Sunday, August 31, 2008

Arugula or Grizzly Bears?

"Arugula-flavoured politics."
That's what the Economist (8/23) calls Barack Obama's brand of politics.

Seems McCain's veepchoice has grizzly bear-flavored politics.

But before we sneer at Sarah Palin for eating moose burgers (if we're so inclined), we might ask ourselves,
Who am I to sneer? Can I honestly say I can distinguish between capers and pickled nasturtium seed pods?

Btw, lest I have been unclear:
I support Obama.
(Good reason #1: health care reform.)
I just don't think the sun rises and sets on him.

And arugula?
Love it! But turnip greens are much cheaper.

[Image via Michelle Malkin, conservative journalist/blogger. It refers to Obama complaining in a small Iowa town about the price of arugula at Whole Foods, an elitist grocery chain that did not have a store in this town.]

T/Roasting Shatner

"Get Out of My Life!"
Leonard Nimoy's contribution to Bill Shatner's Celebrity Roast.
Hysterical.
"What are you doing this for, Bill? The food?"

Politics As Theater, Part 2

There's that John Wayne swagger I was talking about:
William Shatner as the pistol-packing Denny Crane for President, from Boston Legal .
Funny? Check.
Horrfying? Double check.
See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Bink sent me this.
She says she's voting for Dr. "Bones" McCoy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Crash the Convention/He Completes Us

[Note: Krista at Thinkery posts links on 8/30 and 8/31 to more coverage of the raid and pre-convention "preventive" policing. Very spooky, kids.]

My activist friend Stef told me that Friday night police raided the Convergence space being used as a gathering space by the RNC Welcoming Committee (an anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body preparing for the Republican National Convention) in Saint Paul, MN.
The police detained over 50 people.

The Welcoming Committee is planning protests on Sept. 1 through Sept. 4.
Their website is Crash the Convention.

Then she sent me this funny Lion King/Obama biography remix, "Barack Obama: He Completes Us," from Thursday's Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

"We've gotta laugh," she said. "It's a healthy survival response of marginalized people."

* * * * And this from a woman who still suffers pangs of "leftist guilt" over the fact that the grater she bought in 1989 to make potato latkes for Channukah was made in Chile.

"Every time Barack Obama speaks, an angel has an orgasm."

"One man seems ready enoughish to lead."

Politics As Theater

"Nothing is just one thing."
-Virginia Woolf

A couple friends have reacted to my amusement at McCain's choice of v.p. as if I'd said I want to bomb Iran.
Heavens!
His choice has a kind of a John Wayne swagger.
It makes for good theater, stirs things up.
I appreciate that.
That's all I meant.

A lot of electoral politics--on everybody's part--is theater.
Theater is entertaining and enormously important; but I try not to let it sway my fundamental decisions, to the extent I can. (I know it does anyway--I'm a member of a social species, after all.)
I liked The Dark Knight too, but I would never vote for a fascist like Batman.

I grew up around people who enjoyed getting worked up about politics, and I came to distrust that.
Too often it has looked to me like the way people get excited about television shows or spectator sports (or even religion)--expending a lot of energy on highly charged emotions and very little on the plain old dull work of, say, showing up for neighborhood associations or the hard slog of loving your neighbor.

Some of the most hateful things I've ever heard have come out of the mouths of people who believe in peace, love, and understanding.
Sad to say, I have to include myself in that.

Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh says a lot of people in the peace movement can write an angry letter of opposition, but can they write a political love letter?

Here's a question that interests me immensely:
How do I learn to do that?


Movie Moment:

As Julie Delpy's character Celine says to Ethan Hawke's Jesse in Before Sunset,
The folks who can write a political love letter, they aren't running for high office.
They're the ones making sure some dirt-poor school in Mexico get pencils.

It's not that simple, I know--we still have to muddle through political elections, and of course at root they are deadly serious.

But hey, if a candidate wants to enliven the proceedings by wearing feather boas, I'm all for it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I wish I liked McCain's politics...

...because sometimes I sure like his style.
Choosing Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as v.p. is right out of Call of the Wild. I gotta love it.
But I don't like his politics. (Nor, as Momo queries in a comment, hers.)

In reality, these commando types aren't suited for democratic leadership roles:
Do I love Captain Kirk?
You know I do.
Would I vote for him for president?
Never.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rewrite Reads

The NEA 100 Great Reads List, 5 posts down, recommends a bunch of books I would't. It also wastes space listing multiple titles by the same author.
So, I'm revising it.

(This is a highly subjective undertaking, as you can imagine.)

For my Rewrite Reads, I start with replacing the entries that duplicate authors. The authors are great, mostly, but why waste the places? I tried to choose one representative book and then match the others, sometimes very roughly, with a book with a similar theme.

Cut 4 of the 5 books by Charles Dickens.

I’d choose Christmas Carol as good, representative, and blessedly short.

Replace Great Expectations with Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote (right).

Both books are about young men coming of age in swampy places, where people lurk in dim rooms. But so different. I like Dickens’s stories, but his paid-by-the-word prose makes me want to scream, “Get on with it.”
Capote’s condensed prose hits the solar plexus.

Replace Bleak House with The Golden Bowl by Henry James, which Sister describes as a tale of “paranoia and sexual neurosis.”

Maybe not exactly Dickensian, but I had to squeeze James in here somewhere, even though I never got through anything of his longer than Turn of the Screw (terrifying!).
Sister, who loves 19th century novels, occasionally quotes one of his gorgeous sentences and I wilt with appreciation.

Replace A Tale Of Two Cities with The Periodic Table by Primo Levi.
Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist, better known for his writings about Auschwitz.
In this book, Levi matches qualities of Earth's elements with people and events in his life. His chapter on iron tells a tale of personal sacrifice in WWII Italy as good as Sydney Carton’s in the French Revolution. And it’s real.

Replace David Copperfield (one of my favorite books from childhood, and Dickens’s favorite child, he said) with the Dido Twite series, which starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, for young adults, by Joan Aiken.

[Aiken got lucky: Edward Gorey illustrated the Yearling editions (left).]

Aiken’s Dido Twite is a scrappy/sad girl urchin who grows into self-awareness, along with her friend Simon, in the midst of the power struggles of 19th century England.

She probably crossed paths one London day with David Copperfield.


Replace 3 of the 4 titles by Jane Austen.

They’re all close enough to perfect as makes no difference.
More or less at random, I'll keep Pride and Prejudice as representative.

(*clears throat* I may be influenced by how sexy Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy looks in his wet shirt, right, sideburns and dopey look notwithstanding, in the PBS version—a totally gratuitous scene, and one which I approve entirely.)

Replace Emma with Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1913—1980).

Pym, named by Philip Larkin as one of the most underrated authors of the 20th century, captures with a pen as wicked funny and insightful as Austen’s the restrictions of English women’s lives. Like Austen, to whom she is often compared, she published only six books. This is the best of them.

Replace Persuasion with “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda.
Stands to reason, right? If Austen had been a Latin American man, the smothered eroticism of “Persuasion” might have sounded something like Neruda’s lush poems.

Replace Sense and Sensibility with Persepolis, volumes I and II, by Marjane Satrapi.

