"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Of Transparent Eyeballs and Angry Squirrels

Episode 2 of my Quest to Become a Transparent Eyeball

If you missed Episode 1, click here.


Okay. Let’s start over. But first, I apologize for flying off the handle just now. My blogging audience should not have to witness such outbursts…and by blogging audience I mean my mom and that person who found my webpage by googling ‘veiny dog.’

Mind you, I’ve never blogged about veiny dogs. I did use the word ‘veiny’ in a blog post about a cool NASA photo. And on two other posts I have collaborated with a dog. This may explain how my blog showed up in Google search results for ‘veiny dog.’ But it doesn’t explain why anyone would google such a term.

Second Attempt to Blog about Becoming a Transparent Eyeball

Standing serenely on my porch on Saturday, taking in the dawning sun and crisp early-spring breeze, I transcend the rat race of the city. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, I become a transparent eyeball. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, don’t google it right away. Just ask yourself, what might it mean to become a transparent eyeball?

For me, being a transparent eyeball means becoming a seamless patch of fabric in the quilt of Nature. It also implies a sense of peace and an ability to observe the beauty of the world free from hindrance. That is the exquisite state of being I felt myself achieving Saturday morning...until a squirrel yelled at me.

Now, spending much of my life in cities, I am attuned to the vocalizations of the urban squirrel. They have a sharp, tinselly quality (The Childe stops writing to verify with his dictionary that ‘tinselly’ is a word. ...It is!)

My apologies for getting off track again. Here I am trying to blog about the impediment squirrels pose to achieving transcendental joy. And I do this out of a sincere concern for my audience--an audience that apparently includes a person who googled ‘sexy Mormon.’ Mind you, I’ve never blogged about sexy Mormons. I have blogged about Mormons, and in other posts I have addressed sexiness. This may explain why my blog showed up in the search results for ‘sexy Mormon.’ But it doesn’t explain why anyone would google such a term.

Third Attempt at Transparent Eyeball Blog Post

An urban squirrel, similar in size and attitude to the one depicted in this post.

Anyhow, there I was, standing on my porch on a Saturday morning, attempting to commune with Nature (aka front yard). Without warning, I found myself verbally accosted by a squirrel.

Squirrels in my town aren’t like squirrels in other towns. Here they do not passively circumnavigate tree trunks in a vain attempt to remain unseen. I’ve seen squirrels stop cars in this town rather than get out of the way (No lie.) The squirrels in my town--not unlike other life forms in the neighborhood--have a sense of entitlement. They strut about as if the cosmos owes them something. What presumption!

I confess that receiving verbal blows at the hand/claw/paw-thingy of a rodent was a tad traumatic. The signature battle cry of an angry squirrel grates like iron cloth scrubbing a burn-blackened pan. And to be clear, this squirrel was yelling at me. No other being was around, neither bird nor man nor fellow squirrel. The beast was looking directly at me and the yell was unmistakably reproving in tone. Yet, it only made me more desirous to become a transparent eyeball.

If I was a transparent eyeball, I could unobtrusively watch this squirrel be a squirrel. After all, when not acting pissy, squirrels are quite fun to watch. Every moment of their lives is filled with a vitality that workaday humans often lack. Part of me wonders if this same existential vibrancy is enjoyed by veiny dogs, sexy Mormons and the humans who would know them better.

As all this occurred to me on the porch, I tried something silly. I spoke to the squirrel. “Hi, Squirrel. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Miraculously, as I spoke the squirrel stopped yelling. I drew closer, though still 13 feet below his perch, and spoke again. “Come on down, Squirrel. I’ll pet you.” To my amazement he climbed down a few branches, all the while remaining focused on me. The squirrel even began to seem more curious than hostile. Were we becoming friends?

Heck, no. It’s a frickin’ squirrel. Centuries of evolution have instructed this species that humans are not lambs, and thus not to be lied down with. My quest to commune with Nature unsuccessful, I headed to a coffee shop. Ah the coffee shop!--where provisions can be got without foraging, with little threat of predators, and for no more trouble than it takes to offer up a swatch of manmade greenery called cash. Granted, we who deal in such abstract forms of exchange are neither transparent nor at peace with Nature…but neither are we hungry.

Episode 3 of My Transparent Eyeball Quest

Click the following link to read how A Childe Battles with the Beast

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unbiased Adoration for Kevin Smith's 'Red State'

Red State Teaser Trailer

Childe Jake's Review of Red State: Ann Arbor, Michigan Screening

For all of the spectacle that cinema affords, sometimes its most prized offering is the simple yet magical first appearance of a film’s star. A great example is Robert Shaw’s nails-on-chalkboard intrusion into Jaws. The new indie thriller Red State provides just such an entrance by actor John Goodman.

Easily the biggest name in Red State, Goodman doesn’t show up right away. In fact, I was so caught up in the movie’s disturbing first act that I actually forgot he was in the cast. It’s not just cool that Goodman, being pop culture royalty, would deign to appear in a low-budget flick like Red State. It’s that his entrance is perfectly timed and sublimely understated, coming right after a particularly brutal sequence.

Red State is filmmaker Kevin Smith’s supercharged take on homegrown religious extremism. I don’t want to say much about the plot, because this is one of those films where the less you know the better your viewing experience will be. Suffice it to say that Red State begins with three teenagers on a quest to get laid. They drive into the proverbial sticks and get abducted by an ominous cult waging war with sinners.

