Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ends and Odds and Links

Amazon is currently offering the Lord of the Rings Extended Blu-Ray trilogy for $69.99.  I'm not sure if this is permanent or just a current special, since they just came out yesterday.  Click here for details.

Found this from io9 yesterday.  I love the artist's illustrations, but I'm fondest of her interpretation of LOTR as a modern day affair.  I'll embed one image (without permission, so if I need to remove it lemme know), but I strongly urge you to follow this link and look at her stuff.  Hilarious and beautiful.

Awesome, eh?  I love all the renditions.  The nazgul on the bicycle cracked me up big big.  And Smeagol looks great.  Legolas is pretty funny, too, and Gandalf.  Ahh.  Really, check out her tumblr site and laugh and be impressed.

Avonlea's umbilical stump fell off.  We gave her her first submerged bath.  She wasn't too impressed, but did seem to prefer it to the sponge cleaning.  We dried her off.  We wrapped her in a towel to warm her and finish drying her.  She pooped, an explosion so enormous that our foundation shook.  Our little bundle of joy made her own little bundle of joy in the towel.  After the bath.  When she was nekkid.  She was re-cleaned.  The towels were purged with hyssop and cleansed with dragonsfire.

I hate prank calls, especially at 2am.  What kind of people think this is funny?  Adolescent girls aren't intimidating.  Nor were these particularly bright, as they failed to block their phone number the first two times they called me. 

I've been re-reading GRRM's A Feast for Crows and I'm very nearly finished.  [SPOILER WARNING FOR GRRM STUFF].  The Greyjoy's are rather boring, really.  I love the Drowned God religion, though, and Damphair is fantastic, but I could care less about the Seastone Chair and Asha.  Pssh.  And I feel pretty much the same about the Dornish plot.  But I really enjoy Arya's scenes in this book and everything that she learns.  The Faceless Men are really cool.  I don't think I realized that the Alchemist in the Prologue (who later becomes Pate at the end) is likely Jaqen H'ghar from ACWK.  Is their art related to the skinchanging art of the North?  Sansa's never been a character I've cared about.  Samwell's okay, but I much prefer Jon.  I like Jaime's development quite a bit, and Cersei's is mediocre, but Brienne's is definitely the best of these three.  How awesome is Lady Stoneheart and her band of merry men?  And is this somehow related to the Others?  I'm rather eager to crack open A Dance With Dragons here in the next few weeks.  Gimme Tyrion!  Gimme Jon!  Gimme Daenerys!

I've also been reading through Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes.  I've not made too much progress, but it feels like I'm reading an old friend already.  The man sure has a way with words.  Who knows how long it'll take to finish this, but hopefully I'll get through it 'ere ADWD hits shelves.

I also picked up Wise Man's Fear on audio at the library yesterday.  I think I'll give it a listen while at work.  It's 36 discs, or 43hr18m.  That's the longest audio book I've ever seen.

Project completion is somewhat imminent, so perhaps I'll get it done.  Here's to hoping.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Winter's Bone, a Review

Ever since first hearing about Winter's Bone on NPR, I knew I wanted to watch the film.  It was on Fresh Air, I believe, and Terry Gross was discussing the unique sounds of the film and how Realistic it sounded.  Some sweet Appalachian music, abject poverty, and the struggles of a young girl in the harsh backwoods drug-circles of the Ozarks of Missouri sounded mighty appealing, for reasons more personal than I'd like to admit.

Truth be told, the opening images of Winter's Bone reminded me a lot of home and of childhood.  We were in no way poor like the Dolly family was, but the similarities were close, especially if I go back a generation or two.  I grew up in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, a place known for its musical roots (such as the Everly Brothers, Mose Rager, and Merle Travis), coal mines, and methamphetamine.  (Need I point to John Prine's ubiquitous song "Paradise," a somewhat county anthem?)  I thank God I've never been involved with drugs, though many in my family have had their lives ruined because of the stuff.

Winter's Bone is the story of Ree Dolly, a seventeen year old girl that spends her days taking care of her crazed mother and her two younger siblings.  Ree's life is hard and bleak, and nearly every waking moment is spent cooking or cleaning or teaching her brother & sister how to do things in case she has to be away.  Ree's dad, Jessup, has been away in jail/prison for a while due to his drug making.  At the start of the film, a sheriff shows up telling Ree that Jessup has put the house up for bond and that if he doesn't show up to court soon then the Dolly's will lose their house and land.

The rest of the movie is spent with Ree looking for her father.  She runs across all manner of people, and very few (I'm struggling to think of any) are helpful or friendly.  This provides plenty of tension for the viewer.  We're aware of how much the Dolly family depends on Ree, and should anything happen to her, what would become of the rest of them?  

I'm not sure how to classify Winter's Bone.  I'd say something like suspense/horror/pseudo-documentary/mystery.  At one point I was breathing hard and felt my throat constricting, worried for Dolly.  At another I was almost in tears.  And that's part of the wonder of Winter's Bone--the film presents the scene and one cannot help but to react.

