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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Crater for a Carol Maker

Taking a break from finally reading A Tale of Two Cities, I found this image on NASA's website. Behold a crater on the planet Mercury named for Charles Dickens:

The crater was imaged in 2011 by the Messenger spacecraft. For a complete caption, visit NASA's image page. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Night Salient Pessimism

Sobriety may be, almost certainly is, the best choice.

Nevertheless, it sometimes lacks immediate reward.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why Speculate? Because 'Zealot'

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many of us, my introduction to Reza Aslan's book Zealot came through the hubbub. First with an NPR interview, and later through trending YouTube clips of a Fox News anchor attempting to corner an Islamic man who--yes it's true--wrote this carefully researched book--in part--to discredit the notion of Jesus as God made flesh. As an often cynical agnostic, I watched with a mixture of frustration and amusement. How dare a scholar attempt a historically accurate accounting of Jesus!

Finally, courtesy a Thanksgiving road trip, I made it through Zealot via the unabridged audio production read by the author. This was a highly engaging audio production. Reading the book himself ensures Aslan can pace and accent the text in a manner that underscores his pursuasive agenda. Aslan is able to make his case audibly, like a TED talk, where a for-hire audio book reader might have voiced the text less emphatically.

Aslan builds this entire book around one key point. Jesus was crucified. Rome reserved this form of punishment for convicted revolutionaries. Therefore Jesus should be understood first and foremost as a revolutionary. The balance of the book, with extensive referencing of early historical and scriptural texts, fleshes out this argument. In the process, Aslan follows the well-worn path of scholars who debunk the claim of Christians that the New Testament is itself historically accurate. Hence the controversy.

Yet, having made the case early on that the Gospels cannot serve as historical biography, Aslan repeatedly returns to them for snippits that do appear to strengthen his thesis. So while I appreciated the quality of his writing, especially the organization of the chapters and clarity of his assertions, I am left to take yet another scholar at his word on which parts of the New Testament should be trusted.

I found the final chapters most engrossing, as the author shows how the historical/political Jesus was supplanted by the evangelical deified Jesus. In particular, Aslan paints a picture of incredible tension between the apostles Paul and James, with James receding in prominence as the New Testament is compiled and the center of Christianity shifts to Rome. The relationships of the various apostles are rendered far more acrimonious than anything I encountered in Sunday School while growing up.

Since the broad strokes of Zealot were already familiar to me, I have to assume Aslan is not saying anything especially new. Still, he brings the scholarly argument into focus. I do recommend this book to people wanting to consider the historical Jesus. But you may find, as I did, given the lack of first-hand source material, the historical Jesus seems almost as speculative as the divine one.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Fiery Winter for Orion

The path to landing humans on Mars is complex and dangerous. In December, NASA will take a pivotal step closer to achieving this goal. The below video dramatizes the incredibly crucial and exciting test flight of the Orion spacecraft coming this winter.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Morning Walk for Mimi

How does one live in a small town, often go on walks, and after nine years still discover paths he has not tread? Habits sometimes keep us from discovery I suspect.

This morning I participated in a locally organized Walk to End Alzheimer's. I have lost a grandparent to this disease. I was also looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors on a wonderfully mild weekend. So I followed the 2.8 mile route, which at one point diverted from the usual streets and took me behind the local high school's football and baseball fields. Then, hooking right, I followed a lovely paved walkway adjacent to a local retirement home.

It all appeared new to me, this area of town. Mysterious at times, enticingly so at a couple of points, yet disorienting and taxing to my eyes and feet. When I made it to the finish line, a group of Girl Scout volunteers cheered me as if they knew me. I appreciated this gesture, though I did not recognize any of them. Was this, in a small measure, analogous to living with Alzheimer's?

With love and treasured memories of Mimi and all those who have left us.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pinpointing 'The Fault in Our Stars'

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's commendable how John Green keeps his teen tragedy moving right along, given that so much of the action is just suffering kids sitting in rooms. The Fault in Our Stars could easily have settled into stationary dreariness and still come out meaningful. The characters are all somewhere between likable and very likable (with one engrossing exception). They are all suffering from cancer or attached to someone who is sick. Feeling meaningful is a pretty wide target to hit with that setup.

