Friday, February 29, 2008


Oh, I have such a crush.

It's been a while since I've felt this goofy over someone, and it's been even longer that I've felt this goofy over a boy. I have no idea how it's ultimately going to play out, but I'm enjoying the mystery, the knowledge that even if things don't work -- if he doesn't like me half as much as I like him -- the world isn't suddenly going to upend on its axis or something equally as dramatic.

I mean. It might.

But it probably won't.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Review: The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Ever since I read the last word and closed the book, I've been trying to figure out how to properly write about Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's one of the few books that honestly made me cry, really cry, not the vague teary-eyed thing that happens way more often than I'm willing to admit, but full-out, put-the-book-down, bury-your-face-in-your-hands sobbing. I probably shouldn't admit that, but...damn, you know? If it affected me that much, I kind of need to mention it. And since then, I've been struggling to put that experience into words, because it's rare that I read something that haunts me so completely afterward. A month or so later, it's still not out of my head. How on earth am I supposed to review that?

So. The Road, in one sentence: after I read it, I felt like I'd been punched in the a good way.

Ugh, I'm terrible at this.

The Road takes everything I love about post-apocalyptic fiction, and extends the tropes so far that they're almost unrecognizable. McCarthy's world is one of unending silence and overwhelming dread, all grey snow and falling ash, the dead, twisted crags of blackened trees, the empty shelves of long-looted supermarkets gathering dust in the neverending gloom. We never learn the names of the main character or his son -- they're referred to as "the man" and "the boy" -- and their conversations are odd and stilted, every stark line of dialogue bursting at the seams with the things they aren't saying to each other. The man has a gun, and he has only two bullets. He loves his son. They're always hungry, and they're always scared.

What's horrifying about the world is that humanity as a construct has ceased to exist -- most post-apocalyptic stories take place in dystopias, or something close to it, but here there's no dystopia to speak of, because there's no society to speak of. It's all individuals, surviving as best they can, often in brutal, horrible ways, and in the middle of it all is the narrator and his son, traveling along the ash-covered road with their cart, their gun, their two bullets, making their way towards the ocean because there's nowhere left to go.

This was the first Cormac McCarthy book I ever read, and I went into it not knowing what to expect. I'd heard that his writing style can be off-putting for some people, and now that I've read him I'm inclined to agree. Personally, I love it -- there's something spare and poetic about the way he uses language and eschews punctuation. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would've been a mess, but McCarthy wields words the way a murderer might wield a straight razor. He's excruciatingly precise, and it's not until you're bleeding out than do you even notice the wound.

It's not a book for everyone. There are long stretches where nothing of immediate consequence happens, and while I read through those sequences with held breath and a sense of growing dread, I know other readers would probably find them boring. The lack of quotation marks might
grate on some people, and I suspect the ending won't sit well with everyone. But. It's still worth reading. It's different, and it's powerful. There's a sense of inevitability to what happens, and while the ending made me cry like my heart was breaking, it still felt like the ending the book needed to have. It felt like the right ending.

Ultimate Ninja Battle!

So while I was out to dinner with A Boy this weekend, he and I got into a conversation about the oldest rivalry known to man: ninjas versus pirates. We agreed, sadly, that although pirates are WAY COOLER, they're also kind of drunk most of the time and may have scurvy, while the ninja are elite fighting machines with kickass weapons. Sure, the pirates have guns, but it's not like firearms are going to help much if you're too drunk to shoot properly. It makes me sad to admit it, but the ninja win.

The Boy paused to drink some more sake, which tasted like burning at first and then rapidly became quite delicious as it cooled. "But that's last year," he said. "For 2008, I propose that last year's winners -- the ninja -- go up against werewolves."

"Oooooooooh." Starry-eyed, I completely forgot about my curry. "What are the parameters?"

The parameters, as he outlined them, are thus: during the full moon night, the werewolves are mindless killing machines, basically giant balls of furry, vengeful rage. During the day, however, they're human, with all of the limitations that implies. When it's not the full moon, they can change at will, but only at night, and there's no mad, unstoppable rage.

I'm of the mind that the werewolves are the obvious victors here -- during a full moon, they'd shred the ninja into messy wet ribbons of flesh and probably wouldn't even notice if they were stabbed in the process, and it's nearly impossible to kill a werewolf without silver or wolfsbane. The only way the ninja could take the advantage would be if they tracked down the werewolves during the day, but even that's not guaranteed. They'd have to act damn fast, because once night falls? They're fucked.

Plus, werewolf bites are infectious, so even if the ninja managed to somehow kill all of them, they'd end up changing themselves during the next full moon.

