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Lara Eckener

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.020 – The sweet spot.

***There will be spoilers for Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World in this post.***

As of last night when Boogie Nights thankfully–finally–ended, I’ve seen 58 movies this year.  Most of those were for the podcast, or because of it in some way.  Some of them were because my friends talked me into seeing them.  (Hot Tub Time Machine is not a good movie, guys.  I don’t care if Sebastian Stan IS in it for a whole fifteen minutes.)  Some of them I made time to see simply because I wanted to.  (I am not a girl who turns down Hedwig and the Angry Inch sing-a-longs.)  I expected to love movies and hate movies, what I didn’t expect was that I’ve loved every single one of them, even the ones I hated and would never ask you to see.

When I first joined the Wrong Opinions Podcast I was worried.  My co-hosts love film and can talk in very specific jargon about cattywampus (Dutch, for some reason) angles and slow first acts.  I enjoy film, but don’t feel a particular affinity for it over any other kind of storytelling. In fact, I made it very clear in the beginning that all I could speak to was story and structure and characters.  That turns out to be enough sometimes, and I’ve learned a whole lot in the last year or so about film itself, but it’s still the story part that really interests me over any of the technical notes.  And when you mainline movies like I do, the differences in story start to stick out rather than blend in together.

Last weekend I saw three movies: Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.  Last weekend I felt like some sort of picky, sticky Goldilocks, and it’s because only one of those movies felt to me like it was trying to tell the right sort of story in the right sort of way.  It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film I went into with absolutely no expectations.

Too cold. Friday night I saw Brave.  I feel like I should preface this, as I always do, by telling you that I haven’t seen most Pixar movies.  I’m just not that interested in them.  I’ll watch Wall-E eventually, because the boyfriend and several other people keep telling me to, but I’m perfectly fine living a life where I don’t cry over the end of Toy Story 3 twelve times.  (That’s what I re-watch Band of Brothers for.)  But even though I haven’t seen most Pixar films, I’ve been left with a very specific set of notions about what a Pixar film SHOULD be, just by virtue of knowing other people who have seen them.  It’s hard to explain these expectations, since I’ve never quite seen them in action, but I suppose Pixar films should be warm and emotional and adventurous and unsure.  Leave it to a race car or a space trash compactor to remind us of what the human condition really entails.  And Brave, even though the story does focus on a human, felt like it fell way short of that for me.  It was too simple.

That’s somewhat fatuous of me, I know, to call out a children’s movie for being too simple.  And it’s probably just nostalgia that colors in Sleeping Beauty and The Last Unicorn as richer in some way.  That movie’s target audience will feel great about being able to predict what needs to be done before the witch even appears on screen, but I was bored after the half way point because of it.  And it’s silly, because there is nothing wrong with simple story telling.  You can get more out of your emotional payoffs if you keep things focused.  I’m also not saying that it’s not fun to watch, because it’s genuinely funny, and I adore the father character.  I laughed out loud quite a few times.  I just wanted something more.

Too hot.  We saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on Saturday morning, and that just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied and liked I’d definitely seen a movie directed by the guy who directed Wanted.  That movie did entirely too much.  Or it tried to anyway, it didn’t really succeed in anything.  A lot of the charm of the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book lies in the fact that it takes a lot of factual information about Lincoln’s life and then just folds the vampires in.  Even when the book is delivering action it’s matter of fact and paced like a biography, not like an action-adventure tale.  The movie managed to strip away every last bit of that charm and then proceeded to shoe horn in a whole bunch of back story that the audience really didn’t need.  And then there was slow motion leaping off of burning bridges.  I mean, if you buy a ticket to something titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you’re probably going to be okay when it leaves out his days studying law and working in shops.  The movie should have focused on ten years tops instead of forty.  (On the plus side, Dominic Cooper is still a person doing things, which is always nice to see.)

Just right.  And I guess it’s about managing expectations, because Sunday morning when we went to see Seeking A Friend for the End of the World I had no idea what it was about except for what I could infer from the title.  I left that movie feeling like I haven’t felt since I saw I Heart Huckabees.  Someone made that movie just for me.  It was funny and touching and a little sad, but that’s going to happen when the world ends.  Most importantly, it was paced well and it pulled out the right part of the story to tell like I felt the other two movies didn’t.  We didn’t need back story for these characters.  Their traits were given to us naturally through dialogue and action and not through exposition.  We just happened to meet up with two people three weeks before the world ended and learned what we could in that amount of time.  And it was wonderful.

