Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Our Hearts Attract Like Magnets--Forcefully!"

Poetic, eh?
That's what it says in fine print on the upper left-hand corner of this package.

On the back, it warns, "Avoid keeping under direct sunray," which goes for hearts, too, I'd say. The mochi are wonderful, if you like your tea in a sweet, gummy, snot-green ball. (Guilty.)
Lesson learned: take photo of contents of package before you eat them.
Tip o' the keyboard to Jeff's post Pink Noodles.

The Original LHC

"Large Hadrian Collider" by TKeid.

Le Wrath di Khan: The Opera

(From Robot Chicken. Perfection at only 1:41 minutes.)

"My ear! I'm not supposed to get eels in it!"

Thanks, Krista and Jeff!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Tiger

Those Brits win for suave, but in my heart, my favorite spy remains Agent 86, the bumbling American Maxwell Smart (Don Adams, right).

Sample Smart:
“You better drop that gun because this yacht happens to surrounded by the seventh fleet… Would you believe the sixth fleet?… How about a school of angry flounder?”

Turns out there were several Smart Cars, but the Sunbeam Tiger, here, was the gold standard, and the one Steve Carell pulls up in, in the remake movie Get Smart, which I liked a lot.

The Lotus

Like Number 6 [yesterday's post], Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) of The Avengers drives a Lotus sports car. In 1967, this Lotus Elan S3.

Emma Peel was another hero of my childhood, but, unlike with The Prisoner, I see no theological ramifications whatsoever to that fact.

The Jag

One more cool car.
He's not a spy and, in fact, I always fell asleep when I tried to watch this show, but who doesn't love Inspector Morse's Jaguar ( a Mk II 2.4, I learned on the Auto Cult Movie Cars forum)?

Cars are mostly just set dressing to me; but for some people, I've discovered as I poke my nose into hitherto unexplored rooms, they are a show's whole raison d'etre.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The new header...

...shows Patrick McGoohan, of course, (to the right, as Number 6 in Napoleonic garb, which I include for its Hornblowerishness), from McGoohan's 1967-68 British television series The Prisoner, whose political philosophy (and visual style) so struck me in childhood that when I watched it the other night for the first time in some thirty-five years, I recalled it intimately.

[Feb. 2: I took the header down, as having Mr. McGoohan overlooking everything was too intense.]

[Wow--I just discovered that you can watch all 17 episodes of the series here:, at least in the U.S.]

It's odd to meet things from childhood, long forgotten, and recognize them, and then to realize they must have affected your life deeply because they imprinted on your soft, receptive mind.
I would have watched this with my parents about the same time the Vietnam War was on TV every night, and men were landing on the moon, and the line between real and surreal was wavery.

The Prisoner, known only as Number 6, is a man trapped in a dystopian Kafka-esque place called The Village, where everyone is stripped of individuality and even their names are replaced with numbers. The show follows his attempts to escape or to subvert the anonymous totalitarian regime. And each episode ends with him still trapped--sometimes hunted down by surrealistic tracking balloons (left)--but continuing to insist, "I am not a number! I am a free man!"

So while it was very grim, it was insistent on the dignity and existential freedom of the individual. I always say my parents raised their children with no religion at all, which is technically true--unusually, for that time and place, we kids weren't even baptized--but really, that philosophy was their religion.

And, I didn't meet people who held those ideals so strongly again, once the 1960s and my childhood ended, until I spent time in my thirties in the Catholic Church. (McGoohan was a staunch Catholic himself.)

That seems a bit of a paradox, because there I also met totalitarianism (lite), up close and personal. But I suspect the primacy of the informed conscience, which the Church teaches (maybe not always front and center), is best highlighted when it has to define itself against confines, including the confines of the institution itself.

I always say I learned more about real-life politics working in the church than in any class I took or book I read. And, looking back, I see I learned certain "religious" values, such as respect for the individual* and the power of the spirit, first in stories like The Prisoner.
And Number 6's Lotus sports car?
That was pure cream.

McGoohan died January 13, 2009, the day before Ricardo Montalbán.
Be seeing you.
* Re respect for the individual, for instance, from The Catechism of the Catholic Church: #1912 The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: "The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around." This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.

[4 posts today? If you guessed that I am avoiding some work, you guessed right.]

She's Good People

When I think of people of faith who inspire me by their actions [post below], I think of Cathy. Here she is, left, with the Tank I was housesitting last week.
(This was the night of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama. Photo by Maura.)

Not only does Cathy put her shoulder to the wheel of her faith, she looks amazingly like the magic actress Emily Watson (right).
I suspect they even wear the same lipstick sometimes. Could that be Vendetta? Black Honey? The new YSL Gloss Pur in Black?

(Happy Upcoming Birthday, Cathy!)

