Mike took me to see the Incredibles tonight. I'm really enthusiastic about Pixar. I used to be a little wary of them, what with the Disney connection, and their movies are mostly for kids. But one Christmas, my stepniece Haley wanted to watch Monsters Inc. over and over and over again, and I liked it a lot. So I've pretty much seen every other Pixar film and been satisfied. I might skip the next one, though--it's about talking race cars--but I can understand how the kids get excited about that.
Pixar made a little animated short that showed before the movie. I'm glad to see the comeback of shorts preceeding films. Now how about a newsreel? "Our brave soldiers in Iraq need your support! [fanfare] Save bottle caps! Lint from your own pocket can be recycled into parachutes!" Yeah, I'm going to have to say that WWII was definitely the high point of film making.
Mike's been raving about some thing you download (you can get it here
) and you can zoom in anywhere on the planet to such a point that sometimes you can see your house (it's not available for everywhere on the planet). This is the trial mode, and the words TRIAL MODE are stamped across the viewing window. You can zoom out all the way to space, and when you do that, the words TRIAL MODE are then stamped across the planet. Check it out.
I was watching SNL last week, and U2 was the musical guest. I'm not really the biggest U2 fan (I'm not sure you can even call me a fan), but whatever, they put on a good show. Bono's old. Because they're so big, they got to play three songs--one at the end of the show. And you know, U2 plays a really long ending to the song, and the credits are rolling, and everyone's going crazy, Amy Poehler's creaming her pants, the band's running around in front of the stage, etc. Bono runs up to a girl in the front row, the cameramen running after him, and starts to give her a lap dance. You can't really see her face because Bono's thrusting his pelvis into it, but when he pulls away, you see she has this horrified look on her face. That's kind of how I felt.
Thoughts and Feelings
So I've had this blog about a year, and this is my 20th post. That means I've only blogged once or twice a month on average. Bad blogger! Most of those posts have been recent. Like I have said before, I want to be a writer so badly, and even though this might not be the best writing I've ever done, I can actually write well sometimes. But recently I just feel like I have nothing to write about, so I figure if I just write a lot--blog--something will come to me. I feel like inspiration is only a part of writing, and I know the rest of it is just drudgery. Write and write and write, and out of the piles of crap, there will be a gem.
I've been lazy recently though. I haven't had much work to do, and that's the only reason I get on the computer. I need some cash, but since all I can do is e-mail my boss for more work and wait for it, it's like I've got a little vacation now.
Like I said earlier, I've been reading Walt Whitman, and now I'm reading his essay "Democratic Vistas." It's very good, and very enlightening. The editor of the book said that to understand America in the past present and future (Whitman's convinced me that commas are for suckers), one must read Walt Whitman. I was kind of like, "Yeah right, university boy," because by this time, he's old news. But new ideas are hard to come by, and there's something to be said for presenting old ideas in a new way. At the time, though, he was some hot stuff, and the only reason I view him as old and stuffy is because his ideas are so burned into my head, burned into our culture. But anyway, "Democratic Vistas" gives me a good perspective on what's going on in politics today. I always try to remember, before I get too upset about the state of the world, that the complaints I have were uttered by people in every generation before me. So, don't panic, it always seems bad. Walt has hope, though, and so do I. One particularly acute observation he made is that eventually the center of American politics and culture will be shifted west, and that most activity will be along the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio
rivers. That didn't come true, but after this last election....and he's right that political power will be found largely in the midwest.
It's funny, I bet he considered himself a Republican at the time. Perhaps he's the sole reason why Republicans have seized the Midwest. Just a funny thought.
In other news, I saw Guided by Voices last Friday and they were AWESOME. I've seen them three times now and have not been disappointed. I love their crowd. It's like, your hairline has to be receeded this far to enter. Mike and I were probably the youngest people there. Oh, wait, no--something crazy happened. Mike said to me, "See that guy over there? I think he went to Columbia." Sure enough, we went over and there was a group of Columbians at the concert. And one of them had been a girl I had been friends with in my German class freshman year. How crazy.
