Saturday, December 30, 2006

Literary Criticism of Pan's Labryinth

I dedicate this entry to Jeremy Roby for his tips on writing movie reviews

Pan's Labryinth has gotten billed as "a fairy tale for adults." The billing does the movie justice. Do not take kids to this movie. It doesn't have excessive gore or nudity in it, but it has a good level of heartless violence, a scary demon-like creature that could cause nightmares and the level of depression-inducing content ranks quite high. The movie comes off as a theatrical masterpiece, though.

Set at a 1944 command garrison in Franco-controlled Spain, the movie tells the story of a young girl who has the soul of the Underworld Faerie (I'm throwing in the Faerie part) Princess and her attempt to prove that she has it. It also involves her desire to get away from the command garrison and her cruel new stepfather. Overall, it proves quite complex compared to most cinematic fare, with the multiple story lines that deftly and skillfully interweave, making political statements (which, from light Wikipedia research, probably proves quite intense for the Spanish), exploring the human condition, providing a variety of believably compelling horrible and beautiful characters and creating a relatively simple fantastic world.

The most striking aspect in the film comes from juxtaposing the fantastic world and the harsh mimetic real world. Brutalness exists in the fantastic world, but it comes in a different form. In the real world, it comes from humanity; while in the fantastic, from the animal and demonic. For some reason, as much as the animal and demonic may strike fear in the audience, it feels different than human cruelty and harshness. The animal and demonic brutality has an intuitive justice and order. Human brutality, however, destroys any kind of sense and meaning.

Humans have the capacity for great good but also for great evil. The girl's stepfather provides an extreme example of evil and harshness, killing and torturing near indiscriminately for Franco's nation and self glory. He has been stationed at the garrison to flush out the guerillas in the woods and destroy them, with no concern as to their humanity. Whatever it takes, he will do it. They are seen as a complication to the unification of Spain, in which citizens will receive their justified due, as long as they agree to what they are justified. And in the eyes of this captain and the leaders of Spain, their justification due could be death or torture, all for the "unification" of Spain.

Then we have Ofelia, the Underworld Faerie Princess. She embodies innocence. A powerless child in the world of power struggling, enchanted by fantastic fairy tales and looking for a simple, loving environment of support and care. In the mimetic real world parts of the movie, she becomes vulnerable to something that Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings says. I can't remember it exactly, but it goes along the lines of those who don't know how to use the sword can still die by the sword. Ofelia, however, doesn't seek power or glory, but simply safety and escape from the harsh human world, in which humanity has never seen an end. At the least, some humans have always seeked power, taking it at whatever cost and projecting it onto their legacy. Becoming the Underworld Faerie Princess will become her escape from the horrible world of humanity.

These two stories, Ofelia trying to prove her soul-right and the evil stepfather killing and torturing the enemies of Franco near-indiscriminately, advance seperately most of the time but come together in a gripping and bittersweetly just climax. They both develop and indirectly comment on each other for the audience. Ofelia and the fantasy world enchants and strikes fear, but in a meaningful way. The real world and the stepfather, however, terrorizes the audience without meaning. Ofelia strives for safety and order, of sorts, while the stepfather destroys, kills and tears down. Franco apparently will create order afterward and bring prosperousness on the people of Spain, but at what cost? Will Spain make a worthwhile place to live after the loss of humanity required for Franco's unity and nation? And since the Spain of today still grips with the legacy of Franco's regime and the whole world also dealing with all types of powermongers, can they translate the warning Guillermo del Torro tries to communicate about humanity?

Coming from a perspective of ignorance when it comes to the structure of fairy tales, traditional and Disneyfied, I feel that Pan's Labryinth reminds the audience about the harshness in the real world and the importance of fairy tales to synthetically create sense and meaning. In the real world, especially for those without power, things happen to most people because of depressing existential circumstance. Fairy tales, however, provide the double roles of helping an audience to escape from that unjust world into one that has reasonable rules of cause and effect (even when breaking rules of nature) while also providing hope that a just world can exist. Just as human minds can conceive of horrible atrocities, they can also imagine a world of meaning that makes sense. And if they make one world in which they can conceive, then they must be able to bring the other world of just relationships into existence.

Pan's Labryinth may not convince us that this other fantastic realm exists, but it holds a mirror up to humanity. With excellent acting, special effects, cinematography and every storytelling cinematic technique it used, it expertly shows us the many shades of human capability for evil, power and the helplessness that it can create. . .even if it may not tell the whole story (as in that every side of a war may have had the capacity to participate in atrocity). The presentation of drama embroiled Spanish politics that have occurred in the real world raises awareness about a horrible historical situation that hasn't received appropriate coverage, at least, not in the American public school system. In the end, however, it shows the moral depravity of war waged by powermongers, the destruction of meaning by war and powermongers and, on some implicit level, the complicity of those not in command.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Representing Gays in Narrative

OR REFLECTIONS ON FANS AND THE ADVOCATE THINKING CHARACTER ON HEROES IS/WAS GAY

I copy and paste the following entries I made to discussion at the Chicago Speculative Fiction Group:

12/26/2006 5:39 pm:

I got the following 'official news' from a Hollywood e-mailing I get regularly:

'NBC Counters Claims That 'Heroes' Character Is Gay
NBC has denied that Zach, the young superhero played by Thomas Dekker on Heroes is gay, despite the fact that on his MySpace webpage he describes his sexual orientation as "not sure." The issue had been raised by the gay-oriented blog afterelton.com. However, at least one other blog has noted that Dekkar has been signed to costar in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, based on the Terminator film franchise and that his character is likely to be written out of the story line. Meanwhile, Heroes creator Tim Kring is quoted in the gay magazine The Advocate as fending off the speculation about Zach's sexual orientation. Kring sent out an email message to websites where the claims appeared saying, "We apologize for misleading the audience and wish that we could have handled things better on our end. But making a TV show is often a very imprecise business. As you stated, Heroes is a big sprawling drama, and there is no reason to believe that a gay character will not be represented on our show in the future. It is my hope that if we do, we do it with honesty and dignity."'

12/27/2006 6:13 pm:

Kring's e-mail was clear?

Honestly, I think it could go either way. When I watched it, I never caught any gay subtext. I caught 'invincible cheerleader' not being interested in the guy and the 'popular' kids being Fing assholes, like 'popular' kids will be in high school.

And from what I've read from writers and producers when it comes to making TV shows, fans can totally misinterpret things happening in a show. On top of that, good writers and producers often don't like to reveal information that's more than needed about characters, settings, situations, etc. etc. so that they can have the flexibility to provide surprise or change something if it works better for the story. Half the time, that's where a conflict between fans and writers/producers can come from: fans think that a certain direction goes against continuity while writers/producers never created continuity about certain issues.

Heroes never outright said anything about the character. Except for 'outside the TV show' franchise outlets, the show never really made any clear references to the sexual orientation of the character, except to show one characters lack of sexual interest in him (when they had become quite close as friends) and high school antagonists acting like real jerks to him. Then again. . .I'm not saying the character isn't gay. . .I'm just saying it was never officially established, which I think is actually pretty cool.

As for Kring's e-mail, it sounds like they would want to present homosexuality in a different light, unless the letter's just smoke & mirrors. I just don't think there's enough established evidence to say either which way.

And why the hell am I so worked up about this matter. . .other than I think, inside the show which I take as canon compared to the franchise and media sources, that the writers and producers have left it open enough that they could make him gay, not gay or not even make it an issue.


12/27/2006 7:07 pm:

Quote [from Out.com]:
Heroes will feature a gay character, according to Kring and Fuller, who is now writing for the show. In the pilot a popular high school cheerleader with superhuman invulnerability selects a loner from her class to divulge her secret to—though he’s not revealed as gay in that episode. Kring admits, “I’m feeling a little odd about it, because I literally haven’t even discussed it with the actor yet.”


Remember the argument that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were working together. I'll admit that there's no clear cut evidence for or against it, but that whole premise was created in a similar manner as this. I don't see anything in quotes about the cheerleader's friend being gay. It's a conclusion that the article writer came to.