On Speaking Up

Rebecca's comment on the post about Gaza, below, about a Jewish American friend of hers who supports Palestinian rights, got me remembering Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman of Israel, whom I heard talk in town a few years ago.
He reminded me of the best of all religions--people who take seriously the call for peace, justice, and compassion--so I just looked up the group he leads:
Rabbis for Human Rights

I suppose when it comes to the politics of peace, I feel most comfortable standing alongside people of faith, even when I disagree with them on many points. If nothing else, they (we?) have a legacy of great stories to draw on.
As Rabbi Acherman does, writing about the importance of speaking up against violence (and in a timely manner):

"Learn the lessons today that will make for a better tomorrow"
By Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
January 22, 2009

"The midrash tells us that Noah was furious with God when he stepped out of the ark and saw the destruction. God answered him, 'And now you speak up?'
" we watched the... inaugaral concert on the Washington Mall... we perhaps remembered when Rabbi Heschel stood on the Mall during the March on Washington against the Vietnam War and told of how as a child reading the Torah he had always feared that the angel would come too late to save Isaac.
His rabbi told him that angels never come late.
Raising his eyes to the thousands gathered, Rabbi Heschel said, 'Angels never come late, but we humans do.'
Statement on the current violence:
"Rabbis for Human Rights believes that we as Jews should take responsibility for our actions, using the minimum necessary force to protect ourselves only after exhausting every non military solution, not harming civilians and not putting their backs to the wall."

On the Right Side of History

Yesterday I ran into a Palestinian pal downtown, one of just the plain old nicest guys I know. (Guilty, perhaps, only of being disturbingly attractive, but that's not his fault.)

I stood and listened as he ... well, it's this thing humans do: when we witness something unbelievably horrible, we seem to need to talk about it over and over. Such things just don't make sense, so we keep repeating the details, trying to get a grip.
I listened as he told me about Gaza, how he has friends and family there, how he learned that some of them have been killed, he can't get through to others. His shock reminded me of how I felt after my mother's suicide.

"I never liked Hamas!" he said. " I don't like their religious views. But... Who is defending us? I'll tell you, this is not about religion. There are Israeli Jews who protest what their government is doing! They marched and blocked the air strip in Tel Aviv to stop the jets that attack my people. They are doing more for us than Saudi Arabia. What are they doing to help us? Nothing!"

I just listened, the way you would if you were standing with someone who's just seen their family wiped out.

When I went home, I looked up Israeli protests and found, among other things, this:

"Demonstration against the Madness"
Saturday 17/01/09
"On the third Saturday of the war, while the Israeli cabinet was in session, discussing the cease-fire proposal, 3000 Israeli citizens marched from Tel-Aviv to Jaffa in protest against the war."

I don't know anything about the group that posted this, Gush Shalom: Israel Peace Bloc. They say they are "the hard core of the Israeli peace movement."

I was glad to read on the site Uri Avnery's column of Jan. 24, 2009:

"On The Wrong Side"
"Of all the beautiful phrases in Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, these are the words that stuck in my mind: “You are on the wrong side of history.”
He was talking about the tyrannical regimes of the world. But we, too, should ponder these words...."
(More along these lines in post above, about Rabbis for Human Rights.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

1986, Ireland

Bink and I spent the month of April 1986 biking through Ireland. Just yesterday she scanned a bunch of the slides of our trip, and e-mailed me some.
Though it scanned in too dark, this is another of my favorite photos of myself (along with the one of me in Spain in 2001).

The guy was a sweetie named Wyatt, who joined us for a couple days. He was biking with almost nothing, while I, you can see, was an over-equipped American. I seem to recall Wyatt had a towel, however, in good Douglas Adams style.

I cannot recommend biking in Ireland in April. The guidebook had said it was the rainiest month, but in my Platonic way, I decided it didn't matter.
I was wrong.
One of the markers of mid-life, for me, has been the ability to take physical reality more seriously. While retaining an appreciation for the ability to ignore it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reader, I Wandered in the Leafless Shubbery

Yesterday afteroon, I went out and bought a used Penguin of Jane Eyre (one of the many books I had jettisoned, some of which I am slowly replacing), so I could read beyond the opening line, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

And was immediately rewarded by the scrumptious second line:
"We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question."

Charlotte Bronte writes like a boxer--a quick jab followed by a thorough pummeling.

But look! Here's the last line of the story, though not the last line of the book, whose final chapter is more by way of an epilogue. Jane has returned to the blighted Mr Rochester, her love, and at the end of their reunion:
"We entered the wood, and wended homeward."

Really, the whole novel has been the tale of this curious girl/woman wandering bravely through an immense maze of ominous shrubbery, until finally she makes her way clear--on her own terms.

Illustration by Edward Gorey (from the Gashlycrumb Tinies).
I tried to find some images of his ominous shrubbery, a murderous topiary perhaps, but couldn't, though he draws them plenty, in The Dwindling Pary, for instance. This will do--though it's more suited to the death of Jane's only friend, Helen Burns, at Lowood School.

