Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Random August

A little while ago, I started reading a book highly recommended by a friend. I was having trouble – the narrator wasn’t very good. He was speaking way too fast which made it hard to follow the action. I couldn't understand why my friend loved this book (and the narrator) - it sounded awful to me. Then I accidentally discovered that an iPod has two speed settings – normal and fast. Somehow, I’d activated the faster one (remember, some days, I’m blonder than others). Which got me to thinking… if you listened to an abridged book on high speed, would you be able to read War & Peace in an afternoon?

According to an article in the New York Times, eyebrows are back! And for the women who have waxed and plucked thin lines to fit into last year’s fashion and who don’t want to wait until they grow out, there are solutions. You can get brow extensions (where tiny hairs are glued to each individual strand of brow hair) or! Brow prosthetics. Which as far as I can tell, are little toupees for your eyebrows...

I’ve discovered Kellogg’s Nutrigrain Munch’ems Bitesized Granola Snacks. Sounds all nutritious, right? Healthy. A good snack. Except… the second ingredient is sugar/glucose-fructose! Fer fuck’s sake! They are fairly yummy, though. In very small doses, to prevent sugar overload. Why is it that granola bars/products – supposedly the healthy alternative – are all so freakin’ sweet? And shall we talk about whole wheat bread and grain breads? And branflakes? The degree of sweet in these is just gross. I understand that a little bit of sugar/flavour is a good idea or bran can taste like you're chewing cardboard, but this much? Doesn’t that negate the healthy?

Cool site where you can make a map of countries you’ve visisted. Here’s mine:

Pluto is no longer a planet. This rocked my world and not in a good way. If something this known, this given, can be changed, what about the rest of it? It makes you aware of how arbitrary everything is.

And on that existential note, I’m clicking ‘Post’…

Monday, August 28, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion (and Tinks)

Today is my birthday and blogging will be light, due to... Well. It's my birthday and I intend to do very little but eat yummy things and receive phonecalls from people singing birthday songs in various languages.

The festivities started yesterday, with a family party at mor's. Love the background action behind the birthday cake (Annette's applecake - yum).

I got the best gift I could have hoped for: a visit with my lovies. Here's Liam comfy with Ken and giggling at his dad.

And one of the few non-blurry pictures of Morgan (the kid's never still).

Friday, August 25, 2006

Old and New

To be filed in the 'oops, I did it again' category: on Monday, almost immediately after publicly stating that things might be getting better, I re-injured myself (must’ve forgotten to knock wood). As the majority of my brain has been busy dealing with pain and/or been heavily medicated, I've been thinking of very little and I'm fairly sure that what has passed for thoughts would not be blog worthy. However, Patti to the rescue! In Monday's comments, she asked for details about my recuperation entertainment materials, so that's going to be today's topic.