Uh, what else? I had a ridiculous dream last night. I woke up trembling it was so scary. I was a man, in a world that was like ours during the 19th century, except this world existed within a quantum singularity (dreams don't have to have any physical meaning, so don't get on my case about whether any of this is plausible). Someone in our world had figured out how to hack into the structure of this world, and had created an avatar in the form of a beautiful woman, who always wore a blood red dress and had black hair that was always swirling about her head. Of course, there was also a beautiful virtuous girl, and to seize the attention of the men who courted her, the avatar (or the person controlling her) decided to try to kill her. We saved the girl again and again (I was one of the most promising suiters). At one point, there had been a battle with the woman, and we thought we had defeated her. We were on horses going back home, and talking, trying to calm down. I glanced into the woods beside us and I saw her sitting in the woods. Her face was bandaged, all around, like a mummy, and then I noticed a telephone cord (I didn't know it was a telephone cord, of course, because those things didn't exist in my world) coming out from under her skirt and going into the ground. My dream personality knew that had something to do with defeating her, but my real person, waking personality, knew that that was the line through which the hacker controlled her. Many more battles, very scary, hard to defeat, etc. I can't remember them all, just bits and pieces. There was a scene in the woods again, and it was raining. One of the characters in my dream was a friend of mine, a kind of wild card. The kind of guy who plays the scoundrel, but in the end does the right thing just before dying. Like Boromir for all you geeks. Anyway, he had fallen in love with the evil woman, and she had led him into the woods, and he chased her down a muddy slope. She disappeared, but he kept sliding down the mud and into a rushing river. Another comrade did the same trying to save him. I managed to save them both. After that, she disappeared, and abandoned the house she had been keeping in town. I decided to go inside it with an old lady I knew, a witch. I thought maybe I could find a cord like the one I had seen under her dress and unplug it or something. I began searching the house, and the old lady began searching for old spells remaining, some magic, even though I knew that there was something more than magic to that evil lady. Suddenly, I heard the old lady scream, "She's coming, batten down the house!" I ran from room to room locking the windows and closing the shutters, but the woman got in anyway. She stood in the foyer and I stood on the stairs holding a rifle. I began unloading bullets into her, but she just laughed. All of a sudden I dropped the gun because she had changed my right hand into an ax. I thought I could swing it and hurt her but she always stayed out of my reach. My hand quickly changed from ax to knife to all other kinds of shapes. She kept cackling and said, "I can't see my handiwork, some closer!" She chased me up the stairs, and I ran into her former bedroom. Before I could close the door, she blocked it with her arm and was holding a lighter. I wrestled with her, trying to set her on fire, and she kept cackling. Then I woke up because I was so scared.
So I finished "Globalization and Its Discontents" and I'm the better for it. Next up with Walt Whitman's collected works. I realize that reading an entire book of poetry cover to cover sounds like it defeats the point of poetry, but I'm going slow, and once I get tired of reading, I stop. Keeping it fresh. Keeping it real.
I never much liked Walt Whitman before, but now that I've read a little bit, I think he's growing on me. He reminds me of Ginsberg. To get a break from poetry, I'm reading this romance novel called "The Fall of Maggie Brown." I also finished another one called "Her Dearest Sin." I got them for free. I'll take any books for free. Because these books are written to be entertaining on a very low intellectual level, I find them pleasurable to read. I'm not a snob. I'll take anything that keeps my interest.
After all, some of the worst books I've read have been pretty highly regarded among high school English teachers, who really set the standard, as far as I'm concerned, for what's hot in literature these days. Lets take "A Separate Peace." Now this is a really terrible book. It was assigned to me, and that's why I read it, because otherwise I would never have finished it. It's about some kids at an all boys school like Exeter or something and there are two friends and one of them plays football and falls out of a tree and can never play again and their friendship dissolves (it's been a while since I read it, so if I got the plot wrong, I don't care). A few years later I found the sequal "Peace Breaks Out" in a used book store. I bought it because I thought maybe I had hated the first book merely because it was assigned to me and maybe I should give this guy a second chance. I didn't get past the first page. Why? Well, the first book was dull and depressing. A book can still be depressing and good, but this was depressing and bad. None of the characters were remotely likeable, and whatever lesson I was supposed to learn about friendship or climbing trees I probably could have learned from a better book.
Speaking of bad books with stupid characters, how about "Brave New World?" God, all those people were so dumb, including John the Savage. I even heard that Aldous Huxley hated the book and wished he'd been able to rewrite it. Why are they teaching a book to kids in school by a man who wrote plenty of books to choose from who didn't even like it to his dying day?
Another book that was awful, just terrible, was "Ethan Frome." Frome is a spineless insipid little man who marries this awful woman who's always sick and then has an affair and then he and his mistress get injured in a sledding accident and he has a limp forever and then he has to take care of his wife and mistress. There's some symbolism involving pickles too, I think. The only remotely likeable character in the book is the narrator, and I have a grudge against him for telling me that story. I've never forgiven Edith Wharton. And I've never read another book by her that I liked.
Lastly, is "Son of the Circus" by John Irving. I didn't have to read this in school, but from perusing fan websites, apparently this book is really popular among his following. To me, it seemed like he just wrote all of his common elements--sexual disfunction, identity crisis, gender confusion, etc.--and dropped them in a hat and then just picked out the plot of this book at random. "Let's take a man, we'll make him--" [reaches in hat] "--Indian, and let's take a child, give him a characteristic--" [reaches in hat] "--ah, child freak with religious association, and now a third character, and his gimmic's going to be--" [shuffles around in hat] "--cross-dressing!"
These are four books to avoid. Don't even read them out of curiosity to see how bad they are, because the worst thing about them is that they're not even bad enough to be amusing.
I amost got dive-bombed by a hummingbird today. I see them everywhere here. The leaves are starting to change but I still see a lot of flowering plants. This little one was sitting on the tip of a branch. Its feet were so small I couldn't see them. So I was watching it, and it flew to another branch, and then it just looked at me, and darted straight to my head. Luckily, it passed just closely over my head (I had just imagined that pointy beak going right into my eye). I turned around, and it was hovering behind me. We looked at each other for about 20 seconds, and then he flew away.