*****Don't miss Shaenon Garrity's Edward Gorey's "The Trouble With Tribbles".

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mr. Joop's Hat and Mr. Pooter's Blog

Aretha's hat makes anyone look better--though Joop is already perfect.
--By Bink

On an entirely different note, linked only by an internal rhyme and my propensity this January to give my blog posts long titles, Manfred has alerted me to the existence of The Diary of a Nobody, which I had never heard of. Written in 1888 by George and Weedon Grossmith and originally serialized in Punch, it purports to be the diary of a Mr. Pooter, who records important events of his day, such as the news that his watercress seeds have not sprouted yet. The cumulative effect is very funny, though I've only read a few entries. (The link is to the diary presented in blog form, with illustrations--original, I think).

Here is the introduction:

Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—-because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’—-why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.

Charles Pooter
The Laurels,
Brickfield Terrace

First Line of a Favorite Novel

To complement the post below--my favorite first line (though of a non-favorite novel)-- here's the unremarkable first line of one of my favorite novels:

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

Recognize it?
(Upon reflection, I realize it is the perfect opener, though it doesn't stand well on its own. The whole first scene should be illustrated by Edward Gorey. Is that a clue?)

My Favorite First Line

Speaking of Tintin, Bianca Castafiore continues to make Worlde puzzles of First Lines of Novels, a couple of which I could solve, most of which I couldn't. I love literary games--the only kind I do.
I'm not going to make a Worlde of it, but here's my favorite first line from a novel (not my favorite novel, though I am very fond of bits of it):

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

Does anybody/everybody know which novel it is from?

Update: We have a winner! That was fast. The fabulous operatic signora herself has supplied the correct answer, but she kindly offered it in initials, so if anyone else cares to give it a go, feel free. There can be many winners!(But what shall be the prize?)

[David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, 1850]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Researching Slovakia

I haven't paid close attention to Tintin, much as I love him, since I was twelve. At that time, we were living in Copenhagen, Denmark, where my father was teaching political science for one semester.
English-language materials were a bit scarce in Copenhagen in 1973. I borrowed British and American standards (Dickens, Steinbeck) from the small selection at the library.
More happily, I would spend my allowance at a particular toy store that sold Tintin books in English. I bought them one at a time and read them over and over, including, of course, King Ottokar's Sceptre.

Because I've never been close to my father, I got most of my history not from him but from sources like Herge. So... I've always been a bit confused as to what's actually real.

This weekend I'm reading along about the Great Moravian Empire for my Slovakia research, and--how 'bout that?!--did you know there really was an Ottokar in history, and a rather important one too, if you consider the history of the Great Moravian Empire important, which of course I do (now that Slovakia is mine, as Jen says)?

Yes indeed. King Ottokar II ruled a bunch of places thereabouts (sorry, I haven't yet untangled this geography), but he lost many of them to the Habsburgs in the 1200s.
Or Hapsburgs, if you prefer. Who held onto them until they lost WWI.

I think my old Tintin books, passed down to my little brother, may still be at my father's house. I must ask him to mail me this important historical document.

Friday, January 23, 2009

His Purple Mountain's Majesty

Bink agreed with me after seeing Spock in Aretha Franklin's Inauguration hat (post below) that it suits Kirk better.
So she did something about it.
Good thing it's winter and the windows are closed, or someone might have called the cops, the way I screamed when I opened her e-mail and saw this:

You can add Aretha's Hat to your own photos--follow the link from BuzzFeed's post for the hat transparency:
Aretha's Hat Is Everywhere. Bink said I could share, so I posted it there too.

*trills like a tribble*
Late Breaking News: Look At His Butt, the blog for the podcast "where LT and JK, two geek babes, talk about Star Trek, science fiction, books, TV, the Internet, sex toys, and William Shatner's butt," just posted Bink's creation too!

My Happiness Is Now Complete

Listening this morning to public radio talk about the coming closing of Gitmo.
[2015 Update: ha.]

And now this:

Oh, happy day!
From Noreen Carroll at BuzzFeed: "Aretha's Hat Is Everywere" (but I found it at Momo's). Follow BuzzFeed link to the hat transparency, to make your own.
(Where's Kirk?)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Red Wine & Ink Spots

Almost midnight. I want to write something for this last hour of Inauguration Day, drunk (quite) as I am on Dom Perignon champagne, leftover "two buck Chuck" red wine, the Ink Spots, memory, fat pit bulls, and love. I'm housesitting the house where I made my Star Trek videos last summer--now inhabited by a fat Staffordshire terrier I am crazy about-- and I invited a few people over to celebrate. Mr. Poodletail, who brought the champagne, said the thing the most poignant thing:
"This will never happen again."