I've been rereading A Game of Thrones (the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, a series I've been utterly obsessed with in the past). I'm having the oddest reaction to it. On the one hand, I'm as enthralled as I was the first time I read it. It's a fantastic book, incredibly intricate, well written and the narrator is excellent. On the other hand, I've lost focus twice - once halfway through and now again at the last quarter. (at this moment, I know at least 3 people who are fainting and looking to burn me at the stake for blaspheming) It's a pretty serious book - the first in a series of seven, this one’s setting up The Problem and it's a big one. Which means that the book essentially is a slow plummet into what you know will be inevitable Badness. Many of the main characters are members of a family by the name of Stark and boy, are they ever. Their family motto is “winter is coming” and it’s said often in ominous, unrelenting tones of doom. So far, there's been 27 hours of doom and no end in sight. I find myself veering off to fluffier fare to cleanse my palate, then coming back to immerse myself in it again. It's very strange. And disappointing. I guess I'm not the person I used to be.
Undead and Unpopular is the polar opposite of A Game of Thrones. It's the latest in the "Undead and…" series - the frothiest, funniest take on vampires I've read in a long time. Imagine the Queen of the Vampires as a shoe-obsessed Valley Girl and you’d be getting the idea. Highly entertaining.
Next in line is the fourth book in the Amelia Peabody series. I've been reading these books for almost 20 years, camping out by the bookstore, chomping at the bit when a new one would come out. It's the story of a larger-than-life family, helmed by Amelia and her husband Radcliffe Emerson, egyptologists during the Victorian age. Sometimes, I think I have a little Amelia in me, although I try to constrain that aspect as much as I can – in real life, it’d be incredibly annoying, in fiction, it’s hysterical. This was one of the authors I missed the most during the years where I couldn't read books and I was overjoyed to not only find that Audible has every single one of them, but that the majority are read by a narrator who completely embodies what I thought Amelia would be like. Barbara Rosenblatt, you are my hero.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Although not in the "old friends" category, it's definitely a movie I want to see again. Watching Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer (two of my favourite actors, although Kilmer hasn't been getting good material for while) spark off each other was wonderful and the movie has so many twists and turns, it's hard to keep up. But what a ride!
Battlestar Galactica. As you may remember, I have a small – tiny, really - problem with this series. The kind of problem that renders me incapable of doing anything but obsessively watching it for hours every day until I've seen every episode or keel over from overload, whichever happens first. I have resisted renting the first half of Season Two, because I knew what would happen. But then a friend lent me his copy and I'd had enough distance from the last BG incident that I was convinced I could handle it. I'd watch one episode a day. I could keep it under control. I have WILLPOWER! So, I watch the first episode - so far, so good. And then, after the second episode, it all went downhill. I spent several days doing nothing but watching BG, waiting until I could watch BG, kicking people off the phone so I could watch BG, talking (and talking) about BG. And when I went to sleep, I dreamt about it. I have the BG DTs. The second half comes out on September 19. I don't know how I'm supposed to wait that long.
Big Eden. I often watch movies I like again, but never immediately – I always wait months, even years. But the first time I rented this movie, I watched it that evening. Then I kept it an extra day and watched it again. And then I had to buy it. It’s a favourite of mine, one of the loveliest, sweetest movies I’ve ever seen – it just makes you feel good and leaves you with a goofy smile and hope in humanity. Some may say it’s utopian, a cynic might call it corny. But I am charmed beyond words every time I visit (yes, it feels like visiting) and I want to live in the place this movie represents. Also, I’m madly in love with Pike.

(and I’d prefer it if we didn’t talk about how I have developed feelings for a fictional character)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Summer Obsession Update

I believe that I may be - knock wood - slowly emerging out from under last week's Cloud o’ Calamity. Last Monday's injury was only the beginning of the deluge (thank you very much for your good wishes), but after this weekend, I have some hope of things starting to turn around (knock wood - can't be said too much). However, things are going to be light and frothy around here this week, as I have placed myself on a rehabilitation schedule that a includes heavy doses of good novels, good movies/TV and very little seriousness. To that end, since there is only four weeks left, I figure it's time for a Big Brother All-Stars update.

There has been much complaining on the Internet about Kaysar’s strategy to get rid of the floaters. However, Season Six (S6) came into the house as the only large alliance and they couldn’t win no matter what they did. The fans keep saying how stupid they were not to get rid of Chilltown, but the moment they got rid of Will and Boogie, the float herd would align with each other and target Season Six. Nobody would be stupid enough to align with S6, as they would inevitably be a fifth wheel. Their only chance was to target the floaters, hoping to get rid of enough of them that no matter how many hooked up with Chilltown, they could outvote them. Which is impossible. I miss Kaysar. Sigh.