Maybe it's the lack of flair or high budget, but Winter's Bone is probably the most stirring movie I've watched in a long time.  It could be that I can see this very stuff happening out my backdoor.  It could be Jennifer Lawrence's* excellent performance, as well as the many other "unknown" faces as secondary characters.  The mostly empty score (as in, there's not much background music at all, just natural sounds) almost gives the viewer an impression that they're watching a home video.

Winter's Bone was nominated for many awards last year, and its deserving of them.  If you've not seen the film, it's worth the watch, though be warned that it's not a light viewing.  If you've a heart, you'll likely feel burdened once the credits roll, but I'm not sure if that's the point.  Yes, we need to be aware of situations like this, and we should help whenever we can, but we should also smile at Ree's perseverance and determination to see her family to safety, too.

While looking for the Fresh Air article (alas, I couldn't find it) online, I stumbled across an NPR First Listen featuring Gillian Welch and Dave Rawling's album (released today).  I didn't know they were at work on one, but after listening through it, I can say that I enjoyed it tremendously.  This duo is possibly the finest example of Appalachian music, and if you've never heard their stuff, give this first listen a go.  You shan't be disappointed.

*I think she'll make a great Katniss when The Hunger Games hits the Big Screen.  Maybe a touch too old, but Hollywood can change that. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: Four Seconds to Live

     With four seconds left to live, Krenya’s mind was absurdly tranquil. She’d known the day ever since she was born. Like all Voxinne children, she was born with the Knowing. A curse. A blessing. When you know your deathdate, some choices become more important, others less so. It was only the how that remained unknown. Many Voxinne tried to trump fate and take control of their own lives, but none were ever successful. Suicide was almost always impossible.
     The Neyun-born, on the other hand, knew the how but not the when. Krenya’s lifelong friend, Horna, knew she would live to become a woman, but she also knew that she would die from suffocation. It made each breath more bittersweet than anything imaginable.
     Three seconds left and Krenya thought of things done and things left undone. In her fifteen years there was much still to do, but she had no regrets. In her brief life, she’d found love, something so many never achieve. Rossn tried to promise that he’d never love another after she left, but she admonished him until he changed his mind.
     “Don’t let my death stop your happiness,” she’d said. “You’ll still have forty-four years and twelve days left when I’m gone.”
     She pictured her parent’s faces, smiling sweetly above her when she’d had the flu. She saw her brother and Tessa’s beautiful wedding and the crowd of happy people. Face upon face fluttered through her mind, lingering only a moment.
     At two seconds she thought of the past, of Man long ago, before the Gift. Back then, all were born without the Knowing. No one knew when or how they would die. She used to feel sorry for them and their blindness. She envisioned them a scared people, constantly worried that each second could be their last. Now, though, she envied them. Perhaps they truly lived, she mused.
     One second until death claimed her and Krenya finally turned her mind towards the future. What lay beyond was still a mystery. Many spoke of a place called Heaven, an eternal kingdom of happiness and peace. Others said there was nothing, only void. Still, others believed in rebirth. Krenya hadn’t made up her mind about what she believed. She’d tried, but grew weary of the multitude of options and the hypocrisy of the Ecclesia and the Holy Houses. She would find out soon enough.
     At 1521.28.33 in the year 2887, Krenya ba Soon’s heart stopped and her brain shut down, taking with her nothing but a fondness for a life well lived.

Word Count: 425

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scraps: A philosophical rambling, a poem, and questions without answers

Often, when a product is finished, there are a lot of leftovers.  The director leaves unneeded scenes lying on the floor.  A painter has too much red on his palette.  A writer has revisions upon revisions upon revisions.  Most of the time, this is done for the greater good of the product.  A movie is shortened and made tighter, saving the viewer from pointless scenes.  Any more red and the painting could have a completely different meaning.  Omitted useless words and phrases save readers from tedious pacing and plotting.

In short, the scraps are made obsolete.  Some would say pointless, but I'd disagree.  Without the scraps, a finished product would likely have a completely different look.  For example, a scene may be removed from a book because it's not working well, but having that scene in at first was crucial to the writer to get to the next point.  It served as a stepping stone that guided imagination and direction.

Ultimately, our life is one product.  When we die, the production stops and we're finished.  No more editing.  No more revising.  It's just us, shipped out to Quality Inspection.  And this train of thought has me thinking about the scraps in our lives.  What kind of stuff is left on our drawing boards?  How many unfinished stories have I written, now sitting idly in a Google Docs warehouse.  How many plans were made and discarded?  And how in the world is this relevant?

What has put me in this mindset?  I found a poem I scribbled down a while ago, just eight lines.  An unfinished thing if there e'er was one.  The first stanza I was insanely proud of.  Clever, methought.  Double meanings and all that stuff.  The second...

in love she fell with a rogue
whose blood was far below hers,
dashed across the jagged rocks
his bowels burst asunder.

ocean's song, an elegy,
the waves a gentle death tune.
she died from an angry blade
wielded by her father.

