thought I'd post a benign enough excerpt for the two or three of you that actually come by and read this blog every once in awhile.

Untitled
Spartan leans against the American border like an unwanted immigrant. Two crossings on either side of town, two rivers that swell into each other and glide south. All things migrate. The largest mountain in the valley, Galena, a pock-faced chunk of rock rising a mile into the sky, is more American than Canadian. Locals cross into the States for shopping, gas, excursions to commit less-honorable deeds at Indian Reservations. The local pulp-mill trucks raw lumber across daily, stacked on the backs of groaning, dusty machines.

When the dry scrub under pine trees combusts from Summer's heat, both sides of the border eye their lines warily, waiting for the flames to find their way across the forty-ninth parallel, change ownership.

Spartan is disconnected from the big cities. It bleeds into America with its rivers. Draft-dodgers from the Vietnam War catch the evening breezes funneling up from a home country no longer their own, sitting at the windows of homes built on the easy slopes of Fife. Hunters and farmers come down from the mountains and drink at pubs with names like Longhorn or Prospector. Fights are brief, vicious. A mouth fish-hooked, an eye-socket caved in, the collision of knuckle on teeth.

Churches are full on Sunday mornings, transgressions suppressed behind neckties, confined under dresses. Words spread. Heads turn. A person avoids a certain grocery store for awhile, buys their prescriptions at an alternate pharmacy.

Old Doukhobors drink coffee at a local bistro, growl about sky-rocketing prices, the way nothing is ever as good as the day before. Kids ride bikes, shoot at small animals with pellet guns, collect bottles to exchange for Bazooka Joe gum and Willy Wonka's Wax Lips. The world is small, yet absurdly macroscopic. A landscape of tension felt by young and old alike but never articulated. Lovers hold hand as they walk to the tree-lined banks of the river in City Park. There, hands move to more intimate places, a girl cries out in pleasure and loss. Pleasure and loss and a lack. Spartan.

July 1, 2008

BC Carbon Tax

And so it begins. Our Provincial Carbon Tax precedes a Federal Carbon Tax (a mimicry of the BC idea) which may or may not come into existence. The difference? From what I can tell, the BC government seems to be making an effort to be transparent about where the money goes. They've passed legislation as insurance. Will money actual come back to the taxpayer? Is the tax really "revenue neutral"? Such assurances can only be discerned over time.

The idea of taxing fossil fuels, painful as it initially sounds, carries more positives than negatives. People love to talk about making changes to help the environment, but we're a lazy culture (myself included) and the movement to actually implement changes is slow. On a federal level, the commentary I've heard from our current government about environmental change has been flippant, barely an acknowledgment. They're more concerned with preservation of office than actually doing something worthwhile. So, to see the BC government move forward with policy that enforces change strikes me as bold, risky. When they first suggested the idea of such a tax, no one could have expected the immense increase in oil costs. So the risk with this move carries even more gravity than before. I like the sentiment of such a move.

What does this have to do about writing and the arts? Nothing. Sue me.


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June 24, 2008

Insight From Someone Else

The esoteric mind of Sam Wiebe is worth acknowledging. The boy knows how to mince. His latest litany against Reality TV and the death of the arts, aptly titled Idolatry offers up insightful, sarcastic rhetoric--the good kind.

He's younger, meaner, probably more intelligent than myself...and he's been known to double-fist Jack Daniels in between his bouts of genius, before class, during, after. Take your pick. Of course this is all hearsay as he attends Simon Fraser University while I flounder away, a pissant at Kwantlen--now also given the auspicious credentials of university.

Read his blog, 2882: The Ennui Years.

Agree or not.

Let him know your thoughts.

But most of all, make fun of his inability to summarize.

Kidding.

June 5, 2008

Understanding Canada: Strings Attached for Funding

How subtle is the shift from writing to war? You'd think it would be a calamitous event, the kind to scar deep furrows into the earth. Not so. Attaching strings to funding cries all the necessary havoc. It appears those scholars and writers who publish and present their work abroad, can now only obtain crucial government funding if they culture their presentation(s) of Canada with "...Canadian foreign policy and priorities," as Jean Labrie (Foreign Affairs official in charge of the program) puts it.

