Absurd

Being the sort of person who doesn’t get out much, I don’t often get the chance to make firsthand observations of the more absurd parts of our world. That’s okay, because, sometimes, the absurdity comes and finds me.

Today, while I was out grocery shopping, I noticed a stand set up near the entrance to the grocery store. I took only enough notice of it to build up a little half-hearted hatred of all advertising promotions, but as I parked and walked towards the store, I came to a bizarre realization. The stand, plastered with the logo of a large beverage company (which shall remain nameless), was selling lemonade.

Some cultural context is in order: I am a member of one of the last generations to have the lemonade stand as a symbol of entreperneuership. The lemonade stand was the big capitalist metaphor when I was growing up, the very embodiment of our ideal of the American small-business spirit.

And there, right there in the parking lot of the big chain grocery store that long ago supplanted the independent local movie house, right there, was yet another gigantic corporation, moving in on the territory of the little guy, the sidewalk lemonade vendor. I desperately wish I’d had my camera with me then, because the symbolism of all that was deliciously painful (or painfully delicious).

So, just remember: if you start to get worried that the world seems to be sorting itself out, don’t worry. Proof will arrive momentarily to remind you that it’s still an absolutely absurd place.

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A Tribute to George Carlin

I am a child of the modern media, and thus difficult to shock. But when I hit Slashdot and came across a post proclaiming the death of comedian George Carlin, my jaw nearly hit the floor.

The denial phase was remarkably brief, and now, I am forced to admit that one of the greatest comedians of our time has died.

This may be a cliché, but I don’t care: the world is definitely a worse place now that George is gone. The rest of us are going to have to work even harder to counter-balance the tide of totalitarianism and cruelty here and around the world, and without Carlin, it’s going to be even harder to keep a sense of humor about it.

R.I.P. George Carlin ( May 12, 1937 — June 22, 2008 )

“Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits.”

“Extreme Science Fiction”

Last December, I wrote a poorly-argued post about the trouble with modern science fiction. Almost immediately, someone viciously cut me down, and I put up a rather pathetic defense against it. Well, it seems the universe has a sense of irony, because only a few months after I wrote that post, I found myself in my local book shop, where I stumbled upon a hefty tome with the horrific title “Extreme Science Fiction.”

Now, that was almost enough to make me put it down, but I didn’t. I turned it over and read the back of the jacket, and I was intrigued by the premise of the book: it was intended as a collection of inventive, mind-bending science fiction from (mostly) modern authors, edited by Mike Ashley.

And by the time I’d finished reading it, I knew that all those complaints I’d made about the state of modern science fiction were completely idiotic. Everything I’d said was wrong with SF today — the lack of originality, the lack of experimentation, fear of pushing boundaries, and the rest — was rectified by the stories in that single volume.

This is not really meant as a book review, though. Instead, this is a humbled retraction of all the rubbish I said before. I have to admit, I was wrong: good science fiction really isn’t dead.

New Theme

Thanks to WordPress, I can be very cavalier about suddenly changing the theme around which TLOAMM (lovely acronym…reminds me of the sound I make between when I realize my curry is too spicy and when I actually start screaming) is based. For the moment, I’ve decided to go with a lovely, simple theme called “Garland.” If you love it or you hate it, let me know with your comments.

Movie Review: “The Happening”

GoogleMy father is one of those infamous people for whom it is impossible to buy gifts. So, this father’s day, he relented and suggested that I take him to see The Happening.

I saw Signs, a previous movie by M. Night Shyamalan, who directed The Happening, and found it to be funny, atmospheric, at times absolutely frightening, and a pleasure to watch. I’ve never been a great fan of the horror genre, but there is something about Shyamalan’s films which is more engaging than the dross that usually gets placed in that genre.

The film begins in Central Park, where suddenly, people begin behaving strangely. In moments, there are people committing suicide in droves all over the city. Panic ensues, and an evacuation begins.

For the most part, The Happening follows Elliot (played by Mark Whalberg) and wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as they attempt to survive the continuing onslaughts of suicide-inducing poisonous gas. The plot is realistic enough (even if the science is a little “approximate” for my tastes) to be engaging, but surreal enough to also be unnerving, and at times, quite funny.