Yet, from early on I found myself genuinely interested in Hazel, the protagonist, and her supporting cast. In particular, I was taken in by how the ailing youths wield cynicism. Most of the time, practiced as they are from chronic/terminal illness, they do so deftly--not with abandon. Sickness has forced them to grow up quick. Like seasoned adults, they pick their moments. The resulting dilemmas make for compelling scenework.

The Fault in Our Stars did move me to sniffle and tear up. If I had not been reading in public, I would have let myself sob as I read some of the later chapters. This is well-crafted, accessible, and meaningful fiction. The ending, which goes nowhere new and wallows somewhat, felt belabored to me. Yet, like the rest of the novel, it felt earned. Thanks to John Green, I will be giving young adult fiction the time of day going forward.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Billy Crystal is Still Foolin' Me

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My KeysStill Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys by Billy Crystal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't have a very long commute. Still, when the misery that is American broadcast news gets to be too much, I take a break from my car radio to listen to an audio book. This is why I decided to listen to Billy Crystal's memoir/exploration of aging. And let me just say, I cannot imagine reading this book. Experiencing it as an audio book seems both obvious and mandatory. Only listening in 15 minute commute segments proved too slow. A couple of CDs in I yanked the case out of my car and gorged on 2 CDs at a time in my apartment.

Billy Crystal has been a welcome guest in my family's entertainment circle since he appeared in the sitcom Soap. We have loved his standup, his impersonations, and many of his films. When Harry Met Sally is one of my all-time favorite films and certainly my favorite romantic comedy. It was a pleasure to revisit all of these cherished memories through Billy's perspective, humor, and voice. The chapters he reads before a live audience are riveting in their hilarity.

The appeal of this memoir may come down to whether or not you are already a Billy Crystal fan. The approach he takes is inevitably an extension of his lifelong comedic style and wit. I think it is safe to say his recent Emmy Awards tribute to the late Robin Williams counts as something of a supplement, and a good sense of how this book comes across: candid, sentimental, bright. Thank you, Billy.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Border Seen From Space

Here is one of the most fascinating images I have seen from NASA this year. Look at this agriculturally defined border between China and Kazakhstan. Then head to NASA's Earth Observatory website to read the complete caption. Extremely interesting.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

An A-Plus for 'Europa Report'

Last week I went on a date to the movies. As we waited for the previews to start, one of the movies we discussed was Gravity. I am both a movie lover and a dedicated space enthusiast, so I relished the film. Even where it takes liberties, it does so to achieve a wonderfully vivid depiction of the cluttered realm of Low Earth Orbit.

My date, on the other hand, did not care so much for the movie. Her number one gripe was how Gravity beats you over the head with its themes. I had to agree with her. The chief strength of the movie is not character, plot or dialogue. Its brilliance lies in cinematography.

Around the time Gravity came out, a much lower profile--and lower budget--science fiction film had a limited release: Europa Report. Check out the trailer, which is as smartly edited and expertly teasing as is the movie.

Europa Report depicts, as plausibly as possible, a human mission to the moon of Jupiter. Real science indicates the possibility of a real subsurface ocean with the real potential to harbor life. That's right. We might have neighbors in our solar system at this very moment. I enjoyed my second viewing last night and felt the need to plug this film. Hope you'll give it a try.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Big Band at Sunset

As part of my regimen for not spending all summer in a coffee shop, I headed to West Park in Ann Arbor to watch a community band perform. This is the type of band I might have happily ended up in had I stuck with trumpet beyond sophomore year in high school (didn't merely quit, transferred my focus to theatre).