Nothing on the surface connects these books, except the variation on the name “Marianne.” But Satrapi’s graphic-novelization of her coming of age in Iran during the Iranian revolution of 1979 and after, in the West, captures a young woman making her way in a restricted world, trying out different options, and I think she and Austen would have a lot to say to each other.

End of Empire

Double-up Tolstoy: put War and Peace as one entry with Anna Karenina.

Not a true parallel, but use the space saved for Waiting for the Barbarians, by white South African J. M. Coetzee—a tale of a man ensnared by his own power as a representative of an empire under attack, and the way this mutilates his ability to love.

Oooh—follow that with the complementary The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, for another imperialist in Africa (Sierra Leone), at the End of Empire--and another man trying to be good caught in the tangle of forces way beyond him.

HOTM could replace Animal Farm, by George Orwell [another double-listed author], which is also about how easily naïve good intentions get warped by power.

Keep Orwell's 1984. Squeeze in the same entry “Why I Write”, a classic essay about politics, literature, and the limits of ego, by the same author:
"Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

Mix and Match

Keep Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, of course, and add as a companion Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys.

“Wide” tells the story of Rochester’s first wife Antoinette/Bertha Mason--the madwoman Jane Eyre discovers in his attic—when he met her in the Caribbean (where the Welsh/white Creole Rhys was born).

Analysts of postcolonial literature point out that Rhys's Jamaican-born Antoinette represents the female sensuality and race issues (though she's white, there's a warm wildness to her) Rochester and his patriarchal colonial culture fear, which is why he locked her up.
You could also say it's just a damn good, well-written story that rings true.

Another entry that cries for a trim and a match:
The Bible. Do we really need to read all those books of lists? Let’s be more specific. A quick tour:
Genesis. Book of Isaiah. The Psalms. Song of Solomon. The Gospels. Book of Revelation.

Add as complementary The Bagavad Gita, the Hindu classic which is a surprisingly good read, and surprisingly familiar. Probably because like most Westerners I knew who Ghandi was before I knew who Krishna was.

Skip Some Shakespeare

Speaking of a trim, replace the “Complete Works” of Shakespeare with:
a comedy (I vote “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” because I saw a version of Peter Brook’s swinging-‘60s staging of it when I was a kid. Oh my. Double checking the date, I see that Patrick Stewart—Captain Picard of Star Trek--was in Brook’s RSC 1970 production);
a tragedy (“Hamlet”? “King Lear”?);
a history (“Richard III,” “Julius Caesar”);
and the sonnets.

All That Wanders Is Not Worthy

Save an entry, and put The Hobbit together with The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

For a nice bit of compare and contrast, give the open place to Call of the Wild, by Jack London, for another astonishing journey.
Where Bilbo the hobbit takes a jolly romp "there and back again," Frodo in LOTR and Buck the dog in COTW find "you can't go home again" after their journey out into the wilds.

Replace the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling with A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
I would have loved Harry Potter when I was ten, but as an adult I find it overly simplistic and predictable—and rather dead-ended. (What would it lead you to study or explore further, I wonder?)
“A Wrinkle,” however, opens up the universe of physics.

Replace The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis with Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis.
That is, replace sexist, humorless Oxbridge with sexist, hysterically funny Redbrick.
I'll forgive almost anything if it's extremely funny. And I am unanimous in that.

Different Fruits and Spices

Replace Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, because it was so pukey I couldn’t stand it, with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (left, with a library card catalog*), or Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown.

Winterson (English) & Brown (American) both write funny, gritty coming of age stories about young women. Both protagonists come to realize they are lesbian, but that’s almost incidental. I mean, there’s always something a girl has to claim as her own, in defiance of her family and the world.

Replace that old chestnut Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, with The Translator (1999), by Leila Aboulela.

Both are schlocky romantic fantasies about fairly passive, traditional women who move into worlds they don’t fully understand, where they long for the man of their dreams to see and accept them as themselves.

A big difference is that Aboulela’s heroine is a Sudanese Muslim woman working as an Arabic translator in Scotland, waiting for the Scottish professor of Islamic studies who loves her to wake up and get with the program: There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.

There’s no mystery in The Translator, as in Rebecca, but it’s a good swap as the intrigue of how to survive in Scotland is mysterious in its own way, such as, for instance, when the heroine has to figure out where to find green cardamom.

(An aside--Rebecca is one of those books that is better as a movie, I think.
Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film is better, anyway.
Not least because of Judith Anderson as creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.
And I'm not just saying that because she played the Vulcan High Priestess--left--in Star Trek III, The Search for Spock.)

You've Got to Be Kidding

Most of the books I'm replacing are fine books; I just prefer others or am making space. Not so the following three.

Replace Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell with Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Scarlett O’Hara is an astonishing character—a formidable survivor—the sort of woman who’d kill her baby to save it from slavery, just like the heroine of “Beloved” does. But I can’t believe anyone would recommend GWTW, with its vile, “We always fed our boys well and they were grateful/Mammy is so wonderful” [even if she has no name] apologies for slavery.

Another book I can’t believe made the list is The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, which is so full of factual errors, I couldn’t stand it.
My father, on the other hand, had great fun pointing out all the Parisian geographical mistakes--“You can’t get there from there, it’s a one-way street’—that can be fun because you get to feel so superior and in-the-know.
Replace with a historical religious mystery that is erudite and still a ripping good read, The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.

Maybe this is just plain old mean of me, but let's put Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in the ring with Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

It would be ugly, but it would be brief.

Amen to All These

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
22 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
25 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

More to come.

* I chose the Winterson photo, which isn't the best of her, because of the card catalog.
I worked in an art college library from 1989 to 2001. The director refused for reasons of her own to put the catalog on line. Toward the end of my time there, students would walk in the library and ask how to look up books. When I'd point them to the card catalog, they'd say, "What's that?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Homage to My Hips"

Lucille Clifton reads her poem "Homage to My Hips".
(Listen--it's a big poem, but it's less than 1 minute long).

Clifton's poems always make me want to write poems myself, the way watching someone eat something meaty and juicy makes you want a bite too.

I found the poem link on Sherman Alexie's site "Falls Apart"--part of a list of unapologetic voices, in contrast to Obama--on his Stuff I Like list.
(Reading lists like his makes me want to write lists, the way watching someone eat salty corn chips...)

I was looking up Alexie because I was replacing one of the 5 Dickens books on the NEA's list of Top 100 Books with his The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven on my Revised Reading list. S.A. drew on that collection of his short stories when he wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite movies, Smoke Signals.

Well, here--I'll post the end of that movie, below.

Movie Moment: Hair and Ashes

I haven't written a "movie moment" in quite a while.
Here is the end of the movie Smoke Signals, screenplay by Sherman Alexei, as mentioned above.
[Spoiler alert, obviously, since it's the end.]
This is not only one of the funniest and smartest movies, it's got one of the most profound endings on a topic we don't hear much about--forgiving our fathers.

The young Coeur d'Alene Indian man Thomas recites this poem, "Forgiving Our Fathers," for his friend Victor, who is throwing his father's ashes in the river.
Victor's father left the family when Victor was young. When Victor drives from the Pacific northwest to Arizona to pick up his father's ashes, he finds in his father's wallet a photo of his father with him and his mom.
On the back, his father has written one word: Home.
Victor reads it and takes out his knife and cuts off his beautiful long hair.