"Ninja werewolves," I said. "Just think about it. They'd be unstoppable."

The Boy smirked at me from across the table. "Whoa, you're moving way too fast. Ninja werewolves are for 2009."

My curiosity piqued, I had to ask: "So...who will they be fighting?"

There was a long pause as he tried and failed not to look pleased with himself. Finally, he grinned. "Vampire. Pirates."

I'm smitten.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Serial Killers

The serial comma (otherwise known as the "Oxford comma") doesn't get nearly the love it deserves. As with most punctuation marks, its duty goes mostly unnoticed, its songs of praise mostly unsung. But although my favorite punctuation mark is by far the semicolon -- oh, the whimsical, so divine! -- I feel that it's important to give credit where credit is due, and to the commas, especially the oft-abandoned and long-insulted serial commas, I humbly tip my cap. To you, sirs. To you.

This message has been brought to you by Strunk and White. Please stay tuned for our regularly scheduled blog entry, which will be commencing shortly.

~ Softly playing elevator music ~

So. I'm finally getting a haircut tomorrow. I can't remember the last time I had it cut, but I know my bangs ended up shorter than usual, and I wanted to give them time to grow out. And boy howdy, did they grow out. I can't seem to get my stupid webcam to work and I don't have a digital camera, so I've included some helpful illustrations to guide you.

Here's how my hair should look:

Aww, check out how happy I am. My short hair fills me with glee!

Now, here's what my hair is currently doing:


This haircut will be a very good thing. The longer my hair gets, the younger and more boyish I appear -- as I write this, I'm really rocking the "gender-confused 15-year-old" look.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Freakin' Valentine's Day!

(image from the gloriously cracktastic Holy Church of Daniel Day-Lewis. Milkshakes FTW!)

Happy Valentine's Day or whatever! I'd originally planned on going to the movies tonight, but yesterday I was sick and I was just lazy. The great horror movie extravaganza (The Orphanage, per Starting Over at 24's recommendation) has been postponed until the weekend, and my evening thus far has consisted mostly of writing, eating pizza, and watching Ladyhawke. It's the best Valentine's Day I've had in ages.

I'd planned to talk about writing for a while, but wonder of wonders, I think I'd rather just write instead. And finish my movie, because it's adorable and eighties-a-rific. Really, this entire entry was just an excuse for me to post a There Will Be Blood valentine. In fact, I think I'll end with one as well:


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

February is kind of a nutty month for me this year. It's the six-month anniversary of when I broke up with my ex, it would've been our four-year anniversary if we'd stayed together, and it's going to be the first Valentine's Day I've spent single since 2002.

There's some part of me that feels like I should be bothered by this; instead I just keep thinking, "Hey, maybe I should go see The Orphanage or Cloverfield on Thursday to celebrate, because everyone else will be doing romantic shit!" I...guess that's a healthy attitude to have? I honestly don't know anymore. I mean, even if I did have a boyfriend or girlfriend right now, I suspect I'd drag them to see a horror film on Valentine's Day anyway. Not because it would be ironic or something stupid like that, but because I really like horror movies. Valentine's Day is as good an excuse as any to see one.

Speaking of irony, can we please end this trend where people only like things ironically? Please? I keep ending up in embarrassing situations where folks start talking about, I don't know, liking big dumb action movies, and I jump in all excited because I genuinely love big dumb action movies...only it turns out that the people I'm talking to don't like action movies at all -- rather, they like them ironically, because to sincerely love and appreciate something considered the dregs of pop culture makes you deeply uncool, and also possibly a dork.

Seriously, this has happened during conversations on video games, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Stephen King, horror and action movies both, Sam name it. Inevitably, I drop out of the conversation feeling sort of lame and sad, because apparently I'm not allowed to like Sufjan Stevens if I also like Fall Out Boy.

See Also: the Graphic Novel Deathmatch (Alan Moore vs. Everyone Else), and The Great Genre Fiction Debate (Does Michael Chabon Write Genre, and If So, Does This Make Him a Bad Person?). Discuss.

What makes me sad is that it's a total double-standard -- you're considered an ignorant idiot if you only like popular culture, and you're considered a pretentious twit if you only like the high-brow stuff. I'd argue that those generalities are fair to an extent -- if you completely disdain one and avoid it entirely in favor of the other, then you sort of deserve to be mocked. The obvious solution, as I see it, is to find genuine enjoyment in both, because that's the sort of thing that allows movies like Hot Fuzz to happen and we could all do with a bit more of that.