Read the Article.

What does it mean when the funding of "academic freedom" is contingent upon following certain government suggested topics? Is that really academic freedom? What and who's version of Canada gets represented?

What say you?

May 30, 2008

The Existential Situation (More Kundera)

Can't get enough of this guy. Has to be one of the best books on writing I've ever read. Note to self: read his actual novels--and be shamed.

According to Kundera, the protagonist's fundamental existential situation unfolds as follows:
1) Man acts BUT...
2) His action slip out of control, ceases to obey him. THEREFORE...
3) He does his utmost to subdue and capture the disobedient act, BUT IN VAIN.
4) Once out of our hands, out of our control, an act can never be recovered.

Place this in context with your typical three-act screenplay, or the expected character arc of a protagonist (or antagonist--any significant character really) and the result is a texture not always present in contemporary writing. The resolution seems not to lie in "correcting a wrong" but in dealing with the consequences of the human condition. It is imperative to bring these to light. If I understand Kundera correctly, he implies that great novels require this lack of recovery. They reveal something deeply human about that futile scramble to regain control. And this does not have to mimic the "real world" per se.

"A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he's capable of. But again, to exist means: 'being in the world'. Thus both the character and his world must be understood as possibilities."

In other words, reality is secondary in importance to the creation of "possible".

Easier said than done, yes?

May 6, 2008

Reading Milan Kundera

Have begun reading Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel in preparation for my own potentially feeble attempt. Kundera works through the historical inception and relevance of the novel and suggests intrinsic imperatives about how the novel can and must survive today. A particularly interesting excerpt talks about the ill-effects of unifying the planet's history, how modern society perpetuates reductionism:

"But the character of modern society hideously exacerbates this curse: it reduces man's life to its social function; the history of a people to a small set of events that are themselves reduced to a tendentious interpretation; social life is reduced to political struggle, and that in turn to the confrontation of just two great global powers."

For Kundera the novel's raison d'être is to protect us (humanity as a whole) from "the forgetting of being". Rather existential, but about as important a tenet as I can think of. To bring about such a force in one's own writing seems an insurmountable task. And Kundera is quick to point out a key source of the never-ending atrocious writing put forth for mass consumption:

"Like all culture, the novel is more and more in the hands of the mass media; as agents of the unification of the planet's history, the media amplify and channel the reduction process; they distribute throughout the world the simplifications and stereotypes easily acceptable by the greatest number, by everyone, by all mankind."

So, if I understand this all correctly, I need to write something original and complex, void of any pandering to mass media or social norms. The characters must have their own existential crisis to deal with, something that reveals the nature of them, not some universal principle for all of humanity.

I believe I've just bitten off more than I can chew. Oh wait...do clichés count as bad?



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April 30, 2008

Famous (or not) Quotes:

Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.
~John Steinbeck

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
~Mark Twain


You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
~Jack London

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
~Douglas Adams

Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.
~Charles Bukowski

Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.
~Ernest Hemingway

I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes.
~Hunter S. Thompson

Boy, those French, they have a different word for everything!
~Steve Martin




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April 21, 2008

Bill C-10 Redux: Michael Coren Cries Out

An interesting article, bearing a somewhat contrary opinion to mine, was forwarded to my email this past week. In it Michael Coren suggests with great flourish that the celebrity uproar over Bill C-10 is more about self-preservation than free-speech. We don't see the film and television industry wearing sandwich boards and crying bloody murder when socially conservative political opinion is under fire. He has a point: in this instance the hubbub (yes, that's a word) around the tax credit is not really motivated by a passionate defense of free-speech. It's more a hostile reaction to having someone else dictate what is and is not "good". Coren's point is that while he's not about to censor another person's television, he also doesn't want to fund it.