We who gathered to share a meal are all middle aged, and there's an acute sweetness and sorrow in that statement--this is a turning point, and we are both extremely grateful to witness it, and also a little ...well... I think also there's a sense that the future is in the hands of the kids who think, "What's the big deal? We've always traveled to the moon."
And that's this huge gift that people can give each other---to take the blows, of time, of fate, and muffle them like the wrapping on a bell.
Oh my, I am drunk, but I'm also filled with the kind of happiness that is so sweet--like liquid honey--that all you want to do with it is pour it out, so it spreads, like ink on soft paper, like red wine on a white tablecloth.

It's not that I love our new prez particularly, it's that I love the potential--glimpsed once in a while, like now-- for my short-sighted, blundering species to evolve out of brute selfishness. We are like that ridiculous lifeform, whatever it was, that crawled out of the ocean and tried to breathe--like, will this work? Is this going to be viable?
Will we make this leap?
Sorry, I am drunk, did I mention? I sat on the couch after everyone left, each with one of the little paper American flags I had bought, I sat with the adorable dog, more like a tank, really, and drank the rest of the wine and listened to the Ink Spots, and wept at thinking what silly, stupid, little things we are, and how lovely we can be, once in a while, and how, indeed, we will never be perched on quite this particular moment ever again.

Curiosity and Imagination

Bink and I watched Obama's inauguration today with about 125 people on the big-screen TV at Midtown Global Market, where Americans from around the world run shops and eateries--Somalia (special today: goat cutlets!), Mexico (earrings with saints on them!), Tibet ("Tintin in Tibet" T-shirts!), Sweden (caradmom chocolate truffles!)
The mood was sweet.
During the inauguration, people were smiling and wiping eyes and clapping here and there, but every single one of us broke into cheers and applause when Obama said:

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity....

I looked around and there was a guy with a Palestinian scarf, a lesbian couple I know from way back with their little kids, behind us were a couple East African men, the Turkish woman who works the coffee counter was beaming, blonde office workers from the nearby medical center were clapping...
It was really good.

Afterward I said to Bink, "I really liked that Obama included 'curiosity' in his list of virtues."
She said, "I caught that too. And 'imagination,' too!"

An American president who extols curiosity and imagination...? It really is a new era.
On we go.

Please, Please, Please

Here's my musical pick for Inauguration Day.
The Smiths
"Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want"

Not a great video, visually. (Ah, now you know I'm just not that into Moz.)
But I like this song a lot, and it really captures how I feel about the last eight years:
"Haven't had a dream in a long time..."

I don't like to get all emotional about politics, one way or the other. What's the point? And I usually don't. But the other night, falling asleep, I got socked with geopolitical "what ifs" --especially, what if we Americans, under W., hadn't done what we did after 9/11? (which I didn't think we should do)--and grief and rage and disgust came up, like a bruise.

So, here's what I want:
That we should be able to look back, in four or eight years time, on an Obama presidency and have it be no worse than looking at old photos of ourselves and thinking, why on Earth did we ever wear our hair that way?
Please, please, please...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Death in the Afternoon

Adios to Ricardo Montalbán, who died last week (Jan. 14). 

Left, in his native Mexico, in a 1945 role as a matador.
The Spanish word matador comes from matar, to kill.

Montalban's most splendid role as a killer was, of course, Khan in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed" and the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

"Madame, all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you."
--Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway's nonfiction book on bullfighting

Sunday, January 18, 2009


"Hornblower stripped off his wet shirt and trousers and shaved standing naked before the mirror.
...He glanced down his naked body. He was slender and well muscled; quite a prepossessing figure in fact, when he drew himself to his full six feet. ...Hornblower hated the thought of growing fat..; he hated to think of his slender smooth-skinned body being disfigured...."

--I promise you, this is not modern fan-fiction, but an excerpt from the opening pages of Beat to Quarters (1937), a Captain Horatio Hornblower novel, by C. S. Forester.

Hornblower's clothes, by the way, were wet with sweat--he had been exercising.
Seesh. Kirk has nothing on this guy.

Forester also tells us within the first chapter that the captain has "melancholy brown eyes, a good mouth," and "tousled curly brown hair," and then he sends him off for a seawater shower, pumped up from overboard by his steward.

Pretty soon people are getting flogged, eating weevils, and declaring themselves gods.

I didn't expect this to be so, so, cheesecakey!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Still Life (On a Starship)

I seem to be on a roll of seeing art historical references in Star Trek.
The set dressing on Star Trek is so minimal that when there's a shot of some object(s) alone--which is fairly rare--it can have the force of modern art. This one, (below, left, from the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before") reminded me of Giorgio Morandi's still lives (example, below right).
Their spare geometry is beautiful, don't you think?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Glowing End of Two Ships of the Line

Left: "The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up" (painted by J. M. W. Turner, 1838)

I've wondered if someone had this glowing painting in mind when creating the final end of the Enterprise, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (bottom three photos at left).