Choosing the right part of a story to tell is hard.  For me anyway.  I am a total whore for back story.  I want to know what brought the characters here.  I want to know why they react the way they do to things.  That goes for my own characters as well.  A lot of the trouble I have with prose is separating what I need to know from what the audience needs to know, as well as making sure I get across the things that are just sitting in my head.  Because it’s one thing for me to think ‘well of course Edmund would kill that man’, but it’s another for the audience to be on board.  What have I shown them of Edmund before?   What is it about his demeanor or his upbringing or his social standing that would make killing a man seem like the only thing he could do in any given situation?

Why did Merida not question the way the witch said the word ‘change’?  What drove Abraham Lincoln to be so selfish in his pursuit to kill the undead?  What made Penny force Dodge’s dad to turn the plane around?  I can only answer one of those questions in a satisfying way.  The stories that fall short for us can be fun and they can teach us a lot, but it’s the stories that sit in that perfect space that really affect or change us.  I want to tell stories like the latter.  If only I can figure out how to do it every time.

.019 – Everything must belong somewhere (and other lessons I learned from indie folk.)

I have been away, friends, for which I apologize.  I didn’t mean to let this journal sit so long without an update, but I was very busy last month, which culminated in the week I just spent between Boston and New York.  I had a wonderful time and now I am back and, predictably, I just want to leave again. 

I spend many of my waking hours wanting to leave.  Right now I would very much like to leave work, but since this is my first day back, that’s to be expected.  Not that it’s any different than how I usually feel about work, but you know, it gets compounded.  Sometimes I want to leave a store I’m in, or wriggle my way out of an event I’ve promised to attend.  And there is a constant pitch of wanting to leave Orlando always buzzing at a low current under every other part of my skin.  To be plain, I feel like I’ve outgrown this place.  I need to be replanted so my roots have a larger container to grow into and fill.  Because of this, whenever I visit a different city, I always sort of feel it out with my feet and heart to see if it’s a place I want to be.  I’ll stand on a random street corner and ask myself if I can fill that pot, and the answer sometimes surprises me.

Boston was a pot I think I could fill.  I have friends there already.  It’s an old city that wears its history on its streets and while the city center appears to be dense and populated, the outer areas are full of wonderful, slower things, some of which are directly relevant to my interests.  I felt comfortable there.  As if I could just add myself and some water to the city and have an instant life.  (Not that I would have to add much water, since it was soggy and gross the whole time I was there.  I was strangely okay with that as well.  City lights reflecting on wet streets create some of the best art around.) 

I fell quite in love with Boston’s public transport and the creepy masked statues in Somerville and the parks that dot the area and the streets that you can walk and walk and seemingly never cease to come upon stores and tea shops and places to buy books.  I think I could be happy there for a while.  More than that, I think I could be happy there completely alone if I had to be, which isn’t a thing I usually consider when I fall for a city. 

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Because, when I like a city so much that I start fantasizing about my life there I worry that it’s just my wanderlust kicking in.  I fear that I like it only because it’s new and different and offers me a chance to pick up and move on.  I’m old enough to know that leaving a place won’t allow me to outrun my problems, but I’m not old enough to give up the thought that maybe if my problems caught up to me in a new place they wouldn’t be the same.  Sometimes I think that by the time they did I would somehow be better equipped to deal with them based entirely on my new location and different life experiences.

I have these fears, and then I will visit a city that I don’t fall in love with, in spite of all it has to offer me, and I realize that I’m more pragmatic than I give myself credit for.  New York is one of those cities.  I think that I could grow into New York, I’m not frightened by its size or its splendor, but there’s a pull in my gut that makes me feel like I wouldn’t really want to. 

While Boston offered me things that I didn’t know to expect, New York offered me exactly what I knew I would get.  It offered me things that thrilled me, and excited me, and made me happy for having come into contact with them.  It gave me paintings by Max Ernst and late night, near empty subway platforms and gorgeous architecture and a play that made me laugh so hard I cried.  As passionately as I feel about all of those things, the city itself always leaves me feeling detached and cold.  Maybe it’s because I don’t need to dig to find what I want and I can view New York as a means to an end.  Or maybe it really is all of the people, as I tell others when they ask what it is about New York that I don’t like.  Walking across Times Square after seeing our show Saturday night made me feel nervous and frenetic.  I couldn’t get away from that cluster fast enough.  New York doesn’t make me feel curious and free.  New York just exhausts me, in the same way that theme parks do.  I might be able to live in New York, but I wouldn’t want to be there alone, and I don’t get the feeling that I would learn very many positive things about myself if I did.

