Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ralph's Great Divide

On a recommendation from someone at Amy’s church, we decided to try Ralph’s Great Divide for lunch today. It’s one of those places you probably have to be told about, or else you’re just going to drive right by it every time and never stop. It’s on New York Street, just before you pass under the highway and then over the railroad tracks. Their website says that they are located in historic Lockerbie Square, but that’s pushing it. Technically, yes, but if you’re thinking of those big, historic houses and brick streets, those are on the other side of New York Street and a bit west of Davidson.

We were seated in a tiny part of the dining room just inside the front door, close enough to the entrance that we could feel the rush of cold air every time someone came in or went out; but the lunch rush was pretty much over, so the door didn’t open and close too much. It’s a smoking place, and the smell of stale cigarettes actually made me vaguely nostalgic for my grandmother’s house in Columbus, so close was the smell to that of her kitchen. The bar, and what appeared to be a larger dining area, were inside to the left of where we were.

The lunch menu is mostly club sandwiches, burgers, and ham sandwiches made with Dave’s Bourbon Baked ham, described as “Slow Baked Pit Ham with Bourbon and Spices” on the menu. I tried the Lucy ($7.99), a ham and swiss sandwich on grilled rye. The rye bread was nicely grilled, crunchy but not explosive, and the portion of ham was quite generous; but the cheese was sweaty more than melted, and didn’t contribute much to the flavor of the sandwich. Amy had the Frenchie ($7.49), a burger topped with creamy brandy and peppercorn sauce and smoked cheddar cheese. Again, the flavor of the cheese was obscured, this time by the rich sauce (though it was admirably peppery). She chose plain old potato chips for a side, but I had the pickled beets - something you don’t see offered as a side in too many places. They were perfectly adequate, but probably came out of a can. Same with the cream of tomato soup, which was hot and satisfying on a cold afternoon, but in no way unique.

Steak, chicken, and seafood entrées round out the dinner menu, but seem somewhat overpriced for a place that has a naked woman carved out of wood mounted on the wall over one of the tables. (It was mounted over the table we sat at, in fact, but I didn’t notice it until I stood up to leave. If Shaquille O’Neal had been sitting at that table, he would have dashed his brains out on her breasts when he stood up to leave.) Probably this knickknack was once mounted on a small boat of some kind, but these kinds of things always seem to wind up on walls at restaurants.

Generally speaking, it was a perfectly fine lunch in a quirky little mom-and-pop place. Their chili was supposedly remarked upon once by Bon Appétit magazine, so a return trip to sample that dish might be in order; but better sandwiches can be had elsewhere, and it’s over-21 only, so we won’t be able to take Jackson. We don’t get the chance to go out for lunch without the little guy very often, and Old Point Tavern is just a few blocks away—which makes the odds pretty slim that this one will ever make it into what passes for our regular rotation.

743 East New York Street

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Closing Out 2010

National Novel Writing Month was a long hard slog, and then there was the signing up for and preparing the manuscript for the free proof copy from Create Space - and it turns out I didn’t even come close to preparing the manuscript enough for that proof copy process. But then by the time I had a chance to sit down and think about it, it was already the middle of December.

I didn’t think I was going to have time to come up with anything to submit for Ichabod’s Sketchbook III, with its December 18, 2010 deadline; but I managed to work an idea I had had first for a series of blog posts into a short short story, and I used a Robert Frost poem as the starting point for a second short short story. (Actually, I used it as the end point and worked backward until there was a whole story, or as much of a story as I was able to cram into less than 1000 words.) I wrote them a little too fast, but was mostly content with both of them by about two in the morning on the 18th; and I submitted them to the editors, for better or worse.

I spent the first half of December working on a slimmed-down version of the story I had been working on before I shut everything else down for NaNoWriMo in November, and also on editing the first three chapters of a novel one of my co-workers asked me to have a look at; and I read the proof copy of the “novel” I wrote during November, and man—it’s rough. I should have at least taken the time to run a spell check. Being sure to insert page numbers would also have been helpful. I suppose I could always fix some things and order another copy, but at least I’ll have a better idea of how to do it if I manage to get to the end of NaNoWriMo again next year.

I’m reading one last book to add to the stack of books going away at the end of the year. There might be time for one more little one, but my hold on the new Jonathan Franzen novel is in transit from the library, and I want to make sure that nothing else is on my reading plate when that comes in. There are still nearly 300 holds lined up for it, so I won’t be able to renew it. There were nearly 500 holds already lined up when I submitted my hold request for it—and that surprised me. I would never have guessed that nearly 500 people in Indiana had even heard of Jonathan Franzen, much less that that many would have any interest in reading his new novel.

2010 will go into the books as my most successful year as a writer, though that is not saying much. What will be saying something is if the focus I put on writing—and on what I have been reading—this year helps me to produce more substantial writing next year. If all goes well, that will include the story I am working on being finished by the end of June; a handful of short stories written and submitted to contests between June and November; a second consecutive National Novel Writing Month “win” by the end of November; and a couple more submissions to Ichabod’s Sketchbook in December.

I also plan to keep a completely accurate account of how many books I bring in during the year versus how many books I read and get rid of during the year—with the goal there being to get rid of more books than I bring in. I have to get serious there, too. It’s way too easy to spend half an hour in the clearance section at Half Price Books and convince myself that someday I might read this book or that book—and since it only costs fifty cents or a buck, it doesn’t really matter if I ever read it or not. I have a biography of Rudy Giuliani on my shelves. There is no viable reason for that. I have a book of writing about sharks. And mammoths. Seriously. Those are things that at some point I was more interested in having than money.

It was a damn long time coming, but it feels really good to finally get serious about writing. Bring on 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I’m going to have to preface this piece with the disclaimer that I adore the Harry Potter books. I have read all seven of them several times each, and I find myself drawn back to the best of them - the fourth through the seventh - at least once or twice a year, when I will read three or four of them back to back in quick succession. If I were better at this whole movie review thing - or perhaps just more frequent and consistent with respect to actually doing it - I might be able to better evaluate the films as entities separate from the novels that spawned them.

Alas, that is not the case. I just can’t do it. J.K. Rowling has created a world so rich in characters and settings and imagery that watching the films would be enormously satisfying if the only thing to be said about them is that they are quite well-executed visual interpretations of seven of the greatest novels ever written. They are not going to satisfy every lover of the novels, because there is simply too much in the books - especially those last four, which are quite long - to cram into one movie. (There’s even too much in the thicker books to cram into two movies, though fitting more into the film was not the reason for splitting the seventh book into two films - that decision was all about the Benjamins).

This one begins with the evacuation of Number Four, Privet Drive, as the Dursleys flee because they will no longer be safe once Harry’s whereabouts are known. (I don’t recall if the reason for this was explained in the last film or not, but it is not rehashed her for those who are not well-versed in the story. Dumbledore placed special magic on the home of Harry’s aunt and uncle and cousin, so that he would be protected there from Voldemort. However, when Harry comes of age, at seventeen, which is set to occur early in the film, the magic ceases to operate. This places both Harry and his relatives in danger.) In the novel, there is a nice moment when Dudley, Harry’s cousin, cottons to the fact that Harry is not going with the Dursleys. In his awkward way, he asks if Harry is going to be all right, acknowledging that he cares about Harry because Harry once saved his life. The two, who have never been especially friendly, make peace, and it’s a nice scene - but is omitted here, one of the few quibbles I had with the movie.

There’s probably not much point in hashing over the plot points of the story, except to note that what’s really going on here is that Harry and his friends are being pursued by a malevolent force while they try to figure out how to vanquish that force, using incomplete information passed on by someone who is no longer with them. Though overloaded with special effects (which can’t really be avoided in a story steeped in magical lore), the elements of a classic horror movie are pretty much in place here. Most of this film is concerned with the increasing power of Voldemort and his singleminded desire to destroy Harry. For his part, Harry does his best to work out what Dumbledore told him about horcruxes, so that he and Ron and Hermione can find the ones that are left, destroy them, and then destroy Voldemort.

The element of horror is best captured in a scene in which Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hollow, the place where Harry was born, where his parents were murdered (and are presumably buried), and where - Harry just now discovers - Dumbledore grew up. They arrive in Godric’s Hollow on what appears to be the night of Christmas Eve, with snow on the ground and few people out and about. They come to the house where Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents, and then to a cemetery, where they find the headstone belonging to James and Lily Potter. Presently, they encounter a silent old woman, whom they believe to be a noted magical historian with information about Dumbledore that might be of use to Harry. He and Hermione follow the old woman into her house - where a horrifc surprise awaits. Though effective in the novel, the scene is suspenseful enough that it works even better cinematically.