Instead, we somehow ended up with a culture where it's only okay to like pop culture if you're doing it ironically, and after a while it devolves into this horrible M. C. Escher Mobius strip with creepy self-awareness on one side and a total lack thereof on the other. Only it's a Mobius strip, so it's the same damn side.

Look. When you profess to like Starbucks coffee because practically everyone likes Starbucks, and so by liking Starbucks you're somehow making a deeply ironic statement about the people who like Starbucks? THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. Either you like it, or you don't. Nobody really cares either way, because it's fucking coffee. On the same token, liking My Chemical Romance "ironically" doesn't make you any cooler than someone who genuinely enjoys listening to them -- it just makes you a coward, because you won't own up to it the way the so-called idiotic masses do.

Liking something because it's popular doesn't automatically make you a moron, and liking something obscure doesn't automatically make you smart. My deep, overwhelming hatred for James Joyce's Ulysses doesn't say anything about my worth as a human being. Sincerely loving Die Hard doesn't make me dumb. The fact that I read my mom's old pathophysiology textbooks for fun doesn't make me intelligent. It just means I like doing those things, nothing more.

And since I'm really not sure how my musings on Valentine's Day turned into a plea for the return of sincerity to daily life, I think I'll leave it at that.

Monday, February 11, 2008

List, List, O List

- I seem to have developed a giant girly crush on, um, Yahtzee Croshaw. Yes, this is based solely on his voice and sense of humor. Other people are allowed to crush on actors solely because they're hot, dammit. That means I'm allowed to crush on hilarious, acerbic gamers with sexy accents. (This isn't to say that I don't crush on actors and actresses simply because they're hot, but...I forgot where I was going with that. Moving on.)

- "Breaking Bad" has become my new favorite tv show. A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal lung cancer decides to start cooking meth so his family will have money once he's dead. I'd watch it based on the concept alone, but the main character, Walter, is played by Bryan Cranston, otherwise known as the dad from "Malcolm in the Middle," and it's astonishing how good he is in this role. Walter is a man whose life is clearly spiraling out of his control, and there's all this helpless rage and anguish simmering just beneath his surface. Cranston was one of the best things about "Malcolm in the Middle," so seeing him here is just...awesome. Sundays, 10:00 PM, AMC. If this ends up getting canceled, I am never forgiving America.

- As wonderful as it is to keep getting kick-ass ideas for novels, I wish my brain would shut the fuck up for a while so I could focus on one of them and, you know, WRITE the stupid thing. First it was the space western with the dinosaurs. Then it was the deconstructionist fantasy novel. Then it was the modern-day Don Quixote thing with the gamers. Now? My goldfish brain seems to have latched onto action movie tropes and there's something all self-aware and Die Hard-ish happening, and I don't even know what the fuck is going on anymore. I keep getting 3-10K words into something, and then get distracted by shiny objects. BAD WRITER. NO COOKIE. On the plus side, though, whenever I get bored with one I always go back to working on one of the others, so maybe I'll get lucky and finish them all at the same time -- then I can have four unpublished novels making the rounds for rejections, instead of just one. Woo!

- Whoever brought Jonathan Lethem's books to my attention deserves a medal. I finished Gun, With Occasional Music a few days ago and now I'm halfway through Motherless Brooklyn, and although Gun was glorious, I think Motherless Brooklyn may go on my list of all-time favorite books ever. I don't think I've ever read such an amazing portrayal of Tourette's Syndrome before. And it's about gangsters in New York, which -- judging by my book and movie choices this month -- is apparently right up my alley.

- I wish I could take a personal day tomorrow. No real reason, other than I want to sleep in and then write all day. But I'm in the middle of several projects, so I can't. Boooooooo(urns).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Stuff and Nonsense

The problem with Saturday is that by the time it arrives, I'm usually so worn out by the rest of the week that all I want to do is hang out in my pajamas, drink coffee, and read until three in the afternoon, at which point I grudgingly get ready and spend the rest of my day...hanging out in my jeans, drinking coffee, and reading.

I live such an exciting life.

The Portland International Film Festival swung into gear this week. Last night was In Bruges, which I loved. LOVED. Tracy Jordan-style "take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant" love (please for to be watching "30 Rock", people). I'm going to try to be more on the ball about posting reviews (I have a folder of half-finished ones on my desktop -- way to be on task, self), but suffice to say, the movie really isn't what the previews imply. It's not an action-fest, and it's not really a black comedy -- it's a dark, sad movie with some wickedly funny sections, and it definitely brings something new to the "British gangster" genre. So much love for In Bruges.