His expression of multidimensional grief came to me the morning after my mother's suicide--father, mother, what's the difference?--and I knelt on the floor with the kitchen scissors and did the same. Later I put some locks of my hair on my mother's coffin, before it went into the cremation oven.

The poem "Forgiving Our Fathers" is by Dick Lourie.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Top of the Pops in Science

Cocktail Party Physics, where I got the "NEA 100" (which I am currently working to update), has posted her choice of 75 top popular-science titles. Many good additions to the list in the comments, too.

(Real science, not sci-fi, but I couldn't resist this picture I came across, because I am very fond of parrots.)

I'm thrilled that I have read any of CPP's choices, at all:
20. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss (I'm not quite done, but almost!)
41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi [this goes on my top 100, period]
69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn (saw on stage)

But--darn--haven't seen any of them as movies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Counterrevolutionary" is one word.

I am proofreading a book about the Russian Revolution and believe me, "counterrevolutionary" is one word. No hyphen. But I don't blame the author one bit for resisting Webster's on this one.

I do like a good monarch.

100 Books Not About Physics

I am deep into pondering why Star Trek's transporter isn't really viable, reading The Physics of Star Trek.

(And forget the Wayback Machine, too.)

Meanwhile, via Cocktail Party Physics I came across this book meme, based on the National Endowment for the Arts top 100 reads. The NEA is sponsoring something called The Big Read.

Now I've gone and done it, I see it's a pretty obvious list of mostly-English-language standards, a bit updated. I read most of these before I was twenty-five, if they existed.

Sort of a List of Books You Need to Be Conversant With to Feel Comfortable Attending Cocktail Parties With College-Educated Americans, If Only to Disparage Them [the books, not the Americans; for instance, see #s 21, 42, and 88. Darn. I thought that was about to form a nice number sequence, but it doesn't--or not one I can see.].

I don't mean it's not a list of a great bunch of books--it is! (Mostly.) It's just boringly predicable, and a reader sure wouldn't want to stop with these.
Maybe I'll make a list of books I'd add (and remove--why three Charles Dickens? or any CS Lewis at all?)--suggestions welcome!

Anyway, doing the meme gave my brain a rest from string theory.

The rules are simple:

1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you have started but haven't finished.
3) Place an asterisk by those you intend to read/finish someday.
4) Pass meme along to others, at your discretion.

+ I'm adding one, because I'm a movie fan:
5) Place a dollar sign $ next to ones you've seen as movies.

$1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
$2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
$3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
$4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
$5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

$10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles
- Thomas Hardy
$13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
$15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
$21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
$22 The Great Gatsby -
F. Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
$25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
$26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows
- Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
$34 Emma - Jane Austen
$35 Persuasion
- Jane Austen
$36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis [odd bit of duplication re: #33]
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A. A. Milne
41 Animal Farm
- George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
$46 Anne of Green Gables
- LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert
$53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
$54 Sense and Sensibility
- Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
$62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo
- Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
$68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
$71 Oliver Twist
- Charles Dickens
$72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
$79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
$80 Possession - AS Byatt
$81 A Christmas Carol
- Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
$84 The Remains of the Day
- Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom [?Why?]
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection [never heard of it]
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince
- Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces
- John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
$97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare [again, why the duplication?]
$99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Hmmm....my many italics prove that I've never felt constrained to finish a book I didn't like, the way I hear some people say they feel. Though not finishing the Bible or the Complete Works of Shakespeare doesn't exactly fall in that category.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Me 'n' Len

Leonard Nimoy and me,
Las Vegas Star Trek Convention,
August 10, 2008


These photo ops with stars move so fast, unless you slam on the brakes, they're pretty much drive-by shootings.

Here's what I remember about standing next to Leonard Nimoy:
His body was warm.

It surprises me how much that body memory stays with me.

Last night I had dinner with Lee and Faith, to celebrate Lee's 40th birthday. (I gave him a Gorn birthday card I got signed by Bobby Clark, the stuntman who played the Gorn.)

I was trying to puzzle out why this seemingly meaningless contact with Nimoy did mean something to me. Despite the fact that by the fifth and final day of the con, when LN appeared, it had come home to me fully that the actors are not the people who keep the characters alive--it's the fans.
But still....

"I don't know," I told Lee and Faith.
"It's not like there was time to say anything of importance to this guy. It was just something basic. You know? Something elemental--like something from way back in human evolution:
I exchanged mammal information with Leonard Nimoy."

Lee said I should put that final line on a T-shirt.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Inner-Hellboy Needs a Red Wagon

Twisted Rib writes about recognizing and incorporating the "bad child" parts of ourselves.
This is something I consciously, intentionally began to do after my mother's death, when I found myself beleaguered with sticky, icky bitterness, as sticky as tar in cigarette smoke.
When I finally tried to approach that bitter self with love, she appeared as a frightened girl-me.

This week, my inner child is Baby Hellboy.

If you know Hellboy, you know he is the spawn of Satan, but that, in fact, he is also the embodiment of free will.

In other words, through his choice *not* to serve Satan, he models the belief that biology alone is not destiny. Like Hellboy, we get to choose. But the choice takes some awareness. In other words, it's work. (No free lunch.)

(This--biology is not destiny-- was one of the tenets of 1970's feminism that oddly mirrors Catholic theology. There are others, but that's for another day. I guess "no free lunch" would count too.)

Anyway, ever since I've gotten back from Las Vegas Star Trek con, I've been housesitting or hosting other people at my place. Some part of me feels burdened and uncared for and is threatening to throw a hissy fit.

But after talking (writing) with Twisted Rib, it came clear to me:
Baby Hellboy need a present!

This is a tenet of MY spiritual life. People in pain and confusion need small gifties. (Words of praise and encouragement count.) Also, people who are feeling really well and confident can use them too. And in-between states? They also respond well to praise and gifts!

Maybe I would adapt the Dalai Lama's statement that his religion is kindness to:
"my religion is give small gifts."
Or maybe that's the same thing.

So, I asked my inner Hellboy, and he wants a red wagon.

Here is is, darling.
Just for you!
I love you.
Now, go play in the mud and leave me in peace for a bit.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I went and bought a movie camera.

Just this afternoon. When the manager added up all the extras(firewire, camera bag, DV film cassettes, etc.), I handed her my plastic and said, "Don't tell me what the total is."
[deep breath]
So, sorry, you won't be getting any birthday presents from me this year.

Joop Joins the Star Trek Crew!

Bink has posted her very own, first Star Trek spoof!
Starring, of course, her little dog, Joop.



I am so tickled to think that my own vids have inspired someone else, equally demented, to make one.
The more the merrier! Or is that terrier...?
Go, Bink, go!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shatner on The Twilight Zone

My parents didn't let us watch much TV when we were kids, so I have seen all of three Twilight Zone episodes. At least I only remember three, but I remember them well, including this one, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." It's about a guy who sees a monster on the wing of his airplane, and no one believes him.