Coren is of course politically conservative. He writes for Catholic Insight and co-hosts a radio show on CFRB called Two Bald Guys With Strong Opinions. One does not have to stretch too far to see the man makes his money by pushing people's buttons. His article is funny in one sense, but sadly benign in another. Just read the opening paragraphs and you'll notice the paradox. He makes blanket statements about shows he claims to have either never seen or only watched once. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for researched opinion. The type of language Coren uses to describe these shows is also of interest. Terms like, pornographic, cheap-trash, tendentious perversion. Are these objective definitions that denote a careful analysis? Of course not. Botched rhetoric, nothing more. The man has not done his homework but still knows how to throw around inflammatory language.

I don't want to denounce Coren completely. I too find some of these shows innately stupid in that passive, oh-look-I'm-making-funded-art sort of way. Kink has such moments--and I've seen about six episodes (five more than Mr. Coren apparently). But what about the cheerful, smiling boredom of Corner Gas? Is that okay because no one prances around in leather--at least not on screen? And I would love to see 100 Huntley Street and its host of watered-down, bumper-sticker, Happy-Jesus sentiment disappear from the face of the earth, though I'm not sure if it's accredited under Bill C-10, so this may be a non-issue. Both of us agree that some television shows are crap. The difference is I'm not offended or put-out when some of them get a piece of my money.

Perhaps the government should send an additional form out around tax-time. One that allows a rebate of thirteen cents (or whatever the remedial tax-grant works out to per-person) to those who check the appropriate box. Would this help people who share Coren's strangely invasive sense of morality? Probably not. But it may give them the quiet satisfaction of placing the loose change in the milk-container-now-change-jar atop their refrigerator. At the end of the day, this is really a battle of opposing opinion on what is good television or film; subjective tastes are on the table, not morality.

The philosopher David Hume talks of determining "good art" via judiciary. This group would be comprised of artists and scholars, those people knowledgeable in various crafts. The art objects and opinions would have to stand the test of time and conform to certain criteria. Hume's argument ultimately fails because one cannot establish an objective, universal application of aesthetics (what is beautiful, or sublime, or neither). And this same flaw will exist in any existing judiciary over funding for media projects--whether they are run by the government or not.

The problem with Bill C-10 is that it allows for hasty, unfounded judgments, like Coren's, with their mere ascription of mediocre, religious vernacular, to bring forth the gallows. I'd rather we err on the side of protecting the arts at all cost, even if some of it is weak, or lousy, or demented, or perverted or religious. And yes I think there is art in television and film. It may not be easy to find, but it's there. The arts: what better way exists to understand our world?



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April 11, 2008

Bill C-10: Censorship of the Arts?

Been a lot of press about this lately. Bill C-10, among other things, provides the federal government with the means to refuse tax breaks to films and television shows deemed too violent or sexually explicit for the greater good of the republic...err, I mean the public. It appears that the bill was passed with little or no opposition--mostly because very few politicians actually read the bills in their entirety before voting (you learn this in Poli-Sci 101, in case you're wondering).

The Conservative government suggests this is a way to prevent child pornographers or extremely violent (that's not vague, is it?) content from being funded with federal funds. Click here for the article. But we can't place the blame on their shoulders this time. The bill was authored in 2003 by the Liberal party, on the cusp of elections, and was swiftly struck down.
However, most people in the film and television industry are scratching their heads. Since when has the government ever funded child pornography or excessively violent material? Now the arts have yet another loophole to jump through for public funding (if Tolstoy were still alive, he'd be a happy man). Banks will balk at funding a project deemed offensive. And who decides what constitutes "excessive" anything? Article here.

To me, this reeks of bullshit religious agenda. Where else do you find people trying to prevent problems that don't actually occur? So I snoop around a little and wouldn't you know it, the imbecilic Charles McVety--and people this man is as brainless as they get--claims his evangelical group of cronies have been lobbying for this for months. This guy is the Canadian link to Benny Hinn, Jerry Falwell and all those snake-oil sellers south of the border. Strike another blow for American influence I guess.