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The friend I was in New York with loves the city.  She looks at jobs there every once in a while and I think she would jump at the chance to be able to grow into it.  It’s still curious to me, after 29 years, how some people just know love of a place when they see it, and how they have the faith to be able to want and wish.  Even the cities I do think I’d like to live in, I don’t seriously pursue them.  It may be because I’m afraid of change.  For someone who worships at the alter of choices, I sure am bad at making them.

And so here I am, still wanting to leave, but feeling more at peace with the places I want to go, simply because I can recognize that there are places I don’t want to go.  Maybe one day I’ll get up the gumption to actually do it. 

 

 

#MusicDiary2012 – 5/9/2012 & 5/10/2012

In my continued inability to follow a god damned structure, here is a simple list of the music I listened to on Wednesday and Thursday.  I wanted to leave notes, but I spent last night packing and I have to spend today working since I’m going to New Jersey for the weekend.

Wednesday, May 9

  • Amanda Palmer – Have to Drive
  • Our Lady Peace – Sell My Soul
  • Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Slowly (Oh So Slowly)
  • Snow Patrol – Last Ever Lone Gunman
  • Bloc Party – So Here We Are
  • Death Cab for Cutie – Information Travels Faster
  • The Killers – When You Were Young
  • Augustana – Either Way, I’ll Break Your Heart
  • Death Cab for Cutie – The Employment Pages
  • Bright Eyes – The Calendar Hung Itself
  • Florence and the Machine – Cosmic Love
  • Say Anything – Peace Out
  • The Bens – Wicked Little Town
  • Steam Powered Giraffe – Electricity is in My Soul
  • Steam Powered Giraffe – Out in the Rain
  • Steam Powered Giraffe – Captain Albert Alexander

Thursday, May 10

  • Nathaniel Johnstone – Elle Cambia
  • Abney Park – Victorian Vigilante
  • Death Cab for Cutie – Title and Registration
  • Say Anything – Anarchy, My Dear
  • Fall Out Boy – A Little Less 16 Candles, A Little More Touch Me
  • Matt Nathanson – Kiss Quick (x10)
  • Murder by Death – 52 Ford
  • Murder by Death – Three Men Hanging
  • Murder by Death – Steam Rising
  • Murder by Death – Another Year
  • Murder by Death – Brother
  • Ramona Falls – The Darkest Day
  • Hellblinki – Bella Ciao
  • Robots in Disguise – The Sex Has Made Me Stupid
  • The Seatbelts – Tank!
  • Matt Nathanson – Bullet Proof Weeks
  • Fall Out Boy – W.A.M.S.
  • Franz Ferdinand – Shopping for Blood
  • Mai Yamane – Pushing the Sky
  • April Smith and the Great Picture Show – Bright White Jackets
  • Panic! at the Disco – There’s a Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey. You Just Haven’t Figured It Out Yet.
  • Damion Suomi – Pearls (Before Swine)
  • Fall Out Boy – Beat It
  • Brand New – Jesus Christ
  • My Chemical Romance – The Sharpest Lives
  • Mumford & Sons – Awake My Soul

And yes, before you ask, sometimes I AM a 15 year old girl.  Alas.

#MusicDiary2012 – 5/8/2012

The write up for yesterday’s music listening is going to be different from Monday’s.  This is partially because I’m balls at following my own set guidelines and partially because I did something yesterday that I almost never do.  I took my iPod off shuffle and listened to two albums through to the end for two very different reasons.

Tuesday, May 8

The first song I listened to yesterday is the only song I noted (read: not playing over the speakers at Panera) that didn’t belong on one of the albums I’m going to talk to you about.  That song was

  • David Bowie (w/ John Frusciante and Maynard James Keenan) – Bring Me the Disco King (Loner Remix)

I really like David Bowie and the various characters he portrays in pursuit of his art, but I don’t spend a lot of time listening to his music. I didn’t even know this song existed until a few months ago when a friend put it on a David Bowie birthday mix.  (She called the mix Major Tom’s Ambient Noise Strategy, which I think would be a really cool name for a book or a film about dancing with men from Mars.  If I ever finish that story about dancing with men from Mars, maybe I’ll bum rush her and steal it.)

Anyway, I started with this song because I didn’t know how I was feeling yesterday morning and this song is perfect for every mood.  I’d venture to say that it’s just about perfect for everything.  To me anyway.  It would be fatuous of me to try and describe it, so you should just go fill your ear holes with it.  I’ll wait here for seven minutes.  Take your time.