As for the remaining players:
Chicken George. It was nice to see him as Head of Household (HOH), although the twists and turns with James winning POV and Howie (???) being evicted were making me dizzy. Loved how he stood up for Janey and besides, you have to admite someone who’s willing to eat slop for 60 days.
Erika. Remind me again why she's there? And will someone feed her already?
Danielle. I would love to see her in the final three with Will and Janelle, the three best players in the house. However, she is not as good as she used to be or maybe it's the hiding in the background that I dislike. Come out swinging, stop hiding in the shadows!
James. Despite him being the Veto King, I hate his whiny little arse. Last week, he managed to blame Janelle and Howie for his nomination. Chicken George was told to nominate people on the spot. WTF?? He keeps hating on Kaysar and Janey for not getting rid of Chilltown and uses it as his excuse to betray their alliance. Apparently he has amnesia – wasn’t he HOH in week 2? And who did he nominate? He and the Danielle alliance are starting to rival last year’s Friendship for whininess, jealousy and Janelle bashing. Yuck.
. I think he's smarter than he appears on the show, but really? He’s sort of boring. Although, it should be said that one of this season’s most astounding bits of captured video involves Boogie hopping into Howie's “Jack Shack” and having a wank. While wearing his microphone pack. Perhaps he really isn't terribly smart. Maybe if you remove the headbands and armbands, his IQ would increase? I don't know why I clicked on the video - despite frantically shutting it down midstream, I've been wanting to gargle my ears with bleach since - but should you be in the mood for staring at your monitor in horrified fascination, click here (definitely not safe for work). (In all fairness, the contraption was apparently known as Howie’s Jack Shack last season, so I guess the only reason I'm not saying this about Howie, is that Youtube wasn't as prevalent last year - by the way, Youtube is an excellent source for captures from the live feeds)
Janelle. The tide is turning on the net for her, as it did for the rest of season six. I think the problem is that the underdog is always more interesting than the people in power. However, I still love her - she's incredible in competitions. Just look at how many HOHs and POVs she's had. She carried her alliance and repeatedly snatches herself from the maw of destruction. Wow.
Will. I didn’t like Will much in Season Two, although I admired his ability to manipulate. This time, he's making the season worth watching. He's funny, he's smart and he has successfully played everyone else in the house against each other, enabling Chilltown to stay off the block when everyone keeps talking about how they are the biggest threat. Masterful. Let's just give him the money already. Plus, he’s the only one who seems to get that this is a game and is having fun with it.

I considered getting the live feeds for the last month, but then got caught up in checking links to Yiutube that I found on the forums and lost an alarming amount of my life watching people sit around and talk. I clearly can't be trusted near a live feed, so I'll stick to obsessively checking the live feeds forums for new information.

And while I'm on the forums. It's clear that what's actually going on in the house is not what's been shown on CBS. I understand that a certain (a lot) amount of editing goes into creating a reality show, but honestly! This is ridiculous and very disappointing. I don't remember this happening last year. Maybe it is that All-Star shows never live up to the expectations - after all, most of the enjoyment in any reality show is watching people who don't know anything about each other finding out who they can trust and who they can’t. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying myself thoroughly.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Better Living Through Chemistry

I hurt myself on Monday. Quite badly. How doesn't matter, the real issue is that there has been some pain involved (if by 'some' you mean 'a whole lot'). However, the point of today's post is not whingeing on about the pain, it's about an experience directly resulting from the pain. To be specific, it's about being stoned out of your gourd on pain medication.

I have recently learned if I, when I injure myself, hit it with everything I have, the amount of time it takes to heal shortens. Sometimes. So I did. Monday, I took enough painkillers to stun a horse and was not at all amused to find out that they only took the edge off. Yesterday, however, was another thing entirely. I felt somewhat better when I woke up, but this is often a lie my body tells me and if I believe that, it then wallops me upside the head and I never catch up. So I threw a Tylenol #2 (that's "bigger medication" for me) at it just in case and spent the rest of the day being utterly looped. Even without taking anything else until the middle of the afternoon. Wheee!

The good thing about Enbrel is that I’m usually taking less of the big pain meds. The bad thing is that I therefore have no tolerance for them and thus am rendered a complete idiot when I have to take them. For your entertainment (and mine), I hereby present just how much.

For instance, I am writing this using Dragon NaturallySpeaking (my voice recognition software) and it’s taking a good deal longer than normal. Why? Because I have to keep correcting mistakes due to the poor thing not being quite sure of what I'm saying. I appear to not be speaking as... erm... crisply as I normally do. I don't sound drunk (I hope), but just blurred enough around the edges to confuse the software. It doesn't help that I'm having a little bit of trouble holding on to the thoughts, chasing them as they flutter away like butterflies and just when I think I’ve grabbed hold of them, whoops! they're gone. The odd time that I do succeed in grabbing an idea and holding onto it, there seems to be some sort of barrier to negotiate in order to get it out of my mouth. Often, the thought bounces off said barrier and then it's gone again. The combination of the - a-hem - “unclear” speech and the vexatiously escapist thoughts mean that most of the day, people have been looking at me funny, waiting for a beat while they try to translate what I'm saying, eventually giving up and saying 'huh?' an awful lot.