Sadly, this time the arts take a hit. Nothing new. History has shown us that the majority of destroyed art has come at the hand of religious ideology. You'd think we would have figured it out by now.

April 9, 2008

Kwantlen Writers' Guild Publication

Here you have it. A semester of hard work by many. I had the privilege of being president of the guild this year and editor in chief of Touch Me, the guild publication. I must say I was genuinely impressed with the quality of writing this semester, in particular the poetry. Outstanding.

Kwantlen's creative writing program is outstanding. I can't say enough about how accomplished the faculty are, and how dedicated they are to their students. They instill passion into their classes, a desire to be great, to love the written word.

Those of you who live in the area, we're doing a reading at the Surrey Arts Center located at Bear Creek Park on Thursday, April 10th from 6-9 pm. Wine and food will be available. Swing by and check out what all the fuss is about.

March 25, 2008

Patrick Friesen: Calling the Dog Home

Plenty of reasons why this guy's my favorite poet: his imagery, precise word choices, the rhythm of each poem. But now something new gets added to the list.

I drove the family to Grand Forks for Easter weekend, to visit Oma and Opa and Uncle Mat--and of course to eat a turkey dinner. I'll travel many miles for turkey. Like most people, I created a road-trip collection of CD's. This time I had everything from Eddie Vedder's soundtrack for Into the Wild to the Red Hot Chili Pepper's Californication to Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin'. I believe I had a mix of '80's hair metal ballads somewhere too. But we won't talk about that.

Baby Girl is not always appreciative of my driving skills (or the lack). Nor does she always express joy at my music choices. But when I popped in Patrick Friesen's Calling the Dog Home, a cycle of poems combined with improvised music (piano, cello, percussion), Simone grew very quiet--contemplative even. Patrick's voice, Marilyn Lerner's piano, Peggy Lee's cello, Niko Friesen's drums had her enraptured--more than her favorite Raffi CD which we accidentally left at home (that's right, accidentally). In fact, she grew so comfortable she actually fell asleep. And I thought I always added this CD for myself.

So, Mr. Friesen. I doff my hat to you, sir. Not just for your voice or the way your words burrow into my chest to cling there for days. But because you have done the unimaginable, tempered the wildness of an infant's gaze long enough for her to recuperate.

March 12, 2008

Memoirs Proven False

Seems like every week a publishing house distances itself from a memoir they've just released. We've all seen the silly Oprah episode with James Frey, so I won't belabor that old hat. Recently it was Margaret B. Jones' gangland memoir Love and Consequences about growing up in a foster family and being a drug runner for LA gangs. Jones, who's last name is actually Seltzer, hails from the affluent Sherman-Oaks neighborhoods, was never in the foster care program, and well...is all Caucasian. Whoops. Apparently every once in awhile facts are important. Pure, unadulterated facts that glisten and shimmer with the purity of their very existence. Woe betide a world without them.

The publisher always issues a hasty statement of horror and shock, crying out the voracious violation of its good deeds. Poor, innocent publisher, grievously taken advantage of by a self-serving writer. One gets the picture of Little Red Riding Hood prancing in all her innocent glory through a forest, only to be attacked and savaged by a wolf. Give me a break.

Publishing houses have fact checkers, people that call around and ask questions like, "what high school did you daughter attend during the years 19**-19**" or "did this [insert obscure historical reference here] actually occur during this period"? These people exist so we don't get new memoirs written by an eighteen year old, claiming to have been Eva Braun's former lover, after Adolph. How far do we have to stretch our imaginations to assume these publishers know damn well about the questionable "truth" in the latest story of triumph over adversity? How great a leap of faith is required to know they get away with it most of the time?

Maybe we should give these writers some credit. When Frey was on Oprah for exaggerating some of the details in his book, I applauded his audacity. No, not because he managed to dupe the idiotic, pandering television icon. But because at the end of the day, in spite of fudging a few details, his book affected people, connected with them, and he was getting away with--almost. He exaggerated details to make the story better, to improve the narrative. I mean, that deserves credit doesn't it? Don't all writer's lie? Are we not great fabricators of story, no matter what the source? No, I suppose not. We are meek, subservient scribes who toil and labor under a stark realism. We must write our lives out in cold, merciless factual statements that shine truth from under a bushel basket.