I had no idea the man was William Shatner!
I believe the monster is a relative of the Mugatu, who bites Capt. Kirk on Star Trek.

Here's part 1 of 3 (it links to the other 2).

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Don't Know Where I'm Going!

I wouldn't say I'm depressed, just directionless. I don't know where I'm going or even where I want to be going. That's pretty much where I was last year about this time, when I decided to give myself a sabbatical.
Well, as Bink says of pilgrimage, the trick is just to keep on walking. Even if you go in circles.

The main thing I have accomplished since I got back from Las Vegas 5 days ago is printing out the application form for the Cinema Division at the community college.

Turns out--not surprisingly--entrance to the filmmaking division is competitive. (And they only accept new students once a year, in the fall. So I'm too late for this year anyway.)

You do not, in contrast, have to submit a 5-page application to study Homeland Security (HS).

Just to make sure I wasn't misleading you on this, I checked the HS requirements, and I want to share with you some of the 3-credit courses you need to take to earn a "Homeland Security Basic Certificate":

Emergency Management Systems
Hazardous Materials Awareness
Terrorism and Emergency Management
Weapons of Mass Destruction

I find this enormously touching somehow, in its reduction of chaos to bureaucratic lingo. Such faith, to offer "terrorism management."
But why do I not feel safer that some kid just out of high school has sat through a community college course in Weapons of Mass Destruction?

The school warns prospective students that certain jobs in security do require extensive criminal record checks, which rules out the Def Con kids, I suppose, who would be really cracker-jack at it.

The Archers

But that's all beside the point.
The Cinema Division application gives me reason to get out of bed.
Here's the question that really lit a fire:
"Name two films and filmmakers/screenwriters you admire. Explain why. 200 words maximum" (Boldface theirs, but I would have bf'd it anyway.)
Two films and filmmakers? In two hundred words?
That is a challenge.

Oddly enough, the first filmmakers who popped into my mind are Powell and Pressburger (links to a guide to their top 7 films), known collectively as The Archers (logo above).
Maybe because they're a two-fer and I could name another filmmaker too?
More likely because they are unusual in the filmmaking world for being a collaborative team, and, as I've written before, that really appeals to me. The Kirk and Spock of the filmmaking world.

I don't think the Archers are very well known in the US. I first watched their A Canterbury Tale (1944) because I'm interested in pilgrimage. It follows a very odd pscyho-sexual mystery during WWII (some guy puts glue in a young woman's hair), but really it's all caught up with showing how places hold layers of time. (Not a very American concern, usually.)

It's really interesting, but I'm not sure I'd casually recommend that film. I would unreservedly recommend I Know Where I'm Going!, (1945, currently available on DVD from the Criterion Collection--links to a page of the Archers' films available from CC).

IKWIG is also replete with P&P's spititual sense of place, and has the most wonderful big, wet, shaggy dogs! that get on the furniture. Their owner is an attractive and intriguing character played by Pamela Brown.

The story follows a young English woman (Wendy Hiller, the future dame) who is sure she knows where she's going: to be rich, even if it means marrying a rich old man she doesn't love.
The weather traps her on the wild coast of Scotland, and she stays with the independent Pamela Brown character, where she meets and falls in love with Roger Livesey, who is, of course, poor. (But handsome. And a Scottish laird. And very nice.)

The Bechdel Test

Come to think of it, this film passes the Bechdel Test, which Jen just told me about. Alison Bechdel writes a cartoon strip (and blog) called "Dykes to Watch Out For", in which, Jen tells me:
"a character says she can't remember the last time she saw a movie:

1. With two female characters
2. Who speak to each other
3. About something other than a man.

She closes the strip by saying the last one she saw that passed was Alien, because two women talk about the female monster."

_______________
Well, I don't know that I even want to study filmmaking, but I will enjoy the work of filling in the application. There's nothing like some good questions to clear the fog and help you see where you are going, or, sometimes even more usefully, where you don't want to go.

Finally there's this question:
"How did you become interested in cinema? Describe the circumstances that led to the discovery of this interest."
To be answered in 100 words maximum.

Answering that will be like John Le Carre's reflection on writing a screenplay from a novel: it is, he said, like reducing an ox to a bouillon cube.

Oh, there's also a note on the application form requesting that the applicant "Please spell-check your responses."
I wonder if you have to spell-check to get into Homeland Security.

Now I am going to go watch Woody Allen's Stardust Memories. Research, you know. I love films about filmmaking. Ah, that's another post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The "5 Things" Meme

Matt tagged me with this "5 Things" meme. Good timing, as I could use some non-Star Trek traction.

Fellow bloggers, please take up this meme on your blog, if it appeals to you!
Or readers, write it out in the comments!

Here are the steps:
What was I doing 5 years ago?
Five things on my to-do list:
Five snacks I enjoy:
Five things I'd do if I were a billionaire:
What are five of your bad habits?
What are five places you have lived?
What are five jobs you've had?

What was I doing 5 years ago?
August 2003 was significant because, 8 months after my mother's death, all of a sudden I had the energy to do a rather big and optional physical project:
I painted my 10'x10' bookshelves deep watermelon pink, trimmed with honeydew melon pale green---on the hottest days of the year (near 100, high humidity). While I painted, I listened to cassette tapes of my mother reading aloud P.G. Woodhouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Five things on my to-do list:
1. File my rent-credit (tax rebate for renters) forms to the IRS, if it's not too late.
2. Check to see if I can order the photo of me and Leonard Nimoy yet. (Photos taken on the last day of the con get mailed out, but you have to request it online).
3. Go to the theater to pay for my Improv class. Like DefCon, this theater doesn't take credit cards. Though I doubt it's because they're hiding their records from the Feds?
4. Read the manuscript that the publisher e-mailed me this morning. Like this meme, it's good because it will help me shift gears.
5. Look into film/video classes and/or buy a video camera and hit the streets.

Five snacks I enjoy:
1. the pineapple-filled cookies from Marissa's, the local panaderia (Mexican bakery)
2. "a little piece of fresh fruit," (as Stef's grandmother used to say)
3. Chinese White Rabbit candy (creamy toffee)
4. Japanese snack mix (with those spicy dried green peas, sticky-puffy rice squares, and orangey sesame sticks), in Bink's backyard, with a beer
5. brewed coffee with a shot of espresso (called a depth charge, or TNT, or red-eye, etc.); laptop on the side

Five things I'd do if I were a billionaire:
1. Oh geez. Sorry to be so sincere and literal here, but first and foremost, I would feel entirely responsible for trying to help the world in a material way, like Jimmy Carter does. Hmmm...maybe I'd just give a lot of it to an already existing organization, like the Carter Center. I mean paying for really basic stuff, like setting up clean water systems around the world.
2. Share it with friends and family, in big lump sums, no strings attached. So, for example, I imagine Bink could set up a sculpture studio where wire-haired fox terriers could roam; Stef and Jim, a music studio; Sister and SJG could move to Paris and open a restaurant; Barrett and I could go to London for tea at the Russell Hotel; the Viz Sisters (Salesian nuns) could build a guest house; Lee could focus only on writing his novel; Rudy in Paris could buy an island off Maine and establish a matriarchal society; Jen could attend a Star Trek con; all my blogosphere pals could buy the computers of their dreams, etc. etc. etc.
3. I always thought it would be fun to hand out large amounts of cash to strangers, anonymously. Like, surreptitiously on the city bus.
4. For myself, I'd pursue some sort of filmmaking projects--maybe film school? (On the way home from the airport, I saw a billboard for film school in NYC...) Or maybe I'd just jump in and start. Documentaries especially appeal to me as a way to mix journalism with storytelling.
5. Buy a house and rebuild the Enterprise bridge in the basement. (In Las Vegas, I met a couple who'd done this.) Throw ridiculous theme parties and hold film screenings there.