I learned of the Ann Arbor Civic Band through a co-worker who graces the woodwinds section with her ongoing devotion to both music and community. The below picture captures last week's Tribute to the Big Band Era. Had I taken the photo at a different moment, you would see couples swing dancing on the sidewalk as the sun sets. Good times!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dramatizing 'The Science of Shakespeare'

The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's UniverseThe Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's Universe by Dan Falk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Around the time of Shakespeare there were two views of the solar system: the older view was Earth-centered (Ptolemaic), and the newer view was Sun-centered (Copernican). In The Science of Shakespeare, Dan Falk provides a wonderfully accessible history lesson explaining these two astronomical systems--how the Ptolemaic view dominated for so long and then was overtaken by the Copernican theory (roughly around the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet). If Mr. Falk’s book had been solely, or even mostly, about this crucial history lesson, I would probably be writing a four-star review. I am not.

At the heart of Falk’s book is a vein of wishful-thinking that borders on conspiracy theory. What begins as an informative interdisciplinary discussion--examining the intersection of Elizabethan drama and modern science—by Chapter 7 diverts in to a scholastic pipedream with Shakespeare being a closeted devotee of Copernican astronomy. Perhaps, the author and his chief source suggest, Hamlet is more than just a great play. Perhaps it is also a clever and elaborate allegory exploring the revolutionary discoveries of Galileo et al. What if the characters in Hamlet are actually symbolic stand-ins for the leading thinkers of Ptolemaic and Copernican astronomies?

As Falk grants by way of academic integrity, prevailing literary theory finds this hypothesis flimsy. Shakespeare’s plays have clear, unmistakable, and fully-developed themes. Science-flattering allegory is not one of them. It smacks of the same contrived, cherry-picking investigation that lies at the core of conspiracy theories--like the one about Shakespeare not being the author of any or all of those plays. This does not stop Falk from devoting a lot of ink and credulity to the idea. It is as if Falk wants to be the Copernicus of Shakespearean scholarship--establishing a new unifying truth of what the Bard's plays really mean, a revelation that has eluded centuries of previous thinkers.

To his credit, Falk makes clear the highly speculative nature of suggesting Shakespeare had his finger on the pulse of the Scientific Revolution. Furthermore, I am not offended that Falk addressed the notion of Hamlet as science allegory. I am annoyed at how hard he worked to make it look compelling. I come at this as a Shakespeare fan with a humanities degree. I feel like Falk might feel if he had to read multiple chapters of me saying, “The Academy may have dismissed Velikovsky’s ideas about the solar system, but clearly he was on to something. Scholars should revisit him.”

The truth is Hamlet does not want for a science tie-in to be one of the greatest achievements of human expression.

Late in The Science of Shakespeare, Falk makes a compelling exploration of King Lear. The author hits his stride juxtaposing the Bard with the fledgling modern science of his day. He also does justice to what makes King Lear great--its humanity. For this chapter above all others, I am glad I stuck this book out to the end. Falk even got me in the mood to reread King Lear. And that is great, because Shakespeare’s plays deserve to be read. They do for English literature what Copernicus and Galileo did for science--they give us a lasting foundation for worthy exploration.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Moth StorySLAM 2: A Bunny's Tale

Why am I not waiting until Throwback Thursday to post the below picture? The fact is I am not posting this photo to celebrate years-old past. This picture has to do with the present. The little bunny in the snapshot, named Careless by me and my sisters, became a principle character in my second Moth StorySLAM performance...

In May, the theme for Moth StorySLAM in Ann Arbor was "Animals." I knew right away which true story I wanted--no, needed--to tell. As a boy, I had trouble bonding with my pet bunny Careless. Then I came up with a clever plan to bond with her and improve her quality of life. I devised a homemade leash. This idea was not the immediate disaster you might expect, but it proved life-altering for both me and Careless. That is all I'll share here. For now, I am keeping it in the realm of oral storytelling.

I told the story of Careless and me to a packed house at the Circus Bar. Nine other storytellers also told five-minute stories. We performed with nothing but the microphone in front of us. No notes or props. At the end of the evening I earned the highest score!...along with one other storyteller.