And now that you’re back it’s time to shake off the unassuredness and malaise with some good old fashioned folk storytelling.

  • (Album) Go, and Sell All of Your Things by Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets

Damion Suomi and most of his band of misfit boys are local-ish to me (Cocoa Beach is about an hour away from Orlando), so I’ve seen them play many, many times.  There’s something about his voice and his diction which has drawn me to his songs for a few years now, but it wasn’t until the pre-tour show where they played all of Go, and Sell All of Your Things live that I really fell in love with them.

This album, as he discussed it, was based around his interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s understanding of the hero cycle.  As if that, mixed with the romping, stomping folk exuberance of his entire band, wouldn’t be enough to hit many of my buttons, there is a song on the album devoted to Bukowski, whose poems are another love of mine. This song, called ‘A Dog From Hell (And His Good Advice)’,  beseeches its listeners to remember that ‘if you’re gonna try, then go all the way‘.  It also contains the lines:

We’re here to unlearn the teachings of the church and state

We’re here to drink beer, we’re here to kill war

We’re here to laugh at the odds, live our lives so well

That death will tremble to take us.

Those lines, as you may notice, are the words of Bukowski himself, tied together in a tight little anthem that we can carry around with ourselves when we forget what is really important.  What is really important is living the hell out of life.  It’s a thing I have to remind myself of sometimes, when I get bogged down in the details.  That was why I listened to this album for half of yesterday.  I needed to remember what truly made me happy.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression.  There are groupings of verses on the album that I love much more than that one, but that song is the one I put on if I just want to sing at the top of my lungs and defy the universe to get me down.  Usually, it works.

My second favorite song on the album is called ‘Holy Ghost’ which has a taste of old west in it and lets me sing the words that my mother fears: there ain’t no holy ghost inside of me.

The next album I’m going to discuss I listened to for a less compelling reason.  While I was sitting at lunch in a busy sandwich shop whose overhead music I could only hear intermittently, I caught a few bars of Matt Nathanson’s ‘Faster’.  So when I finished with the Damion Suomi album and I was feeling thoroughly picked up and maybe a little too rad for my own good, I put on

  • (Album) Modern Love by Matt Nathanson

Modern Love is Matt Nathanson’s latest studio effort, having been released last June, and the one I had been paying the least amount of attention to. I really like Matt Nathanson, even though he doesn’t really sing music that I would ordinarily listen to.  It’s folk and it’s rock and sometimes it reminds me strongly of Ryan Adams (in my head they’re totally bros, even though I have no idea whether or not they’ve ever met), but mostly it’s about relationships, and I am not traditionally a lady who really wants or needs a lot of songs about relationships.  It’s his live shows that really draw you in though.

That man can be raunchy.  He will sometimes talk about how you should let the music mount you like a wolf.  And he can be hilarious.  And sometimes even a bit sexy.  Mostly, he just emits this aura of relaxation and fun.  It is almost impossible to not enjoy yourself at one of his concerts.  He came through here on his spring tour, and even though a lot of his set was made up of songs I didn’t know because I hadn’t given this album a thorough listen, I still danced and sang and rocked the shit out of my wee little heart.  He’s just that good live.

This album isn’t my favorite of his–I much prefer Some Mad Hope–but I still enjoy listening to it quite a bit.  The strongest song is ‘Queen of K(n)ots’.  It struts away from the other tracks and forces you to pay attention as it goes.  Just be glad that you don’t live near me and have never seen me rocking out in my tiny little red car.  It’s best for both of us really, if I can continue to look you in the eye.  But if you had seen me last night, it would have been an incredibly earnest sort of rocking, because that’s the sort of thing that Matt Nathanson does to me.

And that was yesterday in music for me.  Come back tomorrow when I will no doubt spend more space than I should rambling about Steam Powered Giraffe.  Because seriously, guys.  Steam. Powered. Giraffe.

#MusicDiary2012 – 5/7/2012

There’s a cool project going on this week, if you’re inclined to join in on those sorts of things.  People all around the internet are taking part in Music Diary 2012.  For one week, from May 7 through May 13 we’re taking note of when, where, what, and why we listen to music.  You can read more about it at the NPR Music Tumblr (which is a cool thing to follow just because) and the blog that started it.  I’m a sucker for things like this, so I’m going to do it.  I’ll make one post a day with what I listened to on the previous day and any reasons or commentary as I see fit.  I’d love to see what you guys are listening to as well.