What are five of your bad habits?
1. Not bothering to file my rent-credit rebate forms with the IRS. You can extrapolate the other four from this one.

What are five places you have lived?
1. "Little World," a make-believe place on a mossy riverbank with Helen, my best friend in 4th grade
2. Chicago, Illinois, 1986-1988
3. Late Antiquity (the world of Saint Augustine, 4th-5th century Roman Empire/Christian Church)
4. the movies
5. Las Vegas, August 6-10, 2008

What are five jobs you've had?

1. Janitor at the Landmark Theater, pre-video, when they played old movies. Loved it.
2. Grill cook. Nothing like the rush of breakfast cooking on weekends!
3. Exercise instructor at the YW, briefly in 1989. Yep, really. My one time of being fit and trim.
4. When I was studying mortuary science at the U here (for one semester), I was hired to work preparing human corpses for dissection at the Medical School. I got a tour of the lab and thought I was fine, but I couldn't sleep that night, and in the morning I called and said I would not be showing up for my first shift.
5. Sacristan: schlepper of sacred objects (fire, precious blood, holy water, golden chalices, discs of wheat) in the Catholic Church. I loved this job more than any other, except for the politics of the Church.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Depressed? Just a little.

Yes, I was feeling pretty low...in fact, awfully low, earlier today because now that I'm home from the Star Trek Las Vegas con, I am no longer surrounded by people wearing pointy ears, like this wonderful mathematician (right). 

(She and I talked for about half an hour, waiting in the line to get our photos taken with Len. I feel I can call him "Len" now that I stood next to him for, like, 30 seconds.)

So, this evening I signed up for an Improv Acting class.
For me, a totally unexpected part of the Star Trek con was how much it was about acting.
Since almost every presenter was an actor, not a writer or director, how not?

I never have wanted and do not now want to perform in public; but I got interested in how actors learn--as Sandra Smith (one time Capt. Kirk) said--to inhabit their bodies fully and to claim their space.

The actors, every one of them, impressed me with the way they did that, even though some of them, frankly, didn't seem to inhabit their brains altogether fully. They were all pros at Q&A, for instance, including fielding off-the-wall questions.

Bink had taken me to see improv a few weeks ago, and it had struck me then that it could be a useful skill, given that life doesn't come with a script. This convention just confirmed that.

The very thought of this class cheers me up. That and the beer and ice cream I had for dinner.

And Now, Back to Our Regular Programming

These Klingons are not the folks you need to worry about, not that I think anyone would. Look, they aren't even carrying BlackBerries, much less iPhones. (I was surprised how low-tech the Star Trek con was.)


No, these are the folks to worry about:


I don't know how often this happens, but this year the annual Star Trek con and the DefCon convention overlapped in Las Vegas, though at different hotels.

Did I know what DefCon was?
I did not.

So when three guys with DefCon badges came into the Hilton coffee bar to use the wi-fi and discovered it was not free (as it has been in previous years), I--in full Star Trek Love Puppy mode--said to one of them,
"Gee, if you just need to check something quickly, you can use my laptop."
(They are probably still laughing to themselves about this.)

"That's very nice of you," one of them said, "but that's OK. You don't want to let these guys touch your computer."
And off they went, back to their con at the Riviera Hotel.

When they left, a Trekker at the next table leaned over and said vehemently to me,
"Don't let the Black Hats touch your computer!"

And she explained to me that Def Con is the hackers convention, and "black hats" are hackers with malicious intent.

So I googled DefCon.
Huh. It almost restores my faith in humanity that those three hackers didn't to take up my Innocent of Heart offer and totally fuck up my life.

You can imagine my delighted curiosity, then, when I found myself sitting next to a young man wearing a Def Con cap, on the shuttle bus to the airport.

"Hey!" I said, "I was just at the Star Trek con--tell me about your con!"

Wow, guys.
Maybe you know all this already, but this guy blew my mind.
Or rather, it was the couple in front of us, a young man who looked like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix and a woman who looked disconcertingly like the young Meg Ryan who turned around and started to talk to my seat mate in what I assume is some kind of English about some...um, I can't even tell you what it was about, except it was something rad and sexy and very illegal you can do with computers... it was this trio that blew my mind.

They told me, for instance, about how hacking into ATMs is ridiculously easy.

"It's just a phone line," they said, rolling their eyes (well, I don't know about Keanu, as he was wearing dark glasses) and told me how you can buy anyone's social security number for twenty bucks.
"Are you scared yet?"

"Actually, it's intriguing. I'd like to learn how to do that," I said, "but I'm at the level where I still think blogging is pretty cool."
And they gave me a pitying--though benevolent--look.

They seemed to factor Trekkies in as retarded cousins.
Blondie said, "When I saw that the Star Trek con was at the same time as our con, I thought the geek factor in Las Vegas this weekend was going to be through the roof."
(This was the first full sentence she spoke that I understood, so I remember it well.)

My seatmate told me that plenty of hackers are sci-fi fans.
"There's a lot of crossover," he said. "I was laughing at some Klingons, but then I thought, look at cell phones, look at medical tricorders--Star Trek thought of that stuff first."

I don't think these three were Black Hats, but who knows? They could have been FBI agents...or from Mission Impossible. At any rate, perhaps feeling I deserved some help, they told me that the least I should do for protection is buy a Mac.
Bingo!
I felt I had passed some minimum level of intellectual acceptability that I could say I already had one.

"DefCon" stands for "DEFense Readiness CONdition," a U.S. military term that measures the risk of the nation being attacked.
"If you want to see where it started," my seatmate said, "watch the old movie WarGames."

Thank you.
I hear people say that Entertainment doesn't influence Real Life, which is patently rubbish. These computer whizzes claim for their roots this 1983 film starring Matthew Broderick as a guy who almost starts WW III when he mistakenly thinks a government site is a computer game.

And then the shuttle bus arrived at the Northwest Airlines stop and I had to get off, so I can't tell you anymore about how to take over the world.
But I sure knew I was back in it, the world where you can't assume that people will work hard *not* to hurt you.

Btw, you may have seen that this past week, a MA court ordered 3 MIT students not to present their findings at this DefCon on how to hack into the Boston subway system.
This strikes me as rather silly, since if these students can figure it out, the Boston T should be glad they are speaking up publicly...