But the plot isn’t what I really noticed about The Happening. What I really noticed was the fact that, at times during the movie, my heart rate began to edge up. From a twitchy, nervous guy like me, a movie that can get my heart going is really something. Even in the scenes where the outcome is obvious, there’s often a great deal of suspense.

Interleaved with the suspenseful scenes are the aforementioned surreal scenes. We see person after person sit down calmly and come up with bizarre and disturbing ways to do themselves in. The fact that there is no real enemy, that the enemy is your self-destructive tendencies, while a little disorienting, about doubles the creep factor.

The music helps this along a great deal. It’s unfortunate how little attention some films pay to their score, but that was not a problem with The Happening. Lonely piano and symphonic melodies underscore the surrealer and creepier moments, but the film isn’t afraid to use silence when necessary.

Still — and once again, the same is true for all the Shyamalan movies I’ve seen — there’s something slightly off about The Happening. It’s not exactly clear, but there’s a sort of strange, almost hallucinatory eeriness to the whole film. It’s hard to pin down, but at times, it can get distracting, and sometimes, it manifests directly, like in a particularly sadistic scene featuring a child and a shotgun. It doesn’t detract much (if any) from the film, but it does give one the feeling that Shyamalan is not the kind of person you’d like to sit next to on a long bus ride.

All in all, though, The Happening seems to be classic Shyamalan: the normal world backlit by strange and horrible circumstances. And although it starts to drag its feet a bit in the end, it’s still interesting, entertaining, truly scary, and very engaging. Worth seeing. Not worth buying any popcorn for, though. That shit’s gotten expensive!

Things I’ve Noticed About Writing

I’ve been writing since I was pretty young, and as I’ve gotten a general sense of the craft (how’s that for a snooty word?), I’ve noticed a few things. Here they are:

  • Revision is sometimes unnecessary. Most of the time, when I write something that I really like, I get it mostly right the first time. There may be some minor cosmetic changes that need to be made and spelling errors that need to be corrected, but a really good first draft is hard to improve upon.
  • Flow is a good sign. When I’m writing and find myself entering that state psychologists call “flow” (that is, intense concentration and no desire to stop writing or do anything else), I know I have something good going. I’ve noticed that I almost never reach flow unless I’ve got a fairly good storyline, good characters, and I’m able to see the action in my mind’s eye.
  • Imagery never hurts. Whatever I’m writing, imagery always helps. There have been times when I tried to write in the third-person limited point of view, focusing on an entity that was, for the most part, noncorporeal. Needless to say, when you’ve got an amorphous main character, it can be very difficult to build a good image. But, when I go ahead and do it anyway, I find that it’s always helpful to try to see it. If you don’t do that, there’s a pretty big risk of wandering off into unvisualizable generalities that won’t interest readers much.
  • You never know where a good idea might come from. Recently, I was thinking about spiders. I can’t remember why, but I was thinking about them. I’ve always kind of liked insects and spiders, and the topic was hovering around in my mind. Then, for one reason or another, I started thinking “I wonder what would happen if human beings had natural predators” (besides bacteria and viruses and the occasional leopard, I mean). Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration, and my short story Spiders (which is looking like it’s going to be my first officially-published short story. Yay!) was born. So, never forget that inspiration, as much of a cliché as it may be to say this, comes from very surprising places and very odd coincidences. That, incidentally, is the same sort of coincidence by which my (hopefully) upcoming (eventually) novel “The Bagger” came into existence.
  • Write a lot. A whole lot. In my long-ago post “How to Write Well,” I talked about this, but it bears repeating. You have to write all the time if you want to be ready when a good idea comes your way. I can’t count the number of good ideas that have died in the deep recesses of my memory because I wasn’t in the mood to write them. I find, however, that when I’m writing fairly regularly, I’m in the mood more often, and so I lose fewer ideas that way.

There are other things I’ve noticed, but these five are probably the most general and the most helpful. I hope this is of some use.