My co-occupant in the First Place slot told an awesome story and he told it incredibly well. I won't even try to summarize it. Rest assured he provided us an edge-of-your-seat experience. Tying with him was an honor. Though we'd never met before, he and I hugged after the competition. I also got a hug from another complete stranger on my way out the door. Sharing stories brings people closer.

To learn more about The Moth, visit their website. Thank you to Michigan Radio for sponsoring the Ann Arbor StorySLAM. Final link: my previous Moth post.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Standing in a Life-Size Space Shuttle Trainer

On my recent vacation I stopped by the Space Shuttle Exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Amateur video and disastrous attempts at scale-depicting selfies ensued. You have to walk through two gigantic hangars containing a fleet of war artifacts to reach this exhibit about peaceful space exploration, but hey...it's an Air Force museum. Moreover, it is an excellent venue. Below are two short videos:

This second video begins with a sloppy close-up of an experimental satellite that never flew in space. Instead, NASA used it as a means to test the effects of long-term storage on space hardware.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Butterfly Orgy at Moth StorySLAM

Moth stage setup at the Circus Bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan

I attended my first Moth StorySLAM in Ann Arbor solely to listen. To see if the Moth scene, famous for its NPR show, could be an invigorating hangout for a struggling writer like me. People stand up and tell true stories without script or notes. Five minute time limit. Forgiving the beer and vulgarity, it is a communal ritual strangely reminiscent of the Mormon testimony meetings of my childhood.

I arrived 90 minutes early to ensure myself a seat. I intended only to listen. 45 minutes before showtime the announcer said, "We only have four storytellers signed up so far. That's really shitty." Awkward laughter from all of us who showed up only to listen. "The show won't start until we have ten storytellers signed up."

For several slow minutes, I balked. Then, finally, I signed up to tell a story. After all, the theme for this StorySLAM was "Song." I had plenty of possibilities. The moment I committed, butterflies started having an orgy in my stomach. Not an elegant analogy but I want you to get a feel for the types of stories that were told. I also want you to sense the raw beauty of our emcee's banter.

"How many of you are at Moth StorySLAM for the first time?" asked our kickass emcee Satori Shakoor. I and many others raised our sheepish hands. "You all are Moth virgins." She said this with a hearty and inclusive smile. She ensured us we were all in this storytelling experience together. 

Names were drawn from a hat. And the orgasm-enjoying butterflies in my stomach predicted my name would be drawn first. They were correct.

I shuffled up to the stage, picked a smiling blurry blond at the distant back of the bar, and told her about the time I interrupted a rehearsal at the Purple Rose Theatre Company and sang the song "Simple Gifts" onstage. The blond, and many others, laughed at the moments I hoped they would. I surfed the rush as best I could. Then I sat down, became part of the crowd, no longer a Moth virgin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Truth, 'Blood Will Out'

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a MasqueradeBlood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Understatement: It is a violent world.

Just now, I listened to the morning news while wolfing down breakfast at a local cafe. 100 percent of the coverage I heard was about recent violence, violence in progress, and the prospect of violence in the future. To say the least, we are a violent species.

Yet, as Walter Kirn points out in his new non-fiction work, Blood Will Out, we humans are also capable of great tolerance and cooperation. That is not a wonderful thing. Kirn explores how these traits--in concert with our desire for acceptance--make us easy pickins for psycopaths.

In Blood Will Out, Kirn casts himself as the thoughtful dupe of a murdering con man. The premise is so oddly touching it borders on hard to believe. Kirn agrees to drive an ailing dog across country and deliver it to a member of the Rockefeller family. Sounds like a great start to a novel. However this is a true story. Or at least it is the recounting of a great deal of lying.

The book flips back and forth between a murder trial in the present and a rocky friendship in the past. This dual plotline allows the author to draw parallels between con artist and mark. In every chapter, the implicit question being begged is "Kirn, how did you fall for this guy's claims?" Therefore, the book's greatest accomplishment is its candid rendering of how Kirn, or any of us, can be grandly duped.