Tonight I'm going to see Jar City, which I've gathered is an Icelandic murder mystery. Iceland! I love Iceland! Iceland has brought us Sigur Ros and Bjork and The Juniper Tree, although the latter was dark and disturbing and possibly scarred me for life. Then again, the fairy tale it's based on is dark and disturbing and definitely scarred me for life, so. Anyway. I'm excited to see it, and plan to check out some of the other festival films throughout the next week or so, athough I can only hope my film-going experience won't be quite as insane or obnoxious as last night's was. Yeesh.

See, they oversold on seats. I'm not sure how they managed to do this, since we all bought tickets in advance, and they kept insisting at the door that they didn't oversell, but that was very clearly what happened. I arrived early, but almost didn't make it in -- they let the people in front of me in, and then stopped the rest of us so they could get things inside the theater figured out. Which was fine and all, because I was there by myself and knew that if a single seat opened up -- almost a guarantee, once they get everyone to scootch in towards the middle -- I would be able to get it since I was next in line.

Then this stupid hipster couple pushed in front of me, ignored my protests, and did their very best to be horrible, conniving little seat-stealers. However. One of the volunteers asked for single folks, I flailed like the dickens ("me! me! PICK ME!") and was promptly led to a seat. The line-cutting hipsters? Got split up. She got a seat, he didn't, and she ended up leaving in disgust when no one was willing to give up their hard-earned seat so they could sit together.

HA! That's what you get for being rude and cutting in line! And being a hipster!

After that, everything went more smoothly, except for the two older women next to me who felt compelled to discuss every fucking aspect of the movie while it was onscreen. Why do people do this? Seriously, WHY? "Oh, he's going into the cathedral now." For crying out loud, WE KNOW! IT'S ONSCREEN RIGHT NOW! And every time something violent happened -- and this is a movie about gangsters, mind, so no matter how genre-bendy it gets, you know violent things are going to happen at some point -- they commented on it.

Every. Fucking. Time.

Ladies: "Oh, how horrible." "Well, I don't see why he had to do that." "Oh my, this is just awful."

Me: *quiet, seething rage*

I...don't understand this. I mean, I really don't. You deliberately go to a movie with gangsters in it...and then complain about the violence? The hell? I don't know. My best guess is that they didn't read anything about it ahead of time, and thought it was about, I don't know, sightseeing. In Bruges. Or something.

To conclude: Ralph Fiennes is hot, Colin Farrell is a surprisingly good actor, Brendan Gleeson just needs to be given a leading role already, because...damn, and line cutters will always get what's coming to them.

Film Review: Maxed Out

Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders

"Consumer lending is grossly profitable. I can't even find the right word to give you here. Consumer lending is...obscenely profitable."

-- Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law professor

You need to see this movie. Yes, you. All of you. If you live in the United States, you need to see it. If you have money in a bank, you need to see it. If you own a credit card, if you're thinking of getting a credit card, if you know people with credit cards, you need to see it.

Maxed Out is a documentary about the wholly unethical -- and borderline illegal -- practices of credit card companies, consumer lending corporations, collections agencies, and banks. And it's brutal. Several of the families interviewed had family members commit suicide over debt they couldn't get out of, several more of the people interviewed had themselves considered suicide as a way out, and the interviewees at a collections agency just laugh and grin and say, "Yeah, sometimes we push a little too hard. But what can you do, right? They owe money!"

As documentaries go, Maxed Out is elegant in its simplicity. It eschews voice-overs for black-and-white silent movie cards, and even that device is used sparingly; for the most part, the filmmakers let the footage speak for itself, cutting back and forth between various interviews in a manner that's utterly devastating at times. When they focus on a quietly outraged family who was being harassed by a collections agent after their mother (who was deep in secret debt) disappeared, and then cut to the owners of such a collections agency as they smugly compare themselves to "pirates" who walk people as close as possible to the plank's edge before they pull them back again in order to "get what they want"'s hard not to feel sick. These kinds of juxtapositions make up the backbone of the film, and I was reduced to tears on several occasions. It's utterly unflinching in its examination of how lives are ruined over debt.

I was particularly impressed by how they couched the debt problem in a social and historical context. It's not just the credit card companies, it's not just the banks, it's not just the government -- it's everything, all of it, and it goes back generations upon generations. They touch on how personal debt affects not only the people involved, but the economy overall, which gives the film a bit more immediacy. After all, while you'd have to be pretty cold-hearted to write off the personal stories as "their problem, they deal with it, nothing to do with me," it's a lot harder to ignore when said personal debt issues contribute directly to a suffering economy and a skyrocketing national debt.