And there it sat.  There's editing needed.  There's always editing needed.  In life.  In stories.  In paintings.  In blog posts.  We're so concerned about perfection and passing the Quality Control test that we cheat ourselves of so much.  It doesn't help that Society screams for independence and self-reliance.  We must be strong citizens.  We must be productive.

And yet, I posit that most of us aren't able to cut it at being independent.  Not truly.  Still, we desire independence and selfness.  The dichotomy is fascinating.  On one hand, our base instincts are for self-preservation and self-happiness.  We want our opinions to be valued, likely above all others.  We want to be noticed.  We want to be special.  On the other hand, we can't handle the stress of being the sole responsibility of our opinions, and we want others to share that burden.  How selfish is that?  How crazy?

I think of God saying in Genesis 2:18 that it's not good for man to be alone.  Obviously loneliness is a problem if the Creator thinks it is.  But why?  Why is it not good?  (And again, why are my thoughts turned this way?)  Is Man, when left alone, ultimately going to turn to evil? 

[insert clever paragraph that relates scraps and these musings above in a nice, succinct way.  this is a strong first sentence here that uses a nice, simple transition and lays the ground for the next sentence.  this is a complex sentence, with six subjects that all agree with their predicates.  this is a question where i try to understand the previous sentence.  this is a parenthetical, cause why not?  this is the most important sentence i've ever written in my life and what everything really boils down to.  this is an emoticon.]

In the end, this is too much for me to comprehend.  My life is infinitely more complex than I can fathom, with countless causes and effects, affecting both me and you, directly or indirectly.  I'm just thankful that I've been blessed with a loving wife and daughter, a wonderful family, and a great set of friends.  Most of all I'm thankful that Jesus loves me and understands all this stuff I don't.  I'm thankful for the brain He's given me, even though sometimes I wonder about myself. 

When I die and reach the end of production, I want my life to be one that glorifies God.  I want all the scraps to resonate with that glory, that I can look back and see how much He's changed me.  I look back now and see some already, and I look ahead with wonder at what He's gonna do next.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Birth & Rejection

And so it is we find ourselves back in the machine, barreling through tubes and squeezing through cogs, along once again for the ride.  A week away afforded rest and family bonding time, to be sure, though it was but a second in its lasting.  Life as a dad has been wonderful so far, and I'm sure it'll only get better.  Avonlea has already peed on my hand, as well as the couch, and it didn't phase me one bit.  Had it been the dogs, I would've been perturbed, but my daughter doesn't generate ire yet.

Much of the week was tiring, learning to semi-sleep and still function firing all cylinders.  This is still a work in progress.  We also had many visitors, and while this is a blessing (many brought delicious foodstuffs), it's also very tiring.  One night we found ourselves upstairs and abed 'ere nine in PM, a thing most unheard. 

As for the birth, the word that keeps coming to mind is surreal.  Keisha had been having high blood pressure, though two lab tests showed no preeclampsia.  As it were, we arrived at a routine appointment two Thursdays ago at 2:30 to have another round of measurings and what not.  Fluid levels were low, blood pressure was high, and the doctor decided to ship us out to the hospital for monitoring (nothing to worry about, normal, happens all the time, don't worry about going by the house).  So at 4pm-ish we walk through the doors of Labor & Delivery, looking to be hooked up and Keisha monitored.  Bloods taken.  Pee, too.  Lab results done in the post-haste.  And come 5o'clock-ish, the doctor says that things aren't well and that Keisha's gonna need an emergency C-section (a thing unheard of!)  This was not in the plans, as Keisha intended to go au natural, and my sweet, lovely, and perfect wife freaked out.*  Yet, after we understood that the longer she went with Avonlea inside, the greater the chance for a stillborn birth, she decided a C-section fit the bill.  And so I was given scrubs, Keisha was given drugs, and we were rushed to the O.R.  And, lo, at 6:02, a daughter was born.  I shall never forget it.  I'd say it was the insanely dry air that caused tears to sting my eyes, but I'd be lying, and that I am not.

Avonlea arrived, crying, peeing, and the world dipped heavily.  I saw my wife's insides, all purple and red and blue, as the backdrop to my new baby, upheld by the good doctor's hands.  Avonlea was beautiful.  And then we got a quick picture and I was rushed to the nursery with the babe, where soon we were reunited with Keisha for permanent.

The hospital stay was three nights, and it passed quickly.  We arrived at Stewartland, where the dogs curiously sniffed the new arrival, and life resumed.  The world was wonderful, and it's been ever since.