There is something morally repugnant about an upper-class, white woman claiming the gritty street stories of the lesser-privileged as her own. How dare she, right? For shame and all that. I don't like it any more than the next person. But maybe the issue is more that she got caught? How many other memoirs out there are full of shit? Dare we ask such a question? Dare we find out that a book we've held so dear could prove to be a fallacy? Would the book then be less dear?

We are suckers for the human condition. We love to know someone has managed to escape their own hell to a world of greener pastures, flat-screen televisions, and the luxury of high-end prostitutes. Why? Because it confirms our own notions of struggle, however trivial. But in reality, the struggle in the story still exists, whether the facts are straight or not. It's not the fictitious nature of the writing that is at the core, but the compelling quality in which it is told.

For all you memoir writers: how to embellish without getting caught.
Also, a current list of memoir embellishers.

Now that we know the world is a terrible, corrupt place where people actually lie, that's right LIE, about certain details of their lives, what next? Movies that change historical facts to suit their own agenda? Televised news reports that manicure the details of a story to illicit a certain response? How about those silly political speeches that promise the world and deliver the greasy flap of a cardboard box? Or the television evangelist selling the wares of his man-made god?

No, that will never happen. Harry, you go too far. As long as memoirs are held accountable, the world can go on gasping at the shock of its own piety.


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February 22, 2008

Vancouver Writes 2008

I attended "Vancouver Writes" last night, hosted by the Vancouver International Writer's Festival (VIWF). Over a hundred of us, huddled in groups of ten around tables and paired up with published authors of apparent higher repute, wrote through spontaneous writing exercises. The tasks: choose ten words out of a bowl and create a prose piece, each person writing two sentences before passing paper and pen onto someone else. Or, pair up and choose three words from said bowl and come up with the best possible haiku. All the while a three piece jazz ensemble, named after Bukowski, seamlessly played through various arrangements of songs I'd never heard before--but still enjoyed.

Now I went to the same gig last year and had an absolute riot. The various writers: Nancy Lee, Steven Galloway, Miranda Pearson, Brad Cran to name a few, were charming and fun, putting on the requisite act of feigning interest in the minions around them. The food and drink were adequate, the prizes worth playing for, and the MC Billeh Nickerson was quite outrageous. The people at our table were electric and intelligent, witty, inspiring. It made for a wonderful evening.

This year, the whole event felt a little tired. While the music was good, the food and drink up to par with the previous year, the writers seemed less interested. Timothy Taylor did manage to spill his entire glass of wine on our table, which was good for a laugh. But most of the writers seemed preoccupied, more interested in picking up past conversation with one another than engaging with the "paying folk" at the tables. We appeared to be a trivial obstacle to their evening of socializing. Well, that's a little harsh, but you get the idea. There wasn't much of a connection, at least at our table.

Perhaps my cynicism stems from the poor efforts put out by some of the those who joined my table. One woman decided to personify a rainbow. Honestly, who does that? This isn't The Wizard of Oz. The word "rainbow" was drawn from the bowl (a bad enough plight already) and this silly woman, rather than work the word into setting or an abstraction, gave the rainbow a voice and had it speak to the characters. She did this after we'd established the opening line to be a quote from Flannery O'Connor (a name she'd never heard before). She did this with Miranda Pearson, yes the divine Miranda Pearson and her lovely voice who I wanted to bring home with me so she could read poetry out loud until I fell asleep, sitting at our table. I almost had a seizure. Not to mention that she used the adjective "haughty". It couldn't just be a talking rainbow. It had to be a haughty, talking rainbow. Thankfully there was a woman who shared my grief. She gave a brief rant afterwards that made my evening.