A musician friend of mine once told me how interviewers will write something in an article about her as if she had said it. In reality, though, the musician friend never said anything of the sort and doesn't even think that way.

Honestly, that's one of the main reasons I would rather ignore apochrophyllic sources other than fan discussion about the a piece of work, based on what the piece has released as information.

This whole topic, frankly, does make me see some merit to the Right wing accusation of a gay agenda. If
The Advocate makes loose connections about what a head writer/producer says and it has something to do with homosexuality, THEN IT HAS TO BE TRUE. . .kind of like if the United States President creates loose connections through rhetoric by bringing up Saddam Hussein the day after 9/11/2002 and mentioning Hussein and Al Qaeda close together, THEN IT HAS TO BE TRUE.

I'm not trying to make any kind of political statement. I'm just saying that people fall victim to a rhetorical device that creates loose connections, which they believe. And if enough people believe it, then it becomes a meme and a social truth. . .which is not rational.


12/27/2006 7:09 pm:

PS I don't mean fans necessarily make truth. I'm just saying that I enjoy discussing ideas and hypotheses that fans have about pieces of narrative and art.

12/27/2006 11:03 pm:

Gosh, I'm stuck on this for being a straight guy.

Nonetheless. . .the argument on the
http://popculturejunkies.com/2006/12/13/heroes-closeted/ Website pretty much perpetuates stereotypes of what a homosexual is, simply by their taste in movies.

And:

Quote [from show]:

"Are you flirting with me?" "Oh god no, really, no."


I totally read that as me in high school being majorly shy around a girl I like. I can count on three hands how many times I would have tried flirting with a girl then reject that I was doing it. I don't think I'm gay. . .you can ask my fiancee.

In other words, assuming a character on TV or in a movie is gay. . .hell, talking about your "gaydar" strikes me as something that perpetuates the stereotype of what it means to be "gay."

Now, I'll admit, stereotyping can sometimes be used for good use, especially when used not to offend anyone. In this case, however, I can see it expressed negatively, not necessarily by you, [name struck], but society, in general.

I see in a world that has people attracted to the same sex wanting to have equal treatment when it comes to romantically loving someone, the "this character is gay" really doesn't come off as responsible (unless you hate gays and want to perpetuate the stereotypes) when the conclusion is based on arguments of stereotype.

If
Heroes, in the end, decided to retract the storyline, then I think it's actually somewhat dumb to criticize them for it. If the argument is based simply on the representation of characters attracted to the same sex on a pure statistical level, they have half of a worthwhile argument. If the gay character thrown in simply for representation acts as a stereotypical gay person and is the only gay character on a show, then I think that could be very irresponsible. . .unless it's making a clever point.

Heroes might be able to make some kind of clever point about how society reacts to homosexuality, but that would involve a point about gay people being "mutants," which isn't necessarily reponsible, either.

I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with the supposed "smoke & mirrors" Kring e-mail. If you're going to have gay people on the show, it has to be done in a responsible manner that doesn't perpetuate stereotypes nor try to point out same-sex attraction as an aberration. After all, I would think with the whole same-sex marriage v. civil union controversy, gay people would rather be portrayed as a norm rather than a point about how different they are from the rest of the human race.

But then again, I'm sure there's a responsible and clever way to approach this one. After all, there's the controversy now about the people that argue American citizens should just consider themselves "Americans" and not have to parade their ethnicity around and be proud of it. If a gay person doesn't get portrayed stereotypically, then there's probably something to say about them conforming to the "keeping it in the bedroom" ideology when straight people are allowed to have PDA, marriage and other "normal" things.

So, in the end, I guess Tim Kring can't win. I wonder. . .in my novel, if I don't have any gay characters or describe the color of people's skin, have I caved into pressure. Especially since I wouldn't know how to approach it without possibly misrepresenting the experience of non-white people.

I'm even scared of having women in my novel. . .how am I supposed to represent the women's experience when I'm a man?

OK. I've rambled on too long.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chaulk Full of Writing and Career Goodness

JOB OFFER INTERVIEW

I had an interesting interview with an insurance agency today, after I had the first interview with them last week. They called me earliesh today to see if I could come in for a job offer. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive an offer. They received an ideal salary figure from me, however.

Since I can worry a little too much about these things, I won't say much more about it. They want to call me tomorrow after discussing the situation. Whether that means they'll give me a counter offer or not, I don't know. I didn't get much to work with in regards to me asking way too much or if they really just need to think about it.

Until I hear from them, I'll act like I don't have chance. "First thing" tomorrow, I'll start in on the want ads and querying for positions again.

PROVIDING CAREER ADVICE TO THE YOUNG

On Christmas day, I got a cool inadvertent present. The fiancee and I went out to the Western suburbs to have Christmas with family friends. A teenage guy turning 17 there has done some thinking about going to college for writing and getting a career in the field.

The two of us got talking about his prospects, his future and the potential of a writing career and education. It allowed me to try articulating my current problem of being a writer and not having good well paying work other than possibly in insurance. In other words, I had the chance to practice the college and career discussion that I probably will have someday with my own kid.

This time, however, I don't have the disadvantage of being this guy's parent. His parents (or, at least, his dad) gave him some good advice. A writing career doesn't really have the best chance of making a very good living, so he should check out other careers. At the least, he should do so until his writing career takes off. I have no idea whether he took the advice from his dad all that serious. When I gave him similar advice, though, he did reference back to his dad's advice.

My age probably has had a little something to do with possibly receiving more respect in this discussion, if I got more. My own struggles may provide reason for taking me more seriously. From what I know, only the fiancee has provided an example or talked to this guy about writing. She hasn't reached her career goal, but she has done well to prepare herself for it.

Me, I don't have much to show for my real career and education except for three-ring binders of rough drafts, ideas that I throw around and some of the business knowledge that I've garnered here and there. The fiancee makes for a much better example of success in the publishing and media field.

I provide the example of struggling artist, something of a slacker and who has had plenty of trouble realizing my goals, even though I stubbornly push, push and keep pushing. Whenever I think about giving career and college advice to someone this guy's age, I fear that I'll come off as a hypocrite. I don't want to give a teenager the impression that I'm trying to mold them into a certain form instead of encouraging them to follow their heart. After all, just because I haven't found success yet doesn't mean they won't.

And just saying "I just want you to be happy. Do what will make you happy" doesn't cut it. I had that happen before I experienced the real world, where I have received an important lesson or two (such as: similar to writing a narrative, do your research for knowledge then come up with a good, flexible outline that doesn't dictate every bit of information at the beginning). Having that freedom, I just did what I wanted to satisfy myself in the short term.

To productively help a teenager in this situation, I think it benefits them most to help them do the research and coming up with that flexible outline. Stress should go on the flexibility of that outline, too, because who knows what will happen in the next four or five years. When I went into college, computers were the big thing and tons of money flowed from that inudustry. That bubble had popped by the time I left school.

Following your heart wisely with knowledge and that flexible outline serves well as good advice for a teenager about to pick a career or collegiate direction. Going slow and extending financial, research and emotional support doesn't hurt, either. The slow approach may actually save money and time, in the end. Maybe they can even find a good job while going through the process and take the financial burden during the process.

I pretty much told the teenage guy everything I said above, just not as straight out and not the fear of coming off as hypocritical. Nonetheless, I really do worry about the hypocrite part when talking to my own kids. I probably have that fear because I had that feeling with my own parents. Or if not seeing them as hypocrites, as people who didn't know what they were talking about, wanting to mold me into an image then, in the end, just throwing up their arms in frustration.

Looking back, I see that my parents had a pretty good idea about the things they told me. I don't, even now, necessarily agree with everything they told me or think the way they told me was appropriate for me. I believe they have a clue, though. . .just not for my situation. Truthfully, I didn't work hard enough in the situation or have a clue about them, either. I still have plenty of baggage to handle or to just push aside for the rest of my life. I may become a success despite it.