The film was made a few years ago, and they just barely touch on the sub-prime mortgage issue, mainly in a "man, we're all going to be in trouble if/when this falls through" kind of way. Now? The sub-prime lending problem is THE issue when it comes to our economy right now. It's all connected, which is a point the documentary illustrates beautifully again and again.

But they don't spend too much time on the national issues, which was the right call where this film is concerned. The personal stories are what make it hard-hitting, because they span every socio-economic group in the country. Watching it, it's impossible to say, "Well, that won't happen to me," because it CAN. It's a corrupt credit card corporation holding checks (and occasionally shredding) them so that their members rack up the late fees and penalties; it's a family trusting their bank to help them lower their mortgage rate only to discover that they now have to pay more and are going to lose their house; it's a middle-aged woman in a nice neighborhood losing her husband and ending up in foreclosure because she can't make the payments on her own; it's college students on their own for the first time, not understanding the fine print, racking up over $20,000 worth of debt before they turn nineteen; it's a clerical error in a credit reporting agency computer that declares a woman "deceased" and labels her a possible terrorist when she tries to get a loan for a truck; it's collections agencies calling your neighbors and relatives instead of you, because it's "more embarrassing" that way. It's all of it. And it can happen, has happened, will pretty much anyone.

I was talking to my dad after I watched the movie, and I was outraged that credit card companies continued to send applications and offers to the people who had killed themselves over their debt, calling them "valued customers" and insisting that they wanted their business back.

"It's SICK," I said.

"Yes, it is," said my dad. "And unfortunately, it's all automated. It's just a computer, looking at the numbers and sending it all out. They have no idea these people have even died."

And that, ultimately, is the point of the film. We're just numbers. To all of these companies, to the credit cards, the banks (did you know that several of the national banks own those "check to cash" companies that do payday loans?), the credit reporting agencies, the collections agencies...we're just numbers to them. We're not people. And the more debt we're in, the more money they make. They lose money on the people who pay their balance off each month. Those aren't the folks they want, not really. They want the people who can't afford to pay, because no matter how much they bleed them, the debt will still be there.

It's worth watching. Trust me.

"For every dollar they were asking for in principal, they wanted two more dollars in interest and fees that [the credit card companies] said they were owed. Think about that. That means for the average family who can't pay, they'll keep making payments of fifty dollars, of a hundred dollars...but they'll never pay those debts off. They will owe those debts until they die. Death...will be the only form of debt discharge that they will ever see."

-- Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law professor

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mysteries of the Human Condition

Whenever I read nonfiction about life in the 19th-century underworld, I'm always astonished that people actually managed to survive those days. I suppose future generations will think of the 20th and 21st centuries in much the same way, but...come on, street brawls where it wasn't uncommon for someone to bite your ear and/or nose off? Baby-eating rats? Rookeries where there was at least a murder a night and they usually just buried the bodies under the dirt floor? How we managed to last into the 20th century, much less the 21st, will forever be a mystery to me.

The book in question is Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury. The cover proclaims that the Scorcese movie was based on the book, but I think it's more accurate to say it was "inspired by." This isn't a bad thing in the least -- each chapter focuses on a single group or event, like the pirates that roamed the Hudson river (?!?!) or the murder of Bill "The Butcher" Poole, and it's a surprisingly fast, entertaining read. A few of the footnotes have led me into interesting Google territory (look up the Doctor's Riots of 1788 -- talk about a morbid joke blown way out of proportion), and aside from some uncomfortably jarring language ("'Miscegenation'?! Jesus, when the hell was this written, anyway? 19...2...8. Oh."), it's fairly easy to overlook the fact that it was written about eighty years ago. It holds up well.

Right now, I'm in the section about the police riots -- apparently, the city government and Municipal police were so corrupt by the 1850s that the higher levels of government stepped in, created the Metropolitan police, and declared the Municipals disbanded. Unfortunately, the Municipals didn't like that idea, some political stuff happened wherein the Metropolitans tried to arrest the corrupt mayor and the Municipals fought back, and the whole thing culminated in a huge riot. In City Hall. In which a good fifty officers were injured and one was permanently maimed. After that, the two branches of the city police spent more time fighting each other than the gangsters themselves, to the point where one would actually release a criminal they saw the other arrest, just to be a jerk.

It's funny until you think about it too hard, and then it's just horrifying. And we think jurisdiction arguments now are bad...

I don't know why I find this stuff so fascinating. It's taking sincere effort not to write even more about it than I already have, because a) Asbury does it better, and b) I suspect most people don't care.

BUT I DO! [/dork]