I doubt this painting holds emotional charge for many Americans (I only know it from a certain Englishman I knew once, who'd even written a poem on it);
but recently Britons voted it their most popular painting in a BBC poll.
It depicts a sailing warship that had played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, led by Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson aboard HMS Victory.
Long unfit, and now in the age of steam, the Temeraire is being towed up the Thames to be sold for scrap--the end of an era.

I googled a few combinations and didn't come up with anything. (There's plenty out there on literary reference in Star Trek, but I haven't yet found anything on art historical references.)

Anyway, given the acknowledged connection between Captain Kirk and Horatio Hornblower, a fictional character at the Battle of Trafalgar (and who shares a first name and more with Nelson), whether it was consciously in someone's mind or not, it fits.

British naval history is another black hole in my education, and likely to remain that way (along with all military history everywhere);
but it's funny where your loves lead you, eh?
I found myself reading with real interest about Nelson's tactics at Trafalgar.

I won't go into it--can't, in fact--but I was excited to read that Nelson won the battle partly by changing the expected geometry of the battle:
instead of lining his ships up, he placed them in perpendicular formation.

This reminds me of Kirk in The Wrath of Khan (TWOK). Remember, he defeats Khan in a space battle because he better understands the geometry of space:
Khan is thinking in 20th century spatial terms (movement on a 2 dimensional plane), so Kirk sinks the Enterprise in space (both ships are flying blind in a nebula), lets Khan's ship go past overhead, and then rises up behind.
(You know I love it when something invites us to stand on our heads and take another look.)

Nicholas Meyer, who directed TWOK, has said he didn't relate to Star Trek until he thought of it as Hornblower in space, so he may have made the connection with real military history. (Nimoy directed Search for Spock.)

Whatever anyone had in mind, these two ships that didn't stay in straight lines both go down beautifully.

[Kirk in Art History 101 (his classical stance) here.]
[Kirk as a steampunk captain here.]
[Kirk as Master and Commander here.]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Firefly, The Shopping List

If you love Joss Whedon's Firefly, as I do, check out these Serenity Tales: Notes on a Fridge [on a spaceship].
Written and assembled by Arwen Bijker; some artwork courtesy Ursula Vernon.
Link proffered, over a nice cuppa, at Mrs. Conclusion's Journal.
I might be found in little shreds of joy if there were a version of this for the Enterprise crew, mutatis mutandis, of course, for the naval hierarchy of that ship. I haven't seen such a thing, but maybe it exists? ...or maybe it will exist?
(Who, who could make such a thing?)

All Terrier, All the Time

Happy Birthday, Joop!
Bink sketched this picture (far left) of her little dog Joop on this, his ninth, birthday.
Joop is a wire-haired fox terrier.
Like Tintin's dog Snowy (Milou, above right), and Asta of The Thin Man movies, played by a dog named Skippy.
(Toy of Snowy is "currently unavailable" on Amazon. Too bad, I wanted to get it for Bink.)

Fun terrier (and other dogs) blog at aterrier.

I don't think I'll be seeing Joop in the flesh today: it is 20 below zero outside.(And that's not even counting wind-chill factor. ) Right around here it doesn't matter anymore if you're counting in Fahrenheit or Celsius. The radio announces a Weather Advisory, warning that "unprotected flesh will start to freeze in 3 minutes."

This is the frosted hallway window, which I did not get around to covering in plastic. The ice pattern looks like ferns.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Inside-Out S(p)ock

Oh dear, oh dear.
Bad move to take Star Trek out of context.
I did not mean to imply at the end of the previous post that I think Spock's "solution" to Kirk's pain--to remove his pain-causing memories--is a good one.
In fact, it's atrocious.
But in the context of the show, what's moving isn't Spock's bungling solution but his motivation to act: his compassion for suffering.

That, it seems to me, is the only way out of, forward from, the sort of despair F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing about in "The Crack-Up":
to turns the thing, one's own suffering, inside out, so the suffering on the inside, like the rough inside surface of a sock, is now on the outside and its bumpy texture now can serve as a receptor for other people's pain.

Why that should help is some weird alchemical mystery, but it does.
What's so horrible about "The Crack-Up" is that it ends on exactly the opposite move: the sock is crumpled up. The surface area is reduced into an inward facing ball of pain.

And F. Scott knows it. He doesn't see himself as anything so elastic as a sock. He is brittle, a cracked plate. There's nothing to be turned.
At the end of the three-part essay, he writes that he no longer likes the postman, and he knows that means the postman will stop liking him.
He ends in isolation.
How you get out of that, well... I'm no Fitzgerald expert, but it seems he didn't. In that lifetime.

So, back to Star Trek.
I watched the first movie again over Christmas, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or ST:TMP, though it is known by many less affectionate nicknames. Many people don't like the movie because it's so slow. More like 2001: A Space Odyssey than the usual active space opera.