Either which way, having this discussion with the guy felt really cool. I didn't take a hard ass approach that I would have taken a couple months ago. Neither did I sound unintelligent or wishy washy. Talking about my own real life experience, the regrets I had and my understanding of the market on a sincere level really seemed to make a connection, and I really got into the conversation. The guy sounded into the conversation, too, even if he sounded a little disappointed about possibly having to take up a day job career.

I'll need to come up with another strategy for my own kid, if they don't want to go into writing. My gut tells me that I should work at it like the ideal at my college. Take it as a challenge to myself and try to learn about the topic with my kid. I've heard plenty of students at the college really get into that approach.

STATUS ON PROJECTS IN PROGRESS

+ I've already updated you on the job search.

+ I wrote 2 pages in the novel last week but will put it on hiatus for a bit.

+ The talk with the teenage guy and the fiancee on our way home got me inspired. I've started working on a short story from high school. It needs another scene (which now has a rough draft), some fixing up of language and a couple turns of phrase added or adjusted. After it reaches my satisfaction, then I plan on making it my 2nd ever piece submitted to a magazine that pays.

THE LIFE OF A STRUGGLING WRITER IS HARD WORK

The Christmas conversations also did a good job of reiterating that WRITING IS HARD WORK. And I don't just mean the writing, itself, or even the revision or marketing processes. To rephrase, the LIFE OF A STRUGGLING WRITER IS HARD WORK.

For awhile now, I've just been looking at jobs that look like they fit my temperament or that I easily qualify. To make enough money and have the time to write, I may have to take a job that I find hard, that I don't qualify for or doesn't fit my temperament. If getting a job and being successful at it was as easy as having those elements, I would be a successful writer already.

Since my temperament and skills generally point me toward writing and writing doesn't pay well right away, then I'll just have to find something that works, either which way, whether I like it or not, whether I'm good at it right away or not, whether I'm qualified at it or not. Then I'll just have to work my ass off doing both jobs to get successful at writing.

I don't know why, but for some reason, I had yet to accept this fact.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Review of Children of Men

Not completely sure where to start on this one, except don't watch this movie if you want to have fun. I mean that last statement positively, too.

If I taught a class in movies having social commentary or a class in utopianism, I would make Children of Men a mandatory view. It does a good job at making social commentary on today's world, allusions to shameful times in history and creates a believable world. In the midst of accomplishing those things, it also doesn't feel pedantic, patronizing or like a piece that sacrifices entertainment for the sake of saying something. In other words, it makes for a movie that draws you in while exploring plenty of issues.

(For one thing, it makes one of Orson Scott Card's points without getting heavy handed. The theme pretty much goes along the lines of why do all these people have to make trouble and war? There's more important and nice things that can happen, like having kids and keeping together a family that makes meaning for the people involved).

This movie has plenty of graphic scenes that grab you in the jugular. A fair amount of people die and get shot quite senselessly, especially in comparison to the central plot and themes. Those parts don't really make for the dramatic parts that grip you and make the social commentary. Essentially a list of allusions: terrorist bombings of civilian buildings, roadside ambushes by insurgents, street fighting in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust and ther rounding up of prisoners around the UK in alienating, inhumane and embarassing ways. But again, as much as these scenes strike at the audience, they don't come off as a message. . .except as a visceral thrusting in your face of what humanity can do, when pushed to the edge or given too much power.

Can't forget all the random mob violence, also. Can't say that necessarily alludes to anything that I've seen or heard too much about, but I can imagine it happening in the near future. I may even have to use the image in my novel at some point and try not to make the use derivative.

But the movie also provides at least one aspect as counterpoint to the doom, gloom and sadness. Children of Men has hope and an example of an idealistic hero played by Clive Owen and the birth of a child (of course you know that one. . .it's in every movie description you've read). Even though they stick out postively with many other things, the makers of this film did a remarkable job of having some heartwarming parts of character development, well fashioned sentimentality (like you would have with an old friend from childhood) and humor before the climax.

And looking back on it, I remember plenty of instances where I felt the urge to laugh simply and from the depths of my soul because even amongst the gloom, the movie acted to re-affirm life and those things that remind you of it. The portrayal of live animals and most reactions to the baby had a lot to do with the re-affirmation of life.

The interactions between Theo (Clive Owen) and two characters closest to him, Julian (Julianne Moore) and Jasper (Michael Caine), help to create connection, development and yes, even humor. Jasper really does the most for creating the humor.

Michael Caine does an amazing job playing an eccentric old hippie. Even during his most tragic moment, or maybe especially then, you see his goofiness as a heroic ideal that you knew he always had. The tragicness just makes it even more striking, the lovableness of this old man. And, of course, it's Michael Caine. What else can you say?

Julianne Moore does a good job playing her part. Even she had a few moments of human goofiness and warmth that pushed her to the next level, but those didn't happen so often. Nonetheless, those parts did some of the best to draw out Theo's humanity. She definitely acts as a driving force for him. And as made apparent in the movie, Julian provides a motivating force for a lot of characters.

And please notice the interchange between the character's and the actor's names. Except for maybe Owen for most of the film, all the actors did a good job of becoming their character. They made it easy to forget they were actors playing characters. Even Owen did a great job becoming Theo. It just turned out that except during those moments where the other characters brought out Theo's humanity, except while he emoted and except when he made a sarcastic, cynical quip or two, the character felt like typical Clive Owen.

Two other characters deserve some mention, though: Miriam (Pam Ferris) and Kee (Claire-Hope Ashtey). Neither of the actresses necessarily put on amazing performances, unless the simpleness (meant postively!) of Miriam took acting. As characters, however, they both helped the story and the character of Theo a lot.

In large part, Miriam represented the past and acted as a personalized dramatization of losing the good past, the joy of it. She brings out different emotional reactions, but how much blame can get projected onto her. As much as she represents the loss of a good past, she also seems to represent the ambivalent causes of the present narrative.

Kee acts as another character that brings out humanity in Theo. Unlike the characters close to him who bring out the identifiable and compelling humanity in him, Kee brings out the ideal, the hero, the archetype in him. As an archetype, herself, and also as a form of redemption for Theo, she draws out the man in him that would make the world great. . .if it weren't for those who want to become heroes but through the wrong means.

The cinematography and directing also helped me get into the movie. It had that grainy, gritty analog tinge to it unlike the digital cleanness that we see in so many movies. The style reminds me of 28 Days Later. . ., which I haven't seen but would like to now after getting into Christopher Eccleston on Doctor Who (and soon Heroes!!!!! But I'm getting ahead of myself). Now, thinking about it, maybe I'm wrong because maybe 28 Days Later. . . had that clean digital thing going. Nonetheless, Children of Men reminded me of the directing and cinematography of 28 Days Later. . .. Maybe because they're both British and dystopian.

In the end, though, I think everyone should see this movie. It will get you thinking and feeling. Just don't go if you want to have fun and come out of the theater feeling happy. Maybe you'll feel hopeful after the movie, but in a mournful hoping kind of way. Just go!

PS The ending was kind of tacky. Tomorrow. . .? Ugh.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Making a Ritual of Dispelling Despair in Entertaining Ways

I haven't procrastinated nearly as much as I suspected today. Sure, I've only submitted only one resume by quarter of 3, and I've taken a walk and am now writing on the blog. And that's after waking up at 9. Even worse: I have a temp assignment tomorrow and Friday, and tomorrow night, I get to see Children of Men for free.

I haven't spent hours sorting through e-mails like I did last night. Part of that even involved a couple stories in my inbox from Dargonzine. Then I watched a couple episodes of that new TBS show, My Boys.

Last night, I believe I had something of a valid excuse for procrastinating on the job search. I took the bus up north for a job interview at an insurance agency. They gave me a pretty good response, an hour and a half interview, a wink from one of the people at the end of the interview and being told straight out that I interviewed well. This position has potential, if they offer it to me.