In addition, I have so many painkillers and muscle relaxants built up in my body that... Well, they seem to finally have worked. My body's so relaxed it takes focus to move. Which is difficult to achieve as I feel like I’m floating in a bubble, lolling about, looking at the world, which seems strangely otherworldly. It's as if I am in it, but not of it, everything a little distant, a little odd-looking. When I shift my gaze from one thing to another, the focus in my eyes doesn't follow and the back of my head feels empty and light. I'm getting a little tired of paying attention this much (in order to prevent further injury from barrelling into doorframes and the like), but at least I got a blog post out of it…

And speaking of which. I'm not exactly sure whether this turned out as funny as it is in my head (probably not), but due to aforementioned circumstances beyond my control, it appears that I'm incapable of correcting that. You'll just have to take my word for it. It's hysterical.

Loopily yrs,

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cultural Pursuits

A long time ago, I decide to acquire a cultural veneer. Not actually become cultured, you understand – that might be too much work and then there's the possibility of becoming insufferable and pompous. No, as far as I was concerned, a thin layer of culture which could be donned at required moments would be sufficient.

To that end, I purchased a 3-performance subscription to The National Ballet of Canada. Aside from a phenomenal performance of Blue Snake, it turned out that my childhood fascination for ballet had abated. I like modern dance, but traditional ballet left – and leaves - me bored and wishing they’d get off pointe and get on with it already. Unless it’s Mikhail Baryshnikov. I’ve been lucky enough to see him twice and would cheerfully watch him dance anything.

(by the way – the fact that I admit to being bored by ballet is a fairly good indication that any culture I might possess is, at most, skindeep)

The next year, ballet veneer acquired, I moved on to The Canadian Opera Company. As before, I got a 3-performance subscription. The first was Tosca by Puccini and it left an indelible impression on me. Not so much because of how good it was, as that particular performance was a smidgen pedestrian. I loved it because of the legend of Tosca (being apparently cursed in much the same way The Scottish Play is in theatre). I also loved the story (scroll down to ‘Anecdotes’) of how once, a stage crew got back at a horrific diva by placing mattresses under the tower from which she flings herself at the end, causing her to bounce back up past the tower, then down, then up again, all in full view of the audience. I loved that our Hero - supposedly a dashingly tempestuous lover - was sung/played by a middle-aged, extremely portly fellow, who while in his death throes (which yes, did last about 15 minutes) staggered ponderously about the stage, singing and singing and singing, causing mor (my partner in cultural veneer acquisition) and I to get an uncontrollable fit of the giggles, silently hiccupping with laughter, tears streaming down our cheeks for the entire aria. Add lovely music, the grandest emotions, surtitles above the stage so you know what’s going on and I was hooked.

I’ve subscribed every year since, probably for the past 15 years. I’ve seen crap (and like the philistine I am, left at intermission) and the giggles have continued to punctuate some performances, to the point of once being told to shut it or leave by an usher (hey, we weren’t the only ones laughing at that one). I have seen operas that left me breathless and weeping with the beauty of it, stunned that such otherworldly sounds can be created by a human being, enraptured by the perfect fusion of score, libretto and performer.

Opera hasn’t just been confined to a formal performance. Once, on a WheelTrans bus, going home from a movie, the driver and I got to talking about opera (don’t ask me how). It turned out that he sang and before he dropped me off at home, he serenaded me with an aria from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. It was one of those moments in life that stood out. Random beauty.

And then last week, when in line at an ATM, the woman behind us started singing softly – which in opera, isn’t very softly at all. There we were, on the street in the sunshine, joined by a gorgeous mezzo-soprano singing in Italian. Another moment of unexpected beauty.

I love opera.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Robin's Clock

If you want to be technical, this is actually St. Lawrence Hall, but for one brief moment, it was Robin's clock...