As it were, something happened to me the very day we arrived home, and then again two nights later.  Something that hit me hard and shook my faith in the world a little bit.  Something that honestly put a wretched damper on my glorious week, sickening me to the gut and wrapping against my faith.  In short, and without going into much, I was rejected.  I was going to be a deacon at church, but in order to do that, one must be questioned.  My answers were apparently too liberal/immature on the matter of alcohol, tithing, and a qualification of deacons, though I based all of my beliefs on my understanding of the bible.  Scripture doesn't prohibit drinking, only drunkenness.  Tithing is required, but to the Lord, as I see it, not necessarily the local church (excepting the OT).  And deacons, well, it says plainly a man of one wife, as it were, and that's enough for me.**

This rejection hurt.  A lot.  Not so much that I was found lacking, but that these three issues were enough to cause such dissension among the deacon body.  Romans 14:17 says "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  Jesus said to love God, love people (obviously paraphrased), and that's the important thing.  How can we as a church hope to reach the lost when we're too concerned with these less-than-important things?  Sure, they matter, to a degree, but they're not issues to base a foundation on.  On Jesus and His love, these are foundations. 

While my heart still grieves over this, I've prayed for guidance and understanding.  I've prayed for unity in the church like never before.  I've prayed for a loving and forgiving heart, one that holds no grudges (I thank God I've never been one to do so) and one willing to serve as Jesus.  I don't have to be a deacon to serve God.  Amen.

So, yeah, an unimaginable wonderful and tragic week.  What a great juxtaposition, eh?

In the end, the birth of Avonlea trumps anything.  Like eternal life will always trump out any of life's problems, simply holding my daughter against my chest works miracles for an aching heart.  My daughter is beautiful, healthy, and fierce.  She's got Stewart blood in her, olde and magickal.  She's a noble, as her da.  And we bow to no man but the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

*freaked out probably gives it justice.  She was definitely upset. 

**I've obviously simplified this.  The interrogation spanned three hours over the two evenings.  It likely was the most intense thing I've ever been involved in.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Daughter is Born

We had a surprise arrive on Thursday night, around 6:02 in the post meridian.  Say hello to my baby.  Avonlea Brynn Stewart.  4lb9oz.  17.25" long.  Expect it to be quiet here at Rememorandom for a bit.  There's a slideshow below, and a direct link if you wanna see some beautiful pictures.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Joe Purdy Concert (The Mercy Lounge 6/8/11)

A few simple precedents to save myself from repetition.  One, and most importantly, Joe Purdy is my absolute favorite artist to listen to for pretty much every thing.  He's a powerful singer-songwriter with catchy refrains, honest lyrics, and wonderful sounds.  Two, I've seen Joe in concert once before (see this blog), and I had the bar set impossibly high.  And three, if you're not listening to Joe's music and wanna try it out, check his website where all 12 of his albums are available for free streaming.
Venue:  The Mercy Lounge, Nashville
Status:  Little air flow, but roomy-yet-intimate bar
Opening Band:  Milk Carton Kids
Main Act:  Joe Purdy
Time:  9:00pm?

The question mark that rests above in the Time spot is because my tickets said 8pm EST, even though Nashville is in CST, but Joe's website said 9pm CST.  This was a large difference, and I wanted to make sure we got there early, so we left home about 3pm yesterday.  We made it to Nashville, parked and ate (at Demos', which was quite tasty), and then decided to walk the relatively short mile to the Mercy Lounge.  Apparently, the Country Music Awards were going on last night, and the city was packed.  Still, we made the walk in muggy, high temperatures, getting further out of town, and eventually down seedy streets that may possibly have been dotted with strip clubs.  The mile trip took about half an hour, through the crowd and winding roads.  Egads.

But then we were there, and the mostly empty parking lot of the Mercy Lounge laughed at us, mocking our long walk and emptied pocket money.  Had we known, we literally could've parked at the back door for free...  Anyway, we headed inside to pick up the tickets, but there was no one there.  Joe's music was playing, we followed it and just so happened to stumble in on the sound test.  Joe & the gang were onstage singing and playing and the sound guys were getting stuff ready and that was it.  Doors didn't open* for another hour (8pm CST), so we had to go out and wait on the steps.  Later on, Joe walked out, said what's up, and hopped in his vehicle and left.  Somewhat surreal, I think.

From personal experience, I rarely enjoy an opening band whenever I go to a concert.  There's typically something odd or off-setting.  Yet, honestly, I was almost as excited to see the Milk Carton Kids open for Joe Purdy as I was to actually see Joe.  I'd never heard of the duo--Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan--until a few months ago, when I purchased the tickets for the show.  I scoured the webs and found their website, where they had a free album to download.  I did (and I boldly recommend you do so, too), and I fell in love.