Only downside to it: The potential of it moving out to a suburb in about a year. If we still had the car, I wouldn't see it as a problem. Now, though, without a permanent car, it could create some issues. I guess I'll simply have to wait until they call me back for another interview to talk about it and let them know my concerns. Having the job move out to a suburb and not having transportation to reach it would suck as it goes for not getting a good paying job.

Even if that eventually works out, though, I shouldn't stop working on the job search now. From my understanding, it works like writing. After submitting a piece of work, you can celebrate a little that night or get a reward. Once it gets out of the system, though, don't sit on your laurels. Start working on the next piece. In this case, a cover letter and resume. I would just rather get on with the writing. . ..

Before I get on with it, though, a little bit of substance in today's entry:

USING RITUAL AND TRADITION TO BRING UP KIDS AND KEEP THE FAMILY TOGETHER

UU World -- New Family Traditions: Creating rituals with and for children by Meg Cox

THAT NEW TV SHOW, MY BOYS

Pretty entertaining show about a tomboyish woman and her group of guy friends in Chicago. It comes down to the typical sitcom without a laugh track, but the fiancee and I have gotten to enjoy it, especially since she can appreciate the viewpoint of the tomboy.

My only criticism, which I think they may have addressed: too many local references to Chicago. Not a bad thing for a show broadcast just to people in Chicago, but I wonder how people outside of the city will react. Nonetheless, I can't remember a sitcom set in Chicago since Perfect Strangers. Way to go, Chicago!

FRIDAY NIGHT FUN, PART I: ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY CREATIVE WRITING READING

The fiancee, a friend, an acquaintence and I had a busy Friday night. It all started out at a cafe west of downtown, at a reading for Roosevelt University creative writing grad students. I wish I remembered the name of the cafe and the neighborhood everything happened, but as the fiancee often says, I've got a memory like swiss cheese.

Her little quip reminds me of something I've thought about today, though. When going on these entertainment and cultural excursions, I should really take along a notepad. I can write down neighborhoods, cafe names, movie names, actor names, my reactions, etc. etc. And with that information, I can write better reviews and criticisms.

The reading passed relatively pleasant. In whole, I think it only took an hour or an hour and half for everyone to read their pieces. With my memory, I can't remember all of them or everyone's names. The fiancee could probably help me. Overall, though, I can't say any of the pieces read were horrible. I would rate the majority of the pieces as good to very good.

I had a problem with a lot of the poetry. The reader lost me in it, from the images to the rhythm. I could only really get into the quirky ones. I don't know how much of it has to do with me or just poetry, in general, though. Thinking back now, I wish I remembered a couple of them, too, because I think a couple ended up pretty clever. Darn this swiss cheese brain!

The prose pieces come back to me better. The fiancee read her story about getting into a biking accident on the way to have lunch with a crush at the time. Another one I remember focused on a funny incident that her FBI father had while on a stake out. A good one had something to do with this guy's extreme dislike of dogs, which had a well executed focus on the topic and pleasantly tense narrative.

One of them really struck out to me, though (sorry, fiancee). It had a pretty homosexual erotic viewpoint, but. . .it could've come from a heterosexual viewpoint, too. The best part, the eroticism didn't come from any drastic descriptions, actions or even nudity. Everyone remained fully clothed and involved hardly any interaction between any characters. In fact, that's what made it great, as it focused more on temptation and the consequences of falling for that temptation.

It developed a character and drew out the whole implications of a couple minutes on the subway, rubbing a leg up against someone else. Falling for the temptation could bring on a little bit of fun, but it could also change the rest of this character's life. By falling for the temptation, the character could destroy a good, healthy and positive relationship, just for a couple minutes of fun.

And I don't even mind "spoiling" the story because even if you could find it, you would probably already know the resolution of the story. The plot doesn't necessarily have as much importance as the stream of conscious. The narrative execution of implications, temptation and emotions does the work of affecting the reader rather than the ignorance of plot points. Someone could probably read this piece multiple times within a few days and enjoy it anew every time. Personally, I hope this author gets this piece published somewhere.

FRIDAY NIGHT FUN, PART II: SECOND CITY -- TWO-THOUSAND AND SUX: THE YEAR IN REVUE

After the reading, a friend who showed up to support the fiancee invited us to go along with them to see Two-Thousand and Sex: The Year in Revue. The friend didn't like it so much. The fiancee and I have more charitable feelings about the sketch comedy. Some of it didn't really make us laugh, but some of it hit the funny bone fine.

As made apparent, the show takes the premise that 2006 sucked. Not much good came of it. Other than on a personal level, I would have to agree. They demonstrated it in a fun way by starting the whole set off with a 2005 New Year's Eve party. When the ball got to the bottom and they entered 2006, one of the actors came out, acting drunk, dressed in a diaper and with a 40 in hand. None of the guests really appreciated 2006, and he didn't act all that pleasant. He just kept listing off how much things would suck in 2006 while acting obnoxious.

From there, they had a flurry of sketches, only a few of which stuck with me. In one of them, we witnessed a group of fundamentalist Christians having a meeting. They wanted to start a campaign of suicidal bombing to stand up against the Muslim radicals. One of them had even try a bombing, but hadn't killed himself, so he was pretty screwed up.

The jokes didn't necessarily work well all the time in this skit, but I liked the satirical premise. It worked especially well with the passive aggressive attempts at getting out of doing a suicidal bombing that supposedly turned out unsuccessful. The funniest part came from a guy repeating that they should test more explosives on the screwed up guy to make sure they know how many explosives they need to do the job well.

Another sketch had America as the blond popular girl in high school hanging out with England, talking about world events. This one did a good job of caricaturing the different countries with high school caricature roles. Mexico acted as the unpopular guy who wanted to sit next to America at the lunch table. . .and I forget the rest.

One skit didn't do all that well, but it had to suck to have the punchline work. It started off talking about that race horse, the one that got attention a couple weeks or month ago. Then it just kind of dragged on from there to these toy horses running across the stage that just kept "tripping" on the race track. Another horse would just keep replacing the earlier one. I think they went through something like 10 of them. Then at the end they said something about "beating a dead horse." It sucked, but it had to suck to work. Is there a name for that kind of humor?

I only remember one other sketch after that one. It focused on declaring Pluto a dwarf planet. Like with the countries in the world, they gave the planets somewhat stereotypical personalities. They didn't fall into high school roles, though. I, frankly, forget what roles most of the planets fell into. . .except for Pluto, who turned out to be a punk ass street kid, which just cracked me up. The other planets worked well but only in relationship to Pluto, mostly. They had some other good instances of chemistry with the other planets, though. . .I just don't remember it well.

Then the whole thing ended with another New Year's Eve party, this one supposedly happening in a couple weeks. They kick out 2006, but then the ol' obnoxious guy comes back with a 2007 ribbon around him instead of a 2006 one. That's when everyone realizes that it's a different year, but the same old shit.

It cost $10 admission. They test out the majority of skits on this stage before they advance them onto the more professional stages. If these sketches move closer to the main stage, I hope they get revised a lot more. They just don't really work all that well, especially if you're going to pay more than $10.

For the audience, I don't advise making a night of going to this act. If you have nothing better to in the city of Chicago, though, and have the money to spare, you might as well go. It's better than nothing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Review of Eragon

As I said last night, I got access to a free pass for Eragon tonight. I can't think of a good reason to pass up a free movie, so we went.

I don't care what anyone else says, I enjoyed the movie. It didn't strike me as anything spectacular and more as something B-grade, but I still rather enjoyed it. Paying full price wouldn't have even hindering my enjoyment of it. It even made my ears well up with a little moisture, too.

In full disclosure, I've never read the book. Plenty of people who have read the book will probably disagree with me. At least, everyone who went with me to see the movie tonight and read the book did so.

They all complained about it being, to sum up, derivative and not really having the kind of depth that made the book good. And they say that after disclosing that even though the book doesn't necessarily reach the level of stellar literature, it still makes for a good read that engages you.