They find one horcrux, and dispatch it (though not without some trouble); and they begin to find out about the Deathly Hallows, three magical objects that, put together, make their possessor a master over death. The Hallows will present an interesting dilemma for Harry and his friends in Part 2. The only other minor quibble I had with the film was with some of the dialogue. There were places where characters were talking about things in a way that is designed to present the viewer with information, though often the dialogue came off hurried, or muffled, or otherwise reminiscent of mumblecore. This isn’t a problem for people who are familiar with the story from having read the novel; but for those viewers who have not read the novel, it’s a disservice. The biggest conceit of the entire Harry Potter film series is that the films generally assume that the viewers have read the books; and while this is probably the case for most viewers of the films, it is not the case for all viewers of the films. But again, that’s a minor quibble, just one of a couple in what is otherwise a very fine film.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Swan

Based on the reviews of this film that I have already read, I was apparently supposed to watch The Red Shoes before watching this film. I was not aware of that; I didn’t get the memo. I just thought this looked and sounded like an interesting picture, even if director Darren Aronofsky’s last picture (The Wrestler) was a bit uneven. Two movies before that, however, was Requiem for a Dream, which was a remarkable film - and easily the most disturbing film I have ever seen. Billed as a “psycho-sexual thriller,” Black Swan is the story of ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who lands the role of the Swan Queen in a new production of “Swan Lake.”

But wait! If you act now, you can also get the lecherous company director (Vincent Cassel), the has-been control freak mother (Barbara Hershey) and the free spirit to your straight lace (Mila Kunis)! Special added bonus: a dancer being “retired” because she is too old (Winona Ryder) and who exists in the story for no particular reason, other than possibly to ratchet up Nina’s bizarre emotional stew another couple of notches.

Nina desperately wants her dancing to be perfect. Other than a scene late in the film when she goes out to a club with Lily (Kunis), as much to irritate her mother as to have fun herself, perfecting her dancing is all that we see Nina doing. She lives in an Upper West Side apartment with her mother, a place that feels cramped and stifling and which it appears as though time has forgotten. Nina’s bedroom is a study in pink and stuffed animals, and mommy is the only person in Nina’s life, apart from her fellow dancers and the narcissistic company director.

For most of the film, Nina’s sole expression is that of someone who continues to do something painful and difficult despite clearly wanting no longer either to do it or to get what comes from doing it. When she ducks into a restroom stall and calls her mother to let her know she got the part, she bursts into what are unquestionably tears of joy; but it is also possible to read them as the frightened tears of someone who is yoked to a terrible sadness. It’s a testament to the strength of Portman’s performance that those tears can be read both ways. (This will not be the scene used when Jeff Bridges reads Portman’s name in the list of nominees for this year’s Best Actress Oscar, but it should be.)

The pink color scheme and stuffed animals are but the first indication that Nina’s perspective is a bit skewed; her symbiotic relationship with her mother is another. Nina is a grown woman, but these indications point to someone who has willfully put off most of what it means to grow into adulthood so that she can achieve this thing for which she has been working since she was very young. When she says that she wants her dancing to be perfect, she is referring to technical perfection - the ability to execute steps and turns and leaps correctly, as they are taught. She yearns for an objective perfection that can be rendered definitively. It is almost accurate to say that she has subordinated her life to this goal; but it is more accurate to say that she has suppressed everything else in her life in order to achieve her goal of balletic mastery.

On the one hand, she has succeeded - both in mastering the steps and turns and leaps and in holding back her life in order to force her body to learn these motions; but on the other hand, she has failed - because the perfection she seeks actually comprises more than technical mastery. She cannot effectively portray both the perfect White Swan and the sensual Black Swan, which the part requires, because to achieve the former, she has forced herself to press down those things inside her that are needed for her to become the latter.

Unable to acknowledge, much less understand, her own deficiencies, she projects the frustrations these cause at those around her: she sees threats in Lily and Beth where none exist; she feels imprisoned by her mother, though she is free to leave at any time; and she reads sexual predation into Thomas’ efforts to get the Black Sawn to emerge from her. This last affront is the only one that is real, but her perception of it is amplified by her refusal to submit to - or perhaps even acknowledge - her own natural sexual maturity.

As Nina is pulled to and fro by these forces within and without her, Aronofsky uses the mortal weakness of her own body to symbolize what is happening to her inside her own mind. She constantly inspects her feet for damage, finding broken toenails and blood; and despite an obsessive attention to keeping her fingernails trimmed she finds scratches on her back, more blood. Her mother’s artwork taunts her from the walls where it hangs, and Nina cannot even go out for a drink with Lily without losing herself in a dream.

What is most compelling about the film, though, is the way in which Nina gradually begins to change the things about her that keep her from being able to portray the Black Swan. Slowly but surely, she sorts out what is real and what is not, what is of her own making and what is not. Portman’s expression may not change all that much, but she begins to imbue Nina with an energy from within, as Nina begins to understand more and more about herself and the world she has built for that self. It is not revealing too much to say that, by the end, Nina has perfected both the White Swan and the Black Swan; but it would be revealing too much to say exactly how Aronofsky and Portman get her there. You’re just going to have to see that for yourself.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Proof Copy

I think I mentioned somewhere along the line that one of the prizes for "winning" Naaknowrymo (Hi, Steve) was that you could sign up with one of their sponsors and get a free proof copy of your "book." That was actually one of the things that really helped to keep me motivated to stay on pace throughout the month of November - the idea of having a printed copy of something I had written that I could hold in my hands. It would be a very rough copy, of course, but it would be something.

Had I investigated the matter a bit further, however, I probably would have been less enthused (and potentially less motivated to get to 50,000 words by the end of the month). The sponsor in question is CreateSpace, which is a self-publishing service provided by the monolithic Amazon. You create an account with them, then upload your manuscript, then create a cover for it, and then wait while their submission robot checks to make sure everything is formatted correctly. Along the way, they assign an ISBN to the book. This is the part that worries me. I don't know enough about self-publishing to know whether or not I've just committed this manuscipt to self-publishing for eternity or not. I should have stopped what I was doing and gone surfing for some information, but that damnable lust for a printed copy of my work was gnawing away at me.

Then I got an e-mail from the robot saying that everything checked out and that it was time to order my proof copy. Huzzah! So I logged in and ordered the copy, which was totally free - both the cost of the book and the economy shipping option were covered by the discount my NaNoWriMo winner's code got me. The next step - in theory - is to review the proof and make any corrections and probably re-submit the manuscript and then set up sales channels.

Yeah...sales channels. That's the part they don't tell you on the NaNoWriMo website. They just say you can get a free proof copy. You're not compelled to set up sales channels and sell the book, and I sure as hell don't plan to do that; but the whole process has got this thing a little closer to being out there in the world than I would have liked.

But I will get to hold that printed copy of the "book" in my hands. I don't exactly feel like I shook hands with the devil here, but the whole thing feels a little icky; and I'm not sure holding a copy of what I wrote in my hands is going to mitigate that feeling entirely. Oh well...I decided a long time ago that I wasn't going to pursue this particular story for actual publication anyway. It was an exercise and an exorcism, with the goal being to get it out of my system so I could stop thinking about it and start writing something serious that I would want to publish one day.

Here's what the front cover looks like:

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Deep Thoughts #46

If you had told Jack Del Rio at the beginning of the season that his team would win its division, he would have laughed you out of the room.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Deep Thoughts #45

Someone should probably call a meeting of all four teams in the AFC South and remind them that one of them actually has to win the division.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes on the End of NaNoWriMo 2010

Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, for me anyway, I feel two things quite distinctly. I want both to write more immediately and not to write another word for a long time. (That’s a relative span of time; though I might want not to write for awhile, a very long time for me to go between writing sessions would be a day or two.) There were times during November when I was working on the day’s words and getting up to (and now and then slightly past) two thousand words, and my head would just start to swim and I would sit back in my chair and think that there was no way I could go on. As much as I had looked forward to the start of November, so I could finally start writing down all of the ideas I had been having for the novel, I was starting now to look forward to the end of November, so that there would no longer be this enormous pressure to hit a certain mark every day.

At first I thought it was going to be bad luck that I had to close on the last two days of November, but it actually wound up being good luck. Starting last Wednesday, on the 24th, I made a conscious effort to squeeze more words out of each day than I had been getting, so that I would have a cushion for the last two days. By Wednesday I was closing in on 40,000 words, and was much farther along than I had imagined I would get; and I wanted to make sure that I got all the way to the end. Last year, it quickly became obvious that I was disastrously behind and that I would never be able to catch up. This year, I never got that feeling once. There were days when I got behind, depending on what my work schedule was like, but I was always able to bounce back a day or two later and make up whatever ground I had lost. And then, last Wednesday, I started down the home stretch.

I started to accumulate more words per day than were needed for me to keep pace; I began to amass a word budget surplus; and I kept that going for the next four days, until I got done with the writing on Sunday night and found myself at 49,300 words. It was another one of those nights when I don’t think I could have written another word - not one single additional word; but I was awfully tempted to try, as close as I was to the end. But if I had tried to press on, just to get to the finish line that night, I would have written 700 very bad words; and then I would have had to wake up today and fix (or, worse, delete) those 700 words. So I left it, and when I woke up this morning, I had those 700 words left to go, and they just poured out of me. As soon as I passed 50,000 by the word count at the bottom of my word processing file, I uploaded to the NaNoWriMo website for an official count, and it was a skosh under 50,000, but not by much. Then I took out the date markers, deleted a sex scene that seemed to fit at the time I wrote it but afterward just sounded icky, and changed most of the character names. That put me a few hundred words under, but there was so much more to write now that it was no longer a question of getting to 50,000. It’s even conceivable that I could do some writing tonight when I get home, and tomorrow afternoon - so the question is really going to be how far beyond 50,000 am I going to get?