The Milk Carton Kids took stage with grace, Joey introducing the band and saying they were going to play their most depressing songs from their tiny catalog.  Instead, they played their familiar-to-me songs with smiles on their faces and joy pouring from their bodies, even if the lyrics were forlorn.  But what artist doesn't pine for love?  Or hate?  Regardless, the two were brilliant, establishing a mood for the venue, starting with using acoustic guitars that were stationed in front of microphones and foregoing traditional plug-ins.  (In fact, the only instruments that were plugged in appeared to be a bass, an electric guitar, and an organ, all of which were used for the Purdy portion of the show.)  They sang to a divided crowd, many interested and listening, and many talking and chattering through the background.

This was obviously frustrating for the two, and at one point they asked the crowd to quieten down so they could play the next song with a proper feel to it.  It worked, but only slightly.  Still, the noise didn't deter me from listening enraptured by the prodigious playing of Pattengale and the smooth voice of Ryan.  The two were on fire, and they finished by asking if anyone actually knew any of their songs and had any requests.  Apparently I was one of a handful, and I yelled out "Queen Jane," to which the band played "for the one guy that asked for it."  Hey, that's pretty cool you ask me.

And then there was a short break before Joe took stage.  He played a few songs solo and then beckoned the Milk Carton Kids onstage to play with him.  They jammed and sang for the next hour, largely playing selections from Joe's latest album, This American.  The raw energy between the three was palpable.  They were stomping and laughing and generally just having a good time.  Perhaps it was because this was the first stop on the second leg of his tour and they'd all had some rest over the past week or two, but the three didn't slow down one bit.  Sweaty and sticky, their fingers moved up and down guitar necks or across piano keys.  I really liked the slowed down version of "Can't Get It Right Today."

The three played like a band that's been playing together for years, not just three months.  Unlike the last show I saw Joe play, where it was all solo, this was an altogether different experience.  Songs were filled out and fleshed.  Many had an almost newgrass feel, hammer-ons quick enough to make any guitarist in the room jealous.  Synergy was the word that came to mind last night.

By 11:20, the crowd had thinned out a bit, and the band played their last.  Pattengale had broken a string on his guitar, and then broke one on the mandolin.  The three bowed and headed off-stage for five or six seconds (a "formality," Joe said), and then Joe returned for the encore.  He opened up the floor, asking for any requests.  The crowd exploded, and Joe randomly picked a few.  Some he hadn't played in a long time, and one ("Secret") he stopped at the end and asked the crowd if there was more.  "Seems like there's another chorus or verse or something," he said, and then he fingered through the keys and re-sang the first verse.  He finished "Secret," picked up his guitar and someone asked for "You Can Tell Georgia" (one of my favorites) and he complied, putting down the guitar and returning to the piano.  This went on, open requests, for almost an hour.  Some songs Joe struggled to recall (forgivable with a catalog spanning over 100 songs in so few years), but he pulled them all off admirably.

The encore was something special.  He played so many requests it was unbelievable.  Not only was he entertaining us, but he was having fun himself, and that's always a plus when seeing live performance.  Finally, around 12:15am, the Milk Carton Kids had returned and the three finished off the night with as much energy as they had started with.  The set was over, three hours gone, but definitely not forgotten.  We walked the long stretch back to the car and made the long, boring drive home.  I got to bed just after 3am, late enough that my eyes burned, early enough that I could've stayed up and just went on in to work soon after.

All in all, the night was phenomenal.  It very likely places among the top of my favorite concerts, and I've been to a lot of concerts**.  Supporting independent artists is always good, and Joe Purdy is one of the best out there.  He's truly independent, shunning record companies to make and produce his own stuff, and that's something I for one appreciate.  He doesn't do it for the money, but for the fact that there are songs inside that just have to get out.  I believe the Milk Carton Kids are in the same vein.  As I mentioned above, if you've never heard either, follow the links and give the bands a shot.  I'd recommend starting Purdy's catalog with You Can Tell Georgia or Paris in the Morning or This American.  All the others are great, but these are just plain awesome.  For the Kids, I particularly like the song "Charlie," a poignant and resonating song about a father's love for his currently unborn daughter.  I also like "Queen Jane," "Permanent," "Broken Headlights," and "Like a Cloak."  And you have no excuse for them.  Their album is free!  So get out there and listen to some new music and hopefully find something you like.


*The irony here is obvious.  Or perhaps I mean coincidence.  Or oxymoron.  I'm too tired to think it through.

**Perhaps I'll make this into a list and put up here...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fragile Things, a Review

Fragile Things is an entertaining collection of stories & thoughts from master story teller Neil Gaiman. There are a few pieces that fell flat for me, a few I just didn't get, but the majority were well worth the read.  I've created mini/micro-reviews of each piece of this collection.  For the most part, I listened to the audio book, which was narrated by Gaiman himself, making it an altogether pleasing experience.  I read a few (from the book that sits on my shelf), but I found I preferred hearing the author's voice.  I've boldfaced the stories that were my favorites from this collection.  I've also included links for many of these that are available to read legally (mostly) for free online.  If you've never read any Gaiman, this is a great collection to pick up and get an idea for the man's wonderful way with words.