With all that said, the blame for the movie's mediocrity falls on the script (way too many predictable and cheesy lines), the director and the acting. The movie simply didn't feel natural, and not in a good way. It kind of reminded me of the original Star Wars: A New Hope without good edits, cuts and the acknowledgment of simplicity. It tried doing too much with a novice crew, and it showed.

I found myself saying, afterward, that I had corrected many of the narrative holes and errors in my mind. Not necessarily a horrible thing. . .except that I had promptly forgotten that those elements of intuitive corrections came from me, not necessarily from cues in the movie. As such, even though it had plenty of bad things happening because of a novice crew, it had some pretty good source material.

From the good source, I have to assume the books do have the potential to engage me and get me lost in a world and in some certain characters. And also since some of the edits and cuts noticeably felt clumsy and unnatural, the crew probably filmed some other scenes that would work great in the movie. I could see the beginnings of some good themes going on in the movie, the hero cycle, the impetuousness of youth and wisdom of adulthood, the decadence of a leader and so on and so forth.

The movie had some great potential, but the people running it just didn't execute the final product well. Maybe, with the deleted scenes, it will come off as a good, enjoyable movie. For now, though, barring the special effects of the dragon and few highlights from John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and Edward Speleers (even if he takes the title from Haydon Christensen as 'biggest whipping boy of Fanboys' for this movie), Eragon isn't a movie to get excited about.

Unless you're a hormonal guy and want to enjoy the sight of Sienna Guillory. But, then again, she really isn't in the movie all that much. She doesn't make a good reason to get excited about it, either.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Job Interviews and Entertainment Keeps Despair Away (& Stuck in The Lost Room)

THE DIFFERING OPINIONS OF AN ENGAGED COUPLE ON DRAMA

The fiancee and I have rather tense disagreement going on about the current state of LOST's current state of existence. We also have similar debates about Charlie Jade and Heroes.

Essentially the tense debate comes down to narrative pacing (well, actually, with Charlie Jade, it also comes down to the way I got addicted to watching it for a couple days). She likes a show to start off with a bang to get her attention and is OK with it slowing down later, and that's why she doesn't have much of a problem with the current state of LOST.

Me, I'm OK with shows that start off slow and take some time to world build and develop characters. At the same time, though, I generally don't want the show to peter out later or lose the balance of tension and the building/revealing mysteries, at all. When that happens, I feel like the writers have lost their motivation or interest in writing the story. So, while the fiancee doesn't mind waiting out things in the middle as long as the beginning has excitement, I get very annoyed and bored when a show loses its steam.

We haven't gotten too deep into the debate. I'm sure it would become somewhat interesting, though, especially since we both would like to publish our own narratives someday. As such, I feel like we've got something invested in these stances and could learn a lot from each other by having the debate.

It especially becomes a case, though, if we want to depend on each other for feedback on each other's work. Working as writers, we need to depend on the extremely honest feedback of people close to us. If we don't understand the basis of each other's opinions on the topic, how much we can believe in the honesty of the feedback? She has helped me a ton with one character in my novel, but other than that?

We are two different people, and learning about each other is a big part about having a strong, positive relationship. I probably have to learn patience on this type of aspect, though. I need to understand that a lot of this information will come out in time (and we'll have plenty of it, that's for sure), effort and process.

Anyone want to pipe in on this part?

THOUGHTS SO FAR ON THE LOST ROOM

I started watching The Lost Room with low expectations. After all, it's a Sci-Fi Channel production. They have a few pieces of original quality work under their belt (The Invisible Man, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica -- can it be consider original? -- and Eureka), but through the duration of the Sci-Fi Channel, I've had more disappointment than being impressed.

So far, though, The Lost Room has kept my rapt attention, and I'm not totally sure why. Nonetheless, I'm ready to feel underwhelmed by the ending. The fiancee has told me that all the reviews she has read say that the show kept their rapt attention until the last ten minutes.

Not having seen the ending but having a hypothesis about it, I feel the possibility that I may not feel disappointed. I bet that Sci-Fi would love to make the show an ongoing series if enough people get into it. I would take that stance, especially after they successfully doing it with Battlestar Galactica.

As such, I expect Miller to accomplish his goal of saving his daughter but to have a lot of larger questions and mysteries left unanswered. I feel that the ending will only disappoint me if I can't believe the conclusion of Miller story. If the dramatic and narrative elements of it don't come across strong enough, though, I expect some disappointment, too.

Regarding solving the mysteries of the room, having any of the cabals destroyed or resolving the problems of the room, I don't mind remaining in the dark about that stuff. Honestly, I could potentially feel vastly disappointed if these things do get resolved, especially in the small time frame of this mini series. For one, I believe I'd enjoy seeing the same creative team making a series out of the show, even with a different cast. And two, I don't think a six episode mini series is enough to answer the questions of Room 10.

I can't say that I totally understand why The Lost Room works. It falls somewhat victim to some Sci-Fi Channel production issues. It feels too clean and digital rather than having something of an analog, gritty touch to it. Some of the supporting characters come off a little too caricatury, like Harold Bretzke and Wally Jabrowski.

And Dr. Ruber feels almost too much like a dumb plot device than a great villain (take some lessons from 01 Boxer, buddy) that reminds me too much of the psychotic mastermind caricature, Achilles, in Orson Scott Card's Shadow series. Maybe we'll see more Dr. Ruber's potential or interesting character history tonight. I doubt he'll come out as anything more than a conniving minion with circumstance on his side, though.

Otherwise, though, they've got an all star cast with Peter Krause (he played Casey on Sports Night opposite to the famous Felicity Huffman) as Detective Miller, Julianna Margulies as Jennifer Bloom (yeah, we know you pretty much got your start on ER, Dakota Fanning's sister, Elle as Millier's daughter and Margaret Cho, the comedian, as a dealer in information about the objects.

At first, I didn't think much of Peter Krause as Miller. I thought he gave a pretty wooden job, but he has grown on me. His portrayal as a single father that loves his daughter that he has lost and will "get her back if [he] has to tear the world in half" gets me right in the craw, though. He plays the part, and it draws me in.

It affects me the same way that Jeffrey Pierce, playing Charlie Jade, sucked me in as the Odyessean character that just wanted to get back to his lover in another universe that he couldn't reach. Krause has yet to display the acting chops of Pierce when Charlie saw into his home universe to see Jasmine in the Vexcor men's room but not able to do anything about it. Nonetheless, from what I've seen so far, I believe Peter Krause has the range to do it.

In large part, Miller's quest to get his daughter back combined with the mysteries of Room 10 act as the major parts that keep my rapt attention. Another important aspect, though, is the jextaposition of Miller's quest for his daughter with the obsession of people who want to control the room and the objects connected to it. The fact that these cabals have formed around it, the random collectors, the "Legion," the original collectors and also Dr. Ruber.

The jextaposition works beautifully, mainly because Miller skirts so closely to edge of sanity, like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, while most everyone else succumbs to Room 10 and its objects lure. Now I remember thinking along these lines last night. Now thinking about it, I can see how the idiocy of Dr. Ruber actually does play better when looked at as someone who has succumbed to the power. Even though Room 10 and its objects don't have have as much consciousness as the One Ring, it does a good job at revealing the depths of individuals' capacity for obsession over this type of thing.

This way of using Room 10 and its objects to show the human nature of obsession reminds me somewhat of Plato's parable of the invisible ring that probably inspired Tolkien. In the parable, someone finds a ring of invisibility and uses it to sneak into a rich man's palace to steal stuff. The ring doesn't have any consciousness like Sauron's One Ring, but it does the job of corrupting the owner of it.

Room 10 and its objects do something similar, but the creative team seems to explore the topic more. Instead of corrupting everyone, it tests their character and integrity. Miller, so far, passes the test. Now whether he will continue to do so after he saves his daughter remains a whole other issue, which makes this story and Frodo succumbing to the temptation of the One Ring at the last moment all the more fascinating.

I almost want to see Ron Rifkin as Arvin Sloane show up. The Room and its objects remind me of Rimbaldi's artifacts from Alias. Unlike Alias, though, if this mini-series becomes a full fledged series, I think they'll have a harder time getting away from the original, fascinating premise.