But I made myself stop at a certain point this afternoon because I wanted to take a short walk around Irvington to celebrate what I had done. (Now that I’m thinking back on it, I realize that I didn’t take any pictures. I had planned to snap some pictures on my walk, as a record of what Irvington looked like the day I won NaNoWriMo for the first time - but I completely forgot to do it.) That’s the lucky part about having to close the last two days of November, particularly today. I almost always work a nine-to-five shift on Mondays (which I. Fucking. Hate.), but got the close shift today because the manager who usually closes on Mondays is on vacation. I finished the last few tweaks on the novel in enough time to walk over to the coffee shop and back before I had to get in the shower and get to work. And even though all the leaves were already down and nothing was really going on, it was a nice walk - on a fairly warm afternoon - and it made me think how nice it would be if I could really make a go of this writing thing and do it well enough and consistently well enough to make a living at it.

And really, that’s why I want to sit down and get right back to writing - because the actual doing of it is the only way I’ll ever be able to get to the point where I can make a living at it; and now that I have accomplished a 50,000 word novel in 30 days - and one that is reasonably coherent and has a distinct beginning and end, even if there are some pretty big holes in the middle that need to be filled - going back to the pace I was at before, barely 500 words a day, seems like child’s play. The story I was working on before NaNoWriMo had begun to drift out of focus because of a set piece with one character that just went on and on and on; and even though I have trashed a piece of writing only to immediately start it over far too many times, I am going to do that one more time and begin anew with the story of a football widow who, despite strong feelings of commitment to her family and strong religious beliefs, finds herself gradually falling in love with a customer at the local farmers market who is also a cook at a local restaurant. He is, of course, more than that, and it’s probably important to point out that he’s a cook at a local Italian restaurant. Now why would I go to the trouble of pointing out that it’s an Italian restaurant? For exactly the reason that you think. This story is also going to get into some themes - religion, marriage, the Mafia - that I have wanted to explore but have never been able to get to coalesce into one particular thing.

I will be doing some copy editing work for a fellow novelist for a good part of the month of December, while at the same time hopefully making notes and plotting the trajectory of this new version of the aforementioned story; but I hope to start on the new novel at the stroke of the New Year. I also plan to change the direction of this here Blog-O-Rama as of the beginning of 2011. There will still be the occasional post on film, the occasional fake tweet, and other such miscellany; but I plan to focus mostly on writing and reading, to continue the progress I have made in 2010 toward becoming a serious writer. But in the meantime, Happy Holidays! And, in the words of the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut, I thank you for your attention.

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #4

I just uploaded my novel for word count verification, and here's what I got:

Officially verified word count is 50,391. Title of the novel is "I'm Only Passing Through," and here are the last two paragraphs:

I wasn’t sure what I thought I was doing either but I took that walk around the park and thought about that song and about the girl who had spoken lines from it to me years before they became lines in a song. I no longer ached for her, but the memories could come back at any moment and they could come back strong; and though I no longer ached for her, I sometimes wondered where she was and what had become of her. We had never had our time. I kept hoping to get a card at Christmas or a letter out of nowhere, but it turned out that she really had been only passing through.

As you get older, you can start to understand about a thing like that; but when you are in college, especially when you are new in college, it’s hard to get your head around just how fleeting everything is. This is especially true of time and of friendship. You can’t do anything about time except to stand by idly as it gains momentum and moves a little faster every day. Sometimes there is not much you can do about friendship, because sometimes it is just in our nature to do things that hurt other people, whether we mean to or not. But it does not do to dwell for too long on the past, although it is sometimes necessary to spend a little bit of time in the past to be able to understand it as best you can and to be able to get on with the present. It is just so dangerous to spend even one moment too many on that return to innocence.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #3

The third progress report for this year’s National Novel Writing Month finds me at just past 40,000 words - more than double what I had last year, and still on pace to get to 50,000 by month’s end. However, I was looking at the calendar at work last night, and I realized that November 30th is a Tuesday, which is the one night a week that I have to close at work; and Tuesday afternoons, one of the two afternoons a week when I have Jackson to take care of by myself, are not generally big writing afternoons. What all of that means is that I’m going to have to up the daily output to make sure I have enough time to write what I need to write next Tuesday and upload the finished product to the website for word count verification before I go to work.

And as for the story itself, it has gone in directions I had not anticipated, which is usually what happens when I write. I’ve always believed that it’s healthy to let the story sort of lead you by the hand, as long as you have a general idea of where you want it to go. Unfortunately, this has not yet proved a successful strategy for writing a whole novel - at least not for me; and yet I feel constrained even thinking about working up an outline. This story was supposed to be mostly about one character and a series of short glimpses into his life at various stages, starting in college and moving into his twenties as an adult. But at 40,000 words, it’s still in the college phase, and still in the “main” character’s freshman year. This is territory I have always wanted to mine, but I have never been able to get it just right. I’m not sure that this just right, either, but I have managed to keep it on course and mostly focused - though the focus has drifted from one “main” character to three - one of whom is a sort of alter ego of the “main” character, and the other of whom is something of a foil (also of the “main” character).

Also, what was supposed to have been five 10,000 word sections has turned into four sections of varying length. Each of the three sections has been from a different point of view, and in a different person - both of which were things I wanted to accomplish when I started this project. The final section - which is what I have left to write - will revert back to the same point of view and person as the first section, bringing the focus back around to the “main” character. And if all of that works out the way I have it planned in my head, then I should have a very solid piece of writing in hand at the end of the month; and I will have hopefully exorcised a demon that has been gnawing at me for years. The work will not be ready for prime time, of course; but if it holds up to a re-read, probably after the new year, then it will have been a very successful National Novel Writing Month.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #2

I haven’t done a very good job with progress reports on this year’s National Novel Writing Month project, but I have a pretty good reason for that; and that pretty good reason is that I have actually been keeping up with the pace necessary to get to 50,000 words by the end of the month. I have just started the writing for tonight (November 12th, which I only specify because I tend to write, and do blog posts, near the technical end of the night, as the witching hour draws nigh and then fades into the rearview - so in one sense, the writing I do tonight could be thought of partly as writing for November 12th and partly as writing for November 13th, though I think of all of it as writing for November 12th), and assuming it goes as well as it has gone to this point in the month, I will surpass, by a relatively considerable margin, the entire output I managed during the whole of last November.

I haven’t been in 1667-words-per-day shape for a long time, and no matter how fast you type, that’s a lot of words to get down in one day - especially when you devote a relatively small amount of each day to getting those words down. Of course, now that I think about it, I churned out three progress reports last year, every tenth day, at the same time that I was getting down far fewer words than I’m getting down this year; and if I manage to finish and post this progress report, that will be two for this month, with over half the month left to go - while I’m averaging almost 1700 words a day.

And at the end of today’s writing, I’m at 20,263 words, which is 259 ahead of schedule for the month. In fact, I have only failed to hit the daily pace four out of twelve days so far. There’s still a long way to go, but the story is flowing smoothly and I haven’t felt stuck once yet. The second of the five sections, which I should have finished tonight, is going to go over the 10,000 words I had planned for it. That’s all right, though, because it might bode well for the future of this piece of work beyond the scope of the National Novel Writing Month project.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #1

Okay, here we are three days into National Novel Writing Month, and I am in a much better place with the pacing than I was last year. I hit the daily word goal exactly on the first day, then was way off on day two, and brought it back today on day three to 5118 words, which is 117 words over what I needed to be on pace for the first three days. (Last year, I didn’t hit 5000 words until November 8th.) While looking at the NaNoWriMo website, I came across something to give me a bit of extra motivation to get the 50,000 words done in the 30 days - “winners,” which are people who get to 50,000 by the end of the month and upload their work for word count verification - can get a free printed copy of their “novel” from one of the NaNoWriMo sponsors. I had planned to include in this post a little bit about what I’m writing, but I’ve run out of time, so that will have to wait for the next post.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jackson at Waterman's Farm Market

We went to Waterman's with Tom and Dione and Dorothy yesterday, and I have a lot more pictures of that trip that I plan to post a little bit later today, once I sort out the good ones from the bad ones. This is one of the good ones of Jackson, and some of the other good ones are of the dinosaur that smashes the pumpkins.