The above setup, summarily executed, is where the film’s predictability ends. By the time Goodman arrives, the only thing the audience knows for sure is that anything could happen next. This gets to the core of why Goodman’s familiar presence is so appreciated, even comforting. Who else could get audience applause for merely rolling out of bed?

Red State is a dark and menacing hodgepodge of genres and styles. Among others, it mixes the gritty feel and tension of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the peppery dialogue of Reservoir Dogs. Plus, the whole thing gets shot with frenetic camera work reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream. If you are inclined to regard the above fare as over the top, then you aren’t paying attention to the country you live in. We’re pretty crazy these days. And if we don’t calm down, the Armageddon fate looming over Goodman’s character in Red State may be our own.

Lest this review turn into a total love fest, I must say Red State is not perfect. At times, the film’s low budget is distractingly apparent. There are also a few patches of dialogue where the exposition comes across heavy and forced. Perhaps more problematic, Smith’s taste for thoughtfulness and humanity sometimes competes awkwardly with his penchant for farcical scenarios. Still, these narrative shortcomings can be forgiven. Like Smith’s previous films, Red State hits home whenever characters voice notions us real folks are having but lack the guts to say aloud.

Ultimately, the twin gems of Red State are crafty performances by Goodman and Michael Parks, who plays the movie’s slithering villain. Call these guys the Yin and Yikes of Red State. I don’t seriously expect this movie to rake in awards, but between SAG, the Golden Globes and Oscar himself, one or both of these actors should at least get a nod.

Red State is currently on tour, with Smith hosting screenings followed by Q and A at big theatres. Later this year, the movie should find its way to a Cineplex near you. For independent film fans this is the chance to see Kevin Smith return to the roots that fostered his breakthrough film Clerks. But for everyone Red State is an opportunity to be entertained, challenged, and also reminded how wonderful it is when John Goodman shows up for the shindig.

Click Here for my Previous Kevin Smith Post

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cosmos Clearinghouse for March

A Poignant Farewell for NASA's Discovery

Here is a photo taken from the International Space Station as the shuttle Discovery began its final voyage back to Earth. To understand the human significance of this photo, imagine the shuttle is a mighty and heroic cowboy named Shane. As the hero drifts away, a little childe shouts, "Shane! Come back!"

NASA image of Discovery on its last flight, as viewed from the ISS on 3/7/11.

A Visit with Discovery's First Pilot

There has been plenty of coverage of the space shuttle Discovery's final flight. The media is always on hand when NASA does something sexy or obviously historical--or when budget cuts from Congress force the agency to take another small step toward irrelevance. Anyway...

Here is some coverage I deeply appreciated. NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday did an interview with Capt. Mike Coats, the first pilot of Discovery. This piece is bittersweet. Coats is watching the shuttle he piloted on its maiden voyage head to a museum. At any rate, the interview is well worth four minutes of your time. Capt. Coats speaks with dignity and clarity. He also shows himself to be a keen observer of history in the making.Click here to listen.

Childe Jake's Review of Contact


This past week I guest-blogged for the Ambitious Ambigue, a writer based in Ann Arbor. She is building a site of reviews for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. After happily finding Carl Sagan's novel Contact on this list, I offered to provide a review. You can read it by clicking here. As always, comments are welcome. Of course more important than reading my review, I hope you will read the book!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

This Childe's Memories Enhanced 'The Shining'

The ShiningThe Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It didn’t help that I started reading The Shining just as the biggest storm of winter was hitting. Nor did it help that I live alone and it often gets quiet. And it certainly did not help that, like the character Jack, I’m a moody writer. Or, as author Stephen King might suggest, these factors helped immensely! Suffice it to say that by 200 pages into The Shining, I was thoroughly spooked and sweating emotion.

The central character of The Shining is Danny, a little boy surrounded by the haunting Rocky Mountains. In this colossal setting, Danny is utterly dependent on parents who themselves navigate a precarious existence. When I was Danny’s age, I lived in Colorado and spent a good deal of time in the mountains with my mom and dad. Like Danny, I was intensely close to my parents. For these reasons, I found the first third of The Shining spellbinding.

Novels are at their best when you just sink into them. And I did with this one. It isn’t that King’s writing is especially masterful. Though, I do find him far better at characterization than some give him credit for. Rather, with The Shining King just happened to press all the right buttons with me. When Jack, Wendy and Danny stood alone on the porch of the Overlook Hotel, watching the last car drive off down the mountain, I was right there with them. In fact, I found it quite emotional.

King succeeds marvelously in the first act of this book, depicting stark human weakness as it appears to the mind of a thoughtful little boy. Happily, one of the dividends I received from reading The Shining was a renewed gratitude for my parents. Only in my 30s have I begun to comprehend how hard they must have worked to provide me an early childhood that truly was charmed.

Still, once the forlorn trio is confined to the highly fictional Overlook Hotel, the story becomes mostly about spooky horror devices. Here I felt my infatuation with The Shining wane. The novel began to feel unnecessarily drawn out. Passages of introspection increasingly seemed overstated and redundant in the context of a conventional horror mill. It remained entertaining but seemed far less special than the first third of the book.

If you are considering trying Stephen King out, I wouldn’t start with The Shining. But if you’ve read other King novels and enjoyed them, I wouldn’t miss this one. As King states in his Introduction, this novel represented a critical point in his career—the moment when he decided to take his writing beyond mere “funhouse” fiction. As he puts it, the “truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.”

View all my reviews