In fact, the Feds send agents to the DefCon to suss out security weaknesses. Seems to me it's stupid to muzzle the speakers. But then, as you can see in my quotes, I'm a big fan of the First Amendment.
Not necessarily for high moral reasons, either; I also think it's smart policy to hear what everyone's saying.
That's one of the best things about riding the bus. You get to hear the word, which is good, even if the word is scary.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Star Trek Las Vegas: Last Day Like This

Wipe Out
If I ever imagined I could be a foreign correspondent, which I didn't, now I know for sure that I couldn't. I am wiped out, after four little days.

Maybe not so little.
I've been photographing and more or less interviewing people every day, and that really is a lot of work. The incoming information is exhausting, even though it's all been marvellous.

Yesterday afternoon, for instance, I shared a table with a woman, Barbara, who is the head of a forty-person software department for the Hubble Space Telescope.
She told me about the upcoming service mission to the Hubble, and how much the software is going to improve the images, etc. etc.
She also explained why the mirror had been one-millionth of an inch off--remember that?--in the 1990s. Not that I could really follow all she was saying, but it was a thrill to talk to someone who could say it.

[This is the "sombrero galaxy," a spiral galaxy in Virgo: Messier object 104.]

I told her how much I love those photos from space, and I thanked her for her work, for helping make that possible.
She replied, "I've been hearing that from a few people here."
How neat!
There's an attitude of gratitude here that's lovely and amazing. "Thank you for sharing our dreams and giving us new dreams. Thank you for helping us, sometimes, make them real."

As I said, there's your usual 1% hopelessly damaged people (god bless them), but a lot of the people I'm talking to are very sharp. And all of them have been kind.

It's a lot to process. Last night, I couldn't even haul myself to the costume contest at 8:45 p.m.
I stayed in the hotel room, looked out the window, and listened to Michael Buble, which is like giving my brain a long, hot bubble bath.
Eventually I got up and wrote the previous posts, then went to bed about 1:30 A.M., telling myelf to sleep late, but I woke up this morning at 7:30, all excited for the last day.

I am like Woody Allen's character who prefers fourteen hours of sleep. Joke. But my energy really is flagging, though I'm still too excited to sleep. I imagine that'll give out entirely while I'm sitting at the airport (shudder--that's a hellish feeling).

Gorillas, Saint James, and Mr. Spock

In about four hours is the Nimoy photo op. I wonder if the bags under my eyes will show in the photo. So what if they do? I thought about what I want and I just want to stand next to him.

I'm like a 70-year-old pal of Bink's who went to Tanzania to see the mountain gorillas. Psychologically she prepared, as for a pilgrimage. Knowing she might not be able to make the hike, she asked herself what she wanted. She decided it would be enough if she could just sit on the same mountain with them, knowing they were there.

(As it happened, she did make it to see the gorillas.)

This final countdown also reminds me of the end of the pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain, which I walked with Bink seven summers ago.
When they reach Sanitago, pilgrims kiss the statue of Saint James in the cathedral there.
When we got to town the first day, after five weeks of walking, a huge line of people were waiting to kiss him, and I was put off.
The next moring, Bink went to the cathedral, came back and told me I had to go--there was no line, and it was important. I thought it was unnecessary, but I went. She was right (she always is): it sealed the pilgrimage.

Of course Nimoy is a real person, but that's not the role he appears in here, for us. His work as Spock is the symbol of something good and true, like a mountain gorilla or a saint. What these really are is a mirror projection of something in us; something outside of ourselves we can look at and touch and say, this goodness is possible.

For me, the resonance is deep, like a bass, because that's something I desperately hoped was true so many years ago. I've said before and today I know it's really true:
I'm doing it for her, that younger me who so loved Mr. Spock.

Days Like These

A couple months ago I posted a link to this music video: "Days Like These" by the Australian band, The Cat Empire. I said I wanted a summer like they're singing about. This week, astonishingly, I have soaked in that feeling. I seem to recall it's happiness.


Oh, and I want to say thank you to everyone who wrote and e-mailed me here in Las Vegas. I really felt loved and not lonely at all, as a stranger in this strange land.
And I will leave you with that.

Star Trek Las Vegas: Bright Spots

Moonrise outside my hotel window, on the last night of the Star Trek con.

Sunday it's Leonard Nimoy, and then I go home, which is good timing.
Today, Saturday, I hit saturation point. I've taken in about all that I can of Star Trek.
Not that I'm tired of it! I'm just emotionally full up. I even wore my Bruce Springsteen T-shirt as a psychological buffer when I went to see Walter Koenig (Chekov) at noon.

This is the original Chekov, on the right, with the new Chekov, nineteen-year-old Anton Yelchin, in the upcoming Star Trek XI movie.

Here's an overview of the rest of the before-and-after cast: Comparing the Star Trek Casts

On the way to the auditorium, I passed Walter K. standing chatting with a couple people. For some reason, he glanced up and looked me right in the eye. It was disconcerting to feel such a shock of recognition: Chekov! Yet to know he didn't recognize me, though he did register me as a human.
With no Trek paraphenalia, I wasn't recognizable as a Trekkie.
Which, you know, is OK, because these actors must be overwhelmed sometimes.

Fans know that, the sane ones anyway. At coffee this morning, I shared my table with a husband and wife who were restraining themselves from mobbing the nearby table where two of the Enterprise boys sat with a small group (Dominic Keating and Connor...I forget his last name, but he's very square-jawed cute). My tablemates kept gazing with longing at their table, but they said they didn't want to bother the actors.

Surprisingly to me, of all the actors I've seen this week, Walter Koenig is the only one I would like to sit down and talk with. The other have all had their various charms, but they didn't much interest me as people, or if they did, they had palpably problematic egos. Like Malcolm McDowell--fascinating guy, but his ego pulsed like a forcefield.

So, what was it about Koenig? [photo here with Nichelle Nichols]
I suppose it didn't hurt that when he'd looked at me, he really saw me. This is not necessarily the case.
When I worked at the art college library, I gradually realized that the people who saw me were the minority. Most people look at other people with shielded eyes. If you've worked serving the public, you'll know exactly what I mean.

I was surprised that the sense I got from Koenig was "human being," because if anyone is likely to be shielded, it's actors--for the best of reasons. (Too much incoming energy.) Priests, too, I swear, have a second eyelid, like lizards, or Vulcans. You almost never see their naked eyes.

Then, onstage WK was the same--he didn't have that usual protective patter or sharp edge or slick sweetness. In fact, he seemed the least like an actor. He didn't talk, either, as many of them do, about acting as lying. He talked about finding himself in every role, including drawing on the angry, hostile parts we all have for his villainous role in Babylon 5. (I' ve never seen it. I miss many cultural references here, because they are to television.)

McDowell, in comparison, had said, "I never take my roles home. It's all smoke and mirrors, and I leave it behind when I leave the set."
People who are able to do that, if they truly are, I don't understand.

Koenig seemed human, and he seemed interested in being human. He talked a bit about teaching a class once in acting techniques to graduate students in psychology, to help them train their intuition.
Come to think of it, I took more notes on what WK said than anyone else, because he talked about interesting things, not just his acting career.