Deep Thoughts #44 - Special Topical ALCS Edition

Way to go, you wacky Rangers of Texas. An excellent start to the post-Steinbrenner era for the Yankees is to not even make the World Series.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nowhere Boy

I don’t know how much of this film is historically accurate and how much of it has been exaggerated, or possibly even invented, in the name of narrative filmmaking; but having said that, I am also not entirely sure that I want to know how much of it is historically accurate and how much of it is not. That probably sounds counterintuitive; surely it is desirable for any storyteller, who aims to render a tale not of his or her own making, to be as loyal to the truth as possible. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, however, does not always make for a compelling (or even interesting) narrative film. But while the facts of John Lennon’s young-adulthood might not have been especially interesting to him at the time or to an objective observer even now, the fact of what he became later in life imbues those earlier events with an ex post facto interest that would not have been warranted if he had wound up being just another guitar player from Liverpool.

Here’s what I do know: Aaron Johnson eases into the role of John Lennon as gradually as he portrays Lennon easing into the life of the person he was always meant to be. The transformation - for both Johnson and Lennon - is remarkable, from inattentive young cur who is warned that he is going nowhere, to cocksure, strutting guitar player in the mold (and uncanny likeness) of Buddy Holly. Anne-Marie Duff is ebullient as Lennon’s mother, Julia - an intoxicating synthesis of perky Reese Witherspoon and smoldering Brittany Murphy, whose very being explains so much about how John Lennon became John Lennon. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Lennon’s aunt, Mimi Smith, close to the vest, the older sister whose bearing of the cross of her younger sister is tempered by her love for her nephew. Thomas is devastating in a scene toward the end of the film in which she reveals to John much of the truth, about his mother and about how his aunt came to raise him, that had previously been kept from him.

The film casts a spell that makes John Lennon, the legend, seem almost inevitable. It does this at the same time that it demonstrates that certain tragic facts of Lennon’s childhood and adolescence left indelible marks on him that surely changed the path he would take toward the legend he would become. And if the whole thing drifts toward hagiography, well…what are you going to do? The Beatles are pretty popular, and it’s probably not much of a stretch to say that Lennon was - and is - the most popular of the Beatles. And in the end, art is what we make it. If I look up the history and find out how accurate this film is or is not, it might just break that spell. Obviously, I can’t speak for people who might have been there and who know exactly what the truth looked like (Paul McCartney, say); the film will speak to those people in entirely different ways. Is the purpose, then, to perpetuate a myth? Pay an homage? Simply entertain? I don’t know those things, either - and, once again, don’t care. I like rock and roll, I like playing guitar, and I like the Beatles. The film is chock full of all three, and long before it was over, I knew that I wanted to listen to some Beatles music on the way home. (Fortunately, I have a copy of Revolver in my car.)

Here are some more things I know: John Lennon was not born with a guitar in his hand, which means that at some point he had to pick one up for the first time and be given instruction on how to play it properly; John Lennon was not born one third of a set of triplets that included Paul McCartney and George Harrison, which means that at some point he had to meet those guys for the first time; John Peddie was born in 1975, five years after the Beatles broke up, which means that he was not there to witness either of the preceding items in this list. It is conceivable that two different people who were alive to witness those things might one day tell me the story of how those things happened; it is even possible that they would both attempt to present me with the exact same set of facts; but it is categorically impossible that they would tell two identical stories.

Every recitation of fact has an element of fiction. You know that campfire game that starts with one person whispering something in the next person’s, and so on around the circle until the person who told it first is told it again by the last person to hear it for the first time? It works because stories change in the telling. That’s how myths and legends are born. Maybe it’s a failing of human nature that we want every detail of certain people’s lives to be interesting, even though that, too, is impossible; but it also human nature to be fascinated and inspired by achievement. Maybe it wasn’t an awe-inspiring event the first time John Lennon and Paul McCartney played guitar together (and considering their ages at the time, the odds are probably good that it wasn’t - although the film does suggest that McCartney was the better player when he met Lennon). But maybe it was. We like to think that it must have been - or maybe that it should have been - given everything that came later. Once again, it’s just human nature. We like to imagine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Spirit & Place 2010 and the Indy Winter Farmers Market

In addition to National Novel Writing Month, November is notable because it contains the Spirit & Place Festival, another one of those things we say we are going to get around to every year but never do. This year’s theme is “Food for Thought,” and one of the events takes place at Irvington United Methodist Church on November 7th. The Irvington SkillShare “Feast”ival will “explore the many ways to be more self-reliant from garden to kitchen.” More details from the festival website here and at the event’s blog. Speaking of food, I ran into my mom and dad today at the final (sigh) Irvington Farmers Market of the season, and my mom mentioned that the Indy Winter Farmers Market will be in a new location this year. I looked that up on the magic Internets and discovered that they also have a blog, and that their new location is in the Maxwell building at 530 East Ohio Street, which is actually in the heart of downtown. They were somewhere up on East Street last year, and way the hell up at 25th and Central prior to that. A location on Ohio Street will make it much easier to hit the farmers market and take in a walk downtown all in one go, especially if Jackson is out of sorts. We only made it to the winter farmers market once last year - which was unfortunate, because they had a lot of great stuff, including a crèpe stand - so I’m hoping we’ll be able to get there a little more often this season, now that it’s more centrally located.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010

National Novel Writing Month is almost here again, and I’m going to take it one step further this year than I did last year: I’m going to sign up on their website and post my progress on the magic Internets for all the world to see. I don’t recall exactly how I approached it last year, but I’m pretty sure I just started writing on November 1st without a thought in my head as to what I was going to write about for the next thirty days. This year, I have a vague idea of what I want to write about, and I even have some notes and a very short outline to help me get started.

What I’m not sure about is exactly how I want to approach the writing. Part of me wants to just start writing and not look back, to play with the style of writing I’ve been experimenting with for awhile - long sentences with little punctuation that approximate a sort of stream of consciousness that focuses on moments and details that are important to the narrator without sacrificing the progression of the narrative itself. That’s what I did with the story that was published in Ichabod’s Sketchbook; it was over 800 words, with only one punctuation mark - a period at the end. It’s easy enough to keep your head wrapped around what you’re writing about when the piece is that short - but it’s much harder to maintain focus when the work gets longer.

I want it to be serious work, but it’s going to be difficult to be serious and maintain the breakneck pace necessary to get 50,000 words written in thirty days; and that’s a big part of why I just want to lay into it and see where it goes, where the inner monolgue takes me and what it tells me about a blocked writer and why he’s blocked. (If I can ever shake the monkey of the elusive first novel off my back, I have a feeling that The Blocked Writer is going to become a pretty regular theme in my writing.)

I have a working title and the idea that it’s going to be five sections of 10,000 words each and that it will be constructed similarly to Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis in that the sections are all related without there being much in the way of direct transition between them. I also plan to experiment with point of view and tense, something that I have been interested in doing for some time but for which I have never found quite the right outlet (due in part, perhaps, to the aforementioned goddamn monkey).

Anyone else out there planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month - either officially or unofficially? if so, please add a comment to this post - I’d love to hear about it. Happy writing!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Jack Goes Boating

For his directorial debut, Philip Seymour Hoffman has chosen an oddly likeable little story about life and love that is based on the stage play of the same name by Bob Glaudini (who also wrote the screenplay). The story follows Jack (Hoffman), an unkmept sort going through the awkward motions of announcing his affections for, and then courting, a woman he meets through friends. He’s a limo driver and she’s a telemarketer, and they both exist out there at the edge of life where even the hungriest lions won’t feed because the herd is just too sickly. That’s sort of the long way around saying that this is not Jersey Shore or True Blood, where all the people are very pretty but completely vapid.

The characters here are at least conceivable, even if the eclectic brush strokes are a bit too broad. Jack is a little bit rasta, even though he only listens to his reggae music on his Walkman (yes…a Walkman) and even though we only see the ratty dreads in his hair on the rare occasions when he takes off his skull cap. Connie (Amy Ryan) is even more of a mystery, a shrinking violet with intimacy issues that almost completely mask a strong, confident sexuality. They are supported, individually and as a prospective couple, by their married friends, Clyde and Lucy, who are having issues of their own.

Clyde also drives a limo (for the same company as Jack, whose uncle owns it) and Lucy is Connie’s supervisor, so there’s quite a bit of overlap between the personal and professional lives of the four individuals and the two couples; but Hoffman handles the juxtapositioning pretty well, employing mostly-effective cross-cuts and the occasional montage. The cross-cuts now and then splice together scenes that are maybe a little too brief, as though Hoffman is more concerned with relaying particular bits of information rather than fully setting a scene; but ultimately this is just mildly distracting rather than deleterious. The montage sequences are generally more effective, as they conform more to the languid (but not turgid) pace of the story - and are almost always shot through with ethereal, contemplative songs on the soundtrack, a collection of hipster tracks in the spirit of Zach Braff’s selections for Garden State.

The story introduces a worm of discontent in the form of a chef who teaches Jack how to cook so he can make dinner for Connie. The chef is also Lucy’s former lover, and though Clyde introduces the chef to Jack in part as a way to show that he and Lucy have worked out the issues of her infidelity, it becomes clear that Clyde is not as right with it in his heart as he claims to be. Hoffman does a pretty good job of weaving this subplot into the story, allowing it to help Jack while it brings down Clyde and Lucy. Much of the film takes place in the compact interior of Clyde and Lucy’s apartment, and the small space helps to focus our attention on how the little things, once they get into your head, can bounce around in there and make you crazy.