Monday, May 7

Whenever I’m in my car the iPod is plugged in.  It’s usual setting is just shuffle on my ‘Sing It Out’ playlist.  So on the way in to work in the morning yesterday it ran through:

  • Mumford & Sons – Dust Bowl Dance
  • Panic! at the Disco – But It’s Better If You Do
  • Cursive – Art is Hard
  • Cobra Starship – You’re Not In On The Joke
  • Empires – Damn Thing’s Over
  • Ramona Falls – Melectric

At lunch Alli and I headed out to Urban Hibachi.  Urban Hibachi is not one of those restaurants whose music I really pay attention to or even notice.  It’s usually set lower than the chatter of the patrons.  However, because I knew I was going to be logging the music I listened to this week I tried to pay a bit of attention to it.  It was mostly jangly pop/techno that I don’t really enjoy.  The kind with saccharine sweet female vocalists singing about love or getting it on on the dance floor.  (Have you ever tried to get it on on the dance floor?  It seems like an awkward place to do that to me.)  But then, incongruously, I picked up on

  • The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army

That mostly reminded me of how I really love the Glitch Mob Remix of Seven Nation Army that they play in the trailers for the new GI Joe film.  I have no interest in the GI Joe film, but I would really like that version of the song to play when I enter rooms.  I’ll have to work on learning how to override PA systems.

In the afternoon I was feeling pretty terrible about just being me.  When my co-worker went to lunch and left me alone in the library I did what I do in most times of trouble and brought up a whole slew of Decemberists music on Grooveshark to console myself with.  I find Colin Meloy’s voice strangely comforting.  I didn’t keep track of everything it played, but I know I heard

  • The Decemberists – The Bandit Queen
  • The Decemberists – Down By the Water
  • The Decemberists – Rox in the Box
  • The Decemberists – The Chimney Sweep
  • The Decemberists – Tain (Parts I, II, III, IV, and V)

I turned that off when she came back, because I try not to be a total douche to my co-workers.  Because I hadn’t gotten a chance to listen to my current favorite Decemberists song though, I toggled my iPod over to their artist directory when I got into the car in order to search for it.  I wanted ‘This is Why We Fight’, but Castaways and Cutouts is in my iPod before The King is Dead, so I got hung up on

  • The Decemberists – Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect

I just let it shuffle through their discography from there for the rest of the way home.

I didn’t figure I’d listen to much music after I got home.  I usually spend at home media time catching up on my YouTube subscriptions and the TV from the day before.  My YouTube subscriptions do sometimes pleasantly surprise me with music, though, so I had the pleasure of seeing

Lindsey Stirling is a pop violinist.  Or at least, that’s what I suppose we call her.  Her videos are usually wonderful, though.  My favorite is still Shadows, because it calls to mind Peter Pan.

I initially decided to keep this Music Diary here instead of somewhere else, because I was going to make myself write a fictional drabble every day using one of the locations and some of the music.  I may still for the rest of the week, but I didn’t really get to sleep last night and when I did I had a really disturbing dream, so I am just not in a small writing state of mind.  Hopefully I can be better about that tomorrow.

So, friends and denizens of the internet, what did you listen to yesterday?

.018 – Just leave the cat!

I will sometimes, in the course of reading a book or watching a movie, demand that the story explain itself.  Not that the thing that I’m questioning really affects the plot, just that the idiosyncrasy of it will have pulled me out of my immersion in the world.   The Boyfriend likes to remind me of the time I verbally chided a Harry Potter movie because ‘water doesn’t work that way’.

“They have wands,” he said.  “They’re doing magic and you’re worried about the water?”

“I can’t speak to the magic,” I said, “but the world of Harry Potter is grounded in our world and outside of magic the physics should still apply and water does not work that way!”  At which point I probably threw up my hands and decided to forget about the whole thing.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but that was the gist of it.

The point is that I freely admit that I have very little logical reasoning for the things that do bother me and the things I let slide.  It basically depends on what kind of story is being told and how I’m feeling that day.  Pulp scifi I almost never question, because from my standing point in the future it appears to be as tongue and cheek as old comics stories and it appears that it’s meant to be that way.  Scope and breadth of imagination are the things that I find most important in those stories.  Fantasy is next, depending on what kind of world it’s set in.  The Xanth novels are entirely ridiculous, so most of that passes by unnoticed, but urban fantasy might get a few eyebrow raises from me if some part of the ‘real world’ is broken without reason.