The tables that won were most deserving. Some impressive pieces emerged from these chaotic exercises. And yes I still laughed and snorted and made a general ass of myself as I'm prone to do in situations where I'm not quite comfortable. But Vancouver Writes 2008 was not as inspiring as 2007. I didn't walk away motivated to one day join the ranks of those "elite" writers who took turns gracing our tables. I walked away wondering about the sincerity of it all, whether these writers actually want others to succeed. Or whether it's all just a mechanism, a game to be played in order to keep people interested, keep people buying their books with the slight tease that maybe they too can one day be called an "author".

Yes, I'll go next year. I'm a glutton for a dangling carrot and the guise of potential. Not to mention Miranda Pearson...oh wait, I did already mention that. Maybe I should sign up as a volunteer.



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February 20, 2008

Oscar Picks 2008

Nestled in my vast wealth of cynicism, in some small, protected corner of my aging, fragile mind, a blossom of tasteless love exists. The love is not pure, nor is it selfless. It wallows in self-indulgence and is wrought with superficiality. Thankfully, I only bring it to the surface once a year. All my other guilty pleasures--none of which I shall name here--need room to breathe as well.

The Oscars: a completely biased, inconsistent, bungled affair of glamor, cleavage (God bless it), pageantry, and the occasional intelligent decision. I love 'em, every spastic, melodramatic second. I snorted with glee when David Letterman imitated Jack Nicholson and beat the living hell out of a car with a golf club (1995), while the camera panned to Nicholson's unsmiling face. I bellowed like a mule when Halle Berry burst into tears and started to blubber as she accepted her award for Monster's Ball (2002). What other chances do we get to see celebrity at its narcissistic, disconnected finest? Where else can we go to celebrate a person rather than the art, their outfits rather than their craft?

And so, in the blessed spirit of all things profane and plastic and held together with double-sided tape, I offer my picks for The Academy Awards 2008, the more auspicious title for the Oscars--in case you were wondering. And these are not predictions by the way, merely opinion of who I think is most worthy. It was a brilliant year for film, one of the best in memory. This alone makes watching award shows worthwhile, just to see those brief clips of genius. Here goes...

Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood. The man is the pinnacle of depraved genius, bringing a complexity to his characters that borders on the absurd. Worth noting that every other nominee in this category deserves a nod in the highest order. All great performances.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton. Tough call here. Javier Bardem was outstanding, as was Philip Seymour Hoffman. But Wilkinson's monologue in the opening sequence of the film clinched it for me. It was a performance rather than just a presence.

Actress in a Leading Role:
Julie Christie in Away From Her. Difficult characterization to play, yet she pulls it off with such grace. Took my breath away, really. Hats off to Ellen Page in Juno as well, who was lovely and adorable and all things good.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. Her character's uncertainty, her denial, her moral bankruptcy and appetite. It was like being witness to the fall of an empire.

Directing: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men. The closest I've ever seen a film come to what I would define as literary. Their use of silence and setting, allowing a scene to speak for itself without resorting to manipulation. Flawless. Huge nod to PT Anderson for There Will Be Blood, which was such a close second I almost couldn't decide.

Writing (original screenplay): Diablo Cody for Juno. Has a second-to-none grasp on vernacular and timing. Loved the internal rhythm of the screenplay, her willingness to never shy away from that necessary reality that sparks true humor.

Writing (adapted screenplay): Sarah Polley for Away From Her. Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" was treated well here, with intelligent decisions (in my mind) made by Polley to make the story breathe for the screen. Such mature writing, combined with direction, really made this stand out for me. Hats off to the Coen Brothers as well. PT Anderson's adaptation was so loose I'm not sure it was an actual adaptation as much as it was an expansion of an idea.

Best Film: No Country For Old Men. Everything comes together for this film, writing, sound, acting. It is the equivalent to watching a great novel (which it was) unfold on screen. And my God the ending of this film, so flawless and subtle with its complexity. This film in and of itself made the entire year worthwhile.