(late note: the mystery of who Robin is and why this is his clock is infinitely more entertaining than the truth, so I'll let it remain a mystery)

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Earth Didn't Move

Good horror is like good sex. It involves the element of surprise and being taken out of your head into the land of purely visceral response. Added to that should be a nicely escalating excitement, interspersed with lulls in the action to take the edge off, which makes it even more intense when things get cranked up another notch. Reading good horror is about losing control not just of yourself, but of what’s happening, the only way to stop the feeling being to put down the book, but by then, the story’s grabbed you so hard that you don’t want it to stop.

My point – and I’m pretty sure I had one – is that I have just finished reading The Ruins by Scott Smith and find myself left rather - a-hem - unsatisfied. Before this crosses the line into “cold shower” territory, let me get on with things. But first (I can never say those two words without thinking of the Chenbot – sorry. Obscure Big Brother reference), a warning: there will be spoilers. Neither vague, nor circumspect, these spoilers will be specific, explicit and in places completely ruin part of the plot. If you wish to read this book, stop now. I’ll wait a moment for you to safely leave before ranting on.

Ready? Ok, here goes.

First, the good. Of which there is some. It's a nifty idea, the Big Bad – a sentient and very hungry vine - is effectively creepy (or at least, has the potential for being effectively creepy) and the author seems to know the theory of creating good horror. However, the book ends up being mostly utterly lifeless, which, come to think of it, is quite an accomplishment, considering how a nifty the idea is. I spent much of my time reading this book (15 interminable hours) wishing that Stephen King had written it.

According to the experts, a good rule of writing is 'be specific' - you need to paint a picture with words to make the story come alive. However, there is such a thing as too specific. An example: 'Eric walked over to the tent, unzipped the flap, and stepped inside'. In and of itself, not too bad. But when the entire book is like that, describing in endless, mindnumbing detail every single action of the characters, it gets on your nerves, dilutes the tension and drowns the story in words. By the time enough is happening that it becomes somewhat more entertaining, you have reached the last quarter of the book. That's too long to wait for any payoff, no matter how good. And this is merely serviceable.

Speaking of diluting the tension. Another good rule is 'show, don't tell' - in other words, show me the person is upset, don't tell me about it. There were times during my reading of this book where I wondered if perhaps I would have enjoyed it more by reading the traditional way, as I felt the narrator was reading in too staccato a manner, not emoting well. Then I started noticing that there were no emotions to emote and thought better of it. Smith understands about escalating the tension, but repeatedly makes the same mistake. Right when he has succeeded in finally taking you out of your head, starting to careen out of control, he slams you right back in. For instance, one of the main characters dies (as do they all, eventually) and because her boyfriend was sulking and didn't understand what was happening, he didn't help her. Fast forward a few hours when the characters find out she is dead (they thought she was sleeping off a drunk). Mr. Boyfriend frantically starts CPR and for a moment, we hope against hope that perhaps she'll be saved. And then… right when we are biting our nails, hearts speeding up a bit, Smith starts telling us how Mr. Boyfriend is remembering the day he first learned CPR as a scout, how many other boys were there, what they had for lunch, what he had thought would happen once he learned CPR, what the dummy looked like and by the time we get back to him attempting to save his girlfriend - who, let's not forget, he could have saved if only he hadn't been an arse - we have gotten completely sidetracked and no longer give a crap. Aside from the fact that a man in that situation likely wouldn't be thinking rationally and coherently, once you have started the ride, you can't stop the roller coaster in the middle. Sure, escalate slowly, then slow down to lull the reader into a false sense of confidence, but you don't start the lulling in the middle of giving one of the main characters CPR!

I could go on, talking about the contradictions, the incongruous language (if you consistently use the word 'shit', you shouldn't consistently use the word 'urine'), the oddity of two long-term couples engaging in no casual gestures and words of affection (and if you consider the excruciating detail in which everything else is described, this is very noticeable), but I'll stop ranting in a minute.

To sum up: The Ruins is the story of six terrified people in a terrifying situation - shouldn't the reader feel some nervousness? The book is two-dimensional, flat, overly simplistic and contains entirely too many words. When I finished, all I could think was that I needed an antidote. Something fantastical. Something with dragons. I felt like rereading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to be reminded of elegance and artistry in writing.

In the immortal words of Dorothy Parker: this book should not be cast aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force.