Blood Will Out is a fairly quick read. This is not an in-depth exploration of forensics and crime investigation. It is a memoir about the bond between two men: the deceiver and the deceived. Doubtless, some will be cynical of Kirn's choice to convert his unflattering experience into a moneymaking bestseller. Still, he seems candid about his personal shortcomings and offers up a tale with plenty of healthy caution for the reader. I highly recommend Blood Will Out.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

'Everything is Illuminated' in Book Clubs

Everything Is IlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book club became downright wild this week.

We discussed Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated. At one point I asserted the following: "Part of my difficulty getting into this book was the author's excessive use of devices--the constant switching of narrative voices, chapters where punctuation is done away with, the page and a half where he repeats the phrase "We are writing..." over and over. His indulgent use of stylized proze distracted from my ability to connect with the characters."

My two cents flung onto the reading club's table, several people nodded. Then, from directly across the table, a lady looked me in the eyes and in a reserved yet non-apologetic tone said, "Actually, I did not find the characters at all compelling. So the author's use of narrative devices was what interested me the most." As her two cents came to rest upon--no, to smother--my two cents, I nodded politely.

Like I said, book club became downright wild as we discussed Everything is Illuminated.

This novel is a perfect selection for a book club, inciting a wide range of reactions. Our club's discussion resulted in delicious disagreements, but also some vindication all around. Our reactions were various, but none of us reacted alone. For me, and I suspect for others, the realization that I was not the only one who found the book frustrating and inaccessible provided relief.

Everything is Illuminated is a novel about searching out one's roots, about uncovering family secrets, and about realizing one's destiny. This is also a novel about shedding light on horrific periods of history. At its most personable, the book depicts two similar minds nitpicking over details and perspective. These themes are tried and true, yet none of them are guaranteed to move and inspire.

Perhaps this is a masterful novel that I was not in mood for. Perhaps, as I asserted at book club, this is a so-so novel gilded with excessively stylized prose. Either way, the chance to mull over my reaction in person with other thoughtful readers made the whole experience worth it. As a matter of fact, that is one of the main ideas depicted in Everything is Illuminated.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Witnessing 'Conflict in the Quorum'

Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph SmithConflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith by Gary James Bergera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At a panel discussion in Salt Lake City, I once heard a BYU Philosophy professor suggest that the Adam-God Doctrine may have been something Brigham Young used for the purpose of trying to drive Orson Pratt out of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. My brow furrowed. I had never before heard that notion, nor for that matter was I aware that a serious conflict had occurred between the two men. I left the matter unexplored until I found Gary James Bergera's book Conflict in the Quorum.

Orson Pratt, one of the great theological voices of early Mormonism, had run-ins with both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. His rift with Joseph occurred over the practice of polygamy and claims that Joseph attempted to take Pratt's wife in plural marriage. His conflicts with Brigham Young covered a great deal of ground, including questions of authority--should Church rulings be made by a First Presidency or a majority of the Twelve--and issues of theology, such as the nature of the Godhead.

This work is a magnifying glass held up to two men who were fiercely devoted to Mormonism in excruciatingly different ways. Young was a manager. Pratt was a theologian. Bergera's book is not for the beginner. This book is not a primer. It is a close examination of original records. It moves fast and is laden with footnotes.

One of the great values of Conflict in the Quorum is in providing the reader extended excerpts taken from meeting transcripts. At times, the reader has the chance to picture being in a closed-door meeting of the Twelve. Bergera provides enough depth and breadth of material so that, whether one is partial to Young or Pratt, it is possible to appreciate the perspective each man had.

For me personally, I strongly valued the candid discussion of Brigham Young's Adam-God Doctrine--in which Young taught that Adam was a resurrected polygamist when he entered the Garden of Eden, and also the Father of our spirits. Pratt became an outspoken critic of this odd doctrine that did not stand the test of time. Pratt and Young also repeatedly butted heads over the question of how God's omniscience omnipresence should be understood in light of Mormon belief that God has a physical body. In these matters, Bergera lets Pratt and Young speak for themselves.