All of this leads to the third-act dinner party, an occasion set up so that Jack can cook for Connie, who claims that no one has ever cooked for her before. The film jumps the rails here in a few places, but Hoffman mostly keeps it under control; and whatever slips there are do not doom the project. Ultimately, it’s an awkward but sweet story that mostly works, despite a few slips and the occasionally obvious hand of a first-time director. Having said that, though, it must also be said that Hoffman shows tremendous potential for weaving storylines together. Future projects are sure to be of interest.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Deep Thoughts #43

If enough lazy old people complain about PARK(ing) Day - turning parking meters temporarily into little parks - will that be cancelled, too?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Deep Thoughts #42 - Special Topical Florida Retard Edition

Will I put any of our troops in danger if I put my copy of the Holy Qur’an in my backpack and take it with me while I’m out and about today?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

It’s going to be hard for me to say anything objective about this film because I love the band so much, but here we go. As far as a basic primer on the band, it’s a really good film. For the Rush geeks, it’s still a pretty good film, but you probably won’t learn a whole lot. I learned two things I did not previously know, and which stuck with me after I was done watching the movie. First - what Neil Peart’s voice sounds like. I don’t know that I had ever heard it before. Second - Neil Peart really enjoys playing “Tom Sawyer” on tour. Not only did I not know this, it also surprised me.

He says that he likes to play it because it’s so difficult - and that he gets a real sense of achievement when he plays it right. I had gotten the impression, as the years have gone by, that “Tom Sawyer” was still on the set list more out of a sense of duty to the fans than because of any desire by the band to play the song. It was the opening number at the last couple of shows I saw, and I had started to assume that they played it first to get it out of the way, so that Neil could get to it while he was fresh. Again, doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t want to play the song - that was just the impression I got, that they kept it on the set list but dispensed with it right away because of the taxing drum part.

That was pretty much all I learned. The film is basically a chronological overview of the band, the boys, and the music. You get the early days, then how prog nearly ended them, then how 2112 saved them, then how they finally got all the prog out of their collective system with Hemispheres, then the eighties and how keyboards nearly ended them, then the nineties and a surprisingly frank treatment of the double tragedy that befell Neil’s family, and then the comeback that leads up to today. There was very little on the recording process - particularly how grueling it was to make both Grace Under Pressure and Counterparts - and surprisingly little on how much of a problem keyboards became for Alex during the period between Signals and Hold Your Fire.

(Actually, there was one other thing I learned - that original drummer John Rutsey was basically fired from the band because he wasn’t healthy enough to go on tour. I had always been under the impression that he had made the decision to leave the band on his own - because of his health - once it became clear that they were going to be a big thing and not just a Toronto club band.)

That said, just because there’s not a lot of new information doesn’t mean that it wasn’t enjoyable. It was especially enjoyable to hear the things that Neil had to say, because he’s not nearly as outgoing and locquacious as the other two. I’ve read a couple of the books he’s written, and some things he’s posted online, but it’s a whole different thing to hear someone talk extemperaneously about himself (and it was pretty clear that he wasn’t particularly comfortable doing it). A second disc has deleted/extended scenes and a handful of live performances that run the gamut from 1974 all the way up to the Snake & Arrows tour. My favorite of these was “Entre Nous” from the most recent tour - not only one of my favorite Rush songs, but also one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen live. “YYZ” from the same tour was also excellent - particularly Alex’s guitar work.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Deep Thoughts #41

So-called Christians plan to burn the Qur’an on the 9/11 anniversary. We never do anything in this country to make people want to attack us.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Turn Off Fox Noise

So I got this e-mail from MoveOn, about their new campaign to get people to stop playing Fox News in public places. I’m far too pessimistic to think that the campaign will get through to many people, but I support anything that has the goal of getting more Republicans and conservatives to shut up - even if it’s just the symbolic shutting up of not playing a particular news channel in a particular setting. Plus, if you sign up, you get a free sticker! Click the link above and help exterminate conservative thinking for good.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ichabod's Sketchbook II

For some reason, I managed to let this one get past me without mentioning it. The launch party for the second issue of Ichabod’s Sketchbook took place at Bookmamas last Saturday evening, and the second issue of the journal is now available for purchase, both live and in person at Bookmamas and also by way of the Bookmamas website on the magic Internets. They are also accepting submissions for the next volume of the journal. Submission guidelines can be found here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

That's What I Love Aboutcha - Your Attention to Detail!

They’ve got machines for just about everything now, and some of those machines even make sense. Those bill counting machines that they have at banks and other places that process lots of cash? Yeah, that’s a good idea. You can run a stack of bills through the machine to double-check your count, and it’s handy for streamlining the process of strapping bills into packs of a certain value. This being America, of course, what they’re mostly good for is convincing us that we don’t need to bother with counting by hand anymore. There’s a machine for that! I’m sure the banks even have the really fancy ones that can identify the denomination and stop counting if they spy a five in amongst the singles, or whatever. I’m sure it saves money and increases shareholder value. It also lets things like this get through:

This bill came to us today in a change order that we got from the bank. I both received the change order from the armored car guy and unwrapped the strap of bills later in the day, which is how I know that this particular note came directly from the bank. Aren’t banks supposed to retire currency that is no longer fit for ciruclation? Many years ago, my brother’s car broke down on the highway and he had to pull over and walk to a gas station to call for a tow and a ride. Along the way, he spied a piece of money on the ground. It was a one hundred dollar bill, although it looked to him like it wasn’t quite cut to the right size, like maybe it was counterfeit. He took it to the bank and they verified its authenticity - and then they replaced it with a more normal looking note. His was a complete bill going in - how much do you figure is missing out of this one? That’s a solid chunk that seems to have been removed by means of a flame of some sort. Makes you feel good to know that the banks are taking care of the money, don’t it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deep Thoughts #40 - Special Topical Useless Buildings Edition, Part 2

We could demolish it after the stroke takes the Beck-ites to the tropic isle of Stupid-lon, but it would SO be worth the construction costs.

Deep Thoughts #39 - Special Topical Useless Buildings Edition, Part 1

If we built a mosque ON ground zero, would all the racist Americans have a massive, collective stroke and die, making we the people smarter?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Winter's Bone

This is the movie I get to be indignant about when Oscar season rolls around. It’s going to round up some awards from the critics circles when those start coming out, and it may well bring in a couple of token Oscar nominations; but it’s not going to win anything, and some watered-down, easily swallowed pill passing for art - or maybe not even that - will win the big awards. (I thought it had even helped me come to a better understanding of what the concept of “art film” really means to me; but it turned out, when I sat down to write about it, that it still wasn’t all that clear, and that the solid line of reasoning that was in my head on the drive home didn’t actually look all that good when I got it down on paper. But even having said all of that, I know for sure that this is a “real” art film, even if I can’t tell you exactly what I think that means.)

It’s the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence, in a towering, star-making performance), a Missouri teenager who has to find her fugitive father or face losing the house where she lives and takes care of her two younger siblings and her mentally ill mother. Pops put up the house and their land as his bond in order to make bail after his most recent arrest for cooking meth in the Missouri Ozarks. When the law turns up on Ree's doorstep one day, she finds out about the bond, and that her father has disappeared, only days before he is due to appear in court. She doesn’t panic…doesn’t flip out and start screaming at the cop; instead, she just looks him squarely in the eye and says, “I’ll find him.”

Ree is neither prideful nor arrogant in making such a statement. She is simply responding to the latest crisis in the most pragmatic way, identifiying the solution to a problem and saying that she will take care of it - not because she wants to or because she thinks she can or because she knows how she’s going to do it, but because it is the only for her to do. Roger Ebert notes quite astutely in his review that it’s something of a wonder that a girl as seemingly well-adjusted, resourceful, intelligent, and drug-free could have survived seventeen years in this place and not been brought down by any of the myriad things that have ravaged the community where Ree lives.

Not a soul in this movie is what you would call cosmopolitan, and nearly all of them are moving from one bad decision to the next mostly because they don’t know any other way. Drugs are rampant, and there isn’t really any law. Sure, there’s a county sheriff, but reputation and honor carry more weight than a badge in this neck of the woods. For these people, life isn’t about being first in line to get the new iPhone - it’s about basic survival. It’s about learning to shoot a rifle at the age of six so that when you have to hunt squirrel in order to have something to eat for dinner, you can. After they skin the squirrels, they disembowel them and Ree’s little brother Sonny asks if they are going to eat the innards. Her answer is simple, honest, and - most of all - telling: “Not yet.”

Most of the other characters are frightening people, their reputations framed in the stories told about them by others. Every little thing left unsaid about each character allows the suspense to build organically as Ree’s search for her father drags her slowly into a web of secrets that everyone knows but no one will talk about. Characters described as dangerous are often not shown on screen until many scenes later, their power demonstrated through proxies - in many ways, not unlike the manner in which the Mafia operates. Here, though, there’s no kicking up to the captain, who kicks up to the boss; and there are no fur coats or diamond rings or extravagant dinner parties. Here, you keep a secret or you disappear.