California is abundant with flora and fauna. I've been meaning to dig out my field guide to trees and take it with me on bike rides. Some of the plants are so exotic and crazy they look like they might attack. The animals are bold or trusting. On campus live a couple of raccoon families. I had expected raccoons to be kind of violent and volatile--like, they would rip off your face--but these raccoons just play out on the lawns and you can sit and watch them from about 15 feet away. When they look at you their eyes glow. They play or eat, and once when another raccoon family ran past the family I was watching, three of the raccoons instantly went into battle formation, seemed to confer on what would be the best action, and then climbed up into the tree. They climbed down again when the threat seemed to be past.
One day, Mike and I played Frisbee on the physics lawn. He found a butterfly crawling on the grass. I put down my finger, and it crawled into my hand. I held it for about half a minute when I got really squeamish that a gigantic bug was crawling on my arm. I tried (gently) to shake it off, and then coax it onto the grass but it wouldn't come off. Mike finally stuck out his finger, and the butterfly crawled on and flew off. But it was still pretty cool to hold a butterfly. It was a monarch by the way.
I hate to say it, but another thing I love about this place are the offcoast oil rigs. You can see them in the distance from the beach and they actually look really cool. One large rig is stationed far away from the rest. At night, all the other rigs seem to shut down, but this one turns all of her lights on. The sky and the ocean are both black, and the horizon is only a small region of space that looks blacker. The rig hangs in the blackness, and I think she's ghost pirate ship. Or maybe a floating castle.
Yeah, California's pretty great. Don't get too jealous though, because it gets pretty chilly here at night, and our heater's broken. So Mike and I are probably colder than you all reading this in NYC, scrunched up in your tiny rooms with the heat blasting.
I'm supposed to be working. I'd rather be reading. I finished Lenin over a week ago, and I can't believe I did it. It was an intimidating book. A solid 360 pages, all revolutionary rhetoric. When I finished it, I felt like I did when I finished my quantum class. I realize now the true extent of my project, that is, to read all the books I own that I haven't read yet, most of which are nonfiction. I mean, coming up are "City of God" and "Wealth of Nations." For lightness, I picked up George Sand's "Mauprat." I have mixed feelings on the book that no one cares about. Right after Lenin I picked up Joseph Stiglitz's "Globalization and Its Discontents," which was a fitting followup to Lenin. Lenin kind of gave me a firm understanding of economics and politics from about 1850-1923 (from his point of view, at least--I have to maintain a perspective), and Stiglitz just picks up where Lenin left off. It was interesting to see the justifications that Lenin gave for extreme state control and think about what came after, and finally understand the cause and effect of the Soviet Union. I have to say, Stiglitz is making me a bit agitated. I haven't been this cynical in years. For lightness, I'm reading "Nicholas and Alexandra," a story of the last Russian tsar. It's more sympathetic to the tsar, and I'm willing to be as well. After all, Russia before the revolution had been developing into a more democratic state, and life for the proles and the peasants was much better than it had been in years. While Tsar Nicholas was a staunch autocrat, he was also a kind man, and it pains to me to think about the death of the royal family in that small room. The book was writtin in the 60s, so, as with Lenin, I'm trying to keep it in perspective--a writer then might have been more sympathetic to the royal family. However, the writer's credentials (Yale, then Oxford) seem all right, and I'm starting to understand the difficult position of an Emperor at the beginning of the 20th century. I also try to remember that Lenin was railing against the system, all tsars in general, and that he also had to be especially hard on the current tsar in order to rally his forces.
I think that reading all this stuff will give me very complete idea of the human experience. It will also make me a very boring conversationalist.
Rage. While I tell Mike not to be so fatalistic about this election, I'm pretty concerned myself. When I think about it, all these issues rush into my head: stem cell research, abortion, health care. I know that America will eventually come out all right, but in the meantime, I want to move to Amsterdam.
What I'm most angry about is that only 17% of people 18-29 voted, same as last time. What losers aren't voting? I thought that the idea was that if you didn't vote in this election you were the worst person on earth. Who wouldn't vote? It gets you out of work and school. WHERE HAS ALL THE REASON GONE?
In other news, I had a dream the other night that I was being raped by a demon. And the demon was Mandy Patinkin.
Another interesting dream I had was this:
I'm a Chinese guy, early in the 20th century, kind of old, like 50. And I'm standing in front of my own shop in Chinatown, and it's all run down and it's apparent no one shops there. Then I look at the store next to mine, and it's booming, all kinds of fancy signs and people going in and out. The other store and mine are both just Chinatown junk shops. Then I flashback about 30 years before and I'm standing in the same spot, next to a man that I know has bought the shop next to mine, which I also just bought. We're both young enterprising entrepreneurs, hoping to make it in the tough world of lucky bamboo and silk slippers. I look at puddle in the street, and I see something shining, which I know is a good luck charm. The other man follows my gaze to the charm and jumps forward and seizes it. Then I'm back in the present, and obviously my business has failed while the other one boomed because of this charm. The man comes out of the store and I walk up to him and throw up my arms and scream, "You ruined me!"
Fade to black.