The whole point of this is so you’ll understand that last night, while watching Alien for the first time, I spent the whole movie going:

“Why is there a cat?”

“Does the cat get frozen too?”

“How do we know that cats need to be frozen the same way as people?”

“If the cat doesn’t get frozen, what does it eat for six months while everyone is asleep?”

“OH CHRIST, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IN SPACE, JUST LEAVE THE FUCKING CAT BEHIND. YOU CAN LITERALLY GET TEN MORE FOR FREE OFF THE STREET WHEN YOU GET HOME.”

There was also some girly shrieking and throat clutching and falling over,  because seriously, giant killer face eating alien, but that was what most of my commentary was about.  And I realize it’s a little silly that I so freely accept the conceit of deep space travel and mining and evil freaking robots and then draw the line at the cat.

I think I focus on these things because I’m still trying to figure out where some of my more grand notions really need to go.  I think that the Big Damn Existential Scifi Novel, for instance, should be realistic.  I want it to be realistic so that when the alien consciousnesses start flying it feels like they could be an extension of our world.  Volunteer Vampires, on the other hand, should be as tongue in cheek as the name suggests, but I’m having a hard time allowing myself to do that.  Strangely, it’s not the science-built-vampire portion of that scenario that’s holding me back, either.  I feel stuck.  I want to write science fiction like the science fiction I admire, both pulp and more realistic, but I don’t think I’m capable of it right now.  I would settle for writing science fiction like the science fiction I enjoy, if only I could get past the nagging questions.  It’s probably a good thing overall that I want to hold myself to the same standard I hold everything else to, but it can be frustrating.

The thing is, last night while I was peppering the movie with questions I felt more prepared and able to write my silly vampire in space story than I have been in a while.  I felt like I might even be able to get over myself and just enjoy writing in some of the elements of the genre, as silly as I sometimes find them.  It’s getting to ask those questions that so often makes me love science fiction as a genre at the end of the day.

I really enjoyed, Alien, by the way. A lot more than I thought I would, considering I hadn’t ever planned to actually watch it.  The set is amazing and intricate and tight.  A friend of mine pointed out to me some time ago that H.R. Giger did a lot of the design on it, and I can see that.  So much of it holds up to time really well.  The computers are probably the things that aged the worst, but I find that charming.  I especially love that they make noise when they’re running calculations, as if they were merely flashy boxes around a tape calculator.  I kind of wish my laptop would make that noise.

Heck, now that I’m thinking about it, I wish my laptop would sound like a mechanical typewriter when I was using the word processor.  I wonder if there’s an app for that.

.017 – This is a thing I said I would do.

I don’t like mysteries, but I like things that are mysterious. I don’t take great joy in solving puzzles, but I do take great joy in the puzzling of it. 

A couple years ago I decided that I was going to buckle down and learn to appreciate and understand poetry.  It’s not that I’ve spent the better part of my life hating it. I memorized Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ when my 8th grade class did their reading of The Outsiders. I suffered through Donne’s ‘The Flea’ in high school, though I’m still not sure it means everything we were taught it means. I fell fast and hard for Rumi and Bukowski in college, because they put words together in ways that made me understand the things I was feeling. No, it’s not that I hated poetry, it’s that I’d spent the better part of my life taking poetry for granted. Why should these groupings of words, often simultaneously dense and spare, mean more to me than any other groupings? After all, I can’t put together words like that. Why waste my time on studying word groupings that I don’t plan on emulating?

For some reason, 2010 felt like a good time to change that. I don’t know if it’s because I was starting to be more proactive about my life in general, or if it was because I had words caught inside of me that wouldn’t be wrangled into long-form prose, but I decided not to take this beloved form of self-expression for granted anymore. I started collecting recommendations. I started reading everything.

Finally, eventually, I got a better handle on it. Though I felt like I still didn’t understand what gave my favorite poets and poems that spark. I thought, then, that maybe I needed to understand poetry from the inside out. Maybe I needed to try and write some of my own. Last May I quietly started a Tumblr blog where I intended to put one poem a day, regardless of worth or beauty. I needed to practice sitting down and corralling words, rather than letting them lead me.

Some of those poems are terrible, but complete strangers still liked or reblogged them. Some of them are pretty decent, but need a lot of work to make them worth their time. Some of them helped me to voice things I hadn’t been able to voice up until then. When that happened I felt like I’d finally gotten it. I felt like I finally understood why some people gravitated towards poetry rather than prose.  Some stories don’t need a full arc. Sometimes moments are enough to make another person understand. Some things can only be digested in moments, I think. Which isn’t to say that a poem can’t tell a whole story, because they often do.