ST:TMP is one of my favorite Star Trek movies though (along with The Wrath of Khan--they're kind of yin and yang), because it completes the arc of Spock's journey toward compassion.

"Requiem for Methuselah," the episode I wrote about, ends with Spock clumsily trying to help Kirk bear his pain, as Kirk has helped him.
He watches Kirk sleep (left), finally, after having condemned himself for having caused, through his egoism, the death of a woman he loved. And rightly so.

That's when Spock mind melds with the sleeping captain, saying, "Forget, forget."
Sort of misguided mind rape, if you think about it too much; but as I said, the larger truth in the context of the show is that Spock is motivated by compassion to try to help his beloved friend.

Right before that scene, Dr. McCoy attacks Spock with a vicious speech, sneering (left) about how Spock knows nothing, and is unable to know anything, about love.

(I've never liked McCoy--I think his bitchiness, which is supposed to be the funny cover-up of a tender heart, is instead too often veiled cruelty. I don't think he models compassion, I think he just likes to feel sorry for people. Not the same thing at all.)

"Requiem" is a third season episode--the 74th of 79 episodes--and we have seen all along that Spock is trying to figure this "love" thing out. McCoy's not altogether wrong: he's not very good at it. He grew up without it, as a Vulcan, and it's alien to him.

But McCoy is critically wrong: Spock is not unable to love.

Well into his adulthood, Spock thought he had his life all figured out. Until Jim Kirk, Mr. Emotionality, shows up, and you can see from the very first aired episode "The Man Trap" that Spock is smitten.

At the end of that first episode, left, Kirk is sitting in his captain's chair, speaking openly to the bridge crew about his sadness for the death of a species.

Cut to a reaction shot of Spock gazing at him, softly, with total adoration. (Left.)
There's practically vaseline on the lens.

I've wondered why it was put together this way. From the very beginning, did someone intend Spock to be in love with Kirk?
It doesn't seem so.
I think, from my two minutes as a filmmaker, that it was a result of the rush of television production. The editor needed a reaction shot, and that was the one at hand.

I gather that a lot of Star Trek was unintentional like that. I'm not just making that up--people involved talk about how rushed television is. It's not like there's time for deep analysis. Shatner, for instance, has said that he'd often receive script revisions for a scene on the same day the scene was to be shot.

Taking the lid off big issues, as sci-fi does, without time to control the spin, is one big invitation for trickster spirits to sneak in. Star Trek had some big trickster of transformation as its guiding spirit.

Anyway, at the end of "The Man Trap," we see Spock looking at Kirk like he's just been swept off his feet. He's going to spend the next few years being knocked off his logical feet by messy emotions, and he's going to keep getting to his feet, like Rocky, to take some more.

Until the five-year mission ends, and he goes back home to Vulcan. There we see him at the beginning of the first Star Trek movie (ST:TMP). He's had enough of emotion and is finishing his training in Kolinahr, the Vulcan discipline to strip away all emotion. We are not told why, but you can fill in the blanks.

Me, I'd say the end of the Enterprise's mission, with its necessary parting from Kirk, was so painful, he decided he'd had enough of this love stuff. I've felt the same myself. But it's not easy to get the Genie back in the bottle, eh?

So, we meet Spock again, and we see that has chosen the Way of the Crumpled-Up Sock. He has folded in on himself, reducing his emotionally receptive surface to a bare minimum.
But it doesn't work.

At the beginning of ST TMP, the little exposed speck of Spock's receptivity gets a call from outer space. Right in time to ruin the ceremony where he's to receive the tacky plastic trinket acknowledging his attainment of Kolinahr.

What consciousness is it that calls him?
It is V'Ger, a perfectly logical machine-being.
We will come to see (s l o w l y), it is not V'Ger's logic that calls Spock, but its loneliness, its sense of incompleteness. Its lack of the ability to love. Its search for meaning, which Spock shares.
This first movie could be called Spock's Search for Spock.

It finally finishes the arc we've seen begun in the TV series, of Spock figuring out that he is able to love. Turns out, it's not that hard. It is, he realizes, a "simple feeling." And while it doesn't make everything OK, it does make everything possible.
After all, its lack is what holds V'Ger back from truly understanding the universe.

In fact, V'Ger's salvation comes in turning inside out, like a sock.
V'Ger is a mammoth living machine, miles long, dark and inward, surrounded by a cloud.
In the end, it falls in love, essentially, and unites with the object of its affection (the emotional golden-boy starship captain, Decker), and explodes outward in a streaming ray of light.
(Yes... well, seems even logical machines do it. In tales told by humans, anyway.)

And Spock, too, has turned inside out, from his first return to the bridge, where he is so closed down he won't even say hello to Kirk, to his reaching out to hold Kirk's hand toward the end. And, finally, in his shedding a tear of compassion for V'Ger, for its inability to love.