His trip to the Thai/Burma border last summer, for instance. The humanitarian group U.S. Campaign for Burma, asked him to do this, to tour refuggee camps and meet with refugees from Burma (Myanmar, but he said Burma, which is a political point, as you know) because, he said,
"Star Trek still has some cache in that part of the world. Not with the Burmese people, of course, but with the international press. So we were able to draw some publicity to the atrocities being committed by the government there."

I edited a book on Myanmar, so I was extra interested.

Koenig was funny and generous too, which many but not all of the actors are. Willing to say their famous lines. One. More. Time.

Sure enough, someone asked him to say Chekov's famous line. He laughed and said, "That's gonna be on my tombstone--what I'm known for."
Then he said, "Can you tell me where the nuclear wessels are?"
and the audience as one emitted a wave of happy noise.

He also answered for what must be the millionth time a question about Chekov's Russian accent, explaining that his parents were from the Soviet Union (Jews from Lithuania), but people are right to criticize Chekov's accent: "It's not even a good one."
To prove it, he spoke the next few sentences in a real Russian accent, showing how the cadences roll...but that this didn't fit the hammed-up TV role.

Maybe the most appealing thing was that he showed a real but not pathetic vulnerability, something I could relate to.
(Some of the actors have come close to playing the pity card or expressed bitterness or envy about not having stellar careers, and he didn't. He did say that working on Babylon 5 was wonderful, evryone worked together well and there were no star egos in the cast, but you'd have to know already that was in contrast to Star Trek's cast, he didn't make a point of it.)

He talked about writing too.
"It's a lesson in persistance," he said.
In 1970, after ST was cancelled, he said,
"My life was aimless. I didn't have any reason to get up in the morning. So I started writing a novel--my first--not to sell, but to give me some structure."

[I'm a tad worried I'm going to feel this way when i get home. Maybe I should write a book. According to WK's website, Buck Alice is a "satiric-fantasy novel about a world where the only survivors are a bunch of losers."]

He continued, "Reactions were mixed. Two friends who were writers liked it, two others hated it. Really hated it. So I put it away. Nineteen years later it was published, and in 2006 it was republished, and is being made into an audiodrama.

"It's not for everyone, though. You might not like it. One guy brought it up a few years ago and asked me to autograph it, saying, 'This is the worst book I ever read.' I said, 'You've gotta be kidding! I'm not going to sign that!'"

Hmmm, maybe that's why I liked him so much. I can relate to the solitary work of being a writer--and sometimes a loser––much more than the social work of being an actor and a star.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My Computer Crush

Mortmere, my favorite ST vidder on youTube, created this little story about Mr. Spock's love affair with the ship's computer.

My third morning having coffee and blogging at the Fortuna coffee bar, a woman I've chatted with every day passed and said, "Are you always on that thing?"
"I love it!" I said, and thought of Spock.

I bought this laptop four years ago, and someone told me, "You are going to fall in love with it."
I didn't, not till this summer, making my own video remixes.

This trip especially marks a turning point in our relationship. It is commonly agreed that travelling alone can be pretty lonely. But not this trip.
Partly because I've been talking to people at the con a lot, but more because I've been talking to you guys on my blog, and that fulfills the traveler's need to say "Look at that!"

Like, look at this cool shirt from Quark's Bar.
The young man who is wearing it is very handsome.


You can't tell he's very handsome, below,
and I want to apologize to him, if he ever sees this, for even posting this photo.
We had just seen George Takei, and I said, "Do your Sulu impression," and caught him in this goofy pose.

I am posting it, however, because of the traveler's impulse to say, "Did you see that?"
What I want you to see is the guy in the background,
the one in the mashup Andorian/Starfleet get-up, pushing the baby stroller. Can you see his anteanae?

[Note: Sept. 20, 2008/ The human under that blue paint, Eric, left a comment identifying himself--he also appears in my photos as Data, carrying Lore's head! So cool to hear from someone I'd noticed and admired but never met.]

Star Trek Las Vegas, Day 4: I'm Gorn, Gorn, Gorn, Gorn, Gorn

Giddy from lack of oxygen, induced by hyperventilating in the presence of Nichelle Nichols [post below], I decided to plunge on into the deep waters of fangirldom and cough up the $20 for the Gorn captain's autograph yesterday afternoon.

That is to say, Bobby Clark's autograph.

He and several others who made guest appearances on Star Trek or who are--what would you call them?--specialty actors, such as stunt people like Bobby, have tables in the vendors' room, which is enormous.

They charge about half what the big stars charge for autographs. I don't know if they charge for photos too, but Clark, anyway, let me take his photo free, after I paid for his signature (on a Gorn item, to be disclosed later).

He was a really nice guy, if not super verbal. I asked him if that suit was hot, and he said yes it was. They shot the episode ("Arena") outside near Los Angeles, and it was very hot.
There you have it. It was hot.

I started to tell him how I'd read that the stunt man who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon used to stay cool in his costume by hanging out in the swimming pool between takes.

But when I mentioned the Creature, Clark jumped in and said,
"That was Ben Chapman! He was a good friend of mine."
I said I had read about him when he died recently, and I was very sorry for the loss of his friend. Mr. Clark looked genuinely sad.

Then he said Ben Chapman used to have these fake 100-dollar bills with the Creature's picture on it, so he made some with the Gorn, and he pulled them out and gave me one.

We didn't talk anymore about how hot it was.

Fans

So, I don't know. This kind of generous kindness seems to be the norm here. My experience has been that the people at this con --from the vendors to the fans to the actors--are fantastic, in all senses of the word.

People sometimes mock Star Trek fans--a man sneered to the woman he was with, when the beautiful blue Andorian couple (m/f) walked past,
"Star Trek has all sorts of freaks, of all genders."
Though he meant that as an insult, it's actually a cool compliment.
We have all genders! 33 Flavors!

I'm finding people here to be more articulate and thoughtful than the norm. I've been asking people, What draws you to Star Trek?, and without missing a beat, people come up with in-depth, philosophical responses.

It is true, though, that some fans have drifted pretty far from the mother ship...

...like the guy who asked John de Lancie (Q), "How did they film that man who was stuck half in and half out of the shuttlecraft when you were in it?"
(De Lancie said, "They built it around him, and it's now his mausoleum. No, I have no idea.")

Or the woman who told Marina Sirtis (Troi) that she named her son Patrick James Tiberius Kirk, after the first two ST captains.
(Sirtis said, "Oh my God! What have you done to your child?!? I hope you're paying for his therapy.")

The actors obviouslly dislike dealing with true crazies (though they are always totally gracious about accepting praise, over and over and over again).

When someone who was being kinda weird (I can't remember what they were saying), Brent Spiner (Data) laughed and walked away, gesturing back toward the person and calling "Security!" The audience laughed.

Fans talk with resentment about how these people waste Q&A time with their stupid comments, but generally acknowledge that they are harmless.

But fans condemn the guy who heckled George Takei a few years ago, when George was talking about gay rights. I've heard a couple different people talking about this.

Yesterday when George announced his upcoming marriage to Brad, who is at his side through this con, the entire auditorium applauded.

[Photo here of George and Nichelle joking around on stage yesterday. Nichelle is going to be Best Lady at George and Brad's wedding, and Walter Koenig, Chekov, is Best Man.]

