So I Re-read The Hobbit

22 Aug

And yes, it’s still good.

I first read it when I was maybe eight years old — actually I think I read a graphic novel version first, but that’s not really the point — and I’m not sure I’ve reread it even once since then, which is surprising because I love to reread. I had the basic plot down pretty well, except the occasional mis-remembering who said what, but I was shocked at how different the narration was then I remember. I’m guessing this is because I have read The Lord of the Rings at least twice since then, and everything in that book is grave, grave business. But the voice in Hobbit is downright playful. I say voice because the narrative I shows up relatively frequently — (To italicize “I”, highlight “I” and press command-I) — which fits in nicely when you think about it as written by Bilbo, even though he therefore refers to himself in the third-person throughout.

There were the occasional bits that stood out unpleasantly mostly because they didn’t jibe completely with what Tolkien put down in Lord of the Rings, and that book was so carefully constructed to make sense in a set world where everything fits together — also, Wikipedia calls the collected works of Tolkien and his son to be a “legendarium,” a great word. Apparently he regretted this later in life, kicking himself over naming the Thorin company of dwarves goofy Norse-sounding names like Ori Dori and Nori or Bifur Bofur and Bombur because they didn’t work comfortably with his extensive genealogies in the appendices of Lord of the Rings.

Oh fucking well. It’s still a good book. Good enough to get me excited about the movie adaptation, even though I’m still a little leery. Good enough that I don’t really mind that I spent Sunday and Monday reading it as opposed to doing my own writing. That’s worth something, to me anyway.

Did You Like “Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things?”

9 Aug

Then take a good taste of “Mitt Romney Standing on Things.

At one of the two bars I frequent — this one slightly divier than the other — they show KDKA local news every night. In that one half-hour I see on average 3 or 4 political advertisements, and I only see a positive one every few outings. It’s fucking exhausting. So when I get to see something like that Slate photo collection, I try to really treasure it. It has nothing to do with politics, platforms, polling, or other “p” words, it just highlights some of the goofiness that makes everything more bearable. It’s really tiring to be serious all of the time.

I also wrote a blog entry for the store yesterday about “Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors Porch Day” yesterday, which is apparently a thing. Imagine if you will hundreds of people waking up this morning to find squash littering their porches. Doesn’t that warm your heart just a little?

Well, the World’s Ending

7 Aug

Pretty much as soon as the Internet happened to me today I was confronted with this:

“RESIDENTS IN RICHMOND. NORTH RICHMOND AND SAN PABLO. ARE ADVISED
TO SHELTER IN PLACE. GO INSIDE. CLOSE ALL WINDOWS AND DOORS. TURN
OFF ALL HEATERS. AIR CONDITIONERS AND FANS. IF NOT USING THE
FIREPLACE. CLOSE FIREPLACE DAMPERS AND VENTS. AND COVER CRACKS
AROUND DOORS AND WINDOWS WITH TAPE OR DAMPED TOWELS. MEDIA NEWS
NETWORKS WILL CONTINUE TO CARRY UPDATED EMERGENCY INFORMATION.
STAY OFF THE TELEPHONE UNLESS YOU HAVE A LIFE THREATENING
EMERGENCY.”

As it turns out, a Chevron refinery in the Bay Area was leaking diesel in the wee hours of this morning, and around 6:30 the diesel  ignited, spewing huge amounts of oil and diesel smoke into the sky and prompting the “shelter in place” warning that I saw.

The fuck is this shit, man? Really? We can’t go two days between a mass murder and a disaster that while it may not have huge lasting effects is incredibly frightening to me? And people wonder why all I want to do is drink and watch soccer. This is deeply exhausting, bearing witness to this that I have  functionally zero power to do anything about. I barely had any time to enjoy the whole landing-on-Mars thing.

So Much Going On at Two in the Morning

6 Aug

Last night I was receiving two sets of texts.

The first was from my girlfriend, whom I had been planning to see that night. It didn’t work out for the evening and I was certainly a part of why the plans fell though. So the two of us were making sure neither of us were actually too upset. It’s a new enough relationship that we are still treading softly around each other.

The second set of texts was from my best friend, whom I met in Philadelphia when we were two or three. I don’t have internet in my new apartment yet, so he was forwarding me second by second updates on the progress of the Mars Curiosity lander, which landed in a 96-mile diameter crater that contained a mountain — over three miles high — that may be able to tell a geological story about the evolution of Mars.

It’s an amazing juxtaposition. Something that feels so incredibly important in my own, small life — and is important to my small life, don’t get me wrong — directly in contrast with one of the most impressive feats that our species has ever undertaken, that is, sending a probe the size of a subcompact car to drive around on a planet hundreds of thousands of miles away. Let me shuffle them together right quick:

“It’s moving at about 11,700 MPH. They’ve started prep for touchdown. Boosters shutting down and software starting up.”

“I’m glad you had a good night, I’m going to bed now.”

“12,850 MPH and climbing because of Mars pulling it in. Probably about one minute until entry.”

“Ok hon. Sleep well.”

“This is the start of seven minutes in hell that is the landing for the rover.”

“Are you happy with me?”

“It’s as heated as it will be. At top speed. Experiencing eleven G’s. It’s talking to the satellite Odyssey and NASA is receiving telemetry.”

“I am. Sometimes I don’t feel like you are with me. But I like you.”

“I think at this point it is on autopilot. NASA has no control. Everything is going according to plan.”

“Why don’t you feel like that.”

“Fifteen KM altitude. Parachute has deployed. Deceleration has begun. 150 meters per second. Nine KM. 86 meters per second. Four KM.”