Jennifer Lawrence is the one who will draw the most attention for this movie - both because she does a great job and because not nearly enough people are interested in writing for there to be much of a to-do over the adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel here; and that’s too bad, because the adaptation is remarkable. The actors carry off the sometimes spare dialogue extremely well, which is to their credit as much as to that of the screenwriter; but there is so much about so many of the characters that is left unsaid that I kept thinking, throughout the film, that I absolutely had to read the novel the very minute the credits rolled and the house lights came up.

That hasn’t happened yet, though; and I still don’t know for sure how I would explain or define what a “real” art film is, nor whether or not it is worthwhile even to attempt to define the parameters of a “real” art film. That’s an essay for another time, if I can ever manage to write it. For now, I suppose it’s enough to say that Winter’s Bone is an incredible achievement - a nearly perfect film, and better than most of the other films I’ve watched this year combined. (In fact, after checking a list of films released in New York this year, it seems that I have seen a total of nine of them; and even the ones I had previously thought that I really liked paled in comparison to this one.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Red Eye Café

So the Red Eye Café is back in business, this time in Broad Ripple inside a former Pizza King about half a mile east of the village on Broad Ripple Avenue. It was previously located downtown, at the corner of Meridian and Louisiana, next to Union Station. I can’t say for sure why it closed up shop downtown and moved north, but I have some guesses. (Oddly, perhaps, I don’t think the recession had anything to do with it.) It opened quite a few years ago as a 24-hour diner-style place that served everything on the menu all day - both breakfast and dinner items. I heard that David Letterman even plugged it once on the Late Show.

For awhile, it was pretty solid - the food was excellent, and the service was somewhere between decent and unremarkable; but somewhere along the line, the service went to hell. The food remained excellent - particularly the omelettes and the burgers, which were made with chopped onion and garlic rolled into every hand-formed patty - but the service got way slow, and it also got to the point that they would forget something or get something wrong literally every time we ate there. Eventually they changed their hours and started closing Sunday through Thursday nights, though they remained 24-hours over the weekend. They closed down for good well over a year ago.

And now they’re back. The posted hours indicate that they are trying the 24-hour model again, except for Sundays, when they close early (like most non-chain places in this goofy Bible Belt backwater) at 2pm. They’re far enough outside the village that the weekend drunks would not automatically stumble into the place after the bars close, the way they stumble into La Bamba (or probably some other places too, but back when I used to stumble out of Landsharks or the Casba at three in the morning, La Bamba was the only choice) - so I don’t imagine that this 24-hour thing is going to last very long, especially since, on entering the place, you see at once what the big difference is between this one and the downtown version.

They have eliminated table service, which automatically elevates payroll to the top of the list of potential reasons that they vacated the downtown space. The dining area is also smaller (but more compact), which would indicate that rent was an issue downtown, too. You order at the counter from a one-sided paper menu that has some of the same offerings as the previous restaurant, though the focus here is on those omelettes and burgers - everything else has either been reduced or eliminated.

They brought the food out pretty quickly, but it’s hard to say if this was because they’ve gotten better at it or because we were the only ones there who were eating. We got there at 1:30, just half an hour before closing time, and the only other person in the restaurant had finished his meal and was taking advantage of what I assume is their free wi-fi. The downtown location had free wi-fi, too - you could even see the Airport base station hanging on the wall next to the soda machine.

Alas…it just ain’t the same. The veggie omelette (onion, green pepper, tomato, mushroom, topped with nearly melted cheese) was a little bit bland, and gooey in the middle. This may have been the tomato and onion giving off their water, but it tasted suspiciously like egg that wasn’t all the way cooked. Amy seemed pleased with her Denver omelette, though both of us got home fries (the only accompaniment to the omelettes) that looked like they had been cooked in a pan or on a griddle that had not been cleared of the carbon scoring from previous cookings. The potatoes themselves were not burned, but there were burned bits on the plate. At the previous location, you got hash browns and toast with your omelette - and the omelette was far more substantial than what is on offer now.

They seem to be most focused on the omelettes now; and while not necessarily a bad thing, it also means that they are lining themselves up to compete directly with Petite Chou and Three Sisters for the omelette crowd. And friends and neighbors, that’s just crazy talk. Petite Chou is a little expensive for my taste, and Three Sisters can be slow - accurate, and super friendly, but sometimes slow - but it’s well worth it at either place, because the omelettes are amazing. I prefer Three Sisters because it’s a bit less expensive and the rickety old house it’s situated in ratchets the atmosphere up to eleven. Either way, Red Eye Café, in its current incarnation, doesn’t even come close to competing with either of those other two places.

1904 Broad Ripple Avenue

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

I’m vaguely tempted to say that this film might be just a little too affected, that it has a sort of surgical neatness to it that makes nearly every scene look like an advertisement for Pottery Barn or Food Network. The only dirt in the film seems to hover around Mark Ruffalo, a sperm donor-cum-father figure who could well be reprising his role in You Can Count On Me, if you take that character and cross him with Pig Pen from Peanuts and then add a strong hippie commune-slash-farmers market sensibility.

As a younger man, Paul was a sperm donor, for “sixty bucks a pop,” as he puts it. When asked why he donated, his reasons are, in order: because it was more fun than donating blood, and to help people who could not have kids of their own. He says the first because it’s true, and the second because he feels a certain pressure to give his actions - which resulted in two kids (one of whom poses the question) who want to contact him when they reach their late teens - a sense of nobility and purpose. He’s not quite honest enough to say that it was because he was broke, though we get the sense that this would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter what his motivation was, because the story isn’t really about him. It involves him, but it is not about him. Joni and Laser are the two children that his sperm produced. Their moms are Jules and Nic, and the kids are technically half-brother and half-sister, since both Jules and Nic had one child apiece. But the couple raised both kids, and there was no contact with the sperm donor. Until now.

Laser wants to meet his dad because the only male influence on his life is his loser friend Clay and Clay’s loser father. For fun, Clay likes to skateboard off of rooftops and urinate on dogs. Laser understands, in a vague way, that his friend is a loser; but he doesn’t have any non-loser males with which to compare Clay, so he just sort of limps along on his own skateboard until Joni acquires her majority - and with it, the legal right to seek contact with cup-filler who sired her. And if she is only acting as Laser’s proxy when she initiates contact with Paul…well, that doesn’t really matter either. The story isn’t about their motivation for contacting their father.

In fact, the story isn’t really about anything at all. The characters are mostly fully formed as they are introduced, and none of them stray too far from their center as the film progresses. Paul is remarkably laid back for a restaurant owner and organic produce farmer, so it seems natural when he barely stumbles upon finding out that he is a father. He glides effortlessly into the space between responsible father and fun uncle, aided in no small part by Ruffalo’s boyish, “aw, shucks” demeanor. Joni and Laser respond to him more because he is fresh and new to them than because he is the other half of the biological cocktail that resulted in their being. After all, they already have a dad.

Sort of. One of their moms, Nic (Annette Bening), has a lot of stereotypical, though outdated, dad traits - she is the family breadwinner, she is stern and disapproving of a lot of things, she drinks too much. She married the cool, hippie, chronically unemployed longhair - Jules (Julianne Moore) - because Jules flirted with Nic when they first met, which was in some sort of supervisor-subordinate or teacher-student role some years ago. (I admit to journalistic ineptitude here both for having failed to take notes during the film and for having waited over a week to finish writing about it - a week ago, I probably would have remembered the circumstances of their meeting.) Actually, now I think about it, it may have been a doctor-patient situation.

So…opposites attract, strong women raise children, dad is absent but then shows up, and eventually there is drama. Director Lisa Cholodenko isn’t breaking any new ground here, but the point is not to break new ground. The point is to give interesting (if not, perhaps, original) characters a story, insert a conflict, and see how they deal with it - to watch the characters be the characters, to watch them change, to see life through someone else’s eyes. What makes this kind of film work is how the actors act, without the aid of computer-generated special effects, of suspense generated by negative space or a jarring score, or even of the kind of snappy writing that helped turn the trick for films like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine (or Away We Go, if you want to throw a bone to the distributor of The Kids Are All Right).

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo are more than equal to the task. They have, between the three of them, simply a goofy aggregate of talent (not to mention seven Oscar nominations). I said at the top that I was tempted to say that this film has an overabundance of neatness to it, and I still think that’s true, even a week later; but that neatness allows the audience to see the subtlety of the acting at work, and that’s where this film really hits the mark.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sign a Petition - NPR on the Front Row

Apparently the people who decide who gets seated where in the White House press room will soon be making a decision as to who gets the seat vacated by Helen Thomas. The contenders are NPR, Fox News, and Bloomberg News. MoveOn has a petition for folks to sign if they support giving the seat to NPR. For anyone who might be interested, click here to sign the petition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Deep Thoughts #38

This could be socialism - or just people helping people. Like in, you know, society. The right persecutes that which they do not understand.