All in all, I can't wait for the TiVo to start recording enough that I don't have to watch commercials. Until then, though, I've got tonight's episode of Daybreak to watch. But before that. . .I guess I had better write that follow e-mail that I talk about later in this entry. Darnit! I really really want to watch these shows.

If only I could really get a job as a critic or finish my novel to sell it. This inbetween job stuff has started to get annoying. . ..

PERSONAL CHATTER: THE JOB CAMPAIGN

Today, I've "taken it pretty easy" AKA procrastinating on the job search.

Nonetheless, something productive has came from today so far: I got a job interview schedule for next week. It happens at an insurance agency, and it's for the same kind of job that I had in Massachusetts.

Getting this call surprised me a little bit, too. Yesterday, I realized that this job search campaign, so far, has yielded less results than the one I did in the year 2000 in Boston. Didn't we start having a bad recession and job market then? Apparently one in which only lowering interest rates and creating a housing bubble alleviated.

I have the feeling, though, that the agency pretty much latched onto my headline of "4 YEARS EXPERIENCE AS AN INSURANCE AGENT" and a whole bunch of jargon I threw down into a cover letter. The cover letter rambled on a bit, too. Nonetheless, I guess I showed them that I had some idea about how to do the job. Now to handle the interview and get an idea about them.

With the compare and contrast analysis between this campaign and the 2000 job search done, however, I decided to revamp the resume. I shrunk it down to one page and put my strongest asset first, my education. Only when applying to insurance jobs does my professional history really come out stronger than my education.

Shrinking it down to one page took some work. A most of you readers should know, I'm often quite wordy. The Lextopia offers a great example of this verboseness. It also provides a great example of my writing before revising it.

I like blogging in the raw (The Struggling Young Man terms doing a writing brainstorm or rough drafting writing RAW). It doesn't necessarily provide the most readable copy, but it helps me figure out stuff. If other people enjoy it and get something out of it, great!

Unfortunately, I have a tendency of writing resumes and cover letters raw, without much organization. Thanks The Struggling Young Man for helping me with the organization on the resume last night.

Now, though, I really need to work on writing better cover letters. I need to teach myself how to get the idea across with hammering the reader with dense information. In that way, I guess I'm somewhat of an academic. I've learned how to do it with writing insurance correspondence to customers. Now I need to do it while pitching myself.

Otherwise, I woke up fairly discouraged about the job search campaign. Even now, after making the interview appointment, I still feel down. It probably has a source in my perfectionism, trying to get the correct message across because I'm scared of ridicule. Not failure, but ridicule.

Can't say that I fear not being able to pay bills and such, but ridicule scares me so much more than failure. At least, my personal psychoanalysis of myself comes to that conclusion. With failure, after all, you can pick yourself up and try and try again until you're down for the count. I fear people having a bad opinion about me and ridiculing me based on that bad opinion.

So far today, I've:

+ Taken a walk

+ Watched some TiVo

+ Washed the dishes

+ Caught up with my e-mail, consisting of most SPAM and topical e-mails (my fault on that one)

+ And now writing on The Lextopia

I plan to write the review of The Lost Room that you've already read then move onto writing a follow up letter. Maybe I'll watch Daybreak, too.

And to add onto the procrastinating, I got a 2-person pass to see an advanced screening for Eragon tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have the time, energy and motivation to post a review for it before Friday.

Honestly, I would love to become a professional drama/literary critic. Along with writing fiction and freelancing, that's up there on a life goal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Consider Me Entertained

SATURDAY NIGHT:LEWIS BLACK

Saturday night, the fiancee and I went out to the Rosemont Theatre to see Lewis Black. I'm not good with comedic timing, and apparently, I'm not too good at remembering comedic performances. I laughed quite a bit and had a pretty good time.

There was one bit about when you go to Las Vegas, don't bother gambling. Just change in about $100 of quarters and flush them down the toilet one by one. It's like gambling except that every once in awhile, the quarters will clog the toilet, back it up then come spitting back out.

Reminds me of a slot machine.

He started the set off talking about anticipation and how the moment before something starts and consummates, that's the best part about it. The real thing just can't match what our imaginations make the actual thing to be. Black always has great bits to start off things, this being one of them (even though it sounds somewhat more philosophical as I talk about it compared to when he talked about it).

The rest of the show turned out better than my own anticipation, but I can't remember it. I count myself lucky that way, when it comes to comedy. Give it enough time, and I can forget the jokes. Unfortunately, somewhat, I've seen enough Lewis Black material lately that I knew about 5% or 10% of his act that night. Either which way, I very much enjoyed the act.

Before going home that night, we stopped by Leona's, a great unpretentious place that has a couple places in Chicago that has a fair selection of vegan fare. One of the owners, apparently, had gone to see Lewis Black that night, also.

He said that after having seen Black 10 years ago, he felt that Black's career has started to face a downturn. The guy still enjoyed the show, but it supposedly didn't compare to some earlier shows in Black's career.

We also realized that Black has had a pretty busy year, showing up in three movies, heading a bunch of comedy festivals and tours, showing up on The Daily Show and doing a few of his own tours. I don't know about the guy's overall career, but I can understand how he might feel burnt out and tired nowadays.

His busy year kind of reminds me of Jude Law's career last year. Piece of advice, Lewis Black, don't sleep with the nanny.

SUNDAY NIGHT: DAWN XIANA MOON

Beginning of this week or a couple weeks ago, Dawn e-mails me about her gig at The Heartland Cafe. I figure I should take the opportunity to go, especially since I didn't have to work today. So, the fiancee and I gather ourselves together, get on the El and head way up to the northern border of the city, second to the last stop on the Red Line. The Heartland Cafe is pretty much just around the corner from the Morse stop.

First off, I really dig The Heartland Cafe. It reminds me of a more versatile and less stuffy and less hippie version of Club Passim in Cambridge, MA (Dawn, if you're reading this and you ever try to get a gig in the Boston area, you should look into Club Passim, among plenty of other places).

Like many "equivalent" places in Chicago, the flavor feels different than in Boston. How do I describe it? In Boston, there's something more pretentious and Phishy/Grateful Deady about the culture of the hippiness. I get the sense of more of a stoner, lackadasaical feeling in Boston. Maybe it has something to do with the closeness to Vermont and Maine.

I guess I can't really say that The Heartland Cafe didn't necessarily feel hippie-like. It felt laid back, but it didn't necessarily feel lackadasaical. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it did. Maybe my technicolored bleeding lenses of memory taint my comparison.

Maybe The Heartland Cafe simply had a more modern and clean feel to it, and it settled itself in a grittier setting than Harvard Square. I didn't get the sense of stuffy pretentiousness, though, while at the same time not getting the feeling of run down or "back to nature" to it, and I like it that way. It felt like a more progressive than regressive.

And even moreso than Leona's, The Heartland Cafe had some good vegan options. The Chicago Diner and this Buddhist non-profit place pushes the vegan fare to the next level, but The Heartland Cafe had tons of great options for vegan fare. I had a soba noodle dish with tofu and veggies. That thing went into my mouth like I hadn't eaten all day, and I still couldn't finish it.

But I've digressed enough. Someone else played before Dawn, but sadly, I can't remember his name. He played pretty well. Unfortunately, I focused so much on browsing the menu and getting food into my mouth that I didn't have the attention to focus on him. He started doing the beginning of some Paula Abdul toon. I also enjoyed a depressing song that he played, but I didn't really pick up much on his music. That's the misfortune of not having any familiarity with a musician when you see them.

Then Dawn came onto stage. I always feel weird when I see the spotlight on a friend and they perform. Can't really pinpoint the actual feeling except for a strange awkwardness. I've known this girl from fun, silly and sometimes philosophical conversations at work and hanging out for dinner or having a snack somewhere. When you see someone on stage, I just feel this dissonance of everyday friend with something special performer.