He has completed the arc, the twist of the sock, and for the rest of the movies we see a man, a Vulcan, who knows who he is.
He has figured out how to love,
how to extend compassion to himself, to Kirk, and even, so to speak, to the postman who's come to call.

I'm working on that myself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Cracked Cup of Kindness

Often I have some idea of what I want to say when I sit down to blog, but this evening I'm just aware of a pile-up of stuff -- I don't know what I want to say about it all--I just feel like rambling on about some of it and not even straightening out the tangled syntax.

Last week I read something that really shook me up:
"The Crack-Up" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He wrote this personal essay--three essays, actually (if you click on the link above, be sure to read all three, if you are so inclined)--in 1936, when he was thirty-nine years old and realized he was broken, damaged, in ways he felt were irreparable... and since he died five years later, partly self-destroyed, I guess he was right.

I've tried but I've never cared for F. Scott before, but in this piece, he was so unsentimental, so surgically precise, in his depiction of his own utter spiritual desolation, I was stunned with admiration.
I thought I should write something about it--or something as honest myself.

And I couldn't.
I mean, I just could not start.
There's a forcefield guarding certain things in my life (you know, love, death, that stuff) I couldn't get past. And that's part of what blew me away about "The Crack-Up": that F. Scott even could write it, nevermind how good it is.

I've written about this before but it bears repeating that having a terrible burden generally appears thrillingly romantic only if you don't have one. And who doesn't, sooner or later?
"The Crack-Up" is excellent in its complete lack of glamour. Nothing diaphanous, nothing glowing, beckoning on the end of a pier.

Writing honestly like that is good, because eventually everyone bears something burdensome, and it seems to help to read and write about it. It's helped me, anyway, at the most basic level, to say, to hear: Oh, there it is. It really is that bad.
The point is most definitely not to get sympathy. No! It's to get truth. This is a core tenet of religion/philosophy, right? Look. See. Even if it's damn bleak.

(Where one goes from there, well, that's another question. I would hardly look to F. Scott for help with that.)

So I kept thinking I w/should give it a shot, and each morning I woke up intending to blog about it. And couldn't. By Sunday afternoon I was so depressed I could barely move. Not metaphorically, either, I mean I could hardly move my body, it had become so leaden. I just sat there and dreaded the arrival of 3:30, when I had agreed to go to a movie with my neighbor.
But when my neighbor came and knocked on my door, I got up off the chair and went out into the day.

Though I'd dreaded it, I had also thought it might do me good to get out, and it did. We went to see Clint Eastwood's latest, Gran Torino, a movie so sweetly well-intentioned you forgive it its amateurish screenplay, with dialogue along the lines of the old Korean War vet saying to the kindly, fresh-faced Catholic priest of the kind we haven't seen since Bing Crosby, "Father, a man doesn't go to war and then just forget about it. He sees things that haunt his dreams."
Just terrible clunkers.
And its message of redemption is ridiculously see-through.
I loved it.
It was a godsend.
I left the movie theater reminded that toxic stuff needs to be dealt with in its own time. Or not. At any rate, pushing doesn't help. And redemption doesn't necessarily come with a sign on it saying, "This is it," it comes in unrecognizable and sometimes unwelcome forms.
Wait for it.

So, yesterday, Monday, instead of trying to write about eviscerating pain, I asked the publisher if I could write the revision of the Great Moravian Empire book I mentioned typing out.
Actually, it's a geography book on Slovakia, from the same series that I wrote titles for, for four years--work I took a sabbatical of sorts from almost a year and a half ago.
The old text was so interesting and so impersonal to me that I truly wanted to do the update.
Luckily no one else had signed up to do Slovakia, so it is mine.

I feel comforted to have a safe, predictable writing task again.
Writing is like travel--you keep upping your comfort level; but there are times when you've pushed too far into discomfort and, if you're lucky, you get to pull back, you're wise to pull back, before an anaconda smothers you.

This is one of the things I adore about Star Trek, for which I am tremendously grateful--it's been such a comforting, cheering travel companion this past year. Bad things happen, but none of the companions we care about ends up like F. Scott.
Or if they do, maybe, come just a bit too close, Mr. Spock is there with his kind and loving hands to ease the pain: "Forget, forget..."

Of course we, I, don't really want to forget old acquaintance, but sometimes it sure helps to take a cup of kindness, whatever form that may come in.
For me, right now, writing about Slovakia looks like just the thing.
Bonus: they pay me money! It's so little, you wouldn't believe it, but they give it to me, not the other way round.

Quiet Night and Quiet Stars

I stepped outside into the dark cold last night and pointed the camera up. I had no idea the flash would turn the falling snowflakes into stars.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One More Splendid Captain

You know Captain Kirk was based, at least partly, on Horatio Hornblower? Here, my all-time favorite vidder Mortmere presents her manip of that master and commander, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, R.N. (that's Royal Navy, not Registered Nurse).

[Kirk as a steampunk captain here.]