Introduction: Very interesting and informative just seeing how many of these stories have won awards.

A Study in Emerald: This is a story of Sherlock Holmes meets something from Lovecraftian mythology. It was remarkably well done and fun to read a Gaiman take at this.  (Read the story stylized as a newspaper piece from Gaiman's website here [PDF warning].)

The Fairy Reel:  A poem that has to be read aloud and more than once. It flows so beautifully. I particularly love the lines "She'd pluck wild eagles from the air/ and nail me to a lightning tree." This poem is great when read by Gaiman himself, too.  (Read here.)

October in the Chair: A frame story, beginning with the months of the year sitting around a campfire and telling stories to each other. The main event, being told by October, is a tale of a young boy named the Runt and his running away from home. It's quite bittersweet. Melancholic, I'd say. The ending leaves plenty of room for thinking.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire: Beautifully written, but somewhat confusing. Great story.

Flints of Memory Lane: Odd. Is it a true memory of Gaiman, or a made-up memoir? Regardless, it's nice to read.

Closing Time: Another odd memory of Gaiman about a pub he used to frequent and an aspiring, alcoholic playwright that happened to own the pub. There are some collections of urban legends and folktales told between some of the characters. A "true" ghost story is finally told, of childhood, adolescence, and a haunted house. Very interesting.

Going wodwo: Very short. Some beautiful lines, but otherwise not memorable.

Bitter Grounds: A fascinating journey of a man who one day up and leaves his normal life and travels to New Orleans, on the way encountering some odd and interesting characters. I really enjoyed this story. Slightly confusing, slightly vulgar, but a very catchy story.  (Available from here.)

Other People: This is the second tale I read from this book, and it sucked me in. I thoroughly enjoyed this short, dark piece.  Somewhat freaky, but a great tale.  (Read here.)

Keepsakes and Treasures: A man's disturbing tale of revenge, or a coming-of-age story of a killer. Very dark, very well written and a great grasp of character. "Takes all sorts to make a world, [as] I say." This piece had some heavy vulgarity and some rather nasty bits, but a quite interesting premise that kept me curious throughout it all. Feels quite noir styled. It's also probably related to American Gods and the novella included at the end of Fragile Things, "Monarch of the Glen."

Good Boys Deserve Favors: Boring. Not memorable.  Something about a musical instrument...

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch: A bizarre story about a group of friends that go to a circus and odd things happen.  Seems very Bradbury-esque.

The Problem of Susan:  Fascinating, eloquent, and great for fans of Narnia and fairy & folk tales. Certainly provocative and one rather disturbing part (ie, sex scene between Aslan & the White Queen).  Definitely not for children.

Instructions: An interesting set of instructions that lead to some fantastical place, possibly to a young girl embarking on a Alice-like journey. It's a fairy tale, though it's mode of presentation is unique. If a reader were trapped within the pages of a fairy tale, this piece would come in handy.  (Available to read here.)

How Do You Think It Feels?: An illicit affair story between the narrator and a woman named Becky. Quite, um, graphic toward the end. Definitely graphic and very adult. The end is very bleak and dark.

My Life: This is a hilarious poem about a man who's telling stories from his life. They're absurd, bizarre, ridiculous. Hysterical stuff, and very short. I highly recommend this read, if only for the humor of Gaiman's crazy story.

Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot: A collection of quasi-related flash pieces of fiction, all dealing with vampires and how people see them. This was an interesting little story that makes you think about vampires, and quite good.

Feeders and Eaters: This is a true story... pretty much. A man has fallen on hard times and tells his story at a bar, recalling an unsettling account involving an eerie old lady. It leaves you thinking when it's over something akin to Oh My.... "It's astonishing the things that people don't eat. All the things around them that people could eat, if only they knew it." This tale reminds me somewhat of Robby Boyle's horrifying opener "Blood" to the Stories anthology (my review), which happens to be edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio.  This story originated from a nightmare Gaiman had in his twenties.

Diseasemaker's Croup: A description of what the disease is, Diseasemaker's Croup. I can just picture an old poisoner rambling this off.

In the End: A somewhat retelling of the Fall of Man (Genesis 4). It reads almost as if it were from the bible.  Almost...

Goliath: A story set within the universe of The Matrix. It's about a very tall man and his encounter with the Matrix, primarily dealing with deja vu and other things that fit nicely in the Wachowski's universe. If one had no knowledge of the Matrix, this story could lose some of its meaning and instead might read like a drugged-out science fiction piece.

Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between ulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky: A "love" story/journal thing. Meh.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties: The story of Enn & Vic and their adventure to a party, where Enn struggles to talk to the opposite sex. As it turns out, girls are rather hard to talk to, especially when they learn that the girls are foreign. This piece was funny, quirky, and quite enjoyable.  (Available as both audio and text here.)