She made a silly quip during one of her songs about the old company where we worked, and she also had a couple moments of audience participation, which helped to break down that barrier a little. Nonetheless, the dissonant barrier still remained. I haven't really seen any good friends perform live in awhile, though. . .even though, come to think of it, I always especially had that awkward dissonance whenever the fiancee got up on stage for karaoke. She puts on quite a performance and everyone at The Milky Way loved her, so yeah. . ..

But back to Dawn. Boy, that chick can belt out the tunes. She has a great voice, which earns her that healthy dissonance of performance respect. On one song she played on the piano, she even hit this great sultry range that reminded me of this Quebecois jazz singer I saw up in Quebec City. Then, through the rest of the set, I felt her voice putting many recorded female vocalists I've heard to shame.

Not really versed in music, especially not in solo singer-songwriter type stuff, I really can't say much about the tunes themselves. Dawn's got a great natural confident onstage presence. Then again, she has it offstage, too.

A couple songs stick out, though. I don't think she announced the name to it, but I "Strong" did really well. It had a great story to it, and she did a great job expressing her passion during the chorus.

How could anyone forget the audience participation song about Erin, a used car salesman, elves and The Birds of Paradise. I can't remember too many details about the story, but I know that Erin really didn't have much interest in the salesman but like elves a lot.

Dawn played a Christmas song on her piano. I think it was called Noel, but it's not the Noel we all know. For some reason, I think it made me feel sad.

She also played one sad song that had a name that I feel like I should remember followed by a happier one. I liked them both.

Overall, Dawn really impressed me with her performance. People always have new ways to impress me, especially if they're performers or have some kind of artistic expression. If they get into their work, which Dawn did, they can really reveal something overwhelming and exciting about themselves that words can't describe and everyday interaction just can't touch.

I really look forward to expressing myself that way again, whether through showing people my novel or other stories. . .or, I don't know, performing at open mics or something. Back at Marlboro my last semester, I remember when they had an open mic every week. It inspired me to write all types of poems and read them up in front of the crowd, and they loved it. It gave me a lot of fun.

And at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, they have a great open mic on Sunday nights. Seriously, it exposed me directly to black culture in a great way. Nowhere else in the Boston area did I have such exposure to so many black people at one time and most of them baring their souls through poetry. Really inspiring. I read one poem there, but after that, I just didn't feel like I could match these peoples' souls.

LATE

Crap! It's late. I've got to get up at something of a good time tomorrow to work on the job search. Maybe I'll write about how tonight entertained me, especially since I'll see another episode of The Lost Room tomorrow night.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Alive

Just wanted to drop a quick not to let my loyal readers know that I'm still alive. The last week has just put me through the wringer with this telecommuting note taking job. It made me feel somewhat isolated.

On a good note, though, I got the chance to read the whole of Orson Scott Card's Shadow books. I have many ambivalent feelings about the series. Deep down, despite the pragmatic disagreement in politics, however, I appreciate the books, even if I felt them somewhat forced, pretentious and overly long at certain points.

But I'm just one man.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Breaking into Marketing and Advertising

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING COPYWRITERS AND COPYEDITORS, GRAPHIC DESIGNERS AND ALL MARKETERS AND ADVERTISERS

Do some work note taking for market research interviews. Obviously, you need to have good typing and transcription skills. If you have that down, though, a note taking gig is very entry level. You can possibly even get such a gig by interning or telling temp agencies that you just want that kind of position.

Even though it doesn't have much glory attached to it, can get quite tedious or really have that much of a challenge to it, the gig can teach you a lot about how different elements of copy, visuals, graphics and the such affects a variety of people. I can't really provide too many examples since the data that I have is really proprietary property.

Also, the studies I've worked on have generated tons of data of so many varieties. I didn't even really know how to sift through the information at first. Most of the time, I just compared the responses to a profile that I made of people based on the most superficial bits of information like sex, nationality, experience in a field, where they worked, etc. etc. The first couple days that resulted in pretty homogenous results didn't help, either. After having an exposure to a large variety of respondents and data, though, I've found myself picking up on some things.

So yeah, I'd say if you want to get into marketing and advertising, you should really check out this kind of note taking gig. Two other gigs that could help you get more of a breadth of the methodologies and principles of these types of things: a survey research interviewer (or if you have a degree in the social sciences, a survey designer or analyst) and some kind of entry level sales position.

In regards to sales, I've only done low level sales in insurance, when I read a book on selling insurance (which included some interesting psychology stereotypes that proved somewhat accurate), and the event marketing for Blue Green. Nonetheless, those sales/event marketing positions helped me to understand marketing and advertising just that much better, and not necessarily in some academic, deconstructionist type of way, either. . .even though I prefer those kinds of interpretation more. =D

Monday, November 27, 2006

More Griping About LOST

Plenty of real-world friends will probably want to lop my head off from all the complaints that I make about LOST. On a similar note, I think I had one friend who wanted to slap me around because I didn't much enjoy the fourth season of Angel.

The comments at Dead Things on Sticks: Oh Dear touches on my feelings about the season arcs for the 2nd one and the 3rd one so far. Just to mention, however, I do think the 3rd season has a somewhat better feeling to it than the 2nd season did at this point.

Have to admit, on some level, though, I haven't met any other fan of the show who has had complaints to the same degree that I do about the 3rd season. They agree with me, somewhat, on season two, but not this one. Nonetheless, I have the same complaint about this season so far: the show has spent so much time building up all this crazy tension without releasing it quick enough for me. The show has resolved all these minor plot arcs, but I just feel the pacing comes too slow for larger plot points.

But if I make a statement like this one about these last two seasons, how can I not make a similar one about the first season? I see two reasons as possible: either the show didn't escalate the stakes so high or they had balanced the increasing tension of mystery with the resolution of these tense situations.

Then again, as I've admitted, I haven't really met too many people in the "real world" who agree with me that there's any issue with this kind of balance in LOST. They're all gobbling it up, loving the increasing tension and enjoying the small resolutions and revelations of information, like the supposed fact that The Others live on another island than the hero's group does.

Me, I want to know more about the agenda of The Others, what happened to "TV">Michael, what's up with showing "TV">Desmond's girlfriend/fianceee at the end of the second season, etc. etc. I just feel that the show has created all these big revelations and mysteries in the past but haven't followed up quick enough with explorations of these revelations and mysteries.

And at the same time, I've lost interest in a lot of the characters. I don't completely know why, except that maybe the show has created all these connections between the characters but hasn't shown more connections for awhile now. Maybe, to me, they've built up these expectations of connection but haven't gone anywhere to explaining any such combinations. I guess I liked not having an expectation of connection between the characters and having the flashbacks and such be more about the characters, themselves, rather than the whole plot.

So, in the long run, I have the feeling that I feel there's all these connections and imbalance of connections between these different aspects. I've gotten frustrated with the build up of tension in comparison to every one else getting excited by all this potential. Along with my frustration, I'm even building up an expectation of feeling underwhelmed when the show finally ends. The production story about extending the show from 3 seasons to 5 doesn't help matters much for me, either.

But, on the flipside, as the author at Dead Things on Sticks points out about people with my criticism, I'm acting somewhat like a fanboy, complaining about the writers not resolving arcs quickly enough and such, wanting that emotional release for the big arcs then getting disappointed in the show once the tension gets released.

I can only think of one retort to that: the plot arcing for Charlie Jade and for Heroes. They both have ensemble casts, Charlie Jade much less than Heroes, but still. . .both shows have a good balance of building tension and resolving it (Well, Charlie Jade doesn't satisfy most people at first, but it hits a good balance by episode 7 then picks up real good at around episode 14. . .still, that's in a range of one season as compared to 2 1/4 seasons of LOST).

Part of the balance that satisfies me, I believe, involves raising mystery/tension for one character or set of them while resolving tension and providing a revelation for another point of view. Now, at the beginning of a series or a season, I can see a point of not resolving a lot of tension too quickly. Maybe I somewhat have that issue with LOST. I'm responding to not just the first six episodes of this new season of LOST, but I'm also responding to the very very slow and not so great 2nd season of it.