Sadly, I was not able to see any of the short films (animated or live action), nor was I able to see the foreign films this year. It's a huge disappointment, for I consider short films as I do the short story: a profound and refined art form. Foreign films are a luxury rarely afforded where I live. Few theaters ever show them. But rest assured I shall seek them out in the video store as soon as I can.

There are my picks. Now what are yours?

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February 18, 2008

The Adventures of the Mighty Sally

Amidst raising our baby girl, erstwhile known as Bubby, Dear Wifey has managed to get back on the artistic workhorse and begin new projects. Her blog is being updated regularly now, so for those of you who actually check my spot every now and then, here's another one ready for your perusal.

The Adventures of the Mighty Sally

The sad fact of the matter is, you may find pictures of me from...oh, let's just say a less-than-rugged stage in my life. Wives never have to ask permission. Some unwritten rule, I guess.

Anyways, next post will be about writing--and soon.

January 25, 2008

New Film Reviews

Here are some links to my latest film reviews. Something strange happened with the formatting, which I shall blame on the software. Yes, that's it...the software. You'll find them in the side bar too, but here they are anyways...

No Country For Old Men

There Will Be Blood

Charlie Wilson's War

Those of you who have seen them, feel free to post your assessments as well. Always curious what others think...

January 6, 2008

Things to Remember When Returning to School

2008 --the year of reasonable facsimiles of various gods. On the cusp of turning thirty-three I darken the halls of college once again. It has been at least five years since my return to third-year studies of Creative Writing and Philosophy. No faces are familiar. Only the manic scramblings of eighteen year olds as they scurry to their six-hour Biology lab or intro to Criminology or Sociology or whatever the hell. I try to play it cool, slow my pace, walk with purpose, look people in the eye. I'm obvious in that painful way and if I were the observer I'd feel inclined to inhale through my front teeth in a sad hiss of pity. Butchered attempts at connection with a generation far removed. I am old, uncool. I am cool-inverted. The lack of coolness. You get the picture. In the spirit of self-deprecation here is a helpful list of things to remember when you return to college at almost twice the age of the other students.

1) Do not wear tight shirts. Don't even let it cross your mind. Your once sturdy pectorals are only two beers away from becoming the dreaded man-tits. And for God's sake make sure your pants do not taper in at the cuff. Don't try to wear their clothes, but have some self-respect and stay away from that cardboard box marked "retro" at the bottom of your closet. Stay away from sweatpants and any underwear not considered boxer-brief. No one wants to see the tip of your penis pressing through the fabric of your trousers.

2) For some reason everyone is taller these days. Perhaps due to microwaving everything they eat. Maybe someone dropped a nuclear isotope into the gene pool, I don't know. But you're short --and squat. And if you aren't careful your clumsy attempts to look taller by walking with a straight back will cause you to trip. Probably because your feet are too big. Or because you've strained a muscle and are now unable to turn properly.

3) Talking at length about great bands like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden or Screaming Trees or Pearl Jam may induce blank stares. Don't even go near Neil Young or Bob Dylan. The day you vowed would never come has arrived. You are not up to date with their music. Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance are not upcoming episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Wear your favorite band T-shirts, but don't expect any praise.

4) When you raise your hand in class, be damn sure to keep your responses to two or three sentences. Remember your first years in college? When you sat at the back of the class and groaned whenever that "mature student" at the front raised his hand to wax pedantic? You have become that person. Sure, you don't wear Christmas sweaters and sweat pants --at least not in public, but no one cares about what you know. Speak smart and speak fast or someone will throw their pencil at you.

5) Do not make repeated eye-contact with the sumptuous young females seated in the classroom. They may have been flattered and flirtatious back in the day, when you still looked young and virile, but now they find you creepy. And you are creepy if you do that. What chance do you think you have anyways? Admire them from a distance. Mourn the days when you were in your prime. Then leave them the hell alone. Pervy old codger.

Words of wisdom, all you returning mature students. We are a dying breed, a restless boat moored at the dock of youth --alright, that last one was lame. We are the outcasts.

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