The Day the Saucers Came: A humorous tale of Armageddon, mixing many end-of-the-world scenarios. Extremely short, and very funny.  (Highly recommend to read this very short poem.  It's reprinted here, though probably without permission.  Still, check it, and chuckle as I did.  Or, listen to Neil read it here.)

Sunbird: Reminds me slightly of Gaiman's Graveyard Book (my review) and the ghouls of the grave how they describe food. A story of Epicureans and their quest for the legendary Suntown Sunbird. Just a taste is what they're after. This story was rather delightful and oddly captivating. I was very curious as to how this would end, and what a great ending it was.

Inventing Aladdin: A story of Scheherazade telling the tale of Aladdin, and other tales from 1001 Nights. It's an origin story of the classic Arabian Nights and how they came to be.

The Monarch of the Glen: A novella of Gaiman's highly enjoyable and lauded American Gods, this story continues Shadow's journey. He's in Scotland, where he gets a job to work as security for a party at a very old estate. It fits nicely in the mythos of American Gods, and reads like a (lengthy) deleted scene. Enjoyable, true, but a bit anticlimactic in one sense, albeit beautifully so.

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Minor Change to Rememorandom

If you read this blog using a feed reader or facebook, this will not affect you.  If, however, you prefer the old-fashioned method of reading (really, how old-fashioned can it get?  We're talking about blogging, which is barely a decade old...) and you come to the site directly, you'll likely notice a change atop the screen.  What once was plain and simple is now chic and sleek, thanks to an old pal from high school.

Kenneth, as he was known back in the day, always had great talent as an artist, and there was little doubt in my mind that he would continue down this path for his career.  Too much talent for anything else.  Anyway, a few days ago he had a post up on facebook asking if anyone needed any free graphic design work, looking for a few places to put his name out there.  My mind thought of this meager blog and thought that it could use some light sprucing up, so I sent him a message and we fell into discussion.

Me being completely ignorant of how this stuff works, I was probably difficult to work with.  I knew I wanted something sleek, with subtle lights and a background that was congruous with the current body background.  I picked out a few fonts and gave some color ideas and that was about it.  Shortly, Kenneth (a la had me a few samples to peruse.  I liked what I saw and took to putting one up here.

But O Blogger, if it were only as simple as that.  I had to go into the HTML of the template and play around, spending a good two or three hours learning the few things I needed to know in order to get the image atop, centered, and positioned correctly.  I wanted to create a dynamic affect that would change up the header upon each page refresh, but I couldn't figure it out.  I also couldn't figure out how to get the old header (which was simply text) set to transparent on Internet Explorer* (and possibly other browsers besides Firefox), so I opted to clear it all out and replace it with an ominous "." for now.  Perhaps I'll figure out this stuff at some point, and if I do, it'll be known.

In short, I am Jack's simple son when it comes to computer code beyond very basic HTML or VBA syntax.  Java might as well be French.  Heck, HTML might as well be Spanish.  I can recognize several words and understand simple structures, but anything beyond Spanish II and I get confused. 

In long, and most importantly, I am very pleased with the new header for Rememorandom.  I think it looks excellent, and I think Kenneth did a fantastic job on the little he had to go on.  He was patient and understanding and prompt and professional.  If any of you are in need of any design work, you can check out Kenneth's site at

Thanks Kenneth!  Best of luck.

*Relatedly, I've recently switched over to IE at work.  I'm loth to do so, but Firefox and a 15 year old computer don't jive well for some reason.  IE is somewhat more... responsive.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Recursive Loop

and then the kid pops out of the corner, holding something in his hand.  "What's that you've got there?" Someone asks.  "Oh, this, it's nothing."  Sure.  Sure it is, kid.  Nothing's working a job 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and getting paid in jelly beans, and even then, that's something.  It's all a matter of perspective, see. But you're not supposed to be drinking that stuff.  It'll rot your teeth out, and, and, you're gonna be a deacon!  You just wait. 

and then the kid (who's no longer a kid) shrugs his shoulders and takes a big swig of the stuff.  He holds the bottle tilted, letting the purple liquid pour unpressurized.  It fills his mouth and begins spewing over, running down his shirt.  When he's finished he smiles a wicked smile, his white teeth stained violet.  He looks like a madman.  "Oh, for the love of... it's a Mtn. Dew Pitch Black.  Jeez."  Someone storms off, upset and rankled.