The reason I’m making this post is because this morning I was considering doing a poem a day again.  I’m already a day behind to do it in May, but it’s not like I can’t run over into June for a day.  And a poem a day might even keep the therapist away. But as I was considering this I realized that I might not want to publish all of them on the tumblr.  I might want to keep some of them to myself, to work and render and turn into something worthy of sending out into the world officially.  I realized that, while I find I still don’t feel like I ‘understand’ poetry, I want to be a part of it.  I think I would like to be a poet.

That’s a scary thought.  But I have that poem coming out in the fall. And I have another that Alli pretty much refuses to let me send to a place that isn’t an actual literary magazine, because she likes it that much. I owe a lot to a lot of my friends and their belief in me, no matter how misguided I fear it is. So I might as well gather up some belief for myself. I’m just a blunt shovel, but I’d like to be a spade, I think.

It’s an ongoing battle.  If you’re curious the Secret Poetry Tumblr is here. Feel free to follow along or leave notes and crit.  I’m a pretty strong believer in crit for any form of writing.

For getting through that, here’s a poem by a living poet who inspires me gads. I still want to be Margaret Atwood when I grow up, but I’d feel pretty amazing if I somehow became Anis Mojgani on the way.

Anis Mojgani – Come Closer

.016 – You have made me very desperate.

The internet is for memes! (Or porn, if you’re of the over 18 set, but we’ll try and keep things here R or under.) There’s one floating around that tells you what part you play in the new Avengers film. I got this:

Lara Eckener is a member of Loki’s Army and married to Loki and is a/an Frost Giant.

I am perfectly pleased with this. Loki was my favorite thing about the Thor movie and I can’t wait to see the new Avengers film. Three days! Speaking of movies, let’s talk about something I watched recently that I found to be more inspiring than simply exciting.

More than occasionally, doing the Wrong Opinions podcast with Matthew Bowers teaches me things that I don’t think I would have run across otherwise. Sometimes it’s a bit of trivia. Sometimes I discover an actor or director I’d like to spend more time stalking. And sometimes I come across a new movie altogether that is simply wonderful. This weekend we were gifted with the latter.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a feature length animated film from 1926 by silhouette artist Lotte Reiniger. It’s considered the first feature length animated film and the only existing one from that time. We’re not actually sure what we have now is the way the movie was supposed to look, because it was considered lost and has been restored from rolls of silver nitrate and notes left by Lotte and others who worked on it. Made in Germany in the 20s, it tells the fairytale of Prince Achmed and some of his adventures. I spent a good amount of the first half of the film flicking through all the different filters we have to view this film with. Germany in the twenties, The Arabian Nights, early animation. It’s a fascinating artifact.

More than that though, it’s a gorgeous film. There are some bumps in the story telling, but the art more than made up for the simpleness of the tale. When I worked at Disney I sometimes helped out on the artist carts and would watch the silhouette artists do their work. One of the women would cut out intricate designs and scenes when it was slow and it’s incredible to watch the way their hands work and how sure they are as they cut away the negative space around the image they see. It’s that that I called back to as I watched this and marveled at how delicate and intricate the clothing was rendered and how clear the expressions of the characters were and how detailed the backgrounds had been made.

I really want to recommend this to everyone. I think I’ll buy the DVD and spend some time looking for other similar works. Searching Lotte Reiniger on Youtube will get you several of her animations. And in case you’re curious what us slackers have to say about it, you can listen to our latest episode. In it we discuss Prince Achmed, The Pirates: Band of Misfits!, and 21 Jump Street.

And if you’re interested in more animated features containing silhouette work, there’s also The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello, which I can’t believe I forgot to mention during the podcast.  Jasper Morello is a steampunk short film created in 2008.  It’s one of the very first things that I found when I was going on my mad dig for information about the genre.  It’s exciting and a little creepy and everything I love about an animated short.  The sillhouette work isn’t as intricate as Lotte Reiniger’s, but it’s in the same vein and lovely in its own right.

.015 – They let you hold weapons?

This past weekend the Florida Steampunk Exhibition East was held in Daytona Beach, Florida, which is only an hour or so away from me as the crow flies, so I had to go.  I feel like I don’t spend enough time here talking about how much I love steampunk.  I talk some about how I’m writing in the genre, but I don’t give it the same breathless space and time here as I do in other places around the internet.  So just to catch you up to speed: I LOVE STEAMPUNK.