“Cause I thought you were upset with me today.”

“Powered flight has begun. One KM up. 50 meters per second. 500 meters. 59 meters. Being lowered. Final touch… almost there.”

“Even if I was upset that doesn’t mean I’m not happy. I’m very very happy. And I want you to be happy.”

“Touchdown confirmed! Safe on Mars. It’s down and still talking to Odyssey. Images are coming though. The first images taken by Curiosity are though. They can see a wheel and confirm it is in the correct position on Mars.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I want you to be happy too.”

Christ What Have I Gotten Myself Into

4 Aug

Last week I ran into an acquaintance of mine — at a bar, because, yeah — and ended up drinking with him and two of his friends for a few hours. He’s a writer, and a good one: he’s published two books, one of nonfiction and one of poetry, has been included in a couple of collections in the lovely company of people like Jamaica Kincaid, John Edgar Wideman, and Lee Gutkind, and has written for publications like Pittsburgh Magazine, McSweeney’s, Mental Floss, and more. We drank, considerably, and had wonderful and wide-ranging conversation. At some point, we decided to each send around 10,000 words this coming Tuesday, and we’ll meet back up a week later to talk about what we’ve written.

The following morning I had a variety of thoughts as I walked to work:

1. Did I just network?

2. Holy shit I have to write another 4,000 in the next week. (I had, unfortunately, overestimated how much I had of this particular piece when all was typed up and collected.)

3. Was I really the only person at that table under 30?

4. What if my 10,000 words really, really suck?

5. If I don’t do this I’m gonna hate myself.

So there it is. I still have another couple thousand words to write in the next four days — though thankfully I have Monday and Tuesday off from work — but I am taking a proactive step and that feels good. Of course at this very moment I’m sitting and writing about this as opposed to actually writing, but it seems inevitable that I put everything off till the true deadline. It’s kind of my style.

If nothing else, I got two free books out of the evening. Both of the guys who will be reading with me have published novels and gave me copies. Christ what have I gotten myself into.

Writing about Cursing When You Can’t Curse

18 Jul

This will be brief. When I was in Philadelphia last week for a night, before going Ithaca, I read an article about a trial in England about racism and vulgarity on the football pitch. Apparently Chelsea captain John Terry, in the midst of an on-field exchange of shit talk with Anton Ferdinand, used the adjective “black” while calling Ferdinand all sorts of offensive things. An off-duty cop witnessed it, and Mr. Terry was arrested.

I’ll pause here to say I know nothing about the state of racism in the United Kingdom and I am not making an argument as to whether or not Terry should have been arrested or convicted.

Instead, I just want to clip some paragraphs from the Times article to show how hilariously goofy it is to have to edit an incredibly vulgar court transcript to make it printable in the Times. A large portion of the article is mutilated quotes from Terry and Ferdinand about the context in which the alleged racist remark was made. For instance:

“According to accounts the players gave in court and the transcript of an interview Mr. Terry gave to the police, the encounter began when Mr. Terry angered Mr. Ferdinand by failing to return a ball that had gone out of bounds.

Mr. Ferdinand then tauntingly reminded Mr. Terry that he had, to paraphrase, illicitly slept with the girlfriend of Wayne Bridge, another player.”

And then:

“Mr. Terry responded with a different gesture meant to suggest, he explained, that ‘Anton had bad breath.’ (He clarified the point in court, saying that he did not mean it literally and that Mr. Ferdinand’s breath, in fact, ‘didn’t smell.’) [...]  As the argument on the field became more heated, Mr. Terry at one point compared Mr. Ferdinand to male genitalia, and then to female genitalia, in consecutive sentences.

“Most of these constituted “handbags,” or “normal verbal exchanges between the players,” Mr. Terry told the police, according to the transcript. These types of things, the players said, include calling other players fat, or taunting them about how their mothers like to have sex with people in other cities.”

The New York Times, everyone.

All I Am Doing is Pouting That There’s No Tennis Today (Well, Not All)

1 Jul

I’m also reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and wondering why I’m not as excited about it as I have been about Vonnegut in the past. I guess its more overtly political than I’m used to. I think Fountainhead perverted my acceptance of political messages in fiction. Vonnegut is overtly political in much of Man Without a Country, but being nonfiction I don’t care so much. Mother Night was about Nazis, ostensibly, but less about the obviously horrendous politics and policy of Nazis — because who needs a novel to tell you that Nazis are bad — and more about personal responsibility. Writing fiction about politics seems to invite you into the same pitfalls as writing period-piece fiction, it ties any message or emotional content to a context that by definition can’t be as universal. It’s not that I disagree with the things Vonnegut’s trying to say but I don’t feel like I’m learning anything new. I don’t particularly care for being a part of a choir being preached to.

Let me start over. I just finished reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and I wonder why I’m not as excited about it as I have been about Vonnegut in the past. Rosewater, the character not the novel, is yurodivy I guess. I haven’t read The Idiot, and probably should, but I’m gonna go ahead and make a broad statement about this type of fiction anyway. A novel about a yurodivy should either: 1. Allow the correctness of the yurodivy be revealed over the course of the novel, or 2. Have a sizable portion of the narrative not be about how correct the yurodivy is. Rosewater, the novel not the character, sets up the character as correct right off the bat. Or is this just because I’m used to Vonnegut’s political ideals and read his stuff in the wrong order? What if I read Rosewater before Man Without a Country? The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the content about the Rhode Island Rosewaters — this is the part of the narrative that’s not about the correctness of the yurodivy — but Vonnegut after a fashion simply stops talking about them. These are his roundest characters and then poof! he abandons them.

I am, sadly, disappointed.

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