The ethos of the Star Trek fan universe truly reflects the Vulcan IDIC: "infinite diversity in infinite combination," so I was right to ask artist friends to make me pins of the IDIC symbol (a wedge piercing a circle).
They're on the backpack I'm carrying. Hannah made the white felt one, and Laura made the polymer clay (Fimo) one. They are much more beautiful than they appear here.
Thanks, you two!

Star Trek Con: Guess what Uhura told me!

[N.B., if you're looking for more tiny tales from the con, I am writing some in the comments, so check there.]

Yesterday was my big entrance into fan-girl-dom.
Far, far gone into it...
I got my photo taken with Nichelle Nichols (Uhura!!!).
[photo of the photo, below]


Standing in the line (photo, right), I got talking with Rob and April, old hands at photo ops, even though they're young. (Rob's mom used to take him to cons as a kid.)
They were coaching me, because I was all aflutter.
For all the world, it felt like waiting to get my school photo taken, in first grade, which had also thrown me into a tizzy.

So, they kinda calmed me down, told me Nichelle is super nice, and I could see from the people going ahead of me that it was all pretty relaxed. Mostly folks moved through fast, but one woman held Nichelle's hand and talked earnestly for quite a while, and no one moved her along, so it seems if you need to make a heartfelt speech, there's room for that.

I'm thinking I'm going to be all calm and dignified, like Sandra Smith playing Capt. Kirk, you know, but when my time came and I walked toward Nichelle, perched on a director's chair--(a classy lady, in a cream crumpled silk jacket and linen pants)--well, as I walked the dozen feet to her, I broke into a little Snoopy dance of joy, waving my hands in the air, and in a daze of adoration told her,
"I feel just like a kid! You are so great!"

These stars have been dealing with fans for forty years and are unflappable, so Nichelle took it totally in stride, said something nice.
And then as I got settled into a photographable state, she said,
"YOU HAVE BEAUTIFUL HAIR."

(She did not scream it in bold, it just assumes that level of importance in my mind.)

I wrote recently that I could give a hoot about fashion, but I'm sorry, when *Uhura* tells you she likes your hair, well, my interest soars to intergalactic magnitude.

Here's the extra thing--I had actually wondered about dyeing my hair for this con.
I am quite gray for my age (47), and here's a secret, if you didn't know--a ton of women my age dye their hair. It is so normal, one woman told me I was "brave" for NOT dyeing my hair.

In truth, I don't want to dye my hair. It's expensive and futzy and involves evil chemicals in close proximity to your brain. Plus you have to keep on doing it or you get a striped part that makes you look like you've escaped from a mental institution.

Now I have Starfleet's Seal of Approval, I will never doubt my beautiful hair again.

Star Trek Las Vegas: Never Too Late for a Happy Childhood


On the first day of the con, I bought a bunch of Star Trek paperbacks in the vendors' room for 25 cents each--way underpriced. Most of the other booths price this stuff at antique-dealer levels. I got them from a Grateful Dead-type mom-and-pop, complete with golden-haired grown daughter in a tie-dye T-shirt.

We chatted a bit, and the told me they've been hawking sci-fi oddments since 1983. The man said that the people at Star Trek cons were "the best people in the world."
I said I could tell that already; that I'd noticed especially that people really speak from their hearts.

When I went back today, I asked how much the above Glow in the Dark Kirk and Spock was.
The father said, "You can't buy it," and I thought he meant it had been promised to someone else.
But no.
"For you, it's a gift," he said. "You bought a bunch of things from us, so this is free."

And guess what?
When I turned out the light tonight, I discovered that this firefly radiates happiness that is magically retroactive.

Its glow is entering my childhood and subverting my unhappy memories.

Star Trek Con: More Toys

These are some books I bought, plus a few other things, on the desk in my Hilton hotel room. I haven't bought as much as I'd thought I would because I'm finding that mostly it's satisfying just to drink in the sight of the stuff.

I did have to buy a bottle of "Romulan Ale," though, because this blog's profile provided me with this question:
"The love potion you made tastes terrible. How will you drink it?"
And I wrote, "With Romulan ale."
It cost $4.95 + tax, and the woman told me it's like beer. Except it's blue, like on the show.
(I bought the flowers at the grocery store I walked to.)

Below is a wonderful couple I met, Carolyn and Joel, from Boston, with toys they won! That's a tribble wearing a sombrero (it's a long story) on top of a boxed model of the Enterprise.

I met them on the first day, when I was sitting taking notes on passersby and Joel noticed me writing down his T-shirt's message:
THINK. IT'S NOT ILLEGAL YET
and he came up to chat. Only when they got closer did I see that Carolyn was wearing a Prisoner T-shirt. You know that Orwellian 1967 British TV show with Patrick McGoohan?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Day 3: Crossovers

In about 40 minutes, Malcolm McDowell will be appearing onstage here at the Star Trek con.
He played the mad scientist Soran, "the man who killed Captain Kirk" in the film Star Trek :Generations (1994), pictured in the second frame from the left, below.

McDowell is also the uncle of Alexander Siddig, who plays the doctor on Star Trek : Deep Space 9.

I never saw Generations because, honestly, I don't want to see Kirk get killed--especially since I hear it sucked. (Unlike Spock's terrific death scene in Wrath of Khan.)

I know McDowell from his famous roles in the films pictured above: Clockwork Orange, If, and Caligula. I think he is the most famous actor from the world of "haute" film culture to enter the Star Trek world. He worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman.

But listening to some of these actors at the con, I'm wondering how the world of acting is structured. Sandra Smith, for instance, said that the hardest acting work is doing soap operas. Day after day you have to spout reams of dialogue, and if you're good at it, she said, the writers are delighted and give you more!
Ms. Smith played Janice Lester in "The Turnabout Intruder," which means she is the only woman who played Capt. Kirk, because Lester switces bodies with him.

Someone asked Smith how she played Kirk, and if she worked on it with Bill Shatner.
She said no, she only had a few days to prepare. And since Bill has "a distinct body language and speech pattern" [this drew big laughs], she didn't try to mimic it, because it would too easily tip into caricature.
So she just tried to capture the way the captain inhabits his body, takes control of his surroundings, and exudes physical confidence.

That really struck me. I know well that not all men have this confidence, but it's something I see more in men than in women, who tend to be apologetic about their bodies. I think that's one of the strengths of that episode. Even though Kirk is pretty sexist in it, the episode itself challenges a lot of sex/gender stereotypes simply in showing gender crossover.

Oh--and that reminds me, yesterday someone in a wondeful female costume asked Marina Sirtis (Troi) a question, opening by saying s/he was from "Planet DQ."
"Is that Dairy Queen?" Sirtis asked.
"No, drag queen."
"Great costume! You look wonderful," Sirtis replied.

This morning, a man and woman couple at the coffee shop asked me, "Did you see George Takei earlier?"
Damn! No, I said, I was too busy typing.
Yeah, they said, "George and his fiance walked by !"
God, I love Trekkies.
George's fiance, you know, is a guy named Brad. They're getting married in September in Los Angeles.
If I get a chance, I'm inviting them to Sister's same-sex wedding in San Francisco in October.

Gotta run!