Deep Thoughts #37

Would Obama have to refudiate his oath of office to funnel money to the Palin campaign? If she’s nominated, then he wins re-election easily.

Deep Thoughts #36 - Special Topical Cuyahoga River Edition

In memory of James Gammon, I am briefly re-naming the blog to honor the business Charlie Donovan poached when he hired Lou Brown as manager.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Am Love

I don’t think anyone in my family is Italian. My dad’s side of the family is from North Jersey, where there are certainly plenty of Italians, but Peddie is a Scottish name. Dad must have had quite a lot of exposure to Italian culture growing up, though, because the influence of that culture is readily apparent in his speech and in the foods he likes to eat. That Y chromosome hasn’t mutated much in me, because I’m pretty much an idiot for pasta and mob stories. I Am Love is neither pasta nor a love story, but it is a movie that was shot on location in various parts of Italy; and it stars Tilda Swinton, for whom I am also an idiot.

This would probably still have been a fine movie if they had taken away everything but the sweeping cinematography of the shooting locations - Dolceacqua, Milan, and San Remo - but there was also the excellent starring role for Swinton, who played Emma Recchi, the almost stir crazy Russian wife of an Italian textiles heir. The story is pretty standard - bored older woman falls for passionate, creative younger man while cold, distant husband is out of town; but it’s freshened up a bit by the young lover’s occupation (Antonio is a chef, and apparently a pretty good one) and how he seduces her with his food as well as his body, and by a nostalgia for her home country that begins to emerge in Emma. It’s also somewhat refreshing that neither Emma nor Antonio are drop dead gorgeous, and that the sex isn’t the only attraction.

There are love scenes, of course, but there are also cooking scenes and outdoors scenes - lots of outdoors scenes, in those beautiful Italian locations - and a real sense from Swinton’s Emma of just how much of herself she has suppressed over the course of her marriage to a man with whom she clearly is no longer in love. A subplot concerning Emma’s daughter Elisabetta, who reveals her homosexuality to her mother but says that she will not tell her father because he would not understand, reinforces the idea that women sacrifice their happiness when they feel compelled to suppress their true selves in order to maintain the stability of the stultified, patriarchal family structure. (It’s also a backhanded slap at “traditional,” conservative thinking - not that many of those people are going to see this movie, since it ain’t in American.)

The only problem with the film - and it’s a not insubstantial one - is the injection of the primary conflict that drives the story to its climax. I had read in several places that this film is a melodrama, and that was concerning because melodrama usually doesn’t work very well for me; but I didn’t detect much in the way of melodrama through the first two acts. It turns out that the reason for this is because they were saving it all for the third act. The primary conflict in question, of course, is the revelation of Emma’s infidelity; and a couple of established plot points combine to make the actual reveal pretty effective. It’s from that point to the end that the film starts to go off the rails. Swinton mostly holds it together, though, and there’s a very effective scene, with her daughter, that mitigates much of the almost slapstick feel of the end of the film.

And then it ends perfectly - at least for me. It doesn’t happen very often that I get to a point in a film where I’m thinking, “End now, end now, end now,” and then it does, in fact, end. This one did, though, and cut right to the credits. The lights came up, and most of the other people in the auditorium started muttering with surprise. I heard one person say, “I guess that’s it, huh?” There’s a tiny little quasi-scene, at the beginning of the credits, which really didn’t work, and sort of undermined that excellent ending; but it wasn’t really enough to take away from how good the film was overall. It is, however, along with the high melodrama in the third act and the clumsy climax, enough to keep the film seated in the very good, but not great, section - but just barely.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Solitary Man

This is the story of Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), a former car dealer - indeed, New York City’s “honest car dealer,” whatever the hell that means - whose life seems to be descending through Dante’s circles of hell on a lubed luge. He’s lost his dealership and his wife (played by Susan Sarandon), most of the respect he has built up over the years in the business and social communities in New York, and will in short order be losing his girlfriend and his apartment. Is it posible that he could even wind up serving milkshakes at the neighborhood deli in the town where he went to college?

Yes! It is possible! How? How, you say, could such a thing be possible for someone who had so much, who was so loved and respected and successful? He was on TV for crying out loud! People knew him because he was the car dealer whose commercials they saw on TV. (That’s how a lot of people relate to local attorney Ken Nunn, but whatever.) The answer to the question comes at the end of the film, and there’s a hint at the beginning; but mostly what we have is a series of scenes in which Ben Kalmen makes bad decision after bad decision, along the way using his salesman’s pitch almost as though he wants to justify being an unemployed salesman.

Technically, this is not bad. Douglas plays it well, almost making you believe that a dude who’s pushing seventy can still seduce the barely-legal set. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of the cast exists only with respect to Ben’s character. Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, and Danny DeVito are mostly wasted as Ben’s ex-wife, current girlfriend, and friend from college whom he hasn’t seen in thirty years. His wife and friend are more sympathetic to him than the girlfriend, which serves to support one of the film’s overall themes, that the comfort and love you build up over time in a relationship with a person (whether lover or only friend, and regardless of gender) is far more important, far more durable, than retaining in perpetuity the ability always to hit it with the hottest girl in any room.

This is the lesson that Ben needs to learn, the knowledge that can help him start to build a baseline of stability in his life. Most of the film is concerned with prodding him gently in this direction, with help along the way from a surprisingly patient array of people who always manage to be there to pick him up when he stumbles. Two of the less wasted characters are his daughter (Jenna Fischer) and a college kid he manages awkwardly to befriend (Jesse Eisenberg). They share more scenes with Ben than the other characters, and see a broader range of the Ben Kalmen experience - which means that they are both charmed and taken advantage of by him. That they remain supportive through to the end says something both about which is the real Ben Kalmen and about how well Michael Douglas has been able to sell what should be a thoroughly unlikable character.

The glaring problem is that there is no real causal relationship between the downward spiral and what got him going on it in the first place - at least, not until the end. Once that explanation comes, it is surprisingly satisfying (particularly given the somewhat cloying way in which it is rendered), but I’m not sure that it’s enough finally to anchor a film that has drifted somewhat aimlessly for so long. This type of cynical, world-weary character seems to cry out for a voice-over monologue, a device that would give the audience some sense of the true nature of this character, and what he thinks about his life, how he understands the things he’s doing. Ben Kalmen spends plenty of time in this film waxing philosophical (and giving advice that he almost never realizes is going to wind up becoming bad advice), but you almost always get the feeling that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Having said all that, the ending does work reasonably well, even if it is a little too cute and cloying; the final shot is a little bit clumsy and not entirely convincing; and the result is a film that doesn’t quite achieve what it has set out to achieve. Directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien have a good go at it, though; and they certainly give Michael Douglas plenty of room to operate, but a couple of major flaws in the script is too much for even his considerable talents to overcome.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Walking the New Leg of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

The newest completed leg of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail runs from the intersection of Park Avenue, Mass Ave, and Walnut Street on the east (in the Chatham Arch section, near Yats) to the intersection of Indiana Avenue, St. Clair Street, and Paca Street on the west (just west of Ransom Place, near IUPUI). It was officially opened on June 18th with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and a section of it - the Glick Peace Walk along Walnut Street between Meridian and Capitol - was officially opened earlier this week.

Amy, Jackson, and I walked the length of the new section this past Monday evening (June 28th), after I got home from work, and found it to be an excellent little walk. The east end of it, in the Chatham Arch section of downtown, has sort of an old world feel to it - like you might find Lady and the Tramp sharing a plate of pasta in an alley somewhere along the line. From the intersection of Park/Mass/Walnut, you follow Walnut Street west for a couple of blocks, to New Jersey Street. Then the trail drops down a block to North Street, which goes for three blocks to Pennsylvania Street at the southeast corner of the American Legion Mall.

This part isn’t “finished” like the rest of the cultural trail, but the entire section of sidewalk bounding the mall is considered part of the cultural trail - and then the finished section picks up again at Walnut Street west of Meridian. The next two blocks consist of the Glick Peace Walk, which honors various historical Americans with descriptions of their lives and sculptures depicting their faces. Then Walnut Street continues west until it conveys you across a wooden bridge over the Canal Walk and then along a curved path past the Canal Court apartments and around a little bend that puts you out on St. Clair Street.

Facing west on Walnut Street at Capitol Avenue

As I may have mentioned before, I'm not a professional photographer, and I was struggling with the sun while taking most of the pictures during this walk. The shot below was interesting because of the way that the yield sign caught and reflected the light from the camera's flash. The sign itself is not actually illuminated.

Bridge over the canal, seen from Walnut Street

View of the Canal Walk from the Cultural Trail

View of the Canal Walk from the Cultural Trail

Then you cross West Street and follow St. Clair a bit further, along the western edge of the Ransom Place neighborhood, until you come to Indiana Avenue, where the trail does a bit of a switchback southeast along Indiana Avenue and comes to what, for now, is the end of the line. According to the trail map, that western end will eventually follow Blackford Street south through part of the IUPUI campus and White River State Park, almost to Washington Street. The eastern end will eventually work its way up Mass Ave toward 10th Street, where it will hook up with Monon Trail.