As Young and Pratt grapple with each other and deep doctrines, the reader has a chance to learn a lot about human nature and also 19th Century Mormonism. The goal of this book is not to disprove Mormonism, nor does it come down unequivocally in favor of Young or Pratt. I recommend it for people engaged in a serious study of Mormon history, and who are interested in examining source material not as often examined.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

About Me and "The Lover's Dictionary"

The Lover's DictionaryThe Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BE AWARE: The next to last paragraph of this review may constitute a spoiler.

I was prepared to give this book four stars out of five right up until I read the last entry--the one for the letter Z. I had not expected to like this book, but I did. I did not expect to be hooked by this book, but I was. I suppose if I had not liked nor been hooked by this book, I would have cared much less about the betrayal of the reader that is the final chapter.

Still, let's grant what works, which is most everything in the entries for the first 25 letters of the alphabet. First off there is wit and there is humor. The prose is lively, accessible, and thought-provoking. It greets the reader like a great first date. Though the format is devoutly episodic, a well-constructed character arc sustains the suspense over the book's full length. There is the deepening sense of a fling turned into a longer fling turned into a genuine relationship.

There is celebration. There is mourning. There are idiosyncracies. This book masterfully plays out the savory messiness of coupling. There are chocolates and flowers in the form of brilliant notions well worth espousing. There are chapters where I found myself arguing with the book and then realizing arguing is okay. It happens. You can learn from it. You can come out of it stronger and closer.

Then I arrived at the letter Z. The letter Z provides no closure. On purpose. The letter Z tries to make an orgasm out of uncertainity. It tries to enshrine the tension of wondering what will happen after your companion says, "There's something we need to talk about." For a book that spends so much of itself achieving marvelous realizations, the choice to end on a question mark feels like a cop-out.

To be clear, I think this is a four star book. But right now I need to punish it for betraying me. So, The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan, I am only giving you three stars. I am also saying we are done. I slam the door in your face. I say that you failed me when I needed you most. When I needed a romantic novel with the courage to say that all relationships end either in breakup or death, you chickened out. You dashed my hope and I do not think I can forgive you. All that great writing just so I can find out right at the end you are a tease?

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Following Woolf 'To the Lighthouse'

To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The lighthouse, so far as I can tell, might as well be the convenience store or carwash, or any number of mundane places that somehow become what any given day is all about for a family. Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is at least as concerned with time, or timing rather, as it is with place. But if you put a lighthouse out there in the distance, you can have chronically stationary characters say things like, Why don't we go there instead of sitting here? Then you have conflict. Then you have a moving plot, even as the characters remain stationary.

For much of this book, the main character seems to be the sociable Mrs. Ramsay. She embodies mother and wife as the hub of a family's identity and purpose. I've seen this in real life, at family reunions especially--groups of adults and children gathered together, relating and interacting with zeal. Yet if anyone is honest, they confide that the only reason the reunion is even happening is because the matriarch wanted and pressed for it. That's not quite what To the Lighthouse is about, but Mrs. Ramsay is that type of matriarch. She exhibits that type of hold on her friends and relatives. Her conflict becomes everyone's conflict. And in the book's first half that means debating the merit of a family outing to the lighthouse.

How does Virginia Woolf turn this mundane scenario into a full-length novel worth reading? To use a popular intellectual phrase, she unpacks it. With remarkable levels of detail, all which feel relevant and significant, she lays bare the myriad anxieties and distractions that live in an instant of time. Family get-togethers are laden with subtext (read baggage). Time can stall as you contemplate it. Suspense comes in the waiting for someone to speak, especially the man of the house--whom everyone mistakenly credits with being responsible for and in charge of the gathering.

To the Lighthouse was not a tremendously enjoyable read for me. Still, I found myself in awe of Ms. Woolf's sensitivity and insight. She fully explores the depth and significance of each moment. In so doing she justifies the plodding pace and the long sentences that I often had to read twice to grasp. This is not a convenient novel to read. It is not prose candy. Still, as one who has often lived life in the excruciatingly pensive way Woolf's characters do, I felt enriched by the prose.