A surfeit of delight, there's also a new vid up on Mortmere's youTube channel:

"Kirk/Spock: Science Lab Party"
I owe my own vidding efforts partly to inspiration from this creator of sublime silliness, with a splash of slashy sexiness.

A Binky Wordle

Binky made a Wordle for me!
At first I figured it was the obvious "Where O where has my little dog gone," but then I saw the word "green" and thought, wait, there's no green in that ditty...

Friday, January 9, 2009

To Seek Out Strange New Wordles

Bianca Castafiore (yes, THAT Bianca, you Tintin lovers!) has introduced me to Wordle, which is a lovely toy that creates "word clouds," you know.
I solved one of her Wordle Literary Challenges. (If you know it, it's easy!)

She has two more up until Saturday midnight, if you care to try your hand at them.

Tired of typing about the Great Moravian Empire, I created my first Wordle.
You all recognize it, right?
I'm so predictable...

Brain Rest: Typing about the Great Moravian Empire

When I was a kid, I went to an average American public school, and as far as my education was concerned, history started in 1776. (Though there was one event in 1492.)
So what do I know about the Great Moravian Empire?
Pretty much nothing. Not by that name, anyway.
Therefore I am enjoying a task I agreed to do for the publisher, for the first time: typing into the computer the text of an old book that is going to be revised.
Revised by someone else, so I don't have to think critically at all!
Kind of a nice treat.

I also am putting to use the typing class I took in high school as I copy sentences such as,
"The brothers Cyril and Methodius [left] brought Christianity to the Slovaks in the 800s. To make the Christian Gospels more accessible, the missionaries invented an alphabet––called Cyrillic...."

Actually I did know that, because when I grew up, I studied Christianity and patched all sorts of holes in my education with gold-leaf.
But I had no idea that "At its peak in 882, the Great Moravian Empire spanned the present-day Czech Republic, Central and West Slovakia, and parts of Hungary, Poland and Germany."

Back at it I go.
Just wanted to say hi.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

For My Father's Birthday: A Mosaic of Memories

For the 78th Birthday of My Father, Who Showed Me the World through a Wide-Angle Lens
[Click on the light blue text for links, if you want.]

Dear Daniele:

I put together this little mosaic representing some of my happy memories of growing up with you, from the golden years on Orton Court. (There could be so many more images, too!)
I remember, not necessarily in chronological order . . .

1. When I was little, I thought Martin Luther King Jr. was normal. I somehow got the idea that that's what grown-ups did--they worked for peace and justice and love.

2. Lying on the floor forever, staring at the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band.

3. This portrait of Thomas Carlyle (photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron, saved from a calendar, I think) and how you wanted your hair to look like his. Now it does!

4. You betting Sister and me a nickel on football Sundays that the Green Bay Packers would lose, even though, with quarterback Bart Starr, you knew they wouldn't. Also how you shared your Fritos and bean dip while you watched the game.

5. You running around Paris calling out "Anouk, Anouk," hoping she would hear and leave Albert Finney for you.

6. The Memorial Union Terrace, UW Madison. Babcock Hall ice cream. Sailboats. Ducks.

7. How you weren't allowed to rent a sailboat at the Luxembourg Gardens because they were only for children. How much you love the gardens anyway.

8. You driving home one Saturday afternoon after grocery shopping, singing along to the car radio, loudly, "Come on baby, light my fire."

9. The Bible, by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Or such was the impression I got from you.

10. All of us watching the weekly World Classic Films series on... was it channel 21? Whenever I hear the Vivaldi they used as the series' theme, I remember how exciting that was.

11. Sitting on your lap and hearing the pocket watch in your coat pocket, to the accompaniment of Walter Cronkite reporting moon landings (his comment: "Whew...Boy!" at 1:01) and murders in his comforting voice, as if the world made sense.

12. Going with the family to see Eugene McCarthy speak at the Coliseum in 1968 (we're in this photo somewhere!), when I was seven. You didn't think I'd forgotten, did you?

13. Laughing at The Smothers Brothers and Laugh-In, even though I didn't get them, because you were laughing.

14. George McGovern. Because he wasn't Richard Nixon, whom you hated. Really hated.

15. The cover of this Bob Dylan album; but I don't really remember anyone listening to the album... You were more likely to be listening to Glenn Gould hummming Bach.

16. [image below] Maybe my favorite, quintessential memory of you is when you took me, just ten-year-old me alone, to the Majestic to see Death in Venice. The woman at the ticket window warned you it wasn't a movie for children. And in your most Daniele-like voice, you announced, "I will be the judge of what movies my children see." Or words to that effect.
And you were right: I loved it.

" if he, taking a hand from his hip, pointed outwards, to something hovering ahead, immense and full of promise."

--Death in Venice (Italy, 1971, dir. Luchino Visconti)

Happy Birthday, and thank you.

And that's the way it is.
January 8, 2009.