I love it as a genre and an artform and a dress sense.  I love the endless possibility and the optimistic daring do of the people involved and the characters that they write or portray.  I’m just as fascinated with the darkly tinged not-so-nice-history parts of it as I am with the bright, shiny leather and brass parts.  And as you might imagine, this all lays very neatly over my general appreciation for Wacky Victorians anyway, so it’s a perfect fit for a person such as myself who loves reading and writing in the science fiction genre.

Even more specific to my urge to attend the convention than my love of steampunk in general, I had seen that there was going to be a three hour panel/class called Victorian Self-Defense.  I had thought that it would be about bartitsu (which is an interesting subject in itself), so you can imagine my jaw dropping surprise when Alli and I showed up and found two gentlemen standing at the head of the room with rapiers.

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We both sat down and immediately began taking furious notes.  Two of our characters are kind of swords-for-the-cause in employ of the main gentleman driving our revolution, and while I had done research into sword fighting with both fencing foils (and epees) and sabers, there is little internet or book research that can compare to having two people in front of you actually explaining things like footwork and posture and timing.  We spent a good thirty minutes taking pictures and scribbling diagrams and whispering back and forth to each other about how cool this all was…and then the instructors* asked if anyone wanted some hands-on instruction.

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Alli jumped at the chance, and I followed.  There were about seven to ten of us at the time.  Each one of us was handed a bamboo rod shown how to stand and we were off.  The two instructors would explain and demonstrate what they wanted us to do–things like forcing your opponent’s sword offline or giving and avoiding a beat–and then have each of us perform the action against them.  The two gentlemen running the class were professional and patient and seemed to enjoy being able to have the interaction, and that made the whole thing all the more enjoyable for the rest of us.

Then came the tipping point in Alli and my’s mutual giddiness about rapier instruction in general.  They acted out a throw and then had each one of us practice and perform it against one of them using the rapier.  I know that logistically they had to give us the rapiers, because bamboo rods don’t have hilts with which to hold down another person’s blade, but I honestly felt a bit like I’d been handed Auryn** in that moment.  The sword was a little heavier than I thought it would be and the basket fits around your hand in a way that makes you part of the sword and just.  It was an awesome moment and I really want to thank the two of them for it, as well as the organizers of the event for inviting them and setting up an experience like that in the first place.

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The rest of the day was kind of spent in the hazy glow of ‘oh god they let me hold a sword!’  I was extra pleased as well that Alli noted during the class that most of the sword fight scenes I’d written between our characters were actually pretty solid, technically.  Not that they’ll end up in the novel because I just wrote them as character pieces, but it’s extra nice to know that I wasn’t completely off base.  (Though I am going to have to make Edmund spend a bit more time with foil or rapier when he’s teaching William, even while he prefers saber himself.)

We were still buzzing from the rush of it all when we got home in the evening, so right now we’re looking into fencing clubs here in Orlando.  You never know, it could be a fun way to get in more exercise and learn a new skill.  It is definitely a way to have a few more of All Of The Experiences and would give me even more things to blog about.

Now for the informative part of the post!

  • If you would like to learn more about steampunk, there have been a whole slew of excellent articles written, but Tor does a Steampunk Week that always has articles of interest for people who are new to the concept or find it all to be old hat.  The links from 2011 can be found here.
  • The instructors of the class gave me several resources for reading about swordsmanship and style with different types of weapons.  Those are:
  •  Chivalry Bookshelf – who publishes many out of print texts on all sorts of things, including swordplay.
  • HEMA – The website for Historical European Martial Arts.
  • The Western Martial Arts Coalition.
  • And the works (if I can find them) of William Wilson, Achille Marozzo, Fiore dei Liberi, and George Silver.
All of that should keep me and you guys busy for quite some time.  Now I must away to work some more at our wonderful little steampunk world.  It had been too long when I started in on it today and immediately fell in love with our characters all over again.  Funny how that happens.  And just appease the voice of Edmund in my head after all this talk of straight edges with points at the end, here’s my favorite of the sabers I’ve researched.  Turkish, 19th century, housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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* I didn’t catch their names! It’s not in the program or on the site or readily available in any search done by me in the last ten minutes! If anyone knows, please share so I can add them to the write up and also love them from afar.

** Auryn, for those of you not into 80s movies, is the serpent pendant from The Neverending Story that guides Atreyu on his quest.

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