and then the kid sits down and pops in his new cd, My Morning Jacket's latest Circuital, and gives it a listen.  He's pleased to hear an official album version of one of his favorite songs, "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," which he first heard on an NPR podcast from the Newport Folk Festival, where Jim James played an acoustic set with M. Ward accompanying from time to time.  Oh, he thinks.  "Outta my System" sounds like the Beach Boys.  Wow.  And is that a children's choir in "Holdin on to Black Metal"?  How does this band continue to re-create itself and yet stay the same?  He doesn't know, but he's glad he bought the $5 album from (available throughout June).  Totally worth the five bucks.
and then the kid leans over and whispers something to himself.  He tells himself that yes, it's true, his wife is now officially on bed rest.  Her blood pressure has been up, and just to be safe, they've prescribed it.  The baby that grows within her slept soundly through the lengthy monitoring yesterday, but for the kid and his wife's patience they were rewarded with new ultrasounds.  Black & white pictures rendered in three dimensions displaying a beautiful baby's face.  Their baby.  Their Avonlea.
and then the kid gets up and cocks his head, listening.  "Hark!" he proclaims.  Ideas flit around his head and he strains to grab one, but they all flee from his hungry clutches.  He persists, finally taking hold of one named Clive, and he sticks it in his ear, where it slips and slides down the canal and drowns in grey matter.  He knows its secret desires.  He sees.

and then the kid inhales deeply, thinking about what all there is to do and to not do.  To Do: mow the yard in the mid 90 degree temperature, pick up groceries, go to the Joe Purdy concert next Wednesday, empty out Stewartland in preparation for next weekend's yard sale, clean out Stewartland for the end of the month's baby arrival, finish up the ditch calculations for the current project and get some channel line data by tomorrow's end, and figure out a way to wrap this post up.  Not To Do:  rob a bank or a bagel shop, stub the toes, slip and fall down the stairs, get a kidney stone from drinking too much Mtn Dew, and accidentally cut my arm off and replace it with a pirate hook and/or chainsaw.  

and then the kid runs away, screaming some wild medley of "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" and "Thriller" and "I Fall to Pieces."  The long tendrils of Mtn Dew follow behind.  They soon catch up to him, where he's staked out behind a building.  He spies Someone standing up against a streetlight.  His foot hits something--a 20 oz. bottle of Mtn Dew Pitch Black.  It's available for a limited time only.  He picks it up and takes a swig.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Contract with God Trilogy, a Review

Will Eisner is a rather significant individual in the history of the graphic novel, as well as the comic world at large.  He is, after all, sometimes referred to as the Father of the Graphic Novel.  In fact, the Eisner Awards (the comics' equivalent to the Oscars) are named after him.  Of course, any serious fan of graphic novels has read some Will Eisner.  Well, color me red and call me a strawberry, I can finally say I have.

The Contract with God trilogy is one large collection of three individual graphic novels: A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue.  Each volume tells a complete story, though the three are interwoven and related.  The stories largely deal with racism, religious bigotry, and hard life through the Great Depression.  The colors are all muted sepia toned, seemingly from pencil.  This medium choice adds a bleakness throughout the book, certainly fitting to the setting.  Eisner's lines are sometimes rushed and simple, befitting of a comic creator of Old, but I think anything fancier (i.e., more Realistic) would detract from the story.

A Contract with God is composed of four smaller stories: "A Contract With God", "The Super", "The Street Singer", and "Cookalein".  In it we read the tale of a Jewish Russian man who comes to America and settles down on Dropsie Avenue, taking up residence in a Bronx tenement.  Life is hard and goes awry, and the story is grim and tragic.

A Life Force pretty much deals with man's goals in life, to love and be happy, and compares them to a cockroach.  This one at least has more characterization, and was easier to relate to than the first.  It also seemed to have more of a plot, one that was more than halfway interesting.  Still, the story was bleak.

Dropsie Avenue was probably my favorite of the three.  Its main character is Dropsie Avenue itself.  This story begins in the late 1800s and chronicles the development of the land and its Dutch settlers to where it is now.  We see the land change, moving from farms to tenements and factories.  We see the people change, phasing through Dutch, Irish, Jewish, Russian, Puerto Rican, African American, and many other races.  We see how the society changes and how it affects Dropsie Avenue.  I enjoyed this story quite a bit.
This review doesn't paint a pleasant picture of Eisner's acclaimed work, and that's probably because the story was so danged depressing.  Eisner was born in 1917, so he lived through the Great Depression and through the changes he's created.  In fact, he drew from his own experiences for many of these tales, and I suppose they're probably more autobiographical than we know.  Reading tragedy is hard for me to "like," per se.  

However, I can't really say that I enjoyed the read and thoroughly recommend you to all read it immediately, either.  I can understand and appreciate the history of this book, how it is largely responsible for the creation of the graphic novel industry today, and I'm thankful for this.  Still, the story is very complex and meticulous, weaving many threads through many characters and locations, and the book never rose above its potential.  

So do I recommend Will Eisner's Contract with God trilogy?  Yes, and no.  Yes if you're a graphic novel fan and are interested in reading something by a legend.  Yes if you enjoy stories told with a Great Depression setting, especially dealing with race, nationality, and religion.  No if you're new to graphic novels and are curious about them (for that I'd recommend Craig Thompson's Blankets for something Real, or Alan Moore's Watchmen if you like super-heroes in your graphic novels).  No if you're wanting something with color and something less depressing.  In the end, I'm glad I've read it, but I don't plan to read any more by the man, either.