Facing southeast along Indiana Avenue

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mother and Child

Almost nothing of what annoyed me about this movie actually makes it a bad movie; indeed, it may even be that the things I find irksome about the film are things that others will find endearing about it, just as someone else might well find admirable the stylistic…uh, quirks, I guess…that I thought were, I don’t know, distracting at best and downright annoying at worst. And in a way it’s sort of a shame, because the story begins rather well. The script is dry and somewhat leaden, and yet the characters begin to bloom almost at once, which says more about the acting talents of Naomi Watts and Annette Bening than it does about the abilities of Rodrigo García as screenwriter and director.

Karen (Bening) is a middle-aged woman who got pregnant when she was fourteen and gave the baby up for adoption. Elizabeth (Watts) is the daughter. The two have never met and have not the slightest inkling of the other, apart from knowing that there is, in fact, an other. Karen is so unwilling to let other people get close to her that she almost comes across as comical. Elizabeth is a lawyer with her eyes on the prize and the ruthless nature of someone who is willing to say or do anything to get what she wants.

Paul (Samuel L. Jackson) is Elizabeth’s boss, the owner of what is, to all appearances, a rather tony law firm in Los Angeles. He should probably know better than to sleep with one of his attorneys, but to say that he goes to bed with her almost effortlessly less than a week after hiring her isn’t even saying it the right way. It would be more accurate to say that once she decides she wants to fuck him, he gives in without a fight.

Paco (Jimmy Smits) is a co-worker of Karen’s who is obviously - though quite inexplicably - smitten with Karen from the moment they are first shown together onscreen. Their interactions are uncomfortable at first, but eventually she allows herself to hold his hand, and then tell him about the daughter she gave up and how her entire identity now is wrapped up in regretting her decision to give her daughter up for adoption; and then in the next scene Karen and Paco are getting married.


The young black couple going through the process to adopt a baby because they can’t have kids of their own seems like a gratuitous subplot at first - and yet oddly provides one of the few attempts for the film to wrestle with the meaty philosophical issues that should (but don’t) provide the backbone of the story. During their interview with the woman who will give up her baby, the prospective adopting mother admits, under direct examination, that she does not believe in God. The same topic is later raised (and allowed, as here, to just sort of fade away) during a picnic with Paco, Karen, and Paco’s daughter from a previous marriage. I guess we could assume that García meant to do more in these scenes than identify a few token non-believers, but I can’t really imagine that anyone would buy that argument.

Both Bening and Watts play their characters cold and detached, in age-appropriate ways. Karen’s harsh manner toward the daughter of the woman who is both her housekeeper and her ailing mother’s caregiver demonstrates both the awkwardness of someone who has never raised children and a latent resentment of the fact that this woman has a child in the first place. There is little subtlety in this misplaced expression of the guilt Karen still feels at having abandoned her daugher thirty-seven years ago; and if it’s not obvious enough for you, the connective tissue of the scenes when Karen, in voice-over, writes letters to a daughter she has never known should help to wiggle any misaligned blocks into a Tetris.

There are Catholic overtones to the film, though they mostly serve to focus your attention on García’s rather heavy-handed point about God’s plan. I imagine there is more than one Catholic adoption agency in Los Angeles, but for the sake of convenience - a crutch of religion, but whatever - all of the characters whose lives are wrapped up in adoption go to the same one. That makes it easier for all of the pieces to fall together at the end. The film ends happily, of course, though there is a token tragic moment. After all, there would not be Christianity without a carpenter nailed to a wooden cross (ain’t that ironic?) - also without Roman emperor Constantine but again, whatever.

I don’t really want to give away the tragic part, but I can’t say much more about the story without doing so. The story is constructed as a fable, along the lines of the theme that everything fits into God’s plan. Everything works out in the end, except for the parts that don’t work out because they would put an extra wrinkle into the resolution - and might have forced García to come up with a plot point that could not be easily glossed over and swept away by saying it’s all in God’s plan.

The inherent danger in using the God’s plan theme to tell a story is that you can wind up using it as a get out of jail free card in order not to have to deal with issues that would come up in the non-fanciful world. The biggest instance of that problem in this film comes early, when Elizabeth beds Paul. I suppose it’s possible that no one else in the firm ever notices anything even slightly inappropriate going on between them; but I can’t say that for sure, because we never see any of their life at work apart from brief conversations in her office. Most of the action in the film takes place in houses or apartments, closed spaces where García can exert tremendous control over what takes place. Outside influence, of course, would damage the very thin veneer of authenticity that encloses his utopian City of Angels.

Indeed, one of the annoying things about the film overall is how brief most of the scenes are - you get the part you’re supposed to see, and then we go on to the next scene. It’s almost as though the characters exist in just enough of a vacuum for García to convince himself that his story is plausible. Suspension of disbelief, however, is for things like ten-foot-tall blue people, cars that transform into robots, and Jim Carrey characters who don’t hurt themselves; for a human drama to work, the characters and situations must be authentic. That is not the case here - at least, not after the first act. In order for this story to work, you have to believe that God works in mysterious ways. Otherwise, it’s just an implausible mess.

It’s also insulting for García to “out” two of his characters as non-believers and then not give their belief any kind of attention or relevance in the story - as though he mentioned them just as tokens. Then again, he’s peppered the film with an almost equal mix of whites, blacks, and Latinos, so it’s entirely possible that he’s playing the quota game with faith, too. It would fit in with the overall theme of this Hallmark Hall of Fame hunk of drivel.

Having said all that, however, I should also say that the film is not without its nice moments. Much of the characterization in the first act works very well, particularly in Elizabeth. Watts is so good in this first third that I found myself thinking Oscar nomination, at least for a bit. Once the film goes off the rails, though, it’s hard to believe that the Academy would sully its good name by considering this film for anything. Even the friggin’ score is derivative. If composer Ed Shearmur wasn’t listening to the score from Revolutionary Road over and over again while coming up with this, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Deep Thoughts #35

You disapprove of how Obama handles the oil spill AND you bitch that government interferes. What lives in your head where a brain should be?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Parthenon Gyros

We almost had lunch at Puccini’s today - almost. We actually parked in front of the Puccini’s at 86th and Ditch and got out of the car…and then Amy looked across the way and saw something called Parthenon Gyros and wanted to go take a look. The menu posted on the door looked like pretty much every other menu posted on the doors of who knows how many Greek/Mediterranean restaurants in the city. It seemed to be fairly reasonably priced, which is generally my only complaint about Greek restaurants here in the city, so we went in and sat down.

The whole restaurant is one long dining room with blue walls and exposed ductwork painted black, with a kitchen area in the back and restrooms that you have to pass through the kitchen area to access. There were two other parties in the restaurant when we arrived, and they were already eating. We were seated quickly and had our orders taken quickly - but the food was a long time coming. While we waited on a gyros plate for Amy, a Parthenon souvlaki for me, and chicken fingers for Jackson, four - count ‘em, four - different takeout orders were placed and filled, the customers for those orders in the doors and back out again while we waited on our food.

That might not have been an issue if the food was awesome - or even if it was just very good; but it was neither. The lunch portion of the Parthenon souvlaki is one skewer of grilled lamb and vegetables, over a bed of rice. There was plenty of neon yellow rice, though it was undercooked and had no apparent flavor once you factored out the parsley with which it was dusted; and the lone skewer of lamb was unimpressive. It was reasonably flavorful, but the chunks of lamb were cut unevenly and were therefore cooked unevenly - but even the thickest chunks passed for well done, and the smaller ones were dry.

Amy’s gyros, on the other hand, would have fed her twice; and there was even some left after I sampled some of what she did not finish. They tasted like gyros, but weren’t anything to write home about. Both dishes were served with pita bread that had clearly been microwaved seconds before being served and with their allegedly “famous” cucumber sauce - which might have been more than just chopped cucumbers and sour cream, but probably wasn’t. One dish was $7.50 and the other was $7.75 - I don’t recall which - but the difference in portion size between her massive plate of gyros and my souvlaki was astonishing.

When we got the check, I asked if this restaurant was in any way related to a restaurant called Parthenon that used to do business in Broad Ripple - and I was told that they were both run by the same family. The one in Broad Ripple, which formerly occupied the upstairs part of the space where the Casba lives, closed long ago. We ate there once, and I remember thinking the portions were small, but that the food was quite good. I don’t recall the service. Price and portion size were the problems with the Broad Ripple location, and they’ve solved the price issue at the new joint; but they’ve got a whole new problem now, with the service.

I almost always find something about a restaurant that would make me want to go back a second time - regardless of how bad the first experience was - because I generally don’t think it’s fair to judge a place based on a single experience, whether good or bad; but there was nothing on the menu that I thought I’d like to come back for, and we hardly ever get out to the Greenbriar area. I get the feeling that this place won’t be open long enough for me to give them another go, even if I wanted to do so.

1486 West 86th Street