Thank you, Virginia.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

A Vision of the Rising Moon

JAXA astronaut and avid tweeter, Koichi Wakata, shared this marvelous view of the rising crescent moon as seen from the International Space Station. Tranquility!

Photo Credit: NASA

Click image to see full-size version!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Nod to my Imaginary Friend

Once again I find myself over 100 pages into something only I have read so far. I worry if I am saying too much or not enough. Dreams--bad and good--transfer from my dozing mind to my waking fingers to the blizzard of ones and zeroes that all corporations say will--this time--be kept safe from harm and hack. But no matter where I put these thoughts, they keep haunting me.

Theme: sometimes the musing world becomes more real and potent than the physical world.

These days, to write what I know is to delve into the concepts of loneliness and solitude (which thoughtful beta dogs like me know are two different things). It's a marvelous landscape only known by those of us who sometimes stop the car at the farthest point between two freeway exits...just cuz! 

Still, solitude is corruptible. Loneliness results. And over 100 pages into a story about both, it just got to be too much last week. I would lie in bed in the early morning, awake and physically ready to get out of bed and start typing. But I would procrastinate. Because I already have my own loneliness and solitude issues, why am I piling on a second set of almost identical issues my protagonist faces? So...

This week I rescued myself and my protagonist, for a little while anyway. This week I let a minor character, a snappy goofy fellow, step up and be the focus. Why? Because I needed him too.

Ultimately, will the novel need this supporting character as much as I needed him this week? Will this jocular fella survive to the final draft? Will I?

Hard to say. It will be my job as writer to craft him or kill him as the demands of the story dictate. But this week I really needed him. This week his presence helped me and my protagonist make it from Monday to Saturday without missing a writing session. Thank you, N_____.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's Good to be a Man

There is a video making the rounds on social networking. I've seen it on at least three Facebook Friends' news feeds. The three-minute trailer previews a documentary called 'The Mask You Live In.' Here is a link. I strongly recommend watching it:

The Mask You Live In

The trailer is heavy on questions and grievance and almost wholly lacking in answers. But hey, it is a trailer. Its job is to make us interested. Perhaps I'm still a bit miffed at a recent clip about how The Wizard of Oz is so much more edifying than Star Wars. Perhaps I'm just addicted to being the guy in the room who says, "Hey wait a minute." But I have a misgiving about the above trailer.

For the sake of being catchy, which all good trailers are, this one demonizes the phrase, "Be a man." Now, it may be that when the full documentary is released, a more nuanced discussion of the phrase will be included. It may be that the filmmakers are only intending to demonize certain contexts in which the phrase "Be a man" gets used with belligerence. So let me just say I look forward to seeing the full documentary in time. It looks promising. It looks worthy. Still...

I am at a point in life where one of my regrets is some of the times I have in effect apologized for being a man: apologized for my incessant sex drive; apologized for my affinity for power; apologized for wanting to beat my chest rather than compromise or cooperate. In short, apologized for the way I was born. I'm just saying that men, men of all orientations and inclinations, have some justification for singing out Gaga-style, "Baby, I was born this way." And yes, not everything about the way I was born is ideal or immune from criticism and reshaping. Still...

I think we need to have regular, serious discussions about what it means to "be a man." But I am not interested in wholesale demonizing of the phrase. I would rather seek to elevate the phrase through discussion, through refining our definition of manhood. I am speaking of making sure the discussion is about channeling men's nature and not stifling it.

There are times, probably most of the time, when what I need is a thoughtful discussion of my traits and how I can refine them. But I can also think of times when what I've needed most is a kick in the ass, or someone putting their hands firmly on my shoulders and saying bluntly, 'Don't chicken out' or 'Be tough.' Such interventions may be abrupt and unapologetic. They may sting at first. But they often come from good men trying to pull struggling men out of the proverbial mud that covers so much of this dangerous world. If we can settle on a worthy definition of manhood, I think the phrase "Be a man" will often be the right advice to give.

I wish the film team at The Representation Project the best on the completion of The Mask You Live In.