Nonetheless, I would enjoy seeing more of a balance between these two aspects. . .or if anything, raising more of the overall stakes and mystery than with just The Others and John Locke. I just feel there's a whole lot of other interesting details and plot arcs left dangling without even teasing the audience with them. So, I guess I want LOST to either provide me with more resolution or tease me more with more aspects and characters they've mentioned but haven't explored much. Honestly, Locke, Kate, Sawyer and The Others have started to annoy me. Jack, "TV">Desmond, Charlie, Desmond's girlfriend, "TV">Michael, Claire and Claire's child on the other hand. . ..

But you never know. Maybe the writers and producers will started addressing all these aspects after the hiatus and beginning of "season 4."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Cover Letter Pitch

Returned from the Thanksgiving trip to New England yesterday. It happened as something of a whirlwind event, running around everywhere to see so many people at the same time without really talking to anyone for much time or for much depth. Does life become this way as we get older and move around?

WORKING ON MY PITCH

One night on the Thanksgiving trip, the fiancee, a friend and I discussed pitching my novel. I, unfortunately, never really thought up one or mangled one together from the various discussions that I've had with people. At least, I haven't mangled a good one together.

After dropping the friend off, the fiancee and I had a little more of an in depth conversation about pitches, which turned into a conversation about writing a cover letter to send with my resume. The novel pitch can wait for another day, after I actually finish the thing, but I need to put together a good cover letter to get myself a job.

The fiancee gave me some good tips, but it pretty much drove the point that I focused too much on what a company could do for me rather than the things that I could contribute to the organization. I seriously didn't think I could let myself get that narcissistic. Really, it all turned out that way by combining a bunch of different templates from some books and the career counsellor I saw last year.

Maybe I just haven't had the right frame of mind. After all, I've heard plenty of times that in the job search, the applicant is "selling themselves" and "marketing themselves." I guess I just never fully realized it meant actually pitching myself.
Entering this mode took some bit of conscious and unconscious thiking about the topic.

Maybe my experience Blue Green has taught (along with a couple sessions of Internet research) me some necessary skills for this bigger quest to get a better paying job. Can't say that I've figured out the cover letter yet, but I think using some of the sales techniques I've used for that job in the letter, possibly even in interviews, could help me get that good job.

At least, most of the time, I'll know what a company wants. Now to show them that I call provide for their need. Too bad I have enough fear to procrastinate on this task, but who doesn't. Then again, entering this frame of mind could help me overcome the fear. I think I'm ready, I think I'm ready.

MISERY DOES ENJOY COMPANY

Yes, Roby, misery does enjoy company. Good luck with your job search.

Any tips?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sick, Temping and Looking for Work

Early in the morning right now, before 5 AM. The fiancee and I have gotten up early, so we can make it to our flight back to the Boston area for Thanksgiving.

I've stayed pretty busy lately and haven't really had the cognitive resources to write entries for the Lextopia, work on my job search or do any writing. A strange yet weak sick has struck me, something to do with the sinuses. It may be my allergies acting up or something.

A couple temp assignments have kept me busy and will do so for a couple weeks after Thanksgiving. Hard to believe that my temp assignment with Fannie Mae only ended a couple weeks ago. Since then, though, I've taken notes for a pharmaceutical company doing market research (not something I would recommend) and hanging out behind a desk, watching daytime TV and reading newspapers, magazines and a book doing very very light reception work because no one calls my area of the building or visits.

I did one day of the market research note taking and four days of the reception work. After getting back from Thanksgiving, I'll do a total of 8 days of note taking again, in two day blocks over two weeks. They'll give me some long hours, too, so I probably won't have too much trouble paying bills until December. After that, though, I will need to get my butt into gear.

I find myself in a really strange spot. . .sick, temping and looking for work around the holidays. Not a fun prospect, I tell you, not a fun prospect.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Support Indie Bookstores & Dreams of Jon Stewart

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORES

By going to Booksense.com.

DREAM OF JON STEWART

Last night, I had a dream with Jon Stewart in it.

The fiancee and I rode our bikes on this road back near my old home town. In real life, I normally wouldn't have ridden so far, but I probably could have, if I wanted to do so.

So, we rode our bikes on this road. Passing by a house, we see Jon Stewart in the yard or driveway. We debate it for a little bit then turn back to the home.

We start talking to him and have a grand old time, becoming quick friends. At some point, he has to get on his plane and head to New York City. The fiancee and I, on a whim, decide to go.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Day Break of Excitement

DAY BREAK

Caught Day Break off the TiVo today. I liked it. I even found it a lot more satisfying than LOST lately. I know, I know, I've uttered a heretical statement.

LOST has just disappointed me since the beginning of the second season, with it moving as slowly as it does and the character development having become so disaparate and, well, uninteresting. At the moment, I really only have an interest in the present day mystery plot rather than the characters, unlike in the first season, when I found my interests in the plot and characters balanced. Yeah, every once in awhile, they have a great, stellar episode. In general, though, I really don't care too much.

Hang me. . ..

Now, Day Break hasn't reached stellar status, in my opinion. As I told someone, it feels like an adrenalin packed thriller, mystery, drama and a little speculative fiction mixed in with it probably somewhat akin to 24 with speculative fiction. Now, the speculative fiction aspect doesn't go much further than the comparison to Groundhog Day so far, but it has plenty of possibilities.

Day Break actually kind of reminds me of Charlie Jade, at least when it comes to a character coming to a realization that something amiss has happened and that it needs to get fixed. For people who have seen Charlie Jade, I'm referring to when Charlie finds himself in a parallel universe, not to the overaching plot.

I only have one big criticism of Day Break that I think the earlier, more disparate parts of Charlie Jade pulled off well at first: the main character, Hopper figured out the Groundhog Day effect too quickly. Then again, I had a friend who saw Charlie Jade that thought Charlie should have known off the bat that he had popped into a parallel universe, despite the fact that in the first couple minutes of the pilot, a Charlie voiceover states that Vexcor pretty much propagandized the population of the Alphaverse into not believing that alternate universes existed. To each their own, I guess.

Overall, though, I think the first couple episodes of Day Break did a good job of introducing the concept and its ramifications along with the major characters who take part in the day. Character development takes a second chair to plot development, world development and resolution of the mystery, which combines an actual mystery of murder and framing, similar to The Fugitive, and the mystery of the Groundhog Day effect. We don't know if something mystical occurs or someone has figured out some way to make it happen. Properly executed, these two mysteries do a good job balancing each other out and not competing with each other.

Also, I think the whole concept won't become stale essentially because of two things: one episode doesn't necessarily come as one iteration of the day and the show will only have a limited run of 13 episodes, total. After last night, we have only 11 episodes left.

I would much rather watch this show than LOST, mainly because of adrenalin packed thriller aspect of Day Break. As shown in one of the episodes and partially throughout both of them, a fair amount of back story filters into the main timeline. We don't have flashbacks, but we get information about the past that effects the present. If a show or piece of work doesn't have great character development, then I, at least, want some good excitement and a good mystery that won't last forever and ever and ever. I'm fine with not liking the resolution taste-wise, even if I want to be overwhelmed or properly whelmed, but I want the mystery to last a reasonable time and not overstay its welcome. I don't want the maintenance of mystery sacrificing character development and advancement of a plot.

And since character development doesn't necessarily rank as hugely and vastly important, acting doesn't necessarily come as the number one factor, either, even though it does have to work well. I can't really provide any acclaim for the quality of acting. It didn't disappoint, but neither did it excite me. For a moment or two, I might have actually felt a little emotion. . .even though I could sympathize with Hopper for any irritation faced while bringing people up to speed, after doing so the day earlier.

One thing that pushes Day Break to a next level of keeping my attention: it has Adam Baldwin in it. Come on, you know him! Jayne from Firefly and Serenity and the second liaison to the Senior Partners from Angel. Yeah, he's had plenty of other roles in non-speculative fiction, but that's from where I know him.